Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they fine it.XXVIII.
(1) Surely there is a vein for the silver.—In this chapter Job draws out a magnificent contrast between human skill and ingenuity and Divine wisdom. The difficulty to the ordinary reader is in not perceiving that the person spoken of in Job 28:3 is man, and not God. Man possesses and exercises this mastery over nature, but yet is ignorant of wisdom unless God bestows it on him. That Job should say this is but natural, after his painful experience of the want of wisdom in his friends.
He setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out all perfection: the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death.(3) He setteth an end to darkness.—May be read thus, Man setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out to the furthest bound the stones of darkness and the shadow of death.
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) The flood breaketh out . . . is very uncertain. We may render, Man breaketh open a shaft where none sojourneth; they are forgotten where none passeth by: i.e., the labourers in these deserted places, they hang afar from the haunts of men, they flit to and fro. Or it may be, The flood breaketh out from the inhabitants, even the waters forgotten of the foot: they are dried up, they are gone away from man: that is, the very course of rivers is subject to the will and power of man. Those who walk over the place forget that it was once a river, so completely has man obliterated the marks of it.
As for the earth, out of it cometh bread: and under it is turned up as it were fire.(5) As for the earth . . .—While the ploughman and the reaper till and gather the fruits of the earth on its surface, the miner far below maintains perpetual fires, as also does the volcanic mountain, with its fields and vineyards luxuriant and fertile on its sides.
The stones of it are the place of sapphires: and it hath dust of gold.(6) The stones of it are the place of sapphires.—So ingenious is man that he discovereth a place of which the stones are sapphires and the very dust gold, and a path that no bird of prey knoweth, and which the falcon’s eye hath not seen.
He putteth forth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots.(9) He putteth forth his hand upon the rock.—The process described is that of tunnelling and excavating, and that of making canals and lining them with stone; and in the course of such works many precious things would be discovered. The canals and cisterns were made so accurately that they retained the water, and did not even weep or trickle.
But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?(12) But where shall wisdom be found?—With magnificent effect comes in this question, after the gigantic achievements of man just recounted; notwithstanding his industry, science, and skill, he is altogether ignorant of true wisdom. Neither his knowledge nor his wealth can make him master of that; nor can he find it where he discovers so many other secret and precious things.
The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold.(17) The exchange of it.—Or, according to some, the attraction of it. The remainder of this chapter calls for little remark: its unrivalled sublimity is patent, and comment is superfluous. There is a general resemblance between this chapter and Proverbs 8, and both seem to imply a knowledge of the Mosaic narrative of creation.
Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears.(22) Destruction and death say.—That destruction and death should have heard the fame of wisdom is natural, as it consists in departing from the evil which leads to their abode.
God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof.(23) God understandeth the way thereof.—God is the author of wisdom, and His fear is the beginning thereof; so with His infinite knowledge of the universe He cannot but be cognisant of the place and way thereof. It is to be observed that while the foundation of wisdom is said to be coeval with that of the world, the very existence of wisdom in relation to man implied the existence of evil, because except by departing from evil there could for man be no wisdom, though evil itself may undoubtedly involve and imply the deflection from a previously existing right. Wrong, for example, is what is wrung aside from the right. The two ideas which Job starts with are man’s ignorance of the price and the place of wisdom. Neither he nor nature knows the place of it: neither all living, nor the deep, nor the sea; and as for its price, though man is prepared to give any high price for the costly stones and jewels of the earth, yet all that he has to give is not to be mentioned in comparison with the value of wisdom. Wisdom, however, is to be purchased by the poor, as we may infer from the language of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 55:1), or, at all events, that which ranks with wisdom; and in like manner Christ represented the kingdom of heaven as a pearl of great price, which would demand all that a man had to buy it, and yet he represented the poor as those especially to whom it was preached. It is true that the wisdom of which Job speaks (Job 28:28) is in no way connected with the Gospel of the kingdom; but yet, if the words of the wise are indeed given from one Shepherd, it is impossible not to recognise a central thought underlying all such words, if not in the separate minds of the wise at heart, in the original mind of the one Shepherd. So we can see that that which is true of wisdom as described by Job receives its illustration from that which is true of the Gospel of the kingdom and of the evangelical promises of Isaiah.
Then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yea, and searched it out.(27) The terms employed with reference to the Lord’s knowledge of wisdom are remarkable. They are: (1) seeing, or intuition; (2) declaring or numbering, ratiocination; (3) preparing or establishing, determination; (4) searching out, or investigation. Each of these actions implies the operation of mind, and is so far opposed to the fatality of an impersonal law or the fixed necessity of an inevitable nature.
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.—No one can for a moment suppose that this is an historical statement, or is to be treated as being one; but it is nevertheless profoundly and universally true. It is the wisdom of man as man to fear the Lord and to depart from evil; and this is God’s primary revelation to man, which virtually underlies and is involved in all others. When we are told, as we are elsewhere, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, this implies that the fear of the Lord does not supersede, though it may be essential to, any other revelation, or any other development of wisdom, or any other manifestation of it. It is to be observed that the word rendered “the Lord” here is not the four-lettered name Jehovah which was used by Job in Job 12:9, but the other name for the Divine Being (Adonai), which was in later times universally substituted for the name Jehovah by the Jews in reading.