I am convinced that when the historical backdrop is truly understood, most narrative texts require very little interpretation. When the historical situation is understood, when the people of God’s situation is unpacked, most narrative meaning almost “falls out” with very little effort on the part of the preacher simply by reading the text closely.
Of course, understanding that context and historical setting takes some hard work and some tactical work and organization for maximum impact, but still, once the congregation understands the historical context, they can easily interpret most texts and the preacher’s job is made much easier.
Today I preached from Nehemiah 1:1-11. Took about 15 minutes to explain the historical context of Ezra-Nehemiah-Esther and Zechariah, Malachi. Placed those five books in their historical situation and moved on to the exposition of chapter 1. Primary focus was Nehemiah’s prayer. Specifically, his approach to God and what I see as three results of that approach.
- He Approaches God with Reverence and Awe. (1:5-6a)
- Which leads (always) to a confession of individual and corporate sin. (1:6b-7)
- Which makes him yearn for and remember God’s promises and power. (1:8-10)
- Which produces a humble boldness in his heart [humility toward God and boldness toward the king he serves.] (1:11)
Oh how we need such prayers (long “a”) in our congregations today.
“Change us oh God and make us like Nehemiah, who reminded his heart of Your greatness and power in a time of national crisis, confessing his sin and his nation’s sin, yearning for Your goodness and promises to be fulfilled and was made by that process a bold and effective servant of You. Make us like him Lord, for Your glory and the joy of all people.”