A promised deliverer
When Adam had transgressed God's law he was sentenced to die -- to return to the dust of the ground (Gen. 3:19) He was at the same time prevented from partaking of the "tree of life" while in his sin-stricken condition. And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3:22, 23).
The words quoted, "lest he should eat and live for ever", are meaningless if the man was already endowed with endless life. They clearly show that man does not live for ever; death terminates his existence, as we have seen in the preceding chapter. If the Creator had left the race to this fate the existence of man would have been limited to the period between birth and death without any prospect of a future life. God, however, did not leave the situation as it existed through man's sin; to have done so would have frustrated His purpose in placing man upon the earth.
There are many hints In the opening chapters of the Bible, brief but significant, the meaning of which is opened up by the New Testament writers and by Jesus Christ himself. Jesus offers those who overcome a right to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7). This language is clearly a reflection of that of Genesis 2 and 3. It also indicates that the possibility of access to the tree of life of which man was deprived at the beginning is made available in and through Christ.
This is one of the many references which show that the early chapters of Genesis are the seed plot of all that is unfolded in the later books. God intended that although man was deprived of approach to the tree of life, it should in some way be made available. There is a hint of the possibility of dying man attaining to life in the provision of angelic guardians (cherubim) of "the way of the tree of life". They were there "to keep it": not to guard it from man's unpermitted approach, but to keep it in the sense of instructing man how the way which he had lost by sin should be opened up.
The first promise
This instruction would doubtless take the form of explanation of God's first promise, and of what man must do to be restored to God's favour. The first promise was contained in the sentences passed upon all involved in transgression; the way man must come unto God can be traced in the scattered hints of the worship which God accepted.
To the serpent -- the instigator of transgression, whose words traduced the commands of God -- God said "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:15). Whilst the literal meaning is illustrated in the antagonism between the serpent tribe and man, this is not the essential meaning.
In these early chapters of Genesis, which are very condensed and somewhat enigmatic in some of the statements, the revelation combines both literal and figurative aspects -- the essential meaning being found in the figurative use of the language. The words of Genesis thus become the basis of the language used in the New Testament to describe the unfolded purpose of God, Thus from "the tree of life" in Eden we pass in the last book of the Bible to the one who made eternal life available and who is symbolized by the tree of life in the Paradise of God to which men can have access (Rev. 2:7).
So in the sentence on the serpent are to be found the germs of the subsequent revelations which find their full realization in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
I will put enmity" -- God imposed an antagonism between the way of disobedience and the way of obedience -- the serpent and its seed standing for the one and the woman and her seed for the other. This conflict has pursued an uninterrupted course throughout men's history. Men of faith and righteousness have opposed and been opposed by men of unbelief and of sin but the climax of the strife is to be seen in the conflict in and about Jesus of Nazareth in the days of his flesh, and in its sequel in the ultimate accomplishment of the purpose of God. As this will be developed in the following chapters in detail, let it suffice here to say that the promise of "the seed of the woman" suggests that the seed is none other than the Son of God, who would be divinely begotten. The seed was not to be the seed of man humanly begotten; but as seed of the woman he inherited all the frailty and tendency to sin which is the lot of all Adam's descendants. In this conflict he yielded a temporary triumph to the sin-power, being wounded in the heel in his death but recovering from this, he gave the death blow to sin by his resurrection and attainment to immortality. This complete personal triumph-thus far seen only in himself - will through him result in the complete removal of every curse and every ill that has followed sin. In language evidently based upon this early promise, by the establishment of the Kingdom of God at the return of Jesus, the restraint upon sin -- in whatever form manifested, whether individually or corporately -- is described as "binding the old serpent" (Rev. 20:2). It is further written "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:26).
This first promise, epitomizing the purpose of God for man's redemption in the provision of a victor over sin and death, was exactly adapted to the situation then existing. The first man and his wife, and many generations of their descendants, found in this brief statement, so easily remembered and so pregnant with meaning as to yield much to the earnest contemplation of men of faith, the basis of their knowledge of the divine purpose. In the words of Paul, "The creature was made subject to vanity (frustration -- an unrealized end) not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God " (Rom. 8:20, 21). We have seen how the frustration came about; we also see the hope God gave to man, included in which, as Paul says, is deliverance from the bondage of corruption.
The rites of worship which God enjoined would bring home to the discerning worshipper something of the significance of the promise. The record states that Abel (whose offering was acceptable to God, as the New Testament declares in Heb. 11: 4) brought "the firstlings of the flock and the fat thereof" at a time appointed. However foreign to some present-day thought the idea of offering animal sacrifices may be, we must remember that such offerings of sacrifice were an essential method of approach to God in Old Testament times. By taking an animal's life and offering appointed portions of its flesh on the altar to be consumed. the worshipper could not fail to receive an effective lesson that he was a sinner and a dying man that death was the appointed "wages of sin"; and that a recognition of this basic fact in the slaying of an animal with which he had identified himself by laying his hands upon its head, was the condition upon which he could acceptably come to God. The principle receives its final and complete ratification in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God.
Nations and their Blessing
The early generations of human history, covering a period of some 1,600 years, occupy but five chapters of the Bible. Then follows the record of the deluge in the days of Noah and the new beginning with his family (Gen. 6-9). Degeneration quickly set in, the memory of the judgment having soon faded; and at last men so far departed from God that they defied the divine law that they should spread abroad and replenish the earth. A central rallying place, probably also a center of false worship, was planned at Babylon; but the effort was frustrated by God's judgment in the confusion of human speech (Gen. 11). The effects of this judgment persist, and today, when all the earth's surface has been appropriated, and the impact of nations upon each other has become emphasized as the result of modern means of communication and transport, the fuller consequences are apparent.
The revelation of God's remedy for the further evil brought about by man's rebellion is immediately recorded in the Scripture, beginning at Genesis 12.
Custodians of God's Revelation
The new circumstances led to the call of Abraham by God from Ur of the Chaldees to Caanan, where God promised that his descendants should become His nation.
This new development of God's purpose is important for many reasons, but one reason might be noted particularly here. Up to this point in human history God's dealings with men had been unrestricted; a person who desired serving God in the way He commanded. The knowledge of His will was preserved by the earnest efforts of individual men -- accountability to God being on an individual basis. From now onwards God's revelation was communicated through the channel of one nation -- the Israelitish nation -- who, as we shall see, were miraculously brought into existence by the divine selection of their ancestor and the supernatural production of Isaac. From Isaac was developed the nation of Israel, who became by God's appointment the custodians of His revelation, and therefore sustained a larger degree of responsibility to God than other nations.
Four hundred years after the call of Abraham the Israelites became God's kingdom, and a beginning was then made of the permanent record of God's will and purpose in the writings of Moses being committed to the nation as a sacred trust. We are not told how the knowledge of God's purpose was transmitted before this time. We are told that Abraham knew the way of the Lord and His law of justice and judgment (Genesis 18:19; 26:5), and that Job, who belonged to the patriarchal period, esteemed the words of God's mouth "more than his necessary food (Job 23:12) We know also of Abel's knowledge of God, of Noah's "walk with God", of Enoch's faith by which he pleased God (Heb. 11:4-7), but of the means by which the knowledge of God's purpose was revealed and preserved we are not told. By the formation of the nation of Israel, and their planting in a central land among the great nations of the earth, God placed a lightstand in the midst of mankind. The light was the revelation of God in the inspired writings kept by the nation. "Unto them", says the apostle Paul, "were committed the Oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2), and this Paul rightly esteemed to be the chief advantage of the Jew. This explains the form of the revelation in the Old Testament. The earlier books have their origin at the time when, through the division of the human family, nations had come into being; the record briefly traces by way of introduction the essential events of early history, condensing a period of about 2,000 years of history into eleven chapters, and then giving at greater length the ampler unfolding of God's will in the history of Abraham's family (from Gen. 12 to 50) and onwards in the history of the Jewish nation. The development initiated in the call of Abraham thus provided the way for the divine will to be further revealed and effectively preserved by the nation, specially selected for this object, and by this arrangement God ensured that men should have a continual witness that He had revealed His purpose.
A Divine Call
Further consideration of Abraham's call to the land of Palestine is now necessary. That the story is not a myth or legend the references to Abraham in the New Testament sufficiently show; they confirm the historical accuracy of the records in Genesis. Jesus said that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be in the kingdom of God when he established it at his return; that many Gentiles should also be with them in that kingdom (Matt. 8:11; Luke 13:28,29). He also said "Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8 : 56). Jesus proved the doctrine of the resurrection by showing that it was God's intention to raise Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from the dead (Luke 20: 34-38). These statements by Jesus Christ show the importance of understanding God's revelation to Abraham, an importance supported by the writings and speeches of the apostles. Paul identified the Christian hope with God's promises to Abraham; "I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto the fathers" (Acts 26:6). He also wrote that "Jesus Christ was made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" (Rom. 15:8). The saintly people who gathered around the cradle of Jesus also connected his birth with the promises made to Abraham. Mary, the child's mother, said God "hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever" (Luke 1:54, 55). Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, declared: God "hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David: as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of them that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant" (Luke 1:69-72). If the promises to Abraham are thus so vitally connected with the work of Jesus Christ, we can understand the confident declaration of the prophet Micah who foretold the birthplace of Jesus some seven centuries before he was born (5:2) "Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old" (Micah 7:20).
The promises are very easy to understand, but their comprehensiveness becomes impressive as they are studied.. Abraham's native place was Ur of the Chaldees, then a highly civilized center of human activity. A divine revelation altered the whole course of his life. In Genesis 12:1-3 we read "Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country; and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed".
God's Chosen Land
In obedience to this command Abraham undertook the journey which brought him to the land of Canaan. The next intimation of God's purpose was briefly expressed in the words: "Unto thy seed will I give this land" (12:7); but the meaning of this was made clearer by subsequent revelations. Shortly afterwards the camp of Abraham was divided by the separation of his nephew Lot, who went to live in the well-watered Jordan plain. And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it for I will give it unto thee" (Gen. 13:14-l7).
It is evident that in the purpose of God, Abraham's future was bound up with the land of Palestine. He was invited to survey it; with the quickened interest of prospective ownership. It is also evident from the initial promise that the blessing of all nations is involved in its fulfillment. The history of Abraham occupies from chapter 12 to 25 of Genesis -- and from that history we learn that all his life was spent as a sojourner in that land Further information was given to Abraham when the covenant was made: "And be said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age (Gen. 15:13-15). An important restatement of the promise is recorded in Genesis 17:4-8: "As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram (Exalted Father) but thy name stall be Abraham (Father of a multitude) for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God".
When Abraham was a hundred years old, a child was born to him under circumstances only possible by God's intervention. It was indicated that this child, Isaac, should be the one through whom the purpose of God should develop. 'In Isaac shall thy seed be called" (Gen. 17:19, 21; 21:12)
When Isaac was grown, Abraham was called upon to offer in sacrifice the one upon whom God had said all the promises depended. But Abraham was equal to the test (although Isaacís life was not taken), and the further promise that God then made is framed in language that Paul uses of Godís offering of His own Son (Rom. 8:32). This of itself should guard us against the hasty judgements of the episode expressed by many modern writers. The experience was designed to complete Godís instruction to Abraham concerning Christ and his day, as references in the New Testament establish. To the promise God added an oath, thus making doubly certain His purpose with Abraham. "By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou has obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:17,18)
From these promises we learn the following:
New Testament Explanations
The things enumerated are the subject of considerable comment and explanation in the New Testament - so much so that it is a matter of surprise that many readers of the New Testament show little interest "in the promise of God made unto the fathers".
(1) There is a touch of paradox in the promise to Abraham himself; God promised him the land of Canaan for ever, yet he was to be "buried in a good old age". The promise cannot then have reference to his sojourn in the land in the past. That he had none of the land by divine gift is shown by the fact that he purchased sufficient for a burial ground on the death of his wife. But inference can be laid aside in the light of the New Testament declarations. Stephen says that God "gave him none inheritance in it, not so much as to set his foot on" (Acts 7:5). Paul says: "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed . . . By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles (tents) with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:8-10). "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country that is, an heavenly : wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God : for he hath prepared for them a city " (Heb. 11:13-16)
From these testimonies it is evident that Abraham recognized that the promise had reference to a future long distant from his day, and that his attainment of what God had promised could only come by his resurrection from the dead. That he believed in the resurrection appears from Paul's words concerning the offering of Isaac: "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Heb. 11:17-19).Since Abraham uttered the prophetic words "God will provide himself a lamb" on that occasion, we cannot be far wrong in seeing in Isaac a parable of a greater seed in at least three particulars. His birth was due to divine intervention; he was offered as a sacrifice, and in figure was raised from the dead. In essentials there is a parallel between Isaac and Jesus.
(2) We have just said "a greater seed"; for while Isaac will be in the kingdom of God, Jesus being witness, the "seed" promised to Abraham was born many generations after Isaac. Here again we are not left to inference, for Paul says that the "seed" is Jesus Christ. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). Jesus and Abraham are joined together as the recipients of the divine gift, and an essential part of the promised inheritance is possession of the Promised Land of Canaan.
(3) When the time indicated by God to Abraham had elapsed, God delivered the nation of Israel from the hard bondage of Egypt, adopted them as His people, and formed them into a kingdom. One object in this development, their custody of God's revelation, has already been touched upon : but others equally important call for separate consideration (see Chapter 5)
(4) To "possess the gate of his enemies" is a figure of conquest and rule, based upon the practice of building walls around cities for protection. The entrance gate to the city became the market place and the center of judicial administration. Its vulnerability led to special fortification of the gate, hence "to possess the gate" of an enemy implied the conquest of the city. To "sit in the gate" was a synonym for "to rule the city". If Christ is to possess the gate of his enemies, how far will his possessions extend? For answer we refer first to a prophecy, and then to a statement by Paul. In Psalm 2 we have the words of God: "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron" (verses 8, 9). Its exclusive applicability to Jesus is shown by references in the New Testament (Heb. 1:5; 5:5). Jesus himself takes up the language in a promise that those who follow him shall share what he has received "He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations and he shall rule them with a rod of iron . . . even as I have received of my Father " (Rev. 2:26, 27). The other reference is in Romans 4 : 13 where Paul says" the promise that Abraham should be heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith". Nothing less than world dominion under the rulership of Jesus Christ is the theme of this aspect of God's promise to Abraham. With good reason Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day.
(5) It is noteworthy that immediately after the promise of universal dominion God declared that through the appointed world-ruler there will come the blessing of all nations. This is the very essence of the gospel of the grace of God: for Paul says: "The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen (Gentiles) through faith, preached before the gospel to Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed." (Gal. 3:8) This blessing upon all nations is much more extensive than the bestowal of the good things which follow from the establishment of the kingdom of God upon earth under the rulership of Christ. Paul, referring in his letter to the Romans to the promises of God made to Abraham, speaks of the "blessedness of those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered" (Rom. 4:6), and shows that by such blessing God counts a man righteous who is not righteous, by forgiving his sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Peter also makes the same application of the blessing (Acts 3:26). Primarily therefore, the blessing of all nations has reference to the forgiveness of sins in Christ Ė- "justification by faith" -- without which the subsequent blessings of the kingdom of God cannot be realized. In the promises the gospel was therefore preached to Abraham; therein is the ground of blessing for any one of us; "for they that be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham".
A Changed World
For all nations to be blessed in Abraham involves the conversion of the world, and the enlightened walking in God's commandments by all who live. Men despair of seeing the radical change in human disposition necessary for ensuring world peace. Such a change will come under the rule of Jesus Christ. It will be stronger than the world has ever known ; but beneficent as no previous rule on earth. He who died for man's sins will be patient with the weak, kind to the poor, helpful to the needy but merciless to the unrepentant oppressor and the evil-doer. He will rule justly and in the fear of God. All the glowing pictures of peace and righteousness and prosperity in the writings of Israel's prophets are but forward glimpses of that day. (For further reference to this reign of Christ, the reader is referred to chapter 6 Ė ĎA Royal Throneí)
The promises made to Abraham were repeated by God to Isaac (Gen. 26:2,3,4) and to Jacob (Gen. 28:3,4,13,14).
Father, son and grandson, are together "the fathers" of the Israelitish nation. They are joined together by God in the words used in His announcement to Moses: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Exod. 3:6), from which divine declaration, since all three had then been long dead, Jesus demonstrated that God would raise these men (Matt. 22:32; Luke 20:37,38) Though dead, to God "they live" since He will restore them to life. If there were no future for these men God would not associate His name with theirs, calling Himself their God. Abraham is called "the friend of God" (James 2:23), and he will yet rejoice in sharing Godís kingdom to be established on earth.
These are not remote matters, of small interest to ourselves.. The follower of Christ shares with Christ the heirship of the Abrahamic promises. "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ ... and if ye be Christís, then are ye Abrahamís seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3:27,29) Nothing can be surer: for by two things that cannot be broken God has ensured the future of the heirs of the promise. His promise and oath are the pledges of the accomplishment of these declarations made to Abraham. So Paul says: "For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swear by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." (Heb. 6:13-18)