Today we continue our study of Hebrews 9.
Verse 15 established that Jesus is not only our high priest, but the mediator of the New Covenant. Verses 16 through 22 discuss of the necessity of blood to establish a covenant and how Jesus fulfilled that requirement. It is an explanation of his statement that believers receive the promised eternal inheritance. It is because a death occurred to redeem them. It is sort of a parenthetical statement, one that does not flow with the argument, but explains the basis of the writer’s point.
Verse 16 discusses the validity of a covenant. Unfortunately, almost all of the major translations do not use the word “covenant”. Instead, they use the word “will”. The thought appears to be that the writer is making an analogy between will and covenant. Only the New American Standard Bible among the modern translations translates the word as “covenant”. The old Young’s Literal Translation also uses the word “covenant”.
The word in Greek is “διαθήκη”. We transliterate it (English) as “diathēkē”. Transliterate means to use the letters of one language to express the sounds of the word in another. Since I write in English, I transliterate the Greek word with English letters to pronounce it.
Translate, in comparison, means to find a word in one language to express the word of another language. We translate διαθήκη as either covenant or will.
There are two problems with translating the word “diatheke” as “will”. First, the word is translated “covenant” in ever other instance in which it is used in Hebrews. Second, the context is a discussion or a comparison of the new covenant verses the old covenant. There is no need for an analogy to a will, since the original audience would understand the concept of covenant and the history behind it.
I think a better reading might be something along the lines of this:
For where there is a covenant, it is necessary for the death of the one who ratifies it to be brought forward, for a covenant is made legally secure on the basis of the sacrificial victims, since it is never valid while the ratifier lives. That is why not even the former covenant was confirmed without blood.
As an example, as he usually does, the writer goes to the Old Testament for proof. The old covenant (former covenant) was inaugurated with blood. Verses 19-21 describe how Moses sprinkled the tabernacle and all the furnishings and even the book of the covenant with blood.
First, God declared the law to Moses. (19) In other words, God declared the terms of the covenant into which he would enter with the Israelites. This is described in Exodus 19. God told Moses the preamble of the covenant. He said he redeemed them. “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4) Second, he told them the benefits of keeping the covenant: “you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. (19:5-6) He would have a special relationship with Israel, they would represent him to other nations, and they would live holy lives that reflected the character and glory of God.
Third, the people agreed to the covenant: “all that the Lord has spoken we will do”. (19:8) Fourth, God gave Moses the terms of the covenant (the law). (Exodus 20 and following) Notice that they agreed to enter into the covenant in order to have a relationship with God. God then set the terms. Israel did not negotiate the terms.
Fifth, and finally, Moses conducted a covenant ceremony. This is recorded in Exodus 24. Moses built an altar and offered oxen on it. He took half the blood and put it in basins and half the blood he threw against the altar. he read the covenant to the people and the agreed to keep it. Then he took the blood in the basins and threw it on the people. When he did so, he said “behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with these words.” (Exodus 24:8)
So, we see the covenant was ratified by blood. Blood comes from death. In Psalm 50:5 God said “gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice”.
Another reason Moses sprinkled everything with blood was to sanctify them. They were made by man and had to be purified, since mankind is corrupted by sin. Verse 22 says that almost everything is purified by the application of blood.
Hebrews 9:22 affirms for us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sins”. “Shedding of blood” is a term for death. The blood Moses used to sprinkle the tabernacle came from killing an animal. And we know that the penalty for sin was death, as God told Adam. (Genesis 2:17)
This truth is demonstrated by the old testament sacrifices. In order to cover their sins, the Israelites offered animal sacrifices. And, the sacrifices also served to point Israel to Christ, who would give himself as the perfect sacrifice. But that is the exact point the disciples missed! And they missed it three times according to Matthew. The first time, recorded in Matthew 16:21, Jesus told them he had to go and be tortured and killed, but then raised. Peter told him no that could not be. Jesus rebuked him for not thinking as God thinks, but as man thinks.
Jesus taught them this truth again at the Passover dinner, what we often call the “Last Supper”. Here is Matthew’s account.
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, ‘drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-29)
The blood of the new covenant is the blood of Christ. His body, represented by bread, was broken into death for our sins. We have to receive the benefits of his death by receiving Christ as Lord and Savior. We eat and drink of this new covenant sacrifice. Jesus said we had to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. (John 6:53) What he meant by that metaphor is that we must come to him for salvation, believe he died for our sins and put our faith in him for salvation to eternal life.