Joy-Full Fellowship (Part 2): The Patriarchs

The drama of the biblical story is driven by God’s desire to dwell with his people in joy-full (Ps. 16:11) fellowship. In our previous article we referred to this as the Immanuel principle (God with us)—a fitting theme to consider as we’ve entered the advent season.

It is important to recognize that this was God’s goal for man and the creation irrespective of and prior to the entrance of sin into the world in Genesis 3. The work of God throughout the biblical story, then, cannot be reduced to the mere forgiveness of sins, as if that is the only thing he is concerned about. Rather, the forgiveness of sins (soteriology) serves God’s higher end for man (eschatology): to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever (WLC 1). Geerhardus Vos gets at this when he writes,

Eschatology is not necessarily bound up with soteriology. So conceived it does not take into account that a whole chapter of eschatology is written before sin. Thus, it is not merely an omission to ignore the pre-redemptive eschatology; it is to place the sequel in the wrong place. There is an absolute end posited for the universe before and apart from sin…. The goal was not only previous to sin, but irrespective of sin.[1]

In our first article we tried to show how the blueprint of this eschatological plan was laid out in Genesis 1–2. In the garden-sanctuary of God, Adam enjoyed communion with God, though it had not yet been consummated as we see at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21–22. Adam was to arrive at this escalated state of communion with God by offering perfect and personal obedience in accord with the dominion mandate (Gen. 1:28) and probationary command (2:16–17) he had received from God.

This would have entailed Adam expelling the unholy serpent who sought to defile the sanctuary of God through his cunning deception and twisting of God’s character and word. But rather than fulfilling his mandate as God’s priest-king, Adam submitted himself to the voice of the serpent in direct defiance of God’s word. Adam’s sin incurred the just judgment of God for he is holy and cannot permit unrighteousness to be near to him in joy-full fellowship—sinners, left to themselves, can only know the dread of God’s wrath and the fear of his holy presence. So Adam is banished eastward from the garden out of the presence of God. He is sent into exile, however, with the hope of the gospel, knowing that the seed of the woman will one day crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).

At the entrance of the garden the Lord positioned a fiery sword and cherubim to assume Adam’s “forfeited guardianship of Eden.” Meredith Kline comments,

The judgment scene concludes with a cleansing of the temple. The Lord had expelled Satan, the mission man failed to perform. But fallen mankind, represented in Adam and Eve, was not defiled and must also be banished from the holy garden (cf. Rev. 21:27). The interim world is an exile existence in a wilderness under the shadow of death.[2]

God’s presence is withdrawn and becomes associated with heaven (see e.g., Gen. 11:5; 18:21). We see this reflected in Jacob’s dream of a ladder ascending to heaven (Gen. 28:12–17). This link between heaven and earth “represented the mountain of God, originally seen in Eden and renewed in Zion.”[3] From his heavenly dwelling, God occasionally descends to meet with the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), although these encounters are always relatively brief and sometimes unexpected. This pattern is found throughout Genesis and the first half of Exodus.[4]

The patriarchs set up altars or sacrificial sites, which, according to Beale, are “impermanent, miniature forms of sanctuaries.”[5] These sites hold the following in common: they are normally associated with theophanies (i.e., appearances of God) that involve God restating the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28[6] and the construction of an altar, sometimes on a mountain.[7] It is at these mini-sanctuaries that God meets with his people briefly and temporarily. Here we see a flickering light of the Immanuel principle in the midst of the dark outer world.

These temporary meetings with God in the patriarchal era were, of course, not ultimate, but redemptive-historical stepping stones to the consummate realization of the Immanuel principle. Beale writes, “These informal sanctuaries … pointed … to Israel’s later tabernacle and temple from which Israel was to branch out over all the earth.”[8] And Vos goes so far as to say that these episodes represent “the renewal of the paradise-condition and as such presages a full future paradise. It points to the new world [Rev 21–22].”[9]

There are two important episodes worth mentioning. The first is Abraham’s construction of an altar on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22), which is the same location Solomon will later build the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 3:1). The Chronicler identifies it as the place where the Lord appeared to David (2 Sam. 24:16–17). The second is the mini-sanctuary that Jacob builds in response to the Lord renewing his promise to Abraham with him at the place he calls “Bethel,” that is, “The House of God” (Gen. 28:19). Here the Lord proclaims to Jacob, “I am with you” (28:15). “Before the kingdom comes,” writes Kline, “the personal presence of God, with his ascending-descending angel ministers (cf. Heb. 1:124), is already the portion of the heirs of salvation.”[10] Jacob is later encouraged by the Lord to dwell there (Gen. 35:1–15).

The various sacrificial sites erected during the patriarchal period foreshadow the tabernacle and temple. Moreover, “the promises given to the patriarchs build on God’s creation blueprint that the whole earth shall become his dwelling place as holy people populate it. While Genesis anticipates this development, the book of Exodus advances the meta-story by introducing the tabernacle.”[11]

The seed of the woman will be an offspring of Abraham who will not only crush the head of the serpent, but who will also be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1–7). The cosmic intent of the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen. 12:1–3) and the temporary meetings throughout the patriarchal epoch reveal that God’s eschatological goal for creation is being pursued by God himself in the face of sin, death and rebellion—he will stop at nothing to overcome these obstacles to restore his people to unhindered union and communion with himself.

In our next article we’ll consider the tabernacle as a further development in the biblical drama of God’s pursuit of union and communion with his people in joy-full fellowship.


[1] Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament, 73.

[2] Meredith Kline, Genesis: A New Commentary, 24.

[3] Kline, Genesis, 100. Kline continues, “It was the cosmic axis and cultic focus of the kingdom, the place of God’s enthronement amid the angelic hosts. Jesus promised Nathanael such an opening of heaven when he identified himself as the true way by which man has access to God and saving help comes to man (John 1:47–51).”

[4] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 15.

[5] Beale, “Eden, the Temple,” 14.

[6] See Genesis 9:1, 7; 12:2–3; 17:2, 6, 8, 20; 22:17–18; 26:3–4, 24; 28:3–4; 35:11–12; cf. 41:52; 47:27; 48:4; 49:22.

[7] See Genesis 8:20; 12:7–8; 13:4, 18; 22:9; 26:25; 33:20; 35:1, 3, 7.

[8] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 98.

[9] Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament, 85–86 (cited by Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 98).

[10] Kline, Genesis, 100.

[11] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 32.

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