THE BOOK OF WISDOM – SECTION X
THE PRAISE OF WISDOM
VERSE 13 CHAPTER 8, VERSE 1)
I. In verses 13 to 22 of chapter 7, Solomon expresses his love of wisdom and desire to share her.
A. The passage begins with describing Wisdom as a great and glorious treasure, one acquired in simplicity of heart and shared with generosity.
1. There is again
the paradox that Wisdom is immensely valuable, yet available to all,
if people would only learn to seek her.
2. The price
paradoxically enough is a simplicity or guilelessness needed to be honest
with her and God. See Matt 18:1-4; Mark 10:13-16; John 2:47.
3. Unlike worldly
wealth, Wisdom is not a limited commodity, either in time or space,
and in fact grows with the sharing. Jesus would elaborate on this
theme often, saying how the kingdom of God is an unfailing treasure
obtainable for the asking, as opposed to the transient wealth of this
world. See, e.g., Matt 6:19-21; Luke 12:22-34, 18:24-30; see also
1 John 2:15-17.
4. The treasure can do what no earthly treasure can do, gain one friendship with God.
- In the Old Testament,
only Abraham had been called a friend of God. See 2 Chron. 20:7,
Is. 41:8; see also James 2:23. In addition, Adam and Eve apparently
conversed with God, Enoch and Noah "walked with God," see Gen. 3:8-19,
5:24, 6:9, and Moses spoke to God "face to face," see Ex. 33:1,
Duet. 34:10. But not until here is there any offer that
all the just can be friends of God. Jesus would pick up on this
theme, promising that through Him, we become friends of God, if we do
His will. See John 15:14-17; cf. Matt. 12:46-49.
5. But also, lest there be a false idea of friendship being mere pleasantness or ease, Solomon adds that it is discipline that commends us to God.
- There is
a contrast with friendship with the world or the world and friendship
with God. See James 4:4; 1 John 2:15. Discipline gets us
away from lesser things to be friends of God.
B. Solomon then prays that he be able to speak in a manner worthy of Wisdom.
1. Wisdom is so exalted that, without the help of her maker, human language would be inadequate. Cf. Vatican II Council, Dei Verbum 13
- With Scripture
in general, God inspired the authors not only with the ideas to express,
but also guided them in the way to express these ideas, although always
with their own efforts.
2. The author does distinguish between Wisdom and God, although indicating that the two are connected. The prayer for rightful words is to God, rather than to Wisdom.
- As God
is the guide of Wisdom, so too He is the guide to all who are wise.
One could see it in the other direction, i.e., that those who are wise
have God as their guide, as opposed to lesser things.
3. Solomon thus recognizes that language and all skills are in the hands of God.
- The hand
of God is a common Biblical image representing God's sovereignty and
saving power. See Ex. 13:3; Job 12:9-10; Ps. 31:15, 44:4, 139:10;
Sir. 10:5; Mk. 6:2; 1 Pet. 5:6. The hand of God is also a symbol
of the punishments of God. See Job 19:21; Heb. 10:31. Here
the author, because he is a servant of God through Wisdom, is confident
in the ands of God.
C. Solomon then celebrates how Wisdom is the source and controlling principle of all knowledge, not only of divine, but also of created things.
wisdom, in understanding both humans and the things of nature, such
as plants and animals, was legendary. See 1 Kings 4:16-28, 5:9-14.
2. This passage
elaborates on this theme, indicating that such wisdom is available to
all peoples who will pursue her.
3. The passage
describes both the overall vision of created things and judgment about
specific things based upon experience. The two realms were not
clearly distinct in the Jewish mind. See Pope John Paul II, Rides
et Ratio 14.
- St. Thomas Aquinas
describes the gift of the Holy Spirit called knowledge (scientia) as
the ability to draw rightful conclusions about created things and their
value in the light of faith, combined with reason. See Summa Theologica
II-II q. 9 art. 1-3. The element of faith leads to a certainty
not available to conclusion based upon ordinary observations.
- The field
of science (called in a bygone era natural philosophy) makes judgments
about natural things from experience, testing and natural reason.
Even here, the assumption that the world is orderly, that our senses
do not deceive us, and that the laws of nature are consistent in time
and space is dependant upon the assumption of an orderly Creator (here
working through Wisdom.) Without that assumption, the basis for
science itself fails. See C.S. Lewis, Miracles ch. 3 (1947).
It is possible that Solomon, precisely because he believed in an orderly
Creator, whereas the pagans around him did not, was inclined to discover
laws of nature that others did not bother to seek, believing the world
to be under the guidance of chaotic gods.
sciences and philosophy likewise make judgments about human beings in
the light of experience and reason.
literature does not see a radical severance between science, philosophy
and faith. Although each field has its own dignity, all in the
end come back to God. Cf. Vatican II Council, Gaudium et Spes
36; Catechism of the Catholic Church 2293.
- This passage
indicates that Divine Wisdom was guiding Solomon, and thus by extension,
can guide all the devout in all of these ways. Wisdom helps understand
natural things better, and likewise leads us to appreciate how natural
things reflect the hand of God. See, e.g., Ps. 19:1-7, 29:3-11.
4. Verses 17-20 thus describes in various ways the knowledge of created things that Wisdom imparts.
- It begins
with the basic principles, what exists, the structure of the world and
the basic elements. These matters were at the core of ancient
philosophy and still are at the basis of science.
- It then
proceeds to matters of time, how things begin, progress and end.
- The passage
then describes the knowledge of the heavens, with the times of the earth
and the constellations of the stars.
- It then
goes on to knowledge of the things of this world, of animals and plants,
which surround humans.
5. The passage concludes in verses 21 and 22 with the overall idea that, because Wisdom fashioned all things, it is her that teaches about things best, whether they are manifest (as with the things of this world) or more secret (as with the spirits of human thought, or with divine things.)
8:22-31 had elaborated on how Wisdom was there at the beginning and
thus gives, and alone can give, guidance on how to live in the ways
- With Wisdom,
what is secret is made manifest and what is manifest is truly understood.
II. The book then turns to the praise of Wisdom at the center of his discourse.
A. This praise begins with describing Wisdom as having a spirit, whom the author describes in terms of 21 attributes, apparently organized into seven groups of three.
1. Seven was the symbol of perfection, as with the days of creation. Repeating something three times was the Jewish was of expressing the superlative. Thus the image is the height of perfection.
- The author
also says he is describing the spirit that Wisdom has, not even quite
Wisdom in herself. The idea may be that Wisdom herself, like the
eternal law of God, cannot be described by human language.
2. The first three elements are the intelligence, holiness, and uniqueness of the spirit of Wisdom.
is that ability to perceive the nature of things, beyond experience.
Most of the time, we arrive at intelligence through experience, but
Wisdom, like the angels, knows things immediately.
is that closeness to God, set aside only for Him.
is uniquely close to God and perceiving of all things, even above the
3. The next three attributes are that the spirit of Wisdom is manifold, subtle and agile.
- There is
a paradox here of Wisdom being at the same time clear to all, and yet
having a subtlety that makes her the subject of great investigations.
- She is
agile, making herself known to those worthy of her, yet hidden to others.
4. The next three attributes are that the spirit of Wisdom is clear, unstained, and certain, or definite.
the muddled things of this world, which are a mixture of good and evil,
see Rom. 8:19-23, Wisdom is in a pure realm above and thus guides people
to see clearly without the ambiguity of this world. Cf. 1 Cor.
which is needed to be with wisdom, leads to that certainly of the vision
of God. See Ps. 24:4-5, Matt. 5:8.
5. The next three attributes are that the spirit of Wisdom is not baneful (or is invulnerable), loves the good and is keen.
is immortal and therefore not subject to death or deadly to others.
Again there is a contrast with the passing things of this world, which
are subject to death.
- In her
immortal vision, she sees and loves all the good. This love connects
wisdom to love (caritas in Latin, agape is Greek), which St. Paul celebrates
in 1 Corinthians 12.
- But Wisdom
also challenges her children by her keenness. Nothing can be hidden
from her. Cf. Heb. 4:12-14. Her love does not make her lax,
but rather guides her children through discipline to the immortal realms.
See Prov. 1:1-7; Wis. 1:5.
6. The next three attributes are that the Spirit of Wisdom is unhampered (or irresistible), benevolent and kindly.
combines the power of God with the kind, benevolent guidance of a good
- One gets
the impression of a noble queen of loyal subjects, who rules by her
gentle guidance. See Prov. 9:1-6; Sir. 24:13-21 (describing
Wisdom more as the kingdom itself); James 3:17.
7. The next three attributes are that the spirit of Wisdom is firm, secure, and tranquil.
- One has
the image of a peaceful kingdom in the midst of this troubled, often
chaotic world. This image is a common one in Scripture.
See, e.g., Is. 9:1-6, 65:21-25; Ez. 37:23-28; Amos 9:13-15; Micah 4:1-8;
- The implication
is that one who dwells in Wisdom will likewise be secure against the
travails of the world. See, e.g., Prov. 10:25; Ps. 125:1-2; Matt.
8. The final three attributes summarizing the spirit of Wisdom as all powerful, all seeing, and pervading all spirits.
- There is
a sense of the completeness of Wisdom governing and knowing all things.
that there is nothing above Wisdom, the author says that she pervades
even the highest of spirits, which are, as she was described at the
beginning of the passage, intelligent, pure and subtle.
- Part of
the idea, therefore, is that there is no point in seeking any lasting
power, knowledge or access to the spiritual realm without Wisdom.
B. The passage then describes the effects and glory of Wisdom.
1. There again appears to be a chiastic structure to this praise of Wisdom.
24 of chapter 7 and verse 1 of chapter 8 are at the beginning and end
of the praise, describing how Wisdom is the controlling principle of
all things, guiding them perfectly.
25and 26 describe the glory of Wisdom as perfectly reflecting God, and
are complemented by verses 28 and 29, which describes how Wisdom is
greater than any light because she is permanent and prevails over any
darkness, and especially the darkness of evil.
c. The first
half of verse 27 describes how Wisdom is all powerful and renews all
things, while verse 28 describes how all things that God loves, He loves
d. The climax
in the second half of verse 27 describes how Wisdom produces holy souls
and friends of God and prophets. The implication is that we become
holy, friends of God and prophetic through the pursuit of Wisdom.
2. The prologue
of the Gospel according to John has a similar structure centering on
the theme that those who accept the Word become adopted children of
God. See John 1:1-18.
3. Verse 24 describes Wisdom as more subtle and pervasive that even motion. The idea is that there is an activity, a motion, an energy of which all of the activity of this earth is but an image. And that action is comes from Wisdom.
- The purity,
the perfection of Wisdom allows her to act with this pure spiritual
activity that is deeper and stronger than any of the sullied actions
of this earth.
- There were
a number of rites in the Levitical code that would reflect the purity
needed to be among the people of God. See, e.g., Lev. 14:22-32,
15:1-33, Num. 8:5-22; 31:19-24. As the letter to the Hebrews points
out, however, these rites were only symbols of the purity that Jesus
won for us by His cross. See Heb. 10:1-18. This purity allows
us to enter into Wisdom and therefore draw close to God.
4. Verses 25 and 26 describe the five images for how Wisdom reflects God, with the necessary implication that there is nothing unsullied in her in the midst of them.
a. She is
the aura (or breath) of the might of God. We cannot be in the
fullness of God's glory now, for we could not tolerate it. But
Wisdom allows us to sense His glory and majesty.
b. Likewise, the glory of God glows upon us through Wisdom. On Mount Sinai, His glory showed in thunder, lightning, earthquake, fire, and smoke; and none but Moses and Joshua could approach. See Ex. 19:16-25. But through Wisdom we can be in that presence of the glory of God. Cf. Heb. 11:18-24.
- Nothing unclean
can be in that glorious presence. Thus, the final and glorious
kingdom of God cannot admit the unclean. See Ps. 15; Is. 25:8-9,
52;1; Zech. 13:2; Rev. 21:25
c. The light
of God, which reflects life and glory is perfectly reflected in Wisdom.
This light reflects God's guidance and His providence making people
enjoy His favor and truth. See, e.g., Is. 9:1-4; Jesus, especially
as recorded in the Gospel according to John, focuses on how He brings
this light into the world. See John 1:4-9, 8:12, 9:4-5.
also reflects perfectly the power of God, as opposed to the imperfect
reflection that occurs in the midst of this sullied world. Jesus
promises that those who act in His name, fully in union with Him, will
share in that perfect power. See, e.g., Matt. 18:19-20; John 15:7,
also is that perfect image of God's goodness. Here, we see in
images and clouds, but in Wisdom we begin to sense, and one day in heaven
will see, the goodness of God in Himself. See, e.g., 1 Cor. 13:12;
1 John 3:2.
5. The first
half of verse 27 then describes how Wisdom does all things and renews
all of creation. The prophets spoke of the renewal of the earth, see,
e.g., Is. 65:17, 66:22; Joel 3:1-4:18; Hag. 2:6-9; Zech. 9:9-10:12;
Rev. 21:1, and here the book describes Wisdom as continually bringing
this renewal about, but herself the stable constant. See Ps. 102:25-29;
6. Central to the passage is the fact that, in the context of this glory of Wisdom, she comes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets.
- The idea
seems to be that the people are already holy, and Wisdom makes them
greater, to be friends of God and prophets. As the passages regarding
the humble birth of Solomon indicate, it is not as though Wisdom makes
souls friends of God and prophets from before birth. See Wis.
7:1-6. Rather, it is those who pursue holiness that then also
are elevated by Wisdom.
- The people
of God were called to be holy, see Ex. 19:6; Duet. 7:1-6, and the author
says that this pursuit will make one through Wisdom a friend of God
and sharing in prophesy.
- Verse 14
had already promised that Wisdom would make her followers friends of
God. This passage indicates that we can also share in prophesy
through Wisdom. Moses had long earlier expressed a wish that all
the people of God were prophets. See Num. 11:29. Joel had
prophesied that one day this wish would be fulfilled. See Joel
3:1-3. And here the Book of Wisdom says Wisdom will achieve this
goal, which later becomes fully manifest at Pentecost. See Acts
7. The passage then goes on to say that there is no other way to God's favor than through Wisdom. Earlier the passage had said that Wisdom renews all things, thus making them fit for God. Now it says further that Wisdom is the only way to find favor with God.
- Jesus is
finally expressed as the only way to salvation. See, e.g., John
14:6; Acts 4:12. One can see the combination of these two ideas
as either that Wisdom leads one to Jesus, who alone saves, or that only
in Jesus and through the salvation He won can anyone be pure enough
to live with the saving Wisdom of God.
8. The author then goes on to praise Wisdom again as greater than even the greatest lights we know, the sun and the stars.
- The sun
and the stars give an image of permanent light above the travails of
the earth. See Ps. 19:1-7, 148:1-6. They are considered
by the psalmist to be vastly greater than this earth, and gave him a
sense of humility before God, although also a sense of thanksgiving.
Ps. 8:4, 144:3.
- Here, the
book of Wisdom says that even they do not shine on earth always, whereas
reflecting the Isaiah, Jeremiah and Joel, takes the image of the impermanence
of the sun and the stars further, saying that at the end of all things
on earth, even their light will fail. See, e.g., Is. 13:10; Ez.
32:7, Joel 2:10, 3:3-5; Matt. 24:29-31; Mark 13:24
- The image
becomes even more powerful in the light of these prophesies, indicating
that when all else fails, Wisdom endure forever; and thus those who
are walk with her advance on into a permanent realm. Wickedness,
i.e. the moral darkness of humans and fallen angels, cannot prevail
9. The passage then concludes with the image of the wise governance of Wisdom making all things harmonious in her.
- The book of Revelation likewise portrays the great woman clothed with the sun with the stars at her feet (an image of Mary or the Church) brining forth her child, Jesus, to rule all nations, and guiding her children, the faithful ones, from the attacks of the devil. See Rev. 12.