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The Good News of Adoptive Sonship

by Dan Cruver Published Oct 20, 2010

An important biblical theme often overlooked by Christians is the sonship of Israel. When we hear the expression, son of God, we immediately think of Jesus (as we should), but we forget that the first son of God mentioned in Scripture is the nation of Israel.

Through the correspondence of two of Israel’s privileges listed in Romans 9:4 (“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, and the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”), we learn that God adopted Israel as His son at Mt. Sinai when He gave Israel the law. Israel officially became God’s son through adoption when He constituted Israel a nation at Mt. Sinai.

It was common for ancient Near Eastern nations to boast of having a father-son relationship with their gods. Most ancient religions believed that the gods bore their sons through human companions. These pagan nations, then, considered themselves to be the “natural” born sons of their particular god(s). This was the religious and cultural context in which Israel entered into a Father-son relationship with the true God. The difference was that Israel entered into this relationship through adoption. Romans 9:4 makes that clear.

Although Israel was not a “natural” son of God, they were not to devalue their adoptive sonship or consider it a second-class sonship in any way whatsoever. Rather, Israel was to cherish its adoptive sonship. They were not to look at the sonship status of the other nations and think of theirs as somehow inferior because they were adopted. In other words, Israel’s adoptive sonship was not to be viewed negatively at all, even though there would have been pressure from the surrounding nations to do so.

Given the religious and cultural context of the ancient Near Eastern world and Israel’s adoptive sonship, it’s significant that God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh to inform him that Israel is His firstborn son (see Exodus 4:22). This declaration to Pharaoh was followed by Moses’ warning that God would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son if he refused to let Israel go (Exodus 4:23).

Here’s why this is significant: God treated His adopted son, Israel, as if he were the firstborn son. In other words, God did not treat Israel as if Israel’s sonship were inferior. The implicit message of Exodus 4:22-23 is that Israel was the same to God as Pharaoh’s firstborn son was to him. It is clear from Moses’ words to Pharaoh that it was God’s great pleasure to give His adopted son all the rights and privileges enjoyed by a firstborn son.

God demonstrated His Father-son love for Israel not only through His deliverance of them from their affliction in Egypt (cf. James 1:27), but also through His unfailing care for them in the wilderness. The subsequent history of Israel, as God continued to deliver and guide them providentially, was a display of God’s deep love for His son.

There is much we can learn from this about our own adoptive relationship with God the Father. In Ephesians 1:5 Paul says that we were predestined “for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” The very next verse says that God blessed us with this amazing gift of grace “in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6).

Paul’s point here is nothing short of breathtaking: our adoption as sons was given to us in the one whom God the Father has eternally and continuously loved supremely. This means that what is true of the Beloved Son—he is loved with an eternal and infinite love—is also true of us. God the Father treats us even as He treats His natural and eternal Son. As Michael Barrett writes, “Christ is the supreme object of the Father’s love and those in Christ share in that never-ending, never-changing love . . . To be the objects of God’s love . . . is to be loved in the same way as and with the same infinite dimension with which the Father loves His only begotten Son” (Complete in Him, 112, 173-174).

That’s good news.

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  • Whitney Lopas

    Wow this is so good!
    Thank you so much for being a voice for the fatherless. The t4a conference opened up doors and solidified desires in our hearts. We are turning in our application for a Ukrainian adoption this week!

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