Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 15–21. The Second Circle of Speeches
The laudable attempts made by Job’s friends to bring him to acknowledge his sins and humble himself before God have signally failed. The sublime truths they have sought to impress on him regarding God have been without effect. He has found means to turn the point of every one of their weapons. And his passionate declarations of his innocence, and challenge of the Divine omniscience itself, with which the three friends had thought to silence him, convince them that they have to do with a man on whom just and reverent thoughts of God make no impression. The argument from the attributes of God has, indeed, been exhausted; and even if it had not, Job’s violent assault upon his friends for their use of it, and his charge that they were insincere and moved only by partizanship for God (Job 13:4 seq.), might have deterred them from arguing further in this direction. Hence the argument takes now a somewhat different form.
Job’s protestations of his innocence did not convince his friends, nor yet his challenge of God and attempt to force an answer from Him (Job 13:23 seq.). The manner of the latter shocked them by its irreverence, and the former appeared to them nothing but a crafty attempt on Job’s part to conceal his guilt. And of this guilt they were now more firmly convinced than ever (Job 15:4-6). Job’s demeanour under his sufferings only confirmed the conclusions which his sufferings themselves compelled them to draw. Perhaps his abortive appeal to heaven persuaded them that God was casting him finally off. At all events his behaviour explained to them with sufficient distinctness his afflictions, as well as made them dread a terrible issue to them, seeing Job under them could so tempt God and defy His righteousness (Job 15:6). However unwillingly, they are forced to conclude that they see in Job a type both of the calamities that befall the wicked and of their rebellious impatience under them. In this way the thoughts of the friends are drawn away from heaven to earth. God is no more their theme, but man, especially the wicked man as history and experience shew him to be dealt with in the providence of God. The effect of this change is naturally to draw the arguments of the friends closer around Job, and bring the debate to a crisis. For though the object of the three friends in drawing their dark pictures of the heaven-daring sinner and his fate is to awaken Job’s conscience and alarm him, that he may turn from his evil, their arguments are now of a kind that can be brought to the test of experience, and Job so soon as he can be induced to grapple with them has little difficulty in disposing of them.
When Job fully realizes this new turn that things are taking he is overwhelmed by it. He had anticipated that his sincere protestations of his innocence would carry conviction to the mind of his friends. But when he sees them regarding these protestations as nothing but a crafty cover of his guilt he realizes for the first time his true position. His isolation and misery come home to him in their full and bitter meaning. Men and God alike are against him and hold him guilty. For a long time Job is too much occupied with his new position to be able to turn his mind to the arguments of his friends. He is absorbed in the thought of his isolation, and dwells with affecting pathos on the thought how men hate him and flee from him. Only in his very last speech, after he has fought his way through to more composure of mind, does he seem to awaken to what the argument is which his friends are using against him, and then he deals it some crushing blows which effectually demolish it (ch. 21).
Ch. 15. The Second Speech of Eliphaz
As before Eliphaz takes the lead in the debate, and his speech strikes the key in which all the friends conduct it. His discourse attaches itself to Job’s last speech (ch. 12–14), two things in which Eliphaz lays hold of, first, Job’s contemptuous deriding of the opinions of his friends and his claim to a higher wisdom (ch. Job 12:3; Job 12:7 seq., Job 13:2); and second, his irreverence and the impiety of his sentiments (ch. Job 13:23 seq., Job 12:6). By the first the amour propre of Eliphaz is deeply hurt; and this very aged (ch. Job 15:10) and dignified counsellor, a man of pure and noble blood (ch. Job 15:19), betrays by a number of allusions to himself and his former speech (ch. Job 15:10 seq.) his sense of having been unworthily treated. Besides his irreverence in challenging God’s omniscience and seeking to thrust himself into God’s very presence, Job had spoken words destructive of all godliness, saying, that the tents of robbers were in peace, and that they that provoked God were secure (ch. Job 12:6). In opposition to such sentiments Eliphaz will shew him the truth in regard to the feelings and the fate of the wicked man. The speech thus falls into two parts:—
First, Job 15:2-16, Eliphaz’s rebuke of Job’s contemptuous treatment of his friends and assumption of superior wisdom, and his irreverence.
Second, Job 15:17-35, the doctrine of Eliphaz regarding the wicked man’s conscience and fate.
Then answered Eliphaz the Temanite, and said,2–16. Eliphaz rebukes Job’s contemptuous treatment of the opinions of his friends, and his irreverence towards God
First, starting with Job’s claim to a wisdom beyond that of his friends (ch. Job 12:3; Job 12:7 seq., Job 13:2), Eliphaz asks if it be in the manner of a wise man to use loud and empty words as arguments (Job 15:2-3). But in truth Job was more than unwise, he was impious. His demeanour and sentiments did away with all devoutness and religion. Such language as he uttered could be inspired only by deep evil in his heart; and was proof enough without anything more of his wickedness (Job 15:4-6).
Second, then coming back upon these two points, Job’s claim to wisdom and his irreverence, Eliphaz developes each of them separately.
(1) This claim to wisdom, which he puts forth, whence has he it? Was he the first man born? Did he come straight from God’s hand? Did he sit in the council of heaven and appropriate wisdom to himself? And how came he, a man not yet old, to have such preeminence in wisdom over them, some of whom were old enough to be his father, that he thought himself entitled to put away from him admonitions which were consoling truths of God’s revelation and spoken to him in gentleness and temperance? (Job 15:7-11).
(2) And why did he allow his passion to carry him away into making charges of unrighteousness against God? For how can a man be pure in God’s sight? In His eyes the heavens are not clean, much less man, whose avidity for evil is like that of a thirsty man for water (Job 15:12-16).
Should a wise man utter vain knowledge, and fill his belly with the east wind?2. Should a wise man utter vain knowledge] Or, will a wise man answer with vain, &c., lit., knowledge of wind, i. e. empty and loud, cf. ch. Job 8:2, Job 16:2. The word wise refers back to Job’s claims to superior wisdom, ch. Job 12:3, Job 13:2. Eliphaz asks, Is this the manner of one possessed of wisdom?
fill his belly with the east wind] i. e. puff himself up and then bring out of his mouth violent blasts of mere barren words; cf. Hosea 12:1.
Should he reason with unprofitable talk? or with speeches wherewith he can do no good?3. Should he reason] Or, will he reason, or better, reasoning with unprofitable talk. The verse is subordinate to the last, carrying out its idea.
Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God.4. Job was more than unwise, he was doing away with all fear of God.
castest off fear] Or, as margin, makest void, doest away with, the fear of God.
restrainest prayer] Rather, impairest reverence or devotion. The charge of Eliphaz is not merely that Job was irreligious himself, but that the tendency of his conduct and principles must be to diminish and do away devoutness and religion among men.
For thy mouth uttereth thine iniquity, and thou choosest the tongue of the crafty.5. for thy mouth uttereth thine iniquity] Rather, for thine iniquity (or, guilt) teacheth thy mouth; the meaning being that his mouth was prompted by his iniquity, used as its instrument. His inquity taught his mouth what to say.
choosest the tongue of the crafty] i. e. choosest and makest use of,—speakest as the crafty do. The charge of Eliphaz is that Job’s complaint of unrighteousness in God’s treatment of him and his assertions of his own innocence, and such words as those in ch. Job 12:6, were mere crafty pretences put forward to cover his own wickedness. If the first clause have precisely the same sense as the latter, the word “iniquity” must be translated “guilt.”
Thine own mouth condemneth thee, and not I: yea, thine own lips testify against thee.6. But in truth such utterances of his mouth clearly suggested the source which inspired them, other proof of his guilt than they was not needed. Thus in Job 15:5 Job’s language and sentiments are explained by his guilt, and in Job 15:6 his guilt is proved by his language; and both verses support the charge in Job 15:4 that he was doing away, breaking with, the fear of God.
Art thou the first man that was born? or wast thou made before the hills?7. Art thou the first man] lit. wast thou born a man first? The first man that came from God’s hand would naturally be endowed with preeminent wisdom and other attributes. Schlottmann (p. 303) quotes an ironical proverb current in India, “Yes, yes, he is the first man, no wonder that he is so wise.” The second clause, of the verse, however, as well as Job 15:8, seems to express the conception of a Being formed before the earth, either the Wisdom of Proverbs 8:22 seq., or a Being similar, cf. especially Proverbs 8:25; and the query of Eliphaz is, Art thou the very Wisdom of God? or, Art thou such a Being as the wisdom of God?
7–11. But coming back to Job’s assumption of superior wisdom, Eliphaz must ask on what it rests?
Hast thou heard the secret of God? and dost thou restrain wisdom to thyself?8. Hast thou heard the secret] Rather, didst thou listen in the council of God? Cf. Jeremiah 23:22, Psalm 89:7 (assembly = council).
dost thou restrain the wisdom] Rather, didst thou draw wisdom to thyself? i. e. appropriate or absorb wisdom. The “wisdom” here is the highest, divine wisdom. The question put is, whether Job was a a member of the Divine council, so as to have full knowledge of the mysteries of God? The Mohammedan conception of evil spirits (satans) listening and overhearing the Divine secrets is quite different from the idea here. Such spirits have no access to heaven, and seek only to filch fragments of God’s counsels. The shooting stars are bolts which God hurls at these intruding eavesdroppers; Kor. 37:6-10.
What knowest thou, that we know not? what understandest thou, which is not in us?9. Abandoning irony Eliphaz comes to the facts, which hardly bear out Job’s pretensions. His words recall those of Job, ch. Job 12:3, Job 13:2.
With us are both the grayheaded and very aged men, much elder than thy father.10. This verse should probably read,
Among us is one both grayheaded and very aged,
One older in days than thy father.
Eliphaz with a dignified indirectness in which, however, a certain personal feeling is displayed, alludes to himself. Others take the words “grayheaded” and “very aged” as collectives—among us are both the grayheaded and the very aged; in which case “among us” must mean “belonging to our tribes.” But in reproving Job’s demeanour a reference to persons absent seems out of place.
Are the consolations of God small with thee? is there any secret thing with thee?11. small with thee] Rather, are the consolations of God too small for thee? do they seem to thee beneath thy deserts and notice? Numbers 16:9; Isaiah 7:13.
is there any secret thing with thee] Rather, and a word that dealt gently with thee? The consolations or comforts of God are such as proceed from God and are authorized by Him. Eliphaz so describes his own teaching, e.g. the oracle, ch. Job 4:12 seq., which came directly from God; but also, no doubt, such consoling views of God’s providence as he shewed ch. Job 5:8 seq. In the phrase “a word that dealt gently with thee” he describes the gentle and conciliatory manner of his own first speech. He may include his friends with him in all this, but there runs throughout this discourse an under-current of references to himself.
Why doth thine heart carry thee away? and what do thy eyes wink at,12. what do thine eyes wink at] Rather, wherefore do thine eyes wink? i. e., flash or roll, sign of violent passion. In the first clause “heart” is the excited mind under strong feeling.
12–16. Turning from Job’s arrogant claims to superior wisdom Eliphaz must rebuke his violent and irreverent behaviour towards God: What is man that he should be clean?
That thou turnest thy spirit against God, and lettest such words go out of thy mouth?13. turnest thy spirit] “Spirit” may be breath, i. e., anger, fury, ch. Job 4:9 “blast”; cf. Proverbs 16:32; Isaiah 25:4. The words against God are emphatic.
lettest such words go out] lit. bringest forth words out of thy mouth. The reference is less to the kind of words spoken than to the passionate manner in which they are uttered.
What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?14. What is there to justify such passion—thy pretended innocence? What is man that he should be clean? cf. ch. Job 14:1. Eliphaz recurs again to his principles formerly enunciated, ch. Job 4:17 seq., for his former speech is in his mind throughout.
Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight.15. his saints] his holy ones, i. e. His angels, cf. on ch. Job 5:1.
the heavens] These are here the material heavens, not the celestial inhabitants, cf. ch. Job 25:5. So Exodus 24:10, “And they saw the God of Israel, and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the very heaven in its clearness”; see also Ezekiel 1:22.
How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?16. According to the Hebrew punctuation the verse runs,
How much less the abominable and corrupt,
Man, which drinketh in iniquity like water.
The word “corrupt,” only here and Psalm 14:3 (Psalm 53:3), occurs in Arab. in the sense of “turned,” sour, of milk; it is used in Heb. only in a moral sense (A. V. filthy). “Man” here is said, of course, of mankind, not specially of Job, and Eliphaz declares that his greedy avidity for evil is like that of a thirsty man for water. The words strongly indicate to Job the view which Eliphaz takes of him and his sufferings, and thus naturally form the transition to the second half of his speech.
I will shew thee, hear me; and that which I have seen I will declare;17. I will shew thee] Eliphaz assumes a high tone with Job; one is entitled to do so with a man in his unfortunate condition.
17–35. Eliphaz instructs Job regarding the troubled conscience And the Disastrous Fate of the Wicked Man
Having sufficiently rebuked Job’s presumption and irreverence Eliphaz proceeds to take up his principles, which “did away with the fear of God,” Job 15:4. They are such principles as Job gave forth ch. Job 9:22 seq., Job 12:6. The passage has two parts:—
First, Job 15:17-19, a brief preface, in which Eliphaz states that his doctrine is that of the wise of all times among the pure-blooded races of men, who have never been contaminated by mixture with foreign tribes, and whose traditions are uncorrupted.
Second, Job 15:20-35, the doctrine regarding the wicked man itself, in which there are three points: (1) the troubled conscience and presentiments of coming evil that continually haunt the evil man, Job 15:20-24; (2) the cause of this, his defiance of God and sensual life, Job 15:25-28; and (3) finally, a picture of his punishment and disastrous end, Job 15:29-35.
Which wise men have told from their fathers, and have not hid it:18. The doctrine of Eliphaz is no novelty,—it is his (Job 15:17), but it is the consistent moral tradition of the wise from generation to generation. The phrase “have told … and have not hid” means, have told openly, it is matter of public consent and teaching among them; cf. Isaiah 3:9, where the same words occur.
Unto whom alone the earth was given, and no stranger passed among them.19. And it is a tradition pure and uncorrupted by admixture of foreign elements, for it is the moral wisdom of races to whom alone the land has been given, who have dwelt always in the same seats, and never been displaced, and among whom foreign and inferior races have never penetrated.
The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, and the number of years is hidden to the oppressor.20. The sense is,
All the days of the wicked man he is in pain,
And the number of years that are laid up for the oppressor,
i. e., constantly and throughout his whole life, as long as it endures, the wicked man is in pain (or, torments himself). The word “laid up” means appointed, reserved, for the oppressor. This is said against Job’s statement, Job 12:6, that the tents of robbers were in peace.
20–35. This doctrine itself. The passage gives a picture of the conscience of the wicked man filled with presentiments of evil, in opposition to such statements as that of Job, ch. Job 12:6, and to his whole claims regarding himself.
A dreadful sound is in his ears: in prosperity the destroyer shall come upon him.21. A dreadful sound] A sound of terrors; he continually thinks he hears the sound of coming destruction.
in prosperity the destroyer shall come] A picture of the wicked man’s anticipations.
He believeth not that he shall return out of darkness, and he is waited for of the sword.22. return out of darkness] “Darkness” is calamity, and the words mean that the wicked man anticipates a calamity which shall be final, and from which, when it befals him, there shall be no escape.
he is waited for of the sword] So he feels in regard to himself; he is marked out for the sword, i. e., the hostile sword or the avenging sword of God, ch. Job 19:29; Isaiah 31:8.
He wandereth abroad for bread, saying, Where is it? he knoweth that the day of darkness is ready at his hand.23. He anticipates the time when he shall be a hungry wanderer, roving in search of bread and crying, Where is it? The picture of the rich oppressor tormented by visions of famine is very graphic.
ready at hand] Or, at his side; the dark day of calamity stands constantly beside him ready to envelop him in its shadows. Such is his own foreboding (“he knows”).
Trouble and anguish shall make him afraid; they shall prevail against him, as a king ready to the battle.24. shall make him afraid] Rather, make him afraid.
ready to the battle] Fully prepared and therefore irresistible.
For he stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty.25. he stretcheth out] Rather, stretched. The tenses in the following verses would all be better put in the past, as they describe either distinct or continued past actions. So strengthened, or emboldened himself, lit. behaved himself mightily (Isaiah 42:13 margin), or, proudly.
25–28. Reason of these terrors of conscience and presentiments of evil—his defiance of heaven and sensual life.
He runneth upon him, even on his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers:26. The whole verse means,
He ran upon him with stiff neck,
With the thick bosses of his bucklers.
The words describe the wicked man’s demeanour towards God. The figure is that of a warrior making an assault. The Heb. is “he ran upon him with neck,” Vulg., erecto collo, cf. Psalm 75:5. The “bosses” are the convex sides of the bucklers, the sides turned to the foe, who here is God.
Because he covereth his face with his fatness, and maketh collops of fat on his flanks.27. he covereth] Rather, he covered; and similarly, he made collops. The words express the idea of falling into a brutish fleshliness, which causes insensibility to all that is spiritual and resistance of it, cf. Deuteronomy 32:15; Psalm 73:7.
And he dwelleth in desolate cities, and in houses which no man inhabiteth, which are ready to become heaps.28. and he dwelleth] and he dwelt.
which no man inhabiteth] which should not be inhabited.
are ready to become] which were destined to be heaps. The idea seems to be that the wicked man settled in and rebuilt places that were under the curse of God, and destined by Him for perpetual desolation. Such places in the East are those on which God’s judgment has fallen because of some great wickedness perpetrated there. To settle in and rebuild such ruins indicates the extreme of impiety, cf. Deuteronomy 13:13 seq.; Joshua 6:26; 1 Kings 16:34.
He shall not be rich, neither shall his substance continue, neither shall he prolong the perfection thereof upon the earth.29. neither shall he prolong the perfection] Perhaps, neither shall their produce bend down to the ground; the figure being that of heavy grain, or branches thickly laden with fruit, bending down to the earth. The word rendered produce or gain is not found again and is of somewhat uncertain meaning.
29–35. The disastrous end of the wicked man.
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.30. Advance on Job 15:29, describing the sinner’s actual destruction. The figures are common; on darkness, cf. Job 15:22-23; the flame is the scorching sun or glowing wind; breath of his mouth, i. e., God’s mouth, cf. ch. Job 4:9.
Let not him that is deceived trust in vanity: for vanity shall be his recompence.31. The verse reads,
Let him not trust in vanity: he is deceived:
For vanity shall be his recompence.
Similarly, “they that plow iniquity reap the same,” ch. Job 4:8; Job 5:13. Eliphaz returns as in other passages to his former speech. “Vanity” or evil means both wickedness (first clause) and calamity or trouble (second clause). The word “recompence” means exchange, that received in barter or return.
It shall be accomplished before his time, and his branch shall not be green.32. Before his time] lit. before his day, that is, the natural day of his death, cf. ch. Job 22:16; and the clause means, in the midst of his years (Psalm 55:23) his recompence, or exchange, is fulfilled and goes into accomplishment—he is cut off. The words might also mean that his recompence accrues to him in its fulness. In the second clause “branch” is the palm-branch, or crowning tuft (Isaiah 9:14), and the figure is that of such a tree withered and dead.
He shall shake off his unripe grape as the vine, and shall cast off his flower as the olive.33. It is doubtful if the A. V. expresses a meaning which is true to nature; the vine does not shake off its unripe grapes. The words must rather express the meaning that the grapes are not brought to maturity. The word “shake off” means to “wrong” Proverbs 8:36, and probably the idea is that the vine fails to nourish its grapes and leaves them to dry and wither. This carries out the conception of Job 15:32. The general idea of these verses is that the wicked man is “subject to vanity,” his branch prematurely withers (Job 15:32), he puts forth grapes but cannot ripen them, he flowers but he fails of fruit. His endeavours in all directions come short.
For the congregation of hypocrites shall be desolate, and fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery.34. The same truth as that expressed in Job 15:31-32 now taught without figure, and reduced to a general principle.
congregation of hypocrites] Or, company of the ungodly, ch. Job 8:13; Job 13:16. “Desolate” is barren (ch. Job 3:7), unfruitful. The households of the godless are unfruitful, under God’s curse they come to nought; but it is puerile to make the grapes and flowers of Job 15:33 figures for children.
tabernacles of bribery] Bribery, a common method of perverting justice in the East, is here a general name for wrong and injustice.
They conceive mischief, and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit.35. Finally Eliphaz condenses into an expressive figure the general doctrine both of this and his former discourse, namely, that suffering and disaster follow, as by a law of nature, doing evil and wrong. In Job 4:8, “They that sow wickedness reap the same”; in this verse, “They that conceive mischief bring forth trouble”. The word rendered “vanity” here is “affliction” in Job 5:6; see notes there and on Job 4:8. Comp. Psalm 7:14; Isaiah 33:11; Isaiah 59:4.