Lessons from Job: Job the Poet

December 2, 2009

Part II: God’s Unfathomable Wisdom

Naked came I... PLR '99

“And he said to mankind: ‘The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to turn from evil, that is understanding!’” The Book of Job 28:28

Chapter 14, Job’s elegy on death which closed the first cycle of speeches, was closely aligned with Ecclesiastes. Likewise, Chapter 28, closes the last cycle of speeches, and it ends with the same conclusion as both Ecclesiastes and Proverbs: Wisdom can only come from seeking God. This speech is Job’s last words to his friends before he makes his final plea to God to hear him and either explain his punishment or give him justice and let up. It is no coincidence that Job ends his debate with his friends with a little sermon on finding wisdom. For more than twenty chapters worth of words, he and his friends could not come to any real understanding over why Job’s life had become such a disaster. Job’s friends couldn’t open their minds to the possibility that not all suffering was the direct result of personal sin, and Job knows he’s missing something, but he just doesn’t know what it is yet. This is a turning point for Job. He realizes that most of man’s pursuits in life are meaningless, and he understands that we achieve understanding by following God’s laws, but wisdom is something that most humans never truly acquire. Job knows wisdom only comes from God, but he does not yet understand the depth of relationship he is able to have with his creator. He begins this speech with observing man’s superior intelligence on the earth and our ability to do almost anything we desire.

1There are mines for silver
and places where gold is refined.
2Iron is won from the earth
and copper smelted from the ore.
3Men master the darkness;
to the farthest recess they seek
ore and gloom in deep darkness.
4Foreigners cut the shafts;
forgotten, suspended without foothold,
they swing to and fro, far away from anyone.
5While grain is swinging from the earth above,
what lies beneath is turned over like a fire,
6and out of it’s rocks comes lapis lazuli,
dusted with flecks of gold.
7No bird of prey knows the path there;
the falcon’s keen eye cannot descry it;
8proud beasts do not set foot on it,
and no lion passes there.
9Man sets his hand to the granite rock
and lays bare the roots of the mountains;
10he cuts galleries in the rocks,
and gems of every kind meets his eye;
11he dams up the sources of the streams
and brings the hidden riches of the earth to light.

Mankind was created in God’s image. We are intelligent beings; we are superior to all other beasts on the earth; we can reason and think for ourselves; we are not slaves to instinct; we can make judgments about what the best course of action is for not only ourselves, but for those around us. We have the amazing ability of free choice, and what do we usually choose to spend our time doing? It is all about the almighty dollar. This passage is so revealing about mankind and our lust for power and riches. It makes me think of Tolkien’s dwarves in The Lord of the Rings. Obsessed with gems, they dig deeper and deeper into the mountains, cutting themselves off from the sunlight, from nature, and all other intelligent creatures of Middle Earth. What is peculiar about man is that we are willing to spend most of our time in dark, dangerous, inhumane places in order to gather pretty things that we will barely have the time to enjoy for the sake of gathering more and more and more of them. Have we changed at all in the last 4,000 years? Not much. Think about the banker who spends all of his time in pursuit of being a VP or CEO and never gets to see the wife and kids. At first it is all for them, but later it is about the ego and the acquirement of wealth. His kids may have the best toys and the best education, but did they have a father? Or what about the politician who spends all his time trying to save the world with his faithful and understanding family supporting his noble pursuits; his good deeds give him a sense of entitlement, and in his arrogance he only embarrass himself and his wife when he is busted with his mistress. What about the kid on the streets who presumes he has no future? He finds his power through a gun and dealing death to his younger peers. Should I go on to describe our celebrities? You don’t even have to have any talent to be one anymore! Those of us who never got past a simple life can smugly feel we are not like those crazy rich people, but we all worship them in one form or another. Consider why American Idol is so popular. Our idols are not wood and stone, we worship by the light of television sets and on the screen of the internet. With all of our intelligence and our God-given talents, do we use them to make the world a better place; do we use them to serve God and others, to build better relationships with our wives, husbands, kids, parents, neighbors and enemies? Or, like the men of Job’s age, do we spend all of our time and energy gathering up riches when we should be seeking after wisdom? Job continues:

12But where can wisdom be found,
and where is the source of understanding?
13No one knows the way to it,
nor is it to be found in the land of the living.
14‘It is not in us,’ declare the ocean depths;
the sea declares, ‘It is not with me.’
15Red gold cannot buy it,
nor can its price be weighed out in silver;
16gold of Ophir cannot be set in the scales against it,
nor precious cornelian nor sapphire;
17gold and crystal are not to be matched with it,
no work in fine gold can be bartered for it;
18black coral and alabaster are not worth mention,
and a parcel of wisdom fetches more than red choral;
19chrysolite from Ethiopia is not to be matched with it,
pure gold cannot be set in the scales against it.
20Where, then, does wisdom come from?
Where is the source of understanding?
21No creature on earth can set eyes on it;
even from birds of the air it is concealed.
22Destruction and Death declare,
‘We know of it only by hearsay.’

I think this part of Job’s little sermon on wisdom is for those who actually wish to acquire wisdom, but they are just looking for it in all the wrong places. Though Job was speaking to an ancient audience, we can make parallels with his words to modern man. He begins with the fact that wisdom cannot be found in the ocean, in the depths of the earth. Today, most of “enlightened” society basis all their wisdom on science. The study and pursuit of science is noble, and even godly, (the Lord calls us to take dominion over the earth, Genesis 1:26-29); however, the material world cannot teach us the meaning of life, it can only teach us how to understand the material world and thereby, make life a bit easier. Of course, wisdom can be drawn from analogies of the scientific world, just look at the parables of Jesus, but Jesus was only using something we understand to explain deeper spiritual truths. Wisdom cannot be found in science.

Job then goes on to compare the search for wisdom with the search for riches again. Is he being redundant here? Perhaps, but we can again draw a modern analogy with this section. How much money, time, and effort is spent for the average American to get to and finish higher education? Of course the pursuit of knowledge is an honorable goal, but is knowledge the same thing as wisdom? Many people don’t understand the difference between the two, including, unfortunately, many college professors. Knowledge is all about gaining facts and learning how to do things. The next step is understanding. Understanding is about finding out “why” the facts are important and “why” we should or shouldn’t do those things. Wisdom is the “reason” those things are worth knowing and doing in the first place. Most university students never get past the stage of knowledge because the truth is, most university professors have an agenda they want to indoctrinate their students with; they don’t really want their students to learn to think for themselves, they want their students to learn to think the way they do. Therefore, only the brilliant discover understanding. Understanding comes with looking past the facts and thinking about all the possible consequences, good or bad, and making the right decisions based on the knowledge you have gained. Understanding requires you to think for yourself. Wisdom, however, is available for everyone; it has nothing to do with education. Wisdom requires you to use your innate sense of right and wrong, and to know what is truly important in life so that you do make the right decisions. I have friends who never graduated from high school that have more wisdom than some of my colleagues who like remind everyone of the title “Dr.” in front of their names. Wisdom cannot be found in riches, status or knowledge.

In verse 21, Job tell us that nothing on earth has seen the source of wisdom, and not even the birds who are up in the sky can see it. This could be a reference for those who are seeking wisdom through false religions; all those who look to the “sky” to find the answers in life. Many ancient religions are based on astronomical events and calendars. Even today, people try to find truth and a good fortune that depends on what month they were born in, or the next time Saturn will line up with Jupiter. There are people who think wisdom will come through meditation or through a certain amount of self-imposed trials and works. They will climb the proverbial mountain to talk to a hermit who has separated himself from humanity for the sake of illumination and enlightenment. But how can an old man who fled the idea of dealing with the world’s problems a long time ago help you understand what your calling in life is? Solomon, in The Book of Proverbs, actually personifies wisdom as a female child that plays before the Lord as he creates the world; this suggests that there is more wisdom in the innocence of a child than in all the learnings of an old man. As I’ve stated in an earlier post, Christians are not immune to this works mentality. We can lose the understanding of and the reasons why we serve Jesus in the first place. Wisdom is not found in religion.

The last part of this section refers to those people who have faced many trials, even death, and come back from the experience “wiser” and with a deeper understanding of the world and the purpose of their lives. You can see it on the faces of those who have served in battle, and knew they were fighting for a worthy cause. It is deep in the eyes of those who have been oppressed and abused in life, but they have managed to keep their integrity and even overcome the oppressor, if only in their spirit. It is in the memory of those who have sacrificed their lives in any way for someone else or for some noble cause. But as close to wisdom that Destruction and Death can bring us; they still cannot offer humanity the full picture, the full understanding of what wisdom truly is. And the answer turns out to be surprisingly simple. Job goes on:

23God alone understands the way to it,
he alone knows its source;
24for he can see to the ends of the earth
and observe every place under heaven.
25When he regulated the force of the wind
and measured out the waters in proportion,
26when he laid down a limit for the rain
and cleared a path for the thunderbolt,
27it was then he saw wisdom and took stock of it,
he considered it and fathomed its very depths.
28And he said to mankind:
‘The fear of the Lord is wisdom,
and to turn from evil, that is understanding!’

If you want to acquire wisdom, there is only one place you can go: to God, our Creator, our Heavenly Father. He is the source of everything; therefore, he is the fountain of wisdom. First we need to deal with what it means to “fear” the Lord. Contrary to many critics of our God, he does not want us to cower in fear of him like a helpless child cowers in fear of an abusive parent. God is love. The word “fear” here means to stand in awe of, or to have a deep abiding respect for. We often stand in awe of God’s creations, the grand mountain ranges, the natural waterfalls that flow down into lush valleys of rich vegetation, the colorful flow of the clouds at dusk with the deep orange circle in the sky that just an hour ago was too bright to look at, the power of thunder and lightning and the wind and the rain, the depth of the sea, and the beauty of the milky way from a distance… We often have a deep abiding respect for people who sacrifice themselves for others, or who push their skills and talents to a level never before seen in our time, or who are just all around good people who make us smile whenever we see them. This is what God expects from us, because this is what he deserves. He is the source of all talent and skill, and he is the source of all goodness. But I believe that fearing God requires us to go one step further than knowing this to be true about God’s character; I think that what God wants us to do is to actually know for ourselves that he deserves our awe, respect and adoration. In order to truly know wisdom, we need to seek out a relationship with God. Knowing that God exists, and that he’s a nice god, and that he must be pretty smart to have made all this cool stuff for us, just isn’t enough. We must communicate with him. When we are lost and confused, we need to seek his guidance; when we are tempted to act selfishly in a way that will harm ourselves and those we love, we need to ask for his help; when we know we need to do something that scares us, or we simply can’t do it without a miracle, we need to call on him. The second part is simply learning what God considers to be evil, and then doing our best to not do it. Turns out, even though it often feels good in the moment, evil is only the choices and actions we make that are harmful to ourselves and to others around us. God doesn’t just doesn’t make up rules for us in order to see if we’ll follow them or not, and then keep a tally of who is the biggest sinner in the universe. The idea here is that he created the world; therefore, he knows how things work around here. He knows which choices are going to be the most beneficial for humanity and those which are going to be the most harmful. He loves us, so he wants us to make the best choices. Wisdom is simply knowing God, and knowing him will give us the understanding of how to best live our lives, both in general and on a deeply personal level. The choice is up to us on how deep of a level of relationship we seek.

The skeptic will say, “Where is he? If he wants us to have wisdom, why does he hide himself?” The primitive mind will declare, “You can’t see God and live, all sinful creatures will die before him!” Yet, God is not so hard to find, and while we cannot stand before him in our fallen state; he does make a way for us to know him and communicate with him. The way is Jesus. In the same personification mentioned earlier by Solomon from Proverbs, Wisdom is said to call out to mankind, but we either choose to ignore her, or we are too wrapped up in ourselves to even notice her. The Father is constantly sending us messages, constantly trying to communicate with each one of us individually. Don’t worry that there are so many people in the world and there is just one God. He’s big enough to know each and every one of us intimately. The problem is, will you choose to know him? Will you seek for the signs and “have ears to hear”? The Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, states that the creation itself testifies to God’s existence (1:19-20), and that a wise and righteous man will seek to know him and do right, while the depraved man will go his own way (2:14-15). We have the very scriptures themselves. Have you read both the Old and New Testaments? In almost every age up to Jesus and the Apostles, God has spoken through his prophets, and this “Word of God” testifies to who God is and it makes clear the way he desires his children to live and to act. Do you hear what the Holy Spirit is whispering to you today? The sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross gives us direct access to the Father through the Holy Spirit. Each of us who choose to know God, and follow Jesus, have a deposit of the Holy Spirit within us. Through the Holy Spirit, God chooses to live with us, among us, and in us in the now. We do not have to wait for death and heaven to speak with him and to hear back from him! I don’t understand Christians who don’t believe that God speaks to us today. How can you have a relationship with someone who never talks to you? God is all powerful, why wouldn’t he make a way to speak with us? Of course, we must learn to hear his voice, and our hearts will often deceive us, but we have the scriptures as our guidance and our check to help us learn the voice of our Creator and help us to make wise choices that lead to good on the earth. If anything leads you to contradict the scriptures, it is your flesh and not from God.

What about all the people who have never had a chance to meet Jesus? Many Christians will disagree with me, but this is what I believe: Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father but except by me” The Gospel of John 14:6. The scripture is clear that all religions don’t lead to the same place. Jesus just formally separated himself from all other religions with this statement. However, the scripture states elsewhere that “when you seek me, you will find me; if you search wholeheartedly, I shall let you find me, says the Lord” Jeremiah 29:13-14. I believe that all individuals who are genuinely seeking for Truth, who genuinely want to know who God is, and who want to have the wisdom and understanding to live a righteous Life before their Creator, even if they die before discovering Jesus is the Way, they were already on the path to Jesus, and the path to Jesus is eventually the way to the Father. I believe these individuals, no matter what generation or culture they come from, are saved. I have come to this conclusion, mostly because of the sins of the church, or at least those who claim to be in the church. Consider the man who lives his life righteously before his Creator and submits himself to an understanding of right and wrong and makes personal sacrifices for others. When this man meets a conquistador who makes him a slave and puts a sword to his neck and tells him to submit to his superior religion, and does all this in the name of Jesus, I have a hard time believing that this man will go to hell because he chose to die instead of submit to what a wicked man claimed was his religion. There are endless scenarios both modern and ancient, and only God himself really knows the true intentions of our hearts, so I say to you, don’t risk it. Seek after Wisdom, listen for her call in the streets. Submit to the truth that there is a Creator, even many nonreligious scientists are claiming that the theory of evolution is flawed and there is evidence of an Intelligent Designer (see the documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed). If this God is real, talk to him. Ask him to give you signs that lead you to the Truth, ask him to give you “ears that can hear.” I can tell you from my experience: he is longing for you to hear him. He even crossed the divide, became flesh, died for the punishment you deserved, and then came back to life in the flesh just to get your attention. It’s worth looking into.

  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

Peter L Richardson

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2 Responses to “Lessons from Job: Job the Poet”

  1. Steph Says:

    Hey Pete! Again, awesome! It’s so good to be able to understand a book that used to put me to sleep.


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