As a kid did you ever talk about becoming blood brothers with a friend? Well, the concept comes from an ancient practice where people would “cut a covenant,” meaning two people would cut their arms and suck a bit of one another’s blood. The mingling of blood was considered a sacred bond and a solemn promise. This is where this whole concept becomes fascinating.
In the ancient Middle East and even in some modern societies, when a covenant, like a marriage, is made, the heads of the household make a solemn pact that the wife will be faithful to her husband and that the husband will not abuse his wife. The two men agreeing will take an animal, cut it in two, then each person walks between the two pieces as a sort of self-curse; by passing through the severed bodies of the animals, each person is in effect saying, “May the same thing happen to me if I do not keep my word.” It’s like a life-and-death version of Blood Brothers, and in the ancient Middle East, it was the most binding and sacred agreement a person could enter into.
The reason this is important is that 4000 years ago, there was a guy named Abrahm, who was an elderly man without an heir and believed that God had promised him a son and land, but with his age and the age of his wife, it seemed biologically impossible that it would ever happen.
So, Abrahm asks God for proof that he could be trusted, and in response, God proposes the same thing we just talked about, a life-and-death version of blood brothers.
A quick side note: Can you imagine God coming to you and asking for a blood oath of loyalty? You can’t say no, but also, would you want to bet your life on your ability to keep your word?
Here is how it goes down in the story, to firmly establish the seriousness of the covenant, God asks Abrahm for not just one animal, but every kind of animal used in sacrificial worship. So, he takes a heifer, a goat, and a ram, along with a dove and a young pigeon, and cuts them in half, as neatly as possible, down the animal’s backbone, laying them out facing one another down two parallel lines with a clear path between the pieces. Blood flows between the animals.
As night falls, Abrahm falls asleep and tosses and turns with nightmares all night. We read that a thick and dreadful darkness fell, which many of us can relate to, the dread and despair that sometimes falls at 3 am. But for Abrahm, at some point during the night, he sees a pot of fire and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the slain animals. It was God, keeping his end of the bargain, promising Abrahm that all nations would be blessed through his offspring. That God would fulfill his promises.
Now, this is a disturbing story for our modern senses, but it is also an extremely important one.
Here’s why: not long after this, we see the same pillar of fire and pillar of smoke that passed through the animals, leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
And fast forward 2000 years through Abrahm’s family line, and it takes us straight to Jesus. During the last meal he ate, took some bread and split it in half, and then poured out wine saying this is the blood of my covenant.
Not only that, but when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the temple that separated the people from God’s presence was split in half right down the middle. So that we no longer have to wonder if we have access to God and if he is serious about doing what he says he will do.
So, if you feel split in two by grief or longing, or maybe you are hoping for something that feels impossible, be reassured that we have a God who fulfills His promises.
Daily Reading: Genesis 15