Part 4: Deep Wisdom and Understanding

August 29, 2012

(This is the fourth in a series of articles entitled DIVINE CREATIVITY that will present a Biblical apologetic and study on why people are creative. This series contains Scripture passages to read and questions to answer.  Recording your insights in a creative journal may be a valuable exercise.)

Throughout the Bible there are many passages that refer to God creating the world.  Two of them are particularly interesting to us as artists: Jeremiah 10:12 and Exodus 36:1.  The word made (asaw in Hebrew) used in these Scriptures is the same word used in Genesis 1, closely linking all three passages.

>>Read Jeremiah 10.  How did God create the world as described in 10:12?

>>Read Exodus 35:30 – 36:1.  How are Bezalel and Oholiab described?

According to Jeremiah 10:12 God created the world with power, wisdom, and understanding.  Each of these words is worthy of careful study; especially as they apply to us artists as we imitate the one in whose image we are made.  However, since the same Hebrew words for wisdom and understanding are also in Exodus 35:31 and 36:1[1], we will focus on the latter two.

Deep Wisdom

The Hebrew word translated as wisdom in Jeremiah 10:12— “He founded the world by His wisdom,” is translated as skill in Exodus 36:1— “Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skilled person, to whom the Lord had given skill….”  That God gave these individuals[2] the skill to create works of art for His Tabernacle would be enough.  But He chose the same word that describes how He created the world—linking His creative ability to the same ability He gave those making the Tabernacle!

In these two passages the English translation results in two different, but highly-related, words.  In Hebrew, however, it is the same word, chokma, which means:  intelligence, wisdom that brings success, and a manner of thinking and attitude concerning life’s experiences, including—everyday matters, prudence in secular affairs, skills in the arts, moral sensitivity, and experience in the ways of the Lord.[3]

The idea here is that the deep wisdom of God works through us in very practical and mundane activities, as well as in special times and ways—through the ordinariness of prepping a canvas and mixing paint, to the extraordinary flash of inspiration and creative energy of the artist’s hand.

This is the source of the power mentioned at the beginning of Jeremiah 10:12 inherent in divinely inspired art that transports paint and canvas, paper and ink, carved marble and other media into the transcendent spiritual realm.  The wisdom of God, working through the artist He has gifted with skill, creates the art, which in turn speaks to the viewer with an inherent power greater than the combination of materials, technique, and subject matter.  The work created with God bears the soul of the artist and the image of God.

Discerning Understanding

The same connection that exists between Jeremiah 10:12 and Exodus 36:1 with wisdom/skill is also true for the Hebrew word tebuna translated as understanding, ability or intelligence, depending on the Bible version used.  God stretched out the heavens, as an artist stretching a canvas, with His understanding, and gave Bezalel, Oholiab, and their assistants understanding to know how to make everything for the Tabernacle.

Note the shades of meaning of tebuna: the ability to discern between, to be perceptive, to use the senses to perceive pertinent data; perceptive insight demonstrated by the use of knowledge.[4]

I often I describe my art-quilt classes as “Decision-Making 101”.  Decision-making permeates the creative process.  When faced with a decision for each phase, my students sigh and ask me to decide the colors, the piecing pattern, or where to quilt.  I shake my head and say, “But the deciding is where the art happens!”  What is not used in a painting, quilt, or drawing can be a more important decision that what is included, and so, God gives us His tebuna, His understanding, in order that we are able to make these distinctions.  Yet, while “understanding is a gift of God, it does not come automatically. The possession of it requires a persistent diligence. It is more than IQ; it connotes character.”[5]

The first and most important work of an artist, then, is to seek Him.  How else will we have his understanding and wisdom?  How can our art have the power to transcend the physical world if that is where we spend all of our time?   Before Bezalel began work on the Tabernacle, God completely filled[6] Him with His Spirit (Exodus 35:31).  God’s primary desire is not for us to be skilled artists, but for our hearts, for us to continually be in His presence.  Thankfully, we have His faithful promise in James 4:8, that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.

How can you draw nearer to God?  What do you need to change in order to create with His wisdom and understanding?

Next week: Art Idols

[1] See also Exodus 31:1-11.

[2] The phrase “every skilled person” does not specify gender.  In fact, since the term is vague, it probably includes women.

[3] Harris, R. L., Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., & Waltke, B. K. (1999, c1980). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed.) (282). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Ibid., p. 103.

[5] Ibid., p. 104.

[6] The word filled is the same word in Jeremiah 23:24:  “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord.  Other uses of the word suggest: to completely fill, replenish, and overflow; to be ended.  See Strong’s Concordance, H4390.


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