Giving attention to that which is significant to our mission and cultural engagement, the next major point of the biblical story is that of Israel’s entry into the land of Canaan. As we know, this was the land that was promised to them. Canaan was to be their new home. The act of claiming this land, however, would call for an immediate adjustment to their pilgrim practices of cultural engagement. No longer were they to think of themselves as a pilgrim people. Rather, under their great military leader, Joshua, they were to be viewed as a holy and theocratic army.
It is important to note the biblical story’s progression in connection to the theme we have already started to consider; as soon as this covenant community enter the land (promised to them by God) their paradigm for cultural engagement changes. Where before this issue had been regulated by ‘a pilgrim principle‘, now (as they once again fall under God’s geo-politically dimensioned rule) they are under a theocratic principle–or ‘land principle’.
If not before, the effect of this principle is clearly noted as they receive their commission to drive the Canaanites out of the land, and thereafter, to maintain a complete separation from them. This is, of course, very different to that which we have already observed of the patriarchal community under Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf. Joseph in Egypt).
With this change of paradigm noted, in the next post we’ll discuss why it is significant in terms of the greater story, and of course, our own mission as the church.
In the last post, we spoke about the early patriarchal covenant community. I pointed out that while being religiously distinct from those around them, this was not the case when it came to the issue of common grace culture. Moreover, we emphasized that this situation was indeed as it ought to have been. This was for the simple reason that the covenant community had not yet come into possession of the promised land.
To discuss the dynamic shown in this early pilgrim community (in contrast to their later status as theocratic people), theologians make use of a helpful expression — ‘the pilgrim principle’. This, in obvious contrast to another dynamic shown forth in the ‘land/theocratic principle’.
These expressions are both intended to highlight the respective status of God’s people, either as those who have arrived at their promised destination or as those who are in pilgrimage toward that final locality. As a covenant community under the pilgrim principle, it is emphasised that God’s people are those who have not arrived at their final destination. For this reason, they are not to think of themselves as a triumphant theocratic army. Rather, they are (ahem) tolerated sojourners, pilgrimaging along together on the great stage of common culture. Their promised inheritance is real, but it is not yet in full possession.
Much of what we are saying at this point finds an obvious parallel to the time of the New Covenant church. That said, however, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. At this point, we should simply note that this principle–the pilgrim principle–is indeed the dynamic under which the patriarchal community found themselves as they walked together in the faith of their fathers.
Moving to consider Abraham and the early patriarchal community, one of the key things to note is that they do not yet possess the land. Unlike Eden in the past, and unlike Canaan in the future, at this stage there is no geopolitical dimension to God’s rule. Rather, as a pilgrim community, they must share a common world-stage with those who do not believe.
In this regard, what is significant is that while Abraham and the patriarchal community are indeed clearly shown to be religiously distinct, this is not so when it comes to matters of culture. To say it another way, they are religiously distinct, and yet culturally common.
This is further clarified as we read of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Unlike the Mosaic theocracy (where God’s people once again are in possession of a land), at this point the Abrahamic covenant is shown not to contain any instructions relating to Abraham’s activity in the common-grace realm. His place in culture was much as it had been before; both as he continues to involve himself in business with those around him (Gen. 23:16) and even as he is brought to interact with various kings (Gen. 20:17). This type of interaction, however, is very different from what happens in theocracy. Nevertheless, it is a sanctioned approach at this point of the story. Why is it sanctioned? There is a simple reason. God’s people don’t yet possess the land. In the next post we’ll further discuss the importance behind this idea. Stay tuned.
As the narrative moves forward, we see that the seed of the women is protected. God would stay true to the promise made in Genesis 3:15. This is so even through the great judgement-ordeal of the flood, where (as we know) Noah and his family were kept safe in the ark.
Once these waters of the flood had subsided, we are led quickly once again to idea of common grace (within the the Noahic Covenant). And once again then, the stage is set. God first promised to send a Saviour; now he covenants to preserve a humanity from whom this Saviour would come.
As the story of the seed progresses, it further narrows its focus upon this vital theme of promise and fulfilment. While it is true that God would bring the Saviour from humanity, he later shows that this would occur through a specific race. This takes us to the next important character in the story: Abraham.
At the time of Abraham, we see one of the first clear examples of how the early covenant community are brought to interact with the world around them. As this is of obvious interest to those concerned with mission and cultural engagement, we will explore this further in the next post.
After discussing God’s theocratic rule in the garden, we come next to Adam’s rebellion. To say the very least, sin changed everything. One of the most important implications of this first transgression was that Adam and Eve brought upon themselves the curse-sanction of the first covenant.
Had it not been for God’s grace, man’s lot from this point was only that of death, judgement, and eternal punishment. But here, against the backdrop of man’s darkest hour, we are given a powerful glimpse of the gospel.
Genesis 3:15 (ESV)
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This hope was given just before God exiled his people from the land (Eden), and brought the garden theocracy to a close. While this was the end of the theocracy, however, it was not the end of the story. In fact, the real story only truly begins at this point: a story of which the garden serves as but a prologue.
As already alluded to in Gen 3:15, the biblical narrative continues along in the theme of two rival “seeds”: the seed of the women and the seed of the serpent (the holy and the profane). Neither now live in the theocratic land, but instead find their dwelling on the stage of commonality. This is a crucial point; something that we will spend more time developing in the posts to come; something that becomes vital in developing our biblical missiology.