Old Testament Narratives
Most of the Old Testament is written
in the style of historical narrative.
The story of God and people unfolds through history, capturing major
minor events and details along the way.
This class will discuss
the "Old Testament historical narrative" as
a unique genre of literature and identify some methods for
Three Levels of
Old Testament history covers centuries of time. At its highest level,
it tells the history of Israel from creation until the centuries just
Christ. At another level, it tells us of major eras along the way--
as the time of the exodus, the conquest of Canaan, and the time of the
kings of Israel. At its lowest level, it speaks of individual events--
such as the first Passover, individual battles and scores of events
fill in the details. Thus, we have three levels of history:
In reading Old
Testament historical narratives, one must consider the larger
contexts of these historical levels to understand and appreciate why
things happen and what significance they have.
- Top Level- big picture
- Middle Level- major eras
- Bottom Level- individual events
Regarding Old Testament Narratives
There are several common misconceptions about the use of Old Testament
Important Guidelines for
Understanding Old Testament Narratives
- They are not about people; they are
primarily about God.
Yes, certain people are the central human characters in various
accounts. And yes, certain events focus extensively on human activity.
But the point of these events is how God acted in response to man and
man acted in response to God.
- They are not allegories (stories where each
object or event in the
"spiritually" represents something else). The objective is not to
"hidden meanings" or symbolism that "no one else has thought of" but
to understand what the original writer intended to communicate about
and his relationship with people.
- They rarely teach directly. For example, the
requirements of the Law of
Moses might be discussed in the books of the Law (Exodus-Deuteronomy),
but how people subsequently obeyed or disobeyed that Law will be
in the narrative books.
- There isn't always a "moral" to individual
events. Sometimes they
tell what happened, and the reader is expected to be able to understand
what happened was good, bad or neither.
- They are about those people, not you.
Don't try to look for
that applies to your life today in every event-- simply because your
are considerably different than theirs.
Having considered common
misconceptions concerning the use of Old Testament
narratives, there are three important guidelines for understanding Old
- Understand the scope and limitations of the
genre. Remember the
list above; especially that narratives are simply saying what happened.
- Don't confuse "example" with "approved
example." Not every action of an
historical character is approved; in fact many (if not most) are not!
- Allow the passages to be illuminated by the
larger historical context.
Ask, "How does the story I am reading fit into the larger context?"
Read the book of Ruth. For
background, see Leviticus 19:10 (gleaning),
Leviticus 25:47-50 (redeeming), and Numbers 27:7-11 (inheritances).
- How does the story of Ruth fit into the larger
historical context of
- Did you notice the connection between the Law and
what people did?
- Which of the following are legitimate teachings
from the book of Ruth?
- If you move away, bad things will happen (1:1-5)
- You need to stay close to your mother-in-law
- When loved ones die, God's hand is against you
- If you marry a foreigner, you will die (1:4-5)
- The only right time to move is during the
barley harvest (1:22)
- The way to find a spouse is to glean from his
- Boaz and Ruth are a model of courtship
- What is the point of the book of Ruth?
- What lessons can be learned from the book of Ruth?