One of the major themes evident in wisdom literature is honesty. This study’s objective is to investigate how the authors of the wisdom literature have presented the theme of honesty in their books. Literature synthesis was applied to answer the research question, whereby various secondary sources were reviewed. It was found that the authors of the wisdom literature use a broad range of ideas and language to emphasize the importance of honesty among their readers. However, further research can be conducted to understand how the theme of honesty is presented in other books in the Bible.
The wisdom literature in the Bible has drawn the attention of biblical scholars in the last few decades. The increased interest can be attributed to the unique theology provided by this literature. The literature provides a broad range of themes, such as hard work, wealth, honesty, and marriage. The books of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs are concerned with wisdom that readers can apply in their day-to-day lives. The authors of wisdom literature use various ideas and language to encourage their readers to practice honesty as part of their godly living.
Honesty Ideas and Language
There is a strong relationship between honesty and other ideals of wisdom. A wise person is expected to have many wisdom ideals, such as honesty, hard work, ethics, and integrity. In other words, people do not only require honesty to live well in this world. People should be diligent, ethical, and upright to be considered wise in their societies. They can also achieve honor, which is critical in the eyes of society. Therefore, honesty is depicted as one of the ethical behaviors that people ought to demonstrate to become wise in all their undertakings. Honesty alone cannot make an individual upright.
The instructions provided in the wisdom literature emphasize honesty above other moral characters. For example, Proverbs 17:7 stresses the importance of honesty among people. The author compares a ruler with lying lips to a wicked fool to demonstrate the gravity of dishonesty. It condemns cheating other people through perjury or fraud. Dishonest individuals deserve punishment and disgrace since they act contrary to God’s plan. God punishes them for disobeying His commands on how they should relate with other people. Proverbs 19:5 also stipulates that those who give false testimonies will not go unpunished while those who breathe lies will not escape punishment. Thus, people should uphold honesty to avoid punishment and destruction associated with it.
The authors of wisdom literature depict honesty as an important moral character that can make people prosper. Similarly, those who practice dishonesty will reap destruction or will not succeed in their plans. Goldsworthy contended that wisdom literature helps to address great problems of life. For example, Proverbs 28:18 stipulates that those who walk in integrity will be delivered, but those who are crooked will eventually fall. In Proverbs 29:5, the author warns those who flatter their neighbors since, by doing so, they are spreading nets for their feet. In other words, they are laying traps for themselves by acting in dishonesty against their neighbors. Moreover, people are not supposed to be greedy for money since such an appetite will lead them to dishonesty. As noted in Proverbs 28:6, a poor man who walks in integrity is better than a rich man who walks in crooked ways. Hence, honesty is critical for people to achieve long-term success or prosperity in their lives.
The wisdom literature also connects honesty with godliness to depict its unique theology. It shows that God delights in people who uphold honesty. People should practice honesty because they revere God, and they would like to do things that please Him. He rewards those who practice integrity and punishes those who do the contrary. For example, Proverbs 12:22 notes that God delights in those who act faithfully, but liars are an abomination to the Lord. The authors use prosperity to encourage readers to be honest in their daily lives. Proverbs 6:16-20 highlights some of the seven things that are an abomination to the Lord. Three of these things are related to honesty and include a false witness, a lying tongue, and a heart that devises evil plans. The authors of the wisdom literature depict God as the divine source of honesty and other moral behaviors associated with wise living.
The wisdom literature shows that people can attain honesty and wisdom at large without Torah. They rarely refer to the Torah or the Sinaic covenant in their exposition for wisdom. People can achieve honesty and other moral characters associated with wisdom without upholding numerous rituals common in the Hebrew religion. Most of the actions of integrity can be linked with the ancient texts from Sumerian and Mesopotamia. For example, instructions and proverbs can be dated to 2600 BC among the people of Mesopotamia. Therefore, the concept of honesty in the wisdom literature is not directly related to the Ten Commandments and other instructions that God gave Israelites during the exodus.
The authors of the wisdom literature use different genres to communicate their theme of honesty to their audiences. Some of the common linguistic styles in this literature include pithy sayings or proverbs, instructions, poems, and dialogues. According to Kynes, wisdom collections consist of multiple overlapping groupings and not an exclusive category. The author uses parallelism to create balance while discussing the wisdom ideals in honesty. For example, in Proverbs 17:4, the author associates dishonesty with wickedness using parallelism. The first line uses deceitful lips, while the same idea is repeated in the second line using a destructive tongue. This simple parallelism or repetition helps the author emphasize a theme. The author repeats the same idea using different words also to create a balance. Similarly, the author uses another form of parallelism in Proverbs 25:18 to underline the importance of honesty. This verse compares a man who gives false testimony against his neighbor with a sharp arrow, a sword, or a war club. It shows that a dishonest man can cause severe destruction to those who live around him.
The term honesty has been used interchangeably with other virtuous attributes, such as truthfulness, integrity, and straightforwardness. For example, the author of Ecclesiastes 7:7 associates dishonesty with bribery and extortion. The use of different terms to describe the theme of honesty helps to expound its meaning. Just like wisdom, the meaning of the term may vary with the context where one uses it. Honest people ought to portray fairness, trustworthiness, sincerity, and loyalty. The authors compare and contrast honesty with vices, such as theft, cheating, and lying.
In other instances, the authors equate honesty with reliability, uprightness, and being ethics. For example, in Job 1:8, Job was considered blameless before God because he was reliable and engaged in straightforward dealings. He was also fair since one cannot be upright without portraying fairness in his or her dealings. God was proud of him because he had no element of dishonesty. In Proverbs 3:3, the narrator advises his son to practice faithfulness to gain favor before God and his fellow men. Faithful people portray straightforwardness and ethics in all their dealings. They do not seek to defraud or cheat other people. It is impossible to separate honesty and faithfulness since one cannot have one of these moral characters without the other.
Honesty is one of the vital themes presented using a broad range of ideas and styles in wisdom literature. The authors of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs seek to encourage their readers to embrace honesty and other moral characters in their daily living. They show that honesty cannot be separated from other moral characters, such as hard work, ethics, and integrity. People who uphold honesty prosper in life while dishonest ones are punished. Honesty is also connected with godliness even though people can attain it without Torah. The theme is also presented in the wisdom literature using genres, such as parallelism, wise sayings, and instructions, to make it interesting to the readers. Hence, honesty is a critical lesson in wisdom literature.
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Clines, David. Job 21-37: Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006.
de Silva, David. “The Wisdom of Been Sira: Honor, Shame, and the Maintenance of the Values of a Minority Culture,” CBQ 58, no.3 (1996): 433-455.
Estes, Daniel. Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.
Goldsworthy, Graeme. “Wisdom and its Literature in Biblical-Theological Context.” SBJT 15, no.3 (2011): 42-55.
Hendel, Russell. “Visual Representations of Biblical Poetic Parallelism.” Bridges (2011): 279-286.
Kynes, Will. “The ‘Wisdom Literature’ Category: An Obituary.” The Journal of Theological Studies 69, no.1 (2018):1–24.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
Weeks, Stuart. An Introduction to the Study of Wisdom Literature. New York: T & T Clark, 2010.
 Stuart Weeks, An Introduction to the Study of Wisdom Literature (New York: T & T Clark, 2010), 1.
 David de Silva, “The Wisdom of Been Sira: Honor, Shame, and the Maintenance of the Values of a Minority Culture,” CBQ 58, no.3 (1996): 433.
 Proverbs 17:7 (NIV)
 Proverbs 19:5
 Graeme Goldsworthy, “Wisdom and its Literature in Biblical-Theological Context”, SBJT 15, no.3 (2011): 42.
 Proverbs 28:18
 Proverbs 29:5
 Proverbs 28:6
 Proverbs 12:22
 Proverbs 6:16-20
 Richard Clifford, Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), 2.
 Will Kynes, “The ‘Wisdom Literature’ Category: An Obituary”, The Journal of Theological Studies 69, no.1 (2018):1.
 Proverbs 17:4,
 Russell Hendel, “Visual Representations of Biblical Poetic Parallelism”, Bridges, (2011): 281.
 Proverbs 25:18
 Ecclesiastes 7:7
 Daniel Estes, Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 5.
 Katherine Bangen, Thomas Meeks, and Dilip Jeste, “Defining and Assessing Wisdom: A Review of the Literature.” American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 21, no. 12, (2013):1254.
 Ecclesiastes 7:7
 David Clines, Job 21-37: Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 7.
 Proverbs 3:3