Question: What role do the five books of poetry play in the Scriptures?
The books of poetry in the bible are typically referenced as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. However, in Jewish tradition, the formation of the Writings after the Law and the Prophets, were followed by Psalms firstly and then Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon), and then Ecclesiastes. It was not until the Septuagint that we see the current construct of our English Bible appear that is predominantly chronological. Hence, only five of these books remain together.
As a complete set, the books of poetry are best understood as a journal of human responses to God’s work and laws in the context of living in this world. We see in each of these books a different vantage point – a human vantage point that makes them so personal and engaging.
Let’s take a snapshot of each book to give a flavour for its content and the role it plays in the Scriptures.
- Suffering of the innocent and the justice of God in the midst of society’s typical reactions to perceived injustice. The end result is a complete surrender to God’s sovereignty. Wisdom and obligation do not fall on the same – that is God is where all wisdom is found as that is His nature and yet obligation has no place in Him as He owes us nothing and we need to understand our place.
- Trust and praise Yahweh as He is good, while understanding our sinfulness and the unjust nature of this world. God’s strong connection to His people, His faithfulness, and His righteousness.
- Focused understanding that wisdom (not to be mistaken for knowledge) is a most virtuous characteristic. There are many wise sayings, but true wisdom must absolutely begin with “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:7) – that is an appropriate reverence and understanding of God, His sovereign nature, and our contrite condition).
- Perspective is key but not multiple perspectives as post-modernism (relativism) would suggest. Instead, a singular perspective that understands the transitory nature of humanity resulting in death and judgment as its only certainty and with God being the Creator, Sustainer, and sole judge of it all. Chasing wealth or other human pursuits is all “vanity” and is foolish in light of the proper perspective on life and our existence. This is where wisdom is akin to “the rubber hitting the road” – wisdom being applied to our understanding of life, how we are to live in light of the one true perspective and the universal truth that God is all. Succinctly put, it is about actually living in accordance with the intellectual knowledge that God is the centre of everything.
5) Song of Solomon
- A unique book in this sequence but one that serves as a marriage instruction manual to address a most significant trait of humanity – love. It lays out a series of narrative poems (hence the alternative title Song of Songs) that illustrate the passionate and resolute love between one man and one women. It presents the story with three central characters – the woman, the man, and the woman’s friends. While its focus isn’t explicitly on God, we can see that true love’s origin begins with God as the author. It is correct to understand this book in context when we read “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16) and reflect that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).