Proverbs 8 – In Praise of Wisdom
G. Campbell Morgan on Proverbs 8: “There is nothing greater or grander in all the Biblical literature, as setting forth the beauty and grace of that wisdom which has the fear of Jehovah as its chief part.”
A. The call of wisdom.
1. (1-3) Wisdom cries out.
Does not wisdom cry out,
And understanding lift up her voice?
She takes her stand on the top of the high hill,
Beside the way, where the paths meet.
She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city,
At the entrance of the doors:
a. Does not wisdom cry out: As before in the book of Proverbs, Solomon here wrote of wisdom as if she were a person – a noble, beautiful, helpful woman in contrast to the immoral woman described in Proverbs 7.
i. “The unchaste wife moves covertly at dusk and speaks falsely; Wisdom moves publicly and speaks direct and authoritative truth.” (Waltke)
b. She takes her stand on the top of the high hill: Wisdom personified cries out as widely and broadly as possible. She speaks to those beside the way and where the paths meet. She makes her call in the most public of places, by the gates, at the entry of the city. Wisdom is not hidden – it cries out to all who will listen.
i. “A chapter which is to soar beyond time and space, opens at street-level, to make it clear, first, that the wisdom of God is as relevant to the shopping-centre (Proverbs 8:2-3) as to heaven itself (Proverbs 8:22).” (Kidner)
ii. “The important point is that wisdom is for ordinary people—she is not confined to the academic classroom or to sacred precincts of the temple. Nor is she high atop some mountain where only the hardiest and most determined will find her. To the contrary, she wants to attract all and be accessible to all.” (Garrett)
iii. Adam Clarke saw something wonderful in wisdom’s public proclamation, and something worthy to imitate. “There are, it is true, temples, synagogues, churches, chapels, etc.; but hundreds of thousands never frequent them, and therefore do not hear the voice of truth: wisdom, therefore, must go to them, if she wishes them to receive her instructions. Hence the zealous ministers of Christ go still to the highways and hedges, to the mountains and plains, to the ships and the cottages, to persuade sinners to turn from the error of their ways and accept that redemption which was procured by the sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ.”
2. (4-11) The goodness wisdom promises.
“To you, O men, I call,
And my voice is to the sons of men.
O you simple ones, understand prudence,
And you fools, be of an understanding heart.
Listen, for I will speak of excellent things,
And from the opening of my lips will come right things;
For my mouth will speak truth;
Wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the words of my mouth are with righteousness;
Nothing crooked or perverse is in them.
They are all plain to him who understands,
And right to those who find knowledge.
Receive my instruction, and not silver,
And knowledge rather than choice gold;
For wisdom is better than rubies,
And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.
a. To you, O men, I call: Here Solomon spoke of wisdom personified. This is the message she presented to men and women, all who would listen to her.
i. “The loudness and the perseverance of the voice is that of an earnest friend who warns of danger. For would she have cried so loud or continued for so long if she had not loved your soul, if she had not known the wrath that was hanging over you, the hell that was before you?” (Bridges)
b. You simple ones, understand prudence: Wisdom doesn’t give up on the simple ones. The simple man described in Proverbs 7 seems like a lost cause, but he doesn’t have to be. We can learn the ways of wisdom and benefit from that learning.
c. My mouth will speak truth: When wisdom speaks, it is true. When people use lies they should not be trusted to communicate wisdom. Wisdom says of her words that there is nothing crooked or perverse in them. Because of this, the words can be understood; they are all plain to him who understands. There is clarity and a straightforward character to wisdom, one that contrasts with elaborate so-called hidden truths and mysteries.
i. It could be said of the Scriptures in general, they are all plain to him who understands. Of course, there are deep and occasionally complicated passages, but the fundamental truths of the Bible are plain to those who trust God and honor His word. As the American author Mark Twain was reported to have said, It’s not the parts of the Bible I can’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts that I do understand.
ii. “It was a smart answer which M. Durant, a witty and learned minister of the Reformed Church of Paris, gave to a lady of suspected chastity, and now revolted: when she pretended the hardness of the Scripture, Why, said he, madam, what can be more plain than ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery?’ Had she not been failing in the practice of what she could not but know, she had found no cause to complain of the difficulty of that which she could not know.” (Trapp)
d. All the things one may desire cannot be compared with her: Wisdom’s value is above silver, gold, and rubies. Without wisdom, one may have the riches of this world and a miserable life. Early in his reign Solomon desired wisdom above all riches and was greatly blessed because of it (1 Kings 3:10-13).
B. Wisdom describes herself.
1. (12-21) What wisdom has and what wisdom gives.
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And find out knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverse mouth I hate.
Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom;
I am understanding, I have strength.
By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice.
By me princes rule, and nobles,
All the judges of the earth.
I love those who love me,
And those who seek me diligently will find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
Enduring riches and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold,
And my revenue than choice silver.
I traverse the way of righteousness,
In the midst of the paths of justice,
That I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth,
That I may fill their treasuries.
a. I, wisdom, dwell with prudence: Where prudence – self-control, good judgment – is found, there wisdom will be found. A life given to impulse and extremes will not gain, appreciate, or display wisdom.
i. Prudence: “Prudence is defined, wisdom applied to practice; so wherever true wisdom is, it will lead to action.” (Clarke)
b. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: Reverence for God (and the wisdom that comes from it) is not neutral towards evil. Like the God it respects, it hates evil, along with the pride and arrogance and perverse mouth that often express evil.
i. “God’s people partake of the Divine nature, and so have God-like both sympathies and antipathies. They not only leave sin, but loathe it, and are at deadly feud with it.” (Trapp)
c. By me kings reign: Many gain power, stay in power, and exercise power through gaining and using wisdom.
i. Adam Clarke had an interesting thought on the phrase I have strength. “Speaking still of wisdom, as communicating rays of its light to man, it enables him to bring every thing to his aid; to construct machines by which one man can do the work of hundreds. From it comes all mathematical learning, all mechanical knowledge; from it originally came the inclined plane, the wedge, the screw, the pulley, in all its multiplications; and the lever, in all its combinations and varieties, came from this wisdom. And as all these can produce prodigies of power, far surpassing all kinds of animal energy, and all the effects of the utmost efforts of muscular force.”
d. I love those who love me: Those who love and pursue wisdom will find themselves rewarded. They will find wisdom (those who seek me diligently will find me) and the blessings wisdom brings (riches and honor…righteousness). It could even be said that wisdom seeks out her followers to bless them (that I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth).
i. Those who seek me diligently will find me: “With sincere affection, and great diligence, and above all other persons or things in the world; which he mentions as the effect and evidence of their love; for otherwise all men pretend to love God.” (Poole)
ii. Riches and honor are with me: “Paradoxically when wealth is sought it corrupts, but when wisdom is sought, edifying wealth is given (cf. 1 Kings 3:4-15).” (Waltke)
2. (22-31) Wisdom’s long history.
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men.
a. The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way: God used wisdom and intelligence in the design of the universe. If we represent wisdom as a person, then it can be said that wisdom was with God in creation. In the beginning, before there was ever an earth, God used wisdom in making something out of nothing.
i. A phrase from Proverbs 8:22 (The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way) became a key support for the teaching of an influential heretic in the early church. Arius of Alexandria spoke for and promoted the idea that Jesus Christ was not God (much in the way modern Jehovah’s Witnesses believe). Arius used this verse from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which puts the phrase like this: The Lord created me at the beginning of His way. Arius argued that Jesus is the wisdom of God, and this verse spoke of His creation. If Jesus was created, then He had a beginning and was not eternal, and if not eternal, then not God.
ii. The errors of Arius were many. On this particular passage, he exaggerated the way that wisdom in Proverbs 8 is Jesus Christ. It is wonderfully true that Jesus is the wisdom of God, especially in His work on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:20-24), and that Jesus became for us wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30), and in Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom (Colossians 2:3). Yet it is a mistake to say that Proverbs 8 describes Jesus in a sort of direct correlation. Because Jesus is God, He has and expresses and demonstrates the wisdom of God; but the woman of Proverbs 8 does not directly describe Jesus.
iii. A second – and perhaps more fundamental error – of Arius on this passage was to translate the Hebrew word qanah as created or birthed instead of possessed. While there is some case to be made for the idea of created or birthed, on balance the best translation is possessed. We could say, “Proverbs 8 doesn’t directly speak of Jesus in the sense Arius meant, and if even if it did, Proverbs 8:22 doesn’t say that God the Father created or birthed the Son of God.”
iv. “The verb qanah can mean either ‘possess’ or ‘create.’ The older versions chose ‘possess’; otherwise it might sound as if God lacked wisdom and so created it before the world began. They wanted to avoid saying that wisdom was not eternal. Arius liked the idea of Christ as the meaning of wisdom and chose ‘create’ as the verb. Athanasius read ‘constituted me as the head of creation.’ The verb qanah occurs twelve times in Proverbs with the idea of acquire; but the Septuagint and Syriac have the idea of ‘create.’” (Ross)
v. “The Arians (who denied the deity of Christ) appealed to Septuagint’s ‘created’, to prove that Christ, the Wisdom of God, was not eternal. But our concern must be with the word’s normal meaning, and with the general sense of the passage.” (Kidner)
b. Before the mountains were settled: With poetic beauty, Solomon considered many different aspects of creation and how God used wisdom to design and arrange them all. Wisdom could say, I was beside Him as a master craftsman.
i. The antiquity of wisdom has a real and practical application. If the whole created order is founded on God’s wisdom, then to go against His wisdom is to go against all creation. “When we belong to Jesus Christ and walk in His wisdom, all of creation works for us; if we rebel against His wisdom and will, things start to work against us, as Jonah discovered when he tried to run away from the Lord.” (Wiersbe)
ii. He assigned to the sea its limit: “Wisdom has in mind that the Creator established unalterable laws or ordinances that set the boundaries for the earth that the hostile sea cannot transgress (see Job 38:8-11). The chaotic energy of the sea operates within strict limits.” (Waltke)
c. Rejoicing in His inhabited world: The created world is so marked by God’s wise and good design and arrangement that wisdom rejoiced in it. Especially, wisdom was happy with God’s creation of man (my delight was with the sons of men). We sometimes think that the creation of man was a problem with the design and creation of the world; in a sense, man was the purpose of creation.
C. Wisdom appeals for an audience.
1. (32-33) Asking for attention.
“Now therefore, listen to me, my children,
For blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
And do not disdain it.
a. Now therefore, listen to me, my children: Having given her impressive résumé, now wisdom can make a reasoned appeal that we listen to her.
b. For blessed are those who keep my ways: In sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious ways, the world, the flesh, and the devil want us to think that we will somehow lose by listening to wisdom and keeping her ways. The truth is that there is great blessing when we keep her ways.
c. Hear instruction and be wise: Given that wisdom has proven herself to be good and reliable, and that she brings many blessings with her, we should give wisdom our attention and never disdain it.
2. (34-36) Wisdom’s reward and the cost of folly.
Blessed is the man who listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life,
And obtains favor from the Lord;
But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul;
All those who hate me love death.”
a. Blessed is the man who listens to me: This blessing comes to those who not only listen to wisdom but are willing to inconvenience themselves to seek her. They are willing to watch daily at her gates and wait at the posts of her doors. Their pursuit of wisdom is intentional, not accidental.
i. Watching daily at my gates: “Wisdom is represented as having a school for the instruction of men; and seems to point out some of the most forward of her scholars coming, through their intense desire to learn, even before the gates were opened, and waiting there for admission, that they might hear every word that was uttered, and not lose one accent of the heavenly teaching. Blessed are such.” (Clarke)
b. Whoever finds me finds life: Wisdom here presents two incomparable gifts; life and favor from the Lord. To love true wisdom is to receive these; to reject wisdom is to wrong one’s own soul and to love death.
i. And obtains favor from the Lord: “Which is better than life. God’s favour is no empty favour; it is not like the winter’s sun, that casts a goodly countenance when it shines, but gives little heat or comfort.” (Trapp)
ii. Love death: “Not directly or intentionally, but by consequence, because they love those practices which they know will bring certain destruction upon them.” (Poole)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org