Word and Wisdom
Updated: Jan 12
In the Wisdom of Solomon, the author takes the heritage found in the Old Testament and uses concepts and expressions borrowed from Greek culture. This convergence helps demonstrate that the Word of God transcends cultural expression by reimagining traditional ideas under the lens of different human cultures. One of the interesting juxtapositions is the word “word” which expresses a deep variety of meaning. The Wisdom author relates “word” to both creation and election theology.
Wisdom is the means by which God communicates with men and this “Spirit of the Lord” fills the world making it intelligible to all people (1:7). She is an associate in all the works of God (8:4). Humankind was formed through this wisdom and especially the word of God (9:1). The wisdom and the word of God go together, ordering and creating the cosmos. The word spoken by God has power simply by its utterance, it is an expression of the Will of God which causes to be. The word demonstrates God’s power to create and His wisdom is the structure of that creation.
The author discusses wisdom living with God and sitting by his throne (8:3, 9:4). This Word of God pre-exists the creation, it is not caused by it (9:9). All of creation is shaped by the wisdom of God which permeates everything that has been created. This creation was fashioned by the word according to the wisdom of God. The entire creation reflects this wisdom and it is good, for God “loves all things that exist” and His will is united with His love (11:24). The creation is evidence of God’s love for all He has created.
The wisdom which fashioned all things emanates the glory of the Almighty (7:22,25). Just as the creation is good, we can see how that goodness reflects the goodness of the creator (7:26). The objects of creation are delightful to the senses, so much so that some have confused the creature and the Creator, but this beauty reflects His goodness (13:3-5). Although this wisdom permeates all things, her beauty is especially evident in those who live with wisdom (7:28).
The power by which God creates this beauty, His word, is like a warrior (18:15). It does not struggle against its adversary with swords and clubs, but rather, nothing is a match for his word. Although he could destroy the unrighteous by “stern word”, he offers a chance to repent (12:9-10). To this end, he also relates to us through the word by means of oaths and covenants (18:22).
God’s wisdom played a role throughout history. It protected Adam from the beginning (10:1). It saved Noah from the flood and was with Abraham and Lot (10:4,6). From the original creation, through the Noahide laws and the Abrahamic covenant God’s word is at work in the world, directing it toward his own purposes. He directs the chosen people to salvation in Egypt and back to the promised land. The world is “like a speck that tips the scale” in contract to its creator, but His love for creation is not diminished (11:22).
Although His people often go astray, He does not abandon them to their folly. Rather, he warns them and urges them to turn back and be freed from their wickedness (12:2). He does not abandon his covenant when His people are unfaithful, but grants “them time and opportunity to give up their wickedness” (12:20). For example, when the people abandoned Him during the wandering in the desert, they were chastised with serpents, yet, the word of the Lord healed them, showing his power over life and death (16:12).
Far from leading them into destruction, the Lord preserves those who trust in him by His word (16:26). The author reminds the reader that the Lord gave his people the food of angels while they wandered in the desert. His action in the world is aimed toward saving those who trust in Him. The author describes God as the savior of his people, not allowing them to remain in slavery but offers deliverance of the righteous in accord with the covenant he had made with them.
On that Passover night, the “all-powerful word leaped from heaven... into the midst of the land that was doomed” (18:15). The Lord showed the power of His word both to the Egyptians and the Hebrews. He gave them Moses as a champion, not as a great warrior who defends his people through might, but by prayer and reliance on the powerful word of God. This word offered justice, salvation to the righteous but suffering to the wicked (19:13). The Lord did not neglect those who trusted in Him, but exalted and glorified them (19:22).
Throughout the book of the Wisdom of Solomon we see both word and wisdom at work. In the creation theology we see the word of the Lord transcendent, outside of the creation but forming all things according to the wisdom of the Lord. In the covenant, we see how the word acts inside of history to guide the creation toward the ultimate goal that God has planned for his creation.
We can see how thoughts about the word/wisdom progress. In an earlier book such as Proverbs, wisdom is a gift from the Lord that allows us to know how to preserve righteousness (Proverbs 2:6). Later in Sirach, this wisdom that comes from the Lord was created before all things and only God possesses the fullness of wisdom (Sirach 4-8). Finally, in Wisdom of Solomon we see wisdom as an attribute of God that he sends out to order the world by his word. As time progresses, the authors move from more concrete to more abstract ways of thinking about wisdom. There is an interesting mixture of traditional thoughts about God handed down through the Old Testament with new philosophical ideas that offer new ways of expressing some of those older ideas.