Apostasy in the Old Testament

Apostasy: claiming to know the one and only true God, yet not following His truth, His commands, and what He gives to His people. Cain offered a sacrifice to the one and true God, but had no faith. Ham saw with his very eyes the grace of God and was saved from the flood, yet left the covenant that was given to him and his family. Esau, the first born of Isaac, the first born who always receives the blessing, sold his blessing for a bowl of food because he was hungry. The people of the wilderness, saved from the hand of Egypt’s slavery, crossed the Red Sea and were in the very hand of God, yet fell into apostasy because they thought they knew better than the God that saved them. Then Jeroboam, a king over the people that God had protected and saved for nearly 4,000 years, thought that he knew better than the very covenant which God gave. Apostasy, like that of salvation, has its historical roots among the Lord’s people all throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Although at times in the Old Dispensation apostasy may seem like an individual act—such as with men like Cain, Ham, and Jeroboam—but in all of these cases, individual apostasy leads to corporate apostasy from the covenant which God has planned to save His elect people. Concluding thoughts upon apostasy in the Old Testament can only end with thinking of the LORD Himself. A person—a finite being—who has been brought into knowing the infinite God of creation, and who then walks away and breaks covenant in order to follow their own desires only deserves total damnation.  And yet God uses both the salvation of His people and the apostasy of His people for His purpose, and His good.

Often, when dealing with themes of the Old Testament such as salvation, Israel, and redemption, one speaks of the history of redemption or the plan of salvation in which the God of the covenants has come into with mankind. This is most commonly called in reformed theology, “redemptive history.” However, as we can see, the Old Testament has an apostate history as well. How God uses both of these themes for His good is hard for the human mind to comprehend; but for one who is in the covenant that God has given, the history of redemption for His people is much greater. When understanding the sovereign control of God in allowing apostasy through history, the one in the covenant can even enjoy the plan which God has made, and allowed, because of the fall of Adam/mankind. In this, the God of the covenants is that much more beautiful, and the coming Christ is that much more special.

Jeroboam’s Apostasy and the Davidic Covenant

Lastly, the Davidic covenant which was given to David, for the people, with the promise of the Messiah kingship, ends the covenants in the Old Testament.  Like that of any other covenant in the Old testament, the Davidic covenant was no different in the sense that apostasy ruled more than ever, to the point that all of that of Israel would fall until the coming of Christ. Aaron’s account of the people leaving the covenant in Exodus 32 has many similarities to Jeroboam’s account in 1 Kings 12 with the calves. Although, where Moses mediated for the sins of Aaron, the sins of Jeroboam go unrequited, to the point of leading to the destruction of Israel in total apostasy. Here Jeroboam’s symbols of the calves continue on throughout the history of the 10 tribes; even the purge of Jehu does not eradicate them in 2 Kings10:29.

Although the people of Aaron and the followers of Jeroboam “find blessing only through Zion,” the Davidic covenant ends with an awful ending. Some liberal scholars see Jeroboam’s act with the calves as just an act in a nation that differed, and not as an act of apostasy. As earlier mentioned, Dr. Gary Knoppers says, “That history, as Deuteronomistic commentary on the relationship between Israel and its deity, is unkind to the northern kingdom is therefore hardly surprising. Its course testifies to the enduring value of the Jerusalem temple.”[1] The problem with this view is that Dr. Knoppers’ understanding of the Word is warped as it does not see the Divine, but only sees a book of history written by people no better than himself. However, Jeroboam’s decision to worship the calves instead of the God of Israel that had come into covenant with them, would lead not only him, but also his followers—10 of the 12 tribes—into total apostasy. There is no better example of corporate apostasy than this in the history of mankind, with one man leading a nation of people into total disbelief. Some who carry the same view as Dr. Knoppers believe that Jeroboam’s intent was to differ from the others and head in his own direction as a nation. However, those who left and decided that their thoughts and beliefs were better than obeying God, were broken off from the God that came into covenant with them.

What makes matters worse for Jeroboam is that he was warned about what he was doing in breaking covenant with God. In 1 Kings 13:1-6 a man of God made the covenant clear:

“And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the LORD to Bethel. Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make offerings. And the man cried against the altar by the word of the LORD and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the LORD has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’” And when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” And his hand, which he stretched out against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. The altar also was torn down, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the LORD. And the king said to the man of God, “Entreat now the favor of the LORD your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” And the man of God entreated the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored to him and became as it was before.”

Jeroboam knew exactly what he was doing against the God of the covenant. Yet for Jeroboam that meant nothing; his desires and his flesh were more important and would only lead him into apostasy, leaving the covenant of the coming Christ to save His people. By the time that Jeroboam’s arrest came, his heart was completely hardened and he was far from God. His fall came spiritually, through his individual apostatizing from the covenant—which would also lead to the corporate apostasy of 10 tribes of Israel. What Jeroboam thought was war against Judah, was only war against the God that had came into covenant with Adam, and with Jeroboam’s people—the nation of God—Israel. Jeroboam would go on to reign physically as king of Israel; however, he would never be spiritually part of the covenant which God had made with his fathers of Israel.

[1] Gary N. Knoppers “Aaron’s Calf and Jeroboam’s Calves,” pp. 104.

Apostasy in the Mosaic Covenant

What happened to Esau in his desire to satisfy his hunger also happened to Israel is Exodus 32, as they sought to satisfy their desire for another mediator while Moses was on Mount Sinai. Israel had come out of captivity and knew that they were the LORD’s elect, being kept for God’s covenant. Yet in Exodus 32 they chose to come into corporate apostasy, making the golden calf, in which Aaron led them. Though Israel corporately apostatized many times throughout history, it was this act in the wilderness right after being brought out of Egypt that was the beginning of their continual falling from God.

In Exodus 32, Aaron leads an act of apostasy from God—the same God who had made a covenant with them just previously in Exodus 20. However, it is not that Aaron himself became an apostate as Cain, Ham, or Esau did, but it was his sinful act that would lead the people of the wilderness into apostasy at the given time, and for their future in the Mosaic covenant. Dr. Gary Knoppers (mentioned before) makes light of Aaron’s act of apostasy since his event was cut short and ended quickly, therefore not affecting the people of Israel. However, this is not true; for the people in the wilderness would wander for the next 40 years in the wilderness until those that were apostates died off. After the people made themselves a calf to bow to, Moses pleads on the people’s behalf. Here the intent of Aaron was deliberate, which can be seen by the way Moses treats the calf as a cult symbol. Here one sees a swift resolution as Moses’ plea for Aaron and the act of Aaron’s sin is dealt with right away. But for the people of the wilderness in Exodus 32:21-35, they never asked forgiveness for their sins—never repented—and as a result, fell away from the covenant that their LORD made with them.

“And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.” The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.”

Like the people that made the calf and did not repent, it was only the beginning of the constant corporate apostasy of Israel against their LORD throughout the Old Testament.

When speaking of the people in the wilderness, not many remember that the Epistle of Jude made a short, yet important, mention of them, which brings even more light to the corporate apostasy that Israel made in the wilderness.  Jude states in the verses of 4-5:

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

I make mention of the previous verse before Jude mentions the people in the wilderness because of Jude’s focus and warning against false teachers. Jude’s whole letter refers to the false teachers during the New Testament church, and here he immediately makes mention of those in the wilderness that were apostates. In verse four he speaks of false teachers and how their teachings come about, then moves into the reminder of those in the wilderness during the time of the Mosaic covenant who had fallen into apostasy. Jude brings the New Testament back to remember Israel—who knew the God of the covenant and knew that it was God that brought them out of Egypt, yet did not live accordingly. Israel had been brought into the covenant promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet fell into apostasy. Jude reminds his readers of the dangers of this; making mention that Israel’s apostasy had placed upon them a judgment, which kept them from reaching the Promised Land because of their disbelief and their apostasy.

Esau’s Apostasy and the Abrahamic Covenant

In Genesis 12 God initiates his three-fold covenant with Abram, promising him land, descendents, and a worldwide blessing. By Genesis 13 Abram and his wife left Lot and went to Haran where God once more promises land and descendents. In Genesis 15 God confirms His covenant with Abram by the sacrifice of three animals. Then in Genesis 17 Abram renews the covenant with God, changing his name to Abraham, as God promises a son through Sarah, who would be the beginning of his descendents. This is where the sign of the Abrahamic covenant is found—that circumcision would be given to males on the 8th day after their birth. Following this, in Genesis 22, is “God testing Abraham”—that is, the confirmation of the Abrahamic covenant through Abraham’s obedience in the binding of Isaac, as Moses writes in Genesis 22:16-18:

“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

However, just like the other covenants mentioned so far, the Abrahamic covenant also has an apostate linked to it. As previously there was Cain and Ham, a major apostate would also come—though a bit later—after this covenant: Isaac’s son Esau. Although both of Isaacs’s sons seem to have issues during their days, it was Esau that took much for granted; including his father’s blessing, being part of the covenant, and his birthright. Because of this, he would live a life apart from the God of the covenant. In Genesis 25 Rebekah gives birth to twins: Esau and Jacob. There are two major events that take place relating to Esau’s apostasy. One is found in Genesis 25, after Esau comes in from his hunting; he takes some stew from the ever sly Jacob in exchange for his birthright. Due to this, Esau would lose his covenant blessing, and that would forever haunt his life. The second event is found two chapters later, in Genesis 27, when Jacob actually steals Esau’s birthright by lying to his elderly father. Esau’s apostasy lies in the second event more than the first, as he reacts by threatening to kill Jacob.  Although these events alone tell us very little as to whether or not Esau was an apostate, the New Testament gives a little more light on the life of Esau in relation to his soul.

Besides the above-mentioned verses in the book of Genesis and three other short notes of him throughout the Old Testament, Esau’s next important revelation, dealing with the covenant and apostasy, is in Malachi 1. Here, the prophet brings the sovereignty of God and His election into play relating with the apostates of the covenant. Malachi starts his book making mention of Esau, saying in 1:2-3, ““I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” Malachi’s theology saw that God had a plan for redemption that involved electing some to be part of His covenant in order that they may live in obedience to Him. Here Malachi shows that God’s love is in control and is in all ways unconditional; and it is God’s love that is a blessing to those that are in the covenant. This is seen throughout all of Israel, including through Abraham, Moses, and David. When Malachi says in verse three “Esau I have hated[1],” he does not mean that God does not bless him, but rather is referring to the fact that Esau awaits the judgment of God because he is not part of the covenant that was given to his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. Understanding this then brings to light that the God who comes into covenant with mankind has elected both those that come into that covenant and those that do not. Which brings an important question to surface: “Does the God of the covenant made with Adam, Noah, and Abraham elect those that would become apostates?”

Pauline theology answers exactly that question as it explains that God, even before the birth of Esau and Jacob, had planned what was to happen in and out of the covenant. Paul quotes Malachi in Romans 9:13-18:

“As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”

What does Pauline theology give us in this text that Malachi’s does not? Here in Romans, Paul shows that the love of God is rooted in Israel and His covenant made to them through Jacob and not Esau. Paul’s theology places more importance upon God’s election looking at the fact that it was not because of Jacob that his seed was chosen, but it was because of the plan of God. With this said, if Esau was not chosen, did God plan for Esau to be hated, to be hardened, and to be an apostate? The answer is both yes and no. No, God did not have Adam fall in Genesis 3 for all of mankind, which resulted in Esau’s fall; but yes, God did know and has allowed for covenant breakers to differ from Him and His will for humanity. However, God has allowed and planned that some of mankind fall into apostasy in order to make Himself known among His people in His covenant.

Esau is very importantly mentioned in the New Testament once more, in the book of Hebrews, where the author says in chapter 12:15-17:

“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”

Here the writer focuses on the fact that Esau wanted to be part of the covenant and part of the blessing promised to Abraham in Genesis 22. However, by selling himself short he never gave himself a chance to repent, and therefore was led away into apostasy from the covenant that he had wanted so much, but couldn’t live under. Here the writer places Esau as the one who despised the covenant, never repenting once of his sin. Because of his hunger, he sold his soul to the devil and would never know the God of the covenant—the God that his brother, his father, and his grand farther knew. Even though Esau was born of the people of God, despising God only led to an unholy life of apostasy.

[1] Cf. on the usage of “hate” Ps. 5:5; Is. 61:8; Hos. 9:18; Amos 5:21; Mal. 2:16.

Ham’s Apostasy and the Noahic Covenant

One covenant often passed by is the covenant God made with Noah in Genesis 8:20-22; and even more passed by is the apostasy of Noah’s youngest son Ham, from that covenant. In Genesis 6:18 God tells Noah and his family of the covenant to come (after the flood) saying, “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” After the ark was made, the animals and Noah’s family were in it, and the waters came and went, God then gave a series of commands for Noah and his family’s new beginning (found between Genesis 9:1-15). Then, confirming His covenant to Noah, God says in Genesis 9:16-18:

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”

Here the new beginning of mankind is upon those that God found favor in—Noah and his family. Yet the fall of man still has its effect upon those that have been given everything, and so it is that Ham’s apostasy takes place. After all that God had done—saving Ham from the flood, saving his wife, coming into covenant with him and his family—he still had the desire to live his own way, and not the way of God who came into covenant with him. We see that within only a few verses after God gives those out of the ark his sign (bow) of the covenant, Ham had already forgotten about it. After the giving of the covenant, the story of Ham’s apostasy is the very next account written in history by Moses in Genesis 9:20-27:

“Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”

To what is was Ham exactly saw and told to his brothers is not given in the text, but by verse 25, Ham’s own father knew exactly what had happen to him, and curses his own son, and his son’s linage and land in Canaan.

Lastly, there is a similarity between Ham and Cain’s apostasy. Just as they were both individuals breaking the covenant which God had made with their fathers Adam and Noah, like Cain, Ham’s apostasy not only affected himself, but also his lineage and land. One of the most important facts about Ham’s apostasy is in Genesis 9—the foundation of the earliest monarchy in Babylonia by Nimrod, Ham’s grandson. The primitive Babylonian empire was thus Hamitic, and of a cognate race with the primitive inhabitants of Arabia and of Ethiopia. How is this important? It was here that Ham’s individual apostasy and the curse that was upon him for leaving the covenant becomes a corporate problem. The curse placed upon Ham at the end of Genesis 9 affects his lineage and land, which would later lead to the Jews’ subsequent extermination of the Canaanites—those of whom were from the line of Ham. Although God had promised in the Naohic covenant to never destroy the earth again, he never promised to not allow those that are in His covenant Israel to destroy those that are not (namely Ham) and the land in which the Canaanites dwelt.

Cain’s Apostasy and the Edenic Covenant

Genesis 3:15 would have given Adam hope that mankind would be given a redeemer because of his sin for all of humanity. It is in Genesis chapter three where the beginning of a number of major Old Testament themes begin, which are heavily talked about, written on, spoken of, and debated time and time again (such as the themes mentioned in this introduction). But by Genesis chapter four, the theme of apostasy roots itself deeply into the history of mankind, and from then on would never leave man alone. From this point on, every time God would make a covenant with man, man would then continue to break covenant with God constantly throughout Old Testament history.

By Genesis four, just years after the fall of man, comes a lineage of mankind that would plunge into following the way of Cain; that is, apostasy. As mentioned before, Dr. Herion makes his argument that God did not accept Cain’s offering simply because it was from the ground which God had cursed.[1] Like Dr. Herion, other scholars either forget, or simply do not use, the Old Testament’s commentary—the New Testament.[2] Unlike Dr. Herion’s reasoning, or anyone else’s reasoning, ideas, thoughts, or studies, the writer of the book of Hebrews has already answered Dr. Herion’s so-called profound question, “Why did God reject Cain’s offering?”[3] Dr. Herion and many Old Testament scholars miss Cain’s apostasy because they seemingly think it is not permissible to use what has been given to us in the New Testament. Like many issues and theological themes which begin in the Old Testament, the New Testament helps shed light on answering the many questions that arose over 6,000 years before it. If one was to ask such a question like Dr. Herion did—“Why did God reject Cain’s offering?—what would your answer be? Would you look only at that text? Would you only look at that book of the Bible? Or would you look at what is spoken of Cain’s life? To such a question, I can think of two passages that are helpful to answer it: Hebrews 11:1-7 and 1 John 3:12. The writer of Hebrews states in 11:1-7:

“11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 11:2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Although the answer to Dr. Herion’s question is found mainly in verse four—“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”—it is important to see the overall focus of the whole passage, and to notice how exactly Hebrews 11 sheds light on answering Dr. Herion’s question. How Dr. Herion, or anyone for that matter, cannot see clearly why God did not accept Cain’s offering is beyond me. The writer here says explicitly, “Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain.” But why is it more acceptable? The answer is given in the beginning of the verse—“By faith.” So it was because of Abel’s faith that God accepted his sacrifice, and it was by Cain having no faith that God did not accept his offering. Any other answer contrary to that which is given here in Hebrews 11:4, is false and should not be accepted. This is why Cain is the first apostate in history. With parents of the covenant, he was born and raised into the covenant that God had made with Adam, in which Cain left, and did not have faith in.

We see in Hebrews 11:1 that those who had faith also had their assurance in the things to come. In 11:2 we see the author shedding more light on the center of the passage (faith), stating that it is by faith that one has their assurance of the things hoped for; or on the other hand, receives their condemnation by not having faith. In 11:3 we see that God created everything not out of matter, but out of non-matter, and it is the faith of the person that leads to understanding such truth. Following this, the first example the author of Hebrews has for us in 11:4 is that of Cain and Abel’s offerings telling us that God accepted Abel’s because of his faith, and that he was commended as righteous and his gifts were accepted. To what kind of faith Abel had, the author does not leave room for more questions or multiple answers. In every way the faith that Abel had was a saving faith; and through this faith, he still speaks. In summary, the acceptance of the offering was evidence of God’s acceptance of the person, which “still speaks.” The story of Abel’s faith as recorded in the Bible, still speaks to generation after generation, and still to this day. This mention of Abel’s faith indicates that from the very outset of human history, some Old Testament figures were saved by means of faith in a sacrifice, which was a foreshadowing to the future sacrifice of Christ. This is why I made mention to reading not only Hebrews 11:4, but all of Hebrews 11:1-7. The author of the book of Hebrews reminds his readers by saying, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The question is not merely “Why God rejected Cain’s offering,” but “What saved Abel?” What saved Abel was his faith in giving his sacrifice as a foreshadowing of the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Likewise, we see Cain did not have faith—that is, faith of a coming sacrifice for mankind to which he would have known from his covenant parents Adam and Eve.

Here is it important to mention that Genesis 4 is not shedding light into why the sacrifice was not accepted, as it is written more for the pivotal point that the line of the wicked (Cain) and the line of The Lord’s people (Seth) was split. However, God did not let the question go unanswered; for when the history of redemption is reviewed by the writer of the book of Hebrews, as we saw earlier, the answer is clearly because Cain did not have faith. In this, not only does the writer of Hebrews destroy Dr. Herion’s theory/idea, but so does Genesis 3:14. Dr. Herion is arguing the whole time that the ground was cursed in Genesis 3:17-19; yet in Genesis 3:14 the animals were cursed also. Genesis 3:14 reads, “The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” Did Dr. Herion, or anyone else that agrees with his view, not see that both the animals and the ground were cursed? And that even more so, the animals were above everything else? If Dr. Herion’s argument were to exist, wouldn’t have Abel’s sacrifice not been accepted either? For both were cursed at the fall of mankind. When seeing this, that all of creation at man’s fall was cursed—mankind, animals, and the ground—then only the writer of Hebrews’ answer stands: that Cain was without faith in his sacrifice, and because of that, God did not, nor would He ever, allow any sacrifice.

It was Cain that had no faith in his sacrifice of “the fruit of the ground,” that would be honoring to the LORD. Even Cain himself knew from the beginning of his sacrifice that his fruit would have never been acceptable to the LORD. This shows his lack of faith; faith that one day a redeemer would come to save mankind, which was promised to his father Adam. As Genesis 4:3-4 says, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” Because Cain did not have faith that a redeemer—Christ—would come to save humanity, his individual apostasy became corporate apostasy that not only affected himself, but his lineage and his land in Nod.

The other text in the New Testament that sheds light upon Cain’s apostasy is 1 John 3:12, which says, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” Describing Cain as being “of the evil one” (that is, Satan) clearly shows us that Cain was a follower of Satan and therefore an apostate of the LORD. As John writes to his audience and describes to them what they are to avoid, he does not explain that Cain’s offering was cursed because it was from the ground, or that he happened to not know what to offer the LORD. Rather, John deliberately describes Cain as evil, and that his deeds which were not acceptable to the LORD are not what a Christian is to follow.  Thus, we are left with two major conclusions about Cain’s apostasy: One, he had no faith (Hebrews 11:4); and two, his intentions were nothing but evil before the LORD through the murder of his brother and as he never asked for forgiveness (1 John3:12).

[1] Herion, “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering: The Obvious Answer,*” pp. 52-54.

[2] I use the New Testament to help interpret the Old Testament for three reasons: 1. Jesus Christ did in the gospels, 2. The New Testament writers, namely Paul, did in his theology, and 3. Simply, I’m a Christian and evangelical, so I must.

[3] Herion, “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering: The Obvious Answer,*” pp. 52.

Why so much Apostasy in the Old Dispensation?

There are a number of themes throughout the Old Testament, but some are more easily seen than others. One reason that certain themes gain more attention than others is because of their reputation through the history of the Old Testament. Major themes that are easily seen include: covenant, grace, man, sin, atonement, redemption, exodus, exile, land, worship, Law, kingdom, and Messiah. However, there is one theme that is weaved in and out of God’s covenants with mankind, like that of the other major themes, yet is not treated the same. Apostasy in the Old Testament may not be one of the most popular themes, let alone even a fully devolved theme, but it was the theme of Israel time and time again. Looking back through the lens that the New Testament[1] gives us on the theme of apostasy, one can easily see Israel’s apostasy over and over both corporately and individually throughout all of the Old Testament.

When seeking the theme/doctrine of apostasy (or any theme/doctrine) in the Old Testament, which is a theme fully developed in the New Testament, it is unwise for one to try to force Old Testament texts to answer New Testament questions. In order to stay away from doing so, when one comes to the Old Testament text, it is better to see what questions one can come up with from the text itself. Doing so will allow one to maintain the meaning of text, answer the questions which the readers were asking, and most importantly, to see how exactly this particular passage fits into the history of the theme’s progression. This is where biblical theology must place an importance on the historiographical and the theological concern of the author’s intent. The typical systematic or confessional approach simply does no justice in this area; besides helping to spiritualize Old Testament texts so see one’s confessional beliefs, and not God’s breath through the authors of the Old Testament at the given time.

Although the theme of apostasy finds its fullness in the New Testament, one simply cannot leave out the development and examples of it in the Old Testament. Sadly, the Old Testament gives constant examples of both corporate and individual apostasy.  These are seen all throughout the Old Testament covenants. There is one exception, however, which is found in the covenant of creation in Genesis 2; for Adam was not an apostate. But from that point on—after the fall of mankind in Genesis 3—it seems as if God came into covenant with man, and man came into covenant with apostasy. From Adam in Genesis 3:15, to David and the kingdom in 2 Samuel 7, each of the next five covenants in the Old Testament have apostates that played a prominent role in the history of mankind—namely Israel—cursing their lineage throughout history.

Edenic Covenant


Cain the Apostate, Land of Nod apostasy

Noahic Covenant


Ham the Apostate, Land of Canaan apostasy

Abrahamic Covenant



Mosaic Covenant


Israel in the Wilderness apostasy

Davidic Covenant


Jeroboam the Apostate & the 10-tribes apostasy

Although these examples are commonly known Bible stories that most learn during Sunday School, they bring quite a unique play of events, as every single covenant has both those that take part of, and in, the covenant, and those that apostatize from the covenant. What seems to be right there in plain sight is something that some scholars somehow do not see throughout the Old Testament. On this issue, scholars such as Drs. Gary Herion and Gary Knoppers,[2] try to look deeper into the text for reasoning, or blame it on something other than the apostate’s own fault. For example, Dr. Herion, in his article “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering,”[3] defends his view that God did not accept Cain’s offering because it was taken from the cursed ground, which was not as acceptable to God as Abel’s animal sacrifice was. It is clear that Dr. Herion did not take into consideration the words of Hebrews chapter 11 at all, which tells us: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain.” Instead, Dr. Herion reads the Old Testament by itself, neglecting to use the number one Old Testament commentary with it—the New Testament. This hurts Dr. Herion’s understanding of theology, and as such, blinds him from understanding that Cain was the first apostate from the Edenic covenant, and therefore the first apostate out of all history. Another example is Dr. Knoppers’ article on comparing the biblical narratives of “Aaron’s Calf and Jeroboam’s Calves.”[4] Dr. Knoppers writes about how there are a number of similarities between the stories of Exodus 32 and 1 Kings 12; however, instead of seeing how Jeroboam leads the 10-tribes into apostasy and away from the Lord, Dr. Knoppers says that the only reason that Jeroboam is portrayed as a bad-guy is because the author of 1 Kings is “unkind to the northern kingdom.”[5] Thus he ends his article completely missing the point of Jeroboam’s apostasy.

These are merely two examples of those that often overlook apostasy as just an event which had taken place at some point in history. Drs. Herion and Knoppers are only two of the many scholars who either try to find a hidden meaning in the Scriptures which have not been found yet over the past 6,000; or make excuses as to why one is not an apostate, blaming their situation on something completely different. What scholars like this miss, is the history of events of apostasy throughout the Old Testament. God Himself, time and time again, came into covenant with mankind and there were always both those that obeyed and followed Him, and those that broke off and lived according to their own desires, which God Himself allowed. Just as there were those who represented the covenant on mankind’s side—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus in the Nee Covenant—there were also covenant breakers for each. To look at it another way: just as the covenants were given to men whom God had planned, in order to progress the plan for redemption for God’s people, there were also men—whom God planned—that would break the covenant and fall away from the LORD into apostasy. This is one area of biblical theology that needs more attention; that is, the progression of the covenant breakers that apostatized from the LORD through the Old Dispensation.[6]

[1] Cf. The number of passages in the New Testament warning against and dealing with apostasy: Matthew 7:21-23; 10:33; 24:24; Luke 8:5-15; John 15: 1-8; Acts 5:5; 10; 8:13, 20-24; Romans 8:13; 11:20-22; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 4:1; 5:8, 11-12; 2 Timothy 2:11-13, 17-19; Hebrews 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; James 5:19-20; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 1 John 5:16-17; Revelation 3:5; 22:18-19. It is through these passages the theme/doctrine of apostasy is fully built, which gives one a lens with which to look back through the Old Testament for apostasy. After seeing the full flow of apostasy, one can go back to the Old Testament and see the roots of apostasy in Israel’s history.

[2] Dr. Gary A. Herion is the Professor of Religious Studies in the Humanities Department at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. Herion teaches on a number of different levels at The Hartwick College Religion Department; ranging from Introduction courses such as Understanding Religion and Introduction to the Bible; Intermediate courses such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament and New Testament; to several Advanced courses like Jesus in Myth, Tradition and History, Hebrew Storytelling, The Prophets of Israel, and Paul’s New Testament Writings.

Dr. Gary Knoppers, since 2002, has been the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies at The Pennsylvanian State University. Dr. Gary N. Knoppers studied Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on “”What Share Have We in David?”: The Division of the Kingdom in Kings and Chronicles” under the direction of Frank Moore Cross Jr. His most popular work is his 2-volume set in The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries on 1 Chronicles, which granted him the R. B. Y. Scott award in May of 2005 from the Canadian Biblical Studies. He has written, contributed to, and edited nine books and written over 75 articles dealing with issues on his numerous fields, such as: Ancient Historiography, Old Testament Biblical Theology, The Books of Kings and Chronicles, Comparative Ancient Near Eastern Religions, Inner Biblical Exegesis, and Northwest Semitic Epigraphy.

[3] Gary A. Herion “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering: The Obvious Answer,*” Fortunate the Eyes that See: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman In celebration of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Astrid B. Beck, Andrew H. Bartelt, Paul R. Raabe, and Chris A. Franke. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1995), pp. 52-65.

[4] Gary N. Knoppers’ “Aaron’s Calf and Jeroboam’s Calves,” Fortunate the Eyes that See: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman In celebration of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Astrid B. Beck, Andrew H. Bartelt, Paul R. Raabe, and Chris A. Franke. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1995), pp. 92-104.

[5] Dr. Knoppers’ JEDP theory both robs the Scripture of its’ historical value, but worse, robs God of His authorship, allowing the author’s feelings and thoughts to override God’s intent of the Scripture. Cf. Dr. Knoppers’ concluding thoughts on why Jeroboam is looked down upon in Israel’s history pp. 102-4.

[6] Old Dispensation: meaning the Old Testament administration of the Covenant of Grace in the 5 Covenants given to mankind. Edenic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic.