"Where Can Wisdom Be Found?"
(Delivered Sunday, July 22, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, I ask you to turn with me to a passage of Scripture that asks—and answers—one of the most important questions of life. This particular passage asks this question twice; and its manner of answering it makes it one of the most fascinating passages in the Old Testament.
The important question that is asked is, "Where can wisdom be found?" And the passage that asks it is the twenty-eighth chapter of the book of Job.
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I wish that we had time this morning to go into depth concerning the book of Job itself. It is truly a remarkable portion of Holy Scripture. It is, as scholars tell us, one of the oldest books of the Bible. It is a highly poetic book; but it deals with the story of a man that the Bible treats elsewhere as historical (Ezekiel 14:14, 20; James 5:11). And it deals very honestly with some of the most profound and painful questions of human existence.
Job—the main character of this book—was himself a remarkable man. The book opens by telling us that he was "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1). And that was not just the testimony of the author. God Himself is twice recorded as having testified the very same thing about Job—that he was "a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil" (1:8; 2:3). Twice in this book, it's recorded that in the midst of some of his most unspeakable times of suffering, Job did not sin in his words toward God (1:22; 2:10).
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I believe that handling the Book of Job is a little like handling hazardous material. You have to be very cautious, and think carefully about what you're doing with it. It is God's Spirit-inspired word to us; but in it, the Holy Spirit has accurately recorded for us some wrongful things that its principle characters have said and thought. Sometimes, there are half-truths expressed in the book of Job. In some spots, Satan's lies recorded for us in it. Some things are said in it that are the expressions of someone in the midst of the deepest suffering and anguish imaginable; and who, in the midst of all the suffering, sometimes loses his perspective. It would be easy to take things out of context in the book of Job; and only by carefully reading it in the light of the fuller revelation of Scripture can we rightly draw what we need to draw from it.
But this morning, I ask that we look at a chapter that falls in the midst of this grim book of suffering—a chapter that, in my opinion, is one of the high-points of revealed truth in it. It asks where it is, in the midst of the dark and difficult realities of this fallen world, that men and women can find true wisdom. It's in the midst of deepest suffering that we would be most prone to ask that question ourselves. Where can I get answers? Where can I go to make sense of it all? What anchor can I hang on to in the midst of the storms of life?
This chapter walks us through to the answer to that question. It makes us feel the need for the answer. It makes us hungry for it. And then—at the very end—it gives the answer to us. It shows us that wisdom for life in a suffering world is not found in the place that people would ordinarily think to look—or that even, in their pride, they would want to seek it. But it does promise us that it is available to us . . . if we will follow the true course toward apprehending it.
Hear what this obscure chapter in this strange book of the Bible has to tell you; and you will save yourself a life of pointless searching for answers!
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This chapter takes us along four steps in the reaching of its important conclusion. The first step that we see is a principle that has been testified throughout human history . . .
1. PEOPLE WORK HARD AND CREATIVELY TO OBTAIN THINGS OF TEMPORAL MATERIAL VALUE (vv. 1-11).
Job expresses this through just one aspect of man's great endeavors—mining for precious metals and gems. He says;
“Surely there is a mine for silver,
First, just consider the things that Job mentions that men seek. They seek "silver" and "gold", which are metals that are precious and valuable. They also seek "iron" and "copper", which are useful and functional. Later on in this chapter, we're told that men obtain "onyx" and "sapphire"; "crystal", "coral" and "quartz". They obtain, we're told, "rubies"; and the "topaz of Ethiopia".
Then consider what men will do to obtain such material treasures. They will "search" for them in "every recess"; even into the "darkness and the shadow of death". They will "mine" for them—breaking open "a shaft away from people". They will dangle by ropes "far away from men", and in places "forgotten by feet"; and "swing to and fro" in great danger and risk to obtain them. They take lights with them—"putting an end to darkness"; and descend into the places were "no bird knows", nor where "the falcon's eye" has seen in order to find them. They work up great bravery; and go to places where "proud lions" have not trodden, and where "the fierce lion" has not passed in order to seize them.
Men will use all their energies and ingenuity to descend into these far-away places below the surface of the earth; and will put their hand "on the flint", where man's hand must work unspeakably hard to get! As Job says, man "overturns the mountains at the roots", and "cuts channels in the rocks", and "dams up the streams from trickling". He literally plows through the face of the earth in order to lay his hands on these precious things.
And whatever of these "hidden" things he finally grasps, "he brings forth to light. He brings it up to the surface of the earth, where his daily bread comes from; and then, smelts it, or refines it. He cuts it, and polishes it, and sets it into beautiful settings. Or he melts it, and pours it, and shapes it into coins decorated with the images of kings.
Stop and think of the extent to which men will go in order to obtain what is precious and valuable in terms of the material things of this world! Men will risk their very lives in order to grasp hold of them. They will literally move the earth and overturn mountains to gather them. The creativity and energy men extend to enrich themselves in these ways is astonishing.
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But it's then that Job brings us to the second step in his argument. It's true that human beings will use the greatest skills and energy they have to obtain material things of temporal earthly value . . .
2. BUT THAT WHICH IS OF THE GREATEST VALUE—WISDOM—CANNOT BE FOUND BY HUMAN EFFORT (vv. 12-22).
The man who obtains the greatest portion of these earthly things may be the richest materially. But he is not necessarily the wisest; because he must one day leave all these things behind. A man who has used all his energies and ingenuities only to obtain great material wealth—wealth that he must one day most surely lose—has not used the best means, in the best way, to obtain the best result.
True wisdom is not shown in obtaining that which we are absolutely guaranteed to leave behind when our bodies die. Rather, true wisdom is shown in obtaining what is of value after our bodies die—that is, eternal life! "For what profit is it to a man", Jesus asks, "if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 26:26). Our Lord warned that, one day, each one of us will find ours souls to be required of us by God, and that we must then leave all material riches behind; and so, He said that a man is a fool "who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21).
Think about Job. He himself was among the richest of men. We're told in the Bible that he was "the greatest of all the people of the East" (Job 1:3). But the devil was permitted to test him, and he lost all his earthly wealth. Even his body was dangling over the edge of death. There was nothing left to him before God but the care of his own soul.
And so, he asks that great question, "Where can wisdom be found?" For Job, it wasn't some mere philosophical game. All else had been stripped away from him. He himself had been, as it were, "mined" and "smelted" and "refined". Nothing else mattered but the obtaining of true wisdom.
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And so, look carefully at what he says. First, he shows where wisdom—this most precious of treasures—could not be found . . .
“But where can wisdom be found?
Man does not know its value,
The deep says, ‘It is not in me’;
How valuable this information—the place where wisdom is not to be found—should be to us! How many fruitless searches it would save us from embarking on! Here, we see that it's not even found in the only place in which we, by our own power, could look—that is, in the land of the living. It's not drawn up from out of the depths of the earth, or the vastness of the sea. Man himself—even the greatest of human philosophers—cannot even estimate it or assess it.
And even if it could be found by man, Job goes on to show how it cannot be obtained. Not even the great material wealth that man can lay hold of from this world would be able to buy for him that which is of true and lasting value . . .
It cannot be purchased for gold,
It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
Neither gold nor crystal can equal it,
No mention shall be made of coral or quartz,
The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
Job once again asks the question—and assures us that there is no hope for man in his own efforts to find the answer:
“From where then does wisdom come?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living,
Destruction and Death say,
That last sentence has stood out to me. Isn't it good to know that wisdom is not in "Destruction and Death"? I wouldn't have thought to go there and ask for the information anyway; would you? By that point, it would be too late; wouldn't it? You'd want to obtain wisdom in order to avoid of "Destruction and Death" in the first place!
And yet, how many people will have spent their whole lives, and extended all of their human effort, to seek truth and wisdom from all the wrong places—human philosophy, or human religion, or human reasoning; only to find that where their search had landed them was in "Destruction and Death"—where the news about “wisdom” is only a faint 'rumor'?
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The prophet Jeremiah once wrote, "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Job would have said a loud "Amen!" to that! Clearly, the way to "wisdom" is not known to men through the means that this world has to offer.
So; where then is the way to wisdom? Who knows it? This leads us, then, to the third step in Job's argument; that . . .
3. GOD ALONE UNDERSTANDS THE WAY TO WISDOM (vv. 23-27).
"God understands its way,
For He looks to the ends of the earth,
To establish a weight for the wind,
When He made a law for the rain,
Then He saw wisdom and declared it;
Only He who sees and knows all things can know the pathway to true wisdom. Only He who made all things can say where it is to be found. Only He who saw wisdom from the beginning, and tested it, and approved its ways, can declare it to men.
This may sound like an obvious point. But it is so basic to all of life that it must be declared again and again. The arrogant, prideful dismissal of this basic point is the fundamental cause of all the fruitless, philosophic "dead-ends" that have ever plagued the world and damned people's souls. It is that only God our Creator knows the ways of true wisdom; and He alone can tell it to us. Look for it apart from Him, and you will surely lose everything.
The failure to believe that fact, and to cling to it, was the cause of mankind's fall. Do you remember what the serpent said to the woman in the garden about the fruit of the forbidden tree? "You shall not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:4-5).
The first couple disobeyed God and ate—seeking to be wise apart from Him. And mankind has suffered "Destruction and Death" ever since. And even today, the devil continues to lie to people—telling them that they still can find "wisdom" apart from Him. And yet, God holds His hand out to us, and in His word tells us,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
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And this leads us, then, to Job's final point—his "conclusion"—that . . .
4. IN GRACE, GOD REVEALS TO US THE PATHWAY TO WISDOM (v. 28).
In the final verse of this amazing chapter, we're told what God—the only One who knows the way of wisdom—has to say to mankind:
"And to man He said,
The place of wisdom and understanding is made available to man by God's gracious act of revelation. He "utters" it to man; and says, "Lo!" or "Behold!"—as if to say, "Here it is, O man and O woman! I will not hide it from you! I lay it before you plainly! Do this; and you will have seized hold of that which is more precious than silver, or gold, or any other precious things you can find upon this earth. Do this; and you will have made the best use of the best means, in the best way, for the best of all possible outcomes."
It is expressed in two things, which are like the two sides of the same coin. First, it is to "fear the Lord". This certainly means to have an attitude of reverence and awe toward God. But I believe it also means what it sounds like it means—that is, to be afraid of standing against Him. It means to tremble before His majesty. I know that this is the case because that's how the book of Job ends! It ends with Job coming to an encounter with the majesty holiness of God, and saying,
“I know that You can do everything,
But now my eye sees You.Therefore I abhor myself,
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