I am not endeavouring to comment on the whole Bible or even all the key events of salvation history of which the call of Abraham is certainly one. Rather my purpose is to highlight aspects which indicate God’s broader providence, i.e. His kindly intentions towards the vast majority of people including many who were neither a part of His covenant with Abraham during the Old Testament period nor incorporated within the Church in the New (cf. Jn6:44).
Such would include the major proportion of people from the Asian continent within the last two millennia, symbolized within this particular narrative by Abraham’s firstborn son Ishmael. He had been circumcised by Abraham and (nota bene) blessed by God (Gen17:20) yet was excluded from the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. Nevertheless, God would remain with Him (Gen21:20) and he would go on to be the father of a great nation. How such broader benign providence is to be deduced from Scripture as a whole is the mission of “The Little Book of Providence”, a free PDF of which can be obtained HERE
Just a brief post here to affirm my earlier point that the worldwide flood was not directly a result, still less a remedy for man’s sinful inclinations. A new start was also required for the earth in view of the activity of the fallen watchers (Gen6:1,2 – set out in detail in the Book of Enoch). These fallen angels (referred to also in Jude1:6) had polluted the human seed pool through their unions with women and imparted knowledge that was not intended for mankind in its infancy. In terms of post-diluvian humanity, she was back to square one, or rather square two being our post-Fall state of degeneration. Hence the need for the confounding of his language to restrain mankind’s lofty, self-destructive ambitions (v6). What men and women really needed could not have been remedied by a flood or the confounding of his language. They needed a Saviour, divine instruction and the spiritual resources to restore the broken relationship with his Creator. Such would in due course be brought about, initiated by the calling of Abram, son of Terah (to follow).
There is one further point to ponder before moving on from the Flood: if God perceived man’s nature to be sinful as a result of our first parents’ disobedience (which was certainly the case), why Oh why did he repopulate the world with more of the same? Why utilize Noah’s family for that purpose? Yes, he judged its head (at least) to be righteous but the redeemed family were still under the reign of sin and death. Why did God not fully go through with His threat to “destroy all flesh” (Gen6:17)? What a seemingly missed opportunity to start afresh with a pure gene pool (I speak as a fool).
It was surely for the same reason He stipulated that seven pairs of each “clean” animal species were to be taken into the ark together with one pair of each unclean beast (7:3). It pertained to Rom8:20-21 and what I was saying in earlier posts about God’s purposes for the elevation of many children of dust to a glorious destiny in association with His Son, and how that transformation could best be accomplished. It pertained not just for the need for souls to be healed and communion with the divine to be restored, but also for a life of challenges, divisions and even suffering to be the grist for future glory:
“It was fitting for (Jesus), for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering (Heb2:10NKJV).
Hence a sovereign and all-powerful God will later say through His Son:
“It is indeed necessary that offences come to the world, but woe to the one by whom they come” (Mt18:7).
Such a preparation is not so that we might eternally rest in the peace of Heaven but be resurrected and actively participate with the divine Glory throughout His domain (Dan7:18), the details concerning which have not been disclosed, even to the Church.
“For we are the children of God and it has not been manifested what we shall be, but we know when He is made manifest we shall be like Him” (cf. 1Jn3:2).
Related post on the Flood and the three soteriological categories of postdiluvian humankind HERE
Firstly, it should be noted that all of Noah’s family had been blessed by God (v1), and these were the seed from whom the whole earth would be repopulated. Yahweh thereby declared His love and kindly intentions towards postdiluvian humanity, affirming a few verses later that he regarded fallen man as being in His own image (v6). Noah had three sons, one of whose seed became cursed, Canaan, son of Ham who had uncovered his father’s nakedness. Japheth, prefiguring Ishmael, retained his father’s blessing but was not chosen to be the seed from which the children of Israel would stem. That was to be Shem via his firstborn son Arpachshad. This is one of several biblical indicators of three rather than two soteriological states of humanity, a theme worked out in detail in my book* demonstrating the munificence of God’s providential care.
There is a further motif evident here pertaining to the firstborn being the line of special blessing. This can be traced back to Adam’s son Seth; firstborn heir to Adam by default, his two elder brothers Cain and Abel having been respectively banished and murdered. Seth’s firstborn was Enosh, the first to evoke the Lord (Gen4:26). The re-occurring phrase within these genealogies is in the format: “When X was a certain age he fathered Y. X lived for so many years and went on to father (other) sons and daughters”, only the firstborn son ever being named (Gen5). After Enosh came Kenan, then Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch who “walked with God”, Methuselah who outlived his son Lamech, father of Noah, dying within a year of the Flood. There is no reason not to take the patriarch’s ages literally, especially in view of Gen6:3.
A similar motif continues with the Church and her Head. The “Firstborn of all creation” is Jesus Christ (Col1:15); the firstborn of God’s children are the elect, who are also described as “the church of the firstborn” (Heb12:23 Greek: “firstborn [prototokon] is plural – it is not referring to Christ Himself but His chosen people). Under the Old Covenant with Israel, the firstborn son was always “consecrated unto the Lord” (Ex13:2). Those designated “firstborn” are typically designated to sanctity and kingship, and by them are the whole family to be blessed.
Enoch expands on Gen6:1,2 also alluded to in Jude1:6 concerning the “sons of God’s” union with women and the irretrievable corruption it caused, even extending to the animal kingdom through bestiality. This resulted in the “giants” referred to in verse 4 and testified to in later scripture (e.g.Deut2:21, Num13:32-33 Hebrew: refer to interlinear). These offspring of sexual unions between satanic beings and humans occupied the Canaanite territories, a notable being Og, the Amorite King of Bashan famous for his oversized bed (Deut3:11). (No, I never learnt about him in Sunday school either). But these are no more fairy stories than Noah and the Ark: they are Scriptural and archaeological realities, and referred to by some of the very earliest Church Fathers.
From these giants came the “unclean spirits” that roamed the world and were prevalent in Jesus’ day. Again the Book of Enoch fills out much of the detail here for it pertains to the Gen6:1 incident concerning the fallen watchers. This polluted seed pool needed to be eliminated, which explains not only the Flood but the wholesale extermination of men, women and children (e.g. Deut3:6) in seven of the Canaanite nations God’s elect people went on to inherit, although some of these demonic hybrids continued up to the time of David (e.g. 1Chron20:4-8 Hebrew interlinear).
But what cannot be perceived without reference to the book of Enoch yet is needed to understand the rationale behind the universal Flood is that these satanic collaborators had imparted knowledge to humanity that the Lord had intended mankind gradually to discover over many centuries. As with Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, humanity in its infancy was not ready for the knowledge they provided and it would lead to their destruction, yet could never be “unlearnt”, hence the need for a radical universal cleansing by water. Enoch19:1 explains that these rebellious sons of God who left their appointed place (affirmed in Jude1:6) and were responsible for the global contamination and the thwarting of God’s plans for mankind’s development were able to assume different forms to carry out their illicit unions (re: Mt22:30). Through God’s mercy, the bulk of humanity who ignored Noah’s warning and perished in the Flood has subsequently had the good news preached to them by Jesus Himself (1Pet3:19,20), as, the apostle indicates, do all the dead have the opportunity to hear the good news so that although having been punished in the flesh “they might live according to God in the spirit” (1Pet4:6). Some struggle with that concept believing it to undermine the relevance of the gospel. It becomes far more intelligible (indeed right and just) once one understands the context of gospel salvation within God’s broader reconciliatory plans. These imprisoned spirits were given the opportunity to repent and acknowledge Christ’s lordship; they were not to be betrothed as His eternal Bride, nor did they escape punishment for they had been “imprisoned” for centuries.
Some very early Christian writers including Irenaeus understood Adam’s physical death, though partly a punishment, was in effect a concession by which once freed of the body he could be freed from sin so that he could begin again “to live for God”. Such a principle is alluded to in Gen6:3 – the reference to God’s “spirit” not being the Holy Spirit but the human spirit (cf. Rom8:16) that “does not consistently or rightly adjudicate in view of the flesh” as a result of which man’s life span was shortened for the sake of his eternal wellbeing (cf. Gen6:3 Hebrew interlinear). That makes sense in the context of what I in line with the majority of pre-Augustinian Church Fathers regard as the tripartite nature of man: body, soul and spirit. Such an understanding is required to grasp some of Paul’s essential soteriology, in particular his references to the inner conflict of “flesh versus spirit” (not Spirit) – discussed in detail in chapter two of “The Little Book of Providence”, a free PDF of the e-book being available for downloadHERE
The book of Enoch is ex-canonical scripture that was nevertheless regarded as inspired and a genuine work of the Patriarch by a number of the early Church Fathers such as Clement, Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine and Tertullian. This is hardly surprising since it is directly quoted in the New Testament (Jude14,15). Tertullian specifically regarded Enoch as falling within the remit of 2Tim3:16 concerning “all scripture” being inspired and useful. It was excluded from the Old Testament cannon (apart from that formulated by the Coptic Orthodox Church) and for valid reasons; perhaps most significantly there was an unacceptable degree of variation in the manuscript copies available to the early Church councils that determined the composition of the Biblical Canon. Apart from being directly quoted in the Bible, this scripture clarifies some otherwise obscure verses which themselves are quite important and cannot be properly understood by comparing canonical scripture with scripture. None more so than Genesis 6; explaining in great detail the context of vv1-3, necessary for a rounded understanding of God’s nature and modus operandi, together with the respective culpability of the human and celestial agencies that contributed to the Fall and the Flood. The latter was another reason it was more conclusively rejected by the later Fathers who believed it did not place sufficient emphasis on man’s culpability for those particular cosmic disasters, especially having endorsed Augustine’s austere take on the matter. This extra-biblical literature also clarifies less important but nevertheless intriguing issues such as “the blood that speaks better things than Abel” (Heb12:24), Enoch’s walk with God (in great detail) and the ethnicity of Adam, Eve and their offspring (hinted at in Genesis5:3). It also reveals, albeit cryptically, the ethnicity of Noah’s three sons, and for that reason alone, especially in view of Gen9:25, it was providential it was excluded, and until relatively recently not readily accessible.
With the aforementioned early fathers, I have no doubt the book is inspired and needs to be consulted in order to aid completion of the biblical jigsaw. In the context of “The Little Book of Providence” it also contains certain prophecies regarding God’s final providential mystery (cf. Rev10:4-7) that might not have remained a mystery had Enoch1 been received within the canon and historically focused upon within the churches. But there is another reason to believe Enoch was not intended for the Church throughout its history yet is relevant for today as profitable reading – that is the very opening verse:
“The words of the blessing of Enoch, wherewith he blessed the elect and the righteous who will be living in the day of tribulation when all the wicked and godless are to be removed” (Enoch1 ch1 v1)
And at the end of Enoch there is a prophecy concerning the book itself and other books:
“But when they write down truthfully all my words in their languages, and do not change or diminish anything from my words but write them all down truthfully – all that I first testified concerning them; then I know another mystery, that books will be given to the righteous and the wise to become a cause of joy and uprightness and much wisdom. and to them shall the books be given, and they shall believe in them and rejoice over them, and then shall all the righteous who have learnt therefrom all the paths of uprightness be recompensed” (Enoch104:1113).
More on that in my particular book** but in the context of these Genesis posts, Enoch provides a helpful reference source to enable us better to understand God’s rationale for the Flood by clarifying the context of the first two verses of chapter 6 concerning “the sons of God’s” union with human women, which made such a drastic remedy unavoidable.
Both Jesus and Paul referred to certain individuals as “children of the devil”, Cain being the archetype of those who follow “in his way” (Jude11). John described Adam’s first-born as ek tou ponerou, i.e. derived from the Evil One (1Jn3:12). Ultimately of course like Lucifer himself, he is derived from God. All human souls are created by God (cf. Rom9:21,22) but not all are planted by Him (Mt13:39; 15:13), a mystery that I explore in chapter six of my book. Following on from my previous post, the requirements for acceptance within the Universal Covenant from which Cain defaulted are intuitive, being derived from the God-given human spirit referenced by the conscience. Such a notion will have been recognised by the early Church but predominantly through the influence of the influential Augustine will be anathema to many Christians today.
Yet in the Bible’s definitive chapter on final judgement, the Matthew 25 sheep did not require “special revelation” or a religious creed to recognise that they should show compassion to those in need – it was intuitive to them, since they were “ek tou theou” (from God – 1Jn4:7). As Jesus made clear, such is the quality that determines a person’s post-mortem fate (Mt25:44-46). It is a passage in which religious faith is not mentioned at all, for such acts of compassion are evidence (indeed the efflux) of an underlying faith or godly fear as I seek to demonstrate from Scripture in chapter three of my book, along with evidence that such natural precepts were understood by the earliest (pre-Augustinian) Church Fathers many of whom who had received the Faith directly from the apostles or their immediate appointees so were not solely reliant on biblical exegesis.
One’s status within the Universal Covenant also determines one’s involvement or otherwise with Satan as an agent (Greek: aggelos) within God’s mysterious providential role for evil. That is why Cain as the type of those rejected from that covenant was brand-marked and protected rather than wiped out there and then. These issues are, as it were, the un-illuminated side of the revelation globe, pertaining (I believe) to the final mystery concerning God’s intentions towards His earthly creation (cf. Rev10:4-10 – the Little Book).
Failing to perceive these mysteries has resulted in biblical theologians for ever attempting to fit three square pegs (soteriological categories) into two round holes (soteriological outcomes). Anyone reflecting on our planet’s historical religious plurality and cultural developments should discern that such narrow presentations of the “Good News” not only provide the direst of cosmic outcomes but distort the perceived characteristics of both man and his Creator. It dishonours the magnanimity and loving kindness of the One and nullifies the underlying goodness of the other, especially mankind’s innate ability to practice agape (compassionate love) which ultimately determines what one is and where one is heading (Mt25 again), the religious dimension determining in what capacity, i.e. who will be fitted to partner Christ as His corporate bride.
Such foundational errors have also resulted in seemingly intractable tensions within scripture typified by the narrow way leading to Life that few will ever attain on the one hand and frequent intimations (not least by Paul) of God’s broader scale intentions to reconcile all redeemable humanity to Himself on the other. A broader perspective is consistent with the divine nature as Scripture reveals it and the Son of Man reflected it: compassionate and forgiving, making allowance for human weakness and culturally related ignorance (Acts17:30 cp. Amos3:2), yet One who will by no means excuse the merciless and hateful but will avenge them for the suffering they have caused to those He loves (cf. Ex34:6-7; 2Thes1:5-6; Rev16:5-7).
The three-fold offspring of Adam and Noah
It is surely no coincidence that Adam had three sons as did our postdiluvian Patriarch Noah, and from these have sprung all humanity: Adam’s son Seth and Noah’s son Shem represent the elect line; Adam’s son Abel and Noah’s son Japheth the “righteous” within the Universal Covenant whilst Adam’s son Cain and Noah’s son Ham were the accursed defaulters albeit that only one of Ham’s sons was cursed (Canaan) as Ham had already received a blessing (Gen9:1). Once we arrive at the exclusive Abrahamic Covenant, Isaac represents the elect line resulting in Israel, whist Abraham’s other son Ishmael who had been circumcised by his father and (nota bene) blessed by God (Gen17:20), thereafter remaining in His favour and care (Gen21:20) had not been elected to the Covenant of Promise.
As for the Church – “You brethren LIKE ISAAC are the children of promise” (Gal4:28NASB):
“And you sisters and brethren, if baptised, are in the elective covenant that replaced Abraham’s and you are there by grace alone. Others are equally loved and precious to God as was Ishmael, but are not elected to the exclusive grouping predestined before the foundation of the world to form the community in which the spiritual resources and teaching are provided for faithful adherents to become holy and faultless in love before God through Jesus Christ (cf. Eph1:4,5). That is the Church, priesthood for the world (1Pet2:9), brought forth by God’s will to be the first-fruits of His creation (cf. Jam1:18)
A quote from “The Little Book of Providence” chapter 3
Following on from my last post I am well aware that the Church’s theologians cannot rely on a single passage in Genesis but must compare scripture with scripture, and the concept of an inclusive covenant for fallen humanity implicit in the Cain and Abel story (explicit when utilising the Masoretic text) hardly fits in with much else as it has been historically and universally interpreted ever since Christian doctrine was systematised. Moreover, the Greek Septuagint (LXX) renders the key verse about God’s warning to Cain somewhat differently and that is the version to which most of the apostles and the early Church will have referred. The Hebrew (Masoretic Text) is just as dependable as the LXX but it simply was not utilised by the apostolic Church, the Greek language being lingua franca for the Roman Empire and therefore the Greco-Roman Church. It is therefore no surprise that the apostles do not make direct reference to this verse (Gen4:7) whilst the early Fathers always quote from the LXX, which intriguingly refers to Cain’s incorrect division of his offering and that he should “be at peace and rule over him”; somewhat meaningless and surely a corruption of the Hebrew, presumably the “him” referring to the devil. I understand such obscurity to be an intentional veiling on God’s part regarding an understanding of a Universal Covenant, yet it is not dependant on this verse alone but can be deduced from Cain’s punishment and curse in which he became excluded from the nature of the relationship with God that his brother, his parents and indeed Cain himself experienced before the fratricide, which surely is the point (Gen4:11-14).
However, the principle reason for what might in a dual sense be termed “the Lost Covenant” concerns the nature of the Bible itself which was never intended to be a detailed story of God’s creation. For example we know relatively little about the angelic realm from which evil had sprung and with which mankind will one day participate; rather scripture’s focus is the salvation history for the world centred on Christ, His cross and His peculiar peoples (the Jewish nation and the Church). Hence Abraham is a vastly more significant figure than Abel; both had “faith” and were justified by it, being representatives within covenants, but Abraham initiated the EXCLUSIVE covenant from which his own son Ishmael who had been blessed by God and circumcised by his father was not admitted (Gen17:20,23: cf. 21:20). Such a covenant was formed to provide the royal priesthood through whom God might enlighten and reconcile the world to Himself (cf. Deut4:5,6; Ex19:5,6; 1Pet2:9).
The inclusive covenant into which Abel was declared to be righteous and Cain defaulted does not have a direct role in that salvation story, firstly because it pertains to that which is intuitive (so is not dependant on special revelation or a specific creed) and secondly because individuals are not “saved” through it, i.e. they are not purged of their sin and spiritually empowered to experience a living, transformational relationship with Christ whilst still in the body so as to be fitted to be His corporate Consort in the ages to come. That is the true nature of gospel salvation and it requires “the exceedingly abundant grace which is in Christ Jesus” to accomplish it (1Tim1:14).
As considered in some detail in chapter two of my book, God’s munificent providence has been obscured by a foundational error in traditional western biblical theology – the failure to distinguish between disobedient Adam and his psychopathic eldest son. The latter’s relationship with God radically altered after his extraordinary act of defiance towards His creator and the murder of his brother (vv11-14), the theological consequences of which have been eluded. The following verse from Genesis is unquestionably covenantal in form, though most theologians for the last two thousand years have chosen not to regard it as such:
“If thou (Cain) doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him”
The translation of this verse from the Hebrew is problematical: “Will you not be accepted?” (Hebrew: seeth) could equally be “will your countenance not be lifted?” which is utilised by some versions of the Bible. The KJV quoted above recognises “sin” to be a person (the Sinful One), which makes sense since it or he is lying or crouching (Hebrew: rabats) at the door and “desires” to control Cain. Sin per se could hardly be “at the door” in Cain’s case, it’s already in Cain’s heart and about to wreak havoc. Cain is described elsewhere as “OF the evil one”, confirming that the Sinful One was indeed at the door and was able to master Cain and thereby control and own him (1Jn3:12). From the human perspective, that would not have been so if Cain had responded differently to the challenge Yahweh presented to him in Gen4:7, so the verse effectively reflects a Universal Covenant for fallen humanity; for Abel was fallen but he was accepted.
The purpose of the Cain and Abel story, however literally one might choose to take it, is drawn upon in the New Testament. It is not to show how Abel “got saved” but how Cain became reprobate (rejected), indicated by the vital yet typically glossed references to “this day” and “now” with regard to the elder brother’s fate. The day he killed his brother he was cursed and entirely alienated from God and not before that day. When God told Cain to “do well”, He was not seeking perfection but to do what the young man intuitively knew to be right: offer like Abel the first-fruits of his crop and preferably not go on to slaughter his innocent brother in cold blood. For no one is born devoid of at least one “talent” (the light of conscience) but some choose to bury it in the ground and they will be condemned (cf. Mt25:14-29; Jn1:9). Cain, an agricultural farmer (4:2) was not expected to steal from his livestock farmer brother Abel in order to sacrifice an animal in offering for his sin, as some would dissemble (e.g. the Youngs Literal translators). Comparing scripture with scripture we see that Cain and his sacrifice were not accepted because his works were evil whilst his brother’s works were righteous (1Jn3:12). That was because the one exercised faith and the other didn’t, for one was a child of God, the other as confirmed in later scripture was or had become satanic (1Jn3:12).
As third century Irenaeus had expressed the matter precisely in this context: “It is the conscience of the offerer that sanctifies the sacrifice when (the conscience) is pure and thus God is moved to accept the sacrifice as from a friend”. Abel showed by his works and a good conscience that he had “faith” so was justified by that faith with reference to his works (offering the best of his flock), not by achieving a standard of worked merit (justification by works). Why was perfection not required by either of them? – it was in view of the Sacrifice of atonement effectual throughout human history (Rom3:25 Greek).
Through the faithfulness of Christ (Greek: ek pisteos christou), which more theologians and the more recent bible translators are recognising needs to be distinguished from cognisant faith in Christ (pisteos en Christo), expiation has been provided for the faults arising from human weakness for those who themselves seek to be faithful to God, i.e. to the light He provides to them through their conscience. In Paul’s language (when rightly translated) they become a law for themselves and do by nature the things contained within the law; indeed fulfil the heart of it which is to exercise compassion towards their fellow man – cf. Rom2:14; Gal5:14.
The understanding of some that Cain and Abel were expected to anticipate a future Sacrifice for sin by sacrificing an animal is unsustainable; cultic sacrifices were not clearly established as a religious system until the Law of Moses. Paul, James and the writer to the Hebrews make it quite clear why Abraham was counted as righteous, being a belief in the God he had encountered evidenced by obedience, in his case that he would be rewarded with a great family (cf. Gen15:1). Abraham, nor indeed anyone in the Old Testament is declared to be justified by means of offering an animal sacrifice. As will be demonstrated from scripture, Old Testament folk and indeed all “people of good will” were and still are accepted by God through the merits of the Atonement achieved through Christ’s faith/faithfulness. Its benefits are applied to those who fear God through their positive response to the divine enlightenment they have received (cf. Jn1:9KJV), resulting in humane behaviour towards their fellow man in need (a.k.a. Christ Mt25:40).
[These posts are intended to complement my book by identifying “glosses” in OT narrative which have impacted upon traditional Christian perspectives on divine providence].