Wisdom Literature

Ancient Biblical wisdom literature is beautifully poetic and filled with creative metapwisdomhors. Two components of wisdom literature include: (1) envisioning the world and (2) imagining the nature and destiny of human beings. These components of the human imagination can be observed in the scripture verses of Psalm 14 and in Song of Solomon. In terms of envisioning the world, the Psalmist vividly describes a worldview where God provides shelter for the poor.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, any who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, not one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?

There they shall be in great error, for God is with the company of the righteous.

You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge. (Psalm 14:2-6).

This scripture passage portrays the world as being overpowered by those who do cruel oppressive things. Today, we know that human nature has not changed over the centuries. The sages of Israel and Judah used their imagination to redescribe reality and live it into being through teaching wise behavior.

The wisdom offered in this passage gives hope to those who are oppressed by unjust rulers indicating that God’s favor rests on those who are righteous. This offering of wisdom guides social and political ethics while offering a sense of certainty in a higher power that exists beyond all worldly powers.

In terms of imagining the nature and destiny of human beings, the Song of Solomon portrays the human heart to be longing for love and unity with God just as intimate human relationships ebb and flow. Particular verses in chapter five of Song of Solomon show the tension of a divided soul.

songofsolomonI slept, but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.”

I had put off my garment; how could I put it on again? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them?

My beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him.

I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt.

I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and was gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but did not find him; I called him, but he gave no answer.

Making their rounds in the city the sentinels found me; they beat me, they wounded me, they took away my mantle, those sentinels of the walls. (Song of Solomon 5:2-7)

The woman, indicative of the human soul, is so in love with God that she endured mistreatment by the sentinels; yet continued her search for her lover even while naked in the danger of the night. This causes us to contemplate when our efforts to do God’s will with our own lives has persisted even in the midst of mockery and abuse.

This conflict is the nature and destiny of human beings because we live with a hope-filled eternal spirit that is locked in a mortal, sinful human body. This mortal, sinful human body is living amongst other mortal sinful human bodies.

In the ancient world, Myrrh was considered a substance to be used in the purification of women (Esther 2:12). Therefore, we have the hands of the soul dripping with myrrh in the Song of Solomon 5:5. The sages have redefined the intimate male, female relationship to portray the purest desires of a human heart passionately in love with God. Welcome to the timeless beauty of wisdom literature.


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