Christ in Genesis

My writing project for 2016 was a series of studies of Christ in Genesis. I want to publish it all in one place, but now that I have time to work with it, WordPress is being uncooperative. Therefore, as one reader asked, here are links to the twenty-two pieces of the work as published.
Introduction

  1. In the Beginning
  2. In the Garden
  3. A Tale of Two Trees
  4. The Better Garment
  5. Confession and Promise
  6. Raising Cain, Raising Abel
  7. Noah, the Ark, and the Flood
  8. The Tower of Babel
  9. The Promise to Abraham
  10. Melchizedek
  11. Abraham, the Father of Faith
  12. Miracle Babies, and the Rights of the Firstborn
  13. The Sacrifice
  14. The Bride
  15. Birthright and Blessing
  16. Jacob’s Ladder
  17. Wrestling with God, and Seeing the Face of God
  18. Joseph & Bros.
  19. At the Right HandAt the Right Hand
  20. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
  21. “Am I in the Place of God?”

 

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Christ in Genesis: birthright and blessing

Men like Noah and Abraham are easily seen as pictures of Christ. Though neither man was sinless, they both obeyed the commands of God and brought blessing to the world through their obedience. The account of Esau and Jacob is harder to view in a Christ-centered way. Most often their relationship is treated as a morality play. Jacob cheats his brother and lies to his father; as a result he has to leave home and live with his cousin, Laban, who in turn cheats Jacob in a matter close to Jacob’s heart.

What, then, can we say of Esau? Before the twins were born, God declared that “the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). Much later God said, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (Malachi 1:2-3). Esau despised his birthright—the blessing he deserved for being Isaac’s firstborn son. He exchanged his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew (Genesis 25:29-34). Jacob swindled his brother by offering the exchange, but Esau’s low regard for his birthright seems to disqualify Esau as a picture of Christ.

Yet at least Esau got a bowl of soup in exchange for his birthright. Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God. He lived a sinless life worthy of great rewards. Yet he exchanged all that belonged to him and all that he deserved. He surrender it all to take on himself the burden of our sins. We are adopted into the family of God by this exchange, and all our guilt is removed from our lives. Instead of a bowl of soup, Jesus receives a cross of suffering. He is abandoned by his Father—which we deserve for our sins—and yet he prays for sinners, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Even though Esau had surrendered his birthright to Jacob, and in spite of the fact that God had foretold Jacob’s success over Esau, Isaac still stubbornly wanted to bless his firstborn son. He sent Esau on a hunting expedition, and Esau went out into the wilderness in obedience to his father’s command. At this time, Isaac’s bride Rebekah enters the picture. She plans the deception of Isaac and performs all the work. She cooks the kids, she makes the goatskin gloves for Jacob to wear, and she dresses him in Esau’s clothing. Isaac is blind to his son’s deception, as God the Father is blind in love, accepting us in the name of his Son. As the Church by its teaching and by its blessings clothes us in the righteousness of Christ to bring us to God the Father, so Jacob is prepared by his mother to receive his father’s blessing, the blessing Isaac wanted to give to the son who was doing what Isaac told him to do.

Jacob nearly ruins the scheme by fumbling his one task—when he speaks to his father, he forgets to imitate his brother’s voice. Yet, being blind, Isaac trusts his senses of touch and taste and smell over his sense of hearing. He grants to Jacob the blessing he wanted to give to Esau. He treats Jacob as the son who is doing his father’s will. The same thing happens to Christians today, as God the Father says of Christians what he said to Jesus on the day Jesus was baptized: “You are my Son. You are the one I love. With you I am well-pleased.”

Christ in Genesis: the Bride

Isaac is a picture of Christ in at least three ways. His birth was promised in advance, just as Moses and the prophets promised the coming of Christ. Isaac’s birth to ninety-year-old Sarah was a miracle, just as Christ’s birth to the virgin Mary was a miracle. Isaac’s father was willing to sacrifice him for the good of the world, just as God the Father accepted the sacrifice of his Son for the good of the world. It stands to reason, then, that the bride of Isaac should in some way resemble the Bride of Christ, the Holy Christian Church.

Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for his son Isaac and bring her to him. So also God sent prophets to prepare the way of the Lord, so that believers in the coming Savior were rescued by the same faith in Jesus that rescues Christians today. The apostles were sent to make disciples of all nations, and missionaries are still sent into the world, so that the Church will consist of people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

Abraham’s servant prayed to God for help. Those who preach and proclaim God’s Word do not save sinners by their own words of persuasion. Only Jesus saves sinners; only the Holy Spirit creates saving faith through God’s Word. The servant brings the message, but only God can provide the answer.

God answers the servant’s prayer “before he had finished speaking” (Genesis 24:15). The timeless God knows what we need and what we will pray. He wants us to pray, to keep in touch with him, but he generously provides for us—even more than what we ask—because of his love for us. Missionaries sometimes find that people who never heard of Jesus or the Christian Church are somehow prepared for the message, coming to faith as soon as they learn of the person and the work of Jesus Christ.

Abraham’s servant places jewelry from Abraham upon Rebekah before he speaks to her about marrying Isaac. The members of the Christian Church are not saved from sin and evil by the good things they do for God; they are saved by the good things Jesus has done for them. We bring nothing of our own to be accepted by Jesus as his people; we bring only the works Jesus has done for us—his obedience to his Father’s will, his sacrifice on the cross as a Ransom for us, and his victorious resurrection from the dead, defeating all God’s enemies on our behalf.

Rebekah is offered no choice whether or not to be married to Isaac. The servant describes his message from Abraham, Laban and Bethuel declare that “the thing has come from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken” (Genesis 24:50-51).

Yet after she has been claimed as Isaac’s bride, she is given a choice whether she will linger in her old way of life for several days or whether she will leave immediately with Abraham’s servant to be brought to Isaac. We cannot choose to come to faith, for we were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:1-2). God made us alive, giving us faith—much as the command of Jesus made Lazarus alive and able to walk out of his tomb (John 11:43-44). Being made alive, we can linger in our old sinful ways or live in the new life provided by God’s Gospel. The prophets and apostles frequently urge people not to linger in the darkness but to walk in the light. People who are alive have freedom to make good choices or bad choices. People who are dead have no freedom.

Rebekah chooses to travel immediately to her husband, not to linger in her old way of life. So also the Bride of Christ comes to him, to the husband who “might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27). Once again, Christians do not sanctify themselves for Jesus; they are sanctified by the work of Jesus, done on their behalf.

Before they left her home and her family, Abraham’s servant “brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah” (Genesis 24:53). When they approached Abraham’s home and Rebekah first saw Isaac from a distance, “she took her veil and covered herself” (Genesis 24:65). She came to her husband in clothing that he and his father had already provided to her. As God cast away the fig-leaf clothing Adam and Eve had made and provided suitable clothing for them, so the Church and its members come to Christ clothed in the righteousness he has provided us. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Clothed in his righteousness, we are his Church. Today we are still engaged to Christ, waiting for the Bridegroom to come in all his splendor to bring us to his mansion. Already, though, we belong to him, chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) to be his people forever.

Christ in Genesis: the Sacrifice

Genesis 22 has inspired awe and horror in God’s people for many generations. Soren Kierkegaard wrote an entire book, Fear and Trembling, about this chapter. He makes the interesting point that any man today who dared to imitate Abraham and prepare to offer his son as a burnt offering would be stopped, arrested, tried, and convicted of a crime. Any statement that God had told him to do such a thing would be disregarded as an attempt to obtain a verdict of innocent on the grounds of insanity.

Kierkegaard overlooked the fact that Genesis 22 contains a picture of Jesus and his sacrifice. However, Kierkegaard correctly indicated that this account teaches more than the truth that we should give our best to God. Many teachers see only that lesson—Isaac was the best thing Abraham could offer to God, and God demanded that from him. A vast distance separates our requirement to give our best to God and God’s command to Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt sacrifice.

How was Abraham capable of daring to obey such a command? “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac… He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:17-18). Abraham’s faith in the promise of the resurrection made him able to obey God’s command to sacrifice his son. If Abraham knew about the resurrection, he must also have known about the promised Savior. Perhaps Abraham even believed that his miracle son, Isaac, was the promised Savior, the blessing from his family for the entire world. Instead of recognizing Isaac as a picture of Jesus, Abraham may have thought that he was in the presence of his Redeemer in the person of his son.

So a father is prepared to accept—and even to cause—the death of his son for the good of the world. The son trusts his father and does not resist his father’s will. He even carries the wood to the place of sacrifice, as Jesus carried his own cross. Abraham is stopped just in time, because Isaac is not the Christ. He is only a picture of the Christ. A second picture of Jesus appears, a ram taking the place of Isaac as Jesus himself would take the place of Isaac in the future.

As they climbed the hill for the sacrifice, Isaac asked Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham must have gulped and sighed before he said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” When he said those words, Abraham expected Isaac to be the lamb, for God had provided Isaac by a miracle to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham’s words were made true when he provided a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. They were made more true when God provided his only-begotten Son to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Not only is Jesus depicted first by Isaac and then by the ram; he is also present at this near-sacrifice. He is the angel of the Lord who speaks to Abraham, repeating the promise that Abraham’s family would be a mighty nation and would provide a blessing for the entire world. Jesus himself fulfilled that promise when he suffered and died on the cross and when he rose to life again on the third day. His resurrection guarantees our resurrection and our eternal life. This promise of a resurrection strengthened Abraham to obey the command of God, and (as the letter to the Hebrews says) “figuratively speaking, he did receive him back”—on the third day from the command to sacrifice his son!

Where did this take place? “The land of Moriah… on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you,” God said (Genesis 22:2). This mountain of Moriah is mentioned again in II Chronicles 3:1, where we are told that Solomon built the house of the Lord on Mount Moriah. Moriah is one of the seven hills of Jerusalem, and the animal sacrifices (which, like Isaac, were pictures of Jesus) were offered to God in the Temple on Mount Moriah from the time of Solomon until the Babylonian Captivity, and again in the second Temple until the time of Jesus. Calvary may possibly be the very outcropping of Mount Moriah on which Isaac was nearly sacrificed. If not, we can be sure that the place where Father Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son and the place where God the Father accepted the sacrifice of his Son were very near each other. J.

Christ in Genesis: Miracle Babies, and the Rights of the Firstborn

Some people say that every birth is a miracle. To a certain extent, I suppose that is true. There would be no babies, or flowers, or ears of corn, if not for the God who made everything in the beginning and who still provides for his creation every day. But when everything is a miracle, then nothing is miraculous. When a baby enters the world in the usual way, we thank God for the new life. When a baby enters the world in a special way, we marvel at the miracle.

God told Abraham that his family would become a mighty nation, but Abraham and Sarah had no children. When God first spoke his promise, Abraham was seventy-five years old, and Sarah was sixty-five. As the years passed, neither of them was getting any younger. Twice Abraham tried to help God keep God’s promise. First, Abraham proposed to adopt Eliezer, his chief servant, as his heir. Later, at Sarah’s suggestion, he used her servant Hagar as a surrogate mother. Both times, God said no to Abraham. The promised heir would be born from Sarah, in a manner that would be undoubtedly a miracle.

Sarah was ninety years old when Isaac was born. Only God could cause such a thing to happen. To underline the point, God repeated this miracle every few generations. Manoah’s wife could have no children until Jesus appeared to her and promised a son, who was Samson, the mighty man of Israel. Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, could have no children until she prayed to the Lord for a son, who was Samuel, the last judge of Israel. Elisabeth, the wife of the priest Zechariah, was too old to have children, but Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and promised him a son, who was John the Baptist.

All these miracles happened to prepare God’s people for a different kind of miracle. Isaiah told King Ahaz about the coming miracle: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). While it is true that the word translated “virgin” could simply mean “young woman” in Hebrew, it is also true that the word always designated an unmarried woman. Other words were appropriate for unmarried women who were not virgins. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5). Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).

Because Abraham did not trust God to keep God’s promise without Abraham’s help, Ishmael was born before Isaac. In Deuteronomy, it is written: “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his” (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). Clearly this was written long after Ishmael and Isaac were born, but many ancient civilizations had similar rules. A man’s firstborn son was always to be his primary heir, receiving at least twice as much as any other son.

In Abraham’s family, this rule is repeatedly broken. God favors Isaac over Ishmael, even when Abraham pleads for Ishmael, the firstborn son. God favors Jacob over Esau, even though Esau was born first. Jacob favors Joseph, the son of his favorite wife, over all of Joseph’s brothers, most of whom were older than Joseph. Joseph even receives a double portion in his inheritance; instead one tribe of Joseph, there are two: the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Meanwhile, the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is passed down to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob. When Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, he gives priority to Ephraim, even though Manasseh was Joseph’s firstborn son.

How is Christ pictured by this anomaly? Jesus Christ is eternally the Son of God the Father; the rights of the firstborn belong to him. Yet he entered the world to provide for our adoption as sons. Jesus trades places with us, taking on himself the guilt of our sins and paying our penalty, while granting to us the rewards he deserves. This is why we are all adopted as sons (not “children,” or, “sons and daughters”). God looks at each of us and sees the righteousness of his Son. He says to each of us what he said to Jesus: “You are my Son. You are the One I love. With you I am well pleased.” The ancestors of Jesus acted out this adoption as, again and again, the firstborn was set aside so a brother could receive the blessing, not by law or because of law, but because of grace.