Preaching in the Old Testament
* This post is part 2 of a series on Expository Preaching in the Local Church, where we are taking a look at the meaning of “Expository Preaching”, its Biblical precedence, and the importance of Expository Preaching in the life of our church. Read part one here.
I’ve been enamored in my recent reading of the gospel accounts. As I’ve read through Mark’s Gospel account, I’m intentionally focusing on how Jesus responded to the culture, lived amongst his disciples, and spoke to the gathering crowds. There is so much we can learn from the recorded history of Jesus’ time on the earth He created.
One very teachable moment comes in Matthew 4 when Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, is being tempted by the Devil. Satan throws three temptations at Jesus: turn a stone to bread, jump from a balcony, and fall down and worship him. The intentions of the three temptations are what the Devil hurled at Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Genesis 3 and what he continues to hurl at us today.
As Jesus models for us how to fight and flee temptation, His immediate response to the temptations come directly from God’s Word. He fights temptation by wielding the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Charles Spurgeon states,
“Jesus used Scripture to battle Satan’s temptation, not some elaborate spiritual power inaccessible to us. Jesus fought this battle as fully man, and He drew on no “special resources” unavailable to us. “Out flashed the sword of the Spirit: our Lord will fight with no other weapon. He could have spoken new revelations, but chose to say, ‘It is written.’”
Jesus understood the Bible is sufficient in all things.
The Bible is sufficient in all things, meaning, the Bible is enough to equip us to know God, to serve Him, and to honor Him in all things. The Bible is sufficient for our work life and home life. It is sufficient in our holiness. It is sufficient in the conduct of our church. It is sufficient in fighting sin and temptation. It is sufficient in our preaching as well.
In order to understand what preaching is all about, one must establish what the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, says about the proclamation of the Word of God.
The Old Testament is often neglected when it comes to preaching and Bible study. Many say it is outdated or that it does not apply to the church, but they have greatly missed the importance of the Old Testament which happens to have the same goal as preaching: pointing the world to Christ. Peter Adam states, “On many occasions when God spoke, His intention was not that His words would constitute revelation to the original audience, but that they would also serve a revelation for future generations.” (Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching)
In other words, If God wanted it written down, then the Word of God needs to be heard. The Old Testament may be filled with a long list of genealogies and chapters full of Priestly rituals, but the message that it contains needs to be preached. This section will contain examples from the Old Testament on preaching.
The Example of Moses
Moses lived a very interesting life. He spent his first forty years in the palace of Pharaoh, the next forty years herding sheep for his father-in-law, and the next forty leading a bitter people to a land God promised them. He saw God work powerful miracles first hand and even saw the back of God on Mount Sinai. He may have led the children of Israel out of Egypt, but Moses should be attributed a title that he rarely receives: preacher. Though he never had a church building and never had a personal office to use for studying, Moses “has the distinction of being the first preacher whose ministry is described to us”. (Adam, 39)
Peter Adam mentions four aspects of Moses’ ministry. First, Moses spoke for God. Second, Moses then wrote down everything God told him. Third, Moses read the Words of God to the people of Israel. And fourth, Moses preached. Adam establishes through the examination of Moses’ life that preaching was not just getting up in front of a crown and speaking. It involves understanding God’s Word.
Moses was the man who stood between God and His people. Moses was the one who relayed God’s message to them. God established Moses to be the leader of the Hebrew nation and therefore Moses spoke for God. And when Moses received God’s calling, he understood that God wanted him to speak to the people because he was concerned that the people would not believe what he said and that the people would not be able to understand him due to his “slow tongue” (Ex 3:13, 4:10). Once Moses received God’s words, he realized the importance of writing them down. Not only did he write them down, he saw how valuable they were to the people of Israel and read the Words of God to them (Ex 24:7; Dt 31:9, 32:44). Moses performed these three steps before he expounded on God’s Word.
Preachers today can learn from his example. Explaining the Scriptures should be the last thing they do. Moses made sure he understood what God was saying before he proclaimed to the people of Israel God’s Word. Once Moses began preaching, there are three sections to his sermons that every preacher should follow. First, there is an exposition, then there is an application, and last, there is an exhortation to the hearers. These three aspects of Moses’ preaching ministry are clearly evident in his sermons (Dt 1:5, 5:1-21, 29). Moses’ role as preacher helps establish the Biblical idea of preaching. “Indeed, it is possible to see Moses’ ministry as the foundation of all Old Testament ministry of the Word.” (Adam, 40)
Of interesting note, Jesus’ Scriptural response to Satan in the Wilderness in Matthew 4 comes from three of Moses’ sermons found in Deuteronomy.
Other Old Testament Examples
Moses is not the only Old Testament preacher whose ministry can help establish the role of preaching in the Old Testament. Prophets such as Elijah and Ezra both preached what God had given them to say and their recipients understood that what they were speaking was truth from God (1 Ki 17:2; Ezra 7:11; Neh 8:1-4). Ezra was clearly devoted to the Word of God. Ezra’s position as priest meant that people would come to him as their mediator to God. But people flocked to him to hear the Word of God (Neh 8:13). They wanted to understand what it said. They wanted to hear it read and they knew Ezra understood the importance of God’s law.
Isaiah, another Old Testament prophet, is probably the most well-known of all the prophets. He prophesied of the coming Messiah and “part of Isaiah’s ministry of the word is to point forward to the great ministry of the Word that will be the preaching of the gospel to the nations”. Isaiah’s preaching was focused on Christ and His role as Messiah. His intended purpose for his preaching was to point his listeners to the coming Messiah. Just as God gave Isaiah this message, God has given preachers today a message very similar to Isaiah’s: Christ is coming, so be prepared! Preachers today must focus their message on Christ, just as Isaiah did.
Preaching is an extraordinary task. It is a joy to stand in front of God’s People and deliver a message from God’s Word. The sermons preached at Grace Life must be from God’s Word, because only God’s Word is sufficient. Expository preaching understands the text drives the sermon. And our response to expository preaching must be the same as the people in Nehemiah 8:1-3; “Bring us the Book!”
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. – Nehemiah 8:1–3