We have been walking through the book of Job. So far, we have learned that God is right in heaven and that He uses people in their honest suffering to vindicate His name. The next part of Job moves from a court scene in heaven to a court scene on earth. The earthly courtroom deals with Job’s question: Why? Why does God do what He does (Job 3:11, 12, 20). Is God right because He has good reasons behind what He does?
This is where Job’s friends enter in. We often give Job’s friends a bad rap and they do deserve it. They were best when they kept silent! Nevertheless, there is a reason that the Bible focuses so much on their speeches — nearly 30 chapters. Job’s friends play a major part in this book. They will make a compelling point about the nature of wisdom.
For this reason, we need to clean up some misconceptions we have about Job’s friends. Sometimes we think that Job’s friends are not that intelligent. But that is not true. Job’s friends are smart. They can make complex word plays, speak in beautiful poetry, and even talk about God in elevated ways.
Furthermore, we sometimes think Job’s friends do not speak the truth. But that is also false. The NT quotes Job’s friends and affirm what they say (cf. 1 Cor 3:19-2; Job 5:13). They do speak truths often but fail to apply them properly. That is instructive for us. We can know the truth but if we misapply it in our lives and the lives of those we counsel, we are still wrong.
In any case, Job’s friends are smart and speak the truth. They are also specialists. Each of them is an expert in thinking through the world in a certain way. Eliphaz concentrates on history and past traditions (Job 15:7). Bildad focuses on nature and thereby a form of science (Job 8:11-12). Zophar thinks about God from a philosophical perspective (Job 11:7). These intelligent friends engage in academic studies that even today we highly respect. We appreciate history, we believe science has the answers, and we are dazzled by philosophy.
Job’s friends are not just specialists but their thinking also spans the entire breadth of intellectual history. The reason Job’s friends talk so much is that they think through the issue of Job’s suffering from three major angles. First, they think about it from the vantage point of what happens on heaven and earth (Job 5-14). Job though proves them wrong and so, second, they think about life from the vantage point of what happens on earth (Job 15-21). However, Job points out that his friends do not even know all that happens on earth correctly. So they thirdly think about Job’s situation from their own personal point of view (Job 22-31). These three ways of thinking approximate a pre-modern, modern, and post-modern viewpoint of the world.
Thus, in the discussion Job’s friends are smart, engage in some of the respected academic disciplines, and think through the breadth of every major system of thought in human history. The amount of intellectual territory they cover is staggering. Nevertheless, none of them, not even once, came remotely close to figuring out why God did what He did. Rather, Job’s friends used every sophisticated idea they had to prove Job had sinned. However, we know that is absolutely the wrong conclusion (cf. Job 1:1). For all their smarts, they could not figure out life and this teaches an important lesson about human reasoning and wisdom: it is in and of itself utterly bankrupt. No matter how smart you are, educated you are, or even sophisticated you are, you cannot figure out the deepest questions of life by yourself.
This is what Job realizes and reflects upon in Job 28. At the conclusion of the entire debate with his friends, Job thinks through the nature of human wisdom. Initially, Job acknowledges that man has a certain kind of brilliance (Job 28:1-11). He can cause light to fill tunnels (Job 28:3), construct a device that swings him up and down a shaft like an elevator (Job 28:4), and even cause explosions to blow open mountains (Job 28:9). Man can have ingenuity and intellect.
Nonetheless, Job asks a penetrating question: where can wisdom be found? If man is so talented and capable at finding precious jewels and metals, can he find wisdom? Is human creativity good enough? The answer is no. Man cannot find wisdom because true wisdom must factor in all that is in creation and thus be outside of it (Job 28:13-14). Furthermore, man cannot buy wisdom because he has nothing of equal value to trade (Job 28:15-19). Money may buy goods and services but wisdom has the power to handle all of life. Money does not have the power of wisdom because in the end, they accomplish different outcomes. On top of this, Job realizes that man cannot produce wisdom either. He does not have the skills to perceive and discern it (Job 28:20-22).
Thus, Job concludes that man in and of himself has no way to obtain wisdom. These are not empty words. Job and his friends have proven this as they have gone through the gamut of human thought and come up empty. None of them ever say, “All of this happened because God proved Himself right in heaven …” None came even close to that. Why? Because to know that information, they would have to be in heaven.
That demonstrates the need for revelation. There are things man just cannot know because they are only known in heaven. So for man to know these insights, heaven must reveal them. There is no other way. That is the nature of wisdom, the futility of Job’s friends demonstrate that, and ultimately Job realizes that. At the end of Job 28, he declares that only God has discerned the entire created order and to set all wisdom (Job 28:23-27). God alone is the source of wisdom because He is the only One who knows. God knows what man cannot know by himself.
So what is the response? Job says it plainly, “The fear of the Lord is wisdom” (Job 28:28). The reason the fear of the Lord is wisdom is when we have an extreme and compelling recognition of God’s supremacy and our worthlessness, we surrender. And in surrendering, we for the first time listen and obey the One who knows what He is talking about, the One who is truly wise. And when we have such submission without qualification, we then become wise because we stop contaminating His true and pure wisdom with our own ideas.
Job is the first book of the Bible ever written and it serves as the perfect introduction to the Bible because it tells us why we need the Word of God. We must remember that without revelation, like Job and his friends, we are utterly blind and in the dark. We might be smart but when it comes to life and handling it, we have no idea because human wisdom, in all its brilliance, cannot answer the hardest questions in life. Only God, who is omnipotent and omniscient, has those answers and so the only way we are going to be able to figure life out is if God reveals it. And He has done so in His Word. The Bible is not optional. It is the only source that has the solutions to the hardest questions of this life. We need God’s Word. The book of Job not only proves this but also demonstrates to us how to read our Bible. We read Scripture in the fear of the Lord. Reading the Bible is not a negotiation. God knows what He is talking about and we do not. So our duty is to surrender to what He says and then we will be wise. That is how the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The book of Job lays out a powerful case about the folly of human wisdom and the fear of God. May this drive us to realize our utter dependence on God’s Word and read it with the fear of the Lord.
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