Why should we continue to study the Bible? That is not a question if you consider it the unalterable word of God. But for those who are uncertain, there is another powerful reason to pore over this sacred text.
Everything has changed since biblical times -- language, communication, dress, medicine, technology -- everything except human nature. We still cry as did David, dance as did Miriam, dream as did Jacob, suffer as did Job. Our marriages are troubled, families fractured, hopes thwarted. When his brothers are jealous of Joseph's special status and envious of his dreams, we understand. When Moses explodes in frustration against a people who will not follow the only path he knows will save them, we nod our heads in rueful recognition. This is not alien to us. As the Latin proverb has it, change the names and the story is about you.
Hagar is running away from Sarah, who is angry that she has the child Sarah has so far been denied. An angel asks Hagar where she has come from and where she is going. "I am running from my mistress Sarah" Hagar answers,
Why does she not tell the angel where she is going? When you are running from a burning building, it does not matter where you are headed; only what you are fleeing. Change the names, and the story is about you.
Esau swears to kill his brother Jacob. Why, after an estrangement lasting decades, does Esau fall on Jacob's neck and weep? Although they were not identical, they were twins. Living in an age without mirrors, people rarely if ever saw themselves. Suddenly Esau is confronted by a much older man than the boy who cheated him. He recognizes his own age, how many years have passed, and how futile the bitterness. Change the names.
Seeing the golden calf, Moses smashes the tablets God has carved as he descends from the mountain. After he ascends a second time, he carves a new set of tablets and when he returns to the people, his face shines. Why does it shine the second time and not the first? Because the second time he has carved the tablets, and we are changed not by what we are given, but by what we do.
The Bible is our story because it is the human story. In the Hebrew bible there are no perfect characters, no flawless people. In all their messy humanity people stride uncertainly through history, leaving a trail of light that illuminates our path as we follow in their faltering, aspirational footsteps.
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