Monday, April 28, 2014

Covenantal Food

It seems that I have slowed down substantially in posting on this site. Though I am still excited about a biblical view of food (and life in general) I am doing many others things, such as college, internship, working part-time, etc... Recently, though, I was listening to a lecture series by O. Palmer Robinson "On the Covenants" (available for free here) and one of his lectures started me thinking again on a topic I started writing about here. The idea is that food is covenantal, that it is granted to us by God's grace as part of His bond of friendship with us. This can be seen through the progression of God's covenant with His people throughout time. The passage from the lecture is as follows (commenting on Genesis 3):
"Man will eat bread. The gracious character of these simple words cannot be overlooked. The creative grace of God which gave to man the bounties of every tree of the garden has continued. God's grace and mercy is still to man, though he has rebelled against him. The extension of the provision of the creation covenant characterizes the totality of human history from that day until the present. Even today, you eat bread. And you very fittingly give thanks at the table, each time you eat bread, for the grace of God which permits you to sustain life." -O. Palmer Robinson, "Covenant of Commencement" 
Even before Genesis 3, when we examine the pre-fall "covenant of works" or, as Dr. Robinson titles it, the "covenant of creation" we find not only the the prohibition of eating of the forbidden fruit, but also the gift of all the other trees in the garden.
You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17, emphasis added). 
In fact, the covenant is rather comprehensive, including the broad concerns of Genesis 1:28-30:
"And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.' And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.' And it was so. (Genesis 1:28-30)
An emphasis in American Christianity on the narrow test of the forbidden tree to the exclusion of the broad mission and purpose of the covenant of creation (or works) has led to (or has resulted from) a narrow focus on justification by faith and the point of conversion to the exclusion of sanctification and the broad purpose of redemption. God's covenants with man concern man's whole life, not merely some narrow "religious" element of life. As Dr. Robinson points out in his book, Christ of the Covenants,
"If the covenant of creation is thought not to exceed Adam's probation-test, a curious brand of Christianity ultimately emerges. It is a brand of Christianity greatly at odds with that in which the probation-test is understood as the focal point of the total life-embracing covenantal relationship. The difference between the two views is the difference between 'fundamentalism' narrowly conceived and the broader covenantal theology of Scripture" (p. 82).
This separation of faith from life has been detrimental to modern Western culture.

Here we find that food is a basic element of God's original command and grace to man. Man is commanded to subdue the vegetation for food and is given the grace to use and enjoy it.

As Dr. Robinson pointed out above, this concept is continued after man's sin enters the world. As God establishes his covenant of grace with man in Genesis 3, giving the promise of redemption, he reaffirms man's calling to bring forth food from the ground. Adam gets to keep the job! Admittedly, it is a bit harder, and now the struggle against sin and curse is also thrown into the mix.

We find this pattern also God's covenant with Noah. Noah and his family not only save the plants and animals on board the ark, but God also tells them after the flood,
"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood...” (Genesis 9:1-4, emphasis added)
In the covenant administrations with Abraham and especially later with Israel we see that food is one of the great blessings of the covenant. To look into all the ways food is mentioned would take more time than I have at the moment (see my book for some), but some of the most obvious might be Deuteronomy 28:4-5, Leviticus, 26:3-5, and Exodus 3:8, 17. God sets up feasts for His people for them to commune with Him. The theme of famine and plenty is tightly woven into God's relation with His people. Food (or the lack of) can be blessing or curse, just as the covenant can work either way.

We have already seen how 1 Timothy 4 deals with this theme (see here). In addition, the Lord's Supper obviously forms the highest new covenant expression of Christ's communion with man through food. The "love feast" and Christian hospitality are also urged in the broader context of food and life in the covenant. This picture is consummated with the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation.

Some of this is old news to many of you all. The insightful thing I have found through this is that we do not deserve food. It is given by God's grace. He gives it to the just and the unjust, yet it is only Christian who can eat with enjoyment (Eccl. 2:24-26), exercising proper (not usurped) authority over God's creation. It is also interesting to see, once again, the unity of God's purposes through history. His promises and purposes are consistent through all ages. They demand our all, our entire life and being. Thus, we must eat and drink, as we do all things, to the glory of our gracious Savior and God.

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