Finding Christ in Proverbs — and Finding Proverbs in Christ

Search the Scriptures;
for in them ye think ye have eternal life:
and they are they which testify of Me.
John 5:39

And beginning at Moses and all the prophets,
He expounded unto them in all the scriptures
the things concerning Himself.
Luke 24:27

In yesterday’s post, I talked about two ways of seeing Christ in Proverbs that are pretty dubious, and one that is “unproven”.  There is some interesting further discussion in the comments on that post.  Without shutting that discussion down at all, today I’d like to discuss some of the ways we can most certainly see Christ in Proverbs.

The Meaning of “Wisdom”

We should start with looking at what “wisdom” means.  The Hebrew word which usually underlies “wisdom” in our translation is chokmah.  Michael Barrett (Beginning at Moses, page 184):

The word simply refers to skill or ability.  The sphere of application of that skill or ability is defined by the context in which the word occurs.  For instance, God called Bezaleel to be the foreman in the construction of the Tabernacle, filling him with His Spirit and thereby giving him the necessary wisdom or skill to do the work (Exodus 31:3).

Other examples (same source) of “wisdom” as indicating “skill” are Genesis 41:33, I Kings 7:14, and Jeremiah 4:22.

In Proverbs, wisdom is not just skill, but skill at honouring God and being righteous.  Wisdom cries out in chapter one:

29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:
30 They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.

Those who reject the fear of the Lord reject the wisdom of Proverbs, as we see also in 1:7:  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Furthermore, true wisdom/skill is always on the side of Jehovah God:   “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD” (Proverbs 21:30).

Finding Proverbs in Christ

In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Colossians 2:3

If to be “wise” is to be skillful in honouring God, skillful in righteousness, and always on the side of the LORD, then we see Christ as the perfect example of wisdom.  He is the One who fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15; John 8:29).  No one has ever honoured the Father as Jesus has, for there has never been a submission as great as His (Hebrews 5:8), nor has anyone so completely yielded His will to the will of the Father (Luke 22:42).

We do not have to see the personifications of wisdom as being explicitly Christological to be able to say that Jesus is the perfect example of wisdom.  All of wisdom is found in Him.  In this, we might say that rather than see Christ in Proverbs, we see Proverbs in Christ.  While some might claim (and others disagree) that wisdom in Proverbs is Christ, no one can dispute that the wisdom that Proverbs describes is seen in Christ, perhaps we should say abundantly manifest in Him.  Wisdom is (at least) an attribute of God, a characteristic of His nature, and Christ is God.  When Proverbs tells us what wisdom is and does, it teaches us aspects of the nature of our God, and we see that nature revealed in Christ.  If we look at Christ, we see wisdom (and thus Proverbs) everywhere.  So perhaps one of the first things we need to do is turn the question around:  instead of asking, “Where do we see Christ in Proverbs?” we should first ask, “Where do we see the wisdom that Proverbs describes in Christ?”

Proverbs is a Schoolmaster to Faith in the Saviour

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster
to bring us unto Christ,
that we might be justified by faith.
Galatians 3:24

The law taught us our sinfulness, our total failure to satisfy the righteousness of God, and that we needed a Saviour who would satisfy all of God’s requirements, that we might be saved by faith.  The more I read Proverbs, the more I am convinced that Proverbs is a schoolmaster, as well.

I am not wise.  I am unskilled in righteousness, unskilled in honouring God as He must be honoured.  If I were in any doubt of my need of a Saviour, Proverbs would remove it.  How often have I praised myself, or been a sluggard, or trusted in my own understanding, or answered a matter before hearing it?  Proverbs teaches us how much we need a Saviour, how great is God’s grace to us, how absolutely necessary it was that we would be saved through faith rather than by works.  How can we possibly do anything but praise His grace when we see ourselves the way Proverbs portrays us?

My wife said something to me early on in this blogging endeavour, something along the lines of, “Don’t do Proverbs too much.  You need to encourage people, not just beat them up!”  Now, Proverbs is encouraging, too, but it can be pretty brutal in how it reveals us — and when it reveals us as “unskilled” in righteousness, how inadequate any attempt to be saved by works would be, it reveals Christ as the Saviour, His perfect holiness, His abounding grace, and the Divine wisdom of providing salvation through faith (not works).

The Wise Teacher

Rather than see Christ as the wise son of Proverbs as some have suggested, we would be better to see Him as the Wise Teacher foreshadowed in Proverbs.  The first recorded extensive teaching of Christ as we read through our New Testament is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, and in the first 30 verses of chapter five, we have at least seven clear allusions/citations of Proverbs:

Proverbs Christ (Matthew 5)
16:19  Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. (v. 3) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11:17  The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.  (see also 14:21 and 19:17) (v. 7) Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
22:11  He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend (v. 8 ) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
4:18  But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. (v. 14) Ye are the light of the world.
18:6  A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. (v. 22) But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
6:3-5  Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend.  Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids.   Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler. (v. 25) Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
6:25  Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids. (v. 28) But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

When I see how often the wisdom taught in Proverbs is repeated and expanded upon in the teachings of our Saviour, I see Him as the ultimate teacher of whom the wise teacher in Proverbs is a type or precursor.  No one had more wisdom than Solomon (I Kings 3:12), who wrote much of Proverbs, but “a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42).  I see no reason to draw a strict equivalence between the wise teacher of Proverbs and Jesus Christ — I am not suggesting that Jesus IS the wise teacher of Proverbs.  Rather, when we see the teacher of wisdom in Proverbs, we see a foreshadowing of the greatest Teacher of Wisdom, our Lord and Saviour.

The Wise Way

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man,
but the end thereof are the ways of death.
Proverbs 14:12

For the LORD giveth wisdom:
out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
Proverbs 2:6

Proverbs is full of choices between the good and wise way, and the foolish and wicked way.  The foolish way may appear to be wise to us, but it is the way of evil, rather than the way of the fear of the Lord.  The Lord gives wisdom so that we may walk in the right way.

Jesus also spoke of two ways.  One, which might look good, is the broad way that many take but which leads to destruction, while the other way is the way to life (Matthew 7:13-14):

Enter ye in at the strait (narrow) gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Thus, in Proverbs, we have a precursor of Jesus’ teaching of the choice that must be made, the way that must be followed.  This is described in I Corinthians 2:4-8, in which it is (just as in Proverbs) specifically contrasted with the wisdom of men, the “way that seemeth right unto a man” which ends in death:

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Proverbs teaches the Gospel — that there is a way that leads to life and a way that leads to death, that the wisdom of man leads to death, and that the way to life (described as “wisdom” in Proverbs and “the Gospel” in the New Testament) is given by God.

What we do not see in Proverbs is that Christ Himself is the Way (John 14:6):

I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Thus, Proverbs does not really tell us all about the way to life, the way to the Father.  All it does is point forward, until the complete revelation of the Way is seen in Jesus Christ.  What it does tell us is that there is such a way, and that this is the way we must follow.  Proverbs, for all its work of conviction of sin, as a schoolmaster, is also a book of hope.  If our case was hopeless, if there were no way for God to be pleased with us, the entire book would be wasted words spoken to wasted hearts.  Proverbs, after knocking us into the pit of despair by revealing our desperate conviction, says to us, “God gives wisdom.  Do not despair.  God can and will be pleased with you, if you follow wisdom and the fear of the Lord.  He will make a way.”

Proverbs does not tell us that the Way is Christ, but it points forward to that ultimate Revelation of God’s provision for our salvation.

***

Proverbs, then, is certainly “about Christ”.

  • It teaches of wisdom — the wisdom described in Proverbs is found in Christ.
  • It is a schoolmaster, teaching us of our need for a Saviour who gives salvation by grace through faith.
  • It portrays a wise teacher, a precursor to the teachings of Christ who is the Supreme Wise Teacher.
  • It tells of two ways, and gives hope that there is a Way to please God.

Proverbs is not “prophetic”, as we think of prophecy, nor is it heavily typological (as many aspects of the Old Testament Law are typological).  It does tell us much of the character of the Saviour, much of God’s requirements for man, much of our own failings, and much of God’s grace.  It also teaches us much of what God is doing in our lives as He reworks and refines us to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus the Wise.

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in A Proverb for Today and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Finding Christ in Proverbs — and Finding Proverbs in Christ

  1. Diane says:

    The “Christ in Proverbs” vs. “Proverbs in Christ” distinction really helps me distill this in my mind.

    “In Proverbs, wisdom is not just skill, but skill at honouring God and being righteous.”

    I had heard once that wisdom was more than mere intelligence…it is the ability to apply what you know. I appreciate the above, which takes it a step further…not just skill in application, but skill in piety.

    Thank you for such a thorough treatment of this, Jon. Very valuable information. I know I will reference it more than once. And, we have Mike Barrett’s book…somewhere. Maybe I should try to dig it out and read it? 😉 I had him for Christ in the OT at BJU, and was really blessed by his teaching.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Re: the wisdom vs. intelligence comment, I was taught that as a boy, too. It’s a good definition of wisdom as it is used in English, but doesn’t really cut it in describing the Hebrew word. The description I’ve provided of wisdom (chokmah) generally (“skilled”), and in Proverbs (“skilled in righteousness”), is broadly accepted. Barrett, Waltke, and many others say pretty much the same thing.

      Yes, Beginning at Moses is an excellent book, even if I disagree on Proverbs 8.

  2. Diane says:

    I suppose the initial definition of wisdom may be used outside of biblical application. But, we as believers need to take it up a (big) notch. 🙂 A friend from the discussion group said she appreciated the “Proverbs in Christ” idea as well. Again, thanks.

  3. Bruce says:

    Hello Jon,

    Thank you so much for your posts on Proverbs 8, ‘Finding Christ in Proverbs – Some Mistakes to Avoid’. I just came across your blog as I was researching for a house group Bible Study on the passage. Like others here I found your thoughts most instructive and they really helped me marshal my own to put together the study.

    Recently in my personal studies I have been drawn to the wisdom literature, and now I am intrigued to know how you view the Song of Songs!

    For example someone said: All scripture is about God, Song is in the canon of Scripture, so Song is about God. Extending that one could say that the purpose of the Old [Testament] is to point to the New, it helps to validate the New – so the purpose of Song is somehow to point to Christ [and the church?]. I’m not saying that that is my view but it is line of argument I would like to affirm or deny. In the Song there is no mention of God, except perhaps in SS 8:6 in some translations, or any foreshadowing of Christ.

    My ‘best’ thought at the moment – which I should say is very speculative and will change as and when it is usurped by a better one – is along the lines that Scripture is not just about God, but God and Man, and Song is all about God instructing us about mankind. Only when we know how we were meant to be will we know how far short we fall – and mankind routinely falls far short of the ideal of love and marriage portrayed in Song. Of course then, when we are aware of our sin, we are led back to our Creator and to Christ as saviour (but elsewhere in Scripture it seems, not in the Song).

    I am also interested a vague idea I have of ‘resonance’. (Think of a window pane rattling in resonance with a noise outside, or of radio transmitter and reciever being on the same wavelength.) So by viewing the perfect relationship in the Song, which we have the faculties to appreciate more fully, it awakens a resonance which helps us understand another perfect relationship which we don’t have the faculties to fully understand, that is Christ’s love for His Church.

    Apologies for the length of this response.

    Bruce

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Bruce. No need to apologise for long responses — if you read my blog for a while, you’ll find out that I do “long” a lot. 🙂

      It is a good question, but a long question deserves a long answer, which I can’t do today. And I’m inclined to do it as a separate blog post, so that I can point people to it later when someone else asks the question.

      In short, I believe the Song is describing marital love. We know that human marital love is a picture (or perhaps we might say a shadow) of God’s love for His people. We see that theme in the Old Testament with Israel, and again in the New with Christ and the Church. So a description of marital love is also a description, on a deeper level, of God’s love for us.

      Not everyone agrees with this, and historically this has not been the most common interpretation, as far as I know. So I am cautious about this, but I think the strongest weight of evidence points this way. I’ll elaborate in a few days, Lord willing.

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