The Heavens Declare the Glory of God!
And it is true, that unlike the atheist, we as believers have been given the ability to thank God for "creation." But it is also true that unbelievers can and do appreciate the beauty of the cosmological creation. And if our thankfulness to God as Creator is merely a thankfulness for that physical beauty observable even to the natural man, then we are missing the most excellent part of Creation, what one writer has called Creation's Eternal Purpose.
Sadly, what YEC (Young Earth Creationism) has affected in the minds of most evangelicals is a view of the cosmological creation that is less than what God intended for His people to see with the new sight we've been given. We need to be pursuing a view of Creation which magnifies the glory of redemption (for that is indeed the story the Creation tells--and the "glory the heavens declare") and that also highlights the true beauty of the fulfilled eschatological perspective: the preeminence of the cross of Christ from Creation to Revelation. As we see the covenant creation revealed through the cosmological creation, they both become more marvelous in our eyes.
"Be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create." Isaiah 65:18
Let the "Earth Day" celebrations begin!
The thing that strikes me about this, is that here is a guy (for whom I have great respect for what he's taught me) who totally sensualizes and physicalizes and futurizes "heaven" and every prophetic text referring to the kingdom of Christ, and the new heavens and new earth. And then he takes this passage, which in context, is only fulfilled by resurrection, and applies both the presence of God, and the experience of that presence (which he actually believes doesn't happen until we physically die!) to the physical pleasures that God has given us in this life to enjoy. Now, I don't have a problem with that application, with the qualification that these things picture, and demonstrate, and make tangible to our understanding the eternal, spiritual, invisible kingdom that is within us. (See again Ward's article.) And yes, we are enjoying them now, as we are enjoying the reality and substance of God's presence now. But again, according to this passage, and probably a hundred others, that presence is brought about by our resurrection. And not until.
So...can a futurist really apply all these benefits and experiences of resurrection and heaven (ie, God's presence) to their present time? Whether they are applying these word pictures metaphorically *or* literally, they are applying them *prematurely*, according to their paradigm of redemption, and the timing of its fulfillment.
And it struck me as ironic in a way, that as preterists we get accused of making the Bible irrelevant to our day? By honoring the time statements? And yet, we have way more Scriptures to apply to our lives right now, than any futurist has any hope of doing. Anytime soon.
(with due respect to one of my favorite teachers)
Awhile back I participated in a podcast series entitled, "Exploring the Garden Scene." During that time, a gentleman wrote and asked me, "Can you get a covenant creation out of Genesis 1-3 without using anything from the rest of the Bible?" I was incredulous! Yes, the question came from a professing preterist, who prides himself on "logic," and he was completely serious. I asked him in response, "Pick any passage from the Old Testament prophets that you believe is about the kingdom of Christ. Now, can you get the gospel out of that passage without using anything from the rest of the Bible?" He never answered me.
The more I study Genesis creation, the more I realize just how much we are missing when we isolate it from the rest of the Bible. Concerning the nature of Adam's transgression in "eating" from "the tree of the the knowledge of good and evil," and what that tree represents in the garden scene, here are some parallels between Genesis and the New Testament to consider:
Jesus said to the pharisees:
John 5: 37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. 38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. 39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life...
The pharisees believed that through obeying the law, they had eternal life. In other words, they trusted in self-righteousness.
they are they [the Scriptures and the law] which testify of me.
What was Jesus saying? Paul explains:
Romans 3: 19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty ["sin revived, and I died"] before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
The pharisees thought that "in them" (in the works of the law, in self-righteousness) they had life, but all the law did was show them their guilt. The purpose of the law was never to bring them life, it was to lead them to Christ (the tree of life):
Galatians 3: 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
This is what Jesus was referring to when he said to the pharisees, "search the Scriptures....for they testify of me." But they were worshiping "the creature" (the law, and their own effort to keep it) rather than "the creator" (the Savior to whom the law pointed).
Now for the parallels to the garden scene:
Genesis 3: 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food ["in them you think you have eternal life"], and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened ["sin revived, and I died"], and they knew that they were naked ["that every mouth should be stopped and the world would be guilty before God"...for by the law is the knowledge of sin"]; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. 8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. 9 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? 10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
Notice also in the above passage, that they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves, and yet, even after they had covered themselves, they were still aware of their nakedness before God, and were ashamed. Why? Because "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin."
Here is an undeniable parallel to the garden scene that brings to a fine point what the fig leaves with which Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves represent:
Isaiah 59:1 Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. 4 None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity. 5 They hatch cockatrice' eggs, and weave the spider's web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper. 6 Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.
We must understand that it was their works of law which God calls "works of iniquity." Again, why? Because by the law is the knowledge of sin. Attempting to be justified (declared innocent) by keeping the law only further reveals our true guilt. This is the self-perpetuating lie of "the serpent": first, in the garden, it told them that the law could bring them life; then, when their eyes were opened and they realized they were guilty and ashamed before God, they attempted to cover themselves with garments of their own making (ie, more self-righteous works). I think this is why Jesus told the pharisees that their father the devil was "a murderer and a liar from the beginning." The lie of the serpent has always been the same: what you believe will bring life (righteousness, and presence with God) instead brings death (guilt, shame, and separation from God).
Now, look at how beautiful this is (and notice again the parallel to the garden scene):
Revelation 3: 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing [she saw that the tree (the works of the law) was good for food, and desirable to make one wise..."in them you think you have eternal life"] ; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me ["Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price".... ie, "not by works of righteousness we have done, but by His mercy he has saved us!"] gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness does not appear.
When Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves (their own works) they were still naked and ashamed, they were kept from the tree of life, and expelled from the presence of God to toil vainly in a "dry and thirsty land where there was no water." Now, when Christ covers us with white raiment (His righteousness, the garments of our salvation), the shame of our nakedness does not appear, we are given right to the tree of life in the presence of God , and invited "to drink of the water of life freely." That is what the entire Bible is about from beginning to end. Fig leaves in Genesis, to white raiment in Revelation.
Recently, in the context of what could generally be described as "the Genesis debate," an issue was made over whether the word "earth" in the following verse was a physical local reference, or a physical global reference:
Nehemiah 9:6 Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.
While the issue was being made of the word "earth" and whether it was local or global, the presumption without any substantiation was that the reference was physical. In other words, if it was global it was referring to the entire physical planet, and if it was local it was referring to a physical portion of land, or "tribal land." The possibility that it was a metaphor using physical terms to describe something spiritual and far greater was not even considered in the effort to argue for ‘globalness’. But what immediately caught my eye was the statement at the end of the verse:
"...and the host of heaven worshippeth thee."
The heavens which God made, and which God preserves, worship Him. What are the heavens which worship God? Or shouldn't we ask instead, who are the heavens which worship God?
Compare Nehemiah’s reference to heavens worshipping to this:
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. 2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. 3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. 4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
We know of course, and have it confirmed for us by the apostle Paul in Romans 10, that "the heavens" declaring the glory of God in Psalm 19 are God's people. It is only reasonable then that the reference to heavens worshipping God in Nehemiah 9 is also a reference to God's people. People worship God. Planets, moons and stars do not. These "heavens" of the glorious physical creation however, are used metaphorically over and over again in Scripture to refer to the purified consciences or minds of God's people in the far more glorious New Creation. We do not diminish the beauty and glory of the physical creation when we recognize it for its spiritual significance. On the contrary: all that God has made which can be sensually experienced becomes of far greater significance when we see the spiritual substance to which it points--from the sight of a sunset, to the smell of a pine forest, to the sound of a child's first cry. (For more on the spiritual significance of creation, Ward has an excellent article here.)
If we would agree that the heavens worshipping God in Nehemiah 9 is a metaphorical reference to God's people worshipping Him, would it make any sense that the references in the same verse to "earth" and "seas" should be taken primarily and only literally? This actually seems absurd.
It is also interesting to look at the immediate context of Nehemiah 9:6 and notice it is speaking of God's covenant relationship with His people (I am going to quote just a small portion here):
Nehemiah 9:4 Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. 6 Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee. 7 Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; 8 And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous:
We know of course that the land of Canaan given to Abraham and his seed by covenant represents the heavenly country he looked for, and the city without foundations whose builder and maker is God (cf. Hebrews 11). The fact that the Israelites were given physical land to possess does not detract from the spiritual nature of the covenant. It in fact emphasizes it by illustration and a tangible expression; but the physical was merely the shadow, it was not the real substance of the promise.
It is very interesting to me that the reference to the "earth" God created in Nehemiah 9:6 is not only in the immediate context of a clearly metaphorical use of the word "heavens," which really demands it be read metaphorically as well; but it is also in the broader context of a passage that is all about covenant, and even more specifically, points to the everlasting covenant God made with Abraham, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The argument then (which was made in the context of trying to refute a metaphorical, covenantal reading of the creation account in Genesis), about whether "earth" in Nehemiah 9:6 is physically local or physically global is really moot. It's not a primarily physical reference. It is clearly a preeminently metaphorical reference to a spiritual land. And we know that the land God's people inherit belongs specifically and particularly to them by covenant. (A local, rather than a global "land", if you will.) But when we insist on a mere physical interpretation of references to creation in Scripture, we essentially turn the Bible into a book of cosmological history rather than a book which is, from beginning to end, the history of God's redemption of His chosen people.
Creation and Its Eternal Purpose
The Havens Declare the Glory of God
I have been married to my loving husband Keith for 26 years. We have three beautiful and brilliant children, ages 24, 22 and 20. Nothing cheers my heart more than having them all at home, yet nothing is more satisfying to my mind than watching them grow from afar. My personal passion is theology: the knowledge and experience of the Truth and Mercy found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and displayed in the lives and communion of His people. My husband and I love to travel, and because our children are often out and about in the world, we get lots of opportunities to see it! And we also love to fill our home with friends who love us, and love our wine collection.