Previous article in this series: May 1, 2013, p. 355.
We left Adam and Eve, last time, clothed in the fig leaves they had sewed together to cover their nakedness—their nakedness, that is, before God. The deepest cause of their fear and of their shame (cf. Gen. 3:11) came from their awareness of their guilt and of the corruption of their natures. Yes, the corruption of their natures. They could feel it. They did not have to be told that by their disobedience and fall they had rendered themselves unfit for fellowship with the holy God. They did not have to be told that, standing with their sinful selves uncovered before His pure eyes, they needed a covering. And they knew, too, instinctively as it were, that fig leaves left them…exposed. Hence their hiding on hearing the voice of God, walking in the garden.
What was the one great, all-encompassing need of our first parents in this hour? The gospel.
That’s what was proclaimed to them.
We see it. Did they? That, you will remember, is the question we are facing in this short series.
The word of God as it is recorded for us in Genesis 3:15 is often called the mother promise, or the protevangel. It is called that, according to Rev. Hoeksema, “because it is the beginning of the gospel of salvation; and all the rest of the revelation of the gospel in Christ may be conceived as only a further unfolding and expansion of the promise.” The idea here is that it is not at all true that Adam and Eve had only part of a promise that God chose to reveal bit by bit throughout the centuries of the old dispensation. What Adam and Eve had can rather be described as an “embryo” or “seed,” which had in it “all the promises thereafter spoken through the centuries of the formation of the Canon of the Scriptures” (Rev. Ophoff). “I will put enmity…,” the Lord said. And, further, “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” It’s all there, is it not? Perpetual warfare there will be, says God, between the reprobated portion of fallen humanity, of which Satan is the prince, and the elect of God. But the victory belongs to the latter. Satan will eventually lay hold on the seed Himself, but the wound he will inflict, though a grievous one indeed, will not be fatal. The seed of the woman, said God to Satan in the hearing of Adam and Eve, will crush the head of the serpent.
Did Adam and Eve, did the saints of the old dispensation, understand these mysterious words? Says Rev. Ophoff, “The divine announcement, ‘I will set enmity,’ and ‘It shall bruise thy head’ was, we may feel assured, heavenly music in the ears of every saint of the old covenant. This and similar announcements must be regarded as so many lifelines, thrown out, which those who realized that they were lying in the midst of death, eagerly grasped.” But was the gospel of the protevangel clear to the minds of Adam and Eve? That is, did they know the answers to such questions as these: Who are the two seeds of whom God spoke? What is the character of the enmity that God will put between them? How will the crushing of the serpent’s head be accomplished? And how will all of this effect…our salvation?
Rev. Ophoff says concerning questions of this kind that “the protevangel itself does not supply the answers.” He concluded in fact that, “if there had not been any subsequent revelations, no unfolding of the promise of the protevangel, these questions would forever have remained unanswered.” That the protevangel was a promise of victory, and that there was in it the hope of deliverance from the death that they so richly deserved, this much Adam and Eve must have understood. But in order for God’s people to come to a fuller understanding of how their salvation was to be realized, further light needed to be shed on the promise of God as it was given to Adam. And that light was indeed given—not only by further prophecies, but by all of the types and shadows that were to become part of what might be called the “history of revelation.” Beginning right here, in Paradise I, after the Fall.
From the moment that their eyes were opened to their sin, they had felt the necessity of a covering. And that conviction very likely remained, even after they heard the promise of a Redeemer. But what to cover themselves with—that was the question, for they knew full well that the fig leaves were vain.
God did not leave them long wondering about that. Having proclaimed to them the gospel of grace He added at once a visible symbol to that gospel—by clothing Adam and Eve with coats of animal skins.
How God made those coats we are not told. We are inclined to agree with Prof. Hoeksema when he suggests that very likely God Himself killed that animal and made those clothes for Adam and Eve. Considering the Antitype (the reality that this transaction pictured), what could have been more fitting?
Whatever the case, whether by the hand of God or of Adam, the important thing is that animals did indeed die. In all likelihood Adam and Eve had never before witnessed the terrible reality of death. They had from the beginning been warned that death was the penalty for disobedience to God’s command; but of the nature and effects of it they must have had only a vague conception. And, says Jamieson, “what a shock must the feelings of the parents of our race have received—what an overwhelmingly painful impression must have been made on their hearts, when the first sacrifice was offered…when, with the recent memory of their guilty fall, they stood in mute astonishment at the spectacle of the immolated carcass, and beheld in it the effects of that death to which it was consigned as their substitute.”
Indeed, their substitute it was. That’s what God told them, right?
Well, not exactly. Here’s what we read: “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.”
Hardly, however, is the ‘speculation’ of Jamieson here farfetched.
Not that all are agreed on this point. Keil and Delitzsch, for example, write that:
The notion, which is still very widely spread, that the burnt-offerings of Abel, Noah, and the patriarchs were expiatory sacrifices, in which the slaying of the sacrificial animals set forth the fact, that the sinner was deserving of death in the presence of the holy God, not only cannot be proved from the Scriptures, but is irreconcilable with the attitude of a Noah, an Abraham and other patriarchs, towards the Lord God…. There is no historical foundation for the arguments adduced…in support of the opinion, that there were sin-offerings before the Mosaic law.
Ophoff, though he makes no reference at this point to Keil and Delitzsch, or for that matter to any other Old Testament commentators, makes abundantly clear what he thinks of such reasoning. “We must consider further,” he writes, “that the sacrifice by blood was a symbol and type of greatest significance. It preindicated the atonement of Christ. As such it formed the very heart of Israel’s symbolical-typical worship. Can it be that the Genesis narrative contains no report of its revelation to Adam? We must again reply, this is inconceivable.”
Ophoff goes on then to assert that the Bible “is the progressive revelation of the truth of our salvation. How could it be this,” he asks, “if it contains no report of the first revelation of a symbolical-typical institution of such vast importance? The Genesis narrative,” he insists, “must contain such a report. And that report is the verse that tells us that the Lord clothed our first parents with skins.”
But then the question reasserts itself: Did Adam and Eve understand it? Could they understand the transaction—given what appears to be an absence of any explanation?
First of all, we must allow for the possibility that some words of explanation, though not recorded, may in fact have been spoken. But, second, we cannot help but think that very little information would have been necessary. Consider, again, what Adam and Eve had already learned—by experience and by intuition and by God’s having opened their eyes. They did not have to be told that their very nature had been corrupted in consequence of their disobedience. They knew that the God with whom they had enjoyed blessed fellowship in the state of rectitude was “of purer eyes than to behold evil.” They knew that the depravity of their nature required a covering. And they understood at once the futility of their attempt to provide a covering of their own making. It is then, it would seem, but a small step to their comprehending also that God’s provision of skins was His answer to their felt need of a covering for the corruption of their natures. To what other conclusion could they have come—if, as we suggested before, the opening of their eyes (Gen. 3:7) was evidence of an immediate operation of regenerating grace in the hearts of Adam and Eve?
And then but another small step to their comprehending the connection between their sin, the threatened consequence,…and that dead animal at their feet—slain by God, to provide a covering for them. Genesis 3:15 was gospel to Adam’s ear. Genesis 3:21 was gospel to his eye! Ophoff, we think, is exactly right when he writes, in effect, that no visual aid could have been more perfect:
Now through what more appropriate doing could God have communicated to Adam the conception of the sacrifice by blood than through a doing according to which He shed animal blood in man’s presence and clothed him with skins of the victims? In connection with what more appropriate doing could God have revealed unto Adam the truth of which the sacrifice by blood is expressive? Fact is that the doing was as suitable and appropriate, as instructive and illuminating, as any doing could possibly be. Its appropriateness is unsurpassable. The agreement between the thing and the matter signified was perfect.
With confidence, therefore, we can conclude that the symbolism involved in the bloody sacrifice was not lost on our first parents. They must have understood it.
But, as noted above, Ophoff speaks repeatedly of that sacrifice as being both a symbol and a type. It remains, yet, for us to look at the latter. Next time.