God created Adam and Eve and placed them in paradise. We don’t know how long they stayed there before they disobeyed and were kicked out. It could have been one day, one week, one month, or a year. Anybody who says he knows is only guessing. In our previous blog we discussed Adam’s new fallen state – he had become a fallen sinner, utterly depraved. The evidence that this new state was intolerable to God is that He evicted man from the garden and barred his way to the tree of life. We asked an important question – if man himself couldn’t do anything about his sinning, then we reasoned God would have to intervene. What would He do about man’s inherited problem?
We know the time from Adam’s fall and exit from the garden to the cross of Christ is about 4,000 years. If we have any spiritual acumen, we perceive the cross somehow and in some way is God’s solution for man’s problem. But we have to ask, why in the world would God wait so long in sending His Son? What was God up to for these 4,000 years?
In the bible, this period of time begins in chapter four of Genesis and extends to the crucifixion accounts near the end of each New Testament gospel. This essentially includes the entire Old Testament. What was God doing? Why was He waiting so long? If mankind needed a Savior, why take so long in sending Him?
We know that God saved Noah and his family in an ark, along with a male and female of each species of animal. But He destroyed everything else with the flood. Man’s fallen condition created a world corrupt and evil. It was intolerable for a holy and righteous God (Gen. 6:5), so He destroyed it.
I think we can say that here begins God’s reputation problem – many would say, “If God is loving, why would He do this?” Approximately 1,500 years had elapsed by then. Noah came out of the ark into a new world. At that time God placed the sword in man’s hand in order to curb and restrict his evil nature. This is also an example of God’s government of the earth. But just restricting man’s sinful nature isn’t really solving it, right?
Later, God calls Abram out of a family worshiping idols and sends him to a land which He promises to give to his descendants as an inheritance. God arranges for Sarah and Abraham, even though well advanced in age, to have a child of their own. Isaac would beget Jacob and Jacob would have twelve sons from which the nation of Israel would spring forth.
By the time multitudes could be counted as descendants of Abraham, the newly formed nation was in slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt. Roughly 2,550 years had now passed since Adam. God takes the name Jehovah (covenant keeper) and begins to call the Israelites, “His people.” He proceeds to deliver them through miracles and power out of their oppression and servitude.
It would be too lengthy to tell the unabridged story of Israel’s Old Testament history. It starts about 2,550 years from Adam. There was some good, but in all honesty, it was predominately misery, rebellion, and failure. At the outset, after God had brought them miraculously through the Red Sea to Mt. Sinai, they fashioned a golden calf to worship as their god – they broke the first commandment before Moses made it back down the mountain with the tablets of stone. This set the tone and character for their history. Some 840 years later, the Jews were again completely under Gentile rule and suppression. What happened to the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? It seemed to many that Israel’s God wasn’t able to keep His word.
God kicks man out of Paradise. He destroys the world with a flood. He establishes a people to be “His own”, liberates them, and then lets them wander in the desert for 40 years only to be eventually ruled over again by the Gentiles. We are still left with many questions. Why did God bless Abraham? Why did He choose the Jewish people to be His own, promising to prosper them above all others? Why did He make a covenant and give His law only to Israel? They were the only people on the face of the earth God was willing to deal with for the last 1,500 years of this time. Why such obvious favoritism? And why does God seem so angry and judgmental so often? Remember Sodom and Gomorrah? Many voice their preference for the God of the New Testament instead of the Old, even though they know He is one and the same. And finally, if Jesus is God’s answer for man’s problem, why seemingly waste all this time doing all these other things?
There is a lot of confusion in Christianity about these questions. Many people stumble wondering how the same God could possess two strikingly different characters. The God of the Old Testament is someone who commands obedience, and absent of it, does not hesitate to demonstrate judgment. The Old Testament God appears more as a Judge in a court of law – His judgments carried out unwaveringly. In contrast, Jesus speaks of a loving heavenly Father He came into the world to reveal. This God is kind, loving, and forgiving. How can they be the same?
In a previous blog we discussed the concept of “responsibility” – man’s responsibility in his relationship with God. It is simple – knowing he was created by God, man’s duty is to obey the will of his Creator. Not only did God test Adam in the garden, but He continued to test mankind during the following 4,000 years. We will call this time “mankind’s probation.” It will shed light on exactly what God was doing and why He took so long.
Our English dictionary defines probation as “the testing or trial of someone’s conduct or character” or “the period of time for such testing or trial.” Another definition says “the process or period of observing the character or abilities of a person in a certain role.” This fits well what God was doing with mankind, except with this one distinction – God knew full well beforehand what the results would be. Mankind’s probation wasn’t for God’s benefit. It was for us. It was to fully reveal to man what Adam’s disobedience had done to him, what he now was as a fallen sinner. God was proving to man that in himself, he was incapable of obedience; that he is incapable of being responsible to God. This was what God was doing for 4,000 years.
If you go on to read the linked article below you will find that many of the questions asked in this blog are easily answered. You’ll see from Scripture how God tested man in three general ways, and that the last two only involved the nation of Israel. You’ll understand that by choosing the Jews as His own special people, He was making them a “test case” representing all mankind. God gave man every possible chance to be obedient on his own, to be responsible, over thousands of years. This “probation of man” is the only legitimate explanation for why God did the things He did in the Old Testament and why He appears at times to be so judgmental.
It is important for the Christian reader to understand these important biblical concepts in order to realize the fullness of who and what we are in Christ. Unfortunately, man’s probation is not taught today in our seminaries and churches. This is regrettable because it is easily seen in Scripture and explains away many of the inconsistencies and false teachings brought about in Christendom by human thought and the wisdom of men.