The Faithfulness of Futurism

When I was a boy I was unsure of the future. Our family had their issues and there were many times that I would lay in bed at night and wonder if my parents would ever get a divorce as many of my friends parents had. That concern in my childhood mind would’ve been allowed to fester, always remaining a hopeless outcome, except for one thing: My parents would speak to me at various times and say, “Son, no matter how bad of a fight we have, we will never get a divorce. We will always stay married” This gave great comfort to my small, innocent mind. It gave me a handle to grab ahold of, a handle by which I knew something of security in my future: My parents would stay married.

My parents celebrated their 42 anniversary this year. They have been faithful to their words and for this I am thankful and very proud.

But imagine a different scenario where words don’t mean what they seem to mean. What if my parents had divorced, and upon me reminding them of the words they had told me their response was: “Oh son, we’re sorry, we didn’t really mean we’d never get a divorce. We just told you that to comfort you. Things have changed…”

I don’t use this analogy tritely knowing that many of had this experience as reality.

However, in this scenario the hope of the future has been shattered by a simple unfaithfulness to what was previously spoken. The hearer, in this case a small boy who trusted his parents words has had his future obliterated and must now pick up the pieces of a broken family to rebuild a new future. Anyone looking on they would say this is wrong for the boy because––

Words mean something.

Or maybe I should clarify in a generation such as this:

Words should mean something!

This is not a complicated concept, however, I am continually amazed at how simple life principles that we all abide by on a daily basis are not maintained when reading the Scriptures; or in how we think about God and the words He says. This post is a pragmatic plea for us to allow the future God has spoken of to remain the hope of what He said it would, and will be.

The hope of the biblical future being fulfilled remains the steadfast anchor by which the chains of our heart are mored to in desperate hope that God might be found true, and every other man a liar.

Hebrews 6: 11-12, 18-19 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises… in the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.

19This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast

The Two Camps

There is currently a growing number of Bible students who have been trained to disbelieve that a literal future fulfillment of the words spoken in Scripture, will happen as prophesied in the future. The position that believes the opposite is called futurism, believing firmly that from Genesis to Revelation the nature of biblical prophecy is to find its true end apocalyptically. Apocalypticism is the same, in that we believe the things spoken about the end-times in the Law, Prophets, Writings, Gospels, and Letters will have a true, literal fulfillment in a climactic end.

Simply put, exactly what God said will be fulfilled in real time and space and since many events come together to begin this great end and see it through, it is as a crescendo in nature, where many biblical prophecies come together in a sort of grand finale.

To give an illustration, when Jesus says in Matthew 24 that “this generation will by no means pass away until all is fulfilled,” futurists take this to mean that Jesus meant the generation that sees ALL of the things He mentions take place. Simply, everything He mentioned did not happen in the generation proceeding 70 AD, therefore He likely means the generation of His coming because His coming is the pinnacle event of His prophecy (see Luke 21, and Mark 13 also).

What orchestral piece have you heard that does not contain it’s crescendo? What fireworks show have you witnessed that does not have a grand finale? Futurists see the Bible in this light, that the God of Israel’s beautiful song, or His firework show, or whatever analogy you would employ in the place of biblical narrative, has a climactic end. Not because He is into putting on a dramatic show, but because the Scriptures teach us that He is really into putting on a dramatic show (misnomer intentional).

The opposing view to futurism is called Preterism, in which all things that are prophetic in nature are said to have been fulfilled on or by 70 AD. In one sense, Preterist’s say they are more literal than Futurist’s in their interpretation because they keep the “original context” in which things were written. They would say that Ezekiel was only speaking to those hearing him, his immediate generation, and that it has no application to thing in the future. They say the same about Daniel and his words and maintain that the fulfillment is immediate, not in the distant future. Many Preterist’s are honorable, bible loving people, who are truly seeking to interpret the Scriptures to the best of their ability. This is respectable, and something worthy of praise. To their credit they truly are seeking to understand the Scriptures and they see this as the best way.

For instance, they take the very same words of Matthew 24 that a futurist is clinging to in hopes of occurring, and say that Jesus exclusively meant the generation He was speaking to in that moment, and that he was not speaking to future generations. They say that even though only some of the events took place as Jesus said, he was mainly speaking about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD which sealed up biblical prophecy for good. The slippery slope of this interpretation leads many to the conclusion that Jesus was just plain wrong because He did not come again as He said to the generation He was speaking to, and caused others to suffer shipwreck in their faith, leaving the faith entirely. I say this with sobriety, love, and an ache in my heart for these brothers and sisters. 

Unfortunately, with this interpretation, the larger sweeping nature of biblical prophecy is often ignored. I need to firmly say that I believe the view of preterism is detrimental to the Bible, how we understand it, and that it very simply does not honor the words that the Father has spoken, but rather takes away from what He has said in a very harsh, but disguised, format. It is my hope that this post might paint the larger picture of biblical prophecy and that the entire biblical narrative holds to a distinct futurist method of interpretation, beginning in Genesis and climaxing in Revelation.

The First Futurist

From the first biblical prophecy in Genesis 3:15 that a seed would crush the head of the serpent it is established that the nature of biblical prophecy is to say something that will have a latter fulfillment, and that the fulfillment is not immediate by any sense of the word. Genesis 3:15 is called the protoevangelium, or first Gospel. Just after Adam and Eve sin by their disobedience of God’s command in the garden to not eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, God gives this incredible promise of hope, this good news––that the serpent who deceived them would one day be crushed by the promised Seed. It is interesting that God began biblical prophecy setting the hope of restoration in the very distant future, and it is extremely significant and instructional that the first Biblical prophecy is as such.

Although hindsight tells us this now, Adam and Eve would have seen this promise very differently. Adam and Eve had no context for the future. They had only lived in perfection in the presence of God from the time of their first breaths until that moment. Time, and its devastating longevity would not have been something they had any context for. Therefore, when Adam and Eve heard this promise we must ask the question, “What was their expectation of fulfillment?” How did they perceive the future? Based very simply on what God spoke, it seems that they would’ve believed that Eve would somehow bring forth another man immediately that would bring them back to the garden they were driven out of. At this stage Adam and Eve might have been Preterists.

For analogies sake, I like to picture Adam and Eve most likely living just outside the gate that led into the garden. Why else would God have had to protect it with the swords of fiery cherubim? They were close, and the promise that they had received from God they believed to be equally close. They thought that when this man came forth from her Seed he would crush that serpent imminently, the cherubim’s swords would cease their paths of crescent fire, and they would go back into the garden to be with God. If we can put ourselves in their shoes, this scenario is very plausible given their context since they did not yet understand time.

They couldn’t have been more naive however! We don’t know whether Abel or Cain were born first but their names give us a little hint. Abel in Hebrew means breath; son; breathing spirit; while Cain means acquired.  With Cain’s given name, is it possible they believed they had acquired the Seed that was promised? However, when Abel is murdered, Adam and Eve would’ve instantly realized that neither of the boys were the promised Seed of which God had spoken.

Imagine the devastation. What they had hoped for, and likely thought close, was now an ambiguous time frame… 

Who would this seed be? When would he come forth? Had they done something wrong? Had they misunderstood the Lord? Was God Himself wrong about what He promised? BY no means.

With the promise that God had made crystallized in their minds they conceive again, and bring forth Seth.  It would seem that they’re hope of the promised Seed was forefront in their minds as Seth means appointed. I wonder at what stage they realized it wasn’t Seth either? When Seth gives birth to Enosh, which means mortal, his name is telling of what they clearly think––He is not the one. It is then that the Bible tells us, “then men began calling on the name of the Lord.”

What were they crying out for? The promised Seed who would come to crush the head of the serpent and restore them to the garden! Adam must’ve waited and waited with eager hope and expectation that this promised one would arise in his lifetime to no avail. In his 930th year, death creeps upon his tired lungs and when his eyes close for the last time they were most undoubtedly filled with tears of confusion and yet hope that the God he had personally walked with and spoken to would fulfill what He said with His own mouth. We can rest assured that on that day Adam died a futurist, knowing that the prophecy spoken to him would have a literal future fulfillment after his death. Thank you Adam for keeping the faith!

Often times, Preterist’s tell us that biblical prophecy must not be taken out of its original context. Futurist’s heartily agree with this. However, the problem with the preterist hermeneutic is that they do not allow any room for fulfillment beyond the original context. There is a glaring flaw with this method. As we have just witnessed, the very first biblical prophecy pointedly communicates a future hope that was not fulfilled within Adam’s life or context. Yet, I have never seen a preterist making the case that this prophecy never came to pass–– the entire biblical story hinges upon it! It is the very substance of redemptive history, the quintessential gospel that points to our Savior Christ Jesus.

It is here that we must ask a very reasonable question. Since the first prophecy God spoke had a distinct future context to its fulfillment, is it not also logical to conclude that other prophecies in the bible will possess a similar nature? Is it reasonable to use the first biblical prophecy as the interpretive key to the rest? Is it good sense to assume that prophecy simply contains this future component in its very fabric? As good students learning from experience, it would be a disservice to the Scriptures to not do so.

Still, this is exactly what the preterist position asks you to do to the ultimate demise of faith in what God has said.

Yes, Israel will be restored as Isaiah 60 says. Yes, Babylon will be decimated and judged as Jeremiah 51 exclaims. Indeed, Jesus will descend on the clouds of heaven and the tribes of Israel will mourn over Him, as one weeps for an only son. Truly, His feet will stand on the mount of olives and it will literally split in two as Zechariah 12 and 14 state and as Jesus Himself proclaims in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. All Israel will be saved on that day like Paul tells us in Romans 11, and as Revelation 20 declares Jesus will reign on this earth for 1000 years sitting upon a throne in a literal temple as Ezekiel described in chapters 40-48. Jerusalem will be elevated upon a glorious mountain as Isiah 2 emphatically declares, and the nations of the earth will come up to Jerusalem to learn from the God of Jacob, lay down their weapons and forsake war, and be healed by the waters that flow from His throne until He delivers the kingdom to the Father as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15. These words are the weight in the anchor of which our faith is joyfully roped to.

We must not overcomplicate the matter of futurist versus preterist interpretation. And here is the old horse that is belarboingly kicked: we are simply discussing a matter of faith.

From the beginning of the Bible men are asked to put their faith in what God says. The whole trajectory of the biblical hope is founded upon God saying things, and men believing that what He said will happen. If we do not do this we have no hope! If we do not do this we have no gospel! Therefore, it is my plea to suggest that we believe what has been spoken, and that we have faith that what was spoken will come to pass.

The glaring issue with the preterist interpretation is that it takes what God has spoken and discounts it by a scheme of thought that basically says God is like the parents getting the divorce, “Well, I didn’t really mean EVERYTHING I said.” This is harmful to faith. This effectively cuts the rope attached to the anchor allowing it to slip off into the bottom of the theological seas. It may never be recovered again.

This view is truly pessimistic towards the very promises God spoke with His own mouth. It is encouraging many to not believe that the things spoken in the Bible will happen as they have been spoken. If this be the case, then where is the plumbline? If Adam had believed this way, would he not have died an unbeliever? Rather, Noah’s father Lamech would’ve most likely sat with Adam, hearing from him the promise of the coming Seed and he also would have believed it would come to pass. He would have put his faith in that promise and then discipled His son Noah in righteousness with faith in drastic contrast to the landslide of wickedness taking root in his day. Thus when God said to Noah “build an ark because it’s going to rain,” the faith instilled in him from his father to trust God would’ve driven him to complete the task. Many looked on in Noah’s day mocking, marrying, laughing, drinking, and although the witness of an enormous ship was before them, they were blind to its significance.

Conculsion

Likewise brothers and sisters we are approaching a time in which “all things written will be fulfilled,” (Lk. 21:22). We desire to be those who heed Jesus words, cling to them faithfully, and not write them off by the words of men. He will be the only One found worthy on that day, His words entirely justified, upheld, and completed just as He said. He will remain faithful, He will not change what He has said. We can trust what He said:

“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it,” (Is. 55:11).

The amazing thing is that Genesis 3:15 still remains unfulfilled. Satan is prowling around like a roaring lion (1 Pt. 5:8), he is the prince and the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), thw ruler of this world (Jn. 14:30) and Paul confirms that “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” (Rm. 16:20). Yes, Jesus sacrifice effectively “crushed” satan, however there remains a very literal crushing ahead. Rev. 12:9 and 20:10 tells us,

“And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him… And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

This one prophecy from Genesis 3:15 encompasses the last 6000 years of history unfolding. We take great joy in this future event when Jesus, the promised Seed finally triumphs over the Serpent, and squishes His head beneath His glorious heel consummating this spectacular sentence.

The vivid hope in what God has spoken, and the faith in His words remain as the only anchor for my broken soul.

And this is why I am still a futurist.

#10 Between the Lines of Exodus 20-The Deuteronomy 18 Prophet Like Moses

Diagram Position

We are chronologically working through the diagram pictured above, having started with the far left Earth icon, and are now in the second pillar titled covenantal. On the third line down we identify Exodus 20-24. We have now taken several posts to carefully meditate upon Exodus 20-24 and we are still not done. Before moving on we must dive into Deuteronomy as the Exodus is expounded upon with far greater detail.

Introduction

A couple years ago I began to reevaluate my theology regarding the first coming of Jesus. After all, I thought I had it down: Jesus, who was God, came as a man and lived and died as the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. In His death humanity finds forgiveness before the Father when they repent, and in His resurrection we have hope of the reward that is in store for us if we stand firm in the faith until the end. Surely this is true and magnificent! However, as I began to ponder the details of the life of Jesus, particularly in the gospel of John, I began to realize some very important things of which I was previously unaware. One of these things namely was that Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees had a specific context. His words seemed very well thought out and pointed, as that of a sniper taking aim at targets. His acts, such as his cleansing the temple, healing on the sabbath, and many others seemed to point to a greater purpose. I had generally just swept everything under the rug of, “Jesus was displeased with the Jewish authorities and their view of the law and He was making that clear.” This again is true, but it is only scraping the surface of what He viewed as the purpose of His first coming.

I now believe that the large majority of the church including some Messianic Jewish brothers are missing a vital component of Jesus’ identity. This identity is revealed in Deuteronomy 18 as a person who would be The Prophet Like Moses. This person, as we will see, was to come to the nation of Israel in the prophetic fashion of Moses, speaking words to the nation with which they would be held accountable for.

I recently read a book by a messianic brother that was a biblical theology of Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures. Within none of its pages did I discover a single paragraph regarding what we are about to discuss. This concerned and saddened me, and although it is a topic I am fairly new to as well, I am hopeful as we look into this together. Therefore, it is the aim of this post to pointedly show how Jesus emphatically sees Himself as fulfilling the role of the Prophet from Deuteronomy 18 as well as to pinpoint the importance of teaching this part of His identity today. It is critical as the text will reveal to understand how primary the identity of the Prophet like Moses is to Jesus Himself as well as the apostles, the Jewish people of the first century, and even the Father in Heaven.

 

Here is a link to the notes for this subject, yet they end incomplete as the apocalyptic identity of Jesus will be handled later. The two other links are audio sessions of teaching I recently did regarding this subject.

PDF Notes           Audio Session 1          Audio Session 2

The Context of the Prophet from Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5 and 18

One of the most significant messianic foreshadowings in the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 18 even though the exchange takes place at Mt. Sinai within the very chapters we have been looking at. Although a very short segment of Scripture, it is one of the most important things to see, behold, meditate upon, and let affect how we interpret the remainder of Scripture and our premier definition (as far as expectation is concerned) of the Messiah. In Deuteronomy 18 Moses gives a snippet of previously unheard information regarding what happened that day at the mountain in Exodus 20. To produce a thorough and cohesive picture of this event we need to look at many portions of Scripture.

In Exodus 20,

All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” 21So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.

Now, let’s read how Moses recaps this same event in Deut. 5.

These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. 23“And when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. 24“You said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. 25‘Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we will die. 26‘For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? 27‘Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says; then speak to us all that the LORD our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it.’ 

It is here that something very unique occurs. After the people say this to Moses, God responds to their statement with His own declaration:

 28“The LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken.29Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!

Wow. God is overflowing with the truth of His emotions here! He is longing for Israel to be able to keep what they’ve committed to although He already knows that they cannot. Still, in all of His foreknowledge He does not respond harshly but rather optimistically.

30‘Go, say to them, “Return to your tents.” 31‘But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess.’ 32“So you shall observe to do just as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33“You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.

Deuteronomy 18 gives us an even clearer picture as Moses gives the last detail in this story that isn’t mentioned previously.

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’17“The LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19‘It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.  

In my entire life I have never heard a teaching on Jesus being the prophet spoken of and prophesied by God in Deuteronomy 18. Does that not occur to you as odd?

Let me explain why this information is so vital. Firstly, it is one of the clearest pieces of information we have regarding the Messianic figure in the Old Testament. At this stage of our story we have been given some amazing foreshadowing concerning the Messiah. In Genesis 3:15 we have been told what He will inevitably do. In Genesis 15 we behold a priest/king who foreshadows Messiah. In Genesis 22 we see Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac, for “He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type,” (Hb. 11:19). In Joseph we see a man thrown in a pit by His brothers, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused and imprisoned, and then vindicated and seated at the right hand of Pharaoh while his brothers come to Him in need. Yes, we have seen many pictures that are glorious and that instruct us in the nature of the Messiah that will come to fulfill Genesis 3:15. However in Deuteronomy 18, we have very concrete information which is in fact a direct pronouncement of the Messiah’s identity. Let’s break these few verses down to further discuss the scope of what is being revealed.

Deuteronomy 18:15-22

  1. 15a “The Lord Your God will raise up for you a prophet like me…”
    1. God is the one choosing to raise up this prophet of His own wisdom and accord.
    2. Also, we note that the person will be a prophet. The person who was a true prophet in Scripture is someone who is actually hearing and declaring the true word of God. Also, the case is usually that this one is calling Israel to return to the covenant of God in order to, in effect, renew their vows and repent, by rehearing God’s words. We see this with Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the remainder of the biblical prophets. So we know that this is the foundation of the Deuteronomy 18 person, He will actually speak the very words of God in calling the people to repentance–– to return to the Lord their God.
    3. A Prophet like Moses has many deep implications that we can only briefly discuss here:
      1. Moses was called out of Egypt before he was the deliverer.
        1. Jesus was called out of Egypt after Joseph and Mary had fled Bethlehem from Herod.
      2. God appeared to Moses in the Wilderness
        1. Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness in which He is specifically meditating on Deuteronomy 6-8. In Deuteronomy 8 we read that Moses says “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that Me might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”
        2. Likewise, Jesus was tempted in the desert for forty days, which is significant of Israel’s forty years in the desert. Jesus was also humbled and hungry in his human frame, being tested by God to know what’s in His heart and whether or not He would keep the commandments of God or not. He responds to the devil from this exact section of Scripture saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God!”
      3. Moses stood in the direct counsel of God
        1. 33:11 “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.”
          1. Jesus was in the presence of the Father His whole life speaking to Him face to face.
        2. The command to Moses is: But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess (Deut. 5:31).
        3. In Proverbs 8:30 we see this same language applied to Jesus “Then I was beside Him, as a master workman, and I was daily His delight.”
      4. Most profoundly though is simply that the prophet spoken of will fulfill the same duty as Moses when the people requested: “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.”
        • This is brutally ironic in that the Prophet will come to speak the very words of God as the people requested, and yet the prophet will actually still be God the Son speaking. The mystery of God taking on a human frame and masking His glory so that He might draw near to the people and fulfill what they asked of Him on that day at Horeb, and to do it in this way, is very mysterious and awesome.
        • Whether they knew it or not the people of Israel were requesting what God had preordained before the ages in God the Son.
      5. The overarching themes to consider in Jesus being a Prophet like Moses are:
        • Moses led the Exodus
          • Jesus leads the Second Exodus at His Second Coming
        • Moses institutes the Passover
          • Jesus becomes the Passover Lamb
        • Moses was the Mediator of the Sinai Covenant
          • Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant in His blood
        • Moses read the law from Mt. Sinai
          • Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount which is in effect the Law of the Spirit by grace through faith.
  2. 18:15b “…from among you, from your countrymen.”
    1. This clearly tells us that the Prophet will have an ethnic identity––the lineage of Abraham, the stock of Israel––He will be Jewish. The simple announcement of this identity of the prophet irrefutably confirms God’s choice of Abraham and his lineage. This gives us proper context of why Jesus the Prophet is born to Mary and Joseph, ethnic Jews, in the town of Bethlehem, in the physical piece of land that was called Israel. Often times we overlook these details because they are profoundly simple. Yet, in their simplicity they are actually confirming the everlasting covenant.
      1. Jesus was Jewish and Jesus didn’t arbitrarily choose his ethnicity to be Jewish. There wasn’t a conversation in the Godhead with ten different ethnicities Jesus could pick from when He came in the flesh––There was only one story, and one people that possessed a covenant with that Godhead––the lineage of Abraham. It is the very people standing at Horeb asking for the Prophet.
  3. 18:15c “…you shall listen to him.”
    1. The word hear here is exactly the same as Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” So YHWH is employing the same word in regards to this prophet, in that Israel should Shema the prophet.
      1. It is profound that the Lord gives the Shema twelve chapters earlier, and then links the Shema to the prophet. The Shema is that the LORD your God is ONE, and here the Lord is commanding Israel to Shema the Prophet, which foreshadows the divinity of the prophet. Since the command was initially Shema the word of the Lord, and now the command is Shema the prophet, it is completely ingenious of the Lord to frame it this way as He hides within the mystery.
      2. The command to listen to this Prophet again re-emphasizes that He will carry the direct Word of YHWH.
  4. 16 “This is according to all that you asked of the Lord Your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’”
    1. The words of Israel on the day at Horeb played directly into God’s foreknowledge regarding His interactions within the covenant. It is actually quite profound that God Himself cries out, “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” Here we can see a picture of God desiring to have mercy on His people whilst knowing that He will have to bring judgment because of their unfaithfulness. And then Moses says here that with regard to all that you said at Horeb this Prophet is coming forth. So, just after God declares this to Moses, He immediately declares that the Prophet like Moses will come and speak His words. The Lord answers their request with this Prophet who will pronounthe very judgment God wishes them to avoid through obedience to His Words.
    2. It is as if God finishes what He was saying at Horeb through Jesus on the earth.
  5. 17 The LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well.
    1. They have spoken well is God’s agreement with their response. Moses said that the Lord was testing them to put His fear within them. This has seemingly been achieved as the people in fear speak these words.
    2. I have several times heard people say that it was a mistake for Israel to do this and that it was at this stage that they forsook the closeness that God wanted to have with them. It is normally portrayed as if this was their one opportunity to have nearness to God but because they were afraid they forfeited the one chance they had. This however is not in accord with God saying, “They have spoken well.” God’s desire was not for Israel to draw as near as we might think that day, but that His fear would remain within them (Ex. 20:20). His desire was actually fulfilled that day.
  6. 18a “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you,
    1. Since this is repeated twice within these few verses we should note that the Prophet’s ethnicity is being emphasized.
  7. 18b “…and I will put My words in his mouth…”
    1. The word used here for words in Hebrew is the same word used in Exodus 20:1 (dabar), “And God spoke all these words.” It would only be logical to assume that YHWH is saying that He will put these same words found in Exodus 20 in the mouth of the Prophet. That is not to say that He will not speak other things, but only to say that the Prophet will confirm those very words and indeed speak them from His own mouth.
  8. 18c “…and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
    1. Here we should note the simple yet terrifying nature of the spoken word. The promise from YHWH is that the Prophet will speak all that I command Him and that the Prophet’s words will warrant a divine accountability from all those who hear.
    2. We should rightly identify the them in this verse as pertaining to the future lineage of Abraham.
    3. This is a beautiful picture of Jesus and the mystery of God coming in the flesh. His choice was to come as a person and speak these very words, His testimony, as one of their own kinsmen. The beauty of YHWH’s faithfulness to Abraham is stunning.
      1. It is helpful to consider the juxtaposition here. In the first encounter, God comes down on the mountain trembling under His glory, with fire, lightning, thunder, and trumpets and causes His fear to be within them. He instructs them in the fear of the Lord, which Proverbs tells us is the beginning of wisdom. Yet, here is the other side of the coin! In Jesus, YHWH draws near to His people––save terrifying glory––humbly coming as a servant, a prophet in human skin, to declare to them the same words He had spoken from the mountain of Sinai. This is not a contradiction in His character but the very height of His wisdom in dealing with Israel covenantally.
  9. 19 “It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I myself will require it of him.
    1. Again we have the reemphasis that this Prophet will be speaking the direct words (dabar) of YHWH––His testimony. We also have shema again, but this time in a negative sense. Whoever does not shema the dabar of the prophet will be held accountable.
      1. We will later look at how this functions throughout the Gospel of John with Jesus often saying, “You do not listen to Me, and you do not hear Me.”
    2. YHWH’s confidence in this person to be a faithful witness to His Words is astounding. YHWH shows such confidence in this Prophet revealing a great dichotomy between the Prophet and Israel. He has already shown that He knows He cannot trust Israel to fulfill His words because of their heart, which foreshadows that this Prophet will be more than a typical Israelite––He will be God Himself, since He is the only one able to fulfill His own word.
    3. YHWH also identifies His reciprocation of judgment upon those who do not listen to this Prophet. Again, we see His astounding confidence in this Prophet in that He is willing to judge every person  according to the words the Prophet speaks.
    1. The significance of spoken words in Deuteronomy.
      1. God speaks to Moses.
      2. God speaks to the people.
      3. God promises He will speak again through a Prophet.
      4. Moses speaks to God
      5. Moses speaks to the people.
      6. God will raise up a prophet like Moses who will speak to the people.
      7. The people speak to God (usually bad things)
      8. The people speak to Moses (usually bad things)
      9. The people are supposed to listen to what God spoke, what Moses speaks, and what the Prophet will speak.
      10. The origin of speaking is rarely discussed as something that finds its premier anchor in relationship to God, His Words, and that He has created words for His purposes.
        1. Gen 1:1 God speaks words to create everything.
        2. John 1 the Word was with God and was God and everything was made through Him.
        3. The Prophet, who is God in the flesh, speaks the final Words of God which every man is accountable to.
  10. The Simple Formula of Deuteronomy 18:18-19 This Prophet will be like Moses
    1. This Prophet will be one of Israel’s countrymen
    2. This Prophet will be like Moses
    3. The Prophet will speak the words of God Himself
    4. The people should listen to this Prophet
    5. Whoever does not listen to what He speaks will be held accountable.

Now that we have established what the Prophet will be like, let us look at several Scriptures in the New Testament that confirm that Jesus truly was this Prophet like Moses.

The Expectation and Confirmation of the Prophet

There is a very clear expectation for the Prophet like Moses seen in the Gospels which gives us our first clues. We turn our attention to John chapter 1, where the Pharisees send men to speak with John the Baptist,

John 1:19-22 “This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And He confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

The prophet in their minds finds its only context in Deuteronomy 18 as the one who would “speak all that God commanded him.” John the Baptist appeared to them to be that person but John explicitly tells them that he is not the prophet. Here we have a profound example showing that the leadership of Israel was expecting this prophet from Deuteronomy 18 to be a real person that would come to them.

The first disciples of Jesus profess their expectation as well:

John 1:45 “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote––Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'” 

After Jesus rose from the dead it is very clear that the apostles firmly believed Him to have been the Prophet like Moses:

Acts 3:22 “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Moses said, ‘THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you.”

Furthermore, we have in the Gospels the people of Israel confirming Jesus to be the prophet:

John 7:39 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 40Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.”

With these passages we can easily confirm that there was an expectation for the Prophet like Moses and that the apostles and many others believed that Jesus was that person. But how about the Heavenly Father’s voice coming from heaven?

Matt 17: 1-8 1Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.4Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”

We may have overlooked the simplicity of what the Father is saying here, since what He is saying is simply a verbatim of what He said in Deuteronomy 18: The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him! If Moses standing on the mountain with Jesus is not ironic enough, the Father speaks to confirm from heaven that Jesus is the Prophet like Moses.

However, the nail in the coffin so to speak, is when Jesus Himself confirms by His own words that He is the Prophet like Moses. There are so many verses to quote here, but it serves us best to reveal the key to interpreting His words and then hope you continue study on your own. First we look at His direct mention of Moses speaking about Him:

John 5:39-47 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life…I have come in My Fathers name, and you don’t not receive Me… Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for He wrote about Me. But it you do not believe His writings how will you believe My words?”

John 5 is an incredible picture into our discussion where Jesus articulates that Moses wrote about Him. Many times in the gospel of John Jesus uses these references to point through the haze surrounding His identity. Those who were willing to hear His words would know that He was the Prophet like Moses sent by God. This direct line of thought by Jesus reveals how He viewed Himself and His ministry as the Prophet. Case and point is a passage like this:

“For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak,” (Jn. 12:49).

There is no denying that this is the quintessential fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:18:

“I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”

It is almost like looking upon twins! In this passage, Jesus is very plainly revealing that He is the promised Prophet like Moses who has received words directly from YHWH, His Father, to speak to the people. This really is incredible. Let’s juxtapose another example with Deuteronomy 18:19,

John 5:24 “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” 

and its sister:

Deut. 18:It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which He shall speak in My name, I myself will require it of him.

In the gospel of John Jesus continually addresses and reinforces the fact that the man who hears His words and believes His Father sent Him has eternal life and does not come into judgment, while Deuteronomy makes clear that whoever does not receive the Prophet’s words will come under judgment. The same is true in John 8:26-28

“I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world… “So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father has taught Me.”

The final passage that punctuates this study is Matthew 5 (thanks Yazan!). 

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court…”

In the passage above, Jesus basically says, “Moses told you this, and now I am telling you this.” There can be no question that this is again Jesus directly completing the prophecy of the Prophet like Moses. Moreover, the entire Sermon on the Mount is Jesus undoubtedly expounding upon the law of Moses, which obviously makes Him the Prophet like Moses. This premier identity of Jesus gives a pointed foundational, though often neglected, definition of how Jesus perceived His own identity, role, and purpose of His first coming.

Concluding Thoughts

All of the passages we’ve evaluated incontrovertibly reveal Jesus’ identity as the Prophet like Moses. The pertinence of how Jesus views Himself with regards to this identity is revealed in many proofs throughout the Gospels and is something that should be understood and considered by any serious student of the Bible. It is not an overstatement to say that every single word Jesus speaks while in His human frame is because of the framework of His identity stemming from Deuteronomy 18. With this understanding in place you can peer much deeper into the gospels, but also assert the covenantal context of Jesus’ life in its entirety.

Jesus very plainly saw His first coming as accomplishing this very unique purpose of being the Prophet like Moses that would speak words to His own Jewish countrymen––the very words of YHWH Himself! At Sinai, YHWH appeared in a terrifying measure of glory, splendor, and awe. His power was revealed in an awesome way that taught the people to fear Him. There in their fear they cry out, “Moses you go and speak to God so that we do not die!” God then cries out, “The people have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put my words in His mouth and hold them accountable to what He says.” Then in consistency with what was said, God the Son is born in the flesh in the small town of Bethlehem. In contrast to the power and glory of Sinai, He draws near to His own people in a humble human frame to speak the very words that YHWH began at Sinai. How drastically different than the top of the mountain of Sinai where He began His speech, yet equally terrifying! The words that He would say throughout His life would effectively seal prophecy for good and present the final standard regarding the judgment of Israel and mankind at large.

The prophetic acts of Jesus’ life are testifying to the truth that He was the final prophet given to Israel by God––He was the Prophet like Moses. He chose this identity and it is precious to Him. Jesus’ Jewishness possesses the most exemplary form of Jew, in that He not only speaks the divine words of YHWH as the Prophet like Moses but He also fulfills perfectly the Ten Words spoken at Sinai. The culmination of His life breathes the life of the covenant into our tired lungs and gives hope that He will yet fulfill His promises for Israel, Jerusalem, and gentiles too. We glory in this soon coming fulfillment and say Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

#9: Israel’s Agreement to the Sinai Covenant

exodus_covenant

Diagram Position

Our placement in the diagram above is in the second vertical pillar titled Covenantal. On the third line of this pillar we identify Exodus 20-24. In the previous post we covered several details of these chapters, however there are a couple more events left remaining which need appropriate attention. If you have not read the previous posts (#7 and #8) then you may have missed some critical information and context regarding where we are in the large story of Exodus and Sinai. The aim of this post is to help us understand in a simple way the following two things:

  1. Israel’s Agreement to the Sinai Covenant
  2. Identifying the “remnant” in Scripture

Israel’s Agreement to the Covenant

Now that we have sought a proper understanding regarding the importance of the Ten Words, we can observe the final stages of this Exodus in chapter 24.

The divine Creator has just stepped into human history in the most dramatic way possible. Even with this statement our propensity can be to theologically jump ahead to God in the flesh in His Son Jesus as when He enters human history in the most dramatic way imaginable, but we must not do this… yet! This is when our theology can become a stumbling block and often make us blind to the foundational layers that provide the context for Messiah. As humans, we are often times drawn to the biggest event and thus lead ourselves to believe we understand everything else because the biggest event is in sight. Yet thus far in our story, Sinai is the biggest event in sight and we must process it accordingly.

I know many people, myself included, that never watch soccer/football. Every four years however, these same ones gather together and dedicate many hours to watch the World Cup. Why? Because the World Cup is the grand event! However, one cannot watch the World Cup and actually understand what has taken place the previous four years. Yes, we understand the game of soccer, but of the painstaking amount of hard work, training and preparation that have led these few choice teams to the World Cup we are completely unaware. Before the grand event there are many formulative events, and it is within the context of these events that we ought to understand the grand event.

Likewise, too often a person’s theology begins at the Cross even though this grand event is 2/3 of the way through the story. In such cases one might be able to understand simply the idea of salvation, for God has made it very easy to grasp––repent, believe in Jesus, and let your life reflect His waiting for the hope of His second coming. However, the long and grueling process that has unfurled since creation until the time of the Cross is the story that belongs to Israel and their history. This is why we must stop here and revel in the astonishing events of the Exodus and let them inform our understanding of what will come thereafter.

After God speaks the Ten Words and the ordinances, the people heartily confirm with their own mouths that they will obey what He has said.

“Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!’… Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words,” (Ex. 24:3-8).

The all powerful God of the heavens and the earth spoke words from heaven in a conversation with Israel and the people responded to Him. Does this strike you as incredible? This is not a section of Scripture that can be overemphasized. As I’ve encouraged us many times, we must re-sensitize ourselves to these great events of Scripture. At Mt. Sinai  Moses recounts the words of YHWH and all the people answer with one voice before YHWH, saying, “All that YHWH has spoken we will do!” Moses then takes the book of the covenant and reads it aloud in all of their hearing and the people respond, “All that YHWH has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”  The implications of this conversation are astounding.

The Creator of the heavens and the earth is purposefully continuing the promises He previously made to Adam, Noah and Abraham by making a covenant with their direct lineage at this mountain. He is remaining infallibly faithful to His previous words to those men because His words are covenantal in nature as we’ve already discussed many times. What is noteworthy here is that whereas YHWH had been their God previously, in these Words He becomes the God of this great slave-people, turned free-men, at the mount. In this covenant, the people are taking responsibility upon themselves to uphold all of the words God spoke. In effect, Israel is now saying their vow to YHWH to become His wife, and He their Husband.

Words from Numbers 30:1-2 come to mind here:

“Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the word which the Lord has commanded. If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”

Israel has admittedly made a binding vow to the Lord to keep His words, which by relation make them His people––His possession. We discussed in the creational pillar that the original Creator owns His possessions, which are the heavens, the earth, and man. We also discussed in the bottom portion of that pillar that the only other thing given creational language in the Bible is when God speaks about Israel. He emphatically says,

“But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel,” (Is. 43:1). 

Quite literally the former lineage of Abraham were a no people living in the quagmire of slavery, confined to hard labor within the borders of Egypt. This was not a nation, this was an oppressed slave-people. Yet this was the wisdom of God. His miraculous deliverance of Israel from their bondage is what creates the nation that is standing before Him at the mountain. They had been led through the womb of the Red Sea, and being birthed through God’s very own hand they now stood as His newborn child at Sinai as a fulfillment of what YHWH had spoke to Abraham. He created Israel through this deliverance, and He plans on being faithful to her as the remainder of the above verse says,“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” It is important for us to keep the creational idea at the forefront of our understanding of the people Israel because this is how God identifies Israel in Scripture. The nation of Israel is quite literally God’s treasured possession.

Deut. 7:6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Sinai is also a covenant of blood as was the case with the covenant with Abraham where the animals were cut in half and the pieces laid on opposite sides for God to pass through.

“So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words, (Ex. 24:8).

Then another amazing thing happens:

Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.11Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank. 

Wow. The elders of Israel ate and drank with God. There is a lot one could say about this, but we must refrain at present. God is seemingly making the covenant official by eating and drinking with His new people – a glorious testimony of the event in the future when Jesus returns––the wedding supper of the Lamb. In the midst of this event the Lord calls Moses to come up to where He is.

12Now the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14But to the elders he said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them.” 15Then Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. 17And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. 18Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

I feel like saying, “It was finished,” here in regard to the truth of the covenant made between God and Abraham’s lineage, Israel. It actually happened in the blazing glory that is described. YHWH Himself, who sits in the heavens, who formed the very earth we live on chose this people to be His own that day and nothing has changed in the days that have passed between then and now. I cannot fathom why or how we could ever arrive at the New Testament and think that all of these passages we have belabored no longer mean anything because they were subsumed in Jesus’ life. The only change I can identify is the tragic loss of reality with regard to what happened that day, and what people, yes even Israel itself, believes happened. We must continue fighting the good fight and recover this truth!

The Golden Calf

It’s only shortly after this covenant is affirmed by the people that we hang our heads in disbelief at the speed with which the people turn from God and His commands to worshiping the golden calf. So often the brazen nature of Israel’s actions can cause us to point the finger at her failure.

After hearing the voice of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth speak from within the fiery, quaking, and thunderous storm that engulfs the mountain, and only days ago having vowed to be obedient to His words–while Moses is atop that very same mountain meeting with their God and speaking in their stead because the people had beheld His power and thought they might die if He kept speaking–– the people renege on their promise and create a golden idol there in the immediate sight of YHWH, breaking the very first Words that had come out of His divine mouth. OMG.

4″You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5“You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments,” (Ex. 20:4-6).

The golden cow formed by the hands of man must’ve been so measly compared to the power emanating from Sinai’s summit! Again, it seems so terribly preposterous to consider how these people bow down to something formed of yellow metal when the One true God is seated up there in majesty! But here is man at his finest, and we must not accuse them.

In such an instance we cannot point the finger and wag our heads in disbelief, without first seeing ourselves there also participating in the gross absurdity and atrocity of worshiping this golden beast. We must admit that it would have been us drunken-dancing about the desert bush intoxicated with laughter and immorality. If we deny this, then we are deceived about our own hearts and Jeremiah 17:9 is calling out wisdom to our ear: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? May the lingering blindness to our own condition be recognized as we look upon Israel in hindsight, and let us grieve there with God over what happened to them on that fateful day.

What we should see in this instance follows the very vein of the previous post: Man is totally unable to deliver himself from his own deep rooted depravity and sinful nature. We are incapable of carrying within us the knowledge of good and evil and choosing good apart from Him! It’s only just after the encounter that we are found bowing down to the golden idols. His voice was just heralded through the heavens, yet shortly after drowned out by our befuddled laughter and idolatrous howling. In Israel we clearly see the condition of man and His need for the redeemer promised in Genesis 3:15… and even there in such great loss that promise shines through as the rainbow after a great storm.

Nevertheless, we emphasize again that God did not have an unrealistic expectation concerning Israel and their perfection regarding the covenant. His anger indeed burns against them and Moses intercedes on their behalf before the Lord relents. Moses later recounts this story of Mt. Sinai in Deuteronomy 5:29 relaying to us that when the people said, “We will keep this covenant and be obedient,” then God cried out in response,

Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever! (Deut. 5:29).

The overflow of God’s heart here is not exaggerated! He is not deceived about their inability to keep His commandments on their own. As we discussed, it seems that God in His great understanding and mercy would have looked ahead to the future fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 when the head of the serpent is finally crushed and He puts His Spirit within Israel forever enabling them to keep His commandments perfectly.

“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”’ 18When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. 19And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God,” (Ezek. 11:17-20).

and,

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances,” (Ez. 36:27).

We strengthen ourselves with the continual reminder of this apocalyptic hope and long for this eschatological reality to come to pass in the physical land of Israel!

The Birth of the Remnant

The idea of the remnant in Scripture is defined from the very beginning of our Bible and traces the veins of Scripture all the way to Revelation. It is something that we must be well acquainted with so that we might understand how God’s plan of salvation functions and how the good news in our Bible comes to fruition. We can simply begin with the flood.

In the flood judgment we see a principle instituted by God: 8 people are saved out of the judgment upon the whole of the earth. Though this may initially offend us, the right response rather would be to ask, ‘Why were 8 even saved?’ God could’ve ended the whole thing at the flood if He had chosen. As we’ve discussed however, it would have broken His promise which He will not allow. It was His mercy to save 8 and continue His promise which would save many more.

Moving forward to Joseph at Pharaoh’s right hand in the midst of the great famine of Egypt, the idea of the remnant is directly articulated by Joseph, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.” Again, in the context of judgment a remnant is preserved––this time the direct lineage of Abraham. It should be noted that God Himself is divinely preserving a posterity in order to bring about His original promise of Genesis 3:15–this Seed must be born as a man to crush the head of the serpent and this is done through the preservation of a physical remnant in Noah and his family, and in Joseph saving all of Jacob/Israel’s lineage.

There at Sinai in the midst of gross idolatry there is called out from the midst of the assembly the ones who have not joined themselves to this defiling act. We know that Joshua and Caleb must’ve been among these ones since they are praised by the Lord for their faithfulness to Him, and we also see 3000 Levites come to Moses. Let’s read:

“Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— 26then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. 27He said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’”28So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29Then Moses said, “Dedicate yourselves today to the LORD—for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.”

Surely as soon as Moses appeared in the camp there would have been an outcry of surprise, utter shock, and dreaded fear of the imminent consequence. They had figured him dead! In the passages just before they had petitioned Aaron saying “We don’t know what happened to this Moses, make us a god to worship!”, and now here was this Moses filled with the fury of YHWH, the stone tablets that had been written by the finger of God leaving his tired hands and flying through the air in protest of their abdication. The face that still shone from its mountaintop experience would’ve certainly held a long scowl of anger and grief as he commanded the Levites who crossed onto his side to slay each one’s brother, friend, and neighbor. A great loss occurs as the correct response to a great sin. Then, he commands them to grind the beast into dust and mix it in the community stream for them to drink as a punishment. While the bitter taste of their idolatry lingers on their thirsty tongues they bury their families in the sands of that great desert. The metallic remnant in their mouths reminds them of their error with each shovel full of dirt covering the corpses of those they loved most. The Prophet whom God had chosen to lead this people then hikes the same trail back up the mountain where he will double-down on the forty-day fast in the glory of God.

Enter the Remnant. 

The Levites, you could say, were the first identified remnant called directly out of the new nation of Israel because it is in the context of necessary judgment that some are preserved from the judgment. This is a principle that YHWH will use from this time forward throughout the journey of Scripture with regard to His mercy and kindness in saving as many wicked men as possible from required judgment or punishment. The Levites who are just as carnal and possess the same heart condition as the others present in the camp make a righteous decision and then become protected from the judgment that Moses declares upon Israel. However, we are told that they fall in the wilderness with the others, “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun,” (Num. 14:30). Six-hundred thousand men left Egypt in the Exodus and two crossed the Jordan into the promised land of that entire generation. Remarkable. It is not by exaggeration that Jesus says, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it,” (Matt. 7:14). It is with the remnant that we identify the original context of such a powerful statement.

To be brief and to stay on point, let’s evaluate the idea of the remnant by simply looking at a couple passages of Scripture whilst remembering that the linear trajectory of our Gospel is pushing all things to an apocalyptic end. What I mean in other words is that the idea of the remnant may be found here and there but the idea finds its fulfillment at the very end. Let’s look at a few examples.

Isaiah 10:20-24 Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord GOD of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land. 

In this passage Isaiah is prophesying of the Babylonian Exile of Israel, and that after that captivity a remnant will return to the land. Although this prophecy finds partial fulfillment in the context of Isaiah’s day, it also looks towards its final fulfillment out of the final judgment since the context is that they will never again rely upon the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the Lord. This is clearly yet to be the case. We will do well to understand this regarding the prophets: Their words are ultimately prophesying about the end times and millennial fulfillment. Many will disagree with this view but my solace lies within YHWH, His Bible, and a method of interpretation that is consistent from Genesis to Revelation, seeking to let it stand upon itself.

Another passage;

“As for you, son of man, take a sharp sword; take and use it as a barber’s razor on your head and beard. Then take scales for weighing and divide the hair. 2“One third you shall burn in the fire at the center of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. Then you shall take one third and strike it with the sword all around the city, and one third you shall scatter to the wind; and I will unsheathe a sword behind them. 3Take also a few in number from them and bind them in the edges of your robes. 4“Take again some of them and throw them into the fire and burn them in the fire; from it a fire will spread to all the house of Israel… (Ch. 6) However, I will leave a remnant, for you will have those who escaped the sword among the nations when you are scattered among the countries. 9“Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations. 10“Then they will know that I am the LORD; I have not said in vain that I would inflict this disaster on them.”’

In Ezekiel, this idea shines forth over and over but here is one of the clearest pictures of what we are trying to define. The remnant are the hairs tucked into Ezekiel’s robe signifying that the Lord draws the few to Himself (that have sought to be faithful) and protects them for survival in the midst of judgment. The idea is the same in Ezekiel 9 with the men who have their heads marked by the Lord:

The LORD said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.”5But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. 6“Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.”

I would argue that this is the same marking that is seen in Revelation 7 with the 144,000:

And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads. 4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel (v. 2-4).

I believe these two to be the same event of marking in the end-times. It may have also happened in Ezekiel’s day, but the point of the idea is again pushing towards the apocalyptic revelation and fulfillment of what the prophet saw. There will be a very literal number of 144,000 Jewish persons saved/preserved in the land of Israel as the remnant that is present to receive their Jewish Messiah when He returns on the clouds of heaven. This is clearly seen in Zechariah as well:

“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate,” Declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones. “It will come about in all the land,” Declares the LORD, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. “And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’

Here we see that 2/3 of the people of Israel will eventually be cut off from the land but the Lord will bring 1/3 through the fire of tribulation, at the end of which they cry, “The Lord (YHWH) is my God!” Again we are seeing the Lord’s principle of preserving a remnant. This remnant is the same remnant that is literally in the land crying out when Jesus returns:

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn,” (Zech. 12:10). 

This is the same event that Jesus mentions in Matthew 23, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”

It is the remnant of Israel that sees Him and it is a very literal seeing since He is descending on the clouds of heaven. It is these ones who are mourning over the One who comes to deliver them out of the great fire of tribulation – the One whom their ancestors crucified on the Cross.

I firmly believe that the Bible presents a final time of judgment which will come upon the house of Israel because of covenantal unfaithfulness stemming back to Sinai. This is known as the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jer. 30).

7‘Alas! for that day is great,
There is none like it;
And it is the time of Jacob’s distress,
But he will be saved from it.

As in the judgment that proceeded from Sinai when Joshua and Caleb were preserved to be able to enter the promised land, during this final judgment a few are preserved as the hairs tucked into Ezekiel’s robe, as the 1/3 that passes through the refiner’s fire in Zechariah identified as an actual number of 144,000 Jewish people living in the land during the judgment in Revelation 7 and Ezekiel 9. They are the very ethnic jews who will look upon Him whom they’ve pierced and be saved out of Jacob’s Trouble with Messiah’s return.

The idea of the remnant is also prevalent in the New Testament. Paul says in Romans 11, “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” It is actually the very first verse we mentioned in Isaiah that Paul bases this idea off of starting in Romans 9:27, “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED.” So we see that even to the chief apostle the idea of salvation for Israel exists in the form of a remnant being saved.

God has preserved a remnant from man since Adam left the garden with the promise of Genesis 3:15 and that concept translates to the stock of Israel since He made His promise continue in Abraham. Whether Noah’s family, Joseph’s family, Joshua and Caleb, Nehemiah and Ezra, the apostles and the early Jewish church, even to Messianic Jewish believers today, God has preserved a remnant because His promise will not fail. He will continue to do so, even through the coming climactic judgment of Jacob’s Trouble. We will of course take a thorough look at this subject in another post.

Conclusion

The covenant that was confirmed that day at Sinai was with the ethnic lineage of Abraham–his seed. It really happened! Israel has carried these promises for roughly 4000 years, all the way through to Messiah, and rest assured they will carry them into the millennium. Let us not forget their sacrifice and their striving to obey the Lord all those years of their wandering. It is their journey, although feeble and rebellious at times, that has brought about the Messiah Himself, and will bring about His future Kingdom. Yes, even the entire fulfillment of God’s promises depends upon them – the very restoration of the earth and our bodies!

15For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Rom 11:15)

Indeed, all of our hope as gentiles is attached to the promises of passages such as we’ve examined here, and my prayer is that those promises are beginning to become your hope as well. We press on together in this glorious Gospel, stewarding it as faithful shepherds, and regarding it as holy unto the Lord.

#11: Torah as the Whole

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Introduction

This is our eleventh post as we continue to establish a chronological and consistent biblical theology that I am terming a Layman’s Biblical Theology. Throughout these posts it is my goal to avoid theological jargon as much as possible so as not to confuse or overcomplicate these matters, while still employing some terms that are very helpful for understanding.

The diagram above is our map, which is slowly moving us forward on the timeline that is time as we know it. This diagram has been created to define all of existence––the sum total of our reality––according to the Bible. The Scriptures on the diagram serve to give us the true context of what the Bible emphasizes as a whole, unique story. The simple purpose is that a true biblical theology seeks to present an understanding of the big picture of the bible, which I am hoping this diagram does. My goal was to create one picture, only one page with Scriptures, that can holistically cover the details of our Bible and give a person a framework to understand it much more simply than before. Over the last several years I have seen this work in many different settings. Hence, we find ourselves in this blog series trying to more exhaustively breakdown this one, word-picture.

We have successfully worked through all the Scriptures in the first “pillar” and now we are in the second “pillar” entitled Covenantal in which we are looking at the covenants YHWH has made with men in order to bring about His ultimate purpose of “summing up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth,” which is “according to His purpose” as He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:9-11). We know this because “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Jesus” because Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven,” (Col. 1:15-20).

This is the Father’s purpose, it remains yet hoped for, therefore currently unfinished.

Surely this is the testimony of the New Testament, and yet it is intrinsically attached to the good news of the Old Testament that many are so unfamiliar with. How is YHWH accomplishing His will as mentioned above? Why is He doing this a very specific way? How will everything be summed up in Christ? These are the details we are gathering in order to form our biblical theology that we might perceive the story of Genesis to Revelation in a coherent manner. By God’s will we will achieve this by His glorious Holy Spirit who is the very Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation.

In the last several posts we have given much time to the Sinai covenant and the details surrounding it, and in this post we will broadly define the nature of Torah, Genesis-Deuteronomy, before giving more articulation to Deuteronomy specifically.

What we will discuss in this post is of the utmost importance. It may take some rewiring to accomplish our task, but I promise the benefit will be worth it.

The Torah

The Hebrew Scriptures call Genesis through Deuteronomy Torah, which basically means instruction. You could say that within the first five books of the Bible God gives the explanation of how His story has come to be and also the blueprints of how it will unfold. In short, the whole biblical story is found within the Torah. It may be surprising to you to hear that there is basically no new information in the Bible after Deuteronomy. Yes, that could be more accurate than you think.

That is not to say that no new information is given after Torah ends, but rather that the parameters are set in the Torah in regards to what is going to happen. You could say there is no new what after Deuteronomy, while we do not know the fullness of who until after. For instance, we do not know that Babylon will be the specific people God uses to judge Israel and carry them away to exile, we just know that Israel will be punished by a nation that will carry them away to exile as a judgment from God.

Deut. 31:16 The LORD said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. “Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them…”

Leviticus also summarizes  “Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me, then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins… I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you. I will lay waste your cities as well and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your soothing aromas. I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it. You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste.”

In these two passages we see that God is predicting Israel’s unfaithfulness and His response. We find many passages like this in the Torah, and while the specific characters remain mostly unidentified, the big picture is sure. In hindsight we see that everything which was spoken in regards to the what has come to pass exactly as it was said.

It is not incorrect to say that Joshua through Revelation is merely Genesis through Deuteronomy being fulfilled. If we can perceive things this way then we gain a lot of ground in biblical understanding.

Now, to our gentile christian minds that have mainly been discipled in years and years of focus on the New Testament, this idea can seem crazy. I am saying what most of you have never heard a pastor or teacher say: Understanding Genesis through Deuteronomy is the most important component of understanding the Bible, the scheme of salvation is wholly within its borders, and the entire testimony of how redemption will be accomplished is found therein. You actually cannot holistically understand the narrative of the Bible unless you first understand Torah. This is single-handedly the greatest problem of why people do not understand the Bible. 

Why, you might ask? Let’s give a brief summary.

Note* A brief note on the antithesis of what I will present in this post. What is called redaction theology, and particularly the documentary method of interpreting the Torah, has done immense damage to how many might perceive the Torah today. This method says that the Torah has numerous authors, rather than one -Moses-, and much later dates of authorship after Israel entered the land. The case I present here holds to the belief that Moses was the only author of the Torah, and what seems to be added by another author (only Deuteronomy 35) was added for simple and helpful context regarding Moses death and the transition to Joshua’s book. With exception to Deuteronomy 35, the Torah was very obviously authored by Moses himself during the time before Israel crossed the Jordan. The case for this, though I will not take the time to argue the theological parameters in detail here, is very strong and I encourage the reader to simply have common sense at the personal information given within the Torah, information that only Moses could have been privy to.

The Meaning of Torah

Let us begin by unpacking the simple terminology of Torah.

“The Hebrew word, torah (תורה), is derived from a root that was used in the realm of archery: yareh (ירה). Yareh means to shoot an arrow in order to hit a mark. The mark or target, of course, was the object at which the archer was aiming. Consequently, torah, one of the nouns derived from this root, is, therefore, the arrow aimed at the mark, the target is the truth about God and how one relates to Him. The torah is, therefore, in the strict sense instruction designed to teach us the truth about God. Torah means direction, teaching, instruction,or doctrine,” (http://www.torahresourcesinternational.info/definition.php).

The Torah was written by Moses, most likely within the tabernacle in the midst of the manifest presence of God Himself. Let that sink in. Modern scholarship has taken a sword to this idea like a chef making french fries from one potato, seeking to slice the one unique whole of Torah into different sections written by different authors. While I do appreciate scholarship and am thankful for the many things I have gleaned from many resources I believe this is a major error because the Bible itself confirms that Moses was the author in more ways than one.

Number one, the Torah is called the Book of the Law of Moses in several places:

“Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses…” (Josh. 23:6).

We do well to notice here that according to God’s own words Joshua possessed a book that was called The Book of the Law of Moses. This is a very simple proof that the Torah was completed before Moses died and it was given to Joshua. This is confirmed in in the first chapter of Joshua intentionally so that there would be no misunderstanding for the future generations about the Torah’s origin.

“Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7

We know from this that Joshua seems to have had everything that Moses had written in his own possession and he and the people were supposed to do according to the words within.

Joshua 8:31, as well as 1 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 14:6, and Ezra 6:18 all use the same language of The Book of the Law of Moses while referring to, and directly quoting, different books in the Torah. This substantiates our point since many biblical people naturally refer to the author as Moses. As a nice kicker though Jesus Himself confirms this after He rose from the dead:

“Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

Clearly we see Jesus summary of the Tanakh here being the Torah (Law of Moses), Prophets, and Writings again confirming, from the mouth of our resurrected Lord, that the Torah was of Moses.

We also see within the Torah that God Himself directly tells Moses to write things down:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Ex. 17:14).

“Moses recorded their starting places according to their journeys by the command of the LORD, and these are their journeys according to their starting places” (Num. 33:2).

If we keep a simple mind then this point need not be belabored––Moses is the author of Torah!

I would like to call to mind the man who spent 80 days on top of a mountain with YHWH. This must be the foundation for understanding where the Torah came from. If  today men can have a two-day weekend seminar and teach enough material to change people’s lives, then certainly YHWH’s 80 day seminar with Moses was adequate time to inform Moses of everything from creation to present to future. Moreover, we know Moses would spend long periods of time in the tabernacle after it was constructed according to the revelation he received on the mountain, and in those times he would have penned the words of the Torah.

“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” Exodus 33:11

“With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD.” Numbers 12:8

This is not to make Moses godlike, because surely he didn’t enter the promised land due to disobedience, but it is to show that God spoke face to face with Moses and Moses beheld His form. That is something no one else in Scripture experiences. It is something God says of no other person. We truly take away from what the bible is emphasizing if we do not maintain the importance of who Moses is in the Bible and the task God appointed him to accomplish––deliver Israel and give them their instruction––Torah.

God appears to Moses in the burning bush and speaks to him directly. He was in the presence of the holy and he removed his shoes to prove it. We see Moses, the sole representative upon Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights––twice!––beholding the uncreated One. And there, in the tabernacle God commanded Moses to build, sits Moses, speaking to God as a friend speaks to his friend face to face and listening to the voice of God tell His version of the origins of existence. This is the simplest way to understand how the Torah was authored.

The point is this: God dictated the words of the Torah and Moses wrote them down. This was the start of the Bible we have today. In the purest way imaginable God spoke His flawless words to Moses who made no mistake as he recorded them. The words stand inerrant. The words are pure instruction. We do well to affirm this in biblical theology.

The prophetic nature of the Torah as a whole is vitally important to the story that is still unfolding today. Since God Himself authored it out loud while Moses wrote it down, we should consider its contents to be of the highest priority. Even Leviticus, which we have purposefully sidestepped in these blog posts, is important and will prove itself important in the age to come. Therefore let us throw off the boredom that so easily entangles us in these five books and revitalize the Torah to mean something to us today.

Torah in the Old Testament (Tanakh)

We believe that God Himself orated the words of the Torah, and although Moses wrote them down, there is no mistaking the foundational influence God intended those five books to have for the remainder of Scripture. They are the glue of the story! They are the axis upon which everything else in the Bible rotates. They are perfect and we just haven’t had the epiphany of how perfect yet because,”now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:12).

When we look to the Proverbs we do not see Solomon pulling wisdom out of abstract space in his mind, but out of the Torah. Even from Proverbs chapter 1 is his command to “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching,” where the hebrew word for teaching is torah. Solomon is not calling everyone to understand the depths of his wisdom, but rather calling attention to God’s wisdom in the Torah, which could possibly be the embodiment of wisdom itself, or at least the place from where all wisdom stems.

In Psalms we see the same thing affirmed. David says in Psalm 19:7 “The law (torah) of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” David is appropriately saying that the restoration of the human soul and how it will happen is found in the Torah. Then, upon understanding this the soul could be refreshed with hope! There are numerous other examples of how oriented towards this mindset of the Torah the Psalms are,

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law (torah) of the LORD, And in His law (torah) he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:1-2

“Aleph. How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law (torah) of the LORD.” Psalm 119:1

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law (torah).” Psalm 119:18

It might be obvious to remind us that the only book that David and Solomon had to inform them of the truth regarding God and His plan was the Torah. The Torah was David’s only Bible. Those five books were all he had. The contents of Genesis through Deuteronomy was the destination their entire hope was gleaned from, and there was no other hope! It is very important for us to regard the Torah in the same way.

How “God’s Word” Was Understood

In the same way we must process the use of “My word,” in the Scriptures. David again clues us into how he perceived this, saying, “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). The hebrew word used here for word is dabar- דָּבָר which means speech or word. It is from passages like this that we have today derived the language of God’s Word when referring to the entire Bible. Since the Torah was David’s only bible, in this fashion he makes clear that He perceives the Torah to be the words of God. It is what God has effectively spoken, and it is forever settled in heaven unable to be altered or changed because, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19).

The prophets heartily agree with this idea as one voice saying things like,

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it (Is. 55:10-11),

“For I the LORD will speak, and whatever word I speak will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, for in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it,” declares the Lord GOD,'” (Ez. 12:25).

The dabar of YHWH in Scripture is very clearly presented as something that man has no control over––it is as divine as God Himself––it will not falter or change, it will all be completed. He is the only One, “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'” (Is. 46:10).

The nature of the word of God that is spoken of in these passages is not arbitrary, random, or ambiguous––it relates directly to the things He has spoken previously. He confirms this Himself in the passage directly above in stating that He spoke these things from ancient times. Therefore, when the prophet’s use the standard fare of “Thus says the Lord,” (Jer. 17:5) or “The word of the Lord came to me,” (Jer 1:4) there is not a new or mystical prophecy taking place, but rather, a confirmation of the words that had been previously spoken by God are now coming to pass within His given time frame. This is very important to understand.

The word of the Lord that comes to the prophets is truly a repetition of things God said beforehand, they are just now being fulfilled in real time and space upon real people. The prophet is effectively saying that what God said would happen in the past, is now about to take place.  Therefore it is as if the word of the Lord is being re-declared as a confirmation of His previous words, which is why the Ezekiel passage above says “It will no longer be delayed, for in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it,’ declares the Lord GOD.” YHWH is simply saying that what He spoke beforehand has been restrained from being accomplished until now because it had a future orientation, and now He will repeat the word and perform it.

So we should perceive the prophets to function in this way and remove the mystical elements normally attached their books. The prophets are repeating what God said would happen, and simply calling attention to the fact that he is now acting upon those words. The difference that takes place within the prophets is that God now identifies the actual characters who will perform His word. We will discuss this more in detail when we arrive at the prophets but this foundational understanding will help us greatly.

The New Testament’s Confirmation of Torah

The New Testament is faithful to confirm the prophetic nature of the Torah and that its words will by all means be fulfilled as spoken. We should first look to YHWH in the flesh since He is the living dabar.

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law (Torah) or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” (Matt. 5:17-18).

Now we should let this affect us. We should let this mold our mind informing how past and present emerged and where the future is inevitably going. Jesus affirms that what was spoken in the Torah not being abolished in any way, but rather fulfilled. We must not jump to the stark conclusion that everything was fulfilled in Him then, because He promptly tells us that there will be a future fulfillment when all is accomplished. This example gives us precedence to perceive the Torah in the prophetic manner it possesses.

Luke 21 might be an even clearer picture concerning the prophetic nature of the Torah and its imminent future events as He states,

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.

We must not overcomplicate this passage. The first telling of Israel’s future judgment is found in the Torah as we’ve seen, and to Jesus hearers all things which are written would’ve only been understood to be the Torah. This is in total agreement with what Jesus told us in Matthew.

We must not overlook that Jesus also attaches a warning to those who handle the torah saying,

19“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

This warning should be heeded by all serious students of the Bible. Jesus is very personally confirming the words He previously spoke as needing to be kept. Even this should be enough for our modern theologies to sway under the weight of His words and turn from such doctrines that replace and fulfill His words in ways that He did not intend. Rest assured that on His own word Jesus has promised that every jot and tittle will come to pass based on what He spoke beforehand. It is a grave error to not trust in a literal fulfillment of His words––it is unbelief in what has been spoken by God Himself.

Paul will also exhort us in the truth of the Torah, saying, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4) instructing us that the true biblical hope (the very good news we are searching out) comes from the Torah which was written in earlier times. Moreover Paul sums up the life of Jesus as becoming a “servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,” (Rom. 15:8) which we know to be the words spoken to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Torah. Those words/promises are still awaiting their ultimate fulfillment in the future.

Therefore Hebrews exhorts us that “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1) because, “God… spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (Hebrews 1:1). Peter agrees, telling us to “remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles,” giving us faith that according to these promises the Father will “send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3:20-21). Truly there are numerous examples from the apostles concerning their anchor in the Torah which is the true hope we also await!

These are just a few examples, and I am by no means an expert regarding the Torah. In later posts we will witness more of Jesus’ words on the Torah unto finally beholding the fulfillment of Torah in the redemption of mankind through the Messiah of Israel. This will happen in accordance with, through, and in the very people He gave the Torah to––the Jews. Indeed, the whole of Scripture is pivoting around this Instruction.

The Torah is quite literally the skeleton upon which the muscles and tendons of biblical theology are built. Its skeletal structure supports and upholds everything, and all things thereafter are intrinsically attached to the bones of Torah. This is why you cannot remove, nor replace, nor fulfill those bones, for you incidentally take away a vital part of the frame that is holding everything together. If the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are the two femurs upon which the strong muscles of Messiah will be laid, it would be odd to somehow try and make the Messiah Himself become the leg-bones upon which He has chosen to stand. In humility He chose to be the seed of Abraham and this human lineage demands attention from Him although He be the Godhead incarnate.

We must begin our biblical theology in the Torah for it is the frame upon which God’s redemptive plan for humanity is fixed. If we start our theology at the New Testament, we are but looking at the skin of the species from the outside and wondering what’s underneath. On the contrary, if we begin with the skeleton we will understand the foundation of the whole structure as the sum of our biblical theology.

In these many posts we have been slowly identifying the bones of this Torah-skeleton, and we will now see how the muscles and tendons and ligaments connect together to form the whole body and actually begin walking towards its destined redemption. But first, we must look deeply into the conclusion of the Torah which is Deuteronomy. 

The Gospel From Genesis to Revelation #8: The Sinai Covenant

Gérôme,_Jean-Léon_-_Moses_on_Mount_Sinai_Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-1895-1900

Diagram Position

In the diagram above we are continuing through the second pillar under the blue oval reading SEED. Having discussed all of the Scriptures in pillar one that defined why the Biblical Gospel is Creational, as well as discussing Gen. 3:15; 6:18; 12-22 in the previous posts, we have now come to Exodus 20-24 on the third line of pillar 2. These chapters are the subject of discussion in this post as we continue to define why the biblical Gospel is Covenantal. 

*This is a successive blog journey building on the concepts and themes as laid out in the previous posts. If you are just joining us you can certainly glean from just reading this post, however we are operating in more of a book form, which is why I suggest reading the previous posts first, or at least Post #1 to have the foundation of what we are slowly working out.

Some clarification on terminology – we shall be employing the term covenantal in direct opposition to Covenantalism, which purports the idea that Israel has no remaining ethnic calling; or that it has all become subsumed in Christ and the Church (For more thoughts on this see post #5:The Words of the Covenant are Literal). Those who hold to this doctrine by its own name incidentally contradict themselves, since theirs is the belief that the covenants no longer have a distinct future fulfillment. Though they name themselves as Covenantalists, they are quite anti-covenant, and it is a remarkable misnomer in the theological world today.  

Introduction

God made a name for himself among the nations of the earth when He delivered Israel from captivity. His name as Creator of the heavens and the earth was something that He had previously held objectively without human witness. In contrast to this former title, in seeking the surname of “God of Israel”, He performs great signs and wonders “in the sight of Israel and all the nations.” His name, YHWH, was now attached to Israel as “their God.” His name carried the reverence and power resultant of the event, even to the fairly distant nations who hear of the acts He performed in Egypt as seen in Joshua 2 when the spies are in Jericho,

“Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Seaa for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.b 11When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

YHWH had shown Himself mighty in the sight of all the nations with this great act of deliverance. In the verse above we see the summary of who Rahab perceives this God to be – “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” He is Israel’s God, and He is over the heavens and the earth, confirming the two identities we established in the former post. As promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier, Abraham’s God delivers his descendants through the womb of the Red Sea and gives birth to His chosen people as He leads them to Mt. Sinai. This is where we find ourselves in this post.

The Sinai Covenant

In Genesis 15 we beheld Abraham asleep on the blood-splattered ground of that ancient yet sacred place while God initiated His covenant with him. He needed not respond, for God was declaring what He himself would do. Abraham’s role thereafter was simply to believe what God had said and it was going to be accounted to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom. 4:3). At Mt. Sinai however, we have the entire ethnic lineage of Abraham standing wide awake before God and committing themselves to obey His words. In the former event, an unconditional vow was made by God while Abraham sleeps – the terms of which are entirely contingent upon God; yet with Moses, God speaks aloud from a mountain to the very lineage He had promised Abraham, and that lineage is sprinkled with the blood of the covenant which confirms the agreement between the two parties represented––YHWH and Israel. In both covenants, blood is spilled as a confirmation and seal of their veracity.

The Sinai covenant is the expansion or continuation of the covenant made with Abraham. You could say that the Abrahamic covenant takes on flesh at Sinai, in that the barren womb of Sarah had been opened by God to give birth to the promised Isaac who begot Jacob, who became Israel, who then had twelve sons that became this innumerable multitude that passed through the sea. The promise to Abraham which had most likely been so difficult to believe by faith was now a surging throng of beating hearts standing in expectation at the foot of this mountain. God had been faithful to do what He said and He would now take the liberty to speak to this people about the place of responsibility which they now found themselves in.

In Exodus chapter 20 we see God give the terms related to Him being their God. What is usually called The Ten Commandments may be better translated as The Ten Words. These words should be understood, as were the previous ones to Adam, Noah, and Abraham, as being covenantal in nature. To view these words as a list of regulations is to divorce them from the identity of the God they are connected to, since they are a profound revealing of who He is and what He is like. It is from these Ten Words that we learn of YHWH’s attributes.

Without delving into much detail surrounding the Words themselves, we can summarize by saying that God was simply revealing Himself and asking His covenant people to be like Him. He is acting as the initiator of the marriage, having created Israel through Abraham’s lineage and having brought this lineage into freedom from Egyptian slavery, by leading them down the aisle to the altar of Horeb. In this union which YHWH seeks with Israel, there are very serious terms to abide by from here on. Israel was in effect to live in such a way as to represent their God in every aspect of their lives as a witness of their commitment. Hence, all of God’s words to Israel at Sinai in effect are actions that are to be carried out in the likeness of marriage fidelity.

“Turn, O backsliding children, says the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one from a city, and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion…” (Jer. 3:14).

For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth,” (Is. 54:5).

These two Scriptures among others give a picture of how God Himself views His relationship with Abraham’s lineage. However, the law is binding in more ways than one.

The Ten Words

The laws of how Israel was to understand and represent God are the Ten Words found in Exodus 20. In chapters 21-23 we find the ordinances, which are the things relating mainly to how the people of Israel were to operate in relation to each other as well as with the surrounding peoples that they would interact with while under the covenant of those Ten Words. As you read the ordinances you will see that they convey their own commands, but it is not our goal here to break these down extensively. It should merely be stressed that Israel was commanded to keep the Ten Words, while the ordinances seem to be an infrastructure of sorts therein to enable them to do that. Or to put it differently, if the Ten Words are a lush garden, then the ordinances are the hedge to help keep Israel within its bounds.

For those who are interested in the covenantal terms used in the Bible, Psalm 119:1-8 is the most extensive list found in the Bible.

Aleph. How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways. You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently. Oh that my ways may be established To keep Your statutes! Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments. I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, When I learn Your righteous judgments. I shall keep Your statutes; Do not forsake me utterly! 

The terms ordinances and statutes are typically used synonymously, as are some of the other terms. But here we are simply trying to keep the big picture of the Ten Words and so we will not incorporate these other terms until a later time.

For now we just need to understand the covenant God makes at Sinai as if it were a single organism with many parts. Even if we do not understand the significance of all the parts, the big picture of the covenant is what is important. I like to picture it as a set of gears that are all connected to each other. As one gear rotates one way, its ridges cause another gear to turn resulting in the turning of another, and so on and so forth. Here is a simple diagram picturing what I mean.

Gears of Scripture Diagram

Let us understand God’s covenant with Israel in this way, as if they are the internal gears of a watch upon which time progresses. The main gear upon which everything is set is the Ten Words, or the covenant. Just as the vows in a wedding ceremony are in effect the covenant itself, the Ten Words function in this same way.

Let’s take a moment to look at the instruction of Eden to better understand these Words. In the garden there was the command to not eat from this tree. When Satan tempts them he says, “If you eat the fruit then you will be like God.” In essence, the tree would make them like God because they would possess the knowledge of good and evil.

In Exodus 20 the Ten Words are as the Edenic command, except now there are “ten trees” they are commanded to not eat from. But ironically, here God is actually calling Israel to be like Him, which is the opposite of how the command in Eden functioned. Whereas eating the tree actually made Adam and Eve like God, now, not eating the ten trees makes them like God.

With the command of the tree in the garden it seems that God was seeking to maintain man’s innocence by keeping man from being like Him in possessing the knowledge of good and evil. We could have never known the resultant bondage for humans when they possessed the knowledge of good and evil or the consequences that would befall them. It seems that man’s original desire to be like God and to possess the knowledge of good and evil in the garden is now being imposed upon him full-force at Mt. Sinai.

The Ten Words are truly a perfect representation of how God defines and delineates between good and evil (i.e. His knowledge of good and evil). In effect, you have God simply giving man what he asked for when he ate of the fruit: the knowledge of good and evil. But this seems to be something God did not initially want in the garden, or He at least did not want man to take the matter into his own hands. We unfortunately and very literally did, and the result of us possessing it would naturally be a measure of discipline to the human. The Law given at Sinai also functions in this way.

The point is that God is the Ten Words spoken––they are what He is like! When we originally ate the fruit from the tree, we were choosing to be like Him as Satan said. At Sinai, is it possible that God is just bringing man’s decision to fruition? Since we went after the knowledge of good and evil, ought we not now also bear the burden that comes along with that knowledge?

Therefore you have a type of bittersweet covenant taking effect at that mountain. Bitter in the sense that God is again giving men what He originally did not want them to have by their own strength or decision. Why? Because men weren’t created to steward this knowledge apart from His Spirit… it in fact results in our very death! In Romans 7:7-9 Paul expounds upon this saying,

“I would not have come to know sin except through the Law…I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.”

The know Paul speaks of here is knowledge in the Greek. He is saying, “I would not possess the knowledge of sin (good and evil) without the law.” In other words, this law comes upon Israel as the bitter knowledge of sin, which is the same as the knowledge of good and evil. Since the garden, men have had to carry the weight of the knowledge of sin and we should consider this as a Godly discipline.

You may find it unusual to perceive the Ten Words as discipline, but let’s consider what Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees says.

for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life…” (1 Cor. 3:6).

It doesn’t become clearer than this. Our choice in the garden, and the resultant giving of the Ten Words at Sinai is actually driving a death in us because it reveals that we aren’t good like God is. But the Spirit is what gives life!

Paul actually calls the law the ministry of condemnation a couple of verses later (1 Cor. 3:9). Once men possessed the knowledge of good and evil there was a responsibility fixed to the knowledge: man understood good and evil and the demand was upon him to choose good. The ministry of condemnation brings condemnation in that it is a very difficult thing for man to choose good, as Jesus, the Psalmist and Paul say,

“Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18

“They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; There is no one who does good.” (Ps. 53:1)

“…as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE.” (Rom. 3:10)

When man chose the bondage of the knowledge of good and evil, to be like God, there was a binding necessity that he be like God in the respect of choosing good, or being good. Since man is not good like God, he then stands condemned. We stood condemned in Eden and we stood condemned at Sinai.

Also in this verse Paul says, “the letter kills” which is very similar to the language of “the day you eat from the tree you will die.” So we have an interesting comparison taking place. As the knowledge of good and evil is proclaimed by the voice of YHWH at Sinai we should consider that it is the continued requirement and responsibility of what man chose in the garden.

“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” (Gal. 3:10).

Therefore, the law, just as the tree of knowledge of good and evil, became a curse upon Israel in regards to the requirement to fulfill it. This serves to give reason as to why God has no misgivings concerning man’s ability to keep the law and why the ultimate goal is His Spirit enabling hearts to keep the law. God Himself cries out in response to Israel’s commitment at Sinai,

“Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deut. 5:29).

God did not give the law with the hope that Israel might somehow fulfill His Ten Words in perfection. God gave the law to tutor them in the reality that their hearts were unable to keep His law and that they stood condemned before Him as all men did. This verse reveals that God does not possess some odd ambition for the law to be fulfilled with the current state of their heart. Yet, what their hearts are incapable of at this point, will later be overturned as He reveals in the prophets His end-goal of giving them new hearts. In this way the law becomes their tutor, as Paul says, to show them that they cannot deliver themselves nor fulfill His words in their own strength… that they are in desperate need of the Messiah promised who will give them new hearts at His return.

“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith,” (Gal. 3:24).

Paul continues to unravel this tension,

“I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus! (Rom. 7:22-24).

A tutor teaches and instructs a person in a subject they are not competent in. They may be familiar with the general principles, but they are not an expert. When God speaks the knowledge of good and evil at Sinai, the tutoring begins. Sure, people knew some general principles about what their conscience told them was evil, but no one possessed accurate judgment of what was good and what was evil. The Ten Words written on tablets of stone was to tutor them in this. It was the literal concrete definition of what was good and what was evil according to God. It teaches us that we are simply evil and that no one is good. It gently leads us to Christ crucified, the only One who was good and sinless, having no evil in Him at all. In effect, that tutor is spanking us in correction, revealing our sin, showing us the truth about our hearts and pointing us towards Him continually.

Let’s simplify this section with a couple sentences:

Man’s sin in the garden resulted in him possessing the knowledge of good and evil.

At Sinai the Ten Words were given by God as the substance of the knowledge of good and evil.

Man was accountable to possessing the knowledge of good and evil and it rested upon him as a demand (from a holy God) that he be good like God.

Man was incapable of being good like God. The Ten Words tutored man in good and evil, revealing that man could not fulfill the “good” because he was inclined towards “evil”. He thus needed to hope in the Promised One who is good and would ultimately give them His Spirit within to change their hearts.

19“And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God,” (Ez. 11:17-20).

If we honestly look upon the world and ask the question, “What would the earth be like if everyone kept these Ten Words perfectly?” it gives us a glimpse into what the Millennial Reign of Jesus could look like. The eschatological reality of man and God living together on the earth is that God’s own Spirit has fully resurrected our bodies and hearts to make us good like Him.

“As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.” (Isaiah 59:21).

The Fulfillment of the Ten Words

Looking forward to many of the verses we are familiar with in the New Testament, it is important to first note what God says about Abraham when He appears to Isaac his son in Genesis 26:5,

“…because Abraham obeyed Me and kept my charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws,” 

God’s simplified charge to Abraham can be found in Genesis 17:1 “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.”

Gen. 26:5 is the first mention of charge, statutes, laws, and ordinances within God’s interaction with men. This is important because we should note that if Abraham kept them ALL before God ever announced them at Mt. Sinai, there must be some underlying implication of simple obedience and faith upon which they ALL do hinge. For it would have been impossible for Abraham to have somehow mystically kept all of these things before they were ever spoken.

The other option is that what God had told Abraham to do, Abraham did, and this was fulfilling God’s charge, commands, statutes, and laws. It was simply believing God in faith and being obedient to what He said as opposed to completing a checklist of regulations to then be found righteous as a result. This informs us in great detail concerning how Jesus and Paul will later interpret the fulfillment of the Law.

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Rom. 13:8

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Rom. 15:3

“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Gal. 5:14

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Mt. 7:12

We do well to keep this in mind as we search out such important matters. It shows that having faith in what God says and then responding to what He said through obedience is actually the biblical equivalent of fulfilling the whole Law when our hearts are currently unable to actually fulfill it. We therefore assume that Abraham simply did this by faith. Looking forward, we are encouraged that we are no longer bound to this curse of the law. As Paul says,

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” (Gal. 3:13-14).

Rom 4:13-16 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. 16For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

Rom. 7:4 “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

With these passages we are getting a little ahead of ourselves, but I just couldn’t help including the hope found within them! So as we look back at Sinai we can keep this perspective, that in the midst of the knowledge of their inability to keep the law and covenant, is the very tutor that is teaching them to grasp for Messiah Jesus. The hope for the promised deliverer of Genesis 3:15 shines brighter than ever as the intensification of the discipline continues and man’s inability to fulfill the law in his own strength stands out as a lone mountain in a grassy plain.

In summary of this post, we remember that the big picture of the Ten Words is what’s important––that the Ten Words are the actual covenant. The Ten Words function as continued discipline from the garden in that they bring death and condemnation, and they are a curse which reveal our sin and need for something else. It is therefore tutoring us towards the something else––Messiah and His Spirit––in the same way Genesis 3:15 was. The instruction and the tutoring of the law is what’s gravely important to grasp here. Whereas many often perceive the law to be an unfair requirement God gave man to fulfill, we have begun to consider that the law was simply God giving man what he asked for in the garden. In reality it was man’s choice to have the law revealed to him when he ate the fruit in the garden  and this resulted in him being in bondage to it (high-five Adam). In God’s manifold wisdom however, this discipline of the burden of knowledge regarding good and evil was actually intended by Him to tutor and lead us to eternal life in His Son Jesus. This deep mystery is profound and holy and beautiful to ponder, and certainly reveals that,  “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose…” 

The law is still tutoring to Messiah today and may we be the ones who praise His unchallenged wisdom and remain thankful that as He possesses the knowledge of good and evil “No evil dwells with Him, (Psalm 5:4) and “that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). This is the all-powerful God we serve in newness of the Spirit! Amen.

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Photo of Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia. Notice the charred top of the peak on the left that might look photo-shopped, but google “Mt. Sinai Saudi Arabia” and you will see photos like this one. They are certainly very real. Also, for further interest watch this documentary:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYhLxyZFmBA

The Gospel From Genesis to Revelation #7: Introduction to The Sinai Covenant

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Credit: Jacob’s Ladder by Blake, William (1757-1827) 

Where We’re at…

In the diagram above we see a pictorial model representing the gospel, or good news, from Genesis to Revelation. It has become my unceasing ambition that the gospel be thoroughly explained, understood, and properly represented to anyone through a one-page presentation of linear time as we know it (redemptive history) and a handful of Scriptures that emphasize the main points of the Bible. By God’s will I want to help people understand the Biblical Story and be able to find themselves in it, living in context to the truth of the scriptures.

This is the fifth post in the series, the others of which you can find under the Understanding the Bible (Theology) tab on the website.

At this stage we have successfully gone through the scriptures starting in Genesis 1 on the diagram and have proceeded linearly to Genesis 12-22 which we finished two posts ago. Now, we can continue descending through the verses on the second pillar of the diagram.

Understanding the Biblical Covenants

As we look at these individual covenants, we should perceive them as each forming part of the same  whole: Redemption for mankind. While they each are promised to different people, they are all given in response to man’s fall from the garden and God’s plan to overturn the tyranny and consequences of sin that ensued, ending it forever. You could picture each of these covenants as runners in a relay race. The baton is being passed, but the same race is being run start to finish. When the race is over the serpent is crushed and man is restored to the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve held the first baton, Noah the second, Abraham and his descendants the third, and we will now turn to look at Moses and Abraham’s descendants carrying the fourth from Mt. Sinai forward. Just remember, they are all running to accomplish one purpose which is God’s final ordained redemption for man and the heavens and the earth.

The Context of the Sinai Covenant

On the second pillar entitled Covenantal in the diagram above, underneath Genesis 12-22, we identify Exodus 20. As we come to the mountain burning with fire we must again set a little extra context.

As the first What is the Gospel? post communicated, God miraculously delivers the Israelites from Egypt proving Himself to be the Divine Creator through demonstrating His sovereignty over the earth and over life. But these wonders in Egypt also attest to another facet of the Divine identity––His covenantal union with Abraham and his descendants. In His spectacular deliverance of the Israelites from captivity, the sovereign Creator is in effect saying “I am acting upon the words that I spoke to Abraham when I promised him that I would be the God of his descendants forever as an everlasting covenant.”

In Exodus 3:15 we read,

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ 15God, furthermore, said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.'”

The breadth of this passage is often overlooked. We must take the whole name given here, and not just the I AM WHO I AM, for God very simply states that this entire Name is the name by which He will be known forever. Very plainly, He is saying that I AM WHO I AM is understood by what follows: “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This is how God has chosen to be known throughout the ages. He chose this when He promised those things to Abraham in Genesis 12-22. He is declaring His distinctive Name, so we do well to pay very close attention.

Indeed, we do well to take pause and consider the firmness of purpose God displays–– through His dealings with the Patriarchs themselves––in establishing a foundation for this identity before His revelation to Moses.

First, we have to understand that every time LORD appears in all caps in our Bible it has been substituted in the place of the English letters YHWH. This decision was made by translators long ago. So, whenever we read LORD, it is actually the four Hebrew letters  יְהֹוָה (transliterated: Yod Hey Vav Hey). These four letters make up what is called either the Tetragrammaton, or in Hebrew Hashem, meaning The Name, because to the Jews His name is too holy to be spoken. The first appearance of LORD is in Genesis 2:2 and from there forward God operates under the distinct name of YHWH. It is therefore necessary to consider who the Patriarchs understood YHWH to be.  

YHWH in the Patriarchs

We established in the first session that Abraham clearly understood God to be the Creator and Possessor of the heavens and the earth, as is his declaration in Genesis 14:22. Abraham knew that it was this particular Creator who was making a covenant with him. We see that God keeps his immediate promise to Abraham by appearing to Isaac twice in Genesis 26 and making Himself Isaac’s God also.

The LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. 3“Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. 4“I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” (v. 2-5)

“The LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham,” (v24).

Most likely Abraham had communicated to his son Isaac who the God of their family was––YHWH––understood by Abraham to be the Creator of everything. Isaac had also personally experienced the divine deliverance on the altar as Abraham prepared to sacrifice him and had seen the ram take his place at the herald of an angel. Besides this, Isaac would have also gained practical understanding through seeing his father Abraham worship YHWH and build altars to YHWH. It is likely that Isaac knew YHWH well and knew Him as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. However, YHWH ensures the covenant made with Isaac’s father Abraham by taking it upon Himself to appear to Isaac twice, and to tell Isaac who He is and what He’s done. It is remarkable that YHWH made such effort to see His covenant sustained within the next generation of Abraham’s lineage.

In the same way, Jacob would’ve been well acquainted with knowledge about his grandpa Abraham’s God whom they called YHWH and cognizant that this Creator God had become his father Isaac’s God as well. Yet, YHWH again sets out to personally make Himself Jacob’s God also. It seems God wants there to be no mistake concerning who He is, what He said, and whom He has chosen. And all of this is to be understood perfectly as relating to this one family’s lineage. This is what marks out the calling of the Patriarchs––YHWH appears to all three of them and confirms His covenant!

At Bethel, God speaks to Jacob atop the heavenly stairway stretched between heaven and earth (Genesis 28:13-17) which Jacob perceives as beginning on earth and ending in heaven. He also beholds God’s hosts traversing these stairs, ascending and descending. In that moment it would’ve been clear in Jacob’s mind who this was––this God was YHWH whom He had been told about––the possessor of the heavens and the earth, the Creator. YHWH’s identity was also self-evident in that no other God possessed a staircase that connected both the heavens and the earth. Jacob had heard of this God from his grandpa Abraham, he had seen his father Isaac worship this God, and now he himself had beheld YHWH and heard His voice from atop this divine stairway.

“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspringd 15I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you,” (Gen. 28:13-15).

It is there at Bethel that Jacob declares “surely YHWH is in the place and I did not know it,” (Gen. 28:16) confirming his understanding that it is not an arbitrary god whom he has seen, but truly YHWH–– his fathers’ God–– the Possessor of the heavens and the earth. Through this experience, God crystallizes His identity to Jacob, tangibly substantiating who He wants to be perceived as. He wants to be known as the “God of your father Abraham, and the God of Isaac” and He also wants it to be understood that He is the Possessor of created reality, seated in the heavens, reigning over all of the earth.

Although I am emphasizing this point to the nth degree, we must take one look at the passage where Jacob wrestles with God. Although this is one of the most mysterious episodes in scripture, we must again not doubt but just stand in awe and pray as we also wrestle with God. We focus on Jacob’s declaration just as the match ends:

Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me. So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, ‘Jacob’. He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed. Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him,” (Gen. 32:26-29).

Here we have what is most likely an incredible prophetic picture of God’s struggle with Israel through redemptive history and yet in the end God relents and allows her to prevail (end-time salvation of the remnant). Although this is the deep, implied theme which concerns the entirety of our study, it suffices here to focus on Jacob’s final words to God: “Please tell me Your name!” Did Jacob ask this question simply because he wanted to hear what God called Himself? Obviously there is more to this episode than we can perceive from its brief description; Jacob wrestled with God from dusk until dawn and we only have a few sentences describing those long hours. It seems Jacob wanted to know WHO this was because he was wrestling with a man. Everything he knew about YHWH prior to this experience was greatness, magnificence, glory and sovereignty (it is possible that he also knew of the time YHWH came to Abraham before He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah). He probably also wanted to know how this could be, because, if this was who he thought it was, he should probably be dead.

Maybe Jacob wanted to verify that this was in fact YHWH, the God his grandpa and father had worshiped, and the God he had seen and heard atop the heavenly stairway. Regardless, his suspicion concerning the man whom he had wrestled the span of that long night was confirmed in the response of a rhetorical question: “Why is it that you ask my name?” Jacob was assured through that response that his suspicion had been correct. Somehow he had just wrestled with YHWH, and YHWH was a person! We will address this wonderful mystery when Messiah is born, several posts from now. For now, we long for a similar match with Jesus.

YHWH in the Exodus

Just as He made Himself known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the Exodus, God provides proof to the enslaved Israelites of His past revealed identity. A people enslaved over four hundred years within the great Egyptian kingdom would have been bombarded with idolatry. In fact, they were the ones building the gigantic stone idols, temples for the Egyptian gods, and the massive stone obelisks! How would all of this have affected Abraham’s descendants and their perception of “God?” Chances are, by the time the things God had spoken previously regarding the Egyptian captivity were fulfilled, His Name likely didn’t carry the same emphasis it once had for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So, again God personally sets out to prove that He is indeed the very God who lays claim to the identity of YHWH and establishes firmly the significance of His name.

It is apparent that YHWH is very familiar with the frailty of the human mind as He conducts the divine reminder of His identity through the miraculous events of the exodus, designed to remain etched indelibly in the consciousness of those who witnessed them. To the Israelites experiencing the outworking of the ten plagues it would have been clear that the One performing these events was truly the Most High God––the God that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had worshiped, the only possessor of the heavens and the earth, and the only sovereign Creator. This was YHWH. God saw this confirmation as necessary for the people to understand who was actually delivering them, and He didn’t want it to be misunderstood.

Hence, the Israelites witness ten divine causations from the heavens and the earth crystallizing YHWH’s identity in their minds as the One who had sovereignty over everything. There would have been no doubt that He was in fact the God of their patriarchs as He showed His sovereignty over earthly and heavenly elements (first nine plagues), and also over human life (tenth plague). He took great care in revealing this identity to them, and it is the identity He has sought to keep throughout the ages.

The central idea is this: when the name of YHWH was spoken it was supposed to register these intrinsic  attributes––He was the Possessor of the Heavens and the Earth exercising total sovereignty over them, and He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is simply a long explanation of God’s self-declared identity in Exodus 3 where He confirms and even memorializes this very identity. Moses would have most likely announced in his first address to the Israelites that YHWH had heard their prayers and was going to deliver them, not any Egyptian god or so-called god. When the people heard this statement it would to them have meant something very distinct… it would’ve possessed a confirmation of their history, a reinforcement of the promises, and the glorious truth that what was said to the Fathers was actually going to be fulfilled by the divine God who had promised such things. I hope the implications are very clear and fill your heart with joy as they do mine.

YHWH in Exodus 20

By the time we come to the mountain in Exodus 20 we behold God confirming His desire that His memorial identity be attached to the descendants of the Patriarchs just as promised to Abraham. We see God actually joining His own name and identity to the Israelite people––the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is insurmountably profound.

Whereas before, God was understood as being the Possessor of the heavens and the earth, God tells Moses in Exodus 3 that He is to be known as: The Creator of the Heavens and the Earth––the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then, a similar relational transaction takes place at Sinai. From atop the quaking mountain, burning with fire and covered with smoke and amidst the trumpet blast growing louder and louder, God now applies this Memorial Identity to the very people standing there, by saying, “I am the Lord your God.” Meaning, “I am not just their God any longer. I have now made myself your God.” In effect, He is saying, My identity as God is to be possessed by you. This identity doesn’t transcend the previous one, but adds to it, making Possessor of the heavens and the earth, synonymous with The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob which now applies distinctly to the people standing in awe there at the mountain––the whole congregation of Israel. Here we witness a personal transaction of relational identity taking place in which God chooses for His identity as God to be recognized in relation to this people from Mt. Sinai forward. I hope the immensity of these implications are clear.

If we understand this we are beginning to grab a hold of the true nature of God’s identity as revealed in covenant and that this identity is how He is still desiring to be recognized today. It is God drawing near to His elected Israel, and attaching Himself to them without option of divorce. It is almost as though God has taken His maiden name of Possessor of the Heavens and the Earth and hyphenated it with The God of Israel. It is not that He isn’t still the first, but rather that His first name has been married with this distinct people. Or, we could understand it as we understand names today. In this case, His given name (because He gave it to Himself) is The God of Israel and his surname is Possessor of the Heavens and the Earth. God confirms this exact identity in passages such as Isaiah 54:5,

“For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth.”

In this passage we hear God identify Himself verbatim in the ways we just described. God calls Himself: Israel’s Husband, The Holy One of Israel, and The God of all the earth, making these identities one within the revealed identity of YHWH.

Let’s strengthen the case so that it doesn’t appear to some that we are stretching Scripture, or making something out of nothing from one passage. First, God calls Himself the Holy One of Israel around 50 times in Scripture. So, this identity is not a one-off, it is a Name He regularly uses to define Himself (Is. 12:6; 17:7; 29:19; 30:11; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7 to name a few instances).

Second, this helps us understand that when God says “The Lord your God,” He indeed means the very same thing as The Holy One of Israel. “I am the Lord your God,” is God decisively stating that He belongs to no one other than Israel. The previous attributes of YHWH as God are now possessed by Israel in this distinctive, everlasting marriage. Moreover, these two names are often used synonymously in Scripture as the Lord your God appears well over 100 times in the Bible, and both of them only appear when God is speaking directly to Abraham’s ethnic descendants.

In conclusion, in Scripture God has intentionally made His identity as YHWH possess these several elements: He is the Creator, or Possessor of the heavens and the earth; He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; He is the Holy One of Israel; and when speaking to Israel directly He is The LORD your God, meaning the LORD their God. This observation is important to our study and gives helpful insight into how God identifies Himself in Scripture; i.e. who God wants to be known as in the Bible. This identity is vitally important as we continue this study, and especially as we later approach Jesus, the birth of God in the flesh, and who God is thought to be today. For if we later come to Jesus in the New Testament and oddly divorce Him from the identity He so clearly and purposefully defined previously, there is a harmful possibility that we give Him identities He is unfamiliar with. That is to say we give to Him an identity that is potentially idolatrous, disconnected from the identity He is seeking to be defined by.

We are unapologetically defining the God of the Bible as Israel’s God YHWH. We as Gentiles must come to Israel’s God to be saved because our gods for past millennia have been nothing more than idols! Yet, there, distinctly revealed in Israel is the one true God who is the Creator. Gentiles did not create Him, nor think of Him, or ever come to Him by their own knowledge. But, by His mercy He has allowed gentiles who will humble themselves to His election of Israel and their unique calling, to possess Him and partake in the everlasting promise made to Abraham and his descendants.

With this understanding in place we can now approach the mountain in Exodus 20 and peer deeper into the covenant made with the people there, possessing the proper understanding of who this God was.

The Gospel From Genesis to Revelation #6: Pillar Two- The Abrahamic Covenant

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Introduction

In the last few posts we’ve covered the promise of the Messianic Seed stemming from Genesis 3:15 and what the promise sets in motion. It is key to have this as the foundation for everything that comes afterwards. This Seed, and the things which relate to Him, is the whole subject of Scripture after its mention. We’ve also seen how God acts upon Genesis 3:15 by continuing His covenant with Noah, knowing from that point onward things (events) are now moving distinctly forward through time and space to fulfill what God said. You could say that with God’s covenant with Noah, the gear of redemption begins turning to fulfill the promise in Genesis 3:15.

We affirmed in post 5 (and it is the lively horse I will continue to kick as it gallops forward towards that great redemption!) that it is absolutely necessary to maintain a literal interpretation of Scripture so that our biblical theology remains consistent with the things God has said in the past and is congruent with the things that happen in the future. Literalism is the simple key that allows God to be Himself and keep His plan consistently through Scripture from start to finish. Without it, we are but dodging and weaving through the ideas of men and never landing a punch. Now, continuing our chronological story, we can turn our attention to Genesis 12-22 as seen in the second pillar on the diagram above.

For some, approaching Abraham may feel redundant. I remember a time when I was a kid in Sunday School and the subject of Abraham and Isaac was brought up… again. There on the flannel graph was the frozen, velvet figure of an old, bearded man, wielding a knife over his small son who lies helpless on the two-dimensional altar tied up in ropes… (Enter heralding angel from flannel graph right). “Abraham, do not harm the lad!” (Quickly insert ram into thicket behind altar and turn Isaac’s frown upside down). 

The beige and dull colors of the biblical figures have become vague and colorless memories caught in the cobwebs of people’s minds who no longer find the story worthy of their time or deserving of their attendance at a church service. The stories lay there in their minds still in two-dimensional form, flat and lame, and somehow lost the influence God intended them to have upon the generations that follow Abraham. I need not name the diversions of our modern era that make it so. But, how can we reacquaint ourselves with these Scriptures to make them exciting again?

Ok… I’ll expose the cherished diversions. Sex and the City is more interesting to you than the Bible, and Facebook has more life-giving power than the Scriptures. Downtown Abbey is far more intriguing than Abraham, and what some guy just said on Twitter is more invigorating than the words God spoke. We take more joy in spending money on things we convince ourselves we need, than in investing our time in the book God gave to humans. Lord help us. We are truly broken, fragile, people with woundings beyond number. We medicate ourselves with false hopes and fantasy stories rather than with truth. Vanity of vanities says the preacher. Dry cisterns. Yes the journey is hard friends, but let us reacquaint ourselves with the glorious hope of our Gospel.

I do not say this to your shame. Guilt is never the best motivator. But guilt and conviction over these things leads us to repentance. Yes, the kindness of God also leads to repentance, but let’s not forget that the kindness of God nailed His Son to the crossbeam where He bled and died so that men could repent of their sins. So, how do we come to love these passages again? The Proverbs say:

7Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.

8It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones…

11My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD
Or loathe His reproof,

12For whom the LORD loves He reproves,
Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.

13How blessed is the man who finds wisdom
And the man who gains understanding.

14For her profit is better than the profit of silver
And her gain better than fine gold.

15She is more precious than jewels;
And nothing you desire compares with her.

16Long life is in her right hand;
In her left hand are riches and honor.

17Her ways are pleasant ways
And all her paths are peace.

18She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
And happy are all who hold her fast.

These are some pretty amazing promises for the ones who find wisdom. Although the fullness of these promises is inherited in the age to come, I find that wisdom has become to me the tree of life mentioned in verse 18. When I behold the promises to Abraham, I am awestruck, and it becomes healing to my body and refreshment to my bones (v8) so that I turn away from evil (v7). I feel blessed that I have found wisdom (v13) and look for the blessing of eternal life that is obtained through encountering Wisdom and responding to it. Wisdom is not a man who quotes “witty” things. Wisdom is Jesus. Paul calls the Cross the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1) and we behold in Christ crucified true wisdom from heaven, that forces the “wisdom of men” to pale awfully in comparison.

So, as we approach these passages my prayer is that we behold the wisdom of God and find out what it means for us today. I pray that we could respond… yes, and have discernment regarding the importance of these passages and how marvelous they are to behold as the future expectation of our hope. You see, here is the problem: if Abraham lies still, upon that old flannel-graph you once saw in Sunday school then the story is only historical, having had implications then, yet devoid of importance and application today. However, if you can overturn that old perspective and have your eyes re-opened to the truth that the promises God made to Abraham are the whole and consuming future hope of Jew and Gentile alike, then Genesis 12-22 directly affects you and your future. Maybe when Jesus says,“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” (Matt. 5:18), it would suddenly become compulsory for you as a “Christian” to dig into the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and behold within those five books what must be accomplished. It can become the invigorating, consuming fullness of your hope! We are digging here for wisdom friends, and as Proverbs 2 exhorts us:

1My son, if you will receive my words
And treasure my commandments within you,

2Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;

3For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;

4If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;

5Then you will discern the fear of the LORD
And discover the knowledge of God.

6For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding,

Let us heed these words together in order that we may discover the knowledge of God, which is simply discerning rightly what He has revealed about Himself and receiving those things as true.

The Gospel is Covenantal: The Abrahamic Covenant

Although the covenant that God makes with Abraham is directly mentioned as covenant in Genesis 15:17-18, God’s first words to Abraham are in Genesis 12. We will refer to Abraham as Abraham throughout this post for the sake of consistency, even though his very important name-change happens later.

Here is a list of all of God’s direct words to Abraham: Gen.12:1-3, 8; 13:14-17; 15:1-18; 17:1-22; 18:1-19; 21:12-13; 22:15-18. Although we will not cover in detail all of these words, I strongly recommend being as familiar with these passages as possible since they strengthen our understanding regarding the nature and foundation of the Abrahamic covenant. Refer to the last post where we deal specifically with our approach to the words spoken below:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him,” (Gen. 12:1-3).

In this passage God tells Abraham to leave everything and go to the land He will show him. Abraham is obedient to the Lord and we are told that he went forth. God’s promises to Abraham are that in the land he is sent to: he will be made a great nation; God will bless him; Abraham’s name will become great; he will be made to be a blessing; God will bless those who bless Abraham; God will curse those who curse Abraham; and that all the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham. These are seven declarations God makes specifically to Abraham in His first words to the Patriarch.

Based upon our study thus far we have shown that everything God says is covenantal in nature and therefore these promises will be accomplished in completeness having not one jot or tittle fall to the ground. Again, I re-emphasize:

“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” (Matt. 5:18).

And the Lord confirms this same thing earlier, in Isaiah:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it,” (Is. 55:10-11).

To interpret the words God speaks to Abraham literally is simply receiving what He said. We don’t have to negate them with new theological thoughts, or force a juxtaposition with Paul’s words in the New Testament. In a most simple way, Paul, as a devout Jew who discovered Jesus the Messiah, would have had the firmest of hope in the words God spoke to his forefather Abraham. Read Paul’s words with that in mind and the theological cloud settles, and clarity causes our larger theological picture to come into focus. Literalism allows God to be Himself from Genesis to Revelation, and allows His words to actually go forth and fulfill what they were spoken for. I plead with you to receive those first words spoken to Abraham literally. 

Now let’s concentrate on the passages in which God speaks directly of covenant with Abraham. We turn first to Genesis 15:

“1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great. 2Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?… 4Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7And He said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” 8He said, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?” 9So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. 12″Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.15As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.’ 17It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: 19the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite 20and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim 21and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”

(Isn’t it odd that when we approach a large passage of Scripture like this we are enticed to skip past it? How many of you scrolled down past the verses above? Please go back and read it. Every word there is more powerful than what I shall say next.)

I don’t know whether you are familiar with Walter C. Kaiser (the liberals gasp and the conservatives rejoice at the mention of his name) but there is an interview in which he delivers what I consider to be a very unique and profound explanation of this passage:

“In Genesis 15, it was God himself who walked in between the pieces. They cut a covenant. The word to make a covenant is to ‘cut’ a covenant. And they cut the pieces, one half of the animal on one side, forming an aisle down the middle. So there were three cut animals and then two birds. And God walked between the pieces and said in effect, may I God, die like these animals if I do not keep what I have promised here. So when the Church then brought in replacement theology and [embraced] a supercessionist [mentality] in which they sat now in the chair that belonged to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his descendants, they took away what God had promised on the pledge of his life,” (Joel Richardson When a Jew Rules the World PDF pg. 16).

Perhaps in another study we could give this the time it deserves. Here, it suffices to say that the covenant God was making with Abraham amidst the sacred, blood-stained ground of that place truly represented something special to God Himself. It was a sanctified compact made by God while Abraham slept, signifying that God Himself would keep His end of the bargain, on His own life. Friends, the significance of God coming down from heaven and performing this event is awe-inspiring.

Interestingly, God did not only come down from heaven and pass between the covenantal animals, He also passed over Abraham.

Here, a sinful man finds favor with God because he believed God and followed God out of his own nation. Then, when God walked beside him that night, although he should have been killed in the presence of pure righteousness, since he was indeed a sinful man, he was preserved because of his belief in this God and this God’s promises. Let this belief mark us.

Next we must look at Genesis 17 to better appreciate the scope of these promises. Genesis 17 should be our “go to” passage, for in it God volunteers His own definition of this covenant with Abraham.

Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.” Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. 6“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8“I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.

In this passage God says many stunning things. Let’s recap them:

  1. I will establish My covenant between Me and you
    2. I will multiply you exceedingly
    3. As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you
    4. You will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations
    5. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.
    6. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you
    7. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

Here we see former promises from Genesis 12 and 15 reinforced and expounded upon, while a few statements are so striking they should be especially revered. Take note that the majority of the covenantal actions are to be performed by God Himself. God keeps saying “I will”. Oftentimes, the simplicity of God speaking in the first person isn’t appreciated for its magnitude. To put it as simply as possible, when God says “I will” these words carry the full force of the volition of the Godhead. It is impossible for God’s “I will” to become “I really meant a different plan”. This is  plainly because of the nature of who God is, He does not equivocate. As the apostle James reminds us, in God “there is no shadow of turning”.

Number six is something that we might accidentally read past too quickly. Here God relays that the covenant He is making with Abraham is established between God and Abraham and all of Abraham’s descendants after him “throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”

I have rarely heard the magnitude of these statements commented upon. God makes sure that it is understood how long this covenant lasts–– it is everlasting. God ensures Abraham understands with whom this covenant has been made––with Abraham’s descendants after him throughout all generations. God also promises what they will be given––the land as an everlasting possession. 

The Hebrew word for everlasting is transliterated olam. This word is used around 438 times in our Bible to communicate a principle very clearly: forever; never-ending; everlasting. The word is used in our Bible in Genesis 9:6 regarding the covenant of the rainbow. I have not heard anyone make a case that somehow, mysteriously God did not intend for the rainbow to remain forever as the witness of His covenant that He would never flood the earth again. However, many today take this word and make it meaningless. The enduring witness of the rainbow alone should cause us to be warned of the folly of emptying such words of their meaning.

God continues in this passage with something that takes the covenant even deeper. Let’s look to verse 9:

“God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10“This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11“And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12“And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13“A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14“But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

As we have already established in previous posts, the main component of our story revolves around the promised Seed who would come forth from Eve. Incorporated within the sign of the covenant established between God and Abraham is a brilliant, vivid restatement of this former promise concerning the Seed. In light of this earlier promise, God gives a grand, perpetual reminder to Abraham and his descendants within their flesh: Circumcision. Oftentimes we cringe at the thought of what this entails, but we rarely appreciate the ingenuity of what God was doing.

The promise of the Messiah was to come forth from the seed of Eve. It is common knowledge that a woman cannot conceive human seed before the proto-seed of a man’s sperm is first implanted in her womb. Thus, the act of circumcision created within the very organ from which the catalyzing male seed is issued, another sign––a physical witness that would continue from Abraham to all generations reminding them that the promised Seed would one day come forth!  In the cutting pain Abraham must’ve endured that day was a promise reinforced… and although circumcision has today somehow become a common cultural practice––it was not in that day! In fact, how odd for God to mark his election in this way.

But this is God, and He is genius. What else does man have besides His flesh? What better way than this to give his elected people a permanent, perpetual reminder that traveled with them everywhere? It changed Abram to Abraham that day, and separated him from the nations that worshiped other gods. This insignia in his flesh would serve as the sign of the covenant, just as the rainbow in the sky, and the sun that rises. This is why God Himself actually connects the signs of His covenants:

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever. Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,” declares the LORD, (Jer. 31:35-37).

This passage should cause us to marvel at God’s astounding faithfulness. We can see in these passages that God is intentionally connecting the words He said to Abraham to the words He spoke to Adam and Eve through His use of referential symbolism and signs regarding the surety of His words. He sees all His words as one all-encompassing continual promise, set on one distinct course to accomplish what He intended in the beginning. He links the promises, building on the words spoken prior, simply continuing what He intends to complete through physical time and space.

The remainder of the passages regarding Abraham in Genesis should be studied and meditated upon for many hours in order to realize their full implications. Take note that God reiterates things continually, using different metaphorical pictures to communicate the surety of His promise to Abraham and his descendants. It is a good study to count how many times God says “I will,” enforcing Who will accomplish these things, and also the sum of how many times God uses words such as everlasting, making sure His intentions are not misunderstood.

Conclusion

It is an odd thing to me that in our modern era we often think of God as a man who speaks tongue-in-cheek, just in case things may not turn out the way He hoped. Yet, even today we appreciate the language that communicates certain principles. Certain objects we buy come with a lifetime warranty, which, if the product malfunctions, allow it to be replaced. They bear an everlasting guarantee. We understand this and do not think it somehow means something different. Yet, many contend that when God says everlasting to Abraham’s descendants, He changes those words, or reinterprets those words in the New Testament to mean something different. This is unwise friends. This is rejecting God’s words rather than receiving them.

Likewise, when I say to someone “I will,” it is understood that I am the person who will fulfill the duty stated. With God this language has far greater implications! I am a mere man and my declarations are subject to my weakness and myriad factors beyond my control. But God’s “I will” represents the unassailable determination of the Godhead.

You could say that the words God spoke to Abraham in these passages bear the seal of His kingly signet ring. God is making a point when He personally comes down from heaven and walks between dead animals binding Himself to His covenant with Abraham lest He Himself should die! God is driving something home when He gives the sign of circumcision as the verification of what He had promised to Adam and Eve, He is furthering His former promise, acting upon it and confirming its validity. When God goes to such great effort to make His intentions known to men, surely it grieves Him when we men just simply won’t take Him at His word. Abraham believed God’s words, and it was accredited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:16; Rom. 4:3). Let us do the same in the hope that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Although we may seem to be taking our time in articulating these truths, it is necessary to see these things in detail so that our method of interpreting the Scriptures holds fast to its original context. God is laying foundations, and working out a story in real time and real space. We are seeking to observe the way He has ordained the story to progress, and then interpret everything through the information He gives us. I emphasize that this is the information He has given. Remembering this is what creates good hermeneutics and good students of the Bible He wrote.

The words I say in this post are not enough to make Abraham come off of the old flannelgraph––that must be obtained through prayer and meditation on these Scriptures. Stand in the Lord’s counsel and listen to Him speaking His words. Stand there, on the priestly ground of Genesis 15 and behold the smoking furnace and burning lamp! Look upon the dead animals and see the Lord pass through them speaking “I will.” See Abraham asleep, in terror at the presence of the Lord, and then fear yourself and agree with what God said that glorious day to our Father Abraham.

“…11and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised,” (Rom 4:11-12).