preserved the first-formed father of the world
when he alone had been created;
And she raised him up from his fall,
COMMENTARY: Here the writer goes through
Biblical history. She starts with Adam
but names no names, assuming that the reader will figure it out. This deliberate obscurity implies that one
can’t really understand these teachings without beginning with a grounding in
In Adam’s case, notice
that he fell due to desire for the fruit of knowledge, but recovered by
desiring wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom
aren’t synonymous. Yet as the teaching
method in this chapter implies, one builds upon the other.
Could humanity have had
wisdom without falling? Perhaps
not. And perhaps we wouldn’t have needed
it. But since we have become
predisposed, now, to error, we can at least grow wiser by learning from every
mistake we make—even if the only thing we learn is “I need grace!” The wisdom of Adam was to finally admit his
gave him power to rule all things.
COMMENTARY: From my personal viewpoint,
exerting power to rule rather than to serve is part and parcel with the
Fall. But how would this writer know
that before Christ’s teaching about service?
when an unrighteous man withdrew from her in his anger,
he perished through his fratricidal wrath.
COMMENTARY: That would be Cain. And this makes clear that “perishing” doesn’t
automatically mean death, since God spared Cain, and even put His mark upon him
to protect him from the wrath of others.
To say that he perished through his wrath goes back to the predominant
Jewish view of the afterlife where unworthy souls burn up with regrets till
nothing is left.
Cain’s departure from Wisdom, in contrast to Adam’s rediscovery of her, lies in
his refusal to admit his temptations to God, who could have healed them before
they overpowered him. God warned Cain
that he had temptation within him, but Cain couldn’t bear to face his own
Shadow. He gave to God only his
fruit—only his sweetness. Abel slew a
lamb on the altar—thus admitting his capacity to kill, yet giving it to God,
which is why it didn’t overpower him.
And so Cain became the first murderer and not Abel.
In offering sacrifice, we don’t give God anything He doesn’t already own, in
terms of the sacrifice itself, but we do admit to God that we have a killer in
us, which can take many different forms, and we surrender it for God to tame. For Christians the ultimate sacrifice is
Jesus Christ, God incarnate. We look on
the cross and know that we are capable of this, and in admitting that we are
that temptation awaits in every one of us, God can help us become someone who
can resist the temptation to torment, to kill, and to victimize the innocent.
And here we can see the deadly trap that the devil lays out in
antisemitism: “I couldn’t possibly do
anything like that. Jesus didn’t die for
MY sins, he must’ve died for somebody ELSE’s sins—so let’s blame the Jews!” And so we ourselves become one with that
segment who shouted “Crucify him!” for we inflict suffering on the innocent,
telling ourselves that this can prove our righteousness.
(For the record, there is not a single person alive descended of anyone who
cried out “Crucify him! The sin be upon
us and our children!” For Barabbas, the
one chosen to be spared in Jesus’s stead, was a Zealot freedom-fighter (or
terrorist, to the Romans) and the Zealots packed the crowd to win his release
that day. Every single man, woman and
child of the Zealots died at the siege of Masada, drinking poison rather than
facing enslavement by the Romans.)
(Further for the record, saying that “the Jews” said this is a mistranslation
in the first place. The actual word was
“the Judeans”, as in citizens of Judah, but just as all Greeks were “Cypriots”
to Middle-Easterners, all Jews were “Judeans” to the Romans, though Greece
included far more than Cyprus and Jewry included far more than Judeans, and for
that matter, Romans included far more than actual dwellers in Rome. Jesus and his apostles were Galileans, looked
down on by Judeans.)
on his account the earth was flooded, Wisdom again saved it,
piloting the righteous man on frailest wood.
COMMENTARY: The writer attributes to
Cain the wickedness which the Great Flood washed away, and the “righteous man”
would be Noah. And indeed, somebody had
to start the innovation of murder, for it to spread.
Apes killing apes was nothing new. Apes
will fight over territory, or for supremacy, and while this rarely results in
death sometimes it does. Occasionally
they even wage war. There was even a
case of cannibal mother and daughter eating the babies of other chimpanzees—but
as soon as the powerful mother died of natural causes the rest of the apes
drove the corrupted daughter out. She
had to find another band, through great hardship, and in this new band she
never practiced cannibalism again. All
of this is an animal-level of killing, competing for survival, even if a
burgeoning awareness of the tribe shows that some things cross a line and must
What made Cain’s killing a horrible innovation was the idea that you could
murder someone merely for stirring up painful emotions in you, even if the
other person did you no wrong. Cain felt
envy that Abel’s offering meant more to God, and pain that he himself could
have any dark side at all, that he could somehow wind up morally surpassed by
his disgusting butcher-brother. It
didn’t even have a shred of survival-motive to excuse it.
Regarding Noah, the wisdom that saved him had nothing to do with knowledge. He had no way of knowing, by outward signs,
of what was about to crash down in his people.
Yes, it rained lots and lots (“forty days” means “a lot”) but that had
happened before. Forty days of rain is
not unusual up here in the Pacific Northwest, for instance. But mere observation of the weather couldn’t
foresee, by itself, what would soon happen.
What scientists discovered was that, during the thawing of ice left over from an
ice age in the days of prehistoric humanity, a continent-spanning glacier
thawed from the inside out, creating kind of an ice bowl with a small ocean or
large sea inside it. The ice kept
getting thinner and thinner, until it took one last, heavy rain of warmer water
to shatter it all at once. The deluge
was so great that today’s Black Sea is only a small vestige of what flooded out
on the majority of humanity before our forebears had had time to spread
out. The flood covering “all the world”
meant, “Everything we had ever seen, visited, or heard of—everywhere that we could
(Is it still the work of God if you can identify how it happened? Yes.
That glacier could have melted in other, less destructive ways. Most glaciers do. Once, in the dark ages, though, a
bowl-glacier’s breaking destroyed multiple villages in Iceland simultaneously, and
once something similar but on a smaller scale happened in modern times, so we do
have some written record of the phenomenon.
But this would have been the biggest flood ever, and devastatingly
So how does someone like Noah, from a primitive people who don’t have any way
of seeing a glacier many days’ journey away, know in advance to build a big
thing to float in? Only by listening
closely to God, and trusting his intuitive link with the Divine—tapping into a
wisdom that goes beyond knowledge.
when the nations were sunk in universal wickedness,
knew the righteous man, kept him blameless
and preserved him resolute against pity for
COMMENTARY: Now we’re talking about
Abraham, who almost sacrificed his son before an angel stopped him. This gets complex.
One one level, God wanted
him to experience, and to have all who afterwards heard his story vicariously
experience, the depth of grief that such a sacrifice would cause, and the
enormous resolution to go through with it anyway—but not to actually go through
with it, to be stopped at the last minute—as a preparation (from the Christian
perspective, at least) for the sacrifice of Jesus.
Yet at the same time, God
wanted all who heard this story to know that God wouldn’t actually require such
a thing of them, though He is pleased by our willingness to do anything for
Him. This mattered when the Israelites
occupied Canaan, because the Canaanites did practice child sacrifice, and could
have vaunted themselves as more devout because they could go so far in their
worship—to which the Israelites could respond, “We could, too, if God wanted us
to—we’ve already proven that—but God decided that He doesn’t.” Or, as is written in Aztec glyphs and
flower-symbols on the gown of Our Lady of Guadalupe, addressing the
human-sacrificing indigenous Mexicans, “I know that you want to give your very
lives for God, but my Son wants to give His life for you, instead.”
The wisdom of Abraham is knowing that absolutely nothing is worth as much as
God, no matter how greatly you sacrifice—and then gaining the wisdom to learn
that nevertheless God will not require fanaticism in His service.
rescued a righteous man from among the wicked who were being destroyed,
when he fled as fire descended upon the
COMMENTARY: Welllll, “righteous” is
relative here. We’re talking about Lot,
and the Pentapolis was a lumping together of the five towns of which Sodom and
Gomorrah were chief. The Bible does say
that the things Lot saw every day in Sodom burned in him, and burning in the
context of the living often refers to temptation in the Bible—yield to one fire
while alive, and you’ll yield to another kind after death. But he resisted enough not to join the mob
out to gang-rape his guests.
Still, he wasn’t uncorrupted, himself.
Yes, he abided by the hospitality rules of the desert, in protecting his
guests, but he tried to do this by offering his virgin daughters to the mob
instead! At which the “guests” blew
their cover, revealing themselves as angels to dispel the crowd miraculously
rather than allowing Lot to do such an appalling thing.
Later, after they had fled
the city’s eventual destruction, Lot got drunk enough for incest on two
separate nights, begetting offspring on his own daughters, but to be fair,
Israel didn’t yet have rules against that.
Abraham himself was married to his half-sister. Not until generations in Egypt, witnessing
the genetic disaster of the Pharaoh’s line, did they see the light and write
down the appropriate taboos.
But at least Lot had enough of a shred of wisdom to pay attention when the
angels said to get out of town fast. So
that’s the lesson of this verse: even if you’re a grave sinner, don’t give up—listen
for God’s guidance anyway. That’s the
virtue of hope.
as a testimony to its wickedness,
even yet there remain a smoking desert,
Plants bearing fruit that never ripens,
and the tomb of a disbelieving soul, a
standing pillar of salt.
COMMENTARY: So what happened,
exactly? Geologic evidence points to a
meteor strike. Mind you, in those days,
with the human population so dramatically low compared to today, the odds of
such a meteor just happening to land smack dab in the middle of a populated
area was vanishingly slim, but it happened.
Rocks don’t lie.
As for the “disbelieving soul”, we’re talking about Lot’s wife, who turned and
looked longingly back and turned into a pillar of salt. Now that’s not as far-fetched as it might
seem. Someone caught in a meteorite’s
blast would fall and be buried in debris.
After which the lump with a woman as its core, in that region, would
accumulate salt deposits over time. The
valley is full of salt pillars, in fact; there’s no reason why one of them
wouldn’t have built up over an outcropping that happened to entomb a woman.
But what is the
wisdom-lesson here? The writer ascribes
her folly to disbelief. Even now we have
a hard time predicting meteorite impacts.
Why would she believe any claims that the sky was about to fall? What if she couldn’t tell an angel from a
common wanderer, even if he revealed himself?
Human beings are fully capable of not trusting their own eyes when they
see something not confirmed by the community, and Sodom wasn’t known for
So naturally she’d feel reluctant to leave behind known luxury for an uncertain
and uncomfortable future. She’d want
more evidence. But sometimes you don’t
get more evidence. Sometimes all you
have to go on is a compelling hunch that you can’t prove comes from your
guardian angel’s whisper.
How does one tell this
from madness? Pragmatically—by
consistent results. The Bible says that
if an alleged prophet tells you something that doesn’t come true, you don’t
have to listen to him the next time he opens his mouth. And to distinguish between a true guidance
from God and you’re own imagination, you must further weed out the Three Liars:
Wishful Thinking, Fearful Thinking, and Habitual Thinking. And last, test for the fruits of the Holy
Lot saw that his guests had supernatural power, driving the mob away with a
blinding light. So he had reason to
believe that they were indeed messengers from God and knew what was about to
come down on the Five Cities. His wife
didn’t really want to believe it. Wisdom
means knowing when to believe what you don’t want to believe.
those who forsook Wisdom
not only were deprived of knowledge of the
But also left the world a memorial of their
so that they could not even be hidden in their
COMMENTARY: Isn’t that often the way it
goes? We not only make fools of
ourselves, but we do it in front of everybody!
And how painful can you get? As
someone who suffers chronic fibromyalgia, I’d rather have five bad fibro flare
days in a row than one day of well-deserved public humiliation. (I can handle people thinking ill of me and
being mistaken, but having lots of people aware of something that I’m ashamed
of, now that hits the bone!)
But isn’t it in fact a miserable blessing?
Because you can’t rationalize away the sins seen by everybody, you can’t
forget about it, and you can’t convince yourself that you’ll get away with it
one more time. You have to humbly deal
with it. Whereas the more you get away
with something wrong, the more convinced you become that you can keep on
getting away with more and more, till it all crashes down on you at once, in a
far, far greater catastrophe.
Wisdom rescued from tribulations those who served her.
COMMENTARY: Those who listen to angels,
even if they’re far from perfect, themselves, pay attention to what will save
when a righteous man fled from his brother’s anger,
guided him in right ways,
Showed him the kingdom of God
and gave him knowledge of holy things;
She prospered him in his labors
and made abundant the fruit of his works,
COMMENTARY: This just keeps on testing
the definition of “Righteous”! The man
in question, Jacob, fled his brother Esau’s justifiable anger because Jacob
frankly cheated Esau out of their father’s dying blessing. Their father had gone blind, so Jacob put on
his brother’s stinky shirt to smell like him, and since Esau was hirsute,
wrapped his arms in lamb pelts. I don’t
see anything righteous about that!
Yet I do see the righteousness of listening to God in his journeys
afterwards. So the lesson here is that
no matter what your past, it’s never too late to start listening to God and
doing the right thing. He eventually
matured into a hardworking man who earned his own way instead of stealing from
others, and his brother welcomed him back with love.
by him against the greed of his defrauders,
and enriched him;
COMMENTARY: This is colloquially called
“having one’s chickens come home to roost.”
(For non-Americans, I don’t know the origins of the saying—it’s an odd
turn of phase—but it means when something happens to you very much like
something that you inflicted on others.
It’s going to come back to you as surely as chickens who scatter in the
morning will return to their roosts at night.)
Jacob wound up with a father-in-law as tricksy as himself! But in his years working for this man he
learned something about being on the receiving end of chicanery, so God saw fit
to get him out of the fix he was in and eventually made him prosper.
preserved him from foes,
and secured him against ambush,
And she gave him the prize for his hard
that he might know that devotion to God is
mightier than all else.
COMMENTARY: The Greek word used for
“devotion to God” is more often translated as “piety”, whereas the Hebrew word
would’ve been translated as “Fear of the Lord”, though “devotion” seems closer,
at least to me. The intense regard of a
deer watching a lion.
did not abandon a righteous man when he was sold,
but rescued him from sin.
COMMENTARY: That would be the Old
Testament Joseph, sold into slavery because his brothers envied him (through no
fault of his own he had become his father’s favorite, and on top of that shared
a couple of dreams which they themselves interpreted as him gaining great power
to which they would bow.) So they sold
him into slavery after repenting an intention to kill him. Contrary to their expectations, though, he
thrived, rising in the service of his master, Potiphar, till the man put him in
charge of everything and shared all things with him—except, of course, his
So wouldn’t you know it, the wife developed a crazy stalker crush on
Joseph! That’s where wisdom rescuing him
from sin comes into the picture. He kept
refusing offers of an affair, insisting that it would be a poor way to pay back
One could say that it did him no good to resist, for in her humiliation she
sought revenge on him by accusing him of rape, so he got thrown into prison
anyway. Often it seems like no good deed
goes unpunished, as the bitter saying goes.
But his story doesn’t end there...
went down with him into the dungeon,
and did not desert him in his bonds,
Until she brought him the scepter of royalty
and authority over his oppressors,
Proved false those who had defamed him,
and gave him eternal glory.
COMMENTARY: Still wise even when
incarcerated, he started doing dream interpretations for his fellow
prisoners. He got a reputation for his
insight. So when the Pharaoh had a
troubling dream, word came to him that a man in his dungeon might understand
what had everybody else stumped.
Joseph’s interpretation enabled Egypt to survive a seven-year famine, so
now he wound up promoted even higher, becoming second only to Pharaoh
himself! And eventually he could clear
his name of the charges against him.
What is the wisdom-lesson
here? That even when it appears that God
has abandoned you, God’s plan eventually works out if you hold onto the wisdom
and faith. And part of that involves
paying attention to the dreams God gives you (Okay, as a dreamworker I couldn’t
resist adding that part! But hey, it’s true!)
holy people and their blameless descendants—it was she
who rescued them from the nation that
COMMENTARY: Now we’re going from Joseph
to the entire nation of Israel, since Joseph’s brothers went into Egypt as the
only place with food during that seven-year drought, and bowed to him before he
revealed himself to them (a really emotional scene, some of the best
storytelling in the Old Testament!) As a
result, these, the sons of Israel/Jacob, settled in Egypt, where their
descendants became the Israelites. Like
Jacob, they became enslaved, and like him they escaped. Which leads us to our next fellow in this
Biblical Hall of Fame tour...
entered the soul of the Lord’s servant,
and withstood fearsome kings with signs and
COMMENTARY: Now, as you’ve probably
figured out, we’re talking about Moses, working miracles to draw his
foster-brother Pharaoh’s attention to the plight of his people, while his
brother Aaron translated to overcome his speech impediment.
(A curious coincidence, that Moses would have a speech impediment, and wind up
raised as an adoptee in the royal household, where everybody had cleft
palates. Did that make it easier to pass
him off as part of the royal line? So
what seemed like a curse could have saved his life!)
gave the holy ones the reward of their labors,
Conducted them by a wondrous road,
became a shelter for them by day
a starry flame by night.
COMMENTARY: The Bible verses referred to
say that God became a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by
night. I could see smoke being a
shelter, in the sense of creating a smokescreen between the refugees and any
who might prey on them.
What exactly is a “starry flame”? One
full of sparks, perhaps? It’s a lovely
By saying that Wisdom became these signs makes me wonder. Could only the wise see them? If so, that wouldn’t make for a very
effective smokescreen! Perhaps instead
it took discernment to tell the Pillar of Smoke from an ordinary desert
dust-devil. One would have to tune in,
as it were.
took them across the Red Sea
and brought them through the deep waters.
COMMENTARY: Many theories have abounded
as to natural phenomena that could explain the parting of the Red Sea—a natural
rock ridge swept clear by a strong wind, a misnamed different sea prone to
extreme tidal variation, etc.—many of which have strong possibilities. But there remains this one distinction that
makes it miraculous: It happened precisely
when the fleeing Israelites needed it, and ceased precisely in time to sweep
their pursuit away. Some miracles are
miracles of timing.
Wisdom knows to hope in
God when all seems impossible, not just in a wishful way, but actively scanning
for the exit that one expects to open up.
One should, of course, proceed with prudence about one’s affairs and not
count on miracles to get you out of every fix you get yourself into, lest you
become reckless—that would be like a rich man’s wayward son who expects his
father to bail him out of every bad consequence that he brings upon
himself. And of course even the most
virtuous sometimes face martyrdom blamelessly, or there might be some other
very good reason beyond our understanding for our suffering. But if it is God’s plan to rescue you, He
will, so it’s always a good idea to watch and see if the sea will part.
enemies she overwhelmed,
and churned them up from the bottom of the
COMMENTARY: “Churned up”, in that after
swirling them around in the chaotic tides of water rushing in with great force,
their dead bodies eventually churned back up to wash up on the shore.
the righteous despoiled the wicked;
and they sang of your holy name, Lord,
and praised in unison your conquering hand,
COMMENTARY: That’s a nice way of saying
that they looted the bodies. But why
not? These were aggressors trying to
drag them back into slavery, who owed them something for hounding after them in
the first place. And the Israelites had
a daunting desert to cross, and could use extra supplies.
Wisdom opened the mouths of the mute,
and gave ready speech to infants.
COMMENTARY: “The mouths of the mute”
refers to Moses with his speech impediment, despite which he became the
greatest leader in Jewish history. Ready
speech to infants refers to proverbial wisdom “from the mouths of babes”
referred to in several places in the Bible, which basically means that sometimes
the innocent, especially small children, can voice something beyond their
conscious understanding, being both tuned in to God and undistracted by worldly
deceits. I remember, for instance,
hearing a priest trying to explain how to do God’s will, and getting more and
more tangled in his own words, and plainly more embarrassed and lost, only to
be loudly interrupted by a normally shy, developmentally disabled woman crying
out, “Love God!” He was stunned, and
then praised The Lord that she had explained it all.