Job 28:1-28
The True Source of Wisdom

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright © 2013, John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV


Following the devastating events that opened this narrative, Job received the sincere and caring counsel of three of his friends.  Job was characterized in the first few verses of the book as a man of great spiritual integrity, one who had great faith in the LORD, and by the LORD’s own testimony, a faith that would not be crushed by even the most grave of circumstances.  We are introduced to a man who has gained godly wisdom through his years of faithfulness, a wisdom that would serve him during these trying times.

Following the catastrophes that open the book, Job was visited and counseled by three very concerned and sincere friends.  However, these three were not characterized by the LORD as having the faith and wisdom of Job.  Each spoke from his own perspective, a perspective that was worldly, a perspective that served as a reflection of the way that those who do not know the LORD, or those whose knowledge of the LORD lacks significant relationship, would respond.  This is one of the primary themes of the text:  by contrasting the godly wisdom of Job with the worldly “wisdom” of his three friends, we can learn of the ineffectuality of the secular world-view. 

Having heard the wide range of condemnations and accusations brought upon him by his friends, he recognizes that their opinions each lack godly wisdom.  Rather than be discouraged by their self-centered counsel, he recognizes this dialogue as an opportunity to expose the folly of man’s homocentric world view, a view wherein man things that he is wise and has accomplished great things, when quite the opposite is true when that worldly wisdom and those accomplishments are nullified by the greatness of God.  Job is able to compare man’s opinion of himself with the wisdom of the LORD, and when so considered, man comes up quite short of the glory of God.

By the time we get to the 28th chapter, Job is frustrated by the fruitless counsel of his friends, counsel that lacks the wisdom that they infer.  The discussions are clearly not helping Job deal with his losses.  The 28th chapter takes on an entirely different form as the writer shifts to an elaborate example of Hebrew poetry.  The chapter is divided into three stanzas with each presenting a hypothesis and a response.

INTRODUCTION:  The Source of All Treasure.[1]

Job 28:1-2.  Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they fine it. 2Iron is taken out of the earth, and brass is molten out of the stone.

When we consider the accomplishments of the application of man’s intelligence we can come away amazed by some of the things we have done.  During the historic period of Job’s lifetime, mankind was just beginning to explore his physical world, and just as we have done today, we proclaim that we have accomplished and learned great things.  Our observations and theories of the nature of the universe, as well as our theories of the nature of man have served to shape much of how we perceive ourselves and our world. 

The writer chooses to use contemporary mining technology to illustrate the state of the art.   Though we may think of the mining, smelting, and refinement of metals to be a relatively simple endeavor, to Job’s contemporaries, this was the pinnacle of current technology.  When we consider what we would judge as the pinnacle of current technology, we can come away with some quite amazing scientific and technological examples.  It is when we define our greatness by the “greatness” of our accomplishments, and we define the heights of our wisdom by the nature of our technological and scientific state of the art, our folly is demonstrated.  The use of mining technology by Job illustrates the relative nature of accomplishment.

Silver and gold, considered metals of great value during the era of Job’s life, is hidden beneath the surface of the ground, hidden in darkness.  According to contemporary culture, man has accomplished two great and marvelous things:  he has learned how to locate and remove the ore from the ground, and he has learned how to refine it.  He has been successful in his search for the greatest of treasures.

First Stanza.  THE DISCOVERY OF TREASURE

Job 28:3.  He setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out all perfection: the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death.

We might gain a better understanding of the contemporary significance of this “technological marvel” if we consider ancient history.  Job’s contemporaries considered the center of the earth to be a place of fire, certainly validated by their witness of fire spewing out of volcanic fissures.  It’s center was also the location of traditional Gehenna, the eternal abode of the wicked dead, thought to be a literal fiery hell.  Through the technology of mining, from their perspective, man has entered into this place of darkness, a place of death, and has both brought light into it, and brought a treasure of stones out of it. 

A modern parallel metaphor might be drawn from our sending men to the moon (using 1960s technology), having successfully traveled across the vacuum of space to a place theretofore considered impossible, and even unimaginable.  There were tremendous challenges to be overcome in order to break this technological barrier.  There were also many challenges in the new and ancient technology of mining.

Job 28:4.  The flood breaketh out from the inhabitant; even the waters forgotten of the foot: they are dried up, they are gone away from men.

The first of the ancient mines were simply cave excavations, typically deepening a cave opening and following the chosen vein of ore.  As they would dig deeper into the earth, they would typically encounter springs of water that would flood the cave, making it useless.  Dealing with this type of challenge serves to enforce the author’s upcoming thesis that man is accomplishing great things, and by so doing making himself proud and boastful.

The statement also indicates the diligence that man has applied to his search for treasure, facing and overcoming dark and dangerous obstacles.

Job 28:5-6.  As for the earth, out of it cometh bread: and under it is turned up as it were fire. 6The stones of it are the place of sapphires: and it hath dust of gold.

Man has taken that which was dark and evil, and from it produced food, beautiful gems, and gold.  Again, this is illustrative of man’s accomplishment.

Job 28:7-8.  There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen: 8The lion’s whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it.

By entering into the depths of the earth, man has gone where no man has gone before.  To the ancients, entering the depths of the earth was as alien as entering the vastness of outer space is to us today.  Man has now gone where even the animals have never gone. 

Job 28:9-11.  He putteth forth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots. 10He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing. 11He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light.

Job closes his reverie concerning the great accomplishment of man by describing some of the challenges that have been overcome, as he literally overturns the roots of the mountains.  One could also understand this as man’s “authority over” or his “control of” the very roots of the mountains that were heretofore considered dark, evil, hidden, and alien.  Where rivers were thought of as a permanent construction of the ancient gods, man is now forging rivers that serve to eliminate the flooding.  In so doing he has discovered the precious resources of the mines and bringing them out to light.  He has conquered the evil realm of darkness, and brought beauty and wealth out of it.

The construction of these last two verses serve to illustrate the structure of Hebrew poetry where lines rhyme by theme rather than by sound.  Each sentence has an a-b structure: a = rivers, b = precious thing.  When read, we see the pattern a-b, a-b, but we can effectively read the sentences as a-a, b-b: “He cutteth rivers among the rocks, he bindeth the floods from overflowing.” “His eye seeth every precious thing, the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light.”  Understanding this poetic structure can aid in our understanding of the author’s message.

The point of this reverie is to illuminate for the reader the profound and seemingly impossible accomplishments of man, who by those accomplishments has shown himself to be superior to their pagan gods by conquering for himself that which was heretofore considered within their realm.  He has discovered great riches by his ability to search in unsearchable places in his relentless desire for treasure.  Yet among all of his seeming accomplishments, amongst the many tons of silver, gold, and gems, man is still unable to find that one treasure that exceeds all of the wealth of this world: wisdom.  

Refrain and Response:  Wisdom Elusive

Job 28:12-14.  But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? 13Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living. 14The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me.

First, we should consider what Job is referring to as wisdom.  It is evident that Job’s friends considered themselves to be quite wise, as they offered Job no little counsel.  This world often defines wisdom as great intellect, or the ability to understand and solve complex problems.  We might refer to this as “worldly wisdom,” a form of wisdom that is limited by man’s intrinsic abilities as he observes the world around himself. 

As a man of faith, Job understands a different and far greater form of wisdom.  Referred to herein as “godly wisdom” it is a gift from the LORD, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that enables people to understand the heart of God and apply His principles and purposes in this world.  When one receives the gift of godly wisdom, they are able to understand the world through spiritual eyes, placing it in a more godly perspective.  When understood using godly wisdom, the things of this world are not as important as the things of the LORD.  Job is not defeated or destroyed by his physical losses simply because the things of this world are not as important to him as they are to his three friends (and his wife).  Job’s relationship with the LORD and the hope that he receives from that relationship provide him with a resource that this world cannot find.

Job’s friends shared a vast amount of opinion, but little wisdom.  They placed great importance on the property that Job lost, using its lost value as the keystone of their arguments.  Lacking Job’s faith and Job’s godly wisdom, they simply could not understand any position other than their own, basically attributing the loss to Job’s personal sin and unfaithfulness.  Having listened to their opinions, Job speaks of the importance of godly wisdom, and the simple fact that it is not found through any search that takes place on this physical earth.  Spiritual understanding cannot be found anywhere on this earth, nor is there anything on this earth that is so valuable a treasure as a relationship with the LORD that brings an understanding of His wisdom.  As people search this world over, true wisdom cannot be found. 

Second Stanza.  WISDOM AS TREASURE

Job 28:15-19.  It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. 16It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. 17The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold. 18No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies. 19The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, neither shall it be valued with pure gold.

Continuing with his mining metaphor, it is notable that what the world considers the rarest and most valuable are gold, silver, and gems that are mined out of the earth.  Today we could add to the list platinum, rare metals, diamonds (which are neither rare or intrinsically valuable) and other gems, also mined out of the earth.

Job notes that, as valuable as these materials tend to be, they do not have sufficient value to purchase wisdom.  Job has lost his property as a result of recent events.  However, he notes that all the property in the world can not purchase wisdom.  We might remember the words of Jesus who stated, that “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”[2]  Job provides a significant contrast between the value of the things of this world that his friends love, and the value of wisdom that his friends lack.

Refrain and Response:  Wisdom Elusive

Job 28:20-22.  Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? 21Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air. 22Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears.

Since true, godly wisdom comes only from the LORD, it is neither seen or understood by those who do not have a relationship with the LORD.  Paul writes that the things of the LORD are foolishness to those who do not know Him.[3]  As the world searches for understanding, by rejecting the LORD, the truths are hidden from them.  Described as “destruction and death,” that which is worldly and evil does not and cannot know this wisdom, but knows that it exists.  Consequently, the world continues to search for wisdom that can neither be found, nor can it be purchased with any of the treasures of mankind.

Third Stanza.  GOD AND WISDOM

Job 28:23-24.  God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. 24For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven;

Job began this poem by highlighting the successes that man has gained in his search of the earth.  Man always seeks to explore and to learn, to gain greater understanding of this world and this universe.  In each generation, man has been quite proud of what he perceives as his great knowledge.  Yet there are vast areas of our world and universe that are largely unknown.  We understand only what we have observed, and can only draw conclusions based upon what we already know.  Our observations are limited by our senses and how we utilize tools to heighten them.  Consequently, we still know very little about our world and universe.  The LORD is not so limited.  Job describes the omniscience of God:  that there is nothing in this world or universe that God does not fully know and understand. 

Job 28:25-27.  To make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure. 26When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder: 27Then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yea, and searched it out.

During the time of the ancients, what we might consider science included the use of weights and measures.  Weights were regularly used to measure commodities for trade.  They could easily weigh small objects, but had no capability to weigh large ones.  The ancients had no capability of measuring the weight of the air, probably not realizing that air does have weight that we now can measure quite accurately.  The statement begs the question, “who can weigh the wind”?  This is something quite impossible for man, but the knowledge of it is simply a part of God’s nature.  

Similarly, though they had the capability of weighing small amounts of water, the idea of weighing the water in all of the oceans is quite daunting.  Though we can make relatively accurate estimates of this figure today, the ancients had no global knowledge.  For them even an estimate would be impossible.  However, this is not impossible with the LORD.

Job is simply describing the infinite difference between the knowledge and understanding of man and the knowledge and understanding of God.  Whereas man can be quite prideful and think that he has great knowledge and understanding, when compared with the omniscience of God, one can only be humbled.  The vast wisdom of God is infinitely greater than any wisdom of man.

Conclusion:  The Source of Wisdom

Job 28:28.  And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.

There is only one source of true wisdom, and that source is the LORD, Himself.  Job first describes that wisdom is derived by “the fear of the LORD.”  The wisdom that comes from the proper fear of the LORD is a common theme throughout Old Testament scripture, a fear that is characterized, not by being afraid of the LORD, but by having a profound reverence and respect for Him, a respect that leads one to turn to Him in faith.

After observing what happened to Job at the beginning of this book, people who do not know the LORD would hold that Job lost everything.  This is also the position held by his wife and his friends.  However, being a man of faith in the LORD, Job understood that the value of his relationship with the LORD was a greater treasure than anything that this world could offer.  Job understood from his personal experience what happens when one gives their life to the LORD:

Proverbs 2:5-9.  Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. 6For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. 7He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. 8He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. 9Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path.

The wisdom that comes from placing one’s faith in God brings a change to one’s life.  It is this wisdom that lead the faithful to:

  • Wisdom[4]

  • Understanding[5]

  • Knowledge[6]

  • Confidence.[7]

  • Security[8]

  • Salvation[9]

  • Rejection of evil[10]

  • Experience an enriched and full life.[11]

  • Praise of the LORD[12]

Those who do not know the LORD despise this wisdom and instruction,[13] and the quality of their lives is diminished.[14] 

Job understands that placing one’s faith in the LORD is the most important choice in a person’s life.  His poem serves to refute the worldly foolishness that he has been hearing from his counselors.  It also serves to remind us of the importance of faith, and the power of the wisdom of God to change our lives.  Though he did not pen the words, Job fully understood and believed that “better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith.”[15]  This is a lesson that Job’s counselors could learn.  This is a lesson that we all could learn, and our lives would be infinitely blessed by the learning.


[1] Outline, Smick, p. 975

[2] Mathew 16:26; Mark 8:36.

[3] 1 Corinthians 1:18-23.

[4] Proverbs 9:10.

[5] Psalm 111:10., Proverbs 9:10.

[6] Proverbs 1:7.

[7] Proverbs 14:26.

[8] Proverbs 14:26.

[9] Proverbs 14:27.

[10] Proverbs 8:13.

[11] Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:27.

[12] Psalm 111:10.

[13] Proverbs 1:7.

[14] Proverbs 10:27.

[15] Proverbs 15:16.