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On the Wisdom of Solomon, Part 29: Born From Above
In the last portion of this commentary, throughout chapter 18 of the Wisdom of Solomon, we saw a description of The Emergent World, as Solomon himself had described the world as being represented by the long garment of the high priest of Israel which had contained twelve gemstones representing each of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. The breastplate of the garment contained little else besides those gemstones and the Urim and Thummim, which ostensibly represented the twelve tribes under the judgment and counsel of Yahweh their God. Yet Solomon described that as “the whole world” where he said in verse 24: “For in the long garment was the whole world, and in the four rows of the stones was the glory of the fathers graven, and thy Majesty upon the diadem of his head.” This world, referring to the particular κόσμος or society and not to the entire planet, was formed by God Himself as He chose the children of Israel, the seed of Abraham, to endure the trials which they had experienced in Egypt, and coming out of Egypt to be established in His laws and to be organized according to His Word. Solomon will repeat that same profession in another way here in Wisdom chapter 19, whereby he also reveals the meaning of the phrase “born from above”.
In Genesis chapter 15, Abraham was forewarned of this by God, where after Yahweh God had made many other promises to him, we read “13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.” The four hundred years, as it had been reckoned by Paul of Tarsus and as it is evident in the historical narrative of Scripture, included the time from Abraham’s arrival in Canaan to the subsequent sojourn of Jacob in Egypt and the period during which the Israelites were actually enslaved by the Egyptians, which was only something less than 180 years. This method of counting is verified where in verse 16 of that same chapter of Genesis, it says that “in the fourth generation they shall come hither again”, and in the genealogies it is evident that when Jacob went to Egypt with Levi, his son Kohath was already born, and Kohath was the father of Amram, the father of Moses. So Moses was the fourth generation from Jacob, and although several generations were born after him, he led them back “hither” to the land of Canaan.
Much later, Paul of Tarsus, in Romans chapter 4, summarized those promises which had been made to Abraham found in various passages in Genesis in the conclusion “that he should be the heir of the world”, referring to the old Adamic world. Then in that same chapter, as a result of that promise, Paul went on to describe the world of his own time as having consisted of nations which had descended from the seed of Abraham. It certainly is true that the predominant tribes of the Adamic world in the time of Christ, Romans, Parthians, Phoenicians and Britons, Dorian and Danaan Greeks, and Galatae, or Scythians, had all descended primarily, or at least in large part, from the ancient Israelites, while only vestiges of certain tribes from the old Adamic world had still remained. So consequently, it is people from these tribes, and only from these tribes, to whom Paul had brought the message of the Gospel of Christ.
So according to Solomon, the children of Israel are the world of the Scriptures, and therefore it is apparent that Yahweh God, the Creator of all things, would effect His will in the world both through them and for them. While this last conclusion may seem to be a mere conjectural extrapolation of Solomon’s words, it certainly is the implication which is also affirmed rather consistently in the words of the prophets. For example, in Isaiah chapter 43 we see the complete disregard which Yahweh God had even for other Adamic nations, as He carried out His will for Israel, and where the subject is Israel already taken off into the Assyrian captivity, we read: “3 For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. 4 Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” Egypt, Ethiopia and Sheba were all overrun by Nubians, and effectively destroyed especially as compared to their former glory, by the time Isaiah had written those words at the very beginning of the 7th century BC, which was shortly after the failure of the Assyrians in the siege of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah.
Likewise, we read of the punishment of the children of Israel, and their correction at the expense of all the nations where they would be scattered in their captivity, in Jeremiah chapter 30: “10 Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the LORD; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid. 11 For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.” So it is Yahweh’s intention that even in captivity for their punishment, the children of Israel should ultimately supplant all the other nations. The same promise is repeated in a similar context later on, in Jeremiah chapter 46.
Finally, we read in Isaiah chapter 27, where it speaks once again in reference to Yahweh: “6 He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.” The word for world in that passage is the Hebrew word tebel, which is the counterpart of the Greek word οἰκουμένη used by Luke in chapter 2 of his Gospel where he wrote that “there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed,” in reference to the Roman world which Caesar had the authority to tax. That is the same world, in the geographical sense, which the “lost sheep” descendants of the children of Israel had already come to dominate, and therefore they were indeed the world which had emerged in the exodus out of Egypt, in the sense of being the κόσμος or society. That word κόσμος is an adjective which primarily means order, and in the context of Scripture it most often refers to the order, organization or government of the geographical world, for which reason we often translate it as society.
There is more to be said concerning this long comparison of Egypt, which represents the world of the ungodly in Solomon’s lengthy analogy, in contrast to Israel, which represents the emergent world in his analogy, however we shall reserve any further comment for future discussion, and commence with Wisdom chapter 19, and the ungodly, or impious, who are now the subject of his discussion:
Wisdom 19:1 As for the ungodly, wrath came upon them without mercy unto the end: for he knew before what they would do;
While the sense is acceptable, the last clause of this verse may have been better translated more literally:
1… for He knew beforehand [προῄδει γὰρ] even the things coming of them [αὐτῶν καὶ τὰ μέλλοντα].
While the Exodus account portrays Yahweh Himself as having been the cause for pharaoh to pursue the departed Israelites, by hardening his heart, here Solomon only expressed the provenance of God in this matter.
Throughout our commentary we have frequently mentioned that since the beginning of Wisdom chapter 10, Solomon is making a presentation of the prayer which he had offered to Yahweh, begging for wisdom upon his first having become king of Israel. As he had done in many places throughout this prayer, which we have seen spans the entirety of these last 11 chapters of Wisdom, Solomon both addressed God in the 2nd person, as he does below in verse 5, and described His actions in the 3rd person, as he has done here using the 3rd person form of a verb which literally means to know beforehand. Saying this, the explanation of the meaning of the verse follows, where Solomon explains that the ungodly in Egypt had continued in their error even after suffering the loss of all of their firstborn on that first Passover:
2 How that having given them leave to depart, and sent them hastily away, they would repent and pursue them.
The Greek word μεταμέλω, and the passive form μεταμέλομαι which appears here, is not always used in the positive sense by which Christians are accustomed to understand the concept of repentance. To repent may also be to regret a decision or merely to change one’s mind about something. So Liddell & Scott primarily define the word to mean “to feel repentance, to rue, regret” but then also “to change one's purpose or line of conduct”, citing an example from the 4th century historian Xenophon. Here we would translate the word as regret, “… they would regret it and pursue them.”
That the Egyptians had initially given the Israelites leave to depart from Egypt we see in Exodus chapter 12: “30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. 31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said. 32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also. 33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men.” Yet they had evidently changed their minds rather quickly, as Solomon next describes:
3 For whilst they were yet mourning and making lamentation at the graves of the dead, they added another foolish device, and pursued them as fugitives, whom they had intreated to be gone.
While the translation of the King James Version is acceptable, we nevertheless chose to offer our own more literal translation:
3 For while still having mournings at hand [ἔτι γὰρ ἐν χερσὶν ἔχοντες τὰ πένθη] and lamenting at the graves of the dead [καὶ προσοδυρόμενοι τάφοις νεκρῶν] they were persuaded by another foolish reasoning [ἕτερον ἐπεσπάσαντο λογισμὸν ἀνοίας]: even those whom being supplicated had departed [καὶ οὓς ἱκετεύοντες ἐξέβαλον], them they pursued as fugitives [τούτους ὡς φυγάδας ἐδίωκον].
So after the Egyptians had begged the children of Israel to depart from the land, as it is described in Exodus 12:33, upon that departure Yahweh had hardened the heart of the pharaoh once again, and in Exodus chapter 14 it is explained that the Egyptians had repented, or actually, had changed their minds. So here Solomon explains that they were persuaded to pursue them as fugitives, and in Exodus we read an account of that very thing, and it is pharaoh himself who is depicted as having done the persuading: “1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. 4 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. And they did so. 5 And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us? 6 And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him: 7 And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them. 8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand.”
Now Solomon explains that they had deserved the additional punishment which this action had brought upon them:
4 For the destiny, whereof they were worthy, drew them unto this end, and made them forget the things that had already happened, that they might fulfil the punishment which was wanting to their torments:
The verb which we have translated as persuaded in verse 3 is ἐπισπάω, which is literally to draw or drag after one, to pull to or, of something such as a noose, to draw tight. Therefore it is also to attract, gain, win, to draw on, allure, persuade, or metaphorically, to bring on or cause, rearranging the definitions of the word as they are found in Liddell & Scott. But here in this verse another verb, ἕλκω, was translated in the King James Version as drew, which in the present tense is to draw, and which was typically used of something that is dragged or drawn along by force. It seems to stress the fact that the Egyptians were dragged into this situation, that they could by no means avoid it even if they wanted to, as Yahweh God was making an example of them. That example also ensured the decline and demise of Egypt, as Yahweh said in Isaiah that He had given them up on behalf of Israel.
While the sense of this translation is also generally acceptable, for these and other reasons we shall offer our own more literal version for clarification:
For a fitting necessity had dragged them to this end [εἷλκεν γὰρ αὐτοὺς ἡ ἀξία ἐπὶ τοῦτο τὸ πέρας ἀνάγκη] and applied a forgetfulness of the things which happened [καὶ τῶν συμβεβηκότων ἀμνηστίαν ἐνέβαλεν] that the punishment lacking would be added to fill their torments [ἵνα τὴν λείπουσαν ταῖς βασάνοις προσαναπληρώσωσιν κόλασιν].
The verb προσαναπληρόω is defined as to fill up or replenish besides, where Liddell & Scott had cited Aristotle, or to add so as to fill up, for which they cited Plato. Here in our translation, where it is in a form belonging to the Subjunctive mood, it is “would be added to fill”. That does not mean that the torments would end there, but only that this punishment was added to the others towards the ultimate fulfillment of the punishments which they were due.
So all of the plagues of Egypt, up to and including the deaths of all of their firstborn, were still not enough to fulfill the torments of which they were worthy, and therefore the destruction of their army was provided in addition to their earlier torments. Now Solomon makes another analogy:
5 And that thy people might pass a wonderful way: but they might find a strange death.
The adjective for wonderful, παράδοξος, is literally contrary to opinion, incredible, and therefore also paradoxical, as it is the very source of that English word. Here it modifies the noun ὁδοιπορία, which is way here and describes a journey. The verb translated as “might pass” is a subjective form of πειράζω, which is to try, as to make trial of, to test or to tempt. So we would translate verse 5 to read:
5 And that Your people [καὶ ὁ μὲν λαός σου] would be tried by an incredible journey [παράδοξον ὁδοιπορίαν πειράσῃ]: but they [ἐκεῖνοι δὲ] would find a strange death [ξένον εὕρωσι θάνατον].
The word for strange in the last clause is ξένος, which in contexts such as this was used to describe something alien or unusual, so we would understand it as strange in that manner.
But just as Solomon had described the children of Israel as the emergent world in the closing verses of Wisdom chapter 18 now he once again makes a very similar assertion, using very different terms:
6 For the whole creature in his proper kind was fashioned again anew, serving the peculiar commandments that were given unto them, that thy children might be kept without hurt:
But before we can even comment on this passage, we must resolve a serious issue which we have with the translation, as the word rendered as again is πάλιν, which literally means again, but the word translated as anew is ἄνωθεν, which literally means from above. Being translated in that manner, as anew, the word is redundant, and is therefore rendered quite useless, or perhaps the word which actually means again, πάλιν, is rendered useless. Since an adverb is a word that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or another adverb, here πάλιν obviously modifies ἄνωθεν, which makes no sense if ἄνωθεν is interpreted as anew, since the first Creation was described as having been ex nihilo, from nothing, and not anew.
But ἄνωθεν does not mean anew, except in the doctrines of the denominational churches. Liddell & Scott define ἄνωθεν as an “Adverb of Place, from above, from on high… from the upper country, from inland…” citing Herodotus, Thucydides and Homer, and then secondarily, it was used as the adverb ἄνω to signify above or on high, although ἄνω primarily signifies motion upwards, or “to the brim” or to the top, as it is in John 2:7, while ἄνωθεν signifies motion from upwards. Plato is cited as having used the term ἄνωθεν with another word for progenitors to describe early ancestors, and also, in reference to time, to mean from the beginning. The 3rd century BC poet Theocritus used it to mean by descent.
The phrase οἱ ἄνωθεν, those above, was even used to distinguish the living, as opposed to οἱ κάτω, those below or the dead in the Tragic Poets, namely in Aeschylus’ play The Libation Bearers, while other writers had used ἄνω in that manner. So the adversaries of Christ knew exactly what He had meant where He declared to them, using the words ἄνω and κάτω in John chapter 8, “23… Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.” However the Greek phrases are such as they should be rendered “from of those beneath” (ἐκ τῶν κάτω) and “from of those above” (ἐκ τῶν ἄνω). So the Greek of the passage also shows that He was not alone in having come from above. Furthermore, He was not of their world, because His world is the twelve tribes of the children of Israel found on the long garment of the high priest, and now Solomon attests here that they came from above.
Only in the New Testament is it claimed that the word ἄνωθεν can mean over again, anew, and we must reject that as an accommodation by the lexicons to church doctrine which defies the true meaning of the term, as even in the Gospel of John, on one occasion in chapter 3 and on two occasions in John chapter 19, and in the epistle of James on three occasions in chapters 1 and 3, it is translated correctly, as from above, in the King James Version. In other places in the King James Version, this word ἄνωθεν is “top to bottom” in Matthew chapter 27 and Mark chapter 15. Of time, it is “from the first” in Luke chapter 1 and “from the beginning” in Acts chapter 26.
Yet it is translated as again twice in John chapter 3, even in reference to being born, and in Galatians 4:9. Yet in all three places, the natural and literal meaning of the word as from above makes perfect sense within the context of each of those passages. The word did not mean again in Greek literature, and we must therefore reject the notion that it may mean again in the New Testament, as the apostles were speaking in a manner that could be understood by common people. Something which Paul himself had professed in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 where he said “19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” If the apostles had ever been using words with peculiar meanings, contrary to their common meanings, then they may as well have been speaking in unknown tongues. They cannot be attributed with these clever innovations by which the Churches were corrupted with false doctrines.
As for the phrase “that were given to them”, I cannot find equivalent Greek words in this passage in either the Greek edition of Rahlf with the variant readings it provides or those which were employed by Brenton. With this and other differences that we have with the translation of the passage in the King James Version, but which we shall only discuss here briefly, we shall translate verse 6 to read:
6 For the whole creation [ὅλη γὰρ ἡ κτίσις] within its own race [ἐν ἰδίῳ γένει] was perfectly formed again from above [πάλιν ἄνωθεν διετυποῦτο], serving its commandments [ὑπηρετοῦσα ταῖς σαῖς ἐπιταγαῖς] in order that Your sons [ἵνα οἱ σοὶ παῖδες] may be kept unharmed [φυλαχθῶσιν ἀβλαβεῖς].
First we esteem the pronoun σαῖς, which is feminine singular, to refer back to the feminine singular noun κτίσις, and not to God. The manuscript which Brenton employed for his edition of the Septuagint reads its own, in the feminine gender, rather than its. The children of Israel were a society formed again from above, as Adam was the son of God from above (Luke 3:38) and they were formed to serve according to the same commandments which man had failed to serve from the beginning, not even being able to keep the first commandment which was not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. So while in Genesis on several occasions we see that the creation of God was in keeping with “kind after kind”, so we see here that this Creation was formed “within its own race”, or kind, the Greek word being γένος, which is a race, stock, or family, and therefore also a class, sort, or kind. But a sort or kind of people is a race.
The Greek verb διατυπόω is defined by Liddell & Scottt to mean to form perfectly, or, using an example that was speaking in reference to the laws of the Greeks as the 2nd century AD rhetorician Lucian of Samosata had used the term, to give them a lasting form. So it is evident that here Solomon describes the “whole creation” as the organization of the children of Israel, who were specimens of their own kind, or race, just as Yahweh God in His account of the creation had created everything “kind after kind”. Therefore he also described them here as having been “perfectly formed” in order to serve the commandments which He had assigned to that creation, and asserting that in that manner, that they would be kept unharmed.
Yet only the children of Israel were ever given those commandments by God, and once again they are the only subjects of this creation which Solomon described. As we have often cited, the author of the 147th Psalm rejoiced that the law was given only to the children of Israel where he wrote, speaking of Yahweh, that “19 He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. 20 He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD.”
Serving the commandments of God, the children of Israel are indeed kept unharmed. Thus we read in Revelation chapter 22: “14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” That city, the City of God, was described as having the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on its gates, and its foundation stones were essentially the same stones as the gemstones on the breastplate which was affixed to the long garment of the high priest, so they are the world which Solomon describes here as having been fashioned again from above. If one is not from of one of those tribes, by no means shall one enter into that city, as there is no gate with one’s name on it. Yahshua Christ Himself had said, as it was recorded in John chapter 3, in spite of the mistranslations which have been perpetrated by the churches, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a man should be born from above, he is not able to see the Kingdom of Yahweh.” Now here in Wisdom we may see what it is to be born from above.
Then we read in Isaiah chapter 44, where it addresses the children of Israel in punishment in the Assyrian captivity: “1 Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: 2 Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. [No other nations can lay claim to having this privilege.] 3 For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring. [No other nations can lay claim to having these promises.]” The children of Israel, fashioned in the womb by Yahweh God Himself, are therefore born from above, just as Yahshua Christ had been fashioned in the womb of His mother by God Himself. There and elsewhere in Isaiah, the children of Israel are called the servant of God, even in their blindness, as we see in Isaiah chapter 42: “19 Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD'S servant?” And just as the Egyptians were dragged through history and into the circumstsances under which they were punished, the children of Israel shall be dragged through history into the circumstances by which they have salvation.
The phrase which even the King James Version had translated as “the whole creature” here, ὅλη ἡ κτίσις, is the whole creation, as the word κτίσις is primarily a founding, or foundation, and then a creating, or creation. Here it is clear that Solomon is referring to the children of Israel as “the whole creation” just as he had also professed that in the long garment of the high priest where only the twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes, and the Urim and Thummim were found, that represents the whole world. The children of Israel, being a perfectly formed creation of their own kind, or race, are indeed what is “born from above”.
So now, using further language which evokes the creation of Genesis chapter 1 to describe how the children of Israel were “formed again from above”, Solomon continues to describe that incredible journey by which they had made their flight from Egypt:
7 As namely, a cloud shadowing the camp; and where water stood before, dry land appeared; and out of the Red sea a way without impediment; and out of the violent stream a green field:
Solomon, using this language which evokes the creation account of Genesis chapter 1, is actually signaling to his readers his meaning where he describes the children of Israel as “the whole creation” which had been “formed again from above”, as they are now the creation of Yahweh God with which Yahweh is concerned. So we see the presence of Yahweh described as “a cloud shadowing the camp”, and the language evokes a clause in Genesis chapter 1 where we read that: “2… darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Then, a little further on, “9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” Then, drawing an image which is apparently derived from the Genesis gathering of the waters, here it is represented as if it had come by the violent rushing of streams and which resulted in a green field of grass. However the word translated as stream in the King James Version is κλύδων which is a wave, or the surf, or even a flood. In any event, it seems that Solomon was also purposely evoking something which we read a little further on in Genesis chapter 1: “10… and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass…”
So while the first creation was from above, which the Word of God had caused to appear ex nihilo, or from nothing, now this new creation, which was “formed again from above” is the children of Israel as the emergent world. As Yahweh God had announced in the promises to Abraham in Genesis, and also later throughout the words of His prophets, that it is their destiny to supplant the more ancient Adamic world which was created in Genesis. Now, describing their relative joy as they passed safely through the sea, we read:
8 Where through all the people went that were defended with thy hand, seeing thy marvellous strange wonders.
The adverb πανεθνεί, translated as “all the people” here, literally means with the whole nation, or even with all the nation. For the purpose of clarity we would translate the verse to read, where it is still speaking of the parting of the Red Sea:
8 Through which [δι᾽ οὗ] all the nation had passed [πανεθνεὶ διῆλθον] being shadowed by Your hand [οἱ τῇ σῇ σκεπαζόμενοι χειρὶ], having beheld marvellous wonders [θεωρήσαντες θαυμαστὰ τέρατα].
Regarding the “cloud shadowing the camp”, as we have just seen here in verse 7, the children of Israel are described as having been shielded by the presence of Yahweh as they passed through the Red Sea, as we read in Exodus chapter 14: “19 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: 20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.”
Having been shielded, they are next described as having rejoiced:
9 For they went at large like horses, and leaped like lambs, praising thee, O Lord, who hadst delivered them.
There are no Greek words in the text for where the King James Version has “at large”, and the verb in the first clause, νέμω, does not mean to go or to come, but is translated here as “went”. The word primarily means to deal out, distribute, or dispense, for which it was frequently used of food and drink. However in the passive voice, as it is here, it is to pasture, graze, to feed on, or also to be fed. In reference to horses, the first clause should read “For they were fed like horses” or “For they grazed like horses” [ὡς γὰρ ἵπποι ἐνεμήθησαν]. This should not be taken as a reference to the quail-mothers to which Solomon is about to refer, as they are something which a horse would not eat. But perhaps it could be construed to refer to the manna which the children of Israel had collected in the fields.
Now, commenting generally on Solomon’s account here in these last few verses, and the importance which he has assigned to this event as “the whole creation” having been “formed again from above”, Paul of Tarsus also seems to have noted the significance of this event in the foundation of Israel where he wrote to the Corinthians concerning their common ancestors, in 1 Corinthians chapter 10: “1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” Then in the subsequent verses, Paul went on to warn them not to commit fornication, as some of their fathers had done in the race-mixing event at Baalpeor, ostensibly so that they would remain a perfectly-formed creation of their own kind, or race.
Now Solomon speaks of the state of awareness which the children of Israel must have had as they were baptized in the cloud and in the sea, witnessing their own salvation in the face of the destruction which had come upon Egypt:
10 For they were yet mindful of the things that were done while they sojourned in the strange land, how the ground brought forth flies instead of cattle, and how the river cast up a multitude of frogs instead of fishes.
Here Solomon is recalling events which were recorded in Exodus chapter 9, that “6… Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.” Then a little later, although there is no specific reference to the flies coming from out of the land, “24… there came a grievous swarm of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants' houses, and into all the land of Egypt…” So he describes the people as if they still had these things in mind, and had known why they happened, as they passed through the Red Sea, and for that reason they praised God for their own deliverance.
But now in contrast to that, he describes one of their first punishments, implying that the plagues of Egypt which the people had maintained in their memories here were soon thereafter forgotten. And although in their having been fed with quails, or as we have already explained, with quail-mothers, with birds having “meat of a strange taste” as he had described in Wisdom chapter 16, they were nevertheless fed with meat. The analogy he had made earlier in Wisdom was that even though they were being punished in an odd way for demanding food, as they accused God of having brought them into the desert to die they were nevertheless preserved and fed meat as they had demanded.
11 But afterwards they saw a new generation of fowls, when, being led with their appetite, they asked delicate meats.
The Greek word γένεσις is “generation” here, where in modern English it would be race, or of birds, perhaps species is more appropriate. As we had discussed in our commentary on Wisdom 18:12, used of people it refers to their race or descent. Here that meaning is rather obvious.
According to Exodus chapter 16, the children of Israel “1… took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation… came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.” So ostensibly, after a mere six weeks in the wilderness, they began to rebel, complaining to Moses that “3… Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
A reference to that event is first found in Wisdom in the opening verses of chapter 16, and because the word translated as quails is actually a Greek word which means quail-mothers, a different variety of bird which was evidently not eaten regularly, but which is said to travel with quails as they migrate, we will amend that here as we read Solomon’s earlier reference from the King James Version, where he wrote that: “2 Instead of which punishment, dealing graciously with thine own people, thou preparedst for them meat of a strange taste, even quail-mothers to stir up their appetite: 3 To the end that they, desiring food, might for the ugly sight of the beasts sent among them lothe even that, which they must needs desire; but these, suffering penury for a short space, might be made partakers of a strange taste.” Quails are not inherently ugly, yet these quail-mothers were apparently not very appetizing in either their appearance nor for their taste.
In Exodus chapter 16, Moses declared to the people that “8… when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full”, so as Solomon had described the event, the “meat of a strange taste” should have discouraged the people from demanding flesh, with the result that they would be satisfied with the manna. But now he says:
12 For quails came up unto them from the sea for their contentment.
Once again, of course, as we have already discussed and as it also is in the Exodus account in the Septuagint, the word for quails is a plural form of ὀρτυγομήτρα, which is a quail-mother, a bird which migrates with the quails, which is also mentioned in Classical Greek writings. The quail-mothers were not described as “delicate meat” in Wisdom chapter 16, but here Solomon only refers to what the people may have requested, not necessarily to what they had received.
But the word translated here as “contentment” is παραμυθία, which may mean encouragement, exhortation, or consolation, may also simply mean persuasion, and even diversion, or a relief from or an abatement of something. In those last senses we can find that Solomon’s words do not necessarily disagree with his conclusions concerning this same event in chapter 16, and the children of Israel were offered the quail-mothers both to discourage them from demanding flesh, and as an abatement of their rebellion where they did demand flesh.
There are ten more verses left for us to discuss in this Wisdom of Solomon, and we hope to return to them soon, where we shall present a requiem for the wicked, Solomon having discussed their fate on one last occasion.