And he said to man,
“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28)
How we respond to this verse is a litmus test for our hearts. In a saying that’s crucial to the whole book, God directs our attention away from our agonized questions and toward himself. He doesn’t take us by the hand and lead us to the answers; rather he beckons us to bow before the Lord, who knows the answers but chooses not to tell us. Our eyes are directed away from the search for the architecture and toward the person of the Architect.
We ask, “Why doesn’t God answer my question?” To which he replies, “Turn your gaze and your inquiry away from the answer you want and toward the God you must seek.” If you want to live in this world as a wise person, a man or woman of understanding, rather than a fool, don’t seek wisdom for its own sake, for if you were to find it you would become a puffed up know-it-all (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1). So don’t seek wisdom; seek the Lord.
This is deeply humbling. Neither the marvels of human technology nor the insights of human philosophy yield the ultimate goal, the theory of everything. And yet the truth of verse 28 is also profoundly reassuring. Right at the start we saw Job fearing God and turning away from evil (Job 1:1). The heavenly courtroom knows God approves of this (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3).
But now Job, and every other human being, knows for sure what Job was doing at the start is precisely what he ought to have been doing, and it is what he—and we—ought to keep doing. We shouldn’t expect to find wisdom (to know the answers to all our questions). Rather, we should bow in humble worship before the One who does know and, therefore, turn away from evil.
In verses 12 and 20, in the original Hebrew, “wisdom” is written with the definite article (“the wisdom”), whereas in verse 28 it lacks this (simply “wisdom”). So there seems to be a distinction between the wisdom and understanding that are the subject of the poem (vv. 1–27) and the wisdom and understanding that are the calling of human beings in verse 28. To find the former would be to grasp at the hidden order at the heart of the universe, whereas to find the latter is to live by faith, not by sight, bowing before the Creator and looking to him alone.
What has this wonderful poem achieved? More than anything else it has made us stop and think. We must pause when we read this. Why this curious and seemingly irrelevant poem interrupting the passionate ebb and flow of debate? Answer: we must ponder and consider again the biggest issues of the book. What are the really big questions? And where have we arrived in unraveling them? Not far!
Job 28 may be seen as implicit criticism of Job’s three friends’ sterile arguments, whose speeches have achieved so little. Job 28 anticipates the speeches of God that conclude the book.
How we respond to [Job 28:28] is a litmus test for our hearts.
But why haven’t we made more progress? It isn’t only because Job’s friends are foolish. At a deeper level, this poem teaches that although the questions Job asks are big and significant (wisdom is indeed of priceless value), the search for wisdom in itself is doomed.
The seeking required of us is not ultimately a search for philosophical answers or even for practical wisdom; it’s seeking God himself. This is, we remember, one of the great marks we have noted of Job the believer. While he cannot make head or tail of his perplexities, in his heart and with his voice he longs passionately for God. And in so doing, in continuing to fear God and turn from evil, he is precisely on the right track.
Job 28:28 gives divine affirmation to Job (and to us) that we need no secret of the higher life, no mysterious spiritual law to raise us to a deeper level of spirituality or godliness, no answers achieved only by some spiritual elite. We are called, as was Job, to begin our lives of discipleship with the fear of God and repentance from evil and to continue our walk with God exactly the way we started it (cf. Col. 2:6).
When the apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit to reflect on Jesus Christ, one of the Old Testament categories they found themselves drawn to was wisdom. In his blameless life, his undeserved death, and his vindication on the third day, Jesus Christ was and is the wisdom of God, the Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2–3).
Jesus Christ was and is the wise man par excellence. He, even more than Job, feared God and turned away from evil. And in his life and death and resurrection, the fundamental structure of the universe, wisdom, is revealed. All the treasures of wisdom are found in him.