The author explains and expounds that the central focus of every Old Testament narrative is theocentric, which means that in “all our reading we should keep our eye on God – what he is revealing about himself and how he is working.” Davis wraps the book together by giving the reader an opportunity to walk with him through Exodus 1 and 2, applying all that they have learned.
The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts, Dale Ralph Davis
Many people seem to be intimidated and unsettled by the Old Testament. Even among Christians most plainly avoid reading it all the way through. They may glance at little snippets here and there; refer back to it when reading some text from the New Testament that mentions an Old Testament passage; or paste a heartwarming verse from Joshua, the Psalms or one of the prophets on their wall plaques. But truth be told, most Christians find the Old Testament, and especially the narratives, perplexing. And so do many preachers.
Ask yourself two questions: (1) when was the last time you heard a sermon series or Sunday School series that walked the congregation through an Old Testament book? And (2) on balance, which portion of the Bible gets more press coverage in your congregation? And yet, if the Apostle Paul could boldly claim, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15.4), and even if our Lord Jesus, after his resurrection, could unashamedly begin “with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24.27; see also 24.44-47), then surely the Old Testament is the friend of Christ’s people and Christ’s preachers.
That is where Dale Ralph Davis, Minister in Residence at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and former Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., comes to our rescue with his 154 page paperback, The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts.
The Word Became Fresh has one central aim: helping the preacher to practice and preach properly the Old Testament, “These pages therefore focus on the proper interpretation of Old Testament narratives in preparation for preaching” (i). The author carefully, humorously, and engagingly walks the reader through various aspects necessary in rightly reading the Old Testament. Each chapter is chock full of samplings and demonstrations that can be easily grasped and quickly become highly devotional.
In the nine chapters of the book, Davis covers solid material. At the outset he looks into how we should approach our study of the Old Testament (or any of Scriptures-texts) as “beggars for the Spirit’s help” (2). He then guides us along showing the reader how and why to be alert to the literary quirks of a narrative passage. Next he slides us into seeing the theology of passages, the stuff that it says and means “about God, his ways and his works” (31). The way a story is packaged, how its organization “and packaging reveal care and thoughtfulness about the whole ordeal” (45) is addressed in the fourth chapter.
Davis then boldly goes where most preachers hate to go, diving into the “nasties” of the Old Testament; those passages that make readers, preachers and teachers cringe. The author, next, shows the value of looking at the “macroscope” of a narrative, where it fits within the flow of the Old Testament book in which it resides. Following this, Davis shows how passages are and aren’t to be applied in preaching (something he has actually been exhibiting all along in the book).
Then the author explains and expounds that the central focus of every Old Testament narrative is theocentric, which means that in “all our reading we should keep our eye on God – what he is revealing about himself and how he is working” (121). Finally, Davis wraps the book together by giving the reader an opportunity to walk with him through Exodus 1 and 2, applying all that they have learned.
In the book Davis does take sides on a few of the debates simmering among the “Reformed,” but he does so charitably and without getting tangled up in the fishing net. And I must say that every piece of the hermeneutical pie Davis has baked is delectable and digestible.
Now please don’t let the subtitle of the book fool you. Though Davis is trying to encourage and help preachers to take the bold plunge into the Old Testament and preach it, nevertheless the material between the covers of The Word Became Fresh is beneficial to Bible class teachers, moms, dads, camp counselors, prisoners, school teachers, headmasters, professors, and street maintenance workers.
As a matter of fact, I found the whole book devotional. If a reader didn’t have time to indulge in a specific chapter at one sitting, it would be easy to imbibe in one chapter section at a time. For example, Chapter Three, “Theology,” covers Genesis 12, Genesis 23, Genesis 26, and Genesis 29:31-30:24. The reader could easily take each of these passages and segments one day at a time: read the Bible passage being covered, then Davis’s comments on it in the book, and finally take a moment to praise God for what you have just learned, or pray that God might make what you have just studied alive in your heart and awash in your day. Then on the following morning pick up the next passage and book section, doing this all the way to the end of the book. It will be time well invested.
The Word Became Fresh is a clear, concise and accommodating manual for anyone wanting to come to the Old Testament and benefit from it. This would be a nice gift for your preacher and it would be a valuable addition to your own library. I even think it could be used in an adult Bible class, and covered in one quarter. I first read this work in 2007, and was delighted to be refreshed by a second read, now some seven years later. I eagerly recommend this book.
Dr. Michael Philliber is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as Associate Pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Okla. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.