Here is the preface of O. Palmer Robertson‘s book, The Christ of Wisdom: A Redemptive-Historical Exploration of the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament.
Several decades ago, at the encouragement of colleagues, students, and friends, I laid out a long-term plan for a ministry of writing. The whole endeavor was to focus on the theme “Christ in all the Scriptures.” It was to be a programmatic representation of all the various portions of the Bible—God’s infallible and inerrant Word—as they variously focused on the anticipation and the realization of the promised Christ.
First on the list came The Christ of the Covenants (1980). This work viewed the progress of redemptive history in terms of its movement from creation to consummation. As the successive covenants provide the architectonic structure of Scripture, so these divinely initiated bonds inevitably shape God’s working in this world. From Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to the new covenant in prophecy and fulfillment, the Sovereign Lord oF the Covenant determines the course of his grace as it came pouring out across human history.
Next came The Christ of the Prophets (2004, with a reorganized edition in 2008). This work asks: What was the focal moment of the entire prophetic movement? What redemptive event was this grand band of spokesmen for God commissioned to interpret? If the exodus was the encapsulating event of the Mosaic period, and the coming of king and kingdom defined the days of David, what event with comparable significance characterized the era of “my servants the prophets”? From Hosea to Malachi the answer is clear. Exile and restoration, death and resurrection, expulsion from God’s presence and rejuvenation in his presence describe the days of the prophets. The cataclysmic events of exile and restoration emerge as the key that unlocks the significance of the varied ministries of Israel’s prophets. Some prophets anticipate exile, other prophets experience exile, the final prophets return from exile. It’s all about the Christ, the Israel of God, the Suffering Servant of the Lord, who experiences abandonment in sin-bearing and restoration as he sees the travail of his soul and finds satisfaction.
Third in this grand scheme of things was to be “The Christ of the Psalmists and Sages,” dealing with the poetical books of the Old Testament. But it was not to be. An initial effort at composing a brief twenty-page introduction to the theology of the Psalms proved to be a rewarding endeavor of personal enlightenment. The three-hundred-page result was The Flow of the Psalms (2015), in which the magnificent structure of the Psalter unfolded before my wondering eyes as a life-changing reality leading to God-centered, Christ-focused worship.
So now comes the other half of that originally conceived unity of “Psalmists and Sages.” The Christ of Wisdom (2017) deals biblically-theologically with five poetic volumes of the Old Testament that plumb the depths of divine wisdom. Internationally respected scholars find no natural resting place for the wisdom books of the Old Testament in a redemptive-historical approach to biblical theology. The books of wisdom resist pressure to take their proper place in the straightaway developmental timeline that stretches from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to Christ. In fact, except for Lamentations, you will be hard-pressed to uncover a single reference to the flood, the patriarchs, the exodus, Sinaitic lawgiving, or Davidic king-making in these books of wisdom. So how do you fit these wisdom books into the flow of redemptive history that consummates in the Christ?
By letting them be what they are in their own distinctiveness. They are, it should be remembered, canonical, divinely revealed, and authoritative writings that tell the world how and what to think about the deeper mysteries of human life. Rather than submitting to the moldings and bendings of modernity, these books broaden our understanding of the nature of redemptive history. Divine progress in the complete restoration of reality does not merely move in a purely linear fashion like the flight of an arrow moving across time and space without deviation until it reaches its target. This “third dimension” of redemptive history moves in a cyclical pattern. For certain aspects of God’s salvation perform according to a pattern of regulated repetition. To ignore this dimension of redemptive history is to exclude a major portion of the old covenant canon—and that you do not want to do. Just as creation has its cycles, so also does redemption. Each year has its seasons, each day its hours. Each life has its birth, its budding, its decline, its death. So the life of faith and repentance in one patriarch somehow repeats itself in each subsequent patriarch. God’s people sin; the Lord inflicts judgment; they cry out in repentance; a singular saving hero appears; and the cycle begins again. Six times over, this identical pattern recurs in the age of Israel’s judges.
So the wisdom books of the Old Testament conform to this repetitive pattern. A regal father instructs his son how to walk in wisdom’s way, and expects him to pass on his enlightened understanding to the next generation (Proverbs). Dialoguing friends young and old come to a climax when they dialogue with the Divine. Joining in the discussion, the Almighty encourages humility whenever a person is forced to puzzle over the deepest challenges of life (Job). Male and female, bride and groom explore the wonders, the beauties of passionate love in vivid detail even as they pass along their perspectives on propriety in sexual relations to maidens of the next generation (Song of Songs). A wealthy king employs his vast resources to learn how to cope with life’s frustrations, and shares his insights as the singular Shepherd with other instructors (Ecclesiastes). How to weep rightly in the midst of life’s calamities represents an aspect of human wisdom eventually needed by one and all (Lamentations).
How can humanity live life to the fullest without the God-inspired wisdom of the wise? Everyone—young and old, male and female, rich and poor—sooner or later will need every bit of practical advice found in these “how-to” books of the Bible. Indeed, you may bungle along by the impulses of your own brain if you choose. But would it not be far better to “get wisdom,” to “get understanding”? With all the powers of your “getting,” “get wise!”
If you find yourself tantalized by these wisdom books to seek consummate wisdom, then turn your expectant eyes toward Jesus the Christ. For all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge consummate in him. He is the incarnate Word of wisdom who will willingly teach you his way.
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“I have often complained that modern Christians, even when diligent about ethics and worship, often fail to think deeply about epistemology, about knowing, about wisdom. They seek to grow in Christ, but they commit their education to secular teachers without any attempt to critique. That leads to spiritual shipwreck. The Bible speaks not only of trusting Christ and serving him in ethics and worship, but also about trusting him as the standard for thought. This is what biblical wisdom is about. It is a pattern of thinking that keeps the rest of life in proper order. Robertson’s book is the best I know of on this subject. It focuses on what the Bible itself says about wisdom, particularly in the wisdom literature. I have learned much from it, and I hope that many others will as well.”
—John M. Frame, J. D. Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida
“Once again, O. Palmer Robertson has provided us with a mature fruit of his patient, wise, and meticulous biblical research. From a conservative-evangelical perspective, he explores the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, opening up new vistas of study and understanding of this part of Scripture, which until recently was undervalued and sometimes even neglected in Old Testament research. In his new book, Robertson convincingly argues that the so-called wisdom books do form an integral part of God’s Word, with their message and theology deeply embedded in redemptive history. Perhaps surprisingly, Lamentations is also included in this section. To call the books of wisdom ‘the how-to [puzzle, lament, love, etc.] books’ in the Old Testament canon is an eye-opener, just one of the many that the reader comes across in this rich and insightful work. Robertson’s joy in biblical research is contagious, as is his love for God’s Word that inspires him. The reading of this book is a joyful experience, and does not disappoint even if the reader disagrees with the author on some minor point.”
—Eric Peels, Professor of Old Testament Studies, Theological University, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands
“The Christ of Wisdom is a major contribution to Christian understanding of wisdom in the Old Testament. As always, Palmer Robertson’s work is firmly rooted in the full authority of Scripture and in the supremacy of Christ over all creation. Thus, he helps us explore many portions of Scripture that evangelicals often overlook. He not only addresses academic issues, but also provides enormously helpful insights into the practical application of biblical wisdom to modern life. Every believer will find that this volume expands his or her vision of what it means to follow ‘Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:2–3).”
—Richard L. Pratt Jr., President, Third Millennium Ministries
“The work of wisdom is the purview of the good king. Jesus is a sage greater than Solomon (Matt. 12:42) because he is the true and final son of David, yet many pastors and teachers still find it difficult to preach Christ from the Old Testament wisdom books. This is why Robertson’s work is so greatly needed. As with his other writing, he carefully maps out the many ways in which the teaching of the Old Testament speaks to the broader story of redemption and the person of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Throughout this book, he reminds us that wisdom literature will not merely make us wise, but also acquaint us with the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
—John Scott Redd Jr., President and Associate Professor of Old Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, DC
“How do the Old Testament wisdom books testify to the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27, 44)? In what way is Christ the incarnate wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24)? Let O. Palmer Robertson answer these questions for you in this book! I can think of no better treatment of this challenging topic from an orthodox, biblical-theological, redemptive-historical, covenantal perspective. As a master teacher, he leads his readers through the ancient world of wisdom literature, demonstrates how this material is vitally relevant for the church today, and magnifies the Christ of wisdom in each successive chapter. Robertson has helped us to heed the call of Scripture to ‘get wisdom’ (Prov. 4:5; 23:23) and so come to know the One ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom’ (Col. 2:3).”
—Miles V. Van Pelt, Alan Belcher Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages; Director, Summer Institute for Biblical Languages; Academic Dean, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi