STUDY TEN: WISDOM

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

The book of Job is Wisdom literature. It reports various human ideas of how life works and how God is governing the world. The Prologue (chapters 1 & 2) and the Epilogue (42:7 – 17) tell us the facts: this is what happened at the beginning and this is what happened at the end. The existence of Satan and his words and actions are not known to any of the human characters. Job, the three friends and Elihu speak out of ignorance of the truths revealed in the Prologue. They struggle to understand what is going on.

So we find various people expressing their ‘wisdom’ – their understanding, their speculations, their conclusions – about what is happening to Job and why it is happening.

Thus, a fairly dominant theme running through the book of Job is ‘wisdom’.

 

A. JOB’S COMMENTS ABOUT ‘WISDOM’

A.1 Job’s previous reputation
Before his suffering, Job’s wisdom had been held in high esteem, as he relates in his testimony in chapter 29:

‘When I went to the gate of the city and took my seat in the public square …
the chief men refrained from speaking and covered their mouths with their hands;
the voices of the nobles were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths.
Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me …’ (29:7 – 11).

‘Men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my counsel.
After I had spoken, they spoke no more; my words fell gently on their ears.
They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain’ (29:21 – 23).

‘I chose the way for them and sat as their chief;
I dwelt as a king among his troops;
I was like on who comforts mourners’ (29:25).

But that respect has gone; his reputation has gone; and his friends accuse him of foolishness (see B below). He realizes also that his own wisdom, and that of his friends, is not enough to adequately explain his present circumstances.

A.2 What he thought of the traditional ‘wisdom’ offered by his friends
Job was not helped at all by the firmly stated, but speculative, wisdom of his three friends. He rejected their words as false and deceptive. They were not telling him anything he had not already heard, and their words actually made his situation worse, not better.

Read these verses. What did Job think/feel about his friends’ ‘wisdom’?
6:24 – 26

12:2, 3

 

13:1 – 12

 

16:2 – 5

 

17:10 – 12

19:2

21:34

26:3, 4

27:12

It is obvious that the three friends’ application of the traditional theology of suffering to Job caused him more suffering, probably far more intense than the suffering instigated by Satan. Their words, their ‘wisdom’, seriously questioned, or even denied, both his faith-based relationship with God and his faithfulness to God, just as surely as Satan’s accusations did in the Prologue. Their misinformed and limited ‘wisdom’ provoked his responses.

 

A.3 What Job thought about ‘wisdom’
So useless is the wisdom of his friends that he counseled them to look at nature:

‘But ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth and it will teach you or let the fish of the sea inform you’ (12:7, 8).

Or, to seek wisdom from older people:

‘Is not wisdom found among the aged?
Does not long life bring understanding?’ (12:12)

From these they would learn that Job is justified in attributing his suffering to God (12:9).

But beyond that truth grounded in the sovereignty of God, the collective wisdom from nature and the elderly has no answer to Job’s dilemma, Job’s deep questions - ‘What is God doing here? What is his point and his purpose?’

Job’s conclusions about wisdom are recorded in chapter 28:

There are some precious things hidden deep in the earth, that humans search for and find – silver, gold, iron copper, sapphires. Birds and animals can’t find them, but humans can and do (28:1 – 11).

But about wisdom he asks ‘Where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?’ Humans, he says do not even understand the value of wisdom, and it cannot ‘be found in the land of the living’ (28:12). It cannot be found in the sea, and is hidden from every living thing (28:14, 21). Not even destruction and death know about it (28:22).

It is so valuable that its price is far above the price of precious stones and even pure gold (28:15 – 19).

Only God understands where to find wisdom (28:23 – 28).

Read 28:23-28. What do you learn about the source of wisdom?

 

 

Now read again 1:1; 1:8 and 2:6. What do you notice? And what does this suggest?

 

 

Job did not hear God’s affirmation in chapters one and two, but here we see that the two foundational characteristics God saw in Job – that he feared God and shunned evil – are the two prerequisites for wisdom. Job, although he does not realize the implications, actually has these two qualities that unlock wisdom. This gives us yet another confirmation of what God said twice in 42:7, 8 – that Job said what was right about God. Although Job feels that he lacks ‘wisdom’, he displays wisdom in his understanding that, on the one hand, God is responsible for his suffering, and, on the other hand, his suffering is not punishment for sin. He also displays wisdom in refusing to be silenced by the traditional ‘wisdom’ of his friends.

A.4 Job’s comments about God’s wisdom
Beyond any wisdom that humans might attain, is the wisdom of God.

What does Job say about God’s wisdom in these verses?
9:4

9:5 – 10

 

9:14, 15

12:13

12:17

12:20

12:22

12:24

21:22

23:3 – 5

 

B. THE THREE FRIENDS ON WISDOM

B.1 Eliphaz about Job
At first Eliphaz affirmed Job’s wisdom, saying much the same as Job said in his testimony:

‘Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands.
Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees’ (4:3, 4).

But, when Job refused to accept the conclusions and advice of his friends, Eliphaz changed his mind about Job’s wisdom, and rebuked Job strongly for what he was saying:

‘Would a wise man answer with empty notions or fill his belly with the hot east wind?
Would he argue with useless words, with speeches that have no value?
But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God.
Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.
Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills?
Do you listen in on God’s council? Do you limit wisdom to yourself?
What do you know that we do not know? What insights do you have that we do not have?
… Why has your heart carried you away, and why do your eyes flash,
so that you vent your rage against God and pour out such words from your mouth?’ (15:2 – 8, 12, 13).

In a backhanded blow to Job, Eliphaz began his final speech with words that infer that even if a person is wise or righteous it makes no difference to God. It doesn’t please God. It does not benefit God.

‘Can a man be of benefit to God?
Can even a wise man benefit him?
What pleasure would it give the almighty if you were righteous?
What would he gain if your ways were blameless?’ (22:2, 3).

By these words Eliphaz actually makes the traditional theology of suffering, which he supported, meaningless. It also infers that God is not really interested in humans. It seems that Eliphaz is so upset by Job’s attitude that he has stopped thinking logically. He certainly has become more and more negative and aggressive towards Job than he was initially. His experience-based theology cannot hold up under Job’s rebuttals and he cannot bear to have his position so strongly challenged.

 

B.2 Bildad about Job
Bildad from the outset did not like what Job said, and he also felt insulted by Job’s words:

‘How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind’ (8:2).

‘When will you end these speeches? Be sensible, and then we can talk. Why are we regarded as cattle and considered stupid in your sight?’ (18:2)

 

B.3 Zophar
Zophar, who claimed it was impossible for anyone to understand God and his ways, still held to the traditional theology of suffering. He saw Job’s words and Job’s quest for wisdom as useless. Strangely, given his agnostic position, he wished God would speak, and believed that when God spoke it would be against Job.

‘Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated? Will your idle talk reduce men to silence? Will no one rebuke you when you mock?’ (11:2, 3)

‘But a witless man can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born a man’ (11:12).

‘Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides.’ (11:4, 5)

 

C. ELIHU

Elihu is rather a puzzle. He is younger than Job’s three friends, and says that he refrained from speaking because of that. However, he clearly believes that he is wiser than they are – ‘perfect in knowledge’ (36:4). He is very keen to make his wisdom and understanding known. He is angry with Job and with the three friends, and disparages their failure to convince Job.

But he doesn’t add anything to the discussion. What he says has already been said.

He affirms the traditional theology of suffering supported by the three friends.
He believes Job to be very wicked and deserving of his suffering.
He points to creation as instructive.
He admits the possibility of being forgiven by God.

Read these verses. What insight do they give you about Elihu and what he has to say …?
About himself, and his own wisdom
(32:4, 5)

32:7 – 9

 

32:17 – 20

 

33:1 – 3

 

36:3, 4

About the three friends’ wisdom
32:10 – 12

32:13, 14

32:15, 16

34:10a

34:16

About Job and his wisdom
33:12

34:34 – 37

35:16

37:16

37:19

37:20

About wisdom generally
34:2 – 4

 

About God and his wisdom
35:11

36:22

36:26

37:5

Elihu’s speeches occupy 5 chapters, but neither Job nor the three friends respond to what he says. Nor does God rebuke him as he did Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. It is possible, however, that 38:2 includes reference to Elihu.

 

D. GOD’S RESPONSE TO HUMAN WISDOM

In 38:1, 2 we read:

‘Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”

The answer to this question is, at one level, ‘All of them!’ Elihu. The three friends. Job. And before that, Job’s wife and Satan. All of them, in one way or another, have darkened God’s truth with their ignorant words.

But at another level, it is Job alone who is addressed, because it is Job alone who actually had the true knowledge of God, God’s true ‘counsel’. Job had, and held to, truth that the others had simply no conception of:

Job knows that his relationship with God is grounded in God’s mercy, not in his own merit, and on that basis, he knows that God cannot be punishing him for some sin. To have agreed that God was punishing him, would have been to tell lies about God.

Job knows that, issuing out of his knowledge of God and his faith in God, he had lived his life and made his choices, not perfectly, but in faithfulness to God, out of a heart and mind committed to God’s honour.

But because the only theology of suffering he knows is the traditional one -– the righteous prosper, the wicked suffer – he is confused. He has no other explanation for suffering. And he knows that even that explanation is not true to life all the time, because not even all the godless people suffer.

Insight from the Prologue: Given that God declared Job to be ‘blameless and upright’, and given that God affirmed Job’s suffering was not merited by him – ‘without any reason’ (2:3) - it would have been unjust if God was punishing Job for sin. Job would have been correct in concluding God was treating him unjustly. But Job doesn’t have this information.

So he has spoken out of his ignorance, out of his confusion, out of his imperfect and limited ‘wisdom’. He has darkened the true knowledge of God that he had with ‘words without knowledge’.

When God has come in answer to Job’s request, and spoken to him, Job responds:

‘I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand to my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more’ (40:4, 5).

‘I know you can do all things, no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, “Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?”
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know …
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes’ (42:2 – 4, 6).

God did not accuse Job of moral sins, as the friends and Elihu did. Nor did he accuse Job of fake faith, as Satan did. Nor did he explain why Job was suffering. God simply showed Job more truth about his infinite sovereign power and control over the entire universe. And that was enough. Enough to increase Job’s faith, to grow and expand Job’s ‘wisdom’, to the point where he no longer needed answers to his questions. Enough to comfort and console him.

Job’s ‘repentance’ in the presence of God is not acknowledgement/confession of the supposed hidden sins his friends and Elihu concluded he had committed. Nor was it repentance from the supposed fake faith of which Satan accused him.

It was rather an admission of the limited ‘wisdom’ out of which he had spoken. It is true, as God affirmed in the Prologue, that compared to other humans there was no one like Job on the earth. That he was, as the narrator told us, ‘the greatest man among all the people of the East’. But when Job finally stands in the presence of God, he understands that, compared to God, he is nothing. Less than nothing. Barely worthy of existence. Such is the contrast between God and humans. Such is the contrast between human ‘wisdom’ and God’s wisdom.

So Job says ‘I am unworthy’, and ‘I spoke of things too wonderful for me to know’, and ‘I despise myself’. He is aware of his own insignificance, and the incompleteness of his ‘wisdom’.

But there is something else, a deeper wisdom that he now has. Those things about God that are ‘too wonderful for me to know’, he now knows, he now sees, even if he does not understand. And here we come to a critical point of understanding: in ‘repenting’, that is, in changing his mind about God so that he knows more about God than he did before, he is also comforted. What he had so earnestly craved throughout the whole saga he now has received through this additional wisdom.

The Hebrew word translated ‘repent’ (nacham) in 42:6 is translated ‘comfort’ or ‘console’ in every other occurrence in the book of Job.

The friends came to ‘comfort’ him (2:11), but seriously failed to do so.

Job found no ‘comfort’ in his bed (7:13).

He called his friends ‘miserable comforters’ (16:2), whose nonsense could not ‘comfort’ him (21:34).

Previously he himself had been in his community like one who ‘comforts’ mourners (29:25).

At the end his acquaintances ‘consoled’ (the second word) him over all the troubles he had experienced (42:11).

So Job says ‘I ... repent’ – I am comforted. And in his ‘repentance’, in the change of understanding brought about by God’s self-revelation, he is comforted. He is consoled. His confusion, his disillusionment and his pain over the seeming injustice of God has been removed.

What he supposed was a matter of justice, had nothing at all to do with justice. He is exonerated from his friends’ accusations. God is exonerated from the suspected injustice. And, although he knows nothing about it, Job is also exonerated from Satan’s accusations of fake faith.

The book of Job began with the thrice-stated affirmation that Job was a man of faith who ‘feared God and shunned evil’. That, the Bible says repeatedly, is the beginning of wisdom. And that is what we see hear at the end of the book. God, speaking to Job, the God-fearer, built onto Job’s already existing wisdom.