Hidden Gem: Finding Wisdom at the Impasse

Have you reached a point where you don’t know what to do? Does God’s will seem misty? Are there competing voices on all sides of an issue? Do your circumstances seem to indicate that God might be asleep on the job?

By chapter 27 in the book of Job, we are at an impasse. Job has lost his children, his wealth, and his health in a series of devastating blows. He curses the day of his birth (ch 3), but pleads for God’s explanation. Job’s friends, after three rounds of debate, have concluded that he must be a wretched sinner because of these troubles. Eliphaz, who gave Job the benefit of doubt in his first speech is convinced by the time of his third and final one: “Is not your wickedness great and your iniquities without end?” (Job 22:5) Bildad, the last to speak, (Zophar has apparently exhausted his explanations and doesn’t even offer a third rebuke) generalizes and leaves all of us in the dust:
“If even the moon has no brightness
and the stars are not pure in His sight,
How much less man, that maggot,
and the son of man, that worm.”  Job 25:5-6 (Note the contrast with Psalm 8!)

Job, totally disgusted with his comfortless friends, maintains his innocence, but blames God:
“As God lives, who has taken away my right,
and the Almighty, who has embittered my soul…
far be it from me that I should declare you [his friends] right;
till I die I will not put my integrity from me.
I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go.
My heart does not reproach any of my days.”  Job 27:2, 5-6

The arguments of men cannot resolve the dilemma. Is Job innocent and abandoned by God or has he earned his fate? Into the impasse comes the serene poem about wisdom in chapter 28. Some translations punctuate this as a continuation of Job’s discourse in chapter 27. However, it has changed from a first person rant into a third person hymn. Job’s first person speech continues in chapter 29. Therefore, some commentators have decided that this is an unwelcome and later interruption of the text. A more careful analysis, though, shows that this is actually a masterful insertion by the author. Instead of an intrusion, it is the narrator’s reminder. It is a chorus that concludes the cycle of speeches and prepares us for the revelations yet to come. This hidden gem of Scripture asks and answers a question of great importance for us today.In fact, the poem is divided into sections by this key query: “Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding?” (v12, repeated in 20)

Man’s ingenuity and risk cannot unearth wisdom (v1-11)

The author marvels at the risks and effort that were expended by the miners of his time. For the sake of wealth or power, they would brave the dark and depths of the earth to bring out its treasures. Listen to this marvelous line: “They hang and swing to and fro far from men” (v4). at great personal risk, humans will hew channels through rocks and dam up streams to uncover hidden wealth. We will search where no one has seen anything until we find something. The implication, though, is that not even that kind of effort can reveal wisdom.

Man’s wealth cannot purchase wisdom (v13-19)

No matter what treasures man has unearthed or collected, none can purchase wisdom. Its value exceeds them all. Wisdom, therefore, should be pursued above any earthly valuable: “And the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls” (v18). But how can it be obtained?

Only God can reveal wisdom (v21-28)

Death and destruction have heard of wisdom, but cannot reveal it. However, God is the Creator of all from the beginning. He has both established wisdom and searched it out. And He reveals it now to us: “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (v28). (The author is surely indicating the end of this long first section by echoing his description of the upright Job from 1:1 – “fearing God and turning away from evil”)

The difficulties in our world and in our own lives leave us grasping for help. The wisdom of the world leaves us at the mercy of “friends” who do not comprehend. If we are polite, we might just agree to disagree. Then we stay undecided and divided, with no conviction to move forward. Or, if we are more insistent, we shout louder to drown out those who disagree. This can even escalate to violent disagreement.

If we would seek God’s revelation of wisdom, then we could see clearly.  We have to acknowledge that God knows better than we do (fearing God). Then we have to act on what He has revealed (turning). With this hymn to wisdom, our author has prepared us for the further revelations to come in Job (keep reading!).

In another posting we can explore how to pursue this revealed wisdom from God. However, let me suggest three things briefly:

Scripture. The Scriptures reveal the character and plan of God. Wisdom can be found here.

Spirit. The Holy Spirit also guides us to true wisdom. This can be a personal revelation of truth for our specific need.

Community. The Spirit also speaks through His community, the church. Gifted teachers, pastors, friends, and counselors can be His voice.

In what areas of life do you need wisdom? How has God revealed His wisdom to you?

Focus on the Cross – Psalm 22 (Psalms Project)

Do you have struggles or pain today? Do you wonder where God is in the midst of it all? Has He forsaken this world? Today is Good Friday, and it is a good day to face these questions.

The disciples of Jesus recorded seven sayings of Jesus from the cross. Probably the most famous is “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” While there are some staggering theological implications in this cry, it is foremost Jesus quoting from Psalm 22. One thousand years before the crucifixion, David wrote this psalm that so vividly describes it. As the gospel writers recognized, it is one of the clearest evidences of fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament. While David certainly could have experienced some of the anguish depicted here, its description moves beyond the events of his life and points forward to the cross. Watch how its focus unfolds and challenges us to a new focus.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

David starts focused on himself and his pain and suffering. He feels forsaken by a silent God and restless. Have you been there? Have you wondered where God is in the midst of your pain?

David quickly moves to his knowledge about God. He addresses God directly assuming He is listening. God is holy; He is present in worship. He has answered His people in the past. Their trust was not in vain. However, David is not yet accepting this truth for himself.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Here is where it gets so interesting! At the cross, this is precisely fulfilled by the people, the thieves crucified with Jesus and even the religious leaders. The leaders quote this section of the psalm as a taunt to Jesus on the cross. (see Matt 27:38-44) They miss the irony of how Jesus is going to exactly fulfill the rest of the psalm. The focus doesn’t stay on despair, but moves to trust.

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

David’s focus has now moved off his own anguish to his personal experience with God. In his own life, he has been able to trust God. He calls on God to do what He has so often done before. Are you so aware of God’s work in your life that you will trust Him to do it again? Even when the circumstances are extreme? Listen…

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

Was there ever anyone who experienced this more than Jesus on the cross? Surrounded by evil doers, tortured and disfigured, physically drained and dry, despairing to the point of death, an object of ridicule. Where would your focus go? What would your cry be?

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

The last phrase is actually a one word exclamation: you-have-rescued-me! God’s saving power has come. After such a deliverance, it is surely time for a rest and some private gratitude, right? This is where the whole psalm turns and challenges our normal selfish focus, even after God has acted.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

Not only is David declaring the praise of God in front of everyone; he prepares a meal for the poor as a demonstration of his gratitude. This is not limited to David, though. Hebrews 2:12 quotes this part of Psalm 22 as being fulfilled in Jesus. He is the one declaring the praises of the Father to his brothers and sisters. Jesus did not focus on His own suffering. He chose it as a fulfillment of God’s greatest plan – the plan to offer salvation to all. Somehow David glimpses this in the triumphant conclusion to Psalm 22:

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

To all nations and generations, Jesus has proclaimed deliverance. He has proclaimed it from the cross. God has not truly forsaken us or forsaken the world. His arms are still stretched wide for all who will raise their focus off of their own pain and embrace this One who bore all our pains. It is finished! He has done it! Will you focus on Him today?

My own poem for Good Friday, “We Call it Good?

Did E’er Such Love and Sorrow Meet?

People are asking very legitimate questions about suffering during these days after the Newtown shootings. Below is part of our family’s Christmas newsletter in 2005, the year we got Gwendolyn’s diagnosis and watched her suffer through seizures almost every day. 

Christmas is a time of contrasts. So many people generously give to others in need. But there seems to be so much need. Families put up lights and decorations while darkness clouds their relationships. We shop and spend and wrap gifts and cook and party to the point of fatigue, and then we complain that there isn’t enough time or money to enjoy these days. We mumble, “Happy Holidays” and wonder why we have lost the spirit of the season.

Some might say that Christmas is escapism. For a short time we try to forget about the troubles in the world. Tsunamis, wars, and hurricanes have challenged our compassion and understanding. Can there really be a God who cares and who can do anything about it?

We have wrestled with this question even more personally this year [in 2005]. Can we trust God when Gwendolyn’s seizures don’t seem to stop? If He can heal her, why doesn’t He?

God is not silent about suffering. One of oldest books in the Old Testament, Job, is a story about suffering. Job was a righteous man. God blessed him with many children and possessions. But one day, that all changed. His livestock was stolen. His servants were killed. And even his children died in a storm. Then he lost his health, suffering painful boils all over his body.

How did Job respond? He did not curse God; he did not sin. He kept trusting God. Job’s friends were convinced that Job (or his children) had sinned and deserved God’s punishment. They debated with Job and begged him to repent. Job fought back and asked God for a fair hearing. Surely God would correct this injustice.

Finally, God appeared. “Instruct me,” He asked. “Tell me where you were when I laid the foundations of the world? Where were you when I created the stars?” Job finally understood. His circumstances were not determined solely by his behavior. God had a larger plan. And He didn’t explain it all to Job.

We don’t always get what we deserve. And thank God for that! Usually we deserve much worse than we get. Why do we struggle so much when adversity comes? Because pain hurts, and we don’t like it. But the truth is that God has never left us, never forsaken us, and never stopped loving us.

Jesus didn’t initially get what He deserved either. The King of Kings was born in poverty and then cruelly executed. But His perfect life and death and subsequent resurrection made a way for us. Now, He is exalted in His rightful place. And we can have eternal Life and a home with Him forever. Jesus is the answer for suffering.