Living in the Story: Creation and Covenant
Let’s begin with a quick review of where we’ve got to so far.
- We began the series by noting it was important we know the story we’re in so that we’re shaped by the biblical story rather than the story of the western world.
- We then considered the story of creation; how it was the story of God creating his temple to be the place of his presence and rule. We also saw the vocation given to human beings to subdue and serve the world and to be the means through which God was present to his world.
- Then we saw how humans mucked all that up through trying to set up a centre of functioning outside of God. Instead of order it produced chaos.
- Last week we saw how Baptism recapitulates the exodus story and a gift to the church to remind us that we are the new exodus people.
- This week we consider creation and covenant.
According to the Scriptures
There’s quite a few places in the Bible where I wish I knew more. One such place is here:
Luke 24:27 (NRSV)
27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
I really would have loved to have heard what Jesus told them because that’s one that had always puzzled me. Apart from passages that are pretty clear, especially ones in Isaiah, it didn’t seem to me there was a whole lot about Jesus in the OT. What verses did he actually use in his interpretation? In the last couple of years or so I’ve come to realise that a lot of the cause for my puzzlement lies with what has been my reduced gospel that really didn’t need much of the OT beyond Gen 3. Apart from needing Gen 3 to explain our need for forgiveness, a gospel whose focus starts at the cross and is primarily about being forgiven and getting to heaven really doesn’t have much need or use for most of the OT. That’s one of the reasons why we’re picking up this theme—to show that the story of the gospel is far bigger than we usually paint it. Once again I’m making fairly heavy use of Tom Wright as the person who has helped me see and understand so much more than I ever used to.
A lot of things happen after the entrance of sin into the world.
- The quite rapid degeneration into murder and violence.
- The Flood.
- The Tower of Babel.
Chapter 12 marks a significant change.
Genesis 12:1-3 (NRSV)
1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
It’s almost as though the story of God’s interaction with Abraham suddenly bursts into the story. The sense we get is that, given all that had gone before—not a lot of which was that good—God was about to do something new.
Because we’ve visited this passage a number of times before, I’m not intending to look at it again today, except to say this. Remember how earlier on we talked about what makes a good plot:
- set the scene,
- something goes wrong,
- it’s fixed up,
- happily ever after.
So far we’ve seen the first two parts of the plot; chapter 2 moves us into the start of the 3rd. In making a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, God set in train the means by which the problems of the human situation would be resolved. God’s purpose and calling for humanity—as set out at creation—hadn’t changed, but Adam and Eve had mucked it up. God’s purpose was that things would get back on track again through Abraham and Sarah. We know that that’s the case because there’s a direct parallel between the creation story and God’s covenant with Abraham.
Creation – Covenant Parallels
I have a number authors of fiction that I quite like. One such author is Michael Connelly who writes the Harry Bosch novels. The stories essentially follow Bosch’s career as a detective, and the later books are stories that happen after he’s officially retired. It’s usually possible to read stories like that out of sequence, but to do that is to run the risk of ending up with huge gaps. It’s much better reading them in order because you get the flow of the bigger story.
The gospel as it is often expounded leaves huge gaps. It begins at creation, uses the fall to explain the entrance of sin, and then leaps straight over the rest of the OT to get to the cross. To do that is not only to miss a whole slab of the story, but also to be at risk of misunderstanding or misinterpreting the later parts. The story of God’s covenant with Abraham actually lays significant groundwork for what’s to come later in the bigger story of which it is part, and it flows directly from the creation story. The promises to Abraham directly echo God’s commands to Adam and Eve.
God himself breathed life into Adam and Eve, and they had everything they needed in the garden. Through their disobedience they forfeited that life and death entered. The land as promised to Abraham was to be a new Eden, a place of life as opposed to death. Everything in the Genesis 17 passage we read speaks of life and fruitfulness, just as God had spoken to Adam. This was God’s answer to people being expelled from the garden.
God also promised Abraham that he would be God to him and his descendants [7, 8]. In other words, the land would eventually become the place where God was present with his people. As we saw a few weeks ago, in creating the world God was establishing his temple, the place where he was present. The tabernacle and temple (which came a bit further down the track) were creation in miniature, where God would once again be present with his creation, the place where heaven and earth met. As such they were also a sign of God’s ultimate intention to once again be fully present with his creation.
Just as Adam and Eve were tasked with caring for the garden, so God would give Abraham and Sarah a land to care for. But even that was a hint of something bigger.
Psalm 2:8 (NRSV)
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
God’s purpose was to eventually bring all the world under his rescue and rule.
These are very clear echoes of creation and show how God was still working to the same program.
Command – Promise
When God spoke to Adam and Eve, he did so in the form of command i.e. he told them what to do. When he spoke to Abraham using very similar language, he spoke in terms of promise and gift rather than command. Something had changed. No longer could Adam’s descendants be told to do it because it appears they were incapable. Rather, God himself would do it as a gift that kept on giving.
So far we’ve looked back to how God’s promises to Abraham echoed what he had to say to Adam and Eve in the creation story. If we look ahead to what we know is yet to come, in many ways the story of nation of Israel echoes that of Adam and Eve because they too failed in their calling and in obedience. They too will ultimately be exiled from the garden of the promised land. In other words, the story will be acted out again and again, but God’s purpose will still be in place and will come to a significant highlight in the person of Jesus.
Remember a few weeks ago we talked about creation being the rudder for the time between creation and new creation. The link between creation and covenant that we’ve seen today fills that out a bit further. Things got badly off track after Adam and Eve’s disobedience. God acted to get them back on track through his covenant with Abraham and Sarah. Just as the original creation was about life, land and presence, so God’s covenant recapitulated those very things. God gave them as a gift because humans were no longer capable of sustaining them through their own power and abilities.
But it wasn’t just about God getting things back to how they’d been before. Within the covenant and its meaning there are sufficient indications to say that what God did was also with a view to the whole world, to ultimately restoring the world to what it is meant to be. The covenant and God’s interaction with his people were a microcosm of what was to come. It would be safe to assume that we’ll see life, land and presence the further on we go through the story.