For those of you who are convinced that preaching the OT demands (or at least would be greatly aided by) a knowledge of Hebrew, Dennis Magary offers the following advice in Preaching the Old Testament:
- Determine first if you are an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner. Knowing this will greatly influence the most effective way of learning Hebrew vocabulary, which is a vital discipline but is also rather relative to each learner. If you have a process that works for you, please share it with the rest of us.
- Perform a comprehensive review of basic morphology and syntax. Helpful in this regard is a detailed review of the many verb endings and pronominal suffixes. A good place to start would be your elementary Hebrew book.
- Have on hand the pertinent reference material, such as Waltke/O’Connor’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax and Chisholm’s From Exegesis to Exposition. Personally, Waltke/O’Connor is probably more comprehensive than the everyday pastor would need. It is also somewhat dated, given the progress that is being made in Hebrew studies.
- Listen to the text being read orally. There are a number of resources on line and for purchase that the diligent preacher can listen to with text in hand. In my opinion, this would be a luxury.
- Read the text. Although pretty straight-forward, Magary offers some practical ways of doing this, e.g. (1) read with a parallel version in hand, (2) read a few verses as part of your devotional times, and (3) read with others who know Hebrew, such as a fellow pastor in your church or area [btw, I think this is a great idea].
- Take advantage of computer-assisted study of the Hebrew text. Personally, I use Bibleworks and find it invaluable.
- Most importantly, always use the Hebrew Bible in preparation for teaching and preaching. Until the preacher acquires some polished skill, this may be labor intensive. However, I’ve found that such hard work is always rewarded. If this sounds like a daunting task, I would recommend starting conservatively. That is, plan to preach one or two psalms a year or preach one of the minor prophets (e.g. Habakkuk, Obadiah). The benefit would be that you spend time using your Hebrew, but it’s not as toilsome on a weekly basis as preaching through the book of Genesis. If you need work at narrative, which is actually easier Hebrew than poetry, try Jonah (or Ruth). Most people are so familiar with the story of Jonah that reading the Hebrew is easier. Once you get more comfortable using your Hebrew (or Aramaic), you can then branch out into larger books, such as Genesis or Samuel.
In my opinion, the key is to stretch yourself. Preach and read the Hebrew text early and often.
I’m looking forward to the next chapter, “Preaching from the Historical Books.” I hope my comments don’t get me kicked out of the posse here at Expository Thoughts . . . intrigued?
In the meantime, any thoughts or hints on using biblical Hebrew?