Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Sixteenth Address. Ch. Proverbs 8:1-36. The Appeal of Wisdom
The personification of Wisdom in this chapter is highly suggestive. Already in the opening verses of the Book (Proverbs 1:20-33) Wisdom has been personified, has “uttered her voice,” as here she utters it, “in the street” and “in the chief places of concourse,” and has pleaded, as here she pleads, with the sons of men. But here the fair impersonation, following closely upon the vivid picture of the immediately foregoing section, presents itself to us in striking and designed contrast to the dark form that passed before us there. Not lurking furtively at the corners of the streets in the deepening twilight; not leading astray with swift and stealthy footsteps and beguiling with whispered subtleties, but with free and open grace, “in the top of high places by the way,” in the sight of men, and with voice clear and melodious as a clarion-call does she utter forth her appeal (Proverbs 8:1-3). She speaks (Proverbs 8:4-36). While she addresses herself to every child of man, the “simple” and “fools” are specially invited to profit by her instruction (Proverbs 8:4-5). All her speech is plain and open, and needs only an intelligent ear to understand it (Proverbs 8:6-9). The treasures she offers are above all price, and such as even kings may covet (Proverbs 8:10-11). Telling us who she is and what she has to offer us (Proverbs 8:12-21), she goes on to affirm that her claim to attention is no less than that she is the eternal Possession and Fellow of Jehovah Himself, His joy and Counsellor in the creation and ordering of the universe, and that from the beginning her “delights were with the sons of men” (Proverbs 8:22-31). Therefore, on premisses such as these, she pleads with us yet again, as her children, that we refuse not the blessedness which she offers (Proverbs 8:32-36).
We are fain to confess that, in the contrast thus exhibited in these companion pictures of Night and Day, of Vice and Virtue, we have the work of a master hand. But besides its moral force and beauty, which lie as it were on the surface, this contrast has a deeper significance, “plain,” as are the words of wisdom, “to him that understandeth.” Why, we ask ourselves, does not the wise Teacher, having in hand to draw away his sons from the seductions of vice by subjecting them to the mightier attractions of virtue, set over against the abandoned woman of his first picture the pure and faithful wife, with her charm of holy love, as the subject of his second picture? Why does he not counsel his scholars, as indeed he does elsewhere (Proverbs 8:15-19), to find in God’s holy ordinance the true remedy for the pleasures of sin which the temptress offers them? Because, in the first place, he would lead them higher, and commend to them a yet worthier object of supreme affection, an object which at once includes and surpasses all pure and lawful objects of human devotion. Because he would have them learn to say of her who is the antidote, not for one vice only but for all the errors into which the unwise heart of man is wont to lead him:
Her I loved and sought out from my youth
And I sought to take her for my bride,
And I became enamoured of her beauty.
Wisd. of Solomon Proverbs 8:2, R.V.
And then also because through “the Spirit of God which was in him,” the ideal of comprehensive Wisdom which his mind formed took personal shape, and stood before him as the embodiment of all human virtue and perfection, a prophecy and a promise, such as had been vouchsafed to the bodily senses of others, a “preluding of the Incarnation.” See Introd., p. 31.
Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?Proverbs 8:1-3. The call of Wisdom. Comp. Proverbs 1:20-21.
She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths.2. in the places of the paths] Lit. in the house or home of the paths, i.e. where many roads or streets run up into one common meeting-place, and so give vantage-ground for her call.
The R.V. arranges the verse in the order of the Heb.:
In the top of high places by the way,
Where the paths meet, she standeth.
She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors.3. she crieth] The R.V. again preserves the order of the Heb., and puts the words she crieth aloud at the end of the verse.
the gates] See Proverbs 1:21, note.
Proverbs 8:4-5. The persons whom she addresses.
Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man.
O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart.5. wisdom] R.V. subtilty. See Proverbs 1:4, note.
Proverbs 8:6-9. The plainness of her speech.
Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.6. excellent things] The word is always used elsewhere of persons, princes, or leaders. Here, poetically, my words shall march forth, instinct with the nobility of truth and rectitude.
For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.8. in righteousness] or, “righteousness,” R.V.
marg. froward] Rather, crooked, R.V.; σκολιόν, LXX.
They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge.9. Comp. Matthew 13:11; Matthew 13:16.
Proverbs 8:10-11. The treasures she offers.
In place of gold and silver and precious stones and whatever else men covet, wisdom offers “durable riches,” intellectual, moral, spiritual treasures, and offers them in and with herself in responsive love to all who love and seek her.
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.11. rubies] See Proverbs 3:15, note.
to it] Better, unto her, R.V.
I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.Proverbs 8:12-21. What she is and gives.
12. dwell with prudence] marg. subtilty. Rather, have made subtilty (marg. prudence) my dwelling, R.V.; κατεσκήνωσα βουλὴν LXX.; habito in consilio, Vulg. Abstract wisdom makes her abode, as it were the spirit in the body, in practical prudence in affairs. So love is said to “abound in knowledge and all discernment.” Php 1:9, R.V.
knowledge of witty inventions] This, which is retained in R.V. marg., seems preferable, as describing the exercise of wisdom in earthly affairs, to the knowledge and discretion of R.V. text; eruditis intersum cogitationibus, Vulg.
The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.13. I hate] This quiet identification of herself by Wisdom with the fear of the Lord, in the first clause of the verse, is significant. See Introd., p. 31.
Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.14. sound wisdom] So the same word is rendered both by A.V. and R.V. in Proverbs 2:7. Here, however, R.V. renders sound knowledge, and in marg. offers the alternative, effectual working.
By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.15. kings reign] If wisdom be needed for the conduct of common life, much more is it needed, and no less does it avail for the discharge of the highest official duties. Comp. 1 Kings 3:5-12.
By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.16. princes] “or rulers,” R.V. marg. The Heb. word is not the same as in Proverbs 8:15. The variety of words is used in order to bring all official positions within the domain of Wisdom.
of the earth] “Many ancient authorities read of righteousness,” R.V. marg. This reading, found also in Syr. Targ. Vulg. (Lange ad loc.), is due probably to the idea that the proposition was only true of just judges.
I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.17. early] Rather diligently, R.V. text, though R.V. marg. retains, early. See Proverbs 1:28, note. Wisdom is as accessible as she is desirable.
Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness.18. durable] Or, ancient, R.V. marg. The word, of which the root meaning is to grow old, in the sense of continuance, may look backward to what has already grown old and is ancient, or forward to what is abiding, and therefore will grow old. The rendering durable has the advantage of combining both these references.
Dean Plumptre adopts the latter view: “The special idea conveyed is that of a treasure piled up for many years, ancient wealth. Comp. the Greek maxim, ἀρχαιοπλούτων δεσποτῶν πολλὴ χάρις, Aesch. Agam. 1043.”
and righteousness] A double contrast is implied: (1) Wisdom bestows temporal wealth and prosperity, which because it is procured by righteousness (comp. Proverbs 8:20-21) is durable, unlike “the wealth of the sinner” (“the unrighteous mammon,” Luke 16:9), which passes to another (Proverbs 11:22). And (2) instead of “that which is not,” “the riches which certainly make themselves wings, like an eagle that flieth towards heaven” (Proverbs 23:5), Wisdom bestows “the true riches” (Luke 16:11), the wealth which is “our own” (ib. Proverbs 8:12), inseparable from us and a partaker of our immortality.
My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver.19. gold … silver] Comp. Proverbs 3:14.
revenue] Or, increase, R.V. marg., preserving the figure of fruit in the parallel clause. γενήματα, LXX.; genimina, Vulg.
Proverbs 8:22-31. Her august claims.
Wisdom appeals to us, not only upon the ground of what she bestows (Proverbs 8:10-21), but upon the ground of what she is (Proverbs 8:22-31).
On this Section see Introd. p. 31.
I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment:
That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures.21. I will fill their treasures] or, that I may fill their treasuries. R.V. The LXX. add to this verse:
“If I announce to you the things that are daily coming to pass,
I will be mindful to take count of the things which are from everlasting.”
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.22. possessed] So also R.V. text: marg., “or, formed.” ἔκτισεν, LXX.; ἐκτήσατο, Aquila; possedit, Vulg. This word has been a battleground of controversy since the days of the Arian heresy. But it is well to remember that, all theological questions apart, it is impossible to understand the word, whatever rendering of it we adopt, as indicating that Wisdom ever had a beginning, or was ever properly speaking created. Wisdom is inseparable from any worthy conception of Him who is “the only wise God” (1 Timothy 1:17), and therefore is like Him “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:1).
The Heb. word seems properly to mean, to acquire, and so to possess, (comparavit, emit, acquisivit, acquisitum possedit,” Buxtorf, ad verb.), without defining the method of acquisition. Thus Eve says on the birth of Cain, whom she named accordingly, “I have gotten a man with the help of Jehovah” (Genesis 4:1). Almighty God is called “the possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19; Genesis 14:22) which He created; land is said to be acquired, which is bought (Genesis 47:22-23); and a son to be bought (A.V. and R.V. text, or possessed or gotten, R.V. marg.) by his father (Deuteronomy 32:6; comp. Psalm 139:13, “Thou hast possessed my reins,” A.V. and R.V. text, “or formed,” R.V. marg.). And so again it is used of an owner (Isaiah 1:3).
The rendering, Jehovah possessed me, would seem therefore most accurately to represent the original, while the idea contained in the word lends itself readily in the higher reference of the passage, to the Catholic doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son.
in the beginning] There is no preposition in the Hebrew. We might therefore render, with R.V. marg., as the beginning (lit. the beginning, ἔκτισέ με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ, LXX.). And so the same Heb. word is rendered in the next verse, or ever the earth was, lit. from the beginning of the earth. But the rendering of A.V. and R.V. text is preferable.
before] Or, the first of, R.V. marg. The ambiguity in the Heb. is similar to that mentioned in the preceding note. But the considerations urged in the first note on this verse are decisive for the rendering, before. Comp. πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, Coloss. Proverbs 1:15, which “declares the absolute pre-existence of the Son,” Bp Lightfoot ad loc.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.23. set up] Gesenius renders anointed here and in Psalm 2:6, where the same word occurs. But “the verb means ‘to pour out,’ and then ‘to pour metals in a state of fusion into a mould’: hence it passes over into the meaning of setting fast, establishing, &c. So the Niph, Proverbs 8:23, and hence נָסִיךְ means, not ‘one anointed,’ but ‘one appointed’ to his office.” Bp. Perowne, Crit. Note on Psalm 2:6. See also note there in this Series.
ἐθεμελίωσέ με, LXX., ordinata sum, Vulg.
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 was I brought forth:
While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.26. highest part] Rather, beginning; R.V. text (“or sum,” marg.); i.e. the primary elements out of which other things were subsequently formed. Comp. “all his work which God created and made,” Genesis 2:3.
The idea that man is intended as the “chief part of the dust of the earth,” out of which he was formed, has little to commend it.
dust] Lit. dusts (plural), i.e. particles, or clods, of earth. Comp. dusts of gold, Job 28:6, where R.V. marg. suggests lumps.
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:27. compass] Rather, circle, R.V. text, A.V. marg. The reference is to the heavens, just mentioned, which seem to stand like a vault or dome upon the sea, marked out by the circle of the horizon on its surface. Comp. Job 22:14.
When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:28. established the clouds) Rather, made firm the skies, R.V.
he strengthened] Rather, when the fountains of the deep became strong, R.V. The same Heb. word is used of the sea, Nehemiah 9:11; Isaiah 43:16, “the mighty waters.”
When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:29. his decree] So R.V. marg.; its bound, R.V. text. It may be doubted, however, whether the translators of A.V. did not mean, its (for which they often use his) decree, i.e. the law laid upon it by God for its observance. Terminum suum, Vulg. Comp. Job 38:8-11; Psalm 104:9.
appointed] or, marked out, R.V.
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;30. one brought up with him] The Heb. root is used of bringing up a child, acting as nurse or foster-parent to it, Ruth 4:16; Esther 2:7. Hence the translation of A. V. But it may also be applied to one who rears a building, or carries out a work, an architect, or artificer; a master workman, R.V. So it is rendered in Jeremiah 52:15, R.V. marg. artificers, where see note in this Series. The LXX. have here ἁρμόζουδα, and the Vulg. cuncta componens. And this sense agrees best with the general tenor of the passage. Comp. “For she which is the artificer of all things taught me, even wisdom,” Wis 7:22, R.V.
was daily his delight] So R.V. text; but, had delight continually, R.V. marg.; καθʼ ἡμέραν εὐφραινόμην, LXX.; delectabar per singulos dies, Vulg.
rejoicing] “Or, sporting,” R.V. marg.; ludens, Vulg. (and so Proverbs 8:31). Perhaps exulting would be a better rendering.
Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.31. the habitable part of his earth] Rather, his habitable earth, R.V., lit. the habitable world of his earth. See Job 37:12, where the same Heb. expression is rendered, the habitable world, R.V.
The thought is that Wisdom, who found glad exercise in every part and stage of creation as it advanced, had her consummated joy in the adaptation of the completed whole to be the dwelling-place of man, and in the “sons of men,” for love of whom she had created it. Comp. Genesis 1:31.
Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.Proverbs 8:32-36. The consequent Appeal of Wisdom
32. Now, therefore] Because I give, and am, all this; and because in and from their first creation my delight was and is with the sons of men.
O ye children] Rather, my sons, R.V.
Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.35. obtain] “Heb. draw forth,” R.V. marg. See Proverbs 3:13, note.
But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.36. sinneth against] Or, “misseth,” R.V. marg. The Heb. word here used means primarily to miss the mark (as, for example, a slinger, Jdg 20:16). Then it is used commonly for missing the mark, or erring from the way, morally, i.e. sinning. Comp. the use of ἁιμαρτάνω in Greek.