Can we agree that the Bible has some weird stories? Is that fair to say? I mean really… there is a story of an ax head that falls into a river and the prophet of God makes it float by throwing a stick into the water (2 Kings 6:1-7). There is another about a patriarch who refuses to give his youngest son in marriage to his widowed daughter-in-law… she pretends to be a prostitute and the patriarch impregnates her (Genesis 38). Yet another, the prophet Elisha is mocked by some teenagers because he is bald… so he calls bears from the wilderness to EAT THEM (2 Kings 2:23-25). There are tons more weird stories in the Bible. Each story bears its own unique difficulties. Sometimes theological, sometimes pragmatic, always frustrating.
As I grew in the Lord and began to read my Bible with greater regularity I began to ask the question, “Why is this in the Bible?” I would find myself reading a story like the aforementioned ax head story and laugh saying to myself, “well, that’s interesting?” I’d struggle to answer the question of, “why does this story matter?” I know that every story has a purpose. God preserved these particular stories to tell us something. Indeed, in the words of the Storybook Bible, I read to my kids, “Every story whispers His name.” Sometimes those are obvious and sometimes they are not so obvious.
Embracing this struggle to understand is the first step in grasping the text of Scripture. Sometimes God lays the answer before us in “bull-horn moments” and sometimes understanding takes a little work on our behalf. As a simple man who strives to hear the voice of God in the pages of Scripture, I’ve developed some questions that help me to hear Him. Maybe you struggle too? If you do, maybe these will help:
- What does God do in this story?
Shortly after graduating from seminary, I remember reading a particular passage and asking this question. I sought the insight of some of my former professors on the matter and found their answers helpful. Though all the professors offered insights that I had missed, the best answer came in the form of a question – “What does God do in this story?” On the surface, this question seems simple and easy to answer. But what about the stories where He is not mentioned or does not speak? Genesis 34? The book of Esther? Multiple Judges? But, the Bible’s main character is God. So, He is the chief actor in the story of the Bible. We must seek to see what God is doing. Even in His silence, He is present and active.
- What does this passage tell me about the character of God?
In Sunday school as a child, I was taught to think about the Bible in moral terms. What was the Bible saying that I should or shouldn’t do? Now don’t get me wrong, the Bible has something to say about morality and does guide you to what you should do and should not do. Yet, when we moralize the stories of Scripture before asking this question, we inadvertently neglect the primary purpose of the text. The purpose is to teach us about God and His character. It is not a list of right and wrongs, but a guide to knowing God. So, a good question to ask is, “What does this passage say about God?” Your answer should never be, “nothing.” You may have to think heavy and hard about it but the fruit of that labor will be magnificent.
- What do other passages say about this one?
“Scripture interprets Scripture!” the professor almost yelled in fervor. His jaw clenched as he decried people who would interpret Scripture by their own experience. If Jesus says a passage in the Old Testament means something, then that is what it means. If Paul applies a text to the church, then that text is to be applied to the church. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. It says what it says. If the Gospels say that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53, then Israel is NOT the suffering servant, that title is claimed by the Messiah! This question takes some digging. Get yourself a good cross-reference Bible and dig in. Put in the work, you won’t regret it.