As we consider the Old Testament, it is important to remember the Muslim concept of God's revelation. Muslims believe that God sent many prophets to the world, and that most of the books that were revealed to them had been lost before the advent of Muhammad. What remained of the revealed books of Allah are the Torah of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Injeel of Jesus. However, according to them, both Jews and Christians have corrupted their holy books. Muslims are rather puzzled to notice that Christians recognize four different gospels known as the Injeel of Matthew, the Injeel of Mark, the Injeel of Luke, and the Injeel of John. Quite often, they ask, but where is the Injeel of Jesus?
The Muslim concept of revelation has no room for gospel as good news from God given to man who is utterly lost. To them, the content of the “Injeel of Jesus,” is simply a series of laws. God reveals his law or his will so that man, by coming to know this law, may practice it, and win the favor of Allah, and earn his salvation.
Even if we succeed to convince Muslims that our Bible is authentic, and that it has not been corrupted, they would answer that anyhow, they possess God's final and complete revelation: the Qur’an! They would point to their doctrine of the abrogation of previous revelations. This is found even in the Qur’an itself. For example, at one stage the Muslim's sacred book limited the number of legal wives to four, but later on, the Prophet himself ‘was allowed’ twelve wives! In other words, a later revelation ‘descended’ from heaven and abrogated, i.e., annulled, an earlier revelation that placed the limit at four legal wives.
We have to keep this in mind when we share the contents of our Scriptures with Muslims. We need to become sensitized to the thought processes of a Muslim audience. It demands a different approach in the sense that, as we open the Bible among Muslims, we must explain what we mean, and what we do not mean, when we use certain words or expressions. Etymology is not a sufficient guide to the meaning of a word; we must remember the context, the history, and the baggage that has accompanied religious terms.
The question now arises in our minds: since we have such a totally different concept of God’s revelation, what do we have in common with Muslims? Are we totally different?
First of all, we have our humanity in common. We have been created in the image of God and after his likeness. You may call this our common creatureliness. You do not speak to Muslims simply as Muslims, but as creatures and fellow-human beings made in the image of God. This fundamental reality must never be forgotten in our evangelistic efforts among Muslims.
Then, in a formal way, we have a certain amount of sacred history in common: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, David and Solomon. There is sacred history that we both accept, even though one must add here that the contents of our history (as based on the Bible) are very different from the contents of the Muslim's sacred history (as based on the Qur’an and the Hadith.)
I must reemphasize that the great difference between Christianity and Islam is in the concept of God's revelation. For us Christians, the Bible has been given to make us wise unto salvation. In other words, God's revelation is redemptive. To put it in a traditional language, whereas the Christian conceives of the Word of God as consisting of both law and gospel, the Muslim's concept is that the Word of God is purely and simply law.
This is why we have to learn to take nothing for granted. We must remember that the religious vocabularies we use are often used in Islam in a different way and with different meanings. As we have noted, when we say Injeel, Muslims think immediately of a heavenly book that descended on Jesus; while we think of Injeel as a message that pervades all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. It is the proclamation of the good news of what God has done on our behalf as human beings in the person of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
So as we begin to talk about the contents of the Old Testament, we must remember that the term Old Testament does not ring any bell in the Muslim mind. So following the order of the Hebrew Text, we speak of the Tawrat of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings.
We begin by telling the story of the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, and emphasize the Genesis account over against their superficial knowledge of this tragic event. But as soon as we have related that tragic story based on Genesis 3, be sure to emphasize verse 15 that has the first proclamation of the Injeel.
We must point the Muslims to history of Abraham as related in Genesis, emphasizing the fact that God, in his gracious dealings with mankind, took the initiative and gave the promise of salvation. It is tragic that both Muslims and Jews have understood the call of Abraham in a purely ethnic way. This great patriarch becomes an end in himself. His dignity is then transferred to the Arabs, his descendants through Ishmael, and later on to Muhammad, the restorer of the pure religion of Abraham.
The best place to go, after we have introduced Muslims to the main parts of Genesis, is to take them on a spiritual journey in one of the books of the prophets. Isaiah is extremely suitable as he was given the greatest number of Messianic prophecies. So we go to his book and study what we may call, the Injeel according to Isaiah.
First of all, let us remember that his name is not just a Hebrew word. It is much more: it means ‘Jehovah is our Savior.’ The Old Testament is rich in such meaningful names. Abram, ‘exalted father,’ becomes Abraham, ‘the father of many nations.’ That was a prophetic name. Sarah, who was totally disbelieving of the possibility of God’s promise, laughed. The Lord reminded her that nothing was impossible with God, so he gave her a son whose name was Isaac, which means ‘laughter.’ As for Jacob, the Lord changed his name to Israel, ‘prince with God.’
Always in the context of Islam, any interpretation of Biblical materials takes place against a background of misunderstanding and prejudice. This does not mean that we can engage in a kind of ‘I am right, you are wrong’ conversation. No, we must patiently and relevantly explain the Scriptures so that the light of the Gospel may dispel the darkness of Islam.
The Gospel According to Isaiah
Before we begin to relate the message of this great prophet, it is helpful to read up on the history of the kingdom of Israel. We must realize that Muslims know a little bit about David and even more about Solomon. Beyond that, they are hardly informed about the ancient history of Israel. We need to tell about the divisions of the kingdom after the death of Solomon. The northern part of Israel continued to be known by that name, while the southern kingdom was known as the Kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital. This is how the prophecy begins.
The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: "I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, you heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness–only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.
Isaiah 1: 1-6
How do we proclaim the gospel from this passage, with the Muslim in mind?
We begin by saying that this great man, whose name meant God is our Savior, lived in the times after Solomon. He was scolding the people of Judah because they had failed to learn their lesson when they saw the people of the northern kingdom carried into captivity to Mesopotamia, the Iraq of today. It is important to show how Isaiah proclaimed the good news only after he had told the bad news. This is relevant in our work with the Muslims. They must see that when they measure their lives in the light of God’s law, they must acknowledge how they have failed miserably.
Let us read the rest of the chapter and listen to the indictment of the people of Israel:
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! "The multitude of your sacrifices–what are they to me?" says the Lord. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
Isaiah 1: 10-14
This is very relevant to a people like the Muslims who are fond of ritual and superficial religion. Without talking about their month of fasting Ramadan, and the ritual of the Muslim calendar, we can point out that the Jews were very religious. They were still keeping the outward forms of their religion, but God, who knew their hearts, did not accept that at all. In fact, He was not interested in the sacrifices because their hearts had departed from Him.
When a Muslim encounters the gospel in Isaiah chapter one, he will realize that sin is not a superficial matter. The very fact that God had commissioned his prophet to show the people of Israel how sinful they were, will make its impression upon Muslims, whose concept of sin and sinfulness is superficial. After the proclamation of the bad condition of man, comes the Good News of God.
"Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah 1: 18-20
God has said to them, "I will wash you clean as snow”. Not, you can wash yourself, but I will wash you. This was said with the cross in mind. Living in the New Testament age, we see this clearly. But the people of the Old Testament times heard the gospel in the form of a divine promise. God offered it to them as an unmerited gift. It was by grace alone. There is always a warning with the proclamation of the gospel: If you defy me you are doomed to die. I, the Lord, have spoken.
It is important to stress to Muslims that the forgiveness of God is totally unmerited. The only thing that is required of them is the turning away from sin, or repentance. It must be a turning away, leaving the evil way.
There is, in the prophecies of Isaiah, a constant description of the sinfulness of Israel on the one hand, and the wonderful peace that comes from God, on the other. One of the most poetical passages of Isaiah is Chapter 2:1-5.
“This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
What a wonderful prophecy of everlasting peace! At the very time when they were told about the sinfulness of Jerusalem, they were informed about that future when a period of peace would come to earth as a result of the acknowledgment of the kingship of the Messiah. It is a wonderful description of the results of the good news once it pervades the world.
One of the best parts of Isaiah to use with Muslims is Chapter 6. In this chapter we have God’s call of his prophet. It stands in drastic contrast to the call of Muhammad. We need to explain about the three parts of the temple: the Outer Court, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The prophet must have been at worship when he saw the Lord. The seraphim, which he saw, were angels. We must remember that Muslims believe in all kinds of beings that populate the world: angels, devils, jinns and other varieties of superhuman beings. So we must convey to them that these heavenly creatures brought a message about the holiness of God.
This is a doctrine that is totally missing in Islam. Granted, there are ninety-nine names of Allah in Islam. They refer to his attributes such as the merciful, the compassionate, the omniscient, etc., but they do not have any real concept of the holiness of God. They are not aware of his abhorrence of sin. And this is one of the fundamental attributes of God. He is holy, the thrice holy God. The glory of God fills the world.
Here we have an opportunity to tell about the sinfulness of man. Note that even though the angels were not capable of sinning, yet they covered their faces with two wings–a symbolic act of their awareness of the holiness of God.
How awesome then that we can come to God! And what a wonderful revelation that God has given of himself in Isaiah 6! Hopefully this should force an awareness of the true nature of sin to a Muslim. Note the confession of the prophet. He was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament times. At the very moment of his encounter with the majesty and the holiness of God, he made a confession of sin. “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips....” He is not simply confessing a few sins that he may have committed. He is not talking about a superficial doctrine of sin that the Muslims have, which defines sin as weakness. Isaiah was confessing his sinfulness, that is, his propensity to transgress the law of God by omission or by commission. This is a man who is talking in full awareness of the presence of a holy God. The prophet identified himself with his people, and said, “I live among a people of unclean lips.”
Isaiah was not sinful in the same degree that the Israelites were, because he was touched by the grace of God. He was receiving the call to the office of a prophet, yet he considered himself just as sinful as the people to whom he was sent. But thanks to the grace of God, he could say “And my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Just as in Chapter 1, when the indictment of the children of Israel was followed by the call of the gospel; here we notice first the confession of sin followed by forgiveness. “One of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand,”–the coal symbolizing that God was the One who grants the forgiveness; it came from the altar, and that symbolized the future work of Christ on the cross. So the prophet received the assurance of the forgiveness of his sins.
And now the call comes: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” What a beautiful way of describing the plan of salvation to the Muslim!
After Isaiah received his call, he was told to go and proclaim the doom of his nation. This does not mean that no one was going to be saved. But the southern kingdom of Judah was going to cease to be an independent state. Eventually, when the people of God returned from the captivity in Babylon, the temple would be rebuilt and the sacrificial system would be restored.
The most important topic in the book of Isaiah is the fact that the prophet was given to see the age beyond the return from Babylon. Isaiah proclaimed the good news of the Messiah and his ministry in the Holy Land. The most thrilling part of the study of Isaiah begins with chapter 52. There we have a glimpse of the great work of redemption that was to be accomplished by the suffering Servant of the Lord: Jesus the Messiah!
We must remember how antagonistic Muslims are to the cross of Calvary; and how convinced they are, through their Qur’an and their tradition, that there was no such thing as the crucifixion of Christ. But here we have in our hands a message from God, given centuries before the coming of the Messiah, which predicts the sufferings, rejection, the vicarious death, and the resurrection of the Savior. We must emphasize that long before the first century A.D.; the Lord had spoken clearly through Isaiah, informing his people that their hope was centered in the coming of the Messiah. It was through his death and resurrection that forgiveness would come to all those who believe the Injeel, the good news of God.