You may have noticed that some biblical stories are repeated in two or three different books of the Bible. In our Chronological Bible reading, those stories are rearranged to appear one after the other, on the same page of the book. This gives us the opportunity to compare and contrast different versions of the same story.

Take, for instance, the story of King David conquering the Philistines just after his coronation as king over all of Israel. This story is told twice, in (a) 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and (b) 1 Chronicles 14:8-17. And the two renditions of the story are nearly identical, except for a few minor differences: (All quotes are from the NLT unless otherwise noted.)

  • When David heard the Philistines were coming after him, (a) “he went into the stronghold,” a place of safety and protection, or (b) “he marched out to meet them” with confidence and power.
  • When David defeated the Philistines, he exclaimed (a) that God destroyed his enemies, or (b) that God destroyed his enemies “by my hand” (NIV).
  • When the Philistines fled the scene and abandoned their religious artifacts, (a) “David and his men confiscated them,” or (b) “David gave orders to burn them.”
  • Throughout the story, the God of Israel is referred to as (a) “the Lord,” a representation of the divine name “Yahweh,” or (b) “God,” a translation of the Hebrew term “Elohim.”

The fourth of these differences is not that noteworthy; it simply reflects a difference in authorship, time of writing, and other cultural changes. Scholars have long recognized a significant distinction in these references to God in the biblical text. (You can see this same distinction in the Bible’s two creation stories: the first, in Genesis 1:1-2:3, uses “Elohim” or “God,” but the second, in Genesis 2:4-3:24, uses “Yahweh Elohim” or “Lord God.”)

By itself, the “Lord” vs. “God” distinction is enough to suggest that 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles were written by different people and at different times. The other differences above suggest that these two stories were written with different agendas in mind.

Wait, “with different agendas”?!

Yep. There is no such thing as an unbiased telling of a story. We always tell stories from our own perspectives, from our own cultures, using our own languages and idioms. And what we intend to communicate through a story influences how we go about telling the story.

Another conclusion of biblical scholarship is that 1 and 2 Chronicles were written by an individual (often called “the Chronicler”) who had a very specific perspective on political history:

The Chronicler was a HUGE fan of King David.

You can see this bias throughout the books of the Chronicles, really. But just as an example, take another look at the first three differences noted above:

  • When the Philistines come to attack, 2 Samuel shows David cowering (in fear?) in his stronghold. But the Chronicler shows David marching out (in confidence?) to fight them.
  • When the battle is won, 2 Samuel gives God the credit, but the Chronicler makes sure to note that God did it with David’s help.
  • When the Israelites deal with the Philistines’ religious artifacts, 2 Samuel says that David and his men kept those items (perhaps as trophies, or for their value in gold or silver?), but the Chronicler says that David ordered their destruction (perhaps to prove his religious purity?).

Every story, every news report, every internet article is slanted in some way. Every storyteller has some kind of objective or intention that drives the telling of the story. And that intention is often just as revealing as the story itself.

Another difference between 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles: one of them tells the story of David and a young woman named Bathsheba. I’ll let you guess which one includes that story and which doesn’t.

So pay attention to the stories that you hear in the Bible, in history books, and in the daily news. And pay attention to how you tell your own stories. It may very well be that how we tell stories is just as important as the stories themselves!

Good News

By now, you probably have heard the story of Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia school bookkeeper who this week helped to prevent a tragic school shooting by talking with the 20-year-old man who entered the school armed with an AK-47.  Many people are talking about, writing about, and celebrating the heroic actions and bravery of this woman.  Ms. Tuff kept the potential shooter talking while he decided what to do: whether to attack students and staff, injure himself, or surrender to the police.  For half an hour, she kept calm and spoke wisdom to this young man until, ultimately, he laid down his gun without having injured or killed a single person.

photo by Br3nda
photo by Br3nda

This is a tremendous story of love and compassion in action.  I want to highlight a few principles for us to consider:

  • This threat was met with the love of Christ.  As I listened to the recording of Ms. Tuff’s 911 call, I was amazed by how she spoke kindly to him, treated him with compassion, and even told him that she loved him.  She spoke openly of pain in her past that led her to consider suicide, but she reassured him that this was not the best answer.  She told him that she was proud of him for giving up without hurting anyone.  The love of Christ is powerful, because even in tense and dangerous situations, this love empowers us to treat other people as human beings with real needs.  “So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).
  • This threat was met with nonviolence.  This story should be a powerful reminder to us that dangerous situations can be handled appropriately with nonviolence.  Historically, the Church of God is a peace-loving organization.  We believe that the way of Jesus is one of peace, not violence; hope, not fear; love, not anger.  Jesus instructed a disciple to sheathe his sword when the Lord was arrested (Matthew 26:50-52).  Jesus himself, while being beaten and ridiculed, did not fight back against his assailants (Luke 22:63-66).  Even when the end result was his own death, Jesus was never violent – and his disciples carried on that tradition at his instruction.
  • This threat was met with preparation.  School employees undergo regular training on what to do in exactly this scenario.  Ms. Tuff gave witness to that after the fact; the training helped her handle the situation with her instincts.  Put differently, the training formed her into the kind of person that could appropriately handle this potential shooting.  Jesus was tempted by the devil before beginning his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11).  Jesus invested heavily in his disciples so they would know how to behave after his death, resurrection, and ascension.  Later, Paul instructed young Timothy to persist in his spiritual practices so that his life would be transformed, along with the lives of those around him (1 Timothy 4:12-16).

What would our lives look like if we were to live by the love of Christ, an attitude of nonviolence, and daily spiritual preparation?  How would we – and our culture – be transformed?

–Pastor David