Interview by Matthew Claridge–
For disciples at the end of their emotional and spiritual rope, processing the shameful agony of Good Friday and the inexpressible ecstasy of Easter Sunday must have had an effect similar to blunt force trauma. What does it all mean? Is this all a dream? Standing in their midst, risen and radiant, the Lord offers them a sure word: “‘Then he said to them, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.'”
Taking her cues from the Lord’s own hermeneutic, Nancy Guthrie is authoring a series of Bible studies that leads us to Christ through the “Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms.” Difficult as it is to admit, this is a road less traveled for a Bible Studies series through the Old Testament. For whatever reason, such studies typically get bogged down in character studies and moralism with little to no thought of the centrality of Christ. I am very happy to announce Nancy is reversing that dismal trend. Nancy was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the second study in her this series, entitled The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books.
This book is part of a series called “Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament.” Tell us a little bit about this series, how it came about, and what your goals are for it.
The Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament series will eventually be five 10-week Christ-centered Old Testament Bible studies designed for personal or group use. The first book in the series came out last fall called The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis, and the second book, The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books has just been released. The third one will come out in August, The Lamb of God: Seeing Jesus in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Really these studies have been born out of my own desire to more deeply understand what Jesus meant and what he might have pointed to when, on the road to Emmaus with two disciples he “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). On that walk, and over the forty days between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus shined the light of who he is and what he accomplished on the cross on the entire Old Testament so that they could understand it like they couldn’t before. It is my desire to create materials for Bible study groups to study the Old Testament together specifically to understand how Jesus is pictured in its people and patterns, how he is anticipated in its celebrations and songs, and how he is the answer to all of its unanswered questions and unmet needs.
As I put them together, I’m always thinking about the 20-something young mother who is at home with small children most of the time but wants to be treated like she has a brain when she comes to Bible study. She has a longing to talk about the things of God that really matter, and in these studies I hope she will find something meaty and worthy of her investment of time and energy. But I also think about the women who are like the older woman in my church who has been a leader in Bible studies for most of her life but asked me a few weeks into the study of Genesis, “How come I’ve never been taught this before?” When we see how the divine Author of the Bible has enabled the human authors to write about his Son in every book of the Old Testament, and as we begin to make connections to Christ and to continue to see new ones, it is really quite thrilling.
Tell us how you have structured this book as a Bible study and the ways readers can use it.
Each week’s lesson includes a few pages of Personal Bible Study questions that are designed to get the reader into the text and give them a foundational understanding of how it fits into the bigger story of the Bible as well as to begin making some connections to its content and the person of Christ. Then there is a teaching chapter in which I seek to present the gospel of Christ specifically from the Old Testament text. The studies have a companion DVD available for those groups that want to experience the teaching together as a group and the content on the videos is the same as that in the Teaching Chapter. At the end of each chapter is a brief few paragraphs called “Looking Forward” that present how that particular Old Testament passage actually helps us to understand what is yet to come when Christ returns and establishes the new heaven and the new earth. And then there is a Discussion Guide for groups to use to discuss the big picture themes and the difference it makes when we read that book or passage in the light of Christ.
How do you envision the Wisdom Literature as uniquely pointing to Jesus?
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 the Old Testament Wisdom Literature provided 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, the wisdom literature exposed the need for One who would live in perfect wisdom in their place. So while we certainly find wise principles for living life in this world as one who belongs to God, we 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.
In Job we read 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. And in his story we 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 spend five weeks in the Psalms, which we could call the songs of Jesus. These are the songs he sang, and so we discover what it means to sing them with Christ, as well as 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 begotten 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 20). 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 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). When the writer of Proverbs sets before us two ways—one that leads to life and one that leads to death—we realize that he is ultimately pointing us to Christ who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In Ecclesiastes we discover life’s true meaning and purpose that eluded the teacher, which is found not in chasing after the wind but in following after Christ. And in the love poetry of Song of Solomon we hear echoes of the longing we have for the lover of our souls, our beloved bridegroom, who intends to make us his pure bride and to make his home with us forever and ever.
Some Christians are wary of the idea of seeing Jesus too much in the Old Testament. They think it might over-spiritualize the text. How do you approach such objections?
I wonder how Jesus would have responded to such objections. I think he might have said, “How could you ever think you could make any sense of it apart from me?” Jesus is the one who indicated that it is most profoundly about him. It seems wise to take our cues for understanding the written word from the Living Word.
With the Wisdom literature especially, we are tempted to go straight from the text to personal application. You take people through Jesus first. How does seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of the Wisdom literature make its “application” more personal and practical?
Along with approaching each book with the question, “What does this book uniquely reveal to us about who Christ is and what he will accomplish and provide to his people?” I’m also looking for, “What need does it present that he will meet, or what question does it raise that he will answer?” So, for example, in Job, here is this man whose suffering seems to make no sense on the surface. And we can relate to that. It doesn’t seem fair. And as we look to Christ we begin to realize that we don’t really want fair. What would be fair would be for us to suffer the penalty for our sin rather than an innocent Christ. What we want is grace and mercy, not fairness. When we see that Jesus is the ultimate “blessed man” of Psalm 1 who “delights in the law of the Lord” and is “planted like a tree,” we recognize that the real security and significance we long for comes only in being united to him. Likewise, in Psalm 2, when we see that Jesus is the Lord’s King installed on his royal throne, we are confronted with the question of whether or not we are willing to submit to the King’s authority. The Song of Solomon helps us to deal with the longing we have to be loved. While human love certainly gives us a taste of love, it is limited, it leaves us wanting more. Only in Christ do we find the love we have truly longed for, a love that is stronger than death. In Christ alone we are loved perfectly, savingly, and eternally.
One of the features of this study is how you envision the Old Testament as offering a series of unanswered questions that are finally answered in Christ. What kind of “unanswered questions” does the Wisdom literature offer to us? How does this make our reading of the OT a richer experience?
Job asks how the suffering of an innocent man can be redeemed. And the answer is, by the redeemer that Job saw only in shadow but we see clearly in Jesus Christ. Job asks, “How can a man be in the right before God?” (Job 9:2). And we know, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Job longs for a mediator that he cannot see (Job 9:32). But we know “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
The psalmists ask, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?” (Ps. 24:3), “Who is this King of glory?” (Ps. 24:8), and “Who is the man who fears the Lord” (Ps. 25:12). And we know the answer. Jesus will ascend the hill of the Lord, making it possible for us to one day enter into God’s holy presence. Jesus is the king of glory who reigns forever and ever. Jesus is the man who fears the Lord perfectly in our place.
Proverbs asks, “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?” (8:1). And we know that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). We have heard wisdom’s call in Christ’s call to repent and believe.
Ecclesiastes asks, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?” (2:22). And we know that in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) and that nothing done for the Lord is ever wasted (1 Cor. 15:58).
The chorus in Song of Solomon asks the bride, “What is your beloved more than another beloved?” (5:9), and we celebrate that our bridegroom is more faithful, more beautiful, and that he is stronger, purer, than any other beloved, and so we throw open the door to him saying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
Matthew Claridge (M.Div. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Th.M. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is an editor with Credo Magazine and the senior pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist church in Grangeville, Idaho. He is married to Cassandra and has two children.