Next to prophecy, wisdom literature is the most misunderstood and misapplied type of writing in the Bible. Many use it as an absolute guide for cause and effect or as general books of common sense that can be applied by anyone anywhere. Neither of these uses is valid.
Consider this common one, Proverb 22:6:
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. (NAS95)
Sounds good, initially. But how many parents go through grief because the son or daughter did indeed depart from that training? How often do churches ostracize those who go through such an experience. Rather than comfort, it becomes a source of guilt, shame, fear, disappointment, discouragement.
If we make it an absolute, then we place the Law (what we do and say) at the center rather than God (and His mercy and forgiveness). If we elevate the Law in this way, then the next step is that we can apply it in any community, Christian or not, as long as Law is the dominant operating dynamic.
However, if we understand that wisdom literature describes the general horizontal life within the covenant community, it becomes a description of life as God intended. But there is a recognition that covenant living involves both sin and condemnation under the Law, but also restoration in the Gospel. Only those who live within the covenant (faith) community can rightly understand and profit from this wisdom.
Ultimately, we see all of Scripture (including the wisdom literature!) fulfilled in Jesus Christ:
[Jesus said:] You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me (John 5:39 NAS95)
Then He told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45 NAS95)
Note that the three-fold division of the Old Testament includes “Psalms” which is the heading for the entire corpus known as “wisdom literature” (Psalms being the primary/first book in Hebrew reckoning).
For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in Him. (2 Corinthians 1:20 HCSB)
Thus, Jesus is the Wise One. Wisdom from the Biblical perspective means knowing God, but especially His covenant of love and mercy, as fulfilled and perfectly demonstrated by Jesus in His earthly ministry. When we believe in Jesus as Savior we gain His wisdom taught by the Holy Spirit.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.
Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18–25 HCSB)
The wisdom of God is seen in the foolishness of the cross, not in our ability to live up to the standard of God’s Law (even good wisdom literature Law). Rather true wisdom is found in Jesus’ dying on the cross to pay for the penalty when we can’t live up to that perfect standard of God’s Law!True wisdom clings to the Wise One, Jesus Christ.
May we live in the freedom of that wisdom!