THE BOOK OF WISDOM – PART VIII
WISDOM AS ESSENTIAL
I. Chapter 6, verses 1-21, concludes the first part of the book by again exhorting all peoples in leadership (and by extension all of the faithful) to pursue wisdom as the guiding star of their lives.
A. The idea is that
wisdom is not simply an optional talent, but one that is essential to
any leadership, lest one both govern poorly and draw condemnation upon
B. Directly, the address is to those in command, that they may govern wisely.
1. However, all
peoples are meant to have a certain authority over their own households
and projects, and thus are recipients of this message. See, Cf. Ps.
127:3-5, 128:3-4. This message is perhaps especially present in the
Book of Tobit, in which the faithful family is the center of attention
as the Assyrian Empire rises and falls in the background.
2. In addition,
even in the Old Testament, there is a vision of all the peoples joining
with God in judgment. See Ps. 149:7; Prov. 31:23; Dan. 7:27.
This vision was emphasized in chapter 3, verse 8. The New Testament
makes even clearer that all of the faithful will be judges. See
Matt. 19:28, 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-17; 1 Cor. 5:2; Rev. 5:20.
if one is in the position of choosing or voting for leaders, in this
context as well, a knowledge of the need for wisdom is important.
See, e.g., Act 6:3.
C. This conclusion of the first part is apparently constructed in four sections, although there are different ways of ordering it.
1. The first section, which most likely consists of verses 1-9, warns then rulers, especially kings and magistrates, that they need wisdom to govern rightly and to avoid harsh judgment on themselves.
a. It begins,
in verses 1 and 2, with an exhortation that those in power must listen
carefully to the words of God, and then ends in verse 8 and 9 by saying
that these words are addressed especially to them.
3 emphasizes that the authority comes from God, but verse 7 and 8 remind
the rulers that God also shows no partiality, and that all are equal
in His eyes.
c. In the middle, verses 4-6 warn about the judgments that will
come to rulers
who govern poorly.
2. The second
section, which seems to consist of verses 10-12, then tries to stir
up a personal desire for wisdom on the grounds that one will be holy
and ready for judgment.
3. The third
section, which consists of verses, 12-16 describes Wisdom as a woman
who is easily accessible to those who make the effort to be with her.
4. The fourth
section, which consists of verses 17-21, describes the growth in wisdom,
from the desire for her, through discipline to the keeping of her laws,
and finally to incorruptibility and closeness to God in a new and eternal
II. The first section emphasizes both the glory of those in authority insofar as they have received nothing less than a calling by God, but also the warning that they are under His judgment.
A. The first two verses set up the theme that those in power must listen carefully to these words.
1. When Jesus
or the prophets are emphasizing a controlling point or dealing with
the sluggish in thought, as those in power may well be, the discourse
to shake them out of it often begins with words such as "Hear" or
"Listen." See, e.g., Duet 6:3-4, 9:1; Is. 1:2, 1:10, 33:13,
Jer. 2:4, 6:18-19; Ez. 18:25, 25:3, 37:4; Hos. 4:1, 5:1; Amos 3:1, 4:1,
Mic. 1:2; Matt. 13:8.
2. This particular
passage is perhaps most similar to Jeremiah 22:1-9. However, in
the Book of Wisdom the passage is addressed to all rulers of the earth,
not simply the king of Judah. The implication is that all rulers
in the end are guided, or at least meant to be guided by God.
See John 19:11; Rom. 13:1-7; cf. 2 Chron. 36:23; Is. 44:24-45:25; Dan.
3. In the Gospels,
there will be a contrast between those who lord it over the peoples
(or boast of many nations, in some translations) and the followers of
Christ who delight in serving others. See Mark 10:42-45; Luke
22:25-30. While not going as far as Jesus in describing the paradox
of service rather than power leading to glory, this passage sets up
the idea by describing all authority as belonging in the end to God
and owed back to Him.
B. Verse 3 very plainly emphasizes that all rightful authority comes from God.
1. In ancient
Israel, it was understood that the governance of that nation came from
God and thus the ruler was guided by Him and meant to be responsible
to Him. See, e.g., 1 Sam. 9:1-16, 16:1-13, 2 Sam. 7:9-16, 23:2-7;
Ps. 45. In addition, they expected a future king who would give
glory to Israel and come to govern all nations. See, e.g., Ps.
2, 110; Is. 7:14-17, 9:2-7, 16:4-5, Jer. 23:1-6, Ez. 37:23-24.
2, Here, this
principle that authority is from God is extended to all nations, as
the Book of Proverbs had said and as St. Paul will later make clear.
See Prov. 8:15-16; Rom. 13:1-2.
3. But, precisely
because authority is from God, the passage warns, judgments are subject
to His law. As the Catechism makes clear, the political and religious
realms are separate. However, all politics must be based upon
an accurate or inaccurate view of the human person and of human rights.
And a lack of faith can lead to an inaccurate view, which in turn can
lead to great injustice. See Catechism 2244-46, 2257; cf. Vatican
II Council, Gaudium et Spes 74, 76 (1965.)
C. The passage then turns toward the rulers and condemns them for failing to exercise judgment in accord with God's law.
1. The prophets
had often condemned the kings and other rulers for failing to judge
rightly. See, e.g., 1 Sam. 13:1-15; 2 Sam. 12:1-24, 24:1.
Here, this judgment is applied to rulers across the board.
2. Rulers are even warned that their judgment will be stricter because the lowly are more easily pardoned. There are several possible reasons why the lowly may be more easily pardoned.
a. The damage
done by them would presumably be the less. Cf. Sir. 10:1-5.
b. They would
not necessarily be responsible for knowing as much. See Luke 12:47-48.
c. The lowly
state may make them more humble and, therefore, more open to repentance.
See Duet. 8:6-20.
d. The sufferings
of this life may have made them more repentant and brought them more
to God. See Duet. 4:30-31; Luke 15:1-32.
3. In any case,
as with Moses and Aaron, who were denied entrance to the Promised Land
because of single faults (and in Moses' case a seemingly minor one),
the rulers have to be particularly attentive to wisdom. See Num.
D. The passage goes on to remind the powerful that the Lord will not prefer them to anyone else, for their greatness is as nothing before Him.
- And, in fact
the scrutiny is the greater for the wealthy, for their position demands
more attention. By contrast, the struggles of the lowly often
make them favored by God, a theme Hannah and Mary sing about in their
canticles. See 1 Sam. 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55.
- The king and
other rulers were called upon to show no partiality in judgment.
See Duet. 1:17, 16:18-20; 2 Chron. 19:6-7. The Lord, the perfect
king, is completely impartial, as Moses had told the people in the context
of calling for them to seek the Lord and recognize His favors.
See Duet. 10:12-22.
- Here, this
principle is applied to each and every ruler, telling them that seeking
and living in the wisdom of God, not their position, is what will bring
favor to God.
E. This section then
concludes by emphasizing again the need for the princes of the world
to pay attention both positively that they may be wise and negatively
that they may avoid sin in their missions. This passage
then connects this section to the next two verses, which give the more
practical goal for seeking wisdom.
III. Verses 10 and 11 summarize the preceding passage and summarize three practical reasons for pursuing wisdom, i.e. achieving holiness, having a defense when judged, and being able truly to learn.
A. First, the passage says that it is the seeking of wisdom that rulers may be holy and thus, by implication, make their people so. Moses had of old told the people that they should be holy as God is holy. See Lev. 11:45, 19:2; Duet. 4:2, 21.
- In order to
be holy they were to carry out the various precepts of the holiness
code, including the laws of cleanliness and against idolatry.
See also 1 Peter 1:16.
- This passage
indicates that the controlling principle of these instructions is wisdom,
which leads to that holiness, for all wisdom is with God, the Holy One.
- Jesus will
later, in the Sermon on the Mount, tell the people to see goodness in
others and thus to be holy as God is holy. See Matt. 5:48; see
also 1 John 3:3. Jesus describes love as the controlling principle
of the law. See, e.g., Matt. 22:34-40; Mark12:28-34; Luke
10:25-28. Wisdom, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, is the vision or judgment
that is affiliated with love. Summa Theologica II-II q. 45 art.
B. Second, the passage says that, with wisdom, the leaders will have a ready response, or will have a defense.
- The idea seems
to be that, when it comes time to appear before the judge the wise will
be able to give an account of their lives and their use of authority.
Jesus refers to this principle especially in the parable of the talents.
See Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27.
C. The final advantage
is, if one really longs for wisdom, as opposed to ignoring her or learning
precepts for a lesser reason, one can really receive instruction.
As Isaiah and Jesus point out, one can hear but not understand, see
but not comprehend. See Is. 6:9-10; Matt. 13:14-15; Mark 4:12.
In particular, the blindness that comes from arrogance and a lack of
repentance prevents true learning in the ways of God. See, e.g.,
John 3:19-21, 9:41. By contrast, one who really wants wisdom will
be learned in the ways of God.
IV. The passage then describes wisdom as available to all who really seek her.
A. The author is responding to a possible objection that the ordinary man or ordinary ruler does not have the talent or time to be wise.
1. The Book of
Sirach, which was probably written around 200 B.C., but translated into
Greek about 70 years later, had distinguished between two types of good
wisdom. He had said that all people who are steadily at work ca
come to participate in God's handiwork and enter into His order.
See Sir. 38:25-34. But it is the scribe who is free from other
labors and can devote himself to the study of the law who can be a wise
teacher and counselor. See Sir. 38:24, 39:1-11.
2. With this
passage alone, one may conclude that it is only the learned man who
can ascend to the highest levels of wisdom. This passage in the
Book of Wisdom indicates, however, that the office of teacher or counselor
is not the highest, but rather that Wisdom in herself is available to
3. There is an
indication here of the universal calling of the Spirit that would occur
at Pentecost and is the basis for the universal call to holiness that
the Church teaches to this day. See Acts 3:14-21; Vatican II Council,
Lumen Gentium 40; Catechism 2013.
B. First, the passage says that Wisdom is radiant, as opposed to hidden or dark. The implication is that she is easy to see, not hidden away as a secret.
1. Moses had
said long ago that the commandments of God are not remote, but are in
fact in our mouths and hearts. See Duet. 30:11-14.
Likewise, he prayed for the day when the prophetic spirit of God would
be poured out upon all the people of God. See Num. 11:29.
And Joel had prophesied that, in the age to come, this wish would be
fulfilled. See Joel 3:1-2.
2. The Book of
Proverbs had already indicated that Wisdom is available to all people
who diligently seek her. See Prov. 8:17. The Book
of Wisdom here elaborates on this theme. As with that book, which
was probably composed from about the eighth the sixth or fifth centuries
B.C., wisdom is here presented as a woman eager to be known.
3. The contrast
is with the Gnostic tendency to present the deepest knowledge as secret
and available only for the few elect. God does sometimes keep
things secret until the proper time for revelation. See, e.g.,
Dan. 12:4; Rom. 16:25. But all that is needed for wisdom and holiness
is available to all.
C. Verses 13-16 indicate the paradox, however, of how wisdom is both available to all, yet only achieved by those who desire her.
1. On the one
hand, as with Proverbs chapters 1, verses 20-33 and chapters 8-9, the
lady Wisdom seeks out those who wish for her and is right at hand with
them. She travels around the streets seeking those who wish for
her, as in a sense an evangelist. And to those who are with her, she
frees them from care and is pleasant to them.
2. But there are conditions on finding her:
a. One must
watch at the dawn, which implies the sort of discipline involved in
awaking early, i.e. not being slothful.
b. One must also take thought
of her, i.e. use the intellect.
c. One must
also keep vigil for her, i.e. be patient in awaiting her, and be willing
to put the effort into being with her.
d. And one
must be worthy of her. For, as chapter 1 had stated, Wisdom will
not enter a sullied heart. Wis. 1:4-6.
V. Finally, this section, and the first part of the book, concludes with a series of connections that wisdom guides one along to arrive at a glorious kingdom of which earthly glory is but an image.
A. The overall type
of literature here is called a "sortie," i.e. a series of statements
in which each one leads to the next and finally to a climatic conclusion.
Other examples of this device include Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4.
B. First, there is
the desire for wisdom in the first place. This desire may seem
obvious, but the question is whether one really wants true wisdom, rather
than worldly wisdom, see 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, 2:6-16, and really care
about her enough to have her regardless of the cost. See Sir.
2:1-5. People will frequently desire more knowledge until it means
that their life will have to change. See Mark 6:17-29; Acts 17:22-32.
C. The desire for
wisdom, and her instruction, leads, through discipline, to a real love
for her. There is a difference between a desire and a deep love
that will overcome all resistance, a love willing and indeed eager to
sacrifice for his beloved.
D. The love for her must lead one to head her laws. There is a reminder here, as Jesus will make later, that love for the divine must involve keeping the divine commandments. See John 15:10, 14. As time goes on the laws become more internalized and one does them as a matter of second nature. But there can never be a conflict between the love of God and the laws of God.
- And the law
is not just moral law, but the entire eternal law through which Wisdom
governs everything. To keep the moral law is to enter into this
Wisdom. Cf. Catechism 1951.
E. Thus, the keeping of the laws of Wisdom leads one to this eternal realm, which is immortal. The promise here is that one not only has access to knowledge and contemplation of this eternal, immortal realm, but also through Wisdom enters into it and become immortal.
- The human soul
is immortal in the sense that it can never be destroyed. But it
can condemn itself to a living death, a second death described in the
Book of Revelation, but permanently keeping itself from ever arriving
at its rightful goal of holiness. Rev. 20:14-15. It thus
becomes an unrecognizable wreck forever. See Matt. 7:21-23.
- Wisdom by contrast
allows one into that eternal realm beyond any more loss or separation,
in which all glory and joy is permanent.
F. It is in this
eternal realm that one finally comes to be with God, an astonishing
privilege, for even the angels veil their faces before God. See
Is. 6:2. And yet He calls us to be His sons and daughters and
friends. See John 1:12, 15:15; 8:14-17; Gal. 4:4-6; Rev. 3:21.
G. Thus, the passage concludes, if one takes delight in an earthly kingdom, how much more should one seek the eternal kingdom in the presence of God.
- There is, as with the promise of a kingdom in chapter 3, verse 8, and the promises of Jesus that His faithful would reign with Him, both a democratic notion that wisdom is available to all, but also the notion of an exclusiveness insofar as there is a need for struggle. The crowning glory of this struggle is, however, the pageantry and glory of a kingdom.