It is uncommon in our day to think of God in terms of keeping people out of His presence. In fact, to listen to the average person with little concept of Scripture, someone would think that God is like Mr. Rogers, benevolently inviting all the kids to his neighborhood.
But when reading the Old Testament one is struck with the fact that God banishes sinners from coming near His Presence. He builds fences to keep people out, and He strikes sinners dead who come near Him.
This was true from the very beginning.
I. God banished all sinners from His revealed presence at the fall of Adam, and He guarded the entrance to His dwelling place judicially . . .
After Adam sinned against God, both he and Eve were "banished" from the Garden of Eden (God's revealed dwelling place) and as a result, they were “barred” from eating of the tree of life. Separated from the God who sustains life, Adam and Eve died spiritually, and then physically. "So God drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24).
The Psalmist teaches us that God is "angry with the wicked." His holy nature abhors sin. God's attributes of righteousness, holiness, justice, and wrath are rarely discussed from modern pulpits, but no person can rightly understand the law and the prophets unless he recognizes the righteous character of God as revealed by Scripture.
The east entrance to the Garden of Eden was protected by two angels and a flaming sword. This is a beautiful picture of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, where two cherubim with wings spread out looked down upon the mercy seat. The flaming sword that protected the entrance to "the tree of life" is commonly referred to as "The Sword of the Lord."
The sword seems to be between the Cherubim, guarding the way that leads to life, and it is a revelation of God Himself. God often reveals Himself as a "burning fire" or in Hebrew, the "Shekinah" or "glory of His presence." The Bible says, “The Lord dwells between the cherubim” (II Sam. 6:2). “Thou that dwellest between the cherubim shine forth” (Ps. 80:1).
Adam and Eve, and their children, dared not come before God for worship, direction or wisdom unless they offered something that would "propitiate" Him --- to cause Him to sheath His sword of justice.
II. To gain access to God's Presence, including eternal life, the sword of the Lord must be sheathed --- God Himself must be propitated.
Because sin is an offense against a holy God, something must be done to turn the anger of God into the favor of God. To be "propitious" means to be "favorable." Propitiation is "an act that makes one favorable."
Once again, it is important to understand that something must happen to cause the justice of God (His sword) to be satisfied (sheathed). Until you comprehend the holy character of God and the awfulness of man's sin, the concept of propitiation will be puzzling to you. What is it that will cause God to be propitiated and not banish and curse sinners, but rather, bless and welcome them into His presence?
The story of Cain and Abel answers that question.
Both Cain and Abel were religious. They were instructed by their parents of the need for God to be propitiated. They both worshipped the one true God, and they both were committed to their worship. Cain and Able had several things in common:
(A). They both came to worship God at an ordained time . . . “and in the process of time” (Genesis 4:3) is a phrase used to speak of an appointed time (such as in the harvesting of crops).
(B). They both came to worship God with with an offering in hand . . . “an offering unto the Lord” (Genesis 4:3). Cain brought the polished firstfruits of the field --- the work of his own hands. Abel brought a lamb from the flock, and slew the lamb before God as an offering.
(C). They both came with an objective in mind . . . “respect” in God’s eyes (v.5). In other words, they both desired for God to be propitiated (made favorable toward them).
But Cain and Abel had one big difference between them. Cain was rejected and cursed by God, but Abel was blessed and accepted by God. In other words, God was propitiated by the offering of Abel, but God was not propiated by the offering of Cain. Why? Many say it was because “Cain's heart was not right,” but that is not what the Bible says at all.
The writer of Hebrews says Abel offered “a more excellent sacrifice” (Hebrews 11:4). God was made favorable because of Abel's more excellent sacrifice of the lamb.
God was propitiated because a life was taken. Since God told Adam that the wages of sin was death, then for God to remain holy and righteous a death would have to occur for God's sword of justice to be sheathed.
And of course, the lamb of Abel is a type of "the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world," for the blood of bulls, and goats, and lambs can't actually take away sin --- it must be God Himself who dies.
Let me show you how from the very beginning, from the first sin of man, God prepared the world for the coming of His Son through the types of the sacrifices.
John Gill, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon and Augustus Toplady all taught that Cain and Abel brought their offerings to "the east of Eden," to the gate to the entrance to "the way" that led to life.
Though many believe the Garden of Eden was located in modern Iraq, that was not the belief of early Jewish commentators. The ancient Jewish commentary called The Targum of Jonathan said “Adam went and dwelt in Mount Moriah to till the ground of which he was created.” Dr. Gill says other Jewish writers wrote saying, “The gate of Paradise was at Mt. Moriah, and there Adam dwelt after he was cast out.” Mt. Moriah is the place of sacrifice (Abraham/Isaac; the Temple/sacrifices), the very place that the Temple would later be built.
In other words, there is some warrant to believe that the very place Abel offered the lamb ultimately became the spot where the lambs were offered by the Israelites in the Jewish Temple. And when the High Priest brought the blood into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he sprinkled it "between the cherubim" just as Abel would have brought the blood "between the cherubim" in his day.
When the blood of the Lamb was shed, atonement was granted. Atonement means “covering.” The sin of Abel was covered, the lamb had died as a substitute for the sinner, and the sword of God's wrath was sheathed.
Again, the blood of animals could never remove sin. All the sacrifices of the Old Testament were only types and figures of the Lamb of God to come. Jesus Christ is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
No sinner ever approaches God and lives without the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The sword of the Lord that guards the tree of life is sheathed because of Christ’s death. Why? God is propitiated --- His justice is satisfied.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:4).
III. Regardless of what man may think, there is no knowledge of God, no relationship with God, and no abiding with God without faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
"Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins" (Hebrews 9:22)
"Kiss the Son, lest he (God) be angry" (Psalm 2:12).
I personally believe Adam and Eve taught their boys how to approach God at the east entrance to Eden. They had seen God take a lamb, slay it, and cover them with the skin of the dead animal that died in their place. They had been promised a coming "life-giver," and Eve anticipated the Messiah who would take away their sins to come quickly.
Abel received by faith the word of the Lord from his parents on how God is propitiated, but Cain rejected the word and came to God on his own terms --- and found God not propitious or favorable to him.
Cain was a reprobate; a person without grace.
Abel pictures for us a person in God's favor. He, and his parents, are early examples of how sinners can find a holy God propitious toward them. People are saved the same way today as they were in the days of Adam and Abel. One of the best descriptions of what it means to be a "Christian" is found in Geneses. Christians are . . .
(1). Believers in the Word of God . . . “And Adam called his wife Eve (‘life-giver’)” (v.20). God told Adam that He would provide “a seed” of the woman that would crush the head of Satan. Adam believed God (as did Eve, see Gen. 4:1). Adam instructed Abel how God had informed them to approach Him, and Abel heard the word and believed.
(2). Receivers of the righteousness of God . . . “For with the heart man believes unto righteousness” (Rom. 10:10). This is salvation. When Adam and Eve believed the Word spoken by God “the Lord God . . . clothed them” (v. 21). We shall focus specifically on this gift of righteousness in the next post (Abram).
(3). Partakers of the nature of God . . . "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4). "I am in pain until Christ be formed in you" (Gal. 4:19).
The last two are part of our future studies, but we close the lesson today by remembering that we shall never find God favorable to us until we recognize that He is propitiated not by our terms, actions or deeds, but by the His own actions on our behalf.
God gave the Lamb for us. God killed the Lamb for us. The Lamb is His Son.
(1). There is no access to the presence of God in worship, prayer, or ultimately eternal life in heaven, without coming to Him by faith in the offering He has provided for sinners --- His eternal Son, Jesus Christ.
"God set forth (Christ Jesus) as a propitiation through faith in His blood, for a demonstration of His righteousness" (Romans 3:25).
As the old hymnwriter wrote: Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.
(2). A person can talk about God all he wants and the devil remains at peace, but the moment a person speaks of a propitiated God in terms of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the demons of hell scream into action.
The Apostle Paul stated that he desired to know nothing "But Christ and him crucified." This is the gospel. Paul further stated that he was not ashamed of the gospel because "It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). The message of every gospel preacher should be Christ and Him crucified.
(3). The love of God and the wrath of God coexist. They both describe His nature, and without His love there would have never been satisfactory propiation.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16).
Christ did not make an angry God become loving -- a loving God gave to the sinners He sovereignly chose to redeem the gift of His Son in order to propitiate His righteous wrath.
(4). Those for whom Christ died shall be saved.
"You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).
The death of Christ is effective in that it satiates the wrath of God for sinners. A just God is satisfied, and because of Christ, a just God can pardon sinners.
For whom did Christ die? His people --- or as the Bible says, "those who will come to Him." Believers. Those who embrace the Son.
You either embrace Jesus Christ and what He did at Calvary to satisfy the righteous justice and wrath of God upon sinners, or you reject Jesus Christ and experience the righteous wrath and anger of God for yourself.
This is the gospel.
The good news is that God will never reject a sinner who comes to Him through faith in His Son Christ Jesus.
"Come unto me," Christ declares.
I have, and in Him I rest.
In His Grace,