Now click here to read the story with geographical context...
Story with Meaningful Context
One day a passenger train was traveling from New York to Los Angeles. Soon after the train passed beyond Las Vegas, however, it slowed to a stop, and the conductor announced that the train had broken down and would not be able to take the passengers to their final destination. He assured them that alternate transportation would be arranged for them but that it would not arrive for several hours. The passengers soon began to react to the news. A well dressed man from New York immediately pulled out his phone to make other arrangements but quickly realized there was no mobile phone service this far outside the city. Then he snapped, "There's no way I'm staying on this train any longer," so he stepped off the train to begin walking back to Las Vegas. But it didn't take long for him to realize that this was not a good plan for him. A woman from Hollywood frantically exclaimed, "But casting starts tomorrow morning! This could mean millions of dollars lost!" A man from Washington, D.C., sanctimoniously assured everyone, "You can be sure I will be taking action in Washington about these deplorable traveling conditions!" A man from Saudia Arabia, however, simply picked up his luggage, jumped down from the train, and non-chalantly began the long trek back to Las Vegas.
Now what do you think about the story?
Just by adding in recognizable geographical place names, the story typically takes on much greater meaning for readers and captures their attention much better than the first rendition. From this second rendition, lots of details become immediately clear. To begin with, we can see that the trip by train would have taken about three days, and the train was just a few hours from its final destination when it broke down, so the man from New York City is probably already very tired of traveling on the train for so long. It is also likely that he is not used to the hot desert climate of Las Vegas, because New York City is located in a very mild climate, so he would not have been able to walk back to Las Vegas. But much of Saudi Arabia is a hot desert, so the man from Saudi Arabia probably wouldn't mind the heat as he walked back to Las Vegas. This, then, reveals a light punchline at the end of the story, which is almost entirely indiscernable in the first rendition. Also, the woman from Hollywood would be concerned that casting starts tomorrow morning because Hollywood is famous for making blockbuster movies with expensive budgets, and the woman is probably involved in making a high-profile movie and needs to be there during casting for the upcoming movie production. Since Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States, the man from there may be able to get new laws passed to improve railway travel conditions or more effectively respond to incidents like this one.
All of this new meaning and color in the story comes immediately into view simply by recognizing geographical context in each of the place names.
Reading the Bible is no different. Often readers miss much of the color and meaning of Bible stories because they are largely unfamiliar with the places mentioned. Taking time to learn a little of the setting of a Bible story can often pay huge dividends for understanding it better.
I hope you find this fun little demonstration helpful for communicating the great value of geographical context as you read Scripture.