Trinity Journal 13NS (1992) 3-20.

                       Copyright © 1992 by Trinity Journal, cited with permission.




                 TESTAMENT THEOLOGY?


                                                 GARY V. SMITH



            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?





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

in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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 Israel's theology.2

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

from Egypt, it does not fit Westermann's definition of biblical

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 toward Israel, it has

overstressed Israel's unique view of history and unnecessarily


2 C. H. H. Scobie ("The Place of Wisdom in Biblical Theology," BTB

14 [1984] 43) calculates the small amount of space given to wisdom in recent OT theologies.

3 C. Westermann, Elements of Old Testament Theology (Atlanta: John Knox,

1978) 11. In another study (Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church

[Philadelphia:Fortress,1978] 37-39), Westermann puts wisdom under God's blessings

in Gen1:26-27."

4 Westermann, Theology, 11.

5 Ibid., 9.

6 C. E. Wright, God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital (SBT 8; London:

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

"Israel's Response" rather than God's revelation.11 Other factors

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 Egypt and Mesopotamia.

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.; London: Oliver and Boyd,

(1962) 1.430ff.

12 H. Gese, Lehre una Wirklichkeit in der alten Weisheit (Tiibingen: Mohr [Po

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.




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

B. Gemser says it is the "keyword of Israel's wisdom, re'sit in its

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

[1955] 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; LBS; New York: KTAV, 1976) 219.

17 J. Becker, Gottesfurcht im Alten Testament (Rome: Pontifical Biblical

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

different contexts.

Although the theme of fearing God is found in Genesis (22:12),

frequently in Deuteronomy (4:10; 10:12), and in prophetic texts (Jer

2:19; 5:22; 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 Israel's organic covenantal

history. Wisdom writers do not mention Israel's covenantal or

national promises. . . ."18 If the fear of the Lord in wisdom literature

was related to Israel's promise or covenant then a valid integration

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 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

created world.

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 6:24 (see also 1:13, 15; 16:19; 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;

13:14; 28:4, 7) and the tOc;mi ("commandments") (2:1; 3:1; 4:4; 6:23) in

Proverbs. G. von Rad believes that the motive clause in Deut

16:19--"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 19:14 and Prov 22:28];

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" (Sir 1:26; see also 17:11; 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 [1972] 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 School (Oxford:

Oxford Univ., 1972) and the summary in D. F. Morgan, Wisdom in the Old Testament

Tradition (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981) 94-106. D. A. Hubbard ("The Wisdom Movement

and Israel's Faith," TynBul 17 [1966] 11-13) also sees a strong connection between

wisdom and law. For a critique of Weinfeld's views see c. Brekelman, "Wisdom Influence

 in Deuteronomy," in La Sagesse de l'Ancien Testament (ed. M. Gilbert; Paris: Leuven, 1979)


24 von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 240-62; and B. T. Shepherd, Wisdom as a

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

sinful people.


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 Israel

[Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988] 215-16) places wisdom within the horizon of creation


26 Von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 148; H.-J. Hermission, "Observations on the

Creation Theology in Wisdom," in Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary

Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien (ed. J. G. Gammie, et aI.; Missoula: Scholars, 1978)


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 (Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1983) 83.

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; Berlin:I.

Topelmann.. 1966).

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

Context [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986] 211) believes wisdom "sought to interpret and

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

of S. Terrien. He sees the divine presence rather than covenant as

the homogeneous element in Israel's religion.32 The divine presence

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.




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 Israel's theology. An analysis 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

human imagination.

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; Missoula: Scholars, 1975) 118-20. He argues that it is

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

subordinate position.

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 [1979] 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





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; 22:12-14; 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; 15:17-

35; 18:5-21; 20:4-29) and his care for the righteous (4:6-7; 5:17-27;

8:5-7, 20-21; 11:13-19; 22:21-30). 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

(1933) 150-64; J. Blenkinsopp, Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1983) 56; and J. E. Hartley, The Book of Job (NICOT; Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 39. N. C. Habel (The Book of Job [Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1985] 30-31) sees movement in Eliphaz' speeches.

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; 11:13-14; 22:21-

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

(4:12-21; 6:10; 7:14; 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

Israel's covenant but adopt a theological understanding of God's

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.



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; 12:13-25; 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 (9:11-12). Job rejects the wisdom

of the wise men (12:12); instead he believes that all wisdom and

power belong to God (12:13-25). 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 (Downers Grove:

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 [New York: Association Press, 1963]

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 (9:22-24; 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.




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

his power.



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. 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




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, Providence and Suffering in the Old and New Testaments

(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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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

salvation history.

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 Egypt, giving them the

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 Israel, the nations, and nature. He rules over

his people as the covenant Lord who is with them and keeps his

covenant promises, as the lawgiver who provides instructions on


49 vonRad, Wisdom in Israel, 97-110.

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 Israel and has

revealed principles of conduct which influence future relationships,

issues of justice are basic to the relationship between the covenant

partners. If Israel is not righteous and does not follow God's

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

and Israel goes beyond justice. God's mysterious election of Abram,

his love for Israel (Deut 7:1-12), and his deliverance of Israel from

Egypt were free acts of grace and mercy. Justice cannot explain the

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 Israel, but they are not foreign to

Israel's wisdom theology.



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 (3:19-20; 8:22-

31) and freely controls the plans and lives of every person according

to his purposes (16:1-9, 33; 19:21; 20:24); 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; 5:21-

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 3:10-14). 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 (2:24-26;

4.14, 5.18 6.2, 8.16 17).

This central theme-God rules over Israel, the nations and

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 Israel conforms to his principles of justice and

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.

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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.



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