Job 28:12

I. WISDOM IS SUPREMELY DESIRABLE. Men sink shafts and traverse hazardous paths in search of the precious metals simply because of their value. The costly and difficult processes of mining would not be carried on unless an adequate reward were expected. Unless men appreciate wisdom they will not take much trouble in attempting to acquire it. The first thing is to see that "the price of wisdom is above rubies" (ver. 18). Knowledge is good, as the food of the intellect. The knowledge of God is most precious as the food of the soul. Practical knowledge is essential for guidance in life. Wisdom is more than the satisfaction of curiosity; it is the light of life.

II. WISDOM DOES NOT LIE ON THE SURFACE OF THE WORLD. It is like the treasures of deep rallies, and therefore it is not seen by the superficial. God does not cast his pearls before swine. There are blessings that all men - even the most heedless - have a share in. But the greatest blessings are not stumbled on unawares. These are for all who will seek them; but they must be sought. Hidden treasures are sometimes dug up from beneath ancient ruins - vessels of gold and silver that have lain for ages buried under heaps of rubbish. So Divine treasures have been hidden beneath piles of earthly and comparatively worthless things. Sin and worldliness have buried them. They need to be rediscovered. Thus man has both to recover lost spiritual riches and to mine in virgin soil for new wisdom.

III. WISDOM IS NOT EASILY FOUND. It is not enough to sink a mine, for perhaps we may not strike a lode; we must discover where the precious metal lies. The mining engineer must bring his science and experience to bear on the great problem as to where the shaft is to be made, and if he makes a mistake all the costly work of preparing the mine will be thrown away. Now, we want some divining-rod to show us where to seek for the Divine wisdom. Philosophers have dug their mines in various regions of life and thought. No doubt they have brought much precious ore to the surface. But the great treasure of Divine knowledge has not been struck by any human inquiry without the guiding of a special heavenly revelation. Seas may be dredged and strange wonders of the deep brought to light, but these additions to natural history do not help us much in coming to know spiritual truth.

IV. WISDOM CANNOT BE BOUGHT. Precious stones may be purchased for money. Knowledge may be obtained in classes for which fees are charged; and yet the fees cannot purchase real education, and unless the scholar uses his mind he cannot profit by his lessons. No subscriptions to churches and missions and charities can buy Divine wisdom.

V. WISDOM IS A DIVINE GIFT SEEKING SOULS. It is like the precious metals in the earth which God has given to man freely. The treasures of God are for all, without money and without price. Moreover, God shows us where to find these treasures. Christ "is made unto us wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:30). When we receive Christ, we have the Treasure for which philosophers and saints toiled and mined. He brings the Divine wisdom to the surface, to cur very doors. If we would acquire wisdom, we have but to open our hearts to welcome Christ. - W.F.A.

But where shall wisdom be found?
Two things are prominently developed in this chapter — Man's power and his weakness; his power to supply the material necessities of his nature, and his weakness to supply his mental cravings.

I. EVERY INQUIRING INTELLECT HAS DIFFICULTIES WHICH IT IS ANXIOUS TO REMOVE. Two classes of intellectual difficulties — those connected with the physical realm of being, and those connected with the moral. The former class are pressing upon scientific men. The latter class by those who think on moral subjects. The difficulties in the moral department press far more heavily and fearfully on the heart of man than those in the physical.

II. THAT THE PRINCIPLE WHICH REMOVES THOSE DIFFICULTIES CAN NEITHER BE PURCHASED BY WEALTH NOR ATTAINED BY INVESTIGATION. A search for it in the domain of inanimate nature would be useless. So would a search for it in the domain of life, or in the domain of departed souls. (Death, Sheol.)


1. This is asserted by one who understands what wisdom is.

2. This is proved by the nature of the case.(1) By sustaining in the mind an unshaken and cheerful trust in the great Disposer of all things.(2) By sustaining the consciousness that what we understand not now, we shall know hereafter.(3) By clearing away from the mind those feelings which prevent the intellect from understanding spiritual things.(4) By giving the soul a ruling sentiment kindred to the primary impulse of God. Piety, then, is the Wisdom, the solvent principle.


What is this grace of wisdom, and why is it so highly exalted?

1. Wisdom, as described in the Bible, is that eager desire of knowledge which rests unsatisfied so long as a corner of darkness is left unexplored; that passion for learning which, like the fleets of Solomon, penetrated into the furthermost regions of the then known world, and brought back from the furthermost shores the stores of natural history. A spirit of inquiry may, no doubt, become frivolous and useless. But that is not its heaven-born mission.

2. The religious idea of wisdom is the exercise of "practical judgment and discretion"; "a wise and understanding heart to discern between good and bad"; the capacity for "justice, judgment, and equity." No doubt wisdom is not in itself goodness. The Proverbs are not the Psalms, Solomon was not David. But wisdom is next door to goodness, and religion leans upon her. How much mischief has been wrought because men have refused to acknowledge that common sense is a Christian grace. What a new aspect would be put upon the idleness, the selfishness, the extravagance of youth, if we could be taught to think not only of sinfulness, but of its contemptible folly, if we could be induced, not only to confess how often we were miserable sinners but also how often we have been miserable fools; what a great security for human welfare if we were to set ourselves not only to become better, but wiser, not only to gain holiness and virtue, but, as Solomon says, to get wisdom, get understanding; to pray that He who giveth liberally and upbraideth not, would in addition to His other blessings "give us wisdom."

(Dean Stanley.)

By culture we mean that condition of the instructed and trained intellect which is the result of education, refinement, and large acquaintance with the facts of nature and history. By religion we understand that personal relation to the supreme King, and that character of moral and spiritual quality which for us is Christian, and depends upon faith in the Gospel as its spring, and obedience to the law of Jesus Christ as its directing and controlling force. The relations which these sides of human action may bear to each other can never be of slight importance. Some maintain that they are antagonistic. It is said the ages of faith are not the times of intelligence. Learning causes religion to dwindle. But history shows that the epochs of man's progress, when there is a larger force, and a more vigorous vitality, are marked by stimulus, not only to the intelligence and learning of the human mind, but also to the faith, and corresponding character of the human heart. Illustrate from the period of the revival of learning and letters. Was not this epoch also the revival of a truer faith? If learning was revived, surely also the Gospel of Jesus Christ found a new life. There was a further quickening of intellectual life in the eighteenth century. But was it not the age of Whitefield and Wesley? And what have we seen in our own time? We boast its intelligence. But it is the day of evangelism, and nowhere is such form of religious life more strong than in the centres of learning.

1. Religion is itself a means of mental discipline. One of the first objects of study which religion furnishes is the nature of the human soul itself. It is very difficult to mark the boundary where the philosophy of the mind is separated from the religion of the spirit. Religion is historic, and no man can rightly yield himself to the influence of religion without tracing the progress of Christian doctrine and the development of the Church. And what a history has been this ecclesiastical, this dogmatic history of two millenniums. This historical knowledge which religion furnishes leads us to that solitary figure whose shadow has been cast over every century since its appearance among men. Religion begins and ends with us with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. What object of human thought can afford such discipline, such inspiration, such directing, as His life and work? History is only the commentary on Christ. The events of every age only start from Him, and lead to Him again. We have left unto the last the greatest thought of all which religion presents. Whom do we worship? Whom do we seek? Who is the ultimate end of all Christian endeavour, all religious belief, all devout living? It is God — the Supreme, the Infinite, the necessary Being, source of all life, regulator of all movements, spring of all creation, the first, the last, the beginning and the end of universal being. No science can tulle us beyond the threshold of His abode. The relation of man to God includes the deep enigmas of sin and evil, the large speculation of freedom, necessity, responsibility, and law. It is no wonder that the philosophers of the schools called theology the Queen of the Sciences.

2. The other side of the relation which religion bears to mental cultivation, is that protective and medicative influence which it can exert, so as to guard against or remedy the evils, in peril of which an exclusively mental exercise always lies.(1) Religion corrects the tendency of culture to ignore the limits of man's power. If the mind be concerned only with objects of nature, the facts and laws of the external world, and the purely phenomenal presentations of the human intellect itself, it is in great danger of not perceiving the lines beyond which its advance is absolutely barred.(2) Another peril is the pride and self-valuation which mere intellectual cultivation sometimes occasions. This is a moral vice, a fault of character, an imperfection of the heart. The wise man must be humble. True learning is to learn what we cannot know. Faith, and worship, and adoring love forever keep the human heart in the ready and loyal acknowledgment of its God.(3) Another peril is social, affecting the educated man as he is viewed in relation to his fellows. A learning that is nothing but intellectual tends to make us forget .our brotherhood. There is nothing more selfish than culture. There is a scorn in learning of which every man lies in danger. The only corrective is religion. In her courts we stand upon a common ground.

(L. D. Bevan, D. D.)

The wisdom which man is concerned to acquire must be a wisdom which will stand him in stead throughout eternity.

I. THE ABSTRUSENESS AND MARVELLOUSNESS OF HUMAN DISCOVERIES. The natural philosopher is engaged in a search; and many of his discoveries are attended with very beneficial results to the world at large. Let us ascertain, then, whether he has discovered the pearl of price for which we seek. In the investigation of nature men display an energy and perseverance which is well worthy of a nobler cause. But there is no rest, no peace, no satisfaction in this quest. It is of its very nature to be restless.

II. THERE IS AN IMPASSABLE LIMIT WHICH HUMAN DISCOVERIES CANNOT GO BEYOND. The field of providence baffles us at the outset. Nature affords us no light whatever in solving the secrets of the Divine dispensations.

III. "WHENCE COMETH WISDOM?" Shall our search after it be always fruitless? The seat of wisdom is, was, and ever has been, the bosom of God. Of Him we must learn it, if we would learn it at all. His Word shall set every mind at rest., shaft disclose to us what that true wisdom is, which is the sphere of man, and in which we may acquiesce. "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom." To depart from evil is the wisdom of wisdoms, the highest, the only true wisdom.

(E. M. Goulburn, D. G. L.)

A man without religion is not wise; not so wise as he ought to be; nor so wise as he could be. It is religion that teaches a man to act worthily towards different objects — to call them by their proper names. It is religion that teaches a man to take the greatest care with the most precious things. It is religion that teaches a man how to give the best time to the most important work. It is religion that teaches a man to strive most to win the approval of Him who has it in His power to do most. it is religion, in a word, that fits a man to enter heaven.

(David Roberts, D. D.)

Why is wisdom so far harder to find than anything else? Why can man read every other riddle of nature except the one riddle that fascinates him? Nothing here can escape his scrutiny; nothing can bar his advance. Look at him, the chapter says, as he digs and mines and searches and sifts and purges the dross with fire, and gathers in the assorted wealth. Look at the track where he unearths his silver, and at the furnace where he refines his gold. And yet, in spite of all this practical supremacy, this masterful intimacy over nature, is he at all nearer to the discovery of her ultimate secret? Can he dig up the truth as he can a diamond? Can he buy it in the market for coral? Nay, what avail his pearls and rubies? Somehow the secret is ever eluding him. Just when men seem nearest to it, it slips from out of their clutch. Nature is forever suggesting it, yet forever concealing it. The sea, which had seemed to be murmuring it aloud in its dreams, now says, "It is not in me"; the depth, which had enticed us into its brooding wonder, now says, "It is not with me." Somehow they all stop short. "This is a path which no bird knows; the eye even of the vulture has never seen it; the wild beasts have never trodden it; the young lions pass not by that way; it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the birds of the air." So the Book confesses. Ah! how that ancient experience repeats itself in us today. Never was the contrast more vivid or more crushing than now between the astounding practical efficiency of our scientific handling of earth's material treasures, and the futility of our search for the inner secret. Still, the spectacle of nature spreads out before us its intimate invitation to come and take possession; there is no recess that we may not penetrate; no height and depth that we cannot enter. It makes itself ours, and we feel ourselves its master. We stand amazed at our own supremacy. No obstacles defeat us, no perils terrify. Down into the deep bowels of the earth we sink our shafts; over all its seas we send our fleets; our furnaces blaze, and our factories roar. How dauntless our search; how sublime our capacity, our patience, our persistence! But one thing remains as far off, as elusive as ever. Upon one discovery we cannot lay our hand. There is a point where our mastery suddenly droops; our cunning fails us, and our courage and our self-confidence drop away from under us. We snatch at what we fancied to be the thing which we desired to find, and our fingers close on emptiness. Where is it gone? Why cannot we hold it — this wisdom, this spiritual secret, this reality of things? Ah, yes, why indeed? Did we suppose that we should come upon it, hid in some mine with the sapphires and the dust of gold? Did we hope to dig it up one day? Nay, not by any such road can we arrive at wisdom; not in that fashion is it captured. The spiritual purpose, the inner reality of things is of another kind. Not by faculties such as these that our practical efficiency brings into play shall we apprehend it — "Seeing that it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the birds of the air." Practical skill, obviously, ludicrously fails us. But practical science, the science of experimental discovery, cannot that help us? It is our very organ of discovery: cannot it discover wisdom? Alas! Here, too, we find that the very exercise of those scientific faculties by which our astounding triumphs have been achieved excludes and banishes our chance of arriving by these methods at the secret of reality. The more we know that way, the less we arrive. The spread of our science, in which we have shown ourselves so masterful, so victorious, is won at the cost of intellectual limitations which prohibit our apprehension of the one thing that we desire to know. Science has carried us further off from the secret than we were before we were scientific. It has made more evident how elusive that secret is. We stare hopelessly out at stars so remote that the light which can travel ninety-three millions of miles to the sun in eight minutes takes hours and days and years even to arrive. And far beyond those stars again a million others spread away in swarms of tangled haze. Where are we in such a universe? What is man? How can he count? What intercourse can hold between him, in his terrible minute insignificance, and it in its unimaginable vastness? How dare he thrust himself in with all his ludicrous emotions, and his absurd desires? What does that vast world know of him in its icy aloofness; there, in that unplumbed and immeasurable abyss? Back we sink to look within; but is it more hopeful, our in-look there? The dear familiar face of the earth has disappeared under the siftings of physical science. And what frightens us is that all this mechanical universe into which we are scientifically introduced omits us, ignores us, goes on without us. That which is our real life, — our thought, our will, our imagination, our affection, our passion, these cannot find themselves there; they cannot be expressed in terms of mechanism. Practical science says, "It is not in me"; organised science says, "It is not in me." Where shall wisdom be found; is there any other road of search? Where is there a better promise of arrival? Well, there is an offer, which I think carries us a long way nearer than physical science. It is that of art. In the creative impulse, in the imaginative emotion kindled at the sight or sound of beauty, we have that which seems to open the door into the secret of existence, into the mind with which nature was made. Nature explains itself to us best as a majestic spectacle, as a living effort that finds its joy in being what it is. That is what all nature cries to us. Life teems, life dances, life sings: it is a glory just to be alive. Is not that the truth at which the sons of God shouted in the first morning of creation? The earth was so superb a fact; it stood as a picture; it grew like a poem, and it moved like music. God found His joy in flinging out His power in all this radiant majesty; He loved it for being alive, for being the expression of His love. And that joy of God in sheer existence passed into all things to become their soul. We need not inquire here for what ulterior end they were made, or what use they serve. It is so difficult to discern what will come of it all. But why ask? Enough that they are what they are. To live is to suffice; to live is to be intelligible; to live is to be justified. If only the world is content to rejoice in being what it is, it has attained. "Oh, all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord! Praise Him and magnify Him forever." This cry of praise can sweep in so much that otherwise might perplex or distress us in the making of the world. Its hardships, its trials, its sufferings, may yet pass into the great hymn. Fire and hail, though they burn and break, yet are what they are, and as such, even as we suffer under them, we are glad to praise the Lord and magnify Him forever. The poet, the musician can suggest to us how the deeper pains of the great human tragedy may take a new meaning under the glamour of art, and can yield, under the pressure of high imagination, a sweeter, richer mystery of joy. Yes, in the passion of the artist we are close upon our secret, we are knocking at the door, as it were. Yet who can dare rest satisfied with that solution; who will stop there? Indignantly our hearts repudiate it. We cannot be as those who, like Goethe, could regard the universe as the material for a work of art. Music, poetry, may indeed, be able to suggest to us that sorrow and love and death are not all in vain; they may wring a bittersweet joy out of hardness. And yet, and yet, we dare not go round London streets today and say, "Be comforted; you are part of the eternal tragedy; you lend pathos to the human drama. Your sorrows rise into songs, your woes are gathered up into the great orchestral symphony of time. Men and women are so far more interesting when they suffer than when they succeed. If only you could see and feel it, your trouble leads to the final peace, even as the discords in a piece of musical development that crash so harshly on the ear are essential to the perfect close into which they gently resolve themselves." No, that will not do; that cannot be our Gospel for the poor and the heavy laden. Where, then, shall it be found? Where, really, is the place of understanding? What is our last word? Is it not the same as that which is given in the Book of Job? "The fear of the Lord — that is wisdom; to depart from evil — that is understanding." The moral life holds for us the central secret of reality. The moral life is our act of communion with the power that is at the heart of things. In it we arrive; by it we get home. A hundred problems may lie around us unsolved; we may have to walk in blindness amid a world that we can make nothing of. We may be utterly unable to account for the origin of things, or to interpret their purpose, or to foresee their end. But for all this we can afford to wait; for, deep at the core of our being we have that in us which holds us fast shut within the very light of life, within the very eternity of God. His will — that will in which the worlds move and are in being — closes round our will; His love — that love which is the fount of all creation and the end of all desire — folds itself about our little trembling flame of love. We are His; He is ours. Surrendered to the law of His life we are at peace within the very secret of all secrets. Some day we shall know and see and understand. Then the amazing purpose will unveil itself, and we shall sing our "Hallelujah, Amen." But enough if now, blind though we be, and impotent and staggered, we yet can be aware that He, whom we possess, and who desires us, is Himself the sole supreme reality of all that exists, that He is Lord and God of all, that He will at last be all in all. By surrender to Him, by obedience to Him in His fear, lies our only present wisdom — a wisdom which holds in it the promise and the pledge of all other wisdom that can be. This is the mystery of the conscience, of the will, of the heart, of the fear of the Lord. Through it, and through it alone, can man make good his entry within the veil, within the light. This faith in the moral law is being sorely tried today, just because the vast disclosures of science seem to carry us further and further away from a world in which moral purposes prevail. The world of infinite mechanism which is opened out to us, reaching far away into appalling distances beyond our power even to imagine, at work within in a minuteness of scale which paralyses our reason, wears the air of something altogether non-moral. There seems to be no bond that holds between it and our purposes and convictions. Where are we? What significance have we? What importance dare we attribute to our tiny actions? Ah! how difficult to uphold our belief that all these rolling suns are as mere dust in the balance over against a Commandment pronouncing, "Thou shalt," "Thou shalt not." They cannot be weighed against a sin. The soul has that in it which outweighs them all. How difficult; yet that is our faith. "The fear of the Lord," we say, "that is wisdom." Can we hold it fast? Will we live and die in it? Will we utter it aloud, and stand by it in the face of all the million suns? No; the guidance, the assurance that we need must be strong, decided, masterful, absolute, if it is to bear up against the terrible counter pressure. A voice must speak which never wavers, a voice which holds in it the very sound of authority, a voice which cannot be gainsaid. And therefore, to supply this authoritative momentum, a Babe has been born into the world, through whom such an appeal as that can reach us, He will live and He will die to verify the fear of the Lord as man's one and only wisdom. Through His lips man may know, with a certainty which no counter-experience can ever shake, that it is worth while to lose the whole world, if only he can save his soul; truth and righteousness and purity are the sole treasure that he can lay up for himself in Heaven — that he had better pluck out his right eye than gain through it a lustful pleasure — that he had better be drowned with a millstone round his neck in the depths of the sea than do a hurt to the least of God's little ones. In the sweat of blood, in the sacrifice of the Cross, He will exhibit the unconquerable splendour of the dedicated will at the price of all that life can offer. And, moreover, He who asserts that supremacy of the moral interest is one who, by His very nature, proclaims that man, concentrating himself upon this unique moral interest, and letting all go on its behoof, finds himself one with the eternal reality of things, one with the ultimate life, one with the Father of all flesh; for He who so dies to all but the moral command is Himself the One in whom God sums up all creation. You are not, therefore, asked to despise or to condemn the wonderful world disclosed by science or revealed by art; you are not asked to think little of that vast universe, with its rolling spheres, because there is set before you, here on earth, this sole and supreme purpose — to fear God and to hate evil. For in this moral issue lies the secret of the entire sum of things; and the pure will of Jesus is the will on which all existence is framed. Win there, and you will win everywhere; win there in the moral struggle, and behold, "All things are yours, things in heaven, things in earth, and things under the earth." All, all at last will be yours! you hold the secret of power — "For you are Christ's, and Christ is God's." But., remember, you must win there or you are lost, whatever else you may win. That is our Gospel. And here in this arena there is no one who, in Christ, may not win. Your life may become a victory. Yes; even for you, who feel, perhaps, so terribly beaten by the pressure of a hard world.

(Canon Scott Holland.)

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