... those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. KJV

... making covenant with Me over a sacrifice. Young's Literal

... those who cut My covenant by sacrifice. Green's Literal

The online interlinear (Biblehub) indicates that the verb (karath Strong 3772) means 'cut off' or 'cut down' (BDAG) and that the verb is in the Qal form and is a participle.

I am trying to understand the implications - in this place - of the use of the Qal form and the participle form.

I am aware of symbolism often associated with this verb - that of Abraham standing between the severed animals - and I have looked into that symbolism. But I am seeking to understand the concept of 'cutting' itself in relation to a covenant,

Does the verb form itself in Psalm 50:5 imply that one is cutting oneself off from other associations, in order to make a covenant ?

Or is the concept other than that ?

3 Answers 3


In Hebrew, it is typical to use the concrete to denote the abstract. (One might argue Hebrew virtually exclusively uses concrete words, in fact.) For example, your 'anger' is your 'nose' (coming from the image of rage, and the frantic breathing often associated therewith). A related image is being 'hot' (angry).

Here, it wouldn't be unwarranted to assume that to "cut a covenant" is equivalent to the English "forge a pact" (or something similar)—where 'forge' is a concrete image used to describe the sealing or bond of a pact or covenant or deal, not the literal destructive beating or smelting involved in producing some metalware—the focus is on the end result of the process of forging in this case. So with 'cutting' a covenant: meting out the end result, with emphasis on the finality thereof (once it cools, that's its hape; once something's been cut, likewise).

For all intents and purposes, I can't distinguish this use of the Hebrew with the Latin "contraho" (i.e. "to contract").

  • Appreciated. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 9, 2019 at 11:33

I understand that in ancient times, when a superior made a covenant with an inferior, (e.g a king with a subject) the two parties had to formally enact a ritual called "the cutting of the covenant". This was, for example, between a king (the suzerain) and his servant (the vassal). That entailed sacrificing animals, then literally cutting the carcasses in two and placing one half on one side, the other half on the other side, with a passage between the two lines of carcasses. Then the parties had to walk up and down the passage, the vassal solemnly swearing to suffer the curses of breaking the covenant if its terms were violated.

Whether pagan parties to covenants sucked blood or not, I do not know. I only know that with Yahweh and his covenant people, Israel, God forbade the drinking of blood, or even eating meat that still had blood in it (i.e. the blood had not been drained out on to the ground as the animal was killed.) This categorically rules out any drinking of blood with the people of Israel, with any covenants they entered into. See Genesis 9:4-6 and Leviticus 17:10-14.

My answer says nothing about verbs or participles, so it will be quite inadequate for your purposes, but as one answer speaks of such a ceremony requiring the drinking of blood, I felt my answer with regard to the biblical meaning of 'cutting the covenant' without drinking any blood might be of some value.


According to the Jewish Encyclopedia:

An agreement between two contracting parties, originally sealed with blood; a bond, or a law; a permanent religious dispensation. The old, primitive way of concluding a covenant (, "to cut a covenant") was for the covenanters to cut into each other's arm and suck the blood, the mixing of the blood rendering them "brothers of the covenant" (see Trumbull, "The Blood Covenant," pp. 5 et seq., 322; W. R. Smith, "Religion of the Semites," pp. 296 et seq., 460 et seq.; compare Herodotus, iii. 8, iv. 70). Whether "berit" is to be derived from "barah" =to cut or from a root cognate with the Assyrian "berit" = fetter (see Nathauael Schmidt, in Cheyne and Black,"Encyc. Bibl." s.v."Covenant"), or whether both Assyrian and Hebrew come from "barah"= to cut (compare "asar" = covenant and bracelet in Arabic; see Trumbull, l.c. pp. 64 et seq.), can not be decided here. A rite expressive of the same idea is (see Jer. xxxiv. 18; compare Gen. xv. et seq.) the cutting of a sacrificial animal into two parts, between which the contracting parties pass, showing thereby that they are bound to each other; the eating together of the meat, which usually follows, reiterating the same idea. Originally the covenant was a bond of life-fellowship, where the mingling of the blood was deemed essential. In the course of time aversion to imbibing human blood eliminated the sucking of the blood, and the eating and drinking together became in itself the means of covenanting, while the act was solemnized by the invocation of the Deity in an oath, or by the presence of representative symbols of the Deity, such as seven animals, or seven stones or wells, indicative of the seven astral deities; whence ("to be bound by the holy seven") as an equivalent for "swearing" in pre-Mosaic times (see Gen. xxi. 27, xxvi. 28, xxxi. 54; Herodotus, iii. 8; Josh. ix. 14; II Sam. iii. 12-20; W. R. Smith, l.c. pp. 252 et seq.). Salt was especially selected together with bread for the conclusion of a covenant (Num. xviii. 19; see W. R. Smith, l.c. p. 252; Trumbull, "The Covenant of Salt," 1899)...

The excellent article continues, discussing covenants among nations, etc.

The article suggests that the practice originally involved drinking the blood of the other covenanter by cutting into each other. If so we can see the association with "this cup is the new covenant in my blood". However, literally partaking of another's blood is, I believe forbidden:

[Act 15:20, 29 KJV] (20) But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. ... (29) That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

[Act 21:25 KJV] (25) As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.

Paul does use the image of a "spiritual circumcision" as "putting away the flesh":

[Col 2:11 KJV] (11) In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

I consider it a metaphor and not an appeal to the etymology of any other word.

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