The power of story
An Old Testament for us
By Dan Jennings, Major –
Story is a powerful medium of communication. Writers and filmmakers have understood this truth and used stories to create timeless songs, films and books. We respond well to stories. They speak to us in a way that is deeper than abstract knowledge. Those who teach the craft of preaching encourage the use of stories in sermon delivery, and so it should not surprise us that God chose the medium of story to communicate with us.
This is particularly true within the context of the Old Testament. God’s acts of self-revelation in the Old Testament primarily employ the medium of story. He reveals something of his character and being through story. With Israel as the backdrop, God peels back the veil that separates creator and creation, and invites us to know him.
Rather than simply saying to us that he is a God who saves, the Old Testament tells us a story about God’s salvific intervention in the lives of the Israelites, and in doing so infers that he is a God who saves. The Old Testament does not simply say to us that God loves us. Rather, the Old Testament chronicles the love story of God and Israel, and infers to the reader that God loves them.
One of the challenges of the Old Testament is that we tend to approach it from the discipline of systematic theology in which we see the Old Testament as a collection of independent stories. The stories or narratives are filtered through the particular focus to individual historical writers. The reader in turn tries to understand the context of each writer and make a theological assessment based on that writer’s context and history.
However, if we could see the Old Testament as one continuous story of God’s relationship with his elect people, Israel, that single story emerges from the collections of narratives. The story communicates God’s character through his self-revelation in relationship with Israel, painted in a beautiful mosaic. The New Testament then deals with the nature of God in much more abstract concepts, particularly in the epistles.
As we gather together in worship or Bible study and interact with the Old Testament, we are, in a sense, retelling the story—what Old Testament scholar Claus Westermann calls “still the most legitimate way for theology to speak about the Old Testament.”
Thus as we engage the narratives of the Old Testament we are well served to remember that the narratives are only facets of a much larger and more robust continuous story—a story of God’s love, provision and salvation of Israel and and an inference to his love, provision and salvation for us.