Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Call from His Heights

I’ve been preaching through Proverbs for a while now during our Lord’s Day evening service, and teaching through L. Michael Morales’ most excellent Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? (InterVarsity Press, 2015) on Tuesday mornings. While Morales’ work focuses on the Pentateuch (especially Leviticus), the principles of biblical theology he highlights span the entire Bible. In this post, I want to examine a few places where the “mountain of the LORD” finds a thematic echo in Proverbs with the house of the Woman Wisdom at the top of the city and her call to join her for a feast in the heights.

“Does not wisdom call,
And understanding lift up her voice?
On top of the heights beside the way,
Where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
Beside the gates, at the opening to the city,
At the entrance of the doors, she cries out
‘To you, O men, I call,
And my voice is to the sons of men.
O naive ones, understand prudence;
And, O fools, understand wisdom.
Listen, for I will speak noble things;
And the opening of my lips will reveal right things.
For my mouth will utter truth;
And wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness;
There is nothing crooked or perverted in them.
They are all straightforward to him who understands,
And right to those who find knowledge.
Take my instruction and not silver,
And knowledge rather than choicest gold.’
(For wisdom is better than jewels;
And all desirable things cannot compare with her.)
‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate.
Counsel is mine and sound wisdom;
I am understanding, power is mine.
By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice.
By me princes rule, and nobles,
All who judge rightly.
I love those who love me;
And those who diligently seek me will find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
Enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold,
And my yield better than choicest silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
In the midst of the paths of justice,
To endow those who love me with wealth,
That I may fill their treasuries.
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth;
While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world.
When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary
So that the water would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in the world, His earth,
And having my delight in the sons of men.
Now therefore, O sons, listen to me,
For blessed are they who keep my ways.
Heed instruction and be wise,
And do not neglect it.
Blessed is the man who listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at my doorposts.
For he who finds me finds life
And obtains favor from the Lord.
But he who sins against me injures himself;
All those who hate me love death.’
Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn out her seven pillars;
She has prepared her food, she has mixed her wine;
She has also set her table;
She has sent out her maidens, she calls
From the tops of the heights of the city
‘Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!’
To him who lacks understanding she says,
‘Come, eat of my food
And drink of the wine I have mixed.
Forsake your folly and live,
And proceed in the way of understanding’”
(Proverbs 8:1-9:6)

The false “wisdom” (see James 3:14-16) the “Woman Folly,” makes it her ambition to deceive through her imitation of  this ascended true wisdom:
“The woman of folly is boisterous,
She is naive and knows nothing.
She sits at the doorway of her house,
On a seat by the high places of the city
Calling to those who pass by,
Who are making their paths straight:
‘Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,’
And to him who lacks understanding she says,
‘Stolen water is sweet;
And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’
But he does not know that the dead are there,
That her guests are in the depths of Sheol”

Notice the contrast between the message given “on a seat by the high places of the city” with the final result of that message: “…her guests are in the depths of Sheol.”

The same contrast between ambition-to-heights and Sheol is seen in the taunt of the king of Babylon:
“…you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit’”
(Isaiah 14:13-15).

In the story of the tower in Babel, the LORD had to “come down” (וַיֵּרֶד, from יָרַד) to engage the builders (Genesis 11:5), implying that their place of construction was in a lower realm. In the same way, the woman Folly’s realm is a descending one toward Sheol:
“…the lips of an adulteress drip honey
And smoother than oil is her speech;
But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down
[יֹרְדֹות, from יָרַד] to death,
Her steps take hold of Sheol.
She does not ponder the path of life;
…her house is the way to Sheol,
[יֹרְדֹות, from יָרַד] to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 5:3-6; 7:27).

In the other Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the “heights” are known as the domain of God:
·        “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven,
And my Advocate is on high
(Job 16:19).

·        “Dominion and awe belong to Him
Who establishes peace in His heights
(Job 25:2).

·        “And what is the portion of God from above
Or the heritage of the Almighty from on high?”
(Job 31:2).

In the Song of songs, the lovers either dwell on mountains and descend to meet, or are compared to mountains.
·        “‘Listen! My beloved!
Behold, he is coming,
Climbing on the mountains,
Leaping on the hills!
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Behold, he is standing behind our wall,
He is looking through the windows,
He is peering through the lattice.
My beloved responded and said to me,       
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along”’” (Song of songs 2:8-10).

·        “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the secret place of the steep pathway,
Let me see your form,
Let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet,
And your form is lovely”
(Song of songs 2:14). How can we not hear an echo of Exodus 33:18-23 in this Song?

·        “Until the cool of the day
When the shadows flee away,
I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh
[1:13; 3:6; 4:14; 5:1,5,13]
And to the hill of frankincense
[3:6; 4:14](Song of songs 4:6).

·        “You are altogether beautiful, my darling,
And there is no blemish in you.
Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
May you come with me from Lebanon.
Journey down from the summit of Amana,
From the summit of Senir and Hermon,
From the dens of lions,
From the mountains of leopards…
…a garden locked is my sister, my bride,
A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up…
…you are a garden spring,
A well of fresh water,
And streams flowing from Lebanon”
(Song of songs 4:7,8,12,15). As the garden in Eden was built on a mountain and its river flowed downward to water the lower region (representing the “four corners” of the earth) in Genesis 2:10-14, the bride of this Song dwells on high in a garden whose spring flows down to lower realms.

·        “You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
As lovely as Jerusalem”
(Song of songs 6:4).

The “heights” in the Psalms, too, are the domain of the LORD:
Psalm 7:7; 10:5; 18:16; 68:18; 71:19; 92:8; 93:4; 102:19; 144:7; 148:1.

The call of the “Woman Wisdom” in Proverbs to join her for a feast in the heights echoes the call from heaven in the Revelation to “come up here” (4:1; 11:12; compare with Exodus 24:12; 34:2).

This “Woman Wisdom” is a personification of “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17), given to those who “ask in faith without any doubting” (1:6), “coming down from the Father of lights” (1:17).

Jesus promises His disciples that a time will come when they are arrested and persecuted. They will not stand alone to give witness, but the Christ assures them that He Himself “will give…utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute” (Luke 21:15). Where is Jesus while His disciples are standing trial for His “names’ sake”? From where will He give them “utterance and wisdom”? He is in the heights: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (21:27,28).

The “Woman Wisdom’s” call to join her in the heights points us to the gifting of the Father and Son from above. It is “in the Spirit” (given by the Father and Son from “on high,” Luke 24:49) that we are lifted up with the apostle to “a great and high mountain,” from which we meet the descending “holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God” (Revelation 21:10,11). This “city” is imagery for the Church, which is “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9). She is no mere piece of architecture, but a people. Us.

The Bible paints a single, glorious portrait of a return to a greater walled garden on the mountain of God, greater than the one from which we were exiled at the beginning of the story. Elements of this beautiful mural are found all over the Book, including the Wisdom Literature. May we catch glimpse of these, and may they, by the illumination of the Book’s Author, God the Holy Spirit, enrapture us to an elevated joy in what God has in store for His people.
Pueblo Mountain, north of Taos, New Mexico (2010)

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