The Bible trounces on Plato’s cave allegory and shows us how true wisdom is not something we find out, but God gives to us.
Now that Job has responded to both Bildad’s actual and Zophar’s theoretical counter-arguments, he can focus on his final defense to God Himself. He believes that he has silenced all of his critics.
How does Job justify himself in order to argue that his suffering is not right? It is worth emphasizing that Job is very similar to his friends in that he would prefer to see God being retributive to some degree (punishing the wicked and blessing the righteous/faithful in this life.) We can see this in the next few chapters when he substantiates his own righteousness as his chief argument for why God should not ordain such profound suffering for him. The following is a brief synopsis of his argument in the next few chapters:
Chapter 28: Job understands how precious Godly wisdom is and understands that true faith in God is coupled by obedience to Him.
Chapter 29: He asserts that God’s blessings and love were apparent for a long time in his life and that these were concurrent with (and not necessarily the result of) his righteous walk before Him.
Chapter 30: Job’s suffering is now profound and it appears to undo all he knew of God being the One who blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked.
Chapter 31: In order to substantiate that his present condition is indeed an injustice, he describes how not only his actions, but also his thoughts, are all submitted to God. The work of the Spirit is indeed visible in his righteousness (see discussion of Job 29:14 in chapter 29).
Men have always sought after wisdom, looking into varying philosophies, worldviews, and belief systems. In the Scripture, Pontius Pilot asks a question we all ponder: “What is truth” (John 18:38)?
In chapter 28, Job begins his grand defense by reflecting on the preciousness of Godly wisdom. In Job’s reflections, he reveals that he does not wonder what the truth is like Pilot, but he knows it! To the Christian, it is much more profound than Plato’s cave allegory.
In Book VII in The Republic, Plato reflected on how the human condition could be described as a man living in a cave, which is in reality a world of illusions. Locked in this cave, the man sees shadows of puppets against a wall and presumes they are the real deal, because he has not seen anything else in his life. However, with much difficulty, the man turns himself around and sees that things are not what they seem. He comes to realize that he has been chained in place, so that it is very difficult to gaze upon anything else other than the illusory puppet show.
With great difficulty he undoes his chains that keep him in the cave and seeks the light from the outside. The exit from the cave is a struggle. On one hand he wants to know the truth, but on the other he does not want to leave the cave. The cave is all he knows and it gives him comfort. Just like Paul in Rom 7 who struggles between the desires of the flesh and the Spirit which is in him, the man in the cave struggles against himself as he exits the cave, seeing more and more light as he goes. When he exits, he can fully see the light and thereby grasp the truth in its entirety, freed from the world of illusions.
Obviously, in the opinion of Plato, learning the truth takes great effort and requires turning away from living a lie. Many ignorant people, content with the lie, won’t pursue such a struggle.
The Book of Job (which predates Plato by hundreds of years) presents us with a very similar allegory, but in reverse. Job speaks of how man mines for silver, gold, iron, copper, and precious stones (Job 28:1-2, 6). Men also refine the same metals looking to exploit their value. Seeking true preciousness, men do their best to uncover from the dark and shadowy underground these metals, searching “to the farthest limit” their innate abilities will allow them (Job 28:3). Like Plato, Job is describing the sort of efforts employed by men in their quest for truth. His point is simple. The truth is hard to find and it takes much effort. Precious metals and stones are metaphors for knowledge, while the process of mining and refining are metaphors for the effort that is expended by man’s intellect to understand/ake use of the truth. Few men will really put the work into uncovering the depths of truth.
The excavations of the truthseekers are unknown to the outside world because they are far out of sight from the outside world (Job 28:4). The outside world, like the ignorant people of Plato’s time content living a lie, are not concerned with exerting the effort to find true riches. Such people exist on different planes. Those who truly desire the truth dig for it so deeply, they can sense the magma of the mantle of the Earth (Job 28:5).
These men dig deep only because they are made in God’s image and have an intellect. Birds with their superior vision (Job 28:7) nor the world’s most powerful beasts (Job 28:8) can by their creaturely superiority find such preciousness. Only man, by his God-given intellect can reshape the world, cutting through mountains at their bases and divert waters so he may find what he is looking for (Job 28:9-11).
This is where Job diverges from Plato. Sure, animals cannot find precious materials because they cannot bring to bear the intellectual effort that man can to uncover them, but neither can man. He, like them, ultimately cannot find wisdom! In contrast with what Plato thinks, his intellect is ultimately not suited for the task. Why?
Man is like the animals in that he lacks the capacity to find true wisdom. Sure, he can at least pursue wisdom unlike the animals, but his intellect is not suited for seeing anything more than the shadows on the wall that Plato described. The animals lack the capacity to mine because their intellects cannot be brought to bear to fulfill the task, even though their other physical capacities are superior to that of men’s. Men find themselves unsuited to find wisdom by mining, because the actual practice of mining will not get to the heart of the matter.
Though man can struggle and in his flesh exert himself to know worldly wisdom like that of Plato or the miners, this is not good enough. It is not true wisdom. The truth exists in a realm beyond what man can dig for, experiment scientifically, deliberate philosophically, meditate transcendentally, or exert any other effort where he can put it in his grasps and make it his own like the metals and precious stones. Job’s point is that wisdom is something too deep to dig for. This is why Job asks himself, “Where can wisdom be found” (Job 28:12)?
Why are men constitutionally unable to find the truth? One reason men cannot find it is because they do not understand its true value (Job 28:13). They are too busy mining for the world’s goods so that true wisdom never is sought after. A second reason is that men tend to look in the wrong places, like those “looking for love.” Wisdom cannot be “found in the land of the living” (Job 28:14) according to Job, no matter how deeps one digs into its depths (Job 28:15). This is because truth can only be found above, in the heavenly realm. In essence, man is digging down to find the truth, when he ought to be digging up. However, digging up is not a possible task.
We need help from above to know what is above. Being that God, who is above, needs to give the help, He has to initiate the process. This is why Moses prayed, “Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight” (Ex 33:13). So, we must find favor from God, so that He may enlighten us, and being so enlightened we will know how to walk in obedience which God looks favorably upon.
Job then returns to his point in verse 13 and reiterates how men live their lives in a fashion valuing what is found in the world and not what is in Heaven. If one were to list the most precious things money can buy and that men seek after (Job 28:15-19), they could not be traded for true wisdom. Why? They would be worth far too little in exchange. Being that we value the mined goods, but not wisdom, shows us that our values are misplaced.
Men’s hearts seek after wealth (symbolized by the precious metals and jewels), but even when they accrue a little of it, it avails them nothing at all. They are without wisdom, because by their own effort they cannot understand it. Instead, they have filled their hearts with the world’s goods which have no eternal value.
Job’s overall point is that man cannot find wisdom with effort because by his very nature, he is totally incapable of it. Just as man cannot see like the birds and exhibit strength like the beasts, he in his natural state cannot discern spiritual things such as wisdom. “[A] natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor 2:14).
This is why true wisdom “is hidden from the eyes of all living” (Job 28:21). Birds cannot see it because sight is not enough and even the demons of Hell, and their prisoners, cannot know because they do not have the Spirit of God to appraise such things (Job 28:22). Only “God understands its way” (Job 28:23), because “even…the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:11). God knows all things for He created everything (Job 28:24-25). He regulates nature (Job 28:26), and unbeknownst to Job also the evil that is permitted to exist. For as God says it is He who is “causing well-being and creating calamity, I am the Lord who does all these” (Is 45:7).
The next two verses require a fair degree of exegesis, but what we cannot forget is that what Job understands here is very profound. So profound, Job believes that his faith in this has resulted in God giving him many blessings as a result. This is why he is confused, when his faith has not wavered, that his blessings have been taken away by his trials.
When He imparted weight to the wind
And meted out the waters by measure,
When He set a limit for the rain
And a course for the thunderbolt,
Then He saw it and declared it;
He established it and also searched it out (Job 28:25-27).
Job is asserting that when God made creation itself, it was then that He established wisdom. He “saw” wisdom in His mind. He made it come to be (“established”) through His Word (“declared,” see John 1:3). Finally, He “searched it out” by making it manifest in the world to the extent He found pleasing, taking delight in its existence.
While the translation here appears to suggest it was after God made the waters and set a limit for the rain that He saw and declared what wisdom is, this is not chronologically correct. It would be more accurate to read into the text that wisdom’s creation was simultaneous with the rest of creation. The picture of meting out the waters and setting a limit for the rain have to do with God establishing order over chaos, which the waters represent. Order in of itself is wisdom. Wisdom can be observed in the predictable and immensely complicated physical Laws of Nature that sustain it and hold it together by God’s grace.
This corresponds with Prov 8:22-31–
The Lord possessed me [Wisdom personified] at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established, (the term everlasting is ‛ôlâm, which means “forever,”Athanasius argued from this Scripture that Jesus is the personified wisdom in light of 1 Cor 1:24, but this is outside of our purview here)
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. (Hence, when the wind was given its weight and other creative acts)
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth;
While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world.
When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary (This refers to His taming of Leviathan after the creation of the heavens and their angelic host)
So that the water would not transgress His command, (Satan cannot transgress God’s command, this connects to Job saying God set limits for the rain)
When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; (Wisdom itself is not the master workman, but rather is there because God uses wisdom to sustain existence)
And I was daily His delight, (As in Job 28:27, God “searches out” wisdom in His own creation, apparently because He delights in it)
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in the world, His earth,
And having my delight in the sons of men (this is a key point in Job 28:28).
How does wisdom delight in the sons of men? When men “know God’s ways” as Moses prayed, they actually “know” God. By living in a Godly fashion, they are living in accordance with wisdom the way God intended. As Moses said, such wisdom helps us “find favor” in God’s “sight.” In this way, wisdom delights in men.
Job understand this, even without the benefit of Moses and Solomon centuries later making it clear in the Scripture. By faith, Job declares that knowing God and His wisdom is at its core a moral knowledge which is encompasses all truth: “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom and to depart from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28).
First, what is the connection between wisdom as the knowledge of God’s order in the universe and its moral component, fearing the Lord and departing from wickedness? The two concepts appear totally unrelated. However, in the Biblical worldview, they are part and parcel with one another. God’s establishing of order over existence, where it is no longer chaos, is represented by God’s defeat of the Chaos-Dragon of the Sea, Leviathan. The humbling of Leviathan is concurrent with the establishing of wisdom. So, chaos and darkness is a state of ignorance, the opposite of wisdom. The establishment of wisdom is the opposite of chaos. Being that the opposite of wisdom is at its core Satanic ignorance and chaos, we cannot separate from wisdom its literal moral and orderly (from a physical Laws of Physics perspective) aspects.
Second, because men cannot literally take part in the Laws of Physics in the sense God does by sustaining their being, men understand wisdom not by searching it out, but by receiving it from God. This is something that God declares to men. Therefore, it is known only by revelation. Empiricism, philosophy, and other methods devised by men to find truth are akin to mining into the mountains: they will not make available to us any knowledge that has eternal value.
A natural man cannot know the things of God. Only the Spirit may give man this wisdom, because He wants them to know it. Not surprisingly, this true wisdom given to us by God’s revelation (which we have today in the Scripture) does not dwell upon scientific matters, but rather consists mainly of a moral component. Indeed, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness” (2 Tim 2:19).
It is counterintuitive to us that this is indeed wisdom. We think wisdom takes great learning and experience. In fact, the world resists such wisdom: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21). To fear the Lord and depart from evil is foolishness to the world, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25).
So, wisdom does not come from great learning, but from God’s calling: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise…so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor 1:26-27, 29).Therefore, even the simple can be wise if they understand Job 28:28, but only if God so calls them first.
Fearing the Lord, knowing one’s sin and trusting Him for one’s own forgiveness, that is indeed true wisdom. This is why the world does not know wisdom nor make it available to us. For the world is made up of men who do not want faith, which is the substance of things hope for, but rather they want proof: “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Cor 1:22-23).
But this is not how we become wise. Wisdom comes from submitting oneself to the Lord in repentance and having faith in Him, which as James says, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Wisdom is therefore not intellectual knowledge, but rather an understanding that permeates our very being and influences all our thoughts and actions.
Wisdom is to fear the Lord in constant repentance, emptying oneself in acknowledgement of one’s own unholiness when contrasted with the Holy One of Israel. A good healthy fear leads us to the knowledge that we need mercy, mercy only the Lord can provide.
His burden is easy, his yoke is light. Christ has fulfilled the Law for us, so we do not have to carry the burden of our own justification before God. Trust Him and depart from evil. Being that our faith is a gift of grace, we should be aware that God designed our faith to be visible in our good works:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Eph 2:8-10)
Therefore, to depart from evil is true understanding and synonymous with Christian faith. “Everything not of faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). Departing from evil is only possible by the grace that gives us faith. In this sense, Job understood what we understand now about the Christian religion. Therefore, Job 28:27-28 Job declares for us how God communicates the Gospel to men. Faith in Christ cannot be separated by a substantive fear of the Lord and a consequential departing from evil.
Job believed the Gospel and was saved. He submitted himself to a faith which the world viewed as foolishness. However, he didn’t care, because “[i]f any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise” (1 Cor 3:18).
While there are many other elements of what “the fear of the Lord is,” we think it sufficient for our purposes to view it as a “slavish fear.” According to Charles Spurgeon, “That is the slavish fear which trembles before God as a criminal trembles before the judge” (Sermon 2971, “The Right Kind of Fear”). Now Spurgeon is against such a fear, while Joseph Caryl concedes a “profitable use” for it (An Exposition…Chap 28, p. 372).
The reason we will settle on this is that the fear of judgment in the face of a holy God which demands perfection drives us repent is part of accepting the Gospel. After all God demands, “You shall be blameless before the Lord your God” (Deut 18:13). It is an impossible task, then we know that our only hope is God’s mercy. In this sense, slavish fear brewed in our hearts by the immensity of God’s demand for moral perfection points us to Christ. As Paul writes, “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).
The Gospel has truly been accepted in our hearts when our initial fear of judgment evolves into a constant reverential awe of Him. For “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). To reach this point, God in His love shows us what true love is, which is that His Son laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16). Knowing this by God’s grace, we are stirred up by the love of God put in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and are compelled to love Him and our brothers in Christ by laying down our very lives for the sake for the Gospel (1 John 3:17). “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
The true desire to depart from wickedness, not for the sake of achieving justification on one’s own but because the Holy Spirit compels us to, is the evidence that the Gospel has been accepted in the heart of the believer. It reflects that God has performed a work in us. Therefore, to depart from evil is truly understanding, it is truly the faith, and it is therefore truly the Gospel. Job is declaring to us the very jewel of wisdom, the Gospel itself.
True wisdom and understanding for man is in knowing the Gospel and a reading of Job 28:28 that reflects this is the most accurate. In light of Job having faith in the Gospel, why has God allowed troubles to inflict him that would better be allowed to hurt the wicked? This is what Job does not understand and questions God Himself about in chapters 30 and 31. Before he goes that far, he reflects on the blessings that appeared to him to be concurrent with God’s favor being bestowed upon him as a result of knowing God in the truest sense as declared in Job 28:28.