Monday, September 23, 2019

What is Biblical Wisdom?

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.… He is like a tree planted by streams of water …" (Psalm 1:1–3).

We come now to a consideration of the wisdom literature of the Bible. The five wisdom books of the Old Testament are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. The New Testament wisdom book is James.

One of the best ways to get a handle on biblical wisdom is to contrast it with Greek philosophy. The word philosophy means “love of wisdom,” but for the Greeks, love of wisdom meant something very different from what it meant to the Hebrews. The Greek approach to philosophy tended to be highly theoretical, while the Hebrew approach was very practical. Greek philosophy tended to be abstract, but Hebrew wisdom tended to be very concrete. Greek philosophy preferred to be expressed in prose discussions, while Hebrew wisdom most often was expressed in a semi-poetic fashion.

The most important difference, which gives rise to these other differences, is this: In Greek philosophy, God stemmed from philosophical reflection. Greek philosophy questioned the existence of God and worked to demonstrate that there is an impersonal Unmoved Mover behind everything. By way of contrast, biblical wisdom starts with the self-revelation of the personal God who created all things. By questioning the existence of God and by fashioning a god out of their own intellects, the Greeks always operated in the realm of idolatry, however sophisticated they might have been in expressing it. Hebrew wisdom operated wholly in the realm of worship.

Why is Hebrew wisdom so practical? Because the fundamental questions have already been answered in God’s revelation. Why is biblical wisdom concrete and concerned with daily affairs? Because God created all things and is interested in every aspect of our lives. Why is Hebrew wisdom adorned in a semi-poetic style? Because the writers of this wisdom literature were confident about their position in God’s world, and thus were enabled to celebrate it in beauty.

Proverbs 1:7 says that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. The Greeks never even got to this beginning point, and all their wisdom—the wisdom of this world—is no more than ashes.

Wisdom comes into its fullness in the Solomonic era, after Israel had meditated on the Law of God for several centuries. It was from history, as recorded in the Bible, and from God’s Law that God’s people learned wisdom. If we want to understand biblical wisdom, we must also learn the building blocks that gave rise to it. Ask God to give you a new love for His wisdom as we study it in the coming days.