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Israel's Sacred History

Updated: Nov 1, 2023


DW | Old Testament

1.1 - Israel's Sacred History


The most distinctive feature of the Jewish people is their sense of history. Judaism is the religion of a people who have a unique memory that reaches back through the centuries to the stirring events of the Bible, events that formed them as a people with a sense of identity and vocation. Whenever the Passover is celebrated, whenever the Law is read in the synagogue, whenever a parent instructs his child in the Tradition, this memory is kept alive.

When a people seeks to understand the meaning of their life-story, they do not actually begin with their birth or infancy, even though their written autobiography may start at that point. Rather, they view, or review their early childhood in the light of later experiences that are impressed deeply on their memory. Israel's life-story did not really begin with the time of Abraham or even the Creation, although the Old Testament, in its present form, starts there. Rather, Israel's history had its beginning in a crucial historical experience that made it a self-conscious historical community – an event so decisive that earlier events and subsequent experiences were seen in its light.


This decisive event was the Exodus from Egypt. Down through the ages Israelites have re-enacted this historic moment when God, whom they called Yahweh, marvelously brought his people out of bondage and into the land of 'milk and honey'. Just as the Christian remembers and relives the sacrifice of Jesus in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, so those of the Jewish faith recall and make contemporary the Exodus as they celebrate the Passover.

From a secular viewpoint, the study of Israel is similar to the stories of other small nations that were caught in the whirlpool of power politics in the ancient world. In a sense, Israel's history is a minor sidestep in the larger history of the Ancient Near East, and the culture is overshadowed by the more power cultures of antiquity. However, Israel's religious history, which is sacred to both Jews and Christians, set it apart from anything else. For in these historical experiences, as interpreted by faith, the ultimate meaning of human life is disclosed. The Old Testament is Israel's witness to its encounter with God.

To fully understand Biblical Israel, you have to fully understand the Old Testament. And, to fully understand the Old Testament, you have to understand the Passover... its the whole point of the historical drama, the very heart of the people and their faith.

Quoting Psalm 103:7:

'He made known His ways to Moses,

His acts to the people of Israel.'


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