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. 👍very much appreciated. God bless the BSF family. I love and cherish the study materials. Giving a blessed opportunity to study the word in a deeper, meaningful way

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  2. What a wonderful article. Had to laugh at not making eye contact. My GM’s laugh about doing this very thing. This understanding of what we all face is encouraging and so helpful to me. And the thought of finding Jesus is brilliant. Last week it was the immensity of the sacrifices that is no longer necessary because of Jesus. Thank you.

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  3. The new revision of the major and minor prophets is so wonderful to be 2 years vs. 1. Thank you for always improving on our knowledge and understanding of HIS inspired words….. The Holy Bible.

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  4. For years I have wanted to thank and hug the people who write the Notes and the Lessons. It’s so nice to see a face and have a name. I’m always stunned by the respect, care, and seriousness with which you folks develop each Lesson and each Study.

    So, Todd Wethall, I’m sending you a great big E-HUG and thank-you and would like you to pass it around to everyone who participates in this incredible adventure at BSF. That’s okay, I’ll wait…

    Thank you and GOD Bless you(s) and all you do. GOD is Shining Through! I can see JESUS smiling ear to ear.! How beautifully FATHER answers our prayers.

    P.S. I live in Pennsylvania too so “ditto” to Diana’s comment.

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  5. This is very helpful. I intend to follow his blog. Thank you for helping in my journey. Blessings

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  6. Thank you Todd for sharing this method of a deeper understanding a difficult passage and finding the relevance for my life.
    I came to BSF in 1980 here in Ft. Worth. Next to my salvation, BSF has been the greatest gift God has given me. I was a TL for 30 years and since retirement, I have struggled to discover how to take a much deeper dive into difficult passages. This method will help me with that. Thank you.

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  7. Thank you for these key ambitions in directing and encouraging us in our Old Testament studies.
    I must admit that it has been difficult to stay in the study but I’ve gleaned much from it. I remember as a child that it took a long time for me to grasp all of the gospels even with repetition and direction. I expect that same pattern will get me more and more clarity of how God wants us to Love Justice and Love Others on many different avenues of our lives.

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  8. I’m grateful for your sharing.I could identify with you in your earlier days in bsf. I’ve come a long way thanks to bsf fraternity for equipping bsfers with indispensable tools of navigating the Bible. Much appreciated .

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  9. I’m attending BSF for the first time. I have been having a hard time getting through the lessons. Thank you for this timely blog, I’m sure it will help me as I continue this study with helpful information to use in reading and understanding the Bible passages. This was very helpful. Thank you.

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  10. I can feel the Spirit speaking through you as I read. I was overwhelmed this week doing Homiletics Lesson 16. After reading this I put on Bible Gateway and listened to the passages again. God opened my eyes! Why do I study and serve? For God’s glory! To be strengthened to live in a fallen world and be His disciple. I use your words “To see my sin and long for hope.” Repent. Seek Jesus. Pray for His Spirit to fill us so we can serve in humility for His glory. May the Lord bless your ministry!

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    • Judy – thank you for sharing! SO encouraging!

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  11. Thumbs up. Great 👍 reminders . Great encouragement! Thanks 🙏

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  12. Wow. This surely spoke to me. I saw myself in the discussion group as indicated here…Consolation. I am not alone. It is my first time encountering the minor prophets and truth be told, it was tough. When the lecture was given, I wondered when I shall be able to “get it”. Thanks for this piece, it has given me some insight.

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  13. Yes! Yes! Yes! Todd~Thank you for your transparency and encouragement! Timely indeed. Thank you Lord for BSF and the body of Christ who sharpens and encourages.

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  14. Thank you, Todd Wethall , fpr the refreshment that this blog has given me. In the midst of difficult passages and long reading assignments of BSF People of Promise Kingdom Divided, I sometimes forget to look for Jesus in the chapters and verses. Indeed, the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ and I must always look for Him in my readings.

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  15. Thank you. This is very helpful, otherwise my stance would be to just read through it and say – yes the people are at it again! Same old, same old story!

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  16. Thank you Todd, this was so encouraging: Look at content, Look for meaning, Look for Jesus! He is our hope always!!

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  17. Thank you Todd,
    Your words were reassuring especially “I 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.”
    These words just expressed the same desire in me and the result I have in reading the Word of God and participating in BSF every week.
    Thank you for enlightening me. Choice of words to express not only your feelings, but draw out those of your readers Regards,

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  18. Thank you! This blog was right on time. So helpful.

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  19. Thanks for sharing. This made me understand better that GOD loves us despite our terrible sins.

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  20. Thank you so much Todd for the encouragement. All you have shared sounds very familiar. I have the desire to persevere despite not understanding everything. But I have been blessed through the discussions, the lectures have been great, the notes and teaching at my church seem to tie in well with whatever we are studying.

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  21. Dear Todd,

    Thank you so much for sharing. The study helps me to understand more about God. The word of God give strength and hope..

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  22. Dear Todd and BSF team,
    I will echo Diana’s message – this is a well-timed message for me and certainly many others. My wife and I moved to Hungary in July 2022 and I am in the middle of my first year working in a foreign country that is in the midst of economic and social crisis. The war between Russia and Ukraine is on the northeastern border, and over a million Ukrainian refugees have fled to Hungary. As an English teacher, I am a witness to the Hungarian educational system in crisis due to poor wages and a teacher shortage that is likely to get worse when a majority of teachers retire within the next 5 years.

    But in the midst of challenges, God’s Word is my rock. It is tempting to simply read an encouraging Bible verse each day and call it good. But God is challenging me to stay with BSF and struggle through some of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. Todd, I learned a long time ago to read within context, look for meaning and application, but aside from the familiar Messianic prophecies, it rarely occurs to me to look for Jesus. This is just the advice I need to to stay encouraged in a year when I am desperate for Good News.

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  23. Thank you for this guide and encouragement.God bless you

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    • The more things change, the more they stay the same. Very helpful comments

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  24. Thank you, Todd. I am not such a long-time BSFer but over time, I have come to make sense out of passages that did not make sense to me. for example all these passages of who was the son of who used to be drudgery to me, but now in context and with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, they make perfect sense, and the bible enjoyable to study. But I still struggle, only that I struggle with hope.

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  25. Thank you so much for this perspective on understanding and dissecting hard passages. I don’t want to microwave through the Word of God. Context, Meaning and Jesus!!!

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  26. Thank you for sharing..I am in such need of God..your words were guiding and hopeful to me and am comforted in my struggle

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  27. My first year in BSF about 45 years ago was The History of Israel and The Minor Profits. The prophets looked impossible at first. But I learned that we have within us the Holy Spirit who guided our individual study! I didn’t need a stack of commentaries to begin to understand those difficult passages. Our Teaching Leader’s lecture and our Notes filled in most of the blanks. Most of all, I was challenged to apply the scriptures to my daily life. I praise God for the wonderful opportunity to study with BSF. I miss it.

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  28. Thank you for your encouragement. Yes, Isaiah is overwhelming but the message of a certain HOPE now by the HOLY ONE JESUS and the day of judgment is clear. Time of extended GRACE prompts me to live out the Gospel and share the gospel each day. Request prayers for spiritual endurance through the changing times. May God bless the entire BSF Community abundantly.

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  29. Thank you for reminding us to look for Jesus and to look for what God is teaching me.

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  30. Thank you Todd for your enriching support and encouraging inputs. I must however admit this year’s study has been overwhelming, especially the long lessons involving large spans of lessons to cover. Many have struggled with indepth study resulting in covering lot of ground, but cultivating very little. I pray your insight would reignite our passion to study the lessons diligently not to gain academically but Spiritually. God bless you

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  31. Thanks Todd for the key points and encouraging to perservere understanding the Word. I look forward to more reveals thru the OT.

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  32. Thank you for penning this. I can relate to feeling overwhelmed by what seems like watching a bloody movie 😬. I almost gave up on my lesson today 😬 and I have been a BSFer for years. I am so glad I didn’t because the Lord sure met me as I prayed along with King Hezzekiah and comforted by the positive words by prophet Isaiah.

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  33. Todd, thank you so much. I hope everyone who is struggling is encouraged to read your post. The study of Hosea was heartbreaking to me as I imagined what being married to an adulterous person would be like. Then in our lecture, we were encouraged to see ourselves not as Hosea, the victim, but as Gomer. What a sinking feeling that gave me as I realized how our—my—sin has broken my loving Father’s heart. But I also saw that God, with His relentless, faithful love, continues to pursue me. I am thankful everyday for BSF’s faithful service to God in helping us to see the truth and to apply it. Thank you again for your words and may God richly bless all of you at HQ.

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  34. I truly appreciate this blog. As a group leader, I have endeavored to encourage the ladies in my group not to be overwhelmed, particularly with the corruption of humanity. I think it is incumbent on us, as children of God, to recognize our propensity to sin; but if we are so consumed by our own wickedness that we are disheartened, we are missing the main point! Against the blackest backdrop of mankind’s depravity, God’s character… His patience, compassion, holiness, long-suffering, and love… is exulted. In the deepest darkness, the Light of Jesus shines infinitely brighter!

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  35. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and we can grow together.

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