The Ark and the Altar. (Gen. vi. I4 - viii. 22.)
WE are no more than fairly entered upon our subject as
yet; and of all that we have learned hitherto the examination of other
scriptures will confirm, extend, and render more precise our knowledge. We have
seen the need of man, which atonement has to meet, to be fourfold: first, his
actual sins; secondly, corruption of nature; thirdly, the penalty of death,
proclaimed by God in Eden, and in which clearly all men share as well as the
first sinner; fourthly, the judgment after death. As to this last, so far as we
have reached in Genesis, it is rather a dread undefined shadow than a thing
plainly taught, an inference rather than an announcement. Correspondingly we
find in atonement, so far as we have hitherto gone, the emphasis laid upon
death as borne by a substitute - a truly vicarious death, by which sin is
"covered" or expiated before God, and the shame of mans nakedness put
But yet the one who obtains witness that he is righteous, God testifying of his gifts, and though dying in his substitute, dies himself, as all mankind but two have ever done. Why this? Surely because that while atonement is in behalf of sinners of Adams seed, its purpose is not to restore the first man or the old creation, but to bring those saved into the new. While, of course, as to power over the soul, death is "abolished:" "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die."
That to which we now come will bring, and is designed to bring, this change from the old to the new creation vividly before us. The ark which Noah prepared to the saving of his house is a figure of Christ, as we surely know, and of Christ as One with whom we pass through the judgment of the world into that new scene where all abides in the value of the accepted sacrifice. "If any man be in Christ, [it is] new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
For faith anticipates that judgment yet to come, meets it in the cross, and passes through it, leaving it behind. The death of our Substitute is for us what death ever is - our passage out of the world. Sheltered and safe ourselves, we pass through it; our ark alone breasting the flood, and lifted above it by its own inherent buoyancy; for the Holy One could go through death, but not be holden of it. By the might of His own perfection He rose into the sphere to which He belonged, carrying with Him the hopes and promise of the new creation.
The gopher-wood, the material of the ark, I can say little of, but it speaks of death (the tree cut down), as that by which alone death could be met for us. The "pitch" is copher, near akin, as it would seem, to gopher, not bitumen (or at least there is no proof of this), but, as would seem most probable, a resin from the gopher-wood itself; identical, too, with the word "atonement" in one of its forms.* Here, it seems to me, is the first hint we find in Scripture of something beyond death which is implied in and needed for atonement. Not the gopher-wood alone would have kept out the waters of judgment. Not death alone lay upon men, and for true substitution not death alone needed to be borne. It is indeed the wages of sin; but not, as some would have it, the full wages. So, if death be judgment, as for man it is, it is "after death the judgment;" which is not a repetition of the first death either, though it be the second: for the first death is not repeated. "It is appointed unto men ONCE to die, but after this the judgment."
*Translated "ransom," Ex. xxx. 12; 1 Sam. xii. 3, marg.; Job xxxiii. 24; xxxvi. 18; Ps. xlix. 7; Prov. vi. 22; etc.; "satisfaction," Num. xxxv. 31, 32.
The penalty borne by our Substitute, then, is something more than death. The copher must pitch the seams of the ark of salvation, that it may bring its freight of living souls in safely through the flood. Thus, and thus alone, is there perfect security, and the new scene is reached in peace. Salvation, as known and enjoyed here, if Scripture is to be at least our measure, does not stop short of this. Christ "gave Himself for our sins," says the apostle, "that He might deliver us out of this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father." "Ye are not of the world," says the Saviour Himself, "even as I am not of the world." "If any man be in Christ," says the apostle again, "(kaine ktisis) it is new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
For if Christ was our Substitute only upon the Cross - and this is true, His identification with us does not and cannot cease there. We are in Him risen from the dead, and gone up to the glory of God. The manhood which He took up here He has taken in there. Nay, it is in resurrection, and only so, that He becomes "last Adam," as we have already seen, and as a "quickening Spirit," communicates that "more abundant life" of which He spoke, while yet on earth, to His disciples. (John x. 10.) As naturally we are children of the first man after his fall, and inherit from him its sorrowful results, even so as quickened of the last Adam, after the accomplishment of His work in our behalf, we are born into His status, and inherit the results in justification and acceptance with God, who "hath taken us into favour (eharitoo) in the Beloved." (Eph. i. 6.) Already are we "seated together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." We are thus past death and judgment. The Ark has brought us through. The old world, as that with which we are connected, is for faith already gone. In Him we are brought into a place of which the new world just emerged from its baptism was but the shadow; and here again we find a fresh aspect of atonement, and fresh results of it, in the burnt-offering, the altar, and Gods covenant with creation.
If we have read Gods words to Cain aright, Abels offering was doubtless also a sin-offering. The distinct mention of the fat, as a thing apart, may go to prove this; for in the sin-offering, as afterward detailed, the fat was dealt with separately from the animal itself. It was, so to speak, the burnt-offering side of the sin-offering: for as the various sacrifices were but various aspects of the one great sacrifice, so there was in each some link of connection with the others, in witness of their common theme.
The development of these offerings as yet we do not find; still, so far as developed, if they be types or divine pictures of the great reality, we look for harmony among them, and shall assuredly find it from the very first. And in the order of application, which is the order observed here, the sin-offering comes naturally before the burnt-offering, to which now we come in Noah, in significant connection with the new place in which he appears.
For what is the burnt-offering? Literally, "the offering that ascends," or goes up to God. As we find here, it is what is sweet savour to Him; and though we shall find other offerings which are of sweet savour to God, as the meat and the peace offering, yet is this the great and fundamental one. The term is inadequately given as "sweet savour:" it is properly, as in the margin, "savour of rest" or acquiescence, complacence. It thus unites with what is stated to be the purport of the burnt-offering, in a passage obscured by mistranslation in the common version. "He shall offer it of his own voluntary will" (Lev. i. 3.), should be rather, "He shall offer it for his acceptance:" and this is the key-note of the burnt-offering. In contrast with the sin-offering, which represents the solemn judgment of sin, it speaks of that perfect surrender of Christ to the will of God, tested and brought out by the cross, which brings out the supreme delight of the Father: "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again." That is the measure of our acceptance with God.
And to express this perfection in its manifold character it is that, we read, "Noah took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar." The burnt-offering was thus very frequently multiplied in a way that the sin-offering was not, and could not be. One sin-offering was ample for the putting away of sin, while to express the perfection of our acceptance with God, the burnt-offering is multiplied many times. Thus compare especially, in the twenty-ninth of Numbers, the sacrifices of the seven days of the feast of tabernacles; or those in Hezekiahs day (2 Chron. xxix.), or in Ezras (ch. viii. 35.).
The presence of the altar too, for the first time, is full of meaning; for the altar is not of little significance in connection with the sacrifice. Our Lord Himself declares that "the altar sanctifieth the gift." We read of none in the case of Abels offering, and in the fullest type of the Levitical sin-offering. (Lev. iv. 12, 21.) But what could sanctify the Lords own gift? Certainly, nothing external. It was the perfection and dignity of His Person that gave value to His work, and the divine direction as to the altar afterward makes certain that it is Christ Himself who is before us in it. Thus fittingly from the sin-offering it is absent; for "He who knew no sin" being "made sin for us," the person is hidden, as it were, in what He represents, as the serpent of brass elsewhere conveys to us. On the contrary, in the type before us the altar necessarily finds its place. The dignity of His Person adds infinitely to the value of His work, and both together unite to lift us into the blessed place we have in Him. The ark and altar have thus a kindred meaning; and we find that atonement itself, necessarily getting its character from Him who makes it, does not restore man to his original place, but becomes the foundation and security of that new creation which the type here depicts, and with which God abides in unchangeable covenant.
The bow in the cloud, the token of this covenant with all that go out of the ark, I have elsewhere dwelt upon. It is typically the token of how God has been glorified (that is, revealed) in the work of the cross; His holiness, love, and truth banding the darkness of the most terrible storm of judgment ever seen. The storm passes, and the bow, too, to sight is gone, but faith finds its glories permanently enshrined in the jewels upon the foundations of the heavenly city, the pledge of its eternality. God is vindicated, satisfied, at rest; and where He rests, all things must needs abide too at rest.
Go To Chapter Five
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