Three Keys to Unlock Prophecy

How to Unpack Difficult Scripture Passages

By Todd Wethall — Study Content Specialist 

I have a confession – I have struggled to read through the Old Testament prophets. Maybe you can relate. 

As a long, long, long-time BSFer, I did my best to swallow the passage whole and glean something close to an answer. I was quick to respond in my group to the simple questions and avoid eye contact with the deeper, more challenging ones.  

But I had to ask: Is this what God intended for me? Is this how God wants me to encounter, understand, and be transformed by Him?   

I don’t think so. 

In the midst of People of the Promise: Kingdom Divided, you may be weary. So much rebellion. So much judgment. Perhaps it even sounds redundant. But God has something deep for us to uncover. He longs for us to understand our utter need for Him and see His glory amid the darkness of fallen humanity.

BSF has taught countless people, like me, not only to read God’s Word but how to unpack His Word. As I encounter God through the Bible, I approach His prophecy much like I approach any part of His Word.

I look at context. I look for meaning. And I look for Jesus. 

The minor prophets may seem cryptic or unrelatable, but I have discovered deep meaning through this approach. As an example, let’s look at the book of Amos.

I look at context. I look for meaning. And I look for Jesus. 

What is the context? 

Ask: How would the original audience have heard this passage? What makes this passage unique?  

Amos spoke to Israel during the height of wealth and prosperity. The people worshipped, they sacrificed, and they declared, “God is with us!” Unsurprisingly, God declared judgment on their neighbors. But in a shocking twist, Amos’ narrative shifted. The same accusations brought against God’s enemies applied to His own people.  

Beneath their pretense of piety, the people were ruled by selfish ambition and decadence. They oppressed the poor and accepted bribes – God declared “the times are evil.” Judgment was coming for those who refused to repent of their false morality. 

What is the meaning? 

Ask: What is the passage saying about God? What does it say about His people? What is God saying to me (Is there something I’m supposed to know or do from this passage)? Why should I care?

Amos’ words are strikingly relevant. If we’re honest, we can admit that people have not changed since 750 BC. With vivid imagery, Amos foretold “wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square” (Amos 5:16). But God offered hope. At the heart of His warnings, God revealed His character. He is holy, He is judge, He is righteous. And He is love.

God willingly dealt with the people’s sin. He could have counted them as lost. He had every right to let them rot from the inside out. But the One “who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land” pursued His people (Amos 5:8). He exposed their false sense of security to offer a new way forward. Speaking into the darkness, God’s Word brought light.

I see myself in Amos’ words. I see my sin and long for hope. The words of Amos lead me to repentance. They bring me to my knees in worship. They soften my heart in gratitude for Jesus. They stir my heart toward joyful obedience.

Speaking into the darkness, God’s Word brought light.  

What does this teach me about Jesus? 

Ask: What does this passage say about the Son of God? 

While the name “Jesus” may not be obvious, the book of Amos (and the rest of God’s prophecy) was not recorded in a vacuum. Each word is part of the grand narrative of God’s story. And we can read Amos with the Savior in mind. Through the prophets, God’s Word entered into humanity’s darkness. Through Jesus, that Word became flesh.

The last six verses of the book of Amos (9:11-15) conclude with the glorious promise of restoration. Repaired shelter, restored ruins, rebuilt cities, and new wine certainly foretold of preserving a remnant of Israel. But it also promises a future restoration of heaven and earth – pointing to the return of Jesus. When life feels hard or overwhelming, this is a promise you can cling to. 

Each word is part of the grand narrative of God’s story.

What if I’m still struggling? 

Reading a book like Amos can feel overwhelming, but in BSF we don’t wander through Scripture alone. Through our BSF groups, we can share our struggles. On a tough week, be honest with your group. In moments of inspiration, celebrate together. God preserved these prophetic books for a reason, and they aren’t just for Bible scholars. When we read these warnings with Jesus as our hope, the gift of eternal salvation becomes more precious with every verse.

Todd Wethall

Study Content Specialist

Todd Wethall serves as a Study Content Specialist at BSF. Having been involved in BSF – as a class member, Group Leader, Teaching Leader, and HQ staff member – since 1993, Todd credits this ministry as having the greatest earthly influence on His life in the growth of His intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Todd and his wife, Holly, are blessed with two children, their spouses, and two new grandchildren.

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201 Comments

  1. Thank you for the tips.

    In the Amos example (9:11-15), I don’t see a promise of the future restoration of heaven and earth. After reading many times, I can only see God’s promise of the future restoration of Israel.

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  2. Todd:
    I love the BSF NOTES but as you mentioned above in “What is the Context” – it would be incredible IF BSF provided us with some of the “context” of the times; the history, and a glimpse into the culture at the time of the scripture we are reading.
    BSF does not want participants to use commentaries, etc., until after the four-fold approach, BUT if BSF provided some context beforehand I think it would help to facilitate “What is the meaning,” “What does this teach me about Jesus.” I think it would bring the scriptures to life.

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    • Agree!! I find myself searching outside resources for context quite often

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  3. Your words are a blessing. Thanks be to God for the Holy Spirit who put it upon your heart to share this with us.

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  4. I am a new reader of the stories in the Bible and would like to begin reading I need guidance

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  5. Thank you Todd for excellent tips. Great insight!

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  6. Very excellent. Makes me really want to dig in more. Find Jesus in everything I read. Thank you for this helps.

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  7. This reminds me of inductive study where there is observation, interpretation and application. But it goes a further with the third question, “What does it teach me about Jesus?” I hope to dig deeper as I learn to reflect on these questions with the lessons.

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    • Well said.

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  8. Weldone thanks.

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  9. Thank you for your words, so needed to read this. Along, with giving me hope making great applications!

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  10. Appreciate your Posting on these 3 steps to understanding Prophecy , Todd. Reading your struggles gives me encouragement and makes me feel normal as others who has the same
    Struggles and hard in understanding our study in PPKD. This sure would be a great help to us, esp in leading our ladies in our group discussion..😊 thank you so much. All Glory to God!🙏🏻

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  11. Thanks for your comments. Will read them again…don’t want to miss anything!

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  12. This is wonderful help as we see God working through His prophets and his very human family. To me, it is a comfort as I have cried over Uhraine’s unfair situation with Russia! But God is in control and man has a choice as to how he relates to Holy God! We look at our nation today and we have fallen far short of being what God calls us to be! Why hasn’t our nation been called to pray to Our God and Savior for Revelation and love for all mankind in our relationships? We need God now in America and our world!

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    • Amen!

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  13. I appreciate this. I love scripture and without the Old Testament and the hard stuff we can’t fully comprehend and appreciate God’s holy, righteous and just character and the immense price that had to be paid if we were ever to be able to stand righteousness before God. It constantly reminds me of my sin and reminds me to appreciate my savior.

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  14. It’s indeed challenging to understand every prophesy in the Old Testament…. As the Lord says His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. What i do is invite the Holy Spirit to instruct me and guide me as I read through the passages and answer the questions in the module and indeed He does His divine teaching to me. I experience our Lord God to speak to me. There are times when I just stop reading/ answering when I feel the Lord is speaking to me.
    I really appreciate this module, Kingdom Divided. It’s very facilitative to my learning/understanding about the Old Testament. I clearly appreciate the character of God in His dealing with the Israelites, the kings and His prophets.

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  15. Thank you for these questions to ask myself! This was very helpful. I sometimes read these prophecies with confusion but the light of God shines to show me the gift of His salvation and restoration. Praising God for His love, faithfulness and Son, Jesus!!

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  16. Thanks for your support. These lessons do become repetitive. Am looking forward to the next four lessons on Isaiah.

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  17. I love Bible Study Fellowship! I hope you can help me! I used to be able access the bsf questions on my computer, with a split screen & Scripture on the other half the screen. After a glitch with Verizon, my husband changed my password and now I can’t log on to get questions, lectures and notes at all all except on my cell phone. Due to wrist surgery & ongoing problems with it, it’s very awkward to hold my phone in one hand, and hold or prop up the device to read the Scripture and at the same time type in answers to the questions, print & take to my bsf Zoom meeting. Also, I can’t buy the book of questions as it’s too heavy to lift with my funky hand. I’d appreciate a response helping me get through this problem–thanks very much!

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    • Hi Ginger. We are praying for a full recovery! In the meantime, I’ve submitted your request to our member support department. You can also go to mybsf.org and select the “Need technical help? Talk with us” widget.

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  18. You have outlined a great way to study all scripture. What does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean to me? I use it during my daily quiet time along with a journal. Have also used it to lead a weekly Bible Study for some men. Thanks for explaining the method in a clear fashion with a real time example.

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  19. Would someone be willing to be in contact with one who considers himself to be a believer but does not think one has a personal relationship with God. He has not been under biblical teaching for some time. I am his mother in law and know value of BSF and what it could mean for his life. It may not be helpful for him to jump into current study even if he were willing. Is there a ‘come to Jesus’ blog you might suggest?

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    • Hi Shirley! Here are a couple resources you could use:

      1) The WordGo App. If he does not want to join a 30-week BSF study, why not try WordGo? These are 2-4 week courses (produced by BSF) on an app. He can study at his own pace and choose the courses that relate best to his life now. We often suggest the Getting Started courses on the WordGo app for beginners.
      2) The BSF Blog Archives and WordGo Journal archives have some good resources. Here are some articles that may be helpful for you in talking with him! https://www.wordgo.org/journal/preparing-to-share-the-gospel or https://bsfblog.org/sharing-the-gospel-with-family/
      3) We always encourage members to contact their local class leadership and to pray with people in their BSF and church groups. Is there a BSF men’s class near you? You can look for groups here: join.bsfinternational.org.

      We are praying for his heart, your patience, and persistence.

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  20. Thank you Todd. This was very helpful. Blessings.

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  21. This is very helpful. Todd is correct, the back and forth of of the split kingdom has made me weary, what a great uplift we get with Josiah.
    I appreciate the three points Todd has shared and intend to use them.

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  22. So appreciate your voice in our wilderness… often I feel same but am fearful to expound… Gods word is however clear to me regarding Old Testament times and kings and now 2023… we are led to worship and praise and help each other to live the joy and peace in Jesus

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  23. Thanks for the tips.

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  24. Wonderfully written and so helpful for this study! We miss you in Lexington

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    • Hey, Jackie. We, too, miss Lexington, which is where Holly and I were introduced to BSF, which changed our lives. And we are grateful Christian relationships and love are not confined by borders and geography but are unified in the Spirit, centered on Jesus, and are eternal. Praise God!

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    • 0
      Thanks for sharing this. Very helpful. Some time I get sidetracked with trying to figure it out and focus as to what and how.
      God is awesome.
      Lizzie

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  25. Thank you for a another way to go deeper studying Gods word.

    The first part of your blog, it sounds like you were describing me.

    I will take these steps in this weeks study and put them them to work.

    God bless bother.

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    • Todd, thank you for you encouraging words and reminding me how to get more out of my study and focus on what Jesus wants me to learn through this study. I too am a longtime BSFer and have grown in my walk with the Lord and developed a love for God’s Word.

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  26. This is an awesome way to look at the old testament and its teaching. I often struggle with understanding the old, the new testament is so mich easier to digest. Todd you have brought light to a deeper meaning of seeing Jesus in each passage. Amazing

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  27. Thank you for these 3 steps to unlock prophecy and being candid with your struggle of understanding prophecy. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

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  28. How do average people discover the context? For example you say “Amos spoke to Israel during the height of wealth and prosperity. “
    How do you know this? Where can I find information like that? I hear speakers mention the historical context of their text, but wonder wher they learned it. Is this a stupid question with an obvious answer?

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    • Not a stupid question at all, Peggy. It’s a great one. While the Bible provides some context — who’s speaking, the audience, the timing (such as under a given king’s reign), whether the nation was at peace or war, etc. — it doesn’t provide all context. Bible commentaries or good study Bibles are good sources of the kind of context and color to which you’re referring. Of course, the BSF Notes or your Teaching Leader’s lecture, as a commentary and teaching sources, provide some of that as well.

      Reply

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