The Two Sacrifices

With Genesis 4, we continue the saga of the earth’s first family. Adam and Eve, as most of us know, had two sons: “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (4:2). One day, both sons brought an offering before God. Abel brought a firstborn of his flock, while Cain brought an offering of his produce. We all know the rest of the story: God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but rejected Cain’s. Cain was infuriated and took his anger out on Abel and killed him. End of story, right?

But is that really all that’s going on in our story? First off, let’s face it: Does it really seem fair for God to reject Cain’s sacrifice? After all, Cain had simply brought his best to God, just like Abel, right? What’s the big deal? Here’s the critical point to remember: If we look carefully at Genesis 3, we see that God had already demonstrated the sacrificial system to the first family. Cain and Abel, therefore, understood what God wanted from them. “They knew that in these offerings they were to express faith in the Saviour whom the offerings typified, and at the same time to acknowledge their total dependence on Him for pardon…” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 71)

Cain and Abel had a choice – follow God’s way or do things their way. And here’s the big difference: Abel brought a blood sacrifice to demonstrate his trust, not in his own best efforts, but in Someone Else’s ultimate sacrifice on his behalf. Abel understood that he didn’t have anything that God wanted, except his own heart. Cain, on the other, decided that he didn’t need a lamb. (After all, he would have to get one from his kid brother’s flock.) He would give God something even better! He would present God with a fruit offering of his own produce, the results of all of his own hard work! God would really appreciate that! After all, God would know how long and hard Cain had worked to till the ground and grow this precious produce. What a sacrifice! Sadly, however, Cain did not realize the point of the sacrifice was not to see who could offer the most, but to recognize their need of a Savior. Cain misunderstood the purpose of the sacrifice and, thereby, the character of his Creator.

But God still loved Cain. In fact, Genesis 4:6 records that Divine Mercy reached out to Cain and pleaded with him to soften his heart. But Cain rejected the plea and allowed himself to be so consumed by hatred that he was finally led to commit the first murder our universe has ever seen. But God still loved Cain. His mercy was once again extended only to be again rejected:

Notwithstanding that Cain had by his crimes merited the sentence of death, a merciful Creator still spared his life, and granted him opportunity for repentance. But Cain lived only to harden his heart, to encourage rebellion against the divine authority, and to become the head of a line of bold, abandoned sinners. This one apostate, led on by Satan, became a tempter to others; and his example and influence exerted their demoralizing power, until the earth became so corrupt and filled with violence as to call for its destruction. (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 78)

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Fall

This week’s study takes us to Genesis 3, the most tragic chapter in all of Scripture. The man and the woman have now been placed in the beautiful paradise of Eden. Every lush garden acre belonged to them; every joy and delightful fruit was theirs for the taking! There was only one condition. “But the Lord God warned him, ‘You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die’” (Gen. 2:16-17).

The fateful day finally came. Eve wandered over to the forbidden tree. Perhaps she was curious at the sight of a talking serpent in the tree! As the cunning serpent lured Eve into a dialogue with him, his first task was to get Eve to question God’s clearly-stated directions: “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” Once the woman was enticed into a conversation, the serpent then began to plant seeds of distrust in Eve’s mind about the pure, unselfish love of God: “’You won’t die!’ the serpent replied to the woman.  ‘God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.’” In other words: “God lied to you. He wants to restrict you. He doesn’t really love you – or else he would have let you enjoy this fruit. He’s holding out on you!” The woman was convinced. And the rest of the story is tragic history.

As a result of their choice, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden and forced to confront the consequences of their sin. From that point on, they would have to face a cruel world where sin and death reigned. Before they left, however, God provided the couple with something to clothe themselves. I find this point incredibly interesting.  We read earlier Adam and Eve had sewn fig leaves together to cover themselves. Fig leaves in the Bible represent our works – our attempts to achieve our own righteousness and hide our own guilt. But in Genesis 3:21, we see God taking these fig leaves away and instead providing skins of sacrificed animals, representing His robe of righteousness over us! This also means that God would have had to kill an animal to make the skins from. God, therefore, performed the very first sacrifice for sin in the Garden – a sacrifice which pointed forward to Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us! Revelation 13:8 identifies Christ as “The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” What does that mean exactly? It means, friends, that God made a decision before the world was ever created. He made the decision that, in the case of our fall, He Himself would die in our place…

Yes, Genesis 3 definitely leaves us wondering if God’s plan was irreparably ruined for good. But here’s the awesome news: God still had a plan! A plan more tragic and, yet, magnificent than anyone could ever have imagined.

Risky Love

God is love. Pure, unadulterated, raw, and reckless Love permeates every aspect of His Being. It is the foundational principle on which His created universe rests. But in order for love to exist, there must be relationship. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit lived together in this inseparable bond of love and fellowship for all of eternity, before anything else was ever made. But one day, out of this love, the Godhead decided to create. Of course, the Godhead could have simply created controlled, programmed beings who could not think for themselves – they would simply serve God forever and ever and never run the risk of disobedience. But God didn’t want robot slaves. He wanted friends – free-will beings who could receive His love and voluntarily return it. But love involves a certain inherent amount of risk, doesn’t it? When a husband and a wife choose to have a child, they do so knowing that there is no guarantee that the kid will “turn out okay” – there is always the risk that the child will one day rebel and spurn his or her parents’ love. The kid could fall into drug addiction, become an abusive alcoholic, or even eventually take his or her own life. But LOVE makes the risk worth it. That’s the decision God faced when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit decided to create Adam and Eve, humans in the Godhead’s own image. God gave the man and the woman everything they needed to be happy for all of eternity. Together, they were given the beautiful paradise of Eden as a gift:

15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:15-17

“Except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” – this tree was the one limited access point from which the man and woman could be tempted. From this tree, Satan was allowed to take the form of a cunning serpent in the garden. We understand this serpent to be Satan because Revelation 20:2 identifies him as the “ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan” (NIV). I like to think of this tree as a sort of “voting booth” for Adam and Eve. God wanted them to continue trusting and serving Him out of love and perfect obedience for the rest of eternity, but He would not remove the opportunity for them to act out their distrust of His commands if they so chose. God had to allow the couple freedom of choice. After all, love that is forced is not really love at all.  

Our next lesson will explore the tragic fall of mankind. But I pray that we learned something together by doing a little more “stage setting” for the most intense drama in all of human history.

Genesis 2: The Second Portrait of Creation

The creation account of Genesis 1 is explosive and dramatic. God speaks and light blasts into existence, planets go spinning into orbit! The God of Genesis 1 is omnipotent, unapproachable, transcendent. When we come to Genesis 2, however, our story takes an intriguing turn. In Genesis 2, we see God – the same mind-blowing, all-powerful Deity who simply speaks entire galaxies into existence – kneeling down in a pile of mud to lovingly fashion His “son” Adam out of the ground’s cold clay. When every detail of Adam’s body is complete and every feature of his form is finally perfect, the Creator breathes the Breath of Life into Adam’s nostrils – and the man becomes a living being. The words for breath in Hebrew are ruach and nĕshamah. These words are both intensely spiritual and not merely physical. We live because God put His breath, His own Spirit, within us.

Interestingly enough, even the names of God are different between Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1, the word Elohim is used, denoting God as the omnipotent Creator. In Genesis 2, however, we find the personal name YHWH – that is, Yehovah or Yahweh. Amazingly, even God’s name is intimately connected with this idea of His life-giving breath:

“The letters of the name of God in Hebrew… are infrequently pronounced Yahweh. But in truth they are inutterable…

This word {YHWH} is the sound of breathing.

The holiest name in the world, the Name of Creator, is the sound of your own breathing. That these letters are unpronounceable is no accident. Just as it is no accident that they are also the root letters of the Hebrew verb ‘to be’… God’s name is the name of Being itself… – Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

The intimate portrait of Genesis 2 is continued as we come to God’s creation of woman. Man’s introduction to woman, his perfect companion, is truly one of the most beautiful scenes of Scripture. Matthew Henry describes God’s unique creation of woman like this:

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.” – Matthew Henry

But God did not make woman merely as a companion to man. God also had something very important to show us about His character. Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NIV). The full revelation of God’s image is therefore only brought about by the harmonizing existence of man and woman together. I like to think of it this way: With man, God provided the basic, principal form of His image. After all, when we think of God, we automatically recognize Him to be masculine, powerful, and strong! But God is also compassionate, loving, and tender. The Bible even describes God’s love as that of a mother’s for her children. “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:13). By creating woman, God was completing the picture, providing the finishing, masterpiece touches on the image we are to behold of His character.

What a God! Friends, I hope you will join us this week in spending some time meditating on this intimate, personal portrait that we find of our Creator God in Genesis 2. May God bless!