The Scenes of Life — Lesson 2
Sin and God's Grace
Account Of Creation
Our Bible study proper begins with the "book of beginnings," the book called Genesis (Beresith in Hebrew). The first chapter tells us in words true and plain that God created the heaven and the earth and all things therein. God created the universe -- the sun and moon to rule the day and the night and mark our days, months, seasons, and years; all life, animate and inanimate, on land and in the waters, each species after its kind; and last, man, created in God's image. The account then closes with these words, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good." Memorable words, these, for not all is good now.
This account projects two spheres of activity with respect to God's basic laws regarding the universe. The first relates to the rule which God has vested in the sun and the moon (Genesis 1:14-19), and the second relates to the rule which God has vested in man (Genesis 1:26-28). The first tells us that God set these celestial bodies to rule over the day and the night and to divide the light from the darkness. The second tells us that God set man to rule over every living thing that moves upon the earth. Now the sun and the moon, we know, have since followed the course that God has set for them without the slightest degree of defection. But, would to God that this could also be said of man, moral agent that he is.
Off To A Bad Start
Adam and Eve got off to a bad start. The account of their disobedience is widely known. The eating of the fruit is all too often spoken of in jest. However, this infraction of God's law resulted in an estrangement from God and an involvement in the course of death for mankind.
That Adam and Eve at once became keenly aware of this estrangement is clearly evident in the Biblical account. Fear struck their hearts when the heard the voice of God calling them, and they tried to hide from him. Adam's answer to God's call was evasive. It was not really the nakedness of body that made them afraid to face God, but nakedness of soul. Their wrongdoing was being brought to light. "Adam, Where art thou?" was a soul-searching question (Genesis 3:9). Who is so naive to think that God at the time did not know where Adam was hiding? With this question God was calling Adam to account. The sense is, "Adam, where are you now that you have done that which I had forbidden you?"
The Dire Results
God immediately told Adam where he stood now. Genesis 3:17-19 gives the setting.
... Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee ... In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground ... for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.
The concluding sentence forms the climax but not the end. As it is not all of life to live, so it is not all of death to die.
Adam had been duly warned that the penalty for disobedience would be death. However, the Hebrew term which was used in pronouncing this penalty implies more that a terminal cessation of life. The term is moth Temuth, which literally means, "dying you shall die." The context quite clearly shows that the emphasis is on the process of death, rather than the terminal cessation of life. Accordingly, upon Adam's disobedience man became a dying being, ever haunted by the prospect of death, and ever in danger of being momentarily overtaken by it. A grim reminder of this fact is the account of some violent deaths that followed God's proclamation. The slaying of one is recorded in Genesis 4:8, and a multiple slaying is indicated in Genesis 4:23 The fifth chapter of Genesis accentuates the fact that death has passed upon all mankind by recording the life and death of the first ten generations following upon Adam. This record respectively identifies the head of each generation, gives the number of years each lived, and then, of each one, it is said "... and he died."
A Glimpse Of Immortality
Adam's transgression resulted in his estrangement from God, but God did not estrange Himself from man. He left open a line of communication which reaches down to man. Just how this line is operable was perhaps not too clear then, but that is was open is evidenced in Genesis 5:24. This Scripture reference tells us of a man in Adam's generation of whom it was not said that he died. Of him we read, "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." Here we get a momentary look into the world and life beyond. God translated Enoch to the realm of heaven without his going through the valley of the shadow of death. The account is brief, but it suffices to presage life beyond this vale of tears, and the resurrection of the dead, of which the Bible subsequently has much to say.
The dire results of Adam's transgression are further seen in the record of the flood, but in this account the rainbow of God's grace is also seen to break through. Things had gone from bad to worse in the ten generations that followed Adam. Genesis 6:5, 11-12 tells us,
and God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.
But here again we are told of a man who walked with God. It was Noah who received the command to build the ark which served to save himself and his family from the flood. We need not repeat the story here, but the point we must not miss is that Noah and his family were saved because, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8). That Noah was not the first recipient of God's redeeming grace is clear, but the operation of this grace is here unveiled as if it were. Not Noah's walk with God, but God's grace, was the redeeming factor.
Belief Plays Its Role
The fourth early Bible character to whom we call special attention is Abraham, sometimes called the "father of believers." Abraham's life was characterized by taking God at His word and acting upon it respecting the promises made him, when fulfillment was not even remotely in sight. We note that the promise to make of him a great nation was given him when Abraham was seventy-five years old and childless (Genesis 12:1,2). Ishmael was born to Abraham when he was eighty-six, but he was not to be the rightful heir (Genesis 15:16). The assurance of a son to be born of Sarah was not given Abraham until he was ninety-nine years old, and he was an hundred years old when this son, Isaac, was born, (Genesis 21:5). However, at the time Isaac was born fulfillment of the promise to make Abraham a great nation still was not even remotely in sight. Although there were times when Abraham's faith seemed to fail him, the key to his tranquility lies in the words of Genesis 15:6, "and he (Abraham) believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness."
The point to remember here is that the Lord God "counted" Abraham 's belief to him for righteousness. Abraham's righteousness was not inherent. It was a righteousness he came by through the agency of another, and that agency was God.
The Great Nation
More than seven centuries lapsed between the time the promise of being made a great nation was first given and the time this nation was born. This nation, of course, is Israel, the nation of which God at the time said, "... Israel is my son, even my firstborn" (Exodus 4:22). Now our search in this course does not concern the history of Israel proper -- however interesting this may be -- but the light it sheds on the manner in which God deals with the question of sin.
The first incident that calls for special attention took place about three months after the Israelites left Egypt. It occurred when Moses addressed the people as a nation. The following is a condensation of this address: "Ye have seen what I (that is, God) did unto the Egyptians, and how I bear you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine." (Exodus 19:4,5). The people's answer follows in Exodus 19:8, namely, "And all the people answered together, and said, 'all that the Lord God hath spoken we will do.' and Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord." God's response is given in Deuteronomy 5:28, 29 (Devurim in Hebrew) in these words,
... I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken. O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!
That there was no heart in them to keep God's commandments became apparent all to soon. Not long after these words were spoken, while Moses was on the mountain to receive the law from God (Exodus 32:1-6), the people demanded of Aaron that he make them an idol deity. Hereupon God threatened to consume the people, and if it were not for the intercession of Moses in their behalf, their doom would have been spelled (Exodus 32:9,10).
Although God accepted Moses' intercession, things changed for both Moses and the people. God bade Moses to go up with the people unto the land promised them, told him that He would send an angel before him, but also told him that He would not go up in the midst of them (Exodus 33:1-3). Upon this Moses became perplexed, and said, "See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people ... Now therefore I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee ..." (Exodus 33:12,13).
What Moses asked for is an explanation of how God would now be dealing with this sin-laden people. Upon what grounds could they now hope to enter the promised land? God then made an appointment to meet with Moses the next day, and to give answer to Moses' request regarding God's way. We read, "And the Lord passed by before him (Moses), and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin ..." (Exodus 34:6-7).
God is a God of mercy, grace, goodness, and truth. In the courts "mercy and grace" sometimes come into play, but only when guilt has been established. Where there is no guilt, mercy and grace are not needed. What this Scripture reference tells us is that God possesses the attributes the Israelites were in need of -- not the Israelites only, all mankind! And God's mercy and grace extend to every aspect of sin. Something of this is seen in the terms used in the Hebrew text: "Iniquity," "Transgression," and "Sin." The second term is self-explanatory, but the first and third have special shades of meaning in the Hebrew text.
The Hebrew term translated "sin" is chatah and literally denotes "missing the mark." This meaning is demonstrated in Judges 20:16 (Shoftim in Hebrew), a Scripture account telling that there were in Israel seven hundred men who could sling a stone at an hair breadth and not miss. So then, what looks like a catch-all term, namely "sin", has the specific connotation of missing the mark. And pray, where is the man or woman who, respecting God's Holy Law, does not miss the mark?
The Hebrew term translated "iniquity" is avon, and literally means "Not equal". It reflects the fact that in his fallen state man is not equal to meeting the demands of God's Holy Law, that is, of himself man has neither the ability nor the power to work the works of God.
Borrowing an illustration from the mechanics of highway travel, we note that God's Holy Law is the roadmap to the highway of life — the King's highway. Upon this highway we enter at the point of our birth and we exit at the point of our death. But the vehicle in which we try to negotiate this highway is so badly out of alignment that unless we are stopped for correction we are headed for total wreckage, together with all who travel with us. The Bible is replete with both warnings and examples regarding this. Hear the complaint of two outstanding Bible characters, the first from the Old Testament, David; the second, a New Testament character, Paul, generally called the Apostle Paul. David said, "Have mercy upon me O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of they tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:1,5). With reference to God's law, Paul said, " For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing ... For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do ... O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:18,19,24). The Bible has other words for sin, but these are the basic terms, as will appear later in our study. God's mercy and grace serve to effect the salvation of man in that God is forgiving — forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. This is not to say that God overlooks sin. No, for he gave Israel His Holy Law, the ten commandments, and these are God's standard for righteousness. How God particularly effects the forgiveness of sin is further unfolded in His dealing with His people Israel, and with all peoples, through one born from Israel's ranks. We will further pursue this in Lesson 3.
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