The pace is picking up a little bit now, as we move forward through scripture and look at some key events and themes in its grand narrative. In Lesson 4 we looked at the Heart of Our King. Specifically, we looked at how God’s everlasting love for his children is expressed through covenant, what that means, and the first few instances in which it appears in God’s story.
If God’s response to sin was merely punishment, scripture could end after Genesis 3:19, and 3:15 could be removed, for there would be no good news of one who would come to bruise the serpent’s head, no good news of one who would come to be bruised for your sake, and for mine. Since we know that scripture clearly does not end with Genesis chapter 3, there’s obviously more to the story! And that more is the unfolding, increasingly revealed picture of a God who pursues a people in love to rescue and redeem them from sin to be their God and to dwell among them, restoring (wholly by his own gracious initiative) what was lost and broken by man’s rebellion in the garden.
Our hope is in the unchanging LOVE of God. In Deuteronomy 7:6-8 God told his people Israel that they were his treasured possession, whom he had chosen and loved not due to any might or strength (or merit) of their own, but because he had set his love upon them and was keeping the oath (covenant) he had sworn to their fathers. If you wonder whether there’s biblical warrant for applying these verses to us today, consider Ephesians 1:3-8, which similarly indicates that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him, in LOVE predestining us for adoption as sons (daughters) through Jesus Christ. Jeremiah 31:3 proclaims the word of the Lord to his people in exile as a result of their rebellion (sound like a theme?): “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
God’s LOVE compels him; his COVENANT binds him. That’s what Courtney Doctor emphasized in Day 2 of our study. She says, “Covenant is the way that God goes about accomplishing his purposes – he makes certain promises to his people and then he binds himself to those promises,…knowing that he will be the only one who will be faithful and keep the covenant. Our faithful God enters into a binding relationship with unfaithful people.” (From Garden to Glory: A Bible Study on the Bible’s Story, pp. 75, 76) God’s binding himself to his promises is good news for us, because he cannot lie and his character does not change! (Numbers 23:18, Hebrews 6:13-20) If you’ve read back through Genesis 15 carefully, you have likely noted what Abram was doing while God was “cutting covenant” with him. I hope it encourages you to realize that God’s promise did not depend upon Abram’s commitment to it, but his own! This will be important to keep in view as we continue through our study.
In Days 3-5 of our study, we looked more closely at God’s covenant commitments to both Noah and Abraham. Though God has one mission in redeeming his people and establishing His kingdom, he is accomplishing this mission through many covenants, each of which builds upon the one before it and expands our understanding of who God is. Michael D. Williams says that “Genesis tells the story…of the pervasive spread of sin in the world. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, they took the fruit of their disobedience with them. After sin broke into the Garden (Gen. 3), it broke out into the whole world (Gen. 4-11).” (Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption, p. 84)
The flood of Genesis 6-7 shows both God’s righteous judgment against that sin, and his great mercy and faithfulness to his own promises. Though “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and…every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,…Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” In our discussion time, we talked about the connection between Noah’s blamelessness in Gen. 3:9, and the word favor that we see in v. 8. Noah was not a sinless man, but by God’s grace, he was called righteous, and we see that he was obedient to God’s command to build an ark. Speaking of the story of the worldwide flood, Michael D. Williams says, “Sin and judgment is at best only half the story….The point is rather to communicate God’s resolve to redeem in spite of fallen man, and that sin cannot thwart the promise made in the Garden. It is about grace, that God will protect the seed of the woman and will affect his plan to redeem in spite of sin’s power and allure. Like all of Scripture, the story is about the faithfulness of God.” Genesis 9 records God’s post-flood blessing of Noah and his sons, a blessing that shares many elements of God’s original blessing of our first parents in the garden. How encouraging this is! Despite the pervasiveness of sin and the necessity of judgment, God still blesses and establishes his covenant with man. God is indeed faithful to his promises.
The problem of sin was not solved by the flood, however. The very next episode in the narrative after the flood is the tower of Babel. Genesis 11:4 records these words spoken by the people of the land of Shinar: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Williams says, “Thus the trajectory from the Garden to Babel moves from the illicit promise of moral autonomy in the serpent’s lie to a full-blown culture of godlessness in which every human energy is employed in the ‘ultimate act of rebellion – the total denial of God in the absolute assumption of self-sufficiency. This is sin in totality, with finality.'” (Far as the Curse is Found, p. 85, quoting B. Davie Napier, From Faith to Faith, p. 56.)
God’s grace, man’s sin, God’s grace, man’s sin. It’s a recurring pattern, isn’t it? Williams says “At the heart of the pattern of sin and grace lies the fact that God remains ever faithful to his covenant promises even though man proves himself faithless to the covenant.” (Far as the Curse is Found, p. 89)
In Genesis 12, and then again in Genesis 15, we see God calling and covenanting with Abram (later renamed Abraham). Williams points out that God promises to Abraham what He opposed at Babel. “Abraham’s greatness will be conferred by divine grace, not wrested from the world as the Babelites attempted to do. Blessing will come only from the Word of God.” (Far as the Curse is Found, p. 110) Abram is promised offspring in Genesis 13 and 15, another important term to trace through scripture, as we first saw it in God’s promise of Genesis 3:15. As often occurs in scripture, there are both immediate and future realizations of God’s promises. Abraham will be the father of many nations, as promised, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through him. But this will involve more and extend further than Abraham will ever realize in his earthly life.
Referring back to Genesis 3:15, our study book points out that “the first promise given is that there will be a descendant of Adam – a man, a human being – who will crush the head of the enemy.” This one who was promised, who would be the fulfillment of all the covenants, would be fully man, but not ONLY man. He would also be fully God. God is the one who both initiates and fulfills his covenants.
So what should we do with what we are learning? It is right and good to rest and trust in the truth that God is faithful to his promises as a covenant maker and covenant keeper as he works to rescue and redeem from sin a people for himself. But we should also note that when God covenants, he also calls and commands. God calls us to vocation in and obedience to Him.
So will we believe God, as Noah did, and Abraham? Will we follow where he leads us through His word, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense or appear to be the wisest course of action in man’s eyes?
Will we pursue a walk of blamelessness – making every effort to trust and obey, and to repent when God graciously shows us our sin?
Will we praise God for his faithfulness not only to His covenant promises, but also to us as his people? Will we seek to reflect and represent him well as his image bearers, testifying of His mercy?
Eden, the flood, Babel – each of these shows us that sin is not without consequence. Is there any unfaithfulness in us that grieves us today? Are there seeds of self-sufficiency or self-made glory that we might need to see and repent? Our Heavenly Father/King is gracious and merciful. He called and covenanted with his children in the garden before their rebellion, and has done so ever since. He still blesses us in order to make us a blessing, allowing us to participate in His work in His world. I am praying for each of us that we will respond to God’s gracious initiative with love, obedience, and faith, trusting Him to work out his promises in us as He has been faithful to keep and work them out in His world.