The Wisdom of Israel

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I have devoted the better part of the past ten years looking at the story dimension of the Bible—the largest portion of Scripture. In my recent book, Turning Points, I state that the Story is the thread connecting Genesis to Revelation and every book in between; that the Story “…provides the context for the individual doctrines by which we do business.” I would like to elaborate on how the non-narrative parts of the Bible relate to or depend on the narrative portions by looking at the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs is classified as wisdom literature. It was a book that guided the nation of Israel into the light where practical living is concerned. The book begins by telling the reader its purpose:

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge discretion to the youth— Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying,’the words of the wise and their riddles (Proverbs 1:1-6, ESV).

Perhaps the theme of the book is stated in the next line:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7).

The first nine chapters contain a number of lectures in the form of a father teaching his son. (See 1:8, 10; 2:1; 3:1, 11; 4:1, 10, 20; 5:1, 7; 6:1, 20; 7:1, 24; 8:32). Chapter 10 begins, “The proverbs of Solomon.” Beginning with chapter 10 we find the short pithy statements the book is known for.

How does this non-narrative book of wisdom relate to the narrative portions of the Bible? Read Deuteronomy 4:1-8, and you will find the answer.

Moses says to Israel,

And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you (4:1).

He emphasizes the importance of listening and doing the statutes and rules taught in the next few lines.

Then, Moses says,

Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whoever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deut. 4:6-8).

Of course, Moses is telling the children of Israel how their faithful response to the Law will affect the Gentiles, but Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon will also turn Jerusalem into a city set on a hill whose light cannot be hid.

God’s overall plan was to make right the things that went wrong in the beginning (Genesis 3). He eventually chose Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob and his twelve sons to remedy man’s deplorable situation. Israel, as a nation, would be a nation of priests to the nations around them (Exodus 19:5, 6). The way they lived, and what they taught, would attract the nations to the true and living God. It would lead the nations around Israel to say “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

Did they succeed? Yes and No. In the early part of 1 Kings, there is the splendid example of Solomon. The Queen of Sheba heard about his wisdom and the splendor of his kingdom, and concluded that these “rumors” were exaggerations. She took a trip to Jerusalem to see for herself and left concluding that the half had not yet been told. On the other hand, the nations of Israel and her kings became a part of the problem by becoming more like the nations around them. They failed to live according to the light given to them. They were not the light of the world or a city set on a hill in the way God intended. The potential was there, but Israel became part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

Do you see any parallel between the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and the church today? Does the way we live attract the people around us to seek God through His Son? If there is a parallel, are we failing or succeeding?


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