Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Proverbs 1-9 contrasts wisdom and folly and the consequences that typically follow from each, as a way of preparing the reader for the wise sayings that follow, beginning in chapter 10.
Wisdom is personified as a woman here and elsewhere in Proverbs 1-9 (1:20-33; 3:13-20; 7:4; 8:1-36). It seems odd that, in a patriarchal society, scripture would present a woman as speaking and acting with Godly authority. However, “in languages that mark their nouns as masculine or feminine, that gender marking guided the poetic imagination in personifications” (Waltke, 83, citing Karl Brugman’s findings).
Wisdom is the antithesis of the foolish “loose woman” or “adulteress” of 2:16-19; 5:3-14, 19, 20; 6:24-35; 7:1-27.
The focus on Lady Wisdom in chapter 8 contrasts sharply with the depiction of the woman who is “decked out like a prostitute” (7:10) in chapter 7. In that earlier chapter, the seductive woman plies her wiles and persuades the young man to follow her. He is like “a bird (who) hurries to the snare, and doesn’t know that it will cost his life” (7:23). In chapter 8, Lady Wisdom cries out to persuade people to accept her knowledge and wisdom, which are “better than rubies” (8:11). She has already said, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7). Now she adds, “The fear of Yahweh is to hate evil” (8:13).
Lady Wisdom’s words are reminiscent of the Deuteronomist and the prophets, but she speaks of wisdom versus foolishness instead of right living versus sinfulness. Wisdom, Deuteronomist, and prophets all spell out the consequences of right versus sinful living in the hope of persuading listeners to choose the right way instead of the sinful way.
PROVERBS 8:1-4. DOESN’T WISDOM CRY OUT?
1 Doesn’t wisdom cry out?
Doesn’t understanding raise her voice?
2 On the top of high places by the way,
where the paths meet, she stands.
3 Beside the gates, at the entry of the city,
at the entry doors, she cries aloud:
4 “To you men, I call!
I send my voice to the sons of mankind.
“Doesn’t wisdom cry out? Doesn’t understanding raise her voice?” (v. 1). These two rhetorical questions expect the answer, “Yes!” Lady Wisdom does call! She does raise her voice. She doesn’t wait for people to seek her. Instead, she seeks them.
“On the top of high places by the way, where the paths meet, she stands. Beside the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entry doors, she cries aloud” (v. 2-3). Lady Wisdom is no shrinking violet. She does not wait for people to come to her, but instead she goes to them. She does not sit in comfort in a quiet corner of the temple, but seeks out places where people congregate—the way (roads)—crossroads—the city gates—”the entrance of the portals” (synonymous with “the gates”).
City gates are especially busy. They are the only way to enter or leave the city, so people have to go through the gates to attend to their fields during the day and return through the gates at night. City elders administer justice at the city gates. Prophets deliver prophecies there. Merchants conduct business there.
These verses are very much akin to the opening chapter of the book, which describes how “Wisdom cried out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice” (1:20).
“To you men, I call! I send my voice to the sons of mankind” (v. 4). In verses 1-3, we heard from the narrator. Now Lady Wisdom begins her speech, which continues through the end of the chapter. She doesn’t just speak. She calls—she cries. Her voice is urgent in its pleas, because the stakes are high—life or death.
PROVERBS 8:5-21. YOU SIMPLE, UNDERSTAND PRUDENCE
These verses are not included in the lectionary reading, but the preacher needs to be aware of them. They are Lady Wisdom’s words. She invites people—especially “you simple”—to follow her teachings (vv. 4-5), because she speaks the truth (v. 7). Her words are righteous (v. 8). They are better than jewels or gold or silver (vv. 11, 19). She promises to “give wealth to those who love me (that she might) fill their treasuries” (v. 21).
PROVERBS 8:22-31. YAHWEH POSSESSED ME IN THE BEGINNING
22 “Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his work,
before his deeds of old.
23 I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning,
before the earth existed.
24 When there were no depths, I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
26 while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields,
nor the beginning of the dust (Hebrew: apar—dust, dry soil, loose dirt) of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he set a circle on the surface of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above,
when the springs of the deep became strong,
29 when he gave to the sea its boundary,
that the waters should not violate his commandment,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth;
30 then I was the craftsman (Hebrew: a·mon) by his side.
I was a delight day by day,
always rejoicing before him,
31 Rejoicing in his whole world.
My delight was with the sons of men.
These verses point backwards to Genesis 1 and forward to John 1:1-14 and Colossians 1:15-20.
The parallels to Genesis 1 are obvious.
• “Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his work” (v. 22), reminds us of “In the beginning” in the original creation story (Genesis 1:1).
• “When there were no depths” (v. 24) reminds us of “Darkness was on the surface of the deep” (Genesis 1:2).
• “No springs abounding with water” (v. 24) reminds us of “Let it divide the waters from the waters” (Genesis 1:6).
• “Before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills” (v. 25) and “he gave to the sea its boundary” (v. 29) remind us of “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear” (Genesis 1:9).
• “while as yet he had not yet made… the beginning of the dust of the world (apar) (v. 26) reminds us of “Yahweh God formed man from the dust (apar) of the ground” (Genesis 2:7).
• “When he established the heavens” (v. 27) reminds us of “Let there be an expanse in the middle of the waters…. God called the expanse ‘sky'” (Genesis 1:6-8).
The parallels to John 1:1-14 and Colossians 1:15-20 are less obvious and less often addressed in commentaries—but are nevertheless worthy of consideration:
• “Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old” (v. 22) reminds us of “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).
• “then I was the craftsman by his side” (v. 30) reminds us of “All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made” (John 1:3). It also reminds us of “For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible” (Colossians 1:16). But see the comments below on the translation of a·mon in verse 30.
The claims to the pre-existence of Wisdom in Proverbs and the claims to the pre-existence of Christ in the New Testament have the same purpose—to establish the superiority of these Godly figures above all others.
“then I was the craftsman by his side” (a·mon) (v. 30a). Some scholars think that the Hebrew word should be a·mun, “meaning ‘to be looked after,’ ‘to nurture'” (Waltke, 419; Horne, 128; contra Garrett, 109; see also Hubbard, Murphy, Perdue, and Van Leeuwen on this verse). Part of the justification for this alternate translation is the context, where Wisdom says, “I was daily his delight” (v. 30b)—and the words “rejoicing” and “delighting”—child-like attributes.
The justification for selecting this text for Trinity Sunday is this section on the pre-existence of Wisdom—present and participant at the creation.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Deane, W.J., The Pulpit Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Vol. IX (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, no date)
Garrett , Duane A., New American Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Vol. 14 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993)
Horne, Milton P., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Proverbs-Ecclesiastes (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2003)
Hubbard, David A., The Preacher’s Commentary: Proverbs (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989)
Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Proverbs, Vol. 15 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964)
Murphy, R., and Huwiler, E., New International Biblical Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999)
Murphy, Roland E., Word Biblical Commentary: Proverbs, Vol. 22 (Dallas: Word Publishing, Inc., 1998)
Murphy, Roland E., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Perdue, Leo G., The Old Testament Library: Proverbs, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2000)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M.,Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Van Leeuwen, Raymond C., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, the book of Wisdom, and Sirach, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997)
Waltke, Bruce K., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004)
Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan