Proverbs 1-9 and the Teaching of Wisdom

college papers

The book of Proverbs was the first book of the Bible that I read as a new Christian in 1996. It called my attention and spoke to me with wisdom that I did not have. It literally saved my life. I come from a street gang background, and after leaving it behind for Christ I would receive invitations and phone calls to “go out” with friends still living the life I had abandoned. The hard part was that I cared for my friends but I knew that the life they were living was dangerous. On one occasion, after reading Proverbs, I denied an invitation to go out. My friend asked, “Why?” I said, “Let me read you something.” I read to him Proverbs 1:1-33 verbatim from the American Standard Version.[1] He did not like what he heard, but he understood. It would almost be a decade later when I would have a safe outing with my old friends. In that moment, though, Proverbs spoke for me with the wisdom I did not have at the time, the words of wisdom which promise life when followed, and warnings of calamity when not.

On face value, Proverbs promises to all those who would read and apply its words of protection from calamity. The first verses invite people to learn wisdom. It calls out with the words, “To know wisdom… to discern the words… to receive instruction… to give prudence… knowledge and discretion” (1:2-4 ASV). These synonymously paralleled ideas highlight the strength, beauty, and power of this book. I am indebted to Proverbs for giving me the words and a plan of action for speaking to my friend when I was very tempted to say yes and go out with him and others. It cannot be overstated that this paper on Proverbs is not a mere academic exercise in biblical hermeneutics and interpretive methods, and their bearing on Hebrew Poetry and Wisdom Literature. I do not believe that an academic judicious study of the Scriptures must ignore or be disinterested in practical engagement of the same. The wisdom psalm says our “delight” must be “in the law of the Lord” wherein we should meditate upon it “day and night” and, as a consequence, our actions bear its fruit (Psa 1:2-3 ESV).[2]

The present paper focuses, though, upon the contents of Proverbs 1-9 and the methodology within this section to teach wisdom. The impetus for this paper is the intriguing use of two women (Lady Wisdom, Dame/Madam Folly) dueling for the attention of a “lover/spouse” (the reader), the use of a father-figure addressing his son as to the importance of selecting a companion from one of these women, and how this motif and strategy is used to teach wisdom —presumably from God. This paper will contextualize Proverbs 1-9 in order to properly understand its literary features (genre), structure (the instruction speeches), and strategies (how it teaches wisdom); so that, trajectories may be suggested for personal spiritual growth in wisdom. The home and the church needs more wise people active in this world.

Consider first the cautionary words of Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman, III:

We will surely distort God’s message to us if we read the Old Testament as if it had been written yesterday. We will surely misapply it to our lives and the communities in which we live if we don’t take into account the discontinuity between the Israelites… and us Christians living at the beginning of the third millennium.[3]

In an attempt to reduce these potential gaps, this paper will have two movements. First, Proverbs will be considered as a work of Hebrew Poetry set within the international context of Wisdom Literature. Second, the strength of interpreting Proverbs 1-9 as a significant collection within the anthology of the whole book will be examined. Finally, some conclusions will be drawn.

1. Contextualizing the Genre of Proverbs

Proverbs is a work of Hebrew Poetry set within an ancient international context of Wisdom Literature. Proverbs must be read in light of the stylistic poetic methods of the ancient Hebrews rather than in the light of modern literary expectations. Karen Jobes reminds that the “unfamiliarity of ancient literary genres found in the Bible is undoubtedly a stumbling block to interpretation — and has been throughout the history of the church.”[4] Due to the antiquity and foreignness of the Hebrew Bible, it is important to bridge this interpretive gap by understanding the form through which God communicates His Word. To even begin to understand Hebrew poetry the Bible student must enter into “the image world of the poet” derived from “the ancient biblical culture” which is most likely quite different from the present modern (or post-modern) era today.[5] To lament with Samuel Sandmel, outside of allusions to David, Solomon, “certain ‘guilds,’” and the mentions of Asaph and the sons of Korah in the superscriptions of the Psalms, “Scripture tells us virtually nothing about the poets.”[6] Nevertheless, the legacy of their poetry suggests that they were wordsmiths and craftsmen[7] leveraged by the Spirit of God to communicate His Word in poetic form.

Poetry Appreciation

Poetry —ancient Near Eastern (ANE) or modern— is quite a different literary creature than narratives and civic codifications. To appreciate poetry and non-prosaic literature, it must be approached “with our imaginations sharpened, our rhythmic senses ready to carry us along the swells and recesses.” In others words, a poetic frame of mind must be at the ready if there will be any enjoyment or profit when reading poetic sections and books of the Bible.[8] Why? Because poetry is crafted to convey truth by means of emotion and imagery; the imagery is not to be pressed for its literalness. This is critical because the Hebrew Bible particularly is comprised of many books and sections which are framed in poetry (verse or proverb). This is a core hermeneutical skill needed to interpret and understand a large section of the Hebrew Bible, of which only Leviticus, Ruth, Ezra-Esther, Haggai and Malachi have no poetic sections.[9] Ultimately, poetry is regarded as the second most prevalent form of literature in either testament.[10]

Proverbs must be set within the international context of Wisdom Literature for this is the background of its poetic forms. This is not comfortable for some Bible students; however, when the biblical writings are set within their historical context, it becomes observable that biblical writers use the literary genres and conventions of their day and international heritage.[11] This is true as for the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament. For example, the Greco-Roman world was a letter writing community and its capacity to send information through a letter as a surrogate for a personal visit was powerfully used by the apostles and Christian prophets.[12] This utilitarian means led to the dominance of the epistolary genre of the New Testament. Likewise, it is clear that the form and function of Proverbs that its poetic nature is tied to an internationally known literary genre which centers upon teaching wisdom. It is not the form that makes them unique, it is the revelation they bear from God which set Israel’s Wisdom Literature apart from its international counterparts (2 Tim 3:16).

Consequently, while the context of God’s relationship with Israel may satisfy many interpreters of Proverbs for understanding the formation of the wisdom genre, it is probably better to understand Israel’s Wisdom Literature within the “contemporary” international context of the ANE. Merrill F. Unger offers, however, a valuable caution. Unger stresses a value for the contributions of scholarship from a variety of disciplines external to the text of Scripture (archaeology, ethnology, history, etc.), provided such disciplines are “purged of the leaven of unbelief and the unhappy results of a professed scientific but invalid method of approach that reposes [i.e., sets, lies] authority in unaided human reason.”[13] The concern is a valid one, but this conviction must not breed a fear which hinders properly contextualizing the Old Testament (cf. Longman).

International Wisdom Literature

With this said, Kenton L. Sparks, John H. Walton, and William W. Hallo have cataloged a vast array of documents and texts which make it clear that “wisdom was an international rather than strictly Israelite/Jewish phenomenon.”[14] These wisdom texts are spread across three broad ancient international regions and “states”: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the West Semitic and Hittite. The existence of Wisdom Literature external to biblical sources goes back to the third millennium BC. In Mesopotamia, wisdom is identified in such texts as the Sumerian Proverbs, the Instruction of Shuruppak, the Instruction of Urninurta, the Counsels of Wisdom, and the Advice to a Prince.[15] In Egypt, “Instruction” texts such as the following share a striking literary correspondence with Proverbs: Instruction of Ptahhotep, Instruction of Merikare, and Instruction of Any and Instruction of Amenemope.[16] In the third group, the Aramaic Proverbs of Ahiqar bears similarities with the numerical sayings of Proverbs (6:16-19).[17]

Consider a few conclusion drawn by Old Testament scholars regarding these extra-biblical international sources of Wisdom Literature. First, Walton demonstrates (following Kitchen)[18] that “a great deal of formal similarity exists between the Instruction of the ancient Near East and the book of Proverbs.”[19] Thus, one cannot ignore this similarity. Second, Israel’s wisdom genre is a late-comer, however, when compared to the international community. Nevertheless, despite the existence of international Wisdom Literature which predates Israel’s, one should not confuse pre-existing genre and form as a subversive challenge to divine revelation. Third, many of these texts are generally framed between a father and a son, provide advice and counsel, and employ riddles and figurative language. 

In the Akkadian Counsels of Wisdom (lines 81-84)[20] a father speaks to his son:

//My son, if it be the wish of a ruler that you belong to him, //If you are entrusted with his closely guarded seal, //Open his treasure (and) enter it, //For no one but you may do it.

In the Instruction of Shuruppak (lines 31-34)[21] there are sections reminiscent of the concern about proper conduct especially around a married woman (Prov 2:16-22, 5:1-23, 6:20-35, 7:1-27):

My son, do not commit robbery, do not cut yourself with an axe. //Do not act as the bridegroom’s friend in a wedding, do not … yourself. //Do not laugh with a girl who is married; the slander is strong. //My son, do not sit (alone) in a chamber with a woman who is married.

Fourth, the wisdom “Instructional sayings” texts emphasizing the passing on of instruction by imperatival phrases (“listen, my son”) find strong intertextual similarities with Proverbs 1-9, 22-24, and 30-31.[22] For example, the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemopet shares common literary features with the prologue of Proverbs 1 and 22:17-24:22.[23]

Solomon’s Placement

These findings stand in agreement with the biblical narrative which frames the international influence and fame of King Solomon’s wisdom (1 King 4:29-34). Solomon’s kingdom (ca. 960-922 BCE) is connected to the international community of the world. There are five elements to this passage which underscore the international stature of wisdom in Israel due to Solomon.[24]

First, as a result of Solomon seeking wisdom and “an understanding mind to govern” Israel (1 King 3:9), God grants him “wisdom [hakmah] and understanding [tebuna] beyond measure” (4:29).[25]

Second, the richness of his wisdom is as the “breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore” (4:29).

Third, Solomon’s hakmah is intentionally stated to have surpassed the pre-existing wisdom tradition of the east (Mesopotamia?) and Egypt (4:30).[26]

Fourth, Solomon’s wisdom was regarded as exceptional at home among the men of Israel (4:31).[27]

Fifth, Solomon’s wisdom had achieved international acclaim (4:31-43). Perhaps, the catalogue of Solomon’s 3,000 proverbial sayings and his 1,005 songs (masal) were appealing for their artistry and craftsmanship: “And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (4:43).[28]

Furthermore, the mention of the Ezion-geber seaport and capable seamen in 1 Kings 9:26-28 and 2 Chronicles 8:17-18 provides insight into the international trade and military capacity of Israel during the reign of Solomon. The capacity to use the sea would extend Israel’s connection to other nations and implicitly suggests that here was to some degree the transference of cultural and religious ideas. The point is, Israel was connected.[29]

Exploring the Purpose of Proverbs 1-9: Order and the Fear the Lord

What is the purpose the Wisdom Literature as revealed in Proverbs 1-9? A survey of scholarly sources can easily demonstrate the difficulty inherent in defining biblical wisdom. Some define wisdom, and ultimately the purpose of Wisdom Literature, from the point of view of a chase to obtain wisdom or to become wise. Dave Bland asserts that Wisdom Literature concerns itself with “how one gains wisdom” so that one may have ability and expertise to negotiate the difficulties of life (2:1-5).[30] James G. Williams, describes wisdom as the ability to voice and apply perspective, “wisdom is dedicated to articulating a sense of order.”[31] Williams goes on to define that “sense of order” through the lens of positive and negative retributive justice; which is it say, if you do x, then y follows — whether to reward you or to punish you. Furthermore, and what is inviting to Williams’ treatment of wisdom codified in proverbial sayings, is that the power of wisdom resides in its capacity to instill discipline and self-control (musar 1:1-7).[32]

Indeed, Kevin J. Youngblood[33] sustains and extends this thesis by arguing that “discipline” functions in four relational levels, all of which maintain the “cosmic boundaries” which protect wisdom’s order. They move from the proper order that should exist in the comprehensive first level of the cosmos as God orders it, the second level of the city with its cultural and political order, the third level being the family and household order, and finally the fourth level where self-discipline reflects the “individual expression” of the cosmic order.[34] The foundation to this order of wisdom is spelled out in the prologue of Proverbs (see Youngblood’s figure below).

Figure from Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” ResQ 51 (2009): 147.

The language of wisdom from Proverbs 1:2-6 is distinctively summed up[35] by the synonymously parallel concept of “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7a). Bruce Waltke calls this verse the essential “spiritual grammar for understanding” Proverbs and in effect wisdom.[36] In agreement, if Bland and Williams may be synthesized, the pursuit to gain wisdom is to articulate and practice the treasury of human knowledge which provides the understanding and guideposts to live within the proper divinely sanctioned order of existence. In light of Proverbs 1:7a, then, the emerging wise person must begin with the primary source of earthly order, namely — the Lord. Roland Murphy believes this phrase enunciated the motto of the sages. It takes little to explain how this function of “fear” in the God of Israel is the only thing which aligns the emerging person with a right relationship with their surroundings.[37]

In addition, when seeking a broader perspective on the notion of fearing the Lord, Kenneth T. Aitken calls attention to two elements of “the fear of the Lord” illustrated in the Hebrew Bible. First, there is “deep-seated reverence and awe,” and second, there is the commitment of the emerging wise person to be loyal and obedient to the Lord’s law.[38] It was Moses who was afraid to look at God when He manifested at the burning bush (Exod 3:6), and it was Isaiah who spoke of regarding “the Lord of Hosts” as holy, your “fear” and “dread” (Isa 8:13). However, Proverbs use of “the fear of the Lord” is quite clear. The phrase is used in Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10. In the conclusion to the preamble of Proverbs (1:7), the emphasis is laid upon a promotion to begin practicing the essence of wisdom; later, Proverbs 9:10 functions as a warning to those who would be seduced by the way of folly, or as Whybray calls her Lady Stupidity.[39] “Fear of the Lord” or “fear the Lord” is used as a shorthand (Waltke’s “spiritual grammar”) for the wisdom of obedience to God’s order (Prov 3:7; 14:2; 24:21; 28:14; 31:30). In these references for “fear the Lord,” one can observe in the juxtaposed tension found in the antithetic binary line the contours of what wisdom-obedience is and is not.

We may then conclude that “fear of the Lord” or “fear the Lord” is used as a shorthand (Waltke’s “spiritual grammar”) for obedience to God’s order as it connects down the one’s personal relationships (Prov 3:7; 14:2; 24:21; 28:14; 31:30). In these references for “fear the Lord,” one can observe how the contours of what “wisdom-obedience” is and is not by the tension created in the antithetic binary line.

2. Understanding the Structure of Proverbs 1-9

The strength of interpreting Proverbs 1-9 as a significant collection within the anthology of the whole book will be examined. The book of Proverbs may be outlined in three movements: (1) the preamble (1:1-7), (2) the Instructional Sayings (1:18-9:18), and (3) the Proverbial Sayings (10:1-31:31). An outline like this demonstrates the broad outlook of the book which is framed as a father encouraging his son to follow after wisdom.[40] However, it is very clear from the headings staggered throughout Proverbs (1:1, 10:1, 22:17, 25:1, 30:1, 31:1), that the canonical form of this inspired book is the result of a purposeful editorial hand(s) marked by these collections. This anthological insight provides guideposts for knowing how to read the different parts of Proverbs.[41] It is precisely due to this diversity of literary forms in Proverbs that forces Whybray to say, “there is little gained from attempting to read the book straight through without a break.”[42] In the case of the two Solomonic headings (1:1, 10:1), it may be to acknowledge the change in literary form from Instructional discourse to two-line proverbs.[43] These headings provide internal seams to distinguish between literary collections.

Unfortunately, the academic community is divided over the exact structure of Proverbs 1:8-9:18.[44] Merrill F. Unger offers a common three-point outline: (1) the call of wisdom (1:1-33), (2) the rewards of wisdom (2:1-7:27), and (3) praise of divine wisdom (8:1-9:18).[45] Yet, the outline is simplistic and does not take into account the prologue (1:1-7), nor the various individualized thematic Instructions given on the wayward woman throughout chapters 2-7. To be fair, Unger is providing an introductory outline, and yet his outline represents the problem of oversimplification.

Outlining the Structure of Proverbs 1-9

So while there is wide agreement that Proverbs 1-9 is framed in a series of lectures or Instructions, this is where the agreement ends. Some scholars organize Proverbs 1-9 along self-proclaimed traditional lines of fifteen discourses (Bullock, Archer). Meanwhile, other scholars carve out 10 instructional speeches with a varied number of interludes (Whybray, Bland, Crenshaw). However, Patrick W. Skehan[46] takes his cue from Proverbs 9:1 advancing a seven speech (Instruction) model:

“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.”

For Skehan this is the best interpretive place to start, as the seven pillars of Wisdom personified are best explained in literary terms (a “literary edifice”). Chapters 1 and 8-9 function, according to Skehan, as the framework for the seven speeches of roughly 22 lines each within chapters 2-7. Despite some promising observations, Skehan’s forces every speech into this paradigm which runs him into trouble with Proverbs 6:1-19. His solution is to cut it out of his structure, labeling it as “intrusive.”

What is clear is that there is an intentionality in how Proverbs 1-9 was organized, but at this point, there is not total agreement among biblical scholars, who have similar and overlapping outlines. Furthermore, these smaller sections within chapters 1-9 do work together and provide the “hermeneutical guide to the interpretation of the rest of the book” (10:1-31:31).[47] It is not held here that the value of the structure of chapters 1-9 falls because of the difficulty of outlining it; instead, the value of the structure is upheld if it accomplishes its intended goal: to instruct the simple to find wisdom through the fear of the Lord. The overlapping ideas and grammatical nuances which create structural tensions may, in fact, be another measure to provoke the interconnected nature of these Instructions.

The Personification of Wisdom and Folly

The theological contribution of chapters of the Instruction sayings 1-9 is found particularly in its personification of wisdom and folly. There is the pursuit of the proper order of things (Lady Wisdom) and the disruption of the proper order of things (Dame Folly, the Adulteress, etc.). Wisdom and Folly are personified throughout Proverbs 1-9: Folly (1:10-19, 4:14-17, 5:1, 7:1, 9:13-18) and Wisdom (1:20-33, 8:1-21, 9:1-6). The personification of wisdom and folly is particularly developed in Proverbs  8:1-9:18, when the emerging wise person is called upon to make the final decision. The pageantry is over. Unlike Adam who woke up “clean slate” to Eve in the Garden, the emerging wise son must choose between two beauties. Will he choose Lady Wisdom or Dame Folly?

Bringing a mind ready for the imagery of poetry, recognizing this personification is critically important. Personification may be understood as when “an inanimate object or entity or an animal (or a god, or God) is spoken of as though it or he were a human person with human characteristics.”[48] The power in such figures of speech, over against the clarity of literal speech, relies on its power to communicate with “richness, depth, and emotional impact.”[49] Although it can be argued that such women may and do exist in real life,[50] it can not be ignored that throughout the context of chapters 1-9 they function as figurative expressions to illustrate the object lesson of both wisdom and folly.

Personification plays another important role besides providing imagery. It is clear that even “the way” which an emerging wise person will go is personified by the home of either Wisdom or Folly. These all reflect one choice to follow God or to reject His counsel. In chapters 8-9, Wisdom’s origin is above the city, “the highest places in the town” (9:3); likewise, so is Folly situated in a seat “on the highest places of the town” (9:14). It is believed by some that this is a direct allusion to the ANE idea that only the god of that city would dwell in the highest locales.[51] Derek Kidner illustrates from Canaanite practice the precedent to personify a deity from the pantheon with the principle which best represented their god or an attribute of their god (anger, war, love, etc.). Personifying God’s wisdom by a faithful honorable woman was then in keeping with literary strategy; likewise, personifying the opposition to God’s wisdom (idolatry? paganism?) by a distrusted dishonorable covenant breaking woman also fits.[52] Thus, personification is more than mere imagery. It serves as a literary feature —a tool— procured by Israel from the international religious community, and incorporated it into their own wisdom speeches to epitomize God and the deceitful “competition.”[53]

The Strategy’s Terminus

The first nine chapters of Proverbs creates a framework for understanding that seeking wisdom, and upholding how things ought to be, demonstrates the “fear of the Lord.” This “discipline” and “self-control” to choose wisdom functions then in relational ways. What the speeches in Proverbs 1-9 address is that our choices affect the order of things around us. In the four concentrated sections dealing with the adulteress or strange woman and the unfaithful wife (2:16-22; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27), wisdom is explained in terms of marital faithfulness, foolishness is explained in terms of the pitfalls of misplaced sexuality.

Again, Youngblood is correct when he observes that wisdom (for Youngblood “self-control”) “is a matter of submitting oneself to Yahweh’s governance as does all creation.”[54] It begins with the self, then in the home, then the civic interactions, and then before God himself (see figure above).[55] This transition is borne out by comparing Proverbs 3:19-20 and 24:3-4. The same wisdom that founded creation also builds our households; the same understanding by which the heavens are established also establishes our own home and life; by means of his knowledge creation functions, so to our family.[56] The choice of the which woman to dine with and to be with, is a demonstration —a graduation of sorts— for the emerging wise person, for in that choice they have shown fear and discipline (or, vice and disorder), and are living in the order that ought to be (or, how it ought not to be).

Two outcomes result at this point. In the first place, the emerging wise person has chosen the direction of their life, which according to Proverbs 1-9 ought to be wisdom and fear of the Lord. In the second, this perspective will give the reader the proper guidance for understanding judiciously and applying the binary proverbs in the later collections of Proverbs. Proverbs 1-9, then, provides the context to understand the rest of the book.

3. Models for Teaching Wisdom

Let us consider some thoughts on how to articulate a model for teaching wisdom within the home and the church.

Wisdom-Training Must Begin in the Home

The motif of a father (and mother) speaking to their son is a significant reminder of the importance Scripture places on the home as the primary location for spiritual formation. The shema passage of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is not only the Law but also provides and demands parents and guardians to find appropriate ways to make faith the “air that the family breathes.”

Every parent should be willing to recognize the obvious truth that with the raising and caring for children comes a learning curve — a learning curve that seems to never straighten. Nevertheless, the task in the home is to connect the children to the divine order of wisdom which speaks to their behavior. In Malachi the prophet condemned Judah for their lack of faithfulness. And in this condemnation, the Lord clearly addresses His desire for “godly offspring” (Mal 2:15).

What is at stake is establishing early the human boundaries created by God for self-control and responsible involvement to be the creative force that establishes God’s order in the world.[57] Furthermore, as Sandmel acknowledges,

a person can be trained in wisdom and, if by chance he does not himself become personally wise, he can at least absorb the wisdom in the book well enough to live prudently… to live without unnecessary risk.[58]

Proverbs is useful for developing the emerging wise person because its counsel is “safe and reliable” and fosters the virtues of “thrift, hard work, foresight, and piety.”[59] 

It was through a home education in God’s sacred writings which provided the wisdom for Timothy to obtain the salvation which is in Christ (2 Tim 3:14-15). Fathers and mothers are called upon to raise up children (1 Tim 3:4, 5:14; Tit 2:4) and train them in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:1-4).

Everyday Choices are Spiritual Choices

In the use of personification in Proverbs 1-9, the spiritualization of everyday things can assist dramatically in demonstrating the consequences of wisdom and folly.

Wisdom, then, is different from learning, for an unschooled person may posses it, out of rich experience. On the other hand, there are people with rich experience to whom we would not attribute wisdom, for even that experience does not necessarily lead them to it.[60]

What are the gods of this age? How might one describe drug addiction or sexual pornographic addictions, or greedy consumerism? It comes down to choices. If we could reframe our spiritual focus down to the kitchen table choices, the check book choices, the wandering feet choices, etc., then it is possible to illustrate with clarity the heart of the problem and not the symptom.

It is the rejection of a loving obedience to God’s order which enables a lack of self-control. If you lack self-control, then you may eventually be controlled by a vice you never learned to say no to. The wisdom of Proverbs 1-9 highlights the creative ways we may seek to instill wisdom one choice at a time. Too many times, we believe simply by knowing or quoting the Scripture it will be sufficient. This is unsatisfactory.

In the temptation of Jesus, his identity as the Christ was under attack (Matt 4:1-11). It was not simply that he was hungry, or a test of God, or a test of ruling the kingdoms of men that was at the heart of the temptation. Jesus’ identity was under attack. In each response, Jesus quotes Scripture, but it was his choice to abide by the wisdom of those passages that led his victory over Satan. There was an order that he respected, thus, as the practice of fasting often typified Jesus showed himself disciplined to the leading of God.

There is a great social need for discipline and the wisdom that provides the contours of discipline. Some seek to develop spiritual discipline in recovery programs, particularly those built upon the sermon on the mount. For all the stigma such recovery programs receive, they at least are addressing the matter of discipline head-on and are not ignoring or whitewashing the issue.

For those who face their hurts, hang-ups, and habits, everyday choices are spiritual choices of restructuring their world order based upon the “fear of the Lord.” We need to champion their cause rather than subvert them, or stigmatizing them. They know who has the antidote for their weaknesses. The real question is, “do we?”

The Church Needs Wise People

Third, James A. Sanders speaks to the need for the church to develop and “produce more ‘wisemen’ and fewer ‘prophets’ for the responsible guidance of the people of God.”[61] For Sanders this would include the concern for the survival of God’s people. Wise people, as conceived in terms of Proverbs 1-9, scrutinize the power structure of any given situation, or the problem, and then work them out in realistic ways which honor their relationship with God.[62] James 1:19-20 reads,

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Developing men and women to think in terms of the fear of the Lord, to choose faithful means to serve God, is what will reinforce the ideal Divine order. Paul clearly connects the church’s identity to the outflow of God’s wisdom and the order which it creates:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:7-10)

Thus, it will take a variety of means to develop members of the body of Christ. This must be primarily accomplished at the level of the local congregation. This will require developing mentoring relationships within the body of Christ. One has wisely said, “Academic training is not the only kind of training we should utilize, however. A young person can benefit from working with someone older, wiser, more experienced.”[63] I fully concur. We must cultivate wisdom-seeking from within the church, this will aid us to be receptive to God’s lead (Eph 3:10-11; Luke 7:31-35).


Proverbs 1-9 stands as a powerful section of Wisdom Literature. It shows that God’s people can learn from others how to teach wisdom. It also reveals that wisdom is more than knowing what to do, but also doing so because of a godly “fear of the Lord.” God’s people can and must use all expedient methods to teach wisdom. As an inspired anthology, Proverbs 1-9 demonstrates a measure of creativity for teaching wisdom in the home, in the community, and in the church. Proverbs 1-9 provides guideposts for teaching wisdom and discipline in the home and the church, for living by the fear of the Lord creates God’s order.


  1. American Standard Version of The Holy Bible (1885, 1901; repr., Fort Worth, TX: Star Bible, 1992).
  2. Unless otherwise stated all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).
  3. Tremper Longman, III, Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions (1998; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 22-23. Longman argues that there are four major causes for this interpretive distance, two of which are the antiquity (“vast space of time”) and foreignness (culture, civilization, images, and literary genres and forms) of the Hebrew Bible (19-22).
  4. Karen Jobes, “Stumbling Block #1: Literary Genre: Missing Clues in the Text,” Bible Study Magazine 9.1 (Nov.-Dec. 2016), 25.
  5. Jack P. Lewis, “The Nature of Hebrew Poetry,” in When We Hurt: Tragedy and Triumph in Job, ed. David L. Lipe (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardemen University, 2003), 187.
  6. Samuel Sandmel, The Enjoyment of Scripture: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (1972; repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1981), 195.
  7. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 196.
  8. A. Berkeley Mickelsen and Alvera M. Mickelsen, Understanding Scripture: How to Read and Study the Bible, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), 115.
  9. Lewis, “Hebrew Poetry,” 185. This means that thirty-two books of the Hebrew Bible are composed either completely or in part (sections) as poetic literature (82%).
  10. Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1984), 87.
  11. Leland Ryken, “Bible as Literature,” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation, eds. David S. Dockery, et al. (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1994), 56.
  12. Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985), 13. “Examined within the full context of early Christian literature, the documents which came to constitute the NT canon are not, as a group, recognizably unique.” Cf., W. Hersey Davis, Greek Papyri of the First Century (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1933; repr., Chicago, IL: Ares, n.d.).
  13. Merrill F. Unger, “Scientific Biblical Criticism and Exegesis,” Bsac 121 (1964): 64.
  14. Kenton L. Sparks, Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 56. John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context (1989; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 169-97; William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, eds., The Context of Scripture (New York: Brill, 1997); James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction, rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 205-26.
  15. Sparks, Ancient Texts, 58-60.
  16. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 172-75.
  17. Sparks, Ancient Texts, 76-77.
  18. Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East: The Factual History of a Literary Form.” TynB 28 (1977): 69-114. Kitchen insists that Proverbs 1-24 should be viewed as “one large composition” followed by three more main sections (25:1; 30:1; 31:1).
  19. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 177.
  20. Robert D. Biggs, trans., “Counsels of Wisdom,” in The Ancient Near East, ed. James B. Pritchard (London: Princeton University, 1975), 2:147.
  21. Bendt Alster, “Shuruppak,” COS 1.176.
  22. Dave Bland, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002), 17.
  23. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom, 210-13.
  24. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 177; James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), 20-21.
  25. Louis Goldberg, “hakmah,TWOT 647a;  Louis Goldberg, “tebuna,” TWOT 239b.
  26. Harvey E. Finley, “The Book of Kings,” in Beacon Bible Commentary, ed. A. F. Harper, et al. (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1965), 2:362. “The ancient Near East could claim a considerable deposit of wisdom (hokma) before Solomon’s time. This the Historian recognized.”
  27. Are Ethan and Heman mentioned here the Ezrahites cited in the subtitles of Psalm 88 and 89?
  28. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 196. “Meter and parallelism suggest that these poets were craftsmen. One would need to conclude, too, that the people were receptive to the poems; some high status of the poet is certainly to be inferred from the epithet applied to David, that he was Israel’s sweet singer.”
  29. The visit by the Queen of Sheba by camel and the seaport mentioned lend strongly in favor of a Solomonic kingdom that was an international player. Furthermore, add the centralized placement of Israel between Egypt in the southwest and Mesopotamia in the northeast. See Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, 5th ed. (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 141-53.
  30. Bland, Proverbs, 12.
  31. James G. Williams, “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (1987; repr., Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University,1999), 263.
  32. Williams, “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes,” 264-65. “Everything in traditional Wisdom, from its basic ideas to its literary forms, affirms order. What this means when the principle of retribution, the necessity of wise utterance, and the authority of the fathers are brought to bear on the individual is the imperative of discipline and self-control” (246).
  33. Kevin J. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries and Self-Control in Proverbs,” ResQ 51.3 (2009): 139-50.
  34. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 147.
  35. Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 180-81.
  36. Waltke, Proverbs, 180-81.
  37. Roland Murphy, Proverbs (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1998), 5. Robert Alter marks this as a distinctive emphasis by Israel which is “not evident in analogous Wisdom texts in Egypt and Mesopotamia” (The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes [New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2010], 194).
  38. Kenneth T. Aitken, Proverbs (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1986), 14-15.
  39. R. N. Whybray, The Book of Proverbs (London: Cambridge at the University Press, 1972), 55.
  40. Tremper Longman, III, “Poetic Books,” in The IVP Introduction to the Bible, ed. Philip S. Johnston (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 104.
  41. Thomas H. Olbricht, “The Making of Old Testament Books,” in The World and Literature of the Old Testament, ed. John T. Willis (1979; repr., Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University, 1984), 234.
  42. Whybray, Proverbs, 12.
  43. Olbricht, “Making of OT Books,” 233. Waltke labels 10:1a as a Janus verse linking the 1:1-9:18 collection and the 10:1b-22:16 collection (Proverbs, 447; cf. Murphy, Proverbs, 64).
  44. Raymond Dillard and Tremper Longman, III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 238.
  45. Merrill F. Unger, Introductory Guide to the Old Testament (1951; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 372.
  46. Patrick William Skehan, “The Seven Columns of Wisdom’s House in Proverbs 1-9,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9.2 (April 1947): 190-98.
  47. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the OT, 239.
  48. John C. L. Gibson, Language and Imagery in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 16-18.
  49. Craig C. Broyles, “Interpreting the Old Testament,” in Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis, ed. Craig C. Broyles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 37.
  50. Dave Bland, Proverbs, 81.
  51. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the OT, 243.
  52. Derek Kidner, An Introduction to Wisdom Literature: The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1985), 38-43.
  53. Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY: Paulist, 1984), 480.
  54. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 140.
  55. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 147.
  56. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 141.
  57. Youngblood, “Cosmic Boundaries,” 149.
  58. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 210.
  59. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 210.
  60. Sandmel, Enjoyment of Scripture, 208.
  61. James A. Sanders, Torah and Canon (1972; repr., Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1976), 100.
  62. Sanders, Torah and Canon, 101.
  63. Stan Mitchell, Will Our Faith Have Children? Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation (Henderson, TN: Hester, 2016), 10.


Aitken, Kenneth T. Proverbs. Daily Study Bible Series. Old Testament. Edited by John C. L. Gibson. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1986.

Alter, Robert. The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary. New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2010.

Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Revised and expanded edition. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994.

Bland, Dave. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs. College Press NIV Commentary. Edited by Terry Briley and Paul Kissling. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002.

Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York, NY: Paulist, 1984.

Broyles, Craig C. “Interpreting the Old Testament: Principles and Steps.” Pages 13-62 in Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis. Edited by Craig C. Broyles. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003.

Bullock C. Hassell. An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books. Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1988.

Crenshaw, James L. Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction. Revised and Enlarged. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998.

Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman, III. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth. 3rd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Finley, Harvey E. “The Book of Kings.” Pages 337-507 in vol. 2 of the Beacon Bible Commentary. Edited by A. F. Harper, et al. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1965.

Gibson, John C. L. Language and Imagery in the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.

Guthrie, George H., and David Howard. “Reading Psalms and Proverbs.” Pages 111-30 in Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2011.

Hallo, William W., and K. Lawson Younger. Editors. The Context of Scripture. 3 vol. New York: Brill, 1997.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999.

Jobes, Karen. “Stumbling Block #1: Literary Genre: Missing Clues in the Text.” Bible Study Magazine 9.1 (Nov.-Dec. 2016): 24-25.

Kitchen, Kenneth A. “Proverbs and Wisdom Books of the Ancient Near East: The Factual History of a Literary Form.” TynB 28 (1977): 69-114.

Lewis, Jack P. “The Nature of Hebrew Poetry.” Pages 185-93 in When We Hurt: Tragedy and Triumph in Job. Edited by David L. Lipe. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2003.

Longman, Tremper, III. Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions. 3 Crucial Questions Series. Edited by Grant R. Osborne and Richard J. Jones, Jr. 1998. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005.

Longman, Tremper, III. “Poetic Books.” Pages 95-113 in The IVP Introduction to the Bible. Edited by Philip S. Johnston. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Mickelsen, A. Berkeley, and Alvera M. Mickelsen. Understanding Scripture: How to Read and Study the Bible. Revised edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992.

Miller, Clyde M. “Interpreting Poetic Literature in the Bible.” Pages 158-67 in Biblical Interpretation: Principles and Practice: Studies in Honor of Jack Pearl Lewis. Edited by F. Furman Kearley, Edward P. Myers, and Timothy D. Hadley. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986.

Murphy, Roland E. Proverbs. Word Biblical Commentary 22. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1998.

Paterson, John. The Book that is Alive: Studies in Old Testament Life and Thought as set Forth by the Hebrew Sages. New York, NY: Scribner’s Sons, 1954.

Pritchard, James B. Editor. The Ancient Near East. Vol. 2. London: Princeton University, 1975.

Ryken, Leland. “Bible as Literature.” Pages 55-72 in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation: A Complete Library of Tools and Resources. Edited by David S. Dockery, Kenneth A. Mathews, and Robert B. Sloan. Nashville, TN: B&H, 1994.

Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible as Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.

Sanders, James A. Torah and Canon. 1972. Repr., Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1976.

Sandmel, Samuel. The Enjoyment of Scripture: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. 1972. Repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A Complete Survey of Old Testament History and Literature. 5th edition. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Skehan, Patrick William. “The Seven Columns of Wisdom’s House in Proverbs 1-9.” CBQ 9.2 (April 1947): 190-98.

Smith, James E. The Wisdom Literature and Psalms. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997.

Sparks, Kenton L. Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005.

Unger, Merrill F. Introductory Guide to the Old Testament. 1951. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979.

Unger, Merrill F. “Scientific Biblical Criticism and Exegesis.” Bsac 121.481 (Jan.-March 1964): 58-65.

Youngblood, Kevin J. “Cosmic Boundaries and Self-Control in Proverbs.” ResQ 51.3 (2009): 139-50.

Waltke, Bruce K. The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Edited by Robert L. Hubbard. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

Walton, John H. Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Library of Biblical Interpretation. 1989. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990.

Whybray, R. N. The Book of Proverbs. Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible. Edited by Peter A. Ackroyd, A. R. C. Leaney, and J. W. Packer. New York, NY: Cambridge at the University Press, 1972.

Williams, James G. “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.” Pages 263-82 in The Literary Guide to the Bible. Edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. 1987. Repr., Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999.


Little Did They Know: The Prose Sections of Job (1:1-2:13; 42:7-17)

college papers

The prose section of the book of Job receives a variety of approaches, but the most consistent approach is to treat it as a separate folk-tale which existed independently than the present canonical form. This “campfire” tale, or this moral free legend, had grown sufficient credibility to take on a permanent form within a community. Then an unknown poet emerges who takes the folk-tale[1] and formalizes it with a series of poetic discourses and creates an extended edition, the present form of the book of Job. As such, questions emerge as to the continuity between the prose sections (1:1-2:13; 42:7-17) and the poetic sections (3:1-42:6). This source critical approach makes an assumption that the book of Job is the result of significant editorial activity, suggesting that the book has undergone considerable layering and updating. Robert Fyall argues that such a possibility does not “in itself” deny divine inspiration but it only makes poor sense in Job’s connection to the biblical canon.[2] As such, “the question of the relationship of the prologue (chs. 1-2) and the epilogue (42:10-17) to the poetic dialogue must be explored.”[3]

Nevertheless, despite the reticence among some scholars to see a significant degree of continuity vital to understanding the tensions, themes, and argument of the present form of the book of Job, it is argued here that a proper understanding of Job does not rely upon the theoretical pre-canonical form of the two independent traditions.[4] Instead, there is a “logical coherence” between the prologue, the poetic discourses, and the epilogue.[5] It is argued here that the prose sections play an integral part to understanding the canonical form of the book of Job. The style and vocabulary purposely represents an ANE setting apart of Israelite religion in the tradition of the dramatic epic, and sets the wisdom and theodicy debate in a historical context like that of the Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Moses). The prose sections place a large emphasis upon the heavenly court which anchors the theology and drama of the poetic discourses.

The Integral Nature of the Prose Sections

First, the prose sections play an integral part to understanding the canonical form of the book of Job. In proportion to the bulk of the book this may seem to overstate the weight of the prose sections in Job. As Bernhard Anderson argues, “if we are to understand the viewpoint of the author of Job we must rely primarily on the poems rather than on the prologue and epilogue.”[6] Nevertheless, Anderson concedes that the poems are only effective because they are “framed within the context of the folk story.”[7] The book of Job is framed by “the life-situation that occasions the poetic meditations.”[8] In general, the framework of narrative transitions are, as Robert Alter observes, an act of conscious narration “in order to reveal the imperative truth of God’s works in history.”[9] The function of the prologue and the epilogue, then, is to bracket in the core discussion of Job and this is accomplished by setting the plot, the tensions, and the characters which will enter the fray of the poetic discourses in Job 3:1-42:6.

The limits of the prose sections of Job are substantially agreed upon.[10] The usual limits of the prologue of Job are from 1:1-2:13. First, the prologue has natural and literary limits. A reading of the first chapters of Job lends its to a natural outline of a narrative that transitions to a series of discourses, but as James Patrick observes there are a series of “speech ascriptions” which provides a literary limit to the prologue in particular and the speech cycles in general (“Job opened his mouth… Job said”[11]).[12] This marks the closing limit of the prologue, which as “the frame-story of Job”[13] will find its themes continued in the poetic body of the Jobine discourses (3:3-42:6).[14] Second, the prologue, then, introduces the tension of the worthiness of God to be served, the sincerity of Job’s faith, the heavenly court and the “wager” (so Anderson), the earthly trials and suffering of a pious and prosperous patriarch, and the interaction among the heavenly realms (Yahweh, The Satan, Heavenly Court) and the earthly realm (skeptic wife, the three friends, Job the hurting) where the narrative will transition to the core discussions of the book.

The epilogue, on the other hand, is generally considered to begin in Job 42:7 and ends in 42:17.[15] First, reading the closing chapters of Job, the transition from discourse (“I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”) to the actions agrees with the usual outline of Job. There are however literary markers to distinguish between 42:6 and 7. John Hartley’s observation gives a semantic starting point to the epilogue with words from the Lord in favor of Job reminiscent of 1:7, and concludes in verse 42:17.[16] Although 42:7 may be viewed as a potential ascription by the narrator before a statement, it lacks the same verb phrase (וַיַּ֖עַן) used to introduce the Lord’s speeches (38:1, 40:1) and Job’s response (42:1). Second, the epilogue, then transitions from the repentance of Job and the demonstration of the wisdom of God and serves as a narrative of resolution. The epilogue the humility and restoration of Job, the tensions removed, and Yahweh honoring Job and dishonoring the three friends who “have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

Robert H. Pfeiffer, however, nuances the prose sections (“prose folk tale”) by trimming the traditional prologue to 1:1-2:10 and the epilogue as 42:10b-17. Pfeiffer takes 2:11-13 as the introduction to the entire dialogue exchange; meanwhile, 42:7-10a as a part of the dialogue structure of Job.[17] That there is an obvious shift between 2:10 to 2:11 and 42:10a to 42:10b in content is readily conceded. Pfeiffer’s discussion of the structure of Job demonstrates the quality of his imagination to reconstruct the literary development of the book, but it fails to appreciate these verses in the prose sections as transitions within the same narrative event respectively. It is here that a significant warning finds validity: “Dissecting the book of Job into its component parts actually may diminish one’s understanding of its message.”[18] Instead, it is best to appreciate the “harmony and dissonance” between the prose and poetic discourses which force a critical rereading of the themes presented in Job.[19] The prose sections then are a vital part for understanding Job.

The Genre and Hebrew of the Book of Job

Second, the genre and vocabulary of Job represents an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) setting apart of Israelite religion, set forth in the tradition of the dramatic epic, and sets then the discourses on the wisdom and theodicy in a historical context like that of the Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Moses). Epic literature centers upon episodes in the life of a known figure from history, conveying “didactic instruction concerning the gods and their relations with humanity.”[20] This area of study which has some implications for the dating and setting of Job, an area which has as many dates as interpreters. Dates range from late pre-exilic, a period between Jeremiah and Isaiah, or anywhere from the eighth century to the fourth-century B.C.E.[21] Nevertheless, another warning is called to the student of Job: “it is a mistake to infer the age of the writer from the circumstances of the hero of the book.”[22]

The Genre. Craig Broyles reminds that “the Bible must be read literarily before it can be read literally. If we think of Scripture as light (cf. Psa 119:5), exegesis acts like a prism revealing its colors.”[23] The style of the prologue and epilogue show marks of the dramatic narrative genre of the epic placed in the historical setting of reminiscent of the biblical patriarchs. Many scholars concede the point that Job defies specific genre classification (sui generis “self genre”), but on a macro-level it falls generally into the wisdom literature genre which has parallels in Babylon and Egypt.[24] The prose sections, however, seem to have points of contact with the epic elements of Genesis and Ugaritic literature suggesting that the author was either influenced by preexistence literary genre of the epic, or by specific examples.[25] In keeping with epic narratives in Genesis, Job is painted as a patriarch. His wealth is measured by his cattle and servants (1:3; 42:12), he is the head of his family in both paternal and religious aspects (1:5), and his life-span is comparable to known biblical patriarchs (42:16). Also, the Sabeans and the Chaldeans are in the land of Uz (1:15, 17). In general, then, the internal evidence portrays Job “as a Bedouin sheikh, living in the land of Uz, in northwest Arabia.”[26] It is not clear that Job is directly connected to Hebrew family; aside his connection to Uz, which may imply he is an Edomite, not much can be said of his ethnicity.[27] Most likely, Job is not an Israelite and probably predates the Abrahamic covenant.[28]

The epic genre[29] is further seen in the literary structure of the prose sections fit the literary type of epic, which are directed to an “audience” rather than “reading” public. Elements such as repetition and reiteration are symmetrically constructed throughout these sections following the “epic archetype.” These elements are seen in the celestial council (1:6-12, 2:1-7), in detailing the character of Job (1:1, 8, 22, 2:3, 10), and the three successive blows with “formulaic introduction” and “concluding refrain.” Also, the significant use of numbers within the prose sections (1:2, 42:13) is a Near Eastern literary feature, supported externally in Ugaritic epics. Furthermore, the mythology represented by the celestial beings in 1:6 and 1:21 also is a feature of epic drama. Such a concept of an assembly of celestial beings (“the assembly of the gods”) “are well attested,” according to Sarna, “in the Northwest Semitic literary sphere.” There is also the “prominence of women in epic literature” as seen in the daughters of Job. The naming of the daughters in contrast to the sons is inexplicable aside from its parallel use with Baal’s daughters over his seven named sons and other Ugaritic parallels. Moreover, in Mosaic law daughters receive an inheritance in the absence of sons (Num 27:8), Job’s daughters, however, receive theirs along with their brothers (42:15). This particular point details “quite a different social milieu” like that of Ugaritic epics. Internally, Job is placed in an ancient setting which may reflect the truth about his antiquity but may not have sufficient weight in its determining date.

The Vocabulary and Hebrew. Also, the vocabulary and type of Hebrew employed in the prose covers a significant amount of syntactical and semantic ground in the philological history of the Hebrew language and its connection to the Hebrew canon. Avi Hurvitz, however, disputes this assertion. In fact, he developed criteria to inform the Old Testament exegete whether the Hebrew volume under consideration is composed in Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH), as opposed to Early Biblical Hebrew (EBH). After Hurvitz evaluates seven terms and phrases he concludes are LBH in the prologue and epilogue, argues that “in spite of his efforts to write pure classical Hebrew and to mark his story with ‘Patriarchal colouring’, [sic] the author of the Prose Tale could not avoid certain phrases which are unmistakably characteristic of post-exilic Hebrew, thus betraying his actual late date.”[30]

Ian Young reassesses[31] this study by the criterion Hurvitz developed. In order for there to be identifiable LBH the terms must meet the following: linguistic distribution, linguistic contrast, extra-biblical attestations, and accumulation of the evidence.[32] Young’s own assessment of Hurvitz’s work was both negative and reaffirming. Young dismisses three of Hurvitz’s submissions and supplements three additional phrases as LBH. The total numbered tallied by Young is seven between these two scholars. Young questions whether or not this is sufficient accumulation to establish a LBH imprint on the prose sections of Job to warrant a late date for them and for the book as a whole.[33] To put the matter into perspective, Young places literature known for its LBH with a 500 word sample in a comparative chart to find the astonishing finding that does not line up with post-exilic LBH core books; instead, it is situated low and close to Genesis. Young then concludes, “according to Hurvitz’s own criterion of accumulation, the Prose Tale of Job is not in LBH.”[34]

This is not to say that this is evidence for an early date of the prose sections of Job. Instead, Young argues that LBH and EBH are overlapping styles of Hebrew, rather than EBH being a chronological precursor to LBH. “EBH and LBH would thus turn out to be two styles of post-exilic Hebrew.”[35] Whether Young is correct regarding overlapping styles of Hebrew, it has not been established. It would not seem outside the realm of possibility; yet, in terms of a written language a developmental Hebrew from earlier to later seems legitimate along with the fact that oral developments tend to have their history, nuances, and trajectories.[36] At this point, though Young’s suggestion is inviting, it may be best to accept that EBH and LBH are post-exilic writings styles as tentative until more information arises. As Derek Kidner observes in the face of the “inconclusiveness” of the linguistic evidence, “Happily, this open question is academic, in every sense of the word. This book is no prisoner of time.”[37]

Little Did They Know: Elements of the Prologue and Epilogue

The prose sections place a large emphasis upon the heavenly court which anchors the theology and drama of the poetic discourses.[38] This emphasis is seen in several aspects which arch over the thematic issues addressed in the poetic discourses of Job. This emphasis is more pertinent to the reader than it is to hero Job.

First, there is the setting of the heavenly court (1:6; 2:1). The heavenly court introduced in the prologue recalls to the reader that “there are powers in the universe other than God and that they exercise great influence on the course of events.”[39] The heavenly court motif in Job echoes Canaanite mythology of a council of the gods,[40] or, as Alter describes it, a “celestrial entourage” as in Psa 82:1 (1b “in the midst of the gods he holds judgment”). In the prologue, the heavenly court scene appears twice where a defense of Job’s honest fidelity to God is made to rebut “the Adversary” (“the Satan”); however, in the epilogue, it is the Lord who descends upon the early court apart from the entourage and heavenly Adversary and restore’s Job’s faith and standing.

Second, this leads to a discussion of the main characters of the prose sections which are uniquely bound to each other in Job; namely, the Lord (יְהוָ֑ה), Job, and the Satan (הַשָּׂטָ֖ן). The interaction between God and the Satan place a wager upon Job’s life that he is fully unaware of; in fact, Job is never told in epilogue. The heavenly court is the stage where the celestial adversary emerges, “the Satan” (1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4, 6-7). While it is thought by some that the articular “Satan” suggests a proper name,[41] Alter argues that the use of the definite article (הַשָּׂטָ֖ן) “indicates a function, not a proper name.”[42] Hartley also agrees, this use “functions as a title rather than as a personal name.”[43] This adversary (“the Satan”), then, functions as a celestial prosecutor against Job in response to the Lord (יהוה) proposal that Job is a unique human specimen of spiritual fidelity. This brings two particular elements into play which arch over the discourse cycles.

The drama is set, on the one hand, when Job becomes the subject of a “wager” that has his genuine devotion to the Lord questioned.[44] On the other hand, in the face of Job’s ignorance of the impending hard knocks which will challenge his faith, the Lord’s “justice is on the line and everything depends on the final verdict. God must act to vindicate not only Job but himself.”[45] This places the burden of the outcome upon God rather than Job. The Satan accuses, in essence, that positive rewards yield religious/pious service; hence, is not the person of God but instead a combination of divine bribery and human egocentric desire for these rewards which had motivated Job’s fidelity. It appears that the ideology of retribution builds upon these metrics.

In the epilogue, this theme is returned to after the series of discourses and a showing of Job’s penitence but the adversary is nowhere to be seen; instead, the Lord reinforces the righteousness and faithfulness of Job. It is the friends who have been arguing for the form of retribution the Satan argues for in the prologue, and now that they have been approaching it from the opposite angle. Job is indeed suffering. So, is Job suffering for no reason? The friends argue it is a response (Job 3:23) to Job’s hidden wickedness, so in order to return the hedge of rewards the patriarch must repent (5:17-27). But appeasing God in a religious transaction (repentance, sacrifice, etc.), or by piety, is not a foolproof plan to escape the hardships of life. Job, then, is not convicted to repent but holds to his integrity (Job 27:4-6). In the epilogue, though Job is not truly the victor of the debates, the friends have not changed their words and maintain Satan’s argument. Hence, in the friends the Satan’s accusation is proven inadequate and a great offense to the relationship God actually maintains with humanity.

Third, there is a level of “dramatic irony” which is shaped in the prologue and hangs through the discourses and ultimately returns in the epilogue. One the one hand, Job is completely unaware of what is about to happen to him; whereas the reader is fully knowledgeable of the perils which have been agreed to which are now coming upon Job. Yet, despite this lack of information, Job senses that there is a divine court to plead his case when his faith comes under scrutiny and serious questions about God and justice. This, however, is his longing and a position he is ultimately led to since the court of his contemporaries is already quite hostile and prejudicial towards him due to their conventional wisdom based upon their retributive theology.

On the other hand, the narrator establishes the irony of the story and its theological questions by granting permission to the intended audience of Job.[46] Job and the reader have completely different motivations as the discourses develop. Job’s questions emerge as seeking a better answer to his questions. The reader knows these are the wrong questions. For Job, the man, it is God who has hand picked Job (though this is true) to tear him down (this is not true). In fact, it is the Satan who has touched Job (though by God’s permission), to prove that humanity symbolized in Job will reject God faced with this unjust treatment (which Job refuses to do because of his own sense of integrity). It is Job who finds and exposes the inconsistencies of the conventional wisdom of retribution. In the midst of Job’s sense of indignity for his suffering as a senseless act of God, the reader knows the conversation is all wrong because God champions for Job.Job’s ignorance is the reader’s understanding of reality are carried from the prologue, hang during the poetic discussions, and returns in the epilogue.

It is Job’s ignorance which informs the reader’s understanding of reality. The world is not a tidy place, the good sometimes suffer despite being good, and the bad sometimes enjoy more good they do not “deserve.” The reader is carried along with this tension in mind from the prologue, as it hangs during the poetic discourse cycles, and returns in the epilogue only to be met with the knowledge that humanity does not have the depth of wisdom, the power of control, nor the skill to balance the wild and domesticated world. The epilogue benefits from Job’s confessions of his “smallness” in comparison to what he was critiquing (40:3-5) and that he spoke out of considerable ignorance (42:1-6). This is staggering since the reader supposes that in order to resolve the tension of the book, God would explain to Job why he is suffering. But that is not how the book ends. The resolution is found in the fact that instead of judgment upon Job and his friends for what they “deserve,” God forgives them all. This shows that God relates to humanity in terms of grace, but grace in a real world with hardships that are not always connected to, nor demonstrative of, their relationship with God.

Fourth, there is some foreshadowing in the prologue of the final verdict for Job reflected in the epilogue.[47] In Job 1:22 and 2:10 the narrator demonstrates the fortitude of Job’s faithfulness to God in the face of tragedy. After the first challenge to Job’s genuine devotion to God, the narrator observes, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22); furthermore, after the second challenge, the narrator writes again, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). These foreshadows are realized when the Lord himself validates Job’s words, “or you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). It is not that Job is sinless, but that Job committed —albeit off and on — that God was not mechanical in his wrath as his friends had been arguing in their dialogues. This is the underlying argument of the three friends, asserting an unbalanced doctrine of retribution, a “doctrine of rewards and punishments that was widespread in the wisdom literature of antiquity.”[48] In the shorthand, their view amounted to two principles: virtue is rewarded and sin is punished. The prologue reveals heaven’s sabotage of this doctrine with, as Clines observes, “a most shocking infringement.”[49]

The poetic discourses did not center on the premise that “If you sin, then you will suffer,” instead the three friends “reversed the cause and effect to reach the belief that: If you suffer, then you have sinned.”[50] This theological failure on the part of the three friends demonstrates that although they claimed to “understand the meaning of life in terms of this doctrine of retribution,”[51] they lacked wisdom. In fact, they share the same problem as Job in that they are woefully ignorant of reality and are attempting to explain it with impoverished wisdom. This speaks to why Job laments his friends, “miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:2), and why, in the epilogue, the Lord rebukes them and asks Job to intercede on their behalf (Job 42:8-9). Although the doctrine of retribution does not feature in the prose section, nor are there the explicit answer to why humans suffer, the events in the prologue create a series of events which allow the book to “disabuse one common belief, the so-called doctrine of retribution.”[52] In the end, the verdict on Job’s disparaged piety is seen in his response to the Lord in 42:5-6, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job’s piety is maintained and his wisdom is asserted for now he sees the Lord who provides at the cosmic level down to the human earthly level and acknowledges his relationship is based upon the charitable and gracious hand of God.

Concluding Thoughts

It has been said that Job is “the greatest monument of wisdom literature in the Old Testament.”[53] Yet, for such an epithet Job requires a demanding reservoir of critical skills to grapple with its structured tensions. The prose sections of Job require tremendous skill and patience to evaluate their contribution. There is a “logical coherence” between the prologue, the poetic discourses, and the epilogue. The prose sections play an integral part in understanding the canonical form of the book of Job. The epic genre and vocabulary places the wisdom and theodicy debate in a historical context like that of the Hebrew patriarchs. Finally, they place a large emphasis upon the heavenly court which anchors the theology and drama of the poetic discourses.


  1. The prologue is often considered the “oldest” element of Job, originally existing as a “simple folk tale” then forming the basis of the current story. See Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman, III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 202.
  2. Robert S. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 19.
  3. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 19.
  4. This does not disregard the fact that there are a variety of serious critical questions which must be considered; however, since even the consensus view as to the pre-literary origin of the prose-discourse-prose format of Job is theoretical and limited, it seems best to treat Job in its canonical form.
  5. Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 202.
  6. Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1986), 590.
  7. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 590. Irving F. Wood disagrees. Arguing from a source-critical point of view, the poetic discourses “displace the heart of the story” of Job found in the prologue and the epilogue. See his “Folk-Tales in Old Testament Narrative,” JBL 28.1 (1909): 39-40.
  8. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 590.
  9. Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1981), 46.
  10. Due to space and the complexity of the issues, the prose elements which attend to the introduction of Elihu (Job 32:1-5) and his discourses will not be discussed in this essay. Milo L. Chapman, “Job,” in vol. 3 of Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967), 101. Chapman sees this section as “part of the prose introduction of Elihu’s speeches.” See also, Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, 665, and John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 429.
  11. Unless otherwise stated all Scripture citations are from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).
  12. James E. Patrick, “The Fourfold Structure of Job: Variations on a Theme,” VT 55.2 (2005): 186. Patrick demonstrates the use of “regular speech ascriptions” throughout Job (4:1, 6:1, 8:1, 9:1, 11:1, 12:1, 15:1, 16:1, 18:1, 19:1, 20:1, 21:1, 22:1, 23:1, 25:1, etc).
  13. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 74.
  14. These themes are principally found in the lengthy arguments made by The Satan against Job (1:9-11, 2:4-5).
  15. There are some variations on the epilogue but in general this is how many outline the epilogue.
  16. Hartley, The Book of Job, 539. “Whereas Yahweh has accused Job of darkening knowledge (38:2), his charge against the friends is much stronger. Job has been genuinely groping for the truth, but the friends have spoken falsely in their attempt to defend God.”
  17. Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1941; repr., New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1948), 660.
  18. William S. LaSor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 474.
  19. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 590-91.
  20. John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), 46.
  21. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 593; Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 200.
  22. Avi Hurvitz, “Date of the Prose-Tale of Job Linguistically Reconsidered,” HTR 67.1 (Jan. 1974): 31-32.
  23. Craig C. Broyles, “Interpreting the Old Testament,” in Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis, ed. Craig C. Broyles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 28.
  24. Fyall argues that “we cannot force the book into a straightjacket. The nature of the book is such that into one form can cover the variety of situations, emotions, questions, protests and characters that it introduces” (Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 23). Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 573; Walton places Job along side many ANE parallel wisdom texts in Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, 169-87.
  25. See LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 472. “Our prologue and epilogue contain a considerable amount of epic substratum and that our prose version would seem to be directly derived from an ancient epic of Job.” See Nahum M. Sarna, “Epic Substratum in the Prose of Job,” JBL 76.1 (March 1957): 15. Leland Ryken, however, does not list these prologues as examples of the epic in How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Academic Books, 1984), 78-81.
  26. Frederick F. The Wisdom Literature of the Bible: The Book of Job,” The Bible Student 23.2 (April 1952): 58.
  27. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 592.
  28. Tremper and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 200-01. Still, Job as a historical figure is known to Ezekiel and his reputation is comparable to that of Daniel (Ezek 14:14, 20).
  29. Sarna, “Epic Substratum in the Prose of Job,” 15-24. Many other features and parallels of epic literature are discussed in Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, 58-63.
  30. Hurvitz, “Date of the Prose-Tale of Job Linguistically Reconsidered,” 18.
  31. Ian Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” VT 59.4 (2009): 606-29.
  32. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 608.
  33. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 621-26.
  34. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 626.
  35. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 626.
  36. A. Jeffery, “Hebrew Language,” IBD 2:555-56.
  37. Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 76. Indeed, Tremper Longman, III, argues that it best to remain “agnostic about the date of composition” because “fortunately the answer to this question does not bear on its interpretation,” “Poetic Books,” in The IVP Introduction to the Bible, ed. Philip S. Johnston (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 98.
  38. The following discussion follows the lead of Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 34-38.
  39. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 34.
  40. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 34.
  41. Wayne Jackson, The Book of Job: Analyzed and Applied (Abilene, TX: Quality Publications, 1983), 20. He connects the goings of “the Satan” with 1 Pet 5:8 and argues for the Devil; in fact, Jackson opposes the view taken here that “the Satan” is a celestial member of the heavenly court describing it as “baseless.” Fyall likewise takes “the Satan” as the personal Devil (Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 36). Outside of Job, but within the Hebrew canon, the articular “the Satan” only appears in Zechariah (3:1-2). Both contexts are legal in setting which gives weight for a legal/courtroom Adversary – the prosecutor.
  42. Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes — A Translation with Commentary (New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2010), 12.
  43. Hartley, The Book of Job, 71.
  44. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 35.
  45. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 35.
  46. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 37-38.
  47. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 38.
  48. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 595.
  49. David J. A. Clines, “A Brief Explanation of Job 1-3,” in Sitting with Job: Selected Studies on the Book of Job, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1992), 250.
  50. Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 209.
  51. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 595.
  52. Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 209.
  53. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 588.