Covenant Through New Eyes: Part 5 – The World of the Patriarchs
Today we come to Part 5 in the Covenant Through New Eyes Series. Last week, in Part 4, we looked at the "World of Noah" and the way God re-created the world to establish a new covenant with Man through Noah. This week we are going to move on to the "World of the Patriarchs" as laid out in James Jordan's book Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World.
As noted last time, the introduction of a new covenant is preceded by a "history and decline" in the previous covenantal world; hence the dawning of a new covenant world. It was also said last time that the sin of Man in each covenant world brings about the period of "history and decline." However, it should be understood that this pattern of new covenants and maturation seems to have been God's design for the world. This means that even if sin had not entered the world at The Fall it is likely hat mankind's covenantal relationship with God and each other would develop and enhance as we see in the pages of the scripture, yet without sin. Jordan puts it this way:
The coming of a new covenant is not wholly to be explained by the failure of the previous one. Also involved is the fact of human maturation, so that what was once appropriate and fitting at a certain stage of childhood now must be superseded. As children grow, we have to keep getting them new shoes and new clothing, partially because the old ones are wearing out, but also because the child has outgrown them. (pg. 181)
This concept that mankind is in a maturing process throughout the pages of scripture and throughout history is a very important one to grasp if you are to follow Jordan's covenantal history. Thankfully, Jordan offers, in a sense, a comprehensive overview of his understanding of covenantal history in the opening pages of his chapter on the patriarchs that I'd like to quote at length here:
After the flood, God re-created the world with the Noahic covenant. With the sins of Ham and then Nimrod, the world order was threatened, and God took advantage of the opportunity to set aside a new (Edenic) land with the Abrahamic covenant, designating one nation, the Hebrews, to be priests to the rest. That nation of priests fell into sin in Egypt, and God took the opportunity to re-create the (Garden) sanctuary with the Mosaic covenant, setting aside the Levites and Aaronic priests to guide the Israelite nation. Next, just as God planted a Garden in Eden and then made a man to rule it, so also, after the priests of Israel fell into sin (1 Samuel 1-3), God took the opportunity to re-create the (Adamic) king with the Davidic covenant. With the collapse of the Davidic covenant and the exile, God took the opportunity to inaugurate the imperial stage of history, and placed Israel under the protection of world emperors. With the collapse of the imperial stage of history, seen in Rome’s crucifixion of the Son of God, God enthroned Jesus Christ to be the True Noahic gentile, the True Abrahamic Hebrew, the True (Mosaic) Aaronic Priest, the True Davidic King, and the True World Emperor. (pg. 182)
This quotation is immensely helpful to understand just how Jordan breaks things down and where it is we are going. The ultimate end of all things is Jesus Christ who stands as the fulfillment of all the scriptures. When the Old Testament scriptures are understood in this light it is much easier to see why the disciples hearts "burned within them" on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32).
With these introductory remarks in place we can now move on to the pattern of covenantal change we have laid out thus far in the series. In Part 4 I explained that God follows a certain pattern or model of operation when he is creating a new world: There is an exodus, an establishment, the creation of new symbols before the history and decline.
In Part 2 of this series we discussed how God "takes hold" of His creation when he is about to re-create the world. In Part 3 we discussed how this "taking hold" of is often God taking hold of His people to resituate them. This resituating movement of His people is understood as an "exodus." As the Noahic covenant begins to decline with the sins of Ham and Nimrod, God takes hold of Abram, son of Ur, in the Chaldees, in order to preform an exodus. God must move Abram to re-create the world.
The world of the patriarchs is very important to the centrality of the exodus theme in the Bible. Throughout the lives of the patriarchs many exoduses occur. James Jordan notes the following examples of exoduses in the lives of the patriarchs. Note that each exodus is either from Babylon/Mesopotamia (North) or Egypt/Philistia (South) back in to the Canaan.
- Abram's removal from death in Babylon to life in Canaan (Genesis 11:27-12:15)
- Abram's deliverance from captivity in Egypt to life in Canaan (Gensis 12:6-13:18)
- Lot's deliverance from Sodom (Genesis 19:1-16)
- Abraham's deliverance from danger in Philistia (genesis 20)
- Isaac's deliverance from danger in Philistia (Genesis 26)
- Jacob's deliverance from enslavement in Mesopotamia (Geneis 31)
When the reader of Genesis is first introduced to Abram death is all around him. Terah had sons but Haran died (11:27-28) and Abram's wife is barren (11:29-30). The exodus of Abram from Ur to Canaan is an exodus from death to life.
The next phase in the re-creation of a new covenant-world is that of establishment. Once God has brough His people through an exodus he looks to establish them in the new world. As noted in the extensive quotation above, with each re-creation of the Old Covenant god is working to remake some specific part of the original creation. In the Noahic covenant the emphasis is on the entire world. In the Abrahamic covenant we see that the emphasis is on the land. This means that the establishment of God's people in this covenvant will center around their establishment in the land.
The first step that god takes in establishing His people in a new covenant-world is in communicating Himself to His people by a new name. In the Noahic covenant God communicated Himself as "God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth." In the establishment of the Abrahamic covenant God communicates himself as "God Almighty."
The second step that God takes in establishing His "restructured people" is by giving them a new name as well. Under the Noahic covenant they were known as "God fearers." Now they shall be known as "Hebrews" (Genesis 14:13)
The next steps concerned in establishment are those of: grant, stipulation, world polity and internal polity. Jordan lays out these following steps on pages 188 & 189 in Through New Eyes:
- The grant is the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:18-21)
- The stipulations that came along with this grant were to obey all of God's law (Genesis 26:5) and in the area of sacraments, circumcision (Genesis 17)
- The new world polity that came into being meant that the Hebrews were a nation of priests to evangelize and guide the gentiles. This is what it meant for Abraham to be a "father" to other nations (Genesis 45:8; Romans 4:11)
- The internal polity of the people of Abraham was a simple patriarchal or clan order: The family head was also the spiritual head...The Hebrews were a family and a church, but not a state.
All of these steps lay out the ways in which God established His "restructured people" in His new covenant-world; the world of the patriarchs.
The concept of symbol change was not something that was really brought up in Part 4 of this series because there was really only one prominent symbol in the world of Noah: the 70 nations (Genesis 10). In the new covenant-world of the patriarchs there are six main symbols that stand out. Here's how Jordan summarizes them:
These symbols picture the nature of God's people and of their ministry. The symbols that come to play prominently in the patriarchal era are stars, dust, altars, pillars, trees and wells. These symbols will recur in the Mosaic covenant, where they will be organized into a package, the tabernacle. During the patriarchal era, however, the symbols were distributed "under open sky." (pg. 189)
God promises Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars of the heavens (Genesis 13:16; 15:5; 22:17). Our modern minds tend to assume these promises simply mean that Abraham will have a lot of grandkids. While that certainly is a point it's not following along with the symbolic nature of the Bible. Again Jordan:
The people of Abraham would be a new heavens and a new earth. The promise to Abraham was that a righteous people would fill the earth as the dust, and that a righteous people would rule the earth as the stars. The Kingdom of God, the spiritual people of Abraham, would someday cover the earth and rule it. (pg. 189)
The symbolism in the Bible is always alluding to more than what is right on the surface and the complexity only increases when the altars, pillars, trees and wells are considered. Earlier in Through New Eyes Jordan explains how God tends to meet with his people on mountains (Eden, the Ark's landing place, Sinai, Zion, etc). An altar is a miniature mountain because it is supposed to be a place where God meets with man. Therefore, the making of altars throughout the world of the patriarchs is a symbolic of God once again meeting with man on earth like he did in the Garden.
Likewise the heavy tree symbolism harkens back to the Garden as well symbolizes a ladder to heaven in Jacob's dream. These types are fulfilled in Christ, the true connection between heaven and earth, who hung upon a tree. Further, the wells Abraham digs are like small garden oasis throughout Canaan which is to become (in another covenantal movement) a new Eden.
Together, all these symbols form a tapestry of a new world. This new world of the patriarchs harkens back to the intent of God's first good and sinless creation. Yet, like all covenants before the New Covenant decline is inevitable.
History and Decline
Jordan notes that the high points in the world of the patriarchs show God's people fulfilling their priestly role to the nations. Abraham, through his descendants, was acting as a father to the nations. This is epitomized in the conversion of Pharaoh of Egypt.
This could not last. For one thing, God's people were becoming too great in Egypt and the internal polity established in the Abrahamic covenant (patriarchal/clan) could not stand the weight of such a people. Further, Israel's eventual idolatry in Egypt lead God to once again take hold of his creation in order to re-create it anew and prepare His people for a new exodus. Jordan states the following:
God raised up a tyrant to scourge [Israel], and thus put them into a crucible to restructure them. He tore apart the nation, reducing it to slavery, but only so that He could rebuild it again more glorious than before. (pg. 192-193)
In the world of the patriarchs God's focus zooms in from the world of Noah to the land of Canaan. It focus from the entire world or 70 nations to just one land and one nation, Israel. Mankind has taken a step of maturation, in God's covenant with Abraham, to where he is now a priest to the nations. The symbolism of dust, stars, trees, altars, pillars and wells is more complicated and simultaneously more glorious. God is moving humanity and His creation back to the garden. But, as we will see, God chooses to move humanity back to the garden in a way that concludes more gloriously than the Garden began, a garden city, New Jerusalem.
Food for thought.