What does it mean to say that government is a structure that God built into creation? It means, in part, that not all of God’s creation is physical. God created the physical world: land and seas, moon and stars. But God created more than just the physical world. He created non-physical realties, such as marriage (Gen. 2:18-24). When people try to live contrary to God’s design for marriage or government they societies experience negative consequences just as surely as people who tried to live as though gravity did not exist would experience consequences for trying to live contrary to the way God designed His world to work.
Proverbs speaks of this reality in terms of wisdom being built into the very creation. Proverbs 3:21 says, “The LORD founded the earth by wisdom and established the heavens by understanding” (HCSB). Proverbs 8:22-31 (HCSB) makes the same point:
The Lord made me
at the beginning of His creation,
before His works of long ago.
I was formed before ancient times,
from the beginning, before the earth began.
I was born when there were no watery depths
and no springs filled with water.
I was delivered
before the mountains and hills were established,
before He made the land, the fields,
or the first soil on earth.
I was there when He established the heavens,
when He laid out the horizon on the surface of the ocean,
when He placed the skies above,
when the fountains of the ocean gushed out,
when He set a limit for the sea
so that the waters would not violate His command,
when He laid out the foundations of the earth.
I was a skilled craftsman beside Him.
I was His delight every day,
always rejoicing before Him.
I was rejoicing in His inhabited world,
delighting in the human race.
In the past this passage has often been read as if it spoke of the pre-incarnate Christ. The chief difficulty with this is that Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is created. Because קנה in 8:22 has a disputed semantic range, the versions translate the word variously: “The Lord possessed me” (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV); “The Lord created me” (RSV, NRSV); “The Lord made me” (HCSB); “The Lord brought me forth” (NIV). But from the use of חיל, “be brought to birth” (CHALOT), in vv. 24, 25, it seems clear that “created” is the appropriate sense here. (Passages that indicate “create” is within the semantic range of קנה include: Gen. 14:19, 22; Ex. 15:16; Deut. 32:6; Ps. 78:54; 104:24; 139:13. See also NIDOTTE, 3:941; TLOT, 3:1152-53.)
Translating “The Lord made me” (HCSB) is only problematic if Wisdom here refers to the Son or to an attribute of God. But neither is likely here. Garrett correctly notes, “Woman Wisdom of Prov 8 does not personify an attribute of God but personifies an attribute of creation. She is personification of the structure, plan, or rationality that God built into the world. She is created by God and fundamentally an attribute of God’s universe” (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, NAC, 113).
Though most translations locate this “in the beginning” (KJV) or “at the beginning” (HCSB, ESV, NASB) there is no beth prefix in Hebrew, making the NIV’s translation of v. 22 preferable: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works.” Garrett notes that “may imply that Wisdom herself is the ‘beginning’ of creation” (108, n. 65), the idea being that “Wisdom is claiming to be the first principle of the world and the pattern by which it was created” (Garrett, 108). Consistent with this, I would prefer the NIV’s translation of verse 23, “I was formed ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be” (cf. HCSB), over the KJV’s “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, Or ever the earth was” (cf. NASB). (This requires translating עוֹלָם “ages ago” rather than “everlasting” and translating נסך “formed” rather than “set up.” On the former, see NIDOTTE, 3:346. On the later see Longman III, Proverbs, BCOTWP, 205.)
In what follows, Wisdom affirms that she was prior to the ordering of the world and present at the ordering of the world. Wisdom concludes in v. 30 that she was an אָמוֹן beside God during the creation. The translation of אָמוֹן is highly contested, with “skilled craftsman,” “blueprint,” “child,” “foster-father,” binding,” and “faithful” all being suggested (see R B Y. Scott, “Wisdom in Creation: The ’Amôn of Proverbs 8:30.” Vetus Testamentum 10, no. 2 [April 1, 1960]: 213-223). If there is a favored translation by commentators and Bible translations, it is probably along the lines of “skilled craftsman.” If this translation is accepted, however, it should be made clear that in this passage Wisdom is not doing the creating. God is clearly the Creator throughout this passage, and Wisdom is standing beside God. Since Wisdom is beside the God who creates and is not the creator, Van Leeuwen suggests that Wisdom is “personified as the king’s architect-advisor, through whom the king puts all things in their proper order and whose decrees of cosmic justice are the standard for human kings and rulers (v. 15)” (“Proverbs,” NIB, 5:94). Or, as Bryan Smith has noted, a master craftsman could be the personification of a blueprint (personal conversation, 17 May 2011). Gordon Fee also sees the personification in terms of a blueprint: “Prov 8:22-26 asserts in a variety of ways that Wisdom was the first of God’s creation, emphasizing her priority in time, so that her being present with God when he alone created the universe would thus reflect—as it actually does—God’s wise blueprint” (Fee, Pauline Christology, 611). However the personification is understood, Garret once again captures the significance of the passage: “If Wisdom is here an artisan, the message again is that the principles of wisdom are woven into the fabric of the created order.”
I would argue that some of these principles of wisdom woven into the fabric of the created order are principles relating to the institution of government. Indeed, I would argue that the institution of government itself is woven into the fabric of creation. This, I think, is the teaching of 1 Peter 2:13.