Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
1 Doesn’t Wisdom cry out and Understanding shout? 2 Atop the heights along the path, at the crossroads she takes her stand. 3 By the gate before the city, at the entrances she shouts: 4 I cry out to you, people; my voice goes out to all of humanity.
22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his way, before his deeds long in the past. 23 I was formed in ancient times, at the beginning, before the earth was. 24 When there were no watery depths, I was brought forth, when there were no springs flowing with water. 25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I was brought forth; 26 before God made the earth and the fields or the first of the dry land. 27 I was there when he established the heavens, when he marked out the horizon on the deep sea, 28 when he thickened the clouds above, when he secured the fountains of the deep, 29 when he set a limit for the sea, so the water couldn’t go beyond his command, when he marked out the earth’s foundations. 30 I was beside him as a master of crafts. I was having fun, smiling before him all the time, 31 frolicking with his inhabited earth and delighting in the human race. (CEB)
The Call of Wisdom
One of the most confusing sermons I have ever heard was on the subject of Wisdom. It was in 1999 at my Baccalaureate service at The University of Findlay. The preacher, who had been invited to preach because he was the father of one of the graduates, told us at the beginning, “I know that most baccalaureate sermons are boring and quickly forgotten, but I hope to change that today.”
Well, he did. Only, I don’t remember the sermon because of how wonderful it was but, rather, because of how confused I was when it was over!
The one phrase he kept saying over and over again throughout the sermon was, “Get wisdom.” I thought it was good advice. After all, wisdom helped Solomon out of a few pinches so it wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to get a little wisdom myself. But what confused and somewhat frustrated me about his sermon was that, while he kept saying, “Get wisdom,” he never once explained how to get it. You see, he spoke of Wisdom as though it is a readily available commodity that you just need to get a hold of.
Is Wisdom like that? Is it a commodity that you can buy? Can you go to Walmart or Target and pick up a carton of Wisdom? Can you find an old box of it in your Grandma’s attic? Solomon asked for wisdom after God promised him anything he wanted. So do you have to pray for it and hope that God decides to randomly bestow the gift of wisdom upon you? And if God does decide to give you some wisdom, how do you know you’ve got it? Does your I.Q. suddenly go from average to Einstein? Are you suddenly smarter than the average bear? Do you suddenly feel wise? How do you get wisdom? The preacher never explained that.
Part of me wonders if he didn’t explain how to get wisdom because he didn’t know himself. After all, if he knew about Wisdom he might not have talked about it as though it’s something a person can “get”; as if it’s a commodity or something that we can consume or obtain. Proverbs 8:1-4 says, “Doesn’t Wisdom cry out and Understanding shout? Atop the heights along the path, at the crossroads she takes her stand. By the gate before the city, at the entrances she shouts: I cry out to you, people; my voice goes out to all of humanity.” (CEB).
This tells me that Wisdom is already in the world all around us, and Wisdom speaks to us every hour of every day in the most prominent places of human life. Wisdom speaks to all people, but so does Folly. So the question becomes, not, How do we get wisdom?, but rather, Are we listening to the voice of wisdom or to the voice of folly? Both are speaking, but to which are we listening?
In the poem which is Proverbs 8, Wisdom is personified as a woman. Just in case we question the idea that Wisdom is already in the world speaking to all people, Lady Wisdom speaks to us of herself. She says, “The LORD created me at the beginning of his way, before his deeds long in the past. I was formed in ancient times, at the beginning, before the earth was.” (Proverbs 8:22-23, CEB). Wisdom was created by God before anything else had been made. God set Wisdom as the foundation for all of creation, and so the order of the universe is built upon Wisdom.
Creation is presented as a city, and Lady Wisdom lives within it with her children who represent human beings. Lady Wisdom is a mother who speaks to her children, giving them guidance in life as every good mother does. She is at the crossroads, on the heights, at the entrance of the city portholes, and most prominently at the city gates.
The gates of a city in the ancient world are where things happened. Every gate was a hotspot of activity. It was the place where people would congregate, and conduct the business of life: buying, selling, settling disputes, and arranging marriages. The gates are where you would find the judges and leading citizens of the city.
Even today, if you want to visit the Old City sections of Jerusalem, you have to enter through one of the city gates of the Medieval wall built in 1538 by the Ottoman Turks. The gates are crowded with people going in and out of the Old City, and there are shops lining the portholes where you can buy just about anything. Lady Wisdom is saying, I am everywhere! Listen to me! No one can claim not to have heard her voice because, as God’s agent, she speaks in and through all creation and its creatures, which give indirect testimony to her instruction.
One of my questions has always been, “What exactly is wisdom?” I’ve always thought of wisdom as something with mostly ethereal qualities. How do you pin down exactly what wisdom is? One of our many contemporary images of wisdom is an old sage sitting on top of a remote mountain. He knows the meaning of life and can share that meaning, that wisdom, with anyone who takes upon themselves the challenge of climbing up the mountain to meet him.
But according to this Scripture, wisdom really isn’t that difficult to find. Wisdom isn’t sitting patiently on some far-off mountain top waiting for us to arrive so she can impart to us a nugget of insight we might not even understand. Instead, Lady Wisdom is in our very midst, shouting at us every step of our every day.
If I had to name the qualities of Wisdom, I would say they include knowledge, reason, discernment, and love. Wisdom is the capacity to understand and then function accordingly, and you can’t do that without those four qualities. In fact, the parallel word for Wisdom in the Old Testament is Understanding. It designates practical competence, or know-how, by which things are accomplished.
In one sense in the Old Testament, wisdom includes craftsmanship. All the utensils for the Temple were made by craftsmen whom the Scriptures describe as being full of wisdom and understanding for the making of such things. In Greek philosophy, σοφία [wisdom] was sometimes associated with τέχνη [skill] (cf. Agathon’s speech in Symposium 196D-ff). So in a way, building a fort, swing set, and bunk beds for my children took some wisdom in order for me to accomplish those things. And, the fact that they didn’t fall down, suggests I used the wisdom somewhat properly.
But in the sense of Proverbs 8, wisdom is more closely associated with how a person lives their life. It has very much to do with the choices a person makes every day. And I think when you get right down to it, whether we are wise or foolish is revealed in the choices we make. The voice of Wisdom calls out for us to make one choice, the voice of Folly entices us to make the opposite choice.
Is there any area in any person’s life where Wisdom is not required? I don’t think there is such a thing as a human situation where wisdom is not needed. What are the areas of our lives where we could use some wisdom? How about our relationships and in our dealings with others? Maybe if I had listened to the voice of wisdom in some of my dealings with others I would have more friends and fewer acquaintances; meaning, some of those acquaintances might have become good friends had I listened to wisdom.
What about in our married life? Every married person, both women and men, ought to know that marriages require an awful lot of wisdom. I once heard a joke that went, A wise man once said, ‘The more you know about women, the more you know you don’t know.’ Of course, it goes the other way, too. A wise woman once said, ‘The more you know about men, the more you know how little they actually know.’ Marriages take wisdom on the part of the husband and the wife. That’s why marriages are so difficult: one fool can ruin the whole thing. But that’s also why marriages are so rewarding: two people who live together in wisdom find incredible joy, strength, and support in each other and all that God has given them.
What about our finances? These days we probably all wish a few more people had used some wisdom regarding their finances, because we’ve had to bail whole industries out with our tax dollars. But you know, the voice of Folly is very enticing. Almost every advertisement you’ll ever see or hear is full of the lies of Folly saying, You need to buy this. If you had this one thing, you could be happy.
Listen to what Proverbs says of Folly, which is described as the strange or mysterious woman, “The lips of a mysterious woman drip honey, and her tongue is smoother than oil, 4 but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps lead to the grave. 6 She doesn’t stay on the way of life. Her paths wander, but she doesn’t know it” (Proverbs 5:3-6, CEB); and, “She seduces him with all her talk. She entices him with her flattery. 22 He goes headlong after her, like an ox to the slaughter, like a deer leaping into a trap, 23 until an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird hurrying to the snare, not aware that it will cost him his life.” (Proverbs 7:21-23, CEB).
Wisdom says you cannot spend more money than you earn. But Folly says we can buy anything and everything we want because we only have to make that tiny little minimum payment on the credit card. Wisdom says that generosity is the cure for our financial problems. Folly says greed is the cure for our financial problems.
What about wisdom in our Christian faith? Are we doing the things we know we ought to do in order to grow in our faith and build upon our relationship with God? Do we listen to the voice of Lady Wisdom in regard to our development as disciples of Jesus Christ? It takes some time and effort on our part.
There is no part of human life that doesn’t require wisdom. Maybe that’s why Lady Wisdom says that she “delights in the human race,” because we need her so much that we can’t survive without her. It’s no wonder, then, that the ancient church used Proverbs 8 to point to Jesus Christ as both the Word and Wisdom of God. Wisdom is fully embodied in Jesus Christ. He made all the right choices.
The voice of Wisdom guides us to life in the Triune God. Wisdom, the first of God’s creations, is here with us now, pointing us to Jesus Christ, who was present with the Father and the Spirit before Wisdom was made. God set Wisdom in the world, and Wisdom is calling. We would do well to listen to Lady Wisdom’s voice. She orients our lives toward God and shows us the way to eternal life in God’s Son.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!