Thursday, December 30, 2010

Righteousness leads to life (Gen 5:1-32)

Enoch, in Figures de la Bible,
by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733)
Genesis five sounds almost like a restart of the human story. It echoes the note that Adam and Eve were God's image and likeness (Gen 5:1-2). Now the story passes through Seth, Adam's "son in his own likeness, in his own image" (Gen 5:3). These notes assure us that Adam's offspring inherited the image and likeness of God. The fall didn't obliteate the image or restrict it to Adam and Even.

Yet sin brought death to humanity--even the line that worshipped God (Gen 2:7; Rom 5:12-21; 6:23). From Adam on, a man was born, grew up, sired children, and "lived" a certain number of years; "then he died" (Gen 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31). But when we come to Enoch, the seven from Adam in this line, we read a different story:
  1. Instead of "lived," we read that Enoch "walked with God" (Gen 5:21, 24). Like Noah (Gen 6:9), his lifestyle pleased God (Heb 11:5).
  2. Instead of "died," we read that "he disappeared because God took him away" (Gen 5:24 NET). Sometimes "was no more" and "God took him" serve as euphemisms for death. But here they imply a rapture experience like that of Elijah (2 Kgs 2:1, 5, 9, 10), Jesus (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9), and those living when Jesus returns (1 Thess 4:16, see 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 5:10). The New Testament understands it that way (Heb 11:5). 
Waltke concludes, "Enoch's life affirms that those who 'walk with God' (Gen 5:22, 24) in this fallen world will experience life, not death, as the last word."[1]

In the coming year, let's resolve to walk with God. And if we do so, just as we were anxious for the coming of Christmas--and much more--we will long for our Lord's return. "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev 22:20).

1. Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 115; citing Deut 30:15-16; 2 Kgs 2:1, 5, 9-10; Pss 49:15; 73:24; Heb 11:5.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sin leads to death (Gen 4:17-24)

Cain's line started and ended in murder, but that same line developed culture (Gen 4:17-22). This malignant paradox marks all of sinful man's efforts. Civilization without God rots even as it thrives. We meet with that two-sided picture in our own age. Drugs can cure or addict. Technology can enhance or dominate our lives. Music and art can convey the most noble human sentiments and aspirations or its most degraded dispositions and appetites. Government can alleviate suffering and promote security, or it can terrorize minorities and orchestrate genoidice.

Lamech as the seventh descendant in the line of Adam through Cain (see Gen 5:3-21). This seven-generation (i.e., full) genealogy implies that this is how "the way of Cain (Jude 11) panned out.
Lamech's song must be a woman's worst dream. The reference to his wives in this violent context points to the outworking of the judgment oracle of Genesis 3:16: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Adah and Zilah suffered the humiliation of polygamy in their marriage to a brutal and remorseless male.[1]

Lamech the Murderer
The barbarian bragged, "I have killed a man for wounding me, a boy just for hitting me" (Gen 4:23). He boasted, if God pledged Cain sevenfold vengeance, I'll invoke seventy-fold retaliation (Gen 4:23). This signals alienation from God's redemptive grace. God told Israel, Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your prople, but love your neighbor as yourself, I am the LORD" (Lev 19:18). And the New Testametn reversed Lamech seventy-fold formula, which could only collapse into genocidal blood vendettas. Rather than retaliate, we forgive. 

And rather that forgive seven times, we forgive seventy-seven times (Matt 6:14-15; cf. 18:21-35). But then, who's counting by then?

1. R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 114.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cain and Abel

Cain came as a godsend. Eve's jubilation reminds us of Adam's reception of his bride (Gen 4:1, cf. Gen 2:23).[1] She probably thought he would crush the serpent's head (Gen 3:15). But that wasn't to be.

God Requires mercy not sacrifice (Gen 4:2-7; Hos 6:6; Matt 9:13: 12:7)

Eve also born Abel, who "kept flocks" while Cain "worked the soil" (Gen 4:2). One day, each brought an offering from his labor (Gen 4:3-4). God favored Abel and his offering, but not so with Cain and his (Gen 4:4-5). Why? Each brought an "offering" (Heb. minkhah), which was often a grain or drink offering. So Cain's problem wasn't a lack of blood sacrifice for sin. The text gives us three indications of what went wrong:
  1. God accepts or rejects gifts as he accepts of rejects the giver. He fabored Abel but not Cain (Gen 4:4-5), so he accepted Abel's offering but not Cain's.
  2. Abel offered a sincere gift, but Cain just went through the motions. Abel brought his best, "fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock." But Cain just brought "some of the fruits of the soil" (Gen 4:3-4), neither the best nor the firstfruits.
  3. The New Testament makes Cain out to be like an unthinking animal that brings on his own destruction. Someone who makes a travesty of worship (Jude 10-12). Like a profane man who hates righteousness (1 John 3:11-12). 
Selfish unbelief led Cain into an empty ritual and on to murderous fury. Belief le Abel into the presence of God, at his altar on earth, and at his death.

Cain and Abel, by Titian
Cain grew "very angry" at God (Gen 4:5). So God put two options to him, which foreshadow our own spiritual choices.
  1. Continue to do wrong, and sin will seize you (Gen 4:7). Peter raised a similar alarm (1 Pet 5:8). God told Cain, "master" your sin (Gen 4:7), but Cain didn't.
  2. Do right, and I'll receive you (Gen 4:6). This prefigured the promise, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Thanks be to God, the command to find victory over our sin and receive the offer of salvation found fulfillment when Jesus Christ conquered sin and death.

People have a responsibility for each other (Gen 4:8-12)

Angry Cain didn't even answer God; instead, he turned on his brother and murdered him (Gen 4:8). Instead of crushing the serpent's head, Cain crushed his brother's head. Fury often comes as a prelude to homicide, so Jesus went right to the root of the matter when he condemned anger as the sinful source of murder (Matt 5:21-22).

God's call "Where is your brother?" (Gen 4:9) sounds like his callt o Cain's sinful parents (Gen 3:9). As he had with Cain's parents, God sought confession not information. Cain's parents had offered excuses; now their son offered lies and impudence (Gen 4:9). So God confronted Cain, "Listen! Your brother blood cries out to me from the ground (Gen 4:10). Murder is like attacking God himself, because it attacks his image and likeness. When David killed Uriah, he confessed, "Against you--you above all--I have sinned" (Ps 51:4 NET). Hughes concludes, "Our own hatreds... are spiritual homicides ultimately directed against God--however private they may seem to be."[2]

Vengeance belongs to the LORD (Gen 4:13-16)

When Abel's blood cried out, God listened. The LORD pronounced a twofold sentence:
  1. God aggravated the agricultural curse. The LORD God had consigned Adam to sweaty toil for limited productivity (Gen 3:18). Now he told Cain, "When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you" (Gen 4:12).
  2. God intensified exile from his presence. God had exiled Cain's parents from the garden. Now God made Cain "a homeless wanderer" (Gen 4:12), banish from human settlement. Cain moved east, further yet from Eden (Gen 4:16). This foreshadowed Israel's exile from the land, the church's judgment of excommunicatin (Matt 18:17-19; 1 Cor 5), and eternal banishment in the lake of fire (Rev 20:11-18).
Cain responded not with repentant grief but with whining self-pity. "My punishment (Heb. 'awon) is more than I can bear (Heb. nasa') (Gen 4:13).[3] But true repentance doesn't whine over the severity of divine judgment; rather, it laments the severity of the offense against God and neighbor. Cain pitied himself rather than his bereaved parents. Rather than worrying about his brother's death, Cain worried about his own (Gen 4:14).

But God said, "Not so," and gave Cain a protective mark (Gen 4:15). Cain wasn't righteous, but God put him under his protection anyway. The Bible provides plentiful parallels of God's mark of protection. We see if typificed in the the bloody doorposts on Passover night in Egypt (Exod 12; Heb 11:28). In both the Old and New Testaments, we see it symbolized in prophetic visions of God marking the righteous before destruction comes (Ezek 9; Rev 7:1-8; 9:5). And we see its fulfillment in the seal of the Spirit that God places on the elect (John 3:33; 1 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14; 4:30),[4] and in the heavenly new name (Rev 2:17; 3:12, see Isa 62:2).

As we look ahead to the new year, let's forgo any claim to vengeance against those who have done us wrong. Let's renew our confidence in the Lord as our avenger and protector. Indeed, let us love our neighbor--or brother--as ourselves so that we can offer up true sacrifices of praise.

1. The Hebrew phrasing of Gen 4:1 is ambiguous, as the various translations show: (1) "I have created a man just as the LORD did" (NET). Understood this way, Eve says something like, "I, a woman ('ishah), was produced from man ('ish); now I, woman, have in turn produced a man." (2) "I have received a man, even the LORD." This translation implies that Eve saw Cain as fulfillment of the messianic promise of Gen 3:15. But Gen 3:15 itself gives no hint that the seed of the woman was to be divine. In the fullness of time, we have come to realize that the incarnate God fulfilled the promise of Gen 3:15, but Eve wouldn't have been expecting that.. (3) "I have received a man from the LORD," or "with the LORD's help." This  is the most common take on it in English translation.

2. R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 105; citing Matt 5:21-25.

3. The term 'awon can mean either "sin" or its "penalty." And the term nasa' can mean either "bear" or "forgive." So Cain's response could mean either "my sin is too great for you to forgive (LXX, Targums), or "my punishment is to great for me to bear." The rest of Cain's complaint makes it clear that he lamented his punishment rather than his sin.

4. Note that the mark of the beast symbolizes a pretentious and ineffectual counterfeit of the divine mark of protection (Rev 13:17; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The "Immanuel" Principle

A central promise of God is the "Immanuel" principle, the promise of God living with us: "I will make my dwelling among you.... And I will walk among you and will be your  God, and you shall be my people" (Lev 26:11-12, also Exod 29:45). Under the Old Covenant, the most prominent manifestation of the Immanuel principle was the tabernacle in the wilderness or the temple in the land.

Eden was the first dwelling place that God provided for his people to live in fellowship with him. So it's no surprise that the dwelling place of God shares paradise symbolism, from the tabernacle through to the paradise of New Jerusalem. One of the most helpful things to keep in mind when speaking of tabernacle typology is to remember that the point of the tabernacle was this: It was a place for God to dwell among his people, in fulfillment of his  repeated covenant promise to do so.[1] It never was about a tent or building of stone; these only symbolized the Immanuel principle.

So God commanded Moses to build a tabernacle that followed the heavenly pattern, toward which it aimed (Exod 25:8-9). When Moses finished the tabernacle, God's glorious presence move in and filled the it (Exod 40:34-38), and the same thing occurred  when Solomon finished the temple (1 Kgs 8:10-11; 2 Chr 7:1-2). Of course, even during the  time of Solomon's  temple, Israel knew that it was merely a symbol of God's dwelling; they knew that even the whole earth couldn't contain the Lord.[2]

So the exilic and postexilic  prophets looked forward to amore glorious  temple (Isa 2; zech 4), even as they exhorted the people to get the limited Old Testament manifestation of the Immanuel principle rebuilt (Hag 2:7-9). Even Ezekiel could look forward not onlly to the rebuilt postexilic temple of stone, but also to the eschatological temple built in believers' hearts, as God promised, "I will put my  Spirit within you" (Ezek 36:27).

When the Virgin Mary was promised her child, she was told, "They shall call his name Immanuel (which means,  God with us)" (Matt 1:23). The baby Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of  the  typical sign-child that Isaiah had promised to Ahaz (Isa 7:14). Indeed, the incarnation could be described as  God "tabernacling" among us: "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us" (John 1:14).[3] Paul spoke of the same reality when described Jesus as the one in whom "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1:19), or the one in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9). These are the vary same terms under which Jesus promised a new temple: "'Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this  temple, and will you  raise it up in three days?' But he was speaking about the temple of his body" (John 2:19-21).

The veil was torn at Jesus' death (Luke 23:45), promising a new way into the holiest place of God's presence. So the apostolic community looked back at the tabernacle and temple as Old Testament foreshadowings of the reality that came in Jesus (Acts 7:49-50; Heb 9). The truer temple was now being manifest among the people of God individually (John 14:23; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21-22) and corporately through the church (1 Cor 3:16-17), which was being built up not of stone and mortar but of living stones (1 Pet 2:5). This is the  real temple, which the tent and stone could only foreshadow.

In John's final vision, we see echoes of the glory-filled Mosaic tabernacle and Solomonic temple dedications (Rev 11:19; 15:8). But the ultimate fulfillment of  the Immanuel principle is God himself, who dwells among his people without need of a building. John said, "I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,  'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their  God'" (Rev 21:21-22). That's the final  answer to Solomon's rhetorical question, "Who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even the highest heaven, cannot contain him. Who am I to build a house  for him, except as a place to make offerings  before him" (2 Chr 2:6, cf. 1 Kgs 8:27). Isaiah recorded God asking the same kind of rhetorical questions, which relativized any man-made temple: "Thus says the LORD: 'Heaven is my  throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house  that you have  built for me, and what is the place of my  rest?" (Isa 66:1).

Today, we celebrate Jesus first Advent, when the promise that God would be a "God with us" found fulfillment by Incarnation. And we look ahead to his second advent, when the shout goes up, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Rev 21:3). Then there will  be no need for "a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Rev 21:22).

1. Gen 3:8; Exod 25:8; 29:45–46; Lev 26:11–12; Ezek 37:26; 2 Cor 6:16.

2. 1 Kgs 8:27; Ps 11:4, cf. Acts 7:49–50.

3.  English idiom general reads "dwelled among us," but  the Greek verb eskenosen could be translated very literally as "tabernacled."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Grace to sinful man

Louis XIV. presenting his sceptre and helmet to Jesus Christ, by Charles Le Brun, 1674
Thank God, the Bible story doesn't end just outside the closed gates of Eden. God began laying the groundwork of grace even as be judged the first sin. The serpent had tried to elevate himself God and man. So God's sentence was "cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals" (Gen 3:14). Now snakes would writhe in shame in the dust. And eventually, a man who ruled with God's own authority would crush the serpent's head (Gen 3:15).

And God graciously sustained his plan for man's life.

I. Restored Rule in the Kingdom of God.

The command to rule detailed a two-part commission:

First, be fruitful, multiply, and fill. Sin frustrated this, but grace restores it. Even after judgment, "Adam named his wife Eve (Heb. khavvah), because she would become the mother of all the living (Heb. khay)" (Gen 3:20). The promise that the woman's offspring woudl crush the serpent's head implied this hope; the woman would bear offspring. God would grant the human race a future rather than impose summary execution. Subsequent genealogies show the family lines of God's people multiplying. In fact, Abraham's offspring would multiply till they were as numerous as stars in the sky or sand grains on the shore (Gen 14:23; 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; 32:12). Indeed, the people who followed Moses out of Egypt and first read this story knew how Egypt came to fear them because of how much they multiplied (Exod 1:7).

Second, subdue and rule. God's redemptive counter-attack began right where the serpent's rebellion had begun, with the woman. He warned the serpent that the offspring of woman would subdue him (Gen 3:15). At first, the use of "seed" (Heb. zera'; LXX sperma) of a woman rather than man sounds wrong. But it would indeed be one born of woman, but without a human father, who would gain this victory. "Offspring" is a collective-singular noun, so it often refers to all of Abraham's descendants. But Genesis 3:15 speaks of an individual representative: "he will crush your head," not they. Paul recognized that this referred to Jesus Christ. He would deliver the head-crushing blow against the serpent for the whole human race (Gen 3:16; 4:4). And those who are in Christ share in this triumph (Rom 16:20).

Even in the Old Testament, God graciously supported man's royal commission. He promised his people that they would subdue the land that he would give them (Gen 26:4) and rule over nations (Gen 49:8-12). This found initial fulfillment in the Davidic dynasty's imperial rule. But even though David was a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22), he wasn't God's perfect image and likeness. So the rule that he and his descendants exercised only foreshadowed the rule of the Son of David, the Son of Man.

Christ Jesus fulfills man's royal commission (Matt 22:4; Mark 12:36; 1 Cor 15:25-27; Eph 1:22). And if we are "in Christ," this commission finds fulfillment in us. Even now, we bind and loose (Matt 16:19; 18:18) and have the authority to trample on the serpent (Luke 10:19). It's because we "have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority" (Col 2:10). And when we're finally renewed in God's image and likeness, we'll reign with Christ in the heavenly council (Rev 3:21; 20:4). We'll judge even angels (1 Cor 6:2-3).

II. Restored Rest in the Kingdom of God

Even after the fall, God graciously sustained a measure of rest for his people. God promised freed slaves leaving Egypt that they would have rest from their enemies (Josh 1:13-15; 11:20; 14:15; 21:44; 22:4; 23:1). He gave them judges, who gave them periodic rest (Judg 3:11, 30; 5:31; 8:28). They hoped for a king to give them a lasting rest (Judg 9:6, 8,  10, 12, 14-18; 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). So he gave them king David (2 Sam 7:1, 8-11). Even when the exile sent them out of the land, God would promise a time when they would again experience Sabbath (Jer 17:19-26; Ezek 46:3-12). Even foreigners could experience that rest by following the LORD (Isa 56:6-8).

When Jesus came, he came fulfilling Sabbath. So "We who have believed enter that rest" (Heb 4:3). Let's do our best to enter heaven's eternal rest (Heb 4:9, 11).

III. Restored Fellowship in Paradise

Even after judging the man and woman, he showed them grace. He gave them skins to replace their pathetic coverings. This implied God's intent to revive the fellowship that sin broke. Even though the story lacks any explicit sacrificial language, we can see a precursor to divine atonement here. The priests, who received the skins of sacrificial animals (Lev 7:8), would almost certainly have read this story with atonement in mind.

This foreshadowed the promise of robes of righteousness, which the fine linen in John's visions symbolize (Zech 3:4-5; Matt 22:11; Luke 15:22; Rev 19:8). That all looks forward to when believers will be clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Gal 3:27). God covers the shame of sin. He wants a relationship with us. In turn, he gives us a ministry of reconciliation, to spread that relation throughout all mankind (2 Cor 5:18).

And what of the guarded gate that blocked the way back to the tree of life? In the Old Testament, a curtain kept nearly everyone out of the holiest place nearly all the time. But by God's grace, the high priest could enter annually on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16; 23:26-32). But now we shout, "Blessed is he would was pierced and so removed the sword from the entry to paradise."[1] Jesus removed it when God tore the temple curtain (Matt 27:51). That's the argument of Hebrews six through ten. and in the end, Jesus Christ leads us forward into the new paradise, and back to the tree of life. John said,
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. (Rev 22:1-3)
This is paradise regain, perfect fellowship with God regained, service to God perfected. This is life eternal.

In this Advent season, thank God that his Son as Last Adam, to restore all that First Adam ruined in rebellion. And follow the Son, who is the "pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2 NET). The blessed one born King of the Jews is King of kings and Lord of lords. Let him rule in your heart this Christmas.

1. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Pardise, 2.1; quoted in Andrew Louth, ed., Genesis 1-11, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, general ed., Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001), 102.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sin and its aftermath

Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472-1553

When God came into the garden after the first human sin, they tried to hide from him (Gen 3:8). But hiding from God is impossible (Ps 139:7-12). First, God confronted Adam, who started making excuses (Gen 3:8). He didn't answer God's "where are you?" with an obedient "here am I." Instead, he wined, "I was afraid." And when God challenged him about this guilty shame, he blamed "the woman you put here with me" (Gen 3:12)--a blasphemous hint that this was at least partly God's fault. Next, God challenged the woman, who didn't repent either, but blamed the serpent for fooling her (Gen 3:13).

No one can compose a sincere confession using excuses. And anguish over sin's embarrassing consequences doesn't constitute the sorrow of repentance either. "The kind of sorrow wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There's no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in death" (2 Cor 7:10 NLT).

So God judged Adam and Eve. At all three points of God's design for humanity, sin cost dearly.
  1. God created his image and likeness to rule with him in the kingdom of God. The serpent promised autonomous rule, without allegiance to the Sovereign's rule. When the LORD saw that they had gained the knowledge of good and evil through rebellion, he disqualified them from rule and exiled them from the realm (Gen 3:22-24). God told Adam that he would now serve (Heb. 'abad, "serve, work") the ground that he should have subdued (Gen 3:23, cf. Gen 1:28). "Scorning man's kingly dignity, the ground would no bring him a tribute of thistles and a crown of thorns."*
  2. God creation man for rest in the kingdom of God. But human sin and divine judgment doomed man to frustrated labor. God told the woman, "I will greatly increased your pains in childbearing" (Gen 3:16). This marred her key contribution to the commission to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Gen 1:28). And God's curse on the ground frustrated man's ability to fulfill the commission to be fruitful and subdue the earth. This curse underlies the Old Testament covenantal curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. It prompts complaints from the "Teacher" (Eccl 1:2, 4) in Ecclesiastes. And even Paul reflected it (Rom 8:20-23).
  3. Image by Amy Watson, via flickr
  4. God created man for close fellowship one with another and with their God. The serpent's attack brought alienation between the husband and wife, and between God and man. First, shame interrupted the couple's marital intimacy. The serpent had promised god-like shrewdness (Gen 3:1, Heb. 'arum), but they found only shameful nudeness (Gen 3:7, Heb. 'erom). So they invented makeshift clothes to hide from each other. And God told the woman, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (Gen 3:16). Marriage suffers from the fall. Second, shame interrupted the relation between God and man. Adam showed it first by hiding, but God affirmed it. To keep man from usurping eternal life, the LORD banished him from the garden and thus kept him away from the tree of life (Gen 3:22-23). The cherubim guarding the gate served the same purpose that the temple curtain did. It kept the unholy away from the holiest place on earth. God imposed other expressions of that exile throughout redemptive history. We he foreshadowed at Eden's closed gates, he impose in the tabernacle and temple architecture. What he taught by that sign, he imposed by exiling Israel from the holy land. And these Old Testametn examples foreshadowed what the church does when it excommunicates the defiant sinner (1 Cor 5:1-13). Finally, God will impose ultimate exile when he sends sinners off into the eternal lake of fire (Rev 20:11-15).
In this season, when the Lord has once again come to walk among us, let us not hide, complain, and make excuses. Confess your sins, repent, and seek God's forgiveness:
But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts (1 John 1:7-10 NLT)
* Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 135–36; referring to Gen 3:18; see Matt 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2, 5.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Demonic dialogue

Genesis three opens with a demonic dialogue over God's word (Gen 3:1-5). Both the serpent and the woman distorted and denied God's word. And that led to death. Jesus must have had this story in mind when he called Satan "a murdered from the beginning... a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:33).

  • The liar (Gen 3:1) reversed God's word (Gen 2:16)
  • The ungrateful (Gen 3:2) diminished the privilege (Gen 2:16)
  • The ungrateful (Gen 3:3) widened the prohibition (Gen 2:17, cf. Gen 2:9)
  • The whiner (Gen 3:3) increased the severity of the command (Gen 3:3)
  • The doubter (Gen 3:3) decreased the severity of the penalty (Gen 2:17)
  • The liar (Gen 3:4) denied the word (Gen 2:17)
  • The liar and murderers exchanged a demonic promise (Gen 3:5) for a divine curse (Gen 2:17).
Once the woman departed from God's word, she began defining things on her own terms. What God called forbidden, she called good, pleasing, and desirable. Then she led Adam into sin. Sadly, the couple thought it better to follow the serpent's deadly lies rather than to live by every living word of truth that comes from "the mouth of the LORD" (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4).
Frank SInatra's "My Way" is an American favorite at funerals: " of all, I did it my way." But that's a recipe for death, so it's a poor way to celebrate life (Prov 14:12, par. Prov 16:26). 
We can all too easily fall into the same sin that Adam and Eve first committed. First, we doubt God's word. Then we feel free to ignore, pervert, or even deny it. Be belittle God's blessings and magnify his demands. And we slide in to sin and sink into ruin and death.

During this holiday season, let's remind ourselves of God's "indescribable gift" (2 Cor 9:15). And let's pledge anew to live by the Word of God.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Created for rest

Noon: Rest From Work (After Millet)  1889-90; Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Augustine, a medieval theologian from North Africa, exclaimed, "O God, our hearts are made for you, and they shall be restless until they rest in you!" (Confessions 1.1.1).

When God "finished" creation, he "rested" (Heb. shabbath, "cease, stop") from all his work" (Gen 2:1-2). Then, in the first act of sanctification recorded in Scripture, "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (v. 3). Bruce Waltke notes that observing the Sabbath sanctified Israel by reminding them of three key things:[1]
  1. God would complete his work (see Phil. 1:6).
  2. God was master over everything (Pss 2:4; 89:11; 96:11; 1 Cor 10:26).
  3. God set Israel apart for a special relationship (Exod 31:17)
The old covenant Sabbath, circumcision, and dietary laws maintained a distinction between Jew and Gentile. But God erased the covenantal distinctions between Jew and Gentile (Gal 3:28; Col 2:16). So the early church began to gather on the first day of the week rather than the last, on "the Lord's day" (Rev 1:10). They would break bread and study the Scriptures together (John 20:1, 19-23; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2).

Sabbath Rest on the couch
What is your practice on the Lord's day? Paul noted that Jesus' triumph on the cross meant that no one should judge Christians about Old Testament ceremonial laws like those about food, festivals, or "Sabbath days" (Col 2:15-16). So I won't. But remind yourself that the Sabbath was rooted first in God's "very good" creation order, not just on the Law of Moses. Remind yourself that it was made for you, as a good gift for hard working people. And remember that we should be developing a taste for Sabbath, because final rest is the goal of salvation.

God rooted the provisional rest that he provided in throughout the Old Testament in the idea that he could say, "Very good! I'm done." Our rest comes because Jesus has cried, "It is finished" (John 19:3). On the one hand, "We who have believed enter that rest" (Matt 11:28-30; Heb 4:3). We have it now. On the other hand, "There is a special rest still waiting for the people of God." So God exhorts us, "Make every effort to enter that rest" (Heb 4:8, 11 NLT).

Our preaching should never lay a heavy yoke on a congregation. It should issue Jesus' own invitation: "Come... all you who are weary and burdened." We know where you can find "rest for your souls." We can sing this song:

Hear the blessed Savior calling the oppressed,
"O ye heavy laden, come to me and rest.
Come, no longer tarry, I your load will bear,
Bring me every burden, bring me every care."[2]

1. Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 71-73.
2. Come Unto Me


Sunday, December 12, 2010

In his image

For God's title, the Old Testament, regularly uses the plural noun 'Elohim instead of 'Eloah, the singular form. With singular verbs, 'Elohim clearly refers to the one God of Israel. But in Genesis 1:26, we have a plural verbs and pronoun too:
God (Heb. 'elohim, plural noun) said (singular verb), "Let us make (plural verb) man in our (plural pronoun) image, in our (plural pronoun) likeness. (Gen 1:26).
Interpreters suggest various explanations for this plural reference, but the clear choice is that God uses "us" and "our" when he speaks to the rest of the heavenly hosts. They form a ruling council, which both Daniel and John saw (Dan 7:9-10; Rev 20:4). Job and his friends never saw it, but that council debated his righteousness (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). God even permitted argument and counter-argument from Satan, who attended. When God set out the judge and destroy wicked king Ahab, he took angelic council. When one council member came up with a suggestion God liked, God told him "Go and do it" (1 Kgs 22:19-22). When God needed a messenger to deliver his message of judgment, he asked the heavenly council for volunteers: "Who will go for us?" And the prophet Isaiah volunteered, "Send me!" (Isa 6:8). This depicts prophets as members of the heavenly council, which is perhaps why Scripture says, "Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). Even today, God charges his ministers not only before man, but also before the heavenly council (1 Tim 5:21).
God creating Adam, by Michalangelo in Sistine Chapel

In Genesis 1:26, God told the whole assembled host of heaven, "Let's make man in our image and likeness," "a little lower" than the 'Elohim that staff the heavenly council. Then God commissioned his earthly image and likeness to rule over creation (v. 28). When we're renewed in that image, we'll reign with Christ in the heavenly council, judging even angels (Dan 7:9, 22; 1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 3:21; 20:4). And that's the whole point of being created in the image and likeness of the 'Elohim, who is judge of all.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In the beginning God...

The Carina Nebula of our Milky Way

Israel's Scriptures taught them monotheism from the very first verse. It was something the new nation needed to learn. After the Conquest, God had to warn them, don't return to the gods of your ancestors on the other side of the Euphrates, the gods of your grandparents on the other side of the Nile, or the gods of your neighbors on the other side of the Jordan (Josh 24:2, 13, 15). They were to worship the one true God (Deut 6:4-5).

"The Ancient of Days" by William Blake
Creation established God's universal lordship. So Israel sang, "The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it" (Ps 89:11). Other nations figured that the various gods exercised only regional authority (e.g., 1 Kgs 20:23, 28), but Israel's God had created the universe, so he rules it.

As we approach Christmas, let's remember that the Babe born in Bethlehem is our Creator and our Savior. Let's have no other gods before him--especially in this season that Mammon vies for with such energy.