The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Narrative

Scripture As Story: Women at the Well

Introduction

In the Scripture as Story series, we have been talking about how God reveals Himself to us in a story. That is true in the sense that the Bible itself is a grand, overarching story about who God is and what He is doing in the world, and we best understand Scripture when we look at it as the ongoing story of what God is doing and how we supposed to respond to what God is doing, how we connect our story with God’s story.

But it’s also true that God reveals Himself to us in a story in the sense that God inspired humans to write Scripture as literature, and we read the Bible better and more faithfully when we read it as literature and when we pay attention to what the authors are trying to tell us. We talked about some of the specific techniques that we see biblical authors using, and we have also looked at a couple of case studies to help illustrate some of those techniques.

In this, the conclusion to the series, I want to present another case study to help us see Scripture as story, which is the repeated motif we see in multiple places in Scripture of men and women meeting at wells. That might seem like an obscure and random biblical detail, but we’re going to do is look at four different stories in the Bible, notice the repeated patterns, the differences, and then hopefully, see something significant that Scripture is trying to tell us about who Jesus is and what He came to earth to do.[1]

Isaac and Rebekah

The first story we want to look at comes from Genesis 24, which relates the story of Isaac meeting Rebekah. I am not going to include the whole chapter here because it is over 60 verses long, but will instead summarize it briefly.

Abraham is old and is concerned about what is going to happen after he is gone, and he wants to make sure that his son Isaac has a wife and specifically, not a wife from the land of Canaan, but rather, from one of his relatives from back in the old country.

So he sends his servant on a mission to travel to a distant country to find a wife for Isaac. This is a big task for the servant to do and he is feeling some pressure, and he goes to the city of Nahor (where Abraham’s family lives—the town is actually named after his brother) and he takes his camels to a well of water outside the city. It’s evening time, when women go out to draw water, and the servant prays to God for help in finding the right woman for Isaac.

I am not exactly sure what it is that makes the well the ideal place for finding a wife. As we’re going to see, it happens a lot in the Bible so I don’t think it was a coincidence. Today, there are several stereotypical places where people go to meet their spouses: church, bars (unfortunately), online dating sites…it seems like wells were kind of a dating spot of the ancient world.

Abraham’s servant prays, “Let the right woman be the one who, when I ask for a drink, she not only gives me a drink but offers to water my camels as well.” And immediately Rebekah, who is the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor, comes up with her water jar, and the Bible tells us that she is beautiful and unmarried, and the servant asks her for water and she gives him some and then waters his camels as well.

Of course, the servant is excited and tells Rebekah what is going on, and she invites him to stay at her family’s house, and then she rushes home to tell her family about all of this. The chapter goes on and we get a report of the family showing hospitality to the servant and he tells his story again, there is a betrothal, and eventually, Rebekah travels back with the servant and Isaac and Rebekah get married.

So what we have here is a betrothal story of two people getting engaged, and here are some of the key features:

  • Travel: the leading character of the story travels to a foreign country
  • Woman at well: he encounters a woman at a well
  • Water: someone draws water from the well
  • Report: the girl rushes home to bring news of the stranger’s arrival
  • Hospitality: the stranger is invited to the girl’s home and shown hospitality
  • Betrothal: a betrothal and marriage follows

This is what happens in Genesis 24; we now move on to our next story.

Jacob and Rachel

Our next story comes a few chapters later, in Genesis 29, and centers on Jacob, who is the son of Isaac and Rebekah. And Jacob is on a journey as well, because back in Genesis 28, Isaac had sent him specifically to Paddan-Aram, where Rebekah’s family lived, to find a wife there.

So Jacob travels there, and he goes to a well (perhaps his mother had informed him that this was a good place to find available bachelorettes!). There is a large stone over the mouth of this particular well, and apparently, the people would wait until all the flocks gathered there and the shepherds would get together to roll the stone away from the well so all the animals could be watered.

While Jacob is there waiting for this to happen, Rachel, the daughter of his uncle, comes up with her sheep. This is one of those places where we need to try not to read the text through our 21st-century Western eyes. For us, we realize that Rachel is Jacob’s first cousin and immediately we think that this makes her off-limits. But we have to realize that for Jacob, this actually makes Rachel a great candidate for marriage because he was specifically looking for a relative—he wasn’t supposed to marry a Canaanite girl. When Jacob sees Rachel and realizes who she is, he goes and by himself rolls away the huge stone from the well, and waters Rachel’s sheep (apparently the practice of men showing off for women in order to impress them is an ancient one!). Then Jacob kisses Rachel and weeps aloud, and tells her who he is. Rachel runs home to tell her father, Laban, and he comes out and welcomes Jacob into his home, and they make arrangements for Jacob to marry Rachel.

Of course, there is more to the story and Laban is a pretty shady character and Jacob ends up with two wives and stays with Laban for longer than he bargained for, but that is basically where we will leave off.

Let’s notice again the basic characteristics of these well betrothal stories:

  • Travel: the leading character of the story travels to a foreign country
  • Woman at well: he encounters a woman at a well  ✓
  • Water: someone draws water from the well
  • Report: the girl rushes home to bring news of the stranger’s arrival
  • Hospitality: the stranger is invited to the girl’s home and shown hospitality
  • Betrothal: a betrothal and marriage follows

This is what happens in Genesis 29; we now move on to our next story.

Moses and Zipporah

Our next story may not be quite as well known; it comes from Exodus 2. Moses himself is famous, and the early parts of Exodus 2 are most likely very familiar: Moses is born, and in order to hide him from the wrath of Pharaoh, his mother puts him in a basket in the Nile River. Moses is eventually adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as an Egyptian. After he grows up, Moses one day sees an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew and he gets angry and strikes him and kills him. Pharaoh finds out about this and Moses runs away, fleeing to the land of Midian, and once he is there, he sits down by a well.

At this point, if you are a Jewish person who has grown up hearing the scriptures and knows the scriptures well, or, alternatively, if you have been reading this blog post with any sort of attention, you should have some expectation of what is going to happen next, at least in a general sense.

And sure enough, while Moses is sitting there, seven young ladies, daughters of the priest of Midian, come to the well and draw water to water their father’s flocks. Some shepherds come to drive them away, but Moses stands up and saves the girls, and waters their flocks for them.

Then the girls go home and tell their father what happened. Their father tells them to go find Moses and invite him to their house so that they can feed him and show him hospitality, and Moses comes, and he becomes engaged to Zipporah, one of the man’s daughters, and she becomes his wife.

Again, let’s review the basic characteristics of these well betrothal stories:

  • Travel: the leading character of the story travels to a foreign country
  • Woman at well: he encounters a woman at a well
  • Water: someone draws water from the well
  • Report: the girl rushes home to bring news of the stranger’s arrival
  • Hospitality: the stranger is invited to the girl’s home and shown hospitality
  • Betrothal: a betrothal and marriage follows

This is what happens in Exodus 2; we now move on to our next story.

Jesus and a Samaritan Woman

Our final story comes from the New Testament, from John 4, and it is the famous story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well. This is a wonderful chapter and there are a lot of different parts we could examine closely, but for the focus of this post, we just want to sum up what happens and look at that in light of what we have already discussed.

John 4 begins with Jesus on a journey. Because of some trouble from the Pharisees, Jesus is traveling from Judea up to Galilee, and He passes through Samaria on the way. He comes to a town called Sychar, and he is tired, so Jesus sits down by the well.

Now, as a side note here, we need to remember that John is writing His gospel to a Jewish (Christian) audience who knew the Old Testament Scriptures. By now, the pattern that occurs with these well stories should be very familiar to us, and it would have been familiar to John’s audience as well. So we have certain expectations of what is supposed to happen next. 

Sure enough, a woman from Samaria comes to draw water, and Jesus asks her for a drink. But instead of giving Him a drink, the woman responds in shock because she can’t believe that Jesus had spoken to her as a Samaritan woman, because Jews and Samaritans don’t get along at all. Jesus then begins speaking to her about this living water that He has to offer and how people who drink it will never be thirsty again, and the water will become a spring welling up to eternal life, and the woman doesn’t really know what He’s talking about but that sounds good to her and so she asks for some of it.

And this whole conversation is a little strange and not really what we were expecting based on our previous well stories. Jesus then abruptly says, “Go, call your husband, and come here,” and the woman responds, “I have no husband.” If you’re hearing this story for the first time, perhaps you think, “Aha, she is not married—she is a good candidate for marriage after all, so maybe the story will turn out as we expected.”

But then Jesus tells the woman her whole marital history: yes, you’re not married, but you have been married five times before, and the guy you are with now isn’t your husband. This blows the woman away: how can Jesus know this? He must be a prophet! Then they proceed to talk a little bit more about the religious differences between Jews and Samaritans and the woman says that she is waiting for the Messiah to come, and Jesus says that He is, in fact, that Messiah.

The woman gets excited about this and she leaves her water jar and rushes back away to the town to tell the people about this strange man at the well who might be the Christ. In the meantime, Jesus’ disciples show up and they are confused that Jesus is talking to this woman, and then they try to give Him some food, but Jesus declines it, saying that He has all the food He needs, in that He is doing the will of the Father and is accomplishing His work.

And the disciples are completely clueless about what he means. Bless their hearts.

Many of the Samaritans from the village believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony, and they ask Jesus to stay with them for two days, and many more come to believe because of His words, and they tell the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

At this point, we should review the key characteristics of these well betrothal stories that have been talking about, and we will quickly notice that John 4 has a lot in common with the others, but that there are some key differences:

  • Travel: the leading character of the story travels to a foreign country
  • Woman at well: he encounters a woman at a well
  • Water: someone draws water from the well Jesus asks for it; prompts a discussion on living water
  • Report: the girl rushes home to bring news of the stranger’s arrival
  • Hospitality: the stranger is invited to the girl’s home and shown hospitality Yes, but the only food that is mentioned is Jesus’ spiritual food
  • Betrothal: a betrothal and marriage follows No, at least, not in the way we would expect

Jesus the Bridegroom

So what is going on here? Why is this set up like a betrothal story? What can we learn from the differences?

(1) Water: Jesus probably was thirsty, and He does ask the woman for water, but it seems that what He was actually doing was creating an opening for a spiritual conversation. He was moving the woman away from a discussion of a menial chore that she had to do day after day, and instead was addressing the deepest need of her heart: a life-giving spiritual water that only He possessed, which would lead to eternal life.

This living water was available to her. It was hers for the taking. Jesus gives rather than takes. He offers rather than receives.

(2) Food: In the other stories food is mentioned each time: the main character or protagonist is fed by the woman’s family. But in this passage, food is discussed by Jesus and His disciples. The disciples are trying to give Jesus food to eat, but He says He doesn’t need it; He has eaten already. He is satisfied, He is fed, by doing His father’s will, and by accomplishing the mission that His Father has sent Him on. So clearly, what has just happened is an example of Jesus fulfilling His mission: He has revealed who He is to the woman, and has extended His offer of living water to her.

And in that process, He has been made full.

(3) Marriage: This is the big one, and to see what is going on here, we actually need to flip back a chapter, to John 3. This is one of those instances where the chapter divisions in our Bibles (which were added much later) are not always helpful because they break up the surrounding context of what is happening.

Here we have a story of Jesus and His disciples baptizing, and John the Baptist was also baptizing. Some of John’s followers come to him to tell him that Jesus is baptizing more people than John is, and more people are beginning to follow Him, and isn’t John upset by this? But John tries to correct their thinking: 

[28] You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ [29] The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. [30] He must increase, but I must decrease.” 

(John 10.28-30, ESV)

Did you hear what John called Jesus? He called him a bridegroom. John refers to himself as the friend of the bridegroom—the best man—if you will, but he calls Jesus the groom. And John’s point is that at a wedding, the best man doesn’t get upset that the groom gets more attention—he celebrates! He is there to celebrate the wedding of the bride and the groom.

So just before a story that follows the pattern of the Well Betrothal story, John the Baptist explicitly says that the reason people are flocking to Jesus is because He is the bridegroom receiving His bride.

This language of Jesus as a bridegroom is based on a repeated metaphor from the Old Testament of God as the husband and Israel as the wife in their relationship. In the Book of Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah says:

“[1] The word of the LORD came to me, saying, [2] “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. [3] Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest. All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.” 

(Jeremiah 2.1-3, ESV)

The prophecy goes on to describe how the people of Israel had been unfaithful to God, how they had committed spiritual adultery by worshipping other gods, and as a result, the people were going to be punished. God actually describes in Jeremiah 3.6-8 how, because of the continuous unfaithfulness, God was divorcing His bride and sending them away. We call this the Exile: both the nations of Israel and Judah were conquered and the people were captured.

And yet, this isn’t the end of the story. In Jeremiah 3.14:

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion.

God has not given up on His wife; even though He had sent Israel away, He will come after her and bring her back. In a literal sense, a remnant of the people are allowed to return to the Land of Israel following the Exile, but still, Jeremiah points even further to the future:

[31] “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

(Jeremiah 31.31-34, ESV)

With all of this background in the Hebrew Scriptures, we can see what John is doing as He sets up this episode from the life of Jesus as a betrothal story. Jesus is the ultimate bridegroom who has traveled into a foreign land to secure a bride for Himself—not literally, but in a figurative sense: He is identifying Himself with God’s mission to call His people back through the giving of a new covenant, written on the heart.

Jesus’ mission is to restore His bride—to reconcile God’s people back to Him.

There are other places in the New Testament that teach us the same thing. The church is referred to as the bride of Christ in the Book of Revelation; in Ephesians 5 the relationship between a husband and wife is compared to the relationship between Christ and the church. 

But here, in John 4, this same idea of Jesus as the bridegroom is told in a clever and powerful way, through the story of His meeting with a Samaritan woman at a well.[2] 

Conclusion

I hope that, throughout this series, you have come to see benefits of paying close attention to Scripture and reading it as a story, and looking for the ideas and theological claims that the biblical writers are suggesting by the way that they write.

In this final installment, we have seen the repeated use of the well betrothal stories in the Bible, and how John uses a similar story to make an astounding claim about Jesus: He is here to accomplish God’s mission of restoring His bride, as He claimed He would do hundreds of years before. As a husband, Jesus will go to extraordinary lengths to love and protect and save His bride; as a husband, Jesus expects absolute devotion and faithfulness from His bride.

The implications for us are clear: God loves us, and He pursues us because He wants a relationship with us. He wants to care for, protect, and save us. But also, He wants us to be faithful—devoted to Him exclusively.


[1] To my knowledge, the motif of well betrothal stories was first pointed out in Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981).

[2] When studying this initially, I saw the clear connection between John 4 and the Old Testament well betrothal stories, but I was unsure of exactly what the connection meant. Unfortunately, I have lost my notes and am unaware of which source helped point me in the right direction. So, I want to publicly state that the conclusions above are not original to me, and I regret not remembering to whom full credit belongs.

Scripture As Story: Jesus, the New Moses

Introduction

Today we continue our series on Scripture As Story, where we are emphasizing that the Bible is literature, and that we read the Bible better and more faithfully when we keep that in mind.

Last time, we looked at some specific techniques that we see the authors of Scripture using to help them tell their stories and share their teachings about God in a more compelling way. Today, I want to apply that understanding by using a case study to show how reading the Bible as literature and paying attention to the literary techniques that the Biblical authors use can actually help us to better understand the important lessons they are trying to teach us.

Specifically in this post, we are going to look at the connections that the writers of the Gospels (especially Matthew) make between Moses and Jesus, and what we can learn from those connections.[1] In Deuteronomy 18.15-16, Moses says that God was going to “raise up a prophet like me from among” Israel, and the Gospel writers go out of their way to connect Jesus to this prophecy, and claim that Jesus was, indeed, the prophet like Moses.

In John 1.21, 25, John the Baptist is asked if he is this prophet, and he says he’s not, but that he is preparing the way for Someone who is greater than he. In John 1.45, Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus, and says that He is the One “of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote.”

In Acts, Luke is even more explicit. In Acts 3.19-22:

“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.”

Matthew doesn’t explicitly connect Jesus back to Deuteronomy 18, but he actually goes to greater lengths than the other Gospel writers to show the connections between Jesus and Moses. It is generally acknowledged that Matthew is writing to a primarily Jewish audience, and that He is concerned with connecting Jesus to the story of Israel, and one of the way’s he is going to do that is by repeatedly making comparisons between Jesus and Moses. 

Comparing Jesus and Moses

As we look at the way that Scripture presents the lives of Moses and Jesus, what are some similarities that we notice? I don’t claim that this is an exhaustive list, but take a look at the significant overlap between the way Scripture portrays their lives:

Moses Jesus
An evil king (Pharaoh) killed all the male Hebrew babies, but he was saved (Exodus 1.22) An evil king (Herod) tried to kill all the male babies around Bethlehem, but He was saved (Matthew 2.16)
He was hidden from Pharaoh (Exodus 2.2) An angel said to hide Him from Herod (Matthew 2.13)
Fled from Egypt, but later returned (Exodus 2.15; 4.18) Fled to Egypt, but later return to Israel (Matthew 2.13-23)
Gave up the riches and benefits of Egypt (Hebrews 11.24-26) Gave up the riches and benefits of Heaven (John 1.1-3; Philippians 2.5-8)
Became a shepherd (Exodus 3.1) Described Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10.11)
His mission: redeem Israel from slavery to Egypt His mission: redeem humanity from slavery to sin
Often rejected by his own people Often rejected by His own people
Judged the people (Exodus 18.13-23) Will judge all people (Matthew 7.21-23; 25.31-46)
Goes up on a mountain to receive God’s law (Exodus 20-31) Goes up on a mountain to give God’s law (Matthew 5-7)
Fasted for 40 days on the mountain (Exodus 24.18) Fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4.2)
Performed signs/miracles Performed signs/miracles
Mediator of the covenant through the blood of young bulls (Exodus 24.8) Mediator of the covenant through His own blood (Matthew 26.28)
Delivers the five books of the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) Delivers five extended sets of teaching/instruction (Matt. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25)
Lifted up the bronze snake in the wilderness (Numbers 21.9) In a similar way, He Himself was “lifted up” (John 3.14)
Commissions Joshua Commission disciples

Perhaps you find yourself thinking, “Well, that this is an interesting list, but what does it mean? How does this list of comparisons help us better understand who Jesus is?”

Why It Matters

What all of these comparisons help us to see is that, similar to Moses, Jesus is a multi-faceted character, and we better understand who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish if we can appreciate the many different roles that He fulfilled.

Liberator

The primary reason that we know about Moses in the first place is that God recruits him to liberate the people of Israel, who are helplessly trapped in the bonds of Egyptian slavery. Moses is a liberator.

Jesus, too, is a liberator, who came to earth on a mission to set people free from slavery, a slavery not from some oppressive foreign government or tyrant, but slavery from sin (Romans 6.6-7, 17-18).

Jesus liberates us from the power of sin.

Prophet

We actually began our discussion in Deuteronomy, where Moses says that a prophet like himself would come, and that this is Jesus.

Jesus was the ultimate prophet. A lot of times, when we hear the word “prophet” we think of someone who has a crystal ball or something and who can predict the future, but really, that is not a very helpful image when we talk about prophets in the Bible. Sure, at times, they predicted future events, and certainly Jesus did that, but the primary job of a prophet was to deliver a message to the people on behalf of God. Most of the time it wasn’t about the future; it was about what was going on right then that God wanted them to know.

And Jesus was the ultimate prophet; in a way that had never been done before or since, He fully revealed the message of God: who God is, what God is like, and what God wants from His people. 

Jesus was the prophet of prophets.

Lawgiver

Of course, one of the main things we associate with Moses is the giving of the 10 Commandments. God passed His law on to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and it was Moses’ job to share that with the people.

As we have already discussed, in Matthew 5, Jesus goes “up on a mountain” and there, He delivers teaching/instruction/law to His disciples.[2] He tells them that He did not come to abolish the Old Law but to fulfill it, and then He goes on to present Himself as the ultimate Lawgiver: “you have heard that it was said, but I say to you…”

Jesus is the One with authority—final authority—to interpret God’s Law. He is the Lawgiver—the One to whom we must listen.

Shepherd

Certainly Moses was literally a shepherd before God recruited him to lead the people of Israel, but after he became their leader he did so as a shepherd, willing to offer his own life up for them.

Similarly, Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He guides us, and provides for us, but also takes care of us and protects us, ultimately offering up Himself on our behalf.

Miracle Worker

Through the power of God, Moses accomplished great signs and wonders: the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, getting water from the rock. These were miracles that showed the great power of God, proved the identity of Moses as God’s representative, and brought about relief to suffering people.

Jesus, too, is presented as a great worker of miracles. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, cast out demons, stilled storms, and brought people back from the dead. These miracles showed God’s power, they testified to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and Son of God, and they brought about relief to suffering people. They showed people what God’s kingdom was like, and they were a taste of New Creation.

Jesus was a Miracle Worker.

Intercessor

We noted earlier about Moses mediating the covenant through the blood of young bulls. More than that, after the people of Israel sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf and God wanted to wipe them out, Moses directly interceded with God on their behalf, offering to take punishment for them.

Jesus is portrayed as the ultimate intercessor. He mediates the covenant through the sacrifice of Himself and intercedes for us. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23), but Jesus takes that payment for us. As 2 Corinthians 5.21 says, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf…”

Jesus is the intercessor.

Commissioner

When I hear the word commissioner I think of the chief official of Major League Baseball or the NBA or NFL because that is the title that they use, but that’s not the idea here. A commissioner is someone who gives a commission—a task to be completed by those who come after.

At the end of his life, Moses commissions Joshua to carry on his mission. He tells Joshua to lead the people into the promised land and take possession of it and to keep the commandments when they are there. Joshua is assured that he can carry out this commission because God will be with him.

Jesus relays the ultimate commission. He tells His disciples to go into all the world—the Christian mission is a great one, it knows no geographical limits or bounds. As Christians, we are not told that we will inherit a small strip of land in Palestine, but rather, that we will inherit the earth. The kingdom of God is to be spread in all parts of the world. Further, Jesus tells them to observe all that He has commanded, and Jesus gives His disciples confidence that they can complete this mission, telling them that He Himself will be with them.

Jesus is the ultimate commissioner.

Judge

In Exodus 18, we have the story of Moses judging the people. When the people had a dispute, they would bring it before Moses and he would apply God’s law to these situations. But the task of judging the people is overwhelming for Moses, and his father-in-law Jethro actually advises him to get some help to share the burden.

Jesus is the judge in the ultimate sense—not settling the petty earthly disputes between people, but instead determining their eternal destinations. He says that not all who call Him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but rather, they who do the will of God (Matthew 7.21). He further states that the way we treat other people, especially the “least of these”—the poor, the outcast, the oppressed—reflects how we treat Jesus, and affects our eternal destinies.

Jesus is the ultimate judge.

Conclusion

The Gospel writers—especially Matthew—go to great pains to make comparisons between Jesus and Moses. This is not a coincidence; by comparing Jesus to Moses, a man who fulfilled so many different roles in the early days of the history of the people of Israel, the New Testament shows us the many different roles Jesus plays.

There are many, many people in the world today who want to hold Jesus up as a great moral teacher or a man with brilliant insight, maybe even a prophet in some sense, but who want to stop at that point. But the Gospels go to great literary lengths to establish that Jesus is much more than this:

  • Jesus is the liberator who sets us free from the slavery of sin.
  • Jesus is the prophet who fully revealed the message of God.
  • Jesus is the lawgiver who has the final authority to interpret God’s law.
  • Jesus is the shepherd who guides us, provides for us, and lays down His life for us.
  • Jesus is the miracle worker who shows the power of God and brings relief to those who are suffering, giving them a taste of new creation.
  • Jesus is the intercessor who mediates the covenant for us, and receives the punishment that we deserve.
  • Jesus is the commissioner who extends to us the mission of expanding the borders of God’s kingdom throughout the world.
  • Jesus is the judge who determines the eternal destinies of all people.

In addition to all of these roles, the Bible goes even further: Jesus is God’s Son, God in the flesh Himself. In this sense, Jesus cannot be compared to Moses, nor to anyone else. He is absolutely unique.

In the Story of Scripture, this is the character of Jesus, and His characterization has radical implications for our lives: Jesus is God’s Son, He is the one who interprets God’s law, He died on our behalf, and He is the One who will judge how we have lived our lives and will determine our eternal destinies—how we respond to Jesus makes all the difference.


[1] I am by no means the first person to notice the connections between Jesus and Moses, and in fact, several books have been written on the topic.

Some articles that were helpful to me in the composition of this blog post include Garrett Best, “Jesus As The New Moses,” Ministry of Study, https://ministryofstudy.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/jesus-as-the-new-moses/ (accessed October 9, 2018); Cale Clarke, “Is Jesus a “Second Moses”?,” Catholic Answers, https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-jesus-a-second-moses (accessed October 9, 2018); “In what ways was Moses like Jesus?,” Got Questions, https://www.gotquestions.org/Moses-and-Jesus.html (accessed October 9, 2018).

[2] We typically translate the Hebrew word torah as “Law”, but a better translation would probably be something like “teaching” or “instruction.” It feels weird to say that Jesus was delivering “Law” in the Sermon on the Mount, but He was certainly giving teaching and instruction. Like Moses, He was delivering Torah.

Scripture As Story: A Literary Masterpiece

Introduction

In this series, we are taking a narrative approach to Scripture: reading the Bible as literature, and specifically, as literature that is telling a grand, overarching story about who God is and what He is doing in the world. In the last post, we looked at that story itself, and in today’s installment, I want to continue our look at the Bible as literature by considering some specific examples in Scripture where reading narratively helps us to better understand what is going on. Here is the basic idea: good literature uses certain techniques to tell stories more powerfully, in ways that impact the reader (or hearer) on a deeper level, and the Bible does this too.

When I was first taught about this, I initially resisted it, but then it dawned on me: it really shouldn’t surprise us that God, though His Spirit, would inspire biblical authors to write in this way. After all, if God chooses to reveal Himself to us through a book, through a story, wouldn’t we expect it to be a really good story? Wouldn’t we expect it to be a very well-written book?

And that’s exactly what it is: even people who aren’t Christians, and don’t believe in the teachings or claims of the Bible, still hold it up as a literary masterpiece, because it is—it is an amazing story! I think it is fascinating when we examine this more closely, and when we look for literary techniques that Scripture uses, it helps us better understand the True Story that God is trying to tell us.

Figurative Language

The first technique I want to talk about is figurative language, which occurs when Scripture tells us something (often about God) using language that is meant to be taken metaphorically rather than literally. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Short Hand, Dull Ear

“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” 

(Isaiah 59.1-2)

Here, Isaiah talks about God’s hand and His ear. What’s the point here? Is he saying that God literally has a hands and ears and other body parts like we do? No. Using figurative language, Isaiah is saying that God has the power to save His people and that furthermore, He knows their struggles and desires to save them. But at the same time, sin separates God’s people from Him, and limits the blessings that He bestows upon them.

East and the West

In Psalm 103.12, the Psalmist says,

“…as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Well, how far is the east from the west? Literally, it is impossible to measure, since both east and west are relative locations and directions. But figuratively, we get the point. This verse comes in the context of an entire psalm about God’s grace, mercy, and love, and the message is clear: the God of Scripture is a God who is eager to forgive, and when He forgives, He completely takes those sins away. He doesn’t hang them over our heads; they’re gone for good.

There are tons of examples of figurative language in Scripture, but I think you get the point: the Bible frequently uses metaphorical language to tell us very important things about who God is: He is powerful, He cares about us, and He is eager to forgive us, but He also takes sin seriously.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a literary device where the author gives a hint of what is to come. This builds anticipation as you read or hear a story, and it also helps to highlight really important features of the story.

Samson’s Hair

In Judges 13-16, there is a cycle of stories about Samson. I am not going to quote all of that here, but the basic story of Samson is pretty well-known. He is famous for being incredibly strong and using his strength to wreak havoc on the Philistines, who were the primary enemies of the Israelites in his day. That strength was tied to a vow that his parents had made with God, where Samson was never supposed to cut his hair.

As we read about Samson, we get a picture of a guy who doesn’t seem to be very bright, and who also seems to be ruled by his passions. He chases after women who get him in lots of trouble, he violates the vow he is under on a whim, and he gets angry and does incredibly violent things.

Eventually Samson falls for a woman named Delilah who doesn’t seem to care about him at all, and who tries to figure out the secret to his great strength so she can betray him to the Philistines. Delilah pesters him day after day, and if you read the story in the first half of Judges 16, you really get the idea that Samson is dumb or foolhardy (or both), and eventually he tells her his secret. Delilah then cuts Samson’s hair while he is sleeping, his strength leaves him, and the Philistines come and capture him.

And we read this:

And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison. But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. 

(Judges 16.21-22)

“But the hair of his head began to grow again…” This is an example of foreshadowing: we know that Samson’s long hair and the vow it represented was tied to his strength, and here we have a hint that despite the fact that Samson has been captured and his eyes have been gouged out and he is in chains, perhaps he is not done yet.

And if you know the rest of the story, Samson finds himself in a Philistine temple, standing between two pillars, and he prays to God, and God returns his strength to him, and Samson pushes the pillars down and the temple falls and he and all the Philistines are killed.

In this instance, the foreshadowing is a reminder of God’s grace: Samson might have been down and out, but that doesn’t mean that God was done with him yet.

David’s “Secret” Sin

King David is one of the great heroes of the Old Testament. He is called a “man after God’s own heart,” but the Bible doesn’t try to hide the fact that, like all of us, he was deeply flawed. We see this most clearly in 2 Samuel 11, where we have the story of David and Bathsheba.

David is walking on the roof of his house, and he sees a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing, and (not unlike Samson) David shows no self-restraint and just gives in to his desire. He sends for Bathsheba, whose husband Uriah is off fighting in David’s army, sleeps with her, and she becomes pregnant. 

The fact that Bathsheba is pregnant presents David with a problem, because he’s afraid that his sin will become known, and so he does various things to try to cover it up, and ultimately, has Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed in battle and then takes Bathsheba as his own wife to hide what he has done. And David thinks that he has successfully gotten away with his sin, but 2 Samuel 11 ends with this verse:

But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.

(2 Samuel 11.27b)

“But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD…” This is another example of foreshadowing: the author hints that David hasn’t actually gotten away with anything, that the LORD knows about it, and that there will be consequences.

And sure enough, God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David about his sin. David and Bathsheba’s child dies as a result, and really, the rest of David’s life is pretty miserable because of what he did.

In this instance, the use of foreshadowing is a reminder of the destructiveness of sin, and the judgment that it brings.

Repetition

Sometimes, the biblical authors will repeat a key word or phrase to emphasize a main theme or idea. This happens frequently in Scripture, but a really good example of this is in the Book of Judges.

The period of the judges was a dark time in the history of Israel. It was a wild and lawless time. There was no centralized leadership of the people of Israel, and instead, God periodically raised up judges—regional, tribal leaders—to deliver His people from their enemies. 

As you go through the Book of Judges, there is a repeated cycle that develops that looks something like this:

(1) The people of Israel commit sin; (2) God allows them to be oppressed by their enemies; (3) They then repent and cry out to God for deliverance; (4) God raises up a judge to deliver His people; (5) The people remain faithful while the judge lives, but after his/her death they sin again and the cycle repeats itself all over again.

But as you go throughout the Book of Judges and follow this repeating cycle, you notice it’s actually a downward spiral and that things are getting progressively worse. The judges are increasingly flawed and immoral people, and even when they save Israel, the peace doesn’t last for long. 

Finally, at the very end of the book there are two horrible stories told that emphasize the lawlessness of the land. And bracketing those stories there is the repetition of a key statement:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

(Judges 17.6; 21.25)

What is the point of this repeated theme? Well, in the larger story of the people of Israel, it is justifying the need for a king, and in fact, Israel will get a king in the very next book—1 Samuel. But also, this repeated theme teaches what is a very fundamental biblical idea: humans are flawed, frail, and fallen, and when we try to do things on our own, wickedness and chaos is the result. This is the story of our world going back to the Garden of Eden—when we think that we know what is best rather than what God has told us, disaster is the inevitable result.

Echoing

What I am calling echoing is the frequent practice of the authors of Scripture to refer back to an earlier event in the Bible by repeating certain language, or telling stories in similar ways, or comparing certain characters.

Creation and New Creation

One example that shows this very clearly is a comparison between Genesis 1-3, which talks about the Creation of the heavens and the earth, and Revelation 21-22, which talks about the New Creation of the New Heavens and New Earth. Over and over again, what we read in Revelation echoes what occurred in Genesis:

Genesis Revelation
Division of light and darkness (Gen. 1.4) No night there (Rev. 21.25)
Division of land and sea (Gen. 1.10) No more sea (Rev. 21.1)
Rule of sun and moon (Gen. 1.16) No need of sun or moon (Rev. 21.23)
River flowing out of Eden (Gen. 2.10) River flowing from God’s throne (Rev. 22.1)
Tree of life in midst of garden (Gen. 29) Tree of life throughout the city (Rev. 22.2)
Gold and precious stones in the land (Gen. 2.12) Gold and precious stones throughout (Rev. 21.19)
God walking in the garden (Gen. 3.8) God dwelling with His people (Rev. 21.3)
Cursed ground because of sin (Gen. 3.17) No more curse (Rev. 22.3)
Pain and sorrow (Gen. 3.17-19) No more sorrow, pain, tears (Rev. 21.1-4)
Returning to the dust=death (Gen. 3.19) No more death (Rev. 21.4)
Cherubim guarding the Garden (Gen. 3.24) Angels inviting into the city (Rev. 21.9)

As John is writing Revelation, over and over again, there is a clear comparison to what happens in the beginning in Genesis, and what will happen in eternity, and his point is clear: the creation that God began which was tainted by sin, He is going to redeem, recreate, and perfect!

Similar Stories

Echoing also happens when Bible authors describe events in a way that calls to mind similar stories in earlier sections of Scripture. 

I mentioned earlier that at the end of the Book of Judges, you have a couple of really dark and horrible stories, and the worst is in Judges 19. This is an extremely graphic story, and because of length I won’t quote it here, but I encourage you to read it and then compare it to the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. These stories are eerily similar in a lot of respects. This doesn’t mean that the stories are made up, but it does show that the author of Judges is telling his story in such a way that it is supposed to remind you of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the point is what a dark and wicked place that Israel has become now that “everyone has done what is right in his own eyes.”

Comparing Characters

A really common form of echoing is to compare different characters, especially characters from the Old Testament with characters in the New Testament, and to do so in order to tell us more about the character on a deeper level. 

For example, in multiple places John the Baptist is compared to the Old Testament prophet of Elijah. Jesus is a particularly good example of this, as He is compared to a lot of different Old Testament characters: Adam, Melchizedek, David, Jonah, and especially to Moses (and I intend to do an entire post later in this series on Jesus as the new Moses).

But comparing characters is another way that biblical authors echo other portions of Scripture.

Conclusion

Really, I could write entire posts (or series of posts) on each of the literary devices we have talked about—Figurative Language, Foreshadowing, Repetition, Echoing—and there are a lot of other literary techniques that I didn’t even mention. 

But hopefully we have covered enough to make the point, which is that when God inspired the biblical authors to compose the books of the Bible that make up His Story, they told that story as storytellers, and we read the Bible better and more accurately if we realize this, look for the storytelling techniques they use, and see how that helps us to have a better understanding of what God is trying to reveal to us.

The Bible is not written as a history textbook. It’s not written like a police report, with just the facts and no interpretation. It is written narratively, and the ways that the authors tell their stories give us important information about the character of God, and the grand overarching Story of Scripture that we talked about last time: 

  • As we see in the repeated refrain of the Book of Judges, when people do what is right in their own eyes, the result is sin and evil and chaos, just like we had with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
  • As we see in the story of David and Bathsheba, sin brings judgment and consequences.
  • But as we also see in the story of Samson and in the figurative language of Isaiah and Psalms, God is gracious, and sin doesn’t have to have the last word. God is powerful to save and eager to forgive and restore.
  • And as we see in the way the whole Story ends in the final chapters of Revelation, God is redeeming and restoring the creation that He spoke into existence in Genesis: a New Heavens and a New Earth, where there will be no crying or mourning or pain, where we will dwell with the Creator forever.

I hope you will continue to follow along. In future posts, we will look at a few “case studies” that illustrate some of the ideas and literary techniques described above.

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