Lecture 27: The Theology of Proverbs
Lecture: Proverbs – Theology
I. Proverbs and Other Old Testament Texts
This will be the last lecture on Proverbs and the study of God. One can think of the Old Testament as having a primary history running from Genesis to 2nd Kings less the Book of Ruth. This is a continuous history from creation to the fall of Israel and the exile into Babylonian captivity. This is the spine of the Old Testament and you have the Psalms of David as appendages and fourteen of them are directly connected to that primary history which is called salvation history. This is the story of God’s mighty acts in establishing his Kingdom here on the earth. David also ties directly into this salvation history and one by Solomon. The prophetic books are usually dated and placed directly into the primary history, especially into the Book of Kings. The Psalms are placed with the Book of Samuel which contains the career of David. The wisdom books are not linked clearly into this primary history. You have Job in the land of Osh, who seems to be living during the patriarchal age. There is no reference to Israel or God’s covenants; it just stands apart which is the same for the Song of Solomon, a love song with hardly any mention of salvation history. Ecclesiastic also stands apart, along with the Book of Proverbs. We do know that Agur knows the Psalms and quotes Psalm18 and seems to know Deuteronomy but it really isn’t directly linked. There is no mention of the patriarchs in the Book of Proverbs, nor of Moses or Israel’s covenants. So the question is how can we relate the Book of Proverbs into this primary history? The Proverbs are indirectly connected to salvation history in six or seven different ways.
B. God is I AM
Proverbs is connected to the primary history through the names of God, especially I AM. Agur says, ‘surely you know his name?’ A name implies a person who can be called upon, to speak, to hear and to answer. Without this understanding of God, the faith of the Bible is abandoned. He is a personal God to whom you are related by calling upon his name. The minute you name a person, you relate to them immediately. There is a common standard of morality in regards to the Fear of the Lord. This refers to a special Revelation from God demanding a humble response. Both Moses and the Sage find wisdom that comes with the Revelation of God through the Fear of the Lord. Solomon is named as the King of Israel thus linking the Proverbs into the primary history of the Bible and it assumes that you understand that the King copied the Law for himself so that he could use it. This was given to him by the priests and the priest had to assure the accuracy of the Scroll being created. David commanded Solomon to keep the Book of the Law and to obey it. Moses claims a direct inspiration because God spoke directly to him and gave him the Ten Commandments. He became a mediator between the Law, Israel and God because the people thought that God was too awesome to come before, so the people ask Moses to do this. The common aim of the Law and the rest of the Old Testament were to establish the Lord’s will on earth as it is in heaven. And both refer to the Torah as revelation. Finally the common understanding of who God is what ties them together. As you read the Book of Proverbs, you discover that the God in Proverbs has the same attributes as the God of the Old Testament. His omniscience is unique and he alone is sovereign and omnipotent and certainly God is omnipresent as shown from Psalm 139.
1. He is Aseity
Everything is dependent upon God as he is aseity, but God is dependent upon nothing. He is from himself and he is eternal. In understanding the logic of God, he must be eternal and the text is saying that God is eternal. He just is! Only the eternality of God will endure forever and he allows in part the parity of evil to exist in order to show his greatness. As an instruction, you only understand by contrast and thus God allows evil. So to understand God, you need a contrast of what God is not. The closest one can come to an aseity is the sun which the earth circles, which exists to itself but eventually that will burn out and be no more. It has its own energy within itself. I also would argue that God is eternal but he isn’t ‘matter’. Built into matter is logic and rationality. This ties us into John 1:1. This sort of relates to the laws of nature which are highly specialized and a reflection of a basic rational principle. I understand with Christ, being not only the expression of God but he is the one, the rational principle is all embedded into him and thus everything in him consists as well.
2. He is Elohim
In regards to the names of God, we first have Elohim which refers to his transcendence. God is not a human being in that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19) To promise and fulfill entails Omni-competence. Note that the Hebrew plural can be a numerical plural but Hebrew will also use plural for majesty or intensification. It is a quintessential expression of something and it is must more diversified and thus saying that he is the quintessential expression of power and divinity (Romans 1). So the plural suffix is an honorific which is closely related to intensive plural (pluralis majestatis); the referent is a singular individual, which is, however, so thoroughly characterized by the qualities of the noun that a plural is used.
3. He is Yahweh
This includes the vowels of adonay which ends up ‘Jehovah’. This is a putting together that which is of a written and oral tradition. YHWH means ‘he is’. God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you. God also said to Moses, Say to the Israelites, the Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you. This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. (Exod 3:14-15). I continue to use the ‘I AM’ as it can get very confusing in referring to God by him or he. So in the fear of the Lord, you have this divine name, I AM. He is eternal and everlasting and that is why Jesus said ‘before Abraham was, I AM.’ They accused him of blasphemy because he was identifying himself with I AM. The famous verse in Joel 2:32 that whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved; this is I AM and is one of the strongest arguments for the deity of Christ. I Am like nothing else, I Am simply who I am.
Hilary of Poitiers (315-367) narrates that as he was searching how he should live his life: I chanced upon those books which according to Jewish tradition were written by Moses and the Prophets. In them I found the testimony of god the creator about Himself expressed in the following manner: I AM WHO I AM, and again, thus shall thou say to the children of Israel: he who is hath sent me to you. I was filled with admiration at such a clear definition of god, which spoke of the incomprehensible nature in language most suitable to our human understanding. It is known that there is nothing more characteristic of God than to be, because that itself which is does not belong to those things which will one day end or to those which had a beginning. The words of Him who said, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ seem indeed, to have fully satisfied the definition of infinity. This was a quote by the first bishop of Gaul. This entails immanence, God presence with his people. It reveals his name at the burning bush in the midst of sheep with dung hanging off their tails.
The motif of God as Creator occurs ten times in the Book of Proverbs. The first is within two poems in the Prologue in Proverbs 3:19-29 and 8:22-31 and the second is with Solomon I in 14:31, 16:11; 17:5; 20:12 and 22:2 and in Solomon II in 29:13 and finally in Agur in 30:2-4. ‘By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place. The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.’ And then in Agur, ‘I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has established all the ends of the earth?’ The two poems pertain to the creation of the world and the seven proverbs pertain to the creation of mankind.
4. He is Omniscient
For he moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you (Deut 23:14). In Psalm 139:1-6 it says, ‘you have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. God knows what is going on and everything is a concern to God. There is never a time when we are alone which can be both comforting and sobering. A person’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all their paths. Death and destruction lie open before the Lord, how much more does the human heart! (15:11) Death and Destruction is Sheol and Abaddon in Hebrew and Abaddon emphasizes that the grave is a place of destruction. In the fortiori argument, if the dead in the remote depths of the earth, a place shrouded in mystery and of destruction and no apparent value to God and mankind, how much more the hearts of the living who participate in salvation history and so are of vital interest to God and people, even though they are inaccessible to human view. In Proverbs 24:12 ‘If you say, but we knew nothing about this, does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? And does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?’ The ‘if’ statement reveals a hypothetical lie and the ‘we’ tries to escape person culpability in community indifference. The ‘does not’ demands an emphatic affirmative answer.
We have already seen his supreme sovereignty just by looking around us and at the heavens above. To the Lord you God belongs the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. (Deut 10:14) The following proverbs and points apply to his supreme sovereignty on earth. Proverbs 16:33, the lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the Lord. The lot was a small stone used to read God’s selection of someone or something out of several possibilities. In this Situation God wanted to keep people in the dark and to make decisions impartially. But this wasn’t used by the Spirit-indwelt Church after Pentecost. In the New Testament after the selection of Mathias and rejection of Judas, the casting of lots was no longer used. In the Old Testament the priest used this method as was of his making. In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him (Proverbs 21:1). In this picture, the Lord is the farmer, the king’s heart is the flexible channel for irrigating water, and his well-watered garden is the pious and the ethical who are in need. The king’s heart is the Lord’s inscrutable sovereignty that extends to kings, the most powerful of human beings, and to the heart, their most free member. His heart determines the nations’ direction and consequent well-being.
5. He is Inscrutable
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law (Deut 29:29). Psalm 131 says, ‘my heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child I am content. Israel put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.’ The point of this Psalm is that God is inscrutable and there is much that we don’t understand, the death of the righteous, the flourishing of the wicked, but David says that he has learned to make his heart calm and not proud. God doesn’t have to answer to us and David sees that. We as children have to answer to God our Father. What I can’t understand, I don’t concern myself with because I don’t understand it. I know God has wisdom beyond my comprehension. In Isaiah 40:12-14, who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? What has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighted the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding? In Proverbs 20:24, a person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?
6. He is Transcendent and Immanent
It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them (Deut 32:35). In Proverbs 5:21-22, for your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths. The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. There is security for the righteous but not for the wicked. He withholds and gives life-sustaining rain and he delights in justice and hates iniquity. He is a defender of the weak and punisher of the oppressor. He hears and answers prayer. Deut 4:29 says, ‘but if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. In Proverbs 15:29, The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayers of the righteous. In Deut 4:31 God shows us his mercy, ‘for the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.’
III. Proverbs and Pan-Oriental Wisdom - Amenemope
Amenemope CA 1100 BC Give your ears, hear what is said, Give your heart to understand them. To put them in your heart is worthwhile (opening lines of 30 sayings of Amenemope). Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips (opening lines of 30 Sayings of the Wise). In Proverbs 23:10 we have Amenemope again, taken from Amen chapter 4, ‘Do not be greedy for a cubit of land nor encroach upon the boundaries of a widow. In Proverbs 22:20, it asks, ‘Have I not written thirty sayings for you, sayings of counsel and knowledge?’ The thirty is a reference to a revered tradition of Egyptian wisdom to give to his book the authority and weight of tradition. So the Book of Proverbs attests some collections adopted and adapted from the sayings of the wise. In 22:17, it says, ‘pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach.’ But we have in 1st Kings 4:30 saying that Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.
There is a moral standard known and accepted by mankind in general even among the ancients. For example: now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, "She is my sister." Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman." 4 Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, 'He is my brother'? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands." 6 Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. (Genesis 20:1—6)
8Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. 9Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, "What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done." 10And Abimelech asked Abraham, "What was your reason for doing this?" 11Abraham replied, "I said to myself, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.' (Genesis 20:8—11)
Contrast the Joseph’s pharaoh with Moses’ pharaoh. Joseph could speak to Pharaoh of “God” with common understanding; Moses could not.
IV. Theology of Proverbs and the Lord Jesus Christ
Jesus assumes Proverbs as part of Scriptures and he incarnates the wisdom of Proverbs with similarities to Woman Wisdom having both existed before all things and both descended from heaven, dwelt with men and were rejected. But Jesus was superiority to Woman Wisdom because Wisdom was begotten of God while Jesus was God. God gave birth to wisdom but Christ is eternal and while Wisdom witnessed the creation, Christ is the Creator. In Matthew 12:42, we have, ‘The Queen of the south will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here;’ showing us that the Wisdom of Christ is superior to Solomon’s. We see that Solomon focused on then blessings and minimized present suffering; Christ focused on suffering now and glory to follow. Look at Matthew 5:10-12: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. We saw that Solomon offered eternal life opaquely but Christ brings immortality into the full light of day. Proverbs 3:35-36 says that for those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord. But in 2nd Timothy 1:9-10, ‘he has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.
Solomon offered a banquet of food and drink in Proverbs 9:1-3 where it says that wisdom has built her house; she has set up it seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city, let all who are simple come to my house! To those who have no sense she says, come, eat my food and drink the wine I have prepared. To contrast this, Jesus said, very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53). We also see that Solomon described the ideal king in Proverbs 16:10-15 but Christ is the Messiah, the perfect king (Matthew 27:37). And finally, we see that Solomon called upon his disciple to feed their enemies, but Christ died for his enemies (25:21 and Roman 5:8).
(This brings to an End to the Study of Proverbs by Dr Bruce Waltke. We hope you have been blessed by this material.)