Wisdom Speaks | Proverbs 8

Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
“To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the children of man.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.
Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right,
for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
They are all straight to him who understands,
and right to those who find knowledge.
Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly. 
I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
in the paths of justice,
granting an inheritance to those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, 
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.

“And now, O sons, listen to me:
blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who that me love death.”

Proverbs 8 ESV

 

Chapter five through seven stand as dire warnings against sin, particularly the sin of sexual immorality. Solomon gave such extensive warnings because the dangers are far too real and immanent to ignore. But now the ancient Israelite returns to the plea for us to find wisdom. Last seen in chapter one, Lady Wisdom returns for the final two chapters of Proverbs’ introduction. To properly understand this chapter, we must remember that Lady Wisdom is Solomon’s poetic personification of the abstract concept of wisdom. He uses this literary device to further emphasize the necessity of obtaining wisdom at all costs.

THE CALL OF WISDOM // VERSES 1-11

The chapter opens with two rhetorical questions. Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? The answer, of course, is that she does. The final section of chapter one consisted of Lady Wisdom’s first address to the readers. In fact, verses 2-3 give a setting for this speech that runs parallel with her previous speech. Proverbs 1:20-21 described Lady Wisdom as a street preacher, crying out in the streets to anyone who would listen. The same is true here as well. She positions herself on the heights where her voice might travel further. She stands at the crossroads, gates, and city entrances, knowing that traffic will be heavy there. She goes to densely populated areas and cries out. In verses 4-5, she makes known her intended audience, the children of man, which is to say all of humanity. Verse 5 cites a more specific target for her words: the simple and the fools. We have already established who the fools and simple are. They are both without wisdom. The fool is in sin’s grasp, and the simple is in danger of becoming a fool. Yet Lady Wisdom calls out to these groups specifically, that they would learn prudence and sense. We should take heart upon reading these verses. Even if we are simple or foolish, there is still hope. God’s wisdom goes out to all people.

The glorious truth that God’s wisdom calls to everyone demands that we listen carefully. If this message is truly for all of humanity, we must diligently hear it. And this is precisely what Lady Wisdom calls us to do: hear. That is our command. God has spoken; we must listen. Accordingly, verses 6-11 tell us why we should hear. Verses 6-7 describe Wisdom’s speech as noble and true. Verses 8-9 describe Wisdom’s words as righteous and straight. And verses 10-11 describe Wisdom’s teachings as better than gold, silver, or whatever we may desire. Together these verses are reinforcing the necessity of hearing (and obeying) Wisdom’s teaching.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WISDOM // VERSES 12-21

As a nerdy history buff, I have a great appreciation for historians. They do the tremendously difficult work of learning and interpreting the lives of people they will (often) never meet. In order to do this well, a biographer (for example) will tend to rely as much as possible on the actual words of the person being studied. They do this because the greatest earthly authority on a person is that same person. For this very reason, verses 12-31 are particularly wonderful in Proverbs. Herein Lady Wisdom first describes herself (vv. 12-21) and then recounts a short autobiography (vv. 22-31).

Wisdom’s characteristics, as presented here, are also benefits to us whenever we possess wisdom. There are several distinct characteristics and benefits of wisdom presented here, so we will briskly walk through them. First, wisdom dwells with prudence, and she finds knowledge and discretion (v. 12). Prudence, a wise understanding of how the world works, walks hand-in-hand with wisdom. It is also worthy noting that craftiness, in many ways, is the ungodly foil of prudence. Both are forms of being street-wise, but craftiness seeks exploitation while prudence seeks God’s glorification. Knowledge, the accumulating of information, and discretion, the ability to develop and enact wise plans, are both outflows of wisdom. Of course, this is not to say that wisdom must always proceed knowledge. Knowledge, in fact, often proceeds wisdom. The point, instead, is that knowledge and these variously related attributes are all intricately connected to wisdom. Gain wisdom, and you gain knowledge, prudence, and discretion as well. To simplify: wisdom comes with many benefits.

Second, the fear of the LORD, which is wisdom’s beginning (9:9), is also the hatred of evil (v. 13). Because wisdom understands that God is worthy to be feared, wisdom despises wickedness. There can be no other way. Evil is an abomination to God; therefore, we cannot both fear Him and love (or even tolerate) evil. We simply cannot love God and remain apathetic to sin. Do you, therefore, hate sin?

Third, wisdom is necessary for righteous and just leadership (vv. 14-16). Counsel, sound wisdom, insight, and strength are benefits that accompany wisdom, and they are also qualities that are essential for leaders. But verses 15-16 provide an even greater benefit of wisdom upon leaders: it keeps them just. True wisdom guides toward righteous and just decisions.

Fourth, Lady Wisdom loves those who love her (v. 17). This is a wonderful promise for us to cling to. When we love and value wisdom, she loves us in return. When we diligently seek her, she will be found. But the inverse is also a tragic rebuke. If all who seek wisdom find it, then fools do not have wisdom simply because they refuse to seek after it.

Fifth, many riches are found in wisdom (vv. 18-21). Wealth often follows wisdom, as do honor and righteousness. But notice that the true treasure of wisdom is not material wealth because the fruit of wisdom is better than gold. What could possibly be better than gold and silver? The way of righteous is far more valuable than all the riches of this world. Wisdom takes us down the godly path, which leads to a true inheritance, full of treasures. Wisdom, by causing us to fear God, points us to the supreme Treasure. Jesus also affirmed this (and appealed to wisdom in gaining lasting treasure) in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19-21 | Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

WISDOM’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY // VERSES 22-31

Lady Wisdom, having described her attributes, proceeds now to tell her autobiography. We have already read a short version of the story in Proverbs 3:19-20, but now wisdom provides a lengthier meditation upon her existence. The bulk of this autobiographical poem is meant to emphasize wisdom’s preeminence. Plenty of debate has been waged regarding the exact translation of possessed in verse 22. Many theologians hold that Lady Wisdom is actually pre-incarnate Jesus, so possessed makes more sense than fathered or created, which are possible translations. I have already discussed this issue from Proverbs 3:19-20, but I will reiterate it simply here. I do not believe that Lady Wisdom is Jesus. Many cite 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, where Jesus is called the wisdom of God, as evidence that the concept of wisdom in Proverbs is Christ. While I certainly affirm that Jesus is wisdom (which means that wisdom is an attribute of Jesus that He perfectly embodies), I do not believe that wisdom is Jesus. Once again, it is the same principle as saying that God is love, but love is not God. God is love because it is an attribute of His nature and He fully embodies love. But love, as an idea, is not God. We do not worship love; we worship God. Likewise, we do not worship wisdom; we worship Jesus. Again, I am not arguing that theologians who view wisdom as Jesus are heretical. That is not the case at all. But I do firmly believe that the safer and more biblical interpretation is that wisdom in Proverbs is an attribute of God and a principle upon which He ordered creation.

Wisdom as a principle (or perhaps we might say law or rule) upon which God ordered creation is the subject of these verses. Obviously, the primary emphasis of these verses is that wisdom was with God at the beginning of creation. But why is that significant? Buzzell provides, what I believe, is the best answer: “If God involved wisdom in His creative work, then certainly people need wisdom” (923)! If wisdom was with God creation and God even used wisdom to create the world, we should leap at the chance to partake in that wisdom.

FIND WISDOM; FIND LIFE // VERSES 32-36

In this final section of the chapter, Lady Wisdom reiterates the commands that Solomon has issued throughout the previous chapters. She even takes up calling the readers of Proverbs sons. What follows is a twofold pronouncement of blessing (vv. 32, 34), where the first is followed by a command and the second is followed by promise/warning. With nearly eight chapters behind us, these could be seen as Lady Wisdom’s closing words (with chapter nine providing the transition into the collection of proverbs). They certainly sum up the overall message of the Proverbs’ introduction; let us, therefore, obey Lady Wisdom by listening diligently to her.

The first declaration of blessing is to those who keep wisdom’s ways, meaning those who follow and obey wisdom. The command (v. 33) follows suit, calling us to hear instruction, be wise, and not neglect wisdom. Remember that God’s wisdom is ultimately found in His Word; therefore, hearing instruction is primarily a call to hear and obey the Scriptures. Of course, godly instruction can come from other sources, but we receive the teaching of wisdom first and foremost via the Bible. The second proclamation of blessing is fittingly to those who listen to wisdom, watching at her gates and waiting beside her doors. This describes someone who is actively looking and waiting for wisdom. The Bereans are a good example of this, of whom Luke wrote: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Let us too receive God’s wisdom and His Word with eagerness. How then are you keeping God’s Word? Are you actively listening for it? How has Proverbs’ repeated emphasis of this issue changed the way you read the Bible?

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is important to remember that the movement of revival came from people longing to know God’s Word. That hunger for the Bible proceeded the actual reformers. MacCulloch writes about the revival of preaching in the centuries leading to the Reformation: “Surviving sermon texts suggest that sermons were long, and since there was then little seating in church, there must have been a popular appetite for absorbing ideas and biblical stories which overcame physical discomfort” (p. 31). Let us always strive to be a people whose love for God’s Word always triumphs over our physical discomfort.

Verses 35-36 close the chapter with a dichotic promise/warning. He who finds wisdom finds life, but those who hate wisdom love death (in many ways, this premise will be expanded in chapter nine, where we will be invited to feast with either Lady Wisdom or Lady Folly). The point here is that obtaining wisdom is not a secondary matter; it is life or death. Yes, life may function better with wisdom, but wisdom is far more valuable than helping life go smoothly. Wisdom means fearing God, loving and submitting to Him and His designs and instructions. We cannot follow Christ without wisdom because the very act of following Christ is wise. Conversely, denying Christ is the ultimate act of foolishness because it rejects trusting God in favor of leaning upon our own understanding. Be wise, therefore, and find life and favor in the LORD.

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