the divine arch of human redemption (5)

 

THE PATRIARCHS

Because the record concerning faithful men consists sometimes of few words, we can so easily underestimate the extent of their knowledge of God’s purpose and overlook their greatness and standing in his sight. Of Enoch it is recorded that he “was translated that he should not see death: and was not found because God had translated him, for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God (Heb 11:5). We may well enquire what it was about this great man that such an interposition should so be made by God in the manifestation of His pleasure. The answer is given us in just three words found in Genesis chapter 5, verse 24. There we read “And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him”.

That description of a man’s life and it’s sequel – whatever other inferences may be drawn – speaks volumes concerning his fellowship with the God Whom we worship. It denotes an intimate relationship, a communion of like minds in sympathy one with the other. “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” asked God of Israel (Amos 3:3). The question and its answer convey the message that Enoch possessed a comprehensive understanding of the mind of the Creator – of His purpose with the earth, the consummation of it, and the means by which it would be achieved. Such knowledge would demand of necessity, an understanding and appreciation of the atoning work of Christ, both for himself and for all men of faith. Enoch’s knowledge of this is seen when we recall the words recorded for us in the epistle of Jude: “Enoch also, the seventh from Adam prophesied saying, Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints to execute judgement upon all and to convince all that are ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him”. It is quite impossible to speak so assuredly of the Second Coming of our Lord without having a fullness of knowledge of all that was necessary to be accomplished beforehand.

Walking along the road of life in God’s company brings with it a sharing together of aim and purpose which, coupled with the knowledge of the means already made known to men of God for it’s accomplishment, leads us to appreciate in what fulness the mind of the Creator was manifest to Enoch. Saints are those who, as “holy ones”, have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, having themselves made a covenant with God by sacrifice. Being raised from the dead they will, at the time appointed be gathered together with their Redeemer, to enter into that work of bringing the whole earth into subjection to God’s will and to live and reign with Jesus their saviour for a thousand years. These thoughts are gathered together in Enoch, the seventh from Adam, epitomising in himself the events of the millennium, the seventh epoch in the outworking of God’s purpose.

The words that are used to describe Enoch are employed again when we briefly consider the life of Noah. It is recorded that he was a just man, and perfect (upright) in his generation, and that he walked with God (Gen 6:9). The thoughts we have expressed apply equally, therefore to this great patriarch. As a preacher of righteousness, to a world seemingly past redemption, he condemned it by his faith, shown in the preparation of the ark, with all that that represented in salvation from death – both in the immediate, practical sense, “wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water”, and in the eternal sense, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pet 3:21). Nor was Noah unacquainted with or unmindful of these great truths; for, as we have already remarked in our last article, he was fully conversant with both the necessity for sacrifice and what constituted acceptable offerings and worship, with all that was represented thereby. The complete understanding, therefore, in the mind of Noah, of the redeeming work of the Saviour, is evident.

JOB’S ASSURANCE OF A REDEEMER

It is appropriate that we should at this juncture make reference to God’s servant Job in relation to our subject. His understanding and appreciation of a Redeemer from sin and death, and indeed the character of such a Saviour, is made clear in the book which bears his name. In the first chapter we observe how, as priest to his family, he sanctified his children after their days of feasting, “and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5).

All the elements which comprise true worship and sacrifice for sin are here made manifest. An altar for sacrifice, burnt offerings, the need for the covering of sin, the ritual and meaning involved in sanctification, are intrinsic to the record. Even more important perhaps is the mind of the offerer, his anxiety and sensitivity in these particulars, that the relationship both of himself and his family should be unimpaired by wrongdoing or even the possibility of it. But it is his insight into what constituted the substance rather than the shadow which interests us, for it is quite evident that he looked forward with the eye of faith to the coming of the Messiah, the perfect sacrifice represented by the constitutional elements of his priestly worship. In the midst of all his troubles, his mind and its affections saw beyond the present evils, “For”, said Job, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27). How we are moved and uplifted! How we are united in spirit with this great patriarch in his reassuring words of truth! No doubts, no ifs or buts, no maybes or perhapses, but “I know”.

How did he know? What was it that engendered within him such great faith and assurance? It was certainly not credulity, but a deep, perceptive, reverential knowledge of the Truth in all its aspects and relations to the obtaining of salvation. It was with the assurance such faith gave him that, in response to his rhetorical question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (14:4), he could with supreme confidence reply: “all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come”. It was this deep, undoubting confidence which enabled him in the midst of his trials, and the taunts of his wife and erstwhile friends, to remain staunch and true to his God; whilst through it all he was taught that which he lacked to make him yet more perfect. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:15) was not a statement of mere bravado, but a cry of assurance that what God had promised in the provision of a Redeemer, He would most surely perform. He understood that the Saviour for whom he looked would be the “daysman”, the one mediator between God and men, “that might lay his hand upon us both” (Job 9:33) and so bring reconciliation. So, by such expressions of deep significance, we discern that in the mind of this man of God the mainspring of his thoughts was the great hope of life from the dead and the means so graciously provided for it’s realisation in Christ. Once again it is manifest in what evident detail the atoning work of Jesus was known in those early days.

A CALL FROM IDOLATRY

The lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are recorded for us in more fulness than the three great men already mentioned; and not surprisingly, therefore, the subject we are considering looms larger in that record. There can be little doubt that Abraham was well acquainted with the practice of false religion, for the sacrifices and offerings to the sun and moon gods were evidently central to the worship of the inhabitants of Ur. The great ziggurat, that flat-topped, stepped pyramid around which the city was built, was so designed that all could witness the priests practising the ritual in the sacrificing of animals and, it is believed, of children too, in order to placate and satisfy the idols they presumed to worship, so far removed had they become from the Truth.

From Joshua 24:2, it appears that the immediate forebears of Abraham were amongst these idolaters, which serves to emphasise the almost unique quality of mind of Abraham, who was not so engaged. His thoughts were elsewhere, with the only true God Who formed the object of his worship. It was out of this environment that Abraham was called. He was in the direct line of Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah and Shem, and had preserved their precious faith, which had with him become immovable. Faithful among the faithless, uncorrupted by the prevailing apostasy, he steadfastly adhered to the worship of the only true God. To this man it was that the will of the Almighty was made known, and also the salvation that would yet be accomplished through Christ. The great promise of God made to him is predicated for its fulfilment upon one who should open up the prison house of death, release them that were bound, proclaim liberty to the captives and free them for ever from the shackles of sin, with all the blessings which would then ensue.

ABRAHAM BUILDS AN ALTAR

Abraham was under no illusions as to the range and scope of the promise, or of his own part and lot in it, for he was taught of God. When men, in the exercise of true faith, believe that God “is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him”, the gifts He bestows are commensurate with His Greatness and have relation to eternal things. So with Abraham, the land of promise was his for an everlasting possession. Though God “gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet He promised that He would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child” (Acts 7:5). And “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness”. The promise and all that it comprised, the manner of it’s revealing, the circumstances surrounding it, the assurances of its bestowal, bespeak the outworking of an Almighty hand reaching down the ages, as a Divine Arch of Human Redemption, to incorporate not only Abraham himself, but all those of his faith who look beyond the present to Christ’s day – who see it and are glad. So we observe that, after leaving Ur, travelling along the valley of the Euphrates to Haran, sojourning there until his father was dead, he then travelled down through the midst of the land to Shechem, where God appeared to him and said, “Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, Who appeared unto him” (Gen 12:7).

We shall return to this incident a little later when we come to consider the life of Jacob, but for the present we observe that it was at Shechem that Abraham built the first altar, and that God appeared to him, and confirmed the promise of the land to his seed. All the elements of the atoning work of Christ are bound up in that simple record, as we shall see, noting for the present, what was the first action of Abraham upon entering the land – the offering of sacrifice. Following the reiteration of the promise by God to him in the precise, unmistakable, down-to-earth terms of Genesis 13, we find yet again the association with it of an altar; for the record, after spelling out the promise, tells us: “Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord” (v 18).

We pass over the incident concerning Melchizedek and Abraham following his rescue of Lot and the battle of the kings, not because it has no relevance to our subject, but because it would demand more than one article in itself to expose all the points of reference. Suffice it for our present purpose to remind readers of the salient features between type and antitype, between Melchizedek and Christ:

MELCHIZEDEK

CHRIST

King of Righteousness

“A king shall reign in righteousness (Isa. 22:1)

King of Salem

“His name shall be called … The prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6)

King and Priest

“He … Shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest (Zech 6:13)

Made like unto the Son of God (Heb. 7:3)

Jesus – the Son of God

Having neither beginning Days, nor end of life …abideth a priest continually (Heb 7:3)

“This man, because he continueth ever hath an unchangeable priesthood (Heb 7:24)

Met Abraham after his victory, refreshed him with bread and wine, and blessed him(Gen 14:18-19).

The saints after their victory, will sit down with their Lord and and dine with him in the Kingdom (Mat 8:11)

The whole episode is a pointing forward to the Kingdom Age with all it’s blessings of eternal life, following the subduing of the nations, when Jesus will sit upon the Throne of David in Jerusalem as King of the Jews and be the Melchizedec High Priest and Ruler of the world.

These great events form the foundation truths of the Gospel of the Kingdom, which has it’s root in the promise of God to Abraham, the confirmation and seal of which is the sacrificial work of Jesus – the things concerning the Name. These two aspects of the Gospel go together; each incomplete without the other. This confirmation of the promise of eternal life to Abraham which the inheritance of the Land of Promise for ever entailed, was enacted by the Covenant God made with him in Genesis 15, verses 8-12,17.

THE COVENANT CONFIRMED

All that is recorded here has relevance to the subject of the Atonement. It speaks of one of Abraham’s seed, made in all points like unto his brethren, yet whose paternity was from heaven, who should be the means by which the eternal inheritance of the promises would be made possible. In the animals and birds which are portrayed it is as though God in His Word delighted to accumulate the types concentred in Jesus, and to press their significance upon us by their seeming incongruence. To unfold all of which it speaks would demand more space than is now available, so just a hint or two must suffice.

The three animals, signifying Divine and perfect completeness together with the two birds – making five – is the number for Grace – that of God himself. The age of three years for each animal speaks of the years of Christ’s ministry. The beasts are all clean animals, and tame, all willing servants for man’s need. The first two, females, speak of fecundity; the heifer of patience and labour, the other (the scapegoat) bearing our iniquities. The Ram speaks not only of consecration and the trespass offering (Lev 5:15, 8:22), but also of that Divine energy and power given to our Lord without measure. The birds amongst other things speak of the source from whom our Lord sprang – from heaven, the turtledove in whom love and sorrow mingled; the rock pigeon which makes its nest in the place of security and strength. All these things and more contribute in their several ways to form a picture of the Redeemer and the manner of the man. No only so, but the clear indication to Abraham that it was through death, through sacrifice, that the confirmation of all that was entailed in God’s promise would come. Moreover, it was complete and absolute faith in what was represented, a lively understanding of it all, and the driving away of all that might take away ought of the substance that formed the evidence of that faith (v 11) – a powerful lesson for us all

That the sleep of death was to come to Abraham and many vicissitudes overtake his seed thereafter was made clear to him, but the inheritance of the land was made sure by this irrevocable covenant of God, sealed with blood and the signature of the Almighty by the smoking furnace and the lamp of fire, the hallmarks of His Spirit.

Nor are we to suppose that these events and enactments were to Abraham merely the transient experiences of an eventful life. They were much more than that. As the father of the faithful there can be no doubt that the significance of all that is recorded was even more clear to him as an active participant that in is to us. Indeed, it is in these very particulars, coming together as they do in the person of Jesus our Saviour, that Abraham was put to the proof by God, an action which would have been unjust had not the fullness of knowledge in these matters which is the basis of faith been paramount in his life.

The wonderful illustration we have of its perfect outworking and vindication is seen in Genesis 22. Therein is prefigured in unmistakable graphic terms the one perfect sacrifice for sin who would thereby fulfil all the requirements of God for the taking away of transgressions, the opening of the prison house of death, the fulfilment of the promises and the consummation of God’s purpose with the earth.

The parallels in the offering of Isaac with that of our Lord are well known, but they never fail in their repetition to cause us to marvel at the manner in which God teaches man the deepest truths and etches them in the mind of all who are responsive to the Divine purpose.

Eric Phipps