God’s Wisdom in Creation: Proverbs 8:22-31 (Thomas Schreiner)
Not long ago, Time magazine recently presented its list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Now we know a list like this is somewhat arbitrary, but it does indicate who is considered to be influential. Whom do they consider to be wise and creative? Marissa Mayer is praised as the CEO of Yahoo. She is known for designing the home page of Google. Daniel Day Lewis who won best actor in Lincoln is listed as one of the most influential actors. Jonathan Ive for Apple is celebrated for the creativity and elegance of Apple products. When we see the creativity and brilliance of human beings, it is evident that we are made in the image of God. When we see the skill and creativity of human beings, we might admire the human being. But we should not stop there. The giftedness of human beings points us to the creativity and wisdom of God as creator. For it is God who made human beings with such marvelous gifts. As we continue our study of Proverbs, we consider what Proverbs says about God as creator.
Creation reveals God’s wisdom
Proverbs 8 tells us that the Lord created the world in wisdom. And it isn’t after the fact wisdom. He was wise from the get-go, from the beginning. We read in vv. 22-23. “The LORD possessed me [that’s wisdom] at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I [wisdom] was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” We will return to v. 22 in more detail later since it has been very controversial in church history. But notice that we have the language of poetry here. Wisdom isn’t a distinct person. Wisdom wasn’t a separate entity that was with God when he created the world. Wisdom is personified to emphasize God’s wisdom in creating the world. God didn’t create the world willy nilly.
Sometimes we begin a building project, but we don’t know where we are going. We don’t know how it is going to turn out. We might have to tear down what we are doing and start over. Or, we might have to redo part of our work. That’s the story of my life. When I get instructions about how to put something together (I am not talking about creating something, but putting together something others have made), I almost always put it together wrongly (I am not exaggerating either). I almost always have to do it two or three times before I get it right. God’s creative work is not like that. His wisdom guided him from the beginning. He knew exactly what he wanted to do in forming the world. God is like a careful artist or a wise builder who knows exactly what he is going to do to create a masterpiece.
We also see that God’s wisdom permeates every part of creation. No part of the world is untouched. Everything is shaped by his wise hand. His wisdom shines, as v. 24 says in the seas and in the springs that abound with water. Or, we see in v. 25 that God in his wisdom shaped the mountains and hills which tower over us. Verse 26 says he created the earth and land in his wisdom. And we read in vv. 27-28 that the sky above us and the fountains of the deep below reflect the wisdom of God. God’s wisdom encompasses the whole world, the entire universe. From mighty Mount Everest to the gently flowing stream, from the oceans to the prairies we see the wisdom of God. We see God’s wisdom in the rolling hills of Kentucky, in the beauty of the desert in Arizona, and the beauty of the coastal area in Acadia National Park in Maine. Psalm 104 is a wisdom Psalm where the Psalmist considers God’s creation work in detail. When we see the world God has made, we exclaim with the psalmist in v. 24. “O LORD, how many are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”
What is the point for us? Why do we care if God made the world in his wisdom? First, we bow in worship before our infinitely wise creator. We say in the words of Romans 11:33, “O the depths of the wisdom.” If our God created the world in wisdom, then we can entrust to him our lives. That’s clearly the point in Proverbs 8, for after we are told about God’s wisdom in creating the world, we find these words in Proverbs 8:32-36. “And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. 35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”
Since God is our wise creator, he knows what is best for us. He knows what makes us tick. We give ourselves to him in faith and obedience. If we have a longing and ache in our heart that is not fulfilled, we trust him with it. We ask him for what we desire. We plead with him to give us what seems so good and right to us. But if the answer is no, then we bow before his wisdom.
At Clifton Baptist Church, where I pastor, Chip Stam, our worship leader, died two years ago now on May 1st. How we asked God again and again and again to heal him. And it was right for us to ask God for healing: to ask, seek, and knock. But God in his infinite wisdom took him home. When God says no to a longing and desire of our hearts, may we have the same spirit as Sarah Edwards did when she heard that her husband Jonathan Edwards had died. She wrote, “Oh that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long.” May we adore God’s wisdom. May we put our complete trust in it. May we give ourselves to God’s wisdom and find life.
The second application is closely related to the first. We put our trust in God since the world is under his control. A wise and good creator made the world we live in. Biblical writers often reflected on God’s control over the waters, on the danger we face if the waters of the world cascaded over us. We read in Genesis 1:2 that chaotic waters submerged the world, and when God made the world he brought order where there was chaos. The waters of destruction submerged the world again at the time of the flood. But we can rest assured that the chaotic waters of the world won’t destroy us. The created world is under God’s control. We read in Proverbs 8:29, “He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth.” We see the same theme in Job 38:8-11, “Who enclosed the sea behind doors when it burst from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its blanket, when I determined its boundaries and put its bars and doors in place, when I declared: ‘You may come this far, but no farther; your proud waves stop here.’?” Or, consider Psalm 104:6-9, “You covered it [the earth] with the deep as if it were a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At Your rebuke the waters fled; at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away—mountains rose and valleys sank—to the place You established for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; they will never cover the earth again.”
The world is under God’s wise control. Chaos won’t overwhelm us. Natural law doesn’t rule the world; God does. And so we can trust him with our lives. We don’t need to live in fear. I am not saying we will be spared tragedies or hard times, but I am saying that any difficulties pass through God’s hands first. Ultimately, we are safe in his hands. Proverbs 3:25-26 says, “Don’t be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.” Ultimately, we will be safe. Ultimately, we are secure. Ultimately, nothing can touch us. As Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 20:16, “Some of you they will put to death.” But then he said, “Not a hair of your head will perish.” As John Piper says about these verses: all unbelievers can do is kill you. And then you will live forever and ever and ever.
Therefore, we entrust our lives to God, for nothing on this earth can touch us apart from his will. We trust our infinitely wise God. We confess in the words of Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were born, Or you gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”
In creation God’s joy goes public
In creation God’s joy is shared with the world. We see this in Proverbs 8:30-31, “Then I [that’s wisdom again] was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” We have the language of personification here.
But why is it important? It signifies God’s delight in creating the world. It portrays God as a skilled artisan, a master carpenter. And this work brought God incredible joy. God’s joy in the persons of the Trinity spilled out in the creation of the world. God didn’t create the world because he was needy: we are told in Acts 17:25 that he doesn’t need anything. God didn’t create the world because he was lonely: the three persons of the Trinity enjoyed fellowship with one another. He created the world from the overflow of his joy.
How do you view God? As gloomy? Fundamentally angry? Basically in a bad mood? Some think God sits up in heaven telling anyone enjoying themselves to stop it. But the Bible tells us that our God is full of joy. Our God is infinitely wise and infinitely happy in his wisdom. In the creation of the world he explodes with joy.
Did you see his joy this spring in the yellow forsythia, in the stunning red buds, the lovely dogwoods, and the azaleas that blaze with color. I see his joy in the waves tumbling in at Cannon Beach, Oregon, and when I see the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, and in countless other ways! What is the lesson for us? God wants us to enter into his joy. He wants us to find our happiness in him.
G. K. Chesterton gets it exactly right when he says. “Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.”
We are full of joy when our hearts are lifted up to praise and honor him. This is evident in Psalm 104, which is a wisdom psalm reflecting on the world God has created. The author concludes, starting in v. 31 with these words. “May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in His works. I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God while I live. May my meditation be pleasing to Him; I will rejoice in the LORD. May sinners vanish from the earth and wicked people be no more. My soul, praise Yahweh! Hallelujah!” The psalmist is full of joy and praise as he contemplates the world God has made. God made us to be full of joy. He made us to find our happiness in him.
Let me ask you a question? Are you joyful? Would those who know you say you are joyful? If not, have you forgotten the source of joy? Have you wandered from God so that your joy isn’t what it once was? Or, have you gotten so busy that your soul is no longer finding its rest in God? Joy is supernatural. It is the fruit of the Spirit. But it also commanded in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” I know in my own life that if I get grumpy and crabby and short that I am not close to God. I have wandered from him. I have forgotten about him. “For in his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Creation points us to Christ
I mentioned earlier that Proverbs 8:22 created a lot of controversy in the history of the church. Many of the early church fathers identified Jesus as the wisdom of God. But this created a problem, for many translated v. 22 to say that the Lord “created wisdom at the beginning of his work.” And verses 24-25 both speak of wisdom being “brought forth.”
This verb is often used of childbirth. Arians seized on this to say that Christ was not eternal, to say that there was a time when he was not. Modern day Arians (Jehovah Witnesses) make similar claims today. They say that Jesus is not eternally God. What do we make of all of this?
First, many think the verb in Proverbs 8:22 may not refer to creation at all. The ESV translates it “possessed,” meaning that God possessed wisdom from the beginning. If that is so, the Lord is not saying he created wisdom or created the Son of God. Personally, I don’t think the best solution is to argue the verb has a different meaning here. For one thing, scholars debate the translation of the verb. There isn’t universal agreement. It could mean “created,” “possessed,” or even something else.
But I would like to suggest that the meaning of the verb isn’t that important for understanding who Jesus Christ is. The mistake some of the early fathers made was equating Jesus Christ with wisdom in Proverbs 8. As I noted earlier, wisdom in Proverbs 8 is personified. It doesn’t refer to an actual person. It isn’t a direct reference to Jesus Christ. So, there isn’t really a problem if Proverbs is saying that God created wisdom and that he gave birth to it. The language is poetic and artistic. Solomon employs personification to emphasize God’s wisdom in creating the world. He is not speaking directly of Jesus Christ here. So, wisdom and Jesus Christ are not identified here. Wisdom is not equated with Jesus Christ.
But the early church fathers weren’t too far off. There is a connection between Jesus and wisdom. Wisdom functions as a type of Jesus Christ. But the fulfillment of the type is always greater than the type. So, wisdom is personified, but Jesus is greater than wisdom because he is a real person. And he is greater than wisdom because he is eternal, because he is the eternal Son of God. Wisdom points to Jesus Christ. As Jesus says, someone greater than Solomon is here. Jesus is wiser than Solomon.
First Corinthians 1:24 says that “Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom.” Colossians 2:3 says, “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in [Christ].” And 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “Christ Jesus . . . became to us wisdom from God.” Jesus is the Spirit anointed wise one according to Isaiah 11:2 “And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” Jesus, as the wisdom of God, was with God in the beginning and created the world. We read in John 1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.”
Jesus can’t be a creature, for he created everything. Colossians 1:16 says, “For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Jesus is not only the agent of creation, but he is also the goal of creation. So, if you want to know the wisdom of God, consider Jesus.
I love the words of the Greeks who came to Philip, and they said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Do you want to see him today? That’s what I want to see. That’s who I want to see. Zacchaeus wanted to see him so badly that he forgot about his dignity as a big shot. He ran ahead and climbed into a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Grown men didn’t run in the ancient world and they certainly didn’t climb trees! But Zacchaeus didn’t care about his reputation. He cared about seeing Jesus.
And I love the story of the transfiguration. Peter, James, and John are overcome with what they are seeing. Peter is amazed at seeing Moses and Elijah. He gets distracted and mumbles some incoherent nonsense about building a tent for Moses, a tent for Elijah, and a tent for Jesus. That is completely wrong-headed. Moses and Elijah aren’t on the same plane as Jesus. But the divine voice speaks from the cloud and says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Listen to him. The disciples were stunned and overwhelmed. Perhaps they even fainted. But here is my favorite part of the story. “When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” That’s what God wanted them to see: Jesus only.
We need to remove distractions from our lives, so we see Jesus only. Jesus said to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” And Revelation 22:4 says that we “will see his face.” That’s what I want more than anything, more than anything.
But I want to add one more thought. Who gets to see Jesus? Revelation 22:14 says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” We can’t see Jesus on our own. Our robes are dirty because of our sin. And so we have no right to eat of the tree of life. And we have no right to enter the gates of the heavenly city to see Jesus. But if wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb, then we will see Jesus forever. We will see him, not because of our virtue and goodness, but because of his love and grace.
Thomas Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his many books are Romans, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, and Galatians.