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2 9 . T H E WAY OF W I S D O M Much oj the literature of the Old Testament concentrates on Israel's peculiar experiences of the presence of God, centering in the exodus and Sinai, and in Zion and the Davidic king. The key term is "covenant," that is, God's relationship to the people, and the people's relationship to God, summed up in the formula, "I will be your God and you will be my people." As we have seen, the relationship between the holy God and the people Israel is nuanced in several major patterns of covenant symbolization. Prophet, Priest, and Sage The wisdom literature, such as the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, how­ ever, scarcely mention the characteristic themes of Israel's faith: the choice of Israel, the covenant at Sinai, the coming of the Day of Yahweh, the temple as the place of the divine presence, the messianic king to come. Old Testament theolo­ gians have had difficulty relating Israel's wisdom literature to the "mainstream" of Israel's theological traditions. Some have gone so far as to say that wisdom is an alien tradition that lies outside the realm of Old Testament theology. Part of the problem is the difficulty of defining what is the "mainstream." We should probably think of several streams running more or less parallel with one another, and at times touching each other. From at least the period of the monar­ chy, sages had an important role as interpreters of the will and way of God. In one of Jeremiah's confessions, in connection with plots against his life, it is said that "teaching of the law [torah] by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel f etsah] from the wise, nor the word [dabar] from the prophets" (Jer. 18:18). This oblique reference indicates that the sage had standing in the Israelite community along with priests and prophets. The task of the sage was to give God's "counsel" (etsah), just as the priest interpreted God's torah Ger. 2:8) and the prophet proclaimed God's "word" Oer. 1:9). Moreover, we have seen that God's torah was the source of wisdom. The inter­ preters of the torah could claim "we are wise, for we have the torah of Yahweh" (Jer. 8:8),- but Jeremiah insisted that the conflict between their torah and the prophetic word of Yahweh resulted from a "lying pen," that is, willful misinterpre­ tation. The implication of these passages from Jeremiah is that ideally, when there was no human distortion, priestly torah, prophetic word, and the sage's wisdom were authoritative for the community, since all proceed from God. Wisdom in the Royal Court Wisdom has influenced all of Israel's covenantal traditions, but it is especially com­ patible with royal (Davidic) covenant theology. It is significant that Solomon was regarded as the sponsor of Israel's wisdom movement and, indeed, the composer of some wisdom sayings. In 1 Kgs. 4:29-34, the historian claims that Solomon wrote 260 The Way of Wisdom 261 many proverbs and songs, and that his wisdom surpassed all the sages of the Orient. According to one rabbinical opinion, Solomon wrote Canticles (Song of Songs), with its portrayal of erotic love, in his youth,- Proverbs, with its stress on practical problems, in his middle age,- and Ecclesiastes, with its melancholy pes­ simism, in his old age. Making due allowance for exaggeration and the snow­ balling of tradition, there is no reason to doubt that Solomon took an active interest in the cultivation of wisdom in Israel. If the priest functioned in the tem­ ple, and the prophet in the vicinity of holy places, then the sages were at home primarily in the royal court. That being the case, it is not surprising to find in the book of Proverbs many allusions to the rule of kings and princes. Indeed, the social order depends on the superior wisdom of the king, just as the cosmic order reflects inscrutable divine wisdom. It is the glory of God to conceal things, hut the glory of kings is to search things out. Like the heavensfor height, like tfce earthfor depth, so the mind of kings is unsearchable. —Prov. 25:2-3 Hence it is imperative to "fear the LORD [Yahweh] and the king" (Prov. 24:21). Wisdom and Social Stability One thing that strikes the reader of the book of Proverbs is that its wisdom...


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