If you’ve ever sat staring hundreds of little puzzle pieces and felt overwhelmed, I bet looking at the picture on top of the puzzle box helped you get your bearings and figure out how to assemble the many pieces into a coherent whole. Well, if the Bible feels like a jumble of stories, people, places, and ideas that you know are somehow suppose to fit together into a meaningful story but you just don’t see it, today’s post will help!
Understanding how a portion of Scripture fits into the overall story of the Bible is important to understanding the text correctly. While the Bible tells one continuous story, this story is conveyed in multiple books by multiple authors. Think of it as a library dedicated to the story of God’s self-revelation and His relationship, plans, and purposes with and for His Creation.
Context is Crucial
What is included in the library is known as the “canon.” Thus, knowing where a particular passage fits in the overall canon of the Bible is known as its “canonical context” and is just as important to properly interpreting the meaning of the passage as is understanding the historical and cultural contexts.
I’ve created a couple of graphics to give you a way of visualizing how the various books of the Bible fit within the overall canon. Also, these two graphics highlight some key info for each book such as its type of literature, author, how it was used by God’s people in Biblical times and other helpful bits of context.
Plus, at the end of this post, I’ve listed three of my favorite resources for helping you understand the big story of the Bible. There is even a special discount offered!
The Big Story is Key to Understanding the Little Stories
When we are aware of the overall plot line and key themes of the story of God and His Creation, we are equipped to see the unchanging gracious and just nature of God, the certainty of His bringing His plans to fulfillment, and our need for Him despite our repeated insistence we do just fine on our own.
Scholars refer to the “big story” as the “metanarrative” of the Bible. There are four critical turning points within this overall plot:
Familiarity with these four themes allow us to recognize the appearance of those same themes within particular smaller stories and segments of Scripture.
So let’s take a brief look at each one of these themes so you can recognize it when you see it.
Elements of this theme reveal God is the sovereign creator and sustainer of all things. By his plan, chaos becomes order.
Everything is created by God for His glory and pleasure.
Humans are created in God’s image, are given stewardship over the rest of Creation, and are created to worship and fellowship with God.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” —Colossians 1:15-17, NASB
When humans rebelled against God, demonstrating a lack of trust in Him and a desire to usurp His authority, the relationship between God and humanity was broken.
All of Creation was impacted by the chaotic consequence of humanity’s rebellion against God. The fallout was the introduction of death, disorder, and alienation.
Our holy God is unable to overlook wrong-doing. Sin can not remain in His presence, and apart from God there is no life, only death.
…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”
—Romans 5:15, NASB
For true relationship to exist between the Creator and those He created, humanity had to choose to love and obey God.
However, God knew we would choose self over God. Therefore, He planned our rescue and redemption before He set the foundation of the world.
Ultimately, God’s plan for our redemption was to save us through Christ’s atoning death on the cross. And if you pay close attention as you read the Scriptures leading up to the fulfillment of that plan, you will notice God’s redemptive actions which foreshadow and prepare for Christ’s once and for all sacrifice for our sin.
Our redemption cost God greatly. He endured the judgment for our sin and bestowed on us His righteousness. He redeemed us because of who He is and because of His love for us.
I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”
—Isaiah 44:22, NASB
We live in the “already but not yet” of the end times. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit and are being conformed to the image of Christ. And at the appropriate time, Christ will return and restore order to creation with a new heaven and a new earth.
Those who have placed their trust in Christ’s redeeming work on the cross will be resurrected and fellowship with God for all eternity. Those who rejected God’s plan for redemption will be resurrected and live eternally separated from Him.
He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him for the administration of the days of fulfillment—to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him.”
—Ephesians 1:9–10, HCSB
Big Story Themes in the Little Story of David & Goliath
Let’s consider each theme and how it shapes our understanding of what is going on in this particular story found in 1 Samuel 17.
Creation: From Chaos to Order
At the beginning of this story, we see the Philistines and the Israelite armies faced off in battle. Israel is the nation of God’s people, created and called out of the chaos of all the nations (See Genesis 11 and 12). Israel has only to trust and obey God and He promises to take care of them.
Fall: Failure to Trust and Obey
In the big story, the fall happens when Adam and Eve believe the lies of the serpent rather than trusting and obeying God (See Genesis 2-3). In 1 Samuel, we see echos of this when Saul and his army fail to trust in God and instead believe the taunts of Goliath.
Redemption: One Man of Faith Defeats Death
David, in the eyes of the worldly men around him, seems inadequate to face off against such a powerful enemy. Yet, his faith in God, rather than in his own abilities, empowers him to stand in the place of all the men of Israel and carry out God’s will. He uses the enemy’s own weapon to deliver the death blow and bring victory to God’s people.
Hear the echos of the cross from the big story? Jesus, one humble man with faith in God, faces off against those who defy God. The very instrument by which his enemies planned to use to destroy him (the cross), He used to defeat sin and win the victory for those who place their faith in the One True God.
Restoration: An Already But Not Yet King
As the story of David and Goliath ends, David is the victor. Even Saul, the current king, recognizes there is something different about David. “Find out whose son this young man is!” Saul demands.
I can’t help but recall a similar reaction at this same plot point in the big story. When Jesus accomplished the victory on the cross and the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
David had already been anointed king before this battle with Goliath, but the world didn’t recognize him as king yet. In fact, it would be many years before David’s rule would be recognized and established. In the interim, David experienced the “already, but not yet” aspect we see in the big story. The victory was won, his place secure, yet the full realization of the kingdom awaited fulfillment.
And just as surely as God fulfilled his promise to seat David upon the throne and establish his kingdom, Christ will return and establish his everlasting kingdom in the new heaven and new earth.
Some Tools To Help You See the Big Picture of the Bible
If you want to become more familiar with the big picture and the metanarrative themes, here are a few great resources to help you:
Clarifying the Bible
Clarifying The Bible is a DVD presentation with an accompanying workbook. In less time than it takes to watch the average movie you will be introduced to the Bible like never before. The DVD presentation takes viewers on an exciting journey from Genesis all the way to Revelation.
I recently watched this fantastic program at a training for my church’s adult teachers. AWESOME! I highly recommend you grab either the DVD and workbook or get the digital downloads.
In fact, over the next three weeks, ending on May 17, Mitch is offering readers of my blog a 10% discount on their purchases. Use the coupon code lauranaiser to receive the discount. Note: When you hover your cursor over your cart you’ll see the button Proceed to Checkout. Click that button, then the request for the coupon code shows up in the blue box.
If this resource had been available back when I was serving as the Adult Ministries staff person at a large congregation, it would have been a huge help in equipping my teachers and congregation members. So if you’re a pastor or church staff person, take advantage of this special discount offer and order Clarifying the Bible for your next training.
The 10 Day Bible Companion
Dr. Pamela Harrison has guest posted on my blog in the past and has a wonderful book which connects the individual stories and pieces of the Bible into one amazing story.
Pam and her husband, Keith, are the co-founders of High Seas Ministries, a ministry dedicated to serving guests and crew members of the cruise ship industry. She teaches the complete Bible as presented in The 10-Day Bible Companion on ships and for groups on land. (I’ve attended one of her weekend intensives and it was fabulous!)
She presents God’s Word in a way that anyone can understand. And when you sit down with her book and your Bible, you can walk through the big story in ten very interesting sessions. Work through the book on your own or with a group of friends or a Sunday School class. You’ll have a new appreciation for the creation-fall-redemption-restoration themes as you read your Bible.
I wrote an entire blog post about this Bible study after I participated in it at my home church.
We did the regular version, which is great for a ladies Bible study whether at church or hosted in your home.
Angie Smith also created a version specifically for teen girls. I can’t imagine a better way to introduce your teen daughter and her friends to the beautiful and seamless thread connecting the people, places, and promises of the Bible in a whole new way.
Free Biblical Library and Periodic Table Graphics
Also, don’t forget to get the free printable I made you. This full-color handout illustrates how each book fits into the library of 66 books comprising the Protestant Bible. And the Periodic Table of the Bible provides you with some context for how these same books were grouped and used in Biblical times.