No matter the story, there is usually a story beneath the story. Every news item is seldom as straightforward as it seems, whether it be domestic violence, fraudulent practice or family break up. There is always a story beneath the story.
The study of history is fascinating especially in the hands of an esteemed teacher; the story beneath the story is eye opening. Hegel is quoted as saying: ‘History teaches us that man learns nothing from history’; even more curt is Henry Ford’s, ‘history is bunk’.
But 40% of the Bible is made up of historical narrative, and since the Bible is God’s self-
revelation, history is a brilliant place for us to learn about the character of God, his purpose and dealings with humankind.
Let’s look at a few events of history and then look for the story beneath the story. About the year 1320 BC an alliance of Canaanite Kings built up around Eglon, King of Moab. This alliance became so strong that the alliance defeated the tribes of Israel which had invaded Canaan from the Sinai wilderness, and Eglon extracted tribute from them. This domination continued for 18 years until Eglon was assassinated and his army of 10000 men routed. Following this victory, Israel had peace in the land for 80 years, until about 1222 BC.
Those are the bare historical facts, but there is usually a story beneath the story and the author of the book of Judges tells us that story. He tells us that Yahweh, the God of Israel gave strength to Eglon, because Yahweh’s people Israel had done evil in his sight. After being oppressed for 18 years, Israel cried out to the Lord and he raised up a deliverer, a low profile man of the tribe of Benjamin who happened to be left-handed. In those days this was seen as a real disability and it is ironic that a man from the tribe of Benjamin (which means son of my right hand) should have this disability.
Yet it was this left handedness which obtained Ehud a private audience with Eglon. He assassinated the king in Eglon’s favourite room, upstairs on the roof of his summer palace, and then made good his escape. Ehud then called Israel to war, a war which he knows is won even before a weapon is raised, because as Ehud put it: ‘the Lord has given your enemies into your hand’.
History is the landscape in which God reveals himself. He is not aloof, he is just and punishes evil in his own people, but he mercifully hears their cry. As he strengthened Eglon, so he also raises the deliverer from Eglon, Ehud. He never loses control, as Proverbs 21:1 says, ‘The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord, he turns it wherever he will’. God has a purpose, and history is the narrative of the fulfilment of that purpose, so history never frustrates God.
God’s purpose is to glorify himself by refining a people of his own who are God-glorifying and who love and serve his Son. God’s hidden refining hand is active in his call to Abraham, his guiding of Israel into and out of Egypt, his delivering them into Canaan and the endurance of the throne of David culminating in the coming of Christ, David’s greater son. History is indeed His story!
Here is another example, in Luke 13 where Jesus having rebuked the crowds for their poor reading of history is asked to interpret two events. The first is an act of political atrocity, Pilate’s killing of the Galilean worshippers at the temple; the other a building accident in Siloam.
Jesus says the way to read these events, the story beneath the story, is to see that they are reminders that since Eden we all have been living outside the garden. These events remind us that we live in an environment of friction, frustration and death, and this is due to human sin, God’s curse of Adam and Eve, so repent. Every example of friction in relationships, every outbreak of chaos in creation, storm, drought, flood and fire, every death, is a reminder that it was never meant to be like this, but sin is the cause and we need to repent.
The apostle Paul adds in Romans 2 that when things are good they do not signal God’s approval of our lifestyle but indicate his kindness and patience, both intended to lead us to repentance. Historical events, both good and bad, are to be understood as encouragements to repentance, to turn back to honour God, that is the story beneath the story.
In Romans 8:28, Paul reminds us that in Christ, God has delivered us from slavery to luck and chance. For the believer, God is at work in all history, both globally and personally, for our good to refine us that we should be like Christ, our elder brother. This is a freedom that the believer alone knows, because through Jesus, we know the sovereign God, whom we love and who called us according to his purpose. The story beneath the story is to see God’s directing hand in ‘all things’, to refine his people. There are no accidents for the believer, no misdiagnoses, no such thing as an event out of control. Every event is ordered by the powerful hidden hand, springing from a purposeful, loving heart.
The story beneath the story is that the purposeful, history directing God is fulfilling his purpose, today, tomorrow and till history is no more. The purpose of God is to glorify himself by refining a people of his own, who are godly, and who love and serve his Son.
There is always a story beneath the story.