I teach students how to read their Bibles, basic exegesis skills, and broad application of God’s Word. Despite this, I still have a hard time nailing down the Prophetic Books. Some of the smaller ones (e.g. Jonah, Nahum, Malachi) present less challenges than the major books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel). Trying to unpack the dense theological meaning and complicated historical contexts of these books is tough when you’re staring at fifteen seventh graders. They typically respond in one of two ways: 1) discouragement when reading the Prophets, or 2) refusal to understand them without some “hidden” meaning. That’s why I was so excited when Kregel Academic put up Gary Smith’s Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook. Although the book is designed to be used in sermon creation, it has use in a number of educational settings.
The format of the book is perfectly laid out to maximize your engagement of the text. While each chapter deals with the individual prophets as they’re laid out in the Old Testament, the main chapters in Interpreting the Prophetic Books follows a different format. The first chapter is a brief (but excellent) engagement with the nature of prophecy. As one of the most easily misunderstood, and sometime abused, genres of Scriptural writing, this section is vital. Old Testament studies can be dry, but Smith writes winsomely so that the reader doesn’t come away feeling stuffy or dusty. His section on “Deciphering the Imagery” was the highlight of the chapter, making access to such a difficult aspect clear and concise. Smith goes on to deal with themes from each book (chapter 2) the context of each prophet (chapter 3). “Issues in the Prophetic Texts” is a wonderful exploration of the problems plaguing interpretations of the books, but Smith is careful not to alienate his readers here. Chapter 5 serves as a very brief advisory section on how to preach these texts, and while interesting, primarily is crafted for preachers of the Word. Chapter 6, “From Text to Application” is also designed for the preacher, but it has wonderful implications for the classroom. It is a sampling of the steps outlined in the previous chapters, using two specific passages from the OT. Seeing Smith’s process actually laid out reveals its import for settings beyond the pulpit. Specifically, his explanation of how to create a thematic outline for an individual lesson is one of the most lucid examples of teaching the Prophetic literature I have read.
I don’t think this is a book I would necessarily recommend to everyone, however. Teachers and preachers would benefit greatly from its insights, but because it is a brief exploration of some of the more complicated aspects, it will probably leave the laymen without any background knowledge still lacking for understanding the context and interpretive complications. It is without a book that I will be using in my own Bible classes in the future.