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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Job 28



Verse 1


Job observes, that man, though he can find out the hidden veins of silver, gold, iron, and brass, yet cannot find out wisdom: God hath taught him that wisdom consists in the fear of the Lord.

Before Christ 1645.

Job 28:1. Surely there is a vein for the silver See the Reflections on the 28th verse, p. 806. This chapter, as it is one of the most beautiful and instructive, so perhaps, we may adds it is the most obscure of the whole book. The subject of it is an inquiry after wisdom: not the wisdom of God, meaning the unsearchable depths of his counsels; but wisdom in general, or rather the wisdom proper to man; and, therefore, in the last verse, as the result of the inquiry, we are told what that wisdom is. The chapter begins with a fine description of the indefatigable industry and ardour of mankind, in searching after things which contribute either to the use or ornament of life; how they dig into the bowels of the earth for metals, gold, silver, iron, and brass; and though the great Creator hath set a boundary betwixt light and darkness, dividing the two hemispheres from each other, as by a line or circle, yet the industry of avarice of man is without bounds. He searcheth into the land of darkness itself for hidden treasures. See Job 28:3. The word rendered vein, מוצא motza, signifies properly a going-forth: there is a going-forth for the silver; that is, "man hath found where silver may be dug out of the earth." See Peters and Houbigant.

Verse 2

Job 28:2. And brass is molten out of the stone And stone, when it is melted, becometh brass. Houbigant.

Verse 3

Job 28:3. He setteth an end to darkness He hath set, or, an end is set to darkness, and an extremity to all, or, to the universe. He (meaning man, that audacious creature) searcheth out the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death. He digs into another world, as it were, for gold and precious stones. תכלית taklith, as well as קצ ketz, signifies the end, the border, and extremity of any thing; and the extremity of all, or the universe, I apprehend to mean the same-horizontal circle which divides the light and darkness from each other; for what is above the horizon is, in effect, the universe to us; at least, it was so to the ancients, who considered all below it, as, to them, a region of perpetual darkness. It was this upper visible hemisphere which they called the world; see chap. Job 18:18 and 1 Samuel 2:8. That this must be the meaning here, seems further confirmed by a parallel place in this speech of Job, chap. Job 26:10 where he points out the same horizontal circle in almost the same words: He hath set a circle as a boundary upon the face of the waters, even to the extremity of light and darkness; i.e. to the very edge where light and darkness meet. This is evidently the sense of that passage, and we see that the expressions in both are much the same; only what is called the extremity of light in one, is in the other passage, called the extremity of all, or the universe, meaning the whole enlightened hemisphere. See Proverbs 26:10. Isaiah 44:24. If this then be the true sense of this difficult passage, I believe the reader will agree with me, that the thought is very noble and sublime: it is as if we should say, in the language of Horace, Nequicquam Deus abscidit, &c. "In vain is it that God hath divided the light from the darkness, if men will dig into the land of darkness itself for gold and treasures." As the author of the Book of Job was, perhaps, the most brief writer that ever appeared in the world, and his language the most concise; he just gives you a glimpse of things, and leaves the rest to be supplied by the imagination of the reader. His thoughts are like the gold and jewels that he speaks of; precious in themselves, we must sometimes labour hard, and go deep for them. Peters. Heath understands the passage somewhat differently; and, supposing it to contain a description of the dreadful life of the miner, who descends into the bowels of the earth in search of ore, he renders it, Maketh a league with darkness, and all destruction; who searcheth out the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death.

Verse 4

Job 28:4. The flood breaketh out The author here gives us another instance of the daring spirit and ingenuity of mankind; how they cross the broad rivers and arms of the sea for commerce, where there is no path for the foot of man; where they lessen to the sight, and are tossed upon the waves. The verse may be literally translated thus: The flood interrupts from the stranger; forgotten of the foot, they appear less than men; they are tossed. If we were to see such a passage in Pindar, I am persuaded, we should think that which I have given to be the sense of it, and admire the strong and lively images here set before us. There are but two places which I remember in the Book of Job, where there is any allusion to navigation, and both shew it to have been in its infancy: the one is chap. Job 9:26 on which see the note; the other is this before us; where the sea is not so much as mentioned, but נחל nachal, a torrent, or flood; some arm of the sea, perhaps, of a few leagues over, which, dividing the several nations, must interrupt their hospitality and commerce with each other, except by the help of navigation. One would think that Job had the boat and mariners in his eye when he describes them so poetically in these three remarkable particulars; that they are forgotten of the foot; i.e. their feet forget them, and are no longer serviceable to them in this very different way of travelling; that they lessen to the sight; they look like crows instead of men, as they go further and further from the shore; and lastly, are tossed up and down upon the billows; נעו nau. The word seems to denote any involuntary and irregular motion, and is used by the Psalmist for the staggering of a drunkard; to which he compares the unsteady motion of a ship's crew tossed in a storm, in that fine description, Psalms 107:27. Peters.

Verse 5

Job 28:5. As for the earth, out of it, &c.— By means of it. Heath; who thinks that the latter part of the verse refers to the bituminous sulphureous countries in the east; the subversion of which produced the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; though it seems probable that the meaning is more general.

Verse 7

Job 28:7. There is a path which no fowl knoweth As for his path, the eagle knoweth it not: the eye of the vulture hath not pierced it. Heath.

Verses 12-21

Job 28:12-21. But where shall wisdom be found? Job continues to give further instances of the daring and yet successful attempts of mankind, to provide themselves with every necessary and conveniency of life; such as corn for bread; (Job 28:5.) fountains of water in the dry places, where they are wanted, cut out of the hard rock; (Job 28:10.) and rapid rivers restrained within their channels to prevent the mischiefs of their overflow: Job 28:11. To which he adds again gold and sapphires, and other precious stones, dug from the deep dark caverns of the earth, where the lion's foot never trod, nor the vulture's eye hath reached: in short, that there is scarcely any thing so concealed, but that the industry of man hath brought it to light; wisdom alone excepted; for all this is designed to introduce the great question, "Where shall wisdom be found?" Job 28:12-20. The reader cannot but take notice of that beautiful repetition which is here made of several of the particulars before mentioned, and the fine turn which is given to each: the depth saith, It is not in me; and the sea saith, It is not with me: as if he had said, "Men may dig into the bowels of the earth, and find gold and treasures there; but they will have as far to seek for wisdom as ever: nay, could they traverse the great sea itself, as they now cross a river or a strait, yet they would find that wisdom is not to be had in the way of commerce and exchange." It follows, It cannot be gotten for gold,—the onyx,—the sapphire,—the coral,—the pearl,—the topaz. The sapphire was mentioned before, and, being itself a Hebrew word, there can be no doubt about the meaning of it; but for the other words, whether we translate them rightly is a controverted point among the learned; and the obscurity of the text in this, as well as in other places, affords no inconsiderable argument of the antiquity of the book. One thing we cannot but remark from this passage; namely, how early the race of men had learned to set a value on those precious trinkets which are here so lavishly and temptingly exposed to view, that we could scarcely have forgiven the speaker, but for the honesty of his intention. It cannot, however, but give us a high idea of the splendor of Job's condition in the time of his prosperity, to see that he was so well acquainted with all those rare and costly things which the world calls treasures, and of which, no doubt, he had his share; but it gives one still a higher idea of his integrity and good sense, to find him representing wisdom as beyond comparison more valuable than them all. "But where then is this valuable thing to be found? Whence cometh wisdom? Job 28:20 and where is the place of understanding? Job 28:21. Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air, or heavens." Had augury been practised in the days of Job, one would think that he had here alluded to it. But I cannot find that there is the least mention in this book (which is another mark of its antiquity) of divination of any sort, except what Tully calls, improperly, the natural divination per somnia et vaticinationes, by dreams and extacies, or prophetic raptures; and it is remarkable, that he says of those two sorts, that many of the philosophers who discarded all the rest allowed of these; I suppose because they were supported by unquestionable facts. See Tull. de Divin. lib. 1: cap. 3. If one may take a hint from the old scholiast upon Homer, it should seem as if augury was introduced among the heathens together with their men-deities; for he tells us, "that Jupiter and the eagle, which of all the winged tribe gives the most certain omen, were born together." See Peters. Job, by mentioning the birds, appears to mean that wisdom was sealed up from all; from all beneath, Job 28:14 from all in the midst, Job 28:15. From all above; from all which walk the earth; from all which fly the heavens.

Verse 22

Job 28:22. Destruction and death say, &c.— In this and the following verses we have an answer to the great question, "Whence cometh wisdom?" But it opens to us by degrees. Destruction and death say, we have heard the same thereof with our ears. Destruction and death mean the dead: the metonymy is easy, and gives a clear and natural sense to the passage. He had just before told us, that wisdom and her place were hid from the eyes of all the living, and, therefore, where should we go to seek for it, but among the dead? The synonymous words Destruction and death are used, probably, after the Hebrew manner, to increase the signification, and to denote a long race of their dead ancestors from the beginning of the world downward. "The generations of men (says Job,) who have lived before us, and are now gone to the regions of the dead, have told us, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears; that is, we have had something relating to this question about wisdom delivered down to us by tradition from our forefathers." That this must be the meaning, can scarcely be doubted, when it is considered what a regard is paid, throughout this whole dispute, by every speaker and in every speech almost, to what was taught them by their ancestors; from whom, in a manner, all their wisdom was derived, transmitted down, and received with a religious veneration; so that the citing of their authority in favour of the point in question, was looked upon as an unanswerable argument: nor is this any wonder, considering what a short remove they were from the very fountain-head of their traditions, and that those, when traced to their beginning, carried with them a divine authority: for, whether derived from Adam or from Noah, as the first, in his state of innocence at least, was admitted to a free converse with his Maker; so the other was a prophet, to whom God was pleased to reveal himself in a very singular manner; and therefore the instructions conveyed down from these must needs have been esteemed as oracles; and those who had the advantage of living nearest to them, and so were supposed to have received the greatest share of this traditional knowledge, must, of course, have been looked upon as the wisest men. See Peters, and the note on chap. Job 8:8.

Verses 23-28

Job 28:23-28. God understandeth the way thereof Job having observed, that the generations of men who had lived in former ages had said, concerning wisdom, we have heard the fame thereof with our ears, adds, that tradition had delivered to them some further particulars respecting this important subject; as, that God alone (Job 28:23.) understands the way thereof, and knoweth the place thereof; for his knowledge reacheth to all things and places, Job 28:24. For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven; and that with a wisdom so infallible, and a power so uncontroulable, as to give a certain weight and measure to things the most uncertain and inconstant with respect to us, the winds and the waters, Job 28:25. To make the weight for the winds, and he weigheth the waters by measure. We have moreover had it delivered down to us, says Job, in the same traditionary way, that this infinitely wise and glorious Being, when he made the world, not only displayed his own wisdom in the admirable contrivance of it, but at the same time declared what was the wisdom proper to man, the best and truest wisdom that he could attain unto; which was, to acknowledge and adore his Maker, and to pay all due obedience to his laws, Job 28:28. Unto than he said, &c. The Hebrew is לאדם laadam, which might be rendered as a proper name; And unto Adam he said; for it is plain, from the circumstance of time, that Adam is, and no other can be, meant. We have here then a record of something spoken by God to the first man, not to be met with in the Book of Genesis; but whether spoken to him before or after his fall, is not so easy to determine. If after the fall, the words carry with them a reproof as well as instruction, highly seasonable, and suited to the circumstances of our unhappy progenitors; and here again we may observe how aptly destruction and death are made the conveyers of this great truth, from Adam down through his posterity. Since it was the disobedience of our first parents which brought death into the world, every instance of mortality would naturally recall to the minds of them and their descendants the history of the fall, and read them a new lesson of obedience. We may observe further, that if the opinion of learned men be well grounded, that there was neither rain nor thunder before the sin and fall of our first parents, then here is another particular which seems to shew that this admonition to Adam must be given after the fall; for God is said to give it, when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder, Job 28:26. And if he was pleased at the same time to accompany it with a display of his thunder in all its terrors, and that this was the first time Adam had heard those awful sounds, what an impression must it make upon his heart! How could he choose but remember it himself, and transmit it with care to his posterity? And we have some reason to think that this might be the case, as the law was afterwards delivered from Mount Sinai with the same solemnity. It is wonderful to observe in what a variety of natural and sublime expressions the thunder is described to us in this book, and in all of them with a reference to the Deity; as, the noise of his tabernacle,—the murmurs of his mouth,—that by which he judgeth the people—and the like. See chap. Job 36:29; Job 36:31; Job 37:2; Job 37:5. If the thunder, therefore, be here considered as the instrument or token of God's wrath, and the rain, by which he usually blesseth the earth, as a token of his mercy (See Deuteronomy 11:14.), with what exquisite propriety are they here united to enforce that lesson of obedience which follows! To which it may not be improper to add, that, though this admonition to Adam be here expressed in very general terms, there is reason to believe that God was pleased to give him at the same time a more distinct account of the particulars of his duty; as seems plainly intimated in these words; Job 28:27. Then did God see it, and declare it; he prepared it; yea, and searched it out: It; that is, wisdom, no doubt; the great subject of inquiry throughout this chapter: but not his own wisdom surely: this was the same from all eternity; but the wisdom proper for man, and which he now communicated to him, declared, or numbered; established, and defined it; for so the Hebrew words may be rendered; words which seem to imply a full and elaborate system of religion and morality, briefly summed up in the following sentence: The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding. Peters.


In this verse is contained what may be regarded as a good moral to the poem. Here we see the reason why this holy man, amid all his calamities, still persists in that well-weighed and generous resolution which he expresses in the foregoing chapter, Job 28:5-6 and which plainly points out the connexion between these two chapters: Till I die, &c. Well might Job thus reason and resolve, who had learned from the divine oracle this important lesson, that, be the circumstances or events of things what they may in this world, yet to fear God is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding. This he was sure of, because God had said it; and here, therefore, he fixes his foot, where every wise man gladly will, (I was going to say where every man of sense and sobriety will, who, like Job, and his friends, have ever experienced the embarrassments of their own reasonings)—upon a divine revelation. What the traditions of their ancestors were to these men, even that the Bible is to us; and happy were it for us that we paid it the same pious regard: that we would give it its due weight in the determining of our religious controversies; be studious to enrich our minds with the knowledge of its awful truths, and to form our lives by the simplicity of its admirable precepts: that we would allow these sacred books the privilege, at least, which we so seldom deny to others of any merit; I mean, that of a serious and attentive reading; (a small favour, considering the character which they bear;) and we should find that they want nothing to recommend them but their being thoroughly understood.

It is true, that they require many helps to a full understanding of them; and so does every book in the world which was written at any great distance of time from us. But these helps are every where to be had: we abound with commentaries, and other treatises of divinity, well intended for this purpose, and very useful in their kind. But it is strange, that persons of a liberal education, whose curiosity often prompts them to take no small pains to learn a modern language, or to acquire so much skill in the Latin and Greek as may enable them to read with ease a classic author, though a heathen, should not be excited by the same curiosity, if by no other motive, to get a little insight into the Hebrew, and to study in their original language (I might call it perhaps, with some, the original language, as a further incentive to the curious.) Books of so singular a nature, that in all the heathen world of learning there is scarcely any thing to be met with of the kind; certainly not any thing which will bear the least comparison.

It would make me happy to be in any degree instrumental to the promoting of a just esteem and reverence for the Holy Scriptures in general; or to recommend them to the serious regard of even a few of those who by the advantage of education, or eminence of station, have it in their power to set the pattern to others; and especially persons of a politer turn, who seem in a more peculiar manner obliged to lend their assistance towards restoring to the Holy Scriptures that due honour and authority which a false politeness has contributed more than any one thing else, perhaps, to rob them of. Let us banish it back again to the regions whence it came, and where it may well suit with a religion that will not bear the light of Holy Scripture. If we wish well to our own country, let us beware how we throw aside our Bibles, or treat them with a fashionable contempt and neglect; which, besides the danger of it to our constitution, must unavoidably be attended with a corruption of manners, widely spreading and increasing in proportion to it. For, as there can be no sufficient curb to the inordinate passions of men without religion, so there can be no religion of sufficient authority to influence mankind, without a revelation, real or supposed; nor is there any other real revelation of the will of God beside that contained in the Holy Scriptures: so that we may venture to affirm, that they are the only true supports of true religion in the world. Happy is that people who enjoy the light of these, with a free liberty of examining them, and of applying all the helps which learning can afford to a right understanding of them! May we ever enjoy this liberty, and make a diligent, as well as a sober and modest use of it! Nor, by our negligence or imprudence, incur the severe censure passed on those who have a price in their hand to get wisdom, but have no heart or inclination to it. Proverbs 17:16.

The divine oracles contain every thing, in short, for which a book can be valuable. The oldest history, the best morality, the noblest poetry, the only true theology: in short, a treasure of wisdom not to be exhausted. If the vicious and the thoughtless know not how to value them, or a writer here and there has attempted to signalize himself by disparaging them;—men of piety, virtue, sense, and solidity of mind, have always loved, admired, and reverenced them. Among these, for the honour of our country, what a fair catalogue of illustrious names might be produced! I mean not of such whose profession may seem to have set a bias on their judgment; but others, persons of the most improved understanding, of the most elevated genius, as well as eminently lovers of truth and of mankind; the Boyles, the Lockes, the Newtons, the Addisons. So that, if human authority be of any consideration in the present case, we have the best, the most unexceptionable which the world affords, for the excellency of these sacred books. And if any one can doubt of their divine authority, after weighing the external evidence that God hath given us of it, let him but study them thoroughly, and without prejudice, and I may venture to promise him that he will feel it: I mean, that he will perceive so many internal marks of their truth, and experience so much of their efficacy to make him wiser, holier, and better, as will easily dispose him to acknowledge their divinity; that they were given by inspiration of God: And (why should I not proceed with the apostle's character of them, modest as it is, and just?) are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God, as well the teachers of religion as every other christian, may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:16. See Mr. Peters's Dissertation.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Riches are the grand object that men covet: to obtain them, no labour, contrivance, or industry is spared. By indefatigable pursuit and toil the mine is exhausted of its store; but the secrets of heaven, with all our study, cannot be penetrated as the bowels of the earth. The silver from the vein, and gold from the mine or the sand, are collected and purified in the fire; and iron and brass are dug out of the earth, and molten in the furnace. The same spot which above produces bread for man's food, beneath contains the hidden treasures of gold and precious stones, sparkling as fire. Man, in pursuit of these, opens the mine, and introduces the light, where, from the creation, darkness reigned. He searcheth out all perfection, contrives a variety of instruments to extract these subterranean treasures, and brings to the surface the stores of ore which lay concealed as in the shadow of death. When gushing waters hid in the bowels of the earth break forth, waters which never foot before had touched, by levels cut through the rocks, or engines, he drains the overflowing flood. No rock, no mountain, can resist his researches. He carries on his projects, and brings forth to the light the precious things which were hidden. Secret paths are hollowed out, which neither the most sharp-sighted bird hath seen, nor the strongest beasts have trodden, which roam the wilderness in search of prey. Note; (1.) Shall gold thus engage man's incessant toil? and shall the riches of God's grace, infinitely more precious, be neglected? (2.) They who would be wise unto salvation, must dig in the mine of God's word for the sacred treasures there contained. The earth often disappoints men's researches; but those whom God, by his grace, engages to seek his true riches, never seek in vain. (3.) Deep is the mine; but deeper far, and more unsearchable, the dispensations of providence and grace: the keenest eye is here often at a loss, and the strongest reasoner, after all his researches, is forced to cry, O the depth!

2nd. Gold and precious stones are valuable acquisitions; but Job suggests a far more worthy pursuit, and which will more amply repay the pains; and that is the wisdom, the knowledge of, and acquaintance with, God and his ways.

1. This is the inestimable gain which man knoweth not how to value, and, while engrossed in earthly cares, and endeavours how to be rich, seldom concerns himself about. Yet, compared with this, all the most admired and precious stores which earth ever disclosed, are lighter in the balances than vanity itself. One grain of grace is a more substantial good, than if the earth were one solid mass of gold and the whole property our own.

2. This is the hidden treasure which man knoweth not where to find. The miner saith, it is not in his dark cavern; the mariner saith, the merchandise of the sea cannot procure it; the deepest researches of the wisest philosophers are unsatisfactory, and they grope for the wall as the blind. Where then shall wisdom be found? nowhere, but in him who is the wisdom of God, and hath brought life and immortality to light in the gospel, and in his word hath bid us search after him that we may find him, and in him all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Note; (1.) The truths of the gospel known and believed, make a man more truly wise than the deepest acquaintance with the arcana of nature, or the most distinct understanding of the abstrusest parts of the mathematics. (2.) Most people are eager enough, yea, too eager, after riches; here no pains discourage their pursuit; but the treasures of grace they despise and neglect, and count them not worth the seeking. Foolish preference! to be more solicitous about a perishing world than an immortal soul; and more anxious to secure a portion in time, than in eternity.

3rdly. When we have begun to inquire, like Pilate, John 18:38. What is truth? we must not hastily depart without an answer. Job repeats the important question, Whence then cometh wisdom? he resolves the question by a twofold consideration of it, as secret with God, or as revealed to man.

1. Secret things belong unto God; known unto him are the springs and reasons of all his dispensations, whether of providence or grace. They who soar the highest cannot pry into them: and they who sink the deepest find the shallow line of human understanding unable to fathom the abyss of wisdom. Could even the dead come back to tell us what they know, they could report but the fame of it, that such wisdom is in God: but what it is, neither the spirits of men nor angels comprehend. God alone understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. The residence of wisdom is in his own bosom. (1.) His eye overlooks all; at one view all nature is open to him; the past, the present, the future, know no succession in his all-comprehending mind. (2.) His power doth all; the very winds are poised in his balance, laid up in his treasures, directed to what point to blow, how long, how violent, and when to return. The waters are measured by him in exact proportion; the sea to reach its banks, and not to overflow; the rivers to run perpetually, while he maintains their inexhaustible source. Note; A real faith in God through Christ will reconcile us to every event of his gracious providence, and is sufficient to engage us in a perfect acquiescence in the wisdom, equity, and mercy of the dispensation.

2. Man's duty and wisdom are revealed to him. And unto man, Adam, at first, and to all his sons, he said, Behold, attend with solemn reverence the great and important lesson, the fear of the Lord, that filial fear which proceeds from the knowledge and love of him as revealed, this is wisdom, the most valuable acquisition, and infinitely surpassing the highest flights of philosophic attainments; and to depart from evil, sin of every kind, the effect of such fear of God, is understanding. And with this Job suggests that his friends should have been satisfied, and not have pretended to dive into the secrets of God, and condemned him for a hypocrite, by misinterpreting the designs of Divine Providence.


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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Job 28:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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