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Wisdom's Address

This was originally posted on July 30, 2015

But where shall wisdom be found?

And where is the place of understanding?

- Job 28:12 

Where is wisdom to be found these days? It seems that true wisdom is often replaced by a nameless venting on one social media platform or another, resulting in lots of heated words, bold opinions and incendiary remarks without the convenience of knowing who is actually saying those things. Of course, everybody wants to claim they have wisdom, that they are not a fool or one who thinks and processes life on the fly, but that is in fact what explodes across the lines of communication each day. 

Confucius had an idea about where or how wisdom is to be attained. He said,

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

For some, wisdom is found inside ourselves. We are the root and source of wisdom found via deep introspection, meditation, reflection and experience. The problem with this is that it makes wisdom very fluid and relative, without real roots in anything. You have your wisdom and I have mine, and eventually taken to its logical end, there is no wisdom. It’s all over the place. Job actually asks the right question - where is wisdom to be found? Job 28 takes a very interesting look at this question and leads us to an even more interesting answer.

The chapter starts off detailing how people mine the earth for resources - silver, iron, sapphires, even bread. 

“Surely there is a mine for silver and a place for gold that they refine” (v1)

He talks about how man takes his light and enters into the belly of the earth, far past where we plant crops, they explore the depths of the earth, hanging and swinging in the air (spelunking) to the places that are turned up by fire. And there they find the gold, silver and sapphires. Truly, it’s an amazing account of how they might have mined in those days. In v9 and following, it says that man overturns mountains by the roots, cuts out channels in solid rock, dams up streams so that every hidden gem is brought to the light of day. The point is that man plums the depths of the earth to find gold and silver, but cannot seem to put his finger on where exactly wisdom lives. 

And it’s more than not knowing where to find wisdom, it’s also that we don’t really understand its value. It is not found in the depths of the earth or sea, it cannot be bought or bargained for, no matter how much wealth you dredge up from the belly of the earth. Again, Job asks in v20:

“From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding”

It is something that cannot be found in the land of the living. Oh, so that means its in the residence of the dead? Well, Job would say, Death has only heard a rumor of it, but does not actually know where it is either. Now this chapter has turned into some kind of manhunt or perhaps more appropriately a wild goose chase for wisdom. Over and over again, Job asks, “so where IS wisdom?”, but without any trace of an answer. As you read the chapter, do you not find yourself getting irritated with him? You want to scream, “Just tell us already!!”.

Finally, in v23 Job steers the conversation toward the answer:

“God understands the way to it, and He knows its place.”

While it might sound like a Sunday School answer, “God”, its also very true. But its more than just a simplistic response to a complex and seemingly relative question. Why should we look to God for wisdom? Why not look inside ourselves as we are pushed to do these days? Job gives us one very good reason in two parts:

Because God is completely sovereign - He is all-knowing and all-powerful.

The first part is that God is completely all knowing. In v24, God looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens - a phrase that sounds like much of the book of Ecclesiastes. Keep that under your hat for a few moments… God sees everything, He knows everything, so of course He would be completely wise. How could one claim wisdom without understanding everything? More than that, He is the Creator, and so completely sovereign in His power. He controls the winds and rains, demonstrated even in the life of Jesus Christ. A God who understands all and controls all can be completely trusted to have the corner on wisdom. So we look to Him.

But Job does not leave the question hanging there, because even to say, “Look to God” would be accurate, but somewhat unhelpful. He brings it home in v28 when he writes:

“And He (God) said to man, Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.”

So that is it. Wisdom is simply this - fear God and turn away from evil. That sounds strikingly familiar to Ecclesiastes 12:13, which says,

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Interesting how similar these two statements are, written by two very different men, in very different times. And yet, almost word for word they conclude the same thing. Ultimately, wisdom breaks down into two things: Fear God and keep His commandments. Or Job says it as, “Fear the Lord and turn away from evil”.

Fear the Lord - Let’s not try to tame this at all. Fearing the Lord means fearing Him. He is, after all, our Creator and the Sustainer of all things. Job has already detailed for us how sovereign He is, and He is right and good in all that He does. In our efforts to have a relationship with him, perhaps we have tried to bring Him down to our level so we can understand Him. But He is God, and we are not. It is okay to just be in awe of Him sometimes. In fact, its absolutely essential. Do we really have to have all of our questions answered before we trust? Do we have to see everything proved in front of our eyes before we believe? Let God be God and let us see the world in the hands of its Creator. Perhaps if we really believed this or looked at life this way, we would more readily guard what we say and how we say it. We would think twice before we comment or spew our opinions into the stratosphere. We would consider our fellow man as fellow image-bearers of our Creator, not as enemies to conquer or peons to subjugate.

Turn Away from Evil - So to God, if you are not turning away from evil, but embracing it or even tolerating it, you are not wise. Before we turn our judgmental eyes to the world, lets talk about our own evil, the kind of stuff we allow in our own lives that tear others apart and leave behind a wake of human wreckage. The fact is, we can justify anything. We can call gossip “prayer requests”, we can call our hurtful speech “standing for the truth”, we can call our ethnic insensitivity “just saying it like it is”, but what does God call it? He calls it sin. Look, there is plenty of sin in the world that we could spend all day pointing our fingers and making those annoying clicking sounds with our mouth at others, but until we are doing greater work at seeking out the inconsistencies and sin in our own heart, we don’t really have much to talk about. Wisdom calls us to turn away from all of that. This also means that you cannot tolerate sin in your own life and think that you’ve still landed on wisdom’s address. If you are going to claim to have parked in front of wisdom’s place, but you still have no problem tearing your fellow man down with your words, or causing dissension, or looking at internet porn, or ignoring your job as a husband/wife/father/mother, or whatever else we can find all the excuses in the world to do, you are still far far away from where wisdom actually resides.

So lets not kid ourselves. Lets stop with the self-promoting posting and destructive seeking of our own agenda, and let us seek the wisdom that is found in God whole heartedly. The thing is, it requires much of us, because God’s wisdom will first work our own heart over before we start looking outward at the world around us for all its evils. God is first and foremost concerned about our heart. Think about the book of Proverbs, a book of the bible wholly designated to teaching wisdom, and how many times it talks about running from evil. Its not something to toy with or think about, or try to decide if its for you - you get out of there. And that, Job understood, is what wisdom looks like. It is first Godward focused and then centered on sanctification.

“Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
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