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
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: