“The Blood of Thy Covenant”
“As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” (Zechariah 9:11)
The Lord God is here speaking to his ancient people, Israel, the nation he had preserved, though other nations had been destroyed. Throughout their history, the Jews had been distinctly and manifestly preserved as a nation. Though they dwelt in Egypt for four hundred years, they were never absorbed into Egypt. Though they wondered in the wilderness among many other nations, they never became a part of them. Though they were often delivered into the hands of their adversaries because of their transgressions, they were preserved as a distinct people. Though they had wars continually, God preserved them. Though they were captives in Babylon for seventy years, they were kept distinct as a nation.
No other nation has experienced such distinct, lasting preservation. Why did they? Why were they preserved as a nation in such a distinct manner? The Lord God had made a covenant with Abraham on their behalf; and it was a bloody covenant. Its sign and seal was the bloody rite of circumcision. You will recall that when Zipporah circumcised her son, she threw the foreskin at Moses’ feet and said, “Surely a bloody husband art thou to me…A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision” (Exodus 4:25-26). So, in Zechariah 9:11, the Lord God said to the children of Israel, when they were delivered from Babylon, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.”
I remind you again, “All these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). That physical nation and all that they experienced by the hand of God was typical and designed by God to portray his works of grace to the church of his elect, which the Holy Spirit calls, “an holy nation” (Ezekiel 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9), and “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
And, as we have seen, this entire 9th chapter of Zechariah’s prophecy is talking about the coming of Christ to redeem and save his people. In this 11th verse we have our God’s declaration to his church that the basis of our deliverance, the basis of our salvation by Christ is the blood of the covenant he made with us in Christ our Surety before the world began. — “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.”
All believers have some share in that covenant made with Abraham, for he is the father of the faithful; and the covenant God made with Abraham was a picture of the covenant he made with us in Christ from eternity. We who trust the Lord Jesus Christ are of the seed of Abraham, not according to the flesh, but according to the promise. Therefore, Abraham is called, by the Spirit of God, “the father of all them that believe” (Romans 4:11); and we who believe are called “the children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). As the Jews of old were typically preserved as a people by covenant blood, we too, are saved and kept as a separate and distinct people, solely and entirely, because the Lord has made with us an eternal covenant, “ordered in all things and sure” (2 Samuel 23:5). It is a covenant ordered in all things and sure because the Lord Jesus Christ is himself the Surety of the covenant, the One upon whom the whole covenant stands. Everything in this verse is specifically addressed to and describes us. — “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.”
The first thing the Lord tells us is this. — We were all, by nature, prisoners in a “pit wherein is no water;” but we were, even in our fallen state, prisoners in a covenant relationship with the triune God.
In ancient times they did not build nice, country club prisons, with television, air-conditioning, and recreation rooms. They just dug deep pits, threw prisoners into them, and covered the mouth of the pit with a large stone. The prisoners in those pits were utterly helpless, continually living in the muck and mire of their own waste. The pits were dark, filthy, smelly places, living graves in which others had died and rotted away. They were horrible pits. The only hope any had of escaping had to be from someone outside the pit. That is just where we were when our blessed Christ saved us by his grace. — “Prisoners in the pit wherein is no water.”
Do you remember your days as a prisoner? I remember them well. A prisoner is one who has lost his liberty. That was our condition before Christ set us free. We were “carnal, sold under sin,” in bondage to our lusts, and taken captive by Satan at his will. Oh, like all others, we boasted of our free will. We thought we were the captains of our own souls and the masters of our own destinies. But our will was itself enslaved with all the rest of our nature.
Sinners are mocked when they are told that they are free, that they have a free will. The notion of “free will” is just about the silliest, most absurd thing imaginable. Show me a convict toiling on the chain gang, and call him a free man if you will; but never call a sinner a free man, even in his will, especially in his will. He is the slave of his own corruptions. In our natural state we wore chains, not on our arms and legs, but upon our hearts, fetters that bound us, and kept us from God, kept us from rest, kept us from peace, kept us from anything like freedom of heart and conscience and will. The iron entered into our souls. Horrible as slavery must have been in the ugly history of our nation, even the slavery of the body does not compare to the utter slavery of heart and soul.
A prisoner is also one who feels that escape from his prison is impossible. That is how I felt. I longed for freedom from the lusts and passions of my heart that were destroying me, but saw no possibility of it. I heard about pardon, but was convinced there was no pardon for me. Though once I loved my chains and kissed my manacles, in time hell’s grip upon my soul became horrible, unbearable, and drove me to utter despair. The law of God condemned me, the guilt of my sin tormented me day and night, and darkness filled my soul. I hated my darkness, but saw no light. I tried to pray, but could only recite words. I tried to repent, but found nothing but greater need to repent. I read the Bible, but only read words that were meaningless to my soul. I went to the house of God to hear the gospel, but found no word of grace sounding in my heart. I tried to believe, but found that faith was an impossibility to my wretched heart.
My conscience, agreeing with the sentence of divine justice, set a huge, immovable rock upon the pit; and I could not escape. I was a prisoner to my own evil devices and the desires of my depraved heart, locked up under guilt and condemnation by the high court of heaven. Nothing out of hell is more horrible to experience than an awakened, screaming conscience before a holy and angry God, without Christ and without hope.
Oh, how well I remember! What could I do? All the stench of my foul sin was everywhere! I found no comfort in myself and, though many tried to give it, I found no comfort in anyone else. They were in the pit with me. One offered me his waste bucket of religious ceremonies. I tried to drink it, but found no water. The more I drank, the greater my thirst became. Another gave me his bucket of resolutions and reformations. And I drank deeply from the bucket, but nearly choked to death on the muck. Then, a fine looking man, gave me his bucket of “free will.” It was more appealing than any other. How pleasant it appeared to my rotting flesh. He said, “Sip from the bucket, and you can will yourself out of the pit.” So I took a big drink, and thought I had escaped the pit. I raised my arms and shook my chains, and cried, “I’m free! I’m free!” But I soon discovered that “free will” was nothing but the waste of humanity with a deadly, poisonous opiate, and I was still in the pit.
I chose to get out. I prayed. I read my Bible. I reformed. I resolved to do good. But I was still in the pit, bound hand and foot, without the least shred of freedom, under the power of hell, taken captive of Satan at his will, and utterly incapable of changing anything. Escape was impossible. My darkness became more intolerable with every thought. My fate seemed unavoidable. Hell must surely be my portion forever! And there was no water. I found no refreshment in sin, and none in religion. I saw nothing but death around me, death in me, and hell before me! I felt that which I later found written in the Book of God. — “I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength” (Psalm 88:4). “Fear, and the pit, and the snare” were upon me (Isaiah 24:17). Had I known them, I could have used Paul’s words as my own, and would have cried, — “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”
Did you ever awake in the morning and wonder that you were not in hell, and go to your bed at night afraid to fall asleep lest you fall into hell forever? Did these words ever terrify you — "And in hell he lifted up his eyes"? What a horrible pit! We were all in the pit by reason of the fall of our father Adam. But it is one thing to be in the pit, and another thing to know you are in the pit.
“He hath cast me into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes. I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not. Thou art become cruel to me: with thy strong hand thou opposest thyself against me. Thou liftest me up to the wind; thou causest me to ride upon it, and dissolvest my substance. For I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living. Howbeit he will not stretch out his hand to the grave, though they cry in his destruction. Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? was not my soul grieved for the poor?” (Job 30:19-25)
“I was near to despair
When Christ came to me there,
And He showed me that I could be free;
Then He lifted my feet,
Gave me gladness complete,
When He reached down His hand for me.”
Blessed be his name forever, he lifted me out of the horrible pit. — “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (Psalm 40:2). Before Jonah confessed, “Salvation is of the Lord,” he cried, “Thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me…I am cast out of thy sight…The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever” (Jonah 2:1-9). That is where I was when Christ Jesus came to me. Has God ever cast you down into the pit?
If you have passed through that state, you know exactly what Jonah experienced. The conviction of sin brought you into a pit in which no comfort could be found, and no hope. Looking back over your life, there was nothing to look back upon but sin. If you dared pry into the future, there was nothing “but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.” There was nothing within but a heart of stone, as cold as ice and as hard as steel. There was nothing beneath but a gapping hell, and nothing around but thick darkness!
Commenting on Zechariah 9:11, C. H. Spurgeon said, “How dreary and dreadful is the state of man by nature, and how painfully conscious he is of his true condition when the Holy Spirit reveals it to him! Then is he, indeed, like a prisoner in a ‘pit wherein is no water.’”
I did not know it at the time, but all of those things were but forerunners of mercy. Though I found no hope, I was a prisoner of hope. You see, God’s elect are prisoners; but their condition in their prison, though they do not know it at the time, is a different condition altogether from that of others. We were covenant prisoners, prisoners in a covenant with God himself. We read about that covenant earlier in Jeremiah 31 and in Hebrews chapters 8, 10, and 13.
The election of grace took place long before the worlds were made in old eternity. The Lord God chose his own unto salvation and eternal life in Christ before ever an angel sang his praise, and gave us to his darling Son, our covenant Surety and covenant Head. He made a covenant for us and with us in Christ in eternity, a covenant of grace and peace, a covenant of redemption and forgiveness, a covenant of salvation and salt, a well-ordered covenant, a covenant of everlasting love.
Though they are born in sin, and grow up to be the children of wrath and disobedience, enemies to God by wicked works, even as others, yet the covenant made with Christ stands fast, “ordered in all things and sure.”
Does that seem strange to you? It did to me when I first heard a man talk about it. Yet, it is altogether true, one of the greatest, most soul-cheering truths ever revealed. Though it seems strange to men, it shouldn’t. We were under a covenant of works long before we were born. Were we not? Adam stood as our federal head and representative in that covenant. You and I never stretched out our hands to take the forbidden fruit. Yet, we all did so in Adam’s rebel deed. And we all reap the consequences of Adam’s transgression, because he was our covenant head.
And all that was done in Adam, because Adam and the covenant God made with him typified Christ and the covenant God made with us in him (Romans 5:14). The gospel of God declares that sinners are saved by the righteousness and death of Another, even Jesus Christ, the last Adam, our Lord and Savior, the one great Federal Head and Representative of all who trust him (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
The Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Adam was a type, took the place of all the countless multitudes of his elect who were given to him by his Father, and died on Calvary’s cross in their stead, though many had not yet been born. Through his substitutionary sacrifice, they were redeemed, justified, forgiven, sanctified, saved, and made righteous by his blood. Indeed, they were “accepted in the Beloved” and blessed with all spiritual blessings before time began in the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-7); for the Spirit of God declares, “the works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3).
Deliverance from the Pit
In the fullness of time, the Lord Jesus comes by his Spirit to set his covenant prisoners, “prisoners of hope,” free, and sends forth his covenant “prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water” by the omnipotent power and efficacious grace of his Holy Spirit (Isaiah 61:1-3).
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
Alive in him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.”
When that covenant was fulfilled when the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ was shed, we were set free. As our Representative, he ascended to the Father's right hand and we are there in him. The ransom price has been paid. — “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads” (Isaiah 35:10).
The Son of God sets captive sinners free and sends forth his prisoners out of their prison by giving them life and creating faith in them. Believing him, they are made consciously aware of the super-abounding grace and covenant privileges bestowed upon them from eternity. The covenant is not made with them when they believe. It was made on their behalf by the Father and the Son in the eternal councils of grace long before the sun was set in the heavens, or the heavens were made to hold it.
Look at Zechariah 9:11 again, and let me show you the means of our deliverance from the horrible pit. — “By the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.”
The blood of the covenant here is declared to be the cause of deliverance. Without this covenanted blood-shedding, the prisoners could never be set free. But the shed blood of Christ sets every prisoner free for whom the blood was shed. The blood goes in, and the prisoner goes out. The blood touches his chain, and it falls off. The blood drops on the prison-bar, and the gate flies open. It is blood that does it all.
It is the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that is the essential thing in the covenant of grace. Everything hangs upon the blood. No grace can come, even to chosen sinners, except the blood be shed. — “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” The Lord God says, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you!” And when I see the precious blood of Christ, I see all the covenant fulfilled in it.
“Oh, how sweet to view the flowing
Of His sin-atoning blood
By divine assurance knowing
He hath made my peace with God!’
Thus it is that God can “be just and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” The blood of Christ is the seal of the covenant. Speaking after the manner of men (How else can we speak of these things?), until the blood was shed, the covenant was not ratified. It was like a will that could not be in force, that could not be executed, because he who wrote the will had not yet died. That is exactly how God the Holy Spirit speaks of the blood and the covenant (Hebrews 9:14-18).
Christ himself, when he was made sin for us, was shut up in the prison of the tomb for three days; but it was the very same blood of the covenant that sent us out of the prison that sent him out. — “The God of peace brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20). Now, the covenant is ratified and validated. The Testator has died, and all his inheritance shall be bestowed upon his heirs. He lives again and reins on high to make certain that his will is enforced and executed exactly as he intended from eternity.
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, removed the necessity for our imprisonment. The blood has made the satisfaction. It met the claims of divine justice and satisfied the offended God. It took away our sins and our guilt. That means the necessity for the imprisonment no longer exists. The law consents to; no, the law demands the release of all for whom Christ’s blood was shed at Calvary!
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, makes it right for God to deliver. Deliverance must be the work of righteousness, not merely of grace, not merely of omnipotence, but of righteousness. It was righteousness that sent us into prison and barred the door. And it is righteousness that brings us out of the pit. This righteousness by which we are set free was brought in by the blood of the covenant. It is now as unrighteous to hold the blood-bought captive, as before it would have been unrighteous to release him.
The prisoner is sent out of the pit by right. He does not break out; but he is sent out because all his debts have been paid. A child of God is justly saved as well as graciously saved. It would be an eternal injustice if any soul for whom the Savior died as a Substitute upon the cursed tree should remain in the prison and suffer the wrath of God. If Christ has ransomed me, justice cannot hold me. Justice demands that I go free; and free I am forever!
“Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding Surety's hand,
And then again at mine.”
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, opens the prison door. The door is locked, barred, and guarded. No skill can open it, no force can remove the bar, no money can bribe Justice and Truth who guard the prison. It cannot be opened by earthquake, or fire, or force of any kind. No, not even the force of omnipotent sovereignty can open the prison. Only the blood of the covenant, the great blood-shedding of the Lamb of God rolls away the stone and forces the prison-gates fly open.
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, makes it safe for the prisoner to come out and walk at liberty. As at the City of Refuge, the avenger stands without, watching. He has a right to be there. He has a right to seize the prisoner, and to take vengeance. But the death of the High Priest removes the avenger, the blood silences his claims and stops him. Covenant-blood brings the prisoner out, and the sight of the blood bids the avenger flee. That avenger was the executioner of guilt, and the guilt is gone. The blood has removed that which gave him power. He sees the blood, and withdraws his hand.
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, reconciled us to God. It is the blood of propitiation, the blood of atonement. It removed the ground of separation, and brings nigh those that were afar off. The blood makes our nearness a thing of which the law approves, and in which God delights. It is reconciling blood.
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, has redeemed us to our God. — “Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.” The blood is the ransom money. It was necessary that the sinner, sold and imprisoned, should be redeemed (bought back) at a price that would satisfy law and justice.
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, is cleansing blood. We are washed from our sins in covenant blood. Our robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb. All that sin had done the blood has undone. All our pollution the blood washes away. It is purifying blood. As such, it fits us for worship, for drawing near to God.
It is written, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). He has the power and the right to set prisoners free. Who can shut up those whom he delivers? He has sent us forth out of the pit. He has granted us life, light, and liberty. Our feet are free, and we are on free soil. He sends us forth by “the blood,” by the expiation made for sin before God, speaking peace by the blood and creating peace in the conscience by the blessed gift of faith in himself. Let the ransomed, blood bought sinner once know the blessedness of “the covenant” and the saving power of “the blood,” and he is a prisoner no longer.
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, pacifies. It comes into contact with the sinner’s conscience, and removes guilt. It “cleanseth us from all sin.” It takes away all terror. The soul is at peace, and is kept in peace by this blood. Christ Jesus, our Lord, “has made peace by the blood of his cross;” and he gives us that peace when he sends his Spirit to apply his blood to his redeemed, sprinkling our hearts from a condemning conscience (Hebrews 10:22).
God’s prophet Isaiah was sent to King Hezekiah with a message of judgment. He told the king to set his house in order, because God was about to kill him. When Hezekiah heard those words, he repented, calling upon the Lord God for mercy. Immediately, God sent that same prophet to him with a word of grace, assuring him that he had obtained the mercy he sought (Isa. 38:1-8).
That is a pretty good picture of my soul’s experience. One day, I heard a man sent of God, by whom the Lord God opened my dark, putrid heart to me, exposed my sin, and by his holy law and justice condemned me. Guilty, condemned, and helpless, I cried to God for mercy. Immediately, I heard God speak by that same prophet, assuring me that I would never die, that I had obtained mercy by the blood of Christ. Now, I say with Hezekiah, “Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption!” What a sweet thought! He loved us out of the pit; and we now sing — “Love lifted me!” — “For thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isaiah 38:17).
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, is as efficacious as ever. It has lost none of its power. The passing of years has not changed it. Repeated use by untold millions has not weakened its efficacy. It can still do all it once did for poor, lost, helpless, imprisoned sinners. Its potency is divine.
The blood of Christ, this covenant blood, is as sufficient as it is suitable, as free as it is near. He whose blood it is comes to us, and displays it in all its fullness and power in the gospel as that which “cleanseth us from all sin.” Take it as it is presented, and all the benefits of this covenant-blood are yours. Though you may be the most unworthy of the unworthy, you are reckoned by God clean every whit, a forgiven sinner, a delivered prisoner, “saved by the blood of the crucified One!”
“Oh, precious fountain that saves from sin,
I am so glad I have entered in;
There Jesus saves me and keeps me clean--
Glory to His Name!
Come to this fountain so rich and sweet,
Cast thy poor soul at the Saviour’s feet,
Plunge in today, and be made complete--
Glory to His Name!”
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