I love a good story. I love the way a well written narrative helps us to understand more about the human experience. Creative ways that help us think about what it means to live, promote virtue, and cautionary tales that challenge prejudiced and faulty thinking. As part of my role as an English teacher, I need to help students understand different novels and narratives so that they can appreciate these experiences and lessons. To do this, I need to explain how all the pieces fit together. Who’s the main character? What is their setting? How do their thoughts and actions reflect or challenge that context? And as we go along, they need to think about how any given moment fits into the larger picture. Doing so helps the reader understand character development, and how each moment relates not only to the next step, but the overall journey and how it contributes to the end. This is why I typically begin any study of a novel, play or film with a general overview of the plot, and then refer back to it as we go along.
When it comes to short and simple stories like The Outsiders or Macbeth, it’s pretty easy to see how each moment is contributing to the overall narrative. The trouble with the Bible is that there are so many different parts, events, and genres to keep in our mind as we try to balance a complicated and extended revelation. It’s easy for us to read parts in a stand-alone fashion as though it were a collection of short stories and small character arcs. But when we do this, for some elements, by detaching them from the overarching narrative, they can feel overly complex and become hard to understand, perhaps boring, or even irrelevant.
There are a number of parts of scripture that just feel completely random and we read it and wonder, ‘What was that about? Why was that in there? It doesn’t seem to contribute anything.’ Going back to my film study example, my students get restless and bored when there’s too much talking. They’re more interested in the action. But this is because they fail to appreciate the significance of that conversation, what it reveals about that character, and how it’s contributing to the story. In a similar way, being able to know what those seemingly out of place portions of scripture contribute to the overall narrative helps us to not only appreciate it better, but understand it better too. In some instances, detaching a portion of Scripture means that we’re only missing some nuance about its meaning, but with others, we can end up misreading, misinterpreting, and misapplying it.
Having what’s known as a metanarrative (an overarching story or storyline that gives context, meaning, and purpose to the story) to pin each element to, definitely helps. This is why I enjoy teaching Dan Harmon’s Story Circle (a simplified version of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, or Hero’s Journey) to my students at is helps them track what’s happening and where they’re up to. For the Bible, most Christians know that it’s all about Jesus. Every moment, element, character, and ordinance are all in some way pointing the reader to the person and work of Jesus Christ. But what if we had something more detailed? What if we had not just a start and end point, but an actual ‘road map’ that compliments this metanarrative to follow?
This is a big part of why I wrote Forgotten Covenant, to help people make better sense of the Bible’s narrative and to see the artistic beauty of its unified narrative. Through study, conversations, and research I began to recognise how Abraham and the promises made to him tower over much of the Bible’s narrative. His name appears 287 times across 27 books of the Bible between Genesis and 1 Peter. He is referred to by various authors of Scripture as the foundation of the blessing to Israel and their occupation of the land, the chief exemplar and basis for justification by faith, motivation for patience and obedience, and the basis of global missions, among many others. But more than that, the three promises of land, descendants, and blessing lay the foundation of the Bible’s narrative of God’s restoration of humanity.
In Abram, the Lord set apart a person, who would become a Holy Nation that would include the families of the Earth. And these people would not only occupy a portion of land, but eventually inherit the Earth. More than that, they would know not merely the material blessings of God, but the spiritual blessings of forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation through Jesus, the ultimate Son of Abraham who would make all these promises come true. In my book, I not only unpack the promises made to Abraham, I also look at the many key parts of the Bible’s narrative like the Exodus, conquest of the land, the spread of the Gospel and the eternal state to see how they are a fulfilment of the three promises made to Abraham.
My nearly four years of research, planning and writing had a somewhat surprising twist. What I thought would be an interesting study of a few simple and interesting examples, actually turned into a road map through the Bible more detailed than I could imagine. Of course, it is not completely exhaustive, and it’s not supposed to be some kind of ‘theory of everything’, but I do believe that it can explain a lot and will help many in their study of the word. But he part that I most enjoyed the most is the way I began to deeply appreciate more the way God uses His sovereignty to fulfil His promises and His faithfulness to His covenant. To think about all the millions and millions and millions of small details that needed to take place, not just in the line of Abraham, but globally too, to get to Jesus dying on the cross for our sins so that the Lord would remain true to His promise is phenomenal. And that’s only the ‘half way’ point. How God orchestrated all those events is mind-blowing.
In times of upheaval and uncertainty, and in seasons of meaninglessness and trials, it is this kind of big God that we need. It’s easy to feel like God’s not only asleep at the wheel; He’s no longer in the car. But by understanding the story of Abraham better, and recognising the way every step in the Bible’s narrative is working towards the fulfilment of God’s promises to Him gives me a deepened hope and encouragement. Nothing, not even the forces of evil, the will of man, the forces of nature, can stop Him achieving his good, loving, and perfect plans and purposes for us. This, more than anything, is what I want my readers to be left with once they close that final page. Yes, I want to help Christ’s followers be better students of His Word, and to better understand what the Abrahamic story has to say about their identity, but overall, I want God to be glorified as the faithful one who reigns over all creation and history, and who according to the promise justifies and saves His people by faith.
Ryan Watson is a teacher and former Youth Pastor who lives in Brisbane with his wife and four boys. He has written a number of blog articles on various passages and theological issues, and has self-published a short book, ‘Why then the Law?’