Wisdom and Spirit - Proverbs  Commentary

In the first book of Kings we are told that the LORD (the capital letters indicate the yahweh who gave his name I AM to Moses (Exodus 3:13­15) appeared to Solomon, and asked him what he wanted.(1 Kings 3:5). Instead of asking for wealth or power over his enemies, Solomon asked for "an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil." This pleased the Lord, who said, "I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind" (1 Kings 3:9, 12). The result was that "God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore" (1 King 4:29). And Solomon had no doubt that this wisdom (Hebrew khocmah, translated as sophia in the Greek LXX translation) was given to him by the LORD (Proverbs 2:6).

Evidently later in life Solomon ceased to ask God for wisdom, and took the advice of the hundreds of heathen women he had married. They "turned his heart after other gods" (1 Kings 11:1-6). Which proves that the wisdom of the Spirit is not a gift that is given once and for all. As the New Testament explains, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him or her keep asking of God who keeps giving wisdom generously" (James 1:5, literal translation of the Greek present tenses).

Jesus told us to abide in the Vine (John 15:4 an aorist) and then keep abiding so that the Holy Spirit (corresponding to the sap) can keep producing much fruit (John 15:5,16 Greek present tenses). As Paul explains "Do not keep getting drunk with wine, but keep being filled with the Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18, translating the force of the Greek present tenses). A drunk is not someone who once had an experience of drinking, but someone who keeps getting drunk again and again. Similarly a wise person is not someone who once received wisdom, but rather someone who keeps opening his or her heart to the "wisdom from above" (James 3:17).

This why Solomon begins by explaining that wisdom is not experienced as one thing like a sudden emotion, or spiritual high, or even joy, or the ability to speak in tongues (though all these can accompany the gift of wisdom). He has to use ten different words to explain the results of the quality of wisdom he experienced:

Insight is the ability to see under the surface, to get to the heart of the matter, as opposed to having merely superficial opinions.

Wise dealing is the ability to make sensible decisions, to be the kind of person people can rely on, as opposed to being erratic.

Righteousness is what characterizes the upright person, who can be trusted to be honest, true to his or her word.

Justice is the quality we look for in a judge. It is the ability to make a right judgment in a case that affects the lives of others.

Equity is the ability to see both sides of a question, and make a decision that is obviously fair to both parties in a dispute (as Solomon was able to do in 1 Kings 3:16-28).

Shrewdness is what Jesus called "being wise as serpents, and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

Knowledge is not just knowing facts, but knowing human nature, understanding one's own frailty, and grasping the hope that God has for us (1 Corinthians 2:9-13).

Prudence can think ahead, weigh up the alternatives, and avoid rash, and hasty decisions.

Learning is not knowing a mass of facts about a subject but being able to learn from one's mistakes and suffering and develop character (Romans 5:3-5). .

Understanding is the opposite of missing the point, failing to catch a metaphor and what others really have in mind. (Proverbs 1:2-6).

Going over this list, it becomes clear that Solomon was equating the gift of wisdom which he was given with what the New Testament calls the gift of the Holy Spirit. He pictures the Spirit as a woman (8:1-2) named sophia ( from which we get the word "philosophy" meaning loving of wisdom), who lives in the vast palace of all wisdom. A simple house has two pillars that support the roof, a square house has four pillars, five pillars give a much larger roof, but this has seven pillars to make a huge mansion (9:1). This house offers a feast of good things including different kinds of meat and wine (9:2). And everyone is invited. No one is too poor or too ignorant to be included (9:3-4). And like Jesus' last supper, it provides the communion meal of bread and wine (9:5 going back to Genesis 14:18).

We are therefore offered all we need to move from immaturity into life and the way of genuine insight of the children of God (9:6). "Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her" (8:10-11). But we have to look away from our own self-sufficiency and invite the Spirit to do his/her gracious work in our heart. "Wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge (knowing God) will be pleasant to your soul (2:10).

Scholars often assume that the idea of the Trinity was invented by the early church. But Solomon's experience was clearly Trinitarian (our experience of God as three Persons eternally held together in the oneness of perfect love). As we have seen, the Holy Spirit is the wisdom that comes into our heart. Sophia herself says that he/she is eternal. When the LORD "established the heavens, I was there . . . and I was daily his delight rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race" (8:27, 30-31).

We have also seen that this wisdom was given to Solomon by the same LORD who had appeared to Abraham (Genesis 15:1, 17:1, 18:1, see Exodus 3:4-15). As John wrote, "the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). "No one has ever seen God (the Father). It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (John 1:18). It was Peter who first recognized that Jesus was the eternal Son of God. "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15). Solomon used his name (yahweh) LORD (referring to the second of the Trinity) again and again (1:7, 2:6, 3:5, 9, 11, 19, 8:35).

Solomon then uses his experience of his own father, and the experience of being a father of his own son, as a metaphor or picture of the eternal God the Father. "My child, do not forget my teaching" is perhaps Solomon speaking" (3:1, as in 10:1). But "Hear my child, and accept my words . . . I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness" sounds like God the Father (4:10-11, 5:1-2). As does "My child, keep my words and store up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live" (7:1-2). An earthly father could hardly suggest that his own commandments are life-giving.

Solomon's Trinitarian experience therefore shows that Jesus' Great Commission to baptize and teach disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) was rooted in the Old Testament experience of God. We also can run to God the Father like a little child with his parents. The Son of God who kept coming into contact as LORD (yahweh) with Abraham and his family (Genesis 3:8, 5:22, 6:9, 17:1, 18:1,33, 24:12, 27, 42, 56, 28:13, 32:24) is still with us. And all that we have seen Wisdom (sophia) doing for Solomon is available for us, and much more, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4, 4:31, 6:5, 55, 8:15, 9:17, and keep being filled as Paul said (Ephesians 5:18).

Chapter 2 .....  Way and Walking