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Welcome to the FAQ for module 7—billboard. The following questions include video and/or written answers and are also included in the guide for your leader. You may like to raise these questions during your group time, and we also place them here for you to explore and re-explore at your leisure.
Q 1. What is the point of the stories of Genesis 4–11?
The stories of Genesis 4–11 are designed to show:
1. How sin had contaminated all people and all nations.
2. How sin becomes steadily worse when unchecked.
3. The problem of sin is so severe that without God’s intervention there would be no hope.
Following the biblical story is very important at this point. The tragic stories of Genesis 4–11 are piled one on top of the other to show the tight grip sin had on the human race.
These stories show us three things about sin:
1. Sin had contaminated the whole human race—not just Adam and Eve. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, they not only blotted their personal records, they also became contaminated by evil. They became ‘fallen’, flawed and broken creatures. When they reproduced, they produced sinners like themselves, so that the human race itself became a fallen, broken, sinful race. These stories show that sin that had affected the first couple (Adam and Eve) had also affected the immediate family (e.g. Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1–16)), the wider community (e.g. Lamech’s song celebrates community violence (Genesis 4:23–24)) and the whole world (the reason for the flood) (Genesis 6:1–7). Even after the flood, the ugly incident between Noah and his son Ham shows that sin lies in the hearts of even the best of us (Genesis 9:18–27). There are no exceptions.
2. Sin is dynamic and, left to itself, it naturally gains momentum. In the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1–16), rebellion leads to jealousy, jealousy to hatred, hatred to murder. In the next story, Lamech’s distrust of God leads to ruthless and excessive violence (Genesis 4:23–24). In the story of the flood, violence had become a way of life (Genesis 6:11–13). God’s first commandment given to Noah after the flood was designed to stop this violence (Genesis 9:6). The story of Babel shows that rebellion against God grew into a total rejection of God (Genesis 11:1–9). In other words, sin is never ‘asleep’; it’s always ‘on the go’.
3. There is no answer to sin apart from God’s intervention. Shortly after these tragic stories is the story of God’s calling of Abraham to begin a new nation. In the genealogies (family trees), Noah’s son Shem is mentioned twice (Genesis 10:21–32; 11:10–26) pointing to his critical role as the progenitor (ancestor) of Abraham (Genesis 11:26) through whom God will bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1–3), rescuing them from the problem of sin.
Q 2a. Why do I need to know about Israel?
We need to understand Israel’s role in the story of the Bible for two reasons:
1. Israel is the next major piece in the biblical story.
2. Israel is God’s servant nation and the special custodian of his salvation. Jesus himself said, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
It might seem unusual to include learning about Israel but the subject is important because:
1. Israel is the next major piece in the biblical story. We have been thinking about God, creation, humanity, the problem of evil and the condition of the nations after Babel. Between the appearance of evil (Eden) and the solution to evil (Jesus), there is this massive section (Genesis 12 to Acts 2) that is all about Israel. The very size of the section indicates its importance. We can’t just skip over it! If we do, the story of the Bible will be distorted. So, from Genesis 12 onwards, Israel is where the greater part of the Bible story takes place and it continues to be the key focus of God’s activity on earth until Acts 2. That’s well over three-quarters of the Bible!
2. Israel is God’s servant nation chosen to bring God’s salvation. The story of Israel is not an interruption—it is an essential part of the story of salvation. God created and called Israel to be the means to enable him to bring a solution to the problem of evil (Genesis 12:1–3). Jesus himself said, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
Q 2b. Why did God create the nation Israel?
To bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). See further comments following Q 2a above.
Genesis 12:3 makes it clear that God would use Israel to bring his blessing to all the families of the earth. Added to this is the fact that God called Israel to serve him as a priestly nation (Exodus 19:5–6). Priests do not exist for themselves—they have an intermediary role—their role is to be mediators between God and the people. God called Israel to this priestly role, to be an intermediary nation that would bring God to the nations and the nations to God. Having told the people of Israel that he created them for his glory (Isaiah 43:7), God then told them: “You are my witnesses… and my servant” (Isaiah 43:10; cf. 43:12; 44:8). God did not choose Israel as a replacement nation because the others had rejected him. He chose Israel as a servant nation through whom he would reach and bless all the nations of the earth. As his servant nation, Israel would bring to the world:
1. The knowledge of the living God
2. The Scriptures
3. The Messiah (Romans 9:4–5).
Q 3a. Did Israel have a special relationship with God?
Yes. Israel is always spoken of as God’s ‘chosen’ nation.
God told Israel: “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). This verse alone unmistakably singles out Israel as God’s special nation. Scripture elsewhere tells us that Israel is:
1. God’s “firstborn” son (Exodus 4:22). This itself, is a title of special privilege.
2. God’s “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5).
3. God’s “holy [i.e. separated] nation” (Exodus 19:6).
4. God’s “kingdom of priests”. Israel was a priestly nation with the unique privilege and responsibility of bringing the nations back to the one true God (Exodus 19:5–6).
5. God’s beloved nation—“the apple of [God’s] eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8).
6. God’s “covenant” nation (Romans 9:4). To enter into a covenant (a legal contract) with someone was a serious and sacred act. Israel’s covenants were formal, legal and binding contracts that bound Israel to God (and God to Israel) forever in a special relationship unknown to the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:12).
7. God’s protected nation. God had put a hedge around Israel with blessings for those who honour Israel and curses for those who treat her disrespectfully (Genesis 12:3).
8. God’s uniquely privileged nation. No other nation had the privileges God gave Israel (Psalm 147:19–20; Romans 9:1–5). Of all the nations, Israel’s relationship with God is unique: “Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have…? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you…?” (Deuteronomy 4:33–34).
Q 3b. Was it ‘fair’ that God gave Israel this special relationship?
God’s choice of Israel is rooted in:
1. His sovereignty
2. His grace
3. His righteousness.
God’s choice of Israel is rooted in:
1. His sovereignty. God can do whatever he wants. Because God is the Sovereign Creator of the earth, all of it belongs to him—“The earth is the LORD’s… and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1–2)—and he can do with it “whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3; cf. Jeremiah 27:5). He is the potter and the nations are the clay: “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21). He can choose Israel because he is our Sovereign.
2. His grace. God chose Israel not because he thought she would be spiritually better than everyone else—she wasn’t (Deuteronomy 9:4–6). He didn’t choose Israel because she was the biggest and greatest of the nations—she wasn’t (Deuteronomy 7:7). Nor did God choose Israel because he thought she was an exceptionally clever candidate—he didn’t (Deuteronomy 8:17–18). God’s choice of Israel was wholly undeserved. His glory is most greatly seen when he takes the most unlikely and most unworthy and graciously reveals himself in and through them (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26–31).
3. His righteousness. Everything God does is right—because every decision comes out of his infinite knowledge, wisdom, holiness, justice and goodness. One day, we will see that God’s choice of Israel was indeed the right one, just like every other decision God has ever made.
Q 4. When God chose Israel, did he abandon all the other nations?
Yes and no. Yes, because, following the time of Babel, God allowed the nations to follow their own religions—but not without consequences (Acts 14:16; Romans 1:18–32). No, because God did not stop his love for the nations or his sovereign control over their political futures.
Remember three things:
1. God still loves the nations and chose Israel to bless them. God told Abraham that through him “all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). When God called Israel to be his priestly nation (Exodus 19:5–6), it was so he could bring the nations back to himself. God is not localised, tribalised or culturised—God is the God of all the peoples (Genesis 9) and all the nations (Genesis 11).1
2. God is still God of the nations, even though the nations may not acknowledge him. God is related to the nations as their:
a. Sovereign Creator (Genesis 11:6–7, 9). He allocates their national boundaries and political futures (Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26–27).
b. Civil legislator. He prescribes government for the nations (Romans 13:1–7).
c. Moral governor. His moral law is in every person’s heart (Romans 2:14–15).
d. Gracious provider. He cares for them whether they worship him or not (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17).
e. Supreme ruler. He has authority over all the kingdoms of the earth (Daniel 2:21) and can intervene in any nation at any time.
3. God has allowed the nations to pursue their own religions (Acts 14:16) but not without consequences—“God gave them over” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) to the results of their false religions. But, as we have said, this does not mean that God has abandoned the nations forever or stopped caring for, or about, them. It simply means that God has given them freedom to reject him but not without consequences.
1 George W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 107–108.
Q 5. Why did God choose Abraham to be the father of Israel?
We do not know why.
According to Genesis 15:7, Nehemiah 9:7 and Acts 7:2, Abraham lived in Ur in lower Mesopotamia, the southern part of Babylonia. According to Joshua 24:2–3, Abraham’s family worshipped “other gods” at that point. We don’t know if Abraham was an exception to the family’s idol-worshipping religion, or whether God sovereignly revealed himself to Abraham while he was a worshipper of idols (Acts 7:2). It seems there were others, like Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18–20), who had resisted idol worship. We are not told why God chose Abraham instead of someone else.
Q 6. What was so unique and important about Israel’s religion?
Five things. Israel’s religion was:
1. Monotheistic. Israel had only one God—Yahweh.
2. Prescribed. God gave Israel her belief system; she did not think it up.
3. Sacrificial. Animal sacrifice was a dominant feature of Israel’s religion.
4. Messianic. Israel’s hope focused on one individual person—the Messiah.
5. Universal. Israel’s Messiah would be the world’s saviour (deliverer).Read More
Israel’s religion was:
1. Monotheistic. Israel had only one God—Yahweh. Other religions worshipped many gods (polytheism) but Israel was called to worship the one Creator God (monotheism). Deuteronomy 6:4 said, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Israel was told in the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image…” (Exodus 20:3–4).
2. Prescribed. God gave Israel her belief system; she did not think it up. While all other religions were devised and developed by people, the Bible says Israel’s religion came to them directly from God—through various divine disclosures and revelations. God first revealed his plans to Abraham (Joshua 24:2–4; Acts 7:2) and later prescribed the Law for Israel (Exodus 19–24), including all the details about her system of worship (Exodus 24–40). From Moses to Malachi, the prophets of Israel repeatedly explained how “the word of the Lord came” to them, which is why the prophets always said, “This is what the Lord says…”
3. Sacrificial. Animal sacrifice was a dominant feature of Israel’s religion. Blood sacrifice was not unique to Israel. The concept of blood sacrifice was so important that virtually all ancient religions included it in their systems. But those sacrifices were probably warped ‘leftovers’ from animal blood sacrifice practised ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:21; 8:20; Job 1:5). As soon as God created the nation of Israel, he set up the practice of blood sacrifice as an integral part of her people’s religion. These sacrifices were given to address the problem of sin. A holy God could live among a sinful people only on the basis of substitute sacrifice. Without those sacrifices, Israel could never have had God’s presence with her in the tabernacle/temple. Sin is a serious business. God cannot live with anyone unless sin is dealt with through sacrifice.
4. Messianic. Israel’s hope focused on one individual person—the Messiah. The moment Adam and Eve sinned, God gave a serious promise that he would provide a deliverer (Genesis 3:15), and that sin and evil would not last forever. God would put an end to the miserable cycle of suffering and death. How? The promised deliverer would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15). This means that human history is moving toward a final conquest of evil and a total transformation of the world. God will achieve this through the promised deliverer, later known as the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed One. Who this promised deliverer would be, how and when he would come, and what he would specifically do to fix the sin problem would be revealed only gradually over hundreds of years. This information came slowly through the prophets. By the time the Old Testament had been written, God had provided a clear and concise picture of the Messiah’s personality and role (Luke 24:25–27).
5. Universal. Israel’s Messiah would be the world’s saviour (deliverer). Long before God created Israel, he had the whole world on his heart! In fact, that’s why he made Israel—so he could bless all the people of the earth (Genesis 12:1–3). This is why God called Israel a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:5–6). No priest exists for himself but to serve and help others. As God’s priestly nation, Israel was to stand between God and the nations of the world. Israel’s job was to bring the knowledge of the one true God to the nations and to bring the nations to faith in the one true God. That’s why God called the Israelites his “witnesses” (Isaiah 43:9–12; 44:8). Israel’s message was clear: the God of Abraham was not a localised, tribal deity but the one true God, Yahweh, the possessor of heaven and earth (Genesis 14:19). Besides him, there is no God. Unlike the ancient gods who were said to have authority over various geographical areas, Yahweh operates across the whole world—because it belongs to him. Israel was strategically placed in the middle of the nations to shine her light for Yahweh (Ezekiel 5:5; Deuteronomy 32:8).
Q 7a. When did animal sacrifice begin?
It began in the Garden of Eden when God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins (Genesis 3:20–21).
As far as the Bible is concerned, the first animal sacrifice took place immediately after Adam and Eve sinned. Before Adam and Eve sinned, they could approach God freely. They had an intimate and informal fellowship between them. But once Adam and Eve sinned, free access to God was over! Now because of humanity’s sinful condition, God required an animal sacrifice and God himself provided it (Genesis 3:21). Genesis 4:1–16 indicates that sacrifice was a key part of the first family’s religious faith. It is important to note that, as far as the Bible is concerned, animal sacrifice was not humanity’s idea. It did not originate with the various world religions that were devised and developed after the time of the Tower of Babel. The Bible says it was God’s idea and that he established it as soon as sin entered the world. When God created the nation of Israel he ensured sacrifice was a key part of Israel’s religion.
Q 7b. Why did God require animal sacrifice?
The penalty for sin is death (Genesis 2:17). Because God is holy and just, the penalty of sin cannot be avoided—it must be paid. Because God is loving and gracious, he diverted the penalty away from the sinner and on to the substitute animal.
The sacrificial system is an extraordinarily gracious provision from a holy God to sinful people. By means of the system of animal sacrifice, God can maintain his holiness and, at the same time, accept sinful people—the just penalty for sin having been paid by a substitute. By offering sacrifices (national or personal), the people were:
1. Confessing their sinfulness and their sins
2. Acknowledging that their sin deserved death; when the people laid their hands on the head of the substitute animal, their sins were symbolically transferred to the animal (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2; 16:21)
3. Expressing faith in God’s word that such a sacrifice would be an acceptable payment and bring forgiveness to the person offering it (the offerer).
Q 7c. Does animal sacrifice mean that God is blood-thirsty and doesn’t care about animals?
No. Animal sacrifice is an extreme measure that shows the seriousness of sin.
1. God cares for animals. Animals were part of God’s creation that he had already called good (Genesis 1:31). It is obvious from the Law of Moses that God cares for animals. Under that Law, domesticated animals were to have the same day of rest (the Sabbath day) as humans had (Exodus 20:10); they could not be cruelly exploited (Deuteronomy 25:4) any more than humans could be cruelly exploited (Deuteronomy 23:24–25). The people had to look after animals even if they did not like their owner, did not know their owner or even if they were ownerless (Exodus 23:5; Deuteronomy 22:4). But humans have been given control over animals (Genesis 1:26). They are not made in the image of God as humans are (Genesis 1:26–27) and, therefore, they are not sacred—they can be used for food, clothing, leather goods, etc. But even in using animals for food, the Law demanded that animals be caused the least amount of pain (Leviticus 22:28; Deuteronomy 22:6–7). Even the Sabbath law could be broken if an animal was in pain or in danger of dying, as Jesus showed (Luke 14:5).
2. God has required the use of animals for sacrifice. As the Sovereign Creator and the offended deity, it’s God’s right to determine how sin will be paid for and forgiven. God’s decision to use animals as sacrifices for sin is not meant to lower our opinion of animals. Instead, animal sacrifice should make us realise the seriousness of sin. God thinks of sin in such serious terms that he has imposed the penalty of death for those who sin. By its sin against God, humanity owed its very life as a payment to God, and animal sacrifice is the best way to recognise the dreadfulness of that penalty.
3. Animals are suited to sacrifice precisely because they are innocent of wrongdoing. Because animals are not made in the image of God, they are not ‘moral’ beings. They have no moral capacity. In fact, “our whole moral vocabulary (values and choices, obligation, conscience, freedom and will, right and wrong, guilt and shame) is meaningless to animals.”1 They are not capable of moral guilt. Therefore, they are guiltless and morally innocent. So if it is asked what the poor animal did wrong that it was selected to be the sacrificial offering, the answer would have to be “Nothing at all!” The animal had done nothing wrong—and certainly nothing worthy of death. But that is precisely the point! Because the animal had done nothing wrong, it was a guiltless and innocent living creature and so it was perfectly qualified to symbolically stand in the place of the guilty, living person and offer its guiltless life in substitute payment for the life of the guilty person.
1 Jay E. Adams, More than Redemption (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 119.
Q 8. Why did each animal have to be perfect?
The animal had to be perfect, not just because God deserves the best, but to show it was in full health, and that the only possible explanation for its death was as a ritual sacrifice for sin.
An animal selected for sacrifice had to be “without defect or blemish” (Leviticus 22:21)—it couldn’t be blind, wounded, sick, malnourished or imperfect in any way. A person was not permitted to drag an already-dead animal to the altar and present it before God. After all,
that dead animal might have died for any number of reasons other than as a sacrifice for sin. It might have been poisoned or starved to death, drowned or been accidentally killed (be it by a person or another animal), or it might have died of some sickness. The animal had to be in excellent health, not just because God was worthy of the very best, but because there needed to be no misunderstanding about how and why the animal had died. In ritual sacrifice, the animal had to be purposefully and deliberately killed and its fresh blood poured on the altar by a priest as an acknowledgement of that person’s sin and spiritual indebtedness to God.
Q 9a. Did animal blood take sins away?
No. The book of Hebrews tells us that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). But offering the blood of animals did result in real payment and forgiveness (Leviticus 1:4), if the sacrifice was offered in faith.
1. When animal sacrifices were offered in faith, real forgiveness was freely available (Leviticus 1:4; 2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 32:1 and 103:12; Isaiah 38:17). That forgiveness was real—it was not fake, hesitant or ‘half-baked’. On being forgiven, the offerer had a sure word that the particular sin in question was gone (Leviticus 1:4). God had taken it away.
2. But Hebrews 10:4 says that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins. So how could God forgive on the basis of animal sacrifice?
3. Unknown to the offerer, God’s forgiveness was not granted because of the value of the animal’s blood. Instead, God’s forgiveness was being granted because of the value of the blood of Jesus. Even though Jesus had not yet died, his death had been set in place as a sure thing before the beginning of the world (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). In reality, God was granting true forgiveness but it was based on the value of the death of Jesus. So when the offerer brought their animal sacrifice, God graciously credited to it (without the knowledge of the offerer) the saving value of the blood of Jesus, yet to be shed. The moment Jesus died, no more sacrifices were necessary, because his blood (unlike the blood of animals) took away the sin problem forever (Hebrews 10:16–18).
Q 9b. Why did sacrifice need to be repeated continually?
When the offerer brought a sacrifice for a particular sin, real forgiveness was obtained for that sin. The problem was that, after the offerer had been forgiven, he/she would sin again, requiring the need for another sacrifice. It was an endless process—day after day, year after weary year… until the death of Jesus.