There were several ways that blood was used in the ratification of covenants with God.
The present focus will be on the cutting in half of sacrificial animals and the participants of the covenant walking between the two halves.
The cutting in half of the animals was proof that the blood of the animals was shed.
If either of the parties involved in the covenant, or treaty, did not live up to the terms of the covenant, they would end up like the slain animals.
A very detailed example is found in Jeremiah’s prophecy. The time was 586 BC. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and the other remaining cities in Judah. Deportation of the Jews to Babylon had already happened. Zedekiah was Judah’s final king at the time.
The specific example illustrated was the freeing of slaves of the Jews at the agreed upon time period of 7 years.
When reminded that the 850 year old law was still valid, all the Jews agreed to abide by it. But then the pressure from Nebuchadnezzar lessened and the slave owners reneged.
“But afterward they changed their minds and made the male and female slaves return, whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection…” Jeremiah 34:11
God, speaking through Jeremiah, spoke harshly against the breakers of the covenant. God, in a cynical manner spoke thusly:
“‘Behold I proclaim liberty to you,’ says the LORD, ‘to the sword, to pestilence and to famine!’” Jeremiah 34:17
Then God pronounced specific judgment on the covenant breakers as He reminded them of the covenant the Jews ratified shortly after their deliverance from Egypt.
“And I will give the men who…have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between the parts of it – the princes of Judah…the priests…into the hand of their enemies…” Jeremiah 34:18-20a
Note particularly that both government leaders and priests ratified the covenant between Judah and God. The covenant applied to all Jews.
The fate of the covenant breakers?
“…Their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the earth.” Jeremiah 34:20b
Now let’s go back to the first such covenant where animals were cut in half and the covenant participants passed between the divided animals.
The time was approximately 2075 BC. The covenant participants were Abram (Abraham) and God.
Provisions of the covenant included, but not limited to, the bondage and subsequent delivery of Abram and his descendants from Egypt and the future extent of the Promised Land from the river in Egypt to the great river Euphrates.
Abram was instructed to bring to God a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram and several birds.
Then he (Abram) brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other…” Genesis 15:10
The blood of the animals was shed by their being cut in two, and the covenant was about to be ratified.
“Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram…And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.” Genesis 15:12a, 17
Abram slept through the ratification process. Only God passed between the parts of the slain animals that had shed their blood.
Thus only God was required to abide by the terms of the covenant! The covenant was unconditional!
Note: The words ‘cut’ and ‘divided’ are used interchangeably. Tradition reveals that the phase ‘to cut a treaty’ stems from ancient Jewish law.
When God spoke through the prophet Zechariah to the returning Jewish remnant after their 70 year Babylonian captivity, He referred to His ancient covenant with Abram.
“As for you…because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free…even today I declare that I will restore double to you…” Zechariah 9:11-12
God’s covenant with Israel is forever, inasmuch as He is solely responsible for its terms. God’s attributes confirm that He cannot break His covenant with Abram or his descendants.