The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: C

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Covenant-victim, the

The sacrifice of the covenant victim is described in Jer 34:18-20: "The men who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will hand over to their enemies who seek their lives. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth."

It was first referred to in Gen 15:9,10,17:

"So the LORD said to him, 'Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.' Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half... When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces."
In this ritual, an animal is sacrificed, and separated into parts: all parties to the covenant must pass between the separated pieces of the sacrifice. Such a practice was common in the Middle East -- evidence of such a practice has been found among other peoples of the area, and not just Jews. Two individuals, or two groups, would decide to make a solemn covenant, or contract, with one another; it might be a purely secular matter, having to do with property rights or business arrangements. To confirm the agreement, they would sacrifice an animal, cut the animal in pieces, separate the pieces, and then pass between the parts, or meet in their midst. They would also participate in a common meal of fellowship, each partaking of the animal which they had sacrificed and separated. Thereby they would confirm, by a gesture of great solemnity, their mutual understanding of the terms of their agreement.

They were saying something else as well, something very profound and sobering: if anyone violated the terms of that covenant, then he was deserving of the same fate that had befallen the covenant-victim; he was deserving of death. In fact, he would have already eaten his own condemnation, in the meal itself!

  1. Quite possibly, this is the basis, too, for the oft-repeated and rather enigmatic vow: "The LORD -- or God -- do so to me, and more also, if...": Rth 1:17; 1Sa 3:17; 14:44; 20:13; 25:22; 2Sa 19:13; 1Ki 2:23; 2Ki 6:31; etc. May God do WHAT, exactly? The same thing that was done to the covenant-victim!
  2. Likewise, it explains the Hebraism, where "to make a covenant" -- as we might put it -- is, literally, "to CUT a covenant"!
  3. Also, it may account for the rather gruesome procedure adopted by the Levite, when he cut up his dead concubine into twelve pieces and sent the pieces around to the various tribes (Jdg 19:29).
  4. ...As well as what Saul did, similarly, with two oxen (1Sa 11:7), and what Samuel did with Agag (1Sa 15:33).
  5. ...And the words of Jesus in Mat 24:51, where the fate of the unfaithful servant was to be "cut in pieces" or "cut asunder"!
  6. Notice also how Isaac and Abimelech (Gen 26:28-31), and Jacob and Laban (Gen 31:44-54) confirm their agreements by a "sacrifice" and a meal.
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