The Wisdom of God
Recently several from our church attended the Ligonier’s 1994 Dallas Conference. Among the speakers were Charles Colson and R. C. Sproul. My favorite speaker was my former seminary professor, Dr. Bruce Waltke, who spoke on the subject, “What Does God Require,” from Micah 6:8. After a very fine exposition, Dr. Waltke gave opportunity for questions. One question concerned the particular words used in the original text of Micah 6:8. When he heard the question, Dr. Waltke tipped his head back, closed his eyes, and prepared to answer.
Sitting beside me was my friend and colleague in ministry, Mark Sellers, who was hearing Dr. Waltke for the first time. Most impressed, especially by the way Dr. Waltke prepared to answer the question, Mark said, “When he closed his eyes, he was mentally reading the text, wasn’t he?” “Yes,” I replied, “with one significant addition . . . he was mentally scrolling the Hebrew text in his mind’s eye.” I am convinced that is exactly what happened.
Dr. Waltke is one of my favorite Bible expositors, and the first thing that always impresses me is his great love for the Lord. The second is his love and commitment to the text of the Scriptures. Here is a man whose knowledge of the Old Testament is awesome.
It is a joy to behold wisdom and knowledge in a man. How much greater then to find in God wisdom and knowledge unsurpassed and infinite. The beauty of God’s character is that each of His attributes compliments the other attributes. We have already considered the infinite power of God—His omnipotence—which enables Him to do anything He chooses. We further studied the goodness of God, which motivates God’s every action toward those who believe, as well as His common grace to unbelievers and believers alike. Now we turn to His infinite wisdom. When we consider these attributes together—God’s goodness, wisdom, and power—we find great comfort and encouragement.
If there is anything the Bible teaches us about God, it is that He is all-wise.
“With Him are wisdom and might; To Him belong counsel and understanding” (Job 12:13).
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable (Isaiah 40:28).
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romans 11:33; see also Job 9:1-4; 36:5; Isaiah 31:1-2).
God is all-wise, infinitely wise:
“Behold, God is mighty but does not despise [any;] [He is] mighty in strength of understanding” (Job 36:5).
Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite (Psalms 147:5).
God’s wisdom is vastly superior to human wisdom:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9; see also Job 28:12-28; Jeremiah 51:15-17).
God alone is wise:
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, [leading] to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 16:25-27; see also 1 Timothy 1:17; Jude 1:25).
It is God who is the source of wisdom:
For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth [come] knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6).
Daniel answered and said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him” (Daniel 2:20).
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).
What is Wisdom?
One might sum up the meaning of the term “wisdom” with the words, “know how.” Wisdom is based upon knowledge. Often, in fact, wisdom and knowledge are mentioned together (see Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; Luke 1:17 (AV); Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 1:24; 2:5; Colossians 2:3; Revelation 5:12; 7:12). Wisdom cannot exist without a knowledge of all the facts pertinent to any purpose or plan. For example, building a Disneyland in Europe seems to have been a disaster. If this venture fails as it seems certain to do, it is because it was planned and built without the knowledge of some very crucial data. Some very serious miscalculations were made which may prove fatal to this venture. The God who is all-wise is also the God who is all-knowing.
God knows everything. Theologians use the term “omniscient” when speaking of God’s infinite knowledge. God knows everything about everything. He knows what men are thinking (see Ezekiel 11:5; Luke 5:21-22). He knows everything that is going to happen. He even knows everything that could happen, under any set of circumstances (see, for example, 1 Samuel 23:10-12; 2 Kings 8:10). God cannot devise a bad plan or fail to bring His purposes and promises to their conclusion because He knows everything. His omniscience undergirds His wisdom.
Wisdom is not just knowledge, but “know how.” God’s wisdom enables Him to “know how” to do anything (see 2 Peter 2:9). Wisdom entails the skillfulness to formulate a plan and to carry it out in the best and most effective manner. Bezalel was a craftsman, a man with incredible “wisdom” in the art of making the furnishings for the Tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5). Joshua had been given wisdom to know how to lead the nation Israel (Deuteronomy 34:9). Solomon asked for and received the wisdom and knowledge needed to rule Israel (2 Chronicles 1:7-12).
A. W. Tozer and J. I. Packer have defined wisdom as follows:
“In the Holy Scriptures wisdom, when used of God and good men, always carries a strong moral connotation. It is conceived as being pure, loving, and good.… Wisdom, among other things, is the ability to devise perfect ends and to achieve those ends by the most perfect means. It sees the end from the beginning, so there can be no need to guess or conjecture. Wisdom sees everything in focus, each in proper relation to all, and is thus able to work toward predestined goals with flawless precision.”17
“Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it. Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fulness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariable wise.”18
The Wisdom of God in the Bible
When it comes to the wisdom of God, a picture is worth more than a thousand words. As we look at a few passages of Scripture which speak of the wisdom of God, we will attempt to sharpen the definition of God’s wisdom and show its relevance to our daily lives.
Wisdom at the Fall of Man: Genesis 2 and 3; Proverbs 3
I must confess I had never considered the account of the fall in Genesis in light of the wisdom of God. Nevertheless, it is clear that Eve’s desire for wisdom contributed to her fall:
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make [one] wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:1-6, emphasis mine).
Verse 6 informs the reader just how Eve came to perceive the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She perceived it as good, good for food. She came to see it as delightful to look at and as desirable because she now believed the fruit of this tree would make her wise.
Let us be very clear: the way Eve perceived the forbidden fruit of that tree was not reality. Eve now saw the fruit of that tree as Satan wanted her to perceive it. She saw the tree as desirable because she was deceived:
For it was Adam who was first created, [and] then Eve. 14 And [it was] not Adam [who] was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But [women] shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint (1 Timothy 2:13-15).
The fruit of the tree was not good for food, because God had forbidden Eve and her husband to eat it. And neither was the fruit of that tree able to make one wise. The tree was able to do what its name indicates. It was not called the “tree of wisdom,” but the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Eating of the fruit of the tree did enable Adam and Eve to “know good and evil.”
Wisdom is not “knowing good and evil.” Wisdom is knowing good from evil. Eating the fruit of the forbidden tree did cause Adam and Eve to know evil. They knew evil by experience.19 The worst of it is that Adam and Eve did come to a new awareness of “good and evil,” but notice what happened in the process. What was evil became “good” in their eyes. Eating of the fruit of that tree was forbidden by God. To eat that fruit was to do what was evil. And yet, with a little prompting and deception by Satan, Eve came to see this “evil” (by God’s definition) as “good” (in her perception, as suggested by Satan).
After eating the forbidden fruit, that which was “good” came to be looked upon as evil. When God made Adam and then His wife, they (like all the rest of God’s creation) were good in His sight. They were created naked, and they knew no shame. Their nakedness was good in their state of innocence. But once they sinned by eating the fruit of that tree, they were ashamed of their nakedness and tried to cover themselves. Their nakedness was no longer “good” but “evil.” And the fellowship they enjoyed with God was most certainly good. But once they disobeyed Him, they tried to hide from His presence rather than enjoy it. Why? Because this “good” (of enjoying God) was now “evil.” They knew good and evil, but now the labels have been switched. Is Satan not guilty of doing that which God forbade?
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20).
Satan assured Eve that in eating the fruit of the forbidden tree she would be “like God, knowing good and evil” (verse 5). Satan’s sin was in trying to be “like God” in a competitive way and by his own effort (Isaiah 14:14). I fear Eve’s motivation may have been similar. The truth was that eating of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” would not make Eve “like God.” Eating that fruit was disobedience; it was sin. God is righteous, and one does not become like Him by sinning. She was deceived, quite deceived, as Paul points out in 1 Timothy 2:14.
But was it wrong for Eve to desire to be wise? Surely it cannot be evil to desire to be wise, can it? When “knowledge” is the knowledge of evil, then ignorance truly is bliss. But did God want to keep Adam and Eve ignorant? Did He forbid them to become wise? Not at all! God wanted Adam and Eve to be wise concerning what is good and ignorant of what is evil:
For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil (Romans 16:19).
Satan’s “wisdom” was a knowledge of “good” and “evil.” And in the knowing of evil, Adam and Eve became alienated from the enjoyment of “good.”
Adam and Eve were given every opportunity and encouragement by God to know Him, to be like Him, and to be wise with respect to all that is good. Let us note some of the ways God made this possible. First, they could be wise concerning good by becoming students of creation:
O LORD, how many are Thy works! in wisdom Thou hast made them all; The earth is full of Thy possessions. 25 There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great. 26 There the ships move along, [And] Leviathan, which Thou hast formed to sport in it (Psalms 104:24-26).
Him who made the heavens with skill, For His loving kindness is everlasting (Psalms 136:5).
The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens. 20 By His knowledge the deeps were broken up, And the skies drip with dew (Proverbs 3:19-20).
“The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. 23 From everlasting I was established, From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills I was brought forth; 26 While He had not yet made the earth and the fields, Nor the first dust of the world. 27 When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, 28 When He made firm the skies above, When the springs of the deep became fixed, 29 When He set for the sea its boundary, So that the water should not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth; 30 Then I was beside Him, [as] a master workman; And I was daily [His] delight, Rejoicing always before Him, 31 Rejoicing in the world, His earth, And [having] my delight in the sons of men” (Proverbs 8:22-31).
[It is] He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens (Jeremiah 10:12).
[It is] He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. 16 When He utters His voice, [there is] a tumult of waters in the heavens, And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, And brings forth the wind from His storehouses (Jeremiah 51:15-16).
Did Adam and Eve wish to be wise? Then let them study the creation of which they were a part. Did they wish to know “good?” Then let them know it in His creation:
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:24-25).
Did Adam and Eve desire to know “good” and to become wise, like God? Then let them take every advantage which God gave them to be with Him in sweet communion and fellowship. It would seem God daily was walking in the garden with Adam and his wife (Genesis 3:8). And the moment they sinned by disobeying Him, they attempted to avoid being in His presence. How much they could have learned of Him and from Him!
Did Adam and Eve wish to become wise and understanding? Then let them obey God:
“So keep and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4:6).
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do [His commandments]; His praise endures forever (Psalms 111:10).
Satan deceived Eve into believing disobedience was the path to wisdom when the opposite was, and still is, true. Wisdom is not the cause of obedience as much as the result of obedience. We obey God not because we are wise enough to do so, but because we trust in God and His wisdom which is revealed in His commandments. By disobeying God, Adam and Eve evidenced their distrust in God and His infinite wisdom.
Finally, Adam and Eve could have become wise by eating of the fruit of that other tree, just as prominently placed, perhaps even more prominently placed, in the center of the garden—the tree of life. Our understanding of Genesis 3 is greatly enhanced by a consideration of Proverbs 3.
1 My son, do not forget my teaching, But let your heart keep my commandments; 2 For length of days and years of life, And peace they will add to you. 3 Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 So you will find favor and good repute In the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your body, And refreshment to your bones. 9 Honor the LORD from your wealth, And from the first of all your produce; 10 So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine. 11 My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD, Or loathe His reproof, 12 For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father, the son in whom he delights. 13 How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding. 14 For its profit is better than the profit of silver, And its gain than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her. 16 Long life is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. 17 Her ways are pleasant ways, And all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who hold her fast. 19 The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens. 20 By His knowledge the deeps were broken up, And the skies drip with dew (Proverbs 3:1-20, emphasis mine).
From a cursory study of this text, several truths are self-evident and serve as a most helpful commentary on Genesis 3 and the fall of man. First, we are urged to desire wisdom as something of the highest value (see verses 13-18). Divine wisdom is to be greatly desired. Satan turned Eve’s desires in the opposite direction—to that which would lead her from wisdom to folly—from life to death. Second, we are told that divine wisdom is evident in creation (verses 19-20). Adam and Eve had all creation before them to teach them of God’s wisdom. God was not withholding His wisdom from them, but displaying it before them. Third, wisdom does not balk at discipline, but recognizes it as an evidence of the love of God (verses 11-12). Eve was led to believe exactly the opposite. Satan suggested God withheld the forbidden fruit because He was selfish and unloving. Fourth, wisdom is the result of obedience (verses 1-2). Satan convinced Eve that wisdom would result from her disobedience. Fifth, to have true wisdom, we must cease trusting in ourselves and our own assessment of what is “good” and trust rather in God’s wisdom and in His commands. Sixth, we should see that wisdom is a “tree of life” (verses 2, 18). I do not think this image of a “tree of life” is haphazard. Eating of the “tree of life” was the way to wisdom, which is why Satan sought to change the focus of Eve’s attention and desire from this tree to the forbidden tree.
The fall of Adam and Eve may seem a distant, unrelated event of ancient history, but do not be deceived by this false perception. We have much to learn from Eve and much to apply in our own daily lives. As Paul urged, we must seek to be wise about what is good and ignorant concerning evil: “I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil” (Romans 16:19b). We must learn to focus our desires on what is good and to discipline those desires which lead to our destruction:
Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved (1 Corinthians 10:6).
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).
As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God (Psalms 42:1).
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:1-2).
Christians today seek to be wise, but all too often it is not God’s wisdom they seek. They seem ignorant of the fact that there is a false wisdom which must be rejected:
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and [so] lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:13-18).
For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you (2 Corinthians 1:12).
These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, [but are] of no value against fleshly indulgence (Colossians 2:23).
The wisdom of God and the “wisdom” of men are not the same; they are not compatible. Indeed, they are in opposition to each other:
18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not [come to] know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden [wisdom,] which God predestined before the ages to our glory (1 Corinthians 2:1-7).
We sometimes hear, “All truth is God’s truth.” In a sense, I suppose this is true. But the only “truth” we know to be truth is the “truth” which is in Christ, the truth revealed in God’s Word (John 17:17). All other “truths” are claims of truth which may or may not be true. The one thing we do know about these other “truths” is that they are not essential truths, for God has revealed to us “all that is necessary for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
True wisdom, the wisdom which is a “tree of life,” does not come from below, from man; it comes from above, from God. Too many Christians try to become wise by reading secular sources (not that we should avoid all secular reading, but we should not read these to become wise). And even more Christians are reading books and works written by “Christian experts,” who merely mouth secular thinking baptized with religious terminology. Let us desire God’s wisdom as a “tree of life,” and let us look for it in God’s Word and pursue it by keeping His commands. Let us not persist in the very thing which brought about the fall.
For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth [come] knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6). 12 “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, And I find knowledge [and] discretion. 13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way, And the perverted mouth, I hate. 14 Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. 15 By me kings reign, And rulers decree justice. 16 By me princes rule, and nobles, All who judge rightly. 17 I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me. 18 Riches and honor are with me, Enduring wealth and righteousness. 19 My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, And my yield than choicest silver. 20 I walk in the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice, 21 To endow those who love me with wealth, That I may fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:12-21).
The Wisdom of God in Christ and His Church: Ephesians 1 and 3
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, 8 which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth (Ephesians 1:7-10).
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly [places.] 11 [This was] in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory (Ephesians 3:8-13).
God’s Wisdom Revealed Through Israel: Romans 9-11
God promised Abraham that in him, in his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). It seems this would have taken place through the entire nation, but history makes it clear the nation will not be subject to God and will persistently resist and rebel against God. It was not through the seed (plural) of Abraham that God brought about the blessing of the world, but through the seed (singular) of Abraham—Jesus Christ:
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as [referring] to many, but [rather] to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ (Galatians 3:16).
And the “sons of Abraham” are not just the physical seed of Abraham (see Romans 9:6-13) but the spiritual seed of Abraham:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:26-29; see also Romans 4).
It was not through the obedience of the nation Israel the Gentiles came to possess the blessings of Abraham’s seed; it was through their disobedience:
For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all (Romans 11:30-32).
Looking back on the salvation God has brought about in Christ, in spite of and even because of Israel’s disobedience, Paul can only stand in awe of the wisdom of God to plan such a thing and bring it about:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him [be] the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
God’s wisdom exceeds man’s wisdom and even man’s imagination. God brings about what He has promised in ways we could never imagine or even believe if we were told in advance. God’s wisdom is seen in His dealings with the nation Israel.
God’s Wisdom Revealed in Christ to the Church: Ephesians 1
Paul indicates in Ephesians 1 the eternal purpose of God to sum up all things in Christ. In the Old Testament, the coming of Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah was progressively revealed in greater detail. This began with the promise of salvation from sin and the defeat of Satan through Eve’s seed in Genesis 3:15. It was more fully disclosed in the Abrahamic (Genesis 12:1-3) and Davidic (2 Samuel 7:14) covenants. In the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 22) and the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 52:13–53:12), more and more was said about Messiah, until in Micah 5:2, we are told His birthplace.
God promised to bring salvation and blessing not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. He promised a Messiah who was a man, the seed of Eve and of Abraham and of David, but also One who was the divine Son of God. He foretold of a coming of Christ in which He would be rejected and suffer for the sins of men (Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13–53:12) and of a triumphal coming of Messiah to put down His enemies (Psalm 2:7-9; 110). These seemingly contradictory promises made the whole matter of God’s purpose a mystery (see, for example, 1 Peter 1:10-12). But with the first coming of Christ, the mystery has been resolved. And now, as Paul indicates in Ephesians 1, the matter has come into focus in Christ. All of God’s purposes and promises culminate in Christ. And now, in place of wonder at the mystery of the past, we are overcome with wonder at the wisdom of God which accomplished all of this.
God’s Wisdom is Being Revealed through the Church: Ephesians 3
God’s eternal purpose is to reveal His wisdom to the celestial beings as well as to His church. God is still accomplishing His purpose, which will culminate in the second coming of His Son and the establishment of His kingdom upon the earth. When this purpose and program is completed, the full scope of God’s wisdom will have been revealed, and this wisdom will be revealed as so great it will provide the fuel for the praise of God throughout all eternity.
Is it any wonder the basis for every creature’s (earthly and heavenly) eternal praise may be worthy of thousands of years to establish? No wonder God is taking His time in revealing and bringing to completion His marvelous plan decreed in eternity past, which in its culmination discloses His infinite wisdom.
In thinking about this text in Ephesians 3, it suddenly occurred to me that God is something like an awesome writer, producer and director, although I wouldn’t press the analogy too far. In eternity past, the script of history was written, and there are no edits. His eternal plan was formulated in His goodness and wisdom. The Israelites and saints of Old were the actors or players in times past, and the saints (not to mention all others) are the players today. Even the angelic host, including Satan, is involved in this great drama. Each act is a dispensation or, for non-dispensationalists, a new outworking of God’s plan. Act I began with the creation of the angelic hosts and ended with the fall of Satan. Act II began at the creation of the world and with mankind, starting with Adam and Eve. Act III commenced with the calling of Abraham. Act IV began with the birth of the nation Israel at the Exodus. Act V commenced with the first coming of Christ. The great and final act begins with the second coming of Christ.
The purpose of this lengthy drama is the demonstration of the glory of God. In Ephesians 3, Paul speaks of God’s purpose as God presently working to display His wisdom through the church. When this act or chapter is consummated, all creation, including the heavenly creatures, will have all eternity to marvel at His wisdom and to praise and glorify Him.
Do we sometimes wonder why God takes so long to fulfill His promises and to answer our prayers? It is because His drama is vastly bigger than we are, and He has chosen to take thousands of years to present it to the cosmic audience. Do we wonder why we cannot understand at present exactly what God is doing, how he is using the most unusual circumstances (including man’s sin and rebellion, sickness, death, sorrow) to achieve His purposes? God leaves these matters a mystery because He is creating and sustaining the interest of His audience. He, the great author, producer, and director, is creating the suspense appropriate to the grand conclusion of the final act. He dare not inform us, because we would then not be proven faithful to the degree that we are. And He also dare not inform us because this would dispel the intense curiosity and wonder which holds all of heaven in rapt attention (see 1 Peter 1:12; 1 Corinthians 11:10).
Do we sometimes wonder why God is putting us to the test in a seemingly private and personal way, a way that no one seems to be aware of but us? Our thinking is wrong! There is, as the writer to the Hebrews informs us, a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) looking on with fixed attention even this moment. When we endure the tests and trials of this life, without knowing as Job did, for example, we are left with only one thing in which to trust—God Himself. When life simply does not make sense, we must look to Him who is the Author and the Finisher of our faith, to Him who has a great cosmic plan, a plan to reveal His glory and to accomplish that which is good for His people. We must trust in Him who is all-wise and who is also all powerful.
What a great privilege is ours to be a part of this great drama and to have a part in bringing praise and glory to our all-wise God! This matter is beautifully summed up by A. W. Tozer:
“With the goodness of God to desire our highest welfare, the wisdom of God to plan it, and the power of God to achieve it, what do we lack? Surely we are the most favored of all creatures.”20
By: Bob Deffinbaugh
Robert L. (Bob)Deffinbaugh graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with his Th.M. in 1971. Bob is a pastor/teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas, and has contributed many of his Bible study series for use by the Foundation. Bob was born and raised in
17 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1961), p. 66.
18 J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 80.
19 In Genesis 4:1, we are told Adam “knew” his wife. This speaks not of intellectual knowledge, but of personal, intimate, and experiential knowledge. I believe “knowing” good and evil is the knowledge of evil which comes by experiencing it.
20 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Pu