Wisdom Literature


A distinctive Old Testament literature is what is called the Poetical books or wisdom literature. The Poetical books are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.
For Further Study see Book Introductions

They are called Poetical because they are composed almost entirely of Hebrew verse But these books are not the only ones to contain Hebrew Poetry. Almost every part of the Bible contains poetry. It expresses some of the deepest and highest thoughts and feelings of the human heart. But although Poetry is easy to recognise it is much more difficult to define it. Hebrew poetry is rather unique and beautiful. It is characterised by some distinctive features.

For Further Study see Hebrew Poetry

Manifestation of Wisdom

Wisdom and wisdom literature played a key role in the lives of the people of ancient times. Some men were thought to possess wisdom above that of ordinary men. In fact wisdom became the collected account of the experiences and observations of such men. Of the people considered to be wise you have:


Artisans and craftsmen were considered wise. The craftsmen of the tabernacle were said to be wise.


Kings and rulers like David and Solomon.


Those who were advisors to kings and men who stood in the courts of kings were considered to be wise. In biblical times you have men like Joseph, Moses and Daniel.


Usually the prophets were in conflict with the counsellors who advised the kings against God's will. Men like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.


These men arose as a class of professional experts in the law after its codification by Ezra they were considered wise.


Median priests from Persia were considered wise. In fact tradition has called them wisemen.


The coming Messiah was associated with wisdom even prior to wisdom literature. The Messiah was the grandest figure in a family distinguished by men of wisdom, in the line of David and Solomon. Then in wisdom literature, wisdom is personified giving it the closest possible link to the Messiah. Proverbs 1-8.



Wisdom sometimes was naturally acquired. This is not stressed in the Scriptures but it is acknowledged. To the Jew wisdom was the application of divine truth to human experience and it is the fool who does not seek it.


Wisdom could also be acquired by learning. Wisdom became embodied in Scripture and law so those who desired wisdom had to learn for the Rabbi's.


Wisdom ultimately comes from God. James 1:5; 3:17 The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. So even human wisdom is given by God. It is given in answer to prayer when men seek God's counsel. In the last analysis man possesses wisdom only as a gift from God; it comes by divine Revelation through the Holy Spirit.

Classification of Psalms

The Psalms can be classified under many general themes. There are thanksgiving, pilgrim, nature and other types of Psalms. The classification of some of the Psalms is largely arbitrary and rest on the decision of the individual. However some Psalms can be grouped together in general heading of similar content.

Penitential Psalms

These Psalms ask God's forgiveness for sins committed against his law and standards. Psalm 32, 38, 51 are good examples.

Acrostic Psalms

These have verses or sections beginning with succeeding Hebrew alphabet letters, such as Psalm 25, 119, and 145. This structure may have been employed to assist in memorisation.

Hallelujah Psalms

These are Psalms of praise. While all Psalms are full of praise and directed toward God these have a special emphasis. The Hebrew word hallelujah is usually employed which means Praise Yahweh. Examples can be found in Psalms 146-150.

Imprecatory Psalms

The word imprecate means to invoke the wrath of God down upon one's enemies. Examples of these type Psalms can be found in Psalm 35, 58, 69, 109, 137 and others. These have perplexed Christians, especially in the light of the New Testament teaching of loving one's enemies. How can the two things be reconciled.

Some have said that they can not be reconciled. Their view is that David was in error when he made these statements. But was David a vindictive person? Does he have an angry nature? Nothing was more obvious in the life of David than his generous and gracious dealings with his enemies. He not only refused to kill his greatest enemy, Saul, but prevented others from doing the same. 1 Samuel 26:5 He searched for the grandson of his worst enemy Saul, and had him eat at the king's table as one of his own sons. 2 Samuel 9:1 Then how can the words of these psalms be reconciled with David's character.

Was David's attitude in the Psalms one of personal revenge? No! Even the Old Testament rules out the personal vindictiveness toward one's enemies. Leviticus 19:18; Exodus 23:24 Also the New Testament also records imprecatory statements as well. 2 Timothy 4:14; Acts 23:3; 8:20; Matthew 11:20; Revelation 6:10; Galatians 1:9 So it is unwise to pit the New Testament against the Old Testament in the solution to the imprecatory Psalms.

Is an expression of righteous indignation ever justified. The Bible responds with yes in some cases. Never to gratify personal malice or for private revenge, but there are times when it is justified.

They are expressions then of the longings of the Old Testament saint for the vindication of God's righteousness. Their utterances of zeal for God and God's Kingdom. As King David was responsible for the maintenance of God's justice and righteousness. This was not simply how David felt about sin and his enemies but a reflection of how God views sin. David abhorred sin because God abhorred sin. They are prophetic teachings of the attitude of God toward sin, impenitent, persistent and recalcitrant sinners. What David said about sinners can be found throughout the Psalms as simple facts about the wicked. To dismiss them as simply an over zealous temper shows a low view of sin from God's perspective.

Historical Psalms

These psalms present important historical events in Poetic form such as Psalm 78, 105, 114. They were to bind the memory of Israel to the redemptive acts of God so God's people would not forget the grace of God.

Prophetic Psalms

As the historical Psalms bind the Psalter to the remainder of the Old Testament, so the prophetic Psalms provides the connecting link with the New Testament. They tell of coming events.

Messianic Psalms

These are the most famous of the prophetic Psalms. There are about thirteen in all. Luke 24:44 shows us clearly that there are Messianic Psalms. There can be direct and indirect Messianic Psalms. In the indirect Messianic Psalm the historical background can be found in David but does show some of Christ. Psalm 41, and 109 speak of the betrayal of Christ. Although Ahithophil was the traitor who partially fulfilled David's prediction in 41, this passage also applies to Judas. This is proved by Christ's use of it the night He was betrayed. John 13:18 Psalm 109 is quoted by Peter at the election of Maatthias. The psalm may point to an event, or person so ordered by the providence of God as to bring out God's eternal purpose in Christ.

The direct messianic Psalms have no previous historical background. John Calvin believed that there were 110. The prophets did not always speak to their own times. Psalm 2 may have no direct relation to David. There is also what some have called Mystical Messianic Psalms. Psalm 16, 40. Psalm 40:6-8 is quoted in Hebrews 10:5 as referring to Christ. There are incidents in the life of Israel which are summarised in Christ. The experience of a Godly person is sometimes stated as a representative Israelite.

Humiliation Psalms

At least two Psalms speak of the crucifixion of Christ. Psalm 22 is significant when you remember that stoning and not crucifixion was the common method for administering capital punishment in David's day. Hanging on a tree was a curse for an Israelite. Psalm 69 is also a humiliation Psalm. These are quoted in Matthew 27:34; John 19:24.

Coronation Psalms

These are what is called the royal or kingship Psalms. Psalm 16 is the great Easter announcement of the Old Testament. It reveals the empty tomb of resurrection morning. Peter and Paul both refer to it in Acts 13:34-37. Psalm 89 and 132 predict that the Messiah would come from the royal line of David. Peter applied these passages to Christ and not to Solomon in Acts 2:30. Psalm 118 is pictured in Matthew 21:42 and is quoted six times in the New Testament relating to Christ.

Exaltation Psalms

Psalm 8 presents the most compete vision of Christ. A number of events from the life of Christ are predicted here climaxing in His exaltation.

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