Hebrews 9:17

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Hebrews 9:17

In the OT, ratification of a covenant based on sacrifice frequently entailed a self-maledictory procedure. The ratifying party invoked a curse upon himself when he swore commitment to comply with the terms of the covenant. In the transaction the ratifying party was represented by animals designated for sacrifice. The bloody dismemberment of the representative animals signified the violent death of the ratifying party if he proved faithless to his oath (e.g., Gen. 15:9-21; Ex. 24:3-8; Psa. 50:5; Jer. 34:17-20)….Until the oath of allegiance had been sworn and validated by the action of cutting the animals in two and walking between the pieces (cf. Gen. 15:10, 17; Jer. 34:18), the covenant remained merely tentative. It was legally confirmed (β∈βαια) on the basis of the dismembered bodies of the sacrificial victims. In its context, the unusual formulation ∈πι ν∈κρο ις , ‘on the basis of dead bodies,’ refers to the bodies of representative animals used in the self-maledictory rite of covenant ratification. It finds an exact parallel in Psa. 49 [50]:5 LXX, where ∈πι θυσιαις means ‘on the basis of sacrificial animals.’ The thought is amplified with the strong negative assertion that a covenant is never operative οτ∈ ζη ο λιαθ∈µ∈νος, ‘while the ratifier lives.’ The formulation accurately reflects the legal situation that a covenant is never secured until the ratifier has bound himself to his oath by means of a representative death (Johnsson, ‘Defilement,’ 313)” (Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 47B, pp. 242-243).

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