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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Proverbs 8

 

 

Introduction

Discourse 9. The Call of Ms Wisdom As The One Who Seeks Response, Gives Men True Instruction, Ensures Good Government, Enriches Men Physically and Spiritually, Was Present With God During Creation, And Blesses Men And Brings Them Into Life So That They Find God’s Favour (Proverbs 8:1-36).

Having concentrated on the wiles of the woman who sought to lead men astray in chapter 7, we are now introduced again to Ms Wisdom who leads men in the right way. We were first introduced to her in Proverbs 1:20-33; Proverbs 3:13-20; Proverbs 4:6-9, and will meet her again in Proverbs 9:1-12. In this chapter, lest we think of her as just human wisdom, we learn that she is eternal, having been the instrument of God at creation, and now as ensuring on His behalf right living, just government, a wholesome life and God’s blessing on those who hear her. She is YHWH’s wisdom.

The passage divides up into six subsections:

1) Wisdom Calls On Men To Hear Her (Proverbs 8:1-4).

2) Wisdom Calls On The Naive And On Fools To Pay Heed To Her Words Because Her Instruction Is Both True And Valuable (Proverbs 8:5-13).

3) Wisdom Hates Evil Attitudes And Behaviour But Enables Just Government From Those Who Love Her (Proverbs 8:14-17).

4) Wisdom Gives Riches And Honour Both Physically And Spiritually To Those Who Love Her, And Enables Men To Walk Rightly (Proverbs 8:18-21).

5) Wisdom Was With God In Creation And Rejoices In His Ongoing Creation (Proverbs 8:22-31).

6) Wisdom Brings Blessing On Those Who Hear Her For Through Her They Find Life And Come Into The Favour Of God (Proverbs 8:32-36).


Verses 1-4

1). Wisdom Calls On Men To Hear Her (Proverbs 8:1-4).

Wisdom had been defined for us earlier in the Prologue. She is based on ‘the fear of YHWH’ (Proverbs 1:29; Proverbs 2:5; Proverbs 9:10). She is given by God (Proverbs 2:6). She brings men to the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:5). She is closely connected with the chastening of YHWH (Proverbs 3:11). And in what she says she reveals herself as the mouthpiece of YHWH (Proverbs 1:23-33). Indeed YHWH, by wisdom, knowledge and understanding, created the world (Proverbs 3:19-20). This last reference, referring to ‘wisdom, knowledge and understanding’ warns us against taking the personification too literally, and reminds us that wisdom is an attribute of God, along with knowledge and understanding. Thus she is equated with knowledge and understanding. Bible wisdom teaching is therefore about God and His ways. And yet this wisdom is communicable to men and can be possessed by them. It can be ‘known’ along with understanding (Proverbs 1:2), we can incline our ear and apply our hearts in order to obtain it along with understanding (Proverbs 2:1-4), we must obtain it along with understanding (Proverbs 4:5-8), along with understanding we are to see her as our sister and our kinswoman (Proverbs 7:4). The constant parallel with understanding warns against seeing her literally as an individual. She can be paralleled with the Scriptures, the word of God (Proverbs 2:6). She cannot be paralleled with our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

The subsection forms a chiasmus:

A Does not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? (Proverbs 8:1).

B On the top of high places by the way, where the paths meet, she stands (Proverbs 8:2).

B Beside the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors, she cries aloud (Proverbs 8:3).

A “To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men” (Proverbs 8:4).

Note how in A wisdom and understanding call, and in the parallel her call is to the sons of men. And in B and parallel ‘she’ reaches out in every place where men are to be found.

Proverbs 8:1-4

‘Does not wisdom cry,

And understanding put forth her voice?

On the top of high places by the way,

Where the paths meet, she stands,

Beside the gates, at the entry of the city,

At the coming in at the doors, she cries aloud.’

“To you, O men, I call,

And my voice is to the sons of men.”

Note again the combination of wisdom and understanding. Wisdom cries out to men, understanding puts forth her voice. And she does so openly and forcefully wherever men are found. There is nothing secretive about her, in contrast with the strange woman who represents the world and its desires. She speaks from the top of high places by the way, she is found at road junctions, she is found beside the gates where men meet to converse, and justice is meted out (compare Proverbs 1:20-21 where it was ‘in the streets -- to the public squares -- at the entering of the gates, the chief places of concourse’). And her words are for all men, she calls to men, her voice is to the sons of men.

In the days when the only way to disseminate news and information was by the voice (as with the ancient town crier) those who sought to do so would stand on a high spot and proclaim what they had to say. It enabled them to project their voices. Indeed there was a well known stone in Jerusalem from which lost and found things were called out. Thus those who would proclaim wisdom would stand in such places. ‘By the way’. As men proceeded on their way they needed guidance on the way of life. ‘Where the paths meet’. At junctions and crossroads, to which men came from all directions, they needed to know which way to take, not only literally but spiritually.

‘The gates’, through which all entering or leaving the city had to pass, and where men used to gather to share information, hear news, pass judgment, and come to important decisions, was above all the place of concourse. Here too proclaimers of wisdom were to be found.

“To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.” It is to man that ‘wisdom and understanding’ speaks. It is the voice of Heaven speaking to mankind (Proverbs 8:22-31). While she may be heavenly she delights in ‘the habitable earth -- the sons of men’ (Proverbs 8:31). In Proverbs wisdom and understanding are not earthly, humanistic wisdom and understanding, but the wisdom and understanding imparted by God (Proverbs 2:5-6).


Verses 5-13

2). Wisdom Calls On The Naive And On Fools To Pay Heed To Her Words Because Her Instruction Is Both True And Valuable (Proverbs 8:5-13).

Wisdom’s words come especially to the naive and to ‘fools’ (compare Proverbs 1:22), that is to those who are still grappling with life without having any agenda, often at a loose end (compare Proverbs 7:7), and at the behest of any voice that speaks to them, and those who, while believing vaguely in God, live their lives apart from His will and direction (compare Psalms 14:1). Her aim is to rescue them from their naivety and folly. And she does so because what she has to say is truth, and is excellent and precious.

Once again the subsection is presented chiastically:

A O you naive ones, understand shrewdness, and, you fools, be of an understanding heart (Proverbs 8:5).

B Hear, for I will speak excellent things (princely things), and the opening of my lips will be right (straight, equitable) things (Proverbs 8:6)

C For my mouth will utter truth, and wickedness is an abomination to my lips, all the words of my mouth are in righteousness (Proverbs 8:7-8 a).

C There is nothing crooked or perverse in them, they are all plain to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge (Proverbs 8:8-9).

B Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it (Proverbs 8:10-11).

A I wisdom have made shrewdness my dwelling, and find out knowledge and discretion (Proverbs 8:12).

Note how in A the call is to understand shrewdness and be of an understanding heart, and in the parallel wisdom has made shrewdness her dwelling, and finds out knowledge and discretion. In B men are called on to ‘hear’ princely things and equitable things, and in the parallel to ‘receive instruction, knowledge and wisdom’ which are more precious than gold, silver and rubies, and are beyond compare. Centrally in C wisdom emphasises that her words are truth and in righteousness, because wickedness is an abomination to her lips, and in the parallel there is nothing that is crooked or perverse in them, for they are plain to those who understand, and right to those who find knowledge.

Proverbs 8:5-7

“O you naive ones, understand shrewdness,

And, you fools, be of an understanding heart,

Hear, for I will speak excellent things (princely things),

And the opening of my lips will be right (straight, equitable) things,

For my mouth will utter truth,

And wickedness is an abomination to my lips.”

Note that here, where we might have expected the word ‘wisdom’, we have the word shrewdness, although we then learn in Proverbs 8:12 that wisdom has made shrewdness her dwelling. So while Wisdom may be personified, she is defined by a number of words such as ‘understanding’ (with which she is regularly combined - Proverbs 2:2; Proverbs 3:13; Proverbs 3:19; Proverbs 4:5; Proverbs 4:7; Proverbs 5:1; Proverbs 7:4; Proverbs 8:1; Proverbs 8:14; Proverbs 9:10), ‘knowledge’, ‘disciplinary instruction’, ‘discretion’, ‘shrewdness’ and the like. She is a clearly not an individual but a composite concept (compare especially Proverbs 1:2-4; Proverbs 2:2-3; Proverbs 2:10-11; Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 5:1-2), and regularly thought of in terms of Solomon’s ‘wisdom’, ‘words’, ‘commandments’, ‘torah (instruction)’ and ‘disciplinary instruction’ (Proverbs 1:7-8; Proverbs 2:1-2; Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 5:1; Proverbs 6:20; Proverbs 6:25; Proverbs 7:1-4). Note how in Proverbs 8:1-4 ‘wisdom and understanding’ are seen as one and spoken of as ‘she’ (compare Proverbs 2:2-4 where wisdom, understanding and discernment are spoken of as ‘her’).

So the naive are called on to understand shrewdness, and the fools (those who live carelessly) are called on to be of an understanding heart. They are to pay heed to the excellent and princely things, the right and equitable things, which ‘wisdom and understanding’ (Proverbs 8:1) speaks. For the main concern of true wisdom and understanding is ‘truth’. Indeed false words and wickedness are an abomination to her. When put in apposition to ‘truth (what is reliable)’, ‘wickedness’ is ‘falsity, (what is unreliable)’.

Proverbs 8:8-9

“All the words of my mouth are in righteousness,

There is nothing crooked or perverse in them,

They are all plain to him who understands,

And right to those who find knowledge.”

For all her spoken words are ‘in righteousness’, they are true, honest and upright, and there is nothing crooked (twisted) and perverse in them. For her there is no ‘lying or deceitful tongue’ (Proverbs 6:17). All her words are plain to those who understand, and they are right (straight, open, honest), to those who find true knowledge (the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of God - Proverbs 2:5). In the words of Jesus, ‘if any man wills to do His will, he will know of My teaching, whether it comes from God’ (John 7:17).

Thus we have here the assurance that what is true will be known to those whose hearts are truly open to God. It is only when sin distorts men’s thinking that they are unable to come to truth. Thus people today have much knowledge, but because their hearts are closed to God and are sinful, they do not come to truth. Each sees things from his own perspective. Men who will devote countless hours and huge amounts of money to discern an invisible and elusive particle in nature, have no time to consider the many things that point to an invisible, and to them elusive, God. But to those who are open to understand, and who find knowledge, because it is given to them by God (Proverbs 2:6), all is plain.

Proverbs 8:10-11

“Receive my instruction, and not silver,

And knowledge rather than choice gold,

For wisdom is better than rubies,

And all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”

In Proverbs 8:6 wisdom called on men to ‘hear’ excellent things, princely things’ and ‘equitable things’. Here they are assured that Solomon’s instruction, knowledge and wisdom are more valuable than silver and fine gold, and better than ‘rubies’ (possibly red coral). Indeed nothing else can be compared with them for value. God’s word is the most precious thing that this world contains.

Note on Proverbs 8:11..

There are no conclusive grounds for excluding Proverbs 8:11 from the narrative as an interpolation, even though this is often suggested. It is found in all manuscripts and versions, and Hebrew poetry has a habit of not falling into line with the structures that moderns expect of it. The use of wisdom in the third person, paralleling instruction and knowledge, was to be expected if Wisdom was to speak of wisdom. She is underlining her own worth in terms of her attributes. This also explains the unusual ‘I, Wisdom’ in Proverbs 8:12. She has to indicate who the personal pronoun refers to precisely because of the variation in Proverbs 8:11. The fact that something similar was said in Proverbs 3:15 is not a valid argument. Solomon often repeats good ideas. Thus there are no good grounds for excising this verse.

End of note.

Proverbs 8:12

“I wisdom have made shrewdness my dwelling,

And find out knowledge and discretion,

Wisdom ends the subsection, which is all in her words, with a reminder of what she is. Shrewdness is her dwellingplace. The two are inseparably connected. That was why the naive could be called on to ‘understand shrewdness’ rather than wisdom (Proverbs 8:5). ‘Knowledge and discretion’ are what she seeks out. Knowledge is the knowledge of God and His ways, and is a revelation from God (Proverbs 2:5-6); discretion is the ability to discern and devise wisely. Discretion parallels knowledge in Proverbs 1:4; understanding in Proverbs 2:11; and is a companion of wisdom in Proverbs 3:21. In other words wisdom, shrewdness, knowledge and discretion are all an essential part of one another. Note how they all appear together in Proverbs 1:4-5.


Verses 13-17

3). Wisdom Hates Evil Attitudes And Behaviour But Enables Just Government From Those Who Love Her (Proverbs 8:13-17).

This subsection which majors on wisdom’s role in ensuring just government where she is accepted, commences with an indication of YHWH’s attitude towards it and the impression that all rulers are to rule in the light of it. The fear of YHWH results in hating evil. And this includes hating pride, arrogance, behaving in an evil way, and speaking with a perverse mouth. These were very much the general attributes of bad rulers, although not limited to them. But for those who love her, and diligently seek her, wisdom is able to supply counsel, sound knowledge and understanding, thus enabling them to rule and judge justly. So in Solomon’s eyes even foreign kings are reliant on YHWH to enable them to govern justly. His faith knew no boundaries, as befitted the man who could say, ‘heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You’ (1 Kings 8:27).

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A The fear of YHWH is to hate evil, pride, and arrogance, and the evil way, and the perverse mouth, do I hate (Proverbs 8:13).

B Counsel is mine, and sound knowledge, I am understanding, I have might (Proverbs 8:14).

B By me kings reign, and princes decree justice, by me rulers govern, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth (Proverbs 8:15-16).

A I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me (Proverbs 8:17).

Note that in A wisdom hates evil: pride and arrogance, the evil way and the perverse mouth, all especially characteristics of rulers. In the parallel she loves those who love her and find her through seeking her diligently. In B she has counsel, sound knowledge, understanding and might, and in the parallel good rulers and judges operate through her counsel fostering justice.

Proverbs 8:13

The fear of YHWH is to hate evil,

Pride, and arrogance, and the evil way,

And the perverse mouth, do I hate.”

The world is full of ‘rulers’, some evil and corrupt, and some good and just, with a lot of rulers in between, and so the subsection commences with YHWH’s view of corrupt rulers, although it is not, of course, limited to rulers. Pride, arrogance, following the way of evil and speaking perversely are all characteristics of forceful men whether in politics or in business (see Proverbs 16:19 where the wise avoid them). To fear YHWH is to hate evil, and that is precisely because YHWH Himself hates evil. And because hating evil is a product of the fear of YHWH, evil is hated by Wisdom, for what she teaches is in line with the fear of YHWH. We can have no clearer indication that wisdom in Proverbs is very much related to YHWH than these words. Wisdom in Proverbs is inculcating, not humanistic wisdom, but YHWH’s wisdom.

Wisdom expands on what the evil is that is to be hated, especially in rulers. It is pride, arrogance, following the way of evil (i.e. not aiming at the good of people in general) and being deceitful and dishonest, and possibly rebellious against YHWH, in what is spoken. They reflect the haughty eyes and lying tongue that God hates (Proverbs 6:17), and the perverse mouth of the worthless man (Proverbs 6:12; compare Proverbs 2:12). All these attributes are reflected in Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:29-30, where it is the leaders of Moab who were in mind. Compare the high looks and boastful words of the Assyrian king in Isaiah 10:12-15. They were the attributes of many rulers as revealed in Scripture and inscriptions. They are the attributes of many politicians today. Those who should be a pattern for good are so often a very bad example, or worse, for power corrupts.

Proverbs 8:14-17

“Counsel is mine, and sound knowledge,

I am understanding, I have might,

By me kings reign,

And princes decree justice,

By me rulers govern,

And nobles, even all the judges of the earth.

I love those who love me,

And those who seek me diligently will find me.”

In contrast to what Wisdom hates (evil), is what Wisdom loves. She loves those who love her, that is who eagerly hear her and follow her instruction. Here then she speaks of those who respond to her. To them she gives counsel and sound knowledge in all that they do in war and peace, for basically she ‘is understanding’. That is her very nature. And she has might as revealed by her influence on kings, rulers and governors. For by her kings reign, princes decree justice, rulers govern, as do also nobles. She influences all the judges of the earth (and kings and governors were the premier judges). Note the assumption that all who rule or judge wisely owe it to YHWH and His wisdom. He disseminates it to all whose hearts are right and who seek it. There were very few rulers who were totally corrupt.

It is noteworthy that both this and the following subsection end with describing Wisdom’s response to those who love her. For those who love Wisdom receive the benefits of doing so. She pours out her spirit to them, she makes known her words to them (Proverbs 1:23). Thus to love Wisdom is to love oneself in the right way. It impacts on every part of life. As Solomon said earlier of Wisdom, ‘do not forsake her and she will preserve you. Love her and she will guard you’ (Proverbs 4:6). Wisdom is to be loved in the same way as the strange woman is not. Note that she was to be ‘sought diligently’. Men should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest her. Then they would receive her fruit in their lives. Paul’s words are relevant here, ‘study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15).


Verses 18-21

4). Wisdom Gives Riches And Honour Both Physically And Spiritually To Those Who Love Her, And Enables Men To Walk Rightly (Proverbs 8:18-21).

Wisdom does not just enable rulers. She also gives durable riches, honour and righteousness to all those who respond to her. Part of the lesson is that those who behave wisely will, in general, prosper. They will be hardworking (contrast Proverbs 6:6-11), abstemious and careful (consider Proverbs 6:1-5). They will not, for example, waste their substance on foolish living (Proverbs 5:9-11). They will rather honour YHWH with their substance so that their barns will be full (Proverbs 3:9-10). This is the promise to all who love her (Proverbs 8:21), and in consequence they will enjoy her fruit (Proverbs 8:19). But there is a deeper thought here, for not all who love wisdom outwardly prosper. They may not pile up gold and silver. But what they will do is build up in their treasuries a fruit which is better than gold, a revenue which is better than silver. They will inherit a substance which is far better. For they will dwell in security and will be quiet without fear of evil (Proverbs 1:33). And that because her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace (Proverbs 3:17). And she will bestow on them spiritual beauty (Proverbs 4:8-9; compare Proverbs 1:9).

These words are presented chiastically:

A Riches and honour are with me, yes, durable wealth and righteousness (Proverbs 8:18).

B My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold, and my revenue than choice silver (Proverbs 8:19).

· B I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice (Proverbs 8:20).

· A That I may cause those who love me to inherit substance, and that I may fill their treasuries (Proverbs 8:21).

Note than in A riches, honour and durable wealth and righteousness are with wisdom, and in the parallel she causes those who love her to inherit substance and have filled treasuries. In B her fruit is better than fine gold and her produce better than choice silver, and in the parallel that fruit is revealed in walking in righteousness and justice.

Proverbs 8:18-19

Riches and honour are with me,

Yes, durable wealth and righteousness,

My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold,

And my revenue than choice silver.”

The first things that Wisdom offers to those who love her are riches and honour. They will prosper, and gain and keep the respect of good men. Compare for this Proverbs 3:4; Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 3:35; Proverbs 4:8. But more than that they will gain durable wealth and righteousness. The fact that the wealth is durable and paralleled with righteousness suggests that here the idea is of spiritual wealth, for wisdom’s fruit is immediately stated to be better than gold and choice silver. Compare Proverbs 3:14. Thus we are probably to see here wealth that is lasting and permanent which does not, in Jesus words, get affected by moths, rust or thieves (Matthew 6:19-20). Such ‘wealth’ is portrayed in Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:17-18; Proverbs 3:33 b, 34b, 35; Proverbs 4:9 and can especially be summed up in the promise of abundant life (Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 3:22; Proverbs 4:13; Proverbs 4:22-23; Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 8:35). So Wisdom offers those who love her spiritual wellbeing and righteousness. They will enjoy God’s favour (Proverbs 8:35) with all the blessings that come with it. They will walk in the path that grow brighter day by day until its glorious summation (Proverbs 4:18).

Proverbs 8:20-21

“I walk in the way of righteousness,

In the midst of the paths of justice,

That I may cause those who love me to inherit substance,

And that I may fill their treasuries.”

And this will happen because they are walking with Wisdom in the way of righteousness, and in the midst of the paths of justice. They can walk without fear of the Law, because their lives are just and right as they respond to God’s wisdom. They will enjoy the favour of both God and man (Proverbs 3:4). And in consequence, because they love God’s Wisdom she will cause them to inherit substance and fill their treasuries. Once again Solomon probably has in mind spiritual benefits that are better than silver and gold, as described above, but it need not deny physical benefits as well. Walking with God’s Wisdom enhances every aspect of life.


Verses 22-31

5) Wisdom Was With God In Creation And Rejoices In The Ongoing Of His Creation (Proverbs 8:22-31).

Lest we have any doubt about what wisdom Solomon is speaking about he now makes it very clear (as he has indeed in he had in Proverbs 3:19-20, compare Proverbs 2:5-11). It is the wisdom and understanding that God used when He created and fashioned the heavens and the earth (Proverbs 3:19-20). It is God’s wisdom. And this Wisdom, which was necessarily present from eternity (God could never be without wisdom), and which was involved in the fashioning of all that is, is now active among mankind (Proverbs 8:31).

This passage has been much misused by those who have interpreted Wisdom as representing our Lord, Jesus Christ, but it has been quite apparent throughout this prologue that this Wisdom is an attribute of God, not a personal being. Indeed, Solomon can call it ‘my wisdom’ (Proverbs 5:1), because God has imparted to him His own wisdom, and its constant paralleling with ‘understanding’, ‘knowledge’ ‘shrewdness’, ‘disciplinary instruction’, and ‘discernment, some of them also personified (Proverbs 2:11), which is found right from the beginning (Proverbs 1:2-4) counts very much against it referring to any other than wisdom, albeit God’s wisdom. Furthermore the fact that Wisdom is always presented as a ‘she’ and not as a ‘he’ should settle the matter completely.

In this regard we should notice that there is no suggestion that Wisdom creates or fashions anything. It is YHWH Who creates and fashions. Wisdom is there as a kind of assistant. In contrast it is said of Jesus Christ as the Word that ‘all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1:3). He was the Creator, not an assistant.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A YHWH possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old, I was set up (poured out, woven) from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was (Proverbs 8:22-23).

B When there were no depths, I was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water, before the mountains were settled (or planned), before the hills was I brought forth, while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the beginning of the dust of the world (Proverbs 8:24-26).

C When he established the heavens, I was there, when he set a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above (Proverbs 8:27-28 a).

B When the fountains of the deep became strong, when he gave to the sea its bound, that the waters should not transgress his commandment, when he marked out the foundations of the earth (Proverbs 8:28-29).

A Then I was by him constantly (or ‘as a master craftsman’), and I was daily wholly delighting, rejoicing always before him, rejoicing in his habitable earth, and my delight was with the sons of men (Proverbs 8:30-31).

Note that in A YHWH possessed wisdom from the beginning, before He began His work of creation, and in the parallel wisdom was with Him continually (or was His master workman), rejoicing in that work of creation. In B her bringing forth was before the waters were brought forth or the earth was planned and made, and in the parallel the waters were brought forth and He marked out the foundations of the earth. Central in C is the establishing of the heavens.

Proverbs 8:22-23

“YHWH possessed me in the beginning of his way,

Before his works of old,

I was set up (poured out, woven) from everlasting, from the beginning,

Before the earth was.”

Wisdom portrays herself as ‘possessed by YHWH in the beginning of His way, before His works of old’. His ‘works of old’ spoken of here are outlined in Proverbs 8:27-30 a. Thus from the very beginning, before ever creation took place, YHWH possessed wisdom. This was necessarily so, for YHWH without wisdom is inconceivable. But the aim of the passage is not to inform us about YHWH’s attributes. It is in order to establish the status of wisdom (and in the light of the parallel passage in Proverbs 3:19-20, the status of understanding and knowledge). Along with God they are eternal, for God is all-wise, all-understanding and all-knowing.

But even while establishing her own status as involved with YHWH from the beginning, Wisdom stresses the pre-eminence of YHWH. For YHWH is the first word in the text, underlining His importance, and is pre-eminent throughout. Thus she says reverently ‘YHWHpossessed me’. He was all-important. She is insistent that what she is must not in any way take our eyes off YHWH.

So the subsection commences here with the Name of YHWH, Who is seen as the Creator and Fashioner of heaven and earth (Proverbs 8:26-30 a). And it ends with reference to ‘the sons of men’ (Proverbs 8:31), the climax and aim of YHWH’s creative work, with whom God’s wisdom is to be seen as directly involved (as made clear throughout the prologue). For one of Solomon’s aims is to bring out that wisdom, which is as old as God Himself, and was present with Him with regard to every aspect of creation, is now at work in man bringing him into conformity with God’s ways.

In this passage it is Wisdom who is portrayed as speaking, and she describes herself as ‘possessed’ by YHWH ‘before His works of old’ (portrayed in Proverbs 8:27-30 a) and ‘from the beginning of His ways’. This was necessarily so, as God could never be, or act, without wisdom. Thus His wisdom was ‘possessed’ and ‘poured forth’ and ‘brought forth’ from of old, from the beginning’. In our terminology Wisdom is eternal (as is understanding), and proceeds forth from God in His creative work.

The attempts to indicate that wisdom had to be created must be firmly resisted. It will be noted that none of the verbs used in Genesis 1 are used of wisdom, and it is certainly not the primary meaning of the verbs used here. What is more, to suggest that God was ever without wisdom would be illogical (if wisdom was created God would need wisdom in order to create it). Solomon’s whole point about wisdom is that it issues forth from God, older than creation itself. It is His wisdom.

The verb rendered ‘possessed’ also means ‘bought, obtained’ (this is its regular meaning in Proverbs - Proverbs 1:5; Proverbs 4:5; Proverbs 4:7; Proverbs 16:16; Proverbs 17:16; Proverbs 18:15; Proverbs 23:23). It was as a consequence of this latter that it came to mean ‘possessed’, but, as it is quite clear that God neither needed to buy or obtain wisdom, the meaning is clearly ‘possessed’. Using our terms, ‘God was wise from eternity’. This is confirmed in Job 28:20-28. ‘From where does wisdom come, and where is the place of understanding? --- then (while creating) did He see it and declare it, He established it, yes, and searched it out. And to man He said, Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, that is understanding.’ Here Job portrays God as seeing and searching out an already existing wisdom during His activity in creation. He then also significantly relates that wisdom to the fear of the Lord, linking God’s wisdom and understanding in creation with His wisdom and understanding imparted to man, which is Solomon’s idea also.

The root meaning of the verb rendered ‘set up’, is ‘poured out’, and it is the latter which fits better with the parallel ‘brought forth’ (Proverbs 8:24-25). It is a vivid way of saying that wisdom came forth from God, that is, that God acted in wisdom.

Proverbs 8:24-26

“When there were no depths, I was brought forth,

When there were no springs abounding with water.

Before the mountains were settled,

Before the hills was I brought forth,

While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields,

Nor the beginning of the dust of the world.”

Solomon is not here saying that wisdom was created prior to anything else, indeed the very verb ‘brought forth’, indicating birth not creation, militates against that. The point is that God ‘brought forth’ wisdom from Himself, a wisdom that He already possessed. It was an essential part of what God is. Then He exercised that wisdom in the creation of the world. So important is wisdom that it existed prior to all things.

The importance of water to mankind is brought out in that it is His first-mentioned creation. He created the depths (Proverbs 3:20; Genesis 1:2) and the springs which abound with water and enable the growth of vegetation and the satisfaction of man’s thirst. They are essential to man’s very existence. He also created the mountains and hills, the earth and the fields (the countryside), the last named being the source of man’s provision.

‘Nor the beginning of the dust of the world’ The dust of the world was important because from it God formed man (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19). This ties in with the later order, waters, foundations of the earth, man (Proverbs 8:29-30 a).

Proverbs 8:27-28

“When he established the heavens, I was there,

When he marked out a circle on the face of the deep,

When he made firm the skies above,

When the fountains of the deep became strong,

Wisdom now turns her thought to the heavens. She was there, and therefore in use, when YHWH established the heavens, and when He made firm the skies above. Through His wisdom the heavens were established, and therefore made secure in their place. Through His wisdom the skies were made firm above. Man has thus no fear of the sky falling in on him. Indeed when such does happen it will be a sign of the end of time (Revelation 6:13). Here was a sign of God’s wisdom.

The ‘circle on the face of the deep’ probably refers to what man sees as he looks to the horizons, land surrounded by water. It was established when the seas were thrust back and dry land appeared (Genesis 1:9-10; Job 26:10; Isaiah 40:22). That this is the meaning comes out in that it is in contrast to the establishment of the heavens, and parallels the fountains of the deep becoming strong. YHWH pushed back the deep in order to provide a place for man to dwell in, another sign of His wisdom. This militates against the idea that the circle refers to ‘the vault of heaven’ as suggested by some, for this would not fit in with the parallel or with the contrasts. ‘When the fountains of the deep became strong’ contrasts with the ‘making firm of the skies above’, and this suggests that it means that the deeps were allotted, and firmly settled in, their own fixed place, just as the skies above were. That was when ‘He gave to the sea (and waters) its bound’ (Proverbs 8:29). They only broke those bounds once, and that was at the Flood (Genesis 7:11), an experience that God promised would never be repeated (Genesis 8:21).

Proverbs 8:29-30

When he decreed to the sea its bound,

That the waters should not transgress his commandment,

When he marked out the foundations of the earth,

Then I was by him constantly (or ‘as a master craftsman’,

YHWH’s sovereignty and wisdom was involved in His making a decree, giving the sea its bound, in order that the waters ‘might not transgress His commandments’ (literally ‘might not go beyond His mouth’). They may at times be unruly and fierce, but they are restrained for the benefit of man, and limited in what they can do. As Job points out, God says to them ‘here shall you come and no further’ (Job 38:11). Here was another example of His wisdom.

As YHWH had ‘marked out a circle on the face of the deep’ (Proverbs 8:27 b), now He ‘marks out the foundations of the earth’. All was determined by His wisdom who was there with him, either ‘constantly’ (compare ‘daily’, ‘always before Him’ in Proverbs 8:30 b, c) or ‘as a kind of master craftsman’ (or should we say craftswoman). For these alternatives see note below. If we take the latter as correct (see below) it must not be overplayed. It is highly figurative. There is no hint in the narrative that wisdom actually directly participated in creation. She was rather with God as an attribute of His as He Himself created. In other words all was planned and ordered by God’s wisdom.

The ‘foundations of the earth’ is a vague term indicating what man saw below him. He knew that the earth was firmly established on ‘foundations’, because he saw a firm earth below him, but he did not speculate about what those foundations consisted of (compare Deuteronomy 32:22; 2 Samuel 22:16) Note also that in 2 Samuel 22:8 heaven was also seen as having ‘foundations’, something even more figurative. He could have asked with Job, ‘on what were the foundations of the earth fastened?’ (Job 38:6), expecting the answer, ‘we do not know, only God knows’. To speak of foundations was a description of what he saw and experienced, (just as we speak of the sun rising and setting), not an attempt at a scientific reconstruction.

Note on The Translation Of ’amown.

There is disagreement about whether we should translate ’amown as ‘continually’, or as ‘master workman/craftsman’ (RV NIV), or as ‘one brought up with Him’ (AV). The word only occurs in one other place and that is in Jeremiah 52:15 where its meaning is also in doubt (but there it is with the definite article).

In this regard we should note that the description of Wisdom as a master craftsman or workman would, in fact, come in unexpectedly here, for all through the passage creation has been seen as the work of YHWH (Proverbs 8:26-30 a), not of Wisdom. Wisdom has rather been seen as alongside Him as an attribute, as something ‘possessed’, ‘poured out’, ‘brought forth’. She has been a personified attribute which was there from the beginning. Indeed, in Proverbs 3:19-20, where the same idea is in mind, Wisdom is specifically paralleled with Understanding and Knowledge in the fashioning of creation, and as therefore being one of YHWH’s attributes used in the work of fashioning His creation.

The truth, therefore, is that the meaning of ’amown (’mwn) is in doubt. As stated above it is found only once elsewhere, in Jeremiah 52:15, and there it is with the article (ha ’amown). But its meaning there is also in doubt. Indeed, there we would expect it to be a collective noun and AV/RV translate as ‘multitude’ because the parallel passage in 2 Kings 25:11 has he hamon (‘multitude’). Some therefore see ha ’amown in Jeremiah 52:15 as a by-form of he hamon. This is all the more so as in 2 Kings 24:14; 2 Kings 24:16 we do find ‘artisans, craftsmen’ mentioned as hecharas, so that if 2 Kings 25:11 had referred to craftsmen we would have expected hecharas to be used.

In Song of Solomon 7:1 a similar word, ’amman (’mmn), does mean craftsman, but it is unique (and it lacks the waw). A possible alternative ha ’omen (’mn) can mean a keeper/nursing-father (Numbers 11:12) or in the plural keepers/bringers up (ha ’omenim - 2 Kings 10:1) of children. (Thus the AV’s ‘then I was by Him as one brought up with Him’). But if that was in mind here we might have expected a feminine form because Wisdom is feminine.

However, elsewhere ’amen (’mn) means ‘surely’, and therefore ‘faithfully, continually’ (from the verb ’mn - ‘to be sure, reliable’), and ‘continually’ fits well in the context here, paralleling ‘daily and ‘always’. This translation therefore would tie in well with the context, and must possibly be preferred.

In the end, the truth is that we are not sure of the meaning of ’amown, and the wisest thing therefore is to translate it in such a way that it is not influential on the meaning of the whole passage.

End of note.

Proverbs 8:30-31

And I was daily wholly delighting,

Rejoicing always before him,

Rejoicing in his habitable earth,

And my delight was with the sons of men.”

‘I was daily wholly delighting.’ This is literally, ‘daily I was delights’. So Wisdom is declaring that daily she ‘was delights’, that is, that day by day she was ‘wholly delighting’ as YHWH continued His work of creating (day by day possibly reflecting Genesis 1). In other words that she wholly approved of, and was thoroughly pleased with, all that YHWH had done and was doing. She was wholly in alignment with YHWH and His activities as just described. In her view they were in accordance with wisdom.

She rejoiced ‘in His presence’ (‘before Him’) always. She was wholly in accord with Him. To put it more mundanely God’s wisdom approved of what God had done. And especially and continually she ‘rejoiced in His habitable earth’, the place that He had made for men to dwell in, for her delight was especially with the sons of men. They were the final pinnacle of God’s wisdom as revealed in creation. This was a powerful way of saying that all that YHWH had done was wise, and especially His creation of the sons of men who could participate in His wisdom (by hearing Solomon’s words).


Verses 32-36

6). Wisdom Brings Blessing On Those Who Hear Her For Through Her They Find Life And Come Into The Favour Of God (Proverbs 8:32-36).

Because her delight was with the sons of men Wisdom calls on men to listen to what she says, and that is because she wants them to be blessed by God. And she assures them that those who find her will find life, and will obtain YHWH’s favour. For she is His wisdom, and therefore to follow her is to walk in the fear of YHWH. And that is why those who sin against her wrong their own souls, and those who hate her love death. It is because by doing so they have turned against YHWH.

The subsection is in the form of a minor chiasmus:

A Now therefore, sons, listen to me, for blessed are those who keep my ways, hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not (Proverbs 8:32-33).

B Blessed is the man who hears me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors (Proverbs 8:34). A For whoever finds me finds life, and will obtain favour of YHWH. But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul. All those who hate me love death (Proverbs 8:35-36).

In A those are blessed who keep Wisdom’s ways, hear disciplinary instructions, and are wise (and therefore have wisdom), and who do not refuse it. In the parallel those who find wisdom find life and obtain YHWH’s favour, and therefore are doubly blessed, whereas those who do refuse wisdom destroy themselves. In B Wisdom herself blesses those who steadfastly seek her.

Proverbs 8:32-33

“Now therefore, sons, listen to me,

For blessed are those who keep my ways,

Hear instruction, and be wise,

And refuse it not.”

These words are similar to previous exhortations and would not have been out of place on the lips of Solomon, but they are actually the words of Wisdom. However, this is not too surprising as she is Solomon’s wisdom (Proverbs 5:1). And yet at the same time she is God’s wisdom, far transcending the wisdom of Solomon, for this follows immediately after the passage where wisdom came forth from God and was continually with God, long before Solomon existed. She calls on ‘sons’, a regular pattern of address for Solomon, to listen to her, because ‘blessed are those who keep her ways’. For this reason they are to hear disciplinary instruction and be wise enough not to refuse it. Hearing, of course, involves obeying. They are to hear and obey God’s wisdom. Then they will be truly wise. In contrast are those who refuse it. The consequence of such refusal is found in Proverbs 8:36. They wrong their own inner selves, and forfeit true life.

Proverbs 8:34

Blessed is the man who hears me,

Watching daily at my gates,

Waiting at the posts of my doors,

A general statement is now made about the blessing that comes on the one who does ‘hear’ with an intention of obeying, and who eagerly watches and waits. We learn in Esther of the way in which important officials waited in the gateways to the king’s palace in expectancy of being called on to fulfil some duty or of being summoned into the king’s presence (Esther 3:3). Alternately the idea may of suitors eagerly awaiting admission (Proverbs 4:6; Proverbs 8:17; Proverbs 8:21; Song of Solomon 5:2). But the emphatic point is of eagerly watching and waiting at Wisdom’s gates and doors. Blessing come to the one who does it.

There may here be a reference back to Proverbs 8:3 where Wisdom cries out ‘beside the gates at the entry to the city, at the coming in of the doors’, with the idea being of those who eagerly gather there to listen before she comes, waiting and watching for her arrival . Others, however, see it as signifying that Wisdom is in her house (Proverbs 9:1), and people are to wait eagerly outside for her to appear (as newspaper photographers wait eagerly outside a house for an important person who lives there). But however we see it the important lesson is not to be missed which is the eagerness and desire with which we should seek wisdom.

‘Blessed is the man.’ We can compare here the blessedness of the man who delights in the Torah (Law, Instruction) of YHWH, and meditates on it day and night (Psalms 1:1-3). He too rejects the way of the wicked, of sinners and of the scornful.

Proverbs 8:35-36

For whoever finds me finds life,

And will obtain favour of YHWH.

But he who sins against (or ‘misses’) me wrongs his own soul.

All those who hate me love death.”

Solomon points out that finding wisdom is a life and death issue. For the one who finds true wisdom finds life, whereas the one who hates true wisdom ‘loves death’. ‘Life’ includes not only longevity (Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 9:11), but also wellbeing and spiritual prosperity (Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 3:8; Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 3:24-25; Proverbs 4:8-9; Proverbs 4:16; Proverbs 8:21). It is the way of security and peace (Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 3:24-25). And it is the opposite of entering into the grave world (Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18), for that is the threat made against those who reject wisdom. It is a ‘life more abundant’ (John 10:10), and it promises, on death, entrance into the presence and joy of YHWH (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15).

Finding wisdom also results in obtaining the favour of YHWH (compare Proverbs 3:4), possibly here indicating that the reception of life indicates YHWH’s favour (compare Proverbs 18:22). For the one who follows God’s true wisdom finds life because he is pleasing to God and acceptable in His sight. In contrast are those who ‘sin against wisdom’, that is who do not receive her and follow her ways, or who ‘miss wisdom’ because of their own carelessness. By failing to find wisdom they wrong their own inner lives. They do not find life. For those who hate God’s wisdom, love death, which is not only physical death (compare Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 5:5 a; Proverbs 7:27), but also spiritual death (the opposite of spiritual life - Proverbs 1:31-32; Proverbs 2:19; Proverbs 4:19; Proverbs 5:6; Proverbs 6:32), and entry into the emptiness of the grave world (Sheol - Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/proverbs-8.html. 2013.

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