Sunday, April 07, 2013

Thinking about covenants (and oral bible stories)

We have been telling stories in Genesis for quite a while now. It could be argued that we have been bogged down in Genesis, but then again we have learnt so much. In fact I would go so far as to say that we have relearnt a lot.

As we embarked on telling stories orally to students here in Siberia we did not know just what stories from the old testament we should include, and when we would then move on to Jesus. I have often argued in the past that it is not wise to rush to the new testament too quickly. One of the things we realised as we studied bible translation, was that many of the key terms needed in the new testament can actually be discovered by going through the old testament first. In the same way, it has been the stories of the old testament that have revealed to us, just how many we also need to share.

Quite a while back I wrote a blog on The First Covenant. I had a bit of a personal revelation after telling the story of Noah to some of our indigenous Siberian friends. I realised that a covenant was all about God taking territory back on earth. When he made a covenant with Noah, this was ground that the devil could not take back from God, even though he claimed the rest of the planet. It was God's first step in his plan for victory to reclaim everything.

With this enlarged view of covenants other revelations have laid in wait for us as we have continued to share oral bible stories. There is clearly a big thing going on between God and Abraham. God makes a promise to bless all nations through Abraham. This is a covenant of massive prophetic levels. God is now laying out his plan to claim everything back. If we look at the Abrahamic covenant we will see that all nations on earth are included in it. It is therefore very relevant for all peoples who have never heard the story before. In fact, I would even say that they are provided for or covered by the Abrahamic covenant, even though they still need to place faith in it.

Our understanding of scripture is that Isaac is the son of the promise, who God promised to Abraham. It was through Isaac's line that God would bring his message of salvation to the world. This is of course true, but there is more to the Abraham story than meets the eye. On more than one occasion, something interesting has happened when we have come to the story of Ishmael, when sharing it with Siberian indigenous peoples.  (Bear in mind that we were even tempted to skip over this "irrelevant" story.) Each time we shared the story, the listeners were convinced that Ishmael was the son of the promise. We told them, wait on, the story will reveal someone else.

On deeper reflection, there is something going on with the Ishmael story. He is not God's original plan, Isaac is. But at the same time, God does not reject Ishmael. In fact God even decides to bless Ishmael and bring about a great nation through Ishmael too. When God made his covenant with Noah, he enlarged his tent in this world. When he made his covenant with Abraham he enlarged his tent again. When Ishmael came along (a mistake by Abraham), God decides to incorporate Ishmael into his plan.

Ishmael was not part of God's original plan, but God decides to enlarge his tent through Ishmael anyway. If you like, Ishmael is an annex to the Abraham tent, even though the front chamber is still in Isaac's name. This means that the Arab's exist in provision under the line of Ishmael as a blessed nation.

Every single covenant made in scripture needs to be fulfilled by Jesus the King. We as believers now live under the new covenant of Jesus. The covenants of Noah and Abraham apply to us as gentiles, and then it is Jesus who fulfils these covenants and then brings completion through his sacrifice. As gentiles we were never and should never be under the Mosaic covenant. Paul argued rightly in the new testament that the Jerusalem church should not bring gentiles in under the Mosaic covenant. The Jerusalem church were under the Mosaic covenant, but this was still incomplete without the new covenant of Jesus to fulfil it.

If Jesus fulfils all covenants, then he also fulfils the Ishmaelic sub-clause of the Abrahamic covenant that applies to Arabs. When Muslims claim Ishmael we should not be so quick to tell them they are wrong. But we should point them to Isa (Jesus) who is the only true fulfilment of the Ishmaelic sub clause. This of course means that there is no such thing as a Mohumadic covenant.

When we are bringing the gospel to people, we need to consider what covenants they are under before bringing them to the new covenant. For Jews, this means they need to come in through the Mosaic covenant first and then on to Jesus. But this does not apply to any other peoples. For Muslims, or Arabs at least (I haven't figured out whether they are to be considered the same or not), they need to come in through the Abrahamic covenant with the Ishmaelic sub clause. For most peoples of the world however it is enough for them to come first through the Noahic and then Abrahamic covenants, before they finally come to Jesus and his perfect new covenant, in which we are all provided for.

This deeper understanding of covenants has brought us to the place where we realise that we do need to share all of the oral bible stories from Genesis 1 to the end of Abraham. But for the majority of peoples in the world, it is then appropriate to move on to Jesus next.