“Once upon a time…” these cliche words start many of our classic Western stories. There are lots of similarities between the kinds of stories we are familiar with and the Biblical narratives, but there are also some key differences.
In reality, the Biblical narratives are just stories. Yes they’re true stories, but at a basic level we can read them just the same way that we might read a modern story. They share the same basic features of any story: characters, plot, and plot resolution.
Biblical narratives are a bit different to modern stories in several respects though. In some ways they are more like a play or movie in their construction, as they tend to develop in short scenes that only have a few characters in view at any one time. These short scenes combine to tell the larger story, like acts in a play or scenes in a movie. Also, unlike modern stories, they don’t spend much time in visual descriptions of characters or their surroundings. Any visual details that are included in a Biblical narrative are therefore more important than they would be in a typical modern story.
Like a Shakespearean play, a lot of the important details of the story are communicated in the discussions between characters. Often the details that are most important will be told several times (e.g. the repeated descriptions of the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, or the way the Cornelius story from Acts 10 is fully retold by Peter in Acts 11). The conversations are central and often the very first thing said is the most important.
The power of Biblical narratives is that they show how God’s principles can be demonstrated in the lives of ordinary believers. That said, we must also bear in mind that just because a Biblical character did something, doesn’t necessarily mean that action is something to copy. For example, Gideon putting out his fleece to test God in Judges 6 isn’t something believers are told they should do. Gideon’s actions aren’t encouraged or commended, in fact it was a demonstration that he didn’t fully trust God yet and God just patiently humoured him.
Currently the traditional Christadelphian Bible Reading Planner is taking us through some exciting narratives in the books of Samuel. Try and keep some of these thoughts in mind as you read through the stories about the exploits of David.