Tag Archives: Pentateuch

The Continuity of the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch is better seen as five volumes of one book rather than five books, distinct and separate from each other. Ultimately they display God’s creation, covenants, and man’s inability to live up to such covenants due to their own indwelling sin. As Moses wrote in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (ESV). This was how it was since the fall.

Recently, due to a controversy in the media, I began to look into Scripture so as to come to a biblical worldview on sex. Starting with Genesis, I found every sexual sin category with which the Levitical laws deal. There was tension between Adam and Eve (Gn 3:7), rape (Gn 6:1, 34:2), homosexuality (Gn 19:4-5), incest (Gn 19:32), pleasure without responsibility (Gn 38:19), prostitution (Gn 38:15-16), and of course adultery (Gn 39:7). Each of these is dealt with in Leviticus 18 in some way, which included bestiality that I was not able to find in Genesis. You can read that article here. Thus, Leviticus links with Genesis in giving laws against the sins that had their beginnings soon after creation.

In addition, other laws that have their roots in Genesis, either by sins observed, traditions begun, or covenants made, are given or repeated in Exodus-Deuteronomy. We have the first substitutionary sacrifice made by God himself to atone for the sins of Adam and Eve. Yet by the time one gets to Cain and Abel, humanity gives their own sacrifices, but when they make their offerings, one sees the beginning of acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices to God. The proper layout of these sacrifices are dealt with in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  There is the first murder when Cain kills Abel, the accepted one, thus expressing the despair that “the woman’s seed” was murdered by the unaccepted child. This same despair can be felt in the very first chapter of Exodus as all the male babies are to be murdered. Coupling the murder of male children with the promise of the Abraham’s blessing to the world and becoming a great nation, one cannot help but wonder how God will fulfill His covenant. Thus we find a deliver, a show of God’s great might, and His protection over His son whom He called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1).

At the same time, one finds other continuities in Genesis through Deuteronomy. The promise of land given to Abraham by God included the prophecy that his people would not enter the land until after spending time as sojourners in a strange land. “Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years,” (Gn. 15:13, ESV). Genesis ends with the Abrahamic family in Egypt and growing, and this is exactly where Exodus begins. The family has grown greatly, but have experienced life in slavery for some odd years. Exodus and the following books of the Pentateuch deal in great detail (in their own way/genre) about the descendants of that Abrahamic Covenant wandering about to enter into the land that was originally promised to Abraham and then Isaac and finally Jacob. They are becoming the nation, the chosen covenant nation though still split as twelve tribes. Like Abraham who was called out of the pagan city of Ur, so Israel was called out of the pagan nation of Egypt. Like Abraham who showed at times faithfulness to God and at times distrust, so one sees–especially in the Exodus account prior to and during the Sinai visit, and the accounts in Numbers with grumblings and grievous sins–Israel wandered, semi-nomadic, learning to trust in this God who called them out.

There is a constant renewal within these books. From the six days of creation to the re-creation after the flood to the starting over with one family (Abraham), to bringing that family into a new land to be a holy nation and a priesthood to God, there is one continuous thread of God’s covenant promises and God’s covenant protection. This is due, at least in part, to God’s unfailing love expressed continually throughout the first five books of the Bible. As Alexander and Baker wrote, “The most significant thing the Israelites learned about the holy character of God is that it is ‘unfailing love.’ . . .It speaks of a favor given to someone who does not have a right to that favor by someone who does not have to give that favor,” (T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 850.)  One may even rightly go as far as God’s seventh day of rest to the Sabbath rest demanded of the people to the Sabbath holy days to the rest promised in the land of Canaan, showing a clear path that God’s revelation to Moses is interwoven with the story of Israel’s journey. Genesis shows the beginning of Israel, beginning with creation, the fall, the flood, and tower of Babel detailing the need for a covenant people. Exodus detailing the nation’s size, their being called out of Egypt and to God as His holy people, as well as Exodus setting up a system of government and worship for the newly formed tribal-nations. Leviticus is a book predominately making up the ceremonial/cultic laws that the Levites and priesthood was to make sure was followed, giving examples of what happens when those laws are not kept. Numbers is predominately a census book of the nation, detailing the number of Israelites at the beginning, middle, and end of their forty-year journey. While these volumes of books would be available for the reading, Moses condensed such books (Exodus-Numbers) into one as the restating of the law or Deuteronomy.  This was given just before Israel would enter into the Promised Land, and Moses, reflecting back on the previous forty years, reminds the new generation of all that transpired with their parents and grandparents, providing extra measures of wisdom and instruction on top of restating the basics of the law sometimes in more detail. Of course, when one reads Joshua and Judges, one will see that once again humanity fails. Each person with whom the covenant was made (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses the people of Israel, as well as the first generation in the land of promise, as well as the second and third, and all throughout Israel’s history) all failed to live up to the demands of their holy God. This ultimately shows that while the laws and covenants were made, no human has the capacity of obedience. As Alexander and Baker wrote, “The covenant did not exist to show humans that they could obey God and thus please him. Rather it existed to show them that even with the best will they could not attain his holy character in themselves,” (Ibid., 858).

It is clear that the Pentateuch, while thought of as five distinct books, should be understood more like five volumes of one book. There is one constant story and theology taking shape through varying genres: historical, legal, census, poetic, etc. To separate them as distinct books developed by persons with different agendas, motivations, and times is to disregard the evidence of succession. While, perhaps I would vary slightly with Alexander and Baker’s assessment of structure, it is clear and concise as to the Pentateuch’s formation:

The broad triadic scheme reflects (1) the transparently introductory function of Genesis 1:1-11:26 with respect to the whole; (2) the manifest concentration on God’s purposes achieved through people and events leading to, occurring at and ensuing form Sinai in Genesis 11:27-Numbers 36:13; and (3) the distinctly recollective, interpretive and transitional function of Deuteronomy with respect to the whole, (Ibid., 549).

I hope you enjoyed reading the summation of my homework in the Old Testament Survey class. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, I would love to read them. If this was somehow a blessing to you, praise the Lord. If not, I completely understand.

God’s Covenant Within the Pentateuch

Like most Baptists, I grew up with Dispensational Theology as the only theology. I had never even heard of Covenantal Theology. I was intrigued with the books of Clarence Larkin and J. Dwight Pentecost. It was all I knew; and I consumed the theology. Initially, it was all about the end-times; after all, what else was there? We could be raptured at any moment! Yet, as I went into young adulthood, I realized there was more. It was a whole way of reading the Bible, of understanding the text, especially the covenants and how God related with humanity–but predominately, still the end-times (for me personally). Here is my confession: As I was reading The Left Behind series, I began to have my doubts about the eschatology of the Dispensational Theology. I knew what I was reading was fiction, but as I was growing in my studies of the rest of Scripture, I could not jive what I was reading in that series with what the Bible was saying. At that point I went on a theological journey and discovered Covenant Theology. I read books like Far As the Curse is Found by Michael Williams. I read the covenants for what they were,  without preconceived ideas (at least tried), and discovered that they read differently than I was ever taught. Williams (following McWilliams) would argue that there was an Adamic Covenant but rather than it being a covenant of works, it was indeed a covenant of grace. “Adam was required to obey the covenant instruction not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam’s failure to obey would bring sin and death. But the sufficient condition for the covenant and Adam’s life within it was the father and kingly favor of God. What I am suggesting here is that life in covenant relationship with God was something that Adam enjoyed by God’s grace” (Michael D. Williams, Far As the Curse is Found, (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2005), 72). The sign (and blessing) within the Adamic Covenant (as all covenants have their signatures) was the tree of life itself (ibid., 51). Being a covenant of grace did not necessitate it to be an everlasting or unconditional covenant however. Upon Adam’s fall, the tree of life (sign/blessing) was forbidden and eventually removed, only to reappear in Revelation 22 when all things are restored and even made greater. I bring this part up simply because Alexander and Baker seemed to dismiss entirely the idea of an Adamic Covenant (Alexander and Baker, Dictionary: Pentateuch, 141-142), but instead wrote and argued against a creation covenant (Ibid., 139-143).

From here one would go to the Noahic Covenant, which as indicated by Alexander and Baker, was a retelling of the creation story (Ibid., 323-324), which would give credibility to a covenant with Adam. If Noah–the one from whom all life would come–received a covenant, would not the original one from whom all life would come also have received a covenant, even if not explicitly laid out? It would seem, at minimum, plausible. The Noahic Covenant was, like the Adamic, a covenant of grace. It’s sign and blessing was that of a rainbow. Unlike Adam’s covenant, this one is eternal. “God promises here are not contingent upon human response or behavior,” (Ibid., 140). However, like the Adamic, there are calls to obedience: no eating of blood, multiply and fill the earth (subdue it). “Thus, the primary obligation imposed on humanity is that of fulfilling the role appointed by God in the beginning,” (Ibid.).

Both Williams (p. 100) and Alexander and Baker (p. 143) would agree that the Abrahamic Covenant builds off the Noahic and the Mosaic/Sinaitic builds from the Abrahamic. One of the issues that I struggled with long ago was that of the Abrahamic Covenant not truly being a covenant of grace since to be part of the covenant one, if he were male, must be circumcised. If he was not, he was cut off from the people and the covenant. If, according to Alexander and Baker, God was narrowing the focus from filling the earth to simply making a nation that would bring blessing to the earth (Ibid., 356), this would seem to make perfect sense. God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants cannot be circumvented by allowing anyone to come in anytime they please, nor allowing anyone to stay in when they will not abide. Whether one sees Genesis’s chapters 12, 15, and 17 as one covenant expansion or as separate covenants, chapter 17 ultimately includes all the substance of the previous two (seed, land, and blessing), and incorporates circumcision as both a sign and blessing.  The sign to remind the male of God’s promises and a blessing for without it all the promises would be removed as he would be cut off. Thus, while the Abrahamic Covenant was one of grace in the same manner as the Adamic and Noahic (no one compelled God to make a covenant, but He did so out of grace), it was not unconditional, and so not in any real way, eternal (according to man’s standard).

It is not difficult, therefore, to see how the Mosaic Covenant is an extension or expansion of the Abrahamic. In one sense, one could say that it was a reissuance of Abraham’s to the entire nation, however in another sense, the Mosaic is better thought of as being encompassed within the Abrahamic (Ibid., 150). The sign of the Mosaic Covenant (as well as its blessing) is that of the Sabbath rest, not only Saturdays, but any and all Sabbaths. “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I the LORD, sanctify you,” (Ex 31:13, ESV; italics mine). Once again, to break the Sabbath is cause for being cut off from the covenant and thus the blessing. The Sabbath blessing was not the only blessing, but it was a sign of the blessed rest in God. One should not forget that according to 2 Chronicles 36:20-21, the Israelites were taken into Babylon so that the land could enjoy its Sabbaths that the people never kept; thus, not keeping the sign and so not keeping the blessings, but rather being cut off.

What is interesting is that Alexander and Baker only mention the Suzerain treaty in passing.  Williams (citing G. E. Mendenhall) notes six components of such a treaty paralleling with Exodus:

  1. Preamble – Ex. 20:2 “I am the LORD your God”
  2. Historical Prologue – Ex. 20:2 “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”
  3. Covenant Stipulations – Ex. 20:3-17 (The Ten Commandments)
  4. Public reading of the document – Ex. 24:1-11
  5. Deposit of the tablets – Ex. 25:16 (often 2 copies were made, 1 for the king and 1 for the vassal, leaving the possibility that the two tablets in Moses’s hands were identical copies rather than 5 to 5 or 4 to 6 commandments on each)
  6. Giving of blessings/cursings depending on adherence – the rest of the Old Testament (but predicted in Deuteronomy 28-30)
    (Williams, Far As the Curse is Found, 141-142)

Williams also pointed out that in giving this covenant, Israel was agreeing to have God as their King and they would be His servants (vassals – a kingdom of priests and holy nation). At the same time, God covenanted with the people to “fulfill his promised role as covenant overlord to his people,” (Ibid., 143).

Taking all this information together, one may define covenant as an initiative by a loving and gracious God to an undeserving people to show that love and grace through blessings, protection, and discipline. Each covenant goes deeper and wider, becoming deeply rich in its implications and widely spread encompassing 2 persons, then 8, then a nation, finding its ultimate and truest form in Jesus Christ given to all who believe.

Once again, you get to enjoy what I am studying in my Old Testament Survey class. Feel free to respond. I’d love to hear from you, even if it is about covenants.