Tag Archives: wisdom literature

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Old Testament 102: Some more on protest in the Wisdom Literature

That last post probably makes more sense in the light of what the other wisdom books say about retributive theology, here’s the bit of my essay that directly proceded the stuff from Waltke:

Internal Protest

Von Rad (1972) suggests Jewish wisdom presupposed Yahweh as the “order underpinning creation” who would only act at last resort.[1] In order to reach this view he inexplicably dismisses Proverbs that call for trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5; 14:26; 16:3, 20; 18:10; 19:23; 28:25; 29:25; 30:1-14). The extreme version of this view reduces God to a deistic first-cause with a hands-off approach to creation,[2] and in this view the Yahweh of Proverbs functions the same way as the gods of the ANE.[3]

A retributive “reap-what-you-sow” theology is bound to result in disappointment in a broken world. Seemingly good people suffer, protest literature exploring this disappointment is common in the ANE.[4] Whybray suggests Israel’s protest literature was not unique, and not dependant on foreign works.[5]

This view of protest within the canon has become popular in modern wisdom scholarship,[6] and some have tried to identify retributive theology in the ethics of the prophets, suggesting it played an important role in Jewish theology.[7] Any concept of retributive theology legitimately found in the Old Testament is carefully grounded in the will of Yahweh,[8] and is usually the fruit of a promise.[9] I would suggest this view actually describes the purposes of the wisdom authors in addressing ANE conceptions of reality.

Ecclesiastes and Wisdom

If Ecclesiastes is understood as a protest against the mindless pursuit of wisdom characterised by the “wisdom movement” typified by the statement in 8:16-17, then this has been interpreted as a critique of Proverbs’ embracing of wisdom “Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7).[10]

However, it is possible that both statements reflect two sides of the same coin if they are read in the light of the “Fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:6, Ecclesiastes 12:13). Qoheleth’s objection to the wisdom movement must then be understood as a rejection of the wisdom movement as it exists in the ANE.[11]

Job and Retribution

Job maintains his blamelessness in the face of his friends, who clearly advocate a doctrine of retribution (for example Elihu’s words in Job 34:4-9).[12] His words in 9:22 speak out against such a doctrine, and his views on Yahweh’s rule of the world, and his own righteousness, are vindicated when Yahweh rebukes the friends because they have “not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7,8), dismissing any possible inkling of an acts-consequences nexus.

A major theological purpose of Job seems to be to overturn retributive theology,[13] theology that is commonplace in the ANE,[14] and not as clearly advocated in Proverbs as some suggest.[15]


[1] Von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, p 191

[2] Waltke, B, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1996, Vol. 34, No.2, pp 333-334 citing Huwiler, E.F, “Control of Reality in Israelite Wisdom” (Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1988), p 64

[3] Whybray, N, ‘The Social World of the Wisdom Writers,’ p 246, Blenkinsopp, J, Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament, p 46 suggests the acts-consequence nexus is an unhelpful hangover from Israel’s adaptation of ‘old wisdom’.

[4] Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1991), p 38

[5] Whybray, N, ‘Two Jewish Theologies,’ p 181

[6] See Morrow, W.S, Protest Against God, pp 129-146, Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, pp 35-56, Shaking A Fist At God: Insights from the Book of Job (Ligouri: Triumph Books, 1995), pp 37-66, Enns, P, Inspiration and Incarnation, pp 74-82

[7] Hubbard, ‘The Wisdom Movement,’ p 11 citing Gerstenberger, E. ‘The Woe-Oracles of the Prophets’, Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962) 249-263

[8] Lucas, E, ‘The Acts-Consequences Nexus,’ p 8 suggests any character-consequences nexus in Proverbs is not the result of an impersonal order, but rather the “will of Yahweh.”

[9] Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land was certainly linked to their righteousness – cf Deuteronomy 30.

[10] Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, p 78

[11] Crenshaw, J.L, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary, p 24 suggests Qoheleth’s rejection of observing signs is a rejection of Mesopotamian wisdom, and p 26 suggests his embrace of life as opposed to suicide contrasts with Egyptian and Mesopotamian skepticism.

[12] Some have suggested that Job’s friends are representatives of the wisdom movement, or that all the characters are sages, Perdue, L.G, Wisdom Literature: A Theological History, pp 90-91, Zimmerli, Walther, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ Man and His Hope in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, SCM Press, London, 1971, pp 16-19, When confronted with Job’s plight, Eliphaz calls on Job to return to God, Bildad links righteousness and hope, and Zophar demands Job turn to righteousness. For Zophar the question is straightforward, if Job’s fortunes are in tatters then his righteousness is in question (Job 11), that the friends’ understanding of the underlying order of things, Dumbrell, W.J, The Faith of Israel, p 259 suggests the dialogues “explores the limits of traditional wisdom” before turning to an understanding of the world centred around Yahweh’s controlling interest.

[13] See Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, pp 35-56

[14] Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, p 39, Blenkinsopp, J, Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament,’ p 48 suggests retribution was a common theological belief of the ANE.

[15] For example, Dell, K.J, Shaking A Fist At God, p 40, Dell suggests Job’s friends draw their theological inspiration from Proverbs.

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Old Testament 102: Waltke on Protest and the Acts-Consequences Nexus

I mentioned previously that the question of protest in Job and Ecclesiastes, against the retributive “acts-consequences nexus” possibly put forward by Proverbs, might crop up in the exam for the B Th people. I took a pretty round about approach to suggesting I don’t think protest against Proverbs is what’s going on in those books, but I do think they are written to protest against a purely “retributive” view of the world (especially such a view that ignores God, and his faithfulness to his promises).

The Problem with the proverbial Acts-Consequences Nexus

Waltke (1996) rejects what he perceives as three common aspects of the internal protest theory:

1.      Solomon was a dullard who failed to understand reality

2.      Proverbs contains promises that are not true

3.      The aphorisms within Proverbs present “probabilities not promises.[1]

Treating the book as a cohesive unit, rather than treating its aphorisms as axioms, radically countermands all three of these positions. This approach produces a balanced view of the world without an absolute law of cause and effect.[2] It is possible that Proverbs dealt with the “ends of life” rather than the means, and further that it dealt with the eternal consequences of temporal decisions (Proverbs 12:28).[3]

There are several proverbs (Proverbs 15:16-17; 16:8, 19; 17:1; 19:22b; 22:1; 28:6) that explicitly link righteous acts with poverty, and criminal acts with wealth, and others focus on failures of justice (Proverbs 10:2; 11:16; 13:23; 14:31; 15:25; 18:23; 21:6, 7,13; 19:10; 22:8, 22; 23:17; 28:15-16, 27).[4] These fly in the face of this acts-consequences concept,[5] most importantly, is the notion in Proverbs 15:16, that the “Fear of the Lord” can be coupled with having little, and that this is better than wealth.

Suggestions of an acts-consequences nexus may result from an under-realised eschatology. Proverbs suggests the consequences of righteous or wicked decisions may not come until the end of life (Proverbs 11:4,7, 18, 21, 23, 28; 12:7, 12; 14:32; 15:25; 17:5; 19:17; 20:2, 21; 21:6-7, 22:8-9, 16; 23:17-18; 24:20). The eschatological view point of Proverbs is best articulated in 24:14-16,[6] and 12:28, which Waltke suggests contains a promise of immortality.[7] The absence of such an undertone in Ecclesiastes and Job is a result of their more temporal concerns.[8]

This eschatological concern is uncommon in the Old Testament.[9] But securing a place in the afterlife was a primary concern of Egyptian wisdom. Egypt’s wisdom schools were called “Schools of Life,” for this reason.[10] Egyptian wisdom presented the gods of Egypt as subjects to the established order,[11] and the afterlife as tied to living life in accordance with ma’at.[12] Proverbs holds that Yahweh created, and controls this order,[13] and man’s hope is found in fearing him.[14]

The evidence for “protest” against conventional wisdom is strong in Job and Ecclesiastes,[15] but it is plausible to suggest Proverbs was not the target.[16] A simple reductionism of the works into a battle between optimism and pessimism will no longer suffice.[17]

Here’s my favourite sentence from my essay (because I got to use the word zeitgeist which is a cool word)…

The people of Israel had a predilection for harnessing themselves to the international theological zeitgeist, a propensity typified by their well-documented struggle with idolatry, and their geographical position as a political football between Assyria and Egypt meant they experienced a socio-political identity crisis, so it is likely that the primary function of any critique of foreign theology was internal.


[1] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?, pp 322-325

[2] Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom: A reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, (Eisenbrauns, 2006), p 15

[3] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ pp 323-327, Lucas, E, Proverbs: The Act-Consequence Nexus, forthcoming, p 4

[4] Van Leeuwen, R.C, “Wealth and Poverty: System and Contradiction in Proverbs,” Hebrew Studies 33 (1992): p 29, Lucas, E, Proverbs: The Act-Consequence Nexus, forthcoming, p 7 suggests these “better than” Proverbs

[5] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ p 326

[6] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ p 326

[7] A position adopted by the NIV but not the ESV, Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much,’ pp 329-330

[8] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?’, p 327,  notes “they are concerned with events under the sun and focus on the righteous man flattened on the mat for the count of ten; they do not focus on his rising, though they do not rule that out.”

[9] So much so that questions are raised as to whether Israel had any concept of an afterlife. It is fair to say that the notion of a resurrection had developed by the time Paul used it to split the Pharisees and Sadducees – so it is not an idea completely foreign to Old Testament theology. A case could, perhaps, be made for Job’s apparent change of heart regarding “retribution” (Job 27) to be attributed to an eternal view of the world and judgment coming at death.

[10] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?’, p 328 citing Crosser, W “The Meaning of ‘Life’ (Hayyim) in Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes,” Glasgow University Oriental Society Transactions, 15 (1955), pp 51-52

[11] Wright, G.E, The Old Testament Against Its Environment, Studies in Biblical Theology, (London: SCM Press, 1950), p 44

[12] Sinnott, A, ‘The Personification of Wisdom,’ p 41 – Ma’at is important for personal immorality and the “entire basis for the Egyptian understanding of the world”, however, Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at: a crooked parallel,’ suggests Ma’at is not a cut and dried “retributive” system

[13] Waltke, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ p 333

[14] Zimmerli, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ p 24

[15] Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom, p 35 suggests that the “apparent distinctive thoughts of Qoheleth” have common ground with Ancient Near East wisdom well before the exile.

[16] Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom, p 16 suggests the wisdom movement is Job’s target, and that the story of Job demonstrates that God is not subject to the retributive system that had been “established by the sage.”

[17] Waltke, B, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ p 323, Nonevangelical academics, tend to pit the optimism of the so-called older wisdom represented in the Book of Proverbs against the pessimism of the so-called younger, reflective wisdom represented in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.”

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Old Testament 102: How wisdom might fit into existing Biblical Theologies

Brueggemann and Goldingay’s approaches to wisdom identified a worthwhile second peg in Biblical Theology theology that is often ignored in favour of focusing on salvation or redemptive history, bringing the issue of creation – what we are created to be/how we are created to live – into the mix. This approach puts the wisdom literature largely into the category of how we should live as people in God’s creation – but I’d suggest that the wisdom literature has a role to play in redemptive history. Because, as I’ve posted previously, I think the wisdom literature was part of an international wisdom dialogue, and that it put forward wisdom grounded in YHWH as true wisdom. Israel had a covenantal obligation (see Gen 12) to bless the nations. I think Solomon’s wisdom, as described in 1 Kings 4-10, is where we see that blessing most fulfilled in the Old Testament, and the linking of the wisdom corpus to Solomon’s reign provides a handy interpretive key with regards to its purpose. This doesn’t do away with the two poled creation/redemption approach. It’s not an either/or thing. To suggest that the Wisdom Literature only had one function or purpose and only has one way of being integrated with understanding the big picture is to create an unjustifiably false dichotomy.

Two of the problems that have caused the wisdom literature to be seen, as Brueggemann calls it, as the embarrassing step-child of the Old Testament, are its similarities to other Ancient Near Eastern wisdom, and the apparent presentation, in Proverbs, of a retributive “you reap what you sow” theology. Some scholars have suggested that Proverbs is so different in outlook to Job and Ecclesiastes that they can only be considered to have arisen in protest to this retributive idea. It’s very possible that this protest question is going to come up in the exam for the B Th people… so I’ll post my essay answer to that question again shortly.

I think that rather than being a problem for figuring out the Wisdom Literature, its similarities with other writings from the time and place are part of the answer. To touch on my current “big idea” – we’re used to the idea that part of the Genesis account is written directly to address other ANE creation accounts (the Gilgamesh Epic and Enuma Elish), and as I mentioned in my post on the Old Testament law and women last week, the laws in Leviticus are very similar to laws governing the same legal issues in contemporary cultures (just nicer, and designed to help Israel be “set apart” from their neighbours). So why do we get to the wisdom literature and go “oh no, it’s similar to the other nations” and then see this as a problem. Perhaps the Biblical wisdom literature seeks to address the influence of wisdom literature from other cultures on the people of Israel. Perhaps, in the light of the account of Solomon’s rule, it also seeks to participate in an international wisdom dialogue, and maybe it’s even presenting a philosophical apologetic for subscribing to Israel’s religious system to her neighbours… Norman Whybray, Bruce Waltke, and Christopher Wright have suggested there was an international wisdom conversation going on around the time the wisdom literature was emerging in Israel, Proverbs contains, by its own admission, wisdom from foreign kings, collected by Solomon (and others), and the account of Solomon’s reign in 1 Kings includes him giving his better wisdom to surrounding nations (as fulfillment of Genesis 12 – which is the intention of the 1 Kings narrative (Goldsworthy).

Most scholars are quick to dismiss the idea that Israel stole wisdom from other countries willy-nilly as it sought to develop its own social identity, but few explain the presence or influence of foreign wisdom in the Bible. Other than to suggest that all wisdom is developed out of observations of the same world. All agree that Hebrew wisdom deliberately creates a monotheistic distinction from conventional ANE thought. This deliberate distinction, not the similarities, should provide the most fruit for understanding the relationship between similar works.

Wright suggests Israel’s wisdom thinkers and writers took part in an international dialogue “with an openness to discern the wisdom of God in cultures other than their own,” and that such comparisons lead to the conclusion that there was “a lot of contact between Israel’s wisdom thinkers and writers and those of surrounding nations.”

Tying the wisdom literature to Solomon’s reign – the guy who built the temple, and reached the nations – seems to be a pretty good way to bring it alongside redemptive history, as primary documents from the time when Israel was at its peak… and its not doing an injustice to the text – because Proverbs and Ecclesiastes both present themselves as linked to Solomon, and most scholars acknowledge that the wisdom movement flourished under his reign.

Wright (2006) suggests “any wisdom that is associated with Solomon must be connected with the Solomonic tradition that God should bless the nations in their interaction with Israel.”

Here’s where I think that leads (from my essay):

Solomon participates in an international wisdom dialogue with foreign leaders, judges justly, and blesses the ANE world in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise (Genesis 12:3), in the manner envisaged by the Psalm 72. His international focus is evident in his prayer dedicating the temple contains an international injunction (1 Kings 8:41-43). It is also feasible to assume that the description of Solomon’s collection of wisdom crossed national boundaries.

The aspects of his reign that I would suggest have bearing on our interpretation of biblical wisdom are as follows:

1. An interaction with the ideas of the nations and their rulers and wisdom, and thus with the religious beliefs of the nations (1 Kings 4:29-34, 1 Kings 10:23-24)
2. A theological focus, and corrective of international wisdom, based on the “fear of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:43).
3. A desire to see the nations come before Yahweh, recognising his rightful position as creator of the world and the basis of wisdom and righteousness (1 Kings 8:41-43, 59-61, 1 Kings 10:9, Psalm 72).

The reference to Solomon’s wisdom “surpassing that of Egypt and the wisdom of all the men of the east “ (1 Kings 4:30) invites us to compare Israel’s wisdom with the nations, and it is therefore feasible to expect similar interactions between wisdom literature linked to Solomon and the wisdom literature of the ANE.

The biggest difference between the Biblical wisdom literature and that of the surrounding nations is the centrality (at least in the final form of the texts, but I’d argue also in their fundamental purpose) of the concept of the “fear of the Lord” – it’s an important theme in Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as in Proverbs. And it’s indelibly linked to salvation history.

The “fear of Yahweh” is a touch point of Jewish orthodoxy synonymous with faithful obedience (Deuteronomy 4:10; 5:29; 6:2, 13, 24; 10:12, 20).

The phrase occurs throughout Proverbs (Proverbs 1:7, 2:5, 9:10, 10:27, 14:27, 15:16, 15:33, 16:6, 19:23; 22:4; 23:17, 31:30, and an injunction to “fear the Lord” occurs in Proverbs 1:29; 3:7; 8:13; and 24:21), it occurs almost exclusively in the passages tied to Solomon (Chapters 1-24), and does not appear in those collected under Hezekiah.

The passages linked most strongly to other ANE wisdom writings fall in passages attributed to Solomon. Those passages are either directly proceeded by, or followed by, a reference to fearing Yahweh (Proverbs 22:4, Proverbs 24:21, and Proverbs 23:17).

The phrase is also used to contrast with the teaching of wise (Proverbs 13:14) and the fear of Yahweh (Proverbs 14:27), with both considered as the “fountain of life.”

Retributive theology was a big concept throughout the Ancient Near East. And you can read Proverbs as advocating such a position, if you remove any notion of God (and some scholars go so far as to suggest that the Fear of the Lord is an addition by a pious sage wanting Proverbs to be more Godly – Von Rad is one of them). But Waltke suggests that any Proverbs that lend themselves to this interpretation should be considered in the broader scheme of the book, and are likely to be eschatological.

The idea that Job and Ecclesiastes stand in conflict with Proverbs is popular modern wisdom scholarship, and some have tried to identify retributive theology in the ethics of the prophets, suggesting it played an important role in Jewish theology. Any concept of retributive theology legitimately found in the Old Testament is carefully grounded in the will of Yahweh, and is usually the fruit of a promise. I would suggest this view actually describes the purposes of the wisdom authors in addressing ANE conceptions of reality.

Here’s the bonus bit – from a comment from my dad in response to one of yesterday’s posts:

“Can I suggest that there’s lots of Deuteronomic content in Proverbs, particularly relating to the blessings of living under covenant in the land? It’s often observed that Proverbs is overly idealised, and ‘over promises.’ But I’d suggest, no moreso than the blessings of Deuteronomy would lead you to expect. In fact, if you allow for an allegorical reading of the “son” material as referring to Israel, who is not to prostitute himself to other gods, Proverbs is (arguably) just saying that ‘all the Deuteronomic blessings will be yours if you remain faithful.’ Conversely, there are clear exile warnings in the early chapters of Proverbs, which also fit it neatly into the Deuteronomic schema. From there, it’s a simple step to building it into the metanarrative of a Biblical Theology. (Theory Part B – It’s all integrated by Hosea, who was one of Hezekiah’s men, as specified in Proverbs as those who ‘gathered and Solomon’s teaching.’) Hence, there are heaps of proverbial statements in Hosea, and echoes of Hosea’s “Israel as son” theology in Proverbs.)”

So there’s another response to the idea of protest that seems plausible, and also ties the wisdom literature to redemptive history… Here’s what I reckon is going on, from the conclusion of my essay:

“I propose that the wisdom literature adopted and critiqued the wisdom conventions of surrounding nations in the same way that Israel’s historians adopted and critiqued stories of creation and the flood from the ANE and contrasted them with an account grounded in the actions of Yahweh. A true understanding of wisdom, like a true understanding of history, is grounded in understanding Yahweh’s involvement in the world, not in its ANE equivalents. If the wisdom literature is an apologetic for Yahweh as the author of life, in a deliberate comparison with other ANE gods, and if this apologetic occurs in the context of an international wisdom conversation, then it was both didactic for the people of Yahweh, and a declaration to the nations. “

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Old Testament 102: Wisdom and biblical theology

Following up on yesterday’s summary of approaches to integrating wisdom and Biblical Theology, Wilson discusses integrating Wisdom Literature with Biblical Theology following Bruegemann and Goldingay.

Brueggemann proposes a dialectic approach to Biblical theology – using the poles of creation and redemption. Goldingay develops this idea, suggesting that while Salvation History is a prominent strand in Biblical revelation we can focus on it at the expense of baby and bathwater, neglecting stuff like how God interacts with nature, how he interacts in day to day life, and wisdom. He makes four statements that summarise the relationship between the two poles.

1. The world God redeems is the world of God’s creation.
2. The world that God created is a world that needed to be redeemed.
3. Humans are redeemed to live again their life created before God.
4. The redeemed humanity still looks for a final act of redemption, or new creation.

Four good points. And the question “what does this passage contribute to our understanding of God’s creation and our place in it as his people” is a useful one to ask in exegesis, perhaps not quite as useful as “how does this passage demonstrate God’s plans to redeem the world through Jesus, and how do you fit in that” – but splitting them is creating a bit of an unhelpful dichotomy. They’re the same coin.

Here’s Wilson:

“The first two [points] establish the connection between creation and salvation history (or covenant), and ensure that both voices are heard. God’s pusposes are wider than the covenant people. Yet they are also focused on Israel, and effected through them.”

I like the idea that ancient wisdom movements are analogous to the later philosophies that Augustine and others before him (like Justin Martyr) suggested God’s people should pillage like gold from Egypt – truth is truth wherever it is found. How’s that for integrating different disciplines from college (actually, I like that idea a lot, and I’ll post something on it post exams – I’m working up a pretty big idea that needs to be blogged in order for me to stop dwelling on it – that’s how I roll).

“The last [point] enables us to see the incompleteness and forward looking nature of the Old Testament. The expressions of future hope that we find mainly in the prophetic and apocalyptic materials are rightly seen as part of the Old Testament core. When we read these together we appreciate some of the flow of Old Testament theology. We see the movement from creation, through God’s redeeming acts in different generations, to the future hopes variously described as redemption or new creation. This is the big picture, the broad canvas of the Old Testament.

But there’s also a smaller picture, which Goldingay recognises in point three (but which I reckon is part of the bigger picture too, because Christians living that created life before God is part of bringing people into the grander narrative)…

Wilson on Goldingay’s third point:

“Here he again recognises that both creation and redemption have a part to play – people are redeemed to live their created life before God. Daily living is not just the concern of the wisdom materials. The Torah has extensive legislation that affects everyday life. The prophets call Israel back to right living within the covenant. Yet, the Wisdom themes have a great input here, particularly in the area of attitudes and the formation of character.

Kidner’s commentary on Proverbs says that wisdom focuses on “details of character small enough to escape the mesh of the law and the broadsides of the prophets.”

Wilson likes this twin pole idea championed by Brueggemann and followed by Goldingay. But he raises two concerns with regards to the Wisdom literature..

1. This point three needs clarification – wisdom isn’t framed as a response to God’s redemptive acts but rather to creation itself [though as Goldsworthy points out the “Fear of the Lord” suggests that wisdom might be based in the knowledge of God’s position as redeemer]. Scobie is the guy who suggests that wisdom is a response to the world and the human experience. Wilson says “perhaps what is needed is a broadening of our understanding of the human response so that it includes responding to God’s redemptive acts (the law and the prophets) and to God’s order in creation (especially in the wisdom materials).

2. The connection between creation and redemption needs to be explored further – which is more fundamental? He breaks it down to the questions:

“Is the focus in the salvation-history materials on “what requirements should be imposed on the covenant community?” While that of wisdom is rather “what values should I adopt or strive for?”

A nice summary of the functions of wisdom and the law that Robyn and I worked up yesterday is that the law provides the ethical low base for how God’s people are to live, while wisdom and the laws regarding loving God, and loving your neighbour, are the high bar. It’s the way God’s people are meant to live. Ideally.

Coming up next – I’ll try to summarise the approach I landed on in my essay (which provides a function for the wisdom literature that focuses on a purpose for the wisdom literature that fits under this model, and a method of integrating the different books that doesn’t put them in opposition to one another), and I’ll, as a bonus, put forward my dad’s solution. Which I also haven’t read anywhere else.

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Old Testament 102: Biblical Theology and Wisdom

When it comes to the question of a Biblical Theology of the Old Testament (an idea that underpins it and holds it all together) the wisdom literature is a bit of an elephant in the room. Most Old Testament theologies focus on themes like “covenant” or “promise” and tie the Old Testament to the new by dealing with the unfolding of the story of God’s dealing with his people and his creation, finding some form of fulfillment in Jesus. It’s a noble, and useful aim. Provided you don’t lump for one, at the expense of all the other themes that are also there, and also valid. Why can’t all our Old Testament theologies be friends?

Eichrodt pioneered the “covenant,” and Dumbrell picked that idea up and ran with it. Von Rad (the most awesome name in theology) preferred to focus his sights on “salvation history,” Kaiser proposed “promise,” which doesn’t seem that much different from “covenant” because it isn’t. He sees wisdom as “life under the promise” – but Scobie (who has a few bobs each way on a unifying idea in his “The Ways of Our God“) suggests this connection between wisdom and the rest of the Bible is tenuous…

A useful piece from the Reformed Theological Review by Lindsay Wilson called “The Place of Wisdom in Old Testament Theology” summarises the situation nicely. Here’s an overview of the article.

Kaiser put forward two questions that need to be answered in order for a big idea to be considered valid:

1. Was this idea and purpose in the minds of the Old Testament writers?
2. Can this view be embraced by the whole Old Testament without artificially overloading this point, or ignoring large blocks of material?

Since the 20th century and Von Rad and Eichrodt’s work, scholars have decided that no single idea can describe the Old Testament adequately.

Goldingay suggests there are three ways to approach to the diversity of the Old Testament.

1. Diverse theologies can be explained by various historical contexts (e.g the idea of what it means to be the “people of God” changes based on Israel’s political circumstances).
2. One strand of theology should be used to evaluate and critique the others (Deuteronomic or Deutero-Isaiah should be the dominant view, others should be compared and contrasted).
3. The strands should be brought together, Goldingay calls this a “unifying or contsructing approach” – in a manner that does justice to the theological diversity.

Goldingay describes the different approaches like this:

“One suggests that different viewpoints are appropriate to different contexts, another that they reflect different levels of insight, and a third that they are all expressions of one underlying theology.” – Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament, 1987

Wilson analyses these approaches…

The first approach helps to explain some of the diversity of the Old Testament – clearly Adam in Eden requires different commands and hopes to Abraham, and Abraham to David, and David to those in exile.

The second is the most open to objection – it can involve people reading the Old Testament through a lens of their own creation, not something borne out by the Old Testament itself (eg the “history of religions” approach that tries to describe the emergence of Jewish monotheism from ANE polytheism).

The third is both promising and vexing – one must decide what to include in the mix to form a key cluster of ideas held in complex unity.

Wilson now considers how the wisdom literature might be approached in relation to Biblical Theology.

Solomonic Enlightenment
Von Rad championedthe idea that there was a period under Solomon and David that allowed the unfettered development of the wisdom movement. Brueggemann agrees. Because Israel had arrived at its peak – the wise in Israel could turn from questions of faith to questions of how to live.

Brueggemann suggests the “salvation history” approach concentrates on traps man might fall into and God’s subsequent actions to deliver him.

“Scripture has been integrated primarily around the theme of redemption which tends to suggest the gracious, powerful role of God and the despair and helplessness of man… As a result the countertheme of creation has been generally neglected.”

Suggestions for how wisdom fits commonly turn to the idea that it’s about “the order in and goodness of creation,” this works with the idea that different social situations produce different theological approaches, and a different theological focus.

Wilson outlines two approaches for finding integration between wisdom literature and the rest of the Old Testament… finding salvation history elements in the wisdom books, and finding wisdom elements in non-wisdom books. A similar approach to that discussed in Goldsworthy’s Gospel and Kingdom.

Finding Salvation-History in the Wisdom Literature

He suggests the “Fear of the Lord” is one such link (as identified by Goldsworthy) but then suggests that the wisdom literature is more diverse than just “the fear of the Lord”…

“While Goldsworthy concedes that wisdom is a complement to, not a sub-set of, salvation history, he comes close to reading wisdom down to life under the covenant. Thus he concludes that “wisdom is a theology of the redeemed man living in the world under God’s rule”.”

Wilson says the second problem here is that such an approach “fails to show how the wisdom literature and salvation history elements are integrated… it establishes a point of contact, but says little about the interplay between the two strands.”

Finding Wisdom in the Rest of the OT

A bunch of scholars have suggested a “wisdom school” might have been influential in the writing or shaping of other texts. This is hotly disputed. James Crenshaw has suggested the methodology used in some of these studies is a bit rubbish. Wilson examines a couple of case studies that Crenshaw has critiqued, and while he agrees with Crenshaw that the stories (Esther and the Joseph Narrative) are not “wisdom” exclusively, he disagrees because he says wisdom may form part of the picture.

Wilson says:

“In the light of what we have seen so far, we are able to draw at least two conclusions. Firstly, Wisdom material and influence is a significant part of the Old Testament corpus. Any proposed analysis of Old Testament theology must do justice to Wisdom themes. Secondly, we must be wary of those who see wisdom as alien to the normative theology in the Old Testament.”

Wisdom is woven into the fabric of the Old Testament. We’ll see where Wilson takes his piece in the next post.

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Old Testament 102: Goldsworthy on the “Fear of the Lord”

The dedication of the Temple was a high point in Israel’s history, with it came a mood change in Israel.

“When Israel recognises the significance of the temple as the place where reconciliation and restoration to God can occur, it will be a people that fears God and enjoys the blessings of the covenant (1 Kings 8:38-40). This great benefit ill become known among the nations. Strangers will come to the temple and acknowledge God. Solomon prays that God will hear them from heaven and answer graciously so that all the nations of the earth may know his name and fear him (1 Kings 8:41-43). The coming of Sheba was the first sign of this prayer being answered.

The Fear of the Lord is not terror (it uses a different Hebrew word), it has a note of reverent awe.

In the period from Exodus to Solomon the “fear of the Lord” emphasises faithfulness to the covenant. Some examples include Exodus 14:31, and Deuteronomy 4:10.

“This fear of the Lord was to be expressed in their diligence to observe the laws of God in faithful response to his saving acts (Deuteronomy 6:2, 10:12, 10:20-21).

The “fear of the Lord” appears many times in Proverbs, and throughout the wisdom literature. But is it covenantal?

These were Israelites and although salvation history is not a theme of their writings, they were not unbelieving philosophers professing a humanistic alternative to the covenant faith. They were men of God who reached out beyond the specific content of God’s revelation and engaged in the search for knowledge and understanding of the world in the light of revelation.”

Goldsworthy suggests the phrase is a central idea to the book of Proverbs – it sums up the prologue (1:7), and is scattered throughout the book.

“The evidence, in my opinion, is that the absolute necessity of God’s revelation for right understanding of the world was constantly recognised.”

Two different Hebrew words for “beginning” are used in Proverbs 9:10, and Psalm 111:10. The one used in the Psalm can also mean “chief goal”… if this translation is adopted:

… it means that the fear of the Lord is both the presupposition of foundation, and the goal of wisdom.”

“We conclude that both the wisdom use of the ‘fear of the Lord’ and traditions concerning Solomon as temple builder and sage, point to an important connection between the Israelite concept of wisdom and the covenant of faith. This accounts for the truly distinct features of Israel’s wisdom which, while it shared many of the characteristics of the wisdom of the ancient middle eastern world, never lost sight of the revelation of the one true God…”

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Old Testament 102: Goldsworthy on Wisdom and Solomon

“The Biblical evidence supports the view that Solomon, despite his failings, was a key figure in the development of wisdom in Israel”

1. Solomon’s wisdom had common ground with foreign wisdom, but was superior to it.
2. Solomon was capable of making shrewd judgments.
3. He was concerned with understanding the natural world.
4. The material glory of the kingdom was related to wisdom.
5. The temple was the means by which Israel could rightly make sense of the universe – because it pointed to the activity of God in seeking restoration.
6. The focal point of wisdom was the “fear of the Lord” which meant faith in the redeeming acts of God.

“Even pagans will have the wisdom to see that it is the height of folly to forsake a God who has proved his greatness in the way he has led and saved his people.”

Goldsworthy says 1 Kings 4:20-21 is an obvious reference to the promises made to Abraham so that their fulfilment is identified with Solomon’s reign.

In 1 Kings 4:29-34 Solomon’s wisdom is compared with that of all the wise men of the nations surrounding Israel, including Egypt.

Representatives from these nations recognised Solomon’s wisdom, and they flocked to hear it.

1 Kings 4:32-33 notes Solomon’s interest in nature (the way the world works) – which may explain the type of wisdom representatives from other nations were coming to hear.

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Old Testament 102: Goldsworthy on the place and space of Old Testament Wisdom

Wisdom literature gives some advice on guidance and decision making. Goldsworthy argues that wisdom literature can be related to Israel’s covenant faith. And that it points to the coming of Christ. Goldsworthy advocates a presuppositional approach to wisdom about the world. To be truly wise, first one must presuppose God. And because we presume God, we assume the Bible is the basis for true wisdom, then we also need to realise that the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Jesus, so any consideration of the function of an Old Testament book must begin Christologically.

Wisdom is not intelligence, it belongs to all who believe the gospel. It’s not so much an intellectual approach to life, as it is a way of living life. It differs us from the animals.

We must begin [studying wisdom in the Bible] with Christ because it is through him that we become Christians and are motivated to study the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

He suggests the question to ask of the Old Testament Wisdom is how it comes to help us understand Christ. And then we need to ask how the Wisdom Literature is fulfilled in Christ.

In Luke 11:31 Jesus makes an explicit comparison between himself and Solomon:

31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here.”

Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 is another point of contrast – the Old Testament wisdom was very similar to the wisdom of the world, the gospel of Christ crucifed on the other hand, is folly to the wisdom of the world.

Worldly wisdom has a place. We use it every day.  When we approach questions of how to live our lives, we often turn to worldly wisdom without a thought about where it fits with God’s wisdom (appropriately) – we don’t ask if the correct approach to repairing a computer comes from God (nor should we take actions in those areas that contradict Godly wisdom – but you get the point).

“If Christians showed as much talent and shrewdness in the pursuit of the world for Christ as unbelievers show in the pursuit of riches, who could gauge what effect that would have?”

“Every culture collects the wisdom of its people, much of which will be found in the form of concise proverbial sayings.”

The wisdom literature from Babylon and Egypt has close similarities to the Biblical works.”

“At this point we can at least recognise that there is some common ground shared by the wisdom of pagans and that of God’s people”…

Stephen (Acts 7:22) suggests Moses was educated in Egypt’s wisdom.

By the time Moses went to school in Egypt there was already a long history of wisdom.

On Ma’at

“Ma’at represented an order that was to be seen particularly in the stability of the Egyptian state… There is no real parallel in Hebrew wisdom to Ma’at other than similarities to the idea of order. These similarities between Hebrew and Egyptian wisdom suggest that the common factor is the quest for the understanding of the order of the universe. Hebrew wisdom was distinct in that it was shaped by the Israelite experience of covenant and redemption.”

Goldsworthy suggests Biblical accounts of Solomon, and the non-Israelite bits in Proverbs suggest a connection between Israelite and ANE wisdom.

“The evidence available to us of the intellectual achievements of the people in the old civilizations of the Middle East shows us that wisdom was sought after and written down very early in recorded history. There is little doubt that wisdom sayings of some kind would have been part of the emerging culture of Israel’s ancestors.”

“Wisdom’s apparent lack  of concern for Israel’s history, covenant and law is one of its distinctive features. Perhaps we can work back from the wisdom books to look for clues to the origins of wisdom in Israel. The wisdom literature itself is lacking in the kind of historical references which would give such clues. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes contain only the briefest indications of the traditional patronage of Solomon.1

Four kinds of evidence which contribute to our understanding of wisdom in Israel:

First – the scattered wisdom sayings found in various parts of the narrative literature of the Old Testament (some of these are clues to a pre-literary stage which probably existed before there were any schools of wisdom or written wisdom) – for example sayings about mighty hunters (Genesis 10), and “it became a saying” in 1 Samuel 10. In this case the word “saying” is the Hebrew word later used for Proverb.

Second – the wisdom books themselves.

Third – knowledge of the wisdom literature form the ANE – “the forms and functions of this wisdom suggest parallels to Israelite wisdom, but the differences are more obvious.”

Fourth – the possible wisdom influences on other books of the Old Testament, the idea that other books were compiled by wisdom schools, written by wise men, or influenced by wisdom thoughts.

“If we could be sure of the identification of wisdom influences [on the Old Testament], they would provide some valuable evidence of the place of wisdom in the main stream of Israelite thought. We would see how the wisdom ideas, which in the main wisdom books appear in almost complete isolation from expressions of the covenant faith, have been brought into organic relationship with that covenant faith.”

1 We’ll get to Solomon later, and Goldsworthy’s view (also, see the previous post).

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Old Testament 102: Wisdom and Biblical Theology (part one)

I’m wildly speculating that one of the questions on wisdom literature in next Tuesday’s exam will be on how to fit wisdom literature into Biblical Theology. One of the “main men” of biblical theology is Australia’s very own Graeme Goldsworthy. His “Gospel and…” series has laid the foundations for the Australian approach to the issue more than any other unifying ideas. His “God’s people living in God’s place, under God’s rule” maxim is a useful way to quickly come to terms with where any particular piece of the Bible fits into the broader narrative, both in the past, and in terms of eschatology.

Gospel and Wisdom is his attempt to integrate the wisdom literature (and more broadly, the wisdom movement) into the narrative of the Bible. The wisdom literature doesn’t fit easily into such characterisation because it almost completely excludes reference to Israel’s covenant obligations (I think there’s an alternative way to do it, which I’ve outlined in my six part posting of my Wisdom Literature essay. Which I’ll summarise in a later post. But you can read it starting from here.

Summarising Gospel and Wisdom is going to take a few posts. But here’s the reconstruction Goldsworthy offers for the development (and place) of wisdom literature in Israel’s history. In 17 points. There are a lot of points in here that I think sit nicely with my idea that the wisdom literature was used as part of Israel’s covenant obligation to bless the nations… but we’ll get to that.

1.     Popular folk wisdom would have emerged at various levels of society as the expression of what people learned through their life’s experiences. It is not certain what form the earliest wisdom sayings took, but the evidence does not support the idea that longer sayings developed from the one line proverb.

2.     In the period before Israel went into Egypt, education in family groups would most likely have led to the formation of sayings used in the training of children.

3.     With the development of the organized state of Israel came the recognition of men who would give wise counsel in the matter of running the country.

4.     The sages or wise men emerged as a recognizable group. It is not clear whether these were recognised as officials of government, religion or education. It has been suggested that the scribes later came to be the guardians of wisdom.

5.     Wisdom may not have been a “single phenomenon” but rather a search for knowledge and understanding pursued in various ways.

6.     Solomon was probably a patron of Israel’s wisdom movement during its heyday.

7.     Egypt and Babylon’s wisdom no doubt influenced Israel’s – but how much is a matter of some discussion.

8.     The movement to a monarchy began form a sinful desire to be like the nations (contrasted to the Judge’s efforts to bring the nation back to YHWH, sometimes spectacularly). But was eventually demonstrated to be an appropriate pointer to the coming Messiah.

9.     David is also influential in the development of wisdom, a wise woman encourages him to act wisely with regard to Absalom, she flatters David as one who has the wisdom of an angel, the same as the ability to discern good and evil (2 Samuel 14).

10. Wise men were emerging under David (good and bad counsel from counselors seems a bit of a theme in 2 Samuel). Egypt had had people performing the same functions in the time of Moses.

11. Deuteronomy 4 has already established a relationship between wisdom and the law. “Observe them carefully for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations” – who will hear about all these decrees and say “surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people”

12. The law did not cover every contingency in life – it provided a framework within which Israel had to show its responsibility before God. Had the law covered every contingency it would have showed a very different view of man.

13. Keeping the law was wisdom, but the law was not exhaustive. Israel was given guidelines in the law by which to understand and maintain relationships with God, man, and the world. But the law was never a substitute for the pursuit of wisdom. The humanness of God’s people meant much more than doing those things specifically stated in the law. The law did not tell Israel how to develop the arts, but it did put a limit on artistic endeavour (Exodus 20:4).

14. Between Abraham and David God revealed the meaning of the covenant through redemption and law – what was begun in the Exodus was finally established under David.

15. Under David and Solomon the stage is set for the flowering of wisdom – “the tutelage of the law loses its absolute status because the kingdom means the freedom to live wisely and responsibly.”

16. Wisdom grew from Israel’s beginnings, but during the formative period of salvation history it was not prominent in the life of Israel.

17. “God wants his people to live not  by a lot of rules and regulations, but responsibly and in a manner which harmonises with his kingly rule.”

Gold from Goldy: On atheism and wisdom

I’m reading Gospel and Wisdom, which I really should have read when I was writing my wisdom essay in the middle of semester, but I forgot. I really did. It was on my bookshelf. And then I ran out of words. He has this to say about atheism. I like it (I’ll be posting a lengthy interaction with the book for the benefit of my Old Testament comrades shortly). He nicely articulates a few of the arguments I like to use against atheism, and makes a few arguments that a few other Christians (Answers in Genesis) fail to take into account on questions of atheistic morality.

“What modern technological man does in a highly complex fashion is at heart no different from what man has always done. He has observed his world and tried to classify his experience as a way of getting to the underlying order of things.”

“Atheistic humanity is thus capable of using the faculties given by an unacknowledged creator, and of continuing to exercise the cultural mandate, albeit in a corrupted way. Society establishes ethical frameworks in order to limit threats to social well-being that come from within.”

“The Christian rejects this assumption of a universe which is shut up against the God of the Bible. He accepts rather, that God is self-sufficient, personal, and in complete control. While the atheist system is a closed system of cause and effect, the Christian view is a universe in which cause and effect are established by God and open to his sovereign intervention.”

“By putting man at the centre, the humanist claims to give him his proper dignity. But this assumption of the pre-eminence of man is a radically dehumanising one since he is not perceived as imaging God. The humanist sees man’s leadership in the world as the result of evolutionary accident. The Bible describes it as God-given dominion over the rest of creation.

“While the Christian accepts his responsibility to search for knowledge he knows that human effort, discovery and reasoning cannot provide a comprehensive understanding of the universe. Empirical knowledge, that which is gained by investigating the world with our senses, cannot include God or the meaning which he gives to the created order.”

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The Wisdom Literature as an Apologetic: Part Four

Part four of a pretty long essay. Here are parts one, two, and three.

With what shall we fix it? How “The Fear of the Lord” fits as a corrective

The Fear of the Lord has been identified as a unifying theme in the wisdom corpus for varying reasons.[1] It is a point of contrast with international wisdom, when the concept of “fear” is discussed in ANE literature it is to be directed towards the king.[2] Biblical wisdom, חכמה, focuses on fearing not one who controls created order, but the one who created and controls the order.[3]

The “fear of Yahweh” is a touch point of Jewish orthodoxy synonymous with faithful obedience (Deuteronomy 4:10; 5:29; 6:2, 13, 24; 10:12, 20).

The phrase occurs throughout Proverbs (Proverbs 1:7, 2:5, 9:10, 10:27, 14:27, 15:16, 15:33, 16:6, 19:23; 22:4; 23:17, 31:30, and an injunction to “fear the Lord” occurs in Proverbs 1:29; 3:7; 8:13; and 24:21), it occurs almost exclusively in the passages tied to Solomon (Chapters 1-24), and does not appear in those collected under Hezekiah.[4]

The passages linked to Amenemope and Ahiqar fall in passages attributed to Solomon. Those passages are either directly proceeded by, or followed by, a reference to fearing Yahweh (Proverbs 22:4, Proverbs 24:21, and Proverbs 23:17).

The phrase is also used to contrast with the teaching of wise (Proverbs 13:14) and the fear of Yahweh (Proverbs 14:27), with both considered as the “fountain of life.”[5]

The “Fear of the Lord” in Job

Job does not use the same Hebrew construction as Proverbs (preferring alternatives like אדני ראתי to יהוה ראתי).[6] A thematic link between fear, God, and wisdom is drawn several times (Job 1:1, 8, 9; 2:3; 4:6; 6:14; 15:4; 22:4; 28:28; 37:24).

Job 28’s wisdom poem is an important thematic point. Some see it paying homage to traditional “retributive” proverbial wisdom, which is then rebutted in the concluding chapters,[7] the view concludes that the “fear of the Lord” is not the complete answer to Job’s dilemma.[8] It seems more likely that this chapter is directed at foreign concepts of wisdom.

Greenstein (2003) argues that Job 28 contains deliberate correctives against ideas of godly wisdom from Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Canaanite, Akkadian, Ugaratic, Sumerian and Syrian poetic expressions of wisdom.[9] Job 28’s view of wisdom corrects two common ANE misconceptions of the source of wisdom, where wisdom was understood as originating from a distant God located either in the heights or depths of creation.[10] Job 28 locates wisdom not in the deep or the sea (28:1-22, especially 14), but in the fear of the Lord (28:28) because he knows where wisdom dwells (28:23), tests it (28:27). Chapters 38-42 establish Yahweh’s case for being feared. He is the creator of all things, and he holds them under his sway.

The “Fear of the Lord” in Ecclesiastes

The “fear of the Lord” is present in Qoheleth’s exploration of wisdom (Ecc 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13) and most importantly guides the interpretation of his work in the epilogue (12:13).

The epilogist sees the “fear of the Lord” as a fitting summary of Qoheleth’s quest. While some dismiss this insertion as a late intrusion that radically alters the message of Ecclesiastes,[11] Shead (1997) used a semantic comparison with the rest of the book to argue for a common author, and thus for the epilogue’s centrality in interpreting the text,[12] Shields (1999) concurs on the centrality of the epilogue,[13] specifically the centrality of “Fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecc 12:13),[14] but he rejects Shead’s structuralist approach.[15] Shields sees Qoheleth protesting against the wisdom movement – a group of professional sages operating in Israel, and indeed throughout the ANE.[16] A position best summed up in the teacher’s own words No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun… Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.” (Ecc 8:16-17).[17]

The “Fear of the Lord” and the nations

Israel’s covenantal blessing of the nations (Gen 12:3) is widely understood to have functioned centripetally.[18] This model of understanding the wisdom literature may call such an understanding into question. Israel’s obedience to Yahweh was to be a demonstration to the nations, who were to respond “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6). Wisdom had a role to play. Presenting a critique of wisdom of surrounding nations, and proffering a plausible alternative, may have been the impetus for the type of centripetal movement depicted in Micah 4:2.

Solomon’s dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:41-43) desires that the people of the nations might fear the Lord. Psalm 96 has been described as a “missionary Psalm,”[19] it calls for declarations of his glory and authority among the nations (verses 3, and 10), calling them to fear him above all gods (verse 4). Kaiser (2000) suggests this is evidence of a centrifugal outreach in Israel.[20] The presence of this international interaction and the thematic importance of the “fear of the Lord” may provide some support for this view.


[1] Kidner, D, Wisdom to Live By (Leicester: IVP, 1985) p 17 sees it as salvaging the wisdom corpus from self-interest, mutiny and despair, Kaiser, W.C, Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) p 170 suggests that it is the “organising theological principle” of the OT wisdom, Wilson, L, ‘The Book of Job and the Fear of God,’ Tyndale Bulletin 46.1 (1995) 59-79 provides an overview of its use in Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, Dumbrell, W.J, The Faith of Israel, p 264 identifies it as the theme of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes p 285, Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, pp 60-62, holds a post-exilic compilation of Proverbs, and thus a different purpose, suggests that the Fear of The Lord is to help post-exilic Jews realign their faith after the loss of land and temple.

[2] Wilson, L, ‘The Book of Job and the Fear of God,’ at p 62, cites Derousseaux, La crainte de Dieu, 21-66 who studied the occurance of ‘fear’ in Egyptian, Akkadian, Aramaic and Ugaritic texts. Interestingly the king, in Egypt and Mesopotamia, mediated between the gods and society “maintaining the social order in harmony with nature and the divine” see Wright, G.E, The Old Testament Against Its Environment, Studies in Biblical Theology, (London: SCM Press, 1950), p 63

[3] On its uniqueness in Wisdom literature see Ruffle, op. cit, p37,

[4] Steinmann, A.E, ‘Proverbs 1-9 as A Solomonic Composition,’ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 43/4 December 2000, pp 659-674 at p 666

[5] Stay tuned for the bit below where “life” in Proverbs and Egyptian wisdom get mindblowingly explored…

[6] Wilson, L, ‘The Book of Job and the Fear of God,’ pp 66-67 suggests this is consistent with the Fear of Yahweh employed elsewhere.

[7] Wilson, L, ‘The Book of Job and the Fear of God,’ pp 69-73

[8] Wilson, L, ‘The Book of Job and the Fear of God,’ p 73

[9] Greenstein, E.L, ‘The Poem on Wisdom in Job 28 in its conceptual and literary contexts, Job 28: Cognition in Context, ed. Van Wolde, E.J, Leiden:Brill, 2003, pp 253-281

[10] According to the second model, wisdom is hidden from human view and is hidden in the depths of the earth. According to the first model, a solar-like divine power can bring the hidden to light and illuminate its details. Both models underlie the poem on wisdom in Job 28. Greenstein, E.L, ‘The Poem on Wisdom in Job 28 in its conceptual and literary contexts, Job 28: Cognition in Context, ed. Van Wolde, E.J, (Leiden:Brill, 2003), p 263, he later identifies a favourable comparison between Yahweh and a Babylonian Sun God, because Yahweh, in Job 28 “sees and penetrates into all that is hidden, can see to the bottom of the earth as well, and it is therefore he alone who knows where wisdom is located.”[10]

[11]I am much more interested in dealing with the final form of the text than engaging in source criticism – Wilson, L, ‘The Book of Job and the Fear of God,’ p 63 agrees – suggesting that the epilogue both affirms the questioning nature of the book and provides a foundational principle for daily living.

[12] Shead, A. G, ‘Reading Ecclesiastes ‘Epilogically’’ Tyndale Bulletin 48.1 (1997) 67-91.

[13] Shields, M.A, ‘Ecclesiastes And The End Of Wisdom,’ Tyndale Bulletin 50.1 (1999), p 121,

[14] Shields, ‘Ecclesiastes And The End Of Wisdom,’ p 124

[15] Shields, ‘Ecclesiastes And The End Of Wisdom,’ pp 121-124

[16] Shields, ‘Ecclesiastes And The End Of Wisdom,’ pp 125-129 – regarding the presence of similar ideas in the Ancient Near East: “Qoheleth’s words have always (so far as we can determine) troubled those who have read them and tried to understand them against the background of the faith of Israel. They do not fit easily with the wisdom of other sages as recorded in Proverbs (or, for that matter, from other sources in the Ancient Near East), and the wisdom of Qoheleth’s contemporaries could probably also be included. Consequently, it would be tempting to dismiss Qoheleth’s words and adhere to the more traditional conclusions of the sages (which could perhaps best be described as ‘pleasing words’). The epilogist here makes clear that the words of Qoheleth are true. Where other sages may have offered different advice, they are the ones who should be considered to be incorrect—not Qoheleth.”

[17] Shead, op. cit

[18] Kaiser, W.C, Missions in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), p 37, Scobie, C.H.H, The Ways of Our God: An integrated approach to Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2003) p 520

[19] Kaiser, W.C, Missions in the Old Testament, pp 34-36.

[20] Kaiser, W.C, Missions in the Old Testament, p 35

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The Wisdom Literature as an Apologetic: Part Two

This is part two of my essay on the function of the wisdom literature. Feel free to disagree, it’s a pretty minority position (I can only find two people who vaguely agree with me). Here’s part one.

A Solomonic Rubric

Solomon is indelibly linked to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Whether or not he was the actual author,[1] or this is simply a royal fiction,[2] this is an interpretive key,[3] placing the books alongside the Biblical account of his reign (1 Kings 3-11). In the broader ANE world, especially Egypt, wisdom and royalty went hand in hand.[4]

Solomonic Dating

It is plausible that a deliberate pursuit of wisdom, and collation of wisdom literature, began during Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 4:32),[5] and possibly that it served an educational purpose.[6] Those arguing for a late dating of Proverbs assume that Jewish wisdom evolved from short and incoherent to long and integrated,[7] a study of the structure of comparable wisdom literature from the ANE in around 1,000 BC established similarities, in length and form, to Proverbs 1-9,[8] further examinations established stylistic and linguistic parallels with Canaanite and Ugaritic literature,[9] chapters 10-29 were also found to be of the same ANE vintage as the rest of the book,[10] and a lexical study suggests a common author of the passages in Proverbs attributed to Solomon.[11] Ecclesiastes is often dated late because it is said to contain Persian loan words, Kitchen (1977) demonstrates that these loan words had their roots in ancient Semitic languages that pre-existed Hebrew.[12] Job can also plausibly be dated in this time.[13]

A pre-exilic dating is not necessary in order for the books to be engaging with ANE wisdom, or for a Solomonic rubric to be valid. The question of Solomon’s actual involvement with these works is ultimately interpretively irrelevant. They are, whether actually, or fictively (or both), tied to the account of his reign (1 Kings 3-11, and especially 1 Kings 4:29-34).[14]

Waltke (1979) suggests the comparison between Solomon’s wisdom and that of surrounding nations (1 Kings 4:30-31) implies “that his proverbs were a part of an international, pan-oriental, wisdom literature.”[15]

Wright (2006) suggests “any wisdom that is associated with Solomon must be connected with the Solomonic tradition that God should bless the nations in their interaction with Israel.”[16]

Solomon participates in an international wisdom dialogue with foreign leaders, judges justly, and blesses the ANE world in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise (Genesis 12:3), in the manner envisaged by the Psalm 72. His international focus is evident in his prayer dedicating the temple contains an international injunction (1 Kings 8:41-43). It is also feasible to assume that the description of Solomon’s collection of wisdom crossed national boundaries.[17]

The aspects of his reign that I would suggest have bearing on our interpretation of biblical wisdom are as follows:

  1. An interaction with the ideas of the nations and their rulers and wisdom, and thus with the religious beliefs of the nations (1 Kings 4:29-34, 1 Kings 10:23-24)
  2. A theological focus, and corrective of international wisdom, based on the “fear of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:43).
  3. A desire to see the nations come before Yahweh, recognising his rightful position as creator of the world and the basis of wisdom and righteousness (1 Kings 8:41-43, 59-61, 1 Kings 10:9, Psalm 72).

Each of these elements is present in Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, and while each book has a distinct “wisdom” theme, they are internally theologically consistent when viewed through this rubric.


[1] Kaiser, W.C, ‘True Marital Love in Proverbs 5:15-23,’ The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K Waltke, ed J.I Packer and S. K Soderlund, Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, 2000, p 111, and Kaiser, W, Ecclesiastes: Total Life, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), pp 25-29 advocates for Solomonic authorship of  Ecclesiastes – a very minority position.

[2] Kaiser, O, ‘Qoheleth,’ Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1995, p 83, Whybray, N, ‘The Social World of the Wisdom Writers,’ Wisdom: The Collected Works of Norman Whybray, ed. Whybray, R.N, Dell, K.J, Barker, M, (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2005) p 238 puts Ecclesiastes in the Hellenistic Age, Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, p 19

[3] The final form of Proverbs even pays homage to Solomon with a numeric link – it contains 375 lines, the numeric value of his name. Dumbrell, W.J, The Faith of Israel, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 2nd Edition, p 263

[4] Burdett, D, ‘Wisdom Literature and the Promise Doctrine,’ Trinity Journal 3 (Spring 1974) p 3, Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, pp 104-109 on the royal nature of wisdom in Israel and the ANE, Brueggemann, W, Solomon: Israel’s ironic icon of human achievement, (Columbia: University of Southern Carolina Press, 2005), pp 116-117  follows Von Rad in describing a “Solomonic enlightenment,” though where Von Rad thought it was actual, Brueggemann sees fiction, Wilson, L, ‘The Place of Wisdom in Old Testament Theology,’ The Reformed Theological Review, vol 49, 1990, pp 60-69, at p 62

[5] Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, p 18, Ruffle, J, ‘The Teaching of Amenemope and Its Connection With the Book of Proverbs,’ Tyndale Bulletin 28, (1977), p 35, Ruffle dates Proverbs in the reign of Solomon, suggesting the scribes and counselors mentioned throughout Samuel and Kings (2 Sa. 8:17; 15:37 20:25; 1 Ki. 4:3; 2 Ki. 22:8-10) were more than capable of producing the work, Whybray, N, Wisdom In Proverbs, p 20 suggest the wisdom movement may have originated under Solomon even if the claims of 1 Kings are hyperbolic.

[6] See Whybray, N, Wisdom In Proverbs, pp 19-21

[7] Steinmann, A.E, op. cit, at p 660, Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, p 334, Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, p 24 describes the process of evolution with Ecclesiastes posited as a third century BC product, and a post-exilic date for Job and Proverbs 1-9.

[8] Kitchen, K.A, ‘Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East: The Factual History of a Literary Form,’ Tyndale Bulletin, 28, 1977, pp 69-114, This study also found that wisdom literature from the period often included an epilogue.

[9] Ruffle, ‘The Teaching of Amenemope and Its Connection With the Book of Proverbs,’ Tyndale Bulletin 28, (1977), p 35, citing Albright, W. F. Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East, Leiden (V. T. Stipp. 3) (1960), pp 1-15.

[10] Whybray, N, ‘Thoughts on the Composition of Proverbs 10-29,’ The Collected Articles of Norman Whybray, p 71

[11] Steinmann, op cit. pp 662-673

[12] Kitchen, K.A, ‘Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East’, pp 106-107, Dumbrell, W.J, The Faith of Israel, p 284 argues for an early dating of Ecclesiastes on the absence of certain Hebrew constructions that developed later.

[13] Kidner, D, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes, (Leicester: IVP-Academic, 1985) pp 74-75

[14]Again, for the purpose of theological interpretation whether or not that account is historiographic propaganda or accurate history is largely irrelevant, Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom: A reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006), pp 24-25 suggests that the allusions to Solomon can not be used for dating the work in a pre-exilic setting, but served to legitimise the works, at pp 26-27 he argues for such a dating on the basis of Qoheleth providing advice on life in a royal court.

[15] Waltke, B.K, ‘The Book of Proverbs and Ancient Wisdom Literature,’ Bibliotheca Sacra 136 (July-Sept. 1979), pp 211-238, see also Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at,’ p 37, Fox suggests Proverbs borrowing from Amenemope “proves communication was open for this most international of genres.”

[16] Wright, C.J.H, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Inter-Varsity Press: Nottingham, 2006, p 448

[17] Ruffle, op. cit, p 66

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The Wisdom Literature as an Apologetic: Part One

I’ve mentioned my theory on the wisdom literature a couple of times, in passing. I’ve decided researching and writing just for my lecturer is pretty boring. So I’m going to post my thinking (in the form of my essay) here for you to critique. It’s long. So I’ll do it in parts. Here’s the intro:

Where wisdom fits

The wisdom literature has been described as the “embarrassing step-child of Old Testament theology,”[1] because of both the clear influence of other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) wisdom, and because there was no obvious synergy with “redemptive history” frameworks.[2] Some consider the wisdom corpus as natural theology due to an absence of direct redemptive action from God, rather than direct revelation.[3]

Difficult waters were muddied further by suggestions that Job and Ecclesiastes were so theologically divergent from the Old Testament, they must be considered “protest literature,”[4] produced to directly refute the so called “acts-consequences nexus” supposedly identified in Proverbs.[5] This system of retribution was a common ANE belief,[6] and it has been demonstrated that elements of Israel’s community had adopted such a position.[7] Such a reading of Job and Ecclesiastes is possible. But I suggest such retributive theology was a syncretism with foreign beliefs, that Proverbs itself sought to redress, and more broadly that biblical wisdom is partly a theological corrective of ANE wisdom, which was inherently religious.[8]

The pursuit of wisdom, and the production of wisdom literature, was an important intellectual and theological pursuit in the ANE,[9] it crossed international borders.[10] Examinations of the relationship between the biblical wisdom corpus and the wisdom of surrounding nations have arrived at varying conclusions, though all acknowledge cross-pollination of wisdom ideas. Many have rightly rejected the notion that Israel imported ideas from surrounding nations to develop their own cult,[11] but few have suggested that Israel deliberately interacted with these foreign ideas in order to push people towards a life appropriately geared to the Fear of Yahweh.

The foreign influence in the wisdom literature is apparent on the surface, Proverbs lists two foreign kings as authors, and none of the characters in Job are presented as Hebrew,[12] below the surface the wisdom corpus reveals a deep familiarity with contemporary ANE wisdom.[13]

This piece synergises the international influence, and the theological “protest” undergirding the text, by adopting an interpretive rubric that places the wisdom literature within Israel’s redemptive narrative. The wisdom corpus provides a Yahweh-centric approach to the same eternal questions as ANE wisdom, with the “fear of the Lord” offered as a theological corrective.[14]

Scholarly consensus is that wisdom literature describes Yahweh as the “guarantor of order that makes life in the world possible,[15] most ANE wisdom concerned itself with understanding that order,[16] Egyptian wisdom placed the order in the hands of the king, who controlled Ma’at, while Israel’s king sought to place the control rightly in the hands of Yahweh.[17]


[1] Brueggemann, W, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, (Fortress Press: Mieapolis), 1997, p 334, or “errant child” Clement, R. E, ‘Wisdom and Old Testament Theology,’ Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1995, p 271

[2] Brueggemann, W, Theology of the Old Testament, p 334, a summary of the “redemptive history” understanding and its synchronisation with the wisdom literature can be found in Hubbard, D.A, ‘The Wisdom Movement and Israel’s Covenant Faith,’ Tyndale Bulletin 17 (1966) pp 3-33, on wisdom’s international origins and lack of covenantal features being interpretively problematic see Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1992), 2002 Edition, pp 20-22

[3] Burdett, D, ‘Wisdom Literature and the Promise Doctrine,’ Trinity Journal 3 (Spring 1974) p 2

[4] Dell, K.J, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature, (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1991), Morrow, W.S, Protest Against God: The Eclipse of a Biblical Tradition, (Sheffield: Phoenix Press, 2007), pp 129-146

[5] Essentially the idea that righteousness automatically produced material reward, and wickedness produced punishment, for a discussion regarding how appropriate it is to find such a nexus in Proverbs see Waltke, B, ‘Does Proverbs Promise Too Much?,’ Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1996, Vol. 34, No.2, pp 333-334 and Lucas, E, Proverbs: The Act-Consequence Nexus, forthcoming

[6] Beaulieu, P-A, ‘The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,’ Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, ed Clifford, R.J, Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series No 36, SBL: Atlanta, 2006, p 7 suggests that “every important Mesopotamian text” presupposes that individual misfortune flows from failure to meet the prescribed actions of the gods, Whybray, N, ‘Two Jewish Theologies: Job and Ecclesiastes.’ Wisdom: The Collected Works of Norman Whybray, ed. Whybray, R.N, Dell, K.J, Barker, M, () p 180 – suggests the Old Testament shares the “naïve assumption that virtue brings its own reward” with the ANE world. Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at: a crooked parallel,’ JANES 23, 1995 pp 37-48 urges caution with applying the Egyptian concept of Ma’at to this notion or a retributive order.

[7] Some argue that Israel developed a calcified reading of Proverbs and a notion of Deuteronomic blessings and curses being applied to the individual. Many have suggested that this is the underlying philosophy of Job’s three friends as they seek to explain his suffering. Their assumption that he is suffering as the result of this retributive theology leads them to place the blame for his circumstances wrongly on his head see Zimmerli, Walther, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ Man and His Hope in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, SCM Press, London, 1971, pp 16-19, Shields, M.A, The End of Wisdom: A reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, (Eisenbrauns, 2006), p 15

[8] Beaulieu, P-A, ‘The Social and Intellectual Setting of Babylonian Wisdom Literature,’ pp 6-7 a survey of Mesopotamian wisdom literature summarised the concerns of the “traditionally defined” wisdom books as “the rejection of hubris, the acceptance of human mortality, and ultimately on the submission to fate and to the order created by the gods.”

[9] Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1992), 2002 Edition, p 17, Ruffle, op. cit, p 36, Clifford, R.J, The Wisdom Literature, (Nashville, Abington Press), 1998, p 40 “Biblical wisdom literature is thus truly international, being found in the great empires that dominated Israel’s world as well as in the geographically closer cities of the Levant.”

[10] See, for example, Whybray, N, Wisdom In Proverbs: The Concept of Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9, (London: SCM Press, 1965), pp 15-16 on the international conversation taking place between scribes and sages across international borders.

[11] For example, Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at,’ p 48

[12] On the link this implies with ANE wisdom see Day, J, ‘Foreign Semitic Influence on the wisdom of Israel and its appropriation in the book of Proverbs, Wisdom in Ancient Israel, ed Day, J, Gordon, R.P & Williamson, H.G.M, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1995, pp 55-56, Day suggests this international flavour means Israel’s “wise men” were more internationally minded than others within Israel.

[13] Wisdom that Von Rad points out is under the subject of divine judgment (Wisdom that is the subject of divine judgment (Isaiah 19:11; 44:25; Ezekiel 28:12ff; and Obadiah 1:8), Von Rad, G, Wisdom in Israel, p 319

[14] Williams, J.G, Those Who Ponder Proverbs (Sheffield: Almond, 1981), p 53, as an analogous point – scholars have long considered the Genesis account of creation as a corrective of creation narratives from surrounding cultures including the Enuma Elish a view that has reached broad acceptance with varying nuance. Enns, P, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), pp 26-27 notes the comparisons with the Enuma Elish and suggests the contrast in theology was a deliberate contrast with the reigning Babylonian authority.

[15] Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, p 336

[16] This search for order has oft been conflated with the Egyptian concept of Ma’at, which has been traditionally understood as the personification of the truth or order underpinning creation – even the gods were subject to this order. Many have commented on its link with the presuppositions of Biblical wisdom – see Zimmerli, Walther, ‘Expressions of Hope in Proverbs and The Book of Job,’ Man and His Hope in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, SCM Press, London, 1971, p 15, however Fox, M.V, ‘World Order and Ma’at: a crooked parallel,’ JANES 23, 1995 pp 37-48, at p 38 suggests the scholarly depiction of Ma’at as relating to order is wrong and that it almost exclusively means “truth and justice,” he suggests that the concept of a fundamental order of creation was foreign to both Israel and Egypt (p 41) and that Ma’at, like Yahweh, was understood as the “creator of order.” Clements, R.E, Wisdom in Theology, pp 45-46 suggest wisdom attempted to grasp the natural order of society, creation and the realm of human conduct.

[17] Fox, ‘World Order and Ma’at,’ p 41

Do not disturb: Essay in Progress

I probably won’t post much here in the next 24 hours. I’m trying to cut 2,000 words out of my essay on the wisdom literature. I got a bit carried away.

Here’s a paragraph that didn’t make the grade.

“The assumption that the permeation of foreign theology into Israel was a one-way osmosis is untenable in the light of the Biblical account. This idea, that foreign wisdom, and religious practices, seeped readily across Israel’s borders, but did not go both ways is not consistent either with the biblical account, especially the account of Solomon’s reign – our suggested key to unlocking the purpose of the wisdom literature.”

And by “our” I mean “my”…

And another off-cut:

“It seems that Israel was a participant in an international wisdom conversation, engaging in rich theological discourse both at home and abroad. This conversation was analogous to the conversation occurring in the pages of today’s peer-reviewed journals, serving to keep the nation of Israel focused on Yahweh despite the distractions of foreign gods, and offering a wisdom grounded firmly in the fear of the Lord to surrounding nations.”

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The bones of my Wisdom Literature = cultural evangelism argument

I’m getting closer to putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for my Old Testament essay that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I still haven’t found many scholars who take the line I’m taking – and those that do come from a particular “missional” bent when interpreting scripture.

But here’s the flow of my logic – feel free to critique…

  1. God, from the very beginning, has been Lord of the whole world
  2. He selected Israel to be his chosen people.
  3. His promises to Abraham, involving Israel’s choseness included a promise that Israel would be a blessing to the nations – 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;  and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
  4. Israel’s laws included laws for dealing with sojourners – those foreigners who chose to become Israelites.
    • Exodus 12: 48 An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. 49 The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.”
    • Leviticus 17 suggests that these converts are “his people”: “8 “Say to them: ‘Any Israelite or any alien living among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9 and does not bring it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to the LORD -that man must be cut off from his people.”
    • Numbers 15: “For the generations to come, whenever an alien or anyone else living among you presents an offering made by fire as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, he must do exactly as you do. 15 The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the LORD : 16 The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.'”
  5. We see examples of foreigners coming into citizenship of Israel, and testifying to YHWH’s rightful position because they’ve heard of God’s greatness. For example, Rahab, as Israel occupy the land of Canaan: “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
  6. The nations are most blessed, throughout the Biblical narrative – including in the Old Testament – when they recognise YHWH’s position via Israel’s faithful example.
    • Deuteronomy 4:5-8: “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
      Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’
      For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”
    • Micah 4:2 seems to me to hark back to the glory days of Solomonic rule (at least as it’s reported in 1 Kings – and I’ll get to that soon) – 2 Many nations will come and say,  “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,  to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 3 He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
  7. On this basis I think it’s fair to assume that Israel was to have some sort of interaction with the surrounding nations where they would notice this difference.
  8. The wisdom literature borrows content and ideas pretty heavily from surrounding, contemporary philosophies – and corrects them, offering “the fear of the Lord” as the beginning of true knowledge and wisdom.
  9. It seems that in the era in which the wisdom literature was produced sages and wise people were popular, schools of philosophical thought may have been operating around the traps, and ideas were flowing across national boundaries.
  10. It follows, in my mind, that these works from Israel’s wise people may have been a contribution to this international conversation – offering the fear of YHWH as this basis for wisdom.
  11. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (and the Song of Solomon) are linked to Solomon – whether he actually wrote them or this is a fictive link is irrelevant. I think we’re meant to read them in the light of Solomon’s reign, as documented in the Bible. I’d also suggest that the accounts of foreign dignitaries and thinkers flocking to hear Solomon’s ministry of wisdom confirms both points 9 and 10 above.

    • Solomon’s dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8 is a starting point: “ 41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name- 42 for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name…59 And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, 60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. 61 But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”
    • 1 Kings 10 provides a picture of Israel’s Golden Age under the reign of Solomon – where the Abrahamic promises of Genesis 12 appear to be fulfilled – somewhat temporarily. The Queen of Sheba, on the basis of Solomon’s wisdom (and his relationship to YHWH) makes the following declaration: 9 Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.””
    • Towards the end of the chapter the description of Solomon’s reign focuses on his global impact (his blessing of the nations): 23 King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. 24 The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.”
  12. Psalm 72 appears to link Genesis 12 with Solomon’s reign…

    15 Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
    May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long.

    16 Let grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
    Let its fruit flourish like Lebanon;
    let it thrive like the grass of the field.

    17 May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.
    All nations will be blessed through him,
    and they will call him blessed.

    18 Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel,

    who alone does marvelous deeds.

    19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.

  13. The fear of the Lord is an important idea developed throughout the Old Testament – and often linked to the nations. It’s essential for Israel (see Deuteronomy 6), and Israel’s kings (1 Samuel 12). But it’s also the appropriate and expected response from the nations. For example, Egypt’s problem in the Exodus is that their officials do not fear the Lord. Joshua 4 links Israel’s conquest of the land with God’s desire for the nations to “fear the Lord.” Leviticus 19, quoted earlier, also contains instructions to “fear the Lord” (this link is tenuous – but it’s in a passage about “loving your neighbour” which deals with how to treat sojourners and converts). It’s what happens when Israel’s kings do the right thing (1 Chronicles 14, and their calling when Israel does the right thing in 1 Chronicles 16 – “tremble before him, all the earth“). There are other passages that link “the fear of the LORD” with the nations not taking certain actions against Israel (2 Chronicles 17). It’s also the particular focus of Proverbs (Proverbs 1, and then about a million other verses), a bunch of Psalms (eg Psalm 19, Psalm 22) the reason Job is held up as righteous (Job 1:8, 2:3), and the theological turning point in the book (Job 28:28), and the closing words (and “duty of Man”) in Ecclesiastes (Ecc 12:13-14).

So, my theory, is that rather than being riddled with inconsistent “acts-consequences” (eg you reap what you sow) theology (Proverbs) and the suffering of the innocent (Ecclesiastes, Job) – the wisdom books serve a unified, dual purpose. Firstly, they’re didactic for Israel – encouraging them to live out their obligations as a testimony to the nations of true wisdom, and a participation in an international “wisdom dialogue” advocating the fear of Israel’s Lord as the beginning of knowledge. And they’re to be read in the light of Solomon’s legendary reign and ministry of wisdom to the whole world.

What do you reckon?