The Christ of the Covenants: Chapter 5 (The Covenant of Creation)

The covenant of creation may be understood in terms of its general (man’s general responsibilities toward God as Creator) and focal (man’s specific responsibilities within the probationary period) aspects.

Man’s general responsibilities:

  • Sabbath:
    • The significance of the Sabbath appears not just in God’s ordering of creation, but as well in that he blessed/sanctified the Sabbath. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2.27); this reflects God’s very purpose in blessing and sanctifying it at Creation.
    • Moses commanded the Israelites to remember and keep the Sabbath to reflect God’s work-rest pattern in Creation (Ex. 20.8, 10-11), and this rest was to extend to the beasts of the field (which indicates that the Sabbath provides rest to the whole of creation through man).
    • Man is to be refreshed in the creation by refraining from work (Ex. 23.12; 31.17).
    • That the Sabbath is a creation ordinance means that man is given rest in order to honor God as Creator. Man is to bring himself and the fruit of his labor to be consecrated before God.
    • There were three “Sabbaths” in Israel: the weekly Sabbath, the Sabbath year, and Jubilee.
      • The Sabbath year: every seven years, the land was to rest and enjoy a Sabbath to the Lord (Lev. 25.4). This reflects that though man could use the land, it nonetheless belonged to God.
      • The Jubilee year was the end of seven groups of seven years, or the 50th year (Lev. 25.8-22). At the sound of the trumpet, liberty was proclaimed throughout the land, and all debts were cancelled. Isaiah used the Jubilee to herald the work of the Messiah (Isa. 61.1-3). Jesus affirmed himself as the messiah in Luke 4.18-19.
    • The Sabbath explains God’s covenant dealings with his people. Israel was in captivity in Egypt. God led them through the wilderness in order to give them rest in Canaan. Moses anticipated this rest (Deut. 12.9-10), but even though Joshua did bring Israel into Canaan, this was not the promised rest on account of Israel’s sin in the wilderness (Psa. 95.11). Because Joshua could not give Israel its promised rest, the Sabbath rest yet remained (Heb. 4.8-9). Furthermore, Israel’s sin meant that the land never truly enjoyed its Sabbath while Israel was in Canaan. It was due an accumulation of Sabbaths (Lev. 26.33-35), which it enjoyed during Israel’s exile (2 Chr. 36.21).
    • While Exodus tied the Sabbath to creation, Deuteronomy tied it to redemption (Deut. 5.12). The old covenant anticipated the Sabbath as it anticipated redemption, but the new covenant looks back on it. The new covenant believer looks back on the day that God blessed & sanctified his people through Christ. Hence, the Sabbath begins the Christian’s week rather than ending it. Nonetheless, it is not the promised Sabbath, which yet remains for the people of God at their resurrection.
  • Marriage:
    • “One flesh” refers to the abiding condition of union in marriage, not to temporal moments of oneness (i.e. sex).
    • Man is unable to keep the covenant alone; hence, God created a helper suitable to him (Gen. 2.18). Paul stated that man was not created for woman, but woman for man (1 Cor. 11.9). Man’s purpose in creation is not defined vis a vis the woman, but woman’s purpose in creation is defined vis a vis the man. (This relates specifically within the context of marriage, not broadly to all male-female relationships.) Nonetheless, they are intertwined, for they cannot accomplish their tasks apart from the other (1 Cor. 11.11-12). Indeed, man owes his very existence to woman.
    • Woman’s suitability as a helper (above the rest of the creation) is that she is made in God’s image and likeness, equal to man. Woman’s “help” is specifically with respect to bringing creation to its consummation goal, for in heaven there is no marriage (Matt. 22.30). The woman’s role will no longer be defined vis a vis the man, but she will be complete.
    • Given the fall, the marriage covenant is fractured, as is man’s image. In light of the present distress (1 Cor. 7.26), there is no disagreement between Gen. 2.18 (it is not good that man should be alone) and 1 Cor. 7.1 (it is good that a man not marry).
    • Polygamy, homosexuality and divorce contradict the creational order of marriage, although divorce is permissible where the union has been irreconcilably broken (Matt. 5.32; cf. 1 Cor. 7.15).
  • Labor:
    • God does not merely command six days of labor, but labor according to the pattern of creation.
    • Made in God’s image, man has a unique responsibility to “subdue” the earth and rule over every living creature (Gen. 1.27-28).

Man’s focal responsibility:

  • God specifically commanded man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2.16-17).
  • If man’s focal responsibility is not viewed as an organic unity with his general responsibilities, then we risk separating man’s spiritual identity from his cultural identity.
    • This is the error of fundamentalism, which conceives of Christianity specifically with respect to the salvation of the soul rather than seeing salvation as restorative of man’s very purpose in life within the covenant.
  • Yet man’s focal responsibility was the test of his general obedience. Pass the test and be assured of the blessing promised him within the covenant of creation.
  • Only the Word of God indicated the unique status of the tree. The tree itself was just a tree apart from God’s Word.
  • Adam is not a generic figure standing in the place of every man, but a real historic figure whose decision impacted the status of all men.
  • Later, Israel would undergo a testing in the wilderness to teach them that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8.3; cf. Matt. 4.1).
  • The role of the tree of life is difficult to determine precisely within the context of Adam’s probation, but since it was denied to him after the fall, it appears to represent the power of God to sustain man in his present condition (Gen. 3.22).
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