Several years ago, I did two posts in a mini series from the wisdom books in the Bible.
At the same time, I was also reading through Homer’s The Iliad. The Greeks were known for their wisdom. Paul the Apostle even notes this in his letter to the Corinthians. Corinth was a major city on a major trade route in southern Greece — which was then part of a Roman province of Achaia.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:I Cor I:18-25 (bold emphasis mine)
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The Greeks were known for their wisdom, but they were not looking to the right gods.
When Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount of Olives (Olivet), he reaffirmed the wisdom that we find in the wisdom books.
Job – The Wisdom of Purpose
As I’m reading through The Iliad, I can’t help thinking how capricious these gods are. They’re ruled by their passions. But wait, you say, isn’t God capricious, allowing Job to lose everything because Satan asked Him to?
As humans, until we see Jesus, we will wrestle with this knowledge that God does not cause evil, but does bad things to happen. It is the doctrine of theodicy and one of the most difficult for our hearts and minds to understand.
Our faith is being lived out when we wrestle with, question, and maybe even doubt, but continue to trust that His purposes are just and true. We see a bit of that purpose at the beginning of Job when God decides to show Satan that there are those that choose to obey the Lord.
At the end of the book, Job accepts this wisdom: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. (42:2)
“For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called, according to His purpose.Romans 8:28
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”Matthew 5:3-4
Psalms – The Wisdom of Peace
The mythological gods of the Greeks do not sound like gods that you’d want to follow.
Thus did the two mighty sons of Cronus devise evil for mortal heroes. Zeus was minded to give victory to the Trojans and to Hector… . Poseidon on the other hand went about among the [Greeks] to incite them, having come up from the gray sea in secret, for he was seeing them vanquished by the Trojans, and was furiously angry with Zeus. … Thus, then, did these two devise a knot of war and battle, that none could unloose or break and set both sides tugging at it, to the flailing of men’s knees beneath them.The Iliad; translated by Samuel Butler (p 199)
Contrast that with the God of the Bible to whom David and the writers of the Psalms raise their poems. They cry out for peace and deliverance and are rewarded with sleep in the midst of difficulties.
“Except that’s not right,” I hear you say. “The book of Joshua would disagree with you, and didn’t Jesus say that he had come to bring a sword.” Isn’t that inciting war?
Yes, God did tell the Israelites to go in and kill the inhabitants of Canaan. This was after giving them 400 years of grace until they reached the end of how much sin He could allow. Another aspect of God’s character that we have to reckon with is that He is the judge. He does not incite war because He is devising evil, but because we have chosen to sin and there is a payment for our sin.
It is through Jesus that we can find peace with God instead of His wrath.
As to Jesus bringing a sword, that verse is to show that Jesus’s message is offensive and that it would divide families which is what we see in some places where a person becoming a Christian brings so much shame on their family they are exiled from their own family.
Even so, we are encouraged in persecution to make peace with those who persecute us.
“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”Romans 12:17-19
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:9-12
Proverbs – The Wisdom of Unity
[Zeus] then began to tease Hera, talking at her so as to provoke her…We must consider what we shall do with all this; shall we set them fighting anew or make peace between them?The Illiad; translated by Samuel Butler (p 54)
Proverbs is a book filled with instructions that God gives for the people to have fruitful lives — not only with Him — but with those around us. He gives us tips that can bring peace and unity to our relationships with our neighbors, our friends, our families, and our employers or employees.
Aside from an absence of war, God wants His people to live in fellowship with each other. And, as always, He does not leave us unequipped for that task, but dedicates an entire book of the old testament to teach us how to put aside our selfish wants and live in community with others.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”Matthew 5:5, 7
Ecclesiastes – The Wisdom of Gratitude
On the floor of Zeus’ palace there stand two urns, the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Zeus, the lord of thunder, mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good and now with evil fortune…The Iliad; translated by Samuel Butler (p 385)
Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible. “Vanity of Vanities? How is this good?” Yet the paradox of Ecclesiastes is that the fact that everything is vanity is actually a … relief.
By seeking the things that the writer of Ecclesiastes does: luxury, laughter, love (or more likely, lust), learning, and labor, he comes up empty every time. But not because all of these are wrong in and of themselves. They cannot fulfill our deepest longings, especially when separated from the God who gives those things to us. They are to be an outcome, not a cause.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Ecclesiastes actually relieves us of quite a bit of pressure. In our faithful hard work and integrity, we can enjoy the fruits of our labors. In seeking after God, our everyday blessings that He gives us are enriched with meaning. When we seek Him instead of all the pleasures of this world, we are released from the agony of disappointment.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.Matthew 5:6
Song of Solomon – The Wisdom of Purity
In Book XIV of The Iliad, Hera, Zeus’s wife, prepares herself to seduce him in order to allow the gods that were on the side of the Greeks to help them defeat the Trojans. When Zeus sees her he is inflamed with passion over other mortal women or goddesses he had loved and who had bourn him children. (He makes sure to list them.) I’m sure the Trojans would have appreciated knowing that their fate was in the hands of whichever goddess was more alluring to Zeus that day.
Song of Solomon is a great book. I know some interpret it as metaphor language for God and Israel or looking to the future of Christ and the church, but I think it’s a plain poetic story of King Solomon and his bride.
Marital love (including sexual intimacy) is how we fulfill the command to be fruitful. Purity before and within marriage has always been God’s design. It protects both men and women. It also forms a basis of trust between husband and wife. Trust that helps the intimacy grow between them.
It’s a beautiful book of poetry of a husband and wife, and while I don’t think it’s a book that’s meant to be a metaphor, marital love itself is a beautiful picture of God’s love for His people (whether God and Israel or Christ and the Church).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.Matthew 5:8
Wisdom and Whimsy
Conclusion: it is not to Ilium (the ancient name for Troy) we should look for wisdom, but to Israel. Here, on a mountain, the personification of wisdom sat and taught His followers about the blessings of a life following Him.
- His purpose was to suffer so that our trials are not futile.
- He is the Prince of Peace.
- He makes His followers into a unified body.
- His righteousness is the truest gift to seek and He delights to give it.
- His purity and sinlessness are how we can be reconciled to God.
All the gods of the pantheon are nothing compared to the Son of God.