The inquisitive lads look at me like a little dog when he knows you are getting ready to drop treats in his bowl. I’m so happy that they are this hungry. We’re learning how to study the Bible better and they are soaking it up.
“Jesus is the hero of every text”, I inform them. Then I go about showing how this is the case and how to find Jesus in texts of the Old Testament.
Then one of our guys goes home and decides he wants to apply what he has been learning to 1 Chronicles 16:4-7:
Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the Lord by Asaph and his brothers.
“Uhhh, I think I’m doing something wrong”
This poor chap poured over this passage of Scripture for a good length of time trying to find Jesus. I think he eventually settled on something about thanksgiving and Jesus being the reason why we are thankful. Not too shabby—but certainly not the point of the text.
With a hint of frustration he came to me for an answer. Mike, I think I’m doing something wrong. Where in the world is Jesus here in 1 Chronicles? How is He the hero of this text…?
I stuttered and stammered. “Well…bud…He is….but not quite here…but He is…uhhhh, I think I’m doing something wrong”.
The Peril of Versification
I am so thankful that our Bibles have verses. For one, it’d make it really tough for athletes like Tim Tebow to write out whole verses in eye-black. Secondly, it’s handy for memorization and to get people on the same page. But the versification of the Bible is terrible for doing biblical theology.
You can’t see how Jesus is the hero of 1 Chronicles 16:4-7 because you are missing the story. Consider this:
The pharmacy of the hospital, a small building which had been added to the house, and abutted on the garden, had been transformed into a kitchen and cellar. In addition to this, there was in the garden a stable, which had formerly been the kitchen of the hospital, and in which the Bishop kept two cows. No matter what the quantity of milk they gave, he invariably sent half of it every morning to the sick people in the hospital. “I am paying my tithes,” he said.
You probably didn’t even read all of that. You got bored. Why? For one, it’s divorced from the larger story. (Care to admit that you feel that way in 1 Chronicles as well?) Now, let me ask you who is the hero of that text?
It’s from Les Miserables. Jean Valjean is the hero of that story. (Or is it the priest that taught him grace?) If I were to pull this paragraph out of Les Mis, and have you identify how Jean Valjean is the hero, you’d be confused. You need the whole story not just a snippet. The same is true of Scripture.
How My Approach Has Changed
I’ve changed the way that I teach people to study the Scriptures. I’ve found that saying things like “Jesus is the hero of every text” isn’t helpful. It causes people to miss the forest for the trees. Instead we ought to read as much of a textual unit that we can and try to understand the main point.
First and foremost we need to ask, “Why did the author of 1 Chronicles include this”? When we get an idea of the answer to that question we are better prepared to answer the question of how it relates to Jesus.
The author of 1 Chronicles includes this passage because he wants to root Israelite worship in history. It’s written to post-exilic Israel. They need to be reminded of how the people of God are to worship. Ultimately, we will see this question answered in Jesus Christ. It is through him that all nations will worship, and not on a mountain, but in spirit and truth.
Is Jesus the hero of every text? In a roundabout way, yes. But perhaps it’s better to say that Jesus is the hero of the story of the Bible. Maybe you could even say that Jesus is the hero of every textual unit. But it’s probably not as helpful to simply say that he is the hero of every text. Otherwise you get people staring at 1 Chronicles 16:4-7 for two hours trying to find Jesus.