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268. Job 28:5-11, A Miscellany on the Remote Mine and Its Inaccessibility, Essay One

 

5 “The earth, from it comes food,
And underneath it is turned up as fire.
6 Its rocks are the source of sapphires,
And its dust contains gold.
7 The path no bird of prey knows,
Nor has the falcon’s eye caught sight of it.
8 The proud beasts have not trodden it,
Nor has the fierce lion passed over it.
9 He puts his hand on the flint;
He overturns the mountains at the base.
10 He hews out channels through the rocks,
And his eye sees anything precious.
11 He dams up the streams from flowing,
And what is hidden he brings out to the light.

 

Though we have just emerged from one of the more difficult verses in the Book of Job, we still aren’t home free. We know that these miners are industriously working far away from human view, whether or not they are actually swinging from ropes as they do it (perhaps they were, though verse 4 doesn’t say so). We would like to know more of them and their work. In this mini-section, the author continues describing the place of the work, the path to the work, and processes of work.   We begin with the arena or place of work (v 5):

 

    “From the earth comes food/bread and underneath it is changed as if by fire.”

 

Our verse contrasts surface and sub-surface realities. We all know that the earth yields its produce, though instead of using precise agricultural terminology here, we just have the common verb yatsa (“come out/forth”) and the common noun lechem (“bread”).  There is no “from” (mem) before the “earth;” perhaps, we think, the author has exhausted his allotted share of them by using three in verse 4.  

 

On the surface we have bread, but the miners are in the “underneath” region, where things are said to be “changed (haphak, 94x) as if by fire.” Before humans even get to their own “firing” or “burning” activity through smelting, the earth seems to smelt itself in the deep inaccessible regions. We aren’t told how things can be so dark (v 3) when a fire is changing or overturning the underbelly of the earth, but that is why you need a poet like Milton who can talk about “darkness visible” and thus lead us to imagine “fire invisible.” The image we have just looked at in verse 5 evokes more wonder than fear.

 

The place is further described in verse 6, though the language is a bit obscure:

 

    “Its stones are the place of sapphires; and the dust has gold in it.”

 

Clines renders the second clause as explanatory of the first so that he has “sapphires (he calls it lapis), with its flecks of gold.” Earlier we had miners going after the gold and silver; now the place under the earth is called a place of sapphires/lapis. The dust-containing gold may simply be a further illustration of the abundance of the mine under the earth.  

 

We can imagine that the work of extracting is difficult; no less difficult is finding the path to the mine.  Verses 7-8 describe that difficulty.  

 

    “Birds of prey don’t know the path (to it); nor has the eye of the falcon seen" (v 7). 

 

The same unusual combination of the three Hebrew words (“eye not see”) appears in Zophar’s speech on the certainty of judgment on the wicked in 20:9. There we have ayin and shazaph and lo (“eye, see, not”) whereas in 26:7 we have, in order, lo and shazaph and ayin. It is doubly unusual since the verb shazaph only appears one other time in the Bible. The translation of shazaph is also uncertain; in Song of Solomon 1:6 it is best rendered “scorch.”  

 

Also rare are the two birds listed as not knowing the path to these deep places in the earth. The first, ayit (8x), is used to describe the birds of prey that swooped down on Abram’s sacrifice, birds that he had to chase away (Genesis 15:11). As a sign of God’s sovereignty, God will call these untamable ayit from the east, just as God will call a man of the divine choice from a remote country (Isaiah 46:11). The second, which we render as “falcon,” could be a “vulture,” whose keenness of eyesight was legendary. The word to describe them is ayyah; outside of Job it only appears in the catalogue of clean and unclean beasts/birds in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. Like the hapaxes for archery and bows in the Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta (Majjhima Sutta 63) of the Pali Canon or the nearly impossible-to-translate terminology of war chariots from Book of Songs(诗经)poem 128, so the terminology of birds and other clean/unclean animals in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 invites and discourages at the same time. The ayyah has been variously rendered as the “hawk, falcon, kite, vulture.” Let’s just see it as standing for a sharp-eyed bird. The ravenous and sharp-sighted birds don’t know the place to these obscure mines.  Remote, indeed, are these mines.