How Should We Interpret Wisdom Literature?

Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament is that portion of Scripture that helps us understand how to apply God’s wisdom in our lives. It makes sense to reason that if the LORD created the world, He knows the best way to navigate through it.

Job: Testimonial Wisdom

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

Psalms: Worship Wisdom

  • Psalms are wise guides to worship lifestyles.
  • They are musical, metrical, memorable, meditative truths of God.
  • Psalms teach us how to speak openly and honestly before God.
  • There are different types of psalms (this is not an exhaustive list):
    • Laments – expressing deep distress
      • “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).
    • Praise – expressing praise for who God is
      • “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens” (Ps. 8:1).
    • Imprecatory – expressing anger to and through God verbally rather than to someone else in a verbal or physical manner
      • “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).

Proverbs: Practical Wisdom

  • Proverbs point to the truth – they do not state everything about a truth.
    • “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Prov. 16:3).
  • 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).
  • 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).
  • 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).
  • 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

  • Solomon sought wisdom in earthly means and methods.
  • 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).
  • 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

  • Due to the risqué nature of the book, many believed it had to be about something other than the apparent, plain meaning.
  • God celebrates physical and emotional affections within the marriage union.
  • 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).