Biblical Interpretations in Preaching (Von Rad)

Von Rad, Gerhard. Biblical Interpretations in Preaching.

This is not a series of sermons following the church calendar, though the table of contents may suggest as much. Rather, Gerhard von Rad gives guidelines on what to look for the text, ranging from technical Hebrew grammar to overarching themes. Of course, we can’t follow von Rad in many places. He is far too critical of the text as we have it (though he never goes as far as the liberalism that gutted mainline Protestantism). Nonetheless, we are in the presence of a master.

His introduction is a fine survey of problems in modern hermeneutics, to which he tells us that “language and mind form a unity” (von Rad 14).

Genesis 4: “Ancient man sensed it much more clearly than do we: the earth, intended by God to serve man as the maternal foundation of life itself, has drunk a brother’s blood” (21)! The sermon should center on verse 10 and the contrast between Abel’s and Christ’s blood, the former only increases the burden of the curse.

Genesis 22: “The word ‘God’ is especially emphasized by the syntax (it is placed before the verb!)” (33).

Genesis 32: “We must remember that ancient man was conscious that his life was molded and surrounded by divine powers which he could not decipher…If he encountered a numen, the most elemental question was the question of that being’s name” (41-42). If you can’t commit to that idea in some level, you simply can’t understand the world of the Bible.

Joshua 1:1-9: God’s address to Joshua “comes in an actual interim period, between promise and fulfillment, between election and ultimate…salvation” (49). Von Rad correctly notes that our word “law” doesn’t capture the essence of Torah, which was “the sum of all beneficent divine intention in Israel” (51).

2 Chronicles 20: Holy war. The narrative “certainly understands the mearbim to be heavenly powers sent by God to intervene and cause the enemy’s defeat” (67).

Psalm 32. There is a penitential aspect, but it isn’t to function as a morbidly medieval penance psalm. The “diction of the psalm resembles that of wisdom literature; i.e., it is highly didactic” (75).

Psalm 96. The enthronement of Yahweh. It begins noting that only the elect community knows of this cosmic turning point, to which it must respond with “praise” and “proclamation” (79). “All true praise lives out of certainty of the eschatological kingdom.” God’s coming in judgment is a shaphat, a settling.

This book cannot replace exegesis, but it is a fine guideline for the new student.


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