Thou and Thy House
Genesis is the book of beginnings, the seed plot of the Bible. It is the window to the Scriptures. Much of what is developed further finds in origin in the Bible’s first book. Its study provides a firm foundation for all else that follows. Unvarying divine principles adorn its pages, principles that are followed throughout the rest of the sacred record. The student who invests in this book will reap the rewards of understanding in the rest of the divine revelation.
Now one of the many unwritten laws of biblical interpretation is the law of first mention. Very often the first time a word, a phrase or an incident occurs we have the key to its use throughout Scripture—and many of these first mentions are unsurprisingly found in Genesis. The first instance of the word house is in Gen. 7: 1: “And Jehovah said to Noah, Go into the ark, thou and all thy house; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation”. This is the first house that is mentioned in Scripture. Not only that, but this word house is encased in the first mention of a phrase that occurs in one form or another throughout the Bible: thou and thy house. What can we learn from this? What divine principle is enshrined here? Let us look into the matter.
The House of Noah and the Flood
The first thing to be considered as ever is the context in which this verse is set. We read earlier “And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of Man was great on the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually … And Jehovah said, I will destroy Man, whom I have created, from the earth … But Noah found favour in the eyes of Jehovah” (Gen. 6: 5–8). Man’s sin was so great that God was going to execute judgement by destroying man with a universal flood. Yes, from subsequent Scriptures, this first judgement foreshadows God’s final judgment. Yes, those swept away in the waters of the flood, having no faith, will be eternally lost. But those truths are not brought before us here. Whatever application may be made of these events in the context of Gospel preaching, it is the interpretation that we need to understand. As has often been said, Scripture may have many applications but only one interpretation. It is not a question here of heaven or hell. There is no thought of eternity in these verses. It is a judgement on earth and in time that is before us. Against this background, God was going to save one house from that judgement, and that house was Noah’s. What was the basis of this salvation? The faith of each individual in Noah’s house? No. The answer is “for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation” (Gen. 7: 1, my emphasis). It was the righteousness of one man alone and it had nothing to do with the spiritual state of any other members of his family. Actually, we learn later that one of Noah’s sons was far from righteous, so much so that his action resulted in a curse (see Gen. 9: 25). Thus God will preserve the whole house from the judgment waters of the flood solely on the basis of the righteousness of its head. We should also note that Noah’s sons were not children but adults, for they were all married. This first and most important example shows us that God distinguishes between the house of a man of faith and all other houses. However, that distinction is for time and on earth. It has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s ultimate eternal destination. From this one Scripture we learn this truth, that so far as matters on earth are concerned, God identifies a man’s house with the man himself. The proof that this is a divine principle is that it will be seen again and again throughout the Scriptures. It is the first and most telling example of ‘thou and thy house’.
The House of Lot in Sodom
The next example that I want you to consider is Lot’s house in Sodom. The context is another judgement scene. Again, the setting is earth and time. There is no thought of heaven and hell or eternity involved in what is taught here. It is not now a universal judgement on the earth, but a limited one on the cities of the plain (see Gen. 19: 24, 25). It is also not by water but by fire, solemn harbinger of God’s final judgement of a universe marred by sin (see 2 Pet. 3: 10–12). The context here is again one of time. In one of those cities there is, like Noah, one righteous man—although we have to wait almost to the end of the Bible before that is revealed to us. For some, his conduct in Genesis would raise many a question as regards his righteousness. However, Scripture is clear: “… and saved righteous Lot, distressed with the abandoned conversation of the godless, (for the righteous man through seeing and hearing, dwelling among them, tormented [his] righteous soul day after day with [their] lawless works,)” (2 Pet. 2: 7, 8). Note however, that while Lot’s name is coupled with that of Noah’s in Peter’s epistle, a measure of distance is introduced by the record of Genesis. Noah and his house were secured safely in the ark directly by God: “And Jehovah shut him in” (Gen. 7: 16), but with Lot, the intervention, like the judgement, is not direct but angelic, implying a degree of distance. Now what is the question the heavenly visitors ask Lot? “Whom hast thou here besides? A son–in–law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and all whom thou hast in the city—bring [them] out of the place. For we are going to destroy this place, because the cry of them is great before Jehovah, and Jehovah has sent us to destroy it” (Gen. 19: 12, 13). The words Whom has thou here besides clearly refer to the composition of his house. Again, we have similar circumstances for Lot as for Noah: a coming judgement on earth and in time, in which the house of a righteous man is identified with the man himself so far as his position on earth is concerned. Again, those known as composing Lot’s house were all adults. Sadly, subsequent circumstances tell us that Lot lost all except his two daughters, and they were hardly marked by righteousness (see Gen. 19: 30–38). It was by the righteousness of one man that salvation came to the house.
The Houses of Israel on The Passover Night
This is yet another judgement scene. It is not the world, nor a group of cities but this time it is a whole nation that is to come under judgment. “Thus saith Jehovah: About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt. And all the first born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sitteth on his throne, even unto the firstborn of the bondwoman that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of cattle” (Ex. 11: 4, 5). Now the Passover night is often rightly applied to the Gospel with the preacher dwelling much on the words “when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex. 12: 13), but our present business is with interpretation and not application. For this we must take full account of the words “On the tenth of this month let them take themselves each a lamb, for a father’s house, a lamb for a house” (Ex. 12: 3). It is not a lamb for an individual, but a lamb for a father’s house This what the Bible says. God is going to destroy all the first–born males in the land of Egypt. Once again, this judgment is in time and on the earth. The blood of the lamb was to be put “on the two door–posts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it” (v7). It is clearly again a household matter. All within any house that had the blood applied were safe from the destroying angel. The blood alone secured the safety of those within the house. If an Egyptian firstborn had sought shelter within the house of an Israelite that had the blood, he would have been just as safe as every Israelite within that house. The composition of the individuals within the house, or their individual spiritual state, was irrelevant in the matter. Even if they failed to eat the roasted lamb, or ignored the injunctions on dress (see Ex. 12: 8–11), the house was still safe as long as the blood was there. One thing alone mattered: the blood on the lintel and the door posts. If the blood was applied, then that house was safe. Without multiplying words, the principle is once again evident that in time and on earth, God identifies a man’s house with the man whose house it is.
The House of Rahab in Jericho
My final example in the OT is the house of Rahab in Jericho. Jericho is the city of a curse (see Josh. 6: 26) and God was going to destroy it. This time the judgment is not on the whole world, not on a whole nation, not on a collection of cities but on a single city—Jericho. Yet again, this is a judgment in time and on earth, although often taken up in the preaching of the Gospel and rightly applied to eternal matters. But our business is with interpretation. God is going to bring something truly remarkable out of this place. He has His eye on a woman, not a man. Her life to date would hardly find a parallel in Lot, let alone Noah. Rahab was a harlot—her life was morally in keeping with that of Jericho’s inhabitants. Yet God is not only going to bless that woman but elevate her to a position of great privilege. She is going to be placed in the line of the Messiah. She will be one of the four women mentioned in the genealogy of the Christ in Matthew. Joshua 2: 1–24; 5: 13–6: 27 details the events of the fall of Jericho. The spies sent out by Joshua came to Rahab’s house and she hid them from the king of Jericho. She had heard all that God had done and she says to the spies “We heard [of it], and our heart melted, and there remained no more spirit in any man because of you; for Jehovah your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. And now, I pray you, swear to me by Jehovah, since I have dealt kindly with you, that ye will also deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a certain sign, that ye will let my father live, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that belong to them, and deliver our souls from death” (Josh. 2: 11–13). In the NT the comment of the Holy Spirit on Rahab is succinct: “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with the unbelieving, having received the spies in peace” (Heb. 11: 31). The one distinguishing feature of Rahab was that she was marked by faith. Once again we have the whole house saved because of the faith of one. But what is distinctly remarkable here is that Rahab is a woman. She is not the head of the house. She has both a father and a mother, as well as brothers and sisters. She has no family seniority whatever. Yet she doesn’t just ask for herself but for “my father’s house” (Josh. 2: 12). Her house was on the city wall. It was to be identified by the scarlet thread bound in the window, a detail in itself that speaks volumes. But we must pass over any Gospel application for we are concerned now, as in previous examples, with the interpretation. Yes, her faith saved her soul for all eternity, but that is not before us here. On the basis of her faith the whole house is saved, not for heaven and eternity, but for time and on earth. When Jericho’s walls fell, the house of Rahab stood. Scripture records: “And Joshua saved alive Rahab the harlot, and her father’s household, and all that she had, and she dwelt in the midst of Israel to this day; because she hid the messengers whom Joshua had sent to spy out Jericho” (Josh. 6: 25). The principle taught is crystal clear. God identified Rahab’s house with Rahab, so far as her position on earth was concerned. Note the extension of the principle now brought out. Remarkably (and possibly uniquely), here the identification of the house with one in the house is maintained, but it is not just the head of the house but any one within the house who exercises faith that secures the house.
There are other examples in the OT that we could look at but I think that these four with their distinctive settings are more than sufficient. They clearly establish the principle that a man’s household is identified with that man. However, perhaps you are thinking that the principle is limited to the OT. This is not so, for the NT has several examples (see Luke 19: 1–10; 1 Cor. 1: 15–17 etc.). I will take just one, an example whose details closely match our four OT examples. Before I do so, let me point out a simple truth. If you get the interpretation of a Scripture correct, then it will open the door for other Scriptures, including ones that were previously difficult to understand.
The Jailor’s House in Philippi
This, as in previous examples, is a judgment scene. It is not even a single city now, such as Jericho, but a prison. Paul and Silas have been wrongly apprehended, scourged and thrust into jail. “And having laid many stripes upon them they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely; who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison, and secured their feet to the stocks” (Acts 16: 23, 24). He who had sent an angel to lead Peter out of prison (see Acts 5: 19), sends an earthquake to release Paul and Silas. Once again, this divine intervention in judgment is on earth and in time. Like the Passover, it is another of the Bible’s midnight scenes. Now in all the previous cases, the salvation involved belonged not just to the individual but to the house. It was not for eternity, but for time. Why should it be any different here? Sadly, the truths of the Gospel are often pressed in an unbalanced way that clouds over the details that we have in the passage. Salvation for eternity must always be greater than any salvation in time, but it is not the only salvation that the Bible contemplates. Hence, we must never read into Scripture what is not there on the one hand, or take out what is there on the other. Thus the reply to the jailor’s query is often only half–quoted by the Gospel preacher: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved” (Acts. 16: 31). But this was not all that was said. The complete reply was “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16: 31, my emphasis). Like our first example of Noah and his house it is another clear ‘thou and thy house’ Scripture. The literal rendering of the Greek is unquestionable: The word believe is a command in the singular addressed to the jailor alone. The parallels with our previous examples, and that of Noah in particular, cannot be set aside. Let us look at the details with care.
The word of the Lord was spoken to all in the house, but the matter is recorded in such a way that the jailor takes the prominent place: “and they spoke to him the word of the Lord, with all that were in his house” (v32). When it says Paul and Silas were washed from their stripes, the action is attributed to the jailor (see v33). Likewise, when he brought them into his house and laid the table for them, the action again is recorded as the jailor’s (see v34), although others, such as slaves, may have acted under his directions. The joy of the occasion is recorded by the words “rejoiced householdly” (v34, literal rendering)—a weaker expression than that of “with all that were in his house” (v32) used previously. As to baptism, we read “and was baptised, he and all his straightway” (v33) which is an elliptical statement, the assumed sense being ‘he and all his house’. However, the critical question is ‘Who believed?’ If this NT example embodies the principle ‘thou and thy house’ that we have seen in the OT Scriptures, then we will find that faith is attributed to one person only. The words are “having believed in God” (v34), and in English this carries a degree of vagueness as to who is referred to. However, the words having believed in Greek are a single word, a participle in the perfect tense. Participles are really verbal adjectives and thus in Greek they have number (singular or plural) and gender (masculine, feminine or neuter). This participle is masculine singular. Unquestionably, the sense is thus ‘he having believed in God’. Faith is thus limited to the jailor alone.
Now clearly all who are baptised are baptised here on earth and not in heaven. Writing to Christians, Paul says “We have been buried therefore with him by baptism unto death”. Death is God’s judgment on man’s sin. The apostle goes on to say “in order that, even as Christ has been raised up from among [the] dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6: 4). Where does that walk take place? On earth and in time, that is now. But does baptism save? It does in regard to time and earth. Strikingly, Peter connects the salvation associated with baptism with the salvation of Noah’s house, speaking of the time “when the long suffering of God waited in [the] days of Noah while [the] ark was preparing, into which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water: which figure also now saves you, [even] baptism …” (1 Pet. 3: 20, 21). Thus baptism saves for earth and time, separating the house that is baptised from all others in the eye of God. The parallels with Noah’s house and the jailor’s house are unavoidable. Hence our one NT example is entirely in keeping with our OT examples establishing the Biblical principle of “thou and thy house”.
Many other examples could have been taken up in addition to those given. Abraham, Eli, David and others could have been used from the OT and Zaccheus, Stephanus and Lydia from the NT. However, the examples taken should serve to illustrate the important principle seen throughout the Scriptures, that so far as the position on earth is concerned, God identifies a man’s house with that man.