Taste and See the Sweet Layers of Scripture

My wife is an excellent maker of cakes. My favorite is the homemade chocolate cake she makes. What makes it so good? Well, the sweet, moist cake is a good starting place, but it moves from good to great when she adds the frosting, and it goes from great to ‘out of this world,’ when she makes a double-layered cake with a large portion of frosting in the middle.

Makes you hungry, doesn’t it?

Well, the richness of a double-layered, chocolate is not unlike the word of God, which the Psalmist described as sweeter than honey (Ps 19:10). If he had chocolate in his vocabulary, I bet he would have made that comparison, as well.

In the Scriptures, we find that God has not given a wafer-thin word, but a rich, layered narrative—full of colorful metaphors, divergent genres, and vibrant characters. To apply, Kevin Vanhoozer’s terminology, the word of God is ‘thick’ with textual layers. As he argues, we should read to understand the thick meaning of Scripture, but such an interpretation also implies that there is something thick to read.

Writing on the layers of the Bible, Willem VanGemeren once made a helpful observation. Speaking of the Genesis narrative, he described how God’s larger purposes of redemptive history interweave with the personal narratives of the biblical characters. Listen to what he says,

“The selective biographies of the individual patriarchs clearly demonstrate the importance of literary analysis in biblical interpretation.  These stories not only confirm the centrality of election and promise but also probe deeply into the nature of living faith in the midst of struggles and temptations.  The patriarchal narratives help the reader to see two distinct but interrelated levels of God’s plan of redemption.  There is, of course, the general picture of God’s narrowing focus upon the patriarchal line; all the while God assures his people that they will survive difficult experiences on their way to Egypt.  But within this more general movement of redemptive history, however, the reader is swept into the drama of the ways with individuals whom he calls and to whom he promises descendents, land, blessing, and a place in his purposes for the nations of the earth (Willem Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption114).

With Vanhoozer and VanGemeren, we should strive to see the rich dimensions of God’s word, for it is in the multiple-layers of the biblical story that we find some of the sweetests truths of God’s redemptive plan, illustrated by his personal faithfulness to struggling believers from beginning to end.  In observing this intersection between the redemptive horizon and the personal horizon, we find a place for our own personal faith, as well.

God has not saved us in isolation from his larger purposes from the world; rather, he has saved us individually, that we might be a part of his massive story of salvation. In Scripture, we find both realities, and as we read the way God works out his redemptive purposes in the miconarratives of sinners saved by grace, it gives us confidence that he will do the same for us.

As Psalm 37:3 says, “Dwell in the land, and feed on his faithfulness.” We can apply this to our (at present) land-less lives by observing the rich layers of God’s word, and feeding on all layers of the biblical text. In so doing, God strengthens our faith and our cravings for him.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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