One of these threads or characteristics is a bond—a bond of life and death, administered with sovereignty. “When God enters into a covenantal relationship with men, He sovereignly institutes a life and death bond.”7 When people enter into a covenant with one another, this bond of life and death is still instituted. We see this in various cultural covenants. “The result of a covenant commitment is the
establishment of a relationship. A covenant commits people to one another.”8
One of the obvious covenants is in the institution of marriage. God institutes marriage between a man and women. Two lives merge into one. Everything a person has belongs to his or her spouse, and vice versa. In a traditional marriage, the bride takes the groom’s last name. Why? The bride and groom no longer have two separate lives, but one life that is joined (bonded) together. Marriage is to be a bond until death. The wedding ring is viewed as a token of an endless covenant between its giver and receiver. It is looked upon in all ages and races and some cultures as the symbol of an union of the lives brought together.
Bond in Blood
The second characteristic required in a divine covenant is a bond in blood. Without the shedding or cutting of blood, there could be no covenant.9 The phase translated “to make a covenant” in the Old Testament really reads, “to cut covenant.” By initiating covenant, God never enters into a casual relationship with a person. Instead, the implications of His bonds extend to the ultimate issues of life and death. Henry Trumbull stated, “A covenant of blood, a covenant made by the intermingling of blood, has been recognized as the closest, the holiest, and the most indissoluble, compact conceivable. Such a covenant clearly involves an absolute surrender of one’s separate self, and an irrevocable merging of one’s individual nature into the dual, or the multiplied, personality included in the compact. Man’s highest and noblest outreaching of soul have, therefore, been for such a union with the divine nature, as is typified in this human covenant of blood.”10
Another characteristic seen in a divine covenant is a covenant that is sovereignly administered. There is no bartering, bargaining, or changing the rules to fit our purpose or lifestyle as in human covenants. There is no divorce, no annulment, no contractual agreement—it’s God’s way or no way. This is not an equal partnership. We do not bring into the covenant equal possessions that will benefit the other. There is nothing we bring into a divine covenant that will benefit God, yet everything God brings into covenant benefits us.11
Mr. Henry Trumbull, an evangelist, scholar, and author, wrote in 1871 that he was surprised to find nothing on covenant among his peers or in modern society. He based most of his accounts on Dr. David Livingstone and Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s encounters with various tribes in Africa. Let us take a look at some proof of the existence of these rites of blood covenant and the common characteristics that may date back to or before Abraham.
One illustration that might help us to grasp the significance of covenant is when Stanley sought Livingstone. He encountered a powerfully fierce tribe. Stanley was in no condition to fight them. Finally, his interpreter suggested that he make a covenant with them. Stanley asked what that meant and was told that it meant drinking each other’s blood. This rite repulsed Stanley. The condition continued to worsen; finally, the young man asked Stanley again why he did not cut the covenant with the tribal chief. Stanley asked what the result of such a covenant was. The interpreter answered, “Everything the chieftain has will be yours if you need it.” This appealed to Stanley, and after several days of negotiation, he and the chieftain arrived at the covenant. First the chieftain questioned Stanley as to his motives and his ability to keep covenant. Once the chief was satisfied with Stanley’s answers, the next step was to exchange gifts. The chief wanted Stanley’s white goat. The milk from the goat was the only real nourishment Stanley received and needed due to his poor health. It was very hard for Stanley to give up, but it was the only thing the chief would take. So Stanley finally gave in to the chief’s request and relinquished his goat. The chief then gave Stanley his seven-foot copper spear. Stanley thought he had gotten the worse of the deal, but he found that wherever he went in Africa with that spear, everybody bowed down and submitted to him. The chief brought in one of his princes, and Stanley brought one of his men from England to stand in as a substitute. Then a priest came forward with a cup of wine. The priest then made an incision in the wrist of the Englishman and let the blood drip into the cup of wine. He then made a similar incision in the wrist of the prince and let his blood also drip into the cup of wine. Then the bloods were mixed together. The priest then handed the cup to the Englishman to drink from, and then handed it to the prince, who drank the rest of it.
After the two men had drunk each other’s blood, a priest stepped out and pronounced the worst curse Stanley had ever heard—curses that were to come upon him if he broke covenant. Next, Stanley’s interpreter took his part and pronounced curses upon the chief, his family, and his tribe if they broke covenant with Stanley.
Next, the prince and Englishman rubbed their wrists together so that their blood mingled. They were now blood brothers. Then gunpowder was rubbed into the wound so that when it healed, there would be a scar to remind them of their covenant. Although the two men were substitutes, they had bound Stanley and the chief, Stanley’s men and the chief’s warriors into an indissoluble covenant by blood.
The last step in this covenant was the planting of trees. This was to be a memorial of an everlasting covenant. After the planting of the trees, the chief shouted, “Come, buy and sell with Stanley, for he is our blood brother.”
A few hours earlier, Stanley’s men had to stand guard over their trinkets and bales of cotton cloth so they would not be stolen. Now Stanley could leave his items unattended, and nothing would be disturbed. Why? It was because of the blood covenant cut between Stanley and the chief.12
Stanley entered into the covenant of blood brotherhood repeatedly with African representatives; in some instances, by allowing one of his personal escorts to bleed for him, and at other times, by the opening of his own veins.
Blood Is the Life
The rite of blood-friendship is that the blood is the life of a living being—not just that the blood is essential to life, but that it is life. The belief is that the blood can retain its power, whether it passes by the lips or the vein.
“According to this view the blending of the blood of two organisms is equivalent to the blending of the lives, of the personalities, of the natures, thus bringing together one life in the two bodies, a common life between the two friends.”13
To be continued...