The Birth of Wisdom/Holy Spirit
I often receive questions regarding Wisdom’s roots based on Proverbs 8:22-24 (see below) so I thought I would address that here. The prevailing question usually goes something like this, “How can Wisdom be the Holy Spirit if Proverbs 8:22 tells us she is created? Isn’t “wisdom” a creature — a created being — such as an angel?” So if you love, love, love Bible studies on the subject of Wisdom — enjoy!
The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water. -Prov. 8:22-24, NRSV
- The word translated as “created” actually means “possessed” or “bought.”
- The phrase “I was set up” actually means “poured out as a drink offering.”
- The phrase “brought forth” means brought forth through birth, similar to the way Jesus was “brought forth” from the Father.
God “Created” Wisdom
The Lord created me [wisdom] at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. –Prov. 8:22, NRSV, bold added
In its Hebrew form the word “create” is “bara.” Bara is the word used throughout Genesis as God creates the earth and humankind. However, “bara” is NOT the word used in describing Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22. “Qanah” is.
“Qanah” means “possess” or “own” or even “buy” as in “God possessed (or was the exclusive owner of) me at the beginning of his work.” In other words, nobody else has Wisdom except for God — true spiritual Wisdom proceeds only from God. Most translations translate the word qanah as “possessed”: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old” (Prov. 8:22, NKJ).
In the illustration to the left, by St. Hildegard, we see Sophia (also called Wisdom) sitting on a throne. The scroll in her right hand reads Ab initio et ante saecula creata sum, “I was created from the beginning before all ages” (Prov. 8:23).
Interestingly enough, in Genesis 4:1 we see the word “qanah” used in a slightly different way as Eve declares, after giving birth to Cain, “I have gotten [qanah] a man from the LORD” (KJV).
The New King James version states Gen. 4:1 this way, “I have acquired a man from the LORD.” And the New Revised Standard translates the Hebrew verb “qanah” as “produced,” so that Eve declares, “I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.” This translation sheds light on the reason translators chose the word “create” in respect to Wisdom as Eve “created” a man through birth. However, there is one significant detail here. What Eve “created” was not something external from herself (such as a tree, bird, or angel), but rather this “creation” was part of her, made of her, produced directly from her — a child.
The Lord [qanah] me [wisdom] at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. –Prov. 8:22, RSV
But the most interesting verse that sheds light upon our mystery regarding the word “qanah” comes to us from Proverbs 23:
Listen to your father who begot you,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.
Buy [qanah] truth, and do not sell it;
buy [qanah] wisdom, instruction, and understanding. –Prov. 23:22–23, NRSV, bold added
In the above, we once again find our word “qanah” this time translated as “buy.” We are, therefore, told to “possess” truth, wisdom, instruction and understanding and never ever sell it or surrender it. The New Jerusalem Bible puts it this way, “Purchase truth — never sell it — wisdom, discipline, and discernment” (Prov. 23:23).
Not surprisingly, we are also told that Wisdom (the Holy Spirit) is far more valuable than anything we can imagine. Therefore, the possession of Her is our greatest asset:
Happy are those who find wisdom,
and those who get understanding,
for her income is better than silver,
and her revenue better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her. –Prov. 3:13–15, NRSV
Why should fools have a price in hand to buy wisdom, when they have no mind to learn? –Prov. 17:16, NRSV, bold added
Acquire wisdom for yourselves without money. –Sirach 51:25, NRSV, bold added
She cannot be bought with solid gold,
nor paid for with any weight of silver,
nor valued against gold of Ophir,
precious agate or sapphire.
Neither gold nor glass compares with her,
for her, a vase of fine gold would be no exchange,
let alone coral or crystal:
better go fishing for Wisdom than for pearls!
Topaz from Cush is worthless in comparison,
and gold, even refined, is valueless. –Job 28:15-19, NJB, bold added
So the question we must ask is, “Are the prophetic writers, when speaking about Wisdom in the above verses, expressly referring to the Holy Spirit?” Obviously they are. After all, Wisdom (the Holy Spirit of God) is so valuable there is no amount of money that can purchase her. Money becomes an insult as the sorcerer Simon found out:
Then they [Peter and John] laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!” –Acts 8:17-20, NKJ, bold and additions mine
Therefore, Wisdom is metaphorically “for sale;” yet, oddly enough, God gives her freely. The metaphorical “payment” is not about money at all — it’s about humbling yourself before God:
For thus says the high and lofty one
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite. –Isa. 57:15, NRSV
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. –Jas. 1:5, NRSV
So despite the use of the word “create” in a few translations, it becomes clear that Wisdom is not a created being such as an angel. Wisdom is instead a Spirit. Possessing and learning from Wisdom leads to a Holy Spirit-led life.
Now moving forward let’s look Proverbs 8:24.
God “Brought Forth” Wisdom
When there were no depths I [wisdom] was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I was brought forth. –Prov. 8:24-25, NKJ, bold and additions mine
In the above instance “brought forth” is yâchal which means to “wait in painful expectation” or “travail” as in “to be in the throes of labor — ready to birth” or… to be birthed. For other examples of the use of this word see below:
Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them; they will be in pain [yâchal] as a woman in childbirth. — Isa. 13:7-8, NKJ, bold added
Therefore my loins are filled with pain [yâchal]; pangs have taken hold of me, like the pangs of a woman in labor. — Isa 21:3, NKJ, bold added
Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you [yâchal]; for I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him.” –Isa 51:2, NKJ, bold added
“Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not travailed [yâchal] with child! — Isa 54:1, NKJ, bold added
Most translations translate the word yâchal in regards to Proverbs 8:24 as either “brought forth” or “birthed”:
The deep was not, when I was born, nor were the springs with their abounding waters. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I came to birth. –Prov. 8:24–25, NJB, bold added
Therefore Wisdom is a child of God “brought forth” in much the same way as Jesus:
I [Jesus] came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” –Jn. 16:28, NKJ, bold added
She [Wisdom] glorifies her noble birth by living with God, and the Lord of all loves her. — Wisdom 8:3, NRSV, bold added
Or… the other possible translation (though I have not found a translation that words it like this) would be that Wisdom was the one in labor:
When there were no depths I was [in labor], when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I was [travailing]. –Prov. 8:24-25, bold and additions mine
As we study the roots of Wisdom, it becomes increasingly clear that Wisdom has not been created externally from God as we are. Rather, Wisdom is a direct descendant of God “birthed” in much the same mysterious way Jesus was “brought forth.” And She is here for our benefit.
Wisdom: The Libation of God
However, the most interesting verse regarding Wisdom’s roots is found in the 2nd verse, Proverbs 8:23: “Ages ago I was set up.” The New King James translates this verse as, “I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth.” The NIV translates it as, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.” Young’s Literal Translation puts it this way, “From the age I was anointed, from the first, From former states of the earth.” Somewhat mysteriously, the New American Bible translates this verse as, “From of old I [Wisdom] was poured forth at the first, before the earth.”
The word used to translate “set up,” “established,” “appointed,” “anointed” and “poured forth” is nacak. Nacak literally means “a libation.” A libation is a pouring out of a drink offering of wine, oil, or water. When a person does this action in the Bible, they are “anointing” a person, place, or thing. Anoint means to set apart for a holy or sacred use. Therefore, Wisdom was poured out at the beginning of creation as an anointing.
God’s chosen kings were anointed, the high priest was anointed, holy places were anointed (to set them apart as memorials), and also God’s scarifies were anointed with libations to set them apart as holy. A libation was a liquid offering that was “set up,” “appointed,” and “established” directly by God for the Israelites to “pour out.” For example:
Now this is what you shall offer on the altar [says God]: two lambs of the first year, day by day continually. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. With the one lamb shall be one-tenth of an ephah of flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of pressed oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering [nacak]. –Ex 29:38-40, NKJ, bold and additions mine
Then God went up from him [Jacob] in the place where He talked with him. So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering [nacak] on it, and he poured [nacak] oil on it. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel. –Gen. 35:13-15, NKJ, bold and additions mine
He [the high priest] held out his hand for the cup and poured a drink offering of the blood of the grape; he poured it out at the foot of the altar, a pleasing odor to the Most High, the king of all. –Sirach 50:15, bold and additions mine
So why in the case of Wisdom has nacak been translated in Bibles primarily as “set up” or “established”? Probably because “pour out a drink offering” seemingly doesn’t make much sense. In fact, I spent a lot of time wondering about the use of nacak in Wisdom’s instance. After all, if Wisdom was something to be simply “poured” why wasn’t the word shaphak used which means to “pour”? As in:
You shall take water from the river and pour [shaphak] it on the dry land. And the water which you take from the river will become blood on the dry land. –Ex. 4:9, NKJ, bold and additions mine
So why libation? Why this particular word? Which happens to be part of the Old Testament law, meaning a libation is a God-ordained offering that must be carried out by the Israelites?
We often find that it is within the original words of scripture that God’s mysteries are hidden and this is one of those wonderful instances. We find the reason in Hebrews:
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. –Heb. 10:1-5, NKJ, bold added
So the Old Testament law is only a shadow of the good things to come; the law is not the true image of that which can make those who approach God perfect. Therefore, even the God-ordained libation that the Jews carried out is a shadow of something else. In other words, a libation of wine, oil, or water does not actually “anoint” a person — it is only a shadow of something real and spiritual. The something else can be seen as Samuel the Prophet pours a libation upon David — God’s new chosen King:
Then the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” . . . Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him [David] in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah. –1 Sam. 16:1,13, NKJ, bold added
David is anointed, not because oil was poured out on him, but because the Spirit came upon him. The oil merely represented the Spirit. Ultimately, it is the Spirit who set David apart for the purposes of God.
I then began thinking about sacrifice, since a libation is poured out most often upon a sacrifice. In fact, Old Testament sacrifices must have a libation poured out on them (see Num. 15:1-10). All this started me thinking about Jesus — God’s perfect sacrifice:
Since the death of Jesus is the perfect sacrifice (for sin) that puts an end to all Old Testament sacrifices what is the specific “libation” or “anointing” (wine, oil, or water) that is poured out on him? Scripture tells us Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit of God:
When Jesus also had been baptized [with water] and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. –Lk. 3:21–22
Here with Jesus, we now have not “a shadow of the good things to come” but the startling reality “the very image” of the metaphor is now seen — the bodily form of the Spirit anoints Jesus (and no, this form is not a bird — this form is “like a dove.”
A libation of oil, water, or wine is the shadow of the spiritual reality of the Holy Spirit/Wisdom being poured out. In the Old Testament the Israelites anointed their kings with oil in the hope of one day receiving their Messiah who would be truly anointed. And in the New Testament, just before Jesus began his work, God sent John the Baptist to “immerse” people in water, to prepare their hearts for the true spiritual anointing of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, however, was not only baptized (anointed) with the Spirit, he was the one who was to baptize others with the same Spirit:
And he [John] preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” –Mk. 1:7-8, NKJ
This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. –Acts 2:32-33, NKJ
Once the disciples of Jesus received the libation of the Holy Spirit upon their bodies, they then turned and served others, pouring a nacak (their inner Holy Spirit) upon others through such means as teaching, edifying, comforting, healing, and nurturing:
Yes, and if I [Paul] am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. –Phil. 2:17, NKJ, bold added
For I [Timothy] am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. –2 Tim 4:6, NKJ, bold added
We can now see the link between Wisdom who was “set up as a libation” and the Spirit of God who “is poured out” first upon Jesus (done to show the Israelites who God chose as His King and High Priest), and then upon believers as the “living water of life” (Jn. 7:37-39), the “Holy anointing oil of joy” (Heb. 1:8-9) and “the new wine” in which is there is no dispensation (Eph. 5:18).
The Birth, Establishment, and Pouring out of Wisdom
So now, as we put the three verses concerning the roots of Wisdom, as found in Proverbs, together (in light of original Hebrew words) we can read the following (taken from different translations of the Bible) with a much clearer understanding:
- The Lord possessed me [Wisdom] at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. –Prov 8:22, NKJV
- From of old I was poured forth [as a libation] at the first, before the earth. –Prov 8:23, New American with Apocrypha
- The deep was not when I was born, nor were the springs with their abounding waters. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I [wisdom] came to birth. — Prov 8:24,25, New Jerusalem with Apocrypha
Wisdom is not a created being. Wisdom is not an angel. She is the Holy Spirit. She came forth directly from God (just as Jesus did); she is God’s cleansing gift (His libation) upon mankind. And like Jesus, we are all called to be living sacrifices, filled with the Wisdom of God. Also like Jesus, we are to continually draw from this deep well of Godly discernment that rests inside us so we will not sin but may instead bless others:
The child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. –Lk. 2:40, NKJ
For whoever finds me [Wisdom] finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord. –Prov. 8:35, NKJ
For more information on Wisdom see: Wisdom is the Holy Spirit