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Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner
בְּרִית b'riyt
They said, "We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you."(Genesis 26:28, ESV)

The Hebrew word for a covenant is ברית (b'riyt, Strong's #1285 ), a noun derived from the verb ברה (B.R.H, Strong's #1262), which means "to select the best."

He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. (1 Samuel 17:8, ESV)

In this passage the Hebrew verb ברה (barah) is used for the choosing of the best man to fight Goliath. This word can also mean to eat, in the sense of selecting, such as we see in the following verse.

So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. And when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” (2 Samuel 13:6, ESV)

The Hebrew language is a root oriented language, meaning that every Hebrew word is derived from a root word and that root word is the foundation to other Hebrew words. Each word derived from one root will be closely related in meaning to all the other words derived from the same root.

In the case of the word ברית (b'riyt) we found that it was derived from the root verb ברה (B.R.H), but also derived from this verbal root are the nouns ברות (barut, Strong's #1267) meaning "choice meat" and בריה (bir'yah, Strong's #1274) meaning "fattened." Livestock that will be slaughtered are fed special grains to make them fat and thereby making the meat of the fattened livestock the choicest.

So how is fattened choice meat related to the word for "covenant?" The phrase "make a covenant," such as we saw in the verse that began this study, appears eighty times in the Hebrew Bible and in every instance it is the Hebrew phrase כרת ברית (karat b'riyt), which literally means "cut a covenant."

A covenant was instituted by the two parties of the covenant who would take a fattened animal, the best of the flock or herd, and "cut" it into two pieces. Then the two parties of the covenant would pass through the pieces symbolizing their dedication to the covenant and by this action are saying, "If I do not hold to the agreements of this covenant, you can do to me what we did to this animal." This methodology of "making" a covenant is clearly recorded in Jeremiah 34:18-20.

And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like[a] the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts— 19 the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. 20 And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. (ESV)

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