Job 28
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 28 Wisdom can nowhere be found by man; God alone is in possession of it; the wisdom of man is to fear the lord

The chapter contains a single thought, viz. that Wisdom cannot be reached by man. The thought, however, is set forth and illustrated in many ways and with much poetical adornment.

First, Job 28:1-14, the precious ores and stones have a place where they may be found, to which men penetrate and from which they bring them forth to the light; but Wisdom has no place where it can be found in all the land of the living.

Second, Job 28:15-22, Wisdom is not to be seen in the marts of mankind; it cannot be purchased though gold and all precious things were offered for it. It is not found even in the world below, the realm of the dead.

Third, Job 28:23-28, God alone knoweth the way to it and is in possession of it, for He is the Creator of the World. The Wisdom of man is the Fear of the Lord.

Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they fine it.
1. surely there is] Rather, for there is. The connexion, however, with the preceding is difficult to perceive (see at the end of the chapter).

there is a vein] lit. an issue or source. The emphasis falls on is—there is a place from which silver comes forth, it has a source out of which it may be gotten.

where they fine it] Rather, which they (men) refine. The most precious ores, both silver and gold, have a place where they may be found; however distant and dark and deep in the earth their place be, such a place is known, men penetrate to it, and bring them forth. The antithesis is presented in Job 28:12, But whence shall Wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? It hath no place known to man.

Iron is taken out of the earth, and brass is molten out of the stone.
2. brass is molten out of the stone] lit. they (men) melt the stone into brass, i.e. copper. Men know how to possess themselves of the metals.

He setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out all perfection: the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death.
3–11. Description of mining operations.

he setteth] To prevent ambiguity it is better to translate, man setteth, or, men set. The phrase “setteth an end to darkness” hardly refers to the light shed by the miner’s lamp; the expression is more general, meaning that men penetrate into what is dark and deep in the earth as if it were light and above ground—as the next clause explains.

searcheth out all perfection] Rather, searcheth out to the very end, or, utmost limit, the stones of darkness and the shadow of death, that is, the darkest recesses in the bowels of the earth. The word, very end or utmost limit is that occurring, ch. Job 26:10 (see notes) and ch. Job 11:7. On “shadow of death” see on ch. Job 24:17.

The flood breaketh out from the inhabitant; even the waters forgotten of the foot: they are dried up, they are gone away from men.
4. This verse reads as a whole,

They break a shaft away from man’s abode;

They are forgotten of the foot;

Far away from men they hang, and swing.

The first clause, lit. away from the dweller or inhabitant, describes how the miners sink their shaft deep down below and away from the abode of men above. There they are forgotten by the foot of those overhead, who walk oblivious of them. And the last clause describes how they “hang and swing,” i.e. swing suspended in cages or from ropes as they pursue their unnatural operations—

half way down

Hangs one that gathers samphire—dreadful trade.

As for the earth, out of it cometh bread: and under it is turned up as it were fire.
5. The same idea of the distance from the life of men and the unnaturalness of the miner’s work is pursued in the fine contrast between the peaceful, cultivated and fruitful face of the earth above and the destructive operations carried on in her bowels, which leave a confusion and devastation like that caused by fire. The second clause must be rendered,

And underneath it is overturned as if by fire.

The reference is hardly to actual blasting; rather to the overthrow and confused ruin that follows the miner’s operations.

The stones of it are the place of sapphires: and it hath dust of gold.
6. Through these operations which carry ruin into the bowels of the earth men, however, find the richest reward. The stones of the heart of the earth are the place of sapphires, and of auriferous dust.

it hath dust of gold] “It” refers to the “place” in the first clause, hardly to the sapphire, although a particular kind of sapphire is described as being grained or striated with gold. This, however, can hardly be what is meant by “dust of gold.” Instead of it hath dust we might render he hath—i. e. man; he finds his way to the place of sapphires and possesses himself of the auriferous earth.

There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen:
7. there is a path] Rather, that path no eagle knoweth, lit.—a path which no eagle &c., the words taking up what is said in Job 28:6,—the way to the place of sapphires. The sharp-sighted birds of prey have not seen that path.

The lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it.
8. Neither have the proud wild beasts, which fearlessly penetrate into the darkest places, ever trodden that path.

the lion’s whelps] Rather, the proud beasts, lit. sons of pride, ch. Job 41:34.

passed by it] i. e. passed over it, walked it.

He putteth forth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots.
9. upon the rock] Or, the flinty rock; man puts forth his hand upon the rock either to break it or pierce a way through it. His force makes the hardest obstacle give way before him.

9–11. Some further touches regarding the irresistible force and the skilful ingenuity with which man conducts his operations, with the result at last of bringing that which is hidden forth to light.

He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing.
10. cutteth out rivers] The word “rivers” is that commonly used to denote the canals into which the Nile was divided, and might be translated canals or channels. Such canals might be intended for drawing off the water accumulating in the mine. The second clause suggests, however, that the word rather means passages or galleries, cut in order to pursue the vein, for it is said, “his eye seeth every precious thing.”

He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light.
11. he bindeth the floods from overflowing] Rather, he bindeth up the streams that they drip not, lit. that they weep not. The reference is to the use of lime or clay to prevent water percolating into the mine. “The picturesque phrase (‘that they weep not’) may have been a technical term among miners in ancient times, just as our colliers name the action of the water that percolates through and into their workings weeping, and our navvies call the fine sand which percolates through the sides of a tunnel crying sand” (Cox, Comm. on Job, p. 360).

These references to mining operations shew that the Writer was familiar with them. The frequent allusions to Egypt indicate that the Author of the Book was well acquainted with that country, and possibly the mines that were extensively worked in the peninsula of Sinai would be an object of interest to travellers from Palestine to Egypt. It appears, however, that mining was in ancient times carried on in the Hauran and even in the Lebanon; and in Deuteronomy 8:9 Palestine is described as “a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.”

But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?
12–14. The precious ores and costly stones though hidden have a place where they may be found, and man knows how to reach it and bring that which is hid to light, but where can Wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? It has no place and is unattainable by man; it is not to be found in the land of the living, in the deep nor in the sea.

Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living.
13. the price thereof] For “price” the Sept. read way—man knoweth not the way thereof (cf. Job 28:23), i. e. the way to it, and very many commentators adopt this reading, which gives a more direct answer to the question in Job 28:12. It price be read, the phrase “man knoweth not the price thereof” does not mean that “it is too precious to be bought with money,” but that it is no article of merchandise in the markets of mankind, in other words, it has never been found and is unknown among men. This meaning is clearly expressed in the second clause, “neither is it found in the land of the living.”

The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me.
14. Three great regions are mentioned, none of which is the “place” of Wisdom, the land of the living, the deep, and the sea. These three exhaust the extent of the upper world. The “land of the living” is the earth as the abode of living beings, more especially of men, Psalm 52:5. The “deep” is the primeval abyss, out of which perhaps the sea is fed, lying under the earth, Genesis 1:2, Psalm 24:2—an almost mythological conception. Down under all these, however, lies the underworld of the dead, ch. Job 26:5.

It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof.
15. for gold] Probably, as margin, fine gold, i. e. purified gold; comp. 1 Kings 6:20, where a word somewhat similar occurs.

be weighed] In ancient times money was weighed, not counted, Genesis 23:16.

15–19. As the preceding verses (1–14) expressed the idea that there was no “place” of Wisdom where men could find it and from which they could bring it forth, these verses express the idea that it can be acquired by no price which men can offer for it. It is altogether unattainable. The passage may contain the additional idea of the preciousness or desirableness of Wisdom (see Job 28:18), but the purpose of these verses is not to set forth wisdom as a good or as the chief good, for which one might willingly give all that he holds most precious; the thought of the passage is that though one should offer gold and precious stones for Wisdom it cannot be procured, being nowhere to be found. That the Writer’s purpose is to express this conception mainly is evident from the refrain which closes the passage, as a similar one closed the preceding passage: But Wisdom whence cometh it? and where is the place of understanding? (Job 28:20).

It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire.
16. it cannot be valued] lit. weighed for gold of Ophir. Wisdom is conceived as put in the balance as other articles are that are sold, the price given for it being gold of Ophir. The meaning is, it cannot be purchased for gold of Ophir. The word weighed here differs from that in Job 28:15, though it has the same meaning.

The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold.
17. and the crystal] Probably glass, which was rare and counted precious in ancient times.

cannot equal it] The word means to arrange, to set over against, to compare with. The idea here is that gold and glass cannot be set against Wisdom by way of barter, as the next clause distinctly states.

No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies.
18. or of pearls] Rather, of crystal.

price of wisdom is above rubies] Or, the possession of wisdom is above (or, more than) pearls, i. e. pearls cannot acquire it or give possession of it. The meaning is scarcely that Wisdom is a more precious thing to possess than pearls.

The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, neither shall it be valued with pure gold.
19. equal it] See on Job 28:17.

be valued] See on Job 28:16.

Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding?
20–22. The preceding verses indicated that Wisdom cannot be acquired by man though he should bid for it the most precious things that he possesses, in other words that it is unattainable; these verses state that idea again explicitly. The question Job 28:20 implies a negative answer—nowhere by man.

Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air.
21. seeing it is hid] Rather simply, it is hidden. Job 28:20 as summing up Job 28:15-19 meant, thus Wisdom is nowhere to be attained; Job 28:21 proceeds, it is hidden &c.

kept close] i. e. it is concealed from, unknown to the fowls of the air (comp. Job 28:7)—no creature can attain to it.

Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears.
22. destruction and death] Heb. Abaddon and Death. Abaddon is Sheol, the realm of the dead, here personified, as also is Death. Comp. Revelation 1:18; Revelation 9:11, and see on ch. Job 26:6.

the fame thereof] i. e. the report or rumour thereof. Destruction and Death have only heard of Wisdom, they have no knowledge of it, much less is it to be found with them. It is not true, alas! in this sense that

There must be wisdom with great Death.

The words “we have heard the report thereof” ascribe neither a less nor a greater knowledge of Wisdom to Death than the living possess. Both are equally ignorant of it, and equally without it. As Job 28:13-14 told how Wisdom was nowhere to be found in the upper world so Job 28:22 states that it is not to be found in the under world. The process of exhaustion is complete: Wisdom is nowhere to be found, neither in the bowels of the earth nor in the markets of mankind, in the deep nor in the sea; neither in the land of the living nor in the place of the dead.

God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof.
23. God understandeth the way thereof] i. e. the way thereto (ch. Job 24:18, Genesis 3:24). The word God stands emphatically first in the sentence, in opposition to “all living” (Job 28:21); He is in possession of Wisdom. It need not be said that the words “place” and “way” are merely parts of the figure; the verse means, Wisdom is with God alone.

23–28. Wisdom can nowhere be found either by man or by any creature (Job 28:21), only by the Creator. God knoweth the place of it and is in possession of it, for He is the maker and upholder of the universe with all its agencies. And He has assigned to man as his wisdom the fear of the Lord.

For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven;
24. God is in possession of Wisdom for He is the upholder and creator of the world.

for he looketh to the ends of the earth] His glance as creator and ruler of all extends over all, to the ends of the earth and to all that lies under the whole heavens.

To make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure.
25. to make the weight for the winds] Or, making (when he made), appointing the winds their greater or less force. The idea is of course that God weighed the winds themselves, i. e. defined their bulk exactly, not that, in modern language, he gave to each its weight or pressure, though the sense is little different.

and he weigheth the waters by measure] Or, and he meted out the waters by measure. The “waters” are the rains, Job 28:26. The “winds” and “waters” are examples, taken to represent all, of the agencies and forces of creation. These were and continue all weighed and measured, adjusted and directed by God. The second half of the verse explains the first. In the first half it is not God’s abstract omniscience that is referred to, but His universal oversight as Creator; and the sense of the whole verse, which supports the assertion that God has Wisdom (Job 28:23), is not that God must be in possession of Wisdom in order to be Creator, which without Wisdom He could not be, but rather that His being Creator enables us to understand how Wisdom is or comes to be in His possession.

Wisdom in this passage, as in other parts of Scripture where it is spoken of, is properly the idea or conception lying behind or under the fixed order of the universe, the world-plan. This fixed order itself with all its phenomena and occurrences is nothing but God fulfilling Himself in many ways, but these ways may be reduced to one conception, and this is Wisdom, which is thus conceived as a thing having an objective existence of its own. Naturally such an objective thing is apt to be personified and may be “seen,” “established,” “searched out” and the like. In the same way the question may be put, Where is Wisdom to be found? and the answer given that it can be found nowhere. This question and answer merely mean that man cannot attain to intellectual apprehension of the idea of the universe, nor understand the principle underlying the phenomena and events of the world and human life.

When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder:
26. a decree for the rain] This “decree” comprises all the laws that regulate the rain, appointing its measure and its seasons as early and latter rain.

26–27. The idea of the preceding verse taken up anew and expanded—in creation God saw Wisdom and searched it out.

Then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yea, and searched it out.
27. then did he see it] then, i. e. when He made a decree for the rain—in the act or at the time of creation, when He gave material agencies their laws. Then He “saw” Wisdom, she presented herself to His view.

and declare it] The margin number or count (ch. Job 38:37) gives a very good sense, the meaning being that God went over, enumerated or surveyed the parts and complex powers of Wisdom. The meaning will not be greatly different if the rendering “declare” be retained and taken in the sense of uttered. This might be done by pronouncing the name of Wisdom, as God presents before His own mind the meaning of any servant or agent of His by calling him by his name (Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 45:3). Others take “declare” in the sense that God gave expression to Wisdom in the varied works of creation. This is a very unnatural sense in which to take “declare.” Besides, of the four expressions used, “saw,” “declared,” “established,” “searched out,” the first and last refer exclusively to acts of the Divine mind and it is improbable that the middle terms should refer to acts or operations of God’s creative hand. Nor is there allusion to any to whom the declaration was made, God alone being referred to in the verse.

he prepared it] Or, established it. The sense appears to be the same as in Proverbs 8:22 “the Lord formed me,” i. e. gave me existence. The Writer conceives Wisdom, if not as a person, at least as something that has being or existence of its own. According to Proverbs 8:23 seq. Wisdom received its existence prior to the creation of the world. In the present passage it is not quite easy to say whether the idea be that Wisdom received existence in creation or before it, at least it did so in connexion with creation (“then”). It is unnecessary, however, and contrary to the Poet’s vivid conception of Wisdom as a real thing or being, to suppose that it was “established” when embodied in the stable, permanent order of created things, as if, being merely an idea before, with wavering outlines, it then became fixed. Neither can the meaning be that God “set up” Wisdom before Him merely as an object of contemplation; much less that He set it up as a “model” after which to work in creating the world, or constituted it “the conductor of the whole general order of the world.” These are all additional ideas, hardly warranted by the expression employed.

yea, and searched it out] The word yea implies that this searching out of Wisdom was something higher than the preceding acts. God explored Wisdom, He saw through it, and brought before Himself the full idea of all that was in its nature and its powers. The word can hardly mean He proved it, e. g. to see whether it was suitable or able for its great function, the guidance of the course of things in the world. This again is an additional idea, which the word does not express.

And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.
28. and unto man he said] This ordinance in regard to man is also considered contemporary with creation; then God saw and searched out Wisdom, and at the same time, as suitable to man’s place, He ordained for him his Wisdom, which is the fear of the Lord and to depart from evil.

The Wisdom spoken of throughout the chapter is a possession of God alone, it is His who is Creator; man has a wisdom also, which is that of the creature, to fear the Lord. There is not, however, in all the chapter the shadow of a complaint; there is no turning of the spirit against God (ch. Job 15:13) under the feeling that the “envious” Creator has reserved the higher insight for Himself, and only bound on mankind the heavy burden of “fearing” Him. Such a thought is wholly at variance with the spirit of the passage. The speaker is calm and reflective and, to all appearance, satisfied that things are as we see them because they could not be otherwise.

Wisdom is the idea or principle lying under the order of the Universe, the world plan. This order of the world, however, is not a mere physical one, an order of “nature.” Such an idea as “nature” was foreign to the Hebrew mind. Equally unknown was the idea of a mere physical constitution of things. The constitution of the world was moral, and hence the life and destinies of men, no less than the phenomena of the world, were comprised under Wisdom.

When it is said that Wisdom has no place where it can be found and can be purchased for no price, the language is based upon the conception of Wisdom as an objective thing; but the meaning is that intellectual apprehension of the scope of the phenomena of the world and the events of man’s life is beyond the reach of man; such knowledge belongs only to God, who made the world.

To inculcate this truth and the other truth related to it, that man’s wisdom is the fear of the Lord, is the object of the chapter.

It seems an entire misapprehension of the meaning of the passage when it is regarded as teaching that “Wisdom, unlike earthly treasures, is nowhere to be found in the visible, sensible world”; that “not in the world of sense, but only from and with God can it be acquired, through the fear of God.” The distinctions introduced here are modern. The passage teaches that Wisdom cannot be found either in the visible or the invisible world (Job 28:22), neither by man nor by any creature (Job 28:21). It is a thing possible to God alone; and man does not attain to it through the fear of the Lord,—the fear of the Lord is the substitute ordained for man instead of it; for as the absolute Wisdom belongs to the Creator, so the fear of the Lord is the wisdom that befits the creature.

The connexion between chapters 27 and 28 is difficult to perceive. Very many suggestions have been offered, of which two may be noticed.

Chap. 27 ends with a dark picture of the fate of the wicked at “the hand of God,” and ch. 28 begins, “for there is a vein for the silver … but where shall Wisdom be found?” As Job in ch. 27 is understood to be modifying his former statements he is supposed by some to speak thus: “I concede that such (ch. Job 27:13-23) is the fate of the wicked [but all riddles of Providence are not thereby solved, for example the afflictions of just men like myself, nor can they be solved] for, though men may attain to much by their skill and insight, Wisdom is beyond them.” This makes the whole of ch. 28, introduced by for, the support of a thought which is not expressed nor even hinted at, but merely interpolated from the mind of the commentator.

Others, assuming Job to be the speaker, connect thus: “such (ch. Job 27:13-23) is the disastrous fate of the wicked [and it must be so] for Wisdom [which is the way to prosperity in life] can be reached only through the fear of the Lord [which such men have rejected”]. Apart from the strong interpolations needful to help out the thought, the extraordinary circumlocution, in the shape of the long disquisition on Wisdom, which the speaker is supposed to employ in order to express his idea, marks this attempt to construct a bridge between the two chapters as desperate. Besides, if the remarks made above in regard to the general meaning of ch. 28 have any worth, the attempt is based upon a reading of the sense of that chapter which is entirely wrong.

See further on these two chapters in the Introduction.

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