I have always been uncomfortable about preaching from the Old Testament. I have at times been uncomfortable about being uncomfortable about preaching from the Old Testament (after all, I am a preacher!) Now, I am more comfortable about being uncomfortable about preaching from the Old Testament.
The problem I am well aware of is the tendency to preach a moralistic sermon such as “Be a David!” or “Don’t be a Saul!” In the hunt for relevacy and personal application in Scripture, this is an easy route to take in tackling a piece of OT narrative.
One book that has helped me is Dale Ralph Davies’ The Word Became Fresh. Early in the book he points out that the most relevant lessons are drawn out the “slop” of people’s lives as they are portrayed in Scripture. After all, the fact that David was an adulterer and murderer somewhat undermines the “Be a David!” message. The point is not to keep our eyes focussed on the characters, but on what God is doing in their lives:
…we must read Old Testament narrative with a theocentric focus. In all our reading we should keep our eye on God – what he is revealing about himself and how he is working.’ We should feast our eyes on the triune God. Some may immediately object: Don’t we need to start at the other end? Don’t we need to begin with the needs of people? Shouldn’t we be ‘existential’ before we get ‘theological’? Must we not ensure that our biblical study is relevant? I don’t even care to argue. I will only assert: if you keep your eye on God you will address the needs of (his) people. It happens in the process. And my way is far more interesting, because there is no one so disturbing, so surprising, so steadying, so fascinating as the God of the Bible. So if I had one piece of hermeneutical advice to give it is: keep your focus on God if you want your biblical interpretation to be accurate, interesting, nourishing, and relevant.
– Dale Ralph Davies, The Word Became Fresh, pp.121-2
That still leaves us uncomfortable with the OT text. And that is as it should be. Preachers need to do the sweaty graft to make sure they get the theocentric message to pass on.