Do you like a good riddle? Remember in the Lord of the Rings when Bilbo first meets Gollum. They get into a riddle contest. Each gives the other a clue and they have to work out who or what the other is talking about. Finally, Bilbo stumps Gollum with an accidental riddle “What have I got in my pockets?”
If you like a riddle or a crossword clue, then you’ll like Proverbs 8 but it has that feel about it. There’s someone speaking here and they are giving you a lot of clues about their identity. Who is it? They were there at the beginning. They were involved as a master architect in creation. They were with God. God takes delight in them.
Does it sound familiar? And we begin to worry that we are going to give the “Sunday Club red squirrel” answer. You know what I mean by that. The kid gets asked “What’s red, furry, gathers nuts and climbs trees.” He thinks “That sounds like a red squirrel but I’m in Sunday Club so the answer must be Jesus.”
Now at this point we think “oh no that sounds a bit simplistic doesn’t it?” Also we might be wary because this is exactly the approach that the Jehovah’s Witnesses take. They read Proverbs 8 and it describes wisdom as someone who was with God at creation. It sounds just like Jesus (John 1:1) but it looks as though wisdom was created. So they say “Well then, this proves that Jesus was not divine. He was a created being. He is The chief angel but He is not God.”
So we want to be careful. Leaping in with the right answer may actually get us to the wrong place.
- There is a sense in which the Sunday Club answer is right. We should end up with Jesus. He himself says that all Scripture points to him and is fulfilled in Him. Preachers and Bible study leaders should preach Christ from all Scripture. We need to be careful that we don’t
- Become legalistic in our treatment of the Old Testament by leaving people with some commandments to keep and a sort of self-help manual for life.
- Become dualistic in our treatment of the Old Testament acting as though we have a different God or a different plan here and it’s only when Jesus shows up that God starts offering grace.
So our aim here is to enjoy the journey. There are 39 books in the Old Testament for a reason. We shouldn’t just rush and jump straight in with the “Jesus” answer. We are meant to learn a lot along the way about God’s wisdom about his glory and beauty and about living in this wonderful world of his. So we’ll take time to enjoy the lessons of Proverbs 8 for themselves. Buty our aim is also to get to the destination. Even here in Proverbs 8 we are meant to be looking and searching and solving the riddle and discovering that the answer was Jesus all along.
So, who is wisdom? Just as in chapter 1:20-33 we find her personified as someone calling out for a hearing. The reason she deserves to be heard is found here in what amounts to a hymn of self-praise (v 1-3)
What is her call (v4-5)? It is to acquire or get prudence to learn how to make sound judgements. It’s about the ability to exercise discernment. Notice how this follows on from the naivety and folly seen in those who fail to discern and get led astray (ch 5-7).
So wisdom is:
- Wisdom is the one who speaks about righteousness (v7-21)
In this first section, we see that Wisdom’s witness about truth and righteousness (v 7-10). These are the things she calls out about in the market place and at the city gate.
V 7 for I speak the truth and detest every kind of deception.
V8 All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
What are the benefits of this (v12-21)?
Wisdom brings discernment and judgement –wisdom will protect you (v12-14)
V12 “I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment. I know where to discover knowledge and discernment.”
V13 A”ll who fear the Lord will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech.” (nb protection from evil because God’s people love justice)
V 14 “Common sense and success belong to me. Insight and strength are mine.”
Wisdom will guide and lead you (Kings and rulers) (v15-16)
V15 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just;
Wisdom will provide for you (v 17-21)
V 17 “I love all who love me. Those who search will surely find me.”
V18 “I have riches and honour, as well as enduring wealth and justice.”
Note here that this shows Wisdom’s care for God’s people. There’s a practical dimension . Living wisely was key for the people of Israel if they were to remain in the land. Solomon received wealth along with wisdom. There is general truth that if you are prudent you will better yourself. Do you want to enjoy better health? Then you should stop smoking, drinking and overeating. Do you want to be financially secure? Then don’t gamble, don’t take out payday loans etc. But remember that these are proverbs not promises.
And don’t lose the main point that wisdom is not a way to riches but offers something better than riches (v 19).
So for us, there’s a strong reminder here to use discernment. Don’t rush about in life making rash decisions. Take time to listen, observe and check out a story. Look at a person’s character not just their gifts. Make sure actions and words match up. Check claims that preachers and pastors make against Scripture.
Remember that not every story you hear is true. Sadly people even manage to deceive themselves
Remember that not every motive is good.
In the workplace or during your studies, take time to think and to pray about decisions.
When you read the newspapers or listen to the promises of politicians look out for the righteous and just decision. This means discernment so we don’t just get caught up in the rhetoric.
This is good judgement.
- Wisdom is the one who gives us the eternal perspective ( v 22-30)
V22 “The Lord formed me from the beginning. Before he created anything else.
V23 “I was appointed in ages past, at the very first, before the earth began.
Now as I suggested at the start, this bit gets controversial. Many people see echoes of Jesus in the description here. Unfortunately others focus on the word “formed” and say that this makes Jesus a created being.
I want to make two comments here. First of all, the Hebrew word “qanah” translated as “formed” in the NLT has a wide range of meanings. It can be to do with creating and forming but often the bible will use two other words “bara” and “asser” when it wants to talk about creating, making and forming. So the word “qanah” is more often associated with acquiring or possessing something “God possessed wisdom” or bringing forth in the sense of birthing (begetting).
Secondly, we need to remember the poetic nature of Proverbs. The aim of poetry is to get us to capture the sense of the thought not to try and work out exactly when and how wisdom came about. So if “The Lord possessed me (wisdom)” then.
- It’s another way of pointing to the goodness of God’s creation –if wisdom comes first then all his ways and all that he makes is wise –reliable, good
V 27 I was there when he established the heavens, when he drew the horizon on the oceans.
V 28 I was there when he set the clouds above, when he established springs deep in the earth.
It is another poetic way of pointing out how wise God is. He had wisdom before he did anything else
V30 I was his constant delight, rejoicing always in his presence.
Because of this we should:
- Trust and rely on God –his plans from the beginning are wise and just. So what is coming up this week? Well whatever lies ahead, “I can trust God to do what is good, right and wise”
- Enjoy the goodness and beauty of God’s creation. Although it is affected by the fall it still reflects that goodness. With this enjoyment comes a responsibility to understand it and to look after it.
So the goodness both of work and rest are reinforced in these verses. We work to care for God’s creation. We rest as we trust in the wise God to look after us.
- Wisdom is the Giver of life (v32-36)
But don’t forget where we are getting to –one greater than Solomon, one greater than Solomon’s wisdom.
V 35 For whoever finds me finds life and receives favour from the Lord.
Now wisdom as a quality will help us lead a good life here on earth but, earthly beauty fails and fades whilst the wisdom and goodness seen in creation but marred by the fall. And so we are pushed beyond the practical wisdom of Proverbs into the New Testament
John 1:1 and Colossians 1:15ff enable us to reflect further on this further. There we find the one who was at the Father’s side, actively involved in creation. There we find the one who is described as “The firstborn over creation”
We keep coming back to this. Do you want to know true wisdom? Do you want to make sense of a messy, broken, fallen but created good world? Do you want to know how the mess will be put right?
It keeps coming back to Jesus. Proverbs is not just about try your best, get cleverer, work harder, use your common sense. It’s not about the 5 steps to take to wealth and health.
It always comes back to knowing God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” It keeps coming back to finding life and joy and hope and peace in the only one who can give it.
Have you found this life? The bible calls it “eternal life.” It includes the peace that comes when you know that you are forgiven and no longer live under the burden of shame and the penalty of guilt. It means that we have life not just here in this world but life that lasts beyond death and into eternity.
If you have found life, then you should also have found something that goes with it …joy! Are you enjoying God? Are you trusting him, are you praising him? When others see that joy and delight in the Lord then they too will be drawn to the one who offers life.