The History Channel’s The Bible, Parts 3 & 4: Fire the Narrator
Last night featured the next installment of Executive Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downeys’ docu-drama The Bible on The History Channel. Theirs is a tough challenge, as they try to capture the broad sweep of Holy Scripture in ten hours. They’ve done a decent job of creating a grandiose setting with beautiful landscapes and nice special effects, and so far they’ve systematically marched through a compressed linear presentation of the Bible. Where they seem to be lacking is in presenting the theology behind the spectacle, specifically, the Biblical themes of Law and Gospel, and on an even more basic level, of pointing us to Christ.
Episodes 3 and 4, titled Homeland and Kingdom, roughly cover the high points of the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 Chronicles. Rather than provide a blow by blow review of these two episodes, let’s concentrate on the transitions at the beginning of Episode 3 and towards the end of Episode 4, and see how they relate to the whole.
The transition at the beginning of Episode 3 involves Rahab. The bare bones Biblical facts: Rahab, who is found in Joshua Chapters Two and Six, is a prostitute living in the wall of the city of Jericho. Joshua sends two spies to Jericho to scout out the bad guys, who are aided by Rahab. She hides them on her roof and then helps them escape.
The theological significance: Rahab is a believer. She states “I know that the LORD has given you the land….” She confesses that “the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” Rahab has been catechized. Not only does she believe that the LORD is Creator, she knows His name, Yahweh, here translated “LORD.” She knows of God’s mighty deeds, including the parting of the Red Sea, and believes that the LORD has given the Israelites the land. She reverences the LORD’s name, and has the spies swear by the LORD that they will save her and her family. In faith, she saves the spies, who in turn offer her the scarlet cord which marks her home as the sole dwelling in Jericho to be saved from the coming destruction.
This simple story is a very poignant reminder of God’s grace. We see the Law at work. Rahab is a prostitute. The Mosaic Law condemns her to death for being a prostitute, and as a Canaanite, she is outside God’s Covenant. She deserves the same fate as the rest of the Canaanites of Jericho. She also deserves the same fate that we should suffer, for we too are sinners. Yet the Holy Spirit has worked saving faith in her heart, just as He does in ours. She has heard the Word and has believed, and her works manifest that faith. Rahab will go on to become an ancestress of Christ (see Matthew 1:5), and is mentioned in the Hebrews “faith hall of fame” (11:31), as well as in James 2:25.
Now let’s take a look at how The Bible presents Rahab.
We first see the spies bursting into Rahab’s house to avoid capture. While Rahab does say
You have a God who commands the winds and parts the seas. This whole city is terrified of you. How can we fight a people whose god can do that?
…she demonstrates no faith, she only fears for the safety of her family. After the spy tells her, “Help us and we will help you,” she helps them escape. He gives her the scarlet thread from around his waist, and tells her “When our army comes, hang this on your door, so they will know not to harm you. You’ll be passed over.” As Jericho is invaded, Rahab is shown placing the scarlet thread outside her door. The angel of the Lord previously told Joshua that Rahab must be spared, and she and her family are rescued.
The closest we come to Jesus is the mysterious angel of the Lord, and Joshua shouting after the conquest “He truly is the Savior of the world.” Joshua says “God has kept His promise. If we obey the Lord, anything is possible.” Thus a familiar theme is restated, a quid quo pro relationship with a God where the magic word is obedience. There are no clear Biblical themes of sin, repentance, and redemption presented. The narrator’s lines in this series are a failure. It is here that the series could have “redeemed” itself. If only the narrator had said this as the camera slowly zoomed in on Rahab:
Rahab places the scarlet thread outside her door, a sign for the Israelite army. We see this same scarlet thread marching through time in the pages of Holy Scripture. It represents the saving presence of Jesus Christ, who is the true Lamb of God. The thread was present as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, and as they painted the lamb’s blood on their door posts during the Passover, protecting them from the Angel of Death. That blood prefigures the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross and sprinkled on all those who have faith in Him. That blood cleanses us from all our sins. Here in the figure of Rahab, who will become an ancestress of Jesus, we again see the blood of the Lamb at work. Rahab’s faith, worked in her by the Holy Spirit, saves her and her family from destruction. We will see this same scarlet thread again and again woven throughout the pages of Scripture, leading to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and His defeat of sin, death, and the power of the devil, for us.
The end of Episode 4 highlights King David and Nathan (and lastly the birth of Solomon), as they wrestle with David’s adultery and murder.
The Scriptures record Nathan’s confrontation with David regarding his sins in 2 Samuel Chapter 2, recorded in verses 9 and 13:
Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. …David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
David’s contrition and faith are clearly shown in his repentance, as is Nathan’s absolution of David’s sin. Prior to Nathan’s proclamation of the Law to David, David had lost his salvation, as Luther points out in the Smalcald Articles: “When holy people …fall into manifest sins (as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy), then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them” (III, iii, 43). In contrast, in The Bible series, while Nathan rebukes King David, David never repents, and he never receives absolution. The closest thing to an absolution is Nathan’s words “Even though you are weak, he loves you David. You have forged God’s nation on earth. Take comfort in each other, you will have another son.” The Biblical categories of sin, repentance, and absolution are glossed over, obscuring Christ’s glory and our need for a Savior. This oversight is a glaring error.
There is more to these two episodes, including the story of Samson, David and Goliath, and Saul’s pursuit of David. If you’ve got further questions, I’d encourage you to speak with your pastor. My guess is that he’s been watching this miniseries, because he knew you’d be watching as well.
While this miniseries may indeed stimulate questions and generate plenty of blog posts and commercials, its lack of fidelity to basic Biblical themes make it difficult to watch. The purpose of the Bible isn’t to “entertain and inspire,” it’s to kill and make alive, pointing us to Christ, themes you’ll have to look hard to find in the television miniseries The Bible.