9:16 death. Although not all covenants require death on the part of one making the covenant before they come into force, the particular type of covenant involved in a will does, and this is the type of covenant in view here. The first covenant made by God with man (at least the first actually called a covenant) was the unconditional covenant made with Noah after the Flood (Genesis 9:9,11-13,15-17), following the sacrifice of clean animals when they came out of the ark (Genesis 8:20). Similarly, His unconditional covenant with Abraham followed a sacrifice of five animals (Genesis 15:9-10,17-18). When God gave the law to Israel on Mount Sinai, He made a covenant with them (Exodus 19:5-6) conditioned on their obedience, and this was accompanied by burnt offerings and peace offerings and the sprinkling of “the blood of the covenant” (Exodus 24:5-8). However, all of these offerings of animals were only temporal and typical, prefiguring and prophesying the eternal offering of the blood of Christ and the making of the new covenant. Thus, in the case of these particular covenants made by God with man, death was required to bring them into operation, so that the Mosaic covenant and Christian covenant in effect become “testaments” or wills. The translators appropriately used this word under these circumstances, and it is altogether fitting that the two divisions of the Bible, centering on the covenants of law and grace respectively, became known as the Old Testament and New Testament.
9:16 testator. The word translated “testator” (Greek diatithemai) means simply “the one who made it (i.e., the covenant).” Not all covenants require the death of one or both of the covenanters, but the particular covenants being discussed in this section of Hebrews do involve death. The men with whom God was making the covenants all were under the judgment of death because of sin, but God Himself covenanted to die in their place, although they may not have understood its full implications at the time. In prophetic symbolism, both man’s merited death and God’s future substitutionary death were pictured by the animal sacrifices of the earlier covenants, then finally fulfilled by the once-for-all death of God in Christ. All of these were sealed, as it were, by the “shedding of blood” (Hebrews 9:22) and their terms appropriated and effectuated by the faith of the men who received them in the covenant promises of God.