Bible Commentary: Proverbs 8

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Proverbs 8

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The Personification of Wisdom

Chapter 8 is the second appeal of wisdom in the prologue, following Proverbs 1:20-33, in the form of a hymn extolling its value and importance. Recall that the adulteress was “loud” and “outside, at times in the open square, lurking in every corner” (Proverbs 7:12) to waylay the simple. Wisdom is also to be found crying out all over town and wherever people might be found. But what she speaks is right (verses 8-9). And what she offers is priceless blessings far greater than any physical possessions or pleasures (verses 10-11, 18-21; compare Proverbs 3:14-15). She may seem undignified in hawking her wares everywhere, so to speak, but the point is that wisdom is not restricted to the higher echelons of society. She is available for everyone who will love her and seek her. Of course, wisdom is also vital for rulers. It is wisdom, skill in how to live and behave, that enables proper governance (Proverbs 8:15-16). Solomon understood this when He asked God for wisdom to rightly govern the nation of Israel.

We must not only love what God loves but also hate what He hates (verse 13).

God Himself made use of His own wisdom in creation (Proverbs 8:22-31; compare Proverbs 3:19-20). The personification of wisdom here has led some to believe that the preincarnate Jesus Christ is the One speaking as Wisdom in these verses. However, we must consider that Wisdom here speaks of having been “brought forth” before anything else (verses 24-25)—and this is not true of God the Word who always existed. Again, we must understand in this passage a personification of a quality that is not in actuality a person. While there are some parallels here with Jesus Christ, who served as the agent of God in creation and was the embodiment of divine wisdom, we should not make the mistake of equating Him with Woman Wisdom.

Still others see a parallel between the personification of wisdom and the Egyptian concept of Maat, though this is unlikely. The NIV Archaeological Study Bible explains: “In ancient Egypt Maat was the abstract principle of truth, order, justice and harmony—as well as the name of a goddess who personified those virtues. Kings were enjoined to practice Maat in order to ensure a long reign…. Scholars naturally wonder to what degree the Egyptian concept of Maat influenced Israelite thinking on justice and order in society. Specifically, the feminine personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 has been suggested to have been derived from the Egyptian goddess Maat…. It is difficult to posit a direct line of influence from Egypt to Israel on the subjects of order, justice or Maat. Both Israel and Egypt understood that justice and harmony are necessary for life to function smoothly. But Wisdom, in Proverbs 8, is a personification—not a goddess. She exemplifies the order and justice God has built into creation. Lady Wisdom appears elsewhere in Proverbs; for example in Proverbs 1:20-33 she calls upon people to heed her teachings and so to find life. The embodiment of wisdom as a lady who invites people to follow her is a distinctively Israelite idea, with no analogy in Egyptian teaching” (“Maat and Lady Wisdom,” sidebar on Proverbs 8, p. 971).

Wisdom’s direct appeal here ends with the assurance of life and blessings to those who find and heed her—and death to those who reject her (verses 32-36).