Carson so far has dealt with creation and the fall, in this chapter he considers the kind of being the Biblical God is in comparison to the gods of the nations and how our understanding should shape our approach to God. First, there’s what he calls the Grandfather model of God. Here is a very common view where God is seen as really nice, un-threatening, and can thus be easily dismissed without any consequences. This is very man-centered view of the universe.
Second, there’s the Deist model of God. Here He’s spectacularly great, utterly transcendent, disinterested and too impersonal. That is, the creation was just wound-up, and as a result, we are left to fend for ourselves.
Third, there’s the Back-scratching model of God. Here He’s needy, not omnipotent. This is common in polytheistic religions where the gods are legion (i.e., Neptune—god of the sea, Hermes—god of communication –in Greek world, and Mercury in Roman world). Relating to God therefore involves “tit-for-tat” where “you do for me God and I’ll do for you”. It’s the notion of “Let’s make a deal!” This is much like the barter system where we mutually need each other for help.
Fourth, there’s then the Biblical model of God. According to Acts 17:24 the God of Scripture can’t be manipulated or bartered with contrary to the Grandfather model; 24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.” The I AM has no needs because He’s the source of all life. He’s the sovereign God who will neither barter with us nor contra the back-scratching god model, be domesticated by some priestly class because He’s the infinite One. Yet, contra the deist model of God He does and delights to interact with humans. That’s an amazing God. Carson asks, “If we have nothing with which we can barter with God, on what basis must any relationship with God be based?”
Fifth, in light of the above only sovereign grace is sufficient for interaction. Recognizing that we are finite, needy, contingent creatures allows us to see that we desperately need God. The only reason we’re breathing is because this God with whom bartering is impossible, has sanctioned it. That’s humbling! And because God needs nothing from creatures like us, the only hope that remains is His sovereign grace which was manifest in His promise to Abraham.
Sixth, God’s promise is sovereign and unconditional. Carson points out that God graciously, unconditionally and sovereignly promised this pagan—Abraham—to bless the nations. This would be accomplished through the covenant God would establish and the rite of it would be circumcision:
Gen.12:2-3: Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Gen. 17:10 “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.”
Unlike the surrounding nations and the way covenants worked, The LORD did things differently with Abraham.
Gen. 15: 8-18 reads, He said, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?” 9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” 17 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.”
Carson explains the difference between the covenants of the nations as opposed to God’s with Abraham. The way covenants worked with the Hittite, Assyrian, and Babylonian nations was to pay them tribute for protection. That’s not a bad deal, unless said people broke their covenant, for then they’d be torn apart like these animals in between which Abraham and God just walked. That is, in this text the understanding is, “may I be cut off, be torn apart, if I break my covenant with my sovereign”.
The way the covenant was going to work with God would go so far as to demonstrate that God would take full responsibility for the fulfillment of the covenant all by Himself. That’s amazing Grace! The former covenant(s) depend on both parties fulfilling their duties, but the latter covenant depends entirely on the sovereign (God) assuring it will be kept.
As a covenant recipient, Abraham’s loyalty is put to the test when God commands him to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22. The significance of Abraham’s obedience can’t be overstated. Pagans regularly showed their deities loyalty by sacrificing their children. God is testing Abraham to see if he would trust Him like pagans trust their gods. God is certainly not pleased in the killing of children. In fact, the sacrifice required would not be Isaac, but God himself would supply teh sacrifice ultimately through the lamb—Christ.
Seventh, God’s promise unfolds in history. God keeps his promise to Abraham, Israel eventually goes into the promised land, and through Isaac (not Ishmael) the promised blessing to all the earth would be fulfilled. Jesus was the seed of Abraham and the fulfillment of God’s faithfulness. God provided “Himself” the sacrifice for sinners like me and you. The significance here is that God is faithful to keep his promises, unlike the rest of us. He remains forever faithful. He can’t deny Himself. What a Savior!
Carson ends the chapter summarizing that God is the Creator and we are His creatures, God is our Judge because we are idolaters. While God is our Judge, He is also the God of the covenant who would make possible for us to address Him as Father, and we His children. God’s initiative in dealing mercifully with image bearers is stunning, for He remedies our malady. We bring nothing to the table. The implications here are that “works righteousness” is obliterated, dependence on the sovereign One is our only hope, and there truly is no other god but GOD!