Psalms - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 1 Lesson 08 - Wisdom for Righteous Living

Teachers Comments
Feb 17 - Feb 23

Key Texts: Psalms 1, 19, 32, 34, 37, 49, 73, 112, 119, 127, 128, 133

How do we define wisdom? A modern dictionary defines wisdom as “the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period.” Wisdom also relates to the “soundness of an action or decision.” We also use wisdom to mean “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”—Oxford Language Dictionary. Wisdom relates to knowledge, including the ability to make a wise decision.

When we meet someone with vast knowledge in a specific area of science or literature, we call him or her “wise.” Wisdom in our common understanding today often refers to possessing expertise or knowledge in a specialized area. For some people, wisdom encompasses secret knowledge and the ability to decipher mysteries or reach a higher spiritual level.

This week, we consider what wisdom is from a biblical perspective. Our study will not only define wisdom according to Scripture but also will attempt to distill principles of wisdom for daily life. After all, what is biblical wisdom if not practical knowledge and discernment to live every day according to the precepts of Christ? The aim of our study is to grasp and apply this biblical wisdom to our lives.

Part II: Commentary

The Biblical Definition of Wisdom

The key text to understanding wisdom is Proverbs 1:7 (see also Prov. 9:10): “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (NKJV). The foundation of biblical wisdom is the “fear of the Lord,” which the Scriptures identify as reverent obedience (Eccles. 12:13, Deut. 6:2, Deut. 8:6, Deut. 31:12). Deuteronomy 10:12, 13 equates the “fear the Lord” with expressions such as “to walk in all His ways,” “to love Him,” “to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” and “to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes” (NKJV). Taken together, these expressions stress the necessity of cultivating an intimate and deep experience with the Creator in one’s daily life.

Proverbs 8:13 provides an additional perspective on wisdom by way of affirming what it is through a statement of what it is not: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (NKJV). Note, again, that “the beginning of knowledge” is connected with practical and moral actions.

Thus, we can say that biblical wisdom is “a way of viewing and approaching life, which involved instructing the young in proper conduct and morality and answering the philosophical questions about life’s meaning.”—C. H. Bullock, “Wisdom,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, accessed on May 19, 2022, Our thoughts and our faith in God are revealed through loving-kindness and a godly life. There is no dichotomy between faith and deeds. Such a distinction is both artificial and arbitrary, resulting from the influence of Greek philosophy. For the people of the Old Testament, wisdom manifested itself in a mature faith that guided one to make right choices and to be kind and fair to one’s neighbor.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17, NKJV). Wisdom is a gift from God that is given to those whom He chooses and to those who ask Him for it in humble faith (1 Kings 3:12, Ps. 51:6, Prov. 2:6, James 1:5–7).

Features of Wisdom

Biblical wisdom is chiefly recorded in the form of poetry. The books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are the representatives of wisdom literature in the Scriptures. Some authors include Song of Solomon, too, in this grouping (though, it must be noted, its inclusion is subject to debate).

The main themes of biblical wisdom are Creation, the Law, counsels for wise and mature living, the fear of God, and retribution. The book of Proverbs is, perhaps, the best-known example of wisdom literature in the Bible; chapters 1–9 depict the great value of wisdom. When these chapters are carefully read, one observes that the concept of wisdom comprises a set of teachings for living a godly life, with advice about how to avoid the snares of unrighteousness and the wicked. From chapters 10 onward, there are more than six hundred sayings, or “proverbs”—short sentences with practical advice applicable to various situations, such as marriage, love, relationships, financial issues, political matters, children, education, et cetera, in daily life.

In contrast to the practical advice of the Proverbs, the book of Job is more of a treatise on suffering, retribution, and vindication. These themes are concerned with wisdom but from God’s perspective. They unfold from the narrative of Job’s life and his troubles. This analysis is not philosophical but divine in nature. Chapter 28 is the core of the book, and it ends with the idea that reverence and obedience to God are central to wisdom: “ ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding’ ” (Job 28:28, NKJV).

Wisdom in the Psalter

Many Bible scholars classify certain Psalms among the wisdom literature of the Scriptures. “Although the exact identification of sapiential psalms remains a moot point, the majority of scholars admit the influence of wisdom on Psalms 1, 19, 32, 34, 37, 49, 73, 112, 119, 127, 128, 133. Psalm 1 has a strong emphasis on law and conduct, and it opens the Psalms by placing a sapiential spin on the entire collection. Also, Psalm 19, with an emphasis on creation and law, definitely reveals a sapiential tone; and Psalm 119 exhales wisdom by offering the longest reflection on the torah.”—Elias Brasil de Souza, “Wisdom in Daniel,” in Benjamin Rojas, TeÓfilo Correa, Lael Caesar and Joel Turpo, eds., “The End from the Beginning”: Festschrift Honoring Merling Alomía (Lima, Peru: Universidad Peruana Union, 2015), pp. 267, 268.

Below we will examine the treatment of wisdom in the aforementioned psalms, as cited in the quotation above:

Psalm 1. This psalm presents two ways of life: the life of righteousness (verses 2, 3) and the life of wickedness (verses 4, 5). The song starts with a description of how the righteous go in the opposite direction from the unrighteous (verse 1). As a result of their choices, the wicked receive a very different destiny from the righteous (verse 6).

Psalm 19. This psalm is divided into two clear sections. The first section contains the revelation of God in the Creation (verses 1–6), and the second section contains His revelation in the Law (verses 7–14). These two themes are very important to an understanding and attainment of biblical wisdom. Both topics are an inspiration to the believer who aspires to be “blameless” and “innocent of great transgression” (verse 13, NKJV).

Psalm 32. This song provides a contrast between the repentant one and the wicked one (verses 10, 11). It also adopts the sapiential tone of instruction and teaching (verses 8, 9) that is common to wisdom literature (Prov. 4:1–15, Prov. 6:20–23, Prov. 7:1–5).

Psalm 34. Some portions of Psalm 34 are evocative of the practical advice that characterizes wisdom literature, as is seen in the tender call of the father to his son to desire long life, to pursue the fear of the Lord, and to flee from sin (verses 11–14). Subsequent to offering this advice, the psalmist describes the destiny of the faithful (verses 15, 16, 21). Doubtless, the best choice we can make in life is to walk in the way of wisdom.

Psalm 37. This psalm answers the big question: Why do the wicked prosper? Nowadays, we raise the same question. The answer provided is not philosophical in its analysis; rather, it is faith-based counsel for a righteous life. Carefully contemplate the timeless wisdom in this song!

Psalm 49. In the opening lines this song states: “My mouth shall speak wisdom, and the meditation of my heart shall give understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will disclose my dark saying on the harp” (verses 3, 4, NKJV). From there, the writer proceeds to describe the fate of the prosperous wicked (verses 5–20).

Psalm 73. The Hebrew people attempted to understand the origins of evil in this world and the injustice in society. They wrestled with whether or not divine retribution had failed. This issue presented no less a problem to them as it does to us today.

Psalm 112. This song depicts the blessings of fearing the Lord (verse 1). There are 16 blessings for those who are righteous (verses 2–9). A careful examination of these blessings will show that to fear the Lord is to aspire to the highest spiritual attainment in our daily lives. The psalmist ends with a short description of the dire fate of the wicked man in comparison to the righteous man.

Psalm 119. The longest psalm in the Psalter is about the Torah (Law), which comprises more than merely the Mosaic code. The Torah refers to the whole of Scripture. It changes the lives of those who grasp the teachings of God’s Word.

Psalm 127. Only five verses long, this psalm is focused on the Lord’s blessings upon the home and upon the children of those who trust in the Creator. Perhaps for this reason, the song is considered a sapiential expression. Wisdom must be the foundation upon which is laid the most precious treasure we have: our family.

Psalm 128. The six lines of this short psalm are classed among the writings of wisdom literature because they refer to God’s prosperity in the homes of everyone “who fears the Lord” (verses 1, 4, NKJV).

Psalm 133. Some may question the inclusion of this psalm in the sapiential literature of the Scriptures. But the expression “for the brethren to dwell together in unity” (verse 1, NKJV) infuses the verse with that characteristic tinge of biblical wisdom we have thus far identified as a distinguishing feature of wisdom literature. To be imbued with this spirit of brotherhood is the Almighty’s desire for us as His followers. Such unity is the practical evidence of a Christian life.

Part III: Life Application

Biblical wisdom, as taught by the Old Testament, is an understanding of crucial salvific issues, such as our origins (Creation), the Law (the principles of God’s character in our daily life), the fear of God (a reverent love that results in joyful obedience), and retribution (the fate of the righteous and the wicked). Wisdom also is practical knowledge that prepares us to live a mature and godly life in the home, within our neighborhoods, and at the workplace. Furthermore, biblical wisdom is godly advice for living harmoniously with our spouse and children. It equips us with principles that guide our use of money and many other aspects of daily existence.

Challenge your students to ponder the ways in which they can apply the lessons learned this week to the different circumstances of life. Remind them that to live in the fear of the Lord will bring great delight (Ps. 112:1).