Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament

By Christopher J. H. Wright
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2007). 232 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
21.2 (Fall 2010) : 268-270

Writing reviews too often devolves into an academic exercise devoid of spiritual benefit. Reading Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament, however, turned into a blessed journey of faith through the pages of the OT. Christopher J. H. Wright is the international ministry director of the Langham Partnership International/John Stott Ministries and was formerly principal of All Nations Christian College in Ware, England, where he also taught OT. His published writings include The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (InterVarsity, 2006), Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament (InterVarsity, 2006), Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (InterVarsity, 2004), The Message of Ezekiel (The Bible Speaks Today, InterVarsity, 2001), Deuteronomy (NIBC, Hendrickson, 1996), and Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (InterVarsity, 1995).

This volume arose from Wright’s teaching ministries in India and Slovenia, for which he pursued a theme of knowing God in the OT (9-10). Since the OT seldom refers to God as Father, the trinitarian understanding obtains some of its content from “fatherly portraits and metaphors for God, even when he is not directly called Father” (13). Wright makes the observation that the God whom Jesus knew “from his Bible as Yahweh was the God he knew in prayer as his Father” (17). Since NT believers pray to the Father, we too must become more aware of the Father’s character, attributes, role, and actions in the OT so as to enrich our own prayer lives.

Although the volume is well worth reading, its title leads the reader to expect more than it delivers. At least Chapters 1 and 4 deal directly with God as Father. In other chapters the topic is less evident, though sometimes present (e.g., 150). In the very first chapter (“Knowing God as a Father in Action,” 21-39), Wright lays out the OT teaching concerning God the Father as One Who carries (Deut 1:30- 31; Isa 46:3-4), disciplines (Deut 8:2-5; Prov 3:11-12), pities (Ps 103:8-14; Isa 53:4- 6, 12), and adopts (Pss 27:9-10; 68:4-6). Chapter 2 (“Knowing God Through Experience of His Grace,” 41-62) focuses on Deut 4:32-40 while considering the uniqueness of Israel’s experience relating to both revelation and redemption. God expected Israel to convey their experience both in teaching and in the writing of Scripture.

Looking at the divine judgments upon Pharaoh, Wright’s third chapter (“Knowing God Through Exposure to His Judgment,” 63-76) examines the meaning of the phrase “then you (or they) will know” in Exodus 7–11 (65). God proves to be sovereign and incomparable through these events. Chapter 4 (“Knowing God as the Father of His People,” 77-99) returns to the specific role of Yahweh as Father. He is Father of his son Israel (78-89) and he is Father of Israel’s king, including Messiah (89-98).

Since Wright emphasizes prayer in this series of studies, the fifth chapter (“Knowing God Through Engaging Him in Prayer,” 101-31) examines the intimacy both Abraham (102-20) and Moses (120-30) experienced with God through intercessory prayer. Wright points out that our lesson from a study of Abraham and Moses is that, “in the adventure of knowing God, there are depths of prayer that we have scarcely begun to paddle in” (131). Then Wright turns to “Knowing God Through Reflecting His Justice” (Chapter 6, 133-52). He focuses on Jer 9:23-24 and 22:13-17 as he gently attacks our all-too-often “limp evangelical pietism” (147) and declares that there is “no true knowledge of God without the exercise of justice and compassion” (151).

Chapter 7 (“Knowing God Through Returning to His Love,” 153-81) prospects the riches of Hosea. The prophet speaks of knowing God as Savior (13:4) and as Father (11:1-4). He also indicates that the knowledge of God can be lost through rebellion and the pursuit of idolatry (2:5, 8-9; 4:1-6). Israel can only be restored through repentance. Wright employs the context consistently to demonstrate that Hos 6:1-3 presents an inadequate statement of repentance (172-77). Israel had “faced their woundedness (Hos 6:2; cf. Hos 5:12-13) but not their waywardness” (173). True repentance requires confession of guilt (173-75) and radical ethical change (175-77).

The eighth chapter (“Knowing God in Expectation of His Victory,” 183-97) picks up the more than eighty times that the book of Ezekiel says “then you will know” or “then they will know” followed by “that I am the LORD” or some other statement of who God is or what He has done (184). Wright limits this essay to a treatment of Ezekiel 38–39 about God and Magog. Rather than looking at the prophetic fulfillment in history or eschatological time, he elaborates the theological truths that the reader should obtain. Wright expounds Psalm 46 and Habakkuk in his final chapter (Chapt. 9, “Knowing God Through Trusting in His Sovereignty,” 199- 222). Speaking of the current unrest in the Near East, he points out that Christian mission “has never depended on favorable circumstances, peace and tranquility” (222). Knowing God produces a sound faith exhibited in a healthy prayer life as well as the courage to continue the mission to make God known in the world.

Sometimes the content of this book could be strengthened by additional exegetical analysis or by recognizing the discontinuity of Israel and the church. However, its message is very clear and necessary. Christians too often neglect God the Father in their spiritual lives and doctrine. Revelation of God as Father arises first in the OT. Wright has at least opened the door to the study of God the Father in the OT. Each reader must pursue that knowledge in greater depth. Who is the God of the OT to whom Jesus prayed? He is the same Father to whom we now pray. Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament forms the catalyst for a further examination of this significant aspect of OT theology and its impact upon NT theology.