Previous article in this series: May 15, 2013, p. 377.
As the above title suggests, we have still to conclude a short series of articles exploring why a false worship of God by Jews in the old dispensation can be characterized as a robbing Christ of His honor. In doing so, we continue to lean rather heavily, as we indicated before, on a series of articles by the late Rev. George M. Ophoff in the SB back in 1926 and 1927.
, as we mentioned last time, was gospel to the ear of our first, fallen parents, while was gospel to the eye. We return, now, to our reflection on the latter—gospel to the eye.
says only that “unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.”
Not one word of explanation. Nor any hint as to Adam and Eve’s reaction. Just the bare facts: coats of skins, for Adam and Eve, provided by God Himself.
The symbolism is such that it jumps right out at us, of course. And we can be sure that it was not lost on Adam and Eve. Their Teacher, after all, was God. He had opened their eyes (), in preparation, indispensable preparation, for the instruction that was to follow.
Were there limitations to their comprehension of that instruction? To be sure, there were. Given the fact that they were beholding the very first of what would be many Old Testament picture prophecies of the person and work of the Messiah, we can be sure that they did not have the same level of understanding as would a Moses some 2,500 years later. And certainly they did not have the insights of an Isaiah. But they grasped the connection between their sin, its threatened penalty, and the dead animal at their feet.
As to the substance of their knowledge, we might expound it this way: Having been touched by the immediate operation of regenerating grace (opening of their eyes), these two fallen creatures perceived the need of the hour to be peace with God, whom they had so grievously offended. The justice of God required atonement. For reconciliation there must be expiation. And since fallen man is of himself unable to effect that expiation, the atonement must be vicarious.
That, I say, is how we might expound it. The beauty of God’s instruction to Adam and Eve was that He didn’t give them a single one of those theological terms. He taught them spiritual-ethical truth—at their level…
by a picture. And they ‘got’ it. How true it is that in time past God revealed truth “in divers manners” ()!
What, then, was the great object lesson in God’s provision of coats of skins for Adam and Eve? It was this, that sin must be atoned for, and that there can be no remission of sin without the shedding of blood.
That much, we believe, can be taken for granted. And then also this, that Adam and Eve must have understood that God’s killing of animals, for provision of covering for these two sinners, was not intended to be a one-time demonstration of the great principles of sin and redemption. Whether by explicit instruction or by clear implication, the rite of expiatory sacrifice had its beginning right here. How else could we explain Abel’s offering of “the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof” () and God’s “respect” for it, and then of God’s rejection of Cain’s offering of the fruit of the ground? “Heaven’s own finger,” writes Fairbairn in his Typology, had pointed out “the way for obtaining relief to [their] guilty consciences.”
But what exactly was that “way of finding relief” to which heaven’s finger pointed? Was it the carcass of an animal? Or was it Christ? That brings us back to the question with which we began this short series. Was Cain’s transgression ‘merely’ a trifling with a divine prescription for worship…or was it a robbing Christ of His honor?
“Were the devout, so it is asked, capable of looking beyond the lamb to behold Christ?” (Rev. Ophoff). Ophoff’s answer, as we indicated earlier, was that this “is a matter of conjecture.” Fairbairn says the same: “How far Adam and his immediate descendants might be able to descry, under their imperfect forms of worship, and the accompanying intimations of recovery, the ultimate ground in this respect of faith and hope for sinful men, can be to us only a matter of vague conjecture or doubtful speculation.”
What the two authors (Fairbairn and Ophoff) were acknowledging is that nowhere in the Old Testament Scriptures are we able to find explicit evidence of the extent to which believers were able to grasp the typology of the old dispensation. We are left therefore with conjecture. There are, however, biblical principles that shed light on the matter, and, though Fairbairn and by Ophoff were in basic agreement on what those were, they did draw somewhat different conclusions.
Fairbairn speaks repeatedly, and insightfully, of the limitations of the Old Testament saints’ comprehension of the meaning of the types, which were intended to be only, and of necessity, preparatory.
From Fairbairn, this:
…the realities of the gospel, which constitute the antitypes, are the ultimate objects which are contemplated by the mind of God, when planning the economy of successive dispensations. …to prepare the way for the introduction of these ultimate objects, He placed the church under a course of training, which included instruction by types, or designed and fitting resemblances of what was to come….
Accordingly, the church of the Old Testament is constantly represented as having been in a state of comparative childhood, supplied only with such means of instruction, and subjected to such methods of discipline as were suited to so imperfect and provisional a period of her being….
…One truth in both—but that truth existing first in a lower, then in a higher stage of development; in the one case appearing as a precious bud embosomed and but partially seen amid the imperfect relations of flesh and time; in the other, expanding itself in the bright sunshine of heaven into all the beauty and fruitfulness of which it was susceptible….
With all of that, Ophoff would have been in full agreement. It was only when Fairbairn began to quantify the believers’ grasp of Old Testament typology that Ophoff took exception to his views. From Fairbairn, concerning the rite of expiatory sacrifice, there is this:
That this [the sacrifice of animals] was typically or prophetically symbolical of the death of Christ is testified with much plainness and frequency in the New Testament Scripture. Yet, independently of this connection with Christ’s death, it had a meaning of its own, which it was possible for the ancient worshipper to understand, and, so understanding, to present through it an acceptable service to God, whether he might perceive or not the further respect it bore to a dying Savior.
Ophoff did not deny that the expiatory sacrifice had “a meaning of its own.” Surely it did, for it spoke, symbolically, of the awful reality of sin and of the need for reconciliation. What Ophoff objected to was any notion that the believer could render acceptable service to God, through the sacrifice, independent of its connection with Christ’s death.
What Fairbairn claimed was not “strictly required” and could not “ordinarily be expected of the ancient worshiper,” Ophoff claimed to be in fact required, were the worship to be acceptable to God and were the worshiper thereby to obtain relief from a guilty conscience.
For proof, Ophoff turned first not to the Old but to the New Testament. He looked to Hebrews 9:9, which says, concerning the sacrifices that were brought by the people of God in the old dispensation, that they “could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience.” What does that mean for the matter at hand? It means, first of all, this, that when Abel brought an offering of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof, he did so because of a burdened conscience. Burdened, he was, by the weight of his sin. He turned, for relief, to the God-appointed way, the bloody sacrifice. And he found…none.
That’s right, he found none. “Having scrupulously attended to the prescriptions of the law,” writes Ophoff, “the troubled one would discover that he was as ill at ease as ever.” God, according to Ophoff, “could not permit the worshiper to rest in the sacrificial victim.” God therefore, as it were, compelled the worshiper to look beyond the sacrifice by “refusing to grant him relief until the worshiper had learned to expect nothing from the ancient sacrifice and absolutely all from Jehovah.”
In a word [writes Ophoff], the believer of the old covenant was taught and empowered to lay hold on that which constitutes the very heart and core of the economy of redemption, viz., Jehovah and blood. But whose blood? He had been taught to expect nothing from the blood of the sacrificial animal…. Hence, he was compelled to conclude that Jehovah Himself would provide. Jehovah and blood—these two constituted the mystery of redemption upon which the believer of the old covenant pondered and attempted to penetrate.
“Jehovah and blood”—“the very heart and core of the economy of redemption.”
Whose blood? Not that of the sacrificial animal, but….
More must be said about that. We will try to conclude our study of it in the next article. Our hope is that you find this subject as intriguing, even thrilling, as does this writer.
… to be continued.