If we take a look at the Bible, it is interesting to note that 40% of the material in the bible consists of narratives, stories and is actually the most common type of writing. The primary faith confessions of both Christianity and Judaism tell us that God has revealed Himself in extraordinary ways in human history. This special encounter with God is really the crux of Biblical witnesses to God. This is why scripture is the story of God. This simply gives the idea that in interpreting the Bible, we should take seriously this dimension of story.
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Summary of Howard
The Old Testament historical narratives are not just interesting stories about people who lived in Old Testament times, but they are also stories filled with hidden meanings, much more important than the plain and outward meanings. These stories do not always teach some clear morale directly, however, narratives are written in story-form. They have a meaningful string of interrelated events involving specified characters and some kind of plot. The ultimate purpose of Old Testament narratives is to inform us about things certain people have done within the larger story of God’s plan. This plan of God is to offer redemption to mankind through a promised Saviour.
The Biblical narratives comes in three distinct levels, much like the subject of God’s will. First it is His will for all of humanity. Secondly His will for His covenant people and thirdly His will for the individual person. The top level of Biblical narrative refers to the big picture which is the universal plan of God for redeeming all mankind through the promised messiah descended through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. In a nutshell, the entire Bible can be understood in three major units.
In Genesis to Malachi we can read that a rescuer is coming, the rescuer is here and it is Jesus. In Acts to Revelation we read that Jesus is coming again. We see that the middle level of Biblical narrative records God’s work through a selected portion of humanity and the nation of Israel and the Church. Also included in here would be stories involving individuals or covenant people that have a major impact on a lot of other people. In Romans 5 we see that Adam’s deeds affected all of humanity. Noah’s faithfulness to God affected all of humanity and everyone that are descendents of Noah. Abraham was the father of many nations and Moses was God’s mediator for the Sinaitic Covenant in Israel. The life of Jesus and the apostles impacted all of humanity and the church is the proof and demonstration of God’s wisdom (Phillipians. 3:10-11).
We can see that the lowest level of narratives are stories that take place at an individual level, describing events in the lives of people that do not have an obvious larger impact, such as Joseph, Judas, Paul and Barnabas (Genesis 37-50). It is not every individual passage that bears witness to Jesus directly (John 5:37-39) but everything does fit in the puzzle somehow to the ultimate level narrative. On the other hand, there are some typology stories that do not make much sense. Try to read Old Testament narratives and always appreciate the individual stories, but be sure to understand the stories as elements in a much larger meta-narrative unfolding bringing God’s Messiah into the world (Howard, 1993).
Summary of Osborne
Preaching from Old Testament narratives resembles playing the saxophone and it is easy to play the saxophone poorly. The one contributing factor is the deficient theology that neglects the Old Testament as a source of Bible exposition. It relegates it merely to illustrative material, but most difficulties stem from a deficient methodology. The other problem pertains to homiletics. A lot of preachers have adopted a style of exposition that is not conducive to preaching Old Testament narratives. The striving for a narrative’s meaning puts the interpreter into the world of literary analysis. The biblical authors are constantly and urgently conscious of telling a story in order to reveal the imperative truth of God’s works in history. It also tells the story of Israel’s hopes and failings. By paying close attention to the literary strategies through which that truth was expressed, may actually help us to understand it better. It will also enable us to see the minute elements of complicating design in the Bible’s sacred history. Osborne came to the following conclusion, “There is no reason why history and literary artistry cannot exist side-by-side”. An Interpreter can notice the literary art of a story because literary artistry is not an end in itself, but a means to understanding the theological point of a narrative. The test is not whether literary analysis contributes to aesthetic appreciation but whether it advances understanding. Is it sharpening the ear and the eye to the author’s intentions?” It is well known that Old Testament narratives do more than make theological points. They attempt to persuade and change the Bible’s main form of exposition. The narrative is most appropriately characterized as primary rhetoric, its primary objective being to persuade its audience. Bible expositors must prepare to interact with the literary features of the text in order to discover a story’s theological point. A preacher’s effectiveness in the pulpit depends on the amount of hours he spends with exegesis and study. The guidelines suggested above can help preachers to do great and reliable exegesis that is sensitive to the literary features of Old Testament narratives. Some sermon preparation still remains incomplete although expositors do thorough exegesis marked by sensitivity to the literary art of a narrative. It is important that the preacher tackle the homiletical side of the task. As Osborne states, great preachers have all worked as hard on presentation as they have on exegesis, yet many expositors stumble. They end up preaching the bare facts of a text instead of the text itself (Osborne, 2006).
Sermons on biblical narratives succeed or fail with the pastor’s ability to present the scenes of a story in vivid color. In Old Testament narratives other concerns overshadow the need for realistic fullness; but realistic fullness may be one of the greatest concerns of a modern pastor. Pastors need to engage readers in the story with sensory details. Painting scenes like this requires ample historical-cultural research in Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases and books on archaeology. Such research leads to sharp, accurate images. Imagination can degenerate into fantasy and, in an effort to tell a good story, a pastor can scuttle or trivialize the biblical material. Imagination must be linked to the text just as interpretation must be tied to the text, otherwise the pastor may misrepresent the Scriptures and say in the name of God what God did not say. A careful exegesis of the text will give direction to the imagination and even set the parameters it must not violate. Good images also result from precise vocabulary. Pastors should cultivate a suspicion of adjectives and adverbs and instead use lively verbs and colorful nouns. Should an expositor use colloquial expressions that portray biblical characters as “happy campers” or that describe them “adjusting their sunglasses”? Certainly this can be overdone, but at times, it may prove effective. Reading can stimulate a pastor’s creativity and provide ideas for arranging the details of Old Testament stories to gain the maximum effect. Pastors should at least read sermon manuscripts or listen to sermon tapes by masters of the craft.
In conclusion, we can really the historical instincts of the biblical writers and must assess and use their works positively and constructively.
- HOWARD D.M. JR. 1993. An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books. Chicago: Moody Press.
- OSBORNE G.R. 2006. The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (2nd ed., rev. and exp.). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
The Bible is full of wonderful books to read. The Book of Joshua is one of the Bible’s great books of courage and faith. God told Joshua: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them and to the Israelites” (Joshua 1:2). In the Book of Joshua God is encouraging us to be strong and courageous.
Discuss the authorship, date and main divisions of the book of Joshua.
Author: The Book of Joshua does not name its author. They say that Joshua must have written most of the book. The last part of the book was written by another person after the death of Joshua. In the book several sections were edited and compiled before the death of Joshua.
Date of Writing: It is recorded in history that the Book of Joshua was written between 1400 and 1370 B.C.
Main Divisions: The Book of Joshua speaks about the life of the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. Joshua was a great leader and in the book it shows his 20 years of leadership of the people. During that time he was also anointed by Moses. The twenty-four chapter divisions of the Book of Joshua can be summarized as follows:
- The events following Moses’ death, the invasion and capture of the land.
- The division of the country and the conduct of the Reubenites, etc.; two farewell addresses by Joshua shortly before his death to the people of Israel.
Key Verses: Joshua 1:6-9 says, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous…..”. Joshua 24:14-15, “Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve……” (Got Questions, 2002).
What major discrepancy (difference, conflict) do some scholars see between Joshua and Judges? As a Bible-believing Christian, how can you account the difference in a way that defends the truthfulness of both books?
The book of Joshua and the book of Judges speak about the story of Israel’s settlement in the land of Canaan and their first couple of centuries in the land. In the first part of the book of Joshua, the book describes the actual entry of the Israelites into the land and the early battles for control of certain very important cities. The second part of the book shows in detail how the land was divided among the tribes of Israel, as well as a covenant ceremony in which the people committed themselves to the worship of God. There were continued struggles in the land as people led isolated campaigns to free the Israelites from oppression at the hands of surrounding people. In the book there is a rise of new leaders coming to the front. When we take a closer look at the two books there is a much more complex situation that begins to stand up both the historical and theological questions. It is not only about the reliability of the accounts as just normal history but also about the nature of Israel’s entry into Palestine.
Because of what I mentioned in the above paragraph, we can look to some of the historical questions raised at the beginning. Why is it that there are still no answers to those specific historical problems? Perhaps it is more obvious now that some of those historical problems are important to us. Maybe it is because we have not heard the biblical text as the faith community of Israel intended it to be heard. We have asked historical questions when the books are not history. The books bear witness to the work of God in the world, both His self-revelation in history and the community’s response to that revelation. These are both positively and negatively. Maybe before we rather ask “what really happened?” a historical question, we should ask “what is the community telling us about God”? This is a confessional and theological question (Bratcher, 2008).
Which of the five settlement theories that Mangano discusses is acceptable to Bible-believing Christians? Why are the other four unacceptable? Hint: we hold one belief that leads us to reject all four: what is it?
The Pan-Canaanite Conquest Model
According to (Kurinsky, nd) the Conquest Model is definitely precisely the same as the biblical narrative. If we look closer the model reveals some discrepancies. The more serious discrepancy is the biblical text presented that the whole land was not conquered at once. In Joshua 13:1-6 the Lord said to Joshua: “You are old and advanced in years and very much of the land still remains to be possessed”. When the Lord said that Joshua was too old suggested that a very long time was necessary for warfare. In later chapters we read that other non-Hebrew groups also continued to stay in the land. Some were Jebusites and other were Canaanites. In the book of Judged a similar picture is shown. Definitely not all the land were taken and not all the people were killed. There are also some historical problems. Some historians dreamed of rebuilding David’s empire. They were hoping that King Josiah would do it for them, however, these lands did not come under Israelite control until years later. Even though some schools of archaeology hold that the Bible has little historical relevance, they must still use the Bible to negate it!
The Peaceful Infiltration based its model on the romanticism of the Bedouin desert tribes. The Peasant Revolt is not describing exactly how and why Yahwism would have come into the mix at all. It must have been the fact that God gave them the Promised land, the divine command to go into the land and the freedom to escape from Egypt. They didn’t know where the idea of Yahweh came from but this new religion gave them freedom. The Symbiotic Theory speaks about the Exodus narrative and its paradigm of God’s deliverance and its repeated reiteration throughout the pages of the Hebrew Bible. The Eclectic Theory is probably the most relevant and blends the four theories in degrees (Kurinsky, nd).
The Book of Joshua continues where Deuteronomy ended. Examine Joshua’s reflection of the concepts listed below. Provide a brief description of each. Relate your discussion of each term to information from the Pentateuch.
Promise of the land
There would never be another leader quite like Moses. He had led the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the very borders of the Promised Land of Canaan. Joshua, who had been Moses’ right-hand man, was God’s choice to carry on where Moses left off. As Joshua faced the task God made him a special promise. These were strong words of encouragement and Joshua needed them. Canaan, the land promised by God to Abraham’s descendants, was not lying empty and waiting for the people of Israel. It was occupied by a collection of different tribes settled into city-states, built thick on the plains and along the route from Egypt to Syria and Mesopotamia. If the Israelites were to inhabit the land they must fight for their territory and displace people already there (Kurinsky, nd).
The covenant of circumcision operates on the principle of the spiritual union of the household in its head. The covenant was between God and His people, the Israelites. Abraham, Ishmael and all the men were circumcised with him. Those who thus became members of the covenant were expected to show it outwardly by obedience to God’s law. It is the costly demand which God takes of those whom He calls to Himself and marks with the sign of His covenant (Kurinsky, nd).
In Christian thought, as in Judaism, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the dedication of the first-born have been traditionally regarded as closely connected events of the historic times. By selecting the Passover lambs (which could vary between twelve and twenty-four months) they had made their first response of faith to God. Passover was the annual festival that celebrated their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:2-3) Kurinsky, nd).
A substance which was the Israelites’ chief food during their forty years’ journey in the wilderness. When Israel grumbled at the lack of food in the wilderness of sin, God gave them bread from heaven. The manna was used by God to teach lessons for spiritual instruction as well as physical sustenance. Israel was told that with the failure of other food, His provision of manna was to make known that man need not live from bread alone, but by the Word of God. God used the provision of manna on six days and not the seventh to teach Israel obedience and convicted them of disobedience. Jesus Christ uses the manna, the God-given bread from heaven, as a type of Himself, the true bread of life (Kurinsky, nd).
From the Pentateuch
Modern scholars add to the five books of the Pentateuch the book of Joshua, because of the content and still more, the literary structure. The book of Joshua shows that it is intimately connected with the Pentateuch and describes the final stage in the history of the Hebrew nation. It has become customary to speak of the first six books of the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua as the Hexateuch, that is, the six-roll book. The justification for this arrangement may be seen, for example, from this very simple consideration that the divine promise that the descendants of Abraham should occupy Canaan, is shown in the book of Joshua. Some would argue the book of Joshua is the final book of a Hexateuch and that we should name it the Hexateuch rather than the Pentateuch. Joshua does record the taking of Canaan which fulfills the promise to Abraham. While Joshua is considered part of the narrative of the Pentateuch, the book was not considered to be part of that part of the instruction. Perhaps the Pentateuch was designed to end without promises having come true so that all people can learn to obey God in faith. God’s commission to Joshua was to lead the people. Joshua is shown to be similar to Moses and God used Joshua to make the promises come true. During their preparation for battle, three events occurred:
The men were circumcised, Israel celebrated the Passover and Joshua encountered the heavenly army of God (Hirsch, 2002).
Joshua really wanted to know God and showed an earnest desire to know the will of Christ and a cheerful readiness to do it. We must all fight under Christ’s banner and we will conquer by His presence and assistance.
- GOTQUESTIONS.ORG. 2002. Book of Joshua. Viewed 13/03/2010. http://www.gotquestions.org/Book-of-Joshua.html.
- BRATCHER D. 2008. History and Theology in Joshua and Judges. Viewed 13/03/2010. http://www.crivoice.org/conquest.html.
- KURINSKY S. n.d. The Birth of the Israelite Nation Part I – Settlement in Canaan. Viewed 13/03/2010. http://www.hebrewhistory.info/factpapers/fp039-1_israel.htm.
- HIRSCH E.G. 2002. Book of Joshua. Viewed 14/03/2010. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=545&letter=J&search=joshua.
The Israelites began a series of cycles of sinning, worshipping idols, being punished, crying out for help, being rescued by a judge sent from God, obeying God for a while then falling back into idoltary.
Discuss the theological message and aim of the book of Judges, paying special attention to these two key passages:
Real Heroes are hard to find these days. Modern research and the media have made the weaknesses of our leaders very apparent. The music, movie and sports industries produce a stream of stars who shoot to the top and then quickly fade from view. Judges is a book about heroes, 12 men and women who delivered Israel from its oppressors. These judges were not perfect, in fact, they included an assassin, a sexually man and a person who broke all the laws of hospitality. In spite of all their shortcomings, they were submissive to God and God used them. Baal was the god of the storm and rains and therefore he was thought to control vegetation and agriculture. Ashtoreth was the mother goddess of love, war and fertility. Temple prostitution and child sacrifice were a part of the worship of these Canaanite idols. God was angry with Israel and he allowed them to be punished by their enemies. Anger, in itself, is not sin. God’s anger was the reaction of His holy nature to sin. One side of God’s nature is his anger against sin, the other side is his love and mercy towards sinners. God often saved His hardest criticism and punishment for those who worshipped idols. Why were idols so bad in God’s sight? To worship an idol violated the first two of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-6). The Canaanites had gods for almost every season, activity or place. To them, the Lord was just another god to add to their collection of gods. Israel, by contrast, was to worship only the Lord. Despite Israel’s disobedience, God showed His great mercy by raising up judges to save the people from their oppressors. Mercy has been defined as not giving a person what he or she deserves. This is exactly what God did for Israel and what he does for us. Our disobedience demands judgement (Mangano, 2005).
Judges 21:25 (see also 17:6, 18:1, 19:1)
Throughout this period of history Israel went through seven cycles of:
- Rebelling against God.
- Being overrun by enemy nations.
- Being delivered by a God-fearing judge.
- Remaining loyal to God under that judge.
- Forgetting God when the judge died.
In our lives we tend to follow the same cycle, remaining loyal to God as long as we are near those who are devoted to Him. When we are on our own, the pressure to be drawn away from God increases. Determine to be faithful to God despite the difficult situations you encounter. Why would the people of Israel turn away so quickly from their faith in God? Simply, the Canaanite religion appeared more attractive to the sensual nature and offered more short-range benefits. One of its most attractive features was that people could remain selfish and yet fulfill their religious requirements. They could do almost anything they wished and still be obeying at least one of the many Canaanite gods. Today, as in Micah’s day, everyone seems to put his or her own interests first. The people of Micah’s time replaced the true worship of God with a homemade version of worship. The Danites had been assigned enough land to meet their needs. However, because they failed to trust God to help them conquest their territory, the Amorites forced them into the mountains and wouldn’t let them settle in the plains. Rather than to fight for their territory, they preferred to look for new land in the north.
Having concubines was an accepted part of Israelite society, although this is not what God intended. A concubine had most of the duties but also some of the priviledges of a wife. Although she was legally attached to one man, she and her children usually did not have the inheritance rights of a legal wife and legitimate children (Mangano, 2005).
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During the time of the judges, the people of Israel experienced trouble because everyone became his own authority and acted on his own opinions of right and wrong. Let us submit all our plans, goals and desires to God.
- MANGANO M. 2005. Old Testament Introduction. College Press NIV Commentary, Joplin: College Press.
The religious truths found in the book of Ruth relate more to practical life than to abstract theology. In this book there is a need to be loyal, loving and have kindness to see the value of persons and the need to understand one another. The book of Ruth tells us that no matter how bad things are, goodness can really exist if we are willing to make the effort.
Explain the following concepts from Ruth’s theological standpoint. Refer to other passages of Scripture as well.
“Lovingkindness”, a translation of the Hebrew word, is an expression which denotes in a deep and profound way a loyal relationship and a desire to do good for the other person, comes into view quite early in Ruth. It is the Hebrew word used in Ruth 1:8 to express the true, caring concern that Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah had for their husbands. Naomi’s wish is that the Lord might show similar kindness to them, even if she herself, because of the situation in which she has found herself, is unable to be good toward them as they deserve. Ruth’s genuine and deep love for Naomi is also expressed in the oath that she makes to Naomi, sealing it by calling upon the Lord’s name. As the story continues, Boaz describes Ruth’s deeds as “goodness” and “lovingkindness”. The question of reward may be raised here and it is important to note that the Book of Ruth pictures Ruth as acting from a pure lovingkindness toward Naomi, for there was definitely no reward in sight (a very significant theme since the narrative time is within the time of the “judges”). However, in the progress of the Narrative, the author does make it clear that the kind deeds of human beings form the basis of their supplication to the Lord to bestow His blessings. The ultimate in “lovingkindness” is the lovingkindness of the Lord Himself. As the story builds toward its chiastic apex, we find that Ruth “happens” to glean in the fields of Boaz; and when receiving this news, Naomi, in her expression of praise to God, declares, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not left off His lovingkindness to the living and to the dead” Very closely related to the “lovingkindness” of the Lord is His manifest providence for the family of Elimelech, Naomi and Ruth is the concept of redemption (In the Beginning, nd).
The book of Ruth shows that the custom extended farther than the husband’s brother. Here an unnamed kinsman has the primary duty and only when he refuses does Boaz marry Ruth. Israel was originally tribal in nature and the idea was never entirely lost. Many of her family relationships are to be understood in terms of tribal customs known all over the world. Kinship consisted basically in the possession of a common blood and was strongest nearest to its origin in the father’s house, but it was not lost in the further reaches of family relationship. At the head of the family stood the father and the father founded a father’s house, which was the smallest unit of a tribe. The strong cohesion of the family extended upwards from the father to the sons and daughters. Hence the term family could mean a father’s house. Sometimes the whole of Israel was called a family. The word brother also connected various things. In its simplest meaning it referred to those who had common parents. In polygamous Israel there were many brothers who had only a common father. These too were brothers, though the brotherhood was not the same as that of men who had a common mother. Wherever there was a family, there were brothers, for all were bearers of kinship. There were limits to the closeness of relationship permitted when a man came to seek a wife. She had to be someone of the same flesh and blood. She could not be of such close relationship as a sister, mother or child’s daughter. The forbidden areas were there. There were significant obligations laid on kinsmen. Since a woman, married to a man, would normally have the priviledge of bearing his son and heir, in the case of the untimely death of the husband without a son, the law of levirate marriage came into force. Then in the matter of inheritance, a man’s property was normally passed on to his son or sons. Failing these, it went to his daughters and then in order to his brethren, to his father’s brethren and finally to his kinsman who was nearest to him (Pounds, 2008).
The story of Ruth and Naomi is the story of all generations. As a Jewish woman, Naomi enjoyed many blessings because she was familiar with the Law and with some prophecies. She had heard about salvation and about the dealings of God with her fathers. In time of suffering, she fled from Judea, as though fleeing from Christ (who came from the tribe of Judah) to live an easy life in Moab. This is similar to a soul that tests the grace of God but denies Him in time of trial and runs back to the world seeking satisfaction. Just as there is a Naomi in every generation, there is also a Ruth. Ruth grew up in Moab (the house of her pagan father), but has heard of the Living God. She went out by faith to Bethlehem to meet the Incarnate Word of God and to find in Him her rest and satisfaction. The Lord Jesus Christ came “for the fall and rising of many” (Luke 4:34). Naomi fell because she scorned the grace of God while Ruth, the Moabitess, rose by her living faith in Him. The genealogy of Christ mentions her name (Matt 1:5) which reveals to us that, although she was a gentile, her blood ran in the veins of the Saviour of the world. As for Ruth, she fled from Moab to Canaan worshiping the true God and granting all believers the beginning of the royal lineage. Ruth, the foreigner, took permission from her mother-in-law to go and gather the fallen heads of grain after the reapers. She was serious about that, not taking much rest. Ruth representing the Gentiles and she went out to gather the grain heads that the farmers had laboured on. As Ruth went to Boaz’s field, he had a conversation with her that entailed:
- Calling the foreigner his daughter and enjoying son ship (adoption to God).
- Asking her to stay close to his maidens, to stay with Christ and His saints.
- To keep her eyes on the field like it was her own.
- To drink from the vessels with the young men as to drink from the springs of the Holy Spirit through the Church (Saint-Mary, nd).
Compare the attitude towards foreigners in the book of Ruth to that of either Judges or Joshua.
After the death of Joshua there followed the period of disorganisation, tribal discord and defeat, which is described in the book of Judges. The people cried out to the Lord and He raised up Judges who saved them. It is clear that this imparts a new meaning into the word “judge”, namely that of a leader in battle and a ruler in peace. We may see in them a type of a Christ, who came to be our Saviour. For a few years the tribes of Judah and Simeon advanced devotedly south to the conquest of Bezek, Jerusalem and Hebron. The Joseph tribes likewise captured Bethel, but then came failure. Israel ceased to eradicate the Canaanites, no more cities were taken and the tribe of Dan actually suffered eviction from its teritory. Such tolerance of evil started the extended period of chastening that followed. The people of Israel suffered under constant temptation to adopt the fertility rites of their Canaanite neighbours. Yahweh had indeed helped them in the wilderness, but Baal seemed better able to make the crops grow. Even foreign oppression served as a medium of divine grace for Israel’s edification. The people were more corrupt than their father’s.
In stark contrast to Judges, the book of Ruth shows a family tree for the greatest of the kings of Hebrew history, David, because this was omitted from the books of Samuel. It was a political pamphlet,