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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Job 28

 

 

Verse 1

Section third — PANEGYRIC OF WISDOM, chap. 28.

First strophe — Man has wonderful power and skill for surmounting the obstacles of nature and extracting from the gloomiest depths of earth her most precious treasures, Job 28:1-11.

1. For beauty of thought and richness of imagery, Job’s eulogium of wisdom is worthy to be compared with Paul’s panegyric of charity. (1 Corinthians 13.) Delitzsch calls it “a song of triumph without vain-glory.” Job is unconsciously carving for himself a monolith with an ineffaceable inscription of the two predominant traits of his character, the fear of God and the eschewing of evil. (Compare Job 28:28 with Job 1:8.) The deep mysteriousness of the divine procedure in the punishment of the wicked, the main thought of the preceding chapter, leads him to speak of divine wisdom in general, whose ways are unsearchable, and, like the field of the miner’s toil, buried in darkness. The wicked through toil and danger may, like the miner, acquire jewels, precious stones, and great store of wealth, but the true and abiding treasures are with God, and come from God alone. The covetous rich man treasures up silver and costly vestments, Job 27:16, but fails of celestial good — the divine wisdom, a “pearl of great price;” and this loss is his punishment also — a carrying forward of the retributive thought of the preceding chapter. Hengstenberg, following Von Hofmann, thus traces the connexion: “Sin is the destruction of men; the wicked man must go to the ground; FOR wisdom, which alone can ward off destruction, is to be found only in God; the sinner is excluded from this wisdom, and must therefore run into the arms of destruction.” “The sea of life abounds in rocks on which the bark must soon split, if so be wisdom sit not at the helm.” — 2:181, 172. “In the organism of the work this chapter is the jewelled clasp that binds the one half, the complication of the plot, to the other half, its solution.” — Delitzsch.

Surely For, links the entire chapter with the last ten verses of 27. The transition is abrupt, and is in perfect keeping with Job and the Oriental mode of thought in general.

A vein — Literally, outlet, for the silver. In the most ancient times silver was more scarce than gold. Hence throughout the Old Testament we find keseph, silver, used as a term for money. Abraham bought the field of Ephron for “four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.” Genesis 23:16. The most important silver mines of the ancients were in Spain.

A place for gold — Gold abounded in Ethiopia, also in Nubia, as is indicated by the word noub, old Egyptian for gold. There remains to the present time an historical tablet of Rameses II., relating to the gold mines of Ethiopia, possibly the very mines which have been recently discovered in the Bisharee desert, by Linant and Bonomi. Jerome speaks of ancient gold mines in Idumaea, Job’s home.

Where they fine — Which they refine. The two different words employed by the Hebrew for refining, זקק, of the text, and tsaraph, point to two different processes of refining, the one (that of the text) of filtering or straining, the other of smelting by fire. Both of these Hebrew words for refining appear in Malachi 3:3, and are in later times probably used interchangeably.

The process of refining by filtering is described at length by Diodorus, iii, chap. 1. The figure below illustrates the Egyptian mode of smelting.

[image]


Verse 2

2. Iron… earth — Iron and brass are both alluded to in the final address of Moses as abounding in the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 8:9. The Jews do not seem to have worked these mines to any great extent, though it is now known that they were worked by the early Canaanitish races. (ROUGEMONT, L’Age du Bronze, 188.) Iron was certainly found in Lebanon, and Josephus speaks of an “iron mountain that runs in length as far as Moab.” — Wars, Job 4:8; Job 4:2. Pliny (xxxiv, 14) says, mines of iron are to be found almost everywhere.

Brass… stone And stone is molten into copper. Brass, as is well known, is an alloy of copper and zinc. At Punon, between Petra and Zoar, were copper mines, to which, during the persecutions of the Roman emperors, many Christians were banished that they might fall victims to the excessive sufferings connected with mining. The numerous remains of smelting furnaces, which may still be seen, show that mining operations for copper were once carried on upon a very large scale in the outlying districts of Sinai, near Jebel Habashi. These operations probably antedated those of Magharah or Sarabit. See PALMER’S Desert of the Exodus, 234, 256.


Verse 3

3. He — The miner.

An end to darkness — The torch of the miner dispels the darkness of the mine, and thus “he setteth an end to darkness.” and searcheth out perfectly, (literally, to every extremity, to the utmost,) the stones of darkness (metals) and the shadow of death. Ancient commentators thought that Job meant by this phrase to designate the centre of the earth. Schultens gives sixteen theories on this subject. Pliny, whose description of mining (about A.D. 77) remarkably illustrates that of Job says: “We penetrate the bowels of the earth and seek riches in the abode of the dead (manes.”) — Nat. Hist., Job 33:21.


Verse 4

4. The flood — “Cimmerian darkness,” to use the words of Schultens, surrounds this verse. The reading most accepted at present is, literally, He sinketh a shaft away from where men dwell: forgotten of the foot, they hang far from men, they string to and fro.

The flood breaketh נחל, which commonly signifies a stream of water, and sometimes a valley or gorge, Genesis 26:17 ; Genesis 26:19; 2 Kings 3:16, is here used in the unusual sense of shaft, and objectively to the verb “breaketh,” or “sinketh.”

They are dried up — It is now admitted that the Arabic signification of dalal, “hang suspended,” is the proper meaning of the Hebrew here. Job’s description of the dizzy and dangerous descent into a mine strikingly agrees with that of Pliny, who represents the men as “suspended by ropes and swinging,” even while they cut the rocks. “The course taken,” he says, “is where there is no footing for men.” Pliny thus best interprets forgotten of the foot, a phrase which is used like that of the psalmist, “let my right hand forget,” etc., Psalms 137:5, to express temporary disability for performing its ordinary offices.


Verse 5

5. Turned up as it were fire — Same also in the Septuagint. Pliny has a like thought. Ungrateful man repays the debt he owes the earth for bread (Psalms 104:14) by digging out her bowels. The miner probably used fire in his work of excavation, and thus produced effects like those of subterranean fires. In the days of Pliny they broke the rocks with fire and vinegar. Herodotus, (vi, 47,) in his description of “the workings in Thasos” by the Phoenicians, whose home it will be remembered was only about one hundred and eighty miles from Idumaea, states, “that a huge mountain has been turned upside down in the search for ores.”


Verse 6

6. Sapphires — The precious stone we call the sapphire is generally of a sky-blue colour, transparent, and harder than ruby. The ancients seem to have called the lapis lazuli by that name. But this was too plentiful, as Winer (i, 282) well says, to admit of its being accounted one of the precious stones of Job. There was discovered (A.D. 1859) at the opening of the tomb of Amosis, in Thebes, an axe made of lapis lazuli.

Dust of gold — “Modern science, instead of confuting, only confirms the aphorism of the patriarch Job, who has shadowed forth the downward persistence of the one, (silver,) and the superficial distribution of the other, (gold.) Surely there is a vein for the silver, the earth hath dust of gold.” — Sir Roderick Murchison. Hitzig supposes the words of this verse to be the reply of the miner, justifying his ingratitude by the consideration of the sapphires and gold he expects to gain out of the earth.


Verse 7

7. There is a path The path — no fowl (rather, bird of prey) hath known it, and the vulture’s eye hath not seen it.

The vulture — The ayyah, Tristram supposes to have been the red kite; others, the vulture. So acute and farseeing is its vision, that the Talmud says, “It is in Babylon and seeth a carcass in the land of Israel.” The natural powers of the brute creation excited the astonishment of the ancients, even to the extent of adoration. On the outer cases of Egyptian mummies were painted with other figures those of the hawk or vulture. Mummied vultures remain to the present day. See PETTIGREW’S History of Mummies, chap. 14.


Verse 8

8. Lion’s whelps — Literally, sons of pride. Same as in Job 41:34. In enlarging thus upon the hidden path of the mine, that leads to the precious treasures of the earth, there is a covert allusion to the treasures of wisdom, which, in like manner, lie concealed.


Verse 9

9. Upon the rock Against the flint, (the hardest rock,) as in margin. Pliny’s words furnish a fitting comment. “They attack the flint with iron wedges and hammer’s.… The mountain, fractured, falls off at a great distance.… The victors gaze upon nature’s downfall.”


Verse 10

10. Rivers — In the sense of canals or water-courses. The fact that the word יאר, here used, is of Egyptian origin, (the word aur of the hieroglyphics, signifying river,) is an indication that Job may be describing the Egyptian mines and mode of mining, perhaps those in the Sinaitic districts, either in the wady Magharah or that of Sarabit. “To wash the ruins,” says Pliny, “they bring rivers from the tops of mountains a hundred miles off. They carry aqueducts over the valleys, and sometimes hew a way for those pipes THROUGH THE ROCKS.”


Verse 11

11. From overflowing From weeping, (margin.) A beautiful figure to represent the commonplace task of the miner, that of binding up the ever trickling subterranean rills. Umbreit’s rather free rendering, he stilleth the tears of the streams, is in harmony with the poetical conception of the Hebrew who looked upon a fountain (ayin) as an eye of nature.

Second strophe — Application of the preceding description to wisdom — a good unattainable by any sense of man; unlimited by place it is not to be found in the world of the living nor in Abaddon, the lowest world of the dead; in value it far surpasses all conceivable wealth, and is therefore infinitely beyond the reach of the covetous and extortionate, living or dead, Job 28:12-22.


Verse 12

12. Wisdom החכמה, is a word of varied and comprehensive import. It includes both intellectual and moral qualities; either, as they exist (concretely) in the mind of God or other moral agent, or as they are brought to light (abstractly) either by His action or that of some other being. In other words, it may mean either the divine idea or archetype according to which God works, or high intelligent action itself, involving upright conduct. It also means pure creative Intelligence, (hhokmah,) answering to the Logos of the New Testament. Here Wisdom is used with the article, and personified: — darkly mysterious, of worth inestimable, perfect in all its works, infinitely to be desired by man; a Divine Conception and yet distinct from God, (Job 28:27, it may prefigure the incarnate Being who is “made unto us wisdom and righteousness.” Nature, as revealed wisdom of God, incomplete and unsatisfying, carries within herself an embryonic prediction that in the fulness of time there should be a fuller disclosure made of divinely hidden wisdom. The boasted Pindar, of the classics, fails in his tribute to wisdom when compared with Job: —

“How can’st thou hope true wisdom’s to be found,

Wherein so little man surpasses man?

For it can never be that minds,

Of mortal woman born,

Can trace the counsels of Deity.”

Fragment x, (Dissen.)

Compare the apocryphal Book of Wisdom, chapters 7-9.

Understanding בינה, is rendered by the Germans, einsicht, insight. Its root idea, “to divide,” “to separate,” is the same as that of hhokmah, (wisdom,) and they are used interchangeably. The former, (binah,) according to Delitzsch, is the faculty of seeing through that which is distinguishable consisting of the possession of the right criteria; while the latter, (hhokmah,) is the perception, in general, of things in their true nature and their final causes.


Verse 13

13. The price thereof — The Septuagint reads, “way thereof” which Dillmann and Hitzig follow on the supposition that it agrees better with the context. As wisdom is “the highest power in God,” so for man it is the highest good. Its value is not known, for it is above all valuation.


Verse 14

14. The depth — Uncreated Wisdom is subsequently represented as saying, (Proverbs 8:24,) “When there were no depths” — primordial elements of the world — “I was brought forth.” This vast abyss lifts up its voice, “Wisdom is not in me!”


Verse 15

15. Gold — Hebrew, segor. Four different words are used for gold in this chapter. Gold, “most honoured prize of wealth,” (Pindar,) first and last (Job 28:15; Job 28:19) in this brilliant array of nature’s treasures, filled then, as now, its world-wide place of supremacy. See note, however, on Job 28:1.


Verse 16

16. Ophir — See note Job 22:24. The precious onyx — Canon Cook alludes to an Egyptian inscription (in Brugsch) which certainly refers to a period before Moses, in which distinct mention is made of precious stones that had been collected by chieftains of the Phoenicians in their voyages.

Onyx — Hebrew, shoham, is supposed by Winer to have been the beryl; and, by equally good authorities, to have been the same as our onyx. It is a stone or gem in colour resembling that of the human fingernail, as denoted by the Greek ονυξ, nail.

Sapphire — See Job 28:6.


Verse 17

17. Crystal — Probably glass. The manufacture of glass is of great antiquity, as is evident from the paintings at Beni Hassan, of more than 3,800 years ago, which still represent the process of glass-blowing. The Egyptians had the secret of introducing gold between layers of glass; also of working Mosaic in glass of so delicate a pattern as to have required the use of a magnifying lens. (WILKINSON, P.A., 2:61.) Glass perfectly transparent was esteemed of extremely high value. Nero is said, according to Carey, to have purchased two glass cups with handles for a sum equivalent to 50,000 pounds sterling.

Jewels Vessels.

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Verse 18

18. Coral Ramoth, cognate with the Arabic rama, to be blood red. “Probably the red coral, which was highly prized by the ancients.” — Winer.

Pearls — Hebrew, Gabish. So uncertain is the meaning of this word that Schultens leaves it untranslated. The word means ice, and it is now generally thought to have been the quartz crystal from its being pellucid, like ice. Carey renders it mother-of-pearl.

Price Possession.

Rubies Peninim, The meaning is doubtful — probably pearls. Thus most recent commentators. Pearls were in ancient times procured from the Persian Gulf, whose fisheries were pointed out to Nearchus, the admiral of Alexander the Great. In the Assyrian ruins Layard found a gold ear-ring adorned with pearls. (Nineveh, 3:595.)


Verse 19

19. Topaz — A most precious gem, whose prevailing colour was wine-yellow, passing over into carnation red, lilac, or a pale green. Professor Eadie states that a single topaz has sold for more than a million dollars. See Pliny, xxxvii, sec. 32. All Semitic nations displayed an absorbing passion for jewels and precious stones. Judges 8:24; Ezekiel 28:13, etc. As with the King of Tyre, their aspiration was to be covered with precious stones. Before the imagination, kindled with the contemplation of earth’s treasures, celestial wisdom urges her own incomparable worth.

Ethiopia — Hebrew, Cush. “Where the south declines,” says Herodotus, (iii, 114,) “toward the setting sun, lies the country called Ethiopia, the last inhabited land in that direction.”


Verse 20

20. Whence… cometh wisdom — Job repeats his question that he may, if possible, enforce a reply. The varied gems of beauty that adorn this subject may have been in the mind of Paul when he speaks of “the manifold,” πολυποικιλος, (literally, much variegated,) “wisdom of God.” Wisdom is pure, one in essence, “one in sublime unity of truth and purpose;” transmitted through the Church, it becomes “chromatic, so to speak, with the rainbow colours of that light which in itself is one and undivided.” — ALFORD on Ephesians 3:10.


Verse 21

21. The fowls of the air — To their acuteness of vision and wondrous habits of migration may be due the widespread ascription to them of superior wisdom. In all their wide range of flight and vision they have never seen Wisdom’s abode.


Verse 22

22. We have heard the fame thereof — The silence of the living suggests appeal to the dead. New regions of being may perchance have opened new resources of knowledge. In sublime figure the poet summons destruction (Hebrew, Abaddon, see Job 26:6) and death. All the information they can give is hearsay. They have heard a vague report. In the gloomy view of the ancients, death gave but little increase of knowledge. If the living know not, much less the dead.

Third strophe — With God is the lofty abode of wisdom, as is attested by its display in the creation and ordering of the world. True wisdom he imparts to man through obedience to the divine law and through the fear of God — two divinely appointed conservators against wickedness and the consequent doom of those who practice evil, Job 28:23-28. “The last of these three divisions (of the chapter), into which the highest truths are compressed, is for emphasis the shortest, in its calmness and abrupt ending the most solemn, because the thought finds no expression that is altogether adequate, floating in a height that is immeasurable, but opening a boundless field for further reflection.” — Ewald.


Verse 23

23. Thereof To it. God (Elohim) alone understands the way to wisdom. “The ways” and “the place thereof,” as Pareau has well remarked, still carry forward the figure of a costly treasure deposited in a place inaccessible and concealed from all men.


Verse 25

25. The weight for the winds — In the four representative instances which Job adduces out of the great storehouse of like wonder-workings, wisdom is no more manifested in the adjustment of the weight of the wind, or in the distribution of immense masses of water by measure, or in the opening up of a path for the lightning of the thunders, than in the rounding of the small waterdrops that fall gently to the earth vivifying its widespread fields. It is thought wonderful that Aristotle (B.C. 384) should have known of the weight and elasticity of the air. The weight of a column of air is equal to a column of mercury thirty inches high — a fact illustrated by the barometer.

Weigheth the waters by measure — The magnitude of the ocean is one of the conditions to which the structure of all organized beings which are dependent upon climate must be adapted. (WHEWELL, Bridg. Treat., Bohn’s edit., p. 45.)


Verse 26

26. A decree A law.

Thunder — Hebrew, Voices. Thunder was the voice of God. Psalms 29:3. The manifestation of the divine presence was frequently attested by thunder. The ancient Jews, according to Buxtorf, called an oracle of God The daughter of the voice, or thunder. See note, Job 38:25. The book of Proverbs enlarges upon the work of divine wisdom in the creation of the world. Proverbs 8:22-31.


Verse 27

27. Then — At the time of creation, He contemplated Wisdom; made her known through the medium of her works; established her as governor of the world; and searched out her works to see whether they might answer their high design, or “whether she was adequate to the task of governing the world.” — Maurer.

Declare it — Nature is a perpetual discloser of the mind of deity. Romans 1:20.

Prepared Established.


Verse 28

28. Unto man — Hebrew, Adam; which leads some to suppose that this divine precept was delivered to our fore-parents before the fall, and that it “contains perhaps a summary of religious knowledge imparted to them.” — Lee.

The Lord Adhonai. Many manuscripts have Jehovah. That man might answer the end of his being — dwelling in harmony with God and himself — divine wisdom encompassed him also with law, no less than the elemental powers of nature. This law, like all the works of wisdom, was simple and yet perfect — the offspring of divine goodness and love. “Fear is the mother of foresight:” spiritual fear, of a foresight that comprehends the possibilities of life and the reality of eternity. The fear of God, in any world of moral beings, is a conserving power as essential as that which binds the planetary system. In man wisdom manifests itself as a moral growth, whose life is rooted in the fear of the Lord and the departing from evil; in God it is the eternal embodiment of perfection without growth, degrees, or limitations. “No one,” says St. Ambrose, “can know wisdom without God;” a sentiment which Lord Bacon supplements with a lesson which the philosophers of the day should heed: “It is an assured truth, and a conclusion of experience, that a little, or superficial knowledge, of philosophy may incline the mind to Atheism, but a further proceeding therein doth bring the mind back to religion.” — Advancement of Science. See also his Essays, 16. The scholar is referred to the exhaustive treatise on this chapter by Pareau, entitled, “Wisdom better known to the Dead than to the Living,” and to be found at the close of his work De Immortalitatis Notitiis, 28:229-367; also Samuel Wesley’s Dissertationes in Librum Jobi, 34.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 28:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/job-28.html. 1874-1909.

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