Bible Survey, A Big Screen Perspective - Lesson 4

Soul Food of the Poets

The Instructional Section (Job – Malachi) contains 22 books that we’ll break into two units: Poetical Books (5) and Prophetical Books (17). In the Foundational Section we engaged God’s compass-setting for his people and in the Historical Section we observed how the people did in relationship to the compass. In this section, we’ll see the peoples’ experience through the eyes of the poets, examine heart issues in that experience and feel both the encouragement and correction of good instruction. Welcome to the poets! Get ready for some soul food.

Bert Downs
Bible Survey, A Big Screen Perspective
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Soul Food of the Poets

Soul Food of the Poets

I. Historical review

II. Instructional section, poetic

A. Notes on five key verses

1. Job 19:25

2. Psalm 23

3. Proverbs 3:5-6

4. Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

5. Song of Solomon 8:6-7

B. Two kinds of literature (poetry) in this section

1. Psalms (praises)

2. Wisdom

3. The Bible's poetic literature emphasizes two aspects of worship: praises and godly living

4. The books in the Poetry section reflect on their hearts

C. Key words for the 5 poetical books

1. Job

2. Psalms

3. Proverbs

4. Ecclesiastes

5.Song of Solomon

III. Remember

  • In this first session, we’ll examine why having a “big screen” perspective for the entire Bible is so vital for all disciples and critical for those called to leadership. Through this journey, you’ll be introduced to the structure of your English Bible and how, in learning that structure, you can develop the skill necessary to manage the Bible’s content, purposes and applications throughout your life. You’ll also begin to learn how to use this big picture, Bible-management skill to enhance your own teaching and mentoring impact. Okay. This will be 30 fast minutes. Get your biblical track shoes on and get ready to run.

  • In our next 30-minute sprint we’ll explore the foundational books of the Old Testament. Known formally as the Pentateuch (literally, “the five books”), these writings set the course for our OT journey helping us understand the characteristics of the history we’ll examine later and the nature of the instruction being directed at the people living out that history. In these compass books we’ll see the plan of God with respect to his creation and then with his people, Israel. We’ll begin to understand how these writings reflect God’s desire to redeem his people from the consequences of original sin and transplant his character into that redeemed people, with the larger goal to offer redemption to all of mankind.

  • A Christian writer recently observed, “. . . among new Christians – and many older Christians as well – a relationship with God today is framed exclusively around beliefs that make little difference in the way we live.” It’s not a new reality as our trip through the Historical Books reveals. Our journey through this section covers about 1000 years during which you’ll see that reality at work: when belief and real-life connect the result is a culture of life, health and power, and when belief and everyday life disconnect, the result is selfishness, sickness and chaotic weakness. The key to watch for in these 12 books is how to the leaders and the people do in living out the foundational things recorded in Genesis through Deuteronomy.

  • The Instructional Section (Job – Malachi) contains 22 books that we’ll break into two units: Poetical Books (5) and Prophetical Books (17). In the Foundational Section we engaged God’s compass-setting for his people and in the Historical Section we observed how the people did in relationship to the compass. In this section, we’ll see the peoples’ experience through the eyes of the poets, examine heart issues in that experience and feel both the encouragement and correction of good instruction. Welcome to the poets! Get ready for some soul food.

  • The instruction of the prophets falls along two lines: the rewards for doing right (fulfilling foundational things) in God’s eyes and the necessary corrections when “wrong” becomes part of the picture. Within that paradigm we’ll find mixtures of judgment and promise, encouragement and warning, present and future. The prophets, an interesting lot often called on to not just speak but to live out their prophesies, consistently call the people of Israel to craft their present-day realities in light of the foundational aspects of Scripture and the future hope of promise. If you think of the poetical books as revealing the heart of the people in their history, then it would be equally helpful to think of the prophetical books as revealing the heart of God in that history.

  • The history found in the Old Testament comes to an end about 400 years before we take up the story of the New Testament. In between the testaments is a period often called the 400 silent years because by Jewish reckoning no prophets spoke in the land of Israel during this period. Well, it may be called silent, but as you’ll soon see, it is anything but that. Rather, it’s a dynamic period of conquest, political and religious developments, and conflict around compromising or not compromising the foundational values and traditions of Israel. It’s a period that has the feel of God setting the cultural/historical table for the coming of His Son.

  • Through the books that we know as the Gospels we enter into the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Each of the Gospel books – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – give us a different facet of this life that will change everything . . . but not without resistance as the one also called the Son of Man lives, teaches, touches and then gives His life a ransom for many . . . a ransom accepted by God the Father and affirmed in an ultimate miracle, Christ’s resurrection.

  • With Gospel foundations in place, the disciples have only to put Christ’s mandate – “go and make disciples” – into action. But all isn’t that simple. With numbers small, their leader in heaven and plenty of confusion and opposition to go around, it’s going to take some miracle level experiences to get these early leaders and the church they’re called to launch on the move. And as always, God delivers just what they need just when they need it with the result that a church explodes into the Roman Empire and beyond. Let’s see how it all happened.

  • Instruction comes in many forms. We’ve been using one form . . . the video classroom. Needless to say, it was a form not available to the early church leaders. If they wanted to minister to someone not in their presence, they had to rely on the most personal approach available next to an actual meeting – the personal letter. As we look at the 22 letters that make up the Instructional Section of the NT we need to remember that are just that . . . personal . . . letters . . . sent with love, care and concern to those bringing Christ’s life to His followers, the early church. And they bring that same personal love and concern to you and me.

  • We’ve arrived at our final review which will conclude with the biblical author Jude helping us see the importance of the outcomes of our Scripture-wide journey. Remember as you move on from these sessions, that review is a crucial element in making this big-picture tool your own. Some consistent review over the next few weeks, and you’ll be building on this tool for a lifetime of spiritual growth and ministry. Conversely, with no review the tool will slowly slip away and along with it, its value to the life and ministry the Lord has for you. The message? Just a little more personal investment (review) and the return on your investment will far exceed what you might have expected. Both your maturity in Christ and your ministry for Him will be the beneficiaries.

If you’ve never been confused when reading the Bible, you probably haven’t read very much of it. Though the Lord has made the good news of salvation, along with his attributes of compassion, justice, holiness, and love, quite clear in the pages of Scripture, not everything is easy to understand. One thing that can be especially difficult to grasp is how the different parts of the Bible fit together. How do the prophets, for example, fit into the narrative structure of the Old Testament? What role do the Psalms play? What does one do with books like Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes? And what do any of those books have to do with Christ and his Church?

In this ten-part Bible Survey course, Dr. Bert Downs, former executive director of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries and former president of Western Seminary, introduces you to the major themes of the Bible and helps you begin to see how the pieces fit together. This course will help you to appreciate both the diversity and the cohesiveness of the biblical texts and will provide the foundation you need to dive more confidently into the story of God and his people.

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Bible Survey: A Big Screen Approach - Student Guide

Bible Survey: A Big Screen Approach - Student Guide

Do you ever feel like your daily Bible reading is like creating post-it notes from your Bible journaling to cover your refrigerator, but that there is not much coherence...

Bible Survey: A Big Screen Approach - Student Guide

Here we are in the fourth session together. We have worked our way through a session on the biggest possible picture of all, the whole structure as it were, and we are going to take a review of that in just a second. We took a look at the foundational section: five books, Genesis through Deuteronomy with people and themes; and we saw how those people and things began to set, as it were, compasses that carried the way through all of the scriptures. Then we moved to the historical section in our last time together and we took a look at the books there, that start with Joshua and end with Esther. There we looked particularly at leadership because it seems there that one of the things that plays out is that the character of leadership has huge influence on the people. How that goes seems to influence how the people go. Even when the people are doing well, there are still struggles. When the people are doing very poorly, it seems there are people that do remain faithful in those difficult times. So we always need to keep that in perspective along the way as we look at this.

Some of the general things we looked at help us to see how when the foundational things are in place, in general the people follow the Lord, their lives are much more stable, much more impacting, much more harmonious, if you will. When the foundational things begin to fall apart, then those things begin to disappear. The judges, of course, would be one of the great examples of that, where eventually we could say that just about everybody did their own thing. Whatever was right in their eyes was right. As a result, you have this huge period of chaos, which did repeat itself a few times during the historical period.

If we think about the biggest possible picture, we will just kind of review that together. We have the Bible with 66 books. We have the big section we call The Old Testament, or the Hebrew scriptures. That was the Bible basically that Jesus and the Apostles had. We saw we have 39 books in this section. We divided it into three pieces. The first piece we called foundational, and there were five books there – Genesis through Deuteronomy. The second section we call historical, there were 12 books there – Joshua through Esther.

Instructional (22)

We are now moving into the last section, that we call instructional, where there are 22 books. We are going to divide that into two sections. This time together we will look at the poetical books. Next time when we are together, we will look at the prophetical books. We will treat this, because of the large number of books, with kind of a different approach, we will take this in two pieces.

We have 39 books total in The Old Testament; five in the first section, 12 in the next section and then 22 in the last section; a total of 39. In The New Testament we have three parallel pieces. In The New Testament we have 27 books. In the first, foundational section, we have what we call the gospels – all about the life of Christ. Then we have a section called Acts. There we see the people who were instructed in this foundational section, living out foundational things and the history therein. Then we have another piece called the instructional section. Here we have letters from key people, letters from Paul, letters from Peter and John and others. They are giving instructions to the people living out these foundational things in their history.

I’m sure by now you are realizing that is really kind how it works in our time; that in fact when we become followers of Christ, foundational things become really important. We need to understand those and we are going to begin to apply those in our history in our families, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our lives, in our raising of children later on. Whatever history our lives move into, these foundational things are going to be very present there. Their presence is going to be crucial in how we impact that history. We’re not going to handle them perfectly, so we are going to need encouragement to stay on target when we are on target and we are going to need correction when we are off target. That is what the letters do. The letters begin to give us instruction, “Here is how you live this Christ life in this history, your history, and here are corrective things when you get off target.” At the end of these we have the book of Revelation where it ends with, here is what you are looking toward, here is the promise. Eventually the creative God that we met is going to create again. He is going to create a new heaven and a new earth, and a place for you and me, a place for his family of people who have followed Him throughout history. It will be a new heaven and a new earth. In effect, you and I will return to the garden as followers of Christ. It is a powerful, powerful journey we are working out as we work our way through this. We have a lot of great things to do when we get to The New Testament later; but that is kind of how it looks in terms of the biggest picture along the way.

In the historical section we looked at some books, Joshua through Esther. We want to keep track of them when we talk about the poetical books. Remember about Joshua and Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. I want you to know them. You know that by now. I want you to know them. Get them down. Be able to talk your way through them.

Back in The Old Testament days when I taught umpteen seminars all over the place, one of the things I had people do, early in the seminar I would say, “Let’s get up and say the names of the Bible books together. I will start you out and then I’ll stop and you just continue on. When you get to a place where you don’t know what the next book is, I want you to sit down.” I would start with “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers…” Somewhere along there I would stop. I taught hundreds of Walk Thru The Bible seminars over the years I was with them. Probably no more than a dozen times did I have someone standing at the end. You may say, “That’s no big deal,” but yes, it is. We are going through the most foundational thing of managing scripture. If we are going to manage it, we need to know the pieces of it and to know them well. I’ve said it before, you have heard me, but I will say it again: Please take the time to do that. Don’t con yourself saying, “Oh man, Galations, where do I find that? Where is that?” Don’t have to go into the prophets and dust them off. Visit them once in a while, remember their names. It will help along the way.

That is why I go through these things and remind you once in a while because I really don’t just want you to go through the content and say, “That was really good.” I actually want you to take the time and make it part of your life, so much a part of your life that you could even teach it. That on a given day you could sit down with a napkin in a restaurant and that person across from you may show interest and is sitting right there; and you could draw out the whole way the Bible fits together and probably could do it in 15 minutes or less. That is what I hope for you. Not because that is a big deal in and of itself, but because that leads to things that are very important in your spiritual growth.

Poetry (5)

Preaching over. We need to move on in this. We move to the poetical section. This is a certain kind of literature in this instructional world that we are in. This instructional world does not advance the story, it amplifies the story. It speaks into the story. It considers these foundational things. It considers the lives they lived; and it takes what is going on and it speaks into that. Are you doing well? I want to encourage you doing well. You’re off track? There are ways you can get back on track. That is a simplification and maybe even a gross one; but that is basically what is going on here. The poet is reflecting the hearts of the people as they interact with God and with each other and experience this foundational life, as it were; sometimes experiencing it powerfully, sometimes experiencing it with questions; sometimes experiencing it in other ways.

The prophet is looking at the same kind of thing and saying, “Wow, they are really on track.” You notice in Joshua there is not a lot of prophetical stuff going on. But get down into some of these other difficult times and you will find prophets; not just ones who wrote, but others like Elijah and Elisha, and Moses was a prophet. Nathan was a prophet in David’s time, and others who apparently did not leave any writings behind, at least that we have gathered, but who spoke nevertheless prophetically into their time. So that is their role. These were great people. If you study them long enough, you realize they kind of saw themselves in a fraternity. It is pretty clear that prophets knew what other prophets said; that they kept track of these things; that they didn’t see themselves standing alone. It is a generational thing. Remember? Generations. They saw themselves in a long line of generations of people who spoke God’s word into a culture that needed it, mostly in times of crisis. They were crucial throughout major portions of this history, these prophets, as we see next session when we take a look at them.

This session we want to stay in the realm of poetry. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. In this session I generally quote C. H. Bullock, who was the editor and author of “An Introduction to The Old Testament Poetical Books” who wrote the following about this section. After awhile you are going to figure out that every one of these sections is really important. Whoever writes about them thinks they are probably the most important section ever. He says: “The Old Testament books considered in this volume (that is, the books of poetry) contain some of the most powerful literature of human history.” And it is true. When you look at secular literature from human history, you will be hard pressed through much of it that is considered classical, not to find references that come out of these sections. Odd as it seems, a guy like Shakespeare was pretty well versed in the scripture. You will find others in the same way. These particular items are powerful well beyond just the context in which we are going to look at them today. The ideas they treat are among the most cogent that human hearts have ever entertained.

These books are not historically oriented. We already know that. They are not historically oriented, they do not advance the history. In fact, with the exception of the Psalms, they are relatively devoid of historical allusions. But while they do not reflect upon historical events – listen to this – they are alive with historical history. That is because they reveal the hearts and the lives of the people who are living this out. They grasp for and grapple with those essential concepts that set the Hebrew faith apart from that of its neighbors and insure its survival in a pantheistic, power greedy world. We talked about that world, didn’t we, when we talked about culture in relationship to the foundational things.

You could write some of these things. You are beginning to get a lot of this that these experts who have written brilliant volumes have talked about in more detailed ways, but with not more understanding than you are picking up, as we move along here; just more details to the understanding, which of course is very important.

Let’s take a look at this. We have reviewed the biggest possible picture. We understand some of this. I want to take a look first at where these books fit, where these poetical books fit in this history. Remember, we took the kings and the leaders and we fit them into this; you kind of know how that worked. Joshua, Judges and Ruth in books that were reflective of their names. Saul, David, Solomon and Samuel basically in I and II Samuel, I Kings and I Chronicles. In the divided kingdom and the period of the exile and Israel being scattered; all of that, the divided kingdom, they end up in II Kings and II Chronicles. Then the period of the return, we find basically in Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. So we put that all together and saw how the leadership and the following of foundational things impacted the people. That is the main thing that we tried to do. When the foundational things are being fulfilled, the people seem to do really well. When the foundational things are off kilter, oftentimes because the leadership is off kilter, then the people follow that. So it becomes a very important aspect that we watch through the course of scripture. Foundational things keep us on target. I have said it a couple of times and I’ll say it again: It’s about the people of God staying in tune with the program of God, so that the promises of God are fulfilled in their lives and in the future. That is what we want to watch for here.

With Job we have the same thing going on, only it is a poetical way. It doesn’t speak to history so much as to the hearts of the people living out history. If you get the handle on it, it will be great. Job is probably the oldest book in our Bible. By looking at the history, Job quite likely fits somewhere in the time that would be Genesis related. It is a very early book. We cannot judge it any other way than just to watch what it says, how the people lived, what is going on, what was the style of the culture. We find ourselves saying, “It has to be back here somewhere, very old book.”

Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Not totally, but in a majority way, fit in the united kingdom period. The united kingdom period we realize included I Samuel and II Samuel and I Kings and I Chronicles, the period of Samuel and Saul and David and Solomon. That is not totally true. Some of the psalms were written by Moses; but in general we find the psalms getting shaped in this period of time. This period of time had some exception to it. For instance, under Saul as king, this period of time was nevertheless a period in which probably Israel reached its pinnacle. If you use the common term today of top performance, they are at their best, etc., etc. This period of time would certainly be viewed as that. The kingdom was at its strongest, most effective, probably during the reign of David and early into the reign of Solomon. Before David and during the latter part of Solomon, we find it sketchy on the edges. Nevertheless, it is where this poetry fits and it begins to reflect the people who are living out foundational things in this history. It does not reflect so much on the history of them doing it, on the facts of them doing it, it reflects on the hearts of them doing it, if that makes sense. Let’s take a look at each one. I would like to just reflect on each of these if I could, in ways that I hope get a sense of each.


We will start with Job, this very old and ancient book. What was Job all about? I need to say enough, but I can’t say too much. We need to live with that reality. If I was going to write a note to myself of how to remember Job, both the book and the person, I think I would write two words: Enduring faithfully. Many of you that are watching this and engaging with us here, you know the story. It is the story of a faithful man who experienced great blessings from God, who following an interaction in heaven between Satan and the Lord, was put through a series of tests. Those tests stripped him down to basically all he has left is his life. He loses his things, he loses his family, he loses his stature in the community. Everything is taken away from him. He loses his health. Sometimes when you are reading this, you wonder if he hasn’t begun to lose his mind. Even his friends have moved away from being his friends. It is a horrendous tale. It is in three parts and that is the first part of the tale. You’re left going, “Wow, this faithful guy has just had his life ransacked.” Of course, Satan’s claim is, “God, the only reason he loves you is because of the stuff you gave him. If you took all of this stuff away, he wouldn’t love you.” So, God says, “Okay, everything but his life.”

The second part of this finds him in that condition. Everything has been stripped away. Some people, ostensibly friends, have come to interact with him. They interact with him and the interaction with him ranges from somewhat friendly to increasingly critical of who he is and how he is handling it. Admittedly he has questions about what is going on. But he really never moves away from his positional faithfulness. In fact, in the midst of it all, in chapter 19 of Job, in the center of all of this criticism that has been going on around him, “For I know that my Redeemer lives and at last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed…” - remember, he is falling apart – “that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart yearns within me!” I think his heart is fainting within him; one, because of the pressures of his reality and the other, because of the marvelous thought that he has at this point. It is hard to conceive of.

What I want you to see, by the way, is this is a Jesus glimpse. He is saying, “I am really going to see my Redeemer in the flesh, even though my flesh is eroding away.”I think he is probably thinking, “I am headed for the grave. Even with that, there will be a day, in my flesh, when I will see my Redeemer and will see Him face to face.” Wow! If you look back at that through the eyes of Jesus, you realize that what he has is a glimpse of that reality. If you go to the end of Revelation, chapter 22, of the many great things that will be our experience in the new heaven and the new earth, the writer says, “The people there will see His face, they will see Him face to face.” Job, clear back here, is simply stating that reality. He has come to see a glimpse of the truth that is going to be an unfolding truth through the ages and ultimately brought to consummation when God brings an end to this world and creates a new heaven and a new earth. Isn’t that a marvelous thing?

So in the midst of all of this pressure, he is now hanging onto one key thing that you and I are called to hang onto. That is the sense that he has of the promise of God, that he will one day in effect be resurrected, that he will one day in the flesh see the God that he has followed and worshiped, the God that he believes will be his Redeemer, even though everything around him is falling apart. That is faithfully enduring. Does he have questions? Yes, he has questions. Does he struggle? Yes, he struggles. Is he pounded by the criticism of his friends? Yes, he absolutely is. And eventually in this section, his engagement becomes with God, where God asks him questions. “Where were you when I created the universe?” He challenges Job in terms of his own thinking, with those challenges related to God’s creative powers and Job remains pretty silent. God begins to challenge him regarding his own personal powers and his own engagement with the world that Job lives in. Job begins to be humbled by God’s challenge and eventually in the end submits himself to God. “God, you are God.” This is the key to the whole book of Job. The key phrase is “sovereignty.” The key understanding is the sovereignty of God. Job comes to understand that God has the right to do what he wants to do in the lives of his people because He is God. And because God takes Job through hard times, difficult times, more difficult than we can imagine, it does not therefore excuse Job to step away from that reality, to deny that God is God. In fact, Job hangs onto that reality and it becomes the turning point for him. The book ends with restoration, as it were, renewal of Job’s life and a restoration of the life he was living.

I want you to see, it is not unlike a spiritual journey that you and I might have. Many of the elements of it can become part of our life. Great blessings, difficult times that you wrestle with. How are we going to deal with the difficult times? Are we going to stay with the foundational things and the foundational understandings? Are we going to believe God is interested? If it does not turn out the way we expect it to turn out, are we going to look beyond all of this to the promises and believe in those promises, like the ones that he talked about at the end of Revelation – a new heaven, a new earth, no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears, seeing Him face to face, life forever, etc. Make those the things that we focus on and we stay on track with the foundational things, like he did. That is Job. That is the book of Job for us. Being one of the earliest books, I think it shows us basically this pattern that becomes so prominent through all of the rest of it. Sometimes I think we get lost in Job, that we don’t see that along the way. It is a marvelous, marvelous book that speaks to us in a powerful way. It even shows us glimpses of what will be fulfilled through the life of Jesus Christ. You can kind of see how important this is in this whole scenario.


Next we have the book of Psalms. Psalms is basically 150 poems. This is a wonderful book. If you took votes on favorite books among Christians, you would find that Psalms probably would be at the top of the list or at least near the top of the list for most people. The reason for that is because the Psalms are very much a heart book. They oftentimes without prejudice or bias or judgment, simply present what is going on in the hearts of the people of the age. Sometimes what is going on is great blessing, like Job had early in his life. You reflect on those blessings. Sometimes what is going on is great pain inflicted by enemies and other things of life, and it reflects that. Sometimes it is hope, sometimes it is disappointment, sometimes it is leadership and sometimes it is the world suddenly going askew; and the person looking at it is wondering what is going on. It is really all of the elements of life, is it not? That is why it is so powerful. When you think of a couple of familiar ones like Psalm 23: “The person says, “The Lord is my shepherd.” You can almost feel the person. These are books with feeling. Yes, they have content. Yes, they have even history. But that is not the purpose. These are books that give you the sense of feelings in the hearts of the people of the time.

“The Lord is my shepherd.” What does that mean? It means that I shall not want. He will lead me into green pastures. He will lead me by still waters. Taking the shepherding theme to follow up: Provision. Security. Safety. “He will lead me in paths of righteousness.” Life forever. Foundational things. “For His name’s sake.” “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” - and maybe I do it because of stupid things I do – “He will be with me. His rod and his staff they will protect me. He will prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” He will bless my life even when I am surrounded by enemies. He will provide to such a degree that my cup runneth over. Wow! Imagine that. “Surely goodness and mercy” – God’s grace and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. Listen to this again. There is a promise here. What does He look at? “And I will dwell” - where? “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” You have all of the elements there of the sense of God’s provision, of the sense of care, the sense of even going through tough times in the valley of the shadow of death. The sense of all of that, and yet God’s presence is very much there. That is all over the Psalms. They are all linked to foundational things and particularly to promises. In the end, God is going to fulfill what he promises. What a powerful, powerful book this is. You can see some of the marvelous things here. There are themes like One God, creation, sin, celebration, royal things and prophetic things, curses, confession. It covers the spectrum of human feelings and relationships, the times that people lived and the God that they called upon. Sometime we will have to come to the Psalms and we will just do a Walk Thru The Psalms. That would be good.

The key theme is worship. The Psalms are all about worship. That is the great thing about them, that they teach you about worship. I am still trying to learn after lots of years of walking this earth. These psalms touch on myriads of areas of life, both positive and negative, both success and failures, all sorts of things, blessings and challenge, all over the map. You realize, once you look at them, every element of life is meant to be an element of worship. It is a sad reality when you and I boil worship down to an hour on Sunday morning, because that is not how it is. Sometimes I even wonder how worshipful that Sunday morning actually is. What the Psalms do is they take all of life and the elements of life, all that come from the hand of God, and they say, all of these things, these foundational things, all of these things become worship. All of these things point to the worthiness of God. Job, who had his life fall apart, says, “I know that I will see my Redeemer.” I’m not going to let go of that. I may question things, I may struggle with things, but there are things I am not going to let go of. God has called for reality in terms of our lack of worship. It is hard. God comes and says, “Job, really?” Finally Job humbles himself and says “yes” without really seeing the whole of it, but “I respond to you, God, in worship through all of this.” Then these foundational things unfold in Job’s life in restorative and promise driven ways. This is a picture of things, just like in the Psalms.

So as we go through life, one of the things to learn as followers of God and followers of Jesus, is this thing that life here is really meant for worship. How I spend my money; how I govern my thoughts; how I shape my words; actions of my life; what I portray as important to other people. All of these things are worship items when we see them rightly.

So that is the Psalms. That is why people love them. Even people outside the family of God love the Psalms. Because of that, the Psalms are a great tool in our being able to influence the lives of those outside the family who need to be inside the family. Because of that, the author that I read to you, his comments in terms of the ideas in this same series is absolutely right. These show up in literature all over the place. These show up in quotes that people make when I don’t even think they know what they are quoting. We can use these things in powerful ways.


This is mostly poetry. This is not poetic in a sense, but it is wisdom in literature. So if you are taking notes for yourself, what I want you to write down is the idea that this is “wisdom literature.” This wisdom literature really addresses ways that the people could live out foundational things in this history. Wisdom literature is more didactic. It is more teaching. We have a number of sayings, as it were, that grow out of history, in that they become gems, nuggets that helped the people then and they help us now, think through how we live out many of these foundational things. So we move away from the Psalms that were more heart and emotion, we move to the Proverbs where it is more mind and will. For instance, there is “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, He will make your paths straight.” What he is doing, he is speaking into our minds and will about, are we willing to do this? Are we willing to bring the principle to play in living this out? Do we think that trusting in the Lord with all of our heart, which means not leaning on my own understanding of things; and in all my ways as I live out life, acknowledging Him, do we think that that will actually make a path for us that gets us to the place where we hope to be and where God wants us to be? The author is saying, “Yes, it will.”

You see how there is interplay now between God and man. God is going to do something, but I have to take action too. Wisdom says, “Find out some ways to learn that I need, to learn how to live, and that is what I’m going to do.” Interestingly, Psalm 23 that I mentioned in the last piece, has this. Remember, it says that “I shall not want…He shall make me to lie down in green pastures….leads me by still waters…restoreth my soul…leads me in paths of righteousness.” Here the wisdom literature has the same appeal to it, doesn’t it? These are ways that you can keep yourself on a path that is a path that will explore these foundational things and take you to the destination that you deeply desire.

So the wisdom literature plays its way out in that regard. It’s theme I guess, if I had to put it into a few words, other than the word “wisdom,” I would say, “living skills for life.” These are all about having skills to live. They speak to various areas of life where we need these skills. I need to say this up front, some of these things are obscure. I think in some of them, maybe the meanings have been lost over time in history a little bit. You have to be careful of them; and I would say to you as a student, don’t try to read them in one dose. Probably there is nothing more deadly than reading 150 Proverbs in a row. Take it in pieces; and as we have been learning these pieces, try to begin to recognize some of this in the Proverbs. So you can go, “Oh, I think I have seen a piece of that” like we just connected Psalm 23 and a verse from Proverbs 3 in terms of that path notion, leading us on paths. Begin to see the connecting points and then these Proverbs will begin to make huge sense to you. They will be powerful in your life. It is a wonderful book, but it is a book that needs to be studied in that kind of way, I think.

So we have Job, which has a man living out foundational things, though these probably have not been described yet when Job exists. He is still living those things out, either by instinct or by God’s direct involvement with him, we don’t know. He lives them out when he is blessed and he lives them out when he is not blessed. He shows us the importance of acknowledging who God is, that God is God, no matter what; and I am going to live under that.

Psalms takes us into the hearts of people who are living basically in this era which has some good and some bad. It reflects on their lives, how they feel about it and how they emotionally deal with it, questions they have and the hopes that they have; all of those things and the things that they rely on. These become almost attractive and pulling, like a magnet in some respects. We go “Wow! This is what these people were feeling.” It tells us a lot again about this history, even though it is not particularly historical in some sense.

The Proverbs become kind of teaching elements back into this time. They are much more instructional, helping us to live skillfully.


That takes us into Ecclesiastes, which frankly is one of my favorite books in The Old Testament, though I must admit it is a little bit of a crazy book. The author is interesting. He is kind of challenging at times. You look at the life that he portrays, it makes you wonder about him a little. Many people think it was Solomon, and it probably was. It was certainly an author who had a lot of experience with life and who purposed to have a lot of experience with life we ought to say, probably good and bad. He writes about it.

You have this marvelous, marvelous reality here. Let me just read a piece of Ecclesiastes for you. Ecclesiastes 3:1-3, which kind of really is part of a key piece of Ecclesiastes. The author writes: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up what has been planted, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up….” and there are several verses which follow, that follow that pattern. One of the well known pieces out of The Old Testament and again, in literature well beyond The Old Testament.

What it does is helps us see that this author is helping us focus on seasons of life. He is saying that there are seasons of life and those seasons of life present different opportunities, present different moods. He reflects on that all through the reality of Ecclesiastes, where he talks about things that seasons could bring. He literally devotes himself to many of those things. I cannot cover them all, but stick with me for a minute. If you know Ecclesiastes, he devotes himself to relationships. He devotes himself to education. He devotes himself to work. He devotes himself to wealth. He devotes himself to pleasure. He devotes himself to power and position. He devotes himself really to all of the stuff, if we look at all of history, that many men of history, many of them, have devoted themselves to.

With this author you get the sense that with all of these things, when he devotes himself to that thing, he is all in. It is not like he is just a little bit devoted to it, he is “I’m all in with this thing.” So we have these experiences : Well, maybe life is this, maybe life is this, maybe this season is really this, maybe this season is really this, maybe this is really this. Do you suppose there were people doing that? I think. He says that all of those points of devotion were all vanity. “Vanity”is the key word; if you’re writing key words, this is the key word. He says it over and over again. “I went after relationships and I went in deep and at the end, here is what I discovered, it’s vanity. I went after money and I went in deep and here is what I discovered, it’s vanity. I went into knowing everything that I could know; and at the end I knew a ton and it was all vanity.” Vanity here means “empty.”

When all was said and done, it didn’t do for me what I hoped. It left me empty. It is a powerful thought, is it not? Oftentimes in my own life I have come to ask myself – and it’s a question that you and I as followers of the Lord have to ask often of ourselves – what am I giving my life to? It is so easy to get off track. It is so easy to just slip over to giving our lives to something that in the end will prove to be emptiness. What am I giving my life to? In the end, here is what he says: “The conclusion of everything, when all is heard, is this: “Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to everybody.” What he means there when he says, “This applies to everybody,” is, if you go back to what he devoted himself to. If wealth was really what made it right for people, then people would have no hope, but because not everybody is going to be wealthy. Great relationships? If multiple relationships made it right with people, people would have no hope because not everybody is going to experience that. Or if being the most educated person on the planet was what it meant, not many people would reach that, they would have no hope because of that. So what the author says is, “I have finally come to realize that what is important is the thing that can make everybody hopeful and help everybody to reach the promises of these foundational things. He states, this is what it is: “Fear God, reverence God, know who God is and obey his commandments. “ Follow Him. Fulfill the foundational things. Because, he says, everyone, no matter education, no matter status, no matter relationships, no matter money, no matter anything else, everyone can have this applied to their life and therefore have hope and be successful. Powerful, powerful piece, is it not? That is the book of Ecclesiastes.

Song of Solomon

The last book is Song of Solomon. I am not going to linger over that. It is a short book. Again, it is a book that has probably been interpreted myriad ways. It really though is about living in a marriage relationship. Frankly, that is the bottom line of it. Yes, it probably pictures God’s love for His people. It may, in some interesting way, even picture Christ’s love for the church and many interpreters try to avoid the implications of the book and give it a different spin. But the implications of the book are, this is really about two people who fall in love, court one another, get engaged and get married and consummate the marriage. That is the book. It shows the importance of faithfulness and love and many of these foundational things that we talked about. And it shows this in great emotional words and terms and sometimes crazy comparisons. Read the book yourself. Go to chapter 4 and read the comparisons that are made of what one lover thinks of the other and how that is described and you’ll go, “You must be kidding me! These don’t sound very loving to me.” But probably if they lived in our time, they would be confused by our words, too. The point is that marriage and the love that goes with it is a huge building block in God’s economy. It is marvelous and special and its tenets from the foundational things are keys to it. That is what the Song of Solomon gives us. Keys words, if you will, for the Song of Solomon would be love and marriage.

I want you to keep working on remembering books. Remember the books, the foundational things, historical books. Now we have added five more, Job through Song of Solomon, and some of the key aspects of that. Some themes are basically marriage being an incredible gift from God, founded on the foundational elements that we have already looked at, elements like faithfulness, trust, loyalty and love. Marriage is undoubtedly a symbolic image of the relationship between God and his people and certainly The New Testament does confirm that. We do have glimpses of that along the way.

That has been a dynamic session. Next time with the prophets, we will wrap up the instructional group and finish our journey through The Old Testament together. See you next time.

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