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In Mishlei / Proverbs 9, we are told Chakmot (חָכְמוֹת) resides in a House built on 7 Pillars.

Proverbs 9

[1] Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. (חָכְמוֹת בָּנְתָ֣ה בֵיתָ֑הּ חָצְבָ֖ה עַמּוּדֶ֣יהָ שִׁבְעָֽה)

What are the 7 Pillars of Beytah (בֵיתָ֑הּ)?

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We are not told what the seven pillars are but here are a few suggestions:

  • Seven pillars represent the completeness/perfection of God's wisdom and thus suggests His omniscience - this view is held by Banson, Barnes, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary.
  • Seven pillars represent harmony and unity plus other architectural features as per the Pulpit commentary.
  • Reminiscent of the poles of a tent as per the Cambridge commentary.
  • Seven pillars "Suggestive of the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2 Revelation 1:4), typified by the seven-branched candlestick of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:37)."

If the last suggestion is correct then it may also be an allusion to the implied seven spirits of God as enumerated in Isa 11:2, namely:

  1. The spirit of the LORD
  2. The Spirit of wisdom
  3. The Spirit of understanding
  4. The spirit of counsel
  5. The spirit of strength
  6. The spirit of knowledge
  7. The spirit of the fear of the LORD

However, this is rather speculative. I personally prefer the simpler idea as aptly stated by Benson about the seven pillars:

hewn out her seven pillars That is, many pillars, the number seven being put for any perfect number. Hereby the beauty and stability of the building are signified.

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Another option could be from the text just before in Proverbs 8:22 and on. We see that Wisdom was God’s first acquisition at the beginning of creation. There are allusions to the Genesis 1 creation story.

Proverbs 8:30-31, I was beside him, like a master worker;[e] and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

The seven pillars could also be the seven days of creation. There is an interesting take on the hebrew language. Since it only has the imperfect and perfect tenses (and no past/present/future tenses) that something like the seven days of creation represent a kind of static image that is not really perceived as a causal sequence.

The 2016 movie Arrival with Amy Adams is based on this interpretation of the Hebrew language. In that movie, she is a linguist who must learn about the acausal language of an alien race. As I understand it, the author was basing this on Ancient Hebrew (ancient Egyptian also shares this structure). It changed the way she perceived reality. I am not suggesting that hebrew gives you super powers.. just that it views the world fundamentally different than we do in our causal action languages.

Viewed from this perspective, and that wisdom had just described her role in creation, we might see the seven pillars as the seven days of the week which are the seven days of creation. Her house is the whole world and the beings in it.

I think it is interesting that wisdom is “purchased” by God at the beginning of his path in Proverbs 8:22. The verb here is the same one used to describe Cain and from which his name is derived in Genesis 4:1.

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I think the accepted answer is the best starting point. The number 7 has a nice established meaning in the bible, and there is not an obvious explanation in proverbs of what the individual pillars could be.

However, assuming that the author of proverbs wouldn't expect people to ask this question, seems to be assuming he was, in a sense, unwise. I think a more useful way of seeing the text is that like a university level text book, it gives you a lot of principles and ideas - but periodically gives the reader a puzzle that it doesn't answer.

I would suggest that this kind of style in the text is quite normal in the bible - for example some of Daniel is quite clear, some requires you to do a lot of work outside the text. Similarly some of Jesus parables are very clear (the prodigal son/the widows talents), others are hard to interpret (the shrewd manager).

I am also quite happy with Gus Ls reading of the text (pillars = the days of creation, house = the world), you could also envisage a christian reading where Christ is wisdom and the house is the church and the seven pillars are the lampstands of revelation and link back to the spirits of God in Isaiah or similar.

I’m used to rabbis reading this as a refereance to the seven books of the torah

I have also heard people arguing that there are 7 sections within proverbs and each of these is one of the pillars, but I find that hard to justify.

The answer I find most compelling is offered in James 3:17 and 18 where the author lists 7 atributes of wisdom:

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is

  1. first of all pure;
  2. then peace-loving,
  3. considerate,
  4. submissive,
  5. full of mercy and good fruit,
  6. impartial
  7. and sincere."

Part of what is interesting is that the passage eschews attributes like "self-consistent" or "sound" that we would associate with philosophies, in favour of virtues and character traits that we would associate with a person. This is of course exactly what we see in proverbs 8 and 9 where wisdom is presented not as a group of facts, ideas and values, but a person.

Part of what is interesting here is that he is also taking the things we would most associate with the character of Christ (compare phil 2:5-9) and then using to understand wisodm.

Whilst this certainly isn't an exegesis of proverbs 9, it is fun- because creation is founded on the character of God; the laws of the Torah create justice, order and mercy- reflecting Gods character; old testament wisdom is seeking after Gods nature; and the New Testament Church is founded on gods character revealed through Christs sacrifice, so this conception of the seven atributes of wisdom we seee in james seems to work as a foundation for all of the "houses" we could think of as wisdom building.

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Dottard's answer is great, all the answers are good, but I thought it might be informative to share some Christian commentaries about this topic

Gregory the Great

St. Gregory the Great saw a reference to the "pillars of heaven" Job 26.11, cited as part of God's wondrous work in constructing the world. God is said to have created the world by wisdom (Pr 3.19). From these pillars of heaven, St Gregory sees these are referring to the seven spirits of God in Isaiah, the seven sacraments, and the seven churches in Revelation:

We may also not inappropriately interpret the “pillars of heaven” as the churches themselves. Being many in number, they constitute one catholic church spread over the whole face of the earth. So, too, the apostle John writes to the seven churches, meaning to denote the one catholic church replenished with the Spirit of sevenfold grace, and we know that Solomon said of the Lord, “Wisdom has built her a house; she has hewn out her seven pillars.” And to make known that it was of the seven churches he had spoken, which sedulously introduced the very sacraments themselves also, he says, “She has killed her sacrifices, she has mingled her wine, she has also set forth her table.” Morals on the Book of Job 4.17.43.

Hippolytus

Hippolytus argues that Wisdom is a type for Christ, and the "house" as a parable for the flesh, and the seven pillars in the house as the seven spirits of Isaiah:

Christ, [Solomon] means, the wisdom and power of God the Father, has built his house, that is, his nature in the flesh derived from the virgin, even as [John] said beforetime: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” [As likewise the wise prophet Solomon] testifies: Wisdom that was before the world, and is the source of life, the infinite “wisdom of God, has built her house” by a mother who knew no man—to wit, as he assumed the temple of the body. “And has raised her seven pillars,” that is, the fragrant grace of the all-holy Spirit, as Isaiah says: “And the seven spirits of God shall rest upon him.” [But others say that the seven pillars are the seven divine orders which sustain the creation by his holy and inspired teaching: namely, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, the hierarchs, the hermits, the saints and the righteous.] Fragments on Proverbs.

St. John Chrysostom

Has a similar reading to Hippolytus:

“Wisdom has built her house, and has set seven pillars.” Since wisdom is the Son of God, once he became man he built his house, that is, the flesh from the Virgin. He [Solomon] calls the seven pillars “the spirit of God, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and piety, the spirit of the fear of God,” as Isaiah says. [Solomon] also calls the church “house” and the apostles “pillars.” The wise individual is the one who is safe and self-sufficient, lacking nothing. As the house of wisdom is the church, the pillars are those who appear to be pillars in the church. Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon, Fragment 9.1.

Gregory of Nyssa

Also agrees that the house is the body of Christ

We say, therefore, that when he said in his previous discourse that wisdom built a house for itself, he is speaking enigmatically about the formation of the Lord’s flesh. For true wisdom did not live in someone else’s building but built a home for itself from the Virgin’s body.

Leo the Great

Also agrees with the incarnation interpretation:

We are his flesh, the flesh that had been taken up from the Virgin’s womb. If this flesh had not been from ours, that is, had it not been truly human, the Word made flesh would not have dwelt among us. “He did” in fact “dwell among us,” however, for he made the nature of our body his own. “Wisdom built itself a house,” not from just any material but from the substance that is properly ours. The fact that he had taken it on has been made clear from when it was said, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Sermon 30.3.1.

Bede

Also agrees with the incarnation intepretation

Because it had spoken sufficiently of the divinity of Christ, it goes on to speak of the humanity he assumed. “Wisdom has built her house,” therefore, because the Son of God created the man whom he received into the unity of his person. “She has set up her seven pillars.” She erected churches throughout the world by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit to be his home, that is, the mystery of his incarnation, lest the memory for believing, worshiping and preaching be destroyed by the wickedness of the faithless, as though they remained together by supporting each other. Or at least the house of wisdom is the church of Christ, while the pillars are the doctors of the holy church filled by the sevenfold Spirit, such as James, Peter and John. Wisdom undoubtedly “raised up these pillars because it elevated the minds of preachers who were detached from love of the present age for the purpose of bearing the work of his church.” Commentary on Proverbs 1.9.1.

Summary of Christian commentary

When I was reading these commentaries, I was surprised at the consistency of interpretations that refer to the incarnation. It makes a lot of sense since Wisdom was created before the foundations of the world, God made the world through Wisdom, so these are all analogies to Christ. The early church is consistent in interpreting Lady Wisdom in the Wisdom literature as a type for Christ. Moreover the verb "hewn" (hatsbah) refers to cutting from stone, which suggests a rock or mountain that the pillars are hewed from. So putting this together, we have a house built by Christ and the creating of seven pillars from a rock. E.g. "on this rock I will build my church". Moreover the pillars are the entrance to the house. Also in the temple, the Menorah had seven lights, from which comes light or revelation allowing people to find the path of wisdom. In revelation, the seven lights of the menorah are identified with the seven churches, who are the gate or entrance to the body of the Christ.

Finally, the rest of this passage -- the meal of bread and wine, the meat of sacrifice, and the calling out to people in the streets also carry a lot of typology (e.g. going out to the streets as per Matt 22.9-10), and the interpretation of the subsequent verses are referring to communion was also a widely held view:

Pr. 9.5 Come, eat of my bread, And drink of the wine which I have mingled.

Didymus the Blind:

The same food is called “meat,” “bread,” “milk” and “wine.” However, fools say that they take it as [simply] bread and mixed wine. But if it were really taken in that manner, how would we interpret the words: “So men ate the bread of angels”? Now “bread,” it seems to me, should be understood as the firm commandments of God and “wine” as the knowledge of God through meditation on holy Scripture; similarly also [the knowledge of] his divine body and his precious blood. Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon, Fragment 9.5.

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  • If the Menorah was indeed a symbol of the 7-pillars of Wisdom's House | 7-churches of Christ's Body - Then why do the many divided pillars of Christ's Body not have a single Menorah in them? Jul 12 at 17:46
  • I think the typology is such that the seven churches are the seven lights on the menorah which come from the same golden lamp, just as the seven pillars are hewn from the same rock and support the one house. I am not saying you need to accept the Christian interpretation as the only intepretation, I am providing here as information.
    – Robert
    Jul 12 at 17:49
  • Although [Revelation 1:13-15] is a beautiful metaphor for any Tsadiq that becomes a Tree of Life [Proverbs 11:30], the menorah is sadly not acknowledged in church sanctuaries. Jul 12 at 18:05
  • @חִידָה You'll be happy to know that menorahs are required in the altars of Orthodox Churches, but alas not in Roman Catholic Churches. But the latter present the eucharist on an altar symbolic of the table of shewbread (bread of the presence). Catholic churches do have woven images of menorahs, though. So there are some elements of the temple there. But most protestant churches developed from histories of spartan places of worship and have only a cross.
    – Robert
    Jul 12 at 21:42
  • @חִידָה Here is a picture of a Catholic altar with some menorahs around the eucharistic altar: integratedcatholiclife.org/2015/08/…
    – Robert
    Jul 12 at 21:48
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What are the 7 Pillars of Wisdom's House?

The following may be a plausible list of what the 7 Pillars of Wisdom are.

  1. Prudence
  2. Discernment
  3. Knowledge
  4. Discretion
  5. Judgment
  6. Understanding
  7. Counsel

I contend the 7 Pillars of Wisdom are prudence, discernment, knowledge, discretion, judgment, understanding and counsel.

Dr Graham McLennan explication in his in the following article (Proberb’ 7 Pillars of Wisdom, Part 2: Prudence, Discernment & Knowledge) is bang on here.

Pillar One: Prudence

Today, many associate prudence with the idea of cautiousness. But prudence comes from the Latin prudentia, which means sagacity, or the ability to see ahead.

To be prudent is to govern and discipline yourself by the use of reason — and biblically speaking, by the wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit. It means being able to discern the correct course of action to take in specific situations and at the appropriate time.

Classically, prudence is regarded as one of the four cardinal virtues, the other three of which are justice (fairness, righteousness), fortitude (courage, endurance) and temperance (restraint, moderation).

To the cardinal virtues, the Church Fathers added three theological virtues — namely, faith, hope and love. These appear first in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, and later in 1 Corinthians 13:13, where Paul highlights love as the preeminent virtue. The Catholic Church eventually came to regard the cardinal and theological virtues together as the seven virtues.

(These remain distinct from the seven virtues that oppose the seven deadly sins.)

The Ancient Greeks and Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas considered prudence to be the cause, measure and form of all virtues.

Left unchecked, prudence could morph into cunning. But what sets prudence apart is the intent with which it is practised. An act becomes cunning or a kind of “false prudence” when it is done for evil ends or with evil means.

By contrast, true prudence is the ability to judge between virtuous and vicious actions in specific, real life scenarios. Prudence includes the ability to read the circumstances of a situation to distinguish when an act might be either cowardly or courageous. To risk one’s life, for example, might be done for reckless reasons, or for honourable martyrdom. Prudence is the ability to tell these two apart.

Pillar Two: Discernment

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines discernment as the power or faculty of the mind, by which it distinguishes one thing from another, such as truth from falsehood or virtue from vice. It notes that the errors of youth often proceed from a lack of discernment.

To be discerning is to go beyond the mere perception of something and making more nuanced judgments. Someone who is discerning is considered to possess wisdom and be of good judgment, particularly when they perceive details that are overlooked by others.

In Christian usage, discernment may have several meanings. It can describe the process of determining God’s desire in a situation or identifying whether something is good or evil. Often, discernment is related to the search for one’s vocation — namely, whether God is calling one to be married, single, consecrated, ordained, or in some other specific calling.

The discernment of spirits is mentioned in several New Testament passages, and is used in both Catholic and Charismatic theology to indicate judging different spiritual agents for their moral influence in a given situation.

When we are in the process of discernment, there are steps we can take in order to do so. For example, taking time to make a decision is vital in discernment. Decisions made in a hurry can be tainted by a lack of contemplation. But when time is variable to assess a situation, it improves the discernment process.

Using both the “head” and the “heart” is another important step in discernment. Making a decision with the “head” means first reflecting on the situation and emphasising the rational aspect of the decision-making process. The “heart” is also important, in that it involves experience and emotion, which a purely rational approach lacks.

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) designed a series of spiritual exercises that helped him discern life choices, and these included identifying the issue; taking time to pray about the choice; making a wholehearted decision; discussing the choice with a mentor; and then finally trusting the decision made.

For the Christian, discernment means making decisions in accordance with God’s will. Christian discernment emphasises Jesus — making decisions that align with His character, as revealed in Scripture.

Pillar Three: Knowledge

The first place we encounter knowledge in the Bible is in the Garden of Eden, at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree contained the knowledge that separated man from God:

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” — Genesis 3:22

This highlights to us that, biblically speaking, knowledge can be wielded for either good or evil. The Encyclopedia of the Bible elaborates:

The Bible frequently commends knowledge and wisdom… [but] nowhere does Scripture modify the high value it places on knowledge by deprecating “mere” human reason.

Reason and knowledge are integral parts of the image of God in which man was created. Knowledge can be defined as a familiarity, awareness or understanding of something. In many Christian expressions, knowledge is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And whereas human knowledge is very limited and gained mostly by observation and experience, God has perfect knowledge of everything.

In the final installment in this series, we will look at the final four of the seven pillars of wisdom: discretion, judgment, understanding, and counsel.

Dr Graham McLennan offers us an excellent introduction and interpretation to the meaning of 7 Pillars of Wisdom in part one of his series with several other biblical references: Proverb’ 7 Pillars of Wisdom, Part 1

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