The Purpose of Wisdom Literature
“To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity” (vv. 2-3).- Proverbs 1:1–7
Today we begin our yearlong study of the Poetical Books of the Old Testament, a category that includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. These works are typically grouped together because of their abundant use of Hebrew poetry, but that is not all that they hold in common. Traditionally, these five books have also been known as Wisdom Literature because of their emphasis on understanding and attaining wisdom for all areas of life, including our relationships with God and with one another.
Although today’s passage is the introduction to the book of Proverbs, what it says about the purpose of that work has bearing on our study of all the Wisdom Books. Tomorrow we will consider what it means that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), but today we will look at why the book of Proverbs—and by extension all of the Wisdom Books, and indeed, all of Scripture—has been given.
We read in Proverbs 1:2-3 that the Lord has given Wisdom Literature to reveal true wisdom and to provide instruction “in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity.” The emphasis on our need “to know” and our reception of “words of insight” indicates that what the Lord has revealed in the Wisdom Books is not trivia, nor is it information that need never penetrate into the core of our being. Instead, the readers and hearers of Wisdom Literature are to pay close attention to it, studying these wise sayings so that they come to a deep understanding of what it means to live life wisely, or well. Of course, the Wisdom Books come to us in the context of God’s covenant with His people, so this reality must always inform our understanding of what the Lord has revealed in Proverbs and the rest of the Wisdom Literature. Even when our Creator is not mentioned explicitly, the truth that He has redeemed us in order to bring Him glory in all things must never be forgotten (Eph. 2:8-10). The Wisdom Books often deal with what the world considers small, even mundane matters, but the fact that these are addressed in the context of God’s covenant with us shows us that the Lord cares about even the smallest things.
According to Proverbs 1:3, the goal of wisdom is not that we show others how clever we are, but that we receive instruction “in righteousness.” Wisdom Literature shows us what it means to please God; thus, all can benefit from it. Young and old, educated and uneducated—everyone who pays heed to biblical wisdom will become wise (vv. 4-6).
James 1:5-8 contains the incredible promise that the Lord will give wisdom to all who sincerely ask Him for it in faith. Ultimately, Christ is our wisdom, and He will never cast out anyone who comes to Him by faith alone (1 Cor. 1:30-31). God has given us Christ, the wisdom of His salvation; however, He also gives us wisdom to deal with our daily successes and failures. As we study the Wisdom Literature and seek the Lord’s face, He will make us wise.
Passages for Further Study
1 Kings 3:1–15
1 Corinthians 2:6–16