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The Meal Covenant

The meal covenant is a Hebraic principle found throughout Scripture, though not specifically mentioned.

This special meal becomes the means for reconciliation not just between people, but also between man and God. Very similar to our Chinese Reunion Dinner .

Let's look together at a few examples of this meal covenant principle from the Bible:

1. Abram And Melchizedek

We first see the meal covenant expressed in Genesis 14 between Abram and Melchizedek. After Abram had rescued Lot from the hands of Chedorlaomer, Melchizedek met him and blessed him.

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. They ate together as a sign of a covenant being established between the two men.

2. Jacob And Laban

We see the meal as a sign of reconciliation is in Genesis 31.

Jacob left in secret, taking his wives and his children with many cattle but without the knowledge of his father-in-law, Laban. This caused much displeasure. Laban followed him across the desert in desperation and anger.

When he finally caught up with Jacob after a 7 days’ pursuit, they had a lengthy dialogue and were reconciled to one another. They set up a mound of rocks and a stone for a pillar, promising that neither would come after the other to harm each other (Gen. 31:52).

Then, Jacob offered a sacrifice and invited his relatives to a meal. After the meal, they spent the night there. Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters, and blessed them. He then returned home (Gen. 31:54-55).

The entire process of family reconciliation was ultimately sealed with a meal.

3. Psalm 23

"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." (NKJ)

Unless you understand the concept of reconciliation associated with a meal, this verse does not make much sense.

In Hebraic symbolism, God prepares a table before our enemies means that He is making the way possible for us to be "reconciled" to our enemies.

That is why our cup overflows (the Hebraic symbol of joy), and surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life as we dwell in the house of the Lord forever. It is our blessed assurance that God will take care of us and even our enemies, providing the way for reconciliation.

Abraham and his people lived a nomadic life, residing in tents. Till today, between the Bedouin tribes and in the Arab village communities in 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, you can read in the 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? Let's say that a young man injuries seriously another young man from a different family. A major blood feud will spark off, especially in a small, close-knitted community where everyone knows everyone. If the feud gets out of hand, there could be more injuries and even deaths. The only way to stop this is to resolve the conflict by reconciling the families. That’s the purpose of the "sulha".

A big meal is prepared for the two parties to come together to discuss over a meal. The guilty party will confess his wrongdoings, and the injured party will accept the apology. They then negotiate a suitable recompense for the misdeed. 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 families are fully reconciled, and 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.

This is a wonderful picture of how God justifies our sin by sacrificing His Son on the cross, symbolized in the Communion. Our sins are literally erased before the Lord and we can stand before Him spotless.

4. The Prodigal Son

In Luke 15:11-31, we find the parable of the lost son, more commonly known as the story of "the Prodigal Son," which contains an excellent example of the meal covenant.

"A man had two sons. When the younger told his father, 'I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die!' his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there wasted all his money on parties and prostitutes. About the time his money was gone a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him to feed his pigs." (TLB)

It is presumed that the younger son found himself in the Decapolis, an area of Greek hegemony and culture which encompassed the southeastern shores of the Sea of Galilee. The Jews would not raise pigs, as this was not kosher, but Greeks would. Incidentally, this is also the location of the town of Kursi, where Jesus cast the legion of demons into a herd of swine, which threw themselves into the sea and drowned.

The younger son was humbled by the experience. On his way home, he confessed his sins against his father. He prayed to be reinstated as one of his father's servants, not as a son. However, upon hearing his son's confession, his father reinstated him as his son.

He gave his younger son a robe and sandals, both signs of sonship. Servants did not have the outer garments or sandals. These were reserved for the sons of a household.

The father also gave him his ring, which was the "credit card" of those days. With the ring, the son could go to town, and receive credit to buy merchandise by simply pressing the family ring into the soft clay. His father would later foot the bill.

Despite the younger son’s past squandering ways of abusing his finances, his father still trusted him. This is also a picture of what our Heavenly Father does for us after we confess our wrongdoings and receive His forgiveness.

Finally, the father killed a fatted calf and called for a celebration banquet, a sure sign of absolute reconciliation to be witnessed by the whole community in attendance.

This example shows God's character for complete restoration. It is also an example for us to follow on how we should act towards others. The father demonstrated tangibly backing up his words with his actions as he restored his son's position with the clothing of a son, trust with the ring, and finally by preparing the banquet meal of reconciliation. Good intentions must be supported with actions.

Looking at the other side of this parable, we see the older brother. He is the picture of ourselves and how we often fall short in our ability to forgive. It seems natural for the older brother to have been angry. After all, he worked faithfully for his father. His younger brother had squandered his inheritance, returned home and was being treated with dignity with a banquet celebration!

We often side with the angry older brother who never received even a goat to have a banquet with his friends. However, the father, who understood the meaning of preparing the special reconciliation meal before the whole neighborhood, knew that there was no reason to "kill the fatted calf" for his older son. There was no need to reconcile him back to the family and to the community. The older son already had it all! That is why the father said to his older son, "My son, you are always with me, and EVERYTHING I have is yours."

Yet, the older brother lost the blessing by not going to the banquet. He is not mentioned again and he apparently left the party in misery, remaining outside of the circle of the reunion and reconciliation with his brother.

Are we sometimes like the older brother? Are we, who have received ALL from the Lord, often unwilling or unable to come to the place of forgiveness and reconciliation towards others who we feel have wronged us?

Sadly, like the older brother, if we continue in our bitterness and anger, we will not be able to join in the fullness of God's celebration of reconciliation. Let us learn from this lesson and NOT repeat it.

5. Jesus & Peter: Feed My Lambs (Sheep)

Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. John 21:12 (KJV)

Herein we find the resurrected Jesus inviting the disciples to a breakfast of fish and bread on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

After denying Jesus three times in Jerusalem, Peter was despondent and went back to his old fishing job in Galilee. There Jesus met him, just like the first time Peter met Him. Peter heard the same fishing instruction to throw his net to the other side of the boat for a great catch of fish. He caught the fish and then realized that it was really Jesus.

Peter jumped into the water. He didn’t walk on the water this time, but swam to the shore. They began to eat. Ghosts don't eat fish; but resurrected bodies do.

Jesus knew Peter had denied him three times back in Jerusalem. His purpose was to reinstate Peter over a meal on the beach.

As Peter is eating with Jesus, Jesus asked Peter three times, "Peter, do you love me?" Three denials needed three affirmations!

Jesus reinstated and confirmed Peter ‘s calling to feed His lambs, reconciling wayward lambs back to the Kingdom of God, just as Jesus had done for him.

There is a double reconciliation in this passage: First, Peter was restored to fellowship with Jesus, whom he had denied. Then, Peter is called to reconcile others who have gone astray back to God.

6. "I Stand At The Door And Knock"

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." (Rev 3:20, NKJ)

The communion table is the table of reconciliation. The purpose of communion is to remind us of what Jesus did so that we can appropriate God's forgiveness, reconciling us to the Lord.

Yes, Jesus, the sinless One, the One without leaven, the Passover lamb without spot or blemish, was crucified and died for our sins, so that as the sons of God, we might have eternal life and a restored relationship with our Father. He is now the resurrected God, making the way for us to hear His voice, to open our hearts’ door, and letting Him in to sup with Him and Him with us.

The symbol of the table of reconciliation is the same one expressed throughout Scripture but in this case, it is eternal reconciliation. It is at the communion table, where we eat the bread and drink the wine, that the covenant is reconfirmed in our lives.

7. Conclusion

What does this meal covenant mean for you and me? Something dynamic takes place between people at mealtime breaking bread together. It is a time to fellowship, resolving problems, establishing strong family and friendship bonds. In our fast-paced, instant microwave world, the family meal has become a lost art. How can we maintain strong relationships on the run, grabbing a bite of food in fast-food establishments?

God is a God of mercy and reconciliation. He is there for each one of us, no matter what our past was. God desires our fellowship and has made the way for our reconciliation to Him. As His children, even if you have gone your own way as a prodigal son or daughter, you can come back to Him and be reconciled to Him. It is always His desire to bring each of us back into fellowship with Him. Then, when a "brother" needs forgiving, do so and back it up with actions, in the same way that God forgives us. Get right with God and get right with others. Let's do it today!