Saturday, July 16, 2011

Vos on the Development of the Noachian Epoch

A few posts ago, I noted a few different organizing principles one might use when studying Scripture. Because I have been reading Vos' Biblical Theology, that approach has recently been at the forefront of my mind. Vos makes some insightful points on the big picture of Genesis 4:1-6:7 which prompted me to think about and make connections in redemptive history in a way that I would probably not have thought to do had I, like I am often inclined to do, broken down the passage analytically. Here is what Vos has to say:

Two features characterize the revelation of [the development of the Noachian] period. In the first place, its significance lies not in the sphere of redemption, but in the sphere of the natural development of the race, although it has ultimately an important bearing on the subsequent progress of redemption. Secondly, revelation here bears on the whole a negative rather than positive character. It contents itself with bestowing a minimum of grace. A minimum could not be avoided either in the sphere of nature or of redemption, because in the former sphere, without at least some degree of divine interposition, collapse of the world-fabric would have resulted, and in the latter the continuity of fulfilment of the promise [cf. Genesis 3:15] would have been broken off, had special grace been entirely withdrawn. These two features find their explanation in the purpose of the period in general. It was intended to bring out the consequences of sin when left so far as possible to itself. Had God permitted grace freely to flow out into the world and to gather great strength within a short period, then the true nature and consequences of sin would have been very imperfectly disclosed. Man would have ascribed to his own relative goodness what was in reality a product of the grace of God. Hence, before the work of redemption is further carried out, the downward tendency of sin is clearly illustrated, in order that subsequently in the light of this downgrade movement the true divine cause of the upward course of redemption might be appreciated. This constitutes the indirect bearing of the period under review on redemption.
...We have here a story of rapid degeneration, so guided by God as to bring out the inherent tendency of sin to lead to ruin, and its power to corrupt and debase whatever of good might still develop. So far as this circle of humanity is concerned, the facts bear out the interpretation above put upon the period. (pgs. 45-46)

Vos proceeds to specify the points in the narrative which support his thesis that, aside from the parenthetical 4:25-5:32 - which is important insofar as it shows the promise of Genesis 3:15 has not been forgotten - the period immediately following the exile from Eden is designed to show the full effects of sin. In short, generations became increasingly utterly depraved from Cain to Lamech and from Lamech to mankind in general:

In the strongest terms the extreme wickedness reached at the end of the [Noachian] period is described. The points brought out are firstly: the intensity and extent of evil ('great in the earth'); secondly: its inwardness ('every imagination of the thoughts of his heart'); thirdly: the absoluteness of the sway of evil excluding everything good ('only evil'); fourthly: the habitual, continuous working of evil ('all the day'). The same judgment or irremediable wickedness is even more emphatically affirmed in the words: 'It repented Jehovah that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.' In anthropomorphic fashion this expresses the idea that the development of mankind frustrated the end for which God had placed man on the earth. (pgs. 50-51)

This reminded me that the pre-Noahic moral declension in which there existed a vastly outnumbered elect remnant typifies the eschatological tribulation period just prior to Christ's second coming (cf. Matthew 24:21-22, 37-44; Luke 17:26-37; 2 Peter 3:5-7, 10-13). It's one thing to look at those New Testament passages and see that fact stated, but to actually think about it in terms similar to how Vos put it provides the perspective I suspect Jesus and Peter meant for their audiences. In other words, it's one thing to read Scripture, it's another to study it. And given the various methods by which Scripture can be studied, I'm realizing how much more I have to learn.

No comments: