December 20, 2010

Division By Human Decision & God's Unmerited Grace

Cain and Abel
 In Genesis we see certain patterns begin that seem to continue through the narrative of the Pentateuch and the Bible at large. We see divisions within humanity and they are there by choice...human choices. We see the side that is an expression of a coming covenant of redemption and relationship with God and this is based in the prototype of Abel (later Seth). On the flip side we have humanity without a relationship with God and this is reflected in the line of Cain. The word represented is used lightly because by the time of the flood even the line of Seth has been contaminated irreparably by sin, all except Noah and his immediate kin. By the time of Noah we see little distinction in terms of genealogies but a stark contrast in terms of those under grace and those under the curse. Nearly all are under curse. Cains line terminates in the flood but sin is intrinsic to the nature of humanity and it takes little time for it to "resurface" after the flood.

Seth's line which leads to Noah survives in a single man's family but later divides again forming another godless line: Ham. What we see though in the first few chapters of the Bible is God's plan to rescue humanity and create a distinction between those saved by grace and those lost in their own sin and the judgement that will follow. The clarity of what happens to those under sin is clear: Judgement (sooner or later). Those under grace we see a path towards election and eternal life. Abel finds favor, Cain does not. Noah and family find favor, the rest of humanity does not. Shem receives blessing (as does Japheth), Ham does not. Through the lineage of Shem, another man is singled out...Abram. He is to be the father and the chosen head of God's redemptive plan. These distinctions between "chosen" and "unchosen" have absolutely nothing to do with the choices of the people involved but rather God's choice. God's election and grace. To say that the actions of these fallen and sinful creatures had anything to do with their ability to be chosen demeans and diminishes God's sovereign grace. This election by God is unconditional. The reason God does what He does in these situations lies with God and God alone. Nothing any of us can do warrants this type of mercy from God. They only thing warranted by our behavior is punishment and death.

We then pick up the narrative with Abram (pre-covenant Abraham). Abraham has learned the novel lesson that he must live by faith in the promises of God and it is accredited to him as righteousness. Then he will possess a promised land and God will be their God and Abram/Abraham's people will be God's people. Abraham will be the father of many nations. The sign of the covenant with God and his people will be circumcision but what God really wants is not an outward symbol but the inward change of heart. A heart that has turned itself to God in obedience to Him. Through this nation all the nations of the world will be blessed because from this nation, this people, the Jews through Abraham, through Moses, through David...Christ will arise and come to redeem His people.

Through the narrative about Abraham we again see it is nothing Abraham can "do" to deserve this goodness of God. Abraham is a liar, and a coward in the face of obstacles put up by other men of power. We again see a vivid picture of God's sovereignty at work. We also see election. Whenever God intervenes and acts on behalf of His people it is certainly not because they deserve it, God is actually acting against what they truly deserve as sinners in rebellion against a Holy God and not killing them, well, that is grace pure and simple. The means to the restoration of the proper relationship that God is giving them a chance to achieve here is faith. It is not and action but a vehicle to accept the gift of grace offered and extended to His beloved creation...humanity. Just like Abraham, our faith is not always strong. In fact our quantity of faith is often so dismal that it is nearly non-existent or invisible to most human eyes. For God it only takes a little. We are not judged by man's standards but only God's. Like good believers and like Abraham, at crucial times we usually answer the call. We rise to the occasion with our faith as believers and if we don't or we can't we as New Testament believers have and advocate in the Holy Spirit who intercedes on our behalf. In the moments of truth, we as believers usually (not always) take hold of the promises of God and run with them like they were always mean to be ours anyway.

Abraham & Issac
Since Abraham (and we) do not deserve any of these things promised by God they must be seen as unmerited gifts from a loving Father. Fast forward to Abraham's son Isaac. Again we see something come to fruition through a promise of God. A child born of a barren woman and a man old enough to almost be considered ancient by modern standards. Abraham and Sarah were so old at this point that they could've been carbon dated. Against all possible likelihood God shows His promises are absolutely ironclad with a resoluteness and faithfulness of His promises.

Then God demands Isaac's life as sacrifice. It is a test of Abraham's faith that God will do as He promises. Abraham doesn't even hesitate. I imagine Abraham was wondering how the promise of a great nation would be fulfilled through a dead Isaac but he does not hesitate. It turns out Isaac does not die and does indeed go on to father Jacob who fathers the progenitor's of the 12 tribes of Israel. The idea of this offering of sacrifice goes back again to Cain and Abel. Abraham's heart is in the right place. God provides a substitutionary sacrifice in the form or a ram tangled in the bushes near the alter that Isaac is on. A foreshadowing of Christ.

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