God once spoke directly to the children of Israel in Exodus 20:1-17; their response is recorded in verse 19: “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” God’s direct revelation of the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel was so fearsome that the people did not want to endure it again. Instead, they asked Moses to be God’s spokesperson; his was a voice that they could endure. From that time forward until his death, Moses was God’s man for delivering His message to Israel.
Preaching was not a new phenomenon to the children of Israel. 2 Peter 2:5 informs us that preaching went at least as far back as Noah who was a preacher of righteousness himself. Joseph appears to have been a very good public speaker when addressing Pharaoh’s concerns (Gen. 41:25-36). And in Genesis 44:18-34, Judah presented a most eloquent speech to Joseph regarding sparing his Brother Benjamin’s captivity in Egypt. Though God promised to be with them, and even give His inspired men their words, we need not merely dismiss their personal abilities, because “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32).
It was on Mount Horeb that God appeared to Moses to make him a prophet, and preacher, to the children of Israel. Moses resisted initially; he said, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Ex. 4:10). God responded, “Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (Ex. 4:11-12). Since that time, preaching the word of God has become a time honored institution.
The Hebrew word qara, which means to call, proclaim, or read aloud, captures the essential notion of preaching. In Exodus 33:19 God said to Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee….” The word “proclaim” is the Hebrew word qara. It is translated “preach” in Nehemiah 6:7 and Jonah 3:2. In Greek, the word kerusso has the same force. The idea is to proclaim a message after the manner of a herald so that all may hear. Jesus used this word in Mark 16:15 to command the apostles to “preach the gospel,” and we find them doing just that in Acts 5:42: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”
Preaching has always been central to the life of God’s people. From the time of Noah, to Moses, to Nehemiah, to Jesus and His apostles—preaching is God’s way of communicating with His people. Ideally, preaching is supposed to embody the very voice of God. If we consider prayer to be speaking to God, we should consider preaching to be God speaking to us, and when God speaks, we had better maintain a worshipful attitude toward Him and His message.
But this places a grave and solemn responsibility upon the proclaimer of God’s truths. He has divine authority to explain and “give the sense” of God’s word (Neh. 8:8). However, he must not turn to the right hand nor to the left when it comes to preaching God’s message (Deut. 5:32, 12:32, 28:14). He must not put forth his opinion as God’s divine precept, but speak distinctly what is God’s will for man. He must speak as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11).