THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE HOLY ONES
Our primary text is Proverbs 9:10 where it is written: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” One thing about Hebrew poetry needs to be remembered. Ancient Hebrew poetry such as our text probably did not rhyme even when originally written. It most certainly does not rhyme in sound when translated into English, but presents instead the beauty of corresponding and sometimes expanding thoughts. Any rhythm, cadence, or rhyming of sound is lost in the translation. However, the “rhyming” of thoughts shines through to those who read their Bibles looking for it. Often a truth is stated first in one way and then the same or a kindred truth is stated in different words. So the beauty is not in similar sounds, but in parallel thoughts. The truth is established by building upon or modifying a previous statement. When next you read the Psalms or other Old Testament poetry look for this kind of construction.
Our aim is to understand and appreciate the phrase “the knowledge of the holy” which is found in the second part of this couplet - our text. This exact phrase is found in our Bibles only here and one other place which we will examine a little later. But before we examine the second part let us look at the first of this verse. First, remember that the word “LORD” in all capital letters is the English word we know as Jehovah. This is the name of God which carries the idea of the “I AM” - the eternally living One. In the Masoretic text (the authoritative text for the Hebrew Old Testament) this word appears well over six-thousand-five-hundred times, but the King James translators only translated it as JEHOVAH four times. James Strong says our King James Bible has it as “LORD” 6510 times, as “God” 4 times, as “JEHOVAH” 4 times, and as a “variant” 1 time, thus making the total translations of the Hebrew word 6519 times. I have used the term “word,” but as you may remember, the Hebrew is actually the tetragrammaton written as “YHWH” or “JHVH” or “YHVH,” or “JHWH.” (Tetregrammaton means “four letters”). The King James translators used the word “Jehovah” for the tetragrammaton. “Jehovah” is the vulgar (common) pronunciation that was used in England in A.D. 1611. And so it has passed down to us today. In order to arrive at an English pronunciation vowels must be supplied among the four letters and so the word “Jehovah” came into being. Exactly how the ancient Hebrews pronounced this word is unknown as far as this preacher has been able to learn. We cannot see that this matters inasmuch as the spellings of names of persons, and places and their pronunciations have often changed down through the centuries.
The thing to remember is that Jehovah is the proper name of God. The Hebrew Elohim or Eloheim when used with singular adjectives is translated as “God” and when used with plural adjectives is translated as “gods” in our King James Bibles. (Jehovah is not a title such as the word “Lord” when printed in our Bibles in mixed upper and lower case letters). Jehovah is the name by which God revealed Himself as the self-existing one: the Redeemer, the source of life: the “I AM.” God revealed Himself thus to Moses, saying, “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you,” (Exodus 3:14). So it is in our text (Proverbs 9:10) which we quoted at the first of this article, we need to understand that the first part of this poetic statement can be translated thus: “The fear of JEHOVAH is the beginning of wisdom.” And so we are brought “face to face” as it were, with Jehovah: not just God, but the fear of the “I AM THAT I AM.” Such a respect, awe, and trembling at His Word can only be the work of God within an individual. Such a “fear of JEHOVAH” prompts “godly sorrow” which initiates and perpetuates not only a first time experience of repentance, but a lifetime of repentance, (see 2 Corinthians 7:10).
Now the second part of this couplet appears in our Bibles as, “and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” However, as several commentators note, the word “holy” is plural in the original. It means “the holies” or “the Holy Ones.” John Gill notes that the same plural Hebrew word appears in Joshua 24:19; Proverbs 30:3; and Hosea 11:9. Thus far in my research I have not learned why the King James translators chose to render this plural Hebrew word as a singular English one. Perhaps this term “the holy” is another of those old Catholic church words that King James instructed them to keep. Perhaps there was another reason, but we cannot think of a good one that would excuse such a misstep. So let us understand that the second part of our couplet says, “and the knowledge of the Holy Ones is understanding.”
The teaching of this verse stated negatively is this: no one has wisdom or understanding apart from the “fear” and “knowledge” of JEHOVAH, the Triune God. Those who do not “tremble at his word” (Isaiah 66:5) and who do not “know him that is true,” (1 John 5:20), do not have true wisdom or understanding. Let us hasten to add that it is not wisdom or understanding that enables people to know God. God cannot be put under a microscope or any modern scientific device and examined in that way. He must reveal Himself. In creation, by means of human consciences, and in the Word of God He has revealed Himself. In the first two of these ways, creation and conscience, the revelation is a general one so that all men are without excuse. The Bible is a special revelation and in a different class than the first two. By it salvation is made known to God's elect people. Those not spiritually enabled to understand the Bible only see religion in that Book. That is the limit of their experience. But there is a further revelation (if we may use that term) or perhaps a better word is enlightenment. John Gill called it “spiritual and evangelical wisdom.” For when God calls a person to Himself, the Spirit of God enables the spiritually dead sinner to live and understand. He does not just improve on human wisdom, but is Light within the regenerate. God does not call wise men to salvation for the most part, and if He did, their natural wisdom would not help them to understand the things of God. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 God's Word specifies the kind of people God calls to salvation: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” The world's nobodies are called to be God's somebodies. Better stated, the world's nobodies are called with a call that makes them God's somebodies. A few “wise men after the flesh” are called, but “not many.” This enlightenment or “spiritual and evangelical wisdom” is seen when Paul exhorted the congregation in Ephesus to live holy lives saying, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light,” (Ephesians 5:8). In Ephesians 1:17-19 Paul wrote to that same ekklesia concerning his prayer for them saying: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.” So it is that those whom God regenerates are “light in the Lord.” They may be uneducated men and women, but they are enabled to have understanding and wisdom. And those so enlightened are told to “walk as children of light.”
Another place where this same plural Hebrew word is translated as a singular word is Proverbs 30:3 where the writer penned the words, “I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.” At first glance the penman may seem to be writing words of disapproval or criticism of himself and his lack of knowledge. Since we have a couplet again here, as in our first text, let us examine it piece by piece. The first phrase is: “I neither learned wisdom.” He does not say that he does not have wisdom, but that he did not learn it nor discover it for or by himself. John Gill in commenting upon the phrase “I neither learned wisdom” says the word “wisdom” means, “... spiritual and evangelical wisdom; that is, not of himself through the mere strength and force of his genius and natural capacity, or of others; he was not the son of a prophet, nor brought up in the schools of the prophets; he did not learn it, nor was he taught it by men; for this is not acquired by human teaching; it is what comes from above, from heaven, and by the revelation of God.” We think Gill is correct. The writer is saying that this “spiritual and evangelical wisdom” is not of a man himself as a source. So it is with all of God's true children. The religious world may promote its pride-filled little ditty at Christmas time, saying, “Wise men still seek Him,” but the true children of God should know better – or surely will learn better. We seek Him each and every day, and have since the day of our regeneration, but it is not our wisdom that causes us to desire Him and regard Him far above the price of rubies and diamonds.
The second part of this couplet says, “nor have the knowledge of the holy.” Again we point out the meaning of the plural phrase, “of the holies,” and think the meaning is actually “of the Holy Ones.” Again we quote the long departed and highly educated John Gill who wrote, “...or rather of the holy Persons in the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit; their nature modes of subsisting, perfections, purposes, and the like; at least not a full and comprehensive one: or of holy things, of the holy Scriptures, and the holy doctrines of them; however, not what is perfect and complete.” It was true of the penman of Proverbs as it is true of all of God's regenerated ones: our wisdom is not something that we obtained from any source other than God. And we did nothing to qualify for it nor to instigate our receiving it. It is all of grace. The kind of wisdom spoken of here cannot be imparted by parents however hard they try, nor from schools or even seminaries. Nor can the “school of hard knocks” as we say, impart this kind of wisdom. We, like the first of this couplet must say, “I neither learned wisdom.” That is, I claim a supernatural enlightenment: I do not claim any effort on my part enabled me to have this knowledge nor did my own natural ability cause me to know Him - as if such things could aid me in knowing God. In fact, the writer means what we all who know God must say: had God not supernaturally intervened in me and my life, the Word of God – the “things of the Spirit of God” would still be “foolishness” to me. Had He not given me the ability to know the things that are “spiritually discerned” I would have no real wisdom at all, (1 Corinthians 2:14). Today we may say with Paul, that to us what he called, “Christ crucified” would still be “foolishness” as it is to all Gentiles left to themselves. Had God not supernaturally intervened and done His regenerating work in our innermost being, we would be unenlightened and Christ-less, (1 Corinthians 1:23).
As to the second part of this last couplet, “nor have the knowledge of the holy,” we say this: while we claim to know the Holy Ones, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we do not have complete knowledge of Him. We think we shall continue to be enthralled with learning of Him throughout the infinity of eternity. Even when in glorified bodies, how can we finite beings ever comprehend the Three-In-One who is infinite and “his ways past finding out?” (Romans 11:33). Nevertheless, as our first couplet says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy [Holy Ones] is understanding.” And as our second couplet teaches, such knowledge is “too wonderful” for us. God-given “wisdom” is jarring to that which the world calls wisdom, but harmonizes with the Psalmist who wrote: “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well,” (Psalm 139:1-14). And so we, like Spurgeon, ascribe all our change to God! It is God who has given us life and immortality and brought those things to light to us through the gospel (see 2 Timothy 1:10). The blessing of knowledge, wisdom and understanding of God within us are all attributable to God. Be of good cheer, Brethren, look up! God has begun a good work in us. Part of that good work is causing us to have a bit of His wisdom and understanding and knowledge. And He shall perform that good work in us until the return of Christ, (see Philippians 1:6). For now is our final salvation – the redemption of our bodies – “nearer than when we [first] believed,” (Romans 13:11). Rejoice that you know what the most intelligent of natural men cannot know. Let them call us fools, bigots, fanatics, narrow minded and whatever other epithets they can invent. We care not for the epithets of men: we are concerned with what epitaphs God might compose about us. We stand in a long line: a remnant of people down through the ages to whom God has made Himself known. And this in itself makes us different. Let us not rejoice in being different, but let us rejoice in Christ and be willing to be different in and because of our knowledge and understanding. Old John wrote, “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life,” (1 John 5:19-20). Selah.
Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726