There are distinct types of literature within the Bible. We must distinguish these literary types from each other in order to properly understand them. Think of what you read. If you’re in the waiting room of a doctor’s office you might casually browse a magazine that interests you; if there are none available that particularly interest you, then you’ll likely scan the pages of the next best thing on the table. But if you’re reading the instruction manual of a power tool or appliance–a device that could cause bodily harm if used improperly– then you had better not casually browse the material. You pay careful attention, you reread, you evaluate. The difference in the reading material requires separate reading strategies.
There is a section of the Old Testament that we call the “Wisdom Literature”. The Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon (or Canticles), and Job are categorized under this heading. This is not to say that the entirety of the Bible is incapable of bestowing wisdom to us. It is. The Bible is the very word of God, and therefore, we can learn from every page. However, the designation of these writings as Wisdom Literature gives us a clue as to their specific purpose. That purpose, at its most basic level, is to give us commonsensical advice on how to live a godly life in this wicked world. So, when we investigate these writings we must bear that in mind.
There are parts of certain Psalms that are clearly historical in nature, dealing either with some part of the life of ancient Israel or with the life of David. Some parts of certain psalms are prophetic in nature, and most deal directly with the advent of Jesus Christ and aspects of his priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices. But the essential purpose of the Psalter is to teach us how to worship God. The Psalter was the Old Testament hymnal of ancient Israel. By the way none of the Psalms are cute choruses; they are meaty liturgical poems. They teach us about God and our relationship with him. And by understanding that relationship we gain and understanding of how we must relate to God. The position our relationship demands is humility.
Another example of the necessity of a reading strategy. The Proverbs aren’t prophecies. Prophecies always come to pass–even though they are often misinterpreted. Proverbs 22.6 states–
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
This is a general principle but is not an ironclad prophetic statement. Everyone fails as a parent in one way or another, but many Christian parents have been harangued, and laden with guilt over this passage. But if we interpret it according to its literary type, then no unneeded weight needs to fall on our shoulders.
In the next few blogs I’ll be discussing this important topic. In the meantime, let me give you some quick homework. Pick any Old Testament genealogy from 1 Chronicles or 2 Chronicles and read it. Then try and figure our what the purpose of that genealogy is.