gold (zahabh; chrusos):
No metal has been more frequently mentioned in Old Testament writings than gold, and none has had more terms applied to it. Among these terms the one most used is zahabh. The Arabic equivalent, dhahab, is still the common name for gold throughout Israel, Syria and Egypt. With zahabh frequently occur other words which, translated, mean "pure" (Ex 25:11), "refined" (1 Ch 28:18), "finest" (1 Ki 10:18), "beaten" (1 Ki 10:17), "Ophir" (Ps 45:9).
Other terms occurring are: paz, "fine gold" (Job 28:17; Ps 19:10; 21:3; 119:127; Prov 8:19; Song 5:11,15; Isa 13:12; Lam 4:2); charuts (Ps 68:13; Prov 3:14; 8:10,19; 16:16; Zec 9:3); kethem, literally, "carved out" (Job 28:16,19; 31:24; Prov 25:12; Lam 4:1; Dan 10:5); ceghor (1 Ki 6:20; 7:50; Job 28:15); betser (in the King James Version only: Job 22:24; the Revised Version (British and American) "treasure").
Sources definitely mentioned in the Old Testament are: Havilah (Gen 2:11,12); Ophir (1 Ki 9:28; 10:11; 22:48; 1 Ch 29:4; 2 Ch 8:18; 9:10; Job 22:24; 28:16; Ps 45:9; Isa 13:12); Sheba (1 Ki 10:2,10; 2 Ch 9:1,9; Ps 72:15; Isa 60:6; Ezek 27:22; 38:13); Arabia (2 Ch 9:14). We are not justified in locating any of these places too definitely. They probably all refer to some region of Arabia.
The late origin of the geological formation of Israel and Syria precludes the possibility of gold being found in any quantities (see METALS), so that the large quantities of gold used by the children of Israel in constructing their holy places was not the product of mines in the country, but was from the spoil taken from the inhabitants of the land (Nu 31:52), or brought with them from Egypt (Ex 3:22). This gold was probably mined in Egypt or India (possibly Arabia), and brought by the great caravan routes through Arabia to Syria, or by sea in the ships of Tyre (1 Ki 10:11,22; Ezek 27:21,22). There is no doubt about the Egyptian sources. The old workings in the gold-bearing veins of the Egyptian desert and the ruins of the buildings connected with the mining and refining of the precious metal still remain. This region is being reopened with the prospect of its becoming a source of part of the world's supply. It might be inferred from the extensive spoils in gold taken from the Midianites (œ100,000 HDB, under the word) that their country (Northwestern Arabia) produced gold. It is more likely that the Midianites had, in turn, captured most of it from other weaker nations. The tradition that Northwestern Arabia is rich in gold still persists. Every year Moslem pilgrims, returning from Mecca by the Damascus route, bring with them specimens of what is supposed to be gold ore. They secure it from the Arabs at the stopping-places along the route. Samples analyzed by the writer have been iron pyrites only. No gold-bearing rock has yet appeared. Whether these specimens come from the mines mentioned by Burton (The Land of Midian Revisited) is a question.
Gold formed a part of every household treasure (Gen 13:2; 24:35; Dt 8:13; 17:17; Josh 22:8; Ezek 28:4). It was probably treasured (a) in the form of nuggets (Job 28:6 the Revised Version, margin), (b) in regularly or irregularly shaped slabs or bars (Nu 7:14,20,84,86; Josh 7:21,24; 2 Ki 5:5), and (c) in the form of dust (Job 28:6). A specimen of yellow dust, which the owner claimed to have taken from an ancient jar, unearthed in the vicinity of the Hauran, was once brought to the writer's laboratory. On examination it was found to contain iron pyrites and metallic gold in finely divided state. It was probably part of an ancient household treasure. A common practice was to make gold into jewelry with the dual purpose of ornamentation and of treasuring it. This custom still prevails, especially among the Moslems, who do not let out their money at interest. A poor woman will save her small coins until she has enough to buy a gold bracelet. This she will wear or put away against the day of need (compare Gen 24:22,53). It was weight and not beauty which was noted in the jewels (Ex 3:22; 11:2; 12:35). Gold coinage was unknown in the early Old Testament times.
(1) The use of gold as the most convenient way of treasuring wealth is mentioned above. (2) Jewelry took many forms: armlets (Nu 31:50), bracelets (Gen 24:22), chains (Gen 41:42), crescents (Jdg 8:26), crowns (2 Sam 12:30; 1 Ch 20:2), earrings (Ex 32:2,3; Nu 31:50; Jdg 8:24,26), rings (Gen 24:22; 41:42; Jas 2:2). (3) Making and decorating objects in connection with places of worship: In the description of the building of the ark and the tabernacle in Ex 25 ff, we read of the lavish use of gold in overlaying wood and metals, and in shaping candlesticks, dishes, spoons, flagons, bowls, snuffers, curtain clasps, hooks, etc. (one estimate of the value of gold used is œ90,000; see HDB). In 1 Ki 6 ff; 1 Ch 28 f; 2 Ch 1 ff are records of still more extensive use of gold in building the temple. (4) Idols were made of gold (Ex 20:23; 32:4; Dt 7:25; 29:17; 1 Ki 12:28; Ps 115:4; 135:15; Isa 30:22; Rev 9:20). (5) Gold was used for lavish display. Among the fabulous luxuries of Solomon's court were his gold drinking-vessels (1 Ki 10:21), a throne of ivory overlaid with gold (1 Ki 10:18), and golden chariot trimmings (1 Ch 28:18). Sacred treasure saved from votive offerings or portions dedicated from booty were principally gold (Ex 25:36; Nu 7:14,20,84,86; 31:50,52,54; Josh 6:19,24; 1 Sam 6:8,11,15; 2 Sam 8:11; 1 Ch 18:7,10,11; 22:14,16; Mt 23:17). This treasure was the spoil most sought after by the enemy. It was paid to them as tribute (1 Ki 15:15; 2 Ki 12:18; 14:14; 16:8; 18:14-16; 23:33,15), or taken as plunder (2 Ki 24:13; 25:15).
Gold is used to symbolize earthly riches (Job 3:15; 22:24; Isa 2:7; Mt 10:9; Acts 3:6; 20:33; Rev 18:12). Finer than gold, which, physically speaking, is considered non-perishable, typifies incorruptibility (Acts 17:29; 1 Pet 1:7,18; 3:3; Jas 5:3). Refining of gold is a figure for great purity or a test of (Job 23:10; Prov 17:3; Isa 1:25; Mal 3:2; 1 Pet 1:7; Rev 3:18). Gold was the most valuable of metals. It stood for anything of great value (Prov 3:14; 8:10,19; 16:16,22; 25:12), hence was most worthy for use in worshipping Yahweh (Ex 25 ff; Rev 1:12,13,10, etc.), and the adornment of angels (Rev 15:6) or saints (Ps 45:13). The head was called golden as being the most precious part of the body (Song 5:11; Dan 2:38; compare "the golden bowl," Eccl 12:6). "The golden city" meant Babylon (Isa 14:4), as did also "the golden cup," sensuality (Jer 51:7). A crown of gold was synonymous with royal honor (Est 2:17; 6:8; Job 19:9; Rev 4:4; 14:14). Wearing of gold typified lavish adornment and worldly luxury (Jer 4:30; 10:4; 1 Tim 2:9; 1 Pet 3:3; Rev 17:4). Comparing men to gold suggested their nobility (Lam 4:1,2; 2 Tim 2:20).
James A. Patch