Category Archives: Old Testament

David Murray – Rehearsal for Calvary

murray__005_400x400David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary.  He is also pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church.  David is the author of Christian Get Depressed Too, How Sermons Work, and Jesus on Every Page (USA Link).  You can read his blog, HeadHeartHand or follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray.  David is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 1 to 18 years old.  I am thankful to David for contibuting to our Incarnation Series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell. Here, David takes us back to the book of Judges and points our hearts to Christ:

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Judges chapter thirteen opens with the nation of Israel suffering under the reign of the Philistines. In the middle of this a woman is suffering under her own personal grief: she is barren.

Into this national and personal sorrow the Son of God appears as the angel (literally “messenger”) of the Lord appears to this woman, promising her an end to her barrenness and an end to the Philistine occupation. His appearance is such that she describes him as a man of God with a very awesome appearance, like the angel of the Lord. Neither the woman nor her husband yet realize that this is more than a man.

Manoah, her husband, prays that the messenger might return to give them more instruction on how to raise this promised son. God listens to Manoah’s prayer and the messenger returns to give them further instruction. During this second encounter, Manoah offers a meal to their guest, not yet knowing exactly who their guest is. The angel of the Lord refuses to eat, but tells Manoah to make an offering to the Lord.

A Wonderful Name

When Manoah asks the visitor for his name, he receives this enigmatic response: “Why do you ask My Name, seeing it is wonderful?” or beyond comprehension?

What a puzzling response. What sort of man claims that his name is beyond comprehension? Remember that throughout the Old Testament, names are very significant indicators of character. There is something special about this man with a wonderful name.

A Wonderful Act

As the flames begin to consume the sacrificed goat, Manoah and his wife are amazed to see the messenger step into the flames and rise up to heaven!

What was he doing?

As the pre-incarnate Son of God we may say that He was “practicing” or “rehearsing” His future sacrifice of himself, when in real human nature he would ascend heavenwards.

They immediately fall on their faces for they realized that this had been THE Angel of the Lord. As is often the case, this recognition often comes only after the Angel has departed.

A Wonderful Faith

Although a great fear takes hold of Manoah because he knows that no one can see God and live, his more believing wife comforts him with this thought: If God had really intended to kill them, he would not have accepted their offering nor given them the great promises he had.

It’s amazing to think about the Son of God’s ascension in the flame of this sacrifice as a picture of his ultimate sacrifice at Calvary. We often read in the Bible of God’s delight in the sweet smell of sacrifices to him. How sweet must Christ’s ultimate sacrifice have been: the perfect, spotless lamb. And yet how horrific the experience for Christ himself.

There He stepped not into the flames of a burning goat, but into the flames of an angry God. He did not just rise heavenwards in a few brief moments, but stayed in the fire until the divine flames burned themselves out on Him.

A Wonderful Question

No wonder the prophet Isaiah says, His name shall be called Wonderful. Who can fully comprehend the mystery of God manifest in the flesh, and sacrificed in flames? Yet, let us keep asking Him, “What is your name? Tell us more about yourself, that we may honor you.”

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Jordan Scheetz – The Incarnation in the Old Testament

tts-portrait-jordanscheetz-300x300Jordan Scheetz is Chair of Biblical and Exegetical Studies, and Associate Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature, at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Amsterdam, NL.  Jordan has been a good friend for many years and I’ve always appreciated his passion for God’s Word and making disciples.  He wrote The Concept of Canonical Intertextuality and the Book of Daniel (2012).  In this series, marking the release of Pleased to Dwell, Jordan looks at the rich Old Testament themes weaving together to point us to the Incarnation of the Messiah:

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The arrival of the Messiah is the culmination of a series of expectations scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. To separate these expectations from the writings of early Christianity is a difficult task because the earliest Christians were Jews steeped in the expectations of their Jewish Scriptures.

The focus on a direct descendant from David and Abraham springs from the promises made to David and Abraham, something seen throughout the Old Testament. David was promised a future descendant who would have an Eternal Kingdom and Abraham was promised to bring blessing to all nations through his offspring. The Torah closes with the expectation that still another prophet like Moses who speaks with God face to face needs to come. Isaiah looks to a time of immanu-el “God with us,” encapsulated in an actual person, not to mention the suffering of avdi “My Servant” who brings forgiveness, healing, and eternal life to God’s people. Jeremiah in the midst of intense judgment shines the rays of hope for a new covenant, one that not only can be read and seen but will be written on the hearts of God’s people. Ezekiel contributes to the expectations of Isaiah and Jeremiah by looking to a time when there will not only be forgiveness and inner transformation of God’s people, but that God would even put His Spirit within them. The Twelve, in the midst of intense judgment, consistently point to the reality that those who (re)turn to God will find Him to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, all in the context of the (future) Day of the Lord. The return to the land under Ezra and Nehemiah, as good as they are, point to a future time when all of God’s promises will be fulfilled.

The arrival of the Messiah is the culmination of a series of expectations scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. To separate these expectations from the writings of early Christianity is a difficult task because the earliest Christians were Jews steeped in the expectations of their Jewish Scriptures.  The arrival of the Messiah brings together these seemingly disparate expectations in a person, the Messiah Jesus. In Him the fullness of these expectations from the Hebrew Scriptures culminate into the beginning of the Eternal Messianic Kingdom, where blessing, forgiveness, transformation, and eternal life collide in a person.

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Everybody Hides

fortress2[Originally posted on Cor Deo] Psalm 46 is always a highly valued text in times of war.  Which is probably why, for a while now, we haven’t heard too much about it.  Maybe we should?

In the past the news of an impending threat would come in the form of a breathless messenger coming from the next town.  Today we live with constant video access to every corner of the planet.  The net effect of this constant stream of information tends to be that we carry on with our own lives while getting drawn into non-news and entertainment, but with true news having little effect on us.  But every now and then the news does get our attention.

If we are looking beyond what the mainstream media chooses to highlight, there are some very disturbing things going on.  And when the news is genuinely disturbing, perhaps it is time to break out Psalm 46 again.

Overview of the Psalm – The Psalm falls nicely into three stanzas, each marked with a contemplativeSelah to give us pause for thought.  The first stanza begins with a launching idea that is then picked up in a refrain finishing the second and third stanza.  As far as Psalms go, this one is clear and simple.

It begins with the big thought that God is our refuge and strength, an always accessible help in troubling times.  Consequently, we will not fear.  Then the writer lists a set of natural disasters that would rock anyone’s world – earthquake, mountains moving, raging seas, etc.  I don’t think he is pondering natural disasters, so much as describing a hypothetical upheaval of all that seems stable.  Even if the whole created order were to return to utter chaos, we will not fear.  This must mean that the nature and character of God is more trustworthy than even the solidity of the mountains and the boundaries of the seas.  Selah.

With the first three verses laying the foundational thought, the writer then becomes overt about the threat of war.  He describes the tranquility of the city of God where He is reigning and present.  And just as our hearts calm to ponder what it will be like to finally live with God, suddenly verse 6 stirs us with the news that all around the nations are going crazy like a raging sea and slipping mountains!  The hypothetical collapse of creation stability is the experienced reality when it comes to the geo-political changes in the world.  But, immediately our perspective is checked with the realization that one word from God and the whole planet could be melted.  Therefore, we do not fear.

The refrain is beautiful: The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.  The LORD is the God who makes promises and keeps them – He cares about continuing to care for us.  He is strong – He is the God of angel armies.  If you have ever watched a well-drilled group of soldiers march past, it is intimidating.  Even a relatively small number.  Now imagine an angel, the kind that could kill 185,000 human soldiers in one night.  Imagine two.  Ten.  One hundred.  Imagine a number so big you could not count it, and that is the army of heaven, and our God leads that army, and He is with us.  Therefore He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

The final stanza offers an invitation to come and look at what God has done, and implicitly, to anticipate what He will do.  He ends wars that seem overwhelmingly threatening.  He topples powerful foes that seem to strong to resist.  And finally in verse 10, God instructs the raging armies and belligerent power-hungry rulers to stop!  Stand still.  Be quiet.  Hush.  And know that He is God.  He will be exalted by all.

The perspective shift is powerful.  The raging nations and growing armies and plotting terrorists and geo-political upheavals are all very small compared to the utterance of our God.  He is the God of angel armies and He is with us.  He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

When the threat really rises, everybody hides.  The question is, where do we hide?

Hiding Option 1 – The only good option is to run into the most powerful player in current history.  If it is clear who will win in the end, why not join them?  We know the end of the story, but often it is hard to not fear when the circumstances feel so grave.  Often it is hard to not fear when God doesn’t seem to offer immediate deliverance to everyone who is suffering for being His.  What if I have to face more than discomfort for my faith?  What if my life is threatened, is He still a fortress?  Think back to three men in Iraq two and a half millennia ago.  Our God is able to deliver us, but even if he doesn’t in the moment of this particular trial, we won’t bow to your statue.  Were they foolhardy?  Or were they gripped with the greater reality that the all-powerful God of angel armies was with them, so that even in death, they had confidence that they would be with Him?

Hiding Option 2 – The most pervasive option around us today is often known as “hiding our heads in the sand.”  It is pretending there isn’t a threat.  I recently visited Auschwitz and was sickened to think that people could somehow be oblivious to the hideous evil of that place.  If only they had had social media and smartphones, then everyone would have known.  Actually, don’t people still hide from things today?  The media seem so committed to diverting attention – whether it be spinning a story, or shifting from genocide to Hollywood, the media are experts at making the potentially best informed of all time into a number and dumber generation.  But we can’t simply blame the media.  We can do it to ourselves.  We are more than capable of hiding from reality.

There may be other reactions, but these seem to be the big two.  As the news stirs fear within me, will I distract myself with little things and pretend all is well, or will I run into my fortress – the God of angel armies, the God who has chosen to be with me?

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Preaching and Paradigms

PAradigmWhen we preach, we don’t simply present a truth, make an offer, or demonstrate the relevance of an ancient text.  Every biblical passage is a heavenly assault on the unquestioned assumptions of a fallen world.  That is to say, we don’t really live in a neutral world with some evil “out there” and some good information in the Bible.

The truth is that our entire world is upside-down.  Every cell in this universe is corrupted by the fall.  Yet we love to live in the myth that we are objectively evaluating a normal reality.  Then when extremes come before us, we are the arbiters who can discern what is extreme and what is not.  This results in people listening to the Bible and trying to find something relevant, rather than hearing the absolute revolution it speaks into our fallen, me-first, self-loving, circumstances-determine-mood, world.

So when we preach, what are we doing?  Sure, we are presenting the truth of the passage.  We are inviting people to meet the God who reveals Himself in His Word.  We are showing that the ancient text is more relevant than anything we hold to be truly contemporary.  But we are also bringing a heavenly critique of all that we believe to be normal.

Tomorrow I am preaching Psalm 46.  It is a wonderful Psalm of comfort for people fearing the destabilization brought by human enemies.  The LORD of hosts is with us, He is our fortress.  That changes everything.  He will utter and war will be defeated forever.  Here we are, understandably concerned by what we see going on in the world, perhaps even fearing for our future and our children’s future.  But the Bible challenges assumptions we don’t even recognize, and as we encounter the message of a passage like this one, we find our whole paradigms recalibrated to the reality we can’t see.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway (UK)

Pleased to Dwell v3If you are in the UK, please click here to enter the book giveaway on Goodreads.  By the way, this is a useful site to engage with if you read books.  The more of us preachers who get on there, the more we can benefit from each other’s mini-reviews, ratings, etc.

If you are in North America, there will be a book giveaway closer to the release date of Pleased to Dwell (slightly later than UK release date).

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Christocentric, Christiconic, …?

img_privilege_3d_02Abraham Kuruvilla’s book, Privilege the Text, offers a theological hermeneutic for preaching.  I have surveyed the book here and offered some review here.  Today I would like to nudge our thinking in respect to AK’s suggestion that we replace a Christocentric approach with a Christiconic approach.  That is, rather than trying to see Christ in every text of Scripture, we should see a facet of Christ’s perfect morality in every text, and as we present that theologically derived “divine demand,” the hope is that our listeners will be moved to align themselves with it and thus become progressively sanctified into the image of Christ (hence, “christ-iconic”).

What I took too many words to state last time is that I find this goal entirely too restricted.  The goal of preaching is not my individual, nor even our corporate, conformity to a perfect Christlike morality.  I believe Christian preaching should be looking for a greater transformation than I believe will result from the “Christiconic” model.  Let me suggest some five alternative models, with a few comments.  Please note that the morality desired in the “Christiconic” model is surpassed, rather than dismissed, in these suggestions:

1. Christotelic (Seeing Christ as the goal of Scripture) – Perhaps we should be aiming to preach individual texts in such a way that the goal of all Scripture (Christ) is not superimposed on and forced into a text, but is honoured as the goal of the whole?  I know that this can fall foul of some warnings included in Kuruvilla’s book relating to Christocentric models that don’t privilege and honour the preaching text.  I agree that there is a risk of the specifics in a pericope being “swallowed up in the capacious canvas of [Redemptive-Historical] interpretation.” (p240)  Fair point, but again, John 5 should sound sufficient warning at the danger of interpreting a text with a goal of self-improvement, while missing the person of Christ.  Let me push on to more explicit labels for our ponderings.

2. Christodoxological (Preaching that aims at the worship of Christ) – Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.  Let’s preach Bible texts in such a way that rather than pointing to ourselves and emphasizing our need to apply them, we are pointing to a Christ so captivating and wonderful that he is worshipped.  And what about if it is not obvious how to preach Christ in the text at hand?  Feel free to preach Theodoxologically, showing how the text reveals God.  (And if you make sure you are preaching the “person” rather than just truthful assertions, then in many ways you are “preaching Christ” even while avoiding forcing the text into a mold it did not sign up to be in.)

Tomorrow I’ll offer three more suggestions for our thoughts.

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Review: Privilege the Text by Abraham Kuruvilla – Part 1

img_privilege_3d_02Privilege the Text: A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching by Abraham Kuruvilla

This book was Preaching Magazine’s Book of the Year for 2013 and has some significant endorsers.  Its four chapters span 336 pages, with essentially one (maybe two) “worked example” of Kuruvilla’s proposed approach to handling Old Testament narrative.  Let me begin with an overview of the chapters today, before highlighting some strengths and weaknesses tomorrow.

Chapter 1 introduces the field of hermeneutics.  Abraham Kuruvilla (herein AK) points the reader beyond simply pursuing the meaning of a text, to recognizing that with a “classic” text, there will be a timeless quality wherein the author “does” something with the text.  Specifically, and this will always be true of the Bible, the author is projecting a “world before the text” – a moral ideal that people in vastly different cultures and epochs can still access as the text is preached effectively, leading to life transformation.  AK finishes the chapter with six rules of reading, the last of which is the rule of centrality, which focuses interpretation of texts on the person of Christ.

Chapter 2 focuses on what AK labels “pericopal theology” – that is, pursuing the theology of each pericope, or preaching unit of text.  AK suggests that most contemporary expository preaching actually neglects the preaching text in favour of offering a broad systematic or biblical theological presentation of truth.  (He is clear that both systematic and biblical theologies are important as guardrails for interpretation.)  Instead, he is advocating that we Privilege the Text by pursuing the “pericopal theology” of each text, applying that to listeners so that they can align their lives with the “precepts, priorities, and practices of God’s ideal world,” what AK refers to as the “divine demand” present in every pericope.

Chapter 3 pursues the issue of “divine demand” and the place of obedience.  AK begins by showing that Dispensational, Reformed, Lutheran and New Perspective on Paul theologians all restrict the applicability of Old Testament Law today, but he is advocating that all law is applicable always – by means of the theological sense of each text.  AK states that OT Laws “are not criteria for salvation, but are guidelines for sanctification.” (P153)  God’s gracious provision through the Son and enabling operation of the Spirit mean that this is not merit-seeking legalism, but rather the “obedience of faith” that is the Christian responsibility in our pursuit of being holy like God.  Relationship precedes, but does not preclude, responsibility.

Chapter 4 picks up the question that becomes obvious by the end of chapter 3 –With repeated emphasis on the believer’s filial responsibility to obey (divine demand), how can the “rule of centrality” be brought to bear – i.e. how do we preach Christ?  AK begins with an extended exegesis of Genesis 22.  His intent is to show that the Bible as a whole projects “an image of Christ, with each pericope portraying a facet of this image: what it means to be Christlike.” (p212)  Abraham’s faithful obedience augmented God’s previous promise and became incorporated into it. For AK, this exegesis demonstrates that Christ does not need to be superimposed onto the text based on later revelation, but instead a facet of Christ’s character is seen in the text.  AK looks at the Redemptive-Historical or Christocentric approach to preaching, evaluating and critiquing the arguments put forward, as well as surveying the biblical passages used to support the approach (bizarrely, he does not survey John 5 here).  The alternative?  Christiconic Preaching.  This is where facets of the image of Christ are presented through the theological sense of any pericope, thereby giving listeners the opportunity to align themselves with God’s divine demand that we be holy as He is holy, that is, that we be increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.

Tomorrow I will offer a review by way of some reflections on this book.

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 6

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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And to finish off the list . . .

6. Be aware of who is truly wise. Step back and think of wisdom literature as a whole genre for a moment, consider the dynamic that is going on. In it’s simplest form it is this – a wise person is offering his wisdom to someone who is less wise. Remember this is not the same as knowledge or information, it is personal not abstract, it is applied in the complex situations of life, and we all stand alongside Rehoboam while the offer is made – who will we listen to – wisdom or folly?

The wise person comes to us in the written word, as a person of authority, of greater wisdom, or greater experience of what it means to live in God’s world, and in God’s way. That wisdom runs right through Proverbs, it is what is being searched for in books like Ecclesiastes. Think of the massive climax towards the end of Job when God breaks into the discussion with His wisdom – it’s huge, isn’t it? In wisdom literature, the wise person offers their wisdom for us to benefit from, freely. Can you see where this is going? Wisdom finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Cor 1:26-31:-

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

That’s why I said earlier in the week that when we get into wisdom literature, it can seem as though those big themes of the Bible have been laid aside for a while. They haven’t been, but we might need to work a little harder to see them and we need to need to be very wary of preaching wisdom in a way which is purely focused on temporary benefit for us. Proverbs are too often preached as “super-tips” for a better life now only. Be wary of approaching Song of Solomon in a way which only celebrates human sexuality in this life. Watch out for an understanding of Job that gives answers to suffering in this life without lifting our eyes to eternity. Let’s not preach wisdom in a way which only celebrates His gifts without lifting the eyes of our listeners to the wonder of the giver.

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 5

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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Continuing the list of areas for special attention, so far we have had beware of self-improvement, beware of making promises out of proverbs, and preach thought units.  Last in the list:

4. Consider what it means to preach a reflective genre… reflectively. We have already seen that wisdom literature requires reflection. How might this impact our sermons in this genre? We need to give serious thought as to how we can encourage reflection in our listeners, even if it is only for the time we are standing up there preaching. Two thoughts on this; firstly avoid information overload. This is true for preaching any genre, but nowhere is it more important that in preaching wisdom.  Don’t bombard people with dozens of different thoughts or ideas; it doesn’t encourage reflection, it encourages confusion, headaches and people to stop listening altogether.

Conversely then, create space. Create space to work out illustration and application – “You cannot serve both God and money” isn’t a proverb, but it is a good example of a relatively short journey from original context to contemporary application. But wisdom like Proverbs 15:5 “A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” will take some time to unpack. How does it apply for people who don’t have God-honouring parents? What about people whose parents have died or who no longer under their parents’ authority in the way they once were? Does this proverb no longer apply to them? If so, how? And what are the subtle ways we all try to squirm out of correction – wherever it comes from? Be creative, take time to explore this piece of wisdom from as many angles as you can. Finally, create space to think, respond, pray. Why not give people time to do this at some point in your sermon (and not necessarily just at the end)?

5. Identify the central issue of a book. This is crucial. In a book like Job, it is easy to forget that the central tension of the book is presented very clearly in chapter 1, Satan says to God that Job loves God not for who He is, but for what He gives Job. The accusation is that Job loves God’s stuff more than he loves God. And the tension of the rest of the book is, in many ways, an exploration of that accusation – will Job’s faith stand up to the accusation, or not? It’s important to work out everything which follows in light of this. In Ecclesiastes you have to go to the end of the book to find the central issue – (12:13–14) Keep this conclusion as your focal point as you drive those windy roads of Ecclesiastes!

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 4

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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4. Areas for special attention

So let’s try and get down to nuts and bolts. What practical steps can we take to try and improve our preaching of wisdom literature?

1. Beware of self-improvement. It is all too easy to focus on the fact that Job ended up with more stuff at the end of the story than he had when it started, or to preach Proverbs 22:4 in such a way that we motivate our listeners with the prospect of material blessings now, rather than the glorious treasure that awaits us when Christ appears. It’s true, wisdom literature seems at times to focus on material blessings in this life, but I think there is more going on here – and more on that later.

2. Beware of making promises out of proverbs. Yesterday, I mentioned the example of Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”), we need to teach this in a way which both understands and communicates that proverbs are generally true, they not promises. This proverb is saying that if 100 sets of parents train their children up in the gospel, more will become followers of Christ than won’t, but this is not a promise that 100% will. Wisdom literature often provides us with general truths, not promises to be claimed.

3. Preach thought units. In his excellent book “Preaching With Variety”, Jeffrey Arthurs points out that Proverbs are often grouped together, though the connection between them can be quite subtle and not always obvious. Look hard, reflect, pray to identify those units of thought. And don’t be afraid to use a good commentary. Arthurs also suggests taking a more thematic approach to Proverbs, where you can draw together a few proverbs on the same theme (laziness, alcohol, parenting, old-age and youth) from different parts of the book. Also, there’s nothing wrong with simply preaching a whole sermon on one proverb.

In other wisdom books, the units of thought are often much larger. I’ve heard of someone preaching through Job a verse a week, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

We will complete this list next time . . .

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