Five Themes of the Pentateuch: Salvation

God’s plan to redeem his creation is seen immediately after the fall. God did not destroy Adam and Eve, instead he showed them mercy and provided a pronouncement of hope. In Genesis 3:21, God covers them in the skins of animals that were likely sacrificed for their sin.[1] Even as God pronounces curses on the Serpent and mankind, he announces his plan to ultimately redeem all things. Genesis 3:15 is God’s first promise of a Redeemer who would one day come and restore the creation. God’s plan of salvation would begin to work through his covenants with his chosen people.[2]

Biblically, a covenant can be defined as a legally binding obligation, often a legally binding promise made by God toward men. In the covenants, it is God alone who sets forth the conditions.[3] Also, a covenant is an act of grace in that God enters into the various covenants because he wants to, not because he is somehow obligated to or has need of the covenant. Covenants are God’s choice.[4] There are two types of covenants between God and men seen in Scripture. A unilateral covenant is one in which the Lord is the sole party responsible to carry out its obligations. These are unconditional, depending totally on God and his faithfulness for their fulfillment. A bilateral covenant is one in which failure of one of the parties to carry out the specified conditions renders the agreement null and void.[5]

Each covenant also seeks to affirm an existing relationship God has with people and creation or create new or deepening relationships. The Noahic covenant in Genesis is the first explicit covenant in Scripture. It comes in the context of the flood in which God destroys all the inhabitants of the earth because of their great wickedness. So God “uncreates” his creation through the floodwaters.[6] But Noah finds grace in God’s eyes (Gen. 6:8). The Noahic covenant is an example of God reaffirming his commitment to his creation which he had symbolically uncreated in the flood. God was committed to returning order and stability to a world corrupted by sin.[7] God was not done with his creation; he was committed to redeeming it. So the Lord made a unilateral covenant in which he promised, “‘I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth’” (Gen. 9:11).

In Genesis 12:1-3, God advances his redemptive plan through a covenant with Abraham. In these verses, God offers a twofold promise to Abraham: he would be blessed and he would be a blessing to others. Here, the blessing not the curse becomes the prominent theme. In these three verses, the root of the Hebrew word “bless” is used five times. This is likely intentional, announcing that God would use this fivefold blessing to balance the fivefold curse of the previous nine chapters, and in doing so, he would show that his solution to the curse of sin would be through the blessing of Abraham.[8]

These promises to Abraham are ratified in the distinct but related covenants of Genesis 15 and 17. [9] In Genesis 15, God makes a unilateral covenant in which Abraham is promised heirs (v. 5) and land (vv. 18-20) for those heirs. In Genesis 17, the covenant is that Abraham will be “the father of a multitude of nations” (v. 4). This covenant points to the final redemption that comes through Jesus Christ (v. 7). However, the enduring covenant of Genesis 17 is dependent upon the fulfillment of the temporal covenant of Genesis 15 (fulfilled once the nation had taken possession of the land).[10] All of this points to a new covenant which will finally and fully redeem God’s good creation.

God continues to advance his covenant with Abraham in the book of Exodus. The foreshadowing of God’s ultimate salvation for all of creation was seen in God’s deliverance of Israel (the seed of Abraham) from bondage in Egypt. Beginning in Exodus 19, God gave the Mosaic covenant as the means to address the consequences of sin and of showing those consequences would ultimately be addressed.[11] The covenant was not a means of establishing a relationship with God — rather, its goal was “the residence of God in the midst of his people as represented by the tabernacle.”[12]

The covenant is further elaborated in the holiness codes of Leviticus. Holiness was not a means of being made righteous before God or maintaining the covenant. That would not be possible for any person. The covenant would be maintained by God’s grace.[13] The holiness codes offer in-depth precepts regarding how sinful people could dwell with a holy God. The book defines numerous sacrifices and offerings all designed as means for the Israelites to approach God and have fellowship with him.[14] This would also point forward to the day when God would forever dwell in the midst of his redeemed people (Rev. 21:1-4).

In the book of Numbers, God’s salvation is juxtaposed against Israel’s rebellion and unfaithfulness. The first half of the book records Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land and God’s judgment on that generation of Israelites. The second half of the book speaks of God’s saving grace and covenantal faithfulness to Abraham to make him a blessing to many nations. Life and hope are indicative of this new generation who stand on the verge of entering the Land of Promise.[15] This points to the perfect Promised Land to come when Christ returns.

In Deuteronomy 29:12-14, God renews his covenant with his people as they are about to enter the Promised Land. They are reminded of his presence, protection and provision in the new land if they will only believe and obey.[16] The Mosaic covenant would ultimately be abrogated by the new covenant, which will one day finally bring life and redemption to all of God’s creation, restoring it to its perfect pre-fall condition.[17]

By Justin Nash

(Justin Nash serves as Director of Church Health & Communication for the Advent Christian General Conference)

References

[1] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: Sin Salvation. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2003), 122.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994), 291.

[3] Irvin A. Busenitz, “Introduction to the Biblical Covenants; the Noahic Covenant and the Priestly Covenant” The Master’s Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (1999): 176.

[4] Lionel Windsor, “The Fulfilment of the Covenants: An Acovenantal Perspective on Paul” (St. Michael’s Anglican Church, 2006), 7.

[5] Busenitz, 180.

[6] Ibid., 183.

[7] Windsor, 9.

[8] Lance Higginbotham, lecture notes for M-BS2210-OL-A01-SP-18 Old Testament Survey I: Pentateuch and Historical Books SP-18, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary 2018.

[9] Windsor, 10.

[10] Loc. cit.

[11] T. Desmond Alexander and David Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 857.

[12] Ibid., 858.

[13] Ibid., 857.

[14] Ibid., 252.

[15] Ibid., 612.

[16] Busenitz, 183.

[17] Ibid., 182.

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