The Bible is a brilliant piece of literature. Filled with intrigue, humor, and riveting-yet-flawed characters, the biblical narratives are some of the greatest stories ever told. And like other pieces of literature, setting matters.
A Theology of Location
Throughout the biblical narratives, there are locations that take on important meanings. A specific setting—like a mountain—can denote a specific type of event is about to happen.
At times locations become another character, returning to the forefront hundreds of pages after they are first mentioned. Time and time again stories take place on Mount Moriah or the Jordan River, both serving as key locations in the narratives.
Here is a brief survey of some of the settings in the biblical narrative, along with how they shape the Bible stories.
Mountains have an important, diverse role in the bibical narratives. Primarily, mountains are a place of encountering God, though the reasons can vary. The two main mountain locations in the Bible—Sinai/Horeb and Moriah/Zion/Jerusalem—feature prominently in several biblical stories.
First, mountains are a place for humanity to meet with God. It is where God reveals himself to His people.
- Moses encounters the burning bush on Sinai (Exodus 3)
- Elijah on Sinai (1 Kings 19)
- Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17)
When God and man meet on the mountain, it can be a time of revelation or instruction. God and man enter into a covenant, with God providing instruction on how to live in the covenant.
- Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)
- Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
Mountains can also be a place of deliverance. God’s people need rescuing, and God delivers them in a mighty way. Often a sacrifice is offered to show devotion to God.
- Noah on Mount Ararat (Genesis 8)
- Abraham on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22)
- David on Mount Moriah (1 Chronicles 21)
- Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18)
Valleys, in the shadows of mountains, are locations of trial. It is where God’s people are tested in their faith.
- David’s showdown with Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
- Psalmist in Valley of Shadow of Death (Psalm 23)
The wilderness, also described as desert, is a wild, barren land. Inhospitable to life, it is a place of pain, suffering, and testing. It is also a location for training, preparing individuals for the next step. It is not a destination, but rather a stop on the journey. People often flee there, after running away from adversaries.
- Moses fleeing Egypt (Exodus 2)
- Israel in Wilderness (Book of Numbers)
- Elisha after Mount Carmel (1 Kings 19)
Sometimes people choose to go into the wilderness. This can be to face the temptation or to redeem this dark place.
- John the Baptist (Matthew 3)
- Temptation of Jesus (Luke 4)
Large bodies of water were major barriers in the ancient world. Rivers were hard to cross, and the seas contained unimaginable beasts. When God’s people passed through waters by the hand of God, it is seen as a type of baptism: dedicating and setting apart the people as God’s possession.
- Israel at Red Sea (Exodus 14)
- Israel at Jordan River (Joshua 3)
- Jonah (Jonah 1)
While this is not an exhaustive list, hopefully it gives you a glimpse at how setting plays a role in the biblical narratives—how there is a theology of location. Next time you read a story from the Bible, think about the setting, noting how it helps shape the story.Tweet