Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham
Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1999, 167 pages.
This book is the first in a new series called “The Gospel According to the Old Testament.” In a quote contained on the book cover, D.A. Carson says that “one of the most urgent needs of the church is to grasp how the many parts of the Bible fit together to make one story-line that culminates in Jesus Christ…(and) this series of books goes a long way to meeting that need.” Sinclair Ferguson was quoted as saying “at last a series on the Old Testament designed to provide reliable exposition, biblical theology, and a focus on Christ.”
In the Foreword (pages x-xi), series editors Tremper Longman III and J. Alan Groves state the aims of the series as follows:
The Gospel According to the Old Testament Series is committed to the proposition that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is a unified revelation of God, and that its thematic unity is found in Christ. The individual books of the Old Testament exhibit diverse genres, styles, and individual theologies, but tying them all together is the constant foreshadowing of, and pointing forward to, Christ. Believing in the fundamentally Christocentric nature of the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, we offer this series of studies in the Old Testament with the following aims:
- To lay out the pervasiveness of the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament
- To promote a Christ-centered reading of the Old Testament
- To encourage Christ-centered preaching and teaching from the Old Testament
They also state that they have decided in most cases to focus on Old Testament characters, rather than on books or themes.
In his Introduction, the author takes us back to Jesus’ post-resurrection Emmaus road sermon, given to disciples who were distraught and perplexed over Jesus’ death on the cross, and who did not yet recognize their fellow traveler on the road. To them, Jesus said:
O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27 KJV).
So Jesus said that the theme of suffering followed by glory is woven throughout the scriptures, beginning with the Pentateuch and extending through the prophets. Further he indicated that if they understood the Old Testament rightly, they would not have been so shocked at his crucifixion.
Surely in his sermon, especially that portion from the Pentateuch, Jesus talked about Abraham, who we know is referred to throughout the Bible as the exemplar of faith. In particular, his faith was demonstrated by the way he lived in the reality gap, i.e., the gap between promise and reality. But in this book, Duguid says he wants not only to show Abraham as the man of faith, but also how he acted as “a forerunner and a shadow, pointing forward to Christ …(as this) is, after all the central thrust of the Emmaus road sermon” (page 4). Jesus was interested in the writings of Moses and the prophets primarily because “they spoke of him” (page 4).
Specifically, they spoke of his sufferings and the glory that would follow. The whole Old Testament is thereby declared to be a thoroughly Christocentric book. This is true, not simply because there are superficial parallels between certain Old Testament events and events in the life of Jesus, but more profoundly because the whole Old Testament was designed by God to provide a context within which to understand the sufferings and glorification of Christ (pages 4-5).
So, the book’s first chapter begins with Terah, Abram’s father, setting out from Ur of the Chaldees for Canaan. Terah took his family with him, including Abram and his wife Sarai, who were childless (Gen 11). This was part of God’s plan that from the beginning was to “preserve for himself a godly line, through whom the promise of a redemptive offspring of Eve (Gen 3:15) would ultimately be granted” (page 10). Terah was a descendent of the line of Shem (the son of Noah). In the genealogies of Gen 5 and 11, it is the tenth name that is of key significance. Noah, through whom Adam’s line was preserved at the flood, was the tenth patriarch in the line from Adam, while Abram was the tenth patriarch in the line of Shem. So this is a key that God was planning another deliverance through Abram.
In the next chapter of the book, Abram receives the first installment of the promise, as God promises to make him into a nation, to make his name great, and to bless all peoples through him (Gen 12:2-3). But Duguid notes that this is not just about Abram, but points toward Christ, as stated by Paul in Galatians 3:16:
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ (KJV).
So Paul tells us that the promises made to Abram already have Christ in view. Abram “functions as a miniature picture, a representation of Christ ahead of time” (page 25). Abram left his home to go a faraway, backward land; Jesus left heaven to come to an insignificant town on earth. Abram and Jesus both did so on the strength of God’s promise. Abram received a great name, but Christ received the name that is above every name (Philip 2:9-10). God would curse those who curse Abram, and those who cursed Christ would themselves be cursed. When God said he would give the land to Abram’s offspring, it was Christ who was ultimately to be the heir.
Further, Jesus found that “following the way of promise took him through the reality gap” (page 26), the gap between promise and fulfillment. The exalted Son of God, who was to inherit all things, lived a life in humble circumstances, without a place to lay his head, was reviled by those he came to save, was judged by the Jewish court, and condemned to die an ignominious death on the cross. Yet in the resurrection, “the reality gap was bridged once and for all…(as) there the firstfruits of the glories that would follow Christ’s sufferings were revealed” (page 27).
In Gen 13, Abram demonstrated faith by allowing Lot to have first choice of the land to settle. Materialistic Lot chose the land “near Sodom,” which was “like the land of Egypt” (verse 10). That turned out to be a very bad choice. But Abram’s faith was rewarded by a renewed promise as God told him to look in all directions: “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever” (Gen 13:15), and further his offspring would be as numerous as the dust of the earth.
Yet he never did receive the full ownership of that property here on earth. Like Moses after him, Abram looked to an inheritance ultimately beyond this world…Abram’s hope had to be in something more substantial than a nice piece of property…It was an eternal hope. He was looking for a city with foundations, which God himself would build (see Heb 11:10) (page 37).
Jesus also made a choice, when the Devil tempted him with an offer of all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would just bow down and worship him. As Duguid says: “Satan was offering Jesus the promised land without the cross” (page 38). But unlike Lot, who chose to “take the money” (page 38), Jesus chose the path of faith, obedience, and suffering before glory.
In Gen 14, Abram functioned as a king (see “In the Days of Good King Abram,” page 41) as he gathered an army and pursued the allied armies of the king of Shinar (Babylonia) and three other Mesopotamian kings, who had kidnapped Abram’s nephew Lot. In rescuing an undeserving Lot, Abram reminds us of Christ. As Duguid says: “In all of this, do we not see a picture of Jesus Christ? He did not sit idly by in heaven, waiting for us to deserve to be redeemed” (page 45). Further, Duguid says of Abram, who was at this time a wandering nomad:
In this chapter, however, the veil is lifted for a moment, and we see Abram in his true colors, acting as the king of the land that is his by right, and that will be inherited by his offspring. This is Abram’s mount of transfiguration, when his glory is clearly—if briefly—revealed to those closest to him (pages 41-42).
After the victory, we see some very heavy Christology, as Melchizedek, king of Salem, came as a priest to bless Abram. In the New Testament, the author of Hebrews picks up on this idea, and spends considerable space showing how Melchizedek prefigured Christ, especially in his priesthood. Hebrews gives us three points of comparison between Melchizedek and Jesus (see pages 49-51), and in Hebrews 6:20 Jesus is declared to be a “high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
As we saw Abram as a king in Gen 14, we see him as a prophet in Gen 15 as he received a direct message from God. Though still childless, Abram “received a renewed promise of a son and of descendants like the stars” (page 55). Asking for a sign, he received the covenant commitment of God (verses 18-21), sealed by a strange ceremony (verses 9-17).
If we saw Abram the king in the previous chapter and Abram the prophet earlier in this chapter, here we see Abram the priest getting all the necessary items ready for the covenant ceremony (page 58).
So in these chapters of Genesis, Duguid sees a picture of Christ in his three offices of prophet, priest and king.
Moving along, we see Abram’s faith stumble in Gen 16. Tiring of waiting for God to fulfill his promise, Abram heeds his wife’s suggestion that in order to obtain an heir, he impregnate her Egyptian servant, Hagar. He follows this advice, and as a result Ishmael is born. But this child is the son of the flesh, not the promise, and he will not be the one through whom God’s promise is fulfilled (see Gal 4:22-31).
Despite Abram’s failure, God in Gen 17 renewed his covenant with Abram and gave circumcision (the cutting off of the flesh) as a covenant sign. In reaffirming the covenant, God also changed Abram’s name to Abraham.
As God in human flesh, Jesus fulfilled the picture of Gen 15; as the seed of Abraham, he fulfilled the picture of Gen 17. He was cut off for our sin, which enables our relationship with God, threatened by our sin, to stand (page 81).
So onward Duguid journeys chapter by chapter through Gen 25, demonstrating how the gospel and Jesus Christ are revealed in the book of Genesis. The high point, especially from the standpoint of Christology, is Gen 22. Isaac, the long-promised son had been born to Abraham and Sarah. But now God put Abraham’s faith to the ultimate test, commanding him to take Isaac to the mountain and sacrifice him. Then, just as he was preparing to plunge the knife into the chest of his beloved son, the Angel of the Lord told him to stop, that his faith had been shown to be real. And God provided a ram to take the place of Isaac.
So here is revealed the principle of substitutionary atonement. And by that principle, Jesus was offered in our place, to take upon himself our deserved punishment, and to die the death that should have been ours.
He could look up to heaven and see the knife in the Father’s hand poised above him, knowing that for him there would be no last minute reprieve. For him there would be no substitute, for he was himself the Lamb of God (page 138).
This book is a rich study, and is recommended as a means of gaining a deeper appreciation of the book of Genesis, and of learning to see how Christ and the gospel are revealed in it.
I might also note that a second volume in this series is also available: Faith in the Face of Apostasy: The Gospel According to Elijah and Elisha, by Raymond Dillard.