The Old Testament Narratives


Purpose: To understand why God used narratives, explain the best way to interpret them and to see why they are so valuable to us. 

Objectives: To have students see the bigger picture of OT narratives and apply the principles of interpretation that are unique to this genre. 


A children’s puzzle that has four-five main focus points or characters or images on the puzzle that has only 30-40 pieces.

Introduction. (12-15 min)

1)      Game: (5-7 min) Prepare in advance by finding a children’s puzzle that has 4-5 main focus points or characters or images on the puzzle. The puzzle should have only 30-40 pieces. The idea is to give each group the pieces to one of the characters and have them put what they have together (Give one person all the edge pieces, one person in the group all the pieces for one character and so on). Once they have put their pieces together ask them to bring their pieces over to the table where the edges are put together and finish the rest of the puzzle.

2)      What are some of your favourite stories in the OT? Why? How have they shaped or changed your behaviour? (The intention here is to bring out the ways in which the narratives have shaped or changed their behaviour and have pointed them to the bigger picture of God working throughout history.)  

Video content:

Presentation of Learning Material: (20-25 min)

  1. In this class we will:
    1. Look at the nature and levels of narratives,
    2. What they are not,
    3. Principles for interpretation,
    4. Practical application in class. 

2)      The Nature and Levels of Narratives.

Biblical narratives tell us about things that happened. But not just anything that happened. Its purpose is to show God at work in His creation and among his people. Narratives are told on three levels. Just like the puzzle what is unclear when you had only one piece, and when it became partially clear when you had the object or character put together, and finally when the whole piece was together, so we also must see narratives in the same way. The three levels of narratives are as follows:

a)      Top Level: In any biblical narrative, God is the ultimate character, the supreme hero of the story. God’s whole universal plan is being worked out through His creation. The story of Redemption. 

b)     Middle Level: This centers on the nation of Israel from its very beginning until after the Exile.  

c)      Bottom Level: The hundreds of individual narratives that make up the other two levels.

3)      What Narratives are Not:

a)      OT Narratives are not just stories about people who lived in OT times. They are first and foremost stories about what God did to and through those people. 

b)     OT Narratives are not allegories or stories filled with hidden meaning and they do not answer all our questions about a given issue. However, they are limited in focus to the overall purpose of redemptive history.

c)      OT Narratives do not always teach directly. They do give emphasis to the nature and revelation of God in special ways. Therefore, we receive a “hands-on” knowledge of God’s work in His world. They illustrate the direct teaching about God from other sources in the Bible. 

d)     Each individual OT Narrative does not have a moral all its own. All the component parts of the narrative work together to show one major point. 

4)      Principle for Interpretation of Narratives.

a)      An OT Narrative usually does not teach a doctrine but rather illustrates a doctrine taught elsewhere.

b)     They record what happened –not necessarily what should or ought to have happened.

c)      What the people do in them is not always a good example for us and the characters are far from perfect. 

d)     We are expected to figure out from other parts of the Bible whether their actions were good or bad. 

e)      In the final analysis, God is the hero of all the Biblical narratives.  

5)      Review of Joseph’s story for the purpose of identifying the top-level, mid-level and bottom-level of the story in narratives. Pastor Martin will narrate this section in preparation for your Small-group Material

a)      Genesis 37:1-3; 5-10; 11-13; 25-28

b)     Genesis 39

c)      Genesis 41:14-24, 37, 43

d)     Genesis 45:7

e)      Exodus 1:6-7

Small-group content: (20 min)

1)      Using the story of Joseph in the OT, have the group apply the three levels of narrative to Genesis chapter 37-45, 50 and Exodus chapter 1. 

a)      Beginning with the Bottom level review the main points together as a group. Be careful to make clear that Bottom level narratives may not have any moral attached to them. Their sole purpose may just be to support the rest of the story at a higher level. Keep track of the major parts. 

i)        What are the main points of Genesis 37?

ii)      Who is the hero of the story of Joseph so far? (See Genesis 39:2-5) What’s the moral of the story? (God is the hero. And the moral is that God was with Joseph. Don’t try to find a hero in the other characters like the jailer, Potiphar, and Pharaoh)

iii)    What are the main points of Genesis 41?

b)     Next have them look at all the parts together as you have them and identify the story from the Middle level with its focus on Israel. 

i)        Jacob, Joseph’s father was called Israel. He is the father of the nation of Israel. What do we learn about the formation of the nation of Israel from this mid-level focus? What was God’s plan for the nation of Israel?

c)      Finally, have them discuss the Top level and where this fits into the universal plan of God. 

i)        What did God set up in this series of events for the nation of Israel that he needed to have to happen for the universal plan of God? (The preservation of the Canaanites, Egyptians and others during this time of famine. Egypt was the place where God built up and multiplied his people, preparing them for the Exodus and conquest that God himself would execute and God would use them to enter the land of Canaan.)

ii)      Read Genesis 50:19-20. What does Joseph believe is the main purpose for God doing what he did in his life? (Everything in Joseph’s life was about God and what God was doing. From his fall to his rise to power or part of God’s strategy.)

d)     What dangers are there if we focus only on one level?

Identify the application principles from each level (refer back to the top-level, mid-level and bottom-level descriptions).

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