Proverbs 8 – Venerable Wisdom
Spring brings her flowers.
Life has its problems.
What have these sentences in common? We find here a literary style figure known as personification: an object, an issue, a characteristic, a phenomenon is represented and described as a person. We find this type of style also in the Bible. Psalm 85 describes a meeting between steadfast love and faithfulness, who as two friends (righteousness and peace) will kiss each other. The words of the psalm draw a picture as if two people meet each other in the marketplace. Similarly, in Isaiah 59 we read ... truth has fallen in the public square... We can rather vividly visualize the scene. All of these are examples of imagery, intended to bring the message in such a way that it will stay with us.
Psalm 85:11, Isaiah 59:14
Wisdom as a Figure
Often, wisdom is personified as a woman who has taken a place beside the city gates. Note where she has placed herself: she stands in the street, near a busy intersection with a lot of traffic. Right there, she calls the people, without exception. Everyone needs wisdom, everyone needs to learn to art of living. Indeed, everyone, kings and presidents, the great men of this earth, members of parliament and the city council, judges and lawyers. Yes, indeed, especially those who govern others.
Proverbs 8 speaks of the urgency of these things; and wisdom tells again what she is after: righteousness and justice must be found in this world. She forcefully underscores her trustworthiness and her value.
Proverbs 8:1-4, Proverbs 8:14-16, Proverbs 8:7-11
The Age of Wisdom
Then she offers a completely new and exceedingly strong argument: her age. She is older than the creation of heaven and earth.
The Lord created me ... at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
Ages ago I was made, she says, at the first, from eternity. Indeed, she has been made a long time ago, and therefore she is ancient. And that gives her authority, in the same way as a saying which reflects a great deal of experience has authority.
Perhaps we are not overly impressed by the argument of age. In our society, being old means often dilapidated and finished. The aide in a nursing home scolds the old man when he has not touched his food again. He might not have been issued a key to the nursing home, and when he comes home after hours, he is forced to request permission to enter his own home. An older person is not considered fully with it any longer. Someone once remarked, “In the past, an elderly person was someone who had almost arrived. Nowadays an elderly person is someone who is almost passé.”
What seems important today is being young, strong and fit. Exercise and fitness counts as most valuable, so much so that health is often no longer seen as a gift, and has turned into a cult.
Indeed, old age is not appreciated nowadays. Certainly, occasionally there is evidence of politeness, but it is questionable whether that is a sign of true respect. Proverbs 16 says,
A hoary head is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.
From the biblical descriptions we have the strong impression that the Israelite society had a great deal of respect for the elderly. King Rehoboam would have been well advised to listen to the older advisers rather to the younger ones. Those older politicians were experienced in their craft. Remember how Proverbs 1 speaks of the youth who need to learn prudence and discretion.
The older one is, the greater the experience; those who are well tested have won respect. Age and experience may speak with authority. Indeed, the proverbs, those pithy sayings, are based on much experience.
It must be clear: the older the wisdom, the greater her authority. Eliphaz, who was presumably much older than Job, told him off:
Are you the first man that was born?
Or were you brought forth before the hills?
Did Job pretend to be old enough to speak wise sayings? Although he certainly was not a mere youth, compared with Eliphaz he had no right to speak!
Contrast this with Madam Wisdom: what a venerable age. She was there even before the creation. She has seen everything, indeed. What a vast experience she has gathered, what a knowledge and insight she can boast of. Incredible.
Proverbs 8:22-32, Proverbs 16:31, 1 Kings 12:6-11, Proverbs 1:4, Job 15:7
Proverbs 8 does not provide a scientific world view, acceptable to such giants as Copernicus, Galileo, and today’s scientists. These words describe what you see when standing on the beach: the domed sky and the horizon which forms a semicircle.
Who can see farther, and with broader insight than Madam Wisdom? She has a good overview of and good insight in all things. She knows how things work. She watch reality coming into being as a most complex and artful whole of interrelated and interconnected parts, together forming the cosmos.
That word, cosmos, means harmony. Each creature with its own form, essence, and task is part of that great harmonious whole of God’s creation.
Again I refer to Proverbs 3:13-20, and Psalm 104. Read and consider these passages together with Proverbs 8. Has not God made all things in wisdom? Is not the whole creation a product of His divine craftsmanship?
Thus, Proverbs 8 concludes with a passionate appeal to listen to this wisdom. That will make you happy, and that will make you watchful in the right manner. In this way you will find life; in truth, in this way life will return!
And note, that Psalm 104 abruptly ends with the destruction of the sinners.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more!
Rien Poortvliet in his Noah’s Ark did not know what to do with these words. With these words, the psalmist expresses the thought that, although God’s creation is beautiful indeed, it is not as it was from the beginning. Yet, we may look forward to the future. Settlement will come, because promises have been made about the return of perfect peace. Creation will again function with perfect purpose; all foolishness shall have been removed.
The psalms and the proverbs cry for salvation, they cry for the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. They call for faith in Him who is greater than Solomon; He who has been given us as Wisdom. His Spirit teaches us wisdom which saves. The joy with which wisdom witnessed God’s creation activities, and her delight in the sons of men will return in Jesus Christ. Follow Him!
Proverbs 8, Psalm 104:24, 35