Was Jesus the son of a virgin from the line of David?

We have seen that ‘Christ’ is an Old Testament title.  Let us now look at this question: was Jesus of Nazareth that ‘Christ’ predicted in the Old Testament?

From the Line of David

Psalm 132 in the Old Testament, written 1000 years before Jesus lived, contained a specific prophecy.  It said

10 For the sake of your servant David,
do not reject your anointed one. ( = ‘Christ’)

11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath he will not revoke:
One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne….
13 For the Lord has chosen Zion…,
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.  (Psalm 132:10-17)

You can see that long before Jesus, the Jewish Psalms predicted that God’s anointed one (i.e. ‘Christ’) would come from David.  This is why the gospel genealogies show Jesus to be from David – they want us to see that Jesus fulfills this prophecy.

Was Jesus really from the line of David?

But how do we know that they did not just make up the genealogies to get a ‘fulfillment’?  They were sympathetic to Jesus and so perhaps wanted to exaggerate the truth.

It helps when trying to find out what really happened to have the testimony of hostile witnesses.  A hostile witness was on-hand to see the facts but does not agree with the overall belief and so has motive for refuting testimony that might be false.  Suppose there has been a car accident between persons A and B.  Both blame each other for the accident – so they are hostile witnesses.  If person A says that he saw person B texting just before the accident, and person B admits this, then we could assume that this part of the dispute is true since person B has nothing to gain agreeing to this point.

In the same way, looking at hostile historical witnesses can help us determine what really happened with Jesus.  New Testament scholar Dr. FF Bruce studied Jewish Rabbi references to Jesus in the Talmud and Mishnah.  He noted the following comment about Jesus:

Ulla said: Would you believe that any defence would have been so zealously sought for him (i.e. Jesus)?  He was a deceiver and the All-merciful says: ‘You shall not spare him neither shall you conceal him’[Deut 13:9]  It was different with Jesus for he was near to the kingship”  p. 56

FF Bruce makes this remark about that rabbinical statement

The portrayal is that they were trying to find a defence for him (an apologetic note against Christians is detected here).  Why would they try to defend one with such crimes?  Because he was ‘near to the kingship’ i.e. of David.  p. 57

In other words, hostile Jewish rabbis did not dispute the Gospel writers’ claim that Jesus was from David.  They did not accept Jesus’ claim to ‘Christ’ and were opposed to the Gospel claims about him, but they still admitted that Jesus was in the royal family of David.  So we know that the Gospel writers did not simply make that up to get a ‘fulfillment’.   The hostile witnesses agree on this point.

Was he born of a virgin?

There is always a possibility of this being fulfilled ‘by chance’.  There were others who were also in the Royal family.  But being born of a virgin!  There is no possibility of this happening ‘by chance’.  It is either: 1) a misunderstanding, 2) a fraud, or 3) a miracle – no other option is open.

A virgin birth had been hinted in the beginning with Adam.  In the New Testament, Luke and Matthew clearly state that Mary conceived Jesus while she was a virgin.  Matthew also claimed that this was a fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah (ca 750 BC) which said:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (i.e. ‘God with us’) Isaiah 7:14 (and quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a fulfillment)

Perhaps this was just a misunderstanding.  The original Hebrew הָעַלְמָ֗ה (pronounced haalmah) which is translated ‘virgin’ can also mean ‘young maiden’, i.e. a young unmarried woman.  Perhaps that is all that Isaiah meant to say, long ago in 750 BC.  But with a religious need on the part of Matthew and Luke to venerate Jesus they misunderstood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’ when he really meant ‘young woman’.  Add the unfortunate pregnancy of Mary before her marriage it developed into ‘divine fulfillment’ in the birth of Jesus.

Many people have given me an explanation like this, and one cannot refute this since proofs about whether someone is a virgin or not are impossible to make.  But the explanation is not that simple.  The Septuagint was a Jewish translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek done in 250 BC – two hundred fifty years before Jesus was born.  How did these Jewish rabbis translate Isaiah 7:14 from the Hebrew into Greek?  Did they translate it as ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’? Though many people seem to know that the original Hebrew הָעַלְמָ֗ה can mean either ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’, no one brings up the witness of the Septuagint which translates it as παρθένος  (pronounced parthenos), which specifically means ‘virgin’.  In other words, the leading Jewish rabbis in 250 BC understood the Hebrew Isaiah prophecy to mean ‘virgin’, not ‘young woman’ – over two hundred years before Jesus was born.  The ‘virgin birth’ was not invented by the Gospel writers or by early Christians.  It was Jewish long before Jesus came.

Why would leading Jewish scholars in 250 BC make such a fantastic translation of a virgin having a son? If you think it is because they were superstitious and unscientific then think again.  People in that time were farmers.  They knew how breeding worked.  Hundreds of years before the Septuagint Abraham and Sarah knew that after a certain age came menopause and then childbearing was impossible.  No, scholars in 250 BC did not know modern chemistry and physics, but they understood how animals and people reproduced. They would have known it was impossible to have a virgin birth.  But they did not shrink back and translate it as ‘young woman’ in the Septuagint.  No they inked it in black and white that a virgin would have a son.

Mary’s Context

Now consider the fulfillment part of this story.  Though it cannot be proven that Mary was a virgin, she was remarkably in the only and very brief stage of life where it could remain an open question.  This was an age of large families.  Families with ten children were common.  Given that, what was the chance that Jesus would be the oldest child?  Because if he had had an older brother or sister then we would know for certain that Mary was not a virgin.  In our day when families have about 2 children it is a 50-50 chance, but back then it was closer to a 1 in 10 chance.  The chance was 9 out of 10 that the virgin ‘fulfillment’ should just be dismissed by the simple fact that Jesus had an older sibling – but (against the odds) he didn’t.

Now think about the remarkable timing of Mary’s engagement onto this.  If she had been married even just a few days the virgin ‘fulfillment’ could again simply be dismissed.  On the other hand, if she had not yet been engaged and was found to be pregnant she would not have had a fiance to care for her.  In that culture, as a pregnant but single woman she would have had to remain alone – if she had been allowed to live.

It is these remarkable and unlikely ‘coincidences’ that make the virgin birth impossible to disprove that strikes me.  These coincidences are not expected, but rather they show a sense of balance and timing as if a Mind were arranging events to show plan and intent.

If Mary had been married before Jesus was born or if Jesus had older siblings then hostile Jewish witnesses would surely have pointed that out.  Instead it seems that, once again, they agree with the gospel writers on this point.  FF Bruce notes this as he explains how Jesus is mentioned in the rabbis’ writings:

Jesus is referred to in rabbinical literature as Jesus ben Pantera or Ben Pandira.  This might mean ‘the son of the panther’.  The most probable explanation is that it is a corruption of parthenos, the Greek word for ‘virgin’ and arose from Christian references to him as a son of a virgin   (p57-58)

Today, as Jesus’ time, there is hostility to Jesus and the claims of the gospel.  Then, as now, there was significant opposition to him.  But the difference is that back then they were also witnesses, and as hostile witnesses they did not refute some basic points that they should have been able to, had these points been made up or been in error.

Moses’ Farewell Speech: History marching to the beat of its drum

Moses’ Blessings & Curses in Deuteronomy

Moses lived about 3500 years ago and he wrote the first five books of the Bible – known as the Pentateuch or the Torah. His fifth book, Deuteronomy, contains his last proclamations made just before he died. These were his Blessings to the people of Israel – the Jews, but also his Curses.  Moses wrote that these Blessings and Curses would shape history and should be reflected on, not just by the Jews, but also by all other nations. So this was written for you and me to think about. The complete Blessings and Curses are here. I summarize the main points below.

The Blessings of Moses

Moses began by describing the blessings that the Israelites would receive if they obeyed The Law.  The law been given in the earlier books and included the Ten Commandments.  The blessings were  from God and would be so great that all other nations would recognize His blessing. The outcome of these blessings would be that:

Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:10)

… and the Curses

However, if the Israelites failed to obey the Commands then they would receive Curses that would match and mirror the Blessings. These Curses would be seen by the surrounding nations so that:

You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you. (Deuteronomy 28:37)

And the Curses would extend through history.

They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. (Deuteronomy 28:46)

But God warned that the worst part of the Curses would come from other nations.

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed … until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28:49-52)

It would go from bad to worse.

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:63-65)

These Blessings and Curses were established by a covenant (an agreement) between God and the Israelites:

…to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath … also with those who are not here today. (Deuteronomy 29:12-15)

In other words this covenant would be binding on the children, or future generations. In fact this covenant was directed at future generations – both Israelites and foreigners.

Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. … nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. … All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer will be:

“It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt….Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. … the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:21-27)

Did The Blessings and Curses happen?

Nothing neutral about them. The Blessings were delightful, but the Curses were utterly severe. However, the most important question we can ask is: ‘Did they happen?’ The answer is not hard to find. Much of the Old Testament is the record of the history of the Israelites and from that we can see what happens in their history. Also we have records outside the Old Testament, from Jewish historians like Josephus, Graeco-Roman historians like Tacitus and we have found many archeological monuments. All of these sources agree and paint a consistent picture of the Israelite or Jewish history. A summary of this history, given through the building of a timeline is given here.  Read it and assess for yourself if the Curses of Moses came to pass.

The Conclusion to Moses’ Blessings and Curses

But this Farewell Speech of Moses did not end with the Curses. It continued. Here is how Moses made his final pronouncement.

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)

After Moses, successive writers in the Old Testament continued with this promise that he first stated – that there would be a restoration after the Curses.  Ezekiel used the image of dead zombies coming to life to paint a vivid picture of this for us. These later writers made bold, troubling and detailed predictions. Together they make an astounding set of predictions that are happening today.

Was there an Adam? The Testimony of the ancient Chinese

The Bible is a remarkable book.  To start with, it claims to be  inspired by God and to accurately record His activities in history.  I used to question this claim to historical accuracy of the beginning chapters of the first book in the Bible – Genesis.  This was the account of Adam & Eve, paradise, the forbidden fruit, a tempter, followed by the account of Noah surviving a worldwide flood.  I, as most of us today, thought these stories were really poetic metaphors.

As I researched this question, I made some fascinating discoveries that made me re-think my beliefs, and that perhaps these Genesis accounts had, in fact, really happened.  An unexpected discovery lay embedded in Chinese writing.  To see this you need to know some background about the Chinese.

Written Chinese arose from the beginning of Chinese civilization, which dates back about 4200 years, about 700 years before Moses wrote the book of Genesis (1500 BC).  We all recognize Chinese calligraphy when we see it.  What many of us don’t know is that ideograms or Chinese ‘words’ are constructed from simpler pictures called radicals.  It is similar to how English takes simple words (like ‘fire’ and ‘truck’) and combines them into compound words (‘firetruck’).  Chinese calligraphy has changed very little in the thousands of years.  We know this from writing that is found on ancient pottery and bone artifacts.  Only in the 20th century with the rule of the Chinese communist party has the script been simplified.

For example, consider the Chinese ideogram for the abstract word ‘first’. It is shown here.

First = alive + dust + man
First = alive + dust + man

‘First’ is a compound of simpler radicals as shown.  You can see how these radicals are all found combined in ‘first’.   The meaning of each of the radicals is also shown.  What this means is that around 4200 years ago, when the first Chinese scribes were forming the Chinese writing they joined radicals with the meaning of ‘alive’+’dust’+’man’ => ‘first’.  But why?  What natural connection is there between ‘dust’ and ‘first’?  There is none.  But notice the creation of the first man in Genesis.

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being  (Genesis 2:17).

The ‘first’ man (Adam) was made alive from dust.  But where did the ancient Chinese get this connection 700 years before Moses wrote Genesis?  Think about this:

Dust + breath of mouth + alive = to talk
Dust + breath of mouth + alive = to talk

The radicals for ‘dust’ + ‘breath of mouth’ + ‘alive’ are combined to make the ideogram ‘to talk’.  But then ‘to talk’ is itself combined with ‘walking’ to form ‘create’.

To talk + walking = to create
To talk + walking = to create

But what is the natural connection between ‘dust’, ‘breath of mouth’, ‘alive’, ‘walking’ and ‘create’ that would cause the ancient Chinese to make this relationship?  But this also bears a striking similarity with Genesis 2:17 above.

This similarity continues.  Notice how ‘devil’ is formed from “man moving secretly in the garden”. What is the natural relationship between gardens and devils?  They have none at all.

Secret + man + garden + alive = devil
Secret + man + garden + alive = devil

Yet the ancient Chinese then built on this by then combining ‘devil’ with ‘two trees’ for ‘tempter’!

Devil + 2 trees + cover = tempter
Devil + 2 trees + cover = tempter

So the ‘devil’ under the cover of ‘two trees’ is the ‘tempter’.  If I was going to make a natural connection to temptation I might relate it to an enticing woman at a bar, or a tempting sin.  But why two trees?  What does ‘gardens’ and ‘trees’ have to do with ‘devils’ and ‘tempters’?  Compare now with the Genesis account:

The LORD God had planted a garden in the east… in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9)

Now the serpent was more crafty… he said to the woman, “Did God really say …” (Genesis 3:1)

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’.  Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’?  That would be a natural relation.  But the Chinese did not do so.

2 trees + woman = desire
2 trees + woman = desire

The Genesis account does show a relation between ‘covet’, ‘two trees’ and ‘woman’.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband (Genesis 3:6)

Consider another remarkable parallel.  The Chinese ideogram for ‘big boat’ is shown below and the radicals that construct this are also shown:

boat
Big Boat = Eight + mouths + vessel

They are ‘eight’ ‘people’ in a ‘vessel’.  If I was going to represent a big boat why not have 3000 people in a vessel.  Why eight?  Interesting, in the Genesis account of the flood there are eight people in Noah’s Ark (Noah, his three sons and their four wives).

The parallels between the early Genesis and Chinese writing are remarkable.  One might even think the Chinese read Genesis and borrowed from it, but the origin of their language is 700 years before Moses.   Is it coincidence?  But why so many ‘coincidences’?   Why are there no such parallels with the Chinese for the later Genesis stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

But suppose Genesis is recording real historical events.  Then the Chinese – as a race and language group – originate at Babel (Genesis 11) as all other ancient language/racial groups.  The Babel account tells how the children of Noah had their languages confused by God so that they could not understand each other.  This resulted in their migration out from Mesopotamia, and it restricted inter-marriage to within their language.  The Chinese were one of these peoples dispersing from Babel.  At that time the Genesis Creation/Flood accounts were their recent history.  So when they developed writing for abstract concepts like ‘covet’, ‘tempter’ etc. they took from accounts that were well understood in their history.  Similarly for the development of nouns – like ‘big boat’ they would take from the extraordinary accounts that they remembered.

Thus the accounts of Creation and the Flood were embedded into their language from the beginning of their civilization.  As the centuries passed they forgot the original reason, as so often happens.  If this is the case, then the Genesis account recorded real historical events, not just poetic metaphors.

Chinese Sacrifices

The Chinese also had one of the longest lasting ceremonial traditions that have ever been conducted on earth.  From the start of the Chinese civilization (about 2200 BC), the Chinese emperor on the winter solstice always sacrificed a bull to Shang-Ti (‘Emperor in Heaven’, i.e. God).  This ceremony was kept up through all the dynasties that the Chinese civilization had.  In fact it was only stopped in 1911 when general Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Qing dynasty.  This bull sacrifice was conducted annually in the ‘Temple of Heaven’, which is now a tourist attraction in Beijing.  So for over 4000 years a bull was sacrificed every year by the Chinese emperor to the Heavenly Emperor   Why?  Long ago, Confucius (551-479 BC) asked this very question.  He said:

“He who understands the ceremonies of the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth… would find the government of a kingdom as easy as to look into his palm!”

What Confucius said was that anyone who could unlock that mystery of the sacrifice would be wise enough to rule the kingdom.  So between 2200 BC when the Border Sacrifice began, to the time of Confucius (500 BC) the meaning of the sacrifice had been lost to the Chinese – even though they continued the annual sacrifice another 2400 years to 1911 AD.

Perhaps, if the meaning of their calligraphy had not been lost Confucius could have found an answer to his question.  Consider the radicals used to construct the word for ‘righteous’.

Hand + lance/dagger = me; + sheep = righteousness
Hand + lance/dagger = me; + sheep = righteousness

Righteousness is a compound of ‘sheep’ on top of ‘me’.  And ‘me’ is a compound of ‘hand’ and ‘lance’ or ‘dagger’.  It gives the idea that my hand will kill the lamb and result in righteousness.  The sacrifice or death of the lamb in my place gives me righteousness.

Genesis has many animal sacrifices long before Moses started the Jewish sacrifice system.  For example, Abel (Adam’s son) and Noah offer sacrifices (Genesis 4:4 & 8:20).  It seems that the earliest people understood that animal sacrifices were symbols of a substitute death that was needed for righteousness.  One of Jesus’ titles was ‘lamb of God’ (John 1:29).  His death was the real sacrifice that gives righteousness.  All animal sacrifices – including the ancient Chinese Border Sacrifices – were only a pictures of his sacrifice.  This is what Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac pointed to, as well as Moses’ Passover sacrifice.  The ancient Chinese seemed to have started with this understanding long before Abraham or Moses lived, though they had forgotten it by Confucius’ day.

This means that the sacrifice and death of Jesus for righteousness was understood from the dawn of human history.  Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was a Divine plan reinforced with signs so people could know it from the beginning of time.

This, of course, goes against our instincts.  We think that righteousness is based either on mercy of God or on our merits.  In other words, many think no payment is required for sin since God is solely merciful and not Holy.  Others think that some payment is required, but that we can make the payment by the good things we do.  So we try to be good or religious and we hope it will all work out.  This is contrasted by the Gospel that says:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from Law, has been made known… This righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:21-22)

Perhaps the ancients were aware of something that we in our modern culture are in danger of forgetting.

Bibliography

  • The Discovery of Genesis.  C.H. Kang & Ethel Nelson.  1979
  • Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve.  Ethel Nelson & Richard Broadberry. 1994

Simple but Powerful: What is the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice?

Jesus came to give himself as a sacrifice for all peoples so that we could escape our corruption and reconnect with God.  This plan was announced at the beginning of human history.  It was signed by God in the sacrifice of Abraham by pointing to Mount Moriah where Jesus’ sacrifice would be provided.  Then the Jewish Passover sacrifice was a sign pointing to the day of the year when Jesus would be sacrificed.

Why is his sacrifice so important?  This is a question worth asking. The Bible declares a Law when it states:

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)

“Death” literally means ‘separation’.  When our soul separates from our body we die physically.  Similarly we are even now separated from God spiritually.  This is true because God is Holy (sinless) while we have become corrupted from our original creation and so we sin.

This can be pictured using cliffs with God on the opposite side from us separated by a bottomless pit.  Just like a branch that has been cut from a tree is dead, so we have cut ourselves off from God and become spiritually dead.

We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs
We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm separating two cliffs

This separation causes guilt and fear.  So what we naturally try to do is build bridges to take us from our side (of death) to God’s side.  We do this in many different ways: going to church, temple or mosque, being religious, being good, helping the poor, meditation, trying to be more helpful, praying more, etc. These deeds to gain merit can be very difficult – and living them out can be very complicated.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Good Efforts – useful as they may be - cannot bridge the separation between us and God
Good Efforts – useful as they may be – cannot bridge the separation between us and God

The problem is that our hard efforts, merits, and deeds, though not wrong, are insufficient because the payment required (the ‘wages’) for our sins is ‘death’.  Our efforts are like a ‘bridge’ that tries to cross the gap separating us from God – but in the end cannot do it.  This is because good merit will not solve our root problem. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating vegetarian.  Eating vegetarian is not bad, it may even be good – but it will not cure cancer.  For cancer you need a totally different treatment.

This Law is Bad News – it is so bad we often do not even want to hear it and we fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away.  But the Bible stresses this Law of sin and death to get our attention to focus on the cure that is simple and powerful.

For the wages of sin is death but… (Romans 6:23)

The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the message is about to change directions, to the Good News of the Gospel – the cure.  It shows both the goodness and love of God.

For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to bridge this separation between us and God.  We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection.   Most of us do not know about the evidence for his resurrection.  A very strong case can be made for it as shown in this public lecture I did at a university (video link here).  Jesus’ sacrifice was prophetically acted out in Abraham’s sacrifice and the Passover sacrifice.  These signs pointing to Jesus were put there to help us find the cure.

Jesus was a human who lived a sinless life.  Therefore he can ‘touch’ both the human and the God sides and span the gap separating God and people.  He is a Bridge to Life which can be pictured like this:

Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man
Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man

Notice how this sacrifice of Jesus is given to us.  It is offered as a … ‘gift’.  Think about gifts.  No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift it is something that you do not work for and that you do not earn by merit.  If you earned it the gift would no longer be a gift – it would be a wage!  In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is given to you as a gift.  It is that simple.

And what is the gift?  It is ‘eternal life’.  That means that the sin which brought you and me death is now cancelled.  Jesus’ bridge of life enables us to re-connect with God and receive life – which lasts forever.  God loves you and me that much.  It is that powerful.

So how do you and I ‘cross’ this Bridge of Life?  Again, think of gifts.  If someone wants to give you a gift you must ‘receive’ it.  Anytime a gift is offered there are two alternatives.  Either the gift is refused (“No thank you”) or it is received (“Thank you for your gift.  I will take it”).  So also this gift offered must be received.  It cannot just be mentally believed in, studied or understood.  This is illustrated in the next figure where we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving his gift he offers to us.

Slide4
Jesus sacrifice is a gift that each of us must choose to receive

So how do we receive this gift?  The Bible says that

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12)

Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’.  Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’.  So if you call on him he will hear and give his gift to you.  You call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him.  Perhaps you have never done this.  Below is a prayer that can guide you. It is not a magic chant.  It is not the specific words that give power.  It is the trust like Abraham had that we place in him to give us this gift.  As we trust him He will hear us and answer.  The Gospel is powerful, and yet also so simple.  Feel free to follow this guide if you find it helpful.

Dear Lord Jesus.  I understand that with my sins I am separated from God.  Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation.  But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all my sins.  I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I know that your sacrifice was sufficient.  I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life.  I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from sin.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.

Amen

Passover Sign of Moses

After Abraham died his descendants were called Israelites.  500 years later they have become a large tribe.  But they have also become slaves  of the Egyptians.

The Exodus

The Israelite leader is Moses. God had told Moses to go to Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that he free the Israelites from slavery.   This began a struggle between Pharaoh and Moses producing nine plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Even so, Pharaoh had not agreed to let the Israelites go free so God was going to bring a deadly 10th plague. The full account of the 10th Plague in the Bible is linked here.

The 10th plague was that every firstborn son in the land would die that night from God’s Angel of Death – except those who remained in houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the door frames of that house. If Pharaoh did not obey, his firstborn son and heir to the throne would die. Every house in Egypt that did not sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts would lose a firstborn son. So Egypt faced a national disaster.

In Israelite (and Egyptian) houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the doors the promise was that everyone would be safe. The Angel of Death would pass over that house. So this day was called Passover.

Passover – A Sign for who?

People think that the blood on the doors was only for the Angel of Death. But notice what the Bible says

The LORD said to Moses … ” … I am the LORD. The blood [of the Passover lamb] will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. (Exodus 12:13)

Though the LORD was looking for the blood on the door, and if He saw it Death would pass over, the blood was not a sign for Him. It says that the blood was a ‘sign for you’ – the people, including you and me.

But how is it a sign? After this happened the LORD commanded them to:

Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for generations to come. When you enter the land … observe this ceremony… It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD’ (Exodus 12:27)

The Remarkable Passover Calendar

In fact we see at the beginning of this story that this 10th plague began the ancient Israelite (Jewish) calendar.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,  “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year… (Exodus 12:1-2)

Starting at this time, the Israelites began a calendar that celebrated Passover on the same day every year.  For 3500 years Jewish people have been celebrating Passover every year to remember how their ancestors were saved from death.  Since the Jewish calendar year is a little different from the Western calendar, the Passover day moves each year on the Western calendar.

Jesus and Passover

This is a modern-day scene of Jewish people preparing to celebrate Passover in memory of that first Passover 3500 years ago.
This is a modern-day scene of Jewish people preparing to celebrate Passover in memory of that first Passover 3500 years ago.

If we follow Passover celebrations in history we will notice something remarkable. Notice when the arrest and trial of Jesus happened:

 

 

 

“Then the Jews led Jesus … to the palace of the Roman governor [Pilate]… to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover” … [Pilate] said [to Jewish leaders] “…But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No not him…” (John 18:28, 39-40)

Jesus was arrested and executed on Passover of the Jewish calendar – the same day all Jews were sacrificing a lamb to remember those lambs in 1500 BC that caused Death to pass over.  Remember from Abraham’s Sacrifice, one of the titles of Jesus was:

The next day John (i.e. John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world… ’”. (John 1:29)

Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’, was sacrificed on the very same day that all the Jews alive then were sacrificing a lamb in memory of the first Passover that started their calendar.  This is why the Jewish Passover  occurs at the same time as Easter.  Easter is to remember the death of Jesus and since that happened on the Passover, Easter and Passover happen close together.  (Since the Western calendar is different they are not on the same day, but usually in the same week).

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs

Think back to that first Passover in Moses’ day where the blood was a ‘sign’, not only for God, but also for us.  Think what signs do by considering these signs.

Signs are pointer in our minds to get us to think about the thing the sign points to
Signs are pointer in our minds to get us to think about what the sign points to

When we see the ‘skull and crossbones’ sign it makes us think of death and danger. The sign of the ‘Golden Arches’ makes us think about McDonalds. The ‘√’ on Nadal’s bandana is the sign for Nike. Nike wants us to think of them when we see this on Nadal. Signs are made to direct our thinking not to the sign itself but to something it points to.

God had said to Moses that the first Passover blood was a sign.  So what was God pointing to with this sign?  With the remarkable timing of lambs being sacrificed on the same day as Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’, it is a sign pointing to the coming sacrifice of Jesus.

It works in our minds like I have shown in the diagram here about me.

The Passover is a Sign in that it points to Jesus through the remarkable timing of Passover with Jesus' crucifixion
The Passover is a Sign in that it points to Jesus through the remarkable timing of Passover with Jesus’ crucifixion

The sign is to point us to think about the sacrifice of Jesus. In the first Passover the lambs were sacrificed and the blood painted so that death would pass over the people .  This sign pointing to Jesus is to tell us that  ‘The Lamb of God’ was also sacrificed and his blood spilt so death would pass over us.

With Abraham’s sacrifice the place where the ram died so Isaac could live was Mount Moriah – the same place where Jesus was sacrificed 2000 years later.  That was given so we could ‘see’ the meaning of his sacrifice by pointing to the location. Passover is also pointing to Jesus’ sacrifice, but by using a different sign – by pointing to the day of the calendar – the calendar started by the first Passover.  In two different ways the most important stories in the Old Testament are pointing directly to the death of Jesus using sacrificed lambs. I cannot think of any other person in history whose death (or life achievement) is so foreseen in two such dramatic ways. Can you?

These two events (Abraham’s sacrifice and Passover) should show us that it is reasonable to consider that Jesus is the center of a Divine Plan.

But why has God placed these Signs in ancient history to predict the crucifixion of Jesus?  Why is that so important?  What is it about the world that requires such bloody symbols?  And is it important to us today?  To answer these questions we need to start at the beginning of the Bible to understand what happened at the start of time.

Abraham: How God will Provide

Abraham lived 4000 years ago, traveling to modern-day Israel.  He was promised a son that would become a ‘great nation’, but he had to wait until he was very old to see his son born.  Jews and Arabs today come from Abraham, so we know the promise came true and that he is an important person in history as the father of great nations.

Abraham was now very happy to watch his son Isaac grow up into a man.  But then God tested Abraham with a difficult task.   God said:

“Go get Isaac, your only son, the one you dearly love! Take him to the land of Moriah, and I will show you a mountain where you must sacrifice him to me on the fires of an altar.” (Genesis 22:2)

This is hard to understand!  Why would God ask Abraham to do this?  But Abraham, who had learned to trust God – even when he did not understand

… got up early the next morning … and left with Isaac and two servants for the place where God had told him to go. (Genesis 22:3)

After three days travel they reached the mountain. Then

…when they reached the place that God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Next, he tied up his son and put him on the wood. He then took the knife and got ready to kill his son. (Genesis 22: 9-10)

Abraham was ready to obey God.  Just then something remarkable happened

But the Lord’s angel shouted from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am!” he answered.

“Don’t hurt the boy or harm him in any way!” the angel said. “Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son.”

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the bushes. So he took the ram and sacrificed it in place of his son. (Genesis 22: 11-13)

At the last moment Isaac was saved from death and Abraham saw a male sheep and sacrificed it instead.  God had provided a ram and the ram took the place of Isaac.

Here I would like to ask a question.  At this point in the story is the ram dead or alive?

Why do I ask?  Because Abraham will now give a name to the place, but most people miss its importance.  The story continues…

Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”  (Genesis 22:14)

Another question: Is the name that Abraham gave to that place (“The Lord Will Provide”) in the past, present or future tense?

Looking to the future, not the past

It is clearly in the future tense.  Many people think that Abraham, when naming that place, was thinking of the ram provided by God by getting caught in the thicket and then sacrificed in place of his Isaac.  But when Abraham gave the name that ram was already dead and sacrificed.  If Abraham was thinking of that ram – already dead and sacrificed – he would have named it ‘The LORD has provided’ – in the past tense.  And the closing comment would read ‘And even now people say “On the mountain of the LORD it was provided”’.  But the name looks to the future, not the past. Abraham is not thinking of the already dead ram.  He is naming it for something else – in the future.  But what?

Where is that place?

Remember where this sacrifice occurred, told at the beginning of the story:

(“Go get Isaac, …. Take him to the land of Moriah”)

This happened at ‘Moriah’. Where is that?  It was wilderness in Abraham’s day (2000 BC), with only some bushes, a wild ram, and Abraham & Isaac on that mountain.  But one thousand years later (1000 BC) King David built the city of Jerusalem there, and his son Solomon built the First Jewish Temple there. We read later in the Old Testament that:

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah… (2 Chronicles 3:1)

Mount Moriah became Jerusalem, the Jewish city with the Jewish Temple. Today it is a holy place for the Jewish people, and Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel.

The Sacrifice of Abraham and Jesus

Let us think a little about the titles of Jesus.  Jesus’ most well-known title is ‘Christ’. But he had other titles, like

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Jesus was also called ‘The Lamb of God‘. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified? It was in Jerusalem (which is the same as ‘Mount Moriah’). It is very clearly stated that:

He [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s authority. Herod was in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. (Luke 23:7)

The arrest, trial and death of Jesus was in Jerusalem (= Mount Moriah).  The timeline shows the events that have happened at Mount Moriah.

timeline of major events at Mount Moriah
Major events at Mount Moriah

Back to Abraham.  Why did he name that place in the future tense ‘The LORD will provide’?  Isaac had been saved at the last moment when a lamb was sacrificed in his place.  Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and he is sacrificed at the same location – so you & I could also live.

A Divine Plan

It is like a Mind has connected these two events that are separated by 2000 years of history.  What makes the connection unique is that the first event points to the later event by the name in the future tense.  But how would Abraham know what would happen in the future?  No human knows the future, especially that far into the future.  Only God can know the future.  Foreseeing the future and having these events happen at the same place is evidence that this is not a human plan, but a plan from God.  He wants us to think about this like below

Abraham's sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus
Abraham’s sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus

Good News for all nations

This story also has a promise for you. At the end of this story God promises to Abraham that:

“…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18)

If you belong to one of the ‘nations on earth’ then this is a promise to you for a ‘blessing’ from God.

So what is this ‘blessing’?  How do you get it?  Think of the story.  Just like the ram saved Isaac from death, so Jesus the Lamb of God, by his sacrifice at the same place, saves us from the power of death.  If that is true it would certainly be good news.

The sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Moriah is an important event in ancient history.  It is remembered and celebrated by millions around the world today.  But it is also a story for you living 4000 years later.

Getting Righteousness – Abraham’s example

Previously we saw that Abraham obtained righteousness simply by believing. This was stated in the little sentence:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Belief is not about the existence of God

Think what ‘believe’ means.  Many people think that ‘believe’ means believing that God exists.  We think that God just wants us to believe that He is there.  But the Bible states it differently.  It says,

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19)

Here the Bible is using sarcasm to say that simply believing God exists makes us as good as the Devil.  It is true that Abraham believed in God’s existence, but that is not the point of his righteousness.  God had promised Abraham that He would give him a son.  It was that promise that Abraham had to choose to believe or not – even while he knew that he was in his 80’s and his wife was in her 70’s.  He trusted that God would somehow fulfill that promise to him. Belief, in this story, means trust. Abraham chose to trust God for a son.

When Abraham chose to believe that promise of a son then God also gave him – ‘credited’ him– righteousness. In the end Abraham got both the fulfilled promise (a son from whom a great nation would come) and also righteousness.

Righteousness – not from merit or effort

Abraham did not ‘earn’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. What is the difference? If something is ‘earned’ you work for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. It is not earned or merited, but simply received.

We think that doing more good things than bad things, doing good deeds, or meeting obligations allows us to deserve or merit righteousness.  Abraham proves this idea false. He did not try to earn righteousness. He simply chose to believe the promise offered to him, and righteousness was given to him.

Abraham’s Belief: He bet his life on it

Choosing to believe in this promise of a son was simple but it was not easy.  When he was first promised a ‘Great Nation’ he was 75 years old and he had left his home country and traveled to Canaan.  Almost ten years have now passed and Abraham and Sarah still do not have a child – let alone a nation! “Why has God not already given us a son if he could have done so”?, he would have wondered.  Abraham believed the promise of a son because he trusted God, even though he did not understand everything about the promise, nor did he have all his questions answered.

Believing the promise required active waiting. His whole life was  interrupted while living in tents waiting for the promise. It would have been much easier to make excuses and return home to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier, and where his brother and family still lived. Life was comfortable there.

His trust in the promise took priority over normal goals in life – security, comfort and well-being.  He could have disbelieved the promise while still believing in the existence of God and continuing with religious activities and good deeds.  Then he would have maintained his religion but not been ‘credited’ righteousness.

Our Example

The rest of the Bible treats Abraham as an example for us.  Abraham’s belief in the promise from God, and the crediting of righteousness, is a pattern for us. The Bible has other promises that God makes to all of us.  We also have to chose whether we will trust them.

Here is an example of such a promise.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (John 1:12-13)

Today we know that the promise to Abraham came true.  It is undeniable that the Jewish people today exist as that nation that came from Abraham.  But like Abraham we face a promise today that seems unlikely and raises some questions.  Like Abraham, we choose to trust this promise – or not.

Who pays for Righteousness?

Abraham showed that righteousness is given as a gift.  When you get a gift you do not pay for it – otherwise it is not a gift.  The giver of the gift is the one who pays.  God, the giver of righteousness, will have to pay for righteousness.  How will He do it?  We see in our next article.

The Ageless Promise to an Unnoticed Man

What the world takes great note of now in sports and politics will quickly be forgotten as we move on to other amusements, championships or political events. The highlight one day quickly becomes forgotten the next. We saw in our previous article that this was true in the ancient time of Abraham. The important achievements that held the attention of people living 4000 years ago are now totally forgotten, but a promise spoken quietly to an individual, though overlooked by the world back then, is growing and still unfolding before our eyes. The promise given to Abraham about 4000 years ago has come true. Perhaps God does exist and is working in the world.

Abraham’s Complaint

Several years have passed in Abraham’s life since the Promise recorded in Genesis 12 was spoken. In obedience Abraham moved to Canaan (the Promised Land) in what is today Israel, but the birth of the promised son did not happen.  So Abraham began to worry.

Then the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3)

God’s Promise

Abraham was camping out in the Land waiting for the start of the ‘Great Nation’ that he was promised. But nothing had happened and he was around 85 years old (ten years had passed since his move). He complained that God was not keeping His Promise. Their conversation continued with:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)

So God expanded His initial Promise by declaring that Abraham would get a son that would become a people as uncountable as the stars in the sky.  And these people would be given the Promised Land – today called Israel.

Abraham’s Response: Everlasting Effect

How would Abraham respond to the expanded Promise? What follows is a sentence that the Bible itself treats as one of the most important sentences in the whole Bible. It helps us to understand the Bible and shows the heart of God. It says:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is easier to understand this sentence if we replace the pronouns with names, it would read:

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is such a small, simple sentence, but it is truly significant. Why? Because in this little sentence Abraham obtains ‘righteousness’. This is the one – and the only one – quality that we need to get right standing before God.

Reviewing our Problem: Corruption

From God’s point-of-view, though we were made in the image of God something happened that corrupted us. The Bible says:

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)

Our corruption has resulted in our not doing what is good –causing emptiness and death. If you doubt this, read the world news headlines and see what people have been doing the last 24 hours.  This means that we are separated from a Righteous God because we lack righteousness.

Our corruption repels God in the same way that we would keep away from the body of a dead rat. We would not want to go near it. So the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Bible come true.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Abraham and Righteousness

But here in the conversation between Abraham and God we find a quiet declaration that Abraham had gained ‘righteousness’, the kind that God accepts – even though Abraham was not sinless.  So, what did Abraham ‘do’ to get this righteousness? It simply says Abraham ‘believed’.  That’s it?! We try to earn righteousness by doing something, but this man, Abraham, got it simply by ‘believing’.

But what does believing mean?  And what does this have to do with your righteousness and mine?  We take it up next.

An Ancient Journey that Affects us Today

Even though Israel is a small country it is always in the news.  The news continues to report on Jews moving to Israel, on the technology invented there, but also on conflict, wars and tensions with surrounding people.  Why? A look at Israel’s history in the book of Genesis in the Bible reveals that 4000 years ago a man, who is now very well known, went on a camping trip in that part of the world.  The Bible says that his story affects our future.

This ancient man is Abraham (also known as Abram).  We can take his story seriously because the places and cities he visited are mentioned in other old writings.

The Promise to Abraham

God made a promise to Abraham:

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

Abraham’s name became Great

Most of us wonder if there is a God and if He really is the God of the Bible. In the Bible God says ‘I will make your name great’ and today the name of Abraham/Abram is known worldwide. The promise has come true. The earliest copy of Genesis found in the Dead Sea Scrolls is dated 200-100 B.C. which means the promise has been in writing since that time. At that time the name of Abraham was not well-known so the promise came true only after it was written down, not before.

… by means of his great nation

Surprisingly Abraham really did nothing important in his life.  He was not a great writer, king, inventor or military leader.  He did nothing except camp out where he was told to go and father a few children.  His name is great only because the children became nation(s) that kept the record of his life – and then individuals and nations that came from him became great.  This is exactly how it was promised in Genesis 12 (“I will make you into a great nation … I will make your name great”).  No one else in all history is so well-known only because of descendants rather than from great achievements in his own life.

…Through the Will of the Promise-Maker

The Jews who descended from Abraham were never really the nation we associate with greatness.  They did not conquer a great empire like the Romans did or build large monuments like the Egyptians did with the pyramids. Their fame comes from the Law and Book which they wrote; from some remarkable individuals that were Jewish; and that they have survived as a somewhat different people group for thousands of years.  Their greatness is not because of anything they did, but rather what was done to and through them.  The promise says repeatedly that “I will …”.  Their unique greatness happened because God made it happen rather than some ability, conquest or power of their own.

The promise to Abraham came true because he trusted a promise and chose to live differently than others. Think how likely it was for this promise to have failed, but instead it has happened, and is continuing to unfold, as it was stated  thousands of years ago.  The case is strong that the promise came true only because of the power and authority of the Promise-Maker.

The Journey that still shakes the World

 

Abrahams Trek
This map shows the journey of Abraham

 

The Bible then says that “So Abram left as the LORD had told him” (v. 4).  He began a journey, shown on the map that is still making history.

Blessings to us

There is something else promised as well. The blessing was not only for Abraham. It says that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (through Abraham). We should pay attention because you and I are part of ‘all peoples on earth’ – no matter what our religion, color, background, nationality, social status, or what language we speak.  This promise for a blessing includes everybody alive today!  How?  When?  What kind of blessing? This is not clearly stated here but since we know that the first parts of this promise have come true, we can have confidence that this last part will also come true. We find the key to unlock this mystery by continuing to follow the journey of Abraham in our next article.

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.