Thus far in the book of Job we have seen Job suffer, Job’s friends come and offer no comfort, and we have seen Job go back and forth with them about these things. In chapter 27 we saw Job make his final response to his friends speeches, and in chapter 29-31 we’ll see him make a final summary defense to God. In between these two sections we find chapter 28, which is itself a unique chapter.It does not easily follow chapter 27 and does not easily flow into chapter 29. It has a different structure to it. There are no complaints in it, no accusations in it, it’s not addressed to anyone, and seems to be more of a thoughtful reflection on the nature of wisdom than a passionate response to an argument like we’ve been so accustomed to seeing all throughout Job. These things cause us to ask some questions about the nature of chapter 28. Questions like: ‘What’s going in it?’ ‘Who wrote it?’ ‘Why is it so different from what surrounds it?’ and ‘What do we do with it?’
Well, there are two sides to this debate. Some commentators believe Job 28 to be an interlude inserted into the book by the author at what appears to be a transition point, while others believe it to be a continuation of what Job was saying in chapter 27. It really is hard to decipher which one is the case. I lean toward it being an interlude inserted by the author but I do not think that view is demanded at all. It could very well be a continuation of chapter 27. But either way we ought to view chapter 28 as an authoritative and inspired poem from God to us on the nature of true wisdom.
There are three sections to this poem: v1-11, v12-22, and v23-28. Let’s look into them in turn.
Man’s Difficult Quest for Resources (v1-11)
In v1-2 four resources are mentioned: silver, gold, iron, and copper. It is also mentioned that these four resources are not just laying on the ground for anyone to stoop down and easily pick up, no, they are deep in the earth and only reached by difficulty. They must be mined and dug deeply for, and once we reach them and take them from the earth they must be refined, heated, molded, smelted, and worked to form them into usable resources.
v3-6 makes this plain when it says, “Man puts an end to darkness and searches out to the farthest limit the ore in gloom and deep darkness. He opens shafts in a valley away from where anyone lives; they are forgotten by travelers; they hang in the air, far away from mankind; they swing to and fro. As for the earth, out of it comes bread, but underneath it is turned up as by fire. Its stones are the place of sapphires, and it has dust of gold.” Man must delve deeply into darkness and gloom in order to find these things. These deep places in the earth are places where no one lives, places that everyone has forgotten about, far away from man’s daily existence. Yet it’s there where these gems lie still. Man works for bread near the surface of the earth but when he goes digs down deep into the cavernous darkness near the roots of the mountains man goes into regions that aren’t safe, no, these deep places are places of fire and gloom. And yet, we remember these things aren’t placed in the dark deeps accidentally. It seems God has seen fit to place them deep in the earth for a purpose, and perhaps that purpose is to teach us that things of great value require great strength and effort and time to acquire. This quest seems to be for man alone, v7-8 says it’s not for birds or beasts to do. Falcons and lions haven’t known this, seen this, walked these paths, or passed over them. God has given this quest to man and man alone. v9-11 says this, that it is man who puts his hands to the rock and the mountains, it is man who cuts through the rocks to see precious things. It is man who damns rivers and streams so that what is hidden in darkness will be revealed and brought out to the light.
Perhaps God has put chapter 28 into the book of Job to show that just as He has given it to man to dig deep for precious and valuable gems and resources, so too He invites man to dig deep into the purpose of life and why things are the way they are. Isn’t this what Job has been caught up in this whole time? Generally, why does suffering happen? Specifically, why does has such suffering happened to Job? Why is the world the way it is? And the answers to these hard questions, as we all know, do not come easily do they? In order to reach the deep places of God’s wisdom in making the world as it is…time, effort, hard work, and perhaps suffering are required. This is what these opening verses remind us of, and in a curious way I think we are comforted in this. Though it may take a lot for mankind to find answers to the soul’s deepest questions, it is a comfort to know that God really does have answers and eventually we will reach them, in this life or the next, and once we reach them we’ll find contentment in not only why God has made the world as it is, but more so we’ll come to find that contentment is found not in answers but in God Himself.
The Unattainable Resource: Wisdom (v12-22)
In v12 the ultimate question is asked about the most ultimate resource sought after by man, wisdom. “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” Yes man can and does dig deeply for all kinds of precious metals and gems and resources. It takes great effort to get at them, but man can eventually find them. These precious resources are great, but the soul longs after something greater: truth, understanding, and wisdom. Wisdom is the most ultimate resource, and yet as v13-19 continue on we find that wisdom is the one resource man cannot attain regardless how deep one digs. “Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be bought for gold, and silver cannot be weighed as its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.”
Wisdom is so great, man doesn’t know it’s true worth, so naturally wisdom isn’t found among man. It isn’t found in the deeps or the seas. You can’t buy it or find its match or equal among gold, silver, onyx, sapphire, jewels, crystal, pearls, or topaz. Indeed all that is precious on earth put together wouldn’t be enough to buy wisdom. God intends us to see that wisdom is, therefore, priceless. Knowing and understanding the Lord: why God does what He does, why God made the world as He did, and why God acts within it as continues to do is something beyond worth. If one is to search for anything in this life, a life devoted and dedicated to searching after and thinking deeply on God and His ways is not a wasted life. Think of Job here. The search for wisdom and understanding is especially important and valuable to the believer who is suffering greatly. If the answer to the ‘Why?’ question is found, Job would be comforted. And all who have suffered in this life would be comforted as well. True, wisdom won’t stop suffering, but gaining wisdom about God’s purposes in suffering would allow us to suffer in the know, or in the light and not in the dark.
But though this is true look where v20-22 take us next. “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air. Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’” In a sense this middle section is hard to hear. v12 begs the ultimate question, v13-19 puts forth wisdom as the ultimate and unmatched resource longed for by the soul of man, and the v20-22 bluntly remind us that this most precious gem is out of man’s reach. It is hidden from eyes of all living, even death (presented to us in a personified form) doesn’t know of it fully. Every endeavor after it ends badly. We once ate the from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to find it, and we once built a tower into the heavens to show it and perhaps find more, but true wisdom remained hidden from us. In this sense Job 28 echoes much of Ecclesiastes which says over and over again that all under the sun is meaningless and vanity and vapor. What must man do then if everything under the sun is futile? We must go over the sun, we must go to God. Thankfully, Job 28 does end in v22, it goes on and makes this point plainly.
How Man Attains and Acquires Wisdom (v23-28)
Let’s read v23-28 as a whole to see this chapter reach its conclusion. “God understands the way to it, and He knows its place. For He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When He gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when He made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then He saw it and declared it; He established it, and searched it out. And He said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”
After hearing that wisdom is the most valuable thing man can search for in this life and after hearing that man cannot exert enough effort in this life to find it on earth we hear that wisdom isn’t a mystery to God. He understands it, He knows the way to it, He is source of all wisdom and thus all wisdom is found in Him. How does v23-28 show us God’s wisdom? Here the author shows God’s wisdom in the created order and gives us a preview of what Job will experience firsthand when God visits him at the end of the book. The wind in it’s weight and might, the waters in their grand scope, the storms in their rage are declared, established, and searched out fully by God. v28 is the first time since chapter 1-2 that we hear God speaking to man. And in speaking God reveals what wisdom is. The very wisdom we must devote our lives to knowing and understanding. “And He said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” Notice God doesn’t give specific answers to any ‘Why?’ questions He only points to Him. This is wisdom, to bow before the Lord acknowledging, revering, honoring, praising, loving, glorifying, and fearing Him. Christopher Ash, in his commentary, writes at this point “This is deeply humbling. Neither the marvels of human technology nor the insights of human philosophy yield the ultimate goal…” No. Only fearing the Lord makes one wise, because those who fear the Lord draw near to the Lord who is wise. This produces a love for God and a desire to flee from evil and sin and all that would hinder our pursuit of God.
In summary, Job 28 is the author’s interlude intended to be a preview of what Job will experience firsthand for the remainder of the book. He began fearing the Lord. He suffered greatly and asked ‘why?’ He dug deeply into this question as he interacted with His friends. Eventually we’ll see God meet Him, we’ll see God make Job aware of His might and power in the created order, and in the end we’ll see Job’s friends proved to be foolish while we see God calm Job’s troubled heart by giving Job Himself. In God, Job gains deep peace and true wisdom even though he never gets answers for his suffering.
We would do well to pursue the same kind of wisdom put forth here in our own lives. As this chapter points out we will not find wisdom among men. We will not find it in the cavernous deeps of the mountains or the seas or anywhere else on earth. No, wisdom is only found in God. So to Him we must look. And in looking we find God nearer than we’ve ever wished. When the fullness of time came, God made His wisdom very visible by sending His own Son, described in Colossians 2:3 by saying in Him “…are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Church, know the preciousness and pricelessness of wisdom, know we cannot attain wisdom on our own, and know that God has revealed His wisdom in Christ. So fear Him, know Him, love Him, seek Him, search out and pursue Him. Christ is our wisdom.
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, chapter 23 – this whole chapter is immensely helpful and insightful in understanding Job 28. I have gleaned and used much from it in this sermon.