Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity: Proverbs 8:11-22

“Wisdom is better than jewels” (Proverbs 8:11), because wisdom endures while riches perish.  “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  This reading from the opening section of Proverbs emphasizes this truth, because all else is vanity and only with wisdom will a man truly prosper.

Wisdom speaks and describes the way of wisdom, somewhat in contrast to folly, but primarily positively.  The language of prudence, knowledge, and discretion, recalling the very beginning of the book (Proverbs 1:4), emphasizes virtue.  To be virtuous is to fear God, and to fear God is to hate what is evil.  A delight in what is corrupt shows that a man cannot be virtuous.  The godly man hates evil, just as the Lord hates evil.

Rulers govern also with wisdom (Proverbs 8:15-16).  All authority comes from God, and therefore one can say that all rulers exist because of the will of God (Romans 13:1-7).  Wicked rulers also serve as instruments in the hand of the living God, just as Nebuchadnezzar, whose name bears the name of the god Nabu, is described as God’s servant (Jeremiah 27:6).  However, as wisdom is not a vague virtue in the Scriptures, just and wise rulers are those who fear the living God (Psalm 2:10-11).

Wisdom is not elusive either, as if it hid even from those who feared the Lord.  Jesus says very clearly to His disciples:  “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).  James also says:  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).  It must be emphasized that only those who fear the Lord will seek after wisdom, for the unbelieving fool has no such desire.

But for those who fear God and give Him glory, wisdom is a treasure far excelling all earthly things.  “More to be desired are [His commandments] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:10-11).  This promised inheritance comes for those who seek after wisdom and will “fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:21).  Those who trust in the Lord have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).  Therefore, with such hope in the resurrection, we labor “as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward” (Colossians 3:23-24).

The last verse of this pericope, Proverbs 8:22, points to a couple of things.  On the one hand, it emphasizes, as in Job 28:25-28, that the Lord’s work in creation highlights the call to wisdom.  Recognizing that God has weighed out and measured the world in the act of creation is to also recognize that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).  “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

On the other hand, wisdom is clearly described in Proverbs 8:22-31 as being involved in the creation of the world.  This is not a vague reference, but rather an identification with Christ, the Word through whom all things were made (John 1:3).  The Septuagint’s use of the word “created” instead of “possessed” here led some, notably Arius, to imagine that the Son was the first of God’s creations and thus different from the Father.  Passages such as John 1 clearly deny such a conclusion, since the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Here in Proverbs, therefore, we have a poetic description of an eternal reality:  the Father eternally begets the Son, so that even before the foundation of the world and the beginning of time, the Holy Trinity exists entirely self-sufficiently and unchangingly.

Therefore, in Jesus, who is Wisdom, we see the clearest picture of what it means to fear the Lord.  “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).