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The Bible has some weird stories. If you’re following along in our Know His Word reading plan, you already know that. In the Bible, we find a talking donkey, a man swallowed by a fish, teenagers mauled by bears—and those are just some of the animal stories. The Old Testament in particular can often leave us scratching our heads wondering why certain stories were included and what we are supposed to learn from them.
When reading the Bible in general, but especially the more bizarre stories, I like to ask myself three questions. (These are not original to me, but are often used and tweaked to help us read thoughtfully.)
1) What does this passage tell me about God?
When answering this question, I look for attributes of God either explicitly stated in the text or demonstrated through the story. For example, through the story of Esther, we see God’s sovereignty, God’s love for His people, and His generosity in allowing Esther to be a part of His grand plan. The Book of Esther doesn’t mention the name of God, but we can learn a lot about Him through this story of His people. Psalm 116:5, though, spells it out for us a little: “The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate.”
The Bible is a book all about God. Through each story, we learn more about the bigger story of the whole of Scripture, a story pointing straight to God.
2) What does this passage tell me about mankind?
While the Bible is primarily a story about God, it also teaches us about ourselves. We learn about our origins, our sinful nature, and how, through Christ, we can be made new in the pages of God’s Word. I ask myself what each passage can teach me about human beings to learn from past mistakes and how to avoid being entrapped by sin in the future.
Last month, as we read through the books of history, we learned a lot about humans. There were some bizarre stories (Judges 19 comes to mind immediately) and I began to wonder again why God included these chapters in His holy Word. Judges 21:25 provides some insight: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him.” From these stories, we can learn that what is right to us is not always right. We are flawed human beings, we all sin (Romans 3:23).
These first two questions serve to always show how God is different from His creations. He loves us with a never ending love, but He is holy and wholly other than we are. Our God is sovereign, mighty, just, and omnipresent. We can be made righteous only through His Son. Knowing this about our God, and ourselves in contrast, invites us into worship and obedience.
3) How do I apply these truths to my life?
As our friends at She Reads Truth often say, “The Bible is for you and it is for now.” The truths of Scripture can be applied to our lives today. We can take what we have learned about God and about ourselves and live out the principles we glean.
Some of my favorite stories in the Bible come from the life of Elisha. In 2 Kings 4, Elisha encounters a faithful Shunammite woman who demonstrates a godly hospitality toward the prophet. Through Elisha, God promises the woman a son. She has a baby boy, but her son dies a few years later. The woman goes to Elisha to plead with him for help. Elisha then lays on the boy “mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand.” The boy sneezes seven times as he comes back to life. It’s weird and I love the details included. We may think, initially, how in the world do I apply this to my life now?
From this passage we learn that God keeps His promises. We learn that the woman and Elisha were both obedient in their callings—the woman to show hospitality and Elisha to preach the word of God (and to lay on the boy in order to heal him). Today, we are called to be obedient. We are called to be obedient in both the seemingly small things, the seemingly large things, and perhaps even the seemingly bizarre things. God is faithful and will keep His promises to us. We are to obey even in the waiting, even when we don’t understand.
When we train ourselves to search for the answers to these questions as we read, the bizarre stories in Scripture begin to point more clearly to our Creator. We begin to see how Scripture is for us and for now. We begin to apply the truths we’ve learned to our lives. Through the reading of His Word, we will become more like Him and grow in our love for Him.
Elizabeth Hyndman is a Content Editor and the social media strategist for LifeWay Women.