One of my favorite people to read and listen to is Rabbi David Fohrman, who you can read more about at alephbeta.org.
There are many reasons I like Fohrman, but one of the biggest reasons is the methodology he uses in studying the Hebrew Scripture. With Fohrman, I love the way he takes one narrative and asks how that narrative interacts by comparison or contrast with other narratives. Many times I have read the Bible in a “flat” way, only focusing on the text at hand without hearing the resonance or echoes of later Biblical texts. Fohrman encourages to ask the question, “Where have we heard this before?”
In asking this question, we link texts that at first glance may seem unrelated, only to find upon further review have much in common. To put it another way, we should listen to the symphony of Scripture rather than the solo! The means by which one hears texts anchored to each other is by the repetition of a key/rare word or phrase. The following are some examples from the Hebrew Scripture and then two examples from the Apostolic Scripture.
In Genesis 30:2, we find the phrase “am I in the place of G-d?” asked rhetorically by Jacob after his wife, Rachel, demands that Jacob provide her with children. This same phrase is found again in Genesis 50:19, but this time from the lips of Joseph. Anytime a significant and rare phrase is used and then restated later, the Biblical authors are begging us to compare/contrast the two usages. In this case the first usage deals with the beginning of life, and the second with the end of life. No one (but G-d) has the ability to give life and as the giver it belongs to Him. If He gives life, then no one has the right to take life (unless G-d gives it). Both of our texts use the same phrase within differing contexts but for the purpose of showing the sovereignty of G-d over the beginning and end of life.
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The next example occurs in two different books. In Numbers 22, we encounter Balak, the king of Moab. Balak attempts to hire Bilaam to curse Israel but G-d prohibits Bilaam from placing a curse on His people. In the opening section of Numbers 22, we find a clustering of words not commonly used in Hebrew Scripture, and this same cluster appears in one other place prior to Numbers 22. In Numbers 22:3, Balak says that the children of Israel are “many,” and in 22:6 he says they are “mighty.” In 22:3, it later says that the Moabites were either “in dread” or “revulsed” by the Israelites.
Anyone who has read the Bible in canonical order can hear the cluster echo of Exodus 1:9 where Pharoah says that Israel is “many and mighty,” and later we hear that Egypt is “in dread/revulsed” by Israel in Exodus 1:12. This clustering of language forces the reader of Numbers to go back and compare Balak and Pharoah, as they are both cut from the same cloth.
In our next example we not only move to a different book but to a different genre. In the narrative of Genesis 15:6, we are told that Abraham believed G-d, and “it was accredited to him for righteousness.” In the book of Numbers, we encounter Phinchas (Numbers 25), who acts with zeal to stop the plague on Israel for her harlotry with the women of Moab. The book of Psalms, which is a poetic genre, mentions Phinchas in Psalm 106:31 as one who by his swift action was “ accredited to him as righteousness.” By making Phinchas sound just like Abraham, the Psalmist is telegraphing that we should go back and read these narratives again to see how Abraham and Phinchas were spiritual siblings.
Let’s move now to the Apostolic Scripture to show that this same echoing of a similar phrase is designed to have us link up to a past event or person. In Luke 4:16, it’s reported that Yeshua (Jesus) was “in the synagogue, on the Sabbath, as was His custom.” This phrase is full of implications for those who claim to follow Yeshua. Yeshua attended a synagogue; the modern concept of “church” did not exist. Yeshua observed the Sabbath, which is the sign of the Mosaic covenant. To make sure that we knew these were not a “one and done,” the text says “as was His custom.” It is no accident that this same phrase is used in Acts 17:2 to describe the Apostle Paul. By linking Paul with Yeshua, the book of Acts wants us to know that Paul and Yeshua were walking the same path of obedience to Torah (Hebrew Scripture).
The examples I’ve given could be multiplied hundreds of times, but it requires a careful and purposeful listening and reading of the text across numerous textual boundaries. To put it another away, the Bible asks to be read canonically.
There is a tendency to read “flat” — one narrative at a time, without hearing the multiple voices resonating within a text. For the Scriptures to be read with the depth, they were intended we must be more vigilant readers listening to voices like Rabbi Fohrman and others who demonstrate these links constantly.
Brent Emery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.