All writing is selective. No matter how many pages of prose an editing allergic academic manages to cram into an oversized tome, there will always remain aspects of the story that have been left out. If a book is well written, the inclusion or exclusion of a particular aspect of the story will be driven by the questions and concerns that the narrative as a whole is attempting to address—even if those questions and concerns are nowhere explicitly stated. The safest key to understanding the viewpoint of the author on any particular part is always to seek to understand the questions that are driving the selection as a whole.
This is no less true of Scripture. Every historical narrative that is there preserved for us is real history that really happened—but what we must remember is that there are untold thousands of equally true events that are not recorded. Stories are never included in Scripture, “just because they happened.” The selections made by a merely human writer can be motivated by many different things—even at times by simple ignorance or unreflecting prejudice. The selectivity of Scripture, inspired in every part by the omniscient Spirit of God, is always intentional and that intention is always connected to the overall point of each book as a whole.
It is therefore a mistake, particularly in reading the narratives of the Old Testament, to attempt to understand the original inspired meaning of any story in isolation from the narrative in which it is found. If we cherrypick out only those stories that address our own questions and concerns, we will almost always miss the point of the book as a whole, in effect creating a new overall point of our own devising. Hearing the original inspired meaning of a text of Scripture demands that we prioritize the questions that the text itself was written to answer.
Those original questions are only understood by carefully considering how each particular passage or story contributes to the overall point of the book in which it is found. No passage stands alone and no passage can be understood accurately in ignorance of the passages that surround it. In fact, it is often those inclusions that seem the oddest to us that give us the safest insight into the questions that drove the inspired selection of the whole. If we think we have understood the reason for the inclusion of the Joseph story—and that reason has no connection to the sordid tale of Judah’s sin that it sandwiches—we have missed the inspired point of both.
Just as no verse in the epistles of Paul can be understood apart from the verses that surround it, so no story in the Old Testament can be understood apart from the stories that surround it. In both cases, the only way to test whether or not we have grasped the original inspired meaning of a particular part is by seeing how our understanding of that part fits in with the whole to which it was originally inspired to contribute. When the pieces of the puzzle of Scripture start to connect, we are well on our way to seeing the picture they were originally inspired to create.