Category Archives: Bible Study

Little By Little

 

“Little by little…” Exodus 23:30

In the 23rd chapter of Exodus we find ourselves in the midst of Sinai and God’s communication of the law to Moses.  Among the prohibitions and remembrances of Sabbaths and festivals in this chapter is also the promise of the conquest of Canaan.  The full passage is below

27 I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

Historically, this promise was fulfilled to the children of the Wilderness Generation, who we may be reminded were afforded the blessing of entrance into Canaan because their parents fell under the wrath of God, due to their rebellion, and were thereby forbidden from entering the land themselves.  Their children, however, were allowed entrance into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.

Using the Old Testament

As is the case with much of the Old Testament, whether we view it typologically as it points from itself (type) to events, persons, or places in the New Testament (antitype) or whether we see it as an example for our lives (see Hebrews 3 & 4), this passage is relevant and practical for us today.  Along these lines, there are seemingly many parallels between the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the Christian life, that extends beyond the concept of redemption, that from Egyptian slavery in the former and Sin slavery in the latter.  Here, in Exodus 23, we have painted for us, through the very real, historical working of God on behalf of the Israelites, a picture of sanctification in the Christian life.

To reiterate, historically God promised to drive out the pagan nations as He went ahead of the Israelites into Canaan.  However we must note a significant observation in this passage on God’s promise, namely that He promised to do so “little by little”.  Here we are given 2 negative reasons for the progressive nature of this pagan eradication, “lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you” and two positive reasons, “until you have increased and possess the land”.  God had promised to eliminate Israel’s enemies slowly, one by one, in order to avoid desolation of the land and the multiplication of beasts against them.  In our historical context, had God simply eradicated all of the pagan countries at once, allowing the Israelites full, unencumbered, and peaceful access to the land, there were two great dangers. 

Two Great Dangers

The first was desolation of the land.  In other  words, there was the danger of complacency on the part of the Israelites and failure to properly “tend” the land.  This points, at least conceptually, back to Adam in the garden.  There, remember, Adam was afforded the luxury of a land that produced effortlessly, yet he was unsatisfied and became complacent, ultimately failing to guard his wife and the garden.  Which brings us to the second great danger Israel would’ve faced should God have granted immediate eradication of their enemies, a failure to protect the land from being overrun by wild beasts.  With enemies eradicated for them, there was a great danger of complacency leading to a dry and desolate land and an influx of wild beasts.

As the Scriptures tell us, this promise was fulfilled and that by leaving the enemies to be eradicated one by one, the land was bountiful as it was promised in Deuteronomy 6:11 and then fulfilled in Joshua 24:11-13.

11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’

However, despite being given land, cities, vineyards, orchards, etc., opportunities afforded by the little by little eradication, Israel still rebelled and failed in their own garden experience, as did their father Adam.

Believer’s Sanctification

As little by little relates to our sanctification, consider the parallels of the pagan nations with our own enemy of indwelling sin.  This progress against the enemies that wage war within us is called sanctification and it too is little by little, or progressive.  Contrary to ideas of Wesleyan perfection, sanctification is not completed in this life.  If it were, consider the dangers of complacency that we would face should our enemies be eradicated all at once.  We would forget the necessity and power of grace working in our lives.  We would become more independent and less dependent upon the provision of God.  What need would we have for prayer, for the Scriptures, for fellowship with the brethren?  This complacency would expose us to the influx of greater enemies, predators for our very soul.

Similarly God has chosen not to expose us to all of our internal enemies at once, lest we collapse under the weight of them.  Instead, we may battle the Amorites of lust or the Hittites of pride.  Occasionally, by His grace, He may allow several enemies to coalesce against us for the purpose of greater dependency on His provisions of grace and greater efforts in the duty of warfare.

God in His wisdom and providence allows sanctification to be a process, little by little.  As such, we are in need of our daily bread and in need of daily deliverance from temptations.  He who began this good work in us will bring it to completion.  Total and utter dependence upon God is the substance of the Christian life, from beginning to the end.

 

Adam’s Rest

 

In a recent post we looked in depth at God’s rest, which occurs at the conclusion of His creation on the seventh day (see Genesis 2:1-3).  Among several of the observations and summary conclusions that we reached was that God’s rest may be viewed in terms of an enthronement, rather than a physical rest and that the arrangement and relationship of Creation-Eden-Garden appears to resemble the tabernacle/temple arrangement of Outer Court-Holy Place -Holy of Holies.

With this passage on God’s rest firmly established in our minds, Genesis 2 shifts the focus back to creation, more specifically to man.

“These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” 

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:4-9

In verses 5 and 6 we are brought, back in time as it were, to the period between Day 5 & 6, just prior to the creation of man.  Here we find more details concerning God’s creation of Adam.  On this day we read of God creating him from the dust of the ground, God planting of a garden in Eden (perhaps East of Eden), God placing Adam in that garden, then God causing trees to spring up, including the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Additionally, it is in this narrative that we find our description of a pattern similar to the tabernacle layout: earth (vs. 5), Eden (vs. 8), and garden (vs. 8).  This geographic distinction is obvious and noteworthy.

Also it should be pointed out that the earth (vs. 5 – ground) had no one yet to “work” the land, which will be a significant point developed below.

As the passage moves to a description of the land and surrounding area, verse 15 brings us back to God and his purpose for Adam

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 

On the surface, verse 15 sounds like a simple restatement of verse 8 from above where God “put” Adam in the garden.  This verse is often used as a proof text for Adam’s purpose, namely to work.  Following this interpretation is usually a discussion on the doctrine of vocation, concluding that man was created for the purpose of work, God’s design for him prior to the fall, therefore we should embrace our toil and labors in our individual vocations.  That sounds good and I don’t disagree with the destination, but I do disagree with the starting point.

First, verses 5 and 15 are not referring to the same piece of ground.  Verse 5 clearly speaks of the earth in general while verse 15 specifically refers to Eden, more specifically the garden that the Lord created East of Eden.

From the vocation view highlighted earlier, it is commonly taught that Adam was placed in the garden in order to til the land and reap produce or vegetation of some kind, concluding that he was the first gardener or farmer.  Perhaps he set the pattern for a farming lifestyle, right?

Not so fast.

In this passage, we are informed that God is the One who brought forth the vegetation in the garden, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”   This statement is prior to Adam’s placement in the garden.  Adam was placed into a garden that was already lush with vegetation, which God had provided for food (see also Genesis 1:29).  It seems clear from this passage that food was not dependent upon Adam’s labor, but instead was a blessing from the hand of God.

Which brings us to the meaning of the following, “Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden”.  Prior to the declaration of man’s purpose in the garden, to work it and keep it, we have the straightforward statement that God took him and put him in the garden of Eden.  The word translated as “put” actually has the following outline of biblical usage:

  1. to rest
  2. (Qal)
    1. to rest, settle down and remain
      to repose, have rest, be quiet
  3. (Hiphil)
    1. to cause to rest, give rest to, make quiet
    2. to cause to rest, cause to alight, set down
    3. to lay or set down, deposit, let lie, place
    4. to let remain, leave
    5. to leave, depart from
    6. to abandon
    7. to permit
  4. (Hophal)
    1. to obtain rest, be granted rest
    2. to be left, be placed
    3. open space (subst)

With this in mind, perhaps a better translation would be that the Lord God “rested” Adam in the garden of Eden.  This translation would seem to be at odds with the remaining portion of the verse, “to work it and keep it” that has so often been used as the basis for man’s purpose of work.  It simply wouldn’t make sense to say that God rested Adam in the garden to work it and keep it

Unless of course work it and keep it mean something else.

The idea behind the Hebrew word translated as “work” conveys the idea of serving or tending while the Hebrew for the translated word “keep” conveys the idea of guarding or obeying commands.  Collectively when these two verbs are used together they are often found in the context of a priestly service in the tabernacle.  Note their usage in the passage below

They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. ” Numbers 3:7-8

Let’s summarize what we’ve seen so far.  Adam was “rested” in the garden to be in the service of God functioning as a priest for God to both minister in and guard the garden, His earthly tabernacle.  Adam’s purpose was not to be a gardener or landscape architect in the garden of God.  His purpose was to worship and commune with God as he fulfilled the duties of a priest that God had assigned.   This included obeying several commands as well: the command to be fruitful and multiply, to have dominion over creation, to eat of every tree, avoiding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

As we know, Adam failed his probationary test.  He failed to guard the garden and he failed to guard his wife.  He failed to guard the garden and he failed to obey the word of God. Ultimately his disobedience led to his being placed outside the garden, where the curse of labor was given.

Humans have the responsibility now, post-fall, to work.  However, our original design was to worship and commune with our Creator.  The connection between God’s rest and God resting Adam in the Garden cannot be overlooked.  This perfect communion with our Creator, resting in Him, is what we were made for.  Sin disrupted this union and broke this rest, yet through our Lord Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, this is the end towards which believers will one day return.  At the moment of repentance and faith this communion is restored and we experience the rest from our efforts of trying to earn salvation, but communion and rest will not reach its fullness until the return of Christ, the establishment of His kingdom on earth, and the inauguration of eternity.  We have already been restored to this communion with the Creator, but it is not yet what it will be.

May He come quickly!

Tempted and Tried

 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

In the fourth chapter of Hebrews, the Author signals for us a transition out of the latest warning and exhortation and into a discussion of Christ as High Priest.  As is typical in Hebrews, concepts are often introduced several chapters in advance of their actual exposition.  This is sometimes referred to as a “hook”, where they serve as an introduction to a topic which will be discussed in greater detail at a later point.  Such is the case with Christ as our High Priest, which was first introduced in chapter 1, “…After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….” Hebrews 1:3b

The verse cited above from chapter 4 is conveying three primary concepts concerning our Lord’s priestly ministry.  First, He is a sympathetic High Priest. Second, He has been tempted as we are.  Third, despite these temptations, He has remained sinless, a point which the Author will use as a contrast, in chapter 5, with earthly high priests who ministered under the Old Covenant.

It is the second observation that will be the subject of our meditation in this post.  The ESV Study Bible highlights the significance of the Greek Word peirazo, translated as tempted.  It states that this particular word can be used in either or both of two ways.  The first is a reference to temptation, which seeks to bring down an individual’s faith.  The second is a reference to being tested or tried, which seeks to build up a believer’s faith.  Both are likely in view in this verse.

Our Lord was subject to the temptations of the world and the devil, yet resisted without sin.  This is certainly true through His day to day life, but most obvious during His 40-day fast in the wilderness where His flesh was weakest and all advantages, such as those given to Adam in the garden, were removed.  It was at this point that the Devil brought three temptations to our Lord, each one resisted by the power of God’s Word.

As to His trials, there can be none greater than that of His own Garden experience, where He shed drops of blood and pleaded with His heavenly Father for the cup to pass, a trial which culminated in His own death on the cross.  It is this trial that the writer of Hebrews has in mind as He approaches chapter 5, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

Our Lord faced both temptation and trial, in every way that we have, yet He is without sin.  Because of this, He is able to “sympathize” with our weaknesses as we are tempted and tried.  Temptation and trial is the heart of the Christian experience.  Yet our chief difference between our own experience and that of our Lord’s is our besetting weakness of a sinful flesh.  Not only are we faced with temptation from without, but evil desires from within which conceive with temptation  to produce sin.  God works through our trials to purify us of our weaknesses and conform us more to the image of our faithful and sinless High Priest.

In the midst of of our temptations, “let us draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  In the midst of our trials, let us keep our eyes fixed on the Captain of our salvation, the One who blazed the trail for our suffering yet was reverent, obedient, and submissive even to the point of death.