Some parts of the Bible are easier to read than others… and the prophets are definitely included in the “others” category. There are a number of factors that make the prophets a bit challenging for 21st-century people.
First of all, most of them operated in a time period (ca. 750-450 B.C.) that is murky to many of us. We’re more familiar with events in Israel from the time of Moses to David than we are with those involving, for example, Jeroboam II, Tiglath-Pileser III or Zerubbabel (I’ll pause now while you go look those guys up on Wikipedia). Furthermore, it’s harder for us to read Hebrew poetry (which the prophets contain large chunks of) than historical narrative.
The prophets also tend to include the names of Ancient Near Eastern places and people without a corresponding explanation of the context, and it's not immediately apparent upon opening up any one prophetic book where that prophet falls in the grand scheme of things. Jump into any prophet and immediately the questions begin: Is he a prophet to Israel or Judah? Is he pre-exilic, exilic, or post-exilic? And which exile was he associated with - Assyrian or Babylonian? See what I mean?
With all of these challenges, it is helpful to study the prophets with a few resources on hand. A good study Bible, such as the ESV Study Bible, can help, as can a good, readable commentary. If you would like to dig deeper into Hosea during our sermon series, here are three suggestions:
- Listen (or re-listen) to the first sermon in the series. During that message on July 12, I took some extra time to explain the historical and biblical context of this prophet. Understanding that context will help you better follow the rest of the sermons.
- Pick up a copy of Vaughn Roberts’ God’s Big Picture. I consider this short volume (160 pages) to be one of the most important books in my library, because it gives such a helpful overview of the biblical storyline and helps tie the Bible together from Genesis to Revelation. In particular, chapter five that book, entitled “The Prophesied Kingdom”, will help orient you to the period of history in which Hosea is writing and preaching.
- Finally, I would recommend Tim Chester’s commentary on Hosea from the Focus on the Bible series. I have found this commentary series to be the best available for preaching and devotional application of the Old Testament. In particular, pages 33-36 of Chester’s book provide a very helpful and brief overview of the history of Israel leading up to Hosea’s time.
If you have any questions about our journey through Hosea, please let me know. The elders and I are praying that this series will be a great help to you personally and to Peace Church as whole this summer.