[K:NWTS 5/2 (Sep 1990) 32-36]

Book Review

Edmund P. Clowney. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1988, 202pp., $7.95 paper, ISBN: 08-9109-259-5.

There are a bewildering array of interpretative opinions in regard to Holy Scripture. Christian circles from liberal to conservative claim to have studied the Bible and form conclusions. And yet, the conclusions are divided from one another as far as the east is from the west.

In The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, Clowney helps to lead us out of all this confusion. The challenge of Biblical interpretation is to derive one's key of interpretation from the Bible itself. The Scriptures themselves answer the question of how they are to be read. They are to be read in terms of promise and fulfillment. Our resurrected Lord met two disciples on the road to Emmaus who did not recognize him. They were confused and disheartened by the recent events in Jerusalem because they failed to recognize Christ and those events in the Old Testament Scriptures. Therefore, beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, Jesus explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27).

Why didn't the disciples see these things? Why didn't they understand? Again, the Scriptures give us the answer. There was mystery in the Old Testament. The story of Christ was there, but it was hidden and concealed. But now in the coming of Christ, the mystery which for ages had been hidden in God, was brought to light (Eph. 3:9).

This is what Clowney's book is all about. He unfolds or brings to light the mystery hidden in the pages of the Old Testament. He shows us how Christ is the theme of the Scriptures and that the Old Testament proclaims his coming and mission. Clowney helps us to see the unity of the Scriptures. There is a single thread that ties all of the books of the Bible together. This unity is not incidental to the text of Scripture, nor is it imposed upon the text; rather it is essential to a correct reading and understanding of the Biblical message. In this reading of Scripture, we realize that we are gleaning what is there. We have tapped into the message of the Bible. The Scriptures come alive, not by way of making them conform to our modern situation and adjusting them to the interests of modern science, technology and sociology, and not by way of bringing the text to conform to our situation. Rather the message comes alive to us by bringing us into the text and our lives into conformity to the content of Scripture. God is our God. His promises are to us, his power is for us, the enemy is our enemy, the struggles of faith are our struggles, and the grace of God saves us and sustains and brings us to himself.

Clowney surveys the work of God's redeeming grace from the Garden of Eden to the age of the prophets, including a look at some of the Psalms and wisdom literature. The single thread of God's redemptive plan ties together Adam, tested in the garden and fallen, with the Second Adam who is tested in the wilderness and who triumphs over the Temptor. The friendship with Satan is overturned, and the Second Adam makes a whole new race of those who become the friends of God (p. 37).

The unity of the Scripture is designed to help the reader move backwards and forwards along the single thread that holds everything together. The early Judges summoned the willing armies of Israel to defeat their enemies. With Gideon, God shows that he only needs 300 men to work deliverance. In the story of Samson (p. 136f.), we see the unwilling nation delivered by God who uses a single champion to accomplish the redemption of his people. This single champion who defeats the enemy, is prophesied in Genesis 3:15 and we see this promise coming to light in Samson. It is manifested again in the story of David and Goliath. All of this points the way to Christ, the single champion who singlehandedly, in the midst of an unwilling nation, defeats the enemy and leads his people into the greatest of blessing.

This is how we are led to read the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David, Solomon, Elijah, Jonah, Ezekiel, Daniel and more. All these people of the Scriptures are the bearers of the promise by God's grace. They are not in the story because of their obedience, but because of God's call (p. 138). "Jacob (the deceiver) have I loved and Esau have I hated." Jacob's call, his election, must lead to a change in his character, but God's grace carries the promise forward until it comes to fulfillment in Christ who is not only holy because of his calling but also in his character. By way of comparison and contrast, the people and events of the Old Testament enrich our understanding of Christ and his work. These biblical figures in their offices point to Christ and foreshadow his coming. Their weaknesses, and their sins, show dramatically the need for a greater head of the race, a greater exodus leader, a greater champion, a greater king, a greater priest, a greater prophet, the one who is greater than Solomon and who is himself the wisdom of God incarnate.

The entire message of Scripture is about God, his grace, power and faithfulness to fulfill his promise to accomplish salvation. Nothing will stop the promise. Every obstacle, even the sin of his people, is overcome in his might. The apparent problems and the apparent defeat are placed in the history by God himself in order that his power might stand out all the more. Everything is designed to reveal to us that the fulfillment of the promise is God's work and not ours. The ancient promise reads "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed." Abraham will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and yet the fulfillment of a seed for Abraham tarries. Is it Eliezer? "Oh may Ishmael live before your face," Abraham prays. God's answer is no! From your own loins, Abraham, and from Sarah, the promised seed will come. God waited until they were as good as dead, and then the child is born. Not your broken back, your blood, sweat and tears, Abraham, but the broken body of the Savior to come and his shed blood. Abraham, from afar, saw the day of Christ. On the very mountain where a ram was provided as a sacrifice in place of Isaac, Abraham, through the haze and the clouds of time, sees the future and names the place Jehovah-Jireh, meaning "in the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided" (p. 56).

Clowney helps us to see these things. His book gives us much needed pointers in unfolding the mystery of Christ proclaimed in the Old Testament Scriptures. Much is familiar to us, but we find also that we have missed a great deal. In some cases we have missed the whole point. In the pages of the Old Testament, the characters and the events all point to Christ. Clowney cautions us also about the danger of allegory and the temptation to make every detail of every story into symbols pointing to the coming salvation. "The structure that grounds the typology of the Old Testament narratives is the continuity of God's work of redemption as it unfolds through history" (p. 141). All the themes of that redemption are there, hidden like a mystery, but a mystery we can now see from the vantage point of fulfillment in the coming of Christ. The theme of the Scriptures is a person. The mystery is Christ (Eph. 3:4).

To those who, along with the Apostle Paul, wish to "know nothing but Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), and to those who with Paul want only to preach Christ (2 Cor. 4:5), this book is a much needed help and encouragement.

óLawrence Semel