The stories of the Bible are deeply embedded in Western culture. Here's a sampling of stories, to offer an interesting pathway into the Bible.
The 23rd Psalm is a fine example of the power of figurative language: We read deep things into the vision of ourselves as sheep, led to green pastures and good water by a kind shepherd. It’s empowering to feel the confidence to go fearlessly into the valley of the shadow of death, and to feel the love and caring of a table prepared by the Lord and a cup so full it overflows.
This is one of the Bible’s best-loved stories, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s easy for us to visualize the disciples struggling to get their small ship across the stormy Sea of Galilee, and their astonishment when Jesus comes to them, strolling atop the waves as if the water was a Roman road.
David goes off to meet Goliath, the Philistine giant, with his sling in his hand and five smooth stones from a brook placed in his shepherd’s pouch. It is a vivid dramatic story with some really nasty parts to it which tells of good triumphing over evil.
This story causes a certain amount of consternation for believers, and is a favorite of Bible critics. Why would Jesus, in all His perfection, curse a poor defenseless tree for the small crime of having no fruit – especially when, as the version of the story in Mark says, it is not even the season for figs? It seems downright mean-spirited.
The Battle of Jericho(nl)
These verses, the opening phrases of the Sermon on the Mount, hold some of the Bible’s most beautiful and best-loved poetry. Part of its beauty, though, lies in the fact that the meaning is not quite clear.
This is not a story about the prophet Elisha siccing bears on some bratty kids. It is really a story about the dangers of using our intelligence to attack the Bible, and - through the Bible - the Lord.
This parable has for centuries caused confusion and consternation for Biblical commentators. The steward has been wasting his master’s goods, and under threat of being fired goes scrambling around settling debts on the cheap. His motivation is rotten – he does it to ingratiate himself with the debtors so they will take him in after he loses his job. And for this he gets praised!
So “the Word” – divine truth, the expression of the Lord’s love – was “made flesh” in the form of Jesus. In a way, this was the most external form the divine truth could take, extending from spiritual reality to give itself a physical form.
Having just told Moses to go to Egypt, Jehovah meets him on the way with the intent of killing him. Why? The standard explanation is that Moses had not circumcised his son, as Jehovah had ordered for all descendants of Abraham. But surely there's more too it than that!