Interpreting Wisdom Literature Part 10

Posted By Thomas Perez. December 16, 2010 at 7:41pm.

I. Introduction to Wisdom Literature

A. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to know and apply God’s truth and knowledge to one’s life. Biblical wisdom, therefore, is not just knowing what is true, it is also applying what is true to one’s life. Knowing without doing is not biblical wisdom.

B. Wisdom literature in the Bible. Wisdom literature can be found in various books of the Bible, but there are four books that are primarily wisdom literature:

1. Job

2. Proverbs

3. Ecclesiastes

4. Song of Solomon

II. Principles for Interpreting Job

A. Notice that chapters 1–2 and 38–42 are in narrative form, but chapters 3–37 are in the form of poetry.

B. Realize that the chapters 3–37 record the mostly wrong statements and conclusions of Job’s four friends. Thus, be careful when trying to apply truths or principles from these sections.

C. The overarching purpose of the Book of Job is to show that God is sovereign over everything that happens, including occurrences when bad things happen to good people. The troubles of life may remain a mystery to us, but we must trust God and know that He knows what He is doing.

III. Principles for Interpreting Proverbs Proverbs is a collection of pithy statements that give advice and general knowledge about how people should act and speak.

A. Realize that proverbs are brief statements of truth comprised in a catchy way. They are not intended to give all the truth there is on a particular subject.

B. Proverbs give general truths and advice and are not ironclad promises. For example, they do not absolutely promise material prosperity to those who follow God or guarantee that all children of godly parents will turn out to be godly themselves (Prov. 22:6). Proverbs 10: 3 says, “The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger.” This is generally true although certain exceptions to the contrary have happened.

C. When culturally-specific language is used, find the main principle of the proverb and apply it in a way that makes sense for today. For example, references to “kings” can be applied to governors and presidents today.

IV. Principles for Interpreting Ecclesiastes

A. Note that Ecclesiastes offers wisdom from a cynical format. It tries to drive home to the reader that life apart from God is totally meaningless. Thus, the depressing and seemingly hopeless nature of the book is for a purpose.

B. Note that Ecclesiastes is driving the reader to the truths of chapter 12 that only God gives meaning to life and that everything we do matters because we will all face our Creator on the Day of Judgment.

V. Principles for Interpreting the Song of Solomon

A. Realize that the Song of Solomon uses highly figurative language to express the beauty of romantic love within the confines of a monogamous husband-wife relationship.

B. Realize that although the Song of Solomon uses figurative language, this book is not an allegorical description of God’s relationship with Israel or God’s relationship with the Church – though some consider it as such – this is more a matter of opinion rather than a matter of debatable worthiness.

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