Friday, November 27, 2009

The first post in my Advent series: the proto-evangelium

Maybe it’s the scientist in me, but I always have to start at the beginning. After Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3, God pronounced the curse that would be over creation now as a result of their sin. To the serpent specifically, the Lord says that he will be cursed more than any beast of the field, he’ll crawl on his belly eating dust all his life, and then God tells him something very interesting. In verse 15 the Lord says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” This first hint of God’s plan to redeem His people is called the proto-evangelium, or first gospel. It’s a bit obscure, to be sure, but the gist of it is there. That the Messiah would be born a man (from the seed or offspring of Eve) is certainly clear. It may not be totally clear at this point that Christ would also be God, but I think it is implied. Certainly Adam and Eve understood that they could not redeem themselves, because they were now cursed or fallen, how then could another mere mortal also born under the curse save them? Adam and Eve no longer had that intimate relationship they had enjoyed with the Lord before and they could not close the gap of their sin.

God must have explained all this to them. For in verse 21, “the Lord God made tunics of skin and clothed them.” This is significant. Adam and Eve did not wear fig leaves as many would have us believe. The Bible says they were naked until they sinned and then the Lord clothed them from animal skins. Again, we’re assuming some of this, but I think these assumptions are supported by overwhelming evidence. Since death came as a result of sin (v.19 and Romans 5:12 and 6:23, etc.), we assume that there was no death, not even of animals, prior to the fall. And since the Lord brought skins to cover Adam and Eve, we also assume He explained to them that these animals had to die because sin requires the shedding of blood (death) to atone for it. That Messiah referred to in Genesis 3:15 would come one day, but until then Adam and Eve were to begin the ritual of animal sacrifice to keep their sins always before them as a reminder of the great gulf between them and God that they had made when they sinned. More evidence that God explained all this to them comes in the next chapter of Genesis.

Cain murders his brother Abel in Genesis chapter 4 because he was angry that, “the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.” (v4&5) It is true that only God can see the heart and perhaps it was the heart of Cain that was lacking in true worship, but I see something else here as well. Normally, our heart determines our actions, and we see two different kinds of sacrifices offered to the Lord from Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer and he offered from the “fruit of the ground” while Abel was a shepherd and offered the “firstborn of his flock and of their fat.” Hebrews 11:4 says, Abel offered “a more excellent sacrifice” than Cain. Some have also pointed out that Cain did not offer “first” fruits like Abel did, but I think the type of offering is more important. What had God clothed Adam and Eve with after they sinned? Animal skins showing the penalty for sin is death and that the shedding of blood is required to atone for sins. What did Abel offer? Firstborn sheep- blood sacrifice showing he understood the gravity and penalty for his sins. What did Cain offer? Grain- or at any rate something grown, so not a blood sacrifice.

In verse 7 the Lord confronts Cain about his anger and jealousy and says, “if you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” In other words, God wasn’t arbitrary in accepting Abel’s sacrifice, although that’s certainly His prerogative, Abel “did well”, whereas Cain “did not do well”. There was something about Abel’s sacrifice that pleased the Lord and about Cain’s that did not. I think it was that Abel was agreeing with God about his sin (this is confession) and offering a blood sacrifice to show he understood there is no atoning for sins without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). In other words, Abel believed God and his faith was credited to him as righteousness (Hebrews 11:4).

So, right here in the first book of the Bible that records our beginnings, we have a first glimpse of the gospel, that sin brings death and a Seed of Eve will come one day who will bruise the head of the serpent, the one who introduced sin. This is symbolic of Christ conquering sin. “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” (Romans 5:18) So, we have evidence that Adam’s family understood the necessity for offering animal sacrifices to the Lord to serve as a reminder of their sins and to cause them to come to the Lord in repentance often. Surely this proto-evangelium provided hope for Adam and Eve and their offspring and caused them to wait expectantly for the coming Redeemer who would save them from their sins so that they could once again enjoy that close fellowship with God that they had first enjoyed in the garden, but was now closed to them (and guarded by cherubim)!


  1. What a great post! I'm excited to read more. Reminds me of the Jesse Tree devotional we follow through the holiday season.

  2. Thanks, Amy. I need to get that! Maybe with the next bunch of books I'm sure I'll be ordering in the near future:)

  3. really thoughful post! I like your point about Cain. I think we can apply it to our modern Christian life in thinking deeply about the kind of walk God asks of us, and being careful to not ignore what he requires and instead try to give Him a sort of walk we 'like' or feel more comfortable with..after all, we are being sincere, aren't we? I wonder if Cain thought he was being sincere, also?

    I enjoyed reading this, how nice to see deep thoughts on the season!

  4. Thanks, Hen Jen. Cain does seem caught off guard and thus the anger and jealousy over God's acceptance of Abel's gift, but not his own. I think you may be right that Cain thought he was worshipping God as God intended. That is certainly a sobering thought for us today regarding worship!

  5. The kids and I used this for our first Advent lesson today and it sparked some great conversation.
    Thanks so much!



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.