Why The Blood Covenant Has Lost Its Meaning

By William Handschumacher

Rock of Offence Special Commentary


The two participants in the cutting of the covenant are called "covenant heads." The covenant remains in effect until both covenant heads die. If one covenant head dies, the other will extend the benefits and blessings of the covenant to the family of the deceased covenant head. In essence, a blood covenant not only joins the two covenant heads together but also joins the families as well. These facts should be kept firmly in mind as we explore the reality of our redemption in the new covenant in Christ’s blood.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the two covenant heads are called "friends." The word "friend" is a covenant term that has completely lost its meaning in today's English language. We say, "I think I'll have a friend over for dinner tonight," or "I want you to meet a good friend of mine." The original meaning of "friend" carried with it the union of a blood covenant. It means very little in our culture. The same thing is true of the handshake. This blood covenant act has lost its true meaning. In our culture, it has become nothing more than a gesture that communicates courtesy or greeting. If we took seriously the true meaning behind the handshake, we would be very careful in using it.

With these facts in mind, we can
better understand what Jesus
was saying in John 15:13-15...

"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you."

The disciples were excited about the words Jesus used here. In that part of the world and at that time, the blood covenant was a respected institution. When Jesus used the word "friend" to define his relationship with these men, it had a tremendous impact on their lives. The word "friend" as Jesus used it did not mean some kind of "Jesus is my buddy, my pal" mentality that is found in some parts of the church today. The word "friend" as used in this verse meant "covenant friend" or "blood brother." It implied the union of two people in a blood covenant. Religious teaching and the erosion of the true meaning of covenant terms like "friend" by our modern culture causes us to gloss over the importance of this section of scripture. The "friendship" Jesus was talking about in this scripture was not limited to the disciples but to all those who receive salvation through their testimony, which includes us.


Recently, I was listening to a seminar given by Malcolm Smith, author of the book, "Blood Brothers in Christ." This seminar was being offered at the fellowship I attended. At that time my wife and I were working with the youth group of the church. After the youth service, I had to go through the main auditorium where Malcolm was speaking. I recognized that he was speaking on the subject of the blood covenant and decided to stop and listen. Malcolm told of an experience he had while in Africa, where he had traveled to do some evangelistic work. Apparently, someone ask him to speak to a tribe of Zulus, but time would not allow him to do so. Instead of speaking to them directly, Malcolm made a cassette tape on the subject of the gospel of Jesus Christ ... teaching it within the framework of the blood covenant. Being an African tribe, the Zulus were very familiar with the blood covenant since it was part of their culture. When these tribes got hold of the Gospel and understood it as a blood covenant, revival began to break out. On a return trip at a later date, much to his surprise, Malcolm learned that as a result of this cassette tape, whole tribes in some areas had received the gospel and accepted Jesus Christ.

What made the difference in this situation? Other missionaries had preached the Gospel to the Zulus with little success. Conveying the Gospel in the framework of the blood covenant was the reason Malcolm had been successful when other missionaries before him had failed. It made all the difference. The Gospel of Christ cannot be fully understood apart from a blood covenant mentality. The whole message of the Gospel is firmly grounded in blood covenant terminology. In this area, the Zulus have a big advantage over the church in modern America.


In the modern Church, two understandings of the blood covenant are taught. The understanding we’ve looked at so far comes from the Middle Eastern culture and is consistent with the teachings of the Bible. In most of our seminaries, however, another mentality is taught. I refer to it as the "Western mentality". In the western understanding, the aspect of two people becoming one (or union) and the common holdings of all assets and liabilities is de-emphasized ... or removed altogether. Most modern seminaries teach that the blood covenant is nothing more than a contract or an agreement between two people. When you apply this definition to the story of the Bible, you get a totally different concept of God. This re-defining of the blood covenant is done for a specific reason. Most of our seminaries and Bible schools teach a "liberal" theology that denies or minimizes God’s miracle working power today. Some go as far as to call authentic miracles “works of Satan”. In an effort to provide a more believable explanation as to why God does not act today the way He did in Bible times, some principles from the Bible must be re-defined. This is often done to take the pressure off Church leadership to explain why God has somehow changed. You see, if the conditions are the same for us today as they were in the early Church (and they are), then we have to take a closer look at what is being taught ... and eventually conclude that we are being taught wrong. Experience shows us that admitting to error is not a character trait of most religious leaders. The Pharisees of Jesus' day would not admit wrong beliefs even when confronted face to face with the evidence. The same spiritual pride is with us today. Little has changed except the names.

Our faith is the unfortunate victim of the "western" interpretation of covenant. Faith is one of the most crucial areas in the believer's life. The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The Bible states three times that “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38). No one can be saved without faith and no one can receive anything from God unless they ask in faith (James 1:6-8). Don't let anyone tell you that the subject of personal faith is not important. It’s the deciding factor involving heaven or hell, life and death for the Christian. It is no small wonder that Satan has targeted this all-important subject for some of the most convincing deceptions that can be found in religious teachings.

A correct understanding of covenant is crucial because our faith is directly tied to it. Our conception of God and our faith in what He will do for us is related directly to our understanding of the blood covenant. As we saw earlier, Abram's faith was based upon a blood covenant that God initiated and bound Himself to. In the book of Romans, Abraham is called "the father of all them that believe" (Romans 4:11). If you do an in-depth study on the life of Abraham, you will find that his strong faith was firmly rooted in this blood covenant that God initiated. Our faith as Christians should also be rooted in covenant, the blood covenant of Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20). If our understanding of covenant basics is incorrect then we will possess a "counterfeit" faith when dealing with our Father on certain issues. This kind of faith looks good and tends to be socially acceptable, but it is weak and ineffective when relating with our Father in heaven.

Because of this "western" mentality of the blood covenant, we find two types of faith in the Church today. One type of faith is based on the ancient Middle Eastern understanding of the blood covenant, and the other type of faith is based on the "western" understanding. The western interpretation says that the blood covenant in the Bible is just an agreement or contract. It re-defines the "sovereignty of God" by declaring that God freely does whatever He wants and has not bound Himself to any kind of 'covenant.' Those who hold to the western viewpoint never deny the existence of God's covenant, yet they declare that God is not under any special obligation to it. This is nothing but spiritual nonsense. They say that for God to be bound to such an agreement is a violation of His sovereignty. Often you hear the term "sovereignty of God" used in the defense of the western interpretation of covenant. The word "sovereignty" means absolute in power and authority. Many Christians interpret this to mean that God does whatever He wants and is not subject to anyone or anything because He is "sovereign." God can either make you sick or heal you depending on what He wants to do. Since God is not bound to a "covenant," He can afflict you with cancer to teach you piety, holiness or some hidden purpose. This actually reflects the belief of a majority of professing Christians. To them, to take any other position on God's sovereignty is to call His authority into question, but does it really? Did you know that the United States is called a "sovereign nation?" This 'sovereignty' also means absolute in power and authority. It means that the United States has absolute power and authority over its own borders. Does this mean that the United States government does whatever it wants to those within its borders? No it does not. America has a document called the Constitution. This document establishes certain limitations on government and guarantees certain rights and privileges to U.S. citizens. These rights are designed to protect the people from abuse that might come from their own government. The Constitution does not, however, make the United States any less a "sovereign" nation.

The Word of God tells us there is a blood covenant which God initiated and to which He bound Himself. Because it was God who initiated and established the provisions of this covenant, God's sovereignty is not affected. It was His 'sovereign' choice to provide us these rights. This blood covenant guarantees certain rights and privileges to believers in Jesus Christ and is the foundation for our faith toward God. Because of the existence of this covenant, we can "have faith" that God will do certain things because it is a "blood oath" forever established on the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood of God Himself sealed this covenant and it is that blood which becomes the surety of the promises (Hebrews 7:22). For this reason, our job is to learn what our responsibilities are and how to receive what is promised by the covenant. True Bible faith is always evidenced by receiving the answer when you pray and before you actually get what you requested. You can better understand the words of Jesus in Mark 11:24 when He said...

"Therefore I say to you, whatever
things you ask when you pray,
believe that you receive them,
and you will have them."

The western understanding of covenant, however, says something different. It says that God does whatever He wants and that there is no covenant to which He is bound. This understanding produces what is often called "passive faith." This type of faith is a counterfeit, which means it may look spiritual and pious but it isn't the real thing. Someone who prays with this type of faith might say something like ...

"it might not be God's will to heal me. God might want me sick so that He can make me more dependent on Him," or "It might not be in God's wisdom for Him to give me what I ask for," or "God, please heal me if it be Thy will." These kinds of prayer are caused by a lack of knowledge about our covenant with God.

Recently I heard a well known Bible teacher sharing his "concern" for Christians who believed that God would give them that for which they prayed. This man's books are very popular and can easily be found in most Christian bookstores. He went on to say that he believed if God were to give us what we ask for it would be one of the worst things that could happen to us. He said that instead of asking God to give us what we wanted or needed, we should ask God to "do the right thing." Now that kind of thinking may sound like a good, humble religious practice; but does it agree with what the Bible teaches? In Mark 11:24, did Jesus say ...whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that God will do the right thing, and you will get the right thing? No He didn’t. If we read what Jesus said in John 14:13-14, we see that this teacher is saying something that directly contradicts scripture. This type of popular teaching causes Christians to have impotent faith.

"And whatever ye shall ask in
my name, that will I do, that
the Father may be glorified in
the Son. If ye shall ask
anything in My name, I will
do it."

Again in John 15:7 Jesus says...

"If you abide in Me, and My words
abide in you, you will ask what
you desire, and it shall be done
for you."

God wants us to be in a position of "knowing" when it comes to getting our prayers answered. You will find that a good deal of modern "Christian" teaching is specifically designed to destroy the Bible kind of faith, a faith which is based on blood covenant, and to replace it with a counterfeit (passive) faith which is based on "theology" and human reason.

In Numbers chapter 13, God instructed Moses to send out twelve men, one from each tribe of Israel, to search out the promised land (the land God promised to Abraham through a blood covenant). These men were sent out to gather information concerning the strength of the inhabitants of the land and its abundance. When they returned, ten of the spies stirred up the entire congregation of Israel with what the Bible called "an evil report." These ten men told everyone that because of the strong, fortified cities, it was impossible for Israel to conquer this land. They proceeded to say that the inhabitants of the land were exceedingly great and appeared as "giants" compared to Israel. In the natural realm, everything they said appeared to be correct. Only two men, Joshua and Caleb, tried to convince the people that they were well able to take the land. They based their conclusion, not on the outward appearance of the situation but on what God had promised. The people chose to listen to the 'majority' who said it was impossible.

The conflict illustrated here is one of a blood covenant vs. human reason. Joshua and Caleb were blood covenant men. They knew that God had given Israel this land and swore it in a blood oath to Abraham. Joshua and Caleb knew it could not fail to come to pass. The other ten spies did not respect the fact that God had committed Himself to this covenant. They based their success or failure on the 'circumstances' and on Israel's military ability to take the land. They did not consider God’s part in the matter. The ten spies persuaded all the congregation of Israel to side with them. God said that these ten spies made an "evil report" (Numbers 13:32). My concern over the modern institutional church is that the majority is rarely right. In this case, only two men out of twelve were right, but not listened to. As a result of following the majority, God judged the entire nation of Israel. He made them wander in the wilderness until that generation died off. When God finally allowed Israel to go in and possess the land, some 40 years later, only Joshua and Caleb were still alive and had the joy of seeing God's covenant promise to Abraham come to pass! It is interesting that the difference between an evil report and a right report was Joshua and Caleb's understanding of blood covenant principles. It is also interesting that the Bible describes Joshua and Caleb as great men of faith. It is my observation that the faith of these men came from the same place where Abraham's faith came from ... the blood covenant. God settled Abraham's doubts about inheriting the land by making a covenant with him - and this same covenant was the anchor and the foundation for the faith of Joshua and Caleb. They knew they could take the land.

From this example, I have come up with what I call the "20/80 rule." From watching the actions of the modern institutional church, I have found that more than 8 out of 10 professing Christians reject the Bible position on covenant and embrace human reason and theology as their guiding principles. Most of what is taught today concerning faith is a passive counterfeit faith based on the Western understanding of covenant. The word passive describes the spiritual condition in which it places a believer. A person with passive faith fails to take personal responsibility when making prayer petitions. This attitude subtly places all the blame for unanswered prayer on God. If their prayers aren't answered they say, "It must not have been God's will." They never stop to consider that maybe they didn't meet the Biblical conditions required to get an answer in the first place ... like praying the way Jesus said to pray in Mark 11:24. The western understanding of covenant is a popular doctrine and easily found on Christian radio and in Christian bookstores. Some of the churches’ most trusted, well-known preachers teach it as truth. Some Christians are confused by what they see going on in Christendom today. Many secretly want to know why God seems different now than He is in the Bible. The answer is no mystery. God is still the same as He was. We are the ones who have changed. By allowing religious thinking to change the definition of covenant, we have unknowingly lost the very foundation for our faith. The book of James warns that without the true Bible kind of faith, "...let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord" (James 1:6-7). The problem lies with the kind of faith we have - and its foundation. Change the meaning of our blood covenant with God and you destroy the Bible kind of faith.

In Matthew chapter 14, we see another example of Bible faith in action. Starting in verse 22, we see Jesus send his disciples across the sea by ship while he sent the multitude away after He fed the five thousand. In the fourth watch of the night, the boat was tossed about by the waves in a storm and Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. You can read the entire account yourself, but we need to focus on what Peter did in this situation. Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." Jesus said one word to Peter, "Come." Peter got out of the boat in the middle of the storm and walked on the water. But, almost immediately something happened. Peter started out in success by receiving the word of Jesus to "come."

As long as his faith remained
on what Jesus said, he could do
the same thing that Jesus did,
which was 'walk on the water'.

Peter's faith, however, was pulled off and became focused on the "boisterous wind." Human reason took over at that point and he began to sink. Human reason said to Peter, "look at the wind - look at the storm - look where you are standing - this is impossible!" The Bible says that Jesus had to catch him before he went under. Jesus rebuked Peter by saying to him "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Jesus said that Peter had "little
faith." Yet, I don't know of
anyone in the modern Church that
could take even one step onto
water ... yet Peter (as a mortal
man) did. In my opinion, this is
the real miracle in the story. If
Peter had "little faith", where
are we at in the church today?

Most of the time, preachers focus our attention on Peter's words, "Lord save me!" They turn this incident into something that illustrates our need of salvation. Although this is not necessarily wrong, we also need to see that this miracle gives one of the clearest examples about the nature of real Biblical faith. It is also important to see that Peter was the only one to get out of the boat. The other eleven disciples were afraid to try! The question needs to be asked; "What would you do if you were there?"

There is another important lesson to be learned from this example. Notice very carefully that Jesus stated it was His will for Peter to walk on the water by saying the word "come." Jesus wanted Peter to succeed. If this is true (and it is), why did Peter sink?

The majority of the Church has
the wrong notion that if something
is God's will then it automatically
happens. Yet, nothing could be
further from the truth. Jesus
said that Peter's failure was due
to "little faith." How could
this be since God always does
whatever He wants and is limited
by no one or no thing? Jesus
clearly wanted Peter to walk on
the water.

The argument that God does whatever
He wants doesn't hold up in this
example and clearly doesn't remain
true in other examples in the Bible,
such as when the woman with an
issue of blood was healed by
touching the border of Jesus'
garment. Jesus said, "Daughter, be
of good cheer; your faith has made
you well." (Luke 8:43-48)

If these things are true then God demands an active faith from us, not passive faith. A believer with active faith recognizes that they have a responsibility in the prayer process. They understand that spiritual success or failure has a lot to do with the condition of their faith. It is not that we tell God how to answer our prayers as some have asserted. Rather, it is our being obedient to God's ways.

When you look at Peter's example of walking on the water, along with the example of the twelve spies, you see that true faith filled covenant people are few in number and are usually persecuted by the religious community as being fanatics or heretics. Since Jesus was also branded as a heretic by the religious leaders of His day, maybe this should be viewed as something positive. I would rather be Jesus' group any day.

These scriptural examples are provided to illustrate a point. First of all, Bible faith is demonstrated by receiving. Faith is a right response to God's Word and this right response is one of receiving. Joshua and Caleb received the taking of the promised land before they had it. Their faith was based on God's promise given through a blood covenant to Abraham. Peter received Jesus' word to "come." He accepted Jesus' word as true and demonstrated it by stepping out of the boat in them middle of the sea ... in the middle of a violent storm. It is this kind of Bible faith that God is looking for. As we study more about our covenant with God in the pages ahead, we need to keep in mind that faith in the blood of God’s Son is the only way it operates. Without this kind of faith, the new covenant in Christ’s blood will not benefit us. Hebrews 4:1-2 warns ...

"Therefore, since a promise
remains of entering His rest,
let us fear lest any of you
seem to have come short of
it. For indeed the gospel
was preached to us as well as
to them; but the word which
they heard did not profit
them, not being mixed with
faith in those who heard it."

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