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270. Job 28:12-19, But Where is Wisdom?

 

12 “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.

14 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.

16 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.

 

Job 28:1-11 focused on the diligent search for and nearly-inaccessible location of precious metals in the earth; Job 28:12-19 shifts the focus to the subject of wisdom. Wisdom, like these metals, will be inaccessible (vv 13-14), and its value is immeasurable (vv 15-19). The poet will leave us with questions swirling in our minds by the end of this section—if wisdom is so valuable, more so than the gold and silver humans seek with the greatest fervor and focus, why don’t we search for it? What is the path to it? Where is it located? What is so valuable about it?  

 

But the author is in no hurry to answer these questions that begin to lodge in our minds after he poses the tantalizing question of verse 12: “But where can wisdom be found?  And where is the place of understanding?” Instead of giving us a tutorial at once on how to find it, in verses 12-19 he takes us on a delicious verbal tour of obscure words to describe gold and other gems as well as the process of “valuing” or “evaluating” them. It is as if he is trying to increase the tension and thereby stimulate our longing so that when he asks the same question in verse 20 as verse 12 (he only changes one Hebrew word), we figuratively want to leap from our chairs and say, 'Please tell me!' or 'I will give anything to find the answer to this question!' We really want the product, wisdom, by the time we get to the end of this section.

 

Yet getting to the end of this section isn’t easy.  We don’t really know several of the terms listed in these verses; I will give suggestions that the tradition has given, but often we are no closer a precise answer, for example, of what zekokith (v 17; "glass" in Modern Hebrew) or gabbish (v 18) or the five kinds of gold that are listed in the passage really are. We have no problem, however, divining the basic flow and significance of the passage. It is designed to create a most intense longing in us to possess that most valuable thing in the universe:  wisdom.