Summary: Expound a Hebrew word
I hope to teach how to preach a sermon expounding a single Hebrew word.
The Hebrew Scriptures contain two great divisions, the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40). Christianity was originally a Jewish religion. It only separated from its Hebrew roots when Christians and Jews had a falling out over Jesus' being our mutual Messiah and other matters such as the relationship of the law to the New Covenant. Unfortunately, since that separation we have neglected the Jewish roots of our faith, and because Hebrew has not been mandatory in many Bible colleges, this has led to many misunderstandings of the Old Testament among Christian churches. If Bible study is important to us, then becoming a student of Hebrew and Greek is a worthy lifetime goal.
We will look at a very brief outline of the Old Testament, why understanding the OT is important for Christians, the Hebrew Alphabet, the Hebrew language and some resources for preparing a sermon on a Hebrew word.
Old Testament Overview
The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible or Tanak is that collection of books originally written mostly in Hebrew. A few small sections were written in Aramaic. Tanak is a modern Hebrew acronym for the 3 main divisions of the Old Testament, the Torah (law), Nevi'im (prophets) and the Ketuvim (writings). Sometimes the Old Testament is also simply summarized as the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40), meaning the first 5 books of Moses plus everything else. The words Old Testament are the equivalent of the words Old Covenant, the significant difference being that a testament involves a death and a covenant does not necessarily.
What is the importance of the Old Testament to Christians? It tells us who created the universe and contains significant and reliable history unavailable in any other source. About 1/3 of the New Testament alludes to or directly quotes the Old. The OT was used as the basis for preaching the Gospel, before the New Testament was even written. It tells us what Christ was doing before his incarnation. It gives great details of God's dealings with humankind before Christ. It prepares the way for Christ. It provides examples of the mind of God on civil matters. It contains the word's best and earliest psychology books. It provides wisdom for material success in this world. It provides a basis and a foundation for the Christian Church. It provides a reason why law alone cannot guarantee righteousness in fallible human beings, and that our only hope is in Jesus.
Understanding the Old Testament
In order to understand the OT, we must learn about the techniques and genres of literature that it contains. The Hebrew writers were amazingly skilled at using techniques such as plays on words, metaphors, hyperbole, symbols, allegory, personification, irony and parallelisms. They also used a variety of genres including poetry, narrative, prophecy, law, proverb, chronicle, and genealogy lists. It is also helpful to understand something about ancient history and ancient literature and thus the context within which the OT was written.
Preachers who wish to be masters of their craft will also want to learn at least some basics of Hebrew. Preachers need to read the whole Bible regularly for themselves. It is important to understand the historical timeline of the Old Testament: creation, patriarchs, monarchy and the post-exilic period. Preach the completeness of the Bible as a unit and demonstrate how the struggle between human traditions and faith works. The OT is a book about God's interventions in human history and the lead up to the most important divine intervention of all, the incarnation of Jesus.
The Hebrew Alphabet
As most of you know, Hebrew reads from right to left. For many of you this will be just review, but can you still say the alphabet by rote memory or have you long forgotten it? Review your old Hebrew alphabet.
The letter chet is perhaps the hardest for most English speakers to pronounce. It is not the ch in chemical, nor the ch in child, but similar to the ch in the Scottish pronunciation of loch, or the German pronunciation of ich, and most like a Dutch g such as in van Goch. Pardon the graphic description, but it is the sound you make when you clear your throat to spit.
However, a preacher's purpose in studying Hebrew is to read it not to speak it. It is as different to modern Hebrew spoken in Israel as Anglo-Saxon is from modern English. So, in one sense it is a dead language as far as conversational use is concerned, and nobody really knows for sure how it was pronounced thousands of years ago anyway. In another sense it still lives as a language but only for study purposes.
I highly recommend taking a minimum of one semester in biblical Hebrew at a good Bible college, seminary, graduate school or synagogue. There are also very good computer courses available today, which will give a diligent preacher who can study alone, a good introduction. The reason that you the preacher would want a basic introduction to Hebrew is so you can use some of the wonderful tools available for word study. If you can't even read the letters of the alphabet, you are handicapped. However, if you can at least read the letters, many wonderful modern tools such as computer programs, open up to help you with other more difficult issues, such as the meaning in a particular grammatical setting and context.