In this sermon, the differences between Plato’s Cave Allegory in Book VII in The Republic and Job 28 are compared and contrasted.
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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 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.
Men have always sought after wisdom, looking into varying philosophies, worldviews, and belief systems. In the Scripture, Pontius Pilate 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 Pilate, 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 with the desires of the flesh, the man in the cave struggles against the comfort he had in his ignorance 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).
“Surely there is a [a]mine for silver
And a place [b]where they refine gold.
2 “Iron is taken from the dust,
And copper is smelted from rock.
6“Its rocks are the [e]source of sapphires,
And its dust contains gold.
The mining is an allegory for the digging for truth and the effort needed to find it out, just like Plato. 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).
“Man puts an end to darkness,
And to the farthest limit he searches out
The rock in gloom and deep shadow (V. 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/make use of the truth. Few men will really put the work into uncovering the depths of truth.
He [c]sinks a shaft far from [d]habitation,
Forgotten by the foot;
They hang and swing to and fro far from men (v.4).
The excavations of the truthseekers are unknown to outsiders, 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 in the cave, are not concerned with exerting the effort to find true riches. Such people exist on different planes.
The earth, from it comes food,
And underneath it is turned up as fire. (v.5)
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). Ironically, the secular world did not discover that inside the world was molten until the 17th century! This is how profound their search for the truth is.
“The path no bird of prey knows,
Nor has the falcon’s eye caught sight of it.
8 “The [f]proud beasts have not trodden it,
Nor has the fierce lion passed over it.
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.
“He puts his hand on the flint;
He overturns the mountains at the [g]base.
10 “He hews out channels through the rocks,
And his eye sees anything precious.
11 “He dams up the streams from [h]flowing,
And what is hidden he brings out to the light.
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).
All of this sounds an awful lot like Plato, but it is all about to change! 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.
It’s like Ibn Khaldun’s gold scale…
“But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
13 “Man does not know its value,
Nor is it found in the land of the living.
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. Wisdom is something too deep to dig for.
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.”
“The deep says, ‘It is not in me’;
And the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
15 “Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it,
Nor can silver be weighed as its price.
“It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
In precious onyx, or sapphire.
17 “Gold or glass cannot equal it,
Nor can it be exchanged for articles of fine gold.
18 “Coral and crystal are not to be mentioned;
And the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls.
19 “The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
Nor can it be valued in pure gold.
No matter how hard one digs and how far one searches man cannot find wisdom. Nor can he go to college and pay for the privilege. 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.
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). Only He can enlighten us, and being so enlightened allows us to walk in obedience which God looks favorably upon.
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.
“Where then does wisdom come from?
And where is the place of understanding?
21 “Thus it is hidden from the eyes of all living
And concealed from the birds of the sky.
“[i]Abaddon and Death say,
‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’
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, 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).
“For He looks to the ends of the earth
And sees everything under the heavens.
25 “When He imparted weight to the wind
And meted out the waters by measure,
26 When He set a limit for the rain
And a course for the thunderbolt,
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).
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. Finally, He “searched it out,” or rather found it throughout His creation.
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 may not be chronologically correct. It would be more accurate to read into the text that wisdom’s creation was simultaneous with the rest of creation.
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 water)
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 like one “brought up.” One can either take the view that God uses wisdom to sustain existence or wisdom is simply a created, brought up thing.)
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 (Ex 33:13). 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.
Wisdom has both a physical (creation) and moral (living in accordance with God’s Law) component.
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, as we can see in Prov 8–it parallels an orderly creation. 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.
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. As we discussed before but I will not dwell on now, Leviathan is a metaphor for Satan. This is not just me saying this, this is John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, A.W. Pink, among others saying this.
As we just read, the dividing of the waters, i.e. the humbling of Leviathan, is concurrent with the establishing of wisdom. So, chaos and darkness is a state of ignorance and non-existence which existed before this time, which interestingly enough matches the descriptions Job uses for Sheol. So, 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.
Then He saw it and declared it;
He established it and also searched it out.
28 “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
And to depart from evil is understanding.’”
Just as we are sustained physically by God’s creation, we are sustained spiritually by God’s wisdom. Wisdom is not attained by searching it out, but by receiving it from God just as we receive all physical blessings. This is why Job says in Job 28:27-28 that wisdom 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 digging into the mountains: they will not make available to us any knowledge that has eternal value.
It is counter-intuitive 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.
Job is saying here is, “Look, I know the Gospel.” I fear the Lord, that is indeed true wisdom. By departing from evil, it shows that my faith is real. Chapter 29 is about how he lived according to this wisdom and God blessed him for it.
I want to make the case that departing from evil is synonymous with the Christian faith.
Why? Because faith produces works that come from a mindset of fear and trembling. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
What Is The Slavish Fear of God? 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 Usefulness of Slavish Fear. 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).
Reverential Awe. The Gospel has truly been accepted in our hearts when our initial fear of judgment evolves into a 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).
“to depart from evil is understanding”
How does this show understanding? It shows that we understand the true faith, as the evidence that the Gospel has been accepted in the heart of the believer is good works. It reflects that God has performed a work in us.
An example of this that Saint James uses is that Abraham was “justified by works” when he offered up his son Isaac. Saint Bede writes in his commentary:
Abraham had such a vibrant faith in God that he was ready to do whatever God wanted him to. This is why his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness, and it was in order that we might know the full meaning of this that God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son. It was by his perfect accomplishment of God’s command that the faith which he had in his heart was shown to be perfect (Concerning the Epistle of St James).
So, Job is saying that he had a vibrant faith, evidenced by great wisdom and understanding–not in the philosophical sense, but in its truest sense. Having faith in God that was real, evidenced by the fear and trembling that real faith is coupled with.
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.
So, to review the last few chapters:
- Job 20: Zophar says that the triumph of the wicked is short and unfanned fire will devour him.
- Job 25: Bildad says man is like a worm and is absolutely nothing compared to God.
- Job 26: Job responds to Bildad and shows him that he has a profound understanding of who God is and what He does, so he refuses to be intellectually cowed by talk of what goes on in the heavens.
- Job 27: Job responds to Zophar by mimicking his point, but focuses only on the death and judgment OF THE WICKED. This implies that it is not right that they triumph for more than a short time.
- Job 28: Job speaks about how he truly understands Godly wisdom, revealed to Him by God.
- Job 29: Job speaks about how he really lived by that wisdom and God blessed him.
- Job 30: Job speaks of how these blessings have been suddenly RESCINDED, though he is righteous.
- Job 31: Job makes his final defense of his righteousness, taking care to show that he was not a hypocrite as a judge and even in his thought life.