Reading about the history of Israel has again brought home to me that what mattered to the ancients is very different to what matters to us. For them, history was not an academic exercise of recording facts. They were creating a narrative to bind the people together, enabling Israel to imagine a future and to survive. They did a remarkable job.
Remove the Jews from their native land, spread them across the four corners of the planet, abuse them, and, thousands of years later, they remain a people. I know of no other example that comes close. Somehow, the biblical authors enabled the people of Israel to see the world differently from those around them and, in spite of all, toIt was easy for them to imagine a time when their God, who had delivered them from the Egyptians and been so gracious to them in the past, would again show his favour and deliver them. A time when wrongs would be put right, they would be forgiven and God would dwell among them. For good. What was unimaginable, was that God would forget his promises and abandon them. Their response was to repent. So, while in Exile, at a low point in their history, they began to be loyal and obedient. Today, most Jews will honour Sabbath and Passover, whether they believe in God or not, it has become part of who they are, their identity. In the New Testament, Paul tells the same stories in his Epistles, which is kind of odd, given that many of his readers would have been Gentile. For Paul, the story remains important, even if it has now been eclipsed by a larger story, the story that God had actually come.
I was struck by the power of story to give identity to the Jews. Yet, I carry a more powerful story, but it does not carry the same impact. I’m missing something. I read stories differently. I am more concerned with facts. The Gospel is interesting, fascinating even, but I take the story and place it on the shelf of academic interest. That is not how the ancients read their story. It should not be how I read it. It should not just inform my mind through its worldview, it needs to shape my imagination, just as the story the Jews carried shaped theirs. I need to rediscover our story.