Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Job 28

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-11

Man Is Able to Discover Precious Metals (28:1-11)

These verses describe the process whereby metals and precious stones were mined, for example in the copper and turquoise mines of the Sinai peninsula. The opening of the shafts, the descent of the miners on ropes, and even the displacement of earth and streams are all vividly described. Verse 5 remarks on the wonder that while the calm earth continues to bring forth its grain, underneath extensive and destructive forces work. The shafts are so far below the surface that even the keen-eyed bird and the proud king of beasts do not know of their existence. Thus man in his power is able to bring to light "the thing that is hid" (vs. 11).

Verses 1-28

A Poem on Wisdom (28:1-28)

Chapter 28 in its entirety forms another unresolved problem so far as the unity of the last part of the Book of Job is concerned. As the book now stands it is a part of the final speech of Job, for no separate introductory formula is given to it. Like other parts of the same section, however, its content is not particularly like the rest of Job’s views as expressed elsewhere, although here the difference is not so strongly marked.

The chapter may be a relatively independent poem on the impossibility of achieving "wisdom" by man’s efforts, incorporated into the structure of the book by the author or an editor. It is probably intended to reflect the thought of Job rather than that of the friends and may fairly be understood as an expression of Job’s feeling that the quest in which he has been engaged is virtually impossible of success (but see vs. 28).

It is clear that the first part of the poem is built on an extended image, the search for wisdom being contrasted with the search for precious metals. The poet has given elaborate treatment to the image, incorporating many easily recognizable details of mining operations in ancient times.

Verses 12-22

But Wisdom Cannot Be Found (28:12-22)

Man may discover all that is hid — all save one thing, and that is wisdom. The irony of man’s life, moreover, is that all of the precious fortunes he can discover cannot purchase the one thing that is needful. Man cannot attain to wisdom, either by search (vss. 12-14) or by purchase (vss. 15-19). Finally, the conclusion is reached that it is completely "hid" from the sight of man, so that his deepest shafts of insight cannot reach it, for even Destruction ("Abaddon") and "Death" cannot supply such a store.

Verses 23-28

God Has Wisdom (28:23-28)

Here the poet underlines the basic position of the whole wisdom movement: Wisdom belongs to God, not to man. God knows the location of wisdom and made use of it in the creation of the world; he uses it still in maintaining creation. Wisdom for man, then, can only be to reverence God and to obey him ("fear" in verse 28 is properly "reverence").

This conclusion is by no means inappropriate in the mouth of Job, nor, in fact, is the entire poem. It should be remembered that Job does not anywhere claim independent wisdom. It is not his desire to "know" in the metaphysical sense. He wants an answer from God. Here, then, near the end of the discussion he rehearses for himself the ancient principles of Hebrew wisdom, and reminds himself that wisdom is never the result of man’s effort but only of God’s offer or of God’s speaking. Here the poet shows himself thoroughly in harmony with the mainstream of the wisdom movement, the poem paralleling in many respects the fundamental assumptions of the Book of Proverbs, or at least of its introductory position (see the parallel between Job 28:23-28 and Proverbs 8:22-31 where "wisdom" speaks).

Although some difficulties remain in regarding the poem in chapter 28 as a part of the original book, perhaps there are fewer difficulties in this view than in any other. If it be the true one, then it is plain that in this concluding section of Job the author is giving a kind of summary statement of Job’s best and truest positions. Basic to them all is this confidence, not unlike the rest of his speeches, although more violently expressed elsewhere — the confidence that ultimately wisdom can only be had on God’s terms and as the gift of God. Both in language and in thought we are not very far from the great speeches of the Almighty which later close the book.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 28". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-28.html.
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