Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Genesis Chapter 35 ~ Israel, the Nation of God's Christ

Genesis Chapter 35

God then told Jacob to go to Bethel and settle there, and to make an altar there to the God who appeared to him when he fled from Esau (35:1). Jacob told his household to put away their foreign gods and to change clothes and they did, burying the gods and their earrings beneath a terebinth tree at Shechem. Then they went up to Bethel so that he could, "make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone." (35:3)

As they travelled a terror from God fell on the cities around them causing them to leave Jacob's family alone. Jacob then came to Luz (also called Bethel), in Canaan. He named the place he built an altar El-bethel (meaning "God of Bethel"), because God appeared to him there when he fled Esau. Deborah, Rebekah's nurse died and they buried her under an oak tree there and called it Allon-bacuth (meaning "oak of weeping"). 

God again appeared to Jacob when he came from Paddan-aram and He blessed him. God said this to Jacob: 
"10 Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name . . . 11 I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you."
After this God went up from him, and Jacob set a pillar of stone there, he poured out a drink offering and oil on it, and he called the place Bethel.

Rachel and Isaac Die
They then journeyed from Bethel and while still a distance from Ephrath (also Bethlehem), Rachel went into a hard labor, and her midwife told her not to fear, for she had another son. Then, as Rachel was dying, she called him Ben-oni (meaning "son of my sorrow" or "son of my strength"). Jacob called him Benjamin (meaning "son of the right hand"). Rachel then died and she was buried on the way to Ephrath. Jacob the set a pillar over her tomb, and then journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of EderWhen Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah (Israel's concubine), and Israel heard of this. (35:22)

So Jacob/Israel had 12 sons in Paddan-aram:
  • Reuben (Jacob's firstborn)
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Judah
  • Issacar
  • Zebulun
  • Joseph
  • Benjamin
Bilhah (Rachel's servant):
  • Dan
  • Naphtali
Zilpah (Leah's servant):
  • Gad
  • Asher
Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre (also called "Kiriath-arba" or "Hebron"), where Abraham and Isaac sojourned. Isaac lived to 180 years old and he died, and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. Jacob and Esau buried him.

Reflections on Genesis 35
After the events of chapter 34 God reminds Jacob of His command to go to Bethel to worship Him there, and Jacob leads his family in obedience. While traveling the cities around them were afraid of them, because of Yahweh's choice of Jacob's family. Note though, that Jacob, Simeon, and Levi didn't strike this fear into the Canaanites' hearts, God did! Moses recorded it as, "a terror from God." Jacob's family had not become a "stench" to the people as he had feared, but because of God's sovereign choice to bless Jacob's family the people feared God, and were terrified. Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel, dies giving birth to their son Benjamin.

In verses 9 through 11 God appeared to Jacob and re-established His covenant with him. As Isaac dies in this chapter God's covenantal blessing passes on to Jacob, and in the re-establishment of the covenant God reminds Jacob that He has a new name. Not a name that men have given him, but a name that re-orients him to both God and men. Jacob's identity is no longer defined by his striving after his brother Esau and other men. Jacob's identity is no longer defined by what he does or chooses, but by what God has decreed, chosen, and done for him. God is defining Jacob's very being. Jacob doesn't belong to men, he doesn't belong to even himself. No, Jacob belongs to Yahweh, and He is reminding him of this by stamping him with a new name, Israel. It's as if Yahweh is saying, "Jacob, you are mine now. This truth now defines you, this is your identity, 'I AM' your identity!"

Then, after God re-affirms Jacob's new covenantal name He re-establishes one of the covenant obligations that He established in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, "be fruitful and multiply." (vs. 11) Yahweh, then promises Jacob/Israel that nations and kings will come from him, and that Abraham and Isaac's land, Canaan/Israel, will be given to him and his offspring. Ka-Boom! God's Messiah is going to come from the nation of Israel, and somehow God's promised land of Canaan is going to have something to do with it. Nations, and kings will come from Jacob/Israel.

While following the genealogical chain of God's chosen seed to crush the head of the serpent, there have been many times that doubts have arisen that God will make good on His promise. But here, in this re-establishment of God's covenant with Jacob/Israel we see that Jacob/Israel is a type, a new Adam, a new head of the chosen nation, through whom He will bring a Messiah. Israel is more than just a name, it is the beginning of a nation. Jacob is the federal/representative head of a new nation, Israel. God's decree was to bring a Savior through Adam, but he and his posterity fell into sin. God poured out His judgment in the flood, but established Noah as a new father of a people through whom a Messiah would come. In Abraham we saw that God was narrowing down the family through whom the Christ would come, then it narrows even more in Isaac's children, and now in Jacob's. The "Christ" would come through one of Jacob's children, and God is sovereignly choosing Israel to be His people, in this re-establishment. This is also indicated in the listing out of all of Jacob's sons at the end of chapter 35. God is building a nation, Israel; and it is in one of the sons of Jacob (which would be Israel's "tribes") that God will bring His Christ! The rest of Genesis continues to set up this picture of this people through whom God will reveal Himself to the nations and display His glory. Genesis 35 acts as a hinge to this door that is opening up to display the people that God will continue to work out His plan of redemption through.

Jesus Christ is this Messiah, and ultimately He is the true second Adam. Where Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel fail, Jesus succeeds! None of these chosen men could reverse the curse of death and eternal punishment in hell for sin. God's Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the second person of the Trinity, very God in the flesh; only He could save a people from the world, the flesh, the devil, and the wrath of Yahweh. Praise God that even here in Genesis 35 Yahweh is holding firm to His promise to provide a Messiah, so that by faith in Jesus Christ alone, even I, as a Gentile, can be counted as a son of God. By faith we are Jesus Christ's, and if we are Christ's then we are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:28-29).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Genesis Chapter 34 ~ Vow, Violation, Vigilante, Vengeance, & Vexation

Genesis Chapter 34 

Jacob's only daughter, Dinah, daughter of Leah, went to see the "women of the land". This was inappropriate for women to leave a rural encampment to go into an alien city, a Canaanite one no less (Sarna, 233). Also, it's difficult to tell if she went "to see" the women of the land, or if it should be rendered "to be seen" by the women of the land. Either way, she was doing something she shouldn't have been up to.

The prince of the land, Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivite, saw, seized, lay with, and humiliated Dinah (34:2). It's difficult to tell for sure if this was seduction into intimacy or if it is intimacy by force, although it seems to have been forced because of the humiliation in verse 2 and the defilement in verse 5 and verse 27.  He loved her and asked his dad, Hamor to, "Get me this girl for my wife." (34:4) It seems that she remained in the house of Shechem while Hamor went to Jacob.

Jacob heard about all of this, but not his sons, and Hamor went to speak with Jacob. Meanwhile Jacob's sons came in from the field when they heard what had happened, and they were angry for Shechem's lying with their sister, because this shouldn't have been done "in Israel". They were to be separate from the culture of Canaan, set apart to and for the Lord.

Hamor spoke with all of them saying to give their daughters in marriage and they will give their daughters to them in marriage. This is a means to dwell in the land in good relations (34:10). Shechem said he'd give anything they asked, "[o]nly give me the young woman to be my wife." (34:11)

Jacob's sons answered in deceit, and said they must be circumcised in order for them to give her to them (during all this she was still at Shechem's house). This pleased Hamor and Shechem, so without delay they and every male who went out of the gate of the city who listened to them were circumcised. On the third day, when they were still sore, Simeon and Levi (Jacob's 2nd and 3rd sons by Leah), took their swords and came against the city and killed all the males (34:25), including Hamor and Shechem (34:26). Jacob's sons then took Dinah out of Shechem's house (vs. 26), and plundered everything in the city, because Shechem defiled Dinah (vs. 27).

Then Jacob told Simeon and Levi that they brought trouble on him making him stink to the people of the land of Canaan. And he pondered how his numbers were few and they could be attacked and destroyed, he and his household (34:30). But the sons justified their action saying, "Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?" (34:31)

Reflections on Genesis 34
God commanded Jacob to go to Bethel (31:13), but he stopped here in Shechem, about a day short. In essence this is a breaking of his vow to set up an altar to worship the Lord at Bethel. Jacob stopped here with his family to settle and bought land and built an altar and named it El-Elohe-Israel (33:18-19). So their settling here appears to be a breaking of his vow to follow God's command to worship Him at Bethel. Bruce Waltke summaraizes this well writing, "One cannot worship God as one pleases." (Waltke, 468).  This is certainly part of what's going on here. This is one part of the overall biblical theological picture that David Peterson draws out in his book Engaging with God, A Biblical Theology of Worship. Peterson writes of worship, "Most of us are more conditioned by custom and personal preference in this matter than we would care to admit!" (Peterson, 15) Jacob in Genesis 34 seems to be conditioned by personal preference (although we don't know the exact reason he stopped here). And here's Peterson's thesis after examining the biblical evidence of what proper worship is: "[T]he worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible." (Peterson, 20) Jacob here appears to be assuming he can worship the Lord as he pleases instead of obeying what the Lord has commanded, and in the process he exposes his family to the tragic events of rape, vengeance, etc.

Moving to application don't ask this question, "What are our Shechems that we are settling in as opposed to the Bethel's that the Lord has for us?" We should always ask how we try to worship God on our own terms, but we shouldn't be parsing out what our "Shechems" and "Bethels" as if this is some kind of allegory. Let's ask this instead, "What is the specific function of this in this period of salvation history, and how should we apply this in light of Christ?" It's only after we consider this question that we can then can we apply the text to our lives.

Salvation-Historical Implications
By Jacob disobeying God it appears that he has opened his family to the opportunity for trials here. As hideous as this sounds, violation by rape seems to have been a common and even acceptable way to pursue marriage to the Canaanites, at least it seems that way to Shechem and Hamor. By settling in the middle of this culture in disobedience to Yahweh, Jacob is exposing his family to a terrible threat from the surrounding culture.

Not only has Dinah made a poor choice to go into an alien city by herself, she is also a victim of Shechem's attack (this doesn't seem to be consensual intimacy). Then it appears that Jacob is actually willing to negotiate for her marriage to Shechem. Jacob's reaction is not what one would expect from a man in covenant with Yahweh. For whatever reason, diplomatic or otherwise, he seems to be too easily convinced to marry his daughter off to Shechem (all while she's kept at Shechem's house!). Her brothers, Simeon and Levi, wouldn't have it though (they all shared the same mother, Leah). After they take matters into their own hands and rescue Dinah out of Shechem's house, Jacob again is only worried about diplomatic relations with the Canaanites. He seems to be taking the future of the nation of Israel and fulfilling the covenant into his own hands/power, not worrying about justice for the sake of God's glory or his daughter.

First, Jacob seeks to worship God on his own terms by settling in Shechem. This brings his family into peril. Second, Jacob seems to assume that the future of his posterity lies in how well he can pursue diplomacy instead of going to Yahweh and pleading for justice, and then waiting to hear from God as to how justice should be pursued. Neither Simeon nor Levi pursue God before they pursued justice either, and in the process they may have gone too far in seeking to exact justice/revenge for the rape of their sister. Their anger against Canaan is a foreshadow of how God will later judge Canaan through Israel in the future, but Simeon and Levi's response is not necessarily pursuing what God would have them do, but how they think they can take justice into their own hands. In a sense their reaction equally shows a sinful independence from Yahweh. Jacob almost seems oblivious to the offense of these men (Shechem and Hamor) against his daughter; however, Simeon and Levi hold the entire culture responsible for this sin against their sister/family. Jacob doesn't seem to be phased, until he begins to worry and be vexed about how Canaan will now treat him and his family. Jacob, seems to mistakenly think that He is responsible for guaranteeing the fulfillment of God's covenant promises to his family. Bruce Waltke frames this up writing, "[I]n this scene he exemplifies weak leadership based on prudence and fear." (Waltke, 468)

How This Points to Jesus Christ and Us
Where Jacob is a weak leader, and Simeon and Levi are rash and ruthless in their leadership. We see here that none of these three are the Messiah that was promised to Eve who, in perfect reliance upon God, would exact perfect justice and judgment on the devil, evil, and sin. God's promise to bring an heir through Jacob's line has not been lost, but we can see here that neither Jacob, nor Simeon, nor Levi are that promised Messiah. 

Only Jesus is the perfect Messiah. He perfectly exercises leadership over His people. He did not fall short in perfect covenant obedience to His heavenly Father. He does not abandon His people to the world when it seems to overtake them. He will hold every person who violates His children accountable with a perfect judgment. He does not react to sin too slowly or too quickly, but He deals with sin and evil at just the right time, and in just the right way.

We should trust in God to exact perfect judgment, not merely take it into our own hands. What trials do you face? If you are a child of God, He is much more angry with the things that are attacking you than even you are. Have you ever considered this? Lean into Christ and put your hope in Him, because our greatest trial was conquered when Jesus was nailed to the cross.

It can be easy to externalize evil to everything in the world outside of myself. This is partially true, there is a ton of evil in this world that we face (outside of us). But we know that at best this is a half-truth. Have you ever done anything wrong? Have you ever deceived or manipulated someone? Have you lied, cheated, or stolen? Are you ever selfish, angry, or prideful? Do you ever rebel against God's rule in your life? When we compare ourselves to God's perfection we come to see that we are the evil ones. We are the ones who have rebelled against God for our sin, and His justice demands that we undergo His eternal wrath in hell. But Christ, has died in our place. Jacob's sin, Simeon and Levi's sin, Dinah's sin, and the Canaanites' sin in a sense foreshadow our sin. We become the wicked ones, and perfect justice would demand for us to be destroyed. That's God's just judgment, eternal wrath against us for our sin. But Jesus Christ came to die for our sin, absorbing God's just wrath, so that if we believe in Christ and turn from our sin we can be saved. Jesus is God's Messiah, not Jacob, not Simeon, nor Levi.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Genesis Chapter 33 ~ Jacob & Esau Meet in Peace

Genesis Chapter 33

After all the events of chapter 32 Jacob lifted up his eyes and Esau was coming with 400 men. Jacob divided his kids between their respective mothers. He put the female servants in front, followed by Leah with her kids, and lastly followed by Rachel and Joseph. Jacob then went before all of them and bowed to the ground 7 times until he was near Esau.

Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him and "fell on his neck" and kissed him, and they wept (33:4). Falling on his neck is a Hebraism meaning, "he embraced his neck." Bruce Waltke draws out a helpful phrase describing this, "[R]an . . .  embraced . . . threw . . . kissed . . . wept. These are normal ways of greeting loved relatives. The narrator represented Esau's despising of his birthright with five terse verbs (25:34); he now represents the reconciliation with another five verbs." (Waltke, 454) Esau then saw Jacob's family, and Jacob recognizes his family as a gift that, "God has graciously given your servant." (33:5) His family came near then and bowed down in the same order Jacob put them in earlier.

Esau knew Jacob meant something by all this and asked him what it was for, and Jacob told him it was so that he would find favor in Esau's sight. Esau told him to keep all the gifts (see yesterday's post). Jacob refused though and asked him to keep it all, saying, "For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me." (33:10) Then Jacob recognized God's grace again, saying, "Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough." (33:11) Esau then accepted the gifts.

Esau then said they should go and that he would lead the way, but Jacob's family was frail and could die, so Jacob's camp moved a much slower pace toward Seir. Esau offered to leave some people to help, but Jacob refused. So Esau went to Sier, but Jacob journeyed to Succoth (Succoth means "booths"), built a house and made booths for his livestock. Then, Jacob went safely to Shechem, in Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram (where he was with Laban). In Shechem he bought a piece of land from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, and he pitched his tent there. in Shechem he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel (this means "God, the God of Israel"). 

Reflections on Genesis 33
Have you ever read Psalm 133? Take a few seconds to look at it:
"1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore."
This event in Genesis 33 between two estranged brothers, Esau and Jacob, is a beautiful picture of how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! By all indication this should have ended in a bloody mess. To the amazement of the reader these two brother-enemies reconcile! Think of all the fear and anxiety that Jacob waisted thinking about the anger of his brother. Think of the uselessness of fearing man. Yesterday I was meditating on chapter 32 about how Jacob should have been fearing God to begin with. Here, in Jacob, we see how the human mind can easily make itself restless. And for what? In Jacob's case it distracted him from focusing on walking in the fear of Yahweh (until the night before this meeting). Jesus' words are appropriate here, "Therefore do not be anxious . . . But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow . . ."  (Matt. 6:31, 33-34) Don't let the fears of this world squelch a fear of the Yahweh.

Further, "reconciliation" is what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ between us and our fellow man. Through Christ our enmity for other men can be completely done away with. It doesn't matter what your background is, gangs, fight-clubs, or just a quiet angry heart that holds grudges against people for the slightest unintentional offense. This is what we see in the church. Consider what Paul wrote about in Ephesians 3:6. Through Jesus Christ, Gentiles are made, "fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." Enemies made to be sons along with Jews and their unity in the local church is a visible display of God's glory.

This "reconciliation" between men and women is small though compared to the reconciliation we can have with God through Christ. We were all enemies of God, but through Jesus Christ, if we are turning from our sin and believing in Jesus, we can be reconciled to God by the death of His Son. This is how we can be saved by Jesus! (Rom. 5:10) It's based on the reconciliation we have with God through Christ that we can be reconciled with others. Jesus even commands this of us if we would worship Yahweh properly in Matthew 5:23-26:
"23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny."
Further, if we are in Christ, we have now been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation to share the good news of Christ with others! (2 Cor. 5:18, 20) Reconciling others to God through Christ!

Jacob's reconciliation with Esau is a glimpse of God's trustworthiness and the power of the gospel! Immediately, in the context of Genesis though, we see that God is a promise-keeper. He is keeping His promise to Jacob that it is on his family that the covenant of God continues to rest, that Yahweh will bring a Messiah through Jacob. The hostility he had with His brother has not removed God's promise to sustain his lineage, and here we see a miracle, and a confirmation of God's trustworthiness to fulfill His promises. God continues to work in this family by His grace and for His glory!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Genesis Chapter 32 ~ Jacob Wrestles With Yahweh

Genesis Chapter 32

Facing Esau
As Jacob and Laban parted it says the angels of God met Jacob (32:1) and when he saw them he said, "This is God's camp!" and called the place Mahanaim, which means "two camps". Jacob sent messengers to Esau telling them of their approach and requesting his favor. The messengers returned to Jacob and said that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, and Jacob was afraid and distressed. So he divided his people in two so that if Esau attacked, one will escape. Then Jacob prayed:
"O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,' I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, 'I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude." (Gen. 32:9-12)
So Jacob stayed there and he took a present for Esau: 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, and 20 rams, 30 milking camels and their calves, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys (32:13-15). He gave these to his servants to drive with space between each, and give to Esau as a gift. He did this because he wanted to appease Esau so he would be accepted. But then Jacob spent the night in the camp.

Wrestling with God
The same night that all this took place Jacob took his wives, two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He sent everything across and he was left alone.

A man then wrestled with him until the breaking of the day, and when he saw that he didn't prevail against Jacob, the man touched Jacob's hip socket (32:24-25). Then the man said, "Let me go for the day has broken." But Jacob said he wouldn't unless he blessed him (32:26). Then the man renamed Jacob, Israel, "for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." (32:27-28) (Israel means "He strives with God" or "God strives") The man wouldn't tell Jacob his name, and he blessed Jacob there, and Jacob called the place Peniel (which means "the face of God") and said, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." (32:30) Then as he passed Penuel the sun rose upon him as he limped because of his hip. This is the reason that the people of Israel don't eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because the man touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.

Reflections on Genesis 32
Jacob has three encounters here, two immediately (the "angels of God" and "a man" with whom he wrestled), and one that is delayed (his brother Esau). Jacob was clearly afraid of Esau, and in order to go back to the land he was promised, Canaan, he had to cross paths with his brother. This struck fear into Jacob's heart. Jacob sends his family and all his possessions ahead of himself and is left all alone.

As the sun sets it appears that he has no hope, it's as if the sun is setting on his life. This is a good illustration of how the Lord often works in our lives. He strips away everything we hold most dear, the idols of our hearts, and He shows us that He is most worthy of our affection and praise. In the face of fear and imminent danger we are humbled and we have no one to turn to for help, save Christ alone. 

This being said, there's something more specific going on here. God is still creating a chosen nation through whom He will bring a Messiah to save His people from their sins. Jacob had no hope, and he had every reason to believe that Esau would avenge how he had wronged him. Is God's covenant choice of Jacob and his posterity in trouble of being fulfilled? Yahweh is driving Jacob to depend upon Him alone, and He does this by wrestling with Jacob throughout the night. His wrestling with this "man" indicates that he now has a desire for God that he didn't have before, one that is awakened by the trial he faces. He will not let go of God throughout the night until Yahweh has blessed him. This awakening is fueled not by his fear though, but by his faith. Jacob has been scheming, fighting, lying, deceiving, and running his entire life. He's always been struggling, and by all appearances he has struggled against men, but in this wrestling match it becomes evident that his real struggle has been against God. This is the climax of Jacob's lifetime of struggle. He is struggling with God.

So who is this "man" that Jacob is wrestling with? Hosea 12:3-4 says:
"3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. 4 He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us[.]"
On one hand this was a "man", yet it was more than a mere man, but an "angel", and even more than a mere angel, this was "God" himself! And in the process Yahweh became not only the God who was covenanting with Jacob, but Jacob began an active pursuit of God by the faith of his fathers. Jacob was afraid of the wrong persons his whole life. He should have been fearing God, and it's God who approaches Jacob here, and God shows His strength by touching Jacob's hip to give him a limp (proof that this was not merely a dream). How do we know it's God here? Verse 28 identifies this "man" as God. Also, in verse 30 Jacob says, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." It doesn't mean that Jacob actually saw God's face, but it's Hebrew idiom to say that he has had an encounter with God, in person. This does make it clear that this is God that he is wrestling with.

Now, as the sun rises (vs. 31), as the day breaks, it appears that Jacob has hope, and that the sun is rising on a new dawn in Jacob's striving with and for God. No longer is Jacob identified by his given name, but as Israel. No longer is he identified by his relationship to man, rather Yahweh. He persevered in grasping not after men and the things of this world, but by holding tight to his God in the midst of a "dark night of the soul". He clung to Yahweh by faith, and by his actions, and indeed God blessed him. God preserved His chosen people through Jacob. He ended up bringing about a Messiah who perfectly clung to Yahweh in a way that Jacob could only dream of, Jesus Christ. Now if we we cling to Jesus Christ by faith, and by turning from our sins, we can be blessed with reconciliation to God, justification by faith alone, and God setting His covenantal love on even us through pouring out His wrath on His Son, Jesus Christ, in our place. The dark night that our souls face is God's eternal wrath in hell, and we must cling to Jesus Christ by faith, so that the dawn of salvation might shine upon us, even as the sun rises each and every morning. Indeed, God's mercies are new every morning through Jesus Christ alone!
Lamentations 3:22-24: "22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Covenants in Genesis Part 3

This is my last post on the covenants in Genesis.

I've found Michael Lawrence's comments on the covenants helpful, so below are a few paragraphs from his book Biblical Theology:
Covenant of Creation
This is the initial covenant made with Adam in Genesis 2:15-17. As Romans 5 makes clear, he entered into that covenant as the representative of the entire human race. Its blessings or curses would fall on us all. The blessing was implied - the promise of eternal sinless life. The curse was death. The stipulation was to refrain from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as well as working and guarding the garden of Eden. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve's loyalty to God was tested. They failed the test and broke the stipulations. The curses followed immediately and have continued to work themselves out through all of history and each of our lives.

Covenant of Redemption
This is an intra-Trinitarian covenant in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit agree together to accomplish the redemption of a people. This covenant is implied in Genesis 3:15, and referred to in other Old and New Testament passages (cf. Isaiah 49, Psalm 2, Psalm 110, John 5, Revelation 5). What's interesting about Genesis 3:15 and what suggests that there is covenant behind these words is that in the midst of the curse on the serpent, God himself undertakes obligations and makes promises. This covenant becomes the basis for the covenant of grace in all its various administrations. Its outlines are worked out through the rest of Scripture.

Noahic Covenant
This covenant is made with Noah and all living creatures in Genesis 9:8-17. It's called a covenant of grace because of the unilateral promise on God's part. It's called a covenant of common grace because it applies to all people, whether they trust in God or not. The purpose of this covenant is to provide the field upon which the story of redemption will run its course. Judgment is postponed until redemption is full accomplished. Thus, quite appropriately, the sign of this covenant is the rainbow, a symbol of God the warrior's bow, held at rest!

Abrahamic Covenant
This covenant is recorded in Genesis 15:1-21 and picks up God's original purpose with Adam - the creation of a people who will display his glory as vice-regent image-bearers on earth. However, it's made not with all humanity, but with Abraham and his seed. God does make demands upon Abraham's obedience, but this is fundamentally a covenant of grace. God promises Abraham a people and a place under God's benevolent rule, and the blessings of this covenant will eventually flow to all the earth. The sign of the covenant - circumcision - is given in Genesis 17.

Lawrence, Michael  Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, A Guide for Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 59-60.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Covenants in Genesis Part 2

With my last post in mind, below I have looked at the various covenants in Genesis and tried to fit the pieces together into the form of a ancient Near Eastern covenants (note that I didn't do this for the marriage covenants in Genesis). Again, while each has the elements that fill out the form of many covenants in ancient Near Eastern culture, it seems that these covenants weren't recorded with a specific order or structure in mind. There is continuity and discontinuity in the form of each of them. I have found it helpful to look for the various elements in them, partly because it has helped me see the continuity and discontinuity more clearly.

This is merely my attempt to fit some of these things together. First, this is by no means perfect, and I'm open to suggestions for how it could be better. Second, much more could be said for each one of these, and for each of the various categories. That said, hopefully I've put enough information down to show some of my thought process. For my purposes, I'm just covering things at a fairly high level so I can get back to blogging through the rest of Genesis.

Lord willing, tomorrow I'm going to post a brief summary of the four covenants between God and men in Genesis from Michael Lawrence's book Biblical Theology:

I. God's Covenant with Adam also called "Adamic Covenant" or "Covenant of Creation" (see Hosea 6:7 and Romans 5)
Genesis 2:15-17 
"15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, 'You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'"

Parties of the Covenant: God and Adam (with implications for all mankind)
Type of Covenant: Covenant of Works
  1. Preamble ~ The "LORD God" (Gen. 2:15).
  2. Historical Prologue ~ Pre-fall: God put Adam in the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). Post-fall: God didn't kill them. 
  3. Stipulations ~ Pre-fall: Keep garden, eat of any tree but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). Post-fall: The creation mandate for mankind doesn't change, but because of their sin God punishes them by making their roles more difficult (Gen. 3). Further, their works will not be enough to reconcile them to God (see the next covenant below, the Covenant of Redemption).
  4. Document Clause ~ Implied by the fact it's contained in the 1st book of the Pentateuch (Deut. 17:18; Psalm 1:1-2 etc.). Evidenced by the fact that we still have a record of it.
  5. Blessings ~ Pre-fall: Implied that they will not die or be separated from God's pleasure (Gen. 2:17). Post-fall: Implied that though they die, through Eve's seed a messiah will come (Gen. 3:15).
  6. Curses ~ Pre-fall: They would surely die (Gen. 2:17), and their creation roles would be more difficult (see God's punishment in Gen. 3). Post-fall: Though we die an eternal second death will be faced.
  7. Oath/Sacrifice ~ Pre-fall: God's act of creating them, the oath is established by giving them His image, and giving them flesh, blood, and life. Post-fall: God's extension of life to people to be able to come to a knowledge of Yahweh by not immediately killing Adam and Eve, and by His continued provision for mankind, even after the fall. The blood sacrifice that shows this is when the Lord killed animals to cloth Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21).
II. God's Covenant of Redemption
Genesis 3:15 (see Jim Hamilton's article on this)
"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” 
Psalm 48:7-8,
"7 No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him - 8 for the redemption of his soul is costly and he should cease trying forever[.]"
Isaiah 53:10
"Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand." 
Luke 24:27,
"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself."
Luke 10:18-19,
"18 And He said to them, 'I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you[.]'" 
Romans 16:20
"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your [the church in Rome's] feet[.]” 
Parties of the Covenant: All 3 persons of the 1 God, to save believing mankind
Type of Covenant: Covenant of Works (Intra-Trinitarian) / Grace to undeserving beneficiaries
  1. Preamble ~ God will give a son to Eve (Jesus Christ) who will crush Satan's head (Gen. 3:15).
  2. Historical Prologue ~ The entire Old Testament through the gospels (Note especially Luke 3:21-38, Jesus is the seed/son of Adam that was promised in Gen. 3:15).
  3. Stipulations ~ He will be crushed to save His people (Isaiah 53:5, 10; Matt. 1:21; etc.).
  4. Document Clause ~ Implied by the fact it's contained in the 1st book of the Pentateuch (Deut. 17:18; Psalm 1:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:16-18; etc.).
  5. Blessings ~ Salvation for those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15; Rom. 10:9-10; etc.).
  6. Curses ~ Eternal damnation for those who reject the Son (Psalm 2:12; Matt. 25:41; etc.).
  7. Oath/Sacrifice ~ The death of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53; Rom. 3:22-26; Gal. 3:13-14; Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:25;  represented in the New Covenant life of the church in/through the Lord's Supper.
III. God's Covenant with Noah also called "Noahic Covenant"
Genesis 6:18
"But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you." 
Genesis 8:20
"Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar." 
Genesis 9:8-17
"8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 'Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.' 12 And God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.' 17 God said to Noah, 'This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.'" 
Parties of the Covenant: God and Noah (and Noah's family and every living creature)
Type of Covenant: Covenant of Grace
  1. Preamble ~ God is the king establishing this covenant (Gen. 6:18).
  2. Historical Prologue ~ Genesis 7-8 (not to mention Gen. 1-6).
  3. Stipulations ~ The only stipulation is what God has established for Himself (Gen. 9:15-16).
  4. Document Clause ~ Implied by the fact it's contained in the first book of the Pentateuch (see Deuteronomy 17:18; Psalm 1:1-2, etc.). Evidenced by the fact that we still have a record of it.
  5. Blessings ~ This is a covenant of common grace which promises blessing to all by virtue of being part of the creation (Gen. 9:8-17). In this sense it is a covenant of common grace to all.
  6. Curses ~ This appears to be a promise to withhold the curse of death to the entire world until the end of time, but there is no curse for disobedience stipulations of this covenant. This is a one way covenant from God to the creation.
  7. Oath/Sacrifice ~ The sign and seal of this covenant isn't primarily a sacrifice in blood but a bow in the clouds (Gen. 9:12-13), as if God were laying down His weapon. That said, Noah's sacrifice (Gen. 8:20) seems to be in response to God's promise of a covenant (Gen. 6:18). Also, the blood shed in God's judgment through the flood could definitely be seen as part the sacrifice given in order to seal/establish this covenant (Gen. 6:17; 9:15).
IV. Abram Part 1: Initiation of the "Abrahamic Covenant" 
Genesis 15:1-20
"1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: 'Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.' 2 But Abram said, 'O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?' 3 And Abram said, 'Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.' 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: 'This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.' 5 And he brought him outside and said, 'Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. 7 And he said to him, 'I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.' 8 But he said, 'O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?' 9 He said to him, 'Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.' 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, 'Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.' 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.'"

Parties of the Covenant: God and Abraham (and his posterity that God chooses)
Type of Covenant: Covenant of Grace. This is a self-maledictory oath (compare verse 17 with Jeremiah 34:17-20 especially 34:18)
  1. Preamble ~ The LORD, Yahweh (Gen. 15:1).
  2. Historical Prologue ~ Yahweh brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give him the land of Canaan to possess it (Gen. 15:7).
  3. Stipulations ~ Believing the LORD (Gen. 15:6). It appears though that God's going to give Abram the gift of belief anyway though, and God's choosing of Abram isn't dependent upon his believing in God. God's choosing of Abram produces the fruit of belief in Abram.
  4. Document Clause ~ Implied by the fact it's contained in the first book of the Pentateuch (see Deuteronomy 17:18; Psalm 1:1-2, etc.).
  5. Blessings ~ An heir for Abram (Gen. 15:4), offspring as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5), counting belief in Him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). The land of Canaan as a possession for Abram's offspring (Gen. 15:18-21). God prophesies of Israel's slavery in Egypt of 400 years and that God will deliver them in accordance with His choosing of Abram (Gen. 15:13-14).
  6. Curses ~ These aren't detailed, but the implication is that for those who reject faith in God in Abram's lineage will not be counted as the people of God (i.e. Ishmael, Esau, etc. Also, see Jer. 34:18).
  7. Oath/Sacrifice ~ Sacrificing a heifer, female goat, and a ram (all 3 years old). The Lord cut them in half and laid them across from each other, and then Yahweh passed through the pieces, swearing an oath on Himself. Also, a turtledove and a young pigeon were sacrificed (but He didn't cut the birds in half). (Gen. 15:9-10).
V. Abram Part 2: Re-affirmation/Re-establishment of the "Abrahamic Covenant" 
Genesis 17:1-21
"1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.' 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 'Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.' 9 And God said to Abraham, 'As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.' 15 And God said to Abraham, 'As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.' 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, 'Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?' 18 And Abraham said to God, 'Oh that Ishmael might live before you!' 19 God said, 'No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.'"

Parties of the Covenant: God and Abraham (and his posterity that God chooses)
Type of Covenant: Covenant of Grace
  1. Preamble ~ God Almighty is making the covenant (Gen. 17:1).
  2. Historical Prologue ~ Genesis 15-17 (not to mention Genesis 1-14).
  3. Stipulations ~ To walk before God blamelessly (Gen. 17:1), and to circumcise the all those who are part of the household, not just family (Gen. 17:14).
  4. Document Clause ~ Implied by the fact it's contained in the first book of the Pentateuch (see Deuteronomy 17:18; Psalm 1:1-2, etc.).
  5. Blessings ~ That Abram would be the father of a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:5), and the promised land of Canaan (Gen. 17:8), a child, Isaac, at their old age, and that Yahweh would be the God of their offspring. (Gen. 17:8). The chosen line will be Isaac, not Ishmael (Gen. 17:19, 21).
  6. Curses ~ To be cut off from the people of God (Gen. 17:14).
  7. Oath/Sacrifice ~ The change of Abram's name to Abraham (Gen. 17:5) and Sarai's name to Sarah (Gen. 17:15), also circumcision (Gen. 17:10-12).
VI. Abraham & Abimelech
Genesis 21:22-34
"22 At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, 'God is with you in all that you do. 23 Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.' 24 And Abraham said, 'I will swear.' 25 When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized, 26 Abimelech said, 'I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, and I have not heard of it until today.' 27 So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant. 28 Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart. 29 And Abimelech said to Abraham, 'What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?' 30 He said, 'These seven ewe lambs you will take from my hand, that this may be a witness for me that I dug this well.' 31 Therefore that place was called Beersheba, because there both of them swore an oath. 32 So they made a covenant at Beersheba. Then Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army rose up and returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. 34 And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines."

Parties of the Covenant: Abimelech and Abraham
Type of Covenant: Covenant of Works
  1. Preamble ~ Abimelech and Phicol with Abraham (Gen. 21:22).
  2. Historical Prologue ~ God is with Abraham in all he does, so they wanted to make a covenant with him so that he would deal kindly with them as they had with him (Gen. 21:22-23).
  3. Stipulations ~ Deal kindly with each other (Gen. 21:22-23), in other words not steal wells, etc. (Gen. 21:25-26).
  4. Document Clause ~ Implied that they would keep record of this somehow (orally or written).
  5. Blessings ~ Peace (the entire passage alludes to this).
  6. Curses ~ War/strife (implied).
  7. Oath/Sacrifice ~ Abraham gave Abimelech livestock as a witness to the covenant (Gen. 21:27-31).
VII. Isaac & Abimelech
Genesis 26:26-33
"26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, 'Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?' 28 They said, 'We see plainly that the LORD has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.' 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac's servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, 'We have found water.' 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day."

Parties of the Covenant: Abimelech and Isaac
Type of Covenant: Covenant of Works
  1. Preamble ~ Abimelech, Ahuzzath, and Phicol with Isaac (Gen. 26:26).
  2. Historical Prologue ~ The LORD has been with them, that they would not do them harm just as they have not harmed them (Gen. 26:28-29).
  3. Stipulations ~ Not do each other harm (Gen. 26:28-29).
  4. Document Clause ~ This is implied to be done (either orally or written, and by virtue of the fact it's in Genesis today shows this was done).
  5. Blessings ~ Peace
  6. Curses ~ War/Strife 
  7. Oath/Sacrifice ~ The covenant was sworn to and the oath was established in the context of a meal/feast. The sacrifice may be seen as the animals that were killed for the feast (Gen. 26:30-31).
VIII. Jacob & Laban: 
Genesis 31:44-54 
"44 'Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.' 45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 And Jacob said to his kinsmen, 'Gather stones.' And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, 'This heap is a witness between you and me today.' Therefore he named it Galeed, 49 and Mizpah, for he said, 'The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another's sight. 50 If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.' 51 Then Laban said to Jacob, 'See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. 53 The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.' So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, 54 and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country."

Parties of the Covenant: Laban and Jacob
Type of Covenant: Covenant of Works
  1. Preamble ~ Laban with Jacob (Gen. 31:44).
  2. Historical Prologue ~  Genesis 28-31.
  3. Stipulations ~ When out of sight, Jacob is to not mistreat Leah and Rachel (Gen. 31:49-50), and to not pass over the pillar of stones to harm one another (Gen. 31:52).
  4. Document Clause ~ This is implied, but the heap of stones seems to fill out this function too (Gen. 31:46-52). As if it were a stone of remembrance.
  5. Blessings ~ Peace/prosperity.
  6. Curses ~ War/strife (implied).
  7. Oath/Sacrifice ~ God is called to witness their oath (Gen. 31:49, 50, 53), and Jacob offered a sacrifice and he called his kinsmen to eat bread together (Gen. 31:53-54). The heap of stones seems to have acted as a visible marker of their pledge as well (Gen. 31:46-52).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Covenants in Genesis Part 1

"Covenant" is one of the central themes of Genesis. So, it's appropriate to spend a few posts thinking about what a covenant is in Genesis. In a book that was just published, How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens, Michael Williams writes that the theme of Genesis is, "God separates out one through whom he would bless all nations." (p. 13) The way that God separates His people is by choosing them and entering into a covenant with them.

What is a Covenant?
Here's a brief definition of what a covenant is: "A solemn commitment, guaranteeing promises or obligations undertaken by one or more parties, usually between a being with more authority and someone with less authority." In ancient Near Eastern culture this was most commonly seen between great kings and vassal kingsIn essence a covenant functions similar to a contract, but it encompasses much more. When a covenant is taking place between men in Genesis it includes a third party witness, namely God. If it is a covenant made with God, it comes from God to the man (with implications for his familial posterity or society in general). Further, if the covenant is between God and man it is God who initiates and establishes the covenant.

Covenants are not merely made, but the verb enacting the covenant is actually "to cut" (karat = cut; berit = covenant). Covenants were forged through the cutting of flesh and the shedding of blood. This affirms and bears witness to a covenant's solemnity and finality.
"[A] covenant is not merely a 'contract' or a 'promise' as we understand such things. Rather, it's a bond that establishes an all-encompassing relationship. A covenant is not merely a financial obligation or a military treaty. It's a claim on someone's total loyalty and allegiance . . . it's generational. When Israel entered the covenant, they did so for the generations yet to come." (Lawrence, 57)
Covenants can even be accompanied by a "self-maledictory oath", which in essence means the initiator says, "may what has happened in the slaughter, cutting, and dividing of these animals happen to me if I do not fulfill my end of the covenant." Further, when God makes covenants with people it may issue in a name change. A person's very identity as an individual can be changed because of a covenant with God.This is serious stuff.

2 Kinds of Covenants
Generally speaking, in the Bible there are two kinds of covenants: (1) Works and (2) Grace. The covenant of works requires obedience to the stipulations that are laid out. The covenant of grace requires nothing of the vassal king, it's the forging of a legal relationship out of generous love, goodness, and benevolence.

Ancient Near Eastern Structure of a Covenant 
Here are the elements that are included in many ancient Near Eastern covenants, which are shown in different ways in the covenants of Genesis (see Michael Lawrence, p. 56):
  1. Preamble ~ This identifies the king who authors the covenant.
  2. Historical Prologue ~ Outlining the kings past grace to the vassal king serving as a foundation for the vassal king's obedience.
  3. Stipulations ~ Outlining what is expected of the vassal king.
  4. Document Clause ~ This required that each king keep the record of the covenant and read it from time to time.
  5. Blessings ~ The good things that would happen if they were obedient to the covenant.
  6. Curses ~ The bad things that would happen if they were disobedient to the covenant.
  7. Oath/Sacrifice ~ After all these terms were fulfilled in some way the covenant would be ratified by an oath that involved the shedding of sacrificial blood.
Note that this is a structured covenant form of a covenant was not necessarily detailed out in the formation of God's people in Genesis. We'll see later in the Pentateuch that the Mosaic covenant exhibits these marks more clearly. 

I have attempted to fit the covenants of Genesis into this scheme, and to be honest they are a little awkward, so I'm not so certain that the covenants of Genesis were following a prescribed order. However, I think its clear that many of the marks of what would later become a systematized structure are either implied or actually seen in the accounts.

In my next post I'll show how I've fleshed this out in various covenants in Genesis.

All Covenants Point to Jesus
The covenants all foreshadow and point straight at Jesus Christ, the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb. 7:22), which is built on better promises (Heb. 8:6, c.f. 12:24). All previous covenants (in fact all covenants period, marriage or otherwise) point to the covenant that was forged in Jesus' blood for the forgiveness of sins. All mankind carries the covenant obligation to be holy as God is holy. All mankind carries the obligation to live a perfect life. This is a daunting thought, because we can't do it. And we need to come to this sober realization, that everyone's relationship to God is in part a legal one. It's much more multi-faceted than just this, but our lives say something about God, and we are bound by virtue of our existence and nature to obey God's commands and be perfect as He is perfect. This is the case, because we all bear His image. If we don't fulfill our obligations as His image bearers we will be objectively/forensically and legally evaluated, and God's just ruling will be that we "miss the mark". This aspect of the covenant points to the bad news of the Bible. We are all under the condemnation of God because of our inherited and willful rebellion against Him.

This then gives way to the good news of the Bible. By virtue of the covenant God has made through Jesus Christ we have the opportunity to become part of God's family by adoption as sons! The "covenant of grace" we have witnessed beginning in Genesis 3:15 has found it's full completion and consummation in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Messiah that would come to crush the head of God's enemy. Jesus was the perfect man that Adam never could have been. Jesus not only consummated the "covenant of grace" to our benefit, but He even fulfilled the "covenant of works" on our behalf. Jesus even fulfilled the just punishment that should be credited to our account because of our sin. The covenant God has made is forged by the power of Jesus' indestructible life. Now, through Jesus Christ we can be God's chosen people of the covenant, only through Jesus Christ. There is no other way that we can be justified before the legal demands of God's law.

The promise of covenant blessings that come because of faithfulness to the covenant obligations can now assuredly be ours by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Genealogy, ethnicity, and works no longer have a bearing on who is marked out as the chosen covenant people of God. It is only in Christ that anyone can be saved into a covenant relationship with God, case closed. And what is the covenant promise and blessing that we can be certain to have through Jesus Christ? God Himself! We can be reconciled to God, not bearing the weight of God's wrath, but we can be freed through Jesus Christ to walk in uninhibited relationship and access to Yahweh, in His perfect joy, holy delight, all-powerful love, incomprehensible beauty, and incorruptible goodness.