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:

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.

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”.

The Story of Scripture, Part 1 – Creation and Probation

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

In this very first verse of the Bible (Gen 1:1) the curtain opens, as it were, and the great Biblical drama begins. God calls all things into being by His sovereign decree, and his work moves quickly to a profound climax: He creates a man (Hebrew: Adam), with the perfect moral law written on his heart. Adam is made in his very own image; a priest and protector of the garden-sanctuary; a holy prophet of the garden-covenant (holding to the Word of God alone); a great king, having dominion and stewardship over all the earth. Then, from the king is brought a queen: the first women. Not only was she a gentle and beautiful covenantal companion for him, but also a unique and powerful helper in the great task that he was given. Mankind then, were made to multiply, prosper and have dominion; and they were unlike any other creatures in the universe. Under the rule of their federal head, king Adam; they would live as one holy nation in this perfect paradise theocracy.

God himself, the great glory-Spirit, was fully present in this garden temple-sanctuary. Adam, the holy sanctuary priest, would enjoy a rich, perfect, and prophetic communion with the Lord. Indeed, if all carried on in this way, the lives of Adam and those under his federal care, would be rich and full, as they all together worshipped and delighted in their creator, and the many gifts that He had given to them.

But the climax of creation was not merely in the making of mankind, for even king Adam was but a vassal king and it was always to be clear that Eden was a protectorate under the shield of Yahweh, the Great Suzerain; and he alone carried the title: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. To keep this truth before his vassal, the Sovereign Creator entered into his rest, taking his seat as the Great King, on a throne of eternal Sabbath glory. 

It was at this time that the garden covenant was made with Adam. It was to be a covenant of works, with both the curse of death for any transgression of the heart-law (in either its moral or positive aspects), and reward of life for obedience to the same. Moreover, by working for six days and then resting on the seventh, God had already modeled for Adam, that if he would work to keep these commandments, then he too could enter into the covenant blessing of an eternal Sabbath rest. In this way, the Garden of Eden was a time of great probation for Adam. If, as the federal head of humanity, he could execute his task well, both he and his posterity (i.e. the entire human race), and indeed the whole earth, would be brought into the final state, and be allowed to receive the covenant blessing: Sabbath rest from their labour, never again having to fear that they might be disobedient; eternal paradise with God on earth; heaven itself.  

This was the garden covenant then; “According to the terms of this probation arrangement, the promised sabbath rest must be merited by obedience, while, on the other hand the hope of that blessing would be forfeited by disobedience.”[1] And in this way, “Eden had sabbatical significance as a prototypal stage of the royal rest covenanted to man beyond his probationary mission”.[2]

During this period of probation, the unique positive component of the law was this: they were not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. Even in this restriction, however, Adam would have the chance to learn the joy of living as a trustful and dependant creature.[3] But his “covenant obligations were not limited to this one duty of guarding the sacred garden. There were other, long-range requirements, assignments pertaining to his offices as king and priest. In the event of a successful probation man must carry out the kingdom commission by culturally forming his world—populating it, taking possession of it, appropriating its resources, ruling it (Gen 1:28). He was also to be engaged in the fundamental function of priestly ministry, that is, the worship of God[3] . . .Only by way of meritorious work might man arrive at the eternal sabbath. It was by performing the specific probation assignment stipulated in the Creator’s covenant of works with him that Adam must earn for himself and the human race the reward of entitlement to the consummated kingdom.”[4]

Notes:

  1. Kline, M. G. (2006). God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (p. 63). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
  2. Ibid., p. 42.
  3. Bartholomew, C. and Goheen, M. The Story-Line of the Bible.
  4. Kline, M. G. (2006). God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (p. 68). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
  5. Ibid., p. 65.

Eve and Mary, Incarnation and Promise

I’m convinced that the best way to fight over-familiarity, is by going as deeply as possible into the study of theology; viz., engaging the Scriptures with all of our minds in sacred meditation. And when it comes to Christmas, any effort to truly appreciate the majesty and grandeur of what took place at the birth of the Saviour, must begin in seeking to understand the promise that forever connected Eve to Mary (cf. picture above). Only then will we start to understand the glory of his birth. Only then will we start to understand the coming of Christ as the apex of all redemptive history, and even of history itself.

So as we set out to meditate on the glory of Christ’s incarnation, it is essential that we start here, with the story of Scripture. In the next few posts then, I’ll do my best to summarize the greater biblical narrative, highlighting some of the central themes along the way. And let me say this; it is truly is my favourite story in the whole world: it always overwhelms my otherwise calloused, over-familiar-heart; it always sets my eyes–anew–upon the majesty and glory of God’s great plan; and it always leaves my soul in a state of doxological overflow. So, as the hymn goes, I love to tell “the old, old story’. I love to tell it at Christmas time, and I love to tell it to all who will listen. And if you plan on following along for the next few posts, my prayer is that it would have this same great effect on you.