Trinity Journal 13NS (1992) 3-20.
Copyright © 1992 by Trinity Journal, cited with permission.
The famous poem on wisdom in Job 28 asks a crucial question:
"Where can wisdom be found, where is the place of understanding?"
(28:12). Although this question was quite appropriate in Job's
situation of suffering and confusion, it should not be necessary to ask
"this question any longer. OT theologians know where wisdom can be
found. Wisdom is from God and it is found in his revelation,
particularly in biblical wisdom literature. But this response may be
nothing more than a cliche, for few biblical theologians have given
wisdom ideas equal status with salvation history in their
theological understanding of the OT wisdom theology is often
simply ignored or purposely excluded; thus, the place of wisdom in
OT theology is still a live debate.
This problem would be easier to face if wisdom literature was
not included in the canon of Scripture or if it was condemned as
knowledge that contradicted divine insight. Since this is not the
case, why does wisdom literature appear to be a stranger in many
OT theologies? In order to address this problem, several key
questions need to be raised: 1) Why do some theologians exclude
wisdom literature from OT theology? 2) What solutions have been
offered to give wisdom literature a firm position within OT
theology? 3) What are the central themes in the wisdom theology
of the book of Job? and, 4) What are some distinctive and common
elements between wisdom theology and salvation history?
I. WHY DO SOME SCHOLARS EXCLUDE WISDOM FROM OT
Although few would argue that wisdom literature is
unbiblical, its true status is in question because so many biblical
theologies fail to give it an authoritative place within their
overall understanding of biblical revelation.1 In some cases there is
*Gary V. Smith is Professor of Old Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary
1 L Koehler, Old Testament Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1957) has
only three references to wisdom in the scripture index and no discussion of the
theology of wisdom.
4 TRINITY JOURNAL
no rationale to explain this omission-wisdom is simply omitted.
By making only a few references to the wisdom books, OT
theologians shove to the side the concepts of wisdom literature and
do not treat them as Integral parts of the biblical worldview. This
repeated omission of one section of the canon is symptomatic of a
fundamental problem, a weakness in the modern understanding of
the nature and breadth of
C. Westermann faces the issue head on and reveals why
wisdom is not a part of his theology. He excludes wisdom literature
because "wisdom has no place within the basic framework of an OT
theology, since it originally and in reality does not have as its
object an occurrence between God and man; in its earlier stages
wisdom is overwhelmingly secular."3 Westermann's exclusion of
wisdom literature is based on his "historical" definition of biblical
theology and his "secular" description of wisdom. Biblical
theology is a "history of God and man whose nucleus is the
experience of saving";4 thus "an OT theology must be based on
events rather than concepts."5 Since wisdom literature does not
describe God's great acts of election, covenant giving, or redemption
theology. G. E. Wright, following von Rad's emphasis on salvation
history, concludes that "Biblical theology is the confessional
recital of the redemptive acts of God in a particular history."6
Because of this definition, Wright admits that "in any attempt to
outline a discussion of Biblical faith, it is the wisdom literature
which offers the chief difficulty, because it. does not fit into
type of faith exhibited In the historical and prophetic
literature."7 Is it legitimate to call one "type of faith" normative
Iand exclude the other? Are these two expressions of beliefs
exclusive of one another and contradictory? Are these modem
evaluative statements representative of the broad perspective of
biblical faith? Can a narrow limitation of beliefs to only one
stream of tradition be Justified?
Although the salvation history movement has properly
focused attention on God's unique acts of grace
2 C. H. H. Scobie ("The Place of Wisdom in Biblical Theology," BTB
14  43) calculates the small amount of space given to wisdom in recent OT theologies.
3 C. Westermann,
Elements of Old Testament Theology (
1978) 11. In another study (Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church
4 Westermann, Theology, 11.
5 Ibid., 9.
6 C. E. Wright, God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital (SBT 8;
SCM, 1952) 13, 38, 57.
7 Ibid., 103.
SMITH: WISDOM 5
limited revelation to God's salvific acts on behalf of his covenant
people. B. Albrecktson has shown that the ancient Near Eastern
religions also described their gods as acting in history. This was not
a cultural or theological distinctive which was uniquely Israelite.8
J. Barr rejected the view that God only reveals himself through
historical acts.9 The a priori inclusion of only certain approved
theological concepts or literary genres and the exclusion of wisdom
theology is unwarranted and prejudicial.10 It would be more
appropriate to derive OT theology from all sources of divine
Although wisdom literature has been a part of the canonical
text for centuries, von Rad classified the wisdom writings as
which raise questions about the revelatory quality of wisdom are
the absence of the prophetic "thus says the Lord," the emphasis on
learning from the observation of nature, the derivation of
principles from the experience of older wise men, and the discovery
of somewhat similar wisdom texts in
These factors caused some to conclude that wisdom literature was
anthropocentric, secular, universalistic, and rationalistic, not
divine revelation that was Israelite in theology. H. Gese observes
that "it is well known that wisdom literature constitutes an alien
body in the world of the Old Testament."12 Those who hold this
view frequently believe that references to the "fear of God" in
\wisdom texts are later additions by post-exilic scribes who were
attempting to make wisdom more Yahwistic in flavor.13
The ramifications of ignoring wisdom literature or denying its
revelatory character have devastating implications for the
authority and character of canonical writings and on any attempt to
integrate the diverse theological material within the OT. Preuss's
recommendation that one "must refuse to give Old Testament
8 B. Albrecktson, History and the Gods (ConBOT 1; Lund: Gleerup, 1967).
9 J. Barr, Old and New in Interpretation (New York: Harper & Row, 1966) 65-82.
10 See the criticisms of salvation history in J. T. Clemons, "Critics and Criticism
of Salvation History," Religion in Life 41 (1972) 89-100; and D. G. Spriggs, Two Old
Testament Theologies (Naperville: Allenson, 1974) 34-59. For the position that
salvation history is not more Yahwistic than wisdom, see R. E. Murphy, The Tree of
Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature (New York: Doubleday, 1990)
11 G. von Rad, Theology of the Old Testament (2 vols.;
12 H. Gese, Lehre una Wirklichkeit in der alten Weisheit (Tiibingen: Mohr [
Siebeck], 1958) 2.
13 G. von Rad, Wisdom in Israel [.Nashville: Abingdon, 1972] .9, 61-64) refutes
the idea that the fear of the Lord sayings were added at a later time because God
was always understood as having an important part in all behavioral consequences.
This is not a late enlightened idea, as he had maintained earlier m his theology.
6 TRINITY JOURNAL
wisdom a place"14 in OT theology needs to be corrected, and so must
the trend to ignore wisdom literature. To alleviate this problem,
several authors have suggested possible ways of giving wisdom a
significant place within OT theology.
II. HOW DO SOME SCHOLARS INCLUDE WISDOM IDEAS
WITHIN OT THEOLOGY?
Wisdom theology has been included in OT theology by: 1)
connecting the "fear of the Lord" concept in wisdom writings to its
usage in cultic, legal, and prophetic texts; 2) drawing on the
similarities between the instructions within wisdom literature and
the laws in the Pentateuch; and 3) making wisdom theology a part
of creation theology.15 Each of these approaches offers suggestive
correlation which must be evaluated carefully.
No one doubts that the "fear of the Lord" is a key idea within
wisdom literature. D. Kidner calls it the motto of Proverbs, while
Gemser says it is the "keyword of
twofold sense of basic principle as well as the best fruit of
Wisdom."16 The choice of this concept is based on the use of "the
fear of the Lord" at strategic locations at the beginning and end of ;
Proverbs (1:7; 31:30), the frequency of the root xry in Proverbs (22
times in verbal and noun clauses), and the fundamental connection
between the fear of the Lord and wisdom. Although this root IS less
frequent in Job (16 times) and Ecclesiastes (9. times), .several times it .
is placed at the climax of a section (Job 28.28. Eccl. 12.13).
J. Becker's study of the fear of the Lord defined three primary
semantic meanings for the phrase: 1) in a moral context it describes
a human relationship to God that results in upright behavior; 2) in
a cultic context this relationship to God produces acceptable
worship and honoring of God; and 3) in a legal context a God-fearer
obeys God's instructions.17 In each case fear includes a reverence and
unconditional submission to the sovereign majesty of God. With the
fear of God comes a deep faith commitment to the power, holiness,
and wisdom of God. These points of continuity are present in the
14 H. O. Preuss, "Erwagungen zum theologischen Ort alttestamentlicher
Weisheitliteratur," EvT 30 (1970) 393-417.
15 Some have attempted other methods, but these are the three main
approaches. E.g., L. E. Toombs ("O. T. Theology and the Wisdom Literature," JBR 23
 193-96) sees wisdom and law as mighty acts of God in response to human needs,
but this has not gained wide support. .
16 D. Kidner, Proverbs (TOTC; London: Tyndale, 1964) 59; B. Gemser, "The
Spiritual Structure of Biblical Aphoristic Wisdom," in Studies in Ancient Israelite
Wisdom (ed. J. L. Crenshaw;
17 J. Becker, Gottesfurcht im Alten Testament
Institute, 1965) 210, 261. See also the evaluation of Becker in H. Blocher, "The Fear .
of the Lord as the 'Principle' of Wisdom," TynBul 28 (1977) 7-15.
SMITH: WISDOM 7
usages of the phrase "fear of the Lord," but this common thread
does not remove the distinctive meanings of this phrase in its
Although the theme of fearing God is found in Genesis (),
frequently in Deuteronomy (; ), and in prophetic texts (Jer
; ; 10:7), the wisdom idea of fearing God is not brought into
the theology of the OT simply by showing that the phrase is found
throughout Scripture. B. Waltke rejects W. Kaiser's "proposal to
relate wisdom to the rest of the OT by the concept of 'the fear of
God/Lord' . . . because he [Kaiser] relates this theme to 'promise'
which he seems to define in terms of
history. Wisdom writers do not mention
national promises. . . ."18 If the fear of the Lord in wisdom literature
was related to
might be possible. A second problem with using the "fear of the
Lord" to integrate the wisdom literature into biblical theology is
.that the phrase is too narrow. It focuses on the ultimate source of
wisdom (its beginning point) and the proper response of people who
wish to attain wisdom. But this phrase does not delineate the
principles or internal structure of wisdom thinking. Job knew the
importance of fearing God, but that did not seem to help him
understand very.mu.ch about God's wise way of dealing with him.
As M. L. Barre indicates: "The basic premise on which wisdom
operates is that the world is an orderly universe. Each person
must master the art of how to integrate his or her life into the pre-
established order of the world. Whoever does this is 'wise';
whoever does not is 'foolish'."19 Fearing God is the key to beginning
this process, but one must move on from submission and humility
before the all wise God to learning about his wise governing of his
A second way of giving wisdom literature an integral part in
the theology of the OT is to emphasize the connection between law
and wisdom. This point is explicitly made in Deut 4:5-6:
Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances. ...Keep them
and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding
in the sight of the nations, who. ..will say, "Surely this great nation
is a wise and understanding people."
D. Kidner claims that the "relation of Proverbs to Deuteronomy is
similarly straightforward by Scripture's own account of itself. . . .
The harmony between these two parts of Scripture is expressed most
18 B. K. Waltke, “Te Book of Proverbs and Old Testament Theology," BSac 136
(1979) 303. Scobie ("Wisdom," 43-44) feels that the slender thread which Kaiser
finds is not successful in integrating promise and wisdom.
19 M. L. Barre, "'Fear of God' and the World View of Wisdom," BTB 11 (1981) 41.
8 TRINITY JOURNAL
clearly in Deuteronomy (see also , 15; ; 32:6, 29). . . .
Here is the union of right and good, of obligation and satisfaction.
Centered upon God's will, wisdom unites with law."20 This
connection is strengthened by reference to the hrAOT ("law") (1:8; 3:1;
; 28:4, 7) and the tOc;mi ("commandments") (2:1; 3:1; 4:4; ) in
Proverbs. G. von Rad believes that the motive clause in Deut
--"for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise men and subverts the
cause of the innocent"-can be classified as a wisdom saying.21 E.
Gerstenberger finds many similarities between apodictic laws in
the Pentateuch and prohibitions in Proverbs and hypothesizes that
they both developed out of a common source.22 M. Weinfeld sees a
wisdom influence in Deuteronomy because both: are written by
scribes, use an admonishing style characteristic of the father/son
relationship, rely heavily on the motive clause to persuade, are
infiltrated with a strong sense of rewards or retribution for
behavior, claim that obedience to their instructions will lead to
life, require that one must fear God, contain common themes (i.e.,
both are against moving landmarks [Deut and Prov ];
both reject the use of false weights [Deut 25:13-16 and Prov 11:1]),
and use overlapping vocabulary.23 The total association of torah
and wisdom was most clearly made in the non-canonical Wisdom of
Ben Sirach around 180 BC: "If you delight in wisdom, then keep his
[God's] commandments" (; see also ; 24:23; Deut33:4 and
Bar 3:37-4:1) For Ben Sirach, torah is wisdom. This same connection
is made in haggadic passages in the Mishnah.24
This attempt to associate wisdom literature with law goes
much deeper than the mere association of one key phrase.
Nevertheless, Weinfeld's suggestion that Deuteronomy was
written or revised by scribes from the wisdom school seems unlikely
in light of the non-covenantal nature of wisdom and the total
immersion of Deuteronomy in covenantal thinking. Although it
20 D. Kidner, "Wisdom Literature of the O. T.," in Perspectives on the Old
Testament (Waco: Word, 1970) 118. A. von Rohr Sauer ("Wisdom and Law in Old
Testament Wisdom Literature," CTM 43  600-9) believes wisdom and law were
quite different in pre-exilic times but that the two became one in the post-exilic period.
21 G. von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy (SBT 9; London: SCM, 1953) BO.
22 E. Gerstenberger, "Covenant and Commandments," JBL 84 (1965) 38-51.
23 See M. Weinfeld,
Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic
Tradition (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981) 94-106. D. A. Hubbard ("The Wisdom Movement
wisdom and law. For a critique of Weinfeld's views see c. Brekelman, "Wisdom Influence
in La Sagesse de l'Ancien
Testament (ed. M. Gilbert;
24 von Rad,
Hermeneutical Construct (BZAW 151; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1980) 60-62, 81, 97. For the
Mishnaic treatment of law and wisdom see E. J. Schabel, "Law and Wisdom in the
Mishnaic System," BTB 17 (1964) 104-10.
SMITH: WISDOM 9
would seem to be inappropriate to classify Deuteronomy as a
wisdom text and minimize its distinctive contribution to OT
theology, at least wisdom theology seems less foreign to the rest of
the OT when it is compared with the theology of Deuteronomy.
What is needed to complete the connection between these related
theological streams of tradition is a broad overarching conceptual
framework that will include both wisdom and other ideas as
legitimate yet distinctive parts within a single whole.
A third suggestion makes wisdom theology a part of creation
theology. W. Zimmerli has proposed this solution because of the
universal character of wisdom. It refers to people in general, not
Israelites specifically. Wisdom teaches all people how to master
the realities within human life. To live properly one must
understand that people were created by God, that God supplies an
order that gives meaning to nature, and that God granted people
responsibility to rule and enjoy the world. Wise admonitions
counsel people ,so that they will know what is good and what to do
to receive God s reward.25 The great speeches of God at the end of
I the book of Job (33-41) and the hymn in praise of wisdom in Proverbs
8 demonstrate that creation was accomplished through God's great
wisdom and that creation played an important part in wisdom
thinking: Von Rad suggests that wisdom is "the meaning' planted
by God in creation,” while H.-J. Hermission claims that "creation is
the basis not only of regularity, but of the meaningful and
satisfactory order of events in the world."26 Although creation may
provide a basis for some wisdom ideas, it does not spell out what
one is to do to be wise. L. Bostrom concludes that creation was a
secondary motif in Proverbs and not "the theology of OT wisdom."27
W. H. Schmidt decides that "wisdom thought cannot without
qualification be assigned to a 'theology of creation' unless the
concept is so enlarged that it embraces the whole of man's
experience of reality."28 God's creation demonstrates his wisdom in
beginning and ordering the physical world, but this is quite
different from his wise and just regulation of a rebellious world of
25 W. Zimmerli, "The Place and Limits of the Wisdom in the Framework of the
Old Testament Theology," SJT 17 (1964) 146-58. W. J. Dumbrell (The Faith of
26 Von Rad,
Creation Theology in Wisdom," in Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary
Essays in Honor of
Samuel Terrien (ed. J. G. Gammie,
27 L. Bostrom, The God of the Sages: The Portrayal of God in the Book of
Proverbs (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksellintemational, 1990) 83, 87.
28 W. H. Schmidt, The Faith of the Old Testament (
10 TRINITY JOURNAL
A variation of Zimmerli's approach to creation theology is H.
H. Schmid's emphasis on wisdom's attempt to establish cosmic and
social order in the world.29 He sees creation theology as the
framework for wisdom, for in creation, order was established by
God. Creation provides the setting within which historical events
take place and also the basis for the just order for human
behavior.30 J. L. Crenshaw supports Schmid's emphasis on creation
and conceives of it as the basis, the defense, or the undergirding of
divine justice, which is the central theme of wisdom.31 This
approach makes creation a support for order and justice in human
The value of each of these three proposals may be compared by
noting the emphasis they receive in wisdom and non-wisdom texts.
The fear of the Lord is one of several responses a person can have to
God in the Pentateuch and in wisdom texts (love, service, obedience,
worship, wise behavior, ethical action, and enjoyment of life are
other responses), but is the response of fearing God broad enough to
cover all of these or more central than obedience or service? Fearing
God is the starting point, but it does not adequately encompass the
variety of responses that God desires of people after that initial
The second suggestion draws on the similarities between the
laws and admonitions in Deuteronomy and wisdom, but certainly"
God's covenant is broader and more central than the laws, and the
divine desire for righteousness and wisdom is broader and more
central to wisdom than the style or content of individual proverbial
admonitions. Although similarities of form, topic, and hortatory
style may exist, these external comparisons do not get at the heart
of what wisdom and Deuteronomy are all about.
Making creation the center of wisdom thinking is also an
inadequate means of integrating wisdom into biblical theology.
Although creation is the basis for and starting point of salvation
history, salvation history is not primarily about creation. Likewise
creation may be the basis of wisdom's order, but wisdom thinking is
not primarily about creation. The basis for wisdom, the response of
29 H. H. Schmid, Wesen und Geschichte der
Weisheit (BZAW 101;
30 R. Murphy ("Wisdom-Thesis and Hypothesis," in Israelite Wisdom, 35-36)
argues against too rigid of an emphasis on the orderly connection between cause and
31 J. L. Crenshaw, "In Search of Divine Presence," RevExp 74 (1977) 362-65 and
his "Studies in Ancient Israelite Wisdom: Prolegomenon," in Studies in Ancient
Israelite Wisdom, 26-35. B. S. Childs (Old Testament Theology in a Canonical
supplement a fuller understanding of the divine ordering of the world and human
SMITH: WISDOM 11
the wise person, and the content of wisdom may be discussed with
great gain if they are all included and put in their proper place.
Finally, it is necessary to refer to the outstanding contributions
the homogeneous element in
is associated with worship at the temple, God's giving the law,
the final events of history, and wisdom at the creation of the
world. Terrien's analysis demonstrates that the presence of God is a
common element in many literary pieces, although he focuses more
on the aesthetic and experiential side of wisdom and does not
adequately deal with the structure of wisdom theology.
Although none of these suggestions is entirely satisfactory,
they do point to a possible approach to the problem of the place of
wisdom in OT theology: finding a broad theme that is distinctively
developed in wisdom and non-wisdom texts but constructively tied
to the central theological teachings of both.
III. WHAT ARE SOME CENTRAL THEMES IN THE WISDOM
THEOLOGY OF JOB?
Although most theologies begin with the great concepts of
salvation history and try to squeeze wisdom in somewhere, there is
no reason why one could not begin with a wisdom text.33 Both
streams of tradition are a legitimate part of the canon and both are
a normative and necessary part of
the wisdom theology of Job may reveal a theological framework
that is uniquely expressed in terms of wisdom, but equally relevant
to the history of God s deeds for his covenant people. This
procedure is not meant to reject the importance of salvation history
or to claim wisdom's superiority,34 but to give both traditions value
in OT theology. If wisdom and salvation history do not stand
together, all that has been created is a deceptive illusion based on
The book of Job can be divided into several sections based on the
different speakers that provide wisdom instruction. Although the
theology of each speaker is somewhat unique and at times
contradictory, there are common understandings of reality that
32 S. Terrien, The Elusive Presence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987) 3, 35.
33 R. Murphy, "Wisdom and Yahwism," in No Famine in the Land (ed. J.
Flanagan and A. Robinson;
improper to integrate wisdom into a "Hebrew theology" which has been formulated
without the input of wisdom, for such an approach assumes that wisdom has a
34 W. Brueggemann (In Man We Trust [Richmond: John Knox, 1972]) seems to
assert the superiority of wisdom, but J. Goldingay ("The 'Salvation History'
Perspective and the 'Wisdom Perspective' within the Context of Biblical
Theology," EvQ 51  198-201) appropriately argues against this.
12 TRINITY JOURNAL
serve as underpinnings for wisdom thinking. If these common
threads are parallel to the essential underpinnings of salvation
history, then a broader perspective on OT theology can be
A. THE THREE FRIENDS
Although the three friends who come to comfort Job do not give
identical advice, they all come from a similar wisdom
perspecnve.35 They differ in their emphases and in their sympathy
toward Job, but the three friends are essentially in theological
agreement. Their theology is found in: 1) their words of praise
about God; 2) their arguments about the fate of the wicked and the
righteous; and 3) their personal exhortations or accusations of Job.
Words of praise about God form the foundation for the friends'
theology (5:9-16; 11:7-11; -14; 25:2-3).36 God's greatness is
extolled because he controls the great forces of nature that produce
rain. He establishes social justice for the helpless and frustrates
the plans of the wicked (5:9-16).37 God's wisdom has no limits, and
people have no way to discover the extent of his wisdom (11:7-11).
Although God is in heaven, he knows what people do .(2.2:12-14).
Indeed, God is awesome and all powerful, having dominion over
everything (25:2-3). The theology within these hymns seems fairly
clear: God has all power and wisdom, he controls everything that
These theological beliefs are basic to the friends' statements
about God's punishment of the wicked (4:7-11; 5:2-7; 8:8-19; -
35; 18:5-21; 20:4-29) and his care for the righteous (4:6-7; -27;
8:5-7, 20-21; -19; -30). Although fools or wicked persons
may flourish for a while, soon God will see their oppression and
destroy them. Although the righteous or innocent may suffer pain
for a while, they will quickly seek God's help and be restored to
35 M. Pope, Job (AB 15; Garden City: Doubleday, 1965) lxx. Pope argues that
there is no real movement in the arguments of the friends; they just grow more
vehement in their attacks on Job. Others do find more progression of thought. See W.
A. Irwin, II An Examination of the Progress of Thought in the Dialogue of Job," JR 13
150-64; J. Blenkinsopp, Wisdom and Law in
the Old Testament (
N. C. Habel (The
Book of Job [
36 For a summary of the praise of God in the speeches of the friends see C.
Westermann, The Structure of the Book of Job (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) 75-79.
37 Habel (Job, 133-34) sees 5:9-14 as a hymnic doxology which celebrates El as
the "wonderworker, champion of social justice, rainmaker, and master mind
controlling all wisdom and strategies on earth
SMITH: WISDOM 13
happiness.38 This theological position assumes that God knows and
controls everything-therefore he can rule the earth in justice.
The third group of passages includes personal exhortations to
Job and several accusations of iniquity. Westermann has noted that
the exhortations are found mainly in the first cycle of speeches.39
They apply the theological assumptions about God and his justice
to Job's specific situation. They encourage Job to endure in hope (4:5-
16), to seek God's help, to confess his sins (5:8; 8:5-6; -14; -
22), to accept God's discipline (5:17), and to rely on the wisdom of
the wise men (8:8-10).
The personal accusations usually begin with a rejection of Job's
words (8:1-2; 11:1-4; 15:1-16; 18:1-4; 20:1-4) and particularly the
claim that he received a secret message from God in a night vision
(-21; ; ; 15:8, 11-16).40 In the midst of these attacks, the
friends accuse Job of sin (15:5-6; 22:5-11). These personal responses to
Job are consistent with the principle that God blesses the righteous
and curses the wicked. The friends do not base their thinking on
relationship to mankind that is similar to covenant thinking. This
suggests that both systems of thinking may be based on a broader
conception of God's sovereign and just rule of the earth.
B. THE JOB SPEECHES
Job's speeches can be divided into three basic parts: 1) hymnic
descriptions of God; 2) disputations concerning justice; and 3)
personal lamentations about his situation.41
Job's hymnic descriptions of God (9:5-13; -25; 26:5-14) refer
to God's great and marvelous power in creating (26:7-10) but also to
his angry power to upset, rebuke, or set limits on what he has
created (26:10-15).42 This great God is also elusive and people are
not able to question or control him (-12). Job rejects the wisdom
of the wise men (); instead he believes that all wisdom and
power belong to God (-25). Through his wisdom and might God
controls the rain, kings, judges, priests, nobles, and nations. Instead
38 D. Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes (
InterVarsity, 1985) 60.
39 Westermann, Structure, 19.
40 G.V.Smith,"Job4:12-21: Is it Eliphaz' Vision?" VT 40 (1990) 453-63.
41 Westermann (Structure, 25-28,31-66,71-75) calls these sections praises of God,
disputations, and laments. .
42 The author of 26:5-14 is widely questioned. Pope, Terrien, Dhorme, Gordis,
and Habel suggest that this is the second half of Bildad's speech, since 25:1-6 is so
short. But F. I. Andersen (Job [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1976] 216) keeps it as a
part of Job's speeches. Westermann (Structure, 77-79) assigns 26:5-14 to Bildad and
then transposes it to the end of BiIdad's speech in chap. 8. H. H. Rowley ("The Book
of Job and its Meaning," in From Moses to Qumran [
163-64) surveys various opinions about the speakers in Job 25-28.
14 TRINITY JOURNAL
of wisdom and prosperity, foolishness and destruction come on
them. Job, like the three comforters, believes that God is all
powerful and all wise, but his emphasis is on God's judgment, his
hiddenness, and the injustices present in human relationships.
Job's disputations (chaps. 9-10; 19; 21; 23-24; 26-27; 29; 31) are
motivated by his desire to see justice, his desire to correct the false
assumptions of his friends (about the way God rules), and his desire
to understand God. He recognizes the futility of bringing a lawsuit
against God, for God is all wise, all powerful, and cannot be forced
into court (9:3-4, 13-20, 32-35; 13:3, 15; 23:1-7). Yet it appears that
both the guilty and the wicked are treated the same way and that
God does not judge the wicked for their evil (-24; 10:2-3; 12:6;
21:7-26; 24:1-25). Job maintains that justice has failed, that he is
Inot guilty of a sin equivalent to the judgment that he has received
(10:6-7; 12:4; 19:7; 23:7, 12; 27:4-6). He was a respected man in
society who cared for the poor, opposed the wicked, and avoided
falsehood, immorality, and pride in his riches (29; 31). In these
speeches Job begins with the same theological base as the three
friends: God is all powerful and wise. Unlike the three friends, Job
questions God's administration of justice. in. light of his own
circumstance and rejects his comforters' application of the theory of
divine retribution to his situation.
C. THE ELIHU SPEECHES
After a lengthy introduction (32:6-22) Elihu's speeches in Job
32-37 include a rebuttal of Job and a defense of God. First Elihu
rejects Job's statement that God is far away and does not speak. God
speaks to people through dreams or visions, through pain and
suffering, and through a gracious mediator who can bring
redemption (33:13-28). Elihu rejects Job's claim that God has been
unjust (34:1-9). Elihu also believes that God has all power (34:13)
and controls the life of every human being (34:14-15). Job speaks
wickedly in ignorance of God's ways (34:33-37). God is righteous, he
judges the wicked who refuse to turn from evil, and cares for the
righteous (36:1-16). He is the exalted one, his marvels in nature are
unsearchable. Since his knowledge is perfect and his power is
unlimited, he is just (36:24-37:24). Elihu rejects Job's claims of
injustice and constructs a justification for God's rule on the basis of
D. THE SPEECHES OF GOD
The two speeches by God (38:1-42:6) question Job's wisdom about
the creation and ordering of the heavens and the earth. God has
the power and wisdom to measure and lay the foundations of the
SMITH: WISDOM 15
earth (38:2-7), set limits on the sea (38:1-11), arrange the days,
planets, clouds, snow, wind, lightning, and inner parts of the earth
(38:16-38). God's wisdom also controls the behavior of domestic and
wild animals (38:39-39:30). Since Job understands none of these
things, can he understand the basis for God's justice?43 Job does not
have the wisdom or power to judge the proud or the wicked, and
certainly he has no power over God's creatures, Behemoth and
Leviathan (40-41). The God speeches do not explain the full details
of God's plans on earth, but develop God's means of governing by
arguing from the structural, the functional, and the celebrative
aspects of God's design of the universe. "The structural motifs
emphasize the wise order and depth of the design, the functional
motifs focus on the containment of evil and providential care, while
the celebrative motifs reach. ..to the festive and incongruous
dimensions of this design."44 There is no further doubt in Job's mind
concerning the wisdom of God's rule of the world.45
E. THE PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUE
The beginning and final sections of the book (1:1-2:13; 42:7-17)
are key theological components which give something of the
author's understanding of Job's trial. Here the curtains of heaven
are drawn back so that a brief glimpse of God s mysterious ways are
revealed. Job is recognized by the narrator and God himself as
"blameless, upright, fearing God and turning from evil" (2:3). Job's
denial that he was receiving just punishment for some great sin is
shown to be correct, and the theology of the friends is proven
inadequate to deal with the mysterious heavenly arrangements
between God and the Accuser (42:7-8). The narrative prologue
reveals that the divine justice of God is not destroyed by the
intrusion of the Accuser's destructive work against Job, for at this
point justice is placed within the broader wisdom of God's sovereign
plan. God maintains his sovereignty over the Accuser by granting
him only limited authority for his destructive work. Dhorme
concludes, "Yahweh is in sovereign control. He it is who holds in
His hands all the threads, and moves the actors."46
43 E. F. Sutcliffe,
(London: Nelson, 1953) 118.
44 Habel, Job, 532-33.
45 Schmidt (Faith, 248) believes that "God's answer (ch. 38ff teaches Job about
God's government of the world, and makes him aware of the limitations of man.
46 Dhorme, Job, XXXII.
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IV. DISTINCTIVE AND COMMON ELEMENTS IN THE
THEOLOGY OF THE OT
Is the wisdom theology of Job foreign to the theology of the rest
of the OT? Should wisdom literature be excluded from biblical
theology? If it is an integral part of the canonical texts of the OT
should be an integral part of its theology. If basic elements Common
to wisdom theology and other theological traditions can furnish
solid connections within a single framework, wisdom's distinctive
contributions can enrich and broaden the perspective of the whole
without destroying its unity. Although wisdom literature speaks in
a unique voice, the connections demonstrate the continuity between
wisdom and non-wisdom texts. Both deal with the theology of
God's relationship to humankind and the world, but each type of
literature arises from a different contextual setting.
The various theologies represented in Job agree on the
fundamental theological principle that God sovereignly rules over
individuals, nations, and nature. Job, the friends, Elihu, the God
speech, and the prologue witness to God's power and ability to rule.
He rules over his creation through his power and his wisdom, over
the nations through wars and famines, and over the final events of
human history, including death itself. All animals, all people, and
all nations are controlled by his almighty rule. His creation of the
world and his providential ordering and care for it are evidences of
his wisdom and power. His amazing power and control are praised,
and his sovereign rule makes him ultimately responsible for
bringing suffering or blessing on mankind. Although Clines is correct
when he claims that the chief issue of Job is "the problem of the
moral order of the world, the principles on which it is governed,"47
that problem exists only because there is no doubt in anyone's mind
that God sovereignly rules the world.48 If he were not sovereignly
ruling, the issues of his justice and his mysterious ways would not be
Two subordinate themes explain how God rules in the context of
the wisdom theology of Job. One relates to God's just treatment of
people and the other deals with God's mysterious freedom and
wisdom. On these points there is controversy and partial resolution.
The friends defend God's justice by claiming that it brings
predictable results for both the wicked and the righteous. Because
47 D. J. A. Clines, Job 1-20 (WBC 17; Dallas: Word, 1989) xxxvii; cf. also A. van
Selms, Job, A Practical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985) 14.
48 L. Bostrom (God of the Sages, 177) concludes that the discussion in Job "never
departs from the assumption of God's sovereignty even though the question of
whether or not God's activity is limited by ethical considerations is brought into the
SMITH: WISDOM 17
Job did not experience God's justice as he expected it, he began to see
that God's ways of treating people in the real world were not bound
by the simple theological formulas of the friends. On these points
the theology of Job probes the deeper issue of the relationship
between God's sovereignty and his justice. The limits of
deuteronomic theology are expanded by wisdom's search for fuller
explanations of seeming inconsistencies than are given in incomplete
covenant formulations. But wisdom's own limitations are only too
evident as it confronts the power and presence of God in this world.49
The prologue, the God speeches, and the epilogue uncover the
mysterious and marvelous ways in which God works. In his wisdom
he is free to allow sin, suffering, and the Accuser to exist; yet still
fulfill his purposes. In the midst of negative circumstances justice
exists, but it is mysteriously tempered with divine wisdom and
freedom. This perspective is a unique contribution that wisdom
theology makes to OT theology, and it is an essential part of a
wholistic understanding of God's rule. It forces every person to step
out in faith, humbly fearing God, knowing that God has the
freedom to use his power and wisdom in ways that go beyond human
"understanding.5O Joseph must have wondered about these issues
(Genesis 37-45) and David struggled with them in some of his
laments (Psalm 13), but neither was able to see beyond his
traditional understanding. Without an understanding of his
mysterious wisdom and freedom, God would be almost a puppet,
bound to respond automatically in predetermined ways to all
behavior, never free to rule in dimensions beyond human
comprehension (cf Job 40:1-5; 42:1-3). The revelations about divine
government derived from the theology of Job are distinctive, yet not
unrelated to other key theological emphases in texts that focus on
the covenant and God's great acts of grace for his chosen people in
The Pentateuch, historical books, and prophets describe God's
relationship to human beings, and particularly his people.
Salvation history is rich with its own distinctive themes of God
electing a people, delivering them from
torah, entering into a covenant relationship with them, giving
them the land, and guiding them through their history. Each of
these acts is based on a fundamental theological belief that God
sovereignly rules over
his people as the covenant Lord who is with them and keeps his
covenant promises, as the lawgiver who provides instructions on
50 Several emphasize God's freedom from a mechanistic theology of retribution
See Terrien, Elusive Presence, 369-71; and Crenshaw, Ancient Israelite Wisdom,
18 TRINITY JOURNAL
how to live as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod 19:5-6).
He is the Lord of history who delivers them from slavery and
defeats other nations and the judge who controls nature to give rain
and blessing or drought and curse. He is the great king of the
theocracy who rules with power.
Several subordinate themes playa role in God's rule over his
people in salvation history. Because God rules over
revealed principles of conduct which influence future relationships,
issues of justice are basic to the relationship between the covenant
covenant stipulations, God in justice will send other nations to
destroy the people and send a curse on nature. But if they love God
and follow his instructions, God will bless the land where they live
and give them peace with other nations (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy
In spite of this clear teaching, the relationship between God
his love for
mysterious freedom that moves God to choose one people and not
another. His mercy and deeds of salvation are praised, but they are
beyond human understanding. These themes are uniquely developed
in God's positive dealings with
Both wisdom and non-wisdom traditions have a distinctive
place in OT theology. They are different, but they do not contradict
each other. Both point to the same fundamental relationship
between God and the world. God rules over everyone and
everything. This agrees with Bostrom's study of the theology of
Proverbs and its relationship to other OT teaching. He concludes
that "it is probably correct to say that a belief in God's sovereignty
more or less characterizes the OT as a whole and that the belief in
the Lord as supreme ruler constitutes a basic shared assumption of
the biblical authors."51 Although the theological setting of the
book of Proverbs stands in bold contrast to the context of Job,
Bostrom's conclusion is supported by the proverbial statements that
describe how God created the world through wisdom (-20; -
31) and freely controls the plans and lives of every person according
to his purposes (16:1-9, 33; ; ); he is the ultimate source of
life and death. He justly rules over those who are wise and
51 Bostrom, God of the Sages, 179.
SMITH: WISDOM 19
righteous as well as those who are foolish and wicked (3:3-12; -
23, 8.34-35, 14.31).
The central themes in Job are also fundamental to Qohelet's
theological substructures, for in spite of all his feeling of
frustration, ignorance and powerlessness, there is the overriding
belief that God has made everything, that no one can change what
he has planned, and that God is somehow observant of good and
evil (Eccl -14). Although everything (food, work, satisfaction,
wealth, and money) is a gift from God, it is impossible to
understand the mystery of God's blessings or his just ways (-26;
4.14, 5.18 6.2, 8.16 17).
This central theme-God rules over
nature-is superior to Goldingay's dual emphases on creation and
redemption because it encompasses and stands behind both.52 God's
rule is a broader and more adequate unifying theme for four reasons.
1) It does not focus just on the two powerful events of creation and
redemption, but on all God's powerful deeds and words. 2) It
encompasses not only God's great positive deeds (creation and
redemption) but his just judgment of nature and nations and his
daily providential control of history and nature as well. 3) It is not
focused on a few historical points, but on the many ways his wisdom
instructions, laws, and prophetic warning bring about his rule over
individuals, nations, and parts of nature. 4) It does not depend on
the chronological relationship of creation and redemption, which
makes one more prominent at one time and the other at another
time, but applies to all times and in many ways.
God's rule in the perspectives of the wisdom writings and the
covenant history of
wisdom. His wisdom is revealed in his covenant instructions,
proverbs, visions, and theophanies (Deut 4:5-6; Job 33:13-18; 39-41),
through the creation of the world and his continual control of it
(Proverbs 8; Deuteronomy 27-28), and through his dealings with
the wicked and the righteous. These wise dealings reveal his
justice and bring the fulfillment of his plans. But his justice is
tempered with mercy and forgiveness, with marvelous miracles of
salvation, and with wise decisions that overshadow the
covenantal and proverbial concepts of retribution in significant
ways. Life with God cannot be neatly systematized, but it is not a
blind alley with no light. There is a way that seems right, but it is
filled with divine surprises. The fool fails to see the divine ways
as God's rule, the wicked reject his rule, but there are many like Job
who fear God and strive to know the truth so that they may be free.
Job's friends failed to understand the full beauty of God's ways
because they limited God's rule to an inadequate conception of his
52 Goldingay, "'Wisdom Perspective,'" 201-7.
20 TRINITY JOURNAL
justice and freedom. Theologies which ignore the wisdom and
mysterious freedom of God's sovereign rule remove any need for
faith in God and run the danger of being just as inadequate as the
narrow ideological reconstructions of Job's friends.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
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Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: firstname.lastname@example.org