Proverbs 8: Wisdom, Our Creator
Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Proverbs, chapter 8.
Proverbs is a book of wisdom; think about it like a letter written by a father and a mother to their children, and to generations they’ll never get to meet; telling them what’s actually important in life, and how to live it right. Wisdom is calling out in the streets, they write, but it’s hard to hear over the noise of everything going on in the world. There’s so much being said—it’s hard to know what’s good and nourishing.
I started out in this series making a contrast, drawing a line between wisdom and what we’ve replaced it with in our time: immediacy and information. The world is happy to tell you everything popular and trending and therefore, from the world’s perspective, important and true. But in all the noise forming us, shaping and misshaping us spiritually, do we know what’s wise? Can we step out of our own perspectives, for just a moment, and notice the way we see the world? Can we be honest, that not all progress has been toward a good end?
We’ve talked about those things which are meant to be at the core of our lives; things like love, wisdom, family, compassion, and the Spirit of God. They are necessary things, to keep in your heart, meaning at the deepest part of your thoughts and desires. Your heart is like a well or a spring. If you lose it, or if you allow the enemy to poison it, you run dry.
For the past couple weeks, we’ve been studying death, trying to get a good understanding of death and evil. Sin and death consume you without ever being satisfied, but death doesn’t always look like some monster with a gaping mouth trying to swallow you whole. Sometimes death seduces you. Sometimes it looks fun and exciting. And usually evil is proud of itself. It doesn’t hide, it argues for itself on Twitter until everyone calls it truth. It throws itself a gala and gives itself an award.
This week, the focus shifts to wisdom. Wisdom personified as a woman who, together with God, created the world and fills it with life; life—not death. It’s a beautiful passage, let’s read it.[Proverbs 8]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.
This morning, after four weeks of studying death, finally we get to know wisdom.
The first thing I want you to see in our passage is how jovial wisdom is, which I know is not a word we use, I’ll explain. Wisdom is jovial. Again, jovial isn’t a word we use much anymore, and even when we do the real meaning is lost. We think of jovial people being happy people, and they are, but that’s not what I’m trying to tell you about God and wisdom. The word came into our language through latin, after the ancient Italian god, Jove or what by Roman times was named Jupiter, and in the middle ages called fortuna major, and in our day is largely forgotten, to our detriment. The closest word still in use is magnanimous.
The idea is that of a person who has inherited wealth and power, either through ancestry or through fortune, and who uses his wealth and his power for the benefit of the common people in his city because he or she honestly and genuinely cares for the people as he cares for his own children. Like Nehemiah feeding the poor of his city at his own table and using his power to stop the usury impoverishing them. Like Esther endangering her own life because the lives of her people were in danger. Like David dancing and celebrating in the streets with his people. Like Christ, who was given all power in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and he used it to save and glorify his people even though it meant his own humiliation and death. Jovial, a ruler who uses his power to protect and uplift his people.
We’ve lost the word, and sometimes I despair we’ve lost the practice of joviality. Though my despair is in vain—Christ lives, still, “a great high priest whose name is love.” We’re used to the wealthy and powerful living in ivory towers wearing culottes sipping fine wine and writing lifestyle blogs. They’re all friends with each other, because they’re invited to the same events and vacation at the same resorts. We talk about their lives like the ancients would have told stories of their pantheon of gods who live at the top of the tallest mountain.
Meanwhile, the common people—I like to use the word folk—the folk don’t often spend time in ivory towers or at private resorts, they live in cottages in the woods, or out in the woods, themselves, or in urban jungles. They work for a living, and they share struggles. Sometimes they have families and gardens. They all know each other from the school or the neighborhood or the church. They’re just regular folk.
I’ve never seen a starker divide between the folk and the elites than when I lived in Boston. The folk of Boston are very proud of being folkish, almost aggressive about their non-eliteness. They get their coffee at Dunkin Doughnuts. Every last person. Or from local shops. There’s like one Starbucks, and if you ask people if they’ve been there they tell you, “no, I’m not fancy.” Everyone loves and watches sports all the time. A new burger place opened once in town and they booked reservations four months out. They have multiple major league teams, every sport. And instead of fine wine, everyone drinks beer—because, again, they’re not fancy. They’re just folk.
We lived in Salem, just North of Boston proper. Across the bay from Salem is a town called Beverly, and on the water in Beverly there was a kind of wealth I had never seen before. Our friends worked for a family in Beverly who let our friends live in the three-bedroom apartment above their boat garage in exchange for buying groceries for the family. No one in the family worked. They spent Fall and Summer in Boston, and the winter and Spring in Florida. When they were in Florida, they still had our friends grocery shop for them, they just also had them package the food in dry ice and overnight it to them in Florida, like they were trying to invent the most expensive version of Hello Fresh.
And I know it’s easy to hear stuff like that and get angry, especially if you’ve spent your life in struggle or lacking basic necessities, and the Bible certainly has a lot to say about society and the care and concern God wants us to show for each and every person, the equality he desires in the blessed community, but this passage is not that. This passage is bringing up wealth and class to make a point: that wisdom is jovial.
So often in the ancient world, as in our world, many things would have been reserved for the elites who lived at the tops of the mountains in castles—pleasant things like gold, silver, jewelry, perfume, fine clothing. The best food, the best wine, the highest art and entertainment—just like today. But Solomon is saying, wisdom is not one of those things.
He says wisdom is a fine thing. Like gold and silver—better than. It is queenly and noble. Wisdom is just also Jovial. Wisdom isn’t retained for the elites, for those who can pay for the best education. She’s in the markets because she loves her people. She’s in the streets, at the crossroads, in the square, constantly crying out and sharing with her people those things they need to thrive. Wisdom is jovial.
This characterization of wisdom is repeated in the New Testament book of James. In the same section in which the apostle asks the churches to make no distinction among your members of wealth and power, he says of God and wisdom, that God gives wisdom to everyone, generously, without finding fault, not just an educated elite. Wisdom is generous. Wisdom is jovial.
On every magazine, from every internet ad in our time, we see the message that there is some secret knowledge that will change your life and cause you to thrive. If only you knew this diet the elites know, or this investment, this business trick. If only you would read this article or watch this video.
Solomon is saying—no. There is nothing secret that is the key to thriving in life. In fact, if you stopped seeking satisfaction down all the wrong roads, you could find it right where you are in Christ. There is no secret knowledge you have to obtain to know the ways of God. You don’t have to read Greek or to have read the right books. Study is helpful, but the greatest truths of Christianity are the core truths you learned at first—that God loves you so much, he gave his life to save yours from death.
The key to thriving in life is able to be seen in the stars at night, in the rising and setting of the sun. The key to thriving in life is proclaimed by every tree, every blade of grass, every aspect of creation. Truth comes from the mouths of children, and wisdom from little children. God is not hiding those things we most need to know—he’s speaking his truth in every corner of his creation. He’s stirring your heart in every silent moment. We don’t have to climb up to God; he came down to us. If we are hidden from his love, from his grace, forgiveness, and wisdom, we are the ones who are hiding.
Secondly, from our text, wisdom is heavy. Wisdom is heavy. One of the words used most often to describe God—we translate it as glorious—but it literally just means heavy. God is heavy. In that culture, value was not counted, it was weighed. You didn’t have a 501k, you had grain. Not dollars, but cattle. If you went into the markets, exchanges would happen by weights and measures, and in v.11 and again in v.19 of our text Solomon imagines wisdom being weighed on scales with gold and silver, and he says wisdom is heavier. It’s of greater value. It’s worth more.
So wisdom is jovial, generously, lovingly available to every person, and it’s of more value than wealth and every fine thing. Wealth is able to buy the best toys. I tried to buy a new Xbox with wisdom at BestBuy; I wrote them a poem to trade for it, and they asked me to leave. You can’t give wisdom in exchange for toys, but wisdom is able to tell you, whether the child’s toy is the latest gaming system or a piece of cardboard, what they actually need is for you to play with them. Wisdom is heavy.
And money can send them to the best schools, set them on a path to success, but what they need is for you to love them and be proud of them even if they fail. I’ve seen money buy large houses, but I’ve never seen it fill the house with music and laughter. I’ve seen money raise up buildings, but I’ve never seen it lift up the oppressed. I’ve seen money buy fine clothes, but I’ve never seen it clothe a person in righteousness, to where people see your works and praise the God who made you. Wisdom is heavy. It’s weighty. It’s more valuable than anything else.
And I know at least one person in the room is thinking, between your poem and the new Xbox, I’ll take the Xbox. But that was a joke, that’s not how the choice comes. No, in real life, the choice between wisdom and things the world values comes as a choice between pursuing a family or pursuing a career. It comes in the form of a child trying to get your attention, or of your spouse’s phone call, or of an offering plate passed. The choice between wisdom and things the world values, in real life, looks like the choice between ignoring the pain and brokenness of the world and focusing on yourself or spending time, emotion, and money really helping.
The choice is daily, it is moment by moment, and I’m trying to tell you that wisdom is heavy. It’s worth more than all the things the world has to offer.
Wisdom is jovial, wisdom is heavy, and lastly, wisdom is life-giving. Wisdom is life-giving. We’ve been talking so much about all the things which lead to death. Let’s talk now about the things which give us life. Vs. 22-31 are this beautiful hymn about wisdom being present with God in the creation of the world, and at least part of what he’s trying to say in this is that wisdom is the means by which God fills the earth with life, creates order out of chaos. So one of my points this morning is that God is able to do the same thing in your life—through wisdom, given in grace, God is able to fill you with life, to take your chaos and make order of it. Wisdom is creative, it’s life-giving, it’s everlasting.
In the middle ages, the moralistic teaching of the church was centered on seven deadly sins—most of us know about the sins, but did you know there were also four quickening, or life-giving virtues? Many of them are listed in this passage as coming alongside wisdom: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. I have a picture. The medievals believed these virtues, these practices and qualities, would fill a person’s heart with life.
I was thinking about the things which give me life right now. You all do. I love this church. I love being here with you. You are a generous and genuine, passionate and loving people. I love reading and teaching the things of God. Every week, preparing and preaching fill me with life. Shower Friday, and everything I do at work to pursue that virtue of justice.
Over the past few weeks, I love the moment at the end of the day when I come through the door, sometimes anxious and exhausted, but usually my whole family is in that little front room, all five of them, and right now—having so many toddlers is really hard—but I walk through the door and they cheer and it fills my heart; it’s how I know I’m home. Also thinking of the toddlers, rest gives me life right now. Thank you to all of you who have been babysitting for us and giving us rest. And Sabbath, taking a day off each week where I don’t do any work is life-giving.
All of these things are in my life through the wisdom of God. Following wisdom brought them to me, and wisdom preserves them. Do you know how hard I fight each week to take a day off, to play and rest? And children are a blessing—that’s true, it’s really good advice. I know people tell you marriage is a prison and children are the shackles, but it’s not true. And I have to wake up early to get time to walk in nature, to pray and read the scriptures, but it fills me with life.
I wouldn’t trade the world for any of those things. I don’t know how to explain to people that wisdom is life itself. Seeking to see the world the way that God sees has been like seeing for the first time. Seeking to love people and creation the way God loves them has been like feeling for the first time, like experiencing beauty for the first time, like hearing someone express for the first time what I had always been longing to say. Wisdom is a wellspring.
Church, we worship a God who is jovial, and weighty, and life-giving. He calls in the streets and in the markets for you to begin walking the road home. Hear him today.
O Sapientia—Malcolm Guite
I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.