William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?Proverbs Chapter 8
In full contrast with evil, which is folly to the utmost, is the description of wisdom's ways as here brought before us.
"Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? On the top of high places by the way, where paths meet, she standeth; beside the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors, she crieth aloud. To you, O men, I call, and my voice [is] to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand prudence; and, ye foolish, be of understanding heart. Hear, for I will speak excellent things, and the opening of my lips [shall be] right things. For my palate shall meditate truth, and wickedness [is] an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth [are] in righteousness; [there is I nothing crooked or perverse in them. They [are] all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge. 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 comparable to her." vv. 1-11.
Here is no courting of the dark, no flattery of the heedless, no fair speech to seduce into foul deeds and illicit indulgence. The wisdom which has its root in the fear of Jehovah is aboveboard and earnest with man. "Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? On the top of high places, where paths meet, she standeth; beside the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors, she crieth aloud." John the Baptist not only bore witness to Jesus, but "cried" (John 1:15). So did our Lord in the temple as He taught (John 7:28), and notably at the close of His rejected testimony (John 12:44) in importunate love.
How often in the Old Testament as in the New we are reminded of divine favour to mankind! Not with angels but with the human race does God plead, that they may hear and live. "The life was the light of men." So it is here when wisdom cries aloud: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men"; nay more, it beseeches the weak and the unwise. "O ye simple, understand wisdom, and ye fools, be of understanding heart."
There are objects of desire in men's eager eyes. Oh the ardour, when they learn that there is here a mine of silver, and a place for gold which they refine! Seas are crossed, deserts are penetrated, swamps and mountains drear are crossed, and heat or cold or famine is defied. And man puts an end to the darkness, and the utmost limit is explored. A shaft is opened far from human haunts; they are forgotten of the traveller, they hang afar from men, they swing to and fro. Out of the earth cometh bread, and underneath it is turned up as by fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires; and it hath dust of gold; a path no bird of prey knows, nor vulture's eye hath seen, nor sons of pride have trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed over it. The engineer puts forth his hands on the flints; he overturns mountains by the roots; he cuts out channels in the rocks; and his eye sees every precious thing. He binds the streams that they drip not, and the hidden things he brings forth to light. But wisdom, where shall it be found, and where is the place of understanding? Man knows not its value, neither is it found in the land of the living. The deep says, It is not with me; and the sea says, It is not with me. Neither gold nor silver, nor precious stones as onyx, sapphire, ruby, topaz, with gold most fine, nor jewels can procure or equal it. Whence then comes it, and where is its place? For it is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the heavens. Destruction and death say, We have heard its report with our ears. God understands its way, and He knows its place. And to man He said, "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28). Christ alone is its fullness.
Our exhortation encourages souls. "Hear, for I will speak excellent things, and the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my palate shall meditate truth, and wickedness is an abomination to my lips." Where else can this be found? Outside the inspired Word, religion makes men worse than if they had none, and substitutes demons for the true God. Here the writer can say with assurance, All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing crooked or perverse in them. Man's uncertainty and fallen nature expose him to both if he sets up to be an oracle. Whereas God's words are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to him that findeth knowledge. Hence is the call. 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 comparable to her. We can go no farther, now that the Son of God is come and given to us to know Him that is true. For He Himself is the true God, no less than the Father; and He is eternal life. Compare John 17:3.
We are in a world dominated for the present by a subtle spirit of evil that has access to every heart. There is therefore constant need of a wisdom above man's. For the Christian it descends from above; it is Christ, God's wisdom no less than His power. Here, as being for Israel, the Holy Spirit presents wisdom for the earth. For the heaven and the earth belong to God, who in due time will expel the usurper and put all things under Him in fact and manifestation, as they are now in principle to faith. Meanwhile we have God occupying Himself with what is heavenly for His children, in the New Testament before the day arrives, as for His ancient people renewed to profit ere long by the Old Testament as here.
"I wisdom dwell in prudence, and find out knowledge of reflection. The fear of Jehovah [is] to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth do I hate. Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I [am] intelligence; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers make just decrees; by me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth. I love those that love me; and they that seek me early (or, diligently) shall find me. Riches and honour [are] with me; durable wealth and righteousness. My fruit [is] better than gold, yea than pure gold; and my revenue than choice silver. I walk 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 fill their treasuries." vv. 12-21.
The Christian, though a heavenly man, walks on earth; and both needs to, and can, avail himself of such words as these, coming under the moral government of God as his Father (1 Peter 1:17). Wisdom makes prudence its dwelling place, and there finds knowledge, if not of witty inventions, assuredly of reflections, a better thing. Thus are subtle adversaries met by a wisdom and its resources deeper than every snare. Its base is that fear of Jehovah which hates evil, for which intellectual sharpness and craft are no match. For divine wisdom in the Word forms the godly in obedience, not in the cleverness that outwits craft by profounder craft; for this would only dishonour God and sully the soul. Hence pride and arrogance on the one hand, and on the other the evil way and the perverse mouth, are hateful to God and His people. They are the ways and the words of self, far from Him who leads in the path of obedience, and gives counsel and sound wisdom to those who wait on Him and keep His word and with Him is not only intelligence but strength - all we need in this tangled and shifty scene.
None need wisdom so much as those in authority, the monarch in particular. "By me kings reign, and rulers make just decrees; by me princes rule and nobles, all the judges of the earth." But this very language aptly discriminates the difference between the Old Testament, and the New Testament, that is the entirely new state of things under the gospel as compared with the law. For there is instruction in the New Testament only for subjection to authority, in the Old Testament for those who wield it also. The Christian waits to reign with Christ, content meanwhile to suffer with Him and for Him. No exhortation, no principle, no fact supposes him exercising worldly power where Christ was rejected, till He appears to judge the world. It was quite another condition before the princes of this age crucified the Lord of glory. But it is now a time of great and growing unbelief, and it is a hard trial for most believers to forego present power and honour. Indeed, since the apostles passed away, the true heavenly glory of the Christian and the Church has been well nigh forgotten and ignored.
But wisdom goes out far beyond rulers and the great, even to all that seek and prize it. "I love those that love me; and those that seek me earnestly shall find me." So it ever is in divine pursuits. Those that are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. God has no blanks for the real. Wisdom from Him secures riches and honour - not for the Christian of a material sort, but better far, durable wealth, truly, and righteousness. Its fruit is indeed superior to pure gold or choice silver. Wisdom walks in the way of righteousness. Not "leading" but "walking" is the point here. To reason, to common sense, it may seem utterly foolish; for it often entails loss, and sacrifice, and suffering. But "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." Christ to us is the way; and Him we follow whatever the case. Wisdom walks therefore in the midst of the paths of judgment, not outside them. And there only is blessing enjoyed, though it is not for the Christian in the basket and the store, in the bank or in stocks, but higher and unchanging.
From verses 22-31 we have the plainest and the brightest testimony of this Book to Christ's glory. Who can fail to discern that He is here viewed as the Wisdom of God. The personality of His Wisdom is as marked here as of the Life in 1 John 1. This suits God if it does not man.
"Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was. When no depths were, 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 beginning of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I [was] there; when he set the circle upon the face of the deep; when he established the skies above; when the fountains of the deep became strong; when he imposed on the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, a nursling [or artificer], and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable world of his earth, and my delights [were] with the sons of men." vv. 22-31.
The remarkable truth here signalized is the Wisdom portrayed with Jehovah before creation, and not merely in that display of almighty power guided by wisdom and goodness. More than this attribution of eternal wisdom, as Jehovah's cherished companion before His works of old, a special object of His affection is carefully shown in mankind, even as He Himself was to Jehovah. This and this only explains why the earth should be so near and conspicuous an object to the love of God - often a theme of unbelieving wonder, if not for unworthy and thankless scorn.
"Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way." There was Wisdom, not simply in Him, but with Him, as is said of the Word in John 1:1: "the Word was with God," just as surely as He "is God"; and such too is the account of Him as Life in 1 John 1:2, before He was manifested in flesh. "I was set up [lit. anointed] from everlasting, from the beginning before the earth was." He was no creature of God, but was in being before His works. When depths were not nor fountains abounding with waters, He was brought forth; before mountains or hills were settled; while as yet He had not made the earth or the fields or the beginning of the dust of the world. He was there for the making and ordering of all, as He was before any. Nor did He thus precede the lower scene only, but the heavens which contain all. When Jehovah prepared the heavens, Wisdom was there; when He set the circle upon the face the deep, when He established the skies above. When the fountains of the deep became strong, when He imposed on the sea its decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment; when He appointed the foundations of the earth: then was Wisdom by Him, a nursling [or artificer], and a delight He was, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in His habitable world; and His delights were with the sons of men. It is a grand, true, and highly poetic description, worthy of Him who was proclaimed in its season the Worthy One.
But whatever wisdom wrought on earth or sea, if the heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse shows the work of His hands, there was a counsel deeper still, a love far beyond intelligence and power; and this we learn in the marvellous description. It is not the Wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which was ordained before the ages unto our glory (1 Corinthians 2:7). Nothing do we find of God's sovereign love in choosing out souls to partake of heavenly relationship. It is His good pleasure in men, to be effectuated another day by His Son becoming man, and in that redemption which secures His glory and opens the way for all His dealings of grace. What we have here is no revelation of the secret that was hid in God till Christ rejected went back to God, and the Holy Spirit was sent to reveal it. But we have the inestimable purpose of God's goodness toward man plainly stated, and distinct from the election of Israel for the earth, or of the saints who compose the Church for the heaven, and indeed for the universal inheritance with Christ.
Hence the force here of Wisdom being by Jehovah, His delight day by day, not only rejoicing always before Jehovah, but rejoicing Himself in the habitable parts of His earth, and His delights were with the sons of men. Though it be not Christ glorified on high, nor therefore our union with Him as His body, yet it is an expression of divine love in and toward man, far beyond what Israel ever realized, as it will be in the days of the kingdom here below when He reigns and all the families of the earth are blessed in Him. For it is divine delight in Him whose delights were and will be with the sons of men. Hence beautiful is the praise of the heavenly hosts at His birth heard by the lowly shepherds by night. ""Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill in men" beautiful in itself, and in their unjealous delight in His ways who made men, not angels, the especial object of His complacency.
The chapter concludes with a fatherly application to impress the blessedness of wisdom's ways on the young, but from Jehovah.
"And now, sons, hearken to me, and blessed are [those that] keep my ways: 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 Jehovah. But he that sinneth against (or, misseth) me doeth violence to his own soul: all that hate me love death." vv. 32-36.
When He who was afterward to become flesh and dwell among us was brought (so distinctly for the Old Testament) before the hearer of the written Word, we can understand that His grace makes itself deeply felt and calls special heed to communications meant to deal with the inner man. They rise far above ordinary obligation; they are not clothed with the thunder and lightning of Sinai, nor do they consist of typical pictures which illustrated the provision of divine mercy, when men failed and would own their sins suitably, the shadows of the good things to come. A divine personality (the daily delight to Jehovah, whose delights were with the sons of men who calls Himself, though set up from eternity, Wisdom dwelling with prudence) appeals peculiarly to heart and conscience. For who dues not feel the need of such guidance? Sons of men must be welcome to Him; and He, because He is divine, must be able to render Himself acceptable to them.
Doubtless the lack of known forgiveness and of life eternal in the Son of God left much to be desired, which we enjoy through the gospel. But what clearly appears in such a chapter as this was an immense favour; and none need wonder at the exhortation which follows it up, that the "sons" should hearken. But such words, like those of our Lord on the mount are meant to be done as well as heard. Indeed every one that hears and does them not can only be likened to a foolish man that built his house on the sand - great the fall when it comes - worse than if no house were built.
Here accordingly we are told that "blessed are those that keep my ways." The glory and grace of Him who deigns to point out the ways of wisdom act on living faith and make it energetic through love. Where faith is not, all else fails ere long. "Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not." How touchingly wisdom pleads while we only are the gainers! What can we add to divine majesty? The love of God delights in blessing; but blessing cannot be for sinful man, but in hearing instruction from Him who was made to us wisdom from above.
Again we have it applied to the individual. "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors." Here we have the earnestness day by day and perseverance like a beggar in need that will not be denied, and waits in the face of what would discourage others less importunate. We find in the beginning of Luke 11 the value of prayer on His part who prayed as none else did, and led a disciple to seek of Him to teach them to pray. But the Spirit of God at the close of Luke 10 makes us know the need of His word antecedently - that we may not trust our own reasonings or imaginations, instead of all resting on the groundwork of divine truth received in faith. Of this the blessed sample is Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet and heard His word, and reaped endless and deep profit in comparison with her sister, Martha, who, loved of Him, and doubtless loving Him, was cumbered with much serving, and hence anxious and troubled about many things. Mary's part is the good one which shall be taken away from none who value it.
"For (on the one hand) whoso findeth me findeth life and obtaineth favour of Jehovah." So the prince of prophets writes: "Wherefore do ye weigh money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently to me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, and your soul shall live." What better was known than "life" above that of nature through the faith of the divine Word, and Jehovah's favour enjoyed also? It was not blessing in the city and in the field, or in the kine and in the flock, in the bucket and in the kneading-trough, nor even in being made the head rather than the tail. Old Testament believers knew and possessed by grace the blessing, though far from that fullness which we have now through and in Christ.
On the other hand. the way of self-will is ruinous for the life that now is, and for that which is to come. It is just the path of sin. "And he that sinneth against me (Wisdom) doeth violence to his own soul: all they that hate me love death." There is not, nor ever was, true living, living to God but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God Therefore it is that the just shall live by his faith. For faith comes of hearing, and hearing by the divine Word. Outside the path of faith on either side are the ways of death, and many are those who take them in the pursuit of man's thoughts or present objects, of human religion or human irreligion, apart from the true God and Him in whom He reveals Himself by His Word and Spirit.
She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths.
She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors.
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.
Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.
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.
They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge.
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.
I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.
The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.
Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.
By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.
By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.
I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.
Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver.
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.
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
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.
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:
When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:
When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.
Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.
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.
But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.