28 Mar 2010

Job Sums It Up

Religious 9 Comments

I was always in awe of people who memorized Bible verses, because that’s never something I was very good at. Even though I “know a lot” in economics (and I used to in physics), it wasn’t because I memorized things, it was rather because I understood how the principles worked and then I could reconstruct them on a test.

Well the only way to become “mighty in the Scriptures” is to memorize your first Bible verse. Fortunately, the verse from Job that I spotlighted earlier just continues to amaze me, and so I have tucked it away as the first verse I have memorized. On top of its inherent profundity, it is easy to remember: it’s Job 28:28:

And to man He said,

‘ Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.’”

I think this is amazing on many levels. Let me list some of them:

(1) It is direct revelation (assuming Job is correct in his report). If you read the context, you’ll see that the Lord is telling man where to find wisdom, after telling all the places wisdom isn’t.

(2) Telling us where to find wisdom, is just the kind of thing you need expert testimony on. Even though it’s really annoying when you’re 16 and your parents say, “Well, you’ll understand when you’re older and have your own kids,” strictly speaking you really don’t know if they’re right or not. No matter how intelligent you are, you can’t predict how you will analyze things after a lifetime of experience. So if you can understand why it’s a good idea–why it’s wise–to listen to your grandparents tell you their thoughts on life, then a fortiori it’s a good idea to listen to what God has to say about things. And in particular, it’s wise to listen to Him tell you what the epitome of wisdom is. (I’m not trying to be cute here, this reflexivity, if you will, of the passage just floored me.)

(3) The passage is completely unexpected, at least from a naive secular viewpoint. As I said last time, I would not have thought stressing fear would be something a holy person would do, and yet it’s all over the Old Testament. A cynic of course would say, “Yeah, primitive cultures kept people in line by scaring them with the angry man in the sky myth,” but when you read, say, David in the Psalms talking of the fear of the Lord, that’s not really what’s going on. And it’s the same thing here with Job: It’s very strange at first to think that wisdom consists of knowing what you should fear, isn’t it?

But here’s how I have been thinking about it lately: When you “fear no evil,” but fear the Lord, that’s showing that you understand how the world works. For example, if someone wanted to advance in a company and got on the good side of the CEO’s wife–because he had observed that whoever she liked, ended up getting promotions etc.–then we might say that guy is shrewd. If his competitor ignored the wife, and tried to directly suck up to the boss, we might describe him as foolish, for not understanding how the power is really wielded.

So it’s the same with our world. It’s not simply immoral or cowardly to fear the CIA, a mugger, an earthquake, or even the devil himself. It shows that you don’t really believe in God’s might. Any power those things have over you, is only because the Lord has permitted them to have it. Job of all people understands this, and yet he remains faithful.

(4) The last part is incredibly profound as well: “…and to depart from evil is understanding.” It reinforces my growing understanding that God’s commandments serve a purpose. There’s a reason you’re not supposed to sin, and it’s not simply to avoid getting turned into a pillar of salt. Job could’ve said, “…and to depart from evil is obedience,” but he didn’t, he said it was understanding. When you tell your little kid to stay away from the street, or else you’ll punish him, at first the kid obeys out of fear (of you). But as the child matures he begins to understand why you laid down that rule.

9 Responses to “Job Sums It Up”

  1. JimS says:

    I think you may be putting a little too much stock in memorization. I believe you answered yourself when you said you know a lot about economics, not because you memorized, but because you understand. I do not mean to imply you neither know nor understand the Bible, because I believe you try to live it by action.

    Oddly enough, I read a little Montaigne last night where he noted, “to know by heart is simply not to know. What a man truly knows he can toss about at will.” and he would add, what he knows to be true he lives in practice. I think this is evident in your knowledge of economics, especially in the question and answer periods, where I believe you truly excel; your enjoyment is evident and you can toss the information about at will. Your knowledge of the scriptures is also evident in your person, concerns and conduct and such is better than being stuffed with verses and no true use for them.

    Montaigne also noted that a liberal education, the stuffing of the individual with facts, does not necessarily liberate.

    As far as fearing God, while I am not a scholar of languages, it would be interesting to know what the original word was. I would suspect that the word translated as fear also has the meaning of respect. I respect a running chainsaw and one may say I fear the consequences of mishandling it, but I do not have sleepless nights about this machine and I certainly do not worship it. One who fears God has a healthy respect, but does not live cowering from Him or His wrath. The OED has a reference of the archaic use of fear as “regard (God) with reverance and awe.” I think that is pretty accurate.

    With regard to your point (2): Remember we are commanded to honor our father and mother. I do not believe that we are to have reverance and awe for them, but respect for them and certainly respect for their knowledge and life experience. Just as you build on the knowledge of previous economists, I believe we are to build on that of our parents.

    As far as fearing no evil. I do not mean to sound like some sort of bad mamma jamma, but when I have been confronted by bad people, I did not experience real fear. What was more prevelant in my mind was not what they could do at that moment, but the misery of living under their constant tyranny. I side with Patrick Henry when he questioned, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!” But as a former Marine, I also know one should be prudent to choose one’s battles whenever possible. I also know, as a former Marine, the difference between obediance and understanding. You want your troops both obedient and respectful, but not necessarily understanding.

    Thanks again for this site and your work. There are many things you make me think hard about.


  2. bobmurphy says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. What did you mean by this though?

    “You want your troops both obedient and respectful, but not necessarily understanding.”

    Do you mean because certain things your troops didn’t have clearance to know about (like “We’re taking this hill because the spies told us XYZ”) or do you mean that it inhibits reflexive obedience to orders if the troops try to figure out why you are ordering something?

    • JimS says:

      I was thinking more the second item, that you want reflexive obedience, but you also do not want them to know where info comes from in the event they fall into enemy hands.

      I believe that certain branches of the service and certainly certain units have achieved a high level of professionalism, so independent thought is not problematic and is in fact desirable. That is to say, that professionals seek to act as such no matter the situation. Also, continual drilling causes one to react reflexively. I use this in civilian life too. There are certain market indicators or conditions that cause me to buy or sell or hold. These are actually written down and reviewed frequently or looked at daily.

      That being said, it is important for service members to have an understanding of right and wrong. My general orders only bound me to obey “lawful orders.” I was NOT to be a robot. I have seen a number of Marines stand up to superiors because they felt something was not legal or just.

      Your anti war position and non violent beliefs interest me. Have you written any articles on these topics or can you suggest any readings in this area? What partucularly interests me is that you seem to imply that the violence of the American Revolution was unnecessary. Am I correct? What alternatives did you see?

      Thanks again;

  3. K Sralla says:

    Wonderful post Bob. When you say: “So it’s the same with our world. It’s not simply immoral or cowardly to fear the CIA, a mugger, an earthquake, or even the devil himself. It shows that you don’t really believe in God’s might. Any power those things have over you, is only because the Lord has permitted them to have it. Job of all people understands this, and yet he remains faithful.”

    This is a profound statement, and I think it is the exact sentiment the Apostles are communicating when they write about submitting to the civil magistrates. As Peter discourses on civil authority, he very directly mentions our ultimate liberty that we (believers) have as citizens of the Kingdom of God. I think the aim of the text (1 Peter 2:13-21) is to demonstrate that the only sovereign being is God himself, and thus he alone is worthy of worship. At the same time, the magistrates, even the evil ones, have been permitted to reign, due ultimately to God’s hidden decrees. Believers are nevertheless not to cower to these folks, but rather are to place their faith, trust, and hope in the King of Kings alone. Armed with the knowledge of this reality, our inner man has true liberty from their tyranny, even though our body might be afflicted or even killed. Jesus tells us to fear only the one who can destroy both the body and soul in Hell (Matthew 10:28). We are to endure patiently and cheerfully so long as we are not restricted from doing that which God explicitly commands, but when we are forbidden by the state to fulfill God’s specific commands, we are conscience bound to be reverently disobedient, not as a childish rebel, but as a serious worshiper of the true God. This righteous disobedience may occur even under the risk of imprisonment and the sentence of death by the state. The type example is Peter and John in their run-ins with the Sanhedrin as they preached Christ in the Temple, but even more-so by Christ refusal to give in to the civil and religious authorities in Jerusalem.

  4. Bob Murphy says:

    Thanks K Sralla. Jim that’s right, I think the colonists would have been better off not using violence. I am pretty busy for the foreseeable future so I probably won’t be able to write this idea up; I would need to consult some history books etc. since it’s hardly an a priori kind of thing. If you don’t see it and still care in a few months, feel free to nag me.

    Actually Jim if you email me I can send you the stuff I wrote on pacifism when I was in grad school.

  5. Daniel Hewitt says:

    JimS, yes fear has a different meaning, in the exact manner you describe. I don’t know Hebrew, but I can read multiple translations. Here is the Contemporary English Version:

    God told us, “Wisdom means
    that you respect me, the Lord,
    and turn from sin.”

    Bob, any reason you always post the NKJV? Do you prefer to read that translation?

  6. fundamentalist says:

    Nice post! Thanks!

    “When you “fear no evil,” but fear the Lord, that’s showing that you understand how the world works.”

    Excellent! Because of the parallelism in the poetry, wisdom and understanding are synonyms. To be wise means to understand how things actually work.

    “I think the colonists would have been better off not using violence.”

    I am increasing coming to a similar conclusions, even though I’m not a pacifist. Americans are too quick to go to war.

  7. bobmurphy says:

    Daniel Hewitt, no special reason. I like the majesty of the King James version best, but I can’t understand it. So I compromise with NKJ.

  8. fundamentalist says:

    PS, the passage suggests that people can be highly educated, as Krugman, and still lack wisdom, or an understanding of how things actually work. The older generation in my part of the country loved to refer to such people as “educated idioats.”