Torah Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs


“As taught elsewhere in the Old Testament,
wisdom is, in effect, the outworking of
divine law in the heart.”


I have argued previously that the concept of wisdom in the Old Testament is torah-centric, and that Jesus’ definition of wisdom in Matt 7:24 also functions as a neat summary of the Old Testament definition of human wisdom, namely, that being wise involves hearing and doing the word of God (see “The Old Testament Concept of Wisdom” for further details).
This view is supported by the book of Proverbs, where wisdom is closely linked with torah.
For example, Prov 28:4, 7, 9; 29:18 speak about hearing, keeping, or forsaking the law. The law in question at this point ought to be understood in the original context as being the law of Moses. This conclusion is reached on the basis of the fact that Prov 28:4, 7, 9; 29:18 are proverbs of Solomon (see Prov 25:1), and that Solomon’s wisdom is strongly connected in the historical narrative of the Bible with the law of Moses (e.g., 1 Kgs 2:3; 3:3, 14; see also 1 Kgs 8:25, 58, 61; 2 Chr 7:17–20). In fact, from the point of view of the Mosaic covenant, keeping the Mosaic law was Israel’s wisdom (Deut 4:6). The law of Moses was able to make wise the simple (Ps 19:7; 119:130). Solomon also clearly knew of the Mosaic covenant and called upon Israel to be committed to this covenant (1 Kgs 8:56–61).
Solomon provides a form of covenant instruction.
Given the close connection in the Old Testament between wisdom and the law of Moses, and given that the language of Prov 1–9 recalls the language of the exhortatory passages of Deuteronomy, the voice of the father in chapters 1–9 is best understood as an example of generalized sophistic covenant instruction. Solomon’s instruction is generalized and sophistic in the sense that instead of being an Israelite father passing on the laws of and the historical rationale behind the covenant to his son (such as we see, for example, in Deut 6:6–9, 20–25), Solomon appears as the “father” of the nation passing down a form of covenant instruction, expressed in the conceptual categories of the wisdom tradition (where wisdom and understanding obtained by means of listening to and accepting divine instruction leads to life) to all his subjects.
Wisdom is the outworking of divine law in the heart.
The use of the word תורה thirteen times in the book of Proverbs (in Prov 1:8; 3:1; 4:2; 6:20, 23; 7:2; 13:14; 28:4, 7, 9; 29:18; 31:26), where it is usually translated as teaching, also serves to make clear the connection between wisdom and torah. The word תורה is derived from the Hebrew root which denotes instruction or direction. There are also proverbs that mention obedience to “the word” or “the commandments,” or the need for such to be received into the heart (e.g., Prov 2:1; 3:1; 13:13; 16:20; 19:16). All of this suggests that there is a close connection between the concept of wisdom in the book of Proverbs and the torah of Moses. As taught elsewhere in the Old Testament, wisdom is, in effect, the outworking of divine law in the heart.

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Steven Coxhead

Brother Coxhead has served as visiting lecturer in Hebrew and the Old Testament at the Sydney Missionary and Bible College since 2002. He’s taught Advanced Classical Hebrew regularly at the Macquarie Ancient Languages School since 2009. As a part-time lecturer at the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney from 2002 to 2010, teaching the Old Testament, Romans, John’s Gospel, Biblical Hebrew, and New Testament Greek; and taught Johannine Theology and the Old Testament at the Wesley Institute in Sydney from 2010 to 2011. Steven also taught Old Testament, New Testament, and Systematic Theology in South-East Asia.

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