Preaching: The Weight of Revelation

It’s not too often that one goes to Genesis to find instruction on Biblical preaching, but there is a fascinating, and I think helpful example of good, Biblical preaching within this book of beginnings. The example comes in chapter 41, where Joseph, a prisoner of Potipher, is brought to stand before Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world at the time. You may remember that Joseph had just spent two long years in prison after he had given right interpretations to the dreams of the baker and cupbearer. Alone and forgotten, he had spent the last twenty years being prepared by God for this very moment. Pharaoh has two dreams, of cows and corn, which trouble him. He seeks the interpretation of the dreams from his royal magicians, who are unable to provide the answers. It is at this moment where the cupbearer remembers Joseph, the man who had interpreted his own dream two years earlier. Joseph is cleaned up, shaven, put in some nice clothes, and brought before Pharaoh.

It is at this point, in verse 16, where we get our first indication of what’s going to take place. Pharaoh asks Joseph if he can give the interpretation, to which Joseph replies, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Joseph answers by saying that answers to these mysteries come only by revelation from God, the giver of the mystery. So we must first see that the dream interpretation is from God: divine revelation to Joseph. After Pharaoh recounts the dream, Joseph recites to Pharaoh what God revealed. Now to be sure, Joseph could have stopped here and it would have sufficed. He would probably have been seen in a favorable light by Pharaoh, taken out of prison, and made to be an Egyptian citizen. But the second key phrase in this narrative comes in verse 33: “Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed….” Joseph takes the revelation given to him by God, recites it to his listener, and then offers the implications of it. That is, he explains to Pharaoh the weight of what God had revealed to him.

It is here that I think we see a true example of Biblical preaching. The Biblical preachers recites the revelation of God; he reads the Scriptures aloud to his listeners. The Biblical preacher then proceeds to bring the weight of that revelation to bear on his listeners. In light of what God has said, here is how we respond. In one sense, it really is that simple and uncomplicated. A godly preacher does no more and no less than reading Scripture and bringing it to bear on his listeners. Of course, though the idea of preaching is simple, the weight of preaching is heavy. It is no small thing to be tasked with standing in front of people and telling them how they should then live in light of what God has said. Quite literally, eternal destinies are at stake (1 Tim 4:16). Let me then offer two final thoughts.

First, God must take center stage. Joseph is clear from the outset that it is God who gets the glory for what he is about to say. There is no room for the preacher to take the spotlight. Preaching is effective only in so far as it brings the Word of God rightly before the people (right interpretation is important!). A preacher’s posture before his people is “thus sayeth the Lord.”

Secondly, preparation matters. The weight of the implications that Joseph gives to Pharaoh have been wrought about in the heart and mind of Joseph since the beginning of his life. He was the favored son dressed in a royal robe. He had learned humility toward authority as a servant in Potipher’s house. He had been given authority over the entirety of Potipher’s house, no doubt learning shrewd management and financial theory. Joseph’s entire life had been used by God to bring weight at the moment of his sermon. For the Biblical preacher, the same holds true. It’s true that our preaching is in some way a reflection of all that God has wrought about within our own hearts and minds over the course of our lives. But importantly, Joseph had the necessary wisdom and skills to deliver the weight of God’s Word to his listener. The biblical preacher studies exegesis and hermeneutics. The biblical preacher learns oratory skill in order to communicate the weight in a more helpful way. Remember, however, that God still takes center stage. Change in the heart of the listener, a right response, is still entirely a work of the Holy Spirit. Paul recognizes this in 1 Corinthians 2:1 when he says he came not with eloquence or human wisdom, but with God’s testimony. It is still always the Word by the Spirit that does the work. But the preacher is still tasked to study to show himself a workman approved, rightly handling the Word of Truth.

Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.

Keith Kauffman