Tag Archives: Genesis

The Abrahamic Tipping Point


One of the primary areas of disagreement over the interpretation of Scripture is the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the implications that flow downstream from this,  such as: Israel vs. the Church, infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism, and the Future of ethnic Israel.  The tipping point in each of these debates, and the key to unraveling the continuity/discontinuity issue between the Old and New Covenants, is the meaning and significance of the Abrahamic Covenant.

On the one hand, finding too much continuity between the Old and the New Covenants, results in a continuation of the practices regarding infants, i.e. infant circumcision under the Old is continued under the New by means of the practice of baptism.  Additionally, this view collapses Israel and the Church and sees them as a (near) continuous unit.  On the other hand, finding too much discontinuity between the Old and the New, results in two distinct purposes and plans of redemption for the people of God, namely Israel under the Old Covenant and the Church under the New Covenant .  Historically, the distance between these two views has been approached from a variety of angles with a myriad of different solutions, each of which must reconcile what to do with the Abrahamic Covenant.

Keep in mind, when we are mentioning the Abrahamic Covenant, we are referring to the progressive unfolding of the covenant that God makes with Abraham, which begins in Genesis 12 and is woven throughout Genesis until around Genesis 22.  While there are many passages which one could examine to arrive at a solid conclusion on the issue of how to interpret this covenant, one passage of particular interest occurs in John 8, within the context of Jesus’ dialogue/sermon with the Pharisees and those who claimed to believe in Him.  We pick up the debate in verse 31

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Here, the dialogue centers around Jesus’ statement that the truth is freeing.  It’s rather obvious that He is not talking about  being in physical captivity, as the Jews assume, rather He is talking about being enslaved by sin.  The truth, says our Lord, will set one free from this enslavement.  The reply by the Jews assures us that they do not have the ears to hear what Christ is saying, because they immediately state their heritage with Abraham, followed by an affirmation of their physical freedom.

Though He certainly did not have to clarify His statements, our Lord condescends to the Jews misunderstanding with the following

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

With this, we have a crystallizing statement that Jesus is not talking about physical slavery, rather the slavery to sin.  The contrast in the dialogue is between Jesus’ spiritual analogy of slavery and the Jews physical concept of slavery.  Next, Jesus addresses their claim to Abraham

37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Jesus affirms the statement that the Jews are the offspring of Abraham.  Remember that their statements were affirming physical realities: 1. We’ve never been enslaved 2. We have Abraham as our Father.  Remember too that Jesus was talking spiritual realities.  In verse 37, He affirms their physical relationship with Abraham, yet in verse 38, He goes back to the spiritual, “you do what you have heard from your father.”  The following verses add clarity

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” 

Notice again that the Jews assert that Abraham is their father.  Clearly they recognize that in verse 38, Jesus is talking about a different father.  Our Lord’s next statement is the focus of our post and serves to highlight the duality with Abraham

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.”

After previously affirming the Jews relationship with Abraham, Jesus (who we may be reminded was Himself a Jew) now questions their relationship with Abraham by focusing on their deeds, or works.  Either Jesus has forgotten what He said earlier or He’s confused right?  What gives?

Well certainly He’s neither.  How can one’s works determine whether or not you have a physical ancestor in Abraham?  Clearly, Jesus is now back to an emphasis on spiritual realities.  The works that Abraham did were the results of the “obedience of faith” (see Genesis 15:6; 22:12, 16-18; Romans 4:3ff; James2:23ff).  Again, Jesus references another father in contrast to Abraham.  Let’s finish out this section of the dialogue and then summarize what we’ve seen

They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The above passage is an important conclusion because for the first time we see the Jews finally grasping the spiritual realities that Jesus has been discussing.  They assert that yes, Abraham is their physical ancestor, but God is their true Father.  Jesus immediately debunks this superficial claim by again looking to the fruit in their lives and seeing a lack of love for Himself.  In contrast to their claim of God as their Father, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter by stating they have the devil as their father.

Summarizing then

  • The Jews claim and Jesus affirms their physical relationship with Abraham.
  • Jesus presents a paradigm wherein the Jews do not have a spiritual relationship with Abraham.
  • The Jews claim and Jesus denies their spiritual relationship with God as their Father.
  • Jesus presents a paradigm wherein the Jews have the devil as their spiritual father.

So what does all this contribute towards understanding the Abrahamic covenant?

In the context of this dialogue, Jesus presents a duality with respect to Abraham, that he has BOTH physical AND spiritual descendants.  The physical covenant with Abraham was marked by circumcision.  The “spiritual covenant” more properly called the Covenant of Grace, was marked by faith and obedience, the evidence of a circumcised heart.  All of Abraham’s descendants were to be marked by physical circumcision, remarkably, this included both Ishmael and Isaac, as well as the servants in Abraham’s house.  All of Abraham’s spiritual descendants are marked with heart circumcision.

17th Century Baptist, Nehemiah Coxe summarizes this duality in Abraham with the following words,

“Abraham is to be considered in a double capacity: he is the father of all true believers and the father and root of the Israelite nation.”

While the physical and the spiritual seed of Abraham at times had overlap, as in Isaac not Ishmael and Jacob not Esau, and the promises to Abraham, both physical and spiritual had overlap, nevertheless recognizing and maintaing this duality is critical to understanding the relationship between the Old and New Covenants.

One final note for consideration, both the seed and the promises given to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” Galatians 3:16  This fulfillment in Christ reaches its pinnacle through His death on the cross, shedding His own blood for the inauguration of the New Covenant*, see Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:6-13.



(*essentially this is the fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace that we mentioned earlier).


Luck Chance and Happenstance


Well that was lucky!

Take a chance!

Good luck!

It’s all happenstance.

Common phrases and idioms like these have come to be expected in the English language.  We throw them around with such frequency that we rarely pause to give them a second thought.  I’ve found myself from time to time offering someone good luck, just by way of ending a conversation when they’ve shared a particular upcoming challenge, i.e. “I have an exam today.  RESPONSE: Good Luck!”  In fact just this week I found myself saying good luck and another person wishing me good luck within 30 minutes of each other.

Is there really such a thing as luck, chance, or happenstance?  Think about it for a minute.  If we truly believed in luck or chance then we would essentially be giving ourselves over to atheism, or the belief that there is no God.  Why?  Because, if there is a God (and there is), then by very definition He must be in charge, a term we call sovereignty.

Because He is God and Sovereign, then there cannot be anything outside of His control or rule, i.e. luck, chance, or happenstance.  Therefore we say He must also be providential.  God is both sovereign and providential, while the terms are related, they may be examined distinctly.  These are not simply man-made theological terms, but are derived from Scripture where God is described as such. (Sovereignty – 1 Timothy 6:15; Romans 9:19-21; Providence – Psalm 135:6; Isaiah 46:10)

Interestingly, both of these theological terms, as they relate to God, are abundant in the book of Genesis (if you are doing a yearly reading plan, be on the lookout!).  Since we now know that sovereignty refers to God’s reign and this reign is rooted in God’s role as Creator, then we can better understand that God has the right to exercise His authority in exiling Adam and Eve from the Garden for their disobedience of His command.  The very fact that they chose to sin convicts them of being guilty of denying God’s sovereignty.

Additionally, we should not have any qualms with how God chooses to mete out His justice on the entirety of His creation, save Noah and his family along with a selection of animals, when He administers the global flood.  God’s sovereignty is the answer to the objections that a global flood is unfair or unjust.  Is not God sovereign over His creation?  Then He is therefore just in His dealing with sinful mankind how He sees fit.

A third and final example of God’s sovereignty, particularly as it relates to the early chapters of Genesis, occurs in Genesis 10 and the episode of the Tower of Babel.  The goal of the people building this ancient ziggurat was to show off their expertise or pride (let us make a name for ourselves) by building a stairway to heaven in order to usurp the authority of God.   In a sense it is the repetition of the sin committed in Eden.

Related, is God’s providence, or how He exercises the rule of His reign.  This is often apparent in two ways in Scripture, the first is explicit and the second is implicit or underlying in the passage of Scripture.  We may ask, apart from providence, how can we be certain that the promise of the woman’s seed (Christ) will be born, survive, and accomplish God’s mission of redemption?  Clearly then, the providence of God is implied in the accomplishment of crushing the head of the serpent by the heel of the promised seed.  See also The Gospel Hope of Eve.

Another evidence of God’s providence in the early chapters of Genesis is seen more explicitly through the birth narratives of the Patriarchs that speak of the barrenness of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel.  Familiarity with Abraham and Sarah reminds us that they were both beyond child-bearing years, yet God providentially orchestrated the birth of Isaac through whom the promised seed (Gen. 3:15) would come.  But we have similar accounts of providence over progeny with Isaac and his wife Rebekah (Gen. 25:21) and their son Jacob with both of his wives Leah and Rachel (Gen. 29:31; 30:2, 9, 17, 19-20, 22-24). For more on God’s providence see The Providence of God in the Life of Joseph.

Reading Scripture with an eye towards the attributes of God, notably His Sovereignty and His Providence transforms rote reading by essentially setting the mind toward meditation on Scripture.  In these brief examples we’ve seen how meditating on these two glorious attributes of God serves as a polemic against notions of luck, chance, or happenstance.  Perhaps in the future, we’ll now be better equipped to offer more biblical phrases such as Grace and Peace to you, or the antiquated but rather biblical, Godspeed!

The Gospel Hope of Lamech


28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son 29 and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” 30 Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters. 31 Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died.

32 After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Genesis 5:28-32

In a previous post, we looked at the Gospel Hope of Eve and her expectation that God would fulfill the promise given to her and Adam in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15.  In that post we noted that her expectation that God would fulfill his promise was initially toward her first born, Cain, though we noted a shift in her expectation to Abel at some point, before finally being reached in Seth, the seed through whom the Messiah would come.  Though speculative, it seemed reasonable to assume that Eve had faith in the promise of God to send a Deliverer or Redeemer, much like other OT saints (see Hebrews 11).

In the passage above from Genesis 5, we note a similar expectation through the words of Lamech, the father of Noah.  Recall that in the post concerning Eve mention was given to the significance of the meaning of names in the Old Testament and we find again that idea conveyed through the name of Noah, which sounds like the Hebrew word rest.  Lamech’s expectation for the fulfillment of God’s promise can be seen in the following verse, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”  The word translated “relief” by the ESV is literally the word rest, which corresponding to Noah’s name and the expectation that he would be one to deliver the people from the “painful toil of our hands.”

To understand this better and see the connection with the protoevangelion we must turn again to Genesis 3:15, though this time in context with the entirety of the curse given to Adam, Eve, and the Serpent:

14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:14-19

Of particular interest to us in this post is the curse pronounced on Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Notice here that the curse given to Adam is specifically related to the toil of the ground or land through the labor of his hands.  God would no longer provide ease and abundance through the fruits of the land, but now it would require painful effort on the part of man to overcome the obstacles of thorns and thistles, and through sweat, i.e. hard work, the land would yield harvest.

Now we can begin to see the expectation of deliverance from this curse in the words of Lamech, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”  Clearly the first part of Lamech’s expectation is related to the final statement of God’s curse on Adam:

The Curse on Mankind:

“till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

Lamech’s Expectation of the Curse Reversed

“Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed” Genesis 5:28

It’s not difficult here to see an expectation for the reversal of the curse given in Genesis 3.  Lamech’s expectation is that out of the very ground that had been cursed would come one who would bring relief.  Like Eve before him, Lamech’s hope was in the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Redeemer who would crush the head of the serpent, though he specifically has an expectation of relief, literally rest, from the curse of the ground.  Further, he expects that this one from the ground will be his own child, Noah, who would bring about this rest.  Again, like Eve, we know that it was not through their immediate offspring that the fulfillment of God’s plan would come, but through the Promised One, Jesus Christ.

It is certainly understandable in both the case of Eve and Noah that their hope in the promise of God would be fulfilled in their lifetime, but that was not God’s plan.  His plan for a Redeemer would unfold through the covenant promise given to Abraham, a kind of reminder of Genesis 3:15, and then through the people of Israel, culminating in the birth of Jesus Christ.

The expectation of Lamech highlights an additional point worth noting, namely the ultimate Sabbath rest that comes in Christ alone.  The Sabbath principle is far more than the 4th Commandment that so many have abrogated from the other 9 commandments.  It is a principle rooted and grounded in the character of God, revealed in the days of creation, longed for in the expectation of Noah, further developed in the Mosaic Law with Sabbaths and Jubilee, and ultimately finding its destination in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 3 and 4 develops further the biblical theme of God’s permanent, Sabbath rest to which all other Sabbaths in the OT pointed, that comes only through Christ:

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, Godwould not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 3:7-19 – 4:1-13

Clearly this passage is worthy of a separate study, but we may conclude a few things in relation to the expectation of Lamech.  From Lamech and the passage from Hebrews, we may observe the connection between the promised rest of God and the promised land of God.  We may conclude that it is only in Christ that believers may find their rest from not only the physical labors of their hands, but the spiritual labor against sin.  Through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, to all believers, by way of Christ’s obedient fulfillment of God’s law, we may rest from all efforts to earn our justification.  Thereby we may now experience God’s Sabbath rest, even though, as in the days of Noah, we also look forward with eager expectation to the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring about our eternal, satisfying rest from all the toil of our hands in a land, namely the new heavens and new earth, that God Himself will prepare.