Meditations in Job : 56. Where is Wisdom and Understanding
Job 28:12,13 But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? Man does not comprehend its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living.
In this final discourse from Job we have noted his cynical challenge to his friends (26:1-4), his acknowledgement of the mystery of God (26:5-14), his claim to righteousness (27:1-6) and his acknowledgement that God deals with the wicked (27:7-23). Next he challenges the very basic premise of these friends – that wisdom and understanding can be found this side of heaven.
In chapter 28 he ponders on where wisdom comes from. In 28:1-11 he simply speaks about man’s activity in mining gold (v.1), iron and copper (v.2), and sapphires (v.6). He majors on the great endeavours that are needed to dig deep into the earth to find these things of great worth, and he does this to contrast the finding of wisdom. In our verses above he asks where wisdom can be found. Man doesn’t value it, he maintains, so it is in very short supply. It’s not in the natural world (oceans, v.14), it cannot be bought (v.15,16) and yet its value far exceeds that of precious stones (v.17-19). Where therefore does it come from, he asks again (v.20), for it is hidden from us (v.21) and even the afterlife hasn’t got it (v.22). No, he concludes, “God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells,” (v.23). Why? Because, “he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” (v.24) i.e. because the Lord knows everything and sees everything and therefore knows how everything works (v.25-27). Moreover, He has declared to man that, “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” (v.28) i.e. wisdom comes with a right relationship with the Lord and a life that flows out of that relationship. This is what wisdom is all about.
In chapter 29 he looks back on how things had been, before these calamities had come upon him. He remembers how God had been with him and he had been blessed (29:1-6). In those days he had been respected in the city (29:7-11) because of all his good works in helping the poor and needy (29:12-17). In those days he had felt utterly secure (29:18-20) and his counsel had been gladly received by all who sought him out (29:21-25).
In chapter 30 he faces what has happened. Now all that has changed! He had counseled and sought to help those who were the dregs of society (30:1-8) but now their sons mock him (v.1,9), they detest him (v.10), they throw off restraint (v.11), they attack him (v.12-14) and he is left in a place of terror (v.15). Now he is in a place of physical anguish (v.14-19) and although he cries out to the Lord he gets no answer (v.20). Indeed it seems like the Lord attacks him (v.21-23). It’s like it’s all been turned upside down. “Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress.” (v.24) That’s what you’d expect!
He thinks back to those he has responded to in similar situations: “Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?” (v.25) Might he not have expected similar? But, “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.” (v.26-28) Part of the awfulness of this trial is the absence of help, the failure to be given comfort. Instead of comfort he’s just received accusations (darkness) and ongoing anguish continues as he has to defend himself (churning inside) and his character has been blackened and he’s left crying for help. He feels a total outcast, “I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls,” (v.29) and his physical affliction has just got worse: “My skin grows black and peels; my body burns with fever,” (v.30) and his inner anguish just gets worse: “My harp is tuned to mourning, and my flute to the sound of wailing.” (v.31).
As we have quickly scanned these three chapters of Job’s outpouring, we have caught again a little of the awfulness of what has happened to him, the terrible contrast between what was and what he now is. We have also seen the awfulness of the lack of help, encouragement and solace. It has been said that the Christian army is the only army that shoots its wounded. Perhaps this is the original example of that. When he needed comfort, all he received was criticism. When he needed compassion all he received was condemnation. His afflictions are far more than merely physical, or even the loss of his family and life; his afflictions include that lack of understanding and feelings from his friends. How do we stand up under such scrutiny? How do we measure up in the light of our responses to the fallen around us?