The Final Countdown – Promised in the Beginning

We have looked at how mankind fell from their first created state. The Bible tells us God had a plan based on a Promise made at the beginning of history.

The Bible – Really a Library

First, some facts about the Bible.  The Bible is a collection of books, written by many authors.  It took more than 1500 years for these books to all be written from start to finish.  This makes the Bible  more like a library and sets it apart from other Great Books. If the Bible was written by just one author, or a group that knew each other we may not be surprised at its unity, but the authors of the Bible are separated by hundreds and even thousands of years.  These writers come from different countries, languages, and social positions.  But their messages and predictions connect with each other and the facts of history recorded outside the Bible.  The oldest copies of the Old Testament books (the books before Jesus) that still exist today are from 200 BC.  Existing copies of the New Testament are dated from 125 AD and later.

The Gospel Promise in the Garden

We see at the very beginning of the Bible an example of how the Bible predicts into the future. Though it is about the Beginning, it was written with the End in mind.  Here we see a Promise when God confronts Satan (who was in the form of a serpent) with a riddle just after he brought about the Fall of mankind.

“… and I (God) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

You can see that this is prophetic by ‘will’s in future tense.  There are also five different characters mentioned. They are:

  1. I = God
  2. you = serpent or Satan
  3. The woman
  4. The offspring of the woman
  5. The offspring of serpent or Satan

The Promise predicts how these characters will relate in the future. This is shown below:

Relationships between the characters depicted in the Promise
Relationships between the characters in the Promise

It does not say who ‘the woman’ is but God will cause both Satan and the woman to have an ‘offspring’. There will be ‘enmity’ or hatred between these offspring and between the woman and Satan. Satan will ‘strike the heel’ of the woman’s offspring while the offspring of the woman will ‘crush the head’ of Satan.

Who is the Offspring? – a ‘he’

We have made some observations, now for some conclusions. Because the ‘offspring’ of the woman is a ‘he’ we can discard some possibilities.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘she’ and is not a woman.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘they’, so it is NOT a group of people or a nation.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is a person and not an ‘it’.  The offspring is not a philosophy, teaching, political system, or a religion – since these are all ‘it’s. An ‘it’ like these would have been our preferred choice to fix the corruption since people are always thinking up new systems and religions. God had something else in mind – a ‘he’- a single male human.   This ‘he’ would crush the head of Satan.

Notice what is not said. God does not say that this offspring will come from the woman and the man, but only from the woman. This is especially unusual since the Bible almost always records only the sons coming through fathers.  Some see the Bible as ‘sexist’  because it just records fathers of sons. But here it is different – there is no promise of an offspring (a ‘he’) coming from a man. It says only that there will be an offspring coming from the woman, without mentioning a man.

A much later Prophet builds on that Promise

Hundreds of years later, an Old Testament prophet added the following:

the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). (Isaiah 7:14, 750 BC)

More than 700 years after Isaiah, Jesus was born (the New Testament says) from a virgin – fulfilling Isaiah. But is Jesus being foreseen even this early – right at the beginning of human history? This fits with the offspring as a ‘he’, not a ‘she’, ‘they’ or ‘it’. With that perspective, if you read the riddle it makes sense.

‘Strike his Heel’??

But what does it mean that Satan would strike ‘his heel’? One year I worked in the jungles of Cameroon. We had to wear thick rubber boots in the humid heat because the snakes lay in the long grass and would strike your foot – your heel – and kill you.  After that jungle experience it made sense to me.  The ‘he’ would destroy Satan, the serpent, but ‘he’ would be killed in the process.  That does foreshadow the victory gained through the sacrifice of Jesus.

‘The woman’ – a Double Meaning

So, if this Promise at the Beginning concerns Jesus, then the woman would be the virgin woman who gave birth to him – Mary.  But there is a second meaning.  Notice how another Old Testament prophet refers to Israel.

O Israel, … I will make you my wife forever, … I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord. (Hosea 2:17-20.  800 BC)

Israel, in the Bible, is referred to as the wife of the LORD – a woman.  Then, the last book in the Bible, describes a conflict which this woman will have to go through with her enemy

I saw a woman clothed with … a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.

Then …I saw a large red dragon … in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.

She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. …

This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels…

When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child… And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children…  (Revelation 12:1-17, 90 AD)

Since Jesus was a Jew, he is at the same time the offspring of Mary, the woman, and Israel, the woman.  The Promise came true both ways.  The ancient serpent is in enmity with Israel, ‘the woman’, and has declared war on her.  This explains the unique troubles that Jews have suffered through their long history, and it was predicted in the very beginning.

The offspring of the Serpent?

But who is this offspring of Satan?  In the last book of the Bible, many pages and thousands of years after the Promise in Genesis, predicts a coming person. Note the description:

The beast you saw was once alive, but now it is not. However, it will come up out of the bottomless pit and go away to be destroyed. The people who live on the earth will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was once alive, is no longer living, but will come again. These are the people whose names have never been written in the book of life since the beginning of the world.

“You need wisdom to understand this.

(Revelation 17:8-9; written by John ca 90 AD)

This describes a fight between the offspring of the woman and Satan’s offspring. But it is first revealed in the Promise of Genesis, at the very beginning of the Bible, with the details filled in later. The countdown to a final contest between Satan and God started long ago in the Garden.  It could almost make you think that history is really His-Story.

Corrupted (part 2) … and Missing the Target

The Bible describes us as corrupted from the image God made us in.  How did this happen? It is recorded in the book of Genesis of the Bible. Shortly after being made ‘in the image of God’ the first humans (Adam and Eve) were tested with a choice.  The Bible describes their conversation with a ‘serpent’.  The serpent has always been understood to be Satan – an spirit enemy to God.  In the Bible, Satan usually speaks through someone.  In this case he spoke through a serpent:

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:1-7)

Their choice (and temptation), was that they could ‘be like God’. Up to this point they had trusted God for everything, but now they had the choice to become ‘like God’, to trust in themselves and be their own god.

In their choice to be independent they were changed. They felt shame and tried to cover up. When God confronted Adam, he blamed Eve (and God who made her). She blamed the serpent. No one accepted responsibility.

What started that day has continued because we have inherited that same independent nature.  Some misunderstand the Bible and think that we are blamed for Adam’s bad choice. The only one blamed is Adam but we live in the consequences of his decision. We have now inherited this independent nature of Adam. We may not want to be god of the universe, but we want to be gods in our settings, separate from God.

This explains so much of human life: we lock our doors, we need police, and we have computer passwords– because otherwise we will steal from each other. This is why societies eventually collapse – because cultures have a tendency to decay. This is why all forms of government and economic systems, though some work better than others, they all   eventually breakdown. Something about the way we are makes us miss the way things should be.

That word ‘miss’ sums up our situation. A verse from the Bible gives a picture to understand this better. It says:

Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)

This describes soldiers who were experts at using slingshots and would never miss. The word in Hebrew translated ‘miss’ above is יַחֲטִֽא .  It is also translated sin through the Old Testament.

The soldier takes a stone and shoots it to hit the target. If he misses he has failed his purpose. In the same way, we were made in God’s image to hit the target in how we relate to Him and treat others. To ‘sin’ is to miss this purpose, or target, that was intended for us.

This missed-the-target picture is not happy or optimistic.  People sometimes react strongly against the Bible’s teaching on sin. A university student once said to me, “I don’t believe because I do not like what this is saying”.  But what does ‘liking’ something have to do with truth?  I do not like taxes, wars, or earthquakes – no one does – but that does not make them untrue.  We can’t ignore any of them.  All the systems of law, police, locks, and security that we have built into society to protect us from each other suggest that something is wrong.  At least this Biblical teaching on our sin should be considered in an open-minded way.

We have a problem.  We are corrupted from the image we were first made in, and now we miss the target when it comes to our moral actions.  But God did not leave us in our helplessness. He had a plan to rescue us, and this is why Gospel literally means ‘good news’ – because this plan is the good news that He saves us.  God did not wait until Abraham to announce this news; he first announced it in that conversation with Adam and Eve.  We look at this first Good News announcement next.

But corrupted … like orcs of Middle-earth

Previously we looked at what the Bible means when it says that people were created ‘in the image of God’.  This explains why human life is precious.  However, the Bible continues on from creation to explain a serious problem.  The problem can be seen from this Psalm (song) in the Bible.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

This says that ‘all’ of us have ‘become corrupt’.  Though we were ‘made in the image of God’ something has wrecked this image in all of us.  Corruption is shown in a chosen independence from God (‘all have turned aside’ from ‘seeking God’) and also in not doing ‘good’.

Thinking Elves and Orcs

Lord-of-the-rings-orcs
Orcs were ugly in so many ways, but they were simply corrupted elves.

To understand this, compare orcs and elves from the movie Lord of the Rings. Orcs are ugly and evil.  Elves are beautiful and peaceful (see Legolas).  But orcs had once been elves that Sauron had corrupted in the past.  The original elf image in the orcs had been wrecked.  In a similar way the Bible says that people have become corrupted. God had made

Legolos
The elves, like Legalos, were noble and majestic

elves but we have become orcs.

For example, we know ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour.  But we do not  unfailingly live by what we know. It is like a computer virus that damages the proper workings of a computer. Our moral code is there – but a virus has infected it. The Bible starts with people as good and moral, but then also corrupted.  This fits with what we observe about ourselves. But it also brings a question: why did God make us this way? We know right and wrong yet are corrupted from it. As the atheist Christopher Hitchens complains:

“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., corrupt ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  p. 100

But he misses something very important, the Bible does not say that God made us this way, but that something terrible happened after we were made. The first humans revolted against God and in their rebellion they changed and were corrupted.

The Fall of Mankind

This is often called The Fall.  Adam, the first man, was created by God. There was an agreement between God and Adam, like a marriage contract of faithfulness, and Adam broke it. The Bible records that Adam ate from the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ even though they had agreed that he would not eat from that tree. The agreement and the tree itself, gave Adam a free choice to remain faithful to God or not. Adam had been created in the image of God, and placed into friendship with Him.  But Adam had no choice regarding his creation, so God allowed him to choose about his friendship with God.  Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam to God had to be a choice.  This choice centered on the command not to eat from that one tree.  And Adam chose to rebel.  What Adam started with his rebellion has gone non-stop through all generations and continues with us today. We look next at what this means.

Made in the Image of God

Can we use the Bible to understand where we came from? Many say ‘no’, but there is much about us that makes sense in the light of what the Bible says.  For example, consider what the Bible teaches about our beginnings.  In the first chapter it says

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“In the Image of God”

What does it mean that mankind was created ‘in the image of God’?  It does not mean that God has two arms and a head.  Rather it is saying that our basic characteristics come from God.  In the Bible God can be sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same emotions that we have.   We make choices and decisions everyday.  God also makes choices and decisions too.  We can think and God does also.  Being ‘made in the image of God’ means that we have mind, emotions and will because God has mind, emotions and will and He created us to be like him in these ways.  He is the source of what we find in us.

We are self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’.  We are not impersonal ‘its’.  We are like this because God is this way. The God of the Bible is not a non-personality like the ‘Force’ in the movie series Star Wars and neither are we because we are made in His image.

Why do we like beauty?

We also value art, drama and beauty. We need beauty in our surroundings, music and books.  Music enriches our lives and makes us dance.  We love good stories because stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the great stories put these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations.  We use art in its many forms to entertain, relax and refresh ourselves because God is an artist and we are in his image.  It is a question worth asking:  Why do we look for beauty in art, drama, music, dance, nature or literature?  Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an authority on understanding the brain, answers from a non-Bible perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted.  It seldom asks:  Why does music exist?  There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence.  But why do we love it?  Because we find that it is beautiful.  But why is it beautiful to us?  This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.” (Daniel Dennett.  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.  p. 43)

Apart from God there is no clear answer to why all the forms of art are so important to us.  From the Bible’s point-of-view it is because God made things beautiful and enjoys beauty.  We, made in His image, are the same. This Biblical teaching makes sense of our love of art.

Why we are Moral

Being ‘made in God’s image’ explains our moral capability.  We understand what ‘wrong’ behaviour is and what ‘good’ behaviour is – even though our languages and cultures are very different.  Moral reasoning is ‘in’ us.  As the famous atheist Richard Dawkins puts it:

“Driving our moral judgments is a universal moral grammar …  As with language, the principles that make up our moral grammar fly beneath the radar of our awareness” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. p. 223)

Dawkins explains that our awareness of right and wrong is built into us like our ability to have language, but it is difficult for him to explain why we have this from only physical sources.  Misunderstandings happen when we do not acknowledge God as giving us our moral compass.  Take for example this objection from another famous atheist Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.” (Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39)

Harris misunderstands.  Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in God’s image, not from being religious.  And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally. Atheists do not understand why we are like this.

Why are we so Relational

Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we are made in God’s image. It is not hard to notice the importance people place on relationships.  It is OK to see a good movie, but it is much better to see it with a friend.  We naturally seek out friends and family to share experiences with and to improve our well-being.  Conversely, loneliness and broken family relationships or friendships stress us.  If we are in God’s image, then we would expect to find this same emphasis with God – and we do.  The Bible says that “God is Love…” (1 John 4:8).  Much is written in the Bible about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others – they are called by Jesus the two most important commands in the Bible.  When you think about it, Love must be relational since it requires at least two people.

So we should think of God as a lover.  If we only think of Him as the ‘Benevolent Being’ we are not thinking of the Biblical God – rather we have made up a god in our minds.  Though He is that, He is also passionate in relationship.  He does not ‘have’ love.  He ‘is’ love.  The two most prominent Biblical pictures of God’s relationship with people are that of a father to his children and a husband to his wife.  Those are not distant relationships but are the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.  The Bible says that God is like that.

So here is what we have learned so far.  People are made in God’s image meaning mind, emotions and will.  We are aware of self and others. We know the difference between right and wrong.  We can appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms and we will naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others.  We are all this because God is all this and we are made in God’s image.  We continue next to see the Bible’s explanation of why our relationships almost always disappoint us and why God seems so distant. Why our deepest longings never seem to work out.