God’s Covenant, Part 14 – Covenant Promise(s)

2-God’s Promise and Reward According to Works

Having considered the eternal nature of God’s covenant concerning the promise of redemption, we now turn to the application of it regarding His creation. God, in fulfillment of His eternal decree, made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them (Gen. 1:1). And He made it all very good.

Genesis 1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.

Genesis 1:10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:17,18 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:25 And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 2:9 And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The term “good” implies that the creation was made eminently suitable to God’s eternal ends, as far as its usefulness toward them goes. Here, having made from nothing that which was created in a moment, God formed it into what it was to become in the space of six days. Finally, having completed this work, God rested and reflected upon the goodness of His work (Gen. 1:31-2:3). He sanctified it by pronouncing His blessing upon it.

That goodness consisted of a highly complex variation of created things. There was the material realm represented by the earth and the sky, and every living thing that inhabited it. Inanimate objects served to provide a living room of sorts unto the creatures that lived and roamed upon the face of the earth. There was that which was completely solid like the rocks and to a lesser extent the trees. There was that which was not solid at all like the atmosphere, and to a lesser extent, the sea. There was that which was material in substance, solid, but still easily workable like the ground from which the trees and other living plants are found. The earth providing sustenance to the creatures from the ground, it enabled them to live and thrive, multiplying and fulfilling God’s good purpose here on earth.

There were lower creatures such as insects, fish and animals. There were higher creatures, spiritual in nature such as angels which inhabited the heavenly, as well as the earthly realm within creation (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 104:4). And there was one particular creature, made on the sixth day of creation which God called man (Gen. 1:26,27).[1] These three categories of living creatures formed a hierarchy of life within God’s created order. The lowest of these creatures lacked any cognitive ability whatsoever, existing and functioning solely on the basis of natural instinct. Natural instinct is that driving principle which moves the creature to act a certain way out of a sense of need and self preservation. There is no thought or consideration required in its actions. But it is entirely dependant upon natural providence and a power outside itself for survival. The highest of these creatures on the other hand, was endowed by God with a high degree of cognitive ability. This form of life being entirely spiritual in nature, has no sense of bodily need whatsoever. Being entirely spiritual in nature it is virtually mind itself, although created and therefore, dependant upon power outside of itself for life. That form of life called man, was uniquely composed of both elements of nature found in the lowest and highest of beings. Man is the union of both material and spiritual nature, conjoined together in a single state of being. As a material creature, man has material needs and instincts. But as a spiritual creature man has the cognitive ability to think and reason. Therefore, man encompasses both spheres of existence inhabited by the other two forms of life. And just like the other two creatures, man is dependant upon providence and power outside of himself to live.

All of this that was found within the bounds of heaven and earth was constructed by God as His theater. It was made complete with all the suitable props and actors He deemed useful in the fulfillment of His eternal decree (Ps. 104:24). It was and still is dependant upon His sovereign providence and power to exist, live and function. It bespeaks the attribute of God referred to as omnipotence. There was nothing outside of God that moved Him to create. He just did so. It was done according to His eternal decree. It was an act of absolute free will. The reader should note here that the act of God in creating is the only true definition of absolute free will. Everything else that might use that term next to God is something altogether different in nature. It is less than absolute, and therefore, limited in scope and ability.

The omnipotence of God in creation is seen in the manner of its expression, that of a mere word. When God spoke it all came into being.

Genesis 1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Genesis 1:6 Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”

Genesis 1:9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so.

Genesis 1:11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so.

Genesis 1:14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years;

Genesis 1:20 Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”

Genesis 1:24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 1:28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:29 And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.

Genesis 2:18 And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

The word of God is of course, the product of His mind. This is how the decree being the thought and intention of God, has application to material fulfillment. If God has a thought regarding something, it exists in concept before it comes to pass just as Paul said in his letter to the Romans (Rom. 4:17).[2] So not only God’s omnipotence was at work in creating, it was and still is at work in upholding it. The writer of Hebrews says that God is now presently at work “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). That same power which God spoke at creation now sustains His work. This makes providence and history the work of God as much as creation.

Now why do we labor to show this here? It is just this. That everything that has come to pass since the world was made, has done so because it was God’s will for it to happen. It is a point important to note for it will relieve the reader of misguided thoughts regarding God’s Covenant promises and their actual outcomes. We begin here by focusing in on the creation in its original state and order. More specifically, we focus on that creature made so uniquely by God called man. For it is man that is the central theme next to the glory of God, of all His works in creation. Man was made by God as a special creature, for His own special purposes. God’s Covenant is the relationship He has established with man and is behind what He has willed to happen in the history of the world. So when we read Scripture and consider man’s relationship to God in the world, we must first understand what it is predicated upon. It is predicated upon the concept of dependance. God is the Creator; we as the creature are dependant upon Him.

What is Man?

As it has been stated above, man is a creature endowed by the Creator with two distinct characteristics of his nature, the material and the spiritual. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7). First, God made the material part of man from the ground. Second, God imparted to man his spiritual being, thereby animating him to life. Special notice should be made as well of what the Scripture calls this union between the material and the spiritual in man. He is referred to here in the verse as a “living being.” There is but one being that is produced from the combination of these two elements of nature in man.[3]

Since the body of man is inanimate separate from his spirit, it is actually what constitutes what he is as a person. Personality is inseparably connected to the intellect. There are also two other aspects of personality that are inseparably connected to the intellect as well. These are motivation and will. The one being the affection or disposition toward something, while the other is the active engagement in, or, choosing of it. When we say inseparably connected, we mean to say these several things are so closely connected, that it is hard if not virtually impossible to separate them one from another. Certainly, the inanimate body of man does not possess any of these attributes.

All of these faculties in combination are best described by another word that appears in Genesis, regarding mans creation, in regard to what he is. “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:26,27). The phrase “image of God” finds a proper explication in this three-part rendering of the spirit as intellect, affection and volition. The “image of God” in man is simply the reflection of those qualities consistent with the invisible Being of God that are capable of being communicated to him. “The image of God” in man implies that which is reflective of the Divine character that has been indelibly stamped upon his nature by virtue of creation. The ability to think and act according to a motivating principle, is what the image of God in man consists of. Of course, man cannot act upon all that he thinks and chooses as God can, being limited as a creature. But it is the quality of that image of the Creator that constitutes what man is designed to be by nature.

This quality of the image of God in man was such, that it elevated him far above all other creatures made. Possession of it was a special honor chosen by God to place upon him. Notice what is said about this in the Scripture. “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Ps. 8:3-5). The “glory and honor” spoken of here in this Psalm, is the image of God placed upon a creature that is actually lower in state than the angels. None of them have this distinction of being created in the image of God. Because of this, the same designation of “glory and honor” is later on taken up in reference to God’s Covenant of redemption (Heb. 2:6-9). This of course, pertains to the Son of God becoming man.

The mind of man is such that it was designed in a manner similar to that of the Creator. However, there is certainly a vast difference between the two, each one of these pertaining to the nature of Being possessed by God and His creature. Besides omnipotence, the nature of God is endowed with the attribute of omniscience. He knows all things, at all times, and knows them with a perfect understanding. This means that God knows the concept and the consequence of every thought within His mind, in an immediate manner. The knowledge of God is a complete whole, so that no part of it exists outside of His immediate view. This is true of every cause and effect related to it, including every contingency. Each consequence is placed in perfect order before His all seeing, all knowing eyes. God does not have to mull over things, carefully considering what might or might not happen. He knows it all, all at once. This makes the mind of God but one single thought, comprising many different ends and actions, including every necessary consequence pertaining to it.

The mind of God is revealed in Scripture to possess the peculiar attribute of logic. Logic, or wisdom as it is often stated, defines the omniscience of God in relation to His works. Hear what God says about this attribute. “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. I have been established from everlasting, From the beginning, before there was ever an earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills, I was brought forth; While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields, Or the primal dust of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was there, When He drew a circle on the face of the deep, When He established the clouds above, When He strengthened the fountains of the deep, When He assigned to the sea its limit, So that the waters would not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth, Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him, Rejoicing in His inhabited world, And my delight was with the sons of men.” (Prov. 8:22-31). The wisdom of Logic is made known in this text in relation to what God has done, as well as what He intends to bring to pass after doing it.

But this text reveals something else about the attribute of wisdom or logic in God. It is expressed in terms of a Person. That Person is the pre incarnated Son of God. This is why He is called the “Word” in John’s writings (John 1:1-3). The “Word” as John refers to Him is the incarnated Son of God, as John came to know Him as Jesus Christ. The “Word” that he used in Greek is ‘Logos,’ from which we derive the English word logic (verse 1:14). It can be translated several ways including word, wisdom, truth, knowledge or revelation. In short, John connects this attribute of logic to the Divine nature. John intended to show that Jesus is God, and that He was intimately involved in creation. He does so by connecting Him to Genesis chapter one (verse 1), and Proverbs chapter eight as the word and wisdom of God.

Regarding man, John states what constitutes the image of God in him by virtue of his creation. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (Verses 4,5). God who gave life to man, also gave him reason. God did not leave man to himself and his own resources when it came to the ability to know Him. Man was made with a certain innate light or knowledge of his Creator, both of His works and His law. That is what the image of God in him consists of.

This “light” or knowledge in man was not made complete by any means. In fact, it was deliberately made vague and undefined. And it was done for a very specific reason. What he received from God was the intellectual ability to think and reason. What it was he was supposed to think was by design, to come from God’s specific instruction or word. By receiving that word of instruction, or revelation from God, man was designed to think God’s thoughts after Him. And how does God think, as revealed in the Bible? He thinks logically and systematically. That is what Solomon points out about the Creator in the book of Proverbs. God creates and acts within creation according to a pattern or design that mirrors His thought. This is the wisdom of God’s omniscience.

It is often taught in the church that creation itself acts as a testimony of the Creator to man of His Being, so that he is without excuse not to believe in Him. This is true to a certain extent. More fundamental than that is the nature of the innate light man is endowed with, for without it, he would have no eyes so to speak, of which to see it. The design of creation speaks to one who has the ability to conceive of its Maker (Ps. 19:1-6). However, this voice is woefully inadequate of itself, for God is Spirit, invisible and immaterial in His Being. We cannot look at nature and arrive at a true and accurate knowledge. Man was made with the need to receive instruction, out of the mouth of God (verses 7-11). Indeed, this is exactly what was done at the beginning. Not only did God think first, then speak creation into existence, but He instructed man with His words as soon as he was made and able to receive them.

God’s Covenant with Man

The relationship man had with God at creation was founded upon His revealed word. It came first to him in the form of revealed purpose, and second, in the form of revealed duty. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:27,28). Man’s created purpose according to God is to glorify Him, and keep His commandments (Eccl. 12:13). In other words, the image of God in man by virtue of creation, gives him his explicit purpose to exist. It is summed up simply by this one basic principle of life, to know and to glorify the Creator. So how was it supposed to happen? According to the revelation of God, man fulfills his purpose by reflecting something of that unseen beauty of God’s nature in his person, in all that he thinks and does.

The original relationship that existed, between God and man at creation, was based upon and remained dependant upon His revelation that was given to him. This was man’s duty to the Creator. After all, “He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:25). The purpose and duty of man are to fulfill what God desires of him. So God gave man at creation explicit instructions toward this end. He was to populate the earth with offspring like himself, and in so doing, take control of it unto the glory of God. The context of this was to be established within the marriage covenant. “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: ” This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:21-24).

This was a relationship within a relationship. The man and the woman were together as one before God separated them. God separated man into two distinct persons of the opposite sex. It was in order that they would compliment each other in their relationship together (verse 18). God used two important words to define them both and the relationship that existed between them. These two words were “comparable” and “helper.” The word “comparable” means they were similar, yet, they were distinguished by a difference. And what was the difference? It is a difference not only in sex, but also in the role assigned to them. The woman was made by God’s definition a “helper” to man. This defined the relationship as one of order. The man and the woman were both made “in the image of God.” (Gen. 1:27). This made them equal before God in terms of their status as persons. But it also made them different in terms of their duty to each other, and ultimately to God. The third part of the marriage covenant involved the offspring to be born from it, making it complete in terms of order. Children come from a set of parents who according to their God ordained authority, raise them to adulthood. Then they separate from the family and go into the world and do likewise within the confines of their own marriage covenant, thereby perpetuating and fulfilling God’s revealed will.

The multiplication of mankind upon the face of the earth was what God revealed as His will to the man and woman. It was their duty to do so by virtue of His making it known to them in His word. And there was great blessing attached to it. The concept of the family unit was not something thought up by them. Nor was it something that just happened in an existential sort of way. No, it was something they were instructed to do, according to their covenant relationship to the Creator.

Now this was something which accorded with them having been made in the image of God too. The revelation God gave to them was in the form of the spoken word. So by this we understand that language and communication is a part of the created function of mans nature that pertains to the image of God. Language comprises two things, one, of the spoken word, and two of the written word. Each word has a meaning and a sound to it that resonates with the mind of man. Words are taken into the mind, either by reading or by hearing them. They are then transmitted the same way to others. There is an obvious advantage to the written word too. A heard word may be forgotten or changed through repeated transmission. The written word remains to be contemplated over and over again.

So God communicated His will to mankind, at first by the spoken word, then later on in written form (Gen. 1:28, 5:1). The revealed word then became the basis for the relationship God established between Himself and mankind. Man was not left to Himself to wonder what His purpose was to be, nor how to fulfill it. In fact, it became something consistent with his very nature to comply with.

a. Paradise

We can see from God’s early revelation to mankind that His intention for them was not only to inhabit the world, but literally, to take dominion over it. Now, it was not unto them that this was intended, but unto the Creator, and for His glory. In other words, it was to display, magnify and exalt the greatness of His glory and His attributes in all that He had accomplished in creation. The dominion of which God spoke to man, was to be that of rule and order within creation. It was to be ruled by man on behalf of God who had made it and ordained its purpose. And there was a certain blessing attached to it that was part of that very order. And why is this? There are both submission and service that exist within the rule of order. This translates into both peace and prosperity which comes as a direct fruit of it. So the dominion mandate from God to man was inseparably connected to this rule of order.

Rule and order flow from God Himself. God is a Trinity, One Being of three Persons (I John 5:7). There is an order that exists within the Persons of the Trinity. Although each Person, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, equally share absolute fulness of Divinity and power within the Godhead, yet, each Person has an economical function within it. The Father is the original, unknowable Person from which all things proceed (I John 1:18; I Tim. 6:16). The Son is eternally begotten of the Father, whom He sends (Ps. 2:7; John 1:14, 3:16, 16:28). And the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (John 15:26; Rom. 8:9).

The Persons of the Trinity exist eternally in perfect, loving communion with each other. This fellowship which exists within the Godhead constitutes a glorious kingdom of perfect harmony and peace. That being the case, it was the intention of God to display this perfect harmony and peace within the creation, of which He set mankind. It was God’s eternal intention to expand this kingdom he enjoyed within Himself, by creating the world and populating it with many persons. The dominion mandate and its ultimate end were the establishment of God’s kingdom, filled with creatures He made. The rule of order within creation then, was to be an extension of that which exists within the Godhead. So God sought to bless mankind with the prosperity and peace of His kingdom (Gen. 1:28). Therefore, everything within creation was under the rule of mankind, who was in turn, under the rule of God (verses 28-30).

Rule and order within creation were further established by God to His people in the duties assigned to them. This further duty related to the dominion mandate is seen immediately after mans creation on the sixth day. It was Adam’s assigned duty to name each thing that God created. “Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.” (Gen. 2:19,20). Notice that God allowed Adam to name them. He could only do this properly if he was given the faculty of thought and speech to do so. And since Adam was in perfect submission to God, his assignment of names to them was found to be acceptable to Him.

This reveals something about rule and order within God’s creation, in regard to the principle of revelation. How Adam arrived at the names is not known. He spoke and wrote according to the language he was given by God. So whatever he named them, it was in this assigned language, and suitable to its purpose within God’s will.[4] Adam even named his counterpart, taken from his own body. “And Adam said: ” This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” (Verse 23). So Adam showed forth this function of the image of God in that, he defined what God placed under him.

God created a special place of abode for them. “The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.” (Verse 8). It was an amazing place, set within an amazing area perfectly suited for them (verses 9-14). The garden of Eden was not just a living place, although it was certainly that, it was a sanctuary, for it was where God met with and talked to them (Gen. 3:8a,9). Adam was placed in the garden with the specific purpose “to tend and keep it.” (Gen. 2:15). And he was given by God everything that was needed in order to sustain him while living there. God had said “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat” (verse 16b).

All of this constituted a veritable paradise upon earth for man. We can imagine the conditions which the first man found were optimal to a perfect life. The temperature was absolutely perfect. We know it because the man and woman were unclothed. “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (Verse 25). Morning or night they could live in the climate provided them in the garden without a stitch of outer clothing. But this brings us to another level of understanding about them as they, and ultimately the world existed at creation.

b. Righteousness

Rule and order as it pertains to God and His nature involves an important principle. It is the principle of righteousness. Righteousness must be distinguished from holiness. God as Holy means that His nature is unlike anything else that exists or is created. In other words, it is completely other from it in that sense. If God is unknowable as Scripture attests, then so isn’t holiness. However, we can know something about holiness in several different ways. There are three to be exact. First, we know that God is holy, because He is God. He is uncreated such as we are. Whatever we are, and the world, God is something different from that in His nature. Nothing can be compared to Him. Second, we know God is holy because He declares it to us in His word (Lev. 10:3; Rev. 15:4; Is. 6:1-3; Rev. 4:8). Third, we know God is Holy by the things that He does. This includes creation, providence and redemption. It involves both His eternal decree as well as His revealed will, and the judgements attached to it. The actions of God which pertains to holiness are His righteousness.

Man was made holy too, and therefore, is required by virtue of his creation made in the image of God to be holy, just as God is Holy (Lev. 11:44,45, 19:2, 20:26, 21:8; I Pet. 1:16). The difference between the two as already stated regarding holiness is this. God is essentially Holy in His nature. Man as originally created was of a lesser nature, yet, was made holy by virtue of his having been set apart to God’s holy purpose. The image of God regarding holiness appears in Scripture to be communicable to man in this manner. The question may be asked, how is this so? It is stated first as already asserted by the description of “made in the image of God. “ That is, set apart unto God’s holy use. But second, it is further asserted in his conduct as God’s dutiful creature. “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (I Pet. 1:15,16).

Holy conduct is what the quality of righteousness entails. There is almost no meaning to the idea of being in a state of holiness if it does not translate into actions that are commensurate with it. This is the principle of righteousness as it regards man at creation (Eccl. 7:29a). He was designed to reflect the character of God in his life and service to the Creator. And it was only as he did this in fulfillment of the dominion mandate that God’s creation was an extension of His kingdom.

This brings the matter of righteousness to an important place in our contemplation. Righteousness is something that requires definition as to what it is, and what it isn’t. Righteousness as a principle may be said to be perfect conformity to God. It is essentially a standard by which this conformity is measured. Whatever meets the standard is righteous, whatever doesn’t is unrighteous. There is a contrast between the two, and an antithesis of the two principles.

The standard of righteousness man was to follow was given by God’s revelation at creation. It is called the law of God, or, the works of the law depending on how it is viewed. The law of God as a standard and the works of the law as an expression of it is one and the same thing, for all practicable purposes. The former is the standard to be observed, and the latter its fulfillment in practice, or the lack thereof.

Before considering this any further, it is important to state, as it has already been alluded to, that man was created to serve His Creator. It is his duty to do so by virtue of his creation. The reason should be obvious by now. God is an excellent Being in His nature and attributes. His work is an attestation of His Divine character. Three particular things are shown forth about this in connection to creation. They are God’s wisdom, power and goodness. Wisdom is seen in its design, power is seen in its being created ex nihilo (out of nothing), and its goodness is seen in God sustaining and providing for it out of His resources. Everything within creation was made good for its intended purpose. God is therefore, eminently to be loved and desired beyond everything and anything else.

Love is the principle which undergirds God’s standard of righteousness. What do we mean by love? First of all, Scripture tells us that love is essential to God’s nature (I John 4:8). Secondly, love as an essential element of God’s nature is an expression of all He does toward the creature (verses 9,10). So love is a principle as well as an action. But third, love is an attribute of God that is communicable to man. It is commensurate with righteousness. So man was made upright in the image of God, and capable of serving Him out of a motivation of love. Indeed, God loves Himself supremely, in all His nature and attributes. It is the prime motivation of all He thinks and does, in regard to His creation.

Coming back to the original place and duty of man in the garden, we see this matter of the love of righteousness revealed. It was revealed to man in the form of a law. The law contained both positive and negative elements in it. The positive aspect of the law revealed to Adam was in the form of his duty. The negative aspect of the law was revealed in the form of prohibition. As already considered, Adam and his wife Eve were tasked with populating the earth, subduing it and taking dominion over it. The central place of living for them within the wider world was the garden, a place of meeting with the Creator. The broader implication of this was that as mankind expanded, the garden would be a sort of sanctuary for people to come and pay special homage to Him. Perhaps this would even broaden the scope of the garden sanctuary to encompass the whole earth.

We are told that in the garden of Eden there were many trees provided for the nourishment and sustenance of man (Gen. 2:9). “And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (9a). Among them there were two particular trees of interest regarding the principle of righteousness. “The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (9b). Now, God instructed them of His will concerning the trees. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat” (verse 16). God gave to them the positive instruction that they were to “freely eat” from the trees. This was their provision. It was given to strengthen and prosper them in their duty of taking dominion over the earth. So far, up to this point there was nothing withheld by God from them in the relationship.

But here is where the principle of righteousness revealed to mankind began to take shape. For it was here at this point in the creation narrative that the principle of righteousness was shown to be inseparably connected to man’s relationship to the Creator. God did this by revealing it in the form of not only duty, but in the form of prohibition. For what is a principle if it is not something that is defined in this way? Man was made by God to be truly free, which is the ultimate ambition of everyone. But freedom, in order to mean anything, is defined by its limitations. So

righteousness as a principle falls under the same condition. Man’s freedom as an upright creature was to be defined by a certain limitation placed upon him. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Verse 17).

c. Life and Death

God placed before man the knowledge of righteousness according to these two trees, one of life and the other that of good and evil. Man’s duty then was made known to him in both a positive and a negative way. And it was also accompanied by both a blessing and cursing. First, consider the blessing. God commanded Adam to eat of the tree of life. There is more implied in this command than simply the maintenance of his physical life, although that was certainly included in it. How do we know this? We know this in the way it is set in contrast to the other tree which was prohibited, being called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eating from this tree resulted in death. By eating from the tree of life, Adam was obeying God, so it was a righteous thing for him to do. Not only did it sustain Adam’s physical life when he ate from it, but it sustained his relationship to the Creator as well. For in doing so, he was able to show forth both his love and devotion to God. Eating from this tree was the maintenance of his life in terms of showing forth the image of God stamped upon him. This aspect of Adam’s obedience involved the spiritual part of his original state of existence.

In obeying God by eating from the tree of life, Adam was assured of the blessing of continual life with God as it was originally enjoyed. It was a positive righteousness on his part to obey God in all that He commanded him to do, including and especially in his use of the tree of life. By doing so, the relationship established at creation by God with him was secure. It was a covenant relationship based upon the duty of works. The reward God held out to Adam was life, as long as it was maintained by his obedience.

This brings us to the second consideration of the principle of blessing and cursing associated with these two trees in the garden that of life and that of the knowledge of good and evil. The cursing of God associated with the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was in defying the negative prohibition God set forth as Adam’s duty. By God establishing this prohibition He was defining the limitation of Adam’s personal freedom. So in fulfilling God’s command not to eat of this tree, it actually served as a safeguard to it. It may be inquired how is this? It is answered simply by this, to obey the negative requirement of God by the deprivation of something, whether it is material such as this tree, or some other form of personal pleasure, is to have freedom within the bounds of security. The boundary acts as a means to preserving freedom.

So the abstinence of the fruit of this one tree, served to establish the principle of righteousness for Adam from a negative point of view. It established the principle of righteousness in a balanced and complete way. By the antithesis God set forth at creation for man, righteousness is known by both the duty to act and perform some task unto Him, or by the duty to refrain from acting or doing something unto Him as well. The two opposites or antitheses comprise the one principle, they are both ends of the equal sign if it is put into the form of an equation. Now why would this be so important for man to learn? It concerns the nature of God and what He is as Holy and righteous. Put in another way, it is to say that God is defined, known by what He is and by what He isn’t. So to obey Him in a positive way by performing an act or duty, is to love Him according to His beauty and desirability as the sovereign authority over His creation. To obey Him in refraining from some act or purpose is to love and know Him as that Being which abhors all that is inconsistent with His nature.

Here again, we are confronted with another question regarding these two trees. The first one called life, leading to life makes sense. But the second one called the knowledge of good and evil which lead to death doesn’t seem to make sense at all from a first glance. Why is this? The answer to this question is arrived at by plumbing the depths of this principle of righteousness even further. Man was to know his duty to the Creator based entirely upon the word or instruction given to him. It is therefore, revelational or propositional knowledge that accords with the Divine nature in regard to the proper practice of the creature. This gives us the clue why the tree of death was named as it was. Its name implied that knowledge of a different sort could be obtained according to how the tree was viewed or acted upon. One was the knowledge of life, and the other, the knowledge of death. The first possibility being refrain from use of the tree implied a true rational knowledge consistent with the image of God. Man was made good at creation, so the knowledge of good according to practice was in not eating from the tree according to the expressly revealed will of God. Conversely, the other possibility was the improper use of the tree. It implied the practice of irrational, carnal, experiential knowledge.

This teaches man that to obey God is truly a rational thing for him to do. To disobey God is an entirely irrational thing for man to do. To go even further, to obey God is in keeping with that created rule of order that is consistent with the Creator creature relationship, or covenant, established at the beginning. The practice of a relationship is something that is experiential. The implication that was made by the naming of the tree the knowledge of good and evil, is that knowledge derived from heeding the word of God is consistent with life, while failure to do so is consistent with death. The principle of evil at issue here is that of knowing what it is according to experience, as opposed to that of knowing what it is according to proposition (Deut. 6:5,6, 8:1-3). God knows the difference not by experience, but by knowing Himself and what He is (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 31:5, 138:2). The choice given to Adam was either to know God according to truth, and therefore to live, or to know evil according to experience, and therefore, to die.

Life and death according to the rule of order in creation were twofold in nature. It was first of all, temporal in that earthly blessing or cursing was promised and rewarded based on earthly obedience or disobedience. In order for man to rule on earth, it was imperative that he does so in total submission to His Creator. The dominion mandate if carried out in obedience would yield the fruit of good success for man. Peace, harmony and prosperity awaited man in the faithful execution of God’s will upon earth.

Likewise, the threat of physical death in disobedience to God’s commands was a very real possibility. The life of man was sustained by God in His providence. So for man to fail to populate the earth and cultivate it was an end to him in his physical existence. To fail to uphold God’s righteous principle of obedience according to His word was to introduce the principle of evil in all of its irrational chaos into the creation. This was to invite death and destruction upon man and his environment.

But life and death were far more than simply physical for man. The life of fellowship with God at creation was spiritual in nature, owing to God being eternal Spirit, and man being made in His image (Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30; John 4:24; Heb. 9:14). Man was made to have spiritual fellowship and communion with God. A relationship is only had where there is agreement between the two parties (Am. 3:3). So the command’s of God to Adam regarding the two trees in the garden were by reason of design given to this end, the propagation and maintenance of that covenant by which God and man had joyful communion together. The relationship that existed between God and man being spiritual in nature then, it must of necessity have had a spiritual component to it that transcended the physical state of things. That component is reflected in the life and death antithesis of the two trees as well.

Since the maintenance of life in this world for Adam also meant the maintenance of his spiritual communion with God, the two were inseparably connected together. Consequently, the loss of life in this world meant the loss of communion with God too. So the death that was pronounced to Adam, upon his eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, would result in the loss of his spiritual life and relationship with God.

This had both immediate and eternal consequences attached to it. The reason being that God is eternal Spirit, and therefore, everything done in relation to Him is of eternal consequence. Because of this, innumerable properly fulfilled duties done in the right spirit could all easily be overcome in a moment by a single transgression by the creature. A transgression against God’s law is a transgression against His eternal Divine nature. So the first thing that would result in it would be a permanent end to fellowship with God. So if man were to turn away from his Creator, in such a reckless disregard for His law, was to go from being His friend to becoming His enemy. Such a turn of events would invite a complete turn of circumstances for Adam.

The loss of fellowship with God in this life would leave Adam to himself and to his own resources. Imagine it being like two people living on a deserted island together, having no interaction with each other. The loss of spiritual life while living a physical existence would make the scope of all man’s thought naturally tend toward himself and the pursuit of his own ends.

And since God is eternal, a single transgression against Him is deserving of eternal punishment by Him as well. So the principle of promise and reward according to the covenant of works in which man was created, is eternal. It must ever be the fundamental principle of relationship between God and the creature. It remains if he transgresses the law, just as it was as if he didn’t. God created man with the possibility of change, while at the same time, there could never be a change regarding the law principle. And so it begs the question, why did God do this, couldn’t He have done otherwise? The answer to that is of course, He didn’t. There is certainly more about this to say which will be reserved for later. But for now consider this. The creature is by nature something less than God. It could never be otherwise. Since that is the case, man is not essentially eternal such as the Creator, nor capable of sustaining himself apart from Him. If God would intervene to keep man from falling, it would render him less than voluntary regarding his obedience to God. So God made man with the freedom to choose between God and himself. By nature and consistently so, man is ultimately changeable in it, unlike his Creator.

The principle of righteousness declared in the law by God however, is not changeable in the minutest degree. It is like Him according to His nature, eternal and Divine. It must ever be fulfilled, just as God must ever live. So when God promised Adam earthly blessing by obedience, the reward was life as long as the principle of righteousness contained in the law was fulfilled. But along with this promise, came the reverse possibility. It amounted to the end of blessing and life as it existed at the beginning, not only here on earth, but for all eternity. This is a stark contrast indeed! But nevertheless, it served to display the glory of the Creator according to His eternal purpose.

Notes:

[1] The name for man in Hebrew is Adam. It denotes a single race or specie of living being. The whole of humanity combined is commonly referred to as mankind. The name Adam in the English translation of Genesis is used to signify the first parent of mankind. The word man is used to signify humanity in general.

[2] Specifically Romans’ 4:17c “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” Although Plato was in no way inspired, nor did he influence the apostle Paul in any way, his concept of being to some extent is expressed in this verse. The concept of Being says that everything exists which can be conceived of, whether it is material or conceptual in nature. Nothing man has ever developed or built has ever been brought to fruition apart from the existence of a prior concept. With God this is true on a far greater scale. What we see in nature is conceptually what existed in God’s mind beforehand. This is in part why Paul stated this truth in reference to God’s promises. When God states that something will come to pass, beside His omnipotent ability to perform it, it is done because it existed conceptually in His mind first.

[3] The word ‘being’ in the NKJV is rendered ‘soul’ in the KJV. The two are interchangeable, but here is the difference. The word ‘being’ is used in reference to a single entity. The word ‘soul’ is used in reference to the union of dust and spirit in man that Gen. 2:7 is highlighting. The word ‘being’ or ‘soul’ is the word Nephesh in Hebrew. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word Nephesh and the Greek counterpart Psuche, are translated in English Bibles as both ‘spirit’ and ‘soul.’ The confusion over this is probably due too there being at least two verses that seem to make a distinction between these two words (I Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12). This distinction has led some to the conclusion that mankind is a tripartite being. The word for spirit in these two verses in Greek is Pneuma. It corresponds to two Hebrew words used in Gen. 2:7, Naphach for breathed and Nshamah for breath. There is little if any difference between the meaning of these two words in the verse except that one is a verb and the other a noun. Both words have reference to the idea of intellect or spirit. Consequently, it has been a widely held opinion that tripartism is not the proper view of man. But rather, man is a bipartite creature, consisting of spirit and body. Since there is a divided opinion as to the meaning and use of these two words, soul and spirit, there has been little, if any satisfactory explanation given for their indiscriminate use throughout Scripture. Perhaps the best way to view it is to think of soul as the spiritual part of man’s being, albeit connected to his body. This would be consistent, yet from a different perspective in the way the world uses the idea of the word soul. To them, soul has reference more to the sensual or carnal aspect of man’s spiritual being.

[4] The original language mankind spoke was Hebrew. This is evident in what took place following the flood, regarding the tower of Babel and the division of tongues, among the people of the world at that time (Gen. 11:1-9). The clue to arriving at this is found in two places in the Old Testament relative to Babel. “To Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan.” (Gen. 10:25). The second one which reads verbatim is found in First Chronicles (1:19) as a restatement of the genealogy of Noah. Eber is the name of Noah’s grandson of which the name Hebrew came. The significance of this has to do with the mysterious miracle God performed on the people of Babel, whereby they were suddenly unable to communicate as before according to a single understood language. This was done in order to break up an attempt at establishing a single universal empire and religion at Babel. It was God’s will that individual nations are formed from individual tribes of people in the world, and that they associate according to a common language. The Hebrew people were separated, according to covenant purposes from all the other nations. Their language being covenantally sanctified, was determined beforehand to become the language of inspiration concerning the Old Testament revelation of God. Further support for the importance of this language is seen in other places (Is. 28:11,33:19; Zeph. 3:9; Zech. 8:23). Since understanding of language is placed at the forefront of saving faith, it is imperative that covenant language is understood by those to whom it is intended. The inferences given in Isaiah, Zephaniah and Zechariah of this come out clearly at Pentecost when the gift of tongues miraculously appeared as Peter preached to his countrymen for the first time. We are told that when Peter preached to the crowd of people who spoke many different languages, they were amazed.and understood what he was saying in their own language (Acts 2:3-12).

 

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