While the historical books of the Old Testament tell the story of the nation of Israel, the poetic books, often referred to as wisdom books, focus not on God’s people as a whole, but on the individual. Much of the Old Testament centers on the twelve tribes of the Hebrew race and the land they occupied; in contrast, the five poetic or wisdom books are concerned with the human heart and the drama of life common among us all. We might say these books are experiential in nature. The five books categorized as poetic or wisdom literature are as follows: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.
The descriptor poetic refers to literary form, yet many of the Old Testament prophets, whose works are not included in this category, also used poetry in the conveyance of their messages. Again, what sets these five books apart is their portrayal of the human experience—joy, love, pleasure, heartbreak, pain, relationships, loss, suffering, doubt, decision-making, and each individual’s need for intimacy with God. While Isaiah and Jeremiah cried out to a nation, the writings of the poetic books are intensely personal. Figuratively speaking, God’s prophets spoke through megaphones while God’s poets often spoke in whispers.
Job: Possibly the oldest book of the Bible, readers are given a ringside seat to the cosmic battle between good and evil. The story begins with Job, a righteous man of considerable influence, who loses everything—his children, his property, his physical health, his reputation, and, sadly, his wife’s support and encouragement. As to the age-old question why good people sometimes suffer, the book of Job reveals Satan may be the source of our woes, but we also learn that our adversary is tethered, and his attacks cannot exceed limits set by God. Considered by many as the pinnacle of poetic literature, the book of Job gives hope in times of suffering while addressing life’s thorniest issues.
Psalms: Commonly referred to as God’s hymnal, the book of Psalms is a collection of poetry penned by several writers over a span of about a thousand years. King David was the most prolific of the psalmists; Moses is credited with Psalm 90. Psalm 72 and 127 were penned by David’s son Solomon. Many of the psalmists were priests or Levites who led the sacred temple worship. The 150 psalms cover such topics as the magnificence of creation, the praiseworthiness of God, the coming of Israel’s Messiah, the apparent prosperity of evil persons, sin, forgiveness, righteous living, repentance, joy, and the unwavering faithfulness of God. One passage universally loved is Psalm 23, yet every psalm without exception is capable of stirring even the most worn and wearied of human hearts.
Proverbs: Known as God’s treasury of wisdom, it would be nearly impossible to find a topic not mentioned in this vast collection of wise sayings written primarily by King Solomon. Matters pertaining to personal conduct, sexual relations, business, wealth, charity, ambition, discipline, debt, child-rearing, character, alcohol, politics, revenge, and godliness are among the many subjects covered in the book’s thirty-one chapters. In this age of uncertainty and folly, Proverbs is an incomparable anodyne for confused minds.
Ecclesiastes: Likely written by Solomon, this book explores the emptiness of a life devoted to worldly pursuits and pleasures. Solomon’s words speak with the imprimatur of firsthand experience, for much of his life was spent in a series of vain attempts at satisfying his appetite for sexual gratification, reputation, grandeur, and a lifestyle hallmarked by indulgence and excess. Regrettably, Solomon’s tolerance toward idolatry eventually resulted in the division of Israel. Ecclesiastes tells us what not to do with our lives.
Song of Solomon: While some see this as an allegorical work symbolizing God’s love for His people, the Song of Solomon is primarily a story of love between a man and a woman—a lyrical poem of anticipation, expectation, and consummation. Solomon reminds us that romance, passion, and sexuality within God’s parameters are beautiful and holy.
Each of the five poetic books of the Bible is sublimely written and offers wisdom, understanding, and instruction. Job takes us to God’s throne room while Psalms gathers us into God’s court of thanksgiving and praise. Proverbs leads us to God’s classroom where practical instruction is liberally given. Ecclesiastes shows the vanity of living apart from God, and the Song of Solomon takes us to the bridal suite where we rediscover the beauty of pure, unblemished love. Bible readers who ignore the poetic books do themselves an injustice.