On the Wisdom of Solomon, Part 23: Arrogance and Humility

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On the Wisdom of Solomon, Part 23: Arrogance and Humility

Discussing The Idolatry of Kings in our last presentation of this commentary on the Wisdom of Solomon, it is evident that two such types of idolatry were described: the decrees of kings which forced men to worship certain idols, and the depravity of men who would worship and even encourage others to worship the kings themselves. Encouraging others to worship a king, they seek in turn to flatter the king while making a profit for themselves. So while at first, as we read in verse 16 of Wisdom chapter 14, “graven images were worshipped by the commandments of kings”, later on men “made an express image of a king whom they honoured, to the end that by this their forwardness they might flatter him that was absent, as if he were present”, and through this process “the singular diligence of the artificer did help to set forward the ignorant to more superstition.”

The former mode of idolatry was described as being compulsory, and the later as being voluntary. But if we consider this further, even the compulsory form of such idolatry, whereby a king issues religious decrees, is only possible through the voluntary actions of men. A king cannot rule over any city or any nation unless a certain number of the population have willingly accepted that rule, and then assist in compelling others to accept it even when those others would otherwise refuse, using force on behalf of the man who would be king. Even kings are installed by dominant political parties, the word party actually being a euphemism for gang. So in rather simple language, Solomon is actually describing one aspect of how it is that the wicked come to rule over the righteous, and how they fulfill their endeavor where they had stated, as it was described in Wisdom chapter 2, “11 Let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth.”

In ancient times, as it is evidenced in surviving inscriptions, the kings of Egypt as well as the kings of the Hittites and other tribes had believed that they were the Sun on Earth, the representative of the sun god and the lawgiver who enlightens society. This is also the meaning of the epithet Lucifer, or light-bearer, seen in Isaiah chapter 14 where Yahweh the God of Israel actually mocked the king of Babylon. Many commentators have made the mistake of believing that the Lucifer addressed in that passage is Satan as some sort of demonic entity. However the surrounding context reveals that this epithet was directed at a man who would be the king of Babylon at some point in Isaiah’s future, at the time when Babylon would fall.

Another manifestation of the proclivity of certain men to worship kings as gods is seen in Acts chapter 12, where it speaks of Herod Agrippa I and we read: “21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. 22 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. 23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” This is generally esteemed to have happened in 44 AD, in Caesarea as that chapter of Acts also explains, and Josephus described the death of Herod similarly in Book 19 of his Antiquities.

Like Solomon has done in his example here, Josephus in his own account of the death of Herod Agrippa I had attributed to flatterers the exclamation that Herod was a god, and we shall read it in part: “343 Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city of Caesarea, which was formerly called Strato's Tower; and there he held shows in honour of Caesar, upon his being informed that there was a certain festival celebrated to make vows for his safety [probably Caesar’s safety, referring to the emperor Claudius]. At which festival a great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. 344 On the second day of these shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a texture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those who looked intently upon him: [So it is not unfair to imagine that in this manner Herod actually looked like a Lucifer - WRF] 345 and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good) that he was a god; and they added, ‘Be merciful to us; for although we have hereto reverenced you only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own you as superior to mortal nature.’ 346 Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But, as he presently afterward looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. 347 He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, ‘I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept what Providence allots, as it pleases God: for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.’ 348 When he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly, he was carried into the palace; and the rumour went abroad everywhere that he would certainly die in a short time. But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, 349 with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king's recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now, the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. 350 And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age…”

Herod Agrippa I was the only Herod who ruled all Judaea as king, as he had the favor of Claudius, and he was evidently worshipped by the people of Judaea, especially in this coastal city in an area which had long before come to be dominated by Edomites. Caesarea was only a short distance south of ancient Dor, where, as Josephus had also explained, John Hyrcanus had first subjected the Edomites and forcibly converted them to Judaism. While the Book of Acts describes the death of Agrippa and says that “immediately the angel of the Lord smote him,” Josephus referred to an owl as an ἄγγελος, a messenger or angel, so there is no real discrepancy between the two accounts, outside of matters of perspective. Among the ancient Romans, the appearance of owls in certain places or at certain times were indeed seen as omens warning of imminent death. Herod was not a true Judaean, but rather, he was an Edomite, and Yahweh God often communicates with, or merely send messages to men, even to Edomites, on terms that they themselves can understand.

Ultimately, the worshipping of idols, and the worshipping of men as gods, leads to many other sins, even as far as the corruption of the creation of God, as Solomon professed in verse 12 of this 14th chapter, omitting one word which was surrepitiously added by the translators he said: “12 For the devising of idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them the corruption of life.” So, as we had seen of those same wicked men earlier in Wisdom, in chapter 5, at the moment of their judgment the wicked shall be compelled to recognize the error of their ways, where they are portrayed as lamenting: “6 Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shined unto us, and the sun of righteousness rose not upon us. 7 We wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and destruction: yea, we have gone through deserts, where there lay no way: but as for the way of the Lord, we have not known it. 8 What hath pride profited us? or what good hath riches with our vaunting brought us?” Then all of their works are described as vanity, as disappearing without a trace.

As we had discussed earlier, in reference to Wisdom 14:12 where Solomon had referred to fornication, the King James translators had added the word spiritual, which is not in the text. This creates a lie, and leaves one to imagine that Solomon was not referring to actual fornication. However in Wisdom chapter 3 he had written: “10 But the ungodly shall be punished according to their own imaginations, which have neglected the righteous, and forsaken the Lord. 11 For whoso despiseth wisdom and nurture, he is miserable, and their hope is vain, their labours unfruitful, and their works unprofitable: 12 Their wives are foolish, and their children wicked: 13 Their offspring is cursed. Wherefore blessed is the barren that is undefiled, which hath not known the sinful bed: she shall have fruit in the visitation of souls.” A woman without children is blessed compared to a man or woman who would spawn bastards, who has no fruit in such labors. Such bastards are indeed the “corruption of life” of which Solomon had written in Wisdom 14:12.

Neglecting the righteous and taking wives which are foolish does not mean that the wives themselves are fools, but that the choice of wives is foolish, as they are not of the righteous and therefore not of the race of the children of Israel, whereby their children would indeed be bastards. This is corroborated in Wisdom chapter 4 where we further read: “3 But the multiplying brood of the ungodly shall not thrive, nor take deep rooting from bastard slips, nor lay any fast foundation. 4 For though they flourish in branches for a time; yet standing not last, they shall be shaken with the wind, and through the force of winds they shall be rooted out. 5 The imperfect branches shall be broken off, their fruit unprofitable, not ripe to eat, yea, meet for nothing. 6 For children begotten of unlawful beds are witnesses of wickedness against their parents in their trial.” It is not that the children need to testify, but that their very existence is a testimony of the fornication committed by their father, or perhaps by their mother.

This is the fornication which results from the idolatry of kings. So after Jeroboam I decreed that the children of Israel worship pagan idols, we see the inevitable result in Hosea chapter 5, where it speaks of the Israelites of the northern kingdom and it says: “7 They have dealt treacherously against the LORD: for they have begotten strange children: now shall a month devour them with their portions.” Likewise Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, had also encouraged race-mixing fornication among the children of Israel, as we read in Revelation chapter 2 where Christ had said: “20… thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. 21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. 22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.”

Ahab came to rule Israel only about 36 years after the death of Jeroboam I, and perhaps 58 years after the death of Solomon, and it is evident that from the time where Jeroboam decreed idolatry throughout the land, that the nation descended into immorality very quickly. The magnitude is evident where by the prophet Elijah had confronted four hundred and fifty priests of Baal by himself, in 1 Kings chapter 18. But as Solomon wrote that “the multiplying brood of the ungodly shall not thrive”, Yahshua Christ has promised that “I will kill her children with death”, as Jezebel came to be an example of idolatrous race-mixing fornicators. So we see that idolatry, and especially the idolatry of kings, leads men to physically destroy the creation of God through such fornication. Today throughout Christendom we see that the same pattern has been repeated once again, and as men worship their rulers, especially the rulers installed by their own party, and fornication flourishes. As Solomon also described, this leads to many other sins within the general society, and especially the defilement of marriages by adultery, or even by murder. Yet the ultimate punishment has not changed, and it shall indeed be executed by the wrath of God.

So we shall continue where we left off in Wisdom chapter 14, and Solomon continues to speak of the sins of those who would worship idols where he concluded and said “27 For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil.” Now as he proceeds, he attests to the arrogance and inevitable punishment of the idolaters:

14:28 For either they are mad when they be merry, or prophesy lies, or live unjustly, or else lightly forswear themselves.

The word forswear may be misunderstood, and therefore we would translate this verse more literally:

For either rejoicing they are mad [ἢ γὰρ εὐφραινόμενοι μεμήνασιν], or they prophesy lies [ἢ προφητεύουσιν ψευδῆ], or live unjustly [ἢ ζῶσιν ἀδίκως], or quickly swear false oaths [ἢ ἐπιορκοῦσιν ταχέως].

Being mad while they rejoice, the Greek verb for mad is μαίνομαι, which is primarily to be furious, as being enraged with anger, but was also used to describe the drunken frenzy of those participating in pagan festivals. That last sense is how we would interpret it here, as it relates to the “worshipping of idols” mentioned in the previous verse, and to those same men who would trust in idols which are described in the next verse:

29 For insomuch as their trust is in idols, which have no life; though they swear falsely, yet they look not to be hurt.

In ancient times men swore by their gods, or in the case of the ancient Israelites, by Yahweh their God, and they made their oaths under the presumption of an expectation of punishment by the god if they did not fulfill their obligations. So in Roman law and religion, since all law is actually based on religion, there was the sacramentum, by which oath a man made a vow under which his fate would be given up to the gods for punishment if he violated it. Similar beliefs are found in much more ancient cultures, which is evident in the surviving inscriptions, but this concept is also evident at a much earlier time in Scripture. This we see as early as Genesis chapter 21, where Abimilech the king of Gerar, who was essentially a pagan, had addressed Abraham and we read: “22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: 23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.” Abraham must have understood the custom, since in the next verse he answered with an affirmation: “24 And Abraham said, I will swear.”

So throughout the Old Testament the Israelites were accustomed to swear by the Name of Yahweh their God, and should have expected to be punished for not keeping their oaths. Thus we read in Deuteronomy chapter 6: “13 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.” Then where they did not keep their oaths, they were reprimanded, in Jeremiah chapter 5: “2 And though they say, The LORD liveth; surely they swear falsely.” So the people making their oaths professed that Yahweh was a living and therefore a true God, but they still showed no fear, and they did not keep their oaths. However the false idols upon which men had sworn as gods “have no life”, as Solomon explained here, and therefore men could swear false oaths, regardless of whether they believed in the false god or intended to keep the oaths in the first place, and there would be no punishment for their treachery.

Yet in spite of that, as Solomon now explains, ultimately they would suffer punishment, because swearing by false gods they nevertheless sinned against Yahweh God:

30 Howbeit for both causes shall they be justly punished: both because they thought not well of God, giving heed unto idols, and also unjustly swore in deceit, despising holiness.

The first clause of verse 30 may have been translated more literally to say:

But for both causes [ἀμφότερα δὲ] punishments shall pursue them [αὐτοὺς μετελεύσεται τὰ δίκαια]...

However there is a number mismatch here, where the verb μετελεύσεται is a third person singular form, but a plural form is expected as the suject is plural. But there is no way to translate the clause without suffering the error of grammar, so perhaps it was caused by the error of a scribe or the translator.

Unjustly swearing in deceit, or with guile as the word δόλος is often translated in the New Testament, Solomon is suggesting that men purposely swore on idols because they believed that there would be no consequences, the idol not having any ability to hold men to their oaths or to punish men for breaking them. But Yahweh, the Living God, He is God whether or not men worship idols, so in the end they have no choice but to obey Him and act towards one another in regard to Him. Therefore, as we had read in Wisdom chapter 3, “10 … the ungodly shall be punished according to their own imaginations, which have neglected the righteous, and forsaken the Lord.”

And now he further explains that when they are punished, it is not the idols which shall punish them:

31 For it is not the power of them by whom they swear: but it is the just vengeance of sinners, that punisheth always the offence of the ungodly.

The word for offence is παράβασις, which is often transgression, and the word for ungodly is a plural form of ἄδικος, as a Substantive, which is better translated as unjust or unrighteous.

Here the chapter concludes, but the subject of idolatry will continue to be addressed from a different perspective in chapter 15. However before we begin with that chapter, it may be fitting to note how Solomon’s words here are reflected in the state of the children of Israel four hundred years later, as it is recorded in Jeremiah chapter 23. Of course, as Jeremiah wrote, Israel had already been taken into captivity, but the sins stemming from idolatry had also become prevalent in Judah, so both kingdoms are addressed. While we will not repeat the entire chapter, or the descriptions of how they would be punished for their sins, we will present the portions most relevant to the examples Solomon had used to describe the consequences of idolatry here in Wisdom chapter 14.

From Jeremiah chapter 23: “9 Mine heart within me [Jeremiah] is broken because of the [false] prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the LORD, and because of the words of his holiness. 10 For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourneth… 11 For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the LORD…. 13 And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err. 14 I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah…. 16 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD. 17 They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you…. 21 I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. 25 I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. 26 How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; 27 Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal….”

Here it is clear that the idolatry of Israel led them to commit all of the same sins and to bear the same arrogance which Solomon attributes to the men in his examples here: that idolatry leads to adultery and fornication and the corruption of the race, and also to the making of oaths in deceit and the purposeful failure to keep them, and to the false concept of peace even with the enemies of God, and to the belief that one would not be punished for his sins. So we see precisely the same sins of which Solomon has made made examples in Wisdom chapter 14, the same sins which the prophet also mentioned as being most notable among the idolaters of Israel in Jeremiah chapter 23. We have already explained that these are also the same sins which Paul of Tarsus had described were the results of idolatry in Romans chapter 1. This is also the same idolatry that has permeated the once-Christian society of today, and how shall men not escape punishment, as our ancient forbears did not escape punishment?

The first man Adam sinned in spite of his having known Yahweh God. Several generations later, the descendants of Adam sinned in spite of the fact that they must have known something of His judgment. Then once again, the sons of Noah sinned at Babel in spite of the fact that they must have understood the circumstances surrounding the great flood, which their fathers must have also related to them. Then in spite of having all of that history in their own Scriptures, the ancient Israelites, knowing Yahweh and also having His laws, justified their sins by forsaking Him for the worship of idols, and in their own arrogance they also thought that they would escape punishment.

So forsaking Yahweh we cannot help but sin, and we sin arrogantly as we have purposely forsaken God. But now as we proceed with Wisdom chapter 15, we may see that even Solomon understood the Christian concept of humility which the apostles had also taught, which is to acknowledge one’s sin and seek forgiveness without imagining that one may escape the judgments of God. Therefore as Solomon continues his description of the consequences of idolatry in Wisdom chapter 15, he also explains that Yahweh God shall have mercy upon those who were not deceived by the worship of idols:

Wisdom 15:1 But thou, O God, art gracious and true, longsuffering, and in mercy ordering all things,

That word longsuffering, which appears only three times in the King James Version Old Testament but always as an aspect of the patience of God, in Hebrew and Greek means patience. The same Greek words, μακρόθυμος and μακροθυμία, appear more often in the letters of Paul, and also three times in those of Peter, where the apostles note not only the patience of God, but encourage Christians to have that same patience in respect of one another. Thus Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter 4: “1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That same longsuffering is also an aspect of Christian humility.

Here the King James translators had missed or omitted a pronoun in the opening clause of this verse, which we would render to say “But You, our God…” Once again we must keep in mind that this entire discourse, since the very beginning of Wisdom chapter 9, represents a single prayer for wisdom which Solomon had made to Yahweh upon his having become king. Making this prayer, as we also saw at the beginning of Wisdom chapter 6, he is also advising all those who would rule as king after him. So, where he is evidently also certain that the promises which Yahweh God made to the children of Israel would be fulfilled in spite of their sins, he says:

2 For if we sin, we are thine, knowing thy power: but we will not sin, knowing that we are counted thine.

This in turn reflects a struggle with which every Christian, and surely every Hebrew Israelite before Christ had to contend. For this the apostle John had written, in chapter 2 of his first epistle: “1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world [or society]. 3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

While Christians should of course strive to keep the commandments, being mere men under various circumstances it is inevitable that we may fail, for which reason Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3: “23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”, and David in the 143rd Psalm had written that “for in thy sight shall no man living be justified”, a passage which Paul also cited later in that same chapter of Romans. To understand this is to understand the manner in which Christians should be humble, as Christian humility is not the pleasing of other men, but rather the acknowledgement of sin and the desire to please God.

So in that respect Solomon said “if we sin, we are thine,” and later the apostle John wrote “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father”. For that same reason, knowing that sin was inevitable, Paul of Tarsus wrote in Romans chapter 7: “14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.” So true humility is found in agreement with the law of God in spite of our sins, and knowing that we being sinful cannot save ourselves, we consent to His law because only He can save us. So Solomon continues in that same manner and says:

3 For to know thee is perfect righteousness: yea, to know thy power is the root of immortality.

Solomon had already written, in chapter 2 of Wisdom, that “… God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity.” So here he is not contradicting that, but he said that the root of immortality is in the power of God, as Paul had written in Romans chapter 5 “21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord”, and then in chapter 6 that “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Without the acknowledgement of Christ, there can be no immortality.

Yahshua Christ is the power of God, as the King James Version translates the passage where Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 1: “24 But unto them which are called, both Judaeans and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” The apostle John ended his first epistle summarizing these same concepts where, almost as if he had this very portion of the Wisdom of Solomon in mind, in 1 John chapter 5 we read: “20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Now it becomes explicitly manifest that Solomon is writing for the sake of those who had not been deceived by idolatry, although ostensibly, those who had gone off into idolatry would never see these words:

4 For neither did the mischievous invention of men deceive us, nor an image spotted with divers colours, the painter's fruitless labour;

The word for deceive, πλανάω, is properly to lead astray, but the King James translators also neglected to fully render singular noun κακότεχνος, which is not merely mischievous, but describes wicked arts or evil practices. So we would translate the verse to read:

For neither did the deceitfully crafted invention of men lead us astray [οὔτε γὰρ ἐπλάνησεν ἡμᾶς ἀνθρώπων κακότεχνος ἐπίνοια], nor the fruitless labor of painting [οὐδὲ σκιαγράφων πόνος ἄκαρπος], an image stained with a variegated surface [εἶδος σπιλωθὲν χρώμασιν διηλλαγμένοις];

It is not well-known by most people today, but it has only recently been demonstrated, in a study conducted at Harvard University and publicized in an exhibit in 2007 titled Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity that the idols and statues of the ancient Greek world were painted with many vibrant colors by the hands of what were evidently highly skilled artisans. Here in Wisdom it is more evident that the practice is very old indeed. So in our translation of this passage, some words were translated with this consideration, as σκιαγράφος is sketching more literally than painting, and διαλλάσσω, variegated here in reference to the paint, but is more literally to change or interchange. As it is described by Solomon in the verse which follows, the effect which the idols had on observers justifies our interpretation of this verse, where describing the image he said:

5 The sight whereof enticeth fools to lust after it, and so they desire the form of a dead image, that hath no breath.

We would translate this verse more literally to read:

Of which the sight arouses desire in fools [ὧν ὄψις ἄφροσιν εἰς ὄρεξιν ἔρχεται], and it longs for the lifeless form of a dead image [ποθεῖ τε νεκρᾶς εἰκόνος εἶδος ἄπνουν].

Apparently there is another grammatical error in a number mismatch here, where the verb for longs is a third person singular form. So we wrote it longs, while we would expect a third person plural, they long, referring to the aforementioned fools.

So we see that these idols, which were central to the pagan worship of the Canaanites and other races of Mesopotamia and the Near East just as they were to the Greeks, were also objects of lustful desire. Much of the early Greek art which still survives actually depicts lewd scenes representing sexual objects of desire, whether they be women or boys, or even sexual acts from early Greek mythology. Now Solomon speaks of the artists and their admirers:

6 Both they that make them, they that desire them, and they that worship them, are lovers of evil things, and are worthy to have such things to trust upon.

We are also compelled to render this passage more literally:

Worthy lovers of evil [κακῶν ἐρασταὶ] and of such objects of hope [ἄξιοί τε τοιούτων ἐλπίδων], even [καὶ] those making [οἱ δρῶντες] and those desiring [καὶ οἱ ποθοῦντες] and those worshipping [καὶ οἱ σεβόμενοι]

Rather than those making, οἱ δρῶντες is more accurately those doing, the verb δράω being defined by Liddell & Scott as to “do, accomplish, esp. do some great thing, good or bad”. There is no example where it may mean make except for where it also appears in Wisdom 14:10, and clearly describes the man who made an idol.

While Solomon began his dissertation on idolatry with an example of a man who made useful wooden objects, but turned in his spare time to make an idol of useless wood, now he makes a similar analogy of a potter:

7 For the potter, tempering soft earth, fashioneth every vessel with much labour for our service: yea, of the same clay he maketh both the vessels that serve for clean uses, and likewise also all such as serve to the contrary: but what is the use of either sort, the potter himself is the judge.

In Isaiah chapter 64 the children of Israel are portrayed rather prophetically as acknowledging Yahweh God and attesting: “8 But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” Of course, it seems that to this day such a testimony of humility is not yet entirely fulfilled.

We read another analogy of Yahweh God to a potter in Jeremiah chapter 18, where because the children of Israel were a vessel about to be remolded by God we read: “3 Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.”

Much later, Paul of Tarsus would make his own analogy of potter and clay, comparing Jacob and Esau as two vessels made from the same lump for both good and evil purposes, as we have just seen here in Wisdom 15:7, and he wrote in Romans chapter 9: “21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory… ” and here he was comparing Jacob and Esau in an analogy very much like what we see here in Wisdom 15:7.

But while Yahweh God may be compared to a potter, He certainly does not work lewdly, as Solomon is about to describe the potter of his analogy making a third sort of vessel:

8 And employing his labours lewdly, he maketh a vain god of the same clay, even he which a little before was made of earth himself, and within a little while after returneth to the same, out when his life which was lent him shall be demanded.

The phrase “employing his labors lewdly” comes from an adjective, κακόμοχθος, which literally means evil-working or, as Liddell & Scott define it citing this very passage of Wisdom, working ill or perversely.

Here Solomon notes the irony of a man who was made from dust, and who shall indeed return to dust, as Yahweh God had warned Adam himself in the Scriptures in Genesis 3:19, where such a man who himself was made from the dust of the earth would in turn make an idol of the clay of the ground and worship it, imagining for it to be a god.

Yet the potter is not alone in the folly of his craft, as Solomon continues and says:

9 Notwithstanding his care is, not that he shall have much labour, nor that his life is short: but striveth to excel goldsmiths and silversmiths, and endeavoureth to do like the workers in brass, and counteth it his glory to make counterfeit things.

Speaking of the idols of the heathen, we read in the 115th Psalm, which is attributed to David: “4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.” Here these idols are described as κίβδηλος, in the plural as counterfeit things, but spurious, fraudulent or deceitful are also appropriate. The potter may have been concerned with the great labors he would face over a relatively short life, and instead he is described as having sought to outdo the men of all of the other crafts, who are also engaged in seeking to profit from making idols, striving to make even better idols than they would.

While it seems that the potter would do such things out of pride and arrogance, as Solomon had explained earlier, and not out of humility, in any event the potter’s life, like that of all other men, would end in humility, so Solomon describes the inevitable reward of the potter’s efforts:

10 His heart is ashes, his hope is more vile [or literally, cheaper] than earth [or dirt], and his life of less value [or honor] than clay:

So it seems that there are many parallels with another work of Solomon’s, which is Ecclesiastes, as there he had described all of the works of man as vanity, but in the end explained that with God men did not live in vain, that they would be judged for their works. So now Solomon explains why the works of this potter are vain, at least so far as he had turned to making idols:

11 Forasmuch as he knew not his Maker, and him that inspired into him an active soul, and breathed in a living spirit.

Here we see Solomon interpret Genesis 2:7 as the act of Yahweh instilling into Adam His eternal spirit, where we read: “7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Therefore, as he had in a quite different manner in Ecclesiastes, Solomon once again suggests that if the potter had sought to know his maker, perhaps all of his works may not have been vanity. For a potter who spends his time creating idols, the clay which he abuses is more valuable than the potter himself.

In Isaiah chapter 2 we read of the day of the wrath of Yahweh that “17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. 18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish. 19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. 20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats; 21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.” While the idols usually have different forms, the loftiness, or arrogance of man in his idolatry is just as relevant today as it was in the time of Isaiah, and once again the lofty await the wrath of Yahweh.

The analogy continues here in Wisdom chapter 15, as Solomon describes the vanity of idolatry, and Yahweh willing, we will return to Wisdom soon.

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