Abraham’s Faith & Obedience

November 14th, 2011

Genesis 22:1-24
Subjective Sources of Abraham’s Remarkable Obedience

In John 8:56 Christ said that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and he saw it, and was glad. If that is a reference to a specific occasion in Abraham’s life, I think it was most probably something that happened while the events recorded in this chapter were taking place. If that is true, it illustrates in an eminently vivid way that God sends trials for the benefit of those who are tried (James 1:2,3). If you could interview Abraham and ask him what was the most severe trial of his life, there can be little doubt that he would point to this time. The text itself marks it as a particularly intense time of testing when we read at the beginning of the chapter that God tempted, or tested Abraham. And by the end of this chapter Abraham himself has much cause to count these trials a joy: from his own experience he can say, in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me (Psalm 119:75). And the more we study this chapter, the more I think we will come to see the truth of Paul’s statement, that these things were written for our admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11; cp. Romans 15:4). I can’t even attempt to give a full treatment to the many themes that coalesce in this portion of Scripture, but I want to give a few hints about the sort of things we can learn from it. And I want to approach it from the standpoint of Abraham’s mindset. What was it that enabled Abraham to render such prompt obedience to God’s terrible command? It can’t have been easy. God didn’t make it easy. For one thing, He reminded Abraham of how precious Isaac was in the very way that He phrased the command: thy son, thine only Son, Isaac, whom thou lovest. But more than that, God required Abraham himself to kill Isaac. Matthew Poole explains how it was to be done:

[Isaac’s] throat was to be cut, his body dissected into quarters, his bowels taken out, as if he had been some notorious traitor, and vile malefactor and miscreant, and afterwards he was to be burnt to ashes, that if possible there might be nothing left of him.

And Abraham was supposed to start on all of this promptly, and yet was given time enough in the journey to anticipate its horrors. What did Abraham have to know and believe in order to even begin to go through with this? By what unshakable and unquestionable convictions did Abraham face and pass this most severe test?

I. First of all, Abraham knew the absoluteness of God. God was ultimate for Abraham. This appears in two ways.

A. Nothing was more important than God. This is the point that God highlights at the moment of crisis. Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. Here was Isaac -Abraham’s son, only child of the beloved Sarah, living proof of the power of God; but Abraham did not withhold him. If it was a choice between God or Isaac, there was no question as to which it was to be. Isaac was never a contender. There was no competition. And all parents have to learn this: it could be in the case of children who die, or children who are rebellious, but they cannot be put in the place of God. And of course not only parents, but all people: the first commandment is still, Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. God was supreme to Abraham. And that supremacy of God in Abraham’s heart was matched by a similar supremacy in Abraham’s mind.

B. What God commanded, must be done. This sounds simple, but this was more than just a test of devotion. In a way, it was a repetition of the test that Eve failed in Eden. You remember that God had told Adam that in the day he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would die. When the tempter spoke to Eve he contradicted that, and when Eve looked at the tree she could see that it was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, to be desired to make one wise. God had said that evil would come from eating: but Eve could see that the tree was good in every way. And so she trusted her judgment more than God’s revelation. She acted as though “bad” and “good” were something that existed independently of God’s will, and that right and wrong and good and evil could be decided apart from God’s word: and so she ate the fruit and gave it to her husband as well. In that situation there was a command which perhaps didn’t seem necessary, and it was rejected. But when we come to Abraham, it seems that the trial is more severe, because Abraham is given a command which is contrary to nature, and which was opposite to instinct, to law, and even to what God had said in the past (Genesis 9:6).
But Abraham doesn’t cavil. Abraham doesn’t object. God had spoken, and He had done so clearly, and that was enough for Abraham. He didn’t pretend to have a standard of right and wrong that was independent of God’s word. He didn’t argue that God couldn’t have commanded him to do that: he packed a knife and he set out on his journey. John Calvin (Institutes III.23.2) made a similar point in writing about God’s decree:

The will of God is the supreme rule of righteousness, so that everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it. Therefore, when it is asked why the Lord did so, we must answer, Because he pleased. But if you proceed farther to ask why he pleased, you ask for something greater and more sublime than the will of God, and nothing such can be found. Let human temerity then be quiet, and cease to inquire after what exists not, lest perhaps it fails to find what does exist.

God’s word was enough for Abraham. If God commanded him to kill his son, then killing his son was the right thing to do, however difficult it might be. God was to be obeyed, not questioned or resisted. The Lord was supreme in Abraham’s heart and mind.

Now we should remember that God did stop Abraham from following through: it is certainly not His will that we should kill our children. We must accept whatever God does as right, however much it offends us, and we must do whatever God commands, however unnatural and hard it may seem. But what God has told us is that we must not commit murder -Thou shalt not kill. That applies of course to abortion, which I think is the most widespread form of murder in our nation. But it applies also in an area we don’t often think about -fertility treatments. There are many options available to those couples who are having difficulty conceiving to be able to have a child. But some of those options, like in-vitro fertilization, almost always involve the conception of more than one child -but not all of them will be allowed to live. The episode of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar shows that people will do quite desperate and repulsive things in order to get a child, and the fertility industry is filled with unsavory and wicked practices; but while God’s law says, Thou shalt not kill, God’s people must never be in the position of participating in the destruction of children, even if it happens as “collateral damage” in the process of getting a child. If that means not having children, then submit to God’s will in that regard, but do not violate His word.

God gave that command, and then cancelled it, so of course, there was something for Abraham, and for us, to learn from God’s command and its suspension. He saw that God required consecration, that God does not hesitate to challenge the dearest treasures of our hearts for His own rightful place: Christ applied that teaching to us in Luke 14:26,27: If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
God will be supreme: Christ will have our hearts. But there was something else as well. When Abraham surrendered Isaac to God, he got to keep Isaac. Christ announced that those who give up family and possessions for His sake and the Gospels will receive an hundredfold in this time (Mark 10:29,30). The only way to keep anything is to put it in God’s hand, to give it up to Him. Now that is not a guarantee. If you knew that by telling God that He could have this or that you would get to keep it, it would just be a mental game. When you abandon a project, a dream, a relationship, a possession to God there is no promise that He won’t take it away. No, the surrender must be real. But trying to hang on to something is not going to work. Nothing is yours to keep; God can do what He wills with everything you have and everything you are. It is God’s anyway, and you may as well recognize the fact. And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. Mark 8:34,35. You see the guarantee in the text: first of all, that if you try to save your life, it will be lost. What you try to cling to apart from God, without reference to His will, is inevitably going to be taken away. But when you turn everything over to God, you find that He has been very generous towards you, that your life has been saved, and that what you have lost is trash in comparison with Christ (Philippians 3:8). Abraham surrendered Isaac wholly to God: and not only was Isaac spared, but God again pronounced abundant blessing upon Abraham.

There was also a vivid reminder for Abraham in what happened here, and Abraham fixed on that aspect when he gave a significant name to the place where these things happened: Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord sees, or will be seen. This means that God will provide, or (what amounts to the same thing) that God will manifest Himself on our behalf. I call it a reminder because Abraham had already announced this to Isaac. When Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb?”, Abraham replied that God would provide himself a lamb. We can apply this across the board, and in any kind of lack remind ourselves that God is the God of Abraham, the God who provided. But it is true of worship: God is the one who supplies what is necessary so that we may worship Him acceptably, as in this case he provided an acceptable sacrifice. And it is true of salvation: God is the one who provides everything necessary for our deliverance, as He provided for the deliverance of Isaac.

And that leads on to another lesson which Abraham and Isaac would have learned from this event, the truth of substitution. Isaac was a condemned victim; but God interposed and saved him, and did so by means of a substitute. By God’s decree a ram had gone up that same mountain, and had gotten tangled and trapped in a thicket. God had appointed that a substitute for Isaac would be there at the very time when he was needed. So Isaac went free, but the ram was killed. Abraham offered up that ram in the stead of Isaac his son. They learned not merely that God provides, that God is the God of deliverance, but that God delivers through the provision of a substitute. Abraham’s son went free because there was a substitute to take His place. But years later, when another Father raised His hand against His son, no one called from heaven to prevent it; that Father killed His Son, and there was no substitute. Abraham’s son was delivered by a substitute; God’s Son, on the other hand, was not delivered because He was the substitute for a sinful people.

II. In the second place, Abraham knew the infallibility of God’s promises. Perhaps the hardest part of this trial was that God called upon Abraham to destroy the child of promise. When God promised that Abraham would have a son by Sarah, Abraham had not believed that promise right away; he had laughed and asked for God’s blessing on Ishmael (Genesis 17:17,18). But God had strengthened his faith, so that he had ceased to consider his own age, or the deadness of Sarah’s womb: and God had fulfilled that promise, Isaac had been born. And now God commands him to kill that very child, with whom God had said he would establish his covenant. God’s promises to Abraham were centered in Isaac. In Abraham’s position I think I would have been very confused and hesitant and grieved; but Abraham rose up early and promptly went to carry out his duty. He knew that obedience to God will never result in forfeiting God’s blessing, however destructive obedience seems. And he knew something else: we don’t know at what point he came to this conclusion, though I suppose it was at some point on the journey to Moriah. But as we learn from Hebrews, at some point Abraham came to the conclusion that if he killed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead. The Bible doesn’t say that God told him that. I believe he reasoned his way to that conclusion. He had two things to work with. One was that God had told him to kill Isaac, and he was committed to doing just that. The other was that God’s promises could never fail. And that meant that not even the death of Isaac could interfere with the fulfillment of God’s promise – God would bring him back to life if that was what it took. And God confirmed that faith in Him, that belief in resurrection, in giving Abraham a figure of the resurrection when Isaac was spared (Hebrews 11:17-19). Is it any wonder that Christ said that Abraham saw His day? Abraham saw salvation by a substitutionary death, and resurrection by the power of God in faithfulness to His promises.

Abraham’s faith in God as the Just and Supreme One Whose word is unquestioned, and whose faithfulness and power limitless enabled him to obey the hardest commandment laid upon him. May God give us grace to have a similar faith, that we may obey as much as our father Abraham. The record of Abraham’s failing in the exact point where he was strongest, his faith, show us that it wasn’t his superhuman virtue that enabled him, but the grace of God: and what the grace of God did in Abraham, the grace of God can do in us. When we see Christ taking our place, and the Father lifting up His hand against Him, and then again when we see Christ rising from the dead, how can we doubt that we must give Him first place in our minds and hearts, that we must surrender all to Him to do with it as He sees fit; and how can we doubt that He will abundantly satisfy all those who put their trust in Him?

Sad and Sweet

August 7th, 2011

Great theological writing often takes on some of the pregnancy of expression that characterizes Scripture itself, where each thought can be unfolded and deductions drawn from it, so that it is seen that a very great deal of truth was compressed into quite a compact form. James Durham illustrates that in this paragraph from the 22nd of his 72 sermons on Isaiah 53: it is not just that there are 72 sermons on the twelve verses that take up the chapter, but that in this paragraph there are many points contained that could be set out at large.

It is hard to tell whether the subject of this verse, and almost of this whole chapter, is more sad or more sweet. It is indeed a sad subject to read and hear of the great sufferings of our blessed Lord Jesus and of the despiteful usage that he met with, and to see such a speat of malice spewed and spit out on that glorious face; so that, when he is bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, we do even then account him plagued, smitten of God, and afflicted, and in a manner look upon it as well bestowed. Yet it is a most sweet subject, if we either consider the love it comes from, or the comfortable effects that follow it; that has been the rise, the cause, and the occasion of much singing to man here below, and is the cause and occasion of so much singing among the redeemed that are this day before the throne of God. And as the grace of God has overcome the malice of men, so we are persuaded this cause of rejoicing has a sweetness in it beyond the sadness, though often we mar our own spiritual mirth, and know not how to dance when he pipes unto us.

Scourging and Receiving

August 22nd, 2010

Augustine on Psalm 116

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful” (ver. 5).
He is gracious, righteous, and merciful. Gracious in the first place, because He hath inclined His ear unto me; and I knew not that the ear of God had approached my lips, till I was aroused by those beautiful feet, that I might call upon the Lord’s Name: for who hath called upon Him, save he whom He first called? Hence therefore He is in the first place “gracious;” but “righteous,” because He scourgeth; and again, “merciful,” because He receiveth; for “He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth;” nor ought it to be so bitter to me that He scourgeth, as sweet that He receiveth. For how should not “The Lord, who keepeth little ones” (ver. 6), scourge those whom, when of mature age, He seeketh to be heirs; “for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?”

Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, (on Isaiah 9:1):

As always the people of God must decide what reading of their experiences they will live by. Are they to look at the darkness, the hopelessness, the dreams shattered and conclude that God has forgotten them? Or are they to recall his past mercies, to remember his present promises and to make great affirmations of faith? Isaiah insists here that hope is a present reality, part of the constitution of the ‘now’. The darkness is true but it is not the whole truth and certainly not the fundamental truth.

Sin and Mercy

July 13th, 2008

Psalm 41:4 I said, LORD, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.

This is an illuminating prayer. It contains within it a great deal of theological information. It is illuminating,

First, in the matter of sin. What is sin? This verse gives us an answer.
A. Sin is an offense against God. When David confesses his sin he admits that it is against God (cp. Psalm 51:4). Sin is contrary to God: it is opposition to Him, rebellion against Him. Sin is transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4): it is an insult to His majesty; it is a denial of His glory.
B. Sin is self-destruction. Notice the petition, heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee. Sin has injured David’s soul. It is like a wound, or a debilitating disease (compare Isaiah 1:2-6). But it is like a disease we have brought on ourselves, as when undisciplined eating produces high cholesterol, or when drunkenness results in cirrhosis of the liver. Sin is destructive: but sin is self-destruction. There are certain very obvious forms of this: we can think of people who cut themselves, or in some other way inflict pain on themselves; or you can think of someone so enslaved to alcohol that they’ll squirt hairspray into their mouths for the sake of the alcohol within it. But it is not just when people do things that are that obvious that sin is self-destructive: all sin is always self-destructive, even when it seems like what the sinner is doing is taking care of himself. Remember the words of Christ in Mark 8:36. A man can be a sinner who takes care of himself, who makes sure he has the best of everything, and yet his life is self-destructive: what does it profit to gain the whole world and lose your own soul? (Compare Luke 12:15-21). Or as Jonah puts it (2:8), they that observe lying vanities (that is, pursue after false gods or even the true God in the wrong way) forsake their own mercy.

Second, in the matter of mercy.
A. Mercy is the answer to sin. God’s mercy can heal the wounds in our soul. In saying that I’m talking about more than the pain and bitterness that people feel, though that’s part of it: but there’s a lot more: there’s also the longing to sin, the hatred of God, the inability to even see what a slavery sin is. In other words, mercy is not just the answer to the consequences of sin: it is not just a way of reversing the self-destruction that our sin has caused. It is that: praise God that He restores the years that the locusts have eaten, He recovers the bitter waste of mind and heart and body on idols and vanity. But there is more: God deals not just with symptoms and results, He deals with the disease. Say that you have bronchitis, and because you cough so hard you break a rib, and they take you to the hospital. Well, they need to do something about that rib; and they need to do something about the cough; but that by itself doesn’t take care of the bronchitis. What’s needed is to get rid of the infection and build up your immune system so it doesn’t keep on or happen again. Well, that is somewhat like what mercy does. It does strap up our chests to protect the broken rib; it does suppress the coughing; but more fundamentally it gets down to the infection and takes it out. Mercy not only helps with the damage we’ve already caused: it gets right to the root of the problem, the stony and vicious heart of man that is not subject to the law of God and changes it for a heart of flesh. It takes a decaying corpse, and raises it to life, rather than just embalming it.

But God is the only one who can show this mercy. As sin is against Him, He is the only one who can forgive it. And He is the only one with the power to deal with it. And so we must go to the very one we have offended, we must go straight to the angry judge and plead for mercy from Him alone. It seems unlikely, doesn’t it, that He would have mercy. But remember that this same judge has sent forth His perfect and spotless Son, and that this Son died on the cross, bearing the punishment that really belonged to His sinful people. It is only by looking to Christ that we can understand that God will be merciful to all who call upon Him through Christ. Lord, be merciful to me; heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee. The only claim we have on God’s mercy is precisely the fact that we are sinners; but when we remember what Christ has done we know that it is enough of a claim. There is no reason in us why God should be merciful; but Christ shows us that there is a reason in God, that it is His good pleasure to hear and to save all that call on His name.

The Message of the Psalms

December 16th, 2007

James E. Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace

The riches of Jesus Christ must be our theme from the Psalms—not the poverty of the hearts of men or our own needs.

The Present and the Promise

December 4th, 2007

It is quite clear on the one hand, particularly in the Psalms, that David and his dynasty are to be seen as God’s answer to the problem of evil. They will bring judgment and justice to the world. Their dominion will be from one sea to the other, from the River to the ends of the earth. And yet the writers all too aware of the puzzle and ambiguity of saying such a thing. The greatest royal psalm, Psalm 89, juxtaposed 37 verses of celebration of the wonderful things God will do through the Davidic king with 14 verses asking plaintively why it’s all gone wrong. The psalm then ends with a single verse blessing YHWH forever. That is the classic Old Testament picture. Here are the promises; here is the problem; God remains sovereign over the paradox. Split the psalm up either way, and you fail to catch the flavor of the entire corpus of biblical writing. God’s solution to the problem of evil, the establishment of the Davidic monarchy through which Israel will at last be the light to the nations, the bringer of justice to the world, comes already complete with a sense of puzzlement and failure, a sense that the plan isn’t working in the way that it should, that the only thing is to hold the spectacular promises in one hand and the messy reality in the other and praise YHWH anyway.

From N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, p.60.

The Day of the Lord

August 20th, 2007

Albert Barnes, Notes on Amos 5:18

“The Day of the Lord” had already become the name for every day of judgment, leading on to the Last Day. The principle of all God’s judgments is one and the same. One and the same are the characters of those who are to be judged. In one and the same way, is each judgment looked forward to, neglected, prepared for, believing, disbelieved. In one and the same way, our Lord has taught us, will the Great Day come, as the judgments of the flood or upon Sodom, and will people prepared or unprepared, as they were then. Words then, which describe the character of any day of Judgment, do, according to the Mind of God the Holy Spirit, describe all, and the last also.

And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers (Exodus 6:2-4). This passage has caused some trouble to conservatives, if for no other reason, as a proof-text for the division of the Pentateuch into different sections, some attributable to an Elohist and others to a Yahwist (along the lines of the many variations of the JEDP theory). Robert Candlish has an explanation that is more elegant, more simple, more devout and more contextual. It is as follows:

That statement, I apprehend, can scarcely be taken literally to mean that the name—“Jehovah”—by which the Supreme Being announced himself to Moses and the Israelites in Egypt had never been in use before among the patriarchs.

It rather points, as I think, to the different of signification between the two names;—the one, Eloim, denoting sovereignty and power, the other, Jehovah, suggesting the idea of faithfulness or unchangeableness (Mal. iii. 6); —and to the suitableness of the two names to the two eras in question respectively. In former patriarchal times, God appears chiefly in the character of one choosing or electing those who are to be the objects of his favour, giving them “exceeding great and precious promises,” and ratifying and confirming with them a most gracious covenant. With such a transaction on his part, the assertion of absolute sovereignty and almighty power is in harmony and in keeping. Now, on the other hand, when he is about to come forward and interpose for the purpose of fulfilling those old assurances, and with that view wishes to secure the confidence of the new generation in whose experience and with whose co-operation the work is to be done, —the appeal to the immutability of his nature, as proving or implying “the immutability of his counsel” (Heb. vi. 17), is relevant and appropriate. Formerly he spoke as the omnipotent ruler over all, whose hand none can stay, to whom none can say what does thou! Now he speaks as the I am, “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”

During the times of the patriarchs God had made promises; and they had not seen them fulfilled (cp. Hebrews 11:9,13). Now the time has come for God to fulfill His promises, and so He declares that He will be known to the children of Israel as Jehovah –as the God of promise, as the God who keeps covenant. And so in the same text where he says that he was not known to the patriarchs by the name Jehovah he goes on to say that he will establish his covenant with them. Jehovah is, as Dr. Campbell-Morgan has said, the God who accommodates himself to the needs of His people; He is, as has been often pointed out, the unchangeable and self-existent one; but while I have no doubt that his name, Jehovah, expresses those truths, there can be equally no doubt that it expresses his character as a God who makes and keeps covenants. Indeed, as Candlish observes, His immutability is in close connection with his covenant faithfulness; and as will be argued below, his accommodation to his people is also in connection with his making of covenants.

Now that God is a God who makes and keeps covenants is a fact egregiously patent on the face of Scripture; Noah (Genesis 9:9), Abraham (Genesis 17:4), Moses and the children of Israel (Exodus 19:5) and David (2 Samuel 7) are all examples of this. The night that Christ is betrayed He gives the cup to the disciples “saying , This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). Covenant concepts pervade Scripture: marriage is a covenant bond (Malachi 2:14); the patriarchs enter into covenants with others (Genesis 26:38-31, 31:44); Christ is brought again from the dead “through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20).

All of what has been said is directly relevant to question as to whether in the Garden of Eden Adam and Even were under a covenant (often called the covenant of works). This is by no means universally received. The late Dr. Ernest Kevan, to take but one example, in his little book on the Lord’s Supper goes out of his way to deny the existence of the covenant of works. At least one objection that is raised to this doctrine is the fact that the early chapters of Genesis do not speak of a covenant. This is not a fatal objection, because there may be covenant arrangements present in passages that do not expressly use the term. Jeremiah 33:20 speaks of God’s covenant with day and with night. The succession of day and night was established at the beginning of creation; but in the creation narrative the word covenant was not used. Therefore it is perfectly possible for a covenant to be present in a passage even if the term is not specifically used.

Now, a further line of evidence is found in Hosea 6:6,7 God is inditing Ephraim and Judah and says this: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.” The marginal rendition of verse 7a is: “But they like Adam have transgressed the covenant”. If that is correct, then it is perfectly obvious that Adam was in some covenant which he transgressed. We read of one transgression of Adam: “and he did eat” (Genesis 3:6g). At that point, then, he violated the covenant of works. Of course, many will prefer the rendering “like men”. This, though, does not help the case against the covenant of works at all. For it would compare the people of Ephraim and Judah to men in general, and the teaching would then be that all men have transgressed a covenant; which would suppose that all men were in a covenant to begin with, and we are back again at the covenant of works. There is an alternative rendering, which takes the phrase in question to indicate the name of a place: this understanding would have God comparing the people of Ephraim and Judah to some unknown breakers of an unknown covenant at a location, which is as far as I know, also unknown. Allusions in Scripture are frequently to some other event contained in Scripture, something well known (see, e.g., 2 Corinthians 11:3, Psalm 106:7, Matthew 11:21-24, 12:3,4). Thus an allusion to an obscure event at a minor location, apart from lacking rhetorical punch, seems unlikely on the face of it. To this we may add the testimony of the following versions, who do not translate “at” but rather “like” or “as”: RV1909, RV1960, RV95, LBLA, ASV, YLT, NIV, NASB, The Message, Amplified, NLT, ESV, NKJV, Darby, Coverdale, Geneva, JPS, NLV, HCSB, NirV, LITV, Louis Segond, Semeur, Nuova Diodati, O Livro, Russian Synodal Version, Vulgate, Luther. It must be a reference to a known covenant and a known transgression of that covenant. Only one would seem to match: Adam’s violation of the covenant of works.

Now in addition to what might be considered as minor supports to this doctrine, there is of course the great passage in Romans 5 where a parallel is drawn between Adam and Christ: a parallel that seems to require that if Christ’s role as the head of a new humanity is a covenant role, then Adam’s role as the original head of humanity would also be covenantal: but a detailed discussion of this chapter is outside of my present scope. And in addition due weight should be given to the remark of T.E. Wilder that we don’t have to labour to find an occasional hint of a covenant concept in Genesis –the covenantal indications there are obvious and overwhelming.

Scripture is pervaded with covenant concepts; God is a God who makes covenants; there may be covenants in texts where the term is not used. Let me add another evidence for the existence of the covenant of works. The Westminster Assembly wrote: “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant” (WCF 7.1). As I have been considering the Creator-creature distinction in recent weeks, the truth of the Assembly’s statement has been borne in upon me. Without some voluntary condescension on God’s part there could be no reward, no fruition of him as blessedness. And yet, Scripture does hold out to us an enjoyment of God and a communion with him. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:3,4). The culmination of the apocalyptic vision is the fulfillment of the covenant announced to Abraham (Genesis 17:7), and consists in the enjoyment of God. At the same time, Scripture reveals that God is absolute, independent, underived and noncontingent (Romans 11:36). But we are just the opposite. We can never attain to this, except by some voluntary condescension on God’s part. And how will God express that? On the basis of His revelation of Himself as the God of the covenant, no other way is so consistent with all the rest of Scripture, as the way of covenant. The creation narrative is consistent with this point of view. We can trace covenantal elements in the details given to us of Adam’s prelapsarian position. Beyond that, there is still more. As Exodus 6:2-4 shows, Jehovah is the name of God considered as the God of the covenant, the God who enters into and fulfills covenants. And when we come to Genesis 2:4ff, we find that the text does not simply say that it is God who does this or that, as was true in Genesis 1:1-2:3. No, now it is Jehovah God who plants a garden, who places man in it, who provides for him food and occupation and companionship, who stipulates that he shall not eat of one tree. It is the God considered as the covenant-making and keeping God who is brought to our attention.

I believe, then, in the covenant of works. I believe it because the Scripture impels me in that direction. And I believe it because the name of my God is Jehovah.

titus-coin2.jpg

To make Ben happy:

Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, pp.443-445

Without here anticipating the full inquiry into the promise of His immediate Coming, it is important to avoid, even at this stage, any possible misunderstanding on the point. The expectation of the Coming of ‘the Son of Man’ was grounded on a prophecy of Daniel, {Daniel 7:13} in which that Advent, or rather manifestation, was associated with judgment. The same is the case in this Charge of our Lord. The disciples in their work are described ‘as sheep in the midst of wolves,’ a phrase which the Midrash {On Esther 8:2, ed. Warsh. p. 120 b} applies to the position of Israel amidst a hostile world, adding: How great is that Shepherd, Who delivers them, and vanquishes the wolves! Similarly, the admonition to ‘be wise as serpents and harmless as doves’ is reproduced in the Midrash, {On Song of Solomon 2:14} where Israel is described as harmless as the dove towards God, and wise as serpents towards the hostile Gentile nations. Such and even greater would be the enmity which the disciples, as the true Israel, would have to encounter from Israel after the flesh. They would be handed over to the various Sanhedrin, and visited with such punishments as these tribunals had power to inflict. {St. Matthew 10:17} More than this, they would be brought before governors and kings, primarily, the Roman governors and the Herodian princes. {ver. 18.} And so determined would be this persecution, as to break the ties of the closest kinship, and to bring on them the hatred of all men. {vv. 21, 22.}The only, but the all-sufficient, support in those terrible circumstances was the assurance of such help from above, that, although unlearned and humble, they need have no care, nor make preparation in their defense, which would be given them from above. And with this they had the promise, that he who endured to the end would be saved, and the prudential direction, so far as possible, to avoid persecution by timely withdrawal, which could be the more readily achieved, since they would not have completed their circuit of the cities of Israel before the ‘Son of Man be come.’

It is of the greatest importance to keep in view that, at whatever period of Christ’s Ministry this prediction and promise were spoken, and whether only once or oftener, they refer exclusively to a Jewish state of things. The persecutions are exclusively Jewish. This appears from verse 18, where the answer of the disciples is promised to be ‘for a testimony against them,’ who had delivered them up, that is, here evidently the Jews, as also against ‘the Gentiles.’ And the Evangelistic circuit of the disciples in their preaching was to be primarily Jewish; and not only so, but in the time when there were still ‘cities of Israel,’ that is, previous to the final destruction of the Jewish commonwealth. The reference, then, is to that period of Jewish persecution and of Apostolic preaching in the cities of Israel, which is bounded by the destruction of Jerusalem. Accordingly, the ‘coming of the Son of Man,’ and the ‘end’ here spoken of, must also have the same application. It was, as we have seen, according to Daniel 7:13, a coming in judgment. To the Jewish persecuting authorities, who had rejected the Christ, in order, as they imagined, to save their City and Temple from the Romans, {St. John 11:48} and to whom Christ had testified that He would come again, this judgment on their city and state, this destruction of their polity, was ‘the Coming of the Son of Man’ in judgment, and the only coming which the Jews, as a state, could expect, the only one meet for them, even as, to them who look for Him, He will appear a second time, without sin unto salvation.

That this is the only natural meaning attaching to this prediction, especially when compared with the parallel utterances recorded in St. Mark 13:9- 13, appears to us indubitable. It is another question how, or how far, those to whom these words were in the first place addressed would understand their full bearing, at least at that time. Even supposing, that the disciples who first heard did not distinguish between the Coming to Israel in judgment, and that to the world in mingled judgment and mercy, as it was afterwards conveyed to them in the Parable of the Forthshooting of the Fig-tree, {St. Luke 21:29-31} yet the early Christians must soon have become aware of it. For, the distinction is sharply marked. As regards its manner, the ‘second’ Coming of Christ may be said to correspond to the state of those to whom He cometh. To the Jews His first Coming was visible, and as claiming to be their King. They had asked for a sign; and no sign was given them at the time. They rejected Him, and placed the Jewish polity and nation in rebellion against ‘the King.’ To the Jews, who so rejected the first visible appearance of Christ as their King, the second appearance would be invisible but real; the sign which they had asked would be given them, but as a sign of judgment, and His Coming would be in judgment. Thus would His authority be vindicated, and He appear, not, indeed, visibly but really, as what He had claimed to be. That this was to be the manner and object of His Coming to Israel, was clearly set forth to the disciples in the Parable of the Unthankful Husbandmen. {St. Matthew 21:33-46, and the parallels} The coming of the Lord of the vineyard would be the destruction of the wicked husbandmen. And to render misunderstanding impossible, the explanation is immediately added, that the Kingdom of God was to be taken from them, and given to those who would bring forth the fruits thereof. Assuredly, this could not, even in the view of the disciples, which may have been formed on the Jewish model, have applied to the Coming of Christ at the end of the present Aeon dispensation.

We bear in mind that this second, outwardly invisible but very real, Coming of the Son of Man to the Jews, as a state, could only be in judgment on their polity, in that ‘Sign’ which was once refused, but which, when it appeared, would only too clearly vindicate His claims and authority. Thus viewed, the passages, in which that second Coming is referred to, will yield their natural meaning. Neither the mission of the disciples, nor their journeying through the cities of Israel, was finished, before the Son of Man came. Nay, there were those standing there who would not taste death, till they had seen in the destruction of the city and state the vindication of the Kingship of Jesus, which Israel had disowned. {St. Matthew 16:28, and parallels} And even in those last Discourses in which the horizon gradually enlarges, and this Coming in judgment to Israel merges in the greater judgment on an unbelieving world, {St. Matthew 24 and parallels} this earlier Coming to the Jewish nation is clearly marked. The three Evangelists equally record it, that ‘this generation’ should not pass away, till all things were fulfilled. {St. Matthew 24:34; St. Mark 13:30; St. Luke 21:32} To take the lowest view, it is scarcely conceivable that these sayings would have been allowed to stand in all the three Gospels, if the disciples and the early Church had understood the Coming of the Son of Man in any other sense than as to the Jews in the destruction of their polity. And it is most significant, that the final utterances of the Lord as to His Coming were elicited by questions arising from the predicted destruction of the Temple. This the early disciples associated with the final Coming of Christ. To explain more fully the distinction between them would have been impossible, in consistency with the Lord’s general purpose about the doctrine of His Coming. Yet the Parables which in the Gospels (especially in that by St. Matthew) follow on these predictions, {St. Matthew 25:1-30} and the teaching about the final Advent of ‘the Son of Man,’ point clearly to a difference and an interval between the one and the other.

The disciples must have the more readily applied this prediction of His Coming to Palestine, since ‘the woes’ connected with it so closely corresponded to those expected by the Jews before the Advent of Messiah. {Sot. 9:15; comp. Sanh. 97 a to 99 a, passim} Even the direction to flee from persecution is repeated by the Rabbis in similar circumstances and established by the example of Jacob, {Hosea 12:12} of Moses,
{Exodus 2:15.} and of David. {1 Samuel 19:12; comp. Bemidb. R. 23, ed. Warsh. p. 86 b, and Tanch.}

titus-menorah-4.jpg