Sunday, April 25, 2004

Jacob have I loved-1

I. Preamble

Like the Exodus generation, many readers never make it out of the wilderness, usually losing their way between Sinai and the Promised Land. They generally manage to see their way clear of the prediluvian, post-diluvian and patriarchal narratives, and all the way up through the Exodus, but when they hit the giving of the law and checkered history of the Conquest and Monarchy, they become disoriented. At this point, many switch to the express lane before rejoining the highway at the Psalter. There they also take in some scenic views of Isaiah, but find much of the geopolitics in this and other prophets to be incomprehensible and irrelevant—although the apocalyptic literature exerts a fatal fascination over not a few, whose wreckage strews the shoulder lanes—so that the surviving stragglers at last stumble into the NT late at night and exhausted.

Is there some map and compass that would enable the Bible reader to chart his way from start to finish? I would submit that the protevangelium (Gen 3:15) affords us just such a roadmap. After the fall of Adam, the Lord God issued the protevangelium. In great measure, the remainder of redemptive history tracks the gradual unfolding of this principial prophecy. The protevangelium may be diagrammed as follows:

A. I will put enmity:
B. Between you
C. And the woman,
B. Between your seed
C. And her seed;
B. He shall bruise
C. Your head,
B. You shall bruise
C. His heel.

Note that there are about seven parties to this prophecy:
(i) "I" (God)
(ii) "you" (the serpent)
(iii) "the woman" (Eve)
(iv) "your seed" (the serpent’s seed)
(v) "her seed" (the woman’s seed)
(vi) "your head"
(viii) "his heel."

Note also the verbs: "shall put enmity," "shall bruise." Further note the object of the verbs, "seed/head," "seed/heel." The "seed" could be singular, collective, or both, but the shift to singular pronouns and a singular "head" suggests that the many have a singular and superior representative. On the face of it, reference to the woman’s seed is unnatural to the point of being oxymoronic. The resolution of this oxymoron will await further revelation.

We can break down the protevangelium into three sub-themes:
(i) a binary motif (you/yours v. he/her/his)
(ii) a seminal motif (your seed/her seed)
(iii) a polemical motif (enmity/bruising).

These themes weave in and out of Scripture, often intertwining. Complementing the thematic axis of the protevangelium, which is linear and progressive, is a structural axis, which is curvilinear and symmetrical. For the protevangelium begins on the down swing of a comic curve, presupposing the Fall, but foreseeing the defeat of the enemy. And, indeed, the record of redemption consists in a concentric set of comic curves. The history of Adam, Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, David, Israel and the Christ sweep out a comic curve as the dramatic arc describes a reversal and restoration of fortunes. In some cases the falling motion is clearer than the rebounding motion because the rebounding motion is not fulfilled in the lifetime of the subject, but in the afterlife or eschaton or antitype or heir. But that is part of the concentric design, where the distance between reversal and restoration, promise and fulfillment, is widest at the outer orbits (e.g., Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15; Heb 11:4; 12:24).

Adam King Sinner Second Adam

Abel Shepherd Martyr Saint

Abraham Heir Nomad Heir

Jacob Heir Fugitive Heir

Joseph Heir Slave Prime Minister

Moses Heir Fugitive Savior

David King Sinner Son of David

Ruth Heiress Nomad Heiress

Israel Son Slave Freeman

Christ Son Felon Lord


The history of the Bible is the history of God adopting, redeeming, calling, and gathering a chosen people to himself to be his people and to be their God.

II. Law

History moves along parallel tracks, for the seminal motif immediately branches into the binary motif. On the one hand, the woman’s seed runs through Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Judah, Caleb, Boaz, David and Christ, whereas the serpent’s seed runs through Cain, Lamech, Canaan, Nimrod, Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, Dan and Pharaoh. Joseph’s malediction on Dan compares his tribe to a serpent (49:17; cf. Jer 8:16-17) whereas his benediction on Judah is couched in Edenic terms of a warrior-redeemer (49:9-11). And this image is carried forward in Balaam’s third and fourth oracles (Num 24).

The seminal motif operates at a corporate and synchronic as well as singular and diachronic level. In the plagues of Egypt, God draws a distinction between the Jews, as a whole, and Egyptians, as a whole (Exod 8:22; 9:4; 11:7).

The seminal motif denotes a spiritual as much as genealogical lineage inasmuch as it often cuts across family lines (e.g., Cain/Abel, Isaac/Ishmael, Jacob/Esau, Dan/Judah). The branches continually intertwine before finally forking off at the end of the church age. And this intertwining will visit blessing as well as bane on each party.

On the one hand, the serpent’s seed are the founders of urban life, of the arts and sciences (Gen 4:17,21-22; 11:1-9; Exod 1:11). And when the Israelites leave the land of bondage, they plunder the Egyptians (Exod 3:22). Conversely, God’s benediction on the woman’s seed spills over to bless the serpent’s seed (e.g., Gen 30:29-30; 41:46-57). Common grace represents the overflow of special grace.

A cause and consequence of the seminal motif is tribalism. So-called primitive societies are tribal societies. Many modern or western readers find it difficult to identify with this social unit, for that is not the organizing principle which underlies their own social institutions. Tribalism is oligarchic and nepotistic, which is why democracy can only flourish in cultures that are either too homogeneous or heterogeneous to retain a strong sense of tribal identity, solidarity and rivalry.

Yet tribalism runs quite deep in Scripture. It is a presupposition of covenant theology. God cuts a covenant with tribal chieftains like Adam, Abraham, Noah, and David. The category of a kinsman-redeemer like Boaz has a tribal basis. The laws of inheritance, indentured service and redemption all assume the priority of common property over private property inasmuch as the land was held in joint possession of the clan.

This is not to say that God accommodated the plan of salvation to a culture-bound custom. Rather, tribal bonding figures in the natural constitution of man and providence of God. The tribe is a natural extension of the family unit, which is, in turn, a creation-ordinance (Gen 1:28). And the Lord’s inventive hand and providential plan lies behind the origin, diversity and distribution of man in number, time and space (Gen 10-11; cf. Acts 17:26).

Embedded in both the seminal and binary themes is the principle of the remnant, and for two reasons. On the one hand, the chosen people are the medium of the messianic line. On the other hand, the elect are at once a subset of the world, and subset of the visible church—in its OT and NT manifestations. So the tracks constantly cross paths, for the chosen people are larger than the elect, and yet the conduit of the elect and the Anointed. Both remnant and reprobate are folded into the nation of Israel, and there is an inner, elect remnant within the outer, ethnic remnant.

Out of the whole of humanity, God’s saved the eight members of Noah’s family (Gen 6:8-10; 7:7; 1 Pet 3:20), for the woman’s seed runs through the line of Noah. Divine providence choreographed the enslavement and elevation of Joseph so that he would be well-situated to save a remnant from the famine to come (Gen 45:7). Of the Exodus generation, only Joshua and Caleb survive to possess the Promised Land (Num 26:25). Unless God engaged in periodic weeding (e.g., the Flood, Tower of Babel, Sodom & Gomorrah, Ai, Jericho), the tares would choke out the wheat (cf. Mt 13:7).

Not only does the seminal motif pan into the binary motif of two branching family trees, but into the polemical motif of two opposing family trees. Just as the woman’s seed was commissioned to carry out a cultural mandate (Gen 1:28), so the serpent’s seed will parry with a counter-cultural mandate (cf. 4:17,21-22; 11:1-9; Exod 1:11). On the one hand, the serpent’s seed persecutes the woman’s seed (e.g., Exod 1:8ff.; cf. Rev 12). On the other hand, the serpent’s seed comes under divine malediction when it persecutes the woman’s seed (e.g., Gen 12:17; 20:18; Exod 7-12).

Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh and the wizards of Egypt is a classic case of spiritual warfare, while the plagues of Egypt signal the role of God as a man of war (Exod 15:1-8)—for God is the five-star general, and Moses his lieutenant.

Arminians complain that Calvinism reduces men to puppets. Although this is a caricature, the fact of the matter is that Scripture does present Pharaoh (and Nebuchadnezzar) as a puppet king, with God as the puppeteer. (On the hardening of Pharaoh, cf. G. Beale, "An Exegetical and Theological Consideration of the Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart in Exodus 4-14 and Romans 9," TrinJ [1984], 5:129-54.)

And, more generally God is pulling the strings of the reprobate. To characterize a position is not to rebut it. The Arminian charge is a half-truth, and a Calvinist should happily embrace the element of truth contained therein. What, after all, is the difference between a puppet/puppeteer relation and a potter/clay relation?

III. Hagiographa

1. Joshua. In the Conquest, the seminal, binary, and polemical themes intersect at Jericho. Holy war is a graphic example and emblem of the polemical motif. But although the inhabitants of Jericho are put to the sword, a remnant is spared in the person of Rahab and her kin (Josh 6). And she shall, in turn, figure in the messianic lineage.

The seminal motif is implicit in the land-promises (3:13-17; cf. Exod 15:8), which typify the hereditary principle of God’s people as his prized possession (Eph 1:14,18; 1 Pet 1:3-4; Heb 13:14).

The polemical motif is brought to the fore in 5:13-15, where we have Joshua's encounter with the Captain of the Host. Assuming this to be a Christophany, it presents our Lord as a warlord, and not merely in metaphorical terms. (This equation is based on general ar-guments regarding the identity of the Angel of the Lord, as well as the parallels between Exod 3:1-6 and Josh 5:13-15.) The Captain of the Host is a divine title, like the Lord Sa-baoth. God commands the angelic armies. And here we have a meeting between the captain of the heavenly host, and the captain of the earthly host. The Angel of the Lord is Joshua's heavenly counterpart and commanding officer. This encounter, coming on the eve of the Battle of Jericho, implies that the success of that engagement turns on the success of an invisible battle (cf. 6:2).

We see this same plane of parallel action in the Book of Revelation, and Rev 19:11-16 is the NT counterpart to Josh 5:13-15. For the Lord of Hosts is the Lord of lords.

The principle of holy war, in which whole cities are devoted to destruction, has given many readers pause. This is the Lord’s strange work (Isa 28:21). And it presents a visible token of the invisible decree, by which the reprobate are devoted to damnation, as a manifestation of divine justice and means of mercy towards the elect.

We have a vivid illustration of this principle in Racine’s Athaliah. Athaliah is bent on extirpating the true faith by knocking off the crown princes of Judah. But Jehoiada, the high priest and prophet, has hidden Joash in the Temple. Jehoiada foresees the preservation of Joash as instrumental in preserving the consolation of Israel. But Jehoiada further foresees that Joash will be responsible for the murder of Jehoiada’s own son, Zechariah (Act 3, Scene 1). That is Jehoiada’s tragic choice—by saving Joash, he saves the messianic hope, but he also saves the slayer of his own flesh and blood.

Even though Racine allowed himself a measure of dramatic license, the vicarious principle is present throughout Scripture. Reprobate fathers beget elect sons, like links in a chain. So reprobation is instrumental to redemption. Although the reprobate are devoted to damnation, their existence is instrumental in the salvation of the elect. The supreme instance of the vicarious principle is, of course, the meritorious death of Christ on behalf of the elect and in their stead.

2. Ruth

The seminal motif is prominent in Ruth, for Boaz assumes the double role of kinsman-redeemer and progenitor of David (4:13-22). In his vicarious role, Boaz is a type of Christ. The vicarious principle is imitable, but penal substitution is inimitable. One sinner can redeem another or die for another, but a meritorious death is nonpareil.

3. Samuel-Kings

The Davidic covenant exemplifies the seminal motif, as an extension and intensification of the Abrahamic covenant, by picking up on the theme of a royal and perpetual dynasty (2 Sam 7:12-16; cf. Gen 17:6-7). The Davidic covenant also debuts the shepherd theme (7:16) which will receive further elaboration in messianic expectation.

The binary motif puts in a dramatic appearance during a period of national apostasy, as God reserves a faithful remnant (1 Kg 19:18). The relation between the remnant and the seed of promise is not adventitious, for unless God were to preserve a faithful remnant, there would be no heir to the covenants of David and Abraham.

4. Job

The polemical motif is in full tilt in Job, where moves along parallel planes. Satan has an audience with God in the heavenly throne room. There it is determined that Job will be a test-case of disinterested devotion.

From thereon, Satan operates through his deputies, for Job’s friends serve as his accusers, as they put him in the dock and subject him to examination and cross-examination. Job must serve as his own witness and defensive attorney. God is the judge, but Job subpoenas God and puts him in the dock as a character witness.

This pans into the confession made famous by Handel (19:25). However one renders go’el or assigns its charge (e.g., avenger, redeemer, champion, public defender, character witness), the kinsman-redeemer exemplifies the seminal motif.

5. Psalter

The binary motif is present in the bifurcation of mankind we find in Ps 1, which halves humanity into two kinds of people: the righteous and the wicked. On the face of it, this seems to be inconsistent with the doctrine of the Fall. Aren’t there degrees of evil? Isn’t there a sense in which the fault-line between good and evil not only runs between Cain and Abel, David and Saul, but within the heart of Abel and David?

If, however, we hook up Ps 1 with Ps 2, we see a global strategy in play. (There is evidence that Pss 1-2 originally formed a literary unit. Cf. P. Craigie, WBC [Word 1983], 19:59-60.) For here the binary motif merges with the polemical motif. The nations are arrayed against God and his Anointed. And the Davidic king is assured a worldwide dominion. Something bigger and broader is in view than the historical reign of David. David is a placeholder or stand-in for someone else, someone to come, someone big enough to fill out this panoramic vision. And David’s enemies deputize for a more formidable foe.

Ps 2, with its figure of a Davidic warrior-king, at once carries forwards the protevangel vision while being furthered, in turn, by Pss 72, 89, 110 and 132. And complementing the figure of the Davidic warrior is the mantle of divine warrior (Ps 68), which will, in time, transfer to Christ (Eph 4:7-13), as the natural heir and crown prince of all divine titles and prerogatives.

6. Proverbs

The binary motif is conspicuous throughout Proverbs by bisecting the same lump into two groups: the wise man and the fool. This is all the more striking because the book is not drawing the lines between Jew and Gentile, believer and idolater. Rather, Proverbs was addressed to covenant children, being a code of conduct for Jewish boys.

7. Ecclesiastes

Although Solomon does not develop the protevangelium, the Fall is a presupposition un-derlying his philosophy of history (Cf. 1:13, 3:20, 7:29 & 12:7), which accounts, in part, for the tone of sober resignation pervading this book.

IV. Prophets

The binary motif is implicit in Amos’ reference to the remnant of Joseph (5:15), while Micah, Isaiah’s preexilic contemporary, configures the remnant theme with the figure of the shepherd (2:12; 4:6-8; 5:2). But these scattered themes dovetail in some of the more sweeping prophets below.

1. Isaiah

In Isa 4:2-3, 6:1-13 & 11:1-11, the singular, dual, and collective strands of the seminal motif converge. On the one hand, there is a holy seed (4:3; 6:13)—representing the remnant, and a Holy Branch (4:2, 11:1,10—signifying the Messiah. Although the Branch issues from the seed, the seed is saved by the Branch (cf. 53:10). Despite the Babylonian exile and Assyrian deportation, God will preserve a remnant of Jacob (Isa 10:20-21). And the remnant reaches to a worldwide Diaspora (11:11).

On the other hand, there is a felled tree whose rotting stump supplies the holy seed with moisture, shelter and humus (6:13). The dead tree trunk stands for the reprobate, whom the Lord has hardened and blinded and deafened (v10). This verse will figure strategically in the ministry of Christ. (The predestinarian force of Isa 6, both in its original setting and in the Gospels, is hotly disputed by Arminian authors. For a defense of the Reformed reading, cf. C. Evans, To See and Not Perceive [Sheffield: JSOT, 1989].)

Isa 7:14 advances the seminal motif and relieves the oxymoron of a woman's seed. For the exclusion of the male contribution, and maternal naming of the son, contrary to custom (8:3), recalls the role of Eve (3:15; 4:25).

Liberals have denied that 7:14 envisions a virginal conception. However, this prophecy couched in terms of a spectacular sign (10,14)—on the order of the sundial (38:7-8). Chapters 7-12 form a literary and conceptual unit, and the debut of the Emmanuel theme will be developed in extravagantly expansive terms that extend well-beyond the historical horizon of the immediate crisis (e.g., 8:1-10; 9:1-7; 11:1-16).

Isaiah trades on the polemical motif in his oracle of the Davidic king (9:1-7), and this vision receives more graphic exposition in the image of the crimson conqueror from Bozrah (Isa 34:6; 59:16-20; 63:1-6; cf. Rev 19:11-16). In chap. 27:1, Isaiah describes spiritual warfare in terms looking back to Gen 3:15 and forward to Rev 12:3.

2. Ezekiel

Ezekiel’s taunt-song over the king of Tyre (28:13-14) reverberates with themes from Gen 1-3 (creation, dominion, temptation, fall, curse, exile, angels), and Job (v14b, cf. Job 1:7), thereby playing on polyvalent associations involving Adam and Lucifer. (Ezekiel had evidently read the Book of Job [cf. Ezk 14:20.]).

The most dramatic outworking of the polemical motif in OT literature is the battle of Gog and Magog (38-39). This looks beyond the Restoration (37), and therefore points forward to the Church age. John will fine-tune the timing to the close of the church age (Rev 20). (Admittedly, chronology turns on eschatology. Although the action of the Apocalypse is cyclical and septimal, I believe that the cycle is broken with the Final Judgment and Con-summation [perhaps in a 7+1 scheme].)

The binary motif is present in Ezekiel’s doctrine of the remnant. God will repatriate the Diaspora (11:16-17).

3. Zechariah

From the postexilic perspective, Zechariah picks up on the seminal motif (8:12), and like Micah before him, attaches it to the bond between the shepherd and his sheep (13:1-7). When the shepherd is struck down, the sheep scatter—but the shepherd shall regather a remnant of the Diaspora, which intercalates the polemical and binary themes for good measure. These images will resurface, at critical junctures, in the Gospels (Mt 26:31; Lk 15:3-7; Jn 10:1-18).

4. Malachi

Malachi is the seal of the OT prophets. In 1:2-3, the binary motif is sounded with excep-tional force—where "love" and "hate" stand for adoption and preterition. Arminian authors contend that Malachi only deals with national and corporate election rather than personal and eternal election. There is certainly a national and corporate dimension to the discussion, and it would be a mistake to draw a one-to-one correspondence between national or corporate election and personal or eternal election. Indeed, as we often see, election cuts across family lines.

Nevertheless, it would be just as arbitrary to deny any inner correspondence between the fortunes of the nation and the fortunes of the individual, the corporate entity and its personal members. After all, corporate identity and solidarity are just abstractions. In some ways they may be less that the sum of the parts, but not more so.

At an even deeper level, trying to drive a wedge between clan and clansman cuts against the grain of the entire OT. It is not a period piece that redemption has a tribal dimension. Not only does God work through social institutions, but he institutes these very institutions as his chosen vehicles. The OT presents an internal relation between grace and the means of grace. Covenants are made with tribal chieftains, and covenants are redemptive instruments in their own right. Divine covenants disclose the character and will of God, without which a saving faith is unattainable (cf. Ps 147:19-20; Jn 4:24; Eph 2:12). To be cut off from the stream of covenantal redemption and revelation preempts the spiritual opportunities of generations to come. To be born outside the pale of the Gospel is not a historical accident, but betrays the summary judgment of God.


In the very passage before us, the Edomites are expressly said to be the object of God’s eschatological curse (1:4)—a sentiment which receives additional support in other prophets (e.g. Isa 35:5,9ff.; Ezk 35:9; Obadiah 10,18) as well as the NT (Rom 9:13). And the principle of federal headship carries over into the New Covenant. For Christ is the later and greater Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses and David.

What we begin to see emerge at this point in progressive revelation is that historical dualism has an eternal dimension. To be the object of God’s eschatological curse implicates future destinies as well as past and present opportunities.

Critics of Calvinism paint the doctrines of grace as less loving than universal grace. But the difference between Arminian and Reformed conceptions of divine love is the difference between polygamy and monogamy, cohabitation and covenant, open marriage and one-flesh, divorce and fidelity. What is lost in width and breadth is gained in depth and intensity. Free will and free love go hand-in-hand. Arminian love says: Come and go as you please; Calvinian love says: I loved you with an everlasting love, I gave Egypt as your ransom—Sheba and Nubia for your redemption (Isa 43:3-4; 54:8).

Browning once said that Dante loved well because he hated well. Love logically hates the antithesis of the object of love. If love loves the good, then it hates evil; if it loves evil, then it hates the good. So love, at its most rarified, is a nominalist love—a love of the particular, and not a general affection—like a Tomcat or philandering spouse or wild ostrich (Lam 4:3). This is not to say that God loves the lovable. God loves the hateful (Rom 5:6-8), but he loves them in the Beloved (Eph 1:6), and by his grace he conforms them to the image of the Beloved (Rom 8:28).

3 comments:

  1. Wow, what a great site. I will bookmark this site and return often. It's nice to see sites like this.

    Please visit my website and let me know what you think. Tell your Secret

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent and original blog. I will comeback.
    I wanted just to mention an interesting site about Religions. With more than 500 pages, Religion News and Articles:Religion Universe: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism (Daoism) and many others

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello, just visited your bible blog, I also have a bible related website, it's about some books which is helpful to understand the God's Words

    ReplyDelete