This chapter is a new section in the monologue of Job. The theme of this chapter is that wisdom is not accessible to anyone but one who fear God. The theme of wisdom connects well with the previous chapter, which describes the rich person and his earthly riches and their end. Here now comes the true richness that does not perish, namely the wisdom that is with God. It is a song of praise to wisdom (verses 12,20).
This chapter can be summarized as follows: man can sift through the earth (verses 1-11), but the most precious thing, wisdom, he cannot find (verses 12-19). God alone knows it (verses 20-28).
1 - 6 The Treasures of the Earth
1 “Surely there is a mine for silver
And a place where they refine gold.
2 “Iron is taken from the dust,
And copper is smelted from rock.
3 “[Man] puts an end to darkness,
And to the farthest limit he searches out
The rock in gloom and deep shadow.
4 “He sinks a shaft far from habitation,
Forgotten by the foot;
They hang and swing to and fro far from men.
5 “The earth, from it comes food,
And underneath it is turned up as fire.
6 “Its rocks are the source of sapphires,
And its dust [contains] gold.
Job is familiar with mining (verse 1). Timna’s copper mines are not far from Job’s place of residence. He describes the difficult and dangerous process of mining minerals. It would be wisdom for man to use the same energy with which he is committed to earthly wealth to find the true wealth, wisdom (Pro 2:1-5; 1Cor 2:6-13).
God has placed the precious metals in the earth. They are not on the surface, so to speak, but must be dug up with hard work. When silver and gold have been found, they must be purified, so that pure silver and pure gold remain. The same goes for “the iron” and “the copper”, which are extracted in different ways (verse 2).
In order to obtain these coveted metals, man must enter the subterranean darkness (verse 3). He puts an end to the darkness by the light of his lamp. By the light of the lamp he seeks the limits of the rock that is “in gloom and deep shadow”.
The work is laborious and heavy, but no effort is too great for him. A shaft must be dug (verse 4). As its depth progresses, he is let down with ropes. There he dangles, with no hold for his foot, and floats down, further and further away from “habitation”, that is, from the inhabited world.
In verse 5 it says what is normal for the earth and that is to produce bread (Psa 104:14). But man is not satisfied with that. In his longing for treasures, he also turns the inside of the earth upside down so that it looks as if a fire has raged. He is concerned with the precious sapphires (Exo 28:18; 39:11) and the dust containing gold (verse 6).
7 - 11 The Hidden Treasures
7 “The path no bird of prey knows,
Nor has the falcon’s eye caught sight of it.
8 “The proud beasts have not trodden it,
Nor has the [fierce] lion passed over it.
9 “He puts his hand on the flint;
He overturns the mountains at the base.
10 “He hews out channels through the rocks,
And his eye sees anything precious.
11 “He dams up the streams from flowing,
And what is hidden he brings out to the light.
“The bird of prey” has a sharp eye, but he can’t see the path that man has taken to the earth’s treasures (verse 7). The “falcon” or “harrier” is also a bird of prey and also has a sharp eye. It distinguishes itself from other birds of prey because it does not build its nest in the trees, but on the ground. It also flies low over the ground to catch its prey. “The proud beasts” and “the [fierce] lion” walk the earth with great strength and courage, but can’t make a hole in the ground to dig treasures (verse 8).
Man, the miner, comes to places the bird of prey can’t see and the lion can’t reach. He works the hardest rocks to see if there is something valuable in them (verse 9). He doesn’t shy away from high mountains either, but digs them down to the depths where the roots [the literal translation of “base”], the deeper parts of the mountains, are. He makes his way through the rocks by carving out corridors in them to see if there is something valuable in them (verse 10). This he sees at once, for that is what he searches for and that is what he works for. He also dams the groundwater to reveal what is hidden in the darkness of the water (verse 11).
12 - 14 Not Disclosed by Nature
12 “But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
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.’
Job has described all the efforts man is willing to make, and all he dares to deepen precious metals from the earth. In the following verses he compares this intensive work with man’s attempts to gain wisdom. Man knows where precious metals can be found, but “wisdom”, where is it to be found (verse 12)? Wisdom is an incomparably greater treasure than the most valuable precious metal hidden in the earth, the value of which is also transient. And where is “wisdom” to be sought, in what place?
The observation is that people do not search for it with the same zeal and dedication as they search for mineral treasures. They do not know its value, nor the way to it (verses 13-14). The sources or finding places of wisdom therefore do not lie in nature nor “in the land of the living”, i.e. in man. It is necessary to look higher than the earth and man in order to find true wisdom. Wisdom cannot be found in or on earth, but is hidden in God.
Wisdom is nowhere to be found in nature by natural man or any creature. In a beautiful personification, the deep and the sea say that they do not harbor wisdom. The deepest divers in the depths of the oceans and those who go to the farthest places across the sea discover nothing of God’s wisdom. To discover wisdom, they must first accept that God is there. Only then they can see that He has made all His works with wisdom (Psa 104:24).
Human effort and reason are completely inadequate to come to the knowledge of the wisdom of God (1Cor 1:21). The wisdom of God is found for us in Christ, for He is the “wisdom of God” (1Cor 1:30; Col 2:3). And in Christ we can ask God for the wisdom we lack (Jam 1:5).
15 - 19 Its Priceless and Incomparable Value
15 “Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it,
Nor can silver be weighed as its price.
16 “It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
In precious onyx, or sapphire.
17 “Gold or glass cannot equal it,
Nor can it be exchanged for articles of fine gold.
18 “Coral and crystal are not to be mentioned;
And the acquisition of wisdom is above [that of] pearls.
19 “The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
Nor can it be valued in pure gold.
In this part many different mineral treasures are listed for which a man ventures his life to possess. But the wisdom is not available against payment of any earthly riches. Nor can it be compared to it.
Wisdom cannot be obtained in exchange for “pure gold” (verse 15). One can offer as much pure gold as a means of exchange for wisdom, but the means of exchange falls short. It is also impossible to put a quantity of silver in a scale that is equal to the weight of wisdom. Wisdom cannot be weighed.
Nor is there a means of payment that exceeds the value of wisdom, even if that means of payment were “the gold of Ophir”, which is the most precious gold, or the “precious onyx, or sapphire” (verse 16). Wisdom is infinitely more valuable. The value of wisdom is simply not to be measured by what is of the greatest value by earthly standards, such as gold or glass (verse 17). In ancient times, glass was just as precious as precious stones. Also “articles of fine gold” cannot possibly serve as a means of exchange for wisdom. The value of wisdom is far above that.
“Coral and crystal” do not come to mind when it comes to obtaining wisdom (verse 18). They are worthless when it comes to obtaining wisdom. Also the value of pearls is completely insufficient to acquire wisdom (Pro 3:13-15). The value of “the topaz of Ethiopia” falls far short of the value of wisdom (verse 19). Whoever wants to buy wisdom does not have to come with “pure gold”.
Wisdom is simply not to be paid with or exchanged for all the mineral treasures of the whole world together. It does not belong to the visible and tangible existence of man on earth, but to the invisible world of God. Wisdom is not for sale with earthly means of payment. It is only for sale to those who have no money, i.e. those who ask God to give it to them (cf. Isa 55:1-2; Jam 1:5).
20 - 22 Wisdom Is Neither Visible nor Audible
20 “Where then does wisdom come from?
And where is the place of understanding?
21 “Thus it is hidden from the eyes of all living
And concealed from the birds of the sky.
22 “Abaddon and Death say,
‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’
Job again asks the question of the origin and finding place of wisdom and understanding (verse 20; verse 12). It takes a revelation from God to know where wisdom comes from, namely from God Himself. To know where the place of insight is, the same applies. “The eyes of all living”, that is, men, do not discover wisdom. It is covered, hidden from them (verse 21). By “the birds in the sky” can be meant in connection with the first part of this verse and the first part of the following verse: (evil) spiritual powers. Divine wisdom is also hidden from the most cunning spirits, whose intelligence is many times greater than that of man.
“Abaddon and Death” are the places where the spirits of unbelievers find themselves after their death (verse 22). Anyone who comes into contact with them through a death in his family or surroundings realizes that he lacks the wisdom to comprehend what these places mean, what lies behind death. In this sense a rumor penetrates man’s ears. God with His wisdom sees through what is dark to man (Pro 15:11). He can lift its veil and give insight into the situation after death (Lk 16:19-23).
In summary, we see three areas where wisdom is not (cf. Phil 2:10). Wisdom is
1. not on earth with all the living, with men;
2. not above the earth with the birds in the sky or the world of the spirits;
3. not beneath the earth in the realm of death with Abaddon and Death.
23 - 27 Wisdom Belongs to God
23 “God understands its way,
And He knows its place.
24 “For He looks to the ends of the earth
And sees everything under the heavens.
25 “When He imparted weight to the wind
And meted out the waters by measure,
26 When He set a limit for the rain
And a course for the thunderbolt,
27 Then He saw it and declared it;
He established it and also searched it out.
From nature Job now turns to the Origin of wisdom (verse 23). Here is the answer and that is that the Creator of the world knows the wisdom. He only understands the way of wisdom because it is His wisdom. He also knows the place of wisdom because wisdom dwells with Him. In one glance He overlooks everything on earth, He sees to the farthest corners of it (verse 24). He sees everything “under the heavens”, that is the whole universe.
He sees what He has created, and He governs it all. Everything is in His hand. Thus He imparts “weight to the wind” (verse 25). The waters that go over the earth under the impulsion of the wind are measured by Him (cf. Isa 40:12). The waters of the rain that He pours out over the earth are accompanied by thunder and lightning, with thunderbolt (verse 26). God governs the extent and duration of a storm that is accompanied by rain and thunder. Man is powerless in the face of this. The fact that man is incapable of managing and directing God’s works of creation does not mean that God has lost control of them. He is still in control.
God has dealt with wisdom like a skilled craftsman (verse 27). He “saw it”, “declared it”, “established it”, and “searched it out”. Seeing wisdom means that He knows where wisdom is. It is noticing its presence. He declares wisdom, which means that He gauges or fathoms wisdom, that He knows all its facets and aspects. Then He establishes the wisdom for the work He is going to do or the action He is going to perform. Finally, He searches out wisdom in order to know how He is going to apply it. In short, God knows wisdom through and through.
Creation is the work of His wisdom (Pro 3:19). Because of that wisdom, creation is a faultless work, without flaws, a work of which it could be said that it was very good (Gen 1:31). God knows His creation inside and out in all its complexity. It is also a perfect whole. It is thousands of years old, and everything still functions as He ordained it. Look at the wind and the rain. They are still there. They never had to be adjusted. They never need to be replaced by something better, as is the case with everything man thinks up and makes.
28 The Revelation
28 “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
And to depart from evil is understanding.’”
Here we see how man, once he knows where the wisdom is, can get this wisdom. This is by fearing the Lord (Adonai). This is what Job has done, just as he has turned away from evil (Job 1:1). These two always go together. Those who fear God can only hate evil and turn away from it. Wisdom is not simply truth, but truth applied to conscience. That is to say, truth that puts man in his true place and enables him to receive what God has to say. The consequence is to turn our backs on evil.
The “fear of the Lord” makes man bow before Him, before Whom the seraphs cover their faces. This fear is not anguish, but awe and reverence, worship. If this fear is there, God can be seen everywhere: in the depths, on earth and in the air, everywhere in the universe (Psa 111:10; Pro 1:7; 9:10; Ecc 12:13). Materialistic man does not see the fear of God as valuable. He only seeks materialistic advantage for this life.
God is the “only wise God” (Rom 16:27). Job knows that he does not possess wisdom and that his friends do not possess it and that it can only be found with God. He will experience the scope of these words only at the end of the book.