In considering the Biblical call for expositional preaching, the classic text is Nehemiah 8. We see a tremendous account of the power of exposition. Picture this scenario. The entire congregation of Israel-men, women, and children (all that had understanding) gather together while Ezra opens the Book of the Law of Moses in the sight of all the people. Standing behind a wooden pulpit, he reads from morning until midday and the people pay attention to the Word of God. As he begins to read that morning, all the people stand up in reverence and awe of God’s Word. Ezra prays a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving to God and the people respond with “Amen, Amen” lifting their hands toward heaven. And then they bow their heads in reverent humility and worship the Lord with their faces toward the ground. Other Levites explain what was read along with Ezra. We are not sure how this looked exactly, but it seems they broke into smaller groups so that the Word could be heard and explained more effectively. Nehemiah 8:8 gives the summary of the preaching and it is exactly what exposition is. “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” This is the purpose of the preacher. His purpose is not titillating stories, coarse jesting, fanciful allegory, or persuasive manipulation. His job is not to get public response or to change hearts and minds. His job is to read the Word distinctly (clearly and accurately), to give the sense (to explain the intent of the passage), and to cause the people to understand (provide implication and application for obedience). No where in this formula do we see the personage of the expositors as any importance. They were the mouthpieces, the Word is central.
The response of the people is fascinating. When they understand what has just been read to them, they begin to mourn. They were grieving over their disobedience and ignorance as to what God has said. The command to the people is to rejoice for the joy of the Lord is your strength. They were to rejoice in God and in His Word. To delight in Him was the directive of Ezra the priest. This same thing took place the next day, and this day, the priests and Levites read distinctly, exlpained, and provided implication concerning the keeping of the feast of the seventh month; but what happens when exposition takes place is normative for God working with His Word. The people went out and made booths to celebrate the feast of the seventh month. This happened every day for eight days. On the twenty fourth day of the month, the congregation was assembled again this time fasting. Once again the Word of God read clearly, explained rightly, and implied correctly brought about revival in the hearts of the congregation. They began to confess their sins and to do something about it. 1/4 of the day they read the Word, and 1/4 of the day the confessed and worshipped God. (An interesting note for another post, is that worship flowed from the Word of God, not in anticipation of the Word of God). They prayed and praised God, they obeyed, they fasted, they confessed. This continually takes place and it comes from the Word of the Lord being read clearly, explained rightly, and implied correctly. Their is power in the Word of God, and I believe the Spirit of God moves in far greater and long-lasting ways when a mouthpiece, a preacher, devalues himself and his ability and simply preaches God’s Word expositionally.
I see nothing in this passage about finding the needs of the assembly and meeting those needs. I see nothing of topical preaching. I see nothing of opinions of Ezra or the other Levites, nor preaching to get results. I simply see faithful exposition of the Word of God, and the Spirit of God doing a mighty work.
My preacher brothers, let us decrease and allow the Word of the Lord to increase while we simply read distinctly, explain rightly, and provide implication accurately. God will honor his Word rightly expressed.