Lecture 24: The Secret Wisdom
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: The Secret Wisdom
Up until now, every big discourse we have come across has been attributed to somebody, either Job, Eliphaz, Bildad or Zophar. We now have a major poem
which is not attributed to anyone. I do not think we should think this is a statement of Job. It is a poem that has been inserted into the book of Job by the
Job poet because it has a function of separating the two halves of the book and it also points to something that is critical for understanding the book. We’ll get into it and then we will start talking about what is going on in this unusual poem.
I. Mining for Precious Metals and Gems
Chapter 28:1-11 describes mining for precious metals and gems. Verses 12-22 asks the question, where is wisdom? Verses 23-28 speak of God and wisdom.
So it begins: “There is a mine for silver and a place where gold is refined. Iron is taken from the earth and copper is smelted from ore. Mortals put an end to the darkness, they stretch out the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness. Far from human dwellings they cut a shaft, in places untouched by human feet; far from other people they dangle and sway. The earth, from which food comes, is transformed below as by fire; lapis lazuli comes from its rocks, and its dust contains nuggets of gold. No bird of prey knows that hidden path, no falcon’s eye has seen it. Proud beasts do not set foot on it, and no lion prowls there. People assault the flinty rock with their hands and lay bare the roots of the mountains. They tunnel through the rock; their eyes see all its treasures. They search the sources of the rivers and bring hidden things to light.”
The main point here is pretty simple in these verses. People mine for precious metals and for precious gems. It is very straightforward. They dig into the earth, they pull out these metals. They go deep, they work hard. It is dangerous work, it is hard work. They take their lamps to give light in places that are filled with darkness and they go into deep places where most animals never go. The birds of the air and the lions are never down deep in the mines, way below the surface of the earth. But people will do this because they are searching for these metals and these gems.
All of that is very straightforward, very clear. There are some interesting parallels. Job 9:5-10 describes God’s power over the world: “He moves aside mountains without their knowing, he overturns them in his fury. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. He does great things beyond comprehension, wondrous things beyond counting.” Notice there, God is described as moving and changing and shaping the earth. People are not quite that powerful, but people can do some amazing things. Job 28:9-11 one more time, says: “Man stretches out his hand to the flinty rock, he overturns mountains at their roots. He splits apart channels in the stones. His eyes see everything of value. He dams up the sources of the rivers and he brings earth’s secrets to light.”
As you can see here, humans are kind of God-like in comparison to the animals. Eagles can’t do this. Lions can’t do this. Only people can. They do something which is analogous to what God does. Of course, it is to the glory of God and to the joy of humanity that we are made in the image of God and we can do these wondrous things that no other creature can do. All of that seems very straightforward. There doesn’t seem to be any problem to it. Where does the poem go from there?
II. Finding the Wisdom Described Here is Beyond Humanity’s Power
We read in verses 12-22: “But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? No mortal comprehends its worth; it cannot be found in the
land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me’; the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be bought with the finest gold , nor can its price be weighed out in silver. It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir, with previous onyx or lapis lazuli. Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it, nor can it be had for jewels of gold. Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention, the price of wisdom is beyond rubies. The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it; it cannot be bought with pure gold. Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell? It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed from the birds in the sky. Destruction and death say, ‘Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.’”
One thing that the text clearly says is, you cannot buy wisdom with silver and gold. That should be pretty obvious to us. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, money will not give you wisdom. But that is really not the main point of the text. The main point of the text is the contrasting of the digging and searching and the ingenuity of people to find these metals and find these gems, over against the impossibility of finding wisdom. Notice how the text emphasizes wisdom is not found in any of these places. You can go in the sea and you won’t find it. You can go on the land or into the land and you will not find it. No creature knows where it is. Even the most remote conceivable places, Hades, death, say “We don’t know where wisdom is to be found.”
III. This is Different From the Wisdom of Proverbs
What is the point of all of this? To understand it, I think we need to go to Proverbs chapter 8. We are going to take a little detour from Job 28 and flip over to the book of Proverbs in chapter 8:25-31. This is Lady Wisdom speaking, a personification of wisdom, the wisdom that you find in the book of Proverbs. She
is generally just called “Lady Wisdom” and she is speaking. She says: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works before his deeds of old. I was formed long ago at the very beginning when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth. When there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place; before the hills, I was given birth. Before he made the world or its fields or any dust of the earth, I was there. When he set the heavens in place; when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep; when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep; when he gave the sea its boundaries so the waters could not overstep his command; when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”
Here is wisdom speaking. Obviously, she says she was present at the creation. She was there in everything God did. When God made heaven and earth, she was there. When God set the shore of the boundary to the sea, she was there. She was constantly at his side. She was there when he marked the foundations of the earth. What does that mean? That means that wisdom is in effect built into creation. Lady Wisdom is describing herself as being present at the creation and I think you could say, embodied in the creation.
We are here talking about the book of Proverbs and the book of Proverbs is what I have described as level 2 wisdom. It is wisdom that teaches us how to live and function in this world. It teaches us right from wrong. It teaches us not to be violent, not to commit adultery, not to steal, to be responsible, not to be lazy, to know how to handle people, to know how to handle money, to know what to do in a social situation. All of these things are part of wisdom. The idea is, these things are there because God made us that way. Wisdom was also there, she says, when humans were created. God has made us according to wisdom. God has made the whole world according to wisdom. Therefore, to live rightly, you must follow the precepts of wisdom.
An example: Why is it wrong to commit adultery or to be promiscuous sexually? You could say, because God says it is wrong. That is true, but there is more to it than that. God made us in such a way that promiscuity and adultery are destructive. They destroy the soul. They corrupt a person on the inside. We are made for a monogamous relationship, a monogamous heterosexual relationship. When we go outside of that, we are violating how we are made and naturally, we are destroying ourselves.
God has kind of built these rules into life. Let’s take a simpler, less dramatic thing, laziness. The world is made in such a way that if you don’t do any work, you are going to go hungry. You either work or you die. That is just how life is. Those who don’t put forth any effort wind up very, very poor. It is everywhere present in creation. In fact, it is even present in the animals, so that Proverbs can say, “Go to the ant, you sluggard, and look at what the ant does.” The ant gathers up its food when it is available in summer and stores it up for winter, so that when winter comes, it doesn’t starve. So you find wisdom even in the ants.
The whole of creation is filled with wisdom and we have to live by wisdom. Not only that, but the wisdom is very conspicuous. It is not hard to find. Again, the example of the ant. You can just look at ants working really hard, building their nest, bringing food into their nest; or the bees as they go out and gather pollen and bring it back to the hive and make honey. It is a very clear lesson, that you have to be industrious if you want to prosper. You can look at people anywhere who get into sexual promiscuity or other forms of sexual immorality, and you can see the damage it does. It is obvious. It doesn’t take a genius to see it. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that if you are irresponsible and people send you to do a job, then people pretty soon are not going to hire you. When they see that you don’t do what you are supposed to do, you will get fired and nobody else will want to work with you. All of these things are as plain as they can be. They are not hard to find out. They are not hard to figure out.
IV. We Can Discern Three Types of Wisdom
So what do we have in Job 28? Not type 2 wisdom. Because what is the whole point of all of that digging and delving and trying to mine for silver and gold and gems? The point is, digging into creation; and that is, in one sense, an example of what I would call type 1 wisdom. You remember, type 1 wisdom is simple skills. If you know how to weave really well, you have a kind of wisdom. If you know how to play a musical instrument really well, you have a kind of wisdom. If you have learned a foreign language, you have a kind of wisdom. That is all type 1 wisdom. Of course, people can find type 1 wisdom. People can learn to play the piano. People can learn a foreign language. Type 2 wisdom, again, is what we see in Proverbs. Proverbs is not counterintuitive, it is not obscure. It is not hard to find. It is said to be everywhere. In fact, in chapter 1 Lady Wisdom is standing out in the street yelling at the top of her lungs and saying, ”Here I am! Come to me! I’m not hard to find! I am right here!” Type 2 wisdom, then, the wisdom of morality, the wisdom of decency, the wisdom of knowing how to get along with people, the wisdom that says you should fear God; those things are again, not counterintuitive; they are self-evident, they are so obvious.
Yet, this passage of Job says “I can’t find this wisdom. I don’t know where it is. It is not in the sea, it is not on the land, it’s not underground, it’s not with the animals. Nobody can find it.” So we obviously have here a different kind of wisdom. This is a wisdom that is counterintuitive. This is a wisdom that no one could figure out. This is a wisdom that is hidden with God.
V. Christ the Wisdom of God
Let’s jump ahead for a moment to something we actually have already talked about, but relates very well to what we have in this passage. That is, in 1
Corinthians 1, Christ the wisdom of God. Christ the wisdom of God is not Lady Wisdom of Proverbs chapter 8. Lady Wisdom of Proverbs 8 again is absolutely common sense. She is self-evident in everything she says. There is nothing mysterious about the fact that if you are lazy, you become poor.
Christ the wisdom of God, however, is something that confounds everybody. The Jews don’t get it. The Greeks don’t get it. No one could get it: The idea that God would redeem the world by having His Son crucified. The incarnation and crucifixion of the Son of God is totally nonintuitive. Do you want to know how nonintuitive it was? Think about the synoptic gospels where Jesus would speak of his upcoming crucifixion and Peter would say, “No, no, that is never going to happen to you.” This was one of his apostles. Or John the Baptist sending to Jesus and saying, “Are you the coming One, or should we look for another?” None of them got it. None of them could have imagined that this was the plan of God for the salvation of the world.
The wisdom of God that this passage is speaking of is a wisdom that people cannot figure out. It is the hidden wisdom of God. It is something that all you can do is wait for God to act; and when God acts and when he shows you, then you will have it.
VI. Conclusion of Job 28
So let’s see the end of the passage and see what is going on here. Verse 23: “God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, for he views the ends of the earth, he sees everything under the heavens .When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters, when he made a decree for the rain and made a path for the thunderstorms, then he looked at wisdom and appraised it; he confirmed it in testament, And he said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’”
What we have first of all is the fact that God alone knows the way to this wisdom. It belongs to him and him alone. But then he speaks of creation again: “God made the thunderstorms, God made the sky, God made the heavens.” Then he concludes with something that sounds very much like type 2 wisdom. The very last verse where he says, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, to shun evil is understanding.”
I have just been claiming that there is a type 3 wisdom that is contrary or counterintuitive, that is something we could never figure out, that is not
something that is in creation, but is something that is only in the mind of God. Yet here at the end he just says, “The fear of the Lord is wisdom, to turn from evil is understanding,” something that sounds very much like Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and understanding.”
Again, what is going on here? Did I get it all wrong? I don’t think so. What the text is saying is this: When you don’t understand what God is doing – and you don’t – the right thing to do is just maintain your fear of God and your life of integrity. You do not know what God’s ultimate plan is. If you were an Israelite, you certainly didn’t understand everything that Jesus would do. That was all a mystery to you. But even though you don’t understand, you continue to live a righteous life, a life in the fear of God, a life of obedience to God, a life of faith in God and love for God; and you maintain your integrity, you turn from evil. As long as we are dwelling in ignorance and in darkness as we grope our way forward for an answer, as we wait for God to act, the appropriate solution is to maintain our faith in God and maintain our integrity.
Therefore, as I have said, I believe this passage establishes that there are three types of wisdom. There are mechanical/physical skills, or intellectual skills like being a really good mathematician. There is wisdom in the sense of virtue and knowing how to live, how to get along with people and fearing God, that is type 2 wisdom. Then there is the secret wisdom of God. In part, the secret wisdom of God is of course made known to us. We understand, Jesus has come. Jesus has died for our sins. Jesus has risen again. Our sins are forgiven in Him; and in Him we will rise from the dead. But there is still a lot we don’t understand. What does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 13? In the familiar, old King James: “We see through a glass darkly.” There is still a lot we don’t get. There are still a lot of questions that are unanswered, that are mysteries hidden in the mind of God. We could dig and delve all we want, we will never find those answers until God is ready to reveal them.
Meanwhile, what do we do? The fear of God, that is wisdom; and to shun evil is understanding. We continue in our faith. We continue in our integrity and we hold fast to what we have until the light shines and God has revealed it all.
This passage then serves as a pivot point in the book of Job because we have gotten through all the debate with the friends. We now are aware that there is a hidden wisdom of God that only God can reveal. Job will give his soliloquy on his understanding of the situation. Elihu will jump in and give his opinion. Then finally, God will speak.