Job praises mankind for its ability to mine precious materials from distant lands. He goes on to explain that Wisdom cannot be found using normal methods because it comes from God himself.
Job describes the incalculable value of wisdom: “Gold or glass cannot match its value, Nor vessels of fine gold be exchanged for it.” (v. 17)
III. Important Verses
vv. 7-11: No bird of prey knows the path to it; The falcon’s eye has not gazed upon it. The proud beasts have not reached it; The lion has not crossed it. Man sets his hand against the flinty rock And overturns mountains by the roots. He carves out channels through rock; His eyes behold every precious thing. He dams up the sources of the streams So that hidden things may be brought to light.
vv. 12-14: But where can wisdom be found; Where is the source of understanding? No man can set a value on it; It cannot be found in the land of the living. The deep says, “It is not in me”; The sea says, “I do not have it.”
1-11. Man has found precious gems in distant lands
12-14. Wisdom cannot be found
15-19. Wisdom cannot be bought
20-27. Wisdom is with God
28. Fear of the Lord is Wisdom
In his tenth speech, Job gives an elaborate description of the precious metals and stones that humans mine from the earth (vv. 1-11). He praises man for his exalted status over the animals; the animals do not know how to find the treasures that man digs out of the ground. However, for all of man’s accomplishments, he does not know how to acquire wisdom (vv. 12-19). At the end of the day, Wisdom belongs to God (vv. 20-27), and God explains, “See! Fear of the Lord is wisdom; To shun evil is understanding” (v. 28). This chapter, which is a paean to wisdom, has many parallels to the book of Proverbs. For one example, see v. 18 which says, “Coral and crystal cannot be mentioned with it; A pouch of wisdom is better than rubies,” and Prov. 8:11 which says, “For wisdom is better than rubies; No goods can equal her.”
The major question regarding ch. 28 is, “Why is Job glorifying Wisdom at this point?” Also, “What exactly is the point of this passage?” Just as we did in the previous chapter, let us now analyze two approaches to answering these questions. We will call the first approach “traditional,” and the second “critical.” Due to its complexity, more attention will be paid to the critical approach.
Hakham takes a traditional approach. He explains that Job is arguing with the friends about the meaning of “Wisdom.” The friends have repeatedly made appeals to wisdom/tradition in their speeches (cf. 20:4-5, 8:8-10, 15:17-19, etc.), and Job thinks they have misunderstood the term. Job asserts that there are three types of Wisdom: (a) technological sophistication, (b) “fear of the Lord,” and (c) an understanding of why God treats people unfairly. Job explains, according to Hakham, that man has acquired the first type of wisdom (he can mine precious stones from the ground), knows about the second (God revealed it to him in v. 28), but cannot understand the third type (which will forever remain elusive). Hakham writes (p. 218, translation my own): “Job is not belittling the fear [of God]; he had taken a solemn oath at the beginning of the speech to adhere to it his entire life. Rather, he is claiming that ‘fear’ does not include the wisdom relating to God’s control of the world. This is the point of departure from his friends, and it is here that he defeats them.”
The strength in Hakham’s argument is that he is dealing with the text as it stands. Yet, in spite of the Masoretic Text, many scholars attempt to rearrange the third cycle of speeches. Clines writes (p. 908): “As the book of Job stands, this chapter forms the second part of the speech assigned to Job in chaps. 27-28. But we have seen good evidence for doubting that chap. 27 as a whole is Job’s, and have assigned vv 7-23 (with the exception of vv 11-12) to Zophar as his final speech…. Likewise, chap. 28 is almost universally denied to Job… mainly because there is no conceivable reason why Job should suddenly launch into a didactic speech about wisdom.”
The major questions that Clines then deals with are: (a) If this isn’t Job’s speech, whose is it? and (b) What is it doing here? He writes (p. 908-909): “To meet these difficulties (and others), a new proposal is made in this commentary, to regard the Elihu speeches (chaps. 32-37) as having been wrongly transposed from their original position before chap. 28. Originally, the theory is, when all three friends had finished speaking (at the end of chap. 27), Elihu interposed his own contribution – in agreement with the preface to Elihu’s speeches, which says that it was when the three friends ceased to answer Job that Elihu intervened, having waited to speak until they had finished because they were older than he (32:1-6). Elihu’s four speeches would have concluded with chap. 28, and that would have been followed by Job’s final speech in chaps. 29-31. Job’s concluding declaration of innocence (chap. 31) and his summons to the Almighty to answer him (31:35) would have been followed immediately by the speeches of [God] from the tempest (chaps. 38-41).” For support, Clines notes that Elihu is the character most concerned with wisdom; Elihu uses the term hakham/hokhma “wise/wisdom” twelve out of the twenty eight times that it appears in the book.
The self-acknowledged weakness in Clines’ approach is its inherent speculativeness. He writes (pp. 628-629): “We can never be sure, of course, whether our modern rearrangements of the order of the text successfully restore the attributions of speeches in the original text in its final form, especially when the speeches of the three friends have so much in common; but it is necessary for the sake of the exegesis to make decisions, right or wrong, about who is speaking at any point.” Yet, in a creative thought experiment, he tries to explain how chapter 28 might have been transposed from what he believes to be its proper place. He writes (p. 909): “How could the disarrangement of the Elihu speeches have come about? We cannot know what the actual cause was, but it is helpful to recognize the kind of accident that could have befallen the text in the process of transmission. We could take as our model for a copy of Job the great Isaiah scroll from Qumran, written in columns on sheets of sheepskin, sewn together edge to edge to create the scroll. Each strip or sheet of skin contains either 3 or 4 columns of text, and columns are typically 29 lines long. There are 53.6 columns, each containing on average 316 words. Now if the book of Job were written on such a scroll, it would occupy about 26.6 columns. Chaps. 1-27 (5001 words) would have taken just 16 columns (on 4 sheets of sheepskin with 4 columns each, or else on 4 sheets with 3 columns each plus 1 sheet with 4 columns), chaps. 32-37 (1,284 words) 4 columns, chaps. 28-31 (913 words) 3 columns, and chaps. 38-42 (1,146 words) 4 columns, the last being 0.6 full. If by accident the sheet containing the 4 columns of chaps. 32-37 were sewn in after, instead of before, the sheet with the 3 columns of chaps. 28-31, the result would be the book in the form we now have. We would have to suppose that this disarranged manuscript became the ancestor of the Masoretic text, and so perhaps that the accident happened at an early stage in the transmission of the text. We should also need to suppose that in our putative manuscript 3 sheets began with the first verses of chaps. 28, 32, and 38, respectively.”
To sum up, there are two general approaches to explaining the difficulties found in the third cycle of speeches. The traditional approach attempts to interpret the difficulties that the Masoretic text presents, but the critical approach attempts to reconstruct the Masoretic text in order to make it as coherent as possible.
On a final note, v. 13 says that wisdom cannout be found be’eretz hachayim “in the land of the living.” What does this mean? The term is often used as a contrast to Sheol “the abode of the dead.” For example, see Ezek. 26:20: “Then I will bring you down, with those who go down to the Pit, to the people of old. I will install you in the netherworld, with those that go down to the Pit, like the ruins of old, so that you shall not be inhabited and shall not radiate splendor in the land of the living.” Yet, here it is contrasted with the tehom “deep” and the yam “sea.” It thus proably means “dry land,” i.e. a place that people can inhabit.
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Hakham, Job (Daat Mikra [Hebrew])
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