The work of the preacher in preparing a sermon must include an appreciation of the type of literature. In scripture there are narrative or historical accounts, parables, prophecy, teaching, and poetry. The starting point in analysis is exegesis, the explanation or interpretation of the text. Studying and preaching from poetic passages requires an understanding of the purpose and context of the passage. The bulk of this type of literature is in the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. There are also poetic passages in other books in the Old Testament.
Poetry is often an outflow of observation and emotion. It may be personal, could be prophetic, might be about life in general, or hymns for the nation of Israel. The book of Job is both poetic and narrative whereas Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are wisdom literature. There are parts that contain doctrine but other sections that only deal with human emotion and philosophy. The Holy Spirit inspired the author of the book of Job to include the false teaching of Job’s “friends.”
Proverbs for example, contains proverbial wisdom, not every statement is an absolute. Proverbs 22:3 says, “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.” This not an absolute as many prudent people have suffered setbacks in life. Consider also 22:6: many people look at this verse as a promise that children trained in godliness will accept Christ as their Savior and live for Him. This verse too is proverbial; it merely states a principle that is neither a promise nor an absolute.
The book of Ecclesiastes is human wisdom, that is, Solomon looking at life under the sun apart from God. In his search, Solomon is looking for a purpose for living and he concludes all is vanity. His summation in 12:13, 14 is not the gospel, but his recognition that God is involved with humankind. The fact that man is answerable to Him gives purpose to life.
Some of the Psalms are imprecatory (such as 58, 69, 83, 109, and 137), that is they call for vengeance on enemies. The word “imprecatory” means, “to pray evil against” so the expositor must wrestle with the seeming contradiction with the command to love our enemies.
Other Psalms are termed “Messianic” as they look to the person and work of Christ, seeing the cross or the crown. Psalms 2, 45, and 72 look to the future reign of Christ. Others such as, Psalms 22, 69, and 102 look to the sufferings and death of Christ. Many of these Psalms are quoted in the New Testament as finding fulfillment in Christ.
An Example of Preaching from a Psalm
Psalm 100: A Psalm of Thanksgiving
Context: This is the last in a series of seven “coronation” Psalms, 93, 95-100. All of these psalms anticipate the coming reign of Christ. This is the only psalm called “a psalm of thanksgiving.”
Though not written to us the psalm does reveal the cause and content of a thankful heart.
Exposition: He is God (vv.1-3).
What we know and how that knowledge should affect our walk and our worship. We shout with joy, serve with gladness, and sing with understanding.
What we are—servants of the Lord and sheep of His pasture—He is Sovereign and Shepherd
He is Good or His Greatness and His Goodness (vv. 4, 5)
Our approach, to apprehend and to appreciate His character.
We praise His name, are thankful to Him, worship His Person—praise and thanksgiving are integral parts of worship. Worship goes further—to bless His name because He is good.
Interpretation: The Psalm belongs to Israel and speaks of how the people should come into the temple. They were to be joyful and thankful, but with reverence and respect. The psalm anticipates the future reign of Christ in a day when He will be in the temple.
Application: We do not have a physical temple but we do come before the Lord both individually and corporately. The following should characterize us—joy, gladness, thanksgiving, worship, and understanding. We of all people should appreciate His goodness, mercy and truth and respond in an appropriate manner.
An Example from Job
Job 23:1-17: Confidence in Adversity
Context: Job in his suffering is responding to his friends’ constant attacks on his integrity. Job also lacks insight but he progresses in his appreciation of God’s hand in his life. Several times through the book, Job expresses his desire to have a conversation with God.
Complaint (vv. 1-7): In the midst of his suffering Job laments that there is no way to have a conference with God. There was no format to state his case and have God take note of Job’s situation.
Confidence (vv. 8-12): Job is certain that God is present, though unseen, God knows Job’s circumstances. He is also convinced that God has a purpose, is at work in Job’s life, and that his current suffering is working for good.
As a result, Job stresses the fact that his testimony is sure, just as is his trust in scripture. The present circumstances have not altered his walk or the value of the Word in his life.
Conclusion (vv. 13-17): God is unique and can do whatever He desires and He is sovereign. However, Job is affected, he has emotions, he is human and he is in awe of God.
Interpretation: This belongs to a different time and Job did not have the full revelation of Scripture—He did know that God was at work in the midst of suffering, that there was a refining process taking place in his life. In these circumstances, he gives emphasis to his walk and obedience to the Word. He is also honest with his feelings and in expressing his view of God.
Application: Job’s conclusions are valid for us and serve as an illustration of both the purpose of suffering and a proper perspective of the outcome. The New Testament, in Romans 5, James 1, and 1 Peter 1, gives a perspective on suffering and God’s purposes. Job’s conclusions and resolve should be true of us. God is present and at work, in the midst of trying circumstances we need to guard our testimony and rest on the truth of God’s Word.
The poetic books are a continual source of comfort, counsel, and contemplation for God’s people. There is a need for sound exposition both for understanding and for application to everyday life. The danger for the expositor is to make the application the interpretation, to take an allegorical approach over a literal one. The type of literature and the context of the passage, which includes the purpose for writing, are of extreme importance.
by Gary McBride