The great literary landmarks of the 'wisdom' teaching are the Books of Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. This literature, in its present form at least, belongs to the latter half of the Persian period and to the Greek period of Jewish history. But behind this latest and finest product of the Hebrew mind there lay a long process of germination. In the pre-exilic history there are traces of the presence of the 'wisdom' element from early times. This primitive 'wisdom' was not regarded as an exclusively Israelitish possession, but was shared with other nations (1Ki 4:30-31; Ge 41:8; Jg 5:29; Jer 10:7; Eze 27:8). In Israel it was confined neither to rank (1Ki 10:28; De 16:19; Job 32:9) nor to sex (2Sa 14:1 ff; 2Sa 20:22); but it was particularly characteristic of 'the elders' (De 1:16; Job 12:12; 32:7), and in course of time seems to have given rise to a special class of teachers known as 'the Wise' (Jer 18:18).
Early 'Wisdom' was varied in character and of as wide a scope as the range of human activities. It thus included the most heterogeneous elements: e.g. mechanical skill (1Ki 7:14), statecraft (1Ki 5:12), financial and commercial ability (Eze 28), political trickery (1Ki 2:6), common sense and tact (2Sa 14; 20:14-22), learning (1Ki 3:16-28), military skill and administrative ability (Isa 10:13), piety (De 4:6), and the creative energy of God (Jer 10:12). In short, any capacity possessed in an exceptional degree was recognized as 'wisdom,' and was regarded as the gift of God. But there was already manifest a marked tendency to magnify the ethical and religious elements of 'wisdom,' which later came to their full recognition.
In pre-exilic Israel, however, 'wisdom' played a relatively small part in religion. The vital, progressive religious spirit exhausted itself in prophecy. Here was laid the foundation of all the later 'wisdom.' Not only laid the prophets hand down the literary forms through which the sages expressed themselves, e.g. riddle (Jg 14:14-18), fable (Jg 9:3-15), parable (2Sa 12:1-3; Isa 5:1-5), proverb (1Sa 10:12; Jer 31:29), essay (Isa 28:23-29), lyric, address, etc., but they also wrought out certain great ideas that were presupposed in all the later 'wisdom.' These were: (a) monotheism, which found free course in Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Deutero-Isaiah; (b) individualism, or the responsibility of the individual before God for his own sins and for the sins of no one else
And it came to pass in the morning, that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the scribes of Egypt, and all the sages who were therein, and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none to interpret them to Pharaoh.
And I commanded your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother, and him also that sojourneth with him.
And ye shall keep and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding before the eyes of the peoples that shall hear all these statutes, and say, Verily this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a bribe; for the bribe blindeth the eyes of the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.
Her wisest ladies make answer, nay, she gives answer to herself,
And his mother's kinsmen spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the men of Shechem; and their hearts inclined to follow Abim'elech, for they said, "He is our brother." And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Ba'al-be'rith with which Abim'elech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. read more. And he went to his father's house at Ophrah, and slew his brothers the sons of Jerubba'al, seventy men, upon one stone; but Jotham the youngest son of Jerubba'al was left, for he hid himself. And all the citizens of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abim'elech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem. When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Ger'izim, and cried aloud and said to them, "Listen to me, you men of Shechem, that God may listen to you. The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us.' But the olive tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my fatness, by which gods and men are honored, and go to sway over the trees?' And the trees said to the fig tree, 'Come you, and reign over us.' But the fig tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over the trees?' And the trees said to the vine, 'Come you, and reign over us.' But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my wine which cheers gods and men, and go to sway over the trees?' Then all the trees said to the bramble, 'Come you, and reign over us.' And the bramble said to the trees, 'If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'
And he said to them, "Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet." And they could not in three days tell what the riddle was. On the fourth day they said to Samson's wife, "Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father's house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?" read more. And Samson's wife wept before him, and said, "You only hate me, you do not love me; you have put a riddle to my countrymen, and you have not told me what it is." And he said to her, "Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?" She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted; and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her countrymen. And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, "What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?" And he said to them, "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle."
And a man of that place answered and said, But who is their father? Therefore it became a proverb, Is Saul also among the prophets?
And Jehovah sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich had very many flocks and herds; read more. but the poor man had nothing at all, but one little ewe lamb which he had bought, and was nourishing; and it grew up with him, and together with his children: it ate of his morsel, and drank of his own cup, and slept in his bosom, and was to him as a daughter.
And Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart was toward Absalom.
Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.
And thou shalt do according to thy wisdom, and not let his hoar head go down to Sheol in peace.
Then came two women, harlots, to the king, and stood before him. And the first woman said, Ah, my lord! I and this woman abode in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. read more. And it came to pass the third day after I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also; and we were together; no stranger was with us in the house, only we two were in the house. And this woman's child died in the night; because she had lain upon it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thy handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead son in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead; and I considered it in the morning, and behold, it was not my son, whom I bore. And the other woman said, No, for the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this one said, No, but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spoke before the king. Then said the king, The one says, This that is living is my son, and thy son is the dead; and the other says, No, for thy son is the dead, and my son is the living. And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. Then spoke the woman whose was the living child to the king, for her bowels yearned over her son, and she said, Ah, my lord! give her the living child, and in no wise put it to death. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine; divide it. And the king answered and said, Give this one the living child, and in no wise put it to death: she is its mother. And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do justice.
And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the sons of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the nations round about.
And Jehovah gave Solomon wisdom as he promised him. And there was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and they two made a league.
He was a widow's son of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass; and he was full of wisdom and understanding and knowledge, to do all kinds of works in brass. And he came to king Solomon, and made all his work.
And the exportation of horses that Solomon had was from Egypt: a caravan of the king's merchants fetched a drove of horses, at a price.
With the aged is wisdom, and in length of days understanding.
I said, Let days speak, and multitude of years teach wisdom.
It is not the great that are wise; neither do the aged understand judgment.
Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from eternity, from the beginning, before the earth was. read more. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth; while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens I was there; when he ordained the circle upon the face of the deep; when he established the skies above, when the fountains of the deep became strong; when he imposed on the sea his decree that the waters should not pass his commandment, when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him his nursling, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth, and my delights were with the sons of men.
I will sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard: My well-beloved had a vineyard upon a fruitful hill. And he dug it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine; and he built a tower in the midst of it, and also hewed out a winepress therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. read more. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard. What was there yet to do to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? -- And now, let me tell you what I am about to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be eaten up; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trodden under foot;
For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am intelligent; and I have removed the bounds of the peoples, and have robbed their treasures, and, like a valiant man, I have brought down them that sit on thrones;
Give ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech. Doth the ploughman plough all day to sow? Is he all day opening and breaking the clods of his land? read more. Doth he not, when he hath levelled the face thereof, cast abroad dill, and scatter cummin, and set the wheat in rows, and the barley in an appointed place, and the rye in its border? His God doth instruct him in his judgment, he doth teach him. For the dill is not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart-wheel turned about upon the cummin; but dill is beaten out with a staff, and cummin with a rod. Bread corn is crushed, because he will not ever be threshing it; and if he drove the wheels of his cart and his horses over it, he would not crush it. This also cometh forth from Jehovah of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel, great in wisdom.
Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? For to thee doth it appertain; for among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee.
He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his understanding.
And they said, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor word from the prophet. Come and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words.
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge:
WISDOM is put for that prudence and discretion which enables a man to perceive that which is fit to be done, according to the circumstances of time, place, persons, manners, and end of doing, Ec 2:13-14. It was this sort of wisdom that Solomon intreated of God with so much earnestness, and which God granted him with such divine liberality, 1Ki 3:9,12,28. It also signifies quickness of invention, and dexterity in the execution of several works, which require not so much strength of body, as industry, and labour of the mind. For example, God told Moses, Ex 31:3, that he had filled Bezaleel and Aholiab with wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge, to invent and perform several sorts of work for completing the tabernacle. It is used for craft, cunning, and stratagem, and that whether good or evil. Thus it is said by Moses, that Pharaoh dealt wisely with the Israelites, when he opposed them in Egypt, Ex 1:10; it is observed of Jonadab; the friend of Ammon, and nephew of David, that he was very wise, that is, very subtle and crafty, 2Sa 13:3; and Job 5:13, says, that God "taketh the wine in their own craftiness." Wisdom means also doctrine, learning, and experience: "With the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days understanding," Job 12:12. It is put for true piety, or the fear of God, which is spiritual wisdom: "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply or hearts unto wisdom," Ps 90:12; "The fear of the Lord that is wisdom," Job 27:23. Wisdom is put for the eternal Wisdom, the Word of God. It was by wisdom that God established the heavens, and founded the earth, Pr 3:19. How magnificently does Solomon describe the primeval birth of the eternal Son of God, under the character of Wisdom personified; to which so many references and allusions are to be found in the Old and New Testament! "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth," Pr 8:22-25. The apocryphal book of Wisdom introduces, by a reference to this passage, the following admirable invocation, Wisdom 9:9, 10:
Come on, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass that, if war occur, they take side with our enemies and fight against us, and go up out of the land.
and have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in every work,
And Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David's brother; and Jonadab was a very shrewd man.
Give therefore to thy servant an understanding heart, to judge thy people, to discern between good and bad; for who is able to judge this thy numerous people?
behold, I have done according to thy word: behold, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart, so that there hath been none like unto thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.
And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do justice.
He taketh the wise in their own craftiness; and the counsel of the wily is carried headlong:
With the aged is wisdom, and in length of days understanding.
Men shall clap their hands at him, and shall hiss him out of his place.
So teach us to number our days, that we may acquire a wise heart.
Jehovah by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens.
Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from eternity, from the beginning, before the earth was. read more. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth;
And I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as light excelleth darkness. The wise man's eyes are in his head, and the fool walketh in darkness; but I myself also perceived that one event happeneth to them all.
The Son of man has come eating and drinking, and they say, Behold, a man that is eating and wine-drinking, a friend of tax-gatherers, and of sinners: and wisdom has been justified by her children.
Therefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them ye will kill and crucify, and some of them ye will scourge in your synagogues, and will persecute from city to city;
and wisdom has been justified of all her children.