THE PROMISES OF GOD
AND THEIR RELATION TO A FUTURE LIFE
By F. E. MITCHELL
Hero worship has long been a characteristic of the human race, and men have always seemed lost without the help of a leader to guide their thought and action. This has been especially so in religious circles, and even in early Christian days attempts were made to single out particular apostles as leaders specially worthy of allegiance. So among the Christians of Corinth, some claimed to be followers of Paul, some of Peter, and some of Apollos. The Apostle Paul was opposed to these various loyalties. For him these men were merely ministers. God and Jesus Christ, His Son, were the real leaders, through whom all things were possible. Urging his belief, he wrote,
" Let no man glory in men. For all things are yours. Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas (Peter), or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's". (1Cor. 3:21-23).
In most of his descriptions of the things which belonged to the Corinthian, and indeed, to all, believers, we have no difficulty in following the Apostle's thought. There is one idea, however, which seems to need explanation. The Apostle says, " Death is yours ". Such a statement seems against all observation. If there is one thing certain in an uncertain world, it is that in the case of each individual, death will in due time claim his own. " You are Death's ", seems more accurately to define the position. Are we then to assume that the Apostle allowed his enthusiasm to run away with him ? This view is not justified by a study of his writings. Although he was capable of rising to the most sublime heights of expression, and was master of the flashing phrase, his thought is always disciplined, and his argument cogent. It is better, instead of passing over his words as an overstatement, to
remember that he wrote as the Spirit of God moved him, and to try to understand his declaration in conformity with the remainder of Holy Writ. An endeavour of this nature will lead us through the Bible, giving a new sense of its cohesion and unity, and rewarding our search with a realization that, far from being over-enthusiastic, the Apostle was but stating the truth and was fully justified of his exultation.
THE PROMISE IN EDEN
The story opens when human consciousness first realized that life could not continue indefinitely. The words of the Lord God were inexorable.
" In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground. For out of it wast thou taken : for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." (Gen. 3 : 19)
Truly a grim prospect, which grew more and more hopeless as the full import of the sentence became clear. Yet the Lord God had previously spoken other words, not to Adam and his wife, but to the serpent, who had beguiled them to their undoing.
" I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." (Gen. 3 : 15).
This was a cryptic saying which signified more than its face value implied. The bruising of the serpent's head meant its destruction, and the serpent to their minds represented the power by which they had been deceived into sin. The destruction of one snake would not help their situation. What if the Lord God signified by these words the death blow to the sin of which to them the snake was an emblem ? Then, death, the consequence of sin, might also be removed. But how ? The words indicated the woman's seed or descendant as the agent. The situation then was perhaps not so desperate as it had seemed. There was indeed much that remained dark. What could the bruising of the descendant's heel mean ? Would release be soon or even within the experience of Adam and his wife ?
Time alone could answer these questions. That the woman had some idea that death would be removed by means of childbearing is, however, clear from the record. When her firstborn son, Cain, was born she said, "I have gotten a man from (or with the help of) the Lord." (Gen. 4 : 25 The Hebrew " Ish Eth Yahweh " may be translated " A man, even the one who will be "). When Cain proved that he was no conqueror of death by murdering his brother, and later another son, Seth, was born to her, she said, " God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel whom Cain slew." (Gen. 4:1)
None of the three, Cain, Abel, or Seth, was the promised descendant, and many weary ages of the reign of sin and death were in prospect. Yet Eve's words show the trend of her thought. For our part we extract but one fact from the story so far unfolded. It is clear that when the victory of life and good over death and evil was achieved, it would be won by a member of the human race, a seed of the woman.
THE PROMISE TO NOAH
Any hope that the reign of death would be short had to be abandoned as the world population began to increase. The serpent-spirit spread until almost all men were in thrall to it. The earth became full of violence, and every imagination of man's heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6 : 13) .There was no hope for such a corrupt civilization. God determined to destroy it.
So, to use the words of the New Testament, " The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished" (2 Pet. 3 : 6). This drastic action, however, did not mean the end of the human race. Noah and his immediate family were kept alive in the ark, and after the catastrophe became the nucleus for the repopulation of the earth. By the descendants of the three sons of Noah were the nations divided in the earth after the Flood. In connection with the resettlement further information is available which enables us to narrow our search for the means of the conquest of death.
Speaking to his sons, Noah prophesied, " Cursed be Canaan (Ham), a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren. Blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant ". (Gen. 9 : 25-27).
It is to be noted that the blessing is associated with Shem. From this we deduce that the descendant of Eve, who was to remove the consequences of Adam's transgression, was to be from the stock of Shem, or a member of a Semitic race.
THE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM
The new world developed from the sons of Noah was no improvement on the old. Human pride soon raised new barriers between men and God, and once more the earth was corrupt. A second fresh start, similar to the first, was outside the purpose of God. He had given the token of the rainbow that he would not again cut off all flesh by the waters of a flood (Gen. 9:11). Was God then without remedy in face of the rebellion of mankind ? By no means ! A different kind of reply, safeguarding the divine purpose, was adopted on this occasion. God chose one man from the population of the earth, and made him the key man of His plan, resting for the time being the whole weight of His scheme of redemption upon him. This man was Abraham, sometime dweller in Ur of the Chaldees, a city whose advanced state of civilization has been revealed by the excavator in modern times. This civilization Abraham left in full belief of the promise of God, who had said to him, " Get thee out of thy country, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee : and I will make of thee a great nation " (Gen. 12 : 1-2). Abraham obeyed the divine voice, left everything, and went. Travelling by stages through the territory north and west of Mesopotamia, now known as the fertile crescent, not knowing where he was going, he came into Palestine, where it was revealed that he had reached his destination. There he received further divine promises which are vital to our consideration. Here are extracts from them.
"I will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing : and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee, and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Gen. 12 : 2-3).
"Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place; where thou art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward : for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth : so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee (Gen. 13 : 14-17).
Moreover, when Abraham had proved superior to the test which called upon him to be ready to offer as a sacrifice his son Isaac, through whom he hoped to receive the fulfilment of the earlier promises, the angel of the Lord, having first prevented the deed, called out to him :
"By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore ; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies ; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22 : 16-18)
It is clear that this oath of God！sworn on His word and His existence！that the nations will ultimately be blessed, holds tremendous promise for the destiny of the world ; but, in keeping with our theme, we confine ourselves to two considerations arising from these promises. First, they clearly indicate that Abraham the Semite was chosen as the man through whom the divine promise of victory over death should be kept in being. Second, it is an inescapable deduction that if Abraham is to possess everlastingly the land which he then saw at a time when the nations are at rest in happiness, he must live for ever. And since he is now long dead, a means must be found to make him live again, that he may share in the conquest of mortality.
At a later time Abraham's son Isaac, preserved from the altar of sacrifice for the purpose, was assured that he was carrying on the work of his father, when he received this word from God :
"Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee ; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; and I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries ; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 26 : 3-4).
And when Isaac was old, full of faith that these words would be made good, Jacob, his son, received like comfort:
"I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac : the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed : and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the ; west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south : and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 28 : 13-14)
Thus by Divine covenant, Isaac and Jacob were part of the chain of hope. This is the covenant of which the Psalmist sings,
"God's Covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations ; Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant. (Psa. 105 : 8-10).
PROMISE TO JUDAH
From the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel, comprising the Hebrew nation, were developed. In a time of great famine the progenitors of the nation migrated to Egypt in search of food supplies. Their journey corresponded with a period in Egyptian history particularly favourable to foreigners. Furthermore, one of the younger sons of Jacob, Joseph, after a series of misadventures had previously been taken to Egypt as a slave. He had overcome his difficulties so well that he had been able to render the state considerable service in the organization of the food supply before the famine, which affected Egypt as well as Palestine, and in consequence been placed in charge of the food administration. By this influence his compatriots enjoyed special privileges and were enabled to settle in Egypt.
During this time their federal head, Jacob, died. Just before his death he made a prophecy which adds to our knowledge of the progress of God's campaign against death. As his sons congregated round his death bed, he spoke to them of their peculiar characteristics, and made a forecast of the future. Of his first three sons, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, he had little to say that was good. Of his fourth son Judah, however, his words were glowing :
"Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise : Thy hand shall-be in the neck of thine enemies; Thy father's children shall bow down before thee. : Judah is a lion's whelp : From the prey, my son, thou art gone up : He stooped down, he couched as a lion, And as an old lion ; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh come ; And unto him shall the gathering of the people be." (Gen.49:8-10)
The ascription of lion-like regal qualities to Judah indicated the view of Jacob that the "life-line " would be continued through him, and that the deliverer when he came would be of the tribe of Judah, to which the sceptre of kingship was given. The reference to
"Shiloh" is somewhat obscure, but the Jewish rabbis regarded the term as a description of the redeemer of their race as prince of peace, or as the seed of Judah. This interpretation agrees with the sense of the passage as a whole and may be accepted as satisfactory in the present state of our knowledge.
PROMISE TO DAVID
The favourable time for foreigners in Egypt passed. New kings replaced the dynasties which had reigned in Joseph's day, and the fortunes of the Hebrews suffered a serious decline. They regretted their decision to settle in Egypt, but it was too late. The new masters of Egypt were strong enough to make slaves of them, and for hundreds of years they were serfs. Their lot was again changed with the uprise of one of the world's great leaders, Moses, who after challenging Pharoah with the plagues which smote the Egyptians, delivered the people from their bondage ; welded them into a unity ; led them through the Red Sea and the wilderness ; and brought them to the borders of the land of their fathers. There his work was done, and, dying, he committed his charge to Joshua, under whose generalship the Hebrews invaded Canaan successfully, defeating nations with greater natural resources than they had, and occupying their territory. Before the death of Joshua their tenure was secure. No new leader of the calibre of Moses and Joshua appeared, however, for some hundreds of years, and the people proved too immature to set up a stable government. Lawlessness and anarchy were the result, and the experiment seemed doomed to failure and extinction.
But God provided a leader, and Samuel the prophet, by his spirituality and organizing ability, once more made the people one. His reward was rejection by his people, who demanded a king like other nations. Nevertheless Samuel's work was so well done that it was effective for many generations. The first king was Saul ; but though of commanding presence, he was weak and vacillating. Fighting vainly with the Philistines, he was killed, with his son Jonathan, at the battle of Mount Gilboa. His successor was a young man, David, untried in the arts of kingship, whose qualities of heart and of mind, however, were such that the work of Samuel was not thrown away, as had seemed likely in the days of Saul, but were used as the basis for a firmly based kingdom.
During the reign of this king, David, a great forward step in the purpose of God was made. The king wished to build a temple for God, but because he had been compelled to shed much blood to win his throne, he was not permitted to do so. Nevertheless the sincerity of his motive was recognized, and applauding his desire to build God a house, the prophet Nathan said:
"Also the Lord telleth thee that he will make thee an house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt ', sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever, I will be his father, and he shall be my son. In his suffering for iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes due to the children of Adam. (2 Sam. 7 : 11-16)
"But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee : thy throne shall be established for ever" (Dr. Adam Clarke's translation)
By this word from God, which, as David said, spoke of his house " for a great while to come " (2 Sam. 7 : 19) our information is much enlarged. First, in view of the great things promised for David's seed, or descendant, we realize that, from the tribe of Judah, the family of David was chosen to continue the line through which the victor who would overcome death would come. Second, since these things were to happen after David's death, and yet to take place in his presence, it is shown that like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David must return from the dead to receive fulfilment of the promise.
Third, a new idea is brought into the story by the statement that David's descendant should also be the son of God. No information i? given on this matter beyond the mere announcement of the fact, and if we ask, " How can these things be ? " (John 3:9), then we shall have to await the explanation until later in our study. Finally, it is stated that the seed will suffer for the iniquity of others, at the hands of men. No explanation of this remark is offered at this stage, but we note that it has a clear connection with the statement of God in Eden that the serpent, or the power of sin, should bruise the descendant of Eve, who was to be the deliverer, in the heel.
PROMISES THROUGH THE PROPHETS
After David's death his people！by this time become a multitude in accordance with God's promise to Abraham！ passed through varying fortunes. First they were raised to magnificence by his son Solomon, who built a temple, but later forfeited the divine favour by unfaithfulness. Shortly after Solomon's death their kingdom was divided into two parts, one, the kingdom of Israel, taking ten tribes, and the other, the kingdom of Judah, receiving the support of the other two. For about two hundred years the kingdoms existed side by side, lukewarm or worse in their allegiance to God. After that time, the kingdom of Israel was overcome by invaders from Assyria and many of its nationals compulsorily evacuated to Mesopotamia. The kingdom of Judah survived a further hundred years, and was then attacked by the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem and took away large numbers of captives to their own country.
During these turbulent times, God still spoke to the peoples of both kingdoms, this time by prophets who strove to keep them to their divine allegiance. These efforts were largely vain, as far as the immediate object was concerned, but the prophets spoke for a wider audience than those who first heard them. By this time the ideas which had formed the basis of divine promises in earlier times had become extensively known, and the prophets were able to use them for the furtherance of their messages. The relation of the promises to a future life received full consideration, and our knowledge of God's plan is much enlarged by their words. Increased light on the ill-treatment of Eve's and David's descendant is supplied by the prophet Isaiah :
"Who hath believed our report ? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed ? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground : he hath no form nor comeliness ; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men ; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him ; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows : yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities : the chastisement of our peace was upon him ; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53 : 1-5).
Yet in spite of the suffering of the one here spoken of, the prophet was full of hope for the future, and declared :
"He shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied : by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many ; for he shall bear their iniquities" (Isa. 53 : 10-11).
It is clear from this that, although the righteous servant should be "cut off out of the land of the living" (Isa. 53 : 8) he should return to it to " prolong his days ", and to bring justification to many others. The prophet Daniel develops the idea :
"And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people :
And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time : and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and ever lasting contempt." (Dan. 12 : 1-2)
Here the writer speaks of one Michael, " who is like God ", who will stand up as a deliverer and who will have power to raise the dead. His statement amounts to a corroboration of our deduction that in order to receive the fulfillment of the divine promises, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David will be raised from the dead.
In another place, the prophet Isaiah sees the completion of the victory over death, when, speaking of God's will to end human ignorance and misery, he says :
"He (God) will destroy in this mountain (Mount Zion) the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory ; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces ; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth : for the Lord hath spoken it" (Isaiah 25:7-8).
The prophet Hosea also reaches sublime heights when, speaking the words of God, he says :
"I will ransom them from the power of the grave ; I will redeem them from death : O death, I will be thy plagues ; O grave, I will be thy destruction" (Hosea 13 : 14).
YEA AND AMEN !
The foregoing has shown the glowing hopes bestowed upon mankind by the inspired words of the Old Testament writers. From obscure beginnings we have been able at the same time gradually to enlarge our knowledge of God's purpose and to narrow our quest for the Redeemer. We turn now to the New Testament, and our attention is held by its opening words :
"The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matt. 1 : 1).
Our previous search has led us to attach importance to a man who is a descendant of both these men, and we are encouraged to search the New Testament for information concerning Jesus Christ, and to put to it the questions suggested by our earlier discoveries. We ask:
Was Jesus a member of the human race and of the seed of Eve? - At once the Epistle to the Hebrews replies, " Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same" (Heb. 2 : 14).
Was he of Semitic stock ? - All the New Testament facts concerning his birth and environment declare that he was a Jew.
Was he the seed of Abraham ? - The Apostle Paul states in so many words that he was, and, moreover, that the promises to Abraham constituted the gospel, man's hope of salvation (Gal. 3 : 16).
Was he of the tribe of Judah ? - Again the Epistle to the Hebrews affirms that "It is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah " (Heb. 7 : 14).
Was he the son of David ? - At his birth the angel said, " The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David" (Luke 1 : 32).
Was he the Son of God as well as Son of man ? - The angel said to his mother, " The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God " (Luke 1 : 35)
Was he rejected by the power of sin? - It is written, " He came unto his own, and his own received him not " (John 1:11), and moreover, the apostle Peter condemned his nation, saying, " Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be given unto you, and killed the prince of life " (Acts 3 : 14-15)
All these evidences demonstrate the essential unity of Old and New Testaments and the identity of Jesus with the promised redeemer. They show how all the promises of God converge on him. Well might the apostle exclaim, " All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen (or faithful) unto the glory of God by us " (2 Cor. 1 : 20)
O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING?
How was the fulfilment of the promise of life contained in all these Old Testament prophecies made possible by Jesus ? As the son of Mary the Virgin he partook of our nature, and therefore knew from experience human weakness and temptation. On the other hand he was Son of God by begettal by God's Holy Spirit, and by this fact his mind was fully attuned to that of his Father. In his fight against sin and temptation he was wholly victorious, for " he did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth " (1 Pet. 2 : 22).
In a double sense therefore, the term
"Michael" (Daniel 12: 2, Hebrew "who is like God"), applied to him, for he was like God in the sense that he was God's Son, and also in the sense that he showed the mind of God to men. He went throughout Palestine preaching the gospel, of which the apostle Paul was afterwards to write, " I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek
" (Rom. 1 : 16).
This gospel declared that at a time fixed by God, Christ would take control of world affairs, and by his omnipotent power, rule the nations in righteousness.38 It also proclaimed that those who believed it and obeyed it in baptism, and thereafter continued in well-doing, would be given the power to live for ever.
After a life in which the divine characteristics of loving-kindness and mercy were clearly shown, the malice of the enemies of Jesus prevailed against him, and he was crucified. As had been declared in Eden, the serpent power of sin bruised Eve's descendant in the heel. His sacrifice, after his perfect life, was made by God the means of forgiveness of the sins of those who believe on him, and in this way, as predicted to David and prophesied by Isaiah, " He was bruised for our iniquities " (Isaiah 53:5). It was "not possible" that Jesus should remain in the grave, and God raised him from the dead (Acts 2:22-24).
He was made after the power of an endless life, and ascended to heaven. There he is now, awaiting the signal for his return. When this is given, he will come in bodily form to the earth (Acts 1:9). His people, whether dead or alive, being raised from the dead if necessary, will be gathered to him, and at his judgment seat will receive the gift of unending freedom from death (2 Tim. 4:1). Their bodies will be made "like his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21), and he will invite them to help him in future world government (Rev. 5:9-10).
For then he will fulfil the promise to Abraham that he would possess the land of Canaan for ever, and will occupy the throne of David his father in Jerusalem, dispensing blessedness to all nations. It is interesting to note here that Jesus specifically said that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be the subjects of
resurrection (Luke 20:37). Finally, after a thousand years reign of peace, Jesus will hand over his kingdom to God, and at the same time sin and death will be destroyed for ever from the
earth (1 Cor. 15:24-26). Thus will the serpent power be bruised in the head, and all the promises of God from the earliest times will be completely carried out.
This is the sense in which the apostle Paul said that death belonged to the believer. Faithfulness will bring triumph over the grave. Consequently, while death still has the terrors of the unknown, the servant of Christ, having given the service of his life to his Master, sees in it a provision of God whereby the righteous is taken away from the evil to come, and is hid in the ground till the day when Jesus calls him from the dust, and becomes for him the destroyer of mortality. We echo the apostle Paul's great crescendo :
"I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord." (Rom. 8: 38-39).
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