06.29.14.god.wise.prov.2.3.commentary
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God is Wise.Proverbs.2.3.Commentary

God is Wise.Proverbs.2.3.Commentary

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    06.29.14.god.wise.prov.2.3.commentary 06.29.14.god.wise.prov.2.3.commentary Document Transcript

    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 1 June 29, 2014 - Session 5—God Is Wise - Commentary The Point: God will give me wisdom when I humbly seek it. The Bible Meets Life: We are swimming in information. It is estimated that we will generate more unique information this year than was generated in the last five thousand years. In addition, most of that knowledge is at our fingertips. Over four billion online searches are made every day. However, are we any wiser? Do we know how to wisely use that knowledge? Technology cannot deliver what God can. God is the source of wisdom, and the Bible shows us that when we trust Him, we too become wise. VBS. I got some wisdom in Vacation Bible School this week. Monday things went well, or so I thought. However, on Tuesday, my teenage helpers were bored and really counterproductive. I got a little cross with them. Drew, Miss Molly and I all chided them for not being “into things,” for being caught up in the hype. Then over dinner, I realized that it was not my team that had the problem, it was me. I was not “into things.” While each of us has his or her own demons, but in this case, the Team was only following my lead. I realized that was more interested in looking cool and playing “dress-up” than in giving the message God had for them. I resolved to seek the Lord before I sought anything or anyone else. Tuesday night I thought out what I would say to the “Missions Team.” Fittingly, on Wednesday, I huddled the Team up before the children came in. We had about fifteen minutes. I told them what is written above and apologized for leading them in the wrong direction. I told them that I had made this all about me and in the shuffle, they, the students and the message was lost. We all agreed to pray about this mission and our role in it. We did. All prayed – honest prayers from the heart. I felt forgiven by them and by God. The confirmation was not long in coming. God led me to turn over vast portions to my Team which I did. I should never have doubted them. They rose ‘way above their fears of speaking to a group and not only put forth material but actually led the children. With several classes, we had some very good child-like prayer time. After it was over all of us were excited and looking forward to the next day. It’s amazing what wisdom God has for us if we choose to listen.1 The Passage: Proverbs 2:1-6; 3:5-7 The Setting: Bible students have designated the Book of Proverbs as wisdom literature. The words wisdom, wise, or some variation of these appear over 100 times in the book, clearly justifying the designation. 1 Editor’s comments.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 2 Chapters 2 and 3 are part of a larger section in which Solomon undertakes his parental responsibility to instruct his son (see 2:1; 3:1) in wisdom and the ways of the Lord. He specifically emphasized that true wisdom comes only from the Lord. Proverbs 2:1-6 1 My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding; 3 furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding, 4 if you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. 6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. KEY WORDS: Fear of the LORD (v. 5)—For God’s people, this means reverential awe of God because of His power and His love for us that compelled Him to provide redemption and escape from His wrath against sin. The Book of Proverbs is part of the collection of Old Testament wisdom literature that also includes Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs; certain passages in the Book of Psalms contain proverbial statements as well. Solomon was the author of the vast majority of the Book of Proverbs. He wrote this collection of proverbs during his 40-year reign as king over Israel (970-930 BC), though other men, such as Agur (30:1) and Lemuel (31:1), contributed as well. Scripture is clear that Solomon’s wisdom was given to him from God: “God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29). “Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs, and his songs numbered 1,005” (v. 32). No doubt the Book of Proverbs contains a portion of those 3,000, and the Song of Songs is among the songs he wrote. Solomon’s wisdom brought him great fame throughout the lands within Israel’s sphere of influence, so that “People came from everywhere, sent by every king on earth who had heard of his wisdom, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom” (v. 34; see 10:23-24). Solomon wrote all his proverbs in the Book of Proverbs to help God’s people attain wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (1:1-6) so they can enjoy covenant life to the fullest. One of the fundamental truths of Scripture is that God is all-wise. Wisdom is the proper application and use of knowledge. God is all-knowing, thus His knowledge is infinite, as is His wisdom. This means that God’s ways are always best and that He never makes mistakes. The failures of human beings are because we arrogantly reject what God in His infinite wisdom and knowledge has revealed about Himself and us. Instead, we make decisions based on our own limited knowledge and wisdom. This dooms us to failure and keeps us in rebellion against Him. Fullness of life comes when we seek wisdom from God and live according to that wisdom.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 3 Proverbs 2:1-6 describes how a person receives wisdom from God. Although the Lord gives it to us, we must prepare ourselves by wanting it and asking for it. He doesn’t just shower people with His wisdom since that would be rewarding them in their rebellion against Him. We must humbly recognize that our own wisdom is folly and ask God for the wisdom that only He can give. Verses 1-5 give details on several things we must do to attain wisdom. There is some overlap or repetition in these instructions since Hebrew poetry (the entire book is poetry) has a fondness for saying the same thing or similar things in two or more ways. We will look briefly at each item in the list. My son echoes 1:8, 10, 15, where Solomon addressed his son. Rehoboam, one of Solomon’s sons, eventually succeeded Solomon to the throne. In the historical context of Solomon’s life and reign as king, Rehoboam may have been the specific recipient of Solomon’s words of wisdom. However, like all of Scripture, these passages were meant for all of God’s people to receive as revelation from Him. Solomon identified six conditions (signified by the word if) for receiving God’s wisdom that He has provided through Solomon for His people. Duane Garrett nicely summarized the main points of these verses: “First, the student should listen attentively to the teacher (vv. 1-2). That is, he must accept the teachings as valid, commit them to memory, and focus all his attention on them. Second, he must yearn for Wisdom in a way analogous to that of the supplicant pleading to God or the king for deliverance from trouble (v. 3). Third, he must seek it as one seeks for lost money or hidden treasure (v. 4; Job 28; cf. Luke 15:8-10).” As already stated, these conditions have some overlap and some of them have explanations. The first two are: if you accept my words and store up my commands within you. Since wisdom is the proper application of knowledge, then attaining wisdom must begin with knowledge. In this verse, words and commands are synonymous and refer to what God has revealed to us through Solomon about how He wants us as His people to live before Him. We must accept the truths of God’s Word and store them in our minds and hearts so that we will not forget them. They are too precious to learn one moment and forget the next, as if God’s Word is of little importance. We are then able to apply God’s Word to our lives and please Him by making decisions each and every day that are consistent with what He has revealed to us. Verse 2 mentions two elements that help us accomplish this: listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding. We must be proactive in reading and studying God’s word so that wisdom and understanding spring forth from what we have learned. Verse 3 contains the third and fourth conditions: if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding. The actions in verses 1-2 were internal, activities of the mind and the intellect. Next Solomon stated that our thinking must turn into actions, at least in a metaphorical sense. This verse also emphasizes the proactive nature of seeking godly wisdom for our lives. The Christian life is not easy, and Jesus never promised it would be.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 4 To the contrary, Scripture consistently tells us that God’s people will suffer and struggle in this life. One of our struggles is to stop listening to our inner self and the ungodly multitude of voices around us and to focus on God’s Word instead. The imagery here is of someone yelling at the top of his voice, beckoning insight and understanding to come to his aid. The fifth and sixth conditions occur in verse 4: if you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure. The Christian life is not for the lazy. It involves a lot of diligent work if we want to make a contribution to the advancement and growth of God’s kingdom. In this verse the search for wisdom uses the imagery of a treasure hunter who is persistent and doesn’t give up until he finds the treasure that he is seeking. We should value the truths of God’s Word in an even greater way. It is amazing how much time and effort we will spend on things that don’t matter or are actually a detriment to our relationship with God and His people. These six conditions indicate that we must do everything we can to attain the wisdom that only God can provide. Verse 5 explains what happens when we show diligence in the pursuit of wisdom: then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. Notice that the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God are synonymous phrases here. As already stated, one of the basic truths about God is that we should fear Him, and it is only when we turn to His Word again and again that we truly understand this and know what we must do to please Him. Verse 6 clearly indicates that such an understanding of God comes only from Him: For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. One of the most common contrasts in proverbial material is between the wise and the fool. “The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist’ ” (Ps. 14:1). However, the wise person not only knows that God exists, he fears Him. This wisdom is God-given, and when God gives His wisdom to us, we should do everything we can to learn what He has done for us and what He demands of us as His people. Proverbs 3:5-6 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; 6 think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths. KEY WORD: Trust (v. 5)—The Hebrew means to be confident or cause to be confident. It refers to depending upon someone for safety and security. It often includes the concept of hope. Trust in the LORD and statements similar to it occur repeatedly in Scripture. The Hebrew word used here indicates confidence and safety in the object or the one trusted. It also includes hope, a confident expectation about the future. In the case of trusting God, this is not blind faith but trust in One who has infinite power, infinite knowledge, and infinite wisdom—giving us confidence to rely on Him.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 5 The trust that God expects of us is described positively and negatively: you must trust in Him with all your heart and not rely on your own understanding. Human intellectual prowess is worthless when it comes to grasping spiritual truths. Paul said that believers “do not put confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3), that is, our natural abilities. This verse does not denounce intellectual pursuits; rather, it challenges us to make sure our intellect is in tune with God’s Word and will. Duane Garrett’s comments on verse 5 are especially helpful and applicable: “The command to trust God ‘with all your heart’ means that the total personality is to be committed to God’s care, although it emphasizes the mind and volition. The prohibitions against depending on one’s own understanding and against intellectual pride (vv. 5b,7a) implicitly reject a ‘secular’ search for wisdom and look back to the thesis of the book (1:7). Although this passage certainly condemns any academic arrogance, it does not indulge in anti- intellectualism. The commitment of the heart to God means that all the beliefs and decisions of life are to be submitted to Yahweh. Even very practical decisions are in view here, and not just matters of academic pursuit. But the text is no more opposed to academic research per se than to any normal activity of life. Also, ‘understanding’ implies not just intellectual capacity but one’s own moral standards. One’s private vision of right and wrong must be submitted to God.”2 Verse 6 includes another command and the result that comes from obedience to God: think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths. We need to filter everything through the teachings of God’s Word, which is the primary focus of this command. When we do this, we can be confident that God’s Word will provide guidance so we can continue on the right paths. The antithesis of this, of course, is to ignore God’s Word and do whatever we choose—like rebellious people in the days of the judges: “everyone did whatever he wanted” (Judg. 21:25). Proverbs 3:7 7 Don’t consider yourself to be wise; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. Verse 7 is a command that warns against thinking too highly of ourselves, something that seems to be an innate part of the human condition: Don’t consider yourself to be wise. Since true wisdom comes from God, none of us are wise when left to our own abilities. It is helpful to remember that the contrast between the wise and the fool in Scripture has nothing to do with a person’s IQ. As we saw earlier, “The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist’ ” (Ps. 14:1). In Scripture, the difference between the wise and the fool is that wise people know God and make life decisions based on what He has revealed to them in His Word. The fool, in his arrogance and self-confidence, ignores God even to the point of denying that He exists.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 6 The antithesis of thinking of ourselves as wise is in the rest of the verse: fear the LORD and turn away from evil. Solomon returned to the theme of the Book of Proverbs (1:7), commanding his son (and us!) to fear God. When those who profess to be Christ followers spend little or no time in the study of Scripture and serving Him, the fear or reverence of God can hardly be said to be an integral part of their lives. The connection between wisdom in the Old Testament and in the New Testament is one of perspective. James wrote: “if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (1:5). The New Testament is consistent with the Old Testament in saying wisdom comes from God, but the New Testament focuses on Christ and one’s relationship with Him as the essence of wisdom rather than life under the Mosaic covenant. The commonality is that wisdom is based on God’s revelation of Himself and what He expects of those who are in a relationship with Him. The definitive passage on this is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”(1:20-25) The comments of Charles Hodge provide an appropriate summary and conclusion to today’s study: “The Jews desired an exhibition of power; the Greeks sought wisdom; both are found in Christ … . He is the power … and the wisdom of God. In his person and work … is the highest possible manifestation both of the divine power and of the divine wisdom. And those who are called not only see, but experience this. The doctrine of Christ crucified produces effects on them which nothing short of divine power can accomplish. And it reveals and imparts to them the true wisdom. It makes them divinely wise; … holy; … righteous; and … blessed. It does infinitely more than human wisdom could ever conceive, much less accomplish. It has already changed the state of the intelligent universe, and is to be the central point of influence throughout eternity. LIVE IT OUT. Search the library and the Internet, and you will find information. Humbly seek God, trust Him with all your heart, and you will find God’s wisdom. Pray. If seeking God’s wisdom is something new for you or has been an inconsistent practice in your life, start today. Humbly ask God for wisdom each morning. Be patient. Trust Him. Ask Him to guide you through His Spirit, His Word, and His people.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 7 Study. If you do not have a consistent plan to study the Bible, adopt a daily plan to study Scripture. Create a list of resources that would be helpful. Ask your pastor or group leader for suggestions that can get you started tomorrow morning. Ask God for wisdom as you study and write down your insights. Plan for at least 20 minutes per day with a goal to increase your time with the Lord to 30-40 minutes by the end of the year. Mentor. Senior Christians can be a wonderful source of wisdom to younger believers. Enlist a group of older, mature believers to act as wise mentors to students or young adults in your church. Meet with your pastor to discuss needs and opportunities available for such a ministry. Seek God’s wisdom. He will provide all you need to help you “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING: The Fear of The Lord - The Meaning By R. Kelvin Moore, professor of Christian studies at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee and pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, Idlewild, Tennessee. . . . we cannot treat the Lord disrespectfully or irreverently and simultaneously expect His blessing. THE “FEAR OF THE LORD” concept brackets the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs 1:7 records the opening bracket with “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”1 Recorded in 31:30, “a woman who fears the Lord will be praised” closes Proverbs. Of the two verses, Proverbs 1:7 may be the more familiar.2 What pastor has not preached or what Bible teacher has not taught from this notable text? But familiarity and understanding are often two different spheres. Does the original Hebrew offer us insight into Proverbs 1:7? What does this verse communicate to us about God’s character? What application does the verse have for Christians today? The Hebrew word for “fear” can be translated as “reverence” and “piety.”3 The Hebrew word for “beginning”4 denotes, not “a stage which one leaves behind,”5 but foundation, source,6 “first thing,” or “principal thing.”7 The Hebrew word translated as “knowledge” can be translated as “discernment, understanding” and “wisdom.”8 We can thus translate Proverbs 1:7 as “Knowledge begins with respect [reverence] for the Lord.”9 This translation underscores the fact that respecting the Lord is the beginning of discernment or knowledge. One author defines the fear of the Lord as an “affectionate reverence, by which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law.”10
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 8 The English Dictionary defines “respect” as “to notice with special attention; to regard; to heed.”11 Readers of Proverbs 1:7 can understand the verse to mean that knowledge starts as an individual “notices” the Lord with a “special attention,” meaning with respect. Without doubt, Christians acknowledge that respecting the Lord is a foundational block for successful living. Prudent believers realize we cannot treat the Lord disrespectfully or irreverently and simultaneously expect His blessing. Does understanding Proverbs 1:7 merely as respect for the Lord dilute the author’s original intent? Is the “fear of the Lord” simply to be equated with piety? Or was the Old Testament scholar Michael V. Fox correct, when he wrote that nothing indicates that Proverbs 1:7 has lost the connotation of real fear?12 The lexicon lists “fear” as the primary meaning of this Hebrew noun.13 Indeed the vast majority of the Bible translations examined do render this noun as “fear.” Obviously “reverence” and “fear” convey different concepts. What does Proverbs 1:7 communicate to modern readers if we understand the text teaches that the fear [rather than “respect”] of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge? Almost entirely, the Book of Proverbs illuminates behavior that society’s laws do not govern. For example, our society does not have laws that dictate if or when a person must loan a neighbor a hammer or a shovel. Yet Proverbs 3:28 says, “Don’t say to your neighbor, ‘Go away! Come back later. I’ll give it tomorrow’—when it is there with you.” Another example: our society does not have laws that demand that a person aid another in a time of financial crisis. Yet Proverbs teaches, “When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one it belongs to” (3:27).14 But understanding Proverbs 1:7 as “fear” adds a different dimension to the instructions in Proverbs. While our society does not have laws that dictate these things, the person that does not aid his neighbor in the time of need should fear the ire, judgment, and punishment of the Lord. Proverbs also deals with acts, adultery for example, that people often do clandestinely. While sex outside marriage may not be illegal, Proverbs 1:7 reminds readers of the certainty of punishment. In regards to the adulteress, the Book of Proverbs asks, “Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned?” (6:27). Obviously the answer is no. Proverbs 1:7 informs us that the adulterer may escape society’s detection and punishment, but the adulterer should fear the Lord in that He knows and will hold the person accountable. What did the phrase “the fear of the Lord” communicate to the people of God? The phrase was a reminder of Lord’s magnitude. It would have caused the Israelites to reflect on the fact that, unlike the non-deities of the Egyptians, Canaanites, Assyrians, and Babylonians, Yahweh is a majestic Lord. He creates and destroys. He is both understood and mysterious. God is of both heaven and earth. Yahweh is comprehensible, yet unfathomable. Yahweh is both King and Shepherd, powerful and gentle. People are to revere and to fear Him. What application does the concept the “fear of the Lord” have for believers today? Christians should understand and relate to the Lord in both reverence and fear. In this sense, Proverbs 1:7 can communicate both ideas (reverence and fear). Christians understand revering God. But fear is a powerful, positive, and necessary motivator as well.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 9 Driving the speed limit in a school zone can be motivated by respect (love) for children, as well as their teachers and administrators. Fear of a speeding citation or the fear of having to live with the reality of injuring (or worse) a child should an accident occur can also motivate adherence to the law. Christians can understand Proverbs 1:7 as the Lord saying to us, “You must revere and fear Me.” Perhaps, additionally, Proverbs 1:7 communicates the Lord saying to individuals, “If you don’t revere Me, then, especially, you had better fear Me. Wisdom Literature in the Bible By Jeff S. Anderson, Director of Alaska Center/Associate Professor of Religion, Wayland Baptist University, Anchorage, Alaska. IDENTIFYING WISDOM LITERATURE in the Old Testament is not as easy as it might seem. No specific wisdom section in the Old Testament exists, though the vast majority of wisdom texts are found in the books of poetry. Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are nearly universally acknowledged as wisdom books as well as selected Psalms (16; 37; 39; 49, 73; 94; and 127), but some question whether the Song of Solomon, the Joseph story in Genesis, and isolated prophetic oracles have been influenced by the wisdom tradition as well. Outside the Old Testament, the apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sirach) and the Wisdom of Solomon are also categorized as wisdom literature. This larger notion of how to define wisdom literature makes the precise listing of Old Testament wisdom materials difficult.1 An examination of the general characteristics, descriptive categories, literary forms, and rhetorical style of biblical wisdom literature provides a basis for a better understanding of this genre. Old Testament wisdom literature has often suffered benign neglect by scholars, pastors, and laity alike. This is perhaps due to the uniqueness of these wisdom texts. Several unique characteristics set Old Testament wisdom books apart from other literary genres of the Bible. First, many common Old Testament wisdom themes are conspicuously absent in the wisdom tradition. References to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), the exodus from Egypt, covenant at Sinai, conquest of Canaan, centrality of Jerusalem, and the Davidic covenant are absent in this literature. In place of these themes, a broader, more universal orientation to faith and ethics is advocated. Such an international scope may be in some part due to the association of King Solomon’s royal court with other cultures, primarily Egypt and Babylon.2 Solomon is portrayed in the Old Testament as the wise man par excellence (1 Kings 4:29-34) and both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are attributed to him. Another characteristic that sets Old Testament wisdom literature apart from the rest of the Old Testament is its experimental attitude to daily life. The Hebrew word for “wisdom” (hokmah) means many things but primarily denotes a way of looking at life based on observation and reflection. A fundamental order in the world is observable in creation and society that provides guidance for moral life. Because the universe follows an observable order that should be characterized by justice and integrity, individuals bear the primary responsibility for their own destiny. People must choose wisely and decide responsibly. Wisdom literature stresses human freedom and personal responsibility alike.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 10 Old Testament wisdom has two basic categories: practical and speculative. Practical wisdom, typically found in the Book of Proverbs, demonstrates wisdom’s way of looking at life based on observation. Practical wisdom provides concrete guidance on how to manage speech, handle personal finances, work hard, avoid immorality, and maintain integrity in all of life’s relationships. Such wisdom is both religious and practical. Stemming from the “fear of the Lord” as the “beginning of wisdom,” it reaches out to touch all of life (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10, NIV). The Book of Proverbs employs two basic literary forms to convey this live-and-learn ethic: the proverb (masal) and the wisdom poem (musar). A proverb is a brief, colorful, assertive saying that connects a deed and a result.4 The following example is typical of the picturesque speech used in Old Testament proverbs: “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly” (Proverbs 15:2). Such imagery is designed to make a lasting impression. Who can forget the sluggard creaking in his bed (26:14) or the beautiful woman without discretion portrayed as a pig with a ring in its snout (11:22)? These images stay with the reader, providing easy recall of the practical advice so common in proverbs. The wisdom poem is a longer unit of verse intended to convey values or teach a lesson. Wisdom poems ordinarily begin with a call to listen, are followed by an admonition to avoid foolish behavior, and end with a conclusion. The Book of Proverbs, for example, contains several wisdom poems, some warning the reader to steer clear of adulterous relationships (5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:6-27); some poems personifying Lady Wisdom as a woman, challenging all to seek her (1:20-33; 8:1-11); and one beautiful acrostic poem praising the noble wife (31:10-31). The second type of Old Testament wisdom is speculative wisdom, best represented in the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes. Speculative wisdom explores the secrets of the mysteries of life and the hidden – sometimes- confusing – ways of God. Speculative wisdom is not afraid to ask life’s difficult questions: Why do the righteous suffer? What is the meaning of life? What is God’s place in history and human life? What is the reward for our labors on this earth? These questions are central to speculative wisdom. The what-goes- around-comes-around view of divine retribution taught in the Book of Proverbs is challenged somewhat in these speculative wisdom books. They are not afraid to question why wicked people prosper and the righteous have troubles, whether the rewards of hard work are really worth the labor and even why God’s actions seem inconsistent and unjust. While speculative wisdom literature contains some proverbs, it makes far more use of two other literary forms: disputation speeches and reflections. The poetic center of the Book of Job, for example, contains various disputation speeches delivered by Job’s friends: Eliphaz (4:1-7), Bildad (8:1-7), and Zophar (11:1-6). In addition, Job’s rebuttal (23:1-7) and the ultimate rebuke by the Lord (38:1-7) are also disputation speeches. In these legal wranglings, Job’s friends argued that Job’s problems were due to his guilt, while Job himself protested his innocence. The Lord had the ultimate “last word” on the subject in His disputation speeches (Job 38 – 41), arguing that God’s ways aren’t always accessible by human wisdom.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Summer, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; Herschel Hobbs Commentary and Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 11 In addition to disputation speeches, reflections are the primary means developed in the Book of Ecclesiastes to ponder the nature and meaning of life (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3; 4:1-3). The writer of Ecclesiastes reflected on the ultimate value of a life based on self-absorption and pleasure. “And all that my eyes desire I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, NASB). In contrast to the Book of Proverb’s optimistic view that life is logical and consistent, where wise choices lead to good results, the reflections of speculative wisdom, often written in the first person, grapple with life’s inexplicable mysteries that defy easy solutions. Ecclesiastes is not the only biblical wisdom book to make use of poetic reflection. The Book of Proverbs as well contains a famous poetic reflection of the author’s observation of the sluggard’s overgrown vineyard (Proverbs 24:30-34). Wisdom literature shares the stylistic use of parallelism in its poetry, just as other poetic texts in the Old Testament. Parallelism is a poetic means of enabling the author to link two ideas together. Typical parallelism consists of two, and sometimes three, lines. In the case of synonymous parallelism, the second line repeats the thought of the first: “Discretion will guard you, Understanding will watch over you” (Proverbs 2:11, NASB). Antithetical parallelism occurs when the second line contrasts that of the first: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat” (Proverbs 13:4, NASB). Many of the proverbs in Proverbs 10 – 15 consist of antithetical parallelism. The purpose is to contrast two alternatives of wise and foolish behavior. Synthetic parallelism is evident when the second line extends the idea of the first: “He who increases his wealth by interest and usury, Gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor” (Proverbs 28:8, NASB). Comparative parallelism is present when the subject of the second line of the poem is compared with that of the first: “Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife.” By linking two ideas together, parallelism’s use of repetition, contrast, extension, and comparison teaches truism that are easy to remember and practical to observe. After reviewing the general characteristics, categories, literary forms, and style of Old Testament wisdom literature, clearly, this genre presents one exciting avenue of study worthy of a closer look by Bible students. The practical, down-to-earth guidance for the daily life of the believers is a helpful alternative to the “other worldliness” of much Christian teaching and preaching today. Wisdom literature is intrinsically practical. It also shares the search for meaning that is common to everyone. The heart of wisdom thought id contained in a worshipful reverence for God as Creator and Sustainer of life. This God is beyond conventional human wisdom, yet He has revealed Himself through the created world around us. Wisdom literature expresses the mystery of God and life in a way that sets it apart from the rest of the Old Testament writings.