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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Job 28

 

 

Verses 1-28

What Is Wisdom?

Job 28

When Job says "Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they fine it" ( Job 28:1), many persons cannot see the connection between this part of the speech and the verses with which the twenty-seventh chapter concludes. The speaker seems to break away entirely from the main current of his discourse and to begin a totally different subject. He does Song of Solomon , however in appearance only and not in reality.

The patriarch has been talking about the rich man—"This is the portion of a wicked man with God, and the heritage of oppressors, which they shall receive of the Almighty." He pictures the rich man as heaping up silver like the dust, and preparing raiment as the clay. Now he says, All that the rich man has is known as to its origin and weight and value; there is nothing mysterious about him; that is to say, there is nothing spiritual or ghostly: whatever he has we can take back to the very place it came from, and can say to it, You originated here; you were cut out from this vein or seam, or were found in this quarry, or were brought from this forest or garden, or were lifted out of this river or sea: we know all about you; you are quite a measurable quantity; you are lacking in the subtle value and suggestiveness of mystery: you are all surface; you can be weighed, measured, appraised; your place is in the market where things are bought and sold; so much gold will buy you every one, however great and brilliant soever you may be: there is no mystery about the rich man"s possessions. This is a fact full of significance. Job takes it in that light wholly. He acknowledges that man can do many wonderful things. We are not reading about God but about man when we read— "He putteth forth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots. He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing. He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light" ( Job 28:9-11).

Man is a digger. Man is a miner by nature. Man cannot live upon surfaces. Even when he is not religious he is explorative: even when he will not pray he will dig. You cannot keep him to the surface. He has a prying spirit; he has a knocking hand; if he cannot analyse he will tear to pieces: but bind him upon the surface you cannot. It is one of two things with man: either he will mount up with wings as eagles, seeking home and rest away where the morning is born; or he will go the other road, and dig into the earth to find what may be locked up there. Is there not a beginning at least of religious life even in this desire to find out what is under the surface of things? We find our way from the known to the unknown. We find bread in the earth. It is wonderful that man will insist upon breaking open the iron safes of nature and enriching himself with boundless wealth. Is he a thief, or is he a student? Is he to be branded as a felon, or to be congratulated as being under the inspiration of a discontentment which will not rest until it has made further acquisition? Let us understand our own nature. We may be religious when we do not think we are so. There is a worldliness that is not without its religious aspect. He who wants to go further and further may be really obeying a religious impulse. A man stands on the shore and says—I know there is something beyond that water: nothing can persuade me to the contrary: beyond that lake there are shores and wildernesses and boundless spaces. When a man talks thus he is talking religiously, though he may not be talking theologically. Let us bring as many people as we can under this great dome of the sanctuary; it should never be ours to make the number less, but always to make it more,—to tell men that really whatever they are doing with an honest heart and a determined mind, if it tend to the enlargement of knowledge, the extension of liberty, the advancement of progress, it is in the soul of it religious. So there are two aspects to this picture drawn by the hand of Job. In one aspect the rich man is seen but to be a possessor of things measurable, numerable, and estimable; he has nothing but what is self-contained: on the other hand, the picture may present the aspect of men who are discontented with things they, find to their hands; men who ask for something more than they have yet gotten; digging men, mining men; and the religious teacher should be the first to say, If there is not enough on the surface of things for you, then by your very digging you are beginning to pray: search on: we do not arrest you in boring the earth; we rather congratulate you, and would facilitate your progress; as a matter of fact, there is not enough upon the surface of the earth for you: break open the rock, overturn the roots of the mountain, and see if there be under all these weights and pressures the thing which will really satisfy you. Why, then, be impatient with men who cannot read our religious books? They will read other books. So far, so good. Let them do so. The time will come when they will want the upper book, the larger writing, the fuller scroll. But it is just possible, such being their temperament and quality of mind, that they will not come to the upper and better things until they have outwearied themselves in lower researches or in initial enterprises. Whoever is seeking honest bread is a religious man. He may never have been to church, or bent his knee in prayer, or looked up searchingly to the heavens if mayhap he may have overlooked something shining there: but the very search for honest bread, bread that shall be an equivalent for honest labour, is itself a moral action; and there never was a moral action that had not in it the beginning or suggestion of a religious life.

Now Job points in another direction; he says—

"There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture"s eye hath not seen: the lion"s whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it" ( Job 28:7-8).

What is the meaning of this? There is an unknown road which has not yet been discovered; there is something beyond, or something more: we know it without knowing it; that is to say, we know it without being able to explain it or set it forth in words; we feel it, we are sure of it. Why should there be any difficulty in accepting: this doctrine? This is a doctrine which holds good in philosophy, in science, in commercial progress, in the whole range of education. Men have not gone forth to find out something in whose existence they had no belief. When the miner first struck his iron into the surface of the earth, he seemed to say by that very act—I know I shall find precious things below. If he had had the assurance that the further he went his findings would be less valuable, he would certainly lay down his instrument, for he would have no time or taste for vain inquiries and prosecutions; but when the strong man took his iron in hand and struck the face of the earth with it and went further down, wounding the earth as he went, he was saying to himself after every blow—I shall come to the gold presently, or the silver, or the precious stone: all this energy means result of a precious kind. So when the astronomer has turned his telescope in this direction, or that, he has said by the very action, I know there is something there, in this very line, which we have not yet found out, and night by night, and year by year, I will watch until I find what it is that causes these perturbations, or flutterings, or vibrations, or shadows: that mystery I will have. Why, then, all this hesitation when the mystery lies in a religious direction, when men say, There is something yet unknown: a bright eye has the vulture, but something has escaped it; a fierce glare, even in the darkness, has the lion, but there is something which has not yet come within the lion"s ken,—a path we could not travel; invisible, impalpable, intangible, but there it Isaiah , a road away upward and onward into things infinite and eternal. We have just said that there is a Christian agnosticism; we have determined that the word agnosticism shall not go forth alone without limit or definition; the Christian claims it as certainly as any other man; the Christian is the first to say, Certainly there is a great unknown force in the universe: unquestionably God himself cannot be known intellectually to perfection: undoubtedly there are many points at which Christians must stand and say, Let us wait here, not with impatience, but with religious quietude and with the certainty of a glorious hope: the gate will open presently or ultimately, but until it does open we must not use violence; we must, as it were, overcome God by growing up to him and by the importunity of patience. Throughout the Bible this acknowledgment of the unknown quantity is found, page after page. All things are not known in the Church. It is when the Church assumes to have finality of knowledge that it becomes the representative of the most vicious and destructive of despotisms. When the Church is humble, modest, self-controlled, it will say,—We know in part, and we prophesy in part, and until that which is perfect is come we cannot know in fulness of detail. So long as the Church will say,—There are a thousand mysteries of which we have no explanation—the Church will acquire greater credit for the maintenance of those points upon which she is happily and graciously certain; but when the certain and the uncertain are talked of together with equal glibness, what wonder if scepticism should at least be encouraged or suggested? In the highest religious thinking we have rock enough on which to build a grand house; we have cloud enough to hide a universe: let us build where we can, and pray when we can no longer build.

Now Job turns in a third direction; he says—

"But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?" ( Job 28:12).

We have found the gold, and the silver, and the jewel, and the crystal, "but"—How modern is this very ancient book! Cannot man be satisfied with gold and silver and jewel, with ruby and sapphire? He cannot. He thinks he can; he says if he had another handful of diamonds he would be quite satisfied; he no sooner gets the handful of precious property than he says, It was not this that I wanted, but something other and different. There is no contentment along the line material; no resting-places have been provided in the line of material substance and enjoyment: it is all fatigue, vexation, disappointment, vanity; it is always the next thing that is going to bring the sabbath of the week, the benediction that should rest upon labour, but that thing never comes along that weary line. We know it. Not the moralists or pietists have told us this; we have found it out ourselves. When the preacher says, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," we say Amen, for the very truth has been spoken.

Look at this "but" in the twelfth verse—"but where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?" Men have begun on the surface of the earth in one hemisphere, and on the surface of the earth in the other hemisphere, and they have, so to say, met in the centre, and, lo, the dwelling-place of wisdom has not been discovered, nor has the temple of understanding been made manifest. What is wisdom? Has it shape? Shape it has none. Is it a coloured thing? Of colour it is destitute. Has it wealth? Not one shilling. What is it? That is the question. It must always remain a question, because after it has been partially answered it seems to grow up into larger dimensions; every answer is the beginning of a new difficulty, every taste of wisdom is the creation of a new appetite. Still man feels that he must have it. There is a spiritual, ghostly, mysterious thing that we are sure exists, but cannot tell where. Take spade and mattock, and go out on summer"s longest day, and at eventide meet us somewhere, and tell us the result of your quest. What is it? Where is it? It calculates, foretells, predicts; it corrects mistakes, it heightens and controls instinct; it whispers to the soul; into the very ear of the heart it says, That is right: That is wrong. Who has ever seen this angel? Is it the first angel? Was it present when the foundations of the earth were laid, and the morning stars sang together for joy, so pleased were they with their light? Is it a woman-angel? Is it a child-angel? On what terms will the angel come to us? These questions may be put into a variety of terms, but they are questions still, and they haunt the life, and challenge the imagination, and suggest our best ambitions. Here is a book which grapples with the inquiry.

How impossible it is to estimate the value of wisdom:—

"It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies" ( Job 28:15-18).

It has no material equivalent. Gold can be balanced by gold, so that the one scale shall be as valuable as the other; estates may be brought into equipoise by gold, so that men shall be as willing to accept the one as the other, for the one is equal to the other in value: but put wisdom in the scale, and try to find a counter-weight. How haughty is Wisdom! To gold and silver, and jewel and crystal, and onyx and sapphire, she says, Go back: ye may not touch this holy ground! They have gone far, but she will not allow them in her presence; they have been in palaces, but they shall not go in the sanctuaries: all these precious, fair-faced, sweet-voiced things have gone almost wherever they pleased to go, and they have been welcomed by standing men; but when they have gone up to the angel Wisdom of Solomon , that angel has said—Back, rude vulgarity! She has no price in the marketplace. No man can set a value upon an idea, an inspiration, a great mental awakening, a spiritual flash, a divine instinct which marks off right from wrong by an eternal definition. How difficult it is to impress ourselves with this conviction! We still hug the material; we are still the victims of bulk and nearness and weight. The spiritual is always undervalued. The man who has something in his hand is welcomed: the man who has something in his mind must wait downstairs until my lord is ready to give him short conference. It cannot always be so. Every schoolhouse helps the spiritual; every child that learns to read learns to vote for the intellectual as against the merely material. The hope of the world is in the schoolhouse. Every good book that is sold is a step on the upward road. Every healthy lesson that is learned by the mind is a blow dealt in the face of despotism, tyranny, oppression, bondage, drunkenness, wrong. Circulate the elements of wisdom. Open a fair, broad way to the gates of understanding. Have no fear of any child or man who reads, thinks, and is true to deeper and broader thought. How haughty is Wisdom! She says to all these applicants, and they are many—gold, silver, gold of Ophir, precious onyx, sapphire, gold and crystal—I do not know you, and as for the topaz of Ethiopia, throw it away; it is of no value in the house kept by Wisdom and lightened by Understanding. On the other hand, how condescending is Wisdom! How willing to come to the humble, the teachable, the obedient, the broken heart! "Thus saith the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; "—"To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." Wisdom will come to the teachable. Wisdom loves little children. Not many mighty, not many noble are called, but God hath chosen the lowly, the feeble, and the poor, that out of them he might build himself a worthy temple. We should know more if we knew less. We should be nearer heaven if we committed ourselves to the great heaven-thought and heaven-instinct. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." They who are meek and lowly in heart shall find rest at the centre of things; they shall be no longer driven about by wind, tossed by angry waves, but shall rest and find peace in the heart of God. How, then, shall we become more wise? By becoming more humble. How shall we grow in knowledge? By growing in grace. How shall we become mighty men, giants, and princes? By becoming little children, trustful because helpless, confiding because self-deficient, upward-looking because made in the likeness of God. Christ will have no proud men about him. The proud he sends empty away, because they are rich in their own esteem and their hands are buried in plentifulness; but those who come humbly, broken-heartedly, contritely, without self-help or self-hope, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner," he will send away with all heaven at their command for all possible exigencies.

Where, then, is wisdom to be found? and where is the place of understanding? The great revelation we find at the close of the chapter—

"God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven; to make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure. When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder: then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yea, and searched it out. And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding" ( Job 28:23-28).

The text is true to reason. It must be wise to be right with the Creator. Whatever that Creator Isaiah , we must fit in with him harmoniously, if we would be wise. What name shall we give the Creator? Choose your own name, but in order to be at rest you must be in harmony with the Thing which that name signifies. Call it Force,—you must not oppose it, or you will be ground to powder. You must never meet the stars; you must always go along with them; if you meet on the same road they never give way, you then must surrender. Call it "the fitness of things." So be it. Let that be God—"the fitness of things,"—everything in its own place, everything doing its own work, everything in its own order; even if that be Song of Solomon , you must comply with it; you must take your own place and not another man"s, if you would be at peace in a creation of order. Choose you own name. Do not let us quarrel about "God," "Law," "Force," "Necessity," "Secret," "Harmony," and "Fitness of things": fix your own point where you may, and still the text is true to reason, that you cannot be right with yourself until you are right with the central Thought—Force—Being—that made and controls all things. So even the atheist cannot escape; the agnostic must submit We have been chaffering about words, and neglecting the reality of things. Whatever—we will not now say whoever—made the universe must control it. That Spirit—Force—Necessity—is a tremendous Thing, whatever its name; if dead, more awful than we thought it was, for we regarded it as living and merciful, as well as just.

Not only is the text true to reason, it is true to experience. "To depart from evil is understanding." Evil blinds the mind; evil dethrones the judgment The bad man cannot have a fully impartial and independent intellect. He has sinister ends in view; he is seeking issues that do not lie within the scope of right and justice; he hears with one ear; he sees but one aspect of things. Evil denudes the soul of majesty and justice. We know this to be the case. Find a judge in a court of law who takes a bribe, and instantly society rises against him and says he cannot judge the case justly. Why not? May not a man fill his right hand and his left with the gold of the parties and still be just? No. Who says so? Enlightened conscience says Song of Solomon , civilisation says so; that inscrutable thing within a man which you may call instinct, if you like, says so. He is distrusted who palters with the parties. So it is through and through life. Wherever there is a bad man there is a bad Judges , a bad genius, a bad philosopher, a bad friend. Where, then, is wisdom to be found? Can you find wisdom by digging for it with spade and mattock? Did mere genius ever find true wisdom? Did simple intellectuality ever come back saying—I have found all that is meant by understanding? Never. How, then, is wisdom found? By the heart. How, then, does faith come? By the heart. How, then, do men learn to know themselves? By studying the heart. The heart has its own genius, the heart has its own implements of digging. Digging there must be and searching, yea, a searching such as no miner ever employed in searching for gold and silver; but the whole inquest is made by the heart. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." " Song of Solomon , give me thine heart." A man cannot work with his hands. A hireling may do some duty with his hands, and receive adequate pay for it, but unless the hands are ruled and directed by the heart, they do nothing really well. Blessed is he who has his understanding, and his physical faculties, and his social position, and all his personal resources under the sovereignty of a soft, tender, pure, loving heart!

Note

There is one book in the Old Testament collection that is commonly acknowledged as being of unrivalled sublimity; this is the Book of Job , which treats of the very highest moral problems that can exercise the mind of man.... It is virtually the one problem of life which meets us at every turn; which out of the pale of revelation is enveloped in impenetrable obscurity; and which, even with the light shed upon it by the promises of the Gospel, is by no means devoid of profound mystery, namely, the unequal distribution of suffering in the world, and the blindness with which the righteous rather than the wicked appear to be selected as its victims. This verily was a theme well worthy of the noblest composition of the noblest literature in the world to deal with. No literature could lay claim to being really sacred or divine, to have truly come from God, that did not deal with it.

The poetry of the Book of Job , however, has suffered more than any poetry of the Old Testament from the deficiencies of the translation,... and yet, notwithstanding the rendering which is oftentimes so inadequate, how many there are who have been enabled to discover in the book of Job the very noblest of poems; and, as it Isaiah , it is not possible to disguise the sublime beauty of such a passage as the twenty-eighth chapter and others. And, after all, it is the argument rather than the poetry that has suffered in the authorised translation. The grandeur of the plot is sufficiently manifest. The spectacle of a man of consistent and exceptional righteousness being subjected to altogether exceptional suffering, to the despair of his wife, and the dismay of his nearest friends—of his nevertheless holding fast his integrity through the strength of his faith in the righteousness of the unseen, till at last he is vindicated by the voice of God uttered through nature out of the whirlwind and the storm, showing him that if the principles of the moral government of the world are dark, those of its physical government are by no means clear, and till the tide of his prosperity returns in yet greater fulness than before, and he dies in extreme old age, full of riches and honour,—is one of the greatest interest, and fraught with lessons of the profoundest wisdom.—The Structure of the Old Testament. By Professor Stanley Leathes, M.A.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 28:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/job-28.html. 1885-95.

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