“What is His name and what is His Son’s name, if thou canst tell?”Proverbs 30:4
Some proverbs solve riddles for us, while others present them. Proverbs 30:4 confronts us with an unsolvable riddle, unsolvable until the arrival of the first Christmas. Then like the star in the East everything became clear. The One who ascended is the same One who descended. The Lord Jesus solves the riddle perfectly. He descended to Bethlehem in the weakness of His humanity. Then as the risen Lord Jesus He ascended into heaven in the magnitude of His power.
The writer of this proverb is not Solomon but Agur the son of Jakeh (v.1). Who this man was is a mystery, but the source of his incredible wisdom was God (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Ironically, he says he is “more stupid than any man” but presents us with the greatest riddle of all time: “Who has ascended into heaven or descended?”
Who has descended is a grand understatement of what He accomplished at His incarnation. Just think about all that is behind that little word “descended.” Down from the lofty heights of His majesty, down from the highest mountains of the heavens, down from the sapphire pavement under His feet, our Savior graciously descended, plummeted even. His great vastness became almost nothing as He descended into the virgin’s womb. There, microscopic, He was knit together in Mary’s womb, massive yet minuscule. Then, nine months later, He arrived on the plains of Bethlehem, not as a mature man, as Adam was, but as an infant, not even a foot and a half long.
I like how Charles Wesley put it, “our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.” That captures the wonder of it all. In Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt, bodily. In Him all the fullness of humanity dwelt, bodily. And in Him all the purposes of revelation, redemption, and salvation would be accomplished as well—bodily. All this because He was willing to be contracted to a “span.”
The writer of this Proverb, whether he knew it or not, was posing the riddle of the ages. The incarnation was, after all, the greatest anticipated event of the entire Old Testament. It was going to be the most wondrous miracle of all time. God planted the mystery of it in the book of Proverbs in the form of a question, hinting at the triune nature of God, insinuating the divine nature of the Son.
We only find a handful of verses in the Old Testament that mention that God has a Son. In Psalm 2 we are permitted to eavesdrop on a divine conversation between the Father and Son, where we hear God say, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You,” where He commands all to “kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you perish in the way” (Ps. 2:7, 12). Isaiah revealed that “the virgin would conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel” and that “the government will be upon His shoulder” (Isa. 7:14; 9:6). Other than these few verses, the mystery of God’s Son was a well-kept secret. It took the incarnation to reveal Him fully.
“Who has gathered the wind in his fists?” The answer is the same One who as a little baby couldn’t even make a fist. He who threw countless storms over the Sea of Galilee now could barely hold Mary’s finger. Rich Mullins wrote, “There’s thunder in His footsteps and lightning in His fists…our God is an awesome God.” But He veiled that power at His incarnation. There was no thunder. There was no lightning. Only a harmless child.
“Who has bound the waters in a garment?” The same One whom Mary bound in simple swaddling clothes. There our massive God lay in that tiny manger, in His humanity only able to cry, sleep and eat. Yet that same voice would calm windstorms, wither fig trees, and multiply bread.
Psalm 29 is fascinating when you pair it with the incarnation. There we read that “the voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…the voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire…the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness” (Ps. 29:5, 7, 8). But in the manger the voice of the Lord was voluntarily muted. His voice became as faint as a whisper, as soft as breath.
“Who has established all the ends of the earth?” The same One who couldn’t even hold up his head. Yet He was still the Sustainer of all things. He did not know how to speak but by His word He made the heavens and the earth. His fingers created the stars, and He named each one. Yet through the incarnation He accomplished so much more. With great strength He embraced our weakness that we might see Him close up and face to face, that we through His poverty might be enriched.
The incarnation is a wonder to us because it puts two opposite ideas side by side, fragile weakness and infinite strength. The incarnation is a wonder to us because it creates an unsolvable paradox, a helpless child yet Sovereign Lord. The incarnation is a wonder to us because it made visible the invisible God.
The incarnation raises intriguing questions too. How can such an omnipotent God couple Himself with such weakness? How can God Almighty render Himself so strengthless in His humanity, so helpless and so frail yet at the same time be so relentlessly unstoppable?
All this because He “descended.” Such a small simple word, so easy to say. But what did His “descending” mean? It meant giving up centre stage to take His place as a stock character in His own story. It meant He relinquished the comforts and privileges of His glory to live in quietness and simplicity while patiently waiting to perform the work of our redemption. It meant He did not insist on being treated on equal terms with God. He literally humbled Himself and for the joy set before Him took on the form of a servant and endured the cross. All this to buy the pearl of great price, which is us, His people.
He descended into the manger, that humblest of thrones, coming in the likeness of men. But He wasn’t done yet. He descended even further into Nazareth, that town of ill-repute where He “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). But He wasn’t done yet. He descended even further into Capernaum, in Galilee of the despised Gentiles, taking on the form of a servant, healing our sick, feeding the poor, and washing our feet, unappreciated, unrecognised, and unknown. But He wasn’t done yet. Lastly, to the depths of all depths He descended to the bottom of Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, that blackest of all holes, where He became obedient even to the point of death, the horrible death of the cross.
The Mariana Trench is on record as the deepest trench in the Pacific Ocean. If Mount Everest were placed into it, its highest peak would still be covered by two kilometres of water. No one knows what’s even down there, so deep and dark and unreachable are its depths. But Calvary is far deeper. When our Saviour descended into it, He was engulfed in a darkness so thick, so empty, and so desperate that it made Him cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). There, the Son of God descended into the lowest part of the earth to fix His broken creation.
After He descended, He perfectly and physically and wondrously ascended into the heavens. There He was given the Name that is above every name. As Isaiah predicted, He was to be “exalted and extolled and be very high” (Isa.52:13). Far above the heavens He ascended. Far beyond the principalities, powers, and dominions. Far above our highest thought and imagination. And taking His merited seat at the right hand of God, He will someday inherit the throne of His father David forever.
Now the whole earth awaits until “His enemies become His footstool” (Ps.110:1)
“Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?”