Proverbs 8:22
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(22) The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way.—The Hebrew word translated” possessed” in this passage (qānah) seems originally to have signified to” set up” or “establish,” and is applied (1) to the “forming” of the heavens (Genesis 14:19) and the “begetting” of a son, (Deuteronomy 32:6); next it signifies (2) to “acquire” (Genesis 4:1), (3) to “purchase” (Genesis 25:10), and (4) to “own,” as in Isaiah 1:3. From the fact that “set up” and “brought forth” are used just after as synonyms to it, it is most likely that (1) is the proper meaning of the word here, and that the sense of the passage is that Wisdom was “formed” or “begotten” before the Creation, comp. Psalm 104:24. This agrees with the rendering of the most important Greek translation, the Septuagint (έκτισε). When in Christian times it was observed how well the description of Wisdom in Job and Proverbs harmonised with that of God the Son in the New Testament, such passages as this were universally applied to Him, and the present one was rightly interpreted as describing His eternal generation from the Father. Such was the view, for instance, of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. But when the Arian controversy arose, this phrase was seized upon by the opponents of our Lord’s Divinity, and claimed as teaching that He was, though the highest of created beings, still only a creature. The Catholics then changed their ground, some standing up for the rendering of Aquila, ἐκτήσατο (“acquired” or “possessed”), others applying the term έκτισε to Christ’s Incarnation (comp. “first-begotten among many brethren,” Romans 8:29), or to His being appointed to be the first principle or efficient cause of His creatures, the “beginning of the creation of God” (Revelation 3:14). For references to the Fathers see Bishop Wordsworth’s note, and, for a like variation in the rendering of “first-begotten of every creature,” comp. Bishop Lightfoot’s note on Colossians 1:15.

In the beginning of his way.—That is, His way of acting, His activity in the Creation. But the preposition “in” does not occur in this passage, and from a comparison of Job 40:19, where behemoth (the hippopotamus) is termed the “beginning of the ways of God,” i.e., chief of His works, it is probable that this verse should be translated, “He brought me forth as the beginning of His way, as the earliest of His works from of old,” i.e., before the depths, and mountains, and hills, &c

Proverbs 8:22-26. The Lord possessed me — As his eternal Wisdom and Word, which was in the beginning with him, John 1:1, and in him, John 14:10, and was afterward made flesh, and dwelt among men, as the only begotten of the Father, full of truth and grace, John 1:14. Before his works of old — His works of creation, as it follows. He is before all things, says the apostle, and by him all things consist, Colossians 1:17. I had glory with the Father, says this eternal wisdom, before the world was, John 17:5. I was set up from everlasting — Hebrew, נסכתי, I was anointed, ordained, or constituted, to be the person by whom the Father resolved to do all his works, first to create, and then to uphold, and govern, and judge, and afterward to redeem and save the world; all which works are particularly ascribed to the Son of God, as is manifest from John 1:1, &c.; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3, and many other places. From the beginning — Before which there was nothing but a vast eternity; or ever the earth was — Which he mentions, because this, together with the heaven, was the first of God’s visible works. When there were no depths — No abyss or deep waters, either mixed with the earth, as they were at first, or separated from it; I was brought forth — Begotten of my Father. Before the mountains were settled — Or fixed by the roots in the earth. While as yet he had not made the earth — That is, the dry land, called earth, after it was separated from the waters, Genesis 1:10. Nor the fields — The plain and open parts of the earth, distinguished from the mountains and hills, and the valleys enclosed between them; nor the highest part — Hebrew, the head; the first part, or beginning; or, the best part; that which exceeds other parts in riches or fruitfulness; which he seems to distinguish from the common fields. Of the dust of the world — Of this lower part of the world, which consists of dust.8:22-31 The Son of God declares himself to have been engaged in the creation of the world. How able, how fit is the Son of God to be the Saviour of the world, who was the Creator of it! The Son of God was ordained, before the world, to that great work. Does he delight in saving wretched sinners, and shall not we delight in his salvation?A verse which has played an important part in the history of Christian dogma. Wisdom reveals herself as preceding all creation, stamped upon it all, one with God, yet in some way distinguishable from Him as the object of His love Proverbs 8:30. John declares that all which Wisdom here speaks of herself was true in its highest sense of the Word that became flesh John 1:1-14 : just as Apostles afterward applied Wisd. 7:22-30 to Christ (compare Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).

Possessed - The word has acquired a special prominence in connection with the Arian controversy. The meaning which it usually bears is that of "getting" Genesis 4:1, "buying" Genesis 47:22, "possessing" Jeremiah 32:15. In this sense one of the oldest divine names was that of "Possessor of heaven and earth" Genesis 14:19, Genesis 14:22. But the idea of thus "getting" or "possessing" involved, as a divine act in relation to the universe, the idea of creation, and thus in one or two passages the word might be rendered, though not accurately, by "created" (e. g., Psalm 139:13). It would seem accordingly as if the Greek translators of the Old Testament oscillated between the two meanings; and in this passage we find the various renderings ἔκτισε ektise "created" (Septuagint), and ἐκτήσατο ektēsato "possessed" (Aquila). The text with the former word naturally became one of the stock arguments of the Arians against the eternal co-existence of the Son, and the other translation was as vehemently defended by the orthodox fathers. Athanasius receiving ἔκτισεν ektisen, took it in the sense of appointing, and saw in the Septuagint a declaration that the Father had made the Son the "chief," the "head," the "sovereign," over all creation. There does not seem indeed any ground for the thought of creation either in the meaning of the root, or in the general usage of the word. What is meant in this passage is that we cannot think of God as ever having been without Wisdom. She is "as the beginning of His ways." So far as the words bear upon Christian dogma, they accord with the words of John 1:1, "the Word was with God." The next words indeed assert priority to all the works of God, from the first starting point of time.

22-31. Strictly, God's attributes are part of Himself. Yet, to the poetical structure of the whole passage, this commendation of wisdom is entirely consonant. In order of time all His attributes are coincident and eternal as Himself. But to set forth the importance of wisdom as devising the products of benevolence and power, it is here assigned a precedence. As it has such in divine, so should it be desired in human, affairs (compare Pr 3:19).

possessed—or, "created"; in either sense, the idea of precedence.

in the beginning—or simply, "beginning," in apposition with "me."

before … of old—preceding the most ancient deeds.

Possessed me, as his Son by eternal generation, who was from eternity with him, as is said, John 14:10; and in him, as he also was in me, John 14:10.

In the beginning; yea, and before the beginning, as it is largely expressed in the following verses.

Of his way; either,

1. Of his counsels or decrees. Or rather,

2. Of his works of creation, as it follows. The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way,.... Not "created me", as the Targum and the Septuagint version; which version Arius following gave birth to his pernicious doctrine; who from hence concluded Christ is a creature, and was the first creature that God made, not of the same but of a like nature with himself, in some moment or period of eternity; and by whom he made all others: the Word, or Wisdom of God is never said to be created; and if as such he was created, God must have been without his Wisdom before he was created; besides, Christ, as the Word and Wisdom of God, is the Creator of all things, and not created, John 1:1; but this possession is not in right of creation, as the word is sometimes used, Genesis 4:1; it might be more truly rendered, "the Lord begat me", as the word is translated by the Septuagint in Zechariah 13:5; it denotes the Lord's having, possessing, and enjoying his word and wisdom as his own proper Son; which possession of him is expressed by his being with him and in him, and in his bosom, and as one brought forth and brought up by him; as he was "in the beginning of his way" of creation, when he went forth in his wisdom and power, and created all things; then he did possess his Son, and made use of him, for by him he made the worlds: and "in the beginning of his way" of grace, which was before his way of creation; he began with him when he first went out in acts of grace towards his people; his first thoughts, purposes, and decrees concerning their happiness, were in him; the choice of their persons was made in him; God was in him contriving the scheme of their peace, reconciliation, and salvation; the covenant of grace was made with him, and all fulness of grace was treasured up in him: the words may be rendered, "the Lord possessed me, the beginning of his way" (h); that is, who am the beginning, as he is; the beginning of the creation of God, the first cause, the efficient of it, both old and new; see Colossians 1:18. So Aben Ezra, who compares with this Job 40:19. This shows the real and actual existence of Christ from eternity, his relation to Jehovah his Father, his nearness to him, equality with him, and distinction from him: it is added, for further illustration and confirmation's sake,

before his works of old; the creation of the heavens and the earth; a detail of which there is in the following verses.

(h) "possidet me principium viae suae", Pagninus, Michaelis, Schultens; "habuit me principium viae suae", Cocceius.

The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, {k} before his works of old.

(k) He declares by this the divinity and eternity of this wisdom, which he magnifies and praises through this book: meaning by this the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ our Saviour, whom John calls the Word that was in the beginning Joh 1:1.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verses 22-31. - Wisdom speaks of her origin, her active operations, the part which she bore in the creation of the universe, her relation to God (see on Proverbs 1:20 and Proverbs 3:19, and Introduction). It is impossible to decide what was the exact view of the writer with regard to the wisdom of which he speaks so eloquently; but there can be no doubt that he was guided in his diction so as to give expression to the idea of him whom St. John calls the Word of God. The language used is not applicable to an impersonal quality, an abstract faculty of God. It describes the nature and office of a Person; and who that Person is we learn from the later Scriptures, which speak of Christ as the "Wisdom of God" (Luke 11:49) and "the Power of God and the Wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24). If we confine our inquiry to the question - What was in the mind of the author when he indited this wonderful section concerning Wisdom? we shall fail to apprehend its true significance, and shall be disowning the influence of the Holy Spirit, which inspires all Scripture, which prompted the holy men who spake to utter words of which they knew not the full spiritual significance, and which could only be understood by subsequent revelation. There is, then, nothing forced or incongruous in seeing in this episode a portraiture of the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, the essential Wisdom of God personified, the Logos of later books, and of the gospel. This interpretation obtained universally in the Church in the earliest times, and has commended itself to the most learned and reverent of modern commentators. That much which was contained in their own utterances was unknown to the prophets of old, that they did not fully perceive the mysteries which they darkly enunciated, we learn from St. Peter, who tells us that they who prophesied of the grace of Christ sought and searched diligently what the Spirit of God that was in them did point unto, and were shown that not unto themselves, but unto us, they ministered those things, secrets which angels themselves desire to look into (1 Peter 1:10, etc.). Wisdom as a human endowment, animating all intellectual and even physical powers; Wisdom as communicating to man moral excellence and piety; Wisdom as not only an attribute of God, but itself as the eternal thought of God; - under these aspects it is regarded in our book; but under and through all it is more or less personified. Khochmah is contrasted in the next chapter, not with an abstraction, but with an actual woman of impure life - a real, not an imaginary, antagonist. The personality of the latter intimates that of the former (see Liddon, 'Bampt. Lects.,' 2.). Verse 22. - The Lord possessed me. Great controversy has arisen about the word rendered "possessed." The verb used is קָנָה (kanah), which means properly "to erect, set upright," also "to found, form" (Genesis 14:19, 22), then "to acquire" (Proverbs 1:5; Proverbs 4:5, 7, etc.) or "to possess" (Proverbs 15:32; Proverbs 19:8). The Vulgate, Aquila, Theodotion, Symmachus, Venetian, give "possessed;" Septuagint, ἔκτισε, "made," and so Syriac. The Arians took the word in the sense of "created" (which, though supported by the LXX., it seems never to have had), and deduced therefrom the Son's inferiority to the Father - that he was made, not begotten from all eternity. Ben Sira more than once employs the verb κτίζω in speaking of Wisdom's origin; e.g. Ecclus. 1:4, 9 Ecclus. 24:8. Opposing the heresy of the Arians, the Fathers generally adopted the rendering ἐκτήσατο, possedit, "possessed;" and even those who received the translation ἔκτισε, explained it not of creating, but of appointing, thus: The Father set Wisdom over all created things, or made Wisdom to be the efficient cause of his creatures (Revelation 3:14). May we not say that the writer was guided to use a word which would express relation in a twofold sense? Wisdom is regarded either as the mind of God expressed in operation, or the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; and the verb thus signifies that God possesses in himself this essential Wisdom, and intimates likewise that Wisdom by eternal generation is a Divine Personality. St. John (John 1:1), before saying that the Word was God, affirms that "the Word was with God (ὁ Λόγος η΅ν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν)." So we may assert that Solomon has arrived at the truth that Wisdom was πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, if he has left it for later revelation to declare that ἡ Σοφία or ὁ Λόγος Θεὸς η΅ν. Whichever sense we assign to the verb on which the difficulty is supposed to hang, whether we take it as "possessed," "formed," or "acquired," we may safely assume that the idea conveyed to Christian minds is this - that Wisdom, existing eternally in the Godhead, was said to be "formed" or "brought forth" when it operated in creation, and when it assumed human nature. In the beginning of his way. So the Vulgate, in initio viarum suarum. But the preposition "in" does not occur in the original; and the words may be bettor translated, "as the beginning of his way" (Septuagint, ἔκτισέ με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ); i.e. as the earliest revelation of his working. Wisdom, eternal and uncreated, first puts forth its energy in creation, then becomes incarnate, and is now called, "the Firstborn of all creation (πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως)" (Colossians 1:15). Thus in Psalm 2:7, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee" (Hebrews 1:5); and, "When he bringeth in the Firstborn into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him" (Hebrews 1:6). In the present clause, the ways of God are his works, as in Job 26:14 and Job 40:19, where behemoth is called "chief among the ways of God" (comp. Psalm 145:17, where "ways" stands as a parallel to "works"). Before his works of old. These words are better regarded (with Delitzsch) as a second parallel object, קֶדֶם (kedem), translated "before," being not a preposition, but denoting previous existence. Hence we translate, "The foremost of his works of old;" i.e. the earliest revelation of his energy. There is a curious passage in the 'Book of Enoch,' ch. 42, which speaks of the personality and pre-existence of Wisdom, of her desire to dwell among men, frustrated by man's wickedness: "Wisdom found no place where she could dwell; therefore was her dwelling in heaven. Wisdom came forth in order to dwell among the sons of men, and found no habitation; then she returned to her place, and took her seat among the angels." We may add Wisd. 8:3, "In that she dwelleth with God (συμβίωσιν Θεοῦ ἔχουσα), she magnifieth her nobility." We may not explain the second clause of this verse: et ad ingenua impelluntur quicunque terrae imperant, for נדיב is adj. without such a verbal sense. But besides, נדיבים is not pred., for which it is not adapted, because, with the obscuring of its ethical signification (from נדב, to impel inwardly, viz., to noble conduct, particularly to liberality), it also denotes those who are noble only with reference to birth, and not to disposition (Isaiah 32:8). Thus נדיבים is a fourth synonym for the highly exalted, and כל־שׁפטי ארץ is the summary placing together of all kinds of dignity; for שׁפט unites in itself references to government, administration of justice, and rule. כל is used, and not וכל - a so-called asyndeton summativum. Instead of ארץ (lxx) there is found also the word צדק (Syr., Targ., Jerome, Graec. Venet., adopted by Norzi after Codd. and Neapol. 1487). But this word, if not derived from the conclusion of the preceding verse, is not needed by the text, and gives a summary which does not accord with that which is summed up (מלכים, רזנים, שׂרים, נדיבים); besides, the Scripture elsewhere calls God Himself שׁופט צדק (Psalm 9:5; Jeremiah 11:20). The Masoretic reading

(Note: If the Masoretes had read שׁפטי צדק, then would they have added the remark לית ("it does not further occur"), and inserted the expression in their Register of Expressions, which occurs but once, Masora finalis, p. 62.)

of most of the editions, which is also found in the Cod. Hillel (ספר הללי)

(Note: One of the most ancient and celebrated Codd of the Heb. Scriptures, called Hillel from the name of the man who wrote it. Vid., Streack's Prolegomena, p. 112. It was written about a.d. 600.)

merits the preference.

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