Text: “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?.... From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12, 20).
Thought: The 28th chapter of Job contains a poem on the subject of wisdom. This poem is found in this unique book that wrestles with the reality of and the reasons for suffering in this world. These words are part of one of Job’s discourses. One has to read the complete account to appreciate the dynamics of the discourses that take place—after the amazing introduction (Job 1-2) and before the climactic conclusion (Job 38-42, esp. 42). Wisdom is especially needed when one suffers in our world for no “apparent” reason, even as righteous Job suffered.
Those who suffer personally can struggle to understand why they are suffering and they may feel that they have no access to God to plead their case. This was Job’s experience. We certainly have gained a fuller understanding of suffering through our suffering Savior and His cross and resurrection. But there is still the need for wisdom as we live in this world filled with suffering. Indeed, it is after addressing the issue of trials that James instructs and encourages his readers with these words: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Ultimately, as we will see, Job 28 will point us in the same direction for wisdom.
I. The Fruitless Search for Wisdom (Job 28:1-22)
Using various images related to mining and examples from nature, we are shown that wisdom cannot be found in this world (1-14). It is not in the land of the living (13), it is not in the deep or the sea (14), it is hidden from all living (21), and it is only a rumor in the realm of death (22). Thus, although the miner can find valuable treasures hidden below the earth’s surface, wisdom cannot be found by man’s search in this world. The whereabouts of wisdom remains a mystery.
Wisdom cannot be found and wisdom cannot be bought (16). Wisdom’s value cannot be matched by the treasures that man can find (15-19). The various precious stones mentioned indicate that the value of wisdom is great and beyond human calculation. When the hidden-ness and the value of wisdom are brought together, we are forced to conclude that there is a mystery to wisdom that must be revealed or discovered. Man cannot search out wisdom and it is too valuable to purchase.
II. The Majestic Source of Wisdom (Job 28:23-27)
God is brought into the poem in verse 23. With beautiful descriptive words, we are shown that God is the ultimate majestic source of wisdom. The God who sees all and directs His creation knows all about wisdom. Wisdom is not a mystery to God. Indeed, “he saw it, and declared it; he established it, and searched it out” (28:27). These verbs indicate that the omniscient creator God is the author of wisdom. This must be read in contrast to what we have already noted in the earlier part of the poem. Wisdom is not of man, nor can it be found by man in this world. Wisdom is of God and can only be found in God and through God.
III. The Revealed Secret to Wisdom (28)
It is one thing to say that God is the source of wisdom, but how does mankind learn or gain wisdom. We learn in this text that wisdom is dependent upon God’s revelation, the words of God (“And he said to man….”) Wisdom will not be found through a search in this world, nor can it be purchased. Wisdom is revealed by God to man, and in this verse, God gives man the key to wisdom. Indeed, the way to know wisdom and to live wisely is as follows: “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (28:28). This is really the summary statement concerning wisdom found in the “wisdom books” of the Old Testament, and it is confirmed and vindicated when you reach the end of Job.
Positively speaking, it is wise to live reverently in the light of who God is. To acknowledge who God is and therefore to live obediently before Him is the basis of wise living. Negatively speaking, turning away or departing from evil reveals the same wisdom or understanding, since one is rejecting a life that disregards God, His covenant and righteousness.
So, one does not find wisdom by searching in the material world, one is wise by honoring God and living in accord with His Word. This is the way not only to gain wisdom, but to “live wisdom.”
The Apostle Paul writes that Christ Jesus “became wisdom from God” for us (1 Cor. 1:30). We are grateful for the new revelation in Christ. Christ is everything to the believer. We should not think, though, that Christ as our wisdom contradicts the truths that we learn from Job 28. Wisdom still has come to us from “out of this world,” God is its source and we acquire real spiritual wisdom through responding rightly to God’s revelation (now in Christ Jesus). Job’s word on wisdom is fulfilled in Christ, even as Christ became the ultimate living redeemer of whom Job spoke (Job 19:25).
Thrust: Especially in the context of suffering, there is the need for wisdom. But wisdom is not found through a philosophical search; wisdom is found in God, His revelation, and in obedient living in the light of both God and His revelation.
David L. Olford teaches expository preaching at Union University’s Stephen Olford Center in Memphis, Tennessee.