Thursday, October 16, 2003

Job 28: Deep in the Earth

This essay is #31 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

The Wrong Measure

For all their points of disagreement, Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar agreed about the link between material blessing and God's favor. For Job's three friends, the very degree of Job's suffering warranted an investigation into his sin. For Job, the degree of his suffering warranted his questions about God's justice. It is for these reasons that it seems out of place to attribute Job 28 to anyone but the author of the book of Job. The chapter asks the question, "Where can wisdom be found?" But it is apparent, at least to me, that no one has actually sought the wisdom needed to understand Job's predicament in the light of truth about God and truth about Job.

Why do the righteous suffer at the hands of a loving God? At the point of crisis--where Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have no more to say and Job's last words accuse the God of heaven of denying him justice--at this point Job 28 reminds us of a central truth. We need wisdom and that only comes from the Lord.

Let's look at the opening section:

“Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place where gold is refined. Iron is taken from the ground, and rock is poured out as copper. Man puts an end to the darkness; he searches the farthest recesses for the ore in the deepest darkness. Far from where people live he sinks a shaft, in places travelers have long forgotten, far from other people he dangles and sways. The earth, from which food comes, is overturned below as though by fire; a place whose stones are sapphires and which contains dust of gold; a hidden path no bird of prey knows— no falcon’s eye has spotted it. Proud beasts have not set foot on it, and no lion has passed along it. On the flinty rock man has set to work with his hand; he has overturned mountains at their bases. He has cut out channels through the rocks; his eyes have spotted every precious thing. He has searched the sources of the rivers and what was hidden he has brought into the light. 

“But wisdom—where can it be found? Where is the place of understanding?" (Job 28:1-12)

The section begins with a description of mining by which men search out and bring metals and precious things from the earth. I love the picture of the miner dangling and swaying by a rope as he descends the mining shaft to continue his digging. Mining is contrasted to agriculture and the author makes sure to mention that no other animal engages in such activity. The search for precious metals and gems is uniquely human and the effort to acquire them is extraordinary--especially in Job's day. Man "has overturned mountains at their bases."

On the heals of this description, the author asks, "But wisdom--where can it be found? Where is the place of understanding?" By placing the pursuit of baubles next to wisdom and understanding, the author does two things. First, he nullifies the value base on which the entire discussion among Job and friends has turned. It has all been about the things that Job has lost. It has all been about what Job must do for God to restore his fortunes. By contrasting the difficulties of mining with the elusiveness of wisdom, he says that Job and his friends have sought the wrong goal. They were seeking to restore fortunes, instead of seeking wisdom from God to understand the situation. Second, the author directs us to change our attitudes and goals before the book continues. In this way, we become seekers not of what has happened to Job and why, but of understanding how it plays out in a way that integrates truth about God and truth about Job's situation.

To the Hebrew, wisdom is not intellectual knowledge. Wisdom is more akin to having a skill than knowledge--although any skill by necessity requires knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge applied effectively and correctly. I have computer wisdom--having programmed them for over 30 years. I have little management wisdom, which is why I still program after 30+ years. I have friends who have automobile wisdom and woodworking wisdom. Life wisdom and understanding bring skill to living life. Through the pursuit of wisdom we seek to learn and live while others live and learn.

So the author asks, "But wisdom--where can it be found? Where is the place of understanding?" The trials of Job and the dialogs have brought us to the place where we would like to know very much. With this chapter, the book of Job takes a turn and asks the right question for the first time and promises hope that such wisdom will be forthcoming.

Next: Not for sale

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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