What are the seven pillars of wisdom in Proverbs 9:1?
The discussion of wisdom in this passage of Proverbs includes chapters 8 and 9. The passage itself deserves careful study which we cannot do here. Because the pillars are not explicitly described in this passage the identification of what they represent is a matter of exposition. In other words, I will give here what I can but other commentators may have better explanations or applications. I cannot be dogmatic.
One association that I find particularly interesting is given by Leslie M Grant.1 He refers to James 3:17, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” He notices that there are seven attributes of wisdom given here. I will return to this below, but first I want to look at the context in Proverbs.
The seven pillars are given in the context of Wisdom having built her house. William Kelly observes that “nowhere on earth was there a suited habitation.”2 Since Wisdom personifies the Lord Jesus Christ it is easy to associate this building with the spiritual House of God. (1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 10:21?; 1 Pet. 4:17.) This makes the association with James 3:17 very relevant.
Pillars themselves are related in Scripture with two thoughts: First with that of support and second with a proclamation of some kind. Often these two thoughts seem combined as in 1 Timothy 3:15. The thought of a proclamation alone is common in the Old Testament as in Joshua 4:5-9. Twelve stones were taken from the middle of the Jordan river when the nation passed over on dry ground and they were piled as a memorial on the bank.
So, the seven pillars of the house of Wisdom can represent both support for the house and the proclamation of its character. It is also very significant that there are seven pillars. As far as I know, seven in Scripture is always connected with what is complete. So, in this case, the seven pillars would indicate that nothing more can be added to what Wisdom has done with respect to the support and proclamation associated with her house.
Now, let’s look for a moment at the particular attributes given by James.
Pure is the first attribute mentioned and it is specifically introduced with the word “first”. So, it must be regarded as primary. To be pure is to be unmixed, without duplicity or deceit. Certainly, in the day in which we find ourselves, this is both an admirable and rare attribute to find.
Peaceable is the next attribute and must be kept alongside purity. Since the effort to be pure can easily be degraded by contention. The Lord provides a special blessing for the “peacemakers” in Matthew 5:9 and this immediately follows the blessing to “the pure in heart” (v. 8).
Gentleness is the natural companion to peaceableness. In difficult circumstances, the apostle Peter encouraged the saints to give an answer to questioners “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:16). This, too, seems to be a quality in short supply these days.
Open to reason is a companion to “pure” and “respect” mentioned by the apostle Peter. Even an unbeliever can have correct perceptions of situations which we can learn from. Are we certain we have correctly examined all the aspects? True reason is from God (Isa. 1:18).
Full of mercy and good fruits provide an interesting pair. Occasionally, a rebuke is necessary. But also, “love covers a multitude of sins”(1 Pet. 4:8). Wisdom “from above” will know the way to encourage lasting fruit.
Impartiality is one of God’s own characteristics (Acts 10:34). Of many verses that refer to being or showing impartiality, some refer to judgment and some refer to showing favor. So, this is similar to the first attribute of purity—free from duplicity. Here the emphasis seems to be on the actions. This is particularly hard when others have offended us or have very different views from us on issues that we feel are important. The Lord admonished those around to “judge with right judgment.”(Jn. 7:24) This is difficult if pride gets in the way.
Sincerity is the seventh attribute and so completes the series. It is interesting that this corresponds so well with the first attribute. Purity corresponds to what is internal—my thoughts. To be sincere is to act out the purity that is internal. The Lord said, “if your eye is clear, then your whole body will be full of light” (Matt. 6:22; NASB). Purity and sincerity, seem to be similar in how the internal conditions are manifested. If I have pure motives then my actions will show true sincerity.
Clearly, wisdom is necessarily “from above.” It cannot be generated from within; yet, it must be sought and developed by experience in the presence of God. The prayer of the Psalmist, “search me, O God,” (Ps. 139:23) is the only place one can start to find true wisdom.
These are only a few thoughts and I have not seen commentaries on this subject so if you have additional insight or references, please share them with us in the comment section below.
Whenever we arrive at a point in the history of our souls where the next step needs very careful consideration, Wisdom is always there to instruct us, and if we follow her instructions we keep going right on our ways. We may thank God that He has given instruction in His word for every step we need to take in our service for Him in this world.Davidson, Notes on Proverbs. www.stempublishing.com.
1. Leslie M. Grant, Comments on the Book of Proverbs (Sunbury: Believers Bookshelf, Inc., 2013), 52.
2. William Kelly, The Proverbs (Addison: Bible Truth Publishers, undated), 68.