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Interpreting the Prophetic Books

Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook by Gary V Smith

Author and scholar Gary V. Smith has given his readers a concise, focused, and illuminating study on the prophets of the Old Testament.  With at least twelve other books on the OT, Gary is no stranger to the questions surrounding OT prophetic study including genre, theme, coherence, and theology.  With an eye towards the genres of speech in the prophetic oracles and key elements in helping people preach prophetic passages, Gary leaves no stone unturned in his book, Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook.

In his section on the Poetry of Prophecy, Gary writes, “On the other hand, if a prophet wanted to focus only on conveying the words of God, a natural, more powerful, and memorable way of expressing these ideas in the ancient Near Eastern culture was to use poetry…Poetry was richer and more imaginative than prose and its structure and repetitions allowed for a more persuasive force (46).”  Poetry in the prophetic literature did not just illuminate or bring more richness to God’s words but actually was used as a driving force for change, to call people or persuade them to see God a certain way of follow after him wholeheartedly.  In Nahum 1.7-8 Gary notes that the antithetical parallelism in the lines contrasts the goodness of the Lord with the way he will swiftly deal with his enemies.  Both positive and negative actions are seen and the great contrast between the two heightens our awareness of what God can do for his people.

Gary helpfully brings out the major themes in the prophetic books from the major prophets to the twelve minor ones.  On the book of Joel, he writes, “On the final Day of the Lord, God would judge all sinful nations in the valley of decision (3:9-16, 19), but he would bless his people (3:17-18, 20-21) (75).”  The great judgement of the nations would not come without blessing for the people who had been ransacked by locust and human enemy.  Gary points us to the final Day of the Lord, an eschatological reminder that God will certainly mete out judgment for the wicked and blessing for the righteous. 

Lastly, Gary Smith gives us wise words when he writes about prophecy and its conditional and unconditional nature.  Concerning Jonah, Gary writes, “There was no conditionality expressed in Jonah’s brief announcement that God was planning to destroy the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in forty days (3:4).  But in response to this threat, the king and the people of Nineveh believing Jonah’s warning, humbled themselves, and turned from their violent ways (3:5—9) (124-5).”  Basing this story upon the strong words of Jeremiah 18:7-10 (Scripture interpreting scripture), Gary sees implicit conditions in prophetic passages where even in the context of an unconditional prophetic warning there is room for human response and human repentance. 

Overall, this was a very good introduction into the prophetic books of the Old Testament.  I hoped he would’ve spent more time in the minor prophets but I understand this book serves as an introduction.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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