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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Proverbs Overview

 

 


THE PROVERBS

BY PROFESSOR S. H. HOOKE

TWO types of Wisdom-literature may be distinguished in the OT. The earlier probably arose out of the popular wisdom of experience, couched in folk-stories and parables and polished into epigrammatic form by the reflection and literary skill of a professional class of wise men. This type is represented by the collections of maxims constituting our book, by certain parts of Ec., by some of the Pss., and by scattered parables and riddles embodied in the historical parts of the OT—e.g. the mâshâl of Jotham in Judges 9:9-21, and Samson's riddle. The later type, as seen in Job and the greater part of Ec., and in one or two Pss.—e.g. Psalms 73—represents the direction taken by the speculative thought of the Hebrew people, the discussion of the moral and religious problems raised by God's government of the universe. For a fuller discussion see the article "Hebrew Wisdom."

(a) General Character.—The Book of Proverbs offers hardly any points of contact with this speculative activity, except in Proverbs 8 and Proverbs 30:1-4. It assumes the current orthodoxy, the existence of God, man's responsibility, the blessing of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked. Its general attitude is a sane, unspeculative optimism. The passion of the Pss., the vision of the prophets, the doubts and despair of Ec. and Job, are all absent. Its negative characteristics are interesting. None of the national features of Hebrew history appear. Israel is not mentioned, the Law and the cultus are not referred to, events in the political or religious history are not celebrated. Temple, priest, and prophet find no place either for praise or blame. Idolatry is not once mentioned, and, except for the national name of the Deity, Yahweh, it would be hard to assign this book to any special Semitic people.

(b) Authorship and Literary Analysis.—The title in Proverbs 1:1 apparently assigns the authorship of the whole book to Solomon, but the existence of various smaller collections with separate titles shows that this title is either due to a late editor at a date when Solomon was regarded as the fount of all Heb. wisdom—as all Heb. psalmody was ascribed to David—or that it refers only to the first collection. The book comprises the following collections:

(i) The Praise of Wisdom (Proverbs 1-9), assigned to Solomon. In this section Proverbs 6:1-19 and Proverbs 9:7-12 are misplaced.

(ii) Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16, entitled Proverbs of Solomon, probably the original nucleus of the whole book.

(iii) Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22 and Proverbs 24:23-34. Two short collections, both ascribed to "the Wise," the professional sages.

(iv) The Hezekian collection (Proverbs 25-29), with a title describing the contents as proverbs of Solomon collected by the men of Hezekiah.

(v) The appendix, containing several short collections—viz. the words of Agur (Proverbs 30:1-9, or possibly only Proverbs 30:1-4); miscellaneous proverbs, chiefly numerical (Proverbs 30:10-33); the words of king Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1-9); an acrostic poem describing the virtuous woman (Proverbs 31:10-31).

Hence the literary analysis shows that Pr., like its great companion the Psalter, must have reached its present form through several stages of growth. The correctness of the titles is determined by the dates assigned to the collections.

(c) Date.—The date of the book as it stands must be considered apart from the date of the separate collections. The problem is almost entirely one of internal evidence, hence no certain result can be reached.

(i) The earliest collection is probably that contained in Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16, entitled Proverbs of Solomon. Early tradition (1 Kings 4:29-34), which there is no reason for rejecting, regarded Solomon as the father of Heb. wisdom. Other Oriental peoples possess collections of fables and apothegms going back beyond his time, and the folk-story is one of the oldest forms of popular literature. Tradition also associated Edom with the source of wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7, Obadiah 1:8), and Ezekiel speaks of the wisdom of Tyre (Proverbs 28:3). Egypt, too, prided itself on the wisdom of its counsellors (Isaiah 19:11). But whether Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16 actually preserves any authentic sayings of Solomon is very doubtful. The general point of view—social, political, and religious—suits the Persian period better, and there are possible traces of Greek influence. Hence, while proverbs of an older date may certainly be preserved in this collection, yet the absence of strong national characteristics, the religious and ethical outlook, and other considerations, suggest a date between 400 and 300 B.C.

(ii) The Hezekian Collection (Proverbs 25-29) contains features which suggest that, while it may preserve an older form of some of the proverbs common to it and Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16, yet it is as a whole somewhat later. To about the same date also may be assigned Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22 and Proverbs 24:23-34. The question of the existence of a class of literary wise men, such as these collections presuppose, in the time of the pre-exilic prophets is a difficult one. It is not easy to suppose that the wise men, against whom the polemic of such passages as Isaiah 5:21; Isaiah 29:14, Jeremiah 8:9, is directed, are the pious sages of Pr. who instruct their people in the fear of God. Also the existence of a second and more pious set of wise men allied with the prophets is an hypothesis which finds no support in the writings of the prophets themselves.

(iii) The Praise of Wisdom (Proverbs 1-9) presents a totally different literary character. It is clearly a unity and not a collection of aphorisms. It is a series of moral addresses on the value of wisdom, reaching their climax in the magnificent portrayal of Wisdom as the companion of Yahweh before creation. The traces of Greek influence in the social environment, and possibly in the philosophical attitude towards wisdom in Proverbs 8, point to a date in the Greek period, possibly about 300-250 B.C. Probably the author was also the editor of the collections already mentioned, to which he prefixed his own short treatise as both introduction and supplement.

(iv) Lastly, to the collection thus edited were added at some later date the fragments which constitute the appendix (Proverbs 30 f.). They all bear the marks of late date, especially the religious standpoint of Agur's prophecy and the acrostic arrangement of Proverbs 31:10-31.

(d) Literary Characteristics.—The English translation may conceal from the general reader the real nature of the style. The book is poetic in form, like the Pss. and Job, its immediate companions. Parallelism (p. 23), the characteristic feature of Heb. poetry, is found throughout, mainly in antithetic form, the thought in the first line of the couplet being balanced by a contrasted thought in the second. Next to the antithetic, synonymous parallelism is more frequent, the thought in the first clause being repeated in a varied form in the second. On the whole the Heb. vocabulary and syntax of Pr. are those of the classical period, although a number of rare words occur, and Aramaisms are not uncommon. Questions of metre and strophical arrangement are too uncertain and intricate to be discussed in the space available. See pp. 372f.

The special difficulty lies in the number of aphorisms whose text is obviously corrupt. Often the best service to the ordinary reader is to save him from a false or fanciful exegesis by pointing out the true state of a passage whose meaning is uncertain. Within our limits the evidence for emendation or variant readings cannot be discussed, but only necessary emendations have been offered, and where no manipulation of the text will yield any satisfactory sense this has been plainly stated. The reader is also informed where RVm is to be preferred to RV.

Literature.—Commentaries: (a) Perowne (CB), Martin (Cent.B); (b) Toy (ICC); (c) Nowack (KEH), Wildeboer (KHC), Frankenberg (HK); (d) Horton (Ex.B). Other Literature: Cheyne, Job and Solomon; M alan, Original Notes on the Book of Proverbs; Montefiore, Notes upon the Date and Religious Value of the Book of Proverbs (Jewish Quarterly Review, 1889-90); Elmslie, Studies in Life from Jewish Proverbs.

THE POETICAL AND WISDOM LITERATURE

BY THE EDITOR

THIS article's concerned simply with the general criticism of the poetical and wisdom literature. For Heb. poetry see pp. 22-24, for Heb. wisdom pp. 24, 93-95, 343-345. Heb. metre is discussed in the "Introduction to the Pss." (372f.), parallelism in the article on "The Bible as Literature" (p. 23). The commentaries on the individual books should also be consulted. Poetical passages are of course found outside the books dealt with in this section. Some of these are quite early, for example Judges 5, Genesis 49, the oracles of Balaam, to say nothing of briefer pieces in the Hexateuch, some of which may be earlier still; and several are to be found scattered through the later books, for example 1 Samuel 2:1-10, 2 Samuel 1:19-27, 2S 4:33f., 1 Samuel 23:1-7, Isaiah 38:10-20, Jonah 2:2-9, Habakkuk 3. For these reference must be made to the commentaries. Our section includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; the Book of Lamentations properly belongs to it also.

When Reuss in 1834 expressed the conviction that the true chronological order was Prophets, Law, Psalms, not, as was commonly believed, Law, Psalms, Prophets, he was giving utterance to an intuition which recent criticism has on the whole justified. Dt. has behind it the prophets of the eighth century. P rests mainly on Dt. and Ezek. The Psalter is in the main a creation of post-exilic Judaism, and has behind it both the Law and the Prophets. This applies also to Proverbs, which suggests, to borrow Cornill's metaphor, that Prophecy and Law have been closed and minted into proverbial small coin. The existence at a very early date of poetry so great as the Song of Deborah shows that the period of the Judges was equal to the composition of the finest poetry, and David's elegy on Saul and Jonathan is ample guarantee that he may have written religious poetry of high quality. The shrewd mother wit of Solomon and his practical sagacity may well have found expression in aphorism, in epigram, and in parable. Indeed the traditional connexion of the father with Psalmody, of the son with Hebrew Wisdom, must have a substantial foundation. But it would be a hasty verdict which argued that the Davidic authorship of many Pss., the Solomonic authorship of Pr., Ec., and Ca., were thus guaranteed. David probably wrote psalms, but how can we be sure that they are preserved in our Psalter, and if so, which, seeing that the first collection was formed after the return from captivity? And how can we feel confident that, even if authentic proverbs of Solomon are preserved in the Canon, we can detect which they are? Titles are notoriously untrustworthy (pp. 366f.), and other criteria must be applied. The linguistic test is not so helpful as we could wish. Its verdict is clearest in the case of Ec., pp. 35, 411, which on this ground, if for no other reason, cannot be the work of Solomon. It shows that some Pss. must be late, it does not prove that any must be early. It is the place which the literature fills in the development of thought and religion which is decisive. The literature as a whole belongs to the post-exilic period. The Psalter in the main is secondary and imitative. It does not strike out new lines in theology or ethics, as do the great prophets. Even in religious experience the writers are rarely pioneers. It is true that their religious experience was their own. They do not merely give literary expression to states of feeling of which they have learnt from others, but into which they have never entered. In that sense their experience is original and not second-hand. Yet we may say that they were not the first to realise them. The glory of discovery belongs to the great adventurous spirits who preceded them; as it has been said, Without Jeremiah we should have had no Psalter.

Yet we ought not to assume that no pre-exilic Pss. have come down to us. Some at least of the royal Pss. are best placed in the time of the monarchy, and not regarded as referring either to a foreign king or a Maccabean ruler. But even if this is admitted, since historical allusions are too vague for any definite results, we cannot do more than recognise the possibility that a few of our Pss. are earlier than the destruction of Jerusalem.

At present critics are rather preoccupied, not with the question whether we have any early Pss., but whether a large number should not be regarded as very late. The same tendency appears here as in recent criticism of the prophetic literature, only, of course, in a more extreme form. It has long been debated whether any Maccabean Pss. are preserved in the Psalter. Even conservative scholars were inclined to recognise that a few, especially in Books II and III, should be so regarded. Robertson Smith, while allowing their presence in the third collection—i.e. Books IV and V—argued strongly that the history of the compilation forbade us to recognise them in Books I to III. The tendency of recent criticism has been to adopt an extreme position. Duhm, whose treatment of the Psalter reflects his most unsympathetic mood, not only recognises a large number of Maccabean Pss., but dates not a few in the first century B.C., interpreting them as party lampoons written by Pharisees and Sadducees on their opponents. Dates so near the Christian era seem to the present writer antecedently most improbable, and while he believes that there are Maccabean Pss. in Books IV and V, and possibly in Books II and III, he regards it as unlikely that anything in the Psalter should be later than 130 B.C.

The books ascribed to Solomon are probably one and all post-exilic in their present form, and belong to the Greek rather than to the Persian period. The Praise of Wisdom (Proverbs 1-9) contains a description of the Divine Wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-32) so speculative, so unlike what we find elsewhere in the OT, that Greek influence may be plausibly suspected, but in any case it is unthinkable in Heb. literature of an early date. The two main collections, Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16 and Proverbs 25-29, seem also to be post-exilic. The struggles of the monarchical period lie in the past. There is no attack upon idolatry, and many of the aphorisms suggest the standpoint of post-exilic Judaism. Nevertheless many in both collections bear the stamp of no particular time, so that they might quite well have originated in the pre-exilic period; and while many could not be attributed to Solomon, there is no decisive objection to the view that some proverbs from his lips may have been preserved, even though not one can be pointed out with any confidence. There is no solid reason for mistrusting the good faith of the title in Proverbs 25:1, but if a collection of proverbs alleged to be Solomon's was made in Hezekiah's reign (Proverbs 25:1), it probably included a large number which had no title to be regarded as his, and the collection itself must have undergone considerable expansion at a later time. The minor collections, together with the three interesting sections at the close—Proverbs 30, Proverbs 31:1-9, Proverbs 31:10-31—are also late. The Song of Songs is also attributed by tradition to Solomon. Unhappily no unanimity has been attained either as to its character or to its date. Till recently modern scholars have regarded it as a drama, the most plausible form of this theory being that it celebrates the fidelity of a country maiden to her shepherd lover in spite of Solomon's attempts to win her love for himself. More probably, however, it is a collection of disconnected wedding songs, such as are still sung in connexion with the King's Week—that is, the week of festivities at the celebration of a wedding. It is by some dated not so long after the time of Solomon; more probably, however, it belongs to the Greek period.

Ecclesiastes was probably written about the close of the third or beginning of the second century B.C. It may perhaps be earlier; it belongs either to the late Persian or late Greek period. Behind it there is a background of unstable, oppressive government and acute social misery. The writer's attitude to life need not have been borrowed from Greek philosophy; his pessimism and scepticism had their root in his own experience and sympathetic observation of the hopeless misery of his fellows. The book has not come to us quite as he left it. The theory of Siegfried and P. Haupt that a whole series of writers have annotated, interpolated, and mutilated the original nucleus is improbable; Bickell's ingenious suggestion that by an accident the sheets of the original manuscript were disarranged, and that an editor produced our present book by interpolating connecting links and polemical passages, is well-nigh incredible. But in its original form it was felt to be dangerous to piety. Its alleged Solomonic origin was held to guarantee its real orthodoxy; but inasmuch as its surface meaning was frequently heterodox, passages were added whose sound theology neutralised the author's dangerously ambiguous statements. That the book was not actually written by Solomon is proved by its linguistic phenomena, and its whole tenor is incompatible with its origin in so early a period.

About the year 400 we may perhaps date the Book of Job. Probably the prologue and epilogue belong to an earlier work, in which the friends adopted much the same attitude as Job's wife, while Job maintained against them his attitude of resignation. If so, the poet has cancelled the dialogue which originally stood between the prologue and epilogue and substituted one of an entirely different character, in which the friends will accuse Job of anything rather than admit that God has dealt unjustly with him. A western reader is impressed with the curious inconsequence in the dialogue: the antagonists develop their case with very little reference to the position they are formally attacking. The book has received rather extensive additions; the most important is the speeches of Elihu, the author of which felt that the friends had not made the best of their case, and was especially shocked at the language put into Job's mouth, and the impropriety of representing Yahweh as condescending to answer him, a task to which the bombastic and unduly inflated Elihu feels himself quite adequate. The poem on wisdom (Job 28) is also an insertion, and probably the same judgment should be passed on the description of Behemoth and Leviathan. On the other hand, it would sadly mutilate the poem to treat the speech of Yahweh as an addition. The prologue is indispensable, the epilogue hardly less so; neither is really incompatible with the author's view, though he might have expressed himself somewhat differently had he himself written them rather than taken them over from an earlier work. In the main, however, he endorses them. Unhappily there has been a serious dislocation, and probably some drastic excision, in the third cycle of the debate.

The Book of Lamentations is ascribed to Jeremiah by an early tradition, but for various reasons this view cannot be accepted. Nor indeed is it probable that any portion of it is Jeremiah's work. But the capture of Jerusalem, which forms the background of a large part of the book, is that by Nebuchadnezzar in 586. Lamentations 2, 4 were presumably written by one who had lived through the terrible experiences of the siege and capture. Lamentations 5 was apparently written some time later, but yet before the return under Cyrus, and Lamentations 1 also during that period. Lamentations 3, which is detached from the other poems in subject-matter, probably belongs to a later period still. Some scholars have suggested that the whole book might be post-exilic. But it is unnatural to place a long interval between Lamentations 2, 4 and the siege which they describe. The writer of the commentary in this volume brings the book into connexion with Pompey's capture of Jerusalem. A first-century date would be in line with Duhm's criticism of the Psalter; but, although it is not open to quite the same objections, the present writer feels that so late a date would require strong positive evidence to remove the antecedent objections.

Literature.—The literature mentioned in the commentaries on the different books contains much valuable matter. Of the older literature Lowth, De sacra poesi Hebraeorum; Herder, Vom Geist der ebrâischen Poesie; and Ewald, Die Dichter des Alten Bundes may be mentioned. Among the later works, in addition to those given in the article on "The Bible as Literature," the following: Gordon, The Poets of the OT G. A. Smith, The Early Poetry of Israel; König, Die Poesie des Alten Testaments; N. Schmidt, The Messages of the Poets; W. T. Davison, The Praises of Israel and The Wisdom Literature of the OT Cheyne, Job and Solomon; articles in HDB (Budde) and EBi (Duhm). On metrical and similar problems Cobb, A Criticism of Systems of Hebrew Metre; Gray, Forms of Hebrew Poetry.

HEBREW WISDOM

BY PRINCIPAL W. T. DAVISON

AMONGST the teachers of Israel for some time before the Exile there were three main classes—the priests, the prophets, and the wise men (Hakamim). "The Law," it was said, "shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet" (Jeremiah 18:18). The priest gave the people instruction based upon law and tradition; the prophet was bidden to carry to them a message with which he had been directly inspired by the Spirit of God; it was the duty of the wise "to translate general principles into terms of everyday life and to give counsel for everyday conduct." Hear the word of the wise "is the injunction of Proverbs 22:17; "These also are sayings of the wise" introduces a new section of the book in Proverbs 24:23. Their influence grew considerably during the period immediately after the Captivity; it was naturally strongest when the direct inspiration of prophecy was no longer felt, and when the reflective period in the religion of Israel was at its height. They have been described as the "humanists" of Israel; their teaching has also been compared with the "philosophy" of other nations, especially with the "sophists" of pre-Socratic times; they have been styled "moral casuists." But none of these names fits the case, and the associations connected with them should not be allowed to prejudice a first-hand study of Hebrew Wisdom.

Five extant books represent the literature of Wisdom (Hokma). Three of these are canonioal—Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes; two are outside the Canon—a work by the son of Sirach, known as Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon. The Song of Solomon should not be included in the list, but certain Pss. illustrate the work of the school, such as Psalms 1, 37, 49, 50, 73, 112. The Book of Baruch () contains a remarkable eulogy of Wisdom, while the succession of "wise" teachers lasted till the time of Philo of Alexandria, 4 Maccabees, and the treatise Pirké Aboth. The last-named "sayings of the Fathers" are purely Jewish, while the writings of Philo and the Book of Wisdom are attempts, only partially successful, to harmonise Hellenic philosophy with Jewish religion. Traces of the influence of Ecclesiasticus are tolerably obvious in the NT—for example, in the Epistle of James—and parallels are traceable between some passages of Wisdom and the Epistle to the Hebrews, as well as other parts of the NT. It is the object of this article not to discuss these books severally (see introductions to Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes), but briefly to characterise Wisdom Literature in general.

1. In discussing the meaning of Wisdom in the OT, the distinction between Divine and human must be kept in mind. The writers assume throughout that there is one God, Creator and Preserver of all, who alone is perfect in knowledge, as in power and holiness. But the Divine attribute of Wisdom is contemplated in and by itself, as is never the case with power or righteousness; it is the quality in virtue of which God knows and plans and purposes all things, possessing as He does perfect comprehension of all creatures and their capacities, and perfectly adopting the best means for the accomplishment of the highest and best possible ends. Wisdom on the part of man implies a capacity of entering to some extent into the meaning and scope of Divine wisdom, so far as that is possible to finite, ignorant, and sinful beings. Creation—"nature," as we call it—is one field of knowledge. The proverbial wisdom of Solomon, extolled in 1 Kings 4:29-34, included "trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall," and a knowledge of beasts and fishes and birds. But nature, animate and inanimate, was not the chief theme of "Wisdom." The Jewish sage was not concerned with physical science and natural law in the modern sense; it was human life in all its relations, and especially in its moral and religious aspects, with which he had to do. Wisdom for him meant the power to understand, discriminate, and form just estimates of value in this all-important region; the ability rightly to conceive the ends of life, the end of ends, and fully to master the best means for securing the highest good. All this, however, is conceived not in a philosophical but in a deeply religious spirit. Hence the subject of Providence, the moral government of the world, the distribution of rewards and punishments, and the relation between a man's character and his lot and condition in fife, occupied much of the attention of the students of Wisdom.

2. Close definition is difficult, if not impossible, since a measure of progress is discernible in the conception of Wisdom during the centuries covered by the literature. In the earliest stage it has been described as "a kind of common-sense philosophy of life, with a strong religious tendency." But this will not cover the sublime conception embodied in Proverbs 8, nor the description of Job 28, nor the process of grappling with life-problems characteristic of Job and Ecclesiastes. Still less does it correspond to the subject of the high eulogies in Sirach 4:11; Sirach 4:24 and Ecc. 24, or to the well-known description in Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-30. "She is a breath of the power of God and a clear effluence of the glory of the Almighty. She is an unspotted mirror of the working of God and an image of His goodness. She, being one, hath power to do all things; and remaining herself, reneweth all things; and from generation to generation, passing into holy souls, she maketh men friends of God and prophets." It remains true, however, that among the Jews "philosophy" was practical and religious, in contrast with the speculative and dialectic tendencies of the Greeks. Man is represented as engaged in a search after wisdom rather than as having attained it, and advance is made in the search as time goes on.

3. But there are certain general characteristics which distinguish Hebrew Wisdom throughout, and these may be briefly summarised as follows:

(a) It is human rather than national. Every careful reader must have noticed that Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are less distinctively Jewish than the other canonical books. They appeal neither to law nor to prophets as final authorities. For better, for worse, they strike a "cosmopolitan" note. The absence of sacrificial and Messianic ideas has been made a ground of objection against these books, some portions of which, it is urged, might have been written by Pagans. But religion is never forgotten by the writers, and in the wider outlook and freedom from national prejudice compensation may be found for some alleged deficiencies. It may be remarked in passing that the Book of Wisdom, which is characteristically universalist in the earlier chapters, takes up a strongly national and particularist tone in its later portion, which presents a sort of philosophy of history from a Jewish standpoint.

(b) The details of daily social life in their moral aspects are prominent in the Wisdom Literature. The king and the day-labourer, the tradesman in his business and the guest in the home, women in the management of their houses and the due control of their tongues, the oppressor, the usurer, the cheat, the tale-bearer—all receive sound and wholesome advice. The tone of the counsel is often "secular," and the motives urged often run on a low and prudential rather than a lofty and ideal plane. But religious considerations are always in the background, and often come notably to the front. It would not be difficult to select from Proverbs a store of profound spiritual aphorisms, such as "His secret is with the righteous," "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord," "Where no vision is, the people perish," and "He that winneth souls is wise." Self-regarding virtues are not foremost in the estimation of writers who tell us many times that "before honour is humility," who tenderly enjoin submission to the fatherly chastening of the Lord, and who remind the vindictive that to feed and help an enemy is the best revenge, one that will not pass unnoticed by the Lord of all.

(c) The ethical spirit of the "wise" is not opposed to the legalism of the priest or the fiery earnestness of the prophet; rather does it supplement and complete both. Religion has its ceremonial and mystical side, but there is always danger lest its close connexion with prosaic duties in everyday life should be forgotten. Priest, prophet, and sage, all have a place in the old covenant, and each has a truly religious message to deliver. "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom," occurs in Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as many times in Proverbs. But the God whom these writers fear and trust is one who is Himself righteous and loves righteousness in man, across the counter as well as in the Temple. He abominates a false balance, lazy habits, a greedy appetite, and a smoothly flattering as well as a scolding and contentious tongue.

(d) These writers were orthodox in their religious beliefs, but they were not closely tied by dogmatic considerations, and they expressed themselves with freedom and force. The criticism which styles them "sceptics" makes very free with the text of Job and Ecclesiastes in order to establish the position. But it is perfectly true that in dealing with the facts and deep problems of life the writers of these two books do exhibit considerable freedom from traditional and conventional beliefs, while maintaining their faith in the God of Israel and of the whole world. It is largely to them that we owe the trains of thought which in Judaism prepared the way for the doctrine of immortality, as the saints of earlier days groped their way through the problems of pain and death, first to the hope, and afterwards to the assurance, of life beyond the grave.

4. Much may be learned concerning the current ideas of Wisdom on its human side by a study of the various synonyms used for it and the somewhat copious vocabulary which describes its opposite, Folly. In addition to the phrase "wisdom and understanding" as used in Deuteronomy 4:5 f. and Isaiah 11:2, in which stress is laid upon intelligent comprehension of the Divine law of righteousness, we may draw attention to a number of synonyms, without professing to enumerate them all. Binah may be rendered "intelligent perception"; ta'am is good taste or discernment applied to morals; tushiyah, often used for strength or help, in Proverbs indicates the solid, sound knowledge that may be relied on as a stay in time of need; ormah is on the border-line between prudence and unning, and stands for a "subtlety" of perception that will enable a wise man to steer his vessel craftily" and well; while sekel indicates discretion, or good sense in active operation.

On the other hand, the foolish man is described sometimes as pethi, simple, ignorant, easily misled; or as kesil, heavy, stupid, obstinate; or as evil, rashly, wantonly foolish. He may be baar, coarse, brutish, or nabal, churlish and ignoble. The emptiness and unworthiness of folly are employed in one group of words, and its unsavoury and corrupt character, without wholesome salt of reason and understanding, in another (Proverbs 1:7*). The Bunyan-like picture of Madam Folly in Proverbs 9:13-18 stands out in bold contrast with the picture of Wisdom and her seven-pillared palace, at the opening of the same chapter.

The subject of the literary form of the Hokma books does not come within the scope of this chapter (p. 24). But it may be noted now skilfully the elementary form of the mashal, or "proverb," consisting of a short, bare couplet, is expanded for the presentation of symbolic pictures and of ideas far beyond the scope of the original saw or maxim. The structure of Ecclesiasticus is like that of Proverbs, but Job, Koheleth, and Wisdom exhibit different attractive developments of what might have appeared an intractable form of verse.

5. One notable feature of this literature is a certain personification of Divine Wisdom, and there is some difficulty in interpreting its exact scope and meaning. Is the writer of Proverbs 8:22 f., for example, simply using in bold and vivid fashion a well-known grammatical figure, endowing Wisdom with personal qualities only for the purpose of literary and poetical effectiveness? Or is Wisdom here truly hypostatised—i.e. was it regarded by the writer as a personal being, distinct from God Himself? The answer would seem to be that in these passages the religious imagination is at work under special conditions, and forms of expression are used which, if literally pressed by Western readers, would imply distinct personal existence, but that this was never intended by the Oriental readers, who would probably have been shocked by such a turning of their literature into dogma. A somewhat similar development is discernible in the use of the phrases "Spirit of God" and "Word of God," neither of which in the minds of OT writers implied personal distinctions either within or outside the personality of the one true God, who was the sole object of faith and worship.

None the less the language employed is very bold. Wisdom not only cries and puts forth her voice, as in Proverbs 8:1—an obvious metaphor; of her it is also said, "Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his way. . . . I was brought forth or ever the earth was. . . . I was by him as a master-workman" (or "foster-child," sporting as children will do), ". . . daily his delight, rejoicing in his habitable earth," etc. Wisdom, says Ben-Sira, "came forth from the mouth of the Most High. . . . He created me from the beginning, and to the end I shall not fail" (Sirach 24:3; Sirach 24:9). In the Wisdom of Solomon the prayer is offered "Give me wisdom, that sitteth by thee on thy throne" (Wisdom of Solomon 9:4); Wisdom "fills the world" (Wisdom of Solomon 1:7), was present at and was an instrument in the creation (Wisdom of Solomon 9:2; Wisdom of Solomon 9:9); Wisdom makes men prophets (Wis 9:27), gives knowledge of the Divine counsel, and confers glory and immortality (Wisdom of Solomon 8:10; Wisdom of Solomon 8:13). One of the most recent commentators on this book, Rev. J. A. F. Gregg, holds that in it Wisdom "is not hypostatised . . . is personal but not a person . . . possesses the moral qualities of God without His self-determination. . . . The writer of Wisdom regards her as far more than a merely literary personification; he conceded to her a refined, supersensuous personality." We agree with this if the phraseology of literary personification is to be judged by modern and Western standards. But greater latitude of expression was permitted to the Jewish and Hellenistic writers of two thousand years ago, and it is necessary to remember that psychological analysis was then in its infancy. Mr. Gregg admits that "no modern psychologist would allow personality to Wisdom on the data advanced in the book." The line of personality is now drawn at the possession of self-consciousness and self-determination, and none of these writers held that Wisdom apart from God was personal in this sense.

The standpoint of these passages is most nearly gained if we bear in mind that at the foundation of the writers' theology lay the idea of a living God, whom they were attempting to realise not as transcendent only, but as immanent in the world. They desired to bring all the Divine attributes—and Wisdom had almost come to include them all—into living relation with the world, and graphic personification was the best means at their disposal. If the one living and true God is to be brought into close relation and communion with His creatures, neither the abstractions of philosophy nor the language of mere transcendence will suffice. Hence we find, both within and outside the canonical Scriptures, a use of the terms "Word of God," "Spirit of God," or "Wisdom of God" as a supreme intermediary, preparing the way for the idea of Incarnation and the fuller revelation of the NT.

Another subject of great importance can barely be touched on here. All these writers, covering a period of more than five hundred years, believed in the moral government of God, His perfectly wise and gracious ordering of the affairs of the world and of man. How do they regard the standing problems of pain, sin, and death? Is there any progress in ability to grapple with these difficulties, and is any continuous development of thought with regard to them discernible? What may be called the orthodoxy of the period before the Exile is substantially expressed in the earliest Wisdom document (Proverbs 10-24). Obedience to God is rewarded by prosperity, disobedience will be punished by calamity and overthrow. The disciplinary character of suffering, it is true, is not ignored; chastening is necessary for God's children; but this is quite compatible with the fatherly government which secures that justice shall be done—in this life, for no other comes into the account. Justice is also mainly concerned with the nation and the family as units; individual character in relation to individual condition and destiny is not a main theme with the writers before the Captivity.

The Book of Job—and, in a minor transitional fashion, some of the Pss.—represents a revolt against this doctrine as not in accordance with the facts of life and as not adequately describing the righteous government of God. A different interpretation of life is set forth in this sublime poem. The writer of Job, impressed by the vastness and variety of the Divine wisdom, faces the difficulty of the sufferings of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked very much—if we may so express it—in the spirit of the prologue to Tennyson's "In Memoriam." He desires that knowledge should grow from more to more, but that more of reverence should dwell in the sons of men, who ought to know themselves "fools and slight" in comparison with Divine Wisdom. The absence of definite dogma does not diminish, but rather increases, the profound religious impression made by a book which teaches men how to draw near to the very heart of God, even while bold enough to put searching questions concerning His mysterious ways.

The son of Sirach, "one who gleaneth after the grape-gatherers," who is a sage but hardly a poet, inculcates a subdued resignation, a passive submission to the Divine will, which is devout in spirit and excellent in practice, though it does little or nothing to answer the passionate questionings of anxious souls. The writer of Ecclesiastes is not the cynic, or the pessimist, or the agnostic, that he is often represented to be. (We are discussing the books of Job and Ecclesiastes as they have come down to us, without entering here on the critical questions raised by their composite authorship as it is accepted by most modern scholars.) It is true that as the preacher contemplates the working of what we should call natural law, life seems to be little but "emptiness and striving after wind." But if Koheleth sometimes seems little better than a Hebrew Stoic, he remains a Hebrew, not a Stoic. Apart from the teaching of the last verses concerning judgment, it would seem to be the aim of the writer to show how vain and empty is the life of the senses, viewed at its best, and the wisdom of steadfastly performing duty in reliance upon God, however He may hide Himself. He must be trusted and obeyed amidst much in life that is and will remain unintelligible.

The writer of the Wisdom of Solomon, while possessing much in common with his predecessors, is distinguished from them by his clear, explicit teaching concerning immortality. God "made not death"; He "created man for incorruption." Love of Wisdom and obedience to her laws form the path to immortality. "The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and there shall no torment touch them." Towards this doctrine earlier saints and worthies were but dimly groping their way, and even the writer of this book discerns the truth "darkly as in a mirror." The doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul, which he accepts in Hellenic fashion, does not abolish death and bring life and immortality to light, as does the Christian gospel. One of the chief features of interest in the study of the Wisdom Literature of the OT is to trace out the various ways in which its messengers, like heralds before the dawn, were preparing the way for the revelation of the "manifold wisdom of God" in the New.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Proverbs:4 Overview". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/proverbs-0.html. 1919.

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