When we are children, we learn the stories of the Bible and get out of them what we can. But the biblical narratives are highly literary, theological works — they are sophisticated and complex! The biblical writers used stories to teach, to edify, and to make a theological point. The deeper we dig, the more richness we discover.
St. Augustine wrote: The Bible is “shallow enough for a child not to drown, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim.”
An in-depth look at well-known Old Testament stories enhances our understanding of their meaning and message, for ancient Israel and for us today.
Session I: Noah’s Ark
Noah’s Ark is beloved Sunday School story, as well as a popular decorating theme for children’s rooms. But this is a deeply troubling story about the immensity of human sin and the terrible pain it causes God. The narrative of Noah and the ark contains profound theological truths about the human condition and God’s nature. God grieves over human violence, makes the painful decision to punish, yet graciously acts to preserve and sustain creation.
The flood is portrayed as an act of re-creation. God regrets the decision to punish and makes an astonishing commitment to humans and to the future of creation.
Session II: Moses and the Exodus
In the story of Moses’ infancy, it is clear that Moses is destined for something great. Yet as an adult, Moses murders someone and tries to reject God’s call.
In the end, though, Moses confronts Pharaoh and leads the Israelites from slavery to freedom in the land of promise.
Session III: Joshua, the Battle of Jericho, and the Conquest of Canaan
Joshua is Moses’ successor, the one who brings the Israelites into the land of promise. The book of Joshua presents God as Warrior and Joshua as God’s faithful general. God commanded Joshua to wipe out every last man, woman, and child in the land of Canaan. What are we to make of these narratives of violent, ruthless conquest (yes, genocide)?
These troubling stories of brutal conquest are difficult for us to understand. A closer look at the narratives helps us uncover the ideology at work in these texts. The biblical writers told the stories the way they did in order to make a theological point, for the people of their own time and for coming generations.
Session IV: David, the Shepherd Boy Who Became King
David is Israel’s beloved king, yet the biblical account also is frank about his failures. In many ways, David is an enigma. From his humble beginnings as a shepherd boy, he becomes a music therapist, warrior, bandit, mercenary, and king. He’s a good and faithful friend, but he’s also prone to acts of violence and vengeance. As king, David is guilty of murder and adultery; he admits his sin and repents. Despite his flaws, David is the “king after God’s own heart” and the forerunner of the Messiah.
This session covers the complex and intriguing legacy of David.