What does Proverbs 8:16 mean?
ESV: by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.
NIV: by me princes govern, and nobles--all who rule on earth.
NASB: By me princes rule, and nobles, All who judge rightly.
CSB: by me, princes lead, as do nobles and all righteous judges.
NLT: Rulers lead with my help, and nobles make righteous judgments.
KJV: By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.
The voice speaking in these verses is that of wisdom, personified as a woman (Proverbs 8:1–4). Continuing his thought that wisdom establishes the powers of government, Solomon says that by wisdom "princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly." This is true in the sense that "just" rulers are those who apply godly wisdom. It is also true in that God—the ultimate source of all wisdom—is ultimately sovereign over who rules. This truth becomes apparent when we examine the lives of Joseph and Moses.
In His wisdom, God determined that Joseph would be taken from his homeland to Egypt and from a prison in Egypt to occupy the position of second in command in Egypt. Only God could arrange for someone to rise from a dungeon to a throne. Joseph recognized God's hand in all this. When his brothers feared for their lives because of their ill-treatment of Joseph, Joseph said, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Genesis 50:19–20). God used Joseph to keep alive the Hebrew race, through whom the Messiah would come.
Another example of divine appointment is Moses. God rescued him from the Nile River to make him a prince in Egypt and then the leader of the Hebrews who guided them through the desert to the Promised Land. Moses recognized that he was inadequate for the job of leading Israel, but the Lord said, "I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:10).
Proverbs 8:12–21 records more words from the personification of wisdom. She speaks about the value she imparts to those who find her. Contrary to what the adulterous woman of Proverbs 7 offers—poverty and disgrace—wisdom offers true riches, honor, and an inheritance.
In this passage, wisdom is once again imagined as a woman who cries out to be heard (Proverbs 1:20–21). Wisdom extols her own truth and value. Wisdom was part of God's creative power long before even the creation of the universe. The chapter again returns to the many benefits of godly wisdom, before completing those declarations at the start of the next chapter.
Thus far in Proverbs, Solomon has spoken about the virtues of wisdom and the need to acquire it and live by it. He has also warned about the dangers of rejecting wisdom. Chapter 7 ended with a description of a promiscuous woman seducing a foolish young man. Now, in chapter 8, he lets wisdom speak, once again personified as a woman. She speaks about her existence before creation and her gift of life to all who find her. This analogy continues into chapter 9.
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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