It’s probably safe to say that Nahum may be the first book people don’t turn to in their daily reading of the Scriptures. It’s also relatively safe to say, that for many Christians looking to study a book with their small group, they probably are not going to land on Obadiah. Again, it’s probably safe to say, that for many Christians, the Minor Prophets–as a whole–don’t get much air time. But Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, wasn’t leaving these 12 books out when he told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV). In all reality, Paul was referring first to the books of the Old Testament.
For many Christians, the Minor Prophets, in part, and the Old Testament, as a whole, can often feel like more of a mystery than a major source of practical, daily food for the soul; or, at most, a collection of stories filled with characters whose examples are to be imitated or avoided. Is that really all there is to a majority of the Old Testament? Is it largely just a collection moral victories, moral mishaps, striking judgment, difficult genealogy, and obscure prophecy? If this is the experience you’ve had in reading (or trying to read) the Old Testament, and specifically, the Minor Prophets, don’t lose heart! There is hope in learning how to see that these 12 small books are more than locusts, lament, and tellings of the terrifying day of the LORD. Each of these books, when properly interpreted, point in some way to the ultimate redemptive work that God has accomplished in his Son, Jesus Christ!
Dr. Michael Williams, professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, has written the latest offering in Zondervan’s How to Read the Bible… series. In Williams’ How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture the reader is introduced, in a wonderfully accessible way, to a redemptive-historical reading of the Scriptures. Simply put, Williams guides readers in the way of reading the whole Bible with the view of God’s gospel work in Christ Jesus as the central thread of unity. That is, the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, either point forward in hope to the redemptive work of Jesus, or they look back to the cross and the effect of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ on the Christian and the world. Williams notes that the purpose of his writing is, “parallel to that of Christ for the disciples he joined up with on the road to Emmaus: “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).”
The Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are not minor because they are small in terms of their impact or importance. Rather, they were deemed the “minor prophets”, by Augustine, to note their brevity in comparison to the “major prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel). And though the Minor Prophets are often obscure in the minds of many readers of the Scriptures, Williams provides a helpful framework for approaching each book.
Williams divides his examination of each book into 4 sections: Background/Summary, The Jesus Lens, Contemporary Implications, and Hook Questions.
The Background/Summary section gives an overall summary of the book citing a theme and memory verse. These summaries are spoken in very plain language which will be a great aid to the person first encountering the meaning of each book, but will also act as an excellent resource for the student of any level who desires to summarize the overall message of the book in plain language.
THE JESUS LENS
This section guides the reader in the way of seeing how the work of Christ is either foresignified in the book or how the book looks back to his work of redemption. Williams defines reading through “The Jesus Lens” as “reading it the way it was intended. [The Jesus Lens] keeps our reading, understanding, teaching, and preaching properly focused on God’s grand redemptive program that centers on his own Son.”
How does the text apply to the believer today? After all, the Bible wasn’t necessarily written to us, but rather for us. Because the Scriptures were written to specific people, in specific places, at specific times, for a specific purpose, bridging the gap to the lives of believers in the 21st century can often times be difficult. Williams, though, is able to do so with brevity and always with the gospel work of Christ in view which is needed (especially in terms of Old Testament interpretation) and helpful!
Whether you’re using the book on your own, or in a group setting, these questions are designed to help the reader think deeply, intelligently, and practically about the overall point and purpose of the book in his or her daily life. Williams does a good job of keeping the questions practical, but not shallow; text-focused, but not overtly technical. This will certainly be a good tool for readers desiring to get the most out of this resource!
THE JESUS LENS IN FOCUS: JOEL
Rather than to engage all 12 of the Minor Prophets, for the purpose of this review, I thought I’d focus in on a chapter I found greatly encouraging and exemplary in terms of putting “The Jesus Lens” into practice; namely, the book of Joel.
Williams cites the theme of Joel as, “The day of the Lord is coming and brings judgment before restoration.” Noting the drought and locust plague of Joel’s immediate context, Williams demonstrates how these supernatural disasters were pointers to the ultimate day of the Lord when his judgment would justly fall on all those who spurned his grace. But how does all this relate to Christ?
Williams notes, “The apostle Peter quoted from Joel’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:17-21), indicating that Jesus’ death on the cross was our day of the Lord, when God’s judgment for our disobedience was experienced on our behalf by our sinless representative.” Moreover, “Jesus experienced those dire consequences so that all who come to the Father through faith in him can be assured of life.”
Noting the contemporary significance of “the day of the Lord”, being that believers now live “between “days of the Lord”, Williams helps believers see how the gospel work of Christ was Christ’s substitutionary enduring of “the day of the Lord” on behalf of the elect. But, for those apart from Christ, “the day of the Lord” is still in the future. For believers, then, the future, consummate “day of the Lord” does not need to be looked to in fear, because believers now dwell secure in Christ, for he has endured the wrath of that day in their place.
All in all, Williams gloriously focuses on Christ throughout his writing, ending his chapter on Joel noting that, “Jesus offers us his own righteousness to replace our blameworthiness, unshakeable joy to replace our circumstantially determined happiness, and justifiable confidence in him to replace our justifiable doubt in ourselves.”
Paul noted in his introduction to the Romans that the gospel was something that God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son” (Romans 1:2-3). In reading How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens, you won’t miss the gospel in the Minor Prophets. Williams provides readers of all levels with fresh insight and helpful tools that they may begin to see the gospel of Christ in all the Scriptures. I heartily recommend it!
*As a part of the Jesus Lens Blog Tour, the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of this book. I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.
Read inside (PDFs): Sample Pages