From where then does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? Job 28:20
Man’s Quest for Wisdom
Now the author intrudes with a poem of his own. This is a magnificent wisdom hymn that is naturally divided into three stanzas by the refrain of vv. 12, 20, with the v. 28 serving as a conclusion. Only God knows true wisdom, the wisdom He has placed in the fabric of creation (vv. 21-27) and has revealed to humanity (v.28).
Job and his friends have struggled to apply their concept of God and His justice to Job’s experience with suffering – and have failed completely. And so the author asks, “Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell?” The answer is that God understands, and “He alone knows where it dwells.” All a man can do is to fear (respect) God and to shun evil.
Technology yes, wisdom no (28:1-11). Man had demonstrated amazing technological proficiency, even in Job’s time. Metals were mined and smelted, tunnels drilled through the rock, and the sources of rivers and streams explored. The mysteries of the material universe have fallen one by one to the probing genius of humanity.
Today an explosion of technological advances makes us wonder if there is anything in this universe humanity cannot master. The problem is that technological advances are not matched by advances in wisdom – here defined as the capacity to penetrate the moral mysteries of the universe. In the moral realm, man is utterly lost and totally inadequate.
12 “But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?
28: 12 The word wisdom may emphasize the true wisdom that only the Lord knows and that people may learn in relationship with Him.
13 Man does not know its value, Nor is it found in the land of the living. 14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me’; And the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ 15 It cannot be purchased for gold, Nor can silver be weighed for its price. 16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, In precious onyx or sapphire. 17 Neither gold nor crystal can equal it, Nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold. 18 No mention shall be made of coral or quartz, For the price of wisdom is above rubies. 19 The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, Nor can it be valued in pure gold.
28:13-19 Every verse in this whole stanza has the Hebrew word for not at least once, stressing the absence of wisdom and even the desire for wisdom. Thus the rhetorical questions concerning the whereabouts of wisdom and understanding (v. 12) receive an emphatic answer; not anywhere in the land of the living or of the dead.
28:23 Only God understands the way of wisdom and knows the place of understanding. Though people surpass the animals in knowing the place of precious metals, and the “source” of gems, God alone is the master and source of wisdom.
28 And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, And to depart from evil is understanding.’
God understands (28:28). This verse vindicates Job’s stance and marks a transition from the dialogue to the discourses. The words he said may introduce a reference to the Book of Proverbs (see Prov. 3:7; 9:10). God is the source of wisdom in the moral universe even as He is the Creator of the material. What we cannot grasp, God knows completely. Far too many people are quick to make moral pronouncements: Gays march for pride; abortion is merely a matter of a woman’s personal freedom; sex educators distribute condoms to teens and never mention abstinence. All loudly proclaim their position is “moral,” while ignoring God’s understanding as expressed in Scripture. The only hope is to abandon human notions of morality and be subject to God.