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THE controversy at length closed, the poet breaks into a chant of the quest of Wisdom. It can hardly be supposed to have been uttered or sung by Job. But if we may go so far as to imagine a chorus after the manner of the Greek dramas, this ode would fitly come as a choral descant reflecting on the vain attempts made alike by Job and by his friends to penetrate the secrets of Divine providence. How poor and unsatisfying is all that has been said. To fathom the purposes of the Most High, to trace through the dark shadows and entanglements of human life that unerring righteousness with which all events are ordered and overruled-how far was this above the sagacity of the speakers. Now and again true things have been said, now and again glimpses of that vindication of the good which should compensate for all their sufferings have brightened the controversy. But the reconciliation has not been found. The purposes of the Most High remain untraced. The poet is fully aware of this, aware even that on the ground of argument he is unable to work out the problem which he has opened. With an undertone of wistful sadness, remembering passages of his country’s poetry that ran in too joyous a strain, as if wisdom lay within the range of human ken, he suspends the action of the drama for a little to interpose this cry of limitation and unrest. There is no complaint that God keeps in his own hand sublime secrets of design. What is man that he should be discontented with his place and power? It is enough for him that the Great God rules in righteous sovereignty, gives him laws of conduct to be obeyed in reverence, shows him the evil he is to avoid, the good he is to follow. "The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." Those who have a world to explore and use, the Almighty to adore! and trust, if they must seek after the secret of existence and ever feet themselves baffled in the endeavour, may still live nobly, bear patiently, find blessed life within the limit God has set.
First the industry of man is depicted, that: search for the hidden things of the earth which is significant alike of the craving and ingenuity of the human mind.
Surely there is a mine for silver
And a place for gold which they refine.
Iron is taken out of the earth,
And copper is molten out of the stone.
Man setteth an end to darkness,
And searcheth, to the furthest bound,
The stones of darkness and gloom.
He breaks a shaft away from where men dwell;
They are forgotten of the foot;
Afar from men they hang and swing to and fro.
The poet has seen, perhaps in Idumaea or in Midian where mines of copper and gold were wrought by the Egyptians, the various operations here described. Digging or quarrying, driving tunnels horizontally into the hills or sinking shafts in the valleys, letting themselves down by ropes from the edge of a cliff to reach the vein, then, suspended in mid air, hewing at the ore, the miners variously ply their craft. Away in remote gorges of the hills the pits they have dug remain abandoned, forgotten. The long winding passages they make seem to track to the utmost limit the stones of darkness, stones that are black with the richness of the ore.
On the earth’s surface men till their fields, but the hidden treasures that lie below are more valuable than the harvest of maize or wheat.
"As for the earth, out of it cometh bread;
And from beneath it is turned up as by fire.
The stones thereof are the place of sapphires,
And it hath dust of gold."
The reference to fire as an agent in turning up the earth appears to mark a volcanic district, but sapphires and gold are found either in alluvial soil or associated with gneiss and quartz. Perhaps the fire was that used by the miners to split refractory rock. And the cunning of man is seen in this, that he carries into the very heart of the mountains a path which no vulture or falcon ever saw, which the proud beasts and fierce lions have not trodden.
"He puts forth his hand upon the flinty rock,
He overturneth mountains by the roots."
Slowly indeed as compared with modern work of the kind, yet surely, where those earnest toilers desired a way, excavations went on and tunnels were formed with wedge and hammer and pickaxe. The skill of man in providing tools and devising methods, and his patience and assiduity made him master of the very mountains. And when he had found the ore he could extract its precious metal and gems.
"He cutteth out channels among the rocks;
And his eye seeth every precious thing.
He bindeth the streams that they trickle not
And the hidden thing brings he forth to light."
For washing his ore when it has been crushed he needs supplies of water, and to this end makes long aqueducts. In Idumaea a whole range of reservoirs may still be seen, by means of which even in the dry season the work of gold washing might be carried on without interruption. No particle of the precious metal escaped the quick eye of the practised miner. And again, if water began to percolate into his shaft or tunnel, he had skill to bind the streams that his search might not be hindered.
Such then is man’s skill, such are his perseverance and success in the quest of things he counts valuable-iron for his tools, copper to fashion into vessels, gold and silver to adorn the crowns of kings, sapphires to gleam upon their raiment. And if in the depths of earth or anywhere the secrets of life could be reached, men of eager adventurous spirit would sooner or later find them out.
It is to be noticed that, in the account given here of the search after hidden things, attention is confined to mining operations. And this may appear strange, the general subject being the quest of wisdom, that is understanding of the principles and methods by which the Divine government of the world is carried on. There was in those days a method of research, widely practised, to which some allusion might have been expected-the so-called art of astrology. The Chaldaeans had for centuries observed the stars, chronicled their apparent movements, measured the distances of the planets from each other in their unexplained progress through the constellations. On this survey of the heavens was built up a whole code of rules for predicting events. The stars which culminated at the time of any one’s birth, the planets visible when an undertaking was begun, were supposed to indicate prosperity or disaster. The author of the Book of Job could not be ignorant of this art. Why does he not mention it? Why does he not point out that by watching the stars man seeks in vain to penetrate Divine secrets? And the reply would seem to be that keeping absolute silence in regard to astrology he meant to refuse it as a method of inquiry. Patient, eager labour among the rocks and stones is the type of fruitful endeavour. Astrology is not in any way useful; nothing is reached by that method of questioning nature.
The poet proceeds:-
"Where shall wisdom be found,
And where is the place of understanding?
Man knoweth not the way thereof,
Neither is it to be found in the land of the living.
The deep saith, It is not in me;
And the sea saith, It is not with me."
The whole range of the physical cosmos, whether open to the examination of man or beyond his reach, is here declared incapable of supplying the clue to that underlying idea by which the course of things is ordered. The land of the living is the surface of the earth which men inhabit. The deep is the underworld. Neither there nor in the sea is the great secret to be found. As for its price, however earnestly men may desire to possess themselves of it, no treasures are of any use; it is not to be bought in any market.
Never is wisdom got for gold,
Nor for its price can silver be told.
For the gold of Ophir it may not be won,
The onyx rare or the sapphire stone.
Gold is no measure and glass no hire,
Jewels of gold twice fined by fire.
Coral and crystal tell in vain,
Pearls of the deep for wisdom’s gain.
Topaz of Cush avails thee nought,
Nor with gold of glory is it bought.
While wisdom is thus of value incommensurate with all else men count precious and rare, it is equally beyond the reach of all other forms of mundane life. The birds that soar high into the atmosphere see nothing of it, nor does any creature that wanders far into uninhabitable wilds. Abaddon and Death indeed, the devouring abyss and that silent world which seems to gather and keep all secrets, have heard a rumour of it. Beyond the range of mortal sense some hint there may be of a Divine plan governing the mutations of existence, the fulfilment of which will throw light on the underworld where the spirits of the departed wait in age-long night. But death has no knowledge any more than life. Wisdom is God’s prerogative, His activities are His own to order and fulfil.
God understandeth the way thereof,
And He knoweth the place thereof.
For He looketh to the ends of the earth,
And seeth under the whole heaven,
Making weight for the winds;
And He meteth out the waters by measure.
When He made a decree for the rain.
And a way for the lightning of thunder,
Then did He see it and number it,
He established it, yea, and searched it out.
The evolution, as we should say, of the order of nature gives fixed and visible embodiment to the wisdom of God. We must conclude, therefore, that the poet indicates the complete idea of the world as a cosmos governed by subtle all-pervading law for moral ends. The creation of the visible universe is assumed to begin, and with the created before Him God sees its capacities, determines the use to which its forces are to be put, the relation all things are to have to each other, to the life of man and to His own glory. But the hokhma or understanding of this remains forever beyond the discovery of the human intellect. Man knoweth not the way thereof. The forces of earth and air and sea and the deep that lieth under do not reveal the secret of their working; they are but instruments. And the end of all is not to be found in Sheol, in the silent world of the dead. God Himself is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.
Yet man has his life and his law. Though intellectual understanding of his world and destiny may fail however earnestly he pursues the quest, he should obtain the knowledge that comes by reverence and obedience. He can adore God, he can distinguish good from evil and seek what is right and true. There lies his hokhma, there, says the poet, it must continue to lie.
"And unto man He said,
Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding."
The conclusion lays a hush upon man’s thought-but leaves it with a doctrine of God and faith reaching above the limitations of time and sense. Reverence for the Divine will not fully known, the pursuit of holiness, fear of the Unseen God are no agnosticism, they are the true springs of religious life.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 28". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter