Job 17
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
My breath is corrupt, my days are extinct, the graves are ready for me.
1. my breath] Rather as margin, my spirit is spent, i. e. consumed. The “spirit” is the principle of life.

the graves are ready for me] lit. graves are mine; the meaning being: the grave is my portion; cf. Job 17:13 seq. Coverdale: I am harde at deathes dore.

Are there not mockers with me? and doth not mine eye continue in their provocation?
2. Are there not mockers with me] lit. mockery. The interrogative form is possible, but more likely the verse is a strong asseveration, uttered in a tone of indignant impatience. The connexion indicates that the reference is to the illusory hopes and promises of restoration in this life which the friends held out to Job. He complains that he is beset with such mockeries. This seems also the meaning of the “provocation” on which his eye has to dwell, though in this their offensive exhortations to repentance may also be included. This provocation of theirs his friends were always inflicting upon him, troublesome comforters as they were (Job 16:2). The true state of things Job knows very well (Job 17:1; Job 17:10-16); their delusive hopes are not things he can hope for; and he turns in impatience from them with a greater importunity unto God, and appeals to Him for that which may yet be attained, and which above all things he longs for (Job 17:3).

Lay down now, put me in a surety with thee; who is he that will strike hands with me?
3. The verse reads,

Give a pledge now! be surety for me with thee!

Who is there (else) that will strike hands with me?

Lay down now] i. e. lay or put in a pledge. Now is not temporal, but a particle of importunate entreaty.

put me in a surety] As above, be surety for me with thee. The first expression, give a pledge, is more fully expressed by the second, be surety for me with thee; and the question, Who (else) will strike hands with me? refers to the gesture or action by which suretyship was undertaken, viz. by striking hands.; cf. Proverbs 6:1; Proverbs 11:15 (margin), Proverbs 17:18, Proverbs 22:26. First, Job beseeches God to become surety for him; that is something to be done in the present. But second, a suretyship necessarily refers to the future; though undertaken in the present it is to be fulfilled later. This is expressed by the words with thee, i. e. with God. Job beseeches God to undertake now that He will cause his innocence to be yet acknowledged with God. The same division of God into two parties, God who persecutes Job and wrongs him and God who becomes surety for Job and undertakes to see his cause righted with God, appears here as before in Job 16:21; see something similar Hebrews 7:22. The phrase be surety for me is translated undertake for me, Isaiah 38:14, cf. Psalm 119:122; and it might be made a question whether the suppliant went so far as to expect any visible or audible sign from heaven.

3–9. New appeal to God that He would undertake for Job or give him a pledge that he would cause his innocence to be acknowledged by God, Job 17:3; with the grounds for this prayer as before, Job 17:4-9.

For thou hast hid their heart from understanding: therefore shalt thou not exalt them.
4. This verse answers the question in Job 17:3, Who (else) will strike hands with me? None else will, for the hearts of the three friends and all others have been blinded, and can take no true view of the sufferer’s cause.

exalt them] i. e. give them the upper hand or victory; cf. Job 42:7-8. To give the friends the upper hand would be to give an issue to Job’s cause such as answered their expectations. The connexion may be: give a pledge now, none else will, for thou hast blinded them, and having blinded them thou wilt not give an issue that meets their expectations.

4–9. These verses support the petition in Job 17:3. If God will not undertake for Job none else will, for the hearts of his friends have been blinded. This thought of the perverse obstinacy and cruelty of his friends leads Job again to a gloomy survey of his whole condition (cf. Job 16:22 to Job 17:2). He is become a public contempt to mankind and brought to the lowest ebb of mortal weakness and humiliation (Job 17:6-7). Such moral perversions on the earth astonish the righteous and rouse them to indignation against the wicked in their prosperity (Job 17:8). Yet they will not permit themselves to be misled by such things to err from the paths of rectitude. Full of moral terror as these perversions are the righteous will in spite of them cleave to his righteousness. He will feel that he is in possession of the only true good, and even because of them and though he sees the world under the rule of God given over to wrong, he will wax stronger and stronger in well doing (Job 17:9)—an astonishing passage.

He that speaketh flattery to his friends, even the eyes of his children shall fail.
5. This verse is very obscure. In some way or other it must carry on Job’s severe reflection on the conduct of his friends (Job 17:4), and express it in a stronger way. The word rendered in A.V. flattery usually means a portion or share, that which falls to one on a division of land, booty, and the like, or that which is one’s possession. This must be the meaning here. The sense may be,

They give over (their) fellow for a prey,

While the eyes of his children fail.

The expression seems to be of the nature of a proverb, which illustrates the cruel treatment to which men are subjected—they are given over, lit. assigned or declared, as a prey or possession to others (to whom, as debtors and the like, they are sold), while no pity is had for their perishing children. The language is general, though the conduct of Job’s friends towards him furnishes an illustration of the truth. The word “fellow” is plur., “fellows” or friends, the plur. being used to express the general idea; the sing., referring to each individual, appears in his children. Job regards his own treatment as an instance of similar ruthlessness, and his friends and those around him as shewing a similar cruelty. The passage expresses a sentiment similar to that in ch. Job 6:27. Others render, he that betrayeth (or, denounceth) friends for a prey, may the eyes of his children fail, or, the eyes of his children shall fail. But a malediction or a threat on Job’s part does not suit his tone at this moment, nor the general scope of the passage, in which he is drawing a gloomy picture of his own treatment at the hands of men and God.

He hath made me also a byword of the people; and aforetime I was as a tabret.
6. This verse reads,

I am made also a byeword or the peoples,

And am become one to be spit on in the face.

The words, I am made might mean, as A.V., He hath made me, the reference being to God. Undoubtedly Job turns away here from men and refers to a broader evil, the inexplicable course of the world in God’s hand. But probably the allusion to God is made in this indirect way. By the “peoples” Job means mankind in its various tribes, for his calamity and the wickedness that was inferred from it would be widely known. Comp. what is said by Job of his treatment by the debased races of men about him, ch. Job 30:9 seq.; and see a similar statement in Bildad’s reply, ch. Job 18:20.

aforetime I was as a tabret] Rather as above; lit. I am (must be) a spitting-in-the-face. A tabret is a timbrel or tambourine (comp. tabering, i. e. beating, upon their breasts, Nahum 2:7); the Heb. word topheth (spitting) has been wrongly assumed by the A.V. to be of the same meaning as toph (timbrel).

Mine eye also is dim by reason of sorrow, and all my members are as a shadow.
7. The sorrowful condition to which Job was reduced by his afflictions.

Upright men shall be astonied at this, and the innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite.
8, 9. Effect produced on religious minds by the sight of such sufferings inflicted on the godly. Such moral perversions in the rule of the world “confound” religious men, and rouse their moral indignation against the wicked, who are prosperous; cf. similar thoughts Psalm 37:1 seq., Psalm 73:2 seq. The word this refers to Job’s case as an instance of the moral wrong that is observed in the rule of the world. On “hypocrite,” i. e. godless, see ch. Job 8:13.

The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.
9. The righteous also shall hold on] Or, But the righteous shall hold on. The righteous will not allow themselves to be misled from the path of rectitude by these moral wrongs which they see prevail in God’s rule of the world, they will cling in spite of them to their righteous life. Nay such obscurities and wrongs will but make the joy which they possess in righteousness the dearer and deeper, and instead of faltering they will be (rather, will wax) stronger and stronger. Though Job speaks here in the name of the “righteous” and “clean of hands” it is his own sentiments and resolution that he gives expression to, and the passage is perhaps the most surprising and lofty in the Book. In ch. Job 19:25 Job, conscious of his innocence and assured by his heart that he is a God-fearing man, is enabled to reach out his hand to grasp what must yet in the future be the solution of the riddle of his present life. And, no doubt, a similar thought precedes the present passage (ch. Job 16:18 seq.). It does not appear, however, that this thought is present to his mind here. Rather he is again completely enveloped in the darkness of his present life, the awful problem of which confounds him and all religious men. But no mysteries or wrongs shall make him falter in the way of righteousness. And the human spirit rises to the height of moral grandeur, when it proclaims its resolution to hold on the way of righteousness independently both of men and God.

But as for you all, do ye return, and come now: for I cannot find one wise man among you.
10. do ye return, and come] Job bids them renew, if they please, their attempts to solve his problem or deal with his case; as often as they did so they only revealed their incapacity and foolishness.

for I cannot find one wise man] Rather, I shall not find. Their renewed attempts would have no better success than their former ones, they would be found by Job as foolish as before.

10–16. Final repudiation by Job of the false hopes of recovery which the friends held out to him. He knows better, his hope is in the grave.

Turning with a last word to his friends Job bids them renew as often as they chose their attempts to explain his condition, they should only shew themselves ignorant and incapable (Job 17:10). The hopes they held out were vain; his days were at an end and all the enterprises and dearest purposes of his life for ever broken off (Job 17:11-12). His hope was in the grave, where alone he would find rest (Job 17:13-16).

My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart.
11. Very different from their delusive anticipations was the truth in regard to Job’s condition. His days were past, and his life with all its cherished purposes cut off. The thoughts of his heart is lit. as margin, the possessions, i. e. the enterprises and purposes which he cherished and clung to as that dearest to him.

They change the night into day: the light is short because of darkness.
12. This verse appears to be a description by Job of the delusive and foolish proceeding of his friends.

They change the night into day] The night of calamity and death in which Job is enveloped and into which he is entering more deeply they change into the day of life and renewed prosperity. While in truth the shadows of the final night encompass Job the friends are for ever pretending that the bright day of restoration is going to dawn (cf. ch. Job 5:17 seq., Job 8:20 seq. &c.). The second clause of the verse is obscure.

the light is short because of darkness] The meaning of the A.V. is not easy to perceive. The words most naturally continue Job’s account of the representations of his friends, and express what they hold out. The fair literal rendering is either, the light is near the face of darkness; or, the light is nearer than the face of darkness. The light, the same as the “day” of the first clause, is life and prosperity; this the friends make out to be near, close upon, the face of darkness—Job’s present condition of affliction. The other translation, “nearer than the face of darkness,” gives a fuller sense to the phrase face of darkness. By this expression Job means the darkness of death, whose face was visible and manifest, so close was it upon him.

If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness.
13. If I wait, the grave] Rather as above. The grave is in Heb. Sheol, the place of the departed. The word wait is the same as hope, Job 17:15.

13–15. The natural sense and connexion of these verses is as follows:

13.  If I wait for the grave as mine house;

If I have spread my bed in the darkness;

14.  If I have said to the pit, thou art my father,

To the worm, thou art my mother, and my sister:

15.  Where then is my hope?

And as for my hope, who shall see it?

I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister.
14. to corruption] Rather as above, the pit, or grave, Psalm 16:10. The words father, mother and sister, expressing the nearest relationship, indicate how closely Job now feels himself connected with the grave, he wholly belongs to it, and he greets it as taking the place of all related to him on earth.

And where is now my hope? as for my hope, who shall see it?
15. If in fact and in his own feeling Job so surely belongs to death, where is the brilliant hope which his friends hold out, and who shall ever see such a hope realized? or, who can perceive a trace of it? His hope in truth is another (Job 17:13).

They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust.
16. The truth in regard to his hope is this, something different from the tale of his friends,

It shall go down to the bars of the pit,

When once there is rest in the dust.

The pit is in Heb. Sheol. As a great subterranean prison-house it has bars or bolts, for it has also gates, ch. Job 38:17; cf. Isaiah 38:10, Psalm 9:13. In the New Test, its “keys” are spoken of, Revelation 1:18. The word together means perhaps, “at the same time”; his hope shall go down to the grave, when at the same time, or, “when once” he himself finds rest in the dust.

See the Additional Note to ch. 19. in the Appendix.

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