Friday, September 29, 2023

The Vision (9.29.23): Man in the State of Innocency


Image: Map of the four rivers of Eden from a reprint of the Calvin Translation Society Commentary on Genesis.

Genesis 2 15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

The LORD offers a commandment to the first man in the state of his innocency that included a most generous provision for him, a most clear prohibition, and most ominous warning (vv. 16-17).

This is sometimes called the covenant of creation, or the covenant of life, or the covenant of works.

Calvin called it “a test of obedience” (commentary on Gen 2:16).

First, there is the most generous provision, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat.” What an incredible variety of trees God gave to man in his innocence to enjoy! You think the fruit of trees in this fallen world taste good now, imagine what they were like before the fall! And notice they were not barred from eating from the tree of life. A way was opened unto man to live forever (see 3:22)!

Second, however, there was the clear prohibition: “But, of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat it” (v. 17a).

We get a clue here as to how sin operates. We know it from our fallen selves. God provides for us a vast array of things that we might pursue that are wholesome, right, good, and soul-satisfying. And what is the thing we crave? That which he in his wisdom forbids.

The parent says, Don’t touch the stove, and the child thinks, I wonder what it would feel like to touch the stove! And very often the hand reaches out to touch the stove and gets burned.

There is finally also the ominous warning: “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (v. 17b). Man cannot say he was not warned. Paul will write in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. God said it first in the garden. Adam and Eve will not immediately drop down dead, but spiritual death and eventual physical death will come the moment this commandment is disobeyed and the covenant is broken.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, September 22, 2023

The Vision (9.22.23): “And all the host of them”: The Magnitude of Creation


Image: The Milky Way

Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Genesis 2:1-3.

Genesis 2:1 declares, “Thus, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.”

The language here echoes that of Genesis 1:1 where the phrase “heaven and earth” also appears. This is simply a way of saying God made “everything.”

Moses adds, “and all the host of them.” This is meant to emphasize the totality and magnitude of the complete, divine work of creation. One commentator notes that the word “host” “normally only refers to luminaries” like the sun, moon, and stars (see Deut 4:19; 17:3), but here its application is extended to all things within the world, everything between and beyond the heavens and the earth (Currid, Genesis, 90-91).

The immensity of the creation is truly breath-taking. We, as puny human beings, will never be able to grasp with our finite minds its enormous scope. I was reading about this last week in a book titled The New Creationism by a Christian apologist in the UK named Paul Gardner. Gardner wrote about the stars to illustrate the immensity of the world that God made. He notes,

Our Sun is one of about 100 billion stars that make up our galaxy. The Milky Way. Our galaxy is one of about thirty galaxies in a cluster called the Local Group. This cluster is about ten million light years across… (34).

He then adds,

One recent estimate suggests that, in total, there are ten times more stars in the observable universe than all the grains of sand on the world’s deserts and beaches (34).

Get this also, stars are apparently like snowflakes. “No two stars are absolutely identical” (34).

With that in mind, consider again the statement in 2:1, especially its conclusion, “and all the host of them.” The magnitude of creation staggers the mind. It makes David’s statement in Psalm 8 completely reasonable, “3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

Genesis 2:1 compels us to wonder in worship and awe at the vast magnitude of the world which God created in the space of six days and all very good.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Daniel as a Type of Christ in Daniel 6

Britone Riviere (1840-1920), Daniel in the Lion's Den, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Note: This post taken and expanded from my Twitter/X: @Riddle1689:

Daniel as a type of Christ in Daniel 6:

Enemies plot against a blameless man (vv. 4-5); Arrested after private prayer (v. 10); Cast into a den of death, covered by a stone and sealed (v. 17); An admirer grieves and comes early in the morning (vv. 18-19); Delivered from the den of death by the power of God (v. 23);

Enemies destroyed (v. 24);

Vindicated and exalted (vv. 25-28).


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Gleanings from Calvin's Commentary on Genesis on Anthropology


Note: Posts  taken from Twitter/X account: @Riddle1689:

Calvin on the preeminence of man in Genesis 1:26:

"Truly there are many things in this corrupted nature which may induce contempt; but if you rightly weigh all circumstances, man is, among other creatures, a certain pre-eminent specimen of Divine wisdom, justice, and goodness, deservedly called by the ancients mikrikosmos, 'a world in miniature.'"

Calvin on how sin has damaged the imago Dei in his commentary on Genesis 1:26:

"But now, although some obscure lineaments of that image are found remaining in us; yet are they so vitiated and maimed, that they may truly be said to be destroyed.”

Calvin on total depravity:

“For besides the deformity which everywhere appears unsightly, this evil is added, that no part is free from the infection of sin."

Calvin on the imago Christi:

"Since the image of God has been destroyed in us by the fall, we may judge from its restoration what it originally had been. Paul says we are transformed into the image of God by the gospel. And according to [Paul], spiritual regeneration is nothing else than the restoration of the same image. (Col. iii.10, and Eph. iv.23)."


Friday, September 15, 2023

Vision (9.15.23): The Special Creation of Man


Image: Scene from the London Zoo "Human Exhibit" in 2005.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Genesis 1:26-31.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:27).

Back in 2005 the London Zoo made headlines around the world when for a short time it hired eight persons (three men and five women) to live in an exhibit under the title “Homo Sapiens.” Other signs described their diet and typical activities. Another described them as “the most dangerous animal of all.” Are human beings simply like all the other animals? If not, what exactly is it that makes us different?

The answer to those questions is given to us in Genesis 1:26-28.

Genesis 1:26 begins, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The Hebrew word for “man” here is adam. It is also the name of the first man. He is a special creature made in a special manner and given a special name. He is not listed alongside the other land creatures in v. 24 (cattle, creeping things, and beast of the earth). He is set apart. He is unique.

The primary evidence of his uniqueness is that the triune God purposed to make man “in our image, after our likeness.” Those two statements are essentially saying the same thing in classic Hebrew parallelism.

The first statement is perhaps best known by the Latin phrase, “Imago Dei.” Man has an imprint upon him that makes him different than the rest of the creation. He is not God, but he is made after the likeness of the thrice Holy God.

Perhaps the key to what this image means is given in the remainder of v. 26 which begins, “and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea…” (v. 26b). God who is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the Master of the whole cosmos gives to man as the crown of his creation a measure of limited sovereignty. He gives mankind to be his stewards and to rule over and provide for all the other creatures of firmament, sea, and land, and even “over all the earth.” This is indeed what David stresses in Psalm 8:4-8, when he declares that God made man “a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour … to have dominion” over the works of his hands.

One more fact about man is provided in v. 27b: “male and female created he them.” God declares here that human beings are made in two basic flavors, or in two distinct styles, or in two kinds. God made man to be male and female, men and women. Human beings are, according to the good design of God binary. This is why we as Christian say there are only two genders. What does it say about the state of confusion in our world today when such a basic claim is somehow controversial?

This was and is God’s original, good design made before man’s fall into sin. This statement affirms the spiritual equality of men and women. We are both made in the image of God. We are both image bearers. We are both made in God’s likeness. We are both made to have dominion over all creatures and all the earth. Men are not spiritually superior to women; women are not spiritually superior to men.

This is not to say, however, that we are the same. We are fundamentally different. Made by an all-good and all-wise God for different tasks, roles, and functions in this world. We are not interchangeably the same, and this is good.

Who is man? A special and unique creation by God.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, September 08, 2023

The Vision (9.8.23): Four Reasons Why Genesis 1 is History and Not Poetry


Image: Butterfly bush, North Garden, Virginia, September 2023.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Genesis 1:6-25.

Maybe you’ve heard someone suggest that the creation account in Genesis 1 should be taken as poetry and not history.

Reformed expositor John Currid, in his Genesis commentary offers at least four reasons as to why Genesis 1 should NOT be taken as poetry BUT instead as historical narrative. Here are his four reasons:

First, there is a literary devise in Hebrew historical narrative called the ”vav-consecutive-plus-imperfect.” That is, there is a conjunction “and” plus a verb in the imperfect (past) tense. So, historical narrative reads like this: “And this happened, and this happened, and this happened, etc.” Just look at Genesis 1:6-8 to see this pattern.  Currid adds, “this pattern is almost non-existent in Hebrew poetry” (38).

Second, “Genesis 1 contains little or no indication of figurative language. There are no tropes, symbols, or metaphors” (39). We do not read in Genesis 1 that God is like a potter, or that the earth was like a piece of clay, etc.

Third, “the most basic common feature of Hebrew poetry is line parallelism” (39). Think of Psalm 19:1:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

And the firmament sheweth his handywork.

There is no line parallelism in Genesis 1.

Fourth, some have suggested that the repetitions which appear in Genesis 1 indicate poetry, like the repeated phrase, “and the evening and the morning were the ___day.”

Currid points out, however, that repetition is not necessarily a sign of poetry. In fact, it is actually common in Hebrew historical narrative. He points to the repetition of the phrase, “Now these are the generations…” (see Genesis 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1; 37:2).

Genesis 1 is not poetry. It is historical narrative, and this is the way we should read it, if we are to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

We accept this history, because we believe in an all-powerful and sovereign God, and because we have faith in him and his Word. As it says in Hebrews 11:3a, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.”

This means that the six days of creation are not meant as metaphorical references to long periods of time (the so-called “day-age” theory), but they refer to 24-hour days, just as the term is used in Genesis 1:14b.

Let me just add that it is actually a very liberating thing to trust in the Lord and to accept his word as it is without having to trouble oneself with the invention of clever explanations to get around the obvious meaning of things.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, September 01, 2023

The Vision (9.1.23): In the Beginning


Image: Morning Glory flowers, North Garden, Virginia, September 2023

Note: We began a new series last Sunday morning through Genesis chapters 1-11. This devotion is taken from the first sermon in the series on Genesis 1:1-5.

The Scriptures commence with this statement: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

One modern commentator noted that “this verse serves as the theme sentence of the creation account,” adding that it stands as “a formal introduction and caption to the entire creation narrative” (J. Currid, Genesis, Vol. 1, 57). There is so much said with such a brevity of words.

That opening phrase, “In the beginning God created…,” is an absolute statement. It does not say that God gathered up the things that were to see what he could do with them, but, “In the beginning God created….”

One commentator pointed out that the Hebrew verb as used here for “to create [bārā]” has as its subject “always and only God; the word is never used of an action of mankind” (Currid, 59). He explains that when men make things, they must use material that already exists. A contractor who wants to build a house, or a craftsman who wants to build a piece of furniture, must get together the materials, the wood, and stone, and glass to make the structure or object. When God creates, however, he does so “out of nothing.” The theological term for this is the Latin phrase ex nihilo.

And what did he make? “the heaven and the earth.” The scholars tell us this is “merism—two opposites that are inclusive” (Currid, 59). From the heaven above to the earth below. This was the Hebrew way of referring to what the Greeks would call the kosmos, and what we call the “universe.” God made from nothing everything that is.

This doctrine of ex nihilo creation is unique to Biblical faith. The ancient philosophers believed that the matter which makes up this world had always existed. They believed that that the stuff of this world is eternal. Many still believe this today. The Bible, however, teaches something altogether different.

The only one who is eternal is God Himself. He is the Alpha and the Omega. Before he made the world there was no world. Psalm 90:2 declares, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”

Genesis 1:1 is where Christian theology begins.

This Bible declares from its very first verse that the God who made this world is distinct from his creation. He is the one true God. He is transcendent. He is wholly other than the world which he has made. This is necessarily a rejection of pantheism, the belief that “God is everything,” that God is the natural world, and that the natural world is to be worshipped. As Christians we do not worship the creation, but we admire the creation as a testimony to the Creator, to the one true God who made it.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Jeff Clark: The Alchemy of Marriage


Image: Flowers, North Garden, Virginia, September 2023

On what would be our 62nd Anniversary if…

I do reminisce about our life together, and it is more sweet than painful.  There was a marvelous providence and grace of God that matched us and managed us through all life’s adventures.  Looking back, I can see it plainly and have come to understand marriage is like the Alchemist trying to use chemistry to turn base metals into Gold.

The Alchemy of Marriage can be described as a combination of God’s providence which brings two people together. It involves the mixing in of love, grace, time, joy, trial, and commitment, thereby turning the two into one new thing which is more valuable than either of the other alone. 

Spiritually we took turns being Mary and Martha to each other. When one was cambered by much caring, the other would be Mary, encouraging a proper focus by taking the better part.  And then there were times when we were both there at the feet of Jesus.  There were also times when we were both Martha working on temporal needs of care.

How good God has been and is to me....

-Elder Jeff Clark, Christ RBC, Louisa, Virginia

Note: This week marked the 62nd anniversary of Elder Jeff’s marriage to Barbara, who went to be with the Lord awaiting the resurrection on November 18, 2020.

Calvin on Genesis


Note: Article taken from posts to my Twitter (X): @Riddle1689:

I read the opening “Argument” to Calvin’s Commentary on Genesis (1563) in preparing to begin my sermon series on Genesis. Here are a few quotes. Citations taken from the Calvin Translation Society edition (1847):

“…it is absolutely impossible to unfold the History of the Creation of the World in terms equal to its dignity” (57).

“The intention of Moses, in beginning his Book with the creation of the world, is to render God, as it were, visible to us in his works” (58).

“The Creation of the world, as here described, was already known through the ancient and perpetual tradition of the Fathers. Yet, since nothing is more easy than that the truth of God should be so corrupted by men… it pleased the Lord to commit the history to writing, for the purpose of preserving its purity” (59).

“…let the world become our school if we desire rightly to know God” (60).

Note Calvin’s geocentric cosmology:

“We indeed are not ignorant, that the circuit of the heavens is finite, and that the earth, like a little globe, is placed in the centre” (61).

“For by the Scripture as our guide and teacher, he not only makes those things plain which would otherwise escape our notice, but also compels us to behold them; as if he had assisted our dull sight with spectacles” (62).

“For this is the argument of the Book: After the world had been created, man was placed in it as a theatre, that he, beholding above him and beneath the wonderful works of God, might reverently adore their Author” (64).

“Let us now hearken to Moses” (66).