FEATURE ARTICLE

Nnaemeka Luke Aneke, MDFriday, March 17, 2006
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Lukeaneke@msn.com
Westbury, NY, USA

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THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT: ITS SCOPE AND SIGNIFICANCE
(PART I of II) - A COMMENTARY ON DR. MALCOLM FABIYI’S ESSAY


read, with interest, the piece on tithing, by Malcolm Fabiyi, PhD in December 2005, on Nigeriaworld.com, written in response to the initial two-part essay, on tithing by Dr. Samuel Arowolaju, whose piece I also read. This writing is not a direct contribution to the debate on tithing which I believe was substantially dissected by the pieces from Doctors Arowolaju and Fabiyi, and other subsequent commentators. It will center predominantly on the scope and significance of the Abrahamic covenant as presented in Dr. Fabiyi’s essay on the tithing discourse.


In trial law, when “opposing” parties present evidence, testimony and the like to help persuade a judge or jury to one side or the other of an issue, a standard is usually given as a guide for the evaluation of the performance of one party against the other. In civil litigation, the standard is what is usually called a “preponderance of the evidence”, but in criminal justice, because of the severity of a conviction, a higher standard called “clear and convincing evidence” is used. It seems to me that most readers who took time to read both pieces will reach their own conclusions as to the persuasiveness of the arguments ranging from not being swayed either way to being swayed one side or the other by clear and convincing standard.

However, I am honestly more interested in the presence and substance of the debates than the outcome thereof. The fact that PhDs, MDs, LLBs and other professionals are holding honest debates on biblical issues is a source of joy, a cause to give glory to God and a clear evidence that every iota of God’s word must be fulfilled. We know that, as the bible said in I Corinthians 1:26-29, the learned, the wise and the sophisticated of this world were excluded from the writing of the Bible and instead, fishermen, tax collectors, shepherds and farmers were used by God to write the bible. But why did God use the fishermen and tax collectors to write the bible instead of the PhDs of that day? God clearly answered the question in I Corinthians 1:27, “…God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty”. Hence, among the learned of those days, only Luke, the physician, a man of exceeding humility, dedication and enthusiasm for God’s work, was allowed by God to contribute to his holy book, the bible. So it is interesting that in these last days, we, the so-called wise and lettered, have woken up from earthly slumber and academic captivity to partake in issues of biblical significance.

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Having said the above, let me now get to the core issue of this article. Dr. Fabiyi, in making what I consider a persuasive argument about tithing, brought the Abrahamic covenant into his discourse. He argued, rather succinctly, that since Abraham paid 10% tithe to Melchizedek, then Christians, as spiritual beneficiaries of the Abrahamic covenant should pay tithes, as heirs of Abrahamic inheritance, for they must inherit both blessings and obligations. Although the story of Abraham and Melchizedek (Gen.14:18-24) did not tell us what percentage of tithe Abraham gave, the bible did confirm in Hebrews 7:2 that it was indeed 10%.

However, Dr. Fabiyi, in carrying out further commentaries on the Abrahamic covenant, made characterizations which I consider erroneous and unsupportable by biblical facts, probably innocently, but which I consider weighty enough, especially in these last days, to warrant a commentary. For clarity, relevance and refreshment of memory, I will repeat the portion of Dr. Fabiyi’s statement which I consider problematic. It goes thus:

Christians enter into the Abrahamic covenant by way of Abraham-Isaac-Jacob. It should be noted that alternate paths such as Abraham-Isaac-Esau, or the Abraham-Ishmael lineage are all possible and legally valid routes to the Abrahamic covenant. It is instructive that Islam traces its link to Abraham through the Ishmael lineage, and Christians and Jews through the Isaac lineage.

The above statement, not only implies, but states factly, that the inheritance of Abrahamic covenant is not limited to the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob axis. It states that there are alternative paths such as Abraham-Isaac-Esau or Abraham-Ishmael, both of which are all “possible and legally valid” routes to the Abrahamic covenant, (emphasis by author). But with all due respect to Dr.

Fabiyi and his good article, permit me to say that the above characterizations are not true. The Abrahamic covenant is not universal, there are no alternative paths to it and the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob axis is the only valid pathway to the Abrahamic covenant. The rest of this article will be dedicated to demonstrating this.

The purpose of this article is not a “better than you” or “holier than thou” disposition, but as the bible said in Proverbs 27:17, “iron sharpeneth iron” and we can all be sharpened by one another in the discussion of biblical issues. And since God has provided the internet as one giant virtual school auditorium, there can be no better way to utilize it than in voluntary exchange of biblical and other ideas.

As a prelude to showing that the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob route to the Abrahamic covenant is the only valid one, and has no alternative paths, I will first briefly describe the origin, nature and significance of the covenant. After the events of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues in Genesis 11, God decided to chose a special people to deal with as his own people instead of the whole human race as a whole, and it pleased him to choose Abraham, one of the three sons of one Terah, as the father of the chosen family of God. The covenant which the God of Heaven made between himself and Abraham has three main characteristics:

  1. An eight-part promise. (to be detailed below)

  2. A sign: circumcision, as a token of the covenant, and

  3. A divine delay

    1. The eight-part promise as contained in Genesis 12:1-3, 7 are as follows:
      1. “I will make of thee a great nation”, Gen. 12:2
      2. “ I will bless thee”, Gen. 12:2
      3. “Make thy name great”, Gen. 12:2
      4. “Thou shall be a blessing”, Gen. 12:2
      5. “I will bless them that bless thee”, Gen. 12:3
      6. “I will curse them that curse thee”, Gen. 12:3
      7. “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed”, Gen. 12:3
      8. “Unto thy seed shall I give this land”, Gen. 12:7

      (Although I listed eight promises above, some commentators see this as a seven-part promise by insisting that promise VII in Genesis 12:3 is the same, but an expansion, of promise IV in Genesis 12:2.). These promises were repeated, in whole or in part, in Genesis 17: 2-4, 6-8, and other parts of Genesis.

    2. The sign of the covenant: circumcision (Gen 17:1-14). This is a sign that God required of Abraham and his male household, “…as a token of the covenant”. Of course, as heirs of Abraham, through Christ, the physical sign of circumcision, is no longer a prelude for Christians to partake in the inheritance of the covenant. (I Cor. 7:18-19, Gal 2: 3-5, 5:2-4, 6:12-14)

    3. The divine delay: the divine delay, in the fulfillment of this covenant is the most important aspect of the covenant, for the purpose of this writing, because it is the part that shows that the covenant is strictly narrow in its scope and that not even Ishmael and Esau who are direct descendants of Abraham are part of the covenant.

CHOICE OF HEIR:

By implication, a covenant between an everlasting God and a mortal human, by necessity, involves continuity via a seed of the man, since the man himself is not physically everlasting. This became, a thorny issue for Abraham who was old, and his wife Sarai (later Sarah) was plagued by advanced age and both infertility and menopause. But God, knowing no impossibility and disregarding their old age and infertility, promised them an heir (seed) with whom Abraham would consummate the covenant.

Another important feature of this covenant was deciding who would make the choice of the heir for the covenant. Abraham wanted to decide and choose who his heir for the covenant would be, but God overruled him and insisted that he (God) will choose for Abraham, who the heir would be. This is important because it shows that only God’s choice, not man’s choice or even consanguinity, will qualify one for a partake in the covenant.

Abraham’s First Choice of heir (Eleazar) is rejected by God:

Abraham was indeed a great lawyer but God was too much for him. When God promised Abraham a seed/heir, God did not specify whether the seed would be a biological seed, foster child, adopted child, or a de-facto child. God left it open and Abraham was quick to exploit that loophole left by God. Under enormous pressure of advanced age, and infertility, Abraham decided to use a non-biological seed for his heir.

In Genesis 15:1-3, Abraham brought a very brilliant legal argument to God to hasten the seed and end his long wait. Abraham had a steward, named Eleazar, (Gen.15:2) whose ancestry is from Damascus. However, Eleazar, was born in Abraham’s house (Gen.15:3b) and Abraham had no biological seed of his own. Hence Abraham argued to God thus: since I go childless, (Gen 15:2) and Eleazar was born in my house, let me use him as my heir: “…lo, one born in my house is my heir”, (Gen.15:3b); in other words, a de-facto child. But in Genesis 15:4, God responded to Abraham, “--this shall not be thine heir”. Two things happened here. God refused Abraham’s request to use Eleazar as his heir –“this shall not be thine heir”, and two, God closed the door of that argument by telling Abraham that the heir will be a biological seed: “he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir,” (Genesis 15:4b). Hence, Eleazar was rejected by God as Abraham’s heir.

Abraham’s second choice of heir (Ishmael) is rejected by God:

Abraham, determined to push God’s hand to end his “endless” wait for a seed, moved to satisfy God’s “new” condition- that the heir “shall come forth out of thine own bowels”, (Genesis 15:4). Having conferred with Sarai, his wife, they decided that Sarai, was too old to bring forth the seed. However, since only Abraham’s bowel was mentioned as a condition, they figured that an offspring between Abraham and another woman will meet God’s “new” condition. To cut a long story short, Ishmael emerged as an offspring of Abraham and Haggai: Genesis 16:1-4, 11-12.

Then in Genesis 17:1-6, God renewed his covenant with Abraham and told Abraham specifically in verses 15-16 that he will give Sarai a son who will be used for the covenant. But instead of agreeing with God, Abraham did three strange things:

  1. He fell upon his face and laughed at what God said: Gen. 17:17a

  2. He questioned God in his heart: “shall a child be born unto him that is one hundred years old? Shall Sarah that is 90 years old bear?”, Gen. 17:17b

  3. Then he presented Ishmael as his heir: “O that Ishmael might live before thee”, Genesis 17:18

But God turned down Abraham’s request to use Ishmael as his heir for the covenant. In doing so, God took four steps:

  1. He re-stated (Genesis 17:19) that Sarah will have a son, who will be named Isaac and that he (God) will establish the covenant with Isaac (not Ishmael)

  2. Promised that Ishmael will be blessed, multiplied and be made great, Gen. 17:20, but,

  3. Restated emphatically that the covenant will be established with Isaac, (Genesis 17:21a), to avoid any doubts.

  4. God, in his great mercy, did the most important thing in the life of Abraham. He ended his long wait by giving Abraham the date of Isaac’s birth, “…which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.” That is, God told Abraham that one year from today, you will have Isaac. What a relief finally?”

Isaac is born and accepted as heir by God: “… for in Isaac shall thy seed be called” Genesis 21:12b

In Genesis 21:1 we see why God is God, and not man, for it says “And the Lord visited Sarah as he has said, and the Lord did unto Sarah, as he has promised”. After Isaac was born, there became two sons in Abraham’s house: Ishmael and Isaac. But in Genesis 21:10, Sarah demanded that Ishmael be removed from the family, for he (Ishmael) will not share heirship with Isaac. The bible said that it was difficult for Abraham (verse 11), but God intervened in verse 12 and asked Abraham to comply with Sarah’s demand and cast out Ishmael and his mother Haggai. He (God) repeated his promise to bless Ishmael (verse 13), but insisted that heirship is only in Isaac: “for in Isaac shall thy seed be called” Gen. 21:12b.

I have taken the pains of this factual detail, even at the risk of boring the reader, to set forth enough premise to demonstrate that neither Ishmael nor Eleazar would be a pathway to the Abrahamic Covenant. Part II of this article will use the above facts and other related parts of the bible to demonstrate that the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob pathway is the only valid and legitimate route to the Abrahamic covenant.

End of Part I of II

Nnaemeka Luke Aneke, MD, is medical director of Balm of Gilead, New York Medical P.C., and a bible teacher at Hope Restoration Pentecostal Ministries in Queens Village, New York.