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269. Job 28:5-11, A Miscellany on the Remote Mine and its Inaccessibility, Essay Two

 

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.

 

Verse 8 continues the description of the inaccessibility of the mining place.  

 

    “The sons of wild beasts haven’t walked there; nor has the lion passed by.”

 

We may have some alliterative play here that displaces clear meaning. The “beast” of the first part is shachats, while the lion is the sachalShachats is confusing here, since it only appears one other place (Job 41:34), and it seems to mean one’s dignity or pride there. We can s-t-r-e-t-c-h our translation here to render “sons of pride” (literal) as wild beasts, in order to keep a parallel translation with sachal, but the meaning is inexact. We met the sachal (8x) previously, when Eliphaz was recounting his vocabulary list of “lion” terminology (4:10) and when Job talked about God hunting him “as a lion/young lion/fierce lion” (10:16). The meaning of the first verb is clear enough (darak means to “walk in the way, tread”) but the second one (adah, 10x) is puzzling. It is uniformly translated as I have it here—“pass over/pass by”—but the verb adah doesn’t mean that in any of its other nine appearances. Eight times it means to “adorn” or “deck” oneself (e.g., Ezekiel 23:40; Hosea 2:13), and one time is appears to mean “take off” (garment; Proverbs 25:20), but it never means to “pass by.” When confronting that fact, Clines suggests that there may be another verb spelled the same that means “pass by,” but that is a counsel of desperation. Let’s just all agree that verse 8 further develops the idea of the mine’s remoteness, even though the particulars are. . .remote. . .from us.

 

Verses 9-11 return to the work of the miners, now emphasizing the processes they use to extract the rich haul from the earth. The first two verses (28:9-10) flirt with clarity, and so I will put them together:

 

    “He stretches out his hand on the flinty rock; he overturns the mountains by their

    roots. He cleaves deep channels among the rocks, and his eyes take in every

    precious thing.”

 

Its not clear whether the “flint” (challamish, 5x) describes the nature of the rock which the miner attacks or whether it describes the tool the miner uses. Perhaps it is both; a flinty surface demands a flinty tool. Elsewhere it is used to describe a most hard surface, almost like adamant. God’s power is shown in that he can turn the challamish into a fountain of water (Psalm 114:8). In one of the most beautiful poems in the Bible, Deuteronomy 32 presents God as extracting “oil from the flinty (challamish) rock” for the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:13). The phrase “stretch out the hand” is the same phrase used by the Satan in Job 1:11 to describe what God ought to do to test the fidelity of Job.  

 

But what is interesting about the miner’s stretching out the hand it that he “overturns” (haphak, 94x) the mountains “from their roots.” We earlier saw God doing this in 9:5, but there it says that “He removed (atheq is verb) the mountains (har, same word as in 28:9), and they don’t know it, when he overturns (haphak) them in his anger.” No anger is predicated of the diligent effort of the miner in 28:9, but the result is the same as the divine work. In fact, one might argue that the miner’s diligence even outstrips that of the Almighty, because the miner overturns them “from their roots” (word is shoresh, 33x/9x Job). We see, in our mind’s eye, mountains shattered long before dynamite existed, as the miners search every place for that vein of precious metal.

 

The miner is not, figuratively speaking, just blowing up mountains, or tearing them up by their roots as one might yank out a weed. In verse 10 he also slices channels through the rocks. The verb for this activity is baqa (51x), a verb sometimes used to describe the “opening up” of “springs and torrents” (ayil/nachal, Psalm 74:15), though its most vivid usage is in Numbers 16:31, where the earth “opened up” and swallowed Korah and his rebellious associates. It also has an even more sinister dimension to it, for it describes the inhumane practice of ripping up (baqa) the bellies of pregnant women (II Kings 8:12; 15:16).  

 

The thing that gushes forth here is the yeor, which must stand for an immense flow of water, since it is almost always elsewhere used in the Bible as the Nile River (e.g., Genesis 41:1 (it appears six times in Genesis 41)). Thus, the overturning activity emphasizes vertical movement, while the slicing out/opening up terminology stresses horizontal movement.  So diligent and thorough is this miner that he overturns and hollows out. Gaping holes in the earth, with gushing flows of water, attend his efforts. What then is the result of all this work? “His eye sees every precious thing.” The precious thing is yeqar (17x), a word really owned by Esther (10x) to describe the honor accorded to special people (Esther 1:20) or the splendor at the court of the great king Ahasuerus. Verse 10 thus emphasizes that his diligent searching is rewarded—rewarded with the sight of “every” (kol) precious thing.

 

Verse 11, describing in yet more detail the process of the miner, is hard to translate. The 

traditional rendering is that the miner “binds up/stops up” (chabash, 33x) these streams to keep them from flowing (the word for “flow” here is bekiy, derived from bakah, “to weep”). The second half is then generally translated as “he brings to light” (again using the common yatsa) “hidden things” (tallumah, 3x, from alam, 28x, “to hide/conceal”). The traditional translation provides some clarity; we can see mountains overturned, streams gushing forth and threatening to submerge the whole mining operation. But then, we also see the efforts made to stem the flow of the rushing waters, thus averting danger.  

 

While the second half of the verse is relatively uncontroverted, attention has been directed to the unusual phrase beqiy chabash. Chabash usually means “to bind” or “to saddle.” When Abraham set out on his trek up Mount Moriah with Isaac, he first had to “saddle” (chabash) his donkey (Genesis 22:3; see also Numbers 22:21; II Samuel 16:1 and often).  Sometimes it is used to describe the “binding” of caps on the heads of priests (Exodus 29:9; Leviticus 8:13). But due to the improbability of miners actually being able to dam up gushing rivers, Clines and others have sought refuge in a slight emendation, reading chabash as chabas, which he renders “seek/explore.” There is no verb chabas in the Bible; so Clines describes it as a “byform” of chaphas, “to seek/search.” Then, he has to emend the “weeping” to a different word, and he comes up with “source,” thus leading to the miner “exploring” the “source” of these gushing streams. It is a good effort, but I will keep to the traditional translation. The miners expend almost superhuman efforts to tame the problem they have created through their diligence.