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272. Job 28:14-19, Wisdom’s Unknown Location and Incomparable Value, Essay One


14 “The deep says, ‘It is not in me’;
And the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
15 Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it,
Nor can silver be weighed as its price.
16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
In precious onyx, or sapphire.
17 Gold or glass cannot equal it,
Nor can it be exchanged for articles of fine gold.
18 Coral and crystal are not to be mentioned;
And the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls.
19 The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
Nor can it be valued in pure gold.


Verse 14 speaks of wisdom’s unknown location; verses 15-19 focus on its value. In words that ring both with brevity and solemn majesty, verse 14 has:


    “The deep says, ‘It isn’t in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It isn’t with me.’”  


We had no idea that the question in verse 12 was directed at the deep or the sea, but they felt compelled to answer. The sea and deep, as it were, look around and figuratively say, ‘After diligent search, we can’t find said wisdom in our midst.’ We think that the deep (the word is tehom, a term first encountered in Genesis 1:2) or the sea ought to know; after all, humans have spent lots of uprooting mountains and rummaging through its precincts or precincts nearby in order to find precious metals. These two partners (sea and deep) also appear in tandem in Job 38:16, where God reverses the order of their appearance when quizzing Job on whether he, Job, has ever entered the springs of the sea or the recesses of the deep. After the answer of the sea and the deep, our author doesn’t need to go through a variety of other places on earth or above the earth to reach the same conclusion: wisdom, unlike precious metals, is nowhere to be found.


The author doesn’t give us a chance to weep or lament the human condition, seemingly bereft of wisdom as it is. In the next five verses he compares its value to the most precious gems and metals on earth. Terms for barter, for gold and for various kinds of varicolored gems now proliferate. We immediately encounter a problem in the first clause of verse 15. Literally, we have:


     “Segor cannot be given (common verb natan, in passive) in its stead.”  


Segor is a noun almost universally translated as “gold” or “fine/pure gold,” but at first it isn’t obvious that this is the case. The form segor only appears one other place (Hosea 13:8), where it is best rendered as “chest” (of the body).  The verb from which segor  is derived is sagar, the common verb (91x) for “shut/close.”  Thus, the BDB gives “enclosure” as the suggested meaning of segor.  Yet, that obviously doesn’t “fit” in Job 28:15. Keep searching. . .  


Ok, we have searched and discovered that the passive participle of sagar is sagur and we find that it is paired 9x with zahab (“gold”) in I Kings 6, where Solomon is outfitting the newly-constructed Temple in Jerusalem. In I Kings 6, various surfaces are “overlaid” (tsaphah) with zahab sagur (e.g., I Kings 6:20). Bingo! We now have the s-g-r root connected with gold and obviously meant to suggest a higher quality of gold than “mere” gold. It is “hidden” gold, and that must mean “fine” or “pure” gold. I am pretty sure that is how the reasoning process works. What cinches the argument is that this segor in the first part of the verse is placed in parallelism with silver (keseph) in the second. Thus, we have one kind of gold mentioned. Not only can’t it be “given” with precious gold, but its price (mechir, 15x) can’t be “weighed” (shaqal, 22x) with silver.  Like the word erek, which had a wider connotation of “valuation” but in verse 13 probably best means “price,” so mechir has a wider field of meaning than price/value (sometimes, for example, it is “wages” or the “sale” of a product) but “price” is a good translation here.


We move to other types of gold in verse 16. Again we confront a problem, this time with the verb salah. Everyone translates it as “valued” here, in order to keep up the parallelism that is developing, but the only problem is that salah only occurs here (and in v 19 below), in Psalm 119:118 and in Lamentations 1:15, and in the latter two instances it must be “reject”—a far cry from “value” even for those who can convince themselves than anything can mean anything. So, I go along with the crowd, but I meekly protest and say “salah really means ‘to reject.’”  


Once we can swallow our pride and mind and accept the salah as “value” (verb), then the rest of the verse falls into place. It can’t be compared with/valued against the gold (kethem, 9x) of Ophir. In seven of its other occurrences kethem is associated with Ophir. So, we have segor, zahab (from earlier in the chapter) and now kethem to express various kinds of gold. Eliphaz better watch out—we may eventually have more gold than lions!  Bildad better beware—we may have more types of gold than traps!


The second half of verse 16 then brings us into the realm not simply of value but of color. Wisdom is more valuable than the black and white-streaked onyx (shoham, 11x) and the brilliant-blue sapphire (sappir). Most references to “onyx” in the Scripture are to a stone in the high priest’s breastplate (e.g., Exodus 28:9, 20), though we really don’t know if onyx is the stone intended by shoham.  A sappir (11x) is, no doubt, some kind of sapphire.  Blue sapphire, called by various names, is considered the most valuable variety.