A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes, but what if an event happened so long ago that no picture remains. No painting of it preserved. No film kept on file. All that’s left are words.
Ancient words at that, about an even more ancient event.
Before the Genesis we know (“In the beginning…”) there was another genesis. God created something else first. Later He put the depiction of that creative act in the hands not of a sculptor, metal worker, or painter, but of a writer. The only record we have is a poem.
And it is beautiful! In fact, the thousand words may just be better than a picture. As Eugene Peterson writes:
“Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us. Poets use words to drag us into the depth of reality itself. Poetry grabs us by the jugular.”
So, dear poet of Proverbs 8, grip us by the throat and engage our imagination so that with open hearts we can picture the Word.
To me, Proverbs 8:1 reads like a prologue.
v1 Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling?
Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice?
Before the author begins the story, a question is asked. Then the story is set in motion.
v2-3 On the heights overlooking the road, at the crossways,
she takes her stand;
by the gates, at the entrance to the city, on the access-roads,
she cries out,
The initial setting is an intersection busy with commercial, political, and social exchanges. Shoppers and sellers, workers and widows, families and friends, laborers and leaders all navigating this city square.
Then above the indistinguishable hubbub, we hear a woman’s voice.
v4 “You—I’m calling to you!
My voice is to all the people.”
Let’s set aside for a moment figuring out who we’re listening to and instead figure out how we should be listening. The next stanza seems intent on making sure we get our listening posture right.
v5 O simple ones, learn prudence / good judgment;
O closed-minded, self-confident fools, learn sense / understanding.
Are we willing to set aside our shopping carts, todo lists, and social media memes for a moment and admit that our judgment isn’t always good? Or that while our sense is sometimes common it certainly isn’t always holy?
Humility is what we’re being asked for here. If we’re going to get a peek at the time before “in the beginning,” we need to take our earthly vision of understanding off the table and seek a new vision of heaven’s wisdom.
And I’m inclined to do what the lady boldly says. She seems pretty adamant that what she’s about to tell us is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help her God.
v6-9 Listen! I am speaking about important / noble things,
and my lips will say what is right;
for I speak the truth and detest every kind of deception.
My advice is wholesome.
There is nothing false / devious / twisted or crooked in it.
My words are plain / right / recognizable to anyone with understanding,
clear to those with knowledge / truth-ready minds.
Not only does she claim to be speaking the truth, but she says that if you’re looking to make an investment in something with staying power, what she offers exceeds all other options.
v10-11 Choose my instruction rather than silver,
and knowledge of me in preference to finest gold.
For Wisdom is more precious than jewels,
and nothing else you desire can compare.
Now that she’s “grab[bed] us by the jugular” and got our attention, we’re ready to find out who’s speaking. She lays out side-by-side who she is and who she isn’t.
v12-14 I am Lady Wisdom,
and I live next to Good Judgment;
Knowledge and Discretion live just down the street.
I hate pride and arrogance,
wicked behavior / corruption and a lying mouth.
Good counsel and sound judgment are my characteristics;
I am both Insight and the virtue / strength to live it out.
Did you catch the unique coupling on the last verse? Lady Wisdom is insight and strength. Strength? I wasn’t expecting that.
As we’re following along in the poem, it’s easy to get carried along by the quick hits—good judgment, discretion, and counsel—only to cruise right over this little component of wisdom that’s slipped in at the end.
But if we stop and consider it, Lady Wisdom seems to be saying that wisdom isn’t just about wise thoughts; we must be willing to do wise things. And it’s the doing of wise things that requires strength.
Elsewhere in Proverbs (2:7) it says “God is a shield to those who walk with integrity.” If walking with integrity—doing the honorable and wise thing—was easy-peasy, there’d be no need for a shield, right? Her reference to strength implies the road of wisdom must require it.
Later in the poem she confirms as much.
v20 I walk on Righteous Road,
I’m at the middle of Justice Avenue.
Ah, now we see why strength is a part of wisdom. Justice is not an easy road. As Martin Luther King said, “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Wisdom is both knowing the just thing to do and having the strength and endurance to carry it out.
But oh what I would give to have my feet walk Righteous Road every day. I’m more of the stumbling, bumbling type, however. I’m the lady who tries to discern the Way but ends up tripping in pot holes and smacking into road signs. I am the sheep who gets pulled out of the ditch only to dive right into it again.
So I gotta wonder, is Lady Wisdom lonely as she walks or does she finds things to do?
v15-16 Because of me, leaders rule,
and lawmakers legislate fairly / justly;
By me, governors govern,
along with all in legitimate authority.
So even in a world where injustice seems more commonplace than justice, Madam Insight is still walking the boulevards of moral principles. Praise be to God!
And lest we think she’s completely hidden, she tells us that seeking leads to discovery.
v17-18 I love those who love me;
whoever searches eagerly for me finds me.
With me are riches, glory / honor,
enduring wealth, saving justice, and right standing with God.
What a glory-soaked description the poet has given us! Have you let your mind’s eye paint her? If you need something to tickle your imagination, check out the imagery in these two videos.
She’s better though than any flat-surfaced video rendering. Spin your image of her around in your head, she’s multi-dimensional after all. From one angle she speaks the truth about all things, from another she radiates fairness, and from another she winks and says “Use discretion.”
Can you see her now? To me she looks a bit like the mighty Lady Justice…but without the blindfold. Lady Wisdom sees our predicaments, calls them by name, and then avails herself as the straight path.
Now wisdom, of course, isn’t a lady at all, rather wisdom is an attribute of God, but how much more wonderfully thought-provoking is this poetic personification over the three-word statement “God is wise.”
Jesus did the same thing all the time. He could have said “The kingdom of heaven will gradually increase,” but instead He paints a word picture recorded in Matthew 13:33: “Imagine a woman kneading tiny yeast granules into a ball of warm dough. That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. Go and ponder.”
So it shouldn’t shock us as much as it should delight us to see how God, the Master Poet, inspires the poet of Proverbs 8 to personify God’s wisdom. The picture is far more captivating than a mere statement.
And it could have ended here.
But the lyricist saves the grandest descriptions for the final 200 words. Here’s where we find out what was created before the heavens and the earth.
v22 Yahweh created me, first-fruits of his fashioning,
before the oldest of his works.
God’s first creation is wisdom. Before He creates the heavens, before He creates the earth, before anything else, God brings forth Lady Wisdom. As Eugene Peterson would say, “let your mind stretch around” that!
v23-26 From everlasting, I was firmly set,
from the beginning, before the earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born,
nor were the springs with their abounding waters.
Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth;
before he had made the earth, the countryside,
and the first elements of the world.
Before the edges of the cosmos were pinned.
Before there were enough periodic elements to put in a table.
Before the mountains were pushed up high or the ocean floor dug out low.
Before there is even dust or water on the surface of the great deep,
God brings Wisdom into being.
She’s the first invitee to the creation party. In fact, she’s part of the creation planning committee.
v27-29 When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the surface of the deep,
when he thickened the clouds above,
when the sources of the deep began to swell,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries–
and the waters will not encroach on the shore–
when he traced the foundations of the earth,
Can you picture it? As God sets up His compass to draw a circle, Lady Wisdom hovers over His shoulder. As He orders water vapor to turn into water droplets above and below, she pours out her vast knowledge. As the Creator considers where to mark the boundaries and place the foundations, He listens to her wise counsel.
What are we to take away from this imagery of God? I like the way R. F. Horton summarizes these verses:
“…there is nothing fortuitous in the creation of the world…
arbitrariness finds no place in His counsels;
accident has no part in His works…
He creates the world as an outcome of His own wise and holy design,
so that ‘nothing walks with aimless feet.'”
Lady Wisdom has already told us (verse 13) that she is not prideful or arrogant. Now we see that she is also not random or erratic. Wisdom was before creation, present at creation, and part of every single creation-making decision.
And here comes the very best part. Ready for it? However Lady Wisdom looks in your mind’s eye, do not imagine her with a solemn look or stern eyes or crossed arms. Her work isn’t drudgery. She’s pure happiness and pleasure. She delights in every task alongside the Almighty, but especially in the creation of His image bearers.
vs 30-31 I was beside the master craftsman,
delighting him day after day, ever at play in his presence,
at play everywhere on his earth,
delighting to be with humanity.
Way before there was “Dancing With The Stars,” God created the One Who Dances In The Stars. That’s how I see Lady Wisdom. As she plays everywhere in God’s creation, she dances.
A twirl of truth here,
a sprinkle of good judgment there,
and pirouettes of knowledge everywhere.
But don’t mistake delightful dancing for whimsical. That she is not.
She’s a fierce fighter,
a righteous advocate,
a stalwart of truth.
She is the Alpha before “in the beginning.”
She is here, now, and present.
She is to come.
And Moses, Jeremiah, James, and Jesus himself all promise that if I seek her, I can dance with her. Praise be to God!
Lord, come quickly with your wisdom.
While the Bible references throughout this post are amalgamation of different translations, I leaned heavily on the New Jerusalem Bible translation.
2 thoughts on “Before “In The Beginning””
Excellent! You’ve had some deep thoughts on this! Love you! Neva
This is really beautiful. I haven’t paid much attention to Proverbs 8 in a long time. Amazing that we can ASK God for wisdom and expect Him to be thrilled to answer. Thanks for sharing your writing, Nicole!