Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Proverbs (6) wisdom takes human form

Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing ...
God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells. (Job 28:20-23)
So where does wisdom dwell? What's the hiding-place that only God knows? What is "God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began"? (1 Cor 2:7)

You can almost hear the fanfare as it's announced: "the mystery of God ... Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge"! (Col 2:2-3) And then, with a second round of trumpets: "Christ crucified ... Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God"! (1 Cor 1:23-24)

Jesus is God's wisdom. Christ crucified - such foolishness to oh-so-clever humans! (1 Cor 1:23-24) - is at the heart of God's wisdom. The mystery hidden for ages is revealed as Jesus dies upon a cross (Rom 16:25-27, Eph 1:9-10, 3:4-11, Col 1:26-27).

In Proverbs 8, under the semblance of Lady Wisdom, we see Jesus, wisdom in the flesh. It's not that Solomon had Jesus in mind - he was writing about Lady Wisdom - but this passage, like every other page of the Old Testament, proclaims the name of Jesus (2 Cor 1:20, 1 Pet 1:10-11, 1 Cor 10:1-11).

In Proverbs 8 we hear wisdom call (Prov 8:1-11), we see wisdom rule (Prov 8:12-21), and we watch wisdom create (8:22-31) - and in each we see Jesus, the wisdom of God.

Wisdom calls
Wisdom goes to the most public places and calls people to listen. She calls out from the highest point of the city (Prov 9:3) - from the temple. She calls out to the simple and the wise, "Come and get wisdom, more precious than rubies!" (Prov 8:1-11)

Jesus, too, goes to the public places, to the temples and synagogues, as well as to the lonely places, to a Samaritan woman and a crowd in the desert. He calls people to follow him, preaching the kingdom, for "that is why I have come" (Mk 1:14-18, 21-22, 38, 12:35).

And he speaks with wisdom. The religious leaders are stunned by his understanding at the age of 12, before he grows into his full wisdom and stature. Jesus is a greater wisdom teacher than Solomon.

The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. (Lk 2:46-47, 52, 11:31).
Wisdom rules
Wisdom alone can give a ruler sound counsel and just judgement. Wisdom grants power and fills treasuries (Prov 8:12-21). No wonder that Solomon asked for "wisdom and knowledge", "a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong" (1 Kgs 3:5-9, 2 Chron 1:7-10).

In Jesus we see a wiser ruler than Solomon. On him rests "the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD ". He judges with justice, not by outward appearance. He is the "Wonderful Counsellor" and the "Prince of peace". (Isa 11:1-5, 9:6-7)

Wisdom creates
My favourite passage in Proverbs is 8:22-31. Wisdom is "brought forth" and "given birth" as the "first of God's works". She is the "craftsman" at the Creator's side, rejoicing to see him "set the heavens in place" and trace "the horizon on the face of the deep".

It's impossible to miss the echoes in the New Testament. Jesus is "the firstborn over all creation". The entire universe was created and is sustained "through him", "by him and for him" (Col 1:15-20, Jn 1:1-5, 14, Heb 1:1-3).

Then I was the craftsman at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world,
and delighting in mankind.
(Prov 8:30-31)
In Lady Wisdom's delighted wonder we hear the majestic laughter of the Son, the craftsman at God's right hand, echoing through the newly minted heavens as "the morning stars sing together and all the angels shout for joy" (Job 38:7).

Heeding wisdom's call
We're left with a fantastic invitation: to heed the call of Lady Wisdom, and to hear in her call the far better invitation of Jesus. As we listen to God's message of wisdom - as we trust in Jesus' death on the cross for us - we "find life" and "receive favour" from God (Prov 8:32-36).

What better message to hear this Easter?

A final question
Our Bible study group was a bit confused. Why does Proverbs 8 say wisdom was "given birth", but also that she was "the first of God's works"? What does it mean to say that Jesus is the "firstborn" over creation? Was Jesus born or made? Was there a point at which he came into being?

There's no hint in the Bible that Jesus, unlike wisdom, is one of God's "works". He is God's "firstborn", the "one and only Son". He is eternal, with no beginning and no end
Col 1:15, Jn 3:16-18, Heb 13:18, Rev 1:8, 17-18). Our Bible study group ended up looking at the Nicene Creed, which puts it beautifully:

I believe in ... one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made.
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