Yesterday I suggested that we shouldn’t be plucking stories and presenting little life lessons. So what to do? I pushed the idea of seeing little story accounts in the context of the bigger sweep of stories in that section, and then seeing that section in light of the bigger story of the book, and the book in light of the biggest story of the whole Bible. Yes, but how?
1. Read the big sweep, then repeat. It is very hard to grasp the big picture of the Bible without reading large chunks of it. Simply digging deep into the meaning of a sentence will not give the big picture awareness that the Bible invites. Even checking commentaries and reference tools will only offer a limited awareness of the sweeping sense of Scriptures. While some commentaries are becoming more alert to the structuring and flow of a book, nothing can replace the benefits of knowing the big picture for yourself.
2. Look for the links between smaller narratives. Develop a sensitivity for links and contrasts offered by the biblical writer. Check the little theme of laughter ribboned through Genesis 17-21, and it isn’t simply Sarah and Isaac. Look at the relative locations of Jacob to his family either side of the wrestling match. The Bible is fairly sparse on detail compared to modern fiction writers, but what is there is there on purpose.
3. Ask why stories are neighbours. Why does the story of Abraham with Gentile Abimelech come after the story of Lot being dragged out of Gentile Sodom, which is really a story about Abraham watching God’s justice and promise in action? Without becoming dogmatic based on the limited links you might recognize, do probe the flow of the text and ask good questions. Don’t only probe within a text. Think about the contrasts and comparison points between Joseph in Genesis 37 & 39 and Judah in Genesis 38 . . . leaving the land, garments, goats, compromise, etc.
4. Don’t focus on little life lessons, look for how the text reinforces bigger realities. Life isn’t ultimately about how we do business, or how we do wrestling, or how we do temptation, or how we do sojourning. Life is primarily about how we relate to the one true God who makes promises and keeps them, who is involved in life yet sometimes apparently distant, etc. Preach about God and living in response to His self-revelation. Don’t just tip your hat to God and focus on how we can be more like a Bible character in our quest to live essentially independent lives of obedience to divinely inspired example (stretched to make preaching points).