There is a clear distinction between the Hebrew approach of wisdom and those of other nations. Unlike any other culture, the Hebrew believed in a sovereign God who they called Yahweh; this came out setting a difference as other cultures believed in a polytheistic worship where many gods are praised instead of one. The Hebrew people had a strong belief in God as it is evident in the book of Psalms which says that God is involved in people’s lives, since He is the creator of everything there is an Earth (Goeser). He sustains life, and He is sovereign over all and He deserves a great level of respect.
Background of Hebrew Belief in Wisdom and Fear
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The Hebrews can be compared in their complexity of religion with the Egyptians who had multiple gods, mainly in animal representations such as cats, lions, baboons and dogs which were made by men and fabricated to fit their needs and desires. Unfortunately this gods and goddesses can not be called just and loyal to all as they constantly had to be coursed by presents and offerings. It has proven to be difficult to piece up the religious background of the Egyptians, mainly because of the contradicting stories and myths left behind. There is a difference in theologies of the Hebrew and the Egyptians; the Hebrew God did not depend on the people but the people where dependent on Him as he was the Almighty one and living in obedience to him and his law made one just.
The Hebrew believe that God is magnified above all and can or should not be questioned in whatever circumstance because he is a good God who gives and keeps wisdom and this is the reason as to why the psalmist in the book of psalms keeps calling upon God over and again for blessings and protection. As a result, they felt a unique relationship with Him, one of friendship as well as accountability; they were His people, and He was their God (Psalm 95:6-7). This verse is an encouragement for the Hebrew people; it enables them to trust in the Lord and wait for salvation (Goeser). As the Psalmist said, "Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord" (Psalm 107:43).
The Debate of Good versus Evil
The most important questions in Hebrew theology are the questions of good versus evil. What is good and what is evil? Why does evil seem to triumph over good? The Hebrew came to a conclusion that God uses evil so that He can show His purpose and plan in all the circumstances (Fee and Stuart 13). An assumption of three theories came into being in trying to analyze good and evil, these three presumptions are one God is good and has a nature of purity and mercy. God is great and he has more power than any other force. Evil does indeed exist. The Hebrew literature does acknowledge that evil exists despite the fact that God is more powerful than all evil; mankind has at times to be left alone to fight and overcome evil. For example, Job (the book of Job) loses his ten children, all his animal stock and all his servants and most of his personal property in one day. It is a clear demonstration of evil taking center stage. However, God restores back to him more than he had in the first place, a clear demonstration that God might allow mankind to be tempted so His glory may shine more.
The Books of Ecclesiastes, Psalms and Proverbs on Wisdom
The book of Ecclesiastes also approaches the dilemma of evil vs. good in a different way. The main question here is why evil happens? The answer is simple: all mankind is trapped in a vain and meaningless cycle of inequity but God does rescue them eventually. This book is a search of life, eternity and eternal perspectives. It also shows the honest assessment of a life lived for one's own pleasure and profit, without a living, vibrant knowledge of God, and bound by the confinement of the grave.
The book of Psalms also gives a glimpse of good versus evil as it is in the minds of the Hebrew. The 150 songs contained in a book have lots of prayers and praises for the Lord; He is exhausted as the most Almighty, He who gives, the king, and the deliverer and the Creator. Heart cries, joy and sorrows are expressed. Unlike the other Bible books, Psalms does not seem to want to provide the theological explanation to suffering but it simply expresses the human feelings towards God and His good deeds to the people, it also shows the intimacy one can have with God sharing the deepest joys and sorrows.
The book of Proverbs, on the other hand, has been broken down into two categories one being the character of a good and righteous life and the second being on the relation of the human kind. All of it centers on finding the wisdom, blessings and success in life with the aid of God. This came with a theological backing, following a proverb explaining fear of the Lord as the source of wisdom. This does not the mean the fear in a sense we can imagine it, but it can rather be understood as a deep respect for God’s words and teachings and in turn receiving blessings as a reward from God. Hebrew people understand blessings as wisdom which we have because of a foundational relationship with God (Goeser).
The writer of proverbs also seeks to understand why a just God allows innocent people to suffer. Wisdom also occurs in the context of laments, numerical sayings and wisdom oriented vocabularies. The children of Israel in all they did had a reference for it in the book of Proverbs 10:19, "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech." The moral of the verse is to be careful with our words in order not to get into trouble (Goeser). In Prov. 11.15 there is a verse "To guarantee loans for a stranger brings trouble, but there is safety in refusing to do so." This verse serves as a warning against loaning money to people we do not know. These proverbs describe real life examples and provide solutions for them (Goeser).
The literature on Hebrew wisdom is mostly based on the art of success. In fact, the book of Proverbs is the official guidebook for successful living. The Old Testament law mostly emphasizes on the law of love. The people of the Old Testament are officially described as God’s people, the Israelites were required to submit to God with total obedience. In this way, the fear of the Lord, according to Hebrew literature does not necessarily ascribe to a servile attitude of submission, but one that is conjoined with hope love as well as gratitude and the willing commitment to God’s will regardless of the circumstances.
Wisdom in the Context of the Ancient World
Every culture in the ancient world had developed its own principles and values that ascribe to wisdom. Such wisdom was ultimately based upon human experience, whereby people judge about the contents and rites of life and how to go about them. There are a few written storehouses on the context of human experience and abstracted from the original contexts to become new learning experiences which could be applied to new circumstances that the inheritors of the new found wisdom would find to fit the situation (Kidner 149).
Most of the old testament books contain some of the most potent literature on human history, as some of the ideas they treat are some of the most cogent that the human heart has had the pleasure of entertaining. However, one may find that the books are not historically oriented. For example, with the exception of the psalms, they are relatively absent of historical referrals. On the other hand, as much as they do not refer to historical categorizations, they are quite alive with the spirit that ties them to the historical period. When reflecting the essential theology of the Pentateuch, the books do not essentially seek to convey the direct message of God to man.
They, however, seek to ponder on the questions that arise concerning the presence of the divine imperative. They also have certain universality about them. This relates to the problem of suffering or the conscience that happens to be married by sin. These concepts also include the transience of human life and how passionate love can be between a man and a woman as illustrated is the book of ‘songs of songs’. The books sow the extent to which human character and spirit may reach in the pursuit of God and success. No other book illustrates this as the spirit of Job illustrated in Ecclesiastes. This book is frequently marked by the mood of challenge as well as skepticism, by saying that issues involved are deeply rooted within the being of man.
Though, the divine spirit hovers over a person’s effort to understand and figure out the world and fathom the meaning between the relationship between man and God. Some experts suggest that the theological orientation toward creation, as it concerns wisdom literature is not a coincidence. On the contrary, in order to unravel the meaning of human life, it will lead one back to the original beginning of it in the first place.
Wisdom as a Personal Dynamic
Biblical wisdom itself was perceived as a dynamic and the ancient land that operated using three dimensions. These dimensions were universal, personal and literary (Bullock 26). To start with, the personal dimension was described using two categories that were practical and theological. On the other hand, the universal category handled the categories of theology whereby one explained wisdom as an attribute describing the almighty himself. The literary dimension was the vehicle that described the wisdom movement itself.
At the time that wisdom developed characteristic forms of expression that were both written and oral, they may well have been a result of cross interactions that led to a mass inspiration of ideologies. For example, it is recorded that news of Solomon’s wisdom caused something of an international excitement during that period. Not only did he surpass the foreigners as concerns wisdom but they were attracted from different lands and came all the way just to hear his take on different issues. The interactions along with the dialogue that happened between himself and the queen of Sheba illustrate a common context of communication.
Meaning that between their different dialects and languages, they had a common ground about their existence and could talk about was real in their lives. On the other hand, they were not of one level. In fact Solomon’s wisdom far surpassed that of his counterparts to the east and Egypt that he quickly became famous among the nations. Thus, one has to ask himself, what indeed made his wisdom superior as compared to others. According to the book of Proverbs, the basis of the Wisdom of Solomon was fear for the almighty (Kidner 149).
Wisdom places a high premium on discernment, thus the wrong understanding or application of literature from the Bible could and have brought heavy confusion to a person’s life. In this way it becomes an urgent matter when considering an urgent discrepancy between the wisdom of Proverbs, the book of Job as well as, Ecclesiastes.
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