The Wisdom of Job and the Fear of the Lord

The Wisdom of Job and the Fear of the Lord

Last Sunday, in “church”, I listened to a sermon titled “The Fear Of The Lord Is The Beginning Of Wisdom” (check out here) and it moved me enough to dig deeper later. Here is what I found …

In the Christian Bible, the Old Testament is often seen in four sections: Law, History, Prophets and Poetry (which comprise the Books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon). The Jewish Bible comprises three sections: Law, Prophets and Writings. A central theme of the Poetry / Writings books is wisdom, often coupled with the fear of the Lord, and this is what I consider here and what was the central theme of the sermon, which was based on Job 28, which ends “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (v28), although there are other texts based around this theme that are also relevant, notably in the Book of Proverbs.  

It has been said: “the wisdom of Proverbs describes how godly character generally leads to success. Ecclesiastes tempers this, warning rewards are not guaranteed, as a kind of “crookedness” has come into our world. The book of Job goes further, exploring how righteous people sometimes suffer.” But all three agree – getting wisdom along with knowledge and understanding must be a priority for a believer and it begins with the fear of God.

In order to cut to the chase, at the end, I refer readers to a helpful way of breaking down the Book of Job and a summary of Job the man (taken for my book: “Prophets of the Bible”). As for the Book of Job, I became familiar with it as a young Christian and, while I could see what were its main themes and the parts played by its main characters, I confess the unusual way the Book unfolds, dominated by discourses of a more philosophical nature, especially concerning suffering, between Job and his “friends”, enshrined in beautiful poetry, makes having a deeper understanding a challenge and one few preachers have risen to particularly well when it comes to presenting how arguments unfold and specific points made.

I won’t go into the sermon here (which is worth checking out) other than to mention, not only was it primarily about wisdom, but it attempted (successfully) to be an exposition of Job 28 and is the first time I have come across a preacher doing so. Other than the prologue and epilogue (which is prose), the rest of Job is poetry, with vivid imagery and deep reflections on the philosophical points made. Not surprisingly, I don’t recall preachers preaching much on those chapters, at least when it comes to verse by verse exposition. What is more common is to hear sermons based on how we may come to terms with the reality of innocent suffering and some stand out verses from the book. I suspect few readers can give more than basic account of the differing often subtle arguments of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar (Job’s three friends, known as Job’s comforters) and the young chap who pops up toward the end, Elihu, along with the questions asked by Job, how all these interact and how the arguments are developed throughout the three rounds.

Given the middle bits of Job are poetry encompassing rather intense philosophy, coming to terms with it all is a challenge I have not yet fully risen to. Yet, for reasons I will get into, the sermon was a spur to me wanting to dig deeper into the Book of Job, thus achieving what all good sermons should. Besides reading large sections online (going from the sublime to the ridiculous; KJV to the Message), often listening to it read at the same time, I turned to the Internet to find sermons / expositions on the Book and was spoiled for choice. including from Jewish sources. The ones that stood out were by the late David Pawson as part of his “Unlocking the Bible” series (here and here). He made many good points, relevant here, augmenting my understanding and interestingly enough included Job 28 as one of two outstanding chapters from the Book, the other being chapter 31, which are the final words of Job before God steps in as requested and tells him what he needs to know, he sees as an OT forerunner to the Sermon on the Mount on how the righteous should live. As for sermons that relate the Book of Job and the great themes it deals with, like the matter of suffering, I found this one: “Job: When the Righteous Suffer – John Piper” to be helpful.

Job is an unusual book of the Bible for many reasons. Firstly, it is one of oldest, even though it, Job and his friends identifies the one who is undeniably the God of the Bible, despite likely predating even Moses and the Exodus. Secondly, it is not a Jewish book per se, and is possibly the only OT book that isn’t, which is apt since it deals with themes that have been raised by all humankind ever since the beginning of time. Thirdly, while not overtly so, it touches on NT themes, such as the Sermon of the Mount and the afterlife, and other themes, like that of wisdom, as discussed in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and elements of the Torah, including the notion of blessings following the righteous and cursing the wicked, a central theme that Job and his three friends debate during their exchanges. Then there is a key underlying theme of the Bible, we get glimpses of here – the plans of God and Satan’s attempts to thwart them, something that even when all is restored Job is barely aware of. As for whether the events and dialogue in the book really happened, notwithstanding poetic license, my belief is that they did!

Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils c.1826 William Blake

Doing this more in-depth study of / reflection on the Book of Job has come at a good time for me in my Christian journey as I have considered (possibly over much and often painfully) past happenings, yet having now gone past my three score and ten age allocation and in failing health I look forward to what can be achieved the few years now left, feeling a huge burden regarding the state of the world, the church and those close to me, and trying to make those days count. Job complements the other wisdom literature and helps us to make sense of all sorts of modern-day craziness. To do a thorough exposition of Job, while a worthwhile undertaking, is not one I will attempt here but rather will I share some of what I have learned from this current study round, along with a glorious reminder, come what may, there is a redeemer, ever ready to plead the cause of those who He has redeemed.

Job’s friends have been given a bad press and at the end were rebuked by God for not speaking rightly concerning Job. But they did sit with Job during his suffering, when others ignored or turned against him. Most of what they said was true and they only spoke in response to what Job said first. Besides not the way one should speak to someone who is suffering, they fell into the all too familiar trap of dogmatism. Even if the rule is God blesses the righteous (which Job was in God’s eyes) and He punishes the unrighteous, there are exceptions, something that Job noted as in his turmoil he tried to figure out. It not only covers “why me”, who despite what friends said had lived a good life, but included why bad people get away with being bad rather than dealt with as they deserve and why good people are not rewarded and even penalized for being good, and the question that vexes many: why do the innocent suffer?

There are all sorts of contradictions in the world we might want to identify, along with all the injustices, including good and innocent people suffering, such as this recent devastating Turkish earthquake. At this time, I see evil being promoted and practiced by bad people, many sadly believe to be good, with respectable people, including nice, sound Christians, inept or ok with this. If you want examples, e.g. Covid plandemic, Climate catastrophe, Election stealing, Child trafficking, educational indoctrination, financial misappropriation, media manipulation, proxy wars, trans humanism, digital ids, aborting babies, people exploiting and much to do with the Great Reset, then read my blogs! This is another reason why Job’s story is relevant, and why we do well to learn from it. It well complements a study of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (check out here for my thoughts).

As for what was happening in Job’s case, there was a perspective that over rode any other and this was missed by all parties – that of the unseen God, who all agreed was completely righteous. We do well to recognize such when we see evil rewarded and good seemingly not so; the innocent suffer and the guilty prosper. Part of the big unseen picture was, in the words of Pawson and one learned rabbi, there was a wager made between God and Satan to prove whether or not Job revered etc. God, merely because he was blessed by God and prospered – a wager that God won! If there is a lesson we can take away from the story of Job, it is God knows and does what is best, despite how things appear. There is much more of course that could be said, particularly concerning when God finally got to speak. There is much we do not understand, especially as we read about happenings in the world as well as personally, but we should allow God to be God, fear Him, trust Him and seek wisdom.    

In conclusion, we simply affirm what became clear in chapter 28. True wisdom is highly desirable and something that we do well to seek after. It is not something that can be found through the natural world or in searching out the hidden depths of the earth where much that is of value can be found. It begins with the fear of God and humbly recognising how little we know. It is not for us to speculate with certainty on some of these weighty matters, like the reasons for suffering. Wisdom is a gift of God to those who fear him. Let us end with the words of a hymn by Charles Wesley based on this very chapter. He uses the word “happy” (meaning blessed) three times in the hymn, the third time stating what follows when “The Fear Of The Lord Is The Beginning Of Wisdom” truly applies:

Breakdown of the Book of Job

Prologue (chs. 1-2)

  • Job’s Happiness (1:1-5)
  • Satan’s first accusation (1:6-12)
  • Job’s faith despite loss of family and property (1:13-22)
  • Satan’s second accusation (2:1-6)
  • Job’s faith during personal suffering (2:7-10)
  • The coming of the three friends (2:11-13)

Job’s Opening Lament (ch. 3)

First Cycle of Speeches (chs. 4-14)

  • Eliphaz (chs. 4-5)
  • Job’s reply (chs. 6-7)
  • Bildad (ch. 8)
  • Job’s reply (chs. 9-10)
  • Zophar (ch. 11)
  • Job’s reply (chs. 12-14)

Second Cycle of Speeches (chs. 15-21)

  • Eliphaz (ch. 15)
  • Job’s reply (chs. 16-17)
  • Bildad (ch. 18)
  • Job’s reply (ch. 19)
  • Zophar (ch. 20)
  • Job’s reply (ch. 21)

Third Cycle of Speeches (chs. 22-26)

  • Eliphaz (ch. 22)
  • Job’s reply (chs. 23-24)
  • Bildad (ch. 25)
  • Job’s reply (ch. 26)

Job’s Closing Discourse (ch. 27)

Interlude on Wisdom (ch. 28)

Job’s Call for Vindication (chs. 29-31)

  • His past honor and blessing (ch. 29)
  • His present dishonor and suffering (ch. 30)
  • His protestations of innocence and final oath (ch. 31)

Elihu’s Speeches (chs. 32-37)

  • Introduction (32:1-5)
  • The speeches themselves (32:6;37:24)
  • First speech (32:6;33:33)
  • Second speech (ch. 34)
  • Third speech (ch. 35)
  • Fourth speech (chs. 36-37)

Divine Discourses (38:1;42:6)

  • God’s first discourse (38:1;40:2)
  • Job’s response (40:3-5)
  • God’s second discourse (40:6;41:34)
  • Job’s repentance (42:1-6)

Epilogue (42:7-17)

  • God’s Verdict (42:7-9)
  • Job’s Restoration (42:10-17)

Extract from “Prophets of the Bible” concerning the person, character and concerns of Job.

As we have already reflected, the book of Job begs the question, although not answered to our entire satisfaction, that has been asked from time immemorial: why do the innocent and righteous suffer? It is likely set in the time of the Patriarchs and Job’s story is recounted in cultures other than that of Israel. In a nutshell, Job was a man who had everything, was materially well off, well respected and life as far as he was concerned was hunky-dory. Moreover, he honoured God, and importantly God recognised him as righteous. Unbeknown to Job, there was a confab going on in heaven involving God and Satan. Satan told God that Job only honoured Him because God had blessed Job. As if to test this proposition, God allowed Satan to take everything away from Job that he had, except his life and, after he did, Job still worshipped God. We then trawl though many chapters of dialogue between Job and his three comforters, plus toward the end with a young fellow, Elihu, who wanted to chip in with his own two penneth. In short, Job’s friends suggested Job was not quite as good as he was made out to be and this was the reason why he suffered; and, as for Job, he tried hard to figure out, far from satisfactorily, “why me?” In the end, God intervenes, but without entirely answering Job’s concerns, while telling him that he did not know what he was talking about and as God He could do whatever He wanted. He then restored to Job all that he had lost, and did so with interest. Faced as we are with perplexing conundrums, including the unfairness of life, and a God who does not always / often intervene in the way we want, it is well to reflect on Job’s patience and his trust in God while undergoing suffering.


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