on Job 28 :1
Surely there is a vein for the silver - 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.
A place for gold where they fine it - This should rather be translated, A place for gold which they refine. Gold ore has also its peculiar mine, and requires to be refined from earthy impurities.
on Job 28 :1
Surely there is a vein for silver - Margin, "mine" Coverdale renders this, "There are places where silver is molten." Prof. Lee renders it, "There is an outlet for the silver," and supposes it means the coming out or separation of the silver from the earthy particles by which it is surrounded in the ore, not the coming out from the mine. The word rendered "vein" (מוצא môtsâ') means properly a going forth, as the rising of the sun, Psalm 19:6; the promulgation of an edict Daniel 9:25; then a place of going forth - as a gate, door; Ezekiel 42:11; Ezekiel 43:11, and thence a mine, a vein, or a place of the going forth of metals; that is, a place where they are procured. So the Septuagint here, Ἔστι γὰρ άργυρίῳ τό πος ὅθεν γίνεται Esti gar arguriō topos hothen ginetai - "there is a place for silver whence it is obtained." The idea here is that man had evinced his wisdom in finding out the mines of silver and working them. It was one of the instances of his skill that he had been able to penetrate into the earth, and bring out the ore of the precious metals, and convert it to valuable purposes.
And a place for gold - A workshop, or laboratory, for working the precious metals. Job says, that even in his time such a laboratory was a proof of the wisdom of man. So now, one of the most striking proofs of skill is to be found in the places where the precious metals are purified, and worked into the various forms in which they are adapted to ornament and use.
Where they fine it - - יזקו yāzoqû. The word used here (זקק zâqaq) means properly to bind fast, to fetter; and then to compress, to squeeze through a strainer; and hence, to strain, filter; and thence to purify - as wine that is thus filtered, or gold that is purified Malachi 3:3. It may refer here to any process of purifying or refining. It is commonly done by the application of heat. One of the instructive uses of the book of Job is the light which it throws incidentally on the state of the ancient arts and sciences, and the condition of society in reference to the comforts of life at the early period of the world when the author lived. In this passage it is clear:
(1) that the metals were then in general use, and
(2) that they were so worked as to furnish, in the view of Job a striking illustration of human wisdom and skill.
Society was so far advanced as to make use not only of gold and silver, but also of copper and brass. The use of gold and silver commonly precedes the discovery of iron, and consequently the mention of iron in any ancient book indicates a considerably advanced state of society. It is of course, not known to what extent the art of working metals was carried in the time of Job, as all that would be indicated here would be that the method of obtaining the pure metal from the ore was understood. It may be interesting, however, to observe, that the art was early known to the Egyptians, and was carried by them to a considerable degree of perfection. Pharaoh arrayed Joseph in vestures of fine linen, and put a chain of gold about his neck; Genesis 41:42, and great quantities of gold and silver ornaments were borrowed by the Israelites of the Egyptians, when they were about to go to the promised land. Gold and silver are mentioned as known in the earliest ages; compare Genesis 2:11-12; Genesis 41:42; Exodus 20:23; Genesis 23:15-16. Iron is also mentioned as having been early known; Genesis 4:22. Tubal Cain was instructor in iron and brass. Gold and silver mines were early worked in Egypt, and if Moses was the compiler of the book of Job, it is possible that some of the descriptions here may have been derived from that country, and at all events the mode of working these precious metals was probably the same in Arabia and Egypt. From the mention of ear rings, bracelets, and jewels of silver and gold, in the days of Abraham, it is evident that the art of metallurgy was known at a very remote period. Workmen are noticed by Homer as excelling in the manufacture of arms, rich vases, and other objects inlaid or ornamented with vessels:
Πηλείδης δ ̓ ἆιψ ἄλλα τίθει ταχυτῆτος ἄεθλα,
Αργύρεον κρατῆρα τετυγμειον.
Pēleidēs d' aips alla tithei tachutēnos aethla,
Argirepm kratēra tetugmeion.
Iliad xxiii. 741.
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.
on Job 28 :1