We’re talking about how to read biblical narrative. Or, in other words, how to read stories. Right, and one of the main ingredients of any good story is characters who encounter conflict and then have to overcome it. Yeah, let’s talk about characters. In most stories, we quickly identify with characters because, just like them, we’re in our own story having our own conflicts that we need to overcome. Yeah, and good stories have characters with relatable struggles. We can watch them react to these challenges in different ways and we get to see what happens as a result. Through characters, an author can show us their view of what it means to be human. The Bible is no different. Biblical stories use characters as a mirror so we can see ourselves and discover our own human nature in the reflection. The thing about characters in the Bible is that they could be hard to relate to. I mean, often there is very little detail given about them. Yeah, biblical authors develop characters differently than modern narratives. They prefer to communicate a lot through minimal detail. For example, we rarely hear what people look like in the Bible, but when we do it’s crucially important for the story. Like we are told that Saul is tall and David was kind of a runt. These become images of their moral character. Saul’s height matches his love of status and power to impose authority while David humbly accepts his low status and allows God to exalt and deliver him. So people’s physical appearances are symbolic. Yeah, very often. Like Esau’s hairy body fits his animal-like behavior. And Jacob’s smooth skin matches his deceptive, slippery nature. What other clues do we get about biblical characters? Well, often people’s names symbolize their role in the story. Abraham in Hebrew sounds like “father of a multitude”. Jacob means “deceiver”. Ruth means “refreshment”. And Saul, his name means “the one asked for”. He is the flawed king that the people requested. So, by packing all this meaning, with very little detail, biblical stories can do a lot in a little space. They even leave out things that modern readers want to know about these characters. Like, they rarely come out and tell us people’s thoughts or motives. Right, like when Moses saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite, he kills him on the spot. But, why? Was this righteous anger? Or did he just lose his cool? And, was it okay with God that he did it? Yeah, we’re not told because biblical authors usually avoid giving moral commentary. They would rather have a character’s words and actions reveal their motives and then leave us to judge their behavior by seeing the consequences In the case of Moses, this murder is the beginning of a pattern of his anger getting the best of him with bad results. This choice forces him to run and hide in the desert for forty years. So, it was a bad thing? But he does meet his wife out there, so it’s a good thing? Exactly, it forces you to ponder. Through all these techniques, the biblical narrators keep their stories compact, memorable, but also, engaging. But seriously was Moses being good or bad? Right? Like in classic stories, there is always a good guy and a bad guy, some admirable hero who faces off against some horrible villain. Sure, and simplified characters like that are helpful for teaching children there is such a thing as good and evil. But the Bible is not a children’s book. Its characters are very complex, a mixed bag of good and evil, just like us. There is hardly any flawless characters in the Bible. What about heroes of the faith like Abraham or King David? So, you mean Abraham who used an Egyptian slave for sex and then lied about his wife two times to save his own neck? And David, the man after God’s own heart, who sleeps with another man’s wife then murders him? These stories are anything but simplistic. They offer us realistic portraits of compromised people like ourselves. The real surprise is that God keeps working with them despite their failures. So, just because a person is called by God or wins a battle, becomes successful or wealthy doesn’t mean the biblical author wants me to act like them. Right. It would actually be really dangerous to imitate most biblical characters. True, but there must be something admirable in biblical characters, something I can imitate? Absolutely! Pay attention and you will notice that most biblical stories highlight the moments when characters fail or come to the end of themselves. Then they choose radical trust in God’s grace and wisdom. It is in these stories that the authors show us how to be a human who truly pleases God through humility and surrender. Yeah, the fact that God stays committed to biblical characters is a profound statement about the patience and love of God, who is also a character. Right, and by studying biblical characters, we can observe our own worst tendencies on display. We see time and again, God’s gracious response that will see this story through to the end. Hey, guys. I hope this video was helpful for you on how to understand the characters in biblical narrative. We have a lot more videos coming out about how to read the biblical narrative and other literature in the Bible You can check out our Youtube channel here, the Bible Project We are a crowd-funded animation studio. We are making loads of videos on themes of the Bible and the structure of the Bible and how to read the Bible You can be a part of this. Go to theBibleProject.com and see what we are up to.