Reading and Applying Old Testament Stories with Your Children

by Chris Lynch

Elijah statue on Mt. Carmel

This spring, on a whim, my son read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. He couldn’t put it down. He now wants to tackle The Lord of the Rings (no small feat for an 11-year old!) as well as every book in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. More and more I find him snatching free time to read these works of fiction in his room. Even my daughter, who has a love-hate relationship with reading, has exhausted our monthly audiobook borrows from the library listening to volume after volume of The Boxcar Children series on her tablet! My children have become massive fiction fans.

Nothing draws a child in like a captivating story. Our children love good stories. The Bible has more than its fair share of good “stories”, and the best part about these stories is that they really happened! These aren’t fairy tales or fantasy. Accounts like David and Goliath, the parting of the Red Sea, Noah and the ark, Daniel and the lions’ den, and Elijah on Mt. Carmel are captivating to the reader, and millions of children have been drawn in by them. And they’re true!

The fact that God’s Word is absolutely full of good stories presents us as dads with a great opportunity. Our children love the stories, but the stories they find in Scripture are means to an end. Every part of the Bible is intended to teach, correct, and grow us (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These are the best stories they could read or hear!

We as dads should be excited when our children are exposed to the well-known stories from Scripture, but we must do more. We must do our part to ensure that they recognize the truths those stories convey that are vital to their growth. This requires reading alongside our children, directing their thinking, asking leading questions about what they are finding, and teaching them what to look for. The stories our children love in the Bible are invaluable tools in the hands of parents to teach and equip our children for life.

Each Old Testament “story” that so many of our children know so well has immense value for them. Some of the most foundational and vital principles found in Scripture are presented simply and clearly in these stories for those who have been trained to find them. I’d like to present three principles that we should guide our children to find in every Old Testament story that catches their attention. Training them to look for these themes will help ensure that they get more than a good story out of their time in any narrative. They’ll get saturated with a vital biblical foundation of truth. We’ll use one of the most beautiful stories in all of Scripture - Esther - to illustrate these themes.

1. God is the main character.

The Bible is God’s story. Teach them to see that the main character of every story isn’t the human actor. No matter how central or captivating the human agents of the story are, God is the ultimate actor. The story is always ultimately about God! Each story reveals Him to us and serves His purposes.

He is controlling the whole story.

Esther is a remarkable story of God’s sovereignty–in kids’ vernacular, he controls the whole story! Nothing happens in Esther that God isn’t instigating and directing. It may surprise your children to learn that God isn’t mentioned once in the entire book! Yet, it’s impossible to miss how he guides each character (good or bad), and no other character can alter that control.

Even the most powerful humans (like Esther’s emperor husband) are simply pawns in the story God is writing and controlling. Even those who appear to be the most powerful in our world have no power outside of God’s control. How helpful that is for our children to know as they live each day in such a world!

God works in the background to accomplish what he wants. And he doesn’t just do that in Esther’s story or David’s story or Joshua’s story. He does that in your family’s and your child’s life too! No matter the narrative, God’s control is always visible, and it’s there in order that we might see it!

He is the hero of the whole story.

One of the greatest disservices we can inadvertently do to our children is to read or teach a story about a Bible character and instruct our children to simply “be like Daniel” or “be like David” or “be like Esther”. This is easy to do, but it can lead to our children missing the greatest lessons and benefits. While there is much our kids can learn from traits exhibited by godly human characters in many Bible stories, the glory and credit for any heroic, obedient, and admirable actions ultimately belongs to God.

Esther and Mordecai have some admirable traits, but it would be saying more than Scripture says to label them as transformative heroes on their own. I’d encourage you to not overhype the humans! Human characters are, at best, flawed but submissive channels for God’s master plan. This approach to reading and applying Scripture will help develop a humble, biblical perception of their own merits.

2. God is always faithful.

Every Old Testament narrative was written and provided for us today so God would receive glory and honor for what he accomplished. But he glorifies himself often by acting out of love, mercy, and care for his people. Anytime God is working in human events, he is doing so on behalf of the people to which he has committed himself! His faithfulness to people in Bible stories is a picture of his faithfulness to us as his believing people today.

He will keep his promises.

Esther is a remarkable account of God keeping his promises to his people. In Esther, God is keeping promises he made as far back as Abraham’s day! Every action he takes in the book is to ensure that his covenant to care for, protect, and preserve Israel is kept. The best laid plans of evil men in this story come to naught because God is determined to keep his promises–he won’t let Israel be destroyed.

Furthermore, if Israel was destroyed in Esther’s day, we wouldn’t have Jesus. So God’s greatest promise to mankind from way back in Genesis 3:15 was at stake in the story of Esther, and God ensured that promise wouldn’t fail!

He will not forsake his people.

When our children see God keep his promises to his people in big ways (like saving an entire nation from destruction), they are led to understand that he will keep his promises of his care, his presence, his forgiveness, and his protection for them today? No dangers or obstacles can keep God from providing his promised care for his people. He doesn’t forsake them. And he makes that promise to us too (Hebrews 13:5)! See how simple truth displayed in Bible stories can transform our children’s thinking about their lives now?

3. We must trust and obey him.

Everything we see about God in his Word demands some sort of response from us. When you study Bible stories with your children, ask them what God’s character in each story requires from them. Without exception–with every story–we could summarize our needed response this way: trust this God, submit to him, and serve him wholeheartedly.

Trust his promises and his plan.

The Old Testament stories actually don’t stand alone. They are part of one big story of God’s redemptive plan. And it’s a plan that’s still ongoing, and we’re a part of it! And his plan is a big, good, amazing plan, and every little part of our lives are a part of that plan. If he is trustworthy enough to keep Israel safe and to make all the little events in Esther happen to ensure that, then his good plan for us in our little lives can’t be derailed either.

Serve God with what you’ve been given.

Now here is where we respond with action. This God is worthy of more than just my trust. He’s worthy of my service. Remember how we discussed that Esther and Mordecai weren’t the heroes of the story? They simply chose to trust God’s plan, claim his promises, and use the opportunities they were given to further his plan.

Esther was given beauty and position for God’s purposes. Mordecai was placed in seemingly coincidental situations through which he was thrust into an impactful role in the most powerful kingdom on earth. Those things weren’t given to these servants of God for their own advancement or purposes. They were opportunities to serve him! Your children have been placed by God in settings and situations for that same purpose. Ask them what that purpose might be and how they might go about using what they’ve been given to bring their great God glory.

Every Old Testament story presents an opportunity to see God as the main character. Every story reveals his amazing faithfulness to his promises and people. And every story illustrates the reality that such a great God wants me to trust him, obey him, and serve him.

Dads, I’d encourage you to go on a journey through these stories with your children, pointing out these themes to them. You can’t miss them if you’re looking for them! It’s not just an opportunity to expose your children to a great story they’ll love. It’s a God-ordained opportunity for them to see anew each time the God who loves them and plans to use them in his amazing story.

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