Last week I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon conducting a preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College. I am also currently teaching some keen students at LBC/Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, PA and Greenbelt, MD. My interaction confirmed that one Bible study exercise is critical: tracing the argument or flow of thought of the author.
I explained that this is how I spend my first hour of study every Monday morning. Before I try to figure out what a preaching portion means, I want to know how it means what it means. In other words, I spend the first hour show how the author makes meaning through the argument or flow of thought. I begin by asking the Lord, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law,” (Psalms 119:18) and then I dive into the text’s structure. I consider this to be the foundation for exposition.
This involves dividing the preaching portion into its smaller thought blocks, summarizing the meaning of the blocks, and writing out the logical transitions that the author uses to move from one block to the next.
(By the way, if you try this with Luke 15, you will discover that it would be impossible to end the sermon focusing on the younger brother and those prodigals which are usually encouraged to “come home.”)
It is impossible for me to overstate the importance of this first hour for understanding how meaning is made.
Below I’ve included an example of my mornings first hour.
Calvary Bible Church
May 8, 2016 AM
This is God’s Word.
10 After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir. Post-Abimelech judge #1 is Tola. In matter of fact fashion God records, “…there arose to save Israel…” It is a subtle reminder of our plight as Christians in this world.
3 After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. 5 And Jair died and was buried in Kamon. PA judge #2 is Jair. We learn some nice facts about him (“…30…30…30…”).
6 The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. In v. 6 we learn how many false gods there are to worship! Each region had their own deity. Each deity had the ability to lure God’s people away from God. As a whole God’s people took their affections away from God and they stopped serving Him.
7 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, 8 and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. 9 And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. In vv. 7-9 we read of the repeated experience of God’s people. Throughout the book of Judges we’ve seen this happen: God’s people commit idolatry, in anger God sells them into the hands of fierce enemies who oppress them, and “Israel was severely distressed.” It teaches us the devastating effect of worshiping false gods.
10 And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” 11 And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. 13 Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. 14 Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” We’ve also seen God’s people yell out to their real God to save them again and again. Like before, they make a clean confession: “We have sinned against you…” Let’s make sure we understand this confession. Why do they say they have sinned against the Lord? Where does this understanding come from? Look back at the OT…
But this time our God seems to have lost His patience! Look at vv. 11-14. He sounds very irritated with them! “Did I not save you from….I saved you….I will save you no more. God and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” Wow! We have sayings like: “You made your bed, now go lie in it.” If God sticks to His guns, then His people are doomed. The false gods have enslaved them; they cannot save them.
Has the Lord’s patience run out?!
15 And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel. In v. 15 God’s people repeat their confession: “We have sinned…” Then they add, “do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” God’s people would rather face the judgment of God than face more oppression from their enemies.
Then, in v. 16 there is an act of genuine repentance: “So they put away the foreign gods…and served the Lord…” Repentance is a critical part of the Christian life…
Then, we learn that the Lord “became impatient over the misery of Israel.” A moment ago I mentioned that it seemed the Lord was becoming impatient with His people. Now we learn that the Lord has had enough of His people suffering at the hand of their enemies. This impatience, however, strikes the Lord after genuine repentance has taken place. If the Lord acts on His impatience over Israel’s misery, that can mean only good things for Israel!
This helps me see how the author presents theology for the Church. Since theology is conveyed through this narrative, I do not want to break the narrative flow in creating this sermon. Consider making this action in the first hour of study your foundation for Sunday’s exposition.