You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 3)

For the last two weeks we’ve been discussing reading the Bible as story. 70% of the Bible’s text is narrative (story) and the other 30% is communication between the characters in that story. We looked at Scot McKnight’s description of Scripture:

“There is not just one and only one story in the Bible. But there are two nonnegotiables (sic) in the Bible’s Story. First, there is a general plot from the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2 to the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 20-22. Second, there are redemptive benefits for those who participate in that ‘general plot’ by declaring allegiance to the God of that plot.”

McKnight goes further to suggest that there are three “chapters,” or clearly defined sections to the Bible’s overarching story. We’ll look at each of these “chapters” individually over the next few articles. The first of these is theocracy.

According to the dictionary, theocracy is a political system governed by a deity (or by officials thought to be divinely guided). In other words, when the Bible begins we see the center of everything is God Yahweh. From Genesis 1 until 1 Samuel 8, it is God and only God who has the authority to rule. God makes everything, therefore everything is under his authority, and from the beginning he yields some of that authority to other beings, including humans (we’ll talk more about the other beings later). We see this clearly in Genesis 1:28-31. God expected humans to have authority over the created earth while remaining subject to him.

During this time there is no earthly king, no earthly political leader. God is the center of everything. Yet we see a common problem throughout this time as well: humans constantly go against the will of God. From Adam and Eve in the garden story to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, all of these episodes show that Israel is truly an appropriate name for God’s people (Israel means “struggles with God”)

Theocracy was the ideal in the Garden. God giving a direct set of limited rules to the people (in this case Adam and Eve) by which to live, but ultimately God himself led them. The problem? The people rebelled. Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden and so there’s distance between God and man, but God himself is still the direct leader of the people. The problem? The people rebelled (just read Genesis 6!) God ultimately deals with unbridled violence through rescuing Noah and his family through the flood. The problem? The people rebelled again (Gen. 11). God now begins to speak to some individuals directly, and relays his message through some of these  human beings. These people are variously referred to as prophets, or judges, and some have no special title at all. All the way through this section of Scripture, God is the one who directly deals with the people, and the people continually rebel. Story after story in this section fits into this narrative style.

So where does the story of the Bible go after theocracy? We’ll look at that next time, but if you want to get a head start in thinking about the next section of Scripture, look at 1 Samuel 8. In the meantime, ask yourself this question:

Have I fully submitted my life to God and his will, or do I “Israel,” that is struggle and rebel against God’s will for me?