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It has become increasingly common to hear Christians refer to “wisdom” as though it were some esoteric, mystical quality, as though it were subjective, relative, or simply some kind of Zen power. But while the wisdom of God does confound the wisdom of men, it is not irrational or incoherent. Wisdom is the art of obedient building. In the beginning God built the world out of nothing with wisdom (Prov. 8:22ff). Wisdom builds her house (Prov. 9:1), and by wisdom a house is built (Prov. 24:3). The queen of Sheba was amazed by Solomon’s wisdom and the house he had built (1 Kgs. 10:4, 2 Chron. 9:3). The wise man hears the words of Jesus and obeys and so builds his house on the rock (Mt. 7:24, Lk. 6:48).
“But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living…” (Job 28:12-29:2)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
As Job’s great argument with his three accusers draws to a close, Job recites this meditation on the difficulty and value of wisdom. It is not found in the land of the living or even in the depths of the sea (28:12-14). It cannot be purchased or even compared to gold or sapphires or any precious stone (28:15-19). Destruction and death say they have heard of wisdom, but only God knows where wisdom dwells (28:20-23). God saw and declared and prepared wisdom when He measured every detail of the universe He made, including the winds, the waters, the rain, and the lightning – wisdom built the world (28:24-27). This is why the fear of the Lord is wisdom and departing from evil is understanding (28:28). Bookending this explanation of wisdom are two speeches by Job, which the narrator says are “parables,” wise meditations on his situation (27:1, 29:1), culminating in the end of Job’s argument (31:40).
WISDOM WEARS A HARD HAT
One of the first mentions of wisdom in the Old Testament is the skill given to those constructing the tabernacle. They are given wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and “all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving timber, to work in all manner of workmanship” (Ex. 31:3-5ff) as well as the making of fabrics, weaving, embroidering, dyeing, and engraving (Ex. 28:3-4, 35:26, 31, 35, 36:1-2). Clearly wisdom is an artistic skill. It is both creative and bound by the laws of nature and God’s word. Those who were filled with wisdom were given the artistic skills to “make all that I have commanded” (Ex. 31:6). Wisdom is the art of obeying God well in order to make and build whatever God has determined to make and build: families, cities, businesses, schools, churches, and a people and a Kingdom that will last forever. While some imagine wisdom as something to be found in a cave in the mountains, surrounded by silence and guttering candles, the Bible says that wisdom wears a hard hat. Wisdom operates a crane and backhoe. Wisdom wields a trowel. Wisdom wears an apron. Wisdom is found at work. Wisdom is found in obedience to God’s assignments for building His projects.
THE WISDOM OF JOB
The assignment given to Job was dealing with the severe providence of being a great king who lost most of his wealth, his children, his health, and then facing the shame of three so-called “friends” accusing him of having sinned and therefore being disqualified to rule. The book is largely taken up with three “cycles” of speeches with Job answering each accuser: Eliphaz-Job-Bildad-Job-Zophar-Job (repeat), with the final cycle falling apart in the middle of Bildad’s speech (Job 25). Some modern textual critics want to argue that we lost some material, but the far more straightforward explanation is that Job won the argument. The text suggests this in several ways: first, Job simply outlasts his accusers – they stopped accusing Job because he refused to admit his guilt (Job 32:1); second, at the end of the book, God says that the three accusers have sinned grievously by not speaking what was correct like Job did (Job 42:7-8); but third, even here, the narrator describes Job’s two final speeches as “parables” (Job 27:1, 29:1).
The word for “parable” is literally a “wise saying,” and it is derived from a verb that means to rule or reign as king. What did it look like Job was doing? Arguing for his life? Maybe struggling with a bad attitude? What was Job actually doing? He was rebuilding his household and kingdom. What were his materials? The metal and wood and stones of his shattered kingdom and shameless accusers. In other words: Almost nothing. His words were like hammer and tongs, hammer and nails, and God restored it all (Job 42). Wisdom is that patient skill that takes dominion of the raw materials in front of you. Wisdom is so valuable because it is the art of building something out of almost nothing. Wisdom builds and God restores all things.
THE PATIENCE OF JOB
James raises the example of the prophets, as standing firm in the midst of suffering affliction with patience, and he specifically mentions the “patience of Job,” as an example of God’s blessing and tender mercy on those who endure (Js. 5:10-11). This is striking because you might not think that “patience” is characterized by 28 chapters worth of a blog war. But patience is not stoic apathy; patience is prophetic. Patience is militant obedience, hungry for the blessing of God. And this is wisdom: patient, cheerful obedience at the task assigned: ruling wisely over the raw materials entrusted to you, using them to build and make something for the glory of God. What are the raw materials entrusted to you? A particular history, family background, sins, weaknesses, gifts, abilities, marital status, children, job, finances, health, and this historical, cultural moment. What are you building? Do you have almost nothing? Perfect.
The Spirit of wisdom that was given to Bezalel and Aholiab has been given without measure to every believer in Jesus. That Spirit of Wisdom is given for “all manner of workmanship.” And that Spirit is the One who hovered over the cross and grave and has begun to make all things new. God’s wisdom is most fully revealed in the cross of Jesus (1 Cor. 1-2). Christians look at everything through the cross-wisdom of God, where Jesus destroyed the old temple and rebuilt it in three days. What did it look like? It looked like a man dying, a failed movement. What was he actually doing? Building a house that will last forever.
Jesus is the Greater Job, the Great King, who freely lost everything and was falsely accused and cursed, but He endured the pain and shame of the cross in order to remake this God-forsaken world, in order to build a new world inside the old world. This is the wisdom of God: the grave has heard of it. But God was building a Kingdom that cannot be shaken inside that grave. And now that grave is empty, and the Kingdom is coming like a Great Spring that cannot be stopped.