Bible Readings for October 28th
One of the difficulties of reading certain stories in the Bible—especially the more violent stories—comes in the way that the narratives in the Bible convey meaning and value judgments in such different ways than we might expect from, for example, a modern novel. Because the Bible was written in a different time and a different culture, we have to learn the ways that the biblical authors convey meaning rather than bringing our own prejudices to the text. Make no mistake—God condemns the evil bloodshed of wicked rulers like Ahab and Jezebel in 2 Kings 9, but there are more ways to announce such a condemnation than by simply doing it directly.
One of the chief ways the Bible conveys meaning, then, is through repetition. Sometimes, the biblical literature relies on the repetition of words to convey meaning, such as in Isaiah 6:3, where the prophet hears a voice crying out in the throne room of God, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The Hebrew language doesn’t have superlatives like “more” or “most,” so Hebrew authors might repeat a word to increase its intensity. Repeating the word “holy” three times conveys the idea that Yahweh is unimaginably holy.
But this repetition can also happen in the stories themselves. In the course of this study, we have explored ongoing repetitions, such as the many stories of men who meet their wives at wells,1 or, as we discussed yesterday, the repeated stories involving famine, exile, wealth, and a son. We have also seen individual repetitions, such as when the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is replayed in the Benjaminite city of Gibeah,2 and then the repetition of Gibeah’s story when King Saul splits an ox into pieces to summon all Israel to join him in defense of Jabesh-gilead.3 In all of these cases, the stories build on top of one another and intermingle. Biblical scholars call this technique “comparative structures” or “narrative analogies,” where the repetition of stories in the Bible provides layered, complex meaning through comparisons, analogies, and allusions.4
This helps us to understand the repeated elements from today’s story. First, the showdown of Jehu with Joram and Ahaziah takes place at the exact location of Naboth’s vineyard, calling attention to the great sin of Ahab and Jezebel (2 Kgs. 9:21). Furthermore, both Joram and Ahaziah die in the exact same manner as did Ahab, from arrow wounds in their chariots (2 Kgs. 9:24, 27; cf. 1 Kgs. 22:34–35). In this way, the biblical stories are bringing the wickedness of Ahab full circle as Jehu executes Ahab’s descendants.
There is more to explore about this important technique of biblical interpretation, as well as its specific application in the story of Jehu. We will pick up this discussion tomorrow.
4 See Peter J. Leithart, “Counterfeit Davids: Davidic Restoration and the Architecture of 1–2 Kings,” in Tyndale Bulletin 56.2 (2005): 19–33. I am indebted to Matthew Patton for helping to crystalize some of these ideas for me in his interview for Christ the Center, “Narrative Analogies among Israel’s and Judah’s Kings,” September 11, 2015, <http://reformedforum.org/ctc402/>. Accessed October 1, 2015.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.