Excellence of Wisdom – Proverbs 8

Read the Passage: Proverbs 8

Availability of Wisdom (8:1–11)

As he had done back in Prov. 1:20–21, so here in Proverbs 8:1–3 Solomon personifies wisdom as a wise woman standing in a public place (i.e., a marketplace, a pathway, a hill, or in city gates) offering herself freely to all of her hearers. In contrast to the secretive and crafty manner of the foolish harlot depicted in earlier passages (cf. Prov. 2:16–22; 5:1–6; 7:6–27) note the public and simple way of the wise woman described here. In this passage Solomon rehearses the benefits of wisdom, which include understanding, justice, prudence, truth, righteousness, knowledge, and instruction. Wisdom is freely offered to mankind; yet, man does not receive wisdom apart from a work of God. Later, Paul writes, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

As he describes the availability of wisdom in this passage, in Prov. 8:8–11 Solomon writes about the value of wisdom. In a similar manner to his earlier description at Prov. 3:13–15, in the present passage Solomon teaches that wisdom is better than silver, gold, rubies, and “all the things one may desire” (Prov. 8:11). Observe that Solomon is not speaking poetically here or with hyperbole; rather, he is teaching that wisdom is literally better than all of the physical things one may covet. Given that we are material beings, and wisdom is an immaterial good, this idea is challenging. Recall, however, Solomon’s earlier teaching that the path of wisdom is the way to true riches and honor (Prov. 3:16–18). Given natural man’s rejection of wisdom, we may think the message of wisdom is difficult, yet, Prov. 8:9 says, “[The words of wisdom] are plain to him who understands.”

Facets of Wisdom (8:12–21)

8:12f In Prov. 8:12–21 Solomon writes about certain aspects of wisdom, as well as the application of wisdom. The following concepts dwell with or stem from wisdom: prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, understanding, and strength. Indeed, these traits are so closely tied to wisdom that sometimes they are used interchangeably. For instance, in speaking about wisdom, Solomon writes, “I am understanding” (Prov. 8:14). In Prov. 12:15–16 Solomon notes that when leaders—including kings, rulers, princes, nobles, and judges—rule well, it is by conformity to wisdom. Since we are God’s image-bearers, living in God’s world, designed to conform to His image, even the lost can recognize the difference between a wise and a foolish leader. As he had done earlier, so in Prov. 8:17–21 Solomon writes about the material and spiritual benefits of wisdom.

Personification of Wisdom (8:22–36)

Prov. 8:22–31 is one of the more well-known passages in the book of Proverbs, as here Solomon personifies wisdom. In light of Solomon’s description here, coupled with later biblical passages, it is clear that these verses are describing Jesus Christ, who Himself created the world at the Father’s command (cf. John 1:1–5; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:1–17; Heb. 1:2). The identification and personification of Jesus as wisdom ought not to be surprising to us, for later we read that Christ “became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30) and that in Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3) for “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding” are upon Him (Isa. 11:2). Recall that in the Gospels Christ taught that He is “greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42). This implicitly argues for Jesus’ divinity, for God told Solomon “nor shall any like you arise after you” (1 Sam. 3:12).

God does not give mankind random commands; rather, God created mankind precisely to do what He tells us to do. Furthermore, God’s commands are not rules that He chooses arbitrarily. On the contrary, God’s moral revelation is a faithful reflection of His own moral character. Therefore, when God commands His own image-bears to act in a certain way, He is essentially instructing them in how to become like Him, which is what they are designed to do. Since wisdom reflects Christ, and Jesus is the Word of God, when God’s instructions in Scripture are kept, mankind can expect to flourish and to be blessed. On the contrary, when God’s commands are disdained and broken, natural man’s sin shows that he hates God and loves evil. It seems Solomon concludes this chapter with this teaching in Prov. 8:32–35 in order to urge his readers onward toward godly living.

Application Questions:

  1. How would you explain the excellence and importance of wisdom to a child or to a new believer?
  2. Given the many obvious benefits of wisdom, why does natural man not embrace wisdom (cf. John 8:43; 1 Cor. 2:14; 1 John 4:5–6)?
  3. Can an unbeliever be wise? Can a believer be unwise? Is wisdom available via any other source than the Word of God?
  4. Is your life marked by the pursuit of wisdom? Do you believe that the “fruit [of wisdom] is better than gold” (Prov. 8:19)?
  5. How could Jesus claim to be greater than Solomon at Matt. 12:42, if God had told him that no one would arise after him who was wiser (cf. 1 Sam. 3:12)?

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David W. Jones

David W. Jones is a professor and author working in the field of Christian Ethics. You can following him on Twitter @ethicist.