It is fairly easy to see that Job 28 is talking about wisdom, but what exactly does it mean? Is there a point to this ode from Job? Or is it just for lyrical pleasure to the readers?
Well, like everything else that is in the Old Testament, the writers are wanting future Hebrews to know how to live, what to avoid, and how to find peace. This is a very lyrical poem, or ode, that not only delivers the meaning the writer wants to make known, but also carries many elements of symbolism. Job 28 has 28 verses within it. I am going to break them up into segments so all the elements within the poem is touched, along with it’s significant meaning/s.
“Surely there is a mine for silver,
and a place for gold that they refine.
2 Iron is taken out of the earth,
and copper is smelted from the ore.
3 Man puts an end to darkness
and searches out to the farthest limit
the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
4 He opens shafts in a valley away from where anyone lives;
they are forgotten by travelers;
they hang in the air, far away from mankind; they swing to and fro.
5 As for the earth, out of it comes bread,
but underneath it is turned up as by fire.
6 Its stones are the place of sapphires,
and it has dust of gold.
An article by Adam Clarke, http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/clarke/job028.htm , states that:
“This chapter is the oldest and finest piece of natural history in the world, and gives us very important information on several curious subjects; and could we ascertain the precise meaning of all the original words, we might, most probably, find out allusions to several useful arts which we are apt to think are of modern, or comparatively modern, invention. The word מוצא motsa, which we here translate vein, signifies literally, a going out; i.e., a mine, or place dug in the earth, whence the silver ore is extracted. And this ore lies generally in veins or loads, running in certain directions.”
So, this poem is can be archaeologically used as well as being used for “good” morals. By good morals, I mean the way the Hebrew people saw fit to live. At the time this was written, I am sure they did not think of how the descriptiveness of the beginning of this chapter could be used thousands of years in the future to better understand their life style, the natural elements that were present, and the means they went to to distribute it.
The beginning of the verses talk about natural elements that every man uses and finds useful. Then, verse 3 depicts a state of darkness. This can be translated in many ways, but the outside looking in on the poem is talking about a miner and all the traveling he has to do in darkness searching for the light he desires. However, it could also depict sin in mans life. The only way to get fully out of the darkness that is sin, is too find the wisdom through God to know the bad in the world. These verses carry a lot of imagery. The imagery given to us in verse 5 talks about the molding of fire. Bread cannot be made without fire to heat it and make it rise. The fire from God makes a person rise, according to the writer. According to http://biblehub.com/job/28-6.htm ,
“6. Sapphires are found in alluvial soil near rocks and embedded in gneiss. The ancients distinguished two kinds: 1. The real, of transparent blue: 2. That improperly so called, opaque, with gold spots; that is, lapis lazuli. To the latter, looking like gold dust, Umbreit refers “dust of gold.” English Version better, “The stones of the earth are, &c., and the clods of it (Vulgate) are gold”; the parallel clauses are thus neater.”
This passage is using a metaphor, but also giving us a incite to how much they actually knew about science and the earth’s makeup. These verses are also insinuating that a miner is man, and the jewels he seek is wisdom.
“That path no bird of prey knows,
and the falcon’s eye has not seen it.
8 The proud beasts have not trodden it;
the lion has not passed over it.
9 “Man puts his hand to the flinty rock
and overturns mountains by the roots.
10 He cuts out channels in the rocks,
and his eye sees every precious thing.
11 He dams up the streams so that they do not trickle,
and the thing that is hidden he brings out to light.
Verses 7-11 begin to depict the power that they see within God. It is still referring to the miner’s as men. The path it is talking about in verses 7-8 are talking about the paths in a mine tunnel. According to an article by Albert Barnes, http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/barnes/job028.htm :
“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 most feared warriors and kings could not harm someone on the path to God’s wisdom. They are hidden from all evil if they follow him. That is the metaphor that they are trying to make present within these verses. Verse 9 talks about cutting through flint. Flint is a very hard object to cut through, but he did it. It did not stand in his way because he had the wisdom of God.
Verse 11 is talking about how sometimes rivers in mines will break through when a person is mining, according to Albert Barnes, http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/barnes/job028.htm as well. The minor also uncovers the most beautiful jewels that are underneath the earth and brings them into the light. This could swap up our metaphor to show that God is the miner and men are the jewels and only through God can a man be brought to light, only through His wisdom.
“But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
13 Man does not know its worth,
and it is not found in the land of the living.
14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’
and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
15 It cannot be bought for gold,
and silver cannot be weighed as its price.
16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
in precious onyx or sapphire.
17 Gold and glass cannot equal it,
nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold.
18 No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal;
the price of wisdom is above pearls.
19 The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
nor can it be valued in pure gold.
Verses 12-19 start to decipher where wisdom can be found. According to Jim Perdue, http://www.christianindex.org/1755.article , verse 12 is saying wisdom cannot be bought nor found. Now all of the mining references are starting to fit in. Wisdom is not easily attainable like jewels, gold, or metals. Wisdom is a gift that can only come from God. So, I wonder how dumb the Hebrews see the Egyptians for example?
13-19 talk about how hard it is to obtain wisdom. No price can be put on wisdom. It has no worth. 14 is foreshadowing 18 when it is talking about pearls. You cannot find it in a natural resource, because it is a supernatural gift. It is not to be taken form the living, nor is it to be taken from the land. A man cannot buy wisdom with all the gold or jewels in the world. The rarest and hardest to mine jewels and gold cannot come close to the value of having wisdom.
“From where, then, does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living
and concealed from the birds of the air.
22 Abaddon and Death say,
‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’
Verses 20-22 ask the questions we have been waiting on. Where does it come from? If you cannot see it in the depths of a cave, where all the beautiful things of the world are hidden, or in the sky with a birds eye view, where is it? According to Matthew Henry, http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=18&c=28 :
“There is a two-fold wisdom; one hid in God, which is secret, and belongs not to us; the other made known by him, and revealed to man. One day’s events, and one man’s affairs, have such reference to, and so hang one upon another, that He only, to whom all is open, and who sees the whole at one view, can rightly judge of every part. But the knowledge of God’s revealed will is within our reach, and will do us good. Let man look upon this as his wisdom, To fear the Lord, and to depart from evil.”
Even though this is from a Christianity perspective, he makes a great point to what exactly the writer is wanting to get across. In verse 22, the term “Abaddon” in Hebrew means destruction, place of destruction, or the depths of hell. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Abaddon . Verse 22 can be quite confusing. According to the Pulpit commentary from http://biblehub.com/job/28-22.htm :
“Verse 22. – Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. “Death and destruction” seem to represent the inhabitants of Sheol – the world of the departed. Job personifies them, and represents them as saying, that in their gloomy and remote abode (Job 10:21, 22) they have heard some dim rumour, some vague report, of the “place” of wisdom and understanding, the nature of which, however, they do not communicate to him. His idea seems to be that their knowledge on the subject does not much transcend the knowledge of living men, whom he regards as profoundly ignorant with respect to it.”
So, death and Abaddon personify a person, or Satan. They are showing human like characteristics of hearing and somewhat speaking through the poem.
“God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
24 For he looks to the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
25 When he gave to the wind its weight
and apportioned the waters by measure,
26 when he made a decree for the rain
and a way for the lightning of the thunder,
27 then he saw it and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.
28 And he said to man,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.”
The ending verses of chapter 28:23-28 sum up the question of wisdom. 23-24 shows us that God sees and hears everything according to the author. Since he sees everything, he knows where wisdom is at. Verses 25-27 show how God made even the most difficult things have meaning and purpose. The imagery of actually giving weight to something as light as the wind is only something the Hebrew God could preform. He can do and give the impossible, according to the writer. He can give man an impossible thing like wisdom, just as he did the weight to wind, but they have to seek him for it. According to Albert Barnes, http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/barnes/job028.htm :
“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.”
So, according to Job and the writer of this, wisdom can only be obtained through the Hebrew God. They want their people to keep from making past mistakes. If they all seek wisdom from the same source, they will all be less likely to have to face the wrath of Yahweh.