Você está na página 1de 50

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature: AnIntroduction

DrPaulBCoulter,January2011 www.paulcoulter.net

CONTENTS

Title

Page
2 3 5 12 24 30 33 45 49 49

Introduction PoetryintheHebrewBible WisdomLiterature Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes Job SongofSongs Conclusion Bibliography

P a g e |2

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

INTRODUCTION
ThisstudyisintendedtobeanintroductiontothefivebooksoftheBiblegroupedtogetherintheOldTestament ofEnglishtranslationsoftheBibleaftertheLawandhistoricalbooks(GenesistoEsther)andbeforethebooksof theProphets(IsaiahtoMalachi).Thefivebooksintheorderinwhichtheyareplacedare: Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes SongofSongs Thebooksdeservetobegroupedtogethersincetheyareclearlydifferentincharacterfromtheotherpartsofthe OldTestament(withthepossibleexceptionofLamentations,whichwasplacedtogetherwiththemintheHebrew Bible but is placed after Jeremiah in English translations because its authorship is traditionally attributed to the prophet),buttheyreallycomprisebooksoftwodifferentmajorgenres:

a) PoetrythePsalmsareacollectionofpoemsorsongs. b) WisdomJob,ProverbsandEcclesiastesbelongwithinthisgenre.
Havingidentifiedthesetwogenres,however,itmustbesaidthatthedivisionisnotasabsoluteasitmayappear, foranumberofreasons: ThereissomedebateastowhichcategorySongofSongsshouldbeplacedinisitapoeticsongoran exampleoflyricwisdom(seethesectiononSongofSongsforfurtherdiscussion). Anumberofpsalmscanbeclassifiedaswisdompsalms(seethesectiononPsalmsformoredetail). ProverbsandsectionsofEcclesiastesandJobarewritteninpoetry. Inadditionitisimportanttorealisethattheliterarygenrescalledwisdomandpoetryarebynomeansrestricted tothesefivebooks.Asweshallsee,thesegenresarefoundthroughouttheOldTestament(andevenintheNew Testament).Still,itiswithinthesefivebooksthatpoetryandwisdomareconcentratedintheOldTestament,and thissectionservesadistinctpurposewithinthecanonofScripture. Insummary,Iwillarguethatthesebooksservetwoimportantpurposes:

CommentaryontheOldTestamentnarrative
Together with Lamentations and the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve Minor prophets(HoseatoMalachi)theyserveasabreakfromandacommentaryuponthenarrativebackbonethat runsthroughtheOldTestament.TheotherOldTestamentbooks(GenesistoEstherandthebookofDaniel) arepredominantlynarrative,tellinganunfoldingstoryofGodsrelationshipwithmankindandespeciallywith Israel.Thesebookssitalongsidethatnarrativeandgiveusinsightsintoitssignificanceandintothespirituallife ofthepeople.

Insightintoeverydaylifeandexperience
Whereas the narrative books focus on big events, nations and major characters, these poetic and wisdom books give us insights into the feelings and experience of individuals. In some cases (primarily David and possiblyalsoSolomon)theinsightsareintothelifeofcharacterswhofiguresignificantlyinthenarrative,butin otherstheauthorisunknownorrelativeinsignificantinhistoricalterms.Wherethenarrativebooksfocuson GodsactionsinthehistoryofIsraelandthesurroundingnations,thesebooksfocusontheresponseofGods peopletoHim.TheyprimarilyrecordthewordsofpeopleaboutGod,includingpraiseanddespair,questions andstruggles.TheyareaninsightintotheheartofthefaithfulpeoplewithinIsrael.Ifwedidnothavethese bookswewouldstruggletoknowwhatitwasliketolivealifeoffaithinGodasoneofHispeople. Beforeconsideringeachbookinturnwemustfirstbrieflyconsiderthetwomajorgenresofwisdomandpoetry thatcomprisethesebooks.

P a g e |3

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

POETRYINTHEHEBREWBIBLE

TheplaceofpoetryintheOldTestament
According to Grant Osborne: Poetry is a device that cuts across other genres, being a major rhetorical techniqueinwisdomandpropheticliterature.1PoetryisfoundinthreeplaceswithintheOldTestament: PoeticBooksthreewholebooksareentirelycomprisedofpoetryorsongs:Psalms,SongofSongsand Lamentations. Narrativebookssongsandpoemsarefoundwithinthenarrativebooks,forexample:Genesis49(Jacobs blessing); Exodus 15:118 (the song of Moses and Miriam); Deuteronomy 32 (Moses song), 33 (Moses blessing of the tribes); Judges 5 (Deborahs song); 1 Samuel 2:110 (Hannahs prayer) ; 1 Kings 12:16 (IsraelsanswertoRehoboam);2Kings19:2134(IsaiahsprophecytoHezekiah). Propheticbookssomeofthepropheticbooksareentirelyoralmostentirelywritteninpoetry(Hosea, Joel,Amos,Obadiah,Micah,Nahum,Habakkuk,Zephaniah)whileotherscontainlengthyportionsofpoetry (Isaiah,Jeremiah,Jonah,Zechariah). ThereareanumberoftypesofpoetryintheOldTestament,includingwarsongsgivingpraisetoGodforgiving victory(e.g.Exodus15:118;Judges5)andlovesongs(SongofSongs),butthepsalmisthepredominantform.The bookofPsalmscontainsanumberofdifferentkindsofpsalms,whichwillbeconsideredinthesectiononPsalms. GrantOsbornewritesabouttheimportanceofpoetryinthenationallifeofIsrael:2 Semitic poetry had its origins in the religious life of the people, both corporate and individual. Prose was inadequatetoexpressthedeepyearningsofthesoul,andpoetryasanemotional,deepexpressionoffaithand worshipbecameanecessity.Themanytypesofreligiousneedcalledfordifferenttypesofhymns.Hebrewpoetry wasnotrecreationalbutwasfunctionalinthelifeofthenationanditsrelationshipwithYahweh.Poetryhada worshipfunctioninmediatingbetweenthepeopleandGodandasermonicfunctioninremindingthepeopleof their responsibilities before God. The Psalms, for instance, were not peripheral as hymns often are today but were a focal point of the service both in temple and in synagogue. It is not without reason that prophetic utterancesfromGodweresofrequentlygiveninpoeticform.Notonlyweretheymoreeasilyremembered,but theywerealsomoreemotiveandpowerfulintheirmessage. For this reason he can claim that theology is central to biblical poetry.3 Poetry expresses truth in a way that 4 othergenrescannot.RobertAlterwrites: |Poetry,workingthroughasystemofcomplexlinkagesofsound,image,word,rhythm,syntax,theme,idea,isan instrument for conveying densely patterned meanings, and sometimes contradictory meanings, that are not readilyconveyablethroughotherkindsofdiscourse.

LiteraryfeaturesofHebrewpoetry
In most modern English translations of the Bible poetry has been identified by indentation of the text. Within Hebrew poetry there are four main features that can be identified and which are important in interpreting the poem:

1. MetricalPatterns therhythmofthepoemorsong.IdentifyingthisdependsonknowledgeofHebrew
andphonetics.Scholarsdivideoverwhethertobasethemetricalstructureonstressorsyllablecounts.The metricalstructureismoreimportantinconsideringhowthepoemshouldbereadaloudratherthanhowit shouldbeunderstood,hencereaderswhoarenotHebrewscholarsshouldnotworrygreatlyaboutit.

1 2

Osborne,1991,p.174 Osborne,1991,p.181 3 Osborne,1991,p.186 4 RobertAlterquotedinVillanueva,2010,p.75

P a g e |4

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

2. Parallelism Hebrew poetry is marked by parallels of grammar and language. The traditional approach
(afterBishopRobertLowthin1750)sees3basictypesofparallels: a. Synonymousrepeatwithlittleornoaddedmeaning(e.g.Isaiah53:5;Proverbs3:14). b. Synthetic(orstep)thesecondlineaddsmeaningtothefirst.Thistypeisfarmorecommonthan synonymousparallelism.Itincludesclimacticparallelism,inwhichseveralunitsbuildthethoughtto aclimax(e.g.Psalm8:34;29:1). c. Antitheticalthesecondlineiscontrastedwiththefirst(e.g.Proverbs3:1).Insomecasesthesecond linestilladdsclarificationandsocanfallundersyntheticparallelismtoo(e.g.Psalm20:7;Proverbs1:7). Anotherformofantitheticalparallelismisintrovertedparallelism,wheretwolinescontrastwithtwo others,ofteninachiasticpattern(e.g.Psalm30:810). Morerecently,somescholarshavequestionedthisapproach,claimingthatsynonymousparallelismisnot foundinHebrewpoetryandthatthesecondlinealwaysaddsmeaninginsomesense,ifonlybyclarifyingthe first.Somecasesofparallelism(especiallysynonymousparallels)areincomplete,withoneelementfromthe firstlinemissingfromthesecond(e.g.Psalm24:1)andmoreoftenthannotinthesecaseswhatiscalledthe ballastvariantoccurs,asthemissingelementiscompensatedforbytheadditionofafurtherthought(e.g. Psalm18:17).

3. Poeticlanguage Hebrewpoetryusesanumberofcharacteristicliterarydevices.Someofthesecanbe
identifiedintheEnglishtranslation,whilstothersareonlyevidentintheHebrew: a. Chiasmthisdevice,whichisalsofoundinmanyNewTestamentpassages,reverseswordsorideasin successiveparallelsectionsformingasymmetricalmirrorimage.Consider,forexample,Isaiah6:10: A maketheheartofthispeoplecalloused B maketheirearsdull C Andclosetheireyes C Otherwisetheymightseewiththeireyes, B hearwiththeirears, A understandwiththeirhearts,andturnandbehealed b. Paronomasia play on words (e.g. Isaiah 5:7, the words for justice and bloodshed differ by one letterinHebrew,asdothewordsforrighteousnessandweeping). c. Alliterationlinesbeginningwiththesameletterofthealphabet(e.g.Psalm119,eachlinewithineach strophebeginswiththesameHebrewletter). d. AcrosticseachlinebeginswithasuccessiveletteroftheHebrewalphabet(e.g.Psalm25;34;37;111; 112;119;Lamentations3). e. Assonance similar sounding words (e.g. Jeremiah 1:1112, the words for almond branch and watchingoverdifferbyonevowelsoundintheHebrew).

4. Imagery theuseoffigurativelanguageischaracteristicofpoetryinmanylanguagesandisimportantto realiseifwearetoavoidmistakesininterpretingthemeaningofpoetry.Imagesarefoundintwoforms:


Similes an illustrative image introduced with the word like (e.g. Job 30:8; Psalm 1:34; 31:12; Proverbs11:12;Isaiah1:30). b. Metaphorsuseofanillustrativeimagewithoutthewordlike(e.g.Psalm19:12;Amos4:1).Godis metaphorically depicted as an enthroned king, a shepherd, a warrior, a charioteer, a father, a shepherd,arock,arefreshingpooletc. a.

P a g e |5

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

WISDOMLITERATURE

Whatiswisdom?
Wisdomispopularlythoughtofastheabilitytouseknowledgeeffectivelyandskillfullyinmakingdecisionswith positive consequences. Although this definition is included in the biblical concept of wisdom, it misses a fundamentalprincipleinwisdomasdefinedinScripture,whichisitsbasisinareverentialrelationshipwithGod. Wisdom isalways theexerciseof godly reasonand understanding in the face of,and with trust in,what God is doinginourtime.GrantOsbornewritesthat,ItsgoalistouseproperlyGodscreationandtoenjoylifeinthe presentunderhiscare.5WisdomisavitalskillforlifeandanecessarycomplementtoTorah(instructionor, morecommonlybutperhapsmisleadingly,law).TheLawofMosescontainsmanycommandments,butitcan nevercovereverypossiblesituationordecisionthatneedstobemade.Theonlywaytofaceeveryaspectoflife withfaithfulnesstoGodistodevelopwisdom.Wisdom,inasense,fillsinthegapsbetweentheLaw,orperhaps weshouldsayitguidesthechoicesoftheGodfearingpersonwithinthelimitsprescribedbytheLaw.Since,as GraemeGoldsworthypointsout,wisdomisvirtuallysynonymouswithrighteousnessrighteousnessisseento befarmorethanethicalconformity6.WeneedwisdomifwearetoliveourliveswhollyforGod.

TheplaceofwisdomintheOldTestament
WisdomsayingsarefoundinnumerousplacesintheOldTestament: Samsonsverseriddle(Judges14:12ff.) ProverbsarefoundinnarrativeandpropheticbooksDavidtoSaul(1Samuel24:13);AhabtoBenhadad(1 Kings20:11);Jeremiah31:29andEzekiel18:2(ajokeaboutabadsituationforparentsbutaworseonefor children). Jothamsfable(Judges9:815)andJoashsvariant(2Chronicles25:18). TheparablesofNathan(2Samuel12:1ff.)andwomanofTekoa(2Samuel14:4ff.) AllegoriesinEzekiel(chapters16,17and23),Isaiah(28:23ff.)andJeremiah(18:1ff.) SomePsalmsarewisdompsalmsespeciallywhenthepsalmistturnsfromaddressingGodtoteachingor warninghisfellowmen(e.g.Psalms1,37and127)ortograpplingwithdisturbingquestions(e.g.Psalms49 and73). Although wisdom clearly predates the wisdom books themselves, it was in the reign of Solomon that wisdom literature reached its zenith. Much of Proverbs is attributed directly to Solomon, and Ecclesiastes and Song of Songsaredirectlyorindirectlyassociatedwithhim.DerekKidnerconnectsthisfloweringofwisdomliteraturein the10thCenturyBCtothestimulusofSolomonsreignwithincreasedtravel,trade,exchangeofideas,prosperity, leisureandarts.7SolomonhimselfwasgiftedbyGodwithwisdomand1Kings3and2Chronicles1tellhowhe chosewisdomasagiftfromGodinpreferencetorichesorfame.Godsresponsewastogranthimallthree.Sadly Solomon squandered his wisdom in the later part of his reign, but his influence still had a major impact on the developmentofwisdominIsrael.TheexampleofSolomonisareminderthatwisdomispracticalskill(hewanted wisdom to be able to lead and given effectively according to 2 Chronicles 1:10) and that wisdom must be used constantlyinacontextofreverentrelationshipwithGodifitistobeeffective. Inadditiontothepresenceofwisdomsayings,wisepeoplearealsomentionedinnarrativebooks: ProfessionalcounsellorslikerivalsAhithophelandHushaiservedintheroyalcourt(2Samuel15:1217:23) LocalwisepeopleexistedinIsraelitesocietyJonadab(2Samuel13:3);wisewomanofTekoa(2Samuel14), cityofAbel(2Samuel20:18). Fourwisemenarenamedin1Kings4:31,buttheirwisdomwassurpassedbySolomon,whohadadivinegift ofwisdom.
5 6

Osborne,1991,p.191 Goldsworthy,2000,p.189 7 Kidner1985,p.1415

P a g e |6

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

Anofficeofwisemanwasrecognisedalongsideprophetsandpriests(Jeremiah18:18). Theclassofwisemen cameunder criticism inthelateyearsofthekingdomfromtheprophetsIsaiah(44:25) and,mostnotably,Jeremiah(8:9).SomehaveinterpretedthesecommentsintheProphetsasanattackonthe very concept of wisdom and the wise. They suggest that the prophets believed in revelation from God whereas the wise men (and the wisdom books) were simply presenting a concept of life without direct interventionfromGodinignoranceofconceptslikecovenantwhichwerecentraltonarrativeandpropheticbooks. ThissuggestioncreatesafalsedichotomybetweenrevelationandwisdomandtearstheOldTestamentapart.The factthatIsaiahandJeremiahcriticisedthepeoplewhoheldtheofficeofwisemanintheirdaydoesnotmean thattheywereinconflictwiththeearlierwisdomwritingsanymorethantheirattacksonfalseprophetsintheir daynegatestheauthorityoftheearlierprophets(orevenoftheirownministries).Theywerespeakinginatime whenthewisemenwereblindtowhatGodwasdoingandthereforemisleadingthepeople.Wisdom,properly understood, isno less a revelation from God thanprophecy. Although prophecy maybe thought ofasspecial revelation,asGodspokedirectlytoHispeople,wisdomisaformofgeneralrevelationbasedonthenatureof theuniverseascreatedandruledbyGod. Asmentionedintheintroductionabove,wisdomliteraturetogetherwithPsalmsandSongofSongs,servesasa pauseinthenarrativeflowoftheOldTestamentandanopportunitytoreflectonthesignificanceoftheflowof Godsstoryforourlivesinthehereandnow.DerekKidnercapturesthisrealitypowerfullyinrelationtothethree mainwisdombooks:8 TherecomesapointintheOldTestamentwhenthepilgrimisfreetostopandtakealonglookround.Hehashad awellmarkedpathtofollow,andstillitstretchesonahead.Butnowhemustrelateittotheworldatlarge,to thescenespreadoutoneveryside:fromwhatliesrightathisfeet(shrewdlypointedoutinProverbs)towhatis barelyvisibleatthehorizonthedarkriddleofhowtheworldisgoverned(thebookofJob)andhowitshouldbe valued(Ecclesiastes).

Whatiswisdomliterature?
ThewisdombooksoftheOldTestamentareJob,ProverbsandEcclesiastes.SomescholarsalsoaddSongofSongs tothelist.Asnotedabove,however,wisdomalsoappearselsewhereintheOldTestament,anditshouldalsobe notedthatmanypartsoftheNewTestamentcanalsobethoughtofaswisdom.Forexample,theparablesof Jesus and much ofHis teachingin discoursescan be thought of aswisdom sayings(e.g. beatitudes, teaching by questions,useofprovocativeimagery)andsomecommentatorsclassifyJamesasawisdombook(certainlyithas aninterestinwisdom,accordingtoJames1:5anditsstylebearssignificantsimilaritiestoOldTestamentwisdom literature). The genre of wisdom literature can, therefore, refer to the books listed above, but it can also embraceawidevarietyofsubgenresfoundthroughoutScripture:

1.

Theproverb thisisabriefstatementofuniversallyacceptedtruthformulated insuchawayastobe


memorable.9 The Hebrew word mashal normally translated as proverb may mean either like (i.e. a descriptivesaying)orrule(i.e.apotentsaying),anditisusedmorewidelyintheOldTestamenttodescribe allegory (Ezekiel 17:110), aphorisms (Ecclesiastes 9:1710:20), popular sayings (Jeremiah 23:28), discourse (Numbers23:7,18)andsimilitudes(1Samuel10:11).Proverbsperseoffer: Instruction(e.g.Proverbs22:1724:22) Admonitionorprohibition(e.g.Proverbs8:2431,33) Exhortationorcounsel(e.g.Proverbs22:28) 10 Theydothisthroughavarietyofliterarytechniques: Synonymousparallelsusesimilaritiesoranalogiestomaketheirpoint(e.g.Proverbs22:2227) Antitheticalparallelsusecontraststomaketheirpoint(e.g.Proverbs11:131) Factual,experientialorinstructionalstatements(e.g.Proverbs17:27)

8 9

Kidner,1985,p.11 Osborne,1991,p.195 10 SeeAtkinson,1996,p.26ff.foralongerdiscussionofhowvariousproverbsfunction

P a g e |7

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

2.

Thesayingsayingsaresimilartoproverbs,butnotsodevelopedinformoruniversalintheirapplication.
Sayingscanbedividedintotwotypes: a. Experientialsayingsdescribeactualsituationsbutremainopentoclarificationtheyareobservations ofwhatsometimeshappens,notfixedrules(e.g.Proverbs11:24;17:28) b. Didacticsayingsarelessgeneralandintendtoteachaparticularvalue(e.g.Proverbs14:31). Sayings are often collected into general discussions or instruction on a topic, for example in Proverbs 19 wherethewisemaniscontrastedwiththefoolandrighteousnesswithevil,orinthebookofEcclesiastes.

3.

Thediscourseorinstruction alongerargumentfortheimportanceandnatureofwisdom,generally
addressedtomyson.ThisisthedominantformofProverbschapter1to9,whichcontainsseveralsuch discourses,andisalsofoundinProverbs22:1723:14.

4.

Thenumericalsaying theseoftenenigmaticsayingstaketheform,therearenthings,n+1that,
whereniseitherthree(fourtimesinProverbs30)orsix(inProverbs6:1619).Itisnotalwaysimmediately obvious how the resulting lists are connected, but it seems likely that the intention is to emphasise that everythingincreationisorderly,evenifitdoesnotinitiallyseemso.

5.

The admonition a command to action or a prohibition normally followed by a motivation statement telling hearers why they should listen to it (e.g. Proverbs 9:9; 22:2425). In other cases no motivation is stated(e.g.Proverbs20:18)oritisimplicit(e.g.Proverbs24:1718;25:2122). Thewisdomhymn these include two major themes: the glorification of wisdom and thanksgiving to
GodasCreatorandRedeemer.Theyarefoundinthewisdompsalmsandinpoeticsectionsofthewisdom books(notablyJob5:916;9:512;12:1325;26:514;28;Proverbs8).

6.

7.

Thedialogue discussionordebatebetweentwopeople.ThisistheprimarysubgenreofJob,whichis
structuredaroundaseriesofdialoguesbetweenJob,hisfriendsandGod.ItisalsofoundinProverbs1:1114, 2223;5:1214;7:1420;8:436.

8.

The confession autobiographical material describing the problems faced by the wise person as an
exampleforothers.Ecclesiastesisaprimeexample,butJob2931;40:45;42:16andProverbs4:39;24:3 34canalsobecategorisedasconfessions.

9.

Thebeatitude astatementpromisingblessingforcertainactions(e.g.Psalm1:1;112:1;Proverbs3:13; 8:3234;14:21;16:20;19:18;20:7;28:14;Ecclesiastes10:17).


butmayunderlienumericalproverbssuchasProverbs6:1619and30:1531.

10. TheriddleriddlesonlyfoundintheirpureforminScripturewithinthestoryofSamson(Judges14:1018),

11. Theallegory althoughitisusedinthepropheticbooks,allegoryisfoundexplicitlyintheOldTestament


wisdom literature only twice: in Proverbs 5:1523 about adultery and marriage and in Ecclesiastes 12:17 aboutoldageanddeath.

12. ThewisdomlisttheseappearinJob28;36:2737;38;4041;Psalm104;148. Itisalsohelpfultorealisethatwisdomliteratureisgenerallywritteninpoetry,andsootherliteraryfeaturesof Hebrewpoetryaretobefoundwithinthem,including: Acrostics(e.g.Proverbs31:1031) Alliteration(e.g.Ecclesiastes3:18) Similesandmetaphors(e.g.Job32:19;SongofSongs4:16)

Thetheologyofthewisdomliterature
OldTestamentwisdomliteraturehasfourmajorcharacteristics:

P a g e |8

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

1) Practicalorientation
Thereisaconcernforthepassingonofthewisdomofthepasttotheyoung.Wisdomliteraturecentreson properetiquetteandspeech(Proverbs29:20),selfcontrol(25:28),familyrelationships(10:1),materialwealth (11:4).Italsoasksdeepquestionslikewhytherighteoussuffer(Job),whytheevilprosper(Psalms49;73)and whatpurposelifehas(Ecclesiastes).Majortopicsdiscussed,accordingtoDerekKidner,includeGodandman, wisdom,thefool,thesluggard,thefriend,words,thefamily,lifeanddeath.GrantOsbornewritesthat:11 Sincewisdomwritingsdealsoconstantlywiththepragmaticsideoflife,itiseasytomisusethemtosupport an earthcentered lifestyle. Yet this very aspect makes wisdom literature so valuable for the modern Christianwhoseeksarelevantreligion. WisdomliteraturecallsustosurrendereveryaspectoflifetoscrutinyanditseesGodswisdomexpressed and echoed everywhere except where man, the rebel, has presumed to disagree and to disrupt the pattern.12Itismanssinthatcauseswisdomnotalwaystotriumph,andsinatitsheartistherejectionof GodandHisways.Thisrealisationpreparesusforthesecondgreatthemeofwisdomliterature.

2) DependenceonGod
Theothermajorfocusofwisdomliteraturewhichmustbeheldinbalancewithitspracticalorientationifwe aretoavoidtheearthcentredlifestyleOsbornementionsisitscalltodependenceuponGod.Accordingto Derek Kidner, it is this that keeps the shrewdness of Proverbs from slipping into mere selfinterest, the perplexityofJobfrommutiny,andthedisillusionofEcclesiastesfromfinaldespair.13TheGodcentredfocus ofwisdomisseeninthreewaysinthewisdomliterature: a. Wisdom is founded on reverence for God The foundational principle of wisdom is the fear of the Lordcombinedwiththeinjunctiontoturnawayfromevil(Job1:1;28:28;Proverbs3:7;8:13;16:6). The fear of the Lord is the milieu or sphere within which true wisdom is attainable.14 In fact, the precept that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom is found in differing forms in all of the wisdomandpoeticbookswiththeexceptionofSongofSongs:Job28:28;Psalms111:10;Proverbs1:7; 9:10; Ecclesiastes 12:13. It is vital to remember in reading wisdom literature that this attitude of reverenceforGodisfoundationaltowisdominallitsformsandinitsapplicationtoalloflife.AsDerek Kidnerwrites:15 thefearoftheLordthatfilialreverencewhichtheOldTestamentexpoundsfromfirsttolastisnot amerebeginnerssteptowisdom,tobeleftbehind,buttheprerequisiteofeveryrightattitude.Only sowilltheworldbeseentherightwayup,andlifebegintorevealitsintendedpattern b. Wisdomconnectsdailyexperienceswith thecentralityofGodscovenantalthoughGods covenant withIsraelisneverexplicitlymentionedinthewisdombooksitistheimpliedbackgroundtoallthatthey teachaboutpracticalliving.Wisdomcomplementsthecovenantratherthandenyingorchallengingit.In fact,wisdomisidentifiedwithTorahorinstruction(e.g.Proverbs3:112;4:45)andthewisdompsalms makethelinkwithGodsTorahexplicit(e.g.Psalms1and119).WisdomliteratureremindsusthatGods presencecannotbeconfinedtothepropheticandpriestlyspheresoflifeitembraceseveryaspectof dailyexistence. c. WisdomispersonifiedasanextensionofGodProverbspresentswisdomasacraftsmanwithGodin Creation(Proverbs8:2930),afemaleteacherinvitingstudentstolearnfromheratthegatesofthecity (1:2021; 8:136), and a hostess inviting people to her banquet (9:112). This is in contrast with the adulteress(2:1619;7:627)andthefoolishhostess(9:1318).

3) Indirectauthority
Wisdomliteratureassumesdivineauthorityratherthanexplicitlystatingit(asintheProphets).Wisdomhas authoritybecause:
11 12

Osborne,1991,p.191 Kidner,1985,p.12 13 Kidner,1985,p.17 14 Osborne,1991,p.193 15 Kidner,1985,p.19

P a g e |9

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

GodmadethingsthiswayandfearofHimisfoundational Traditionhaspassedthesetruthson(theimageofthefatherteachinghisson) Experienceshowsthattheyworkinpractice. DerekKidnerwritesaboutthekindofauthoritythewisdombookspossess:16 intheWisdombooksthetoneofvoiceandeventhespeakershavechanged.ThebluntThoushaltorshalt not of the Law, and the urgent Thus saith the LORD of the Prophets, are joined now by the cooler commentsofthelearner.WherethebulkoftheOldTestamentcallsussimplytoobeyandtobelieve,this partofitsummonsustothinkhardaswellashumbly;tokeepoureyesopen,touseourconscienceand ourcommonsense,andnottoshirkthemostdisturbingquestions.

4) Creationtheology
WisdomliteratureurgesustotakeourproperplaceinthecosmosasGodhascreatedit.Itremindsusthat Godhascreatedanorderlyandrationalworld,asDerekKidnerpointsout:17 thisdemandforthoughtpresupposesaworldthatanswerstothought.Not,tobesure,onewhichwecan hopetomasterwithourfiniteminds;butthatisourlimitation,nottheworlds. Wisdom,therefore,hastodowitharightperceptionandunderstandingofreality.18Therearetwomajor aspectstothistheologyofcreation: a. TheprincipleofretributiongovernstheuniverseallpeoplewillanswertoGod(Proverbs10:27;11:21; 12:21;13:25).EvenwhenthewickedprosperthisisonlytemporaryuntilGodsjudgement(Psalm73:18 20,27;Ecclesiastes12:14). b. Divine justice is defended both Job and Ecclesiastes deal with the central problem of Wisdom literature,theproblemofevilandthesufferingoftheinnocent.Theultimateanswerofbothbooksis thatweareunabletocomprehendthedivineorder. Wisdomliterature,then,providesaconstantreminderofGodscreatorshipandservesasacorrectiveagainst extremesofpietismwhichtendtowithdrawfromtheworldorgodlesssecularism.Bothofthesetendencies areathreattoChristianstoday,andwisdomliteraturecanhelpusmaintainahealthyviewofordinarylife andabolishthedividebetweensacredandsecular.DerekKidnerwrites:19 ThepresenceofthiskindofmaterialinScriptureinvitesthemanofGodtostudyhiswholeenvironment,not simplythatpartofitwhichbearsdirectlyonthecovenantoronmoralitySoheistakingGodscreatorship asseriouslyashisredemption,andisgivingdueweighttothesolidaritybetweenallpartsofhisdominion, materialandimmaterial,measuringallalikebythesingleconceptofwisdomfromtheuniverseitselfdown tothebehaviourofacolonyofants,orofachildoracourtingcouple,orofabuyerandsellerdoingbusiness.

Guidelinesforinterpretingwisdomliterature
FeeandStuartidentifythreewaysinwhichwisdombookshavefrequentlybeenmisused:20

1) ReadingthebooksonlyinpartandsomissingtheoverallmessageForexample,whatdoesEcclesiastes3:2 meaninthecontextofthebook?IsitatruthfulstatementaboutGodssovereigntyandthereforeaguidefor our attitude to life or a cynical statement about the futility of life without God which should therefore be rejected?Ifthebooksarenotreadintheirentiretyitmaybepossibletotakestatementsoutofcontextand applytheminaliteralisticwaywithoutrealisingthattheyareonlyoneaspectofthetruthorthatwisdomis needed to decide when to apply the statement. For example, Proverbs 10:22 in isolation could appear to suggestthatthegodlypersonwillalwayshavehealth,wealthandprosperity.Thisverseneedtobebalanced withverseslikeProverbs17:5and18:23andwiththemessageofJob,whichshowsthatrighteouspeoplecan sufferunjustly.

16 17

Kidner,1985,p.11 Kidner,1985,p.12 18 Goldsworthy,2000,p.186 19 Kidner,1985,p.14 20 FeeandStuart,1993,p.207

P a g e |10

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter 2) Misunderstandingwisdomtermsandcategories,aswellasstylesandliterarymodese.g.inProverbs14:7 misunderstandingthemeaningoffool(someonewhorejectsGodsperspectiveonliferatherthansomeone of low intelligence or limited education) and of staying away (not seeking instruction or advice from him ratherthantotallyavoidinghim).

3) Failure to follow lines of argument For example, Job 15:20 (spoken by Eliphaz) as Gods truth and so concludingthatwickedpeoplearealwaysunhappy,withoutreadingJob17:116whereJobhimself actually refutes Eliphazs argument, revealing it to be false. There is a danger in failing to ask who is speaking and whethertheirwordsareapprovedthatwemayactuallyendupapplyingwhatthebookasawholecondemns. Thefollowingprinciplesmayhelptowardsamorefaithfulinterpretationandapplicationofwisdomliterature:

1. Notetheformofthewisdomsaying
Is it a proverb or a longer didactic saying? Is it allegorical? If it is a dialogue or imagined speech, is it presentedascorrectorincorrect?Inthecaseofindividualproverbsbesuretoreadparallelsayingstogether. For example, reading only the first half of Proverbs 13:24 may lead to harsh discipline of children, but the second half is a necessary corrective that shows discipline must be done because of love and then done carefully.

2. Askwhethertheimmediatecontextisimportant
ItisinsomesectionsofProverbs,namely chapters19and3031,but notinmostotherpartsofthebook, whichcontaincollectionsofsayings.Becausethereisnologicalargumentornarrativeconnectingthebulkof proverbs in the book of Proverbs, sayings on a similar theme can then be collected together and cross referenced to build a more complete picture of the wisdom of Proverbs on that theme. In Job and Ecclesiastes,contextisvitallyimportant,astheultimatemeaningofthebookisonlyclearfromareadingof thewhole.

3. Determinewhetherhyperboleispresent
Given the fact that wisdom literature is written as poetry, it is necessary to look out for statements that deliberatelyexaggerateorgeneralisethetruthbeingpresented.Forexample,doesProverbs3:910promise prosperity to all who are faithful to God? How does this compare with Proverbs 23:45 with its warnings aboutstrivingtogetrichandthetransienceofwealth?DoesProverbs22:2627prohibitallborrowing,such asmortgages?GrantOsbornewarnsthat,Wisdomsayingsarewritteninordertoberemembered,andso theytendtobepithystatementsthatpreferrhetoricalskilltoaccuracy.21

4. Getbehindthemeaningofculturallyboundimagery
Sincemanywisdomsayingsdependonancientcustoms,theuniversalprincipleunderlyingobscurepassages mustbeidentifiedandappliedtocomparablesituations todayforustoaccuratelyandrelevantlyapplythe truth.Forexample,Proverbs11:1teacheshonestbusinesspracticesevenifweightsandscalesarenolonger usedandthetruthofProverbs25:24aboutmarriagestillappliesevenifwenolongerhaveflatroofs.

5. Rememberthatwisdomsayingsrequirewisdomtobeusedeffectively
Thisisperhapsthemostimportantprincipleinapplyingwisdomliterature.Knowingalotofwisdomsayings doesnotmakeapersonwise.Wisdom,aswehaveseen,isanattitudetolifethatflowsfromaproperrespect forandsurrendertoGod.Whenapersonapproacheseveryaspectoflifewiththatattitude,wisdomsayings become powerful and effective tools to be applied to real dilemmas. Solomon knew and recorded many wisdom sayings, but when his heart turned away from God he made foolish decisions, failing to apply the wisdomcontainedinthesayings.Wisdomsayingsarenotintendedtobeauniversalguideastohowtoactin anyspecificsituation.Theyareintendedtoprovokeustocarefulconsiderationofthepossibleoutcomesof
21

Osborne,1991,p.200

P a g e |11

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

thechoiceswemightmake.So,weshouldnotbesurprisedtofindproverbsthatappeartoconflictwithone another.AclassicexampleistheadjacentsayingsinProverbs26:45.Arewetoanswerafoolaccordingtohis follyornot?Theanswerdependsonourspecificsituation.Weneedtousegodlywisdomtodecidewhatis appropriate,awarethattheconsequencemayeitherbethatwebecomeafool(ifweanswerwhenweshould not)orthatheisallowedtothinkthatheiswise(ifwedontanswerwhenweshould).Presumablyinthis instancethecorrectactiondependsonourjudgementabouthowthefoolislikelytorespond.Isheopento hearingwhatwewillsay?Theenvironmentmustalsobeconsideredforexample,whoelseisthereandwhat influence will their presence have on him? This is the kind of wisdom a Christian needs constantly as they decide when to share with nonbelievers about their faith sometimes it is appropriate, but in other circumstancesitmaybeunhelpful.AcomparisonwithfamiliarEnglishproverbsmaybehelpfulinillustrating this need for discernment further. Consider the proverbs Many hands make light work and Too many cooksspoilthebroth.Bothcontaintruthandyettheysayoppositethings.Whichisappropriatedependson thetaskathandandwhotheproposedhelpersare.

6. Readthewisdomliteratureasawhole
The three books of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes complement one another and add together to provide a morecompleteunderstandingofwisdomthantheydoalone.ThiswillbediscussedfurtheraswelookatJob andEcclesiastes,butitisimportanttorealisethatthelargelypositiveandalmostidealisticoutlookofProverbs isbalancedbythegloomyperspectiveofmuchofEcclesiastesandtherawbrutalityofJobsstory.Ifanyof thethreepartsweremissing,biblicalwisdomwouldbelikeastoolwithtwolegsunstableandtreacherous. InthewordsofGraemeGoldsworthy:22 All three books complement one another in encouraging the believer to use mind and faculties to try to understandlifeinGodsuniverse,butalsoinrebukingthearroganceofthosewhowouldclaimtohaveitall together.

ChristthewisdomofGod
OneothercommentonaChristianunderstandingofwisdomisimportant.AswithalloftheOldTestament,the wisdomliteraturefindsitsfulfillmentinChrist.Thisisnotsoimmediatelyobviousasitmaybeinthenarrative books, whose story leads inevitably to the need for a Messiah and provides patterns which He can fulfill (e..g sacrifice / kingship), the books of Torah, whose instruction reveals the nature of sin and whose priestly and sacrificial systems provide the template for the Messiahs redemption of Gods people, or the Psalms and prophets, which include messianic prophecies. Christ, however, is described by Paul as the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians1:24,30).HewasthefulfillmentofwisdominthesensethatHelivedtheperfectlywiselife(Hewas awareoflivingaccordingtowisdomseeMatthew11:19)andHeconfoundedworldlywisdomthroughHisdivine foolishness(Godswisdomappearsfoolishinsinfulhumaneyes).Hecametoexemplifywisdombutalsotomake it possible for the failure of human sinfulness which wisdom accentuates to be healed and for a Godcentred approachtoalloflifetoberestoredinthosewhofollowHim.AllwisdomisfoundinHim(Colossians2:3),andso fortheChristianthedesireforwisdomcannotbeseparatedfromadesiretoknowChristmoreandtogrowinHim.

22 Goldsworthy,2000,p.186

P a g e |12

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

PSALMS

ThesignificanceofthebookofPsalms
PsalmsisperhapsthebestknownandbestlovedbookoftheOldTestamentamongChristians.Ithashadaunique impact on public Christian worship, with some traditions singing only psalms, many liturgies including readings from psalms and many popular hymns and choruses being paraphrases of the psalms. The Psalms have also proven popularin privatedevotionalusebyChristiansandinpastoralsituationswheretheylendthemselvesto beingreadtothosewhoaresuffering,afraidorbereaved.TherelevanceofthebooktoChristiansisbecauseof thewayinwhichtheyexpressfeelings,fromdespairtoelation,inpowerfulanddynamiclanguage.Thetheology ofthisbookisoneofworshipandatrulybiblicalconceptofworshipwhichembracesalloflife.GrantOsborne summarisesthebooksmessageasfollows:23 Primarily, the Psalms center upon worship and prayer; they demonstrate better than any other biblical genre IsraelsGodconsciousness.Theymakenoactualtheologicalstatements,buttheirveryGodcenterednessishighly theological.EveryareaoflifeisrelatedtoGod,andheisseenassovereignoverall. Althougheachpsalmhasitsownmood,structureandmessage,acrossthebookasawholetherearetwomajor theologicalthemesthatemerge:

a. GodssovereigntyandHisfaithfulnesstoHiscovenantpromisetoHispeople
Gods hesed, or covenant faithfulness, is a major theme of the book (the word appears around 130 times). This is closely related to the theme of the king, which emerges repeatedly in the royal psalms scattered throughoutthebookaswellasthepsalmsofcovenantrenewal,twopsalmsthatcelebratethecovenantof GodwithDavidandthepsalmsthatrecountthehistoryofIsraelandGodsactionsontheirbehalf.

b. TheethicalresponsibilityofGodspeopleastheyconnectfaithinHimwitheverydaylife
ThepsalmscoverthefullrangeofemotionandfeelingtowardsGodfromangeranddespairtoelationand jubilation.Throughoutitall,however,thereisanawarenessoftherealityofsin,bothofothers(especiallyin thelaments)andofthepsalmist(inthepenitentialpsalms),andofthegoodnessofGodslawandthebenefits of living in obedience to Him (especially evident in the wisdom and didactic psalms). The psalms present ethical guidance in four major ways according to Gordon Wenham: by contrasting the righteous and the wicked(asinpsalm1),byupholdingthestandardsoftheDecalogue(TenCommandments),byremindingthat Godisthesovereignjudge,andbyencouragingthereadertoimitateGod.24

Datingandauthorship
Psalmsisacollectionofpoemsorsongsbyvariousauthors.Itispossible,therefore,toconsiderthedateofeach individualpsalm,whichwilldependonaconsiderationofitsauthorshipandlanguage(seethesectiononPsalm titlesforconsiderationofauthorship),butitisalsopossibletoconsiderthedateinwhichthebookwascollected togetherintheforminwhichwenowhaveit.Giventhatsomepsalms(e.g.Psalm137)areclearlybasedinthe periodoftheExiletherecanbelittledoubtthatthebookasawholewaseditedtogetherintheperiodafterthe returnfromExile,thatisafter537BC.

TypesofPsalms
Different scholars have proposed various ways of categorising the psalms. German scholar Hermann Gunkel (18621932) identified five types: hymns, community laments, individual thanksgiving songs, individual spiritual laments, and poems of mixed types (including enthronement psalms, victory songs, processional hymns, Zion
23 24

Osborne,1991,p.186 Wenham,2005,p.179ff.

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter songs, enthronement songs). He attempted to explain the place of each of these types in Israel's communal, public Temple worship, which he called their SitzimLeben ("original lifesetting"). More recent studies have focused less on trying to place every psalm in a specific context in Israels public worship, recognising that the psalmsalsohadaroleforindividualsintheirexpressionoffaith. WalterBrueggemannsuggestsasimplercategorisationintothreetypes: 1. Psalmsoforientation(includingpsalmsofcreation,Torah,wisdom,retribution,andwellbeing) 2. Psalmsofdisorientation(includingpersonalandcommunallaments) 3. Psalms of a new orientation (including psalms of individual and communal thanksgiving, royal and enthronementpsalms,psalmsofconfidence,andhymnsofpraise). ClausWestermannclassifiedpsalmsbasedontheextremesofpraiseandlament: 1) PraisethesecorrespondtoGunkelshymnsandthanksgivingsongsandaresubdividedintotwoforms: a. DescriptivepraisecelebratingGodsactsinthepresentandHisbeing. b. DeclarativepraisepraisingGodforspecificacts.Thesecanbeeitherindividualorcommunal. 2) LamentscryingouttoGodeitherasanindividualoracommunitybecauseofanenemy. 3) Lamentandpraiseinthesepsalmstheenemyismoreperipheralandthefocusismoreonthepsalmistand hisGod.Thereisacyclemovingfromprayertopraise.Theturningpointisusuallyadirectword(salvation oracle)fromGodwhichpromisesHisprotection,victoryandblessing. 4) Othertypesincludingenthronementpsalms(Psalms47,93,9699),wisdompsalms(Psalms1,10,12,15,19, 32,34,36,37,49,50,52,53,73,78,82,91,92,94,111,119,127,128,139),songsofZion(Psalms46,48,76, 84,87),atriumphalhymn(Psalm68),creationpraise(Psalms8,104,139)andpsalmsofpenitence(Psalms6, 32,38,51,102,130,143). These different systems illustrate something of the complexity of trying to categorise 150 songs. The following categorisation is largely taken from Grant Osborne and Fee and Stuart.25 It must be remembered that these categoriesarenotmutuallyexclusiveandanypsalmmayfitintomorethanone. P a g e |13

1.

Lamentsorcomplaintpsalms
The lament is the most common type of psalm and expresses distress about a current situation as well as askingGodforhelp.Lamentscanbeeither: a. IndividualPsalms3;57;13;17;22;2528;31;3840;42;43;51;5457;6971;120;139;142 b. CorporatePsalms9;12;44;58;60;74;79;80;94;137 Laments,therefore,containthreecharacters:God,theselforcommunity,andtheother(theenemy).They oftenfollowthefollowingstructure,althoughfewhavealloftheseelementsinthisorder: i. AddresstoGod(oftenwithaconfessionoffaith)andcryforhelp ii. ReferencetoGod'spastmightyacts iii. Description of the distress (concern with the opponents, the psalmist, and God), often in highly figurativelanguageandsometimestakingtheformofacomplaintagainstGod. iv. Confessionoftrust(confidence) v. PetitionforGodtohear,todeliver,andtovindicatethepsalmist,defeatinghisenemies vi. Aconfessionofsinoraffirmationofinnocence vii. Voworpledgeofpraise It is important to notethatalthough lamentsby definitionexpress distress, almost withoutexception they alsocontainexpressionsoftrustorconfidenceinGod.Infact,whenreadinglamentpsalmsitisimportantto noticethemovementofmoodthepsalmcaptures.Mostcommonlythiswillbeamovementfromlamentto praiseandthepsalmwillcontainaturningpointwhichscholarsoftencallthesuddenchangeofmood.In contrastwiththisnormalmovefromlamenttopraise,otherlamentscontainanalternationbetweenlament andpraise(Psalms31,35,59,71),Psalm12movesfromlamenttopraiseandthenbacktolamentagainand,

25

Osborne,1991,p.182ff.;FeeandStuart,1993,p.194ff.

P a g e |14

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

assumingthatPsalms9and10wereoriginallyonesong(forwhichthereisstrongtextualsupport26),thisone psalmmovesfrompraisetolament.Uniquelyamongthelaments,Psalm88containsnomovementatallit ispurelylamentfromstarttofinishanditdoesnotevenincludeadirectpleaforhelp.Thisrangeoftypesof movement and no movement shows the diversity of lifes experiences and of Gods actions. Often he delivers, resulting in praise, but sometimes He does not. There is no dishonesty in the portrayal of life in thesepsalmsoflament.LamentsarealsofoundonDavidslipsoutsidethebookofPsalms,onceforSauland Jonathan(2Samuel1:1727)andonceforAbner(2Samuel3:3334).

2. Hymnsorpraisesongs
Osbornesuggeststhatthesepsalmsarethenearesttopureworshipofanytypeofbiblicalpoetry.Theyare not the product of sorrow or need but directly celebrate the joy of worshiping Yahweh.27 Although his statementhelpstodefinewhatthehymnsare,wemaytakeissuewithhisdefinitionofpureworshipwhich does not appear to do justice to the biblical understanding of worship as embracing all of life. Nearly all hymnsfollowthesamestructure: i. CallinguponYahweh ii. Acalltoworship iii. A motivation clause praising Yahweh and giving the reason for worship, often centring on Gods attributesanddeeds iv. Aconclusionrepeatingthecalltopraiseandoftenincludingaseriesofblessings FeeandStuartidentifythreedistincttypesofhymnsdependingontheirreasonforpraisingGod: PraisingHimasCreator(Psalms8;19;104;148) PraisingHimasprotectorandbenefactorofIsrael(Psalms66;100;111;114;149) PraisingHimasLordofhistory(Psalms33;103;113;117;145147),sometimesgoingintogreatdetail inrecountingIsraelsgreatsalvationevents(Psalms78;105106;135136). Hymnsweresungduringsignificanttimesforthepeople: Aftermilitarytriumphs(Psalm68) DuringpilgrimagestotheTemple(Psalms84;87). TheSongsofAscent(Psalms120134)areofspecialnoteinthisrespect,astheyaremarkedoutasa distinctgroupbytheirtitle.Theascentinquestionisgenerallybelievedtobetheupwardjourneyto the city of Jerusalem either when pilgrims visited the Temple for the great festivals or when exiles returnedtothecityfromPersia. 28 Harvest celebrations and festivals three groups of psalms, known as Hallels are particularly noteworthyinthisregard: o TheEgyptianHallel(113118)developsthoughtsfromGodscompassionfortheoppressed(113) toHisredemptivepower(114)andhelptoIsrael(115)toIsraelspraiseandthankstoYahweh (116118)andwereusedduringthemajorfestivals,especiallythePassover.ThePassovermeal waseatenbetweenPsalm114andPsalm115.ThehymnsungbyJesusandHisdisciplesprobably camefromthesepsalms(Mark14:26). o TheGreatHallelconsistsofPsalms120136or135136(i.e.eitherincludingtheSongsofAscent ornot)andwasalsousedduringannualfestivals. o The Final (Concluding) Hallel (Psalms 146150) formed part of daily prayers in the synagogues aftertheTemplewasdestroyedinAD70.

3.

ThanksgivingHymns
ThesearemorespecificthanhymnsastheythankGodforHisanswerstospecificprayersandoftenpledge theirfuturefaithinandworshiptoGod.Theycanbeeither:

ThepsalmsformonepsalmintheGreektranslationoftheOldTestamentknownastheSeptuagint,whenputtogetherthey formanacrosticpsalmwithstanzasbeginningwithsuccessiveHebrewletters,andtheycontainrepeatedwordsandthephrase intimesoftrouble. 27 Osborne,1991,p.183 28 Hallelmeanspraise,asinHallelujah


26

P a g e |15

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

a. IndividualPsalms18;30;32;34;40;66;92;103;116;118;138 b. CorporatePsalms65;67;75;107;124;136 Thanksgivinghymnsgenerallyincludesixstructuralelements: i. InvitationtogivethanksorpraisetoYahweh ii. Accountoftroubleandsalvation iii. PraisesofYahweh,acknowledgingHissavingwork iv. Offertoryformulaatthepresentationofsacrifice v. Blessingsoverparticipantsintheceremony vi. Exhortation

4.

Songsofcelebrationandaffirmation
SongsthatcelebrateGodscovenantrelationshipwiththekingandthenation.Thesecanbesubdividedinto severalcategories: a. Psalmsofcovenantrenewal(50;81)probablysungatanannualcovenantrenewalceremony b. Davidiccovenantpsalms(89;132)celebrateGodschoiceofDavidandexpecttheMessiah c. Royal psalms psalms which centre on the king. These have messianic significance but also deep significanceforthenationatthattime: o Coronation psalms (2; 72; 101; 110) celebrating the coronation of a king with his oaths beforeYahwehandreceivingofthepeopleshomage o Enthronement psalms (24; 29; 47; 93; 9599) possibly used in an annual ceremony celebratingkingship o Lament(89;144) o Thanksgivingforvictory(18;118) o Warpreparation(20;27) o Royalwedding(45) d. SongsofZionpraisingGodforHisgiftofJerusalemandHisprotectionofthecity(46;48;76;87;125; otherpsalmsmaybeincludedinabroaderclassificationincluding15;24;84;122)

5.

WisdomandDidacticPsalms
ThesepsalmsparallelProverbsintheircelebrationofwisdomasGodsgifttoHispeopleanditsconnectionto theinscripturatedWordandTorah(1;36;37;49;73;119;127;128;133).Theyoverlapwithpsalmsofpraise andlament.Asinproverbs,thewayoftherighteousiscontrastedwiththewicked(1;49;73)andthefaithful arepromisedprosperity(1;112;119;127;128).

6.

ImprecatoryPsalms
These are usually lament psalms where the writers bitterness and desire for vindication are especially prominentcommonlyusinghyperboliclanguage(12;35;52;5759;6970;83;109;137;140).Psalm137:89 isaclassic,evenshocking,exampleoftheforcefullanguageofthesepsalms.

7. Salvationhistorypsalms
ThesesongsrecountthehistoryofGodscovenantrelationshipwithIsrael(78;105;106;135;136).

8. Penitentialpsalms
Ihaveincludedthesepsalmsinaseparatecategorybecauseoftheirfocusontheexpressionofrepentance andrequestforforgiveness.ThepsalmsofpenitencearePsalms6,32,38,51,102,130and143.

Psalmtitles
Itisdifficulttoknowwhenthetitlesthatarefoundwithmanypsalmsbecameattachedtothem,whetherbythe originalauthororlatereditors.Thetitlesincludeseveraltypesofinformation:

P a g e |16

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

1) Associationwithagrouporperson(103psalms)
Thesepsalmtitlesincludethenamesofindividualsorgroupsofpeople,prefacedbytheHebrewwordle.In theNIVthisisnormallytranslatedOf,implyingauthorshipbythenamedperson(s).Thatcertainlycouldbe onemeaning,butit isalso possibletotranslateitfor,belongingtoorconcerningi.e.thesemaybe psalmsdedicatedtoorwrittenabouttheperson(s)mentioned.Thisisgenerallymostdebatedwithpsalms connected to David, Solomon and Moses, partly because some scholars deny that psalms could have been writtenandpreservedfromtheirperiodofhistoryandpartlybecausethesearethefiguresinIsraelshistory whoareperhapsmostlikelytohavepsalmsdedicatedtothem. a. Davidthetitlesof73psalmsrefertoDavid.Ofthese,13aredirectlyassociatedwitheventsinDavid's life (see below). As discussed above, these 73 psalms may be dedicated to David, written by him or about him. Traditionally these psalms have been accepted as compositions by David. In favour of Davidicauthorshiparethefollowingpoints: David was a very able poet (2 Sam 23:1) and musician (Amos 6:5; cf. 1 Samuel 16:1523; 18:10; 2 Samuel1:1727;3:3334;23:17),makingitperfectlyplausiblethathewrotebothwordsandmusic forthesepsalms. David established the guilds of singers and musicians who would later serve in the temple (1 Chronicles6:3132;15:16,27;25:131;2Chronicles29:2526;cf.Nehemiah12:4547).Itseemshighly likelythathewouldhavewrittenpsalmsforthesegroupstoperformintheTempleworship. NewTestamentwritersassumedthatDavidwastheauthorofmanypsalms(cf.Matthew22:4345; Acts 2:2528; 4:2526; Hebrews 4:7) and even spoke of the Book of Psalms as being David's (Luke 20:42). b. Asaph this man, who is linked to 12 psalms (50, 7383), was one of David's choirmasters and a descendantofGershon,sonofLevi(cf.1Chronicles6:39;15:17;2Chronicles5:12).Psalm50isseparate fromtheotherAsaphitePsalms,possiblybecauseitsthemefitscloselywithPsalms4849. c. The sons of Korah 10 psalms (42, 4549, 84, 85, 87, 88) are linked to this group of descendants of Kohath,sonofLevi,whoservedinthetempleasmusicians(1Chronicles6:22). d. Jeduthunthreepsalms(39,62,77)areconnectedwiththisLevitewhowasappointedbyDavidtobe thedirectorofmusicatthetempletogetherwithHemanandAsaph(1Chronicles16:4142;25:1,6;2 Chronicles5:12). e. Solomonislinkedtotwopsalms(72,127). f. HemantheEzrahitelinkedtoonepsalm(88),thismanmayeitherhavebeenasage(cf.1Kings4:31)or aleadingsingerofthefamilyofKohath,sonofLevi(1Chronicles6:16,33,39,4344;15:17,19;16:4142; 25:1,46;2Chronicles5:12;35:15). g. Ethan the Ezrahite appears in the heading of one psalm (89). Ethan, who served as a counsellor of Solomon(1Kings4:31)wasadescendentofMerari,sonofLeviandissometimesidentifiedasthesame person as Jeduthun or as a descendent of Jeduthun. One difficulty with this identification is that 1 Chronicles2:6describesEthanasbeingfromthetribeofJudah.Somescholarsexplainthisbysuggesting thatLeviteswerebroughtintothelineageofJudah. h. Mosesislinkedtoonepsalm(90) 2) Backgroundorhistoricalinformation(14psalms) a. ThirteenpsalmsarerelatedtoeventsinDavid'slife Psalm3:"WhenhefledfromhissonAbsalom." Psalm7:"AshiggaionofDavid,whichhesangtotheLORDconcerningCush,aBenjamite." Psalm18:"HesangtotheLORDthewordsofthissongwhentheLorddeliveredhimfromthehandof allhisenemiesandfromthehandofSaul." Psalm34:"WhenhepretendedtobeinsanebeforeAbimelech,whodrovehimaway,andheleft." Psalm 51: "When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba." Psalm52:"WhenDoegtheEdomitehadgonetoSaulandtoldhim:`Davidhasgonetothehouseof Ahimelech.'"

P a g e |17

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

Psalm54:"WhentheZiphiteshadgonetoSaulandsaid,`IsnotDavidhidingamongus?'" Psalm56:"WhenthePhilistineshadseizedhiminGath." Psalm57:"WhenhehadfledfromSaulintothecave." Psalm59:"WhenSaulhadsentmentowatchDavid'shouseinordertokillhim." Psalm 60: "When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah, and when Joab returned and struck downtwelvethousandEdomitesintheValleyofSalt." Psalm63:"WhenhewasintheDesertofJudah." Psalm142:"Whenhewasinthecave." b. Onepsalmisassociatedwiththededicationofthetemple(eithertheTemplebuiltbySolomonorthe rebuiltTempleafterthereturnfromExile) Psalm30:"Forthededicationofthetemple."

3) Musicalorliturgicalinformation
Forthedirectorofmusic(lamenasseah)thisphraseappearsintheheadingsof55psalms(andalsoin Habakkuk3:19).Itisprobablyamusicaladdition,markingthepsalmtobepartofTempleworshiporto berecitedbytheleaderofthechoir.ItappearsinPsalms46,89,1114,1822,31,36,3942,4447,49, 5162,6470,7577,8081,8485,88,109and13940. b. Instrumentsseveralpsalmscarryanotationontheinstrumentstobeusedinaccompanyingthechoir. With stringed instruments (i.e. harp and lyre) seven psalms (4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76). For backgroundsee1Chronicles23:5;25:1,3,6;Psalms33:2;43:4;71:22. Forflutesonepsalm(5).Themeaningisuncertain. c. Tunesanumberofpsalmheadingsmayspecifytunestobeused: TothetuneofTheDeathoftheSon"(Psalm9) TothetuneofTheDoeoftheMorning"(Psalm22) TothetuneofLilies"(Psalms45,69) TothetuneTheLiliesoftheCovenant(Psalms60,80) TothetuneofADoveonDistantOaks"(Psalm56) TothetuneofDoNotDestroy"(Psalms5759,75) d. Selahthiswordoccurs71timesinthePsalms,particularlyinthefirstthreebooks.Itwasprobablya musicalmarker,althoughitsexactsignificanceisunclear. e. Othertermsseveralothertermsarefoundinpsalmheadings.Ineachcasethemeaningisuncertain: According to alamoth (Psalm 46) may signify a female choir, a band of maidens playing tambourines(68:25),oramusicaltermforahighmusicalsetting(soprano) Accordingtosheminith(Psalms6,12and1Chronicles15:21)maydenotethemannerofsingingor musicalaccompaniment("octave")orpossiblyaninstrumentwitheightstrings(thewordisrelatedto theHebrewwordforeight). Accordingtogittith(Psalms8,81,84)mayrefertoaGittitelyre,afestivalsong(associatedwith thewinepress),oramusicalterm Accordingtomahalath(Psalm53)thewordisrelatedtotheHebrewforsickanditissuggested thatthispsalmmayhavebeenaprayerfromasickperson Accordingtomahalathleannoth(Psalm88)maydenotetheinstruments(possiblyflutes)oratune a.

4) Literarycategories
Apsalm(mizmor)foundintheheadingsof57psalms(36,8,9,12,13,15,1924,2931,3841,47 51, 6268, 73, 7577, 79, 80, 8285, 87, 88, 92, 98, 100, 101, 108110, 139141, 143). A mizmor is a religioussongaccompaniedbymusicalinstruments. b. Shiggaion(Psalm7)themeaningisuncertain.Itcouldbeamusicaltermoraliterarydesignation,such asapsalmoflamentationorapsalmwithirregularliteraryfeatures.

a.

c.

Miktam (Psalms 16, 5660) the meaning is unknown. Many explanations have been offered, e.g. a goldenpsalm,aprivateprayer,anepigram,anatonementpsalm,aninscription.

P a g e |18

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

d. Maskil(Psalms32,42,44,45,5255,74,78,88,89,142)themeaningisuncertain,butpossiblysignifies apsalmintendedtoteach. e. Song(shir)morethan30timesinthetitleofthepsalms(Psalms18,30,45,46,48,6569,75,76,83, 87, 88, 92, 108, 120134 the Songs of Ascent). Some of these have the word combined with other words.Asongisageneralcategoryofpoetry. f. Psalmofpraise(tehillah)foundonlyinPsalm145,althoughthewordtehillahcameultimatelytobe theHebrewdesignationforthewholebookofPsalms(tehillim). g. Aprayer(Psalms17,86,90,102,142)thesepsalmsarealllaments.

5) Designationsofusageortypeofpsalm
a. Apetition(Psalms38,70)maybeachallengetomemorisethepsalmoracalltoGodtoremember b. Forteaching(Psalm60)ithasbeensuggestedthattherhythmofthispsalmmayhavebeenusedto teachDavid'sfightingmenhowtomoveintimewithoneanother. c. FortheSabbath(Psalm92) d. Forgivingthanks(Psalm100)

Structure
David Howard writes that until recently, The Psalter was understood to have been the hymnbook of Second TempleJudaism,anditwasnotreadinthesamewayasmostothercanonicalbooks,i.e.withacoherentstructure 29 and message. Because the book was taken to be little more than a collection of psalms (akin to a modern hymnbook)itwasassumedthattherewaslittleornostructurewithinit.Thisapproachhasagreatdealofvalidity, and it is indeed possible and fruitful to read each psalm as a whole and discover its message and meaning. A careful reading of thebook of Psalms will, however,revealthat there isat least some structure to it. To begin with,thebookisactuallycomposedoffivebooksofpsalms: BookIPsalms141 BookIIPsalms4272 BookIIIPsalms7389 BookIVPsalms90106 BookVPsalms107150 Howardcontinuestosaythat:30 Today,however,ashifthastakenplace,andtheprevailinginterestinPsalmsstudieshastodowithquestions aboutthecomposition,editorialunityandoverallmessageofthePsalterasabook,aliteraryandcanonicalentity thatcohereswithrespecttoitsstructureandmessage. At the outset of this study of Psalms we mentioned the two predominant theological themes that unite the messageofthisbook:GodssovereigntyandfaithfulnesstoHiscovenantandtheethicaldutyofHispeople.There are,ofcourse,otherthemesthatcanbetracedthroughthebookandthatareequallypartofitsmessage,ifnotso centraltoit.IntheremainderofthissectionwewillconsidersomeaspectsofthestructureofPsalms. DavidHowardhelpfullydistinguishesbetweentwolevelsatwhichthebooksstructurecanbestudied:31

a)

Microstructurallookingforconnectionsamongsmallergroupingsofpsalms,especiallyadjacentonesor thoseconnectedwiththesameindividualorgroupofpeople.Smallercollectionsofpsalmswithinthebook include: 1. ThefirstDavidicCollection(Psalms341) 2. TheFirstKorahiteCollection(Psalms4249) 3. TheSecondDavidicCollection(Psalms5170) 4. TheAsaphiteCollection(Psalms7383) 5. TheSecondKorahiteCollection(Psalms8488)

29 30

Howard,2005,p.24 Howard,2005,p.24 31 Howard,2005,p.24

P a g e |19

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

6. TheThirdDavidicCollection(Psalms10811) 7. TheEgyptianHallel(Psalms113118) 8. TheSongsofAscents(Psalms120134) 9. TheFourthDavidicCollection(Psalms138145) 10. TheFinalHallel(Psalms146150) Eachofthesecollectionscanbestudiedasaliteraryunitwithanaimtodiscoveringtheirunifyingthemesand message. In addition it would be possible to consider collections of psalms with similar themes (e.g. the SongsofZionortheWisdomPsalms).

b)

Macrostructural this approach looks for overarching patterns and themes throughout the book as a whole.Usingthisapproach,forexample,itisnotedthatthereisagreaterconcentrationofDavidicpsalmsin the earlier sections of the book and that the first half of the book contains a predominance of laments, especially individual laments, compared to a greater frequency of praise in the second half, especially corporatehymns.TwofindingsofmacrostructuralstudiesofPsalmsareparticularlyworthyofnote:

WisdomandRoyalCovenantalFramesGeraldWilsonidentifiestwomajorframesinPsalms: a. ARoyalCovenantalFramehenotesthatPsalms2,72,89and144areallroyalpsalmsandthatthey occupypositionsatthebeginningofBookIandtheendofBooksII,IIIandV(assumingthattheFinal HallelissomewhatseparatefromtherestofBookV). b. AfinalWisdomFramehenotesthatPsalms1,73,90,107and145,thatisthefirstPsalmsofBooks I,III,IVandVplusthefinalpsalmofBookVproper,areallwisdompsalms. WilsonclaimsthattheWisdomframetakesprecedenceovertheRoyalCovenantalframeandthattrust in the power of human kings and kingship is ultimately given up, and hope rests on Yhwh, who rules forever,andwhoalone isabletosave.32Inotherwords, heclaimsthatPsalmsis ultimatelyawisdom book containing Yahwehs instruction and emphasising His enduring kingship as contrasted with the failingDavidickingship.AccordingtothistheoryBooksIIIIfocusontheapparentfailureoftheDavidic covenantandBookIV(90106)isanewbeginningwithafocusonYahwehskingship.

MessianicthemesthekingshipisanimportantthemeinPsalms,asevidencedbythenumberofroyal andenthronementpsalms.Anumberofroyalpsalms, however, havetraditionallybeenunderstoodby Christians,andindeedquotedintheNewTestament,ashavingamessianicsignificancethatistopoint to a greater fulfillment in Christ (these psalms are listed below in the section on Interpreting the Psalms).DavidCMitchellarguesthatwhenthebookisreadasawholethemessianicthemeiscentral tothepurposeofthecollection.33HearguesthatthekeytounderstandingthebookofPsalmsis not foundinreadingitwithinthehistoricperiodinwhichitthepsalmswerewritten,butinlookingbeyond historicalperiodstoeschatological(endtimes)hope.

WilsonssuggestionoftwopredominantframeswithinPsalmsishelpfuland helpsustoidentifythefact thattherearethesetwomajorthemes,whichtieintothetwotheologicalemphasesidentifiedabove:the royal covenantal frame relates to the theme of Gods sovereignty and the wisdom frame to the theme of mankindsethicalresponsibility.ItalsohelpsustorecognisethatPsalms1and2sittogetheratthebeginning ofthe bookasa kindofintroductiontoit,encompassingbothofthegreatframesandtheologicalthemes (thisisfurtherconfirmedbyarealisationthatbeatitudes,orpromisesofblessing,framethesetwopsalms; see 1:1 and 2:12) and that the Final Hallel (Psalms 146150) sits separately at the end of the book as a conclusion.WhereWilsonstheoryfallsdown,however,isinmissingthepointmadebyMitchell,thatthe messianic theme and eschatological hope are highly significant in the book as a whole. We can modify Wilsons theory by accepting that the book shows a decline in confidence in the Davidic dynasty, which is inevitablegiventhefactsofhistoryastheDavidickingsgrewmoreimmoralandlesspowerfulandtheirreign finallyendedwiththeExile,butthatthisisoffsetbynotonlyconfidenceinGodskingshipbutastronghope for a future Davidic king who would restore his dynasty in keeping with Gods covenant with David. MessianicpsalmsarefoundinallfiveofthebooksandthishopecontinuesevenintoPsalm132,oneofthe twoDavidiccovenantpsalms(togetherwithPsalm89),whichspeaksconfidentlyaboutahorn(meaninga strongking)thatGodwillmaketogrowforDavid(Psalm132:17).
32 33

GeraldHWilsonquotedinHoward,2005,p.25 DavidCMitchellquotedinHoward,2005,p.25

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter Giventheabove,andrecognisingthattherearemanymicrostructuralelementswithinthebook,wecanpropose thefollowingbroadstructureforthebookofPsalms: P a g e |20

Psalms12 IntroductionandkeytointerpretationGodsblessingthroughWisdomandKingship Psalms341 BookIproper Psalms4272 BookII Psalms7389 BookIII Psalms90106 BookIV Psalms107145 BookVproper Psalms146150 Conclusion(theFinalHallel)PraisetheLORD

Interpretationandapplication
ThePsalmsarebelovedbyChristians,buttheycanbedifficulttointerpret.GrantOsbornewritesthat: It has rightly been pointed out that no portion of Scripture is more widely read than the psalms. In pocket versionsoftheNewTestamentthepsalmsareoftenappended,andinmostworshipservicestheyarestillsungor chantedregularly.TheextenttowhichthepsalterisquotedintheNewTestamentshowsitsimportanceinthe lifeoftheearlychurch.Yetthepsalmsarenoteasilyunderstood.Theparallelismandmetricalpatternsareoften difficulttounlock,andtheunwaryreadercanreadfarmoreintotheparallelstatementsthanthecontextactually warrants. Moreover, many (like lament or imprecatory psalms) seem to be inapplicable at first glance. In addition,scholarsandpastorsoftenoverexegetetheimageryormetaphorsinHebrewpoetryandgiveitmore theologicalweightthantheyshould. SomePsalmsareimmediatelyaccessibletotheChristian(e.g.Psalm23),andsotendtoberead,preachedupon andquotedmostfrequently,butothersarelessso.Thepsalmscanbechallengingbecause: Someappeartobeentirelymiserableornegativecanthesepsalmsbeusedinchurchservicesorjustin personalprayer? SomepsalmsmajoronthehistoryofIsraelandGodsblessingstothemhowisthisrelevantforChristians? Manypsalmspraisetheearthlykingthismadesenseinatheocraticmonarchy,buthowdoesitrelateto peoplelivinginamodernseculardemocracy? Some statements in the psalms are distasteful or offensive the imprecatory psalms, with their call for vengeance, can be tough going for Christians who are committed to loving their enemies. Perhaps most notoriousand offensive ofall is the desire forBabylonianinfants to be dashedagainstrocks expressedin Psalm137:89). Thefollowingguidelinesareintendedtohelpthereadertounderstandthepsalmsmorefully:
34

1. Rememberthatthepsalmsarethewordsofpeople,notofGod
Pleasedonotmisunderstandmeonthispoint.Imaintainfirmlythatthepsalms,aswithallofScripture,are Godswordandareauthoritativeandbeneficialforus(see2Timothy3:1617).Itisimportant,however,to distinguishbetweenthosepartsofScripturewhereGodswordstohumanbeingsarerecorded(e.g.directlyin theLawandProphetsandwheretheGospelsrecordChristswordsandindirectlyintheEpistles),thoseparts where anaccountof Gods actions in history are recorded (i.e.narrative books) andthe psalms, wherethe wordsofGodspeopletoandaboutHimarerecorded.FeeandStuartwarnthat:35 TheproblemwithinterpretingthePsalmsarisesprimarilyfromtheirnaturewhattheyare.Becausethe BibleisGodsWord,mostChristiansautomaticallyassumethatallitcontainsarewordsfromGodtopeople. ThusmanyfailtorecognizethattheBiblealsocontainswordsspokentoGodoraboutGod,andthatthese words,too,areGodsWord. ThePsalms,therefore,arenotintendedprimarilytoteachdoctrineormorality(asstatements,commandsor narratives may), buttoexpress ourselves to God and toconsider His ways. The mostappropriate usage of
34 35

Osborne,1991,p.1745 FeeandStuart,1993,p.187

P a g e |21

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

psalmswillbeforustoreflectonGodandlifeandtolearnmoreeffectivelyhowtoprayandsingpraiseto Him.FeeandStuartlistthreebasicusesofthepsalms:36 i. AguidetoworshiphelpingustoexpressourselvestoGod ii. AguidetohonestrelationshipwithGodinstructionthroughexampleratherthanproposition iii. AreminderoftheimportanceofreflectionandmeditationuponGodsactionsandourexperiences

2. Rememberthatthepsalmsarepoetry
BecausethepsalmsarepoetryitisimportanttorememberthenatureofHebrewpoetryandtoconsiderwhat bearingthishasonhowthepsalmistobeunderstood.Consider,forexample: Notethepatternsofstanzasinthepsalmthismaybeindicatedbythoughtdevelopment(e.g.Psalm 31),stylisticchanges(e.g.Psalm30),chiasm,alliteration,acrostics(e.g.Psalm119). Group parallel lines together and consider both parts they convey one truth (e.g. dont try to distinguishinPsalm19:1betweenwhattheheavensandtheskiesdo). Study the figurative language and dont read it literally metaphorical language must be read for its intent(e.g.doesPsalm23meanweshouldactlikesheeporthatweshouldnotliveincities?)Because somuchofthelanguageisfigurative,WordstudiesarenotasdeterminativeinthePsalmsastheyarein theNewTestamentEpistles,andmeaningisderivedmorebythewholethanbytheparts.37

3. Considerthetypeofpsalm
Anunderstandingofwhichtypeofpsalmthisiswillhelpyoutowardsinterpretingit,especiallyconsideringthe structuralelementswithinthepsalm.Itwillalsobeveryhelpfulinconsideringhowthispsalmcouldbeused in your personal devotions or the public worship of your church or fellowship. Laments, for example, can provideencouragementandpatternsforprayerforthebelieverwhethertheyare: Ill(Psalms6;13;31;3839;88;102) Besetbyenemies(Psalms3;910;13;35;5257;62;69;86;109;120;139) Awareofsin(Psalms25;3839;41;51). Thelamentscanremindusof: a. Theneedforbalanceinprayereventhoughtheyarewrittenfromapositionofdistress,theyinclude praiseofGodandexpressionsoftrustaswellasrequests b. Theimportanceofhonestyinprayerthelamentstellitlikeitis.Theyareawonderfulreminderthat wecanbeabsolutelyhonestbeforeGodinfactwemustbe.Dishonestprayerisnottrueprayerat all.ThePsalmsremindusthatGodisableandwillingtolistentothefullrangeofouremotions. Perhaps the most difficult psalms for the Christian to relate to are the Imprecatory Psalms, which express anger towards enemies, but even these psalms containvaluable lessons for the Christian.They force usto realise that it is better to express anger to God than to harbour it in our hearts, allowing it to turn to bitterness.Havingsaidthis,thesepsalmsarestilllikelytocausedifficultiesforus.Threeobservationsmay helpustounderstandthemintheircontext: HatredinHebrewcanbetorejectorrefusetotolerateitdoesnotalwaysmeantodespise. Thepsalmistisalwaysexpressingtrueemotions,butthesearenotalwaysnecessarilywhatGodwould wantthemtofeeltheyarethewordsofpeopletoGodnotadviceabouthowweshouldfeel. Psalm137:89mthemostnotoriousofallimprecatorypsalms,callsforGodtojudgeaccordingtoHis covenantcurses(Deuteronomy28:5357;32:25speakofthetotalannihilationoftheenemiesofGods peopleincludingtheirfamilies).Mostimportantly,thisprayerrecogniseswhatwetoomustrecognise, thatvengeanceisGods(seeDeuteronomy32:35).Ratherthantakingthisactionhimselfthepsalmist isreferringthecaseandhisfeelingsaboutittoGod,theultimatejudge.
36 37

FeeandStuart,1993,p.205 Osborne,1991,p.175

P a g e |22

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

4. Considerthehistoricalbackgroundofthepsalm
Wherethepsalmstitlegivesanindicationofitshistoricalsetting(i.e.generallywithinDavidslife)itwilloften behighlyfruitfultolookattherelevantpassagesinthenarrativebooks.Readingthepsalmandthenarrative account together will enrich both and give you a wonderful insight into the emotions and faith of David at thesepointsinhislife.

5. Considerboththeindividualandcorporatesignificanceofthepsalm
Almostallpsalmshavebothanindividualsignificance(theyareproductsoftheexperienceandperspectiveof anindividualauthorinaparticularsituation)andacorporatesignificance(theirplaceinthelifeandworshipof Israelasanation).Bothbelongtogether,andaconsiderationofbothwillleadustoagreaterappreciationof themessageofthepsalm.Weshouldthenconsiderhowthispsalmappliesbothtomeasanindividualandto mychurchorfellowshipasagroupofGodspeople,remembering,ofcourse,thatitmayapplydifferentlyto theChurchthantoIsrael.

6. ConsiderhowthepersonandworkofChristmodifiesthetheologyofthePsalm
ThispointisapplicabletoanyreadingoftheOldTestament,butinlightoftheapparentgreateraccessibility andapplicabilityofPsalmstotheChristianitisparticularlyimportanttoemphasiseithere.AlthoughGodand Hischaracterareunchanging,andsowecandirectlyapplywhatwelearnaboutHimfrompsalms,Hiswayof relationshiptoChristiansisnotidenticaltoHisrelationshipwithIsrael.BothbeforeandafterChristthebasis ofrelationshipwithGodhasalwaysbeenfaith,buttheknowledgewehaveaboutGodandthemeansthrough whichourfaithisexpressedaredifferent.Whenthepsalms,forexample,speakaboutsacrificeweneedto rememberthatChristfulfilledtheOldTestamentsystemofsacrificeandthatisdeathwastheonesacrificefor oursins.Likewise,althoughthepsalmscelebratetheearthlycityofJerusalem,ourhopeisintheunshakeable city of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrew 12:2224), the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21), which is the 38 Church.GraemeGoldsworthyemphasisestheneedtoreadthepsalmsthroughthelensofChrist: IftheyspeaktousofGod,theymustspeaktousoftheGodwhohasfinallyrevealedhimselfinJesusChrist. If they speak to us of sinners, they speak to us of those who are outside of Christ. If they speak of the judgmentofGod,theyspeaktousofthecurseofthelawthatChristsufferedforhispeopleonthecross.If theyspeaktousofthefaithful,thegodly,ortherighteous,theyspeaktousfirstofChrist,andonlythenof thosewhoareredeemedinChrist. Onespecificexampleisworthyofnoteatthispoint.InPsalm51:11DavidpraysthatGodwillnotremoveHis HolySpiritfromhim.ThisisnotanappropriateprayerfortheChristian.TheOldTestamentfunctionofthe Spirit wastoanoint people for special service for God,most especially prophets, priests and kings. Davids prayerthattheSpiritwillnotberemovedfromhimisapleathathewillbeallowedtocontinueasking.Inthe NewTestament,afterPentecost,theSpiritmakesHishomeinthelivesofbelievers.Hetakesuppermanent residencewithinus,leadingusandempoweringustoliveforGod.GodwillnotremoveHimfromus.

7. Considerwhetherthispsalmhasamessianicsignificance
Betweenthree(Psalms2,72and110)and13psalms(addingPsalms8,16,22,40,45,69,89,102,109and 132)havetraditionallybeenunderstoodasmessianic(inpartorthewhole)anditisimportanttorecognise this.InconsideringhowthesepsalmsrefertoandwerefulfilledbyChristitisalsoimportanttoremember thattheyalsohadsignificanceinthelifeoftheauthoratthetimeofwritingandinthenationallifeofIsrael.It is a wise principle to study the historical meaning of the psalm before considering its prophetic meaning. JamieGrantarguesthatinadditiontothepropheciesofthemessianicpsalms,theroyalpsalmsspeakofChrist in a more subtle way, by painting a picture of a king who is tangibly human yet an example of faithful obedience(sinceroyalpsalmsaresetalongsidewisdompsalms,e.g.Psalms1and2)andwhointercedeson behalfofGodspeople.39Christ,thesinlessmanwhointercedesforus,istheultimatefulfillmentofthisideal.
38 39

Goldsworthy,2000,p.200 Grant,2005,p.117

P a g e |23

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

8. ConsiderwhetherandhowthepsalmisquotedintheNewTestament
Itisalwaysworthwhileconsultingacommentaryorconductingasearchtoseeifthepsalmisquotedinthe NewTestament.Sometimesthesequotationswillgiveyounewinsightsintothemeaningofthepsalm.Itis, however, important to ask whether the quotation is meant to indicate the psalm was pointing to a New Testamentreality(asisthecasewithtruemessianicpsalms),whethertheNewtestamentwriterisdrawingon atheologicaltruthtaughtbythepsalmorwhetherthepsalmslanguageissimplybeingborrowedaspartof anargumentthatisnotdirectlyrelatedtothepsalmsmeaning.

9. Studythepsalmasawholebeforedrawingconclusions
Thought flow is critical to the meaning of a psalm and it is often dangerous to take individual verses or statements out of context as universal principles. An approach to the psalm as a whole is particularly importantgiventhefrequentuseoffigurativeandhyperboliclanguageandthefactthatthepsalmsaresongs. They are musical poems intended to appeal to the mind through the emotions. They dont convey propositionaltruthbuttheyshouldmoveus.Itisdangeroustoestablishdoctrinepurelyonastatementina Psalm.Forexample,whatdoesPsalm51:5teachaboutthenatureoforiginalsin?Inrealitythepsalmistis simplytryingtoemphasisehisownsinfulnessandwecannotnecessarilyimplyfromthisversethatconception issinfulorthatsinispresentfromconception.

10. Considerthepsalminthecontextofthewholebook
AswithWisdomliterature,individualstatementsmustbereadinthecontextofthePsalmsasawhole.Some psalms depict the positive side of the life of faith (e.g. Psalm 1), while others depict the negative side (e.g. Psalm39). Ridderbosand Craigiewarn that The Psalms as a whole reflect a fully rounded wisdom onthe natureofhumanlifeinrelationtoGod,whereastheindividualPsalmsmaycontainonlyapartofthelarger picture.40 A theology of the Psalms can only be established by considering the book as a whole. It is particularlyhelpfultorealisethatthefirsttwopsalmsserveasanintroduction,establishingthatblessingisto befoundinfaithfulobediencetoGodsinstruction(Psalm1)andinacertainhopeinHimandHismessianic kingeveninthemidstofaworldofconfusion(Psalm2).Likewise,theconclusionofthebook(Psalms146 150)telluswhereanyjourneythroughthebookshouldleadusto:aplaceofunbridledpraiseofGod.Bearing thesebeginningandendpointsinmindwecanlookforotherelementswithinthebooksstructureaswell. Instudyingapsalminthecontextofthewholebooktherearetwoapproachesthatmaybehelpful:41 a) Thematiccomparisonidentifythemainthemesinthepsalmandthencomparewithotherpsalms that contain the same theme. This allows a more complete picture of the message of the book of Psalms on this theme. Examples may be a comparison of the psalms that praise God as Creator (Psalms8,19,104,148)orthepenitentialpsalms(Psalms6,32,38,51,102,130and143). b) Contrast of voices it may be instructive in studying an individual psalm to consider how its voice conflictswithothervoicesfromthepsalms.Adialogueordebatebetweenthedifferentpsalmscanbe imagined. This approach will be highly relevant where the emphases of different psalms seem to conflictwithoneanother.

RidderbosandCraigiequotedinOsborne,1991,p.187). IamindebtedtoDavidFirthhere(2005,p.171ff.;2010,p.94ff.),althoughIavoidhistechnicalnamesfortheapproaches, whicharethematicmodellingandintratextualdialogue.


41

40

P a g e |24

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

PROVERBS

Datingandauthorship
Inthepastargumentsweremadeforadateinthe3rdCenturyBConthebasisof:assumedGreekinfluenceinthe personification of Wisdom (chapters 19), a theory that instruction passages had evolved over time from pithy sayingsviatwolinedsayings,andaclaimthatthiskindofliteraturebecamepopularonlyaftertheprophetshad stopped speaking. More recentscholarship,however, has noted the bookslinks tothe wisdom of surrounding nationsofEgyptandPhoenicia.Itisnowgenerallyacceptedthatthewholebookispreexilicinitsstructurethat isitwascompiledsometimebeforetheExileofJudahtoBabylonin586BC. Asweshallsee,thebookofproverbscontainssectionsattributedtodifferentauthors.Thelargestportionsare attributed to Solomon, and there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of this claim. According to 1 Kings 4:32 Solomoncompiled3000proverbs,anditseemslikelythatthecollectionsinthisbookbearinghisnamearepartof this collected wisdom. Solomon lived and reigned in the 10th Century BC. Two other portions of the book are attributed to named authors: chapter 30 to Agur and chapter 31 to Lemuel. Some comments are made about these men in the sections below commenting on these chapters. It is not possible to date either of these individualswithanycertainty.

Structure
Thebasicstructureofthisbookisclearfromthetextitself.InthefollowingoutlineIhavedescribedthedifferent sectionsthatcomprisethebookasseparatebooks.

Prologue(1:17) Book1(1:89:18) Book2(10:122:16) Book3(22:1724:22) Book4(24:2334) Book5(Ch2529) Book6(Ch30) Book7(Ch31)

ThePurposeofProverbs InstructionsofParents SolomonsProverbs,part1 SayingsoftheWise MoreSayingsoftheWise SolomonsProverbs,part2 SayingsofAgur SayingsofLemuel

Prologue(1:17)ThePurposeofProverbs
ThisbriefprologuetothebookopenswithareferencetoSolomon(1:1).Itisclearfromreadingthebookthatonly some of the proverbs are attributed to Solomon, but his mention here may indicate that this prologue was originallypartofashorterbookcontainingonlySolomonsproverbsormaybeintendedasatributetoSolomonas thefatherofwisdomliterature.CertainlySolomonsproverbsconstituteamajorpartofthebook. TheremainderoftheprologueexplainsthepurposeofProverbs(1:26),whichistohelppeopletoattainwisdom and discipline and an understanding of insightful words. It is worth noting that wisdom is not found in simply knowingthesesayingsbutisaskillthatisdevelopedthroughreflectionuponthem,whichentailsdisciplineand insight. The call is for the reader to listen and obtain guidance as to how to understand four kinds of wisdom sayings:proverbs,parables,sayingsandriddles(v6).Mostessentiallyofall,theprologuestatesclearlyatthevery outsetofthebookthatwisdomrestsonthefoundationofthefearoftheLord(1:7).

P a g e |25

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter TremperLongmannotesthefactthattheprologueisaddressedgenerallytoallwhoseekwisdomandinstruction. Thisishelpfulinviewofthefactthattherestofthebook(explicitlyinchapters19andimplicitlyinthecollections ofproverbsthatfollow)isaddressedmorespecificallytoyoungmen.Theprologue,inLongmansview,broadens 42 theaudiencetoincludetheentirecovenantcommunity.

Book1(1:89:18)InstructionsofParents
ThissectionofProverbsisacollectionofupto17separatediscoursesonwisdomwhich,typicallyhaveacallto listen before presenting advice and encouraging obedience by the description of benefits as well as negative consequencesforneglectingtheadvice.43Thesediscoursesaregenerallytheinstructionsofparentstoayoung man. It is worth noticing that the first place for learning wisdom is in the home (1:8; 4:3; 6:20) and that this involvesbothparents.ThiswastrueinIsraelanditoughttobetrueforChristians.Thosewhoareparentswould dowelltorecognisethisresponsibilityandnotabdicateittosomeoneelsewhethertheschool,themedia,or evenchildrensandyouthministriesinthechurch!DerekKidnerwritesthat,truthistobelearntfirstathome, instilledtherewithfirmnessandaffectionaslessonsforthemindandtrainingforthecharacter.44 Withinthissectionthepredominantmetaphorisoftwopathsonwhichwemaywalk:thepathoffollyleadingto deathandthepathofwisdomleadingtolife.Twomajorthreatstotheintegrityoftheyoungmanareidentified: a) Negativepeerpressureonyouth(1:1019) b) Sexualtemptation(2:17;5:123;6:2329;7:127) WearecalledtolivealifeoffaithfuldependenceuponGodwithareadinesstowalkinthestraightpathsHewill prepare(3:56).Godisthegiverofwisdom(2:6),andHiswisdomwasfoundationaltocreation(3:1920;8:2231) hencetheworldworksinkeepingwithGodswisdom.Wisdomis,therefore,greatlytobeprized(chapter4). Theultimategoalisthatwisdommightbeinternalised(2:10),sothatweabletorecognisetherightpath(2:9)and willbeprotectedandguarded,rescuedfromthewaysofwickedmen(2:1112). Wisdomispersonifiedasawomanwhocriesouttobeheard(1:2033;8:121)andwhohasbuiltafirmhouseinto which she invites us to come (9:16). She is contrasted with the woman Folly (9:13), a temptress who leads peopletodestruction(9:1318).ThevividdescriptionofthepersonificationofWisdomhasledtospeculationthat an angelic being is being described or even that this is a description of Christ. These interpretations, however, dependontooliteralareadingofthisfigurativelanguage,anditappearsthatwhatisintendedissimplyapoetic descriptionofoneattributeofGodscharacter.Wemay,however,acceptwithDerekKidner 45thatthelanguage usedmayserveapurposewiththebenefitofaviewfromtheNewTestamentinpreparingourexpectationsfor theultimateincarnationalpersonificationofGodswisdominthepersonofChrist.

Books2(10:122:16)and5(Ch2529)SolomonsProverbs
These two collections of Solomons proverbs contain 375 sayings. These are usually short and pithy one line sayings containing six or seven Hebrew words (usually three strong beats answered by another three46). Exceptions cover several lines (e.g. 25:20; 25:2122; 26:1819; 26:2425; 27:10; 27:1516) or a whole paragraph (27:2327).Theorderisapparentlyrandom47exceptforafewcollectionsonsimilarthemes(e.g.10:1821onthe useofwords;16:1215and25:27onkings;26:1316onthesluggard;26:2028onmischiefmaking).
42 43

Longman,2010,p.104 Longman,2010,p.103 44 Kidner,1985,p.20 45 Kidner,1985,p.23 46 Kidner,1985,p.25 47 Somescholarsdisputethisandclaimthatunitscanbeidentifiedonthebasisofrepetitionsofthemes,wordsorsounds,but thelackofconsensusevenamongthosescholarswhobelieveinthislevelofstructuresuggestseitherthatitdoesnotgenuinely exist,orwilleludethemodernreader.

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter Ithasbeensuggestedthattheoriginalwisesayingsconsistedofjustthreewords(forexample,seeDavidswords toSaulin1Samuel24:23),butthattheproverbsofSolomonaddasecondlinetoamplifythemeaningofthefirst (e.g. 21:10) or to sharpen it by contrast (e.g. 12:6). In other words, these proverbs are parallel statements containing either synthetic or antithetical parallelism. The proverbs generally see merit rewarded and lapses penalised(e.g.13:25),apparentlyinthislife,withsomeexceptionslike13:23.Theyarewritteninpoeticlanguage and include some beautiful and powerful similes (e.g. 11:22; 25:13; 26:22; 25:15). In general the proverbs challengethereadertocomparethenowwiththeconsequence(23:2935;13:11;5:4;19:20).Theyprovokean attitudeofthoughtfulreflection. Chapters 2529 are separate from the longer collection of Solomons proverbs in 10:122:16. This shorter collectionwaseditedbyHezekiahsmenandhassomedistinctivefeatures: Thereisagreatertendencyinforgroupingsofproverbsonsimilartheme(e.g.kingsin26:27;foolsin26:1 12;sluggardsin26:1316;mischiefmakersin26:1728). Moreoftheproverbsruntoanextralineorasecondorthirdverse(e.g.25:13,20;25:810,2122;26:2426) andoneshortpoem(27:2327). Thereisamarkedemphasis(especiallyinchapters2829)onrulersandpeoplewithinfluenceinasociety (e.g.25:26;28:2;29:8,18). P a g e |26

Books3and4(22:1724:34)SayingsoftheWise
These collections have a different tone from Solomons proverbs. They are more personal, directive and impassioned, with Dos and (more often) Donts as opposed to the impassionate statements of principles in Solomonsproverbs.Manyofthesamethemesarefoundhereasinotherpartsofthebook(e.g.mercytothe poor, wise friendships, financial prudence, firmness with children, hard work, sexual purity) but there are also somespecialemphases,notably: Quiettrustinsteadoffretfulness(23:1718;24:19ff.)thisissimilartoPsalm37. Generouscompassionextendingeventostrangersandenemies(24:1112,17,29). ItisworthnotingthatthissectionofProverbsbearsasimilaritytoanEgyptiandocumentcalledtheInstructionof Amenemope,datedsometomeintheperiod15801100BC.Thatdocumentcontainsinstructionstoasonabout proper conduct and is arranged into 30 sections. Allen Ross writes about the relationship between the two documents:48 Although the two collections are not identical, they are similar enough to attest direct influence. General knowledge of wisdom sayings across the ancient Near East as well as specific interchange between Egypt and Solomon'scourtmakealiteraryconnectionlikely.Becauseofthedatesinvolved,itisunlikelythatAmenemope borrowed from Solomon. Similar teachings in the Pentateuch might suggest a greater antiquity for biblical wisdomsayings,butthereisinsufficientmaterialtodrawafirmconclusion.Manyancientlaws,sayings,songs, poeticcouplets,andproverbsfoundtheirwayintoinspiredScripture.Inspirationdoesnotexcludethedivineuse ofexistingmaterial;butinScriptureittakesonanewforce,ahighermeaning,andbecomesauthoritative. TheconnectionwithEgyptianwisdomisperhapsnotunexpectedgiventhefactthat1Kings4:30likensSolomons wisdomtothewisdomofthepeopleoftheeastandEgypt.Despitetherelationshipbetweenthesetwowisdom documents, it is worth realising that the connection is loose, based on the use of 30 sections and some shared 49 interests,butthatthissectionofProverbsusesownitsorderandhasalargelydifferentemphasis.

Book6(Ch30)SayingsofAgur
ItseemslikelythatAgurwasanIshmaelitemanfromMassa(thisisthenameofatribeofIshmaelaccordingto Genesis 25:14, and became the name of a region in northern Arabia this identification of Agur depends on
48 49

AllenRoss,2001 SeeKidner,1985,p.44

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter reading30:1assonofJakehofMassaratherthansonofJakehanoracle,assuggestedintheNIVfootnotes). IthasbeensuggestedthathewaspossiblyaconverttothereligionofIsrael,butitisalsopossiblethatthisisan exampleoftheborrowingofwisdomfromamanwhodidnotworshipYahwehintherecognitionthatalltruthis Godstruth(inthesamewaythatPaulcouldquotepaganphilosopherswhentheirwordsweretrueandsupported his argument). Some critical scholars argue that Agurs words stop at verse 4, that he was an unbeliever or agnosticandthattherestofthechapterisaresponsetohim,butthisseemstohavelittlebasisinthetext(thereis nodivisionatv4,anditseemsthatv23areironic). ThischapterbearssomesimilaritiestoJob:verse4echoessaysJob38:18,sayingTellmeifyouknow!andthe word Eloah is used for God inverse 5(it isused 41 timesin Job and alsoin the Arabiclanguage).A distinctive featureofAgurssayingsishisgroupsoffourthings(v15,18,21,24,29;alsoinv1114thereisalistoffourthings withouttheusualintroduction).Mostofthesehaveacrescendointroduction(threethingsfour,v15,18,21, 29).ThispatternisfamiliarelsewhereinScripture:Job5:19;Proverbs6:1619;Amos12.Someofthesesayings haveamoralandothersapparentlydonot. P a g e |27

Book7(Ch31)SayingsofLemuel
Ifthesuggestedreadingof30:1asareferencetoMassainArabiaiscorrect,thenLemuelwasalsofromMassain facthewasitsking.Itisdebatablewhetherallofchapter31representsthewordsofLemuel,taughttohimbyhis mother, or whether his contribution ends at verse 9 and verses 10 to 31 are from a different pen. The interpretation of the chapter does not depend on the authorship. The chapter as a whole exemplifies the combination of instruction (v19; compared with chapters 19 and 22:1724:34) and observation (v1031; compared with Solomons proverbs) that characterises the whole book. The first section (v19) comprises instructions on how to be a good king which may still prove useful for politicians today with some cultural translation. Verses1031areanalphabeticacrosticpoemabouttheidealwife.AcrosticsalsofoundinPsalms(fourinthefirst book and four in the fifth book, most notably Psalm 119) and four in Lamentations 14. This poem may seem dauntinggiventhehighstandarditsets,butitspictureisbeautifulandiscertainlyanidealforanywifetoaspire andagoodguideforamanseekingaspouse.Itisworthnotinghowpowerful,influentialandproductivethiswife is.Sheisnopowerlessandservilesubordinate,butadynamicandresourcefulpartner.Sheishighlyinvolvedin the managing of the affairsof the home and the instruction of the children (v2628), and the reputation of her husbanddependsatleastinpartuponherroleashiswife(v23).Thepoem,andthereforethebook,climaxeswith areferencetothefearoftheLord(v30),makinganeatparalleltothestatementatthebeginningofthebookthat thefearoftheLORDisthebeginningofwisdom(1:7).

TheMessageofProverbs
Proverbsisperhapsthemostreadilyaccessibleofthewisdombooks.Itishighlypracticalanditsrelevancetolife todayisoftenclear.FeeandStuartwriteaboutthecontentandpurposeofthebook:50 Asageneralization,itisusefultonotethatProverbsteacheswhatmightbecalledoldfashionedbasicvalues. Noparentwantshisorherchildtogrowupunhappy,disappointed,lonely,sociallyrejected,introublewiththe law,immoral,inept,orbroke.Itisneitherselfishnorunrealisticforaparenttowishachildareasonablelevelof success in life including social acceptance, freedom from want, and moral uprightness. Proverbs provides a collectionofpithy,advisorystatementsdesignedtodojustthat.Thereisnoguarantee,ofcourse,thatalifewill always go well for a young person. What proverbs does say is that, all things being equal, there are basic attitudesandpatternsofbehaviorthatwillhelpapersongrowintoresponsibleadulthood. FeeandStuart,1993,p.216217

50

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter The concerns of this book for right behaviour are highly relevant to modern society, and we discover that the resultsoffollyarejustasgreataproblemformodernfamiliesandcommunitiesastheywerewhenthebookwas written.AccordingtoProverbs,follyincludes: Violentcrime(1:1019;4:1419) Carelesspromisingorpledging(6:15) Laziness(6:711) Maliciousdishonesty(6:1215) Sexualimpurity(2:1619;5:320;6:2335;7:427;9:1318;23:2628) Inresponse,weareurgedtothesameactionsthatwillbuildstrongfamiliesandcommunitiestoday: Careforthepoor(2:22,27) Respectgovernment(23:13;24:2122) Disciplinechildren(23:1314) Bemoderateinconsumptionofalcohol(23:1921,2935) Takecareofourparents(23:2225) SpecificallyreligiouslanguageisrareinProverbs(althoughsee1:7;3:512;15:3,89,11;16:19;22:9,23;24:18,21 etc.)but,aswehavealreadysaidintheintroductiontowisdomliterature,thisdoesnotimplythatthewisdom 51 beingpresentedisgodless.Infact,itteachesusthat: Noteverythinginlifehastobestrictlyreligioustobegodly.Indeed,Proverbscanhelpserveasacorrectivetothe extremisttendencytospiritualizeeverything,asifthereweresomethingwrongwiththebasic,material,physical world. P a g e |28

Interpretationandapplication
DespitetheaccessibilityofProverbs,thereareanumberofpotentialdifficultieswithinterpretingandapplyingthis book:

Thepresenceofconflictingproverbs(evenadjacenttooneanother,asin26:45)
Asdiscussedintheearlierintroductiontowisdomliterature,thissimplyhighlightsthefactthatproverbsare notgeneralisedstatementsofhowtoactineverysituation,butguidelinestoconsideringpossiblecoursesof actionandtheirlikelyconsequences.Discernmentandjudgementisneededtoknowhowtoapplytheirtruth intospecificsituations.

Thepresenceofgeneralisations Generalisationsaboutrewardsfortherighteousandpunishmentforthewickedarenottobetakenblindly, but may provoke a response of cry for justice.52 Perhaps this is even part of the books intention. Derek Kidner argues that the book speaks of the ninetenths of life53 that is predictable and leaves the irregularities to other wisdom books (i.e. Job and Ecclesiastes). Furthermore, Proverbs itself is not entirely devoidofrecognitionofdifficultiesoflifeinthisworld(e.g.20:24). Someproverbsseemobvious
Some of the proverbs have been accused of being little more than platitudes or tautologies (selfevident sayings).Forexample,12:17seemstosimplystatetheobvious.Weshouldnotbetooquicktoassumethat thereisnomeaningtotheseproverbsperhaps12:17istellingusmorethanwerealise,warningusagainst yesmenorguidingastohowtodecidebetweentwowitnessesbasedontheircharacterbutweshould alsoheedDerekKidnerswarning:54

51 52

FeeandStuart,1993,p.217 SeeKidner,1985,p.27 53 Kidner,1985,p.36 54 Kidner,1985,p.27

P a g e |29

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

Theverythingsthat,wefeel,shouldgowithoutsayingmay,ifleftunsaid,gobydefault.Theymaybeself evidenttousbynow,onlybecauseatsomestagetheyweredinnedintoourreluctantearswithsmallregard fornovelty. Also, describing how things normally work is essential to understanding our world and recognising the principlesofwisdombehindit.

Someproverbscanseemmercenary
Someproverbsseemtoadvisenothingbutselfinterest(e.g.27:12;11:17)andsomemayevenseemmorally dubious (is 21:14 really advising bribery?). It must be noted, however, that some proverbs are simply describingthewaythingsareratherthanadvisinghowweshouldactandthattherearerepeatedreferences to the LORD throughout the book, evenin the collections ofSolomonsproverbs (see 16:19), and the very foundationofwisdombeginswithHim.NoactionthatisindisobediencetoGodsrevealedwillcanpossibly bewiseaccordingtotheveryfoundationprincipleofwisdom.

ThekeytoaproperinterpretationofProverbsisacorrectunderstandingofthenatureoftheproverb.Proverbs areshortandpithy,andthiscreatesaprobleminthat,Thebrieferastatementis,thelesslikelyitistobetotally precise and universally applicable.55 In the Hebrew proverbs often contain vocabulary or rhythm and sound qualities that aid memorisation, like English proverbs such as a stitch in time saves nine or look before you leap.ProverbsarenotlegalguaranteesfromGodbutgeneralguidelinesastoawisewaytoapproachtheissue. Assuch:56 Hebrewproverbsmustbeunderstoodreasonablyandtakenontheirownterms.Theydonotstateeverything about a truth but they point toward it. They are, taken literally, often technically inexact. But as learnable guidelinesfortheshapingofselectedbehavior,theyareunsurpassed. GrantOsbornewarnsthat:57 Mostimportant,wedarenotreadmoreintotheproverbialstatementthanisthere.Bytheirverynaturetheyare generalizedstatements,intendedtogiveadviceratherthantoestablishrigidcodesbywhichGodworks. Someadditionalexamplesmayhelptoclarifythistruth: Proverbs6:20thisverseshouldnotbetakentomeanthatparentsmustbeobeyedbypeopleofeveryage whatevertheycommand.ObediencetoGodmustcomefirstandparentsshouldonlybeobeyedwhentheir commandsarehonouringtoHimandgenuinelyinthebestinterestsofthechild. Proverbs 6:2729 these verses are not literally about fire, and they are not warning against any physical contactwithanothermanswife,buttheydopowerfullyexpressthedangersofadultery. Proverbs16:3thisisnotauniversalpromise.SuccessdependsonGodsdefinitionandwemustaskwhatit meanstocommitourplanstoGod? Bearing this in mind, and without repeating the guidelines for interpretation found in the section introducing wisdomliterature,thefollowingprinciplessummarisekeypointsinhowproverbsshouldbeapplied:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
55 56

Proverbsarepoetrygetbehindthemeaningoffigurativelanguageandtranslateittoyourculturalcontext Proverbsarewordedtobememorable,nottheoreticallyprecise Proverbsareintenselypractical,notabstractandtheoretical Proverbsmustbereadasacollectioncompareproverbsonsimilarthemes Proverbsdonotsupportselfishlivingbutaimtostretchusoutsidetheconfinesofourownperspective ProverbsarenotuniversalguaranteesfromGod,butpoeticguidelinesforwisedecisionmaking Proverbsgivegoodadviceforsomeaspectsoflife,butarenotcomprehensive ProverbsmustneverbeappliedwithoutthebedrockprincipleofthefearoftheLord

FeeandStuart,1993,p.217 FeeandStuart,1993,p.218 57 Osborne,1991,p.195

P a g e |30

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

ECCLESIASTES

Authorshipanddate
TraditionallythisbookhasbeenacceptedaswrittenbySolomon,assuggestedbytheveryfirstverse,Thewords oftheTeacher,sonofDavid,kingofJerusalem.ThebookisoftencalledQohelet(h)bybiblicalscholars,sincethis istheHebrewwordtranslatedTeacherbytheNIVin1:1.Itliterallymeansanassemblerofpeopleandmay(as suggestedintheNIVfootnotes)refertoanofficialpositionwiththefunctionofleadingtheassemblyofIsraelto worshipGodortobetaughtasopposedtoaformalteachingoffice.Thebriefintroduction(1:1)andconclusion (12:914)tothebookarenotpresentedaswrittenbytheTeacherbutbyacommentatoronhiswords. Thereareanumberofpossibilitiesastohowthisbookcametobe: ThewholebookwaswrittenbySolomonasareflectiononwhathelearnedthroughtheyearswhenhisheart hadturnedawayfromGod(1Kings11). Qoheleth(whocouldbeSolomonorperhapssomeoneusinghispersona)wrotethemainbodyofthebookas anexpressionofthefutilityhefoundinlife,buttheintroductionandconclusionwereaddedbyalaterauthor whoaddresseshisson(12:12)aboutQoheleth. Themainbodyofthebookisacollectionofshorterdiscoursesonlife,someentirelynegativeandsomewith glimmersofhope,writtenbyoneormoreauthors(ofwhomSolomoncouldhavebeenone).Theseshorter piecesweregatheredtogetherbyalatereditorwhoaddedtheintroductionandconclusion. The book was written as a whole some time after Solomon to present an imagined view of Solomons experienceoflifeandtocommentuponit. Thefirstview hassomedifficultiesasitassumesthatSolomonfinallyturnedbackto theLordbeforehisdeath, although there is no record of this in the Scriptures. It also assumes that Solomon wrote the introduction and conclusioninthethirdperson,whichseemsunlikely.Thefourthviewseemsunlikelyasitisdifficulttoimagine why anyone would have written such a long discourse in Solomons persona to add such a short addition in anothervoice.Thesecondandthirdoptions,therefore,seemtodothegreatestjusticetothebook.Ifthebook was written by Solomon, then the date for the core of the book must be in the middle 10th Century BC during Solomonsreign.Itisimpossibletodatetheintroductionandconclusion.

Outline
1:1 IntroductionthesearethewordsofQoheleth 1:2 OpeningbookendofQohelethswordseverythingishebel 1:312:7 ThewordsofQoheleth*

12:8 ClosingbookendofQohelethswordseverythingishebel 12:914 ConclusionQohelethcommendedandfearofGodrecommended

*Variousattemptshavebeenmadetoidentifyastructuretothemainbodyofthebookfrom1:312:7,butitis generallyacceptedthatthissectionconsistsofvariousobservationsaboutthenatureoflifeandrecommendations arisingfromwhatisobservedandreflectionuponitsmeaning(orlackofmeaning).

TheMeaningofHebel
TheHebrewwordhebeliskeytounderstandingthebulkofthisbook.ItistranslatedmeaninglessintheNIV (vanityintheKJVandESV)andappearsmorethan30times,includingfourtimesintheopeningbookend(1:2) and three times in the closing bookend (12:8). The word means literally a breath or vapor, and by extension something that is transient or without substance. It can, therefore, mean something that is pointless, futile,

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter fruitless and empty. Meaningless is a reasonable translation, but given the richness of the word and its importanceinthebookitisworthbearinginmindthedepthofitsmeaningasyouread. P a g e |31

Purpose
Ifweacceptthatthebookhastwoauthors(Qohelethin1:212:8andanunnamedauthoroftheintroductionand conclusion) we must ask what was the intended purpose of the conclusion (12:914) and how it relates to Qohelethstreatise.Theconclusioncanbeunderstoodinoneoftwoways:

a) AsacorrectiontoQoheleth
Somecommentators 58arguethattheconclusionwasaddedasacorrectivetothehopelessandgodlessview oflifeadvancedbyQoheleth.Ifthisistrue,thenthebulkofthebookcanbereadsimplyasatreatiseonwhat lifewouldbelikeifGodwasnotdirectlyinvolvedintheaffairsofmankind(notethatQohelethneversuggests atheismthereisnodoubtthatGodexists;thequestioniswhetherornotHeisinvolved).

b) AsasummaryofQoheleth
Thisview,whichIfindmoreconvincing,arguesthatalthoughtheconclusionisthemostexplicitlyGodfocused andclearlyorthodoxpartofthebook,theauthordoesnotseemtopresentitasacorrectivetotherestofthe book.Infact,in12:910hepraisesQohelethswisdomandactions,sayingthatwhathewrotewasupright and true, and in 12:1112 he describes the powerful; impact and divine origin of wisdom, apparently includingwhathasprecededinthis book.Thesenseisthat12:1314isadded notasacorrective,butasa summaryofthebooksmessage.Theideaoftheconclusionservingasacorrectivealsofailstodojusticeto theglimpsesofhopethatarefoundscatteredthroughoutthebulkofthebook,andespeciallytothechallenge of12:1ff.toRememberyourcreatorinthedaysofyouryouth.

IftheconclusionservesasasummaryratherthanacorrectivetoQohelethstreatise,thenQohelethswords canthenbeunderstoodinoneoftwoways: i. Adebatewithinhimselfbetweenthemeaninglessrealitythatheobservesandwhathebelievestobe trueconcerningGodsinvolvementinlife.Ifthisiscorrectthenwehavehereadeeplypersonalinsight intothestruggleofonemanwiththeharshrealitiesoflife.Thestruggleoftenseemstobelostashe acknowledges the apparent dark futility of life, but glimmers of light shine through. In this case the conclusion serves to set the framework for reading the struggle. It confirms what we know to be the ultimatetrutharealitywecanclingtowhenwefaceourownstruggleswithlife. ii. AcarefullyreasonedargumentchallengingthepersonwhodeniesGodsinvolvementinlife.Qoheleth iswritingdeliberatelytoexposethepointlessnessoflifewithoutGod.Hisbookendsshouldnotbeseen asanexpressionofhisownviewonlifebutasanindictmentofthegodlessviewhehasexposed.We should constantly find ourselves saying as we read, But there must be more than this! Qoheleths intentionistoprovokeusintoacknowledgingthenecessityforGodand12:1ff.isanappealtoremember thisassoonaspossible,whilewearestillyoung.Inthiscasetheconclusionservesasafaithfulsummary of the logical conclusion to draw from the argument that life finds true meaning only when surrenderedtoGod.

Whicheverofthesepossibilitiesisaccepted,inreadingthewordsofQohelethitwillbevitaltodistinguishbetween themeaninglessnesshediscoveredthroughhisselfishandindulgentpursuitofpleasure,moneyandevenwisdom (themajorthemeofhistreatise)andtheultimatemeaningandpurposethatlifehaswhenGodisremembered and fear of Him becomes the underpinning principle of life. It will be possible to identify principles of wisdom within1:212:8butindividualstatementsinthissectionwillbetreatedwithcaretheyshouldnotbeuniversally applied without considering their purpose in the book as whole. If they are part of Qoheleths reflections on godless living then they cannot be taken as guidance for the believer! In general, statements from Qoheleth should only become the basis for our belief or actions if they are in keeping with the conclusion and affirmed elsewhereinScripture.
58

ForexampleTremperLongman,2010,p.109ff.

P a g e |32

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

QohelethsTheologyandPhilosophy
FromthewordsofQoheleth(1:212:8)welearnthatGodistheCreator(12:1)andthatHeissovereignoverevery aspectofexistenceandovereverylife(7:29;11:5;12:7).UltimatelyHewilljudgeeverypersontherewillbea final giving of account (12:9, also implied in 11:13). Qoheleths view of Gods sovereign power 3:1114 is of particularimportanceasitexpressesabeliefthatGodswillisworkedoutintimeevenifhumanbeingsareunable tofathomitsdepthsandthatthecorrectresponseofhumanbeingsistofear(revere)Him.Thisknowledgeabout GodissetagainstthebackgroundofameaninglesshumanexistencewhenHeisnotremembered. Thisdespairingviewoflifeisdepictedintermsofaceaselessroundofgenerations(1:211),afruitlesssearchfor meaninginpleasure,creativityandwork(1:122:24),adeterministic,almostfatalistic,viewoflifesinevitabilities (3:18),therealitiesofmisrule,oppressionandinjustice(3:1617;4:13;8;10),andultimatelytheuniversalityand apparent finality of death (2:16; 5:1516; 9). Against these causes of despair there are simple pleasures to be experiencedinlife.SeventimesQohelethrecommendstheenjoymentoflife(2:2426;3:1214,22;5:1820;8:15; 9:710;11:710).R.N.Whybraypointsoutthatthesestatementsaremadewithincreasingforce(fromageneral comment to a direct and compelling recommendation) and argues that they form an important leitmotiv throughout the book.59 Read outside the context of the whole book these verses may seem to imply that we shouldsimplyseekpleasurewhilewecan.Suchareadingwouldleadtoalifeofhedonism(seekingpleasure)akin to the rich fool of Luke 12:1321 who decided to eat drink and be merry. A careful reading of these verses shows,however,thatGodisconsistentlypresentedasthegiverofthesepleasures(9:79),andareadingwithin thecontext ofthe whole book showsthat its message is actuallyachallenge to hedonismasit reminds usthat ultimatepurposedoesexistinlife,butonlywhenGodisremembered(12:1)andfeared(12:13).Forthisreason, andincontrasttothecommonperception,WhybraydescribesQohelethasapreacherofjoy. Qohelethsphilosophyoflife,then,doesinvolvelivingsimplyinthepresentwithahealthyenjoymentofwhathas beengiventous,butIwillarguethatitdrawsusinevitablytoagreaterpurposethatmodifies,givesmeaningto andoverarchesthissimplelifetherealitythatwemustrememberourCreator(12:1).Theconclusionthendraws ustothenaturalconclusion,thatfearofGodislifestruepurpose.

ThechallengeoftheConclusion
ThebookofEcclesiastesfindsitsfulfillmentin12:914.Qohelethispraisedforhiswisdomandhisinstructionof thepeople(v9a).Hisproverbsandwritingsarecommendedfortheirwisdomandtruthfulness(v9b10),fortheir forcefulimpactlikegoads(v11a)andtheirdivineorigin(v11b).Thereisawarningaboutconsideringanythingin addition to them and the degree to which study can weary to body (v12). This is not an injunction against educationorwritingofbooks,butratherawarningofthedangerthatadditionallearningcanleadusawayfrom themostfoundationalknowledgeofallthecoredutyofhumankind.Wewoulddowelltorememberthisinan agewheneducationisincreasinglyaccessibleandknowledgeiseverincreasingly.Theninv1314wearereminded ofwhatthatmostbasicrealityis:tofearGodandkeepHiscommandments.Wearetodosobecausethisisthe whole duty of man (NIV), or rather literally this is every man ( i.e. this is the very reason for mankinds existence),rememberingthatGodwillultimatelyjudge.Therealityoffinalandtotaljudgementtransformsthe very nature of existence and brings significance to every moment and every choice we make. Life does have purpose, and it is to know and obey our Creator! These closing verses are a fitting conclusion to thebook and placeEcclesiastesfirmlyintheorthodoxsettingofbiblicalWisdomLiteraturewithitsuniversalclaimthatfearof Godisthebeginningofwisdom.

59 Whybray,1982,p.188ff.

P a g e |33

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

JOB

Date
Thebookitselfdoesnotincludeanyhistoricalreferencepoints.Suggesteddateshaverangedfromaround2000 BC(thetimeofAbraham)tothe1stCenturyBC.Mostmodernscholarsplacethebookwithinacenturyortwo beforeoraftertheExileofJudahtoBabylon(whichoccurredaround586BC).ArgumentsforadateaftertheExile include the indications of influence from the Aramaic language in the Hebrew (Aramaic was the most widely spoken language in the Persian Empire) and various claims about which parts of the Old Testament had an influenceuponorwereinfluencedbyJob.Argumentsforanearlierdatealsodrawonlinguistics,pointingtothe useofvariousearlyformsofHebrew,andclaimsaboutitscontent,pointingtoothertextsfrombefore1000BC thatdiscusssimilarthemes,albeitwithdifferenttheologicalconvictions.Ultimatelywemayneverknowwhatdate iscorrect,butwedonotneedtoworryasthecontentdoesnotdependonthedateandwehavegoodsupportfor theacceptanceofthebookasScripturefromquotationsfromitandallusionstoitintheNewTestament(Romans 11:35 alludes to Job 41:11; 1 Corinthians 3:19 quotes Job 5:13; 1 Corinthians 4:5 alludes to Job 12:22; 2 Thessalonians2:8alludestoJob4:9;Hebrews12:5alludestoJob5:17;James5:11referstotheexampleofJob).

Setting
JobissaidtoliveinthelandofUz(1:1).Wecannotbecertainwherethisis,butitcertainlyseemsthatJobisnot anIsraelite,andneitherarehisthreefriends(2:11).Infact,Elihu(32:2)appearstobetheonlyIsraelitecharacter inthebook.IthasbeensuggestedthatthesettingisArabiaandthatatleastoneofJobsfriendscamefromEdom (TemanwasagrandsonofEsau,sonofEliphaz,andoneofJobsfriendswasEliphaztheTemanite).Wecannotbe certain about the location, but it is interesting that we have in the Hebrew Bible a book that presents a non Israelite as the ultimate example of godliness and nonIsraelites who possess such significant knowledge of Yahweh.

Structure
Theunusualstructureofthebook,prosepoetryprose,hasledsomescholarstoclaimthatthenarrativeand thepoemstartedlifeapartandthatpoemwasinsertedintoanearliernarrativewhichwaseitherrewrittenbythe poemsauthororleftunchanged.Severallinesofargumenthavebeenpresentedinfavourofthispossibility: Linguisticdifferencesbetweenthepoemandthenarrativesections,suchastheappearanceofinfluencefrom Aramaic in the poem and the fact that the poetic dialogue speaks of God almost exclusively as Shaddai (Almighty),ElandEloah,whereasthenarrativeusesElohimandYahweh(theLORD).Thisdifferenceinuse of names is not, however, absolute, as Job speaks of Yahweh in 12:9, and would be consistent with the differencebetweenanIsraelitenarratorandnonIsraeliteJobandfriends. ThatJobseemsdefiantinthepoembutcapitulatessoreadilyinchapter42.Thisdoesinsufficientjusticeto thepowerofhisencounterwithGodtotransformhisattitude. That the narrative epilogues restoration of Job seems to contradict the poems argument against a simple equation of righteousness with reward. As I will argue later, however, this is an oversimplification of the messageoftheepilogue. Thisclaimthatthenarrativestartedlifeseparatefromthepoemdoesnot,therefore,findanysolidsupportinthe text.Noristhereanyevidenceoftheexistenceofmanuscriptsofthestorywithoutthepoem.Wecannotdeny, however,thepossibilitythatanancientfolktalewaspickedupandwovenintothismasterlyepicpoem.60As withthequestionofdating,wemustconcludethatitisimpossibletotellhowthestructureofthebookreachedits finalform,buttheimpactofthebookaswehaveitanditsplaceasinspiredScriptureisnotdependentonknowing (there is no reason why a divinely inspired author could not have retold an earlier story as the setting for the poem). 60 Atkinson,1991,p.16

P a g e |34

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

1. PROLOGUE(Ch12)[prose]
a. b. c. d.

Jobdescribed(1:15) Jobsfirsttesting(1:622) Jobssecondtesting(2:110) Jobsthreefriends(Eliphaz,BildadandZophar)introduced(2:1113)

2. CENTRALPOEM(3:142:6)
a. b. Jobslament(Ch3) Jobsthreeroundsofdialoguewithhiscomforters(Ch427) Round1: i. Jobspeaks(Ch3) ii. Eliphazreplies(Ch45) iii. Jobresponds(Ch67) iv. Bildadreplies(Ch8) v. Jobresponds(Ch910) vi. Zopharreplies(Ch11) Round2: i. Jobspeaks(Ch1214) ii. Eliphazreplies(Ch15) iii. Jobresponds(Ch1617) iv. Bildadreplies(Ch18) v. Jobresponds(Ch19) vi. Zopharreplies(Ch20) Round3: i. Jobspeaks(Ch21) ii. Eliphazreplies(Ch22) iii. Jobresponds(Ch2324) iv. Bildadreplies(Ch25) v. Jobresponds(Ch2627)* INTERLUDE:AWisdomPoem(Ch28) Jobsdiscoursecontinued(Ch2931) Elihusdiscourse(Ch3237) TheLORDanswersJoboutofthestorm(Ch3841) JobrepliestotheLORD(44:16)

c. d. e. f. g.

3. EPILOGUE(42:717)Jobvindicatedandrestored[prose]
Thiscentralsectionaccountsforthevastmajorityofthebookandisentirelypoeticalthoughthereareanumber of different voices within it. It has been described as a drama or a courtroom dialogue, but the best way to describeitwouldappeartobeasapoemindifferentvoices.

*Note: the absence ofathird speech fromZophar,the brevityof Bildadsthird speech (Chapter 25 has onlysix verses), the unusual length of Jobs continuous speech in chapters 2631 and the fact that some of Chapter 27 soundsunlikeJob(itseemstoagreewiththeviewpointofthefriendsthatwickednessalwaysleadstojudgement inthislife)haveledtonumeroussuggestionsthatthetexthasbecomejumbledatthispointandthatsomewords attributedtoJobactuallybelongtoZophar(andpossiblyBildad).Whilstitseemslikelytomethattherehasbeen someconfusionofthetextitwouldbeunwisetobedogmaticaboutwherethishasoccurredanditdoesnotalter theoverallmessageofthebook.

ItisgenerallyacceptedthatChapter28doesnotrepresentthewordsofJob(itstoneispeacefulandrestfulin contrasttoJobspassionandfrustrationinthesurroundingchapters)butisaninsertionbytheauthorofawisdom poemthatactsasabreatherbetweentheprecedingdialogueandJobscontinueddiscourseinchapters29to31. The poem is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece and, interestingly, contains the motif statement of the

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter beginning of wisdom with fear of the Lord (v28 compare with. Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Ecclesiastes 12:13).Thischapterseemstofunctionasacommentonthedialoguethathasprecededitandapausebeforethe continueddiscoursethatfollows.Inparticular,thelastverse(v28)providesajudgementonJobasawiseman sinceitsdefinitionofwisdomandunderstandingequateswiththedescriptionofJobin1:1(hefearedGodand shunnedevil).TheauthorisleavingusinnodoubtthatitisJob,andnothiscomforters,whoisintherightinthe prolongeddebatethathasrunthroughchapters4to27. P a g e |35

ProsePrologue(Ch12)
TheprologuetellsusthestoryofJob,ablamelessanduprightmanwhofearedGodandshunnedevil(1:1)and whowassorichthathewasthegreatestmanamongallthepeopleoftheeast(1:3).Inotherwords,heisthe epitome of the wise person in Proverbs.61 We learn that his children did not follow his example they were indulgentandalmostcertainlysinful,andJobisconcernedfortheirspiritualwellbeing(1:5). ThestorythencutstothepresenceoftheLORD.TheangelspresentthemselvestoHim,includingSatan.We mustpauseheretoconsiderwhatthismeansasitisoftenpuzzlingforChristianstothinkofSataninthepresence ofGod,especiallygiventheNewTestamentsdescriptionofHimasanenemyofGod.TheHebrewofthispassage uses Satan not as name but as a common noun (also in Psalm 109:6b; Zechariah 3:12 compare this with 1 Chronicles21:1whichisthesoleappearanceofSatanasapropernameintheOldTestament)i.e.thesatan or the adversary. The idea is of a trial with the accuser or prosecutor. Whether we are to understand this satanasthedevil,theenemyofGod,orwhetherthisisanunfallenangelwithaparticularroleinGodscourt,is opentodebate,althoughthefactthatheissingledoutfromtheotherangelsandthatheappearstoquestionGod (1:911)suggeststhatthisisindeedthedevil.Ineithercaseitisimportanttonoticethatitisthesatan,andnot God,whodoesharmtoJobandhisfamily,butequallythathispowertoharmisstrictlylimitedbyGod.Godgives permissiontoSatanthisseemsnottobeanexceptionalsituationbutthenormalpatternofHisgovernmentof theuniverse.WeseethesameprincipleinGodspermissiontoSatantotestPeter(Luke22:3232)andtoafflict ChristHimself(Luke22:53Thisisyourhour).Thereisnosuggestionofadualisticrealitybehindtheuniverse God(andgood)inconstantwarfarewithanequallypowerfulSatan(andevil).Godaloneissovereign,andnothing happensthatHedoesnotpermittohappen.DerekKidnerwrites:62 Wherewemightwishtoarguethatomnipotenceoughttohavestampedoutevilatitsfirstappearance,Gods chosen way was not to crush it out of hand but to wrestle with it; and to do so in weakness rather than in strength,throughmenmoreoftenthanthroughmiracles,andthroughcostlypermissionsratherthanthroughflat refusals.Puttingthematterinourowntermswemightsaythatheisresolvedtoovercomeitinfaircombat,not byvetobutbyhardwonvictory WemightquestionwhetherKidneriscorrecttosaythatGodchosethispathitmaybebettertosaythatthis wasthewaythatwasinkeepingwithHischaracter.Inreality,however,thefactisthataccordingtoScriptureGod permitsevilbutthatHehasaplantoultimatelyovercomeitandthatHisplancannotbethwarted.Jobsstory,as we shall see, serves as a miniature retelling of the story of redemption and restoration, although Job suffers unjustly, as the opening verses made abundantly clear, whereas Adam and Eve suffered justly for their disobedience. GodpresentsJobasanexampleofarighteousservant(1:8),butSatanquestionswhetherhisobedienceissimplya responsetoGodsblessings(1:911).ThesatanhaspermissiontotakeeverythingawayfromJobbutnottoharm him(1:12).Thesatanusesthispermissionruthlessly,andinquicksuccessionfourmessengerscometoJobwith terriblenews(1:1319).Jobrespondswithamixtureofmourningandworship(1:2021)andwearetoldthathe didnotsininhisresponse(1:22). Again the angels come before God and again God presents Job to the satan as an exemplary servant especially given his integrity in the face of suffering (2:13). The satan suggests that the situation would change if God
61 62

Longman,2010,p.115 Kidner,1985,p.59

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter allowedhisownbodytobeafflicted,andGodgivespermissionalthoughstillwiththelimitthathecannotkillJob (2:46). Job is afflicted with sores and even his wife (whether from despair and love for him, anger at God or faithlesshardnesswecannotsay)suggestsheshouldgiveuphisfaithandembracedeath,butstillJobdoesnotsin (2:910).AtthispointweareintroducedtothreefriendsofJobwhocomewiththeintentionofsympathizingand comforting him (2:11). When they see him, however, it seems that they are unable to speak because of their shockathisappearanceandsotheysimplysitwithhiminsilenceforsevendaysandnights(2:1213). Wehavealreadymentionedthesuggestionthattheprologuedidnotoriginallybelongwiththepoemthatfollows from3:1onwards,buttheprologuedoesserveanimportantfunctioninthebook.DavidAtkinson,followingEdgar 63 Jones,highlightsthefollowingfivepointsfromtheprologuethatarenecessarytounderstandingthebook: It makes it absolutely clear that Jobs suffering is despite his righteousness and not because of sin thereforeweknowthatnotallsufferingisadirectresultoftheindividualssin. ItleavesnoroomfortheideathatJobisbeingdisciplinedbecauseofsin,whichhisfriendswilllatersuggest. Weareequippedtoassessthewordsofhisfriendsinlightofthisknowledge. ItpreparesustounderstandthatsufferingcanleadintoadeeperexperienceofandrelationshipwithGod. ItsetstheproblemofsufferinginawidercontextofrelationshipwithGodtherealquestionishowwecan trustGodinthefaceofsuffering,notwhythereissufferingintheworld. ItopensourmindstorealisethathumanexperiencecanactuallyserveGodsgreaterpurposesforhisworld. P a g e |36

TheDialogue(3:142:6)

1. Jobscomforters
After their week long silent vigil with Job, we have a dialogue between job and his three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite,BildadtheShuhite,andZophartheNaamathite.GiventhefactthatthephraseJobscomfortershas enteredintocommonusageinourculture,weneedtobesurethatwedonotmisunderstandthesemenasthey appearinthebook.Theyarenotpresentedas: Hypocrites gloatingover Job they appearto have been genuine friends of Job with a true concern forhis suffering(2:1113). HereticsofferingfalsedoctrinestheNewTestamentquoteswordsofEliphazasauthoritativeScripture(Job 5:13isquotedin1Corinthians3:19andJob5:17isverysimilartoProverbs3:1112andHebrews12:5),and muchofwhattheysayaboutGodcanbeaffirmedbyanybelieverinGod(thereisoneGod,Heisallpowerful butalsowhollyjustandtherewarderofthepenitentandteachablesee5:18). FoolswithemptyargumentstheirreasoningislargelyinkeepingwiththewarningsoftheLaw(especially Deuteronomy),thewisdomofProverbsandthemoralityoftheProphets. YettheyarecondemnedbyJobasmiserablecomforters(16:2)andchargedbyGodwithfoolishnessandslander fornotspeakingaboutHimwhatisright,asmyservantJobhas(42:79).So,whatistheerrorofthesemen? Somescholarsconcludethatthebookisattackinganolderschoolofwisdom,presumablyrepresentedinthebook of Proverbs and taught by these men, which tried to tie theuniverse too neatly into predictable patterns. This view neglects both the less certain aspects of Proverbs and the fact that the basic error of these men is not so muchthatwhattheysayisfalsebutthattheymisapplythetruththeydidunderstandandhadleftotheraspectsof truthout of theequation. Their minds are closed to any possibility thatdoes not fitwiththeir presuppositions aboutGodandhowHeoughttowork.DerekKidnerwrites:64 ifthebookisattackinganythingitstargetisnotthefamiliardoctrinesofotherScriptures,suchasGodsjustice andbenevolence,hiscarefortherighteousandpunishmentofthewicked,orthegenerallawthatonesowswhat onereaps.Rather,itattacksthearroganceofpontificatingabouttheapplicationofthesetruths,andofthereby misrepresentingGodandmisjudgingonesfellowmen.Toputitmorepositively,thebookshowshowsmalla
63
64

Atkinson,1991,p.32

Kidner,1985,p.61

P a g e |37

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

part of the situation is the fragment that we see; how much of what we do see we ignore or distort through preconceptions;andhowunwiseitistoextrapolatefromourelementarygraspoftruth. These men are so convinced that suffering must be a punishment for (or purging from) sin that, despite Jobs protestationsofinnocence,theyprogressivelyaccuseJobofsin: InitiallytheysuggestrelativelygentlythatJobneedstorepentforsomehiddensin(5:1718;8:5;11:1315) LatertheysternlyrebukeJobforhisspeech,whichtheyjudgetobesinful(15:56)anddemeaningtothem (18:23;20:3) FinallytheyconcoctalistoffictitioussinsthatJobhadallegedlycommitted(22:411) Allthetimetheyrepeatedlypresentanidealisticviewoftheworldwheretherighteousalwaysprosperandthe unrighteousgoinneeddespiteJobsevidencetothecontrary(heinsists,in21:721,thatthewickedsometimes prosperand,in24:212,thattheinnocentareoftenexploitedandwhiletheiroppressorsgounpunished).They alsogobeyondbiblicaltruthintheirdescriptionsofGod: TheyextendfromthebiblicalprincipleofGodsholinesstopresentacaricatureofHimasonewhowillnot trustHisangelsandfindsfaultwiththeheavens(15:15;25:5) AsaresultofthisviewofGodtheygobeyondthepsalmistswonderatGodsinterestinhumanity(Psalm 8:4)toclaimthatGoddespisesmankindandseesthemaslittlemorethanmaggotsandworms(15:16;25:6) ItisasiftheyhaveunderstoodtheholinessandothernessofGodandthereforethelittlenessofman,buthave not understood the equally important truths of the love of God and the dignity of humankind as created in His image.Theyhaveanimbalancedtheology.Asissooftenthecase,partialtruthismoredangerousthanoutright error.

2. Job
Jobs words are dominated by perplexity. He feels he is being attacked from two directions at once, by his friendsandbyGod.Hecomplainsabout:

a)

Misjudgementbyhisfriendstheyareaccusinghimofsufferingbecausehehassinned,butheisconvinced thathissufferingisundeserved.KidnersuggeststhattheywanthimtoaskthequestionWhathaveIdone? whereasheisaskingthequestionWhathasGoddone?Whathascomeoverhim?65Unsurprisingly,then, his responses to them are marked by hurt and despair (6:26; 19:2122), sarcasm (12:2; 26:23), accusation (13:4a,7b8a),reproach(16:45),defiance(21:3)anduttercontempt(21:34). Unfair and inexplicable treatment by God the most intense aspect of Jobs suffering was his inability to understandhowtheOnewhohadbeenafriendandaguidetohimthroughlifesdarktimes(29:24)could haveturnedonhimsoruthlessly(30:21).HeisconvincedinhisdespairthatGodisdirectlyresponsiblefor everydetailofhissuffering(6:4;7:20).Hiscurrentsufferingseemstomakeamockeryofhispastblessings, asifGodhasbeenplayingacruelgamewithhimallalong(10:1213).Wherehisfriendshadgonebeyond Psalm8tosuggestthatGodalmostdespisesmankind(seeabove),Jobparodiesthepsalmbysuggestingthat manislittlemorethananobjectoftortureforGod(7:1718).HecriestoGodtoanswerbutreceivesnone (30:20).Despiteallofthis,however,Jobneverdoeswhatthesatanwashopingfor.Heneverturnshisback on God or on righteousness. Strong as his words may be, they are constantly directed towards God. He consistently acknowledges Godas the ultimate judgeand desiresto bring his caseto Him. Job appearsto movefromaninitialdesiretobeleftalonebyGod(inchapters3,67)toagrowingdesiretofaceGodand haveananswerfromHim: Inchapter9hefeelsthatGodisbeyondhisabilitytoarguewith(v3),thatHemightevenpervertjustice inHisjudgementofJob(v20b),andlongsforapersonwhocouldarbitratebetweenhimandGod(v33). Inchapter13heexpresses his determinationtogiveadefenseofhislifetoGodevenifHekills him (v15). Inchapter23helongstobeabletofindGodandpresenthiscase(v34),althoughGodseemselusive (v8)andbeyondreason(v13b15a).

b)

65 Kidner,1985,p.63

P a g e |38

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

Inchapter31hefinallyrestshiscase(Isignnowmydefence,v35)andspeaksboldlyaboutstanding beforeGodlikeaprincetogiveaccountofhislife(v37). Throughitallheremainsconvincedofhisinnocence(23:10)anddeterminedtomaintainhisintegrity(27:5).

YetJobswordsarenotonlyofGodasJudge.Outofhisdespairemergesomeremarkablestatementsoffaith inGodthatevenseemtoimplythathisJudgewillalsobeHisSaviour.Thesestatementshaveoftenbeen interpretedasmessianicreferencestoChrist,althoughthemajorityofscholars(includingmanyevangelicals) reject this suggestion. Even if they are not read as explicitly messianic, the statements are still highly significantinwhattheysayaboutJobsunderstandingofGodanddostillpointtoChristatleastinthesense thattheyhighlightaproblemthatfindsitsultimatesolutiononlyinChristhowthesameGodcanbeboth holyJudgeandfaithfulRedeemer:

JobexpressesconfidencethatGodcouldfreehimfromsufferingbyassigninghimtodeathandthen raisehimagaintobeofservicetoHimoncemore(14:1315).

Job asserts that he had a witness and advocate in Heaven who would vouch for him, a friendly intercessor(16:1921;notethattheNIVsrenderingofv20isdisputed,butv19stillstandsintestimony toJobsfaith). JobappealstoGodtogivehimwhateveritisheneedstopaytoGod(17:3). Inthemostmajesticstatementofall(unsurpassedintheOldTestament)JobsaysthathisRedeemer livesandwillstandupontheearthandthathewillthenseeGodwithhisowneyesinabodythathas been raised from the dead (19:2527). These verses contain several disputed translations which are worthyofmention(allarenotedintheNIVfootnotes): o Redeemer(v25)translatestheHebrewgl.Itmayalsobetranslateddefender,butRedeemer seemsafairtranslationgiventherichheritageoftheword.ItisfoundinLeviticus25:25asaverb describingtheactionoftherelativewhowasobligatedtobuybacklandthatwassoldbecauseof povertysothatitstayedwithintheinheritanceofthefamilytowhichGodhadgivenit.Itappearsin Ruth as kinsmanredeemer, the role Boaz would fulfill for Naomi through Ruth. Given this background,itisremarkableforJobtospeakasifheexpectstofindaglwhocanredeemhim. ThePsalms(19:14;78:35),Isaiah(41:14;43:24;44:6,24;47:4;48:17;49:7,26;54:5,8;59:20;60:16; 63:16)andJeremiah(50:34)speakofGodastheRedeemerofHispeople,andtheimplicationofthis verseinJobwouldseemtopointinthesamedirectionthattheGodwhohasstruckandpursued him(19:2122)willbehisRedeemer. o upontheearth(v25)isatranslationofaHebrewphrasethatliterallymeansupondust.Given theconnectionofdustwithdeath(seeGenesis3:19),somescholarsargueforthetranslationupon my grave (as per the NIVs footnote). Kidner, however, argues that the use of the same phrase laterinthebook(41:33)indisputablytomeanupontheearthsupportsthattranslationhere. o in my flesh (v26) translates Hebrew words that literally translate as from my flesh. Some scholars,therefore,arguethatJobissayingthathewillseeGodapartfrommyflesh(againasper theNIVsfootnotes).Kidner,however,saysthatwhereastheHebrewwordfromwhenusedalone canmeanapartfrom,ineveryinstanceintheOldTestamentwhenitisusedwithaverbforseeing itmeansfrom(e.g.Genesis13:13;Job36:25;Psalm14:2).Thisstronglyindicatesthatthecorrect translationhereisfrommyfleshinthesensethatJobwillobservethisfromhisphysicalbody(the NIVsinmyfleshisanattemptatamorenaturalwayofsayingthisinEnglish)andthatthisisan assertionofbeliefinresurrection. Evenifthelessdramaticalternativesforthesedisputedwordsareacceptedtheversesstillconstitutea remarkableexpressionofJobsfaith(noticehisconfidenceIknow,v25)thathewillbevindicated and will see God. Also, although I would strongly support the traditional understanding that Job is speakinghereofbodilyresurrection,thereisatleastconfidencethathislifewillcontinuebeyondthe graveasitishehimself,nothisdescendents,whowillseeGod(v27a).Theprospectfillshimwithawe andlonging(v27b).

P a g e |39

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

3. Elihu
Itisoftensuggestedthatchapters3237arealateradditiontothebookforthefollowingreasons: Elihuappearsfromnowhereanddisappearsagain(heisnotmentionedasaretheotherthreefriendsin 2:1113or42:79). Itdoesnotfitintothepatternofthreeroundsofdialogue. Jobdoesnotrespond,nordoestheLORDcommentonElihuin42:79. Elihuslanguageisdifferentinstylefromtherestofthebookintermsofvocabularyandagreaterapparent influencefromAramaic.

Whatevertheoriginofthissection,inthebookaswehaveitElihusdiscourseservesseveralpurposes: ItcontinuestobuildanticipationfortheLORDsreply.Elihuswordspromisemuchbutdeliverlittle.Hedoes havesomefreshinsightsintoapositivedimensiontosuffering(33:1422seessufferingasapotentialtoolof GodtodrawthesuffererbacktoHim)butingeneralheaddslittletowhathasalreadybeensaid.AsKidner writes,Elihupromisesenlightenmentbutoffersintheeventlittlemorethaneloquence.66 ItservesinsomewaystosumupahumanresponsetoallthathasprecededinthedebatebetweenJoband histhreefriends.ThisservesasacontrasttoGodssummationthatfollows. ItemphasisesthefutilityofcontinuedargumentsinthefaceoftheLORDasitiscompletelyignoredbythe LORDHedoesntevencondemnitasHedoesthewordsofJobsotherfriends. ThelastofElihusfourspeeches,inchapter37,directsourattentiononcemoretoGod,andhisdescriptionsof Godpreparethewayforchapter38whentheLORDappearsonthescene.Infact,thischapterreintroduces the concept of Wisdom that chapter 28 had introduced. The final verse focuses on the central theme of wisdomliterature,thefearoftheLord(37:24).DavidAtkinsondescribesElihusspeechesas:abridgeinthe bookofJob,stretchingfromtheinadequatetheologyofadetachedGodaGodofpower,might,majestyand dominionbutdetachedfromhumanpainandexperiencetotheneedforWisdom.67Atkinsonarguesthat 37:24isintendedtoencouragethereadertowardsthewayofwisdom,livingincorrectrelationshipwithGod, whileothercommentatorsseeitasarebuketoJob,claimingthatJobdoesnottrulyfearGodsinceGodisnot apparentlyregardinghim.IneithercaseitisininterestingreminderofthefundamentalprincipleofWisdom, thefearoftheLord.

ItisworthnotingthatElihuistheonlycharacterinthebookwithanIsraelitenameandgenealogy.Indeedhemay evenhavesharedacommonancestorwithKingDavid(assumingthattheRammentionedinJob32:2isthesame personasthatofRuth4:19).PerhapsthepurposeofthissectionistochallengetheJewishreaderofthebook,and indeedinthefactthattherighteoushero,Job,isapparentlynotanIsraeliteeither.Afterseeingtheerrorofthe other nonIsraelite friends (a Temanite, a Shuhite and a Naamathite), the reader might expect that now there would come greater sense fromthis Israelite, albeit that he isyoung compared to theothers (32:69). Surely a person from within Gods covenant people would have a greater insight into the person of Yahweh than the others.ButthesehopesaresoontobedashedwhentheLORDsweepsontothesceneinchapter38andbypasses ElihutoaddressJobdirectly.ThereisnoroomfornationalisticpridehereallfourmenwhotriedtoexplainJobs predicamentareconfoundedbytheLORDswisdomandexcludedfromHisencounterwithfaithfulJob.

4. TheLORD
TheveryfactthattheLORDspeakstoJobatallrefutesoneofJobscomplaintsthatHewillbeforeverelusive butthemannerofHisresponse(theendlessunanswerablequestionsandeventheimageofHimspeakingfrom thestorm)debunksJobsexpectationofboldlyfacingHimandpleadinghiscase.TheLORDsanswerisbrokenin twobyabriefresponsefromJob,longenoughonlytoexpresshishumilityandrealisationthathecannotrespond toGodsquestions(40:35).TheLORDsappealistoHismajesticsovereigntyovercreationboththeinanimate earth,seaandstarswiththeweatherpatterns(38:438)andthecreaturesthatsharetheearthwithmankindfrom the lions to the eagles (38:3930) and even the formidable (and somewhat enigmatic) behemoth and leviathan (40:1541:34).Inthecentre,aroundJobsbriefresponse,istheveryheartofGodsresponse,thechallengeWill
66 67

Kidner,1985,p.70 Atkinson,1991,p.135

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter theonewhocontendswiththeAlmightycorrecthim?LethimwhoaccusesGodanswerhim!andthechallengeto Jobtothinkabouthowhewouldevenbegintoexercisejusticeovermankindsothateverysinfulmanwassuitably humbled (40:814). If Job would be forced to run in terror when faced with the gargantuan behemoth and leviathan,howmuchmoreterrifiedshouldhebeattheprospectofwrestlingwiththeevilofhumanheartsand humansociety?Theimplicationisclear:noonewholacksGodspowerandmajestycouldbegintoexerciseHis justiceandthereforenocreatedbeing,noperson,canbeGodsjudge. P a g e |40

ThesewordsofGodservetwopurposesforJob(and,byextension,hisfriends):

a) TheyrevealthatallalongJobsfriendshavemissedthepoint WheretheythoughttheycouldprovideinsightfulandincisiveexplanationsoftheworkingsoftheAlmighty, their comments have been little more than platitudes. They have failed to even approach an adequate descriptionofGodspersonorHisultimatesovereignjustice.AsKidnerwrites,Jobandhisfriendshavenot onlyfoundthewronganswers;theyhavebeenaskingthewrongquestions.68Yet,thetonewithwhichthe LORD brings His rebuke to Job is not harsh and condemnatory but firm and restorative (some have even suggestedplayfulandironic,asin38:5,Surelyyouknow!).Thereisthesuggestionofafatherlyapproachas theLORDtellsJobtobracehimselflikeaman(38:3;40:7).

b) TheyliftJobsvisionfromhisownplighttothegreatercontextofhisexistence GodspictureofHiscreationliftsJobfromhispileofashesandpotteryshards(2:8)totheouterreachesofthe universeandtheinnerworkingsoftheecosystem.TheworlddoesnotrevolvearoundJobthereissomuch more beyond his horizon. The centrepiece question about how Job would exercise Gods justice (40:813) serves to reinforce thatthereis a King of theUniverse, that Heis in charge and that Hisjustice will not be perverted.ItalsoremindsJobofhisinabilitytorescuehimselffromhisplightandimpliesthatonlyGodcan beJobshope(40:14).

c)

Theyprovokehumility GodswordsareundoubtedlyintendedtobringJobtoagreaterunderstandingofhispowerlessness(whois hetotrytolectureGodhowwouldhefareifchargedwithadministeringjustice?)andtoleadhimtograter humility(asexpressedin40:4and42:6).Allthephilosophisingof35chaptersisreducedtothemerebabbling ofinfantsinthefaceofGodsgreatness.GodisnotaccountabletoJoborhisfriendsandHewillnot,and doesnot,offeranydefenceofHimself.Heistheonewhocannotbecorrectedandwillnotbeheldtoaccount byHiscreatures.AlthoughwemaythinkthatadefenceofHisactionsfromGodslipswouldbringusgrater satisfactionaswereachtheconclusionofthebook,itwouldactuallyundermine,ratherthanaffirming,our trustinHim.AGodwhoisaccountabletouswouldnotbeourGodbutourservant.Hewouldbesomeone opentoourmanipulationsanddependentonourapproval.Suchagodcouldneitherruleoverusnorrescue usfromourselves!

d) TheyshowJobthathedoesmatter Thispointmaynotbeimmediatelyobvious,andatfirstglancewemaybeforgivenforthinkingthattheLORD is lacking in compassion or concern. He does not explain, express sympathy with or even refer to Jobs suffering,butthatisnottosuggestthatHeisuninterestedinJob.Afterall,hereHeis,theSovereignoverall creation,speakingdirectlytoJob!AlthoughthedescriptionsofcreationemphasiseHismajestyandgrandeur, the fact that He is speaking to Job reveals that, far from being merely a tiny, insignificant speck in a vast creation,JobhassignificanceandthathisCreatorsees,knowsandcaresforhim.Hiscareisnotexpressedas Jobmayhaveexpected,butitisundeniablenonetheless,andthisisnottheendofthestory,eitherforJobor forGodsrevelationofHimself,whichextendstothecrossandbeyondittous.

JobsresponsetotheLORDswords(42:16)isasbriefashispreviousmonologueshadbeenlengthyanditisthe onlyappropriateresponseapersoncouldmaketosucharevelationofGodspersononeofabjecthumilityand repentance.Thereisnoattemptatselfjustificationandnopleadingofhiscase(muchanticipatedinJobsmindas that had been). There is simply the acknowledgement of his poverty of spirit and a heartfelt expression of repentance. When faced with the power and holiness of God, even righteous Job must repent, for he too is a 68 Kidner,1985,p.70

P a g e |41

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter sinnerinneedofmercy,blamelessanduprightashewas(1:8).Andifthatwastrueofanexceptionallyrighteous manlikeJob,thenwhatofus?

ProseEpilogue(42:717)
Thissectionclosesthebookasitbegan,inproseandwithJobrestoredbacktothestandinghehadenjoyedat first.IthasfacedcriticismforapparentlydescendingtoaconfirmationoftheworldviewofJobsfriendsasJobis restored,justastheirtheologypredictedarighteousmanshouldbe,butthereismuchmoretothissectionthan simplythehappilyeverafterofafairytale.

Job is vindicated and his comforters rebuked. They are condemned for their folly, required to offer sacrificesand dependent on Jobs intercession(what a powerfulvindication for Job asthe soreridden man prayed for them) for their forgiveness (42:79). There is no question that they were wrong and that Job, despitehissuffering,wasright.BoldandchallengingasJobswordsoftenwere,Goddoesnotrebukehimfor them but rather acknowledges them as appropriate! God is not afraid of the blunt questions of an honest seeker,nordoesHedespiseorcondemnthem,butHehasnotimeforallthephilosophisingandtheologising oftheselfrighteousandselfconfident.Hewouldratherthehonestyofastrugglingheartthantheeloquence ofaclosedmind.

TheemphasisisnotonJobsprosperityafterhissufferingbutonhisvindicationandthefactthathehad,ashe had determined to do (27:5), kept his integrity throughout his ordeal. It is His righteousness that shines throughratherthanhisriches. Thereseemstobemorethanahintinthewordingof42:10(AfterJobhadprayedforhisfriends,theLORD made him prosperous again) that Gods restoration of Jobs material fortunes was dependent on his willingnesstoforgivethosewhohadwrongedhim.Thisistheultimatedemonstrationofthemanscharacter as grace is extended to those who a lesser man may have wanted to punish. Jobs extension of grace demonstratesthathehastrulyreceivedGodsgrace.ThewordsoftheLordsPrayerareprefiguredhere,with its principle that Gods forgiveness of our sins is dependent on our forgiveness of those who have sinned againstus(Matthew6:12).EvenJobsextendedfamily,whosuddenlyappearonthescenewiththeircomfort andcondolencesaftertheevent,areincludedinthemansgenerousembraceasheeatswiththem(42:11).

AlthoughtheepilogueacknowledgesGodastherestorerofJobsfortunes,itdoesnotfudgetheissueofGod also being the one ultimately responsible for his misfortune (42:11, all the trouble the LORD had brought uponhim).Thisepiloguedoesnotdemystifytheissueofsuffering.Itdoes,however,upholdtheprincipleof GodsultimaterestorationofallthingsinlinewithHisperfectjustice.ForJobthathappenedinthislifeAND beyond.Forsometheywillwaituntilthefinaljudgement,buttherecanbenoquestionthatHewilljudge withperfectjustice,forHehasboththepowerandthewisdomtodoso.AndsoJamescouldpointtoJob(ina waythathecouldnotiftheepiloguehadbeenomitted)andsay:YouhaveheardofJobsperseveranceand haveseenwhattheLordfinallybroughtabout.TheLordisfullofcompassionandmercy(James5:11).

LessonsfromJob
Thisbookteachesusvitallessonsaboutourperspectiveonourselves,onsufferingandonGod:

Howwethinkofourselves
GodsresponsetoJobisapowerful challengetousas weeven begintocomprehendHisgreatnessandour powerlessness.Wehaveaconstanttendencytothinkthattheworldrevolvesaroundus,eitherindividuallyor asaspecies.InrealityitisGodsworldandHealonehaspowerandauthoritytoruleoverit.Weshouldbe humbledbythisrealisationofGodsmajesty,butalsorelivedthatitremovesfromusthepressureoffeeling thatwehavetofigureeverythingoutforourselves.Therealityisthatwearenotincontroltherearemany

P a g e |42

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

thingsthatareoutsideourpowertocontrol.Wemaydespairwhenwerealisethis,buttheunderstandingthat Godisincontrolshouldbringusconfidence.WecansaywiththeapostlePaul(Romans11:3336): Oh,thedepthoftherichesofthewisdomandknowledgeofGod! Howunsearchablehisjudgments,andhispathsbeyondtracingout! WhohasknownthemindoftheLord?Orwhohasbeenhiscounselor? WhohasevergiventoGod,thatGodshouldrepaythem? Forfromhimandthroughhimandforhimareallthings. Tohimbethegloryforever!Amen. God does not need our advice He has all wisdom and all knowledge and His ways are beyond our understandingandHedoesnotneedanythingwecangiveHimallthingscomefromHimandexistforHis purpose.Whenwerealisethisitgivesusacorrectperspectiveonwhoweare.Mostimportantlyitshouldlead us to realise that God calls us to be part of His purpose not because He needs something we can offer but simplybecauseofHisunmeritedloveforus.WedeserveHiswrath,butwehavereceivedHismercy.Weare insignificantandunnecessary,yetwearelovedandspecialinHisplan.Ourresponseshouldbetheonethat Paulurgesuponus,toofferourselvestoGodaslivingsacrificestoaccomplishHiswill(Romans12:1).

Howweviewsuffering
TheproblemofsufferingisperhapsthemostchallengingissueforChristians,andforpeopleasawhole.Job givesusvitalinsightsintotheissue,althoughitdoesnotprovidetheBiblesfinalwordonthesubject.Wemust becarefulnottogeneralisefromJobsstorytoeveryindividualinstance,buttherearesomeprinciplesthatwe canestablishfromthisbook.Firstly,Jobassuresusthatsufferingisnotalwaystheresultofwrongdoingonour partitisnotnecessarilyajudgementfromGod.Jobwasinnocent!H.H.Rowleyhaswritten:69 ByinsistingthatthereissuchathingasinnocentsufferingtheauthorofJobisbringingamessageofthe firstimportancetothesufferer.Thehardestpartofhissufferingneednotbethefeelingthatheisdeserted byGod,orthefearthatallmenmayregardhimascastoutfromGodspresence.Ifhissufferingmaybe innocentitmaynotspellisolationfromGod,andwhenhemostneedsthesustainingpresenceofGodhe maystillhaveit.

Secondly,thebooktellsusthattherecanbeapurposeinoursuffering.Ifthereisnoultimatepurposeinthe worldthenhumansufferingisjustacruelfarceitismeaninglessandnothingatallgoodcancomeoutofit. When we realise, however that God is ultimately in control then we can believe that there is an ultimate purposeineveryexperienceinlife,howeverpainful,pointlessandhopelessitmayseem.Thisisnotablas statementoranattempttosaythatGodcauseseveryaspectofoursuffering,butitdoesmeanthatGod,and Godalone,canbringgoodoutofeventheworstofsituations.HHRowleyagainwrites:70 WemaypausetonotethatthecauseofJobssufferingwasmorethantheSatansinsinuationagainsthim. He was suffering to vindicate more than himself. He was vindicating Gods trust in Him. He was not so muchabandonedbyGodassupremelyhonouredbyGod. The epistle to the Romans has something to say about this subject too. Paul says that we can boast in our sufferingsbecausewehaveconfidenceinthehopeofsharinginGodsgloryandthroughoursufferingsGod canproducecharacterinus(Romans5:23).Heclaimsthatourpresentsufferingsarenotevenworthytobe spokenofinthesamebreathasthegloryinstoreforus(Romans8:18)andassuresusthatweknowthatinall thingsGodworksforthegoodofthosewholovehim,whohavebeencalledaccordingtohispurpose(Romans 8:28).Howeverdifficultthispromisemightbetobelieveinthefireofsuffering,itisacertainandsurepromise anditallowsfornoexceptionsitistruethatGodworksineverysinglesituation(notthatHecausesevery situation)andthatHecanbringgoodforusoutofit(notthatwearetothinkofitasgoodinitself).Without thishopelifeismeaningless,butwithiteventheworstoflifestrialsarenotwasted.DerekKidnerwritesof thislessonfromJob:71 Jobssufferingswereinfactbroughtonhimnotbyanylapseoffaithbutbyhisveryblamelessness;andtheir long duration was serving heavens own secret purposes, including the completion of the test and the
69 70

H.H.Rowley,quotedinKidner,1985,p.58 H.H.Rowley,quotedinKidner,1985,p.58 71 Kidner,1985,p.62

P a g e |43

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

exhaustingofthehumanarguments.Thisisnottosaythathiscaseshouldbeseenasthekeytoallthe others,oreventoanyothers:simplythatitliftsonecornerofacurtainbeyondwhich,atanytime,therewill liefactorsofwhichwehavenoinkling

Thirdly,JobreassuresusthatitisOKtoquestionGodintimesoftrial.Truefaithdoesnotprohibitquestions,in factitencouragesthem.QuestionsarenotwrongsolongaswedirectourselvestoGodforanswers.Infact, wecangofurtherandsaythattruefaithisforgedinthefireoftrials.CertainlyPetershopeforthesuffering Christianshewrotetowasthattheirfaithwouldberefined,provedandpurifiedthroughtheirexperience(1 Peter 1:7). In the Old Testament the prophet Habakkuk parallels Job in his questioning of God and in the dramatic and aweinspiring response he received. The opposite of true faith is not doubt (doubt can strengthenfaithifitisworkedthrough)butpride.JobhadonlyglimpsesofGodsgoodnessandfaithfulness. Hehadinklingsoftherealityofresurrectionandfuturehope,andwemightwonderwhetherhewouldhave seen these if not for his suffering. We have a much greater revelation from God. We understand that the ultimatemysteryofsufferingisfoundinthecrossofChrist,whereGodHimselfenteredintooursufferingina purposefulwaythatwouldbringredemptionforallthosewhosefaithisinHim.Jobdidnothavethatinsight. HecouldnotconceiveofaGodwhosufferedwithHim,lessstillofaGodwhowouldsufferforHim.Inaddition we have the words of Christ and His apostles certain promises of His future return and our future glory whichwerenotavailabletoJob.Althoughwestandatagreatadvantageinthisrespect,yetwestillseebuta poor reflection as in a mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12). As for Job, there are many aspects of Gods plan that remain veiled to us. We may have insight into His grand plan, but we will often struggle to see how our particularcircumstancesfitintoit.Godhasnotgivenusthatkindofinsight,andIdoubtifwecouldcopewith ittheburdenwouldbetoogreatforustolivewith!Welivebyfaith,notbysight,butwecanhaveassurance, as Job increasingly had throughout his journey, that one day we will see our Judge and He will be our Redeemer.AsweliveonthisjourneywecanquestionandcryouttoHimHecantakeitandHeinvitesit. Eveninthedarkesttimeswhenwecannotevenbringourselvestospeak,HewillremainfaithfultoHispurpose andHispromiseswillnotfail.

HowwespeakofGod
IthasbeensuggestedthatthetruethemeofJobisWhoiswise?orWhereiswisdomfound?withtheonly sufficient answer being God. Even Jobs wisdom, although he is the epitome of the wise man (see the commentaboveon1:1),palesintosignificanceandisrevealedtobefollybycomparisonwithGod.Likeallof ScripturethisbookisultimatelyaboutGod!GodswaysareaccessibletomankindinsofarasHehasrevealed themtous,butwecanneverclaimtohavefullycomprehendedHismind.Thereisalessoninthisbookfor anyonewhowouldtrytopresentanimageofGodthatdistortstherealityandbrushesovertheunpalatable realitiesofsuffering.ThebookservesasawarningnottoputGodinaboxortospeakasifwecanexplainHis waysintheirentirety.Jobgraspedthisfact(see13:79)andhisthreefriendswereguiltyascharged(42:79). Partialtruthismoredangerousthananopenliebecauseitismoresubtleandlesseasilydiscerned.Perhaps todaytheequivalentmightbethosedistortionsofthegospelthatpresentitasawaytohealthandwealth (the socalled prosperity gospel) or even any proclamation of it that fails to emphasis the cost of following Christ and the inevitability of persecution, spiritual warfare and the internal struggle with sin. We need to speakofGodsjusticeaswellasHislove,HismercyaswellasHisglory,HisrighteousnessaswellasHisgrace, HisfaithfulnessaswellasHisholiness. IwouldarguethatwealsoneedtoacceptthattherearelooseendsinScripturethatwecannotalwaystieup neatly.Godhasnotrevealedeverythingtous,andwemustbecarefulnottodevisetheologicalsystemsthat pretendtoexplainHispurposesandcharacterentirely.ThereismuchthatScripturedoesreveal,andwecan beabsolutelycertaininwhatitsays,buttherearemanyquestionsthatitdoesnotanswerandwemustlearn toliveinthetension.Mostimportantly,evenifwetrytofigurethingsoutthroughatheologicalsystem,we mustbecarefulnottomakeitatestoftheorthodoxyofanotherbeliever.Wemustseekunityinthecoreof the gospel as revealed in Scripture and in our acceptance of it as the word of God and avoid breaking fellowshipoversecondaryissues.

P a g e |44

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

Conclusion
ThebookofJobisafascinatingcombinationof:

Questions aboutsuffering,justiceandGodsgovernmentoftheuniverse.Thesereceivenodirectanswer. Infact,ifthebooksisintendedtoanswerthequestionofsufferingthenitseemstofailmiserably!Goddoes notevencommentonJobssufferingatall!

LooseendsJobshopeforresurrectionandaRedeemerthatreceivenofulfillmentinthebookbutseemto leadontotheNewTestament.

Restoration Jobisultimatelyrestoredthroughhisdiscoveryofhumility,repentanceandfaith.Attheend ofthebookheisamandeeplyshapednotonlyinfearofGodbutinthegraceofGod.IfthefearoftheLordis thebeginningofwisdom,thenperhapsitscompletionisinthediscoverythatperfectlovecastsoutfear.Jobin 42:1217seemsnotonlytobemateriallyblessedmorethanin1:17,butheisalsofreefromthefearforhis childrenthatheoncehadandabletoenjoysuchablessingfromhischildrenthathisdaughterssharedinthe inheritance with his sons. The story of Jobs children is an interesting one. We may note that whereas his restorationincludedadoublingofhisanimalsheisonlygiventhesamenumberofchildrenashehadatfirst. ThereisaclearindicationoftheindividualresponsibilityofthechildrenbeforeGodhisearlierchildrenwere judged by God for their own sinfulness, not as a test of Job and of the value of human beings relative to livestockbothmatter,butonlyanimalscanbethepossessionofaperson,childrenareaninheritance. So,aswelivelivesfullofquestionsandlooseendswecantrustinourRedeemertorestoreusultimatelyandto remainfaithfultoHispromisestous.

P a g e |45

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

SONGOFSONGS

Genreandusage
SongofSongsisincludedbysomescholarsasWisdomLiterature,andhenceIhavedecidedtocommentbriefly uponithere,althoughotherscholarsexcludeitfromthiscategory.Itiscertainlyapoeticalbook,andsobears 72 somerelationshiptoPsalms,butitmayalsobeseenaslyricwisdom, thatiswisdomintheformofasong.Tom 73 Gledhillwritesthat: IthasbeensuggestedthatjustasJobexplorestheriddleofsuffering,andEcclesiastesthe riddleofexistence,sotheSongexplorestheriddleoflove.InterpretationoftheSongofSongs,then,mustfollow similar principles to those suggested earlier for the book of Psalms. We should not be surprised to find that it containswordplays(whicharegenerallylostintranslation)andtherepetitionofideasandphrases: ThedaughtersofJerusalemareaddressedwiththerepeatedrefrainDonotarouseorawakenloveuntilit so desires in 2:7; 3:5; 8:4. This repetition must be noted, as it is clearly intended to teach the hearer somethingaboutthenatureoflove. Similardreamsequencesarefoundin3:15and5:28. There are a number of other repeated phrases: eyes likened to doves (1:15; 4:1), sprouting of blossoms (2:12; 6:11; 7:13), browsing among lilies (2:16; 4:5; 6:3), the day blowing and the shadows fleeing (2:17; 4:6), the neck likened to a tower (4:4; 7:5), breasts likened to fawns (4:5; 7:4), mountains of spices (4:6; 8:14). TheculturaldistancebetweenourmodernWesternworldandtheancientMiddleEasterncontextofthissongwill beobviousfromareadingofpassagessuchas4:13ladiestodayareunlikelytoconsideritacomplimentiftheir hairislikenedtogoats,theirteethtosheepandtheirtemplestoapomegranate,althoughthereferencetolips likescarletribbonsmakesthetransitionoftimebetter.Thereareotherchallengesintranslatingthisbookfrom theHebrewincludingthefactthatitincludesmanywordsthatarenotfoundelsewhereintheOldTestamentand that there are several places where the Hebrew appears to be deliberately ambiguous, perhaps including deliberatedoubleentendresaboutsexualintimacy(forexample5:45,14).Translatorshavetodecidethedegree to which they should maintain ambiguity in these passages and to which they should paraphrase imagery that clasheswithourculturalexpectations.Thebookwillreadquitedifferentlyinamoreliteraltranslation(e.g.the NIVorESV)when compared with a more free paraphrase (e.g.the Message orthe paraphrase included in Tom Gledhillscommentary).Inaddition,thereisthechallengeofdecidingwhoisspeakingatdifferentpointsinthe book.Insomeplacesthisisrelativelyeasygiventheuseofmaleorfemalepronouns,butinothersitislessclear. ModerntranslationssuchastheNIVplaceheadingsoversectionstoindicatewhoisspeaking,butinsomeplaces (astheNIVfootnoteat1:2admits)thereisuncertaintyastowhenvoiceschange.Generallyspeaking,however, thisuncertaintymakeslittledifferencetotheoverallmessageoftheSong. Despiteourculturaldistanceandthebooksambiguitywecannotfailtobeimpressedbythepassionofthesong andtheeffusiveadorationexpressedbythevoiceswithinit.Therecanbelittledoubtthatitwasmeanttobesung asacelebrationoflove,beautyandintimacy.74TomGledhillsuggeststhat:75 TheSongfounditsearlypopularitywithinthesocialandreligiouslifeofancientIsrael.Itwasmostprobablysung as entertainment at local celebrations of the various harvest festivals, accompanied by dancing at a village wedding,sungascourtentertainmentattheroyalpalaceinJerusalem,orathappyfamilyreunionsorgatherings.

AccordingtoFeeandStuart(1993,p.211)whodistinguishitfromproverbialwisdom(Proverbs)andspeculativewisdom (Ecclesiastes,Job). 73 Gledhill,1994,p.35 74 Gledhill,1994,p.19 75 Gledhill,1994,p.19


72

P a g e |46

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

DateandAuthorship
There is a range of opinion as to when this book was written. Traditionally it has been attributed to Solomon, basedonthetitlefoundin1:1,althoughthistitle(aswiththetitlesofthePsalms)maymeanthatthesongisabout Solomonorconnectedtohimratherthanwrittenbyhim.Solomonismentionedanothersixtimesinthebook:1:5 refers to his tent curtains, 3:7 and 9 refer to his carriage, 3:11 calls the daughters of Jerusalem to see him wearinghiscrown,and8:11and12refertohisvineyardandtributegiventohim.Theonlyoneoftheseverses thatimpliesadirectpersonalconnectionbetweenSolomonandthewomanis8:12,butthismayrefersimplyto thepayingoftaxonthewomansvineyardratherthanavoluntarygivingofmoneywithinalovingrelationship. Clearly,wheneverthebookwaswritten,itissetinSolomonstime. Inaddition,thekingisreferredtoin1:4,1:12and7:5.Itappearsthatthiskingislovedbythewoman,since shedesireshimtotakeherintohischambers(1:4),butthisraisesthequestionwhothekingis.Therearethree mainpossibilities: o King is simply be a literary device referring to the womans opinion of her lover his importance in her estimationislikethatofaking.Accordingtothisview,theloverwaseitherashepherdbuttoherhewasa king or he was neither literally a shepherd nor a king, and that these are both literary devices describing differentaspectsofthesameman. o Thereisacompetitionbetweentheking(Solomon)andtheshepherdfortheaffectionsofthesamewoman. Thisisknownastheshepherdhypothesis.ItsuggeststhatSolomonmakesadvancesonthewomanbutshe consistentlyrepelsthemandremainsfaithfultoherhusband,theshepherd. o Solomonisboththekingandtheshepherd(giventhefactthathisfatherDavidwasliterallyashepherd). Although it is unwise to be dogmatic, my tendency is to see only two main characters in the love story the woman and her lover, who is described both as king and shepherd. This is largely because the shepherd hypothesis requires a contrived reading of the book in which most of the words of the woman to be read as memories, flashbacks or imagined musings rather than dialogue that belongs with the adjacent words of the shepherd.Whethertheloverisliterallythekingornotishardertodecide. IfSolomonwrotetheSongwecandateittothemiddleofthe10thCenturyBCwhenhewaskinginJerusalem,but ifSolomonisnottheauthorwehavenootherindicationastowhowrotethebookorexactlywhenitwaswritten (manyscholarssuggestadatebetweenthe5thand3rdCenturiesBC).Itispossiblethatalaterpersonwrotethe entirebookorgatheredtogetheracollectionofearliersongsandeitherattributedtheresultingSongtoSolomon asauthororconnecteditwithhimbecauseitwassetduringhisreign.Whateverdateweassumehaslittlebearing ontheinterpretationoftheSong.

Structure
Althoughmanycommentators(especiallythosewhofollowtheshepherdhypothesisseebelow)havetriedto identifya plot underlying thebook, the range ofproposed stories showsthat it isimpossible to do so withany certainty. This book is dramatic, but it does not appear to tell a progressive story. It simply celebrates the expressionoflovebetweenamanandawoman.Weshouldapproachreadingthebookmoreaswewouldoneof Shakespearessonnetsratherthanhisplays.Evenamongstcommentatorswhodenythatthereisaunifyingplot thereissignificantvariationoverwhatthemajormovementsoftheSongare.ForthisreasonIwillnotattemptto suggestastructurehere.

Interpretationandapplication
Therehavebeenthreemajorapproachestointerpretingthisbookinthehistoryofthechurch:

a) An allegory The early church understood the book to be an allegory of the mystical love relationship
betweenGodorChristandHispeople(versessuchas2:4,Hehastakenmetothebanquetinghall,andhis banner over me is love, will be familiar to many Christians from sermons or choruses). This view has also

P a g e |47

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

beentaughtwithinJudaism,andremainedcommonuntilrelativelyrecently.Onepopularpresentationofitis foundinWatchmanNees1965bookTheSongofSongs.TheallegoricalinterpretationofSongofSongsarose originally in a context in the early church where allegorical readings were being found for most of the Old Testament and was particularly influenced by comparison with allegorical love songs in the prophets (e.g. Isaiah5:17;Hosea2:215)whichspeakofIsraelsrelationshipwithGod.Inadditionthiswayofreadingthe bookmayhavebeenareactionagainsttheovertlysexualnatureofthebook(manywithintheearlychurch wereheavilyinfluencedbyGreekthinkingwhich,incontrasttoHebrewthought,tendedtoseesexualityas unclean,aninfluencethatcontinuestoaffecttheChurcheventoday)andanattempttodealwiththelackof explicitreferencestoGodintheSong.Someallegoricalinterpretationshaveattemptedtofindameaningfor every detail of the song (e.g. the cooing of doves in 2:12 becomes the preaching of the apostles and the mountainofmyrrhin4:6becomesCalvary76),whilstothershaveconsidereditinmoregeneralterms.

b) AdramaticlovesongManyscholarsseethebookasadrama,eitherofamaidenwithherlover(whois
describedbothasarusticshepherdandasaking)orofthreecharacters(thekingtryingtoenticethemaiden awayfromherlovertheshepherd).Thetwopersonviewismoretraditional.Withinthisviewthereisarange ofopinionastohowthebookwasusedwithinthelifeofIsrael.Suggestionsincludeinformalusageinfamily gatherings,asamanualofinstructionforyoungpeople,orinthefestivalsandreligiousritualsofIsrael.

c) Acollectionoflovesongs Mostmoderncriticalscholarsseeitasanunstructuredcollectionofsecular
lovesongs(numberingbetweensixand42),perhapsmodelledonpraisehymns. Theallegoricalreadingofthebook,althoughpopularformuchofhistoryandoftenappealingtotheChristian,is almostcertainlyamisinterpretation.WhilstitiscorrecttothinkofChristsloveforHispeopleastheloveofa husbandforhisbride(Ephesians5:25)andSongofSongscanhelpustoconsiderthenatureanddepthofthislove, thereislittleornobasisinthetextoftheSongitselfforseeingitsoriginalintentionasallegorical,andtheNew TestamentneverreferstotheSongwithreferencetoChrist.Thisisincontrasttotheallegoricallovesongsinthe ProphetswhichrefertoGodsloveforIsrael,asinthosepassagesthemeaningisclearlystated.AsGrenvilleKent writes,Genuineallegoriesusuallyannouncethemselvesbydetailsthatclearlydonotworkliterallyandoften giveaclear,ifbrief,statementoftheirmessage.77Iwouldcontendthatthesecondoptionaboveisbyfarthe mostcredible,andthatthisisintendedasabeautifuldescriptionofromanticloveanditsphysicalexpression.Itis intendedtoteachyoungpeopleabouttheplaceforromanticloveinlifeandthatthisaspectoflifematterstoGod (henceitsinclusionintheBible)andisavalidexpressionoflifewithinthecontextthatGodhasgiven.Giventhis readingofthebook,thefollowingprinciplesforuseofSongofSongsmaybehelpful:

1) ReaditwithintheoverallethicalcontextoftheBible
The proper context for the sexuality described in the book is within monogamous, heterosexual marriage, whichconsummatesandcontinueslovebetweenamanandawoman.Thisisclearfromtheoverallcontext oftheOldTestamentwhichpresentsmarriageastheonlyappropriatecontextforsexualactivity.AsFeeand Stuart write, The attitude of the Song itself is the very antithesis of unfaithfulness, either before or after marriage. 78ThecontextofmarriageisseenintheSongitself,withtherepeatedreferencestothebridein 4:85:1.ItseemslikelythattheSongmovesfromthebetrothedcoupleinchapters13,tomarriageinchapter 4 and consummation of the marriage in chapter 5. Another possible connection with the broader view of ScriptureissuggestedbyKentandotherswhosuggestthatelementsoftheSongimplyapartialreversalofthe 79 cursesinbroughtintotheworldinGenesis3. TheysuggestthatthisisahintofGodsplanofredemption. 76 IftheseexamplesdonotconvincethereaderofthedangersofstretchingallegoricalinterpretationsIrecommendareading
ofGrenvilleKentssummaryofhistoricalsuggestionsforthesignificanceofbreastsintheSongwhichrangesfromthetwinned leadershipofMosesandAarontothetwoordinancesofbaptismandtheLordsSupper(Kent,2010,p.126)! 77 Kent,2000,p.126 78 FeeandStuart,1993,p.230 79 Kent,2010,p.132mentionsthegardenimageryin4:1216andthecontrastbetween7:10andGenesis3:16

P a g e |48

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

2) Beawareofthegenreandusage
Thisisasong,fullofpoeticlanguage,andthesameprinciplesmentionedfortheinterpretationofpsalmsas poems also apply to interpreting this book. Song of Songs was most likely used in context of marriage ceremoniesinancientIsrael.Perhapstodayitcouldbeusedaspartofamarriagepreparationcourseorin Christianeducationofyoungpeople(advisablyinasinglesexcontext).

3) Recognisethevaluesitteachesaboutromanceandsex
ThevaluesoftheSongchallengeandcorrectwrongideasaboutromanticloveandsexualityinourmodern cultureandthathaveimpactedthechurchthroughoutitshistory:

Wisdom embraces all of life, including sexuality There has been an unhelpful influence from Greek philosophyuponChristianthinkingthroughouthistorythathasledtoaviewofsexassomehowunclean orevensinful.Thisinfluenceunderliesthedevelopmentofchastityastheidealforpriests,monksand nuns.TheSongofSongs,withitsHebrewwisdom,debunksthismythandshowsusthatsex,whilstnot essentialtoafulfilledandgodlylife,isnotinconflictwithgodliness.

Romance and sexuality are good gifts from God This book is open about sexuality, but it is by no means vulgar or pornographic. Although God is not actually mentioned directly in the NIV text, His creatorshipisimpliedin7:1andthereisanotherallusiontoHim,orperhapsmore,in8:6.TheretheNIV saysthatloveburnslikeamightyflame.ThesingleHebrewwordrepresentedbythisphraseendswith thesyllableyah,whichisthefirstsyllableofthenameofGod,Yahweh(generallytranslatedtheLORD in English versions). The NIV translators interpreted this to mean mighty, but their footnote acknowledgesthealternativepossibilitythatloveisdescribedastheflameoftheLORD,andtheESV translatorsincludedthisalternativeinthemainbodyofthetext.Ifthisalternativereadingisaccepted, thenGoddoesappearintheSongandHeisacknowledgedasthesourceofromanticlove.Evenifthe alternativereadingisnotfollowed,thepresenceofthissyllableisboundtohaveimpliedGodsnameto theJewishreaderandsoHeisimplicitastheoriginofthislove.RomanticloveisafireignitedbyGod Himself.TheSongcorrectstheproblemidentifiedbyGrenvilleKent,thatSomehowGodsbrandname hasbeenremovedfromoneofhismostpopularproducts.80 Romanceandgiving mattermoreinsexual activity than technique TheSongis concerned not with sexual technique (as modern thinking appears to be) but with virtuous romance, which makes sexual activitymeaningful.Somemodernattemptstoparaphrasethebookwhichareovertlyphysicalintheir understanding of its imagery may have some validity (i.e. those images may imply physical sexual activity)buttheymissthepointthatthebookwasgiveninpoeticformforareasontoemphasisethe beautyandmysteryofromanticloveanditscentralitytoappropriatesexualactivity.Thisbookhasthe power to deliver the Christian from the tedious obsession of our prevailing culture with sexual techniquesandtheholygrailofperfectsexandtorestoretousthejoyofdiscoveringoursexualityinthe context for which God intended and todiscover perfect intimacy according to Gods design. Grenville Kentalsopointsoutthatthebookshowsthatsexcannotbedivorcedfromemotionitisagivingofthe whole selftothe other (demonstratedby the use of the wordsoulin 3:14).81 In a societythat has separatedromancefromsexweneedtoreemphasisethatsexualactivitywithoutlovingcommitment deeplydamagingtotheemotionalhealthandwholenessoftheperson.Itisalietoldwiththebodyit saysIloveyouandgivemyselftoyouwhentheminddisagrees.

Sexualityandsexualunionisagifttobothmenand womenTheSongcelebratestheintimacy ofa manandwomanintenderandwarmlanguage.Itisworthnotingthatbothmaleandfemalecharacters are depicted as sexual beings with healthy appreciation for one another and a mutual giving of each otherthereisnomaledominancehere.AlthoughourmodernWesternculturewouldagreewiththis pointithasnotalwaysbeensoobviousineveryculture.

80 Kent,2010,p.124
81

Kent,2010,p.129f.

P a g e |49

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter

CONCLUSION
InthisstudyIhaveattemptedtointroducethereadertothefivebooksthatformsahingeintheOldTestament betweenthelawandnarrativebookandtheprophets.Thesebooksare,aswehaveseen,atthesametimesome ofthemostlovedintheOldTestamentandalsosomeofthemostenigmatic.Theyarebothsomeofthemost accessiblepartsoftheHebrewBiblebutalsomostopentomisinterpretation.Theyincludesomeofthemostread portionsofScriptureandsomeofthemostneglected.Theycontainthegreatestwordsofcomfortforthebeliever andalsothemosttroublingofideas.Inshorttheyembracealloflife.Theyexpressthedeepestanguishandthe mostexuberantpraise.Theycelebratethegoodnessofcreation,pleasureandsex,buttheyalsovividlydepictthe emptiness of life without God, the horrors of sin and the struggles of the faithful to comprehend how God is workinginthedarknessofsuffering. MyintentionhasbeentoexcitetheChristianreaderaboutthesebooksandtoprovidehelpfulguidelinesforhow you can understand and apply their truth to your life. I am confident that in them you will find the way to a blessedlife.MyprayeristhatasyoureadthemyouwilllearntolivealifethatisfoundedinthefearoftheLord and that delights in His instruction, and that you will discover meaning and purpose in every aspect of your existenceasyoutravelfaithsjourneyfromsurrendertoGod(Psalm1)totherapturouspraiseofHispresenceat journeys end (Psalm 150) with all of the ups (praise) and downs (lament) you encounter along the way. May wisdomenteryourheart(Proverbs2:10)andpraiseadornyourlips(Psalm40:3)asyouwalkthepathsHeprepares foryou.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Atkinson,David1991,TheMessageofJob:sufferingandgraceinTheBibleSpeaksTodayseries,IVP(Leicester) Atkinson,David1996,TheMessageofProverbs:wisdomforlifeinTheBibleSpeaksTodayseries,IVP(Leicester) Brueggemann,Walter1980,PsalmsandtheLifeofFaith:asuggestedtypologyoffunctioninClines,DavidJ.A. (editor)1997,ThePoeticalBooks:ASheffieldReader,SheffieldAcademicPress(Sheffield) Fee,GordonD.&Stuart,Douglas1993,HowtoreadtheBibleforallitsWorth:aguidetounderstandingtheBible (2ndedition),ScriptureUnion(Bletchley) Firth, David G. 2005, The Teaching of the Psalms in Johnston, Philip S. and Firth, David G. (eds.) 2005, InterpretingthePsalms:issuesandapproaches,Apollos(Leicester) Firth,DavidG.2010,PreachingpraisepoetryinKent,GrenvilleJ.R.,Kissling,PaulJ.andTurner,LaurenceA.2010 HeBeganWithMosespreachingtheOldTestamenttoday,IVP(Nottingham) Gledhill, Tom 1994, The Message of the Song of Songs: the lyrics of love in The Bible Speaks Today series, IVP (Leicester) Goldsworthy,Graeme2000,PreachingtheWholeBibleasChristianScripture:theapplicationofbiblicaltheologyto expositorypreaching,IVP(Leicester) Grant,JamieA.2005,ThePsalmsandtheKinginJohnston,PhilipS.andFirth,DavidG.(eds.)2005,Interpreting thePsalms:issuesandapproaches,Apollos(Leicester)

PsalmsandWisdomLiterature:AnIntroduction2011,PaulBCoulter Howard, David M Jr 2005, The Psalms and Current Study in Johnston, Philip S. and Firth, David G. (eds.)2005, InterpretingthePsalms:issuesandapproaches,Apollos(Leicester) Kent, Grenville J.R. 2010, Preaching the Song of Solomon in Kent, Grenville J.R., Kissling, Paul J. and Turner, LaurenceA.2010HeBeganWithMosespreachingtheOldTestamenttoday,IVP(Nottingham) Kidner, Derek 1985, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes: An introduction to wisdom literature, IVP Academic(DownersGrove). Longman,Tremper III2010, PreachingWisdom in Kent, Grenville J.R.,Kissling,Paul J. and Turner, Laurence A. 2010HeBeganWithMosespreachingtheOldTestamenttoday,IVP(Nottingham) Nee,Watchman1965,TheSongofSongs,ChristianLiteratureCrusade(London) Osborne, Grant R. 1991, The Hermeneutical Spiral: a comprehensive introduction to biblical interpretation, IVP (DownersGrove) Ross,AllenP.2001,ProverbsinTheExpositorsBibleCommentaryseries,Zondervan(GrandRapids) VanGemeren,Willem2001,PsalmsintheExpositorsBibleCommentaryseries,Zondervan(GrandRapids) Villanueva,FedericoG.2010,PreachinglamentinKent,GrenvilleJ.R.,Kissling,Paul J.andTurner, LaurenceA. 2010HeBeganWithMosespreachingtheOldTestamenttoday,IVP(Nottingham) Wenham, Gordon J. 2005, The Ethics of the Psalms in Johnston, Philip S. and Firth, David G. (eds.) 2005, InterpretingthePsalms:issuesandapproaches,Apollos(Leicester) Whybray,J.N.1982,Qoheleth,PreacherofJoyinClines,DavidJ.A.(editor)1997,ThePoeticalBooks:ASheffield Reader,SheffieldAcademicPress(Sheffield) Wilson, Gerald H. 1986, The Use of Royal Psalms at the Seams of the Hebrew Psalter in Clines, David J.A. (editor)1997,ThePoeticalBooks:ASheffieldReader,SheffieldAcademicPress(Sheffield) Wilson, Gerald H. 2005, The Structure of the Psalter in Johnston, Philip S. and Firth, David G. (eds.) 2005, InterpretingthePsalms:issuesandapproaches,Apollos(Leicester) P a g e |50