BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 7
Copyright 1989, Biblical Horizons
In our first essay in this series (Biblical Horizons , No. 4), we saw that Proverbs 30 opens with a puzzle, a cryptic sentence that challenges the reader to search out a matter in order to gain understanding. "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter" (Prov. 25:2). Proverbs was written for a king’s son, but all of us are sons and daughters of the King of kings, so it is our glory to work on God’s wisdom-inducing puzzles.
Many matters in the Bible are very clear, so that salvation is free and open for all who wish it. Other matters, however, are concealed so that we as God’s children can grow in wisdom and understanding as we work on them. (Using theological jargon, we can say that this is one of the ways in which God’s apprehensibility and incomprehensibility work together.)
Based on the work of several scholars I suggested the following solution to the puzzle of verses 1 and 2 of Proverbs 30: "The words of the Sojourner (Jacob?) the son of Yahweh, blessed is He, the burden: The man declares, `I have wearied myself, O God! I have wearied myself, O God, and I have come to an end! For I am more stupid than any man, and I do not have the understanding of a man.’" Based on several considerations, I decided to work through Proverbs 30 on the assumption that it was written by the patriarch Jacob.
The Sojourner states in verse three that he has not learned wisdom, "But I have knowledge of the Holy One." In other words, he sees that his wisdom is nothing compared to that of God, and even though he himself understands little, he can live in confidence because he knows that God understands everything. The believer can relax in the face of the many puzzles of this world, because even if we cannot figure them all out, we know that God understands them all.
Then the Sojourner asks a riddle about God. This riddle has to do with wisdom, since it is God who has true wisdom. Wisdom is not simply knowledge or even common sense. In the Biblical sense, wisdom has to do with making things and controlling things. Wisdom is practical. Thus, in Proverbs 8:30, wisdom is a "master workman." Wisdom "knows how" as well as "knows what."
He asks us five questions in verse 4. First, "Who has ascended into heaven and descended?" This carries us back to Jacob’s experience at Bethel, where he saw heaven opened and angels ascending and descending on a ladder (Gen. 28:10-17). He saw the true ladder to heaven, of which the Tower of Babel was but a crude counterfeit. In John 1:51, Jesus identified Himself as the True Ladder to heaven, but the idea in Proverbs 30:4 is slightly different. Here it is God who ascends and descends the ladder, bringing the two into relationship and making the heavenly blueprints available to us on earth. (On heaven as blueprint, see my book Through New Eyes, available from Biblical Horizons for $9.95.)
Second, "Who has gathered the wind in His fists?" Clearly the only One who can do this is God. We should take the "wind" here in the full Hebraic sense, for "wind" not only means atmospheric breezes but also angelic powers (Heb. 1:7; etc.). The angels run the world for man under God’s control, and it takes infinite wisdom to run the world. Only God has the wisdom to control the "winds."
Third, "Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?" God is pictured as dwelling within a created "structure" called a cloud of glory. In most ways, this cloud is like a cloud of bees rather than a cloud of water, because the cloud is made up of the heavenly host dancing around God (cf. Dan. 7:10; Rev. 5:11). At the same time, however, the cloud is associated with water, so that baptismal rain falls from it, and so that it is seen as a sea of glass around His throne (Rev. 4:6). Jacob asks us to consider the skill it takes to cause a sea of water to clothe you and stick to you wherever you go. Such a skill requires wisdom man does not have, but God does.
Let’s summarize so far: At the practical level, men cannot fly up to heaven and down to the earth; men cannot grab zephyrs of air in their hands; and men cannot wrap water around themselves as a garment. Beyond this, it is not men who can act as intermediaries between God and man; only God can be a ladder to heaven. It is not men who can run the whole creation; only God can gather the angelic winds in His fist. Men cannot organize the whole of creation around themselves; only God can wrap the waters of all creation as His garment.
Now fourth, "Who has established all the ends of the earth?" Again, practically speaking the act of establishing the physical cosmos requires more skill and wisdom than any man possesses. Beyond this, it is only God who can create the world from nothing.
These four ideas summarize wisdom in four ways, by pointing to God as the Ultimate Archetype of Wisdom. Wisdom creates and establishes things, and wisdom brings things to their appointed conclusion. Thus, God created the world and brings it to Himself as His garment. Wisdom relates things to each other, and controls things for their proper purpose. Thus, God relates heaven and earth together, and controls all the processes of the world.
The Sojourner provides four dimensions to wisdom:
- It takes wisdom to interrelate things.
- It takes wisdom to control things.
- It takes wisdom to bring things to their goals.
- It takes wisdom to initiate projects properly.
Let us apply these principles to carpentry, as our Lord must have done. To make a cabinet, He had to know how this piece would fit in with other pieces of furniture in a given house or in a given style. He also had to interrelate various kinds of wood, and various shapes of wood, in order to make the cabinet. Second, He had to exercise control over all the various tools and pieces of wood involved. This required mental and muscular skill and control. Third, He had to know how to bring the raw materials involved in the project to their proper goal: the cabinet. Finally, He had to be able to initiate the project properly, by gathering the proper materials, curing the wood, and so forth.
Finally, the Sojourner asks, "What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know!" Well, in verse one we have found concealed the name of God in the word "Jakeh": "Yahweh, blessed is He." The son’s name is Agur the Sojourner. Every man is God’s son, to exercise wisdom in working with this world. Beyond this, of course, we can see an allusion to Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. It is only the Eternal Son who fully images the Father, and only the Eternal Son who can do the things listed in verse 4.
The Sojourner says that he is stupid, lacks understanding, and has not learned wisdom. That is how he feels because he is face to face with God, who alone possesses the fullness of wisdom. God is the One who sees the interrelationships among all things, who controls all things, who gathers all things to Himself, and who established all things in the beginning.
What does this have to do with us? Just this: If we want to gain wisdom we need to study God’s works. Because we are God’s sons, our labors are analogous to His. By tracing out His wisdom, we acquire wisdom.
Let’s now try and relate this somewhat to Jacob. Though Jacob has gotten a lot on bad press in recent centuries, the Bible does not consider him a rat or a cheat. Instead, as I have pointed out at some length elsewhere (Primeval Saints, available from Biblical Horizons for $10.00), Jacob’s shrewdness is regarded as exemplary. Jacob is a model of wisdom. Jacob managed to stay out of serious trouble even though many people were trying to kill him. He managed to hang onto God’s covenant despite the attempts of almost everyone around him to destroy the Kingdom of God. He managed to obtain wealth for the Kingdom in spite of being surrounded by brutal thieves.
The secret of Jacob’s wisdom was that he had gotten past the sophomoric stage of thinking he knew everything. He knew that he was lacking in wisdom, and thus he committed his ways to God. He acted as wisely as he knew, and then left things in the hands of the Fountain of Wisdom. In this respect he is a model for us.