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 cometh to pass in the morning, that his spirit is moved, and he sendeth and calleth all the scribes of Egypt, and all its wise men, and Pharaoh recounteth to them his dream, and there is no interpreter of them to Pharaoh.
And I command your judges at that time, saying, Hearkening between your brethren -- then ye have judged righteousness between a man, and his brother, and his sojourner;
and ye have kept and done them (for it is your wisdom and your understanding) before the eyes of the peoples who hear all these statutes, and they have said, Only, a people wise and understanding is this great nation.
Thou dost not turn aside judgment; thou dost not discern faces, nor take a bribe, for the bribe blindeth the eyes of the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.
The wise ones, her princesses, answer her, Yea, she returneth her sayings to herself:
And his mother's brethren speak concerning him, in the ears of all the masters of Shechem, all these words, and their heart inclineth after Abimelech, for they said, 'He is our brother;' and they give to him seventy silverings out of the house of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech hireth with them men, vain and unstable, and they go after him; read more. and he goeth into the house of his father at Ophrah, and slayeth his brethren, sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone; and Jotham, youngest son of Jerubbaal, is left, for he was hidden. And all the masters of Shechem are gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and come and cause Abimelech to reign for king at the oak of the camp which is in Shechem; and they declare it to Jotham, and he goeth and standeth on the top of mount Gerizim, and lifteth up his voice, and calleth, and saith to them, 'Hearken unto me, O masters of Shechem, and God doth hearken unto you: 'The trees have diligently gone to anoint over them a king, and they say to the olive, Reign thou over us. And the olive saith to them, Have I ceased from my fatness, by which they honour gods and men, that I have gone to stagger over the trees? And the trees say to the fig, Come thou, reign over us. And the fig saith to them, Have I ceased from my sweetness, and my good increase, that I have gone to stagger over the trees? 'And the trees say to the vine, Come thou, reign over us. And the vine saith to them, Have I ceased from my new wine, which is rejoicing gods and men, that I have gone to stagger over the trees? And all the trees say unto the bramble, Come thou, reign over us. And the bramble saith unto the trees, If in truth ye are anointing me for king over you, come, take refuge in my shadow; and if not -- fire cometh out from the bramble, and devoureth the cedars of Lebanon.
And he saith to them: 'Out of the eater came forth meat, And out of the strong came forth sweetness;' and they were not able to declare the riddle in three days. And it cometh to pass, on the seventh day, that they say to Samson's wife, 'Entice thy husband, that he declare to us the riddle, lest we burn thee and the house of thy father with fire; to possess us have ye called for us? is it not?' read more. And Samson's wife weepeth for it, and saith, 'Thou hast only hated me, and hast not loved me; the riddle thou hast put forth to the sons of my people -- and to me thou hast not declared it;' and he saith to her, 'Lo, to my father and to my mother I have not declared it -- and to thee I declare it!' And she weepeth for it the seven days in which their banquet hath been, and it cometh to pass on the seventh day that he declareth it to her, for she hath distressed him; and she declareth the riddle to the sons of her people. And the men of the city say to him on the seventh day, before the sun goeth in: -- 'What is sweeter than honey? And what stronger than a lion?' And he saith to them: 'Unless ye had ploughed with my heifer, Ye had not found out my riddle.'
And a man thence answereth and saith, 'And who is their father?' therefore it hath been for a simile, 'Is Saul also among the prophets?'
And Jehovah sendeth Nathan unto David, and he cometh unto him, and saith to him: 'Two men have been in one city; One rich and one poor; The rich hath flocks and herds very many; read more. And the poor one hath nothing, Except one little ewe-lamb, Which he hath bought, and keepeth alive, And it groweth up with him, And with his sons together; Of his morsel it eateth, And from his cup it drinketh, And in his bosom it lieth, And it is to him as a daughter;
And Joab son of Zeruial knoweth that the heart of the king is on Absalom,
And the woman cometh unto all the people in her wisdom, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri, and cast it unto Joab, and he bloweth with a trumpet, and they are scattered from the city, each to his tents, and Joab hath turned back to Jerusalem unto the king.
and thou hast done according to thy wisdom, and dost not let his old age go down in peace to Sheol.
then come in do two women, harlots, unto the king, and stand before him, and the one woman saith, 'O, my lord, I and this woman are dwelling in one house, and I bring forth with her, in the house; read more. and it cometh to pass on the third day of my bringing forth, that this woman also bringeth forth, and we are together, there is no stranger with us in the house, save we two, in the house. And the son of this woman dieth at night, because she hath lain upon it, and she riseth in the middle of the night, and taketh my son from beside me -- and thy handmaid is asleep -- and layeth it in her bosom, and her dead son she hath laid in my bosom; and I rise in the morning to suckle my son, and lo, dead; and I consider concerning it in the morning, and lo, it was not my son whom I did bear.' And the other woman saith, 'Nay, but my son is the living, and thy son the dead;' and this one saith, 'Nay, but thy son is the dead, and my son the living.' And they speak before the king. And the king saith, 'This one saith, This is my son, the living, and thy son is the dead; and that one saith, Nay, but thy son is the dead, and my son the living.' And the king saith, 'Take for me a sword;' and they bring the sword before the king, and the king saith, 'Cut the living child into two, and give the half to the one, and the half to the other.' And the woman whose son is the living one saith unto the king (for her bowels yearned over her son), yea, she saith, 'O, my lord, give to her the living child, and put it not at all to death;' and this one saith, 'Let it be neither mine or thine -- cut it.' And the king answereth and saith, 'Give ye to her the living child, and put it not at all to death; she is its mother.' And all Israel hear of the judgment that the king hath judged, and fear because of the king, for they have seen that the wisdom of God is in his heart, to do judgment.
and the wisdom of Solomon is greater than the wisdom of any of the sons of the east, and than all the wisdom of Egypt; and he is wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, sons of Mahol, and his name is in all the nations round about.
And Jehovah hath given wisdom to Solomon as He spake to him, and there is peace between Hiram and Solomon, and they make a covenant both of them.
he is son of a woman, a widow, of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father a man of Tyre, a worker in brass, and he is filled with the wisdom and the understanding, and the knowledge to do all work in brass -- and he cometh unto king Solomon, and doth all his work.
And the outgoing of the horses that king Solomon hath is from Egypt, and from Keveh; merchants of the king take from Keveh at a price;
With the very aged is wisdom, And with length of days understanding.
I said: Days do speak, And multitude of years teach wisdom.
The multitude are not wise, Nor do the aged understand judgment.
Jehovah possessed me -- the beginning of His way, Before His works since then. From the age I was anointed, from the first, From former states of the earth. read more. In there being no depths, I was brought forth, In there being no fountains heavy with waters, Before mountains were sunk, Before heights, I was brought forth. While He had not made the earth, and out-places, And the top of the dusts of the world. In His preparing the heavens I am there, In His decreeing a circle on the face of the deep, In His strengthening clouds above, In His making strong fountains of the deep, In His setting for the sea its limit, And the waters transgress not His command, In His decreeing the foundations of earth, Then I am near Him, a workman, And I am a delight -- day by day. Rejoicing before Him at all times, Rejoicing in the habitable part of His earth, And my delights are with the sons of men.
Let me sing, I pray you, for my beloved, A song of my beloved as to his vineyard: My beloved hath a vineyard in a fruitful hill, And he fenceth it, and casteth out its stones, And planteth it with a choice vine, And buildeth a tower in its midst, And also a wine press hath hewn out in it, And he waiteth for the yielding of grapes, And it yieldeth bad ones! read more. And now, O inhabitant of Jerusalem, and man of Judah, Judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard. What -- to do still to my vineyard, That I have not done in it! Wherefore, I waited to the yielding of grapes, And it yieldeth bad ones! And now, pray, let me cause you to know, That which I am doing to my vineyard, To turn aside its hedge, And it hath been for consumption, To break down its wall, And it hath been for a treading-place.
For he hath said, 'By the power of my hand I have wrought, And by my wisdom, for I have been intelligent, And I remove borders of the peoples, And their chief ones I have spoiled, And I put down as a mighty one the inhabitants,
Give ear, and hear my voice, Attend, and hear my saying: The whole day plougheth the ploughman to sow? He openeth and harroweth his ground! read more. Hath he not, if he have made level its face, Then scattered fitches, and cummin sprinkle, And hath placed the principal wheat, And the appointed barley, And the rie in its own border? And instruct him for judgment doth his God, He doth direct him. For not with a sharp-pointed thing threshed are fitches, And the wheel of a cart on cummin turned round, For with a staff beaten out are fitches, And cummin with a rod. Bread -corn is beaten small, For not for ever doth he sorely thresh it, Nor crushed it hath a wheel of his cart, Nor do his hoofs beat it small. Even this from Jehovah of Hosts hath gone out, He hath made counsel wonderful, He hath made wisdom great!
Who doth not fear Thee, king of the nations? For to Thee it is becoming, For among all the wise of the nations, And in all their kingdom there is none like Thee.
The maker of the earth by His power, The establisher of the world by His wisdom, Who, by His understanding, stretched forth the heavens,
And they say, Come, And we devise against Jeremiah devices, For law doth not perish from the priest, Nor counsel from the wise, Nor the word from the prophet, Come, and we smite him with the tongue, And we do not attend to any of his words.
In those days they do not say any more: Fathers have eaten unripe fruit, And the sons' teeth are blunted.
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:
give help! let us act wisely concerning it, lest it multiply, and it hath come to pass, when war happeneth, that it hath been joined, even it, unto those hating us, and hath fought against us, and hath gone out up of the land.'
and I fill him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all work,
And Amnon hath a friend, and his name is Jonadab, son of Shimeah, David's brother, and Jonadab is a very wise man,
and Thou hast given to Thy servant an understanding heart, to judge Thy people, to discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this Thy great people?'
lo, I have done according to thy words; lo, I have given to thee a heart, wise and understanding, that like thee there hath not been before thee, and after thee there doth not arise like thee;
And all Israel hear of the judgment that the king hath judged, and fear because of the king, for they have seen that the wisdom of God is in his heart, to do judgment.
Capturing the wise in their subtilty, And the counsel of wrestling ones was hastened,
With the very aged is wisdom, And with length of days understanding.
It clappeth at him its hands, And it hisseth at him from his place.
To number our days aright let us know, And we bring the heart to wisdom.
Jehovah by wisdom did found the earth, He prepared the heavens by understanding.
Jehovah possessed me -- the beginning of His way, Before His works since then. From the age I was anointed, from the first, From former states of the earth. read more. In there being no depths, I was brought forth, In there being no fountains heavy with waters, Before mountains were sunk, Before heights, I was brought forth.
And I saw that there is an advantage to wisdom above folly, like the advantage of the light above the darkness. The wise! -- his eyes are in his head, and the fool in darkness is walking, and I also knew that one event happeneth with them all;
the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Lo, a man, a glutton, and a wine-drinker, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners, and wisdom was justified of her children.'
'Because of this, lo, I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and of them ye will kill and crucify, and of them ye will scourge in your synagogues, and will pursue from city to city;
and the wisdom was justified from all her children.'