There is a direct connection between wisdom thinking and creation.
Ángel M. Rodríguez
Old Testament scholars generally recognize that wisdom thinking and theology are directly related to the topic of creation―and that creation provides a coherent perspective from which to study it by perhaps providing a way to integrate wisdom thinking into the theology of the Old Testament. This direct connection between wisdom thinking and creation justifies examining the possible role or influence of Genesis 1 to 3 on wisdom thinking.
Creation Motifs in the Book of Job
It is generally recognized that the author of Job was acquainted with the creation account of Genesis and used it in the development of some of his arguments. The book contains a significant number of creation motifs and discussions.
Creation of humans. Although we do not find a study of the origins of human beings in Job, the writer is acquainted with the creation of humans as recorded in Genesis. Elihu, when arguing that often humans do not ask for God’s help, states that “‘no one says, “Where is God my maker”’” (Job 35:10, NASB).1 The participle translated as “the One who created me” pertains to the verb translated “to make, do, create,” which is “the commonest verb for ‘create’” in the Old Testament.2 This is the same verb used in Genesis 1:26 when God said, “‘Let Us make man in Our image.’” Elihu is assuming that God is the Creator of humankind. Job also uses the same participial form to refer to God as “‘He who made me’” (Job 31:15). He refers to himself as the “‘the work’” of God’s hands (14:15). The connection between the use of this verb in Job and in Genesis is strengthened by linking it to the “breath” of God and to “clay.”
Job sees God as a potter, or artisan: “‘Your hands fashioned [“to shape, form”] and made me altogether’” (10:8). He proceeds to clarify that concept by saying, “‘You have made me as clay’” (vs. 9). The verbs translated “to fashion” and “to make” are used as synonyms to refer “to God’s act of creation.”3 “To fashion” stresses “the artistic skill of a craftsman in making an image”4 or even an idol. Job conceives of God as an artisan who shaped and created humans from clay. Clay is the raw material used by the potter to produce what he or she intends to do. When used with reference to God, it points to God’s sovereignty and care for humans (Jer. 18:4‒8; Isa. 64:8). In the context of creation, clay is the raw material God used to create humans. This term is not used in Genesis 1 and 2, but instead: “of dust from the ground” (Gen. 2:7). In the Book of Job, clay and dust are practically used as synonyms (10:9). Humans “‘“dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust”’” (Job 4:19). When they die, they return to dust (34:15), an idea explicitly found in Genesis 3:19. The conceptual connection is quite clear.
In Genesis, the movement from clay to a living human being occurs when God breathes “into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). This is also the case in Job: “‘As long as life is in me [literally, “the breath is in me”] and the breath of God is in my nostrils’” (Job 27:3). The Hebrew term translated as “breath of life” designates the divine gift of life bestowed to humans at creation, which constitutes the dynamic nature of human life that is sustained by the “spirit of God.”5 They are both given “to human beings as life-giving powers.”6 When God withdraws both of them, the result is death (Job 34:14, 15). The Book of Job presupposes that the writer knew about the origin of humanity recorded in Genesis 2.
Some additional evidence strengthens this conclusion. In Job 31:33, Job is speaking: “‘Have I covered my transgressions like Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom?’” The only linguistic connection with Genesis is the term translated “Adam,” which could be a proper name (Gen. 4:25) or a collective noun, “humankind” (1:27). This reference to Adam has been interpreted in different ways, but the most obvious one is to take it as referring to Adam. There is in the text a clear allusion to Adam’s attempt to conceal his sin before the Lord by blaming Eve (3:12).
The second passage is found in one of the speeches of Eliphaz, in which he asks Job, “‘Were you the first man to be born, or were you brought forth before the hills?’” (Job 15:7). Eliphaz is reacting to Job’s attack against the wisdom of his friends. This passage deals with two different moments: existence and pre-existence. The first is about the moment when the first man was born/came into existence—the image of birth is used to speak about creation—and the second refers to the time before creation—before the hills were created. Was Job the first man created, or was he created before anything else? Here Psalm 90:2 could be useful: “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even before everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” This passage indicates that the verbs translated as “born” and “birth” can be used figuratively to refer to the divine work of creation. In this case, the birth of the “first man” designates the creation of the first human being and would at least contain an allusion to Adam. One wonders whether Eliphaz is satirically asking Job whether he thinks he is wiser than the first man or even than God Himself. The possibility of the allusion to Adam is quite strong.
The last passage to be considered here is Job 20:4, in which Zophar asks Job: “‘Do you know this from of old, from the establishment [“to place, to put”] of man [“Adam”] on earth?’” The biblical background for this statement is Genesis 2:8: “The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.” The presence in Genesis 2:8 of the words translated “Adam” and “the man” make the connection between the two passages practically unquestionable. What Zophar is bringing to the table “is traditional wisdom, which he pretends to be as old as Adam, and he marvels ironically that Job has not yet learned it.”7
Alleged existence of other accounts. Some have found in Job 33:6 evidence of a non-biblical study of the origin of humanity of Mesopotamian origin. In the text, Elihu is addressing Job: “‘I belong to God like you; I too have been formed out of clay.’” It has been argued that in some myths dealing with the origin of humans, the Akkadian word translated “to pinch off,” takes as its object clay. In one of the Akkadian myths, the goddess Mami “snipped off fourteen pieces of clay”8 to create humans. In another one, two goddesses “nip off pieces of clay”9 from the Abzu, give them human forms, and place them in the womb of birth-goddesses where the clay figures develop and are later born as humans. Based on this mythology it has been suggested that in Job we find at least traces of a myth that is significantly different from what is narrated in the Genesis account.
One could perhaps give serious consideration to the previous interpretation if it could be demonstrated that Elihu, coming from Uz and under the influence of Mesopotamian thinking, was not acquainted with the creation account found in Genesis. But this is not the case. In Job 33:3, as already pointed out, he uses ideas now recorded in Genesis 2:7 to refer to the origin of his life: God gave him the breath of life. Second, Elihu is attempting to answer some of the arguments used by Job to support his views. In chapter 13, Job argues that it appears to be impossible to enter into a dialogue with God. Now, Elihu says to Job that since they are both humans, they can enter into a dialogue with each other. They both were created from clay (10:9; 33:6) and God gave them the breath of life (27:3; 33:4). In other words, “their common humanity is traced to creation.”10 Elihu seems to be developing an argument based on the creation narrative recorded in Genesis 1.
Concerning the meaning of the verb translated as “formed,” the translation “to be nipped off” is only assigned to its usage in Job 33:6, and this is done under the influence of the Akkadian cognate. There are four other usages in the formation in the Old Testament. In three of them, the direct object is the eyes. In such cases the meaning seems to be “to blink/squint the eye” (Ps. 35:19; Prov. 6:13; 10:10). The phrase refers to a nonverbal communication consisting of a gesture that could express mockery, deception, or indifference. In one case the direct object is lips: “He who compresses his lips brings evil to pass” (Prov. 16:30), probably referring to a gesture of disdain or deception.
A Ugaritic verb could also be useful in attempting to establish the meaning of the Hebrew verb translated as “formed.” The Ugaritic word, like the Hebrew verb, has two slightly different meanings, namely “to nibble, to bite gently, to gnaw; to mold, to form.”11 The first usage is compatible with the passages in the Old Testament in which the verb translated “formed,” when used in conjunction with “eyes” or “lips,” means “to wink/squint,” “to compress.” The Ugaritic verb is also used with clay to express the idea of shaping it into an effigy. This usage fits well the meaning of the Hebrew verb in Job 33:6, thus justifying the translation, “formed out of the clay.” Therefore there is no need to postulate the presence of a Mesopotamian representation of the origin of mankind or traces of it in Job.
Creation and de-creation. Several scholars have noted the influence of the creation account in the prologue and the third chapter of Job.
● Prologue. It has been suggested that if Job 1 and 2 are read through the filter of Genesis 1 to 3, there may be a correlation that is not accidental but that is the result “of a conscious adaptation of Genesis to the fabric of the new narrative.”12 Only a few of the connections deserve consideration. Although the case is not as strong as one would like it to be, it could be argued that there seems to be an intertextual connection with Genesis. The description of the family and possessions of Job appear to be a fulfillment of God’s command to Adam and Eve and to the animals to multiply and be fruitful (Job 1:2, 3; Gen. 1:22, 28). The blessing bestowed upon Adam and Eve has also been granted to Job (1:10). The creation narrative seems to “create the atmosphere”13 for the story of Job, who is described as living in an idyllic state. This is reinforced by the reference to a seven-day cycle in Genesis implied in Job (1:4, 5).
Job’s idyllic state of being changes in a radical way, and he experiences “de-creation.” Having lost everything, he was left with only his wife. It is probable that the tragedy began during “the first day of the seven-day cycle, as his children celebrated ‘in the eldest brother’s house’ (vs. 13). This is when creation should begin.”14 Job’s first reaction to de-creation is summarized in the sentence: “‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there’” (1:21). In Genesis 2, the human awareness of nakedness surfaces at the moment when, on account of sin, de-creation begins. Job is also realizing that he is heading toward death. The saying may be identifying the “womb” with the ground from which humans were taken and to which they will return (Gen. 3:19).
One more theological connection between the prologue of Job and Genesis 3 should be considered. In both cases an adversary—the serpent, the satan—is in dialogue with another person: God in Job, and Eve in Genesis. But the fundamental attitude of the adversary is the same. The theological concept of a cosmic conflict is present in both, and the adversary’s primary object of attack is not Eve or Job; it is God Himself. In both cases he attacks God’s way of governing His creation. In the case of Eve and Adam, God is charged with restricting their self-expression and development by threatening them with death. In the case of Job, God is accused of having bought Job’s service by protecting Job and his family; the satan insinuates that if God would only withdraw that protection and stop being Job’s provider, Job would be able to express himself and would break his relationship with God, as Adam and Eve did.
The creation account provides the background for the prologue of Job to emphasize the radical experience that Job went through. What he experienced was like the deconstruction of creation experienced by Adam and Eve but with one difference—he was innocent. This made his experience more intriguing.
● Job’s first speech. Some have found intertextual connections between Job 3 and the creation account in Genesis. It is argued that Job’s first speech is “a counter-cosmic incantation designed to reverse the stages of the creation day of his birth, which were thought to be essentially the same as the stages of the seven-day creation of the world.”15 What Job is doing is expressing a “death wish for himself and the entire creation.”16 The following parallels have been identified:
Figure 1. Parallels Between Job 3 and Genesis 1 and 2
If the thematic connections are accepted, they would have to be interpreted in terms of reversal, or de-creation. But not all the parallels are persuasive. There is not a valid parallel for Day 2, and Day 3 is omitted. Overall, it could be argued that the creation account of Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 seems to provide the theological background for Job’s first discourse as he wishes for the impossible, the undoing of his creation. This is particularly the case with respect to the phrase “may that day be darkness” (Job 3:4) which is basically the opposite of that found in Genesis 1:3: “‘Let there be light.’” But probably the most radical contrast is the one of rest. After creation, God rested to celebrate the goodness of creation, but Job wants to rest in death, thus denying the value of his life (3:13).
There are other linguistic parallels: days and years (Gen. 1:14; Job 3:6) and light and night (Gen. 1:14, Job 3:3, 4). It may also be important to notice that there is a reference in Job 2:13 to a period of seven days and seven nights during which Job and his friends sat on the ground “with no one speaking a word.” This is a period of inactivity and deep silence in contrast to Genesis 1, where God is active every day and His voice is constantly heard. It may also be useful to observe that Job’s attempt to de-create his own existence takes place through the spoken word in the form of a curse; whereas God’s creation takes place through the power of His spoken word that occasionally takes the form of a blessing (Gen. 1:22, 28). The idea that in using Genesis as a background for the expression of his emotions and wishes Job is aiming at the de-creation of the cosmos is foreign to the biblical text.
● Creation and God’s speeches. The divine speeches in Job 38:1 to 40:5 are developed around the topic of creation as God takes Job in a cosmic tour. De-creation is not present in the text, but the Genesis creation account provides a background for the speeches. The first speech the Lord addresses to Job “consists of dozens of questions about the cosmos. They begin with creation and advance in a pattern that approximates the first chapter of Genesis”17 (38:4–39:30). Of course, God is describing to Job creation as he experiences it; and consequently, we find in the speeches comments on the presence of death on earth (38:17). This is possible because the speeches are not primarily about the creation of the earth and all that is in it. They are not even about creation as it came out of the hands of the Creator. This is creation as Job and we encounter it today. But the speeches presuppose that God is the Creator, and this idea goes back to Genesis.
The first speech can be divided into two sections. The first one is mainly about the earth, the sea, the stars, and meteorological phenomena (Job 38:8–38). The second part is about the fauna (38:39–39:30). The speech begins with a reference to the moment when God is creating the earth (38:4–7). A building image is used for the divine act of creating the earth in which God is metaphorically described as “the architect (v. 5a), the surveyor (v. 5b), and the engineer (v. 6).”18
This is not another creation narrative different from Genesis 1, but a metaphorical description of what we find in Genesis (1:9, 10). It is the theological background of Genesis that allows for the use of the metaphor. In the immediate context of the founding of the earth by the Lord, the separation of the waters or sea from the earth is mentioned. In Job 38:10, God separates the earth from the sea by setting limits to the sea in order for it not to encroach on the earth. As in Genesis, this is creation by separation. Besides, in the rest of the speech, as will be seen, Genesis 1 plays an important role. The use of the building metaphor “emphasizes the wisdom and discernment required in its grand design,”19 something that only God possesses.
A comparison of Job 38:4 to 38 with Genesis 1 suggests a significant number of linguistic connections between the two passages. The list in Figure 2 summarizes the evidence:
Figure 2. Comparison Between Job 38 and Genesis 1
These linguistic connections are to some extent to be expected in a speech about the natural world. But the fact that within the speech itself there is a clear reference to God’s creative activity (Job 38:4–7) indicates that the biblical writer was using the creation account of Genesis as a theological background for the speech. As already indicated, God is depicted as an architect and builder who lays the foundation of the building, takes measures, and then finishes the project by placing the cornerstone (38:4–6). From that moment on, the speech assumes that God is the Creator of everything there is in the cosmos. In this section, the speech is based on what God created during Days 2, 3, and 4 of creation week. (See Figure 3.)
Figure 3. Days 2 to 4 in Creation Week
The discussion is organized on the basis of the days of creation using a couple of panels (ABA’B’) and a chiasm (CBC’). The speech moves from the content of one day to the other to nurture curiosity and to introduce the unexpected. Therefore, Job could not anticipate what would come next in spite of his acquaintance with the creation narrative.
The rest of the first speech as well as most of the second speech (Job 40:6–41:34) are based on Days 5 and 6 of the creation account and concentrate on the fauna or zoology. The material seems to be organized as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4. Days 5 and 6 in Creation Week
The literary pattern found in this section is formed by three panels of the A + B pattern and an incomplete one that creates a literary envelope for the content of the structure. The speeches presuppose the creation narrative of birds and animals as recorded in Genesis 1, but it provides much more information concerning the habitat of the animals and their behavior. The main purpose for using Genesis as a point of reference in the speeches is to provide for them an organizational pattern—a back-and-forth movement of the activities of Days 5 and 6. In other words, without Genesis 1 as a referent, the long list taken from the natural world will not show any particular order or pattern.
● Summary. This discussion has provided enough biblical evidence to suggest that what the Book of Job says about creation is influenced by the creation account of Genesis. This is particularly the case with respect to the origin of humans. The author and the speakers were well acquainted with the creation narrative and used it whenever necessary to contribute to the development of the dialogue. In Job, the account of the creation of humans is used as a rhetorical tool to communicate several ideas. The first is the obvious one: It is employed to demonstrate the common origin of humankind (33:6). Second, it highlights the fragility of human existence. Since life is fragile and brief—clay and breath—God should hasten to deliver Job from his pain, or he will die (7:7, 21). Third, it is used to underline the value of human life. Since human existence was created by God and is therefore good, the Creator should not destroy it (Job 10:8, 9; 27:3). Finally, Genesis’ representation of the origin of humanity is used in Job to accentuate the superiority of God as Creator over humans as creatures (31:14, 15; 34:13–15).
In the prologue, the idea of the de-creation is influenced by the creation account and is used as a background for the reversal of fortunes of Job. It is also employed to connect the adversary with the serpent of Genesis 3. De-creation theology is particularly present in the first full speech of Job in chapter 3. In the divine speeches, Genesis 1 not only contributes to the development of their ideology but in some instances also contributes to the organization of some of their content. This presupposes that the author of Job was exceptionally well acquainted with the creation narrative.
Creation Motifs in the Book of Proverbs
Proverbs adds a significant number of texts addressing aspects of creation theology, clearly indicating that the writers knew about the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. The new element, carefully developed in the book, is that God created through wisdom. This is stated very early in the book: “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens” (3:19).
Humanity and marriage. God is the Maker/Creator of humans (Prov. 17:5) who, according to 20:27, are also animated by the God-given “breath of life.” In this passage, the term used for humans provides a useful linguistic match to Genesis 2:7. Humans are male and female, united by God in a marriage relationship: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (18:22). In this case the word translated “good thing” is used in conjunction with the verb “to find,” and it probably means “to find [one’s] fortune,”20 that is to say, to find a person of great value. Its meaning is further clarified by the phrase “obtain favor from the Lord,” which means that the husband has been blessed by the Lord. The implication of the text is that “the husband has little to do acquiring such a prize. She is a gift from God.”21 This idea goes back to Genesis 2:22 to 24, in which God brings Eve to Adam and blesses both of them. The concept of marriage found in Proverbs is the one established in Genesis. A man and a woman are united in the presence of God; He blesses them, and a partnership is instituted among the three of them. At that moment, the couple makes a covenant with and before the Lord, and the two of them establish a relationship of mutual loving friendship (2:17).
Wisdom and creation. The phrase translated “tree of life” is employed outside Genesis only in four passages in Proverbs. Even though it is used in three of these (11:30; 13:12; 15:4) in a metaphorical sense, “the mere fact of the presence of this motif seems to provide a link to the important story of origins found in Genesis 1–3.”22 Concerning the use of the same phrase in Proverbs 3:18, it has been argued that this is a non-metaphoric use of it referring back to Genesis. The passage reads: “She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who take hold of her and happy are all who hold her fast.” The text gives the impression that even here, the phrase is being used metaphorically to refer to the lifegiving nature of wisdom. The allusion to the Garden of Eden is argued by indicating that in the context is terminology that is common to both. For instance, in Proverbs 3:13, the noun man is used twice. This double use of the term is unique in the Hebrew Bible. The argument is that “the verse obviously applies to any individual in general, but designating him by [the word translated ‘man’] rather than one of its alternatives is dictated by desire to emphasize an allusion to [Adam] of the Garden of Eden story.”23 It is also argued, that Proverbs 3:19 and 20 resembles 8:22 to 31, where the role of wisdom in creation is discussed and where a connection is also found with Genesis 4:4 and 10.
The most important argument, according to this interpretation, is based on the connection between Proverbs 3:17 and 18. Verse 17 speaks of the “ways” and “path” of wisdom that are pleasant and peaceful, and verse 18 begins with “the tree of life.” The suggestion is made that combining the words of the two verses yields the translation “Her ways are the ways of/toward the Tree of Life.”24 It is then concluded that Proverbs 3:18 “signals us that the way (back) to the Tree of Life is through wisdom.”25 This reading of verses 17 and 18 is hardly defensible. But the close connection between “way” and “tree of life” found in both Proverbs and Genesis is significant and supports the argument that there is here at least an allusion to Genesis 2 and 3. It is also likely that even if the phrase “tree of life” is used metaphorically, the allusion to Genesis still stands. The text assumes that there was a tree of life and that literal access to it in the garden is no longer possible. It, then, proceeds to teach that we can again have access to it through divine wisdom.
Wisdom and the study of the origin of humanity. Proverbs develops in a unique way the role of wisdom in the creation of the world. This emphasis on wisdom is not present in Genesis, but it is not presented here as an alternative to the Genesis account. On the contrary, it enriches that account by considering the thoughts of the Creator. The key passage on the topic of creation is Proverbs 8:22 to 31, which is part of a wisdom poem in the form of speech (vss. 4–36). In this passage, wisdom is personified and invites humans to listen to her (vss. 4–11). The authority of her call to listen is based on her knowledge and her value for human existence (vss. 12–21) and on her close relationship with the Creator (vss. 22–31). She can be a reliable guide for humans (vss. 32–36).
The passage in Proverbs 8:22 to 31 is not properly speaking about creation but about wisdom, but in the process something very important is said about creation. With respect to creation itself, the passage could be divided in two sections. One of them is about the “pre-creation” condition and the other about creation itself. Although the main interest of the passage is not to describe creation along the lines of the Genesis creation account, a connection with Genesis is undeniable. It is not a creation account, but, rather, a highly poetic description of creation.
● Pre-creation state. The pre-creation state is depicted through negatives. This is done in Proverbs 8:24 to 26: “‘When there were no . . .’” (vs. 24), “‘before . . .’” (vs. 25), and “‘while He had not yet made’” = before He had made (vs. 26). A partial description of the pre-creation condition of some elements of the earth is also found in Genesis 2:5 and 6, where similar terminology is employed (“No shrub of the field was yet; . . . no plant of the field had yet . . . ; there was no man”). In the case of Genesis 1, there is no description of the pre-creation state of the cosmos. Before cosmic creation there was only God (1:1) and this by itself indicates creatio ex nihilo.
According to Proverbs, before creation “‘there were no depths,’” no “‘springs abounding with water’” (8:24) and neither were there “‘mountains,’” or “‘hills’” (vs. 25). God had not yet made the earth, the fields, and “the first dust of the world” (vs. 26). In other words, the earth as we know it, with water, mountains, hills, and dust, had not yet been created. According to Genesis, God created the earth (1:2), the dust (2:7), and the “deep,” which is associated with “the springs” of water (Gen. 7:11; “the fountains of the deep”). The mountains and the hills are not mentioned in Genesis 1, but since they are part of the earth as we know it, they are included in the list of what was not there before creation.
● Creation itself. The wisdom poem moves from pre-creation to creation itself or to the moment when God was creating. Only a few examples are given of what He created, but they are framed by a reference to the heavens at the beginning of the list (Prov. 8:27) and to the earth at the end (vs. 29). This refers to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In between these two, Proverbs emphasizes the skies and water. God is described in the passage as an architect who is building the cosmos and the earth: “‘He established the heavens,’” “‘he inscribed [“to inscribe, decree”] a circle on the face of the deep’” (vs. 27b), “‘he made firm the skies above’” (vs. 28a), “‘fixed’” [“to show oneself strong”] the springs of the deep (vs. 28b), set boundaries [“limit, regulation”] to the sea (vs. 29a), “‘He marked out [“to inscribe, decree”] the foundations of the earth’” (vs. 29c). The language describes the work of Someone who is constructing nothing less than the cosmos.
● Central purpose of the passage. The main interest of the passage is not on the creation of the cosmos but on the significance of wisdom. The brief discussion of the pre-creation period has the purpose of establishing that divine wisdom pre-existed while the discussion about the divine act of creation reveals that during creation she was already with Him: “‘The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old [“from of old”]’” (Proverbs 8:22); “‘From everlasting I was established’” (vs. 23); “‘When there were no depths I was brought forth [“to be in labor”]’” (vs. 24, 25). The language used is highly figurative and is basically taken from the experience of human reproduction.
Scholars are divided with respect to the meaning of the verb translated “to acquire” in Proverbs 8:22. It is generally recognized that its basic meaning is “to acquire,” from which other derived usages are possible (“to possess,” to buy,” “to create,” and “to beget”).26 What is strongly debated is whether the verb also means “to create.” It has been suggested that this usage may be implied in only two passages, namely Genesis 14:19 and 22. In the context of wisdom, the main possibilities are “to acquire,” “to possess,” “to beget.” This means that the determining factor would have to be the immediate context.
The context clearly supports the idea of begetting. Wisdom herself unambiguously states that she came into being through birth: “I was brought forth,” indicating that at some point she was born. The Hebrew verb used here is defined as “a comprehensive term for everything from the initial contractions to the birth itself.”27 It is therefore better to interpret the verb as referring to the moment of conception. The moment when the action of the verb took place is identified as “at the beginning,” using the same Hebrew term employed in Genesis 1:1. “‘At the beginning of His way’” is clarified as “‘before His works of old’” (Proverbs 8:22). When God began His work of creation, wisdom was already with Him; He had already conceived her. In the next verse, the existence of wisdom is apparently pushed back into eternity—“From everlasting I was established” (Prov. 8:23).
The new verb translated “established me” is also difficult. One translation indicates that it is “to pour out (a libation offering),” but this does not fit the context. In what sense was wisdom poured out? Where was it poured if nothing else had been created? There are two other possible readings of the verb. The first is to consider the verb to mean “to be woven, to be formed.” This form is used in Isaiah 25:7b: “The veil [a woven ‘covering’] which is stretched [‘to be woven, shaped’] over all nations.” The second possibility is that the verb means “to weave, to shape,” and “to be made into shape, manufactured.” The meaning of the two verbs would be basically the same.
What would then be the meaning of the phrase, “From everlasting I was being woven”? The best parallel would probably be Psalm 139:13b, in which the psalmist states: “You wove me in my mother’s womb,” denoting the process of gestation inside the mother. Interestingly, the parallel verb in that verse is “For you formed my inward parts.” The two verbs express different ideas—one would designate the begetting, while the other would refer to the development of the embryo. In the case of wisdom in Proverbs 8:22 and 23, she is described as conceived/begotten by God (vs. 22), in verse 23 her development is described as the process of weaving together the different parts of the embryo, and finally in verses 24 and 25, the moment of her birth is described.
Her birth seems to coincide with the act of creation in the sense that at that moment what was not yet was created: “‘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’” (Prov. 8:27–29). Throughout the whole process of creation, wisdom was with the Lord. She concludes saying, “‘Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight’” (vs. 30). As the Lord is creating, wisdom is an object of His delight. It could very well be that the idea of “delight” is expressed in Genesis 1 through the use of the phrases “God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), and “it was very good” (1:31). God rejoices as He contemplates the works of His hands. The creation act is described in Proverbs 8:31 and 32 as a cosmic playing activity (“to laugh, play”), indicating not only how joyful it was but also the effortlessness of the divine activity. Both God and wisdom rejoice as the cosmos is coming into existence in a context free from conflict but filled with joy. This theology is also at the foundation of the theology of creation in Genesis, where creation takes place free from conflict and as the result of the effortless power of God.
On the surface it could appear that the creation elements present in Proverbs 8:22 to 31 seem to be quite different from what we find in Genesis, but that is not the case.
First, the image provided by these texts is that of a God who creates effortlessly, assigns roles to the different elements, and establishes limits for everything to function in proper harmony.
Second, the language of birth is exclusively associated with wisdom. Under the influence of Ancient Near Eastern creation ideas, some have concluded that this passage depicts wisdom as a goddess. But what the text seems to indicate is that wisdom is a personification of a divine attribute.
Third, as compared to Genesis, Proverbs 8 allows a look back before creation into the origin of wisdom. Here “wisdom originates from God’s very self.”28 Genesis depicts a God who is fully active in creating, but here He is portrayed as a God who had been conceiving and weaving wisdom—creating it—within Himself; the wisdom that later became the objective reality of the cosmos humans know and of which they are a part. The brief mention of the beginning of creation in Proverbs 8 has been more fully developed in Genesis 1 and 2.
Fourth, the process of creation that can be detected in this passage is totally compatible with that in Genesis 1 and 2. In both cases, God is described as an architect or builder who separated things and assigned to them specific roles. It is true that creation through the divine word is not fully visible in Proverbs, but it is not totally absent. In the poem the order of creation was established through the divine command, suggesting the presence of the spoken word. This is particularly the case in Proverbs 8:29: “‘When He set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command.’” The word translated “boundary” could also be translated “law, regulation,” and here it would be designating the divine regulation governing the sea, which was not to be transgressed by it (notice the personification of the sea). The Hebrew word translated “command,” means “mouth,” but by extension it expresses the idea of the “spoken command” or what comes out of the mouth as a command (Gen. 41:40; Joshua 15:13). The specific command given to the waters is explicitly mentioned in Job 38:11a: “‘“Thus far you [the sea] shall come, and no farther.”’” The phrase “would not transgress His command” means that the waters will not transgress what came out of the mouth of the Lord. This is a hint at creation through the spoken word.
● Summary. The creation theology found in Proverbs is related to the theology of creation recorded in Genesis 1 and 2. The creation of humans as male and female, united in marriage by the Lord, the references to the tree of life, and the overall theology of creation in Proverbs 8:22 to 31 unquestionably demonstrate that the author of the book was acquainted with the creation narrative in Genesis. The wisdom poem provides, through the use of highly figurative or metaphoric language, some insights not present in Genesis but compatible with it. It also expresses in poetic form ideas found in Genesis. The differences between the two enrich one another’s depiction of divine creation.
Creation Motifs in the Book of Ecclesiastes
It is generally accepted that the Book of Genesis has exerted some influence on the Book of Qohelet, the Hebrew name for Ecclesiastes. Of primary interest here is the topic of creation, and in this particular case, there are just a few passages where this influence is clearly present, indicating that the author was acquainted with Genesis 1 to 3. One could begin with one of the most frequently used words throughout the book, commonly translated “vanity.” It seems to contain an echo of the name of the second son of Adam and Eve, Abel. The noun designates that which is transitory and ephemeral—like Abel, who appeared for a brief period of time and then, like a vapor, was gone. Ecclesiastes universalizes the experience of Abel and describes all, except God, as vain, ephemeral, or empty of ultimate meaning.
There is only one reference in the book to God as Creator, which may or may not be a reference to Genesis 1: “Remember your Creator” (Eccl. 12:1). The term translated “Creator” is a form of a verb used several time in Genesis 1, which is occasionally used to designate the Creator (Isa. 40:20; 42:5; 43:1, 15; 48:18; and Amos 4:13).
The context of the passage suggests that Ecclesiastes had in mind Genesis. This is suggested by the allusion to the nature of humans in 12:7: “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” This is within the conceptual world of the creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7, according to which God created him from the dust of the ground and gave him the “breath of life.” Qohelet, the name given also to the narrator of Ecclesiastes, is now using this ideology to describe what takes place when humans die: What belongs to God returns to Him, and what was taken from the ground goes back to it (Gen. 3:19).
The idea that humans were created from the dust and that they will return to it is also mentioned in Ecclesiastes 3:20. The context is a discussion of human mortality, and the conclusion is that from that perspective humans are like the animals (3:18). They were both created from the dust, they both have the same breath, and when they die they return to the dust. Genesis establishes that animals and humans were created from the ground, albeit in significantly different ways (Gen. 1:24; 2:7), and they both are breathing creatures (1:30; 7:22). This is the biblical background for what Qohelet is, in its own peculiar way, arguing.
Qohelet establishes another connection with Genesis: “Behold, I have found only this, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Eccl. 7:29). In his search, this is what Qohelet has found to be true, and it constitutes an important statement in the sense that humans are responsible for their own actions. This verse “is an obvious reflection on the first few chapters of Genesis,”29 though the vocabulary is in some cases different. The verb translated “made” and the noun as “man” are both used in Genesis 1:26 for the creation of humans—the use of man in both passages is generic. In agreement with the theology of Genesis, Qohelet indicates that originally humans were created upright (morally straight), but that they lost this uprightness through their own machinations. This theological reasoning is clearly based on Genesis 1 to 3.
The creation of the world is alluded to at the beginning of the book in a poem that introduces the question of meaning. The poem is about “the back and forth movements of all the basic elements of Creation. . . . And yet nothing really new happens: no advantage is gained. It all seems purposeless.”30 The elements of the cosmos mentioned in the passage seem to follow the order in which they are recorded in Genesis 1.
Ecclesiastes 1:3: The phrase “under the sun” is about light and sky and corresponds to the first and second days of the creation account (Gen. 1:3–8).
Ecclesiastes 1:4: The reference to the earth corresponds to the third day (Gen. 1:9–13).
Ecclesiastes 1:5, 6: The statement “when the sun rises and when the sun sets” is an allusion to the fourth day (Gen. 1:14–19).
Ecclesiastes 1:7: the movement of rivers and sea could be correlated to the creation of life in the water during the fifth day (Gen. 1:20–23).
Ecclesiastes 1:8: That humans can speak, see, and hear corresponds to the creation of humans on the sixth day (Gen. 1:24–31).
The order of creation and its organized movement is read by Qohelet as indicating the absence of the new. “All,” the totality of creation, has become in itself vain and purposeless. The term all is also used in Genesis 1 to designate the totality of creation, but it refers to a creation that after coming from the hands of the Lord was “very good” (1:31). According to Qohelet, creation is no longer what it was.
Qohelet is indeed aware of the creation account, but he uses elements of that narrative to argue that creation by itself is vain and does not provide for humans ultimate meaning. It is a dead end: “That which has been is that which will be . . . there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). Human existence itself is ephemeral and, like that of the animals, will finally dissolve. But in accordance with the creation account, Qohelet recognizes that humans were originally created upright and that the condition in which they find themselves now is the result of their own choosing.
The three wisdom books discussed here contain a substantial number of references to the creation account recorded in Genesis 1 and 2. Arguments are developed that assume the reliability of the creation account and its significance for the life of the writers and their audience. The references to the creation of humans, animals, the natural phenomena, and the earth found in these books are at times brief summaries, allusions, or even passing comments, but they are all compatible with those found in Genesis. The experience of pain and suffering and even death is contrasted with creation and understood as a de-creation experience. The original goodness is acknowledged and the present condition of humans is credited to themselves.
The most penetrating contribution to the theology of creation is found in the personification of wisdom and its connection to creation. God’s creation includes wisdom, created in the mystery of the divine being before it found expression in the objective phenomena of creation as we know it. Within that theology, creation through the word is assumed and even indicated in the text of Proverbs. This theology enriches the content of the creation narrative found in Genesis. The wise sages of the Old Testament were biblical creationists.
Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, ThD, is the former Director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A. This article is adapted with permission from Ángel M. Rodríguez, “Genesis and Creation in the Wisdom Literature,” in He Spoke and It Was: Divine Creation in the Old Testament, Gerald A. Klingbeil, ed. (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2015).
NOTES AND REFERENCES