Posts Tagged 'Wisdom Literature'

Panic Podcast: The Story of the Old Testament, Part 5

Good morning!  Here’s hoping you’re having a great week in the Lord so far.  In today’s podcast, I want to look at what we call “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible.  We’ll be spending some time in Proverbs, a book full of wisdom, so open up those Bibles and let’s get started.

Don’t forget to leave any prayer requests you may have in the comments section below.  Our prayer team at church is always ready to pray for you.  God bless you as we look to the Word.


Get Smart: Wisdom Psalms

The shoephone was cool.  The wisdom in Psalms is cooler.

The shoephone was cool. The wisdom in Psalms is cooler.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote:

Speak to each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19 NIrV)

We don’t know what hymns or spiritual songs he had in mind, but we do know which psalms: Any one of the 150 psalms of the Old Testament. Usually when we think of the psalms, we think of comfort and encouragement. When a believer is feeling low, nothing comforts or encourages like the Word of God and in particular a verse or two of a psalm. We don’t often think of Psalms as having much to do with wisdom, but the Psalter is actually part of the body of Biblical literature known as “Wisdom Literature,” along with Job, Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Referring back to that believer who may be feeling low, perhaps he needs a word of wisdom more than a word of comfort or encouragement. From a distressed position, one’s view of life is often skewed; wisdom is desperately needed to see things in the right perspective.

These so-called “wisdom psalms” generally extol God’s virtues and attributes, reminding us of who God is and how He behaves. It’s important to be reminded of God’s ways and ways of thinking because we so often forget that which Job knew so well:

How great God is! We’ll never completely understand him. (Job 36:26a NIrV)

Just so. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to understand as much of God as we can! But we also need to understand that there are parts of God we will never full grasp with our puny, finite minds. Given that “the fear of the Lord” is a vital component of all Wisdom Literature, knowing God involves a certain amount of awe or reverential fear.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10 NIV)

Martin Luther thought very highly of the all the Psalms. In fact, he believed the 150 psalms to be full of the person of Jesus Christ. For example, Jesus Christ is the blessed man of Psalm 1 because He perfectly fulfilled its teachings. Jesus is the man who is planted by the river, whose leaf never wilts. With respect to Mr Luther’s opinion, Psalm 1 is about a righteous man; any righteous man. It is also the first “wisdom psalm.”

Two ways, Psalm 1

The shortest and best commentary on this first Psalm and first wisdom psalm is something our Lord Himself said in Matthew’s Gospel:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13, 14 NIV)

That’s really the message of this psalm. We don’t know who wrote it, but the author presents two groups of people and two ways of living. There is the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. The righteous man is the blessed man, the one who heeds the laws of God and avoids sin. On the other hand, the wicked man who is not blessed for he deserves nothing from God. That’s an important doctrine put forth in Psalm 1; “the doctrine of rewards.” The righteous prosper and are happy while the wicked are fretful and of have a short life span. Of course, we all know exceptions to this doctrine, but the general principle is valid.

Blessed is the one who obeys the law of the Lord. He doesn’t follow the advice of evil people. (Psalm 1 NIrV)

The New International Readers Version makes the first incredibly simple. Here is a closer look at how it’s parent, the New International Version, expands verse 1 –

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers… (NIV)

The verbs in this verse show an obvious progression. The blessed person doesn’t walk, stand, or sit with sinners. The psalmist is not teaching that believers should avoid non-believers like the plague, but rather he is teaching that believers should have nothing in common with them. They shouldn’t “walk” the way sinners do; that is, they shouldn’t live like the sinner lives. They shouldn’t “stand” with sinners; that is, believers shouldn’t be associated in any way with sinners. And the believer shouldn’t “sit” with sinners, or in other words, a believer shouldn’t become sinner. You can see the progression. When a believer lives like a sinner, he soon becomes identified as a sinner, and if he doesn’t change his way, he becomes a sinner.

This is a negative verse for it shows how the blessed – the righteous – do not live. The true believer simply does not have anything to do with the ungodly beyond being concerned about the state of their souls and doing what they can to present the Gospel of salvation to them. The believer should never consider the advice of the ungodly, especially it that advice goes against the teachings of God. Taking the advice of the ungodly leads to becoming like the ungodly. Ungodly advice leads to taking their stand on moral and spiritual issues. Jerry Bridges makes a noteworthy observation on this important issue:

The world is characterized by the subtle and relentless pressure it brings to bear upon us to conform to its values and practices. It creeps up on us little by little. What was once unthinkable becomes thinkable, then doable, and finally acceptable to society at large. Sin becomes acceptable, and so Christians are no than five to ten years behind the world in embracing most sinful practices.

The insidious nature of the world was something the apostle Paul understood all-too well.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

Verse 2 is the positive side of verse 1:

Instead, he takes delight in the law of the Lord. He thinks about his law day and night. (Psalm 1:2 NIrV)

The blessed man has discovered the source of lasting happiness: he loves the Word of God and he reads it and thinks about it. The old saying is definitely supported by the teaching of this Psalm:

The Christian is Bible-bred, Bible-led, and Bible-fed.

The results of godliness are described symbolically.

He is like a tree that is planted near a stream of water. It always bears its fruit at the right time. Its leaves don’t dry up. Everything godly people do turns out well. (Psalm 1:3 NIrV)

The imagery is clever. A godly person has been “planted” or as the Anchor Bible says, “transplanted” near to a life-giving source: fresh water. God is the one who did the transplanting and because God is such a big part of the godly person’s life, he is productive and attractive in all that he does. The phrase, “everything godly people do” implies that the godly man will be doing those things that God approves of, and He therefore causes to turn out right.

The remainder of this very brief wisdom psalm is devoted to the state of the ungodly. In contrast to the beautifully healthy tree of the believer, the non-believer is described like this:

They are like straw that the wind blows away. (Psalm 1:4b NIrV)

The non-believer isn’t near a life-giving source and has no roots. The psalmist likely had in mind what happened on the threshing floor, on which the chaff or straw was beaten from the wheat. This threshing floor was usually located on high ground – a hill – so as to catch with wind. Wheat and chaff were thrown into the wind together with shovels. The heavier wheat would fall to the floor while the lighter, useless chaff was carried away on the breeze.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. (Psalm 1:5 NIV)

This is a very significant statement about the future of the ungodly. They will, first of all, be unable to “stand in the judgment.” Actually, there are both future and present aspects to this “judgment.” Eschatologically, at the Day of Judgment the ungodly will be unable to stand before God; there is no way they will survive the judgment of God. But in their present lives, they are unable to withstand the continual judgment of God’s ongoing providential sifting of their character. Richard Sibbes, Anglican theologian, wrote this:

The wicked are but as a book fairly bound which, when it is opened, is full of nothing but tragedies. So when the book of their consciences shall be once opened, there is nothing to be read by lamentations and woes.

In other words, no matter how happy a non-believer appears to be; no matter how “together” their life seems to be, they are empty, dissatisfied, unhappy lost souls in dire need of a relationship with God.

But the psalmist also wrote that the sinner “cannot sit in the assembly of the righteous.” He is referring to the community of faith; the Body of Christ; the Church. Sinners have no place in the pew of any true church. Having said that, it should be pointed out that even the most devoted, consecrated born again believer is still a sinner. The psalmist has in mind the sinner who habitually sins; whose life is marked by persistent sin, not by a desire to wrestle with and overcome temptation.

In behind the scenes of life, God is judging people, and the purpose of His present judgment is the same as that of the final, future judgment: to eradicate once and forever evil and evildoers from His Church (Matthew 13:24 – 30; 36 – 43).

The very last verse of the great wisdom psalm is very clever and may be the best summary of a teaching in the Bible:

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1:6 NIV)

The first phrase, “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,” summarizes verses 1 – 3. The second phrase, “the way of the wicked leads to destruction,” summarizes verses 4 and 5. The first three words of verse 6, “the lord watches” are important to understand. The psalmst is not saying that God is a passive observer of human activity on earth. The Hebrew, yada, has reference to a concrete (not abstract), careful, sometimes guiding, personal watching over.

Psalm 1 is a great psalm of wisdom that teaches the simplest truth ever: living a God-fearing, righteous life will be rewarded while living apart from God ends badly. The first and last words of this great psalm illustrate the contrast between the godly and ungodly: blessed and destruction.

Widsom, and its Rewards

A survey of Proverbs 3:1-12

The main idea behind chapter three of Proverbs is commitment to God’s will. The phrase “my son” connects this series of admonitions with the previous chapters; the teacher is teaching his son the ways of wisdom and here discusses the rewards of wisdom. There are a total of six expressions of wisdom in Proverbs 3.

One of the great themes of the book of Proverbs is the importance of acquiring “wisdom.” Although frequently portrayed as a woman throughout this book, we understand “wisdom” to be something much more than merely knowledge.

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

1. Remember the teaching, verses 1, 2

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,

for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you peace and prosperity.

The first exhortation is to remember the father’s teaching. Fritsch writes:

One of the golden words of religion is “remember.” There is no spiritual life or growth apart from the great spiritual heritage of the past. No religion recognized this truth more clearly than Judaism, with its strong emphasis on the teaching of its youth concerning the great facts and truths of its history.

A strong and vibrant faith is rooted on sound teaching based on unchangeable truths. That’s why faith cannot be based on the teachings of man because they change with whims of culture and from generation to generation.

The reward remembering the teachings (torah) are “long life” and “prosperity.” The first, “long life,” comes from the Hebrew hayyim, which suggests a life free from danger and trouble. The second, “prosperity,” is the Hebrew shalom, which means wholeness or completeness. It refers to the destiny God intends for one; thus it is the equivalent of what we might refer to as “salvation.”

2. Practice love and be faithful, verses 3, 4

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.

Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and humankind.

The word hesedh, “love” in the NIV is translated variously as “loyalty” and “mercy.” It is a difficult word to completely understand because it must be understood within the context of a covenant. The Teacher may have in mind here to practice “covenant-love,” or to be faithful within the bounds of a relationship.

“Faithfulness” is the Hebrew emeth and it means to be trustworthy and firm.

Judaism took the expressions “bind them” and “write them” literally. Phylacteries were little boxes that contained portions of Scripture and Jewish men wore them around their foreheads and on their hands.

The reward for this: finding favor with both God and man. In other words, you will be in a relationship with God; you will be God’s friend, and respected among men.

3. Trust and submit, verses 5, 6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

In all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

These two verses reflect the tenor of the entire book of Proverbs. Human wisdom is inadequate but God’s wisdom is sufficient guidance for life.

The word “trust,” batah, means to rely on someone for security; one should place their entire confidence in the Lord and not on human understanding. “With all your heart” and “all your ways” means a total commitment. Man’s hope should never in what he can do for himself, but on what God will do for him. The real danger to faith is that is will deteriorate into a system of works: pleasing God by what you can do for Him. God’s desires to be at the enter of our belief.

The reward? God will protect and guide you on your way. Moffatt writes:

He will clear the road for you.

The sense is that God will remove obstacles for you in laying a highway. Note what the prophet said because Isaiah uses the same word:

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

4. Don’t take yourself too seriously, verses 7, 8

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

This is essentially a repetition of what the Teacher said in verses 5 and 6: put your whole trust in the Lord. This kind of reverence will result in health and healing. This makes all kinds of sense. Imagine all the ulcers and stress headaches that could be avoided if people practiced the divine philosophy!

5. Recognize the centrality of God, verses 9-10

Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;

then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

This couplet of verses is designed to help the believer keep a proper perspective on the important things in life. We have been blessed with great material blessings, however, the Bible teaches that we are but stewards of all we have been given because it all belongs to God, Psalm 50.

Earl Wolf has correctly observed that the Christian need never fear that they will be the loser by giving to God.

“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:8-10)

Derek Kidner poignantly wrote:

To “know” God in our financial “ways” is to see that these honor Him.

God’s gifts to us are an expression of His goodness. He blesses us abundantly because He loves us and cares for us in abundance. Our gifts to God are an expression of our goodness to Him. Our gifts and offerings are not to be a means to an end, but rather our heartfelt response to all that God has done for us and what He means to us.

The reward? Full barns and bursting wine vats. In other words, the believer will have all that need and more.

6. Be grateful for discipline and reproof, verses 11-12

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,

because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

These verses contain a “double whammy.” The problem of human suffering is introduced here; sometimes good people who do the right things are not blessed with riches or strong bodies, and sometimes the wicked seem to be given all the breaks in life. Verse 12 is a solution to this problem: discipline and reproof are evidence that God loves us. Recall Hebrews 12:5-11.

The text does not indicate that we will ever understand the “why’s” of the Lord’s discipline, however, we can know God’s love is ours and that our lives are forever in His hands.

The other way to look at these verses is to understand that even the choicest of God’s servants does not enjoy a present life of uninterrupted blessings. We all experience the ups and downs of life, but adversity does not destroy the everlasting happiness of the child of God.

The reward for the patient and grateful acceptance of God’s discipline is a deepening awareness of our relationship with God; that He is our loving father, and that He is the center of our lives.

A Survey of Ecclesiastes, 3

End of the Search


Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.

The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

In these concluding verses of Ecclesiastes, the koheleth summarizes and concludes the matter. The Preacher, who at some point in his past, left the Lord for a time to explore life on his own, learned many valuable lessons, and as a result, he who Preached become one who Taught. After all, what good is knowledge if it can’t be passed on?

1. A model preacher

Here is good picture of a model preacher for Pastoral Search Committees. A model preacher should be:

  • A wise person. A good preacher should have a good education, that is, have secular knowledge. Knowledge is subservient to the preacher’s art and can be used by the preacher to get his point across to his listeners effectively and efficiently. But secular wisdom is never enough, a model preacher must have wisdom from above. Earthly wisdom changes and is temporary because the earth will pass away. But wisdom from God is eternal and never changes because He is eternal. One commentator wrote: “A preacher without the former wisdom may be rude; without the latter he must be ineffective.”
  • A student. Like the Preacher, he must be always learning, seeking out wisdom and teaching it others. Like Timothy, he must do it with his focus on God, 1 Timothy 4:13. In particular, the model preacher must be a student of: (1) the Word of God, 2 Tim. 3:16; (2) human nature, so he can relate to the people around him, Isa. 53:3; (3) the world around him, Romans 1:18—20.
  • A skillful teacher. All the men of God were able to teach Scripture to others. Consider: Ezra, Nehemiah 8:8; Jesus Christ, Mark 10:1; the apostles, Acts 4:2; 11:26; 18:25; etc.

The model preacher needs to know three words:

  • Words of truth. What the preacher imparts to others must be words of objective truth, not his own thoughts and opinions.
  • Words of uprightness. 2 Cor. 4:2; 13
  • Words of delight. The model preacher must be able to convey the objective truth of Scripture to people so as to inspire them to dig deeper in the Word of God themselves. W.F. Adeney once said, “Dullness, darkness, dryness, deadness, are inexcusable faults in a preacher.”

2. Reading, Writing, Speaking

Looking at the life of Solomon, we can find some more applications for those of us who sit in the pew. Consider the following points, courtesy of Sir Francis Bacon:

A. Reading makes a full man

Of course, pushed to the extreme can make a man boring, and it’s not all that healthy, either, see 12:12. However, when pursued in moderation, it can serve to educate the mind and add to one’s understanding of many things, see 8:1.

B. Writing makes a correct man

In other words, take notes during Bible study and during the sermon! This is important for a number of reasons, including: (1) Note taking promotes clearness of thought. You listen more carefully to a sermon or a teaching and you summarize what you hear. Often the Lord speaks to us through the words of a sermon. (2) Keeps your mind from wandering. Paying attention to what is being said, writing down key points, will help keep you focused and, as a side benefit, the pastor becomes a better preacher. (3) Helps make sense of a sermon. As one writer so aptly stated: If brevity is the soul of whit, and loquacity the garment of dullness, the the sure way of attaining the former, and avoiding the latter, is to write.

C. Speaking makes a ready man

Solomon said it best in 12:11. Don’t be afraid to tell people about your faith. Take your notes to heart, and share the Word. Living your faith is important, but speaking about it important too. (1) Your words stimulate. That is, they make people think. They may also be persuasive. (2) They stay with people. The Word of the Lord, spoken by the preacher or the hearer, lodge in people’s hearts, see Isaiah 55:11.

3. The conclusion of the matter is the duty of man

Verses 13 and 14 give us Solomon’s wrap up. Really, man’s duty seems pretty simple.

The essence of man’s duty is two fold: (1) The fear of God. This is not servile or guilty fear, but rather it is: reverential fear (Deut. 28:58; Matt. 10:28; Heb. 12:9). (2) The service of God. This is not just outward worship (Deut. 7:11; Heb. 10:25), but inward devotion (John 4:24), which expresses itself in obedience to God’s Word.

The reason for man’s devotion to God is obvious: the certainty of judgment. (1) God is the judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25), of all (Heb. 12:23); and He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). (2) The judgment is yet to come. This will happen in the world to come (Dan. 7:10; Matt. 11:22; 16:27, etc.). (3) It will be a judgment of works. For the believer, God will judge man’s works. God will judge the individual (Rom. 2:5—6); He will judge the inside of man, not just the outside (Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:5); not of good works only, but also of evil works (2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Pet. 2:9).

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