Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wisdom: A Peace of Paradise (Proverbs 3:17)

Complete: “All her (Wisdom’s) ways are pleasantness and her paths are ____.” Peace (Proverbs 3:17)

Proverbs is one of five biblical books classified as wisdom. Not surprisingly, several of its passages laud wisdom. Proverbs 3:13-20 is one such section.

Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) notes:

Most commentators...take Proverbs 3:13-20 to be a single eight-line poem...The poem is an encomium of Wisdom through the listing of her benefits to human beings and the depiction of her role in God’s act of creation. The encomium of wisdom remarkably foreshadows the encomium of the wise woman in Proverbs 31:10-31, even to the singling out of the hands (Proverbs 31:19-20). Like the lectures of chapters 1-9, the poem provides motives for hearers to pursue wisdom with all their heart. (Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 53-54)
Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) distinguishes:
This section is more a hymn than typical exhortation. It has none of the imperatives generally associated with exhortation. It personifies Wisdom, and its beginning (“Blessed...”) is elsewhere used in the instructional hymn...In context it supports the general exhortation to pursue wisdom. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 81)
The poem extols wisdom’s relative value in comparison to more traditional riches (Proverbs 3:13-16), its value to humanity (Proverbs 3:17-18) and its divine origins (Proverbs 3:19-20). Roland E. Murphy (1917-2002) explains:
Her value is beyond any of the most precious metals (a frequent comparison; compare Proverbs 8:18-19 with Proverbs 3:14-15). The description of wisdom in Proverbs 3:16 echoes the standard portrayal of the Egyptian goddess Ma‘at, who has the ankh (life) in one hand and a sceptre (ruling power) in the other. Wisdom brings riches, but the great benefit is indicated in Proverbs 3:17, paths of peace. (Murphy, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New International Biblical Commentary), 24)
Wisdom is personified in this unit as a trustworthy guide (Proverbs 3:17), assuming the Lord’s role (Proverbs 3:6). Wisdom is also presented as a woman. Frederick Buechner (b. 1926) denotes, “‘Her ways are ways of pleasantness,’ says Solomon, then adding, just in case there should be any lingering question as to her gender, ‘and all her paths are peace’ (Proverbs 3:17) (Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized, 125).”

Among wisdom’s benefits to humankind is peace.

Her ways are pleasant ways And all her paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17 NASB)
Proverbs 3:17 assures that, contrary to popular opinion, wisdom can make life joyful.

Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) relays:

It is not just quantity of life (length of days) that is promised to those who have a relationship with Wisdom, but quality as well. Wisdom’s path is pleasant. The path refers to one’s life, and the lives of those who are wise are not only pleasant but also characterized by peace. This reminds us of the consequences promised to those who heed the instruction/commands of the father in Proverbs 3:2. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 138)
Though wisdom leads to peace, it may not always seem this way. Dave L. Bland (b. 1953) admits:
To a youth, the path of wisdom may not initially be pleasant and peaceful (see Proverbs 2:1-4). Yet for those who allow wisdom to instruct them, it will lead to peace (Proverbs 3:17). (Bland, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Solomon (College Press NIV Commentary), 72)
In the pantheon of valuables, where do you rank wisdom? Were you to personify wisdom, would you envision it as male or female? How are you actively pursuing wisdom? What enticement would lead you to pursue wisdom more vigorously? What are the byproducts of wisdom?

Proverbs 3:17 assures that peace is an offshoot of wisdom. This concept is central to the book of Proverbs and the Bible as a whole. Leo G. Perdue (b. 1946) characterizes, “The pathways of Woman Wisdom are characterized by pleasantness and peace (Proverbs 3:17). These descriptive terms point to the state of well-being and delight into which the sage enters, once wisdom’s teaching is followed and incorporated into life (Perdue, Proverbs (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), cxv).”

Alluding to this verse, the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 59b) asserts that the entire Torah is intended to promote peace. This premise is still seen in Jewish worship. Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (1954) remind:

This verse and the next [Proverbs 3:17-18] are used in liturgy, particularly when the Torah is returned to the ark followings its reading. (Kravitz and Olitzky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 31)
The Hebrew term “peace” (the common word shalowm) conveys more than the absence of war. Max Anders (b. 1947) explains:
Unlike the confused darkness of the path to destruction in chapter 2, the paths of wisdom are pleasant and peaceful. Wisdom puts us on the path of highest pleasure, not boredom. Peace (Hebrew shalom) stands for the joy and prosperity that accompany the full blessing of God, not merely the absence of conflict. (Anders, Proverbs (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 29)
The source of this wisdom and peace is God. Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) instructs:
People mistakenly think that peace—shalom as positive flourishing, not just lack of conflict—comes from these goods in themselves rather than from relationship with God, which is integral to the genuine enjoyment that Wisdom provides (Proverbs 3:17). (Treier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 26)
In the next verse, wisdom is described as a “tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18), an obvious allusion to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). It implies that wisdom can lead the way back to paradise.

Ellen F. Davis (b. 1950) expounds:

The sages move home, to their own ancient tradition, with the reference to the tree of life (Genesis 3:18). The image stands out; because, outside the first chapters of Genesis, this is the only direct reference to that famous tree, from which our first disobedience separated us (see Genesis 3:24). The sages seem to suggest that laying hold of wisdom reverses our original exile and brings us back to Eden. Those who find wisdom experience something of the joy of paradise: “All her ways are ways of pleasantness” (Proverbs 3:17). The sages here use a technique that is common among the biblical writers. In just a few words they evoke the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the foundational story for humanity’s history with God. That story remains in the background as a foil against which the sages’ understanding of wisdom appears in sharp outline...One might sum up all the teaching of Proverbs by saying that wisdom means holding two things always together: discerning knowledge of the world plus obedience to God. As we shall see, the tragedy that occurred in Eden was the separation of those two essential elements of wisdom. It is the sages’ task to reconnect them. (Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (Westminster Bible Companion), 43)
How does wisdom lead to peace? What is the connection between peace and wisdom? Do you exhibit the peace that only wisdom can provide?

“Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

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