I often marvel at the rich depth of the Bible which, even at the literary level, displays remarkable indicators of divine inspiration. Many people will readily get hung up on content which needs to be understood in the then-and-there of the era in which it was written to have true here-and-now significance. But many of the gems of the Bible can bypass our attention with only a cursory glance. One such jewel that comes from digging deeper is the technique that the writers often use called the ‘chiasmus’ (or ‘chiasm’ or ‘chiasmic structure’). This is simply a mirroring of sequential lines or passages to draw attention to the middle of a text (derived from the ‘crosswise arrangement’ of the Greek letter ‘chi’) because it has something particularly important to say to us.
A simple example is where a so-called ‘passage A’ is followed by a ‘passage B’, ‘passage C’, and then ‘passage D’, only for us to then read a restated or similar ‘passage C’ and then a similar or restated ‘passage B’ and ‘passage A’. This is often depicted, then, as: A, B, C, D, C’, B’, A’. It effectively draws us into the middle and says, “Note passage D, the climax of the story, and learn from it”.
One helpful example of this is in the crossing of the Israelites into the Promised Land in Joshua 3-4.
The point of the story is highlighted as we progress as follows:
A: Camping on the East of the Jordan River (3:1-5);
B: The priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan (3:6-8);
C: The people crossing while the Jordan is stopped from flowing (3:9-17);
D: Memorial stones are erected as a reminder of what God has done (4:1-9);
C’: The people finish crossing while the Jordan is stopped from flowing (4:10-13);
B’: The priests carry the Ark of the Covenant out of the Jordan (4:14-18); and
A’: Camping on the West of the Jordan River (on the ‘east border of Jericho) (4:19-24).
Here, we see that Gilgal is where the people who later reaffirmed their relationship with God were focused on remembering this great day of their inheritance. This speaks to us since we are also reminded that the Old Testament stories were examples to be followed (1 Corinthians 10:11). Gilgal’s monument says to us that we must also remember that we have passed into our own Promised Land of inheritance in God’s Kingdom so that we continually live in the light of our relationship with Him.
This exercise is not so much about reading a context into the Bible but reading the Bible in its context. This certainly is not the be-all-and-end-all of interpretation, but it does assist us to gain some practical insights from a deeper reading of a text that can be instructive and then enrich and strengthen our spiritual life.