18 June 2019Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? (v.1)
Psalm: Psalm 73:1-3, 16-28
Today’s passage comes from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. This is not a narrative book, which needs to be read from beginning to end, but is rather a collection of material that can be dipped into for learning and insight. It includes the work of a number of authors, many of whom would probably have been connected with the royal courts of Israel and Judah. It came together over a long period and was probably edited into its final form in the fifth to third centuries BC. Proverbs is an important example of ‘Wisdom Literature’. This is a genre that includes the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, which are found in the ‘Apocrypha’ (a part of the Bible that Protestants do not generally regard as authoritative). We can also find examples of Wisdom Literature in many other books of the Old Testament and in sections of the New Testament, including the sayings of Jesus and the letter of James.
Wisdom Literature essentially encourages its readers to pursue wisdom and avoid folly. Wisdom in this context does not just mean formal knowledge, though, but more importantly qualities like prudence, discretion, self-discipline and patience. Crucially, it teaches that all wisdom begins with “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 9:10), which should inspire true worship of God and proper obedience to God’s commandments. In this way, wisdom is arguably not primarily about knowledge but a correct moral and ethical attitude.
In today’s verses, the author personifies wisdom as a woman, an association that is made repeatedly in Wisdom Literature (eg Proverbs 1:20-33). In verses 8:5-21, she urges passers-by to heed her call and pursue wisdom, which is “better than jewels, and all that you may desire” (8:11). In 8:22-31, the author makes the fascinating claim that wisdom is somehow a child, or distinct creation, of God, which has existed since the very earliest moments of time, even before the world itself was created (8:23). This passage took on a new importance for Christians when the gospel writer John used similar language to describe Christ’s co-existence with God at the opening of his life of Jesus (John 1:1-4).
- Is the pursuit of wisdom still relevant for us today?
- What is the distinction between wisdom, as the Bible describes it, and modern concepts of intelligence?
- How should we understand the writer’s description of wisdom existing since the earliest days of Creation in vs. 22-31?