These are the proverbs of Solomon, one of the most renowned kings in the history of Israel. The word translated “proverb” is the Hebrew word “mashal.” The root of the word contains the idea of “compare”—it is translated throughout Scripture as “parable” just as often as “proverb.”
This gives us some insight into the nature of these sayings. Proverbs are not prescriptions. It is not about a formula for how to manipulate circumstances and bend them to our will. That might be wishful thinking, but doesn’t work in reality. The proverbs are, in a sense, “comparing” our human perceptions to the reality of God’s world; trying to connect the two by providing principles that shape our perspective and inform our choices such that we live constructively—that is to say, wisely.
Like parables, the proverbs are meant to guide us “to wisdom”, that is, into a way of living. A way of thinking and perceiving. It is about molding and shaping our perceptions, values, and character into something that is consistently in tune with God, not just as a rule-follower but as someone who understands and practices the essence of the divine. One who sees the world through God’s eyes, and acts accordingly.
Ecclesiastes might be thought of as a philosophical foundation for wisdom. It shows the way to properly view the many aspects of life we cannot control, the “hebel” or vaporous nature of all that surrounds us. The main thing Ecclesiastes shows us is the importance of choosing to trust God, and make good choices based on that trust.
Proverbs will reiterate the philosophical foundations of Ecclesiastes, then zoom in and expand upon the practical application of trusting God and choosing a true perspective within certain areas of life. Proverbs leads us to choose a true perspective in all areas of life, and creates a foundation from which we can choose actions that are constructive, beneficial, and fulfilling.
There are only three things we control in life: who we trust, our perspective, and what we do—our actions. Ecclesiastes makes this reality abundantly clear. Trying to control what we cannot leads to complete futility. Trusting God, however, provides a foundation for constructive living. Proverbs teaches us how best to steward the choices we have—how to trust God, how to choose His perspective, and the key actions to take that lead us to the path of wisdom.
In many ways a summary of the core message of The Book of Proverbs, Chapter 8 is encompassed almost entirely by a speech from Lady Wisdom. All of the groundwork of the first seven chapters have been laid to provide fertile soil for this summary of the opportunity wisdom allows us. And all of the proverbs to follow are an unpacking of what Lady Wisdom says during her speech in Chapter 8.
Lady Wisdom allows Solomon to take up the direct voice of wisdom. So instead of coming from him, the teacher, it is pressed upon the audience directly. Perhaps he does this because although we can learn wisdom from intermediaries, what we need in order to internalize wisdom is our own ability to discern it in the world around us. For this, Lady Wisdom is a powerful personification of the way Solomon has been advocating.
Lady Wisdom, unlike the wicked adulteress in Chapter 7, calls out from the street, from the high places, and at the entry gates. She makes herself known in a myriad ways, not lurking or sneaking, but proclaiming. Shouting.
She addresses those who are seeking, searching, and imperfect. The foolish ones. Which is an apt description for all of humanity.
In Chapter 8, Lady Wisdom seems to have two major selling points. The first is that wisdom is truly in our best interest. It is more valuable than anything else we might desire. It transforms all of our resources and opportunities into conduits of good and manifestations of what is best for us.
Second, wisdom is the very heart of reality. It was before creation, in creation, and since creation. It is woven into the fabric of existence. It recognizes cause-effect, and leads to making choices that result in our true (rather than imagined) benefit.
Lady Wisdom calls herself “the delight” of creation. We experience, share, and revel in this delight by aligning ourselves with the path of wisdom, alongside the reality of the created order, and in honor of The Creator of wisdom and reality therein. When we live in harmony with God’s design for creation, we gain blessing.
Those who seek wisdom with perseverance, find it. We must consistently choose the path of wisdom and hate the ways of evil. If we do so, we align with all that wisdom is. In doing this, we “find life,” meaning the abundant life, the life that is truly life. The key to stewarding our journey toward meaning, our deepest desires, and the truth for which God has created us and all things.