There are examples throughout the Scriptures where both the written word of God and the spoken word of God are given prominence, often side by side. For example, Moses wrote down the words of the Law (Deut. 31:9). Moses gives the book to the priests with a command that it be read aloud every seven years (perhaps this seemed enough to refresh Israel’s memorization.) God immediately declares that disobedience and judgment will occur anyway and instructs Moses to compose a song and teach it to the Israelites so that they would always have it in their hearts and on their lips and always remember it.
So Moses wrote this entire body of instruction in a book and gave it to the priests, who carried the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, and to the elders of Israel. Then Moses gave them this command: “At the end of every seventh year, the Year of Release, during the Festival of Shelters, you must read this Book of Instruction to all the people of Israel when they assemble before the Lord your God at the place he chooses… The Lord said to Moses, “You are about to die and join your ancestors. After you are gone, these people will begin to worship foreign gods, the gods of the land where they are going. They will abandon me and break my covenant that I have made with them… So write down the words of this song, and teach it to the people of Israel. Help them learn it, so it may serve as a witness for me against them… and when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.” So that very day Moses wrote down the words of the song and taught it to the Israelites.
The very first place in the Bible that God tells Moses to write something is after the victory over the Amalekites in Exodus 17:14. (Exodus 17:8-16 NLT)
While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”
So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.
After the victory, the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”). He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now* the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”
God wrote the 10 Commandments twice with his own finger. The first set (see end of Exodus 31) Moses smashed in anger at Israel’s idolatry with the Golden Calf.
Moses was told to chisel out a second set of tablets to replace the ones he smashed and during 40 days on the mountain God rewrote the terms of the covenant on the second set of stone tablets and began to instruct Moses to write down the full instructions of rituals, dietary laws and moral codes for the people. (Exodus 34)
In Deuteronomy (6:6-9) God says:
…you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
These acts of writing were more of a memorial to spark the memory of the memorized laws and stories than actual reading since most of Israel was illiterate. Moses was educated in the palace of the king of Egypt making him one of the very few people of his day who had learned to make marks on papyrus or animal hides and could sound out words on scrolls or stones.
The stories of His victories on behalf of Israel were God’s first assault on the city of Jericho. (Joshua 2)
Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.
Another way God spoke to his non-literate people was with the memorial to the Jordan crossing. (Joshua 4)
When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’”
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen–one from each of the tribes of Israel. He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder–twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”
O my people, listen to my instructions.
Open your ears to what I am saying,
for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past–
stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them–
even the children not yet born–
and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
not forgetting his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors–
stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
refusing to give their hearts to God.
Psalm 119 has over 50 references to a memorized Torah. It’s a poem that helped Israelites memorize their alphabet. All art works within limitations. Instead of Jewish poets limiting their form by rhyme, this poet started every line in each section of the song with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The second section (Beth) contains one of the most famous verses in the Bible. Look at verse 11 in context. This poem was for a illiterates who might learn the basics of their written alphabet but relied on their memory more than anything else.
How can a young person stay pure?
By obeying your word.
I have tried hard to find you—
don’t let me wander from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
I praise you, O Lord;
teach me your decrees.
I have recited aloud
all the regulations you have given us.
I have rejoiced in your laws
as much as in riches.
I will study your commandments
and reflect on your ways.
I will delight in your decrees
and not forget your word.
Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.
Let those with understanding receive guidance
by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
Scriptures In Use (SIUtraining.org) chooses storying as “The Ancient Path” to reach oral cultures citing Jeremiah 6:16, “The Lord said, “Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient path. Ask where the good way is and walk in it.”
Jesus Always Used Stories In Mark 4 the disciples ask about parable of the Sower. Jesus keeps the story intact as he explains it. He chronologically discusses the meaning. Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.
Matthew 13:34-35 (Contemporary English Version) Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet:
“I will speak to you in parables.
I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.
Jesus used many other stories when he spoke to the people, and he taught them as much as they could understand. He did not tell them anything without using stories. But when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.
On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) was one of the greatest chronological presentations never recorded.
Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (v. 27 New Living Translation)
The disciples – mostly peasant fishermen – were illiterate. Peter and John surprised the council because they were illiterates. The Douay-Rheims Bible translates Acts 4:13 the best: “Now seeing the constancy of Peter and of John, understanding that they were illiterate and ignorant men, they wondered; and they knew them that they had been with Jesus.”
These men linked the stories of the Old Testament with the teachings and miracles of Jesus and were unstoppable.
In Acts 7 Stephen did a “fast track” through the chronology of Israel from Abraham thru Moses, David, Solomon and Isaiah. Verse 54 says “The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation” What was this accusation? Read Acts 7:2-53
In 1 Timothy 4:13 (just after the famous exhortation “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.”) Paul reminds Timothy of the importance of reading Scripture aloud as part of church services (presumably entire books.)
Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.