I have noticed a trend toward equating “prophetic preaching” with a confrontational, rough and tough style of delivery. It is a little less than what was once called a “hellfire and brimstone” sermon. Maybe it is closer to what was once called a “toe-stomping” sermon. I have inquired about the fascination with such prophetic preaching and it seems to be praised as preaching that “keeps it real,” or “convicts.” Of course I have only inquired with those who have prefer this style. I can’t seem to get much out of those who are impervious to homiletic broadsides.
I am not convinced that prophetic preaching means that a sermon is necessarily “in your face.” Certainly there is the John the Baptist approach with lines like “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” But when you have been on a diet of crickets and honey in the desert, subtlety goes out the window.
I wonder why Nathan gets overlooked when we think of prophetic preaching? We remember him for boldly asserting “Thou art the man!” to King David (2 Samuel 12:7), but let’s not overlook how he got to that point. Nathan has been sent by God to deliver a message – a message that God is displeased with David. Nathan could have jumped right into a diatribe on social justice. He could have ruthlessly named names and smacked David in the face with a holy two-by-four. David was guilty of adultery, abuse of power, murder, and political cover-up. Surely this is no time to be indirect or metaphorical. Yet, Nathan opens with a parable about poor man and his little lamb. Why? Is he afraid to speak truth to power? Isn’t he a prophet? Hold that thought.
I have learned many lessons from remodeling a house that is older than I am. I have learned to use the right tool for the job and to be patient in learning what tool works best. This is especially true with hardwood flooring. Installing hardwood floors is an exciting and rewarding job, but it is also frustrating and inflexible. The smallest mistake can dislodge all of the planks. Mistakes are not easy to hide in a large floor. The glue is messy and the trowel is awkward. The razor blades that cut away excess glue too easily slip and cut the finish on the boards – or my own hands. I have smashed my thumb and finger with the hammer despite my greatest caution.
But the Wonder Bar lives up to its name. It is a contoured pry bar with a beveled edge that slips under the planks or behind the trim. It has its own fulcrum shaped into the bar, and once it is in place I can move an entire section of floor before the glue sets. And even when the glue has set, once the bar is slipped into place, the slightest twist of the bar pries loose the hardened glue, pulls out the rustiest nail and lifts every stubborn board out of the place it should not be. No razor, hammer, or saw can compare to the effectiveness of the Wonder Bar.
Now, back to Nathan’s prophetic message: King David has grown an armor of arrogance. The young shepherd who trusted in the God who saved him from the claws of the lion and the claws of the bear; the young shepherd who believed that God would help him because his cause against the oppressive and insulting giant was just; the young shepherd who refused Saul’s weaponry and high-grade armor … now he has an armor of his own, plated with royal privilege and reinforced with self- justification. Nathan could attack with the razor, sledgehammer, or chainsaw of faith, but David’s armor is impressive and his record of erasing men of principle is strong. Nathan’s parable is the right tool for the job – a precision tool – a Wonder Bar – that does what no direct warning, no battlefield report, or funeral wailing has been able to do with King David. Nathan’s parable pries open the armor that has sealed itself around David’s heart. It opens up a space for God’s Holy Spirit to revive David’s shepherd heart. The parable has slipped in through the armor plating of arrogance and pried lose the mortar of David’s deception. So, when David demands to know the name and address of the pitiless scoundrel who devoured the poor man’s lamb, David’s armor has been pried open and with the slightest twist, Nathan exposes David to the spirit and the entire floor beneath him moves.
The agenda of Nathan’s prophetic preaching is much more than putting David in his place. He has come not only to reconcile David to God, but also to reconcile David to Israel. For David’s sending has not only displeased God, it has created pain and suffering for the people. Nathan pries David open and exposes him to God and Israel and himself. Now the reconciliation begins. The world is rearranged. The repair begins, even though it is not without loss. David has shown contempt for the Lord, but the Lord has taken away his sins. Death would be too easy. He must be a part of the repairs.
To those who preach, I encourage you to set out your words like tools. Use the right word for the work. Wield God’s word not as a weapon, but as a precision tool that pries loose the damage and decay and opens the floor for spiritual repair.
Chris Benjamin is the preaching minister for the WestArk Church of Christ in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He previously served as preaching minister for the Lake Jackson Church of Christ in Lake Jackson, Texas, and campus minister for the CCSC on the campus of Arkansas Tech University. Benjamin earned his D.Min. and M.Div. from ACU and his B.A. from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, where he and his wife Karen were involved in the Razorbacks for Christ campus ministry. They have two sons, Wyatt and Ethan. When he is not restoring some portion of his 50- year-old house, Chris enjoys a good story told well—no matter if it is a novel, comic strip, movie, or comedian.