The Witness of History

Every nation has a history, and each tells their stories. National stories shape how they understand themselves and see their role in the world and in history. Israel is no different.

The prophets were Israel’s storytellers. Typically, we think of prophets as preachers but they were also historians.  More specifically, they were covenantal messengers.

When God rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery, God entered into relationship with them through a covenant or a pact. God raised up prophets to hold Israel accountable to that covenant.

At times, the prophet functions like a covenantal prosecutor who sues Israel on behalf of God as a way of calling them back into faithful relationship, and, at other times, the prophet serves a parental role of guiding Israel and offering hope. At still other times, the prophet is a historian who keeps a record and explains the history between God and Israel. They write covenantal histories.

For example, the books of the Bible called Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles were based on the annals of various Kings written by prophets. They tell the story of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people.

To illustrate, Kings and Chronicles cover the same period from the reign of Solomon to the Babylonian Exile but were written in different settings, with different purposes, and for different audiences.

Kings was written during the Babylonian exile. Their questions were, “Why are we here?” or “Did the Babylonian gods overrule the God of Israel?” or “Where is God’s promise to Abraham and David?” Kings focuses on the sins of Israel and Judah. Even David and Solomon do not escape discipline, and the whole nation is judged for its sins. Judah is in exile because it did not keep covenant with God. The Babylonian gods did not win. Rather God removed Judah from their homeland, just as God exiled Adam and Eve from Eden for their folly. The prophetic historians of Kings explain God’s judgment.

Chronicles, on the other hand, was written during the postexilic period at a time when some had returned from Babylon to their homeland. The postexilic questions were different. They asked, “Will God still dwell among us in this new temple?,” or “Will God take us back into covenant relationship?,” or “Will God still keep the promises made to Abraham and David?” Chronicles stresses God’s yearning to restore relationship with Israel. God will keep the promises made to Abraham and David, and God will dwell once again in the midst of Israel just like a Sinai, the tabernacle, and in the temple. God is gracious to those who seek God’s face. If the postexilic community seeks God, God will dwell among them once again. God seeks seekers. God disciplines Israel, but God also yearns for Israel. Their histories speak of God’s severity but also of God’s mercy. God pursued Israel and continually called them into renewed relationship. God will never forget them any more than a mother can forget her children. This is the story of God and Israel—it is the story of God and humanity—we forget, but God does not.

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