The secret of wisdom

Text Job 28 Time 08/06/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We come this week to Job 28. As you can see, it is a little bit different to other chapters we’ve looked at. There has been some controversy over who wrote it – whether it was one of the friends, or Job, or perhaps the author of the book. Two things not in dispute, however, are that this is a fine poem, a masterpiece, complete in itself, and that it is designed to help us step back from the debate a little and refocus. It’s worth noting that the phrase at the very end - The fear of the Lord - that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding - takes us all the way back to the very beginning - In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. In one sense Chapter 28 brings us to the end of the first half of the book.
So let’s consider it together. We all stand in need of wisdom. We may not be suffering like Job was and wondering why we are but there are many other demands for wisdom. What should I do with my life? How should I bring up my children? What should I believe? How should I live? Here is a chapter that tells us where to find wisdom for all this.
1. Consider some of man’s great discoveries and acquisitions
The chapter begins by talking about the mining and refining of metals. Four metals are mentioned – silver, gold, iron and copper. In each case the metal is usually obtained by mining it from the ground. The ore is then refined by applying intense heat in a smelting and refining process, producing a beautiful and useful material for use in all sorts of decorative and practical ways. 1, 2 There is a mine for silver and a place where gold is refined. Iron is taken from the earth, and copper is smelted from ore.
This is something man has been doing for some 6000 years, almost as far back as the beginning of time itself. In Genesis 4:22 we read about Tubal-Cain in the eighth generation after Adam Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Job probably lived around the time of Abraham. Abraham we know owned silver and it is clear that even by this stage though not organised on the scale of modern times mining and smelting were well established.
So here is an example of man’s power to make discoveries and to make use of those discoveries in quite sophisticated ways. Verses 1-11 consider this fact.
1. Man shines a light in the darkness
(3) Man puts an end to the darkness; he searches the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness. Early mines no doubt involved simply tunnelling into a hillside (opencast mining) but soon mine shafts were developed. It tended to be slaves who were used for what has always been dirty and dangerous work. Because of the darkness below ground it was necessary to use artificial light – adding to the danger. But despite these dangers man searched the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness. If you have ever been down a coal mine you will know how dark it is. In the tour of Big Pit, Blaenavon, at one point you all switch off your headlamps. That’s really dark!
2. Man makes discoveries in remote places
(4) Far from where people dwell he cuts a shaft, in places forgotten by the foot of man; far from men he dangles and sways. Mines tended to be in remote places, off the beaten track. Here is a vivid picture of a man being let down on a rope either to work a seam or simply to look and see what is there. As the years have gone by deeper shafts have been dug, more remote places found. In the days of the South Wales Coalfield men would walk miles to the seam.
3. Man extracts good from adamant earth
(5, 6) The earth, from which food comes, is transformed below as by fire; sapphires come from its rocks, and its dust contains nuggets of gold. Here we think of the effort to get the ore out of the ground. Making things grow involves great effort; getting precious stones and metals out is even more demanding. However, man’s zeal for such things drives him on. He is determined to burn it out as it were. Since Job’s day all sorts of machinery has been invented to assist in the process.
4. Man uncovers hidden paths
(7, 8) No bird of prey knows that hidden path, no falcon’s eye has seen it. Proud beasts do not set foot on it, and no lion prowls there. Next we go up into the sky where the birds of prey are. They have keen eyesight and can spot their prey from very high up, but they know nothing about what is going on below the surface. None of the wild animals do either. Brave and adventurous as they may be, they do not search out the hidden paths man searches out in his quest for gold.
5. Man breaks through resistance
Then in verses 9 and 10 it is the process of getting the ore out that is in mind again. Man’s hand assaults the flinty rock and lays bare the roots of the mountains. He tunnels through the rock; his eyes see all its treasures. It is not easy to mine gold and silver – most of us wouldn’t have much of an idea about how to begin. Nevertheless, man breaks all resistance to gain his goal. The history of mining is a fascinating and amazing one.
6. Man explores the unknown
In verse 11 we may have a reference to the problem of water seeping into mines and how man searches out where the problem is and deals with it or it may be the broader point that man searches the sources of the rivers and brings hidden things to light. Metals and jewels are just an example of how in all sorts of ways man has been exploring this world and discovering and acquiring things. The history of exploration is every bit as fascinating as that of mining – people walking across continents and up mountains, going down into the depths of the sea and up into the heights of space. When I was a boy in school the idea of a man on the moon was still only a possibility. In 1953 three people climbed Everest and it was a cause of widespread celebration; this year some 300 have made it to the top.
The Bible never minimises man’s achievements nor should we. However, the point of all this is to highlight that with all his skill and industry, his technology and ability there is something that eludes man.
2. Yet note what man has failed to discover or acquire – wisdom
Despite all its achievements, has mankind grown any wiser over the centuries? While he has been discovering gold or making great scientific discoveries has he found an increase in wisdom? As he has made this invention and that technological advance has man’s wisdom kept pace? Sadly, we have to say no. For all the advances we have made the same basic problems remain – people murdering each other and hating each other, accidents and disasters, mistakes and slip ups, war and strife, the problems of poverty and ignorance. We seem to be no nearer solving problems like that than we have ever been. In some ways things seem worse.
1. Wisdom is hidden from man and can’t be found
Verse 12 But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? That is the fundamental question. You and I may know where and how to get gold or silver or jewels. But what about wisdom? What about understanding? Verse 13 Man does not comprehend its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living. Man doesn’t realise is how precious it is nor where it can be found. Verse 14 The deep says, It is not in me; the sea says, It is not with me. Sometimes people think that they can gain wisdom by going somewhere especially if it is a long way away but even if you dive into the deepest sea; even if you plumb the oceans depths, you will not find it.
2. Wisdom is hidden from man and can’t be bought
Many people put a lot of store by money. They believe that if you have enough money then you can do anything. But wisdom cannot be bought with money. 15-19 It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver. It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir, (the best gold) with precious onyx or sapphires. Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it, nor can it be had for jewels of gold. Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention; the price of wisdom is beyond rubies. The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it; it cannot be bought with pure gold. I’m sure you’ve noticed that money and wisdom don’t naturally go together. You think to yourself, the people with the most money can afford the best education and so they should be the wisest but then you meet some of them or you hear about them and the every opposite seems to be the case. Now there are poor people who are stupid, of course, as well as rich people but have you noticed that you can be poor and wise and rich and stupid. Why? Because wisdom isn’t something you can buy in a shop or at an auction or on the black market. Money can’t buy wisdom.
3. Wisdom is hidden from man and can’t be found by natural means
Verse 20 asks again Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell? The answer in verse 21 again is that It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds of the air. It is a secret thing, a hidden thing, something unknown, concealed. In verse 22 he says Destruction and Death say, Only a rumour of it has reached our ears. People will tell you that you can find wisdom in death and destruction but here they say they only have the vaguest idea of where wisdom can be found. You won’t find wisdom by delving into the mysteries of death and destruction. It is a mistake to think you will.
3. Understand that God alone can reveal wisdom as he alone knows it
Here is the point we have been gently leading to. Man does not know where wisdom is to be found but God does. There are at least two reasons why that is so.
1. Because he is all knowing, God knows where wisdom is found
Verses 23, 24 God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. There is nothing hidden from God. He is all knowing, omniscient. Because he knows all things, we can be sure that he knows where wisdom is found. If you wanted to know how to obtain gold and didn’t know how, then what would you do? Well, you would find out from someone who did. Do you want to be wise? Do you want to understand how to live? Do you want to know wisdom in the various situations that you face from day to day? Then go to God. He knows.
2. Because he is the Creator, God has known all about wisdom right from the beginning
Verses 25-27 When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters, when he made a decree for the rain and a path for the thunderstorm, then he looked at wisdom and appraised it; he confirmed it and tested it. Think of the fact that God created the world. Since that time men have given names to some of the different winds, for example, and have established a way of measuring wind force. It’s called the Beaufort Scale and you go from breeze to storm to gale to hurricane, etc. Yet God knew all about the force of the winds when he created them. Men have also mapped the various oceans and seas and established, in most cases how deep they are, etc. Again, God measured out the waters at the beginning. Rain and thunderstorms have also been studied by man over the years and much knowledge accumulated but it is God who appoints their path. From the beginning God has also known wisdom, appraising, confirming and testing it. In all that God did he acted with wisdom. Wisdom was at his side, as it were.
We know from the New Testament that the way that wisdom is expressed chiefly is in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God. If we want to be wise then, we must go to God. It’s no good going to man as for all his knowledge and skill he cannot find wisdom. Go to God. Have you been to him to ask for wisdom? Do you know those wonderfully encouraging words in James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James adds But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. But if you ask in faith, you can be sure that God will answer. Indeed God is speaking to us today in this very passage.
4. Accept that God has revealed wisdom to man and that the key is fear of the Lord
Here in verse 28 we come to the crucial point And he said to man, The fear of the Lord - that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding. Man will never attain to the level of wisdom that is found in God, nevertheless there is a practical wisdom that is open to all and that is found in God alone. We may not be able to answer the question of why there is so much suffering in this world or why this person or that is suffering but at least we can understand something and live in a wise way that is pleasing to God. Isn’t that a glorious prospect?

Swearing, cursing, threats

Text Job 27 Time 01/06/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Let’s begin by talking about silence. Now there are different sorts of silence – a solemn silence, an embarrassed silence, a guilty silence, an eerie silence, a suspicious silence (like when someone says in a war film ‘It’s quiet – too quiet’.) How would we describe the silence at the beginning of Job 27? I don’t know, but I’m sure there is silence there. Job is suffering terribly you remember and his three friends have come, ostensibly, to help him. They are convinced that if he is suffering as he is it must be a judgement from God. He must have done something sinful. They speak to him about this and he replies. First, Eliphaz speaks, then Bildad, then Zophar. Then the three of them speak again and then Eliphaz gives a short speech and Bildad gives an even shorter one in Chapter 25. Job replies to this in Chapter 26 and then, it would seem, waits a moment for Zophar to speak. However, it would seem, Zophar doesn’t say anything more. The friends have been running out of steam and when it comes to Zophar’s turn there is nothing to say at all – only silence.
And so Job begins to speak again, not this time just to Bildad but to them all And Job continued his discourse: (note also the plurals in verses 5, 11 and 12). It is true that some have tried to change things around and make parts of Chapter 27 speeches by Bildad or Zophar but this is not necessary and does not really work. One of the arguments used is that in Chapter 27 Job seems to say the opposite to what he says in Chapter 24. In Chapter 24 he says that God doesn’t punish the wicked, in Chapter 27 he says he does. In fact the whole question is over when God punishes the wicked. In Chapter 24 Job is simply asking why God does not act sooner.
In Chapter 27 Job says three things, three things that may surprise you. First he swears an oath, secondly he calls down a curse and thirdly, he issues threats. That may not sound like the sort of thing you would hope to hear from a man of God. Now we know that Job is not perfect and we cannot defend him for everything he says but in this chapter, full of swearing, cursing and threats as it is, I think we can say, that Job is basically in the right. Here is a good model for us. So I want us to look at the things he says and ask ourselves some questions.
1. Consider this solemn oath – can you swear that you are innocent like Job?
Job begins As surely as God lives … and uses the phrase as long as I have life within me. These phrases point out to us that he is using an oath. What Job says is as certain as God’s existence, his very own life. Perhaps we would be best to begin by asking whether it is right to use oaths.
1. Is it right for the godly to swear oaths?
As you may know there are a number of professing Christians who take the view that it is always wrong for a Christian to take an oath, even in a court of law. I think the Quakers and the various Mennonite groups such as the Hutterites and the Amish take this view. They take the view because of Matthew 5:34-37 where Jesus says But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. However, what Jesus is discouraging here is meaningless, empty or irreverent oaths. In the Old Testament the people were told (Deuteronomy 6:13) Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. However, they were not to misuse God’s name. By the time of Jesus there were all sorts of tricks and deceits being practiced as people tried to find ways of telling lies while seeming to be telling the truth on oath – distinctions between the temple and the gold on the roof of the temple, the sacrifice and the altar on which it lay, etc. Jesus is seeking to wipe all that away. Normally, he says, you should be so honest that an oath is not needed. Let your yes be yes and your no, no. Forget all these elaborate ‘I swear on my mother’s life’ ‘Cross my heart, hope to die’ things. Of course, there are times when an oath is required or is necessary, as in a court of law. Jesus himself spoke under oath (Matthew 26:63, 64) The high priest said to him, I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. Yes, it is as you say, Jesus replied. Paul uses oaths from time to time also. Indeed at one point we have a reference to God the Father making an oath. See Hebrews 6:17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. Oaths are to be used sparingly but at times they are right and useful, as here.
2. Are you innocent like Job?
Job used an oath to solemnly declare his innocence. The question it raises for us is whether we can lay claim to a similar innocence. When Job refers to God here he calls him not only the God who is alive but who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul. Job was not happy with his situation. He was not happy that he seemed to be getting no justice. Yet, where else could he turn but to God? We are all concerned about justice. We have an innate sense of it. The right thing ought to be done. It is frustrating when it is not. Sometimes we do not understand how God is going to sort everything out but this is where faith comes in. We have to look confidently to God like Job did.
Meanwhile, we must be careful not to make the seeming lack of justice an excuse to do just as we will. No, still we must bent on being innocent. Firstly, Job declares (4) my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit. Absolute honesty at every point is fundamental. We must pursue it. Do we? Because of this he is also resolved not to admit to his friends that they are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity he says. Back in 2:9 Job’s wife had said Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die! Job refused to do such a wicked thing. Now we must do something similar. Why do we believe that this is the Word of God? Why do we believe that there is only one way to heaven? Why do we believe that evolution is false and that homosexual practices are wrong? It all stems from the same reason – we want to believe only what is true. Now, of course, we can be mistaken about things. I once believed that taking oaths was wrong for a Christian. I don’t any longer. Why? Because I don’t want to speak wickedness or utter anything deceitful. Are you the same? Are you committed to the truth? We cannot be perfect in this life but we must be committed to integrity, to honesty, to the truth. With Job we must say (6) I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live. We must be determined never to go against our conscience but always to uphold the truth and to do what is right whatever the consequences. If you are a Christian, if you trust in Christ, then you have no alternative. To be a Christian is to believe the truth. It is to refuse to live a lie. It is to put your faith in him who is the way, the truth and the life. Are you doing that? Are you willing to do it regardless of the consequences?
2. Consider this strong curse – Would Job condemn you?
In verse 7 Job delivers a strong curse, which he develops in the verses that follow, May my enemies be like the wicked, my adversaries like the unjust! Now, once again, there are many professing Christians who are uneasy with curses and imprecations. Surely this is not the sort of language we should ever use?
1. Is it right for the godly to curse?
Surely it is something that only an unbeliever would do. But then once you think about it, it becomes clear that is not so. Jesus not only pronounced blessings on the godly but also curses on the wicked. Think of the woes he pronounces at times. In Matthew 23 there is a whole chapter of them! Paul too does the same at times. See Galatians 1:9 If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Oaths and curses are not something confined to the Old Testament.
Now, of course, we must be very careful how we go about such a thing. We certainly do not go around cursing all the time or cursing any and everybody who upsets us. One writer mentions four important things to keep in mind.
1 The need to keep concerns of the kingdom paramount. The norm is to Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
2 The importance of not pronouncing curses on the basis of personal feeling. Romans 12:19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.
3 Even where we feel a curse is necessary we should still desire the conversion of that person. We recognise that God’s kindness, tolerance and patience towards sinners is designed to lead them towards repentance?
4 We must recognise, however, that where there is no repentance then a deserved curse will come to rest.
2. Do you come under Job’s condemnation?
Here Job says (7) May my enemies be like the wicked, my adversaries like the unjust! Who is he referring to? Who are his enemies? Well, ironically, it is his friends (so called) who have been his enemies. It is not exclusively them that he has in mind but certainly it includes them. They have been saying he is wicked but they are showing more signs of that than him. He asks them four questions
For what hope has the godless when he is cut off, when God takes away his life?
Does God listen to his cry when distress comes upon him?
Will he find delight in the Almighty?
Will he call upon God at all times?
Once death comes the wicked are without hope. For them that is the end of the road. Is that your future? Is death the end? Or are you looking for something beyond that? It’s no good crying out to God when you die. It’s too late then. God won’t listen to you then. It will be too late. What? Do you imagine that you’ll go all through your life without really trusting in the Lord and then suddenly at the end you will find delight in the Almighty and start calling on God? No, the wicked have a double problem. First, they do not call on God and never will. Secondly, even if they did, what reason is there to suppose that God will listen? None at all. This where wickedness leads - it leads straight to God’s curse. The wicked are truly cursed and without hope. Turn from your sins therefore and cry out to God now while there is still time.
3. Consider these clear threats against the wicked – what does your future hold?
Now Job does not only swear and curse in this chapter be also teaches. In verse 11 he says I will teach you about the power of God; the ways of the Almighty I will not conceal. He wants people to know. In verse 12 he gives his only clear word of reproof to the friends. You have all seen this yourselves. Why then this meaningless talk? He is not about to say anything new to these people. Why they have waffled on so emptily is a mystery to Job.
Job then goes on to issue what we might call threats against the wicked. He says nothing that the others have not said in similar ways. As we have asserted, he is not contradicting what he said earlier about God not punishing the wicked. It is simply that he wants us to see that such judgements do not always come immediately. There are exceptions to the general rule that wickedness leads straight to a curse. Be in no doubt, however, that if you go on in wickedness it will lead to disaster in the end. Let me ask you some questions. Job says Here is the fate God allots to the wicked, the heritage a ruthless man receives from the Almighty.
Is this you?
1. Will you suffer disaster eventually?
Verses 14, 15 However many his children, their fate is the sword; his offspring will never have enough to eat. The plague will bury those who survive him, and their widows will not weep for them. Sword, famine and plague is the lot for the wicked. There will be no mourning at his passing. Is that you?
2. Will your riches be passed on to others more righteous?
Verses 16, 17 Though he heaps up silver like dust and clothes like piles of clay, what he lays up the righteous will wear, and the innocent will divide his silver. The wicked often amass large fortunes. We need to understand what is going on there. They are merely collecting it up and holding it for the godly. Is that what you are doing?
3. Will your house last beyond death?
Verse 18 The house he builds is like a moth's cocoon, like a hut made by a watchman. Picture a spider’s web, a moth’s cocoon. How long does it last? Think of a workman’s hut. This what the house of the wicked is like. It does not last. Verse 19 He lies down wealthy, but will do so no more; when he opens his eyes, all is gone.
4. Is your life unstable, soon to be wiped out?
Verses 20-22 Terrors overtake him like a flood; a tempest snatches him away in the night. The east wind carries him off, and he is gone; it sweeps him out of his place. It hurls itself against him without mercy as he flees headlong from its power. Flood, tempest, east wind – three pictures of how the life of the wicked will be taken in a moment.
5. Will you be driven out at last?
It claps its hands in derision and hisses him out of his place.
Be warned. Flee from all wickedness. Flee to Christ the only one in whom there is safety.