The Shofar is the ancient trumpet which called the people of God to prayer, repentance, sacrifice and war.

What is 'wisdom'?

Proverbs 8
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By Stephen Green. (First published in Christian Voice: January 2005)

Proverbs 8:1 Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice? 

2 She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. 

3 She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors.

4 Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man.

5 O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart.

6 Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.

7 For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips.

8 All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.

9 They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge.

10 Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold.

11 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.

The word 'wisdom' appears no less than 53 times in the book of Proverbs, in the King James Version at least.  Most of the occurrences are translations of the Hebrew word 'chokhmah', which always refers in a positive sense to wisdom, knowledge, insight or judgment.  The very first time the word appears, in the second verse, it establishes the need for a believer's knowledge of and his search for 'wisdom' to be the theme of the whole book.

So what is 'wisdom'?  It is balanced or equated variously throughout Proverbs with different Hebrew words for judgment, knowledge (of God and His ways), understanding (ditto), instruction, justice and law.  The words are often interchangeable, in the timeless way of Hebrew poetry, where ideas are rhymed rather than sounds.  In the end, the acquisition of 'wisdom' appears to centre on a desire to be as close as possible to the mind of God and live as near as is possible to His ways.  So we begin to get an idea of what 'wisdom' is.

If wisdom is so important, then a whole chapter devoted to wisdom requires us to sit up and take notice.  Wisdom cries aloud, according to chapter 8.  The device is to personify wisdom to make the point.  In chapter 9, wisdom will be characterised as diametrically opposed to folly, and not for the first time, we shall read that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." (Prov 9:10)  Going back to chapter 8, the same motif of the fear of the Lord occurs:

Proverbs 8:12  I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions. 

13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

14 Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.  Pro. 8:14

Fear is often spoken of as a bad thing today.  We are told we should keep God's commandments not out of fear but out of our love for Him.  Of course, the Lord Jesus said "If ye love me, keep my commandments," (John 14:15) and yet at the same time, if the Apostle John would fall at the feet of the risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus (Rev 1:17) as one dead, then fear and reverence are very much in order before the Messiah and Holy One of Israel.  The fear of God is not a bad thing, it is a good thing, and a great concentrator of the mind.  Knowing there is a day of judgment should make us strive for the wisdom which comes from the fear of God even though we may also strive for it out of our love for our Lord and our gratitude at what He graciously did for us on the cross.  'God-fearing' used after all to be a term of approval and respect.

In an age when people with the most extravagant disregard for the righteous laws of God class themselves as Christians, perhaps there is a need to return to that older term to identify true believers.  I am often asked how many Christians there are in the House of Commons, for example.  I always reply that I don't know, but that I would be more interested to know how many God-fearing men there are in that place.  That leads neatly to the next group of verses in Proverbs 8.  It just so happens that the opening prayer for Parliament is to "Almighty God, by whom alone kings reign, and princes decree justice."  That prayer is based on Proverbs 8:15, where the personified wisdom of God claims:

Proverbs 8:15  By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.

16 By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.

17 I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.

18 Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness.

19 My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver.

20 I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment:

21 That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures.

How sad it is that as soon as they have prayed that prayer, the assembled politicians begin to consider how to frame laws according to their own wisdom and knowledge, rather than that of Almighty God.  It is as if they say, the professing Christians included: "That's that prayer bit out of the way.  Now, Almighty God, by whose wisdom kings reign and princes decree justice, if you would just budge over a bit, we have to get on in our own wisdom with the important business of legislating, in which we should much rather you were not involved.  We are actually clever enough not to need you for the rest of the day."

Our politicians and legislators bear an uncanny resemblance to the wicked whom Job in his counter-attack on his comforters in Job 21 complains do very well, 'mighty in power,' with their heritage established, safe in their houses, increasing in wealth, enjoying life, taking their ease, enjoying the arts and living it up as if there is no justice for the righteous.  And as they think they have done it all themselves, they have no time for the God who made them.

Job 21:14 Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.

15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?

"What good will it do us to pray?"  "What profit is there in it?"  Our politicians think they alone have filled the treasuries.  If they were truly interested in 'profit' they might spend a moment considering that God says that His wisdom "will fill their treasures" as much as wisdom "will lead in the way of righteousness".  It is a disturbing thought that the desire to do it on our own was the source of Adam and Eve's rebellion in the Garden of Eden, the original sin, as it were.  Job is probably the oldest book of the Bible, and the same sin is brought up by Job.  Things don't change.

The last book of the Old Testament is that of the prophet Malachi, and he makes the same observation of the people of his day:

Malachi 3:14 Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?

15 And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.

The theme continues through the New Testament into our day, when we still see the wicked 'getting away with it.'  Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park muses succinctly: "God creates dinosaurs.  God destroys dinosaurs.  God creates man.  Man destroys God.  Man creates dinosaurs."  Disaster inevitably follows, with Steven Spielberg's point being that man is so limited and so finite that he cannot control the forces he so cleverly, and yet so stupidly, unleashes.  "We do it because we can" says Dickie Attenborough's mad entrepreneur.  Genetic engineering, man playing God with the building blocks of life itself, is probably the final arrogance of those with no fear of God before their eyes, and hence no wisdom.  Thank God for the book of Revelation and the assurance that in the end, as God is a God of justice, righteousness will triumph and justice will be done. 

Discussion of the building blocks of life leads back to the origin of creation itself.  Creation needs a Creator.  All we see around us cannot have come into being by chance, because all the information and intelligence contained in the DNA of the lowliest life-form must have come from somewhere or someone informed and intelligent.  Are we seriously to believe there was nothing and then a big bang?  That nothing somehow exploded into something?  Earlier in the book of Proverbs we are given are far more plausible explanation for the origin of all we see:

Proverbs 3:10 The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens.

That explanation has of course the benefit of being scripture, and the word of God, but although it must be blindly rejected by anyone who cannot face up to the concept of a superior Being to whom he must be accountable, it fits the facts of the complexity of the earth and the universe much better than any God-denying evolutionary alternative.  That word in Proverbs 3:10 is amplified in Proverbs 8, where wisdom claims, indeed almost boasts, to have been with God from the very dawn of time itself, and to have been instrumental in the creation of the world:

Prov 8:22 The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.

23 I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.

24 When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.

25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:

26 While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.  

27 When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:

28 When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:

29 When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:

30 Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;

31 Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.

There have been attempts to suggest that it is the Lord Jesus who is being referred to here, but that simply will not stand up in the face of either the context or the Hebrew words used.  The whole context of the entire chapter is that of a speech by wisdom itself, and we cannot chop and change in the middle.  As to the words, the word for 'possessed' in verse 22 is 'qanah', which often means 'to erect' or create.  'Nasak', translated 'set up' in verse 23, originally means 'pour out' or cast hot metal.  Finally, in verse 24, 'chiyl' means 'twist' or 'whirl' and by extension to 'bring forth'.  (Is it not interesting that DNA twists?)  Jesus was begotten and the Hebrew word for begetting is 'gennao', which does not appear in Proverbs 8.  The Apostle Paul says of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

It is clear that Jesus, as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, had a much more direct role in creation.  If 'wisdom' is a characteristic of God, it is also a characteristic of Jesus Christ, so Jesus was there before 'wisdom'.  The question is, what is this 'wisdom' which was poured out and put in place before anything else was made?  It seems that the 'wisdom' of God was the first thing He created and the foundation of everything else.  But how can we understand it?  Our limited idea of 'wisdom' which we thought was doing fine for this chapter does not seem to come close to helping us now.

I have a suggestion.   If God needed to have His 'wisdom' in place before the creation of anything else, could this 'wisdom' be anything to do with the physical laws that hold the universe together?  Could it be a summation of the law of gravity, the laws of electromagnetics, atomics, thermodynamics and all the other physical laws?  It seems plausible that it would be necessary to establish that basic framework before the rest could happen.  Without such a framework of physical laws, the earth and the universe would blow to pieces the moment God created it.

If I am right, then God's 'wisdom' has a very intimate relationship with God Himself.  It is an expression of His very character, an expression of His love and care.  And if it is much more to do with God's physical laws of the universe, perhaps it is also to do with His social, in other words His moral and judicial laws as well.  Perhaps we simply cannot separate God's laws into 'physical' and 'social' any more.  In the same way that the universe would blow apart without God's 'wisdom' of physical laws, perhaps human society blows apart in the absence of His 'wisdom' of social laws.  And perhaps it is by the grace of God that we read little of God's physical laws in the Bible, God knowing we could and would find them out by experiment, but much of His social laws, God knowing that we should destroy ourselves trying to discover them by trial and error.  As we are doing.

So to the conclusion of this chapter of Proverbs in which 'wisdom' has spoken herself, as a personality, but only in a figure, to bring us closer to the mind of God.  There are echoes of Deuteronomy 30:19 in the conclusion, which supports my suggestion, because that verse is a call which echoes down the ages for every society to follow God's laws, keep His ways and thereby to 'choose life'.  It is certain we are face to face with mystery in Proverbs 8, but just perhaps God's wisdom, His grace, His love, His law, His justice and His mercy, are all intertwined in His very character in a much deeper way than we finite creatures can ever imagine. 

Proverbs 8:32 Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.

33 Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.

34 Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.

35 For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.

36 But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.