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Seeking Sophie

To discover the name of the being whose proposed personification we are calling Sophia, we will use the Duck Test, which requires that we first enumerate essential and pertinent properties and behaviors, followed by a search for other entities that share similar properties and behaviors.  First, we find that Sophia is an active proponent for wisdom, taking her case "to the streets", publicly calling on people to receive her words and rebuking those who refuse to hear her.  This theme of verses 20 and 21 is repeated in Proverbs 8:1-11 and 9:1-9.  Secondly, Sophia's speech and words are wisdom and truth itself.  Thirdly, Sophia speaks of "pouring out my spirit" upon those who receive her.  Fourthly, there is an optimal time window to receive her, which is BEFORE you need her, which is why Hezekiah's revival of Proverbs was not destined to succeed, for it was done during the time of the Assyrian threat and not before that.  The optimal time to have revived Proverbs was at the commencement of his reign, not when Sennacherib's army was knocking down the border towns.  What we must take away from Hezekiah's semi-failure is that we must start "seeking Sophie" NOW, while we have lots of spare time and low levels of mind-distracting pressure to properly integrate her lessons.  Last minute cramming Will.  Not.  Work.  The reference in verse 28 to seeking her "early" is in reference to getting up early in the morning to pray for her assistance.  In other words, the crisis is so dire that the victims have forsaken partying late and sleeping late in their desperation to get help.

There are other characteristics given in other passages in the 8 other chapters of the first section that I will summarize in the interest of space.  Sophia claims that her wisdom has great value worth seeking (Proverbs 3:13-20; 4:1-13, 8:12-21; 8:32-36).  She claims she was with God advising him at the very beginning of creation in imagery that has her and God seeming to be standing side-by-side discussing the architecture of the cosmos as mutual equals (Proverbs 3:13-20; 8:22-31).  Those who love her love life, while those who hate widom love death (Proverbs 8:32-36).  In Proverbs 7:4, the seeker is counseled to hold and regard wisdom as a close relative, such as a sister!  Every word out of her mouth is truth, and she hates false and boastful speech (Proverbs 8:12-21).

It is my belief that these characteristics positively identify Sophia as the pre-Pentecost manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  Consider the following parallels:

  1. The prevenient action of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of non-believers mirrors that of Sophia wandering up and down the streets shouting her desire that men pay attention to her wisdom.  "Come, let us reason together..." is the invitation that is given to sinners by God in Isaiah 1:16-20, suggesting that prevenient grace is the temporary embuement of wisdom by the Holy Spirit, a gift for which James claimed that all men could ask of God, and who could possess a sure confidence that such a prayer would be answered (James 1:5-8).
  2. God is said to give wisdom to those who seek after it earnestly, and it is God who also gives, to everyone who asks him, the Spirit that leads them unto all truth. 
  3. Sophia's hatred of falsehood is mirrored by the Spirit's slaying of the lying couple of Ananias and Sapphira.  
  4. The parables of the pearl of great price and the treasure in the field are intended to convey the incredibly great value and advantage that the Holy Spirit brings to the believer, mirroring Sophia's promises of honor, riches, and long life to those who heed her words.  (This particular point rests on my thesis is that the phrase "Kingdom of Heaven" as used by Jesus Christ was his title for the future presence of the Holy Spirit working in and through the believer.)
  5. Solomon's description of Sophia being at the splitting of the waters that created the atmosphere and the rise of the land masses almost suggests an instrumentative role in bringing it about that mirrors the work of the Spirit during the second and third days of creation.  Certainly, Sophia's boast that "I was by him, as one brought up with him" (Proverbs 8:30) is as close as Solomon was willing to accept Sophia as YHWH's equal.  

An aside: In saying the above, I do not want to leave the impression that it was Solomon's intention to describe the Third member of the Godhead as Christians understand Him, nor lay the groundwork for a Hebraic view of God as a Trinity: the Hebraic understanding of the One God was, and continues to be, that He is physically single.  The term used to describe the singleness of God is the hebrew word "echad", equivalent to the number "1", giving rise to the Hebraic understanding of YHWH as physically single.  Significantly, the same word is used to describe a husband and wife coming together in the institution of marriage (Genesis 2:24).  This is not the same as the sexual union, for which the hebrews used the term "yada", to know (Genesis 4:1; 4:17; 4:25).  "Yada" is the same word that the KJV translates as "know", "acknowledge", "understand", and "teach" in Proverbs.  To be sure, the Hebraic understanding of YHWH as One, as expressed in the Shema, has undergone revision.  In the beginning, it was understood that there was only One God in the Hebrew "pantheon", as contrasted to the multiple gods of the pantheons of Rome, Greece, Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt.  That is, the cardinality of the Pantheon of Senior Greek Gods is 7, while the cardinality of the Hebrew Pantheon is 1.  However, the early Hebrews were hentotheists.  A hentotheist believed that different patches of the earth's surface were under the control of different pantheons of Gods, and that the extent of these patches were determined by the extent of the political control of each god's worshippers.  This was the context underlying the content of Jephthah's letter/lecture to the Ammonites as given in Judges 11:12-28.  The Prophets and some of the more learned of the Hebrew people, such as King Hezekiah, were true monotheists because they held that the cardinality of the set of all the gods in the entire universe (as they understood it) was 1.  In contrast, the typical hebrew hentotheist thought that the cardinality was an unknowably large but finite number roughly proportional to the number of unique people-groups in the world.  It was during the Babylonian Captivity that the Jewish people as a group became Hezekiah-class monotheists who interpreted Daniel's success as a court official as proof that God's power was not territorially limited.  (The understanding of the work and nature of Satan is another Jewish concept whose evolution in the scriptures can be traced and whose final form was an adaptation of insights gained from the Medes.) 

It is my conjecture that Solomon's wisdom, and that of any who ask for it based on Proverbs, was a mental prosthetic generated by the influence (but not the inward presence) of the Holy Spirit, similar in effect (but not in causation) to the Gift of Wisdom.  Like me, he detected a texture to the wise thoughts being generated from within his heart that strongly suggested a personality behind the thoughts.  However, I think that his belief that God is a Singleton led him to the alternate belief that this personality was an artifact of the creativity that he inherited from his father David and which he eventually used as a convenient allegorical figure to vividly illustrate the various characteristics of Wisdom/Sophia in the first section of Proverbs.  It is also likely that his use of the feminine gender to identify Wisdom was to distinguish between the gift (wisdom/feminine) and the Giver (YHWH/masculine) in the minds of his readers.  I have pointed out that some have taken the humble, self-sacrificing, nuturing, and cooperative behavior of the Holy Spirit as a license to turn Him into a divine doormat.  In Solomon's day, doormats of the human sort were the women and the slaves, so this allegorical figure became feminine rather than masculine.  As usual, God worked this expression of a deplorable cultural artifact for good, since the Holy Spirit's personality consistently manifesting Himself as Sophia to subsequent wise men, including Hezekiah, made such a good impression that they added what is our 31st chapter of Proverbs, without which we would not have a good idea of what a wise woman looks and behaves like.  It seems to me that the Holy Spirit worked covertly as the feminine Sophia for the uplifting of women in the Old Testament as He later would do overtly in the Churches of the New Testament.  Thus, arguing that Sophia and the Holy Spirit cannot be the same being by pointing to the contradictory gender terminology is not (in my mind) conclusive in light of the pre-existing conceptions of the nature of God that the Hebrews held.  (A darker speculation: Solomon married 700 wives and 300 concubines out of a desire to find a physical, actual woman like Sophia.  Of course he never succeeded, but obviously not for lack of trying.)

"This is not the Holy Spirit You are Looking For!"

Another possible argument that may be made against equating Sophia with the Holy Spirit is the one based on personality: detractors would note that Sophia has a limit to her patience and the time and effort she is willing to expend trying to convince people to listen to her, while the Holy Spirit, being God, must necessarily have infinite patience.  Also, she is not a very sympathetic character when people suffer the consequences of their decisions, taunting them in their suffering and not bothering to lift a finger to help them out of their distress.  In contrast, they point out that the Holy Spirit, as God, must necessarily be Love incarnate and infinitely merciful, so one would expect him to come to the aid of the distressed if they call upon God.  These differences, they would claim, are significant enough to disprove the equivalence. 

Unfortunately, the argument fails because it is founded on wishful thinking based on philosophical conjectures rather than a biblically supported view of the Holy Spirit.  Paul warns the Ephesians not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30), indicating that this member of the Trinity draws a line that, if crossed by the unrepentant, results in Him refusing to work with them any further.  And just because the Trinity is One does not mean that the members are cookie-cutter identical clones sharing a hive mind: Christ is quite willing to forgive blasphemies against him, but the Holy Spirit does not (Matthew 12:31, Luke 12:10).  The belief in an infinitely patient and infinitely loving God leads to the unfortunate Armenian extreme of Universalism that ignores the scriptures that teach that there is soil that does not bring forth fruit (Mark 4:1 - 20), that there will be no one lost because of personal foolishness (Matthew 25:1-13), that no one will be rejected because of laziness disguised as prudence (Matthew 25:14-30), that there is Someone who is worth fearing because they can send people to hell (Matthew 10:26-33), and that there are humans that are children of the devil and not of God (John 8:36-45) who are better characterized as tares fit for burning than wheat worth saving (Matthew 13:24-30).  If there is a desire among some to minimize and suppress the ministry and person of the Holy Spirit, it may be because they may instinctively sense that He is the hard-nosed and hard-boiled member of the Trinity.  (I will show, in a later essay of this Stage, how this "unpleasant" character trait (as some would cast it), can work for us as well as "against" us.)

Thoughts and Words

Another aspect of Sophia that suggests that it is the Holy Spirit is the process by which the instruction is given to the student.  That is, Sophia speaks in the process of instructing the student.  The language in all the Sophia passages has her crying in the streets, teaching, laughing, rebuking, pouring out her words to those who, if they heed them, are fulsomely praised.  This mirrors the process of the Holy Spirit generating thoughts that are perceived as words that was postulated in this essay.  Both of them "speak", but that speaking is in the form of thoughts that the inner man perceives as words.  Those whom we call the Prophets and the writers of the Old and New Testaments heard that voice distinctly enough to write it down with confidence.  This is not at all my theory, for this is how Peter explains the process by which all scripture is given (2 Peter 1:21).

We will explore the process of how this instruction is effected by the Holy Spirit in a later essay.  However, I want to point out the unrecognized inconsistency of people who declare that the development of the Scriptures is the "perfection" that Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 13:10 that caused the gifts and the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit to cease.  Jesus criticized the Pharisees for not realizing, while they searched the scriptures, that those scriptures testified of him (John 5:39).  While it was good that they searched the scriptures, they failed to see Jesus becasue they did not get the understanding that comes from God that was required to help them "connect the dots". 

In every court, divine and human, the testimony on behalf of the one testified of is of lesser importance than the character and veracity of the testifier.  Those who deny the importance of the Holy Spirit while upholding the importance of the Scriptures are behaving like the Pharisees who thought that the sacrifice on the altar was more important than the altar, or that the gold on the temple was more important than the temple.  Just as Jesus rightly condemned this inversion of what sanctifies what (Matthew 23:16-22) in his day, so we should in ours.

Summarizing Proverbs

The key take-away from Proverbs of relevance to us is that wisdom is given by God, and that the imagery of the first section of Proverbs of Wisdom's personification can be reasonably interpreted as suggesting that the giving of this wisdom is effected by the Holy Spirit at the "nuts and bolts" level.  The fact that God the Father ordains something while a specific member of the Trinity effects it should not lead us to distain, ignore, or count as un-involved the one who effects it in the name of exalting The Father as "the one who really deserves the credit". For example, Salvation was ordained by God the Father, but the actual effecting of it was done by God the Son, Jesus Christ, but no one is insisting that Jesus' effecting of salvation be ignored because calling attention to it draws attention and glory away from God the Father because the latter is "the one who really deserves the credit"!  As a God who honors those who are fruitful, we know that the Father exalted Jesus precisely because he was the one who brought the intent to fruition, and also commands that we honor Jesus for what He did.  In the same way, we need to give proper credit to the One who "gets down and dirty" to bring about the growth of wisdom within the human heart.  All of the advice given in the first section is intended to keep the mind pure and focussed so that the student's behavior is maximally acceptable to the Spirit, and the remaining sections test the presence and quality of the wisdom that the student has received. 

The fact that wisdom comes from God via the Holy Spirit should not be taken as downgrading or denying the ability of Proverbs to "generate" wisdom as it has been traditionally used.  To believe that "Jesus helps us with our temptations", when it is actually the Holy Spirit who is manipulating neuro-transmitters and synapse firings to enable us to overcome temptation, does not block the Holy Spirit from doing so.  To use a physics/mathematics term, believing that it is Jesus working "at a distance", when the truth of the matter is that it is really the Holy Spirit at work "up close and personal" is a "good first order approximation".  The tricky part about using first order approximations is that one must expect that the approximation will eventually diverge from reality.  Engineers and scientists are not surprised when calculations and models based only on first order approximations fail when pushed close to their limits, and fail spectacularly when pushed beyond those limits.  The inability of people in general, and me in particular, to overcome their private compulsions despite much prayer to Jesus and agonizing "at the altar" should have been an indicator that our assumptions and beliefs needed revision.

However, this does not seem to be the case with Proverbs: the belief that the mere reading of the book of Proverbs would produce wisdom, and actually getting wisdom when one acts on that belief, when in reality it is the Holy Spirit working wisdom into the human mind of the believing reader, would merit that belief as "a pretty darn good third order approximation". 

In fact, if prior experience in nature and science with the creative destruction of third order approximations is any guide, then what we have is not only a third order approximation, but also a very good indicator of where to look to discover the true mechanism behind the phenomenon.  In this case, it is apparent that the effectiveness of Proverbs is a proof of what I had conjectured earlier with regard to the use that Jesus made of the Book of Deuteronomy during his temptations in the wilderness: Scripture is not only given by the Holy Spirit to the prophets, but is also a tool of communication in itself that is used by the Holy Spirit Himself. 

Permit me a further speculation: I believe that the Book of Proverbs is the product of a deliberately pursued collaboration between Solomon and the Spirit of Wisdom with the express purpose of generating Holy Scripture to bring about an intended result.  Up until then, scripture was given unilaterally to the prophets in the same way that the Law was given to Moses.  That is, Moses did not think "We need to give these people some social, religious, and health laws to follow, so which ones do you suggest, LORD?"  Instead, the LORD said, "This is the way I want things run!", and Moses said "YESSIR!".  In contrast, I believe that the project to generate wisdom in the hearts of the average Hebrew was a project conceived by Solomon who justified it based on observations he made of the Spirit's actions in his father David's poetic works.  I find it extremely hard to believe that the Psalms of David failed to produce in believing Israelites the same sort of comfort, faith, and encouragement back then that we ourselves get from them today.  Seeing how they probably knew the tunes they were sung in, and natively spoke the Hebrew language that we read only in translation, I would believe that they got more from it back then than we do from it today.

However, I speculate that what affected Solomon more than the Book of Psalms itself was the process by which they were written: as David's heir apparent, I am quite sure that he had talked to his father about how they came to be written, and probably watched him generate a few in real-time.  While I doubt that the young man actually grasped what he was seeing at the time he saw it, I want to relate an experience that happened to me that I am sure happened to Solomon.  I was about 16 when I visited a much older cousin who was attending college to get a Physics degree.  I recall him working some math problems in the book, and while he was talking with his brother, I leaned over and studied what he was working on.  I asked him what he was working on, but he blew me off, saying I did not have a good enough foundation.  Irritated, I still followed along, noting that his fingers moved in a strange pattern over the notations while he was working the problems.  About five years later, I was sitting in an advanced math class following the instructor on how to find the collapsed "value" of a three by three matrix when I suddenly recognized the same notation, and the same finger motion patterns being performed by the instruction that my cousin years earlier had performed while doing his problems.  I recall that I was extremely irritated that he had not bothered trying to teach that stuff me.  What he did somehow stuck in my brain, only to come into the vivid focus of the mental eye years later upon seeing it again. 

I believe that the same thing happened to Solomon.  It probably began to dawn on him after his personal Illumination, and on other pious wise Hebrews of the day, that the Spirit of God had been working through David, but the man himself did not know it.  David merely followed his music-making talents and maunderings, doubtless strumming the strings of his harp while "tuning around" and "fooling around" the way guitarists do today while trying to kill time between practices, only to slowly write, with the unseen help of the Spirit, a Psalm that would bring comfort, faith, clarity, and sanity to countless people in future ages, including people not yet born and who would speak in languages unheard and unconceived for thousands of years.  It must have seemed extremely natural to him, probably including the display of the usual bit of manic-obsession that universally strikes artists, musicians, and other creators during the heat of the creative process that is recognizable across time, space, and culture.  (An aside: one may say that we Christians today enjoy what could be called "rev 2" of the Homo/Deus interface, mainly because the integration between us and the Indwelling Spirit is much more intimate and complete.  While being much more beneficial and efficient, this intimacy does has its downsides.  For starters, the very "naturalness" of it may lead us to mistake divine movings as human fancies, leading to "analysis paralysis" as we try to read modern occurrances out of ancient scriptures written primarily for the benefit of saints long dead.  This has the effect of committing us to not rising higher than our predecessors when Jesus himself assured the disciples (and us through them) that they would do greater works than he did.  To believe otherwise is to adopt what William Barclay charitably calls "a mistaken reverence" that spins disobedience as humility.  The flip side (symmetry dictates there always is one) is that this "naturalness" leads us to mistake divine abilities as personal ones.  Thus, it should be no surprise that the greater proportion of clergy and ministry failures today are Pentecostal/Charismatic in origin.  The number and magnitude of crashes of people who walked in the Spirit and worked signs and miracles are so great that those seeking to end their Christian walk better than they started it have reasonable justification to avoid multiplying these particular talents.  Unfortunately, those of us who are "in the know" don't have that luxury.  As best as I can tell, the solution to this situation points toward the adoption and adaptation of the disaster and fault analysis methods used by engineers to improve reliability into Christian theological methodology, whereby we analyze the lives and fruit of those who have "gone down in flames" before us to come up with methodologies, practices, and (most importantly) the required mindset so that we can responsibly handle the powers of the world to come.  Of particular note is a recent observation of mine that it was only an assumption of mine that all the disciples worked miracles in the Book of Acts: while all the disciples benefitted from miracles, the actual text records that only Peter, Paul, Stephen, Phillip, and Ananias of Damascus worked miracles.  This "privileged" group was composed of the one disciple who verbally denied Jesus, a johnny-come-lately who had a complex as a former persecutor of the church that led him to call himself "the least of the apostles", two bottom-church-echelon deacon food delivery men, and one very scared layman.  I appear to have my work cut out for me...)

In recollecting the memory of his father's creative sessions and considering them with the increased illumination coming from a gift of wisdom coming from God, Solomon probably came to think, "Yeah, the Spirit was upon him, but what I saw was that he started the process and the Spirit joined in after the ball started rolling to help keep it moving to the goal.  I wonder what would happen if I started on a project to generate some writings that would create wisdom in just about anybody willing to read them and listen?  Would the Spirit of God join in and help me in the same way if I just started it?  More importantly, would the Spirit of God join in and help those who will read what we write?"  What came out of that "project" to drive wisdom into a wider audience was the Book of Proverbs.  I speculate that it was the first attempt to generate a book of the sacred scriptures on purpose based on the assumption that the Inspired writer could actively cooperate with the Spirit of God rather than be treated as a mere mimeograph.  How much of our modern age is founded on the discoveries of men whose wisdom was born reading Proverbs is probably something we will never know in this age of the world, but I suspect that the fraction is not only substantial, but also crucial and foundational as well.

Before I move on to examining Ecclesiastes, I want to urge my readers to not adopt the attitude of those neo-calvinists whose extreme, but mistaken, piety leads them to object to any idea that there is anything that a Christian, as a human, can do in cooperation with the Divine, much less exploit and leverage certain proclivities of the Divine to personal and communal advantage.  I am aware of one individual who totally missed the monetary aspects of the term "earnest" that Paul used when describing the giving of the Holy Spirit to the believer.  They regarded the presence of the Holy Spirit within them as something inert and inactive, like a sort of trophy to be put on the mantelpiece.   Upon his conversion, John Bunyan's Christian was given a roll to attest to his being an authentic pilgrim.  While Bunyan assured us that the roll was of some intermediate value because Christian sometimes read from it to comfort himself before he turned it in at the Heavenly Gates, this individual appeared to regard the presence of the Holy Spirit as being of no personal utility whatsoever.  This is an appalling attitude that I speculate is due to being motivated by the same fears that motivated the servants who buried their talent or pound rather than to actively employ it so as to increase it.  It is as if the man who sold all he had to buy the field insisted on keeping the treasure in the field.  Or if he dug it out he kept it hidden under his bed, making his family guard it in shifts without any of them benefitting in any way from its contents.  It is as if the merchant who sought out fine pearls had purchased the Pearl of Great Price with everything he had did so for the sole purpose of gazing at it while hiding from thieves in some dirty, dark, and hidden alley, dressed in the rags that he couldn't sell because nobody wanted them.  Merchants are known to do many unusual things, but never that from which they get no profit whatsoever.  More to the point, it is like a man who marries a charmingly gentle, quiet, and graciously good woman whose real dowery is her incredible wisdom, skill, and industry, but who just stuffs her into his private harem rooms and won't let her out to breathe.  I contrast this attitude to that of the wise husband of Proverbs 31, who let his equally wise and talented wife spread her wings and fly.  Those offended at the thought that the Spirit interacts with us like a wife interacts with her husband, waiting on him for permission to make both of them shine, should probably take a second look at how they treat their own wives!  That is, if they have a wife, since no modern woman is going to marry, or stay married, with a man who acts on his feelings of being threatened by her talents and abilities by putting her in a cage.

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