THE BOOK OF WISDOM – PART XIV
WISDOM IN THE
DELIVERANCE OF THE CHOSEN PEOPLE
I. The end of chapter 10 concludes the section broadly describing the working of Wisdom in the great people of old and introduces the Exodus as the subject matter for the second half of the book.
A. The passage describes the Chosen People as "a holy people and a blameless race."
1. This description seems puzzling in light of the numerous infidelities and complaints of the Chosen People during the Exodus
2. However, the
people were initially holy because God had chosen them, not because
of their own merits. See, e.g., Duet. 7:6, 14:2. Their holiness
then gave them a special duty to preserve and enhance it by lives worthy
of that calling. See, e.g., Ex. 19:5-6; Lev. 11:44, 19:2.
But holiness is given first and then confirmed (or rejected)
by one's actions. This passage refers to the holiness of their
3. While the
Chosen People were later to blame for their infidelity, there were not
to blame for their enslavement, and in fact seemed to have strong families
and loyalty. See Ex. 1:7, 12, 15-20. God heard their prayers
and delivered them as His people. See Ex. 3:6-10. Thus,
they began at least, in a sense, as a blameless people.
B. The passage them says how Wisdom entered into Moses and gave him great power.
1. Here, he is described
as "the servant of the Lord." The implication is that He gains
power by being at the service of God. Obedience leads to empowerment.
Cf. John 15:7-10.
2. The contrast
is that the Lord's servant is greater that the most powerful earthly
3. The reference is to Moses overcoming kings in the plural despite the fact that Moses went up against only one Pharaoh.
- The reference
could simply be that, in opposing one Pharaoh, he was overcoming the
whole line of Pharaohs. Cf. Ps. 105:30.
- But the
reference could also be anticipating how Moses overcame the Amalekites
and the kings of Moab, Arad, Sihon, Og, and Midian on the way to the
Holy Land. See, e.g., Ex. 17:8-17; Num. 22:3-24:25, 31:1-12; Duet.
2:24-3:11; Ps. 136:17-22.
4. The image
is of power from on high entering one who serves God. Wisdom is
not merely a matter of speculative thought, but gives one the ability
to accomplish things of lasting value.
C. The passage then says that Wisdom gave the Chosen People (the just) the reward of their labors and guided them.
1. When the Chosen People left Egypt, at God's command, they asked the Egyptians for many goods, and the Egyptians gave them everything they asked for, thus compensating them (at least partially) for their forced service. See Ex. 11:2-3, 12:34-36.
- One can see Wisdom
here as either guiding the Israelites to ask the Egyptians for these
goods, here at least obeying God, or as guiding the Egyptians to give
them these goods.
2. The passage also describes Wisdom as guiding the people and protecting them by day and showing them the way with fire by night.
describes how God guided the Israelites with a cloud by day and fire
by night. See Ex. 12:21, 40:30.
- Here, for
the purpose of describing the workings of Wisdom, the passage keeps
the emphasis on the fire at night, keeping people able to travel in
the dark. (Because of the heat, it seems likely that the people
would have traveled in the dark or near dusk.)
- The passage
emphasizes more the protection, rather than guidance, of the cloud by
day. At one level, it could be a reference to the cloud moving
between the Israelites and the Egyptians as the Egyptians pursued them
to protect the Chosen People. See Ex. 14:19. It could
also refer to the protection from the heat of the sun and any other
dangers in the desert by day. Cf. Ps. 105:39 (specifically referring
to the protection of the Chosen People from the sun during the journey
to the Promised Land), 121:6; Wis. 18:3; Is. 25:4, 49:10. Part
of the idea is that Wisdom guides all of creation, and will guide creation
to protect God's people in the past and in the future. See Is.
3. Then the passage describes Wisdom as guiding the Chosen People through the Red Sea and destroying the pursuing Egyptian army.
again Wisdom is guiding all of creation, here causing a colossal wind
to part the Red Sea and then causing the sea to come together again
when the Egyptians were in dispute.
part of the issue is Pharaoh's stubbornness and hardness of heart.
See Ex. 14:4, 8. But, while the passage accredits Wisdom
with the glorious workings of nature, it does not attribute this folly
to Wisdom. It is rather the lack of Wisdom that leads to Pharaoh's
C. This section concludes with the singing of hymns celebrating the victory of the Chosen People.
1. The most immediate reference is to the hymn the Israelites sang right after the passage over the Red Sea. See Ex. 16:1-21.
Miriam, the sister of Moses, is the only woman in the Old Testament
described as a prophetess. See Ex. 15:20-21; Micah 6:4.
She seems especially to be associated with the guidance of the Chosen
People in music, which is not merely declarative, but gives power to
God's people. Cf. Ps. 149 (describing the praise of God
and the strength of God's people.)
2. There is also
a reference to the composition of hymns about God's guidance for His
people in general. See, e.g., Ps. 78, 105, 136. Wisdom guides
the people in expressions of thanksgiving and praise of God.
3. Wisdom even
guides the mute and infants to give praise to God. See, e.g.,
Ps. 8:3. The idea is that Wisdom gives all peoples that sense
of God's glory and the ability to express it. Thus, for example,
the Canticle of Mary can be seen as a quintessential expression of Wisdom.
See Luke 1:46-55.
II. The next passage then describes in broad terms how God made the people prosper through their time in the desert.
A. The presentation is positive, not focusing on the worship of the golden calf, the failure to enter the Promised Land when commanded, or the numerous times of despair.
- Rather, the
focus is on the workings of Wisdom in a positive sense, working through
Moses and protecting the people from foes.
B. The passage once again speaks of Wisdom as acting through Moses, here described as "the holy prophet."
- Moses was the
model for all prophets in the Old Testament, for he spoke to God face
to face, and spoke for God at greatest length. See, e.g., Num.
12:6-8; Duet. 18:15-20; Hos. 12:14.
- The implication
is that all prophets are guided by Wisdom to be able to speak for God.
See Wis. 7:27.
C. The passage describes the journey in the desert, protected by against the natural desolation of the desert and against enemies.
- While not mentioning
Wisdom directly, the implication is that Wisdom guided the Israelites
to be able to find sustenance and to be able to overcome all enemies.
- The message is also for the future, i.e., that Wisdom will continue to guide her children along the path of this life against all natural and human dangers. See Duet. 29:1-13.
III. The book then moves onto the first great contrast, between the Israelites, who were given water from the rock, and the Egyptians, whose water turned to blood.
A. The passage reflects positively upon two events when God provided water to the Chosen People in the desert.
1. The first
time occurred shortly after the departure from Egypt at the Chosen People
as they were journeying to Mount Sinai. They ran out of water
and grumbled against God. God then instructed Moses to strike
a rock, from which water flowed. See Ex. 17:1-7.
2. The second
time was shortly after the Israelites had refused to invade the Promised
Land, and so were beginning their 40 year journey in the desert.
At the area of Kidesh, the Israelites again ran out of water and Go
again told Moses to strike the rock to bring forth water. Moses
struck the rock twice, and water came forth, although Moses was punished
for failing to show forth God's sanctity, whether because of doubt,
anger, or arrogance. See Num. 11:1-13.
B. The passage says they called upon the Lord in their need.
1. It was Moses
and Aaron who called upon the Lord; most of the community seemed to
grumble and despair. However, as verse 1 indicates, Moses' actions
benefit the whole community.
2. The phrase
called out to the Lord in their need seems to recall Psalm 107 verses
4 to 6, which use similar language. That psalm recounts God's
providence toward His faithful people and punishment of the wicked generally.
The psalm is a praise of God and a description of how His works, including
both benefits and punishments, should bring people to repent of sins
glorify God. The rest of the book of Wisdom likewise recalls how
God uses benefits and punishments to bring people to repentance.
C. The dramatic contrast is with the waters of the Nile, along with the streams, canals and pools, turning to blood. See Ex. 7:1-24.
1. The punishment
matches the crime here, for as they shed the blood of infants and killed
them, see Ex. 1:15-22, so now the river, which was in a sense their
mother, will give them blood.
2. As Moses' prayer benefits the whole community and is attributed to them, so Pharaoh's crime is attributed to the whole nation.
- The result
seems harsh, but it is simply an application of the fact that people
affect each other, and in particular a ruler affects his whole nation.
See, e.g., Sir. 9:17-10:5; Prov. 29:4. This book has earlier emphasized
how important Wisdom is for rulers. See Wis. 1:1, 6:1-21, 24.
3. This punishment
is the first example of a theme of Wisdom, the notion that the very
things that constitute sins come back to punish the sinners. In
committing sins, people may not realize it, but they are becoming slaves
of the sins, and will be punished by them. See John 8:34; Rom.
6:16-17. Here, the Egyptians commit sin by shedding blood, and
so are punished by their river doing the same. Cf. Gen. 9:6.
D. The passage makes it clear, however, that God was trying, both by providing the water and by turning water into blood, to tech the Israelites and the Egyptians.
1. Noteworthily, the thirst of the Israelites in the desert was part of their training, preparing them for the miraculous drawing of water.
- This preparation
is one example of the ways in which God draws one deeper into the spiritual
realm by means of physical struggles.
- The thirst
also gave them a sense of the severity of the punishment inflicted upon
2. The contrast is between the Israelites, who were "mercifully chastised," and the Egyptians who were "judged in wrath."
had described the time in the desert as a time of testing and discipline.
See Duet. 8:1-5. This interpretation is a general principle
of the fact that God brings out greatness out of struggle. See
Wis. 3:5-6; Sir. 2:1-11.
- To those
who follow God, struggles in the world are paradoxically shows of God's
providence, to make us better and draw us closer to Christ. See
5:3-10; Mark 8:34; Heb. 12:7-11.
- By contrast,
to those who reject God, struggles are seen only as God's wrath, leading
to condemnation. See, e.g., Rev. 9:20-21, 16:9,11.
- There is
likewise a contrast between a stern king and a loving father.
Both promulgate rules and engage in disciplining (and rewards), but
one for the sake of having servants and the other for the sake of raising
sons and daughters who will inherit part of the kingdom. In Romans
and even more in Galatians, St. Paul emphasizes this point. See
Rom. 8:1-27; Gal. 3:7-5:12. Jesus likewise said at the Last Supper
that His disciples were no longer slaves, but friends. John 15:12-17;
cf. John 1;12; 1 John 3:2.
3. The Egyptians suffer, both because of their own struggles and by knowing God's providence for the Israelites, but this suffering can bring conversion.
- The suffering
is described as twofold: (1) their own punishment; and (2) the knowledge
that God had provided for the Chosen People, which could involve either
envy or knowledge that, had they turned to God in repentance, the punishment
need not have happened. When the Israelites were leaving,
the Egyptians were well disposed to them. See ex. 11:3, 12:36.
It is possible that that disposition did not last long, or that the
Egyptians were simply regretful of their own behavior.
prayers for mercy on Israel indicate that the Egyptians knew, or eventually
found out about, how the Israelites were faring in the desert.
See Num. 14:13-14
4. There is an optimistic conclusion, indicating that there may have been some sort of conversion.
- Verse 14
indicates that, although the Egyptians had rejected Moses, they would
come to marvel at him because the thirst of the Chosen People resulted
in His Providence, while they had to dig laboriously to get water.
Moses as "him who of old had been cast out and exposed" is interesting
because Moses was not literally cast out, but rather hid among the reeds
and rescued by a daughter of the Pharaoh. It was rather the multitude
of Hebrew boys who were so cast into the river. There seems to
be an identification of Moses with those slaughtered children; he would
represent them to the Pharaoh again and bring judgment for their deaths.
Cf. Wis. 5:1-5; Rev. 11:11-12.
- There may
also be a foretaste of Jesus who was cast out and killed, but then appears
- In any
case, the passage concludes that the Egyptians marveled at Moses.
It is not clear what effect this wonder produced, but there can be some
hope that at least some of them would be brought closer to the true
God, or at least future generations would be, by the events of the Exodus.
Thus, for example, there was one monotheistic Pharaoh Akehnaton, who
reigned from 1364-1347 B.C., which would seem to be shortly after the
Exodus. See 1 Kings 6:1 (the construction of the Temple, starting
about 960 B.C. was 480 years after the Exodus began.) This monotheism,
however, did not survive his reign.
- The Psalms
would speak of a day when even Egypt would be brought before the throne
of God, indicating how God can make even enemies His people. See
Ps. 87:4-7. There may be some implication that the Egyptian Jews
to whom this book is written are meant to bring this result about.