In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the search for the promised seed of the woman, the one who would crush the serpent’s head, the new Adam. As each one of the Patriarchs rises with glimmers of hope, so also they fall, sinning just like Adam did. In this installment, we will look at the leaders of the nation of Israel as God’s people continue to hope for the promised seed who will crush the serpent’s head.
Some time passes, and God’s people have indeed multiplied during their time in Egypt, and now the size of the Hebrew nation is becoming a threat to the reining Pharaoh, who begins to treat them harshly.
It is at this point in the story that we are introduced to a new child of promise, one by the name of Moses, who from his childhood was raised in Pharaoh’s court, and who was destined to lead God’s people to the promised land. Perhaps now we finally have the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, for this great leader ended up dealing a crushing blow to Pharaoh and all his hosts, since God was with him.
As with Adam in the Garden, the people of Israel were given a conditional promise. Obey and live, disobey and you shall surely die. In fact, in Lev 26, God says, “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then…the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit…And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely… I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you…” Israel then, in this text, is presented as a kind of new Eden, and a new community is facing a new time of testing.
We even see some parallels between Moses and the great patriarch Jacob. In Exodus 2, we read that the daughters of the priest of Midian came to a well in order to draw water for their father’s flock, yet other shepherds came and drove them away. But arriving on the scene after fleeing from Egypt, Moses interceded on behalf of these shepherd girls and watered their flock. As with the scene of Jacob and Rachel’s first encounter at the site of a well, here too, Moses is given Zipporah, one of the shepherdesses, to be his wife as a reward for his valiance.
A third variation of this particular confluence of water wells and weddings bells appears in Numbers chapter 20. Yet this time, God himself appears as the bridegroom, and the nation of Israel is his bride. After being rescued by his sovereign power and might from the dark forces of Egypt, Israel has been called to place her trust in Yahweh, and to have no other husbands before him. What’s interesting is to note how water features prominently in this particular narrative. In this section of Numbers we’re told of the time just after the people of Israel passed through Sea and now must trust God for their daily provisions in the wilderness. Yet the people are not trusting in Yahweh, but are grumbling and quarreling to Moses saying in Num 20:3
Why…have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place [without] figs, vines or pomegranates, and no water to drink.” …And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, …“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” …Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock… And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”
When you think of the parallels between this scene and the other water scenes already highlighted, this particular variation stands out in stark contrast. Rather than entering into a covenant of love and fidelity with Yahweh their rescuer and deliverer, the people are found grumbling and quarreling about all their new hardships. Even though God has just miraculously saved them from slavery, they are now longing for their life back in Egypt with other masters.
And what of Moses? Is this our new Adam? Rather than trusting God’s word (merely speak to the rock), he took matters into his own hands and struck the rock with his staff. God still watered his flock, but Moses was now prohibited from entering the promised land. In other words, it’s another fall. Just as Adam and Eve were barred from paradise, Moses too is banished from the land of rest. And with Moses, an entire generation of Israelites are barred from entering this new promised land. But a new leader by the name of Joshua is chosen to take the people in. In Hebrew, his name is Yeshua, which means Yahweh is salvation, and this in fact was the very name given to Jesus. The only difference is that historically we have translated Jesus’ name through the Greek (Ἰησοῦς), rather than the Hebrew Yeshua.
Clearly there is something symbolic here about the fact that Moses was unable to take the people of Israel into the promised land, while Yeshua was. This is the very point made by the author of Hebrews when he writes in chapter 4, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on…”
This becomes unmistakably clear in the 24th chapter of the book of Joshua, in which we find the famous words,
Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods…But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins… And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves…
The point being made here is that God is holy, and the people are not. From the perspective of God’s inscrutable holiness, there is no one who can stand in his presence, no one who can bridge the gap or repair the breach. At this point in redemptive history, we’re still awaiting the new Adam and we’re still awaiting the new creation.
In reading the account of Israel just before Joshua’s death, one receives additional insight into these matters. In Judges chapter 2, God speaks to the people saying:
I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers… But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I will no longer drive out your enemies from before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” As soon as the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept… [And after Joshua and] all that generation were gathered to their fathers…another generation arose that did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals (covenant infidelity). And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.
The next high point in our exploration of the Old Testament theme of the quest for a new Adam is a man of God’s own choosing by the name of David. The people had chosen for themselves a tall and handsome king named Saul, but because of his unfaithfulness, God ultimately rejected him as shepherd of his people and instead chose an obscure shepherd boy from Bethlehem to be the ruler of Israel.
Early in the story, things looks promising. David is a man after God’s own heart, and after he is anointed by the Spirit of God, he rescues his people by trusting in God’s might, and so is able to defeat Goliath. In fact, we read in 1 Sam 19:5 that “[David] took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel.” Perhaps this is the seed of the woman who was to crush the serpent’s head. Goliath was even dressed in scale armor that looked a bit like snakeskin, and David literally decapitated this evil giant.
But in 2 Sam 11, we encounter a scene in which David, while walking on the roof of his palace, sees a beautiful woman bathing, and though she is married, he takes her as his own and treats her as a concubine. And in order to cover up the fact that he got her pregnant, he ends up having her husband (Uriah the Hittite) murdered. There are some striking parallels here to the scenes we’ve already mentioned from the book of Genesis in which Abraham and Isaac offer their wives up to be defiled by pagan kings, all out of fear for their own lives. Yet in all three of those incidents, their fears were shown to be completely unfounded. In this latest variation on a theme, David is found playing the role of the old Canaanite king Abimalech, while Uriah and Bathsheba are cast in the roles of Abraham and Sarah. But there are also a number of plot reversals. Whereas if you remember, Abimelech ended up as the good guy in the original story, David, the man after God’s own heart, is here found to be a wicked version of this character. And if that wasn’t enough, it turns out that Abimelech was not merely a king in the area of Canaan, but according to Gen 26, he was actually the king of Philistines, which by the time of David had become Israel’s fiercest enemy. Recall for a moment Abraham’s unfounded fear that he would be killed for his wife’s beauty. In King David, Abraham’s fears were actually realized!
Back in Gen 20:11, one of the things that Abraham reveals to Sarah about his view of the land of the Philistines is that “there is no fear of God in this place.” This is why he feared he would be likely be killed. Yet nothing ended up happening to him, and Abimelech actually revealed (both to Abraham, and later, to his son Isaac) that he was a God fearer. Yet in David’s version, we actually find Israel’s king plotting the death of Uriah the Hittite without any hint whatsoever of the fear of God. We’re not only lacking a new creation, but the effects of the fall seem to be expanding exponentially. We should all be asking that great question of king Abimelech, and of God before him in the Garden of Eden, as we encounter this scene: David, “What is this you have done?”
Thankfully, when confronted by Nathaniel the prophet with the things he had done, David acknowledged his sin and cried out to God in repentance saying (in Ps 51) “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” To God’s probing question, “What is this you have done?” David answers plainly and honestly, “I have sinned and have done what is evil in your sight” (Ps 51:4).
Prophetic Visions of Things to Come
A couple hundred years after David, a prophet by the name of Isaiah rose up and prophesied that whereas “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and Naphtali…in the latter time he has made glorious the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
As both the life of David and the vision of the prophets make clear, the new Adam was still yet to come. But here in Isaiah chapter 9, we see that this promised son would reign on David’s throne, and that once his kingdom is established, it would never be destroyed. Isaiah goes on to say in chapter 27 that in the days of this coming messianic king, Israel will “blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit.” Adam was called to be fruitful and to multiply, yet because he sinned, he ended up filling the world with death. But here in Isaiah’s vision, the new Adam is seen to fill the world with everlasting fruit.
The prophet Jeremiah says nearly the same thing in chapter 23 of his prophecy. “Behold,” he says “the days are coming when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” It is in the day of this coming king that God will gather the remnant of his flock…and “they shall be fruitful and multiply” (Jer 23:3).
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series where the search for the second Adam culminates in Christ.
©Shane Rosenthal. All Rights Reserved.
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This seems very much like Luther’s approach in his lectures on the OT.