Note: This series comes from the notes of a course I am teaching on Biblical Theology at Calvary Baptist Church. This material is organized similar to Graeme Goldsworthy’s book According to Plan.

“A consistent theme throughout the Old Testament is that of God as the creator, covenant-maker and redeemer.”[1] All of these themes point to God’s personal dealings with humanity. He is not a distant deity who is uncaring or unsympathetic.[2] In fact, we have the privilege of looking back over ancient redemptive history as a whole, which in many ways can be summarized as the story of ‘God saving His people’; and doing so because He loves them as His ‘son.’[3]

Now, what we often fail to consider is that the writers of the Old Testament mainly focus on key people and/or the great events of redemptive history. Goldsworthy points out the importance of noticing this point for us as we read the Old Testament:

This “easily obscures the fact that often whole generations are born, grow old and die without them [key people or great events. This perspective is important to realize that] life in Israel is not three miracles a day and a new holy war each week. Most people live their lives while God does no new thing.”[4]

Think about it, for every biblical hero there are thousands of Israelites of whom we never hear. We learn much about the life of faith in the famous figures, but what did it look like for the ordinary Israelite? Also, most of the Biblical narrative found in the Old Testament tends to focus on the nation as a whole[5], so how did these scriptures speak to individuals in everyday life? This question is answered in the wisdom literature and in the psalms. See, the questions of piety are dealt with in the Psalms, and the quest for knowledge and understanding and dealt with in the wisdom literature.

Wisdom: The Fear of the Lord

In Genesis we are told that man is created in the image of God. Being created in the image of God is significant to our relationship with God, with others, and with the rest of created order. We were created to reflect God in His creation. In order to know what this meant God gave humanity His word to guide us in these relationships. Simply put, God’s Word provides humanity with the “framework for a right understanding of the universe.” By God’s word we are able to rightly interpret reality. With this understanding humanity was given the freedom to:

“…use their God given brains and senses to gather knowledge, to classify it, to deduce relationships, to invent, to plan and to have dominion over creation.”[6]

Now, sin was an outright rejection of God’s order in creation as shown in His word. It was a refusal to accept and follow God’s revelatory word as the basis of knowledge and understanding. One of the main themes of Proverbs is seen in this principle:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.[7]

In Solomon’s prayer to dedicate the Temple the fear of the Lord is linked to God’s covenant with His people.[8] Therefore, fear should not be understood as terror. The fear of the Lord in the context of the Old Testament is:

“… a response of reverence and awe and trust to the redemptive revelation of God. It is the Old Testament equivalent to trusting in Christ or believing in the gospel. The fear of the Lord is the response of faith to all that God has done to redeem His people, and He Himself interprets what He has done by His Word.”

Remember that God’s revelation has been progressive throughout redemptive history. In the beginning the people of God failed to gain true knowledge and understanding by not trusting God’s Word. Later, while God was still forming His people, they came under the instruction of the law to show them what it was like to live in a proper relationship with God, and show them it is something they cannot achieve. The law revealed sin, which is, in essence, failure to trust or revere God.

By the time of Solomon all of redemptive history revealed that God’s word and His saving acts provide the framework of grace, which motivates the proper response to God. The proper place of humanity in relationship to God is complete trust and reverence. Therefore, those who trust and revere God above all other things are truly wise, for they have gained understanding. In fact, this is the central principle found in Solomon’s Ecclesiastes:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.[9]

None of us have ever upheld this. There is only one who has lived with complete reverence for the Father. There is only one who has upheld and kept all the commandments. That one was Jesus Christ, and through His perfect obedience we are granted righteousness when we place our faith in Him. Christ has fulfilled the whole duty of man for us.

Creation Order and Disorder

In the beginning there was proper order in God’s creation. This order was expressed in the harmonious and good[10] relationships between God, man, and the rest of creation. With the entrance of sin came disorder and confusion in which all of creation was affected with terminal and destructive consequences.[11] “Human thought that reflects this rebellion is foolishness, not wisdom, and involves a deliberate and wicked suppression of the truth.”[12][13]

The situation that ancient Israel found themselves in was that of attempting to understand what their present stage of redemptive history and experience meant for their lives.

“The Israelite believer had similar problems to those we have as Christians. What is the response of faith to the secular world? How does the believer relate to other believers and to unbelievers in a creation that is yet unregenerate?”[14]

The wisdom literature[15] of the Old Testament provided knowledge for the Israelites for proper understanding and living in a world in which all relationships were in disorder and confusion because of sin. While there is disorder in creation we need to be reminded of two great truths pertaining to gracious God.

  1. God has never let sin completely destroy all order. Creation still has order in the sense that it can support life.
  2. God, in His goodness, lovingly chose to reveal His word for the purpose of enabling the believer to progress in wisdom and understanding for life.

Salvation, or the regeneration of order, includes ‘right thinking’ and knowledge. Remember, God is a God of order.[16] Therefore God’s people should seek to live in a way that ‘orders’ their lives with God’s purposes, understanding that it can only be done in humble submission to God, motivated by His grace, and empowered by His Spirit.

The Wisdom Books

The wisdom books[17] of the Old Testament focus in on ‘right thinking’ and the search for knowledge.[18] Each of these wisdom books are written from the standpoint of covenant believing Israelites, and are essentially explorations of human experience.

In many ways these wisdom books provide a pattern for us to grow in wisdom as we “assemble our experiences and to examine them for the underlying relationships that make life coherent and meaningful.”[19] In Ecclesiastes wisdom is portrayed as “a divine gift[20], though also something acquired gradually[21], and as beneficial[22] if esteemed and employed at the right[23] moment.”[24]

The individual proverbs are just that, reflections on life in light of God’s creation order and revelation. In revealing Himself God provides the framework by which we ought to think. For the most part, “in normal daily experience the predictable relationship between deeds and their outcomes remain the principle way we learn about life, to determine how to pursue the good life.”[25]

As we reflect on experience, with an understanding of God’s mandate to us, “we are responsible for the decisions we make as we seek to be wise (to think in a godly way) and to avoid being foolish (to think in a godless way).”[26][27] Therefore, our decisions are wise when they are made in light of God’s revelation and a proper understanding of God’s will revealed in creation order. In the Proverbs one will find that God expects humans to make wise decisions, he “expects them to use his gift of reason to interpret the circumstances and events in life”[28] with consideration of the outcome.

But, while much of experience is predictable from patterns in humanity or nature, there is also much mystery.

“God is great and His ways are often hidden[29] from us. He does not reveal to us the whole picture of His will; indeed we could not understand it if He did. Thus, the believer may encounter suffering and tragedy that seem senseless and a denial of God’s care and control of events.”[30]

One needs to remember that there are limits to human empirical[31] wisdom. “Sometimes the normal relationship between deeds and their outcomes do not seem to exist.”[32] The book of Job illustrates this and encourages the reader to humbly recognize that God’s ways will not always be expressed in ways humanity can grasp. Consider Job’s friends who reason from effect to cause and conclude that Job must brought about his suffering by some secret sin. But this was not the case with Job, he was ‘innocent’ and did not have any empirical reason why he was suffering. At the very most we can conclude that “life can to some extent be foreseen”[33], but this is not always the case.

Thus, wisdom is not purely intellectual, but involves “trust in the sovereign will of a gracious yet mysterious God.”[34] Like Job, Jesus trusted in God when God was silent at the cross, He faced the suffering at the will of His Father, showing faith by crying to the only one who He could trust, ‘His God.’ Jesus is the true and greater Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his ignorant friends.

For us, we must also take into account the corruption of human understanding by sin. Sin has confused the pure and orderly relationships in creation, thus causing corruption and disorder. Sin also distorts and obscures the truth, making us prone to misunderstanding and false thinking.

Even in situations when we do not understand what God is doing, hopefully in the end we are driven to worship, namely because the fact that there is mystery in God’s ways which compels us to trust in His goodness. I think it was well said, while reflecting on the Psalms, that:

Wisdom and “understanding may wait but obedience cannot. Believers who faced trial and, although puzzled, continued in faith and obedience found their faith re-shaped in the light of their experience.”[35]

In many cases, whether the situation is out of ones hands, or has direct connection to the choices one make, one can look back and see God’s guidance in the situation.

Worship: Praise in the Psalms

There are several types of psalms within Israel’s ancient song book known as the Psalms.[36] Each type of psalm is written within different situations, and for use in different situations. The psalms are prayers, praise, and instruction within the context of a relationship with God.

“They show how individuals and congregations think about God and their relationship to Him. Like wisdom literature, the psalms take their starting point from [remembering God’s covenant and recalling salvation history]. Unlike wisdom, the psalms are much more…a response to what God has done.”[37]

The Psalms are works that focus on the history of redemption, the covenant, and encounters with the living God. Take two focuses in the psalms for example:

1. Psalms of Praise

In these specific functioning psalms the psalmist will praise God as creator[38], protector and redeemer[39], as King and Lord of history.[40] The important point is this, “worship of God is typically a recalling of the mighty saving deeds of God within the history of Israel.”[41] Remember, memory[42] plays a primary role as a theme in the Psalms. Many of the Psalms recall the prayers that have already been answered, other bring to light God’s past acts of deliverance. These Psalms remind the reader of God’s reliability to His promises, which builds faith.

We are not ancient Israelites. But we can see a pattern of response here that we should emulate. We should be draw to worship as we consider the good news of Jesus Christ. Merely remembering the fact that Christ delivered us from slavery to sin, and we find rest in Him as Savior and Lord, should be sufficient to motivate praise at anytime. (good and bad)

2. Psalms of Lament

Psalms of lamentation often compare the declared status of God’s people with their actual situation. In these psalms the people are turning to God in the midst of sorrow, suffering, or persecution.[43] Often times these psalms are found after a psalm of lament as ‘songs of re-orientation.’[44] While these psalms of lament are launched from a heart of despair, most of them are followed up by, or “finish on a note of confidence that God will yet act to save and restore them.”[45]

Again, we can find a gospel pattern here. We will all find ourselves in times of suffering, sorrow, and persecution. Sometimes inflicted by our own sin, by others, and sometimes permitted by God. In the same way we must turn to God in complete trust and re-orient ourselves to considering that Christ endured the ultimate suffering, sorrow, and persecution on our behalf so that we would have eternal life. The gospel then becomes our ultimate source of comfort in real times of despair while here on earth.

Here is the point, the great objective facts about who God is and what He has done are the foundation for, and motivate all worship and obedience. Therefore, the psalms are expressions of fellowship with God by those who know what it is to be redeemed by grace. Simply put, true worship can only be a response to God’s character and His works, as he has revealed.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

What God has done in redemptive history provides the believer a framework to understand all of reality. With this framework the believer expresses fellowship with God by seeking wisdom and understanding from His Word and returning praise to Him alone.

“The word wisdom suggests a concern for the way we think, the way we use our minds or intellects.”[46] If we consider salvation history we understand that all of creation has been subjected to sin. Therefore we cannot assume that human understanding and knowledge are neutral: All aspects of humanity have experienced the deleterious effects of sin.[47] The natural reasoning capabilities of man only allow us to ‘see through the glass darkly.’ The Gospel alone provides salvation from the noetic effects of sin, and thus allows us to gain true wisdom.

As Christians we must remember that the Christian mindset comes about through the gospel, and so we must think of Christian wisdom as conforming of the mind to the gospel. In this sense all believers have the mind of Christ.[48] Christ is not only the wisdom of God,[49] but is also our wisdom.[50]

Our conformity to Christ is the fruit of our salvation. Therefore, “growing as a Christian really means learning[51] to apply the fact of the gospel to every aspect of our thinking and doing.”[52] It is only when we see the person and work of Jesus Christ are we able to properly understand ourselves, our experience, and the world around us. This has direct implication on what it means to be a ‘mature Christian.’ A mature Christian is:

“One who is able to look at the whole of reality through Christian eyes…He is learning to understand all things in terms of what they are in this corrupted realm and of what God intends them to be by virtue of His redeeming work. Thus, he is an integrated person who is learning daily through the gospel how to relate, not only to himself, but to all things according to the purposes of God.”[53]

We must learn to tie all wisdom and worship to three points of the Biblical narrative, namely, creation, fall, and new creation.

  1. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 172.
  2. Some scholars have tried to describe the God of Ecclesiastes as distant and unknowable, but this does not seem to be the case. The most frequent activity ascribed to God in Ecclesiastes in ‘giving’, which is always in the context of dealing with people.
  3. Exodus 4:22.
  4. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 172.
  5. Prescribed forms of worship, observance of feasts, attention to sacrifices, governing the religious activities of the nation, etc.
  6. [6] Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 172.
  7. [7] Proverbs 9:10. Also see 1:7.
  8. [8] 1 Kings 8:38-43.
  9. Ecclesiastes 12:13.
  10. Genesis 1:31.
  11. Genesis 2:17; 3:17-19; Romans 5:12; 8:19-20.
  12. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 174.
  13. Romans 1:18-23; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.
  14. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 175.
  15. Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, certain Psalms, and Song of Songs.
  16. Psalm 104, 107, 132, 1.
  17. Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes.
  18. While Solomon was the ‘wisest man’ to ever live. We must remember that his wisdom is seen in relation to his prayer for understanding in order to govern well. (1 Kings 3:9, 4:29) So wisdom is a gift from God.
  19. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 176.
  20. Ecclesiastes 2:26.
  21. Ecclesiastes 1:16.
  22. Ecclesiastes 2:13; 7:11-12.
  23. Ecclesiastes 4:13-14; 9:13-16; 10:10-11.
  24. R.L. Schultz, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 213.
  25. Goldsworthy, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 210.
  26. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 176.
  27. One of the major themes in the Proverbs is the comparison between ‘wisdom and folly.’
  28. Goldsworthy, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 210.
  29. Job 11:7; Isaiah 55:8-9.
  30. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 176.
  31. This is wisdom gained by experience.
  32. Goldsworthy, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 210.
  33. A. Viberg, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 201.
  34. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 176.
  35. Grogan, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 205.
  36. Grogan notes that “the Psalms are divided into five books, probably on the Pentateuchal model, showing evidence of deliberate structure.” (New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 203.)
  37. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 177.
  38. Psalms 8, 19, 104, 148.
  39. Psalms 66, 100, 111, 114, 149.
  40. Psalms 33, 103, 113, 117, 145-147.
  41. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 177.
  42. Psalms 73, 78, 105-106, 135-136.
  43. See psalms 28. For individual laments see 3, 22, 31, 39, 42, 57, 71, 120, 139, and 142. For corporate laments see 12, 44, 80, 94, and 137.
  44. There are corporate Psalms of thanksgiving, see 65, 67, 75, 107, 124, and 136. There is also individual thanksgiving Psalms, like 18, 30, 32, 34, 40, 66, 92, 116, 118, and 138.
  45. Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 177.
  46. Goldsworthy, The Gospel and Wisdom, 339.
  47. Romans 12:2.
  48. 1 Corinthians 2:16.
  49. 1 Corinthians 1:24.
  50. 1 Corinthians 1:30.
  51. Therefore moral transformation in the Christian is not separated from intellectual transformation.
  52. Goldsworthy, The Gospel and Wisdom, 341.
  53. Goldsworthy, The Gospel and Wisdom, 356.

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