Proverbs 8 – “Wisdom Praises Herself”

rubies-a5wfyy-gaHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Proverbs 8 is a speech of self-praise given by personified Wisdom, and it is addressed to all of humanity. She tells mankind about her importance, power, value, old age, and warns that her enemies will be destroyed.

II. Photo
Wisdom proclaims her extreme value: “Accept my discipline rather than silver, Knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; No goods can equal her!” (vv. 10-11)

III. Important Verses
vv. 3-5: Near the gates at the city entrance; At the entryways, she shouts, “O men, I call to you; My cry is to all mankind. O simple ones, learn shrewdness; O dullards, instruct your minds.”
vv. 10-11: Accept my discipline rather than silver, Knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; No goods can equal her.
v. 17: Those who love me I love, And those who seek me will find me.
vv. 35-36: For he who finds me finds life And obtains favor from the LORD. But he who misses me destroys himself; All who hate me love death.

IV. Outline

1-3. Introduction: setting, wisdom’s speech
4-11. Wisdom’s introduction (exordium)
12-31. Message
    12-21. Wisdom benefits those who seek her
    22-31. God created the world with Wisdom
32-36. Conclusion: Widsom equals life

V. Comment
Proverbs 8 is a lecture given by personified Wisdom. It begins by setting the scene, “She takes her stand at the topmost heights, By the wayside, at the crossroads, Near the gates at the city entrance; At the entryways, she shouts” (vv. 2-3). The public nature is similar to the speech in ch. 1: “Wisdom cries aloud in the streets, Raises her voice in the squares. At the head of the busy streets she calls; At the entrance of the gates, in the city, she speaks out” (vv. 1:20-21). Some view “Woman Wisdom” as the opposite of the forbidden woman (‘isha zarah, cf. chapters 2, 5-7): while the forbidden woman operates in the dark of night (cf. 7:9), Woman Wisdom is a public figure.

She begins her lecture with an exordium (vv. 4-11), and it is similar to the exordiums found in chapters 1-7. Yet, unlike the father (who was the speaker in those chapters), her speech is addressed to all mankind rather than just her sons: “O men (‘ishim), I call to you; My cry is to all mankind (bene ‘adam)” (v. 4). Only in v. 32 does she refer to the conventional “sons.” The exordium’s language is conventional; note how v. 11 is almost identical to 3:15.

Just as we saw in ch. 1, Wisdom seems to take on many of God’s characteristics (see comment to ch. 1, at the end). For instance, she praises herself in v. 14: “Mine are counsel (‘etzah) and resourcefulness (tushiyyah); I am understanding (vinah); courage (gevurah) is mine.” Job ascribes three out of these four characteristics to God: “With Him are wisdom and courage (gevurah); His are counsel (‘etzah) and understanding (tevunah)” (Job 12:13, also see Isa. 11:2). Similarly, Wisdom proclaims in v. 20: “I walk on the way of righteousness (tzedaqah), On the paths of justice (mishpat).” The same characteristics are attributed to God in Isa. 5:16: “And the LORD of Hosts is exalted by judgment (mishpat), The Holy God proved holy by righteousness (tzedakah).” God even labels himself with the terms in Jer. 9:23: “… For I the LORD act with kindness, Justice (mishpat), and righteousness (tzedaqah) in the world…”

Wisdom continues her self-praise by describing her involvement in good governance: “Through me kings reign And rulers decree just laws; Through me princes rule, Great men and all the righteous judges.” It is interesting that King Solomon (cf. 1:1, 10:1, etc.), the man associated with much of the book of Proverbs, is reported to have asked and received Wisdom from God (cf. 1 Kings 3:9, 3:28). Wisdom also describes her virtue (v. 20), value (v. 19), and the reciprocal relationships which she enters into: “Those who love me I love, And those who seek me will find me” (v. 17)

In vv. 22-31 Wisdom describes how she existed before any other of God’s creations: “The LORD created me at the beginning of His course As the first of His works of old. In the distant past I was fashioned, At the beginning, at the origin of earth” (vv. 22-23). In the same vein, Prov. 3:19 says God created the world with Wisdom, and Eliphaz says in Job 15:7-8: “Were you the first man born? Were you created before the hills? Have you listened in on the council of God? Have you sole possession of wisdom?” Thus, it seems that Wisdom existed for all time.

The chapter’s conclusion (vv. 32-36) begins with Wisdom’s address to her sons. She tells them to follow her advice, and praises her admirers: “Happy is the man who listens to me, Coming early to my gates each day, Waiting outside my doors” (v. 34). She then makes it clear that those who follow her live, but those who do not die (vv. 35-36).

VI. Works Used

Proverbs 1-9 (Fox) and World Biblical Commentary Proverbs (Murphy). See commentaries page.

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