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Leading Question: “Do stories make truth more believable?”

Key Passages:

  • Genesis 39:6-12, Joseph and Potipher’s wife
  • 1 Samuel 24:1-6, David allows Saul to escape from the cave
  • Job 1-2, God and Satan in dialogue over righteous Job
  • Joshua 3:9-17, Joshua leads Israel across the Jordan River
  • 1 Samuel 8:7-20, Israel tries to persuade Samuel to give them a king
  • 1 Kings 12:1-16, Rehoboam resists the people’s request for lower taxes

The first lesson in this new series is a general one that looks at the relationship between story and history. Stories are highly effective teaching methods. And the flow of the story is often more important than the facts the author uses to make his point. Indeed, authors are even willing to shape the facts to better serve the story. The best way to see that happen is to compare the parallel accounts in Scripture, Samuel-Kings with Chronicles in the Old Testament, and Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with each other in the New Testament.

None of the “background” characters that are the focus of our attention this quarter is featured in parallel accounts, so we cannot compare how two different biblical writers tell their stories. But whether one is dealing with one narrative or multiple narratives, it is clear that the story line is the one that carries the day.

The effectiveness of story is suggested by this striking statement from C. S. Lewis, penned after he had completed one of the books in his space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet: “Any amount of theology can be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it” – Letter, 9 August 1939, cited in Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis Companion and Guide (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 20.

Questions:

In each of the narratives that follow, the story setting illuminates the author’s purpose and sheds light on a particular aspect of life.

  1. Joseph and Potipher’s wife. How does one preserve one’s honor and integrity in the face of sexual temptation? What is the inspiration value of this story for moderns who may also face temptations of a sexual nature?
  2. David and Saul. How far should one go to preserve the honor of the Lord’s anointed leader? When does one rise up against an evil leader? Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer right, for example, in joining a conspiracy to murder Hitler? For a recent account of Bonhoeffer’s mental anguish, see Eric Metaxas, Bohonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010).
  3. God and Satan. To what extent does the “heavenly court” scene at the beginning of the book of Job illuminate the cosmic conflict and the point of the book? The conflict between God and Satan is never revealed to Job or to his contemporaries. How would that have affected their understanding of the circumstances surrounding Job’s losses? When evil strikes in our day, how do we know whether it comes from God, Satan, or is simply the result of natural causes? For an explanation as to why Satan is rarely mentioned in the Old Testament, see Alden Thompson, “Whatever happened to Satan in the Old Testament?” in Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God? Pacesetters, 2003), 33-53.
  4. Crossing Jordan. How does one make miracles believable? When can one safely expect a miracle as Joshua did? Is there a danger of presumption if we attempt to follow his example?
  5. Persuading a prophet. The people wanted a king and tried their best to persuade Samuel. God was actually more ready to grant their request than Samuel. How do we negotiate our will and the Lord’s will? When there is a live “authority” figure? When there is no one before us except God in heaven?
  6. Rehoboam. According to Scripture, the people had a legitimate complaint when they came to the new king Rehoboam. But he chose to defend his authority instead of responding positively to the people’s request. When is it appropriate for us to challenge earthly authorities? Note Ellen White’s observation about the far-reaching implications of failing to reason from cause to effect:

    Had Rehoboam and his inexperienced counselors understood the divine will concerning Israel, they would have listened to the request of the people for decided reforms in the administration of the government. But in the hour of opportunity that came to them during the meeting in Shechem, they failed to reason from cause to effect, and thus forever weakened their influence over a large number of the people. – Prophets and Kings, 90

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