But Job answered and said,
How hast thou helped him that is without power? how savest thou the arm that hath no strength?
How hast thou helped him that is without power? - It has been doubted whether this refers to Job himself, the two friends of Bildad, or to the Deity. Rosenmuller. The connection, however, seems to demand that it should be referred to Job himself. It is sarcastical. Bildad had come as a friend and comforter. He had, also, in common with Eliphaz and Zophar, taken upon himself the office of teacher and counsellor. He had regarded Job as manifesting great weakness in his views of God and of his government; as destitute of all strength to bear up aright under trials, and now all that he had done to aid one so weak was found in the impertinent and irrelevant generalities of his brief speech. Job is indignant that one with such pretensions should have said nothing more to the purpose. Herder, however, renders this as if it related wholly to God, and it cannot be denied that the Hebrew would bear this:
"Whom helpest thou? Him who hath no strength?
Whom dost thou vindicate? Him whose arm hath no power?
To whom give counsel? One without wisdom?
Truly much wisdom hast thou taught him."
How savest thou the arm that hath no strength? - That is, your remarks are not adapted to invigorate the feeble. He had come professedly to comfort and support his afflicted friend in his trials. Yet Job asks what there was in his observations that was fitted to produce this effect? Instead of declaiming on the majesty and greatness of God, he should have said something that was adapted to relieve an afflicted and a troubled soul.
How hast thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? and how hast thou plentifully declared the thing as it is?
How hast thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? - As he had undertaken to give counsel to another, and to suggest views that might be adapted to elevate his mind in his depression, and to console him in his sorrows, he had a right to expect more than he had found in his speech.
And how hast thou plentifully declared the thing as it is? - The word rendered "the thing as it is" (תשׁיה tûshı̂yâh) denotes properly a setting upright, uprightness - from ישׁה yāshah; then help, deliverance, Job 6:13; purpose, undertaking, enterprise, Job 5:12; then counsel, wisdom, understanding, Job 11:6; Job 12:16. Here it is synonymous with reason, wisdom, or truth. The word rendered "plentifully" (לרב larôb) means "for multitude," or abundantly, and the sense here is, that Bildad had made extraordinary pretensions to wisdom, and that this was the result. This short, irrelevant speech was all; a speech that communicated nothing new, and that met none of the real difficulties of the case.
To whom hast thou uttered words? and whose spirit came from thee?
To whom hast thou uttered words? - Jerome renders this, Quem docere voluisti? "Whom do you wish to teach?" The sense is, "Do you attempt to teach me in such a manner, on such a subject? Do you take it that I am so ignorant of the perfections of God, that such remarks about him would convey any real instruction?"
And whose spirit came from thee? - That is, by whose spirit didst thou speak? What claims hast thou to inspiration, or to the uttering of sentiments beyond what man himself could originate? The meaning is, that there was nothing remarkable in what he had said that would show that he had been indebted for it either to God or to the wise and good on earth.
Dead things are formed from under the waters, and the inhabitants thereof.
Dead things - Job here commences his description of God, to show that his views of his majesty and glory were in no way inferior to those which had been expressed by Bildad, and that what Bildad had said conveyed to him no real information. In this description he far surpasses Bildad in loftiness of conception, and sublimity of description. Indeed, it may be doubted whether for grandeur this passage is surpassed by any description of the majesty of God in the Bible. The passage here has given rise to much discussion, and to a great variety of opinion. Our common translation is most feeble, and by no means conveys its true force. The object of the whole passage is to assert the universal dominion of God. Bildad had said Job 25:1-6 that the dominion of God extended to the heavens, and to the armies of the skies; that God surpassed in majesty the splendor of the heavenly bodies; and that compared with him man was a worm. Job commences his description by saying that the dominion of God extended even to the nether world; and that such were his majesty and power that even the shades of the mighty dead trembled at his presence, and that hell was all naked before him. The word רפאים râphâ'ı̂ym - Rephaim - so feebly rendered "dead things," means the shades of the dead; the departed spirits that dwell in Sheol; see the word explained at length in the notes at Isaiah 14:9. They are those who have left this world and who have gone down to dwell in the world beneath - the great and mighty conquerors and kings; the illustrious dead of past times, who have left the world and are congregated in the land of Shades. Jerome renders it, "gigantes," and the Septuagint, γίγαντες gigantes - giants; from a common belief that those shades were larger than life. Thus, Lucretius says:
Quippe et enim jam tum divum mortalia secla
Egregias animo facies vigilante videbant;
Et magis in somnis, mirando corporis aucter
Rer. Nat. ver. 1168.
The word "shades" here will express the sense, meaning the departed spirits that are assembled in Sheol. The Chaldee renders it, גבריא - mighty ones, or giants; the Syriac, in like manner, giants.
Are formed - The Syriac renders this, are killed. Jerome, gemunt - groan; Septuagint, "Are giants born from beneath the water, and the neighboring places?" What idea the authors of that version attached to the passage it is difficult to say. The Hebrew word used here (יחוּללו yechôlālû, from חוּל chûl), means to twist, to turn, to be in anguish - as in child birth; and then it may mean to tremble, quake, be in terror; and the idea here seems to be, that the shades of the dead were in anguish, or trembled at the awful presence, and under the dominion of God. So Luther renders it - understanding it of giants - Die Riesen angsten sich unter den Wassern. The sense would be well expressed, "The shades of the dead tremble, or are in anguish before him. They fear his power. They acknowledge his empire."
Under the waters - The abode of departed spirits is always in this book placed beneath the ground. But why this abode is placed beneath the waters, is not apparent. It is usually under the ground, and the entrance to it is by the grave, or by some dark cavern; compare Virgil's Aeniad, Lib. vi. A different interpretation has been proposed of this verse, which seems better to suit the connection. It is to understand the phrase (תחת tachath) "under," as meaning simply beneath - "the shades beneath;" and to regard the word (מים mayı̂m) waters as connected with the following member:
"The shades beneath tremble;
The waters and the inhabitants thereof."
Thus explained, the passage means that the whole universe is under the control of God, and trembles before him. Sheol and its Shades; the oceans and their inhabitants stand in awe before him.
And the inhabitants thereof - Of the waters - the oceans. The idea is, that the vast inhabitants of the deep all recognize the power of God and tremble before him. This description accords with that given by the ancient poets of the power and majesty of the gods, and is not less sublime than any given by them.
Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.
Hell - Hebrew שׁאול she'ôl, Sheol; Greek ᾅδης Hadēs Hades. The reference is to the abode of departed spirits - the nether world where the dead were congregated; see the notes at Job 10:21-22. It does not mean here, as the word hell does with us, a place of punishment, but the place where all the dead were supposed to be gathered together.
Is naked before him - That is, be looks directly upon that world. It is hidden from us, but not from him. He sees all its inhabitants, knows all their employments, and sways a scepter over them all.
And destruction - Hebrew אבדון 'ăbaddôn, Abaddon; compare Revelation 9:11, "And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon." The Hebrew word means destruction, and then abyss, or place of destruction, and is evidently given here to the place where departed spirits are supposed to reside. The word in this form occurs only here and in Proverbs 15:11; Psalm 88:11; Job 26:6, in all which places it is rendered destruction. The idea here is, not that this is a place where souls are destroyed, but that it is a place similar to destruction - as if all life, comfort, light, and joy, were extinguished.
Hath no covering - There is nothing to conceal it from God. He looks down even on that dark nether world, and sees and knows all that is there. There is a passage somewhat similar to this in Homer, quoted by Longinus as one of unrivaled sublimity, but which by no means surpasses this. It occurs in the Iliad, xx. 61-66:
Εδδεισεν δ ̓ ὑτένερθεϚ ἄναξ ἐνέρων Αιδωνεὺς, κ. τ. λ.
Eddeisen d' hupenerthen anac enerōn Aidōneus, etc.
Deep in the dismal regions of the dead
Th' infernal monarch reared his horrid head,
Leaped from his throne, lest Neptune's arm should lay
His dark dominions open to the day,
And pour in light on Pluto's drear abodes,
Abhorred by men, and dreadful e'en to gods.
He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.
He stretcheth out the north - This whole passage is particularly interesting as giving a view of the cosmology which prevailed in those early times. Indeed, as has been already remarked, this poem, apart from every other consideration, is of great value for disclosing to us the prevailing views on the subject of astronomy, geography, and many of the arts, at a much earlier period than we have an account of them elsewhere. The word north here denotes the heavens as they appear to revolve around the pole, and which seem to be stretched out as a curtain. The heavens are often represented as a veil, an expanse, a curtain, or a tent; see Isaiah 34:4, note; Isaiah 40:22, note.
Over the empty place - על־תהוּ ‛al-tôhû, "Upon emptiness, or nothing." That is, without anything to support it. The word used here (תהוּ tôhû) is one of those employed Genesis 1:2, "And the earth was wlthout form and void." But it seems here to mean emptiness, nothing. The north is stretched out and sustained by the mere power of God.
And hangeth the earth upon nothing. - It has nothing to support it. So Milton:
"And earth self-balaneed from her center hung."
There is no certain evidence here that Job was acquainted with the globular form of the earth, and with its diurnal and annual revolutions. But it is clear that he regarded it as not resting on any foundation or support; as lying on the vacant air, and kept there by the power of God. The Chaldee paraphrasist, in order to explain this, as that Paraphrase often does, adds the word waters. "He hangeth the earth מיא עלוי upon the waters, with no one to sustain it." The sentiment here expressed by Job was probably the common opinion of his time. It occurs also in Lucretius:
Terraque ut in media mundi regionne quieseat
Evallescere paullatim, et decrescere, pondus
Convenit; atque aliam naturam subter habere,
Et ineunte aevo conjunctam atque uniter aptam
Partibus aeriis mundi, quibus insita vivit
Propterea, non est oneri, neque deprimit auras;
Ut sua quoique homini nullo sunt pondere membra,
Nec caput est oneri collo, nec denique totum
Corporus in pedibus pondus sentimus inesse.
He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them.
He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds - That is, he seems to do it, or to collect the waters in the clouds, as in bottles or vessels. The clouds appear to hold the waters, as if bound up, until he is pleased to send them drop by drop upon the earth.
And the cloud is not rent under them - The wonder which Job here expresses is, that so large a quantity of water as is poured down from the clouds, should be held suspended in the air without seeming to rend the cloud, and falling all at once. His image is that of a bottle, or vessel, filled with water, suspended in the air, and which is not rent. What were the views which he had of the clouds, of course it is impossible now to say. If he regarded them as they are, as vapors, or if he considered them to be a more solid substance, capable of holding water, there was equal ground for wonder. In the former case, his amazement would have arisen from the fact, that so light, fragile, and evanescent a substance as vapor should contain so large a quantity of water; in the latter case, his wonder would have been that such a substance should distil its contents drop by drop. There is equal reason for admiring the wisdom of God in the production of rain, now that the cause is understood. The clouds are collections of vapors. They contain moisture, or vapor, which ascends from the earth, and which is held in suspension when in small particles in the clouds; as, when a room is swept, the small particles of dust will be seen to float in the room. When these small particles are attracted, and form masses as large as drops, the air will no longer sustain them, and they fall to the earth. Man never could have devised a way for causing rain; and the mode in which it is provided that large quantities of water shall be borne from one place to another in the air, and made to fall when it is needed, by which the vapors that ascend from the ocean shall not be suffered to fall again into the ocean, but shall be carried on to the land, is adapted to excite our admiration of the wisdom of God now, no less than it was in the time of Job.
He holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it.
He holdeth back the face of his throne - That is, he does not exhibit it - he covers it with clouds. The idea seems to be, that God sometimes comes forth and manifests himself to mankind, but that he comes encompassed with clouds, so that his throne cannot be seen. So in Psalm 18:11, "He made darkness his secret place, his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies." God is often represented as encompassed with clouds, or as accompanied with tempests.
And spreadeth his cloud upon it - That is, so that it cannot be seen. There is much poetic beauty in this image. It is, that the clouds are made to conceal the splendor of the throne of God from the sight of man, and that all their sublimity and grandeur, as they roll on one another, and all their beauty when painted with so many colors in the evening, are designed to hide that throne from mortal eyes. No one sees God; and though it is manifest that he is every where employed, and that he comes forth with amazing grandeur in the works of creation and providence, yet he is himself invisible.
He hath compassed the waters with bounds, until the day and night come to an end.
He hath compassed the waters with bounds - The word rendered "compassed" (חוּג chûg), means to describe a circle - to mark out with a compass; and the reference is to the form of the horizon, which appears as a circle, and which seems to be marked out with a compass. A similar idea Milton has beautifully expressed in his account of the creation:
"Then staid the fervid wheels, and in his hand
He took the golden compasses, prepared
In God's eternal store, to circumscribe
This universe, and all created things:
One foot he centered, and the other turned
Round through the vast profundity obscure;
And said, 'Thus far extend thy bounds,
This be thy just cirrumference, O world! '"
Paradise Lost, B. vii.
In the passage before us, we have a statement of the ancient views of geography, and of the outer limits of the world. The earth was regarded as a circular plane, surrounded by waters, and those waters encompassed with perpetual night. This region of night - this outer limit of the world, was regarded as at the outer verge of the celestial hemisphere, and on this the concave of heaven seemed to rest. See Virgil, Geor. i.247.
Illie, ut perhibent, aut intempesta silet nox
Semper, et obtenta densantur, nocte tenebrae;
The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof.
The pillars of Heaven tremble - That is, the mountains, which seem to bear up the heavens. So, among the ancients. Mount Atlas was represented as one of the pillars of heaven. Virgil speaks of "Atlas whose brawny back supports the skies." And Hesiod, ver. 785, advances the same notion:
"Atlas, so hard necessity ordains,
Great, the ponderous vault of stars sustains
Not far from the Hesperides he stands,
Nor from the load retracts his head or hands."
The word "reproof" in this verse refers to the language of God, as if spoken in anger to rebuke the mountains or the earth. Perhaps the reference is to thunder, to storms, and to winds, which seem to be the voice of God; compare Psalm 29:3-8. Similar descriptions of the majesty and glory of God abound in the Scriptures, where he speaks to the earth, the mountains, the hills, and they tremble. Thus, in Psalm 104:32;
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth;
He toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
So in Habakkuk 3:10 :
The mountains saw thee, and they trembled;
The overflowing of the water passed by;
The deep uttered his voice, and lift up his hands on high.
So in Nahum 1:5, "The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burnt at his presence."
He divideth the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smiteth through the proud.
He divideth the sea with His power - Herder renders this:
By his power he scourgeth the sea,
By his wisdom he bindeth its pride.
Jerome (Vulgate), "By his power the seas are suddenly congregated together The Septuagint, "By his power - κατέπαυσε την θάλασσαν katepause tēn thalassan - he makes the sea calm." Luther, Vor seiner Kraft wird das Meer plotzlich ungestum - "By his power the sea becomes suddenly tempestuous." Noyes renders it, "By his power he stilleth the sea." This is undoubtedly the true meaning. There is no allusion here to the dividing of the sea when the Israelites left Egypt; but the ideals, that God has power to calm the tempest, and hush the waves into peace. The word used here (רגע râga‛) means, to make afraid, to terrify; especially, to restrain by threats; see the notes at Isaiah 51:15; compare Jeremiah 31:35. The reference here is to the exertion of the power of God, by which he is able to calm the tumultuous ocean, and to restore it to repose after a storm - one of the most striking exhibitions of omnipotence that can be conceived of.
By his understanding - By his wisdom.
He smiteth through - He scourges, or strikes - as if to punish.
The proud - The pride of the sea. The ocean is represented as enraged, and as lifted up with pride and rebellion. God scourges it, rebukes it, and makes it calm.
By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent.
By his spirit - The word spirit here is either synonymous with wisdom, referring to the wisdom by which God made the heavens; or with breath - meaning, that he did it by his own command. There is no evidence that Job refers to the Third Person of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit - as being especially engaged in the work of creation. The word spirit is often used to denote one's self; and the meaning here is, that God had done it. This was one of the exhibitions of his power and skill.
He hath garnished the heavens - He has formed the stars which constitute so beautiful an ornament of the heavens.
His hand hath formed the crooked serpent - Or, rather, the fleeing serpent - ברח נחשׁ nāchâsh bârı̂ach; see the notes at Isaiah 27:1. There can be no doubt that Job refers here to one of the constellations, which it seems was then known as the serpent or dragon. The practice of forming pictures of the heavens, with a somewhat fanciful resemblance to animals, was one of the most early devices of astronomy, and was evidently known in the time of Job; compare the notes at Job 9:9. The object was, probably, to aid the memory; and though the arrangement is entirely arbitrary, and the resemblance wholly fanciful, yet it is still continued in the works of astronomy, as a convenient help to the memory, and as aiding in the description of the heavenly bodies. This is probably the same constellation which is described by Virgil, in language that strikingly resembles that here uscd by Job:
Maximus hic flexu sinuoso elabitur anguis
Circum, perque duas in morem fluminis Arctos,
Arctos oceani metuentes sequore tingi.
Around our pole the spiry Dragon glides,
And, like a winding stream, the Bears divides;
The less and greater, who by Fate's decree
Abhor to die beneath the Southern sea.
The figure of the Serpent, or "the Dragon," is still one of the constellations of the heavens, and there can be little doubt that it is the same that is referred to in this ancient book. On the celestial globes it is drawn between the Ursa Major and Cepheus, and is made to embrace the pole of the ecliptic in its convolutions. The head of the monster is under the foot of Hercules; then there is a coil tending eastwardly about 17 degrees north of Lyra; then he winds northwardly about 14 degrees to the second coil, where he reaches almost to the girdle of Cepheus; then he loops down and makes a third coil somewhat in the shape of the letter "U," about 15 degrees below the first; and then he holds a westerly course for about 13 degrees, and passes between the head of the Greater and the tail of the Lesser Bear. The constellation has 80 stars; including four of the second magnitude, seven of the third, and twelve of the fourth.
Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand?
Lo, these are parts of his ways - This is a small portion of his works. We see only the outlines, the surface of his mighty doings. This is still true. With all the advances which have been made in science, it is still true that we see but a small part of his works. What we are enabled to trace with all the aids of science, compared with what is unseen and unknown, may be like the analysis of a single drop of water compared with the ocean.
But how little a portion is heard of him? - Or, rather, "But what a faint whisper have we heard of him!" Literally, "What a whisper of a word," - דבר וּמח־שׁמץ yuvmah shėmets dâbâr. The word שׁמץ shemets means a transient sound rapidly passing away; and then a whisper; see the notes at Job 4:12. A "whisper of a word" means a word not fully and audibly spoken, but which is whispered into the ear; and the beautiful idea here is, that what we see of God, and what he makes known to us, compared with the full and glorious reality, bears about the same relation which the gentlest whisper does to words that are fully spoken.
The thunder of his power who can understand? - It is probable that there is here a comparison between the gentle "whisper" and the mighty "thunder;" and that the idea is, if, instead of speaking to us in gentle whispers, and giving to us in that way some faint indications of his nature, he were to speak out in thunder, who could understand him? If, when he speaks in such faint and gentle tones, we are so much impressed with a sense of his greatness and glory, who would not be overwhelmed if he were to speak out as in thunder? Thus explained, the expression does not refer to literal thunder, though there is much in the heavy peal to excite adoring views of God, and much that to Job must have been inexplicable. It may be asked, even now, who can understand all the philosophy of the thunder? But with much more impressiveness it may be asked, as Job probably meant to ask, who could understand the great God, if he spoke out with the full voice of his thunder, instead of speaking in a gentle whisper?