International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ARK OF THE COVENANT
kuv'-e-nant ('aron ha-berith):
I. The Statements of the Old Testament Concerning the Ark of the Covenant.
In Exodus 25:10, Moses receives the command to build an ark of acacia wood. Within this ark were to be placed the tables of the law which God was about to give to Moses. Upon the top of the ark, probably not as a lid but above the lid, the kapporeth, in the New Testament to hilasterion (Hebrews 9:5), is to be placed, which was a golden plate upon which two cherubim, with raised wings and facing each other, covered the ark. From the place between the two cherubim God promises to speak to Moses, as often as He shall give him commands in reference to the Israelites.
The portion of the Pentateuch in which this is recorded is taken from the so-called Priest Codex (P). The reports of the Elohist (E) and the Jahwist (Jahwist) on this subject are wanting; but both of these sources report concerning the important role which the ark played in the entrance of Israel into Canaan, and these documents too must have contained the information that the people had received this ark. It can further with certainty be stated concerning the Elohist, and with some probability concerning the Jahwist, in what part of these documents these accounts were to be found. For Elohist reports in Exodus 33:6 that the Israelites, in order to demonstrate their repentance on account of the golden calf, had at God's command laid aside their ornaments. In 33:7-10 there follows a statement concerning the erection of the sacred tent; but this is explained only by the fact that between 33:6 and 7 a report concerning the erection of the ark of the covenant must have been found, which the R of the Pentateuch (since before this he had already made use of the much more exhaustive account of the Priest Codex) was compelled to omit.
But that at this place the Elohist must have reported not only concerning the erection of the sacred tent but also of the construction of the ark of the covenant, is in itself probable, and can too be concluded from this, that according to the Deuteronomist, the composition of which is also conditioned upon that of the Elohist and the Jahwist, the ark was built on this occasion. We further conclude that it was not so much the tabernacle which could serve as a consolation to the people, something that at that time they needed, but rather the ark, which was to symbolize to them that God was on the march with them. In the Jahwist we do not indeed find at this place any statement concerning this sacred structure, but we do find the statement that the Israelites, out of sorrow because of the bad news brought by Moses, discarded their ornaments.
For Exodus 33:4 is taken from the Jahwist, since the Elohist contains the command to discard the ornaments later on, and hence could not have written 33:4. Now it is a justifiable surmise that the Jahwist has also reported what use was made of the ornaments that had been discarded; and as this author, just as is the case with the Elohist, must have at some place contained a report concerning the construction of the ark, he certainly must have given this just at this place. The corresponding account in the Deuteronomist is found in Deuteronomy 10:1-5. Accordingly, then, all the four Pentateuch documents reported that Moses had built the ark at Sinai. The Deuteronomist, like the Priestly Code (P), says, that it was built of acacia wood. In the Elohistic narrative the subject is mentioned again in Numbers 10:33, where we read that the ark had preceded the people as they broke camp and marched from Sinai. At this place too the words are found which Moses was accustomed to speak when the ark began to move out and when it arrived at a halting-place.
According to the narrative in Joshua 3 the ark cooperated at the crossing of the Jordan in such a way that the waters of the river ceased to continue flowing as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the ark entered the water, and that it stood still above until these priests, after the people had crossed over, again left the bed of the river with the ark. In the account of the solemn march around Jericho, which according to Joshua 6 caused the walls of the city to fall, the carrying of the ark around the city is regarded as an essential feature in 6:4, 7, 11. In chapter 7 it is narrated that Joshua, after the defeat of the army before Ai, lamented and prayed before the ark. In chapter 8 this is mentioned in connection with Mount Ebal.
3. Other Historical Books:
At the time of Eli the ark stood in the sanctuary at Shiloh (1 Samuel 3:3). From this place it was taken after Israel had been defeated by the Philistines at Ebenezer, in order to assure the help of Yahweh to the people; but, instead of this, the ark fell into the hands of the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). But the various misfortunes that now afflicted the Philistines induced these to regard the possession of the ark as a calamity (1 Samuel 5) and they sent it back to Israel (1 Samuel 6). It was brought first to Bethshemesh in the tribe of Judah, near the borders of the Philistines, and soon after to Kiriath-jearim, about 7.5 miles Northwest of Jerusalem. There the ark remained for years in the house of a man by the name of Abinadab, whose son was its guardian (1 Samuel 7:1), until David brought it to Mount Zion, after he had established his camp and court there. He there placed it in a tent prepared for it (2 Samuel 6 1 Chronicles 13; 1 Chronicles 15). In David's time again the ark was taken along into battle (2 Samuel 11:11). When David fled from the presence of Absalom, the priests wanted to accompany him with the ark, but he sent it back (2 Samuel 15:24 f). David had also intended to build a temple, in which the ark was to find its place, since before this it had always found its resting-place in a tent. But God forbade this through Nathan, because He was willing to build a house for David, but was not willing that David should build one for Him (2 Samuel 7). Solomon then built the temple and placed the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies of this temple, where it was placed under the wings of two mighty cherubim images (1 Kings 8 2 Chronicles 5).
4. Prophetical and Poetical Books:
Jeremiah in the passage 3:16, which certainly was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, states that in the future new Jerusalem nobody will any more concern himself about the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, and no one will again build such a one. In the post-exilic Psalm 132 (verse 8), Yahweh is petitioned to occupy together with the ark, the symbol of His omnipotent presence, also the sanctuary that has been erected for Him, the poet describing himself and those who sing this psalm as participants in the home-bringing of the ark by David. No further mention is made of the ark of the covenant in the Psalter or the prophetical books.
5. The New Testament:
In the New Testament the ark of the covenant is mentioned only in Hebrews 9:4 in the description of the Solomonic temple.
II. The Form of the Ark of the Covenant.
According to the statements in the Priestly Code (P), the ark of the covenant was a chest made out of acacia wood, 2 1/2 cubits (about equal to 4 ft.) long, 1 1/2 cubits wide and 1 1/2 high. That it was made out of acacia wood is also stated by the Deuteronomist in Deuteronomy 10:3. According to P it was covered with gold within and without, and was ornamented with a moulding of gold running all around it. At its four feet rings were added, through which the gold-covered carrying-staves were put. These staves are also mentioned in 1 Kings 8:7, 8 2 Chronicles 5:8, 9, and mention is often made of those who carried the ark (2 Samuel 6:13; 2 Samuel 15:24). The correctness of these statements cannot be proved, but yet there is no reason to doubt them. Rather we might have reason to hesitate in clinging to the view that on the old ark there was really a golden kapporeth, but only because in olden times the possession of such valuables and their use for such a purpose would be doubtful. But on the basis of such reasons we could at most doubt whether the lid with its cherubim consisted of solid gold. That the cherubim were attached to or above the ark is not at all improbable.
That Solomon placed the ark in the Holy of Holies between two massive cherubim figures (1 Kings 6:19, 23; 1 Kings 8:6) does not prove that there were no cherubim figures on the ark itself, or even that those cherubim figures, which according to Exodus 25:19 were found on the ark, were nothing else than those of Solomon's days in imagination transferred back to an earlier period (Vatke, Biblische Theologie, 1835, 333; Popper, Der biblische Bericht uber die Stiftshutte, 1862). In recent times the view has been maintained that the ark in reality was no ark at all but an empty throne. It was Reichel, in his work Vorhellenische Gotterkulte, who first expressed this view, and then Meinhold, Die Lade Jahwes, Tubingen, 1910, and Theologische Studien und Kritiken, 1901, 593-617, who developed this view in the following manner. It is claimed that in the days of Moses a throne-like rock at Mount Sinai was regarded as the seat of Yahweh, and when the Israelites departed from Sinai they made for themselves a portable throne, and Yahweh was regarded as sitting visibly enthroned upon this and accompanying His people. In the main the same view was maintained by Martin Dibellius (Die Lade Jahwes, Gottingen, 1906; Hermann Gunkel, Die Lade Jahwes ein Thronsitz, reprinted from the Zeitschrift fur Missionskunde und Religionswissenschaft, Heidelberg, 1906).
The occasion for this view was given by the fact that among the Persians and other people there were empty thrones of the gods, which were carried or hauled around in processions. The reasons for finding in the ark of the covenant such an empty throne are found chiefly in this, that the passages in the Old Testament, in which it seems that the presence of God is made conditional on the presence of the ark (compare Numbers 14:42-44), can be explained if the ark is regarded as a throne of Yahweh. However, empty thrones of the gods are found only among the Aryan people, and all of the passages of the Old Testament which refer to the ark can be easily explained without such a supposition. This view is to be rejected particularly for this reason, that in the Old Testament the ark is always described as an ark, and never as a throne or a seat; and because it is absolutely impossible to see what reason would have existed at a later period to state that it was an ark if it had originally been a throne. Dibelius and Gunkel appeal also particularly to this, that in several passages, of which 1 Samuel 4:4 2 Samuel 6:2 are the oldest, Yahweh is declared to be enthroned on the cherubim. But this proves nothing, because He is not called "He who is enthroned on the ark," and the cherubim and the ark are two different things, even if there were cherubim on the lid of the ark. Compare the refutation of Meinhold and Dibelius by Budde (ZATW, 1901, 193-200, and Theol. Studien und Kritiken, 1906, 489-507).
III. The Contents of the Ark of the Covenant.
According to the Priestly Code the two tables of the law constituted the contents of the ark. In Exodus 25:16; Exodus 40:20, as also Deuteronomy 10:5, and, too, in 1 Kings 8:9, we have the same testimony. The majority of the modern critics regard this as an unhistorical statement first concocted by.the so-called "Deuteronomistic school." Their reasons for this are the following:
(1) The critics deny that the existence of the Mosaic tables of the law is a historical fact;
(2) The critics declare that if these tables had really been in possession of the Israelites, they would not have been so foolish as to put them into a box which it was forbidden to open;
(3) The critics declare that the views entertained in olden times on the importance of the ark cannot be reconciled with the presence of the tables in the ark.
But we reply: (1) that the actual existence of the two tables of the law is denied without sufficient reasons; that the ten principal formulas of the Decalogue, as these are given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, come from Moses, must be insisted upon, and that according to Exodus 34 other ten commandments had been written on these tables is incorrect. The laws in Exodus 34:17-26 are not at all declared there to be the ten words which God intended to write upon the tables. But if Moses had prepared the tables for the commandments, then it is
(2) only probable that he caused to be made a suitable chest for their preservation and their transportation through the desert. Now it might be thought that the view that the ark was so holy that it dared not be opened had originated only after the time of Moses. However, it is just as easily possible, that that importance had already been assigned by Moses to the tables in the ark which the sealed and carefully preserved copy of a business agreement would have and which is to be opened only in case of necessity (Jeremiah 32:11-14). Such a case of necessity never afterward materialized, because the Israelites were never in doubt as to what was written on these tables. On a verbatim reading no stress was laid in olden times.
(3) With regard to the importance of the ark according to the estimate placed upon it in the earlier period of Israel, we shall see later that the traditions in reference to the tables harmonize fully with this importance.
Of the modern critics who have rejected this tradition, some have thought that the ark was empty, and that the Israelites thought that Yahweh dwelt in it (Guthe, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 39), or that the empty chest was a kind of fetish (Schwally, Semitische Kriegsaltertumer, 1901, I, 10). As a rule they believe that a stone image of Yahweh or two stones had been placed in the ark, these being possibly meteor stones, in which it was thought that some divine power was dwelling (Stade, Geschichte Israels, I, 458); or possibly stones that in some battle or other had been hurled and through which a victory had been won (Couard, ZATW, XII, 76); or possibly they were the stones which at the alliance of the tribes that dwelt about Mount Sinai were first set up as testimonials of this covenant (Kraetzschmar, Die Bundesvorstellung im Alten Testament, 216). Of these views only the one which declares that the ark contained meteor stones deserves any notice, because it could indeed be thought possible that Israel would have taken with them on their journey through the desert such stones which they could have regarded as pledges of the Divine Presence fallen from heaven and could have preserved these in a sacred ark. But it is impossible to show that this view is probable, not to speak of proving it to be correct. The only extant tradition says that the ark contained the tables of the law, and this is the only view that is in harmony with what we must think of the whole work of Moses. Finally we must again remember that it is probable that Elohist and Jahwist, who speak both of the ark and also of the tables of the law, in the portions of these documents which have not been preserved, reported also that the tables were placed in the ark.
IV. The Names of the Ark of the Covenant.
The name "ark of the covenant of Yahweh" was not originally found everywhere where it now stands, but in many places the words "of the covenant" were added later. However, the expression "ark of the covenant" is found in the oldest source of the Book of Sam (2 Samuel 15:24), and in 1 Kings 3:15 in the old source for the history of Solomon, of which the Deuteronomistic author of the Book of Kings made use; in 1 Kings 8:1, a very old account of the building of the temple; and the genuineness of the expression "ark of the covenant" in these passages is not with any good reasons to be called into question. Further the expression is found in the books of Numbers and Joshua, in a number of passages (Numbers 10:33; Numbers 14:44 Joshua 3:3, 6, 8; Joshua 4:9, 18; 6:6, 8), which in all probability belong to the document of Elohist. It appears that the Elohist designates the ark as the "ark of the covenant of God," or more briefly; as the "ark of the covenant," unless in a connected narrative he writes only "the ark," while in the Jahwist the principal appellation was "ark of Yahweh, the Lord of the whole earth" (compare Lotz, Die Bundeslade, 1901, 30-36).
From this we must conclude that the appellation "ark of the covenant of Yahweh" must go back to very ancient times, and we must reject the view that this term took the place of the term "ark of Yahweh" in consequence of a change of views with reference to the ark, brought about through Deuteronomy. Indeed, since the name "ark of the covenant," as is proved by the Elohist, was nowhere more in use than in Ephraim, where they did not possess the ark and accordingly would have had the least occasion to introduce a new name for it, it can be accepted that the name originated in the oldest times, namely those of Moses. The other expression "ark of Yahweh" may be just as old and need not be an abbreviation of the other. It was possible to designate the ark as "ark of Yahweh" because it was a sanctuary belonging to Yahweh; and it was possible to call it also "the ark of the covenant of Yahweh," because it was a monument and evidence of the covenant which Yahweh had made with Israel. It is for this reason not correct to translate the expression 'aron berith Yahweh by "the ark of the law of Yahweh," as equivalent to "the ark which served as a place for preserving the law of the covenant." For berith does not signify "law," even if it was possible under certain circumstances to call a covenant "law" figuratively and synecdochically the "covenant"; and when 1 Kings 8:21 speaks of "the ark wherein is the covenant of Yahweh," the next words, "which he made with our fathers," show that covenant does not here mean "law," but rather the covenant relationship which in a certain sense is embodied in the tables.
In P the ark is also called "the ark of the testimony," and this too does not signify "ark of the law." For not already in P but only in later documents did the word `edhuth receive the meaning of "law" (Lotz, Die Bundeslade, 40). P means by "testimony" the Ten Words, through the proclamation of which the true God has given evidence of His real essence. But where this testimony is found engraved in the handwriting of God on the tables of stone, just there also is the place where He too is to be regarded as locally present.
V. The History of the Ark of the Covenant.
According to the tradition contained in the Pentateuch the sacred ark was built at Mount Sinai and was taken by the Israelites along with them to Canaan. This must be accepted as absolutely correct. The supposition is groundless, that it was a shrine that the Israelites had taken over from the Canaanites. This view is refuted by the high estimate in which in Eli's time the ark was held by all Israel (1 Samuel 1; 1 Samuel 2:22); and especially by the fact that the ark was at that time regarded as the property of that God who had brought Israel out of Egypt, and accordingly had through this ark caused the Canaanites to be conquered (1 Samuel 4:8; 1 Samuel 6:6 2 Samuel 7:6 1 Kings 12:28). The opinion also that the ark was an ancient palladium of the tribe of Ephraim or of the descendants of Joseph and was only at a later period recognized by all Israel (Stade, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, I, 458) is not tenable, for we hear nothing to the effect that the descendants of Joseph concerned themselves more for the ark than the other tribes did. In the time of Eli the ark stood in the sanctuary at Shiloh.
When Israel had been conquered by the Philistines, the ark was taken from Shiloh in order that Yahweh should aid His people. But notwithstanding this the Philistines yet conquered and captured the ark (1 Samuel 5). But the many misfortunes that overtook them made them think that the possession of the ark was destructive to them and they sent it back (1 Samuel 6). The ark first came to Bethshemesh, in the tribe of Judah, and then to Kiriath-jearim (or Baale-judah, 2 Samuel 6:2), about 7.5 miles Northwest of Jerusalem. There the ark remained for many years until David, after he had taken possession of Mount Zion, took it there (2 Samuel 6) and deposited it in a tent. Solomon brought it into the Holy of Holies in the temple (1 Kings 8:3-8), where in all probability it remained until the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar; for Jeremiah 3:16 proves that the Israelites felt that they were in possession of the ark up to this time.
VI. The Significance of the Ark.
According to many investigators the ark was originally a war sanctuary. In favor of this it can be urged that Israel took it into their camp, in order that they might receive the help of Yahweh in the battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 4); and further that also in the time of David the ark was again taken along into battle (2 Samuel 11:11; compare Psalm 24); note also the word of Moses, which he spoke when the ark was taken up to be carried: "Rise up, O Yahweh, and let thine enemies be scattered" (Numbers 10:35). However, nothing of what we know or presuppose concerning the form and the contents of the ark points to an original military purpose of the same; and in the other statements that are found elsewhere concerning the ark, a much more general significance is assigned to it. The significance which the ark had for the Israelites in connection with their wars is only the outcome of its signification as the symbol of the presence of Yahweh, who was not at all a God of war, but when His people were compelled to fight was their helper in the struggle.
A Symbol of the Divine Presence:
That the ark was designed to be a symbol of the presence of God in the midst of His people is the common teaching of the Old Testament. According to the Elohist the ark was made to serve as a comfort to the people for this, that they were to leave the mountain where God had caused them to realize His presence (Exodus 30:6). According to the Priestly Code (P), God purposed to speak with Moses from the place between the cherubim upon the ark. According to Judges 2:1, the angel of Yahweh spoke in Bethel (Bochim) in reproof and exhortation to the people, after the ark of the covenant had been brought to that place; for the comparison of Numbers 10:33 and Exodus 23:20 shows that Judges 2:1 is to be understood as speaking of the transfer of the ark to Bethel. When Israel in the time of Eli was overpowered by the Philistines, the Israelites sent for the ark, in order that Yahweh should come into the camp of Israel, and this was also believed to be the case by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:3). After the ark had come to Bethshemesh and a pestilence had broken out there, the people did not want to keep the ark, because no one could live in the presence of Yahweh, this holy God (1 Samuel 6:20); and Jeremiah says (3:16, 17) that an ark of the covenant would not be again made after the restoration of Israel, but then Jerusalem would be called the "throne of Yahweh," i.e. it would so manifestly be the city of God that it would guarantee the presence of God at least just as much as the ark formerly did.
In olden times these things appeared more realistic to the people than they do to us; and when the ark was considered the visible representation of the presence of Yahweh, and as guaranteeing His presence, a close material connection was thought to exist between the ark and Yahweh, by virtue of which Divine powers were also thought to be present in the ark. The people at Bethshemesh were not willing to keep the ark any longer in their midst, because they could not live in its near presence. David's dancing before the ark is regarded by him and by the narrator of the event as a dancing before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:5, 14, 21), and in 2 Samuel 7:5 God says, through Nathan, that He had wandered around in a tent since He had led the Israelites out of Egypt. But the view advocated by some of the modern critics, that the Israelites had thought that the ark was the dwelling-place or the throne-seat of Yahweh, is nevertheless not correct. This opinion cannot be harmonized with this fact, that in the sources, dating from the same olden times, mention is made of His dwelling in many places in Canaan and outside of Canaan, so that the idea that His presence or even He Himself is confined to the ark is impossible.
The statement of Moses, "Rise up, O Yahweh, and let thine enemies be scattered" (Numbers 10:35), is not the command addressed to those who carry the ark to lift it up and thereby to lift Yahweh up for the journey, but is a demand made upon Yahweh, in accordance with His promise, to go ahead of Israel as the ark does. According to 1 Samuel 4:3 the Israelites did not say "We want to go and get Yahweh," but "We want to go and get the ark of Yahweh, so that He may come into our midst." They accordingly only wanted to induce Him to come by getting the ark. This, too, the priests and the soothsayers of the Philistines say: "Do not permit the ark of the God of the Israelites to depart without sending a gift along," but they do not speak thus of Yahweh. That Samuel, who slept near the ark, when he was addressed by Yahweh, did not at all at first think that Yahweh was addressing him, proves that at that time the view did not prevail that He was in the ark or had His seat upon it. Ancient Israel was accordingly evidently of the conviction that the ark was closely connected with Yahweh, that something of His power was inherent in the ark; consequently the feeling prevailed that when near the ark they were in a special way in the presence of and near to the Lord.
But this is something altogether different from the opinion that the ark was the seat or the dwelling-place of Yahweh. Even if the old Israelites, on account of the crudeness of antique methods of thought, were not conscious of the greatness of this difference, the fact that this difference was felt is not a matter of doubt. That the ark was built to embody the presence of God among His people is just as clear from the statements of the Elohist, and probably also of the Jahwist, as it is from those of the Priestly Code (P); and if these have accordingly regarded the tables of the law as constituting the contents of the ark, then this is in perfect harmony with their views of this purpose, and we too must cling to these same views. For what would have been better adapted to make the instrument which represents the presence of God more suitable for this than the stone tables with the Ten Words, through which Yahweh had made known to His people His ethical character? For this very purpose it had to be an ark. The words on these tables were a kind of a spiritual portrait of the God of Israel, who could not be pictured in a bodily form. In this shape nobody in ancient Israel has formulated this thought, but that this thought was present is certain.
COVENANT OF SALT
solt (berith melach; halas, classical Greek hals): As salt was regarded as a necessary ingredient of the daily food, and so of all sacrifices offered to Yahweh (Leviticus 2:13), it became an easy step to the very close connection between salt and covenant-making. When men ate together they became friends. Compare the Arabic expression, "There is salt between us"; "He has eaten of my salt," which means partaking of hospitality which cemented friendship; compare "eat the salt of the palace" (Ezra 4:14). Covenants were generally confirmed by sacrificial meals and salt was always present. Since, too, salt is a preservative, it would easily become symbolic of an enduring covenant. So offerings to Yahweh were to be by a statute forever, "a covenant of salt for ever before Yahweh" (Numbers 18:19). David received his kingdom forever from Yahweh by a "covenant of salt" (2 Chronicles 13:5). In the light of these conceptions the remark of our Lord becomes the more significant: "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another" (Mark 9:50).
Edward Bagby Pollard
COVENANT, BOOK OF THE
1. Historical Connection
3. Critical Theories
4. True, or Biblical Conception
5. Nature of the Laws
The name given in Exodus 24:7 to a code or collection of laws found in the preceding chapters, 20-23, as the terms of the covenant made with Yahweh, and given for Israel's guidance until a more complete legislation should be provided. In this covenant between Yahweh and Israel, Moses served as mediator; animals were sacrificed, the blood thus shed being also called "the blood of the covenant" (dam haberith, Exodus 24:8).
1. Historical Connection:
This brief book of laws occupies a fitting and dearly marked place in the Pentateuchal collection. Examination of the historical context shows that it is put where it belongs and belongs where it is put. A few months after the Exodus (Exodus 19:1) Israel arrived at Sinai. Immediately at the command which Moses had received from Yahweh in the Mount, they prepared themselves by a ceremonial of sanctification for entrance into covenant relation with Yahweh. When the great day arrived for making this covenant, Moses in the midst of impressive natural phenomena went again to meet Yahweh in the top of the mountain. On his return (Exodus 19:25), the words of the law, or the terms of the covenant, were declared to the people, and accepted by them. The first part of these covenant-terms, namely, the Decalogue (Exodus 20:2-17), was spoken by the Divine voice, or its declaration was accompanied by awe-inspiring natural convulsions (Exodus 20:18). Therefore in response to the pleadings of the terrified people Moses went up again into the mountain and received from Yahweh for them the rest of the "words" and "ordinances" (Exodus 24:3); and these constitute the so-called Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22-23). In this direct and unequivocal manner the narrator connected the book with the nation's consecration at Sinai. The prophets regarded the making of the Sinaitic covenant as the marriage of Israel and Yahweh, and these laws were the terms mutually agreed upon in the marriage contract.
While it is not possible to arrange the materials of this document into hard-and-fast divisions, the following analysis may be suggestive and serviceable:
(1) directions concerning worship, specifying prohibition of images and the form of altar for animal sacrifices (Exodus 20:23-26);
(2) ordinances for protection of Hebrew slaves, including betrothal, for a price, of daughter (Exodus 21:2-11);
(3) laws concerning injuries,
(a) to man by man (Exodus 21:12-27),
(b) to man by beast (Exodus 21:28-32),
(c) to beast by man (Exodus 21:33, 14),
(d) to beast by beast (Exodus 21:35, 36);
(4) concerning theft (Exodus 22:1-4);
(5) concerning damage to a neighbor's property, including violence to his daughter (Exodus 22:5-17);
(6) sundry laws against profaning Yahweh's name, under which are included proper worship, avoidance of oppression and dutiful offering of first-fruits (Exodus 22:18-31);
(7) against various forms of injustice and unbrotherliness (Exodus 23:1-9);
(8) festal occasions, including the Sabbatical year and the three annual feasts: unleavened bread, first-fruits and ingathering (Exodus 23:10-17);
(9) warning against certain wrong practices in their sacrifices (Exodus 23:18, 19);
(10) in conclusion, a promise of God's continual presence with them in the person of His Angel, and the consequent triumph over enemies (Exodus 23:20-33).
3. Critical Theories:
In this legislation are found two forms of laws or deliverances:
(1) the ordinances (mishpaTim), which deal principally with civil and moral matters, are like court decisions, and are introduced by the hypothetical "if";
(2) words, or commands (debharim), which relate chiefly to religious duties, being introduced by the imperative "thou shalt."
The critical analysis and dismemberment of the books of Moses, if accepted, renders the simple historical explanation of the introduction to this body of laws untrue and impossible. The four chapters are assigned to JE, the Decalogue to E, and the Book of the Covenant to the Jahwist (Jahwist) or Elohim (E), the repetition of the Decalogue in Exodus 32-34 being the Jahwist's account. Ordinarily the Book of the Covenant is held to be earlier than the Decalogue, and is indeed the oldest body of Hebrew legislation. However, it could not have been given at one time, nor in the wilderness, since the laws are given for those in agricultural life, and seem to be decisions made at various times and finally gathered together. Furthermore, this more primitive code either contradicts the later legislation of the Deuteronomist (D) and the Priestly Code (P) or reveals an entirely different point of view. The chief contradictions or divergences are: nature and number of altars, absence of an official priestly class, and simpler conception of the annual feasts as agricultural celebrations. Jahwist-Elohim (JE) came into united form in the 9th or 8th century, but this body of laws existed much earlier, embodying the earliest legal developments of Hebrew life in Canaan. It is suggested by some, as Driver, LOT, although he does not attempt the analysis, that this code is itself a composite of various layers and ages.
See CRITICISM (GRAF-WELLHAUSEN HYPOTHESIS).
4. True, or Biblical Conception:
But in favor of the simpler interpretation of these laws as the ethical obligations of the new bond between Yahweh and Israel some statements deserve to be made. If a solemn league and covenant was made at Sinai-and to this all the history, all the prophets and the Psalms give testimony-there must have been some statement of the germinal and fundamental elements of the nation's moral relation to Yahweh. Such statement need not be final nor exhaustive, but rather intended to instruct and guide until later and more detailed directions might be given. This is exactly the position and claim of the Book of the Covenant; and that this was the thought of the editor of the Pentateuch, and that this is the first and reasonable impression made by the unsuspecting and connected reading of the record, can hardly be questioned by candid minds. In answer to the criticism that the agricultural flavor of the laws presupposes settlement in Canaan-a criticism rather remarkable for its bland ignorance-it may be suggested:
(1) Israel had occupied in Egypt an agricultural section, and must have been able either to form or to receive a body of laws dealing with agricultural pursuits.
(2) They were on the march toward a land in which they should have permanent settlement in agricultural life; and not the presence of allusions to such life, but rather their absence, should cause surprise.
(3) However, references to settled farm life are not so obtrusively frequent as those seeking signs would have us think. References to the animal life of the flock and herd of a shepherd people, such as the Israelites were at Sinai, are far more frequent (Exodus 21:28, 33, 15; Exodus 22:1, 10; 23:4, etc.). The laws are quite generic in form and conception, enforcing such duties as would devolve upon both temporary nomad and prospective tillers of the soil. R. B. Taylor therefore (article in one-vol Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes)) accepts this code as originating in the desert wanderings.
In answer to the view, best presented by Wellhausen in Proleg. and W. R. Smith in OTJC, that this code is in conflict with later legislation, it may be said that the Book of the Covenant, as an ethical and civil summary, is in its proper place in the narrative of the sojourn at Sinai, and does not preclude the expectancy of more elaborate organization of both ceremonial and civil order. But the whole question relates more properly to discussion of the later legislation or of the particular topics in dispute (which see). For a thorough treatment of them consult W. H. Green, Hebrew Feasts.
5. Nature of the Laws:
In the Book of the Covenant the moral elements strongly emphasized are: simplicity, directness and spirituality of worship; a high and equitable standard of right; highest consideration for the weak and the poor; humane treatment of dumb animals; purity in the relations of life; the spirit of brotherhood; and the simple and joyful life. Whatever development in details came with later legislation did not nullify the simple but lofty standards of the earlier laws.
Driver, Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, under "Exodus"; Wellhausen, Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel; Comp. d. Hexateuch; W. R. Smith, Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church; W. H. Green, Hebrew Feasts; Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch; Dillmann, Commentary on Exodus-Leviticus.
COVENANT, IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Diatheke, was the word chosen by the Septuagint translators to render the Hebrew berith, and it appears thus nearly 300 times in the Greek Old Testament in the sense of covenant, while suntheke and entolai are each used once only. The choice of this word seems to have been occasioned by a recognition that the covenant which God makes with men is not fully mutual as would be implied in suntheke, the Greek word commonly used for covenant (although not a New Testament word), while at the same time the rarity of wills among the Jews made the common sense of diatheke relatively unfamiliar. The Apocryphal writers also frequently use the same word in the same sense and no other.
In the New Testament diatheke is used some thirty times in a way which makes it plain that its translation must be "covenant." In Galatians 3:15 and Hebrews 9:15-17 it is held by many that the sense of covenant must be set aside in favor of will or testament. But in the former passage it can be taken in the sense of a disposition of affairs or arrangement made by God, a conception in substantial harmony with its regular New Testament use and with the sense of berith. In the passage in Hebrews the interpretation is more difficult, but as it is acknowledged on all hands that the passage loses all argumentative force if the meaning testament is accepted, it seems best to retain the meaning covenant if possible. To do this it is only necessary to hold that the death spoken of is the death of the animal sometimes, if not, indeed, commonly slain in connection with the making of a covenant, and that in the mind of the author this death symbolized the death of the contracting parties so far at least as to pledge them that thereafter in the matter involved they would no more change their minds than can the dead. If this view is taken, this passage falls in line with the otherwise invariable use of the word diatheke by Jewish Hellenists.
Lightfoot, Commentary on Gal; Ramsay, Commentary on Gal; Westcott, Commentary on Hebrews; article on Hebrews 9:15-17, Baptist Review and The Expositor., July, 1904.
David Foster Estes
COVENANT, IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
I. GENERAL MEANING
II. AMONG MEN
1. Early Idea
2. Principal Elements
3. Different Varieties
4. Phraseology Used
III. BETWEEN GOD AND MEN
1. Essential Idea
2. Covenants Recorded in the Old Testament
3. Phraseology Used
4. History of Covenant Idea
I. General Meaning.
The etymological force of the Hebrew berith is not entirely certain. It is probable that the word is the same as the Assyrian biritu, which has the common meaning "fetter," but also means "covenant." The significance of the root from which this Assyrian word is derived is uncertain. It is probable that it is "to bind," but that is not definitely established. The meaning of biritu as covenant seems to come directly from the root, rather than as a derived meaning from fetter. If this root idea is to bind, the covenant is that which binds together the parties. This, at any rate, is in harmony with the general meaning of the word.
In the Old Testament the word has an ordinary use, when both parties are men, and a distinctly religious use, between God and men. There can be no doubt that the religious use has come from the ordinary, in harmony with the general custom in such cases, and not the reverse. There are also two shades of meaning, somewhat distinct, of the Hebrew word: one in which it is properly a covenant, i.e. a solemn mutual agreement, the other in which it is more a command, i.e. instead of an obligation voluntarily assumed, it is an obligation imposed by a superior upon an inferior. This latter meaning, however, has clearly been derived from the other. It is easy to see that an agreement, including as the contracting parties those of unequal position, might readily include those agreements which tended to partake of the nature of a command; but the process could not readily be reversed.
II. Among Men.
1. Early Idea:
We consider first a covenant in which both contracting parties are men. In essence a covenant is an agreement, but an agreement of a solemn and binding force. The early Semitic idea of a covenant was doubtless that which prevailed among the Arabs (see especially W. Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, 2nd edition, passim). This was primarily blood-brotherhood, in which two men became brothers by drinking each other's blood. Ordinarily this meant that one was adopted into the clan of the other. Hence, this act involved the clan of one of the contracting parties, and also brought the other party into relation with the god of this clan, by bringing him into the community life of the clan, which included its god. In this early idea, then, "primarily the covenant is not a special engagement to this or that particular effect, but bond of troth and life-fellowship to all the effects for which kinsmen are permanently bound together" (W. Robertson Smith, op. cit., 315). In this early ceremonial the religious idea was necessarily present, because the god was kindred to the clan; and the god had a special interest in the covenant because he especially protects the kindred blood, of which the stranger thus becomes a part. This religious side always persisted, although the original idea was much modified. In later usage there were various substitutes for the drinking of each other's blood, namely, drinking together the sacrificial blood, sprinkling it upon the parties, eating together the sacrificial meal, etc.; but the same idea found expression in all, the community of life resulting from the covenant.
2. Principal Elements:
The covenant in the Old Testament shows considerable modification from the early idea. Yet it will doubtless help in understanding the Old Testament covenant to keep in mind the early idea and form. Combining statements made in different accounts, the following seem to be the principal elements in a covenant between men. Some of the details, it is to be noted, are not explicitly stated in reference to these covenants, but may be inferred from those between God and men.
(1) A statement of the terms agreed upon (Genesis 26:29; Genesis 31:50, 52). This was a modification of the earlier idea, which has been noted, in which a covenant was all-inclusive.
(2) An oath by each party to observe the terms, God being witness of the oath (Genesis 26:31; Genesis 31:48-53). The oath was such a characteristic feature that sometimes the term "oath" is used as the equivalent of covenant (see Ezekiel 17:13).
(3) A curse invoked by each one upon himself in case disregard of the agreement. In a sense this may be considered a part of the oath, adding emphasis to it. This curse is not explicitly stated in the case of human covenants, but may be inferred from the covenant with God (Deuteronomy 27:15-26).
(4) The formal ratification of the covenant by some solemn external act.
The different ceremonies for this purpose, such as have already been mentioned, are to be regarded as the later equivalents of the early act of drinking each other's blood. In the Old Testament accounts it is not certain that such formal act is expressly mentioned in relation to covenants between men. It seems probable, however, that the sacrificial meal of Genesis 31:54 included Laban, in which case it was a covenant sacrifice. In any case, both sacrificial meal and sprinkling of blood upon the two parties, the altar representing Yahweh, are mentioned in Exodus 24:4-8, with allusions elsewhere, in ratification of the covenant at Sinai between Yahweh and Israel. In the covenant of God with Abraham is another ceremony, quite certainly with the same purpose. This is a peculiar observance, namely, the cutting of animals into two parts and passing between the severed portions (Genesis 15:9-18), a custom also referred to in Jeremiah 34:18. Here it is to be noted that it is a smoking furnace and a flaming torch, representing God, not Abraham, which passed between the pieces. Such an act, it would seem, should be shared by both parties, but in this case it is doubtless to be explained by the fact that the covenant is principally a promise by Yahweh. He is the one who binds Himself. Concerning the significance of this act there is difference of opinion. A common view is that it is in effect a formal expression of the curse, imprecating upon oneself the same, i.e. cutting in pieces, if one breaks the terms of the covenant. But, as W. R. Smith has pointed out (op. cit., 481), this does not explain the passing between the pieces, which is the characteristic feature of the ceremony. It seems rather to be a symbol that the two parties "were taken within the mystical life of the victim." (Compare the interpretation of Hebrews 9:15-17 in COVENANT, IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.) It would then be an inheritance from the early times, in which the victim was regarded as kindred with the tribe, and hence, also an equivalent of the drinking of each other's blood.
The immutability of a covenant is everywhere assumed, at least theoretically.
Other features beyond those mentioned cannot be considered as fundamental. This is the case with the setting up of a stone, or raising a heap of stones (Genesis 31:45, 46). This is doubtless simply an ancient custom, which has no direct connection with the covenant, but comes from the ancient Semitic idea of the sacredness of single stones or heaps of stones. Striking hands is a general expression of an agreement made (Ezra 10:19 Ezekiel 17:18, etc.).
3. Different Varieties:
In observing different varieties of agreements among men, we note that they may be either between individuals or between larger units, such as tribes and nations. In a great majority of cases, however, they are between the larger units. In some cases, also, when an individual acts it is in a representative capacity, as the head of a clan, or as a king. When the covenant is between tribes it is thus a treaty or alliance. The following passages have this use of covenant: Genesis 14:13; Genesis 21:27, 32; 26:28:00; 31:44 Exodus 23:32; Exodus 34:12, 15 Deuteronomy 7:2; Joshua 9:6, 7, 11, 15, 16 Judges 2:2 1 Samuel 11:1; 1 Kings 3:12; 1 Kings 15:19 parallel 2 Chronicles 16:3 1 Kings 20:34; Psalm 83:5 Isaiah 33:8 Ezekiel 16:61; Ezekiel 17:13-19; 30:5 Daniel 11:22 Amos 1:9. In other cases it is between a king and his subjects, when it is more a command or ordinance, as 2 Samuel 3:12, 13, 11; 2 Samuel 5:3 parallel 1 Chronicles 11:3 Jeremiah 34:8-18 Daniel 9:27. In other cases it is between individuals, or between small groups, where it is an agreement or pledge (2 Kings 11:4 parallel 2 Chronicles 23:1 Job 31:1; Job 41:4 Hosea 10:4). Between David and Jonathan it is more specifically an alliance of friendship (1 Samuel 18:3; 1 Samuel 20:8; 1 Samuel 23:18), as also apparently in Psalm 55:20. It means an alliance of marriage in Malachi 2:14, but probably not in Proverbs 2:17, where it is better to understand the meaning as being "her covenant with God."
4. Phraseology Used:
In all cases of covenants between men, except Jeremiah 34:10 and Daniel 9:27, the technical phrase for making a covenant is karath berith, in which karath meant originally "to cut." Everything indicates that this verb is used with reference to the formal ceremony of ratification above mentioned, of cutting animals in pieces.
III. Between God and Men.
1. Essential Idea: As already noted, the idea of covenants between God and men doubtless arose from the idea of covenants between men. Hence, the general thought is similar. It cannot in this case, however, be an agreement between contracting parties who stand on an equality, but God, the superior, always takes the initiative. To some extent, however, varying in different cases, is regarded as a mutual agreement; God with His commands makes certain promises, and men agree to keep the commands, or, at any rate, the promises are conditioned on human obedience. In general, the covenant of God with men is a Divine ordinance, with signs and pledges on God's part, and with promises for human obedience and penalties for disobedience, which ordinance is accepted by men. In one passage (Psalm 25:14), it is used in a more general way of an alliance of friendship between God and man.
2. Covenants Recorded in the Old Testament:
A covenant of this general kind is said in the Old Testament to have been made by God with Noah (Genesis 9:9-17 and elsewhere). In this the promise is that there shall be no more deluge. A covenant is made with Abraham, the thought of which includes his descendants. In this the promise of God is to multiply the descendants of Abraham, to give them the land of Canaan, and to make them a blessing to the nations. This is narrated in Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:2-21, etc. A covenant is made with the nation Israel at Sinai (Horeb) (Exodus 19:5; Exodus 24:7, 8; 34:10, 27, 28, etc.), ratified by a covenant sacrifice and sprinkling of blood (Exodus 24:4-8). This constituted the nation the peculiar people of God, and was accompanied by promises for obedience and penalties for disobedience. This covenant was renewed on the plains of Moab (Deuteronomy 29:1). In these national covenants the individual had a place, but only as a member of the nation. The individual might forfeit his rights under the covenant, however, by deliberate rebellion against Yahweh, sinning "with a high hand" (Numbers 15:30 f), and then he was regarded as no longer a member of the nation, he was "cut off from among his people," i.e. put to death. This is the teaching of the Priestly Code (P), and is also implied elsewhere; in the mercy of God, however, the punishment was not always inflicted. A covenant with the tribe of Levi, by which that became the priestly tribe, is alluded to in Deuteronomy 33:9 Jeremiah 33:21 Malachi 2:4. The covenant with Phinehas (Numbers 25:12, 13) established an everlasting priesthood in his line. The covenant with Joshua and Israel (Joshua 24) was an agreement on their part to serve Yahweh only. The covenant with David (2 Samuel 7 parallel 1 Chronicles 17; see also Psalm 89:3, 18, 34, 39; Psalm 132:12 Jeremiah 33:21) contained a promise that his descendants should have an everlasting kingdom, and should stand to God in the relation of sonship. The covenant with Jehoiada and the people (2 Kings 11:17 parallel 2 Chronicles 23:3) was an agreement on their part to be the people of Yahweh. The covenant with Hezekiah and the people (2 Chronicles 29:10) consisted essentially of an agreement on their part to reform the worship; the covenant with Josiah and the people (2 Kings 23:3), of an agreement on their part to obey the Book of the Law. The covenant with Ezra and the people (Ezra 10:3) was an agreement on their part to put away foreign wives and obey the law. The prophets also speak of a new covenant, most explicitly in Jeremiah, but with references elsewhere, which is connected with the Messianic time (see Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 55:3; 59:21:00; 61:8 Jeremiah 31:31, 33; Jeremiah 32:40; Jeremiah 50:5; Ezekiel 16:60, 62; Ezekiel 20:37; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26 Hosea 2:18).
3. Phraseology Used:
Various phrases are used of the making of a covenant between God and men. The verb ordinarily used of making covenants between men, karath, is often used here as well. The following verbs are also used: heqim, "to establish" or "confirm"; nathan, "to give"; sim, "to place"; tsiwwah, "to command"; `abhar, "to pass over," followed by be, "into"; bo, "to enter," followed by be; and the phrase nasa' berith `al pi, "to take up a covenant upon the mouth of someone."
4. History of Covenant Idea:
The history of the covenant idea in Israel, as between God and man, is not altogether easy to trace. This applies especially to the great covenants between God and Israel, namely, the one with Abraham, and the one made at Sinai. The earliest references to this relation of Israel to Yahweh under the term "covenant" are in Hosea 6:7; Hosea 8:1. The interpretation of the former passage is doubtful in details, but the reference to such a covenant seems clear. The latter is considered by many a later addition, but largely because of this mention of the covenant. No other references to such a covenant are made in the prophets before Jeremiah. Jeremiah and Ezekiel speak of it, and it is implied in Second-Isaiah. It is a curious fact, however, that most of the later prophets do not use the term, which suggests that the omission in the earlier prophets is not very significant concerning a knowledge of the idea in early times.
In this connection it should be noted that there is some variation among the Hexateuchal codes in their treatment of the covenants. Only one point, however, needs special mention. The Priestly Code (P) gives no explicit account of the covenant at Sinai, and puts large emphasis upon the covenant with Abraham. There are, however, apparent allusions to the Sinaitic covenant (Leviticus 2:13; Leviticus 24:8; Leviticus 26:9, 15, 25, 44, 45). The facts indicate, therefore, principally a difference of emphasis.
In the light partly of the facts already noted, however, it is held by many that the covenant idea between God and man is comparatively late. This view is that there were no covenants with Abraham and at Sinai, but that in Israel's early conceptions of the relation to Yahweh He was their tribal God, bound by natural ties, not ethical as the covenant implies. This is a larger question than at first appears. Really the whole problem of the relation of Israel to Yahweh throughout Old Testament history is involved, in particular the question at what time a comprehensive conception of the ethical character of God was developed. The subject will therefore naturally receive a fuller treatment in other articles. It is perhaps sufficient here to express the conviction that there was a very considerable conception of the ethical character of Yahweh in the early history of Israel, and that consequently there is no sufficient reason for doubting the fact of the covenants with Abraham and at Sinai. The statement of W. Robertson Smith expresses the essence of the matter (op. cit., 319): "That Yahweh's relation is not natural but ethical is the doctrine of the prophets, and is emphasized, in dependence on their teaching, in the Book of Deuteronomy. But the passages cited show that the idea had its foundation in pre prophetic times; and indeed the prophets, though they give it fresh and powerful application, plainly do not regard the conception as an innovation."
A little further consideration should be given to the new covenant of the prophets. The general teaching is that the covenant was broken by the sins of the people which led to the exile. Hence, during the exile the people had been cast off, the covenant was no longer in force. This is stated, using other terminology, in Hosea 3:3; 1:09; 2:02. The prophets speak, however, in anticipation, of the making of a covenant again after the return from the exile. For the most part, in the passages already cited, this covenant is spoken of as if it were the old one renewed. Special emphasis is put, however, upon its being an everlasting covenant, as the old one did not prove to be, implying that it will not be broken as was that one. Jeremiah's teaching, however, has a little different emphasis. He speaks of the old covenant as passed away (31:32). Accordingly he speaks of a new covenant (31:31, 33). This new covenant in its provisions, however, is much like the old. But there is a new emphasis upon individuality in approach to God. In the old covenant, as already noted, it was the nation as a whole that entered into the relation; here it is the individual, and the law is to be written upon the individual heart.
In the later usage the specific covenant idea is sometimes less prominent, so that the term is used practically of the religion as a whole; see Isaiah 56:4 Psalm 103:18.
Valeton, ZATW, XII, XIII (1892-93); Candlish, The Expositor Times, 1892, Oct., Nov.; Kraetzschmar, Die Bundesvorstellung im Altes Testament, Marburg, 1896; articles "Covenant" in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes) and Encyclopedia Biblica.
George Ricker Berry
COVENANT, THE NEW
(berith chadhashah, Jeremiah 31:31; he diatheke kaine, Hebrews 8:8, 13, etc., or nea, Hebrews 12:24: the former Greek adjective has the sense of the "new" primari1y in reference to quality, the latter the sense of "young," the "new," primarily in reference to time):
1. Contrast of "New" and "Old"-The Term "Covenant"
2. Christ's Use at the Last Supper
3. Relation to Exodus 24
4. Use in Epistle to the Hebrews
5. The Mediator of the New Covenant
6. "Inheritance" and "Testament"
7. Relation to Jeremiah 31:31-34
8. To Ezekiel
9. Contrast of Old and New in 2 Corinthians 3
1. Contrast of "New" and "Old"-the Term "Covenant":
The term "New" Covenant necessarily implies an "Old" Covenant, and we are reminded that God's dealings with His people in the various dispensations of the world's history have been in terms of covenant. The Holy Scriptures by their most familiar title keep this thought before us, the Old Testament and the New Testament or Covenant; the writings produced within the Jewish "church" being the writings or Scriptures of the Old Covenant, those within the Christian church, the Scriptures of the New Covenant. The alternative name "Testament"-adopted into our English description through the Latin, as the equivalent of the Hebrew berith, and the Greek diatheke, which both mean a solemn disposition, compact or contract-suggests the disposition of property in a last will or testament, but although the word diatheke may bear that meaning, the Hebrew berith does not, and as the Greek usage in the New Testament seems especially governed by the Old Testament usage and the thought moves in a similar plane, it is better to keep to the term "covenant." The one passage which seems to favor the "testament" idea is Hebrews 9:16, 17 (the Revisers who have changed the King James Version "testament" into "covenant" in every other place have left it in these two verses), but it is questionable whether even here the better rendering would not be "covenant" (see below). Certainly in the immediate context "covenant" is the correct translation and, confessedly, "testament," if allowed to stand, is an application by transition from the original thought of a solemn compact to the secondary one of testamentary disposition. The theological terms "Covenant of Works" and "Covenant of Grace" do not occur in Scripture, though the ideas covered by the terms, especially the latter, may easily be found there. The "New Covenant" here spoken of is practically equivalent to the Covenant of Grace established between God and His redeemed people, that again resting upon the eternal Covenant of Redemption made between the Father and the Son, which, though not so expressly designated, is not obscurely indicated by many passages of Scripture.
2. Christ's Use at Last Supper:
Looking at the matter more particularly, we have to note the words of Christ at the institution of the Supper. In all the three Synoptists, as also in Paul's account (Matthew 26:28 Mark 14:24 Luke 22:20 1 Corinthians 11:25) "covenant" occurs. Matthew and Mark, "my blood of the (new) covenant"; Luke and Paul, "the new covenant in my blood." The Revisers following the critical text, have omitted "new" in Matthew and Mark, but even if it does not belong to the original MS, it is implied, and there need be little doubt that Jesus used it. The old covenant was so well known to these Jewish disciples, that to speak of the covenant in this emphatic way, referring manifestly to something other than the old Mosaic covenant, was in effect to call it a "new" covenant. The expression, in any case, looks back to the old and points the contrast; but in the contrast there are points of resemblance.
3. Relation to Exodus 24:
It is most significant that Christ here connects the "new" covenant with His "blood." We at once think, as doubtless the disciples would think, of the transaction described in Exodus 24:7, when Moses "took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people" those "words," indicating God's undertaking on behalf of His people and what He required of them; "and they said, All that Yahweh hath spoken will we do, and be obedient," thus taking up their part of the contract. Then comes the ratification. "Moses took the blood (half of which had already been sprinkled on the altar), and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which Yahweh hath made with you concerning all these words" (verse 8). The blood was sacrificial blood, the blood of the animals sacrificed as burnt offerings and peace offerings (Exodus 24:5, 6). The one half of the blood sprinkled on the altar tells of the sacrifice offered to God, the other half sprinkled on the people, of the virtue of the same sacrifice applied to the people, and so the covenant relation is fully brought about. Christ, by speaking of His blood in this connection, plainly indicates that His death was a sacrifice, and that through that sacrifice His people would be brought into a new covenant relationship with God. His sacrifice is acceptable to God and the virtue of it is to be applied to believers-so all the blessings of the new covenant are secured to them; the blood "is poured out for you" (Luke 22:20). He specifically mentions one great blessing of the new covenant, the forgiveness of sins-"which is poured out for many unto remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
4. Use in Epistle to the Hebrews:
This great thought is taken up in Hebrews and fully expounded. The writer draws out fully the contrast between the new covenant and the old by laying stress upon the perfection of Christ's atonement in contrast to the material and typical sacrifices (Hebrews 9:11-23). He was "a high priest of the good things to come," connected with "the greater and more perfect tabernacle." He entered the heavenly holy place "through his own blood," not that of "goats and calves," and by that perfect offering He has secured "eternal redemption" in contrast to the temporal deliverance of the old dispensation. The blood of those typical offerings procured ceremonial cleansing; much more, therefore, shall the blood of Christ avail to cleanse the conscience "from dead works to serve the living God"-that blood which is so superior in value to the blood of the temporal sacrifices, yet resembles it in being sacrificial blood. It is the blood of Him "who, through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God." It is the fashion in certain quarters nowadays to say that it is not the blood of Christ, but His spirit of self-sacrifice for others, that invests the cross with its saving power, and this verse is sometimes cited to show that the virtue lies in the surrender of the perfect will, the shedding of the blood being a mere accident. But this is not the view of the New Testament writers. The blood-shedding is to them a necessity. Of course, it is not the natural, material blood, or the mere act of shedding it, that saves. The blood is the life. The blood is the symbol of life; the blood shed is the symbol of life outpoured-of the penalty borne; and while great emphasis must be laid, as in this verse it is laid, upon Christ's perfect surrender of His holy will to God, yet the essence of the matter is found in the fact that He willingly endured the dread consequences of sin, and as a veritable expiatory sacrifice shed His precious blood for the remission of sins.
5. The Mediator of the New Covenant:
On the ground of that shed blood, as the writer goes on to assert, "He is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15). Thus Christ fulfils the type in a twofold way: He is the sacrifice upon which the covenant is based, whose blood ratifies it, and He is also, like Moses, the Mediator of the covenant. The death of Christ not only secures the forgiveness of those who are brought under the new covenant, but it was also for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, implying that all the sacrifices gained their value by being types of Christ, and the forgiveness enjoyed by the people of God in former days was bestowed in virtue of the great Sacrifice to be offered in the fullness of time.
6. "Inheritance" and "Testament":
Not only does the blessing of perfect forgiveness come through the new covenant, but also the promise of the "eternal inheritance" in contrast to the earthly inheritance which, under the old covenant, Israel obtained. The mention of the inheritance is held to justify the taking of the word in the next verse as "testament," the writer passing to the thought of a testamentary disposition, which is only of force after the death of the testator. Undoubtedly there is good ground for the analogy, and all the blessings of salvation which come to the believer may be considered as bequeathed by the Saviour in His death, and accruing to us because He has died. It has, in that sense, tacitly to be assumed that the testator lives again to be His own executor and to put us in possession of the blessings. Still, we think there is much to be said in favor of keeping to the sense of "covenant" even here, and taking the clause, which, rendered literally, is: "a covenant is of force (or firm) over the dead," as meaning that the covenant is established on the ground of sacrifice, that sacrifice representing the death of the maker of the covenant. The allusion may be further explained by a reference to Genesis 15:9, 10, 17, which has generally been considered as illustrating the ancient Semitic method of making a covenant: the sacrificial animals being divided, and the parties passing between the pieces, implying that they deserved death if they broke the engagement. The technical Hebrew phrase for making a covenant is "to cut a covenant."
There is an interesting passage in Herodotus iii. 8, concerning an Arabian custom which seems akin to the old Hebrew practice. "The Arabians observe pledges as religiously as any people; and they make them in the following manner; when any wish to pledge their faith, a third person standing between the two parties makes an incision with a sharp stone in the palm of the hand, nearest the longest fingers of both the contractors; then taking some of the nap from the garments of each, he smears seven stones placed between him and the blood; and as he does this he invokes Bacchus and Urania. When this ceremony is completed, the person who pledges his faith binds his friends as sureties to the stranger, or the citizen, if the contract is made with a citizen; and the friends also hold themselves obliged to observe the engagement"-Cary's translation.
Whatever the particular application of the word in Genesis 15:17, the central idea in the passage is that death, blood-shedding, is necessary to the establishment of the covenant, and so he affirms that the first covenant was not dedicated without blood, and in proof quotes the passage already cited from Exodus 24, and concludes that "apart from shedding of blood there is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22).
SeeCOVENANT, IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.
7. Relation to Jeremiah 31:31-34:
This new covenant established by Christ was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, who uses the very word "new covenant" in describing it, and very likely Christ had that description in mind when He used the term, and meant His disciples to understand that the prophetic interpretation would in Him be realized. There is no doubt that the author of He had the passage in mind, for he has led up to the previous statement by definitely quoting the whole statement of Jeremiah 31:31-34. He had in Jeremiah 7 spoken of the contrast between Christ s priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 11) and the imperfect Aaronic priesthood, and he designates Jesus as "the surety of a better covenant" (verse 22). Then in Jeremiah 8, emphasizing the thought of the superiority of Christ's heavenly high-priesthood, he declares that Christ is the "mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises" (verse 6). The first covenant, he says, was not faultless, otherwise there would have been no need for a second; but the fault was not in the covenant but in the people who failed to keep it, though perhaps there is also the suggestion that the external imposition of laws could not suffice to secure true obedience. "For finding fault with them he saith, Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." The whole passage (Jeremiah 8-12) would repay careful study, but we need only note that not only is there prominence given to the great blessings of the covenant, perfect forgiveness and fullness of knowledge, but, as the very essence of the covenant-that which serves to distinguish it from the old covenant and at once to show its superiority and guarantee its permanence-there is this wonderful provision: "I will put my laws into their mind, and on their heart also will I write them: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." This at once shows the spirituality of the new covenant. Its requirements are not simply given in the form of external rules, but the living Spirit possesses the heart; the law becomes an internal dominating principle, and so true obedience is secured.
8. To Ezekiel:
Ezekiel had spoken to the same effect, though the word "new covenant" is not used in the passage, Ezekiel 36:27: "I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them." In chapter 37 Ezekiel again speaks of the great blessings to be enjoyed by the people of God, including cleansing, walking in God's statutes, recognition as God's people, etc., and he distinctly says of this era of blessing: "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them" (verse 26). Other important foreshadowings of the new covenant are found in Isaiah 54:10; Isaiah 55:3; Isaiah 59:21; Isaiah 61:8 Hosea 2:18-23 Malachi 3:1-4. We may well marvel at the spiritual insight of these prophets, and it is impossible to attribute their forecasts to natural genius; they can only be accounted for by Divine inspiration.
The writer to the Hebrews recurs again and again to this theme of the "New Covenant"; in Hebrews 10:16, 17 he cites the words of Jeremiah already quoted about writing the law on their minds, and remembering their sins no more. In Hebrews 12:24, he speaks of "Jesus the mediator of a new covenant," and "the blood of sprinkling," again connecting the "blood" with the "covenant," and finally, in Hebrews 13:20, he prays for the perfection of the saints through the "blood of an eternal covenant."
9. Contrast of Old and New in 2 Corinthians 3:
In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul has an interesting and instructive contrast between the old covenant and the new. He begins it by saying that "our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life" (2 Corinthians 3:5, 6). The "letter" is the letter of the law, of the old covenant which could only bring condemnation, but the spirit which characterizes the new covenant gives life, writes the law upon the heart. He goes on to speak of the old as that "ministration of death" which nevertheless "came with glory" (2 Corinthians 3:7), and he refers especially to the law, but the new covenant is "the ministration of the spirit," the "ministration of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 3:8, 9), and has a far greater glory than the old. The message of this "new covenant" is "the gospel of Christ." The glory of the new covenant is focused in Christ; rays forth from Him. The glory of the old dispensation was reflected upon the face of Moses, but that glory was transitory and so was the physical manifestation (2 Corinthians 3:13). The sight of the shining face of Moses awed the people of Israel and they revered him as leader specially favored of God (2 Corinthians 3:7-13). When he had delivered his message he veiled his face and thus the people could not see that the glow did not last; every time that he went into the Divine presence he took off the veil and afresh his face was lit up with the glory, and coming out with the traces of that glory lingering on his countenance he delivered his message to the people and again veiled his face (compare Exodus 34:29-35), and thus the transitoriness and obscurity of the old dispensation were symbolized. In glorious contrast to that symbolical obscurity, the ministers of the gospel, of the new covenant, use great boldness of speech; the veil is done away in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:12). The glory which comes through Him is perpetual, and fears no vanishing away.
BREACH OF COVENANT
brech, kuv'-e-nant, kuv'-e-nant.
COVENANT, ARK OF THE
See ARK OF THE COVENANT.
See COVENANT, THE NEW.
SALT, COVENANT OF
See COVENANT OF SALT.