Previous article in this series: January 15, 2013, p. 182.
The Adult Bible Study Society in Southwest Church is studying the book of Genesis. A few weeks ago we came to chapter 4, Cain and Abel. An interesting question was raised by one of the members. He prefaced the question by giving a brief statement of the distinction between Abel’s offering of a bloody sacrifice, unto which the Lord had “respect” (v. 4), and Cain’s offering of a bloodless sacrifice, unto which the Lord had not “respect” (v. 5). “We understand this well,” he said. (That is, we who live in the clear light of the cross, and of Pentecost, and of the New Testament Scriptures.) “But,” he asked, “what did Cain and Abel understand?”
Essentially, that was the question with which we concluded the previous article in this series. It was this: In John Calvin’s characterizing much of the worship of the Jews in the old dispensation as a robbing Christ of His honor, was he, perhaps, attributing to them a level of comprehension that was actually beyond them? Applied to the discussion in the Adult Bible Study Society in Southwest, it is this: What exactly was the sin of Cain? That his bringing an offering of the fruit of the ground was a trifling with the divine prescription for the manner of worship can, I think, be taken for granted. As another member of the society put it, God would not have left our first parents in the dark with respect to a matter so important as the manner of worship. But is that all that can be said about Cain’s offering? Or was Cain guilty also of despising what was symbolized?
Not an easy question to answer. Rev. Ophoff, in a series of articles on the types of Scripture in volume 3 of this periodical, asks the question, “Were the devout [in the old dispensation], so it is asked, capable of looking beyond the lamb to behold Christ?” His answer: “This, we reply, is a matter of conjecture.”
We will return, later, to Ophoff’s “matter of conjecture.” But first, just a little bit more to anchor the question in the context of the history with which we are dealing in this series of articles.
In an earlier article (see December 15, 2012) we noted that Israel, that is, the ten tribes, the Northern Kingdom, “in their rejection of the house of David and abandoning of the worship of God in Jerusalem’s temple, had in effect rejected Christ, both with respect to His kingly and His priestly office.” Indeed that was true. . . “in effect”—that is, with respect to the end result, the outcome, of their cutting themselves off from Judah, and David, and the worship of God in the temple. The question now is whether or not we can say more. Was it only a matter of “in effect,” or can it be said that the people of Israel under Jeroboam I actually rejected not only the types but also what was typified? In other words, could the Jews in the old dispensation be charged with a rejection of Christ, or would that have been impossible in the day of shadows?
Then there were the Jews who did not reject the house of David, nor abandon the worship of God in the temple. These were the people of Judah, Israel’s “treacherous sister” (). These were those who witnessed the demise of the ten tribes and were not afraid, “but went and played the harlot also.” How did they do that? By idolatry, surely. But also by their worship of God in the temple—a worship that, for many, was but a vain show and hence, according to Calvin, a robbing Christ of His honor.
Thus the question: Was their sin “aggravated by an awareness of the symbolism involved in it, and a despising of it”?
That Christ was casting His shadow in the old dispensation is beyond question. We need think only of:
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
Paul (post-Pentecost and post road-to-Damascus-conversion) understood that. As did also the saints in Corinth to whom he addressed this epistle.
But did the Jews of Moses’ day see that, and of David’s, and of Isaiah’s? And, if so, to what degree?
In his attempt to answer that question, Ophoff chose to examine just one of the many types in the Old Testament, the rite of expiatory sacrifice—which, as Fairbairn declares in his Typology of Scripture, was “the very core of the religion of the old covenant.” It was that, the core, because it pointed directly to atonement, the one great need of the saints of God ever since the fall of Adam. And thus it pointed in a most fundamental way to the Messiah, the Seed, who, according to the mother of all promises, would gain the victory for God’s people by His “bruising” of the head of the serpent, though He Himself would be “bruised,” but “for our iniquities,” as the prophet Isaiah (chapter 53) was given to see it some 700 years before the event.
Atonement—by the shedding of innocent blood. Adam and Eve saw it in a figure, when they looked into the lifeless eyes of the animal slain, perhaps by God Himself, to provide coats to cover the nakedness that fig leaves had left exposed. A vivid picture—reenacted repeatedly for 4,000 years of old covenant history. A type. A shadow. Cast by Christ—on whom the Lord would lay “the iniquity of us all” ().
Paul, we say, understood that. As do we. After Pentecost.
What about the saints of God from Adam to Moses? And from Moses to Isaiah? And from Isaiah to John the Baptist?
Ah yes, John the Baptist. The greatest of the prophets of the old dispensation (). The prophet who could not only testify that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” ( ), but also actually point to Jesus and exclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” ( ). Whom Isaiah saw dimly, 700 years earlier, John was privileged to see before his eyes. The greatest of the prophets indeed. And yet. . .after languishing for nearly half a year in Herod’s dungeon, this greatest of the prophets called for two of his disciples and sent them to Jesus with this question: “Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” ( ).
And then there were the disciples of Jesus. Surely, it would seem, if an ability to ‘connect the dots’ of Old Testament prophecy fromto were possible, such ability would be epitomized in those who were privileged to walk with Jesus for the three years of His public ministry. Believers, those disciples surely were. When asked by Jesus, some two and a half years into that ministry, “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter could with conviction respond for all of them save one, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” ( ). But did they understand Old Testament typology? Did they connect the Messiah of with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53? So soon they revealed that they did not. We read that “from that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer. . .and be killed. . .” ( ). The very disciple who had made that wonderful profession of faith in Jesus now “took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” ( ).
Writes Rev. Ophoff, “The blunders of the disciples of Christ do not favor the view that the church, from the days of Isaiah on, associated the sacrificial victim with the Christ.”
What, then, of our earlier assertion that we sell the saints of the old dispensation short if we imagine that they were not able to see beyond the bare ceremonies? And what, then, of Calvin’s characterizing the worship of the Jews of Jeremiah’s day as a robbing Christ of His honor?
. . . to be continued.