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Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Will They Hear Without a Preacher?

Below is the introduction and link to an excellent article by Dr. R. Albert Mohler.  In it, Dr. Mohler shares some truths about the importance of preaching to the survival of the church.  It serves as an excellent reminder and explanation of why we place such a strong emphasis on the preaching of the Word at PBF. 

"Preaching has fallen on hard times. So suggests a report out of Durham University's College of Preachers. Some observers of British life now estimate that in any given week Muslim attendance at mosques outnumbers Christian attendance at churches. That means that there are probably now in Britain more people who listen to imams than to preachers.
This raises an interesting question: Is the marginalization of biblical preaching in so many churches a cause or a result of the nation's retreat from Christianity? In truth, it must be both cause and effect. In any event, there is no hope for a recovery of biblical Christianity without a preceding recovery of biblical preaching.
Read the details in Dr. Mohler's blog, which is often updated several times a day."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Another archaeological find tells us something we already knew

Several news outlets reported last Friday the discovery of the earliest known Hebrew writing.  It’s an inscription on an ancient piece of pottery, which was dug up over a year ago during excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, close to Israel's Elah valley.  It has been dated from the 10th century BC, the era of the reigns of David and Solomon.  Some scholars are hailing it as an important breakthrough because it means that the Bible could have been written earlier than the 6th century BC and that Israel already existed in the 10th century.

What is considered a major discovery in some circles is being met with a collective yawn among conservative evangelicals.  Yes, it’s nice to find things like this, but the text of the Bible itself has already answered questions about when the Bible was written and when Israel became a nation.  Liberal scholars’ fascination with this piece of pottery is rooted more in their dismissal of the reliability of the Bible itself than in their love of discovery.

The assumption among many skeptical scholars is that the Bible was written around 600 BC.  They base that assumption on yet another assumption that the Hebrew language did not exist in written form before the 6th century BC.  Tied to those assumptions is the further assumption that there is no hard evidence that Israel existed as a nation prior to that time, either. 

If liberal and secular scholars would simply lend some measure of credibility to the accuracy and reliability of the Bible, they would experience a far greater accuracy and reliability in their own assumptions.  Simply starting with the dates of the reigns of the Medo-Persian, Babylonian, or Assyrian empires and walking the timeline backward according to the chronological records of the Bible would have prohibited such ridiculous assumptions about the date of the origin of Israel.  According to biblical records, the date of the Exodus took place in the 13th century BC at the latest

Further, the Bible itself should also have led scholars to assume a much earlier date for the writing of the Old Testament.  Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch has been accepted by Christians since the dawn of the Church due to the Bible’s manifold references to the Pentateuch as the “law of Moses.”  John 1:45 tells us exactly who wrote the law, when Philip said to Nathanael, “We have found him of who Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  The Greek there is even more explicit, referring to Jesus as “whom Moses wrote in the law.”  Again, this means that the Pentateuch was written in the 12th-13th centuries BC at the latest. 

The Bible itself also records that David is the author of at least a portion of the Psalms.  Jesus recognized him as such when quoting Psalm 110:1 in Matthew 22:43-44.  That indicates that at least a portion of that book was written in the 10th century BC.  Added to these are many other proofs from the text of the Word that long before the 6th century BC, the Bible was beginning to be written, the Hebrew language existed, and the nation of Israel was born.

So will the find of a 10th century piece of pottery turn the skeptics into true believers?  Not likely.  Similar archaeological finds corroborating the text of the Old Testament have done little to temper such skepticism in the past.  Meanwhile, the archaeological evidence will continue to mount, confirming as fact a conviction that we have held all along…the Bible is true.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Bible Can't Be Boring

"Holding Fast the Word of Life in 2010" Philippians 2:14-16 January 10, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pat Robertson, Natural Disasters, and the Nature of God

Pat Robertson has once again made a comment for which he is being vilified by people from all walks of life.  After the 7.3 earthquake devastated the nation of Haiti, Robertson on TV solicited donations for humanitarian relief there.  In commenting on the situation, he recounted a so-called “pact with the devil” that the Haitian people made in the 17th century.  According to Robertson, they agreed to serve the devil if he would free them from French oppression.  The devil agreed and freed them.  “Ever since then they have been cursed with one thing after another.” 

By his comments alone, it is not clear who he supposes to have cursed the Haitians, God or the devil.  However, that the earthquake is God’s curse or judgment on Haiti would be consistent with past comments made by Robertson.  In 2001, he agreed that the 9/11 attacks were the result of God punishing the ACLU, gays, lesbians, abortionists, etc. (This was actually an opinion stated by Jerry Falwell on the 700 Club on Sept 13, 2001, to which Robertson replied, “I totally concur.”)  In 2005, he attributed Hurricane Katrina to God’s anger over abortion.  In 2006, after Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke, Robertson surmised that this was God’s judgment for Sharon’s having ceded land to the Palestinians. 

Assuming that this is what Robertson meant regarding the Haitians, we have to acknowledge that he is half right.  You see, Robertson has made two assertions.  First, who brought about this natural disaster, and second, why.  He’s got the “who” figured out, but the “why” is unknowable.

This morning I heard a talk radio personality taking Robertson to task, saying “If that’s the God that Robertson serves, I don’t want anything to do with Him.  But he’s wrong – that’s not the nature of God.” Similarly, in a news story on, reporters Claire Shipman and Devin Dwyer write, “The earthquake in Haiti is a tragedy of such gargantuan proportion that it's natural to wonder how -- or why -- any God, if there is a God, could allow it.”

It seems that popular objections to Robertson’s comments can be combined into one statement, “God wouldn’t do this.”  Those who feel this way must be of the opinion that there is another possible cause.  Scripture disagrees.

First of all, Eph 1:11 tells us that God works all things according to the counsel of His will.  Said another way, there is nothing that God doesn’t work according to the counsel of His will.  Lamentations 3:38 reads, Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?  The Scriptures show that all things, including natural disasters, come by the plan of God (Job 37:1-14).  So biblically, we can deny the comment “God wouldn’t do this,” and say instead, “God did do this.”  It was part of His plan.  What the world calls “natural disasters” the Bible regards as supernatural works of God.

Some might concede this, saying, “Okay, God did allow this or bring this about, but He wouldn’t cause this kind of suffering to punish people for their sin.”  This brings us to the “why” question.  I’ve already mentioned that I believe the “why” question is unanswerable.  But can we rule out what Robertson supposes?  Is it contrary to the nature of God to bring judgment upon people through “natural” disasters?

Ask Noah.  He witnessed perhaps the greatest “natural” disaster in history.  He was also privy to God’s intentions.  Gen 6 tells us that because of the sinfulness of men God determined to destroy them all with a flood.  Gen 7 details God doing just that.  Certainly the death toll in Haiti will be staggering, but the flood killed every human being on earth, except the eight on the ark.  Is it contrary to the nature of God to bring judgment upon people through “natural” disasters?

Ask Moses.  He witnessed a parade of God’s supernatural “natural” disasters brought to bear on the Egyptians for their oppression of Israel.  This culminated in the drowning of all Pharaoh’s horsemen and horses by God’s hand in the Red Sea (Ex 7-15).  Is it contrary to the nature of God to bring judgment upon people through “natural” disasters?

Ask David.  When a three-year famine came upon the land of Israel, he inquired of the Lord about the reason for the famine.   The LORD said, "There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death" (2Sam 21:1).  Remember – Saul was dead at the time and the famine affected everyone.  Also, when David sinned by numbering Israel, God allowed David to choose his punishment from three options, two of were natural disasters.  David left the choice up to the Lord, who sent pestilence into the land for three days.  70,000 men died as a result (2 Sam 24).  Is it contrary to the nature of God to bring judgment upon people through “natural” disasters?

Ask John.  In the vision he received from Jesus in the book of Revelation he saw that a large measure of the judgment God will bring in the tribulation will come in the form of natural disasters (Rev 6-16.)

To those who claim “God would not do that,” I believe Noah, Moses, David, and John would say, “Oh yes, He would.  He has, He does, and He will.”  Those who believe He would not are unfamiliar with the God of the Bible.

So Pat Robertson was half right.  God did bring this earthquake and it is within His nature to do such a thing to bring judgment on a people.  But Robertson is wrong in assuming that this is why God brought the earthquake.  It is presumptuous in the extreme to declare God’s specific reason for any natural disaster.  In Rom 11:34, Paul asks the question, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?”  The implied answer is, “no one.” While the earthquake could have been a form of God’s judgment, Pat Robertson has no way of knowing this.

In John 9, where Jesus heals the blind man, we find both Jesus’ disciples (v2) and the Jews (v34) assuming that his blindness was a result of sin, either his own or his parents’. Jesus’ response? “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v3).   The disciples and the Jews presumed God’s intentions and they were wrong.

While can know that the earthquake was part of God’s plan and that the reason could be judgment, we have no way of knowing for certain why God ordained it.  Our response should be concern, prayer, and humanitarian help for the victims, and trust in our all-wise God that even in this He is accomplishing our good and His glory. 

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What the federal judiciary can teach us about biblical hermeneutics

This week, a U.S. district court judge will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of state-passed same-sex marriage bans, specifically Proposition 8, passed by the citizens of California in 2008.  The decision will have far-reaching consequences as it will create a precedent affecting similar bans in other states. 

The case is considered a first in litigation concerning same-sex marriage, in that both sides will be calling witnesses to testify before the court.  The challengers of the ban will call to the stand the two same-sex couples who filed the suit, as well as 10 or so experts who will testify about the history of discrimination against homosexuals and the history of marriage.  Supporters of the ban will also call witnesses who will testify about the history of marriage and argue that traditional marriage is more beneficial for children. 

What is striking to me is that of all the news reports I have read on this, none have mentioned witnesses being called to argue directly about the constitutionality of Proposition 8.  In other words, in a case tasked with determining the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, it appears that no one is going to appeal to or argue from the text of the United States Constitution.  The only witnesses mentioned in press coverage are those who will argue points of history and sociology.  It sounds as if constitutionality will be decided by arguing the reasonableness of Proposition 8 rather than whether or not it violates the Constitution. 

For me this kind of argumentation bears a strong resemblance to much of the biblical interpretation that can be found in not only the liberal denominations today, but also in the evangelical church.  As many of you know, biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpreting the biblical text.  One of the foundational principles of sound hermeneutics is that the key question in bible study is that of authorial intent.  What did the author mean by what he wrote?  We believe that the meaning of the text was imparted by the author.  However, there are those liberal theologians, and now many in the emergent movement, who believe that meaning is imparted by the reader.  That is, what the author wrote can mean any number of things depending on who is reading it.  For these folks, the key question is not “what did the author mean by what he wrote?” but rather “what does the text mean to me?”  By this unfounded hermeneutic, literally any interpretation is valid.

This is terribly dangerous because it results in a situation where my life shapes Scripture instead of Scripture shaping my life.  I’m reminded of the presidential campaign of 2000, when Al Gore argued that the U.S. Constitution is a “living document.”  What he meant by that is that the meaning of the words of that document should be allowed to change along with society.  In effect, that would mean that the intent of the framers of the Constitution should have little bearing on our interpretation of it today since the perceived sensibilities and needs of our society are different than they were 230 years ago.

Such a “hermeneutic” used to interpret the Constitution inevitably leads to the situation we now find in the Proposition 8 lawsuit in California.  When the authorial intent of a document is disregarded and the meaning of the words on the page can be molded to hold any meaning preferred by the interpreter, eventually the words themselves become meaningless and unnecessary.  Thus, we now have a judge in the Golden State preparing to rule on the constitutionality of a same-sex marriage ban based not on arguments drawn from the text of the Constitution, but rather on arguments drawn from the sociological sensibilities of those bringing the suit.

If interpreting a man-made document like the Constitution this way is dangerous, how much more dangerous is it to apply the same hermeneutic to God's Word?  It turns "thus saith the Lord" into "thus saith whoever is reading this."  God help the man or woman who denies words that God has said, or attribute to Him words that He did not.  Such a disregard for authorial intent in the Bible is what allows Rob Bell to say that when Jesus commands us to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39) He is really encouraging us to stand up for ourselves.  (For a more thorough look at this particular exegetical atrocity, look here, here, and here.)  In other words, when the meaning of a passage of Scripture is infused by the reader instead of the author, a text can mean the exact opposite of what it says.  It can mean anything the reader wants.  And when we do that, we do not twist the words of a mere man, but of the eternal God.  This comes dangerously close to the scenario painted in Deut 18:20 of "the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak."  It is no small offense in the eyes of God.

Here is an extreme example to demonstrate how ridiculous it is to believe that the reader, or listener, determines meaning instead of the author or speaker.  Two men greet each other on a Sunday morning in the parking lot at church.  The first man says to the second, “Wow, that’s a nice car you have.”  The second man punches the first in the nose and yells, “How dare you call me a thief?”  The first replies, “That’s not at all what I meant!”  The second says, “Who cares what you meant.  I was offended.”

Absurd, I know, but you can see how such a method of interpretation renders communication completely meaningless.  Consider for a moment the chaos that would characterize our lives if we lived and made decisions based on “what I meant by what you said.”  It’s preposterous.  The fact is that we don’t live our lives that way, so neither should we interpret the Bible that way.

Just like a disregard for the authorial intent of the Constitution will lead to a country governed in a way that bears little resemblance to the desires of the framers, so also a disregard for the authorial intent of the Bible will lead to a church that bears little resemblance to the desires of the Author.  When interpreting the Scriptures, it is vital that we pursue the Author’s meaning, not our own.

How ironic that in an age when the separation of church and state is so highly valued, the federal judiciary provides us with a great lesson in Biblical hermeneutics: how not to interpret the Bible.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Temptation Preparation

Where is the battle against sin won or lost?  Is it in the very moment of temptation or in the moments and days prior to temptation?  Often, in our desire to overcome sin in our lives we do nothing more that simply resolve to be resolved in the moment of temptation.  Next time, I’ll just be stronger.  Proverbs 7 shows us that this kind of strategy is plain foolishness and offers two ways to overcome sin prior to the moment of temptation.

Most of the book of Proverbs was written by Solomon in an effort to pass on wisdom to his sons.  In chapter 7, he warns against sexual temptation, specifically the temptation to engage in relations with the “loud and wayward” adulteress (v11).  However, the principles given are applicable to all kinds of temptation, not only sexual. 

The chapter begins with the first tool for overcoming temptation – “keep my words”:
  1 My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you;
 2 keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
 3 bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.
 4 Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call insight your intimate friend,
 5 to keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words.

What are the words that are to be kept?  I believe he is referring to the book of Proverbs specifically.  The reference to “wisdom” in v4 supports this, but I also believe that we could expand the range of teaching to all of the Bible.  Psalm 119:11 reads, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.  So it is not only the wisdom writings of Proverbs that are useful for assisting us in our battle with sin, but the whole counsel of God, the whole Bible. 

It’s important to note that Solomon exhorts his son not merely to know his words, commandments, wisdom, and insight, but to keep them, treasure them, keep them as the apple of his eye, bind them on his fingers, write them on the table of his heart, and to consider them his bride and intimate friend.  (Bride?  Yes, in the context of ancient Near Eastern and biblical love poetry, the “sister” is actually the bride.  Song of Solomon 4:9, “my sister, my bride.”  Solomon is encouraging his son to make wisdom his wife.)  What Solomon has in mind is not just an arsenal of bible knowledge, but a deep abiding passion, love, and devotion to God’s truth and commandments.  In other words, “make this the passion of your life.”

Why?  V5, to keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words.  That is exceedingly clear.  Knowing and loving God’s Word as the passion of your life will keep you from temptation.  A more crucial question is “how does it keep us from temptation?”  We know that before sin becomes a matter of the body it is a matter of the heart – “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person" (Mark 7:21-23).  What the heart loves, the heart will pursue.  If we love sin, we will gravitate toward sin.  If we love God’s Word, we will pursue it and righteousness.  Essentially, Solomon understands this and is exhorting his son to love God’s Word rather than sin.

As most of us can attest, that is easier said than done. 

I was having lunch with a friend a few years ago.  We were discussing pastoral counseling as it relates to psychology, an issue on which we held differing views.  In making a case for the importance of psychology, my friend said, “It is mistake to think that if I just read the bible more and pray more, I’ll be able to say no to sin.”  I replied, “It’s a greater mistake to discount those two things.” 

God’s Word and prayer must be a part of our daily spiritual regimen if we are going to delight in His words, commandments, teaching, wisdom, and insight.  We must saturate our minds and hearts with the Word and we must spend time praying not only that we would have the strength to resist temptation, but also that God would grant us a greater passion for His Word.  Sometimes we make the mistake of reading only Bible passages that pertain to our specific sin issue and praying only about the ability to defeat that sin.  It is far better to feast on all kinds of passages – about God’s character, Christ’s work, and the passion for truth – and to pray for greater hunger for the Lord and His Bible.

This must take place before the moment of temptation.  A soldier doesn’t train during a battle – he trains before.  You and I must do the same, and that is what Solomon desires to convey to his son.

Second, “do not stray into her paths” (v25).  Verses 6-9 paint a picture of true foolishness: 

  6 For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice,
 7 and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense,
 8 passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house
 9 in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.

This young man put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He willingly and intentionally took the route that led to her house.  He led himself into temptation.  And this is directly related the fact that he did not treasure God’s commandments.  The “for” at the beginning of v6 shows that what the young man did is the result of not doing what Solomon commands his son to do in vv1-5.  The one who loves the commandments of God will not stray into the path of temptation. 

But the young man did stray, and vv10-21 detail the adulteress’ seduction, with vv22-23 providing the following commentary:

 22 All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast
 23 till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.

Had he loved and treasured the commandments of God, he would have known that giving in to the temptation would cost him his life.  Then Solomon offers a summary plea:

  24 And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
 25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths,
 26 for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng.
 27 Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.

Love the Word and do not stray into the paths of temptation.  Clearly, the battle over sin is fought prior to the moment of temptation.  If you seem to be losing the battle, it may be that you are not even fighting until it’s too late.  By God’s grace, obedience to Proverbs 7 can turn the tide in your life.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Friday, January 8, 2010

God is in Control

Colt McCoy is quarterback for the University of Texas Football Team. His accolades include Heisman Trophy Runner-up, Big 12 Player of the Year, and National Quarterback of the year.

More interesting is his faith. He is a strong Christian believer and he has been outspoken about Christ since arriving on the UT campus 4 years ago.

Last night during the National Championship Colt McCoy was injured on just his fifth snap of the game. His collegiate career was over. His Longhorns went on to lose to the Crimson Tide.

The following is an excerpt of an interview of Colt just moments after the game ended.

Even in our dissapointment, God is still in control.
Psalm 115:3, "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Your Adoption By God

Our relationship with God can, at times, feel strained and distant. You can wake in the morning, go through your day, lay your head on our pillow at night and never connect with a God who loves you so dearly. Intellectually, you may know He loves you but your heart does not seem to experience that truth. If you have trusted in Christ to forgive our sins, you may have forgotten that you have been adopted into God’s family and He is your loving and caring Father. John 1:12, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”.

But, do you realize that when God made you spiritually alive, forgave your sins, and gave you a right legal standing before Him He was under no obligation to make you one of His children? He could have given you eternity minus personal communion with Him. But He loves you so much that by His adoption of you, you now have a relationship with Him as God the Father. 1 John 3:1 “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” What a tremendous blessing and privilege!

J.I Packer puts it this way, “In justification, God declares of penitent believers that they are not, and never will be, liable to the death that their sins deserve, because Jesus Christ, their substitute and sacrifice, tasted death in their place on the cross. This free gift of acquittal and peace, won for us at the cost of Calvary, is wonderful enough, in all conscience - but justification does not of itself imply any intimate or deep relationship with God the judge. In idea, at any rate, you could have the reality of justification without any close fellowship with God resulting. But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into His family and fellowship – He establishes us as His children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is greater" (Knowing God, p. 207).

When your relationship with God seems weak, pray earnestly that your heart would be moved closer to Him. Run after Him for He loves you and He has given you the privilege of having fellowship with Him. Decide today to enjoy Him and live as an obedient child of a most merciful and gracious father.

Posted by Rick Jones

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Understanding Biblical Narrative

As you know, Sunday we started our new sermon series in the books of Joshua and Judges.  We are going to work our way through both books, one right after the other.  I mentioned then that even though it took us 20 months to get through Ephesians, which has 6 chapters, it will not take us a proportional length of time to get through Joshua and Judges.  If it did, the 45 chapters between the two books would require approximately 12.5 years!  But why is it that we can go so much faster through an historical book that we can through an epistle?  In this article, I’d like to answer that question as well share a couple of other things about historical narrative that will help prepare us to understand Joshua and Judges.

The biggest difference between historical narratives and epistles regards how these genres make their points.  The author of an epistle makes his point by simply stating it.  His main point will be made over the course of the entire epistle, but he argues for that point by making numerous smaller supporting points.  This results in a very tight argument that lends itself to minute dissection.  In fact, I would say that to not dissect an epistle in this manner is irresponsible.  When we were in Ephesians, I made the case that the main point of that epistle is “to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.”  Those words are explicitly found in the book, and the supporting points of the book point directly to it.  So we could say that the biblical author of an epistle makes his point explicitly.

On the other hand, the author of an historical narrative makes his point implicitly.  Most of the time, he does not come right out and state in explicit terms what he is trying to convey.  Rather, he tells a story intended to convey a main point.  That point is not made by a tight, intellectual argument, but is instead illustrated by way of a narrative.  Therefore, to understand the point of a narrative, it is not proper to dissect it like you would an epistle.  The point is found in the big picture.  That is not to say that you ignore the details of the story – the details are crucial.  But you shouldn’t feel obligated to make a mountain out of every molehill.

For example, let’s look at a couple of verses from the narrative of the sin of Achan in Joshua 7:20-21.  God commanded the Israelites to destroy everything in the city of Jericho except the silver, gold, bronze, and iron, which were to be put in the Lord’s treasury.  But Achan disobeyed: And Achan answered Joshua, "Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath."

There are many folks who in their exegetical zeal would endeavor to make major points out of the facts that the cloak was from Shinar, that Achan stole 200 shekels of silver as opposed to 100, and that the silver was buried on the bottom and the gold wasn’t.  Sometimes we can be a little too eager to assign a high level of significance to such things.  When we do that, we are in great danger of missing the forest for the trees.  Is the point of this narrative found in these minute details?  No.  The point is that God will not tolerate sin.  We don’t have to parse every noun and conjugate every verb in order to see that, like we might with an epistle.  The point is in the big picture.  Historical narratives deal in stories, not explicit statements, and that is why we will be able to cover far more territory in one sermon in Joshua or Judges than we did in Ephesians.

This brings us to another important thing to know about historical narratives: they are historical, but they are not history.  Lest I be stoned, let me explain.  The events that are related in an historical narrative did actually happen just as portrayed, but historical narratives are not simply a recounting of history – “This happened and then this happened and then this happened.”  Historical narratives are not like a colorless time-line that you might find in a high school history text.  Instead, we could say that historical narratives are theological interpretations of historical events.  What does that mean?

Historical narratives are collections of historical events chosen in such a way, arranged in such a way, and told in such a way as to make a theological point.  And most often the purpose is to make a theological point about God.  Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself to man, therefore it makes sense that Scripture would teach us things about Him.  And so our first question when looking at an historical narrative should be, “what does this text teach me about God?”  And then, “what does this text require of me in response?”

It is a common mistake to take the Old Testament and view it as a collection of character sketches.  This kind of interpretation leads to sermons that moralize the text, just exhorting us to be like the good characters and not be like the bad characters.  If we do that with any historical book of the bible, we’ll miss the boat the completely.  That doesn’t mean that we are not to draw lessons from the lives of bible figures, emulating the good and avoiding the bad, but we can’t make that the mainstay of our interpretation.  We must remember to always ask the questions, “what is this narrative telling me about God?” and “how am I to respond to that?”

A final thing that we want to know about historical narrative is that every narrative has its place in salvation history, the story of God redeeming His people.  Where a narrative falls in that history will have much to do with how we are to interpret it.  A good question that we can ask of any narrative text is “how does this story point us to Christ?”  I mentioned Sunday that Joshua and Judges work together to show us how deeply needful man is for a king to lead him in righteousness.  We can’t be faithful to God on our own, we are hopeless in our sin, and we need a savior.  That truth is paramount for a proper understanding of the various narratives in both of those books.

I’ve been looking forward to preaching these texts for some time now.  My prayer is that not only will you benefit from the ministry of the preaching of the word, but also that you will become more familiar with this type of literature and be able to interpret and apply it more accurately and easily.  May the Lord help us as we go.

Posted by Greg Birdwell