Last week I encouraged the church I serve to study the book I am preaching in, Judges. I even mentioned that our Life Groups (small groups) might consider studying it along with the series. Several folks have asked me about how to study Judges, which really is the bigger question of how to study OT narratives, the entire OT, and let’s throw in the entire Bible for good measure. Another part of the question is: how do you accurately and faithfully see Jesus in the OT. In Luke 24, Jesus told two disciples that the Law and Prophets and Psalms bear witness to him (ie, the whole OT). Jesus is the subject of the OT. I believe that. I hope you do, too.
The following is a Bible study method I have used for 15 years now, and was the backbone of a college Bible study that I led for many of those years. I call it the 5 C’s of Biblical interpretation. The beauty of it is, while each Biblical genre has some unique issues to be aware of, it works well for every part of the Bible.
Context – one of the most important interpretive issues. Where is the text – historically, in the literary flow, in the book, section of the OT, in the Bible? What has come immediately before this passage, and what after? Is this a special part of a book, like an introduction, an narrator’s interpretation, a conclusion, a plot twist? What kind of literature is it: poetry, historical narrative, wisdom, apocalypse? Why is this text in this place? If in the OT, is this passage quoted or cited in the NT and how? If in the NT, is an OT passage quoted or cited, and how?
Characters – who are the main characters? Include locations, rituals, buildings, nations, individuals. Pay special attention to characters that have a lot of attention devoted to them throughout the Bible, as well as events, institutions, and locations.
Curiosities – what is surprising about this text? What did you learn that you would not know about outside this text? What boggles you, is out of sync with your modern mind, is puzzling, blows you away, is challenging to your worldview?
Christ – where is Jesus? What I mean is, how does this passage bear witness to him? Does it pave the way, pattern the gospel, or foreshadow? Is it a direct verbal prophecy or an indirect non-verbal prophecy, also called a type or typology? How do people, events, or institutions guide us to see or anticipate Jesus?
Crux – what is the main idea? You might find it in a verse, but in Judges it will more likely be found in a paragraph or overall theme of the narrative. You always want a clear understanding of the main idea the author is trying to convey in that unit of the text. Of course in narrative, these ideas will be connected to the overall unfolding of the story, but the narrator will let you in on certain emphases or ideas as he tells the story that will be pronounced.
Of course the final thing to do is affirm the Holy Spirit wants you to respond to the text. Depending on the passage, you are called to learn or grow in some fashion. It might be a change of mind, an action, a sense of wonder. We can call this application, and that is fine, but I like implication better. Not every text is about a neat 3 point way of living differently or principles to be applied. So, what is the implication for your life, your family, your church? Respond to the Holy Spirit as you study and get studied by God’s word.
If you are leading a study, I would also encourage you to find the structure of the passage. Find repeated ideas and words. Note independent and dependent clauses. Note flow and parallels. Try and actually write out a structural outline. Have a clear understanding of how the text flows.
Finally, consider some good commentaries. If you are to get just two, here are my recommendations: Dale Ralph Davis and Dan Block on Judges (look em up on Amazon). These are two different books, not one book authored by two men. OK. Have at it. And, have a blast. Studying God’s word rocks!