Here are the notes of a week-day evening session I was invited to do at my home church (Holy Trinity, Norwich).
We’re including under this heading: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
The books of the Old Testament, set to a possibly recognisable tune!!
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,
Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Ruth,
Samuel, Samuel, Kings, Kings and Chronicles,
Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.
Job, Psalms and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon,
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel,
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,
Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
Proverbs – everyday wisdom
What is a proverb?
‘Before you commit yourself to a certain course of action, carefully weigh up the risks and benefits and thoughtfully consider your options’
= ‘Look before you leap!’
‘A few simple corrective measures taken early on in a course of action may forestall major problems from arising.’
= ‘A stitch in time saves nine!’
What do you make of the following?-
‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’
‘Many hands make light work.’
‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’
‘It’s never too late to learn.’
Proverbs is a book ‘which seldom takes you to church…It calls across to you in the street about some everyday matter, or points things out at home. Its function in Scripture is to put godliness into working clothes; to name the workplace and the home as spheres in which we are to acquit ourselves with credit to our Lord, and in which we are to look for his training.’ (Derek Kidner)
Top tips for reading Proverbs
They are guidelines, not guarantees. They are advisory, not promissory. Need to be qualified with: ‘usually’, ‘sometimes’, or ‘often’.
Look at Proverbs 22:6 – ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.’
What problems might arise if we treated this proverb as a copper-bottomed guarantee? If it is not a promise, what is it?
The point of a proverb is not if it is true, but when it is true. This is well illustrated by a pair of proverbs:
Prov 26:4 ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly…’
Prov 26:5 ‘Answer a fool according to his folly…’.
Pointing to Jesus
Jesus taught wisdom (so did James, in his Epistle). For instance, the Sermon on the Mount contains much proverbial teaching.
Jesus models wisdom. From boyhood onwards (Luke 2:52), his life was characterised by wise thinking and wise choices.
Jesus is wisdom. He is wisdom’s living incarnation (see, for example, John 1:1-10).
Jesus commends wisdom. When we live wisely, we are living like him.
Topic study – Mr Lazybones
For a flavour of the teaching of Proverbs, look at what is said about the ‘sluggard’:
- a) Who is his teacher, Prov 6:6-8?
- b) What are his excuses, Prov 26:13?
- c) What is his destiny, Prov 6:11?
Song of Solomon – love story
A superlative song (the ‘Song of Songs’, 1:1) about married love. There seem to be two main voices, that of the Beloved (the Shulammite girl) and the Lover (the King).
Top tip on reading the Song of Solomon
Other biblical passages will speak to the selfishness, disloyalty, lust, and depersonalisation that can spoil the most intimate of relationships. Also, there is plenty of scriptural material that pertains to the special opportunities and challenges of the single life. But let’s celebrate, along with the Song of Solomon, the beauty, tenderness and passion that characterise married love at its best. And let this book help to shape how we feel about love human and divine.
Pointing to Jesus
The Song to us first of earthly love between a married man and woman. Then it speaks to us of heavenly love between God and his people (as in Hosea), and Christ and his church (as in Ephesians 5:22f)
‘Not only does [the Song] speak of the purity of human love, but by its very inclusion in the Canon it reminds us of a love that is purer than our own.’ (E.J. Young)
We find here illustrations of Christ’s invitation to share his company (2:13); his passionate love for his people (8:7); his delight to hear our prayers (8:13); and a yearning for his presence (8:14).
Read chapter 4:8-15. Here the husband speaks to his bride in ways that are appropriate to that age and culture.
a) How might similar feelings be expressed in our own age and culture? (Go on, use your imagination!!)
b) What does this passage suggest about the relationship between Christ and his people?
Job – no easy answers
If Proverbs and the Song of Solomon present a fairly uncomplicated view of life, then Job and Ecclesiastes come to the party saying, ‘Of course, it’s not that simple.’
Job tells the story of a godly man who loses everything – his wealth, his family, his health. Will Job renounce God? Will his friends persuade him that his suffering must be some kind of punishment for sin? What will God say?
Top tip for reading Job
When reading Job, keep in mind the overall framework:
Prologue, ch 1-2, telling us in advance why Job suffered (so that God would be honoured by Job’s faithfulness, and God’s adversary, Satan, would be thwarted)
Most of the book (ch 3:1 – 42:6) consists of poetic dialogues between Job and his friends. These often revolve around the assumption: ‘Your suffering must be God’s punishment for your sin.’ (We also find this kind of logic in John 9:1-3).
Epilogue, 42:7-17, in which Job, in contrast to his advisers, is vindicated and rewarded.
Pointing to Jesus
The book of Job tells us that the righteous do suffer unfairly. ‘Jesus is the true and better Job’ (Tim Keller). Even though mystery remains (Mt 27:46) we know that our righteous Savour suffered on our behalf, and intercedes for his friends.
Ecclesiastes – life is a vapour
If Job focuses on the problem of suffering, then Ecclesiastes ranges more widely over the apparent absurdities of life.
Ecclesiastes has many memorable sayings…
- Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Eccl 1:2, ESV)
- There is nothing new under the sun, (Eccl 1:9)
- There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven, (Eccl 3:1, NIV)
- A cord of three strands is not quickly broken, (Eccl 4:12)
- Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again, (Eccl 11:1)
- Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, (Eccl 12:1)
- Of making many books there is no end. (Eccl 12:12)
…and yet its overall message is difficult to pin down.
Top tip for reading Ecclesiastes
Look out for the repeated word ‘vanity’ (‘meaningless’), the root meaning of which is ‘vapour’. Everything ‘under the sun’ is transient. Yet we must face up to the many puzzling features of life and seek to serve God with all our hearts (Eccle 12:13f).
Pointing to Jesus
The New Testament confirms that the creation was subject to ‘vanity’ (Rom 8:20), and urges us to avoid presumption (James 4:14). At the same time, we are pointed to Christ, in whom all things are finding renewal.
Read Ecclesiastes 8:16-9:10
a) Where is God: present, or absent (see 8:16-9:1)?
b) What is life: good, or bad (see 9:4-6)?
c) Is this life to be embraced, or repudiated (see 9:7-10)?
Psalms – through all the changing scenes
Calvin: ‘“This book I am wont to style an anatomy of all parts of the soul; for no one will discover in himself a single feeling whereof the image is not reflected in this mirror. Nay, all griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, anxieties — in short, all those tumultuous agitations wherewith the minds of men are wont to be tossed — the Holy Ghost hath here represented to the life.’
Top tip for reading the Psalms
‘It’s poetry, folks!’
Hebrew poetry is characterised by thought-parallelism. Three common patterns:
a) A line may repeat (using different words) the thought of the previous line (synonymous parallelism):
Deliver me from my enemies, O God,
Protect me from those who rise up against me.
b) A line may complete the thought of the previous line (synthetic parallelism):
Oh that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
c) A line may contrast with the thought of the previous line (antithetical parallelism):
The Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Pointing to Jesus
We sing with Jesus in the Psalms. The Book of Psalms was Jesus’ hymn book! Just as they give voice to his richly varied experience, so they give voice to our experience with him.
We sing of Jesus in the Psalms. For example, the ‘royal’ psalms (e.g. 2, 72, 110) present a picture an ideal king that is never fully realised in any actual Israelite king. They look forward, then, to the glorious reign of the coming Messiah.
We sing to Jesus in the Psalms. ‘God’ in the Psalms is not some general-purpose God, but a God who reveals himself as Trinity. Accordingly, ‘we use the Psalms of lament to confess our sins to Jesus. We sing the psalms of praise to celebrate Jesus’ person and work. We sing the psalms of remembrance to look back on Jesus’ acts throughout redemptive history. We sing the psalms of confidence to express our faith in Jesus’ salvation. We sing the wisdom psalms to acknowledge that Jesus is our only source of wisdom. We sing the psalms of thanksgiving to express our gratitude for Jesus’ daily grace in our times of need.’ (David Murray)
Prayer and Praise
Read Psalm 100, and offer your own responses of prayer and praise.