July 12, 2020 | Books of the Bible | Proverbs by Steve McKinion
Wisdom literature in the Old Testament plays an essential role in telling the story of the coming Christ, the Son of God. Unlike narrative texts, where there is a lot of typology, and unlike the Prophets, where there is a lot of predictive prophecy about Christ, wisdom texts are not necessarily straightforward. To see Christ in wisdom literature, and Proverbs in particular, we must first recognize that wisdom is a person, the person of Jesus Christ.
Christians often read the book of Proverbs as a collection of pithy statements about how to live: work hard, be diligent, work the system, and you will succeed in the world. It is easy to find motivational posters with verses from the book of Proverbs on the walls of men and women seeking success in life. Rarely do we read Proverbs as a book primarily about Christ and his way of life.
Rather than seeing Proverbs as “helpful tools for happy living,” we should see them as part of a bigger biblical story about Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:24 that Jesus Christ is “the Wisdom of God.” Wisdom is not merely good advice for succeeding in life; wisdom is the person of Jesus Christ.
So, what does Proverbs tell us about Christ by referring to him as wisdom?
Proverbs tells us that wisdom is from God, just as Jesus is from God. Proverbs tells us in the first chapter, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Wisdom is God’s gift to us for us to know him. Jesus has come that by faith in Him, we would come to the knowledge of God.
Proverbs 8:22-31 explains what it means to be “from God.” The passage begins by telling us wisdom was “begotten” from eternity (your translation may read “possessed from everlasting”). Jesus is the Eternal Son of God, the one who has existed from all eternity with the Father (John 1:1-2). The passage proceeds to tell us that Wisdom was with the Father at creation and was, in fact, the “master craftsman” who formed the universe. Wisdom delighted in human beings. All of this together tells us that Jesus is the one by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were created (Colossians 2). Proverbs tells us we should trust and love wisdom because wisdom is the one who made us and rejoices in us. We are made for a relationship with Jesus Christ. On every page, we see wisdom as the Eternal Son, who brings us into a relationship with God. Christ is from God because he is God.
Proverbs tells us that wisdom calls out to us, just as Jesus calls out to us. Proverbs 8 begins with a rhetorical question, “Does not wisdom cry out?” Wisdom is not something or someone to be sought after. You do not have to go on a journey to find wisdom like it is a hidden treasure, and we are Indiana Jones. Instead, wisdom comes seeking us. Throughout the Gospels, we are reminded that Jesus calls out to us, he seeks after us, he comes to us by his initiative even when we did not know we needed him. In Proverbs, wisdom is the same. We would not naturally know or even desire to know wisdom. So wisdom reaches out to us, calling us to trust God and be saved. We see Christ in the book of Proverbs when we recognize the voice of wisdom as God’s voice, inviting us to know, love, and obey him.
Proverbs tells us that Wisdom shows us the way to live, just as Jesus shows us how to live. Proverbs contrasts wisdom with foolishness. Foolishness seeks to lure us away from our faithfulness to wisdom, making us adulterers. In the Great Commission, Jesus tells us to teach one another as disciples to “obey what I have commanded.” What does he mean by his commands? He tells us: “To love God and love our neighbor.” We must see Jesus as the one calling us to faithfulness, and the life it produces. Proverbs is not meant to give us advice on how to live in this world, but how to live in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the example we follow in living as a faithful child of God. We learn from Christ how we are meant to live and receive from Christ’s Spirit the means to live that life. Seeing Christ in Proverbs means heeding wisdom’s counsel as a call to follow Jesus faithfully.
Proverbs tells us that Wisdom is the way to eternal life, just as Jesus is the way to eternal life. Proverbs 2:1-5 tells us that when we listen to wisdom, we will come to a knowledge of God. Colossians tells us that Jesus is the wisdom of God, and as we know Him, we increase in the knowledge of God because Jesus is God. In other words, by knowing Christ, we know God. So when Proverbs calls us to listen to wisdom and to heed her voice, because from wisdom comes life and the knowledge of God, we should be reminded that the Christian life is one of faith in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. Proverbs 4:5 says, “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” The next few verses go on to admonish us not to forsake wisdom because wisdom will give us a crown of glory. What a beautiful reminder of Jesus’ promise to us!
Let’s not forget that the book of Proverbs begins by telling us the proverbs are from Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived but who also learned that all worldly gain is nothing but vanity! We must read Proverbs in the light of Ecclesiastes, where even if you gain what worldly wisdom gets you, it is still for nothing. Learning, hard work, diligence, etc., may each lead, in their own way, to a happy and healthy life here. But God’s promise is to a future inheritance in the new heavens and new earth when Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, ends all injustice, suffering, and sin, and ushers in his Heaven. Until that time, Christians must live in the light of the righteousness found in Jesus Christ, eagerly awaiting that future redemption. Proverbs points us away from vanity and to Jesus Christ, who is truly the Wisdom of God. Wisdom is calling out from God to learn from her what is the way to eternal life. Jesus is calling out to us in Proverbs so we can learn from him about God, about us, and about the Christian life.