“Rules are made to be broken,” or so the saying goes. However, more accurately, “The exception proves the rule.” In our study of the Dispensations of Scripture, we will see that there are many exceptions to the prescribed rules, but these exceptions go to prove that the rules God set in place are serious, and any deviation from them is only by God’s express will.
Under each specific Dispensation or Covenant, God put in place a specific set of “house rules” or commands to the people under that Dispensation or Covenant. We will see, however, that God chooses sometimes to allow specific Grace to individuals. What sometimes confuses people is that oftentimes Biblical writers use these exceptions to make spiritual points that directly “contradict” the actual doctrinal application. Let’s see what we’re talking about here.
Enoch was born under the Dispensation of “Conscience,” where man was to be governed by the innate understanding of good and evil received when Adam took of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden. However, somehow Enoch was able to walk with God and have a good testimony when very few others were seeking God. The Bible does say that men began to call upon the LORD in the days of Enoch’s great-great-grandpa Enos, but it was during this time that Satan began his attempt to corrupt the bloodline of Jesus Christ (the seed of the woman) that ended with the Flood in Genesis 7 wiping out all of humanity except for Noah and his family.
Enoch is one of the two people in the Bible that did not die a physical death. This appears to go contrary to many Bible verses that talk about all men dying and death reigning as a result of Adam’s sin, but as we stated in our premise, the exception proves the rule, it does not negate it.
There are two extra-canonical books that speak of Enoch: one is the Book of Enoch, and the other is the Book of Jasher. Jasher is unique in that the Bible itself refers to it, though there is little evidence that the current book titled the Book of Jasher is actually the correct, historical book referred to in the Bible.
Regardless, Enoch was very clearly a preacher of righteousness that served God faithfully for many years, even though his life was shorter than anyone recorded before him (other than Abel, obviously). Enoch spoke of the Second Coming of Christ, warning of coming judgment (historically the Flood, doctrinally the Second Coming) (Jude 14).
Clearly, Enoch received blessings not promised to his Dispensation; however, God had specific reasons for His dealings with Enoch.
Abraham is a fun one, since so many people who don’t Rightly Divide the Scriptures always use Romans chapter 4, speaking of Abraham, to “prove” that Old Testament saints were saved just like we are today. Of course, not one of the OT saints had any clue that the Messiah would be the Son of God, nor that He was coming to die on the cross (“cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree”!!), or that He would return to Heaven for over two thousand years and include the Gentiles in the spiritual blessings of Israel!
Abraham is an exception because God made promises to him that were not only specific to him, but those promises were completely unconditional: they were not based on Abraham’s obedience, faith, or anything else! While later promises to Israel were conditioned with a caveat that their disobedience would result in punishment, Abraham never got those conditions or caveats. Everything was based on God’s grace, regardless of Abraham’s faith!
However, one thing we must recognize is that the Bible clearly separates Abraham’s Sanctification from his Justification, unlike a Believer in the Church age.
Genesis 15:6: And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Romans 4:3: For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Galatians 3:6: Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
James 2:23: And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Clearly, Abraham was Sanctified as a result of his faith when he believed God’s word about a son. However, we find something wholly different about his Justification.
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
The general application of this verse is that Abraham’s works justified him in front of people, but that is not what the Bible says. Also, what people was he justified before? It was only Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah!
It is important to note here, again, the doctrinal and spiritual applications used by the writers of Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Paul used Abraham to make his point of righteousness coming only by faith, while James used Abraham to make his point that justification requires works as a proof of faith. When we understand that Paul was writing to the Church, while James was writing to the Jews (James 1:1), we can see that these books apply differently, to different groups of people at different times in history. Don’t get confused by James 2: the author was speaking to Jews, not you.
A somewhat sad but useful exception is Samson, who broke dozens of the Laws of Moses, yet somehow still wound up in the so-called “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. A cursory reading of Samson’s life reads like an episode of “The Jerry Springer Show,” yet God still used him to judge Israel and free them from the bondage that they experienced as a result of their sinful disobedience.
David is yet another “fun” example, as he is also used repeatedly to “prove” that everyone through history receives salvation the same exact way. However, David is unique because of the special mercy that he received; such, in fact, that the phrase is used, “the sure mercies of David” (Is. 55:3, Acts 13:34).
Repeatedly, God praises David for his uprightness, but there’s always one caveat: the matter of Uriah the Hittite (1 Ki. 15:5). In that situation, David broke two Laws for which the penalty was death: he committed adultery, and he killed a man. David should have been put to death, and under the Old Testament economy, he would have gone straight to Hell (Ez. 3:20, 33:14-16). However, God gave him space to repent and “put away” David’s sin.
In Romans 4:6-8, Paul uses David’s situation to make a Spiritual point about Salvation. Obviously, from understanding God’s rules for obedience in the Old Testament, David didn’t have eternal security or salvation by grace through faith alone: he had to obey God, keep the Law, perform the required sacrifices, and all of the rest. However, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, used David to prove his point.
Romans 4:6: Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Clearly this situation is abnormal, and even David’s words give evidence of that, but Paul is perfectly correct in what he says, that the imputation of righteousness without works is an incredible blessing. This imputation of God’s righteousness (like Abraham’s) is Sanctification, which is without exception (?) received by God’s grace alone. However, David’s Justification,which is God declaring David’s own works righteous, is a different matter, and occurred at a different time than David’s Sanctification. It’s clear that David was Justified in the matter of Uriah the Hittite as a result of his repentance and sorrow (Psalm 51).
Psalms 51:11: Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
One can either argue that David was ignorant and the Holy Spirit that was inspiring him didn’t see fit to correct David’s doctrine, or we can accept that David most certainly could have lost the Holy Spirit and therefore didn’t have the Eternal Security that we have today. Before John the Baptist, we do not see the Holy Spirit indwelling people: the Spirit came upon people, but did not indwell them until we get to the New Testament.
- The Woman at the Well (Samaritan woman)
During His earthly ministry, Christ told His disciples not to minister to the Gentiles, or to deal with Samaritans.
Matthew 10:5: These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
However, there was an exception to this rule, one that has been preached on more than probably any other Bible story. When Christ was traveling from Judea to Galilee, He chose to go through Samaria, an area populated with Jewish half-breeds that were looked down on by the rank-and-file Jews. While there, He spoke to a woman who was, to say the least, of loose morals.
Christ informed her of many things, most importantly about a personal salvation of sorts. Obviously, since Christ had not yet died, the woman could not have been saved “by grace through faith” in Christ’s shed blood, but her belief and obedience brought her understanding to the end that Jesus was the Messiah. Obviously she was still expecting a Warrior-King to set up a Jewish nation, but she at least understood Who Christ was, even if she misunderstood His current purpose.
Obviously this is nowhere near an exhaustive study of the exceptions that God has made through history. However, it is a good starting point both to better understand how God deals with people according to His own will, and for personal study, so we don’t get confused when we see these exceptions to the rules in the Bible.