What is the purpose of wisdom literature? Why this unique genre in the midst of the Old Testament? We could say that the Pentateuch, historical books and prophets are all dealing with what God says. The wisdom books are men speaking what God says, back to Him. So, what do we need to know from the wisdom books?
First, they teach us wisdom. “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing in righteousness, justice and equity;“ (Proverbs 1:2-3). Life is full of decisions. Some are big, life-altering and others seem more mundane but all of us need wisdom to live Godly, and this section of the Scriptures gives us insight into how to do just that.
Consider the books labeled wisdom literature. Job shows how to live in light of suffering and gives us a glimpse into the interactions between God and Satan. Psalms express a heart of worship from the wise believer. Proverbs is a list of wise sayings that apply directly to everyday living. Ecclesiastes deals with the purpose of life and the futility of living without God (without wisdom). And the Song of Solomon shows us wisdom in a pure and intimate marriage relationship, picturing the relationship between Christ and His church.
Second, wisdom literature teaches us humility. The purpose of gaining Godly wisdom is not to become puffed up. Rather it points us to the greatness of God and the smallness of man.
O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breathe; his days are like a passing shadow. (Psalm144:3-4)
Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
And the Lord said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’ Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?’ (Job 40:1-4)
The vast wisdom of God, none can comprehend. Even Solomon in all his wisdom was nothing compared to the great and perfect wisdom of God. Wisdom literature shows us how much we do not understand and at the same time teaches us the very wisdom of God.
Third, wisdom literature shows us how to find wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom . . .” (Psalm 111:10) Fearing God is knowing God; His law, His justice, His wrath, His mercy, and His saving grace. To fear God is to love what He loves and hate what He hates. In Proverbs 8:13 the personification of wisdom speaks and says, “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” To truly know God is to know wisdom.
And how do we know His wisdom? “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5) How then is it given? Through His Word. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;…“(Psalm 19:7)
Fourth, wisdom literature, as with all of Scripture, points us to Christ. Consider the suffering of Job which prefigures the suffering of Christ and the justice of God through Christ’s suffering in our place. It also reveals man’s need for a Redeemer as Job cried out, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)
Examine the psalms, filled with Messianic types of Christ and Prophecies about Christ. Psalm 110 directly prophecies the Kingship and priesthood of the Messiah. “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ …You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” On the cross Jesus speaks the same words as David in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 2 references the full and ultimate reign of Christ, “. . . I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
There are the many wise sayings of proverbs. As stated earlier, Proverbs 8 is the personification of wisdom which existed before the creation of the world (verses 22-31). This wisdom is Christ. “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God…” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
Ecclesiastes is man’s search for meaning in life. All is found to be vanity. The only fulfillment we have is in Christ. “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)
Song of Solomon is a prefiguring of Christ and His relationship to the church. As Solomon delights in his bride so Christ delights in His church, as the bride finds joy in her husband so we find joy in Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2 tells us that God desires to present a pure bride, to Christ. But we have tainted the church with sin, therefore we need righteousness not our own. Ephesians 5 speaks of the love of Christ for His bride, to the point of giving His life for her so that she might be purified through His righteousness.
Let us learn wisdom and seek for wisdom in knowing God and keeping His commandments. May we come to the same conclusion as Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”