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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Proverbs 8

Verses 8-36

B. Instruction for Young People 1:8-8:36

The two ways (paths, worldviews) introduced in Proverbs 1:7 stretch out before the reader (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). In this section Solomon spoke to his son, guiding him into God’s way. "My son" was and is a customary way of addressing a disciple.

"It derives from the idea that parents are primarily responsible for moral instruction (Proverbs 4:3-4; Deuteronomy 6:7)." [Note: Ross, p. 907.]

The frequent recurrence of the phrase "my son" in this part of Proverbs indicates that the instruction specially suited a young person. This person’s life lay in front of him, and he faced major decisions that would set the course of his life from then on. Though the whole Book of Proverbs gives help to youths, chapters 1-7 address them specifically and can be of particular benefit to them.

The instruction that follows was originally the type of counsel a courtier father gave his son or sons in his home. This seems to have been a traditional form of ancient Near Eastern education, especially among the ruling classes. This instruction did not replace a formal education but supplemented it. [Note: William Kelly Simpson, ed., The Literature of Egypt, p. 54; cf. pp. 178-79.]

In Egypt, for example, "The authors of the [wisdom] ’teachings’ do not present themselves as priests and prophets. They appear as aged officials at the end of active and successful careers, desirous to let their children profit by their experience." [Note: Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, p. 60. Cf. James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 12.]

Earlier, Akkadian officials evidently practiced the same custom.

"The advice given in the section ’My son’ can have had relevance for very few people. . . . This suggests that we are to construe the text as being in the form of admonitions of some worthy to his son who will succeed him as vizier to the ruler." [Note: Lambert, p. 96.]

Other evidence exists that it was common throughout the ancient Near East for high officials to pass on this special instruction to their heirs. In Proverbs, we have the record of what Solomon told his son Rehoboam, and probably also his other sons.

". . . the Book of Proverbs has a definite masculine focus because in the ancient Jewish society daughters usually weren’t educated for the affairs of life. Most of them were kept secluded and prepared for marriage and motherhood. For the most part, when you read ’man’ in Proverbs, interpret it generically and read ’person,’ whether male or female. Proverbs isn’t a sexist book, but it was written in the context of a strongly male-oriented society." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 172, n. 1.]

In the teaching that follows, there is advice for many situations a king would encounter and have to deal with effectively. These matters included the administration of justice, leadership, behavior, as well as urban and agricultural concerns. Consequently, there seems to be no reason to take these references to "my son" as anything other than what they appear at face value to be (cf. Genesis 18:19; Exodus 12:24; Deuteronomy 4:9-11).

In some parts of the ancient world, the mother shared the duty of instructing the son with the father (cf. Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 4:3; Proverbs 6:20; Proverbs 31:1; Proverbs 31:26). [Note: Kidner did a subject study on the family in Proverbs. See pp. 49-52.]

"Here the father and mother are placed on exactly the same footing as teachers of their children. . . . The phraseology of these sentences corresponds almost exactly to that of their Egyptian counterparts . . . and this throws into greater relief the one feature which is entirely unique in them: the mention of the mother. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this feature is an example of the adaptation of the Egyptian tradition to the peculiar situation in which the Israelite instructions were composed: a domestic situation in which the father and mother together shared the responsibility for the education of the child." [Note: R. N. Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, p. 42.]

Archaeologists have found most of the documents that contain extrabiblical instruction of the "my son" type in excavated scribal schools. This suggests that even though the teaching took place in the home, the teachers preserved their instructions in writing, with a view to sharing them with people outside the family circle. This suggests that what we have in Proverbs is not atypical. Probably when Solomon recorded his counsel to his son, he adapted it to a more general reading audience, namely: all the people of Israel. Eventually all people profited from it.

"The principles articulated throughout the book are as helpful for living the Christian life as they were for providing guidance to the ancient theocratic community of Israel." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 482.]

Verses 1-5

Wisdom as guide 8:1-5

By personifying wisdom Solomon was able to illustrate two things about it in these verses, both of which concern the guidance that is available in wisdom (understanding, insight). Wisdom is available everywhere (Proverbs 8:2-3) and to anyone (Proverbs 8:5). It does not take a superior intellect to be wise in the biblical sense.

Verses 1-36

13. The function of wisdom ch. 8

Chapter 8 is an apology (defense) of wisdom. The argument of this section develops as follows. Wisdom would be every person’s guide (Proverbs 8:1-5; cf. Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:22-23). She is morality’s partner (Proverbs 8:6-13), the key to success (Proverbs 8:14-21), the principle of creation (Proverbs 8:22-31), and the one essential necessity of life (Proverbs 8:32-36). Chapter 8 contains the longest sustained personification in the Bible. [Note: Merrill, p. 490.]

Verses 6-13

Wisdom and morality 8:6-13

Wisdom and godliness are practically synonymous (cf. Proverbs 1:7). Proverbs 8:9 means that the person who already has walked down wisdom’s path for a distance can appreciate the moral rightness of wisdom better than someone who has not.

"What the verse says is not that Wisdom’s words are clear, intelligible, simple to the instructed, but that they commend themselves as true . . ." [Note: Toy, p. 163.]

"The simplicity of integrity is the profundity of wisdom. . . . Integrity is the moral dimension that separates wisdom from intelligence, learning and cleverness." [Note: Larsen, p. 73.]

True wisdom is resourceful and discreet (Proverbs 8:13). This pericope speaks of the essential excellence of wisdom.

Verses 14-21

Wisdom and success 8:14-21

Wisdom is the key to many material and immaterial benefits, but mostly the latter type. Wisdom is better than gold in two senses: the wise man is able to earn gold, but he is able to use wisdom to do more than he can with gold. Yet wisdom is available only to those who seek it; unlike gold, wisdom is not something one can inherit.

Verses 22-31

Wisdom and creation 8:22-31

As Creator, God counted wisdom most important. Wisdom is older than the universe, and it was essential in its creation. Nothing came into existence without wisdom. Wisdom leads to joy because creation produces joy (Proverbs 8:30-31) both for the Creator and for the creature. God made and did nothing without wisdom. Therefore it is very important that we obtain it. That is the point.

"What has the voice of wisdom to say concerning the integration debate in Christian counseling? The wisdom literature of the Old Testament invites the study of human nature, behavior, and change from sources outside the canon of Scripture as well as in Scripture itself. Wisdom also exemplifies the use of methods that neither emerge exegetically from the Bible nor utilize the words of Scripture itself. Even when Scripture is used, wisdom often dictates which texts are most appropriate for a given situation and how application needs to take shape. At the same time, wise counselors recognize that the Bible is the only perfect authority for guiding faith and practice. Since the essence of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, a heart of adoration and submission to God is the foundation for skillful living, especially in the face of life’s most severe experiences. Not only in counseling, but in all aspects of life, wisdom calls for a deeper reverence for God in conforming one’s life to the Creator’s design." [Note: John W. Hilber, "Old Testament Wisdom and the Integration Debate in Christian Counseling," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:620 (October-December 1998):422.]

"The beginning of God’s way" (Proverbs 8:22) probably refers to the beginning of His creative work (Genesis 1), since that is what Solomon described in the verses that follow. [Note: See Hans-Jurgen Hermission, "Observations on the Creation Theology in Wisdom," in Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien, pp. 43-47, 54-55.] Wisdom always existed as an attribute of God. [Note: William A. Irwin, "Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?" Journal of Biblical Literature 80 (1961):142.] Proverbs 8:30 pictures wisdom as God’s constant and intimate companion. As such we should value it highly. One writer concluded that wisdom is a link or bond between the Creator and His creation. [Note: R. B. Y. Scott, "Wisdom in Creation: The ’AMON of Proverbs VII 30," Vetus Testamentum 10 (1960):211-23.]

Verses 32-36

The appeal to gain Wisdom 8:32-36

On the basis of all that precedes, Solomon exhorted his sons to live by his words and thereby gain wisdom. Again, wisdom leads to life, but those who lack wisdom begin to die.

"Many have equated wisdom in this chapter with Jesus Christ. This connection works only so far as Jesus reveals the nature of God the Father, including his wisdom, just as Proverbs presents the personification of the attribute. Jesus’ claims included wisdom (Matthew 12:42) and a unique knowledge of God (Matthew 11:25-27). He even personified wisdom in a way that was similar to Proverbs (Matthew 11:19; Luke 11:49). Paul saw the fulfillment of wisdom in Christ (Colossians 1:15-20; Colossians 2:3) and affirmed that Christ became our wisdom in the Crucifixion (1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30). So the bold personification of wisdom in Proverbs certainly provides a solid foundation for the revelation of divine wisdom in Christ. But because wisdom appears to be a creation of God in Proverbs 8:22-31, it is unlikely that wisdom here is Jesus Christ." [Note: Ross, p. 943.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Proverbs 8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/proverbs-8.html. 2012.