Saturday, January 24, 2015

Eden’s Three Lands: God’s Justice, Mercy and Grace

As with Havilah, the other two lands of Ethiopia and Assyria comprising the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:11-14) also demonstrate how Holy God deals with man’s sin, not only with deserved justice, but with undeserved mercy and grace. When man repents and prays to God, He restores what was lost.

Ethiopia was the home country of Moses’ wife (Numbers 12:1), causing Moses’ siblings Aaron and Miriam to criticize him. Evidently they thought the Ethiopians were inferior to the Jews and unworthy of marrying into their family. In addition to their prejudice, they were guilty of coveting Moses’ favored position with God and of pride in thinking they were as fit as Moses to be God’s spokespersons (v. 2).

God punished their sins by summoning them to stand before Him (what a terrifying thought to be called on the carpet by our Creator!), verbally chastising them, and striking Miriam with leprosy (v. 4-10). But when Aaron confessed his sin, and Moses and Aaron begged God to save Miriam (v. 11-13), in His mercy He let her return to the camp, presumably healed, after seven days (v. 14-15).

The Ethiopians, Lubims and Sukkiims followed king Shishak of Egypt in the attack against Jerusalem, which came as part of God’s judgment for the disobedience of evil king Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:1-5). To appease His holy and justified wrath, God allowed the attackers to take the fenced cities of Judah, to enslave the Hebrews and to plunder their treasure. Shishak took spoils of the treasures of the house of the Lord; the treasures of King Solomon's house; and the shields of gold which Solomon had made (v.4-9).

But when the Hebrew king and princes heard God’s judgment delivered by Shemaiah the prophet, they humbled themselves before God and praised Him for His righteousness (v. 5-6). In His mercy, He spared their lives, gave them some deliverance, and vowed not to pour out His anger on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak (v. 7).

The Ethiopians continued to war against Judah, but during the reign of good king Asa, who prayed to God, obeyed and served Him (2 Chronicles 14:2-7,11), God smote, overthrew, and destroyed the Ethiopians (v.12-13).

Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, joined with Assyria in warring against the Israelites, causing the Hebrew king Hezekiah to mourn that day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy (2 Kings 19). But in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer, God kept His promise to save the faithful remnant of His people, to defend the city against the king of Assyria, and to kill 145,000 Assyrian soldiers before they even left their camp.

The people of Assyria were enemies of Israel used by God as an instrument of judgment against the people of God for their disobedience not only in Hezekiah’s day (2 Kings 18:11-17; Isaiah 36), but also in the time of king Hoshea, Jeroboam and Menahem (2 Kings 15, 17). The Assyrians were a bad influence on God’s people, seducing them to worship false gods. Scripture metaphorically describes Israel’s disloyalty to God, calling the Assyrians her lovers, described as desirable, young, renowned horsemen, who were captains, rulers, or great lords (Ezekiel 23:5-23).

Yet God in His mercy could even use the Assyrians for the good of His faithful people. The children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites showed their obedience to God by dedicating His newly built temple of God; making offerings at the dedication; and setting the priests for God’s service. The children of the captivity showed their obedience by keeping the passover; separating themselves from the heathen; and keeping the feast of unleavened bread (Ezra 6:16-22).

In return, the Lord showered them with His grace. He made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God. (Ezra 6:22).

Assyria’s capital was the wicked city of Nineveh, an exceeding great city of three days' journey (Jonah 3:3). When Jonah disobeyed God by refusing to preach in that den of iniquity, God’s judgment was to allow him to be swallowed up by a great fish and remain in its belly three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17). Once Jonah offered repentance, prayer, and thanksgiving to God, the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land (Jonah 2).

God again commanded Jonah to arise, go to Nineveh, and preach. God spared the Assyrian capital when they fasted, cried out to God and repented, showing His great mercy, grace and redemption even to His worst enemies (Jonah 3).

The one whom the Bible calls “the Assyrian,” suggested by some commentators to be Gog or even the Antichrist, is the rod of God’s anger, and the staff of God’s indignation. He will be used by God in judgment against the people of His anger to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets (Isaiah 10:5-6).

And yet God promises to protect His faithful remnant from the Assyrian, when God’s indignation shall cease, and His anger in their destruction shall cease, and He shall stir up a scourge for the Assyrian (v. 26). God will remove the Assyrian’s load from His people’s shoulders, and will remove his yoke of bondage from their neck, and destroy his yoke altogether (v. 27).

At times God deals with the enemies of Israel by having them war against one another, as when Assyria leads Ethiopia and Egypt into shame, fear and captivity (Isaiah 20:4-5).  Prophecy tells of Ethiopia being allied with Egypt and Libya against Israel (Ezekiel 38:5; Daniel 11:43).

Ultimately, God redeemed His nation Israel using Ethiopia, Egypt and Seba as ransom (Isaiah 43:1-4), and gave her spoil from the labor of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans (Isaiah 45:14). But when Israel rebelled against God, He chastised them by saying they were like children of the Ethiopians (Amos 9:7).

These three lands in the Garden of Eden therefore foretell man’s sinful rebellion, God’s judgment, and ultimately God’s redemption. Not only did God protect His faithful, but He gave them victory in war, and provides for the redemption of all people who place their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).

God’s mercy, love and grace are so great that they extend even to His enemies whom He has judged, and to the foes of His chosen people Israel. God has even promised to bless Assyria, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance (Isaiah 19:24-25), for He knows that one day they shall all worship Him in the holy city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:13).

The Psalms foretold of even the Ethiopians stretching out their hands to God (Psalm 68:31). That prophecy was fulfilled when the Ethiopian eunuch Ebedmelech rescued God’s prophet Jeremiah from prison (Jeremiah 38:7-13) and when the Ethiopian eunuch witnessed to by Philip was saved and baptized (Acts 8:26-39).

The pagan nations, and those that curse Israel, have reason to fear God’s judgment (Ezekiel 30). Specific judgments for Ethiopia are great pain (v.4,9), falling by the sword (v. 5), and  messengers in ships causing fear (v. 9). But thanks to Jesus Christ, all those born in Ethiopia, or in any nation once fighting God, can now be reborn into the church of God and enter the glorious city of Zion (Psalm 87).

May we learn from Havilah, Ethiopia and Assyria that God’s mercy and grace are greater than all our sins, and may we believe, repent, and pray!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Eden’s Triplets of Mercy: Sin, Judgment and Redemption

As we have seen throughout Scripture, God’s Word expresses His Triune Nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit by clustering significant concepts, people and objects in groups of three. Some of the earliest triplet patterns occur in Genesis 2, with the description of the Garden of Eden introducing the central.theme of the Bible. Man is sinful and deserves God’s judgment, but God’s mercy saves him.

This garden was Paradise on earth, created by God for man’s enjoyment (v. 8). God filled the garden with three types of trees: every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (v. 9).

Through the first two types of trees, God blessed man with beautiful scenery, delicious food, and the promise of perfect life free of aging, illness or pain. The third tree of knowledge of good and evil was a test of man’s faith, submission and obedience. Adam and Eve failed that test by doubting God’s Word, pridefully seeking their own desires rather than pleasing God, and disobeying His commandment (Genesis 3:1-6).

Their rebellion led to guilt (v.7, 10), loss of fellowship with God (v. 10) and suffering the consequences of God’s judgment. This included a threefold curse on the serpent (v. 14-15), on Adam (v. 17-19), and on Eve (v. 16). But God in His mercy restored fellowship by seeking them out as they hid from Him (v.9), covered their sin with animal skins (v. 21), and expelled them from the Garden (v. 22-24).

Although the expulsion from Eden was part of the judgment and consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, it was also an act of mercy. Had God permitted them to remain in the Garden of Eden, they could have eaten from the tree of life (v. 22). This would have given them eternal life, which would be more of a curse than a blessing. They would have lived forever in their fallen state, continuing to experience the endless toil of physical labor (v. 17-19), the strife of relationships broken by sin (v. 16), and sorrow (v. 16-17).

Instead, God in His mercy had them leave. The duration of their physical life ravaged by sin would be limited (v. 19), and God would give Eve a son whose descendant would bruise Satan’s head (v. 15).  In so doing, God began His perfect plan of redemption, not only for Adam and Eve, but for everyone who would believe in His Son as Deliverer, Lord and Saviour (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Peter 1:11). The animal skins with which God clothed Adam and Eve required the shedding of blood, foreshadowing the shed blood of Christ, the perfect Sacrifice Who cleansed us from all our sins, past, present and future  (Romans 5:9; Revelation 1:5).

God watered the Garden of Eden with four rivers defining three lands or countries: Havilah, Ethiopia, and Assyria (Genesis 2:11, 13, 14). Based on current geography, it is difficult to determine from this description the exact former location of the Garden of Eden, as the global flood in Noah’s day would have considerably altered the terrain.

Through their future inhabitants, these three lands remind us of man’s sin, God’s judgment, and His restoration. Havilah was a source of three treasures: gold, bdellium and onyx (v.12). But it also was the dwelling place of Israel’s enemies: the sons of Ishmael (Genesis 25:16-18), as well as the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:7)

Ishmael represents the consequences of man taking matters into his own hands, rather than trusting God and waiting on the Lord’s perfect timing. God had promised to give Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) a natural born son in their barren old age; to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars; and to give him the Promised Land to inherit (Genesis 15:1-7). As part of a sign to Abraham confirming this promise, God asked him for an offering of three beasts: a heifer, a she goat, and a ram, each three years old (v. 9).

Had Abram and Sarai only waited for God’s perfect timing, they would not have sinned before they heard the rest (and best) of the promise: God would make Abraham the father of many nations, He would be God to him and his descendants, and he and his descendants would possess the land of Canaan forever (Genesis 17:4-8).

But Sarah accused the Lord of keeping her from childbearing, violated God’s plan for marriage by giving her maid Hagar to Abraham, and persuaded him to have a child by her. Because of Ishmael, the son of this adulterous liaison, Hagar hated Sarah, Sarah wanted to be rid of Hagar, and Abraham was caught in the middle (Genesis 16:2-6).

God promised to make Ishmael the father of innumerable descendants (v. 10), just as He did for Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s promised son born after Ishmael. But unlike Isaac, Ishmael would be a curse, and not a blessing, to Israel, for he would be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him (v. 12). The world today is still reeling from the impact of radical Islamists tracing their roots back to Abraham through Ishmael. 

The Amalekites, also inhabitants of Havilah, were another thorn in Israel’s side. As the Hebrews fled from Egypt, Amalek attacked them in a fierce battle at Rephidim. Israel prevailed while Moses prayed, assisted by Aaron and Hur (Exodus 17:10-12). God swore that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation (v. 16).

God used the Amalekites and Canaanites as an instrument of His judgment against the Hebrews for complaining about Him, lacking faith in His promise by believing an evil report about the Promised Land, and planning to disobey Him by returning to Egypt (Numbers 14). The judgment was threefold: they would be struck by pestilence and the sword; the adults would die in the wilderness (except for Joshua and Caleb who brought a good report); and the children would wander in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promised Land.

As severe as this sounds, it was a lesser punishment than they deserved for their lack of faith despite God’s faithfulness, His signs demonstrating His great power, and the report from Joshua and Caleb of the land flowing with milk and honey. But God pardoned them (v. 20), for He is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression (v. 18).

The Amalekites continued to threaten Israel (Judges 3:13; 6:3, 7:12), and God commanded King Saul to kill every one of their people, herds and flocks (1 Samuel 15:1-3). But Saul disobeyed God by sparing the life of their king and the best of the livestock. This sin cost Saul dearly, for God judged him by taking away his kingship (1 Samuel 15:7-35). Yet He restored a Godly king to Israel by selecting and anointing David (1 Samuel 16:1-13), a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22) who ultimately defeated the Amalekites (1 Samuel 31).

Because of God’s great mercy, He does not give us what we deserve, namely eternal punishment in hell, for we are all sinners (Romans 3:23; 6:23). His holiness, perfection and justice (1 Samuel 2:2) demand that sin be punished, but He reconciled us to Himself by the atoning sacrifice of His Son (Romans 5:10-11), Who was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day so that all who trust Him have everlasting life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

We see God’s mercy daily (Lamentations 3:22-23,32) as He works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), protects us from the full consequences of our transgressions, and gives blessings to mitigate the judgment He requires. Sometimes He allows us go through trials, knowing that they will strengthen our faith, conform us to the image of His Son, and equip us to help others going through similar trials by giving us compassion, wisdom and experience,

Like Havilah, the other two lands comprising the Garden of Eden, namely Ethiopia and Assyria, also have lessons for us regarding man’s sin, God’s judgment, and His restoration, as we shall see next week. Praise God that even from the beginning, He knew that man would sin, requiring judgment, but that He had a plan to redeem us

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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