The beginning of Proverbs contains 10 lessons of wisdom, followed by a dramatic conclusion. This blog post will examine part 2 of that conclusion, chapter 8. As a reminder, the structure of this conclusion is as follows (a):
It’s not enough to simply tell someone (or one’s self) to stop foolish behaviors. When it comes to any sinful compulsion, will power alone does not lead to effective, long-term, lasting change. This is the problem with behavioral modification (“Stop it!” – Bob Newhart anyone?) It’s not enough. Deeper work is required, we need to look at our most profound desires. We need what theologian Thomas Chalmers called “The expulsive power of a new affection.” This is why Solomon crafts the beautiful picture of Lady Wisdom.
Commentator David Hubbard explains that the aim of Proverbs chapter 8 is to accentuate wisdom’s worth. She is attractive, resourceful and her credentials are off the charts. (c) The two great poems of Proverbs chapter 7 and Proverbs chapter 8 stand in stark contrast. Lady Wisdom is presented as a woman of high class, dignity and respect, whereas “Dame Folly” is presented, as an adulteress, or as a “Lady of the Night.” Dame Folly moves covertly at dusk, Lady wisdom moves publicly and shouts in broad daylight. Verse one begins with a rhetorical question, drawing the audience in to the poem.
8:1 Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
3 beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
5 You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
6 Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
7 My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
8 All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse.
9 To the discerning all of them are right;
they are upright to those who have found knowledge.
10 Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
(Prov 8:1-11, NIV)
Notice the contrast. Dame Folly speaks falsely (7:21), whereas Lady Wisdom speaks truthfully, directly, and authoritatively (8:7). Dame Folly is manipulative and coy (7:15-20), whereas Lady wisdom has no need to pervert because she has no self-serving agenda (8:8). Dame Folly’s speech is sweet in the beginning, but bitter in the end (7:22-23), Lady Wisdom’s speech demands discipline in the beginning, but promises life in the end (8:18-21). She continues:
12 “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.
13 To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.
14 Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
I have insight, I have power.
15 By me kings reign
and rulers issue decrees that are just;
16 by me princes govern,
and nobles—all who rule on earth.
17 I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.
18 With me are riches and honor,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
19 My fruit is better than fine gold;
what I yield surpasses choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
21 bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me
and making their treasuries full.
(Prov 8:12-21, NIV)
Here we see her wisdom is worth its weight in gold. What would be a greater treasure than to have a personal vault stocked with these precious treasures? This is exactly what the book of Proverbs claims to be. Notice in verse 17, we do not have a passive role, we learn that Lady Wisdom only loves those who love her. While Wisdom offers herself to all of humanity, “her offer is efficacious only for those whose hearts have been regenerated to love her.” (b) We must pursue her with effort.
In this next section, (v 22-31) we will learn that Wisdom’s origin was from ancient days, from before even creation, as she existed first, before any other creature.
22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.
(Prov 8:22-31, NIV)
Note – Some theologians throughout church history (such as Arius) have sought to identify this poem about Wisdom as being about Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. As intriguing as that would be, there are some major theological issues with that perspective. For example, the phrase “brought me forth” (in v 22, in Hebrew – “qana”) seems to convey that Wisdom here is actually not claiming to be eternal, as the orthodox teaching about Christ does (see John 1:1). If this is the case, this poem cannot be a direct referent to Jesus. It is probably best not to see Wisdom as equal to Jesus, but rather as an attribute of God displayed in creation, and further demonstrated in the person of Jesus, the ultimate Sage par excellence, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:1-3).
The point of this poem is about wisdom’s uniqueness and priority, because she has a long and trustworthy history. Verses 27-31 is one extended sentence, the main point being, “I was there.” (v 27). She was there at creation, “wholly delighting” in the work of God, particularly the apex of which being the creation of humanity (v 31).
The main point of this poem is that Wisdom is valuable in that she has heavenly experience. Bruce Waltke states it well, “She is at home with both God and humanity, and as such mediates heaven’s wisdom to people on earth.” (c) In light of her stature, we turn to the exhortation:
32 “Now then, my children, listen to me;
blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise;
do not disregard it.
34 Blessed are those who listen to me,
watching daily at my doors,
waiting at my doorway.
35 For those who find me find life
and receive favor from the Lord.
36 But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death.”
(Prov 8:32-36, NIV)
The beauty of the poem of Proverbs chapter 8 is that it is true. This is an essential feature of all good art. It must be true.
In ch. 7 and ch. 8, Solomon has painted for us two word pictures, both of them beautiful in their own way. You may ask, how can chapter 7 (a picture of prostitution and adultery) be beautiful? It’s beautiful because he paints the picture as something horrible and not good. It is beautiful because it is true.
As an aside, this is actually the primary problem with pornography. It is not just filthy and perverse, it is also not true. The root word “Porn” means “wicked,” and the root word “graph” means “writing.” Thus, pornography at its core is an “wicked drawing.” The reason it is wicked is because it is a lie! It is painting a picture of decay, as if it were happy and life-giving. But this is not congruent with what we know about illicit sex, its consequences or any of its effects, it’s not reality, it’s a lie.
Sex outside of marriage will not lead to any kind of “good life” or happiness, because there is no covenant commitment. The problem with the adulteress is that she is married to another man (7:18). The entire relationship with her is one big charade. She intends to remain married, even though she is being unfaithful. The temptress promises sexual love without erotic restraint, but she refuses to make the fundamental commitment to the young man that is required for real love to be possible. She is a liar. This is not true love. This is not what you are made for.
A relationship with Lady Wisdom on the other hand, is satisfying in that she tells us the truth. She deserves our full and unwavering allegiance, and we ought to choose to be in relationship with her because of her track record of faithfulness. The poem of chapter 8 is that her beauty and worth simply cannot be measured. Wisdom can be counted on. She has made promises to you that can be trusted. You should commit your life to her, because she is worthy.
The lesson is clear, we find life and blessing in a committed covenant relationship with Lady Wisdom.
Next we will draw this blog series to a close by looking at Proverbs chapter 9 in Part 3 of this conclusion.
The Ten Lessons of Wisdom:
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) – Part 1
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) Part 2
- Lesson # 2: “Diligently Seek Wisdom … and You Will Experience Her Protective Benefits.” (Prov 2:1-22)
- Lesson # 3: “Live before God with Consistency.” (Prov 3:1-12)
- Lesson # 4: “Wisdom is a Tree of Life.” (Prov 3:13-35)
- Lesson # 5: “Your Spiritual Inheritance Comes With a Price.” (Prov 4:1-9)
- Lesson # 6: “Choose the Way of Wisdom.” (Prov 4:10-19)
- Lesson # 7: “Guard your Heart!” (Prov 4:20-27)
- Lesson # 8: “Flee from Immorality!” (Prov 5:1-23)
- Lesson # 9: “Avoid three Kinds of Fools: “The Swindler,” “The Sluggard” and “The Sociopath.”” (Prov 6:1-19)
- Lesson # 10: “If You Play With Fire, You Will Get Burned.” (Prov 6:20-35)
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 1
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 2
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 3
(a) I am indebted to Professor Peter Hook for this structural observation. OT Poetic Books. Course Notes. Philadelphia Biblical University, 2000.
(b) David Hubbard, Proverbs, The Preacher’s Commentary, Vol 15 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989).
(c) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 423.