Tag Archives: Wisdom

Book Review: Old Testament Wisdom Literature (Bartholomew and O’Dowd)

What does the Bible have to say about wisdom? Can pithy poetics really form character? In their new book Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd present a theological introduction to the Bible’s wisdom books—Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs 3.19 says God created the world by wisdom, yet most 21st century Westerners have lost the wonder of creation. Christians are saved through the blood of Christ, what do we need to understand about the world? Being in a real covenantal relationship with Yahweh brought Israel together with the God who both created the universe and who redeemed Israel out of Egypt. Knowing his law meant knowing how to life. It meant wisdom and understanding (Deut 4.6). How can man expect to find it, and how can 21st century Christians apply 3,000-year-old Old Testament wisdom to their lives?

Summary

Chapters 1-3 bring us into (1) Israel’s world of wisdom—they believed that they were in covenant with the one God who created all of reality and who was the source of knowledge. Yet, as Job expresses, they knew their knowledge was limited. Next (2), the authors take a tour through Egyptian and Mesopotamian wisdom to bring us into the flow of thought around Israel. Chapter 3 makes a plea for poetry, which “gives us a nuanced understanding of people, language and culture” (51). Stating a mere proposition such as “God is omnipotent” is very different than “declaring that God rules ‘the raging sea'” or that he can “draw in Leviathan with a hook” (69). Poetry brings imagery to the stories which make up our life. 

At 160 pages, Chapters 4-9 make up the core of the book. The authors spend two chapters on each of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. In the first chapter on each book, rather than rehearsing the main gist of each book, they describe the book’s theological function. Each book’s second chapter (“Chapter B” as I call it) explores a particular theme in that book.

Proverbs

Proverbs 1-9 develops a character-consequence scheme. Here, your character (wise/foolish) determines the consequences in your life (life/ruin). Proverbs 10-30 nuance this idea and bring exceptions to the rule. These proverbs are not categorized by topic, but seem to be written chaotically and at random, just the way life is. In chapter B, the authors examine how wisdom is embodied in the Proverbs 31 woman, though she is not a real person for no one person could do what she does. Rather, that figure represents the extent to which wisdom reaches and the practical ways of living in which wisdom is required.

Unlike Proverbs 1-9, Job and Ecclesiastes “focus on profound experiences of apparent contradictions to the character-consequence theme,” which deepen our faith and our wisdom and form our character (285). The authors note, “Ecclesiastes is performatively enigmatic, just like suffering, and Job is long, at times tedious, with all those speeches, just like suffering” (318). Sometimes the text’s form is just as important as what it says.

Job

Job asks “Where can wisdom be found?” (28.20). His friends think they know it all, yet in the end Job is to make sacrifices for their foolish words. Job replies like a human being—he gives strong responses, fears, worries, and contradictions. Just like the process of suffering, all people learn as the conversation of suffering goes on. They change their answers from one idea to another, even being hopeful at points (Job 28), before plunging back into suffering again, and still yet before God shows up in a revealing way. Chapter B examines Job 28 and how we, limited in our understanding of all things, must go to the One who stands outside of creation to obtain wisdom.

Ecclesiastes

Similarly, Qohelet in Ecclesiastes looks for meaning in the world through his own autonomous wisdom—which is actually “folly” because Qohelet’s search occurs apart from God. The book “ultimately affirms life and joy… but only as the end result of a ferocious struggle with the brokenness of life” (189). Job presents bodily suffering; Ecclesiastes presents mental anguish. It’s not enough to have a high IQ. Job had money. Qohelet asked difficult philosophical questions. But wisdom requires us to admit our finite creatureliness before the infinite Creator. We, like the woman in Proverbs 31, can embody wisdom and image God. Chapter B takes up the topic of time, seeing the larger story, and using our time well.

Chapters 10 looks at wisdom in the NT through the coming of Jesus. Chapter 11 gives an OT theology of wisdom. The chapter both summarizes and expands on what has been said previously. Wisdom is related to creation and how the world works. It is brought about by the Creator who is also Israel’s Redeemer. God’s good creation links his wisdom with his law/covenant with the prophets. Chapter 12 applies wisdom to our present life concerning education, politics, spirituality, the ordinary, and the dark night of the soul. For example, even after we receive salvation, we still want to be the captains of our souls. We have “false selves” that we want to put on to protect ourselves, and God uses suffering to dismantle those false selves. The authors refer to C.S. Lewis’ image of someone buying a small cabin in the woods. She thinks it’s great to have God come live with her… until he begins to tear down walls and change out the stairs. He wants to revamp the whole house, and it hurts. But believing that he is great and good will help carry us to the end of the darkness that feels like our closest friend.

Recommended?

I greatly appreciated Bartholomew and O’Dowd’s theological interpretation. According to Ecclesiastes, how can we know if we truly have wisdom? Job 28 tells us that man searches high and low for treasure, yet even Abaddon and death themselves do not have wisdom (v. 22). God doesn’t come out and give us all the answers we need. How can man expect to find it, and how can a 21st century person apply 3,000 year old wisdom to their lives? The authors look at the meaning of the texts and what is really going on. Teacher and pastors would do well to read this book. Hopefully more people will grasp the importance of these important, often ignored Old Testament books. All people of all statuses everywhere can receive wisdom and they can use it, but it starts with fearing the Lord who both calms the raging seas, who condescends to know us, and who has descended and ascended to save us.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Craig Bartholomew/Ryan O’Dowd
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 27, 2011)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Book Review: God’s Wisdom For Navigating Life (Tim Keller)

Many Christians use New Years resolutions to revamp their Bible reading. Tim and Kathy Keller have provided a daily devotional in the book of Proverbs (with some readings in other biblical texts). Proverbs requires a year (and more!) of daily consideration. It’s full of so much thought, and it is a book that reminds us that “you’ve never really thought enough about anything” (ix). Having just come out with a year devotional on Psalms, Keller says, “Psalms is about how to throw ourselves fully upon God in faith. Proverbs is about how, having trusted God, we should then live that faith out” (ix).

Proverbs are not truths that are true at all times. It is a “poetic art form that instills wisdom in you as you wrestle with it” (ix). Two ideas, sentences, or phrases are brought together to hit at a truth from different angles. They require you to wrestle with their meaning to know how to live. Keller gives an example. Proverbs 12.15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice,” whereas Proverbs 16.25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.“ The fool thinks a way is correct, but it leads to death and ruin. Yet, at the same time, ruin can happen to anyone. There is order in the world, but there is sin and chaos which come about from fallen sinners.

The reader is encouraged to read the book with someone else or with others. Most of the devotions end with a question to consider and a concluding prayer. Keller provides two other questions in the Introduction for the reader to consider each day:

  1. Where in your life or the life of someone else have you seen this observation illustrated?
  2. How can you put this observation into practice—in thought, attitude, word, or deed?

Instead of going straight through Proverbs, Keller organizes Proverbs into seven different sections.

  1. Knowing Wisdom
  2. Knowing God
  3. Knowing the Heart
  4. Knowing Others
  5. Knowing the Times and Seasons
  6. Knowing the Spheres (e.g., marriage, sex, parenting, money and work, power, justice)
  7. Knowing Jesus, the True Wisdom of God

Keller doesn’t stop with Proverbs, but looks to Jesus. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and Jesus is the fulfillment of all wisdom. He is the “greater Solomon” (Lk 11.31).

Keller is insightful and convicting. In section six, when it comes to justice, Keller pinpoints talking about righteousness and justice when it comes to the poor, asking questions such as:

  • “How are you building your character and relationship to God now, so that you will be able to do the sacrificial thing when the time comes?” (332)
  • Unjust social systems are set up which prey on the poor and helpless: low wages, excessive interest loans, prejudice against minorities and immigrants, and legal battles where the rich often get away scot-free. “Compared with those who are truly poor, most of us are wealthy in the eyes of the world. How are we being judged as believers for our use of the resources God has given us?” (334)
  • There are multitudes of ways that poverty can come upon someone. Fire. Divorce. Hurricanes. A bad loan choice. sometimes the people circumstances come upon made a rash, unwise decision. Sometimes it just sprung upon them. “How does compassion for the poor express itself in your life?” (335). “Do you need to confess any ways in which you have believed that the poor have brought their poverty on themselves by their agency alone? What have you deserved at the hands of God for your sins? What have you received?” (336). “What possessions of yours belong to others? How will you get them to those people? “(337).

Recommended?

If you’re looking for a new devotional book, I would recommend Keller’s God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. Each chapter is short and only takes 1-2 minutes to read yet sometimes can take all day to consider. Keller helps us to consider the Bible each day more as God’s people. Have been made righteous in Christ, we should be living righteously before God and to others—our spouses, children, coworkers, and the poor among us. Having the wisdom of God available to us, we should work to gain more of his wisdom—to live well, to flourish in the new covenant, to serve, to work hard, to relax, to offer help, to be a good friend, to know what to do when difficult situations arise—to God’s glory. 

Lagniappe

  • Author: Timothy Keller
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (November 7, 2017)

Buy from Amazon or Penguin Random House/Viking

Disclosure: I received this book free from Penguin Books. 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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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