Affliction in Verse: Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?

Sermon by David Strain on May 6, 2018

Job 27-31

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Please do take your Bibles in hand and open them with me to the book of Job. We’ll be thinking about what we might call Job’s closing argument. He’s been engaged in a series of discussions with his three friends – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They have been relentless in their attempts to correct what they perceive to be Job’s dreadful sin and failure, which is, in their understanding at least, the cause of his suffering. Job, however, has been protesting his innocence. And we know that at least in this, Job is quite right. And we’ve come now to the last of Job’s responses to his friends. It is his closing argument, in chapters 27 through 31. We don’t have time to read all of that, and so while we will survey to some extent the material that we find in this whole section of the book, we’re going to focus our attention tonight on chapter 28. So do let me direct your gaze there, please. You'll find it on page 453 in the church Bibles. Before we read it together, please bow your heads with me as we pray.


Our Father, we praise You that You speak to us, and as we read the Bible, we are hearing the voice of God. Please, would You give to us the Holy Spirit by whom these words were inspired that we might understand and receive and rest upon Christ as He is offered to us in them. For Jesus' sake, amen.


Job chapter 28 at the first verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:


“Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold that they refine. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from the ore. 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.


That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon's eye has not seen it. The proud beasts have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it.


Man puts his hand to the flinty rock and overturns mountains by the roots. He cuts out channels in the rocks, and his eye sees every precious thing. He dams up the streams so that they do not trickle, and the thing that is hidden he brings out to light.


But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? 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.


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.’


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.’”


Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.


One of my favorite Presbyterian stories that I often use when we celebrate one of our children reciting the catechism was told by B.B. Warfield, the great 19th century Princeton theologian. You’ve heard it from me now more than once, but I needed an illustration, and since I couldn’t think of any except this one, you’re going to hear it from me again. Warfield tells the story of two men who are walking toward one another on a busy street and the one spots the other and something about his captures his attention. “So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar, that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning, the stranger at once came back to him and touched his chest with his forefinger and demanded without preface, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ On receiving the countersign, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,’ ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks.’”  There was something distinctive about that one man in the crowd that stood out to the other as they passed each other on the street.


Maintaining Faith

We've dwelt for several weeks now on the interplay between Job, in his suffering, and his friends. And we've had plenty of opportunities to evaluate the differences between them. Haven't we? And like the two men in Warfield's story who identify one another because of their distinctive bearing, their sense of poise and calm and confidence given to them, Warfield is trying to suggest, by their knowledge of the truths of the catechism, there is something similarly distinctive about Job. Isn't there? Something identifiable, something that stands out. Paced alongside Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, there is this qualitative difference about Job. In the midst of terrible suffering and personal attack and daily pain, Job has weathered the storm with extraordinary patience and poise. And here in Job’s closing arguments, in chapters 27 through 31, we’re going to learn where that poise, that resilience comes from. Where is it that he gets that qualitative difference? I want us, like the man in Warfield’s story, to march up to Job and put our forefinger on his chest, and without preface ask him the question that will reveal his secret. Because we need to know actually for ourselves, don’t we, “How is it that, though your world has collapsed around you and you suffer such dreadful misery, Job, how is it that you maintain your integrity and your faith when all around you oppose you and your suffering is so very great?” That’s not an academic question at all. And for some of you here, it may be the question precisely you desperately and even urgently need to know.


Well if you look over the chapters before us, you may notice that they go on continuing an argument that we’ve heard already. These are familiar arguments on the lips of Job. And yet right in the middle of them, as I hope to show you, chapter 28, the chapter we read together, sounds a different note. In chapter 27, if you’ll look there with me briefly, Job declares his determination to maintain his integrity. Look for example at chapter 27 verses 1 through 6:


“As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right;” – speaking to his friends and their accusations – “till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.”


The Calamity

He’s innocent and he’s maintaining his innocence. He is resolved to uphold his integrity. Or turn forward to chapter 29. Now Job is reflecting not so much on his own character as he is upon the calamity that has befallen him; actually on how good things were before that calamity fell. “Oh that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me.” He’s longing for everything to be as once it was before such suffering began to eat away at him. Chapter 30, by contrast, is about how dreadful things have now become. Verse 16 of chapter 30, “And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me.” In chapter 31, Job wraps it all up. What he says, in effect, “If I am guilty of specific sin, well then, let me be punished. But I’m not guilty of the offenses you, my three friends, have been accusing me of. Therefore, I should receive justice and be delivered.” That’s his basic argument. So he’s still suffering, he still wants justice, he still has questions, he still laments his present circumstances and mourns his losses; they’re developing a familiar line of argument. This is the kind of thing we’ve heard Job say all along and he is standing where he has stood and driving home his point one last time in his own defense.


How to Persevere

And then right in the middle of it all, in chapter 28, there sounds a different note. It’s as though someone has stopped him in the middle of the busy street of his lamentations and put their finger on his chest and asked him the catechism question that is designed to reveal the source of his faith in the midst of it all. Chapter 28 is a bit like the calm in the middle of the storm. The other chapters all swirl around it and ring with notes of lament and frustration and grief. But in chapter 28, Job is measured and reflective. It is a meditation on the subject of wisdom. Here’s what Job has that Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar lack. Here, in many ways, is what the book of Job is really all about. It is about getting wisdom. How will you persevere through trials? How will you endure when your questions go unanswered? In the face of inexplicable suffering, what was Job’s secret? Well, the Biblical answer is wisdom. Job perseveres by wisdom. You will persevere by wisdom.


Let’s take a look together then at chapter 28. It falls into three sections. The first, in verses 1 through 11. They tell us that wisdom is worth searching for; verses 1 to 11. Wisdom is worth searching for. Then 12 through 22, however, precious wisdom may be, wisdom is hard to find. Wisdom is worth searching for, but wisdom is hard to find. Then 23 through 26, at last, he says wisdom is the gift of God. Wisdom is the gift of God. It's worth searching for, it's hard to find, and it is the gift of God. 


Wisdom is Worth Searching For

Let’s look at verses 1 through 11 first – wisdom is worth searching for. Job paints a vivid picture of people digging for precious metals or gemstones in the depths of a mine. Look at the passage with me. Verse 1, “Surely there is a mine for silver and a place for gold that they refine. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from the ore.” So we are in the mining business here in verses 1 through 11; it's that image. And in 3 to 11 he pictures human beings tunneling into every secret place, putting an end to the darkness, delving into places forgotten by travelers. He finds secret treasures, verses 10 and 11. "He cuts out channels in the rocks and his eye sees every precious thing. He dams up the steams so that they do not trickle and the thing that is hidden he brings out to light." He's using the image of mining as a metaphor for the search for wisdom. And the darkness and the isolation, in particular, they’re quite apt images considering that Job’s search for wisdom has taken place in the midst of dreadful isolation and in the darkness of his own terrible sufferings. He feels he’s been toiling away down a deep, dark mineshaft of suffering and loss. Wisdom, Job is saying, doesn’t come easy.


And yet, there’s something in us – we are hardwired to seek for it nevertheless. Man puts an end to the darkness and searches out to the furthest limit the ore in gloom and deep darkness. He says we almost can’t help ourselves. We’re made to know things, to understand things. Sometimes Christians feel like faith ought to mean that we never ask questions. That it’s somehow an expression of unbelief to seek to understand what presently may not make sense to us. But Job knows actually that’s how we’ve been wired; that’s how we’ve been made. We’re made to seek understanding and to pursue wisdom. There is no question you may not ask, no answer you may not pursue. All truth is God’s truth and we ought not to fear it. And by using this mining image, I think Job is actually telling us that for all the pain and the toil and the darkness and the isolation, the search for wisdom can sometimes entail wisdom is nevertheless precious. It’s worth it. It’s valuable; priceless. So keep looking for the answers, Job is suggesting to us. Keep pursuing understanding. Wisdom is worth searching for.


Wisdom is Hard to Find

But then secondly, notice he also tells us in verses 12 through 22, for all of that, that wisdom is hard to find. All metaphors break down eventually, and the problem with Job's mining metaphor is that, unlike precious stones that can be chiseled from a rock face, wisdom cannot be come by quite so easily. Verse 12, "Where shall wisdom be found? Where is the place of understanding? Man doesn't know its worth," verse 13. He settles so often for half-baked answers and counterfeit solutions. "The sea says, ‘It is not in me,'" verse 14. There is no gold or silver or any precious stones in all the world that can purchase it, verses 15 through 19. You can't by wisdom.


In other words, Job is saying, having been down the deep mineshaft of suffering in search for wisdom, it simply cannot be found, as one commentator puts it, “by ransacking the material or human universe.” You can’t find wisdom merely by ransacking the material or human universe. And so again in verse 20, Job asks his question, “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” or destruction “and Death say, ‘We’ve heard a rumor of it with our ears.’” Wisdom, you see, is elusive. Cleverness, which in some ways is what verses 1 through 11 celebrate – exploring the natural world, learning to exploit the resources around us for the betterment of our daily lives, the marvels of human ingenuity – cleverness, that’s not the same thing as true wisdom at all. As a matter of fact, you can’t mine wisdom from the ground. You can’t uncover it by natural effort or throw enough money at the problem and buy wisdom for yourself. Wisdom is worth searching for, and yet it is elusive and hard to come by. It’s hard to find wisdom. Human beings simply cannot, by the diligent use of their reason alone, trace it out or find its origins. It’s hidden from the eyes of all living. Death and hell say they’ve barely heard of wisdom. You won’t find wisdom there.


In 1 Corinthians 2:14, the apostle Paul makes a similar point. Doesn’t he? Speaking about God’s wisdom, he said, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, nor can he understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Like Job before him, Paul’s point is that unaided human reason can’t grasp the things of God. God’s ways make no sense to us. If we stand outside of an intimate relationship of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Until the Spirit of Christ takes ahold of your life and opens your eyes, the Christian faith and the sovereignty of God and the brokenness of the world and the reality of sin and all of that will make no sense to us, not really. It will be foolishness to us because it is spiritually discerned. That is to say, it can only be grasped, truly understood, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sin has warped our thinking and our thinkers, our knowing and our knowers, the way we reason and the reason we engage in. It’s all been sin-twisted so that we never come to right conclusions about God and His world unless and until we bend the knee to Jesus Christ, and by His Spirit, have our discernment retooled.


That’s why suffering as a non-Christian is so much bleaker. Every one of us will endure suffering. Every one of us. It’s part of the human condition. But how can you endure it without true wisdom? How much bleaker your suffering without Jesus Christ. For someone who is not a believer, when Job-like trials come and you find yourself hurling your “Why?” question at the heavens, you simply do not yet have the spiritual faculties to begin to comprehend God’s answer. If we’re to learn Job’s secret, we need to learn that grasping the wisdom of God is a thing we can’t do, but it is a thing, mercifully, God can give.


Wisdom is the Gift of God

And that’s the message of the final verses of chapter 28. Wisdom is worth searching for, wisdom is hard to find, but gloriously, wisdom is a gift that God can give us. Look at verses 23 through 28. “God knows the way to it,” Job says, “and he knows its place.” No one but God knows true wisdom. And then 24 through 27, Job proves his point by looking at the wisdom of God displayed in creation. “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.” It’s beautiful language, isn’t it? Here is God establishing and ordering and decreeing and directing the ebb and flow of the natural world. He established a weight for the wind and a decree or a law for the rain and a pathway for the thunderbolts.


Limited versus Unlimited

But you get the message. Only God truly fathoms how all of this works and its ultimate significance. God is the final and absolute repository of perfect wisdom. And I think we need to come to terms with that. Don’t you? So much of our distress in life arises from not grappling with the limits of human insight. God alone truly knows, though we may know truly. God alone truly knows, though we may know truly. Our knowledge can be true and reliable as far as it goes, but it can never be knowledge that God has in the way that God has it. God has perfect knowledge, perfect wisdom. He understands everything. We can’t know encyclopedically and fully. We can only ever see a part of the whole, but God knows exhaustively and comprehensively. He knows everything. He sees the whole and the parts. His wisdom is boundless; our wisdom is bounded. His wisdom is total. Ours is finite and provisional.


Which means we shouldn’t be surprised when we have to learn to live with unanswered questions when the answer to “Why? Why am I suffering? Why hasn’t it changed? Why do I find myself in this trial still? Why am I here yet again?” When the answer to “Why?” doesn’t come, we may have to learn to live with unanswered questions because we don’t have the bandwidth for it. We are creatures and He is the Creator. And that Creator-creature distinction is vital. We sometimes feel entitled to an explanation, at least I do. “I don’t understand why this is happening to me, Lord.” Sometimes, often, God is kind and shows something of an explanation. And we do get to see some of His reasons for the trials we endure and we’re comforted and strengthened and helped when He does that. It’s such a blessing. But we are only creatures and we cannot grasp the multifaceted intricacies of the wisdom and the purposes of God. And so when we butt up against the limits of our understanding, when our questions remain unanswered, when God does not condescend to explain Himself to us, remembering that God must be God and we are merely His creatures ought to teach us humility and help us say, “I may never understand, but I can learn to rest in the goodness of the God who does. And that is enough. I may never understand, but I am only a creature and He is my Creator and Master and King and I will trust Him. And that is enough.”


Note of Grace

But then do notice how in verse 28 there is this beautiful note of grace. Wisdom is worth searching for but it’s hard to find. God, however, unlike us, He has innate, perfect, comprehensive wisdom and knowledge. And yet verse 28, He said to man, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” We can’t find it on our own. And so He stoops down and tells us where true wisdom comes from. It is the fear of the Lord. There's an echo here in Proverbs 1:7 – "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Proverbs 9:10 – "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." The fear of the Lord now, that's an admittedly difficult concept for us at times; "the fear of the Lord." It is worth grappling with, however, because it's primarily the Old Testament way of describing a believer's relationship to God. It means something like "reverent awe; dependent trust." It is the trembling of a child who dreads nothing so much as transgressing the loving boundary set for him by his father. It is the reverence for someone we love so much that causes us to bristle when a word is spoken against them. That is the fear of the Lord. We revere His name. The reverence that we have for Him and delight as we serve Him. 


The Fear of the Lord

Job is telling us, God is telling Job, that this kind of fear, the fear of the Lord, that’s real wisdom. The only kind of wisdom that a human being can hope for, not comprehensive wisdom; God alone has that, but real wisdom – well now, how does that work? What’s the relationship between fearing God and being wise at last? Job doesn’t really explain it. Does he? For that, you need to turn to the New Testament scriptures, back again to the writings of the apostle Paul. 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul says true wisdom is focused and bound up with, found exclusively in, God’s provision for us in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says this, “He,” Jesus, “is made for us wisdom from God.” That is, our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Jesus is God’s comprehensive provision. Look inside yourself. Your heart can seem cavernous and empty. The answers aren’t forthcoming. Look around at the world and the answers will elude you there also. But look at Jesus Christ. There’s no lack in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God and you are wise as you trust in Him.


God alone possesses complete wisdom and yet, you can find true wisdom, not exhaustive, not comprehensive understanding, but real wisdom. It is coming to the fear of the Lord. Or as Paul puts it, it is coming to trust in God's gift to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. He is wisdom from God, that is righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He is the beginning and the progress and the climax of your Christian life. Christ is the righteousness that you need to overwrite the record of your unrighteousness. He is sanctification that you need to renovate and transform your life from the inside out. He is the redemption that you need to set you free from sin here and now and from death hereafter at the last. Christ is everything you need. Christ is everything that you need.


You're scared of the future. You don't understand the present. You're haunted by the ghosts of the past. Sometimes you feel like you don't know which way is up. You're lost in the maze. You're stuck down the mine, seeking diamonds of wisdom and only finding shadows. Well, Job says to us, "The fear of the Lord, that's wisdom." Trust in Christ. He is wisdom.


What is the secret of Job’s integrity amidst all these trials? What makes him stand apart like a Shorter Catechism boy standing out from the crowd? In the end, the answer really has nothing to do with Job at all, does it? It has to do with the fear of the Lord. It has to do with Job’s trust in Him. It has to do with the Lord Jesus Christ who is wisdom from God, our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Proverbs 4:7 says, "The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight." Have you gotten wise yet? If you've not got Christ, you've not got wise. You've got no real wisdom. Wise up and turn to Christ. Trust in the Lord Jesus and remember that He knows the end from the beginning and He will lead you through. Wisdom is found in Him. Wisdom is worth searching for. It is hard to find, but praise God He gives it as a gift and you find it in His Son. 


Let’s pray together.


Our Father, we confess our foolishness to You, how we turn every which way in the search for wisdom but to the one place where it may reliably be found – to the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, forgive our neglect of Him. Forgive us when our eyes have been filled with the promise of answers that have nevertheless proven false that our world offers to us. Forgive us when, in our pride, we think we can manufacture the answer, we can solve it, hopelessly lost turning left and right but determined to find our own way. Please forgive us for our pride. Instead, now as we bow before You, we ask You to give up on all the world’s empty answers and our own prideful determination to rely on self. And instead, would You bring us to Jesus who is wisdom from God, that is righteousness, sanctification and redemption. He is everything we need. Help us to trust in Him. Help us to trust in Him and nevermore so when we find ourselves in the darkness of our sufferings. For we ask it in His name, amen.

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