November 20, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

12 The refrain heads this section: But where can wisdom be found? Where is the place of understanding? This double question, which obsesses human beings even though it is unanswerable, is the nucleus of the chapter. Wisdom (ḥoḵmâ) is paralleled by understanding or insight (ḇinâ), as often in the Wisdom literature (e. g., Prov. 1:2; 4:5, 7; 9:10; Isa. 11:2). Given the human drive to control the world, mankind is strongly allured by the power of wisdom. But its abode lies safely beyond the distant frontiers where human beings can make an entrance. No human being can bring wisdom into his own service.[1]


28:12 But where can wisdom be found? Although humans have been successful in finding the source of mineral treasure, that success cannot be transferred to their search for wisdom. In fact, the success that humans have achieved in so many other areas of life only makes their inability to find wisdom all the more vexing for them. Humans may understand how to find wealth, but no one seems to know where and how to find wisdom. The question in verse 12 is repeated in verse 20, and then it is answered in verse 23, when the narrator states that God alone understands the way to wisdom.[2]


28:12 Job cannot fathom God’s ways, but wisdom is found ultimately in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3).[3]


28:12 But from where will wisdom be found While people go to great lengths to find precious metals or stones, they do not know where to find wisdom. It is not found on earth (v. 13), under the earth, or in the sea (v. 14).[4]


28:12 As a part of Job’s continuing effort to gain enough wisdom to understand the mystery of suffering, he reviews man’s exhaustive efforts to gain material treasures (vv. 1–11). However, physical effort and searching does not produce the greatest treasure. God’s wisdom cannot be bought (vv. 12–19).[5]


12. Can man discover the Divine Wisdom by which the world is governed, as he can the treasures hidden in the earth? Certainly not. Divine Wisdom is conceived as a person (Job 28:12–27) distinct from God (Job 28:23; also in Pr 8:23, 27). The Almighty Word, Jesus Christ, we know now, is that Wisdom. The order of the world was originated and is maintained by the breathing forth (Spirit) of Wisdom, unfathomable and unpurchasable by man. In Job 28:28, the only aspect of it, which relates to, and may be understood by, man, is stated.

understanding—insight into the plan of the divine government.[6]


Ver. 12.—But where shall wisdom be found? “Wisdom is the principal thing,” says Solomon (Prov. 4:7); and again, “It is better to get wisdom than gold” (Prov. 16:16). But where is it to be found? Job’s three friends thought that it dwelt with them (ch. 12:2); but this was a mistake, since God reproaches them with their “folly” (ch. 42:8). Job does not claim to possess it (ch. 26:3); he only desires it. It is his deep conviction that it is only possessed, in the true sense of the word, by God. And where is the place of understanding? It is not quite clear whether Job intends to make any distinction between “wisdom” (חכמה) and “understanding” (בינה). Canon Cook suggests that “wisdom” is “the reason which deals with principles,” and “understanding” “the faculty which discerns and appreciates their application.” But refined distinctions of this kind are scarcely suitable to the age of Job. Dean Plumptre, in his comment on Proverbs (‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ vol. iv. p. 529), accepts the distinction implied in the Septuagint translation of that book, which renders חכמה by σοφία, and בינה by φρόνησις. This is a much simpler and more easily understood distinction, being that which separates between scientific knowledge and the practical intelligence which directs conduct. But it may be doubted whether Job does not use the two words as synonyms.[7]


12 The poet launches us on an intriguing and tantalizing quest for wisdom. There is a playful and riddling misdirection in this quest, and a deliberate withholding of the knowledge the poet most wants to convey until the very end of the poem (v 28).

The first intriguing element in this strophe is: who is being asked the question, “Where shall wisdom be found?” It is not said. Two verses later, the Deep and the Sea reply (v 14), so we must infer that they are among those who have been asked. That then makes us think that the reason why we are hearing in v 13 about humans not knowing the way to it is because they too have been asked. It sounds as if the speaker, or the poet, has sent out a general enquiry through the length and breadth of creation to get an answer to his question.

But the answers he gets, at this point, are no answers: humans do not know, and the Deep and the Sea say that the secret of its location is not in their keeping. At vv 20–22 the question will be repeated, and there will be some little progress in reaching an answer: on the negative side, it is not just humans, but also all living creatures, from whom the answer is hidden (v 21); on the positive side, while Abaddon and Death do not know the answer themselves, they have at least heard a report of it (v 22). The whole poem is structured around deliberate reticence and a slow unveiling of the truth.

But there is more than one tease in all of this. First, the question, “Where shall wisdom be found?,” sounds like a rhetorical question expecting the answer “Nowhere.” We are being set up to expect to learn that wisdom is beyond human acquisition (only in the last verse of the whole chapter will we find that the opposite is the case, and even as late as v 23 it sounds as if God alone knows the answer). Secondly, asking where wisdom may be found and what is its place seems intended to mislead us, since wisdom plainly does not have a “place” in the way that precious minerals and gems have a place or find-spot. So when the Deep and the Sea say that wisdom is not with them, we are at a loss to know what they really mean. Do they mean that, though wisdom is located somewhere or other, they are the wrong place to be looking for it, or that looking for wisdom in any place is the wrong way to go about things? Even when it is said that God knows its “place” and the “way to it” (v 23), we cannot be meant to take that literally; for when he comes to tell humans what wisdom is (v 28) he drops the language of “place” and location and does not suggest that humans must go somewhere to find wisdom. Thirdly, to say that wisdom cannot be found in the land of the living misleads an innocent reader (Andersen even says that as generally understood it is “palpably untrue”). For wisdom as defined in v 28 is well known among humans, Job himself being a signal example of it, though by no means unique.

Wisdom (חכמה) and understanding (בינה) are paralleled also at Prov 1:2; 4:5, 7; 9:10; 16:16; Isa 11:2, and the terms always occur in this order. As M. V. Fox points out (“Words for Wisdom,” ZAH 6 [1993] 149–69 [154]), חכמה, “wisdom,” is a very general word for all kinds of know-how, while בינה, “understanding” or “insight,” refers much more specifically to intellectual discernment. Newsom interprets the combination of the two terms as suggesting “the kind of understanding that would provide insight into the nature and meaning of the entire cosmos.” And yet at v 12, as also at v 20, the reader is still left very much in the dark about what the wisdom may be that is being sought, the plot of the quest and its very language creating further mystification. In the end, the wisdom of chap. 28 is far less grand and far more banal than the drama of the poem may have suggested: wisdom turns out to be no more cosmic in its scope than appropriate fear of the deity and the avoidance of wrongdoing (v 28). It remains uncertain whether any distinction is intended between “wisdom” and “understanding,” especially since “understanding” drops out of view entirely except for the refrain (v 20) and the concluding aphorism (v 28).[8]


[1] Hartley, J. E. (1988). The Book of Job (pp. 379–380). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] Estes, D. J. (2013). Job. (M. L. Strauss, J. H. Walton, & R. de Rosset, Eds.) (p. 171). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 910). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Job 28:12). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Job 28:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[6] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 331). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[7] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Job (pp. 457–458). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[8] Clines, D. J. A. (2006). Job 21–37 (Vol. 18a, pp. 916–917). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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