Walter Brueggeman on Wisdom

“The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, Rejoicing in God’s inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”

Proverbs 8: 22, 30

This text is one of the loveliest and most important biblical texts that respond to the question: “What is the world like? How does it work?” The text is framed as a speech by “wisdom” who is presented as an active agent who has a voice for self - announcement. It is the work of the poet to bring to availability that which remains hidden but is deeply operative in the working of creation.

Wisdom identifies three relationships that are crucial to the working the world. First, wisdom has a peculiar relationship with the creator. “I was beside him” from the beginning.

Wisdom was a “master workman” who did the work of the creator. Wisdom brought delight and joy to the creator. Wisdom is the one in whom the creator is well pleased.
This reflects a durable companionship between wisdom and the creator.

In Christian tradition this claim of wisdom has morphed into inchoate Trinitarian theology so that wisdom from this text appears as the “word” (logos) in John 1:1 - 18 or in other texts as God’s generative Spirit. The text itself does not articulate anything about “the Christ” or “the word” who creates, but the interpretive trajectory set in motion here makes that claim.

Second, wisdom describes its (her?) relationship to all the creatures who come after and in the wake of wisdom. Not only are all the other creatures after, but they are created in and through the work of wisdom. Thus before wisdom no deep seas, no springs of water, no hills, no fields, no “bits of soil.” The creator creates with wisdom:

He established the heavens;
He made firm the skies above;
He established the foundations of the deep;
He assigned to the sea it limits.

God did all of this; but wisdom was there with God and so is implicated in the act of creation and in the continuing sustenance of creation.

But third, wisdom has a practical connection to human beings who live in God’s created, well ordered world. Thus this entire speech of wisdom is a summons to humanity. (The wisdom tradition is famous for lacking all “sectarian” interest, so that no specific group or community or nation is addressed. The truth of wisdom pertains to all human beings without exception.) Wisdom summons human beings — all of them! — to “learn prudence, acquire intelligence” — that is, pay attention! And in the coda of verses 32 - 36 wisdom assures that those who heed wisdom are happy and have life. Conversely those who miss wisdom injure themselves and love death.

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