The First of His Works

The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works
before his deeds of old;

I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.

When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;

before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,

before he made the earth or its fields
or any of the dust of the world.

I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,

when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,

when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.

Then I was the craftsman at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,

rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.

What I love about this passage is the picture of Wisdom, standing with God, delighting in humanity.  In this selection from Proverbs, Wisdom is personified as the first of all of God’s creation, present as His ally, active in the process of calling forth, ordering, and establishing the universe. This personification of wisdom continues throughout Proverbs as Wisdom calls to humanity to seek her as the foundation for building one’s life. This, of course, is fitting as Wisdom is the ordering principle of all existence, and so, to have her is to bring one’s life into conformity with primordial harmony and order.

In the Christian tradition, Wisdom is identified with Jesus Christ. In the opening of John’s Gospel, John declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Of course, the issue to be addressed in the Proverbs passage is the implication that wisdom was created, which does not match John’s assertion that the Word is eternal. The Church in reflecting on this matter came to the conviction that the Word was eternally begotten of the Father. In other words, God is eternally dynamic, a being that at once begets and is begotten, and it is through God’s begetting action that God creates, an action which as God moves beyond himself and into the act of creation becomes personified as Wisdom. I think it is for this reason that Paul declares, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

In teaching philosophy this semester I have been reading alot of works from and about various philosophers and again and again I am struck by parallels between the insights of various philosophers and the proclamations of the Scripture. Particularly, there is an idea that behind the common appearance of things there is something we need to seek out and get in touch with, something that if we were to identify it, and identify ourselves with it, would make sense of everything around us, and our place within everything. One difference, however, between the philosophers and Proverbs, is that in the works of philosophy wisdom is something you must seek out and discover, whereas in Proverbs, Wisdom is actually seeking and calling out to us. Again, this is very likely why many Church Fathers identified Jesus as the personification of Wisdom.

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