Proverbs is a book of contrasts: wisdom and foolishness, the right path and the wrong path, light and darkness, life and death.
Later on in chapter 10 and following, we find all sorts of short statements of contrast. “…A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death…. A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame” (Proverbs 10:1-2, 4-5).
This is how Proverbs works. It shows us two options, two destinations, two choices, and paints them in stark contrast so that we will seek the one and not the other.
Sometimes that contrast happens on a bigger scale, such as what we see when we compare Proverbs chapter 7 to chapter 8. Proverbs 7 was a story, a poem really, about a particular character—a woman who was unfaithful to her husband and went out at night to seek out new lovers to pull in to her web. This adulteress is described several times in Proverbs and we’re warned to stay away from her if we want to avoid the pain and destruction of sexual sin.
Here in chapter 8, we get the second half of the contrast. We get another poem about another woman who is the direct opposite of the unfaithful wife in every way.
We’re told to stay away from the chapter 7 woman, whereas we should pursue and spend as much time with the chapter 8 woman as we can. The chapter 7 woman moves about secretly in the evening and her mouth is full of lies; the woman in chapter 8 walks about in public and speaks the truth. The chapter 7 woman brings slavery and death and destruction to those who follow her, but the woman in chapter 8 brings prosperity and abundance and fullness and even kingship. The house of the chapter 7 woman is a gateway to the grave, but the home of the chapter 8 woman is the place of abundant life.
So who is this woman in chapter 8? This woman is Wisdom herself. Solomon pictures and describes wisdom, his own teaching, as a person, as a woman, who is set in contrast to the unfaithful wife of chapter 7.
I don’t know if this seems strange to you—that he would describe his teaching, Wisdom itself, as a person. It’s a little bit like Uncle Sam in the United States. He’s an imaginary character who represents and personifies the values and ideas of a country.
Lady Wisdom is kind of like Uncle Sam. You can’t go somewhere and actually shake her hand. She’s a fictional character. But what she represents is not fiction at all. What she represents is very, very real. Lady Wisdom represents all of the teaching of Solomon in this book of Proverbs—all of the wisdom that he has been and will try to teach us. And Solomon describes wisdom as a woman like this to help us consider and appreciate and encounter it.
Before we even get into chapter 8, I want to make sure we notice one major point of this contrast here. Chapter 7 portrays an unfaithful wife, and in chapter 8, the woman contrasted with her is not a faithful wife but rather wisdom herself. So Solomon could have said, “Stay away from the wrong kind of woman, and instead pursue the right kind of woman.” But instead he says “Stay away from the wrong kind of woman, and instead pursue wisdom.”
Wisdom is the priority. And the idea here, for all of you young guys listening, is just what we saw a few weeks ago in chapter 4: pursue wisdom before you go pursuing a lady.
Trust me: if you’re going to pursue a lady, and if God wants you to be married, you’re going to need some wisdom. And the kind of lady you want to spend the rest of your life with is going to want you to be wise. A quality woman is not going to be impressed with your stupidity, no matter how good you and your car look. She is going to be wise, and she’s going to be looking for wisdom in you. So chase wisdom before you go chasing the girls. Make wisdom the priority.
And what we see when we turn to chapter 8 and look at the verse few verses is that wisdom is not that hard to chase. Wisdom does not hide out. In some philosophies or religions in the world, wisdom does that. Wisdom stays hidden in monasteries high in the mountains and only a few ever make it far enough to find her.
And if that was the case, wisdom would still be worth pursuing. But what do these opening verses tell us? “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud” (Proverbs 8:1–3).
The town gate was where everybody came and went through, where all the people were. That’s where wisdom is. And she is out there, looking for foolish people in order that she might make them wise. “O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right,” (Proverbs 8:5–6).
Wisdom is not had to find. It’s accessible to us. It calls to us in a way that we can understand. We see that even in the rest of the book of Proverbs. Solomon was this super wise man, but his wisdom is presented in a series of really short, bite-sized sayings which were designed to be accessible by anybody.
And we see this in the history of God’s people. God’s people have an impulse not to hide out, but to go where the people are and to present God’s truth in a way they can understand. We translate the Bible into languages people can read for themselves. We communicate God’s truth in a way that’s accessible, like Solomon did.
God’s truth, God’s wisdom, the wisdom of God found in the gospel—these are not our secrets to be kept but news to be proclaimed.
And yet, just because wisdom is accessible, just because it’s understandable, just because it’s out there with the people, doesn’t mean that the people want to listen, do they? The picture we get in the next few verses of Proverbs 8 is that wisdom has to work hard to convince people to listen to her. She just has to pile on the reasons to listen to her.
“Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right,” says verse 6. And she goes on to verse 9 talking about how true and good and valuable her words are. Verse 10: “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold,” (Proverbs 8:10).
Think back to the chapter 7 woman. Her words were smooth and sweet. She didn’t have to say this kind of stuff; she didn’t have to convince people to listen. What she said sounded so great.
But wisdom has some hard things to say. Instead of self-indulgence and pleasure, wisdom is going to talk to us about had work and discipline. Now in the end it leads to life, unlike the chapter 7 lady. But at first, it’s a tough sell.
Wisdom’s Benefits, Here and Now
And so in the next big section of this chapter, verses 12-21, wisdom continues to sell herself, so-to-speak. She describes her attributes and the benefits that she brings into people’s lives. She is giving reasons for why we should listen to and pay attention to her.
And there’s two big areas of life that she speaks to in this section. The first has to do with government and national leadership. “By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly” (Proverbs 8:15–16). You want to know what separates good government leaders from bad leaders? What makes a good leader a good leader? Wisdom.
And it’s kind of like wisdom is saying “You see your king up there? Doing such a good job ruling over Israel? You remember that nobleman over there who made such good decisions? You want to know how they did that? Me. That was me. And I am offering myself to you. You have access to the very same wisdom that helps kings to rule well.”
Verses 12-14 speak about some of the specific skills that wisdom gives to those leaders. They include prudence and knowledge and discretion, which all point to careful, clever thinking and common sense. Wisdom connects herself with the fear of the Lord in verse 13, and tells us that she hates “pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech,” before going on to speak about the “counsel” and “sound wisdom” and “insight” and “strength” that she has to offer.
So just think about this. God, in His word—which is where we find His wisdom—is offering to each one of us the same truth, the same skills, that empower and enable the greatest leaders and rulers of world history.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those ads online for MasterClass, which is that platform where a top chef or bestselling author or a famous movie director does this online class and they supposedly teach you everything that they know and which made them successful.
That’s not all that different from what we see going on here. God’s word, the Bible, the source of wisdom, is like the masterclass for every wise king and ruler this world has seen. It’s all here, if we would listen, if we would pay attention, if we would read deeply and think deeply. “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me” (Proverbs 8:17) is the promise of verse 17. Wisdom is there for us to find.
In verses 18 to 21 wisdom keeps describing her benefits, and here she focuses on wealth and prosperity. “Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness” says verse 18. Verse 21 says that wisdom grants “an inheritance to those who love me… filling their treasuries.”
I think we know that, generally, in any era of human history, those who make wise decisions with their money will generally be in a better spot than those who are foolish. Wise people work hard and don’t throw away their money needlessly.
These words about riches also had special meaning within the Mosaic covenant, which is the setting of the book of Proverbs. In that covenant God made with His people at Sinai, God promised physical blessing and prosperity for those who obeyed Him. So if you were wise, meaning that you feared and obeyed the Lord and were faithful to his law, then you would find blessing and full treasuries.
I hope you know that today, we live under the New Covenant, this time in between the first and second comings of Christ, and in this time, prosperity is not our expectation. Sometimes the wisest people are the poorest people, like Jesus Himself. And sometimes Jesus tells rich people to sell all that they have and give it to the poor.
But even there, the point isn’t that we would be poor. The point is that we would store up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20, 19:21). And in that sense, even today in the New Covenant, wisdom does lead to full treasuries. Our focus is full treasuries in heaven, but those are no less real than treasuries here on earth. In fact, they are more real, and that’s the whole point.
So yes, wisdom promises us treasure. Even better treasure than Solomon had. And this is a reason why we, just like the people in Solomon’s day, should listen to wisdom.
Wisdom Before Time
Verses 22-21 form the next major section in Proverbs chapter 8. Wisdom is continuing to describe herself and tell us why we should listen to her. But what we find here has little to do with riches or prosperity or the benefits that wisdom can bring to our lives here-and-now. Instead, wisdom zooms out to tell us about where she came from, about her origin story.
Have you ever met someone who has a cool backstory? Maybe they were born somewhere really interesting, or their parents were really important people? It makes you pay a little bit more attention to them, doesn’t it?
That’s kind of what’s going on here. Wisdom is telling us where she came from, and wow, is it ever some story. “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world” (Proverbs 8:22–26).
Wisdom was around before anything else. And that’s because wisdom has its origin in God himself. If you have an ESV Bible in front of you, you can probably see a little letter beside the word “possessed” there in verse 22, and that will lead to a note at the bottom of the page that says “or fathered.” That’s another way that Hebrew word can be understood.
Yes, the Lord possessed wisdom, but that’s because wisdom came from God himself, like a child from a father. The NIV translates verse 22 this way: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works.” Wisdom has its source in God Himself.
Just think about what Solomon is really saying here. He’s saying that all of his wisdom—all of his teaching here in Proverbs—doesn’t actually come from him. He didn’t just make this up. This all comes from God. It has its origins in the nature and character of God, and that means that it’s been around since before the world was created.
Verse 27: “When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man” (Proverbs 8:27–31).
Wisdom was there, with God in the beginning, watching as the world was created, and actually playing a role in the process. Remember what Proverbs 3:19 said? “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” (Proverbs 3:19). Verses 22-31 are unpacking this even more in showing the importance and the priority of wisdom in the creation of the world itself.
And this should make us really pay attention to wisdom. That lady in the town square, calling out for the fools to listen up—she is a visitor from beyond creation itself. She was born before anything had been made.
And because she comes from outside of the creation, we could never have discovered her if she had not chosen to come down and reveal herself to us. Do you get what I’m saying there? Wisdom isn’t just a part of this creation. It’s nothing we could discover ourselves by the laws of science or reason. We would have no way to access wisdom unless wisdom came down to us.
So when wisdom speaks, we listen. She is a guest we could never have invited ourselves. She is no-one that we could ever control or manipulate. But here she is, in our town, and she’s willing to teach us what she knows. So we’d better receive and accept and submit to what she says.
God’s Written Word
That is how Solomon prepares his listeners to receive his wisdom, to listen to this book of Proverbs which was painted on the background of the Torah, the law of Moses.
For you and I today, we can take these lessons to heart but with an even bigger perspective. We understand that Proverbs and the first five books of the Bible are only six out of sixty-six books God has revealed His wisdom to us through.
And what Solomon writes here about the part is true of the whole. Like Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” All Scripture has its origin in God Himself. The God who breathed out the stars (Psalm 33:6) breathed out this book. And that’s why all of it is dripping with usefulness for all of life, and why it works together to equip us for the good works God has called us to and has promise to reward us for.
So this is one of our big take-aways from today’s passage and also from this whole series in Proverbs 1-8. There’s a reason that the image behind me here has been picture of a Bible. All this talk about wisdom is ultimately about this whole book. This is God’s wisdom.
And this book, like we saw at the beginning of chapter 8, stands out in pubic, at the gates of the town, begging us to listen. God’s word rubs shoulders with us and gets dirty feet at the town square as it sits on our coffee tables and shows up as an app on our smartphones and makes itself always available to us in so many different ways. God’s word is where the people are. It’s not hard to find.
But this book, this wisdom from God, is no human concoction. This is a visitor from outside of this creation. This wisdom comes from God, from outside of this creation. And if God had not chosen to send His word and reveal wisdom to us, there is nothing we could have done to get access to it. We can’t reach outside of this creation. We would have been helpless, stuck in ignorance and folly, not knowing how to live or what to believe.
But God has given His word to us and speaks to us in a way we can understand. We should be humbled and blown away by this. And it should make us eagerly listen to and obey Wisdom’s words in the concluding verses of this chapter:
“And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:32–36).
Apply those words to the teaching of Proverbs. And apply those words to this whole book. If you do not regularly spend time with God’s word, the Bible, then verse 34 is for you. “Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors” (Proverbs 8:34).
We’ve just put out a daily Bible reading plan for the fall and winter here. One chapter a day is all that there is, with a catch-up day once a week. We intentionally made it accessible so that anybody could do it. You can take 15 minutes or more with a single chapter, thinking about what you’re reading, looking at the notes in your Study Bible, writing a few lines in a journal about what you’re seeing and learning. What an incredible way to watch daily at the gates of God’s wisdom to learn from Him.
There is such blessing waiting for us as we do this. And there is a warning that we need to hear if we refuse to listen to wisdom. Verse 36 says, “but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”
This is certainly true of those who reject God’s truth wholesale, those who reject the gospel. But even for those of us who have trusted in Christ and say we want to follow Him, how much damage do we bring into our lives when we don’t pay attention to God’s word?
In my life I have sadly met many Christians who live as if the Bible didn’t even exist. You could take it away from them completely and they probably wouldn’t even notice because it doesn’t make any difference to their lives and their thinking and their feeling.
And as a result, they make decisions, they practice behaviours, they live in a way that really hurts them. They just follow their own thinking and feelings, but because their thinking and feelings haven’t been deeply shaped by God’s word, they do some really foolish stuff and they bring a lot of pain in to their live and the lives of others.
Please don’t do that. Don’t injure yourself. Watch daily at the doors of wisdom. And for some of you, the most practical step might be grabbing a Bible reading plan and starting a habit of deliberate, careful, thoughtful reading of Scripture.
That’s one of the major takeaways from our passage and from our series so far.
God’s Living Word
There’s one more take-away this morning that hopefully doesn’t come as a surprise to you. We’ve seen how this chapter speaks to us today about paying attention to God’s written word. But we can’t miss how it also points us to God’s living word, that is, Jesus Christ.
This chapter spoke about a wisdom who existed with God before all things, played some role in creation, came down from heaven to live with people and teach heavenly wisdom, was largely rejected by the crowds, spoke to its listeners as “children,” and promised life to those who listen and death to those who will not.
Does any of that sound familiar or not? All of that is true of Solomon’s wisdom. And all of that is also true of Jesus Christ.1Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 130.
There’s a lot of similarities between Solomon’s wisdom and Jesus Himself. And yet Jesus, as we know Him today, is even better than Solomon’s wisdom.
For example, Proverbs 8 says that wisdom has its source in God, but Christ is God, the eternal son. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). In this chapter wisdom is described as a witness to creation, but Christ is the creator. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” says John 1:3.
Way back in chapter 1 we heard that wisdom will laugh when judgement strikes the wicked, but we know from John 5:22 that Jesus Christ Himself is the Judge of the wicked.2Waltke, 131.
And that’s just a sample. In his commentary on Proverbs, Bruce Waltke makes a list 18 points long showing how Jesus is superior to Solomon and His wisdom in every way. It’s so good and I’m going to post it on the blog this week so you can read it.
And as we think about the superiority of Jesus, it’s perhaps appropriate that our next sermon series is going to be in the book of Matthew. From the end of September to the beginning March we’re going to walk through the first seven chapters of Matthew’s gospel, listening to the wisdom of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, and marvelling at the one who is greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42). The one who literally came from beyond creation to literally stand at the town gates and give us, not just long life, but eternal life.
We have a couple of short stops we’re going to make in the next two Sundays in the books of Acts and Romans, but I can’t wait for us to encounter Jesus together this fall in Matthew’s gospel.
And you don’t have to wait until then. You can encounter Jesus yourself this week. You’ve got a Bible. You can pick up a reading plan or download one on our website. And you can get to know the one greater than Solomon whose grace and truth continues to fill our lives today.