Or ever the silver cord be loosed
As the above are the symptoms and infirmities of old age; these in this verse are the immediate symptoms of death, or what attend it, or certainly issue in it. Some by "the silver cord" understand the string of the tongue; and to this purpose is the Targum,
``before thy tongue is dumb from speaking;''
and it is observed F17
in favour of this sense, that the failing of the tongue is no fallacious sign of death, of which there is no mention at all in this account, unless here; and the tongue may not unfitly be called a "cord", both from the notation of the word because it binds, and because it scourges like a cord, ( Job 5:21
) ; and is compared to silver, ( Proverbs 10:20
) , and in this verse rather the head than the back is treated of. But best, the bond of union between soul and body is meant: the Midrash and Jarchi, and the Jewish writers in general, interpret it of the "spina dorsi", or backbone; or rather of the marrow of it, which descends like a cord from the brain through the neck, and down the backbone to the bottom of it; from whence spring the nerves, fibres, tendons, and filaments of the body, on which the life of it much depends: this spinal marrow may be called a "cord" for the length of it, as well as what arise from it; and a silver cord, from the colour of it F18
, this being white even after death; and for the excellency of it: and this may be said to be "loosened" when there is a solution of the nerves, or marrow; upon which a paralysis, or palsy, follows, and is often the immediate forerunner of death; or the golden bowl be broken
the Targum renders it the top of the head; and the Midrash interprets it the skull, and very rightly; or rather the inward membrane of the skull, which contains the brain, called the "pia mater", or "meninx", is intended, said to be a bowl, from the form of it; a "golden" one, because of the preciousness of it, and the excellent liquor of life it contains, as also because of its colour; now when this "runs back", as the word F19
signifies, dries, shrinks up, and breaks, it puts a stop to all animal motion, and hence death; or the pitcher be broken at the fountain
not the gall at the liver, as the Targum, which the ancients took to be the fountain of blood; but by the "fountain" is meant the heart, the fountain of life, which has two cavities, one on the right side, the other on the left, from whence come the veins and arteries, which carry the blood through the whole body; and here particularly it signifies the right ventricle of the heart, the spring and original of the veins, which are the pitcher that receives the blood and transmits it to the several parts of the body; but when thee are broke to shivers, as the word F20
signifies, or cease from doing their office, the blood stagnates in them, and death follows; or the wheel broken at the cistern
which is the left ventricle of the heart, which by its "diastole" receives the blood brought to it through the lungs, as a cistern receives water into it; where staying a while in its "systole", it passes it into the great artery annexed to it; which is the wheel or instrument of rotation, which, together with all the instruments of pulsation, cause the circulation of the blood, found out in the last age by our countryman Dr. Harvey; but it seems by this it was well known by Solomon; now, whenever this wheel is broken, the pulse stops, the blood ceases to circulate, and death follows. For this interpretation of the several preceding passages, as I owe much to the Jewish writers, so to Rambachius and Patrick on these passages, and to Witsius's "Miscellanies", and especially to our countryman Dr. Smith, in his "Portrait of Old Age", a book worthy to be read on this subject; and there are various observations in the Talmud F21
F17 Vid. Castel. Lexic. Hept. col. 3662.
F18 Vid. Waser. de Num. Heb. l. 1. c. 13.
F19 (Urt) "recurrat", V. L. "excurrit", Junius & Tremellius.
F20 (rbvt) .
F21 T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 151. 2. & 152. 1.