Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
1Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
2On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4"To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
22The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
23Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth--
26when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world's first bits of soil.
27When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race."
The Old Testament can be traditionally divided into three parts by purpose: The Torah, or Pentateuch; the Prophets; and the Writings. Within the section of Writings there is the “Wisdom literature,” and Proverbs is one of these, along with the Psalms, the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon), Job, and Ecclesiastes. Within the Apocrypha, there is also Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon)and Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus). These are philosophical works that talk about questions of virtue, judgment, values, and the nature of reality. The Book of Proverbs supposedly started out as a collection of wise sayings by King Solomon, who was so known for his wisdom that the word “solomonic” is still used to refer to the ability to parse one’s judgments with incredible acuity. Other contributors to the Book of Proverbs are “the Wisemen” (no, not THOSE Wise Men!), “Agur son of Jakeh,” and a King Lemuel (whom many scholars attribute to be Solomon, others claim he was a non-Israelite king who nonetheless worshipped God. It is believed that Proverbs was compiled as an oral tradition, possibly from the time of Solomon in the 10th century BCE, and then much of it compiled in the 7th century BCE. Later chapters also show evidence of being influenced by Israel’s exile in the 6th century BCE.
Note that Wisdom is described in the feminine. This is not always the case—the first verse of the Gospel of John equates Wisdom with the Word—that is, Jesus. But it is still a big change when we talk about God or any part of God in the feminine. Also note that between the two sections we have here—verses 1-4 and 22-31—there is a change from third person to first person. At first Wisdom is being talked about, and then she is talking herself. Now this is a particular kind of Wisdom—it is not cleverness or slyness. Wisdom involves seeking as much as knowing, since there is certainly a difference between knowledge and wisdom. This Wisdom leads us to God and God’s pathways.
The implication here is that God’s (self-) revelation through Wisdom is not a particularly Jewish Wisdom, or Christian wisdom, or Anglican Wisdom. It’s part of what is often referred to as “natural theology” in a way—the idea that reason and experience can reveal God to humanity, that the observation of nature can reveal God to us. Some have characterized this as theology without religion. There is actually an endowed series of lectures called the Gifford Lectures from the Universities of St. Andrews, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh that have been presented for over 100 years. These are quite interesting, and have featured Archbishop William Temple, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, and Iris Murdoch as well as John Polkinghorne, who is a scientist/theologian. Remember that natural theology is just one of many different ways to encounter God, and really is more of a stepping-off point for most of us. As Christians, we continue through to also consider the revelation of God that is made manifest in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Remember, this is Trinity Sunday!
In verses 1-4, Wisdom is standing outside the gates, calling out to people and asking them to follow her. Anyone who has been a teacher knows that some will follow. But wisdom calls out to everyone—“to all that live” (v. 4). She shows no discrimination based on nationality. This can be interpreted by us in our particular context as continuing the thread we have been hearing for weeks about unity. In Biblical times, women of good repute did not stand in such places-- women who did risked their reputations, and were often beggars or prostitutes. And yet, Wisdom is willing to shock to gain the attention of those she calls. She is not where we would expect her to be.
Staring in verse 22, Wisdom claims that she was created first by God and then assisted God in the rest of the works of creation. This echoes the first verse of our psalm last week, 104.25:
“O LORD, how manifold are your works!
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.”
She is a “master worker” (v. 30) designing creation is all its variety, as we are reminded here and in Psalm 104.
Wisdom can be described as coming from God alone, as well as being one of the hypostases (manifestations) of God. This gets us to why are reading this on Trinity Sunday. The Roman Catechism describes wisdom as one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (along with understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety, and “a sense of the wonder and awe of the Lord.” Wisdom is created first because that would make her the oldest of creation, and it is traditional to often associate wisdom with age, according to Ralph W. Klein.
So, just as we saw last week in Psalm 104, all of the wonders of creation are ascribed as part of the amazing works of God and demonstration of both 1) God’s wisdom, and 2) God’s activity in the world. As Genesis 1:2 echoes these verses in Proverbs, the “Spirit of God” moved over the waters. Thus, Wisdom can be associated with the Holy Spirit. Last week, we proclaimed, “Come, Holy Spirit!” This week, in this reading we echo that cry as we seek and are sought by Wisdom.