Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of Proverbs, Part 1 -- By: Bruce K. Waltke

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 165:657 (Jan 2008)
Article: Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of Proverbs, Part 1
Author: Bruce K. Waltke


Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of Proverbs, Part 1*

Bruce K. Waltke

Bruce K. Waltke is Professor of Old Testament,
Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida.

* This is the first article in a four-part series, delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectureship at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 6-9, 2007.

Promise For And Difficulties In Preaching Proverbs

In a world bombarded by inane clichés, trivial catchwords, and godless sound bites, the expression of true wisdom is in short supply today. The church stands alone as the receptacle and repository of the inspired traditions that carry a mandate for a holy life from ancient sages. As the course and bulk of biblical wisdom, the Book of Proverbs remains the model of a curriculum for humanity to learn how to live under God and before humankind. As a result it beckons the church to diligent study and application. To uncommitted youth it serves as a stumbling stone, but to committed youth it is a foundation stone.

But Proverbs is a briar patch for its expositors. One student confessed that before taking a course on Proverbs he thought some proverbs and sayings were banal and others wrong. For sober theologians the book’s heavenly promises of health, wealth, and prosperity seem detached from reality. Some proverbs seem to contradict each other: “Do not answer fools according to their folly” (26:4) is followed by, “Answer fools according to their folly” (v. 5).1 More-over, whereas the Book of Proverbs affirms a righteous order, the books of Job and Ecclesiastes deny that reality. How does a preacher preach what seems banal, wrong, or contradictory?

The book seems to be a hodgepodge collection with no rhyme or reason in its grouping of sayings. They jump from one topic to another like scatterbrains in a living-room conversation. Nevertheless from such an apparent mishmash the expositor is expected to prepare a logically developed and emotionally escalating sermon. No wonder expositors are hesitant to touch the book.

Three Types Of Sermons

Preachers of Proverbs can justly and profitably employ the three most common sermonic forms: textual, topical, and expository. In textual preaching the preacher devotes his entire message to preaching one proverb. This is feasible and is arguably a form of expository preaching because each proverb has a distinct message.

In topical preaching the preacher designs his own message, consistent with the book’s teachings,...

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