Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs are three examples of Wisdom Literature. And many collections of Wisdom literature have survived from the ancient world, but only Israel placed all wisdom in the context of faith in God. (“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” Job 28:28; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Ecclesiastes 5:7; etc)

Now the first thing that you have to remember about Wisdom Literature is that it is one of the most thought-provoking types of literature in the whole Bible.  This is because Wisdom Literature not only teaches wisdom but also requires a certain level of wisdom in order to know how to apply what it teaches.

For example, take a look at The Book of Proverbs.  First of all these proverbs are generalizations, which means that what they teach is true most of the time but not always.  For example, consider Proverbs 22:6 — “Teach a child how he should live and he will remember it all his life.”  This is not always true, but usually it is.

In addition, proverbs seem to present contradictory perspectives, where each is true in certain situations: Many hands make light work BUT too many cooks spoil the soup. He who hesitates is lost BUT look before you leap. Bribes work like magic (Proverbs 21:14) BUT don’t ever take a bribe (Proverbs 10:2; 10:9; 22:16).  Each is true in certain situations.  The wise person will know which advice to follow in every different situation. How? Well, the wise person will turn to God: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Some of the proverbs that we will look at for fun are:  Inherit the wind –11:29; The more they’ve got the less they’re worth –13:7; The Wise Woman — 14:1; The gentle answer — 15:1/25:15; Plans fail for lack of counsel — 15:22; Man proposes but God disposes — 16:9/19:21; Better to come between a mother bear and her cubs … — 17:12; Advice for when you eat with a ruler — 23:1-8; Gifts a man promises but never gives — 25:14; Like a lame man’s legs — 26:7-11; Like one who siezes a dog by the ears — 26:17; Who can stand before jealousy — 27:4; A Terrific Prayer — 30:7-9; A Noble wife — 31:10ff; Don’t exalt yourself — Proverbs 25:6-7 cp Luke 14:8-10; Heaping Coals of fire — Proverbs 25:21-22 cp Romans 12:20.

Ecclesiastes explores the meaning of life.  It looks at common paths people follow as they look for meaning in life: wisdom, wealth, pleasure, power, legacy, and it concludes that any existence that doesn’t pursue God is utterly futile.

Ecclesiastes argues that apart from God, any path you choose in life will prove to be an unworthy goal, ultimately unachievable, and in the end you will die anyway.  The author concludes that there is no sense of self-fulfillment that will bring meaning to life. It is only the God-centered life that can bring any sort of fulfillment.

To summarize the message of Ecclesiastes: find enjoyment in the gifts of God because both prosperity and adversity are normal and come from God’s hand.  So if we lower our expectations, we will be more contented. And as self-fulfillment cannot be obtained, it should not be sought.  Instead, remember to pursue wisdom and the fear of the Lord.

Solomon probably wrote this book toward the end of his life after he had repented of his idolatry and his pursuit of foreign wives, and so this book is intended to serve as a guide to others through the pitfalls of life.  In this book, Solomon takes us on a tour of all that life has to offer.  He concludes that only a relationship with the God who created us and continues to care for us will truly satisfy us.  Anything else leads only to boredom and despair.

Song of Songs (sometimes called Song of Solomon) is most commonly said to be an allegory of God’s love for the human soul. It is highly erotic poetry and a moving love story about a young country girl and King Solomon.  In delicate poetry, the lovers express intense passion and deep longing for each other.  The young girl compares her love for her husband to the anticipation of a frantic search, while Solomon compares his bride’s beauty to beautiful gardens and hanging fruit.  Yet even in this eloquent expression of the passion between a bridegroom and his bride, there is an exhortation to remain sexually pure before marriage (2:7).  In this way Song of Songs celebrates human sexuality within the confines of marriage.

The Song of Solomon is an endorsement by God of marital love in all its physical and emotional beauty.  It teaches that God not only approves of but also encourages sexual pleasure within marriage.  Within this celebration of sexual love, the book condemns unchaste relations outside of marriage.  Indeed, this book may contain the Bible’s strongest argument for chastity before (and within) marriage.

All allegory aside, on a purely practical level Song of Songs teaches that love and sex wield incredible power and the wise person will learn to harness and discipline that area of life.

Revel in this Wisdom Literature and become wise! Trust that God who loves you as a bridegroom loves His bride is watching out for your welfare.  Even when things are going on in your life that you can’t either explain or understand, continue obeying Him and continue to believe that He cherishes you. In this is the beginning of wisdom.

And keep reading.

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