Monday 5 September 2011

Wisdom That Builds

[I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity; it’s a contribution to an ongoing, but fairly unsystematic, series on Proverbs.]

By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,

by understanding he set the heavens in place;

by his knowledge the deeps were divided,

and the clouds let drop the dew.

Proverbs 3:19-20

By wisdom a house is built,

and through understanding it is established;

through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.

Proverbs 24:3-4

It sometimes comes as a surprise for readers of Scripture to learn that the proverbs hardly ever refer to the major themes of the Bible, like covenant, redemption, law, kingship, and temple. Of course, given that ‘the fear of the Lord’ is the first principle of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), it could be said that the sayings everywhere presuppose the special, saving relationship established between ‘the Lord’ (‘Yahweh’ – God’s covenant name) and his people.

As it turns out, however, wisdom is rooted even further back – in creation – grounded in the orderly regulation of the world by the creator God.

In using the verbs ‘established’ and ‘secured’, Proverbs 3:19 portrays God as an architect and builder who lays down a strong foundation and sets in place a building’s walls or columns. And he constructs this cosmic house by his wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Incidentally, these are the same sort of qualities of those involved in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-3) and the temple (1 Kings 7:14) – themselves microcosms of God’s creation, built with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Proverbs 24:3-4, using the same words, reminds us that we too build in harmony with God’s own work, in God’s own way. The wisdom used by God in building and sustaining the house of creation is the same wisdom now given back to his people, to be eagerly desired by his people, in order to live wisely in his world.

And, as the rest of the book demonstrates, the call to wisdom is applicable in different spheres of life – at the city gates and in the market squares, in our homes and in our workplaces, in our bedrooms and in our boardrooms – where God’s people are called to wise ‘building’ in God’s house of creation. Far from being removed from the rhythms of our everyday life, such ‘building’ embraces a range of skills and practices, worked out concretely in the kitchen, on the field, and at the desk, wherever God has called us, and where the model for such activities is God’s own wise work.

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