Study 19: Reading Exodus

Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice and let Israel go?

Exodus 5:2

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics, this time looking at the book of Exodus and applying the principles we’ve learned to draw out the theological message Moses intended for his audience.

The book of Exodus has provided a deep resource for Bible-story-time for parents everywhere. However, before getting carried away with the drama of plagues, sea split in two and fiery tornadoes… let’s apply our hermeneutics and understand the point of the book!

Setting

Moses is the author (see 17:14; 24:4), writing to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob during their wilderness journey to Canaan.

Gleason Archer notes: “The information needed to make the book of Exodus intelligible is supplied by the book of Genesis. It is in Genesis that the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are spelled out… Moreover, the fact that Exodus 1:1 begins with the word and suggests that it was intended to follow the preceding book. 

The Plot

  • Dire threats to the descendants of Jacob:  slavery and genocide (1-2)
  • The exile and call of Moses (2-4)
  • The destruction of Egypt by nine Plagues (5-10)
  • The 10th Plague and the Passover (11-13)
  • Rescue at the Red/Reed Sea (14-15)
  • Rescue in the wilderness—water, food, Amalek, efficient court system (15-18)
  • Covenant ratification at Mt. Sinai (19-24)
  • Tabernacle design and duties revealed (25-31)
  • The golden calf and Yahweh’s forgiveness (32-34)
  • The completion of the tabernacle (35-40)

Significant Speeches by Significant Characters

God:

  • Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.”‘  (4:22-23)
  • I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.  (6:6-8)
  • You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…  (19:4-6)

Moses:

  • Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.  (14:13-14)

Significant Speeches by Insignificant Characters

Pharaoh’s Magicians: ” This is the finger of God.” (8:19, after the 3rd Plague)

The Egyptian Chariot Drivers: “Let us flee from Israel, for the LORD is fighting for them…” (14:25)

Moses’ Father-in-Law: “Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians. So Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people.” (18:9-11)  

Key Editorial Insights/Summaries

2:23-25 Israel’s groaning and God’s remembrance of His covenant with Abraham
14:30-31 God’s act and Israel’s belief

Key Rhetorical Question

Pharaoh: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (5:2)

Pharaoh’s servants: “Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?” (10:7)

The People at Meribah: “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children…? Is the LORD among us, or not? (17:3, 7)

Moses to Israel at Meribah: “Why do you test the LORD?” (17:2)

Moses to God: “Is it not by Your going with us, so that we… may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” (33:16)

Repeated Words or Phrases

Multiplied
Exodus 1:7.  The sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. (see also 1:10, 12)
Compare Genesis 17:2, I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly. (see also Gen 12:2; 15:5; 16:10; 17:6-7; 22:17; 35:11, etc.)

The God of your fathers (3:6, 13, 15, 16; 4:5) and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2:24; 3:15-16; 4:5; 6:3, 8; 32:13; 33:1)
The book of Exodus reaches back to Genesis to find hope of deliverance in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Harden
First use:  God of Pharaoh—I will harden his heart (Ex 4:21)
God the active agent:  God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; and of the Egyptians generally at the Red Sea 14:4, 8,17)
Pharaoh the active agent:  Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:15, 32; 9:34)
Agent unstated:  Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 35)
Note: These verses (along with Ex 33:19) were used by the apostle Paul as a key factor of his argument that God is sovereign over belief and forgiveness (Rom 9:6-18). 

Land  (as promised by God; cp. Gen 12:7; 15:18-21; 35:12; 50:24)
Exodus 3:8.  I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey … (see also Ex 6:4, 8; 12:25; 13:5, 11; 15:17; 20:12; 23:23, 29-31; 32:13)

Know
This is the key word in the first half of Exodus.  Both the descendants of Jacob specifically and the ancient world generally were tragically deficient in their knowledge of Yahweh.  The events of the Exodus were enacted by God to correct that ignorance.

Of Yahweh knowing Israel: “God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them [Heb:  knew them].”(2:25)
As the apostle noted in Galatians 4:9, it is always of first priority that God know us, and subsequently that we know Him.  Therefore, the book of Exodus starts with God knowing Israel.
Of Pharaoh knowing Yahweh: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (5:2) “I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.” (9:14)
Of Israel knowing Yahweh: “Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God…” (6:7) “…I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.  (10:1-2)
Of the nations—personified in Jethro—knowing Yahweh: “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people.” (Ex 18:11; cp. Joshua 2:9)  
Of Moses knowing Yahweh: “…You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight… Show me Your glory!” (33:12-13, 18)

Observation: Moses felt inadequate to lead God’s people until He knew God—especially God’s compassionate forgiveness.  It’s noteworthy that God’s self-revelation in response to Moses’ request included His goodness and absolute sovereignty (33:19), His patient compassion and loyal covenant love (34:6), and also His unswerving justice (34:7).
Moses’ response to his new, profound knowledge of God was worship:  Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship (34:8).  
Point: To lead God’s people, a man must have a convinced knowledge of God’s goodness and sovereignty; furthermore, he must have a mature and worshipful understanding of God’s justice and loyal, forgiving compassion.  

Echoed in the rest of the OT
Joshua 2:9-11 (Rahab); 3:10 (Israel); 4:24 (all the peoples of the earth) 1 Sam 17:46 (Goliath) 1 Kings 8:60 (all people); 18:37 (Israel); 20:28 (Ahab) 2 Kings 5:15 (Naaman the leper); 19:19 (all the kingdoms of the earth) 1 Chron 28:9 (Solomon)
2 Chron 33:13 (Manasseh) Hosea 4:6, My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Isaiah 5:13, My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge. Ezekiel uses the phrase, that you/they will know the LORD, fifty-four times.

Repeated Themes

God’s Unique Protection of Israel

  • But against any of the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark … that you may understand [know] how the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (Ex 11:7)
  • You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. (19:4)


Antagonism toward Moses’ (and thus God’s) Leadership 

  • The people’s churlish rebellion against Moses and God regarding water and food in the book of Exodus (Ex 15:23-25; 16:2-3; 17:1-2) would reach its final expression in the book of Numbers.

The Mosaic/Sinaitic Covenant

“[By this covenant,] the Abrahamic nation would become a microcosm of the kingdom of God and would function in that capacity as an agency by which God would reconcile the whole creation to Himself.”  (in Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 27)

Observation:
Interestingly, this covenant is usually named after its mediator, rather than its recipients.  To parallel the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic Covenants, the covenant of Sinai would most accurately be labelled the Israel Covenant.

The Setting:  the Peaceful Year at Mt. Sinai
God did not lead Israel directly from Goshen to the promised land, because a number of important preliminaries had to be put in place before the nation went to war.  The relationship between Israel and Yahweh had to be clarified.  They needed an authoritative moral and civil law code.  They needed a place to meet Yahweh, and they required authoritative regulations governing His worship.  All this was accomplished in the peaceful year they spent encamped at Mt. Sinai.

“Before this moment in her history, Israel had had no experience in self-government; in fact, she had no laws of her own and no identity as an organized people. (Kaiser, A History of Israel, 117)

“As Israel had been making her way from Egypt to Sinai during the prior sixty days, she had been only a vast host of people with little order or organization.  Except for size, she could scarcely be called a nation.” (Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, 143)

Key Concept:  Yahweh, the Victorious Warrior King
The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name …. The LORD shall reign forever and ever. (Ex 15:3, 18)

As King, Yahweh had:

  • rescued Israel from slavery and genocide 
  • provided military protection from both Egypt and Amalek
  • provided basic needs (water and food)
  • provided a just, efficient court system

What does anyone want from government except protection from violent enemies, assurance that life’s physical necessities will be available, and an even-handed, efficient court system?

Summary of Exodus 19-40

The Covenant Proposed

  • Its Basis: 19:4 “I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself…”
    • “Yahweh graciously chose, protected, guided, and helped Israel and her ancestors from the very beginning of Creation to their arrival at Mount Sinai—with the implication that Israel has every reason to be grateful to Yahweh and to accept Yahweh’s generous covenant.”  (Dorsey “Can These Bones Live?”, in Evangelical Journal, 1991, 16)
  • Its Duties 19:5. “If you will indeed obey My voice…”
  • Its Benefits
    • Unique relationship with God:  You shall be My own possession (19:5)
    • Unique access to God:  You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests (19:6)
    • Unique status before God:  a holy nation (19:6)
    • “Israel must be viewed as bearing a mediatorial responsibility, of serving as an intercessor between a holy God and all the peoples of the earth… that God and the peoples of earth might have unbroken communion.” (in Zuck, A biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 13)
  • Its Preliminary Acceptance
    • Exodus 19:8.  All that the LORD has spoken we will do!


The Covenant Expounded
Its General Stipulations: The Ten Commandments (Ex 20)
Its Specific Stipulations: the “Book of the Covenant” (Ex 21-23)

The Covenant Ratified
On earth (24:7-8)
In heaven (24:9-11)
Exodus 24:10-11.  They saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.

The Covenant Broken
The golden calf apostasy (Ex 32)

The Covenant Renewed
Levitical cleansing of the camp (resulting in the priestly covenant, Ex 32:25-29; Mal 2:4), Moses’ intercession, and God’s gracious forgiveness (Ex 33-34)

The Covenant Presence (of Yahweh)

  • Promised: My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.  (Ex 33:14)
  • “Exodus is indeed the book of the presence of the Lord among his people.”  (The Message of Exodus, BST, 195)
  • Fulfilled in the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting, as it was also called, was God’s travelling military headquarters. It visibly represented Yahweh’s presence with His people. However, since Yahweh was a divine King, it was also a place of worship. Therefore, Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 detail the furniture, structure, and priests of the temple-tent where Israel met God.

There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you… (25:22)

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (40:34)

Christological Allusions


The Passover lamb (Ex 4:22; 12:23; 1 Cor 5:7) 
God’s redemption of a people for His own possession (Ex 6:6; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9-10)
Moses as covenant intercessor (Ex 32:11-14, 30; 34:9; Heb 8:6)
The Angel of the Lord (Ex 23:20-21; 1 Cor 10:4)

Study 18: Interpreting Story

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

We are continuing our study on Hermeneutics: the art and science of Biblical Interpretation, this time focusing on Narrative.

Something that is uniquely human is that we process life through story. As we retell the events of the day, recall an important event from long ago, or try to illustrate a concept we begin to process, select and arrange those events as a narrative. Why? It’s the way we make sense of things.

God wired us for story. And in Scripture, God gave us stories.

Now while story is a human trait, it is expressed in various ways. The Western tradition of storytelling is quite different to the East; or more particularly, the ancient Middle-East. We need to cross a vast chasm of time (up to 4000 years), culture (most agrarian), geographic, political and religious. Moreover, the authors of Scripture employed a variety of styles and literary devices we may ignore and completely overlook their significance. 

Our intention in reading Scripture is first to discover the divinely intended meaning communicated by the original author to the original audience in their original context. The biblical narratives are masterful literature: every word, every element, every part of the structure is precisely chosen to accomplish the author’s intention. Remember that the creator of communication, God Himself, stands behind the text of Scripture. As He said in Isaiah 55:11 “So is My word which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

To interpret narrative, Walt Kaiser points out: “The place we must begin is with the plain, natural, original, historical meaning of the passage.  If we ever abandon that as our starting point, we will have forfeited all hope for arriving at any agreed sense of meaning of a text.”

The five key components of biblical narrative are the setting, the plot, the characters, the dialog, and the theological purpose of the story. Clear-headed Bible interpretation must pay close attention to all five. Let’s lay out the guidelines for interpreting narrative:

Pay Close Attention to the Setting of the Story

To interpret a narrative fully, it is vital that one have a firm grasp on the historical-cultural background and the geographic setting of a Biblical narrative. This is the backdrop on which the story plays out.

  • Is it mere coincidence that the sermon in which Jesus spoke about the relationship between His teaching and the Mosaic Law Code was delivered from a mountain (Matt 5:1)?  What Yahweh did at Sinai, Jesus did in Matthew 5-7.  The setting of the Sermon on the Mount is an Everest-like commentary on the authority of Jesus of Nazareth.
  • In teaching Genesis 12ff., to understand how Abraham’s faith was tested by time, it is vital to pay attention to the chronological milestones supplied by Moses.  Abraham was 75 (Gen 12:4) when God called him, 85 when the Hagar experiment was undertaken (16:3, 16), 99 when God promised him a son through Sarah (17:1), and 100 when Isaac was born (21:5).  A twenty-five year wait for the son of promise is a severe test of faith.

Carefully Outline the Plot (the Events) of the Story

Biblical stories follow the normal pattern of stories the world over.  They start with a peaceful situation into which a problem or tension is introduced. A solution to that problem is sought, and in the end, there is resolution, a return to a peaceful situation. Consider Daniel and the Lion’s Den:

  • Initial situation:  Because of his extraordinary abilities and integrity, Daniel is appointed as one of three commissioners over the entire Persian Empire. 
  • Tension:  Jealous enemies plot against Daniel, arranging his unjust execution. 
  • Solution:  God intervenes to protect Daniel from persecution by subduing the lions. 
  • Resolution:  The wicked persecutors become a meal for the great cats, and Darius circulates a decree declaring Daniel’s God to be the living, eternal God. 

To approach this, you will need to divide the story into its proper segments (don’t rely on the chapter headings!). Often the narratives consist of a series of shorter stories within a larger story. For example, the various miracle accounts within the overall story of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  To discover the smaller stories within a larger narrative, look for two things:

  • a complete problem/solution storyline
  • significant changes in time and place

 Note the example from the anointing of David:

  • Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul… (1 Sam 15:34)
  • Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah. (1 Sam 6:13)

Note the change in scene and the repeated phrase Samuel went to Ramah tells you quite clearly that the anointing of David is a complete story within the larger story of 1 Samuel, and should be studied and understood as a unit.

Note Important Details about the Characters of the Story

We hardly know what Abraham, Moses, David or Paul looked like. However, on occasion, the biblical author gives some details about a characters appearance or reputation. Take special note of this.

For example, the summary of Job’s character in Job 1:1 (blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil) is super important. It establishes from the start that Job did not suffer because of his wickedness; he suffered in spiteof his extraordinary righteousness. Some cautions, though:

  • The human characters of a Bible story are a flea on a lion’s back when compared to the story’s central figure: God. He is always the most important character in a Bible story—even in the book of Esther where His name is not mentioned. 
  • The actions of Bible heroes are not always included in a story because they are noble.  For example, David had multiple wives, committed adultery, and murdered to cover his sin.  Always allow the teaching sections of Scripture to inform your conclusions regarding the behavior of the characters in biblical narratives.
  • The events experienced by biblical characters are often one-time events, not intended to be re-experienced or imitated by believers today (Jesus walking on water, Moses speaking to God face to face). Narrative is not necessarily normative.
  • Be very careful not to impose a psychological or social interpretation quite alien to the Scripture on a biblical character’s attitudes and actions.

Daniel Block writes, “Much of what goes by the label of ‘biographical preaching’ is little more than the imposition of contemporary psychological theory or the latest thinking on leadership style upon biblical texts… Such approaches tend, on one hand, to lead interpreters to find what they are looking for, rather than what is actually there, and on the other hand to yield overly optimistic perceptions of the characters that appear in biblical texts.”

Pay Special Attention to the Dialogs in the Story

Biblical authors often tell their story and its theology by means of the words or dialogs of their characters. Especially pay attention when an insignificant character says something of theological importance.

  • In Ruth, the author could have stated in his own words that Ruth converted from worshipping the gods of Moab to serving Yahweh, the God of Israel. However, it was far more compelling to quote Ruth’s own words: “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).
  • David and Goliath: without the dialogs between David, Saul, and Goliath, 1 Samuel 17 would devolve into nothing more than an entertaining account of David’s improbable victory over a Philistine giant.  However, with those dialogs, it is a theological treatise on God’s power.
    • Saul: “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him.” (1 Sam 17:33)
    • David: “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” (17:37)
    • Goliath: “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky 
      and the beasts of the field.” (17:44)
    • David: “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I 
      come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel.”(17:45)

So when studying narrative, give special attention to the words of the characters. In many cases, their conversations or speeches reveal the theological point of the story.

Identify the Theological Message the Author wanted to Communicate

This is the point of your study. The biblical authors recorded history to teach theological lessons. In a very explicit example of this, the Apostle John says as much in John 20:31 “These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Here are seven tips for getting to the Biblical Historian’s theological purpose:

  1. Direct Statements
    • Does the author directly state the theological lesson to which he hopes to draw your attention?  John 20:31, cited above, provides the classic example of this.  All the words, deeds, and miracles of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel were included to compel one to believe Jesus is Messiah and God. Naturally then, John’s purpose must shape one’s interpretation of individual sections.
    • See also 2 Kings 17:7-23 where the author summarizes the theological point of his report on the evil kings of the Northern Kingdom.
  2. Editorial Comments
    • Sailhamer notes, “Biblical narratives, in particular are noticeably reader conscious. In reading them, one rarely has the impression of being alone, the authors have their way of guiding the reader along…”
    • See how this plays out in Acts:
      • [They] began to speak the word of God with great boldness. (4:31)
      • Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (5:42)
      • And the word of God kept on spreading. (6:7)
      • Those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. (8:4)
      • [Paul was] preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. (28:31)
      • The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (2:47)
      • Many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of men came to be about five thousand. (4:4)
      • All the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number. (5:14)
      • So the church … continued to increase. (9:31)
      • And many believed in the Lord. (9:42)
      • The hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. (11:21)
    • Luke wrote the book of Acts to show that the early church was faithful to obey Christ’s commission to preach the gospel and that God was faithful to bless their efforts with many conversions.  Luke’s theological message?  Whatever internal problems or external pressures threatened its progress, the church preached and the church grew.
  3. Significant Speeches
    • Speeches are like road signs to the theological lesson of the story. Note especially speeches by insignificant characters (who could have been left out of the narrative without anything being lost). When the author makes a point of quoting the words insignificant characters, you can be sure he is directing the reader’s attention to something important.
      • Nebuchadnezzar: “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth… He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (Dan 4:35, 37). 
        Daniel didn’t need to supplement Nebuchadnezzar’s speech with a closing editorial comment. Nebuchadnezzar’s words summarized the theological lesson of Daniel 4 perfectly.
      • The widow of Zarephath regarding Elijah: In 1 Kings 17:1, a completely unknown man named Elijah suddenly appears in the court of Israel and tells King Ahab that it will not rain until he says it will. Then Elijah (who is as much a mystery to the reader at this point as he is to King Ahab) goes into hiding, staying with the widow of Zarephath.  After Elijah raises her son from the dead, the widow makes this declaration:
        “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is true.” (1 Kgs 17:24).  
        Although she is an insignificant character, the author uses the widow’s words to express the view of Elijah he wants his readers to adopt. 
  4. Structural Devices
    • Note the literary or structural devices the author uses to ‘glue’ his story together. After all, the chapter and verse divisions weren’t added until the Middle Ages and they often obscure the original author’s organizational designs. Here are some examples:
      • Sometimes biblical authors cluster groups of stories together to make one point.  The miracle accounts of the Gospels are obvious examples of this literary technique.
      • Chiasmus: in Genesis 7-8, Moses purposely structured the story of the Flood to emphasize God’s complete sovereignty over the number of days comprising each stage of the Flood:  7, 40, 150, 150, 40, and 7 days.
        Of course, Moses did not impose that chronological structure on the Flood. God did. And Moses’ intentional recording of God’s time schedule for this worldwide disaster is one of the key theological lessons of Genesis 7-8:  what appears to men to be an out of control catastrophe is, to God, a tightly governed event run on an exact time schedule. David summarized this in Psalm 29:10 when he said, The Lord sat as King at the flood; yes, the Lord sits as King forever.
      • Inclusio: this refers to the technique of “book-ending” a large block of text with similar words or themes to highlight the fact that everything in between the bookends works together as a unit.
  5. Repeated Words or Themes
    • In Jonah, the word compassion is used three times, in 4:2, 10, 11.  The repetition of the word compassion provides a clue to the book’s overall theological message:  God’s compassion on Gentile sinners.
    • Ezra 7:9, 27-28; 8:18-23, 31-32.  The repetition of the phrase the hand of our God (or its equivalent) highlights the theological message of this section of Ezra:  God’s providential care for the returning exiles.
  6. Rhetorical Question
    • A rhetorical question is a question, the answer to which is so obvious, the author does not supply the answer.  OT writers often employed key rhetorical questions to highlight their theological message. For example:
      • Pharaoh to Moses: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?  (Exodus 5:2)
        Yahweh will spend the next nine chapters showing Pharaoh who He is and why He should be obeyed.
      • God to Jonah: Should I not have compassion on Nineveh… ?  (Jonah 4:11)
        The question needs no answer.  It is perfectly appropriate for a God who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness to extend mercy to the undeserving Ninevites.  In other words, Jonah’s account is not about a naughty prophet and a hungry whale.  Instead, it is a powerful theological lesson about God’s compassion toward undeserving sinners.
  7. Choice of Material
    • To find the theological lesson of a historical account, note what information the author includes and excludes. For example:
      • Why did the Gospel writers include so little information about Jesus’ childhood and youth? Why didn’t they tell us what Jesus looked like? Why do all four gospels dedicate so much attention to Jesus’ miracles, the passion week, and especially His death and resurrection?
        The Gospel writers ignored trivial information about Jesus’ physical appearance and childhood and chose, instead, to load their accounts with reports of Jesus’ miracles, teaching, crucifixion, and resurrection, thus revealing their theological agendas.
      • In 1 & 2 Chronicles, the author wants to exalt the Davidic covenant and to idealize the Davidic line, so he ‘sanitised’ his report of David’s reign, excluding David’s adultery, murder, and family conflicts, so that David could be presented as the ideal king. The Chronicler employed the same technique with Solomon, skipping any mention of Solomon’s serial idolatry. The Chronicler was not being dishonest as he did this; he was simply excluding material that did not serve his theme: the benefits of a noble Davidic ruler who righteously implemented joyful Yahweh worship.

Let me summarize it in one place. To get the most out of a biblical story (to get the the theological message of the narrative), look out for:

  1. the setting
  2. important details about the characters
  3. the plot or events of the story
  4. structural (literary) devices
  5. editorial comments
  6. key dialog
  7. significant speeches
  8. repeated words or themes
  9. key rhetorical questions
  10. the author’s choice of material

This has been a long one. Well done for pressing on all the way to the end! No one said hermeneutics would be an easy exercise. But it will most surely bless your study of God’s Word.