Listen to Wisdom’s Invitation

Prov. 8:1-6,17-21,32-36; 9:12-18

I. The Call of wisdom – 8:1-5

A.   Verse one sets the assumption that wisdom makes herself known by invitation. She raises her voice as if the 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 mean 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.

C.  Verse four shows that this understanding and wisdom call to us as men, rational beings made in the image of God. They 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 in tact.

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).

II. The Character of Wisdom – 8:6-9

A. Unabashedly, wisdom commands “Hear.” 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. 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]. 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.

B.  The companions of wisdom all point to the way of life found by a proper fear of the Lord (13a). The writer mentions, prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, sound wisdom, insight, strength, just government, enduring wealth, righteousness, justice.

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.

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

A. This personification of Wisdom shows its coexistence with God, its companionship with God, and it 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. The ancient heretic Arius took Verse22 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 personal that are co-eternal but clearly have a relationship in which their personalities are distinct while they share a common being, or nature. 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. 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. 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.

C. Before all the things that are created, Wisdom operated alongside Yahweh.  “Without him was not anything made that was made.”

D. The Father’s will and power in creation was exhibited through the Son “as a master workman.” Compare 3:19. “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)

E. The Lord found great delight in this Wisdom that was alongside Him, that was eternally generated by Him, and rejoiced also in the work of creation, particularly the rational part made in his image – verse 30, 31. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

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 place 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 that has the Son, has life.” “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. “He that hath not the son of God, hath not life.”

VI. Wisdom has placed herself in the open so that those who see her value may benefit from her – 9:1-12

A. Verse 1 and 2 show that everything in the way of wisdom is established and its feast is made ready. The house of wisdom is complete and perfectly sturdy and the delights in receiving this invitation are many.

B.  Verse 3 indicates that the invitation is fresh and attractive and set forth in a place of prominence (see comments on 8:1-3)

C. Verses 4 – 6 show that the cure for naivety and senseless conduct is a trip into the domain of wisdom in order to partake of the sturdy fare set forth there.

D. Verse 7-9 show that receptivity or resistance to wisdom implies the prior possession of a spirit sympathetic to or hostile to wisdom. Chapter 1:22 indicates that the simple love being simple and the scoffer loves scoffing. The wicked scoffer will only abuse the one that seeks to help him turn into the way of wisdom. “Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser.”

E.  Verses 10 through 12 set forth the prerequisite of the fear of God and the benefits of that frame of heart. Since in the natural man “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Psalm 36:1 [Romans 3:18])  a work of grace must prepare the heart for a willingness to receive the invitation of wisdom. None can learn wisdom apart from having a heart that fears God. (1:7, 29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13) None will fear God apart from the peculiar and effectual operations of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3). The one that thus learns wisdom will receive great personal benefit while the scoffer will reap the harvest of a scornful life.

VI. Folly has disguised herself as a quicker and more pleasant way to life but only produces death – 9:13-18. Folly mimics the invitation of wisdom and gives a similar invitation. It is to this invitation that the fool and the scoffer will respond for it is consistent with their self-centered, feverish quest for personal pleasure, even at the expense of others, even if it comes through sinister and unjust means. The cry of folly is shrill and sensational and based, not on knowledge, but on fallen appetites. It perfectly fits Paul’s description in Ephesians 4: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” The guests of folly reside only shortly in the house of her temporary and illicit pleasure, but finally will make their bed in the “depths of sheol” under the scorn and laughing and mocking of an enraged Wisdom that had given so persistent and so kind an invitation (2:24-26)

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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