In church we recently started on a series that covering some of the characters in the Old Testament and their lives. For example, this past week we look at Lot, the worldly-minded man. While character studies are helpful, the tendency can be to read ourselves into the story as the hero. How many times, for instance, have you heard David and Goliath presented in such as way that encourages us to be like David and kill the "Giants" in our lives? This type of approach really appeals to us because we love being the hero, or at least being inspired to be one. However, while the OT certainly was written for our instruction, it is more than a moral code or presentation of people to be like/not like. The OT, just as the NT, is part of the entire canon of Scripture and is about God's story before it is about ours. The problem is, we often get it backwards and think the Bible is suppose to be all about us. Well, we do have a place in the story, but the story is God's and not ours. Rather than see David and Goliath as a story about being like David, I would suggest we see ourselves in the story not as David, but as the Israelites, helpless and in need of a Savior. We see the battle in the story then not primarily about a man and a giant, but between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, as foretold in Genesis 3.
When we look at OT characters, there is a level at which we can and should examine their lives, and learn from their successes and failures. I'm all for that. But we can't stop at that level. To stop here is to move straight from an OT truth into application, which is moralism. In other words, "Here's what Lot did that was wrong. Now don't be like Lot. Be like Abraham instead." Ok, so it's true that we don't want to follow the example of Lot. And certainly Abraham was a man of faith, which we can learn from. But this type of instruction is about change of behavior rather than change of heart. An unbeliever could follow the same principle, to a large degree, and still be an unbeliever just the same. Moralism is also frustrating, in that we just can't be good enough to be the hero on our own.
Don't stop at the first level of character comparison then. Move on seeing how the passage fits into the particular book and audience to which it was written, and then in the whole picture of the Bible. More on this coming.