Why Read the Apocrypha: The Book of Wisdom

Why Read the Apocrypha: The Book of Wisdom

Part 3 in our Why Read the Apocrypha series where we discuss the individual books of the Apocrypha, their place in history, and their importance to the life of the Hebrew follower of Christ. So far we have discussed the Book of Tobit and the Book of Judith.

We saw throughout history how the Book of Judith was considered part of the Old Testament canon by influential church leaders. The Ethiopians Jews still include this book, as well as many other books of the Apocrypha, as part of their Bible – the Orthodox Tewahedo. We also saw how the story of Judith was like Esther’s story. In the same way, they were both positioned by God to be the aid in delivering our people from destruction. 

The books of the Apocrypha aid in our understanding of God, our history, our victories, and our faith. They are such great books to read and to remember. 

In part 3 of our series, we will be discussing the Book of Wisdom. The Book of Wisdom is the third book of the Apocrypha in the Septuagint, and it discusses wisdom’s importance to the life of the godly.

This book has long been held in high regard throughout the centuries by the Roman church councils, and by the Ethiopian Jews. However, the biggest dispute regarding this book is the authorship. For centuries the author was believed to be King Solomon, however, modern scholars retract this belief and now believe the author to be a 1st century Hebrew man living in Alexandria, Egypt. 

In this book, we see contrasts between godly and ungodly people, the origins of wisdom, how wisdom was used throughout Biblical history, and finally, the origins and vanity of idol worship between the Hebrews and ancient Egyptians. 

History and Background of the Book of Wisdom

The Book of Wisdom was considered part of the biblical canon by several Roman Catholic church councils- the council of Rome (382 A.D.), the Synod of Hippo (392), the Council of Carthage (397 and 419), the Council of Florence (1442), and the Council of Trent (1546) (Wikipedia book of wisdom – canonicity).

The Book of Wisdom, in addition to a few other books of the Apocrypha, are included in the Orthodox Tewahedo biblical canon – the Bible used by the Ethiopian Jews. (Wikipedia Tewahedo biblical canon). 

Who is the Author?

The Book of Wisdom or the Wisdom of Solomon is one of the more “controversial” books of the Apocrypha. Throughout history, it was believed that King Solomon wrote this book because the writing style is similar to King Solomon’s, and because the author mentioned that he built the temple. 

However, centuries later, scholars said it couldn’t be Solomon because of references to Old Testament scriptures that occurred after Solomon’s time. Instead, modern-day scholars believe the Book of Wisdom was written by a Hebrew living in Alexandria during the 1st century A.D (New World Encyclopedia “Book of Wisdom“).

I haven’t seen any scriptures references to back up these claims, but if you read the book of Wisdom it definitely sounds like Solomon wrote it especially in chapter 9 ( Wisdom 9: 7 – 8).

The biggest discussion surrounding the book of wisdom is that the author is juxtaposing Hebrew and Hellenic/ Greek ideologies of wisdom. This is why I believe that scholars place the book and the author during the first century A.D. when the Greeks had conquered much of the known world (New World Encyclopedia “Book of Wisdom“). 

However, does Hellenic ideology begin with the Greeks, or was this ideology present in other cultures before the time of the Greeks? If King Solomon was indeed author of this book, then the latter would be the case. 

In any case, the book of Wisdom is a part of the Apocrypha and it was safeguarded by our forefathers for hundreds of years. So, what is the book about?

Introduction to the Book of Wisdom

In this book, wisdom is described in terms of a feminine personification, and as a greatly sought after attribute of God. This personification of wisdom is used in much of the same way that King Solomon wrote about wisdom and understanding in the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 1: 20 – 33).

The Book of Wisdom is not really a story as much as it describes wisdom throughout history. The author illustrates how important wisdom is to the godly and righteous person and how a person without wisdom feels and walks through life. 

Psalms 1: 1 – 6 describes how a godly and ungodly person is in life. As a result of following the Lord and his commands the godly man is sturdy and blessed, and the ungodly man is unstable and shall perish.  

The book of wisdom shows that it is through wisdom that we can live a blessed life. Wisdom is a gift of God and is not available to the ungodly. The book also shows how important wisdom is in the life of the godly man and how it impacts our knowledge of God and others.

Wisdom is an attribute of Elohim and it is shown as being one of the chief characteristics of a godly person. 

The book is divided into four sections. The first section (chapters 1 – 5) contrasts the godly and the ungodly. The second section (chapters 6 – 9) details the origin, qualities, and deeds of Wisdom. The third section (chapters 10 – 12) shows how wisdom was used throughout biblical history. The fourth and last section (chapters 13 – 19) talks about the origins and vanity of idol worship and contrasts the Egyptians and the Hebrews.

Section 1: the godly and the ungodly (Chapters 1 – 5)

Wisdom 1: 1- 6 :

1 Love righteousness, ye that be judged of the earth: think of the Lord with a good heart and in simplicity of heart seek him. 2 For he will be found of them that tempt him not; and sheweth himself unto such as do not distrust him. 3 For froward thoughts separate from God: and his power, when it is tried, reproveth the unwise.

4 For into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter; nor dwell in the body that is subject unto sin. 5 For the holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit, and remove from thoughts that are without understanding, and will not abide when unrighteousness cometh in. 6 For wisdom is a loving spirit; and will not acquit a blasphemer of his words: for God is witness of his reins, and a true beholder of his heart, and a hearer of his tongue.”

In this first section, it is believed that the conspiracy of the ungodly men against the godly is also a reference to Jesus and his treatment by the Pharisees.

Wisdom 2:1 – 3

1 For the ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, Our life is short and tedious, and the death of a man there is no remedy: neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave. 2 For we are born at all adventure: and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been: for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart: 3 Which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air…”

 Wisdom 2:10 – 20:

10 Let us oppress the poor righteous man, let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient gray hairs of the aged. 11 Let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth. 12 There let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us without offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressions of our education. 13 He professed to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. 14 He was made to reprove our thoughts. 

15 He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion. 16 We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstained from our ways as from fitness: he pronounced the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. 17 Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. 18 For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. 19 Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. 20 Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected.

The prophet Isaiah also mentions how the ungodly often plot against the godly, to their own demise. 

Isaiah 3: 10: “Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, Let us bind the just, for he is burdensome to us: therefore shall they eat the fruits of their works.” 

Elohim cares for those who put their trust in Him

Those who put their trust in the Lord will be cared for by him. They will be given grace and mercy, and protection. However the ungodly are punished according to their imaginations, and are without hope, and their labors are unprofitable and unfruitful.

Wisdom 3: 9 – 11:

9 They that put their trust in him[Elohim] shall understand the truth: and such as be faithful in love shall abide with him: for grace and mercy is to his saints, and he hath care for his elect. 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 labors unfruitful, and their works unprofitable.”

Wisdom 5: 14 – 16:

14 For the hope of the ungodly is like dust that is blown away with the wind; like a thin froth that is driven away with the storm; like as the smoke which is dispersed here and there with a tempest, and passeth away as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day. 15 But the righteous live for evermore, their reward also is with the Lord, and the care of them is with the most High. 16 Therefore shall they receive a glorious kingdom, and a beautiful crown from the Lord’s hand: for with his right hand shall he cover them, and with his arm shall he protect them.”

Section 2: The origins, qualities, and deeds of wisdom (Chapters 6 – 9)

The author describes wisdom as seeking those who are like her, righteous people. The author describes wisdom in much the same way as King Solomon does in the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs, wisdom is often seen calling to the ungodly, warning them of danger, and giving counsels and instructions (Proverbs 1: 20 – 33; 8:1- 36).

Wisdom 6: 12: “Wisdom is glorious, and never fadeth away: yea, she is easily seen of them that love her, and found of such as seek her.”

Wisdom 6: 16 – 19:

16 For she goeth about seeking such as are worthy of her, shewth herself favorably unto them in the ways, and meeteth them in every thought. 17 For the very true beginning of her is the desire of discipline; and the care of discipline is love; 18 And love is the keeping of her laws; and the giving heed unto her laws is the assurance of incorruption; 19 and incorruption maketh us near unto God.”

Wisdom is better than riches, gold, and precious stones

The author in chapter 7 prays to the Lord for the spirit of wisdom. He tells us once he received wisdom that he preferred it over sceptres, thrones, and precious stones. Gold and silver were sand and clay standing before wisdom (Proverbs 3: 13- 15; 8:10 – 11). The author found that through wisdom he would obtain these things in life, which were ultimately from God because God is wisdom.

Wisdom 7:14 – 15:

14 For she is a treasure unto men that never faileth: which they that use become the friends of God, being commended for the gifts that come from learning. 15 God hath granted me to speak as I would, and to conceive as is meet for the things that are given me: because it is he that leadeth unto wisdom, and directeth the wise. 16 For in his hand are both we and our words; all wisdom also, and knowledge of workmanship. 17 For he hath given me certain knowledge of the things that are, namely, to know how the world was made, and the operation of the elements.”

The author of Hebrews quoting the Book of Wisdom

It is believed that the author of Hebrews is quoting from the book of Wisdom when he describes Jesus as the brightness of the glory of Elohim and as the discerner of all things (New World Encyclopedia “Book of Wisdom“).

Hebrews 1: 1-4:

1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

Hebrews 4: 12: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Wisdom 7: 22 – 26:

22 For Wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me: for in her is an understanding spirit holy, one only, manifold, subtil, lively, clear, undefiled, plain, not subject to hurt, loving the thing that is good quick, which cannot be letted, ready to do good. 23 Kind to man, steadfast, sure, free from care, having all power, overseeing all things, and going through all understanding, pure and most subtil, spirits.

24 For wisdom is more moving than any motion: she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness. 25 For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. 26 For she is the brightness of everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness.

Elohim gives us wisdom.

God is the giver of wisdom. So are the gifts of wisdom gifts of God, and cannot be obtained without God (Proverbs 2:6 – 8).

James 1: 5 – 6:

5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”

Wisdom 8: 21 – 9: 1 – 4:

21 Nevertheless, when I perceived that I could not otherwise obtain her[Wisdom], except God gave her me; and that was a point of wisdom also to know whose gift she was; I prayed unto the Lord, and besought him, and with my whole heart I said, 9:1 O God of my fathers, and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things with thy word, 2 And ordained man through thy wisdom, that he should have dominion over the creatures which thou hast made, 3 And order the world according to equity and righteousness, and execute judgment with an upright heart: 4 Give me wisdom, that sitteth by thy throne; and reject me not from among thy children.”

Continued prayer for wisdom and is King Solomon the real author?

The author continues his prayer for wisdom by saying that God had chosen him to be king and had commanded him to build the Temple, further making the case that king Solomon was probably the real author of this book.

Wisdom 9: 7 – 8:

7 Thou has chosen me to be a king of thy people, and a judge of thy sons and daughters: 8 Thou hast command me to build a temple upon thy holy mount, and an altar in the city wherein thou dwellest, a resemblance of the holy tabernacle, which that hast prepared from the beginning.”

Book of the Wisdom Old Books

Section 3: Wisdom at work throughout history (Chapters 10 – 12)

The author gives several examples of how wisdom helped to save the righteous throughout history, while contrasting the fall of the unrighteous. 

The author doesn’t use names, but if you are familiar with the book of Genesis you will quickly recognize the stories of Adam, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Lot, and many others.

Wisdom 10: 1 – 7:

1 She preserved the first formed father of the world, that was created alone, and brought him out of his fall, 2 and gave him power to rule all things. 3 But when the unrighteous went away from her in his anger, he perished also in the fury wherewith he murdered his brother. 4 For whose cause the earth being drowned with the flood, wisdom against preserved it, and directed the course of the righteous in a piece of wood of small value. 5 Morever, the nations in their wicked conspiracy being confounded, she found out the righteous, and preserved him blameless unto God, and kept him strong against his tender compassion toward his son. 6 When the ungodly perished, she delivered the righteous man, who fled from the fire which fell down upon the five cities. 7 Of whose wickedness even to this day the waste land that smoketh is a testimony, and plants bearing fruit that never come to ripeness: and a standing pillar of salt is a monument of an unbelieving soul.”

The rest of chapters 10 and 11 overviews the Exodus story and the Hebrews grumbling against Elohim and the many punishments they suffered as a result. The author writes about how tiny and insignificant the world is compared to the greatness of God, but that he chooses to love us and to have mercy on us and the world. He goes on to say that the spirit of God is in everything and that he chastens us little by little so that we would leave our wickedness and believe in him (Wisdom 11: 22 – 12: 1 – 2). 

Chapter 12 discussed the holiness of God and how because he is holy he cannot let sin go unpunished. We see this illustrated in the Torah when God used the Hebrews as an instrument of punishment on the Canaanites. The Bible and the Book of Wisdom both tell us that one of the reasons the Canaanites were removed from the Promised land was because of how wicked they were (Leviticus 18: 25 – 30). 

Section 4: The vainness of idol worship (Chapters 13 – 19) 

This next section discusses the vainess of idol worship and how at its root idol worship stems from a lack of wisdom.

If you lack wisdom you will trust and believe in idols created with your hands, and with your own strength to save and help you. 

Those that are ignorant of God marvel and worship the things he created, such as the sun, moon, stars, and nature. However, they do not understand that he is greater and mightier than the things he made. Others ask idols for health, aid, life, and good success but the idol in itself is helpless to even move on its own (Wisdom 13).

Chapter 14 discusses how idols are a stumbling block and a snare to mankind. This is an ungodly custom that was made into law and worshipped by the command of kings. Men would carry the images of kings or deceased relatives as a way to honor them and even elevating their status to that of a god. Through an improper knowledge of God people worshipped idols, which opened the door to more wickedness, such as, child sacrifices, defiled marriages, manslaughter, theft, corruption, unfaithfulness, perjury, etc.

Wisdom 14: 29 – 31:

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

Wisdom 15: 15 – 17:

15 For they counted all the idols of the heathen to be gods: which neither have the use of eyes to see, nor noses to draw breath, nor ears to hear, nor fingers of hands to handle; and as for their feet, they are slow to go. 16 For man made them, and he that borrowed his own spirit fashioned them: but no man can make a god like unto himself. 17 For being mortal, he worketh a dead thing with wicked hands: for he himself is better than the things which he worshipped: whereas he lived once, but they never.”

Contrasting the Hebrews and the Egyptians 

The second half of this section contrasts the faith of Hebrews in God with the faith the Egyptians had in their idols. In these last chapters we see how by trusting in God, he will make an escape for you against those who do not trust in him. 

Wisdom 19: 9 – 10:

9 For they[ the Hebrews ] went at large like horses, and leaped like lambs, praising thee, O Lord, who hast delivered them. 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.”

Wisdom 19 : 12 – 13:

12 For quails came up unto them from the sea for their contentment. 13 And punishments came upon the sinners not without former signs by the force of thunders: for they suffered justly according to their own wickedness, insomuch as they used a more hard and hateful behavior toward strangers.”

The Book of Wisdom ends with this line

“For in all things, O Lord, thou didst magnify thy people, and glorify them, neither dist thou lightly regard them: but didst assist them in every time and place (Wisdom 19: 22).”

The book of Wisdom shows us what true wisdom is: a gift of God. Wisdom is a gift given to those who stick closely to the Lord and endeavors to do his will every day of their life. Wisdom will lead you throughout your life and help you to avoid the traps and stumbling blocks the wicked, who without the wisdom of God, will fall into. 

The author of the Book of Wisdom is debated, but I believe the contents of this book speaks to its validity. Wisdom is described in much the same way King Solomon describes it. Wisdom is seen as a gift of God, a chief attribute of the godly, and a stumbling block to the wicked. 

This book describes the treatment Jesus experienced while he was on earth, quotations used by the author of Hebrews, and this book illustrates many of the truths and stories of the Bible. I believe we should continue to meditate on the truths in this book and many others. Shalom.

Old Testament scriptures are from The LXX Septuagint, and the New Testament scriptures are from KJV.

2 thoughts on “Why Read the Apocrypha: The Book of Wisdom”

  • Thank you so much for this. I’m a Christian priest in the Church of England and the Book of Wisdom pops up from time to time in our Morning Prayer reading cycle and always seems very contemporary and relevant. Great to have my reading of it informed from a contemporary Hebrew perspective from your side of the Atlantic!

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