THE BOOK OF WISDOM – PART XIII
OF WISDOM WORKING IN HISTORY
I. Chapter 10 transitions from the overall reflections on Wisdom in the first nine chapters to the specific application of those reflections to the Exodus, with associated commentary, in the last nine chapters.
A. The chapter gives an overview of the workings of Wisdom in the great figures of Jewish history leading up to the Exodus.
1. The chapter
has a seven-fold structure, likely reflecting the seven days of creation
and the notion of seven as the number of perfection. Compare with John
2. In particular, the chapter reflects upon the working of Wisdom in the lives of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, and then finally culminating in the Chosen People led by Moses.
- The first
six figures seem to be arranged in three pairs, i.e., Adam and Noah,
Abraham and his nephew Lot, and Jacob and his son Joseph.
with these noble figures are the wickedness of either specific figures,
such as Cain, Esau, or the "kings" or of humanity in general.
There is an attempt here to contrast vividly justice and wickedness,
with the noteworthy exception of Adam falling by his own fault and rising
again by Wisdom.
B. The chapter does not refer to any of these figures by name, but instead describes them, assuming that the reader will know who they are.
1. Except Adam and Moses, they are all introduced simply as "the just man." Adam is introduced as "the first-formed father" and Noah "the Lord's servant" and "the holy prophet."
references may be an attempt to universalize the figures, making them
applicable to all people. The reference in the Gospel according
to John to "the beloved disciple," rather than naming him John,
may have had a similar purpose.
b. The term
"just man" or "father" also creates a sense of complementarity
between the feminine Wisdom and the masculine figures, emphasizing again
the theme of the love of Wisdom from chapter 8.
the wicked are not named, but simply called general terms, such as "the
unjust man," "the nations," "their oppressors" or "their
C. The specific examples
given here are meant as an example about how Wisdom delivers and makes
prosper all who follow her.
II. The chapter begins with a reflection on the guidance of Adam and Abraham by Wisdom as contrasted with the wickedness of Cain.
A. At the beginning, the focus is primarily on Adam, rather than Eve.
1. The description was of Wisdom with Adam when he was alone, i.e., before the creation of Eve.
a. At one
level, the description could be of Wisdom as at the center of the whole
order of the universe, the order that made Adam head. That interpretation
would be a continuation of the theme in chapters 8 and 9 that Wisdom
is at the center of all creation. See Wis. 8;4-5, 9:2-4, 9.
See also Prov. 3:19, 8:22-31; Sir. 1:7-8, 24:1-7.
b. This notion of Wisdom with Adam can also be seen as Wisdom guiding Adam in his first recorded acts, i.e. naming the animals and then accepting Eve as his bride. Gen. 2:19-20. The idea is that Adam, in ordering the universe and acting in his primordial authority and acting in primordial love was acting with Wisdom as his counselor. The message is that Wisdom is the source of all rightful authority and all rightful love. This interpretation would be building upon the theme of Wisdom as guiding Solomon, all rulers, and all people who intend to be virtuous. See Wis. 1:1, 6:9-21, 7:7-12, 27-30, 8:7.
2. The passage then describes Wisdom as raising Adam up after his fall.
was a common Jewish tradition, which Christian tradition accepted, that
Adam and Eve repented after the Fall. Genesis 3 records God's
continuing mercy toward Adam and Even and chapter 4 hints at their repentance,
recording Eve (and thus presumably Adam) as crediting God with the birth
of their children. See Gen. 4:1, 24.
b. The idea
here is the Wisdom is also the one who guides people to repentance after
3. This comment on Adam concludes that Wisdom gave Adam "power to rule all things."
a. This comment
could be simply a reiteration of Wisdom's role in the primordial order
and power given to Adam.
b. But it
could also mean that, after the fall, Wisdom guided Adam back to being
able to control nature. The book has earlier commented on how
Wisdom gave Solomon knowledge and nature, and will guide all her beloved
to that knowledge. See Wis. 7:17-22, 8:8, 10. For, even
now, God has given man authority over the things of the earth.
See, e.g., Ps. 8:7-10, 115:16; James 3:7.
B. The passage then gives the counter example of how Cain withdrew from Wisdom and thus committed the first murder.
1. The implication
is that withdrawing from Wisdom was the first sin, and that in turn
led to the murder. Wisdom was available to him, and he chose not
to have her.
2. Genesis chapter
4 describes in general terms that Cain's sacrifice was unacceptable
and that, rather than repent and make it acceptable, Cain slew Abel
out of envy.
3. The result
was that Cain perished. It is noteworthy that God did not immediately
kill Cain, and in fact put a mark on his forehead to keep him from being
murdered. See Gen. 4:15. Thus perishing may refer more to
a spiritual descent that physical death.
C. Going back to a positive example, the book then describes Noah as guided by Wisdom through the flood.
1. The book indicates that it was because of Cain that the world was destroyed through the flood.
a. One meaning
could simply be that Cain was the paradigm of evil and violence that
led to the Great Flood, or that Cain's murder of Abel set in motion
a fundamental evil that would corrupt all the world.
meaning was that it was Cain's descendants who caused the wickedness
initially, while the line of Seth and the other descendants of Adam
and Eve was more just. But when the two lines intermingled, injustice
took over and thus God sent the Flood. See, e.g., St. Augustine,
City of God Bk. 15, ch. 23; St. John Chystostom Homilies on Genesis
22:4; St. Cyril of Alexandria Commentary on Genesis 2:2.
c. In any
case, there is a dramatic contrast between the effects of the murder,
and the effect of Noah's justice. A single life with or against
Wisdom has cosmic consequences.
2. The passage particularly focuses on Wisdom's guidance of Noah as a pilot on the waters.
a. The emphasis
on the waters (as opposed to focuses on the preparations for the journey
or organizing things afterward) especially gives the impression of Wisdom
guiding the just through the storms of life.
b. In Jewish
thought chaos and oppression were often compared to the unstable sea,
and God's guidance as preserving the faithful through these storms.
See, e.g., Ps. 18:5, 69:2-3; 74:15, 89:10, 93:3-5; 124:4. Sometimes
this chaos also was personified as the sea monster Leviathan or Rahab,
whom God conquers and tames. See, e.g., Is. 27:1, 51:9; Job 26:12;
Ps. 89:11. Here, Wisdom takes on that role of piloting the just
Noah through the Flood, an image of this guidance of the just.
3. The passage describes the Ark as "the frailest wood."
a. As ships
went, the Ark was of colossal proportions, 440' x 73' x 44'.
See Gen. 6:15. But even this enormous boat was frail compared
to the Flood and the task it had, i.e. preserving the known human race.
b. One message
is that all human power is frail compared to the chaos and evil of the
world, and especially death; it is Wisdom who guides her children.
c. We can
now also see a fulfillment in salvation from death through the wood
of the Cross.
III. The passage then proceeds onto a comment on Wisdom as guiding Abraham and his nephew Lot.
A. The book contrasts the just Abraham with the wickedness of the nations.
1. The universal wickedness is probably a reference to the building of the Tower of Babel, in which all the known nations combined in a prideful attempt to replace God, and were punished with division.
- It was
the tower built by human hands that the nations sought as the source
of all unity, rather than God. And so God used the building of
that very Tower to scatter them and confuse them and scatter them throughout
the earth. This event is one example of the theme in Wisdom that
God uses the very things people worship to punish them. See, e.g.,
Wis. 12:27, 15:18-16:1.
2. The passage focuses on the most mysterious passage about Abraham, God's call for him to be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.
- This call
was one for radical obedience, putting everything under God, even the
highest of human loves. Wisdom guided Abraham along this path,
in dramatic contrast to the pagans who worshipped lesser things.
The book will later comment on how a love of dead children that was
put ahead of God led to idolatry. See Wis. 14:15-16.
- The Letter
to the Hebrews does say that Abraham trusted that God would restore
Isaac to life. See Heb. 11:19. But the faith of Abraham
is very deep to entrust his son to God.
- One implication
is that Wisdom allows us to order human loves rightfully, all under
3. The passage then describes at more length how Wisdom preserved Lot when he lived among the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were surrounded by three other cities, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar, which the author describes together with the Greek term Pentapolis.
1. Lot had chosen to live among the people because the land around them was fair although the people were wicked. See Gen. 13:12-13.
chose tested the people of Sodom by sending angels to them. Lot
tried to defend the angels against the attacks of the people, although
it was the power of the angels themselves that defeated the mobs of
a result of this attack, God destroyed the people of Sodom and Gommorrah
by sending fire and brimstone from heaven, which destroyed the cities
and turned the area into the desolate, sulpheric region it is now.
See Gen. 19:1-29.
because of Lot's justice, the angels warned him to escape with his
family and not so much as to look back when the destruction occurred,
which he did. But his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar
of salt. See Gen. 19:12-26.
area would forever stand as a symbol of the destruction that comes from
evil, although the prophet Ezekiel does speak of final day in which
even the Dead Sea will be fresh again. See, e.g., Duet. 29:21-22;
Is. 1:9-11; Ez. 47:10; 2 Pet. 2:6.
2. This passage indicate that it was Wisdom that delivered Lot from both the wickedness and the punishment due to it.
emphasis here is on Lot's righteousness, rather than on his folly
in choosing a land that had wicked people and later in his drunkenness
and associated sins.
message may be one of Wisdom as guiding the just in the midst of an
c. The passage describes the destruction of the area around Penatpolis in dramatic terms.
The "smoking desert" reflects the fact that there is a great deal
of bitumen there that produces continual smoke, especially over the
The fruit that never ripens may refer to the apples that grow in the
area that cannot be eaten.
is perhaps also a warning against being too curious about evil in the
salt tomb for Lot's wife.
3. The irony
is that the wicked actions done seemingly in secret in Sodom resulted
in that land becoming a permanent reminder of wickedness and the resulting
IV. The passage then turns to how Wisdom guided Jacob and his son Joseph in the midst of struggles in the world.
A. There is a more developed discussion of Jacob, and how Wisdom guided him in dealing with the anger of his brother Esau and the deception of his uncle Laban.
1. As with Lot, the passage focuses on Jacob's justice in peacefully dealing with difficult situations rather than his deception of his father Isaac to get his blessing and in dealing with his uncle Laban to get additional wealth from an agreement.
a. God had
already selected Jacob to be blessed over Esau from his birth.
But Jacob, at his mother's behest, still deceived Esau to get his
blind father's blessing and birthright, which Esau had already foolishly
promised Jacob. After this event, Esau planned to kill Jacob,
and Jacob then fled to the land of his uncle Laban. Later, he
would return and send offerings to pacify Esau, a strategy that worked.
See Gen. 27:1-28:9, 33:1-19.
fleeing Jacob received a vision of angels ascending and descending on
a ladder from earth to heaven and back on the very spot that he was.
See Gen. 28:10-22.
with Laban, Jacob wished to marry Rachel, his beautiful daughter.
Laban agreed to let him have Rachel in exchange for seven years of work.
However, Laban tricked him into marrying the less beautiful older sister
Leah, forcing Jacob to work for an additional seven years to win Rachel.
See Gen. 29:15-30.
Jacob used some a curious device to get the entire flock of offspring
from a herd of sheep and goats, when Laban thought he was agreeing only
to give him part of the offspring, i.e. the dark sheep and the speckled
goats. (Laban had in fact plotted to give Jacob nothing.)
See Gen. 30:25-33.
Jacob also struggled with an angel and was wounded, but seemingly also
achieved a greater contact with God. See Gen. 32:23-33.
2. This passage describes how Wisdom guided Jacob in all of these affairs.
is a notion of Wisdom enabling a peaceful man to deal with anger and
injustice toward him in a clever fashion, avoiding the damage that either
his anger or another's anger toward him can cause.
b. But in
the midst of this cleverness in dealing with the world, there is also
the contact with the divine shown in the vision of the angels on the
ladder and the wrestling with the angel. Prayerfulness and wise
dealings in the world are not contrary, but rather complement each other
c. The passage
leaves out the more deceptive elements of Jacob's career to focus
on what Wisdom, rather than folly led him to.
B. The passage then turns to how Wisdom guided Joseph in the midst of the grave injustices done to him so that she made them word to his eternal glory.
1. Jacob's career shows well the guidance of God in the midst of a gravely unjust world.
a. His ten jealous brothers sold him as a slave to a caravan, telling their father Jacob that he had been killed by a wild animal.
being a slave he prospered and was an assistant to Potiphar, a royal
b. However, because of his insistence on purity, Potiphar's wife falsely accused him of an attack, and he was thrown into a dungeon.
c. But there in the dungeon, God remembered him and gave him the ability to interpret dreams, an ability that would put him in the good graces of the Pharoh and second in command of the kingdom.
forgiveness of his brothers is particularly noteworthy, for he sensed
all things as in God's hands, trusting him to bring good out of all
of the injustice. See Gen. 45:4-8, 50:20-21.
2. This passage describes Wisdom again at work, both in giving Joseph that confidence in God and ability to sense His will, and in his practical abilities to guide a kingdom.
a. The passage
does not specifically mention the ability to interpret dreams, possibly
because it does not want to encourage an excessive desire to find messages
in dreams. Sir. 34:1-17.
b. The message about Joseph, and thus about all of the disciples of Wisdom, is the guidance of Wisdom through the travails of life, giving the just glory in the midst of them, the theme of chapters 3 and 4.