“The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” sounds like the title of an unpublished Dan Brown novel. There is one famous book by that title, written by T.E.Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia). However, what I want to write in this article is neither a novel nor an autobiographical historic account.
The phrase comes from Proverbs 9:1, which reads, ‘Wisdom has built her house. She has hewn out its seven pillars’. A little while ago I decided to do some research into this verse. I thought this would be an interesting distraction from the COVID-19 obsession of our days. It took me down some strange paths, but in the end, it yielded insights that apply to us right now. So join me in my little journey of discovery.
Not Much of a ClueSome say that the text presents a figurative ‘house’ where wisdom sets out her banquet of good food. Others say it refers to the seven pillars thought by the ancients to support the flat disk of the earth. Yet others speculate that they are a reference to seven sections of the book of Proverbs. Some Jewish scholars teach that they are the seven sciences of the ancient schools of knowledge, the ‘hokmot’ in rabbinical literature… and so on.
I do not think that any of these proposals make much sense, either logically or biblically. However, some commentators have attempted to locate the meaning of the seven pillars in the bible. There are two main lines of thought here, one from the Old and the other from the New Testament. The idea that James 3:17 is a list of the seven pillars of wisdom is unlikely to be valid mainly because it assumes that James is giving the inspired interpretation of Proverbs 9:1 without any real evidence for this or reference to the proverb.
Seven Pillars of Proverbs 8:12-14
The second attempt to find the meaning of the pillars in scripture is the contention that Proverbs 8:12-14 lists seven virtues attributed to wisdom. However, this passage contains no reference to pillars. We would have to combine Prudence and Discretion to construct a list of exactly seven. We would also have to ignore other elements of the passage that others could take as additional ‘pillars’ of wisdom.
So, after exploring those cul-de-sacs, I back-tracked and turned my attention to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 43:13 records how the people of Israel were wanting to establish an alliance with Egypt. However, God warned them, through Jeremiah, that he was about to send the Babylonians to punish Egypt. Verse 13 reads: ‘He will break down the sacred pillars standing in the temple of the sun in Egypt, and he will burn down the temples of Egypt’s gods’.
The ESV version of the bible translates the words ‘sacred pillars’ as ‘obelisks’. Most translations provide ‘Heliopolis’ as an alternative to ‘temple of the sun’. This set me off down another path of discovery.
The Obelisks of Heliopolis
An obelisk is a monolithic (Carved from one rock) four-sided pillar with a pyramid-shaped capstone. They were mostly huge constructions weighing many tons and reaching up into the sky. Some scholars believe that their creators styled them after ancient phallic symbols. However, the imagery is more of a giant needle piercing the heavens and connecting the physical to the spiritual worlds.
A suburb of the modern city of Cairo, Egypt has what remains of the temple city of Heliopolis. Archaeologists have found evidence of the location of Sacred Pillars. One stood in the centre of the layout and the others were in pairs in front of the entrance to the temple. Roman emperors later scattered five of these across the globe.
The Location of the Five Exported Pillars
Istanbul, Paris, London, and New York each have one obelisk. A fifth stands in Saint Peter’s square in the Vatican (Rome). Cairo is home to a sixth one (still on its original site).
So that makes six accounted for and currently standing. The seventh was to be the largest of all, but it cracked during the process of hewing it from the quarry and so was left there in its incomplete form.
Interestingly, the largest of all obelisks ever made was erected in Washington in 1848 and is known as the Washington Monument. So, the largest planned sacred pillar in Heliopolis was never completed, but the largest of all obelisks ever made was constructed millennia later in Washington DC.
Now here is where the story sounds like it was written by Dan Brown…
Symbols of Idolatry
Dan Brown, and many others, have speculated on the possibility of an ages-long international conspiracy to control the world. Illuminati, Billionaires, China, and even reptilian shape-shifting aliens feature in these mythical tales. One of the key ideas presented is that these powerful conspirators have established secret signs of their dominance in plain sight in the major power centres of the world. if you consider that:
- Rome, and the Vatican in particular, is the power-centre of Roman Catholicism, a major international religious system.
- London is the financial power-centre of Europe.
- New York the financial capital of North America.
- Paris is the power-centre of one of the former major world colonising powers and is today Frances’s most important centre of commerce and culture.
- Istanbul used to be called Constantinople, the capital city of both the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire, and once a Crusader state. It was greatly contested by both Islam and Christiandom as a power-centre and economic and cultural hub.
- Washington is the political and military power-centre of the United States of America.
- Cairo is the site of the original temple of the sun-god Ra.
Absent from the list are any important locations in China, Russia, Australia, Japan, and the 3rd world in general.
A Whole Lot of Breaking Going On
Perhaps I need to state that I do not endorse conspiracy theories of any kind – they irritate me. I have given you the above information because I find it interesting and because it sets the scene for what I want to set out now as the main point of this article.
Sometimes God sends judgement upon people and nations that do not respond to his calls to repent and change; Noah’s flood and the Babylonian scourge of Egypt (Jeremiah 43:13) are evidence of this. However, God does not pour out judgment upon his faithful people and nor does he execute judgment on the ungodly without first warning and exhorting them to repent.
I think that we are currently in a period where God’s warnings are sounding out loud and clear and judgment is near. The devastation of the world’s ecology, the drastic decline of truth, integrity and morality in most of society, plus inequality and neglect of the poor and needy are all signs of this. And now the COVID-19 plague is most likely the latest of several biological warnings to humanity.
Severe Warnings Solicit Change or Obdurance (stubbornness)
One of the lessons from history is that when dire warnings come, some change for the good while others become even more committed to their ungodly ways (Revelation 16:11).
I do not think that God sent Isis terrorists to fly hijacked airliners into the Twin Towers in New York. However, I do believe that through that disaster he worked on the hearts and minds of individuals and nations to prompt them to carefully consider lifestyles and priorities. The world-psyche changed on that day in history. I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is another such event. Politics, business, education, and the church will never be quite the same again; and hopefully, we will be better for what we learn and experience.
The True Pillars of Wisdom
As I concluded my journey from ‘pillar to post’ I arrived at three significant passages in the New Testament that reveal the true pillars of wisdom. They are:
- 1 Timothy 3:15-16 ‘God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth’.
- Galatians 2:9 ‘James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars…’
- Revelation 3:12 ‘Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God’.
These are difficult and challenging times for everyone, but for those who constitute the church, these are significant and important times of change.