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19. Wisdom literature - Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs

My notes for teaching the Old Testament, by Mama Brenda.

Leader’s notes: Wisdom literature - Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs

There are five books in the section in our Bibles known as ‘the writings’ - Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (also called Canticles and Song of Solomon).

God put them there for us to learn from. We understand that they are not history, Law or prophecy. We accept they are wisdom literature. But nothing we say helps us interpret them all. They are five very individual books.

Teach through page 69. It is designed to be the link from what we have already studied into wisdom literature. It sets the parameters within which we are working.

Use some questions to lighten the page opposite, such as:

Tell me what you know about narrative literature

What is the most difficult aspect of working with/teaching the Law?

How should we deal with prophecy?

(From the quote opposite)

Which group of people existed in Israelite and other Near Eastern societies who do not often exist in our day?

Why must we look at the books of wisdom literature in our Bibles?

The answer is in the next to last paragraph, but also these writings are easily misquoted, so we need to correctly understand them at some level.

Student's worksheet: Lesson 19 Wisdom literature - Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and

Song of Songs

Everything we have looked at so far in this Old Testament overview has been narrative - story, or teaching - the Law, or prophecy.

Narrative - story is easy to understand even if we sometimes need help with the culture. It is what we learn from it that makes us think, how do we apply the lessons to ourselves?

Teaching from God - the Law is not always as easy to understand, and we have to think carefully about how we apply it today.

Prophecy needs our brains to work. Is this prophecy for then, for now, or for the future, or is it a combination?

Now we come to a different form of language - Wisdom Literature.

“The Jews speak of the Old Testament as the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Included within the third division are Psalms and wisdom materials, such as Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. These wisdom books are associated with a class of people called “wise men” or “sages” who are listed with the priests and prophets as an important force in Israelite society, Jeremiah 18:18. Wise men were called upon to give advice to kings and to instruct the young. Whereas the priests and prophets dealt more with the religious side of life, wise men were concerned about practical and philosophical matters. Some of their writings, like Proverbs, were optimistic, as they showed the young how to behave in order to live prosperous and happy lives. Other materials such as Job and Ecclesiastes, were among more pessimistic as they wrestled with difficult philosophical and theological questions such as the problem of evil and the prosperity of the wicked (see also Psalms 37; 73). Both viewpoints - the optimistic and the pessimistic - are also found in the literature of other nations in the ancient Near East.” (The NIV Study Bible: Introduction to Proverbs, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1985, page 942).

Sometimes these writings are hard to understand and hard to interpret. BUT God has put them into the canon of scripture, and preserved them for us through the centuries. Therefore we must find a way to understand and benefit from these words.

The authorship and origin of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon are the subject of much discussion and diverse views. This is an overview of the Old Testament and for our purposes, we take Solomon to have some involvement in them.

Page 69

Leader's notes: Lesson 19 - Wisdom Literature.

You need to think of some proverbs you hear in your culture, in your language or those you come across in languages around you. For example in my country: ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’ and ‘Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’.

The proverbs selected opposite (on page 70) encourage day by day living for God, and give a proposed outcome to balance the idea. They do not give promises.

Teach through the first six paragraphs - involving two readers in reading the two proverbs mentioned.

This is a very simple outline - introduction

main text

epilogue - which finishes where the introduction started

- with the fear of the Lord.

Hezekiah is mentioned in Proverbs 25:1 as collecting Solomon’s writings, not writing his own.

Get the ladies to work in pairs to read and share their sentence. Others will probably have ideas to add!

Student's worksheet: Lesson 19 - Wisdom Literature.


A proverb is a saying. All cultures have wise sayings about a variety of subjects. In the Bible’s book of Proverbs the sayings are about how to live a godly life. They are to encourage day by day living God’s way. They are not promises.

Have a look at Proverbs 22:6 “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” If you say this is a promise, how do you explain the children who have been taught to live a godly life, and then made a different life choice for themselves? Your teaching was still valid: but the child is not a robot - he/she has freewill to choose.

Have a look at Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Does everything always work out well for someone who trusts God? Has your path always been “straight” when you have followed His way? My husband has been a preacher and teacher for more than 45 years, but 37 years into that time our Sovereign God took away Colin’s ability to speak naturally, with cancer of the voice box.

Proverbs in the Bible are wise sayings - sayings of probability - “eat today and you will be healthy tomorrow” - eating today cannot guarantee health tomorrow. What if you eat and then trip and break your ankle?

The proverbs God has put into the Bible are to show a way, not promise an outcome.

These proverbs vary in their length, and format. Some are comparisons. Some are positive and negative. Some are statements of fact.

Now let’s look at the sections of the book of Proverbs.

1:1-7 introduction -the good living of verses 2-5 is brought about by

verse 7, the conscious awareness of, and total respect for, God.

1:8-31:9 sayings attributed to Solomon, the wise, Agur and Lemuel

31:10-31 epilogue – an acrostic poem about the ideal wife. In Hebrew each verse

begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet e.g. A B C D

Look up each Proverbs reference and share the main meaning in one sentence:

1:8-9; 10:1; 11:1; 11:13;

14:30; 15:1; 17:1; 17:3;

19:21; 22:1; 22:2; 23:10-11;

24:30-34; 27:15-16;

30:7-9; 31:4-9

The book starts with the fear of the Lord, 1:7, and ends with it too, 31:30.

Page 70

Leader's notes: Lesson 19 - Wisdom Literature.

Work through Proverbs 31:10-31 together. The ladies may well have more to add to what I have suggested opposite.


‘Meaningless’ summarises a life that has no God framework.

So it is the contrast to Proverbs, which is advice to live God’s way, in His presence.

Teach through the five paragraphs on page 71.

Involve readers.

This book is so different from anything else we have looked at because of its lack of a God framework, although He is mentioned.

Let comments come from the class. Ask God to give you right and helpful responses.

Student's worksheet: Lesson 19 - Wisdom Literature.

Something for us ladies to live up to! Proverbs 31:10-31 - the wife of noble character.

Her husband trusts her completely, verse 11

She is loyal to her husband and he knows it, verse 12

She plans and works hard, verses 13-19

She helps those in need, verse 20

She provides for her household, verses 21-22

Her way of life brings respect to her husband, verse 23

She uses her gifts to provide for her family, verse 24

She has concerns and plans but not worries, verse 25

She speaks with wisdom and uses her time well, verses 26-27

She lives in total respect of God, verse 30

Her works speak for her in the family and in the public arena., verses 28, 29, 31.

This is a challenge for us all - it brings no guarantees but we must do our part.


The name of the book comes from a word meaning teacher. Who was the Teacher? Maybe Solomon, but the phrase “son of David” could also be used for a later descendant of David. However, God put these writings into our Bibles and preserved them for us. We need to have a way of understanding them.

In Proverbs God is frequently mentioned. In Ecclesiastes He is rarely mentioned.

2:24-26 the Teacher says that God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness to those who please Him and that otherwise all is meaningless, but does not explain how to please God. 3:1-8 is an often quoted true piece of writing, but with no consideration of God.

In 3:9-20 the Teacher talks of the burden God has put on man, that God has set eternity in the heart of man, that man does not understand God’s ways and that the gift of God is for people to enjoy themselves. He also sees that God brings judgement but is there anything after death? No, says the Teacher.

5:4 God gives wealth and honour and then not health - meaningless - others get the wealth.

12:1 and 7 God is known as the creator. The teacher has looked at life from birth to death. He sees nothing beyond. He sees meaninglessness. He acknowledges that God exists. The only way to live is 12:13-14 “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring everything into judgement.” Many other people in the Old Testament had vibrant relationships with God, and found life very meaningful.

Is your relationship with God duty? or love?

1:1-2 these are the Teacher’s words about a life lived without the conscious awareness of, and total respect for, God. “Everything is meaningless”.

Page 71

Leader's notes: Lesson 19 - Wisdom Literature.

Song of Songs

I do not know how your ladies will react to this subject matter.

Read through the rest of the lesson and you will discover that the main points I have made do not actually refer to much of the text of Song of Songs. They refer to principles, and move our thinking from whispers behind hands to straightforward Biblical understanding.

Teach through page 72.

Make sure you hold on to the control of the group.

Enjoy the 3 x ‘Love is’ towards the bottom of the page.

We try to understand and analyse – these three books of wisdom literature stretch our minds. This is my summary.

Perhaps it is love that is the common theme for Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs?

Living loving God. Proverbs.

Living without loving God. Ecclesiastes.

What is love? Exclusive, powerful and precious. Song of Songs.

Student's worksheet: Lesson 19 - Wisdom Literature.

Song of Songs.

Here we have a love song, with intimate language and raw emotions. We struggle to accept that this is in the Bible. But it is part of the canon of scripture that God has preserved for us.

Our ‘problem’ is that the whole book is a love poem.

Through the centuries the Church has struggled to read, understand and learn from this book. Some have held that it is a picture of the love relationship between God and Israel, or the relationship between Christ and the Church, or between Christ and the individual believer. Some see it as a poetic drama of the beloved’s love for her shepherd more than for the king enticing her into the royal harem. Perhaps it is a series of amorous events and thoughts.

1:1 calls this song the greatest of songs, “Song of Songs”, so we do need to try and understand it!

Let’s back track to Genesis. When God created man and woman, He brought the woman to the man as his helper and partner, with the intention that in having intercourse they became ‘one flesh’. They were naked and they felt no shame, Genesis 2:20-25. Then sin came and Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness.

The devil has had a wonderful time ever since, making us think wrongly or confusedly about sex. Sex and intimacy are God’s gifts within God’s plan. The devil has tried to make any talk of sex and intimacy embarrassing, furtive, something daring and secretive. God made two sexes become one flesh for making the next generation and for a special enjoyment that only each individual couple can know. God made two different sexes to make one couple. My relationship with my husband is not for public enquiry or discussion, but it is a real fact and not something to be ashamed of. It is God-given to us.

We may still find it hard that feelings, and touches that are special and between a couple, should be publicly written about in our Bibles!

What can we learn?

1. Love is exclusive 2:16

2. Love is powerful, 8:6-7 as strong as death

unyielding as the grave

mighty flame - like the very flame of the Lord

cannot be quenched

3. Love is precious - it cannot be bought 8:7

“God intends that such love - grossly distorted and abused by both ancient and modern peoples - be a normal part of marital life in his good creation.” (From the NIV Study Bible: Introduction to Song of Songs, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1985, page 1004).

Page 72


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