Here are just some highlights for prophecy books today, but I've also linked to some other good resources that go more in depth and do a better job of unpacking the unique qualities to the genre more than I honestly ever could.
Prophecy books are simply messages God gave to His people through a messenger, the prophet. In the Bible we have major prophets (e.g Isaiah) and minor prophets (e.g. Hosea), categorized as such due to the length of the book. Often the messages had a pattern of a judgement and call to repentance for Israel's breaking of covenant with God, followed by a promise of restoration.
True prophets were qualified by these three standards (or else were discredited and therefore false prophets):
- The prophet had to be doctrinally/theologically sound
- The prophet's words had to actually occur or happen in reality
- The prophet had to have godly character
Covenant was the main thing prophets stressed for the most part, not predicting the future. What I'm getting at here, is that the prophecy books don't actually function to predict current events for us now necessarily. Many of the prophecies were fulfilled with Christ's first coming (advent), since the majority of them were made to point to Him reconciling us to the Father in the first place.
Prophets gave God's message through a variety of ways: spoken through oracles (lawsuit-woe-promise), enacted the symbolic (e.g. Hosea's literally marries Gomar, a prostitute, to showcase to Israel how God loved them, despite their idolatry, which is spiritual prostitution), or written through scrolls. It's through these writings, we need to keep in mind...
- The Big Idea. The main point is our focus of study and finding the meaning more so than all the details.
- The New Testament interprets the Old, so pay attention to when the New quotes something from the Old.
- Take into account all the figures of speech and other writing styles we find in these books: poetry, oracles, visions, symbols, laments, etc.
- Know the historical context. So often there was rampant idolatry amongst the people leading to social and political upheaval.
- Recognize the language prophets used, such as Messianic, judgement, and restoration.