Today I wish to direct your attention to a post from Pete Enns entitled “What Christmas in “Christian America” tells us about ancient Israel“. Enns’ big idea is that the way Christmas is celebrated nowadays in America, with it being a national, secular-ish holiday that has little if any religious significance for the majority of those who celebrate it, provides an analogy for life in Old Testament Israel.
We have this idea that the ancient Israelites were just as aware as we are of what one reads in the Old Testament. As if every Israelite family was sitting around, having daily devotions, carrying their Bibles with them whenever they went to temple or synagogue. Reality check: There was no “Bible”–certainly not as we know it today–back in Old Testament times. The Old Testament–such as it was back then–was not something which every rank-and-file Jew had in their home or to carry around with them. Reading and writing were something which only trained scribes did. The printing press and the Bible in every person’s possession were relatively recent innovations in the scope of human history.
Thus, the reality of Israelite faith as it was lived out on the ground during the time of the kings (prior to the exile in Babylon) was significantly different from what we read about in the Old Testament. They had the Temple, the priests, the sacrifices, and all the religious feasts, to be sure, but it all made little if any difference in the daily, on-the-ground existence of Israelites living at the time. Most of them–they were probably just going along with the cultural flow. Just like the majority of people who celebrate Christmas in America nowadays.
So when you read the Old Testament, the story here is not so much one of out-and-out rebellion by the Israelites against clearly spelled-out and clearly understood commands from God, but rather one of a monumental disconnect between what was happening in Jerusalem among the religious elites and what was happening on the ground in the lives of average Israelites all over the land.