As we continue our series in exploring the narrative of the Bible, we will eventually come to a set of books best known as the “Wisdom Literature”. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job are all part of the Jewish wisdom literature of the Bible. Even though there is much to learn in these books about wisdom, they also continue and play into the overall narrative of the Hebrew Bible and link largely to the story of Christ. We will break down each of these books to see how they all fit together as part of the Bible. Let’s get started.
We first come to Proverbs in our wisdom series. Proverbs is a book that is directly linked to Solomon. This whole book is dominated by mostly ancient proverbs about living a good moral life that came from Solomon. However, it is the beginning and end of the book that really plays a role in the narrative, and as we will see, it all points back to the garden narrative and forward to Jesus. The main theme of Proverbs is the pursuit of wisdom and wisdom is personified as a woman all throughout the book. This Lady Wisdom is the figure that humanity is supposed to desire. In the Eden narrative, we were meant to live and rule by God’s wisdom but we ultimately failed in giving in to the tree of knowledge of good and bad and defining evil for ourselves. The book of Proverbs is like a refresher to point us back to our original source of wisdom, God. We see in Proverbs 9:10 that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. If we want to attain this wisdom, we must fear Yahweh and then we will begin to understand His wisdom. Lady Wisdom is personified as a woman possibly for many reasons. If this is to be connected to Solomon, then this is a link to Solomon saying how he should have pursued Lady Wisdom figuratively instead of all the foreign women which led to his downfall. It can be universally applied to a man in pursuit of a woman. We should all be in pursuit and going after God’s wisdom instead of giving in to our own desires and wants. So Proverbs leads us to the fact that we need God’s wisdom to live and rule like He intended us to, and we can also see why Jesus had to come. With sin ruling our lives, Lady Wisdom has no pull on us. With Jesus forgiving our sins and blotting them out, there is room for a new humanity and it allows us to rule with God’s wisdom.
The book of Song of Songs is an interesting book and one that most Christians avoid because of its semi-erotic love poetry that seems uncomfortable to most readers. When we actually dig into this book and put it in its historical Jewish context, however, we discover how it fits into the storyline of the Bible. It is most connected to Solomon but it can argued either way. When compared to the book of Proverbs, there are striking similarities between Proverbs and Song of Songs. Even though the theme that sticks out the most is love between a man and a woman, we can compare this relationship to Lady Wisdom and humanity. In Proverbs, humanity was the one in pursuit of God’s wisdom and it was dominantly a male’s voice coming from Solomon. In the Song of Songs, the woman is in pursuit of her lover for most of the book and the voice is dominantly the female voice in the poetry. When we look at the woman as the female personification as God’s wisdom, we get a complete role change from Proverbs. In Proverbs, humanity was on a quest for wisdom and now in Song of Songs, wisdom is on the quest for humanity. Both of these books work hand-in-hand to describe both sides of the relationship between humanity and God’s quest for wisdom. It is another link back to the garden narrative. In the garden, Eve was the “deceived deceiver”. Now in Song of Songs, the woman is expressed as the perfect Eve who desires for lover (humanity) to be hers and to abide with her.
We then reach a book called Ecclesiastes which is full of depressed realizations about life and death and how unfair life is. It is certainly not a book that is meant to cheer you up but it has very important lessons for us to learn and there is a very good reason it is in the Hebrew Bible. The voice of the character in the story is most commonly associated with Solomon but there are other reasons to assume it may have been a bunch of people referred to as one. The most common word found in this book is the word “meaningless” in some translations and this translation only adds to the confusion. The Hebrew word used here for “meaningless” is the word “hevel” which is meant to mean a vapor or a vanishing wind that is here and gone. This is to show how fleeting life and we are in the world. Ecclesiastes goes on a little journey to develop an idea of all the facets of wealth and honor one can gain in life. Possessions, honor, money, advancement in work, all good things in life the Teacher says is “hevel” and fleeting. This is to show how rooted the tree of knowledge of good and bad is in the world. All of these things we strive for in life, honor and wealth and etc, it is an example of a grab at the tree. When we strive for these things we are taking from the tree and thus defining what is good for ourselves by trying to meet our own desires. We instead, as we have learned through the Hebrew Scriptures, must allow God to define what is good and bad by His wisdom. This life is full of heartache, injustice, and ultimately death and Ecclesiastes reflects on all of this. This is to show us that there is blessing, honor, and life in God’s wisdom. When we take from the tree, it leads to death. When we rule by God’s wisdom, it leads to life. Ecclesiastes ends by saying the conclusion of all of that the Teacher has studied and experienced is to “fear Yahweh and keep his commands” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). When we look back at Proverbs, we should recall that fearing Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. It is the beginning of the wisdom that leads to life in this hevel world.
The book of Job is often very confusing and raises so many questions when we read it. It starts out by Job being set up as this righteous man who has been so richly blessed by God. Then the satan comes and asks to mess with Job in a sense to test him to see if he will remain faithful to God or not. Then God allows the Satan to do this and Job suffers horrifically. Then for almost the rest of the book, there is constant dialogue between Job and friends who are trying to comfort him but they don’t really succeed in that role. Finally, Job prays for the friends and his wealth and health are restored and the book ends. There are so many questions we can dive into but we are going to try and stick to our purpose for this article. So we have a man who is pictured as a wonderful man who suffers almost unfairly. He never curses God as the satan was trying to get him to do. He passes the test, which is something we haven’t seen too often. A human who doesn’t give in to the tree. So finally we have this person who does this and yet sin is not done away with completely and so he cannot be the seed we have been looking for. He is described as a reflection of the seed of the woman but he is not the one. The story of Job does so much for the storyline but the main thing it does is show that someone must suffer like Job did, and somehow crush the head of the snake. The snake must strike the heel of the seed and the seed will crush the snake’s head. This means that Job points back to the garden and points us forward in the narrative to when Jesus comes and restores the relationship between God and His people and rescues us all. It is a beautiful reflection of what has happened and what is to come.