Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: November 15, 2008, p. 90.
Wisdom and Solomon
Wisdom is the most important word in Proverbs and is used 119 times in the book, almost as many times as in the rest of the Old Testament. There are a number of synonyms used for wisdom as well, including discretion, prudence, subtlety, and understanding. All these words tell us something about wisdom as a necessary spiritual virtue. The outstanding thing in the book of Proverbs, however, is that wisdom appears in the book not only as a spiritual virtue but also as a person.
We meet Wisdom, as a person, especially in the speeches Wisdom makes in Prov. 1:20-33; Prov. 8:1-36, and Prov. 9:1-18. In these speeches it is first of all Solomon who is speaking as Wisdom personified. Wisdom says many things about himself that point to Solomon, whom we already know to be the author of the book and would expect to be the one speaking in the first person. In fact, Proverbs 1:1 tells us that these are the proverbs of Solomon, some at least of the three thousand proverbs he spoke (I Kings 4:32).
In Proverbs 8:15, 16 the speaker says that he is a great ruler, in verse 18 he tells us about his riches and honor, and in verses 32 and 33 he speaks of his wisdom, all things we know to be true of Solomon (I Kings 3:12, 13; I Kings 4:21-34). He also identifies himself as the son of God, and though we might not think of Solomon in those terms, God does speak of Solomon as His son in Psalm 89:27-28 and in II Samuel 7:12-14. The second of these passages reads:
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.
He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
I will be his father, and he shall be my son.
Nevertheless, if Solomon is the only person we hear in Proverbs, there is no profit in reading the book, for Solomon with all his wisdom failed miserably and fell into horrible sins. Solomon speaks as a figure or type of Christ. Nor is that difficult to see, for though many things in Proverbs point to Solomon, they also point to one greater and better than Solomon and are true of Solomon only in a limited way. Lawson says:
There are some things spoken of men in the prophetical passages of Scripture, too great to be understood in their full meaning of any of the sons of men, except the man Christ.¹
The speaker in Proverbs is without sin. In Prov. 8:8 he says: “All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.” He, the speaker, is not only a great king as Solomon was, but the King of kings. In Prov. 8:15, 16 he says: “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.” He is from everlasting: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (Prov. 8:22, 23).
Indeed, it can be said that Solomon can describe himself as wise and as the son of God and as a great king only in Christ. Christ, not Solomon, is the first speaker in the book of Proverbs, and Solomon speaks only as an echo of Christ. That accords with I Peter 1:11, where we learn that it was the spirit of Christ who spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament.
Wisdom and Christ
That wisdom in the book of Proverbs is not something but someone, not just a virtue but a real person, and that the person is God’s only begotten Son, is not difficult to demonstrate. There are hints of this already in the first nine chapters, which are addressed to “my son” (Prov. 1:8, 10, 15; Prov. 2:1; Prov. 3:1, 11, 21; Prov. 4:10, 20; Prov. 5:1, 20; Prov. 6:1, 3, 20; Prov. 7:1; Prov. 19:27; Prov. 23:15, 19, 26, 27; Prov. 24:13, 21; Prov. 27:11). If Proverbs is the inspired word of God, then it is God who says “my son” when He speaks in the book. That son of God is always Christ first.
There are further hints of Christ in Wisdom’s discourses in Prov. 1:20-33; chapter 8 and chapter 9. In chapter 1, Wisdom speaks of pouring out the Spirit and of visiting judgment on those who do not heed his call. Especially in the threats of verses 24-28 it is evident that Wisdom is God’s Son:
Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;
But ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:
I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.
The same is true of the promise of verse 33, “But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.” That can only be Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of His people, speaking.
That Wisdom is to be identified with Christ has long been recognized. The commentator George Lawson says at the beginning of his exposition of chapter 8:
The grand question in this chapter is, What are we to understand by that wisdom which is here introduced, recommending her instructions to us? The fear of the Lord is said to be the beginning of wisdom (cf. 9:10). But the wisdom that speaks in this passage appears to be a person; and it is disputed whether we are to understand it of Christ, the great Fountain of wisdom, or of the noble quality of wisdom, represented by a strong eastern figure under a personal character.
This wisdom has been generally understood in the Christian church to mean the Lord Jesus Christ—the Word (Logos) spoken of by John, who ascribes to him under that name several of those glories which are here ascribed to wisdom.²
If there were any doubts of Wisdom’s identity after chapter 1, chapter 8 would lay them to rest, for chapter 8 speaks in unmistakable terms of Christ as the eternal Son and Wisdom of God. Especially verses 22-31 show that wisdom is the eternal Son of God:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:
While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:
When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:
When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.
The whole passage parallels John 1, which not only tells us that Christ is the eternal Word of God, Himself God, but the one through whom and by whom God created the heavens and the earth and all things in them. The Son was “by him” in all His work of creation and along with the Father rejoiced in all that they had made. Chapter 3:19 and 20 are even more direct than chapter 8 on that truth: “The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.”
The whole passage speaks of Christ as one who was with God from before the foundations of the world, and verse 23 states that He is “from eternity,” a phrase that is used elsewhere in Scripture to describe the eternity of God Himself (Ps. 90:2). Verses 25 and 30 even give a glimpse into the eternal relationship between the persons of the Trinity, especially between the Father and the Son, and hint at the eternal generation of the Son: “I was brought forth” and “I was by him as one brought up with him.”
This has to do in theology with what are called the personal properties of the three persons of the Trinity, that is, what uniquely identifies each person in the Trinity as a real and distinct person and personality. In the case of the Father and the Son, these personal properties have to do with the fact that the Father really is “father” in the Trinity, eternally bringing forth the Son, and with the fact that the Son really is “son,” being eternally and forever begotten by the Father.
There are few clearer references to the Trinity in the Old Testament and few passages anywhere in Scripture that give such insight into the Father-Son relationship of the first two persons of the Trinity. There can be no question, therefore, that wisdom who is speaking in Proverbs 8 is part of the Trinity and no one other than Christ Himself.
It is in this capacity that He is also addressed throughout the book of Proverbs as “my son.” With those words God is not speaking first of all to us, but to Christ, and to us only as we are in Christ and identified with Him through faith. Without Him there is no possibility of hearing or heeding what God says to His children.
Christ in the person of wisdom does not just identify Himself, however, but tells all about Himself, often in language that resembles the language of the New Testament. In describing Himself in chapter 8, Wisdom speaks of the following: His value (vv. 10-11), His dwelling (v. 12), His attributes (v. 14), His sovereignty (vv. 15-16), His love (v. 17), His reward (vv. 18-19), His righteousness (v. 20), His eternal generation (vv. 22-31), His place in God’s covenant (v. 30), and His blessings (vv. 32-35)—all in language that forces us to think of Christ.
Some of these descriptions are especially noteworthy. When Christ, as the wisdom of God, says in verse 12, “I wisdom dwell with prudence,” there is at least a hint of the doctrine of the Trinity and a veiled reference to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom given by God in answer to our prayers (Eph. 1:17).
When Christ, speaking as wisdom, says in 8:20, “I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment,” He is speaking of His work as the justifier of God’s people. He leads in the way of righteousness by offering Himself for our sins, by earning a perfect righteousness that God imputes to us through faith, so that we are without condemnation. He further leads in the way of righteousness by teaching us God’s righteous laws, so that we live and speak righteously—so that our works become the proof of our justification, as James teaches (James 2:14-26).
He is the one, therefore, who can say in truth: “Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.”
¹ George Lawson, Commentary on Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980), p. 96
² Lawson, Commentary on Proverbs, p. 96.