Nancy Guthrie. The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 272 pp. $15.99.
Biblical wisdom literature can be difficult to study and interpret. On the one hand, people often use random phrases or verses to encourage obedience with the false hope that God will always give them what they want (think Proverbs 3:5-6 or Jeremiah 29:11). On the other hand, they might skip the more difficult aspects of it altogether, preferring less confusing books of the Bible over Ecclesiastes or the more difficult-to-interpret psalms. Rarely do we see a comprehensive study of Job through Song of Solomon. Thankfully, Nancy Guthrie has done that for us. In her recent Bible study, The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books, Guthrie shows how these books are not simply guidelines for wise living but rather point to the wisest person who ever lived—Jesus Christ. The Wisdom of God is the second book in the series Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament, and again Guthrie takes the reader deep into these books of the Bible to show us how each genre (drama, poetry, proverb, and song) uniquely points to our Savior.
Big Picture that Captures the Details
The study spans ten weeks, covering Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. The first week lays the groundwork for the deeper study to come. The wisdom books are called that for a reason, she says. They show us how to make sense of the world and how to live in wisdom (20). But they also show us something greater. They show us our inability to live as wise people on our own, thus pointing us to the One who was, and is, perfectly wise (21). We must first understand that Jesus is the wisdom of God revealed, Guthrie says.
The remaining nine weeks are devoted to the wisdom books themselves. With the exception of the Psalms, which are divided into four weeks of study, each wisdom book is covered in one week. Initially it seems like a daunting task to cover five books of the Bible in nine weeks, but Guthrie does it with clarity and depth. Because each week includes personal Bible study and a teaching chapter, readers can dig into the text while still retaining the overarching theme of the book, showing that the wisdom literature cannot be read isolated from the greater story of Scripture. Especially helpful for group discussion time, she asks how this particular section fits within the larger picture of God’s redemptive story.
Each week opens up the Scriptures in fresh ways. For example, in the chapter on Job she challenges common assumptions about suffering and God’s plan for us in it. Often we come to Job viewing it as a case study for how to respond to the suffering. We treat the response of Job and his friends as simple cause-and-effect strategies for how to understand suffering. It’s so much more than that, Guthrie says. She writes, “The Book of Job is in the Bible, perhaps not to answer all our questions about suffering but to reframe our questions with its profound wisdom” (42). And our questions are reframed when we see the suffering of our sinless Savior.
Where Is Jesus?
It is easy to search the wisdom literature for life lessons and miss who the wisdom literature is actually pointing to. Unlike the ancient Israelite readers, we have the benefit of living on the other side of Christ’s earthly ministry and can now see fully who these books were pointing toward. Wisdom literature is not written simply for obedience sake, and Guthrie causes the reader to ask the all-important question: where is Jesus? Each week of study is laced with questions and scriptures that point to Christ being the wisdom of God and the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, showing that the wisdom literature is not empty moralism but deeply Christo-centric.
This is seen most evidently in her study on the Psalms. Over four weeks, she breaks the psalms into four categories: the songs of Jesus, blessing and perishing in the psalms, royal psalms, and the suffering and glory of messiah in the psalms. Guthrie covers a variety of angles in these sections, from understanding our feelings in light of God’s Word to helping readers understand the subject of these songs.
The Final Consummation
Another unique aspect of the study, each week includes a section on how the passage points to Christ’s return and establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. In addition to drawing us into God’s larger purpose in redemptive history, she invites us to stop and ponder the consummation of God’s story that is yet to come. This is not often seen in Bible studies, especially ones that focus on the Old Testament, but this addition makes the study both distinct and thorough. She helps us see that this life (the one of the Old Testament and the one of our present time) is not the end of our hope. The wisdom literature shows that Christ will come again to judge the world (134), that there is a way to live that leads to final death (209), and that everything matters even when it all feels like vanity and chasing after wind (231). For those who have trusted Christ, Guthrie says, we have the greatest hope of all—the new heavens and the new earth with our Savior. We join with the bride in Song of Solomon as we long for our Bridegroom to come again (257).
It is a hard task to write a Bible study in a way that causes people to see God’s Word in fresh ways, while maintaining relevant application that meets people in their diverse life situations. Guthrie does both with sensitivity and doctrinal fidelity. She asks questions that get to the heart of our struggles, sin, and pain. And she opens up new avenues for understanding God’s Word and helping us see Christ in every page of the Bible.