Trinity Journal 3 (Spring 1974) 1-13.

Copyright 1974 by Trinity Journal, cited with permission.

 

WISDOM LITERATURE AND

THE PROMISE DOCTRINE

 

DAVID BURDETT

 

The difficulty of developing a theology of the Old Testament Wisdom

Literature and of finding its place in the whole of Old Testament theology would

be considerably less complex if, instead of those wisdom books which we find in

the Old Testament canon, we had those which are found in the Apocrypha,

particularly the books of Ben Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon. It seems that

the tensions which the modem biblical theologian faces in dealing with the

canonical wisdom corpus were realized by the authors of these later books, for

they appear to have modified their views in order to avoid such problems.

The particular areas of tension are two in number: the aspect of the source of

wisdom, whether it is human, divine, or some tertium quid, and then the aspect of

its universal perspective, for the writings are in no way as Judaeo-centric as those

preceding them.

Before dealing with these two difficulties, however, several other

preliminary matters ought to be considered. The most basic of these is the extent

of the canonical wisdom: in this category would class Proverbs, Song of Songs

and Job. Although there are further examples of wisdom forms scattered

throughout the Old Testament, it is these books which fall entirely within that

category. A second consideration has reference to critical matters: i.e., date and

authorship. In a paper of this scope it is it impossible to give full reign to the

discussion of criticism and thus certain presuppositions will have .to be made in

that area. The major assumption is that where a title, occurs it is to be

treated as accurate. Consequently, three of the four books will be, to a great

degree, dependent upon the work of King Solomon.1 This is not to say that there

were no later: additions or perhaps even redaction, for we read of the work of

"Hezekiah's men" in collecting and publishing Solomonic material (Prov. 25:1)

which is a redactional function. Nevertheless, for our purposes the bulk of the

literature derives from Solomon. Lastly, the schema of Heilsgeschichte into which

the theology of wisdom will hopefully be fitted is generally that given in W. J.

Beecher's The Prophets and the Promise: epangelicalism or the "theology of the

Promise." Having aired the data to be presupposed, it is hoped that the

conclusions, particularly those which lie heavily on the aspect of chronology, will

be more easily acceptable.

 

1 Even excepting the proverbs attributed to Agur and Lemuel, this is an

assumption which is, at the least, hotly debated. Cf. R.B.Y. Scott, "Solomon and the

Beginnings of Wisdom in Israel," in Wisdom in Israel and the Ancient Near East, ed. by

M. Noth and D. Winton Thomas (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969), for a typical negative point

of view on th is matter.



TRINITY JOURNAL 2

 

Contemporary thought has come to regard Heilsgesehichte as the story of

God's disclosure of himself and his salvation, on our view particularly through the

Promise. Likewise we have come to think of this disclosure or revelation as a bi-

partite complex, usually termed a Deed-Word event.2 However, in the Wisdom

Literature we find a strange one-sidedness, for there is no action of God depicted

there; there is only the Word, the teaching. Thus we are led to look for the divine

movement to which to attach this teaching. Because of the problems in the

theology of the Wisdom Literature, those regarding revelation and universalism

referred to above, some are wont to attach it to creation.3 That is, this Wisdom

Literature is a sort of Old Testament natural theology: without direct revelation

and (apparently) without any direct relationship to God's working in Israel, the

Wisdom Literature is a collection of observations on the "satisfying life" and the

problems encountered in obtaining it. The emphasis here is upon God's common

grace and what it can achieve in man. Thus while generalizing and forming a

theology of Old Testament wisdom, this view has despaired of correlating it with

God's work in Israel and has instead considered it to be a parenthesis in the

Heilsgeschichte rather than a part of it.

It is just at this last point, however, that the view can be criticized, simply

by taking the history of wisdom into account. We can see in this regard that

although the Wisdom Literature had its predecessors, it has, as a body of literature,

derived almost wholly from the Solomonic era. The forebearers of wisdom in

Israel are well known, and we have examples of proverbs. (I Samuel 10: 12; 2

Samuel 20: 18), fables (Judges 9:8-15), riddles (Judges 14: 12-19), and.. parables

(2 Samuel 12: 1-4). But what is to explain the sudden outburst of wisdom with the

arrival of Solomon if it is creation and God as creator who is the subject of that

thought? A seemingly good answer is that as the monarchy

 

2G. E. Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

I 1967). See the first chapter entitled "How is the Bible the Word of God." The concept

expressed in the phrase "Deed-Word Event" does not parallel the thought of the Myth

and Ritual School led by S. Hooke, for the deed is not a ritual re-enacting of the

salvific works of God, but 'is itself the work of God. Likewise, the Word is not the

accompanying story behind the ritual, but the divine commentary on and explanation

of the divine act of salvation. Together these two aspects of Word and Deed form

revelation.

3 W. Baumgartner, "The Wisdom literature:' in The' Old Testament and Modern

Study, ed. by H. H. Rowley (Oxford: Clarendon, 1951 I, p. 212. Derek Kidner, The

Proverbs; an Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press,

19641, p. 17. O. S. Rankin, Israel's Wisdom Literature. Its Bearing on Theology and

the History of Religion (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1954), pp. 10, 35f. Harry Ranston,

The Old 7;estament Wisdom Books and their Teaching (London: Epworth 1930, p.

23. Walther Zimmerli, "The Place and Limit of the Wisdom in the Framework of the

Old Testament Theology," Scottish Journal of Theology, 17 (March, 1964), pp. 148,

151.



3 WISDOM LITERATURE

 

actually became a monarchy under Solomon it partook of the character of the

courts of the surrounding powers, particularly Egypt,4 in that it cultivated wisdom

as part of the court life.5 Now, as we shall see~ the relationship to the monarchy is

the key, but not for the lock in which it is here used. R. E. Murphy, in almost all of

his writings on the Wisdom Literature,6 has pointed out that viewing the court

training of the royal officials and courtiers as the Sitz im Leben and the source for.

all the wisdom material is inadequate in that there are some parts of the

literature which just cannot be forced to fit into that situation. Even if Murphy's

objection is to be over-ruled, the creation-centered alternative is still weak due to

the fact that it leaves a very important question unanswered: why is there a

parenthesis in the Heilsgeschichte? Or rather, why is there a recorded parenthesis

in the Heilsgeschichte? We have parenthesis elsewhere in that story, not the least

of which is the era between the Testaments. In contrast, however, nowhere else do

we find such a full and well-packed void. In reality such a void is a wrench in the

mechanism of the concept of Heilsgeschichte. But rather than abandon the plan

and action of God in the process of salvation, the choice of another alternative

should be made.

This better option is based upon the historical context which we have

accepted above: the reign of Solomon. As is indicated above, there seemed to be a

particular correlation between wisdom and royalty.7 N. W. Porteous8 has probably

best shown the association of wisdom and royalty in the Ancient Near East.

Beyond the general background of "secular" history, however, we have the

particular context of the Promise D1ctririe, for Solomon came to the throne as the

"offspring" of David.

 

4We ought to be well aware of the ties which Solomon had with E~Pt. Cf. I

Kings 3: 1.

5Roland E. Murphy, "The Concept of Wisdom Literature:' in The Bible in

Current Catholic Thought, ed. by John L. McKenzie (New York: Herder and Herder,

1962), p. 47. Ibid., "Introduction to the Wisdom Literature:' The Jerome Biblical

Commentary, ed. by Raymond E. Brown et al. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Pr~ntice-Hall,

I 1968), p. 487. Zimmerli, p. 146. Cf. N. W. Porteous, "Royal Wisdom:' in Wisdom in

Israel and the Ancient Near East, ed. by M. Noth arK! D. Winston Thomas (Leiden: E.

J. Brill, 1969).

6R. E. Murphy, "Assumptions and Problems in Old Testament Wisdom

Research:' Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 27 (1967), pp. 408f, 412. Ibid., "Introduc-

tion:' p. 488f and especially "Concept:' p. 50f. Part of Murphy's objection is based on

chronology, for he views much of the material as being post-exilic. If that were true,

since there was no king nor court, some of it must derive from a non-courtly setting.

Cf. S. H. Blank, "Wisdom," The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, IV, p. 856.

7See that attribution of wisdom to David in 2 Samuel 14:20.

8Porteous, passim. Cf. Blank, p. 854. Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old

Testament, trans. by David E. Arneed (New York: Abingdon, 1968 ET), p. 308.

Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. I, Trans. by D. M. G. Stalker, (New

York: Harper and Row, 1960), p. 375. Cf. as well Proverbs 25:2.



TRINITY JOURNAL 5

 

This is a most significant factor, for one cannot help but think that the

development of the Promise in the messianic sense found in 2 Samuel? was a

constantly recurring thought in Solomon's mind.9 How, though, does this help us

to understand the Wisdom Literature as a part of this development? Above, we

saw that revelation is generally of two aspects. Thus, might it not be that

the Wisdom Literature is to be co-related not with the creation per se but with the

Promise of the kingdom? On the basis of the general attribution of wisdom to

royalty, as well as the situation of Solomon in relation to the promise made to his

father David, could it not be that the Wisdom Literature is actually compilations of

Solomon's guides for the satisfying life in the kingdom, a "messianic rule" in

which he has tried to actualize his royal and messianic potential?10 The "why not"

is easily seen, for the two problems we began with argue very heavily against this

view. If, however, we can overcome these objections, there seems to be good

reason to explain the Wisdom Literature in this way: not only because it provides

us with an action of God more closely tied to the historical context of its authors

than is the creation, but even more so because it frees us from having to postulate

and explain the full void in a parenthesis in the Heilsgeschichte.

The first charge against the Wisdom Literature is that of humanism. This in

turn revolves to the theological accusation of a lack of divine inspiration, and is

made on the grounds that the character of the Wisdom Literature is patently

anthropocentric.11 On the basis of this concern for man some have understood

wisdom to be just philosophizing about the good life.12 This type of thinking,

however, utterly avoids the religious aspects of wisdom, particularly in the

concept "the fear of the Lord." In addition, there is absolutely no cause to see

Israel's wisdom as completely secular when that of her neighbors

 

9 Note in particular Isaiah 11:2 where the messianic king is said to be granted a

spirit of wisdom.

10 Because of the Sitz im Leben which we have constructed and the comments

of Murphy (see note 6), we do not intend to limit this wisdom to the training of courtiers.

11 Rankin. p. 12.

12 Baumgartner, p. 212: Murphy, "Concept:' p. 414. cf. "Introduction," p. 488.

Kidner seems to be unsure about his feelings on this, for on p. 17 he states that the

Wisdom Literature indicates that Old Testament affirms that man can think validly and

wisely without special revelation. On p. 38, however, he indicates that wisdom comes

by revelation. A distinction in the Wisdom Literature is sometimes made on 13

chronological basis, with the human and experiential wisdom being pre-exilic and the

religious, which includes the concept of the fear of the Lord, coming from after the

exile. See William A. Irwin, "The Wisdom Literature:' The Interpreter's Bible, ed. by

Nolan B. Harmon, et al. (New York: Abingdon, 1952), I, p. 215f. But this seems to be

based on an evolutionary reconstruction of history: the more religious aspects occur in

the more complex passages and the complex follows the simple; therefore, the purely

human wisdom was the earlier. This reconstruction, however, is more imaginary than

real.



5 WISDOM LITERATURE

 

was associated with their particular gods and religion.13 A more

realistic attitude14 able to perceive the influence of religion in the literature: as

Proverbs 1:7 indicates, wisdom is not purely human. prudence but is founded upon

Yahwistic piety; although the content of the wisdom is man-centered, the basis is

the presupposition of God. G. von Rad, though, and those who follow him,15 limit

the inspiration of wisdom to this basic level and thus wisdom is still just human

experience meditating on the fact of God and the implications of that fact for man

in the world. The real problem, however, still remains: we have seen a religious

origin for wisdom, but how are we to view wisdom as revelation? As it is pointed

out,16 we do not find an equivalent of the prophetic messenger formula, "thus says

Yahweh," in the Wisdom Literature. Is it, however, while in some sense inspired,

a Jesus direct revelation17 or a second class inspiration?18 If that were the case, we

would again be capitulating to the idea of a parenthesis, something below the level

of that which is on either side of it in the Heilsgeschichte.

 

13Cf. Ma'at in the Egyptian wisdom.

14J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1962), pp. 56, 176. Ranston, p. 28. Henry Wheeler Robinson, Inspiration

and Revelation in the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1946), pp. 239, 245. John

C. Rylaarsdam, Revelation in Jewish Wisdom Literature (Chicago: University of

Chicago, 1946), p. 11. Cf. Blank, p. 860. Irwin, p. 215. Hermann Schultz, Old

Testament Theology, Vol, II, trans. by J. A. Paterson (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1892), p.84.

15von Rad, Pp. 418ff. Cf. Irwin, p. 215. Murphy, "Introduction," p. 493. Ranston, pp. 23, 29.

16C. H. Toy, "Wisdom Literature:' Encyclopedia Biblica ed. by t. K. Cheyne

and J. Sutherland (London; Adam & Chas. Black, 1907), IV, p. 5329. This is Toy's

idea although not his phraseology.

17Robinson, pp. 231, 246f,

18Ranston, p. 28. There is a statement made in 2 Samuel 16:23 which describes

the counsel of Ahithophel in the words ''as if one had consulted the Oracle of God."

This seems to distinguish the counsel of the wise from any full and true revelation. But

here we need to distinguish in turn the Wisdom Literature, which derives from

Solomon and several others, from any class of wise men. The fact is that we have no

such class of men. attested in Israel until long after the time of the writing of the

canonical wisdom.. for the references of Jeremiah and Ezekiel date from the sixth

'century B.C. and Solomon was the tenth. The example of Ahithophel himself does not

prove such an existent class or tradition of wisdom at that time either, (In contrast,

however, note the apparent class of f8T1alesagesat Abel before and/or during the time

of David: 2 Samuel 20: 16-22.) Nor do we have references attesting such a class in the

surrounding nations for that specific time. Thus we cannot say "Ahithophel was a wise

man in the technical sense as was Solomon. Therefore just as Ahithophel's wisdom was

less than revelation, so was Solomon's Proverbs 22:17 should be mentioned here, for

in that verse we find the phrase dibre chakamim.. It is possible that this refers to such a

class, although it does not do so necessarily, for just as the Proverbs were collected

some time after they had been written so this could possibly an editorial insertion

referring to Solomon and those others included in the special burst of wisdom at his

time, To insist upon such an explanation, however, would be a case of special pleading

and we must recognize what potential difficulty the phrase presents to our theory of

limiting wisdom to the Solomonic era, if it can be shown that the phrase does refer to a

specific class and its traditions. Note, too, in this regard the possible implicit reference

to such a class in I Kings 4:29ff.



TRINITY JOURNAL 6

 

Going back to Solomon's' historical situation may again be the clue to the

problem. According. to 1 Kings 3 the wisdom of Solomon was a gift from God.

This ability does not seem to be just a form, a framework of presuppositions into

which Solomon put the content which he derived from experience; rather it is in

itself content. This is a rather bold assertion, but the use of the term chakam

throughout the Old Testament supports it, particularly where the word means

"skilled." The artisans who worked on the tabernacle for example (cf. Exodus

36:2) are not only possessors of the presuppositions for talent, a creative brain,

well-controlled muscles and the like, but the talent itself. This interpretation of

chakam is substantiated by the reference in Proverbs 2:6 which states that the Lord

gives wisdom19 and by parallelism equates this wisdom to the content-filled

categories of "knowledge" and "understanding." If this wisdom is then at least

in some sense content-oriented, what is the difference between it and the

inspiration or revelation granted to other authors in the Bible?20 Obviously, there

is none save in the lack of direct claim to inspiration.

Even if we are to accept this solution to the difficulty of seeing legitimate

revelation in the writings of Solomon, it does not solve the problem for the whole

of the wisdom corpus due to the fact that there are other writers beside Solomon,

notably Agur, Lemuel and the author of Job. How are we to account for

their work in this regard? One possible answer which might suffice for the first

two is the parallel we find in the New Testament. Just as Solomon prefigured

Jesus as the Messiah (a theme to be developed below) he likewise might as well

have attracted disciples (cf. 1 Kings 10:22 and the parallel in Chronicles). Jesus

was renowned for his wisdom and a corresponding wisdom seems to have been

granted to his disciples, for we notice particularly the Synoptic parallel in

Matthew 23:34ff and Luke 11:49 where the former reads "prophets and wise men"

while the latter has "prophets and apostles"; thus the equation of apostles and wise

men. Might it be, then, that Agur and Lemuel were disciples, in a sense, of

Solomon, and by virtue of their relationship with him were granted wisdom? It is

obvious that the answer to the problem here suggested is very tenuous and

possibly unsatisfactory. Moreover it completely lacks the ability to deal with Job

because of the lack of any ostensible

 

19This might be corroborated if we knew how soon I Kings 3:16ff followed

upon I Kings 3 :3ff, for in verse 7 Solomon claims to be a young and immature person.

If it was only the presupposition for wisdom that was granted to him, and if the second

pericope followed immediately after the incidents of the first, there would have been

no time for Solomon to fill in the framework with content, and thus the initial gift

would have to have included content. However, since we do not know the exact

temporal inter-relationships of these two incidents this argument is of no value.

20Cf. I Kings 10:24. We might also insert here an appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16 as

support for the conclusion.



7 WISDOM LITERATURE

 

relationship with Solomon.21 Nevertheless, having referred to the 2 Timothy

passage, in note 20, we can assert that although we do not know the reason or

method of this inspiration, we must support its existence.

Consequently, the only reason for not allowing inspiration derives from the

argument that the writings do not claim revelation or direct inspiration. Proverbs

2:6, mentioned above as stating that wisdom is the gift of God, might be

disregarded due to the fact that rain and sunshine are likewise gifts of God: i.e.,

that that reference does not show a distinction between what has been termed the

common grace of God and his special grace in the act of inspiration, the latter

being what we are seeking to demonstrate. In contrast, however, there is a final

fact which we must consider, and that is that the negative viewpoint here rests

upon an argument from silence: inspiration is not claimed, therefore it does not

exist. This logical device, though commonly used in the reconstruction of biblical

history, is quite prone to fallacy. In consequence, it should be reckoned to be at

least as tenuous as the arguments advanced for the full inspiration of the

literature, especially in light of 2 Timothy.

A transitional theme is that of the existence in the ancient Near East of a

common tradition of wisdom we find wisdom both in Mesopotamia and Egypt.22

Solomon is even compared with other wise men,23 which would indicate a

quantitative rather than a qualitative distinction between them. In fact, recent

study seems. to show that Proverbs 22: 17-24:23 is dependent upon an Egyptian

work, the Wisdom of Amen-em-ope, which is almost surely from an earlier date

than the biblical text.24 In light of this whole aspect of universality, how can

wisdom be regarded as divinely inspired? The first thing to note is that the

 

21cf. pp. 12f of this article.

22Irwin, p. 212. Murphy, "Assumptions:' p. 416f. Ibid.. "Introduction:'. p.

488. Robinson, p. 90.

23 1 Kings 4:29ff. Cf. in particular the Supplements to Vetus Testament Vol. III

from which tWo articles have been cited above.

24 Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago:

Moody, 1964), p. 457f, has reacted against the concept of borrowing by following

Kevin and deriving, on linguistic arguments, the Egyptian wisdom work from

Solomon's writings. One of his basic contentions was that the Wisdom of Amen-em-ope

was to be dated from the Persian or Greek period and was thus unavailable for

Solomon to borrow in the tenth century B. C. R. K, Harrison, Introduction to the Old

Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), p. 1014f, however, refers to some ostraca

evidence which would push the date back significantly before Solomon. Both authors

rightly show that the conjectural emendation of Proverbs 22:20 shalishim to

shalushim, referring to the thirty chapters of Amen-em-ope is unjustified. Both as well

point out that only about 30% of Proverbs 22-24 corresponds to Amen-em-ope. The

situation remains, however, that even if (without granting the point) there is borrowing

on the. part of the canonical wisdom, this borrowing is not done without significant

modification of the material borrowed. Cf. note 26 below.



TRINITY JOURNAL 8

 

wise man, be it Solomon or another, never borrowed without modification. This is

even true for the section of Proverbs just mentioned.25 In fact, the character of

Scripture as a whole lies in just such a tendency: it is never divorced from its

environment, but correspondingly, it is never completely molded by it either.

We should also recognize that some of Jesus' sayings might not have been original

to him.26 Thus if this partial dependence on the setting is a problem for the

Wisdom Literature, it is a problem for the whole of Scripture, for rarely does the

dictation theory of inspiration explain the nature of the inspiration process.

In spite of the fact, however, that universalism is no threat to a view on the

inspiration of the wisdom literature, it is a grave hazard on the path towards fitting

this literature into the Heilsgeschichte of epangelicalism.27 The character of the

Wisdom Literature is so universal that it seems at first glance to bear no

resemblance to this tradition of the Promise in at least three areas: 1) the lack of

reference to or association with the chosen nation of Israel; 2) the ignorance or the

ignoring of the Law and the cult; and 3) the lack of any messianic content. It is

apparent that the ubiquitous argument from silence is the major factor in

the discussion again, and so we must be warned at the outset of its inherent

weakness, especially in light of some not-so-silent passages.

The contrast which has been found between the Israel-centered viewpoint

of the Promise theology immediately preceding the time of Solomon and the

universal or gnomic outlook of the Wisdom Literature has been a major factor in

causing it to be shunted aside in the progress of revelation.28 But a look at the

historical context will hopefully weaken if not destroy this contrast. Again we

must look to the promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7. There, in the use of the

phrase 'ad 'olam which is I found there in verses 13, 24, etc., I think a beginning

has been made towards a universal outlook by means of the temporal extension of

the promise, even though this view is still highly ethnocentric.29 The temporal

aspect is extended to a true universal view in Psalm 72: in verses 5-7, the concept

is temporal

 

25 Fohrer, p. 308. Rankin, p. 8. Robinson, p. 237.

26 See the discussion of Jesus and wisdom in William Barclay, The First Three

Gospels (Philadelphia: Westminster, 19661, pp. 72-85, especially page 81. This

treatment, however, is dependent upon Bultmannian radical form criticism and thus

should be used with caution. See as well the comment in note 24 concerning the

amount of parallel material between Proverbs and Amen-em-ope.

27 Cf. Murphy, "Assumptions," p. 413.

28Baumgartner, p. 211. Rylaarsdam, p. 20. Zimmerli, p. 147.

29Psalm 89, the commentary on 2 Samuel 7, likewise has this temporal aspect,

but the additional emphasis is not so much on the nation but her law.



9 WISDOM LITERATURE

 

extension, but subsequent to this, in verses 8-1 , we find a geographical extension.

This Psalm parallels much of what is related in the historical books concerning

Solomon, and it appears as if he is the immediate referent.30 It, therefore,

Solomon was controlling large areas of territory other than Israel, as the aspect of

tribute in verse 10 of that Psalm would indicate I think we can see a reason for a

universal perspective. Solomon, if he was promulgating a way of life for the

subjects of his realm as is our thesis, would have to have been supra-national in

outlook. The main point to notice is not that there is no direct relationship to

Israel, but that there is no outright rejection of Israel. Since this universal or

gnomic view is not antithetic to the Israelite heritage, might not the latter therefore

be tacitly presupposed by the books of wisdom? If the historical reconstruction

given is valid, there is no reason why this could not be the case.

In addition, we ought to realize that this silence about Israel is only true in

the, book of Proverbs, for both Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs reveal the

geographical centrality of Israel in their thought. Song of Songs best exemplifies

the character which we would like to see as true of the whole corpus of the

Wisdom Literature in that the poetry in that book often mentions locations in the

traditional territory of Israel: Jerusalem (1:5; 3:5; 3: 10; 6:4), or parts of it Zion (3:

1) and the Tower of David (4:4); En-Gedi (1: 14); Sharon (2: 1); Gilead (4:1; 6:5);

Tirzeh (6:4);Heshbon (7:4); Bath-rabbim (7:4); and Carmel (7:4). But the lyric

,bursts beyond these boundaries into areas like Lebanon (3:9; 4:8; 4: 15; 5: 15;

7:4); Hermon (4:8); Amana (4:5); and Damascus (7:4). The absolute alienation of

the wisdom corpus from the Israelite state cannot be justified in light of evidence

such as this.31

A second aspect of the problem is the lack of ostensible relationship with

the Law and the cult of Israel.32 As with the nation, so with the Law, only more so:

instead of scattered references in the former case, we find no reference to the Law in

 

30 Nevertheless, the Psalm, because of its hyperbolic elements, takes on a

messianic import.

31 Job again is the weak point in the argument.

32 0tto J. Baab, The Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Abingdon-

Cokesbury, 1949), p. 73, uses this to establish the literature's post-exilic dating. This is

strange, for the strength of the cult after the exile was greater than it was before, in

that the cult received the whole allegiance of the people not divided with the

monarchy as had been previously.



TRINITY JOURNAL 10

 

the Wisdom Literature.33 A number of authors,34 however, have seen a possible

relation between Deuteronomy, particularly chapter 4, and the wisdom writings. In

that section it is written that 1) obedience to the Law is a pre-requisite for life

(verse 1) and 2) that the Law is the "wisdom" of the people (verse 6). While the

second aspect is very interesting and illuminating as regards the co-relation of the

two categories, it is the former which is most helpful in showing the possible

relationships between them. Throughout Proverbs we find statements parallel

to that of Deuteronomy 4:1: note for example Proverbs 3:22, "wisdom. ..will be

life for your soul." In the same line of thought see also 4:22; 8:35;35 14:27. (Cf.

12:28). The ideas expressed are almost identical. Thus if, according to Deuter-

onomy 4:6, the Law is wisdom, perhaps "wisdom" was the term used by Solomon

as a more inclusive category (and perhaps as one lacking the connotations of

exclusivism in the term "Law" (?)). Moreover it ought to be noted that there is

never a contradiction or rejection of the Law. No obstacle bars us, therefore, from

again claiming that Solomon is tacitly assuming .the content of revelation

preceding him.

The cult, however, is not covertly presupposed. Almost all aspects of the

cultic life are referred to: sacrifices (Proverbs 15:8;36 21:3, 27; and Job 1:5;

42:937); prayers (Proverbs 15: 29; 28: 9; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6); vows (Proverbs

20:25; Ecclesiastes 5 :4-6)' and perhaps even the concepts of first-fruits (Proverbs

3:9) and ritual purity {Proverbs 30: 12).38 There is

 

33 Even though the word torah is not without its appearance in the Wisdom

Literature, at least in Proverbs. In the number of references in which it occurs, the

majority are of the more general sense, "teaching" or "instruction" (1:8; 3:1; 4:2;

6:23; 7:2; 13:14). Several occurrences in chapter 28, however, (verses 4, 7 and 9) seem

to have a little more specific meaning. Nevertheless, even those lack an absolute

reference to the Mosaic Law and thus some have argued that the Law does not appear

in the Wisdom Literature. Further study of the 28th chapter is necessary to determine

the point.

34Particularly Murphy who sees a relationship to Deuteronomy in the hortatory

style of Proverbs ("Introduction:' p. 493) and in the objective of the content in the

ideal of the "good life" ("Concept:' p. 57). He does point out, however, that there is a

distinct difference between the two in that Deuteronomy is mainly legal in character.

Cf. Rylaarsdam, p. 23.

35 Cf. Payne, p. 243.

36 von Rad, p. 396 talks of a spiritualizing of the cult in the Wisdom Literature,

probably havi~g a verse like Proverbs 15:8 in mind. This, however, seems not to be the

case particularly in light of passages such as I Samuel 15:22..

37 Although Job does speak of sacrifices, it is not in the national cultic sense

which we find in the history of Israel, for Job himself performs the sacrifices, more in

line with patriarchal custom. It is significant, however, that Solomon seems to have

.offered sacrifices at the dedication of the Temple. Cf. I Kings 8:62ff.

38 Fohrer, p. 314, relates the cult and wisdom in a further way by juxtaposing

the asherti of the Wisdom Literature with the barod of the cult. A survey of the

vocabulary of the wisdom corpus would discount that association, for neither term is

used exclusively by one group of writings. While asherti is rare but not unknown in the

rest of the Old Testament, barod appears almost as frequently as ashert in the Wisdom

Literature.



11 WISDOM LITERATURE

 

apparently even a reference to the Temple (Ecclesiastes 5:1). Other cultic forms,

such as the Sabbath and circumcision, could then be assumed to be taken for

granted even though they are not explicitly discussed.39 Consequently the problem

is not the non-appearance of the cult and its component parts, but the

relatively unimportant place that it occupies in the Wisdom Literature. But is that a

problem? It only becomes so if we insist that the Wisdom Literature must

emphasize the cult as much as the pre-wisdom literature even though the purposes

of the different writers were different. But if Solomon's purpose was to portray,

the moral and practical ideals of the messianic kingdom, why must the cult

necessarily be as major a factor as it is elsewhere?

The major area of Israel's religious thinking had to do with the cult and with

the Law. A minor area, however, which ought to be considered separately from

them is Old Testament messianism. How is it that this finds no place in the

Wisdom Literature? And, since it is "absent," ought we to regard that literature as

an example of common grace looking backwards to the creation? Messianism,

properly speaking, began with the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7. Thus in answer

to the questions just posed, could we not say that it was so novel and undeveloped

an idea that nobody paid any attention Ito it? Not if we give any credence to the

quotation of Psalm 110 in Matthew 22:41-5. There the idea of messianism is

surely brought back to the time of David and shown to be a concern of his mind.

How then is it that this feeling seems to be missing from the documents of

wisdom? The whole point, however, is that it is not absent, for it forms the

foundation on which they lie. If Solomon thought that he was the Messiah40

(perhaps not with that terminology, but with its content) or even only the type of

that Messiah, either of which would only be natural in light of the way he did pre-

figure the Messiah and his reign,41 the

 

39Toy, p. 5327. Kidner, p. 33f states that the terminology of the Wisdom

Literature relates to the covenant people (although without any example or citation in

support of his claim) and on this basis claims that the Wisdom Literature assumes the

covenant relationship but deals with Man, not man as first assumed to be Israelite. von

Rad, p. 394, seems to use the quality of individualism found in the books of wisdom to

distinguish it from the corporate concepts of the earlier revelation. Individualism is not

absent from that previous literature, as shown by Deuteronomy 24:16.

400ne hindrance to the useful functioning of the Wisdom Literature in the life

of the believer might be viewed as depending upon Solomon's self-estimation. If this

literature is in fact Solomon's guide for his reign which he considered messianic, what

can we do with such literature when we know that he was not the Messiah? Is not the

credibility of the literature dependent upon the credibility of the source? One possible

reply would attribute to Solomon not a messianic self-consciousness but a typological

messianic self-consciousness. But even if no appeal is made to such a concept,

Solomon's error concerning himself does not necessarily invalidate the literature. The

wisdom was given by God and it is thus descriptive of the ideal situation of the

messianic kingdom even though Solomon was not the Messiah.

41 That there was reason for Solomon to think thus see above on the messianic

Psalm 72. Solomon did most of what was predicted of the Messiah in 2 Samuel 7

except, of course, rule forever. Note, too, that Solomon Was anointed (I Kings 1 :39).



TRINITY JOURNAL 12

 

Wisdom Literature be-comes the outpouring of teaching from that messianic

figure: the exhortation to a moral and wise life is thus the "Messianic Rule." There

seems to be nothing which would contradict that point of view.

On the contrary, there may even be something to confirm it, for in both 2

Samuel 7 and Psalm 89 God proclaims that David's offspring would be a son to

Him, and He would be his father. Perhaps this messianic relationship stands

behind the constant reference in Proverbs which make use of the vocative epithet

"my son" (1:8,10; 2:1; 3:1,21; 4:10,20; 5:1; 6:1; and 7:1. Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:2).

This view is tempting, especially when the speaker voicing that phrase also refers

to "my commandments" (3: 1). But it probably is just the human relationship

which is the direct setting, not only because "son" sometimes occurs in the plural

(4:1; 5:7; 8:32), but more because the father' who speaks is juxtaposed with a

mother (6:20). Even if there is no direct reference to the messianic relationship, it

might be that we are dealing with a typological comment in the same manner as

2 Samuel 7. There we find a statement that God will punish David's offspring if he

sins, even though the ultimate referent of that promise is Christ the sinless one. So,

as in this la-tter passage, we could have here a phrase which, though directly

referring to a human situation, is ultimately messianic. Discarding that possibility

even of the typologicallevel,4 2 however we return to a lack of reference to

messianism only to say that such a statement of messianic belief would be

unnecessary if the writer thought his writing to be a visible and concrete

expression of that messianism.

The drawback of the over-all reconstruction ought to be obvious, for there

exists an open inability to account for the book of Job, a work which some even

consider to be the peak of Old Testament wisdom. If, perchance, the story, while

dating in content from the time of the patriarchs, was written later, would

it not be possible to attribute the casting of that story into its present literary form

to be the work of Solomon or one of his followers? In that case, while the story

would have existed previously, it would have been adapted in .the Solomonic era

to add yet one more facet to the messianic teaching. The weakness of this attempt

to overcome the difficulty is that it would

 

42 In reckoning the father-son relationship described in Proverbs not to be

descriptive of that between Yahweh and his anointed king. we have made difficult the

answer to another question (cf. Rylaarsdam, p. 26): why is there lacking in the Wisdom

Literature the emphasis on the mercy of God or the love of God which we find so

efflusively expressed in the early messianic passages of the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 7

and Psalm 89. Again, however, it must be stated that the existence of the literature

itself is a testimony to that love and mercy, for if God had not put Solomon in the

position he did, which was an act of love and mercy, then there would have been no

reason for the literature.



13 WISDOM LITERATURE

 

necessitate an ad hoc creation of non-existent facts to fit the theory and for that

cause it is perhaps the' major thorn in the flesh of our thesis.

But that is not the situation for the other objections, for neither is the case

that the Wisdom Literature is in some sense uninspired or not in contact with

revelation, nor is it true that the absence or relative rarity of some facets of

Heilsgeschichte forces it out of the picture in the reconstruction of that

Heilsgeschichte. Because it does betray an awareness of its own indebtedness to

divine action, it becomes a part of the history of redemption. And because it fits

quite well as the Word explaining by example the significance and implications of

the messianic promise given in 2 Samuel 7, and is not deferred from that by its

apparent lack of connection with the preceding part of the history, it is not just a

parenthesis in that history. Instead it becomes an integral part of the Promise

theology portraying the ideal character of the citizen of the messianic kingdom

when "righteousness flourishes": this literature provides the specifics, the practical

applications, showing in just what ways the prudent or righteous person can

actualize the wish of the psalmist of Psalm 72:7 alluded to above.

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Trinity Journal

2065 Half Day Rd.

Deerfield, IL 60015

www.tiu.edu/trinityjournal/index.html

 

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu