by M. Jaegle

Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures

GOD'S PRE-EONIAN GIFTS, grace, life and wisdom, have many traits in common, in that they all reveal His love to the ecclesia of today. Beyond this, however, we discover, in this three-starred galaxy, beams that differ from one another. The gift of wisdom has special features which distinguish it from the others. This becomes apparent when we consider the following questions:
1. For what condition or what situation of the recipients, has God prepared each gift?
2. What is His purpose and object in each?

The answer to these questions may run thus: God's grace is intended for sinners, and His life for the death-doomed. Both gifts are divine means of salvation for the condition of the lost. Not so the gift of wisdom. With it God does not come to the help of the lost, but presents it to those who are already saved, and, indeed, only after they have attained a measure of maturity in the new life. In the following condensation we may clarify these thoughts, together with their pertinent passages:

Grace given for sinners for salvation (2 Tim.1:9). Life promised for death-doomed for life (Titus 1:2). Wisdom is for the mature for glory (1 Cor.2:6,7).

Every child of God, when first believing, has a minute measure of divine wisdom. The very reversal of his mode of life to accord with divine principles shows it. Yet the special wisdom which God has selected as the gift for today's ecclesia is only for the mature, says Paul, because the immature are not able to grasp it (Col.1:28).

As the reception of this wisdom demands a certain ripeness in the life of faith, it follows that there are different grades. Indeed, we may even speak of a number of wisdoms, as God has selected that for us, so that there are evidently a variety of gifts of this kind. Of them God has foreseen a special measure of wisdom for us, in accord with our transcendent position by grace. This can be shown in the Scripture as a whole. What a multitude of wisdoms do we find in the people of Israel! Yet the present administration transcends them all. Before we set forth these differences we will consider the intuitive instinct which was in humanity from the beginning, and follow the wisdom which was given to men in Israel. So we may learn, not only of the transcendent riches of our own gift, but also the essence and object of all wisdom.


We read nothing of Adam's wisdom, yet he possessed a large amount of natural understanding. God formed from the ground all life of the field and all the fliers of the heavens, but he did not name them. Yet "He is bringing it to the human to see what he will call it. And whatever the human living soul is calling it, that is its name" (Gen.2:19,20). So Adam gave every animal an appropriate name. This naming was not senseless guesswork, but identified it by some special feature, as in the case of the partridge, which was named by its call, qra. So wide was Adam's knowledge in the earthly creation. This he had before he became a slave of sin and his body was dying to die.

No doubt many of the patriarchs had a measure of wisdom granted to them, but the Scriptures do not refer to wisdom directly until Joseph is carried down to Egypt.

In the morning, after his remarkable dreams, Pharaoh called on the sacred scribes and wise men to explain them. But only Joseph was able to do this, for he was given wisdom by God (Gen.41:8; Acts 7:10). After he had interpreted the dream, he advised the King: "And now, Pharaoh will see to a man of understanding and wisdom, and set him over the land of Egypt" (Gen.41:33). And saying is Pharaoh to his servants: "Will we find one as this man, who has the spirit of God in him?" And saying is Pharaoh to Joseph, "After God has made known to you all this, there is no one as understanding and wise as you" (38,39). In this the king intimates that true wisdom comes only from God's spirit. And, in fact, Joseph ruled Egypt so wisely that he was a type of Christ's reign in the coming kingdom. In his case God gave wisdom to one man in order to save many people.


In contrast to the wise and beneficial course of Joseph, Moses had a sorrowful experience in the first part of his career. Stephen says of him: "Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, yet was powerful in all his words and works" (Acts 7:22). This wisdom was considered the highest known in those days. Moses had rightly understood that he was to be the deliverer and leader of his people, but he sought to fulfill it by means of his worldly wisdom. In this way he demonstrated that it makes one incapable of leading any people. He went ahead of God, when he used his own strength (Ex.2:11-15; Matt.20:25; Mark 10:42; Luke 22:25). But he did not get very far with it. He had to flee. Only after forty years in the school of God in the wilderness (Acts 7:30) and the appearance of Ieue, and learning the plan of salvation (Ex.3:1-9) was he called to lead Israel. Then the divine instructions gave him the wisdom to carry out his great commission (Ex.4:12).

A course of instruction in little things was needed by Bezaleel and Aholiab. God put it into their hearts for making the tabernacle and the holy vestments of Aaron, the chief priest. The plans for these were made by God. During the forty days that Moses was in the mount, God showed how everything was to be made. Repeatedly he was warned to make everything according to the divine pattern (Ex.25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8). But Moses does not seem to have been given any drawings for the workers to follow. And, in this case, an inventive mind was not sufficient, such as Tubal Cain had to forge tools in copper and iron (Gen.4:22). The tabernacle and all with it were types of the future plan of salvation, so it had to be exactly in accord with God's instructions, in order to harmonize with that which it represented. As this was beyond the powers of a mortal mind, God selected two Israelites, and endowed them with a special gift of wisdom, besides providing a number of helpers. The record reads (Ex.31:1-6): And speaking is Ieue to Moses, saying,"See! I call by name Bezaleel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the stock of Judah. And filling him am I with a to-subjectors' spirit, with wisdom, and with understanding, and with knowledge in all work, to design designs, to make them in gold and in silver and in copper, and with amethyst, and with purple, and with double-dipped crimson, and with corded cambric sheen, and as a lapidary for filling, and as a carpenter to make all work. And I, behold I give him Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the stock of Dan. And in the heart of all the wise of heart I put wisdom. And they make all that I instruct you."

Besides the wisdom which each God-fearing person may have for his own blessing, and which these men doubtless also possessed, they were endowed with a special wisdom for the blessing of the whole nation. This wisdom, imparted to them by God's spirit, demanded the cooperation of both. As there were no elaborate plans, they needed the ability to think constructively. They cooperated with the spirit of Alueim, and developed this gift, so that they were able to fashion the forms according to the mind of God.

But that was not all. Through their obedience they developed a further trait of wisdom. We read in Ex.35:30-35, especially in verse 34: "And to direct puts He into his heart, he and Aholiab..." Beside the ability to grasp the divine thoughts, they possessed the gift of teaching others of their people, who were to help them, to do the work understandingly. In brief, we may explain their divine wisdom thus: It was a manifold gift which enabled them to understand the divine patterns, and to work according to God's plan, and to teach others to help them. This short consideration of the wisdom of Bezaleel and Aholiab is a good introduction to that which is given to us, as the same principles apply.

Solomon's wisdom has become a proverb. In fact, he was given extraordinary riches of divine wisdom. Let us consider how he came to possess it. Beginning with his humble realization of his own inability to reign properly, he asked God for the needed wisdom (1 Kings 3:7,8). In this request, and in the answer given, we have a good indication of what wisdom consists. Solomon asked for a harkening heart to judge the people, that is, to reign aright, and to discern between good and evil. In the divine response this is condensed to an understanding to hearken to judgment. God gives His answer as follows: "Behold! Done have I according to your word. Behold! Given to you have I a heart wise and understanding, that such as you has not been before you, and after you shall rise such as you" (1 Kings 3:12). In 1 Kings 4:29 we read, "and giving is God to Solomon wisdom and exceedingly much understanding, and wideness of heart as the sand which is on the sea shore."

And really, we see that God did not say too much when we read of the great range of Solomon's wisdom. He spoke "three thousand proverbs, and his songs come to five thousand. And he speaks concerning trees, from the cedar which is in Lebanon unto the hyssop which comes forth in the wall. And he speaks concerning the beast and the flyer and the reptile and the fish" (1 Kings 4:32,33). Truly this was understanding and wideness of heart for sinful mortals which we can hardly imagine. It comes near to the intuition of Adam in paradise. Probably Solomon was the greatest scholar that ever lived. "Yet profiting is he who became a wise assembler. Still teaches he the people knowledge" (Ecc.12:9). From this it appears that he may have delivered public lectures besides his writings. According to Josephus he also described three thousand herbs as well as wrote a work on botany, which has been lost.

A closer glance at Solomon's wisdom shows that it was of two kinds. This is seen in the two scrolls which he wrote, Rules (Proverbs) and Assembler (Ecclesiastes). In the latter he describes all the advantages and enjoyments which he could afford by means of wisdom, and the result of his observations through his insight into the human heart and into the life of humanity. But in his deepest heart he was disappointed and unsatisfied, even unhappy. Unrestrainedly he speaks of this in Ecclesiastes. In a minor key of sadness he confesses what the achievements of his wisdom are: "Vanity of vanities, says the assembler. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (Ecc.12:8). Besides this, despite all his wisdom, he was drawn aside by his foreign wives to the worship of abominable idols. As a result of his disappointing experience, he closes this scroll with the admonition: "The Alueim fear, and keep His instructions" (12,13). This is his superior wisdom, which we find in his Rules (Proverbs).

Now it is worthy of notice that he wrote these wise rules of living, generally speaking, as exhortations for his son Rehoboam, so that he would be spared a life of sin at a distance from God. Repeatedly he warns against the evil into which he himself fell (Prov.2:16-19; 5:1-23; 6:23-32; 7:23,26-28). This shows that he wrote the scroll after his own failure. By bitter experience he learned the lesson that only that wisdom has enduring value to preserve one from failures, which leads to the right relationship to God. Yet what rich fruit did he still reap during his lifetime! To his unusual wisdom with which no other mortal was blessed (1 Kings 3:12), he now adds another, far better, to which all his subjects could attain. It consisted of a life in the fear of God, the Holy One, which was the highest attainable wisdom in the administration of the law. It kept men from serving idols, and led to fellowship with God, as far as it was possible in that day.

And now we will hear what value this wise king put upon a God-fearing life: "The start of wisdom is the fear of Ieue" (Prov.9:10). In the beginning of wisdom Solomon saw possibilities which could lead to further unfoldings. Certainly it was an enjoyable wisdom and an encouragement to those striving to go forward.

The wisdom of Solomon was not only unique and complete in itself, but from it springs a further way on which we also may proceed and learn much about divine wisdom. Argur, son of Jakeh, who wrote a number of original rules, will lead us. In Prov.30:3 a revised text reads, "Yet Al taught me wisdom. And the knowledge of the holy things I know." Positively and imperatively expressed, this would read, "Learn wisdom to understand the knowledge of the holy things."

First of all, these words show that wisdom is attained by gradual growth, for what is learned may be developed and perfected. Certainly, in the end all wisdom is a gift of God. Yet, as every other gift must and can be unfolded, so with the gift of wisdom.

Argur gives us a goal which may be reached by learning wisdom, that is valid in every administration, and in the different grades, high or low. Whether the most holy God, or the holy of holies, the innermost part of the tabernacle or the temple is intended, it is all the same, for this room was devoted to the presence of Ieue, so the knowledge of which Argur speaks deals with God Himself, then Ieue, the Alueim of Israel. In this holy of holies was the coffer which held the tablets of the law. On the coffer was the propitiatory shelter, or lid, with the two cherubim with out-spread wings. But not these things, even if of massive gold, made this place the holiest of all, but that of which we read in Ex.25:22: "Appointments keep I with you there, and I speak with you above the propitiatory shelter, from between the two cherubim which are over the coffer of the testimony, of all which I am instructing you for the sons of Israel." Surely every God-fearing Israelite wished to learn as much as possible of that which was spoken in the holy of holies. And this was the way, then, to attain to wisdom. So said David (Psa.19:17). This shows plainly the way of wisdom. Hearing, accepting, and meditating on the word of God. That is why wisdom is so often named in close connection with knowledge and understanding (2 Chron.1:10-12; Prov.1:5; 4:5; 8:12; 10:14; 15:7,17; 17:24; 18:15; Ecc.1:16). We may say, then, that wisdom is a deepened knowledge of God.

The wisdom of Daniel is as well known as the wisdom of Solomon. Even if they are, basically, of a different sort, they run parallel in this, that both these men asked for it, and God Himself had fashioned the circumstances which led to their prayers (1 Kings 3:5; Dan.2:12-18). Thus both were the gift of God. Daniel was gifted with wisdom from his youth (1:3,4). For the faithfulness with which he and his friends obeyed and honored God (1:8-16), He gave them "knowledge and intelligence in every scroll, and wisdom. And Daniel it caused to have understanding in all visions and dreams" (1:17). As they were interrogated by the king himself, he testified that, in every matter of wisdom or of understanding which the king seeks of them, he is finding them ten hands above all the sacred scribes and magicians which were in all his kingdom (1:20). Thereupon God brought up a problem in the life of the king, through a dream which escaped his memory. And by it He showed Daniel that, with all his wisdom, he did not possess it all. And Daniel was humble enough to acknowledge it and to ask for further wisdom. He arranged with his friends that they should unite in "petitioning for compassion from the God of heaven concerning this secret that Daniel and his partners perish not with the remaining wise men of Babylon" (Dan.2:18). After the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, he utters a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, which is the best explanation of his wisdom.

"Then to Daniel, in a vision that night, the secret of the king is revealed. Then Daniel blesses the Alue of the heavens. Answering is Daniel and saying: To the name of Him, Who is Alue, is blessing, from the eon and unto the eon, for the wisdom, and the mastery, seeing that His is that. And He is altering the eras and the stated times. He is causing kings to pass away, and is setting up kings, granting wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those knowing understanding. He is revealing the deep and the concealed, knowing what is in the darkness, and a stream of the light with Him solves. To Thee, God of my forefathers, acclaiming and lauding am I, that wisdom and mastery Thou dost grant to me. And now Thou dost make known to me that which we petition of Thee, in that the king's matter Thou hast made known to us!" (Dan.2:19-23).

Solomon had insight into the world of nature, but Daniel was shown the divine operations among the nations. He was granted the most far-reaching revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The solution of Nebuchadnezzar's dream Daniel calls divine wisdom and understanding which he had received from the divine depths. It is worthy of notice that he joins "wisdom and might," and that he gives thanks for might as well as wisdom. Thereby he shows that it demands divine might for the reception of His wisdom as well as for making it known to others. Grand, indeed is the short sketch of human history until the coming of God's Kingdom which he gave the king. But it is still grander to see God take the role of Saviour according to His universal principle of operation. First, through the wisdom imparted to Daniel, he and his friends were saved from impending death. Then the salvation was extended to the other wise men of Babylon, "the wise men of Babylon may you not destroy" (Dan.2:24), so, by the power of God could he speak to one of the mightiest of kings. Then Nebuchadnezzar, who intended to be a murderer, was not only hindered from his intention, but also glorified God in the confession which he made to Daniel (Dan.2:47).

"In verity, your Alue, He is Alue of Alueim, and Lord of kings, the only Revealer of hidden secrets, seeing that you were able to reveal this secret." Verily, these are precious fruits of God's wisdom, and not Himself alone, but for His creatures as well.


Beside this unusual prevision of future history, as seen by Daniel and Joseph, there is another common wisdom, not so broad and deep. Solomon says, "A season and a custom is known to the heart of a wise man" (Ecc.8:5). We read of some so gifted in 1 Chron.12:32: "from the sons of Issachar, those who know understanding of the season, to know what is to be done by Israel." They also gave a good example by not keeping their knowledge to themselves, but shared it with their brethren and were so convincing that they also were true to the king. Indeed, they serve us also as encouragement, for we acknowledge Christ, even though the world does not. The wisest God-given course is to recognize the King before he is crowned. They were a type of those who followed Christ, the great King, even though Israel rejected Him.

In these Scriptures we find some, if not all the foundation facts regarding the essence of wisdom. In general, it is insight into the true nature of anything, the knowledge concerning hidden, imperceptible developments, and dealing logically therewith, and the intelligent application of it to our own lives, with profit and advantage to ourselves.

Besides the examples already given, some of the ancient men of God had a special wisdom that was far in advance of all others at that time. They were already acquainted somewhat with God's purpose with regard to evil and suffering. They did not say simply that they had been rescued out of this or that distress, but that it had been transformed into blessing.

So Moses interpreted the slight which Baalak, at Balaams' behest, wished to hurl against God's people, but was hindered (Deut.23:5). Nehemiah also speaks of this incident in the same vein (Neh.13:2). In Esther's days, when the Jews were to be destroyed, and God saved them in a wonderful manner, Mordecai, in his report, said that they had been turned from affliction to rejoicing, and from mourning to a good day (Esther 9:22).

At a time when Israel was deeply benighted by sin, the prophet Amos revealed God as the one who is "turning the shadow of death to morning, and the day to night dost darken" (Amos 5:8). The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah see, in spirit, how God will use this wisdom in the future. When Isaiah reveals that Ieue Alueim creates the darkness (45:7). He had already said that He converts darkness before them into light (42:16). And Jeremiah shows, in his mighty prophetic picture of Israel's glorious future, that its sorrows will be changed into joy.

Some who were sorely tried had sufficient grace in their distress to give a practical expression to this truth. Let us consider Job, who took the evil from God's hands just as he did the good (2:10) and eventually experienced how God turned the evil into good (42:12). David also took the same stand. As he was fleeing from his son Absalom and met Shimei he said, "Leave him be, and he will make light of me, for Ieue says so to him" (2 Sam.16:11). p35 Seeing the Purpose of EvilGod justified his action by reinstating David in his royal honors. And king Hezekiah bore witness: "Behold! For my welfare bitter for me is my bitterness" (Isa.38:17).

In order to grasp this truth, to bear witness to it, indeed, to put it into practice, we need divine wisdom. And these pious men of old possessed it, so that they saw God's wise hand transform damage into usefulness. Fruits of evil, as they knew, did not disturb God's work, but were opportunities by which He could reveal His divine skill in turning the bad into blessing. Yet these were only tiny samples of what He could do. He was able to perform much greater things, yea, the greatest accomplishments of the kingdom of darkness will He transmute into beneficial light and vitalizing blessing. Such wisdom was reserved for those who received His latest revelation. And this knowledge is the gift of His most profound wisdom.


We have seen, from the foregoing that the Hebrew Scriptures are able to lead us deeply into the nature of divine wisdom, into its advanced as well as its elementary phases. On the basis of this information we may formulate the following brief but basic principles, as they are seen in all the early men of God who were gifted with wisdom:

Moses: The possession of the wisdom of Egypt proved that worldly wisdom is useless for divine dealings.

Joseph and Daniel: This wisdom, given by revelation, predicting the course of history, brought to them a salvation which they could share with others. It operated according to the divine principle: Election is for the blessing of the non-elect.

Bezaleel and Aholiab: They were called and gifted, and endowed with wisdom for skilful handicraft. This demanded their working together for intelligent cooperation in God's service and the development of the gift of teaching others.

Solomon: The greater wisdom of Solomon consisted in this: Life in the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Augur: He teaches that wisdom is nourished by deepening our knowledge of God.

Men of Issachar: Their wisdom gives understanding as to God's time and hour, and to convince others.

The Pious in Israel. The deeper wisdom they possessed contained the elements for the solution of the problem of evil. In its continuation and deepening lies the secret wisdom which has been granted through Paul. This was not made known in the Hebrew Scriptures.

M. Jaegle

(To be continued)

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