Lesson 6: Job, Psalms, Proverbs

Job: (42 chapters; 500 to 400 B.C.)

The book of Job offers the most profound treatment of the problem of evil that is to be found in world literature. The author questions the traditional view found in some Psalms and in the Deuteronomic History that the good prosper in this life and the wicked are punished. He sees that life does not always work out that way, for often the wicked prosper and the good suffer. If God is good, which he is, then how is this possible?

In the first two chapters we learn that Job, a wealthy and pious man, was deprived of his children and all his possessions, and afflicted with a serious disease, in order that a dispute between Yahweh and Satan about the sincerity of Job's virtue might be settled. There follows a long dialogue between Job and his four wise friends about whether or not Job's sufferings are the result of his sins. Job protests his innocence from beginning to end. His friends argue that he must have sinned because he is now being punished.

The climax is reached in ch. 38 when Yahweh speaks twice, Job answers and submits to God totally. The story ends happily when God blessed Job, restores him to his former state of prosperity, and increases his wealth twofold.

Job comes to the realization that human reason alone and wisdom cannot solve the riddle of evil. In his words to Job, God stresses the point that, if he cannot fathom the mysteries of the visible creation, then it should be clear that he cannot understand God's mysterious ways with man. So the book does not offer a theoretical solution to the problem of evil. Job's experience is presented not as a way to understand evil, but as a way to live with it.

As a result of his experience of God, Job is able to live with evil. The conclusion of the book of Job is that only faith in God and his goodness makes evil tolerable. From nature and revelation man can know something about God, but ultimately God and his ways with man are and remain mysterious. Faith with complete trust in God is the only way to bridge the gap between the temporal world of man and the eternal life of God.

Psalms: (150 Psalms; 1000 to 250 B.C.)

The main theme of the psalms is that the Lord God of Israel reigns supreme over the heavens and the earth and he is the Lord of history. There are two ways to live or two types of human beings: the good and the wicked, the just and the unjust.

The 150 Psalms were the hymnbook of the Jewish people. They give expression to every sentiment of the human heart from joy and adoration, to fear and despair. They fall into certain identifiable categories. The main four are: hymns of praise of the God of Israel, lamentations and pleas for deliverance, hymns of thanksgiving, and royal psalms.

The basic structure of most of the psalms is quite simple: 1) state the theme of praise or thanks or lament; 2) give the reason(s) for the invocation; 3) state what God has or has not done for the one invoking him; 4) repeat the theme with the assurance that God will respond favorably. They are poetry rather than prose and are all prayers.

The most important theological concept in the psalms is that of God's "steadfast love" which is expressed by the Hebrew word hesed. This idea is found in all five books of the Psalter and is often paired with "faithfulness" (Hebrew: 'emet).

The psalms are quoted in the NT more frequently than any other book of the OT. Jesus quotes them as referring to Himself (e.g., Ps. 8:2 in Matt. 21:16); the evangelists apply many psalms to Jesus, especially in reference to His royal dignity and His passion (see Pss. 2, 8, 16, 22, 69, 110, 118). The early Christian Church adopted the psalms for its own use. Some are interpreted in the NT in a Messianic sense (Pss. 2, 22, 89, 1 10) others were understood in an eschatological way because they sing of the Lord's reign as King over the whole world on the last day (Pss. 47; 93, 96-99).

The psalms are used in the liturgy of the Church every day--at Mass and in the Breviary. Here is a short list of psalms which are in different categories: 1) Hymns of praise: 8,67-68, 113-1 14, 145-150; 2) Lamentation: 3, 5, 6-7, 42-44, 51, 79-80, 102, 109, 130, 140-143; 3) Thanksgiving: 23, 34, 67, 107, 116, 136; 4) Wisdom: 1, 14, 19:8-14, 49, 53, 73, 112, 119, 127-128; 5) Liturgical: 15, 24, 134; 6) Prophetic 50, 75, 82; 7) Historical Meditations: 78, 105-106.

There are five books of psalms, with words of praise at the conclusion of each book: Book I = 1-41; Book II = 42-72; Book III = 73-89; Book IV = 90-106; Book V = 107-150.

Proverbs: (31 chapters; completed in 5th century B.C.)

The main theme of the book of Proverbs is that the "fear of the Lord" is the beginning of wisdom. "Fear" in this context means reverence, awe and respect for the almighty God who is the creator of heaven and earth. It consists primarily in keeping God's law as revealed through Moses and in observing the law of nature.

The book begins with a nine chapter poem on the value of wisdom. It is written as instruction of a father to his son or a teacher to his pupil. The heart of the book is contained in the two collections of sayings or proverbs of Solomon (375 sayings in 10:1 to 22:16, and 128 sayings in 25:1 to 29:27). The book closes with a beautiful portrait of the ideal wife and what a treasure she is to her husband. The book of Proverbs is the Bible's compendium or summary of practical wisdom.

Proverbs are wise sayings, usually brief, which communicate knowledge about right living. Hebrew proverbs often consist of two lines of equal length. The synonymous proverb expresses the same thought in both lines; the antithetical proverb offers a contrast, such as good and evil (Ps. 1), the wise and the foolish, the virtuous and the corrupt.

All true wisdom comes ultimately from God, but it is found in the laws of nature and in the Torah or Law of Moses. Certain themes keep recurring: one should respect one's parents and teachers; keep the tongue under control and be sparing of words; do not easily trust others and be careful about your friends; avoid women of loose morals, excessive drinking of wine, and the company of fools; practice all the virtues, especially humility, prudence, justice, temperance and obedience. Family values are stressed; both father and mother should be involved in the instruction of their children (1:8).

One of the high points of the book is the personification of wisdom found in the poems in the first nine chapters. There wisdom is described as a companion of God from the beginning--this is a personification of wisdom of God and prepares the people of God for the revelation of Jesus that he is indeed the wisdom of God in Person, the Second Person of the blessed Trinity. The book of Proverbs is quoted 14 times in the NT. It influenced the construction of the Eight Beatitudes in Matt. 5; we also find traces of it in the letter of James, 1 & 2 Peter and in the letters of St. Paul.

Reading Assignment

Read Job, Proverbs and the Psalms mentioned in this essay. Consult a commentary on the Psalms and read what it says about your favorite Psalms.

Writing Assignment

Write as essay of about 1000 words on the problem of evil in Job, or the notion of wisdom in Proverbs, or an explanation of your favorite Psalm, such as 23, "The Lord Is My Shepherd."


Read two or three articles on wisdom in the OT in a good dictionary of the Bible, such as Dictionary of the Bible by John McKenzie.


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