Chapter 5

The Many Allies, Enemies, and Obstacles in God’s Quest

God’s initial charge to the first humans (and then again to Noah and his family) finds a mirror in his promise to Abraham: a land to rule and lots of children to fill it. God wants his human representatives to spread across the earth—to show his glory through their lives to the ends of civilization and beyond. And, as the story progresses, we get glimpses of that happening, if only imperfectly.

The family of Israel enters Egypt at the end of Genesis and there they multiply—filling, as it were, maybe not the whole earth but certain a large portion of Egypt. So great did their numbers become that it threatened the king of Egypt, who resorted to making them slaves in order to check their numbers.

It seems the promise of God to Abraham was indeed coming true, but in a less-than-ideal way. There were flaws. Sure, Abraham’s family was multiplying like the stars in the sky, but they weren’t in the land promised to them. And worse yet they were slaves. In Pharaoh, then, we find the first of many enemies to stand in opposition to God on his quest. Some hearts, as the king of Egypt proves, will never soften and submit to God no matter how drastic a measure he takes to get their attention.

In the opening chapters of Exodus, God finds allies (such as the Hebrew midwives and Moses and Aaron) and enemies (Pharaoh and the people of Egypt) who will either join him on the quest or stand in the way. With ten plagues, God shows that he’s both committed to protecting his people as well as far more powerful than the many gods of Egypt. So fantastic is his victory over Pharaoh, years later the inhabitants of Canaan will still be quaking in their boots out of fear of Israel’s God.

But long before the story arrives at Canaan, God first takes his people into the desert to bring them as a whole into a different kind of relationship with him. Thus far, he’s made a promise to one person at a time: First to Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob. But now the one man has become an entire nation’s worth of people, and God chooses to relate to them all. He has saved them, brought them out of slavery and now they are his special people.

The promise he makes at the mountain of Sinai takes the relationship he formed with Abraham and spreads it across all of Abraham’s descendants. Now each of them has a relationship with him. through the laws, sacrifices, and worship systems that God lays out for the people. And, as if to prove his point, God designs the tabernacle—his mobile home, as it were—to be very reminiscent of Eden. From the materials to the decorations to even the orientation on the compass, the tabernacle shouted to the people, “God is rebuilding what was lost in Adam’s failure.”

However, like the reset of Noah’s flood, this new democratized relationship with God has a fatal flaw: the human heart. Despite years of working the relationship and developing practical applications of God’s laws (the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), the people end up spending forty years in a sort of exile from the land they still haven’t settled because of their sheer lack of trust in God’s provision. And, once the new generation enters the land, the books of Joshua and Judges paint a gut-wrenching picture of rebellion against God.

The human heart ultimately ends up serving only itself. No matter the environment, no matter the laws, no matter how explicitly God speaks to his people, humanity will always go its own way. The author of the story at the point leaves us feeling disheartened. No matter what God does to set his people up for success in establishing his rule and giving them the throne of their father Adam, they will always fail.

Christianity has made much about the laws of the Old Testament—the phrase “Old Covenant” reaches some ears stained with disdain or even disgust. But it wasn’t God’s promise to the people at Sinai that was the problem. It was the people. As we move through the story of the Bible, the author of the Old Testament texts makes one thing painstakingly clear: Something is broken in the human heart. Each story, each vignette, each striking conversation points to the inability of humanity to live in submitted, trusting obedience to a forgiving, loving God.

Despite the constant failure of God’s people, he sets up one more opportunity for success. If he’s looking for someone to claim Adam’s place, where better to look than among the kings themselves?