Genesis 24 and God’s Plan for the World

sylwia-bartyzel-9217-unsplashGenesis 24 is the longest chapter in Genesis. And rather than recounting some revelation about God or some aspect of his covenant with Abraham, it spins a tail of how Isaac got a wife. Indeed, the longest narrative event in Genesis is a love story, one that seems Dickens-like in its profusion of extraneous information.

Certainly, as the promises of God are given to Abraham and his offspring, the marriage of his son is no small matter. Yet, it seems as though the account of the servant traveling back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac is prolix detour from the rest of Genesis. At least, it is not as crisp as the equally-important, but shorter accounts of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9) and the meeting with Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18–24).

So why the long drama of finding Isaac a wife? My answer is that this story reflects God’s story for the world, and the long-time-in-coming union between God’s beloved son with his bride. Let’s consider. Continue reading

The Four Seeds of Abraham: Natural, National, Christ, and “In Christ”

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Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring.
It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one,
“And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
— Galatians 3:16 —

Who is Abraham’s offspring? Or is it, Who are Abraham’s offspring? Is it one or many? Or both?

In the Bible one of the most important realities to grasp is how the Bible presents itself. In other words, because Scripture is the inspired interpretation of God’s actions in the world—even as God’s Word is itself a divine action—it is vital to see how God’s earlier revelation prepares the way for his later purposes.

Sometimes this is called an “eschatological” reading of Scripture. That may sound complicated, but it’s not. Eschatology means “the study of last things” (eschatos = last), and most of the time people immediately jump to what they perceive are the “last things” in the Bible. However, if we consider that God stands outside of time and created all things for the purpose putting them under his Son’s feet (see Ephesians 1:10), then we must read the Bible as one unified-but-unfolding plan of redemption.

In this way, eschatology doesn’t begin in Revelation, or Daniel, or Zechariah, it begins in Genesis. And from Genesis to Revelation, God is working all things for the purposes of his people—the offspring of Abraham.

But who is/are Abraham’s offspring? Continue reading

Bread and Wine at the Table of a Righteous King (A Meditation on the Lord’s Supper)

MelchizedekDear Church,

You have been invited to covenant meal—a table set in the midst of hostile enemies. Bread and wine are the food and drink of choice. The host is a righteous king who is lives in the holy city Jerusalem, and serves God Most High as a faithful priest.

When you look at your invitation, the RSVP calls you to renounce your idols and acknowledge the greatness of your host. This table, offered freely to you, is set for those who believe God’s promises and refuse to partner with the kings of this world. Indeed, this table does not communicate righteousness. Rather, it is for those who have been justified by faith in the promises of God Most High.

What is this invitation describing?

If you said, the Lord’s Supper, you’d be correct. And if you said Abram’s meal with Mechizedek, you’d also be right. But how can this be?  How can one description point to two events? The answer is that God ordained the Old Testament events of Genesis 14 to prepare the way for Jesus Christ and the covenant he sealed with his blood and celebrated on the night before his crucifixion.

Therefore, just as learning the history of Passover helps us appreciate and apply the Lords’ Supper today, so does learning the story of Melchizedek and his covenant meal. Continue reading

Common Grace: How God Blessed the Nations in the Age of Abraham

rainbowGod’s covenant with Noah is often described as the covenant of common grace, and rightly so. In the wake of God’s judgment on the earth, the heart of humanity remains unchanged (cp. Gen. 6:5 and 8:21), yet for God to bring redemption to the world, some measure of preservation must be granted. Therefore, with strong covenantal language—berith occurs 7 times (vv. 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17) in Genesis 9—God promises to uphold creation: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (8:22).

These promises to Noah envelope all creation and articulate God’s common grace—his universal beneficence towards a world filled with sin. In other words, common grace is common because it encompasses all humanity universally, not because it is mundane. Common grace is distinct from saving grace in that the former does not atone for sins or grant eternal life. Rather, it grants “grace” to the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5:45) and provides a historical context for saving grace to operate.

That being said, common grace is not equally apportioned. It is not like the periodic table, where every element possesses the same atomic weight. Rather, common grace is specific in that it often depends upon the saving grace given to God’s chosen people. In other words, just as common grace is promised through the Noahic covenant, so common grace continues to be mediated through other covenantal mediators. In Scripture, the first instance of this is Abraham.
Continue reading

Typological Pairs: From Suffering to Glory

david solomonConcerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
— 1 Peter 1:10–12 —

What does it mean that the Spirit of Christ foretold of the Messiah’s suffering and glory?

Surely, there were many ways, as Hebrews 1:1 indicates. Nationally, the people of Israel regularly experienced enemy oppression (after they sinned) followed by powerful deliverance that set God’s elect over his enemies. Individually, Joseph, Job, David, and Daniel all experienced humbling affliction before being exalted. Textually, there are some individual passages displaying a suffering-to-glory theme—e.g., Isaiah 53 speaks of the Servant’s humiliating death (vv. 1–9) only to close the chapter by announcing his glorious reward for his vicarious suffering (vv. 10–12). Or see the pattern in the Psalms; both the whole Psalter and some individual Psalms (see especially Psalm 22) reflect this pattern.

It seems that everywhere you look in the Old Testament you find (1) God’s people suffering, followed by (2) cries for mercy. In response, (3) God hears their prayers, and (4) responds with saving compassion in the form of a deliverer—a Moses, a Samson, or a David. The result is that (5) the people are saved and the mediator is exalted.

In the light of the New Testament, these incidents are illuminating shadows of Jesus Christ himself. In fact, in the words of Peter, it’s not too much to say that the Spirit of Christ is a cruciform spirit, who leads his people (under the Old Covenant and the New) through valleys of death to bring them into places of honor and service. This is the Christian way—to be brought low unto death, so that God can raise us up to life (see 2 Cor 1:8–9).

That being said, I am persuaded that there is another way in which suffering-unto-glory might be seen in the Old Testament. Instead of containing the pattern to the nation, individuals, or texts, there are some pairs of people who display the pattern. That is, repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, there are individuals related by kinship or ministerial calling whose composite lives function to display the pattern observed in 1 Peter 1. In other words, the Spirit of Christ was directing their lives such that the first person foreshadowed the sufferings of Christ and the second person reflected his subsequent glories.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen this proposal written down anywhere. So, I’d love your thoughts. Does it work? I think there is merit in the proposal and am writing it out (in part) to explore the idea. (That’s what blogs are for, right?) I think, in the end, such pairs may help reflect the binary nature of Christ’s ministry–first in weakness and humiliation, then in power and glory. Or at least, that’s what I will try to show below. Let me know what you think. Continue reading

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: A Stumbling Block or Stepping Stone (Matthew 1:1-17)

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says that the cross of Christ is a stumbling block for Jews (1:23).  Due to the Law’s instruction, it is clear that law-abiding Jews would take offense at anyone hung on tree.  As Moses announced in Deuteronomy 21:23, such a man was accursed by God.  Understandably, the call to believe in and worship a man nailed to a tree would have been hard to accept.

Two thousand years removed from Golgotha, the cross has become a symbol of peace and hope.  In the West, Christians have grown up seeing crosses on church steeples and tee shirts.  More than a few devotees to Christ adorn them around their neck or ink them on their skin. The cross is no longer a stumbling block.

What is a stumbling block today is the Bible itself.  In almost a complete reversal, the word of God, which would have posed no cultural problem for the Jews of Jesus’ day, causes many professing Christians to wince and excuse its contents.

For many, the world of the Bible is foreign.  Its words, warfare, and worship are hard to understand.  Add to this the self-deprecating truths of total depravity and unconditional election, and you have a Bible that is not just unfamiliar, but even offensive.   Yet, it is not only doctrine that trips up Bible readers; it is also genre selection. Continue reading

The Gospel Preached Beforehand

Yesterday I preached a pair of messages on the “gospel preached beforehand.”  In Galatians 3:8, Paul writes, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

I have thought much about what the contents of that ‘gospel message’ would have been, and yesterday I sought to explain from Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 22, how the Lord proclaimed the good news to the patriarch Abraham.  In short order, I argued that the content of the gospel can be witnessed in God’s promise of grace (Gen 12), justification by faith that results in a covenant relationship (Gen 15), circumcised citizenship in the kingdom of God (Gen 17), and the necessity of the Lord’s sacrifice, substitution, and resurrection (Gen 22).

Only when all of these elements are included do you have the full gospel message. Maybe I saw too much Christ in the Old Testament, maybe not enough. Tell me what you think.

Here is the sermon audio. The first message begins in Luke 24 and turns to look at Genesis 12, 15, and 17; the second message covers Genesis 22 with an introductory excursus asking this question: ‘Since we have the full gospel (Heb 1:1-4), why should we spend much time on the gospel preached beforehand?”

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gospel Logic: Taking God at His Word

Over the last week, I put up a handful of posts on how the Old Testament saints reasoned from the promises of God in order to follow God in amazing ways.  That is, they did not simply do what they were supposed to do, because they were unswervingly obedient.  Rather, the promises of the gospel took up residence in their heart and they were compelled to act by the faith they had in God’s word.

Today, I list them in one place/one post.  I hope they can be helpful.  There are more places where this gospel logic is seen in Scripture too.  Perhaps, we can come back to it another week.

Gospel Logic: Learning To Take God At His Word

Abraham’s Gospel Logic

Moses Gospel Logic

The Gospel Logic of Psalm 42-43

The Gospel Logic of Psalm 103

What God Commands, He Gives: A Reflection on 2 Peter 1:3-11

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Abraham’s Gospel Logic

Abraham’s Gospel Logic

If we define Gospel Logic as the mental act of interpreting life in light of God’s promises, the first major figure in the Bible who engaged in the activity was Abraham.

Called from worshiping idols in Ur, to become the father of God’s chosen race, Abraham was a man who must have grappled with God’s unfolding plan of redemption through his lineage.  Coming out of his pagan background, Genesis 12-22 shows the unfolding of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham.

Genesis 12, 15 and Romans 4

In Genesis 12, YHWH gives Abraham a three-fold promise: a land, a people, and his blessing.  The rest of Genesis, indeed the rest of the Bible, unfolds this tripartite promise.  In Genesis 15, YHWH comes to Abraham, who is still childless, and he tells him again that he will have offspring.  Genesis 15:6 records this pregnant statement: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  God’s promissory word came to Abraham in power.  The patriarch believed, and the rest of the Bible points to this man as the father of faith because of his trust in God’s word (offspring that would outnumber the stars), not his present circumstance (childlessness).

In this simple retelling, it is evident that Abraham had already started the activity of Gospel Logic.  He looked at his body, as good as dead Romans 4 tells us, and in spite of his sagging skin and aching joints, he believes God.  Romans 4:18 quotes from Genesis 15:5, and Paul comments, “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barreness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:19-21).

Clearly, the way in which Abraham came to faith was not because of some magical experience which made him believe out of sheer serendipity.  Rather, he wrestled with the promises of God in his mind, and he cast aside doubt on the basis of God’s greater word.  Reality became God’s promise, not his own perception.  This is Gospel Logic.

Genesis 22: An Unbelievable Test of Abraham’s Belief

Later, this kind of Gospel Logic would be tested again. In Genesis 22:1, Moses records the fact that God was going to test Abraham.  In an event that baffles the modern reader, Abraham is requested to offer up his son as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah.  Without getting sidetracked on the ethics or repeatable nature of this passage (for the record: this is an inimitable request), Abraham clearly perceived God’s intention and command.

Promptly, the aged patriarch set off with his young son.  Genesis 22:3-5 records,

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

Now Moses obviously is selective in his record-keeping, but it is evident that something happened in Abraham’s mind between God’s initial command (v. 2) and Abraham’s statement to his caravan that he would return with the son whom he was intent upon killing  (v. 5). What was it?  What kind of mental process enabled Abraham to obey God, and with such confidence tell the world, that his son would live? Hebrews 11 tells us.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Thru Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered (logizomai) that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau (v. 17-19).

As in the case of Abraham’s justifying faith, Abraham’s obedience exhibited the same Gospel Logic.  Abraham knew that God’s command was irrecovable, but he also knew that the salvation of the world (i. e. blessing to the nations) was dependent on his son of promise.  Now, he did not know how these two things reconciled, but he knew that God would not overturn his promise.  Thus, he reasoned that God could raise the dead, and as Hebrews says, “figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

The Takeaway

There is an incredibly important lesson here: Christians are not called to obey based on what they see.  They are called to obey what they hear.  Today, we look not for God’s revelation through angelic visions or extra-biblical commands.  No.  But we do look to the word of God, and in God’s sufficient Scripture, we have many imperatives and wise counsel to live in a way that will call us to decisions that are based on God’s unseen promises, not our visible provisions.

This is the Christian life.  And it demands Gospel Logic.  Reasoning from God’s word unto our life circumstances in such a way, that we, like Abraham, believe that God will figuratively speaking raise us from the dead, as we daily carry our cross and die with Christ.  In this way, the gospel of Christ comes alive to us, and the world around us sees a visible display of Christ’s sufficiency for us, even in our poverty.

Abraham’s examples is a powerful one.  He helps us see what true faith is.  It is not passive in any way.  It is deeply Scriptural, and one that calls us to think deeply about God’s word, with the absolute confidence that what we think about, God will reveal to us, as his Spirit leads us by his Word.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss