Interlude: Where Wisdom Is Found
28 There is a mine for silver
and a place where gold is refined.
2 Iron is taken from the earth,
and copper is smelted from ore.
Job’s poem about wisdom
Though Job had agreed with his friends that the wicked suffer (27:13-23), he asserted that in his case it did not explain anything or make sense of his own trauma and suffering.
So Job brought to the table the idea of considering that God’s wisdom was beyond their comprehension. This chapter is a poem about wisdom. The wisdom of God is not gained by natural or theoretical knowledge. What God does not reveal, we can’t know.
It begins with a description about how laboriously man works to extract the ores and precious metals from the earth (verses 1-11), Job raises the ultimate question of the sufferer: “where can wisdom be found?” (verse 12). It cannot be purchased with earthly wealth (verses 13-19), but true wisdom is attained only through “the fear of the Lord” (verse 28). This concept of the fear of the Lord unites all the wisdom books (compare Proverbs. 1:7; Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Job poetically affirms the nature and “value” of biblical wisdom. As precious metals are mined from the earth by men who take great risks in their personal safety, their comfort, their time and their resources so wisdom may be mined from creation by true searchers and seekers – but only if their quest centres around a “fear of the Lord”.
In verses 1-19 we see a shift from the language of condemnation to a discourse on “wisdom” which is abrupt but not surprising, given Job’s shifting emotions.
Human ingenuity cannot unearth wisdom or properly value it because it takes more than human intellect and intelligence. It demands humility and spiritual perspective. It demands aligning our will to the will of God.
In verses 1-11, we see references to mining silver, gold, iron, sapphires and flint, as well as smelting copper. Tremendous effort is made by men who seek precious metals (compare Proverbs 2:1-9). The process needed great skill. It began with a search for the right rocks. Then they would burn the rocks in a furnace which would result in a tiny amount of pure metal. A lot of energy was extended for the smallest amount of return on investment of effort and time. This is what made such metals precious.
The most precious metals, silver and gold, may be found in a distant, dark and deep in the earth. It may take an unprecedented amount of resources to pull a small amount of metal from the earth but such a place is known, men penetrate to it, they find the metal, they bring it to the surface, they refine it and they have their precious commodity.
Iron and brass (copper) are products of nature. Both iron and brass were plentiful in the areas around the Mediterranean Sea. Iron does come from the earth, and brass has to be melted out of stone. Again both metals can be found by man and with some effort made useful for life.
The antithesis is presented in Job 28:18, The question is asked “Where shall Wisdom be found?” And where is the place of understanding? The answer is that it is found in no place known to man.
3 Mortals put an end to the darkness;
they search out the farthest recesses
for ore in the blackest darkness.
4 Far from human dwellings they cut a shaft,
in places untouched by human feet;
far from other people they dangle and sway.
The pursuit of precious metal involved descending into darkness, going underground into caves, men would lower themselves attached to ropes and go to places where man had previously not been. Light would enter the darkest places as man cut a hole in the ground and metals that had previously only been in darkness were brought to light.
This is a continuation of the previous verses about the efforts that man would go to in order to pursue treasure and precious commodities.
A man would go to a place where men had not previously been, they would take great risks to pull some of this metal out of the earth. There were many dangers in underground caves.
Wisdom is more precious than metals such as gold, silver and copper but it also takes a special effort of pursuing God and his ways. Wisdom could only be obtained from God and the realms where man cannot tread.
5 The earth, from which food comes,
is transformed below as by fire;
6 lapis lazuli comes from its rocks,
and its dust contains nuggets of gold.
7 No bird of prey knows that hidden path,
no falcon’s eye has seen it.
8 Proud beasts do not set foot on it,
and no lion prowls there.
9 People assault the flinty rock with their hands
and lay bare the roots of the mountains.
10 They tunnel through the rock;
their eyes see all its treasures.
11 They search the sources of the rivers
and bring hidden things to light.
In these verses Job speaks of the wonders and mysteries of the earth. The fascinating make up of our planet and the environment God has created for us to sustain life.
The soil where plants grow seems so ordinary. But nothing is ordinary underground. The beasts of the air or earth do not live in such places. But men have learned the skills to go there. They have invested enormous effort to discover precious commodities buried deep in the earth.
This is all a continuation of the discourse about God’s wisdom which is more precious than all of these commodities put together. It is more valuable, more enduring and his hidden from man in such a way that it demands us to mine for it, to make similar effort if we are to gain from it’s treasure but Job’s point is that although we risk life mining for gold and precious stones we don’t put the same effort into pursuing what is really precious.
I think about things that are important to me. If I am to think about things that are non relational but are earthly things, I think about my creative life and making music. I can put enormous effort, energy and focus into a music project and barely think about the sacrifice involved because I love it.
The question comes. What about my relationship with God? What about the pursuit of God’s wisdom? What about the intimate knowledge and understanding of my maker? I think that’s the question that Job is bringing to the table.
12 But where can wisdom be found?
Where does understanding dwell?
13 No mortal comprehends its worth;
it cannot be found in the land of the living.
14 The deep says, “It is not in me”;
the sea says, “It is not with me.”
15 It cannot be bought with the finest gold,
nor can its price be weighed out in silver.
16 It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir,
with precious onyx or lapis lazuli.
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.
Despite the incredible achievements of human endeavour, in Jobs time mining was an incredible wonder of man’s ingenuity. In our day we can look at scientific, medical advancements, discoveries in space and the earth and be filled with wonder about our own efforts and perseverance.
Job’s argument is that this does not bring us wisdom. Wisdom comes from God. It is not discovered through the application of human skill and industry. It cannot be bought with precious stones.
Wisdom cannot be labelled with an earthly price tag or afforded any worldly value at all. No amount of human effort can find it and it cannot be found in the land of the living! It is not an earthly commodity but something that is given by God!
Like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, here Job asserts the source and true value of wisdom.
19 The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it;
it cannot be bought with pure gold.
Cush is sometimes translated as Ethiopia but this could be quite misleading and is probably more likely the Midian. The point is that the precious stone and rare commodity of Topaz from a distant land does not compare with wisdom and neither does the most pure gold. Job is emphasizing the value of wisdom over worldly things.
I put way too much stock and value in things that give me pleasure in this life. Usually experiences, events, things I enjoy doing. True treasure is found in relationship with God. The most fulfilling satisfying engagement with the gift of life is our encounter with God and our pursuit of his wisdom.
We easily get thrown off the path and distracted by things that glitter or glisten, things that may look attractive on the outside but leave us empty. Job knew that the wealth he had gained through life was meaningless and his sadness was not about his wealth but his feeling of disconnect from God and that is what he was wrestling with.
20 Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds in the sky.
22 Destruction and Death say,
“Only a rumour of it has reached our ears.”
Topaz (verse 19) may be beautiful. But it is not useful. God and silver (verse 15) are valuable. But money cannot teach us how to trust God. So wisdom is better than all these things. But wisdom is not something that you can just discover. In fact, wisdom does not even belong in this world. It is part of God’s spiritual DNA and formed in the spiritual realms.
In verse 21, Job spoke about things that are alive. In verse 22, he spoke about people who are dead. Wisdom is elusive to the living and impossible for the dead.
It is an immaterial commodity, but man cannot even conceive of it, because its nature transcends him. Physical eyes cannot see the things of God. The things of the Spirit are not discerned in the physical. 2 Corinthians 4:18 springs to mind. Visible things are temporary but the invisible is eternal.
The Hebrew word for death that is used is Abaddon. Abaddon is Sheol, the realm of the dead, here personified, as also is Death. Compare Revelation 1:18; 9:11, Job 26:6. This was speaking as a place of destruction, death of those who were never saved. They heard a glimmer of it, but it was too late.
The point is that wisdom can only be found in God and the pursuit of God. It is from the spiritual realms.
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.
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,
God is the source of all wisdom and whilst it is impossible for man to attain wisdom by his own effort, God freely gives it as a gift (James 1:5). He knows the way to wisdom. He is the way to wisdom. Jesus of course said “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6) … wisdom is bound up in that single statement!
Job and friends have probed God’s wisdom 3 times round by this point and have landed nowhere near the truth of the matter. These verses are pivotal.
Job made the point clearly that the divine wisdom necessary to explain his suffering was inaccessible to man. Only God knew all about it because He knows everything (verse 24). True wisdom belongs to God (verses 25-26). We can only know wisdom if God reveals it to us (compare Deuteronomy 29:29).
Verses 25-28: Creation itself is evidence of the vastness of God’s wisdom (Psalm 104; Proverbs 3:19, 8:22-31, Romans 1:20).
In the gospel of John Jesus is having a conversation with a group of Pharisees, they are questioning his identity and he is pushing their buttons with his answers to their questions. In chapter 8 verse 31 we read these well known very familiar words … perhaps over familiar
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus was speaking to those in the group who believed him. Some of the Pharisees had a hard time with what he said but some in the group actually listened, accepted what he was saying and here after claiming very clearly that he was from God he gives us these words on the way to discover and live wisdom. Hold to his teaching and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. In other words live it to experience it.
God is the source of wisdom, the way to wisdom and to experience it in a visceral, haptic, intimate way we are to live it. If we don’t live it we are left with knowledge and knowledge alone is one dimensional and pretty useless.
27 then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
Wisdom is not merely the thoughts of human minds or clever ideas. Wisdom is in the DNA of creation and part of who God is. God created the universe and everything in it. Everything is held together with supreme wisdom and works within an ordered framework. When we tap into wisdom it informs behaviour and how we live life. Wisdom is more than knowledge. It is application. It has been tested by God and is to be tested by us.
Job is acknowledging that wisdom is more than anything he and his visitors could reach in their moral debates as they exchanged their theological viewpoints and made various assessments and judgments about Job’s suffering.
Job knew that it was beyond comprehension because God had not revealed it but wisdom was at work here because God was at the centre of whatever was going on. It was hard to accept but that didn’t stop it from being true.
28 And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
This final verse of chapter 28 is reminiscent of Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 3:5-6.
It was also Jesus’ message as recorded in Mark 1:15.
Wisdom is found in obedience to God.
Job had made the connection that the others did not. While the specific features of God’s wisdom may not be revealed to us, the alpha and omega of wisdom is to revere God and keep his commands, live his way (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10).
Unanswered questions are God’s business and trusting him with our obedient submission is our business.
This is the wisdom expressed in Proverbs 1:7 – 2:9 and Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. This is the thread that unifies the wisdom literature. We may never know the reasons for life’s sufferings. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be curious and pursue understanding of such things but if that is our obsession over and above trusting God then we will miss the beauty of life and our ultimate purpose in living this life, walking with our God.