Interpreting the Writings

The Writings section of the Old Testament is also referred to as the Wisdom Literature.  These books don’t fit naturally into the Law, History, or Prophets categories.  While these books are different, they each artistically teach the wisdom in keeping God’s Law.

In light of what is recorded in the Old Testament narratives, prescribed in the Law, reminded by the prophets, will God’s people be able to make wise decisions in life?

Job: Testimonial Wisdom

  1. Job suffers not for his unrighteousness but to display God’s sufficiency through his suffering.
    • Job 1:8; 2:3
  2. Job’s friends provide Job with unwise advice.
    • Job 13:4; Job 16:2
  3. Through his ordeal, Job realizes:
    • The futility of the world’s wisdom
    • The frailty of his wisdom
    • The fullness of God’s wisdom

Psalms: Worship Wisdom

  1. Psalms are wise guides to worship lifestyles.
  2. Psalms teach us how to speak openly and honestly before God.
  3. Psalms demonstrate the importance of meditative reflection upon things God has done for us.
  4. Psalms are poetry.
  5. Psalms are musical.
  6. Psalms use figurative language.
  7. There are different types of psalms (this is not an exhaustive list):
    1. Laments – expressing deep distress
      • E.g., Ps. 3; Ps. 22; Ps. 31; Ps. 39; Ps. 42; Ps. 57; Ps. 71; Ps. 120; Ps. 139; Ps. 142
      • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1).
    2. Thanksgiving – expressing joy to the LORD
      • E.g., Community – Ps. 65; Ps. 67; Ps. 75; Ps. 107; Ps. 124; Ps. 136; Individual – Ps. 18; Ps. 30; Ps. 32; Ps. 34; Ps. 40; Ps. 66; Ps. 92; Ps. 116; Ps. 118; Ps. 138
      • “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!” (Ps. 66:1-2).
    3. Praise – expressing praise for who God is
      • E.g., Creator – Ps. 8; Ps. 19; Ps. 104; Ps. 148; Protector – Ps. 66; Ps. 100; Ps. 111; Ps. 114; Ps. 149; Lord of History – Ps. 33; Ps. 103; Ps. 113; Ps. 117; Ps. 145; Ps. 146; Ps. 147
      • “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens” (Ps. 8:1).
    4. Salvation History – expressing praise for God’s saving work among Israel
      • E.g., Ps. 78; Ps. 105; Ps. 106; Ps. 135; Ps. 136
      • “To him who divided the Read Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 136:13).
    5. Covenant Renewal – celebrating and affirming God’s covenant with his people
      • E.g., Ps. 50; Ps. 81; Ps. 89; Ps. 132
      • “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” (Ps. 50:5).
    6. Wisdom – expressing praise for the benefits of living a wise life
      • E.g., Ps. 36; Ps. 37; Ps. 49; Ps. 73; Ps. 112; Ps. 127; Ps. 128; Ps. 133
      • “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).
    7. Songs of Trust – expressing praise for the trustworthiness of God
      • E.g., Ps. 11; Ps. 16; Ps. 23; Ps. 27; Ps. 62; Ps. 63; Ps. 91; Ps. 121; Ps. 125; Ps. 131
      • “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress I shall not be shaken” (Ps. 62:5-6).
    8. Imprecatory – expressing anger to and through God verbally rather than to someone else in a verbal or physical manner
      • E.g., Ps. 12; Ps. 35; Ps. 58; Ps. 59; Ps. 69; Ps. 70; Ps. 83; Ps. 109; Ps. 137; Ps. 140
      • “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Ps. 137:8-9).
      • Remember Deut. 32:25 – “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”
      • The psalmist was expressing his honest feelings before God and relinquishing the right to do anything about it himself.

Proverbs: Practical Wisdom

  1. Proverbs point to truth – they do not state everything about a truth.
    • “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Prov. 16:3).
  2. Proverbs are not legal guarantees from God.
    • Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
  3. Proverbs are worded to be memorable, not to be theoretically accurate.
    • “The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway” (Prov. 15:19).
  4. Proverbs provide practical advice for daily living.
    • “How long will you lie there, O sluggard?  When will you arise from your sleep?” (Prov. 6:9).
  5. Proverbs are individual sayings but compose a greater, collective truth.
    • “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” (Prov. 26:4).
    • “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:5).

Ecclesiastes: Cynical Wisdom

  1. Solomon sought wisdom in earthly means and methods.
  2. He ultimately became wise when he saw that everything worth living for under the sun was meaningless.
    • “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2).
  3. The beginning of the book tells of his quest for wisdom, and the ending arrives at wisdom’s destination.
    • “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:13-14).

Song of Solomon: Romantic Wisdom

  1. Common Misinterpretation
    • The love in this book is actually Christ’s love for the Church.
    • This allegorical interpretation seems similar to Isa. 5:1-7 and Hosea 2:2-15.
    • Due to the risqué nature of the book, many believed it had to be about something else than the apparent plain meaning.
  2. Correct Interpretation
    • God celebrates physical and emotional affections within the marriage union.
    • Biblical marriage is always monogamous and heterosexual.
    • This type of love song was often declared at wedding banquets to express publicly one’s devotion for one’s spouse and ward off any thought of infidelity.
      • What a Woman Wants to Hear from Her Husband:
        • “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you” (SS 4:7).
      • What a Woman Needs from Her Husband:
        • “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (SS 2:4).
        • “His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable.  This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (SS 5:16).
      • What a Man Wants to Hear from His Wife:
        • “My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand” (SS 5:10).
      • What a Man Needs from His Wife:
        • “As a lily among brambles (prickly shrub), so is my love among the young women” (SS 2:2).
        • “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes…how beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!  How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!” (SS 4:9-10).
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