Tobit

Chapter 8


 
Wisdom 8:

1)  Indeed, she spans the world from end to end mightily

and governs all things well.


COMMENTARY:  You can find wisdom anywhere in the world, and wherever she’s heeded, those who heed her govern well.  Alternatively, wisdom’s insights apply all over the world, and everything on Earth is well-balanced by God’s wisdom.

 

 

2) Her I loved and sought after from my youth;

I sought to take her for my bride

and was enamored of her beauty.


COMMENTARY:  One should pursue wisdom as passionately as a lover, not as some dry kind of drudgery, but as a relationship, with tenderness and excitement for the wealth of discoveries ahead.

 

 

3) She adds to nobility the splendor of companionship with God;

even the Ruler of all loved her.


COMMENTARY:  This personal relationship with Wisdom leads to a personal relationship with God.

 

 

4) For she leads into the understanding of God,

and chooses his works.


COMMENTARY:  The more you understand the workings of wisdom, the more you understand God, who decides what to do based on whatever is the wisest course, which God can see in its fullness.

 

 

5) If riches are desirable in life,

what is richer than Wisdom, who produces all things?


COMMENTARY:  Just as it’s better to own a cow than a jug of milk, it’s better to go to the source of riches than to settle for a handful of wealth by itself.  For just as one drinks up milk and it’s gone, or spill it and it’s lost, so one can quickly spend wealth, or lose it to a thief.  But if one has the source, one never runs out for long.

 

 

6) And if prudence is at work,

who in the world is a better artisan than she?


COMMENTARY:  Wisdom doesn’t merely lead to things, but to processes and deeds.  You can get a lot more accomplished when working with wisdom.

 

 

7) Or if one loves righteousness,

whose works are virtues,

She teaches moderation and prudence,

righteousness and fortitude,

and nothing in life is more useful than these.


COMMENTARY:  Moderation, prudence, righteousness and fortitude are the four Platonic virtues of the Greek world.  This shows the strong Greek influence on the Jews to whom the writer addresses this book.  The Bible, in contrast, lists seven cardinal virtues: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility.

 

 

8) Or again, if one yearns for wide experience,

she knows the things of old, and infers the things to come.

She understands the turns of phrases and the solutions of riddles;

signs and wonders she knows in advance

and the outcome of times and ages.


COMMENTARY:  Wisdom is the greatest adventure.  J.R.R. Tolkien once speculated that, for those of a scientific bent, Heaven would be eternally learning more and more about God and how He put together and ran the universe.

 

 

9) So I determined to take her to live with me,

knowing that she would be my counselor while all was well,

and my comfort in care and grief.


COMMENTARY:  A colleague once asked Socrates if he should marry.  “By all means!” Socrates replied.  “If you marry a good wife you will be happy, and if you marry a bad wife you will become a philosopher!”  (Needless to say, Socrates and his wife, Xanthippe, didn’t have the happiest of unions.)  The point is, wisdom can not only help you make the most of good fortune, but also help you endure bad fortune.

 

 

10) Because of her I have glory among the multitudes,

and esteem from the elders, though I am but a youth.


COMMENTARY:  Solomon originally prayed for wisdom because he had inherited the throne while still a minor.

 

 

11) I shall become keen in judgment,

and shall be a marvel before rulers.


COMMENTARY:  The future tense in this matters.  The truly wise always realize that they could be wiser, and they strive to continually improve. Self-made morons tend to assume that they’ve already reached a pinnacle and stop growing.

 

 

12) They will wait while I am silent and listen when I speak;

and when I shall speak the more,

they will put their hands upon their mouths.


COMMENTARY:  I’m giggling because this sounds a bit like an adolescent fantasy about someday attaining wisdom.

 

 

13) Because of her I shall have immortality

and leave to those after me an everlasting memory.


COMMENTARY:  Not physical immortality, but immortality in the sense of never being forgotten.  And indeed Solomon has become proverbial for wisdom, which is why this author speaks through his voice.  The original Solomon didn’t know about an afterlife; his Ecclesiastes is one big existential crisis.

 

 

14) I shall govern peoples, and nations will be my subjects—


COMMENTARY:  Solomon ruled at the height of Israel’s power and influence.  After him his son, Rehoboam, was as foolish as his father was wise, and caused the secession of most of the country.

 

 

15) tyrannical princes, hearing of me, will be afraid;

in the assembly I shall appear noble, and in war courageous.


COMMENTARY:  The wise know better than to oppress those on whom they depend for their throne (Rehoboam’s big mistake was to try and look like a tough guy and demand too much, only to discover that most of his people would simply abandon him.)  Courage and nobility aren’t about being the biggest bully in the room.  But wisdom can teach you courage because it makes you face what you fear in order to understand it, and courage in turn lends you nobility.

 

 

16) Entering my house, I shall take my repose beside her;

For association with her involves no bitterness

and living with her no grief,

but rather joy and gladness.


COMMENTARY:  This continues the metaphor of Wisdom as a wife who brings nothing but happiness, unlike flesh and blood spouses who can sometimes quarrel.  And there’s an irony here, for Solomon was said, in the end of his life, to fall into folly because his mortal wives tempted him to abandon God.

 

 

17) Reflecting on these things,

and considering in my heart

That immortality lies in kinship with Wisdom,

18) great delight in love of her,

and unfailing riches in the works of her hands;

And that in associating with her there is prudence,

and fair renown in sharing her discourses,

I went about seeking to take her for my own.


COMMENTARY:  This basically sums up what has been said before.

 

 

19) Now, I was a well-favored child,

and I came by a noble nature;


COMMENTARY:  The Greeks regarded beauty and nobility as going hand in hand, and how you were born determined your nature...

 

 

20) or rather, being noble, I attained an unblemished body.


COMMENTARY:  ...However, the writer corrects this by reversing the order, to say that Solomon’s noble soul led to his good looks, presumably because it inspired him to healthy habits.

One can argue that one can’t help some physical defects that one is born with, but I have seen people born deformed who radiated beauty in their smile, the glint of their eyes, their kindly attentiveness, indeed in everything they said or did, and people felt it even if they didn’t immediately understand why someone so outwardly misshapen could be so attractive.  In contrast, I have seen people born with good bone structure, fine skin and excellent proportions become ugly over time with their surly expressions, contempt for others, or excesses.

 

 

21) And knowing that I could not otherwise possess her unless God gave it—

and this, too, was prudence, to know whose gift she is—

I went to the LORD and besought him,

and said with all my heart:

 

COMMENTARY:  Continuing the metaphor, in those days of arranged marriage it was best to know who had the power of doing the arranging and petitioning for what you wanted (and contrary to popular misconceptions, marriage-arrangers often listened to their children in making choices.)  But this verse also solidifies the Jewish position that Wisdom is not a separate goddess, but emanates from a singular God, or shows one facet—the feminine side—of the Divine.



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