Then answered Eliphaz the Temanite, and said,
Should a wise man utter vain knowledge, and fill his belly with the east wind?
Should a wise man - Referring to Job, and to his claims to be esteemed wise; see Job 12:3; Job 13:2, Job 13:6. The argument of Eliphaz here is, that the sentiments which Job had advanced were a sufficient refutation of his pretensions to wisdom. A wise man would not be guilty of "mere talk," or of using language that conveyed no ideas.
Utter - literally, answer. It refers to the replies which Job had made to the arguments of his friends.
Vain knowledge - Margin, "Knowledge of wind." So the Hebrew; see Job 6:26; Job 7:7. The "wind" is used to denote what is unsubstantial, vain, changing. Here it is used as an emblem of remarks which were vain, empty, and irrelevant.
And fill his belly - Fill his mind with unsubstantial arguments or sentiments - as little fitted for utility as the east wind is for food. The image is, "he fills himself with mere wind, and then blows it out under pretence of delivering the maxims of wisdom."
With the east wind - The east wind was not only tempestuous and vehement, but sultry, and destructive to vegetation. It passed over vast deserts, and was characterized by great dryness and heat. It is used here to denote a manner of discourse that had in it nothing profitable.
Should he reason with unprofitable talk? or with speeches wherewith he can do no good?
Should he reason with unprofitable talk? - It does not become a man professing to be wise to make use of words that are nothing to the purpose. The sense is, that what Job said amounted to just nothing.
Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God.
Yea, thou castest off fear - Margin, Makest void. Fear here means the fear or reverence of God; and the idea is, that Job had not maintained a proper veneration or respect for his Maker in his argument. He had defended principles and made assertions which implied great disrespect for the Deity. If those doctrines were true; if he was right in his views about God, then he was not a being who could be reverenced. No confidence could be placed in his government; no worship of such a being could be maintained. Eliphaz does not refer here so much to what was personal with Job, as to his principles. He does not mean so much to affirm that he himself had lost all reverence for God, as that his arguments led to that. Job had maintained that God did not in this life reward and punish people strictly according to their deserts. If this was so, Eliphaz says, then it would be impossible to honor him, and religion and worship would be at an end.
The Hebrew word rendered "castest off" - more accurately rendered in the margin "makest void" (תפר tāpēr) - implies this. "And restrainest prayer before God." Margin, "speech." The Hebrew word שׂיחה śı̂ychâh means properly "meditation" - and particularly meditation about divine things: Psalm 119:97. Then it means "devotion" - as to meditate on divine things is a part of devotion. It may be applied to any part of devotion, and seems to be not improperly rendered "prayer." It is that devotion which finds utterance in the language of prayer. The word rendered "restrainest" - תגרע tı̂gâra‛ - means to shave off - like the beard; then to cut off, to take away, detract, withhold; and the idea here is, that the views which Job maintained were such as "to sap the very foundations of religion." If God treated the righteous and the wicked alike, the one would have nothing to hope and the other nothing to fear.
There could be no ground of encouragement, to pray to him. How could the righteous pray to him, unless there was evidence that he was the friend of virtue? How could they hope for his special blessing, if he were disposed to treat the good and the bad alike? Why was it not just as well to live in sin as to be holy? And how could such a being be the object of confidence or prayer? Eliphaz mistook the meaning of Job, and pressed his positions further than he intended; and Job was not entirely able to vindicate his position, or to show how the consequences stated by Eliphaz could be avoided. "They both wanted the complete and full view of the future state of retribution revealed in the gospel, and that would have removed the whole difficulty." But I see not how the considerations here urged by this ancient sage of the tendency of Job's doctrine can be avoided, if it be applied to the views of those who hold that all people will be saved at death. If that be the truth, then who can fail to see that the tendency must be to make people cast off the fear of God and to undermine all devotion and prayer? Why should people pray, if all are to be treated alike at death? How can people worship and honor a Being who will treat the good and the bad alike? How can we have confidence in a being who makes no distinction in regard to character? And what inducement can there be to be pious, when all people shall be made as happy as they can be forever whether they are pious or not? We are not to wonder, therefore, that the system tends every where to sap the foundations of virtue and religion; that it makes no man better; and that where it prevails, it banishes religion and prayer from the world.
For thy mouth uttereth thine iniquity, and thou choosest the tongue of the crafty.
For thy mouth uttereth thine iniquity - Margin, "teacheth." That is, "your whole argument shows that you are a guilty man. A man who can defend such positions about God cannot be a pious man, or have any proper veneration for the Most High." A man may pursue an argument, and defend positions, that shall as certainly show that he is destitute of religion as though he lived an abandoned life; and he who holds opinions that are dishonorable to God, can no more be a pious man than if he dishonored God by violating his law.
Thou choosest the tongue of the crafty - Instead of pursuing an argument with candor and sincerity, you have resorted to miserable sophisms, such as running disputants use. You have not showed a disposition to ascertain and defend the truth, but have relied on the arts and evasions of the subtle disputant and the rhetorician. His whole discourse, according to Eliphaz, was a work of mere art, designed to blind his hearers; to deceive them with a favorable opinion of his piety; and to give some plausible, but delusive view of the government of God.
Thine own mouth condemneth thee, and not I: yea, thine own lips testify against thee.
Thine own mouth condemneth thee - That is, the sentiments which you have uttered show that you cannot be a pious man.
Art thou the first man that was born? or wast thou made before the hills?
Art thou the first man that was born? - Hast thou lived ever since the creation, and treasured up all the wisdom of past times, that thou dost now speak so arrogantly and confidently? This question was asked, because, in the estimation of Eliphaz and his friends, wisdom was supposed to be connected with long life, and with an opportunity for extended and varied observation; see Job 15:10. Job they regarded as comparatively a young man.
Wast thou made before the hills - The mountains and the hills are often represented as being the oldest of created objects, probably because they are the most ancient things that appear on earth. Springs dry up, and waters change their beds; cities are built and decay; kingdoms rise and fall, and all the monuments of human skill and art perish; but the hills and mountains remain the same from age to age. Thus, in Psalm 90:2 :
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.
So in Proverbs 8:25, in the description of wisdom:
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills was I brought forth.
So the hills are called "everlasting" Genesis 49:26, in allusion to their great antiquity and permanence. And so we, in common parlance, have a similar expression when we say of anything that "it is as old as the hills." The question which Eliphaz intends to ask here of Job is, whether he had lived from the creation, and had observed everything?
Hast thou heard the secret of God? and dost thou restrain wisdom to thyself?
Hast thou heard the secret of God? - literally, "in the secret of God hast thou heard" - הסוד hasôd. The word rendered "secret" (סוד sôd) means properly a "couch" or "cushion," on which one reclines - whether for sleep or at a table, or as a divan. Hence, it means a divan, or circle of persons sitting together for familiar conversation, Jeremiah 6:11; Jeremiah 15:17; or of judges, counsellors, or advisers for consultation, as the word "divan" is now used in Oriental countries; Psalm 89:7; Jeremiah 33:18. Then it means any consultation, counsel, familiar conversation, or intimacy; Psalm 55:14; Proverbs 15:22. Here God is represented in Oriental language as seated in a "divan," or council of state: there is deliberation about the concerns of his government; important questions are agitated and decided; and Eliphaz asks of Job whether he had been admitted to that council, and had heard those deliberations; and whether, if he had not, he was qualified to pronounce as he had done, on the plans and purposes of the Almighty.
And dost thou restrain wisdom to thyself? - Having obtained the secret of that council, art thou now keeping it wholly to thyself - as a prime minister might be supposed to keep the purposes resolved on in the divan? "Hast thou listened in the council of yahweh, and dost thou now reserve all wisdom to thyself?"
What knowest thou, that we know not? what understandest thou, which is not in us?
What knowest thou that we know not? - What pretensions or claims to wisdom have you which we have not? We have had, at least, equal advantages, and may be presumed to know as much as you.
With us are both the grayheaded and very aged men, much elder than thy father.
With us are both the gray headed - That is, some of us who are here are much older than thy father; or we express the sentiments of such aged men. Job had admitted Job 12:12, that with the aged was wisdom, and in length of days understanding; and Eliphaz here urges that on that principle he and his friends had a claim to be heard. It would seem from this, that Job was very far from being regarded as an old man, and would probably be esteemed as in middle life. The Targum (Chaldee) refers this to Eliphaz himself and his two friends. "Truly Eliphaz, who is hoary-headed (דסיב) and Bildad, the long-lived (דקשיש) are with us, and Zophar, who is older than thy father." But it is not certain that he meant to confine the remark to them. It seems to me probable that this whole discussion occurred in the presence of others, and perhaps was a public contest. It is clear, I think, that Elihu was present, and heard it all (see Job 32:4), and it would accord well with Oriental habits to suppose that this was a trim of skill, which many were permitted to witness, and which was continued for a considerable time. Eliphaz may, therefore, have meant to say that among his friends who had assembled to hear this debate, there were not a few who coincided with him in sentiment, who were much more aged than Job, and who had had much longer experience in the world.
Are the consolations of God small with thee? is there any secret thing with thee?
Are the consolations of God small with thee? - The "consolations of God" here refer probably to those considerations which had been suggested by Eliphaz and his friends, and which he takes to be the "consolations" which God had furnished for the afflicted. He asks whether they were regarded by Job as of little value? Whether he was not willing to take such consolations as God had provided, and to allow them to sustain him instead of permitting himself to inveigh against God? The Septuagint renders this, "thou hast been chastised less than thy sins deserve. Thou hast spoken with excessive haughtiness!" But the true idea seems to be, that Eliphaz regarded the considerations adduced by him and his friends, as the gracious consolations which God had provided for people in affliction, and as the results of all former reflections on the design of God in sending trial. He now represents Job as regarding them as of no value, and maintaining sentiments directly at variance with them. "Is there any secret thing with thee?"
Noyes renders this," and words so full of kindness to thee," that is, are they of no account to you? So Dr. Good and Wemyss, "or the addresses of kindness to thyself?" Luther translates it, "but thou hast, perhaps, yet a secret portion with thee." Rosenmuller, "and words most guilty spoken toward thee." The Septuagint renders it, "and thou hast spoken proudly beyond measure" - μεγάλως ὑπερβαλλόντας λελάηκας megalōs huperballontas lelalēkas. The word which occurs in the Hebrew - לאט lâ'aṭ, when it is a single word, and used as a verb, means to wrap around, to muffle, to cover, to conceal, and then to be "secret" - whence the Greek: λάφω lathō, and λανθάνω lanthanō, and the Latin: lateo. In this sense it is understood here by our translators. But it may be also a compound word - from אט 'aṭ - a gentle sound, murmur, whisper; from where it is used adverbially - לאט le'at and לאט lâ'aṭ - gently, softly, slowly - as of the slow gait of a mourner, 1 Kings 21:27; and of water gently flowing, as the water of Siloam, Isaiah 8:6. And hence, also, it may refer to words flowing kindly or gently toward anyone; and this seems to be the meaning here. Eliphaz asks whether Job could despise or undervalue the words spoken so gently and kindly toward him? A singular illustration, to be sure, of kindness, but still showing how the friends of Job estimated their own remarks.
Why doth thine heart carry thee away? and what do thy eyes wink at,
Why doth thine heart carry thee away? - Why do you allow your feelings to control you in spite of the decisions of the understanding? Eliphaz means to represent him as wholly under the influence of passion, instead of looking calmly and cooly at things as they were, and listening to the results of past experience and observation.
And what do thy eyes wink at - This expression has given considerable perplexity to commentators. Rosenmuller (and after him Noyes) remarks that the expression indicates pride, haughtiness, and arrogance. In Psalm 35:19, it is an indication of joyfulness or triumph over a prostrate foe:
Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me;
Neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.
In Proverbs 6:13, it is an indication of a haughty, froward, self-confident person:
A haughty person, a wicked man,
Walketh with a froward mouth;
He winketh with his eyes,
He speaketh with his feet,
He teacheth with his fingers.
The Hebrew word (רזם râzam) occurs nowhere else, and it is therefore difficult to determine its true signification. The most probable meaning is, to wink with the eyes as a gesture of pride and insolence; compare the notes at Isaiah 3:16. The Vulgate renders it, attonitos habes oculos? - "Why, as though meditating great things, hast thou eyes of astonishment?" Septuagint, "Why are thine eyes elevated?" Schultens renders it, "Why do thine eyes roll fury?" - Quid fremitum volvunt oculi tui? Luther, "Why art thou so proud? There can be no reasonable doubt that the word conveys the idea of pride and haughtiness manifested in some way by the eyes.
That thou turnest thy spirit against God, and lettest such words go out of thy mouth?
That thou turnest thy spirit - That your mind is turned against God instead of acquiescing in his dealings. The views of Job he traces to pride and to overweening self-confidence, and perhaps not improperly.
What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?
What is man that he should be clean? - The object of Eliphaz in this is to overturn the positions of Job that he was righteous, and had been punished beyond his deserts. He had before maintained Job 4:7, that no one ever perished being innocent, and that the righteous were not cut off. This was with him a favorite position; and indeed the whole drift of the argument maintained by him and his friends was, to prove that uncommon calamities were proof of uncommon guilt. Job had insisted on it that he was a righteous man, and had not deserved the calamities which had come upon him - a position which Eliphaz seems to have regarded as an assertion of innocence. To meet this he now maintains that no one is righteous; that all that are born of women are guilty; and in proof of this he goes back to the oracle which had made so deep an impression on his mind, and to the declaration then made to him that no one was pure before God; Job 4:He does not repeat it exactly as the oracle was then delivered to him, but adverts to the substance of it, and regards it as final and indisputable. The meaning is, "What are all the pretensions of man to purity, when even the angels are regarded as impure and the heavens unclean?"
He which is born of a woman - Another mode of denoting man. No particular argument to maintain the doctrine of man's depravity is couched in the fact that he is born of a woman. The sense is, simply, how can anyone of the human family be pure?
Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight.
Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints - In Job 4:18, it is, "in his servants," but no doubt the same thing is intended. The reference is to the angels, called there servants, and here saints קדשׁים qôdeshı̂ym, holy ones; see the notes at Job 4:18.
Yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight - In Job 4:18, "and his angels he charged with folly." The general idea is the same. God is so holy that all things else seem to be impure. The very heavens seem to be unclean when compared with him. We are not to understand this as meaning that the heavens are defiled; that there is sin and corruption there, and that they are loathsome in the sight of God. The object is to set forth the exceeding purity of God, and the greatness of his holiness. This sentiment seemed to be a kind of proverb, or a commonplace in theology among the sages of Arabia. Thus, it occurs in Job 25:5, in the speech of Bildad, when he had nothing to say but to repeat the most common-place moral and theological adages -
Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not;
Yea, the stars are not pure in his sight:
How much less man, that is a worm,
And the son of man, which is a worm!
How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?
How much more abominable and filthy is man - How much more than the angels, and than the heavens. In Job 4:19, the image is somewhat different. There it is, how can man be the object of the divine confidence since he lives in a house of clay, and is so frail? Here the image is more striking and forcible. The word rendered filthy (אלח 'âlach) means, in Arabic, to be sour, as milk, and then to be corrupt, in a moral sense; Psalm 14:3; Psalm 53:4. Here it means that man is defiled and polluted, and this declaration is a remarkable illustration of the ancient belief of the depravity of man.
Which drinketh iniquity like water - This is still a true, though a melancholy account of man. He loves sin, and is as greedy of it as a thirsty man is of water. He practices it as if it were his very nature - as much so as it is to drink. Perhaps too there may be an allusion, as Dr. Good supposes, to the large draught of water which the camel makes, implying that man is exceedingly greedy of iniquity; compare Job 20:12; Job 34:7; Proverbs 19:28.
I will shew thee, hear me; and that which I have seen I will declare;
I will show thee ... - The remainder of this chapter is a violent declamation, designed to overwhelm Job with the proofs of personal guilt. Eliphaz professes to urge nothing which had not been handed down from his ancestors, and was the result of careful observation. What he says is made up of apothegms and maxims that were regarded as containing the results of ancient wisdom, all meaning that God would punish the wicked, or that the wicked would be treated according to their deserts. The implied inference all along was, that Job, who had had so many proofs of the divine displeasure, must be a wicked man.
Which wise men have told from their fathers, and have not hid it:
Which wise men have told from their fathers - Which they have received from their ancestors and communicated to others. Knowledge among the ancients was communicated chiefly by tradition from father to son. They had few or no written records, and hence, they embodied the results of their observation in brief, sententious maxims, and transmitted them from one generation to another.
And have not hid it - They have freely communicated the result of their observations to others.
Unto whom alone the earth was given, and no stranger passed among them.
Unto whom alone the earth was given - The land; the land or country where they dwelt. He refers to the period before they became intermingled with other nations, and before they imbibed any sentiments or opinions from strangers. The meaning is, "I will give you the result of the observations of the golden age of the world when our fathers dwelt alone, and it could not be pretended that they had been corrupted by foreign philosophy; and when in morals and in sentiment they were pure." Probably all nations look back to such times of primeval simplicity, and freedom from corruption, when the sentiments on morals and religion were comparatively pure, and before the people became corrupt by the importation of foreign opinions. It is a pleasing delusion to look back to such times - to some innocent Arcadia, or to a golden age - but usually all such retrospections are the mere work of fancy. The world really grows wiser as it grows older; and in the progress of society it is a rare thing when the present is not more pure and happy than its early stages. The comforts, privileges, and intelligence of the patriarchal age were not to be compared with those which we enjoy - any more than the condition of the wandering Arab is to be preferred to the quiet, peace, intelligence, and order of a calm, Christian home.
No stranger passed among them - No foreigner came to corrupt their sentiments by an admixture of strange doctrines. "Eliphaz here speaks like a genuine Arab, whose pride is in his tongue, his sword, and his pure blood." Umbreit. It is possible, as Rosenmuller suggests, that Eliphaz means to insinuate that Job had been corrupted by the sentiments of the Chaldeans and Sabeans, and had departed from the pure doctrines of earlier times.
The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, and the number of years is hidden to the oppressor.
Travaileth with pain - That is, his sorrows are like the pains of parturition. Eliphaz means to say that he is a constant sufferer.
All his days - It seems difficult to see how they could have ever formed this universal maxim. It is certainly not literally true now; nor was it ever. But in order to convey the doctrine that the wicked would be punished in as pointed and striking a manner as possible, it was made to assume this universal form - meaning that the life of the wicked would be miserable. There is some reason to think that this and what follows to the close of the chapter, is an ancient fragment which Eliphaz rehearses as containing the sentiments of a purer age of the world.
And the number of years is hidden to the oppressor - Wemyss renders this, "and a reckoning of years is laid up for the violent." So, also, Dr. Good. The Vulgate renders it, "and the number of the years of his tyranny is uncertain." Rosenmuller, Cocceius, Drusius, and some others suppose that there should be understood here and repeated the clause occurring in the first hemistich, and that it means, "and in the number of years which are laid up for the violent man, he is tortured with pain." Luther renders it, "and to a tyrant is the number of his years concealed." It is difficult to tell what the passage means. To me, the most probable interpretation is one which I have not met with in any of the books which I have consulted, and which may be thus expressed," the wicked man will be tormented all his days." To one who is an oppressor or tyrant, the number of his years is hidden. He has no security of life. He cannot calculate with any certainty on its continuance. The end is hid. A righteous man may make some calculation, and can see the probable end of his days. He may expect to see an honored old age. But tyrants are so often cut down suddenly; they so frequently perish by assassination, and robbers are so often unexpectedly overcome, that there is no calculation which can be formed in respect to the termination of their course. Their end is hid. They die suddenly and disappear. This suits the connection; and the sentiment is, in the main, in accordance with facts as they occur.
A dreadful sound is in his ears: in prosperity the destroyer shall come upon him.
A dreadful sound is in his ears - Margin, "A sound of fears." He hears sudden, frightful sounds, and is alarmed. Or when he thinks himself safe, he is suddenly surprised. The enemy steals upon him, and in his fancied security he dies. This sentiment might be illustrated at almost any length by the mode of savage warfare in America, and by the sudden attacks which the American savage makes, in the silence of the night, on his unsuspecting foes. The Chaldee renders this, "the fear of the terrors in Gehenna are in his ears; when the righteous dwell in peace and eternal life, destruction comes upon him."
In prosperity the destroyer shall come upon him - When he supposes he is safe, and his affairs seem to be prosperous, then sudden destruction comes; see 1 Thessalonians 5:3. The history of wicked people, who have encompassed themselves with wealth, and as they supposed with every thing necessary to happiness, and who have been suddenly cut off, would furnish all the instances which would be necessary to illustrate this sentiment of Eliphaz. See an exquisitely beautiful illustration of it in Psalm 37:35-36 :
I have seen the wicked in great power,
And spreading himself like a green bay-tree.
Yet he passed away, and lo he was not;
Yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.
So, also, in Psalm 73:18-20 :
Surely thou didst set them in slippery places;
Thou castedst them down into destruction.
How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors.
As a dream when one awaketh,
O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
He believeth not that he shall return out of darkness, and he is waited for of the sword.
He believeth not that he shall return out of darkness - Darkness is used in the Bible, as elsewhere, to denote calamity; and the meaning here is, that the wicked man has not confidence (יאמין לא lo' ya'amı̂yn), that he shall return safely from impending danger. He is in constant dread of assassination, or of some fearful evil. He is never secure; his mind is never calm; he lives in constant dread. This is still an accurate description of a man with a guilty conscience; for such a man lives in constant fear, and never feels any security that he is safe.
And he is waited for of the sword - That is, he is destined for the sword. Gesenius.
He wandereth abroad for bread, saying, Where is it? he knoweth that the day of darkness is ready at his hand.
He wandereth abroad for bread - The Septuagint renders this, "he is destined to be food for vultures" - κατατέτακται δὲ εἰς σῖτα γυψίν katatetaktai de eis sitos gupsin. The meaning of the Hebrew is, simply, that he will be reduced to poverty, and will not know where to obtain a supply for his returning needs.
He knoweth that the day of darkness is ready at his hand - He is assured that the period of calamity is not far remote. It must come. He has no security that it will not come immediately. The whole design of this is to show that there is no calmness and security for a wicked man; that in the midst of apparent prosperity his soul is in constant dread.
Trouble and anguish shall make him afraid; they shall prevail against him, as a king ready to the battle.
As a king ready to the battle - Fully prepared for a battle; whom it would be vain to attempt to resist. So mighty would be the combined forces of trouble and anguish against him, that it would be vain to attempt to oppose them.
For he stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty.
For he stretcheth out his hand against God - The hand is stretched out for battle. It wields the spear or the sword against an enemy. The idea here is, that the wicked man makes God an adversary. He does not contend with his fellow-man, with fate, with the elements, with evil angels, but with God. His opponent is an Almighty Being, and he cannot prevail against him; compare the notes at Isaiah 27:4.
And strengtheneth himself - As an army does that throws up a rampart, or constructs a fortification. The whole image here is taken from the practice of war; and the sense is, that a wicked man is really making war on the Almighty, and that in that war he must be vanquished; compare Job 9:4.
He runneth upon him, even on his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers:
He runneth upon him - That is, upon God. The image here is taken from the mode in which people rushed into battle. It was with a violent concussion, and usually with a shout, that they might intimidate their foes, and overcome them at first, with the violence of the shock. The mode of warfare is now changed, and it is the vaunted excellency of modern warfare that armies now go deliberately and calmly to put each other to death.
Even "on his neck - literally, "with the neck" - בצואר betsavā'r. Vulgate, "With erect neck - erecto collo." Septuagint, contemptuously, or with pride - ὕβρει hubrei. The idea seems to be, not that he ran "upon the neck" of his adversary - as would seem to be implied in our translation - but that he ran in a firm, haughty, confident manner; with a head erect and firm, as the indication of self confidence, and a determined purpose to overcome his foe. See Schultens in loc.
Upon the thick bosses - The word boss with us means a knob - a protuberant ornament of silver, brass, or ivory on a harness or a bridle; then a protuberant part, a prominence, or a round or swelling body of any kind. The Hebrew word used here (גב gab) means properly anything gibbous, convex, arched; and hence, "the back" - as of animals. Applied to a shield, it means the convex part or the back of it - the part which was presented to an enemy, and which was made swelling and strong, called by the Greeks ὀμφαλὸς omfalos, or μεσομφάλιον mesomfalion. Gesenius supposes that the metaphor here is taken from soldiers, who joined their shields together, and thus rushed upon an enemy. This was one mode of ancient warfare, when an army or a phalanx united their shields in front, so that nothing could penetrate them, or so united them over their heads when approaching a fortress, that they could safely march under them as a covering.
This, among the Romans and Greeks, was commonly practiced when approaching a besieged town. One form of the testudo - the χελώη στρατιωτῶν chelōnē stratiōtōn of the Greeks, was formed by the soldiers, pressed close together and holding their shields over their heads in such a manner as to form a compact covering. John H. Eschenburg, Manual of Classical Literature. by N. W. Fiske, pt. III, section 147. The Vulgate renders this, "and he is armed with a fat neck" - pingui cervice armatus est. Schultens expresses the idea that is adopted by Gesenius, and refers to Arabic customs to show that shields were thus united in defending an army from a foe, or in making an attack on them. He says, also, that it is a common expression - a proverb - among the Arabs, "he turns the back of his shield" to denote that one is an adversary; and quotes a passage from Hamasa, "When a friend meets me with base suspicions, I turn to him the back of my shield - a proverb, whose origin is derived from the fact, that a warrior turns the back of his shield to his foes."
Paxton supposes that the expression here is taken from single combat, which early prevailed. But the idea here is not that which our translation would seem to convey. It is not that he rushes upon or against the hard or thick shield "of the Almighty" - and that, therefore, he must meet resistance and be overcome: it is that he rushes upon God with his own shield. He puts himself in the attitude of a warrior. He turns the boss of his own shield against God, and becomes his antagonist. He is his enemy. The omission of the word "with" in the passage - or the preposition which is in the Hebrew (ב b) has led to this erroneous translation. The passage is often quoted in a popular manner to denote that the sinner rushes upon God, "and must meet resistance" from his shield, or be overcome. It should be quoted only to denote that the sinner places himself in an attitude of opposition to God, and is his enemy.
Of his bucklers - Of his shields (מגניו megı̂nāy), that is, of the shields which the sinner has; not the shields of God. The shield was a well-known instrument of war, usually made with a rim of wood or metal, and covered with skins, and carried on the left arm; see the notes at Isaiah 21:5. The outer surface was made rounding from the center to the edge, and was smoothly polished, so that darts or arrows would glide off and not penetrate.
Because he covereth his face with his fatness, and maketh collops of fat on his flanks.
Because he covereth his face with his fatness - That is, he not only stretches out his hand against God Job 15:25 and rushes upon him as an armed foe Job 15:26, but he gives himself up to a life of luxury, gluttony, and licentiousness; and therefore, these calamities must come upon him. This is designed to be a description of a luxurious and licentious person - a man who is an enemy of God, and who, therefore, must incur his displeasure.
And maketh collops of fat - Like an ox that is fattened. The word collop properly means "a small slice of meat, a piece of flesh" (Webster), but here it means a thick piece, or a mass. The word is used in this sense in New England. The sense is, that he becomes excessively fat and gross - as they usually do who live in sensual indulgence and who forget God.
And he dwelleth in desolate cities, and in houses which no man inhabiteth, which are ready to become heaps.
And he dwelleth - Or rather, "therefore he shall dwell." As a consequence of his opposing God, and devoting himself to a life of sensuality and ease, he shall dwell in a desolate place. Instead of living in affluence and in a splendid city, he shall be compelled to take up his abode in places that have been deserted and abandoned. Such places - like Petra or Babylon now - became the temporary lodgings of caravans and travelers, or the abodes of outcasts and robbers. The meaning here is, that the proud and wicked man shall be ejected from his palace, and compelled to seek a refuge far away from the usual haunts of men.
Which are ready to become heaps - Which are just ready to tumble into ruin.
He shall not be rich, neither shall his substance continue, neither shall he prolong the perfection thereof upon the earth.
He shall not be rich - That is, he shall not continue rich; or he shall not again become rich. He shall be permanently poor.
Neither shall his substance continue - His property.
Neither shall he prolong the perfection thereof - Noyes renders this, "And his possessions shall not be extended upon the earth." Wemyss, "Nor shall he be master of his own desires." Good, "Nor their success spread abroad in the land." Luther, Und sein Gluck wird sich nicht ausbreiten im Lande - " And his fortune shall not spread itself abroad in the land." Vulgate, "Neither shall he send his root in the earth " - nec mittet in terra radicem suam. The Septuagint, οὐ μὴ βάλῃ ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν σκιὰν ou mē balē epi tēn gōn skian - "and shall not cast a shadow upon the earth." The word rendered "perfection" (מנלם mı̂nlām) is commonly supposed to be from מנלה mı̂nleh, from נלה nâlâh to finish, to procure, and hence, the noun may be applied to that which is procured - and thus may denote possessions. According to this the correct rendering is, "and he does not extend their possessions abroad in the land;" that is, his possessions do not extend abroad. Gesenius supposes, however, that the word is a corruption for מבלם - "their flocks." I see no objection, however, to its being regarded as meaning possessions - and then the sense is, that he would fail in that which is so much the object of ambition with every avaricious man - that his possessions should extend through the land; compare the notes at Isaiah 5:8.
He shall not depart out of darkness; the flame shall dry up his branches, and by the breath of his mouth shall he go away.
He shall not depart out of darkness - He shall not escape from calamity; see Job 15:22. He shall not be able to rise again, but shall be continually poor.
The flame shall dry up his branches - As the fire consumes the green branches of a tree, so shall punishment do to him. This comparison is very forcible, and the idea is, that the man who has been prospered as a tree shall be consumed - as the fire consumes a tree when it passes through the branches. The comparison of a prosperous man with a tree is very common, and very beautiful. Thus, the Psalmist says,
I have seen the wicked in great power,
And spreading himself like a green bay tree. Psalm 37:35.
Compare Psalm 92:12-13. The aged Skenandoah - a chief of the Oneida tribe of Indians, said," I am an aged hemlock. The winds of an hundred winters have whistled through my branches. I am dead at the top. My branches are falling," etc.
And by the breath of his mouth shall he go away - That is, by the breath of the mouth of God. God is not indeed specified, but it is not unusual to speak of him in this manner. The image here seems to be that of the destruction of a man by a burning wind or by lightning. As a tree is dried up, or is rent by lightning, or is torn up from the roots by a tempest sent by the Deity, so the wicked will be destroyed.
Let not him that is deceived trust in vanity: for vanity shall be his recompence.
Let not him that is deceived trust in vanity - The sense is, "Let him not trust in vanity. He will be deceived. Vanity will be his recompense." The idea is, that a man should not confide in that which will furnish no support. He should not rely on his wealth and rank; his houses and lands; his servants, his armies, or his power, if he is wicked, for all this is vain. He needs some better reliance, and that can be found only in a righteous life. The word vanity here means that which is unsubstantial; which cannot uphold or sustain; which will certainly give way.
For vanity will be his recompense - He will find only vanity. He will be stripped of all his honors and possessions.
It shall be accomplished before his time, and his branch shall not be green.
It shall be accomplished before his time - Margin, "cut off." The image here is that of a tree, which had been suggested in Job 15:30. Here it is followed up by various illustrations drawn from the flower, the fruit, etc., all of which are designed to denote the same thing - that a wicked man will not be permanently prosperous; he will not live and flourish as he would if he were righteous. He will be like a tree that is cut down before its proper time, or that casts its flowers and fruits and brings nothing to perfection. The phrase here literally is, "It shall not be filled up in its time;" that is, a wicked man will be cut off before he has filled up the measure of his days, like a tree that decays and falls before its proper time. A similar idea occurs in Psalm 55:23. "Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." As a general fact this is all true, and the observation of the ancient Idumeans was correct. The temperate live longer than the intemperate; the chaste longer than the licentious; he that controls and governs his passions longer than he who gives the reins to them; and he who leads a life of honesty and virtue longer than he who lives for crime. Pure religion makes a man temperate, sober, chaste, calm, dispassionate, and equable in his temper; saves from broils, contentions, and strifes; subdues the angry passions, and thus tends to lengthen out life.
His branch shall not be green - It shall be dried up and withered away - retaining the image of a tree.
He shall shake off his unripe grape as the vine, and shall cast off his flower as the olive.
He shall shake off his unripe grape as the vine - The idea here is, that the wicked man shall be like a vine that casts off its grapes while they are yet sour and green, and brings none to perfection; compare the notes at Isaiah 18:5. Scott renders this,
"As when the vine her half-grown berries showers,
Or poisoned olive her unfolding flowers."
It would seem from this passage that the vine might be so blasted by a hot wind or other cause, as to cast its unripe grapes to the earth. The employment of a figure of this kind to illustrate an idea supposes that such a case was familiar to those who were addressed. It is well known that in the East the grape and the olive might be blasted while in blossom, or when the fruit was setting, as all fruit may be. The injury is usually done in the flower, or when the fruit is just forming. Yet our observations of the effects of the burning winds that pass over the deserts on fruit that is half formed, in blasting it and causing it to fall, are too limited to allow us to come to any definite conclusion in regard to such effects in general. Anyone, however, can see the beauty of this image. The plans and purposes of wicked people are immature. Nothing is carried to perfection. They are cut off, their plans are blasted, and all the results of their living are like the sour, hard, crabbed, and useless fruit that falls from the tree before it is ripe. The results of the life of the righteous, on the other hand, are like a tree loaded with ripe and mellow fruit - their plans are brought to maturity, and resemble the rich and heavy clusters of grapes, or the abundant fruits of the olive when ripe.
And shall cast off his flower as the olive - The olive is a well-known tree that abounds in the East. The fruit is chiefly valuable for the oil which it produces; compare the notes at Romans 11:17. The olive is liable to be blasted while the fruit is setting, or while the tree is in blossom. In Greece, a northeast wind often proves destructive to the olive, and the same may be true of other places. Dr. Chandler speaking of Greece, says, "The olive groves are now, as anciently, a principal source of the riches of Athens. The crops had failed five years successively when we arrived; the cause assigned was a northerly wind, called Greco-tramontane, which destroyed the flower. The fruit is set in about a fortnight, when the apprehension from this unpropitious quarter ceases. The bloom in the following year was unhurt, and we had the pleasure of leaving the Athenians happy in the prospect of a plentiful harvest." A wicked man is here elegantly compared with such a tree that casts its flowers and produces no fruit.
For the congregation of hypocrites shall be desolate, and fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery.
For the congregation of hypocrites - The word rendered "congregation" here (עדה ‛êdâh) means properly an appointed meeting; a meeting convened by appointment or at stated times (from ידה yâdâh), and hence, an assembly of any kind. It is commonly applied to an assembly for public worship; but it may refer to a more private company - a family, or circle of friends, dependents, etc. It refers here, I suppose, to such a community that a man can get around him in his own dwelling - his family, servants, dependents, etc. The word rendered "hypocrites" (חנף chânêph) is in the singular number, and should be so rendered here. It does not mean that a worshipping assembly composed of hypocrites would be desolate - which may be true - but that the community which a man who is a hypocrite can gather around him shall be swept away. His children, his dependents, and his retinue of servants, shall be taken away from him, and he shall be left to solitude. Probably there was an allusion here to Job, who had been stripped in this manner; or at any rate the remark was one, if it were a quotation from the ancient sayings of the Arabians, which Job could not but regard as applied to himself.
And fire shall consume - This has all the appearance of being a proverb. The meaning is, that they who received a bribe would be certainly punished.
The tabernacles of bribery - The tents or dwellings of those who receive bribes, and who therefore are easily corrupted, and have no solid principles. There is probably an allusion here to Job; and no doubt Eliphaz meant to apply this severe remark to him. Job was a Sheik, an Emir, a head of a tribe, and, therefore, a magistrate; see Job 29:7, seq. Yet a part of his possessions and servants had been cut off by fire from heaven Job 1:16; and Eliphaz means probably to imply that it had been because he had been guilty of receiving a bribe. This ancient proverb declared that the dwellings of the man who could be bribed would be consumed by fire; and now he presumes that the fact that Job had been visited by the fire of heaven was full proof that he had been guilty in this manner. It was about on principles such as these that the reasoning of the friends of Job was conducted.
They conceive mischief, and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit.
They conceive mischief - The meaning of this verse is, that they form and execute plans of evil. It is the characteristic of such men that they form such plans and live to execute them, and they must abide the consequences. All this was evidently meant for Job; and few things could be more trying to a man's patience than to sit and hear those ancient apothegms, designed to describe the wicked, applied so unfeelingly to himself.