EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
Job wasn’t the only one besides Ruth to champion the go’el as such a spiritual character who would one day be called “Redeemer.” The Jewish sages knew this also.
The book of Psalms is incredibly lengthy. In regard to its form, it doesn’t follow the same patterns as Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Solomon. In fact, it is a collection of 150 songs (or poems) of the nation of Israel. This is why, in at church gatherings, it’s not uncommon to hear the Psalms referred to as an ancient hymnal for the Jews. Its form does, however, fit the criteria for a Wisdom book, as its smaller-sectioned and disjointed staccato style resembles proverbial wisdom writings of the era (though that isn’t the only reason). As for content, not all of the Psalms are “Wisdom Psalms.” Nine of them, in particular (Psalms 1, 14, 19, 37, 73, 91, 112, 119, and 128), teach what needs to be known for a long, healthy, and blessed life under God’s rule. The principle of retributional justice is overwhelmingly present in these, though the “hot” and “cold” retributional system (God’s direct intervention of justice versus the natural outcomes of decisions) fluctuates. Nevertheless, the entire book is rich with ruminations of wise choices that lead to happiness and contentment, well beyond just those labeled “Wisdom Psalms,” and as this study is on Christ as He “appears” in all of Scripture, more than just these nine songs will be mentioned in our reflection.
As a quick review: God was certainly called “Redeemer” (and other terms that would one day be viewed in light of the Messiah) in some verses of the Old Testament, as some of the researchers of the subject of Job acknowledge. Additionally, as shown in the study of Ruth, “redeemer” is a term relating to one who can purchase something (usually land) and return it to one who had lost it (usually because of hard times). Therefore, not every Old-Testament reference to a “Redeemer” (or, again, other messianic terms) should be viewed as a statement about Christ.
However, the Sage known as Jesus, the Christ, somewhat dismissed this argument, having made the connection to references regarding Him before many other wise men when He said, “all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44; emphasis added). (The intervention of a go’el appears in quite a number of Psalms: 19:14; 69:18; 72:14; 74:2; 77:15; 78:35.)
At other moments in His ministry, Jesus quoted from the Psalms, taking the link to a whole new level. For instance, when Jesus was dying on the cross, He said, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Understandably, as Jesus was God, this question has stirred discomfort in those who view these words as a lack of faith on behalf of our Savior to His Father in His final hour when His faith counted most. If Jesus was one with God, as we know He was, then why would He accuse the Father of abandoning Him at death when He would have certainly known the character and nature of the Father is opposed to such desertion of His own?
One argument—and it’s a great one, we will give it that—is that this question was asked during the precise moment when something in the spiritual realm shifted and the Savior took on the sin nature of the world. Thus, He was covered in sin and speaking out of the doubt and desperation the sinful nature promotes and identifies with: Only when the Savior became covered in sin would He say something like that, the argument claims: “Jesus sensed a separation from the Father He had never known, for in becoming sin the Father had to turn judicially from His Son,” one commentary states.[i] Others collectively describe that the Godhead—made up of Father, Son, and Spirit—were at this moment divided, and would remain so for the duration of Jesus’ time in the grave until He rose again, resuming back into His function and role within the Trinity.
But however true certain aspects of this spiritual-shift theory may be, this is an unnecessary step. Jesus would never have had to be covered in sin to utter these words because, as the Jewish sages of the time knew, they were a word-for-word quote from Psalm 22:1, which had been written by David (and considered to be one of the most messianic of the Psalms in nature). This proves Jesus’ familiarity with the Wisdom literature of His Israelite forefathers who were led by the Spirit of God to write what they did (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). But it also shows that He, in His death event, spent one of His last breaths making it clear to the Jewish wise men in the crowd that He was the Messiah prophesied in the Psalms—whom many had still refused to acknowledge.
When we look closer at the outline of Psalm 22, we see it begins with the question of why God has abandoned the psalmist (22:1); goes on to describe the detailed areas of just how deliverance is needed during a season of anguish (22:2–18); calls to God to come nearer to the psalmist and strengthen, deliver, and save him (22:19–21); and turns into a promise by the psalmist that God will be praised no matter the circumstances (22:22–29); ending (22:30–31) with an oft-misunderstood statement: “A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.”
Overwhelmingly, the “seed” of verse 30 and continuing into verse 31 has been linked to Gentiles. David is here saying that every generation will and should tell the next generation how the Lord will someday provide a Savior and Deliverer from trouble, and that this lineage will at some point in the future involve the “seed” of another people other than the Israelites. In short, it’s a prophecy recognizing that the Jews will not be the only ones “delivered” in the last days, and that “seed [Gentiles] shall serve him [the Messiah]…and shall declare [Jesus’] righteousness unto a [new generation of] a people that shall be born, that [Jesus has died for them].” In the middle of this song, however, there exist some graphic and colorful words that, though written well before the crucifixion scene, describe what the Someday Messiah would face. Take specific note of the Scripture references in this comparison that show the prophecy in the Old Testament and its fulfillment in the New Testament: “They pierced my hands and my feet” (22:16; Luke 24:40); “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (22:18; Matthew 27:35). In no uncertain terms, David—whether he meant to or not—was prophetically confessing that the Messiah would deliver Israel and everyone else, precisely describing details of His death along the way, and ending with a statement that all people from that day forward would continue to tell His story of sacrifice for the purposes of salvation for all.
It’s also important to remember that the mistake of isolating one verse out of its context is not one Jesus chose to address from the cross. In other words, He did not spend His last breath telling the crowd, “Make sure that when you compare My words about the Father ‘forsaking’ Me just now that you read to the end of the Psalm for proper context!” Psalm 22, when taken as a whole, begins with the heaviness of feeling “forsaken” and concludes with the triumph of the cross and its reach to Gentiles. As such, Jesus, when He was at the very peak of His pain and torment, reflected on the feelings of David, identifying with the sourer portion of the Psalm. That is, He was classifying the moment on the cross as the one that connected to the beginning of the work of salvation, knowing that the end of the work of the cross was nothing but Good News. As an imaginative way of peeking into this moment of death, we can see a silent message following His words of being “forsaken”: “Crowd, listen to Me. This is the beginning of that which you have heard about in Psalm 22. Yet, just as David saw the beautiful end, I will now submit myself unto death, though I will rise again in three days, fulfilling that which you have heard in the end of Psalm 22: that a generation of Gentiles will serve Me—they shall come, and shall declare My righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this for them.”
We need never feel the need to be “uncomfortable” with anything Jesus said. If it looks or feels weird or “off” in the text, it’s likely a picture of the Messiah showing His true identity through the lives or writings of those who have gone before Him. Jesus declaring the Father had forsaken Him on the cross was, oddly enough, His recognition that the ancient promises of the Father were only Good News forever, and that they were being fulfilled in that moment! He proved this by dying, rising, and then telling His disciples to spread that Good News” throughout the world (Matthew 28:16–20)!
Commentators are not oblivious to this irony. They see Psalm 22 as “a psalm which moves from despairing appeal to triumphant faith, and the Christian reader can, with hindsight, see the appropriateness of this total message.”[ii] After spending pages discussing the “spiritual shift” theory related earlier (that Jesus would only claim to be forsaken by the Father after He had taken upon Himself the sin of the world), classic Bible theologian Joseph, S. Exell explains in his Biblical Illustrator “the true sense of this cry,” stating: “[There are] two reasons why Christ chose to express Himself on this occasion in the language of David. 1. That the Jews might call to mind the great resemblance between His case and that of this illustrious king and prophet. 2. This psalm was allowed to belong to the Messiah, and to have its ultimate completion in Him.”[iii]
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GOD BROKE THE POWER OF “THE CHRISTMAS MAGI”? BUT IS SUCH “MAGI-CALISM” RETURNING NOW FOR THE RISE OF A DIFFERENT “CHRIST CHILD”?
This was merely one example among many that we could, with proper space that we don’t have, spend the next five hundred pages reflecting upon…easily.
In Matthew 21:16, during the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus quoted from Psalm 8:2 in regard to the praises of those who had shouted “Hosanna!” at His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem; in Matthew 21:42, 44, while He taught the parable of the tenants, He quoted from Psalm 118:22, 23 regarding the cornerstone; in Mark 12:36, while teaching in the Temple, He quoted from Psalm 110:1 regarding how He could have been interpreted to be the Son of David; in John 15:25, while He addressed the hatred of the world toward believers, He quoted from Psalm 35:19; 69:4, explaining why the world could hate followers of God “without a cause”; in Luke 23:46, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” which was another word-for-word quote from Psalm 31:5.
In the eyes of the Savior, the Psalms consistently mentioned Him, and His teachings consistently mirrored them. Thus, to read the Psalms without that understanding would be to discredit the very methodology of reflection and study used by history’s greatest Sage; we would be failing to study the Word the way Jesus directed His disciples in Luke 24:44.
We know, too, the Israelites spoke and wrote within the limitations of human language, and their words about God or His Son frequently did reflect terminology they used daily. Also, Christ is not only paralleled in characteristics of Israel’s heroes throughout this larger portion of the Word, but He is also spoken of directly through the mouths of God’s prophets (a topic we have yet to discuss). That being true, many references to “Redeemer” and equivalent messianic terms in the Old Testament can (and should) be viewed as representing the Someday Messiah. This is true in both a direct and indirect way: It’s not only about the words (such as “redeemer” or go’el), but of the description of the function of a future Man who would answer some of the problems of deliverance faced in the Psalms.
Let’s look at a handful of examples: Early on in the book, Psalm 2 predicts the day when the prophesied Messiah, or the Lord’s “anointed” (2:2), will arrive to reign over the unruly nations. Verses 6–7 and 12 are as clear as the sky on a sunny day in their regard to King Jesus: “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee [John 3:16].… Kiss the Son…. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
Other passages, such as Psalm 45 (especially verse 6), show the formerly addressed fulfillment of Christ as the sovereign Davidic King. The Davidic Psalm 72, verse 14—“He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence”—is viewed by the translators behind the New English Translation (NET) as messianic in function: The psalmist depicts the reign of prosperity and peace, and “the ideal it expresses will only be fully realized during the Messiah’s earthly reign.”[iv] In fact, the New King James Version (NKJV) has as its header for this psalm: “Glory and Universality of the Messiah’s Reign.”[v] Psalm 110 is also considered in the NKJV to be the “Announcement of the Messiah’s Reign.”[vi] The Messiah’s connection to the Davidic line of kings is also linked with Psalms 65, 74, 89, and 120–134.[vii]
The apocryphal Psalms of Solomon (especially 17:28–33) “give the Messiah a significant role in relation to the eschatological temple.”[viii]
Along with 2, 22, and 110, Davidic Psalm 118 “portrayed the suffering and death of the Messiah.”[ix]
As you can see, this comparison could go on and on. But other than to pick and choose bits and pieces that some would see as messianic, the overarching sentiment that summarizes all the songs together as one requires us to reflect on the book as a whole. This collection of verses is, in the end, one enormous gathering of the heartbeat of Israel who looks toward the Someday Messiah as the answer to everything, including their grief. They cry out for forgiveness (32; 51; 130); in lamentation (12; 13); with confidence in God’s presence even during their walk through valleys of death (23); with praise and thanksgiving (8; 93; 145; 9; 106; 138); remembering the glory of, and blessings that come from, obedience to the Law (19; 119); and in remembrance of God’s mercy throughout history (78; 107). In addition, they offer countless other expressions of relationship between God and Israel before the coming of the One who would be the fulfillment of all of these cries and more (Luke 24:44; also see: Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:56; Luke 21:22; John 12:38; 15:25; 17:12; Acts 3:18). Jesus forgives; He lamented; He brings confidence; He is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving; He fulfilled the Law; He is merciful; and He brings the Old Testament to a close with a promise that was satisfied in His death and Resurrection. He is everything the Psalms stood for!
In every Psalm—not just those identified by scholars as “messianic”—there is an old hope accomplished in the Christ.
In this way, we can enthusiastically declare that all the Psalms are about Christ, and the silent voice that echoes from the pages of these ancient songs draw their conclusion in Him.
The whole of Scripture, together as one, points to this Man. Nothing reminds us more of this fact than the Psalms.
The book of Proverbs, however, is not at all silent on the Christ.
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Proverbs begins and ends with a longer contemplation. The middle portion, however, is a lengthier collection of short, proverbial teachings—hence the book’s name. Traditionally, King Solomon, son of King David, is believed to have written this book (as well as the next two, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon).
A quick note about Solomon, since he has amassed great wealth; drafted the sons of Israel into his service; wrestled with God (as we read in Ecclesiastes) to the point that some believers are, like they are with Jesus’ “forsaken” cry at the cross, uncomfortable with some of the bolder things he said; and accumulated so many wives (seven hundred) and concubines (three hundred; 1 Kings 11:3), we may find it hard to believe he did anything besides visit women for pleasure all day. It’s easy to assume that this literal son of David had no integrity when his actions clearly demonstrated otherwise; for example, some of his wives/concubines were foreign and brought pagan worship back into Israel’s kingdom. We read in 1 Kings 11:4 that “his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.”
However, the Word is clear that Solomon began as one who “loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father” (1 Kings 3:3). A couple of verses later, when Solomon was visited by the Lord in a dream and invited to ask for literally anything he wanted, he asked for discernment and wisdom, so God gifted him with “a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before [him], neither after [him] shall any arise like unto [him]” (1 Kings 3:5–14). (It should be pointed out that the Lord never guaranteed he would get what he asked for. Had he asked for a plasma TV and an Xbox with unlimited video games, God probably would have said no because those requests wouldn’t have been in line with the Lord’s will for Solomon’s life. He did receive what he asked for because his request for wisdom pleased God.) God predicted truthfully; no other man in Israel’s history ever ruled like Solomon. He would never be perfect, because he inherited the sin nature of a fallen world as much as anyone after Adam and Eve—and we can discuss his mistakes all day, but it will not change the fact that he was likely the greatest wise man in human history (apart from Christ, that is). It’s therefore not surprising that he would be credited with the writings of three of the greatest Wisdom books. We learn in 1 Kings 4:29–34 that, because of his request to God, King “Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt,” that “he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five,” and “there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom.” Goodness! Three thousand proverbs! One thousand five songs! This guy doesn’t do anything halfway, does he? In Proverbs 9:10, we read of his belief that the beginning of all wisdom is righteous fear of the Lord.
See, this is actually more important than many realize, because Israel wasn’t the only nation to produce wisdom writings extremely similar to those in the biblical canon. For instance, “The Instruction of Kagemni” was only one of the many “Egyptian Wisdoms” written by Israel’s neighbors in Egypt between 2500 and 2100 BC that read in a style that’s nearly identical style to Proverbs. Such writings—biblical or otherwise—draw their roots from the royal courts in the ancient Eastern world. A king needed to establish the stability of his kingdom—politically, socially, and economically—by example of his own behavior and leadership, if he wanted to remain on the throne and experience (along with his subjects) prosperity and success. One of the ways he established this kind of authority was by using the scribes of the royal courts to write, then circulate, texts that promoted wisdom. These texts were sort of manuals of life that were stacked atop the kings’ laws of the land. These traditions were practiced in Mesopotamia (especially the Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian kingdoms), Egypt (as we said), and Canaan around the same time as Proverbs. Wisdom literature expert Richard Clifford states: “The most important institution for the production of literature was the royal court, for the temple had yielded its economic and political importance to the palace. The king sponsored scribes and paid for their literary production, accepting it as part of his responsibility to maintain political and economic order and stability.”[x] So, by the time King Solomon reigned over Israel, the Wisdom literature in circulation throughout the land was the sign that a king was a good leader…and nobody before or after Solomon in the ancient world would produce wisdom-laden writings like him.
Some question the authorship of his three works, and although attribution is important and the reasons for doubt are valid, there are mountains of convincing evidence supporting the belief that Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon were either the work of Solomon’s own hand or were written in dedication to the kind of wisdom he conveyed in his lifetime. Proverbs, itself, also attributes him as author (1:1; 10:1; 25:1).
Before we dive into how Jesus appears in the book of Proverbs, let’s consider how a biblical proverb should be read, as it is terribly abused in Western society today (and a short clarification here may prove important enough to rescue a few people from a faith crisis).
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A proverb is a short, pithy saying that gets straight-as-a-razor to the point. Its purpose is to tell one how to live and, frequently, it includes a comparison between two contrasting truths to accomplish this. In fact, the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for “proverb,” mashal, means “to compare.” For instance, using a familiar quote, US President John F. Kennedy stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Though this was originally spoken in a slightly rearranged manner by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., once it was spoken by a powerful Western president, the phrase was inaugurated into the “Proverbs Hall of Fame” due to its frequent use in society. The value of a proverb is that it inspires deep conviction in few words and places responsibility of its hearer/reader to act in some way that will improve one’s life or community. The downside of a proverb is its tendency to oversimplify: A person can hear the words of Kennedy and feel inspired to do something for his or her country, but the action he or she should take to accomplish that endeavor is ambiguous and impersonal. Instructional proverbs that do tell one precisely what to do are often misinterpreted as promising a specific outcome when they should be interpreted as a guideline. As one popular example from Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It may seem disappointing, but we take this as a promise—a guaranteed outcome for every child whose parents follow this advice—then God owes an apology to a lot of folks who “trained up their child” correctly yet whose children still fell away—and remained away—from the faith as an adult. At the end of the day, this Proverb, though true in its general advice, cannot cancel out the gift of free will God has given to humanity. So, if children are raised in the ways they should go, and then they depart from it and do not return before an untimely death, the issue is not that a proverb (general guideline) was wrong, as much as it is the acknowledgment of the exception. As much of a bummer as it is to admit that proverbs are “guidelines” and not “promises,” thinking they’re more than what they are ultimately leads to disappointment when life doesn’t go the way we expect, which can lead to doubting God’s Word. Therefore, it’s important, while reading through the writings of King Solomon, to keep this in mind.
As an additional warning, to avoid reviving old heresies about Christ that were silenced during the early Church councils, we must take a moment to address Lady Sophia, the personification of wisdom, and her influence upon culture during and following the Hellenistic period.
When Alexander the Great succeeded in his many conquests over large areas of the ancient world, an early sort of single world order was established. This is not the same one world order as that which fits the Antichrist’s agenda explained in the book of Revelation, but aspects are similar enough that the term is useful in conveying the immensity of its political and societal impact in its day: It shifted the world from the Classical Greek period to the Roman Greek period; achieved geographical expansion unlike anything the planet has seen before or since; and launched Rome into the ancient world’s top influence and authority, uniting all peoples of surrounding regions in language, artistic expression, stage drama, scientific discovery, music, literature, and every fathomable branch of academic education. (This is the era known as the Hellenistic Period.) Prior to this, the Wisdoms literature—Proverbs, as well as the apocryphal Sirach, Baruch, and Wisdom of Solomon—personified wisdom as a woman.
In Israel’s history, this woman was never seen as a goddess or an equal to the Creator. Much to the contrary, “she” was kept in her rightful place simply as a literary motif: In Proverbs 1–9, she is depicted as “the soul’s true bride, true counselor, true hostess, and as the very offspring of the Creator.”[xi] She manifests in varying ways: proclaiming loudly in public like a preacher (1:20–33); waiting to be pursued (8:34); a sister, friend, or wife (7:4; 4:6–8); or the giver of generous gifts (3:15–18; 8:18–21). She demonstrates the importance of wisdom principles over foolishness, or “Folly” (another personification in Proverbs; the lady of foolishness who stands as the opposite of everything wise). The purpose of portraying wisdom as a woman was as a tool to enhance understanding: a way to conceptualize the epitome of wisdom’s function. For instance: The pursuit and application of wisdom in life results in blessings, prosperity, order, stability, success, and happiness—all wonderful “gifts” given to the one who therefore “knows wisdom,” as if it were “a generous friend.” So far, so good. Nothing is innately wrong with this picture as it was portrayed in its first light.
However, somewhere around the time of the Hellenistic period, apocryphal and secular writings extended the concept in a way that this woman became more than just a theme. The author of the apocryphal writing, Wisdom of Solomon (originating around Christ’s birth), associated her with the Spirit or breath of God (verses 1:6, 7:25; 8:3–4 in that text), as well as with encompassing characteristics of Christ.[xii] The book Sirach adds to Proverbs that she is connected to the Torah (24:23) and Jerusalem is her home (24:8, 10). Though none of the traditional Wisdom books went as far as to definitively teach that the personification was literal, due to the unity of expression in society and the influence of the polytheistic Greco-Roman pantheon in culture, language continued to “wrap” her into terminology that edged closer and closer to the image of a goddess. Proverbs is clear that she was present at Creation and was the Creator’s first brainchild (Proverbs 8:22–31), but it nowhere claims that she participated in the origins of the earth in any way other than to be an observer. Importantly, “she” was merely the wisdom of God.
The Koine Greek word for wisdom is sophia, so when Greek became the dominant language, “Lady Wisdom” was given a new name, “Sophia,” as well as an unfortunate new identity. It’s more complicated than stating she was seen as being equal to God, because that wasn’t frequently declared in literature circulating in the general population. It was, however, heavily implied by some writers, which led to heresy in the Church. The secular and philosophical minds of the day saw Sophia’s existence at Creation and flirted with the idea that she was in “hypostatic union” with God. The theological term “hypostatic union” describes the convergence of the divine and human natures into one. We see this in the person of Christ…and that is precisely where this all went terribly wrong…
The link can also be traced to some New Testament Scriptures, but only when recklessly interpreted. As one example, Paul stated that Jesus was the Rock in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1–4). The writer of the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon, in verse 10:17, wrote that Sophia accompanied Him there.
The Greek word logos (“word”) is used in John’s Gospel to refer to Jesus as “the Word” of God who was there in the beginning at Creation. Follow this trail: 1) wisdom was also present at Creation; 2) she is personified as a woman; 3) “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1; emphasis added); 4) “words” were used by God to create the world; thus, 5) philosophically (but not responsibly, in the theological sense) Christ and Sophia are one and the same entity who assisted in the formation of the universe. Wisdom of Solomon, in verses 7:22–27, teach that Sophia was actively involved in Creation and “in sustaining it once it is made.”[xiii] Therefore, some scholars note that her character is a precursor to New Testament Christology.[xiv]
Other scholars appropriately teach that this is dangerous feminist ideology, as it leads to a heretical, hybrid “Jesus-Sophia,” the personified Lady Wisdom being “the same as the Logos of John 1:1.”[xv]
We couldn’t agree more.
Why? Because it’s wrong to associate Jesus with a feminine concept?
Remember that Jesus was and is eternal (John 1:1–4). Lady Wisdom was, according to Proverbs, God’s first creation. So if Jesus is viewed as Sophia, then He becomes a created being, unequal to the eternal Father.[xvi]
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While writing this series, we dug through what the rest of the Church thinks of Jesus-Sophia. Whereas most sources don’t refer to Him as that name specifically and outright, it is absolutely shocking how many people—albeit sincere and well-meaning people—build an entire theology around the idea that Jesus is the same being as Lady Wisdom…yet they miss the fact that this constructs an elaborate “created being” heresy! We cannot count the number of books, articles, and blogs that take Proverbs 8 (Lady Wisdom’s main chapter) and show that Jesus is, in some way or other, the personification of Sophia. These sources get all the way to the point that we think they’ve spotted the “creation” error, expecting that their next statements will be an attempt at a theological defense for it, and then they just…stop talking about it altogether.
This is something we refuse to do. We realize that places us somewhat in the minority for those who want to accomplish our same goal (illustrating how Jesus is reflected in every book of the Word), but we refuse to allow for any interpretation that places a limit on the Son’s eternality as equal to the Father.
Nevertheless, it is not wrong to see Jesus as the literal personification of wisdom, or its association to Creation apart from the created Sophia. In fact, 1 Corinthians 1:24 says that is precisely what He is: “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” This is why the background on Sophia needed to be addressed before we continued. As long as we remember the lines drawn between Jesus and “Lady Wisdom” (or Sophia) are stiff and solid, and must remain that way always, we can visit Jesus as Wisdom without making the same mistakes as some in the early Church who were rebuked during the councils. This brings us to perhaps the most important typological relationship between Jesus and the book of Proverbs.
Christ has a type in Solomon, at least as it pertains to the pursuit and attainment of wisdom. But there are other comparisons:
- Solomon was a king over the grandest, most opulent, peaceful, and successful kingdom in Israel’s history (1 Kings 10:14–27); Jesus was, is, and always will be the King over all kings, reigning over the grandest, most opulent, peaceful, and successful kingdom in Israel’s—and the rest of the world’s—history.
- Solomon was rich, and compared to other kings, he owned everything one could imagine (1 Kings 10:14); Jesus literally does own everything one could imagine: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9–11; also see Revelation 21; Isaiah 66:1–3; Haggai 2:8).
- Solomon’s servants were happy to attend to him, and his judgments were fair and righteous (1 Kings 10:8–9); this is especially true of Christ (Revelation 22:3–4; Colossians 3:23–24; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 1 Peter 2:9; Luke 6:38; Matthew 6:33; 25:21; Proverbs 19:17; Galatians 6:9; and so many other verses it’s uncanny).
- Solomon’s people were astonished by his logic and administration of justice (1 Kings 3:23); the crowds were astonished by Jesus’ logic (Matthew 7:28–29).
- Solomon supervised the building of the grandest palace (1 Kings 7) and holiest place (the Temple: 1 Kings 6); Jesus is building the grandest and holiest place right now for His followers (John 14:2–3).
- God personally came to dwell on earth in the place Solomon built (1 Kings 8:10–11); God personally came to dwell on earth in flesh of the Son (John 1:14).
- And, as we’ve already covered, Jesus is the Son who was prophesied to be of the line of King David, who was Solomon’s father.
Christ was the absolute gift of wisdom to man, both in prophecy (Isaiah 11:2) and fulfillment (1 Corinthians 1:30). Matthew 12:42 mentions how the queen of Sheba came from “the uttermost parts of the earth” to seek Solomon’s great wisdom in person. The verse ends with a bold and exciting announcement in reference to Jesus: “behold, a greater than Solomon is here!” In the next chapter, verse 13:54, this proclamation plays out in real time: “when [Jesus] was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, ‘Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?” As a separate entity from Sophia, Christ personified wisdom—like a walking, talking book of Solomon’s Proverbs—and the early Church (as well as ancient Israel), for reasons just discussed, was more than familiar with, and embraced, the idea that a Person could be Wisdom. After Jesus left His indelible mark upon the world, climaxing in His grand Ascension to rejoin His Father, His followers saw Him as the definitive, perfected Solomon: King Solomon’s greatest moments and reflections made flawless and fully realized in Christ.
And it started in His youth. At only twelve, Jesus entered the Temple and astounded the wisest scholars of His day (Luke 2:41–50). Don’t miss this: This account is the first time in the Bible we see how Jesus would interact with other human beings. Twelve-year-olds are typically found making mudpies outside and bonking other kids on the head in the playground for stealing their seats on the teeter-totter. Their greatest concern should be whether they are first in line to get the elusive blue raspberry popsicle in a variety pack from his or her grandmother’s freezer. (Allie Anderson remembers an occasion like this endearingly… The blue popsicle was rare in the 1980s, but Grandma “Goodie” [her nickname, as bestowed upon her when it was discovered there was no treat impossible for her to get her hands on] always had a blue popsicle for Allie around this age.)
Many children, at twelve, can even define the word “wisdom,” let alone practice it. But there was Jesus, as a little boy, challenging the thoughts of the teachers of the Law who had spent their adult lives studying complicated Scriptures they would never be able to understand as well as Jesus did before He was even old enough for a bar mitzvah (by standards outlined in the Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 5:21). Luke 2:52, a verse immediately following this narrative, says that Jesus, after having wowed the scholars, actually went on to “grow in wisdom”! It wasn’t enough that precious Yeshua was already the definitive Sage at twelve. Our Lord and Savior increased in wisdom even after that! It’s not surprising, then, that when He began His ministry, He told His disciples, “For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist” (Luke 21:15).
Not only did Jesus read the Hebrew Bible (few Jews of His day could read Hebrew) and become well-versed in its teachings, He also devised proverbs such as “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21) and “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (26:52). Parables were a highly concentrated form of wisdom-training championed for the way they reduced complicated concepts into simple terms, yet Jesus, who had the right and the authority to “talk over someone’s head” chose to use them habitually so His students could understand Him.
Not all of His instructions are easy on the ears of unbelievers, however, as the wisdom of Jesus and the wisdom of this world don’t often play well together. In fact, people who believe themselves to be wise in every age will view the wisdom of God and His Son as “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:19–25). But those who have followed the Son of God and sought to consistently apply what He taught to their lives have discovered His words bring longevity, inspiration, purpose, and unrivaled sustenance to the temporary human condition called “life.” Proverbs 2:10–11 says, “When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul: Discretion shall preserve thee, [and] understanding shall keep thee.”
Like His presence in the Psalms, the embodiment of Jesus in the book of Proverbs does not rely on one verse above the others. We couldn’t possibly show how Jesus “appears” in Proverbs on a verse-by-verse basis, as He is the fundamental beginning and end of all wisdom. To better understand what we mean, consider these models: In Proverbs 18:24, a good friend “sticks closer than a brother.” Jesus calls His followers “friends” instead of “servants” (John 15:14–15), and He is always by our side, even to the end of the earth (Matthew 28:20). In Proverbs 8:10–11, instruction is worth more than silver, knowledge is better than gold, and wisdom far surpasses the value of rubies. All “riches” and “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:2–3). The entire chapter of Proverbs 12 describes who Jesus was while He lived as a human. Many verses in Proverbs are from the perspective of a father directing his son to grow in wisdom. Jesus was and is the Son hearing His Father’s instructions—exemplifying the entire purpose of the book as He grew in wisdom.
Once we realize the heretical, hybridized “Jesus-Sophia” should be set aside, the book of Proverbs as a single unit comes clearer into focus. Israel needed wisdom, and Proverbs provided it. Humanity needs a source of instruction on right living, and Proverbs is that source. We will always face the necessity to identify foolish behaviors and avoid irresponsibility and recklessness brought on by ill-advised decisions. We must be shown what ignorance is in order to recognize and avoid it. As long as we remain fallen—and we always will (until the very end)—people of all ages, all cultures, and every era will never stop requiring lessons on how to think, behave, and make good decisions…and Proverbs delivers. Viewing the outline of the entire book, we see Proverbs addressing every possible topic, from good and evil in general, to happiness, comfort, liberality, chastity, temperance, mischief, idleness, industry, obedience, family, spouses, household care, fame, excellence, achievement, power, riches, discipline, foolishness, moral virtues, royalty, government, politics, privacy, anger, pride, thievery, cowardice, corruption, faith, prayer, quarrels, love, self-love, wrath, integrity, busybodies and gossips, minding one’s own business, what pleases God, and what doesn’t please God…just to name a few.
In the Old Testament, the answer to the deeply seeded issue of poor judgment inherent in the sin nature is found in Proverbs, but in the New Testament, it is found in Wisdom personified: Jesus the Christ.
What a Sage we serve! He is sincerely and faithfully wonderful, isn’t He?
We think so, too. We mean it when we say that following the advice of the Savior leads to the best possible life. Jesus is Wisdom. He is Proverbs!
And one day, we will meet with Him in paradise. We will not have to wait in line to see what He thinks of a particular subject or what advice He would give in any area. We will have forever—literally all of eternity!—to bask in His never-ending teaching.
Right now, in this life, many of us have occasional moments when someone we know—whether it’s a professional in the world of earthly wisdom (like a counsellor or psychologist) or a life-sage who just happens to have magnified understanding of our existence through experience—tells us something we’ll never forget. We may be puzzled by some issue, and the simplest words hit us in a way that we just know that’s the best answer. We have an epiphany, and we embrace it, applying those great words of wisdom with gusto, observing later on that it was the best, or the only, advice that could have solved that puzzle. If you’ve experienced this, imagine that person being there with you always, with his or her attention never distracted from you by work, family matters, or anything else. Can you even imagine having that kind of access to a sage?
This is exactly how Jesus will be for us, with one exception: His words of wisdom will be perfect! There will never be any greater wisdom than what is shared through the mouth of Christ, and believers will have eternity to experience this over and over. Jesus, our Wisdom Sage, will never run out of truths to share with His people, and He will never be unavailable!
We have access to Him now through prayer, but one day, that access will be in person, and when it is, there will be no room for misinterpretation of His glorious response. Hallelujah to the King of every Proverb!
Okay…time for a deep breath. Go ahead. Take in a big one.
Keep holding it…
Keep holding it…
Count to a million…
Now let it out and brace yourself. Are you ready for a startling halt to all this glory for a few minutes?
Don’t say we didn’t warn you: Ecclesiastes can be rough, and yes, we’re going there. But we think you’ll ultimately like exactly where we are going with it. As of yet, we’ve never seen another Bible study like this one.
Oh, and be prepared to immediately dismiss everything you thought you knew about the book.
UP NEXT: JESUS IN ECCLESIASTES
[i] Walvoord, J. F., & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures: Volume 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985), 89.
[ii] France, R. T., Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary: Volume 1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1985), 404.
[iii] Exell, J. S., Biblical Illustrator: Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1952), 659.
[iv] Footnote to Psalm 72, NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press; Logos Software, 2005).
[v] Psalm 72, heading, New King James Version, NKJV (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).
[vi] Psalm 110, heading, NKJV.
[vii] T. D. Alexander, T. D., & B. S. Rosner (Eds.), New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 183.
[viii] Ibid., 807.
[ix] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J., “David,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible: Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1988), 586.
[x] Clifford, R. J., Wisdom Literature, 32.
[xi] Ellington, Scott, Wisdom Literature: An Independent-Study Textbook (Springfield, MO: Global University, 2016), 47.
[xii] Ibid., 174–175.
[xiv] Ibid., 47.
[xv] Schwab, G. M., Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2009), 519.
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