Summary: Year C. The Holy Trinity Sunday Proverbs 8: 22-31 June 10th, 2001 Title: “Wisdom is the intermediary.”
Year C. The Holy Trinity Sunday Proverbs 8: 22-31 June 10th, 2001
Title: “Wisdom is the intermediary.”
If Genesis 1-4 contains two “creation narratives, Proverbs 8: 22-31 contains a pre-creation narrative. It sings the praises of Wisdom by answering two questions: what is Wisdom’s origin, that is, where did Wisdom come from? And what is Wisdom’s role in creation, that is, what does Wisdom do? The answers come in the form of poetry, not philosophy or theology, with Wisdom speaking for herself?
Herself? Yes, Wisdom is depicted as a woman. Wisdom is, then, personified. Personification is a literary device which represents abstract ideas, inanimate objects, and even animals as if they were human beings. This is done to enliven an otherwise dull presentation, to create an atmosphere, to get the reader’s attention, or to bring an otherwise distant topic close to home. Thus, Wisdom is pictured as a woman, a teacher, a prophetess, a hostess, a bride, and a faithful lover.
In verses twenty-two to twenty-six, Wisdom describes her origin as lying in remotest antiquity, even before the creation of the world. In verses twenty-seven to thirty-one, she moves on to describe the part she played and continues to play at God’s side when he created the world and continues to create it. She is an ambivalent figure who is at home with God, coming from him and ever at his side, delighting him and delighting in him. She is also at home with humans, taking delight to be their playmate and delighting them with her gifts, teaching them a better way to live, a way she learned from the Creator. Wisdom, as a result of her bi-polar experience is the meeting place between God and humans, the way by which these two realms can understand each other and communicate with each other.
It is easy to see the development of the notion of Wisdom and especially its “personification” being the forerunner of Christ, especially in John’s way of putting it: “the Word, read Wisdom, became flesh and dwelt among us,” according to John 1: 14. What is said here and read here of Wisdom certainly describes Christ’s origins and role.
In verse twenty-two the Lord begot me: The Hebrew verb, qanah, can mean “create,” “acquire,” “beget,” or even “procreate.” Here it means either “beget” or “create,’ indicating that Wisdom is distinct from God, though his own “issue” in some mysterious way. The ambiguity of this word, qanah, has given rise to great controversy regarding the Trinity and the natures of Christ. Was Wisdom created or begotten? We must remember that this is poetry and should not press for too precise a meaning. We are dealing with metaphorical language here. In fact the ideas of creation and birth are not so diametrically opposed in the Old Testament as one might suppose, given their dissection by later Western non-poetical thinkers. In the Old Testament birth can be described as an act of creation Psalm 139:13; Deuteronomy 32:6, and an act of creation can easily be described as birth Psalm 90:2. The language is, in any case, metaphorical and poetical, and the choice between “created” and “begot” is not of great importance.
The firstborn of his ways: Wisdom, as firstborn, looks like God the most and closest and acts more like God than the rest of his creation put together. Wisdom would be. in our terms, the “spitting image” of God. Thus, through her, God’s act of creation also becomes an act of communication, a revelation of himself in terms that creatures can relate to. God is not so transcendent and aloof that he cannot communicate or does not communicate with creation in understandable terms.
In verse twenty-three, from of old I was poured forth,’ “From of old” translates the Hebrew, me`olam, “from eternity,” “from forever.” Wisdom existed before creation, regardless of how one pictures her coming into being. In other contemporary cultures creation came into being as a result of a battle with chaos and evil, a victory of order and good over chaos and evil. Other gods and human heroes came into being as a result of sexual intercourse between two gods or a god and a human. All this is avoided in Scriptures depiction of similar events.
In verses twenty-four to twenty-nine, using a format similar to that of Gensis 1-2:4a the sacred author mentions various creative acts- the depths, fountains, springs, mountains, hills, earth, field, heavens ,sea. In Genesis they are mentioned to declare their existence, being created by God. Here they are mentioned to declare Wisdom’s pre-existence. Wisdom was there when these were created and so existed before creation and assisted in their creation.
In verse thirty, “his craftsman.” The word used here is Hebrew `amon. It can mean either a master workman or foreman or artisan or a favorite child. Here it means both. The craftsman both takes delight in his work and gives delight to those who benefit from it. A child both is delighted at play and delights his or her admiring parent.