Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Job 13:1-22. Job knows the Divine Wisdom and Might as well as the Friends; their application of these to him is false. He desires to plead his Cause before God
Having finished his delineation of God’s might and wisdom as they act in the world, Job looks back upon his picture, saying that he knows all this as well as his friends (Job 13:1-2); but his calamities receive thereby no solution. In spite of this knowledge he desires to plead his cause before God (Job 13:3).
And they who sought to use this wisdom and might of God against him, were mere forgers of lies, who gave a false as well as feeble explanation of his troubles (Job 13:4-5). They were nothing but partizans for God. And as they had invoked the omniscience of God against him he will threaten them with the judgment of the same God, who will search out their hidden insincerity, and before whom their old maxims will be but “proverbs of ashes” (Job 13:6-12).
With this stinging rebuke to his friends Job turns from them unto God. He will adventure all and go into His presence to plead his cause come what may (Job 13:13-15). This courage which he feels is token to him that he shall be victorious, for a godless man would not dare to come before God. He knows he shall be found in the right (Job 13:16-19). Only he will beg for two conditions, That God would remove His hand from him, and, That he would not terrify him by His majesty; then he is ready to answer if God will call, or to speak if God will answer (Job 13:20-22).
Lo, mine eye hath seen all this, mine ear hath heard and understood it.1–2. Looking back to his delineation of the Divine wisdom and might as they dominate among men and in the world (ch. Job 12:7-25), Job says that his knowledge of them is not inferior to that of the friends—a final answer to Zophar, ch. Job 11:6; cf. as to Job 13 :2 Chronicles 12:3.
What ye know, the same do I know also: I am not inferior unto you.
Surely I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God.3. But this knowledge neither helps nor hinders him. In spite of this knowledge, if not because of it, he desires to reason with God.
surely I would speak] Rather, but I would (same word in Job 13:4).
But ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value.4. but ye are forgers of lies] The but in Job 13:3 had for its background the knowledge of the Divine wisdom (Job 13:1-2); Job knows this well, but for all his knowledge of it he desires to plead his cause before God, he will speak unto the Almighty. This desire and purpose, however, are crossed by the thought of the use which his friends make of the Divine wisdom against him, and he is diverted from his great object to administer a rebuke to them—but ye are forgers of lies. Job 13:4-12 are therefore a digression, the main object being resumed in Job 13:13; the digression, however, is profoundly interesting. In clause one Job tells his friends that their assumptions of his guilt and the application which they made to his case of the Divine omniscience are false; in the second he compares them to ignorant physicians, who take in hand a disease which they are incompetent to treat.
O that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom.5. This verse is suggested by the last clause of the preceding—their impotence to help was such that their silence would be the most helpful thing they could offer. There is a final sarcasm at Zophar’s speech in the reference to “wisdom”; cf. Proverbs 17:28, Even a fool when he holdeth his peace is counted wise; and the si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses, quoted by all the commentators.
Hear now my reasoning, and hearken to the pleadings of my lips.6. hear now my reasoning] Rather, hear now my rebuke. The reference is not to Job’s cause with God, this is not resumed till Job 13:13. He utters a formal indictment against his friends which he commands them to hear.
the pleadings of my lips] i. e. the reproofs of my lips, their pleadings against you, or their controversy with you, cf. Deuteronomy 17:8. These reproofs now follow, Job 13:7-9.
6–12. Severe rebuke of the three friends, in which (1) they are charged with partiality for God, and with acting the advocate for Him (Job 13:6-8); and (2) they are threatened with the chastisement of God for their insincerity, and for falsely pleading even in God’s behalf (Job 13:9-12).
Will ye speak wickedly for God? and talk deceitfully for him?7. speak wickedly] Or, wrongously, lit. speak iniquity, ch. Job 5:16, cf. Zophar’s recommendation to Job, ch. Job 11:14. For God means in His behalf, in His defence; and the words for God are emphatic.
Will ye accept his person? will ye contend for God?8. The same charge put more explicitly. To accept the person of one is to be partial on his side, cf. Job 13:10.
contend for God] i. e. will ye play the advocate for God? The charge made against his friends by Job is that they had no knowledge of his guilt, and merely took part for God against him out of servility to God. This servility was nothing but a superficial religiousness, allied to superstition, which did not form its conception of God from the broad facts of the universe.
Is it good that he should search you out? or as one man mocketh another, do ye so mock him?9. Is it good] The words may mean, will it be well (for you) that He should search (or, when He shall search)? or as ch. Job 10:3, do you like that He should search you out? The second clause should read,
Or as one deceiveth a man will ye deceive Him?
When God searches you out and looks into the secret springs of your actions do you expect to be able to deceive Him by representations or demeanour or look as one imposes on a man, who cannot “read the mind’s construction in the face”?
He will surely reprove you, if ye do secretly accept persons.10. God’s rectitude and impartiality are such that He will punish partiality shewn even for Himself—a statement which, when taken along with the imputations which Job has cast on God, shews a singular condition of his mind.
Shall not his excellency make you afraid? and his dread fall upon you?11. his excellency] His majesty affright you. They shall be paralyzed when they stand before God who searches the heart.
Your remembrances are like unto ashes, your bodies to bodies of clay.12. This verse reads,
Your remembrances shall be proverbs of ashes,
Your defences defences of dust.
The term “remembrances” means their traditional sayings, remembered from antiquity, their maxims, such as Bildad adduced, ch. 8, and Eliphaz with his Remember now! ch. Job 4:7; these shall be found to be but ashes, easily dissipated, and not able to resist. The word “defences” is used of the boss of the buckler, ch. Job 15:26, and may refer to some sort of breastwork or cover from which men assailed the enemy. These shall turn out defences of dust, lit clay, i. e. dried clay, which crumbles into dust. “Defences” here are not works for defence strictly but for offence, they are the arguments of the friends; cf. Isaiah 41:21, “strong reasons.” These great arguments which the friends used in defence of God against Job shall be found by them, when God searches them out, to be mere ashes and crumbling clay. So it turned out, cf. ch. Job 42:7 seq.
Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, and let come on me what will.13. that I may speak] Emphasis on I,—that I now may speak. The last clause intimates his resolve to speak at all risks.
13–22. Job now turns from his friends, whom he commands to be silent, to his great plea with God, resuming the intention expressed in Job 13:3. The passage has two parts, one preliminary, Job 13:13-16, exhibiting a singular picture of the conflict between resolution and fear in Job’s mind. He will go before God come upon him what will (Job 13:13). Yet he cannot hide from himself that it may be at the hazard of his life. Yet he will not be deterred; he will defend his ways to God’s face (Job 13:14-15). And yet again, this very courage which he has, arising from his sense of innocence, is a token to him that he shall be victorious (Job 13:16). The second part, Job 13:17-22. Feeling that the victory is already his he commands his friends to mark his pleading of his cause. He knows he shall be found in the right. Nay, no one will even plead against him (Job 13:17-19). Only he begs two conditions of God, That He would lift His afflicting hand from him, and, That He would not affright him with His terror (Job 13:20-22).
Wherefore do I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in mine hand?14. Wherefore do I take] Or, should I take. This and the following verse are surrounded with difficulties. The meaning of the second clause of Job 13:14 is well ascertained from usage, it is: to expose one’s life to jeopardy, Jdg 12:3, 1 Samuel 19:5; 1 Samuel 28:21, Psalm 119:109. The meaning of the first clause is doubtful, as the expression does not occur again. It is held by many that the figure is borrowed from the action of a wild beast, which seizes its prey in its teeth and carries it off to a place of security; in which case the meaning would be, Why should I seek anxiously to preserve my life? If this be assumed to be the meaning the interrogation must end with the first clause, Why should I take my flesh in my teeth? nay, I will put my life in mine hand. This is not quite satisfactory. Hence an endeavour is made by many to extract a sense from the second clause different from that sanctioned by usage, a sense indeed to appearance the opposite of it, and corresponding to the first clause. It is assumed that the phrase properly means to commit one’s life to his hand to carry it through, to fight one’s way through; in other words, to make strenuous efforts to save one’s life. This is rather a hazardous mode of dealing with language the meaning of which is established by usage. The obscurity of the first clause makes it impossible to be certain of the construction of the verse.
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.15. The general meaning of Job 13:14 must be the same however the verse is construed, though it may be expressed in two ways, viz. either, Why should I painfully strive to preserve my life? or, I am ready to risk my life (or in both ways). Job 13:15 reads most naturally,
Behold he will slay me: I will not wait:
Yet will I defend my ways to his face.
The words “he will slay me” refer to what Job anticipates may be the result of his daring to maintain the rectitude of his life to God’s face, as the second clause intimates. These two clauses are in close connexion, and the words “I will not wait” are almost parenthetical—behold he will slay me (I will not wait for a more distant death), notwithstanding I will defend, &c. Others refer the words “behold he will slay me” to Job’s certainty of speedy death from his disease. And again, some render the words “I will not wait,” I have no hope; and thus a variety of meanings all more or less suitable arises. The word to wait hardly has the sense of to hope, at least in this Book, cf. ch. Job 6:11, Job 14:14, Job 29:21, Job 30:26, and in another form in the mouth of Elihu, ch. Job 32:11; Job 32:16.
Instead of the word not before wait another reading gives for him, or for it. This is the reading of many ancient versions; and the rendering of the Vulgate, etiamsi occiderit me in ipso sperabo, has been followed by most modern translations, as by our own. Such a sense, however, does not suit the connexion. If this reading be adopted, some such sense must be given to the clause as that preferred by Delitzsch: Behold he will slay me—I wait for him: only I will defend, &c.; that is, I wait for His final stroke.
He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.16. He also shall be] Rather, this also.
for a hypocrite shall not] Rather, that a godless man will not; see on ch. Job 8:13. A godless man will not dare to go before God; but Job dares and desires; and this courage, sweet evidence to himself of his innocence, he says will be his salvation, that is, will secure him victory in his plea with God. He hardly distinguishes between his own consciousness of innocence and his innocence itself and the proof of it. He is so conscious of it that he is sure it will appear before God, cf. Job 13:18 and the passage ch. Job 27:8 foll.
Hear diligently my speech, and my declaration with your ears.17–22. Assured of victory, he commands his friends to mark his pleading of his cause.
Behold now, I have ordered my cause; I know that I shall be justified.18. I know that I shall be justified] i. e. be found in the right, ch. Job 11:2.
Who is he that will plead with me? for now, if I hold my tongue, I shall give up the ghost.19. Who is he that will plead with me] i. e. plead against me, enter to oppose me with good reasons—who will bring a valid argument against me? The words are a triumphant expression of the feeling that no one will or can, cf. Isaiah 50:8.
for now if I hold my tongue, &c.] Rather, for then would I hold my peace, and give up the ghost; that is, in case any one should appear against him with proof of his sin. The words form a splendid climax to the declaration of his consciousness of innocence. He is sure he shall be found in the right, nay, none will be found to contend with him; if he thought any one could he would be silent and die.
Only do not two things unto me: then will I not hide myself from thee.20, 21. Yet the thought recurs before whom he is to appear and against whom he has to maintain his plea, and he begs God to grant two conditions, cf. ch. Job 9:34-35.
Withdraw thine hand far from me: and let not thy dread make me afraid.
Then call thou, and I will answer: or let me speak, and answer thou me.22. With these conditions he is ready to appear either as respondent or as appellant.
Ch. Job 13:22 to Job 14:22. Job pleads his cause before God
Having ordered his cause and challenged his friends to observe how he will plead, Job now enters, with the boldness and proud bearing of one assured of victory, upon his plea itself. There is strictly no break between the passage which follows and the foregoing; the division is only made here for convenience’ sake. It would scarcely be according to the author’s intention to make Job 13:23 the plea, and assume that, as God did not answer the demand there made, Job’s plea took another turn. The question whether Job actually did expect that he would be replied to out of heaven can hardly be answered. We must, however, take into account the extreme excitation of his mind, and the vividness with which men in that age realized the nearness of God and looked for His direct interference in their affairs and life. According to the modes of conception which appear everywhere in the Poem, there was nothing extravagant in Job’s expecting a direct reply to his appeal; for that such an answer might be given is evidently the meaning of Zophar’s words, ch. Job 11:6; and in point of fact the Lord does at last answer Job by a voice from heaven, ch. 38. seq.
The plea itself has a certain resemblance to that in chaps. 7 and 10, but is more subdued and calm. The crisis is now really over in Job’s mind. Though he has not convinced his friends, he has fought his way through any doubts which their suspicions and his afflictions might have raised in his own thoughts. The courage with which he is ready to go before God he feels to be but the reflection of his innocence; and this feeling throws a general peace over his spirit, which regrets over the brevity of his life, and perplexity at beholding God treat so severely so feeble a being as himself, are able only partially to disturb. After the few direct demands at the beginning to know what his sins are (Job 13:23), his plea becomes a pitiful appeal unto God, from which the irony of former appeals is wholly absent. As before, he contrasts the littleness of man and the greatness of God, but his conception both of God and man is not any more, so to speak, merely physical, but moral. He speaks of the sins of his youth (ch. Job 13:26), and of the universal sinfulness of man (ch. Job 14:4), and appeals to the forbearance of God in dealing with a creature so imperfect, and shortlived.
First, Job demands to know what his sins are, and wonders that God who is so great would pursue a withered leaf like him, and bring up now after so long the sins of his youth—one who wastes away like a garment that is moth-eaten (ch. Job 13:23-28).
Second, this reference to his own natural feebleness widens his view to the condition of the race of man to which he belongs, whose two characteristics are: that it is of few days, and filled with trouble. And he wonders that God would bring such a being into judgment with Him; when the race of man is universally imperfect and a clean one cannot be found in it. And he founds an appeal on the fated shortness of man’s life that God would not afflict him with strange and uncommon troubles, but leave him to take what comfort he can, oppressed with only the natural hardships of his short and evil “day” (ch. Job 14:1-6).
Third, this appeal is supported by the remembrance of the inexorable “nevermore” which death writes on man’s life. Sadder is the fate of man even than that of the tree. The tree if cut down will bud again, but man dieth and is gone without return as wholly as the water which the sun sucks up from the pool; his sleep of death is eternal (Job 13:7-12).
Fourth, step after step Job has gone down deeper into the waters of despair—the universal sinfulness of mankind and the inexorable severity of God; the troubles of life of which one must sate himself to the full; its brevity; and last of all its complete extinction in death. The waters here reach his heart; and human nature driven back upon itself becomes prophetic: the vision rises before Job’s mind of another life after this one, and he pursues with excited eagerness the glorious phantom (Job 13:13-15).
Finally, the prayer that such another life might be is supported by a new and dark picture which he draws of his present condition (Job 13:16-22).
How many are mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin.23. Job begins his plea with the demand to know the number of his sins—how many iniquities and sins have I?—and in general to be made aware of them. He means what great sins he is guilty of, sins that account for his present afflictions. He does not deny sinfulness, even sins of his youth (Job 13:26); what he denies is special sins of such magnitude as to account for his calamities. Job and his friends both agree in the theory that great afflictions are evidence that God holds those whom He afflicts guilty of great offences. The friends believe that Job is guilty of such offences; he knows he is not, and he here demands to know what the sins are of which God holds him guilty.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?24. Wherefore hidest thou thy face] This does not mean, Wherefore dost thou refuse to answer me now? the reference is to God’s severity in afflicting him, as is shewn by the words “holdest me for thine enemy,” cf. ch. Job 19:5, Job 35:2 seq.
Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? and wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?25. Wilt thou break] Or, Wilt thou affright, that is, chase. The “driven leaf” and the “dry stubble” are figures for that which is so light and unsubstantial that it is the sport of every wind of circumstance. So Job describes himself, in contrast with God, and asks, Is thy determination to assail this kind of foe the explanation of my afflictions?
For thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.26. for thou writest] Or, that thou writest. To “write” is to prescribe, or ordain, Isaiah 10:1; Hosea 8:12.
makest me to possess] Or, inherit. Job acknowledges sins of his youth, not of his riper manhood, and he conceives that his present afflictions may be for his former sins, which in his past fellowship with God he had deemed long forgiven. It is not to be supposed that he looks back on gross youthful sins, but on such as youth is not free from, and as he feared in his own children, ch. Job 1:5. Cf. the prayer of the Psalmist, Psalm 25:7.
Thou puttest my feet also in the stocks, and lookest narrowly unto all my paths; thou settest a print upon the heels of my feet.27. Thou puttest] Rather, and puttest my feet in &c. The verse describes his afflictions under three figures, all denoting arrest, impossibility of movement or escape, and chastisement. The first words are brought up by Elihu, ch. Job 33:11, cf. Jeremiah 20:2; Acts 16:24.
settest a print upon the heels] Rather, and drawest thee a line around the soles of my feet. The figure means that God rigidly prescribed his movements, drawing bounds, which he must not overstep, around his feet. He is a prisoner under rigid surveillance.
And he, as a rotten thing, consumeth, as a garment that is moth eaten.28. And he as a rotten thing] Or, one who as a rotten thing. Job no more speaks of himself in the first person, but in the third, because he thinks of himself as one of the human race in general, which is feeble and short-lived.