In light of the early Israelites being an oral community, picture the following example in contrast to the story we told earlier about a local Bible Study.
The sun was setting and leaving an array of colors in the western sky. A cool breeze was beginning to take over from the heat of the sun. Jedaiah was stoking the fire to keep it alive for the gathering outside the tent of his father Shimri. Jedaiah was seventeen years old, a sturdy lad with deep brown eyes.
All day Jedaiah daydreamed about what story Moses might share with his family during the cool of the evening. Would it be the story of Abraham and his journey to Egypt? Maybe it would be about Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt. Egypt had been a hard life for him and his family. The events over the last few months that had brought them to the foot of Sinai had been breathtaking.
Later after the evening meal, Moses arrived with two of his children. He greeted all who were gathered around the fire and found a comfortable place to sit and enjoy its warmth. The evenings in the desert could get a little chilly. Moses shared a couple of events from his busy day. One was particularly interesting to Jedaiah. Moses spoke of an interaction with a family who had a young son, Boaz, who was awestruck with the daughter of the family just two tents away from his family’s tent. Mariah was “drop dead gorgeous,” a dazzlingly beautiful magnificent woman of eighteen years. As Moses relayed the story Jedaiah fixed his eyes on Hannah with a wry grin on his face.
From the corner of his eye Moses caught his longing look and said, “Maybe soon, I can return here to the tent of Shimri and have a similar conversation concerning Jedaiah and Hannah. If it had not have been so dark with only the light from the flickering fire, everyone would have seen the flush on the face of Jedaiah.
“Moses,”Shimri inquired, “what story did you share with the families of Boaz and Mariah?”
“The same story I am going to share with you tonight,” replied Moses.
A solemn hush readied everyone for the story that would fall from the lips of Moses.
“Out of a chaotic time the voice of Yahweh thundered, ‘Light, come into existence,’ and in the blink of an eye there was light in the midst of all the chaos.”
“You know how dark it is here in the desert just before dawn when most of the family fires have long been extinguished and over the horizon light appears, a new day dawns. This daily event should always remind us of the creative majesty of Yahweh.”
“Remember also that in Egypt we were asked to worship the god of the Sun. Our Egyptian friends would bow each morning and give praise and thanks for the rising of the light globe in the east and many of our people entered into this worship with their Egyptian friends.”
“However, the story of Yahweh’s creation of all that we see tells us that he is the only God that we are to worship as he has said to us in the first of the stipulations he gave us from the mountain.”
Moses paused for a moment and asked, “What are some of the other things that Yahweh created?”
Shimri spoke up and said, “Animals like the sheep that Jedaiah tends.”
“Remember, when we were in Egypt how our friends wanted us to worship at the foot of an idol that looked like a sheep, asking this god to protect our flocks from the harm of the jackals.”
Those around the fire gave an affirmative shake of their heads to this recollection.
“Well, the story of creation tells us that there is no sheep god, only the God who created sheep, and when we worship we should worship him and not what he created.”
Shimri was chagrin and his face dropped so that his chin was touching his chest.
“Why the long face, Shimri?” Moses inquired.
“I was one that gave into the pressure of my Egyptian friends and often bowed to worship the sheep god. I had not heard this story of our Creator God. I only knew the story of the sheep god and the people who worshipped him.”
Shimri continued, “How can I change my ways to reflect a life ordered by the worship of Yahweh, the Creator of all the animals?”
Moses continued telling the story of God’s creative power ending with the creation of humankind. Here again Moses paused to comment on how in Egypt they were expected to worship the Pharaoh, who was human, as a god, but that God’s stipulation in the covenant he had made with them was that there couldn’t be any other gods, including human ones.
“The story of creation,” said Moses, “demonstrated that God created humans and gave them authority to be his agents in the world he had created, but humans themselves were not meant to be worshipped as a god.
The chatter went on for almost two hours, but who was counting as long as Jedaiah could see Hannah. Soon the meeting broke up and Moses left with his two sons to return to his tent. Shimri commented on how inspiring it was to hear the creation story.
Jedaiah went to bed that night thinking of how living in the story of creation that Moses told would be when he and Hannah were wed. Being alive in his community and being the light to the world in which he lived truly excited him.
The stories around the campfires of Israel were as much “Bible” for them as the “written” word is a “Bible” for us.