The Story of the Bible: The Wisdom Books

Today’s post is the third installment in a series that breaks the story of the Bible down into ten ‘chapters’. Read Chapter One and Chapter Two.

The third major chapter of the Bible turns from history to reflection. Some scholars call Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon the “Poetic Books.” They certainly are poetic in the Hebrew sense of parallel thought or expression of ideas. But the thematic focus of these books is worship and wisdom. The Psalms, known in Hebrew as “the book of praises,” promote worship by declaring the works and attributes of God. Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon promote wisdom, telling God’s people not only how to live, but to live with God’s blessing.

As the ancient Israelites looked to the priests for instruction from the Torah, so they looked to wise men and women for guidance and counsel on how to live life successfully. Together the sages of Israel declare, “Wisdom has the advantage of giving success” (Ecclesiastes 10:10). In other words, if you want to live a happy and successful life, then follow the words of the wise. And the secret to success, according to the wisdom writers, is to practice “the fear of the Lord” (Job 28:28, Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, Ecclesiastes 12:13). The “fear of the Lord” characterizes both the ideal woman (Proverbs 31:30) and the successful man (Psalm 115:13, 147:11).

The wisdom writers tell us that “fearing God” begins with knowing God.

The fear of the Lord has been a greatly misunderstood concept. Most people think this involves dread, apprehension, and trembling before God. But this is not the fundamental response of one who truly fears God. The wisdom writers tell us that “fearing God” begins with knowing God. If you know that He is holy, just, sovereign, all-powerful and eternal, you can’t help but respect Him and want to please Him. The fear of the Lord is really an action-oriented response to God that is sourced in knowledge of God’s will and a whole-hearted response to it.

According to Israel’s sages, the fear of the Lord involves departing from evil, obeying God’s commandments, and sharing God’s attitude toward sin. By the fear of the Lord we walk in His ways, avoid the complications of sin, and enjoy the blessings that come with successful living. Like the tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:3), the wise and God fearing person will prosper. This is a chapter of the story of the Bible that those aspiring to success in life can’t afford to miss!

 

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Loving Your Enemy: A Biblical Alternative to Revenge” (Ministry: International Journal for Pastors, July 2011).