Posted by: stpowen | July 27, 2014

Finding True Wisdom

Ecclesiastes 1:17. ‘And I set my heart to know wisdom…….’

1 Corinthians 1:30. ‘But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God- and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.’

Taken from a sermon first preached at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth, UK.

Tonight I’m being rather self-indulgent. I want to share with you one of my very favourite chapters of the Bible. I like it partly because it is beautiful poetry, and partly because of its simple but profound message. The chapter in question is Job 28. Now many scholars believe that Job is possibly the oldest book of the Bible. It contains no hint of Israel as a nation, no judges, kings or prophets. There is no mention of Moses or the Ten Commandments, nor even of Abraham {1}. Job seems to go back to an even earlier time, perhaps not too long after the Flood and Babel, before the knowledge of the true God was corrupted. For there is nothing primitive in the faith and philosophy of Job. He and his friends have a knowledge of God and are aware of His righteous demands on Man. Job declares, ‘Nor have I gone back from the commandment of His lips; I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.’ Yet Job and his friends realise that no one can be righteous before God (25:4-6), and Job, although he complains to God about his suffering, sees his need for someone to intercede with the Lord on his behalf (9:32-33), and eventually he sees Him with the eye of faith. ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand at last upon the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God’ (19:25-26).

Chapter 28 is a sort of parenthesis in the discourse between Job and his friends. I’m going to divide the chapter, like Gaul, into three parts, so let’s read the first eleven verses together.

‘Surely 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.
Man puts an end to the darkness, and searches every recess for ore in the darkness and the shadow of death.

He breaks open a shaft away from people; in places forgotten by feet they hang far away from men; they swing to and fro.
As for the earth, from it comes bread, but underneath it is turned up as by fire; its stones are the source of sapphires, and it contains gold dust.
That path no bird knows, nor has the falcon’s eye seen it. The proud lions have not trodden it, nor has the fierce lion passed over it.

He puts his hand on the flint; he overturns the mountains at the roots. He cuts out channels in the rocks and his eye sees every precious thing.
He damns up the streams from trickling; what is hidden he brings forth to light.’

This part of the chapter has the character of a sort of hymn of praise to mankind. What an amazing creature is man! If Job were writing today he would talk of space travel, the unravelling of the Genetic Code, microsurgery or the internet. But in the early times in which he wrote, the most amazing thing that he could think of was mining. How incredible that man should search down into the darkest recesses of the earth to bring out iron and copper, gold and silver, gems and diamonds! I am told that mining is a very ancient occupation. Even before the invention of iron tools, men would light a fire in a cave or tunnel to heat the rocks, and then douse them with cold water to cause them to crack so that they could tunnel through them.

Man is by nature a seeker. What God has concealed, man loves to search out (Prov. 25:2). Look at verses 3-4: ‘Man puts an end to the darkness, and searches every recess for ore in the darkness and the shadow of death.’ Men have delved into all sorts of hidden things. They have probed the depths of space, they have climbed the highest mountains, dived to the bottom of the sea and discovered all sorts of tiny organisms and microbes. Man loves to accomplish and discover things, and to find out the purposes for them, even at great personal danger. Imagine the risks of rock falls, floods, lack of air! Job is fascinated by all this, and so are men and women today. Sixty years ago the nation held its breath and Hilary and Tensing reached the summit of Everest. Later people gasped as Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon, and today we are amazed at the discoveries at CERN and the plans to visit Mars.

The earth is given to us to grow food (v.5) but Man goes underneath and lights up areas that have never seen the sun. And of course, the motivation is not just knowledge- but wealth. ‘[Earth’s] stones are the source of sapphires, and it contains gold dust’ (v.6). Explorers will take the most tremendous risks and show incredible energy in order to get rich. The motive for Christopher Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic was not primarily for exploration or adventure, but to seek for the wealth of India.

Now in all this, Man is quite different from the animals. ‘That [underground] path no bird knows, nor has the falcon’s eye seen it. The proud lions have not trodden it, nor has the fierce lion passed over it’ (v.7). Falcons and other birds of prey are said to have wonderful eyesight. From a great height they are able to spot a tiny mouse or vole, but they know nothing about what goes on underground, and nor do they care. Animals do not seek knowledge or wealth, even the most intelligent of them. Elephants are sagacious beasts and have huge brains, but they have never written books or studied anatomy. Dolphins are said to be clever but there are no doctors or scientists among them. As I write this article, there is a film being launched about gorillas or chimpanzees taking over the world in an orgy of violence. Yet it is not apes who have invented guns and missiles, nor have they any knowledge of the arts of politics or diplomacy. Mankind is totally different to the animal world- not just in brain-power, but in acquisitiveness, organization and ability. It is man who searches to the root and source of things (vs. 10-11); not just in physical matters but in speculation and philosophy. He loves to reason and debate. Perhaps we may agree with Shakespeare when he declares, ‘What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!’ (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2).

But let us press on. Here are the next eight verses (12-19):-

‘But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?
Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living.
The deep says, “It is not in me;” and the sea says, “It is not with me.”

It cannot be purchased for gold, nor can silver be weighed for its price.
It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire.
Neither gold nor crystal can equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold.
No mention shall be made of coral or quartz, for the price of wisdom is above rubies .
The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.’

Very well, Man has discovered the source of all sorts of things, but where can wisdom be found? Wisdom is very different to knowledge or intelligence. You may know how to do a thing- you may be able to do it; but wisdom tells you whether or not you ought to do it. Some of the cleverest people in the world have lacked wisdom. You will find that in moral matters scientists and even philosophers flounder about as much as anyone else; they turn to drink or drugs, they leave their husbands or wives, they fall out with their children, become depressed just as much as the rest of mankind. No, being clever is not the same as being wise.

Nor does knowledge or education equate to wisdom. At the end of the 19th Century, many people believed that the cause of human misery was ignorance. “Just educate the masses,” they said, “And the moral and social well-being of the masses will be transformed.” I am by no means opposed to education- quite the reverse!- but we have had universal education for many years now and more young people are going to university than ever before. Can we say that the moral state of the nation has improved? Have crime, divorce, alcoholism, social diseases, child abuse, suicides been eradicated from Britain as the educators of the 19th Century hoped? Not at all! Being educated or being clever is not the same as being wise.

‘Man does not know its value’ (v.13). So many people think that getting rich will solve all their problems, but they lack the wisdom to use their money wisely. Even with respect to the gold, silver and gems that are mined from the ground, the more that are found, the less their value is. We read that in the time of King Solomon, ‘Nothing was made of silver because silver was considered of little value’ (1 Kings 10:21, NIV). Why? Because they had too much of it.

Clever scientists have mapped out the human genome, which gives us wonderful possibilities of combating diseases, but do we have the wisdom to use it properly? Listen to a leading scientist called Francis Crick, speaking some years ago: “No new-born infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment, and if it fails those tests, it forfeits its right to live.” The Brave New World is upon us! How we have need of wisdom! But where can we find it? ‘It cannot be found in the land of the living’ (v.13b). You can acquire knowledge; you can buy education; you can gain experience, but where can you find wisdom? No wonder Job declares, ‘The price of wisdom is above rubies’ (v.18). King Solomon declared, ‘How much better to get wisdom than gold, and to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver’ (Prov. 16:16). Gold is for the body; wisdom is for the soul. Riches may be lost or stolen; wisdom is ours for always.

You can’t dig wisdom from a mine, or fetch it from the bottom of the sea. We must seek it in another direction altogether. Let’s read on in verses 20-22..

‘From where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air.
Death and destruction say, “We have heard a report about it with our ears.”’

Wisdom, says Job, is hidden from all the living; from politicians, philosophers, scientists and saints. The birds of the air, though they fly high and nearer to heaven, know nothing of it. Death and the grave have heard a rumour because the source of wisdom does not dwell on earth, but on the other side of death. How then can we find it?

Vs. 23-28. ‘God understands its way, and He knows its place.
For He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees under the whole heavens,
To establish a weight for the wind, and apportion the waters by measure.

When He made a law for the rain, and a path for the thunderbolt,
Then He saw wisdom and declared it; He prepared it, indeed, He searched it out.
And to man He said, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”’

It is God Himself who knows wisdom. Proverbs 8:22 tells us that wisdom was brought forth by God in eternity. Where else should we go to find wisdom but to God who has ordained all things according to His will? ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach and it will be given to him’ (James 1:5). To appreciate a book, a painting or a piece of music truly, you need to know something of its author or composer. So it is with this world- you can know nothing truly meaningful about this world until you know Him who created it. Those who believe that the world came about by chance can find no meaning or purpose in it and end up in despair, saying, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

‘Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
Who struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot,
Full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.’

Or in cynical nihilism, like Omar Khayyam:

‘Come, fill the cup! What boots it to repeat
How time is slipping underneath our feet?’

Without God everything is meaningless.

But those who believe that God made wisdom, must believe that He made it for a purpose. ‘The LORD has made all [things] for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom’ (Prov. 16:4). God has made us and He will have us to account for our lives, so this leads us to the heart of the chapter. ‘The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.’ Now to unbelievers, this means exactly what it says; be afraid, be very afraid! Listen to the Lord Jesus speaking in Luke 12:4-5. “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do, but I will show you whom you should fear: fear Him who after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him.” Therefore the ‘good and great’ of the world are instructed, ‘Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. ‘Kiss {2 } the Son lest He be angry and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled just a little’ (Psalm 2:11-12). Those who either do not think of God at all, or who think of Him as ‘Santa in the sky’ need most urgently to learn the fear of the Lord and flee to Christ for salvation. For God has made a way for the most wicked and ungodly people to be saved: ‘You see, just at the right time, when we were still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly’ (Rom. 5:6, NIV). The Lord Jesus Christ declares, ‘And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ (John 6:40).

For believers, the fear of the Lord is always positive. ‘In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death’ (Prov. 14:26-27). ‘Then the churches………had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied’ (Acts 9:31). I am told that the command, ‘Fear not!’ appears 366 times in the Bible; once for every day of the year including leap year! When we fear God and run to Christ for salvation, we need not fear anything else, for we shall have Him beside us at all times. Then we can say with the Psalmist, ‘The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1). Let poverty, hardship, betrayal, bereavement, even death itself come upon us- and the Christian is not exempt from any of these- yet we are not utterly cast down, for, ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us’ and ‘Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’ (Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 4:17). God will be with those who fear Him and seek to obey Him and He bring them safely to heaven through Christ.

Finally, if we possess that true wisdom that the fear of the Lord brings, we will depart from evil. ‘The fear of the LORD is to hate evil’ (Prov. 8:13). If we are those who have fled to Christ for salvation, and if we understand through the Spirit that we are His children (Rom. 8:16), then we will want to follow His commandments, not in order to be saved, but because we are saved and because we love Him who has loved us so well. ‘How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth. Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way’ (Psalm 119:103-4).

{1} Job 32:2 may possibly suggest that Elihu was a descendant of Buz, a nephew of Abraham (Gen. 22:21).
{2} The kiss referred to here is a kiss of fealty, where a defeated chieftain would kiss the foot, or the ring on the hand of his conqueror as a sign of subjugation and loyalty.



  1. This stirred my soul. Thank you!

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