Susan C. Anthony

Huppah, Jewish wedding canopy Covenants

If we truly love God, it is important to value what is important to Him. One thing of immense value to God is the covenant relationship. It might be said that we cannot understand God, His Word, or our relationship to Him without understanding the blood covenant. It might even be said that the theme of the Bible is the blood covenant. Unless we understand its importance and value, it is unlikely we will fully understand marriage even in its human manifestation.

According to the Bible, God is love (1 John 4:8). Love is a key and essential aspect of His character. Love must express itself through relationships. It cannot exist in a vacuum. The deepest possible expression of love is a covenant relationship. God honors the keeping of covenant promises and detests the breaking of them.

Archaeologists and anthropologists have not found evidence of a single ancient civilization or culture that did not practice some form of the blood covenant. The word “covenant” is actually short for “blood covenant.” It is sometimes claimed that God copied the blood covenant ritual He used with Abraham in Genesis 15 from surrounding cultures. In view of the worldwide practice of the custom, it is more likely that God created it and man did the copying, adapting it in a variety of ways over time as cultures diverged.

What is a covenant, exactly? It is far more than a contract. In the mind of ancient man, it was the most binding, sacred agreement a person could enter. In it, two individuals died to self and were reborn as one. Aristotle defined it as one soul in two bodies. It must be voluntary and it is irrevocable. Covenants may be between equals, or they may be between partners who are not equal. Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman. Covenant friends of the same gender are sometimes called “blood brothers.”

Trumbull wrote, “All the world over, men who were in the covenant of blood-friendship were ready—or were supposed to be ready—to give not only their lives for each other, but even to give, for each other, that which was dearer to them than life itself.” In the case of the Abrahamic Covenant, Abraham was ready to give that which was dearer to him than life itself, his miracle son of promise, Isaac. God had promised to build a nation through Isaac, who at the time had no children. Formerly, when God had promised a son in Abraham’s old age to his barren wife Sarah, Abraham questioned and doubted. After the miracle of Isaac’s birth, he was confident that God would be true to His promises, no matter what. His trust was complete. Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. God provided a ram as a substitute for the life of Isaac. This Old Testament story is a picture of what happened when God the Father provided God the Son as a ransom, or substitute, for many (Mark 10:45).

True Friendship

The word “friend” was originally a covenant term. A friend was someone with whom you enjoyed a covenant relationship, someone you could trust with your life. We use the word much more casually in modern times.

Maimonides distinguished three friendship categories:

  1. haver le’davar: a utilitarian association that depends on mutual usefulness. When the usefulness disappears, the bond of love dissolves.
  2. haver le’daagah: someone with whom you share sorrows, troubles and joys.
  3. haver le’deah: joint dedication to common goals.

The modern definition for “friend” may not extend past category 1. What we call a “true friendship” has more in common with a covenant bond. It is lifelong. A true friend values you as much or more than his/her own life.

Americans value, more than most, the ideal of the independent, rugged individual who takes on the world singlehandedly. James Bond types capture our imagination. People in other cultures and times would consider such freewheeling independence to be spiritual poverty. True wealth to them would be a “blood brother” or covenant partner. Such a person is pledged to be there for you, without question or doubt, regardless of cost or inconvenience. If necessary, he or she would gladly trade his life for yours.

Both Abraham (Isaiah 41:8) and Moses (Exodus 33:11) are called friends of God. In John 15:14, Jesus says to His followers,

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants…. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you.

James 4:4 tells us that friendship with the world is enmity toward God. Jesus desires to be our friend, to be our groom, to enter into an everlasting covenant with us as His treasured loved ones. Remember that a covenant must be voluntary on both sides. No relationship of true love can be forced. God’s offer of friendship has been made. We are free to accept or reject it.

What really matters in life? In the end, it isn’t good looks or fine clothing. It isn’t career or wealth. As life draws to a close, many people become frail and ill, no longer “useful.” What will matter once we have an entire life to reflect upon? According to those who’ve gone before, it’s people—family and friends, love and relationships. It’s the people who stand by your bedside and hold your hand to the end, counting it a privilege. Everything else fades to insignificance. At that point, it becomes clear that covenant relationships are all that count.

Consider Genesis 2:18: The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. In Hebrew, the word translated “alone” means “lonely” or isolated. One can be lonely in a crowd. The woman God gave was more than a companion; she was Adam’s own flesh and blood, a friend and covenant partner.

Customs Relating to Covenant

Although covenant ceremonies vary from culture to culture, most contain the following aspects in some form:

  1. Covenant promises
  2. Blood sacrifice
  3. Bloody path
  4. Oaths, blessings and curses
  5. Mingling of blood
  6. Change of names
  7. Exchange of gifts (weapons, belt, garment)
  8. Covenant meal
  9. Witness, sign or memorial

Covenant promises. There are three primary reasons for choosing to enter into a covenant partnership with someone: protection, trust and love. A covenant promises these things and anything else the partners desire, most especially faithfulness, loyalty, and dependability. The promises typically extend to families and at least seven generations, although descendants could opt out if they so chose. One of God’s promises to Abraham was that through his offspring (Christ), all nations on earth would be blessed.

Blood sacrifice. The word for covenant in Hebrew is berith, meaning to cut until blood flows. In Genesis 15, five animals were sacrificed, signifying the importance and solemnity of the Abrahamic Covenant. Five is a number often associated with grace, or unmerited favor, in the Bible.

To cut covenant, an animal would be cut down the backbone and the halves placed side by side to form a wall of blood, with a river of blood between. The red carpet is symbolic of the river of blood. The witnesses of each partner stood on opposite sides. At least two witnesses, one for each party, were required.

Bloody path. The partners would join hands and walk twice through and around the halves of the dead animal in a figure 8 (infinity symbol). In the Abrahamic Covenant, the smoking furnace (God’s justice) and the blazing torch (God’s mercy) joined hands and walked together through the pieces. Abraham himself was on the side in a deep sleep. The fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant depends totally on God, who does not lie (Titus 1:2).

Oaths, blessings and curses. The partners would swear to each other a solemn oath: “May God do to me as has been done to this animal if every I break this covenant.” This called down the curse of death on oneself should the covenant be willfully broken. Exodus 4:24 is puzzling without this understanding. The Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. Why? Moses had willfully broken (literally “trampled underfoot”) the covenant by refusing to circumcise his son. By circumcising the boy, complying with the terms of the covenant, death was averted.

The terms of the covenant and the blessings that would come from keeping it were stated. In Deuteronomy 30:19, God says to Israel regarding the Mosaic covenant made through Moses on Mt. Sinai, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Notice the two witnesses.

In this case, Israel broke the covenant and chose the curses. God, however, remains faithful to His part of the covenant. They broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them. (Jeremiah 31:32). The prophet Hosea shows God’s heart toward Israel, His unfaithful wife. God keeps his promises, even when we break ours.

Mingling of blood. Blood in the Bible and in many cultures symbolizes life (Lev. 17:11). The giving of blood represents the giving of life and the taking of blood represents the taking of life. When blood is transfused into the veins of another, health and life flow in, pushing back death. A covenant symbolizes taking in the blood of another and thereby acquiring that person’s life. In this way two unrelated persons become one “flesh and blood.”

There were a number of rituals for mingling blood:

  • Partners might stand in the river of warm blood from the sacrificed animal, cut themselves, and mingle their blood.
  • Sometimes drops of each person’s blood would be caught and mingled in a cup of wine from which each partner would drink. God expressly forbid Israel from drinking blood (Leviticus 7:27), but blood covenants in other cultures included this.
  • Left ring fingers might be dipped into the wine containing drops of blood and touched to each other’s lips.
  • Partners might cut their palms, then hold them together to mingle the blood. This is the origin of the handshake.
  • Partners might cut their right wrists, then hold them up and grasp the partner’s hand and arm to mingle the blood. This is the origin of raising the right hand as a witness in a court of law while swearing to tell the truth.
  • The left ring finger was believed to connect directly to the heart. One ritual was to circumscribe that finger deeply enough to draw blood. Black powder would be rubbed into the cut to cause a pronounced scar. Later in history, a gold or silver ring might be worn to cover the scar. This is the origin of the wedding ring.

Change of names. Often the covenant partners would change or mingle their names at the time a covenant was made. Both might add the other’s name to his or hers, or one might take on the other’s name as is still common after marriage. Abram’s name changed to Abraham, and Sarai’s name changed to Sarah. The “h” sound is the sound of breath, from “Yahweh”, the breath of life.

Exchange of gifts. Typical exchanges included clothing, belts and weapons. In 1 Samuel 18, Jonathan made a covenant with David. The Bible says he became one in spirit with David because he loved him as himself. 1 Samuel 18:4 says, Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.

The robe and tunic represent the identity and authority of the person. Partner takes on the identity of each other in an exchange of clothing. David put on the kingly robe of Jonathan; Jonathan put on the shepherd’s cloak of David. The belt, from which hung the sword and dagger, represents strength. Each partner pledges to make his strength fully available to the other. The weapons represent protection. A covenant partner might lay his sword at the feet of the other, pledging to protect that person until death. All assets and all debts merge as two become one.

Covenant meal. The most important parts of the covenant meal were bread and wine. Bread represents flesh and wine represents blood and spirit. Partners would tear bread in half and feed the pieces to each other, signifying the joining of their flesh. (Cake is used rather than bread in modern marriage ceremonies.) Wine symbolized joy to the Hebrews. Grape juice sours, but wine, like true love, improves with time. Partners might pour wine and intertwine their arms while drinking it. This symbolized the joining of life, blood and spirit. Each was symbolically saying, “My body is your body; my blood is your blood.” The two became one: one mind, one voice. In addition to bread and wine, the sacrificial animal might be cooked and eaten at the covenant meal.

Witness, sign or memorial. This was a reminder to all parties and witness of the solemn agreement that had been made. A tree might be planted or a heap of stones erected. In Genesis 21, Abraham planted a tree as witness to the covenant he made with Abimelech. In Genesis 31, Jacob and Laban erected a stone pillar as witness to their covenant. The rainbow is the sign of the covenant God made with Noah (Genesis 9:13). Circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17:11). Note that circumcision involves the shedding of blood, the blood of the covenant.

Our Covenant Relationship with Jesus

Jesus Christ invites all human beings to enter into a covenant relationship with Him, in which two become one.

Jesus provides for us all parts of the covenant.

Covenant promises. The Bible details for us the promises of Jesus, should we choose to enter into a covenant with Him. These promises include eternal life with Him.

Blood sacrifice. Christ Himself is the sacrificial animal, the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Bloody path. We walk through the curtain of His flesh (Hebrews 10:20). The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom at Christ’s crucifixion (Mark 15:38), enabling us to enter into God’s presence directly.

Oaths, blessings and curses. We make a solemn oath to die to independent living and to become one with Him. Paul says in Galatians 2:20: I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Christ promises to be with us always, even to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). There are blessings for walking within God’s will during the Christian life, and curses for disobeying. Jesus, however, remains true to His covenant promises regardless of our choices. Our salvation is assured once we have entered into a covenant with Him. He promises to change our hearts, to answer our prayers, and to give us peace and light.

Mingling of blood. We give Jesus our sinful, dying blood and He gives us His perfect, living blood (Hebrews 9:14).

Change of names. Jesus frequently referred to Himself as the "Son of Man." We adopt His Name by becoming “Christians.” We are to sing praises to His Name, glorify His Name, pray in His Name, call on His Name, and believe in His Name. Revelation 2:17 makes a promise to those who overcome: a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Exchange of gifts. Christ put on our robe of flesh (John 1:4). We are to clothe ourselves with Christ (Romans 13:14). We will one day be provided with white robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14) and He will wear a robe dipped in blood (Revelation 19:13). Hebrews 2:14-15 says He shared in our humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death (the devil) and free those who were held in slavery by their fear of death. We are to take off the old self and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:9-10).

The weapons represent protection. God promises to protect us from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3) as well as to avenge our enemies in His time. We are never to pay back evil for evil, or to take our own revenge (Romans 12:19). We protect His reputation through righteous actions and words, and by not defending or excusing sin, whether ours or others’.

The belt represents strength. Christ gives us His strength. Philippians 4:13 says, I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. The word for strength here is the word for “inspire” which means “breathe into.” Christ breathes His strength into us. We offer our strength to Him when we love Him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength (Mark 12:30).

Covenant meal. Communion is the covenant meal. We symbolically eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood, a reminder that we are one with Him. In John 6:56, He promises, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” The covenant meal signifies taking in the flesh and blood of the covenant partner, becoming one with him/her. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: “My prayer is not for them (the disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message (the Church to come), that all of them may be as one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”

Witness, sign, or memorial. The witness or seal of the covenant with Christ is the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 says, You were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.

The Jewish Wedding

Jesus is described as a bridegroom in Mark 2:19 and by John the Baptist in John 3:29. The Church is called the “bride of Christ” in Ephesians 5:32. In Hebrew, the word translated “bridegroom” is hatan which means “one who enters covenant.” The Hebrew word for “bride” is kallah which means “complete” or “enclosed one.”

This explains why the God is portrayed as masculine, and why there are no goddesses in Christianity. The second commandment forbids the making of graven images, emphasize that God is spirit not matter. Israel is the wife of God the Father, an adulterous wife married to a forever-faithful husband as shown in Hosea. The Church is the Bride of Christ. Jesus, God the Son, loved us, descended to betroth us, and has promised to share His riches with us in an eternal covenant relationship. The human marriage is a copy and example of the great plan of God.

Jesus was a Jew, speaking to a Hebrew audience. It is not surprising that he used terminology and symbols that call to mind the Jewish wedding. Getting married in Israel was a long process involving the following steps:

  1. The Match (Shiddukhin). The father of the groom or his trusted agent would approach the father of the bride with a proposal of marriage. The groom could ask his father to get for him a particular bride as did Samson in Judges 14:3. Abraham sent a trusted servant to get a bride for Isaac in Genesis 24.
  2. The Bride Price (Mohar). A bride price would be established and agreed upon. The higher the price, the more value the groom placed on the bride. Mohar would typically be at least a year’s wages. It was paid to the father of the bride to be held in trust for her should her husband die or break the covenant.
  3. The Marriage Contract (Ketubah). A written contract would be prepared, detailing the rights of the bride and the promises and obligations of the groom.
  4. Consent of the Bride. The bride must give her consent. The young man would pour a cup of wine for his beloved. If she drank it, she accepted his proposal. If she turned away, there would be no covenant and the mohar would be refunded. Since this was a blood covenant, her acceptance must be voluntary, not forced or a result of obligation. After she accepted the cup, the covenant could not be broken. A divorce was required to break it and the penalty for breaking it was severe, sometimes even death.
  5. Love Gifts (Mattan). The groom would give gifts to express his love for the bride. This might include a beautiful wedding garment.
  6. The Dowry (Shiluhim). The father would give gifts to the bride. Since she would be joining another family, these gifts might constitute her portion of the inheritance.
  7. The Betrothal (Kiddushin). The groom would depart, saying, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He left to build a bridal chamber onto his father’s house or a separate domicile on his father’s property. It had to be beautiful, fully decorated, and stocked with provisions for the seven days he would be sequestered there with his bride. During this time, typically about a year, he could not be seen by his bride. The father was the judge of when the chamber was complete. If asked the wedding date, the groom would have to say, “Only my father knows.”
  8. The Waiting of the Bride. During the time of betrothal, a bride’s obligation was to wait and make herself ready. She was “set apart” to her groom. In public, she wore a veil, signifying that she was not available, that she had been bought with a price. She was to wait in anticipation and always be ready, with oil in her lamp and her veil by her bedside in case her groom should return in the night.
  9. The Bride’s Purification (Mikveh). The bride must be cleansed in a mikveh. This was a ritual bath where she immersed herself completely, symbolizing cleansing and rebirth. Her first mikveh would take place during this time of betrothal.
  10. The Return of the Groom. When the time was right and the bridal chamber was complete, the groom’s father would give permission for him to claim his bride. The groom would wear fine clothing and a diadem as he went with his friends, making every attempt to surprise the bride. When he arrived at the bride’s house, the friends would shout, “Behold, the bridegroom comes!” and “Blessed is he who comes!” The shofar or ram’s horn trumpet would be blown. The groom would go boldly into the house and abduct the bride, carrying her off into the night, to her great delight. His friends and her bridesmaids would follow the couple through the darkened streets in celebration, carrying oil lamps.
  11. The Consummation. The bride’s veil would be taken off only in the bridal chamber. She removed it and placed it over his shoulders, to symbolize that she was coming under his authority and protection. The bride and groom would be left alone in the chamber for seven days. The groomsmen stood outside the door and announced the consummation of the marriage. A bloody cloth, certifying the bride’s virginity, would be passed out of the room to be taken by the groomsman to the bride’s parents who would keep it as insurance against any false accusation against the bride for impurity. This is a picture of the blood of the covenant.
  12. The Wedding Feast. When the bride and groom emerged from the bridal chamber after seven days, the marriage supper would take place, given for guests invited by the father of the bride. The celebration might continue for days.

A Jewish marriage was not a private arrangement for mutual satisfaction. It involved the whole community. Each new home was the birthplace of the future. God was a partner at the wedding as a new home was created. A man left his father and mother and became united to his wife, and the two became one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one (Mark 10:7-8).

In modern Jewish weddings, the huppah or canopy, symbolizes the bridal chamber. It is held up with poles, sometimes made from trees planted at the birth of the bride and groom. In some communities, the groom dons a prayer shawl, or tallit, for the first time. The tallit itself may be held or draped over the couple as a new home is created by covenant agreement.

The Wedding of Christ and the Church

The New Testament is a story of the betrothal and wedding of Christ and the Church, called the Bride of Christ.

  1. The Match (Shiddukhin). God the Father sends a trusted servant, the Holy Spirit, into the world to get a bride for God the Son.
  2. The Bride Price (Mohar). The mohar was the blood of Jesus, of Whom it is written: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9)
  3. The Marriage Contract (Ketubah). The written contract for the Bride of Christ is the New Testament. It contains the promises and obligations of the groom. In the case of Christ and the Church, He accepts and pays all her debts, including the debt for sin. The Bride (composed of human men and women) gains access to all His assets and gifts.
  4. Consent of the Bride. To become part of the Bride of Christ, each individual must voluntarily agree to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus. It cannot be forced or done out of obligation.
  5. Love Gifts (Mattan). The mattan includes the Holy Spirit (John 15:26) eternal life (Romans 6:23), and peace (John 14:27) as well as other gifts.
  6. The Dowry (Shiluhim). Spiritual gifts are given to equip the Bride of Christ for the life ahead (1 Corinthians 12).
  7. The Betrothal (Kiddushin). Jesus departed to prepare a place for his Bride, saying, “I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2) During this time, he the Bride cannot see Him. Though we have not seen Him, we love Him; and even though we do not see Him now, we believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. (1 Peter 1:8) Only the Father knows when He will return for His Bride. (Mark 13:32)
  8. The Waiting of the Bride. During the betrothal, the Church is to be sanctified, or set apart. We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16) and by the Word of God, the truth (John 17:17-19). The Church is to wait in anticipation of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:42) and to make herself ready (Revelation 19:7).
  9. The Bride’s Purification (Mikveh). The mikveh is similar to baptism (Acts 22:16). Thereafter, we are regularly cleansed by washing with water through the Word (Ephesians 5:26).
  10. The Return of the Groom. Jesus promised to return and take away His Bride (John 14:3). When He does so, there will be a shout and a trump (1 Thess. 4:16). Although this is expected, it will happen suddenly and be surprising (1 Thess. 5). This future event is called the “Rapture” or “catching out.” It has been long delayed, but according to 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” He will return when the time is right. There are others who need time to come to repentance. He delays judgment for their sakes.
  11. The Consummation. For the seven years of the tribulation on earth, the Church will be with Christ. The tribulation is also called the time of Jacob’s trouble. On earth, it is a time for completing prophecy concerning Israel.
  12. The Wedding Feast. At the end of the tribulation, after Israel has said, “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39), Christ will return to earth with His Bride for the wedding feast (Rev. 19:6-9).

The traditional wedding vow is a covenant vow: To have and to hold. To love, honor and obey. Forsaking all others. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. Until death do us part. Jesus has poured the cup of acceptance and awaits our decision. He has chosen us, paid the bride price, and prepared the marriage contract detailing His promises and obligations. The next step is the consent of the bride. Each individual is invited into a covenant relationship with Him. But we individually have to consent. It has to be voluntary. It cannot be forced. It is a covenant of love. Love by definition cannot be forced. Apart from our consent, there can be no covenant relationship with God.

Go on to read David the King
Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony