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The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: A Book Review

imageLet’s take a stroll today through something other than politics today. I recently read a book by Douglas Sean O’Donnell called The Beginning and End of Wisdom, and I thought you might like to hear about it. Becoming wise in the Lord is what every Christian aspires to do, and the Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament is a great way to start. Here is the review I posted on Amazon…

Understanding the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job) is a difficult task at times. On the one hand, the messages are frequently simple to understand and clearly applicable to anyone at any stage of life. On the other hand, connecting this literature to Jesus in the New Testament is complex. O’Donnell’s book engages the reader to think differently about the Wisdom Literature and see Christ in ways that perhaps he or she has never considered before.

The main body of the book contains seven chapters, six of which are written sermons on the first and last chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. The seventh chapter covers homiletics itself, in other words, how the Wisdom Literature ought to be preached. The seven main chapters total about 150 pages. The book also includes a brief introduction as well as appendices on Hebrew poetry and further study suggestions.

I found the sermons/chapters on Proverbs to be the strongest sections of the book. Recall that Proverbs 1 begins by telling us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. But what exactly does the “fear” entail? O’Donnell’s study gives us perhaps the best definition of “fearing God” that I have seen in print, and it is worth quoting here from page 37:

“According to the book of Proverbs, ‘the fear of the Lord’ is a continual (Pr. 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).”

Now that is a thorough definition!

You rarely hear a sermon focused on Proverbs 31, which primarily talks about the virtuous wife. The lessons in the chapter, though, are very striking. This chapter reminded me of how blessed I am to have such a wonderful wife myself.

I did not enjoy O’Donnell’s sermons on Ecclesiastes as much as the rest of the book. To me, he seemed somewhat to tow what I might call the standard “Evangelical line,” which tends to emphasize the relative superiority of ministerial “church” work to everything else. Perhaps I am not interpreting O’Donnell’s work well, though. To his credit, though, Ecclesiastes is a very difficult book to read and O’Donnell’s contribution to understanding God’s word here is still valuable.

The sermons on Job, I felt, were not particularly novel but still quite encouraging. As is frequently done, he focused on the redemptive aspects of suffering and emphasized the importance of trusting in Jesus Christ for providential care through trouble. Again, the attention given to linking Jesus to the text is worthy of note.

Overall, I found this book enlightening and encouraging in a number of ways. The sermon format, rather than the typical theological book, reads quite well and I found it consistently engaging. While not perfect, it is a worthy addition to the bookshelf of the Christian interested in going deeper into the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament.

Interested in learning more? Check out the book at Amazon.com.

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