Here are a couple of tips and thoughts around preparing to preach or teach on Old Testament narrative -actually these potentially apply into the NT and other contexts as well. However, I hope this will be particularly helpful as we continue to work through 2 Samuel and prepare to teach on the end of Genesis at Sunday Night Church.
- A key priority is to find the central theme/message. This does not mean that there aren’t multiple lessons from a passage but there is usually a primary point and purpose and this will hold together the other sections too. The temptation when preaching expositional sermons is to find specific points of interest in each verse that we pick up on and lose the main thread.
- In a propositional text such as one of Paul’s letters you would need to read the whole section and work out the logical flow of the passage as you see him develop his argument. With narrative, you want to get a feel for the whole story (nb you may be preaching on the whole narrative, part of the narrative or even 2 or 3 narratives threaded together). This is where it is helpful to look at the particular type of story. We have mentioned before that literature often divides between Comedy and Tragedy. Comedy means that the central character ends up in a better place than at the start, with tragedy, they end up in a worse place. For example, 2 Samuel 14-19 tells the story of Absalom as a tragedy – his life will end in tragic defeat, shame and death. On the other hand, for David it is comedy, there are defeats, setbacks and pain along the way but it finishes with restoration. Another way to put this is that it is a story of redemption that points us forward to Christ.
- Other exegetical tools help us to look at the form and structure of the text. These include
– Chiasms (see https://faithroots.net/2018/04/22/putting-2-halves-together/). These can happen within a few verses or over a longer section of several chapters and are a classic Hebraic devise. Chiasms will often draw you to the point at the middle of the structure (think of them as providing two arrows pointing inward – -> point <- – )
– Parallels . We see parallels used often in the Psalms. For example
Blessed is the man[a]
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
Notice how walk is parallel with stand and sit whilst wicked, sinners and scoffers are also parallel. These are not mere repetitions but build up an idea. Similarly if you read Luke 15, Jesus tells 3 parables that also work in parallel with each other, a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. Notice how each story includes someone or something lost, a search and finding and a celebration. Each story is slightly different, they follow the same theme but then give something extra about it. If you are preaching on a section with multiple stories, then look for evidence of parallels. This may save you from preaching two sermons in one, a sermon on story a and then something different on story b. You can show how each story illustrates and expands on the main theme.
- Look who’s talking? Analysing conversations can be very helpful. See who is involved in the story an how they speak to each other, what conversations are asked, how people are addressed, what imperatives are given. What is the character of the person speaking/giving advice -are we meant to listen to them favourably. Look at what is not said.
Here is a fascinating example from Genesis. In Genesis 1-2, God is active and speaking. We hear his voice often. What he declares comes true. Then look at Genesis 3. In verse 1-7, there is a conversation and for the first time, God is silent, His voice is not listened to. The serpent and man and woman question the truthfulness and goodness of go against the evidence of the first few chapters. Then notice what happens after verse 8 . Now God speaks, note that he questions man and woman but the serpent who had tried to usurp power is now silenced.
5. What words, phrases, concepts are repeated. In Genesis 1 these are “God said” “It was so “It was good.” In 1 Samuel, the word “ask” sha’al keeps cropping up. Fascinatingly the word sounds similar to “Saul” the first King of Israel. In the story of David and Bathsheba the verb “to send” dominates as David sits in his citadel and sends others to battle, sends servants, sends for Bathsheba etc.
- Biblical Theology – typology is helpful. We read the OT through the NT. This means for example that we see David as both typical believer and type of Christ.
Point 6 becomes important when we begin to think about application. How do we avoid our application becoming legalistic? Legalism happens when I find an example or moral in the OT and try to apply it straight to us. Because of justification and imputed righteousness, we can preach through Christ. We can show how he has fulfilled the specific OT passage. He has been perfectly obedient on our behalf. He has taken the penalty where we fall short.