5 things they didn’t teach you in Sunday School

The Word of God is full of weird and wonderful stories that if made into a television series, some episodes would be given an Adults Only content warning. Often when teaching children about the Bible, the gruesome or explicit aspects of the stories are dumbed down. But these were real events, and the record of such occurrences does have important life lessons with spiritual meaning for us.

The Bible has graphic sexual imagery, horrific stories of death and abuse among a host of uncomfortable stories. But as these were all part of Israel’s history, we too can engage and grapple with them to listen to what God is telling us. ‘Israel’ at the end of the day does mean wrestling with God. As I continue to read and re-read the Bible, God continues to speak through His Word.

Here are 5 things that Sunday School skipped over, and which should encourage us into looking into Biblical hermeneutics…

Samson ain’t no hero

Perhaps one lie that our Sunday School teachers have taught us, is to model our lives on Samson relying on God’s strength to see ourselves through tough times. This deviates from the actual story which we can see (but not Samson) about God at work. Samson is arguably an example of a character to avoid, not follow. He is unfaithful to his commitments, lusting for women, and disobeying God.

Samson is motived by his carnal desires and egregious control over his body. So, when the Philistines capture him and remove his eyes, it might seem that he prays to God out of a repentant heart seeking forgiveness.

But Judges chapter 16 verse 28 has a fine detail that is often overlooked in Sunday School, that Samson is seeking revenge for the loss of his ability to satisfy his carnal lust for women and self-actualisation.

Ruth is sexy

There’s the Christian dad joke of “who was Boaz before he met Ruth?”, with the punchline being “he was ruthless”. Perhaps this was created as a more age-appropriate distraction to the meme of “when you realise what uncovering feet means”. Often the third chapter of Ruth is read literally with its potential hermeneutical meaning stripped away.

The story of Ruth dressed up nicely and sharing the floor with Boaz would possibly not be dissimilar to the double entendre to keep parents entertained in Disney movies. Ruth in chapter 3 verse 9 (playfully?) uses Boaz’s words in chapter 2 verse 12 against him. And perhaps the practice of such activities of the night are confirmed later in Hosea chapter 9.

Elijah is a trash talker

Someone should make a comedic movie for the battle atop Mount Carmel, with Elijah taking on 450 prophets of Baal and Asherah. With the duel on to see whose God sends heavenly fire, Elijah lets the idolaters start by humiliating themselves in front of everyone.

To add salt their tears, Elijah brings out his most quotable line yet in 1 Kings chapter 18 verse 27, mocking Baal and suggesting that “he has wandered away”. When we look at the Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of that phrase, it’s not that Baal has just walked off but rather has gone to deal with some bowel movements.

You might think that toilet humour stinks but there are continued references to Baal with such crappy motifs throughout the Bible. There’s the story in 2 Kings chapter 10 where King Jehu in destroying everything Baal related eventually turns the temple of Baal into a public toilet. Isaiah chapter 25 verse 10 sums it up in saying that the enemies of God will be stepped on in a dung-pit.

Don’t tease the baldy

At first, when we read in 2 Kings chapter 2 about Elisha getting made fun of for his haircut and then children getting attacked by bears, it may seem that God is being over the top vengeful. But if we look closer at the text, there is much more than what just scratches the surface. The “children” as our English translations of the Bible suggest aren’t as young as we think, as the Hebrew text doesn’t assign an age indicator.

Nevertheless, it is a mob of 42 young men or even adults acting childishly that think it’s okay to blaspheme God. This isn’t a backstreet brawl of Elisha getting annoyed for being made fun of, but rather it is the God-given prophetic power that is being challenged.

We don’t know whether Elisha deliberately called for real-life angry teddies, but what we do have to bear in mind what we say about God and that our actions in response to God’s news will have consequences.

You gotta be woke

The Acts chapter 20 story of Eutychus’ death is often joked about as the result of listening to a “killer” sermon, and that it’s a Bible reminder for preachers for once not to follow in Paul’s example of being long-winded.

The story of Eutychus isn’t actually a reminder for children to stay away from church windows during the Sunday Service, but rather a more serious message of focusing on the need to have both good physical and spiritual alertness.

Instead of hoping that Paul would hurry up and shut up, Eutychus ought to have valued being in Paul’s presence. With the authorities being after Paul to shut him up for good, the story of the disciples falling asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus prayed is not dissimilar.

There is an underlying motif of falling asleep (both a night-time snooze and permanent one) being contrary that of being watchful. So rather than telling preachers to shorten their sermons, maybe it’s good time for us to prepare ourselves to listen to God’s message better…

This article was first published at Christian Today Australia on Thursday 27 April 2020