Past and Future of His Meta-Narrative
Dear reader, in this paper, I hope to present the wonders of the Old Testament, showing God’s past purpose for Israel, in components one through three, focusing on creation, the fall of man, and God’s covenantal love for Abraham, Moses, and the people of Israel. The fourth component is very personal to me, since it delves into how my own life, as a Christian, connects with metanarrative. It is an exciting and glorious story. Join me.
Composite 1: Nature of God as Creator
Stories. They are how humans communicate from their earliest days to the last years of their lives, from the mother telling her baby the tale of Humpty Dumpty, to the old man describing his days in the Vietnam trenches and jungles to a group of rapt little boys, aspiring to be soldiers. People love to be told stories about other times and places, since it wets the appetite, sparking the imagination; children love to be told over and over again scenes from their parents’ childhoods, for it gives them a sense of where they came from, and gives them an understanding of the two people who brought them into existence. This is something every person, young and old, can relate to: one is always asking, through words or actions, “Who am I?”, “What brought me here?”, and “Where am I going?”. While most rummage through articles, self-awareness programs, and therapy sessions, there is one book, while it is simple in nature, can help and heal the most confused mind. The logos, Word of God, more commonly known as the Bible, is this book.
The aspect to be noted when taking a first glance at the Bible is that it is filled with a story, not just any story, but the metanarrative, the story of the creation of the world, man, and what rebellious man did to break that world. It is a compelling story, full of vivid imagery, all painted against the backdrop of the Creator God. His personality is without definitive dimension, but Genesis, chapters one and two, zoom in on three attribute that correlates with his creative nature: God is an artistic being, and he made the world for beauty, for practicality, and for relational intimacy.
When we first look at creation, it is easy for anyone to see beauty of some sort: the beauty of the passion flower is displayed in its ornately complex blooms, while the desert succulent’s beauty is demonstrated by a heartiness no other plant possesses. This beauty surrounding us can only be explained by the fact that God is artistic; he has a sense of what is attractive, in different manners and settings. God thought of what would be beautiful and glorifying to himself, and brought it forth, by the word of his power. Francis Schaeffer notes:
“The artist conceives in his thought-world and then he bring forth into the external world. This is true of an artist painting a canvas, a musician composing a piece of music, an engineer designing a bridge or a flower arranger making a flower arrangement…And it is exactly the same with God. God who existed before had a plan, and he created and caused these things to become objective” (Shaeffer 27-28).
Mr. Schaeffer goes on to state that there is yet another layer to God’s artistry. Just as critics and laymen alike analyze and recognize different styles, special details, and unique flavors that every artist brings to the table, so we can see, through creation, that God is the one who made it all. Who else could have formed such an intricate handiwork? “Here is power beyond all that we can imagine in the human, finite realm. He was able to create and shape merely by his spoken word” (28). The creation account repeats over and over that “God saw that is was good”, meaning he was satisfied with his work (Gen 1.10). His world was beautiful, it was as he had envisioned.
But, even the most aesthetically minded artist understands that there is a practical side to art. A painter cannot draw upon cheesecloth, but must have a sturdy canvas; he cannot build a cathedral from straws, but must have stones; he cannot play music upon a feather, but must have a violin. As one reads through the creation narrative, it is seen that God pays attention to all the details: he makes light for the day and the night; he ensures that creation has a means to regenerate itself (“Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed…”); he creates Man to tend his earth, and look after the animals and plants he has placed upon the planet (Gen. 1.11). “The God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’”, then he made man, intricately, and breathed his very breath into the man’s lungs, giving him nepesh, or soul. It was a truly amazing moment. John Calvin makes unique commentary on the state of essential man: “…His dead body was formed out of the dust of the earth; that it was endued with a soul, whence it should receive vital motion; and that on this soul God engraved his own image, to which immortality in annexed” (Calvin 112). Man was perfect, flawless, the crowning jewel to God’s kingdom on earth, the steward to which God commanded, “‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion…” (Gen 1.28). When all was said and done, God’s creation was good, beautiful, and perfectly detailed.
By deduction, we know that God yearns for fellowship, because man, created in his own image, craved a companion. God, knowing that there was no helper for him, had Adam sort through all the animals of the earth. In the end, the man found no suitable mate. “‘I will make him a helper fit for him,’” said God, as he put the man to sleep and molded the first woman. “…For since Adam did not take a wife to himself at his own will, but received her as offered and appropriated to him by God, the sanctity of marriage hence more clearly appears, because we recognize God as its Author” (Calvin, 134). He not only promoted intimacy between Adam and his wife, but he also shared a close bond with the humans. He loved them. He had created the stunning Eden for them to live in, walking and talking with him. “Humans are made for God, and also for one another and for the creation, to be at work within it…it is our glory to work at so to present the image of God” (Bartholomew, Goheen 38-39). He had given them the perfect place to constantly reflect the creating he had done in six days, as they developed the beautiful, intricate world, one with each other and with God. Intimacy was perfected in all ways. But would it remain that way?
Component 2: How Sin Twisted Creation
Independence means something different to everyone. To some, it means having the right to think or say anything without getting in trouble; it means being under no authority, such as teachers, governments, and parents; it might mean treating others with whatever passion takes you at the moment; it might mean just being able to attend church without being arrested. In our culture, independence is fed and watered, with insignias like YOLO (you only live once) or the Pepsi slogan, “Live for Now”. Perhaps YOLO was only true for Adam and Eve, but they took that beautiful, pure life and threw it away, “…claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God of images resembling mortal man…” (Rom. 1.22-23).
Like methylene blue, sin spreads from one part of creation to the next, tearing down the perfection and replacing it with brokenness, especially in man’s relationship with God, man’s relationship with other humans, and, last but not least, man’s relationship to the creation.
It was simple enough: Elohim had only given one simple probation, forbidding Adam from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “for in the day that [he ate] of it [he would] surely die” (Gen 2.17). Yet, he had also created an essential man, a being who could choose to sin or not to sin. “They can yield to God’s law and enjoy life, or they can try to find their own way, and experience death” (Bartholomew, Goheen 42). Unfortunately, the serpent used just this tactic, he appealed to the woman’s pride and self-absorbtion, incredulously quizzing her whether God really commanded that “ridiculous” thing. One can almost imagine Eve, suddenly made to feel ashamed that any being should be over her or wiser than her, giving into the oily words of Satan. She took the fruit, sunk her teeth into it, and savored its juicy sweetness; her husband followed. They did not fall down dead. But, this death that had taken hold of her can be described negatively: “The deeper knowledge of “life”, of a future life, brought also a deepening in the understanding of that evil which is “death” or deprivation of life (Lyonnet, Sabourin 7). Their foolish desire to be as wise as God had ruined their lives, for “humility’s eminence is the only true eminence and glory, granted as it is by God, the only ground of glory” (Jenson, 36). Before they knew it, God was heard, walking in Eden, lovingly calling their names, knowing fully that Adam and Eve hid, desperately covering their new-found nakedness. God must have sighed inwardly: their intimate, pure relationship had been shattered.
Guiltily, Adam and Eve stumbled from their hiding spots, while the man took the initiative to stutter out a weak excuse, which, in and of itself, gave away their transgression immediately. Filled with holy anger, God asked, “‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree I commanded you not to eat?’” (Gen 3.11). Instantly, the next facet of perfect peace was broken. Turning to his wife, Adam vehemently blamed her for giving him the fruit, while implying that God might have made a better helper, one less prone to temptation. Not responding to the man’s sinful accusation, God turns to Eve, who hopelessly points to the serpent, or Satan, telling God that he tempted her. What a chasm has opened between the woman and man! Their relationship has twisted itself into a disgusting muddle, where Eve becomes the leader in sin, and Adam becomes a coward by blaming his wife, whom he is to protect.
God administers judgment, while making it clear that creation will also turn upon the humans in various ways:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life’” (Gen 3.16-17)
Adam’s task to grow food and plants was once an easy, enjoyable task, placed in the midst of Eden, but “servile work is enjoined upon him, as if he were condemned to the mines” (Calvin 174). The ground will now protest, fight, and eventually kill Adam, absorbing his body back into itself. Eve, on the other hand, now has the joy of natural labor, tainted by excruciating pain, sending both parts of the creation mandate into the blackness of sin. The humans can no longer multiply without being reminded of their rebellion, and they can no longer subdue the earth without tears and backbreaking labor (Gen 1.28). But, there is one more key to God’s plan for his creation: redemption. God, burning with anger, turns to the serpent, and condemns the animal itself to crawl on the ground all its days, symbolizing the base treachery it took part in. Graciously, he shines a light into his broken creatures hearts before he banishes them from Eden. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3.15). Even though the woman was dragged down by the tempter, she shall emerge victorious, but only through this promised zera. With faith, Adam and Eve leave the garden, and begin their broken lives together, fighting against the earth, and separated from God.
Francis Schaeffer keenly makes a perfect culminating statement: “Man’s sin causes all these seperations between man and God, man and himself, man and man, and man and nature. The simple fact is that in wanting to be what man as a creature could not be, man lost what he could be” (Schaeffer 100). There is hope; the promised seed will do what Adam couldn’t do… fatally conquer Satan.
Component 3: God’s Mercy to Israel
One can almost see the scenario played out, black among the golden memories of childhood. It has happened to all of us, that horrible moment where the unthinkable happens: mom’s priceless china breaks, a child back-talks his father or lies about stealing those peanut butter bonbons, even though he was caught “sweet”-handed. As children, we can only see the sternness of our parent, during that awful moment; we even think that our parent is “angry”. However, in retrospect, and thinking as adults, we see that love motivates discipline, and our parents trained us, not just to make us miss out on fun, skip dinner, or give us a smarting behind, but to make us into respectful, thoughtful adults. The same can be said of Adam and Eve: they did not know or understand God’s ultimate plan for the future of humanity, a plan so beautiful and perfect, filled with grace and mercy.
In the ultimate sense, the fall of Adam and Eve set the stage for the rest of the drama of humanity, played out by God’s relentless mercy in sharp contrast with man’s sin and rebellion. This next step in God’s eternal plan has almost infinitesimal facets, but if one zooms in and focuses on the early stages of this redemptive plan, three important relationships come into focus. The first relationship is between God and Abraham and the second, involves Moses, Israel, and God, Yahweh.
God’s relationship with Abraham is a distinctly covenantal one, riddled with both disbelief and complete trust, both on Abraham’s part. It all started when God appeared to Abraham, in the peace and prosperity of his homeland, Ur: “‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing’” (Gen. 12.1-3). In his commentary, The Treasury of the Old Testament, Charles Spurgeon discusses both the double blessing from God, but also the faith demonstrated by Abraham, by asking “What was the blessing which God gave to Abraham? It was the blessing which He will give to all who lived as Abraham lived, and believe as Abraham believed; and, first, Abraham had the rest of faith” (Spurgeon, 62). Rest of faith? Abraham rested in God’s promises; he rested in them to the point of uprooting his family, and becoming a nomad, with no permanent land or rest, but looked to God in faith. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15.6) But, Abraham and God made other covenants and promises, culminated a ceremony where God passed between dead animals, as a sign that he would fulfill his promises of a son to be heir and a land flowing with milk and honey, or be killed like the animals. In Hebrew culture, this is a unbreakable bond, pointing to a covenant in blood. But, God gives Abraham a covenant duty as well, a blood sign of his belief in God’s promises and symbolism of his cleanliness in the Lord. “‘This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised…So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant’” (Gen. 17.10, 14). In faith, Abraham obeyed the Lord in this, shedding blood to bond with the Lord.
But, trusting and waiting for the Lord’s time was harder than Abraham could have ever imagined. Desperate for an heir, the child of Promise, he took matters into his own hands, and “Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived” (Gen. 16.3-4). Unfortunately, this was the beginning of enmity between the child of man’s sinful will and the child of promise, who had not yet been born. Thus Ishmael was born, but God stated to Abraham that he was not the heir, and “Abraham had faith in a promise which it seemed impossible could ever be fulfilled” (Spurgeon, 83). Spurgeon sketches the seemingly impossible situation which Abraham found himself in, a scenario through which few would possess an unwavering faith: “A child was to be born of his own loins, but he was nearly a hundred years…His own body was now dead as it were, and Sarai, so far as childbearing was concerned, was equally so. The birth of a son could not happen unless the laws of nature were reversed” (83). God saw that Abraham doubted him, but he kept renewing his promise, until, he finally blessed them with a son, Isaac. Even then, God tested Abraham’s trust; the Lord came to him and “said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering’” (Gen 22.2). What thought must have been churning in Abraham’s mind? “It may have suggested itself to Abraham that he would in this way, by the slaughter of his son, be rendering all the promises of God futile. A very severe trial that, for in proportion as a man believes the promise and values it, will be his fear to do anything which might render it of no effect” (Spurgeon, 113). Once again, the Lord provided for Abraham, as he had during numerous years of wandering, and saved the child of promise through a ram caught in a thicket. Could this be pointing to a child greater than Isaac?
The second demonstration of God’s love and mercy in covenantal relationships is displayed through Moses and Israel. Before Moses could even talk or walk, God had already set his special love and favor upon him, saving him from the decreed murder of all Hebrew babies, bringing him into the very palace of Pharaoh himself. Until he was a man, Moses lived with all the pomp and privilege of the Egyptian court, but, one day, he killed an Egyptian, who was beating an Israelite. He fled into the wilderness, there becoming an outlaw from justice and a shepherd. “He was not seeking for God. But God was seeking for Moses. God spoke to Moses, and the whole course of Moses’ life was changed” (Dobson, 19.) Immediately, God revealed himself to Moses (in the burning bush) as a covenantal God, but by using the name Yahweh, “he does not merely proclaim himself as some heavenly power, nor claim for himself the general name for God, but recalling to memory his covenant formerly made with the patriarchs, he casts down all idols” (Calvin, 65). At first the presence of God fills Moses with a holy fear, then doubt: what if the Israelites do not listen? I am not a good speaker, Lord, what will I say? God, knowing his frailty, provides Moses with powerful signs, and then forcefully sends him to Egypt saying, “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
Moses, accompanied by his brother Aaron, became the mouth piece of God, demanding that Pharaoh release the children of God, the Israelites. But “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” And Yahweh used Moses against the Egyptian deities, bringing them low, showing that they were not to be worshipped, preparing the Israelites’ hearts for a covenant with him. This covenant came in the Passover, when the Lord required that Israel paint the blood of a lamb upon their doorposts: “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Exd. 12.23). This covenant was to be statute to all generations, mirroring the expiation of blood found in circumcision and in the substitution of the blameless ram for Isaac, the son of promise. “For it was necessary that the Israelites should first be reminded, that by the expiation od the sacrifice, the were delivered from the plague, and their houses preserved untouched…We elsewhere see that the Paschal lamb was a type of Christ, who by His death propitiated the Father, so that we should not perish with the rest of the world” (Calvin 221).
Triumphantly, Moses led the Israelites, as God’s chosen, out of Egypt and into the wilderness, where an official covenant was made between the people and God. “In Exodus 24 the covenant is ratified in a ritual ceremony as the Israelites commit themselves to obeying it. Moses recites the laws that the Israelites are agreeing to and then writes them down. Next, he builds an altar…finally, Moses dashes half of the blood from the sacrifices against the altar and sprinkles half on the people” (Bartholomew, Goheen, 70). While the people swear wholeheartedly that they will serve the Lord faithfully according to the law, they are a sinful people. (In a throwback to the Abrahamic covenant, God had blessed the Israelites to be a blessing to the other nations of the world, to be holy and set apart, to shine the light of truth and purity in the raw and savage country before them.)The Lord cannot dwell within a sinful people, and he gives them a law to live by. At first glance, this covenant of law may seem simple, but the Israelites cannot (and will not) keep the terms set by God. They need grace. Like Adam and Eve, they believed that they knew better, and decided to commit idolatry with other gods. However, Moses continued patiently to be the mediator between the rebellious people of Israel and God. “Moses was well fitted to be the type of the true Mediator of the gospel covenant. He was himself in great favor with God, so that the Lord hearkened to his voice…note his self-sacrifice for Israel, so that he once said, ‘Blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written’” (Spurgeon, 258).
Even in the face of utter idolatry, God remains faithful to his chosen, remembering his covenantal relationships with both Moses and Abraham, showing goodness to his rebellious children. In grace, he gives them a way to pay for their sins, through blood sacrifice of animals (pointing to the ultimate Sacrifice), yet Israel continues to sin. Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are beautiful pictures of God’s holiness (in the law), his justice (as regards sin), but also his infinite and unfailing mercy (as regards Israel). Just before Yahweh brings his people into the Promised Land, he reminds them of his mercy and their own unworthiness: “Do not say in your heart… ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is…that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut. 9.4,5). But there is more to God’s plan for Israel than just animal sacrifices and patriarchal promises: those promises will be fulfilled by someone greater, the Zera, and those animal sacrifices will be pushed aside by a much more powerful blood.
Component 4: His Story is Mine
My life is a story; it is a story of which I do not know the end. In moments of doubt and wavering, I look to God’s word in faith, knowing that because I am in Christ, his story is my own, our eternal destinies are unified by his blood. This gives me a whole new perspective on the Old Testament metanarrative.
What is my purpose as a child of God, made in his image? While he gives me life and breath, I am given the beautiful task of “[worshiping] the Lord in the splendor of holiness” giving my all to his purposes for me (Ps 96.9). God designed me to be a helper and friend to others, and a steward over his creation, and, eventually, a godly parent, who teaches all the words of God to my children. I want them to know and understand who has brought me to this place, who has sustained me, and who will care for them, with the tenderness of a father.
Yet another piece of the story affects me: the fall of my first parents. In them, I sinned, and have never had a moment of purity in my life. At times, I doubt wondering if I am a child of Christ, but know that if I repent, he is faithful to forgive. When I turn from him, and walk in my own way, stubbornly seeking my own pleasure, instead of serving, I scorn his love. He, like a father, disciplines me gently, when my “evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see” (Ps 40.12). I know that he will give me grace, but I also know that he will chastise me for my wrongdoing, making me learn my lessons.
If my salvation solely depended on my works, I would be lost forever. Knowing this from eternity past, God predestined that his Son, Christ, would save me from my iniquities. God has justified me, making it as though I had never sinned, and adopted me into his heavenly family, as a beloved child. As a sinner, I fail every day, only looking to my one hope: I am promised sanctification, and one day I shall be with Christ and like Christ. This is my beautiful hope, a hope which is my Savior, Jesus. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Ps 42.5). Suddenly, my soul is filled with assurance of pardon, and a sense of love for God and others—this changes my relationship with the world and my Father. It gives me something to live for, a purpose, and knowledge that no matter how many times I stumble, he will always be near to me, to save me time and time again from my wickedness.
Grace has transformed my life in incredible ways. Having grown up in a Christian household, I always took my relationship with the Lord for granted, but within the last eight years, I have come to penetrating realization of my sin. I strive every day, with the Lord’s help to conquer, also desiring to read his word daily. Through his grace, I want to show other the love he has shown me, and attempt to help those, who do not know the Lord, to find solace in his loving arms. Every new day, I look forward to seeing the wonders his grace will work in my life. His plan is infinitely more beautiful and perfect than any plan I could ever imagine.
As I work towards a career in Public Representation, I see this as an amazing opportunity to set myself apart from the worldly communication of other agents. While I will not be directly sharing the gospel, the love of Christ is a distinctive catalyst, and people, whether Christians or not, notice and like the difference. A person with the love of Christ processes an ability to be kind to everyone, no matter how they are treated, and with God on their side; they are slow to foolish speech. These aspects will make a huge difference in the communication field, especially when dealing with important corporations, documents, and ideas.
God has changed my story along with his, making me a trusting child and follower of Christ. The unfolding of this metanarrative, in his restoration and second coming, is truly something I await with eager anticipation. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Bartholomew, Craig G., and Goheen, Michael W. The Drama of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. Print.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries: Genesis. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998. Print.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries: Harmony of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998. Print.
Dobson, John H. A Guide to the Book of Exodus. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1978. Print.
Jenson, Matt. The Gravity of Sin. New York: T&T Clark, 2006. Print.
Lyonnet, Stanislas, and Sabourin, Leopold. Sin, Redemption, and Sacrifice: A Biblical and Patristic Study. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970. Print.
Schaeffer, Francis A. Genesis in Space and Time. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972. Print.
Spurgeon, Charles H. The Treasury of the Old Testament: Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1951. Print.
The English Standard Bible. Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001. Print.