The Incomprehensible Nature of God and his Son
Examining the Old Testament Witness to God’s Uni-Plurality
There is a specific text in the book of Proverbs which refers to the incomprehensibility of God, emphatically declaring that God’s nature is beyond human comprehension. The point in the context of this particular Proverb is that man cannot fully fathom God’s essence or his ways and that human beings are dependant upon Divine revelation in order to know who and what God is.
What makes this particular reference so intriguing is that not only does it speak of God’s incomprehensibility it also refers to God having a Son who is just as incomprehensible and can actually do what God does!
Here is the specific passage in question:
"The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an oracle: This man declared to Ithiel, to Ithiel and to Ucal: ‘I am the most ignorant of men; I do not have a man's understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One (qadoshim, lit. Holy Ones). Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know! Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar." Proverbs 30:1-6
It is rather amazing to find the inspired author using the plural form Holy Ones (qadoshim), as opposed to singular Holy One (qadosh), since it is apparent that within the context the plural is in reference to both God and his Son.
Moreover, name in the Hebrew Bible signifies the essence, nature, characteristics and/or authority of a person. Hence, the writer is basically highlighting the fact that he (along with any other human being) is incapable of fully understanding the ways and the nature of these two Holy Ones, specifically God and his Son.
Yet this presupposes an essential equality between God and his Son, since not only is the Son capable of doing the very works which define and distinguish God from his creation he also has a name or essence that is unfathomable. In other words, the author seems to be aware that God has a Son who is equal to him and whose essence is incomprehensible.
According to the inspired Scriptures this unfathomable God is Yahweh and his incomprehensible Divine Son is his eternal Word who became flesh in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ! In the words of the renowned Bible expositor the late John Gill:
unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal;
who were either the children of Agur, whom he instructed in the knowledge of divine things; or they were, as Aben Ezra, either his companions with whom he conversed about sacred things, or his disciples who inquired of him about these things, and learned them of him. Some think these are titles of God himself, to whom Agur directs his speech, and acknowledges his ignorance of the divine Being, whom he might justly call Ithiel and Ucal, that is, "God with me", and "the mighty One"; and certain it is that Agur does direct a prayer to God, (Proverbs 30:7-9) ; And some read these words themselves as a prayer, "let God be with me, and one shall prevail", that is, over all mine enemies; for, if God is on the side of his people, who shall be against them? or, "I shall be able" to do all things through the Lord's strength, (Romans 8:31) (Philippians 4:13) ; But I rather think the words should be read, as Jarchi observes, "concerning Ithiel and Ucal"; that is, concerning the Messiah, to whom these names agree. Ithiel, or "God with me", is very similar to a phrase used by Christ himself in the days of his flesh, (John 8:29) (16:32). God was with him as the eternal Word, and his only begotten Son, from all eternity, which denotes his co-existence, nearness of union, equality of nature, and distinction of persons; he was with him as Mediator before the world began, in the council of peace, which was between them both; in the covenant of grace made with him, in which all things were agreed upon respecting the salvation of his people; he was with him in the beginning of time down to his incarnation; he was with him in the creation of all things, in the sustentation of them; in the works of providence, and in the government of the church; he was with him during his state of humiliation; in his infancy, to protect him from the malice of Herod; he was with him when disputing with the doctors in the temple, to direct him; he was with him at his baptism, transfiguration, and other times; he was with him throughout his public ministry, from the beginning to the end of it; he did good and healed all manner of diseases, and wrought amazing miracles, God being with him, (John 3:2) (Acts 10:38) ; and he was with him in his sufferings and at his death; and so he is with him in his exalted state; he raised him from the dead, set him at his own right hand, and ever attends to his prevalent intercession; and will be with him in raising the dead and judging the world. "Ucal", which has the signification of being able, strong, mighty, and powerful, agrees with Christ, who is the mighty God the most mighty, the Almighty; and which appears by the works he did before his incarnation, as the creation of all things out of nothing, the preservation of all things, and the several wonderful events in which he was; concerned, as the confusion of languages, the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, the conducting the children of Israel through the wilderness, with others; also what he did when here on earth, the mighty works and miracles done by him, and especially the great work of man's redemption, and also the raising of himself from the dead: moreover, what he now does and will do for his people show him to be the mighty One; taking the care of all the churches and providing for them; supplying all the wants of his people, bearing all their burdens, supporting them under all their temptations, and delivering them out of them; strengthening them for his service, protecting them from their enemies, keeping them from falling, raising their dead bodies, and bringing all the sons of God to glory: or if the word should be rendered, as it may, "eaten" or "consumed", it is true of Christ, whose zeal ate him up, (Psalms 69:9) ; and who is the antitype of the sacrifice consumed by fire. (The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible; source; underline emphasis ours)
Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended?
&c.] That has been thither to fetch knowledge of God and divine things, and has returned to communicate it. Enoch was taken up to heaven before this time: and Elijah, as is very probable, after; but neither of them returned again, to inform mortals what was to be seen, known, and enjoyed there: since, the Apostle Paul was caught up into the third heaven, and came back again; but then the things he heard were such as it was not lawful for a man to utter: and indeed, since the coming of Christ there is no need of any further revelation to be made nor of any such expedition, in order to obtain it, (Romans 10:6-8) . And, properly speaking, there never was any besides him, whose names are Ithiel and Ucal, that ever did this: he lay in the bosom of the Father, and was privy to his whole mind and will; he descended from heaven to earth not by local motion, but, by assumption of nature; and when he had made known his Father's will, and done his work, he ascended far above all heavens, and received gifts for men; to fill his churches and ministers with them, in order to communicate and improve spiritual and divine knowledge; and therefore, with great propriety and pertinence, he applies these words to himself, (John 3:13);
who hath gathered the wind in his fists?
not any mere creature; not any man or set of men; it is not in the power of any, either men or angels, to restrain or let loose the winds at pleasure; nor has Satan, though called the prince of the power of the air, that is, of the devils in the air, any such command of them; none but he that made them can command them to blow, or be still; even he who brings them out of his treasures, and his own son, whom the wind and seas obeyed; …
what [is] his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?
if thou surest it is a mere man that does all these things tell his name; or, if he be dead, say what is the name of his son or of any of his family; so Jarchi and others interpret it: or rather, since it is the Lord alone and his own proper Son, to whom these things can he ascribed say what is his name; that is, his nature and perfections which are incomprehensible and ineffable; otherwise he is known by his name Jehovah and especially as his name is proclaimed in Christ and manifested by him and in his Gospel: and seeing he has a son of the same nature with him, and possessed of the same perfections, co-essential, and co-existent, and every way equal to him, and a distinct person from him, say what is his nature and perfections also; declare his generation and the manner of it; his divine filiation, and in what class it is; things which are out of the reach of human capacity, and not to be expressed by the tongue of men and angels; see (Matthew 11:27) (16:15-17) . Otherwise, though his name for a while was a secret, and he was only called the seed of the woman and of Abraham, (Genesis 3:15) (22:18) (32:29) (Judges 13:17,18) ; yet he had many names given him under the Old Testament; as Shiloh, Immanuel, the Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and Prince of peace; the Lord our righteousness, and the Man, the Branch: and under the New Testament, Jesus the Saviour, Christ the Anointed; the Head of the church, the Judge of the world; the Word of God, and King of kings, and Lord of lords. This Scripture is a proof of Christ's being the eternal Son of God; of his equality with his divine Father as such, their name and nature being alike ineffable; of his co-existence with his Father as such; and of his omnipresence and omnipotence, expressed by the phrases here used of ascending… and of his distinct personality from the Father; the same question being distinctly put of him as of the Father. Some render the last clause, "dost thou know?" (Source; underline emphasis ours)
Gill is followed by another late great exegete named Matthew Henry:
… 2. As the subject of his discourse. Ithiel signifies God with me, the application of Immanuel, God with us. The word calls him God with us; faith appropriates this, and calls him "God with me, who loved me, and gave himself for me, and into union and communion with whom I am admitted." Ucal signifies the Mighty One, for it is upon one that is mighty that help is laid for us. Many good interpreters therefore apply this to the Messiah, for to him all the prophecies bear witness, and why not this then? It is what Agur spoke concerning Ithiel, even concerning Ithiel (that is the name on which the stress is laid) with us, Isaiah 7:14.
Three things the prophet here aims at:--
I. To abase himself. Before he makes confession of his faith he makes confession of his folly and the weakness and deficiency of reason, which make it so necessary that we be guided and governed by faith. Before he speaks concerning the Saviour he speaks of himself as needing a Saviour, and as nothing without him; we must go out of ourselves before we go into Jesus Christ…
II. To advance Jesus Christ, and the Father in him (Proverbs 30:4): Who ascended up into heaven, &c. 1. Some understand this of God and of his works, which are both incomparable and unsearchable. He challenges all mankind to give an account of the heavens above, of the winds, the waters, the earth: "Who can pretend to have ascended up to heaven, to take a view of the orbs above, and then to have descended, to give us a description of them? Who can pretend to have had the command of the winds, to have grasped them in his hand and managed them, as God does, or to have bound the waves of the sea with a swaddling band, as God has done? Who has established the ends of the earth, or can describe the strength of its foundations or the extent of its limits? Tell me what is the man's name who can undertake to vie with God or to be of his cabinet-council, or, if he be dead, what is his name to whom he has bequeathed this great secret." 2. Others refer it to Christ, to Ithiel and Ucal, the Son of God, for it is the Son's name, as well as the Father's, that is here enquired after, and a challenge given to any to vie with him. We must now exalt Christ as one revealed; they then magnified him as one concealed, as one they had heard something of but had very dark and defective ideas of. We have heard the fame of him with our ears, but cannot describe him (Job 28:22); certainly it is God that has gathered the wind in his fists and bound the waters as in a garment; but what is his name? It is, I am that I am (Exodus 3:14), a name to be adored, not to be understood. What is his Son's name, by whom he does all these things? The Old-Testament saints expected the Messiah to be the Son of the Blessed, and he is here spoken of as a person distinct from the Father, but his name as yet secret. Note, the great Redeemer, in the glories of his providence and grace, can neither be paralleled nor found out to perfection. (1.) The glories of the kingdom of his grace are unsearchable and unparalleled; for who besides has ascended into heaven and descended? Who besides is perfectly acquainted with both worlds, and has himself a free correspondence with both, and is therefore fit to settle a correspondence between them, as Mediator, as Jacob's ladder? He was in heaven in the Father's bosom (John 1:1,18); thence he descended to take our nature upon him; and never was there such condescension. In that nature he again ascended (Ephesians 4:9), to receive the promised glories of his exalted state; and who besides has done this? Romans 10:6. (2.) The glories of the kingdom of his providence are likewise unsearchable and unparalleled. The same that reconciles heaven and earth was the Creator of both and governs and disposes of all. His government of the three lower elements of air, water, and earth, is here particularized. [1.] The motions of the air are of his directing. Satan pretends to be the prince of the power of the air, but even there Christ has all power; he rebuked the winds and they obeyed him. [2.] The bounds of the water are of his appointing: He binds the waters as in a garment; hitherto they shall come, and no further, Job 38:9-11. [3.] The foundations of the earth are of his establishing. He founded it at first; he upholds it still. If Christ had not interposed, the foundations of the earth would have sunk under the load of the curse upon the ground, for man's sin. Who and what is the mighty He that does all this? We cannot find out God, nor the Son of God, unto perfection. Oh the depth of that knowledge! (Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible; source)
What we will do here is break down Proverbs 30:4 in order to show how everything the inspired writer has stated concerning God and his Son is applied elsewhere in the Holy Bible to Yahweh and the Lord Jesus.
1. Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
|"The LORD said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.’ Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people… On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the LORD said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.’ Moses said to the LORD, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, 'Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy."’ The LORD replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them.’" Exodus 19:9-11, 16-24 |
"But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth." Genesis 11:5-9
"When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious— that you, O LORD God, might dwell there." Psalm 68:18
|"No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man." John 3:13 |
"But the righteousness that is by faith says: ‘Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?"’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." Romans 10:6-7
"But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)" Ephesians 4:7-10
2. Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?
|"And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse ‘sky.’ And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good." Genesis 1:6-10 |
"So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the LORD made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts… Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. And the LORD changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt." Exodus 10:13, 18-19
"But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters." Exodus 15:10
"He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight." Job 26:8
"He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses." Psalm 135:7
|"That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don't you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’" Mark 4:35-41 |
"Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It's a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid. ‘Lord, if it's you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith," he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’" Matthew 14:22-33
3. Who has established all the ends of the earth?
|"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?" Job 38:4-7 |
"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters." Psalm 24:1-2
"Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures." Psalm 119:90
"For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’" Isaiah 45:18
|"Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made… He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." John 1:3, 10 |
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For BY HIM all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created BY HIM and FOR HIM. He is before all things, and IN HIM all things hold together." Colossians 1:15-17
"But about the Son he says, … ‘In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.’" Hebrews 1:8a, 10-12
4. What is his name, and the name of his son?
|"Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they ask me, "What is his name?" Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: "I AM has sent me to you."’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, "Yahweh, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you." This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.’" Exodus 3:13-15 |
"God also said to Moses, ‘I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them.’" Exodus 6:2-3
"Yahweh is a warrior; Yahweh is his name." Exodus 15:3
"Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? … Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom." Isaiah 40:12, 28
|"But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’" Luke 1:30-33 |
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:1, 14
"‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’" John 8:58
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." 1 John 1:1-3
"He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God." Revelation 19:13
5. Tell me if you know!
|"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens — what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave — what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea." Job 11:7-9 |
"God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, 'You have done wrong'? Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar. How great is God — beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out. He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion? See how he scatters his lightning about him, bathing the depths of the sea." Job 36:22-30
"O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in — behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain." Psalm 139:1-6
"I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy Ones." Proverbs 30:3
"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." Romans 11:33-36
|"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Luke 10:22 |
"just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep." John 10:15
In light of the foregoing it is rather clear that some, if not all, of the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures were made aware by Divine revelation that God has a Son who is equal to him in essence and is just as incomprehensible. And according to the NT, this Divine, incomprehensible Son became a man through a virgin by the power of God’s Holy Spirit and whose name is Jesus Christ our risen and immortal Lord. Amen.
Jesus Christ – The incomprehensible Son of God and sovereign Lord of all creation continues our study of Proverbs 30:4 and its implications.