One Greater Than Solomon: A Biblical Theology of Wisdom

Here’s my final paper from Dr. D.A. Carson’s Intro to Biblical Theology course here at TEDS. We were instructed to write a twelve page paper on a biblical-theological theme.  While a full biblical theology of wisdom would be massive, I was confined- so give me a break.

Biblical theology, for those who don’t know, is not just “theology that is biblical”, rather it’s a discipline in Christian theology which traces certain “types” or threads from an early section of the Bible throughout the rest of the Bible. Biblical theology operates on the principle that God progressively reveals themes throughout the course of biblical history- particularly, themes which revolve around salvation history. A biblical theologian traces those themes and presents them in compelling ways. So, where a systematic theologian might compile various Bible verses together and present a unified doctrine of the “wisdom of God”, a biblical theologian will find early instances of God’s wisdom in Scripture and unfold that theme across different books of the Bible to show the wisdom of God’s ultimate fulfillment in Christ, for instance. This latter option is what I set out to do. Enjoy!

The theme of wisdom in the biblical witness was once considered an “orphan child”[1] in biblical theological circles and was often overshadowed by more prominent themes in salvation history. Thankfully, this is no longer the case as the growing field of biblical theology has attracted both OT and NT scholars who have begun considering the role of wisdom in salvation history. However, while the theme of wisdom has certainty grown in popularity, it has yet to reach the interest levels enjoyed by more explicit and well-rehearsed themes like that of “covenant”. It is for this reason that I have chosen to explore the relatively new terrain of wisdom in order to glean new insights for myself as well as to see how far this theme can be traced. In this paper, I argue that the biblical theme of the wisdom of God can be traced throughout Genesis, OT “wisdom” literature, and ultimately it finds its fullest revelation in the teachings, power, and work of Jesus Christ.

As we begin our biblical-theological unfolding of the theme of wisdom, it is important to distinguish what type of biblical theology we are embarking on. Biblical theology can be done to expound the nature of the discipline and show its relation to, dependence on, or support for other disciplines such as systematic theology. It can be done with the goal of “articulation and exposition of the structure of thought of a particular biblical writer or corpus”[2]. And it can also be done towards the goal of “delineation of a biblical theme across all or part of the biblical corpora.”[3] It is this third practice which we will employ throughout the remainder of this paper. Since a complete book-by-book biblical theology of the theme of the wisdom of God would be impossible given our space constraints, our study will focus on the most relevant passages from Genesis, various relevant passages from what has been called “wisdom literature”, and will then move to NT passages where Christ’s teaching, power, and work reveal God’s wisdom most fully.

Genesis

The book of Genesis begins with a demonstration of the wisdom of God in creation. Throughout His acts of creation, God exhibits Bruce Waltke’s definition of wisdom, which is ‘“masterful understanding,” “skill,” “expertise.”’[4] We see that God is powerful, in that He can create the heavens and the earth (1:1). We see that God is a rational person, given that He speaks things into existence (1:3). But we also see that God has a plan- He does not create randomly nor haphazardly to see if He is able do it, rather, He creates intentionally, step by step with a purpose. God creates with a telos in mind. He creates light, then separates light from darkness. He creates an expanse then separates the sky from the water, and the water from the land. Then He calls for vegetation to sprout on His new land, separates day from night, calls forth creatures to inhabit the sea, and then calls forth creatures to inhabit the land. Finally, we see the purpose for which God has been utilizing his masterful understanding and skill in shaping and forming the earth in this orderly way; God creates man.

We see God’s magnificent and wise power as He calls forth the creatures and plants according to their kinds and as He speaks light and the heavens into existence. But in creating man, we see God’s skillful hand at work. God takes care to form the man from the dust of the ground and to breathe His own breath, the breath of life, into man’s nostrils (2:7). We are told that God created man in His own image in order for man to bear God’s likeness to the rest of the created order in exercising dominion over every living thing (1:26-28). We see the application of this dominion as God puts man in the garden to work it (2:15) and when God brings every animal in front of man in order for him to name them (2:19-20).  God uses the task of naming the animals to teach the man that he needs a helper unlike any of the animals. He then shows his precision and expertise as wise Creator in creating woman from man’s own rib. This lesson culminates with the revealing of the woman to the man which prompts the first human love sonnet (2:21-23).

While God teaches tacit lessons to man, like the lesson of the fit helper, He also teaches explicit lessons which set up, in seminal form, the way of wisdom and the way of folly, which is progressively expounded on in the rest of Scripture. God reveals man’s purpose and all that he can do to fulfill that purpose but He gives man one prohibition, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (2:17). Here we see the way of wisdom; the way of fearing God, honoring His word, obeying Him, and choosing to live along the grain of His created reality. Do not eat from the tree; this way leads to life and flourishing. In contrast, we can see the way of folly lying close at hand. The way of folly is the way of disobedience to God, the way that does not fear Him or revere His word. Folly goes against the wisdom inherent in God’s good universe and it refuses to heed His divine interpretation of reality, i.e. God’s teaching. Disregard God and eat from the tree; this way surely leads to death.

Enter the serpent. Without warning, we are faced with an insidious creature who is more crafty than any other beast of the field (3:1). The Hebrew adjective עָרוּם can be translated “wise” or “shrewd” but in light of what is about to happen, translators have rightly glossed it with a negative connotation as ‘crafty’. The serpent sidles up to the woman and subtly calls God’s word into question, “did God actually say…?” He then outright contradicts God’s word regarding the forbidden fruit, saying “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (3:4-5). The woman bought the crafty serpents half-truth, decided the fruit would be good for making her wiser, and not only did she eat it, but she gave some to her husband for him to eat as well. Their eyes were opened and they knew good and evil, but they did not become wiser. The serpent’s half-truth was crafty in that technically they did gain knowledge of good and evil, but not in the same manner as God. They now know by first-hand experience what evil is through their own rebellion, they have tasted evil. What God knows propositionally, they now know by acquaintance. They have chosen the way of folly and fallen into sin.

But God’s wise plan is not broken. In the midst of God’s prescription of punishments on the serpent, the woman, and the man, we see God teaching the seeds of a wise conqueror who will choose the way of wisdom in crushing the serpents head instead of letting him run his mouth (3:15). We also see the seeds of God’s own works of wisdom in knowing how to cover mankind’s iniquity (3:21). So then, in opening chapters of Genesis, we find that God’s wisdom in powerfully creating, in teaching, and in His works of redemption are present in seminal form.

1 Kings

We come now to King Solomon, who had a wise and discerning mind greater than any before or after him (3:12). Solomon loved the LORD and walked in the way of wisdom which his father, David, had set out for him (3:3). Because Solomon feared and honored the LORD, which was made evident through his thousands of sacrifices, he found favor in God’s sight. God appeared to Solomon in a dream and told Solomon to ask what God shall give him (3:5). Solomon in response, asks for an understanding mind in order to discern between good and evil, that he might be able to govern God’s great people well (3:9). Solomon, who was already walking on the way of wisdom, does the wise thing and asks God for more wisdom. Notice that he wants to discern between good and evil, the very thing Eve sought to learn from eating the forbidden fruit, yet Solomon’s end goal is not wisdom in and of itself or for its own sake- contra Eve- rather Solomon wants wisdom to serve God and His people. Notice also that Solomon wants to discern between good and evil and asks the LORD for help rather than setting out to gain this knowledge through his own means- another important difference between Solomon and his first mother.

God is pleased with Solomon’s wise request for more wisdom and grants him wisdom above and beyond what he asked for. God promises that Solomon will be wiser than any before or after him. God then promised to bless Solomon with riches and honor, beyond those of any other king living in Solomon’s time. God honors Solomon for walking in the way of wisdom but warns him to continue on the path. He promises that if Solomon will continue to walk in God’s ways, keeping God’s statues and commandments just as David did, then God will lengthen Solomon’s days.

Could it be then that this wise King Solomon is finally the long-awaited antitype of the promised typological wise man of Genesis 3:15? The one who will wisely crush the head of the serpent? Up until chapter 11, it is pretty tempting to hedge our bets on him. God keeps his word to Solomon and he “excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. (10:23-24). But although God kept His word to Solomon, Solomon does not continue on the way of wisdom. He does not keep God’s statutes or commands, instead he enters into all sorts of forbidden marriages to women who eventually turn his heart away from the LORD and towards their own gods. Thus, this great wise man, who built the temple of the LORD, turns his back on the God who blessed him with such great wisdom and in so doing, becomes foolish. He ends up building temples and high places to foreign gods and doing what is evil in the sight of God. God eventually removes the kingdom from Solomon and breaks it up to be governed by the 12 tribes.

This tragic story of the wisdom and foolishness of King Solomon emphasizes and ratchets up the typological dichotomy of the way of wisdom and the way of folly first presented in Genesis 2:16-17. God’s power to create and give wisdom is on full display. Solomon serves not as the antitype himself, but rather, to further reveal the qualities of the typological wise man- specifically, that the wise man who will keep God’s statues and commands without fail, and who will crush the head of the serpent, will have to be nobler and wiser even than King Solomon.

Job

The book of Job is basically a proto-Platonic dialogue concerning the problem of theodicy. While ultimately, a concise theodicy is not given, Job, his friends, and the reader increase in wisdom as we are taught about the religious problem of evil, that is, the problem of suffering well in light of God’s sovereignty.

In chapter 1, we are given a behind the scenes look at the Divine council. God calls the sons of God, which in this context seems to refer to the angels, to give an accounting and Satan comes as well. God commends his servant Job to Satan and Satan calls Job’s righteousness into question, and in turn, God’s own judgement and righteousness. Satan challenges God, saying “stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (1:11). God obliges but commands Satan not to harm Job’s body. Satan takes everything from Job. But Job does not sin or charge God with any wrong doing, instead he blesses God (1:21).

In chapter 2, we see Satan slander God and Job once more, complaining that if only God would have let him harm Jobs body then surely Job would curse God to His face (2:5). God allows Satan to touch Job’s flesh but commands him not to kill Job. Satan does his worst but Job continues on the way of wisdom in fearing the LORD even in the midst of his suffering and in spite of his own wife’s imperative to “curse God and die.” (2:9). These first two chapters set the stage for the dialogue between Job and his friends concerning the suffering of the innocent and divine retribution.

Job’s friends begin with the right approach in comforting him- silence. They tore their own robes, poured dust on their heads, and sat with him in silence for seven days (2:12-13). After contemplating his situation and ruminating on his continued suffering, Job curses the day of his birth and wishes he had never existed. After a long and understandably dramatic lament, Jobs friends begin to speak to him. Although they begin with gentleness, “If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?” (4:2), they quickly turn on Job in frustration, “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right? Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you?” (11:2-3). The reason for the friend’s indignation towards Job is that they are operating with what Richard Belcher Jr. terms a “mechanical view of divine retribution”.[5] The friends have bought into the false dilemma that if someone is suffering then they must be guilty of some grave sin or else God would be unjust to let them suffer. As they see it, there must be some grave hidden sin that God is punishing Job for and if he would just confess perhaps God would relent.

Job continues to insist on his innocence in the face of his friend’s condemnation. In his frustration, Job laments that there is no arbiter between God and himself with whom he can plead his case (9:33). God is God and Job is a man, there is no court where they can settle this, there is no one strong enough to arbitrate between God and man- there is no God-man mediator… It is interesting to note that perhaps the seeds of a God-man intercessor can be found here in Job’s lament, but this point should not be pressed beyond its limit. Job holds onto his hope in God, trusting that his redeemer lives and that he will see God on the last day (19:25), but while he never curses God, he continues to oscillate between trust and almost charging God with wrong doing.

After Job’s friends finish berating him, God answers Job from the whirl wind, first telling him to gird up his loins, to make himself ready to do battle with the Almighty. God then barrages Job with two rounds of pointed questions in order to remind and to further reveal to Job and his friends just Who it is they are talking about. Ultimately, God vindicates Job and breaks down the mechanical view of divine retribution. God demonstrates his sovereign wisdom even over Satan as He uses Satan’s evil intentions to bring about His own glory and a greater good for Job. God shows that the innocent can suffer evil, and that their suffering can even be a means of vindicating themselves and God. Through God’s responses we gain an even deeper understanding of God’s wisdom as powerful Creator. God teaches Job all about His works of creating and sustaining the universe, from Him holding the constellations in place down to Him feeding the young lions. Once again, the theme of the wisdom of God is ratcheted up as God’s power, work of salvation, and His teaching reveal more light on the way of wisdom and the way of folly.

Proverbs

The book of Proverbs continues to expound the theme of the wisdom of God as the author explicitly grounds wisdom and knowledge on theological bedrock. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (1:7), and the beginning of wisdom; and knowledge of his Holy One is insight (9:10). The LORD gives wisdom, knowledge, and understanding; He stores them up for the upright (2:6-7). The reader is implored to seek wisdom as one desperately searching for precious jewels, silver, and gold (3:15) and if you do, then you will understand the fear of the LORD, which in turn brings more wisdom.

The implicit lesson on God’s wisdom in creation back in Genesis 1 is made explicit in Proverbs 3:19, “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens”. Since this universe was created in wisdom by this wise God, the wise man will trust in the LORD with all their heart and will not lean on his own understanding like Eve did, but will acknowledge God in all of his ways, unlike Solomon who turned away from God (3:5-8).

The way of wisdom and the way of folly, which were present in seminal form in Genesis, are here fleshed out almost to their fullest as they are personified in Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. In chapter 8, Lady Wisdom calls out to all the simple making her ways known. She commends herself by explaining that the LORD possessed her at the beginning of His work, that He brought her forth before shaping the mountains. She proclaims that she was there right beside the LORD, like a master workman, as He created and formed the earth. Thus, to find her is to find life itself, and to gain favor with the LORD, who delights in her. But she warns that those who fail to find her injure themselves and those who hate her love death! Lady Folly, on the other hand, is equally loud and calls out to the simple but she knows nothing. Her company are the dead and her way is the way to Sheol.

Through the theology of Proverbs, we see the continued ratcheting up of God’s wisdom as powerful creator. We see the explicit teaching that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. The stark contrast between the way of wisdom and the way of folly is made even more evident through their personification as Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. And we see that the way of salvation and life is through wisdom itself.

The New Testament

            That which started off in seminal form in the book of Genesis, and which grew thicker and stretched higher throughout the wisdom literature, ultimately blossoms in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We learn from chapter 1 of the Gospel of John that the Son, the Word or Logos, is the second person of the Trinity. The Word was there in the beginning with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through him and nothing was made without him. As if this was not strong enough, Paul tells us in Colossians that the Word is the very image of the invisible God and that all things in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible, thrones or rulers or authorities- or whatever!- all things were created through him and for him. Here we see the fullest revelation of the wise power of God. We find here the purpose for which creation was created, for the Son. In these confessions we find much more than is ever predicated of Lady Wisdom. The personification of wisdom is just that, a personification. Here we have a person, a hypostasis, the Second Person of the Trinity, The Word, for whom all things have been created and without whom nothing was created. In Christ, we see the very imprint of the Creator God.

In the teaching of Christ, we finally find one greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:4), who always does the will of the Father and who speaks not of his own but only what the Father commands him (John 12:49). We find in Christ the wise teacher who, when faced with temptation to doubt God’s Word, responds not with speculation like Eve, but with more of and greater confidence in God’s Word (Luke 4:1-13). We find in the teaching of Christ that the way of wisdom is a person and not an abstract concept. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). We see in the teaching of Christ the amplification of wisdom’s call. Whereas wisdom offered life, Christ offers eternal life. Wisdom implored us to frantically search for her more than we search for silver and gold, but Christ tells us to sell everything we have and to pursue him with reckless disregard for all else like you would a pearl of great price that you found in a field (Matthew 13:46). The wise man who follows the proverbs will gain wealth and stature, but if that man were truly wise, he would drop it all in a heartbeat to follow Christ, for in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).

Finally, in Christ’s work, we see God’s wisdom for salvation. The one who stopped the mouth of the serpent by quoting Scripture, is the same one who stomped on the head of the serpent on the cross. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we find the completion of what we learned from the book of Job. We see wisdom for suffering well, but we also see the revelation of the secret council of God which Job darkened with words without knowledge. We see again the suffering of the righteous- the truly innocent, and the vindication of God. We see God’s sovereign and wise hand over the intentions of the wicked to bring about his own good purposes. At the cross we find the worst evil ever committed being used by God to bring about the greatest good imaginable. And we find in Christ a willing sacrifice, consumed with the glory of God. We find an example for bearing our own cross daily and suffering injustice for the sake of the gospel. We find in the gospel, a solution to the way of folly, which our forefather Adam plunged us into, that only the Wise God could have brought about. God triumphed over folly and wickedness not through the wisdom of the world, but through Christ, the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Conclusion

            While more could be said, and should be said, concerning Jesus Christ as the fullest revelation of the wisdom of God, the biblical sections I have highlighted suffice to show three specific ways in which the ascending theme crescendos in the NT; namely in the teachings, power, and work of Jesus Christ. Christ teaches us more fully who God is, how we are to live our lives in relation to Him, and shows us the way of salvation. The lover of wisdom is a fool if he does not build his house on the fear of the LORD, the solid rock of Christ. In Christ we find the ancient mysteries of the hidden council of God revealed. We the way of wisdom narrow down to a single path, the way of the cross, which is broad enough for anyone who would take up their own cross and follow him daily. In Christ, we find the wisdom of God.

Reflection

As I reflect on this study, I am reminded how amazing God is. This God who we worship is truly is the only wise God. He has so orchestrated the events of history, that everything points to His Son and the message of the gospel. Throughout this study I have been continually reflecting on the various ways that Christ is God’s wisdom for me and I have been both encouraged and convicted. I have been encouraged knowing that God has made a way for me to be wise and that God in His own wisdom made a way for me to have a relationship with Him. I have been convicted, however, because I find myself so often turning to the wisdom of the world or leaning on my own understanding instead of looking first and foremost to Christ and his Word. This study has given me a new appreciation for God’s Word as my ultimate authority and as my greatest source of wisdom.

I have also been continually encouraged throughout this study as I have considered of the many themes which run through the Bible like tendons holding it all together. This course, and this study have rekindled my love for biblical theology. Lord willing, I will continue to grow as a biblical theologian and I will reap the benefits in my ST work and apologetical work, for the glory of the only Wise God.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alexander, T., Desmond., Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy. The New

Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity & Diversity of Scripture. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

 

Belcher Jr., Richard P. Finding Favor in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature.

Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

 

Carson, D.A. The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story. Grand Rapids: Baker

Publishing Group, 2010.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.

 

Ebert IV, Daniel J. Wisdom Christology: How Jesus Becomes God’s Wisdom for US.

Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2011.

 

Kidner, Derek. Proverbs. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press USA, 2008.

 

Longman III, Tremper. The Fear of The LORD is Wisdom: A Theological Introduction to

Wisdom in Israel. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2017.

Proverbs. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2006.

 

Waltke, Bruce K. The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans

Publishing Co., 2004.

 

[1] Richard P. Belcher Jr., Finding Favor in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018), xiii.

[2] D.A. Carson, “Series Preface” in Finding Favor in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018), xi.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Book of Proverbs Chapters 1-15. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eermans Publishing Co., 2004), 76.

[5] Richard P. Belcher Jr., Finding Favor in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature. (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2018), 130.

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