Exercises in Freedom
“Live like free people, and do not use your freedom as an excuse for doing evil. Instead,
be God’s servants” (1 Peter 2:16 ISV).
The fall of man has led the human family into a type of bondage. The Apostle Paul termed it, “the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21). He described the effect of this condition saying, “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Strong’s concordance suggests the word “travaileth” (G4944) refers to the pain of childbirth. This may be reminiscent of the curse placed upon mother Eve (Genesis 3:16).The apostle uses this analogy to describe the effects of sin on the entire race. The King James translation says, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow.” Multiplied sorrow is an apt description of mankind’s condition since the fall. Sorrow is a mental suffering and distress caused by loss or disappointment.
Some time after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve experienced the most piercing sorrow a parent can know when their firstborn son murdered his younger brother. This act was borne out of Cain’s anger and jealous heart (Genesis 4:1-8). Jealousy and anger became the motivation of many evil practices. These unbridled emotions created conflict and war for generations to come. Slavery to sin was becoming ingrained in the heart of man. Now, through inheritance, every individual has a nature prone to sin. Jesus clarified the definition of sin when he stated that God considers even a sinful thought comparable to a sinful act (Matthew 5:28). This high standard finds everyone woefully short of perfection. Sinful thoughts and actions have multiplied the sorrow of man.
Noah’s Temporary Freedom
The race, under the influence of fallen angels, became so corrupted by sin that Jehovah sent a flood to destroy nearly all humanity. Only the eight souls of Noah’s family were saved. The misguided angels were reserved in chains of darkness and their influence severely limited. It likely required great effort for the family of Noah to remain separate from the evil influences surrounding them prior to the flood. The removal of a sinful race must have lifted their burden to a great degree. They would be free to worship without ridicule or opposition and could move about without fear. The immediate temptation to follow sinful examples was washed away with the consuming waters. As the floodwaters withdrew, Noah’s first act was to build an altar and present burnt offerings to Jehovah (Genesis 8:20). This was the appropriate expression of a grateful heart that treasured the salvation and blessings provided by God. But the time following the cleansing of earth was a short-lived relief.
Though Noah may have sorrowed over the tremendous loss of life, he understood why the flood was necessary. Humanity had chosen to habitually practice sin. Their free will had been misused to such a degree, that if allowed to continue, it would have been more difficult to reclaim them in the resurrection. The obedience of Noah and his family led to their salvation as they wisely used their freewill to do God’s will. The result was an escape from death.
Jehovah’s continued support for Noah’s righteous choices was evident when a never-before-seen rainbow stretched across the sky. This beautiful display is only possible when the sun is shining, and the atmosphere filled with water droplets. When sunlight strikes the raindrops its seven component colors are separated, creating a breath-taking arc of colors. It was a token of God’s covenant to never again destroy civilization with a flood (Genesis 9:12,13).
The rainbow was an image repeated in a vision given to Ezekiel, where God was seen surrounded by a rainbow (Ezekiel 1:28). This conveys the principle that Jehovah surrounds Himself with a wide variety of promises, depicted by the many beautiful colors.
In Revelation 4, the rainbow appears again surrounding the throne of God. But there, it is described as an emerald green rainbow. Highlighting this one color is meaningful. Green is the color of life. In the throne scene of Revelation (chapters 4 and 5), a lamb stood “as it had been slain.” The lamb represents the resurrected Lord Jesus. Though he is now an immortal spirit being, he is depicted as a slain lamb, because his death as ransom for Adam is the key to providing life for all mankind. During the Gospel Age, he has been applying his merit on behalf of the Church. This provides their justification to life (Romans 5:9). The emerald rainbow, encircling the throne of God, highlights the fact that He is a life-giving God. He offers eternal life to mankind through the blood of the lamb. This is one of the promises that comprises His rainbow of promises.
The Apostle Peter reveals that Noah’s rescue is a picture of a greater salvation. “This water prefigured the water of baptism through which we are now brought to safety. Baptism is not the washing away of bodily pollution, but the appeal made to God by a good conscience, and it brings salvation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21 New English Bible). The flood waters represent Christian baptism.
Baptism is a symbol of consecration, the giving up of one’s will to do the will of God. Noah did this and was saved from destruction. It was not his freedom that led to salvation. It was his commitment to use his freedom to obey God and live righteously. Peter draws a similar lesson for the believer. Consecration to the will of God brings salvation through the applied merit of Jesus. Though the legal aspect can only be done by the redeeming merit of Christ, the will to believe and commit one’s life to God is part of the work of salvation.
Lot’s Freedom From Sodom
Abram was called to leave his family and home in Ur of the Chaldees. Yet he chose to take his nephew Lot with him to the land of promise. This was likely because Lot’s father had recently died, and Abram felt a responsibility to care for his nephew (Genesis 11:28). But the presence of Lot created many challenges for Abram. During a severe famine, Abram journeyed to Egypt taking his household with him. While there, Lot observed the prosperity of the Egyptians. This impressed him so much that later, after separating from Abram, he compared the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah to the prosperity he had witnessed in Egypt (Genesis 13:10). Lot judged the benefits of life by the standards of worldly prosperity.
Abram, however, had a much clearer understanding of true prosperity. When separating their families, Abram gave Lot first choice of where to dwell. He may have realized Lot would not choose the dry arid lands of Canaan. This would have been an inferior choice in the eyes of his nephew. But Canaan provided the peace and solitude that was missing from the cities of the Jordan Plain. In the quiet hillsides of Hebron, Abram could commune with God and protect his family from the debilitating influences of city life. He chose wisely while Lot did not.
Lot would experience severe consequences for the poor choice he made. He would suffer the captivity of four northern kings who invaded the land, took the inhabitants of the city captive, and spoiled all their goods (Genesis 14). This required Abram to gather his men and pursue the fleeing army. A violent night battle ensued, with Abram’s group “slaughtering” the invaders, releasing the captives, and retaking the spoil. Despite these traumatic experiences, Lot returned to Sodom and lived within the city.
This series of events should have been an indication to Lot that his original choice for a home had been foolish, but he still returned to Sodom. In time, the Lord saw the grievous sins of Sodom and determined it should be destroyed. As two angels approached the city, Lot met them at the gate and invited them to his home. When the residents of Sodom saw the angels, they wanted to commit immoral acts with them but were struck with blindness by the angels.
It may be difficult to understand why, when told of the coming destruction, Lot “lingered,” and finally needed to be led out by the hand, along with his wife and daughters (Genesis 19:16). It was clear that their hearts were still in Sodom. The daughters had married (or were engaged to) men of Sodom who mocked Lot when he tried to bring them out. Lot’s family had close connections that bound them to a city about to be destroyed.
But why else were they so attached to Sodom? Was it the luxury and comforts of a city that outshined the simple shepherd’s life they once knew? Was it the entertainment that undoubtedly accompanied city life? Whatever it was, their desires were misguided. The famous account of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt as she gazed back to the city (Genesis 19:26) is used by Jesus as an object lesson.
In pointing to his Second Advent, Jesus described how the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were unaware of its impending destruction. He compared them to how the world would be unprepared for the events of his return (Luke 17:28-33). Then, he then simply said, “Remember Lot’s wife” (verse 32).
This is a vital lesson as we live during the time of our Lord’s presence. Jesus continued, “whosoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (verse 33). We live in a time of great worldly prosperity. The things that enticed the family of Lot can tempt us as well. Jesus was counseling us to choose our lifestyles wisely. The surroundings we select have an impact on our spiritual growth and development. Following our Lord’s guidance will help us develop in a way that will endure.
Jesus’ words may seem peculiar to an unbeliever when he said, “whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” But losing or sacrificing our earthly life means choosing to live the spiritually focused life God would have us live. That is the only path to eternal life. All other choices are vain and do not offer eternity. It is a commitment that must be constantly maintained.
After leaving Sodom, Lot dwelt in a cave with his two daughters, who then caused him to commit incest. Therefore, it is not clear that his daughters were ever fully cleansed from the spirit of Sodom, although Lot himself is described as a “righteous man” (2 Peter 2:8). Peter says that his righteous heart was “vexed” by what he saw and heard in Sodom. Yet, he remained there. Bro. Russell suggests that Lot may represent the Great Company. “As Abraham and his patient waiting represented the faithful, the overcomers, so Lot seems to represent a class in the end of the present age, who do not walk sufficiently by faith and who seek not chiefly the kingdom and its righteousness; but who, for the sake of earthly advantage are quite willing to risk their spiritual interests and the highest interests of their children, by choosing fellowship with the world” (Reprint 2857). This powerful lesson conveys that living by two standards is impossible. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). It will only lead to disappointment.
Israel’s Freedom From Slavery
After many years of bondage, the family of Jacob was to be free from slavery in Egypt. It was a difficult life, described as “serv[ing] with rigor” (Exodus 1:13). The word “rigor” describes great cruelty. This is exemplified when the king of Egypt, in fear of an uprising, ordered all male babies thrown into the Nile River.
Though the Hebrew midwives were able to avoid this tragedy, it was clear the Israelites could never be free while in Egypt. Their cries were finally heard by Jehovah, who then prepared for their release. After nine devastating plagues, the Israelites were on the brink of freedom. One more plague, the death of the Egyptian firstborn, would secure their release. Before leaving the land of their oppression, God ordered a special ceremony that would save Israel from the last plague. It was the Passover celebration.
A lamb would be slain, and its blood sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of every Israelite home. It was an act of faith that obliged those desiring deliverance to carefully follow the prescribed requirements. No one was forced to obey, but the consequences of disobedience were severe, as every Egyptian learned.
The deliverance of Israel from bondage contains two distinct pictures. First, only the firstborn were in danger of death. Those who remained under the blood of the lamb were safe. The Apostle Paul explains that this is a picture of the Church during the Gospel Age.
“For even Christ, our Passover is sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). He describes the Christian’s special position as the “church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). Being in jeopardy of death, the firstborn of Israel aptly represents the present condition of the Church. She is now under the blood of Christ. To leave that relationship and deny the blood, would mean second death (Hebrews 10:29). But remaining faithful to the blood means continued freedom from condemnation and sonship with God. This is the great freedom Christ provides for the Church.
Secondly, the Passover included another picture of freedom. At midnight, after the death of his own firstborn (Exodus 12:29), Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron that they must leave Egypt. It took ten destructive plagues to convince Pharaoh that he could not resist Israel’s God. Jehovah’s promise of liberation became a national reality. On the following day Israel left Egypt, never to return. Their deliverance from Egyptian slavery is a dramatic picture of mankind’s deliverance from Satan’s dominion. The resurrection will elicit the same joyful emotions that the fleeing Israelites must have felt. Only someone deprived of freedom can fully appreciate what it means to have the chains of oppression broken. The Passover, then, is a beautiful depiction of the two ages of salvation.
After leaving Egypt, the Israelites had much to learn and unlearn. What would their newfound freedom mean to a people accustomed to slavery? It was one thing to be free from bondage. But it was a more difficult challenge to stop thinking and acting like a slave. This principle carries a wide application.
When the world is resurrected from death, they will continue to think as before, through sinful tendencies and habits. The ransom will free them from Adamic condemnation, but the second, equally important aspect of redemption will be to free mankind from sinful thinking and practices. This will require great education offered through God’s New Covenant arrangement. It is little wonder that the process will take the greater part of a Millennium to bring man to true freedom of thought and action. Their freedom will one day be self-controlled by educated consciences and Christ-like thinking. This is the road to be traveled on man’s Leaving Egypt journey to freedom!
Categories: 2021 Issues, 2021-July/August