Theology on the Web helps over 2.5 million people every year to find high quality theological resources that will help to equip them to serve God and to know Him better (2 Timothy 2:15). Like other websites that provide free services, it is dependent on donations to enable it to grow and develop and only 0.004% of visitors currently do so. If you would like to support this site, please use one of the options to the right of this message.

Bibliotheca Sacra 154: 616 (1997): 410-435.
[Reproduced by permission]

[Steven D. Mathewson is Pastor, Dry Creek Bible Church, Belgrade, Montana, and Instructor of Biblical Languages, Montana Bible College, Bozeman, Montana.]

Old Testament narrative literature offers a genre well suited to the preaching task. The reason is simple: People like stories. Whether a western by Louis L'Amour, a murder mystery by Agatha Christie, the musings of Garrison Keillor, a novel by John Steinbeck, or a yarn spun by a grandfather, a story can captivate its audience. According to Holbert this phenomenon occurs in preaching.

"They always remember the stories." So goes the talk among preachers as they recount their experiences of preaching to young and old; rich and poor; and black, white, red, yellow, and brown. It is the stories, the anecdotes, the jokes, the biographical and autobiographical tales, the rabbinic midrashim, the newspaper snippets, and the recountings of triumphs and tragedies that people remember.[1]

Old Testament narratives, then, seem to provide an ideal fare for audiences who crave stories.

Unfortunately, though, preaching from Old Testament narratives resembles playing the saxophone: it is easy to do poorly.[2] One contributing factor is a deficient theology that neglects the Old Testament as a source of Bible exposition and relegates it merely to illustrative material.[3] But most difficulties stem from


a deficient methodology.

The best of Western seminaries and theological colleges reinforce the cultural bent toward the abstract and fill students' heads with the importance of grammatical, lexicographical exegesis. Such exegesis is, of course, of enormous importance. But in students who do not have a feel for literature, it can have the unwitting effect of so focusing on the tree…that the entire forest remains unseen, except perhaps as a vague and ominous challenge.[4]

The other side of the problem pertains to homiletics. Some preachers have adopted a style of exposition that is not conducive to preaching Old Testament narratives. As Wardlaw explains, "When preachers feel they have not preached a passage of Scripture unless they have dissected and rearranged that Word into a lawyer's brief, they in reality make the Word of God subservient to one particular, technical kind of reason."[5] Similarly Craddock wants preachers to ask "why the Gospel should always be impaled upon the frame of Aristotelian logic" when a form, such as narrative, dictates otherwise.[6]

The purpose of this article is to offer guidelines for understanding and proclaiming Old Testament narrative literature. Since Alter's seminal work, The Art of Biblical Narrative, appeared in 1981, scholars such as Shimon Bar-Efrat, Adele Berlin, and Meir Sternberg have issued a steady stream of material on Old Testament narrative.[7] Several Christian scholars have explored the hermeneutical side of preaching Old Testament


narratives, but they have offered relatively little help on the homiletical aspects of the task.(8) In response to this imbalance the present study presents both hermeneutical and homiletical guidelines for proclaiming Old Testament narrative literature effectively.

Hermeneutical Guidelines

The following hermeneutical guidelines can help exegetes recapture the "mode of perception that was second nature to the original audiences."[9]

Interact with a Story's Literary Art to Determine Its Meaning

The quest for a narrative's meaning thrusts the interpreter into the world of literary analysis.[10] Alter states:

The biblical authors are of course constantly, urgently conscious of telling a story in order to reveal the imperative truth of God's works in history and of Israel's hopes and failings. Close attention to the literary strategies through which that truth was expressed may actually help us to understand it better, enable us to see the minute elements of complicating design in the Bible's sacred history.[11]

As Osborne points out, "There is no reason why history and literary artistry cannot exist side-by-side."[12]

The literary art of a story deserves an interpreter's notice because literary artistry is not an end in itself, but a means to understanding the theological point of a narrative.[13] Stek writes, "The test is not whether literary analysis contributes to aesthetic appreciation (though that may be a significant by-product) but whether it advances understanding. Does it sharpen the ear and


eye to the author's intentions?"[14] Long observes that the "artistic tendencies" of the narrators "were not given free rein, however, but were disciplined by the larger theological purposes which governed the writers' work."[15] Berlin, who uses the expression "poetics" to describe literary artistry, writes, "Poetics makes us aware of how texts achieve their meaning. Poetics aids interpretation. If we know how texts mean, we are in a better position to discover what a particular text means."[16]

However, Old Testament narratives do more than make theological points. They attempt to persuade.[17] Patrick and Scult argue that "the Bible's main form of exposition, the narrative, is most appropriately characterized as primary rhetoric, its primary objective being to persuade its audience."[18]

Bible expositors, then, must prepare to interact with the literary features of the text in order to discover a story's theological point. The following guidelines focus on the main literary features an exegete must pursue.

Follow the Plot Development and Shape

According to Bar-Efrat a narrative's plot consists of "a meaningful chain of interconnected events."[19] Gunn and Fewell comment, "Plot is the organizing force or principle through which narrative meaning is communicated. There must be events for there to be story; not random events but events that are connected, events that have design, that form a pattern—events that are 'plotted.'"[20]

Tracking the plot is important because "the plot serves to organize events in such a way as to arouse the reader's interest and


emotional involvement, while at the same time imbuing the events with meaning."[21] Plots in Old Testament narrative assume the same basic shape. These plots build on a conflict or a collision between two forces.[22] "No ignorance, no conflict; and no conflict, no plot."[23] Generally interpreters should look for the plot to unfold in this pattern:

1. Background (exposition)

2. Crisis (complication)

3. Resolution

4. Conclusion (denouement) such as to inspire or inform.[24]

At the beginning of a story, the background or exposition supplies the details needed for understanding the story. It introduces the characters, giving their names, traits, physical appearance, position in life, and relationships among them.[25] It may also describe the geographical or historical setting. "In general no information is included in the exposition which does not have a definite function in the development of action."[26] For example in the Judah-Tamar story of Genesis 38, verses 1-6 function as background or exposition, introducing the geographical setting ("went down…Adullam") and the characters who play a part in the plot (Judah, his sons, and Tamar). This information, which shows Judah making a break with his brothers and establishing relationships with the Canaanites, tips off the reader that Judah is not walking in fellowship with Yahweh.[27] In the Book of Esther, chapters 1-2 serve as background. To understand the story of Esther, a reader must grasp King Xerxes' anger and compulsive behavior, Esther's secret nationality, and Mordecai's uncovering of an assassination plot. According to Esther 2:23, Mordecai's heroic deed was recorded in official court records. This information becomes crucial in the events recorded in Esther 6.


After the background the plot moves into the crisis or complication. Bar-Efrat recognizes that this is the climax of a story.[28] In Genesis 38, verses 7-24 present the crisis. Actually two crises are present. First, in verses 7-11 Yahweh put two of Judah's sons, Er and Onan, to death. Tamar, Er's wife, was left as a childless widow when Judah refused to give his third son, Shelah, to her in keeping with the custom of levirate marriage. Rather than moving quickly to a resolution, verses 12-24 build toward another crisis that flares up in verse 24 .[29] There Judah discovered Tamar's pregnancy and sentenced her to burning. In the Book of Esther the crisis occurs in chapters 3-4 , which record Haman's plot to destroy the Jews.[30]

From the climax of conflict, the plot descends rapidly to the resolution of the tension. In Genesis 38 the resolution occurs in verses 25-26 when Tamar produced the objects that indict Judah as the man who impregnated her. Judah then pronounced her more righteous than himself. In the Book of Esther the resolution occurs in 5:1-9:19 as (a) Mordecai received the honor Haman intended for himself, (b) Haman received the hanging he intended for Mordecai, and (c) the Jews triumphed over their enemies.

Stories end in a conclusion or denouement. Some scholars lump this together with the resolution. But some stories' conclusions develop the consequences of this resolution for the principal characters. Esther 9:20-10:3 certainly illustrates this point. Less certain is whether Genesis 38:27-30 functions as a separate conclusion or is part of the resolution.

According to Bar-Efrat the conclusion in many biblical narratives is clearly marked, often by someone who returns home or leaves for another destination.[31]

Ryken also notes that the movement of a plot may take either a comic or a tragic direction. A comedy is a "U-shaped story that begins in prosperity, descends into tragedy, and rises again to


end happily."[32] Old Testament narratives with comic structure include the Book of Esther, the Book of Ruth, and Genesis 38. A tragedy, on the other hand, is "the story of exceptional calamity. It portrays a movement from prosperity to catastrophe."[33] Tragedies in the Old Testament include the stories of Esau in Genesis 25-27 , Samson in Judges 13-16 , and Saul in 1 Samuel 8-31.

Observe the Pace At Which the Story Unfolds

While tracking the plot, an interpreter should observe the pace at which a narrative unfolds. Literary scholars differentiate between "narration time" and "narrated time." Narration time refers to "objective time outside" the narrative, while narrated time refers to "literary time inside it."[34] In other words narration time equals the time required for telling or reading the narrative, and narrated time consists of the time within a narrative. Narrated time is subject to gaps, delays, acceleration, and even movement in different directions.[35]

Apart from its role within the narrative itself, such as providing emphases or implying connections between separate incidents, narrated time can fulfil direct functions for the reader, such as creating suspense or determining attitudes…. Since the decision as to what to include and what to omit, what to convey rapidly and on what to dwell at length, is closely bound up with the importance of the various subjects, the character of time as it is shaped within the narrative will be of great value in any attempt to analyze and interpret the narrative.[36]

In the Judah-Tamar story verses 1-11 move rapidly to lay the groundwork for subsequent events.[37]

Genesis 38 begins with Judah fathering three sons, one after another, recorded in breathless pace. Here, as at other points in the episode, nothing is allowed to detract our focused attention from the primary, problematic subject of the proper channel for the


seed…. In a triad of verbs that admits nothing adventitious, Judah sees, takes, lies with a woman; and she, responding appropriately, conceived, bears and…gives the son a name. Then, with no narrative indication of any events at all in the intervening time, we move ahead an entire generation to the inexplicable death…of Er, Judah's firstborn, after his marriage to Tamar.[38]

After Genesis 38:12 signals a sizable time gap ("Now after a considerable time," lit., "the days became many"), the action slows down as it enters the heart of the story. Verses 12-23 linger on Judah's sexual liaison with the disguised Tamar and his unsuccessful attempt to make payment. Then the action accelerates again in verse 24 . While the quick pace in verses 1-11 presented background information, the return to a pace in verse 24 enables the narrative to proceed "quickly to its dramatic climax."[39]

Alter points out that verbs tend to dominate "biblical narration of the essential," and so, "at intervals we encounter sudden dense concentrations or unbroken chains of verbs, usually attached to a single subject, which indicate some particular intensity, rapidity, or a single-minded purposefulness of activity."[40] For example Genesis 22:9-11 piles up action verbs, forcing the reader to agonize with Abraham as he builds the altar, arranges the wood, ties up his son Isaac, lays him on the alter, reaches out and takes the knife, and prepares to kill Isaac.

Earlier in Genesis 22 the narrator suspends the action as he relates God's instructions to Abraham. Four phrases slow down the narrated time. With each phrase, the tension builds as the specificity increases. God said, "Take your son…the only son you have…the one you love…Isaac" (Gen 22:2a, author's trans.).

Focus on the Dialogue Embedded in the Story

Stories often focus on statements made by the characters. Alter speaks of "the highly subsidiary role of narration in comparison to direct speech by the characters."[41] The story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 contains more speech than narrative. "The action does not take very long. As is characteristic of Israel's narrative art, the speeches are of more interest and importance than the action."[42] While speech dominates, interpreters should expect it to be compressed. "Conversations in biblical narrative


are never precise and naturalistic imitations of real-life conversations. They are highly concentrated and stylized, are devoid of idle chatter, and all the details they contain are carefully calculated to fulfill a clear function."[43]

Statements made by characters provide insight into their traits. Esau's blunt request for stew in Genesis 25:30 portrays him as a man controlled by his cravings. On the other hand Uriah's refusal of King David's offer of a night at home during a heated battle (2 Sam 11:11) pictures Uriah as a man of honor.

But even more significantly, conversation points to meaning. "Dialogue is made to carry a large part of the freight of meaning."[44] Joseph's statement in Genesis 50:20 summarizes the entire Joseph cycle, as well as the immediate story in Genesis 49:29-50:26 . Similarly statements by David in 1 Samuel 17:34-37, 45-47 provide the key to the meaning of his defeat of Goliath, while Abigail's impassioned speech in 1 Samuel 25:24-31 moves the reader toward the theme of vengeance belonging to God.

Two more features of speech deserve attention. First, direct speech set in formal verse often has a summarizing or ceremonial function, such as Hannah's speech in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Adam's outburst in Genesis 2:23.[45] Second, in "contrastive dialogue" the contrasting speech of two characters accomplishes "differentiation," that is, a contrast between ideas or concepts.[46] As examples Alter cites "Esau's inarticulate outbursts over against Jacob's calculated legalisms in the selling of the birthright (Gen 25); Joseph's long-winded statement of morally aghast refusal over against the two-word sexual bluntness of Potiphar's wife (Gen 39); [and] Saul's choked cry after David's impassioned speech outside the cave at Ein Gedi (1 Sam 24)."[47]

Give Attention to the Development of Characters

"Every story has a central character. This is simply one of the principles of selectivity and emphasis [employed by] storytellers."[48] Literary scholars identify the following character types: protagonists (central characters), antagonists (forces arrayed against the central characters), and foils (characters who heighten the central character by providing a contrast or


occasionally a parallel).[49] The David story offers a prime example of some of the possible combinations of characterization. Beginning in 1 Samuel 16, David emerges as the protagonist, while Saul functions both as an antagonist and as a foil.[50] Thus in 1 Samuel 17 the conflict is David versus Saul rather than David versus Goliath. While there was a contest at one level between David and Goliath, Goliath provided the "challenge" that revealed the character of both David and Saul. Israel's future and present kings responded differently, revealing their fitness or lack of it to serve as Israel's king.[51] In 1 Samuel 25 David remained the protagonist, while Nabal functioned as the antagonist who opposed David, and Abigail served as the foil, contrasting David's thirst for retaliation with her discerning plea to let God execute vengeance. David changed so that by the end of the episode he shared the same conviction as Abigail.

Interpreters must do more than label the characters, though. Interpreters must go through the story as a "traveling companion of the protagonist" and view this protagonist as "someone who undertakes an experiment in living."[52] "If we can see our own experience in the events and characters of the story, the story has captured something universal about life."[53]

A variety of conventions contribute to the shaping of characters. The designations or names of characters reflect their nature, whether real or perceived. For instance a designation may betray how one character is perceived by other characters.[54] Genesis 21:9 betrays Sarah's resentment when it withholds Ishmael's name and says, "Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham." David reflected his attitude toward Goliath by calling him an "uncircumcised Philistine" (1 Sam 17:26). And 2 Samuel 11:1-5 betrays David's attitude toward


Bathsheba by mentioning her as "a/the woman," both before and after her name had been given.[55]

On the other hand, suggests Sternberg, "a character's emergence from anonymity may correlate with a rise in importance. It is no accident that the text [1 Sam 16:1-13] consistently withholds David's name…till the very moment of anointment and elevation."[56]

Names can contribute to the author's intent by giving opportunity for forming puns, creating irony, or highlighting character qualities. Stek shows the significance of the names in the Judges 4 account of the defeat of Sisera, the cruel Canaanite commander.[57] Ironically the Israelite warrior, "lightning" (the meaning of "Barak"), remains passive, doubtful, and silent. The glory went to two faithful and fearless women: "bee" (the meaning of "Deborah") and "mountain goat" (the meaning of "Jael"). Deborah, the bee, dispensed her sweet justice under a honey tree and kept prodding (stinging?) Barak to pursue Sisera. Jael, the mountain goat, provided the fleeing Sisera with nourishing milk and then stabbed him when he lay down to rest. As a result, peace was restored to the Promised Land of milk and honey.

In Genesis 21:1-7 Sarah's laughter of joy at her son's birth replaced her laughter of disbelief (18:12 ). God, of course, got the last laugh when Abraham followed God's command (17:19 ) and named the boy "Isaac," which means "laughter." The delightful pun highlights God's faithfulness to accomplish promises even when He seems to be slow in doing it.

The names in the Book of Ruth contribute to the story as well. Certainly there is irony when "My God is King" ("Elimelech") flees that king's territory because of a famine.[58] If the names "Mahlon" and "Chilion" mean "sickly" and "failing," they serve to foreshadow the early demise of these men as well as to highlight the severe effects of the famine on Elimelech and his wife Naomi.[59] Naomi, whose name means "pleasant one," demonstrates the irony of her name when she responded angrily to the women of Bethlehem who called out her name when she returned.[60] Ruth 1:20 may be translated, "But she said to them: 'Do not call me Pleasant one. Call me Bitter one because


Shaddai has made me extremely bitter.'"[61] Even more intriguing is the expression used in Ruth 4:1 by Boaz in reference to a potential kinsman-redeemer. Boaz addressed him with the Hebrew expression ("certain one"). Hubbard captures the intention of this expression by translating verse 1 this way: "Boaz hailed him: 'Come over here and sit down, Mr. So and So!'"[6](62) This odd expression "serves a literary, not a historical, purpose. Perhaps the spotlight cast on the man's namelessness implied judgment: the one who refused to raise a name over the inheritance of his deceased kin deserves no name in the story."[63]

Often, though, a character's actions provide the main insight into his or her nature.

People's actions in daily life are hardly mentioned at all in biblical narrative, and we do not usually hear about the minutiae of their day-to-day routine. We meet the biblical characters primarily in special and unusual circumstances, in times of crisis and stress, when they have to undergo severe tests.[64]

Consider the Significance of Descriptive Details

Old Testament narratives are also marked by a spare style. "Biblical stories are told leanly and economically, with a minimum of detail."[65]Alter refers to the "rigorous economy of biblical narrative," which is different from the "Greek tendency to narrative specification…that modern literary practice has by and large adopted."[66] In other words writers of Old Testament narrative do not paint scenes or describe characters as do writers such as Charles Dickens or John Grisham. As Sternberg suggests, elaborate descriptions "perform no other role than realistic fullness."[67] But this is not the Bible's concern, according to Bar-Efrat.

The absence of depictions in biblical narrative is connected with the tension which exists in a work of literature between the categories of time and space…. [N]arration time continues when a more or less detailed description of places or scenes is given, while narrated time comes to a standstill. By stopping narrated time a


static element is introduced, and this is incompatible with the dynamic and vigorous nature of biblical narrative. The biblical narrative is wholly devoted to creating a sense of time which flows continually and rapidly, and this is inevitably achieved at the expense of the shaping of space. Because space is fundamentally static and unchanging it is an alien element in biblical narrative.[68]

Therefore every detail in biblical narrative merits attention. In most cases, Sternberg suggests, "epithet prefigures drama."[69] The descriptions in Judges 3:15-17 of Ehud as "left-handed" and Eglon as "fat" prepare the reader for Ehud's successful attempt to sneak an undetected sword (because it was strapped to the side of his body opposite that of most men) into Eglon's quarters and assassinate him. The reference to Joseph's good looks in Genesis 39:6 explains the sexual advance made by Potiphar's wife. The description of Esau as a "hairy man" (Gen 27:11; cf. 25:25 ) helps readers appreciate the effort to which Jacob went when he disguised himself as his brother Esau.

Notice How the Story Uses the Technique of Repetition

Whereas English prose eschews repetition, so that we are constantly looking for synonyms as we write, ancient Hebrew prose enjoys it. The verbatim repetition of a word, phrase, sentence, or set of sentences, or even the recurrence of words falling into the same semantic range can function to structure the story, to create atmosphere, to construct a theme or character, to emphasize a certain point to the reader, or to build suspense.[70]

Sternberg, though, warns that "the frequency of repetition in the Bible, by modern standards, is liable to blind us to the fact that the narrator actually forgoes the device much more often than he employs it."[71] However, Sternberg also recognizes that this "weight of abstention confers perceptibility and significance on the favored minority."[72] In other words Hebrew narrative uses repetition economically, reserving it for those times when it is needed to make a significant rhetorical effect.[73]


Where does repetition occur? Sometimes a command or prophecy is cited at one point and then "closely followed by its verbatim fulfillment."[74] For example Joshua 6:20 describes the Israelite conquest of Jericho by repeating the terms God used in issuing the command in Joshua 6:5. This kind of repetition highlights the people's precise obedience, indicating "that everything happens exactly as God commanded."[75] Meanwhile, "special attention should be paid to the differences which often exist between the first and second versions, such as addition, omission, expansion, summarization, changed order, and substitution."[76] A classic example is the dialogue between Eve and the serpent in Genesis 3:1-3 in which God's original command (2:16-17 ) is distorted by the serpent and expanded by the woman.

Repetition may also occur by means of a key word (leitwort).[77] David's response to Absalom's death is an example: "The poet-king, who elsewhere responds to the report of deaths with eloquent elegies, here simply sobs, 'Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son,' repeating 'my son' eight times in two verses" (2 Sam 18:33; 19:4 )."[78] Sometimes a word may be repeated throughout the entire narrative to stress the theme, such as the variations in 1 Samuel 15 on the words "listen," "voice," and "word." This repetition highlights Saul's failure to listen to God's word and his listening instead to the people's voice.[79]


Just as a lawyer's performance in the courtroom depends on hours of competent research and preparation, a preacher's effectiveness in the pulpit depends on hours of competent exegesis and study. The guidelines suggested above can help preachers do solid exegesis that is sensitive to the literary features of Old Testament narratives. Expositors who wish to gain more proficiency should work through the sources already cited.[80] While the above survey


has touched on the key techniques of Old Testament narratives, interaction with sources like Alter and Bar-Efrat hone an expositor's alertness to other features (which are often created by these techniques), such as irony, suspense, and foreshadowing. Meir Sternberg's tome, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, may require some wading; but expositors can benefit from his list of fifteen rhetorical devices through which the Bible shapes a reader's response to character and event.[81] Expositors can also use the Scripture indexes in these works to get help on the specific narratives they plan to study and then preach.

Homiletical Guidelines

After an expositor does thorough exegesis marked by sensitivity to the literary art of a narrative, sermon preparation still remains incomplete. Now the preacher must tackle the homiletical side of the task. As Osborne states, great preachers "have all worked as hard on presentation as they have on exegesis."[82] Yet many expositors stumble here and end up preaching the "bare facts" of a text instead of the text itself.[83] The following homiletical guidelines can help preachers master the craft of proclaiming Old Testament narrative literature.

Preach Blocks of Narrative Large Enough to Communicate a Big Idea

Old Testament narratives express meaning in larger blocks of material than do other genres in the Bible. Expositors used to preaching from a few verses in New Testament epistolary literature will have to adjust to Old Testament narrative sections.

For example, when exploring an episode such as David's adultery with Bathsheba, the expositor would violate the story were he to


preach it a paragraph at a time. Instead he would probably take his sermon from the entire eleventh chapter of 2 Samuel and at least part of the twelfth , since all of this records the sin and its devastating consequences.[84]

Sometimes a preacher may need to proclaim a larger section like the Samson story in Judges 13-16 , or even an entire book like Ruth or Esther. A preacher must make sure his selected unit contains a background, crisis, and resolution (and sometimes a separate conclusion). By using this guideline, a preacher would not choose 1 Samuel 17:1-11 as a preaching text, since the story has not even moved out of the background information stage. Expositors should select the entire chapter 17 as a preaching unit.

Actually a preacher should determine the preaching unit sometime during the exegetical process. That process, as noted earlier, will enable him to discover the meaning, or theological point, of the text. Deuel counsels expositors to preach the "total theological message," not just "character traits."[85]

Develop an Outline That Will Highlight the Story Line of the Narrative

As Deuel asks, "If the preacher's goal is to be expositional, what is more expositional than preaching the text in its story-line form?"[86] Following the story line retains the advantage of an inductive format in which most narratives unfold.[87] "The most appropriate form for a sermon on a narrative text is, not surprisingly, the narrative form."[88]

This is not as easy as it sounds, however. As Greidanus explains, "The narrative form has to strike a delicate balance between simply narrating the story and providing explicit statements for right understanding."[89]


Narrative preaching however does not merely repeat the details of a story like recounting a pointless, worn-out joke. Through the story the preacher communicates ideas. In a narrative sermon, as in any other sermon, a major idea continues to be supported by other ideas, but the content supporting the points is drawn directly from the incidents in the story. In other words the details of the story are woven together to make a point, and all the points develop the central idea of the sermon.[90]

Although the narrative form allows for much variety,[91] the following three options work effectively for structuring a sermon from Old Testament narrative literature.

Option One: Develop theological points that are developed from the "crisis" and "resolution" elements of the plot. Genesis 12:10-20 provides an example. After the background is related (v. 10 ), a crisis occurred in Abram's life. Sarai's beauty, he feared, would tempt the Egyptians to kill him in order to acquire her (vv. 11-12 ). So Abram instructed Sarai to claim that she was only Abram's sister (v. 13 ). As a result, Pharaoh took Sarai into his harem (vv. 14-16 ). But when the Lord struck Pharaoh, Abram learned his scheme had been exposed and received orders to leave Egypt (vv. 17-20 ). Abram failed to be a blessing (cf. v. 2 ). An expositor might structure a sermon on this text with a point reflecting the crisis, a point reflecting the resolution, and then a statement of the big idea, as in the following outline.

I. Crises tempt believers to shift their faith from God to personal schemes (Gen 12:10-13).

A. This happened to Abram (tell story).

B. This can happen to you (give examples).

II. Personal schemes only compound the problem (vv. 14-20 ).

A. Personal schemes jeopardize God's purposes (vv. 14-16 ).

B. Personal schemes jeopardize God's blessing (vv. 17-20 ).

Conclusion: Shifting our faith from God to personal schemes only jeopardizes God's purposes and God's blessing.

James Rose's sermon on 1 Samuel 17 develops according to the story's crisis and resolution, as well as the responses of Saul and David to the giant. Rose's first point consists of a theological statement rooted in the crisis (including Saul's response), while his second point is rooted in the resolution (including David's response) and serves as the sermon's main idea.


I. Giants threaten those of us who look at life from the ground level (1 Sam 17:1-25).

A. Those living with ground-level perspective are overwhelmed by giants.

B. Those living with ground-level perspective refuse to face giants.

II. Giants ignite those of us who look at life from a "God-level" perspective (vv. 26-58 ).

A. Giants look like great opportunities to those with a "God-level" perspective.

B. Giant obstacles are open doors to those living with a "God-level" perspective.[92]

A sermon on Exodus 5:1-6:13 can relate the crisis in chapter 5 and the resolution in 6:1-13 . Moses' plea to Pharaoh for the release of God's people resulted in harsher work conditions. The raw materials were reduced while the production quota was increased. The Israelites then turned on Moses, and Moses turned on God. The story is resolved by God's promise in 6:1-13 . The following outline reflects a decision to divide the crisis into two points, with the third point serving as the sermon's big idea:

I. When we follow God, great expectations sometimes turn into great frustrations (Exod 5:1-21).

II. Great frustrations can lead to disappointment with God (5:22-23 ).

III. God meets our disappointment by asking us to cling to His promises (6:1-13 ).[93]

Option Two: Retell the story in a series of "moves" that lead to the big idea. This tactic is more subtle. Its effectiveness depends on an expositor's storytelling skills (see discussion below). Instead of proceeding from "point one" to "point two," the sermon unfolds in a series of what Buttrick calls "moves."[94] In a sermon


on a narrative passage the various "moves" will consist of scenes in the story, as well as an eventual discussion of the narrative's central idea. In other words a preacher will work from an "outline" that should not appear on the back of a church bulletin. Such a bulletin outline charts the course, but does not provide a series of theological points.

Donald Sunukjian has preached a sermon on the entire Book of Esther using this approach. At the outset of the sermon he mentions that in the Book of Esther readers do not see or hear God there, but they sense His presence dominating everything.[95] Next, he announces his intent to tell the story through one of the minor characters of the book. Then he raises a question: "How would this man, who never hears the name of God and yet sees everything that happens, view it? What sense would he make out of it all?" The sermon develops much like a three-act play. At the end of the sermon, the big idea emerges again but in a subtle manner when Sunukjian's character exclaims, "Those Jews—they sure are lucky!"

For another example the present writer preached an expository sermon on 1 Samuel 16:1-13 that consisted of a series of moves. Below is an outline with a brief description of the content of each move. Each move contained appropriate images or illustrations.

Move 1 - Introduction.

Move 2 - Samuel came to town (1 Sam 16:1-5).

Move 3 - Jesse's sons paraded before Samuel (vv. 6, 8-10 ).

Move 4 - God rejected these candidates based on their hearts (v. 7 ).

Move 5 - The youngest son was God's choice (vv. 11-13 ).

Move 6 - Big idea: God is impressed by your heart, not by your image.

Move 7 - Implication 1: Work on your heart, not just your image.

Move 8 - Implication 2: Do not minimize your potential to impress God.


After move 1, which consisted of the sermon introduction, moves 2 and 3 told the first part of the story. Move 4 paused to reflect on the meaning of the term "heart" in 1 Samuel 16:7. In move 4 the big idea began to take shape. But then the telling of the story resumed with move 5. In move 6 the sermon's main idea emerged to the surface. Then the sermon concluded with two lines of application in moves 7 and 8. With each move being about four minutes in length, the sermon lasted about thirty-two minutes.

Option Three: Retell the story in a series of "moves" that lead to the big idea and then return to the story to explore the big idea at length. This represents a combination of the previous two approaches. It is semi-inductive because the big idea emerges in the middle of the sermon. So, while the first half proceeds inductively to the big idea, the second half proceeds deductively and develops the idea. The present writer preached a sermon on Esther with the following outline.


I. Story

Move 1 (Scene: Esth 1-2 )

Move 2 (Scene: Esth 3-4 )

Move 3 (Scene: Esth 5:9-19)

Move 4 (Scene: Esth 9:20-10:3 )

II. Big idea: You can't see or hear God, but He controls your destiny! Is this really true?

A. He controls your destiny in spite of the spiritual insensitivity of people around you.

B. He controls your destiny in spite of impossible people in prominent places.

C. He controls your destiny in spite of unpredictable events.

D. He controls your destiny in spite of circumstances no person can change.


The story was told in four moves or scenes. Then after the big idea emerged, the sermon validated it by answering the question, Is this really true? The remainder of the sermon offered four lines of evidence from the text for the validity of the big idea.

A sermon from Exodus 15:22-17:7 illustrates this pattern. Outlined, the sermon looks something like this:


I. Immediately after God's great deliverance, Israel slipped into a complaining mode.


A. Scene 1—Israel complained over a lack of water (Exod 15:22-27).

B. Scene 2—Israel complained over a lack of food (16:1-36 ).

C. Scene 3—Israel again complained over a lack of water (17:1-7 ).

II. Complaining is not the proper response when you face trials and inconveniences.

A. When you complain, you call God's integrity into question (15:24 ; 16:3, 7-8 ; 17:1-7 ).

B. When you complain, you create a climate for disobedience (16:20-28 ).

C. When you complain, you fail a test God wants you to pass (15:25b-26 ; 16:4 ; 17:7 ).


After telling the story and arriving at the big idea, the sermon validates the big idea. Of course preachers can develop a big idea not only by validation but also by explanation (which answers the question, What does this mean?) or by application (which answers the question, So what? What difference does this make?).[96]

Select the Vantage Point from Which to Tell the Story

An expositor has more than one vantage point from which he can present the biblical narrative.[97]The most common method is to tell the story as a narrator who is detached from the story. In other words the preacher adopts a third-person perspective.

However, many preachers effectively proclaim narratives by using a dramatic monologue in which they tell the story through the eyes of a character in the story.[98] Holbert comments on the challenges of a first-person narrative:

In this kind of narration, the preacher becomes the character and presents the action and dialogue strictly from the perspective of that character. As one can imagine, the dramatic demands


increase in the first-person narrative. The presentation must take with great seriousness the expectations that any audience brings to a dramatic event. This is no time for biblical bathrobe drama! When the preacher assumes a character's role, the congregation has the right to expect him or her to be that character. Not only must the preacher be viable dramatically, but he or she also must be true to the story in which the character takes part.[99]

Preachers may relate a first-person narrative from the point of view of a major or a minor character. The most obvious choice in telling the story of Ruth is to do so from Ruth's vantage point, or in telling Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22) is to do so from Abraham's perspective. Sometimes, though, an expositor may wish to preach the story through the eyes of a minor character. Sunukjian tells the story of Esther through the eyes of Harbona, a eunuch who served King Xerxes (Esth 1:10; 7:9 ).[100] While Harbona made only one brief appearance in the action and dialogue (7:9 ), Sunukjian used his imagination to cast the story from Harbona's outlook. The present writer's brother, Kevin D. Mathewson, preached the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 from the perspective of Gehazi, Elisha's servant. While Gehazi played a significant role in the story, he was not the leading character nor the hero. However, telling the story from Gehazi's perspective highlighted the consequences faced by God's servants who exploit His grace for material gain.

In a first-person narrative an introduction should raise the readers' interest and orient them to the sermon's subject. The preacher may choose someone else to relate the introduction he has prepared. Or the preacher may share the introduction himself. To introduce the character, the preacher should make the final statement in the introduction, pause, and then perhaps bow his head. When he lifts his head, he assumes his role as the character. This writer observed Sunukjian preach Esther as a first-person narrative,[101] in which he negotiated the transition from introduction to monologue by turning his back briefly on the congregation. When he turned around, he assumed the character. Then at the end of the sermon Sunukjian again turned his back briefly on the audience to signal the end of the monologue. When he turned to face the audience, he spoke "out of character" and shared a few concluding statements.

The monologue should consist of a series of moves or scenes of the story that lead to a big idea. The preacher should prepare a


manuscript and then memorize the basic structure, that is, the moves or scenes. By reading his manuscript several times before presenting the sermon, a preacher should be able to tell the story without notes. Preachers who insist on notes should condense them to a page or two and place them on the pulpit before giving the sermon. This way, the preacher will not have to handle them during the sermon. Picking up pages or shuffling them will detract from the sermon delivery.

Also preachers should be aware of their movements on the platform. A lapel mike, preferably cordless, is essential so that the preacher can move about freely. Grant and Reed comment on the importance of movement and location on the platform:

As a general rule, the closer you are to your audience, the stronger the impression you will make. The farther away you are, the more remote you will seem. As you face the audience, scenes played to your right (stage right) will tend to be warmer emotionally, while scenes played to your left (stage left) will tend to be cooler.[102]

Should a preacher use a costume or props in a dramatic sermon? The most effective dramatic monologue sermons witnessed by the present writer did not include them. Holbert rightly cautions, "If the pulpit becomes a stage, and a robe or suit is exchanged for a costume, the preacher runs the risk of acting rather than preaching."[103]

Turn the Biblical Scenes into Pictures That Capture the Listeners' Imaginations

Sermons on biblical narratives succeed or fail with the preacher's ability to present the scenes of a story in vivid color. Wiersbe states that "a balanced ministry of the Word requires both concept and image,"[104] and Osborne counsels, "Paint pictures that will capture the imagination and help motivate the congregation in the direction of the sermonic goal."[105]As Larsen notes, "when


some preachers expound Noah, we can hear it rain."[106] Preachers, then, must become specialists in imagery.

As noted earlier, Old Testament narratives deliberately spare readers of descriptive details. Sternberg pointed out that elaborate descriptions "perform no other role than realistic fullness."[107] In Old Testament narratives other concerns overshadow the need for realistic fullness; but realistic fullness may be one of the greatest concerns of a modern preacher. Preachers need to engage readers in the story with sensory details.

Rose awakens the listeners' senses when his sermon on 1 Samuel 17 describes the scene like this:

The stillness of early morning was reinforced by the mist filling the floor of a sprawling valley. It is like that in spring; it's the time of green grass and gorgeous wild flowers. It's the time of gentle warmth and it is the time of going out to war. On this morning men are moving in silence out to the very lip of the great valley, called Elah. Some are shoving the last few bits of bread and cheese into their mouths. Others are adjusting their spears, slings, and war gear. Now all are finally in place; again there is eerie silence. In the middle of the attack line an officer raises his arm and at the signal, the army of Israel shouts, "Ruah," their war cry. From the other side of the valley, there should come a response from the Philistines…. There was something going on over on the Philistine side; it sounded like a tank rumbling into place, except they didn't have tanks.[108]

Painting scenes like this requires ample historical-cultural research in Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and books on archaeology.[109] Such research leads to sharp, accurate images. As Lowry contends, the preacher "who never goes to the exegetical experts will become an irresponsible storyteller."[110]

Imagination can degenerate into fantasy and, in an effort to tell a good story, a preacher can scuttle or trivialize the biblical material. Imagination must be linked to the text just as interpretation must be tied to the text. Otherwise the preacher may misrepresent the Scriptures and say in the name of God what God did not say.[111]


A careful exegesis of the text will give direction to the imagination and even set the parameters it must not violate.

Good images also result from precise vocabulary. Grant and Reed warn against using "simpering verbs" like "hid," "call out," "move," or "come." Instead, storytellers should use "high octane" verbs like "cowered," "bellow," "sail," "creeps," or "devours."[112] Like Carl Sandburg, preachers should cultivate a suspicion of adjectives and adverbs and instead use lively verbs and colorful nouns.[113]

Should an expositor use colloquial expressions that portray biblical characters as "happy campers" or that describe them "adjusting their sunglasses"? Certainly this can be overdone, but at times, it may prove effective.[114]

Hone Storytelling Skills

Expositors who wish to proclaim Old Testament narratives effectively must maintain a constant quest to develop their skills for storytelling. Two strategies will enable preachers to hone such skills.

Strategy One: Read a wide variety of stories. Reading can stimulate a preacher's creativity and provide ideas for arranging the details of Old Testament stories to gain the maximum effect. Reading Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days can sharpen a preacher's eye for the details of life.[115] In addition to providing a wealth of sermon illustrations, Paul Harvey's stories can teach preachers how to maintain tension by holding off key details until the end of the story.[116] Reading Ernest Hemingway's literary works can show a preacher how to tell a story without drowning it in adverbs and adjectives.


Strategy Two: Study sermons that demonstrate a mastery of the storyteller's craft. Learning to preach from biblical narratives resembles learning to play golf. Written instructions help, but learners should observe players who have mastered the game. Preachers should at least read sermon manuscripts or listen to sermon tapes by masters of the craft. Haddon Robinson's book Biblical Sermons includes sermon manuscripts, along with critiques and interviews, from three Old Testament narrative sermons: Haddon Robinson on Genesis 3:1-7, James Rose on 1 Samuel 17, and Donald Sunukjian on Esther.[117] "Expositapes," published by Denver Seminary, include tapes by Paul Borden on "Preaching from Biblical Narratives" and "Preaching a First-Person Narrative Sermon." Each tape offers instruction as well as a sample sermon.[118] In the Preaching Today series, published by Christianity Today, a tape on "Old Testament Narrative" features a workshop by Paul Borden and a sermon by Calvin Miller.[119]


For preachers who proclaim God's truth to congregations conditioned by a cultural switch from the "Age of Typography" to the "Age of Television," Old Testament narratives make an excellent choice.[120] The hermeneutical and homiletical guidelines offered in this article should help preachers improve their mastery of preaching in this genre. As Larsen argues, "We should not do poorly what the Bible does so well."[121]


[1] John C. Holbert, Preaching Old Testament: Proclamation and Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), 17.

[2] This analogy comes from Haddon W. Robinson, who originally applied it to expounding parables (Biblical Sermons [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989], 168).

[3] An example is MacArthur's answer to a question on why he preaches predominantly from the New Testament (John MacArthur Jr., "Frequently Asked Questions about Expository Preaching," in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, ed. John MacArthur Jr. [Dallas, TX: Word, 1992], 341-42). David C. Deuel, writing in the same volume, offers a needed corrective: "Using Old Testament narrative only to illustrate New Testament teaching, however, results in ignoring much Old Testament instruction that may serve as background for New Testament theology, or else as teaching not repeated in the New Testament. Creation, law, and covenant are in Old Testament narrative which, if ignored or used for illustrations only, will create many problems of biblical imbalance. An adequate theological framework must include the whole Old Testament (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16, 'All Scripture...)" ("Expository Preaching from Old Testament Narrative," in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, 283 [italics his]).

[4] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 100-101.

[5] Cited by Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 18.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic, 1981); Shimon Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible (Sheffield: Almond, 1989); Adele Berlin, Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (Sheffield: Almond, 1983); and Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985).

[8] Greidanus' superb chapter on "Preaching Hebrew Narratives" devotes thirty-three pages to hermeneutical concerns and only seven pages to preaching guidelines, which are quite general (The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 188-227). Similarly Deuel's treatment offers only general guidelines and, by the authors own admission, does not "deal comprehensively with characteristic features or methods of preaching biblical narrative" (Expository Preaching from Old Testament Narrative, 274). Cf. also Thomas G. Longs chapter on "Preaching on Narratives," in Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible, ed. Thomas G. Long (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), 66-86.

[9] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 62.

[10] Alter defines literary analysis as "discriminating attention to the artful use of language, to the shifting play of ideas, conventions, tone, sound, imagery, syntax, narrative viewpoint, compositional units, and much else" (ibid., 12).

[11] Ibid., 46.

[12] Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991), 162.

[13] "Narrative is not as direct as didactic material, but it does have a theological point and expects the reader to interact with that message" (ibid., 172).

[14] John H. Stek, "The Bee and the Mountain Goat: A Literary Reading of Judges 4," in A Tribute to Gleason Archer, ed. Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Ronald F. Youngblood (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 54.

[15] Long, Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible, 67.

[16] Berlin, Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative, 17. Berlin defines poetics as "an inductive science that seeks to abstract the general principles of literature from many different manifestations of those principles as they occur in actual literary texts" (ibid., 15).

[17] Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, trans. Willard Trask (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1953), 12.

[18] Dale Patrick and Allen Scult, Rhetoric and Biblical Interpretation (Sheffield: Almond, 1990), 29. "Primary rhetoric" refers to discourses that use stylistic resources to persuade, whereas "secondary rhetoric" refers to texts that use stylistic resources to create an effect on an audience such as to inspire or inform.

[19] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 93.

[20] David M. Gunn and Danna Nolan Fewell, Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 100.

[21] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 93.

[22] Ibid., 94.

[23] Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 173.

[24] Tremper Longman III provides a helpful diagram of plot structure in biblical narrative (Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987], 92). His diagram follows the same pattern suggested above, but he provides more details in the flow of the plot structure.

[25] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 111.

[26] Ibid., 114.

[27] For an analysis of Genesis 38 see Steven D. Mathewson, "An Exegetical Study of Genesis 38," Bibliotheca Sacra 146 (October-December 1989): 373-92. Interpreters should be aware of the fluid changes between the elements of a plot. Sometimes it is difficult to determine the precise point at which one element stops and the next begins. For example does the background section of Genesis 38 end with verse 5 , 6 , or 10 ?

[28] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 121. Also see Longman, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, 92.

[29] Bar-Efrat calls this structure an "illusory conclusion". He writes, "In contrast toexamples, where the story line gradually rises to a climax and then descends rapidly to the serene conclusion, here the narrative does not end after the gradual ascent and the rapid decline, but rises once more to another pinnacle, only then descending to the genuine conclusion" (Narrative Art in the Bible, 124).

[30] Once again the fluid changes between plot elements make it difficult to determine if the crisis section ends with chapter 4 or extends into chapter 5 , where two more "mini-crises" transpire: Esther had to approach the king, and Haman built gallows on which to hang Mordecai.

[31] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 130-31. Also see Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 65.

[32] Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 82. Ryken lists the following elements in literary comedy: disguise, mistaken identity, character transformation from bad to good, surprise, miracle, providential assistance to good characters, sudden reversal of misfortune, rescue from disaster, poetic justice, the motif of lost and found, reversal of conventional expectations, such as the preference of the younger child over the older, and sudden release.

[33] Ibid., 83.

[34] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 143.

[35] Ibid., 142.

[36] Ibid., 142-43.

[37] Mathewson, "An Exegetical Study of Genesis 38," 376-81. "The real action in the Judah-Tamar story begins at vs. 12ff . But for the reader to understand this extremely odd occurrence the narrator must first acquaint him with a few conditions" (Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, trans. John H. Marks [London: SCM, 1961], 352).

[38] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 6.

[39] Von Rad, Genesis, 355.

[40] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 80.

[41] Ibid., 65.

[42] Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Louisville: Knox, 1990), 133.

[43] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 148.

[44] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 37.

[45] Ibid., 28.

[46] Ibid., 72.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature, 43.

[49] Ibid., 43, 54. Also see Berlin's discussion of full-fledged (round), type (flat), and agent characters in Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative, 23-32.

[50] See Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Louisville, Knox, 1990), 124-25. Herbert M. Wolf has suggested that 1 Samuel 15 through 2 Samuel 8 functions as a "dynastic defense," similar in structure and theme to the thirteenth-century B.C. Hittite dynastic defense, "Apology of Hattusilis" ("Implications of Form Criticism for Old Testament Studies," Bibliotheca Sacra 127 [October-December 1970]: 303-6). This strengthens the case for identifying the conflict in 1 Samuel 17 as primarily between Saul and David.

[51] Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, 134.

[52] Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature, 43.

[53] Ibid., 44. Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11.

[54] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 36; cf. Berlin, Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative, 59-60.

[55] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 37.

[56] Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 330.

[57] Stek, "The Bee and the Mountain Goat: A Literary Reading of Judges 4," 53-86.

[58] Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 88.

[59] Hubbard, who has doubts about this interpretation of the names, provides a helpful summary of the arguments for and against it (ibid., 89-90).

[60] Ibid., 89.

[61] Unfortunately the meanings of "Ruth" and "Boaz," names of two prominent characters, have not been settled. The suggestions for the meaning of "Ruth" range from "refreshment/comfort" to "friendship," while "Boaz" is most likely related to "strength" (ibid., 94, 134-35).

[62] Ibid., 232.

[63] Ibid., 234-35.

[64] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 78.

[65] Long, Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible, 78.

[66] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 61, 129.

[67] Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 329.

[68] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 195-96.

[69] Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 342.

[70] Gunn and Fewell, Narrative in the Hebrew Bible, 148. Alter also attributes the use of repetition to the oral context in which the Bible was communicated, since its audience generally listened to rather than read the text (The Art of Biblical Narrative, 90).

[71] Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 383.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Still, Sternberg cautions, "As with other fundamentals of biblical art, one must not expect each instance of repetition to unlock the secrets of the tale" (ibid., 439).

[74] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 90-91; cf. Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 161.

[75] Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 162.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 92.

[78] Ibid. Also see Berlin's comments on the slight inversion in the wording between the two laments (Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative, 75).

[79] Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 93.

[80] For expositors with little background in Old Testament narrative, good entry-level resources include Greidanus' chapter on "Preaching Hebrew Narratives" in The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text; Osborne's chapter on "Narrative" in The Hermeneutical Spiral; and Ryken's chapters on the stories of the Bible in How to Read the Bible as Literature. Furthermore this writer recommends that every expositor who plans to preach Old Testament narrative literature read Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative and then Shimon Bar-Efrat's Narrative Art in the Bible.

[81] Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 475-81. The fifteen rhetorical devices are (1) narratorial evaluation of an agent or an action through a series of epithets (descriptions); (2) the same through a single epithet; (3) the same through a choice of loaded language; (4) explicit judgment left ambiguous between narrator and characters; (5) as in 1, 2, and 3, except that the judgment is delegated to characters; (6) judgment through a nonverbal objective correlative; (7) charged dramatization, lingering over and thus foregrounding the plot elements designed for judgment; (8) informational redundancy; (9) direct inside view of the characters; (10) the play of perspectives; (11) order of presentation; (12) order of presentation involving the displacement of conventional patterns; (13) analogical patterning; (14) recurrence of key words along the sequence; and (15) neutral or pseudo-objective narration.

[82] Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 362.

[83] Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 196.

[84] Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 55.

[85] Deuel, "Expository Preaching from Old Testament Narrative," 281-84.

[86] Ibid., 275. By "story line" Deuel refers to the plot or general plan of a story.

[87] A deductive pattern begins with the general (conclusion) and then moves to the particulars, while an inductive pattern starts with the particulars and then arrives at the general (conclusion). Most narratives possess an inductive form since the main point does not emerge until the conflict in the story is resolved. In a deductive sermon the proposition or big idea is stated first; then it is developed. In an inductive sermon the big idea does not emerge until the end of the sermon. See Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 125-33.

[88] Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 226.

[89] Ibid., 225. "Narratives seem most effective when the audience hears the story and arrives at the speakers ideas without his stating them directly" (Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 125).

[90] Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 124-25.

[91] Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 225.

[92] James O. Rose, "The Big Valley," in Biblical Sermons, 51-63.

[93] For more examples of this kind of outlining, see Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988). This work serves as a guide to the study and exposition of Genesis. Ross provides an expository (central) idea and an expository outline for sixty-four preaching/teaching units in Genesis. These outlines consist of theological statements that are grounded in a sound literary analysis of the text. However, Ross' concern to derive the full exposition from the passage occasionally leads him to overdo his outlining. Sometimes he seems to make theological statements where the text is only relating background information.

[94] David Buttrick, Homiletic: Moves and Structures (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 23-24. Buttrick defines a "move" as a "rhetorical unit" or a "language module" that develops a "conceptual idea." Human conversation happens in a series of "moves" that are tied together by various logics. In a sermon, moves consist of a sequence of subject matters, or simple meanings, arranged in a structural design. The shape of a move is determined by the interaction of theological understanding, apologetic concerns, and images derived from life experiences. If preachers do not use images, ideas will remain abstract. It takes three or four minutes for a "move." With any less time the conceptual idea cannot be developed adequately; if more time is taken, listeners may lose interest.

[95] Technically, this makes Sunukjian's sermon deductive since the big idea is introduced at the outset. The telling of Esthers story validates the big idea. However, the fresh, imaginative telling of the story piques the listener's interest.

[96] Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 117-22.

[97] For a discussion of the various vantage points from which to tell a story, see Reg Grant and John Reed, Telling Stories to Touch the Heart (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), 5052. See also John C. Holbert, Preaching Old Testament: Proclamation and Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), 46-47.

[98] John MacArthur Jr. commits a logical fallacy when he dismisses drama in the pulpit as a whole by citing one bizarre example in which a speaker blatantly abused it ("Frequently Asked Questions about Expository Preaching," in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, 345). Competent expositors such as Haddon Robinson and Donald Sunukjian can effectively present more exegetical data (particularly historical/cultural information) in a dramatic sermon than they could if they told it as a detached narrator.

[99] Holbert, Preaching Old Testament, 46-47 (italics his).

[100] Donald Sunukjian, "A Night in Persia," in Biblical Sermons, 69-80.

[101] For the sermon manuscript, see ibid., 71-80.

[102] Grant and Reed, Telling Stories to Touch the Heart, 68. See pages 68-70 for a discussion of six stage areas and the dominant emotions they convey.

[103] Holbert, Preaching Old Testament, 47. Grant and Reed concur, though they point out that a carefully chosen prop, such as a shepherd's staff, a sword, a piece of pottery, or a slingshot (ancient style), can help bring a character to life (Telling Stories to Touch the Heart, 76-77).

[104] Warren W. Wiersbe, Preaching and Teaching with Imagination (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1994), 52, 70. Likewise Buttrick claims that "homiletic thinking is always a thinking of theology toward images" (Homiletic: Moves and Structure, 29 [italics his]).

[105] Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 363.

[106] David L. Larsen, Telling the Old, Old Story: The Art of Narrative Preaching (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1995), 242.

[107] Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 329.

[108] Rose, "The Big Valley," 53.

[109] Preachers can also get great ideas for imaging scenes from James Michener, The Source (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1967). This tome sweeps back and forth from the fictional story of an archaeological excavation in western Galilee to the ancient stories behind the artifacts it uncovers.

[110] Eugene L. Lowry, The Homiletical Plot (Atlanta: Knox, 1980), 91.

[111] Robinson, Biblical Sermons, 82.

[112] Grant and Reed, Telling Stories to Touch the Heart, 57.

[113] Ibid., 59. For a list of other examples see Ralph L. Lewis with Gregg Lewis, Inductive Preaching: Helping People Listen (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1983), 142.

[114] Frederick Buechner's brief, witty character sketches will pique the imagination of preachers who want to breathe color into the characters in Scripture (Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Whos Who [New York: Harper & Row, 1979). For further discussion of how solid exegesis informs and guides the imagination, see Steven D. Mathewson, "The Odd Couple of Sermon Preparation," Leadership Journal 15 (Spring 1994): 91-93.

[115] Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days (New York: Viking, 1985). For another example of how to paint a visual picture, read Robert Fulgham, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (New York: Ivy, 1986), as well as his subsequent works.

[116] See Paul Aurandt, Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story (New York: Bantam, 1977); idem, More of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story (New York: Bantam, 1980); and idem, Destiny (New York: Bantam, 1983).

[117] Robinson, Biblical Sermons, 13-30, 51-88. Also see Holbert, Preaching Old Testament, 79-115. He presents sermons on Genesis 22 and the Book of Ruth. Each one is annotated and concludes with some "narrative notes". Reed and Grant include five appendixes with "Bible story manuscripts" (Telling Stories to Touch the Heart, 89-121).

[118] Paul Borden, "Preaching from Biblical Narratives," Expositapes (Denver: Denver Seminary, n.d.), Set III, #1; and idem, "Preaching a First-Person Narrative Sermon" (Denver: Denver Seminary, n.d.), Set VII, #4.

[119] "Old Testament Narrative," Preaching Today, ed. Ed Rowell (Wheaton, IL: Christianity Today, n.d.), tape 153. Donald Sunukjian's sermon on Esther, "My Name is Harbonah," appears on "Providence," Preaching Today, ed. Mark Galli (Wheaton, IL: Christianity Today, n.d.), tape 130.

[120] For the story and analysis of Americas culture shift from the "Age of Typography" to the "Age of Television" see Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin, 1985).

[121] Larsen, Telling the Old, Old Story, 31.