This studyleads readers on a 10-week journeythrough Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, highlighting how the Wisdom Literature points to Christ.
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About the Author
Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible at her church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and at conferences worldwide. She and her husband, David, are the cohosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 10,000 churches nationwide and also host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. Guthrie is also the host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcast of the Gospel Coalition.
Read an Excerpt
What We Need Most to Know
When someone speaking to me begins a sentence with "God told me," I have to admit that it sends up a red flag for me, especially if it is not followed by a verse of Scripture. Perhaps I should think that the person saying it is so incredibly spiritual and sensitive that he has an ongoing conversation with God in which God speaks to him clearly and directly, giving him specific extrabiblical instructions about what to do and where to go. Certainly, many people today see this as the way we should expect to receive guidance from God if we are in intimate relationship with him.
A while ago, a friend of mine gave me a copy of a new book by an author who has had multiple books on the best-seller list, and because I've read other books by this author that I found tremendously insightful, I looked forward to reading it. The book's premise is that a conversational relationship with God is not only available but meant to be normative, and that if you are not hearing God speak to you in this way, something is wrong with your spiritual life. The author encouraged his readers to still themselves in a posture of surrender and begin by asking the Lord questions about small matters that are not addressed in Scripture, offering examples from his own experience throughout the book: asking God if he should paint the bathroom, where he could find his missing watch, and what dogs do after they die.
Certainly having a relationship with God in which you hear him answer your questions and tell you clearly what to do in every aspect of life is very appealing. We all want wisdom for making decisions that will be pleasing to God.
As I continued to read the book, I came to an account of a horse-riding accident. The author writes that he thinks he remembered to ask God about riding the horse but realizes he did not ask where he should ride.
What do you think? Is this really the normative way for the Christian to go about life in this world — listening for a word from God about every choice and decision we have in front of us? Should I pray about which socks to wear today or what to make for dinner tonight and wait to move forward until I hear him speak to me inside my head?
At the risk that you will deem me thoroughly unspiritual and disconnected from God and put this book down before we barely get started, I have to tell you that I have never heard God speak to me in this way. This is not to say that God never speaks to believers today in this way. And it is not to say that I haven't heard the voice of God clearly in my life. I could talk with you for hours about specific ways God has spoken to me as I have read, studied, and heard his Word preached and taught. He has spoken to me clear words of conviction, instruction, warning, encouragement, assurance, comfort, promise, and guidance regarding his will for my life in powerful ways so that I knew he was speaking directly to my heart and my circumstances. But I would never claim to say authoritatively that God told me something that I cannot find in the Bible.
While the super-spiritual may expect to hear a direct word from God internally or externally through their circumstances so that they will know what to do and what is right, on the opposite spectrum, most of our culture assumes that God has nothing relevant to say to them about how they live and the choices they make. While they might consult the latest self-help book on the best-seller list, or tune in to the latest self-help guru, or look around at the larger culture to absorb its values and moral sense of right and wrong, seeking out God's perspective on the matter would never occur to them. Most people in this world live their lives and make their decisions with little or no thought of God.
So how about you? Some decisions are quite easy to make — especially concerning those matters on which God has clearly spoken. Certainly we don't have to pray about whether to sleep with someone we are not married to. We have clear instructions on that. We don't have to expect to hear a word from God about whether we should forgive someone who has hurt us. We know clearly what we should do; we just don't want to do it. What we struggle with are the things that are not directly addressed in Scripture. Is this the person I should marry? Is this the job I should take? Should I watch this television program? Which way should I vote in this election?
These are the things for which we need wisdom. So how do we get that wisdom? Should we expect to hear a direct word from God on these matters? And, if so, how do we know it is his voice we are hearing? Are we to make those decisions on the basis of a vague and subjective feeling about the Lord's will in the matter? Are we to try on one option to see if we "have a peace about it"?
Or can we make decisions in these matters freely and consciously on the basis of what the Scriptures say and the principles they contain? Is it possible that God has given us a source of wisdom that is grounded in who he is and his purposes in the world that will give us the guidance we need to make wise decisions in all matters of life in this world?
Paul writes that there is "a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory" (1 Cor. 2:7). So perhaps in our efforts to find answers to these questions, we need to start at the beginning, or maybe even before the beginning, when, in perfect wisdom, God's plans for his creation took shape.
The Secret Wisdom Hidden
God's revelation of himself and of his plans for this world is progressive. He began revealing his character and his plan in the creation of the world when he made humanity in his own image and put them in charge of the world he created. Adam and Eve's wisdom for navigating life in the perfect environment of Eden came from what God had told them and what they discovered through their own senses, interpreted in light of what God had told them. The big question was whether they would accept and obey God's clearly revealed wisdom by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then the Serpent came along and implanted in Eve's mind the suggestion that God was withholding something from them. She looked at God's prohibition and thought, "The tree was to be desired to make one wise" (Gen. 3:6). This was the first time a human being disobeyed God, thinking she knew better than God, but it certainly wasn't the last.
In fact, as a result of Adam and Eve's sin, and the curse that came upon all of creation because of it, all of us are born with a resistance to the wisdom that comes from God. But God, in his grace, has not been content to leave us living in darkness and alienation. God, over history, has continued to reveal himself. God called a people to himself and spoke to them through dreams, visions, and the prophetic word and gave them his covenant and his law. God gave his people story and symbols and shadows to prepare them to understand his wise plan, but it was not yet explicitly clear. Faith for God's people in the Old Testament era meant placing their hopes in God's promises, promises that had an element of mystery to them as to when and how they would come about (1 Pet. 1:10–12). And to guide them in living by faith as they waited for God to bring about more of his plan, God gave his people the Wisdom Literature we find in the Old Testament.
Each of the five books we'll study together deals with how to live in wisdom. They provide guidance for how to live in this world as one who belongs to God. Job shows how a wise person lives in a world in which the seemingly innocent suffer. Psalms provides the wise person with praise and prayers and laments for expressing his heart and mind to his God. Proverbs offers practical daily advice for living as a wise person in matters of relationship and work in the real world. Ecclesiastes reveals that living wisely requires not just living under the sun but under the rule of God and in the fear of God. And Song of Solomon sings a song of wisdom in regard to sexual desire and delight.
On one hand the Wisdom Books help us "to make sense of our world, and on the other hand [they] strengthen our trust in God in the face of things we cannot make sense of." They address the tensions of living in a world marked by sin as we anticipate full redemption.
But as good and true as this revelation of wisdom from God was, more was needed. Just as the law served not only to provide instruction but also to reveal people's utter inability to live up to the law, so did Old Testament Wisdom Literature provide needed guidance for living while also revealing the people's inability to live in perfect wisdom. Just as the law revealed the need for One who would follow the law perfectly in their place, so the Wisdom Literature exposed the need for One who would live in perfect wisdom in their place.
The wisest person of their day was King Solomon, who ruled Israel in great wisdom, but in many ways he turned against God's wisdom and pursued his own passions. Clearly someone wiser than Solomon was needed.
The Secret Wisdom Disclosed
After centuries of waiting, the day finally came when God sent exactly what was needed. Jesus stood in the midst of the wisdom teachers of his day — the scribes and Pharisees — and told them, "Something greater than Solomon is here" (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31). Indeed, standing there among them was wisdom incarnate.
In Jesus we were given the wisdom of God both mediated to us as a gift and lived out before us in perfection. They called Jesus "Teacher," and in truth, he was a great wisdom teacher. Throughout the Gospel narratives Jesus is portrayed as the wise man who, in the form and content of his sayings, followed the traditions of Israel's wisdom teachers. The people who heard him teach recognized that he was endowed with insight and authority that none of their other teachers had. Matthew writes that "coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, 'Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?'" (Matt. 13:54).
Jesus's most characteristic form of teaching was the parable. Matthew explains in his Gospel that "this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: 'I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world" (Matt. 13:35). What was it Jesus uttered that had been hidden since the foundation of the world? It was what he said about himself, still in a somewhat hidden way through parables. The treasure hidden in a field that is worth selling everything to own? It's Jesus (Matt. 13:44). The vineyard owner's son who is killed by the evil tenants? That's Jesus (Matt. 20:33–41). The rock upon which a house and a life can be built so that it can withstand the storms that inevitably come? Jesus is that rock (Matt. 7:24). What was the "secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory" (1 Cor. 2:7)? It is Jesus.
But the supreme revelation and demonstration of God's hidden wisdom was much more than Jesus's teaching on the hillside or in the synagogue. Most profoundly, it was Jesus hanging on a cross.
God's secret wisdom that was hidden is his plan to accomplish the salvation of sinners and the restoration of the perfect environment and perfect relationship he intends to share with them. That could not be accomplished merely through Jesus's living life before us so that we could learn from him and follow his example. This restored relationship could come only through his death in our place and his resurrection as the firstfruits of all who believe (1 Cor. 15:20). God's secret plan was not just sending Jesus and setting him up as the wisest of all teachers but in offering him up as a sacrifice for sin and raising him up victorious over death.
In your search for wisdom that is practical and pivotal, God wants to lead you to the foot of Christ's cross. Perhaps that makes no sense to you. Perhaps you cannot see how a man hanging on a cross in the ancient world has anything to do with your needs and concerns today in our modern world. Most people saw the cross of Christ that way in his day too. Paul wrote: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:22–23).
To see its vast wisdom, the cross must be seen in context of God's grand plan for all things, determined before the world was made, accomplished in human history, and coming to its culmination in eternity future. Perhaps you think your life is all about you and your needs and your thoughts and your questions in the here and now. My friend, you are part of a much grander story than just your little life. And the more you see your life in the context of this much bigger story, this much grander plan, the wiser you become as you live it.
The Jews of Jesus's day expected the long-awaited Messiah to come in glory and begin his reign with uncontested power, not to die like a common criminal. Similarly, the Greeks of Jesus's day who exalted reason and public philosophy considered a crucified messiah as dangerous stupidity. Yet it was God's intention that what seemed to them to be utter foolishness would put his unfathomable wisdom on display most profoundly.
The devastating turn of events that put Christ on the cross was not God's plan gone terribly wrong but the fulfillment of it (see Acts 2:23–24). Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23–24 that Christ crucified is "the power of God and the wisdom of God." In fact, Paul, a very educated man, told the Corinthians that he "decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul was not saying that he intended to devote himself to blissful ignorance about anything other than the cross. He was saying that everything he did and everything he thought and taught became centered on this ultimate wisdom: the cross of Christ.
Can you imagine what it would mean for you, like Paul, to put Christ crucified at the center of your life so that everything else revolves around it and emanates from it? How would it impact your Facebook status, your credit card bill, your vacation plans, your marriage or singleness, your parenting, your professional pursuits, your political involvement? Does not embracing this wisdom impact and inform every aspect of our ordinary lives?
Surely this is how the hidden wisdom of God takes root in our lives and provides us the guidance we long for — it becomes the functional center of our lives. The gospel is not simply a story; it is a power, so that when the gospel is loved and applied and enjoyed, this power goes to work on the interior of our lives, making us wise.
The Image We Are to Be Conformed To
Do you want to know God's will for your life? It is not a secret God expects you to figure out on your own or wait to hear whispered in your ear. The Bible clearly reveals God's will for us. It is that we are "to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom. 8:29). God wants you to walk and talk and think and live like Jesus.
One way to see how Jesus walked and talked and lived is to read the Gospels. Yet long before Jesus walked this earth, God provided his people with foreshadows of Jesus throughout the Old Testament. Over the coming weeks, as we make our way through the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament, we'll not only find wise principles for living life in this world as one who belongs to God, but we'll also see the wise person these books point to, the wisest person who ever lived, hidden in its drama and poetry and proverb and song.
We'll begin in Job, reading a story in which a seemingly innocent man who fears God suffers in unthinkable ways and is restored, defeating Satan's destructive purposes in the process. In Job's story we'll see shadows of the greater Job, Jesus, the only perfectly innocent person who ever lived, whose life was not spared in his suffering but is now resurrected and glorified, having soundly defeated Satan's schemes.
We'll make our way through Psalms over five weeks, singing our way through the songs Jesus sang along with his fellow Israelites — the praises he sang out from his heart, the laments he cried out in his suffering, the prayers through which he expressed trust in his Father. Because these are the songs he sang, we will discover what it means to sing them with Christ, but we will also discover that we sing the psalms about Christ. He is the blessed man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, but his delight is in the law of the LORD (Psalm 1). He is the king set on Zion, the Son in whom we take refuge (Psalm 2). He is our good shepherd who prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23). He is the one who has clean hands and a pure heart who can ascend the hill of the LORD (Psalm 24). It is he who was truly forsaken by God (Psalm 22). It is his blood that blots out our transgressions and washes us from our iniquity (Psalm 51). It is his body that did not rot in the grave (Psalm 16). We'll also discover that we sing the psalms to Christ, the Lord. He is the Lord who sits enthroned forever (Ps. 9:7); he is our rock and our redeemer (Ps. 19:14); it is his beauty we want to gaze upon, his face we seek (Ps. 27:4, 8).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Wisdom of God"
Copyright © 2012 Nancy Guthrie.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Before We Get Started: A Note from Nancy,
Week 1: The Wisdom Hidden in the Wisdom Books,
Teaching Chapter: What We Need Most to Know,
Week 2: Job,
Personal Bible Study,
Teaching Chapter: No Fair,
Week 3: Psalms: The Songs of Jesus,
Personal Bible Study,
Teaching Chapter: I Can't Stop This Feelin',
Week 4: Blessing and Perishing in the Psalms,
Personal Bible Study,
Teaching Chapter: Secure in the Storm,
Week 5: The Royal Psalms,
Personal Bible Study,
Teaching Chapter: The Royal Wedding,
Week 6: Repentance in the Psalms,
Personal Bible Study,
Teaching Chapter: Wash Me,
Week 7: The Suffering and Glory of Messiah in the Psalms,
Personal Bible Study,
Teaching Chapter: Who Is This Song About?,
Week 8: Proverbs,
Personal Bible Study,
Teaching Chapter: Wisdom Calling,
Week 9: Ecclesiastes,
Personal Bible Study,
Teaching Chapter: What Really Matters,
Week 10: Song of Solomon,
Personal Bible Study,
Teaching Chapter: Kiss Me,
What People are Saying About This
“In an age where too many ‘Bible’ studies fail to open the Bibleor, if opened, fail to touch on the actual themes in the text itselfNancy Guthrie immerses us in the wisdom of the Word. How refreshing! With her keen observations, penetrating applications, and thoughtful, engaging questions, Nancy Guthrie’s latest study on the Old Testament Wisdom Books and the Psalms gets us to see and smell, taste and touch, and understand and apply the everyday wisdom of Christour creator and crucified Lord.”
Douglas Sean O'Donnell, Senior Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Elgin, Illinois; author, Matthew and The Song of Solomon (Preaching the Word)
“I love Nancy’s infectious passion for teaching the Old Testament in a relevant, practical, spiritual, and Christ-centered way. I’m confident that this book will ignite that same passion in many otherstransforming lives, families, churches, and communities.”
David Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary
“In this study guide, Nancy Guthrie shows how the Old Testament Wisdom Books and the Psalms provide practical life lessons for Christians and stand as pointers to the supreme wisdom of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. With great skill she leads the reader to the heart of each book being studied, and demonstrates its place in Scripture as a testimony to Christ. Christian readers are encouraged to read the Old Testament Wisdom Literature in light of the relationship we have with Christ, who is the power and wisdom of God.”
Graeme Goldsworthy,Former Lecturer in Old Testament, Biblical Theology, and Hermeneutics, Moore Theological College