If you sit down and read documents from the ancient Near East (I realize very few of you have actually done this . . . but stay with me), it doesn't take long to notice the difference between the vast majority of ancient writing and the Bible:
The Bible is full of stories. Lifelike stories. Stories about real people, warts and all, who muddle about trying to listen to God and obey him. But most of all, stories about God's great acts in history.
Why tell all these stories?
Not for entertainment. Not as "royal records" (the documents that served that function in ancient Israel have been lost). No, what we have to understand about the ancient world is how historical narratives functioned. You see, the one place we have this type of "historical narrative" in other ancient Near Eastern cultures is in treaties. In a covenant between two parties, "the past was recounted for the specific purpose of instilling a sense of gratitude as the foundation and ground for future obedience" (from George Mendenhall's article on "Covenant" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary). If a king asks someone to swear loyalty to him, he first recounts all the generous things he has done to benefit the other party.
The stories of God's great acts in history are told for a reason.
But wait. The Ten Commandments are not designed to protect our own freedoms. If we read them carefully, we see they are designed to protect the rights and freedoms of our neighbors. As Daniel Block has often said, they function like the 'Bill of Rights' except that they are the 'Bill of Someone Else's Rights.'
Because of what God has done to set us free, we are to live in such a way that others can be free. Again and again, the stories remind us that freedom is a gift, a fragile gift, and that we best protect it by living life God's way. That's why we need someone to tell us the stories.
And that's why the stories are told.
The author of Hebrews, whoever it was, gets that. He (or she!) spends a great deal of time recounting the Old Testament stories as a reminder of what God has done, and what that means for believers in Jesus. Just as God set the Israelites free from Egyptian bondage, so he has set us free from bondage to fear and death. That freedom ought to transform everything, because that's what stories do. They tell us how it is. And who we are.
"Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. ... Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience." (Hebrews 2:14–15; 4:11 NET)
Friday, October 12, 2012
why "tell me the story"?
Labels: biblical theology, Block, books, consecration, Deuteronomy, devotional, dissertation, Ethics, faith, Hebrews, Old Testament, thankfulness, theological interpretation, theology
Dr. Carmen Imes is the Associate Professor of Old Testament at Prairie College in Three Hills, Alberta, and serves the broader church through teaching, speaking, and writing. She earned a PhD in Biblical Theology (Old Testament) from Wheaton College under Dr. Daniel Block, an MA in Biblical Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a BA in Bible and Theology from Multnomah University. She and her husband, Danny, served as missionaries with SIM 15 years. They have three children: Ana, Emma, and Easton.