Gary V. Smith. Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014. 224 pp. $22.99
The Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis from Kregel Academic is a six-volume series (with two volumes yet to be released) designed primarily to help seminary students and pastors exegete and preach from the Old Testament. Each volume covers one of the major genres found in the OT (narrative, law, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, and apocalyptic) and follows a similar six-chapter structure from introducing the genre all the way to putting together a sermon. In the latest addition to the series, Gary V. Smith offers a primer on interpreting the prophetic books of the OT.
The first chapter provides an orientation to the genre of prophetic literature by providing an overview of the three temporal categories of prophecy (narrative, eschatological, and apocalyptic) and the genres according to which prophecies in these three categories were organized (judgment speech, covenant lawsuit, trial speech, disputation, oracle against foreign nations, woe oracle, summons to repent, salvation oracle, proclamation of salvation, sign acts, hymns, and visions). Because most prophecies are written in the form of poetry, Smith also spends some time on two key characteristics of Hebrew poetry: parallelism and imagery. Chapter 2 briefly highlights the main themes of each prophetic book and notes the common themes across the entire genre (e.g. God’s wisdom and sovereignty, His covenant relationship with Israel, oracles of judgment and promises of salvation, the coming Messianic King, and the eschatological day of the Lord). In chapter 3, Smith introduces the basic skills and tools necessary to prepare for faithful interpretation of the prophetic books. He provides an overview of the historical setting, introduces the false prophecies of the ancient Near East, and briefly addresses how to use textual criticism and biblical commentaries.
With the preliminary groundwork in place, the next chapter provides an overview of the interpretive process, focusing on six key interpretive issues in prophetic texts that deal with the future: whether a text is literal or metaphorical, whether it’s limited by its context, whether it’s conditional or unconditional, whether it’s about the near or far future, difficulties between a prophecy and its fulfillment in the NT, and the difficulty of some prophecies not being fulfilled. Next, chapter 5 addresses sermon preparation, discussing “how we can systematically move from an inspired prophetic message to an inspirational sermon that will change the lives of people today” (143-144). Finally, chapter 6 provides two examples to demonstrate how the process taught in this book work practically. Here Smith takes first Isaiah 31:1-9 and then Jeremiah 23:1-8, working step by step through the process outlined in the previous chapter.
Interpreting the Prophetic Books is a helpful primer on studying and preaching/teaching the prophetic books. For those unfamiliar with this portion of the canon and/or the process from study to sermon, this book provides a helpful guide to the main features of the genre of prophecy, key tools for interpretation, and a step-by-step guide to crafting a sermon. It’s an excellent guide for the beginning Bible student/teacher/preacher as well as the layperson serious about studying the Bible. Those more advanced will likely not pick up any new insight and will at many points long for more detail and depth. But the book cannot be faulted for brevity since the aim of the series is to provide short introductory handbooks. Nevertheless, the brevity is especially stark in this volume since it covers such a huge portion of the OT (17 books!) in around 200 pages, whereas the other volumes in the series cover much fewer books.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!