As you probably picked up in my last Bible Study post I'm a bit of a history geek. I've always loved history and when it came down to choosing my major once I settled into the humanities after leaving engineering history was a no brainer. If God hadn't called me to ministry I'm fairly certain that I would be teaching history in a university lecture hall about now.
I love discovering the unexpected twists and turns of the human story (seriously, truth really is stranger than fiction). I equally love filling in the picture of what life was like for people in other times, people both astonishingly like us yet also remarkably different. When I'm bored and haven't had time to buy or borrow any new books I'm more than happy to read through Wikipedia history articles, either to learn something new or critique what's been written (though thankfully I've never bothered to get an account and actually start editing articles).
At the same time it's more than just a personal passion or preference that leads me to include more than a bit of history in my Biblical teaching and preaching. The fact is that though there's a lot in the Bible that is fairly straightforward, a lot of it doesn't make sense or is easily misinterpreted if you don't know something the historical context in which each of its books were written. That's because, though the Bible was inspired by the Spirit of God and speaks eternal truth to every age, the people who physically wrote it remained people of their time and place.
Certain things just don't make sense if we don't know the original situation these books were written into, and the kind of people who put pen to paper. To take Jonah and Nahum as examples, you can't really get a full sense of what these books are saying if you know nothing about Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire. You don't need to know the minute history of the Ancient Middle East, but you need to know enough to understand the reason for God's judgement in Nahum and the radical and upsetting nature of his forgiveness in Jonah.
Like Jesus, the Bible involves God making his divine and eternal Word human. The Holy Spirit helps us understand God's Word as it comes to us in Scripture, but we need to also take the time to use the mind and knowledge God has also given us to be sure that we don't unintentionally make the Bible say what we want it to say to us in the present.
That being said let me know if I'm going on too much about the iconography of Roman coins or how the key to understanding Palm Sunday is found in the book of Maccabees which tells the story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers who liberated Judea in 165 BC from the tyranny of....