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Genre: Wisdom Literature December 3, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello again. This will be the last genre I am going to talk about. I think we have covered all the main genres. Hopefully, you now have a starting point for whatever part of the Bible you happen to be reading. In this final section I want to talk about wisdom literature. Basically, this is just Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. These three books are unique among the rest of the books in their style and content. In a general sense these books are written to help make us wise. They bring up some big issues like why people suffer and God’s awesomeness. Although these three are all in the same genre, they are all unique and I want to talk about each one separately.

Job

The book of Job is primarily made up of speeches. Job and his friends give these long discourses all throughout the book. At the end God speaks and puts everything in perspective. Technically, the beginning and end of Job are made up of narrative sections and so need to be interpreted in light of that genre. But, for the most part this book is made up of lots of talking. Although this is in the “wisdom” genre, not everything that is said is wise. Job’s friends have their own perspective and view on why Job is suffering and give their opinions freely. For the most part what they say is more opinion than fact and they completely miss the point. It is important to read Job as a whole so that we can get the full picture. If we just open up to the middle and read one of the speeches out of the overall context it could lead to some false ideas of what is true.

Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is made up of proverbs. These are short wise sayings that help us learn how to live better. As I have mentioned in a previous post, proverbs are generally true, but are not statements of fact. They should not be viewed as promises, but rather guidelines for better living. As we read the book as a whole, there are certain themes that develop. There is an emphasis on the foolish vs. the wise, cautions about money, advice on the tongue, the benefits of wisdom, and the ethics of working, among other things. Some of these ideas are intentionally repeated throughout the book in order that we would remember them and to show their importance. Each proverb is its own unique idea and so needs to be interpreted by itself. Then as we come across other proverbs with the similar ideas we can compare and contrast them.

Ecclesiastes

The book of Ecclesiastes is the final book in the wisdom literature. It is similar to Job in that some of the ideas portrayed are not necessarily “wise”. There are some things that are said that are somewhat cynical in nature. But, if you read the book in its entirety you will see that his final point is that we need to fear God and keep His commandments. That doesn’t mean that we should disregard the proverbial sayings within. There are a lot of truths to be found here, but we need to make sure that we come back to the overall point that ultimately the only thing worth pursuing is God.

Summary

When reading Job don’t believe everything Job’s friends say and read everything in light of the God’s response at the end of the book.

When reading Proverbs interpret each one individually and look for the repeated themes and big ideas of the book.

When reading Ecclesiastes look for the big picture and try to see what the author’s overall message is.

Reflection

If you saw someone suffering like Job did what would you say to them, or what advice would you give them?

Prov. 11:14 says: “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure”. What is the general principle this is trying to teach? How could it be dangerous to take this as a promise?

If you had unlimited resource and a desire to find the greatest thing ever, what would you do? Where would you go? What would you try? Would you come to the same conclusion that the author of Ecclesiastes did?

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