“That They May All Fear Me”: Interpreting And Preaching Hebrew Wisdom -- By: Daniel I. Block

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 13:2 (Fall 2016)
Article: “That They May All Fear Me”: Interpreting And Preaching Hebrew Wisdom
Author: Daniel I. Block

“That They May All Fear Me”:
Interpreting And Preaching Hebrew Wisdom

Daniel I. Block

Daniel I. Block is Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.

For those of us who are committed to preaching “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) the “wisdom literature” of the First Testament poses special problems. By “wisdom literature” scholars generally mean the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and a few Psalms.1 How shall we understand the apparent secularity of many wisdom texts? Why are they so oblivious to the basic redemptive story line of the Bible? Wherein does their authority lie? How shall I interpret the strange figures of speech? How do I account for their resemblances to extra-biblical writings? Questions like these present unique challenges for preaching from these texts. They can only be answered by taking a closer look at how biblical wisdom works and what it pedagogical and rhetorical goals are.

The Distinctive Linguistic Features Of Wisdom Writings

While there are questions whether there ever was “wisdom movement” in ancient Israel, texts identified as “wisdom” tend to be characterized by a distinctive vocabulary that focuses on knowledge and the wise application of that knowledge. Proverbs 1:1-6 introduces us to a host of these:

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

2 For gaining wisdom (ḥokmâ) and being instructed (mûsār);

for understanding insightful sayings (ʾimrê bînâ);

3 for receiving wise instruction (mûsar haškēl)

righteousness, justice, and integrity;

4 for teaching shrewdness (ʿormâ) to the inexperienced,

knowledge (daʿat) and discretion (mĕzimmâ) to a young man—

5 a wise man (ḥākām) will listen and increase his learning (leqaḥ),

and a discerning man (nābôn) will obtain guidance (taḥbūlôt)—

6 for understanding (hēbîn) a proverb (māšāl) or a parable (

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