But of course, even that surface reading (or, more, likely, a surface pulling out of just random proverbs) would paint a false picture, for the book of Proverbs is God saturated and based upon a God-centered worldview. This is true in particular for the first nine chapters of Proverbs, which is essential for understanding how to use and view chapters 10 through the end of the book.
The book of Proverbs also is seemingly devoid of any kind of references to Christ and any direct prophecies of him. This charge is probably true. However, Jesus himself (Luke 24:27f) and the New Testament writers in the way that they used the Old Testament clearly saw that Jesus was the hermeneutical lens through which Scripture was to be viewed. And when we look at the book of Proverbs through our understanding of Christ and the fuller redemptive story, we can see that there are typological and theological links to Jesus ALL throughout Proverbs.
Walking through some of the book of Proverbs, here are some of the Christ and redemption themes that can be applied to this book to give us a richer, fuller understanding of the godly wisdom.
(Note: I am indebted to Old Testament professor Dr. Glenn Pemberton for helping me understand and appreciate the Wisdom literature (including Proverbs) and of the "First Testament" in its own right, to historical theology professor Dr. John Mark Hicks for some theological insights on Proverbs, numerous articles, and to especially to Johnathan Akins excellent book on "Preaching Christ from Proverbs.")
- Wisdom in Proverbs comes from Seeking God and Trusting the Father/King with Your Heart.
The book of Proverbs itself cites a number of different sources for the proverbs, including the words of the wise (22:17), Agur (30:1), and King Lemuel (31:1), and a father and mother's teaching (1:8). But the majority of the book cites King Solomon as its source (1:1; 10:1; 25:1) and emphasizes the father-son relationship as a teaching technique throughout the book. In the book, the king/father, repeatedly asks the son to listen to/accept/trust the father's teachings.
Note Proverbs 2:1f
1 My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
2 turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding--
3 indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
4 and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
The New Testament parallels to the above are all obvious when looked through this lens. We are called to seek the kingdom of God like in the parable of the pearl of great price, and to place our faith/trust in God the Father.
- Wisdom in Proverbs is a Gift of God.
Solomon of course received his wisdom from God after asking God to give him wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-9; 4:29-31), and as we can see from the next section of Proverbs 2, the writer of Proverbs clearly attests that wisdom does indeed come from God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
7 He holds success in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
8 for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.
9 Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul (2:6-10)
As is evidenced by Solomon's personal acquisition of wisdom, wisdom is something that God gives as a gift--but we must seek it out and "search for it as a hidden treasure." This gift is accessed by "accepting"/trusting the king's/father's words and treasuring his commands--which will bring about "fear of the Lord" and a change in heart as wisdom enters into it.
- Wisdom is Proverbs Results in Life, Understanding, and Knowledge of Good and Evil
There are many benefits from seeking and trusting the king/father. One clear benefit found in the Proverbs 2:1f passage is knowledge and understanding. This is something which Adam and Eve sought to take hold of on their own in the garden by partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Proverbs, this knowledge and understanding comes as as a gift as part of trusting the king/father rather than one's own wisdom and understanding (3:4-5). And from this trusting also comes "success for the upright," a shield/protection from our enemies, understanding, and "pleasantness to our soul."
In short, as innumerable proverbs testify, following the path of Wisdom results in the good life that God always envisioned for humanity which they could have had if they had trusted God in the garden.
- Wisdom in Proverbs comes from a relationship with the Person of Wisdom.
Both wisdom and folly are personifed as a young woman in the book of Proverbs--a common literary technique for that genre and time--each calling out to the son to follow her, offering enticements. One path way of course leads to life, and the other leads to death.
Note particularly Wisdom's call in chapter 8:
1 Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice? . . . .
17 I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.
18 With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
19 My fruit is better than fine gold;
what I yield surpasses choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
21 bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me
and making their treasuries full (8:17)
This personification continues in 8:22, where Wisdom is seen to have been there at creation and before creation with God:
22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place . . .
29b and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was constantly at his side.
In the strongest terms possible, Wisdom is seen as person to whom the son is called to intimately know and follow, and by entering into this relationship he will come to know the one who has been with God since before creation. Does this not have echoes of someone else? Hmm . . . .
- But Wisdom in Proverbs/OT is Still Equated with Obedience--Pointing to the Need for Jesus, the Wisdom of God.
As Jonathan Akin says,"Proverbs is a book in which Solomon trains his 'son' (the crown prince) in wisdom. The Bible defines Wisdom as obedience to the covenant (Deut 4: 6; 6: 1-9; 17: 14-20)." (Preaching Christ from Proverbs, p.27). In Deuteronomy, the King is required to write out a copy of the Mosaic law and impress it upon his heart (Deut. 17:18). And as in Deuteronomy 28, Proverbs lays out blessings and curses for those who follow Wisdom (who Obey) and Folly (and Disobey).
The problem, of course, in both Deuteronomy and Proverbs and all the rest of the Old Testament is that no one can perfectly follow this path of Wisdom/Obedience. Humanity has an ingrained habit of doing the exact opposite of what the Proverbs call for, and instead, like Adam and Eve, do not trust God with all of their hearts but do indeed lean on their own understanding (Prov. 3:4-5).
- Wisdom in Proverbs comes from Seeking God and Trusting the Father/King with Your Heart.
What then is the solution? The solution, of course, is Christ. The book of Proverbs repeatedly talks about how there is a way to a man that seems right, but it is actually foolishness and leads to death (14:12). The world inverts what is God's wisdom--being kind, forgiving, generous, faithful--calls it foolish, and takes what God says is foolish--taking revenge, not forgiving, sleeping around--and calls it wisdom.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul says this about Christ coming to earth and dying on a cross: "27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:27-30).
Jesus is more than Wisdom personified--he is Wisdom incarnate! He became for us and lived the life for us that we could not live--and thus, became our redemption, giving us access to all of the blessings and promises found in the book of Proverbs and the rest of the Bible!
And Jesus clearly saw himself as the fulfillment of Wisdom, as he spoke in parables (see Prov. 1:6 - "for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise"), spoke of the wide and narrow paths that lead to destruction or life, and talked about "seeking" the kingdom of God. Wise men sought HIM in Matthew's gospel!!
The prophecy in Isaiah about the Messiah in Isaiah 11:!f perfectly crystallizes how Jesus was the fulfillment of all Wisdom. Isaiah writes:
1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him--the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord--
3and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth (Isaiah 11:1f).
Jesus lived this life of Wisdom with help from the Spirit--the same Spirit that we need to help us keep God's commandments, follow his laws, and live the wise life--that was promised in Ezekiel 36:26f.
Through Christ and the Spirit, we access to all of the blessings that are promised. Christ lived the life of Wisdom that we cannot without him, and the Spirit helps change our heart and delight in the fear of the Lord/God's ways. So the book of Proverbs points us to the need for Christ and the hope and promises found ultimately in him!
How do you see Christ and redemption themes being applied to the book of Proverbs? How has this changed your understanding of the book?