Even today with supercomputers, satellites, and a myriad of weather sensors, we struggle to make sense of the world’s weather systems. Here is a wildly unpredictable and uncontrollable random force on the margins of the ordered world; here, breaking into our ordered lives day by day, is chaos and threat. And yet God
“gave to the wind its weight” (told it when to blow hard and when soft)
“apportioned the waters by measure” (told the flood and river waters and seas to go here but not there, to stop at this point; see Job 38:8–11)
“made a decree for the rain” (telling it when, where, and how much to fall)
“made . . . a way for the lightning of the thunder” (controlled every rumble of thunder and each lightning flash)
And, says Job, when God ordered the weather systems of the cosmos, he also “saw,” “declared,” “established,” and “searched . . . out” Wisdom (28:27). The imagery may be of a skilled jeweller seeing a jewel (he “saw”), examining it (to “declare” its worth), preparing it (establishing), and probing it for flaws (“searched . . . out”). Wisdom is the centerpiece of God’s “crown jewels,” utterly flawless and of infinite value. And God alone knows its place.
Job 28:28 is a postscript not sharing the meter of verses 1–27. And as the poem ends, perhaps our hopes are raised. For surely if God knows the way to Wisdom, maybe he will take us there and open our eyes that we too may know everything and grasp wisdom and find the answers to all our agonized questions.
Not so! [Throughout the book of Job], we have listened to the voices of the deep and the sea, of Abaddon and Death. Now let us listen to the voice of God. Verse 28 is the first time God has spoken in the book since the drama of Job 1 and 2, and the first time in the whole book that he has spoken to human beings:
And he said to man,
“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28)
In a saying crucial to the whole book, God directs our attention away from our agonized questions and toward himself. He does not take us by the hand and lead us to the answers; rather, he beckons us to bow before the Lord himself, who knows the answers but chooses not to tell us. Our eyes are directed away from the search for the architecture and toward the person of the architect. We ask, “Why doesn’t God answer my question?” to which he replies, “Turn your gaze and your enquiry away from the answer you want and toward the God you must seek. If you want to live in this world as a wise person, a man or woman of understanding, rather than a fool, do not seek Wisdom for its own sake. For if you were to find it, you would become a puffed-up know-it-all (see 1 Cor. 8:1). So do not seek Wisdom; seek the Lord.”
This is deeply humbling. Neither the marvels of human technology nor the insights of human philosophy yield the ultimate goal, the “Theory of Everything.” And yet the truth of 28:28 is also profoundly reassuring. Right at the start we saw Job fearing God and turning away from evil (1:1). The heavenly courtroom knows that God approves of this (1:1, 8; 2:3). But now Job himself, and every other human being, knows for sure that what Job was doing at the start is precisely what he ought to have been doing and it is what he—and we—ought to continue to do. We ought not to expect to find Wisdom (to know the answers to our questions) but rather to bow in humble worship before the one who does, and therefore to turn from evil.
There is, if we may put it like this, a distinction between Wisdom with a capital W and wisdom with a small w. Hebrew does not have this lowercase/uppercase distinction. But there is still a hint of difference in the original: in 28:12 and 20 “Wisdom” is written with the definite article (literally “the Wisdom”), whereas in verse 28 it lacks this (simply “wisdom”). And there does seem to be a distinction between the Wisdom and Understanding that are the subject of the poem (28:1–27) and the wisdom and understanding that are the calling of human beings in verse 28. To find the former would be to grasp the hidden order at the heart of the universe, whereas to find the latter is to live by faith not by sight, bowing before the Creator and looking to him alone.
We ought not to expect to find Wisdom (to know the answers to our questions) but rather to bow in humble worship before the one who does.
What has this wonderful poem achieved? Before anything else it has made us stop to think. We must pause when we read this. Why this curious and seemingly irrelevant poem interrupting the passionate ebb and flow of debate? Answer: we must ponder and consider again the biggest issues of the book. What are the really big questions? And where have we got to in unraveling them? Not far! Indeed, Job 28 may be seen as implicit criticism of the sterile arguments of Job’s three friends, whose speeches have achieved so little. In this respect (and some others) Job 28 anticipates the speeches of God at the end of the book.
But why have we not made more progress? It is not only because Job’s friends are foolish. At a deeper level, this poem teaches that although the questions Job asks are big and significant (Wisdom is indeed of priceless value), the search for Wisdom as an object in itself is doomed. The seeking required of us is not ultimately the seeking for philosophical answers or even for practical wisdom; it is the seeking after God himself. This is, we remember, one of the great marks we have noted of Job the believer. For while he cannot make head or tail of his perplexities, in his heart and with his voice he longs passionately for God. And in so doing, in continuing to fear God and turn from evil, he is precisely on the right track.
Job 28:28 gives divine affirmation to Job (and to us) that we need no secret of the higher life, no mysterious spiritual law to raise us to a deeper level of spirituality or godliness, no “answers” achieved only by some spiritual elite. No, we are called, as was Job, to begin our lives of discipleship with the fear of God and repentance from evil, and to continue our walk with God in exactly the way we started it (see Col. 2:6).
When the early Christians meditated and reflected on Jesus Christ, one of the Old Testament categories they found themselves drawn to was Wisdom. In his blameless life, his undeserved death, and his vindication on the third day, Jesus Christ was and is the Wisdom of God (Col. 2:2–3). Jesus Christ himself was and is the wise man par excellence. He supremely, more even than Job, feared God and turned away from evil. And in his life and death and resurrection, the fundamental structure of the universe, Wisdom, is revealed as in no other way. All the treasures of wisdom are to be found in him.