Old Testament wisdom literature can be difficult to interpret and preach.
senior pastor of Douglas
Sean O’Donnell in New Covenant
Church , masterfully conveys the nature of
this genre in a powerful Christ-centered way. Demonstrating how to connect
Hebrew poetry to new covenant redemption, Naperville,
Illinois O'Donnell shares six
“Christocentic” sermons written primarily for preachers and seminary students.
(p.13). Yet, since they are actual sermons, the questions asked and
applications are useful for everyone.
As a good preacher,
O'Donnell addressed my initial question by stating
"at first reading, the book's title may seem presumptuous, as if this book
is the beginning and end of wisdom" (p. 14). There are times when titles are general references, but this
title is completely literal. O'Donnell uses this title because
he examines the first and last chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job and
how they look forward to Christ and the Gospel. He does this
through thoughtful explanations on how these texts reveal God's insight and
perspective on the sufferings of Jesus.
Following the beginning and end of the major wisdom books,Chapter 1. Ship of Fools (Proverbs 1:1-7)
Chapter 2. Imperishable Beauty (Proverbs 31:10-31)
Chapter 3. Why Work? (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11)
Chapter 4. Repining Restlessness (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
Chapter 5. The Devil’s Question (Job 1:1-12)
Chapter 6. My Servant (Job 42:1-17)
Chapter 7. How Shall Wisdom Be Preached?
Referring to more than "general wise sayings", according to
Old Testament wisdom deals with a
myriad of issues from suffering, work, relational dynamics, marital life etc.
But most importantly, we are not the
center of this wisdom but God himself and we must humble ourselves before Him.
Since scripture points to fulfillment through
presentation of wisdom is Christocentric,
always asking the question as of how a particular wisdom passage points one to
the Saviour. O'Donnell helps the preacher through the weekly task of preaching from digging
into the text, wrestling with its content, showing forth God through Christ.
The attention to detail and elaboration must be commended. Not content to strictly state that the "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", O'Donnell explains that this means that "According to the book of Proverbs, 'the fear of the Lord' is a continual (23:17), humble, and faithful submission to Yahweh, which compels one to hate evil (8:13) and turn away from it (16:6) and brings with it rewards better than all earthly treasures (15:16)--the rewards of a love for and a knowledge of God (1:29; 2:5; 9:10; 15:33), and long life (10:27; 14:27a; 19:23a) confidence (14:26), satisfaction, and protection (19:23)." (p.37).
This work is truly from a pastor's heart. Note his description of the book of Job: "the story of the kindness and severity of God, and of the sweetness and bitterness of his providence in the life of his servant Job. We come to a book that will teach us that God's love for us is bigger and broader than sentimentality and sympathy, and that his will for our lives is vaster and grander than our personal happiness or success. We come to a book that will renew our vows, so to speak, reminding us that we are to be faithful to God..." (p.93).
O’Donnell's final chapter, “How Shall Wisdom Be Preached?” provides practical tips The interpretative (hermeneutic) and preaching (homelitical) choices that need to be made which focus on the areas of 1) ethics, 2) types, 3) thematic aspects of Jesus’ teaching, 4) gospel illustrations, and 5) what he calls “gospel awe”—our attitude towards the God we preach.
The Appendices, on A) "Preaching Hebrew Poetry" and B) "Book Summaries and Suggested Sermon Series", provide an excellent summary and outline to put his insightful observations into practice. The Biography is helpful but I have only one frustration with this book with the Endnotes. They are such a breadth of information on background, and really essential key differentiations, that they needed to be endnotes instead. Take for example his citation how the word beginning can be interpreted "temporally as "beginning or starting point (cf. Gen. 10:10; Jer 26:1)" , or "quantitatively, as "first, best, or epitome" (Amos 6:6; Jer. 2:3 Ezek. 48:14....) (p.180). The flow of thought from the chapter needed to be connected with these key distinctions. One had to turn each time to the end of the book to find these observations, disconnecting with the argument being made in each chapter. I hope further editions put
O'Donnell's 45 pages of helpful
notations at the bottom of each page. Finally the "General Index", and "Scriptural
Index", make The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from
the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, an invaluable resources to guide,
encourage, and inform the student and preacher on how to carefully yet boldly
proclaim Christ from all the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27,44).