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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Make (Cut) a Covenant

A. Verb.

Kârath (כָּרַת, Strong's #3772), “to cut off, cut down, fell, cut or make (a covenant or agreement).” This verb also occurs in Akkadian, Moabite, and post-biblical Hebrew. In biblical Hebrew it is attested about 290 times and in all periods.

Basically kârath means “to sever” something from something else by cutting it with a blade. The nuance depends upon the thing being cut off. In the case of a branch, one “cuts it down” (Num. 13:23), and one "[swings] the axe to cut down the tree” (Deut. 19:5). The word is also used of “chopping down” wooden idols (Exod. 34:13). Kârath can signify “chopping off” a man’s head and feet (1 Sam. 5:4). In Jer. 34:18 this verb means “to cut into two pieces.” “Cut off” may also imply cutting off in the sense of circumcision. In Exod. 4:25 Zipporah took a flint knife and “cut off” her son’s foreskin. In a related but different usage this word appears in Num. 11:33, where it means “to chew” meat.

“To cut off” can mean “to exterminate or destroy.” God told Noah that “all flesh [shall never again] be cut off … by the waters of a flood …” (Gen. 9:11-the first occurrence of the word). Kârath can be used of spiritual and social extermination. A person “cut off” in this manner is not necessarily killed but may be driven out of the family and removed from the blessings of the covenant. God told Abraham that “the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:14).

One of the best known uses of this verb is “to make” a covenant. The process by which God made a covenant with Abraham is called “cutting”: “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram …” (Gen. 15:18). The word “covenant” appears nine times before this in Genesis, but it is not connected with kârath.

A synonym to this verb appears in this immediate context (Gen. 15:10) and is directly related to the process of making the covenant. Furthermore, hereafter in Genesis and throughout the Bible kârath is frequently associated with making a covenant. This verb, therefore, constitutes a rather technical term for making a covenant. In Genesis it often alludes to an act by which animals were cut in two and the party taking the oath passed between the pieces. This act was not created by God especially to deal with Abraham but was a well-known practice at that time among many men.

Later, “cutting” a covenant did not necessarily include this act but seems to be an allusion to the Abrahamic covenantal process (cf. Jer. 34:18). In such a covenant the one passing through the pieces pledged his faithfulness to the covenant. If that faithfulness was broken, he called death upon himself, or the same fate which befell the animals. In some cases it is quite clear that no literal cutting took place and that kârath is used in a technical sense of “making an agreement in writing” (Neh. 9:38).

B. Nouns.

Kerı̂ythûth (כְּרִיתוּת, Strong's #3748), refers to a “bill of divorcement.” This word implies the cutting off of a marriage by means of a “bill of divorcement”: “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house” (Deut. 24:1). Kerı̂ythûth appears 4 times.

Kerı̂ythûth means “beams.” This noun, which occurs only 3 times, refers to “beams” in the sense of things “cut off” in 1 Kings 6:36: “And he built the inner court with three rows of hewed stone, and a row of cedar beams.”

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Make (Cut) a Covenant'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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