Israel's Wisdom Again
wisdom literature we encounter the dailiness of life in ancient Israel. The
focus of this literature is more on the individual and the world of the
everyday than what we encounter in the exodus and prophetic traditions. Its
central concerns are the eminently practical questions, “How shall I live?”
and “What is life about?” …
books are found in the third and final division of the Hebrew Bible: the
Writings. This is a miscellaneous collection dating primarily from the
postexilic period. (p. 145)
literature is very different in content, tone, and form from the Pentateuch
and the Prophets.
the rest of the Hebrew Bible, it is not concerned with Israel’s
sacred story as a people or with the criticism and reshaping of the social
the laws of the Pentateuch, which are said to have come from God, and unlike
the prophets, who claim to speak the “Word of the LORD” on God’s behalf,
Israel’s wisdom does not claim to be revealed truth.
thus to a large extent “community wisdom.” Ecclesiastes and Job, on
the other hand, are sustained reflections on experience from the vantage
point of their particular authors.
Is life as
simple as knowing the right things to do and doing them? Does everything
work out if you live right? And if life is not so simple but much
more mysterious, what does that say about the nature of God, the purpose of
life, and how we are to live? (p. 148)
life as simple as knowing the right things to do and doing them?
everything work out if you live right?
if life is not so simple but much more mysterious, what does that say
about the nature of God, the purpose of life, and how we are to live?
2. Wisdom / Sophia
of wisdom lies in taking seriously that we are dealing with a reality that
transcends the world of the everyday, even as that reality is known
in the world of the everyday.
These chapters also introduce us
to the personification of “Wisdom” in female form, commonly called “the
wisdom woman” or “Sophia.” “Sophia” is not only the Greek word for wisdom;
as a woman’s name it better expresses the personification than the more
abstract and neuter‑sounding “Wisdom.” (p. 149)
Who comes from God, as Word and Breath?
Who holds the keys of life and death?
Crafter and Creator too,
eldest, she makes all things new;
she ordains what God will do,
wisest one, radiant one,
welcome, Ho-ly Wis-dom / great Sophia!
Who lifts her voice for all to hear?
Who shapes a thought and makes it clear?
Teacher, drawing out our best,
magnifies what we invest,
names our truth, directs our quest.
Wisest one, radiant one,
welcome, Ho-ly Wisdom / great Sophia!
Whom should we seek with all our heart?
Who, once revealed, will not depart?
Partner, Counselor, Comforter,
love has found none lovelier,
life is gladness lived with her.
Wisest one, radiant one,
welcome, Ho-ly Wisdom / great Sophia!
392 – Common
Praise – Tune: Salve
What is the character of Wisdom / Sophia?
What scriptures come to mind?
John referred to Jesus as the Word of God in the Prolog to his
Paul referred to Jesus as the Wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1: 24.
How is our “image” of Jesus enlarged with this application?
Wisdom / Sophia
is of inestimable worth. Following her is the wise way, and that way leads
to life, riches, honor, peace, and happiness:
Happy are those
who find wisdom,
those who get understanding.
Her income is
better than silver,
revenue better than gold.
She is more
precious than jewels,
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in
her right hand;
left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are
ways of pleasantness,
her paths are peace.
She is a tree
of life to those who lay hold of her;
who hold her fast are called happy.
So important is
Wisdom / Sophia that she is spoken of as having been with God at the
creation of the world:
created me at the beginning of God’s work,
first of God’s acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was
set up at the first,
the beginning of the earth.
Wisdom / Sophia
offers food and drink. She hosts a banquet of bread and wine to which she
invites all who will come:
You who are
simple, turn in here!
Come, cat of my
drink of the wine I have mixed.
immaturity, and live,
walk in the way of insight.
personification is the first stage of a process whereby Wisdom / Sophia
becomes a female image for God in Jewish wisdom literature. This development
is the background for the New Testament’s use of Sophia imagery to speak
about Jesus as prophet of Sophia and as incarnation of Sophia. It is also
the basis for the increasing attention paid to Sophia in recent Christian
theology. (p. 149f.)
“Following her is the wise way, and that way leads to life, riches, honor,
peace, and happiness.”
The “way” is a recurring thread, an exodus that leads from… and to…
The Law and the Prophets present the “way”. How is the “way” presented in
the Wisdom writings?
To avoid a
possible misunderstanding, it is important to emphasize that the Jewish
tradition did not yet affirm an afterlife. Belief in a heaven and hell
beyond death was still two or three centuries in the future. Thus the two
ways – one leading to life, the other leading to death – are not about
eternity (about heaven and hell), but about two different ways of living
this side of physical death. (p. 151)
the “way” is not (yet) a path to heaven or hell, how do we see the journey?
What is the value in the journey?
What do we discover about our relationship with God “this side of physical
Righteous Sometimes Do Not Prosper
speech is the first stage in Qoheleth’s indictment of conventional wisdom.
The next step is the rejection of conventional wisdom's central claim: if
you follow the path of righteousness – the wise way – you will do well and
be rewarded. (p. 163)
The Road Not Taken
roads diverged in a yellow wood,
sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
wisdom has its own attraction.
What does the
“road less taken” look like?
Is it a path
Qoheleth might have taken? How worn is the path?
How can we be
sure we have made the right choice?
the certainty and randomness of death drive an arrow into the heart of
conventional wisdom. Nothing that we do or have – none of what we spend our
lives seeking to achieve, possess, and control – can forestall death, can
alter its inevitability or timing. Moreover, when death comes, it takes away
everything we have acquired: wisdom, wealth, honor, a good name, family,
possessions. (p. 165)
What is the
prevailing question today?
answering questions that aren’t being asked?
Ecclesiastes and Hearing Qoheleth
there is a season, and a time for every matter
a time to be
born, and a time to die;
a time to
plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill,
and a time to heal;
a time to break
down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep,
and a time to laugh;
a time to
mourn., and a time to dance ...
a time to
embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing
a time to love,
and a time to hate;
a time for war,
and a time for peace.
First scenario. Because the words of this passage became the lyrics of a
popular folksong, most of us have heard them sung. I can remember some
performances that gave the text a moral meaning, expressing a preference for
one‑half of each set of opposites: this, not that. The
inflection made it clear that this time (our time) is a time for
peace, not war; a time for love, not hate; a time to heal,
not kill; a time to dance, not mourn. However, I do not imagine
that Qoheleth meant this.
Second scenario. Imagine this passage as read by a depressed Swedish
Lutheran pastor in an Ingmar Bergman movie. The church is almost empty, the
cold light of a gray winter morning makes everything pale and colorless, the
voice is flat with despair, and there is virtually no one to hear it. Life
is bleak – unbearably so – an endless cycle of meaningless repetition. This
is an exaggerated form of some scholarly ways of reading Ecclesiastes.
Third scenario. Imagine these same words as read by the Dalai Lama. The
meaning would be very different. Not “this versus that,” and not “everything
is meaningless.” Rather: live fully, whatever time it is. Be present to
what is. (p. 167f.)
lenses do we read these familiar words:
discriminating judgement? With fatalistic cynicism?
With courage to
seize the day? Reflect and discuss.
claim that we cannot make straight what God has made crooked points to the
Mystery of the sacred. For Qoheleth, God is not absent; God is simply beyond
all of our attempts to domesticate the divine. (p. 168)
“We cannot make
straight what God has made crooked.” Reflect and discuss. How do we
understand God is with us and beyond us?
wisdom of Qoheleth is thus a subversive wisdom. His teaching undermines and
subverts “the way” taught by conventional wisdom. It is also an
alternative wisdom, for it points to another way, one that leads beyond
convention. To use a familiar phrase from Robert Frost, the subversive and
alternative wisdom of Qoheleth is “the road less traveled.” (p. 170)
presented “a way” that is remembered in every generation. The Prophets
remind us to repent – to return – and follow “a way”. Qoheleth points to
“another way, one that leads beyond convention”. How is the wisdom of
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