gold (zahabh; chrusos):

1. Terms:

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 Palestine, Syria and Egypt. With zahabh frequently occur other words which, translated, mean "pure" (Exodus 25:11), "refined" (1 Chronicles 28:18), "finest" (1 Kings 10:18), "beaten" (1 Kings 10:17), "Ophir" (Psalms 45:9).

Other terms occurring are:

paz, "fine gold" (Job 28:17; Psalms 19:10; 21:3; 119:127; Proverbs 8:19; Song of Solomon 5:11,15; Isaiah 13:12; Lamentations 4:2); charuts (Psalms 68:13; Proverbs 3:14; 8:10,19; 16:16; Zechariah 9:3); kethem, literally, "carved out" (Job 28:16,19; 31:24; Proverbs 25:12; Lamentations 4:1; Daniel 10:5); ceghor (1 Kings 6:20; 7:50; Job 28:15); betser (in the King James Version only: Job 22:24; the Revised Version (British and American) "treasure").

2. Sources:

Sources definitely mentioned in the Old Testament are:

Havilah (Genesis 2:11,12); Ophir (1 Kings 9:28; 10:11; 22:48; 1 Chronicles 29:4; 2 Chronicles 8:18; 9:10; Job 22:24; 28:16; Psalms 45:9; Isaiah 13:12); Sheba (1 Kings 10:2,10; 2 Chronicles 9:1,9; Psalms 72:15; Isaiah 60:6; Ezekiel 27:22; 38:13); Arabia (2 Chronicles 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 Palestine 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 (Numbers 31:52), or brought with them from Egypt (Exodus 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 Kings 10:11,22; Ezekiel 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 (?100,000 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.

3. Forms:

Gold formed a part of every household treasure (Genesis 13:2; 24:35; Deuteronomy 8:13; 17:17; Joshua 22:8; Ezekiel 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 (Numbers 7:14,20,84,86; Joshua 7:21,24; 2 Kings 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 Genesis 24:22,53). It was weight and not beauty which was noted in the jewels (Exodus 3:22; 11:2; 12:35). Gold coinage was unknown in the early Old Testament times.

4. Uses:

(1) The use of gold as the most convenient way of treasuring wealth is mentioned above.

(2) Jewelry took many forms:

armlets (Numbers 31:50), bracelets (Genesis 24:22), chains (Genesis 41:42), crescents (Judges 8:26), crowns (2 Samuel 12:30; 1 Chronicles 20:2), earrings (Exodus 32:2,3; Numbers 31:50; Judges 8:24,26), rings (Genesis 24:22; 41:42; James 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 Exodus 25, 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 ?90,000; see HDB). In 1 Kings 6; 1 Chronicles 28; 2 Chronicles 1 are records of still more extensive use of gold in building the temple.

(4) Idols were made of gold (Exodus 20:23; 32:4; Deuteronomy 7:25; 29:17; 1 Kings 12:28; Psalms 115:4; 135:15; Isaiah 30:22; Revelation 9:20).

(5) Gold was used for lavish display. Among the fabulous luxuries of Solomon's court were his gold drinking-vessels (1 Kings 10:21), a throne of ivory overlaid with gold (1 Kings 10:18), and golden chariot trimmings (1 Chronicles 28:18). Sacred treasure saved from votive offerings or portions dedicated from booty were principally gold (Exodus 25:36; Numbers 7:14,20,84,86; 31:50,52,54; Joshua 6:19,24; 1 Samuel 6:8,11,15; 2 Samuel 8:11; 1 Chronicles 18:7,10,11; 22:14,16; Matthew 23:17). This treasure was the spoil most sought after by the enemy. It was paid to them as tribute (1 Kings 15:15; 2 Kings 12:18; 14:14; 16:8; 18:14-16; 23:33,15), or taken as plunder (2 Kings 24:13; 25:15).

5. Figurative:

Gold is used to symbolize earthly riches (Job 3:15; 22:24; Isaiah 2:7; Matthew 10:9; Acts 3:6; 20:33; Revelation 18:12). Finer than gold, which, physically speaking, is considered non-perishable, typifies incorruptibility (Acts 17:29; 1 Peter 1:7,18; 3:3; James 5:3). Refining of gold is a figure for great purity or a test of (Job 23:10; Proverbs 17:3; Isaiah 1:25; Malachi 3:2; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18). Gold was the most valuable of metals. It stood for anything of great value (Proverbs 3:14; 8:10,19; 16:16,22; 25:12), hence was most worthy for use in worshipping Yahweh (Ex 25; Revelation 1:12,13,10, etc.), and the adornment of angels (Revelation 15:6) or saints (Psalms 45:13). The head was called golden as being the most precious part of the body (Song of Solomon 5:11; Daniel 2:38; compare "the golden bowl," Ecclesiastes 12:6). "The golden city" meant Babylon (Isaiah 14:4), as did also "the golden cup," sensuality (Jeremiah 51:7). A crown of gold was synonymous with royal honor (Esther 2:17; 6:8; Job 19:9; Revelation 4:4; 14:14). Wearing of gold typified lavish adornment and worldly luxury (Jeremiah 4:30; 10:4; 1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3; Revelation 17:4). Comparing men to gold suggested their nobility (Lamentations 4:1,2; 2 Timothy 2:20).

James A. Patch

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'GOLD'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.  

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