August 16, 2013

The Greatest Story Ever Told

by Mike Riccardi

Recently I had the opportunity to teach a condensed class on an introduction to hermeneutics, or basic principles of Bible interpretation. One of the things we mentioned was the importance of understanding the parts in light of the whole—of keeping the big picture in mind as we seek to understand the scenes frame by frame. Today I’d like to share with you what I celebrated with them.

Greatest StoryGod’s goal in all of His creative and redemptive work is to bring glory to Himself (Isa 43:7; cf. Eph 1:6, 12, 14).

This is expressed in His creation mandate to Adam and Eve, in which He commissions man, as those uniquely made in His image, to rule over the earth in righteousness (Gen 1:28). Man is to bring glory to God by their manifesting His presence as His vice-regent throughout all creation.

But immediately Adam and Eve fail in their commission. The serpent deceives Eve, Adam eats of the forbidden tree, and in that moment the human race is catapulted into spiritual death and damnation (Gen 3:1–7).

The Seed of the Woman

And just as immediately, God graciously promises that He will send the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent and undo the damage of man’s curse into sin (Gen 3:15). And the story of Genesis, and really the story of the Old Testament, becomes the story of answering the question: “Who is this seed by which man will be redeemed and restored to God?”

  • Eve thought it might have been Abel as one for whom the Lord had regard (Gen 4:4), but Cain killed him right away (Gen 4:8).
  • Eve then bore Seth, and believed that he might be the seed. At his birth, Eve said, “God has appointed me another offspring [i.e., “seed”] in place of Abel, for Cain killed him” (Gen 4:25). But Seth wasn’t the promised seed.
  • Noah’s father, Lamech, thought that Noah might be the seed, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed” (Gen 5:29; cf. 3:17). But, of course, saving the world was the one thing that Noah could not do, because every intent of the thought of man’s heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5). Far from saving the world, Noah saw God destroy the world by means of the flood (Gen 6:17). Aside from this, even after the flood, and after God established His covenant with Noah, Noah becomes drunk and has that shameful scene with his sons (Gen 9:20–29). Noah will not be the seed.
  • The next scene is the Tower of Babel, where mankind is pictured as rebelling against the divine commission to fill the earth (cf. Gen 9:1) and pridefully seeking to make a name for himself (Gen 11:4). This is not the way man as God’s vice-regent is to conduct himself. As a result, God confuses their languages and makes it virtually impossible to recognize the seed even when he does come. God sets the stage for the need of His own grace.

The Seed of Abraham

Immediately after the Tower of Babel, God chooses Abraham out of all the nations. He enters into covenant with him and promises to make a great nation of his descendants [i.e., of his seed] (Gen 12:2), to give them a land (Gen 12:7), and to bless the entire world by means of that seed (Gen 12:3). The seed of the woman is narrowed down now to the seed of Abraham. The seed will come from this particular nation.

The Abrahamic Covenant is ratified with Isaac and Jacob as the book of Genesis unfolds, and that section of Scripture chronicles the making of that great nation of Israel. Finally, through the story of Joseph, the nation finds themselves in slavery in Egypt, and the Lord raises up Moses to mediate God’s redemption of Israel from slavery.

The Faithful Israelite

God takes His people, whom He’s already joined to Himself in covenant with Abraham, and enters into covenant with them as a nation at Sinai. The Sinaitic (or Mosaic) Covenant, then, is not merely a list of commandments by which one becomes the people of God. Rather, it is a covenant that graciously reveals how those who are already God’s people are to properly relate to Him.

Golden CalfAnd though Israel is quick to affirm their intended obedience (Exod 24:3), Moses could barely return from the mountain before they had fallen into idolatry (Exod 32:1–6). This incident with the golden calf sets the stage for the showcasing of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God’s covenant throughout the rest of the Old Testament.

As soon as they enter the land of Canaan, they fail to fully drive out the pagans there. Rather than maintaining the pure worship of Yahweh, they fall to the syncretism and idolatry of the nations (Judges 1).

The Righteous Deliverer

The repeating story of the book of Judges is of Israel’s falling into sin, their experiencing the oppression of the nations as a result, their crying out to Yahweh for deliverance, and His provision of a deliverer who would give them rest from their enemies. But this happens over and over again. And the people begin to wonder: “When will Yahweh send a judge who will finally deliver us from our enemies?” That’s why a refrain in the book of Judges is: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 17:16; 19:1; 21:25). When would a righteous king come and establish moral purity among the nation?

At the time of Samuel, the last judge, the people rise up, announce they no longer want Samuel to lead them, and demand a king to rule over them like all the nations (1 Sam 8:5). God interprets this as Israel rejecting God Himself as their king (1 Sam 8:7; cf. 10:19). He nevertheless raises Saul up as king. Would he be the righteous king and the strong deliverer Israel hoped for?

No. Saul was a Benjamite (1 Sam 9:1), and the promised king of Israel would come from the line of Judah (Gen 49:10). He also usurps the authority of the priests in offering unlawful sacrifices to Yahweh (1 Sam 13:8–14) and fails to fully destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:9, 17–33).

The Son of David

God then raises up David and enters into covenant with him, promising that one of his descendants (i.e., his seed) will reign on the throne of Israel forever and establish an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam 7; 1 Chr 17). Now, we learn that the promised seed will be (a) the seed of the woman, (b) the seed of Abraham, (c) of the nation of Israel, and (d) the Son of David.

  • One might have supposed that David was that righteous king, but he was a man of bloodshed (2 Sam 16:7–8) and a murderer and an adulterer (2 Sam 11).
  • One also might have supposed that Solomon, the man of peace, would have been that king. But Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and Deuteronomy 17:17 says that Israel’s king must not “multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away.” This is precisely what happened. Solomon was not the promised king.
  • Then, Israel may have looked to Rehoboam. But at this point the monarchy is divided into the ten northern tribes of Israel and the two southern tribes of Judah. The unity of Israel is wounded.

And that brings us to the books of the Kings, where we learn of the history of the wicked kings of Israel and Judah. While there were a smattering of righteous kings in Judah’s history, the constant refrain is that the son of a righteous king would do what is evil in the sight of the Lord.

The Mediator of a New Covenant

The cycle of wickedness continues until the people stand upon the precipice of the Babylonian exile. Israel has already fallen to Assyria in 721, and in the late 600s BC Judah will be taken captive by Babylon. During this time, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy of a coming New Covenant.

A Better CovenantGod will restore Israel to their land (Ezek 36:24, 28), and will put His law in the hearts of His people (Jer 31:33) so that they will walk in His ways (Ezek 36:27). At that time, the law would become power from within rather than pressure from without. He will forgive their sin (Jer 31:34; Ezek 36:25) and cause His Spirit to permanently indwell them and ensure their obedience (Ezek 36:27). He will bring salvation to them through the New Covenant.

But even after Israel returns from exile, they experience no such restoration. Zerubbabel’s temple is nothing like the glory of Solomon’s temple (Ezra 3:12; Hag 2:3). The people intermarry with the nations (Ezra 9) and the priests treat the temple sacrifices of Yahweh with disdain (Mal 1:6–14). But God continues to promise that the Messenger of the Covenant will come (Mal 3:1), that the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings (Mal 4:2).

And for 400 years, that was God’s final word.

Good News of Great Joy

But after those 400 years of silence, both the forerunner and the Messiah Himself are miraculously born. John’s father, Zacharias exults in the dawning of that promised Sun of Righteousness:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on ‘before the LORD to prepare His ways’; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, ‘to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,’ to guide our feet into the way of peace. – Luke 1:76–79

Annunciation

Both Zacharias and Mary declare that God is now fulfilling the promises of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants in the person of Jesus of Nazareth:

He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever. – Luke 1:54–55

[He] has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant– as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—[…] to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father… – Luke 1:69–73

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. – Luke 1:32–33

This Jesus is the Seed of the woman, a human being (Matt 1:17; Lk 1:35; 3:38). He is the Seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16). He is of the nation of Israel, the perfect embodiment of what an Israelite was to be (Isa 49:3), fulfilling the law perfectly (Gal 4:4–5). He is the Son of David (Matt 1:1), the promised King (Lk 1:32–33; 23:3). And by His death and resurrection, by the sacrifice of Himself, He is the Mediator of the New Covenant blessings of forgiveness of sins and the permanent presence of the Holy Spirit (Luke 22:20; Heb 9:15).

And of course, the story doesn’t end there. Jesus is returning soon to set up His kingdom on the earth, to rule on the throne of David in righteousness, to restore His people Israel to their land and to fulfill God’s promises to the nation, and eventually to banish all evil from the earth—to utterly destroy the works of the devil, just as God has promised.

Update: See here for a sort of a Part 2.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • pearlbaker

    Holy Cliff’s Notes, Batman (not that I ever used those, mind, you)! But, seriously, Mike, this is a wonderful article and a great teaching tool, especially when one must be relatively concise. I appreciate the amount of work that went into producing something that is so compact, and, as as always with your work, well-written, clear, and best of all, correct. Thank you!

    • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

      Grateful for your kind words, PB. Praise God for His dealings with us throughout history!

  • http://suzlt.blogspot.com/ Suzanne T

    Beautifully, thoroughly, concisely layed out..excellent teaching tool indeed, one I’ll be referring back to more than once. Thanks so much for this, Mike. It really IS the Greatest story.

    The first thing that popped into mind when I saw the title was the Shai Linne song of the same name..one of his best (in my opinion).

  • CD

    Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

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  • Larry Bouligny

    Thanks Mike. FYI, Gen 32:1-6 should read Ex 32:1-6

    • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

      Thanks! Fixed!

  • http://www.plainlyseen.com/ bmh

    Nice summation, Mike.

  • nannette

    very concise yet well presented salvation history.thumbs up!

  • jew

    What do you think about this?

    http://www.aish.com/jw/s/48892792.html

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