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275. Job 28:23-26, Where Does Wisdom Reside? Essay One
23 “God understands its way,
And He knows its place.
24 For He looks to the ends of the earth
And sees everything under the heavens.
25 When He imparted weight to the wind
And meted out the waters by measure,
26 When He set a limit for the rain
And a course for the thunderbolt. . .
We are glad that wisdom exists somewhere (v 22); that is why verse 23 is utterly appropriate, and encouraging. Abandoning all the complex hapaxes or unclear (to us) references to gold and precious gems of verses 12-19, our author simply says about wisdom:
“God understands its way; and he knows its place.”
Note the first word of the verse, both in Hebrew and English: “God.” It may seem expected or even trite, but after the fruitless efforts of humans to find wisdom and the sad report from several agencies below the earth that it isn’t in them, it is encouraging to have “God” now start a sentence. It is the first time “God” has appeared in this chapter.
This assertion of verse 23 both echoes wisdom tradition language and uses a very common word (maqom, “place”) that appears 5x in Job 28 alone. The wisdom tradition language is presented in three simple and easily-understandable words: “understand” (bin; cf. the noun form binah in vv 12, 20), the “way” (derek, a common word for wisdom’s path, especially in Proverbs), and “know” (yada, also a common word in the tradition). The author had figuratively thrown up his hands through the question repeated in verses 12 and 20 about the location of wisdom. Now we learn that God “understands” the way of wisdom. God also knows its “place” (maqom, more than 400x/20x in Job). Though the word maqom is a most unspecific term for a location, it plays an important role in Job 28. We are told that there was a “place” (maqom) for silver (v 1) and that the deep places of the earth were the “place/source” (maqom) for sapphires (v 6). Yet, the “place” (maqom) for understanding (binah) was elusive (vv 12, 20). Now we learn, to our delight, that God knows its “place” (maqom). Because God knows it, we have the hope that humans, too, might learn it. We lift our head and incline our ears, ready for instruction. That posture, indeed, is commended by the Wisdom Tradition, for those who are ready to learn.
But before getting to the punchline of the entire chapter, the author shows the effort God expended in searching for and establishing wisdom. The next three verses (vv 24-26) are really one extended thought that captures how wisdom was established as God was also setting up the rest of the universe. It is as if God was the not simply the architect but also the construction manager of a complex building project. Many things are happening at the same time but they are all being orchestrated by God. In that connection the text tells us (vv 24-26):
“For he himself to the end of the earth looks; under all the heavens he sees—
when weighing out the wind and estimating the measure of the waters—
when making a statute/decree for the rain and a way for the stormy lightning..”
I have tried to maintain some of the rhythm and word order of the original, despite its sounding a bit wooden in English. These verses function as a kind of “runway” for the “take off” of verses 27-28, which are the culmination of the chapter. Using this image, we see God “taxiing” or “warming up” in these verses before doing the hard word of “wisdom-establishment” in verse 27 and “wisdom-clarification” in verse 28. Or, we might use an image from baseball: verses 24-26 are the divine “wind-up” before the “pitch” of verses 27-28.
Rather than the verbs forming an inclusio in verse 24, as we saw happen with the verbs for “hide” in verse 21, we have a parallelism with two common verbs for “seeing” (nabat; raah) occurring at the end of their respective clauses. Verse 24 also makes sure we know who the subject of nabat is: “he himself” (hu)—i.e., “God.” It is good that the author has made this clear because God only made an appearance in the previous verse, even though he will dominate the final six verses of the chapter. And though verse 24 functions as a kind of “majesty-giving” verse, where the broad sweep of God’s visionary activity is presented, it sounds hauntingly similar to the Satan’s language in Job 1:7. In response to the divine query as to where he had been, the Satan responds, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The language is quite different from that of 28:24, but in both instances we see heavenly creatures looking over the world.