Let me here set forth some early thoughts–a hypothesis which needs to be substantiated, but a guide for my research.
The wisdom of Proverbs is not always taken with the subtlety of Solomon, and some measure of that subtlety is required. I myself have been exposed to people who do not take Proverbs in the way it is intended. These people take the statements of Proverbs as absolute guarantees even when the book itself is set against this. I have also found, especially among reformed believers, the silly idea that there are no limits to the wisdom of a believer. We have, after all, the mind of Christ–they’ll say. If you talk to some of them about the possibility of Romney’s candidacy, they are worried that he’s a Mormon for this very reason: they’d rather have a Christian, as if a Christian knew more about being a president. I chalk it up to all this silly talk of worldview–the concept has its uses, but it is used to explain too much, like the Enlightenment.
So there is needed a hermeneutical guide to Proverbs, a post-exilic reminder of what perhaps we can call the darker side of the Solomonic teaching and a further guide to wisdom. This is Ecclesiastes and it emphasizes, not the uselessness of proverbs, but the limitations of the wise, of temporal beings, of what we can know (perhaps I ought to say a limit to the benefits of wisdom too). Take, for instance, Ecclesiastes 2:14
The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness:
So far, so clear; nothing could be more proverbial. But that’s not where the verse ends, nor the thought, which is most Ecclesiastical:
and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.
There is the adding of nuance, the placing of the thing in a broader context, the addition of another consideration. The wise have an advantage, but lets further consider the fact of mortality, says the preacher. He returns to the limits of man.
Having assimilated this truth in Ecclesiastes, we then have Job. I am making no statement on the time of the writing of Job. Perhaps that plays into it, but I don’t really see that it has to, though it is one of the things I need to look into. I’m just placing the lesson of Job in a sequence with these other books of wisdom literature.
What does Job add? What Job’s friends knew was the proverbial wisdom hardened into retribution theology. Job has the advantage over them of the perspective of Ecclesiastes. Job knows he is not suffering for any wrong he has done. Job’s mistake is not to acknowledge the mystery of God. He goes where Qohelet only suggested and did not so boldly approach; Job charges God with injustice, capriciousness–in other words–forgetting God’s goodness. If Ecclesiastes is about the limits of man’s wisdom, then Job is about the fundamental incomprehensibleness of God, and the question that separates believer from unbeliever: is an infinite and therefore incomprehensible God still infinitely good?
Now back to the research to see how that will modify my hypothesis.