Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace #4
If you have your Bibles, please open to Genesis 3:14 as we read God’s Word.
And the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field. On your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise you on the head and you shall bruise him on the heel.” To the woman, He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you shall bring forth your children; yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” Then, to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree which about which I commanded you saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you and you shall eat the plants of the field by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground. Because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy Word, let’s pray.
Our Father, we bow before You, we know that those words are words for us as much as they were for Adam and Eve, for we are in Adam born children of wrath. We have inherited not only the original corruption flowing from that sin, but we have inherited original culpability because Adam was our federal head. We thank You, O Lord, that in Christ we have been redeemed from the curse that we were under and we are no longer under that law of the Covenant of Works, but are now under the Covenant of Grace. Help us this day as we contemplate these things not only that we might be better able to communicate the truth to Your people, but also that we may be built up in the truth, that we might grown in our love and appreciation for Your great redemption. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let me make a couple of comments about the Covenant of Works before we move on to look at what God did in the aftermath of the failure of Adam in the test of probation, specifically with regard to the tree, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I mentioned that there have been a number of orthodox Reformed Theologians who have objected to a bicovenantal structure of redemptive history.
We have mentioned that there are some folks who don’t want to look at the unfolding plan of God in relationship to humankind in terms of a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace, the Covenant of Works being Pre-fall, and the Covenant of Grace being Post-fall. They actually want to talk about this Covenant of Grace as being the overarching plan that structures all of God’s dealing with man both before fall and after the fall.
Now, I am not going to respond to that particular critique today. But I want to respond to a permutation of it. Murray wants to still have a two-fold structure of God’s dealing with man, part one and part two. But he doesn’t want to call the Covenant of Works the Covenant of Works. If any of you have read John Murray’s class lectures that are found in the second volume of his collected writings, in an article called The Adamic Administration, you will remember that he wants to call this first relationship between God and Adam “The Adamic Administration,” not “The Covenant of Works.” And there are four reasons he gives for not wanting to call this a Covenant of Works, of why he has a problem with that terminology.
Murray’s rational for The
The first reason that he gives for having a problem with this idea is that he says that it downplays the grace of this relationship. The title, The Covenant of Works, downplays the elements of grace in the relationship between God and Adam before the fall.
Secondly, he objects to the term because he says the term covenant is not found in this passage. He says the terminology covenant is not found and therefore it is not a good idea to call this relationship a covenant since the terminology is not found.
Thirdly, he says that the covenant is a term which, when used in the Scriptures, denotes a relationship between God and man and is uniformly used of a redemptive relationship. And obviously this is in a sense a pre-redemptive relationship between God and Adam.
And finally, he suggests that the term covenant, as it is used in the Bible to describe the relationship between God and man, always carries with it a sense of security. We argued this ourselves when we read from Hebrews 6 on the first day of class and commented on the fact that often covenant is linked with assurance. God’s covenant is there to help us understand the grounds on which we ought to properly be assured of our salvation. So he argues, it shouldn’t be used of this relationship because covenant denotes security and Adam fell. So he gives four reasons why this relationship shouldn’t be thought of as the Covenant of Works.
And I want to give you a little inside knowledge of Murray’s thinking processes for a few moments, because I have access to that and those folks, perhaps, don’t have access to that. It is not because I knew Murray, but because I do know a man who was a very good friend of Murray and spent a lot of time talking theology, and especially this point, when Murray came back to Scotland after his time of teaching at Westminster Seminary.
I also want to address this because Murray has had a tremendous impact in the Reformed community in making people a little bit skittish about talking about a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace. And in that sense, as much as I admire Professor Murray, I think that he has done us a disservice. Because the breakdown of a bicovenantal understanding of God’s dealing with mankind actually weakens our concept of the Doctrine of Atonement and has a tendency to foster “cheap grace” teaching. Now, with that, my agenda is right out on the table there. I want you to have the strongest possible Reformed doctrine for the atonement that you possibly can have, and I do not want you to teach cheap grace to your people. And you’ll hear me pounding in that direction throughout this particular term. So this is why I am going to take issue with Professor Murray.
Now did Professor Murray have a weak doctrine of Atonement? Read his Redemption Accomplished and Applied. What a wonderful book! And if you have never worked through his teaching on the Doctrine of Atonement, it is wonderful. I think that Murray was an inconsistent Federalist. That is, he was a Covenant Theologian, but he was inconsistent at this point and I think at some points he works out of his theological framework like he is a good old fashioned seventeenth century Scottish Covenant Theologian. And then, he has some little quibbles in the back of his mind which he can’t quite square up with that, which make him go the direction of “The Adamic Administration.” Let’s take each of these four particular complaints that he has about the Covenant of Works and let’s say a few things about them.
1. Now, the first thing that he said was that it downplays (this terminology downplays) the grace aspect of the relationship between God and Adam. Now, as we have already said, I want to flatly deny the idea that the relationship between Adam and the Lord prior to the fall was a grace-based relationship. Let me use one of Murray’s own arguments: The terminology of grace is never used in the Scripture to denote a relationship where no demerit exists. Grace is always used to denote God’s relationship to those who are already in a position of demerit. And so to talk about God and Adam having a grace-based relationship is unbiblical. There is no demerit prior to Adam’s fall for God to overcome. Now does that mean that Adam deserved everything that the Lord gave him? No. Does that mean that Adam earned the right to the blessings that God gave to him? No. That is not what we are getting at either. But once God has made commitments to Adam based upon Adam’s obedience, Adam could be secure in God following through those commitments.
And that is precisely why this thing was called by the Old Covenant Theologians, The Covenant of Works. In other words, it was obedience based. Adam was in a relationship of blessing which he didn’t deserve. God, in His goodness, has drawn him into that relationship and basically said this: “Adam, walk in obedience and this blessing will be yours and there will be more.” It wasn’t, “Adam you’re in a state of non-blessing and if you will obey, I will bring you into a state of blessing.” God, in His goodness, plops Adam into a state of blessing and He says, “Just obey and you will not only have this blessing, you will have more.” That is implied in that probationary test. There will come a time, Adam, if you walk in obedience, I will confirm you in this and I will give you more blessings yet.
That is why the terminology of Covenant of Works was used. So I want to rebut Professor Murray’s argument by saying that that is not how the terminology of grace is used in the Scripture itself. So if you want to use an exegetical argument, his argument against the terminology against the Covenant of Works fails at that point. Now, does that mean by saying that God’s relationship to Adam prior to fall was not a grace relationship, are we downplaying God’s favor or His goodness or His blessing? No. We want to play up those things. We want to stress those. We want to stress that there was absolutely nothing in the world that made God enter into that kind of relationship with Adam but His love.
God did not have to overcome innate sinfulness in Adam in order to enter into that relationship. And our Confession, by the way, gets this exactly right. In The Westminster Confession, chapter 7, section 1, it says that “the distance between God and His creatures is so great that there would no way for His creatures to enjoy the fruition of His relationship unless He condescended by means of a covenant to enter into a relationship with them.” And notice what it does. It doesn’t suggest that there is any demerit there in man. It simply suggests that God is so great and God is so exalted that there would be no way that we could expect the fruition of intimate fellowship and relationship with Him unless He, of His own volition, and out of His own love, determined to enter into such a relationship. And that He did, and He did it in the Garden with Adam in that original covenant. So I want to counteract Murray’s first argument by saying, I think he has confused terminology there about grace.
Now, you know, we can quibble about grace as opposed to mercy, or grace in graciousness, and we even got into a little discussion about that last week. The important issue is, of course, the presence of demerit. That is my point. There may be different terminological ways of getting at this, and I am not saying that there are not different terminological ways of getting at it, but the main point I want to make is you have got one relationship in which the demerit of sin does not exist, and then you have another relationship in which the demerit of sin does exist, and the beautiful thing about a bicovenantal structure is, it makes this distinction clear. And if you wipe out that bicovenantal structure and you say, “It is all just one big glop of a Covenant of Grace,” what do you do? You downplay the difference between a relationship in which demerit must be overcome, and a relationship in which demerit is not present at all. And that is a very serious downplaying.
And if you do that, that is why I say, you have to teach cheap grace. You see, if you downplay the difference between God having to overcome demerit and God not having to overcome demerit, you by the very virtue of that fact, have to teach cheap grace. That is why I say Murray was not consistent in that because he still wants to have this double structure. He still wants to have a bicovenantal structure but just not call the first covenant a covenant. So he ends up with an Adamic Administration and a Covenant of Grace. But for him, he still has this wall that is the great divide of the fall.
2. His second argument is that the word covenant isn’t there. We have responded to that already in part, and that response is that there are examples in the Scripture where a covenant is certainly present but where the terminology is not. And again, in my opinion, this is a reflection of a little bit of the weakness of biblical theology coming through in Murray. Murray was very influenced by Vos. And as much as we appreciate Vos’s work, and the work of those evangelical biblical theologians at the beginning of the century, I wonder sometimes if they did not allow the exegesis to circumscribe their theology, and where they didn’t see certain terminology they questioned whether concepts were present.
In the Reformed tradition, we have always believed that everything in Scripture is true and authoritative and it is our only rule in faith and practice, not only in what it says explicitly, but what it says implicitly by good and necessary consequence. That is a very important doctrine. And not only in the Reformed faith, but in Christendom. For example, if you reject that hermeneutic, if you reject the Doctrine of the Trinity, you reject all manner of Orthodox Christian teaching.
Let me give you an example of this. A friend of mine and I, when we were in Scotland, were doing devotions together for a period of time, and we decided we would work in the Gospel of Matthew. And each of us was trying to pick up on themes and do some outlining in the Gospel of Matthew as to major themes that Matthew presses in his Gospel. And I had picked up on several of them, basically just going through word studies and seeing repeated words that Matthew was using on a regular basis. My friend came in one day and he said, “You know one of the themes I see Matthew pressing here is the issue of faith, the importance of a person’s personal embrace of Christ as Messiah.” I ran a quick word study on that and numerically faith was not one of the major categories if you are just counting words. It was not one of the major categories that came up. The categories that I had come up with had far more words in them and hence more verses in them than his. Let me give you an example. Maybe I would have come with the category of the idea of Jesus’ fulfilling prophecy and you know that repeated language in Matthew and this fulfilled what the prophets said. And that occurs something like 50 times in Matthew. He hits that over and over. So that is an easy theme to pick up in Matthew. And faith was only mentioned, let’s say 18 times or something like that. And when I first heard my friend say that, I thought, “Hum, I am not really sure whether that is a major theme.” But my friend who was working with me was a literature major and he did know how to read and I think what he had actually picked up on was a theme that was definitely there which was not supported by word study, but which was definitely there. And as I have been working back over the last two years in the Gospel of Matthew for the purpose of preaching, this theme of the importance of faith in the Messiah, I mean it knocks you over the head in the Gospel of Matthew. It is clearly a significant theme. It is the divide between the crowds and the Pharisees and the true believers of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. It is a major theme, even though the term faith is there, Matthew does not hit you over the head with it. So, over and over in the Scripture we will find places where the concept will be used, and where the terminology is not. And I think it is shallow simply to stop and say well, the terminology is not there, therefore the concept isn’t. I think we can see even a covenantal structure given at the end of Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2 in terms of this relationship between God and Adam. All the elements are there. And so that, in my opinion, is Murray’s weakest argument of all: Terminology is not there, therefore we should refrain from calling it a covenant.
The authority of Scripture extends not simply to what it explicitly says but also to what can be deduced from Scripture legitimately. So that someone may say, “Well there is no proof text for the Trinity in the Scripture.” Well, we could argue that point. But no matter what our answer to that was, let’s say if we said, “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there isn’t one proof text for the Trinity in Scripture,” that does not mean that the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t a scriptural argument. And then we could proceed to operate both exegetically and theologically to answer that question. And I think for those of us who come from an evangelical tradition, we like to be able to say, “Turn to Genesis 14:3 and I will show you.” But sometimes, biblical teaching has to be presented with a little more nuance than that. It is no less explicitly God’s Word for us. It is no less truth. It just means that there may not be one verse that you can turn to seal the particular issue.
One of the classic arguments that you get if you have ever been a student at a state university where you had a religion professor who enjoyed bashing evangelicals, or if you have been at a private religious college where you had a professor in a religion department who was really exalting in the fact that he was dashing to the rocks the faith of these young evangelical students coming to school, is they will say something to you like this: “There is not a single passage in all the New Testament that says Jesus is God and you evangelicals have just made that up.” Well, you know, we could argue the point of the Theos passages and we could look at eleven passages in the New Testament which come pretty close to using just that language. But once you have granted that person his faulty logic you have a problem. And I might add that a statement like that without qualification in and of itself could actually be a heresy. That could be a “Jesus only” heresy there. Jesus is God and there is no Doctrine of the Trinity. You could interpret even that statement in a heretical fashion. So there is a reason why the New Testament uses the language that it uses in that area and you have to be careful about an argument that says unless you can show it to me in black and white, then clearly it is not there.
That is the argument that heretics used against the Orthodox party in the early church with regard to the Doctrine of Christ, both at Nicaea and Chalcedon. The Arians were arguing, “Well look, we just want to use scriptural language about Jesus and you guys keep wanting to bring in these Greek philosophical terms. Why can’t we just say, ‘Okay we all believe what John 8:38 says, you know, why can’t we just all get along?’” And the Orthodox party said, “Because you are twisting the meaning of Scripture we have got to find language that you can’t use, in order to convey what the Scripture is trying to convey because you are claiming to believe what the Scripture says, when in fact you are undercutting the doctrine of the Scripture. So we don’t care whether you parrot the language of Scripture when you are undercutting what it means.” So there the distinction between what it says and what it means becomes significant.
3. Murray’s third argument against the use of the terminology of “Covenant of Works” was it is something that is used in a redemptive relationship in the Scripture. No question. It is overwhelmingly used in redemptive relationships in Scripture. But let me mention that there are certainly blessing and spiritual overtones to this relationship established in the Garden. Yes, it is true that there is no demerit to be overcome here. But there are certainly what we might call saving, eternal, nontemporal blessings that are in view to be conveyed to Adam in the Garden under the Covenant of Works. In other words, it is not merely an earthly blessing that is contemplated in Genesis 1 and 2. And so again, I don’t think that the argument, “Well everywhere else we find it, it is connected with something redemptive,” is valid. It is just lexically true. From Genesis 6:18, following, you are already in a redemptive framework. Only two chapters of the Bible are in a nonredemptive setting and everything else is in a redemptive setting. I mean you haven’t discovered much by saying that.
4. The final thing, of course, that he argues is that covenant also always involves security. It is there to assure you that you can’t lose your salvation. And what happens here? Well, Adam rebels against God. He is kicked out of the Garden. The relationship fails. And what do you say about that? Well, you simply say this. There would have been all the security in the world under this relationship if Adam had obeyed. And the problem wasn’t in the covenant; the problem was in Adam. It was Adam’s disobedience that caused the insecurity of this particular relationship and, of course, that is the uniqueness of this relationship that in the Covenant of Works; there is no provision for blessing despite demerit. That is the glory of the New Covenant, and in fact I don’t think we can properly appreciate that fact about the Covenant of Grace until we see the fact that God can enter into a relationship where there is no provision for blessing despite disobedience. You know the relationship between God and the fallen angels: Fallen angels, they don’t get a second chance. There is no provision for forgiveness for the fallen angels. So when God enters into the Covenant of Grace, He is doing something quite extraordinary.
Influences on Murray
Now, here is the inside scoop. As Donald Macleod talked with John Murray when he came back from Scotland, there were a number of things that had made a major impact on Murray with regard to Covenant Theology. For one thing, Murray was impacted by Vos and by a guy named Adolph Desmond. Desmond was a big time German New Testament scholar at the turn of the twentieth century who had argued very strongly that Covenant should not be translated as a contract or a treaty or a mutual relationship, but it ought to be translated as a disposition or a testament, something that was one-sided as opposed to two-sided. And Desmond did this because he had uncovered all this literature from Greek legal documents contemporary to the New Testament and many New Testament scholars followed Desmond for a period of time. His views have since then been overturned, but he was very influential in the first part of the twentieth century. And so Murray was very influenced by this one-sided idea of covenant. And he found the obediential aspect of the historic Covenant of Works to be a little two-sided for his taste. So, you will see him, when he defines covenant in his little tract called The Covenant of Grace, he will define it in a very one-sided, a very monopluric sort of way. And he is following Vos there and he is following Desmond.
But, the other interesting thing is, is that Murray indicated to Macleod that he had actually been impacted a bit by Barth’s argumentation on the nature of the Covenant of Works and so although Murray would have been stridently in opposition to Barth’s doctrine of the Scripture and his doctrine of the Atonement, yet he was swayed to a certain extent by some of Barth’s arguments regarding Covenant of Works. And Macleod had opportunity to interact with him on that and argue against those particular points, but Murray held to his objections and to this day, Westminster Seminary has tended to be a little bit skittish about the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace framework. You will hear more guys coming out of Westminster talking about The Adamic Administration, unless they were big fans of Meredith Kline when they were there. And there is a rather nasty little fight that goes on between the descendents of Murray and now Gaffin, and the descendants of Kline over this whole issue. There has been a pretty significant division on precisely this issue with Kline insisting on the language of the Covenant of Works, and with Murray having problems with that language. So if you run across articles by Calvinists out of the Westminster sphere, and sense that there is an argument going on that you don’t know why, this may be one of the origins of that particular argument.
The Covenant of Commencement – Robertson
Now God’s sovereignty is stressed throughout the account by reminding us, for instance, that even the Lord made the serpent. Notice the phraseology of the passage, “The serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” So, even though you may fear when you are reading some of these early narratives by Moses that Moses is depicting a God who isn’t quite in control, there are ever so clever indications throughout of the absolute sovereignty of God. In this narrative you may be wondering, “What in the world is Satan doing interfacing with God’s creation like this if God’s in control?” And then later, when Cain sins, you may be wondering, “Why does God react like He does?” Or at the end of Genesis 3, when God says, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us knowing good and evil, now lest he stretch out his hand and take from the tree of life and eat and live forever, let Us drive him from the Garden.” You may feel like, “Well, is God indicating that man can do something that He wouldn’t be able to control?” And you can go to the story of the Tower of Babel and see God disrupting that process and saying, “We have got to go down and intervene lest they build a building to the skies.” And it sounds like God is something less than sovereignly in control.
But upon closer examination, Moses is actually providing some pretty, sometimes some clever, theological humor. To give you an example on the Tower of Babel scenario, what does Moses tell you that they were building the tower out of? Anybody remember? Bricks and mortar. Now Moses knew a little bit about bricks, didn’t he? He had supervised the making of a few bricks in his day, okay. He could tell you about bricks and mortar as a building material. Okay. He had seen a people have to make brick without straw. He knew what the significance of that was. And in Moses’ world, bricks were an inferior building material to stone. So when Moses tells you that they were going to build a tower to the sky out of bricks and mortar, it is kind of like, “Ha, ha, ha, they are going to do what?”
Now again, on top of that you know that the idea was not that they were literally going to build a tower into heaven, but this was going to be in the form of a ziggurat, just like some of the great structures that archeologists have unearthed in that world there today. So there are subtle things in the text to let you know that Moses didn’t have the slightest fear that God was somehow going to lose control of this situation. The fallacious man is shown at every point, and even so in this passage, Satan, the great enemy of God, the serpent, who is craftier than any beast which the Lord God has made. So the Lord God is in complete control in this passage.
But the tempter begins with an insinuation against the Lord rather than an argument. The question that he puts initially to the woman in Genesis 3:1 is not meant to query whether God had said what He has said. “Has God said you may not eat from any tree of the Garden?” The question is put to the woman in order to entice her to question God’s judgment. Notice, Satan makes God’s prohibition harsher than it is. Think how often the world does this to Christians. You know Christianity doesn’t let you do anything fun. That is sort of the thrust of this particular argument. I mean God doesn’t let you do anything. He is not going to let you eat from any of the trees in the Garden. So the prohibition, the restriction, is overstated at that point. And his question, “Has God said” is not saying to Eve, “Did God say that?” It is saying, “Is He so unreasonable as to have made that kind of restrictive prohibition?” He is inviting Eve to question God’s judgment. He is inviting Eve to do what? To stand in judgment over the Lord. And that is the essence of rebellion—where you forget that God made you and now you stand in rebellion over the Lord.
One of the brightest high school students that I ever had the privilege of working with, is now a godly wife and mother of an active church officer in Nashville, Tennessee. When she first came to St. Louis, her father had been transferred with a major telephone company into St. Louis and they had been going to relatively moderate to liberal kinds of Presbyterian churches. They accidentally stumbled into our PCA church and the father really didn’t like the church, but the kids loved it, and the mom loved it and so they sort of begged Dad to settle in and come to our church. But interacting with Nancy was always a challenge because she was very intelligent and she was very sensitive. And when we were tackling the doctrine of Hell, you know, it wasn’t something detached and intellectual for her. It was real. And I will never forget the look in her eyes, that Wednesday night when it dawned on her that I really believed that there was a hell and that there were people there. And you know, she cared about me, and I cared about her, and she said, “I just can’t believe that you believe that.” And we engaged in a long discussion that night about how there could be a hell—how could there be a hell, if there is a loving God. How could a loving God create a place like that? And how could He send people to be there? And by the way, it was Nancy who drove the point home to me that the problem is not what people often think it is. So often people lock into the problem of how people get to hell, (aka “Predestination versus free will”). That is kid stuff. The problem is hell. Who cares how somebody gets there? The problem is the fact that it is there and that there are people in it. That is the real problem. And Nancy, she had locked onto that with her sharp mind, just like a bulldog and wouldn’t let go. And we went round and round. And frankly, she had me baffled. I had run out of all my apologetic bag of tricks in terms of trying to argue this point with her. She knew that I had a strong biblical presentation of the truth, but she couldn’t accept that truth because the pain of that truth was so great to her. She just couldn’t get her head around it. And finally I said to her, I said, “Nancy, are you a sinner?” “Yes, I am a sinner.” “And you do things that hurt your parents and hurt your friends from time to time? You do wrong things?” “Yes, I do.” “And you are unfair sometimes and you are unkind and you agree with that?” “Yes, absolutely I do.” And I said, “Let me ask you this: Has God ever done anything wrong to you?” “Oh, no, of course not.” “Has He ever been unfair to you?” “No, never.” “And you believe that God is good?” “Absolutely. I believe God is good.” And I said, “Well, let me ask you this: So what you are saying is really this, that you, Nancy, who admit that you are sinner, you are worried that God is going to do something wrong here?” And she stopped for few minutes and she said, “Now I guess that is what I am saying.” I said, “You Nancy, who hurt people, who admit to me that God has never hurt you and never done wrong and He has never been unfair, you’re just a little afraid that He might be a bit out of line on this particular thing? Isn’t that what you are saying?” “I guess that is what I am saying.” I said, “That is kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? That you and me, sinners, worry that the perfect God might do something wrong?” Now in the sincerity of her question, and I want you to hear, I am not downplaying the sincerity of that question, there was hidden rebellion. Because she had decided that she was more caring, more loving, more concerned about people than God. And she is not, and you are not, and I am not. But she had lifted her sense of compassion above the Almighty’s and she was concerned that something that God had said in His Word was less compassionate than she would be if she were in charge.
And that is the essence of rebellion and that was what Satan was trying to tempt Eve with; that was the direction that he wanted her to go. And Eve answers pretty well initially, you’ll see there in verse 2, she says, “From the fruit of the tree, we may eat.” So she contradicts him. She says, ”No, we can eat from the fruit of the trees from the Garden, but from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden, God says, you shall not eat it or touch it, or you will die.” So she starts off by contradicting the serpent. She rejects the implication that God has done something that is not very wise or fair or good.
But notice how she already has begun to answer on Satan’s own terms. Two mistakes she makes. First of all, notice that she adds words to the response. She says, she indicates that God had said we are not to touch the fruit, and of course that was not part of the proscription that had been given to Adam in Genesis 2, as far as we know. And given the economy of words in these passages, we may assume that Moses had some specific reason for including that particular report. In other word, if she were just simply expanding on a shortened account that had previously been given, one wonders why Moses would have included that in order to contrast with the previous account that had been given.
Secondly, notice she gives a wrong motive for obedience. She says, “You shall not eat from it, or touch it, lest you die.” So there is an indication here that the motivation is rather than keeping this command for God’s glory, keeping lest we die. So, we already see a crack in the dike here.
Then, Satan openly contradicts the Word of the Lord in verse 4. Notice that Satan quotes the Lord better than Eve does, except he adds a negation. Instead of the Lord’s original words, which were “You shall surely die,” Satan says “You shall surely not die.” And so he emphatically contradicts the Lord. And so we see both in Adam and Eve’s decision in this passage and in Satan’s attack and assault on Lordship, it is rebellion. Satan is rebelling against the Lord’s Word directly. “You know, I am going to contradict what the Lord has said to you.” And Eve and Adam are being tempted to trust their judgment and the advice of Satan more than the Word of the Lord. In both cases, Adam and Eve and the serpent are doing what? Setting themselves up over the Lord to judge for themselves what is right and wrong. So we have got a Lordship issue, we have got a rebellion issue. So sin is depicted as rebellion in this passage.
Verses 6 and 7 make it clear as well that sin always involves shame. Sin always involves shame. You see in verse 7, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and they made themselves coverings.” So disobedience has consequences. And one of the consequences of sin is shame. Utterly unexpected consequences. They had been told that they would be enlightened. They would be like God and what in fact happened was they were in enlightened in a horrifying way. They woke up to an experience that they had never had before. The experience was shame.
Then, it is made clear in verses 8-13 that sin is not only rebellion, sin not only brings shame, it is made clear that sin disrupts divine/human fellowship and human/human fellowship. In other words, it disrupts relationships, both vertically and horizontally: relationships between God and man and between man and man. Verse 8 depicts this loss of relationship with the Lord. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord in among the trees of the Garden. So there is estrangement, man in hiding because of his sin.
Then we see in the following verses, especially 9-11 the estrangement between Adam and Eve. Isn’t it interesting, in verse 8 we are told that the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord. So the two of them together hid themselves among the trees. And then we have in verse 9, the Lord God called the man and said to him, “Where are you?” and he said, “I heard the sound of You in the Garden, I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.” The personal pronouns are overwhelming in this passage. Where did Eve go? She just disappeared off the face of the earth. Now maybe we can relate to the psychology of that, you know when you are caught red-handed and suddenly you’re the only person in the world because you were just caught red-handed. But you can already see the fracturing of the relationship. It is every man for himself at this point. Eve, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, all of that is gone in a flash. And then, of course, the blame shifting begins. “Who told you, who gave you?” “The woman, which You made, you know. It is her fault and it is Your fault, Lord.” And so this is the scenario that confronts us when we come to Genesis 3:14-24.
Now it is also interesting as we look at these curses, no question is put to the serpent, you know. God speaks to Adam first, and questions him. He speaks to Eve, and questions her. And then immediately begins a curse against the serpent. Why? Because he was already convicted and already excluded from pardon. The fact that Satan is in the Garden in the form of serpent lets you know that the Fall in the angelic world has already taken place. There couldn’t have been a tempter there if the fall of Satan and his angels hadn’t already occurred. And God has absolutely no intention of remedying that rebellion. And it stands as a stark reminder at the outset that what God is about to do for Eve and for Adam, He doesn’t have to do this. He could continue to be the God of love eternally and not remedy their sin. And it magnifies the glory of His grace that He does precisely that. He remedies sin. He inaugurates a program of redemption.
Now this word in Genesis 3:14 is formally spoken to the serpent, but it is directed towards Satan. And it is also important to note that this curse contains implicit blessing. In fact, it may contain the greatest of the blessings stated in all the curses, especially in verse 15. Genesis 3:15 shows us a divinely established enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. And that enmity, that warfare, that strife, is the most blessed strife that has ever existed in the history of mankind. Because God to put enmity between Satan and the woman is to drive a wedge between the woman and the enemy of her soul. For God to say, “I am establishing a never-ending war between Eve, between her descendants, between the serpent, and his descendants,” is to say, “I am putting up a barrier of protection for the woman and for her descendants after her to protect her from concluding a false peace with the serpent and his descendants.” So this is the most blessed thing that God could ever do, is to establish warfare. And the whole framework of the Christian life in our wilderness experience in the Old Testament as it is described and our spiritual warfare described in the New Testament flows from this. There are many times we yearn for peace in this life, a cessation of this warfare. That would be the most dangerous thing that could ever happen because this is the most blessed war that was ever inaugurated. It is a just war. It is there for the eternal benefit of our souls. And it is inaugurated right there in Genesis 3:15 when God says, “and I will put enmity between you and the woman.”
The talking serpent.
A couple of comments about the talking serpent before we move on. Let me say that I think this is another element of the narrative that Moses is highlighting to remind us how ridiculous this rebellion of Eve is. There is no indication that there were other talking animals in the Garden. The talking serpent should have definitely been a red light for Eve. Again, we have the picture of an animal tempting and arguing with a human when just a few verses previously, who had been put in charge of the animals? The humans. There again is a picture of what happens, the reversal of order and priorities. when sin occurs. So there is a second element of the narrative designed to point out the irony of sin. Finally, this idea of Satan inhabiting the body of an animal is not unheard of. Think of pigs in the New Testament, remember? And the idea of an animal being used to convey revelatory spiritual truth is not unheard of. Remember Balaam's ass. And by the way, I love that narrative in Numbers on Balaam's ass in the King James Version. Go back and read it sometime because Balaam's ass, you remember, keeps talking to Balaam and you know what the first word of response of Balaam is to his ass in the King James Version? “Nay.” And I have always gotten a kick out of that. You know, here is Balaam saying “Nay,” and the ass saying, “You know but Balaam, we can’t go that direction, there is an angel.” So Calvin says this about the talking serpent:
“Though the impious make a noise, there is nothing justly to offend us in the mode of speaking as a serpent by which Moses describes Satan. Add to this the baseness of human ingratitude is more clearly hence perceived, that when Adam and Eve knew that all animals were given by the hand of God into subjection to them, yet they suffered themselves to be lead away by one of their own slaves into rebellion against God. As often as they beheld one of the animals, which were in the world, they ought to have been reminded by that both of the supreme authority and the singular goodness of God. But on the contrary when they saw the serpent and apostate from his Creator, not only did they neglect to punish it, but in violation of all lawful order, they subjected and devoted themselves to it as participators in the same apostasy. What can be imagined more dishonorable than this extreme depravity? And thus I understand the name of the serpent, not allegorically as some foolishly do, but in its genuine sense.”
And so that is Calvin’s response to the allegorical interpretation of the serpent. That was a good question. I just wanted to mention that briefly since someone had asked about that at the end of class.
God’s curse on the serpent
The curse of the Lord against the serpent in Genesis 3:15. We have said here that in this curse there is implicit blessing for mankind, because for God to put enmity between Satan and the woman is to drive a wedge between the woman and the enemy of her soul. And in fact, we have the seed form here in this doctrine of the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent in Genesis 3:15—by the way that theme will run throughout the book of Genesis and be picked up by Paul in Galatians, especially with regard to the seed of Abraham—but in this passage, beginning here in Genesis 3:15, we have the seed of the doctrine of predestination. We have God clearly dividing the world into two camps, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and we have God taking initiative for the woman in her salvation. So you have the seed of the doctrine of election. By our nature, we are at enmity with God, but by His will, He changes our nature so that we are at enmity with Satan. And so this enmity is the most wonderful enmity that there can be for a sinner.
Now, the enmity is on three fronts in Genesis 3:15. Look closely at the passage. First, God says, “between you and the woman,” speaking to the serpent. So it is between Satan and the woman; there is an individual enmity to begin with between Satan and the woman.
Why does the Lord begin by establishing enmity between the serpent and the woman? Well, first, because the woman was the first seduced. So He begins with her in the remedy to the seduction. She was first seduced into sin and so God immediately begins His remedy with her. Second, because this enmity establishes the role that the woman will have in redemption. It establishes the role that the woman will have in redemption. By her, the door of sin was opened into the world. But now she will have a role in salvation. That is, the woman will be the bearer of the seed. And the seed, eventually Jesus, will be the source of salvation. So even as she was the door of sin into this world, so also, she will be the bearer of the seed of salvation.
Notice the second level of enmity, the enmity between the seeds: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. So this is an expansion of the conflict. There is not just individual conflict between Satan and Eve, but between their seeds.
Now, who is the woman’s seed? To whom is that referring? Eve was the mother of Cain, just as well as she was the mother of Abel, so who is this seed referring to? It does not refer to all mankind clearly. Clearly. The seed of the woman is not every human being descended from Eve. That is made clear as soon as we get to Genesis 4:8. And John tells us explicitly in I John 3:12 that Cain was of the evil one. So though Cain was physically the son of Eve, yet spiritually, he was of the seed of the serpent.
Now that again reminds us that family lineage is no guarantee of grace. He may have been in the physical family of Adam and Eve, but yet he was of the seed of the serpent. So when we refer to the woman’s seed, it can’t mean all mankind because immediately in Genesis 4, we come upon one of her descendants who is of the evil one. So, who does it refer to? It refers to the descendants of the woman in whom God sets enmity against Satan. It refers to all of the descendants of the woman in whom God sets enmity against Satan. And we will look at some examples of this in just a few minutes.
Who is Satan’s seed? Well, all those in whom God did not set enmity with Satan. And Moses gives you a string of them from Genesis 4 through Genesis 11 and further.
One last thing, before we look at an example of this theme of the seeds in Genesis. If you look at the third front of enmity in Genesis 3:15, you will see this phrase, it or he, shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heal. And notice here that the conflict is again individual. The conflict between you, Satan, and it, or he, the singular seed of the woman.
So two representatives, one representing all the hardened hosts of hell, the other representing the redeemed hosts of God, engage in hand-to-hand combat. And so the history of redemption is the history of God-originated enmity culminating in the conflict between Satan and the singular seed who is Christ, Paul says in Galatians 3:16.
And the development of this conflict between the two seeds can be seen in the period recorded by Moses in Genesis 4 – 11. You can see the seed of Satan in the life of Cain in Genesis 4:1-17. You can see it in the life of Lamech in Genesis 4:19-24. You can see it in the description of Noah’s contemporaries in Genesis 6:1-6, and you remember the phrase, “and every intention of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” That is the description of Noah’s contemporaries. Then again you can see it in Nimrod, the man hunter, in Genesis 10:8-10 and then you can see it in Genesis 11:1-9 in the builders of the Tower of Babel. So you see this theme developing there. Those who follow in the line of Cain in wickedness.
On the other hand, we can see the seed of the woman and God’s grace on the seed of the woman in Genesis 4-11. In Genesis 4:25-26, we see Seth as one who is in the line of grace and under whose influence people began to call out upon the Lord and corporately worship. We see the godly Enoch in Genesis 5:22-24, we see the godly Lamech in Genesis 5:28-29, father to Noah. And we see Noah himself in Genesis 6:8-9, and verse 22 as part of the seed of the woman. So when we refer to Genesis 3:15 as the first giving of the Gospel, as the protoevangelium, that is not just wishful thinking by allegorizing early church interpreters. Clearly here, we have in Genesis 3:15, the very seed of the Gospel. Matthew Henry says this; “For by faith in this promise, we have reason to think our first parents and the patriarchs before the flood were justified.” And so in this establishment of enmity between the woman and Satan and between her seed and his seed, we see the very root of the Gospel and of divine election.
So this warfare is the very evidence of life and grace. That is very important for us to remember, pastorally speaking. We will have many Christian friends, perhaps ourselves, who will be depressed from time to time, because of the eternal turmoil we have because of sin in our lives. And yet an appropriate sorrow and concern over indwelling sin is not a sign of spiritual death. It is a sign of spiritual life. It is when I am trying to deny that I have sin to deal with that I am in trouble, not when I am grieving over the continual fight against sin. That is a sign of spiritual life. And that flows from the reality of this enmity that God has established. This kind of warfare is the very evidence of life and grace. If we can be at peace with sin, or reject the message of repentance, that is the sign of soul sickness. That is the sign of death.
And notice how often in the history of the church, the call of those who are the tool of Satan within the church is to do what? To make peace with the world. We see that is not our call to make. The church is called to say “No” to the world, not because it hates the world, understand that. This feeds into a good question that was asked earlier. When we start talking about the “us and them”—the divide between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent—doesn’t that lead into an attitude that builds an improper hatred for those who are created in the image of God and yet not redeemed, and as such, how do we relate to them?
The church must say “No” to the world; the church must refuse to be at peace with the world in order to love the world. So you can’t say “yes” to the church until you have first said “no” to the world. You can’t say, “I love you truly,” until you have been willing to say, “I will not tell you that what will destroy you is good for you.” So you are not loving a person when you say, “Oh yes, I love you and you just go right on in that behavior which will land you in hell,” anymore that you could tell a friend who is an alcoholic, “I love you so much that I am going to buy booze for you.” That is not loving. So the church must say “no” to the world in order that it can say, “yes” to the world. There must be that divine enmity in order that we can preach the Gospel of peace.
So the enmity is not there so that we can build an improper hatred towards unredeemed human beings. The enmity is there so that we see that proper distinction between grace and condemnation, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between sinners saved by grace and sinners who have not yet owned their sin. That barrier must stay there in order for the church to have anything to say to the world. If we are no different than they are, then I have nothing to say to them of use or of help. So the distinction must be there, not so that we can beat our breasts and feel really smug and proud like the Pharisee, but the distinction must be there so that we can say we understand the circumstance that you are in, we have been there ourselves, but by God’s grace we have been brought from that and we know that God’s grace can change your life as well. And if you will not turn you will face the consequence of the sin. So the distinction is there not so that we can feel really good about ourselves, but so that we truly have something to offer to someone else. If we are no different from them, it is all the same. If there is no enmity between the church and the world, the church has nothing to say to the world.
Notice also the phrase, “he will rule over you.” Now though there was already headship and hierarchy in the created order, in the husband-wife relationship, the implication is here that there will be as a result of sin an element of discord in the marital relationship, and that even as the woman may have inappropriate desires of control, the man may have inappropriate responses of subjection. So we see again here the order of headship in the marriage part of creation. But the abuse of that order in marital life is a function of the Fall. And it is not unfair to say that every marital difficulty can be traced to this point of origin. And our commitment to marriage requires us to be aware of that dynamic and to combat it consciously in our own minds. And it is not surprising that Satan attacks here at this point.
Now in the curse to Adam, we see another of the Creation Ordinances confirmed. That ordinance of labor or of dominion. In verses 17 – 19 we see God’s curse to Adam. And notice the mercy of this curse. Adam is not cursed directly. Notice the language, “cursed is the ground because of you.” A terrible and pervasive sentence is passed on to the world and his environment because of Adam’s sin. And Adam’s punishment included three distinct aspects.
1. First, toil in his labor (pain or heaviness is the literal translation of the word there). Pain or heaviness in his labor in the ground. Notice again, the creation ordinance of labor continues. The creation ordinance of labor continues. Labor is not the curse; toil in labor is the curse.
2. Secondly, the fruits of his labor will be impaired. Not only would there be toil and producing a yield, but there would be an impairment of the fruits of his labor. “Thorns and thistles will grow for you,” God says in verse 18. This parallels Jesus’ statements in Matthew, does it not, where He speaks about a place where “moth and rust corrupts and thieves break in,” in contrast to the kingdom of heaven. This is the same idea here with the thorns and thistles. Listen to what Derek Kidner says about thorns and thistles: “Thorns and thistles are eloquent signs of nature untamed and encroaching. In the Old Testament they marked the scenes of man’s self defeat and God’s judgment.” He also has a wonderful and suggestive word about what man’s labor would have been like apart from the fall. Listen to this sentence and see if it doesn’t bring ideas to mind: “The nature miracles of Jesus give us some idea of the control which man under God may have exercised over his environment.” Think about that.
3. The third aspect of Adam’s punishment: No earthly rest from burdens. They will plague him all the days of his life. Only at the very end of Adam’s sentence is death mentioned. You will eat bread until you return to the ground. And again, that is evidence of God’s grace to Adam in delaying the immediate execution of the sentence of physical death. But in both the curse or the condemnations handed out to woman and to man, God’s grace and mercy are manifest. Even in His punishment, there is a reemphasis on the creation ordinances and the blessings that are attached to them, in contrast to Satan’s sentence. Any questions about that so far?
Question: The Covenant of Grace as bilateral
A. The importance of the Covenant of Works and the bilateral aspects of that come to play in Christ’s work on our behalf in the Covenant of Grace. And clearly there is just as strong a bilateral element to Christ’s work on our behalf as there is in Adam. In fact you can make a case that Christ has to do much more than Adam was asked to do. For one thing, Christ was born in a world where there was already a ceremonial law, and Adam was not. And so Christ not only had to obey the laws of nature under the Covenant of Works, but the ceremonial code which was a burdensome code. In addition, He had to do it in a fallen world. And in addition, He had to subject Himself to a type and station of relationship which was, as it were, beneath His dignity. So the beauty of that bilateral relation paralleling in both Covenant of Grace and Covenant of Works is that it highlights Christ’s role on our behalf. Now, from our standpoint, you know that is where it becomes asymmetrical because the obediential element of the Covenant of Grace is not the same for you and me as it was for Christ. The beauty of the Covenant of Grace is Christ is fulfilling that obediential aspect on our behalf and so our obedience is of a different kind and order than His. That is a good question.
Question: “I just wondered as we are looking at how
chapter two ends, how the curse ends for Adam, is the significance that we are
seeing in the two covenants in the fact that the redemptive quality is not seen
with Adam. All we see is that in him as our federal head leads to death, should
we be making a strong connection that now that the woman, a new federal head
must be given to us because through him, the way his curse is ended, it is just
you shall return to dust, so in Adam as we go through Genesis they die. Are we
supposed to be connecting that in the fact that we have a new, somebody new has
to step into the scene? Adam has been relieved of duty.”
A: Yes. Clearly the promise of, you know, of a new representative is not vested in Adam and the finality of that and you shall return to dust may be part of the rhetorical emphasis of that. But it is clearly there in Genesis 3:15 with regard to a descendant or a child of Adam and Eve. And there is indication in both at the beginning and the ending of Genesis 4 that Eve was already looking for that, first in Abel, and then later in Seth. And wondering is this the one who is the seed? So, I would agree with that, that the terminal language about Adam reminds you that he can’t serve that role as a dual mediator for both these relations, you have got to be looking somewhere else.
Question: “Robertson speaks of death and the fig
leaves and clothing. Is that a vague reference to some type of sacrifice?”
A: Oh, I don’t think you have to try and make the garments some sort of leftovers from a covenant sacrifice or something like that. I think it is very clear, again as we discuss why covenant terminology isn’t used prior, the explicit covenant terminology isn’t used prior to Genesis 6:18, it may have been that some of those ritual conventions were simply not contemporaneous to that time. The ritual conventions are not of the essence to describe the relationship. They are confirming and they certainly develop their own significance in terms of the Doctrine of the Sacraments as the Old Testament goes on. But, I don’t even think you have to try and find some sort of ritual aspect of death at the inauguration of the covenant. Clearly, just as death was implied in the breaking of the Covenant of Works, we’re going to see what happens when one cuts themselves off from the Covenant of Grace even in the book of Genesis. You will see it in the language of Genesis 4 and then you will see it again: where does Ishmael take his leave from Abraham’s family? Is it Genesis 18, or is it later? Anyway, you will see the same language, they went and they dwelled to the east of their brethren and so you will see on at least three occasions, sons, in the physical line which you might think of as the line of promise, you will see them take leave of the covenant. With Esau, and in Ishmael, and in Cain, and so the death implication, the spiritual death implications are clearly there for the Covenant of Grace from the beginning.