28“Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined. 2Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. 3Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness. 4They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people. 5As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire. 6Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold. 7“That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it. 8The proud wild animals have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it. 9“They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots.10They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing. 11The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light. 12“But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? 13Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living.
14The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’15It cannot be gotten for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price. 16It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. 17Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. 18No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. 19The chrysolite of Ethiopia cannot compare with it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.
20“Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? 21It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. 22Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’ 23“God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. 24For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. 25When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; 26when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; 27then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. 28And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’”
Where is wisdom to be found? What is wisdom? Arguably these are things of the chief concern to those of us studying here at university. Surely university is all about finding and gaining wisdom through study, work, and the sweat and toil of research and tutorials.
But to be honest in all my years on the BA I don’t think I ever learnt any real wisdom, nor did I become wise, indeed perhaps quite the opposite. I met many wise people, men and women, many of whom had beards - and I still hold that there may be a correlation between beard and wisdom, but unfortunately that is just not in the Bible. If anything the overly academic approach to acquiring and exhausting knowledge does not seem to lead to wisdom.
You could know all the theories on who wrote Genesis that you like and have one hundred scholar’s names memorised to defeat your imaginary opponents – I say imaginary as pretty much no one in the real world actually cares about how many Isaiah’s there were - and yet all this knowledge will not help one bit when you are approached by a person in tears whose life is falling apart – telling them to figure out who wrote which parts of the conversation before coming up with a grand theory is not practical wisdom.
Instead, we should perhaps turn to common sense as the height of wisdom – personified in the person of Murphy and his Laws. Murphy’s Law, often known as the fourth law or aerodynamics, is simply this – “if anything can go wrong, it will.” I have only lived for 22 years but that rings true to me, if there is even a possibility that you wrote down when you were supposed to be preaching wrong then the chances are you did and church will have to be cancelled for the week (*I was supposed to have given this sermon the week before but wrote down the date wrong so preaching class was cancelled). And Murphy’s Law has spawned many sub-laws, many clauses. Here are a few of my favourites:
If it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid,
In war, if everything is going well, it is an ambush
Teamwork is essential, it provides more people to blame when things go wrong.
The day you get up early to be ready will be the day you lose your house keys
The more preparation time for a meal the less likely a child is to eat it.
Whilst these are undoubtedly witty, are they really wisdom? You could easily add along these lines, the strongest person is the one in control, the best way to deal with your enemy is to dispose of them, and the God who cannot be killed is the real God. This is all great worldly wisdom. But in Jesus we find out that actually the strongest person in all creation was the one helplessly nailed to the cross and the one in control of the universe from start to finish is the one who was born homeless in a stable. We find that the best way to deal with your enemy is actually to forgive them, and the way to stop being an enemy of God is not so much to stop sinning as first and foremost to apologise and repent of sinning. And the biggest folly of all is that the one true and everlasting God is Jesus Christ the one who died on a wooden cross at Calvary as a criminal.
This is why we find St. Paul saying in 1 Corinthians:
“The word of the Cross, is madness to people who are being destroyed. But to you – those who are being saved – it is God’s power. This is what the Bible says after all: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the shrewdness of the clever I will abolish.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the educated person? Where is the debater of this present age? Don’t you see that God has turned the world’s wisdom into folly? This is how it’s happened: In God’s wisdom, the world didn’t know God through [its own] wisdom, so it gave God pleasure, through the folly of our proclamation, to save those who believe. You see, Jews look for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we announce the crucified Messiah, a scandal to Jews, and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, the Messiah – God’s power and God’s wisdom. God’s folly is wiser than humans and God’s weakness is stronger than humans.”
The book of Job tells us that we can search all we want and we will never find wisdom in this created world with our own created and creaturely eyes and hands. We can dig down into the mountains using the most advanced of tools and create pathways in the earth that no animal or bird could or has ever trod. We can mine metal and smelt it and create strong and enduring and beautiful things, and we can cover ourselves in all the jewels of this world. And yet, for all our human effort, for all our time, our painstaking work, our longing and desperation to reach perfection and find wisdom and knowledge and salvation, we will always, always, fail.
You cannot dig to wisdom, you cannot mine your way into the Kingdom of Heaven. Arguably the only person who found wisdom underground was a shepherd boy who fell through the rocks into a cave in the Holy Land and found there in jars the written words of God in the form of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Wisdom comes from God, indeed as the Bible progresses we see more and more that Wisdom somehow IS God Himself. He alone is wise, He alone knows all, and it is through and in Him alone that you can find wisdom and salvation. In the Bible there seems to almost be two kinds of wisdom, general earthly so called ‘wisdom’ much along the lines of Murphy’s Laws or indeed good advice – something akin to what Solomon was given in greater amounts than anyone but Jesus Himself. And then there is something, or someone, higher than this, the source of all wisdom, the logic of all creation, the orderer of the cosmos, the one who sees and knows everything from the hairs on your head to the deepest and darkest corners of our depraved hearts which we have been denying exist for so long that we no longer even recognise they are there within us.
Written much later than Job (probably) we find the book of Proverbs, and in this Scripture we find once again Wisdom as not a source of knowledge so much as a person who gives to those who follow Her life itself. Let us have a look at Proverbs 8.22-36:
22 “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.
32 “Now then, my children, listen to me;
blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise;
do not disregard it.
34 Blessed are those who listen to me,
watching daily at my doors,
waiting at my doorway.
35 For those who find me find life
and receive favor from the LORD.
36 But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death.”
Now this text about Lady Wisdom has been interpreted by the Church from the earliest of the church fathers right through to the modern day as proclaiming that Jesus, the Word of God in who is found the only source of true life, is this character Lady Wisdom. Indeed, and I can say this among such knowledgeable people as yourselves – this is one of the central texts used by Athanasius to prove that the Arian Heresy – that Jesus was a created being who is not fully God – was wrong and dangerous and unbiblical.
As we see in Genesis, Jesus was there at creation, He was there when there were no watery depths and before mountains and the world and even the heavens. From before the ages Jesus was 'constantly at His side,' that is the Father’s side, and was filled with delight day after day in His presence, and Jesus took joy - just as the Father did - when the world was made by the Word and declared ‘good.’
The reason you won’t find Wisdom in the bottoms of the mountains or the ends of the earth or as something to be seen from the air is that true Wisdom is not ‘in’ the world, it is what ordered and created and sustains the world.
Even in the text we began with in Job we see this personification in its earliest stages. In verse 24 the Hebrew is not the usual, simple, word for earthly wisdom – hokma, but it is hahokma, that is ‘the wisdom’ a definite person or tangible thing.
There is no argument among scholars that Wisdom was increasingly personified throughout Scripture. But by bringing the full revelation of God to bear on the matter, and by that I mean Jesus Christ who is the perfect image of the Father and who at the Cross gives us the highest revelation of who God truly is, we can see that the reason Wisdom was personified is because God was saying ‘Wisdom is in me, Wisdom IS me.’ Paul tells us that Jesus the Messiah IS the Wisdom of God and that at the Cross as Jesus hung there beaten, bleeding, and dying, is true Wisdom that brings life.
Proverbs 8.35-36 declares that those who find Lady Wisdom find life itself. We know that in Jesus alone is life – "I AM the Way the Truth, and the Life." Proverbs continues that all those who don’t find Lady Wisdom harm themselves and all those who hate Her in doing so must love death. John 3.16 tells us that Jesus came that those who believe might have life, but this also means that those who don’t have death.
Job 28 ends with a verse that seems to jar with all of the above, and by that I mean the rest of the chapter not just what I have said. “And He said to humanity, ‘behold, the fear of the Lord, that is Wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” What do you think of when you hear the word fear? Perhaps you recall a memory when you were terrified. I had a history teacher who had a fear of cows after having nearly been killed by a stampede of them. I remember one Halloween walking through the village graveyard at night with my parents and brother, and my Dad was in front of us with the only torch, and he secretly put on a mask, and suddenly stopped and then screamed and spun around putting the torch to His face. I think it is safe to say both my brother and I tasted fear that day given how we ran away as fast as we could into the darkness tripping over ourselves as we went.
The Bible repeatedly calls on us to fear God. But is this really what it means? That we should be absolutely terrified of God? Do we have reason to be so terrified? Perhaps if we don’t know that God loved us so much that He came down to earth and died for us to take away our terror at the prospect of His wrath. But we do know that He did, we have been saved, redeemed, set free from fear – for true love casts our fear. Yet still this verse rings true – to fear the Lord is wisdom.
Fear in the Biblical sense is not abject terror, it is much deeper, it is reverence, respect, like a Son for his Father, it is loving submission, it is being right with God. And all of this is only possible if you actually know God. And we can only know God through Jesus, He is the only way to the Father, without Him we might as well be talking to a wall or trying to get to the moon by jumping on a trampoline.
Again, fear of the Lord, right relationship with God through Jesus, is what brings us life, is what wisdom is about. And if we follow the Lord and fear Him and long for Him, He will give us new hearts and new thoughts and new strength and a new and Holy Spirit that we might turn away from evil. But we will still fail, we will still turn from God and turn to evil and the Devil and death. But the folly of this world is the wisdom of God, the glorious madness of the Gospel is that the truth is that God loves us so much He died for us so that no matter what we have done or will do, we can always return to Jesus, be forgiven, be washed, be given life by following and trusting in Him, and know God’s Way and God’s Wisdom.
So here is what I think we should take from this passage. Firstly the Gospel: true Wisdom is found in Jesus, and we can only get life and wisdom through the gift of His grace. Secondly, when we go into ministry it would be my prayer, especially for my self, that we do not rely on our academic knowledge to sustain our faith, to disciple our congregation, but rely on God's grace working through us, rely on His Holy Spirit to inspire us with the right words to say to the right people at the right times. We are weak, God is strong, He is the one who brings people's hearts to repentance, He is the one who makes us whole. He might use us, but let us trust in Jesus, the true Wisdom, not our own - and let us cover all we do for Him in humble prayer.