SUNDAY STUDY: The Meal Covenant

By Clarence H. Wagner, Jr.

Consider this: Why did Abraham and Melchizedek, Laban and Jacob eat a meal together? Why does Psalm 23 tell us that God “prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies?” Why did the father of the prodigal son fill the fatted calf? Why did Yeshua (Jesus) institute the sacrament of Communion at the Passover (Seder) Meal/Last Supper? Why did the resurrected Yeshua prepare a meal on the shore of the Sea of Galilee for Peter and then tell Peter, “Feed my sheep“? Why in Revelation 3:20 does Yeshua want us to open the door so He can come in and eat with us?

The thread that ties the above questions together is the Meal Covenant or the Covenant of Reconciliation, a principle found throughout Scripture, whereby a meal becomes the means for reconciliation between people. Even God uses the meal to remind people of His relationship to us and our need for reconciliation to Him.

ABRAM AND MELCHIZEDEK

We first see the Meal Covenant expressed in Genesis 14 after Abram killed Kedorlaomer, King of Elam, who had taken his brother, Lot captive. Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem) and priest of the Most High God, met Abram and blessed him, bringing “bread and wine” for them to eat together as a sign of a covenant’s being established between the two men. Very early, bread and wine become very powerful symbols.

JACOB AND LABAN

The next time we see the meal as a sign of reconciliation is in Genesis 31, when Jacob took Leah and Rachel, his children and cattle, and left his father-in-law, Laban, to go back to Bethel. Because Jacob had left in secret and without letting Leban say goodbye to his family, Laban followed him across the desert in desperation and anger. When Laban overtook Jacob, they had a long talk and were ultimately reconciled to one another. Then, they set up a mound of rocks and a pillar, promising that neither would come after the other for harm (Genesis 31:52).

Then, Jacob “offered a sacrifice” there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night. Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he returned home (Genesis 31:54-55). It is a rather lengthy story, and the entire process of family reconciliation was ultimately sealed with a meal.

PSALM 23

Psalm 23:5, 6 says that God “prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Unless we understand the concept of reconciliation associated with a meal, this verse does not make much sense. It does not mean eating a meal while enemies surround you. In Hebraic symbolism, God’s “setting of a table before your enemies” means that He is making the way possible for you to be “reconciled” to your enemies. In other words, you won’t have any enemies! That is why your cup overflows (the Hebraic symbol of joy), and goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life “as you dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” It can be your assurance that God will take care of you and can deal with your enemies, even providing for reconciliation.

Today, between the Bedouin tribes and in Arab villages of the Middle East, we find the practice of the “sulha,” or reconciliation meal, between enemies. Interestingly, this Arabic term, “sulha,” comes from the Hebrew word for table, “shulchan.” Periodically, we read in Israeli newspapers that a “sulha” is being made between rival groups or families where a feud has existed, with the purpose of ending the feud once and for all.

How does it work? If young man kills another young man from a different family, there could be a major blood feud, especially in a small, close-knit community where everyone knows everyone. If the feud gets out of hand, there could be even more injury and death. The only way to stop it is to resolve the conflict and reconcile the families. That is the purpose of the “sulha.” A big meal is prepared, and the two factions come together to eat. The guilty party confesses his wrongdoing, and the injured party accepts the confession. Then a suitable recompense for the misdeed is negotiated. This negotiation may go on for a day or more, until everyone is satisfied. All this time, the parties are “at table” eating and drinking coffee and tea. At the conclusion of the “sulha” negotiation, the two parties and their families are fully reconciled. Once done, a member of the injured family cannot later bring up the misdeed to the offender or to his family. It becomes almost as if it never happened.

What a wonderful picture of how God justifies our sin by the sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross, symbolized in the Communion table. As Christians, our sin is literally erased before the Lord, and forgotten, and He will never bring it up again. We can stand before Him, forgiven and spotless.

THE PRODIGAL SON

In Luke 15:11-31, we find the parable of the lost son, more commonly known as the story of “Prodigal Son.” It is presumed that the younger son, who took his share of his father’s estate, found himself in the Decapolis, an area of Greek hegemony and culture which encompassed the southeastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. (The “pigs” in the story are the clue, as pigs were not raised in Israel) The Decapolis was not a place for a Bible believing Jewish youth of the first century. Everything that confronted him would draw him away from his walk with God. If he went to the gym (surely a wholesome thing to do), he would have to bow under a statue of Apollo. If he went to get a “McDavid’s hamburger,” it would be made from the meat of animals sacrificed to idols. If he went to see a play, the subject was about Greek gods. Even if he chose to go to a local place of worship (I mean he is trying!), the worship was pagan, with temple prostitutes thrown in to lure him away from his biblical faith. The ways of the world looked innocent enough but in fact were designed to ruin the believer.

The youth was left in a desperate situation. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. He decided to go home, and along the way, he composed a four-point sermon confessing his sin against God and against his father. He was going to ask to be reinstated only as one of his father’s servants, not as a son. Upon hearing his son’s confession, however, the father reinstated him as his son-not by words, but by deeds. By doing four things, the father showed everyone that this was his son returned home, and not one of his servants. He gave his younger son a robe and sandals, both signs of sonship, not servanthood. Servants wore tunics and did not have the outer garments, nor did they have sandals.

The father also gave him his ring, which was the “credit card” of the day. With the ring, he could go to town, purchase merchandise, and receive credit (which his father would later pay) by pressing the family ring into the soft clay on the ledger of goods purchased. Even after the younger son abused his finances, his father was still willing to trust him with the family money, now that he had learned his lesson and had asked for forgiveness.

Finally, the father killed the fatted calf for a celebration banquet. This was a sign of reconciliation for the whole community to attend, thus making this statement of restoration known to all. The meal covenant was again manifest in reconciliation.

COMMUNION AS A MEAL COVENANT

Bread and wine, which were first seen in Genesis 14 with Melchizedek and Abraham and which are used in Judaism every Shabbat meal, were also important symbols in the Seder Passover meal which Yeshua was eating with His disciples when he established the sacrament of Communion. We read in Matthew 26:26, that “while they were eating, Yeshua took bread and thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’”

The bread that Yeshua chose was not just any piece of bread. It was matzah or unleavened bread. During the entire week of Passover, all foods containing leavening had to be purged out of the house. Since leaven represents sin, we can see that Yeshua’’ unleavened, sinless life, is an example for us as Christians.

The piece of matzah eaten “after the meal” is called, the afikomen.” While there is plenty of matzah to eat during the meal, there is a ceremonial stack of three matzot which represent the following: 1) The top piece, God the Creator in heaven, 2) The bottom piece, humanity down on earth, and 3) The middle piece, the mediating priest.

Near the beginning of the meal when the matzah is blessed, the middle piece is taken from the stack, blessed, broken, wrapped in a white cloth, and hidden away until after the meal, when it is “redeemed” by the elder of the house and then eaten as a dessert.

For the Christian, the afikomen is a beautiful and strikingly clear picture of Yeshua. The matzah represents Messiah and His unleavened or sinless life. There was absolutely nothing in Him to puff Him up. Sin causes us to be “puffed up” (I Corinthians 5:2). This is particularly obvious in sins such as pride, vanity, and vainglory. There was none of this in Yeshua. On one occasion the Lord said, “The Prince of this world comes, but he has nothing in me” (John 14:30). Interestingly, to insure swift baking, matzah today is also striped and pierced, adding more meaning. We know that Yeshua was pierced (Psalm 22:16; Isaiah 53:15). The Scripture also says that “with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Just as the afikomen, representing the mediating priest, is broken, wrapped in a white cloth and hidden away until after the meal, our Lord, who is also the mediating priest, was also broken, wrapped, and hidden away in the tomb for three days. For Christians, it is significant that Yeshua blessed this portion of bread, the afikomen, and gave it to his disciples when He instituted the new covenant sacrament of Communion.

At this point in the seder meal the third of four cups of wine is blessed and drunk. The third cup of the Passover is called the Cup of Redemption, for God says, “I will redeem you with outstretched arm” (Exodus 6:6). We can now understand how this promise had a greater fulfillment when Yeshua was crucified. Jesus’ arms were outstretched on the cross, and His precious blood was shed for all mankind, so that through His sacrifice, we all can have forgiveness of sins and salvation. Then truly the Angel of Death will pass over our lives, because of the blood of the Lamb, Messiah Yeshua. John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29)

We read in Matthew 26:27-28 that Yeshua “…took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” The “cup” Yeshua took was the ceremonial third cup of the Seder, “The Cup of Redemption,” which is blessed and drunk after the meal. How appropriate!

The Apostle Paul says of this bread and of this cup, both rich symbols of Yeshua’s sacrificial death, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Cor. 11:26). Why? Because these symbols are a type of Meal Covenant. When we remember what Yeshua did as the sacrifice on the Cross when He shed His blood to cover our sin, then we are forgiven by the Father and reconciled back to the Father. God knows our nature. We have a tendency to sin, over and over again, no matter how hard we try. So, He made a way for us to receive His forgiveness as we remember the One who bought salvation for us. Not only was the Communion instituted at a meal, the Communion itself is a type of meal covenant.

We, as believers in Messiah Yeshua, can rejoice. As adopted sons of Abraham, we can commemorate not only the first Passover and celebrate this festival of freedom, but we can also commemorate a second Passover, when Yeshua, the Lamb of God, gave himself as a sacrifice for us, was buried and rose again, having conquered death so that we might have life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.

FEED MY LAMBS

In John 21:12, we find the resurrected Yeshua inviting the disciples to a breakfast of fish and honeycomb on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Because Peter had denied Yeshua three times in Jerusalem, he was humiliated and had returned to his old job of fishing on the Galilee. Suddenly there was Yeshua on the shore, just like the first time Peter had met Him. When the boat reached the shore, Jesus prepared some of Peter’s fish and honeycomb, and they began to eat.

Yeshua knew Peter had denied him three times back in Jerusalem, and He purposed to reinstate Peter over a meal. As Peter ate with Yeshua, He asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” Each time when Peter said, “Yes,” Yeshua instructed him, “Feed my lambs.

By asking Peter three times if Peter loved Him, Yeshua reminded Peter of his three denials. He then confirmed to him that his calling was to feed the lambs of Yeshua. In other words, Peter was to reconcile wayward lambs back to the Kingdom of God, just as Yeshua had done for him.

There is a double reconciliation in this passage: First, Peter is reinstated into the Kingdom from his backslidden state, over a meal eaten with the resurrected Yeshua. And then, Peter is called to do the same for others who have gone astray. We all should be doing this for others!

I STAND AT THE DOOR AND KNOCK

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.

For Christians, this brings us back to Communion, at the Passover/last Supper table, to the same bread and wine brought forth by Melchizedek, the high priest of the most high God back in Genesis.

The communion table is the table of reconciliation. The purpose of communion is to remind us of what Yeshua did so that we can appropriate that event, receive God’s forgiveness, reconciling us to the Lord. Even after we attain so great a salvation, it is at the communion table when we eat the bread and drink the wine, that the covenant is reconfirmed in our lives. At communion, Yeshua is the Passover Lamb.

Saved or unsaved, we can find ourselves alone, rejected and away from the Lord. God’s forgiveness and restoration are waiting outside the door. Yeshua is ready to come in and make everything right, but we have to make the first step by opening the door and letting Him in. It’s our move. He is already there for us. Interestingly, Revelation 3:20 has this reconciliation taking place at a meal. God wants to “sup” with us.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU AND ME?

Temporally, we need to realize that a dynamic takes place between people at mealtime where there is time for fellowship, resolving problems, and establishing strong family and friendship bonds. What do you think is happening to these bonds in our fast-paced, instant gratification, microwave world, where the family meal is often a lost art. We can’t maintain strong relationships “on the run,” always grabbing a bite of food in the “drive-thru window” of fast-food establishments. Please, get back to the family meal and take time to eat with friends. You and your family will never regret it the time you take for one another.

Spiritually, God is a God of mercy and reconciliation. He is there for each one of us, no matter what is in our past. God desires our fellowship and has made the way for our reconciliation to Him. As a Christian, even if you have backslidden, you can come to Him and be reconciled to Him. It is always His desire. In His love, He wants to bring each of us back into fellowship with Him. Do it today!

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