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Bible Commentaries
Job 28

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

His account of the shield of Achilles (Iliad xviii. 474) proves that the art of working in the precious metals was well known in his time; and the skill required to delineate the various objects which he describes was such as no ordinary artisan, even at this time, could be supposed to possess. In Egypt, ornaments of gold and silver, consisting of rings, bracelets, necklaces, and trinkets, have been found in considerable abundance of the times of Osirtasen I, and Thothmes III, the contemporaries of Joseph and of Moses. Diodorus (i. 49) mentions silver mine of Egypt which produced 3,200 myriads of minae. The gold mines of Egypt remained long unknown, and their position has been ascertained only a few years since by M. Linant and M. Bonomi. They lie in the Bisharee desert, about seventeen days’ journey to the South-eastward from Derow. The matrix in which the gold in Egypt was found is quartz, and the excavations to procure the gold are exceedingly deep.

The principal excavation is 180 feet deep. The quartz thus obtained was broken by the workmen into small fragments, of the size of a bean, and these were passed through hand mills made of granitic stone, and when reduced to powder the quartz was washed on inclined tables, and the gold was thus separated from the stone. Diodorus says, that the principal persons engaged in mining operations were captives, taken in war, and persons who were compelled to labor in the mines, for offences against the government. They were bound in fetters, and compelled to labor night and day. “No attention,” he says, “is paid to these persons; they have not even a piece of rag to cover themselves; and so wretched is their condition, that every one who witnesses it, deplores the excessive misery which they endure. No rest, no intermission from toil, are given either to the sick or the maimed; neither the weakness of age, nor women’s infirmities, are regarded; all are driven to the work with the lash, until, at last, overcome with the intolerable weight of their afflictions, they die in the midst of their toil.”

Diodorus adds, “Nature indeed, I think, teaches that as gold is obtained with immense labor, so it is kept with difficulty, creating great anxiety, and attended in its use both with pleasure and with grief.” It was perhaps, in view of such laborious and difficult operations in obtaining the precious metals, and of the skill which man had evinced in extracting them from the earth, that Job alluded here to the process as a striking proof of human wisdom. On the early use of the metals among the ancient Egyptians, the reader may consult with advantage, Wilkinsoh’s “Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,” vol. iii. pp. 215ff.

Verse 2

Iron is mentioned in the time of Og king of Bashan, 1450 B.C. It was at first, however, regarded as of great value, and its use was very limited. It was presented in the temples of Greece as among the most valuable offerings, and rings of iron have been found in the tombs of Egypt that had been worn as ornaments, showing the value of the metal. One of the reasons why this metal comes so slowly into use, and why it was so rare in early times, was the difficulty of smelting the ore, and reducing it to a malleable state “Its gross and stubborn ore,” says Dr. Robertson (America, B. iv.) “must feel twice the force of fire, and go through two laborious pocesses, before it becomes fit for use.” It was this fact which made it to Job such a proof of the wisdom of man that he had invented the process of making iron, or of separating it from the earthy portions in which it is found.

Is taken out of the earth - Margin, “dust.” The form in which iron is found is too well known to need description. It is seldom, if ever, found in its purity, and the ore generally has so much the appearance of mere earth, that it requires some skill to distinguish them.

And brass - נחוּשׁה nechûshâh. Brass is early and frequently mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 4:22; Exodus 25:3; Exodus 26:11, et al.), but there is little doubt that copper is meant in these places. Brass is a compound metal, made of copper and zinc - containing usually about one third of the weight in zinc - and it is hardly probable that the art of compounding this was early known; compare the notes at Job 20:24. Dr. Good renders this, “And the rock poureth forth copper.” Coverdale, “The stones resolved to metal.” Noyes, “The stone is melted into copper.” Prof. Lee, “Also the stone (is taken from the earth) from which one fuseth copper.” The Hebrew is, literally,” And stone is poured out יציק copper.” The Septuagint renders it, “And brass is cut like stones;” that is, is cut from the quarry. The word “stone” here in the Hebrew (אבן 'eben) means, doubtless, “ore” in the form of stone; and the fact mentioned here, that such ore is fused into the נחוּשׁה eht nechûshâh, is clear proof that copper is intended. Brass is never found in ore, and is never compounded in the earth. A similar idea is found in Pliny, who probably uses the word “aes” to denote copper, as it is commonly employed in the ancient writings. Aes fit ex lapide aeroso, quem vocant Cadmiam; et igne lapides in nes solvantur. Nat. Hist. xxxiv. i. 22. On the general subject of ancient metallurgy, see Wilkinsoh’s Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, vol. iii. chapter ix.

Verse 3

He setteth an end to darkness - That is, man does. The reference here is undoubtedly to the operations of mining, and the idea is, that man delves into the darkest regions; he goes even to the outer limits of darkness; he penetrates everywhere. Probably the allusion is derived from the custom of carrying torches into mines.

And searcheth out all perfection - Makes a complete search; examines everything; carries the matter to the utmost. The idea is not that he searches out all perfection - as our translation would seem to convey; but that he makes a complete and thorough search - and yet after all he does not come to the true and highest wisdom.

The stones of darkness - The last stone, says Herder, in the mining investigations in the time of Job; the corner or boundary stone, as it were, of the kingdom of darkness and night. Prof. Lee supposes that there is allusion here to the fact that stones were used as “weights,” and that the idea is, that man had ascertained the “exact weight” of the gross darkness, that is, had taken an accurate admeasurement of it, or had wholly investigated it. But this solution seems far-fetched. Schultens supposes the center of the earth to be denoted by this expression. But it seems to me that the words “stone” and “darkness” are to be separated, and that the one is not used to qualify the other. The sense is, that man searches out everything; he perfectly and accurately penetrates everywhere, and examines all objects; “the stone” (אבן 'eben), that is, the rocks, the mines; “the darkness” (אפל 'ôphel), that is, the darkness of the cavern, the interior of the earth; “and the shadow of death” (צלמות tsalmâveth), that is, the most dark and impenetrable regions of the earth. So it is rendered by Coverdale: “The stones, the dark, and the horrible shadow.”

Verse 4

The flood breaketh out from the inhabitant - It would be difficult to tell what idea our translators affixed to this sentence, though it seems to be a literal version of the Hebrew. There has been a great variety of rendering given to the passage. Noyes translates it:

“From the place where they dwell they open a shaft,

Unsupported by the feet,

They are suspended, they swing away from men.”


“A flood goeth out from the realm of oblivion,

They draw it up from the foot of the mountain,

They remove it away from men.”

According to this, the meaning, Herder says, would be, that “the dwelling of the forgotten would be the kingdom of the dead, and at greater depth than the deepest mines have reached. Streams break forth from the river of eternal oblivion beneath, and yet are overcome by the miners, pumped dry, and turned out of the way. “Yet I confess,” says he, “the passage remains obscure to my mind.” Coverdale renders it, “With the river of water parteth he asunder the strange people, that knoweth no good neighborhood; such as are rude, unmannerly, and boisterous.” The Septuagint renders it, “The channels of brooks are choked up with sand; when to such as know not the right way strength is unavailing, and they are removed from among men.” The difficulty of interpreting the passage has been felt by every expositor to be great; and there are scarcely two expositions alike. There can be no doubt that Job refers to mining operations, and the whole passage should be explained with reference to such works. But the obscurity may possibly arise from the fact that mining operations were then conducted in a manner different from what they are now, and the allusion may be to some custom which was then well understood, but of which we now know nothing. A plausible interpretation, at least, has been furnished by Gesenius, and one which seems to me to be more satisfactory than any other. An explanation of the words in the passage will bring out this view. The word rendered “breaketh out” (פרץ pârats) means to break, rend, tear through - and here refers to the act of breaking through the earth for the purpose of sinking a shaft or pit in a mine. The word rendered “flood” (נחל nachal) means properly a stream or brook; then a valley in which a brook runs along; and here Gesenius supposes it means a shaft or pit of a mine. It may be called a נחל nachal, or valley, from the resemblance to a gully which the water has washed away by a mountain-torrent.

From the inhabitant - This conveys evidently no idea as it now stands. The Hebrew is מעם־גר mē‛ı̂m-gār. The word גוּר gûr, from which גר gār is derived, means to sojourn for a time, to dwell, as a stranger or guest; and the phrase here means, “away from any dweller or inhabitant;” that is, from where people dwell, or from the surface of the ground as the home of men; that is, under ground. Or the idea is, that it is done where no one could dwell. It could not be the abode of man.

Even the waters forgotten of the foot - The words “even the waters” are supplied by the translators. The Hebrew is מני־רגל הנשׁכחים hanı̂śkâchı̂ym mı̂nı̂y-regel, and refers to being unsupported by the foot. They go into a place where the foot yields no support, and they are obliged to suspend themselves in order to be sustained.

They are dried up - דלו dâlû. The word דלל dâlal, from which this is derived, means to hang down, to be pendulous, as boughs are on a tree, or as a bucket is in a well. According to this interpretation, the meaning is, that they “hang down” far from men in their mines, and swing to and fro like the branches of a tree in the wind.

They are gone away from men - The word נעו nā‛û, from נוּע nûa‛, means to move to and fro, to waver, to vacillate. Gr. and Latin νεύω neuō, nuo, Germ. nicken, to nod backward and forward. The sense here is, that, far from the dwellings of people, they “wave to and fro” in their deep mines, suspended by cords. They descend by the aid of cords, and not by a firm foothold, until they penetrate the deep darkness of the earth. Other interpretations may be seen, however, defended at length in Schultens, and in Rosenmuller - who has adopted substantially that of Schultens - in Dr. Good, and in other commentaries. Few passages in the Bible are more obscure.

Verse 5

As for the earth, out of it cometh bread - That is, it produces food, or the materials for bread. The idea of Job seems to be, that it was proof of great wisdom and skill on the part of man that he had carried the arts of agriculture so far. The earth in producing grain, and the arts of husbandry, were illustrative of wisdom and skill, but they did not impart the wisdom about the government of God which was desired. That was reserved to be imparted more directly by God himself, Job 28:23 ff.

And under it is turned up as it were fire - That is, on being turned up it discloses precious stones that seem to glow like coals of fire. This is the obvious sense of this passage, though a different interpretation has been given by most expositors. Job is speaking of mining. He describes the search for, gold, and silver, and precious stones. He says that one of the wonders of wisdom in the earth is, that it produces nutritious grain; another, that when the same earth is turned up it seems to rest on a bed of fire. The dark ground is made to glow by the quantity of jewels that are disclosed, and its deep recesses seem to be on fire. There is no reference here, therefore, as it seems to me. to any volcanic agency, or to any belief that the earth rests on a sea of fire. The idea has been expressed in Sergeant’s “Mine:”

“Wheresoe’er our footsteps turn,

Rubies blush and diamonds burn.”

Luther has given to the passage a different sense. Man bringet auch Feuer unten aus der Eerie, da oben Speise auf wachst - “They bring fire from the earth beneath, where food grows up above.” Coverdale, “He bringeth food out of the earth; that which is under he consumeth with fire.” Herder, “And underneath it is changed as by fire.” Dr. Good, “Below it (the earth) windeth a fiery region.”

Verse 6

The mineral is, next to the diamond, the most valuable of the precious stones. The most highly prized varieties are the crimson and carmine red; these are the “Oriental ruby” of the traveler, and next to the diamond are the most valuable jewels hitherto discovered. The blue varieties - the sapphire of the jeweler - are next in value to the red. The yellow varieties - the “Oriental Topaz” of the jeweler - are of less value than the blue or true sapphire. Edinburgh Encyclopedia, article “Mineralogy.”

And it hath dust of gold - Margin, or “gold ore.” Literally, “The dusts of gold are in it.” Gold is often found in the form of dust. It is obtained by washing it from the sand, and passing it over a fleece of wool, to which the gold adheres.

Verse 7

There is a path which no fowl knoweth - That is, a path in searching for gold and precious stones. The miner treads a way which is unseen by the bird of keenest vision. He penetrates into the deep darkness of the earth. The object of Job is to show the wisdom and the intrepidity of man in penetrating these dark regions in searching for sapphires and gold. The most far-sighted birds could not find their way to them. The most intrepid and fearless beasts of prey dared not adventure to those dangerous regions. The word rendered “fowl” (עיט ayı̂ṭ) means either a ravenous beast, Jeremiah 12:9, or more commonly a ravenous bird; see the notes at Isaiah 46:11. According to Bochart, Hieroz. P. 11. L. 11. c. viii. p. 195, the word here denotes a rapacious bird of any kind; a bird which has a keen vision.

Which the vulture’s eye hath not seen - The vulture is distinguished for the remarkable keenness of its vision. On the deserts of Arabia, it is said, when a camel dies, there is almost immediately discerned far in the distant sky, what seems at first to be a mere speck. As it draws nearer it is perceived to be a vulture that had marked the camel as he fell, and that comes to prey upon it. This bird is proverbial for the keenness of its sight.

Verse 8

The lion’s whelps - The lion that ventures into the most dangerous places in pursuit of prey, has not dared to go where man has gone in pursuit of precious stones and gold. On the words used here to designate the lion, see Bochart Hieroz P. 1. Lib. iii. c. 1.

Verse 9

Verse 10

He cutteth out rivers among the rocks - That is, in his operations of mining, he cuts channels for the water to flow off through the rocks. This was done, as it is now, for the purpose of drawing off the water that accumulates in mines.

His eye seeth every precious thing - Every valuable mineral or precious stone that lies imbedded in the rocks. It is evident from this, that mining operations were carried to a considerable extent in the time of Job. The art of thus penetrating the earth, and laying open its secret treasures, indicate an advanced stage of society - a stage much removed from barbarism.

Verse 11

He bindeth the floods from overflowing - Margin, Weeping The Hebrew also is “from weeping” מבכי mı̂bekı̂y; referring to the water which trickles down the shaft of the mine. The idea is, that even the large streams which break out in such mines, the fountains and springs which the miner encounters in his operations, he so effectually restrains that they do not even trickle down or “weep” on the sides of the shaft, but it is left perfectly dry. This is necessary in opening mines of coal or minerals, and in making tunnels or other excavations. Yet anyone who has passed into a coal mine, through a tunnel, or into any one of the deep natural caves of the earth, will see how difficult it is to close all the places where water would trickle down. It is in fact seldom done; and if done literally in the time of Job, it indicates a very advanced state of the art of mining. In sinking a shaft, it is often necessary to pass at different depths through strata of earth where the water oozes out in abundance, and where the operations would be necessarily suspended if it could not be stopped or drawn off. The machinery necessary for this constitutes a considerable part of the expense of mining operations.

And the thing that is hid he bringeth forth to light - The concealed treasures; the gold and gems that are buried deep in the earth. He brings them out of their darkness, and converts them to ornament and to use. This ends the description which Job gives of the operations of mining in his time. We may remark in regard to this description:

(1) That the illustration was admirably chosen. His object was to show that true wisdom was not to be found by human science, or by mere investigation. He selects a case, therefore, where man had shown the most skill and wisdom, and where he had penetrated farthest into darkness. He penetrated the earth; drove his shaft through rocks; closed up gushing fountains, and laid bare the treasures that had been buried for generations in the regions of night. Yet all this did not enable him fully to explain the operations of the divine government.

(2) The art of mining was carried to a considerable degree of perfection in the time of Job. This is shown by the fact that his description would apply very well to that art even as it is practiced now. Substantially the same things were done then which are done now, though we cannot suppose with the same skill, or to the same extent, or with the same perfection of machinery.

(3) The time when Job lived was in a somewhat advanced period of society. The art of working metals to any considerable extent indicates such an advance. It is not found among barbarous tribes, and even where the art is to a considerable extent known, it is long before men learn to sink shafts in the earth, or to penetrate rocks, or to draw off water from mines.

(4) We see the wisdom and goodness which God has shown in regard to the things that are most useful to man. Those things which are necessary to his being, or which are very desirable for his comfort, are easily accessible; those which are less necessary, or whose use is dangerous, are placed in deep, dark, and almost inaccessible places. The fruits of the earth are near to man; water flows every where, and it is rare that he has to dig deep for it; and when found by digging, it is a running fountain, not soon exhausted like a mine of gold; and iron, also, the most valuable of the metals, is usually placed near the surface of the earth. But the pearl is at the bottom of the ocean; diamonds and other precious stones are in remote regions or imbedded in rocks; silver runs along in small veins, often in the fissures of rocks, and extending far into the bowels of the earth. The design of placing the precious metals in these almost inaccessible fissures of the rocks, it is not difficult to understand. Had they been easily accessible, and limited in their quantity, they would long since have been exhausted - causing at one time a glut in the market, and at others absolute want. As they are now, they exercise the utmost ingenuity of man, first to find them, and then to procure them; they are distributed in small quantities, so that their value is always great; they furnish a convenient circulating medium in all countries; they afford all that is needful for ornament.

(5) There is another proof of wisdom in regard to their arrangement in the earth, which was probably unknown in the time of Job. It is the fact that the most useful of the metals are found in immediate connection with the fuel required for their reduction, and the limestone which facilitates that reduction. This is now perfectly understood by mineralogists, and it is an instance of the goodness of God, and of the wisdom of his arrangements, which ought not to be disregarded or overlooked. They who wish to examine this subject more at length, may find some admirable views in Buckland’s Geology and Mineralogy (Bridgewater Treatises), vol. i. pp. 392-415.

Verse 12

But where shall wisdom be found? - That is, the full understanding of the plans of God - for this is the point of inquiry. The object of Job is to show that it is not to be found in the most profound science; by penetrating to the farthest extent of which man was capable in the earth, nor by any human investigations whatever. None of these things revealed the great plans of the Almighty in reference to his moral government, and particularly to the points which engrossed the attention of Job and his friends. Where true wisdom is to be found he proceeds to state in the subsequent verses.

Verse 13

Man knoweth not the price thereof - The word rendered “price” (ערך êrek) means properly that which is set in a pile or row, or which is arranged in order. Here it means preparation, equipment - that is, anything put in order, or ready, Judges 17:10. It is also used in the sense of estimation or valuation, Leviticus 5:15, Leviticus 5:18. The word “price” here, however, seems to form no proper answer to the question in the previous verse, as the question is, “where” wisdom is to be found, not what is its “value.” Many expositors have, therefore, introduced a different idea in their interpretation. Dr. Good renders it, “Man knoweth not its source.” Prof. Lee, “Man knoweth not its equal.” Herder, “Man knoweth not the seat thereof.” Coverdale, “No man can tell how worthy a thing she is.” The Septuagint renders it, “Man knoweth not - όδὸν άυτῆς hodon autēs - her way.” But the word used here is not employed to denote a “place” or “way,” and the true interpretation doubtless is, that Job does not confine himself to a strict answer of the question proposed in Job 28:12, but goes on to say that man could not buy it; he could neither find it, nor had he the means of purchasing it with all the wealth of which he was the owner.

Neither is it found in the land of the living - That is, it is not found among human beings. We must look to a higher source than man for true wisdom; compare Isaiah 38:11; Isaiah 53:8.

Verse 14

The depth saith - This is a beautiful personification. The object of this verse and the following is, to show that wisdom cannot be found in the deepest recesses to which man can penetrate, nor purchased by anything which man possesses. It must come from God only. The word “depth” here (תהום tehôm) means properly a wave, billow, surge; then a mass of waters, a flood, or the deep ocean, Deuteronomy 8:7; Genesis 7:11; Psalms 36:6; and then a gulf, or abyss. It refers here to the sea, or ocean; and the idea is, that its vast depths might be sounded, and true wisdom would not be found there.

Verse 15

It cannot be gotten for gold - Margin, “fine gold shall not be given for it.” The word which is here rendered “gold.” and in the margin “fine gold” (סגור segôr), is not the common word used to denote this metal. It is derived from סגר sâgar, to “shut,” to “close,” and means properly that which is “shut up” or “enclosed;” and hence, Gesenius supposes it means pure gold, or the most precious gold, as that which is shut up or enclosed with care. Dr. Good renders it “solid gold,” supposing it means that which is condensed, or beaten. The phrase occurs in nearly the same form סגור זהב zâhâb sâgûr, “gold shut up,” Margin,) in 1 Kings 6:20-21; 1 Kings 7:49-50; 1 Kings 10:21; 2 Chronicles 4:21-22; 2 Chronicles 9:20, and undoubtedly denotes there the most precious kind of gold. Its relation to the sense of the verb “to shut up” is not certain. Prof. Lee supposes that the idea is derived from the use of the word, and of similar words in Arabic, where the idea of heating, fusing, giving another color, changing the shape, and thence of fixing, retaining, etc., is found; and that the idea here is that of fused or purified gold. Michaelis supposes that it refers to “native” gold that is pure and unadulterated, or the form of gold called “dendroides,” from its shooting out in the form of a tree - “baumartig gewachsenes Gold” (from the Arabic, “a tree”). It is not known, however, that the Hebrew word סגר was always used to denote a tree. There can be no doubt that the word denotes “gold” of a pure kind, and it may have been given to it because gold of that kind was carefully “shut up” in places of safe keeping; but it would seem more probable to me that it was given to it for some reason now unknown. Of many of the names now given by us to objects which are significant, and which are easily understood by us, it would be impossible to trace the reason or propriety, after the lapse of four thousand years.

Neither shall silver be weighed - That is, it would be impossible to weigh out so much silver as to equal its value. Before the art of coining was known, it was common to weigh the precious metals that were used as a medium of trade; compare Genesis 23:16.

Verse 16

The gold of Ophir - Uniformly spoken of as the most precious gold; see the notes at Job 22:24.

With the precious onyx - The onyx is a semi-pellucid gem, with variously colored veins or zones. It is a variety of the chalcedony. The Arabic word denotes that which was of two colors, where the white predominated. The Greeks gave the name “onyx” ὄνυξ onux to the gem from its resemblance to the color of the thumbnail; see Passow.

Or the sapphire - See the notes at Job 28:6.

Verse 17

The gold and the crystal - A crystal, in chemistry, is an inorganic body which, by the operation of affinity, has assumed the form of a regular solid, terminated by a number of plane and smooth surfaces. It is round in various forms and sizes, and is composed of a great variety of substances. The common “rock crystal” is a general name for all the transparent crystals of quartz, particularly of limpid or colorless quartz. “Webster.” The word used here (זכוּכית zekûkı̂yth) occurs nowhere else in the Bible. It is from זכה zâkâh, to be clean, pure; and is given to the crystal on account of its transparency. In Arabic the word means either glass or crystal. Jerome translates it, “vitrum” - glass; the Septuagint ὕαλος hualos - crystal, or the “lapis crystallinus.” Hesychius says that the crystal denotes λαμπρὸν κρύος lampron kruos - “clear ice” or, λίθον τίμιον lithon timion - “a precious stone.” There is no reason to suppose that “glass” was known so early as this, and the probability is that the word here denotes something like the rock crystal, having a strong resemblance to the diamond, and perhaps then regarded as nearly of equal value. It cannot be supposed that the relative value of gems was then understood as it is now.

Jewels of fine gold - Margin, “vessels.” The Hebrew word כלי kelı̂y properly means vessels, or instruments. It may refer here, however, to ornaments for the person, as it was in that way chiefly that gold was employed.

Verse 18

No mention shall be made of coral - That is, as a price by which to purchase wisdom, or in comparison with wisdom. The margin here is, “Ramoth” - retaining the Hebrew word ראמה râ'mâh. Jerome renders it, “excelsa” - exalted or valuable things. So the Septuagint, Μετέωρα Meteōra - exalted or sublime things; as if the word were from רום, to be exalted. According to the rabbis, the word here means “red coral.” It occurs also in Ezekiel 27:16, where it is mentioned as a valuable commodity in merchandise in which Syria traded with Tyre, and occurs in connection with emeralds, purple, broidered work, fine linen, and agate. The coral is a well known marine substance, not valued now as if it were a precious stone, but probably in the time of Job regarded as of value sufficient to be reckoned with gems. It was not rare, though its uses were not known. As a beautiful object, it might at that time deserve to be mentioned in connection with pearls.

It is now found in abundance in the Red Sea, and probably that which was known to Job was obtained there. Shaw says, “In rowing gently over it (the port Tor), while the surface of the sea was calm, such a diversity of “Madrepores Furuses,” and other marine vegetables, presented themselves to the eye, that we could not forbear taking them, as Pliny (L. xiii. cap. 25) had done before us, for a forest under water. The branched Madrepores particularly contributed very much to authorize the comparison, for we passed over several that were eight or ten feet high, growing sometimes pyramidical like the cypress, and at other times had their branches more open and diffused, like the oak; not to speak of others which, like the creeping plants, spread themselves over the bottom of the sea;” Travels, p. 384, Ed. Oxford, 1738. It should be added, however, that there is no absolute certainty that Job referred here to coral. The Hebrew word would suggest simply that which was “exalted in value,” or of great price; and it is not easy to determine to what particular substance Job meant to apply it.

Or of pearls - גבישׁ gâbı̂ysh. This word occurs nowhere else, though אלגבישׁ 'elgâbı̂ysh, is found in Ezekiel 13:11, Ezekiel 13:13; Ezekiel 38:22, where it means hail-stones, or pieces of ice. Perhaps the word here means merely “crystal” - resembling ice. So Umbreit Gesenius, and others, understand it. Prof. Lee supposes that the word used here denotes that which is “aggregated” and then what is “massive,” or “vast;” see his note on this place. Jerome renders it, “eminentia” - exalted, lofty things; the Septuagint retains the word without attempting to translate it - γαβὶς gabis - and the fact that they have not endeavored to render it, is a strong circumstance to show that it is now hopeless to attempt to determine its meaning.

Above rubies - The ruby is a precious stone of a carmine red color, sometimes verging to violet. There are two kinds of rubies, the oriental or corundum, and the spinelle. The ruby is next in hardness to the diamond, and approaches it in value. The oriental ruby is the same as the sapphire. The ruby is found in the kingdom of Pegu, in the Mysore country, in Ceylon, and in some other places, and is usually imbedded in gneiss. It is by no means certain, however, that the word used here (פנינים pânı̂ynı̂ym) means rubies. Many of the rabbis suppose that “pearls” are meant by it; and so Bochart, Hieroz. ii. Lib. v. c. 6, 7, understands it. John D. Michaelis understands it to mean “red corals,” and Gesenius concurs with this opinion. Umbreit renders it, “Perlen” - “pearls.” The word occurs in Proverbs 3:15; Proverbs 8:11; Proverbs 20:15; Proverbs 31:10; Lamentations 4:7. In the Proverbs, as here, it is used in comparison with wisdom, and undoubtedly denotes one of the precious gems.

Verse 19

Verse 20

Whence then cometh wisdom? - This question is now repeated from Job 28:12, in order to give it greater emphasis. It is designed to fix the attention on the inquiry as one which found no solution in the discoveries of science, and whose solution was hidden from the most penetrating human intellect.

Verse 21

It is hid from the eyes of all living - That is, of all people, and of all animals. Man has not found it by the most sagacious of all his discoveries, and the keenest vision of beasts and fowls has not traced it out.

And kept close - Hebrew “concealed.”

From the fowls of the air - Compare the notes at Job 28:7. Umbreit remarks, on this passage, that there is attributed to the fowls in Oriental countries a deep knowledge, and an extraordinary gift of divination, and that they appear as the interpreters and confidants of the gods. One cannot but reflect, says he, on the personification of the good spirit of Ormuzd through the fowls, according to the doctrine of the Persians (Compare Creutzer’s Symbolik Thes 1. s. 723); upon the ancient fowlking (Vogelkonig) Simurg upon the mountain Kap, representing the highest wisdom of life; upon the discourses of the fowls of the great mystic poet of the Persians, Ferideddin Attar, etc. Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, also, a considerable part of their divinations consisted in observing the flight of birds, as if they were endowed with intelligence, and indicated coming events by the course which they took; compare also, Ecclesiastes 10:20, where wisdom or intelligence is ascribed to the birds of the air. “Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bed-chamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.”

Verse 22

Destruction - This is a personification which is exceedingly sublime. Job had spoken of the wonderful discoveries made by science, but none of them had disclosed true wisdom. It had not been discovered in the shaft which the miner sank deep in the earth; in the hidden regions which he laid open to day, nor by the birds that saw to the farthest distance, or that were regarded as the interpreters of the will of the gods. It was natural to ask whether it might not have been discovered in the vast profound of the nether world - the regions of death and of night; and whether by making a bold appeal to the king that reigned there, a response might not be heard that would be more satisfactory. In Job 28:14, the appeal had been made to the sea - with all its vast stores; here the appeal is to far deeper regions - to the nether world of darkness and of death. On the word used here (אבדון 'ăbaddôn), “destruction,” see the notes at Job 26:6. It is employed here, as in that place, to denote the nether world - the abode of departed spirits - the world where those are who have been destroyed by death, and to which the destruction of the grave is the entrance.

And death - Death is used here to denote “Sheol,” or the abode of the spirits of the dead. The sense is, that those deep and dark regions had simply heard the distant report of wisdom but they did not understand it, and that if one went down there it would not be fully revealed to him. Perhaps there is an allusion to the natural expectation that, if one could go down and converse with the dead, he could find out much more than can be known on earth. It was to be presumed that they would understand much more about the unseen and future world, and about the plans and government of God, than man can know here. It was on this belief, and on the hope that some league or alliance could be made with the dead, inducing them to communicate what they knew, that the science of necromancy was founded; see the notes at Isaiah 8:19.

We have heard the fame thereof - We have heard the report of it, or a rumor of it. The meaning is, that they did not understand it fully, and that if man could penetrate to those dark regions, he could not get the information which he desired. Wisdom is still at such an immense distance that it is only a report, or rumor of it, which has reached us.

Verse 23

God understandeth the way thereof - These are doubtless the words of Job. The meaning is, that the reason of the divine dispensations could be known only to God himself. He had given no clew by which man could discover this. He might carry his investigations far into the regions of science; he could penetrate the earth, and look on the stars, but still all his investigations fell short of disclosing the reasons of the divine dispensations. The secret was lodged in his bosom, and he only could communicate it where and when he pleased. It may be added here, that this is as true now as it was in the time of Job. Man has carried the investigations of science almost infinitely further than he had then, but still by the investigations of science he has by no means superseded the necessity of revelation, or shed light on the great questions that have, in all ages, so much perplexed the race. It is only by direct communication, by his word and by his Spirit, that man can be made to understand the reason of the divine doings, and nothing is better established by the course of events than the truth on which Job here so much insists, that science cannot answer the questions of so much interest to man about the divine government.

Verse 24

For he looketh to the ends of the earth - That is, God sees and knows everything. He looks upon the whole universe. Man sees objects dimly; he sees but a few, and he little understands the bearing of one thing or another.

Verse 25

To make the weight for the winds - That is, to weigh the winds and to measure the waters - things that it would seem most difficult to do. The idea here seems to be, that God had made all things by measure and by rule. Even the winds - so fleeting and imponderable - he had adjusted and balanced in the most exact manner, as if he had “weighed” them when he made them. The air has “weight,” but it is not probable that this fact was known in the time of Job, or that he adverted to it here. It is rather the idea suggested above, that the God who had formed everything by exact rule. and who had power to govern the winds in the most exact manner, must be qualified to impart wisdom.

And he weigheth the waters - Compare the notes at Isaiah 40:12. The word rendered “weigheth” in this place (תכן tâkan) means either to “weigh,” or to “measure,” Isaiah 40:12. As the “measure” here is mentioned, it rather means probably to adjust, to apportion, than to weigh. The waters are dealt out by measure; the winds are weighed. The sense is, that though the waters of the ocean are so vast, yet God has adjusted them all with infinite skill, as if he had dealt them out by measure; and having done this, he is qualified to explain to man the reason of his doings.

Verse 26

When he made a decree for the rain - A statute or law (חק chôq) by which the rain is regulated. It is not sent by chance or hap-hazard. It is under the operation of regular and settled laws. We cannot suppose that those laws were understood in the time of Job, but the fact might be understood that the rain was regulated by laws, and that fact would show that God was qualified to impart wisdom. His kingdom was a kingdom of settled law and not of chance or caprice, and if the rain was regulated by statute, it was fair to presume that he did not deal with his people by chance, and that afflictions were not sent without rule; compare the notes at Job 5:6.

And a way - A path through which the rapid lightning should pass - referring, perhaps, to the apparent “opening” in the clouds in which the lightning seems to move along.

The lightning of the thunder - The word “lightning” here (חזיז chăzı̂yz) properly means “an arrow,” from הזז hāzaz, obsolete, to pierce through, to transfix, to performate; and hence, the lightning - from the rapidity with which it passes - like an arrow. The word “thunder” (קולות qôlôt) means voices, and hence, “thunder,” as being by way of eminence the voice of God; compare Psalms 29:3-5. The whole expression here means “the thunder-flash.” Coverdale renders this, “when he gave the mighty floods a law;” but it undoubtedly refers to the thunderstorm, and the idea is, that he who controls the rapid lightning, regulating its laws and directing its path through the heavens, is qualified to communicate truth to people, and can explain the great principles on which his government is administered.

Verse 27

Then did he see it - That is, then did he see wisdom. When in the work of creation he gave laws to the rain and the thunder storm; when he weighed out the winds and measured out the waters, then he saw and understood the principles of true wisdom. There is a remarkable similarity between the expression here and Proverbs 8:27-30, “When he prepared the heavens, I (wisdom) was there; when he set a compass upon the face of the depth; when he established the clouds above; when he strengthened the foundations of the deep; when he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he appointed the foundations of the earth; then I was by him as one brought up with him; I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.”

And declare it - Margin, “number.” The word (ספר sâphar) means, however, rather to “declare,” or to “narrate;” and the idea is, that even then he made known to intelligent beings the true principles of wisdom, as consisting in the fear of the Lord, and in suitable veneration for the Most High. “In what way” this was made known, Job does not say; but there can be no doubt of the fact to which he adverts, that even in his time the great principles of all real wisdom were made known to created intelligences, as consisting in profound veneration of God, in a willingness to bow under his dispensations, and to confide in him.

He prepared it - Made it a matter of “thought” and “inquiry” to find out what was real wisdom, and communicated it in a proper way to his creatures. The idea is, that it was not the result of chance, nor did it spring up of its own accord, but it was a matter of “intelligent investigation” on the part of God to know what constituted true wisdom. Probably, also, Job here means to refer to the attempts of man to investigate it, and to say that its value was enhanced from the fact that it had even required “the search of God” to find it out. Beautiful eulogiums of Wisdom may be seen in the Apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, of which the following is a specimen:

Wisdom shall praise herself,

And shall glory in the midst of her people.

In the congregation of the Most High shall she open her mouth,

And triumph before his power.

I came out of the mouth of the Most High,

And covered the earth as a cloud.

I dwell in high places,

And my throne is in a cloudy pillar.

I alone compassed the circuit of heaven,

And walked in the bottom of the deep.

In the waves of the sea, and in all the earth,

And in every people and nation, I got a possession.

He created me from the beginning, before the world,

And I shall never fall. Ecclus. 24

Verse 28

And unto man he said - At what time, or how, Job does not say. Prof. Lee supposes that this refers to the instruction which God gave in Paradise to our first parents; but it may rather be supposed to refer to the universal tenor of the divine communications to man, and to all that God had said about the way of true wisdom. The meaning is, that the substance of all that God had said to man was, that true wisdom was to be found in profound veneration of him.

The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom - The word “Lord” here is improperly printed in small capitals, as if the word were יהוה yehovâh. The original word is, however, אדני 'ǎdonāy; and the fact is worthy of notice, because one point of the argument respecting the date of the book turns on the question whether the word Yahweh occurs in it; see the notes at Job 12:9. The fear of the Lord is often represented as true wisdom; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 14:27; Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 19:23; Psalms 111:10, et al. The meaning here is, that real wisdom is connected with a proper veneration for God, and with submission to him. We cannot understand his ways. Science cannot conduct us up to a full explanation of his government, nor can the most profound investigations disclose all that we would wish to know about God. In these circumstances, true wisdom is found in humble piety; in reverence for the name and perfections of God; in that veneration which leads us to adore him, and to believe that he is right, though clouds and darkness are round about him. To this conclusion Job, in all his perplexities, comes, and here his mind finds rest.

And to depart from evil is understanding - To forsake every evil way must be wise. In doing that, man knows that he cannot err. He walks safely who abandons sin, and in forsaking every evil way he knows that he cannot but be right. He may be in error when speculating about God, and the reasons of his government; he may be led astray when endeavoring to comprehend his dealings; but there can be no such perplexity in departing from evil. There he knows he is right. There his feet are on a rock. It is better to walk surely there than to involve ourselves in perplexity about profound and inscrutable operations of the divine character and government. It may be added here, also, that he who aims to lead a holy life, who has a virtuous heart, and who seeks to do always what is right, will have a clearer view of the government and truth of God, than the most profound intellect can obtain without a heart of piety; and that without that, all the investigations of the most splendid talents will be practically in vain.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 28". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/job-28.html. 1870.
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