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First Quarter 2016 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON REBELLION AND REDEMPTION
Week 3: January 9–15
COMMENTARY ON GLOBAL REBELLION AND THE PATRIARCHS
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Today’s lesson introduces the week’s agenda: to demonstrate how the great controversy played out in the patriarchs’ lives while God’s faithfully nurtures His beleaguered children. Because this foundational premise is unbiblical, the development of these ideas veer away from the reality of the scriptural accounts.
At the foundation: there is no “great controversy” as Ellen White and Adventism teach it. Satan and Jesus are not engaged in a struggle for men’s souls, fighting to win the affections of each person. On the contrary, because of Adam’s sin, every person born is born spiritually dead, a citizen of the domain of darkness and under the authority of the “prince of the air” Paul talks about in Ephesians 2:1-3. We are born into Satan’s domain; God rescues us and transfers us out. We, spiritually dead people, cannot fight our way out of Satan’s dominion unless the Father Himself calls us and opens our eyes to see Jesus.
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life (John 6:41-48).
That being said, the statement about the flood needs some commentary. The lesson says the “story of the Flood reveals how rebellion and sin cause the unraveling of everything that God created. Sin not only distorts creation, it destroys it.”
The fact the Bible teaches, however, is that the flood was not a result of sin. It was the specific, deliberate judgment of God on a world that had become intolerably corrupt. Here is what Genesis 6:11-13, 17-18 says:
Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth…
For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you.
God, not sin, caused the flood. God judged the earth, and God is the One who killed all flesh because of the great wickedness that had become intolerable. Adventism teaches that God doesn’t do harm to anyone, that Satan is the one who causes harm and death. The wicked, Adventism teaches, die because they choose death and would not be happy with God. They do not accept the biblical teaching that God is the One—the only One—who can give life AND take life. God wiped out the world because of the incredible, unrepentant sin and corruption that sin was promulgating on the earth.
At the same time, God mercifully preserved humanity and the godly Seed descended from the promised godly child, Seth. Noah, descended from Seth, believed God, and God made a covenant with Noah to preserve life—both human and animal—through Moses and His obedience to build an ark.
It is crucially important to understand that God is the One who sent the flood, an act of worldwide judgment which prefigures His final judgment of the world.
The opening question on today’s lesson reveals Adventism’s deep misunderstanding of the nature of sin. “Read Genesis 4:1-15,” the lesson opens; “What does this tell us about how deeply ingrained sin had become?”
This question reveals that Adventism does not believe that Adam and Eve literally died spiritually on the day they ate the fruit, nor that this spiritual death is what they bequeathed to every one of us born since that day. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 says,
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Adventism explains that this verse means all humans eventually die physically. It is this physical death that they say is the “death” God promised would occur if Adam and Eve at the fruit. To be sure, physical death IS part of the consequence of sin, because humans are both physical and spiritual beings. But the death that occurred to Adam and Eve the day they ate—and the death with which each of us is born—is the spiritual disconnection from God. This disconnection is not figurative or metaphorical. It is real. Our immaterial spirits are born dead, disconnected from the life of God. It is this death which places us under the authority of the prince of the air—Satan.
Adventism further insists that sin is something connected to our physical genome, something passed from generation to generation in the genetic code. While our genome is undoubtedly affected by sin, this physical effect is not what renders us by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), dead in sin. Our literally dead, disconnected-from-God spirits are what render us sinners by nature and unable to seek or please God.
For the lesson to ask the reader to speculate about what Cain’s sin tells us about how deeply ingrained sin had become is to miss the point. Sin cannot be more deeply ingrained than for humanity to be cut off, unreconciled to God, disconnected from His own life which makes us alive. Cain was born with Adam’s sin, just as Abel was. They were both born dead. The difference between the two was that Abel trusted God, and Cain refused to trust Him.
Similarly, the end of the lesson asks, “How can we learn the hard lesson that sin has consequences far beyond the immediate sin itself?”
This question is pointless. Recognizing sin’s far-reaching effects does not equip a person to avoid sin. A person cannot avoid sin if he is spiritually dead, even if he does altruistic acts and professes a religion. Only when a person repents and receives the gift of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus does a person gain the ability to avoid sin. Only when one is born again can one choose to trust God and turn away from temptation.
Only the gospel provides any power against sin.
The lesson attempts to put the great controversy into the flood story as a foundational reality that explains the cataclysm. “In what ways do we see the great controversy between good and evil expressed here, only now even more intensely than before?” the lesson asks.
As explained in Saturday’s lesson, God, not Satan, caused the flood. In fact, it is helpful to remember what Jesus said:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
As an Adventist, I used to think the verse was saying we should fear Satan, not man. In context, however, this verse is not referring to Satan as the one we are to fear. Rather, God is the only one we are to fear. It is God alone who can take life. Evil men and even angels may kill the body, but only God can destroy both body and soul. (Notice that this verse clearly says we have two parts to us: body and soul.) God is the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.
The flood killed all life on the earth—all except the lives preserved in the ark under the mighty hand of God. He kept the seed of humanity alive—the descendants of Seth, and He kept the Holy Seed from becoming disfigured from sin run amok.
God is faithful. He cares for His own, and His punishments are sure. He accomplishes His purposes whether or not there are people who understand.
Today’s lesson completely erases the significance of Abraham and God’s covenant with him. Abraham was not significant because he was faithful to God; rather, he is the father of all who BELIEVE, as Romans 4 states.
This lesson once again attempts to superimpose the great controversy over the story of Abraham. This overlay, however, is entirely unscriptural.
The third paragraphs of today’s lesson says that after much stumbling on Abraham’s part, the promised child was finally born, and God proved His faithfulness to His “sometimes-wavering servant.”
This conclusion is wrong. God proved His faithfulness to HIMSELF, His faithfulness to His own word. Moreover, the lesson leaves out perhaps the most important verse in Genesis about Abraham. It’s not his failures that are important; it’s Genesis 15:6.
And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:4-6).
Abraham believed God, and his belief was credited by God to Abraham as righteousness. It was not Abraham’s obedience nor his good deeds nor his righteous character that God credited to him. Rather, it was the simple fact that Abraham believed God. Even though there was utterly no external evidence that what God promised him would come to pass, Abraham believed God. It was this deep belief that he could trust God’s word that God credited to him as righteousness.
Romans 4, in fact details the significance of Abraham’s belief in God. The entire chapter puts the story of Abraham under a lens that focusses on God’s faithfulness and Abraham’s trust:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Finally, the quotation from Patriarchs ad Prophets at the end of the lesson is completely wrong. It bears no similarity to the Bible’s accounts of Abraham. First, the Bible never hints that there are intelligences, much less sinless ones, in other worlds. Neither Abraham nor any of us are teaching inhabitants of other worlds anything. Second, Abraham was not instructing sinless intelligences of heaven. The assumption underlying EGWs statements is that the world is the theater in which the great controversy is playing out, and heaven and earth are watching.
Again we say: there is no great controversy between Christ and Satan. The Lord Jesus is Satan’s Creator; there has never been a struggle between them in which they are fighting to win so they can claim the souls of men.
Third, EGW says that because Abraham had shown a lack of faith in God’s promises, Satan had accused him of failing to comply with the covenant conditions. Further, she states that God desired to prove His servant’s loyalty to heaven.
This assertion is completely backwards. The Bible never hints that Satan had accused Abraham before the angels. In fact, this notion is utter nonsense. Moreover, God never tried to prove Abraham’s loyalty to the heavenly audience. The entire story of Abraham and God, as Romans 4 elaborates, is the story of God’s faithfulness.
2 Timothy 2:11-13 states how it really is:
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
God’s faithfulness is to Himself. He is the ultimate authority in the universe. He bows to no one but is sovereign over all. Our great security is that God is faithful—not to us primarily, because we are flawed and fallible—but to Himself. When He speaks, His word comes to pass. When He promises, His promises come true. He is faithful to Himself. This fact is why Abraham was faithful. When God is faithful to Himself and calls us broken children out of darkness to Himself, He “owns” us and takes responsibility for us. Because He is faithful and our failings cannot make Him negate His promises, Abraham was secure. Even though he doubted God at first, he knew that God could not lie and that God would fulfill own word.
Abraham was faithful because God is faithful to keep His promises. God had promised Abraham a son of Promise, and He was faithful to deliver, whether or not Abraham doubted or not.
It must also be noted that when Abraham offered Isaac in obedience to God’s command, that event was not just a play-acting God imposed on Abraham. This was a test of Abraham’s trust, but it was not a blind trust. Again, the lesson omits one of the most important texts in all of Scripture that speaks of Abraham’s sacrifice, Hebrews 11:17-19:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead. He had never seen a resurrection, but he utterly trusted God, and he knew that God had promised him Isaac, that God had delivered Isaac, and that God had confirmed Isaac was the promised child. Abraham knew he could trust God, and if he had to kill his own son, he believed God could bring him back from the dead. Thus the father of all who believe, both Jew and gentile, was commanded by foreshadow the exquisite agony of the Father giving His Son to be crushed for our sin—but bringing Him back from the dead.
God is faithful to His promises and to His own word. He is faithful to do what He says, and when He asks people to do His appointed work (Eph. 2:10), He is the One who equips and strengthens them, giving them His own strength which is made perfect in their weakness. The story of Abraham is not primarily about a stumbling man who nevertheless managed to eke out a primarily faithful life so God could honor him.
On the contrary; the story of Abraham is the story of a faithful, covenant-making and covenant-keeping God who called Abraham to be the father of the Jews and the father of all the faithful. It is the story of a sovereign God who called a moon-worshipper from the Chaldeans to become the prototype of all who believe (Josh. 24:2-3).
God, not Abraham, is the one who is honored, and the great controversy is not part of this story.
As the lesson recounts the story of Jacob and Esau, it leaves out the central reality of the sovereign faithfulness of God. In this story, God chooses Jacob to be the son through whom His covenant will be fulfilled. In fact, the Bible is clear that God’s choice was inscrutable and sovereignly ordained, something we mortals not only cannot explain but also must not question. Paul comments on this story in Romans 9:10-13:
And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
In the above passage, Paul is quoting from Malachi 1:2,3. God sovereignly chose Jacob to be the chosen one to father the twelve men for whom the twelve tribes of Israel were named. This choice was not because Jacob did anything to deserve it or because Esau did anything to forfeit it. This choice was entirely because God decided to make it, and our response is to trust Him.
The lesson says, “By repeating the promises made to Abraham, God was assuring Jacob that plans were on track. Even though Jacob’s actions seemed to ignore God’s plan, God was still there for Him.”
Again, this sentence is just wrong. While it is true that God never left Jacob, it is not true that God’s purpose was to “serve” Jacob. Jacob was God’s servant, and God was the sovereign who brought Jacob into His story. The Adventist interpretation is that God enters our stories when we let Him. The Adventist viewpoint is completely inside-out and backwards.
God is not in the business of honoring and preserving our free will and helping us do our best. He is in the business of calling us to Himself and giving us identity and significance by making us His. He is faithful to Himself and gives us faith so we can be faithful in our obedience to Him.
Once again, Thursday’s lesson reminds us of the story of Joseph. Once again, the lesson misses the point and tries to write the great controversy into the saga of Joseph and his brothers. And once again, the lesson omitted the one text that perhaps more than any other summarized the entire life of Joseph.
Genesis 50 tells of the conversation between Joseph and his brothers after Jacob died. The brothers feared that Joseph would finally pay them back with hatred and vindictiveness for what they had done to him. Genesis 50:16-21 tells the rest of the story:
So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph told his brothers they had nothing to fear, for “am I in the place of God?” In other words, only God could punish them for their sin justly. Joseph had forgiven them, giving up his right to get even, and leaving justice in God’s hands. He had given up his expectations that they would be to him what one might hope older brothers would be, and he had given up his own right to even the score. He was entrusting them to God.
How could Joseph do this?
He did it because he utterly trusted God. He knew that God’s purposes were bigger than any human could see, and he knew that whatever God would do would be redemptive and for His glory. The sentence Joseph said in verse 20 sums up his entire life of suffering, confusion, and ultimate vindication:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. This single sentence is the ultimate revelation of God’s glory and faithfulness in the life of Joseph. No evil perpetrated against God’s people is the last word. God’s will is the last word. His people may suffer, but God’s glory is revealed through their lives. No sinister plot can change God’s will or thwart His plans.
Today’s lesson attempts to tie up all the unpleasant surprises of God’s people by summarizing that living within the great controversy means surprising bad things will happen. But this point, again, is not biblical. God is surprised by nothing. The God who sovereignly chose Jacob to be the inheritor of His covenant promises is the same God who calls us to be His own. He is not learning as we learn. He does not exist to preserve our supposed “freedom”. In fact, His will includes our being born into the bondage of literal spiritual death under the authority of Satan.
God, however, is sovereign even over Satan. Satan is merely one blip in the entire scheme of creation. God is sovereign even over evil. In fact, contrary to the normal Adventist view of God’s doing, Isaiah 45:7 quotes the Lord God saying,
“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.”
God is not surprised by what surprises us. He knows the future and, indeed, is already in the future, because He is outside of time. What happens to us is utterly within God’s control. God’s glory is the ultimate value in the universe, not the saving of nations nor even the life of a child.
This fact would seem unbearably barbaric if it were not for the fact that our physical lives are not all there is of us. Because we have souls/spirits which are separate from and survive the deaths of our bodies, the deaths of humans on earth—even of children—does not mean they cease to exist. God knows all, and He knows His own. When His own die, He receives them to Himself (2 Cor. 5:1-9; Phil. 1:22-23). When the wicked die, He keeps them under punishment for judgment (2 Pet. 2:9).
God is the God of justice, grace, mercy, and truth, and He is love. He can be trusted because He cannot fail, and there is no authority to whom He answers. He is the last word—and the first Word.
The great controversy is a heretical invention which is designed to diminish the work and person of the Lord Jesus and to portray God as dependent upon His creations for His good reputation. The Bible portrays God as sovereign and all-knowing, all-powerful, and omni-present. His is before, over, and through all things.
Before Him every creature bows, and those who hold themselves over Him and His word in any way will ultimately be humbled.
While we are alive, we are called to believe in the Lord Jesus and repent of our sin. When we believe in Him and His finished work, we are born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, being given the actual life of God Himself in us. As His living, born-again children, we can embrace these words of Peter:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).