Jeremiah 34:18 NLT

Because you have refused the terms of our covenant, I will cut you apart just as you cut apart the calf when you walked between its halves to solemnize your vows.

Jeremiah 34:18 NKJV

And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, 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—

Jeremiah 34:18 ESV

And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of w the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like 1 d the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—

In the above text the NLT says God will cut apart the Israelites just like they cut apart the sacrifice when making a covenant.

I would have thought God was saying he will allow the bodies of the Israelites to be eaten by the birds of prey and wild animals simarly to what happened to the halves when left unguarded.

Jeremiah 34:20 ESV

I will give them into the hand of their enemies f and into the hand of those who seek their lives. g Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.

In a more or less similar incident in Genesis 15 Abraham was forced to keep watch over the halved pieces least they be eaten by the birds of the wild

Genesis 15:11 ESV

when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away

How can one understand the NLT?

  • I changed the top Q because the original question is answered by the OP himself at the very start by providing the NLT quote. It's the meaning of the NLT that is sought, not how it's translated, so that's why I've changed it. Just roll it back if that is not what you want, Collen
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 16:00

3 Answers 3


I surmise that the oath which accompanied the making of a covenant was something like; "May the Lord do the same to me, and more also if I do not keep the words of this oath". The meaning of the act of passing between the two halves would be that they identified themselves with the sacrificed animal and accepted the same potential fate.

This theory has two points of origin. One is the statement in v18 that this is exactly what the Lord would do.

The other is the existence in David's time of a profane oath couched in very similar terms, coming from men like Saul and David and Abner. In their mouths, it is the equivalent of the modern English "I'm damned if I don't [carry out my will or get my revenge]". "God do so to me and more also" if Saul does not execute Jonathan (1 Samuel ch14 v44). "God do so to [me] Abner and more also" if I do not hand the kingdom over to David (22 Samuel ch3 v9). Solomon if he did not kill Adonijah (1 KIngs 2 v23). As there is no obvious identification for "the same" in those situations, the wording must have been borrowed from elsewhere. Such as the normal oath being used in covenants, where the meaning would be "make me like those sacrificed animals and worse".

In fact I've just discovered it in Ruth (ch1 v17) so it wasn't just the hardened military men. It could be meant seriously even outside the original context.

In other words, this message from the Lord in Jeremiah is invoking the penalty clause of the covenant oath, one which they explicitly accepted at the time they made it. The effect of "cutting apart" the sacrificed animals was that they were killed and destroyed; I would expect the threat to be fulfilled in this more general sense and not just the literal cutting.


That's exactly the functional meaning of the verse as translated by the NLT so precisely.

JFB commentary states:

passed between the parts thereof—The contracting parties in the "covenant" (not here the law in general, but their covenant made before God in His house to emancipate their slaves, Jer 34:8; Jer 34:9) passed through the parts of the animal cut in two, implying that they prayed so to be cut in sunder (Mt 24:51; Greek, "cut in two") if they should break the covenant (Gen 15:10; Gen 15:17).

Not only the cutting covenant symbolizes the binding oath of the curse, the circumcision is the personal covenant which symbolizes the same thing; if a man breaks the covenant, he is to be cut off from his land. The New covenant believers are under the same kind of covenant oath.

[Matt 24:48-51 NLT] But what if the servant is evil and thinks, 'My master won't be back for a while,' and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Deuteronomy 27 blessings and curse on the two mountains shows the same kind of oath covenant. Some Ancient parallel examples from Cutting Covenants, Jared T. Parker:

Second millennium BC covenants. Two of the earliest extrabiblical texts describing the slaughter of an animal to make a covenant are from the eighteenth century BC. In a letter found in the ancient city of Mari in modern Syria, Ibal-Il reported to King Zimri-Lim: “I went to Aslakka to ‘kill an ass’ between the Hanu and Idamaras. . . . I caused the foal of an ass to be slaughtered. I established peace between the Hanu and Idamaras.”[15] The expression “kill an ass” apparently “means simply ‘make a treaty,’ which was solemnized by the sacrifice of a young ass.”[16] In another text found in the ancient city of Alalakh in modern Turkey, we read that Abban “placed himself under oath” to give Alalakh to Iarimlim “and had cut the neck of a sheep,” saying, “If I take back that which I gave thee!”[17] The implication is that Abban’s life would be cut off if he took the city back from Iarimlim.

Most of the other currently known examples of covenants made in the second millennium are Hittite treaties from the fourteenth to twelfth centuries BC, the majority of which are between a king and a vassal.[18] Regarding the ratification ceremony of these treaties, apparently much variety existed, but it was “frequently associated with the sacrifice of an animal,” and it is generally assumed that after “the animal was killed, the vassal could expect the same fate if he violated his oath.”[19] Because the texts of the treaties from this period “do not contain a verbal oath formula,” the animal sacrifice is thought to be “the enactment of the oath” such that “a verbal formula is unnecessary in the text of the treaty itself.”[20]

First millennium BC covenants. Several extrabiblical texts describe covenants from the first millennium BC in which the cutting or killing of an animal represents what would happen to a vassal who violated his agreement with the king. This is evidenced by simile curses in the treaties where the offending vassal is graphically identified as becoming “like” or “as” a slaughtered animal. From the eighth century BC Sefire inscription, we have a treaty between King Barga’yah and Matti‘el that includes this statement: “[As] this calf is cut up, thus Matti‘el and his nobles shall be cut up.”[21] Note the slaughter of a calf as part of making the covenant and the curse—Matti‘el and his associates will become as the cut-up calf if they break the agreement.

Also from the eighth century BC is a treaty between King Ashurnirari V of Assyria and Mati’ilu (possibly the same as Matti‘el above). A part of this treaty reads:

This spring lamb has been brought from its fold not for sacrifice, not for a banquet, not for a purchase; . . . it has been brought to sanction the treaty between Ashurnirari and Mati’ilu. If Mati’ilu sins against (this) treaty made under oath by the gods, then, just as this spring lamb, brought from its fold, will not return to its fold. . . . Mati’ilu, together with his sons, daughters, officials, and the people of his land . . . will not return to his country, and not behold his country again. This head is not the head of a lamb, it is the head of Mati’ilu, it is the head of his sons, his officials, and the people of his land. If Mati’ilu sins against this treaty, so may, just as the head of this spring lamb is torn off, . . . the head of Mati’ilu be torn off.[22]

From the seventh century BC we have another Assyrian example in which King Esarhaddon sought to secure the throne for his sons through a treaty with his vassals. This treaty was made under oath and contains numerous simile curses, including the following: “Just as this ewe is cut open and the flesh of its young placed in its mouth, so may he . . . make you eat in your hunger the flesh of your brothers, your sons, and your daughters. Just as (these) yearlings and spring lambs, male and female, are cut open and their entrails are rolled around their feet, so may the entrails of your sons and daughters be rolled around your feet.”[23] Again we see that animal slaughter represented the curse for violating a covenant during this period.[24]


Jer 34:18 is tricky to translate because it contains several puns and double meanings. I will attempt to elucidate them.

  1. "Covenant" = בְּרִית = "cut".

The word of covenant in the Hebrew is בְּרִית (barith) which Strong's lexicon says:

From barah (in the sense of cutting (like bara')); a compact (because made by passing between pieces of flesh) -- confederacy, (con-)feder(-ate), covenant, league.

Thus it was that whenever a covenant was made, something was cut:

  • In the case of the Noahide covenant (Gen 8 & 9), animals were cut and sacrificed
  • In the case of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15), three sets of animals were cut and God passed between the halves
  • In the case of the Levitical covenant, many animals were sacrificed
  • In the case of the Israelite covenant (Ex 19-24), it was initiated with a sacrifice and signified with a "circular cur" called "circumcision" (as a reminder)
  1. Cutting signified the consequence of not keeping the covenant

The case of the Abrahamic covenant in Gen 15 is especially instructive. God made a series of promises and then passed between the halves the cut animals to indicate what would happen if God Himself did not keep His own promises.

Note the comments of Ellicott on Jer 34:18 -

(18) When they cut the calf in twain . . .—The passage is interesting, as showing the survival of one of the oldest rites of Patriarchal times. So, when Jehovah made a covenant with Abraham, the victims that had been slain were cut up and arranged opposite each other, and when the “burning lamp” passed between the pieces it was the token that Jehovah had completed the covenant, even as men complete it (Genesis 15:10-17). The implied thought thus symbolised was that the parties to the contract prayed, as in the analogous case of 1Samuel 11:7, that they might be torn limb from limb like the victims if they broke the covenant, The antiquity and wide extent of the symbolism is shown by its appearing in the ritual of Greece, as in the phrase ὅρκια τέμνον —to ratify (literally, to cut) oaths, in Homer (Iliad, ii. 124, Od. xxiv. 483, and elsewhere), and the Latin fœdus ferire. In Livy (i. 24) we have both the phrase, the act which it implied, and the prayer which accompanied it, that if the Roman people proved unfaithful to their covenant Jupiter would slay them as the priest slew the victim. “Tu illo die, Jupiter, populum Romanum sic ferito, ut ego hunc porcum hic hodie feriam, tantoque magis ferito, quanto magis potes pollesque.” (“Do thou, Jupiter, on that day so smite the Roman people [if they break the covenant] as I this day smite this swine—yea, so much the more smite them as thou art mightier and more prevailing.”)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.