Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review – Interpreting the Prophetic Books

In sports, my experience has been that one of the main causes behind intimidation is simply the unknown. We are intimidated when we don’t know about: How good is this team? Will I be able to defend against this player? How will they attack our offence? More often than not, when the reality of things comes to light we realize we didn't really have anything to be intimidated about. They may be good, but they’re not Superman. They put their pants on the same way we did this morning. Knowledge leads to confidence. I find the same is true for interpreting and preaching; some books of the Bible are intimidating but with knowledge comes confidence.

In Interpreting the Prophetic Books, Gary V. Smith provides helpful information which leads to increased knowledge resulting in a lessening of the intimidation that preaching prophetic books produce.His thorough but concise teaching on understanding and processing biblical, prophetic literature helps preachers, particularly less-than-seasoned preachers such as myself, overcome any inhibitions about preaching this genre. Of course, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, but the Spirit can also use a resource like this as a foundation for future preaching.

Interpreting the Prophetic Books is a well organized, logically laid out book which fosters learning and makes it easy to return to for review. The series it belongs to-Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis-follows a predetermined chapter structure which Smith’s book follows: the nature of the genres, major themes, preparing for interpretation, proclaiming the text, putting it all together. Structure and organization is facilitated by two table of content; one is brief and the other in-depth. As well, each chapter begins with a very useful chart that provides the chapter at a glance. I really appreciate this aspect of the book. The book finishes with the expected glossary and indexes. Books that are to be used a resources which will be revisited would all benefit from simple yet effective organization as this book has.

Chapter one discusses the nature of prophecy including a distinguishing of the temporal categories as well as the genres of prophecy. It also considers the poetical aspects of these canonical books. For me, this was the most helpful chapter and I learned enough to ease some of that intimidation I was feeling. Chapter two investigates the major themes of all 17 prophetic books and encapsulates these ideas with an overall thematic summary. I will definitely be returning to this section of the book regularly. The third chapter aims at aiding one in preparing for interpretation. Included are concepts revolving around the historical setting, other ancient prophetic literature, textual criticism, and working with commentaries. This chapter ends with suggested commentaries and electronic resources on each book of the bible; this is a great bonus to the chapter.Chapter four addresses interpretive issues in the texts which include issues such as literal/metaphorical considerations, contextual topics, and various other difficulties. The fifth chapter delves into the actual preaching of the text with an almost step-by-step approach to dealing with proclaiming these Scriptures. Reflections on applications for this genre completes the chapter and these points were helpful. The final chapter offers some concrete examples of specific prophetic passages that have been dealt with by the author in light of preaching.This “walk-through”is a very practical demonstration of much of the books contents.

As mentioned, this book is a very helpful aid to those intimidated with preaching the prophetic books. I’m sure even experienced preachers will also find benefits through out. It tight organization strengthens its usefulness as a resource which one can return to. I will certainly be accessing this book for years to come.

One aspect of preaching that was not addressed was that of preaching Christ from these books. Though this may be a topic outside of the aim of the series, I feel that this issue is one that many preachers, experienced or not, will struggle with in the prophetic books of Scripture. Addressing this issue would have been a great finishing touch to a very helpful book.

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