The Bible isn’t the only book of wisdom. Around the globe, men have reached for other books claiming to be the source of wisdom, also known as “skill in godly living.” When biblical wisdom literature was recorded, scribes of parallel cultures and kingdoms also penned their words and stories. But when we talk about biblical truth, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16). God’s book self identifies its content as inspired by the one true God, and that makes its wisdom unique and essential.
When we refer to biblical Wisdom Literature we include five books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. The righteous, the wicked, and the true God play the main parts in these books, revealing the limits of mankind’s wisdom and the necessity of fearing of God to prosper and find peace. In the times their words were written, voices opposing God’s ways called out from ancient streets peppered with a plethora of gods, but today voices call out from media screens, digital highways, steel framed cities and hand held gadgets. The tug of war for how we live hasn’t changed, but in many ways, the appearance of “righteous” and “wicked” has. Some may assume, then, the Bible doesn’t speak to life today, but Wisdom Literature’s concrete teaching matters as much now as when Job scraped his oozing sores.
Keys to unlock the 5 Wisdom books:
- Job – This book addresses the same questions asked today: Can we trust God? Is He good? Where do we find real comfort? The relatable character’s story takes place outside of Israel. Ultimately, we can put our faith in the sovereign God.
- Psalms – Not all of these songs written for public worship fit in the “wisdom” category. Divided into 5 books, the Book of Psalms likely began as personal expressions of emotion, adapted for congregations. This book gives shape to our intense feelings about life in pursuit of God. Basic Old Testament themes like the fall of man, the One God, and the covenant relationship come to life here.
- Proverbs – This collection of wisdom makes it clear that to be skillful in godly living, we must fear God and walk His way in everyday life. Practical truths show what a restored life with God looks like in our behavior, producing a joyful, useful life. Wisdom is available to all, and we discover it by comparing the wise man, the foolish man, and the simple man.
- Ecclesiastes – This is a book for our day; Ecclesiastes explores trusting in God while living in a messed up world. Poetic devices help organize these proverbs into clusters with a plot line about the unfolding of a quest for a good and satisfying life. This could be written in our day.
- Song of Solomon – Intimacy stirs up emotion, and this book of love poetry is no exception. With a variety of opinions on its interpretation, some treat it as an allegory of God’s love for Israel and others as a picture of Christ’s love for the church. Authorship is not certain, but we agree that it’s a love story. There’s no doubt this poetic book demonstrates how God’s ways are the pathway to delight.
In the New Testament the Book of James and some of Jesus’ own teaching also qualify as “Biblical Wisdom Literature,” but these five Old Testament books form the collection commonly known as Wisdom Literature.
Today, as in days of old, “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7) but wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the market she raises her voice,” (Prov. 1:20). Wisdom asks, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Prov. 1:22). It’s hard to hear the call of wisdom in today’s world, but our children, families, and world are desperate to understand and apply skill in godly living that leads to a relationship with God and His peace.
“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:22)
What evidence do you see that people desperately need biblical wisdom?