Proverbs: God’s Plaything
What is God?
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If any book in the Bible reflects a decidedly non-Jewish influence, it is the book of Proverbs. While it has references to Hashem all over the place, and there is plenty of Biblical-sounding wisdom sprinkled throughout, there is also a very non-Biblical Greek flavor to the underlying premise of the book. It just sounds like a Jew who had really taken to the Greek philosophy thing. Sure he put Solomon’s name at the beginning, but that’s the oldest trick in the book. Associate the book with a traditional name from so far back in time that nobody can possibly prove it wrong and before you know it people believe it. If it’s a book about wisdom, what better name could there be than Solomon, the wisest of all men? Traditionalists, of course, take that Solomon attribution at face value. If it says Solomon wrote them, who are we to question it?
The Greek side of it doesn’t matter all that much. The Greeks were the dominant culture in the area where the most progressive part of the Jewish people were living, so it only makes sense that some Greek influence should have worn off on the Jews. There was a lot of wisdom floating around Greek culture. Most scholars of the western world would rate them as the strongest historical influence on what became the western outlook on life. That the Jews should learn a thing or two from them is no surprise.
‘Wisdom cries outside, in the public squares she gives her voice. She calls out in the streets, at the opening of the gates; in the city she says her sayings: For how long you simpletons will you love being simple, or scorners who delight in scoffing, or fools who hate knowledge?’ (1:20-22) ‘If you call for insight, if you give your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver, if you search for it like buried treasure – then you will understand the fear of Hashem and will find the knowledge of Elohim; for Hashem will give wisdom, from His mouth knowledge and understanding’ (2:3-6). ‘It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and those who protect it are fortunate. Hashem founded the world on wisdom and established the heavens with understanding’ (3:18-19).
You get the idea. It gets more practical as things go on, but it always maintains a little bit of a pie-in-the-sky ‘wise man’ air. It has a lot about God throughout the book. It isn’t just pushing human intelligence and common sense. Wisdom ultimately comes from God and the goal of the wisdom is to understand God. But it is a long road to get there.
‘Hashem created me (wisdom) as the beginning of His way, the first of His actions from old. I was established before time, from the beginning, before the earth. Before the depths I began, before the springs filled with water. Before the mountains were shaped, before the hills, I began; while the earth hadn’t yet been made, the outsides, the surface of the dust in the world. When the heavens were prepared, I was there, when He drew a circle over the surface of the deep…And I was by Him as a nursing babe, and I was His delight day by day, playing before Him at all times - playing in His world, and delighting in the children of man’ (8:22-31).
These are pretty widespread accolades for wisdom. But we are interested not so much in what wisdom can do for us as in how wisdom is related to God. We are looking for images of God. One thing is clear right off the bat – wisdom is not a god. Deifying wisdom may have been a thoroughly Greek idea. Wisdom is a gift from God and a faculty that God used to create the world, but it is not identical with God. So, at best, what we will get out of this text is not an image of God but a tool that God employs.
Perhaps the best place to start is with those verses from the 8th chapter, the verses about wisdom being a ‘nursing babe’ and a ‘delight’ for God that ‘delighted in the children of man’. What is this all about? It is one thing for wisdom to be the ‘beginning of His way, the first of His actions of old…established before time, from the beginning before the earth’. That shows that wisdom was right there with God from the very start. It preceded even the act of creation. It seems to be God’s fundamental trait – the basis for everything. But comparing it to a nursing babe or a plaything is going a bit too far.
On the other hand, maybe it is just what the doctor ordered. It is all very well and good that wisdom was the first thing that God used and all that, but it doesn’t say anything about God other than that God has the common sense to do things sensibly. This business about being a nursing babe gives a personal touch to it – an emotional bond similar to that between a mother and a baby. Wisdom was there from the beginning, perhaps not even as a creation of God but as a part of God’s personality.
We’ve seen already how the image of Hashem as a personal God translates into God having a personality. This personality may include such godly traits as mercy and justice. But the first of them all was wisdom. Before God could be merciful or just, God had to have wisdom. This state of things – of God simply being wise with no creation to treat with mercy or justice – was the true primordial state of things. It was God playing with His most fundamental faculty, nursing it until it grew and developed into what was needed to create a universe.
God played with wisdom, delighted in it, shaped it into something of infinite use and liked what He saw. For God to play with a toy is a strange analogy, even by Biblical standards. For God to nurse a baby is even stranger. But this is the analogy that is found in Proverbs. Could it be saying that in some divine way, God actually enjoys all this? Could it be saying that God loves wisdom and cares for it like a mother loves a baby and cares for it more than anything in the world? It certainly sounds that way. Wisdom is God’s baby. It is God’s toy to play with and to delight in. God has fun.
This is an amazing idea. To find it in the Bible and in the rather cerebral book of Proverbs to boot is nothing short of astounding. But there it is. It is true that it is just a parable, but all parables have an element of actual truth in them. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be parables at all. That God delights in His plaything, in His first toy, is incredibly revealing.
It doesn’t stop there. That toy, that baby, had to mature and be shared with others. God didn’t keep it to Himself like a child might keep a security blanket and not allow others to see it or touch it. God shared it with His creations. It was the most precious toy that God could have shared so it is a gift from the depths of God’s heart. This is really the crux of this entire book. Wisdom is God’s toy that God shared with creation. God created the world with it and now God wants the creations to enjoy it as much as God enjoyed it. To grasp it is to grasp the Tree of Life. To find it is to find life. To reject it is to cheat oneself of the greatest gift there is and to choose death.
There is an interesting twist in the words describing playing and delighting in wisdom. First, the text says that God played with it. Then it says that it played before God. Then it says that it played in the world. Finally it says that it delights in the children of man. It seems that wisdom itself is maturing from being a toy for God to delight in to becoming a mature component of reality that delights in a creation of God that it was meant for. This is not any old toy. This is like the toys in the movie Toy Story that care about the children that play with them and want nothing else but to make those children happy. Wisdom was nurtured by God, nurtured into a becoming a source of delight and enjoyment that makes life worth living. Wisdom itself wants nothing more than to enable those other children, the children of man, to find the same delight in it that God found in it. God shared his precious plaything with us and wants us to play with it.
Maybe God still plays with wisdom, and still nurses it and delights in it. Maybe God is still having a whale of a time out there in the heavens or wherever He hangs out these days. He still plays with wisdom like in the good old days before time and the depths and the dust of the world. He’s still frolicking around with His old plaything, nursing it and enjoying it for all the world, like a child with a teddy bear.
Perceiving the Image
By any definition of the term, this is an unexpected image. Whatever anybody might have guessed the Bible might say about what God is or does, it is a good bet that nobody would have said that God is like a child playing with a toy. Maybe there would be a few gutsy Bible experts who would have considered the nursing mother analogy, but if they were Jewish they would probably never have voiced their thoughts for fear of coming too close to forbidden Christian images. But there you have it. God played with wisdom. On top of that, God may not even through with playing with wisdom.
To perceive the image of God as one who nurses a baby and plays with toys is going out on a limb. The only kosher way of bringing out the image is with the toy that is the godliest of toys. It wouldn’t work with a teddy bear or a computer game. It had to be something that would at least be worthy of God. Wisdom fits the bill exactly. It is a toy that is not a toy. As anyone who really studies this book can see, it is the primary method through which God’s mode of thinking is imparted into the human mind. We, with our fallible and tempestuous human minds, are privy to the loftiest and most enlightened wisdom of the Creator. It is the godliest of the various gifts that God imparted to us to use in our lives. But it is still a toy, an object of pleasure. We can derive just as much enjoyment out of it as God once did and will continue to do so.
We may find that seeing God enjoy reality is a refreshing image of an increasingly distant deity. The heavy philosophical trend that pushed God out beyond the farthest reaches of the universe and into the never-never land of deism and then into the chasm of atheistic non-existence has its obvious drawbacks. Perhaps we all need an image that brings God back into the human heart that we can pal around with and ask if He or She or It is still having a good time. It isn’t so terrible if God enjoys being God. God wants some enjoyment amidst all that intense creating and guiding; and God wants us to share that delight.
Admittedly, this is radical. We are trained to not think of God in this way and it strikes an unwelcome chord in almost everyone. Are we wrong in this? Have we been judging God by some lofty godly standard that isn’t quite accurate or complete?
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