The Faithfulness of God

“Genesis 15 packs a remarkable punch for us: God himself is willing to suffer the curse of the covenant.” (Davis, ‘Faith of our Father’, p 65)

I came across this marvellous line by Dale Davis when I was preaching on the book of Genesis at the start of this year (2022). At the time I was also struck by an illustration that Davis then recounted. It was from a biography of the life of John Duncan. Here’s the anecdote with a little introduction to ‘Rabbi Duncan’ courtesy of Rev Dr Robert Rayburn:

Alexander Moody Stuart, one of the luminaries in the galaxy of great preachers in Scotland in the second half of the 19th century, recalled in his memoir of John Duncan, the celebrated and eccentric Rabbi Duncan, Presbyterian missionary to the Jews in Hungary and then professor of Hebrew in the Free Church Divinity School, an incident in a seminary class which Duncan was teaching.

In the winter of 1864, Dr. Duncan was reading part of Isaiah with his senior class. The particular passage I cannot remember, nor does it matter, for it only served as a suggestion of the cry in verse 1 of the 22nd Psalm, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ By the time Dr. Duncan had reached that point he had left his desk and, bent nearly double, was pacing up and down in front of the students’ benches, his snuff-box and pocket-handkerchief in one hand, a huge pinch of snuff occupying the fingers of the other, but utterly forgotten in the absorbing interest of his subject, our Lord’s sufferings for sinners, which he was turning over and looking at, now on this side, now on that, but all with a loving reverence, and as one who spoke in a half-sleeping vision, when suddenly a flash went through him as if heaven had opened. He straightened himself up, his face kindled into a rapture, his hand went up and the snuff scattered itself from the unconscious fingers as he turned to the class, more as it seemed for sympathy than to teach –‘Ay, ay, d’ye know what it was — dying on the cross, forsaken by His Father–d’ye know what it was? What? What? (as if somebody had given him a half answer which stimulated him, but which he had to clear out of his way, a very usual exclamation of his when wrapped in thought.) ‘What? What? It was damnation — and damnation taken lovingly.’ And he subsided into his chair, leaning a little to one side, his head very straight and stiff, his arms hanging down on either side beyond the arms of his chair, with the light beaming from his face and the tears trickling down his cheeks he repeated in a low intense voice that broke into a half sob, half laugh in the middle, ‘It was damnation–and he took it lovingly.’” [The Life of John Duncan, 104-105]

Davis notes that this is what Genesis 15:7-21 is all about – it is the willingness of God to suffer in its nascent stage of expression. Here is the God of the covenant: ‘You can almost see in Genesis 15 the nail-scarred hands of the covenant God. That’s how deep his commitment goes.’ (Davis, p 66).

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