Preaching the Glory of God from the Old Testament

Moses said, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18).

This request was made by Moses following the Lord’s acceptance of his intercession on behalf of idolatrous Israel. God had threatened the removal of his presence from his people because of their sin, and, according to the narrative, Moses’ pleading for God to relent from this unthinkable occurrence is successful.

Moses is subsequently emboldened to ask God to reveal to him His glory, and, on a rock in Horeb, he is shown the ‘back parts’ of God - his grace, mercy and covenant faithfulness. Protected by the hand of God, safe from being exposed to, and annihilated by, the full measure of the glory of God, Moses glimpses something of God’s sovereign goodness as ‘The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord’ (Exodus 34:5).

In a sense, this dramatises for us what we are about as preachers called to proclaim the glory of God from the Old Testament. We want both to see and to show the sovereign wonder and eternal majesty of the God who speaks to us in the Law, the Writings and the Prophets. He is the God who, in the fulness of the new covenant, mediates his glory to us in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Yet it was the spirit of the same Jesus who was in the prophets (1 Peter 1:11), and who were instruments of revelation of the same glory.  Our people come to the word saying to God ‘Please show me your glory’. As preachers, we must wrestle with the text of the Old Testament with the same prayer.

So what is the relation between the Old Testament and the glory of God? Let’s explore this along four trajectories.

First, the glory of God is revealed. It has to be; how would we know it otherwise? Moses has to request God to show his glory, and God accedes to his request, accommodating himself to Moses’ understanding. He does that by proclaiming His own name, and by republishing the words of the covenant (Exodus 34:1, 10). God discloses himself, revealing himself to be a personal God, entering into covenant with his people.

The most fundamental way, therefore, in which we as preachers handle the text of the Old Testament is with the premise that a personal God is speaking to us in the language of covenant and commitment. Our handling of the text - our reading of it, our singing of it, our preaching of it, our translating of it - must be done reverently and cautiously. In the text of the Old Testament the God who cannot be seen makes his voice heard, and he enters into a relationship with his people. In our preaching, God shares his secrets with and befriends those who fear him, making his covenant known to them (Psalm 25:14). They, in turn, ought to respond with awe, gratitude and delight as the house of God becomes for them a theatre in which the beauty of the Lord may be seen (Psalm 27:4).

Second, the glory of God is creative. The Old Testament opens purposefully with the narrative of creation, carefully weaving a pattern of distinctions. God is distinct from his creation. Light is distinct from darkness, day from night, earth from sea, man from animals, male from female, Sabbath from the other six days of the week. The stage is being built upon which the great dramatic purpose of God will be enacted, and its grandeur praises its Maker well.

Little wonder the text of the Old Testament marvels that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), as God silences us by asking if we were present when he made the earth (Job 38:4). In our preaching we extol the God whose invisible attributes are displayed in everything he has made (Romans 1:20), reminding our hearers that he made us, and not we ourselves (Psalm 100:3), that the awesome nature of his creation sets his special love to man in glorious disproportionate perspective (Psalm 8:3-4), and that the power of the Creator of the ends of the earth is deployed for the help and protection of his people constantly (Isaiah 40:28-31).

Preaching the Old Testament means emphasising the core doctrine which is there from the beginning: that God is the sovereign God of creation, history and all that transpires in the providences that shape this world. Before him we are less than nothing and vanity (Isaiah 40:17), yet in covenant the Lord remembers us (Psalm 40:17).

Third, the glory of God is redemptive. It is particularly as the redeemer of his people that God displays his glory. He promised deliverance to man by intimation of the ultimate destruction of Satan (Genesis 3:15); he redeemed his people out of Egypt because of his covenant faithfulness (Exodus 2:23-25), and he restored them to their land out of the exile of Babylon for the sake of his own name (Ezekiel 36:23-24).

The history of Israel in the Old Testament is thus bracketed by concrete acts of redemption, from bondage in Egypt and from exile in Babylon, and both of these redemptive acts are displays of the glory of God (Exodus 15:11-13; Nehemiah 9:31). The same redemptive glory that is displayed in our salvation in Christ is displayed throughout the Old Testament. Our preaching of the gospel from the Old Testament is to direct the attention of men and women to that great fact.

There are at least four elements to this. First is the fact that the Old Testament supplies us with the vocabulary of redemption. By the time we have read through Genesis and Exodus, the first two books of the Bible, we have mastered the basic vocabulary necessary for the communication of the gospel. We have learned about God, creation, sin, covenant, redemption, blood, law, grace, sacrifice: they are all there, like the building blocks which the New Testament will use to construct the completed glorious gospel.

Preaching through the Old Testament, therefore, is to be constantly interacting with the grand themes and rich word groups in which the good news of God’s salvation comes to us. When Christ and the apostles proclaimed the forgiveness of sins through faith in the blood of the Lamb, they already had the lexical and conceptual framework in which to do it. The glory of God in the Old Testament is couched in a language the jot and tittle of which will not fail.

Second is the fact that the Old Testament tells a history of redemption.  Whichever Old Testament text or passage is being expounded is located on a line of history that runs from creation to consummation, of which Jesus Christ is alpha and omega, pivot and foundation. Into the darkness of man’s fall a light shines, almost imperceptibly, gradually rising like the slow dawning of the sun, so that over time the world is prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ. By the time the sun has risen, so much glory light has been revealed that only one person can fulfil every prophecy and prediction, every type and analogy. Our gospel proclamation must do justice to the nature of the revelation given at particular points along the line, doing justice to the biblical story as a developmental axis of redemption.

That fact ought to guard us from a mere moralising of the Old Testament, from treating it only as a compilation of examples of how we are to live. To be sure, we will miss some of the great themes of the Old Testament if we do not take to ourselves lessons of faith, just as the author of Hebrews does in Hebrews 11. But the story is a story of warfare, the story of God championing the cause of his people. The song of Moses contains the glorious insight that ‘The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name’ (Exodus 15:3). That is the song of Heaven, and the song of the Lamb (Revelation 15:3). The Bible’s story is a particular interpretation of history, in which every detail is designed to highlight the theme of God’s determination to rescue his people from the grip of sin and Satan. If we do not highlight the glory of God in the work of redemption as we handle the text of the Old Testament, we have missed the key element of the record.

Third is the fact that the Old Testament provides a theology of redemption. In addition to being located on a historical timeline, every Old Testament passage is also located within the circle of the Bible’s theology. So if we are preaching on the tabernacle, for example, the special tent constructed purposefully to domesticate the glory of God within the camp of Israel (Exodus 40:34), we must do justice both to the primitive nature of revelation at the time, and the full disclosure of that revelation in the wider canon of Scripture, in which tabernacle language is used of Jesus (John 1:14) and of his people (2 Corinthians 5:1). We cannot preach all our theology in any given sermon; but we can, and must, shape our sermon in the light of the totality of the theology God has given.

Can we preach on the passover redemption of Exodus 12 without bringing to bear on our exposition the deep theology of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, whose substitutionary death and vicarious bloodshed are the very heartbeat of the gospel? Can we preach on Isaiah 6 and the prophet’s vision of God without shining onto it the light of John 12, where the New Testament tells us that it was Jesus whom Isaiah saw? Can we preach the passages of the Old Testament which are quoted in the New without nuancing our interpretation in the light of the use which the New Testament makes of them?

I think not. The Scriptures, no less than the heavens, declares the glory of God; and to isolate texts from contexts, or pericopes of Old Testament theology from the wider context of the completed canon of Scripture is to do a disservice to the God whose word we are proclaiming. We show the glory of God in our preaching of the Old Testament precisely as we demonstrate how each individual passage is organically connected to the whole, and how God’s covenant of grace with us in Christ is the theological principle which binds all of Scripture together.

Fourth is the fact that the Old Testament produces a hymnody of redemption. The worship wars of our churches are an interesting window into the cultural impact of society on the church. Our churches are what our churches sing. And whatever our position on singing the Psalms, there is no doubt that the Old Testament, in supplying its own praise book, calls us to magnify, and exult in, the glory of God. It does that by rehearsing the great acts of redemption, such as in Psalms 78 and 105. It does it by describing the perfections of the God who redeems his people, such as in Psalms 111 and 145. And it does it by expressing the personal experience of redemption, in both the best and the worst circumstances of the believer’s life. To sing - or at least to preach - the Psalms is to proclaim the glory of God within both a public and a private context.

Ultimately, of course, the glory of God in the Old Testament is seen in anticipation. The ministry of the law was glorious, but that of the Spirit, though organically connected to it, excels in glory (2 Corinthians 3:7-11). Moses could see only the back parts of God; we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Everything in the Old Testament looks forward to that moment, since the prophets, through the Spirit of Christ, spoke beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and subsequent glory (1 Peter 1:11).  But that was because everything in the Old Testament drew its significance from that great act of God’s self-disclosure when the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).

Like Mary, the mother of the Lord, the Old Testament is pregnant with the expectation of an even greater revelation of glory than any - even its most significant figures - could anticipate. And as we preach the Old Testament to our people, may they be able to say, like Mary, ‘he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’ (Luke 1:49).

Why Expositional Preaching Is Particularly Glorifying to God

George Whitefield believed in preaching and gave his life to it. By this preaching God did a mighty work of salvation on both sides of the Atlantic. His biographer, Arnold Dallimore, chronicled the astonishing effect that Whitefield’s preaching had in Britain and America in the eighteenth century. It came like rain on the parched land and made the desert spring forth with the flowers of righteousness. Dallimore lifted his eyes from the transformed wasteland of Whitefield’s time and expressed his longing that God would do this again. He cries out for a new generation of preachers like Whitefield. His words help me express what I long for in the coming generations of preachers in America and around the world. He said, Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more . . . raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ. And what manner of men will they be? Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace. They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be ‘fools for Christ’s sake’, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat. They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear-filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness ‘signs and wonders following’ in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.

Mighty in the Scriptures, aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace, dead to self, willing to labor and suffer, indifferent to the accolades of man, broken for sin, and dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty, and holiness of God. Dallimore, like Whitefield, believed that preaching is the heralding of God’s word from that kind of heart. Preaching is not conversation. Preaching is not discussion. Preaching is not casual talk about religious things. Preaching is not simply teaching. Preaching is the heralding of a message permeated by the sense of God’s greatness and majesty and holiness. The topic may be anything under the sun, but it is always brought into the blazing light of God’s greatness and majesty in his word. That was the way Whitefield preached.

That is my longing for our day—and for you. That God would raise up thousands of broken-hearted, Bible-saturated preachers who are dominated by a sense of the greatness and the majesty and the holiness of God, revealed in the gospel of Christ crucified and risen and reigning with absolute authority over every nation and every army and every false religion and every terrorist and every tsunami and every cancer cell, and every galaxy in the universe.

God did not ordain the cross of Christ or create the lake of fire in order to communicate the insignificance of belittling his glory. The death of the Son of God and the damnation of unrepentant human beings are the loudest shouts under heaven that God is infinitely holy, and sin is infinitely offensive, and wrath is infinitely just, and grace is infinitely precious, and our brief life—and the life of every person in your church and in your community—leads to everlasting joy or everlasting suffering. If our preaching does not carry the weight of these things to our people, what will? Veggie Tales? Radio? Television? Discussion groups? Emergent conversations?
God planned for his Son to be crucified (Rev 13:8; 2 Tim 1:9) and for hell to be terrible (Matt 25:41) so that we would have the clearest witnesses possible to what is at stake when we preach. What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with the fire of hell. That’s the mantle that turns mere talkers into preachers. Yet tragically some of the most prominent evangelical voices today diminish the horror of the cross and the horror of hell—the one stripped of its power to bear our punishment, and the other demythologized into self-dehumanization and the social miseries of this world.

Oh that the rising generations would see that the world is not overrun with a sense of seriousness about God. There is no surplus in the church of a sense of God’s glory. There is no excess of earnestness in the church about heaven and hell and sin and salvation. And therefore the joy of many Christians is paper thin. By the millions people are amusing themselves to death with DVDs, and 107-inch TV screens, and games on their cell phones, and slapstick worship, while the spokesmen of a massive world religion write letters to the West in major publications saying, “The first thing we are calling you to is Islam . . . It is the religion of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil with the hand, tongue and heart. It is the religion of jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah’s Word and religion reign Supreme.”5 And then these spokesmen publicly bless suicide bombers who blow up children in front of Falafel shops and call it the way to paradise. This is the world in which we preach.

And yet incomprehensibly, in this Christ-diminishing, soul-destroying age, books and seminars and divinity schools and church growth specialists are bent on saying to young pastors, “Lighten up.” “Get funny.” “Do something amusing.” To this I ask, Where is the spirit of Jesus? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:24-25). “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:29). “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt 8:22). “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:44). “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). “Some of you they will put to death . . . But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:16-19).

Would the church growth counsel to Jesus be, “Lighten up, Jesus. Do something amusing.” And to the young pastor: “Whatever you do, young pastor, don’t be like the Jesus of the Gospels. Lighten up.” From my perspective, which feels very close to eternity these days, that message to pastors sounds increasingly insane.

A Portrayal of the Glory of God
What you believe about the necessity of preaching and the nature of preaching is governed by your sense of the greatness and the glory of God and how you believe people awaken to that glory and live for that glory. From beginning to end nothing in the Bible is more ultimate in the mind and heart of God than the glory of God—the beauty of God, the radiance of his manifold perfections. At every point in God’s revealed action, wherever he makes plain the ultimate goal of that action, the goal is always the same: to uphold and display his glory.

Nothing affects preaching more deeply than to be struck almost speechless—almost—by the passion of God for the glory of God. What is clear from the whole range of biblical revelation is that God’s ultimate allegiance is to know himself perfectly, and to love himself infinitely, and to share this experience, as much as it can be, with his people. Over every act of God flies the banner: “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Isa 48:11; cf. 42:8).

The God’s glory becomes visible in the world is not mainly by passionate acts of corporate worship on Sunday morning—as precious as those moments are—but by the changes that it produces in our lives. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). The light that shines through our deeds and causes people to see God, not us, is the all-satisfying worth of his glory.
It works something like this: When the glory of God is the treasure of our lives, we will not lay up treasures on earth, but spend them for the spread of his glory. We will not covet, but overflow with liberality. We will not crave the praise of men, but forget ourselves in praising God. We will not be mastered by sinful, sensual pleasures, but sever their root by the power of a superior promise. We will not nurse a wounded ego or cherish a grudge or nurture a vengeful spirit, but will hand over our cause to God and bless those who hate us. Every sin flows from the failure to treasure the glory of God above all things. Therefore one crucial, visible way to display the truth and value of the glory of God is by humble, sacrificial lives of service that flow only from the fountain of God’s all satisfying glory.

The Implicit Call for Expository Exultation
If it is the purpose of God that we display his glory in the world, and if we display it because we have been changed by knowing and enjoying it, and if we know and enjoy it by beholding the glory of the Lord, and if we behold that glory most clearly and centrally in the gospel of the glory of Christ, and if the gospel is a message delivered in words to the world, then what follows is that God intends for preachers to unfold these words and exult over them—which is what I call expository exultation.

Each word matters. It is expository because there is so much about the gospel that cries out to be exposited (opened, unfolded, elucidated, clarified, explained, displayed). We see this when we focus on five essential dimensions of the gospel message.

The gospel is a message about historical events: the life and death and resurrection of Christ—summoning us to open them with thorough expositions of texts.

The gospel is a message about what those events achieved before we experienced anything or even existed: the completion of perfect obedience, the payment for ours sins, the removal of the wrath of God, the installation of Jesus as the crucified and risen Messiah and king of the universe, the disarming of the rulers and authorities, the destruction of death—all of these summoning us to open them with thorough expositions of texts.

The gospel is a message about the transfer of these achievements from Christ to particular persons through our union with Christ by faith alone apart from works—which summons us to open for our people the nature and dynamics of faith by the exposition of dozens of texts.
The gospel is a message about the good things that are now true about us as the achievement of the cross is applied to us in Christ: that God is only merciful to us now instead of wrathful (propitiation), that we are counted righteous in Christ now (justification), that we are freed now from the guilt and power of sin (redemption), that we are positionally and progressively made holy (sanctification)—all of which summons us to open these glorious realities for our people week after week with thorough expositions of texts.

And finally the gospel is a message about the glorious God himself as our final, eternal, all-satisfying Treasure. “We . . . rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5:11). The gospel we preach is “the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” If our gospel stops short of this goal—enjoying God himself, not just his gifts of forgiveness and rescue from hell and eternal life—then we are not preaching “the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Our ultimate goal is knowing and enjoying God. As we saw in the beginning of this chapter, that is why we were created—that God might share with us the knowledge and enjoyment of himself. This is what it means for him to love us. This is what the cross ultimately obtained for us. And this too, by every text of Scripture—all of it inspired by God to awaken hope in his glory7—calls for the richest exposition that our people may be fed the best and highest food of heaven.

Exposition of texts is essential because the gospel is a message that comes to us in words and God has ordained that people see the glory of Christ—the “unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8)—in those gospel words. That is our calling: to open the words and sentences and paragraphs of Scripture and display “the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”

Which leads us finally to the second word in the phrase expository exultation. Woe to us if we do our exposition of such a gospel without exultation—that is, without exulting over the truth we unfold. When Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord,” the word he uses for “proclaim” is kerussomen—we herald Christ as Lord, we announce Christ as Lord. The kerux—the proclaimer, the “preacher” (1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11)—may have to explain what he is saying if people don’t understand (so teaching may be involved). But what sets the herald apart from the philosopher and scribe and teacher is that he is the herald of news—and in our case, infinitely good news. Infinitely valuable news. The greatest news in all the world.

The creator of the universe, who is more glorious and more to be desired than any treasure on earth, has revealed himself in Jesus Christ to be known and enjoyed forever by anyone in the world who will lay down the arms of rebellion, receive his blood-bought amnesty, and embrace his Son as Savior, Lord, and Treasure of their lives.

O brothers, do not lie about the value of the gospel by the dullness of your demeanor. Exposition of the most glorious reality is a glorious reality. If it is not expository exultation—authentic from the heart—something false is being said about the value of the gospel. Don’t say by your face or by your voice or by your life that the gospel is not the gospel of the all-satisfying glory of Christ. It is. And may God raise up from among you a generation of preachers whose exposition is worthy of the truth of God and whose exultation is worthy of the glory of God.