The Word Made Fresh
1“There are silver mines and gold refineries. 2Iron is dug from the ground and copper smelted from ore. 3Miners know how to bring light to the dark so they can search out the extent of the ore that is hidden in darkness. 4They will dig a shaft in a secluded valley where no one lives, and no one travels through. They hang from ropes away from anyone’s sight. 5The earth produces bread, but underneath it is heated, 6and its stones contain lapis lazuli, and gold can be found in the dust. 7No bird of prey, not even the falcon, has ever seen what is there. 8Imposing animals like the lion have never set foot on it.
9“Miners assault the rocks at the foot of the mountains 10and cut through them, searching for treasures. 11They block streams to prevent flooding, and hidden things are exposed.
12“But where is wisdom in all this? Where is knowledge to be found? 13No one knows how valuable it is, and it can’t be found among the living. 14The deepest ocean refuses to claim it and the sea says, ‘I don’t have it.’ 15Gold won’t buy it. You can’t weigh out enough silver to cover its value. 16You can’t put a value on it in gold, even gold of Ophir, nor in onyx or lapis lazuli. 17It is greater in value than gold or glass, and you can’t purchase it for jewelry to be fashioned of fine gold. 18There’s no need to even mention coral or crystal. Wisdom is more valuable than pearls. 19Ethiopian chrysolite can’t be compared to wisdom, and it is too precious to be valued in gold.
20“So, where does wisdom come from? Where is its home? 21It can’t be seen by the eyes of mortals, nor by the birds of the air. 22Even death and the grave can only say, ‘We’ve heard a rumor about it.’
23“God knows where to find wisdom, 24because God sees everything under the sky from one end of the earth to the other. 25When God gave strength to the wind and parceled out the water by measure, 26and made rules for the rain and for lightning, 27God saw wisdom, and gave it its name and tested it thoroughly. 28And God said to humanity, ‘The fear of the LORD is wisdom, and turning away from evil is understanding.’”
1-6: There follows a philosophical reflection on the nature of wisdom. It seems out of place in the present discourse. First Job explores the mysterious depths of the earth and its wealth; silver, gold, iron, copper, and precious gems. He describes human efforts to mine these things. On the surface the earth appears benign and beneficial, for bread is produced from the grain that grows from the ground, but beneath the surface there is fire – a common belief of ancient people who observed volcanic activity and naturally assumed the bowels of the earth consist of fire and molten rock. They weren’t too far off.
7-8: Those riches and those mysteries are completely unknown to other creatures.
9-11: Humans, however, have the ability to change the surface of the earth and to tunnel into its depths.
12-19: Wisdom, on the other hand, possesses a mystery that cannot be plumbed by human toil or by human searching. It is not to be found beneath the earth or in the depths of the sea. You can’t buy it, not with gold or silver or gems or coral or crystal or pearls or chrysolite – all the precious things to be found in the earth or in the ocean – or with jewelry made of any of these.
20-22: The source of wisdom is a mystery to all. You won’t discover its source on land or sea or under the ground or from a birds’ eye view. Even death and the grave (in Hebrew, “Abaddon,” the abode of the dead) know not from whence it comes.
23-28: But God knows. When God went about the work of creation God discovered wisdom and made it part of the world. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the fear of the LORD. It can be gained only through that understanding which comes when we depart from evil.
It sounds strange to say that wisdom is fear, but the word “fear” in this context is not to be understood as terror or fright. Rather, it is more akin to what we would call respect. Having a deep respect for God means that we will strive to live according to God’s will, and trust God with our future.