Select Page

Old Testament (OT) narratives provide some of the most insightful teachings about who God is and how He interacts with mankind.  Many OT narratives teach God’s expectations of His ultimate creation, i.e., mankind.  A careful study of OT narratives can bear much fruit for the 21st Century Christ-follower.  As Peter Krol points out in his article “ OT Narratives: Pointers to Christ or Moral Examples?” (see  ):

Let’s only first seek to understand the passage’s main point for its original audience, then connect it to Christ, and then apply it specifically to our lives.

Once we ascertain the authorial intent, we can look for any pointers to the coming Messiah, and extract any moral examples to follow or reject. 

Peter Krol cites an article (Gospel Coalition) by Pastor Jim Savastio entitled “Is It Wrong to Draw Moral Lessons from OT Figures?” ( .  The answer is in the negative.  The OT presents plenty of “what to do” and “what not to do” moral examples, and we should gain from them.  In 1 Corinthians 10:11 (ESV), Paul wrote that we should learn from the OT events:

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

In his article, Pastor Savastio lists five things that a preacher (and I believe these also apply to a teacher) should do to bring out truths from OT biography.  All of them are great, but one stands out:

Begin your work early in the week. Read the English text repeatedly. Read it out loud or use an audio Bible so you gain a good grasp of the narrative. Allow your heart to marinate in the truths of the text. Strive to enter into the psyche of the historical figures you’re dealing with. Use what one preacher called your “sanctified imagination” to ask what was going on in David’s soul when Nathan pointed out his sin? Did relief wash over his soul? Was there anger at being caught? How did he find hope? How was he able to show his face?

Repetition is one key to bring out the teachings of a passage.  Insert the OT narrative in the “DVD player” of your mind, and visually watch it unfold.  Pay attention to detail.  Hit the “pause” button often and contemplate the scene.  Hit “replay” and watch it again.  Immersion into the facts is critical to understand the OT narrative.  Thorough completion of the observation step helps a Christ-follower draw out critical moral lessons.

Let me briefly discuss one example as recorded in Numbers 20:1-13.  The people of Israel were in the midst of their forty years of wandering in the wilderness as punishment for failing to obey God when they refused to enter the Promised Land.  See Numbers 13:1-14:38.  Water was vital to the survival of the people so that when there was “no water for the congregation” (see Numbers 20:2), they became upset and banded together against Moses and Aaron.  They quarreled with Moses saying (see Numbers 20:3–5 (ESV)):

 “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”

The rebellion of the people was nothing new to Moses.  In response to the people’s complaints, Moses and Aaron went before God.  God spoke to Moses (see Numbers 20:8 (ESV)):

8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

Moses and Aaron called the people together before the rock.  Numbers 20:10-11 (ESV) reports what happened:

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.

Even though water came out so the people and their livestock drank. Moses, possibly out of his anger against the people, spoke to the people taking credit for the water and struck the rock twice as opposed to speaking to the rock per God’s explicit instructions.  Moses and Aaron paid a high price for Moses’ disobedience as recorded in Numbers 20:12 (ESV):

12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

Now, let’s analyze the passage. Our first task is to try to understand the passage’s main point for its original audience.  Second, we will try to connect it to Christ.  Finally, we will attempt to apply it specifically to our lives.

The people’s disobedience placed them in a seemingly hopeless situation.  These problematic circumstances caused them to want to rely on mankind for their sustenance rather than rely on God for their provision.  Rather than comply with the wishes of the people, Moses and Aaron sought God.  Even though Moses disobeyed God’s specific directive, God nonetheless miraculously provided for His people.  It appears the author’s main point for the original audience was to show that God’s people must rely on God, and not man, for their provision.  Reliance on God ought to be the case even in what appears to be a hopeless situation.

The main connection of the narrative to Christ is that without a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, 21st Century mankind is like the wandering people of Israel without water.  The absence of water results in physical death.  The lack of Christ in a person’s life results in spiritual death.  The rock brought forth water, which was the only means to sustain life for the people and their livestock. just like the Savior is the only way for 21st Century mankind can have eternal life.  Water was vital to the survival of the people of Israel in their wanderings. Likewise, Christ is essential for lost people to gain eternal life.

I draw five moral lessons from this OT narrative.  First, to address those challenges inherent in a difficult situation, I must avoid the impulse to seek man’s advice, but instead, I must seek God for direction.  I must carefully listen to and follow what God instructs me through His Word. 

Second, I must be careful not to allow my emotions to get the best of me.  

Third, I must trust that what God instructs me is the course of action to take.  For me to partially carry out God’s directions may not necessarily result in short term consequences, but can very well lead to my long-term punishment.  As one commentator writes:

Leaders of God’s people lose their ability to lead when they cease to rely upon God and impede the manifestation of God’s power and holiness.

Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Nu 20:1). Galaxie Software.

Fourth, I must do my best to prevent others from disobeying God.  Aaron did not stop Moses and he suffered punishment.  Dr. Constable points out:

Aaron was guilty (v. 12) because he did not prevent Moses from sinning. Evidently he could have done this, and God punished him because he did not.

Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Nu 20:1). Galaxie Software.

Fifth, I must never lose sight of God’s infinite grace toward me.  While I do not want God’s grace to cause me to lose sensitivity toward sin, I can still take comfort that God can exercise His grace to achieve His intended result in spite of my disobedience.  Note what Dr. Constable and another commentator write:

In the midst of the death and disgrace that so dominate Numbers 20, it would be easy to overlook the positive signs of the Lord’s grace that it contains. Even though Moses and Aaron sinned in carrying out the Lord’s command and received a curse, the Lord nonetheless granted his rebellious people the flow of water that they needed

Duguid, I. M., & Hughes, R. K. (2006). Numbers: God’s presence in the wilderness (p. 257). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

 In spite of Moses’ disobedience God still provided for the people by giving them water. God blesses people even through His disobedient servants. Nevertheless this in no way justifies a light view of sin. Moses experienced severe discipline for his unfaithfulness to God.

Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Nu 20:1). Galaxie Software.

 I hope what I have written above is helpful to you when you study an OT narrative.  Both of the above-cited articles are great and I recommend you check them out.


I am mindful of and respect the rights other authors and/or publishers possess in their works.  I thus try my best to not violate any copyright rights other authors and/or publishers possess in their works.  The below copyright permission statement is the result of my best efforts to understand that limited usage or “fair use” is available and/or to secure direct permission for specific works.  Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  The short quotations from the commentaries are considered to be fair use.