As I’m well into my series of sample Bible studies through the book of Exodus, it’s a good time to step back and consider how to read stories such as we find in Exodus. This week’s “check it out” comes courtesy of Dr. George Guthrie, who gives 4 practical guidelines for reading Old Testament Stories:
- Read the story in light of the bigger story of which it is a part! Don’t read each chapter/episode as though it were in a vacuum, but read it as part of the larger epic. For example, when we hit Exodus 19, we must draw connections back to Exodus 3, where God promised Moses would bring the people back to the mountain of God to worship him.
- Read the story in light of its purpose. Take note of the clues dropped by the narrator about why he’s telling this story. For example, I noted last week that God’s plans come with the intentions “you shall know that I am Yahweh” (Ex 6:7) and “the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh” (Ex 7:5). Such purpose statements are like bright signs highlighting a text’s meaning.
- Understand important cultural elements in the story. The narrator assumes his original audience would have understood certain things due to their experience, history, or shared experiences. Such things are left unstated but nonetheless key to interpretation. For example, though Exodus 6:14-25 never uses the term “high priest,” this cultural element would have been immediately clear to the original audience.
- Read the story, recognizing God as the hero. Though Old Testament characters do give us some examples to follow or avoid (1 Cor 10:1-11), those characters and narratives themselves constantly point to God as the primary mover. For example, Exodus 2-7 makes no attempt to put Moses on a pedestal. The narrative shows him as a weak man, full of impediments, doubts, and fears—but he has a big God who will keep his promises to his people.
For more explanation with some very clear examples from other parts of the Old Testament, see Guthrie’s full post.