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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Please identify the character called “wisdom” in Proverbs 8:22-26.
Allow me to share with you some of my thoughts on that passage and its implications for our understanding of the person of Jesus.
1. The Origin of Wisdom: Wisdom is described as if it were a person, and its origin is located in God Himself: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works” (verse 22). The verb translated “to bring forth” can be rendered in English “he acquired/conceived/created me.” The basic meaning of the Hebrew verb qanah seems to be “to possess” (Prov. 4:5-7). One can acquire or possess something in different ways. One of them is through begetting (Gen. 4:1). In Proverbs the context seems to suggest the idea of conception. The phrase “as the first of his works” can be translated “in the beginning of his way”; when God began to create, wisdom was already there.
“I was appointed from eternity” (verse 23). One of the possible meanings of the verb nasak is precisely “to appoint” (Ps. 2:6). In that case God appointed wisdom from eternity, before the world began, to some specific function. We are not informed concerning the nature of that appointment.
It may also be that the verbal root is sakak, “to weave.” The psalmist used that same verb to describe the process of gestation in his mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13). In that case Proverbs 8:23 would be describing the eternal process of gestation of wisdom within the Divine Being. It would be metaphorically describing the divine thoughts as taking different shapes, growing like an embryo within the mother. Wisdom is personified in Proverbs, but it is fundamentally a divine attribute; it belongs to God’s being and is hidden within Him.
In verse 24—“When there were no oceans I was given birth”— God’s wisdom is described as coming into existence through birth, and yet it was always part of God’s being. The language employed throughout this passage is highly metaphorical, but the message is clear: Before God began His creative work, wisdom was already part of His being. But when God began to create, wisdom was born into the world; in other words, everything that came into existence was first conceived in God’s mind. The implication is that through God’s power wisdom took the concrete form of the realities that we observe today. Therefore, when we explore the natural world we are analyzing God’s wisdom, because that wisdom determined not only the physical structure of the created world but also its functions.
2. Obtaining Wisdom: Allow me to move away from the passage somewhat to deal with the issue of how wisdom is obtained. The source of wisdom is always God: “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). We are recipients of true wisdom as we reflect on that which we have seen and experienced. This type of wisdom is preceded by the “fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7). The fear of the Lord is the sphere within which it is possible to obtain wisdom; it is the recognition that God is the Creator and Redeemer.
Once that presupposition was accepted, the wise went out to obtain wisdom, using basically the same methods we use today. They observed, analyzed, and drew conclusions (Prov. 24:30-34). They used the rational abilities God had given them to explore the intelligibility of the created world. Nature revealed the wisdom and power of God.
3. Christ and Wisdom: The New Testament stresses the religious significance of wisdom by referring to Christ as wisdom. Paul wrote: “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). God’s wisdom is now revealed in the person and work of our Lord. Without Him it is impossible to acquire true wisdom. This does not deny the value and the need to continually look for God’s wisdom in the created world, but it calls us to do it with the understanding that the most glorious revelation of God’s wisdom is now located in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and mediation of our Lord. Divine wisdom is uniquely present in a Person and not only in the objects of the natural world. We need to contemplate God’s wisdom in the person of Christ.