The Wisdom Literature of the Bible isn’t as simple as it looks

The Wisdom Literature of the Bible isn’t as simple as it looks November 6, 2018

In one sense, Biblical wisdom literature is super simple. To pick a Proverb at random:

“A faithful witness does not lie,
but a false witness breathes out lies.” (Proverbs 14:5, ESV)

That statement is obviously true, so much so that it is very nearly a tautology. The application isn’t terribly difficult either: we should tell the truth and only listen to people who tell the truth. But, where does this Proverb fit in with the grand scheme of Scripture? For that matter, what is the “theology” of Proverbs, and how does it sync up with other wisdom literature, and the Bible as a whole?

These are the sorts of difficult questions tackled by Richard Belcher in Finding Favour in the Sight of God, a new book in the series “New Studies in Biblical Theology.” If you’ve not encountered this series before, you should take a look. Some of the books in it are more academic and scholarly than will be of use to the layman, while others are more accessible (without being dumbed down). But all of the ones I’ve read so far have been worthwhile, even a few of them took focus and effort. This particular volume certainly has its more academic moments (Belcher gives overviews of scholarly interpretations of each subject that can be a challenge to wade through if you’re not familiar with the language), but overall it is readable enough for those who are willing to put in the effort.

Image: IVP

Finding Favour in the Sight of God book engages the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and provides excellent exposition and application of each. Even more, the robust Biblical theology presents each of these books in a way that clearly explains their individual internal coherence as well as their place in the overall narrative arc of the Bible (the primary purpose of Biblical theology in the first place).

Which isn’t to say that Belcher throws us any curve balls. The chapters on Job deal with the problem of suffering in light of the mystery of God’s justice and providence. The chapters on Proverbs engage the relationship between Godly wisdom, natural and reasonable observations of the world, and the life we are called to live. The chapters on Ecclesiastes are depressing when taken in isolation, and encouraging when put in the context of the rest of Scripture. The first chapter in Finding Favour in the Sight of God discusses overall problems with wisdom literature in the Bible, while the last chapter talks about Christ and the these three wisdom books.

Overall, this book is excellent and worth reading. Especially for those preparing to preach through the Bible’s wisdom literature.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO. He is not very wise.

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