The Bible is a collection of some of the greatest and earliest stories in human history. Love stories, dramas, action-adventures, romantic comedy, war epics, soap operas–you name it and there’s something to fit your bill. Given our love of Story here at the Rabbit Room, I thought it would be fun to hear what some of our favorites are. We don’t want any obvious answers here, though, so let’s all agree that the Gospel story is the big one and look a little further. In fact, let’s keep it to the Old Testament. So let’s have it, what is your favorite Old Testament story and why?
Matt Conner – There was a guy named Jabez, who… (ha!)
There is this strange story … actually it’s just a point within a story in Daniel that I find completely fascinating. Paul mentions that we don’t battle against flesh and blood and instead draws our attention to the spiritual battle taking place around us.
In the book of Daniel, there’s a quick mention of an angel coming to attend to Daniel and he says to him something along the lines of “I would have gotten here sooner, but it took me twenty-one days to get to you because a spiritual evil force over the kingdom of Persia withstood me…” I just find that completely profound and absolutely interesting.
Eric Peters – The OT seems to possess a more-than-fair representation of strange, gory, and not-so-safe-for-the-whole-family vignettes. I know I’m only supposed to have one, but here are a couple of my favorites: the first is in 2 Kings 2:23-24 where a pack of smart-alecky, loitering boy scouts, presently taunting the prophet Elisha, get mauled by a couple of hungry she-bears. “Go on up, you bald head.” I like this one because it seems like it would make a good B movie.
The second story, and perhaps the one I can more readily make sense of and identify with (I wrote a song based on this on my 2001 album, Land of the Living) is the story, also starring Elisha, of the swimming iron in 2 Kings 6:1-7. In a congregationally-supported new sanctuary building campaign, several Hebrew men, having outgrown their current digs, meet at a point alongside the Jordan River and proceed to cut down some local trees from which they will begin construction of their new state-of-the-art, modern A/V, fully Power-Pointed, plush assembly hall. At one harried, hacking point, one of the tools suffers a manufacturer’s malfunction (made in China?), and the iron axehead falls off the wooden handle into the river below. Being made of iron, it, of course, sinks like a proverbial stone to the bottom of the murky creek. Being a poor man and having borrowed the tool in the first place, this gent probably suffers a bit of a conniption fit since he has no way of recompensing the man from whom he borrowed it. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, get over it, one might say in today’s non-prophetic world, but not in those non-potable times; not when there were real live God-ordained prophets roaming the sand-laden streets, handing out basketfuls of deliverance and omens seemingly left and right. These scared gentlemen request that Elisha saunter over and help them solve the poor man’s dilemma. Elisha, as to be expected, obliges. He asks them to point out where, exactly, the axehead fell into the river. They point, he picks up a twig, tosses it onto the river at that spot, and, like a Cheerio in milk, the iron swims to the surface. All is well with the world.
Great thanks to Charles Spurgeon, I am vaguely able to make a little more sense of this OT snippet. At first glance, this appears to be a story of a miracle – a physical one. It is to my understanding that iron normally does not float on water. But I suspect that it is also the story of the underlying miracle that God – the same God of Elisha, Abraham, Moses, David, the father of Jesus – should daily care for the seemingly mundane, day-to-day occasions of our lives, that it is a miracle that ANYTHING should ever go right in this world, much less go wrong, and, to crown our oblong heads, that He finds us worthy of such mercy and attention. This is no small thing.
Russ Ramsey – I love the story of David and Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul who was crippled when his nurse took him to flee as David was bringing and end to Saul’s reign. “Mephibosheth” means “a shameful thing” and he lived in a place the bible calls “Lo Debar” which means “a land with no pasture.” So you have this man in his 20’s, “crippled in both his feet” the text tells us four different times, and the image we’re given is of “a shameful thing living in a land with no pasture.” David remembers a covenant he made with Jonathan, Saul’s son, to show kindness to his descendants after he took over Saul’s throne. When David asks if there are any descendants of Saul left, a member of the old guard named Ziba remembers Mephibosheth and tells David about him. David send for him and brings him into the palace–an event I assume must have terrified Mephibosheth since he was essentially living in hiding from none other than David himself, as he was a legitimate heir to Saul’s throne.
David brings him in and restores everything he lost to him, except one thing– his independence. David vows to treat Mephibosheth as one of his own sons, and sets a place at the King’s table for him– which means for every meal, Mephibosheth must be carried to his place in the Kingdom and sit at the table of the one who took him from his land of desolation and restored his reputation from being a shameful figitive to an adopted son of the King.
It is a hard and glorious picture of grace to be called by the One who holds all the cards and to have to remain in his presence when it would seem much easier if he would just give us independence from him so we could go and make something of ourselves. Part of Mephibosheth’s restoration is the requirement to live as a son of the King, not merely as his subject.
Randall Goodgame – The Book of Jonah is my favorite story. Mostly because it makes Jonah look so terribly bad. If today’s “faith based” publishers were deciding on the Biblical canon, Jonah would be among the first to go.
The way I see it, either Jonah wrote Jonah, or he told the story and it was written later. Either way, this makes Jonah pretty amazing. I want to be just like the guy who tells this story about himself, the way it is told in scripture. With no self-pity, no sugar coating, and no concern for his reputation, Jonah reveals the depth of his ingratitude and the fathomless depths of God’s mercy. His prayer at the beginning of Chapter 2 is astounding for its dichotomous combination of poetic prophecy and immature sincerity. When I read that prayer, I believe that Jonah has been healed of his selfish ways. Then, only one chapter later, Jonah is revealed to be just like me – full of contradictions.
Jonah is not afraid to question God, and God is patient with Jonah. And though Jonah’s personal story reveals God’s power, grace and mercy, there is a much bigger story being told that gives my own struggling journey of faith a proper context. God is always up to something much greater and more wonderful than we can imagine. And, since Jonah told this story sometime later, I draw encouragement from his transformation from a confused and self-centered prig into a selfless testifier of the Greatness of God. I love this book. I named my son Jonah Goodgame.
Ron Block – One of my favorites is Elijah. From the first moment where he quotes Deut 11:16-17 at Ahab in 1Kings 17:1, it’s a dramatic story of the ups and downs of a faith-man. One of the best parts of the story is the contest between Elijah and the false prophets; Elijah’s stand of faith, his total confidence, the humor of his inspired and cutting sarcasm (“Where is your god? Maybe he’s talking, or he’s withdrawn to a private place, or he’s on the road, or maybe he’s asleep and you’ve got to wake him up”). Total victory follows, with fire from heaven and death to the false prophets. And then, immediately following this victory and the people turning back to God, wham! He caves in to fear of Jezebel.
It’s an up and down story, the paradox of a strong God using our weak humanity to accomplish His purposes.
I’ve not heard many sermons on the divine use of sarcasm.
Jason Gray – This may be too obvious, but I have to say that the story of Jacob is my favorite because of how it defies all Sunday School conventions. It’s nearly impossible to wring a moral out of it. Jacob betrays those closest to him by stealing from his brother and cruelly deceiving his father in a “survival of the fittest” bid for the power and standing of a first born. Jacob is a fugitive on the run in the desert with his brother Esau – understandably angered and driven by a desire for vengenace – in hot pursuit. When Jacob lays down to sleep with a stone for a pillow the Lord gives him a vision. I think we’d hope or at the very least expect for him to be tormented by the restless dreams of the guilty and that his conscience would be seared and awoken. But instead Jacob is blessed with a vision of grand beauty, angels ascending and descending stairs. More than that, he’s given a promise:
“…All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your descendants. Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”
And so it goes with Jacob, he lies, he cheats, he steals and leaves in his wake a trail of broken and befuddled people. And yet God blesses him and continues to direct him surely down the path that was always set for him.
Much later, Jacob encounters the Angel of The Lord Himself, and has the gall to wrestle with him and demand to be blessed yet again. He is blessed with a new name and a wound he would carry in his walk for the rest of his days,
this wild horse of a man broken at last.
It’s a mysterious story that has such a ring of truth to it because of how difficult it is to make a nice and tidy morality tale out of it. It reminds me that those who are broken and walk with more of a limp than a swagger have most likely met with God. It reminds me, too, that God’s will for my own life has less to do with my own virtues than I would like to think. That is both humbling and a relief.
Jonathan Rogers – I know you said Old Testament, but can I offer up an obscure New Testament story? The story of Philemon has become one of my favorites. Philemon was a leader of the church–Colossae, I think it was. Apparently the local church met at his house. He was also a slave-owner. One of his slaves, a man named Onesimus, ran away. Not only that, he apparently stole from Philemon on his way out the door–not an uncommon thing for fleeing slaves, I shouldn’t think. Somewhere along the line, Onesimus became a Christian and ended up with Paul, who was imprisoned, probably in Ephesus or Rome. I like to imagine Onesimus was a jailbird (perhaps he continued his thieving ways and got caught?) who had the misfortune of being cell-mates with Paul. “I’m bunking with a preacher?! And he’s friends with the slavemaster I ran away from?!” (I’m just being imaginative; the book of Philemon doesn’t indicate that they were roommates).
However they knew each other, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon to face the music. But he did more than that. He wrote Philemon a letter on behalf of Onesimus. He said, in effect, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I’m sending Onesimus back to you, and I hope you’ll find it in your heart to receive him, not as a slave, but as a brother. Receive Onesimus as you would receive me. And if he has wronged you, charge it to my account.” Here is the gospel at work–making brothers out of slaves and slavemasters. We don’t think of there being a lot of narrative in Paul’s epistles, but this particular one seems like part of an epistolary novel. I’d love to know what happened when (or if) Onesimus got back to Colossae.
Pete Peterson – Well mine, as you may have figured out from the picture at the top of the post, is Samson. I mean, holy cow! This guy kills people with the jawbone of an ass! It’s amazing to me that there’s never been a great movie made of this story (at least not one that I’ve seen). Maybe the reason is that it’s just too well known to really surprise anyone. I don’t know. It completely fits the mold of movies like Spartacus, Braveheart, Gladiator and the like and I’d love to see it done right. The imagery of Samson in chains between the pillars at the end of the story is cinematic gold. Someone needs to get on that.
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.