If the Bible is worthy reading and studying, we owe it to ourselves to know how to best study. If the Bible is our guide to getting to know God and how to be faithful to Him, we definitely need to understand what we are studying. Through this series of posts, we are striving to help all of us learn and grow as we take the Word of God to heart. This is the third lesson in this series: you can find Part ONE here and Part TWO here.
Today, I want us to look at the genre of narrative or story. The Bible contains a lot of narratives. The books of Genesis, Exodus, Kings, Chronicles, Job, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Esther, Nehemiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts (and many others) all contain narrative and are mostly narrative. How can we learn from stories about other people? How can we find lessons, morals, and applications from the lives of people who lived thousands of years ago?
In my graduate classes Dr. Bailey introduced us to a set of six questions that I find useful when reading and applying narratives. These questions help the reader to become a part of the story and not simply a distance observer. In an effort to help you see the value of these questions turn to Genesis 37. Take a moment to read these 36 verses. This introduces us to Joseph the dreamer and favorite of his father, Jacob. We meet his brothers and learn of the entire family’s situation in life. We also see how Joseph’s brothers treat him and lie about him to their father.
Now read it again or think about what you read and answer the following FIRST REACTION QUESTIONS:
- Did I enjoy this story? (Every time I ask this question I get strange looks. Not every narrative in the Bible is enjoyable. If I do not like this story or part of this story, there is a reason. I can use this opportunity to reflect on who I am.) For this story (Joseph) I do not like that his brothers mistreat him, sell him into slavery, and deceive their father. Neither do I like that Jacob seems to play favorites. What about you?
- How does this story remind me of life in the world today? (The narratives in the Bible are not fiction. As real events, they are about real people and real problems. Look for similarities to the world we live in. These stories are timeless.) In Genesis 37 I see that some people talk too much and brag about their lives. This can get them in trouble with family and friends. Do I have the tendency to be this way? If so, how do people receive me? What do they think about me? How can I change? I also see how not to react to people who seem to brag. What do you see in this story?
- How would I react (or what would I do) if I were ______________________? (Insert a character from the story.) If I were Jacob, I would hope I would not have a favorite. I hope I would investigate further before accepting my son’s explanation of why Joseph is missing. But more than likely, I would react very similar to Jacob. It is your turn . . .
- What morals or lessons can I learn from this story? (Now we are starting to apply the story to our lives.) What lesson(s) do you draw from Genesis 37?
- How is this story disconcerting? How does it bother me? (This takes question one deeper and forces you to think about the protagonists in the story and why they affect you.) Joseph’s arrogance has always bothered me. I suppose because I can see many of my own faults in him. I tend to talk way too much and share way too much about myself. I do not mean to brag and think I am just opening up and conversing, but through the years I noticed that this puts many people off. Everything worked out for Joseph, but if you read about his stand before Pharaoh, you notice that Joseph is quick to give God credit for interpreting dreams – for Joseph it is no longer about Joseph but about God. I am reminded of Paul saying he would not boast in anything but Christ and Him crucified. What in the story bothers you? Why?
- How will I change because of this story? (The rubber finally meets the road with this question.) My answers: Learn to stay quiet and let others speak. Learn to share only what is necessary. Help people to know God and Christ. Do not sell your brothers to travelling traders . . . (this was important when we were all living at home).