Proverbs 8 – Creation & Maat and Lady Wisdom

1 Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?

Versus 1-36 – Wisdom is personified as she addresses mankind in preparation for the final plea from both “Wisdom” and “Folly “ in ch 9.

2 She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths.

3 She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors.

4 Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man.

5 O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart.

“simple…fools” –  both are addressed in wisdom’s speech in 1:22, 32.

6 Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.

”excellent things…right things” – 

   Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,

   whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Phil 4:8).

7 For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips.

8 All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.

“forward or perverse“ –

   That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shrine as lights in the world (Phil 2:15).

Cf Prov 2:15.

9 They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find kno wledge.

“to him that understandeth” –  is wiser a person is, the more he appreciates the words of wisdom.

“that find knowledge” – especially the knowledge of God.

10 Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold.

11 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.

Almost identical with 3:15.

12 I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.

13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

“The fear of the LORD is to hate evil” – see 1:7; 3:7, and also 9:10, 16:6.

“Pride, and arrogancy…I hate” – see 16:18; 1 Sam 2:3; Is 13:11,; see also Ps 10:2-11.

“evil way, and the froward mouth” – see 6:12, 16-19.

14 Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.

“Counsel…and sound wisdom…understanding…strength” –  these characterize the Lord (2:6-7; Job 12:13, 16; Is 40:13-14; Rom 16:27) and the Spirit of the Lord (Is 11:2).

15 By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.

“By me kings reign” –  see 29:4  Solomon prayed for wisdom to govern Israel (see 1 Kgs  3:9; Chr 1:10).

16 By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the Judges of the earth.

17 I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.

“I love” –  I pour out my benefits on (see 4:6; see also Jn 14:21.

18 Riches and honor are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness.

19 My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver.

“My fruit” –  wisdom is called a “tree of life” in 3:18.

20 I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of Judgment:

21 That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures.

22 The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.

“possessed me” –  The Hebrew for this verb is also used in Gen 4:1; 14:19, 22.

“in the beginning of his way” – cf Job’s statement about the Behemoth (Job 40:19).

Verses 22-31 – a hymn describing wisdom’s role in creation.  Wisdom is here personified; as in 1:20-33; 3:15-18; 9:1-12.  Therefore these verses should not be interpreted as a direct description of Christ.  Yet, they provide part of the background for the New Testament portrayed of Christ as the divine Word (Jn 1:1-3) and as the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24, 30: Col 2:3).  Here, wisdom is an attribute of God involved with Him in creation. 23 I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.

“from everlasting” – descriptive also of Christ (see Jn 1:1; cf Mic 5:2).

“ever the earth was” – wisdom was already there before God began to create the world (cf Christ’s statement in Jn 17:5).

24 When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.

“I was brought forth” – elsewhere the sea “brake forth” (Job 38:8-9), the hills and mountains “were brought forth” (Ps 90:2).

“Fountains abounding with water” – see Ps 104:10.

25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:

26 While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.

27 When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:

28 When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:

“fountains of the deep” –  earth’s springs and streams.

29 When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:

“the sea his decree” –  established the sea’s boundaries (see Gen 1:9; Job 38:10-11; Ps 104:9.

30 Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;

“as one brought up with him” – or “as a master workman.”  A workman was sometimes called a wise man.  See, e.g., Bezaleel, who designed and built the tabernacle (Ex 31:3).  Here the term stresses the skill demonstrated in creation.

“his delight, rejoicing always” – cf the joyful shouts of the angels at the time of creation (Job 38:7).

31 Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.

“delights were with the sons of men” –  man, made in the image of God, represented the climax of creation (see Gen 1:26-28).

32 Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.

“blessed” –  the blessings associated with gaining wisdom are also given in 3:13-18; see also Ps 119:1-2; 128:1).

33 Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.

34 Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.

“Watching daily at my gates” –  contrast the warning not to go near the door of the adulteress’s house (5:8).

35 For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the LORD.

36 But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.

Maat and Lady Wisdom

Ancient Maat found by archaeologists.
This double graffite of a standing figure of the goddess Maat (the feather on her head identifies her) and a kneeling figure with arms raised in adoration.

Such pious graffiti are not unusual on the exterior walls of temples.

Some are quite elaborate and include inscriptions praising the god or goddess or recording the name of the person who carved the graffito.

In ancient Egypt Maat was the abstract principle of truth, order, justice, and harmony – as well as the name of the goddess who personified those virtues.

Kings were enjoined to practice Maat in order to ensure a long reigh (cf Prov 8:15-16).  When Maat held sway in the land, Egyptians believed the Nile flooded properly to ensure good crops, there was justice for all and the classes of society coexisted in harmony.

When Maat was ignored the land fell into chaos, crime, and ruin.  Some funerary paintings depict a balance scale on one side of which is placed the heart of a recently deceased man and on the other side a feather, representing Maat.

Ammut: Egyptian Mythological Monster.
The role of Ammut was very precise, and petrifying:

The Ancient Egyptians believed that after a person died his soul could live on and enter a second, better life – but only if he had not committed any sins during his first life.

To check whether he had lived a good life, a person’s soul had to be questioned, in the presence of a nightmarish monster.

If the balance is in equilibrium the soul of the deceased enters the paradise of the realm of Osiris.  Should the individual’s heart fail the test, a monster called the Eater stands ready to devour his soul.

Scholars naturally wonder to what degree the Egyptian concept of Maat influenced Israelite thinking on justice and order in society.  Specifically, the feminine personification of Wisdom in Prov 8 has been suggested to have been derived from Egyptian goddess Maat.

It is, of course, importnat to realize that Israel didn’t exist in isolation; to the contrary, the Bible speaks a great deal about the Egyptian influences on Israel.  The sojourn in Egypt was obviously a time when Israel would have been exposed to Egyptian culture and religion, and Solomon’s era was also a period of close cultural exchange between these two societies.

Winged Maat, the Egyptian Goddess of Justice in glorious spread winged kneeling stance.
Her powerful defense of the law is felt in this depiction, which has an artists touch to bring it to life.

Her impressive wing span bring feminine power and protection of all that is just to any space she occupies.

This item is not ancient, it was created by an artist of this life time and is still believed in and sales for $42.00.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to posit a direct line of influence from Egypt to Israel on the subject of order, justice, or Maat.  Both Israel and Egypt understand that justice and harmony are necessary for life to function smoothly.

But wisdom, in Prov 8, is a personification – not a goddess.  She exemplifies the order and justice God has has built into creation.

Lady Wisdom appears elsewhere in Proverbs, for example, in 1:20-33 she calls upon people to heed her teachings and so to find life.

The embodiment of wisdom as a lady who invites people to follow her is a distinctively Israelite idea, with no analogy in Egyptian teaching.