WISDOM CAN ONLY BE FOUND IN COMMUNION WITH GOD BY DIVINE REVELATION AS WE FEAR HIM AND TURN AWAY FROM EVIL
David Atkinson: Job 28 is about Wisdom, human and divine. Many commentators regard this chapter as an addition to the flow of the text. Others see it as fulfilling a function rather like the chorus of a Greek drama – an opportunity to stand back and reflect how far we have come and how far there is still to go. Yet others understand the chapter as integral to a long speech of Job which runs from chapter 26 to chapter 31. On this third view, the theme of wisdom which we find in 26:3 (‘What advice you have offered to one without wisdom!’) and in 26:12, is picked up and explored more fully and more theologically in chapter 28, with chapter 27 coming in between as Job’s own personal commitment to the life which pleases God.
David Guzik: There are two good solutions. The better solution is to simply say that this is indeed Job’s work. “Why should it surprise us if Job, having exhausted all other avenues of protest and inquiry, should all at once slip quietly into a more reflective mood and begin meditating on the source of wisdom? Why shouldn’t Job grow strangely becalmed here for a time and contemplate his problems from a more traditional perspective?” (Mason)
The other solution is to say that this chapter is the inserted observation of the anonymous author of the Book of Job. Andersen describes this perspective: “Because we think that Job is a story, we find it appropriate that this interlude is spoken by the story-teller. It sums up the case as it stands at this point. It emphasizes the failure of the human mind to arrive at the hidden wisdom, and so, far from interfering with the Lord’s speeches, it lays the foundation for them by showing their necessity.”
Thomas Constable: The point of Job’s soliloquy is this: People have been extremely clever and industrious in exploring, discovering, and extracting earth’s richest physical resources. Nonetheless, they have not been able to do so with what is even more essential to their welfare, namely, wisdom (cf. Prov. 3:13-18). The reason for this is that wisdom does not lie hidden in the earth but in the person of God. The key to obtaining that wisdom is orienting oneself properly toward God.
Francis Andersen: This refrain, which comes in verses 12 and 20, divides the poem into three strophes:
– verses 1–11 indicate that human research has not discovered wisdom;
– verses 13–19 indicate that human wealth cannot purchase wisdom;
– verses 21–27 declare that God alone has wisdom, which remains his gift.
– verse 28 completes the poem with the classical definition of wisdom.
John Hartley: Here is a magnificent hymn in praise of wisdom. Wisdom is extolled as the noblest divine trait. God knows wisdom fully and employs it in all of his ways, but its abode is hidden from mankind.
This hymn consists of three pericopes plus a conclusion:
– human skill in mining technology (vv. 1–11);
– wisdom’s value, beyond purchase (vv. 12–19);
– God’s knowledge of wisdom (vv. 20–27);
– wisdom for mankind (v. 28).
(:1-2) INTRODUCTION – ALL TREASURE NEEDS TO BE MINED
“Surely there is a mine for silver,
And a place where they refine gold.
2 Iron is taken from the dust,
And from rock copper is smelted.”
Elmer Smick: Verses 1–2 state what appears to be a truism—earth’s material riches have a source. But these two verses accomplish a rhetorical purpose by asserting that humans are able to plumb the depths of the earth to discover precious metals and ores. They set the tone without explicitly stating the theme.
I. (:3-11) MINING FOR TREASURE REQUIRES IMPRESSIVE EFFORT – BUT STILL WISDOM CANNOT BE MINED
Francis Andersen: here the author expresses nothing but admiration for man’s industry and ingenuity. He draws his example from mining technology and gives us several pen-sketches of ancient engineers at work. Tribute is paid to their persistence and courage, for digging treasures from the earth is one of the most dangerous of occupations. There is a hint that the getting of wisdom will be equally strenuous and hazardous. There is no suggestion that the author is disapproving, as if he thought that the energies spent on the search for material wealth would be better used in the quest of wisdom. His point is much simpler. Man’s remarkable success as a miner shows how clever and intelligent he is; but, for all that, he has failed completely to unearth wisdom.
John Hartley: The theme in this section is that man has amazing creative ability to discover the gems hidden deep in the earth. As Habel (OTL) keenly observes, “The mining process is a paradigm for probing a mystery in the natural domain which parallels probing wisdom at a deeper level in the cosmic domain.”
Elmer Smick: These verses illustrate ancient people’s technological ability in mining.
Tremper Longman: Humans are capable of great feats, but wisdom is beyond them.
A. (:3-4) Mining Efforts Go to Great Lengths
“Man puts an end to darkness,
And to the farthest limit he searches out the rock in gloom and deep shadow.
4 He sinks a shaft far from habitation, Forgotten by the foot;
They hang and swing to and fro far from men.”
Elmer Smick: Shaft mining is evident, showing that the miners used ropes to haul out ore. Smelting was done with goatskin bellows. The often-vertical shafts varied in diameter up to five feet and followed the veins of ore.
Warren Wiersbe: Though man can dig deep into the earth and find great wealth, though he can go places where birds and beasts would not dare to go, though he can even find the hidden sources of the great rivers, man cannot find God’s wisdom by mere human efforts. It takes more than courage and native intelligence; it demands humility and spiritual perception.
Derek Kidner: He speaks of mining, tunneling, smelting and forging. Three techniques are known to have been used: a kind of opencast mining, especially on exposed river-beds, quarrying into exposed vertical rock surfaces, and deep-shaft mining. The reference to “fire” in verse 5 possibly alludes to a process whereby a fire was lit in a tunnel. As the walls of the tunnel became hot, water was poured on it, causing the rock to crack. The fallen stones would then be taken to the surface. The science need not detain us, for Job has another point to get across. Man’s evident skill and ingenuity, even his persistence, are self-evident. Men were prepared to be killed in the search for precious metals and gem-stones, searching “the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness” (28:3). His skill outwitted even the “falcon” and the “lion” (28:7, 9). No other creature is as curious, courageous or clever as man.
B. (:5-6) Mining Efforts Yield Valuable Resources
“The earth, from it comes food,
And underneath it is turned up as fire.
6 Its rocks are the source of sapphires,
And its dust contains gold.”
Izak Cornelius: Seven metals are known from the ancient Near East: three precious metals—gold, silver, and electrum; and four base metals—copper, tin, lead, and iron. Bronze was an alloy made from copper and tin. Various sources are available to study ancient Near Eastern metallurgy—textual references, excavated objects, and metallurgical analysis.
C. (:7-8) Mining Efforts Surpass the Most Impressive Prowess of Birds and Beasts
“The path no bird of prey knows,
Nor has the falcon’s eye caught sight of it.
8 The proud beasts have not trodden it,
Nor has the fierce lion passed over it.”
Francis Andersen: The falcon is celebrated for its vision, the lion for its courage. But neither is as observant or as intrepid as man, and neither bird nor beast has access to the remote places that men have penetrated in their lust for treasures. The function of these remarks in the middle of a poem about mining would seem to be another way of prizing mankind more than any other of God’s creatures, however admirable.
John Hartley: Mankind’s technical skill evidenced in mining reveals his superiority over all earthly creatures. Amazingly none of the animals with all their prowess can discover the path to such beautiful gems.
D. (:9-11) Mining Efforts Achieve Seismic Upheavals in Unearthing Hidden Treasures
“He puts his hand on the flint;
He overturns the mountains at the base.
10 He hews out channels through the rocks;
And his eye sees anything precious.
11 He dams up the streams from flowing;
And what is hidden he brings out to the light.”
John Hartley: Miners cut a series of channels (yeʾōrîm) in the mountainside. In the singular this Hebrew word refers to the Nile, and in the plural it stands for the tributaries of the Nile in the Delta. In this context it functions as a technical term for mining shafts. The miner enters the earth through these paths, and his eye sees precious treasures. He penetrates even to the sources of the rivers, the springs deep within the earth, in hopes of finding precious gems. Truly, human beings have vast knowledge and great technical skills.
(:12) REFRAIN – WISDOM IS ELUSIVE
“But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?”
Tremper Longman: This powerful description of human ability and successful efforts at finding hidden treasures under the surface of the earth contrasts strongly with our inability to find wisdom. Thus in v. 12 we encounter the first statement of the refrain that asks the rhetorical questions “As for wisdom, where can it be found? The place of understanding, where is it?” The answer is, no one knows. That is, no human can discover wisdom unaided.
John Hartley: Given the human drive to control the world, mankind is strongly allured by the power of wisdom. But its abode lies safely beyond the distant frontiers where human beings can make an entrance. No human being can bring wisdom into his own service.
II. (:13-19) WISDOM CANNOT BE PURCHASED BECAUSE IT IS PRICELESS AS THE HIGHEST VALUED TREASURE
David Thompson: vv. 13-19 — Why man does not find wisdom –
– Because man does not know the value of wisdom. 28:13a
– Because man does not know where to look for wisdom. 28:13b-14
– Because man does not know he cannot buy wisdom. 28:15-19
A. (:13-14) Wisdom Cannot Be Properly Valued or Found by Man
“Man does not know its value,
Nor is it found in the land of the living.
14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me’;
And the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’”
Tremper Longman: Besides the teaching that wealth cannot buy wisdom, this stanza also repeats the idea that wisdom cannot be found by human investigation. Verse 13b says that it is not resident in “the land of the living.” Verse 14 adds that wisdom is not even in those places that are hostile to humans, the Deep and the Sea. I have capitalized these in my translation to indicate that the Deep and the Sea are here personified, which enhances the significance of these terms, since the Deep and especially the Sea were regarded as forces of chaos and even evil in the ancient Near East.
B. (:15-19) Wisdom is Priceless Compared to the Highest Valued Treasures
“Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it,
Nor can silver be weighed as its price.
16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
In precious onyx, or sapphire.
17 Gold or glass cannot equal it,
Nor can it be exchanged for articles of fine gold.
18 Coral and crystal are not to be mentioned;
And the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls.
19 The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
Nor can it be valued in pure gold.”
Izak Cornelius: The Hebrew word used here (vs. 17 — its only occurrence in the Old Testament) probably refers to glass, which was known as an article of luxury. Glassware in the form of vessels was manufactured by the Phoenicians, and the Egyptians used it for inlays in jewelry.
(:20) REFRAIN – WISDOM IS ELUSIVE
“Where then does wisdom come from?
And where is the place of understanding?”
Poole: Man doth not see this wisdom but only so far as God is pleased to reveal it to him, and therefore he cannot declare it to others; man did not prepare, nor order, nor contrive it, and therefore no wonder if he cannot search it out.
III. (:21-27) ONLY GOD UNDERSTANDS AND DISPENSES WISDOM
Elmer Smick: The poem reaches its climax. God alone knows where the wisdom is (v.23), for he is omniscient. Humans must search for their treasure (vv.3–11), but God sees everything without searching (v.24). When he brought order out of the primeval chaos (vv.25–26), he used wisdom to do it. Wisdom is the summary of the genius God used to fashion the universe. In some sense it is objective to God (Pr 8:22), for he looked at it as though it were a blueprint of creation. He examined and approved it (v.27).
Warren Wiersbe: Go as high as the birds can fly, and you won’t find wisdom there. Go as deep as Abaddon and death, and wisdom is not there. Only God knows where to find wisdom, for God sees everything. (He doesn’t have to dig into the earth to see what’s there!) God has the wisdom to adjust the pressure of the wind and measure the amount of water in the atmosphere. If these proportions were changed, what disturbances in nature might result! God knows how to control the rain and guide the storm as it moves across the earth. Flashes of lightning and pearls of thunder may seem arbitrary to us, but God controls even the lightning and thunder.
Derek Kidner: Wisdom is not found in the land of the living (28:21), or that of the dead (28:22). Having exhausted all human resources, and even those beyond the grave, Job has only one source to fall back upon – God! The source of wisdom lies in the one who is all-knowing (28:23), all-seeing (28:24) and all-powerful (28:25). It is the wisdom of the Creator (28:26-27). It is the word of his will, he revealed know-how of the one who knows how!
A. (:21-22) Wisdom Is Concealed from the Living and the Dead
“Thus it is hidden from the eyes of all living,
And concealed from the birds of the sky.”
Abaddon and Death say,
‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’”
Tremper Longman: The final stanza answers the question of the first three stanzas: Where is wisdom located? However, before doing so, the poet adds a final statement to the effect that wisdom is inaccessible not only to human resources but also to the rest of creation and even to personified Death. Indeed, v. 21a says it is hidden from the eyes of “all the living,” presumably humans who live on the surface of the earth. The next colon adds that even the birds of the heavens cannot find it. The birds would have a higher vantage point, and they also can cover more space quickly. Even so, they are not up to the task. Verse 22 moves from the earth and the heavens to the underworld. Here the poet personifies Abaddon, the place of destruction, as well as Death itself. The latter may be yet another mythological reference or allusion (see v. 14 above), since the Canaanites knew of a god Death (Mot), who like the Sea (Yam) was ranged against the god Baal. But these spiritual beings too have at best only heard a report about wisdom; they do not have any direct knowledge of it. Thus in vv. 21–22 the poet points out that the creatures of earth, heaven, and the underworld have no access to wisdom and cannot guide anyone to it.
John Hartley: Since wisdom is transcendent, it does not reside anywhere on earth or in the depths of the sea. No eye of any living creature6 has beheld it. Not even the birds, which soar high above the earth’s surface, have caught a glimpse of it. The remote regions of Abaddon (ʾaḇaddôn) and Death, which were thought to be located in the depths of the sea, can only say, “We have heard a report of it.” Although no one, living or dead, has ever seen wisdom, all know intuitively that it exists.
B. (:23-24) Wisdom Is Only Discoverable and Known by God
“God understands its way;
And He knows its place.
24 For He looks to the ends of the earth,
And sees everything under the heavens.”
John MacArthur: God understands its way, and He knows its place.
These are perhaps the most important thoughts in the chapter for the debates. Job and his friends have probed God’s wisdom three times and basically, have arrived nowhere near the truth. Finally, Job makes the point that the divine wisdom necessary to explain his suffering is inaccessible to humans. Only God knows it, because only He knows everything.
Francis Andersen: The place of wisdom is not simply in the mind of God. Wisdom is what God understands when he looks to the ends of the earth. Wisdom is observable in the universe because God embodied it in his creation when he ‘saw’, ‘reckoned’, ‘organized’ and ‘fathomed’. Men can see this for themselves, but only when God himself shows it to them (Rom. 1:19). This is precisely what God will do for Job shortly, when he takes him on the grand tour of inspection.
Tremper Longman: Verse 23 climactically reveals that, contrary to everyone and everything else, God does know the way to wisdom (“its path”). He knows where it is (“its place”). But before sharing this information, the poet explains why God alone would have this knowledge. After all, though the birds have a high vantage point from which to look at the world, they do not compare to God, who “looks to the ends of the earth.” He sees everything under heaven (v. 24).
John Hartley: God, however, understands the way to wisdom and he knows its dwelling place. Since God’s field of view encompasses the entire universe, including the remotest corners, he knows wisdom’s abode. In knowing wisdom’s place, God is its master. Wisdom, so to speak, discloses to him the deepest secrets of the universe. God, in contrast to man, sees everything under the whole heavens.
C. (:25-27) Wisdom Is Only Employed and Dispensed by God
“When He imparted weight to the wind,
And meted out the waters by measure,
26 When He set a limit for the rain,
And a course for the thunderbolt,
27 Then He saw it and declared it;
He established it and also searched it out.”
John Hartley: God’s employment of wisdom in structuring the world is amazingly evident in four mysterious forces: the wind, the waters, the rain, and the thunderstorm. Although the wind cannot be seen or held, God has assigned it weight (mišqāl). At times the wind blows lightly, refreshing the earth. Then at God’s command it gusts violently, inflicting great destruction. Furthermore, the vast, seemingly measureless waters of the oceans have been precisely measured by God (cf. Isa. 40:12). The sea, even in all its ferocity, is under God’s complete control. Similarly, the sending of the rain reveals God’s full understanding. God has made a decree or statute (ḥōq) for the rain. He determines both the season for the rain to water the earth and the amount of water that is to fall. The rain must obey his decree; e.g., it may not inundate the earth. More amazing is that God made a way for the violent thunderstorm (ḥazîz qōlôṯ). Though the lightning jumps about in a zigzag course, God has charted the course for its forks to travel, and he has prepared the way for the roll of thunder. These marvels of nature demonstrate that God has structured the world order in wisdom. . .
Wisdom played a vital role in creation. During his creative work God searched out wisdom’s marvelous ability. Creation was a great adventure for God, as he tested wisdom’s capacity. But his use of wisdom did not stop there. He continues to employ it fully in his governance of the universe. As a result, the world is filled with wonders and is governed injustice. Wisdom is God’s closest companion.
David Thompson: God’s eyes see everything on earth (28:24). He determines the limits of everything and He is the One who gives wisdom. His wisdom is in creation. According to verses 25-27, God’s wisdom is seen in four forces man will never control nor fully understand:
1) Wind–sometimes it refreshes, sometimes it destroys.
2) Waters–sometimes they are calm and sometimes they are devastating.
3) Rain–God determines when it rains, where it rains and how much it rains.
4) Thunder–Thunder roars and lightning zigzags through the sky and God controls its course.
Francis Andersen: Wisdom is found only in God, and man obtains it only by revelation.
(:28) CONCLUSION — THE ESSENCE OF WISDOM REVEALED
“And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
And to depart from evil is understanding.’”
Thomas Constable: The essence of wisdom is to fear (treat with reverential trust) the Lord (Master) and to depart from evil (v. 28). We know this only by supernatural revelation (“to mankind He said”). We can never plumb the depths of God’s wisdom. However, we can experience wisdom partially as we adore and obey God—making Him, rather than self, the center of our lives, and allowing Him to regulate our lives. Job was obviously well acquainted with various kinds of mining operations. There were mines in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, Idumea, Aramea, Lebanon, and elsewhere as early as the patriarchal period.
John MacArthur: 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 avoid sin, leaving the unanswered questions to Him in trusting submission.
Elmer Smick: Having shown God as the Source of wisdom, the author now makes his application to humans. They must look to God for wisdom. Humans may share in it only through knowledge of the revealed mind of God. To acknowledge him as God and live within the sphere of his life-giving precepts is wisdom for human beings (Dt 4:5–6; Ps 111:10; Pr 8:4–9; 9:10).
Tremper Longman: The type of fear described here is not horror that makes one run away, and it is not merely the idea of respect. It is most like awe, a kind of knee-knocking fear that one feels in the presence of a vastly more powerful, even though benevolent, person. It is the kind of emotion that removes pride and replaces it with humility, which as Proverbs indicates (1:7) is a prerequisite to wisdom. Pride does not permit one to learn from another, whereas humility does and even goes further and compels obedience.
Wisdom starts with this fear. Fear is the beginning of wisdom, both in a foundational and in a temporal sense. One may know a lot of facts without fear of the Lord, but not to know the most basic reality of all—God—renders someone a fool: “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1 NRSV). Thus fear of God is a presupposition of wisdom. Further, wisdom in the Bible is not a body of knowledge but rather a relationship. The wise must have a dependent relationship with God that makes them listen to him. All true knowledge has reference to God.
John Hartley: It is important to note the significant grammatical difference in the treatment of the word wisdom in this verse. Up to this point “wisdom” has had the definite article, but in this verse it is without it. Since the same word is used, the wisdom available to mankind is qualitatively the same as that which God knows. The fact that this word is without the article indicates that it is the practical side of wisdom human beings may acquire.
Roy Zuck: Job’s accusers had insisted that he was not fearing God or eschewing sin and that therefore he was not wise. In Job 28 he argued the opposite: he was fearing God and hating evil (as God Himself had already said of Job, 1:1, 8; 2:3), but they were not! Therefore wisdom and understanding were his, not theirs.
Derek Kidner: Reverence of God means being in awe of his ways. God’s tapestry is wonderful – yes, full of wonders! I may not understand it, but I have to accept it. It is the wise thing to do. I must bow in humility before his will: “With humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). This is, in part at least, what Job means by “shunning evil”. It is to walk in obedience to what God has revealed: both in the natural revelation of the created world, and in God’s Word written and infallibly inspired.
Warren Wiersbe: The important thing is that we focus on Christ, for He is our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24), and in Him is hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). The better we know Christ and the more we become like him, the more we will walk in wisdom and understand the will of the Lord. We must allow the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our heart so we can see God in His Word and understand more of the riches we have in Christ (Eph. 1:15-23).