January 26, 2020
Welcome back to the New Year, New Creation series where we are exploring the biblical picture of the age to come. If you missed part 1 of the series, click here! Today we are going to set a little more of the Old Testament (and New) context for the relationship God has with the creation and the vision of the age to come, especially in the prophets and how this is continued in the ministry of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament. Similar to the previous post, I will lay out the connection between God and creation that can be seen throughout scripture in four points that I hope logically flow together.
1. The covenant with Noah is not only with humanity, but also with the land and the animals.
In the last post we started at the beginning, where we see God as Creator of a good, physical cosmos where He intended to dwell with His people. Today we will also start with a story of creation, or better, recreation, though modern eyes have sometimes missed the theological messaging that is grounded in the story. The background, which is likely very familiar, is that God has created the heavens and the earth, and has seen that it is good. But then sin enters the picture with humanity’s rebellion in the garden, and it continues to grow in chapters 4-6 of Genesis, culminating in the very interesting story of the sons of God and the Nephilim in 6:1-4. It is clear that things have gone horribly wrong, so much so that the author tells us that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). So what does God do? Destroy the earth!
Well, not quite. It seems like this is the case at first, as we hear God say, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen. 6:7). It certainly sounds like He is about to destroy everything (note how the land and the animals are included, implying that they are affected by the curse in some way). But then, He doesn’t. Instead, this man named Noah shows up and we see God save the world through him. So, God tells Noah to make an ark of gopher wood because He is going to destroy the earth. But notice how God destroys the earth:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.”
Does that sound familiar? The fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven- the waters below and the waters above- where have we heard that before? At the beginning! In Genesis 1, we open with an odd picture of formless waters (note that ‘the deep’ in Gen. 1:2 refers to waters) and darkness. God calls forth light and then He separated the waters from the waters from the waters- the waters above and the waters below (v. 7). Thus, the flood narrative is trying to get us to see that God is undoing creation, resetting it and starting over. It is made clear that Noah is the ‘new Adam’ with the command he is given after the flood subsides:
“And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”
The same command that is given to humans in Genesis 1. God has not destroyed creation because of the curse of sin, but rather He has used part of his creation (Noah) to reset and bring forth new creation. So God blesses Noah and makes a covenant with him, but what I find very interesting about this covenant is that God is very clear that the covenant that He is making is not only with Noah, but also with ‘the earth’ and with ‘every living creature’:
“And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Isn’t that interesting? At least if you are reading Genesis with Western eyes that understand God’s love to be mostly, if not solely, for humans and not so much for creation. However, instead of just making a covenant with Noah and his offspring, as we might expect, God emphatically makes his covenant with the earth and the animals. Further, He calls it an ‘everlasting’ covenant, which is again something we might not expect if our ultimate destiny and hope is in a realm away from the animals. We probably shouldn’t be surprised, however, as God went to great care to preserve the animals on the ark before the flood came. While this still leaves many questions (some of which I hope we will answer as we go on), I think there is one thing that is clear from the flood narrative: God cares about creation (which emphatically includes the land and animals) so much that He is unwilling to completely destroy it even when the wickedness of man is so great that He “regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen. 6:6). God has not given up on His original plan. Instead of destroying His creation, He redeems it through Noah.
2. The Sabbath rest is not only for humanity, but also for the land and the animals.
If the covenant with Noah was the only place where we see God place such a high importance on the land and the animals (creation) after the fall, we might be able to dismiss it as an odd detail that doesn’t hold much relevance for the future. However, as we will see, this theme of God caring for creation is actually found woven throughout scripture. Another prominent and perhaps surprising place that this idea comes up is in the law of the Sabbath. The concept of the Sabbath might be familiar to you, at least in some form, as a day of rest and reflection on God for the Israelite nation. However, the practice of the Sabbath was intended for more than just the people of God.
“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.”
The Sabbath command is actually quite forward looking in terms of making sure that not just the men of society (as might be the focus of many ancient near eastern cultures) have a day of rest, but also women, children, servants and foreigners. It was a day of rest for everyone. But did you notice that there was even another category of creation that the Sabbath includes? The livestock! Why would it matter to include this in the command, unless of course, God cares about the animals too? This is further explored in the command for the Sabbath year of rest which was supposed to be observed every seventh year:
“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it [the land] rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.”
In these commands, we see the provision and care for not only humanity (and notably segments of humanity that were particularly vulnerable to oppression), but also provision and care for the beasts of the field, the livestock and even the land. Leviticus 25:2-7 makes the connection of rest for the land itself more clear, indicating “a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land.” I think that this is significant, and it provides a category of God’s relationship with creation that we don’t always have in the west. God is concerned for the good creation that He has made, even after the curse of sin has entered the picture. And if we think that the Sabbath for the land is not actual rest for the land, but is just about the Israelites not working the land for a year, the very next chapter of Leviticus removes this doubt when God is discussing the consequences of not obeying the commands:
“Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.”
And if you know much about Israelite history, you know that this is precisely what happened. II Chronicles 36 records what happens to Israel because they had forsaken the Lord their God and gone after the gods of the other nations. They were cast into exile, just as the prophet Jeremiah had foretold due to their rebellion. Notice here that the chronicler took the command of the Sabbath rest for the land seriously:
“He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”
(II Chronicles 36:20-21)
So, what’s the point that I am trying to make? In the Sabbath command we can see that God has a deep care and concern not only for humans, but also for all of creation. This makes sense if we remember that the opening chapters of Genesis explicitly call the creation good, and even when the curse of sin comes, God does not abandon His plan to dwell with humanity in His good creation, but continually works through the creation to redeem it and care for it. Therefore, when we learn about the connection of the future hope for God’s people with a restoration of the land, we also should not be surprised.
3. The hope of Israel is consistently connected to creation in the prophets.
“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
Although the minor prophets are not the most popular books in the bible, they are among my favorites. I’m not sure I have a solid reason for this, I just love to read them and think about what they have to say. And when it comes to the future hope of Israel, they certainly have a lot to say. It is notable, however, to point out that in general, the Old Testament doesn’t have all that much to say about what happens to us when we die, and often when it does mention something about it, it’s not very positive (e.g. Ps. 6:4-5, Ecc. 9:1-6). We will discuss this more in the next part when we talk about resurrection. However, towards the end of the Old Testament when the prophets start writing, a picture starts to emerge for a new age, one in which the people of God are brought back to their land and they are renewed. Often this age of renewal is pictured in Edenic language, drawing our minds back to the original ideal of the garden temple of the Lord where God dwells with man. It is notable that many of these prophets and their writings are set in the time of exile, where Israel has been captured and looking for hope. And it is to this hope that the prophets speak, painting a day when Israel is restored and the creation is renewed.
Probably one of the most famous of these passages is in Isaiah 65:17-25, where we see a description of the New Heavens and New Earth, pictured as a New Jerusalem where peace and joy abound. This passage and language is echoed in Revelation 21-22 where we see the final restoration of all things, bringing to our minds a global Edenic ideal. But this is not the only place in the Old Testament, or even in Isaiah, where the salvation of the Lord is pictured as new (or better, renewed) creation and the restoration of Israel. I don’t have the space here to go through a comprehensive list of all the new creation/restoration texts that are found in the prophets, but I am going to try to summarize some (though certainly not all) of them in one paragraph just to drive home the point that they are abundant and focused on a renewed land.
Isaiah. Isaiah is filled with new creation imagery, from the beginning where we see hints and depictions of the Messianic reign on earth and the eschatological feast (Isa. 9:1-7, 11:1-16, 25:6-8) to the end, especially in chapters 40-66 where the messianic hope is the focus. Here we see pictures of mountains, hills, trees, lush plants, cities, houses, vineyards, etc. (cf. Isa. 35, 55, 60, 65, among others). Jeremiah. Jeremiah 23:1-8 and Jeremiah 30 gives us a picture of the restoration of Israel, the promise to bring them back into the land of their fathers to possess it. Jeremiah 31 gives us a picture of the restoration of Israel together with the animals in the context of the new covenant. Ezekiel. Similarly in Ezekiel, the new covenant is described in terms of peace, dwelling securely in the land with the trees yielding fruit and God/David leading, God dwelling with man (Ez. 34:25-31). Daniel. Daniel 12 gives us one of the clearest pictures of resurrection found in the Old Testament. Hosea. We opened with a passage from Hosea (Hos. 2:14-23) in which a new covenant is made with the people of God and also explicitly with the beasts of the field, birds of the heavens and creeping things of the ground. Hosea 13:14 also speaks of ransoming Israel from Sheol (the grave) and redeeming them from death, a passage that is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. Joel. In Joel 2, we see the land and God’s people are restored (v. 18-27) and His Spirit is poured out (v. 28-32); threshing floors full of grain, vats overflowing with wine and oil; eat in plenty and be satisfied; wonders in the heavens and earth. Peter quotes from this passage in Acts 2. Amos. In Amos 9:11-15, The restoration of Israel is depicted with bountiful harvests and mountains dripping with sweet wine; the fortunes of Israel are restored and they are planted in their own land ‘never again to be uprooted’. Obadiah. The end of the vision of Obadiah envisions Israel restored to the land of Canaan and the kingdom of the Lord. Jonah. The concluding verse in Jonah where it seems God is trying to teach Jonah a lesson about caring for others, the phrase ‘and much cattle’ indicates God’s care about animals alongside humans. Micah. Micah 4 envisions a restoration that involves not only the Israelites, but also the people from many nations coming to the mountain of the house of the Lord. This is also one of the famous passages about the people beating their swords into plowshares. Habakkuk. Habakkuk 2:14 speaks of a time when the earth will be filled with the knowledge and glory of the Lord. Zephaniah. Zephaniah 2:9-20 gives us a picture of the conversion of the nations and the restoration of Israel. Haggai. Haggai 2:8-9 speaks of a time where the glory of Israel and of the temple will be restored, even more than in former times. The Hebrew writer quotes this passage when talking about the kingdom. Zechariah. In Zechariah 2:10-12 and 8:3-8, we see a picture of God dwelling in the midst of Zion and nations are gathered to Him as His people; Judah and Jerusalem are again taken as holy land; the city of God, Zion or Jerusalem, is pictured as being again populated with men and women dwelling in faithfulness and righteousness. In Zech. 14, the Lord is King over all the earth, reigning year after year as his people are restored. Malachi. Malachi opens with the Lord’s great love for Israel, the end of chapter 3 speaks of a time of restoration of righteousness and the concluding chapter gives a picture of hope and healing, ending with the sending of Elijah to come before the great and awesome day of the Lord. John the baptist is connected to this Elijah figure, preparing the way for Jesus.
Now you might be thinking, “woah woah woah, slow down. Hasn’t the New Testament ‘spiritualized’ all of these prophecies? They are only connected to the physical world because that’s what the people could understand.” That’s a good question! The NT writers do in fact interpret some prophecies in less than literal (in our view) ways. However, we must ask the question, “Does the New Testament interpret the hope of Israel in a way that would imply something other than a physical world?”
The connection of the future hope with the land/creation is not abandoned in the New Testament at all, but rather it is assumed and built upon. For example, in the birth narrative that Luke gives us of Jesus, we find two lesser known characters, Simeon and Anna, who are depicted as devout followers of the Lord who were “waiting for the consolation of Israel” and “the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25, 38), setting us up to see Jesus as the one through whom the promises of God are about to come. Then, during the sermon on the mount, Jesus says “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). This assumes the prophetic theme of a renewed creation (unless you want to argue that the meek have already inherited the earth, which I think it is pretty evident that they haven’t). Note that it is an expansion of the promise in Ps. 37:11 where the meek are to inherit the land. In Matthew 19:28, Jesus tells his disciples that in the “new world”, or in the “regeneration”, they will sit on twelve thrones judging Israel. Again, Jesus is assuming the new creation theme here. In Acts 2, Peter quotes a new creation passage from Joel and applies it to Jesus and the church, indicating that Jesus is ushering in the new age. Peter then goes on to say in chapter 3 that Jesus has been received into heaven “until the time for restoring all the things which God spoke by the prophets long ago” (Acts 3:21). This narrative is likely assumed in Paul’s opening lines to both the Ephesians (Eph. 1) and Colossians (Col. 1:15-20), where he speaks of the uniting of all things in heaven and on earth, and the reconciling of all things to Jesus, respectively. And as we have noted previously, Revelation 5:10 says that the people of God will reign on the earth.
However, the imagery and concepts of the prophets are perhaps most vividly crystallized in the New Testament in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
This passage has been suggested as the pinnacle of Paul’s argument, at least for chapters 1-8, in which we see the creation itself longing for the revealing of the sons of God as it awaits its liberation from the curse of sin that has held it in bondage when it shall “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God”. The creation itself longs for redemption and restoration. This is the picture of the Old Testament prophets, who saw an age where the creation was redeemed and restored, able to function as Eden once again. But Paul’s vision is not simply a reversion to Eden, but rather a fulfillment of the original plan of God, where His image-bearers have filled the earth (Gen. 1:28) and the knowledge and glory of the Lord fills the earth as waters that cover the sea (Isa.11:9, Hab. 2:14). And what a glorious hope that is.
4. God chose incarnation as His method of saving the world.
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not talk about the ultimate affirmation of God’s care about creation. In the narrative of the Old Testament after the fall brings the curse of sin to the world, we keep looking for the one who was to rise up and undo the curse. We see God constantly interacting with His creation, with chosen people, to try to bring about redemption for the fallen humanity. We get figures like Noah, who, as we saw above, are depicted as redeemers for a renewed creation and covenant. But Noah soon fails. Others rise up, such as Abraham and Moses and David, all of whom seem like they are going to be the ones through whom God works to redeem humanity. But every time they fail. Why? Because we are human, set under the curse. Even the best of us simply do not have what it takes to live the kind of life that brings forth redemption and salvation.
Then we get to the book of Daniel, where we read of a vision that Daniel has in chapter 7 of four beasts rising out of the waters and reaping havoc. But what happens next is the most pertinent to our discussion here:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
This is a very interesting passage that we simply don’t have time to fully unpack here, but here we find the human (‘one like a son of man’ is emphasizing the humanity of this figure) we have been waiting for this whole time- the human through whom God will redeem the world. But when we look closely, we see that this is more than just a human, because he is ‘riding on the clouds’. This phrase might not mean much to us, but people in the ancient near east would have known exactly what this meant. Only God (or gods in surrounding cultures) rode on the clouds. Here, then, we have a human figure, who is somehow more than just a human, that is brought up and presented before God to be given a kingdom and everlasting dominion. Do you want to guess what Jesus’ favorite title to use for himself was? That’s right! The son of man.
So, how did God choose to redeem the world? Not by destroying it, nor by giving up on the original plan (even after so many failures on the part of humans who were supposed to be redeemers). No, God chose to save the world by becoming part of the world, stepping down into His creation, experiencing the worst of it, and rising again to overcome sin and death. This is how He brings forth redemption and restoration.
We must not miss the significance and implications of the incarnation. If creation were inherently bad, or made inherently bad by the fall, then God could not have entered it. This is actually a philosophy that was developed by Greek thinkers, probably most notably Plato, and further picked up by the Gnostics. But as we have seen, in Jewish thinking, the creation is good and the hope of salvation was connected to a renewed creation released from the curse of sin. I hope you see how all of this is lining up, and it all makes perfect sense in light of the overarching narrative of scripture. The story of God and creation runs throughout the bible and continues on today. We are in the penultimate act, waiting for the conclusion, the consummation of the kingdom when our Lord returns, finally defeating death and releasing creation from the curse. We look forward, as we have seen time and again, to a renewed creation in which peace and joy abide, filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. We look forward to New Heavens and New Earth.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
The love of God, and the God of Love, calls out to you.
Part of the reason we as modern readers tend to miss the connection between the flood narrative and creation is because we don’t read it in Hebrew, which often uses the same words and parallels to draw connections between texts.
For more information about the sons of God episode in Genesis 6, see Heiser. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. (2015) ch. 12, Heiser, Reversing Hermon (2019) ch. 1, and The Bible Project Video “The Satan and Demons”, https://youtu.be/CamYtVpoTNk.
 You should keep this idea in mind when we get to Jesus and how God saves creation through him.
See Walton, The Lost World of the Flood IVP Academic (2018), p. 103.
Again, note the ‘new Adam’ imagery here, as it will be important in how the New Testament pictures Jesus.
Maybe if I just keep emphasizing the imagery here and how important is is for understanding Jesus and the hope presented in the New Testament it will drive the point home.
 Or better a new covenant… hint hint, okay I’m probably just being annoying now.
Ahem! Hint. Okay, okay, I promise, last one. For this section at least.
I use the term ‘forward looking’ for lack of a better term and as a concession to our cultural understanding of progress, even though I do not fully agree with the myth of progress in the modern world. The point I’m making is that compared to ancient cultures around the Israelites, the fact that women and servants were included in the day of rest is significant, underscoring the value of all life as all people are made in the image of God.
 For a longer exposition on the aspects of non-human rest incorporated into the Sabbath command, see Schafer, A. (2013). Rest for the Animals? Nonhuman Sabbath Repose in Pentateuchal Law. Bulletin for Biblical Research, 23(2), 167-186. You can access this article at https://biblicallaw.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/schafer.pdf.
What happens to us when we die and what happens in the age to come are slightly different topics, the latter of which is addressed much more in the Old Testament than the former. This will become important when we talk about resurrection, which blends the two concepts together and develops a robust view of the afterlife.
 The eschatological feast simply refers to the motif of a feast that is served as part of the age to come.
Although, solid evidence would be needed to assert that we should view all of the Old Testament physical imagery surrounding the age to come as figurative language for something entirely different with no grounding in physical reality. I do not think a case for this can be established from the New Testament. It should also be noted that just because you might interpret something figuratively doesn’t mean the interpretation is something completely and totally different than the metaphor. If I interpret ‘they shall beat their swords into plowshares’ as a metaphor for a picture of a new age of peace without warfare and violence, that does not mean that the non-violence must be in a non-physical realm where violence might not even be conceptually possible. Rather, the more likely reality of the interpretation would assume a physical world not unlike our own, but in which there is no violence. To make an analogy to something we might understand better, if I say ‘my wife’s smile brings sunshine in a dark room,’ obviously I don’t mean that she smiles and all of the sudden the sun is literally in the room. But it is equally obvious that I am truly describing my wife, not just an abstract idea or concept of her smile that has no grounding in reality or the world.
Note here that the kingdom in the New Testament is depicted in an ‘already, but not yet’ fashion, with Jesus’ resurrection inaugurating the kingdom, and his second coming as the final consummation of the kingdom where the new age will be fulfilled.
Note also in the Colossians passage that Paul states that all things were created through and for Jesus, affirming the goodness and purpose of creation.
Note that it would not make sense for the creation to long to be released from the bondage the came from the curse of sin and obtain “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” just to be burned up and destroyed, as per one interpretation of II Peter 3:10-11. We will look at this passage in more detail later.
For more information about this passage and the son of man, see The Bible Project’s Son of Man podcast series (https://thebibleproject.com/podcast/series/son-of-man-series/) and their Son of Man video (https://youtu.be/z6cWEcqxhlI).
See Heiser. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. (2015) ch. 29 and The Bible Project’s Son of Man podcast series, specifically episode 6, ‘The True Human’ (https://thebibleproject.com/podcast/true-human/).