The Story of Scripture, Part 8 – God Saves.

The Mosaic covenant promised blessing and prosperity. However, it was conditioned upon obedience. When entering into this covenant arrangement, the people of Israel displayed a grossly naive overconfidence with regard to their own ability. Without a thought to the contrary, they assumed that it would not be any trouble for them to keep their side of the bargain. However, despite their promises, they soon joined Adam in deep-seated covenant-breaking rebellion. Indeed, during their travels to the land of Canaan, Israel gave in almost completely to a contemptuous unbelief before God, and so had already forsaken any hope of entering the land as their promised covenant reward. Like Adam, they had failed to enter rest. 

Through it all however, God did not cast them off, showing them even at this stage that a promise of grace (Gen 3:15) undergirded the present typological Mosaic arrangement. Eventually, when this Mosaic law had served its function in destroying their false confidence, thereby properly joining them to Adam’s rebellion (and showing them their need for a Saviour); then, the undergirding covenant grace already promised to their forefather Abraham would bloom even further, eventually finding its full expression in the promise of the New Covenant itself. Before the New Covenant Messiah came however, they would have their whole national history (of failure) to look back on in order to prove one simple point: because of their failure to be obedient to God, they were under just condemnation, and had no hope of entering into the promised land of eternal sabbath rest. Only a Saviour, one who had not shared in their sin, could lead them into this promised land. While this truth would become clearer and clearer as they moved towards the New Covenant, already it was being shown to them in picture form. For even at this point, it was only once they had forsaken any right to the land that one of their kinsmen, one who had not shared in their wilderness rebellion, would lead them into the promised land. His name was Joshua, meaning “God saves”. It was the Hebrew equivalent of the name, Jesus. 

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The Story of Scripture, Part 7 – The Covenant at Sinai

Having journeyed through the biblical story thus far, at this point we should take a moment to consider the great importance of the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. For the purposes of seeing the greater unity of the whole biblical narrative, it is vital to understand that this Sinaitic covenant was intended to mimic the very first works-based covenant in the Garden of Eden. In the same way that Adam received God’s moral law (written on his heart), as well as the the positive commandment not to eat of the tree; even so Israel also received the moral law on Mount Sinai (10 commandments), as well as it’s associated contextually specific commandments. Moreover, the same promise was given: Sabbath rest, conditioned on obedience. 

Of course, the nature of the rest promised to Israel was different in that it was typological, yet as the author of Hebrews later demonstrates, it was profoundly connected to Adam’s original promise of eternal rest by way of a type-antitype relationship. Viz., Even as eternal Sabbath rest (heaven) was promised to Adam for his obedience, temporal national rest (land of Canaan) was promised to the people Israel for their obedience. Canaan was to stand as a figure of nothing less than the New Heavens and the New Earth, all of which constituted a vital part of the biblical story. Indeed, it was through these very types and shadows, that God would show Israel (and later, the Gentile world) of their great need for the Saviour first promised in Gen 3:15.

We see this dynamic start to play out immediately. Because sin had spread to all men through Adam, Israel had proved to be no better than their first parents in keeping God’s law. In the very same way as Adam, Israel became guilty of severe covenant transgression, and so incurred the rightful judgment of God.  But if God knew that Israel was going to break the law, what was the point of giving it to them in the first place? Romans 5:4 provides the answer;

Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam… .

While the people of Israel had always been sinners, until the point of the Mosaic Covenant, they did not understand that they, like Adam, were covenant-breakers. In other words, if they had not received the Law, they would not have seen that their sin deserved the very same covenant judgment as Adam’s sin had. And even though they might have forgotten about what had happened in the garden, their failure to keep the law proved to them that they were in fact ‘in’ Adam (and just as guilty of breaking the covenant as he was). In fact, this is the very reason that this function of the law applies not only to Old Covenant Israel, but to all who come from Adam (me and you)! And this is why Paul tells us in Gal 3:24: 

“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith”.

By the establishment of all the covenant laws, God showed His holiness to the people. The message that came to Israel was this: Your God is Holy. And you, a sinful people, cannot approach Him . . . unless He makes a way for you! Indeed, the only way that they could gain access to the presence of God was through the mediation of a priest and the offering of a blood sacrifice. This, of course, gave them an astounding picture of the Messiah who was to come; the Messiah who would be the very fulfillment of the ‘way’ (which God had made). He would be the Great and Eternal High Priest; His own body and blood would provide the sacrifice (the perfect Lamb of God); and he would even be the true fulfillment of the temple itself (by standing as God’s ultimate meeting place with men).

The Story of Scripture, Part 6 – Closer to Christ With Each Covenant

Over a period of four hundred years, since their first move to Egypt, Jacob’s sons (Abraham’s descendents) grew from a large family into a massive people group. Indeed, so much so that Egypt’s king at the time began to perceive this fast-expanding racial minority as a real threat to his kingdom. To stamp out the potential danger, Pharaoh reduced the Israelites to slavery. The ultimately satanic nature of this oppression was clearly manifested when Pharaoh ordered that all the male babies be taken from their mothers and killed (this occurs once again later at the time of Christ’s birth under Herod). Very significantly, however, we note that on both of these occasions, God protected the birth of the chosen deliverer.

When Moses was a grown man, God called him to lead his people out from under the yoke of Egyptian slavery. In a series of amazing incidents, ten plagues brought God’s judgment upon the Egyptian gods (each plague an intentional provocation and defiance of Egypt’s so-called gods). Eventually, the Israelites were enabled to leave Egypt and travel through the wilderness toward Mount Sinai. God miraculously parted the Red Sea for them, allowing nearly three million people to walk across the dry ocean bed. Soon, the Egyptians decided to chase after the Israelites, but God caused the ocean to close in upon them, drowning the entire army.

With this deliverance behind them, God made a covenant with Israel, and set them apart as a priestly nation,  chosen to mediate God’s promised blessing to the nations. This then, leads to the next covenant in the biblical story: the Mosaic covenant;  bringing us another step closer to the Saviour first promised in Gen 3:15. Where the Noahic covenant promised to preserve a humanity from whom the Saviour would come, and the Abrahamic covenant narrowed this promise down from that of humanity to a specific race (seed of Abraham); now, in the Mosaic covenant, God was promising to set apart a specific nationality from among Abraham’s descendants. In this way, we see how God’s plan of redemption was continuing to unfold. The lineage that led to the promised Messiah was becoming more and more specific. 

The Story of Scripture, Part 5 – From Humanity to a Specific Seed

As we might expect, after the flood man went exactly the same way again. In the story of Babel we read how (a freshly unified) mankind reaches yet another crescendo of open rebellion against their Maker. Had God not made the covenant of common grace with Noah, thereby committing himself to preserve humanity, he would have destroyed the human race all over again. Instead however, God intended through the Noahic covenant, that a foundation of humanity be preserved. And this so, as a foundation from which to bring forth the promised Saviour.

We come then to the next important figure in the biblical story: Abraham. 

Gen 12:1-3;

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

The covenant that God made with Abraham is significant because it served to elaborate on the promise that he had already made with Adam and Eve (Gen. 12:1-3; 18:18). The Abrahamic covenant comprised of 3 main parts:

  1. God would make Abraham into a great nation.
  2. God would give that nation their own land of blessing.
  3. God would extend that blessing to all nations.

When God had made a covenant with Noah, He was preserving the entire human race in order that the promised Saviour could be born. Now, in the Abrahamic covenant, God was setting about to narrow the lineage from that of ‘all mankind’ to a particular race; namely, the seed of Abraham.

Despite seemingly impossible obstacles, God showed himself to be true in this covenant. Abraham had a son named Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob. And Jacob had 12 sons, who were all very significant in the future life of Israel.

As the story continues many dangers beset Abraham and his family. In certain moments, it might even have seemed that God’s covenant promise would fail.  However, through it all, time and time again God showed Himself to be ‘God Almighty’: the One who has the power to carry out his purposes.

These purposes eventually led to Jacob moving his whole family to Egypt in order to escape a great famine. However, before Jacob himself died, he prophesied something very important, which once again reminded all the sons of Abraham of God’s great plan; and a promise that yet awaited its fulfillment. 

Gen 49:10:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

By considering this prophecy as they ought, they would once again be given a fresh reminder, and further clarity, of all that they (as a people called by God) should be looking forward to in hope.

The Story of Scripture, Part 4 – Light Shines Amidst the Darkness

Gen 4:25;

And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.

Now exiled from Eden, Eve gave birth to her first son, Cain. Though she had surely anticipated that he would be the promised Savior, he turned out to be quite the opposite, even murdering his own brother and putting on full display what it would now be like to live in a fallen world.

Even so, sin spread rapidly; like an aggressive cancer. At the same time, however, we read of the way that God remained faithful to His promise, and started to preserve for himself a godly remnant.  Eve gave birth to another son, Seth, which then served to begin the lineage that would eventually lead to Christ, the promised Son. 

To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.

And so we see the beginnings of a theme and contrast that stays consistent throughout. The shining light of God’s promise against the background of vast, dark human rebellion.

In that regard, the next major figure in this lineage of grace, is Noah.

Gen 6:5-8;

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. 

Once the effects of the fall were painfully evident, God unleashed judgement, and destroyed everything with a flood. However, because of the promise that he had made to Adam and Eve, God gave Noah instructions to build a boat that would keep him and his family safe. This was to act as a powerful foreshadowing of the predicament that man was in, and that his only hope was in the promise of grace through the coming Messiah. While the whole world will be subject to judgment, those (like Noah and his family), who have trusted in the promise of God’s word, would be saved. 

When the flood was over, God made a covenant with Noah: a covenant that promised the preservation of humanity. Though it had now been clearly shown that man deserved to be destroyed for their sins, God would nevertheless preserve a stage of humanity from whom the Saviour would come. In this sense, it would be by God’s common grace to all that the stage is preserved, so that special grace could be given to those who would place their trust in the Ark of God.

To confirm this, God established the rainbow as a covenant sign. The bow, which was an ancient symbol for war, would remind the world that the next time that God’s wrath would be aimed at man, it would be aimed upwards upon himself (in Jesus Christ) rather than downwards as it had been, upon the sons of men.

The Story of Scripture, Part 3 – Bad News and Good News

We ended on the last post, talking about Adam’s tragic failure, and the entry of sin. For the first time in human history, mankind began to run away from the presence of God. The whole world was now ruined by their rebellion. But the question was this: how would God respond to a world that had chosen to go its own way?

Firstly (as one might expect), God brought judgment. He told them that they would return to the dust. And while the idea of physical death was frightening enough, mankind would also face the reality of spiritual death and eternal judgment in hell.

At this point things would seem very dark indeed if it were not for the precious promise revealed in Gen 3:15.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Here, in seed form, is the first promise that God would send a Saviour. It is the first glorious fore-hailing of Christ. God promised to crush all the evil forces that Adam and Eve had unleashed in their foolish rebellion (Gen. 3:15). And it is really in this moment, just after our consideration of what was lost in the garden, that we are able to appreciate the purpose of this redemption most clearly. As Kline says: “The purpose of redemption is to bring to pass, in spite of the Fall, the realization of the eschatological goal of a consummate revelation of God’s Glory, as originally set for creation.”[1]

Put as simply as possible, a second Adam was needed, to do what the first Adam had failed to do. And this is exactly what is here promised. God told Adam and Eve that this salvation would come through their own offspring!

Once again, we consider this image:

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Can you imagine the incredible amount of joy and hope that they must have found in this promise?

Gen 3:20, says this: 

“The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”

Adam and Eve go on to trust that God would save them through the coming Messiah. One day, there would be another federal head; another great prophet, priest and king — a second Adam. And even so, Adam named his wife ‘Eve’ – meaning, mother (not of the dead, as would otherwise have been the case) but instead; mother of the living, and this because of the coming Saviour.

Even so, God killed an innocent animal for their sake, as a foreshadowing of the very manner in which the promised Son would bring about their redemption.

Gen 3:21 ;

“And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” 

God shed the blood (source of life) of the innocent as a substitute for the guilty so that they could be covered. However, until the foreshadowed reality was consummate, as a consequence of the fall mankind was no longer able to dwell in the presence of God.

In that regard, here is yet another haunting image to consider.

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From this point, the next several millennia of human history are recorded for us in a few brief chapters (Gen. 3-11). It is a story of two interwoven developments. On the one hand, we see the increasing darkness of sin. On the other, we see God’s faithfulness to His gospel promise. We will explore these developments in the next post.

Notes;

 [1] Kline, M. G. (2006). God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (p. 14). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

The Story of Scripture, Part 2 – High Treason

In the last post we emphasized that the time in the garden was a time of probation for the first Adam. By working for six days and then resting on the seventh, God had already modeled for this first federal head, that if he would work to keep these commandments, that he too (along with all of his posterity after him) could enter into the covenant blessing of an eternal Sabbath rest; never again having to fear the possibility of disobedience to the Creator.

We also mentioned that during this period of probation, God placed one specific restriction upon them: they were not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. By submitting to God’s word, Adam and Eve would have the chance to learn the joy of living as trustful and dependant creatures.[1] “The Lord of the covenant, the Lord of the Edenic sanctuary in its double role of home-protectorate and temple, was thus man’s Father and his God.”[2] In this way, even as the second Adam would later demonstrate, “from the very beginning man was taught to pray trustingly: ‘Our Father which art in heaven,’ and to add worshipfully: ‘Hallowed be thy name.'”[3] . But also, due to Adam’s great eschatological hope of future sabbath kingdom blessing (of which the garden was but a prologue), “man would learn to continue his Lord’s prayer: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[4]

Chapter three in Genesis sets the context for the entire Bible. At this time, a fallen angel (Satan) entered into the garden with all malice, duplicitously taking the form of a snake and offering to Adam and Eve another ‘word’. Deceitful and rebellious to the core, this word challenged the very goodness and truthfulness of the Great Suzerain, and promised more satisfaction than could be derived under their current treaty arrangement.

The evil one had thus revealed his rebellion, and this was the time for Adam to exercise his sacred office. He alone (as the great prophet, priest and king), was invested with the responsibility and authority “to repulse Satan’s profane encroachment into God’s sanctuary. . . Taking his stand as God’s warrior-priest, guardian of the holy ground of Har Magedon, he must declare the evil one evil, condemn his trespass, and repulse him. This task, signalized by the name of the tree of the knowing of good and evil, was indeed the critical task.” [5]

Tragically, as we know, Adam fails to discharge his duty. Indeed, he fails at multiple levels. At the heart of this failure, however, Adam and Eve are both shown to accept Satan’s word, and join in with the rebellion against Yahweh. And due to Adam’s kingly and federal office, this treasonous act had cosmic significance, sending “shock-waves throughout the whole of creation.”[6] The whole world was now ruined by their rebellion. And for the first time in human history, mankind began to run away from the presence of God. But, the real question was this: How would God respond to a world that had chosen to go its own way? We will look at God’s profound answer in the next post.

Notes:

  1. Bartholomew, C. and Goheen, M. The Story-Line of the Bible.
  2. Kline, M. G. (2006). Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (p. 61). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Kline, M. G. (2006). God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (p. 68). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
  6. Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, “The Story-Line of the Bible”.