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On the Wisdom of Solomon, Part 13: The Beauty of Wisdom
Making these presentations on the Wisdom of Solomon, we have already presented more than a few arguments in support of our profession that Solomon was indeed the author of this work. However in some of those arguments, it might appear as if we may claim that Wisdom was originally written in Greek, and that is not necessarily true. In earlier portions of this commentary, and namely in Part 2 where we had addressed many criticisms of the work, several times we made references to “the author or translator” of the work. We will not lay claim to know with certainty what was the original language of Wisdom, as there is no definite evidence. But if the original language was indeed Hebrew, it cannot be proven conclusively that the work was not translated by a learned scribe at a time much later than Solomon’s own.
At the end of Wisdom chapter 6, Solomon had promised to disclose the Origin of Wisdom, which he then did here in chapter 7. However first he exhorted his intended readers, who were primarily the future kings of the children of Israel, as to why they should listen to his instruction. Doing that, he then described Wisdom as emanating from God, and began to describe her virtues, depicting Wisdom as a woman to be adored for her beauty. Now here at the end of Wisdom chapter 7, Solomon will continue to profess that the wisdom of which he speaks is indeed the wisdom of God, and continues with an anthropomorphism describing the beauty of Wisdom.
Before we commence, we shall repeat the verses with which we had left off in our last presentation:
24 For wisdom is more moving than any motion: she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness. 25 For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. 26 For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness.
Earlier, in verse 22, Solomon had considered Wisdom to be an “intellectual holy spirit”, and here he describes Wisdom as the image of the goodness of God. But we need not interpret this in a manner which confuses Solomon’s description of Wisdom as a woman with the Holy Spirit in the sense in which Christ Himself had later used the term, to describe His Own ethereal presence both in the world and within His people. In John chapter 14 Christ had promised His disciples a “Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost [or Spirit], whom the Father will send in my name”, and in that same chapter He had also promised them that “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” Therefore He must be that same Comforter, even if He did not explain that to them explicitly.
Rather, Solomon describes the wisdom of God as a creature from God, and uses poetic license to depict that otherwise sexless creature as a woman who has many noble and beautiful virtues, so that he may convey an important message, which is that just as a man is attracted to a woman for her beauty, he should be attracted to Wisdom because Wisdom should be valued far beyond mere beauty. A young man would naturally treasure and pursue a beautiful woman, and therefore he should treasure and pursue Wisdom in that same manner.
As a digression, there are many feminists today who use Solomon’s poetic device, found here and in the Proverbs, compounding them with the later and impious pagan Greek concept of Sophia as a goddess of wisdom, and they use it in ways which perhaps even Solomon may not have imagined, to support their own feminist agendas. In spite of Christ, they continue to imagine Wisdom as an actual feminine entity or characteristic so that they may pretend to have some sort of natural God-given advantage over men. These women are not Christians even when they claim to be, and instead, they are idolaters who despise the patriarchal order ordained by Yahweh God and therefore seek to form a god in their own image.
While to Solomon the personification of wisdom was a rhetorical device perhaps a thousand years before Christ, the man Yahshua Christ is the Word of Yahweh God made Flesh, and therefore He is the actual incarnation of the wisdom of God. Therefore, evoking the language of this very passage of Wisdom, and possibly having been inspired by it, Paul of Tarsus described Christ in Hebrews chapter 1 and referring to Him he wrote: “3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…” Supposedly Christian women who would cling to Solomon’s rhetorical Sophia while ignoring the true incarnation of the Wisdom of God in Christ shall ultimately all be shamed.
Now, commencing with the closing verses of Wisdom chapter 7, Solomon continues his description of Wisdom in the same manner as he had begun earlier:
Wisdom 7:27 And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining [or abiding] in herself, she maketh all things new: and in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God, and prophets.
The Greek phrase translated “in all ages”, κατὰ γενεὰς, would be better translated “throughout generations”. But we have further differences with this passage, where we would translate the final clauses to read:
… and throughout generations [καὶ κατὰ γενεὰς] passing into holy souls [εἰς ψυχὰς ὁσίας μεταβαίνουσα] she prepares them as friends of God and prophets [φίλους θεοῦ καὶ προφήτας κατασκευάζει].
She being the wisdom of God personified, among the gifts of the Spirit Paul had included both wisdom and knowledge where he wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 12: “7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit….” In this passage from Wisdom, the Greek word translated as make is κατασκευάζω, is more precisely to equip, arrange or prepare. Mere wisdom does not make one a prophet, which comes only by the inspiration of Yahweh God. But the ancient prophets had their own schools, where it is evident that seeking the wisdom of God, a man became prepared in the event that God called him to be a prophet. Among the Biblical prophets, there were a few apparent exceptions, such as Amos, who was a shepherd and gatherer of fruit (Amos 7:14-15).
Once again in this passage the word for holy is ὅσιος, which describes something which has been sanctioned by God. The word for soul, ψυχή, refers to what we may call a life. Here the phrase stands in contrast to those defiled things which can have no part with Wisdom, mentioned in verse 25. So evidently Solomon professed that there are lives which are sanctioned by God, and into them the wisdom of God may enter, whereby those particular individuals may in turn become friends or prophets of God.
While we have translated the phrase ἰδοὺ καινὰ ποιῶ πάντα into English as “Behold, I shall make all new things” where the King James Version has “Behold, I am making all things new”, here the language is actually more explicit, and the phrase τὰ πάντα καινίζει, referring to a woman, can only mean “she makes all things new”, the verb καινίζω meaning to make new. In any event, the statement is similar enough in meaning to evoke and foreshadow the words of Christ in Revelation chapter 21 where He had promised to make all things new, or to make all new things. We understand that passage in the Revelation as a promise to restore the twelve tribes of Israel to a new relationship with Yahweh their God, which is also found in the promise of the Gospel that the spirit of Elijah the prophet would restore all things (Malachi 4:5-6, Matthew 17:11).
Christ Himself, as it is described in Luke chapter 2, while He was yet a child of twelve years, was “filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” Later, in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, Paul asked his readers “16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” Christians may indeed have the mind of Christ, which is to understand and comply with the Word of Yahweh God as it is understood through the Gospel of Christ. Then in 2 Corinthians chapter 3 Paul explained to them that only in Christ could anyone understand the Word of God in the Old Testament. Much later, writing the Colossians upon hearing that they had received the Gospel of Christ, Paul told them in the opening chapter of his epistle that “9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Of course, Paul’s teachings fully agree with the Gospel, and so does the Wisdom of Solomon here. Christ Himself had told His disciples, in John chapter 15, “14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” The patriarch Abraham was described as being a friend of God in 2 Chronicles chapter 20, in a statement which is not explicit in Genesis or in the other earlier books of our Bibles. Yet the statement is corroborated in the words of Yahweh Himself as they are recorded in Isaiah chapter 41, and by the apostle James in chapter 2 of his epistle. So if Abraham could be called the friend of God, and also the apostles, it is evident that at least many of the prophets were also friends of God, although in the Old Testament they were only referred to as His servants. They had also kept His commandments, as the apostles were told that they must do if they were to be friends of God, and the Word of God was made known both to them and through them.
But men who pretend to be able to foretell the future today, or who say things in the Name of God which are not already written in the Word of God, those men can only be false prophets. Paul had explained in Hebrews chapter 1 that “1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son”, and in a prophecy of the Messiah in Daniel chapter 9, part of the purpose of the Christ was to “to seal up the vision and prophecy”. Therefore we can not imagine that there will be any other prophets who can justly state “Thus saith the Lord…” unless they are merely citing things already written in Scripture. But the word prophet in the New Testament has other meanings, such as those who have the gift of interpreting the Word of God which has already been recorded, or those who have the ability to reveal things kept secret by others or which are not openly known by others. So in those senses of the meanings of the word, the Wisdom of God can still produce prophets.
Now Solomon warns men who do not seek wisdom:
28 For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom.
So Paul of Tarsus had also advised the Colossians, in chapter 3 of his epistle: “15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” But of course, and as he himself explained in the opening chapters of his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul rejected worldly wisdom in favor of the wisdom of God found in the Scriptures. So Plato and Aristotle have no place in Christian thought, and the so-called “Church Fathers” who followed them instead of Christ must all be rejected.
Solomon continues to describe the beauty of Wisdom:
29 For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order [or every position] of stars: being compared with the light, she is found before it.
In Proverbs chapter 8 we read: “11 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.” Likewise, in Job chapter 28: “18 No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies.” Here Solomon goes even further, to illustrate that true wisdom emanates from heaven, and therefore transcends and precedes the Creation of God.
Of course, the wisdom of God had to precede even light, as He created heaven and earth before He had proclaimed “let there be light”, and therefore all the knowledge and wisdom of God must have existed before He created anything at all. Thus we also read in Jeremiah chapter 10 that “12 He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion”, or by his understanding, as we read in a nearly identical verse in Jeremiah chapter 51.
Here Solomon does not reflect the understanding which we believe that we have acquired through the Gospel of Christ, and especially that which was recorded by John, that by proclaiming “let there be light” in Genesis chapter 1, even before the sun and moon and stars were created, Yahweh God was actually announcing and foretelling His Own presence within His creation. So upon the incarnation of Christ, John declared for Him to be the Light come into the world. So in that sense, Yahweh God is the Light, Christ is Yahweh God incarnate, and He also preceded the Light.
Now Solomon makes an analogy using the coming of night in contrast to the light of Wisdom:
30 For after this cometh night: but vice shall not prevail against wisdom.
We would translate the first part of the verse to read more literally: “For after this the night succeeds”, or in other words, this relates to the light mentioned in verse 29, where it is apparent that Solomon meant to describe the light of day, and it is followed by the night. In the second clause, the word for vice is κακία, which is moral badness, wickedness or evil. So after Yahweh God created the light, men turned their backs on it and sinned in darkness.
This also evokes words of Paul of Tarsus, and may also have helped serve to inspire his own allegory of day and night which is found in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 where he wrote concerning the coming of Christ and His vengeance upon the disobedient: “1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. 7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” So both Solomon and Paul had made allegories comparing wickedness to the dark of night, and good to the light of day.
Now to proceed with Wisdom chapter 8:
Wisdom 8:1 Wisdom reacheth [literally She reaches, although Wisdom is still the subject] from one end to another [literally from end upon end] mightily: and sweetly [or kindly] doth she order [or manage] all things. 2 I loved her, and sought her out from my youth, [and] I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty.
A couple of words were not represented in the translation in the King James Version, so we would translate verse 2 to read:
I loved her [ταύτην ἐφίλησα] and I have sought her out from my youth [καὶ ἐξεζήτησα ἐκ νεότητός μου] even having sought her for a bride [καὶ ἐζήτησα νύμφην] to bring to myself [ἀγαγέσθαι ἐμαυτῷ], and I have become a lover of her beauty [καὶ ἐραστὴς ἐγενόμην τοῦ κάλλους αὐτῆς].
The apocrphal book of the Wisdom of Sirach, or properly, the son of Sirach, mentions Ptolemy III Euergetes in its prologue, and he was a king who ruled Macedonian Egypt from about 246 to 222 BC. In chapter 50 of the work, the author refers to himself as “Jesus the son of Sirach”, while in the prologue he had also said that the wisdom was originally written by his grandfather, who also had the name Jesus, and therefore he most likely may have written around the end of the 4th, or the beginning of the 3rd century BC. We do not esteem the book to be worthy of canon, as there are no indications and no claims that it was inspired by God. The writer only tells us that it was the result of his grandfather’s personal studies. However it is apparently a pious book written by an evidently pious man, and gives us insight into the Faith as it was held by Judaeans in the middle of the intertestamental period, a time about which even Flavius Josephus did not have much knowledge to share.
In the wisdom of Sirach there is a wooing of wisdom found in chapter 51, verses 13 to 30, which we will not present here. It also speaks of wisdom as a woman to be coveted. Some commentators argue that the Wisdom of Solomon mimicked that chapter of Sirach here, however the truth is very likely to be the opposite. This is especially true because in neither work is the wooing of wisdom as a woman original. For example, in Proverbs chapter 7 we read: “1 My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee. 2 Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye. 3 Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart. 4 Say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister; and call understanding thy kinswoman: 5 That they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the stranger which flattereth with her words.” Then in Proverbs chapter 8: “11 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.” So long before Sirach, Solomon was depicting wisdom as a woman to be desired, and it is likely that he only imitated himself and built upon that concept where he woos Wisdom here.
Solomon continues to describe the attributes of Wisdom:
3 In that she is conversant [or lives together] with God, she magnifieth her nobility: yea, the Lord of all things himself loved her.
So Solomon depicts Wisdom as having a symbiotic relationship with God, as if a woman staying with her husband is more noble than one who does not, and is therefore loved by God. So for that reason he also says:
4 For she is privy to the mysteries of the knowledge of God, and a lover of his works.
Interpreting the Greek word μύστις as a mystagogue, which is a teacher of mysteries, rather than as a mystic, as Greek writers had used the word in either way, then we would translate this verse to read:
For she is a teacher of the mysteries [μύστις γάρ ἐστιν] of the knowledge of God [ τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπιστήμης] and a chooser of His works [καὶ αἱρετὶς τῶν ἔργων αὐτοῦ].
Therefore without the wisdom which is of God, one cannot understand the mysteries of God, because there is no other teacher. To choose the works of God is to do the things which He has asked men to do. If we do not choose His works, then we are found departing from the Way, and traveling the road to evil. In Proverbs chapter 16 we read: “3 Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.” Paul of Tarsus spoke in a similar manner in chapter 3 of his second epistle to Timothy, where he was speaking of the wisdom acquired from Scripture: “16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Referring again to the passage in Proverbs chapter 16, the establishing of one’s thoughts is another way to express the concept described by a Greek word, σωφροσύνη, which we will discuss at length shortly.
Yahshua Christ being the Word made flesh, and therefore He being the incarnate wisdom of God, Paul of Tarsus explained in chapter 2 of his first epistle to the Corinthians that the mysteries of God are revealed in the Gospel of Christ, where he wrote: “6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Then further on, in chapter 4 of that epistle, he wrote: “1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
Later, in Ephesians chapter 1, Paul wrote of Christ that “8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself…” and later, among other things, in Ephesians chapter 3: “8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the [Nations] the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: 12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.” Some so-called churches teach that there are still mysteries of the Faith, but Paul of Tarsus taught that they were all already revealed in Christ to His church, meaning, to the body of those undefiled people for whom He had come – the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Solomon continues by speaking of the value of Wisdom:
5 If riches be a possession to be desired in this life; what is richer than wisdom, that worketh all things? 6 And if prudence work; who of all that are is a more cunning workman than she?
The language of this passage is archaic and a little difficult to follow, but the meaning was close enough to the Greek that I was not compelled translate it anew.
Solomon speaks of prudence as if it is a quality of Wisdom. This was also explained in Proverbs chapter 8: “12 I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.” Likewise, from Ephesians chapter 1, speaking of Christ, Paul wrote that “he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” So wisdom and prudence are portrayed by both Solomon and Paul as going hand-in-hand. Prudence is caution in judgment, and it is also advised in the first chapter of the epistle of James where he wrote: “19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
An exhortation for prudence is also evident in the 103rd Psalm: “8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” Likewise, in the 145th Psalm: “8 The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.” So we read in Proverbs chapter 14: “29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” In Proverbs chapter 15, we see an exhortation for both prudence and fortitude: “ 18 A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife. 19 The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain.” Now Solomon refers to a man that loves righteousness, which would also be a necessity if he sought Wisdom:
7 And if a man love righteousness her labours are virtues: for she teacheth temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude [ἀνδρεία, or manliness]: which are such things, as men can have nothing more profitable in their life.
We would translate this verse to read:
And if anyone loves righteousness [καὶ εἰ δικαιοσύνην ἀγαπᾷ τις] her labors are virtues [οἱ πόνοι ταύτης εἰσὶν ἀρεται]. For temperance and prudence she teaches [σωφροσύνην γὰρ καὶ φρόνησιν ἐκδιδάσκει], righteousness and manliness [δικαιοσύνην καὶ ἀνδρείαν], of which things [ὧν] nothing is more useful [χρησιμώτερον οὐδέν ἐστιν] in the life of men [ἐν βίῳ ἀνθρώποις].
In the Greek writers, ἀνδρεία was often used in contradistinction to δειλία, which is timidity or cowardice. The King James Version has fortitude instead of manliness, which is basically courage in the face of adversity, and while that should certainly be a quality of manliness, the translation obscures part of the meaning. The word ἀνδρεῖος and related terms describe what is masculine, while γυναικεῖος and related terms describe what is feminine. The Greeks did, however, use ἀνδρεία to describe brave deeds.
There is an article titled What Is the Original Language of the Wisdom of Solomon? which was written by a Jewish teacher at a rabbinical school in Breslau, Germany who had also worked at large Christian universities in Germany throughout his career whose name was Jacob Freudenthal. The article was published in The Jewish Quarterly Review in 1891. In spite of the narrow title, the author sought to portray much of the Septuagint itself as being “defective”, as he called it. On page 725, for example, he assailed the story of Susanna as being originally authored in Greek. But he was dishonest in his "proof" of that assertion, since he was citing the Greek translation by Theodotian, and not the version found in the Septuagint, although he attributed his examples to the Septuagint. So he exploited certain wordplay which exists in the version of Theodotion, who was a Hellenistic Jew, in order to make his case. But the wordplay does not exist in the original version found in the Septuagint. The very fact that there are such diverse versions of Susanna serves to prove that there was a Hebrew original, but the Jew Freudenthal instead chose to lie.
On page 728 of his article, as it appeared in the much larger publication, in reference to this passage in Wisdom chapter 8, Freudenthal wrote: “Here we have the four cardinal virtues of Plato side by side. What reading in the Hebrew text could have moved the Greek translator to this collocation?” Then, after addressing a Christian apologist for Wisdom, he wrote “In point of fact, σωφροσύνη is a notion for which no equivalent exists in Hebrew or neo-Hebraic speech [as if there were such a thing, since he actually referred to Yiddish – WRF]; it is absent from the LXX. [Septuagint – WRF], and together with other ethical ideas first makes its appearance in purely Hellenistic writings, in the second book of the Maccabees, in the Letter of Aristeas, and in the New Testament. From which it follows that in the ‘Wisdom’ the use of σωφροσύνη betrays a Greek author and not a translator. Moreover, the LXX., as I showed on a previous occasion, were not familiar with the meaning of simple philosophical terms, and similarly there is no work emanating from ancient Hebrew or Aramaean circles which contains more than some isolated philosophical expressions which had forced their way into popular use.”
As we illustrated throughout our answers to other and similar criticisms of Wisdom, it is not true that σωφροσύνη “makes its appearance in purely Hellenistic writings”, nor does the concept originate with Plato, which is ridiculous. The word σωφροσύνη appears in Homer’s Odyssey and in the works of other poets who wrote long before Plato. So simply because the Septuagint translators had no other occasion to use the word, does not mean that it could not have appeared in an early translation of Wisdom.
There are many words in the Septuagint which appear only once, and again only in Hellenistic writings. For example, the word ἀγκωνίσκος, an adjective which describes something bent or curved, occurs only in Exodus 26:17, and in the writings of an obscure Greek engineer of the first century named Hero of Alexandria. So does that prove that the Exodus was not written in Greek until after the first century? Yet the word σωφροσύνη appears often from the writings of the earliest of the Greeks.
But Plato was not the author of virtue, or of the virtue of discretion, or soundness of mind, which is how σωφροσύνη is defined. The Greeks originally formed the word σωφροσύνη and the related words from two words: σῶς, which is sound, whole or safe, and φρήν, which is the mind. In the Hebrew Old Testament there is a phrase, uprightness of heart, which is basically equivalent in its meaning to the Greek word σωφροσύνη. That Hebrew word for heart, לבב (lebab), is often also translated as mind. Since σωφροσύνη was formed from two Greek words, we do not need to see a single word in Hebrew which has an equivalent meaning, and the argument of Freudenthal is based on a fraudulent premise. So where he said “In point of fact, σωφροσύνη is a notion for which no equivalent exists in Hebrew”, he was lying because that notion is expressed in the phrase “uprightness of heart”, or of uprightness of mind. The Romans also used a phrase rather than a compound word to express the same concept, which is sanus mentis, although they had other terms which expressed particular aspects of its meaning, and so did the Hebrews.
Furthermore, in translations more modern than the King James Version, the Hebrew word mezimmah, Strong’s # 4209, is often translated as discretion, on five occasions in Proverbs in the North American Standard Bible, and that is how σωφροσύνη is also often translated. So Freudenthal’s arguments fail in many ways.
Qualities such as temperance, prudence, righteousness and manliness, or qualities such as discretion, or moderation as σωφροσύνη is also translated, are indeed expressed positively throughout Scripture, and there are innumerable examples. Often these concepts are represented in models, such as where the drunkeness of Noah and the sin to which it led is an example that moderation in drinking is a virtue. But often they are expressed where only contrary examples are condemned. One such an example is in the law which concerns men eligible to go to war, in Deuteronomy chapter 20 where we read “What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart.” So there we realize that for men, manliness is both a virtue and a necessity. It is a necessity to the point where Paul of Tarsus warns that men who are effeminate, which is literally men who are soft, shall not inherit the Kingdom of God, in 1 Corinthians chapter 6.
Plato may have described four so-called cardinal virtues, but none of these are unknown in Scripture, and Solomon certainly was not copying from Plato. Discretion, moderation, uprightness of heart, justice or righteousness, and manliness are taught throughout Scripture long before Plato ever lived. The Septuagint translators seem to have usually rendered the phrase “uprightness of heart” with Greek words that literally mean “straightness of heart”, but simply because the translators so often chose such a literal rendering does not mean that they would not have understood the concept related in the word σωφροσύνη. The same phrase may have been rendered “straightness of mind”, and that is σωφροσύνη.
We see a similar phrase, integrity of heart, where Yahweh God addresses Solomon himself in 1 Kings chapter 9: “4 And if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments: 5 Then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised to David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man upon the throne of Israel.” In Scripture, the only valid σωφροσύνη, discretion or straightness of mind, is discretion and straightness of mind to obey God, and the discretion of Plato was something else entirely.
Returning to Wisdom chapter 8:
8 If a man desire much experience, she [Wisdom] knoweth things of old, and conjectureth aright what is to come: she knoweth the subtilties of speeches, and can expound dark sentences: she foreseeth signs and wonders, and the events of seasons and times.
The word translated as much experience is πολυπειρία, a compound word which may also mean many trials, many attempts or many undertakings or experiments, among other possible definitions. While the word appears as early as in the work of Thucydides, in Greek Scripture it only appears elsewhere once, in the Wisdom of Sirach.
The “much experience” mentioned here is a reference to the wisdom which is gained by experience, and Solomon is attributing it to the wisdom of God, which in turn is found in Scripture. If men would learn that Wisdom, as Solomon depicts it as a woman here, then they would have the benefit of her experience without necessarily having to suffer similar trials for themselves. Where it says that Wisdom “conjectureth aright what is to come” it means that Wisdom portrays in a likeness or in a comparison what things are to come. The words rendered as “subtilties of speeches” mean literally “turnings of words”, and by “dark sentences” riddles are meant. The same word, αἴνιγμα, which is the source of our English word enigma, in the plural here is riddles in 1 Kings chapter 10, and hard questions in the King James Version, where the Queen of Sheba sought to try the wisdom of Solomon by such inquiries.
In the opening verses of Proverbs chapter 1, we read the purpose of the book, in part: “5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: 6 To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. 7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Now that Solomon has described the beauty of Wisdom, he further expresses his resolve to pursue it:
9 Therefore I purposed to take her to me to live with me, knowing that she would be a counsellor of good things, and a comfort in cares and grief.
As we had said earlier, that word σωφροσύνη is often translated as discretion, and so is the Hebrew word mezimmah. One place where mezimmah appears in the Proverbs of Solomon is in chapter 2 where it says “11 Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee”, but in the corresponding passage in the Septuagint it was translated from Hebrew as βουλὴ καλὴ or good counsel.
With this in mind, we read in Wisdom chapter 8: “12 I wisdom have dwelt with counsel and knowledge, and I have called upon understanding. 13 The fear of the Lord hates unrighteousness, and insolence, and pride, and the ways of wicked men; and I hate the perverse ways of bad men. 14 Counsel and safety are mine; prudence is mine, and strength is mine. 15 By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.” This same message has certainly been echoed persistently and in many different ways throughout this Wisdom of Solomon.
Likewise, once again we see the concept which the Greeks expressed as σωφροσύνη clearly expressed in Proverbs chapter 9, as Brenton had translated it from the Greek of the Septuagint: “10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the counsel of saints is understanding: for to know the law is the character of a sound mind.” Only a Jew would invent lies in order to try to discredit the Wisdom of Solomon. But now the Jew is dead, and the Wisdom of Solomon lives on. That will be the subject of the next portion of our commentary on this chapter, which discusses The Reward of Wisdom.