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.
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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Dear Todd et al:
well timed, this message–it’s the middle of dreary winter here in Pennsylvania–gray every day. I am keeping up with the readings–though challenged! This email was just the boost I needed! Thank you!
Discovering this message in my inbox today proved to be another awesome example of God’s perfect timing as well as His compassion and love. I have been struggling with many of these lessons and was just about to hang it up. God sent help via Todd’s article with a message that was exactly what I needed to hear at this precise moment in time. In addition, God used the comments from my brothers and sisters in Christ to help me realize that I am not the only one struggling. I am strengthened and encouraged. Our God proves again and again that He truly is an awesome God!
Todd. Thank you for your insights. Study of ancient Israel in Kingdom Divided is convicting me of my own daily struggle with sin. Praise God for His love and new mercies every day.
Thank you for your words of encouragement and reminding us that there’s always a promise we can cling to. It’s all about Jesus.
I found this helpful. Thank you.
Thank you!!! Appreciate these so much!!
Thank you for this message It is a little overwhelming going thru these books in the Old Testament. Finding ways to unfold it is welcomed.
This blog is so timely. I appreciate having different study tools to better understand God’s Word and the message He has just for me.
Thanks, Todd for sharing your comments regarding understanding the Old Testament. Studying the old testament has indeed been a challenge. The one saving grace I had in studying the old testament has been to pray before each study and ask God to show me what he wants me to get from each lesson. I like your methods and can’t wait to apply them to my study. Thanks again for sharing.
Thank you Todd! Yes, reading these books is a challenging feat, but your perspective will be very helpful moving forward. I will write these questions in my Lesson Book to consider them when reading an especially challenging book or even one that seems familiar. BSF has been an especially enlightening resource for my journey with God.
Thank you for your comments, Yvonne.
i have been in BSF since 1980 . There was a time I thought I should quit to make sure someone else has a chance to be in BSF. I realized I need this discipline in my life for the rest of my life. It truly helps me not only be a hearer of the word but a doer. My life is changed because of being in the word of God through BSF . Praise God for such an incredible ministry. I am forever grateful. PTL
Thanks for sharing these principals Todd. There have been several in my discussion group that have said they have been having a hard time understanding the minor prophets. Your thoughts are very helpful. They will help us to move forward to unpack these complex thoughts from our God.
thank you for being so transparent
Thank you for this BSF blog. Just coming out of lesson 16, 2 Kings 15-20 with 2 Chronicles 26-32 was pretty intense. All your points were very helpful.
Thanks Todd’s very inspiring message and content.
This was extremely helpful. Thank you Brother Wethall.
Wonderful essay! Helpful as I’m just discovering to see Jesus every where in God’s Old Testament story. Thank good Todd!
I love your blog. It is very relevant and helpful. However, perhaps you can give some advice on how to deal with the overwhelming amount of reading we are required to do for this study. Honestly, reading 15 chapters in one week is a lot to try to absorb. I am very frustrated with the mountain of reading. I am ready to quit and try again next year when the study will take shorter sections and dive deep to understand a concept instead of trying to cover 700 years in one year. Any insight would be helpful.
Thank you, Todd, for these tips for studying God’s Word! They are also words of encouragement. The minor prophets can be hard but God wants us to dig deep.
Really enjoyed the way Todd presented the book of Amos.It defiantly got me thinking and put things into perspective. Thank youTodd, thank you BSF
This was interesting and helpful! Another way to gain insight to Scripture passages is to pray before you begin and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from this study. For me, it works every time.
Agreed I focus on Jesus and find the spiritual truths a progressive revelation to exalt His glory
What is written is true . I never paid much attention to these minor prophets before, only now with BSF, I am actually reading and paying attention.A loving God always kept remnant of people to carry on His promises to Abraham and King David in-spite of people doing evil in the eyes of God . When you look back His love overflows during the Exodus one generation was not allowed to the promise land, He saved Noah and family during floods, He used Daniel , Jeremiah, Ezekiel, to keep the faith and worship to go forward. In AD 70 s when Roman Empire burned Jerusalem and the temple, persecuted Christians ran to neighboring countries and the disciples established churches. The Christian persecutor Saul became the apostle of the gentiles and wrote most of the books in NT. The Jews were scattered around the world for more than 10 centuries, but He brought them back to Israel in 1948 and the country was reestablished, after the persecution of Jews all over the world.. We can’t fathom God’s How and When plans . But it is showing the way how it is connected like a pearl necklace. With the current world situations and increasing lawlessness and godlessness we are not very far towards the second coming. So let us prepare ourselves to be with the Bridegroom , because no one knows when.
All this is great but some of this stuff is still hard to digest, particularly when there is so much material to go through in a particular day &, at the same time, balance other competing priorities.
I am so glad I too the time to read this blog. Our lesson this week is really difficult and the questions are not the type I like. They’re more like busy work. I think questions like Todd told us to ask would lead us deeper into Gus’s Word! I appreciate all BSF has done for me.
This was helpful if only to know others are struggling. I dislike skimming some chapters but I get bogged down if I don’t. I cannot see how these lessons are helping me grow spiritually.
This season it is the volume of material which is overwhelming…. I have been BSF for over 15+ yrs. I recall in years past with OT study where the sections were broken down into smaller sections. I wish that there was more thought to the extreme time that is required to cover these lessons. I myself get weary, and I also hear that from many.
I think targeting to spend no more than 1 hour a day in the study would be a much better breakdown, allowing the text to digest, rather than trying to meet a goal of finishing the lengthy material, and only get a surface level of understanding.
Thank you so much for your insight. I was struggling this week and had to keep reading the passages over and over.
Thank you Todd . You met me exactly where I am. I love the word and begin to be bogged down.God bless you and your family.
Thank you so much, encouraging indeed, such rich study! Much to take in much to glean from. So assuring of God love for us!
I usually don’t read these. But when i read this one it immediately answered what I needed to hear. God is awesome. Thank you all.
Thank you for the encouragement and confirmation.
This was a very good read, i will going forward look at those 3 ideas,context,meaning and Jesus. Thank uou for this insight..this has been tough,but i know if these words are in the Bible they are important!
Thanks, Todd! Your encouragement is timely.
I feel better reading some of the comments. Maybe I’m not alone, after all. I am retired and this is my 2nd year of BSF and I have to say, I have been totally overwhelmed and on the verge of stopping for this year every single week (except for one). I have felt like something is wrong with me that I don’t seem to be “getting it” like some of the other ladies in my class. I’m hanging in there, mainly because I have made a commitment to this and will continue to pray that the Lord will provide understanding.
Having spent the better part of this day struggling through this weeks lesson, this blog couldn’t have come at a better time! BSF has been a major blessing in my life for many years. Thanks.
This blog was very helpful to me. Encouraging as well.
An encouraging blog! Thank you!
Thank you for the encouragement.