Titles and names are funny things. Even without recognizing a voice, I can tell who is talking to me based on what title or name they use to get my attention. If someone behind me says, “Sir,” I know that they likely don’t know me, but they are trying to be respectful in getting my attention. Someone who says, “Pastor Jessup” probably knows of me, but again is trying to be respectful. Someone saying Pastor Mark is probably a member of my church, because that is what you all call me. People who say, “Mark” likely knew me before I was a pastor and as such likely know me very well. The title that people use for me doesn’t really define me, per se, but it rather defines the relationship that I have with the person giving me the name. Now, I don’t find my title all that important. If you want to call me either “Mark” or “Pastor Mark” or whatever, that’s fine, but let’s imagine for a moment that you said, “Hey, Mark Buddy, how are you?” and I was to turn to you and say, “That’s Pastor Jessup, to you!” What have I done? I have redefined our relationship, haven’t I? I’m saying, “You and I only know each other professionally; you don’t get to use my first name. We aren’t that close.” Names and titles define a relationship. The Queen of England was “Your Majesty” to everyone, but to her family, she was “Lilibet.” No one amongst her subjects would dare call her anything but “your majesty.” No one would presume to use the name her family used.
Now, as we get into chapter 2, we are going to see another name shift happening, and it is a profound name change that should stir our hearts this morning. In Genesis chapter 1, we see God referred to with the general term for God, “Elohim.” Elohim spoke this, Elohim made that. Here, in chapter 2, we see a new title in verse 4: Lord God. This is one of those “blink and you miss it” kind of things, but this is so crucial for us to understand. The word “God” is still Elohim, but the word we translate as “Lord” is Yahweh, which is God’s name. How do you get to know God’s name? How do you get to be on first-name basis with the Almighty? Today, we are going to cover just that.
Last week we started our look at the whole of chapter 2, and only got through the first third! We covered who we are and what we are made of, and now, we are turning our attention to the second point which will tell us about God, specifically, the fact that He not only makes us but makes promises, covenants, with us.
It is worth reminding ourselves as we begin today, that we are not talking about airy-fairy philosophical concepts here. The fact that God makes covenants with us is as real and concrete as anything. This might be why the Bible mentions in passing the rivers that flowed out of Eden. We know where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are, but the other two are unknown. The ESV Study Bible (a great resource, by the way), gives a map with a couple of different possible locations for Eden. While we don’t know exactly where it was, we do know that it was a real place, somewhere along the banks of these rivers.
And just as real as the rivers and gold inside them are, so are the promises that God has made with His people. The promises that God has made are called covenants. Now, what is a covenant? A covenant is a solemn promise between at least two people with expectations placed on both parties. In ancient times, the two parties in a covenant would walk between animals that have been split in half basically saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the covenant here, may God do to me as I have done to these animals.” You are making a promise on pain of death to fulfill them. As you can see, this is a lot stronger than a business contract. You can get out of any business contract with enough money. A covenant is a promise for life.
Often, covenants were made between kings and the lands that they conquered or helped. Usually, it would begin with some sort of statement of what the king had done, and then proceed to announce the terms, expectations, or rules of the covenant. Now, you can imagine if you were to have a covenant with the great emperors of the past like Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus, you would feel pretty secure wouldn’t you? Would you not say, “Oh, good, I have someone who has made a solemn promise to me and has resources to back up those promises.” Many of us actually don’t have to imagine this. We go through the anxiety of whether or not we are going to have a good covenant every four years, don’t we? We want the guy with our interests at heart to be at the top of the chain, and just about every time we are disappointed, aren’t we? Because of deficiencies in the man himself or the system and circumstances he occupies, most presidents simply don’t live up to the expectations we have for them. Yet we go through the same cycle of hope and disappointment year after year because we long for that security, that sense of peace that comes with being allies with the powerful.
What if we could have that with God? What if we could have a permanent promise with the God who made all things? What if you could be bonded to God by His own Word to not only have a promise, but to know His name, Yahweh? No longer is God just your Creator, but your Father? Doesn’t that sound too good to be true? Well, let’s see!
Here in this text, we see God Himself making a promise, a covenant with Adam. Now, as one commentator pointed out, "Although the term 'covenant' is not used in Genesis 1–3, the relationship between God and Adam is best understood as a covenant relationship. The term 'covenant' is not used in 2 Samuel 7 for the relationship that God established with David, but Psalm 89 does refer to it as a covenant. The same is true for Genesis 1–3. The term 'covenant' is not used, yet Hosea 6:7 refers to God's relationship with Adam as a covenant" (Richard Belcher, 68). God’s pattern here looks very similar to other covenants He has made.
Remember, Genesis has been written to Israelites freshly released from slavery, Israelites who have just made a covenant with God themselves. In Exodus twenty, we see God laying out what the covenant terms are. In verses 1-2 God says, And God spoke all these words, saying,“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Notice that “LORD,” the announcement of His name to His people and what He has already done for them. This is grace that God has given for them to be His people. It does not start with, “You are the House of Israel, a people who by their obedience to my commands, left Egypt and have found me on this mountain.” It doesn’t because it couldn’t. Israel couldn’t command God to make a promise to them. God doesn’t owe them or any of us other dirt people anything. Yet God makes these promises anyway. We see this happen again in 2 Sam. 7:5-9 when God makes a covenant with David. David didn’t earn his way to the throne, but he was brought there by God.
Seeing all of that, we look at Genesis 2 again and we see God picking up the man that He made, and placing him in the Garden. The man didn’t create himself or walk up to this garden. God places him there and then gives absolutely everything the man could possibly need or want. In verse 16 God lays out the blessings He has provided and the expectations of the covenant: You may surely eat (literally “eat, eat”) of anything in here, but there is one thing you must hold back from: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God has placed a limit on what Adam can do.
But far from God just giving Adam a list of don’ts, God lays out what He has for him to do in verse 15, work and keep the Garden. My old seminary professor, Dr. Ross, put it this way: "These two verbs are used throughout the Pentateuch for spiritual service. 'Keep'...is used for keeping the commandments and taking heed to obey God's Word; 'serve' describes the worship and service of the Lord..."(124). The Garden is like the Temple, and Adam is a priest. This means that work was something that happened before the Fall and has a dignity even today, as another scholar points out: “There is a spiritual dimension to human work because it is done as service to God and has a purpose of faithfully keeping the instructions of God (Lev. 8:35). The implication is that the purpose of work is more than an activity that allows a person to provide for his needs but that work is a vocation which enables a person to fulfill a calling of service to others and to God" (Blecher, 62, emphasis added). So the promise of God comes with provision and purpose. God says, “Here is everything you need to work as I define it from my absolutely exhaustive knowledge of both you Adam and the world that surrounds you, and here is the purpose of your existence, again, defined by my absolutely exhaustive knowledge and wisdom of everything, namely, work to serve me and keep my commands.” Implied in all of that, is God will give Adam life eternal. If the punishment for breaking this rule was death (and we will get into that later), the reward for obedience was life in the Garden of Eden.
So we have seen that God makes gracious promises to His people, but I want to draw out something that Christopher Watkins brings out in His book, Thinking Through Creation. God is making a promise to a human being, a person. This means that God is entering into a relationship with Adam, God is being personal while remaining absolutely above all. This is totally unique from all other religions in the world. All religions see their god as either personal but not ultimate (the god has needs, too), or god as ultimate but not personal (20-51). Think about the concept of karma in Hinduism. If you are good, Karma rewards, and if you are bad, Karma punishes, but it is more like a force of gravity than a personal, relational god. If I jump off a building (transgressing gravity), I’ll feel the consequences, but gravity doesn’t care. Gravity doesn’t have personality. I can’t have a relationship with gravity; it can’t love me even though gravity is a universal law that transcends all things.
So how do you have both? How do you have a power that is above all things, subject to no one but itself yet has the capacity to love, form relationships, and have purpose of will? Nothing in creation does that. Only the Creator, who stands above His creation, has all of that. He doesn’t need anything from His creation, yet He forms a relationship with His creatures whereby He swears by Himself (because there is nothing higher to swear by, Hebrews 6:13) to uphold His promises to them. This means that the rules God sets apply everywhere at all times because He is ultimate, yet He reveals something about Himself because He is personal (Watkins 29-31).
Is that not incredible? You don’t serve a force or a local god! Instead, you serve the ultimate, personal God who actually, really, loves you as sure as the rivers that flowed from Eden.
Now, as we make the turn to the Lord’s Table here in just a minute, we will see what it costs God to make the New Covenant. As we will see in a few weeks, Adam broke the covenant God made. He ate from the tree, disqualifying Himself from the covenant, and earning death, just as God warned. This is more than physical death and includes spiritual death, eternal separation from God, the source of all life and goodness itself. There is now an eternal debt to repay, but who can conquer death, spiritual or otherwise? We need someone ultimate, someone above death. But who is above death? Death is God’s own punishment for sin. Who is above God’s just punishment for sin? God can’t just wipe it out, because God won’t deny His own justice. God won’t deny Himself because He is God! His justice, His wrath against sin must be satisfied. Ultimate death must be fulfilled, but the only way to do that is for someone ultimate to die.
Enter Jesus Christ, ultimate, personal God, who also took on flesh, tailor-made to suffer, formed of the dust to die. To make a new covenant that promises life, something has to die, but this time it won’t be an animal that is split, but God Himself in the person of Jesus is going to die. His body is going to be broken, He is going to pour out His own blood for you and me. That’s personal! That’s as personal as it gets! And yet, because of Who’s blood this is, it’s as ultimate as it gets!
That’s what we celebrate here at the table, God making a covenant with us at great cost to Himself. That’s the good news! God took on eternal death so you don’t have to, if you will trust in Christ, repenting of your sins as you do so. You can’t earn this covenant, nor can you earn your right to stay in this covenant. The covenant with Adam shows that even in perfect conditions, human beings can’t keep themselves in a covenant. Now, in the New Covenant, God says, come unto me, and I will give you rest. I will never leave you nor forsake you. And it is all thanks to the wonderful grace of God in Christ.
But there’s one more thing. This table doesn’t just commemorate a death. This isn’t a ballad to a fallen hero that we sing. Instead, this is an act of worship to a living savior, Jesus Christ, because He rose again! Verse 18 of Luke 22 tells us, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” This is not only a commemorative meal, this is an appetizer for the celebration meal of the coming Kingdom in heaven.
So what do we takeaway from this? The ultimate personal God of all the universe will make a binding promise to you His people which will result in your eternal life with Him in the future and your joy with Him in the present.To adapt something I heard on a podcast this week from John Piper: no politician, bank account, drug trip, sexual experience, corporate achievement, youthful ability long since lost can ever really come through on a promise like that. So how do we stop believing those false promises? Piper answers, by trusting in better promises! You have a greater promise, so rest in that today. Everything, everything else is going to fade, so don’t look to that which is fading. One day you will be victorious with Christ! So in the meantime, keep your eyes on Him and His personal promises to you.
Image by DaveMeier