9. Israel’s Covenant Deliverer

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Introduction

The narrative of Genesis led from creation, through the fall, to several demonstrations of God’s grace which both define Him as a Redeemer and shape our understanding of redemption. Yet every experience of God’s grace leaves the recipients of the promise looking forward in anticipation of its fulfillment. And so Genesis comes to a close with the dying Joseph confidently encouraging his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:24). Even so the promises to Abraham of a great nation in the Promised Land who both receives and is a blessing to the nations seems quite distant as Exodus begins with the coming to power of a new Pharaoh who exploits and oppresses Israel. This was never meant to call into question God’s fidelity rather Moses writes Exodus and Leviticus at Sinai (Exodus 24;4, 7; Leviticus 27:34) to reinforce the identity of God and their identity as His people.

I. The Narrative of Exodus

A. Outline of Exodus

While there are many twists and turns along the way the narrative of Exodus may be understood in three distinct movements.

I. The Exodus from Egypt and Journey to Sinai (1-18)
II. The Mosaic Covenant (19-24)
III. The Tabernacle (25-40)

B. The Exodus from Egypt and Journey to Sinai (1-18)

This study will focus mainly on the Mosaic Covenant and only briefly touch on the Exodus and the Tabernacle. There are two primary reasons for this. First, in the Mosaic Covenant God reveals His intent in redeeming Israel and secondly, this intent then naturally flows into the creation of the tabernacle. There are several important biblical-theological themes in the Exodus that will be picked up on in our study through The New Testament; however, other than the Passover those will not be addressed for sake of brevity.

This narrative is rich with language from creation and the promise to Abraham. Israel has grown in number they are being fruitful and multiplying both in response to the creation mandate and in fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham. As Pharaoh’s fear of the Hebrews grew he oppressed and afflicted them and when they continued to multiply he decrees that all the male children be killed. This is an assault upon the promised seed of the Abrahamic Covenant and echoes the struggle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.[59] The plagues bring this conflict into focus culminating in the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn. “The firstborn son of the Pharaoh was destined to rule but instead it is the firstborn son of Yahweh who will have dominion.”[60] After the plagues and the death of his firstborn Pharaoh concedes and urges the people of Israel to leave; however, God further hardens Pharaoh’s heart and he gathers his army in pursuit. The best place to begin for a summary of these events is the Song of Moses (15:1-21).

Will someone read the Song of Moses for us? How does this song describe God? What is Israel’s relationship to Him? How does this paint a picture of redemption?

J. Richard Middleton notes the importance of these events in the shaping of Israel’s worldview,

Beneath the Old Testament’s use of explicit salvation language lies a coherent worldview in which the exodus from Egyptian bondage, followed by entry into the promised land, forms the most important paradigm or model. . .

The complex of events of the exodus was so central in Israel’s experience and memory that it decisively shaped much of the Old Testament, becoming the lens through which salvation in understood.[61]

These events are paradigmatic and exert tremendous influence upon our understanding of redemption. Indeed as we will see later it does much to expound upon God’s intentions in His promise to Abraham and His unflinching commitment to His intent in creation as well.

God had decisively triumphed over their enemies and liberated them from their oppressors Israel had been set free. “God’s purpose, however, was not simply to deliver Israel from Pharaoh’s yoke. It was to bring them under His yoke. God demanded that Pharaoh let the people go that they might serve Him.”[62] As Arthur F. Glasser explains,

The Hebrews were now free to worship their God in a spontaneous, joyous, and caring fashion because of their unbelievable sense of having been redeemed by him from Egypt. They now belonged uniquely to God and God alone. And the Passover feast provided them with a divinely authenticated way to celebrate the beginning of their national existence in the years that followed.[63]

Israel’s redemption is holistic it touches every aspect of reality this is clear both in the immediate narrative and the covenant itself,

The texts portray at least four dimensions of the bondage that Israel suffered in Egypt – political, economic, social, and spiritual – and goes on to show how God redeemed them in every one of these dimensions.[64]

And God’s intent here will be reinforced later within the Mosaic Covenant itself.

C. The Mosaic Covenant (19-24)

Will someone please read the beginning of the Mosaic Covenant in Exodus 19:3-6?

William J. Dumbrell emphatically states the importance of correctly understanding the Mosaic Covenant explaining that,

A correct understanding o f these verses which summon Israel, as a result of Sinai, to its vocation, is vital. T he history of Israel from this point on is in reality merely a commentary upon the degree of fidelity with which Israel adhered to this Sinai-given vocation.[65]

Prior to examining the covenant’s content the first possible misstep would be to assume the covenant’s conditionality based upon the requirement of Israel’s obedience (Exodus 19:5).

It is true that the Mosaic Covenant was the most conditional of all the biblical covenants. Of all the covenants, it dealt specifically with how the people of God should live. The fulfillment of the promises and blessings of any of the covenants for any particular individual or generation was dependent upon their obedience to God’s revelation. Disobedience annulled the blessings of God for that individual or generation in his/her/its own time, but disobedience did not invalidate the unconditional terms of the covenant.[66]

This, the unconditional nature of the covenant, will become increasingly clear as we move through Deuteronomy and see the overarching eschatological and covenantal thrust of the entire Pentateuch.

From your knowledge of the Old Testament what might it mean for Israel to be a treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation?

Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum explain that the literary structure of this verse points to “a treasured possession” and “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” as being two sides of the same coin. “In other words, both statements are saying the same thing, but each does it in a different way and looks at the topic from a different perspective.”[67]

After a lengthy discussion of the terms they summarize the purpose of the covenant as follows:

Although the language is different from that of Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 12:1-3, we can clearly see that the covenant at Sinai achieves and administers in the Iron Age, through the nation as a whole, the purposes of the promises given to Abraham. God is establishing his kingdom through covenant. The covenant entails relationship with God on the one hand and relationship with the world on the other hand. Israel will model to the world what it means to have relationship with God, what it means to treat each other in a genuinely human way, and what it means to be good stewards of the earth’s resources. As priests, they will mediate the blessings of God to the world and will be used to bring the rest of the world to know God.[68]

Just as God’s redemption of Israel was holistic so too are His covenantal purposes. The covenant stipulations that follow in Exodus 19-24 with the giving of the Ten Commandments and the case law, or judicial precedents, expound upon Israel’s responsibility in light of God’s covenantal intent. J. Richard Middleton is particularly helpful in linking these two together,

. . . obedience completes the salvation begun in the exodus. . . Deliverance from bondage must now be matched by conformity to the creator’s will, which will require substantial changes in the way of life of God’s people. Salvation thus cannot be limited to deliverance from external circumstances; it must include what we might call ‘sanctification.’ The Torah given at Sinai constitutes God’s instructions for holy living, meant to direct the life of the redeemed community toward justice and righteousness, that they might be restored to flourishing.[69]

Or simply stated the covenant stipulations are “the foundation of true justice and the basis of what it means to be a son or daughter of God, an Adamic figure, i.e. truly and genuinely human.”[70]

The covenant is then ratified as they offer burnt offerings and peace offerings and Moses takes the blood of those offerings and throws half upon the altar and half upon the people of Israel and in a ceremony most similar to that of a wedding Israel is united by blood in covenant with God.[71]

D. The Tabernacle (25-40)

Building upon the these themes of Israel’s freedom to worship God, the restoration of true humanity and true human flourishing and wedding together of God and humanity in restored relationship Stephen G. Dempster explains, “the goal of the Exodus is thus the building of the Edenic sanctuary so that the Lord can dwell with his people, just as he once was Yahweh Elohim to the first human beings.”[72]

The tabernacle parallels the Garden and the Cosmos; indeed it represents a new creation a new Eden where man may dwell with God. The structure of the garden, is found in the structure of Israel at Sinai, and in the tabernacle itself pointing to God’s purposes for their relationship with the surrounding world. This as we will see here, and in Leviticus, is an ever present reminder of the intent of God’s covenants with Adam, with Abraham, and the Mosaic covenant. Below is a chart which illustrates these parallels.

Tabernacle Chart

Linking this structure to creation Gentry and Wellum conclude, “just as Adam was to fulfill his mandate by devoting himself to worship as a priest in the garden sanctuary, so Israel as a new Adam is to fulfill her mandate by devoting herself to worship as a priest in the tabernacle.”[73]

The Passover serves as a continual reminder of God’s redemption and the service in the tabernacle as a continual reminder of God’s mission for His image bearers to subdue the earth and fill it with His glory. They are to be both blessed and a blessing a picture of a renewed humanity living in the new creation in restored relationship with God.

The people have been redeemed from their bondage in Egypt, wed in covenant to their Lord, and have received instruction for the creation of the tabernacle where the people can meet with God. How does Israel respond? What happens in Exodus 32?

Looking at 32:12 what promises does Moses plead as he intercedes on behalf of Israel?

From this point Moses continues to intercede for Israel and is so bold as to ask Yahweh to see His glory. The text focuses less on what Moses sees and rather on what he hears. Would you read Exodus 34:5-7? What kind of God is Yahweh?

After further instruction the tabernacle is erected and the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle that His people may dwell in His midst.

II. Exodus as Eschatology

“Later when the psalmists sing of God as Redeemer, they make the Exodus their theme. And when the prophets speak of a new covenant beyond the covenant of Sinai, they expect God to act in an even greater way for the redemption of human-kind and yet to be consistent with his actions at the Exodus (Jer. 31:31-34). It is for this reason that God’s deliverance during the Exodus, Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, and the conquest of the Promised Land are as significant for the New Testament as for the Old. It is in the New Testament that ‘One greater than Moses’ makes possible a liberating and redemptive Exodus, one which leads to a more lasting inheritance (Deut. 18:15-19).”[74]

Conclusion

Where in the Exodus did you see parallels between and hints towards the fulfillment of the covenants to Adam, Noah, and Abraham? How do you see Israel’s mission shaped and informed by that Mosaic covenant?

[59]Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 93-94.
[60]Ibid., 99.
[61]J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 79-80.
[62]Edmund P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1988), 97.
[63]Arthur F. Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 76.
[64]Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 99.
[65]William J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation: A Theology of the Old Testament Covenants (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBook House, 1984), 80.
[66]William D. Barrick, “The Mosaic Covenant,” in The Master’s Seminary Journal 10 (1999): 223.
[67]Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 316
[68]Ibid., 326.
[69]Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 87-88.
[70]Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 356.
[71]Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 349-354.
[72]Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 100.
[73]Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant, 322.
[74]Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom, 75.

Revisiting Abortion and the Illusion of Sovereignty: Addressing the Real Issue

I originally posted the following article four years ago, here, and with the current discussion of Planned Parenthood and the renewed cultural debate on abortion this is a particularly relevant post to revisit. What follows is an unedited reposting of my 2011 article followed by a brief addendum to clarify the original conclusion.

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Abortion and the Illusion of Sovereignty: Addressing the Real Issue

This Sunday’s cover story, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”, for The New York Times Magazine is nothing new. I wrote several years ago, in “When the Fertility Clinic Meets the Abortion Clinic: A Modern Paradox,” about a similar article in the Los Angeles Times. In fact the only thing that has changed in these four years are the numbers. The reasons and the response are the same things that have been around since the first abortion and if we were to go back further to the origins of infanticide. When reading these articles, or the responses to them, they are so predictable that they almost appear to be scripted. With that I hope to take a departure from the typical response and argue that the real issue here is not life, it is not choice, and it is not even murder. The real issue is sovereignty.

Let me explain what I mean. In her June article, “Yes, Abortion is Killing. But It’s the Lesser Evil,” Antonia Senior explains how having a child changed her perspective regarding abortion. After explaining the lack of a consensus regarding a scientific or philosophical definition of life she concludes,

What seems increasingly clear to me is that, in the absence of an objective definition, a foetus is a life by any subjective measure. My daughter was formed at conception, and all the barely understood alchemy that turned the happy accident of that particular sperm meeting that particular egg into my darling, personality-packed toddler took place at that moment. She is so unmistakably herself, her own person — forged in my womb, not by my mothering.

Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life. That little seahorse shape floating in a willing womb is a growing miracle of life

She then explains that such conclusions have resulted in a movement aimed at separating feminism from “fertility control.” However, she views this as entirely incompatible with the central aim of feminism exclaiming, “The single biggest factor in women’s liberation was our newly found ability to impose our will on our biology.” The freedom of women then depends upon one thing the unencumbered exercise of the will.

With a shocking candor she concludes,

As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil. The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too.

For Antonia Senior, and I would argue for all of us, the principal issue is sovereignty, a woman’s ultimate right to impose her will upon herself and upon others.

Sovereignty occurs vertically in the form of worship, we could use other words but the concept remains the same. We either rejoice in the sovereignty of the God in whose image we are made or we deny it by worshipping any number of god’s made in our image. Horizontally human interaction exists upon a continuum of two extremes; escape and conflict. Both extremes end in death and both are false exercises of sovereignty. At the extreme end of escape is suicide where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over the self by taking one’s life. At the extreme end of conflict lies murder where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over another by taking another’s life.

The first two articles mentioned, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” and “The abortion debate brought home,” regarding reduction, which let’s be honest is a clever play on words to sanitize something far more grisly and sinister, bring another exercise of sovereignty into the question, namely in vitro fertilization and the creation of life. Imposing one’s will upon one’s own biology may require medical assistance and donated eggs which is where our current discussion often begins. With in vitro fertilization, when multiple embryos are transferred, there is always the possibility of multiple embryos implanting and when multiple babies are not wanted or the mother is unable to give birth to multiple children then one or more of them must be put to death. In 1988 Dr. Mark Evans penned guidelines for this procedure stating that “most reductions below twins violated ethical principles.” Things have changed over the past 23 years; the medical community has rethought its ethics and is now willing and able to reduce your pregnancy to one. “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” ends with a counterintuitive conclusion. After choosing to reduce their pregnancy to one child the author asks the women what would happen if they miscarried to which one of them replied, “I’ve come to realize there’s only so much we can control. There’s a point where you just have to let nature take its course.”

After all this talk of a woman’s complete control of her own fertility comes the tragic conclusion that “there’s only so much we can control.” Ultimately you cannot impose your will upon your biology because ultimately you are not sovereign. Your sovereignty is an illusion.

How are we to respond to this? Should we call our senator or state representative? Should we start building picket signs and begin protesting abortion clinics? No, we must respond with the Gospel, in word and deed. We must respond in the same way that God responds to humanity’s first act of false sovereignty in the garden, with grace and the promise that in Christ we will be liberated not unto self but from self and sin and set free to worship the one true Sovereign. Any other response is incalculably inadequate and nearsighted.

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Addendum 2015-08-05

The church is a global reality and when I address issues, such as this one, my primary concern is how the global church should respond. And our primary response and concern must be proclaiming and incarnating the Gospel (Ephesians 6:10-20). After all abortions do not occur simply because they are legal or because of Planned Parenthood. No, they occur because of our insatiable desire for control, for sovereignty; they occur because humans, both as individuals and as humanity, a global culture, are unflinchingly committed to our rebellion against the true Sovereign. That must be our first and primary response. Any other primary response is, as I said four years ago, incalculably inadequate and nearsighted.

Now, I still have little patience for evangelical political activism. As Ed Stetzer lamented in Breaking the Missional Code, ” For many, evangelicals have become a voting block rather than a spiritual force” (2006:9). Political activism alone, defunding Planned Parenthood for example, would only be as beneficial as God bringing the Jews out of Egypt without also bringing them to Himself. But in 2011 I was unbalanced and failed to recognize the uniqueness of the American situation. The global church must respond with the Gospel, as in many places political change is not possible in the same way that it is in the United States. The church mush make the gospel our primary concern, we must make the truth known, we must seek to see men and women reconciled to the God whose image their born and unborn children bear.

At the same time when there is opportunity seek political change we must do so humbly, with a knowledge that political change is important but not ultimate. God is redeeming the whole of creation from the cancerous cells growing in your body and the raging of the seas to the political and cultural structures of man. He is, and ultimately will, set those things right, their rebellion will be brought to an end, and the earth will be renewed and inhabited by the new humanity. But the renewal of creation is inextricably tied to the reconciliation of God and man (Romans 8:18ff.). So feel free to contact the political powers that be and seek to persuade those who make those decisions but do so knowing that what your neighbor who is considering an abortion needs most is not legislation but reconciliation.

I hope this was a beneficial read and I hope that this addendum has clarified what was lacking in my previous conclusion.

8. God’s Covenant Faithfulness to the Patriarchs

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Introduction

Looking back to the fall and the spread of human rebellion we continually saw that God’s response was to initiate and provide for reconciliation. We saw that in the garden he sought out rebellious man and paired with judgment issued a gracious promise. When Cain murdered his brother Abel we saw God’s gracious response to Cain and we also saw His gracious response to Adam and Eve with the provision of another son Seth, through whose line the promised deliverer of Genesis 3:15 would come. In the story of Noah God gracious provided the means by which Noah and his family could escape the impending judgment and after this deliverance God echoed the commands of Genesis 1:28 by saying, “be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7). Again we saw God’s grace at the Tower of Babel as humanity gathered to make a name for themselves the Lord confused their languages and dispersed them over the face of the earth, which again echoes the mandate of Genesis 1:28. Again God is gracious in judgment as he calls Abram and establishes a covenant for Abram. With this,

“Abraham is asked to give up all the symbols of security and autonomy with which the builders of Babel sought to shore up their own identity . . . [and yet in an amazing contrast] The trophies that the people of Babel attempted to take for themselves―fame, security, and a heritage for the future―are God’s free gift to Abraham.”[54]

While studying the Abrahamic Covenant we noted four distinct promises made to Abram. These promises are reaffirmed to Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. These promises profoundly shaped the lives of the patriarchs as they struggle to trust God for their fulfillment.

I. The Narrative of the Patriarchs

There is much that cannot be covered due to time constraints; because of this the passages covering each of the patriarch’s narratives are listed on the outline.

A. Abraham―Genesis 11:27-25:11

Would someone read Genesis 12:1-4?

This begins the story of Abram. God has established His covenant and Abram has left his country to follow the Lord. The story of Abraham highlights his struggle concerning God’s fulfillment of the promise concerning his offspring. There are two places where this struggle reaches a climax.

Would someone read Genesis 16:1-11 and 17:15-21? What does this story teach us about Abram? What does it teach us about God?
Would someone read Genesis 22:1-14? Read verse 6 what can we learn about Isaac according to the description found here? What do you think that tells us about Isaac’s attitude in verse 9? What picture are we given by the “ram, caught in a thicket?” Isaac’s life also gives us a picture, what might this be?

Isaac is carrying enough wood for a burnt sacrifice this is not the description of a small child. Furthermore, we learn of Isaac’s submissiveness as he allows his father to bind him. I think many of us would note the similarities between the “ram, caught in a thicket” and Christ but I have never thought of Isaac as a pattern of the resurrection. But is that not one of the central points of substitution? A substitute died in his place and because of that substitute he lives.

B. Isaac―Genesis 21:1-35:29

The Genesis text emphasizes the lives of Abraham and Jacob with Isaac playing a transitional role between these two narratives.[55] Because of this you can read the account of his life in the Genesis text and we will focus our study on the two characters given literary emphasis. It is important to note that the fourfold promise made to Abraham his father is repeated to him in Genesis 26:3-4.

C. Jacob―Genesis 25:21-50:14

Certainly Abraham had his struggles but the story of Jacob’s “reprehensible features are rather strongly brought out. This is done in order to show that divine grace is not the reward for, but the source of noble traits.”[56]

Would someone read Genesis 25:21-34? How is Jacob described in these verses?

Jacob is conniving and cold as he uses his brother’s weakness to purchase his brother’s birthright from him. In the same way we see his deceptiveness in Genesis 27 as he disguises himself as Esau to receive a blessing from his dying father Isaac.

How are we to understand these stories? What moral lessons are we to take away from them? What do these stories teach us about God? What do they teach us about how we are to read His Word?

These storied teach us that God rescues those who do not deserve it. No one merits God’s favor; neither Adam, nor Cain, nor Noah, nor Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob has in any way merited God’s favor. His covenants and promises are wholly and act of His redeeming grace. Furthermore, we cannot use God’s Word as simply a moral handbook because if you do then this passage will lead you to prize deception. Rather you must read God’s Word as a metanarrative. The greater redemptive context provides a clearer understanding of this text and that is to show, as we read earlier, “that divine grace is not the reward for, but the source of noble traits.”[57] We continue to see this divine grace even as God reaffirms his covenant to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15.

Would someone please read Genesis 35:22b-36? What is the significance of Jacob’s offspring? How has God kept His promise to Abraham?

These are the twelve tribes of Israel; God is beginning to make of Abraham a great nation.

II. Common Themes in the Patriarchal Narratives

A. Covenant Promises in Crisis

During each of the patriarch’s lives different promises are the source of struggle and possible failure. With Abraham the possibility of a seed is the source of much tension. With Jacob God’s blessing and protection is a source of struggle. The promise of land is far removed from the patriarchs; they wonder in it but in no sense has God given them this land, so in a way while God has fulfilled aspects of the promise other aspects are left unfulfilled at this point.

B. Election

One of the central themes of this section, which will be heavily emphasized later on, is that of election. How does the narrative bring this out?

This can be clearly seen in God’s calling of Abraham but it is emphasized the most in the story of Jacob.

III. The Patriarchal Narratives as Eschatology

Just like Noah before him Abraham is another Adamic figure who points towards recreation. With Noah we were pointed to a renewed creation. With Abraham we are pointed to a renewed people, a particular people, and a people through whom all peoples will be blessed. “Salvation meant blessing on a particular people (Israel) and blessing through that particular people (for all nations).”[58] God is not just creating a particular people He is creating a missional people for a particular mission, His mission. With this progression we are reminded of past progressions all of us which pointed to something greater and indeed with this small nation, consisting of twelve sons, we are left to anticipate the day when they are indeed a great nation and the nations are blessed through them

Conclusion

How have we seen God’s covenant faithfulness through the lives through the patriarchs and what are these stories teaching us?

[54]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 53-54.

[55]VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 103.

[56]Vos, Biblical Theology, 108.

[57]Ibid., 108.

[58]Christopher J. H. Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible’s Central Story, Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 60.

7. God Calls Abram from the Nations and for the Nations

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Introduction

As we have surveyed the history of redemption we have taken care to note how the fall explains why, in light of God’s good creation, Israel experienced 400 years of death and slavery. We have seen how it reinforced their solidarity with Adam and the whole of humanity. As we began our study of redemption we saw that we are not without hope, what was lost will be restored and relationships will be reconciled. Yet as we ended with God confusing man’s language at the Tower of Babel and dispersing humanity over the face of the earth. While this was an act of grace it still leaves us with many unanswered questions and raises new ones. With Moses writing the Pentateuch sometime after the exodus from Egypt and sometime before his death Israel must certainly be wondering about their origins both generally as a people and specifically as God’s people.

I. The Abrahamic Covenant in Context

After the account of Babel Genesis 11 records the generations of Noah’s son Shem, after which the text focuses upon his descendant Terah by recording his genealogy as well.

Would someone read Genesis 11:27-32 for us?

With that the story of Abram, soon to be Abraham, comes to the people of Israel not with pomp and circumstance, he is not lavishly described, he is simply a son a Terah who settled with his father in Haran.

II. The Abrahamic Covenant

Like Noah before him and the people of God after him there is nothing that would hint at Abram’s meriting God’s favor and yet God, in His grace, speaks to Abram and establishes a covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-22; 18; and 22:1-18). Prior to looking at the content of the covenant we need to look at its ratification to discern whether it is a conditional or unconditional covenant.

Will someone please read Genesis 15:7-19?

In this ceremony “God signifies that if he does not keep his promise, he will be torn limb from limb like these animals (cf. Jeremiah 34:18-20).”[48] The Abrahamic Covenant “emphasizes most strongly, both in word and act, the absolute monergism of the divine power in accomplishing the things promised.”[49] This covenant is in no way synergistic like we saw described in conditional bilateral covenants where two parties enter into an agreement. Rather the Abrahamic Covenant is clearly a unilateral covenant, or unconditional covenant. Which we defined as “an arrangement imposed by a superior on subordinates . . . It usually designates an agreement made to or for, not with, the subordinate, depicting a legally binding promise which one party makes toward another.”[50] God is entering into a covenant for Abram, his descendants, and as we will soon see for the nations as well.

Would someone please read Genesis 12:1-9? In this text there are four specific promises that are made to Abram. What are they?

  • Offspring/Seed: “I will make of you a great nation.”
  • Personal Blessing: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.”
  • Blessing to the Nations: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
  • Land: “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Now let us take each one of these and examine them in detail. What is the significance of this promised offspring or seed? Why is it significant that God promises to make a great nation of Abram?

The immediate significance is that it answers the question Israel’s origin. This narrative explains “to the infant nation how they have a place within Yahweh’s magnificent plan to renew earth and its peoples and to effect a glorious recreation and fulfillment of his original intentions.”[51] This reaffirms God’s command to Adam and later to Noah to be fruitful and multiply as well.

What is the significance of the personal blessing?

While God’s blessing can be seen throughout the life of Abram this is important in that it also signifies God’s presence and His protection.[52] Another important point to note is that God’s blessing is further elaborated with the purpose clause “so that you will be a blessing.” God intends to bless Abram but even more He intends to bless others through him.

Building off of our discussion on personal blessing what is significant about God blessing the nations through Abram?

This has clear eschatological implications, which will be noted later, but this expresses God’s continued commitment to the whole of His creation. God is not abandoning the nations for the sake of Israel. He is not blessing Israel at the expense of the nations. He is blessing Israel for the sake of the nations.

What about the promise of land?

This points us both back towards creation where God dwelled with man in Eden and forward to a place where God will be present among His people.

III. The Abrahamic Covenant as Eschatology

“At Babel mankind sought to build a temple, rising to the heavens, to unite all people. Instead, God scattered the peoples. In the midst of this hopeless confusion, however, he was at work singling out the family that would bring redemption to the earth.”[53] The Abrahamic Covenant gives specificity to our eschatological expectation that was not previously present. The offspring/seed of Genesis 3:15 who will crush the serpent and overcome the curse will be a descendant of Abraham and it is by through His victory that the nations will ultimately be blessed.

Conclusion

Abram like Adam and Noah before him did nothing to merit God’s grace. He was wholly undeserving of any blessing bestowed upon him, just as we are, God is gracious. In his gracious blessing of Abram He also made him a blessing to the nations, while we see this ultimately fulfilled in Christ it is a task which has been handed to us as well.

In what ways can we “be a blessing” and see the nations blessed?

[48]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 56.

[49]Vos, Biblical Theology, 94.

[50]Ibid., 176.

[51]VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 115.

[52]Ibid., 106-7.

[53]Ibid., 127.

6. The Missional God

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Introduction

Last session we examined the fall and its horrific effects upon man’s relationship with God, man’s relationship with his fellow man, man’s relationship with himself, and man’s relationship with creation. After seeing this and learning of the relentless spread of sin and human rebellion and the subsequent judgments that followed one should begin immediately asking “Can it be fixed?” Is there any way that we can recover what was lost? Can these relationships ever be set right? Will man’s inherent nature always be marked by rebellion? Is there any source of hope?

I. The God who Initiates and Provides for Redemption

To truly grasp and appreciate this topic we need to be reminded of man’s corrupt nature and its rebellious inclinations. Would someone read Genesis 3:6-13? What do the man and the woman do when their eyes are opened? How did Adam react when he heard God in the garden?

Man did not seek out God in repentance; he did not attempt to atone for his sins. No, man hid from God in the garden. This is still man’s tendency (Romans 3:9-18). From this narrative it is clear that man is both unwilling and unable to turn to God in repentance on his own accord. God must intervene and intervene He does. “God comes into the Garden from without, seeks out Adam, and both judges and shares the redemptive promise with him . . . God was on a mission to Adam. He had no other man to send, so he sent himself.”[40] God is a missional God. He seeks out rebellious man to redeem him. God promises and provides for redemption. By the shedding of blood God covers their shame (Genesis 3:21). And it is God who provides a means by which rebellious humanity may enter into relationship with him (Genesis 4:1-5).

II. The God who Initiates and Keeps His Covenant

A. Introducing the Covenants

Throughout our study of redemption we will be studying several covenants that God establishes with His people.

“Covenants play a prominent role in OT life—socially, politically, and religiously. The covenant idea itself, first mentioned in Genesis 6 during the days of Noah, is intricately woven into the fabric of the biblical account all the way through to Revelation 11 where the ‘ark of His covenant’ reappears in the temple. The word itself occurs in 27 of 39 OT books and in 11 of 27 NT books.”[41]

What we need to recognize at the outset is that, “there are covenants between equals, of course, but when the Lord entered into covenants, he did so as one who ruled over a people. For their part, they received his covenant with its blessings, curses, stipulations and signs, and so became bound to him as to a lord.”[42] We will be primarily focusing on covenant as an expression of God’s redemption but they are also an expression of God’s right to rule, He is the supreme redeemer-judge.

B. Types of Covenants

A bilateral covenant, or conditional covenant, “represents an agreement between two parties in which there is a basic party. Both sides enter into the treaty, voluntarily, resulting in a partnership relationship.”[43] Failure to carry out the covenant stipulations by either party renders a bilateral covenant null and void.

A unilateral covenant, or unconditional covenant, is “an arrangement imposed by a superior on subordinates . . . It usually designates an agreement made to or for, not with, the subordinate, depicting a legally binding promise which one party makes toward another.”[44] Unilateral covenant depends solely upon God’s covenant-keeping faithfulness for fulfillment.

III. The God who Guides Redemption

A. God’s Covenant with Adam―The Adamic Covenant

In Genesis 3:14-19, in typical covenant language the reader is presented with a series of curses and a blessing.

Will someone read that for us? What stands out to you as the focal point of this promise?

In Genesis 3:15 we are given the protevangelium, the first gospel. God promises, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal” (Genesis 3:15, author’s translation and emphasis).

There are two distinct promises made here. What are they and how would you explain them?

First, we see that God establishes gracious hostility. As an expression of His grace God places enmity between the serpent and the woman, between her seed and the serpent’s seed. Because of this man will never be as evil as he could be. Yes, man’s nature is corrupt and he flees God and is hostile towards God but at the same time man, in some way, is also hostile towards evil, towards the serpent. This is God’s restraining grace in that He allows man to become corrupt and yet He establishes hostility between man and the evil with which he has corrupted himself.

Second, while the first promise was to the plural seed/offspring of the woman the second refers to a singular offspring who will conqueror the serpent.[45] We are not given specifics pertaining to the fulfillment of this promise but it, and the entire Old Testament, points forward to a messianic figure through who God will realize His purposes.

B. Cain and Abel

Last week as we saw the spread of sin and the effects of the fall as Cain slays his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-8) would someone read Genesis 4:9-22? How do you see God’s grace in His dealing with Cain and his offspring?

C. God’s Covenant with Noah – The Noaic Covenant

In the Genesis 5 genealogy of the generations of Adam verses 28-31 both tell of the birth of Noah and hold massive redemptive significance. Would someone read those verses? What is the significance of this passage?

In light of this curse, Lamech is anticipating his son to be the singular Messiah who would crush the serpents head and bring about a Sabbath rest. While this is not the case it is extremely important because we see that 1,000 years after the promises and curses of the garden man is still anticipating a singular messiah who would overcome the serpent and deliver the people of God. This is not a foreign concept to the people of God. We are not reading Christ into these texts. He is there and His people are eagerly anticipating His arrival.

Would someone read Genesis 6:5-8? How is humanity described there? How is Noah described?

The descriptions of sinful humanity found in verses 5-7 are descriptive of Noah as well there is nothing there that would lead us to exclude him from that description. In verse 8 “Noah’s righteousness is simply stated alongside God’s grace without any comment about whether it is the cause or effect of God’s attitude toward him. Later it will be much clearer that God’s grace is the cause of sinful people becoming righteous.”[46] God spares Noah and His family because He is a gracious God, not because they deserve salvation. God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:17-22; 8:20-22; 9:8-17), like His covenant with Adam, is established as a unilateral promise to all of humanity as God will never destroy the earth and all its life with water again. While the flood represents death and judgment it also represents a new beginning and we see a continuity with the first creation as God commands Noah and his family to “be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7).

D. Babel

When looking at the narrative of Babel it is important that we look to what precedes it so a not to overstate the effects of God’s judgment. In Genesis 10 presents a genealogy of the sons of Noah and the nations that descended from them. The nations are not the result of God’s judgment in Genesis 11 rather they are the result of His provision and grace in Genesis 10 as we see God continuing to bless Noah and his offspring. From the tower of Babel it is also important to note why God confuses their language. Like God’s restraining grace in Genesis 3 we see that this prevents humanity from unifying in their rebellion against God and this confusion disperses rebellious humanity.

IV. God’s Mission as Eschatology

“The Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation. The Bible is the drama of this God of purpose engaged in the mission of achieving that purpose universally, embracing past, present and future, Israel and the nations, ‘life, the universe and everything,’ and with its center, focus, climax, and completion in Jesus Christ.”[47]

The missio Dei, mission of God, is inextricably tied to the imago Dei, the image of God, because we have been made in the image of the missional God: the God who sent Himself, who sent His Son, and who has sent us His Spirit. Sending and being sent is fundamental to understanding the character of God and it is fundamental to our bearing His image as well. This points us forward to a day when through the proclamation of the gospel and at the fulfillment of all of God’s divine sendings “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10b-11).

Conclusion

The texts we studied tonight are charged with potential. We must learn to read these stories in a fresh light and to see how profoundly they speak to the redeeming grace of our God and how that redeeming grace continues to give shape and meaning to our lives today. These are not mere stories of the past; this is our story.

Rather than ask the application “how should you apply what we have learned?” I want to ask “how are you applying what we learned tonight?” Are you really living this story or are you living out a rival story? What do you need to do to bring your narrative in line with the narrative of God?

[40]Francis M. DuBose, God Who Sends: A Fresh Quest for Biblical Mission (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1983), 57.

[41]Irvin A. Busenitz, “Introduction to the Biblical Covenants; The Noaic Covenant and the Priestly Covenant,” in The Master’s Seminary Journal 10 (1999): 173.

[42]Peter Jensen, The Revelation of God, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 74.

[43]Busenitz, “Introduction to the Biblical Covenants,” 175.

[44]Ibid., 176.

[48]T. Desmond Alexander, “Genealogies, Seed and the Compositional Unity of Genesis,” in Tyndale Bulletin 44 (1993): 255-270. See also T. Desmond Alexander, “Further Observations on the Term ‘Seed’ in Genesis,” in Tyndale Bulletin 48 (1997): 363-367. and Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, New Studies in Biblical Theology 11 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 27-28.

[46]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 114.

[47]Wright, The Mission of God, 22.