Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Reading Proverbs Afresh: Proverbs in Light of Christ

Wisdom is often described as having the know-how of living out knowledge practically. This is a rather weak definition, especially if one is looking to biblical wisdom using books such as the Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. One need only to read through the Proverbs to find that the answer lies within the text itself. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,” (Prov. 9:10, ESV). The writer here used parallelism to explain what wisdom is: the fear of God, the knowledge of the Holy One. Something similar is stated in 1:7 (The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge), though Proverbs 9:10 was chosen for its explicit use of wisdom/insight (synonymous terms) rather than knowledge (as one may tend to still see the two as separate entities as the weak definition above portrays). Thus, wisdom is the fear of the LORD and this use of “the fear of the LORD” (YHWH) is a purposeful use of covenantal language within the Wisdom books. Grant correctly wrote:

How is it that the “fear of Yahweh” indicates the presence of covenant theology within the Wisdom books? There are two answers to this question: (1) Proverbs’ focus on the fear of Yahweh points us specifically to relationships with Israel’s covenant God as being key to true wisdom; (2) fear of Yahweh takes the reader deep into Israel’s covenant theology because of its intertextual links with the book of Deuteronomy.[1]

Where in Deuteronomy? Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (one of the major chapters in all the book) brings out what one needs to know about this type of fear. “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good,” (ESV; italics added).

Grant explains, “The main question (“What does the LORD your God require of you?”) is answered by the initial central statement (“fear the LORD your God”), and each of the following statements explains what it actually means in reality to fear Yahweh (“walk in his ways, love him, serve him and keep his commandments”).[2] This would mean that the Proverbs are not simply a bunch of sayings unrelated to the rest of the Old Testament (and definitely not of the New Testament), but are intricately linked to both. Though it may not have all the echoes of laws and rites and prophetic remarks of the Laws and Prophets, as Trevor Longman III wrote on Proverbs: “[T]he whole book is theological to the core,”[3] and that theology is in total agreement with the rest of Scripture. “The concept of wisdom is not simply practical skill but is a theological idea.”[4]

That theology is not only shown in “fear of the LORD” language, but in Lady Wisdom (aka Woman Wisdom). Lady Wisdom is wisdom personified as a woman who calls out to young men to come to her, learn from her, and follow as they have been taught. Her archenemy is Lady Folly (aka Woman Folly). This personified foolishness also calls out to the young men to come to her, learn, and so live. As there are two women, there are two paths in which the women point: one being the path of wisdom and the other the path of folly. “The dark path represents one’s behavior in this life, but it culminates not in life but in death. On the other hand, there is the right path, the path that leads to life. This path is straight and well lit. The person who stays on this path will not stumble.”[5]

As one reads the Proverbs and encounters the many times Lady/Woman Wisdom speaks, he/she cannot help but begin to notice that as she speaks, so God has spoken or demonstrated elsewhere within the Bible. “[I]t is clear that Woman Wisdom is a personification of Yahweh’s wisdom and ultimately of Yahweh himself.”[6] Yet where does that leave Lady/Woman Folly? Longman argues that she is the false gods and goddesses of the world. Ultimately, “[T]he choice between Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly is no less than a fundamental religious choice between the true God and false gods.”[7]

Does this not dramatically change the way one reads the Proverbs? It must! As one encounters the many foolish ways (whether directly or indirectly stated), he/she must see that this is the way of this world. It is the way of idolatry, not simply a dumb move that may be regretted later in life. This brings new life and light to Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths,” (ESV). These verses are not simply about trusting God when one doesn’t understand what it is He is doing. These verses are calling upon the reader not to go down the paths of idolatry and live in folly, but to trust the God-given proverbs (law and prophets) and live by them so that one does not go down the dark way that seems right unto man but ends in death (Cf. Prov 14:12), but goes down the path of light leading to life. Thus, the writers of the Proverbs want what Moses and the Prophets wanted: for their readers to find God in all His glory and splendor. “Both sets of literature [Proverbs and Law] come to the conclusion that it is impossible to do so apart from real, and therefore inevitably covenant, relationship with God.”[8]

Yet, how does one build that covenant relationship? Longman answers: “[I]f one wants to know how the world works and thus to successfully navigate life, one had better know the woman, Yahweh’s wisdom—that is Yahweh himself.”[9] But this begs the question as to how then is one to know her. The answer comes as one reads and notices aspects of Lady Wisdom, such as her being described as being before creation (Prov. 8:28), being co-creator with God (Prov. 8:27-30), God’s delight—being well-pleased with Wisdom (Prov 8:30), and other aspects as well such as the fact that with her are abundant riches (Prov 8:18-21). Anyone who has a clear understanding of the New Testament can see that Lady Wisdom and Jesus Christ are one and the same (cf. Col 1:15-19; 2:3, John 1:1-3; Matt 3:17). “The message is clear: Jesus is Wisdom herself. . . Thus to understand the invitation of Woman Wisdom as the invitation of Christ to relationship with God makes the book contemporary to Christian readers.”[10] What an understatement! If wisdom is the Word of God (not only the recorded Word, but the Living Word) it is not only contemporary but massively important. To reject Christ is to reject wisdom and to reject wisdom is to reject Christ. To live a life in folly is to go after false gods, whether they be tangible or intangible and be utterly ruined, never to be in covenantal relationship with God. That very thought ought to keep the believer holding tight to the Proverbs. Without Christ there is no wisdom, there is no covenant relationship, there is no pleasure from or in God.

[1] J. D. Grant, “Wisdom and Covenant” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008) 860-861.

[2] Ibid., 861.

[3] Trevor Longman III, “Proverbs, Book of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008) 550.

[4] Ibid., 549.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 550.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Grant, “Wisdom and Covenant” in DOT: Wisdom, 861.

[9] Longman III, “Proverbs, Book of,” in DOT: Wisdom, 550.

[10] Ibid., 551.

God’s Covenant Within the Pentateuch

Like most Baptists, I grew up with Dispensational Theology as the only theology. I had never even heard of Covenantal Theology. I was intrigued with the books of Clarence Larkin and J. Dwight Pentecost. It was all I knew; and I consumed the theology. Initially, it was all about the end-times; after all, what else was there? We could be raptured at any moment! Yet, as I went into young adulthood, I realized there was more. It was a whole way of reading the Bible, of understanding the text, especially the covenants and how God related with humanity–but predominately, still the end-times (for me personally). Here is my confession: As I was reading The Left Behind series, I began to have my doubts about the eschatology of the Dispensational Theology. I knew what I was reading was fiction, but as I was growing in my studies of the rest of Scripture, I could not jive what I was reading in that series with what the Bible was saying. At that point I went on a theological journey and discovered Covenant Theology. I read books like Far As the Curse is Found by Michael Williams. I read the covenants for what they were,  without preconceived ideas (at least tried), and discovered that they read differently than I was ever taught. Williams (following McWilliams) would argue that there was an Adamic Covenant but rather than it being a covenant of works, it was indeed a covenant of grace. “Adam was required to obey the covenant instruction not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam’s failure to obey would bring sin and death. But the sufficient condition for the covenant and Adam’s life within it was the father and kingly favor of God. What I am suggesting here is that life in covenant relationship with God was something that Adam enjoyed by God’s grace” (Michael D. Williams, Far As the Curse is Found, (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2005), 72). The sign (and blessing) within the Adamic Covenant (as all covenants have their signatures) was the tree of life itself (ibid., 51). Being a covenant of grace did not necessitate it to be an everlasting or unconditional covenant however. Upon Adam’s fall, the tree of life (sign/blessing) was forbidden and eventually removed, only to reappear in Revelation 22 when all things are restored and even made greater. I bring this part up simply because Alexander and Baker seemed to dismiss entirely the idea of an Adamic Covenant (Alexander and Baker, Dictionary: Pentateuch, 141-142), but instead wrote and argued against a creation covenant (Ibid., 139-143).

From here one would go to the Noahic Covenant, which as indicated by Alexander and Baker, was a retelling of the creation story (Ibid., 323-324), which would give credibility to a covenant with Adam. If Noah–the one from whom all life would come–received a covenant, would not the original one from whom all life would come also have received a covenant, even if not explicitly laid out? It would seem, at minimum, plausible. The Noahic Covenant was, like the Adamic, a covenant of grace. It’s sign and blessing was that of a rainbow. Unlike Adam’s covenant, this one is eternal. “God promises here are not contingent upon human response or behavior,” (Ibid., 140). However, like the Adamic, there are calls to obedience: no eating of blood, multiply and fill the earth (subdue it). “Thus, the primary obligation imposed on humanity is that of fulfilling the role appointed by God in the beginning,” (Ibid.).

Both Williams (p. 100) and Alexander and Baker (p. 143) would agree that the Abrahamic Covenant builds off the Noahic and the Mosaic/Sinaitic builds from the Abrahamic. One of the issues that I struggled with long ago was that of the Abrahamic Covenant not truly being a covenant of grace since to be part of the covenant one, if he were male, must be circumcised. If he was not, he was cut off from the people and the covenant. If, according to Alexander and Baker, God was narrowing the focus from filling the earth to simply making a nation that would bring blessing to the earth (Ibid., 356), this would seem to make perfect sense. God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants cannot be circumvented by allowing anyone to come in anytime they please, nor allowing anyone to stay in when they will not abide. Whether one sees Genesis’s chapters 12, 15, and 17 as one covenant expansion or as separate covenants, chapter 17 ultimately includes all the substance of the previous two (seed, land, and blessing), and incorporates circumcision as both a sign and blessing.  The sign to remind the male of God’s promises and a blessing for without it all the promises would be removed as he would be cut off. Thus, while the Abrahamic Covenant was one of grace in the same manner as the Adamic and Noahic (no one compelled God to make a covenant, but He did so out of grace), it was not unconditional, and so not in any real way, eternal (according to man’s standard).

It is not difficult, therefore, to see how the Mosaic Covenant is an extension or expansion of the Abrahamic. In one sense, one could say that it was a reissuance of Abraham’s to the entire nation, however in another sense, the Mosaic is better thought of as being encompassed within the Abrahamic (Ibid., 150). The sign of the Mosaic Covenant (as well as its blessing) is that of the Sabbath rest, not only Saturdays, but any and all Sabbaths. “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I the LORD, sanctify you,” (Ex 31:13, ESV; italics mine). Once again, to break the Sabbath is cause for being cut off from the covenant and thus the blessing. The Sabbath blessing was not the only blessing, but it was a sign of the blessed rest in God. One should not forget that according to 2 Chronicles 36:20-21, the Israelites were taken into Babylon so that the land could enjoy its Sabbaths that the people never kept; thus, not keeping the sign and so not keeping the blessings, but rather being cut off.

What is interesting is that Alexander and Baker only mention the Suzerain treaty in passing.  Williams (citing G. E. Mendenhall) notes six components of such a treaty paralleling with Exodus:

  1. Preamble – Ex. 20:2 “I am the LORD your God”
  2. Historical Prologue – Ex. 20:2 “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”
  3. Covenant Stipulations – Ex. 20:3-17 (The Ten Commandments)
  4. Public reading of the document – Ex. 24:1-11
  5. Deposit of the tablets – Ex. 25:16 (often 2 copies were made, 1 for the king and 1 for the vassal, leaving the possibility that the two tablets in Moses’s hands were identical copies rather than 5 to 5 or 4 to 6 commandments on each)
  6. Giving of blessings/cursings depending on adherence – the rest of the Old Testament (but predicted in Deuteronomy 28-30)
    (Williams, Far As the Curse is Found, 141-142)

Williams also pointed out that in giving this covenant, Israel was agreeing to have God as their King and they would be His servants (vassals – a kingdom of priests and holy nation). At the same time, God covenanted with the people to “fulfill his promised role as covenant overlord to his people,” (Ibid., 143).

Taking all this information together, one may define covenant as an initiative by a loving and gracious God to an undeserving people to show that love and grace through blessings, protection, and discipline. Each covenant goes deeper and wider, becoming deeply rich in its implications and widely spread encompassing 2 persons, then 8, then a nation, finding its ultimate and truest form in Jesus Christ given to all who believe.

Once again, you get to enjoy what I am studying in my Old Testament Survey class. Feel free to respond. I’d love to hear from you, even if it is about covenants.