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).

The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation #5: The Words of the Covenant are Literal

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Introduction to Pillar Two

You’ve heard it said, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees.” It is helpful to frequently remind ourselves of this principle. In this in-depth series we are trying to see the whole forest of Scripture, or the big picture, as explained in many Scriptures and through the diagram above. But, in order to understand what that forest comprises (which species of trees we are seeing, the color of the soil in which they are growing, the size of their trunks) you could say that we are walking a direct path on the ground of truth from one end of the biblical forest to the other. On this journey we are stopping to look at the trees of Scripture. At the end of the path we can ascend  Mt. Zion and behold the whole Gospel as the woodlands we have just traversed.

This is now our fifth installment in this Gospel series. Having discussed how the Creational and Covenantal identities of God relate to each other in Scripture we can now walk through the passages relevant to pillar two in the diagram linked above. We are steadily building on what we’ve learned and using it as the foundation for what we are establishing. We are slowly creating our biblical theology which is just a fancy way of saying what we understand or know about God from the Bible. 

Let’s briefly review the past four posts for the sake of those perhaps just joining in with the series.

The Gospel is Creational

God created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1 and therefore possesses them as His own––they belong to Him. Likewise, God also created man and breathed life into his nostrils making man a living being, so humans also belong to Him. The sum total of reality as we know it – the heavens and the earth- is the place God has created to interact with His creation. He himself dwells inside this creation, in the heights of the heavens, not outside of time or in another “realm”. This is really good news and what makes our Gospel Creational.

The Gospel is Covenantal

God established a covenantal framework in Scripture to testify to the surety of His words. In the sun, moon, and stars we behold signs, testimonies that God’s covenant holds firm and is trustworthy. The sun still rises today because of God’s covenant with creation and the silver moon will fill the night sky while you sleep tonight because of the same. In short, He has put things in the sky to tell mankind that He is trustworthy, while all-powerful. He is showing that His words spoken in the beginning still do what they did then — enforce that what He says about the future will certainly have the same outcome. This is really good news and shows how the creation is tied to the biblical good news also being Covenantal.

The Edenic Account and Beginning of Sin

After God created the earth and man He planted a garden in the east of Eden and gave man a command of obedience. Man listened to Satan and disobeyed this command. Being expelled from the garden, he was subjected to the discipline God chose: he would now have to contend with sin, no longer be immortal, and would be reminded of the effects of this disobedience through the curse which was placed upon him and the earth. But, this disciplinary time would come to an end! There would come forth a Seed from Eve that would crush the head of the serpent and remove the effects that sin had caused to fall upon the earth and man.

The Messianic Seed of Promise

As God had established a covenant with the earth in creation through speaking words, God now made a covenant with man in Genesis 3:15 that will certainly take him back to that original sinless state he experienced in the garden. This covenant points not only to forgiveness of sins, but to the final end-time deliverance when God accomplishes the fullness of His original plan, ending this age of wickedness ruled by Satan and beginning the age of righteousness ruled by Jesus, when man and God are finally completely reconciled and able to live together again on this very earth as in the garden. This promised resurrection and regeneration of life stands as the hope of our future!

This promise to Adam and Eve was confirmed through God’s covenant with Noah and his lineage and proven by the miraculous preservation of the lives of him and his family in the global flood. Attached to this event, God gave the miracle of the rainbow which still fills the sky after downpours of rain, screaming that God is faithful and true to what He said. This is such good news and furthers the point that the biblical Gospel is Covenantal.

The Hope of the End Seen From the Beginning

To the apostles there was an anchor of hope in the future contained in promises of the past.

“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).

“…that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets…” (2 Pt. 3:2).

The good news written in earlier times (Torah) instructs us as we perceive the origins of existence, the explanation of how things have become the way they are, and the way God’s plan of salvation will unfold. The first five books of the Bible inform us of the anchor of our hope––the very quintessential idea of salvation––the Seed who will crush the head of the serpent! If we persevere in the encouragement of these Scriptures our hope holds firm, fixed to this day in the future that is certain according to God’s word. If we choose to believe this we are truly able to “keep sober in spirit, fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (c.f. 1 Peter 1:13) knowing that He will indeed appear soon as the fulfillment of hope and that The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet… (Rom. 16:20).

Recapping Our Approach

We should lodge in our minds again the simple principle by which we are approaching Scripture. The Biblical story is linear traveling from point A to point B. Point A is creation and point B is culmination when the original plan of God is eventually fulfilled. The space in-between point A and point B is the story of Scripture encapsulating history past, present, and future. What God says in Genesis 3:15 plays out linearly in Genesis 4 through Revelation 22. It is truly this simple.

As we now begin to look at the Scriptures regarding Abraham, the same principle applies. What God says to Abraham in Genesis 12-22 will play out in a linear format from Genesis 23 through Revelation 22, slowly bringing about the divine fulfillment of what God promised to Adam, Noah, and Abraham.

The Anchor of Literal Interpretation of Scripture

As we approach the Abrahamic covenant there are some things we must first work through. Again, the clouds of theology hang over the words here and their literal interpretation. What I will be presenting is a very literal interpretation of the words God spoke to Abraham, while showing from the Scriptures how they actually have a very literal future fulfillment. I have been accused of being crassly literal. I am ok with people thinking that. This is simply my conviction of how we ought to understand the things God says with His own mouth. I am filled with joy at the prospect of standing before the judgment seat of Christ and hopefully hearing Him say “You trusted and believed My words,” rather than, “You unbelieving fool!”

The question I believe we should try and answer by the end of our Bible is: Of all the things God has promised with His own divine mouth, what has not yet been fulfilled, or accomplished? I believe this to be a very biblical question to ask because Jesus very plainly said, “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). A good student of the Bible recognizes that there are many things not yet accomplished. A good student with an equally good hermeneutic does not relegate what’s unfulfilled to “spiritual interpretation,” but trusts that it has simply not happened yet. 

Many today seek to justify their unanswered questions through a method of spiritual interpretation. In my opinion it is the oddest cop-out. Spiritual interpretation is basically defined as follows: God did not mean for us to understand His words literally––that they must have a literal fulfillment––but rather He wanted us to understand them spiritually––that they are open to having different interpretations other than direct literal fulfillment. I firmly disagree with this approach. If we take Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 literally, then every single word of the Law will be accomplished. This produces a simple firm anchor of hope and trust we can have in His words.

Inevitably, whenever we give the answer that a literal promise God made in the Old Testament has been “spiritualized” in the New, we are actually saying, “God did not intend the words of His mouth to be understood literally. After many years of theological study we men have finally figured out what God actually meant by what He said.” I need not stress the absurdity of such presumption in modern theology, but for the sake of clarity let’s use an example.

Let’s take one of the hardest examples that is commonly interpreted in different ways. In Genesis 12:3, God says to Abram “…in your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed.” What does God mean here…? Let me break this down from the original Hebrew for you. It translates literally as: in you (Abram) all the families of the earth will be blessed. Yes, it means exactly what it says. Is this complicated? No, this isn’t rocket science friends. Remember what we’ve discussed at length thus far: God’s words are covenantal in nature. The sun is rising today because God simply told it to literally rise in Genesis 1; in the same way, God said Abram’s descendants will be a blessing to the nations of the earth, and this will happen––the sun is confirming the surety of His words at this very moment. Many of us would respond to this truth with an emphatic “yes”! 

If the promise is made to Abram and his lineage as described in detail in the chapters that follow, then we take it at face value, playing it out to its logical end which is Abraham’s descendants possessing this irrevocable calling to bless the nations of the earth. This can only logically happen in the future when Messiah returns and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth (Is. 62:7) since, “You are My Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show My glory.” Furthermore,

“Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you,” (Is. 60:1-3).

In the context of Isaiah 60 it is clear we are discussing ethnic Israel and the land of Israel after Jesus’ second coming. In that time this also happens:

“Many nations will come and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem,” (Mic. 4:2).

The prophets are replete with passages like these that communicate a restored Jerusalem with restored Jews within it and gentiles flooding to the city to learn. In performing such a critical role Abram’s lineage will clearly be a blessing to the whole earth. We will go much further into this in the future sessions.

The deeper question to ask might come from Genesis 17:7-8. It is a simple question which divides theological camps today. God says to Abraham,

“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

When we read this passage there is one immediate question at hand. Does God intend for Abraham and His lineage and all others who read this after the promise was made to believe that He meant everlasting when He says everlasting? Clearly I am begging the question here because the question itself is fallacy.

I tell my friend that I am coming to his house on Wednesday at 5pm to eat dinner. I then go hiking on Wednesday at 5pm. He calls me on the phone at 5:15pm Wednesday and says “Where are you?” to which I respond, “You fool! I can’t believe you took what I said literally! You should’ve understood that I meant Sunday when I said Wednesday, and by 5pm I meant 11am!” The absurdity of this analogy embodies the theological games men play today. If I cannot take God at His word, then how can I know anything about Him or His Scriptures? Everything becomes subjective and ambiguous––open to interpretation. However, if God simply means everlasting because He is truth, and His word is truth, and He is not a man that He should lie, then I would rather trust His words and simply receive them humbly.

However, there are many who question such a literal future fulfillment. “Well, isn’t Jesus the true lineage of Abraham?” they say. “And hasn’t Jesus become a blessing to the nations?… Isn’t Jesus the light of the world? Hasn’t Jesus inherited the land as a possession?” The answer is yes, Jesus is all these things, and He has technically inherited these things (although they by right belong to Him, He has not yet claimed them). But, that does not mean that the ethnic descendants of Abraham will not also be the things God promised. So often people seem to conclude that since Jesus is the light of the world, Israel cannot be a light to the nations. But, that is nonsense! Jesus is the light of the world, but there also remains a promise God made to Abram, which He expands upon through the prophets, that Abram’s descendants would become a light to the nations. It is both.

In fact, let me make plain the inescapability of a literal future interpretation of these promises. Even those who insist that God’s words to Abram are fulfilled only in Jesus must acknowledge that there still remain aspects of these promises for Jesus in His own fleshly frame to inherit at a future time (see Daniel 7)! Let us take one example: Jesus possesses the land of Israel as His inheritance currently, but clearly He has not claimed this right yet, because, as the news channels constantly and solemnly testify,  there is presently a severe problem in the land of Israel––it is perilously divided.  Equally, Israel currently “possesses” the land on paper, but they also cannot drive out their foe. Plainly, there must be something yet future in these promises. Jesus, the faithful Jew, will certainly make His own kinsmen inherit at a future date the promises that He in His own flesh must also wait to inherit.

Call me crazy, but if everlasting means everlasting God is going to make good on His promise to Abraham’s ethnic lineage. We must not conclude that Jesus spiritually became Israel or that all of the promises God made to Abram have been subsumed within Him.

I understand that many think they are doing a noble thing by regarding all of God’s promises as fulfilled in Jesus at His first coming. However, we must not do what Scripture does not. Scripture does not testify that the promises made to Abraham were fulfilled in Jesus at His first coming. In fact, it says the opposite! Paul and the apostles state that Jesus became a servant to the circumcision to confirm the promises given to the Fathers (Rom. 15:4). Very simply, Jesus’ first coming confirmed that the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David stood firm and would have a literal fulfillment in the future at His second coming. The apostles do not say that Jesus became a servant to Himself to confirm that the promises were actually for Him to inherit, not the lineage of Abraham. But, many people ignore such cornerstones of truth like this one. The promises made to the Fathers and their surety was furthered in the life and death of Jesus in the first coming.

Although many people will try to play interpretive games with Galatians 3 and say the promises are ALL fulfilled in Jesus (the true Seed of Abraham) at His first coming, we only need to meditate on the Old Testament Scriptures with even a small measure of deliberateness to see that Paul could not possibly be making that case in Galatians 3. The idea that Jesus somehow became the sole inheritor of what God promised Abraham is overstepping the Scriptural bounds. By all means He deserves to be the sole inheritor, but in His humility He has held faithful to His plan being achieved through broken men. Therefore, these are not “spiritual promises” but literal ones that are reemphasized a thousand times in the Old Testament, and confirmed by the testimony of the apostles over and over.

I often say, “You show me your Galatians chapter 3, and I will show you my Old Testament.” That is to say that the scale is very unequally weighted in favor of the interpretation I am presenting, with hundreds of sections of Scripture prophesying a literal fulfillment of the promises made to the Fathers. We cannot stumble over the language of Galatians 3 and believe we have a firm argument, for we are then pitting one chapter against the whole of the biblical testimony!

For the sake of those wanting a little more from Galatians 3, let’s look at it simply. The major argument that Christ has fulfilled the promises made to ethnic Israel in Himself and there no longer remains an ethnic calling for Israel comes from verse 16:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.”

Paul is saying that Jesus was the inheritor of the promise made to Abraham. I agree with this. I agree with this because Jesus is a Jew. He is the quintessential Jew in fact, the firstborn, and possesses the first rights to the promise made to Abraham. But Christ has a people, who just so happen to be His very own ethnicity, who will also receive the promise.

The issue we are getting to the bottom of is this: today many relegate the promises made to the Fathers to being entirely fulfilled in Jesus at His first coming. In doing this, they then have no expectation for a literal future fulfillment of those promises–– their position is that those promises have already been completed in their entirety. They often feel they are honoring Jesus by doing this. I want to say this clearly––this dishonors Jesus immensely. Don’t get me wrong here, but this needs to be said a second time: if you adhere to this doctrine you are not in accord with what the apostles taught and you are attributing to Jesus something that He is not asking for. You are dishonoring Him, His Gospel, and His entire plan of salvation, redemption, and restoration. You are distorting the Scriptural hope. To worship Jesus in Spirit and truth is to give Him what He wants, not what you want to give Him, and what He wants is for His plan, and choice of Israel, to be honored. He has chosen Abraham’s descendants to be a blessing to the nations of the earth, and by God, He will see His plan through. When His plan is accomplished and His glory is revealed in Abraham’s ethnic descendantsThen the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken,” (Is. 40:5). 

Distinguishing Between the First and Second Coming

As good Bible students we must always make a very clear delineation between Jesus’ first and second coming. Hebrews 9:28 helps us learn this distinction, “…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many (first coming), will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (second coming). The writer of Hebrews shows the same dichotomy in Hebrews 10:12 “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time (first coming), SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET (second coming). Paul emphatically declares that it is during the reign of Christ on the earth at His second coming that His enemies are made His footstool,

22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet26The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

This incredibly important section of Scripture speaks of Jesus’ second coming when He resurrects His own from the dead, begins reigning on the earth as the true King from Jerusalem (as promised to David in 2 Sam. 7), and slowly subjects the earth to His authority and rule until all the earth is placed back under His Lordship. We know from Revelation 20 that this takes one thousand years, yet the greater wealth of information concerning the millennial reign (and from where we truly derive the idea of a millennial reign) is found in the prophets (see Is. 4; 60-66; Ez. 39). Through deduction we see that the events foretold simply take a long time to play out in real time and space; hence the one-thousand-year time frame. Then a significant number of people from the nations rebel against Him one last time after Satan is released from prison and they come to make war against Him before the fire of God comes down out of heaven and consumes them. Then the devil and his angels are thrown into the lake of fire forever delivering the final blow to his serpent head. Then will come the saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory,” and He will deliver the Kingdom to the Father that God may be all in all.

Moreover, it is those years of Christ’s physical reign on the earth that allow Abraham’s descendants to fulfill what God promised to Abraham way back in Genesis. Christ, the first Jewish inheritor of the promises, will then allow His kinsmen according to the flesh to participate in those very promises––even enact them under His authority! Lest we forget the glorious way in which the gentiles have been grafted into these promises also, let me articulate clearly that this reign will by all means include resurrected Jews and gentiles, brothers dwelling together in harmony in the Kingdom of God. The role of gentiles is still a bit unclear to me in Scripture since we are normally not mentioned in a positive light in the Prophets, but it is clear that we participate in the promises through our “grafting in.” A particular verse that is encouraging regarding gentiles is in the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, which says, “Rejoice O nations with His people!” The context of the passage concerns the second coming, and reminds me that no matter what our role is in the millennial reign, it will include rejoicing!

Practicing Good Interpretation

I apply the good practice of literal interpretation to everything I see God say in Scripture. The nucleus of the Abrahamic covenant is the words God spoke to Abram. If they are currently unfulfilled, there must remain a future fulfillment. If God said everlasting, unless He is a deranged, sarcastic God mocking us for believing or thinking that His words should be understood literally, He means everlasting! It’s as simple as that lest God be made a liar. The context for the future fulfillment of the words God spoke to Abram is a literal kingdom over which Jesus shall reign and in which we will dwell forever, and this just so happens to be the whole and consuming hope that all of our faith is set within, as we see it continually referenced in our New Testament. Romans 15:4 emphasizes again,

“…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,”

And as Peter exhorted us to fix our hope on this future day completely (1:13), in looking at the promises God made to Abram, we are actually examining the substance of that hope which was written in earlier times. We are truly looking at the foundational material of hope in its original state, identifying its earliest components. In Romans 15 above therefore, along with the other promises “written in earlier times”, Paul is very much talking about the promises God made to Abram. And since,

“in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it,” (Rom. 8:24-25),

then we, like Paul, have not yet seen this hope come to pass, but we are eagerly waiting for its future fulfillment.

So, we recognize that Paul confesses he has not yet seen the hope, but is eagerly waiting for it to come, putting to death the idea that the Abrahamic covenant was “subsumed” or realized in the life and death of Christ. What Paul is hoping for is the grand fulfillment in the millennium of what was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David! The Millennium is nothing more and nothing less than God doing what He told men He would do in Scripture. At the end of the day the counter position does not acknowledge that its conjecture supports the belief that God made pseudo-promises, that do not have a literal fulfillment, and that He is incapable of completing what He started. This inevitably makes the story fall apart. It erases Israel’s ethnic calling and suggests hope should be put in a spiritual ideal now enacted upon the earth through the church who are the new “people of God.”

We firmly disagree with such nonsense, keeping sober in spirit, affirming that Abraham’s ethnic lineage will inherit what was promised to Abram and we fix our hope completely on this future day when the Messiah descends on the clouds of heaven to fulfill what He formerly promised (cf. 1 Pt. 1:13).

Conclusion

We have fought from the first post for the solidity of the apocalyptic anchor in order to show how Scripture is purposely driving forward towards the final cumulative fulfillment of everything that God has said. It is my strong conviction that if we let go of this anchor we become theological flounders letting the seas of theology carry us more towards the ideas of men than of God. As believers we are simply trying to BELIEVE that what God said will happen, will actually happen in the exact way He said it. So, if you might be one who doesn’t believe these things, then Paul strongly recommends that you “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves…” (2 Cor. 13:5). It is unnecessary to argue over who is right, when at the fundamental level of the argument is the premise of belief and unbelief in the things God has said having a very literal fulfillment in real time and space. Friends, do not perish unto death because you have convinced yourself the Bible says something different than it plainly says. I will show you a better way––believe what it plainly says! I find it comforting to simplify the argument with one scripture. In Proverbs 2 God gives us a very important clue to “finding the knowledge of God” which just means, understanding what God already understands. He says,

“My son, if you will receive My words…then you will find the knowledge of God and discern the fear of the Lord.”

Those of us adhering to a literal interpretation of Scripture are simply trying to receive His words. At the most fundamental level we are very practically accepting what God said at face value, which is receiving what He said literally. While many cannot receive His words because they change them to mean something different later in the story, we are of those  who are at rest receiving Him at His word and longing for the day that every jot and tittle from the law is fulfilled, like He said it would be.

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen,” (Romans 16:25-27).

The Gospel From Genesis to Revelation #4: The Covenantal Framework of Scripture

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Introduction to the Covenantal Framework of Scripture

We have now dealt properly with the red diamond of SIN on the diagram and we turn our attention to the large blue SEED just to its right atop pillar two.

The Bible articulates the promised Messiah we’ve previously mentioned as coming forth through the Seed of Eve. This Seed is the topic of study in this pillar and we will observe the passages which relate to how God seeks to bring this Seed into being.

A very physical process ensues to bring this promised Seed forth (we are using Seed synonymously with Promised Messiah, who will be known as Jesus Christ the Son of God when we get there). In order to bring this Seed forth a very long sequence of lineage takes place. Very simply, many men and women will have sexual intercourse, the woman will conceive, and a bloodline is formed in this way until the miraculous conception of Jesus in Mary. Here is another diagram showing the progression of the Messianic Seed through time as we know it.

Messianic Lineage Timeline

(This diagram was made in order to track the biblical Seed and His lineage leading from Adam to Jesus. The purple sections underneath the timeline show this progression of lineage. At a latter time we will discuss the doctrine of chiliasm as it relates to our concept of time as we know it. Again, with a simple grasp on time as we know it and being able to see that the Bible does in fact explain it perfectly causes faith to grow in the hearts of believers. It also blindsides the scientists who say otherwise with a judo chop of truth to the throat. May their unrelenting voices be forever silenced by the word of God!)

The Gospel is Covenantal 

This pillar of good news is called covenantal because of the covenantal framework God uses in Scripture to be the mechanism by which His promises are fulfilled. God’s covenants serve as documented treaties containing words He spoke and will thus cause to happen. When we read the promise in Genesis 3:15 we actually behold God making a covenant. Since God is not a man that He would lie (Num. 23:19), everything He says is covenantal in nature. Meaning, it is impossible for what God has said to not be fulfilled. 

This is the inherent nature of His identity as Creator. What He speaks––is. What He has spoken He has brought forth, as seen in creation of the earth, man, and Israel. When God speaks, what He says is irrevocable. Thus, when God says to the serpent in Gen. 3:15, “the Seed will crush your head,” this promise is unable to be altered, changed, or affected by the freewill of men. It is critical to understand and grab ahold of this principle as we continue in our study.

For the sake of clarity let us first consider God’s covenant with creation in Genesis 1. Although in the first pillar we could have defined this, it was better to wait until it could be explained within the framework of covenantal. We will be as brief as possible, but we must consider several sections of Scripture to make this point.

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; 15and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth'”; and it was so. 16God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.17God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day,” (Gen. 1:14-19).

Here we see that God told the sun and moon and stars in the heavens to govern the day and the night. God spoke this and the sun and moon are still doing what He told them to do almost 6000 years later. This confirms our simple point. God spoke the sun into being and gave it its orders––rise and be a light. By nature of who God is, and that what He says always happens, a covenant of sorts was made with the sun. It can’t stop rising because God commanded it to rise daily. The sun is actually unable to stop its rising until God has fixed a day for the sun to be darkened…(cf. Mt. 24, Mk. 13, Lk. 21, Rev. 6, Zech. 14). However, there is more.

The second thing God says about these celestials is that they be for signs. This is described in more detail in Psalm 19:1-6.

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.”

Here the Psalmist is declaring that the objects in the heavens are actually testifying to something by just being there – i.e. being a sign. The primary definition of sign is:

an object, quality, or event whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else.

As the very epitome of this definition the presence of the sun, moon, and stars are indicating the presence of their Creator. They are the celestial witnesses of the Creator. They circle the entire earth daily indicating to every person that there is One who made them and ordered them to do what they are doing. They’re basically saying, “Someone greater than us made us do this!”

Here we again see that God has attached the revelation of His identity to His creation and His creation is simply testifying about Him. We also behold the power of God’s covenant and that it cannot be broken since the sun rises every day declaring that God’s covenant with creation stands. It is contextually odd to consider the magnitude of what the sun is heralding and simply relegate it to a piece of science of the solar system.

The point is simple, but we needed to set it in its context to establish this point: God made creation within the framework of a covenant. We have become desensitized to the fact that these heavenly objects serve as covenantal signs to humans telling them that their Creator is still faithful to His covenant made with man in the garden. The sun rises everyday to validate the veracity of Genesis 1 and to testify that God is not done with mankind––His covenant stands as strong as the beams of the sun––and He will finish what He intended in the beginning. Can you hear the sun saying that today?

Covenantal Lineage

God sets forth to fulfill the covenantal promise He makes in Genesis 3:15 within the confines of the reality He has created––the heavens, the earth and men. Thus, He brings forth a lineage on the earth through man. I’m hoping that the dead horse I’m kicking is beginning to rear up in your spirit like a wild stallion kicking the air.

In Genesis 6:17-18 we see God confirm that He is in fact acting upon what He has previously promised through choosing to preserve Noah and His family through judgment.

“Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. 18“But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”

What is this covenant God is speaking of? It is simply the continuance of the promise of Genesis 3:15. He is simply saying to Noah ,”I am continuing the promise of the Seed that will be born through you and your family by saving your lives from the judgment of the flood.” Thus, Noah and His family (a lineage) are preserved in the midst of the cataclysmic waters.

Interestingly, in keeping with His covenantal nature, God preserves the animals that He had made to fill the earth as well. He did this because He had limited His own options according His words in Genesis 1–– He had made them and called them good and thus they also will serve a purpose on the earth forever.

19“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20“Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive.

And indeed after the messiah comes we still animals,

“And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them.”

What a spectacular God we serve! He will by all means fix everything that occurred because of mans choice to sin.

Israel, The Sun and The Moon

Now, let us not forget a very important passage as we hasten through these Scriptures. We will certainly go much further in depth regarding the promises to Israel in future sessions, but God mentions Israel here––in relation to the signs in the heavens. Therefore, we must be faithful to mention her also.

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.” Jeremiah 31:35-36

And here, we behold yet again God’s wisdom in ball-and-chaining Himself to these promises. The limitless God of all power who made the heavenly objects and their circuits reminds, and even warns, that those of us who behold them better not forget that as long as they stay in the sky above our small heads HE WILL FULFILL HIS PROMISE TO ABRAHAM. The next session will delve the details of those promises and yet this foreshadow is intriguingly necessary for us all. We should tremble at such words.

The Sign of the Rainbow

God emphasizes his covenant with Noah dramatically in Genesis 9:8-17. We can summarize here by simply acknowledging the sign God gives Noah––the rainbow. Again, our minds might immediately try to rationalize why rainbows exist, but this is unnecessary when the bible explicitly tells us why in verse 17- 

“This (rainbow) is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” 

Hence, today, the sign of the rainbow that still cuts the dark sky in its majestic brilliance proves that God’s covenant to bring the restoration spoken of in Genesis 3:15 still stands firm! It has been unaltered, un-swayed, and incontestable with the rainbow still making its public speeches daily (assuming here that with all the rainfall on earth at least one rainbow becomes visible every single day since Noah).

The sign of the rainbow actually serves to also confirm our previous point regarding God’s covenant with creation. As Gen. 9 says, God put the rainbow in the sky to testify of His covenant, “…this is the sign of the covenant between you and Me…”. Uniquely, the rainbow is the only other thing in the heavens, aside from the sun, moon, and stars that has been created and put there to tell us something. 

The exact same Hebrew word that is used to describe the function of the sun, moon, and stars in Genesis 1, is also used to describe the purpose of the rainbow.

אוֹת: sign, pledge of covenant, הַבְּרִית ׳א (see ברית) e.g.rainbow, of Noachian covenant. (http://biblehub.com/hebrew/226.htm)

I wonder if you find this as stunning as I do. We should be inserting the mind=blown emoticon here. The Bible actually confirms that the simple sun, moon, stars, and rainbow – all things that we take for granted daily, are serving humankind with the sign of God’s covenant! They are testifying that Genesis is real and the God who wrote it is trustworthy. How extraordinary! When the sun rises every morning, it is simply declaring the good news of God’s covenant with the earth and man. When the moon shines through the darkness of the night it is testifying that His light will eventually triumph over darkness through the covenants He’s made. When the rainbow appears after a storm, how significant that is––that no matter how hard the rain falls and how fierce the lightning and thunder may strike, His covenant with Noah’s lineage and covenant to restore the earth cannot be refuted! We stand in awe of His sheer genius and His ways!

Double rainbow in a meadow, Silt, Colorado, U.S.

Mind=Blown (Just because you needed to see this picture a second time)

Pondering the Genesis of the Rainbow

Rainbows are fascinating to say the least. Usually eclipsing torrential rains, they appear out of nowhere. One moment there is wind and chaos, and the next there is peace and glory.

Have you considered that the outer-ring is red and the inner-ring blue? If the rainbow is a sign then maybe it means something…? What about the appearance of the light within the rainbow being brighter than the darkness outside, separated only by the arch of brilliant colors? Is this also serving as a sign? Could it be that within the promise God made to Noah is the pure light of good news canopied by the vivid shades of the bow and dividing it from the darkness of the flood-judgment just witnessed? Do you know that Isaiah 4 mentions a canopy of this sort?

5then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. 6There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain…” Is. 4:5-6

Isaiah 4 is the Millennial Jerusalem after Messiah’s second coming. It is the time as we read above of lions and lambs befriending one another.  There are two other places that directly mention the rainbow: Revelation 4 and Ezekiel 1.

Revelation 4 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

Ezekiel 1 28As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.

Now, this is purely conjecture, but I’m just trying to put two and two together here. What if the canopy mentioned in Isaiah 4 is that same rainbow around the throne in Revelation 4 and the same glory identified in Ezekiel 1? What if the rainbow is directly related to God’s own personal glory revealed and He openly shares it with man?

Does it not have that same intense draw of beauty? What I am saying is this: The rainbow could potentially be far more than we perceive.

What was going through the mind of the Godhead in those days and nights when the floodwaters covered the earth? If God has no delight in the death of the wicked, then we must presume He was experiencing grief. His prized creation had turned in complete rebellion against him and the thoughts and intents of their hearts had become only evil, all the time (cf. Gen. 6:5.) This would’ve grieved Him.

Imagine building an illustrious model train set that filled an entire room. Tunnels and hills fill the platform upon which all the trains you’ve put together run along the tracks doing what you made them to do. Imagine the beauty of the huge interlocked vessels of trains chugging along as one functioning organism. Now picture the trains suddenly going haywire––backwards, derailing, crashing into each other––they move out of control until they all lay on their sides smoking and ruined. All of your hard work lies bleeding before you, unable to fix itself.

However, in the pandemonium one train on the tracks is still doing what you made it to do. We will call this train Noah and his lineage. You put your hand upon that train and drive it through the chaotic wreckage carefully. You take the time to clean the tracks of debris so that the train can continue its journey. You still have a plan for what you made and it will fulfill its complete circuit from point a to point b.

I imagine the Godhead doing something like this. There they sit in grief over what they have just had to do upon the earth. Their hand was forced to manifest justice, and indeed it testifies to the future judgment. But, the hope of Their redemptive plan rises within Them. Just as the dove flies back through the window of Noah’s ark, Jesus turns to the Father and the Holy Spirit says what Jesus is already thinking. The thought comes through to the Father like a champion across the finish line:

“I’ve got it Father! The gigantic bow above our throne that reaches from one end of the heavens to the other creating a magnificent full-color spectrum as a canopy over us––let’s put it over Noah’s family’s heads! Then they will know that the promise is firm!” The Father nods as His eyes light up. “Son… I love it! And… We will cause it to appear after billions of rains from here forward so that it reminds our creation that We will be faithful to what we’ve said.” The Holy Spirit erupts in praise and all the angels fall down in glorification of their undefiled wisdom and unparalleled ingenuity. 

Really?! Who could have ever thought of a rainbow? It lives outside the boundaries of human ideas. Men make cars that we paint to try and make them shiny. God makes rainbows. Maybe after the event of judgment upon the earth He wanted to give something to man so personal that He took it from His own throne room. There it sits in the skies today, the very object that is only mentioned in the Bible as relating to God’s immediate presence.

Let us grow in appreciation when we see this grand sign in the heavens and acknowledge the long-suffering and faithfulness of God in tarrying with wicked men throughout this age! He will accomplish the final redemption foretold and the rainbow proves it.

23-rainbow-photography

Third times a charm.

 

The Gospel From Genesis to Revelation #3: The Account of Eden

5 Pillars of Biblical Theology Timeline- Theological Terms
5 Pillars of Biblical Theology Timeline-Laymans Terms

Eden Photo

Approaching Eden

Does the book of Genesis exhilarate you? Do you find within its chapters a mind-easing peace that silences the buzzing voices of men? Genesis is exactly as it stands––our planet and our kind’s genesis––our beginning. At this very moment men sit in laboratories across the earth spending millions of dollars trying to understand these very origins. Is it not unique that you can open up the Bible and find the very answer they are searching for? The implications of such knowledge leading to such incredible groundbreaking conclusions should exhilarate us, catching our hearts aflame in such wonderful truth! But… it’s not that simple is it? Although Genesis should surprise us with revitalized hope in the Creator, it often has the opposite effect. Is it a lack of faith in the words found there? Do we find it to be incomprehensible? Or do we find it to be too simple of an explanation? The mystery of existence, as simple as it might be, plagues the human frame – tricking many into thinking that they must find a much more complicated formula to solve its problem- while many others can bask in the rays of a simple sun that was formed by the hands of a Being much more capable than the men in white lab coats.

In the first pillar we tackled a good section of Scripture defining the creational nature of the good news in the Bible. Everything we will discuss hereafter is built upon the immoveable foundation of Genesis 1-3 as not only being literal but also God-breathed. Despite skepticism, we must lay this foundation and stand upon it confidently so that our interpretation of Scripture doesn’t waver after Genesis. If we do not establish a plumb line of interpreting Scripture here, would not everything thereafter be ambiguous and open to interpretation instead of being consistently understood at face value? We therefore hold to the literal interpretation of Genesis so that the Bible can make its own sense thereafter. It can be trusted to mean what it says, so to speak.

When approaching Genesis I often find that many Christians have become desensitized and apathetic about the unique Edenic beginning. An accumulation of thousands of pieces of science and literature heralded from the strength and wisdom of men in our modern era has forced the creation account in our Bible to become stigmatized and held in question. In many circles today, it is culturally cool and relevant to be skeptical about the reality of Genesis 1-3. Many modern teachers treat it as creative poetry and beautiful allegory, but not as a true and literal account of the origins of existence. As believers we reject this nonsense and firmly adhere to the story of The Garden of Eden no matter how far fetched it sounds to our so called “modern” minds. The perfect mind of Adam was not created modern––It was created pure. Let that sink in.

Writing off the words of Genesis as creative allegory is a travesty to the God who has gone to such great lengths to tell us how and why we exist. What great betrayal to take His words and make them friendly fantasy! We should consider it the mercy of God that He would explain the very existence we reside within and make it accessible in a book that we can read at any time we desire. If need be, take the time now to stop and repent of self-entitlement and of the idea that we deserve more than this. To have a heart aligned with thankfulness for His precious words and an explanation of existence in Genesis is to give Him deserving honor, and a praiseworthy person will do so.

Faith in the words of the Bible is what separates believers from unbelievers. One believes the words found there, and others distrust them. Our trust and belief in the Bible’s words and the degree we put those words into faith through works, is the foundation of our evaluation on the Day of the Lord. It is by no means a nonchalant matter. Though it is sometimes difficult and darn near foolish to believe this account, considering the endless formulas of information championed by the world today, if we choose to believe God, like Abraham it will be accredited to us as righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). Let us take up the shield of faith then and extinguish the flaming arrows of man’s arrogant presentations and evaluations of reality. Let us cast down the lofty arguments of what man believes he knows about time as we know it and rather trust God’s account in the Bible with confidence and boldness while maintaining a spirit of love and gentleness.

Friends, it is pertinent that we see the dire need to re-sensitize ourselves to the veracity of the Edenic account. Alas, I can already hear the gasps of my precious liberal brothers, and the hissing of brilliant modern lips. The Facebook engines are gearing up to incite everything they know against the words I’ve just said. Make no mistake friends! It doesn’t take much discernment to evaluate that it is those of us who hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible who are slowly becoming criminalized and made the shortsighted, unsympathetic thinkers with small Neanderthal-like minds, unable to adapt our outdated ways of thinking to the “brilliance” and reasoning of modern science. In this we rejoice, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before us.

The Edenic Account and the Beginning of Sin

If we believe this account to be literal we can turn our attention to the bad news that qualifies God’s reciprocation of good news. As you see in the diagram, the bad news is the red diamond entitled SIN. God’s interaction with man from the garden, to expulsion from Eden, unto final restoration in the second Eden (the New Jerusalem) is the grand story of Scripture and the truly elementary, linear storyline of our Bible. We perceive the Bible as we would any other story. It is linear and it progresses from point A to point B, from beginning to end; it is not cyclical, but rather set upon a distinct course to achieve a certain purpose. This purpose is God’s original intention for Himself, man, and the earth. His purpose will be fulfilled.

In Genesis 2:8 we behold this truth. After God created everything good He “planted a garden towards the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.” This beautiful truth resounds in our hearts! God’s creation was so personal to Him that He planted a special garden in the midst of the entire earth and put His prized possession in this garden for the divine purpose of interaction with him.

Then God made the first woman as a suitable partner for Adam, and Eve lived there in blissful paradise together with Adam– naked, unashamed, and without any knowledge of sin. Perfection. Naivety was young and knowledge was pure. Man’s unceasing veracious hunger to know everything and “figure it out” lay lifeless, buried in the confines of a simple confidence and security in their divine Maker. What they needed to know was there… within Him. He was the literal and physical embodiment of everything they knew, experienced, and were fulfilled in. What they didn’t need to know hung from the tree in the center of the garden.

This original interaction was man relating to God as the Sovereign Creator whom he should obey. His obedience was an act of love in relationship to His maker. The interaction also had the unique dynamic of operating in authority over what God had created while being submitted to God’s authority. Man was under the authority of God and in authority over the earth. We read that this was God’s initial command:

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth,” (Gen. 1:28).

The earth had been entrusted to Adam and Eve to rule over and this was God’s original desire. This authority was given to them as long as they obeyed His original statute.

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die,” (Gen. 2:9-17). 

This was the epic fullness of man’s reality in the beginning of time as we know it. This was pure original innocence. Adam and Eve lived within the boundaries of a lush green space that the God who had created them planted as the place of encounter. The simplicity of such a scene serves well to inform our biblical theology. What God desires actually never becomes more complicated than this original serene reality.

The solution to re-enter this garden again also never becomes more complicated than this either. We humans must become submitted to His authority in absolute surrender, and at the time of consummation, the end of time as we know it, He will again restore us to this place of authority. The beatitudes are Jesus commentary on this future event and the litmus test for who will reign with Him again. We see this identified specifically in Him saying “Blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth,” (Mt. 5:5).

Also, Daniel 7 makes plain what happens when Jesus returns,

‘Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.’

Admitting that this is our glorious destiny when Jesus returns sets our hope upon His distinct original purpose. The end-goal is simply God obtaining what He intended in the beginning. We can see that the earth and man are not functioning in the innocent roles of perfection they did in the beginning. Therefore, we are processing the what and why of our current situation that is so gravely different than the picture of Genesis. The removal of our authoritarian role is the subject at hand as we consider the bad news of SIN and its detrimental effects upon God’s original plan.

The garden is where our reality begins and ends. We do not understand what made Adam and Eve partake of that fruit when tempted by the serpent, but we do know if we admit what is in our own hearts daily. It was us taking that fruit there with Adam that fateful day and heartily approving I must add! For any one of us to think we would have chosen differently is simply self-righteousness. We must cordially admit that we are sinners, of the seed of Adam, in desperate need of the second Adam to redeem us from these sinful bodies of death that desire as much fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as we can get.

The Bad and Good News

There is no need here to delve into the details surrounding Eden. When seeking to find answers from God, the reply often comes back “What I’ve given you in the Bible is what I wanted you to know.” In humble faith we must accept this. I’ve often shaken my fist at God in frustration that the Edenic account is only those three chapters instead of fifteen! Again the answer returns the same from the Lord and I realize that the desire in me is most likely based upon the very same desire that drove the first primogenitures (firstborn children) to the fruit of that tree.

The simple point in Eden is that there was a simple display of obedience required by God from humans, “Do not eat of the tree.” A grave disobedience occurred however, and man ate of that tree. What happened next explains the current state of the world. Man was expelled from the garden of perfection. The serpent that tempted Eve was cursed and the earth itself was cursed. Eve and Adam were both disciplined by God in their expulsion from the garden, and the state of the earth from then on would also be a resounding discipline of their disobedience. We behold this truth today in the current grievous state of our world.

The church is often oddly spiritually naïve and hopeful about the world today. It sometimes seems that we feel we are betraying the hope of the Cross and salvation through Jesus blood if we admit things are not getting better. We know our own sinful state, and see the incredibly slow process of sanctification in our wicked hearts, but we somehow perceive that things out there in the world are improving because Jesus died on the Cross two thousand years ago. Friends, the case is actually the opposite. With sober minds we clearly see that everything on this planet is in rebellion against God’s authority, opposed to Him almost completely. The Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus across the earth are the sole representation of a faithful witness of submission to God’s authority. But, even the church at large is near land-sliding into worldly values before our eyes! Yes, Jesus died on the Cross and things will get better when He comes again to make things right! But, right now, things are bad and only getting worse. It doesn’t do Jesus injustice to say this––it’s actually His biblical plan. Think: earthquakes, hurricanes, wicked kings, human-trafficking, poor people, orphans, molestation, family violence, animals eating animals, people murdering people. Good things do not off-set the bad as some seem to think. Let’s keep it simple – things are messed up. Things are not improving. In this current time we are plainly witnessing the result of God’s discipline upon Adam and Eve and the earth for eating the fruit. We are beholding the bad news in its near climax.

Yet, in the wake of such intensely bad news came the dazzling promise of good news. Speaking to the serpent God says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” The literal rendering of the Hebrew is that One will crush the serpent’s head, while the serpent merely bruises this One’s heel.

This is often called the Messianic Promise, or Messianic Expectation––the promise that a Messiah will deliver man from the serpent and from the effects the first event of sin had caused to fall upon them and the earth. This radiant promise came as very good news. In the eye of the hurricane there is peace, and we can live in the peace of this promise while the storm swirls about us. Our ship should remain anchored there within this simple hope.

Most of us remember the first “big sin” we committed. I remember the day, the sunlight in the room, and the feeling in my stomach as it turned over. Imagine you were Adam or Eve, the first man and woman––the first sinners. You eat the fruit and suddenly the nudity that has always been normal and pure turns into shameful nakedness. The realization would be as the sun darkening in a moment. For the first time in your perfect life you feel troubled. In that instant you are lucidly aware that everything is completely different than just a few minutes before. The shades have been drawn, whereas moments before the sunlight illumined everything. Your surroundings are suddenly horribly wrong. You panic as the first experience of fear in the unfamiliarity settles in. You don’t know what you are feeling, but it is terror. Then you hear Him coming… there is a sudden impulse to hide yourself. You crouch down behind a bush to hide for the first time from the Divine One you have confidently stood face to face with, worshipped, loved, and obeyed from your first day until now. Your teeth still dripping with guilt from the blood of the fruit, you pull your lips tight and experience your first wince as emotional pain engulfs the decision you cannot take back. Your vision blurs as something warm and wet comes pouring out of your eyes. You try to make them stop but your first tears keep coming. The Divine One you have confidently stood face to face with, worshiped, loved, and obeyed, is now a person you are afraid of. You want to run out from behind the bush and embrace Him as usual, but you know that you can’t. He is calling your name, “Adam! Where are you?” What was once a sweet melody to your ears now hurts them. His tone is gentle, yet firm, and in it the accusation is clear. You answer Him… you know that He knows. “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree of which I told you not to eat?” On all fours your tears begin soaking the ground in the dirt you were formed from and you can’t look up at Him. You know for the first time that you are guilty and there is nothing you can do to change that.

Imagine the insurmountable grief Adam experienced in those first moments of guilt. I wonder at the look in Adam’s puffy red eyes as the all-knowing Lord of glory peers into them. I also wonder at the look in the Lord of Glory’s eyes. I imagine they were just as red and puffy. He’s the Alpha and the Omega, declaring the end from the beginning, so He knew this would happen––but that does not mean it has no effect on Him. His beloved first creation has rebelled against Him! If He delighted in Adam’s original state, calling it good, He was grieved at his fallen state, knowing it was now bad, in need of redemption that would come at the cost of His own life. We can’t be deluded into thinking that God didn’t possess the foreknowledge of Adam’s sin. We must believe that in order to accomplish the fullness of what God desired in the beginning, this was the wisest way to achieve His ultimate plan. We behold this proclamation of truth in Revelation after all is said and done,

“Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!,” (Rev. 15:3).

He will be praised for His plan, and every person will admit with glorious revelation that what He did was flawless, brilliant, and without error.

In the midst of the atrocious event, God explains that His love must now be manifest in discipline. He addresses the serpent in a very different manner, asking him no questions, nor calling his name, but by simply cursing him to his belly. Then God being rich in mercy gives the promise that He’ll crush the head of the serpent who deceived them. Ultimately, this is the promise of eternal life,

“…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,” (Titus 1:2).

When my son has committed a disobedience to my authority, he often runs away from me also. He is ashamed of what he’s done, knowing it was wrong. I take him in my arms and explain to him that I must spank him. After this spanking we pray together and ask His Holy Spirit for help to choose obedience. I then tell him there is good news! God has promised that one day he will be delivered from disobedience and enabled to never sin again! I remind him that there is a day when the serpent who originally deceived us will be crushed and this sinful life will be swallowed whole into life eternal! If I were to simply take him out for a pizza and not address his sin, this would only produce in him the hope of having a pizza after his next act of disobedience. This would accomplish nothing. If however I fix his hope upon that grand promise of deliverance, he has an anchor that cannot be moved, a salvation reserved for him in heaven, imperishable and undefiled (cf. 1 Peter 1). This teaches my son in the endgame of the good news just as Adam was taught that very day in the garden.

Understanding the Good News

The good news at this stage is God’s commitment to crush the head of the serpent, and in doing so deliver the earth and man from the disciplinary curses that came upon them because of their sin.

If you or I were God, we would have most likely thrown out the whole idea of relating to men in that moment. As God, He had every right to do this––except that He had already connected His very own identity and image to the earth and these humans! He was committed to bring forth what He foresaw in the beginning. This is what Paul is articulating in the Titus introduction above.

The wonderful thing about this promise is that it is not just about forgiveness of sins––this promise embodies complete and total deliverance from sin and its effects upon the whole of man and the earth! Here we see that the very genesis of good news is fixed upon its final revelation! The beginning is highlighting the end! It is because of this that we must also remain apocalyptic (restoration focused) in our theology, since the very promise directly after man’s fall from the garden is end-focused in nature. We can therefore join that song of faith in Revelation even now, laying down our questioning of God regarding the Edenic account, and agree, singing, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!” 

In summary, there is only one end game in Scripture concerning men. Men believe the good news and then meet its requirements in order to inherit eternal life, or men do not inherit eternal life, and the bad news of Scripture overtakes them. There is only one narrative in the Bible and it possesses these two outcomes. The first is hope filled and delivered by God in hope that men would repent of their wickedness; the latter, God takes no delight in,

“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'” (Ez. 33:11).

And although He does not delight in their death, He has fixed this eternal death as the discipline for those who reject the conditions of His good news. He will endure the displeasure of their death for the sake of rewarding the righteous.

This brief introduction was necessary to set the context so that we are envisioning the same biblical picture. Everything that takes place after this is merely the outplay of the story resulting from this one event. It is imperative that we connect an understanding of the good news given in the beginning as relating to the final restoration of all things and the inheritance of eternal life. Without this anchor resting on the seafloor of Scripture we at best flounder around the biblical seas wondering where it is all going.

On that dreadful day the wave of sin crashed down upon the age old shore of innocence. In its wake the tide of hope rises still, soon to consume that beach of treachery! The sun before long will rise over that ancient ocean line and the deluge of redemption and salvation will wash us into the kingdom of grace. Even so, Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

The Gospel From Genesis to Revelation #2: Introduction and Pillar One

5 Pillars of Biblical Theology Timeline

The Gospel in the Bible is deliberated over in its definition. What is this Gospel that we as Christians hold to and preach? The word Gospel in greek is simply a direct translation of “good news.” Therefore, whenever the word Gospel is heard, it should immediately register the phrase good news in ones mind. So, when approaching the question of “What is the Biblical Gospel?”, we are actually approaching the question of “What is the good news in the Bible?”. Many emphasize different things in their explanation, however we emphasize the approach of taking the entire Bible as our context for definition, not only particular events within it.

The most common answer is probably: Jesus died on the Cross for sinners to be forgiven of their sins and live with Him forever. Although this statement is true, and glorious, it does not embody the fullness of the actual good news found in the Bible––it is actually quite lacking. That may come as a surprise to you as it did to me several years ago. Sometimes people think it’s degrading to the Cross to even say it this way, but it is quite the contrary and actually adds the most glory to the event of the Cross. Let’s explain why.

Yes, the good news in the Bible is the simple fact that men can inherit eternal life through the death of Jesus on the Cross. This is true. Nevertheless, the means and foundation by which men do so is the entire narrative of Scripture, beginning long before the Cross and terminating long after. It is this entire story that explains and encapsulates the good news explaining why Jesus died. Without the previous information that defines the context of the Cross, the Cross would be a stand alone event lacking its rich heritage. Many people died on crosses during the early first century, but only one was the promised Jewish Messiah who was the son of David, son of Abraham (Mt. 1:1). The good news of the cross is not tied to another story, but we must attach it to the story from which it has come or we do not give it the glory it deserves–– the glory Jesus deserves.

If we simply say that the good news is forgiveness of sins, we are not presenting the Gospel that the apostles preached. If the news of the Bible is indeed good, shouldn’t we know, understand, and be able to properly articulate it to others so that they can share in its good? The hope in this series of posts is to spur one another on in the truth of the Bible so that all together we could  “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints,” (Jude 1:3) as Jude exhorts.

Paul also confirms,

“Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior,” (Titus 1:1-3).

These two verses summarize the point in the importance of our task. Jude exhorts us to contend earnestly for the faith that was actually handed down. Paul explains that He also was chosen for the purpose of “the faith… and knowledge of the truth…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, and that these things are given in the proclamation of the very good news we are discussing. There was a faith that was handed down– from whom? There is a proclamation that has been entrusted–What is it?

Paul candidly tells us in Romans 1:

“1Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” 

Paul has been set apart as an apostle (representative) of the Gospel (good news) which God promised beforehand in His prophets and Holy Scriptures concerning His Son who is the promised Son of David (2 Samuel 7). In other words, this good news regarding the inheritance of eternal life began a long time ago and has a very detailed progression regarding its relation to human beings and our salvation which is its final realization. No one would argue that the gospel doesn’t result in salvation, as Paul even explicitly emphasizes that the gospel is the “power of God to salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” (Rom. 1:16). If this good news results in men inheriting eternal life, and it began long ago as revealed in God’s Holy Scriptures and through His prophets, we should desire to comprehend the fullness of His Gospel for ourselves and for the sake of others.

Rom. 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

How the Diagram Works

In looking at the diagram in the above link, you can see that we are using a simple linear timeline beginning with the Biblical creation and ending with the Biblical consummation. It is important to understand that this linear timeline is the Biblical representation of time as we know it. Before time as we know it, there was God, and we don’t know anything about that time––except that there was God. When God created the heavens and the earth, our time, and you could say history as we know it, began. This is often theologically called redemptive history. Our Bible follows a simple linear progression throughout the Scriptures from it’s stated beginning until now, and also predicts the future events which culminate in the end of time as we know it.

This delineation in Scripture is usually distinguished by separating this age from the age to come. We are currently in this age, the age which began after the fall of Adam from the garden. The age to come begins when God as divine author of time ends this age Himself and begins the next age (Mt. 12:32, 13:39; Lk. 18:30; Mk. 10:30). This diagram uses this method because Jesus Himself taught this appropriate distinction between the ages in a very distinct fashion.

36Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” 37And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40“So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41“The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43“Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

In this way we should understand time. This age will have a decisive end, not transitionally through the “church age,” but suddenly through the Messiah’s return.

Holding up this linear understanding of time as we know it, are five pillars. These five pillars are five Biblical points upon which the good news of our Bible incontestably sits. We know this because of what the apostles preached consistently through the book of acts. They appear in chronological order on the diagram just as they have been revealed in the Scriptures. Within each pillar is a small segment of wealth from the Scriptures showing how the Bible truly emphasizes each of the five Biblical pillars. The diagram is meant to function as a whole with all five pillars being emphasized equally. Many theological camps focus on one or two pillars, and sometimes three as the drive of their personal theological stance. However, desiring to be a faithful witness, it cannot be our agenda to choose certain “pillars” to emphasize. We must adhere to the entire account of Scripture and each pillar God emphasizes therein! Therefore, in this diagram we seek to emphasize what God has emphasized in the entirety of the Bible, rather than what man emphasizes in his opinions. To be a faithful witness we must say what God said, and add nothing else to it. In this light we have made this diagram to speak for itself from the Scriptures therein. The words provided as commentary in this post will hopefully not stray into theological opinion but stay centered on the text itself. We are not seeking to form some new theological camp in this feat, but rather trying to be as biblically consistent as possibly regarding what is revealed in Scripture.

The goal of this diagram is that with your Bible and a chunk of time devoted to prayer and study of these Scriptures, you can actually fluently understand the point of the Bible, it’s framework, and gain a solid theological foundation of its good news. We have seen and experienced that a simple understanding of the linear story-line of the Bible sets the human heart free to press on towards the goal of the upward calling of eternal life in Christ Jesus. This is personally the case for us, those we personally know and others we’ve mentored. When a man truly puts His life in context to the good news of God’s story, conversion happens deep within the heart convincing the man to lose his only life and be found in the only living Savior. Hopefully you also will believe in this good news and be able to live the Christian life in freedom to stand before Jesus in confidence giving Him account to that which He revealed in His Bible.

The Gospel is Creational

The first pillar of the good news emphasized in the Bible is that it is creational, because “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” (Gen. 1:1). God made everything we can see in the earth and above the earth. Possessing a biblical worldview hinges entirely upon this literal creation being true. We cannot emphasize enough the pertinence of this biblical principle. If we remove Genesis 1:1 from a literal interpretation, then Genesis 1:2 through Revelation 22:21 can also be in question of its divine authority. Therefore we dramatically call attention to the fact that the entire existence of experiential physical reality in which humans live and breathe was thought of and brought into being by the God of the Bible in Genesis 1.

The way that the Bible proves this creational identity which God possesses to be true is through showing His sovereign authority over the things which He has created. God exercises dominion over the things He has made. In Genesis 7-9 we behold the account of the flood. In this account, God decides that He is going to send rain upon the earth, and cause the fountains of the great deep within the earth to burst open resulting in cataclysmic waters that cover the entire planet. God decides this, and then God does it. We see in this true account the simple principle: God is proven to have created the heavens and the earth, because He can do with them as He pleases. He has authority to act in any and every instance in the way He pleases and there is nothing that can interrupt, sway, or change His plan.

Lets say I possess a toy car that I have hand-carved out of wood. If I decide to take that toy car and polish it, I will. If I also decide to drive the toy car off a cliff, I will. I have sovereign authority over this car because I made it and I will do with it as I please. The same concept applies to God’s sovereignty over creation. Albeit, in a much larger and unequivocal scale, it is ALL of existence, not a toy car, that we are equating in relation to God’s ownership of the heavens, the earth, and man.

Now we move on to the next Scripture on the diagram.

In Genesis 14:19; 22, Melchidezek and Abraham announce their understanding of the identity of the one called God by naming Him “the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth.” The word for possessor equally means creator, but each meaning emphasizes the same point. They believed that there was a most high God who created and possessed everything they knew to exist.

In Exodus chapters 7-11 we see God again exercise sovereignty over His creation by doing miraculous things. He proves He is creator by changing water into blood. He created both, He can turn either into either. He follows this sign with 9 others. He brings frogs into the land by His command and turns dust into gnats. He brings swarms of flies upon Egypt. He shows his reigning authority over life in killing the Egyptian cattle. He makes sores break out on the skin of people and makes fire and ice fall together from the sky to the ground. He calls locusts to plague the land and He causes three days of darkness to envelop all of Egypt. He even distinguishes Himself with power by causing the last 5 plagues to not affect the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived. Finally God shows his ultimate authority and sovereignty over human life by killing the firstborn in the houses of those without lambs blood on their door. Again, God decided to act and there was nothing to stop, interrupt, or sway Him from accomplishing what He desired. He perfectly proves again His sovereign power over His creation and His divine possession of everything within it.

When we arrive to verses such as Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lords and all it contains, the world and those who dwell therein,” the exclamation mark is made again. God created and therefore owns and exercises authority over all existence. Psalm 104 (which should be meditated upon for many hours) stands alone as a truly remarkable Psalm in relating to God’s sovereignty. The Psalm says in the second verse that God covers Himself with light as with a cloak, and has stretched out heaven like a tent curtain. As we would pitch a tent when camping, God has pitched the heavens into place. This is remarkable. The Psalmist goes as far to say that God “causes the grass to grow on the mountains,” relating God’s productive (productive in the sense of being the sole producer) activity even in the simplest things such as grass growing. God is causing every blade of grass that you’ve ever seen to grow. This should amaze us. He is paying scrutinizing attention to the details of His creation, even each blade of grass. Psalm 104 could be seen as a type of commentary on Psalm 24:1, with verse after verse of God’s sovereign involvement with His possession.

Isaiah 40 is the grand rhetorical question and answering chapter from God regarding the oceans of the earth which sit within the palm of His hand, the heavens which were measured out by His hand’s span, and the dust and mountains which He weighed upon scales so that the earth is balanced (v.12). These verses are not metaphorical, and His careful calculations have held the earth in balance and in place from the day He spoke until today. When verse 23 finally arrives we see His sovereignty over the people on the earth that rise into and fall out of power. Daniel later confirms this when speaking to Nebuchadnezzar, saying, “He removes Kings and establishes Kings,” (Dan. 2:21). Nebuchadnezzar then himself confirms the point we have sought to make in this section by saying “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?‘” (Daniel 4:35). 

Isaiah 42:5 affirms God’s sovereignty over the earth and life yet again. “Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it…”. This is one of only a few passages that give a clear understanding that God is not only providing air within the earth to breathe, but actually giving it into the lungs of people making their spirit to be alive. God is making life happen in you and I at this very moment––we are not merely living because we breathe.

As a final word on the creational identity which God alone holds we turn to the words of His Son. “For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will,” (Mk. 13:19). I love this verse because it pitches creational and eschatological together in one. Jesus confirms that God created the heavens and the earth directly, and then confirms the time of tribulation which will occur at the end of all things when God finally sets out to complete His final acts of sovereignty over His creation. What a beautiful paradox Jesus!

Here we behold the good news of the Gospel being creational: God created all things and exercises His authority over them. Creation wasn’t chance. It wasn’t a big bang. The earth and it’s inhabitants haven’t changed through evolution, because, “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done,” (Gen. 2:2). This very blatantly suggests that God’s work in created reality as we know it, was entirely finished, not to be altered or changed by anyone other than Him, after the sixth day. God rested because He was unshakably confident in what He had done and how things would turn out–He was not tired!

The earth is not millions of years old. All of those perspectives displace good news and cause the traffic of questionable news to arise in our fleshly hearts. God does not present His news in this way. However, if we come with a simple faith to Genesis 1 and allow it to be interpreted literally, we behold the beauty of a wise, all-knowing, all powerful, and completely sovereign God who interacts within His creation in the most dynamic way. Truly, He is causing everything to happen right now within the confines of the sum-total of reality as we know it. His interest in humans should cause us to stand in awe as David does in Psalm 8 “What is man that you are mindful of Him?” and we should tremble with fear that, as men, we will give account to Him for our faith in what His word says concerning this.

God’s Creational Sovereignty Over Man

While peering into the wonder of God’s creational power and authority over the earth, we also see this same supremacy exercised over men. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us the history of how man came to exist.

“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

And,

Genesis 2:7 “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” 

Maybe this hasn’t struck you like this in a while? Because of the indoctrination of evolution and the age of science where mans knowledge has become authority, we become slowly desensitized to the electric veracity of these passages. God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. This is the complete and unadulterated truth of our existence.

Again we turn to the flood account in Genesis chapters 6-9. If God breathed life into His creation, He is the only one who possesses the right to that breath. He has a divine reservation to take the breath away when He chooses whether the breath is or is not being used to glorify Him. Although the flood is very apologetically hard to deal with (concerning many deaths), and difficult for our human hearts to bear due to lack of understanding, God removes the breath from the nostrils of every human being alive on the earth save the 8 of Noah and his family. It is done out of grief and sorrow (c.f Gen. 6:6) and it is done without asking anyone’s permission. God decides by His own will and authority that it is time to take their lives as a judgment upon wickedness, and then He caused the rains to fall above them and the great deep to burst open under their feet drowning them in the aquatic deluge. Although our hearts might rise up in offense at this, those of us currently reading remain alive in this very moment only because He wills. Let us praise Him for this gift of life and be thankful that all of His ways are just and true. Let us fear rather than accuse!

Job 33:4 and 6 articulate the way that Job perceived his life in relation to God’s creative identity. “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life… Behold, I belong to God like you; I too have been formed out of the clay.” Here the point is confirmed from the mouth of the man weighed down by the freedom of God to disrupt his life and do as He liked. He recognized that He had been made by God and that God’s spirit was his direct and only source of life after being formed out of the clay. Here though we also see a descriptive word that furthers our understanding of our existence. Job says that he belongs to God… like other men. In other words, job sees himself as God’s possession. This is powerful.

Although it is a little more heartbreaking to employ the wooden car toy analogy again here, we must see its value. If the car belongs to me, I can do with it as I like because it is mine. Although our motives are selfish and sinful, God’s never are. We are of far greater value to him than inanimate objects. We are of even more value to him than animate objects like sparrows and the flowers of the field! All these things belong to him, but He has given His own breath of life into man. Our belonging is very personal to God and only He has reserve upon the lives of men.

In Job chapters 1 and 2 we see that even satan, usually equated by many to be the “other great power at work in the world,” has a sort of policy he has to follow when entering God’s presence. I find it almost laughable and wonder that God may have even set it in place simply to annoy satan. It appears God always asks satan the same question: “From where do you come?” and then satan always answers the same way “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” Maybe my opinion is of no value, but let me explain. Regardless of how satan has been put in the place where he is, God is emphatically in complete control over him. Since He is God, maybe He set in place an annoying dialogue exchange that satan has to follow every time He enters God’s presence? Regardless, when satan speaks to God, God gives direct commands regarding what satan is allowed to do. Because God says “spare his life,” satan is forbidden and furthermore unable to challenge this command from God. There is no satanic trump card that somehow overpowers God’s will. Often times we give satan the credit for someones death and or some mass tragedy. While satan may have been the tool God used to bring calamity, we must have firm security and faith that God alone makes these decisions Himself because only He exercises sovereign authority over human life––not satan.

Elihu then capitalizes on Job’s statement about life and spirit in 34:14-15. “If He should determine to do so, if He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” If in one moment God decided to inhale into His own lungs all of the breath of life serving the earth with life itself, in that moment it would perish altogether and cease to exist. Selah.

By the time that God responds to Job in the end of the book and makes His tornadic entry we can gather that He is about to make a very serious point regarding Job’s questioning Him of “Why?” From the whirlwind we hear nearly 130 verses of God’s ideas about Himself. God always tells the truth. We could cite any number of these verses but the very first thing God says to Job basically sums it up, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Right there we have a full-stop that no man can trespass. Like a cartoon character suddenly plowing into the concrete wall and falling down a pancake, Job is immediately flattened to silence. After God’s firm reprimand we hear Job blubber out the same thing as Nebuchadnezzar, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” The resounding gong of our point is crystallized––God created everything and exercises sovereignty over it to do as He pleases, when He pleases, and nothing and no one can affect or change what He purposes.

Psalm 8 distinguishes itself from many other Psalms because of its creational focus of the heavens and the earth and how man is so small in comparison. The announcement given in verse 5 “You have made him a little lower than God” stresses the situation humans are in––lower than God. This is our created God-given identity and the reason why we are to honor our Creator by attributing to Him the recognition and praise He deserves for what He has made!

We emphasized Isaiah 42:5 earlier so let us take this opportunity to mention another relevant Scripture regarding life. “The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil,” (Prov. 16:4). We cannot perceive this as sadistic in relation to God’s identity, but rather worship Him that He has so graciously revealed truth to as many as will listen and humble themselves before His word.

The Creational Identity of Israel

God specifically says that He has created three things in Scripture and we have only discussed two of them. Now we come to peer into the mystery! Usually when I discuss this it doesn’t seem to quite connect with people. I pray that it can connect with you. The same creational title that God uses for the heavens and the earth and man, he also uses regarding the nation of Israel in the Bible. This point alone stands violently in the face of supercessionism, shaking its fist and demanding an explanation to which there is no response. I pray that we have come to understand by this point the supreme power of God regarding creation. Whether the earth, the heavens, or men, He relates the identity of Creator as being His alone. This identity He is proud of, and it is an equally beneficial identity. God created the earth and he plans on keeping it, which is why restoration is si important in our gospel. God created man, and He plans on keeping them (the ones who choose Him within their life) which is why there is a future resurrection. Since God specifically relates creational identity to Israel, we must come to the same conclusion, He plans on keeping them (the ones who choose Him within their life) and an apocalyptic restoration is planned for them as well.

“(I am the Lord) (your God).” Although I have heard many cite this verse, I have rarely heard anyone expound upon its deep yet simplistic implications. I think we should consider that God is actually applying His identity of God as specific to His relation to Israel. In other words, God is not making a passive statement about being their God as a simple matter-of-fact declaration. God is suggesting Israel’s personal possession of Him as their God and He is emphasizing His ownership of Israel––that they equally possess each other. This is certainly a marriage type analogy. If I say to my wife “I am your husband” there is a relational identity I am seeking to emphasize. It means, “I am not the husband of another woman. I belong to you, and you belong to me.” This is simple to understand, but rarely applied to the many times God says this to Israel in Scripture. How much more is this true when God says it? I believe what God is saying should be understood as, “I am the LORD, your God––I have attached Myself to you personally, and attached you also to Me.” Because God does this, He then takes the liberty in Scripture to use creational language regarding Israel.

Let’s take a short parenthesis here. It is necessary to understand how personal Israel is to God so that after the Cross we don’t confuse the theology concerning Israel in the New Testament. It is of the utmost importance to actually ask God to reveal to you the emotions of His heart concerning Israel in the Scriptures we are looking at. Israel is not just a theological matter, it is the chosen of God’s own heart! We must pray for and seek to understand this in order to be theologically sound in our understanding of the Bible. End parenthesis.

Now let me show you in Scripture what I’m commenting about. Please read this whole passage:)

Deut 4:10-40 10“Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ 11“You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom.12Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice. 13“So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone… 32“Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? 33Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? 34“Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. 36Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. 37“Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, 38driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. 39“Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. 40“So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

I have underlined the verses that utilize very personal language of God regarding Israel. However, I want to specifically highlight verses 35 and 37 which I’ve made bold above. Verse 37 says, “To you it was shown that you might know the Lord.” God showed himself to one people that this one people might know him. You could say, God revealed Himself from heaven to this people, so that this people would know they were His. We’ve discussed regarding the earth and man that God possess them because He created them. Here, God zooms in within the great landscape of mankind and picks a certain people to be His own special 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.

Hopefully this is ringing the bell of understanding within your heart and mind. We are trying to evaluate the creational nature of the nation of Israel in comparison to the earth and man. I’m hoping the Scriptural implications are becoming clear. If God employs the same creational language of possession of the earth and man, to Israel, then the result is paramount! Indeed, let us look to a few pertinent Scriptures that confirm this.

Is. 43:1 “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!”

Is. 43:15 “I am the LORD, your Holy One, The Creator of Israel, your King.”

Is. 43:21 “The people whom I formed for Myself Will declare My praise.”

Is. 44:1-2 “But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, And Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus says the LORD who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.”

Is. 45:11 “Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: ‘Ask Me about the things to come concerning My sons, And you shall commit to Me the work of My hands.'”

We should full-stop here and note a very important principle. God speaks of three things in the Bible that are creational in their identity. The earth, man, and Israel. These share equal importance in Scripture because they each hold the unique quality of being God’s possession. God has created for Himself eternal possessions in the earth, man, and Israel––things He has no plan of giving away. What is the point for God to create something that expires or is replaced? The very nature of His creational identity is that what He creates stands firm without any outside influences affecting them. Since God created man and the earth, they exist right now, they cannot cease to exist. God also created Israel, and they exist right now. An emphatic section of Scripture that relates this principle perfectly is Jer. 31:35-37

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.

Did God just do what we think He did? Yes! God Himself confirms the creational dynamic and its divine interplay by relating creation itself to His created Israel! This is noteworthy and should crystallize in our minds the creational nature of Israel.

Here we have the finale of good news and the foundation upon which Biblical theology is built. God created the earth and He possesses it as His own creation. God created man, and He possesses them as His own creation. God created Israel and He possesses them as His own creation. If the earth is under a curse because of the fall of sin, the Lord’s promise is sure to redeem the earth from this curse, because He created it. If man is under a curse as a result of the fall of sin, God’s promise is sure to redeem him from this curse, because He created them. If Israel is under a curse because she has been unfaithful to her covenant with God, then God’s promise to redeem her is sure, because God created her. We must be certain that God has purposely employed the creational identity of each of these three in order to give a simple understanding of consistency to His Biblical story. His ingenuity is so simple it is brilliant! Let us praise Him for His magnificence, and fear His wondrous ways!