does God’s pattern of blessing the righteous interfere with their actual development of righteousness?

Because we know so little about Hebrew poetry, this genre is difficult to define. Unique to Hebrew poetry are the presence of parallelism and the absence of the direct object marker. Books classified as “wisdom literature,” though written in poetic form, are distinguished by their emphasis on the cultivation of skill for everyday life.
Poetry and wisdom literature were both well-established genres in Egypt and the ANE and contain many similarities to the biblical text; these similarities result, not from cultural or literary borrowing, but from the universal nature of the issues treated in the literature. The differences between the literature of Israel and that of her neighbors also reveal important theological differences in the orthodox Yahwist cult.
Hebrew poetry is marked by rhythm of sound and thought. Rhythm of thought is achieved primarily through the use of parallelism: semantic, progressive, or grammatical. Rhythm of sound is achieved through an acrostic structure, alliteration, assonance, paronomasia, onomatopoeia, ellipsis, and inclusio. Rhythm of form, achieved through meter and strophe, is less discernible in Hebrew poetry.
Wisdom literature reflects the desire of people to master life through reason; it also reflects the belief in passing on accumulated knowledge to succeeding generations. Hebrew wisdom literature is distinguished by its emphasis on “the fear of the LORD,” for the Israelites saw God as the source of wisdom. Wisdom literature contrasts the way of the righteous with the way of the wicked, and personifies wisdom both as a female pedagogue and an agent in creation. Wisdom literature treats the topics of theodicy, the retribution principle, and the ethical demands of Hebrew law.
Job was probably an Edomite living in the patriarchal period, though the composition of the book probably took place much later. Though the literature of the ANE—such as the Sumerian “Man and His God,” Akkadian “Ludlul bel Nemeqi,” and “The Babylonian Theodicy”—bears many resemblances to this work, Job itself displays greater sophistication in its form and philosophical perspective. The book of Job seeks to discover God’s policies concerning justice, specifically regarding his treatment of the righteous: does God’s pattern of blessing the righteous interfere with their actual development of righteousness? The book of Job serves to vindicate God’s policies as the author establishes and maintains Job’s innocence. God’s justice is maintained through his wisdom, by which he orchestrates the events of the world.
The prologue introduces the characters, sets the stage for the drama that follows, and presents the philosophical issues which the book will address. Three cycles of dialogues by Job and his friends occupy chapters 4–27. The friends affirm traditional theology (the “retribution principle”) and its corollary, both of which Job also affirms. At the same time, Job defends his own innocence––which eventually leads him to accuse God of injustice. Job repeatedly requests a mediator, one to plead his case before God and provide restoration. Chapter 28, the Hymn to Wisdom, suggests that true wisdom has not yet been heard. In his following oath of innocence, Job intends to force God to act. Elihu enters the scene, affirming God’s justice and the retribution principle, but rejecting its corollary. The final section of the book contains God’s speeches to Job, Job’s response, and the epilogue, in which Job is restored to his previous prosperity.
Proverbs contains eight collections of wise sayings, ascribed to Solomon, Agur, and Lemuel. The book also mentions the editorial work of Hezekiah’s scribes, indicating that the book probably reached its final form sometime in the sixth century bc. Instructional wisdom was concerned with the three centers for teaching: the family/clan, the royal court, and the scribal schools. Hebrew wisdom literature developed during the united monarchy under Solomon and the divided monarchy under Hezekiah.
The purpose of Proverbs is to preserve wisdom for succeeding generations. The book is divided into discourse, collections of proverbs, and appendices, though these writings are not arranged systematically. Hebrew wisdom literature, unlike that of its neighbors, acknowledges only one God: Yahweh. The book emphasizes the close association of the fear of Yahweh with the knowledge of God. Because Yahweh is the source of wisdom, only those who know God can be wise. The blessings of the way of righteousness come when a proper relationship with Yahweh results in proper action toward one’s neighbor. Proverbs has much to say about appropriate speech, as well as appropriate male-female relationships
The primary speaker in Ecclesiastes is identified as “Qoheleth,” traditionally associated with Solomon. While not impossible, this view is problematic. Regardless of the identity of Qoheleth, the author is most likely an anonymous compiler of Qoheleth’s wise sayings. The book contains a number of literary genres common to the ANE, in addition to works which address the incongruity between conventional wisdom and the reality of life experience. A few ancient writings are similar to Ecclesiastes, such as the Mesopotamian Dialogue of Pessimism and the Egyptian Harper’s Songs. The basic message of Qoheleth is that nothing “under the sun” can give meaning to life, but that the pursuit of God can allow one to enjoy the pleasures of life as gifts from God. Both good and bad come from God, and both are used by God for his purposes.
The structure of Ecclesiastes is not like that of Western philosophical treatises. Rather, it is a unified work in which the author discusses various topics. The book states the problem, explains the author’s experiences in attempting to solve the problem, and provides his solution: a worldview with God at the center. The author then applies his stated view to various life situations, particularly when facing adversity. Qoheleth’s solution to facing adversity is followed by life advice, warnings, and injunctions. The book’s major themes include the retribution principle, experience vs. revelation, and Epicureanism vs. piety.
Key Terms
superscriiption: a statement of classification and/or identification prefixed to a literary work
theodicy: the philosophical and/or theological defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil
acrostic: a poetic composition in which sets of sequential letters (e.g., initial or final letters of the lines) form a word or phrase or the alphabet
dirge: a funeral poem or song; a slow and mournful song or hymn of grief
alliteration: consonance of sounds at the beginning of words or syllables
assonance: the rhythm of sound using the correspondence of vowels, often at the ends of words
retribution principle: the idea that there is a one-to-one correlation between one’s actions and rewards
proverb: short, pithy statement that captures a basic truth
Epicureanism: philosophical viewpoint that people should “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”
sage: a wise person who taught others
Qoheleth: the speaker in the book of Ecclesiastes, literally – a person who addresses an assembly (preacher or teacher)
Key Ideas
It is not true that only the wicked suffer.
God’s justice cannot be reduced to a simple formula like the retribution principle.
God’s infinite wisdom is the key to acknowledging his justice.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The way of wisdom leads to life.
A proverb illustrates a general principle, not a promise
Life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling.
Frustrations in life are inevitable.
The seasons of life must be accepted.
Enjoyment of life comes only through a God-centered worldview.
Discussion Forum Question:
Please respond to the following questions in 150 – 250 words:
Wisdom is built upon experience. Given this truth, what are the various ways a person acquire wisdom? What do the general perspectives of the three books of wisdom covered in this unit tell us about the variety of ways wisdom can be found?
What are the limitations of wisdom? How does the idea that Solomon was said to be the wisest man who ever lived mesh with the fact that his life ended with him so far from the Lord?
How does this affect you?

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