When was the last time you heard (or preached) a sermon series based on Deuteronomy or 1 Chronicles or Hosea? Or any other difficult book from the Old Testament? My answer is “never.” The New Testament is generally more accessible for modern audiences. It seems more straightforward about what to believe and how to live. By contrast, the Old Testament can be a strange, foreign and unfamiliar place. It requires more work on the part of the reader and preacher to discern its message and meaningfully apply it to our context.
For this reason, the Old Testament is largely absent or badly mishandled from many pulpit ministries (with the exception of being used for occasional proof texts in culture wars or for advent readings).
That challenge has become really clear for me this semester as I’ve journeyed through sections of the Old Testament for the class “Old Testament Studies 1: Intro to Hebrew Exegesis” with Dr. Jonathan Greer. This class has really helped me understand these unfamiliar passages. One tool, in particular, that I have found helpful is Dr. Douglas Stuart’s “Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors.”
Dr. Stuart is a world-class scholar, authoring numerous books with over 40 years experience teaching the Old Testament. In this book, he writes with refreshing clarity and provides both thorough and practical guidance for moving from the text to preparing a sermon. It’s a “must have” for any pastor or student of the Bible.
Here are at least four reasons you should consider picking up a copy of Stuart’s book.
1. STUART PROVIDES A COMPLETE GUIDE FOR OLD TESTAMENT STUDIES FROM START TO FINISH.
The main section of the book is essentially a step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter, walk through of the exegetical process. Stuart covers the process of selecting a text, defining its limits, analyzing translations, examining its structure, recognizing it in its historical and literary context, and he gives practical instructions on how to use that data to inform your theological and application-focused comments on the passage. He does this with all of the careful nuances of Old Testament work specifically in mind.
2. STUART POINTS YOU TO OTHER RESOURCES YOU’LL NEED AS YOU STUDY.
The introduction contains a recommended bibliography, and an exhaustive list is located in the back of the book. These resources cover everything from textual criticism to translation to history and application.
3. STUART WRITES FOR BOTH ENGLISH BIBLE READERS AND THOSE WORKING WITH THE HEBREW TEXT.
In chapter one, Stuart first addresses the full exegesis process in the English text, and then chapter two walks through the same process in the Hebrew text. You don’t need to work with the original language in order to do credible exegesis. Stuart shows you how, and he also shows you how to gain from working from the Hebrew text itself.
4. STUART SHOWS YOU HOW TO TRANSITION FROM EXEGESIS TO SERMON PREPARATION.
In chapter three, Stuart observes that many pastors with theological training have written exegetical papers in seminary, but few have been shown how to transition from exegesis to sermon. Sermons are far less technical and can be aimed at a different audience than exegesis papers, and they are usually composed in ten hours or less. (Plus, no one wants to listen to an exegetical paper on Sunday morning!) But there are ways to do the meaningful work of exegesis and have it be applicable to your people. These aren’t competing forces.
“Because the format and the audience are so radically different, is it any wonder that pastors find it hard to see the connection between what they were taught in seminary and what they are expected to do in their office and in the pulpit?” (p. 68).
For this reason, Stuart walks through seven steps for doing meaningful exegesis in about 5-6 hours, from which you can prayerfully develop your sermon to speak specifically to your congregation. Stuart concludes,
“The sermon, as an act of obedience and worship, ought not to wrap shoddy scholarship in a cloak of fervency. Let your sermon be exciting, but let it be in every way faithful to God’s revelation” (p. 69).
And the best way to be faithful to the text is listening to it on its own terms through sound exegesis.
I think the most important way this book has helped me is that is cultivated a renewed passion for studying the Old Testament, and in turn, consulting with the “whole counsel of God.” Every event in God’s story of redemption is important. People in our churches need to hear more about the God who invaded human history, redeemed his rebellious creation and continues His redemptive work today by the power of His Spirit through the Church.
It is my prayer that the Church would experience a revival through pulpit ministries committed to faithfully preaching and journeying through every part of the biblical text, not simply the familiar ones.