This is a type of book that in my own opinion fills an important gap.
It is easy for Christians to read the Bible and understand how a doctrine develops by reading theology. It is also easy to become very familiar with particular texts within the Bible, either by profiting from books or sermons. I have also found that when reading a commentary, it is fairly easy to gain the theme of a particular chapter or group of verses and yet, equally easy to miss the general tenor of the whole book. I have to admit that until I read this book I was unaware of my own ability to sum up the whole theme and content of particular books within the Bible. What this book does in a superb way is tackles the big topics and themes within a particular book in a punchy short chapter.
I must have read the Minor Prophets countless times in the course of my life and heard quite a few sermons on texts from those books. Yet, I became painfully aware that if you said to me, ‘What is the Book of Nahum about?’ or Zephaniah, or Joel... then I may have been able to give you a text or even some fact about its historical context but I wouldn’t have known the answer to the question.
It should also be said at the outset that I find it hard to be totally dispassionate when reading the books of Blanchard. I found his book on Rock Music very compelling in its arguments when I read it in my teenage years. I have always enjoyed the books of John Blanchard, whether you always agree with him or not, it would be very hard to claim that you didn’t understand what he was saying. I like the Calvinist theological underpinning of his work and the way that it is mixed with a wide array of contemporary examples which help to make his message effective. When I speak to colleagues and pupils at work and want to follow up the conversation with a book that will force them to think about the important questions in life, then invariably I will turn to a book written by Blanchard.
The preface begins with ‘a friend of mine once began a sermon with the words “Please open your Bibles and turn with me to the clean pages”. When the congregation looked puzzled he added, ‘in other words turn to the minor prophets’. I wish the example wasn’t true within Presbyterian circles but I fear that any statistical analysis of our sermon topics would find that portion of the Bible rather under represented.
The book begins with an historical introduction that helps with the historical overview for each of the prophets. In Hosea, Blanchard manages to present the surprising story of his marriage to Gomer, its problems, its breakdown with the eventual redemption of Gomer as a parallel to both the historical context and redemption. Indeed, he cites Boyce (Boice) who calls Hosea 3 the greatest chapter in the Bible because of its portrayal of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Joel, we have the plague of locusts and the truth of the sovereignty of God. Blanchard draws the lessons of divine sovereignty out as quotes C.S. Lewis ‘God whispers in our pleasures, speaking in our conscience, but shouts in our pains’ and Samuel Rutherford ‘I would wish each cross were looked in the face seven times, and were read over and over again’. This leads to a discussion of repentance and the difference between it being true and false.
I think I would have got most of the story of Jonah due to all those Bible Stories as a kid. However, I hadn’t ever really thought about the relative geography of Tarshish (Tartessus on the straits of Gibraltar and the end of the map), Joppa (the modern seaport of Jaffa) and Ninevah (the capital of those awful Assyrians located miles inland in modern Iraq). He also draws out the backsliding of Jonah and Christians in general and the sweetness of being restored.
I was struck at the start of Nahum by his discussion of the location of Elkosh (the prophets village) and the inaccurate modern town with the same name. Blanchard throws out the observation, and readily admits a lack of solid proof beyond the name, that Capernaum literally means ‘Nahum’s village’. Nahum creates a great backdrop for a discussion about the nature of God and his hatred of sin while at the same time being a God who is love. It gives him chance to pick up again on some of those themes in his book on Hell (see the earlier review) and the importance of a place for and understanding of Hell in Christian thought. He adds, a little touchingly, that Nahum 1:7 was part of the daily Bible reading he was following on 17 February 2010, the day that his wife went to be with the Lord.
The only scintilla of doubt that I have is that I need to do an analysis of what he is saying about the historical order of each of the books. I would defend the historical order as being roughly the same order that they appear in Scripture. I think this does come across in the book – but, I would want to check it carefully as that question has popped into my mind a few times as I have worked through it.
In short, this is a great non-technical book with lots of strong practical examples and clear truth. It is suitable for young people, it is suitable for new Christians and non-Christians and at the same time it has plenty of truths to let the oldest believers grow. I would urge you to buy a copy.