Where is Wisdom?

Job 28:12-28[1]

 

12 …where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?

 

In the midst of his trials, and under harassment from his well-meaning but misguided friends, Job utters one of the most profound pieces of wisdom literature ever recorded.

 

In this passage Job asks where man can find wisdom and where he can gain understanding. He has decided that people are not the source of wisdom and that the type of wisdom he is looking for in the midst of his trouble cannot be found by life experiences. So he states that:

 

13 No mortal comprehends its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living.

 

We should note however that there is a particular type of wisdom that one can acquire with age or experience. This is an experiential type of wisdom and very earthly in the sense that it is directly related to the experience of one’s life of earth. This type of wisdom is of benefit to people, particular when passed on from one generation to the next. However this type of wisdom has specific limitations.[2] This experiential wisdom is not the wisdom Job is asking after; he is looking for something higher, something deeper. Next Job considers the deep places of the world and discovers that:

 

14 The deep says, “It is not in me”; the sea says, “It is not with me.”

 

Job points out to us that journeying to the deep places of the world will not help us, this is a treasure that the greatest explorers could not find in all their travels to the deepest and furthest parts of the earth. This also highlights how well hidden wisdom can be. The deepest places, especially those in the sea, are the least accessible, the hardest to find and yet to get there would still not be enough to find wisdom.

 

Before these trials and devastations came upon Job he was very wealthy,[3] so he contemplates whether wealth can buy wisdom and concludes that:

 

15 It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed out in silver.

 

The quality of the gold or silver does not help, not even the finest gold or precious gems will allow a person to buy wisdom. Job continues on to say that:

 

16It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir, with precious onyx or lapis lazuli.

 

This is because true wisdom cannot be compared with precious metals or precious jewels in either value or substance. It is so far above these earthly riches that:

 

17 Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it, nor can it be had for jewels of gold. 18 Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention; the price of wisdom is beyond rubies. 19 The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it; it cannot be bought with pure gold.

 

No matter how much wealth one has at one’s disposal it does no good in the pursuit of wisdom because it is something that cannot be purchased.

 

Having exhausted all other options for how one can find wisdom Job returns to the original question:

 

20 Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell?

 

Wisdom exists, Job knows it does, he has most likely heard it and acted on it in the past.[4] Now though, in his state of despair, when he is seemingly at rock bottom, his three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar) are not able to give him any wisdom. They assume that he has sinned and that this is in turn why God has allowed devastation to come upon Job’s family and his body to suffer sores and aches. The three friends tell Job he needs to repent of sins and ask God for forgiveness so that he will restore his wealth and health to him. Job though, while not understanding why God has allowed these things to happen to him, knows that he has not sinned in any way that has caused these to come upon him. Despite their best intentions, the friends are no comfort to Job with their misdirected and rather judgmental words. So he proceeds to reveal to them what he has discovered about wisdom. Beginning with challenging the shamanistic beliefs common to early civilisations, saying that wisdom is:

 

21…hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds in the sky.

 

It is a common trait of people to look to nature for answers, to idolise animals and aspects of nature (e.g. birds in flight, rain, fire, etc.) in a search for something greater and wiser than humans. Nature, as the creation of God, may sometimes illustrate aspects of God’s wisdom, but wisdom is concealed from it, it does not hold the source of wisdom or even know where to look for it.

 

People also have a tendency to look for sources of wisdom and power in the event of death, in the power of the darkness that they see overwhelm the living. In relation to wisdom Job says however, that:

 

22 Destruction and Death say, “Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.”

 

Death and destruction can be seen here as the realm of the devil, and he certainly won’t hold that wisdom exists.[5] Satan makes out, through his manipulation of death and destruction, that wisdom beyond that of the earth is just a rumour. He actively discourages people from chasing after any higher sort of wisdom, turning them instead to the worship of idols and the observation of nature’s power as one of inherent divinity within nature itself. In so doing denying that any such power of nature does in fact comes from God the creator.

 

Job however, is not fooled by the reply of Death and Destruction, he sees through the lies of Satan. He knows that a higher wisdom is more than just a rumour and he tells the listener now that:

 

23 God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, 24 for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.

 

Finally Job reveals to his audience what the source of higher wisdom is and it is seen in fact to be Godly wisdom. Wisdom that is not only known to God but also comes from God, and God alone. Job continues to tell us that God used this wisdom:

 

25 When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters, 26 when he made a decree for the rain and a path for the thunderstorm.

 

We can see here a hint of why people throughout the centuries have thought to find wisdom in the study and worship of nature, because nature itself, as a creation of God, reflects God’s wisdom. It appears that there is a lingering trace of Godly wisdom remaining from the creation of the world, which resonates through God’s creation. People see this without understanding it, their souls innately long for this wisdom, but they are separated from the Spirit of God by sin and unable to make sense of what they perceive. The devil plays on this fact, he turns people innate longing for Godly wisdom into a chase for a distorted replacement of Satan’s own making. People find themselves looking for wisdom in nature itself, when really nature is simply reflecting in part the wisdom that comes from God alone.

 

God though can intervene and reveal to the seeker that it was he who used wisdom to form the earth, and it is he alone who knows where to find true wisdom.

 

Job says of God that after using wisdom in his creation:

 

27 …he looked at wisdom and appraised it; he confirmed it and tested it.

 

We see here that God modeled the process all people should apply to those things that look like wisdom, he appraised it and in order to confirm it was the real thing, he tested it. Too often people let themselves be led astray by not taking the time to test the teaching and prophecies they receive. Paul specifically instructs believers to do this in relation to prophecies in Thessalonians 1:5, where he says:

 

20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

 

After telling his listeners how God tested wisdom, Job goes on to reveal the secret of the source of wisdom, by saying:

 

28 And he [God] said to the human race, “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”

 

So God himself has made known to people that it is the fear of the Lord that is the key to wisdom. The phrase “Fear of the Lord” speaks of having faith in God. If you walk in faith you walk in the fear of the Lord. Job is saying here that the ultimate truth about wisdom is that it is found in having faith in God.

 

For Job this would have been a significant moment of break though in his despair and an even more significant declaration of the fact that he was determined to have faith in God, even when he didn’t understand why God was allowing these things to happen to him. Job is able to recognise that the wisest thing for him to do, in this terribly difficult situation, is to have faith in God. To accept that God has everything in control and that God has his own reasons for allowing these things to happen to Job and his family, even though Job and his wife and friends do not understand what God’s reasons are. He decides again publicly that he is going to trust God and that he is not going to forsake his maker despite all the difficulties he has experienced.

 

This declaration of faith which Job returns to frequently in his trials is later rewarded, when God not only restores to him what he has lost, but blesses him with twice as much as he had before.[6] The bible also tells us Job lived to be an old man and saw his great, great grand children.[7]

 

References

Alexander, D. & Alexander, P. (Eds.), (1984). The Lion Handbook to the Bible. Herts, England: Lion Publishing.

Barker, K. (Ed.), (1995). The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Brand,  C., Draper, C., & England, A. (Eds). (2003) Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference.

Davis, J.D. (1977), Davis Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Goodrick, E. W., & Kohlenberger, J. R. (2012). The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Thompson, F.C. (Ed.), (1988). The Thomson Chain-Reference Bible: Fifth Improved Edition. Indiana, USA: B. B. Kirkbride Bible Co., Inc.

Zondervan. (2010, November 1). Updated NIV Bible Text. Retrieved from http://www.biblica.com

[1] All scripture references are taken from the New International Version of the Bible, unless otherwise stated.
[2]  The wisdom that comes from experience is also often limited by experience and can be hard to apply to different or varying experiences. Job had never been in this situation before and his friends limited knowledge told them that this type of trouble only came upon sinners. Their experiential wisdom stopped them from being able to see that God had allowed Satan to sift Job and that it was not because of any sin on Job’s part that these disasters happened.
[3]  For a description of Job’s wealth, before his trials, see Job 1:3.
[4]  Job 1:8 indicates that Job had an ongoing relationship with God prior to these events and so would presumably have been party to God’s wisdom in previous situations.
[5]  It is important to note here that the sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God, on the cross and the shedding of his blood for all humanity sealed once and for all the divine victory of Christ over death and the devil. This was an event that in Job’s time was yet to occur, so death and destruction may have been a way of presenting an even bleaker picture than perhaps we see now as modern readers.
[6]  Job 42:10
[7]  Job 42:16-17

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