Listen to Wisdom’s Invitation


Wisdom has been set forth as the source of all understanding and as fundamental to the entire structure of the moral and mental world. It has been personified (e.g. 3:13-19) as of infinite value and as necessary for life, even constituting life. Now, in chapter 8, we find wisdom speaking, issuing a loud call, identifying itself as eternally abiding with and participating with the Creator. The distinction between life and death is bound up in how one relates to this personified source of revelation, righteousness, riches, rejoicing, and redemption.


I. The Call of wisdom – 8:1-5

A. Verses one and two assume that wisdom makes herself known by invitation. She raises her voice as if to say, “There is no need to go along day by day in foolishness and self-destruction. If you will draw the right conclusions from the revelation of God that is around you, you may achieve understanding.” Understanding means gathering sufficient information, arranging it all in a fitting manner, and using this properly perceived synthesis of facts in a way to produce right conduct. Wisdom does indeed “lift up her voice” and she ostentatiously “takes her stand” in everything that is seen.

B. Verses 3 and 4 emphasize, extending and intensifying this chorus of the obvious display of wisdom, that the way to understanding is not hidden but, in every prominent place that we live and move and have our being, it is there.This is consistent with Romans 1 that indicates that “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has showed it to them” (19). The God who created the world reveals his “eternal power and godhead” (Romans 1:20) within each flea, blade of grass, bumble-bee, storm and snowflake. Much more does he speak his wisdom in the marvelous traits, physical and mental, of all humanity. Both the intelligence and power of God should be inferred from the magnitude and inexhaustibly complex interconnections of all that exists. Beyond that, from the breathtaking beauty and symmetry of the whole, one should infer the infinite moral excellence of God, for true beauty is not merely physical but of mind and heart and spirit.

C. Verse four shows that this understanding and wisdom call to us as men, rational beings made in the image of God. They, understanding and wisdom, regard us as naturally able to respond to this call and draw conclusions for the right. None of the natural image of God has been destroyed but all the faculties by which we can investigate, observe, analyze, draw conclusions, and decide on a course of action are intact.

D. Verse five shows that this call comes to us as fallen beings, having perverted our senses so that we do not draw right conclusions, but pursue our selfish, God-dishonoring, punishable behavior. The moral image of God has been corrupted and rendered the tool of self-worship and the truth about God has been exchanged for a lie. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22). The clear call of wisdom presses itself relentlessly into our faculties of observation and demands that we consider its implications. Instead of wisdom and understanding, however, we prefer naivety and foolishness.


II. The Character of Wisdom – 8:6-9

A. Unabashedly, wisdom commands “Hear,” “Listen carefully” and with purpose of grasping the rich soul-demanding implications of the revelation around you. There is nothing shy or retiring about this call for its content is uncompromised in all that is right.

B. In verse 6, Wisdom claims to speak noble things, traits that build wholeness, strength, and trustworthiness in character; all that wisdom utters in any area is “right,” that is, it is consistent with the entire moral structure of the world as God has made it. Following this call of wisdom will not put one at odds with any principle or reality that is lasting and eternal and that is a manifestation of the unchanging character of God.

C. Verse 7 and 8 make affirmations and then contrast the affirmation with a corruption to be avoided. Truth comes from the lips for wisdom, for wickedness is an abomination to its lips. Wisdom has a settled and irreversible antagonism toward wickedness in speech (unlike the unrighteous whose “mouths are full of cursing and bitterness”) so it is morally impossible for anything but truth to come forth. Because truth necessarily involves righteousness, all the words of wisdom are righteous. James reminds us that the word of God is an expression of the character of God in its fullness: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:17, 18). All deviations, transgressions, from the righteous law of God are reprimanded and the beauty of following God’s law is highlighted: “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. . . . turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:34, 37).

D. Verse 9 shows that the words promulgated by wisdom commend themselves to those who understand and find knowledge. The one whose heart is changed from its inherited and personally-embraced corruption finds the word of God to be delightful and filled with life and wisdom. “They are all straightforward to him who understands” (9). Paul saw this in the Thessalonians when he wrote, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thess. 2:13)


III.  The Value of Wisdom – 8:10-21 – This passage shows that Wisdom and Understanding are infinitely above any earthly wealth, filling devotees with true treasure and endless resources of splendor.

A. Verse 10 and 11 make the straightforward comparison between the most precious and valuable earthly elements—gold, silver, and jewels—and instruction from wisdom [as we are assuming throughout, the revelation of God]. This reiterates what was emphasized in 3: 14, 15., and is repeated in verses 18, 19. Nothing of an earthly nature compares with the cordial reception of divine instruction. The ways of heaven and how to be rightly related to heaven’s king and to enjoy heaven’s glory makes all earthly advantage but nothing and even loss. As Paul learned, it must be counted as dung in comparison (Philippians 3: 7-9).

B. The companions of wisdom (12) all point to the way of life found by a proper fear of the Lord (13a). Throughout this passage (14-21), the writer mentions, prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, sound wisdom, insight, strength, just government, enduring wealth, righteousness, justice. Eternity in heaven will be governed by the eternal and infinite expression of these things. To the degree that they can be instituted among men in this world as the traits of human government, some aspect of heaven on earth will be experienced. Woe is us! It is seldom true.

C. Traits antithetical to wisdom are also many and often dominate human relations: Pride, arrogance, perverted speech, and the way of evil. All of these destructive forces are hated by wisdom.

D. One may see clearly the advantages obtained through following the way of wisdom and understanding. Kings reign, rulers and other nobles decree and govern justly, and one gains true riches and honor, wealth and righteousness, and fruit that is better than gold and silver. An inheritance that fills ones’ treasury with lasting beauty comes through wisdom. Moses considered the “reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26). Peter points to an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” and looked to a genuine faith that had been tested and proven as “more precious than gold.” (1 Peter 1:4, 7)

E. Verses 17 and 21 show that such wisdom will be found by those that seek for her and love her. The quality of wisdom is moral and will not be found by those that desire only their own advantage. Wisdom must be loved and sought for the spiritual and moral beauty described in this chapter. This cannot be achieved by a fallen man in his natural state of corruption but calls for a new birth : “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.” All of those qualities that constitute the fear of God, those qualities of the rightful rule of God over men, cannot be seen by one that is left merely to his own will, but will come to those in whose heart the love of God has been shed abroad by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:4, 5).


IV. The Provenance of Wisdom – 8:22-31

A. This personification of Wisdom shows its coexistence with God, its companionship with God, and its co-working with God. This should be seen as a poetic manifestation of the Son of God in a joyful eternal relationship with the Father and as working with the Father in all his will and works.

B. Wisdom is with the Father prior to any of the created things that came into being.

  1. The ancient heretic Arius took Verse 22 to mean that God created this person—the Son, therefore was the first of all created things. The verse actually is more subtle than that. Though the Septuagint used a word that can be translated “created” the word is more like “fathered.” To father and to create are quite different things. Something that is fathered shares the nature of the Father. The passage is unfolding the relationship between two living self-consciousnesses that are co-eternal but clearly have a relationship in which their personalities are distinct while they share a common being, or nature—distinct personal properties in the union of a common essence
  2. In verses 24 and 25 the idea of “brought forth” carries the force of generated according to his nature, not as a separate created thing of a different substance. David was “brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5) speaking of his generation in the moral likeness of his father so that from the moment of conception in his mother sin was present.
  3. When we are “brought forth” by the word of God (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:3, 23) we are given the character of the Holy Spirit that inspired the word and regenerates the dead soul through that word. We are constituted as spiritual persons through that word and thus made “partakers of the divine nature.” Although we do not become gods through the new birth, the holiness we have as a result of the new birth is the true holiness of the Holy Spirit operating as a sanctifying influence.
  4. The Son of God, however, as brought forth by the Father lives eternally and participates in his nature as infinite, eternal, unchangeable, self-existent (“life in Himself” John 5:26) in being, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. This is the doctrine of the “eternal generation of the Son,” called by Gill, “an article of faith most surely to be believed.”

C. Before all the things that are created, Wisdom operated alongside Yahweh. “Without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).

D. The Father’s will and power in creation was exhibited through the Son “as a master workman,” (30) Compare 3:19, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth.” “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things” (Colossians 1:16, 17). “When he established the heavens, I was there” (27).

E. The Lord found great delight in this Wisdom that was alongside Him, that was eternally generated by Him, and wisdom reciprocated by rejoicing before the Lord. In addition, because the world reflected the perfect unity of purpose and power between the Lord and Wisdom, Wisdom rejoiced in the work of creation (“the world, His earth”), particularly the rational part made in his image, “having my delight in the sons of men” (verses 30, 31). “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).


V. A Fitting Admonition from Wisdom – 8:32-36

A. Now that we see more clearly the personal and infinitely excellent nature of wisdom, we can understand that true blessing comes through keeping its ways. All spiritual blessings are ours in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

B. According to verses 34 and 35 we must always be in active pursuit of the blessings that come from wisdom. We should esteem these blessings higher than all others for they make us sons of God, grant us forgiveness of sins, gain for us justification, and all the grace the end whereof is eternal life. “He who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord” (35) “He that has the Son, has life” (1 John 5:12; cf. John 3:36). “He [God the Father] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom—righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”

C. Failure to find this wisdom is fatal and plunges the self-reliant person into eternal death. “Those who hate me, love death” (36) “He that hath not the son of God, hath not life” (1 John 5:12). “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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