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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Thank you for acknowledging that you struggle with reading through the OT prophets. I don’t know that your suggestions have helped me to persevere through this Divided Kingdom study with its massive reading assignments weekly as well as an almost exclusive focus on God’s wrath and judgment on His people through destruction and death, but it is comforting to read the comments of others sharing that they also are struggling to persevere through this study. I too am very thankful for my BSF leader who is doing such a great job acknowledging how disheartening these assignments can be and doing her best to offer us all hope and encouragement. I have loved BSF for several years, and I’ve been hoping and praying this year that next year’s study will focus on hope and grace since it has been a difficult season for all in recent years with the pandemic, economic changes in the marketplace, and events in our daily personal lives. Thank you, Todd, for serving faithfully at BSF. It is a great organization and the BSF way of Bible study is the best way I know for me to grow spiritually.
Thank YOU, Laura for your honest comments. Your struggle is absolutely understandable and unquestionably shared. Reading about so much sin, death, and destruction is not only a difficult pill to swallow, but it may seem like it is a weekly drenching! The good news is this study is within the context of the entire narrative of the Bible, which is all about Jesus! So, while a study such as this one helps us understand the depths of man’s depravity and God’s rightful judgment, we know these books don’t stand alone. Jesus came and is coming! Despite our and our ancestors’ sin, God has not given up on us, and we get to spend and eternity with Him.
Thanks for sharing this encouraging information. It is so relevant to this years study. Lesson 16 – Israel’s Exile and Judah’s Reform was challenging to my group; however, as you said, we struggled through it together. BSF’s 4-fold approach to the lesson is also helpful this year. God Bless.
Amen, Erma! That third word in this ministry’s name — Fellowship — speaks to the necessity of community. What a blessing that we get to walk through the Word and sharpen one another together!
This blob was very helpful. Thank you so much. Agree….this is a hard study! But I have a wonderful group of devoted women in my group and we are struggling together.
Thank you so much for breaking this down. I read the blog, and I am among those who feel intimidated by the scriptures meaning. I will look at it now with the tools you suggest. I want to be more astute with the Word of God.
Blessings to you and your family🙏
I appreciate the perspectives in this article.
I have been in BSF for 14 years. This study, by far, has been the most grueling and difficult study to date. I have been lost many times and nearly come to tears often.
If I were a first or second year BSF-er, I would have quit weeks/ months ago.
For me, I will slug through the remaining weeks…. I’m just being very honest with you…
I understand, Jean. But realize you’re not in it alone. As you unpack the passage, do what you can and let the questions be your guide. Your Group Leader is at the ready to help and encourage you. There’s fellowship in your group (and here’s a secret — no one in your group has all the answers, either!). And your Teaching Leader and those of us who contribute to the Notes also are walking with you through the passage. Don’t sweat it if you don’t understand everything. All who love God’s Word will always be Bible students, and we will always be struggling with the text or learning something new. Honestly, there’s no better place to be!
THANK YOU TODD FOR YOUR INSIGHTS INTO AMOS. IT IS A JOY TO READ YOUR ARTICLE.
‘DO NOT BE BRAIN WASHED BY THE WORLD, BUT BE BLOOD WASHED IN CHRIST’. IT IS A CHALLENGE TO APPLY THE SCRIPTURES TO OUR LIVES TODAY, BUT WELL WORTH THE CHOICE.
GOD BE WITH YOU!
Thank you very much for your rich insights into unpacking God’s Word. It has been a challenge to me somewhat. However, Could it be possible to reduce the BSF sessions for shorter periods say 1hour to 1½ hrs maximum due to issues of transport logistics, etc on a case by case basis.
Dan – thank you for asking! Your Group leader might have more insight into your class logistics. Also – you can find your Class Administrator’s contact here: https://join.bsfinternational.org/
Search for your group and you can contact your Class Administrator through that channel
Thank you for the in sights on how to plow through the challenging books of the Bible, indeed it is all about our real life application and seeing our Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ in it all.
I thank God for BSF bc it’s like getting a degree from seminary but with more intimacy in the study. It is non threatening to discuss and ask questions in a group setting.
I like ! Thanks for sharing !
Thank you so muuch for this article. It was very helpful because at times I have felt overwhelmed during my reading and study. I will definately follow the suggested steps in the article.
Thank you for this vlog because I am also struggling understanding the Bible.
Thank you for sharing this very important method. This gives me a totally new perspective on how I look at such passages.
Thank you appreciate your understanding and explanations
Thank you for this message. It helped me to better understand what God is trying to say to us through the prophets of old.
Thank you for your thoughts. Very helpful
Thanks for this encouragement. The current study, People of the Promise: Kingdom Divided, has been challenging for me and others in our group, but thankfully we have excellent leadership who have supported and stepped us through it. I love how you’ve simplified the focus — on Jesus! Nevertheless, I appreciated BSF so much and thank God for ALL that I’ve learned in my years involved in it!!
Thank you for sharing, prophecy is challenging to understand.
This article was very helpful, it gave me a different perspective, which is what I enjoy most about BSF.
I struggle with knowing if I am being an example for my grandchildren on a daily basis. None of my family, my daughter and her husband and my two grandchildren, with whom I reside, believe in God. Even though they have been raised in the church and confirmed. I pray for God’s guidance everyday. Please pray for me to know what I am suppose to be doing. Thanks, Connie
Todd’s remarks were very helpful to me. I have been plowing through 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. It feels like walking in mud. I know each lesson should be approached with an open mind and heart. But, it has been tough going!
Knowing that others sometimes have trouble and difficulty understanding these prophets helps me. I will start each day’s questions with a new attitude and pray for the Holy Spirit’s help.
I have felt the same way
I have a parallel Bible with four parallels
And often it does help in understanding
Pray before I begin
Thank you for this message. I am loving this study. Your comments are a great encouragement and I will keep them in mind with each weeks study.
HALLELUJAH! Thank you Jesus for this enlightenment!! This is my second year in BSF. I intentionally joined because I had a desire for a deeper understanding of God’s word and a desire for a closer relationship with my Heavenly Father. I’ve often felt overwhelmed and over my head!!! I’ve learned not to give into my feelings to give up; I continue to press my way forward through the guidance of the precious women in my study group. They are a TREMENDOUS source of encouragement and love and helping me along on this journey! They are truly a GIFT from God!!!
Your tips to approaching challenging scripture I pray will serve me well in my goals to grow in Christ.
You have given me an approach to Bible study, as I am having trouble with understanding the assigned chapters. I will try your approach to studying the lessons.
Good afternoon Mr. Wethall,
Your message about Amos could not have come at a better time!
Thank you for sending it!
Thank you for this! It was very helpful and gave me great insight in the study we are doing this year.
Thank you so much!
I love: God longs for us to understand our utter need for Him and see His glory amid the darkness of fallen
humanity! As applicable today as then! I am so enjoying seeing God and His amazing love for all mankind!
Wonderful article. It spells out the ‘how’ and will apply these into my BSF journey.
These tips have helped me a lot. The same as all others texts.
I am a long-time CL in the preschool program. In recent years BSF has incorporated the gospel message in each Bible story we teach. That has made the OT studies rich and foundational to my faith. Teaching little ones opens door of understanding and growth that have blessed me beyond measure.
This blog has really been of help to me. Thanks for the good explanation.
I have great difficulty reading all the BSF love in the comments. My group leader disenrolled a brother for basically asking too many questions about the current and difficult Kingdoms text. I have many of the same questions about all this judgement, but don’t feel able to discuss. Thanks for the article I don’t feel quite as alone.
Thank you Todd! There is no Word of God without Jesus in the center!
Thank you for your blog. I have struggled through the study of the Old Testament and how it relates to me. Its like a riddle trying to discover the deeper meaning behind the Word and trying to figure out what it means. Why couldn’t the Bible been written in simpler terms for a better understanding? I will take your advise as I study the word of God. I have been in BSF for years and I think Im finally getting it as to how to study the Bible and answer its questions. Although, I struggle on how it can relate to me at times. Maybe I lead a boring life. I listen to the other women in my group and feel sorry for those who are struggling in their lives. I do love how we pray for one another.