Things That Are Above

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Archive for the ‘Old Testament’ Category

God is Good, Just, and Sovereign in Our Suffering (Part 1)

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How should we think about God’s sovereignty in relation to our suffering? Do our sufferings disprove God’s goodness, if not his sovereignty and even existence, as well? Such rebellious unbelief is the default human response to God in the midst of suffering, but this response is an unbiblical, un-Christian response to suffering. James upholds Job as an example of one “who remained steadfast” and through whom later readers of the Bible can see “the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:11). Even in the midst of our suffering, God is sovereign, and God in his sovereignty, even over our sufferings, is good. This point is the main point of Job 38:1–42:6, where God confronts Job’s wavering faith in the preceding chapters in order to strengthen Job’s faith so that it is truly steadfast.

As we work our way through Job 38:1–42:6 over the next month, we will see how God’s good sovereignty shines through each section. In Job 38:1–40:2, God establishes his just goodness in the natural world, which prompts Job to respond in 40:3–5 with an initial response of humility and faith. However, Job’s reply to God’s first speech is explicitly a humble promise of silence, so God renews his rhetorical assault in 40:6 and continues through 41:34. God’s second speech emphasizes his good sovereignty over the supernatural world, particularly over the enigmatic figures of Behemoth (40:15–24) and Leviathan (41:1–34). At this point Job finally responds with mature humility and faith by repenting of his previous ignorance and admitting that God has been in the right all along (42:1–6).

Job 38:1–42:6 is a foundational text for thinking biblically about God’s sovereignty in relation to human suffering. As we will see in more detail, this text teaches that God is good and just in his exercise of sovereignty over our suffering. This truth should prompt us to respond to God in humble faith even when we suffer. As James says, Job teaches us that God’s purpose is to be “compassionate and merciful.” If Job believed this fully at the end of God’s two speeches, how much more should we believe this truth today, when we have the whole counsel of God in the Bible? How much more should we trust God to be compassionate and merciful even when we suffer, since God has supremely revealed his compassion and mercy in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord? I pray that this study of Job 38:1–42:6 in the coming weeks will help us to set our minds on things that are above, where Christ is, because he is the ultimate reason we can think and feel biblically about suffering as taught in this text.

Written by Jordan Atkinson

June 22, 2015 at 12:04 PM

A Call to Repentance

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Last month it was my privilege to preach at Eastside Baptist Church in Winfield, AL, on Genesis 6:5-8. This text functions as a call to repentance, as it gives four reasons why people should repent and turn to God in faith that he will save them by Jesus’ death and resurrection:

  1. Repent because God sees your wickedness (v. 5).
  2. Repent because God grieves over your wickedness (v. 6).
  3. Repent because God will judge your wickedness (v. 7).
  4. Repent because God offers you salvation from your wickedness (v. 8).

My sermon can be listened to here.

Wisdom in Lament (Wisdom Wednesday #4)

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Our sufferings don’t surprise God. Neither do our tears. God can sustain us in sufferings, and he can comfort us in our sorrows. That’s why it’s wise to lament as the Psalmists so often did. Some Psalms are particularly known for being “Wisdom Psalms,” such as Psalms 1 and 127. But even Psalms that are commonly called “Psalms of Lament” are examples of divinely inspired Wisdom Literature (as much as are the other “poetical” books of the Old Testament).

Take, for example, Psalm 10. This is a typical Psalm of Lament: the Psalmist is suffering at the hands of wicked people (vv. 2-11). He feels separated from God by his suffering (v. 1). He prays for God both to punish the wicked who are causing suffering (vv. 2-11 and 15) and to alleviate his suffering (vv. 12-14). Psalm 10 is a Psalm of Lament.

As a Psalm of Lament, however, Psalm 10 is also a Wisdom Psalm; it teaches us how to live wisely. In the Bible, wisdom is God-centered. Proverbs 9:10 teaches, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (ESV, as are all subsequent Bible references). And the Psalmist, even in the midst of his suffering, fears the Lord. The Psalmist feels like God his “stand[ing] far away” from him and “hid[den]” from him, but he addresses God as “LORD,” Yahweh, the God who is in a compassionate covenant relationship with him as he is with all his people (Ps. 10:1; cf. Exod. 34:6-7). From this attitude of faith, the Psalmist cries out to God in prayer (Ps. 10:2, 12, and 15). The Psalmist ends his lament confident both in God’s sovereignty (Ps. 10:16) and in God’s goodness (vv. 17-18). Biblical wisdom denotes rightly relating to God (and others) in everyday life. By modeling for us how to relate to God in the midst of suffering, the Psalmist who penned Psalm 10 illustrates the truth that Psalms is not only a book of poetry but also a book of wisdom, a book of how to live by faith in God, especially when that faith is so sorely tested by suffering.

Like the Psalmist, we should cry out to God in prayer. We Christians are in a covenant relationship with God because Jesus is our Passover lamb. By faith in his sacrificial death for us we are freed from our bondage to sin, as the Israelites were freed from bondage to the Egyptians. Like the Psalmist, then, may we through prayer come before God’s throne of grace boldly to receive help in our times of need (Heb. 4:14-16).

Why is it wise to pursue God in the midst of suffering, when perhaps he himself seems to be allowing it—if not directly causing it? Psalm 10 teaches us that it is wise to pray to God in our suffering because atheism is a trait of the wicked (v. 4) and is a self-imploding dogma (vv. 11, 13). It is wise to pray to God in our suffering because he sees us in our suffering and “note[s] mischief and vexation” (v. 14). To borrow from the New Testament, we should cast our cares on God because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). It is wise to pray to God in suffering because one day he will alleviate the suffering of his people—for all eternity (Ps. 10:17-18). The apostle John describes our eternal deliverance from suffering this way:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4)

Abandoning God because we feel abandoned by him in our suffering is the most foolish thing to do. As Psalm 10 (and, indeed, the whole Bible!) teaches us, we should instead wisely cry out to God in prayer for final salvation from the very presence of sin, which is the true source of all earthly suffering. John understood the wisdom of Psalm 10 and cried at the end of his book (despite his own adversity of being exiled on Patmos), “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). May we wisely join him in the midst of our own varied sufferings by earnestly pleading for Jesus’ soon return, when he will make all things new.

Walking the Wise Way (Wisdom Wednesday #3)

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One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” It begins,

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; (lines 1-5)

Frost is talking metaphorically about one’s life journey. Throughout life, you make choices that determine your “way.” These choices can be simple and bear little consequence. What shirt will I wear? Do I want fries with that burger? Those choices can be more complex and have significant consequences. Do I stay single or get married? Do I attend college after high school or immediately embark on a career? The most important choice of all has eternal consequences. Will I take God at his word, the Bible, and follow Jesus as my Savior and Lord? How you answer this question will determine not only your eternity but the rest of your life. And the wrong answer could easily lead to the “worldly grief” that “produces death” instead of “repentance” (2 Cor. 7:10, ESV, as are all subsequent Bible references), which is the kind of regret Frost expresses at the end of “The Road Not Taken”:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (lines 16-20)

Frost’s regret is expressed in his “sigh” and in the fact that he has entitled this poem, nostalgically as it were, “The Road Not Taken.” A major theme in Proverbs is the “two ways” to live life, the wise way and the foolish way. The foolish way leads to regret, like Frost’s road “less traveled by,” and ultimately eternal death, whereas the wise way leads to joy, like Frost’s “road not taken” presumably would, and ultimately eternal life. Which way will you choose? That is the question Proverbs poses to us.

Proverbs exhorts us to choose to walk the wise way of pursuing God. According to Proverbs 21:6, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” We can justify anything we do, but what matters is whether God justifies us. As we read elsewhere in Proverbs,

Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD,
but those of blameless ways are his delight. (11:20)

The way of the guilty is crooked,
but the conduct of the pure is upright. (21:8)

In other words, God delights in the pure, the blameless, the upright; he hates the crooked and justly condemns them as guilty. The wise way is the way of loving God and loving others, to sum up the Old Testament as Jesus does in Matthew 22:34-40. The foolish way is the way of rebelling against God and harming others.

When taken in the context of the whole Bible, the foolish way is the road we’re all traveling from birth. The Ephesian Christians, prior to their conversion, Paul writes, “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3). Paul here tells us that we’re all naturally under God’s wrath, we’re all an abomination to him, because we’re all foolish and crooked; to use Paul’s phrasing in Ephesians, “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh,” which means we were living in rebellion against God. And James adds that the cause of human conflict–failure to keep the second greatest commandment–is our “passions” (Jas. 4:1). We’re all sinful, all foolish, all on the way to hell.

But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus offers a way–the only way–off of the path of folly and onto the way of wisdom. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14)

Jesus calls everyone to enter by the narrow gate, to take the road that isn’t taken by most othersAnd Jesus himself is the gate by which we embark on the wise way: “So Jesus again said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. … I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture'” (John 10:7, 9).

How do we take the road not taken? The gospel breaks into the world of Frost’s poem by giving hope, hope that you can get onto the wise way no matter how many times you’ve taken instead the foolish way before. As Paul promises, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). Everyone. No matter how foolish and sinful you are. If you call on the name of the Lord to save you, if you repent, turning away from your sin, and trusting Jesus to save you from your sin by his death and resurrection, you will be saved.

And fellow Christians, following Christ on the way of wisdom means following him in holiness. Paul exhorts us: “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). Peter concurs: “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Ultimately, God himself speaks to us throughout Scripture to equip us “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). Fellow Christians, let us walk by faith in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit the wise way set out for us in Proverbs and in all the books of the Bible, to the glory of God the Father.

Wisdom for a King (Wisdom Wednesday #2)

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Two basic questions to ask when reading a book are (1) who wrote this book? and (2) to whom was this book written? Knowing both the author and audience of a book helps the reader to read the book well. Applying these questions to Proverbs is thus helpful in understanding how it applies to us Christians today.

Solomon wrote and compiled Proverbs in the tenth century BC. Proverbs begins by identifying him as the author of the book as a whole: “The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel” (1:1). According to Prov. 10:1, “the proverbs of Solomon” continue through 22:16. According to Prov. 22:17, the following two and a half chapters are comprised of “the words of the wise” that Solomon has incorporated into his “knowledge.” Chapters 25-29 “also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied” (25:1). Proverbs 30 and 31 conclude with “the words of Agur” and “the words of King Lemuel,” which “his mother taught him,” respectively (30:1 and 31:1). Solomon is thus the main author of Proverbs, both by writing original proverbs and by compiling others, all under inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit.

Solomon originally wrote Proverbs to his sons, especially Rehoboam who was to succeed him on the throne of Israel. The father-son dynamic in Proverbs is apparent early on and throughout the book. In Prov. 1:8, Solomon writes, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” He also addresses his “son” in 1:10 and 15, as well as 2:1; 3:1, 11, and 21. Solomon addresses his “sons” in 4:1-9 before focusing again on his “son” in 4:10, 20; 5:1; 6:1, 20; and 7:1. Solomon, the wisest man ever to live, recorded his God-given wisdom for his sons, especially Rehoboam, who would need this wisdom in order to govern the nation of Israel well.

The individual Proverbs of Solomon gave Rehoboam practical advice for being a wise king. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (11:14). “By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts [or taxes heavily, ESV footnote] tears it down” (29:4). “It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness” (16:12). Biblically, a king should be just and merciful. Sadly, Rehoboam was neither. Though the wisest man in the world, Solomon was not perfect, and in Proverbs he urges his sons not to repeat his mistakes but rather to learn from them. Rehoboam, however, both repeated and worsened his fathers mistakes, which cost him ten of the twelve tribes of Israel (1 Kings 12:1-24). The wisdom for a king found in Proverbs was humanly impossible even for the wisest man on earth and his descendants, which ultimately lost the kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:1-21).

To understand how Solomon’s wisdom for kings applies to us Christians today, we must go through the perfectly wise king, King Jesus. Jesus “established” his throne “by righteousness.” As it is written in Romans 3:21-26,

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Jesus’ life and death were wholly righteous, and his righteousness established his eternal throne over the universe, as Paul puts it elsewhere,

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name (Phil. 2:8-9).

Jesus is the perfectly wise king who established an eternal and universal throne by his perfect righteousness.

Which brings us to how Proverbs’s wisdom for kings applies to us Christians. Adam and Eve were originally meant to rule over creation (Gen. 1:28) but abdicated the throne of this world to Satan when they sinned in Eden (Gen. 3). Jesus, however, has fulfilled God’s promise in Gen. 3:15 to crush the head of the serpent. By his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has defeated Satan. Although Satan still functionally rules over nonbelievers, Jesus has established his throne over all the universe, and we believers are no longer under Satan’s dominion. Paul says that we believers are “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17)–and if fellow heirs, then restored vice-regents as were Adam and Eve before their fall. We believers should therefore strive to live righteously in this life. Put simply, Solomon’s wisdom for kings is universally wise. Kings should be righteous as an example for their people to follow. King Jesus is perfectly righteous, and by the grace of God, we his people are being conformed to that righteousness day by day (Rom. 8:29). Let us Christians therefore wisely “walk in newness of life” because through faith we have been “raised from the dead” with Christ (Rom. 6:4).

God in Solomon’s Proverbs (Wisdom Wednesday #1)

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In the Introduction of his commentary on Proverbs, Tremper Longman III rightly confronts the tendency among some scholars to conclude that Proverbs is a book of “secular advice” in which any mention of God’s name Yahweh “is a sign of a late addition to a consistently secular book” (Proverbs, 57). God is as central in Proverbs as he is throughout the Bible. As Thomas R. Schreiner points out, Proverbs is, in fact, “God-Centered” because “even if Yahweh is not mentioned [in individual proverbs], there was no arena of life in Israel where he was absent” (The King in His Beauty, 281). To take Solomon’s proverbs specifically (10:1-22:16 and 25:1-29:27), we see that God was central to all of Solomon’s wisdom, for he was its source (1 Kings 4:29-34). Not only is God central to Solomon’s wisdom on a variety of subjects as diverse as wealth and speech, work ethic and anger, but Solomon also writes proverbs specifically about God himself. Solomon writes proverbs about God’s divine attributes as the basis for how people should respond to him in faith and obedience.

In his proverbs, Solomon focuses on four attributes of God. First, God is all-knowing. Solomon writes, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3; cf. 20:27). Second, God is just: “The eyes of the LORD watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor” (22:12; cf. 16:2). Third, God is meticulously sovereign over all things, even things as seemingly random as a roll of dice (16:33). Fourth, God is the all-powerful Creator: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both” (20:12). God’s omnipotence is also evident because nothing “can avail against the LORD” (21:30), not even the strongest armies (21:31). Like the rest of the Bible, Proverbs presents God as the all-knowing, just, sovereign, and all-powerful Creator.

The proper response to this Creator is faith. In Proverbs, “fear of the LORD” is the dominant phrase, but it is comparable to “trust in the LORD.” For example, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life” (Prov. 14:27) and “blessed is he who trusts in the LORD” (16:20). Those who properly fear God do not fear his power without also trusting in his goodness. And as the New Testament repeatedly makes clear, Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah Savior who is not only human but also divine. In Jesus’ own words, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30; cf. 17:11, 21). In light of the New Testament, we see that to fear/trust in the LORD is to trust Jesus for salvation. Peter and Paul agree with one another: “You have been born again, not of a perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; … And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:23, 25), for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Before Christ’s first coming, people were saved through faith in a vague but certain “Messiah” who was to come. Since Christ the Messiah has come, we must believe according to the revelation given us. It is not enough to believe in a generic God or a generic Savior; to be saved we must trust Jesus, the God-Man, to save us from our sin by his life, death, and resurrection.

Obedience to God must be based on such faith in him and his Christ. In Proverbs, true wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD. Good works apart from faith are damning, for apart from faith they are filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). Nevertheless, we Christians should begin to respond to God wisely on the foundation of our faith in Jesus for salvation. As Solomon writes, we are no longer to fear people (Prov. 29:25); rather, we should always fear the LORD (28:14). Persevering faith is a central theme in Hebrews (see, e.g., Heb. 3:12-15). Furthermore, we Christians should do good to others, even to our enemies, out of faith in God’s ultimate justice (Prov. 20:22; 25:21-22). (Paul offers the same lesson as Prov. 20:22 and quotes Prov. 25:21-22 in Rom. 12:19-21.) Obedience to our Creator must flow from faith in him as our Savior and Lord.

Proverbs thus confirms the message of the rest of Scripture. As the author and primary actor throughout Scripture, God is prominent in Proverbs, as well. James M. Hamilton Jr. maintains that the message of the whole Bible, of biblical theology, is summed up as: “God is glorified in salvation through judgment,” and Proverbs “teaches” this in addition to every book of the Bible (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, 301). As I have noted in a review, I agree with Dr. Hamilton’s center of biblical theology. I thus believe that the above exposition of Solomon’s proverbs that are explicitly about God (and not tied to other specific topics) demonstrates the centrality of God in Proverbs.

God is central in Solomon’s proverbs. The question posed to us now becomes threefold: Is God central to us in our daily lives? Is Jesus the Son our personal Savior and Lord? Do we strive to please God in faithful obedience to him? May God use the wisdom contained in Proverbs to convict us of sin, to turn us to the only Savior for our sin, Jesus Christ, and to turn us from foolish sinfulness to wise, righteous living for his glory.

Sources

Hamilton, James M. Jr. God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Longman, Tremper III. Proverbs. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Schreiner, Thomas R. The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

 

A Universal Call to Repentance in Proverbs 1

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I have recently begun teaching the book of Proverbs to Calvary’s youth group for our Wednesday night Bible studies. Tonight I’m finishing chapter one, which is a text full of application to us today (whether young or old). In Proverbs 1:20-33, “Wisdom cries aloud in the street” (v. 20, ESV, as are all subsequent Bible references) and calls the simple, scoffing, foolish readers of Proverbs to “turn at [her] reproof” (vv. 22-23). She, however, will judge the people’s continued unrepentant folly (vv. 24-32) unless they listen to her by repenting (v. 33). In his commentary on Proverbs, Tremper Longman III contends that Woman Wisdom “is the personification of Yahweh’s wisdom and thus stands for God himself” (Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, 111). Based on other biblical texts, Longman’s identification of Woman Wisdom with God himself is accurate, and this identification makes Wisdom’s call to repentance in Proverbs 1:20-33 foreshadow God’s universal call to repentance upon the death and resurrection of Jesus.

How Wisdom Personifies God

Proverbs 1:20-23 describes Woman Wisdom’s public call to repentance:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you,
I wil make my words known to you.”

Wisdom’s call to repentance in these verses is public. She “cries aloud in the street,” for all to hear. “She raises her voice” to a large and diverse audience “in the markets.” The streets in which she issues her invitation are “noisy” with the hustle and bustle of city crowds. Indeed, she addresses everyone as they pass through “the entrance of the city gates.” Wisdom calls everyone to repent of their foolish scoffing of the knowledge of God (cf. 1:7, 29).

Of special note is the promise Wisdom makes people if they repent: “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you.” This promise parallels God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:27: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Since God is the only one who can give a spirit, Wisdom is performing a role that only God can fill when she offers her spirit to repentant sinners. Furthermore, Joshua “was full of the spirit of wisdom” (Deut. 34:9), which would “rest upon” the coming Messiah (Isa. 11:2), and Paul prays that God would give the Ephesian Christians “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17). Wisdom offers her spirit (an offer that only God can fulfill), and God is the one who always gives the spirit/Spirit of wisdom, whether to Old Testament leaders or to New Testament believers; therefore, Woman Wisdom in Proverbs is a personification of God. Metaphorically speaking Wisdom personifies God (Longman, 59).

How Wisdom’s Public Call to Repentance Foreshadows God’s Universal Call to Repentance

Since Wisdom personifies God, her public call to repentance foreshadows God’s universal call to repentance upon Jesus’ death and resurrection. Consider Paul’s sermon to the Areopagus in light of Proverbs 1:20-23:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31)

At the Areopagus, Paul addresses Gentiles, people who for centuries had worshiped a pantheon of gods. They had lived in ignorance of the one true God, Yahweh, the God of Israel, and God had “overlooked” their former ignorance (v. 30). Paul is not saying that God did not hold these idolaters’ sin against them; rather, Paul is saying that God had placed that judgment in the future on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death for the time of his second coming (v. 31). Because of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and coming judgment, God now “commands all people everywhere to repent.” The public call to repentance in Proverbs 1 has become a universal call to repentance in Acts 17.

In Proverbs 1, Wisdom publicly addresses everyone within earshot to repent, but her audience is largely limited to Jews (with the exceptions of the occasional Gentile proselyte). With the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, however, the God of all creation now commands “all people everywhere” to repent. The audience of Proverbs has thus expanded from its original Jewish readers to readers the world over. As Longman puts it:

The reader of Proverbs … is represented by the son, or in the case of 1:20-33 and 8:1–9:18 by all young men. These are the implied readers of this part of the book. However, … the preamble broadens the audience of the book to include everyone, male and female, naive and wise (1:1-7). Thus, all actual readers must identify with young men, who are the implied readers of the book. (60)

Wisdom’s appeal in Proverbs 1:20-33 did not merely foreshadow and anticipate God’s universal call to repentance as preached by Paul in Acts 17:22-31; in light of God’s universal call to repentance, Wisdom’s public call to repentance becomes universal in its scope.

But if God calls people to repentance, we need to understand what repentance is, what it means to repent. In his Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Ceslas Spicq defines repentance as

the attitude of unbelievers and sinners returning to God…. The change is that of the soul, of the whole person (the new creature), who is purified of stains and whose life is transformed, metamorphosed. … [T]his contrition is inspired by the knowledge of God and has as its effect eternal salvation. (trans. James D. Ernest, 2:475, 477)

Understanding repentance in this way helps us to see repentance as the difference maker between judgment and salvation. As Paul said to the Athenians, God now “he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed,” Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31). Those who repent, who return their allegiance to God, will be found righteous by faith on the day of Jesus Christ’s judgment of the world. (John Murray rightly notes that repentance and faith are inseparable: “It is impossible to disentangle faith and repentance. Saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with faith” [Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 113].) Those who do not repent, however, will be condemned at the final judgment because of their disobedience to God’s command to repent.

Judgment or Salvation?

The reader of Proverbs 1:20-33 is thus presented with a choice. Will you repent of your idolatrous folly and be saved from sin, or will you continue in your idolatrous folly and face eternal judgment for it?

“Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will mock at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster. (vv. 24-33)

Vv. 24-32 focus on judgment and actually explain in two rounds why God in his wisdom judges unrepentant folly (vv. 24-25, 29-30) and how God in his wisdom judges unrepentant folly (vv. 26-28, 31-32). This opera of gloomy judgment ends, however, on a single quivering note of hopeful salvation (v. 33).

God judges unrepentant folly because it is sinful rebellion. Those who remain in their folly “refuse to listen” to God and do not “heed” his outstretched hand (v. 24). Fools “ignore God’s counsel” and “have none of his reproof” (v. 25). Ultimately, this rebellion to God amounts to a rejection of God. Wisdom, speaking for God, indicts her audience for “hating knowledge” and “not choosing the fear of the LORD” (v. 29). She condemns unrepentant folly because it rejects her wise “counsel” and “despises all her reproof” (v. 30). John Kitchen comments aptly: “What may appear as ‘neglect’ of wisdom is in fact simply that we ‘did not want’ it” (Proverbs, Mentor Commentary, 50). God in his justice cannot leave such sin unpunished and will judge such sinners for their sinfulness at the second coming of Christ.

God’s coming judgment is a prime example of poetic justice. Solomon has already warned the reader that those who “make haste to shed blood” actually “lie in wait for their own blood” and “set an ambush for their own lives” (Prov. 1:16, 18). Wisdom similarly judges those who do not listens to her pleas by not listening to their pleas when they finally get around to calling for her help.

In their own good time, the foolish will reciprocate wisdom’s invitation and search. … However, it is their timing that is the problem. They wanted to go their own way and God has granted them their wish. (Kitchen, 52).

As we in the South like to say, “You reap what you sow.” This indeed is Wisdom’s sobering message. She will mock those who had scoffed at her. Those who hated knowledge will “have their fill of their own devices” (v. 31). Those who are simple and had refused to fear the Lord, who had turned away from him instead of turning to him as Wisdom had entreated, will be “killed by their turning away” (32). G. K. Beale’s thesis in his book on idolatry is applicable to our discussion of God’s judgment on unrepentant folly: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, 16 and throughout, italics removed). Those who had revered themselves rather than God will be ruined precisely for their self-reverence, for their unrepentant folly of rebelling against and ultimately rejecting God.

But as Beale noted in connection with idolatry, there is the hope of restoration for those who revere God rather than themselves. “Whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster,” Wisdom promises (v. 33). Reading this verse in light of the New Testament, we understand that “dwelling secure” is eternal in its extent. Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Revelation are apt. I will use the first and last to prove my point:

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. … He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Rev. 2:5, 7)

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. … The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3:19, 21-22)

Just as Wisdom does in Proverbs 1:20-33, Jesus in Revelation 2-3 exhorts people to “repent.” Although his words are addressing seven particular churches in Asia Minor at the end of the first century, he exhorts anyone (“he who has an ear”) to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus’ message, like Wisdom’s plea, presents readers with one of two options: judgment or salvation (see Beale, 252-254). Those who “repent” and “conquer” are rewarded with eternal life at his judgment (Rev. 2:7) and reign with Jesus (3:21). Those who do not “repent and do the works they did at first” are eternally cast out of Jesus’ presence at his judgment (2:5; cf. 21:8 and Matt. 7:21-23). In light of the New Testament, “dwelling secure” refers to eternal life, which Jesus in his letters to the seven churches of Revelation refers to as a result of repentance.

Just as “dwelling secure” refers to the eternal life of the repentant, “disaster” likewise refers to the eternal punishment of the unrepentant. The Greek Septuagint of Prov. 1:33 translates the Hebrew word for disaster as kakos, which appears in the New Testament in connection with eternal punishment:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil [kakos]. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim. 6:9-10)

By looking at the relationship of v. 10 to v. 9 in 1 Tim. 6, we see that a specific evil that the love of money bring about is “destruction,” which in Hebrews and 2 Peter refers to eternal punishment:

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Heb. 10:39)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. … And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Pet. 2:1, 3)

“Destroyed” in Heb. 10:39 refers to eternal punishment because it parallels the “preservation” of the souls of the faithful, who enjoy eternal life. “Destruction” in 2 Pet. 2:1, 3 refers to eternal punishment because it is coupled with “condemnation,” which refers to the condemnation at the last judgment. Since 2 Pet. 2:1, 3 and 1 Tim. 6:9-10 describe greed as a cause of destruction or eternal punishment, and since 1 Tim. 6:10 describes this eternal punishment as an example of “evil” (kakos), then we understand “disaster” (kakos) in Prov. 1:33 to have within its purview the eternal punishment of the wicked, whom Wisdom in Proverbs 1:24-33 describes in terms of unrepentant folly.

Conclusion

I have attempted to prove that Wisdom’s public call to repentance in Proverbs 1:20-33 foreshadows God’s universal call to repentance as preached by Paul in Acts 17:22-31. To do this, I have shown that various biblical passages corroborate Tremper Longman’s suggestion that Woman Wisdom be identified not merely as God’s wisdom but as a personification of God himself. Since Wisdom is a personification of God, her call to repentance anticipated God’s universal call to repentance. In light of God’s contemporary universal call to repentance, we now read Wisdom’s call to repentance in Proverbs 1:20-33 as universal in scope. Similarly, her threats of judgment and promise are salvation are also enlarged upon by the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the Christ, the Savior of all who believe and repent. Wisdom’s reasons for and methods of judgment are consistent with Jesus’ reasons for and methods of judgment upon his second coming. As wisdom commended repentance for resulting in dwelling securely, so now Jesus’ command to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) results in dwelling securely for eternity. The New Testament reveals that the “disaster” to which Wisdom consigned the unrepentant is none other than the eternal punishment to which Jesus will consign the unrepentant at his final judgment.

When we acknowledge a universal call to repentance in Proverbs 1 in light of the New Testament, we see how urgent the gospel is, both for us and for others. If you’re not currently trusting Jesus Christ to save you from your sin by his death on the cross, I pray that the message of these Bible passages would prompt you to trust him now for salvation, repenting and turning away from your sin to follow him. For those of us who are already Christians, we do well to heed Jesus’ words in Revelation 2-3. As Beale notes,

The use of the formula “he who has an ear let him hear” in Revelation, while indicating a spiritually anesthetized majority in the churches, is an address to those who really do have spiritual ears to hear “what the Spirit is saying” to them in order to persevere, not compromise and to continue to reflect the image of God in the world. (282-283)

Jesus’ words, while addressing churches, were written to mixed audiences of both believers and unbelievers. The call for us believers is, as Paul puts it, to “examine ourselves, to see whether we are in the faith”; you are to “test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5). Or as Paul had written earlier to the Corinthians: “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). May we take seriously John’s words: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). J. D. Greear is absolutely right: “Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from; salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life” (Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved, 5).

May God help us, fellow Christians, prayerfully to examine our lives for pockets of remaining sin. May God help us to confess those sins, when found, to him. May he help us to combat those sins, and may he help us to maintain our repentance for the rest of our lives, to the praise of his glorious grace in predestining us to be adopted as his sons and daughters in Jesus Christ! Amen.

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