Article of the Month
by S.G. De Graaf
The Covenant of Godís Favor
In Genesis 1 we are told about the institution of the Kingdom of God. In Genesis 2 we read about the establishment of a covenant. The objection that there is no literal or explicit mention of a covenant in this chapter carries no weight, for all the elements of a covenant are to be found here. Even more decisive is the fact that God is here called Yahweh, the God of covenant faithfulness.
We must never lose sight of the great significance of the covenant. Without covenant, there is no religion, no conscious fellowship between man and God, no exchange of love and faithfulness.1 Without the covenant, man would be just an instrument in Godís hand. When God created man, He had more than an instrument in mind: He made a creature that could respond to Him. Only if man was capable of responding would he be able to assume his position as partner in a covenant. Without a covenant, God would have only claims and man only obligations. But as soon as God gave man a promise, man also had a claim on God, namely, to hold God to that promise. And God then had an obligation toward man, namely, to fulfill that promise. Once the promise is given, we can speak of a covenant, for a covenant, after all, is an agreement between two parties in which the claims and obligations are spelled out. Of course we must never forget that the covenant was initiated by God and that Godís promise elevated man to the rank of covenant partner. Because the covenant is tied to Godís promise, the calling described in Genesis 1 (which also includes a promise) prepares the way for it.
We are accustomed to speaking of this covenant as the covenant of works. However, we should not take this name to mean that man was expected to earn eternal life as a reward for doing good works, as though eternal life was manís payment for services rendered. Because man owes everything he is and has to God, we may never speak of man earning wages paid out by God. Therefore it might be wiser to speak of the covenant of Godís favor. Grace, in general, also means favor, but in the Scriptures grace always has the special meaning of favor that forgives guilt. We could express the difference by saying that God made a covenant of favor with Adam and a covenant of grace with Christ. The only demand made of Adam was that he choose consciously for the favor given him by God if he and his posterity were to abide forever in that favor. In this way, too, the contrast with Christ is clear: Christ had to continue to choose for Godís favor even when that favor had completely forsaken Him. In this way Christ had to reconcile and redeem what Adam had ruined.
Godís specific test-command2 was intended to bring man to conscious obedience, that is, to conscious acceptance of the covenant. Before that, man did what was good because his heart suggested nothing else to him. Only by facing the possibility of a conflict could he learn to choose consciously.
He was given this opportunity by way of a specific command. There was a certain tree in the garden whose fruit was obviously good for food, but man was ordered not to eat its fruit. In this way he came to know ó know here means distinguish ó that ďgoodĒ is what God commands and ďevilĒ what He forbids. It was not a matter of human judgment, then. The point at issue was how man was to distinguish good from evil ó in dependence on God by not eating or in disregard of God by eating. Thatís why God says later: ďBehold, the man has become like one of us, knowing [i.e. distinguishing for himself between] good and evil.Ē
Eating the fruit of the tree of life, which was yet another tree, can best be compared with taking the sacrament in our time. When man ate the fruit of this tree and thereby affirmed the covenant, his faith that God would bring him to eternal life, that is, to full, eternal dominion in His Kingdom, was confirmed. However, the comparison with the sacrament is not a complete parallel, for at one time the entire creation spoke of Godís favor. The revelation of this favor then reached its climax in the tree of life. In our own time, by contrast, wrath is revealed from heaven. God therefore sets apart bread, wine and water for use in the sacraments that witness to His favor. Before the fall, the ďsignĒ and the ďthing signifiedĒ were so closely linked that the one was unthinkable without the other. Hence the way to the tree of life had to be closed to fallen man, or he might eat and live forever.
In this chapter the description of history begins. In history, the fullness God laid down in creation is opened up and developed. In history man is given his calling. The process of opening up and developing is to take place in fellowship with the Lord. This covenant fellowship is to govern history. Thus the beginning of history is bound up with the initiation of Godís covenant. The covenant includes a cultural task for man: man is called to ďcultivateĒ3 the garden (Gen. 2:15). Manís task is already suggested earlier in the words: ďThere had not yet been a man to cultivate the groundĒ (vs. 5).
Main thought: The covenant of Godís favor is established so that man can live in fellowship with God.
The special creation of man. God did not intend that everything in heaven and earth remain just as He had made it. He included much in this world that was still hidden but would one day be disclosed. Think of the tiny seed: the whole flower lies concealed in it and will develop from it. In the same way, the world contained hidden treasures placed there by God, treasures that would one day be revealed. But those treasures would not be unearthed automatically. Man had a role to play in bringing this about. The beginning God gave this world was at the same time the beginning of history: what He had laid down in creation was to be brought to light in that history.
That was what God desired of this world, to which He had given so much. Now the world would have to respond by bringing to fruition all that He had created in seed form. This response was first and foremost a matter of manís labors. But man would not be able to reach the intended goal unless God gave the world ó especially man ó His blessing and fellowship. God in His love would reveal Himself to man in an ever greater way, and man would then give God all that was in him and in the world. Thatís what God had in mind when He chose to live in covenant with man.
When two people make a covenant, they take upon themselves the obligation to give each other something, to engage in some sort of exchange. In the marriage covenant, the greatest covenant on earth, each partner surrenders his entire heart to the other. God wished to enter such a covenant with man; God would give man His love in ever greater measure, while man would give God all that was in his heart and in the world.
Thatís why God made man different from all the other creatures. When He made heaven and earth, the plants and all the other creatures, He also made man ó as one of the many. There was a time when the plants with which we are acquainted simply did not exist. Up to that time it had not rained, and there were as yet no human beings to take care of any plants. There was only a mist that moistened the earth. But out of that moistened earth God brought forth the plants ó the shrubs and bushes, the plants that live for several years, and the herbs of the field that come up anew each year.
God then made man as one of the creatures, but He gave him a special task. Man was to look after the world; he was to cultivate (i.e. keep and dress) the world and all it contained. Man was indeed different from all the other creatures, for he was privileged to live in conscious communion with God in the covenant. Therefore manís creation took place in a special way. True, he was created out of the earth just as all the other creatures were, but it was by a special act of God that he began to live: God Himself breathed the breath of life into his nostrils. With that beginning God gave man a special place among the creatures.
The revelation of Godís covenant favor. God selected a special place for man on earth. To be sure, the whole earth was a marvelous place, but in one particular spot He had caused the most wonderful trees to grow, trees that produced particularly nutritious fruit and were a delight to the eye. A river flowed through this area and divided into four branches.
This garden in which man lived was indescribably beautiful. We do not know exactly where it was situated, but we do have an approximate idea since we can identify two of the rivers. The earth, after all, has changed a lot. As a result of sin, the garden has completely disappeared from the earth.
You can be sure that man enjoyed himself in this garden. He delighted in the shade of the trees and the rippling water of the rivers. But most of all he enjoyed the favor of his God, who had chosen for him the most wonderful spot in all of creation. The whole garden spoke to man of Godís favor. To man that was the most important thing.
Of course man had not been placed in that garden to live an idle life. From the outset he had a task: he was to cultivate and maintain the garden. Indeed, there was much to do. At the time man was far from being able to see all his task involved. Moreover, he had to keep (guard) the garden. Evidently there was a hostile power in the world. (Iíll tell you more about that in the next chapter.) But for now, man had to keep the garden for God and give the Lord the treasure of the earth and the grateful love of his heart.
Testing and strengthening in the covenant. Man, then, lived as Godís child, sharing in His love. But man still had to choose. God had let His favor rest upon man, but would Adam and his posterity want to live in that favor forever? Would man still want that favor if someone else came along to make another proposal in an attempt to lead him down a different path? If man chose for Godís favor, he and his children would be allowed to live in that favor forever. If not, death awaited him.
To settle this matter, God put man to the test. In the middle of the garden He had made a tree which He called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told man that he was permitted to eat from any tree in the garden except that particular one. The fruit of that tree was undoubtedly delicious; manís mind told him that it would be good to eat. Yet God forbade it, and man therefore had to learn to distinguish between good and evil. Good is not what my own mind ó ignoring God ó suggests to me; good is what God commands, while evil is what He forbids. Godís will alone is good, and I must obey that will without question. If man wanted to remain forever in Godís favor, he had to choose for God and His favor by subjecting himself to Godís will. The day he ate from that special tree, he would die. The fellowship with God would then be broken. For man that would mean eternal death.
The test would be a hard one. Yet God had provided man with something to strengthen his faith that he would possess Godís favor forever if he remained obedient. In the middle of the garden there was another important tree, namely, the tree of life. Although the whole garden spoke to man of Godís favor, this favor was particularly evident in the fruit of that tree.
Those two trees standing in the middle of the garden represented opposing directions. If man ate from the tree of life, he would be choosing Godís everlasting favor and rejecting the fruit of the other tree. If he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would be rejecting the fruit of the tree of life and would never again be able to eat from it.
The marriage covenant. The Lord gave still more to man. To be sure, he enjoyed living in covenant with the Lord, but in the entire creation there was no one with whom he could have true fellowship. God first made man aware of this when He brought him all the animals to be named. Then man saw something of the riches of creation, as he correctly grasped the nature of each animal and gave it a name to fit that nature. However, there was no animal that could return the love of manís heart. This made man aware of the need of another human being who would also be man and yet be different from him.
God wanted to fill that need. After causing man to fall into a deep sleep, He took one of his ribs and fashioned it into a woman. While man was unconscious, God prepared the greatest earthly treasure for him. He made woman out of manís own rib so that she would truly be part of him; only then could the two become one. The man was to be the womanís head, just as he was the head of his race. For her, as for his race, he had to choose for Godís favor.
As soon as man woke up and God brought his wife to him, he saw that she was different from all the other creatures. She was his peer, and therefore he could give her all of his heartís treasure. And he knew that she had been taken out of him, which made it possible for the two to become one. Thatís why he called her woman. In their marriage, which was also a covenant, his heart opened to her and hers to him. He could therefore bring out what was hidden within him. Man then gained an even deeper understanding of what God intended with that covenant in which man was privileged to live with the Lord. God and man were to give each other what was within them, without fear, without reserve, without shame, just as the man and his wife felt no shame even though they were naked. In their hearts there was only love.
I am running a bit ahead of the story when I tell you that things did not stay that way. The covenant was broken by sin. Do we no longer know anything of that covenant, then? Must we now live outside all fellowship with God?
The covenant that was broken by the first man was taken up again and restored by the Lord Jesus Christóbut in a different form. Now we no longer have Adam as our covenant head. The Lord Jesus Christ, who chose for Godís favor in much more difficult and wretched circumstances, has taken his place. Through Him, we still have eternal life if we believe. In that new life, God gives us His love ever more richly, making it possible for us to offer Him all that is in our hearts and in the world.
The Covenant of Godís Grace
I have deliberately entitled this chapter ďThe Covenant of GraceĒ instead of ďThe Fall.Ē The fall certainly merits our attention, but if we put too much emphasis on it, the revelation of Godís grace might become a mere afterthought. When we read through Genesis 3, we see that the tall is described in just seven verses, while the rest of the chapter is devoted (o Godís grace. Even more important for our purposes is the fact that Scripture is not a book of the acts of men but the book of the revelation of God. Here in Genesis 3, God shows us how He opposed sin and conquered it by His grace when it entered His creation. This chapter reminds us to speak to the children in positive terms by telling them about Godís grace. Therefore the fall should not receive the primary emphasis.
Once again we see that God turned to the works of His hands when He should have turned away from them. What can we do to make I he children realize what that free act of God meant? He could have used His judgment to destroy sin, thereby allowing the world to perish. In His onmipotent grace He chose another route instead. Here again He gives us abundant reason to praise Him.
We should note that before the revelation of Godís grace, Adam and his wife offered excuses for what they had done ó but did not confess their guilt. The revelation of Godís judgment does not lead us to repent and confess our guilt; for this we need the revelation of His grace. When the element of grace comes through in the judgment pronounced upon the serpent, Adam and Eve show that they believe ó by confessing their guilt. Faith in Godís grace always involves the confession of guilt.
Genesis 3 does not tell us about the establishment of the covenant of grace, for this covenant was established not with Adam but with the Christ. Therefore we must speak here of the revelation of the covenant of grace. (This covenant was already dealt with in the previous chapter.)
Main thought: The covenant of grace is revealed to man so that he may believe.
The world lost in the fall. God had created the heavens and the earth perfect. He subjected the earth to man and established a covenant with him. But God had an enemy in the world, an angel who had fallen away from Him and become a devil. With this fallen angel, who had earned the name satan, many other angels fell away from God as well and became devils.
Satanís whole existence is hatred of God. His sole aim is to destroy everything God has made. Thus he was eager to see the world ruined. But he knew that the world had been subjected to man. He therefore decided not to direct his attack against Adam, who had received Godís command directly and bore complete responsibility as the worldís head. Instead he approached the woman first, hoping to reach Adam through her.
But how should he tempt the woman? At that time he could not do what he does now, namely, suggest sinful thoughts directly. Now our hearts are open to his influence, but the hearts of those two sinless human beings were locked against him. Thus he was forced to try an indirect approach.
In what form should he show himself to the woman? How could he speak without immediately being recognized as Godís enemy? He decided that the serpent must speak for him. He certainly could not destroy earthís creatures as long as man was still king, but he could use a creature for his own ends. He chose the serpent because it was the shrewdest of animals. It was doubtless very different in appearance then. The serpent may well have been a familiar part of the human environment, a part of the womanís daily life. Perhaps the serpent had responded to manís love for the lower creation. Even today there remains some interplay and mutual understanding between man and the animals. In any event, satan decided to speak to the woman through the serpent.
Satan knew about the test-command, which we discussed earlier, and seized on it as his opportunity. God Himself led man to the test; satan now took it upon himself to encourage man to break with God. If successful, he could ruin the whole beautiful world through man.
The serpent approached the woman by asking: ďHas God placed you in this garden and not allowed you to eat the fruit of those wonderful trees?Ē Here satan was intentionally misrepresenting Godís purposes by making that good command seem an oppressive restriction. He hoped this would arouse the womanís desire to disobey the command. But the woman quickly set him straight: ďOf every tree we may eat except one. If we eat of that tree, we shall die.Ē Yet the attempt had been made to arouse in her a desire for what God had forbidden.
Satan then proceeded to contradict the Word of God directly: ďYou will surely not die.Ē He was trying to separate man from his Ciod by arousing unbelief, for man is bound to God through his faith in Godís Word. Unfortunately, this approach succeeded, and now manís heart is open to every lie satan suggests to him.
ďYou will be as God.Ē In other words, there could be a world in which God is not God, a world in which man is the highest authority. Just imagine such a world. Satan plays on the gift of imagination given to us by God. Because we can imagine such a world, and because satan convinces us that it could become a reality, we stumble into a world of make-believe. As long as we think we can live without God, we have not left that make-believe world behind. Most of mankind lives in this illusory world. We feed on this world of fantasy every day, for it offers us much that looks inviting.
The woman then saw the fruit of that tree in an entirely different light. When it seemed that eating the fruit in disobedience would lead to her complete independence, the fruit suddenly became much more desirable. Satan misleads us by shedding a false light on things, making the wrong appear much more desirable than it might seem on its own. Do you know what feeling first hits us after we have sinned? Not remorse, but great disappointment. The moment we commit the sin, the false light goes out, and the sinful act no longer appears so attractive.
The woman took the fruit and ate it. How wretched she must have felt afterward! Yet she did not face up to what she had done. How foolish we are in our sin! Where was the wonderful result satan had promised? She deluded herself by thinking that the promise still awaited fulfillment because Adam had not yet eaten of the fruit. Once he freed himself from bondage, she would be free in him. She therefore repeated to Adam what the serpent had said to her. (Note that Adam later argues that the woman ďgaveĒ him the fruit, while the woman says that the serpent ďdeceivedĒ her. The temptation of the woman by the serpent was deception, while the temptation of Adam by the woman was foolishness or self-deception. This is the fundamental difference between satanic and human sin.)
Eve made Adam choose between God and herself. Adam, too, disobeyed God and allied himself with satan against God.
Now they both felt wretched. They no longer dared look at each other, for their misery was written all over their faces. Now that they had changed, they realized that their hearts were full of unrighteousness.
Adam and Eve were suddenly ashamed to be naked in each otherís presence and therefore covered themselves with fig leaves. They had become strangers to each other, and the whole creation had become strange to them; dangers seemed to threaten them on every side. There was hostility even in the animal kingdom. They were fearful of everything ó especially God, although they had earlier loved Him deeply and felt very close to Him. Not only was man lost to his God, the whole world was lost to God as well.
The victory over sin. God saw what Adam and Eve had done. What should He do? Should He allow the world to perish under His judgment? He certainly could have. Instead He turned toward His creation, the work of His hands. Was there something in that creation that still attracted Him or moved Him to be merciful? Certainly not, for the whole world was ruined for Him. All the same, He wanted to glorify Himself by saving the world. Thatís why He chose to be merciful. It was only in grace that He turned to the world again, intending to conquer and destroy sin.
Shortly after the sinful deed, God came to the garden intending to talk with the man and the woman. The breezes brought them the sounds of His approach. They had often heard Him approach, but this time they were frightened! They concealed themselves anxiously among the trees of the garden, thinking that man can hide from God. Foolish as this may seem, we try the same stunt repeatedly ourselves, as we seek to conceal the evil in our hearts from Godís eyes. But why? If we confess, He will hear us.
When God called Adam, Adam confessed his fear of God by hiding himself on account of his nakedness. Without realizing it, he was giving expression to his misery. He did not dare show himself before God any more than you or I do. Fortunately, God still came looking for him.
God asked about the change in the manís attitude toward Him. He wanted to know what had happened, and whether Adam and (we had eaten of the forbidden fruit. But Adam could not confess and take the blame. He saw no way of escaping judgment. He did not yet know of any deliverance or grace, and therefore he could not confess. If God had never revealed His grace to us, would we be able to confess our sins? ďThe woman You gave me ó she made me eat the fruit!Ē But the woman then pointed to the serpent.
God therefore made satan feel His wrath, for satan had used the serpent in his plot to ruin Godís work. Godís curse, which affected the entire world, placed a sign on the serpent. Its crawling through the dust became a sign of its humiliation and of satanís humiliation as well.
Satan will be conquered ó by a Man! Just as a man destroyed I he world in the beginning, another Man will rebuild it. To that end God destroyed the alliance between man and satan, replacing it with enmity. Again drawing man to His side, God entered into a covenant with him against satan. That enmity between man and satan will last forever. Although satan would go on to do man much harm, a Man would one day be born who would completely overcome satan and rescue the world.
The words of this curse upon satan promised deliverance and .mace for man. When God addressed Himself to the man and the woman, there was no curse, nor did God undertake to condemn I hem. He did come down hard on the life of man, but only as a means of driving him back to God. The woman was told that she would bear children in pain. This would be her lot, and she would learn to cry out to God. She was also subjected to the rule of her husband. If she ever disobeyed by trying to liberate herself from her husbandís rule, she would find out what it means to suffer! Only by obedience could she again become truly free ó as her husbandís helpmeet.
Manís life became hard. He bore an almost unbearable responsibility for the life of the family. It would be difficult for the man to provide the necessities, for the earth, which he had once ruled, would now turn against him by bringing forth thorns and thistles.
Life itself would be filled with thorns and thistles of all sorts. In addition, life would now be clouded by the fear of death, for man was destined to return to dust. God used the sentence of death to clip the wings of manís foolish aspirations, forcing him to turn to his Creator and cry out for deliverance.
Living by faith. As soon as man heard the promise, he believed. He understood the element of grace contained in the judgment. Human life on earth would continue ó but in pain. Now that manís wings had been clipped, he might learn to call upon the Lord, his ally in the struggle against satan. Therefore Adam called his wife Eve.4 By choosing this name, he demonstrated his belief in the promise.
Adam and Eve realized the immensity of what they had done, and they were broken. The Lord clothed them both by giving them garments made of the skins of animals. He also provided them with means for quenching the fires of sin.
Adam and Eve were still in Paradise,5 where everything testified to Godís unbroken favor. The tree of life was a special symbol of uninterrupted fellowship. But the fellowship had in fact been shattered. Even though God once again looked upon man with favor, the original, perfect relationship had been lost.
Man now had to learn to live by faith: our sin and the misery in the world had made it appear that man could expect no favor from God. To be sure, man had also lived by faith in Paradise, but then his belief made perfect sense. After the fall, man had to live by faith alone. God drove man out of Paradise and appointed an angel to guard the way to the tree of life. At that point the trials of life by faith alone began. All the same, man still enjoyed the privilege of faith in Godís continued favor.
The late Rev. De Graaf was a minister in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. This article is taken from volume I of his two-part series, Promise and Deliverance, published by Paideia Press, St. Catharines, Ontario
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