Foundations: No.73 Autumn 2017

Book Reviews

The Christ of Wisdom: A Redemptive-Historical Exploration of the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament

O. Palmer Robertson, P&R Publishing, 2017, 407pp, £14.71 (£7.72 Kindle)

This volume concludes a set of four books by Robertson; The Christ of the Covenants (1980), The Christ of the Prophets (2004, re-organised 2008), The Flow of the Psalms (2015) and The Christ of Wisdom (2017).

My first encounter with the works of O. P. Robertson came via his Christ of the Covenants when I entered Bible College in the mid-eighties. Ever since, his works have been a fairly constant part of my biblical studies. Throughout the years I, along with many others, have come to appreciate the way in which he unfolds the message of Scripture. Therefore, I was delighted to have the opportunity to review his latest volume.

Initially the author intended to do a single volume covering “The Christ of the Psalmists and Sages”. However, as he entered into the task he soon found himself with a volume on the Psalms of three hundred pages in length that became The Flow of the Psalms. There is a very real sense in which this book is “the other half of that originally conceived unity of ‘Psalmists and Sages’”.

At the outset of the book there is a short but helpful Introduction to Wisdom Literature (1-28). Amongst other things he points to the “Regal Role of Wisdom” throughout the Old Testament from Moses to Solomon and the “messianic expectation in Israel focussing on a future wisdom figure that would arise at God’s appointed time”. He notes that “from a new covenant perspective, all believers united to Christ by faith may share in this regal dimension of wisdom. For in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2-3)”.

Unsurprisingly, the first section, dealing with Proverbs, “How To Walk in Wisdom’s Way”, receives the most extended treatment (29-117). The preliminary sections are short, yet informative, and set the scene well for his sure-footed overview of the structure of Proverbs. A flight home from London to Aberdeen disappeared unnoticed as I revelled in the excursus on the interpretation of Proverbs 8:22 by Athanasius against the Arians. While he gladly acknowledges the “down-to-earth” advice of Proverbs, he refuses to view it as simply a moralistic compendium of human wisdom. It is a guide to godly living for the covenant people of God:

This book contains the divinely inspired wisdom by which a father may prepare his son for the many different challenges that he must face in life. How to respond to wealth, to work, to words. What to expect from the constant scheming of wicked people. But most of all, how to keep God, the LORD of Creation and Covenant, central throughout your entire life.

He turns to Job in the chapter “How To Puzzle” (118-196). He considers the various speeches and responses in the book before seeking to summarise the whole. He is careful to point out first that Job does not answer the question “Why do the righteous suffer?” nor does it justify God’s dealings with Job or any individual; man simply has no right to demand an explanation from God. However, the positive message is that “God ultimately rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked”. Job is declared to be “a book that communicates with great effectiveness the realities of God and his sovereign purposes in the world he has made, providentially sustains, and will graciously bring to its proper conclusion”.

He moves on to Ecclesiastes, “How To Cope With Life’s Frustrations” (197-274). Here he takes a slightly novel approach by focussing on the “target audience”. He points out the complete absence of the covenant name of Yahweh throughout Ecclesiastes. He advocates a view that “Ecclesiastes addresses an audience that is not specifically identified, but apparently includes humanity as a whole”. He surveys pros and cons of maintaining an historic, conservative position regarding the Solomonic authorship and eventually affirms that this remains the most convincing position.

In a surprising turn of phrase he refers to “God in the gospel of Ecclesiastes” and then doubles down when he states that, “Ecclesiastes is full of the gospel. More Particularly, God emerges as the focal factor in the gospel of Ecclesiastes”. He then returns to his earlier introductory considerations and brings both together:

As has been previously proposed, the target audience of the book of Ecclesiastes is humanity as a whole. Paul the apostle to the nations spoke in a similar way to the community of humanity at the market place in Lystra and the open forum of Athens… He focuses on the reality of God – God the Creator, the Benevolent Sustainer, the Righteous Judge. In that well-formed context, he ultimately introduces the “one Shepherd” who serves as the ultimate source of all true understanding of reality in God’s world (Eccl. 12:11).

When summing up, he declares “the writer to Ecclesiastes is anything but a secularist. God is everywhere providing his perception of human life”. A little later he concludes:

In the regular daily struggles with life’s frustrations, it may be helpful to remember the wideness of God’s mercy towards humanity. Even this constant living with frustration may prove beneficial if it is understood to have the divine intention of leading us back to God.

The book of Lamentations is treated in a short, but helpful, chapter entitled “How To Weep” (275-320) In this he views the response of the godly to catastrophe and disaster in the midst of a covenantal framework:

Through the experience of Israel, God’s people must learn how to weep. For there is a wrong way and a right way to weep. There is a God-honouring way to respond to the deepest tragedies of life, and there is a seriously harmful way for the people of God to react to their calamities, both as individuals and as a body.

The final book considered is that of the Song of Songs in the chapter “How To Love” (321-380). As he sets about evaluating preliminary considerations he comes to decidedly conservative positions on the matters of authorship and two person versus three person readings of the text.

The matter of the framework for interpreting the Song of Songs brings in the aspect most likely to draw applause or opposition from the reader. As a Scots Presbyterian with a decidedly strong confessional commitment it’s not too surprising that this was where he and I parted company. While he makes a case likely to commend itself to others, I found this chapter the least satisfying. While appreciative of Robertson’s treatment of the wisdom literature in the preceding chapters, I suspect I will continue to reach for Durham when meditating upon this part of Scripture.

In summary The Christ of Wisdom is a book worthy of a careful reading. It will reward those who take time over it with valuable insights and much food for thought. In addition, it is interesting to note that the production of this series was not the result of mere happenstance or serendipity, but rather, the fruit of an intelligent plan. Early in his ministry he took time to consider how he might usefully benefit the church of Christ by his efforts; the planned series which this volume completes was his answer. The completion of the task over a lifetime of diligent service is commendable in itself. The result is a valuable contribution to the library of any serious student of the Bible. 

Rev. Timothy J. McGlynn,
Minister, Grace Reformed Church, Aberdeen


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