3 Principles for Preaching the Pentateuch

from Apr 10, 2013 Category: Articles

As a follow-up to my earlier “4 Reasons We Must Preach the Pentateuch,” let me offer some guidance on how we as preachers can do this.

1. Preach Expositionally

First, we should preach expositionally, that is, through entire books of the Pentateuch, chapter by chapter, verse by verse. Too many preachers “cherry pick” texts, leaving their congregations’ spiritual diets to the whims of their feelings week in and week out. Although he was not an expositional preacher in the sense I am advocating, Charles Haddon Spurgeon described what we need to be doing: simply opening our Bibles and letting the Holy Spirit do His work as we would unleash a lion, letting it do what it wishes. Our people need to hear the stories of Genesis, such as the creation, Adam’s sin, Noah and the flood, Abram’s calling, Jacob’s wrestling, and Joseph’s preserving of Israel, as well as the seemingly unpreachable genealogy of Esau (Genesis 36) and the sexual deviancy of the Judah and Tamar story (Genesis 38). Our people need to hear the stories of Exodus, such as Moses’ preservation in the Nile, his calling at the burning bush, the plagues, the Ten Commandments, and the tabernacle, as well as the seemingly random laws in the so-called “Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 21–23). These are just the tip of the iceberg.

2. Preach Plainly

Second, we should preach “plainly.” The language of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 and Colossians 4:4 became the rallying cry of the Puritan “plain style” of preaching in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, emphasizing plainness of speech and method. In a nutshell, every sermon revolved around two main points: doctrine and use, or, in our terminology, exposition and application.

To preach the Pentateuch plainly is first to preach doctrine. The texts of the Pentateuch are the fertile ground from which the prophets and Apostles reaped their doctrine. Therefore, when you preach on Genesis 1, preach on the doctrine of creation; when you preach on Genesis 2, preach on the Sabbath; when you preach on the flood narrative in Genesis 6–9, preach on divine justice and mercy; when you preach on Abram’s call in Genesis 12, preach on election and effectual calling; when you preach on Abram’s faith in Genesis 15, preach on justification sola fide. The examples of doctrines from the texts of the Pentateuch are too numerous to mention.

To preach the Pentateuch plainly means to preach the application and use of the text. We need to tell our people the “what” of the passage as well as the “so what?” The Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God called this “bring[ing] it home to special use, by application to his hearers.” This is one area in which we as Reformed preachers can be weak, to be honest. The Westminster Directory admits that application will “prove a work of great difficulty to [the preacher], requiring much prudence, zeal, and meditation.” To preach, a minister must have a consideration of those to whom he preaches. It takes time to develop this skill because it takes time to get to know yourself, as well as your sheep and their needs, worries, problems, and fears.

Why is it so important that your people understand the holiness and justice of God in the plague narrative of Exodus? What do you want your people to do in response to the providence of God in the Joseph narrative? You cannot merely feed your ignorant, helpless, and oftentimes fearful sheep the meat of the Word; you need to tell them why it is good for them, why they need to eat it, and how they need to eat it.

3. Preach Christologically

At the end of The Arte of Prophecying, William Perkins stated “The Summe of the Summe” of preaching in these words: “Preach one Christ by Christ to the praise of Christ.” We should proclaim Christ as the eternal wisdom of the Father through whom the universe was made from Genesis 1, proclaim Him as the Savior from judgment in the flood narrative, proclaim Him as the judge of the living and the dead in the plague narratives in Exodus, and proclaim His active and passive obedience in the laws and regulations of the Book of the Covenant and the tabernacle narratives.

In saying this, let me add that you are not merely to preach about Christ, but you are to preach Christ as His voice to your congregation. You want people to hear His living voice near them in your voice and not merely as a distant echo. I do this by preaching with passion and urgency, and by speaking often in the first person. This is humbling and frightening. But if Paul says, “who shall believe in him whom they have never heard” (Rom. 10:14, emphasis added), and if preaching is not the word of men but the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13), then your voice is the viva vox, the living voice of the Lord. Therefore, preach Christ to unbelievers, calling them to repentance and faith; preach Christ to doubting believers, assuring their hearts of His love; preach Christ to strong believers, calling them to persevere and continue in a living faith; and preach Christ to wayward, lazy, and backsliding members, calling them to grasp the privileges they have and to enter into them through godly sorrow and true, not only historical, faith.

The Pentateuch must be preached, for it is the Word of God. The Pentateuch needs to be preached, for it contains food for our hungry people’s souls. Finally, we should desire to preach the Pentateuch, as it leads us and our people by the hand to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and our amazing life in Him.

This blog post has been adapted from Daniel Hyde’s book, God in Our Midst.