Biblical Studies

Book Review: Finding Favour in the Sight of God (NSBT), Richard Belcher

Proverbs is full of practical wisdom, but how do they relate to the long, winding speeches and debates of Job or to Ecclesiastes’ seemingly dour perspective on God and life? As well, how do these books fit within salvation history and the rest of God’s plan? Richard Belcher, the John D. and Frances M. Gwin Professor of Old Testament and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary, seeks to answer this question. And, in my perspective, he succeeds brilliantly. Belcher has also written a book on Job and a commentary on Ecclesiastes. He contributed to IVP’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Writings and Poetry and to wrote the Introduction to Old Testament Wisdom Literature essay for the TGC Bible commentary. So he is in a good place to write a book like this. 

Chapter 1 covers the problem of wisdom literature in OT theology. The Wisdom writings have been a sort of “orphan” in OT studies (or perhaps more like the red-headed stepchild). While there is disagreement over what constitutes a book to belong to the “wisdom” category, Belcher writes on Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, as it is clear that they are wisdom books (10). These three books don’t recite God’s acts of salvation in history, and they do not “fit into the type of faith exhibited in the historical and prophetic literatures” (1).

However these books are vital. Proverbs presents God’s way of wisdom as a path that we can walk on, founded in his created order—which cannot be understood fully but through special revelation— and through fearing him. Yet we cannot fully comprehend God’s ways in this world. God is free and we are finite and fallen creatures (14). Job wrestled with the seeming disconnect between suffering and piety. Qohelet sees the breakdown of the deed-consequence relationship as he examines a world that does not make sense.

Belcher provides three chapters for each of these three wisdom books. The next three chapters cover the message of Proverbs 1-9 (chapter 2) and the hermeneutics (chapter 3) and theology (chapter 4) of Proverbs. The better one understands how God made his world, the better decisions he will make as he understand God’s wisdom. By fearing the Lord we submit our lives to his ways because we see him as our Creator and Savior. Proverbs puts forth a general “deed-consequence” relationship, where the good life comes as a consequence of doing good and wise deeds, and ruin as a result of wicked acts. yet Proverbs doesn’t promise this will happen. Belcher writes that “proverbs should be understood as situationally specific and not universally true. They express truth but not the whole truth” (48). The proverbs found in Proverbs 10-31 “reinforce the doctrine of the two ways taught in chapters 1-9” (49). But just because someone follows God’s wisdom doesn’t mean they will be rich. Injustice might happen, and they can become poor.

Proverbs 17:1 says,

“Better is a dry morsel with quiet
than a house full of feasting with strife.”

In chapter 4, Belcher makes a cogent case that Proverbs does on occasion look past this life as it points to the next. This chapter was good as Beecher also looked at God’s sovereignty and his work of wisdom within creation’s order. The content was very good, but I was surprised that there weren’t more topics covered. However, after reflecting on it, what is here covers most of not all the details in Proverbs that pertain to our lives: God’s sovereignty over creation, including money, work, marriage, raising children, etc.

Chapter 5 introduces theological issues in Job 1-3. Job seems to be like the patriarchs, and the book was probably written by Solomon. It’s message though “is not tied to a particular period” (77). As well, Belcher observes that “there is nothing in the ANE that handles suffering quite like the book of Job” (77). The book of Job doesn’t give an answer to why we suffer. We know the conversation between Satan and God, but Job didn’t, and he was never told anything about it. Job is a book about how to respond to suffering and where true wisdom can be found (77).

Chapter 6 covers the bulk of Job and Belcher examines the speeches made by Job’s three friends and Job’s responses to them.

Chapter 7 heads toward where wisdom can be found, as asked by Job in Job 28. It starts with the fear of the Lord, the recognition that he is God the Creator who is all wise and is in control (as seen in chapters 38-41). Belcher sees two situations in the book of Job over how Job responds to his suffering and his situation. Situation A deals with of Job has sinned to cause his suffering. Situation B deals with how Job responds in his suffering. He does not always honor God in what he says here. So when God shows up, he does not directly address Job’s complaint. What he does confront is what Job has said “about God’s justice and his governing of the world” (120).

Chapter 8 covers key questions that help us interpret Ecclesiastes. The way in which scholars answer these keys leads to the variations of interpretation among them.

Chapter 9 provides a summary of Qohelet’s message. This is an excellent distillation of Ecclesiastes. Belcher believes that the narrator (or “frame narrator” since his message—1:1-11 and 12:8-14—frames Qohelet’s message: 1:12-12:7) of Ecclesiastes has a different perspective than Qohelet (whose dour message takes up the bulk of the book). Qohelet tried study the ways of wisdom and foolishness by his own understanding. He never turned to God for understanding. In his perspective, all is vanity, “futility,” or “senselessness” (143). There is no judgment after death. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. However, God does bring proper judgement in this life… sometimes. However (again), even the wicked prosper and the innocent suffer. Work brings no true profit. What is the use of wisdom if the righteous suffer, everyone dies, and even those in God’s hand can’t be sure they’ll be taken care of (Eccl 9:1-3)? The frame narrator brings the work to a close reminding the son (and us) of what is truly important: fearing God and obeying him. Having a Godward perspective on life keeps us from falling into the same despair as Qohelet.

Chapter 10 provides a synthesis both of Qohelet’s views of the world and God and his works and of Ecclesiastes’ theology. He gives examples of ways in which a pastor could use Qohelet’s faulty “under the sun” approach and point to our hope living “under the Son” (my term, not his). Qohelet had no hope, but we have a much greater hope through the wisdom of Jesus Christ.

Belcher ends with a look at wisdom in the teaching, person, and work of Jesus (chapter 11). He looks at Jesus’ use of proverbs and his teaching in the Beatitudes, and he compares passages in Proverbs with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is Job’s answer. Wisdom must come from God himself, and Jesus Jesus is the embodiment of God’s wisdom, but he is no creature (Jn 1; Col 1:15-20).


As I said in the beginning, Belcher succeeds in displaying how these three wisdom books work on their own, together, and within the canon of Scripture. He gives thorough summaries of Job and Ecclesiastes and is attuned to the theology of those books to make sense of the competing messages they give about God and the world. This volume will be helpful to both laypeople looking for a deeper study into the theology and message of these books, and especially pastors, teachers, and academics.


  • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT 46)
  • Author: Richard P. Belcher, Jr.
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (September 18, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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