Stories. We love them! Some of us love to tell them, with exaggerated gestures and dramatic facial expressions. Others of us love to read them, the descriptive words washing over us to chill or gladden our hearts. Some of us love to watch them – TV, movies, theater, anywhere that life plays out in front of us.
We are inspired by stories of heroism and love, whether they are true or fictional; we are repulsed by stories of evil and malice. What is it about stories?!
Stories aren’t just moving for our modern American hearts. Every culture, every generation throughout the ages has used stories to teach and entertain. Different cultures have different ways of storytelling – some use more detail, some less – but it is a part of the human experience to share stories.
It is not surprising, then, that the Bible is chock full of stories! Jesus uses them to teach the curious crowds, frequently with the admonition that “those who have ears, let them hear.” In other words, stories contain truths that those who are willing to learn will glean.
The same is true for the stories in the Old Testament. Down through the generations of Jewish moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, the stories would be told to teach the children who the God of Israel was – a God of character and power, of love and faithfulness, unlike the other deities that the surrounding cultures worshipped.
The Old Testament stories aren’t each just stand-alone stories, though. The story of Adam and Eve was not intended to be told just by itself. It is part of a gigantically bigger story – the story of the whole Bible. If you look at Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 21 and 22, you will see bookends of the same story.
And it’s not just beginning and end; even though the Bible is written by 40 different authors over the course of 1500 years on three different continents, the storyline remains constant throughout the Bible. God is in the process of bringing redemption into humankind’s relationships to Him and to one another.
He’s been following a plan He set in motion at the very beginning in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve first rebelled against Him, and He will carry that plan through to completion when Jesus returns and we get to live in the new heavens and new earth. The story of the Bible is so masterfully woven, so intricately told, so brilliantly written that there is no way humans could have pulled this sucker together. It must be God’s story.
Over the course of time on this blog, I’ll engage with some of the stories from the Old Testament. There are a lot of them!! I know this isn’t a Bible study forum, per se, but I hope getting some cultural and historical background, as well as some connection with our own stories and the life of Jesus, will help you love these beautiful stories as much as I love them.
I’ll always link to the story on BibleGateway.com at the beginning of the post, so if you have a few moments, read through the story. Call it your bedtime story or your leisure reading. Even the longer stories are relatively short (compared to a chapter in a novel or something), and there’s generally plenty of action and intrigue to keep you entertained!
There are some things we should note at the outset here about good storytelling in the Bible.
1. This is Hebrew storytelling. It’s a different culture from ours. Keep that in mind. Sometimes, the story is just giving details that are descriptions of how it was, not descriptions of how we should live.
2. At the same time, unlike most of our modern storytelling, details in Hebrew storytelling are always included for a reason. Nothing is put in arbitrarily. The style is often terse and to the point – which means that you can look for the reason for any detail’s inclusion! (Doesn’t mean our modern thoughts will naturally understand the reasoning, but it’s still there for a reason.)
3. Repetition is key. If you want people to remember something, repeat it over and over, especially in a culture where teaching and stories are primarily passed down orally. In American writing, our teachers tell us to use different vocabulary. “Don’t just say the same word over and over again!” But in Hebrew literature, the more you reiterate something, the more likely people are to remember it! So look for the repetitions to see the point of the story.
4. Many good stories contain a “story within the story.” We’ll see this over and over in our study, and it is true for the entire Bible. There’s the BIG story, what’s called the meta-narrative. This is the story of God and people from the beginning of the Bible to the end. Then there’s the medium-sized story, or the “chunk” of story. That would be like Genesis chapters 1-4 – the creation and fall of man. Then there’s the story-time story, like the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 2. This would be like what you heard at story-time in your Sunday School class when you were a kid.
Lastly, let the story shock you. If you were raised in the church and you’ve had the fear of God put in you that you can’t question anything and all this is normal… let go. There are some truly horrific stories in the Bible. There are also some truly miraculous and beautiful stories in the Bible. Sometimes they’re in the same story-time story, and always they are all true.
This world we live in is a beautiful, glorious, awful mess (currently), and God frequently intervenes in ways that our minds cannot fully grasp into the natural laws that He set up to govern the world. This story is not rated PG-13. LET THE STORY OF GOD AND PEOPLE SHOCK YOU.
The Old Testament stories lay the foundations for good theology. Don’t panic! Theology is simply what we believe to be true about God – and ALL of us have it. The question is not whether or not you know theology; the question is whether or not your theology is good – that is, does it line up with what God tells us about Himself, or is it a product of your own imaginings and/or false teaching?
When life gets excruciatingly hard, your theology – what you believe about God – will either add weight to your already too-heavy load and crush you (spiritual darkness on top of emotional, mental, and/or physical pain), or it will give you life as you walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” (light to see by as you walk through dark places). So it’s vital to learn good theology so that when darkness invades your life, you have light to shine into it. You’ll see theology all over this blog, although I don’t always call it that. It is deeply entrenched into my story and yours.
Next week: The curtain rises on the opening act!