I, for one, have struggled in reading the Old Testament, so as to understand how to benefit from some sections, particularly the narrative sections, where the stories and experience of the Old Testament people are recorded. I have found myself often asking, “What is the real meaning of this passage? What is it teaching? What was the purpose of the author in recording it? How do we know how to take this and understand it?”
Gordon Fee gives some simple yet very helpful guidelines in reading the Old Testament narratives which I find especially beneficial. I am thankful to a certain friend who passed these on to me.
1. An OT narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine.
2. An OT narrative usually illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.
3. Narratives record what happened, not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen every time. Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral to the story.
4. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us. Frequently, it is just the opposite.
5. Most of the characters in OT narratives are far from perfect.
6. We are not always told at the end of a narrative whether what happened was good or bad.
7. All narratives are incomplete. Not all the relevant details are always given (cf John 21:25).
8. Narratives are not written to answer our theological questions.
9. Narratives may teach either explicitly (by clearly stating something) or implicitly ( by clearly
implying something, without actually saying it).
10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narratives.
So, I agree with the anonymous poet who has said,
“I agree with Fee,
His advice is free,
Yet is profitable for me
And can be for thee.”
– Gordon Fee