The gold of Ophir - Gold is five times mentioned in this and Job 28:17; and Job 28:19, and four of the times in different words. I shall consider them all at once. סגור Segor, from סגר sagar, to shut up. Gold. in the mine, or shut up in the ore; native gold washed by the streams out of the mountains, etc.; unwrought gold.
כתם Kethem, from כתם catham, to sign or stamp: gold made current by being coined, or stamped with its weight or value; what we would call standard or sterling gold.
זהב Zahab, from זהב zahab, to be Lear, bright, or resplendent: the untarnishing metal; the only metal that always keeps its lustre. But probably here it means gold chased, or that in which precious stones are set; burnished gold.
פז Paz, from פז paz, to consolidate, joined here with כלי keley, vessels, ornaments, instruments, etc.: hammered or wrought gold; gold in the finest forms, and most elegant utensils. This metal is at once the brightest, most solid, and most precious, of all the metals yet discovered, of which we have no less than forty in our catalogues. In these verses there are also seven kinds of precious stones, etc., mentioned: onyx, sapphire, crystal, coral, pearls, rubies, and topaz.
These I shall also consider in the order of their occurrence. Job 28:16;
שהם shoham, the Onyx, from ονυξ, a man's nail, hoof of a horse, because in color it resembles both. This stone is a species of chalcedony; and consists of alternate layers of white and brown chalcedony, under which it generally ranges. In the Vulgate it is called sardonyx, compounded of sard and onyx. Sard is also a variety of chalcedony, of a deep reddish-brown color, of which, and alternate layers of milk-white chalcedony, the sardonyx consists. A most beautiful block of this mineral sardonyx, from Iceland, now lies before me.
ספיר sappir, the Sapphire stone, From ספר saphar, to count, number; probably from the number of golden spots with which it is said the sapphire of the ancients abounded. Pliny says, Hist. Nat. lib. xxxvii., cap. 8: Sapphirus aureis punctis collucet: coeruleae et sapphiri, raraque cum purpura: optimae apud Medos, nusquam tame perlucidae. "The sapphire glitters with golden spots. Sapphires are sometimes of an azure, never of a purple color. Those of Media are the best, but there are none transparent." This may mean the blood stones; but see below. What we call the sapphire is a variety of the perfect corundum; it is in hardness inferior only to the diamond. It is of several colors, and from them it has obtained several names.
The transparent or translucent is called the white sapphire.
The blue is called the oriental sapphire.
The violet blue, the oriental amethyst.
The yellow, the oriental topaz.
The green, the oriental emerald.
That with pearly reflections, the opalescent sapphire.
When transparent, with a pale, reddish, or bluish reflection, it is called the girasol sapphire.
A variety which, when polished, shows a silvered star of six rays in a direction perpendicular to the axis, is called asteria.
When the meaning of the Hebrew word is collated with the description given by Pliny, it must be evident that a spotted opaque stone is meant, and consequently not what is now known by the name sapphire. I conjecture, therefore, that lapis lazuli, which is of a blue color, with golden-like spots, formed by pyrites of iron, must be intended.
The lapis lazuli is that from which the beautiful and unfading color called ultramarine is obtained. Job 28:17;
זכוכית zechuchith, Crystal, or glass, from זכה zachah, to be pure, clear, transparent. Crystal or crystal of quartz is a six-sided prism, terminated by six-sided pyramids. It belongs to the siliceous class of minerals: it is exceedingly clear and brilliant, insomuch that this property of it has become proverbial, as clear as crystal.
Job 28:18; ראמות ramoth, Coral, from ראם raam, to be exalted or elevated; probably from this remarkable property of coral, "it always grows from the tops of marine rocky caverns with the head downwards." Red coral is found in the Mediterranean, about the isles of Majorca and Minorca, on the African coast, and in the Ethiopic ocean.
גביש gabish, Pearls, from גבש gabash, in Arabic, to be smooth, to shave off the hair; and hence גביש gabish, the pearl, the smooth round substance; and also hail or hailstones, because of their resemblance to pearls. The pearl is the production of a shell-fish of the oyster kind, found chiefly in the East Indies, and called berberi; but pearls are occasionally found in the common oyster, as I have myself observed, and in the muscle also. They are of a brilliant sparkling white, perfectly round in general, and formed of coats in the manner of an onion. Out of one oyster I once took six pearls. When large, fine, and without spots, they are valuable. I have seen one that formed the whole body of a Hindoo idol, Creeshna, more than an inch in length, and valued at 300 guineas.
פנינים peninim, Rubies, from פנה panah, he turned, looked, beheld. The oriental ruby is blood-red, rose-red, or with a tinge of violet. It has occasionally a mixture of blue, and is generally in the form of six-sided prisms. It is a species of the sapphire, and is sometimes chatoyant in its appearance, i.e., has a curious kind of reflection, similar to the cat's eye: and as this is particularly striking, and changes as you turn the stone, hence probably the name peninim, which you derive from פנה panah, to turn, look, behold, etc. But some learned men are of opinion that the magnet or loadstone is meant, and it is thus called because of the remarkable property it has of turning north and south. And this notion is rendered the more likely, because it agrees with another word in this verse, expressive of a different property of the magnet, viz., its attractive influence: for the Hebrew words מפנינים חכמה משך meshech chochmah mippeninim, which we render, The price of wisdom is above rubies, is literally, The Attraction of wisdom is beyond the peninim, the loadstone; for all the gold, silver, and precious stones, have strong influence on the human heart, attracting all its passions strongly; yet the attraction of wisdom - that which insures a man's happiness in both worlds - is more powerful and influential, when understood, than all of these, and even than the loadstone, for that can only attract iron; but, through desire of the other, a man, having separated himself from all those earthly entanglements, seeketh and intermeddleth with All Wisdom. The attractive property of the loadstone must have been observed from its first discovery; and there is every reason to believe that the magnet and its virtues were known in the East long before they were discovered in Europe.
7. פטדה pitdah, the Topaz. This word occurs only in Exodus 28:17; Exodus 39:10; Ezekiel 28:13, and in the present place; in all of which, except that of Ezekiel, where the Septuagint is all confusion, the Septuagint and Vulgate render the word always τοπαζιον, topazius, the Topaz. This stone is generally found in a prismatic form, sometimes limpid and nearly transparent, or of various shades of yellow, green, blue, lilac, and red. I have thus given the best account I can of the stones here mentioned, allowing that they answer to the names by which we translate them. But on this point there is great uncertainty, as I have already had occasion to observe in other parts of this work. Beasts, birds, plants, metals, precious stones, unguents, different kinds of grain, etc., are certainly mentioned in the sacred writings; but whether we know what the different Hebrew terms signify, is more than we can certainly affirm. Of some there is little room to doubt; of others conjecture must in the present state of our knowledge, supply the place of certainty. See Philip's Elementary Introduction to Mineralogy; an accurate work, which I feel pleasure in recommending to all students in the science.