How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth: Old Testament Stories
by Matt Rawlings
Perhaps no Biblical genre, with the exception of apocalyptic, has been more mistreated by the church than Old Testament narratives. We tend to treat them as children’s stories but does that work? Just try to read Exodus 12 to your child at night, “…and then the Angel of Death killed every first-born male in Egypt…Good night, honey!” Nothing in the Bible is a kid’s story!
We also tend to treat Old Testament narratives as containing moralisms like David v. Goliath serving as a template for facing our giants. But does that work? Sure there are morals in the Old Testament but that’s not what the texts are about. Jesus made it clear in John 5:39 that ALL scripture is about Christ! In fact, when Jesus stated this the only Bible was the Old Testament!
The only hero or person truly worthy of veneration in the Bible is God. This means that just because a person other than Jesus does something in the Bible does not mean that it is prescriptive.
Biblical scholars Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart write in their fine book How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth (Zondervan 2003):
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“At their basic level Bible narratives tell us about things that happened in the past. All narratives have three basic parts: characters, plot, and plot resolution. That is, most narratives presuppose some kind of conflict or tension that needs resolving. In traditional literary terms, the characters are the “protagonist” (the primary person in the story), the “antagonist” (the person who brings about the conflict or tension), and (sometimes) the “agonist(s)” (the other major characters in the story who get involved in the struggle). In the biblical story God is the protagonist, Satan (or evil people/powers) are the antagonists, and God’s people are the agonists. The basic “plot” of the biblical story is that the Creator God has created a people for his name—in his own “image”—who as his image bearers were to be his stewards over the earth that he created for their benefit. But an enemy entered the picture who persuaded the people to bear his “image” instead, and thus to become God’s enemies. The plot resolution is the long story of “redemption,” how God rescues his people from the enemy’s clutches, restores them back into his image, and (finally) will restore them “in a new heaven and new earth.”
All the Bible is about God!
Fee and Stuart go on to set out three levels in properly interpreting an Old Testament story: (1) he individual stories about Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, David,; (2) the second is about God redeeming people for His glory and the redemption of the world; and (3) the highest level, which is about God (John 5:39). If you stay at #1 and never move to #2 and #3, you are cheating yourself!
But, before we jump in to the three levels, let’s get a handle on the historical and literary background to Esther…