I’ve shared with some of you that the highlight of my vacation was watching Zoe master the fine art of peek-a-boo. It was fun watching her use this new skill—getting the cloth up over her head, covering her eyes, waiting for the question “Where’s Zoe?” and then pulling the cloth away to show us just where she had been hiding.
But what I really loved was the expression on her face when she pulled the cloth away. Her eyes would get wide, and she would beam with joy. It was as though the world had been entirely recreated in her “absence,” and it was wonderful! Best of all was how she looked at us—as though we were the most welcome sight she could possibly hope for. Her whole body communicated one thing: delight. Delight in the world around her. Delight in the people in front of her.
That feeling of delight is what caught my attention when I chose our passage for today. Delight is just such a wonderful feeling, and don’t we all need a healthy dose of that, with all that’s going on in the world? Originally, the word “delight” didn’t have the “gh” in its spelling; it was just spelled “delit.” The “g” and “h” were added in the 1500s, to connect it with light: delight lights up our world.
The word “delight” spills over with happiness: gladness and cheer, pleasure and glee, to celebrate and be merry, rejoice at and revel in. Delight is that “I’m-so-happy-I-could-just-wiggle-all-over-like-a-happy-baby” feeling, and our passage overflows with it. But what drew me even more than this wonderful feeling was the source of that delight. Proverbs tells us that we—the human race—are a source of delight. We are delighted in. We are delightful!
The one who is experiencing this delight is described as Wisdom—actually, the woman Wisdom. And she has much to delight in. But we need to back up a little and learn something about the book of Proverbs before we get to know this fascinating woman. If you’re like me, you haven’t spent much time in Proverbs. In fact, this is the only passage out of the whole book that ever shows up in the lectionary. And that’s a shame, because this book is useful—and, a whole lot of fun.
Think for a moment about the people in your life who have given you advice over the years. What sayings and stories did your parents and grandparents pass along? What about a favorite coach or a teacher? Maybe you have a favorite public figure whose advice has stuck with you. If you were to pass all that advice along to your children, and they added their advice to yours and passed it down to their children, and then collected it in a book, you’d have something like the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs isn’t a cohesive story but is actually a collection of collections—of stories and sayings and teachings from some people who only show up in Proverbs. There are loads of pithy sayings Yogi Berra would have loved. It’s written as a kind of handbook to be given to a child—guidelines for living a better life. The advice in Proverbs was offered specifically for a boy, probably a son, so the images in Proverbs are clearly directed to a male reader. Modern translations use the word “child” instead of “son,” since the advice in the book is useful regardless of your gender. But knowing who the intended recipient was helps explain certain images we’ll encounter.
It’s hard to put an exact date on Proverbs; there aren’t many historical details that can pin that down. It could have been written as early as the 4th c. BCE or much later. Its contents are largely attributed to Solomon, but that’s not likely the case. Ancient writers weren’t all that concerned about who the actual original speaker or writer of their material was. They named their books to indicate that what they had collected and written down could very well have been said by a particularly respected person. So, the authors and editors of Proverbs are saying that what they collected was in keeping with what Israel’s wise king Solomon might have said.
All that really doesn’t matter, because the advice in Proverbs is, in many ways, timeless. Of course, we have to remember that it was written in a different place and time and culture. But, people throughout history have had similar desires: to pass along what they’ve learned so that future generations can live productive, righteous and, hopefully, happy lives. Not all of the sayings hold true all of the time, but in general, the advice is as sound and worth following today as it was centuries ago. The sayings and stories of Proverbs can, by and large, help us lead lives marked by righteousness and justice.
The first collection in Proverbs is a story of two women: the Woman of Folly and the Woman of Wisdom. The Woman of Folly shows up in Chapters 6 and 7, and at the end of Chapter 9. She’s seductive. She’s loud and wayward. The minute her husband leaves town, she’s on the prowl, luring young men into her lair, which she has perfumed and prepared with luxurious fabrics. She’s a definite threat to any young man’s future health, wealth, and happiness. In fact, this adulterous wife poses a greater threat than a prostitute; she’s a threat to a young man’s very life. This is how Proverbs 6 describes the danger (remember, this is written to a son):
“…A prostitute’s fee is only a loaf of bread, but the wife of another stalks a man’s very life. Can fire be carried in the bosom without burning one’s clothes? Or can one walk on hot coals without scorching the feet? So is he who sleeps with his neighbor’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished…He who commits adultery has no sense; he who does it destroys himself. He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away. For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he shows no restraint when he takes revenge.” Letting Folly into your life has serious negative consequences.
But there is another woman—the woman Wisdom. Folly roams the streets, but Wisdom stands in the most public of places, where all can hear her, and invites everyone to learn from her—from the most naïve to the most wise (who always have more to learn). She stands at the crossroads, where decisions must be made. She stands in the city gates, where business is conducted and justice is carried out. She speaks, not in a seductive voice that lures in the gullible, but in a loud voice so that everyone can hear and benefit from what she has to offer: prudence, instruction, knowledge, insight and good advice. She speaks righteous words of noble things. “All the words of my mouth are righteous,” she says in Chapter 8. “There is nothing twisted or crooked in them. They are all straight to the one who understands and right to those who find knowledge.”
Who is this marvelous woman Wisdom? Where does she come from? She explains in our passage for today. She was created by God before anything else, so she was present for God’s work of creation—in the beginning, even before God created the heavens and the earth. And then, with the joy and delight of a child in a sandbox, Wisdom lists all that came after she was “brought forth”—a phrase that conjures up images of birth. She was brought forth by God before the earth was formed, before its fields and soil were spread out, before the seas and springs were filled with water, before God drew up the mountains and hills.
Wisdom joyfully crows, “I was there! I was there when God established the heavens! I was there when God marked out the horizon on the sea, established its foundations and set its boundaries. I was there when God thickened the air of the sky with clouds. I was there!” She was there when all those miracles of nature that we read about in our psalm were created by God. She was there at God’s side as every part of nature’s realm—every part of reality as the ancients understood it—was formed.
And, she was there in a particular role. She was there as a master worker. This kind of master worker is more than someone who is exceptionally good at their job. This is someone who is a skilled expert, but who is also wise, more like a counselor or adviser.
I imagine her observing as God molded giraffes and oak trees and snowflakes. I hear her making suggestions. “What if you stretch out that creature’s neck? That would be cool! Oh, these trees would be perfect for feeding the squirrels if you add nuts to them! Snowflakes? Why don’t you make every single one of them different?”
Woman Wisdom is the creative advisor standing next to the Creator, and she’s having a ball. She is, quite simply, delighted. And God was delighting in her. “I was rejoicing before God every day,” she says, “rejoicing in everything God was creating.” She is like the child who delights in a world: so new, so full of wonder, so full of beauty. And then she says those words that so caught at my heart: “I was delighting in the human race.”
I think we’re used to the notion that we are loved. We’re used to the idea that we’re accepted and appreciated and valued. But when was the last time you were told that you were the source for someone’s delight? That you made their heart sing, their face glow, their spirits rise, just at the sight of you. When was the last time someone looked at you with the joy of a baby who’s pulled a cloth away from her eyes and, to her delight, found you! This is how Woman Wisdom, that master worker, that creative partner with God, looks at the human race. This is how Woman Wisdom, the master worker, God’s creative partner, looks at you and at me…with delight.
When we look around at our fellow human beings, we may wonder how anyone can delight in us. We see all the cruelty and hatred, the injustice and hardened hearts. What’s to delight in there? We may look in the mirror and ask the same thing. We try to do the right thing—to live in righteous ways. But our reflection can look back at us—accusingly, because of all the ways we fall short of the glory of God. If we’re an example of the entire human race, we may wonder how we could possibly be a source of delight.
And yet, that is the story some ancient parent passed on to his son—a story preserved in Proverbs. And, I would guess, mothers were telling their daughters the same story. Wisdom looked on as God created all of nature and called it good. wisdom looked on as God created human beings and called us very good. And Wisdom rejoiced in God’s inhabited world and delighted in the human race.
And why shouldn’t the human race cause Wisdom to delight in us? “Let us make human beings in our image,” God says. Made in that image, we carry within us so many amazing attributes of God. We are creative as God is creative. We make art music, food and clothing. We birth children and make families, biologically or otherwise. We delve into the mysteries of the world, using the minds God gave us. We have the capacity to love and care for one another. We have the capacity to rejoice and—yes—delight in the world around us. We can work and rest, laugh and cry, play and grieve.
God’s nature is relationship, and we carry that image, too. “Let us make human beings in our image,” God says. The early Church worked out how who that “us” is: a God who is one yet three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God in three persons who, as one, create, redeem, and sustain. Today, on Trinity Sunday, we celebrate this one-in-three-ness that puts relationship at the center of God’s nature, and ours. We are given the capacity and the drive to live in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, with our neighbors, and with the natural world. In our relationships, we reflect the image of our Triune God, and that causes Woman Wisdom to delight in the human race.
Yes, we make mistakes. We do grieve God with the wrong that we do. But God looks at us as children who are growing into what God created us to be—children who are bound to mess up as we grow. Our failures do not cause God to stop loving us.
The Woman Wisdom of the Proverbs story delights in what we are created to be. She calls out to everyone to learn from her precisely because she knows what are created to be, and she wants to help us live into God’s intention for us. Delighting in the human race, Wisdom wants to ensure that we have the knowledge we need to lead satisfying, productive, and godly lives— knowledge that steers us towards what is life-giving not just for us but for others, knowledge that helps us to use our gifts in kingdom-building ways.
Woman Wisdom also wants the rest of God’s creation to be what it was created to be. Wisdom rejoices in the natural world whose creation she witnessed, and she wants it to be as healthy as possible. But, the natural world has suffered as a result of human sin, and it depends on us to restore it. Paul tells us that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…in hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay.” The natural world can’t do this on its own. Creation needs us to care for it as God cares for it, acting as good stewards. Woman Wisdom wants us to rejoice in the natural world before God as she does, and our rejoicing includes caring for it in wise ways.
The Woman Wisdom of Proverbs is full of delight in us, and her delight can be contagious. When we are delighted in, we are more inclined to be full of delight ourselves. We are surrounded by the miraculous creation that Wisdom rejoiced in. Let’s rejoice in it, too, looking around us each day with the eyes of children who are seeing it for the first time. Let’s allow the prejudices and ignorance that blind us to the image of God in others fall away, and let’s delight in them as a child delights in the face of the person who has just “found” them in a game of peek-a-boo. When we look in the mirror, let’s delight in what we see there—someone who is made in the very image of God.
Wisdom has much to teach us, and we’ll be exploring more of her lessons in the coming weeks. But for now, let the words of Wisdom sink into your heart and lift your spirit. Allow your soul to rejoice in the knowledge that you are a child of God, so beloved that the Father sent Jesus to show us how to have life and have it abundantly. A child of God so precious that the Son died on the cross and rose again so that we might live eternally, free of the power of sin and fear of death. A child of God who has been given the power of the Holy Spirit to live a life of righteousness and justice, love and peace. You are a creation of God in whom Wisdom delights. May we all be full of delight in response. Amen.
~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young