Preaching Poetry: Psalms & Proverbs

Duane A. Garrett tackles in short order some techniques for preaching from the Psalter and from Proverbs. Garrett’s primary argument within the chapter is the importance of structure, which he gleaned from Walter C. Kaiser. In short, their rule is that “the structure of the passage should determine the structure or content of the message” (101).

In my opinion, this is the most valuable point that I have seen up to this point in the book, and I am surprised that the other chapters have not emphasized this much. All the genres we have studied so far, inasmuch as they are texts, have some type of structure that the author has provided. This is vital, and as Garrett says, it is absolutely essential to preaching psalms and proverbs. For example, many times one’s four-point preaching outline may mirror the four-stanza structure of the psalm. Granted, at times this may be impossible for particular psalms and some of proverbs (e.g. acrostic psalms, extremely long poems, the misc proverbs in chs. 10ff.), but most of the time working hard to develop a structural analysis of a Hebrew poem will be worth the effort. As he points out, for maximum benefit, it will be necessary to analyze the poem in the original language, but not impossible in English.

The following summarizes some of the helpful ideas and examples from the chapter:

Preaching Proverbs

Many times, the preacher will be able to discern a clear-cut strategy in the wisdom poems found in Prov 1–9. For example, Garrett provides a sample analysis of Pr 2, which is an incredible piece of poetry (p. 105). It is crafted in such a way that it even shows a clear structure in English versions. Moreover, he gives a chiastic outline of the poem of Pr 31, in which the center of the chiasm is v. 23. Go read it; it really changes the way the poem should be understood.

In contrast to the clear structure of wisdom poems, the preacher may be at a loss for preaching the other section of the book, which primarily deals with aphorisms. With lack of structure, a sermon (or series of sermons) on a particular topic may be the way to go. That way, the preacher can weave together proverbs that have a consistent theme into a coherently structures sermon. However, as Garrett points out, there are places within Prov 10–30 that do reveal structure (e.g. 10:1–5 with its message of prosperity and security).

In addition, I would add that the preacher must be careful when preaching from this section of the book to be consistent in presenting these proverbs in reference to the fear of the Lord, which is the theological theme of the book. It would be easy to forget this, given the practical aspect of many of these quaint saying.

Preaching Psalms

Much of what was said above would apply here as well, since the basic principle holds: preach what the text (structurally) gives you. For example, Ps 23 neatly breaks into two sections. Vv. 1–4 should be explained under the image of shepherding; vv. 5–6 under the image of a banquet host (see also the two-fold structure of Ps 1). Furthermore, he gives the following important advice:

  • Form criticism (i.e. breaking the psalms into types such as hymns, Torah psalms, etc.) has its value, but on the whole he finds it not so helpful for the preacher.
  • Meter in Hebrew poetry should be disregarded.
  • Don’t restrict messianic implications only to those psalms that are typically classified as messianic.

To this last point, I would add that Ps 2 has set the context (hermeneutical lens) for the Psalter, so we should expect messianic references throughout. Don’t be surprised when you find them, but again, let the text itself dictate it as such.

Any thoughts or advice?



One response to this post.

  1. By the way, I learned most everything I know about preaching the structure of the text from Matt Waymeyer, so please direct any questions about that to him.

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