This Summer, while we were spending some weeks studying through the book of Judges together, you may have heard references to Daniel Block’s commentary of Judges during some of the studies. It’s a great book, and today I wanted to post some of his thoughts which offer helpful pointers for when we’re reading all those portions of the Bible which are historical–especially the Old Testament stories of Israel from Abraham to the Exile and beyond.
How should we read them? What do they mean? And how are they like, and yet also different than, other works of history we might encounter?
Here’s what Dr. Block says:
In the Scriptures historiographic compositions [that is, stories of history] are primarily ideological in purpose.
The authoritative meaning of the author is not found in the event described but in the authors interpretation of the event, that is, his understanding of their causes, nature, and consequences. But that interpretation must be deduced from the telling.
How is this achieved? By asking the right question of the text:
- What does this account tell us about God?
- What does it tell us about the human condition?
- What does it tell us of the world?
- What does it tell us of the people of God – their collective relationship with him?
- What does it tell us of the individual believer’s life of faith?
These questions may be answered by careful attention to the words employed and the syntax exploited to tell the story. But they also require a cautious and disciplined reading between the lines, for what is left unstated also reflects an ideological perspective.
So when we read the historical sections of the bible, we’re not simply reading to find out what happened, but something more like, “Based on the way God inspired the author to record what happened, what does God want me to learn about Him, the world, his plan, and myself?” That’s helpful, right? I encourage you to use Dr. Block’s questions to help you see the message God wants us to see whenever you’re reading the stories of God’s people in ages past.