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how much love is in God’s relationship with man?

Whenever

Whenever something brings suffering, there’s a tendency to blame God even if that doesn’t make sense. That is, contradicts what the Bible reveals about God’s character. Even some within the church can ask “If God is a Good God then how could He ….?”
(see “Suffering Part I”). Holding God accountable for every bad thing sure gives lots of opportunity to wonder about God’s relationship with man

You might think “as if we could ever understand God” … “God’s ways are higher than our ways” … “His thoughts are higher than our thoughts”

Fair enough. Sounds right …. but what is the point of that quote anyway? Does it justify our ignorance and lack of understanding of God’s ways as revealed in Scripture? Does it make us feel any better when things seem so wrong or unfair? In any case, who would like suffering if they thought they could see ‘rhyme or reason’ in it?

The Quote ….

The thing is, the quote about God’s ways and thoughts is from Isaiah’s prophesying …“Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah 55:7-9)

God was saying to the people that the ways and thoughts of the wicked were way below His but if they turned back to Him and His Holiness this would change. He would have mercy on them, freely pardon them and their ways and thoughts could re-align with His. Like they were originally, in the likeness of God. He wanted to restore His relationship with man

Originally – a close Relationship with man

Relationship with man and wife
The relationship – Originally close

God created Adam and Eve in His own image. Not as equals but like Himself, giving each an eternal spirit so they could enjoy fellowship with Him. They could think, reason, love and make judgements. God could share the joy of His creations on Earth with them. They would glorify God and enjoy Him forever. God intended to have a loving parent-child relationship with each person (Deut 14:1, Jer 3:19, John 1:12). It was a great arrangement. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8-11). The Hebrew word there for ‘walked’ means walked conversantly i.e. in conversation. It implies a close relationship. (see “How then should we Live”). Harmony between God and humans. It was so good. Such a close relationship with man and God in which they communicated freely

So much so, God wanted lots more of them … “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ ” (Genesis 1:26-28) [emphasis added]

God basically gave them the whole of the planet as a gift for them to manage, take care of and fill with their own “family tree”. But “…. the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’” (Genesis 2:16-17)

It was an unconditional gift, unearned and it was a permanent deal, for ever, like a covenant agreement

So what’s a Covenant Agreement?

Various authors have written much about Covenants between God and humanity. A Google search will reveal a lifetime of reading. Firstly, there are articles on types of covenant (Works, Grace and Redemption). Others discuss which covenants are conditional or obligatory. Some writers separate covenants based on the use of a sacrifice or a sign. Finally, there are articles that identify covenants by the name of the individual involved. For example Noah, Abraham or Moses etc. No matter what type or with whom, the covenant was an extraordinarily strong or binding promise, usually forever

Types of Biblical Covenants

The Hebrew word that landed into English Old Testament as covenant is:-
H1285 = berîyth (pronounced ber-eeth’) – covenant, confederacy, compact involving cutting and passing between pieces of flesh from a sacrificed animal. A confederacy is a strong union or league. [Covenant is synonymous with accord, alliance, pact, treaty ….]

Examples

There were personal covenants between individuals (e.g. David and Jonathan). “While David was … in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. … Saul’s son Jonathan went to David … and helped him find strength in God. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” The two of them made a covenant before the LORD. ….. (1Samuel 23:15-18). Jonathan renewed his pledge of friendship with David

Not all covenants were based on friendship. Laban proposed a covenant with Jacob which was based on distrust and a guilty conscience for the way he had treated Jacob. Instead of making restitution Laban instigated a covenant whereby Jacob should forgive and forget all the wrongs he had received. They agreed that no act of hostility should ever pass between them
(Genesis chpt 31)

There were political covenants [treaties] between kings or nations (e.g. Kings Solomon and Hiram). “The LORD gave Solomon wisdom, just as he had promised him. There were peaceful relations between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty” (1Kings 5:12)

Covenants were such a part of life. The word occurs nearly 300 times in the NIV, not the number of recorded covenants. However, in all cases, there were consequences for either party breaking the agreement, sometimes a matter of life and death

Change Came affecting the Relationship with man

So, God’s relationship with man was basically built on such a forever covenant with Adam and Eve. The agreement was that the whole planet and all of creation on it would be theirs but they should leave the specified tree alone. However, because of their close relationship, a formal covenant with animal sacrifice was unnecessary. None the less, the consequence of man breaking the covenant, was indeed, death

As we know, Adam took his eyes off God and followed Satan’s lure into distrusting God (see “Suffering Part II”). That sin of unbelief brought many changes, broke God’s perfect relationship with man and saw Adam and Eve exiled from the Garden and from God’s presence

Suddenly aware of their nakedness, Adam and Eve started hiding from God in fear (Genesis 3:10). Guilt, shame and fear had entered the world. They had died in their spirits; no longer able to enjoy that pure loving relationship with God but becoming fearful of Him. Death was also now at work in their bodies though it would take a time to destroy what God had created. To make matters worse, they were now subject to Satan and his evil as he now had dominion over the earth. …“the whole world is under the control of the evil one”… (1John 5:19b). In subjecting himself to Satan’s lead Adam submitted his authority and dominion over earth to Satan

Such is God’s Love

However, God wasn’t caught off guard! Indicative of His Indescribably Great Love, God had created humanity fully aware that we would choose sin over Him. He even had a plan before Creation, for redeeming us from the talons of Satan. “… it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed …, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world (1Peter 1:18-20)

Motivated by Love, God sought out Adam & Eve when they were hiding. “… the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ ” (Genesis 3:9). Further, toward restoring the relationship with Adam & Eve, God used an animal sacrifice to cover their nakedness and sense of shame. That use of a sacrifice was a “picture” of the promised redeemer coming from amidst their offspring (Genesis 3:15). Jesus Christ was that promised seed of the woman and His sacrifice would cover their sin and indeed, the sum total sin of all mankind. Paul reminds us that … “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17)

“You Will Surely Die”

God's Relationship with man - from Adam to the Flood
Summary of Genesis 5 – Adam to the Flood

Remember, “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Satan lied (Genesis 3:4) and of course, death and decay did enter the world just as God had said. Death “took its toll” after a much longer lifetime than we experience. See the table [right] of comparative lifespans for Adam and his descendants through to Shem, Noah’s firstborn 

The cumulative effect of man turning away from God, choosing to not listen to or trust Him explicitly, was disastrous. Not only did it impact God’s relationship with man but man’s wickedness continued to worsen as the cultural norm

It became so bad that by the 10th generation after Adam, within 1,656 years of creation, God’s “patience” ended

God was Grieved

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.’ But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:5-8)

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9b). But “God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth…..’” (Genesis 6:13)

Consequently He did just that, saving only Noah, his immediate family and pairs of all the animals. See Genesis chpts 7 & 8

Same Plan, Fresh Start, Re-establishing Relationship with man

Then God launched a fresh start “… ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, …’ ” (Genesis 8:21). Except that Adam had forfeited man’s dominion over Earth to Satan, God’s plan for Noah was the same one; “…saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands’ ” (Genesis 9:1b-2, 9:7)

Two modifications:-
i) God expanded their diet …  “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” (Genesis 9:3-4)
ii) God formalised this version of the agreement as a declared covenant with a sign

The Rainbow

“….‘I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you ….., Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ …, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.’” (Genesis 9:9-13)

Notice it was still for all generations to come, a permanent agreement. No change in God’s desire to have a relationship with man

Hereditary Problem

Even though God created Adam in His own likeness Adam became a sinner, separated from God. Adam then had a son in his own likeness, a sinner (Genesis 5:1,3) and from then on so too was every person born of man

Noah obviously chose to resist the urges to sin to the best of his ability (Genesis 6:9b) but alas, his son Ham, did not. So soon after God’s ‘washing of the planet’, sin surfaced again; in the time taken for Noah’s new vineyard to produce its first wine. Ham disrespected Noah as he lay asleep naked. His two brothers, Shem and Japheth, did not but rather chose to honour Noah
[Genesis 9:20-27]

After Noah awoke and became aware of what had occurred, he pronounced a curse on Canaan, Ham’s son (vs 25). The particular curse was that Canaan would be the lowest of slaves to his brothers (vs 24). “A servant of servants” (vs 24 NKJV) to his brothers – in Hebrew this expression meant the meanest and most despicable servant. Then Noah blessed Shem and Japheth

Noah prophesied what lay ahead for his sons and their descendants. The descendants of Shem birthed the nation of Israel which eventually received the land of Canaan from God. “Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites.”
(Genesis 10:15-18). These nations were on the list that God instructed the Israelites to destroy when they moved into the land (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)

More Disobedience

In Genesis chpt 10 we read of the numerous tribes which grew from Noah’s three sons. Following in chpt 11 we see the tribes started spreading East. However, instead of filling the earth as God had said, they decided they knew better saying “… let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (vs 4).  The city they started “… was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. [and] scattered them over the face of the whole earth” (vs 19)

As Noah’s family tree grew and spread during the next four centuries the nations they formed also drifted further and further away from God. They started doing evil and worshipping false gods

Still the Same Plan, New Tactic

Abram came 10 generations from Noah. Death came earlier. This second 10 generations spanned only 565 years (from the birth of Shem (Noah’s first) to Abraham’s death). Whereas the previous 10 generations spanned 2006 years from Adam’s creation to Noah’s death. No more 900yr-olds. Abram (Abraham) died at the early age of 175yrs
[see the lifespans of this next 10 generations]

Even though Abram had no recorded accomplishments or status, God chose Him, made a covenant with him. Abram was childless and already past child-bearing age but God promised he would father a great nation. (Abram’s name was later changed to Abraham – ‘father of a multitudes’). Acting by faith, the 75yr old left as the LORD had said and headed for the land of Canaan where he received God’s promise of that land. It is worth reading the text just to see how simple the plan sounded and how easy it should be to make real [Genesis 12:1-7]

When God formalised the Covenant with Abram (Genesis 15) He warned him about the coming enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt (Genesis 15:13)

Remember, while in Egypt “The LORD had said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt’ ” (Exodus 11:9). However, He promised that “afterward they will come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:14). As it turned out, after all the plagues etc, “The LORD had made the Egyptians favourably disposed toward the people [Israelites], and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:36)

Abraham’s Offspring to Demonstrate God

The plan was for God to build a nation (to be called Israel) from Abraham. God would bless the nation and Abraham so much as to draw the attention of the rest of the world. Abraham’s name would become great “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18). The fulfilment in the short-term happened towards the end of the 430yrs in Egypt. God chastised Pharoah …“I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Romans 9:17 quoting Exodus 9:16). The long-term fulfilment came through the family lineage, as Jesus declared, “… salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22)

God would take care of His nation, provide for them miraculously, win battles for them and through them show His Glory to the world. As Moses said to the Israelites regarding the laws and decrees; “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:6-8)

The Relationship with man Would Shed Light

So the nation of God’s people was to be a light attracting and directing the rest of the world back from their wickedness to God. “… I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:2-3). Through Israel came the Word of God – the inspired Scriptures of Old and New Testaments. As Paul wrote “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew … ? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1-2)

Israel, a frustratingly rebellious nation, highlighted the depth of God’s Love and Grace. Their history is recorded in the Old Testament books of Law and History and emphasised by the work of the prophets. It is one continual cycle of sin, punishment (including desolation and exile), repentance, forgiveness, restoration, sin, … etc. All ‘in the face of’ God’s wooing, blessing, reminding, warning, disciplining, calling them back to Himself, pursuing His desire for a relationship with man. His people had seen the one true God work powerfully so many times in so many ways. Yet they always seemed to want to turn away and follow the false gods of the world. As Paul quotes Isaiah’s prophecy … “But concerning Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people’ ” (Romans 10:21, Isaiah 65:2)

Still the Same Plan for Relationship with Man – next Phase

Near the end of Moses’ leadership of Israel he summoned all the elders and officials and prophesied. “For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 31:28-29)

He recited the words now know as “The Song of Moses”. See Deuteronomy 31:30-32:44. It started with a testimonial reminder of the Lord’s Goodness to His people and the magnificent care and provision He had given them. He then reminded them they had made God “jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. They sacrificed to demons, … gods your fathers did not fear” (vs 16-17)

Then he prophesied God’s message …“They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding” (vs 21) [emphasis added]

But, there was hope …

ark-of-the-covenant relationship with manWhen Moses finished reciting … , he said to them, ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess’ ” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47). All that the people needed was to repent (turn back) and live according to the words of the law; the agreement that God had given in more detail when they left Egypt. Love God and thereby stay under His covering, provision and protection for a long life

Continued Rebellion and the Final Phase

Sadly, as Moses foretold, eventually the Israelites fell from grace and salvation went out to the Gentiles (those who are not a people ie all the non-Jewish nations). The Gentiles would then deliver the Gospel back to the Jews. The redemption of mankind from the clutches of the evil one. This came about in the culmination of so many prophecies detailing the who, where, when and under what circumstances….

Advent, Christmas, Emmanuel

The promised ‘seed of the woman’ from Genesis 3:15 was born, Jesus Christ. Not the seed of the man so he was wholly holy, without sin. He showed us Father God (John 14:9); gave His unblemished life as the sacrifice for all sin; and was raised to life to vanquish the power of death; for all of humanity

As Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “… if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ [Paul was quoting Joel (2:32)]” (Romans 10:9-13)

The final, ultimate restoration of God’s relationship with man, for eternity

Thinking through the implications of this phase …

Paul wrote … “Again I ask: Did they [Israelites] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:11-15)

Sin must be dealt with because after all the special treatment, expressions of God’s persistent Love, Paul wrote “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better ? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one’ ” (Romans 3:9-12)

Reflection

In his speech to the Sanhedrin, Stephen provides a summary of the process of the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abram. God’s Covenant promise to rebuild His relationship with man. The miracle of Isaac’s birth, the twist with his son Jacob supplanting Esau and then the 12 patriarchs (tribes). You should at least read the account of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:2-52. Therein you will see some of the twists and turns in the path of the nation of Israel. And then on to the eventual sacrificing of God’s promised redeemer, seed of the woman, the Righteous One

God’s primary desire remained unchanged – the world filled with people enjoying a close loving, conversational relationship with Him. People who would delight in His Glory

Of course, in his full-on despise of God and all who remind him of God, Satan would do anything and everything to try and thwart such a plan. He successfully started with Adam, and followed on through his descendants. Satan has historically been relentless in trying to lure mankind’s allegiance away from God

Although millions have resisted Satan or accepted Jesus’ redemption from Satan, so many more have chosen to follow after the false gods that Satan has provided. The many recurring expressions of God’s heartfelt calls for His people to return to Him show God’s Faithfulness and enduring Love. His many reminders of His Covenant reflect His everlasting commitment to His original plan for a close relationship with man. God’s expression, “they will be my people” and “I will be their God” occurs 17 times in the NIV translation. There are also many more times where God says the same thing but not the exact expression

On the flip side, from our perspective, being in the Kingdom of God means being in relationship with Him. As Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (Matthew 13:45-46 NLT). Without a doubt, relationships are our most valuable possession. No amount of wealth can compensate loneliness. Relationship with God is THE most special relationship. The one for which we were created and so, worth giving up everything in order to pursue it, the ‘pearl of great value’

Conclusion

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ ‘We are his offspring.’ “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:26-31)
This was Paul’s summary of life with God to the Areopagus in Athens

Quoting several of David’s Psalms the book of 1st Chronicles proclaims …. “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face [presence] always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, ….
                see more of this exhortation …. [1Chronicles 16:11-34]
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (1Chronicles 16:11-34). History demonstrates the truth of Psalm 110:5b “His faithfulness continues through all generations

Our response? Worship turns our eyes to the Lord and disturbs our self-centredness, making us God-centred. We were created to live in a relationship with God and that should be our number one priority. As He promised, all kinds of blessings follow – see Deuteronomy 28:1-14

… just sayin’

Bibliography
  • The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984.
  • Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
    https://www.biblegateway.com/
  • NLT – Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation
  • Strong’s concordance
  • Photo: ark of the covenant by Igor Rodrigues on unsplash.com

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