Thursday, January 31, 2013

Torah Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs

I have argued previously that the concept of wisdom in the Old Testament is torah-centric, and that Jesus’ definition of wisdom in Matt 7:24 also functions as a neat summary of the Old Testament definition of human wisdom, namely, that being wise involves hearing and doing the word of God (see “The Old Testament Concept of Wisdom” for further details).

This view is supported by the book of Proverbs, where wisdom is closely linked with torah. For example, Prov 28:4, 7, 9; 29:18 speak about hearing, keeping, or forsaking the law. The law in question at this point ought to be understood in the original context as being the law of Moses. This conclusion is reached on the basis of the fact that Prov 28:4, 7, 9; 29:18 are proverbs of Solomon (see Prov 25:1), and that Solomon’s wisdom is strongly connected in the historical narrative of the Bible with the law of Moses (e.g., 1 Kgs 2:3; 3:3, 14; see also 1 Kgs 8:25, 58, 61; 2 Chr 7:17–20). In fact, from the point of view of the Mosaic covenant, keeping the Mosaic law was Israel’s wisdom (Deut 4:6). The law of Moses was able to make wise the simple (Ps 19:7; 119:130). Solomon also clearly knew of the Mosaic covenant and called upon Israel to be committed to this covenant (1 Kgs 8:56–61).

Given the close connection in the Old Testament between wisdom and the law of Moses, and given that the language of Prov 1–9 recalls the language of the exhortatory passages of Deuteronomy, the voice of the father in chapters 1–9 is best understood as an example of generalized sophistic covenant instruction. Solomon’s instruction is generalized and sophistic in the sense that instead of being an Israelite father passing on the laws of and the historical rationale behind the covenant to his son (such as we see, for example, in Deut 6:6–9, 20–25), Solomon appears as the “father” of the nation passing down a form of covenant instruction, expressed in the conceptual categories of the wisdom tradition (where wisdom and understanding obtained by means of listening to and accepting divine instruction leads to life) to all his subjects.

The use of the word torah (תורה) thirteen times in the book of Proverbs (in Prov 1:8; 3:1; 4:2; 6:20, 23; 7:2; 13:14; 28:4, 7, 9; 29:18; 31:26), where it is usually translated as teaching, also serves to make clear the connection between wisdom and torah. The word תורה is derived from the Hebrew root which denotes instruction or direction. There are also proverbs that mention obedience to “the word” or “the commandments,” or the need for such to be received into the heart (e.g., Prov 2:1; 3:1; 13:13; 16:20; 19:16). All of this suggests that there is a close connection between the concept of wisdom in the book of Proverbs and the torah of Moses. As taught elsewhere in the Old Testament, wisdom is, in effect, the outworking of divine law in the heart.

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