Job 23
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 23–24. Job’s Reply to the Third Speech of Eliphaz. Job continues to miss any Moral Government of the World by God

As before, in the two preceding cycles of debate, Job’s mind is too much absorbed in contemplation of the painful mystery of God’s providence, which he had set before his view in ch. 21, to be able yet to turn away from it and give attention to the direct charges of wickedness which Eliphaz made against him (ch. Job 22:1-10). The riddle of the painful earth still fascinates him, the injustice and cruel wrong that goes unpunished, the misery of the poor and innocent, and the peaceful end of flagrant transgressors, who are “of those who rebel against the light” (ch. Job 24:13). What he misses in the world is any true retributive rule of God (ch. Job 24:1), who “gives no heed to wrong” (ch. Job 24:12). The two chapters give broad expression to this thought, first, in reference to Job himself, ch. 23; and second, in regard to the world of mankind in general, ch. 24.


Ch. 23. The mysterious injustice suffered by Job at the hand of God

First, Job 23:2-7, with his mind full of the sense of his own innocence, and of the mysterious wrong which he suffers from God, Job gives new and importunate expression to the wish that he knew where to find God, and that he could come to His tribunal and judgment-seat. Then he would set his cause fully before Him, and hear from the Almighty His plea against him, sure that his innocence would appear and that he would be delivered for ever from his judge.

Second, Job 23:8-12, from this dream of a judgment-seat of God such as the judgment-seat of a human judge who would “give heed” to him, Job suddenly awakens to the feeling of what his actual position is. He cannot find God, whose presence he feels; He everywhere eludes him. Nay, He does this of purpose, knowing Job’s innocence and that if He tried him he would come forth as gold, for all his life long he has kept His way and not departed from the commandments of His lips.

Third, Job 23:13-17. But He is unchangeable in His purpose. He has resolved to destroy Job, and who can turn Him from that on which He has set His mind? It is this arbitrary, mysterious way of God that confounds and paralyses Job’s mind, not his calamities or his death in itself.

Then Job answered and said,
Even to day is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning.
2. The A. V. is almost certainly wrong in its rendering of this verse, though a more satisfactory rendering is hard to give. The text is probably faulty. Literally tendered according to the usual meaning of the words the verse reads, even to-day is my complaint rebellion, my hand is heavy upon my groaning. The A. V. has assumed, after the Vulgate, that the word usually meaning “rebellion” (mri) is a form of the word “bitter” (mar), or that the latter word should be read. It has also assumed that “my hand” may mean the hand (of God) upon me, i. e. “my stroke.” But this is scarcely possible; “my arrow,” ch. Job 34:6, being no true parallel. Further, it has assumed that the well-known phrase “to be heavy upon,” e.g. Psalm 32:4, may mean “to be heavy above,” i. e. heavier than my groaning. This also is scarcely to be believed. On the other hand it is difficult to extract sense from the literal rendering given above. The expression “my complaint is rebellion” may be used from the point of view of the three friends: even to-day (still) is my complaint accounted rebellion, though my hand lies heavy upon my groaning, i. e. represses it; the meaning being, that Job was accounted rebellious by his friends, while in fact his complaint and groaning in no way came up to the terrible weight of his calamities—the same idea as in ch. Job 6:2. Then the following verses proceed to describe the cause he has for complaint. Or the words “my complaint is rebellion” may express Job’s own feeling: “I refuse to submit to my afflictions, or acknowledge that they are just.” In this case the next words: “my hand lies heavy on my groaning” must mean “my hand presses out my groaning in a continual stream.” But this is an extraordinary sense to put on the phrase “to lie heavy upon.” Others, assuming that the text is corrupt, make alterations more or less serious in words, as “His hand” for “my hand” in the second clause. So already the Sept.

Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!
3. his seat] i. e. His judgment-seat, or tribunal.

3–7. Job ardently desires that he could come to God’s judgment-seat to plead his cause before Him; and that God would give heed to him and answer him. Then assuredly his innocence would be established.

I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me.
5. Job would not only plead his own cause, but he would hear from the Almighty what charges He had to make against him; comp. ch. Job 10:2, Job 13:23. and especially ch. Job 31:35-37.

Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me.
6. This verse runs:

Would he plead against me in the greatness of his power?

Nay, but he would give heed unto me.

The words express the thought which the idea of appearing before God’s judgment-seat immediately suggests to Job—“Do I mean that God should exhibit His almighty power against me? far from that, but that He would listen to me.” His wish is that God would hear his arguments and answer him as a human judge who gives heed to the plea of the accused, laying aside His omnipotent power with which He now crushes him; comp. ch. Job 9:32, Job 13:20.

There the righteous might dispute with him; so should I be delivered for ever from my judge.
7. This verse, as rendered in the A.V., seems to mean that in such circumstances (Job 23:3-6) a righteous man might plead his cause before God. Rather the words run literally, then a righteous man would be pleading with him, i. e. then it would appear that the man who pleads with Him (i. e. Job) is righteous. This sense fits into the parallelism of the second clause.

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him:
8–9. From this fascinating dream of a Divine tribunal after the manner of that of a human judge, Job awakens to realise the actual circumstances in which he is placed. God, everywhere present, everywhere eludes him; he feels His omnipotent power, but in vain seeks to see His face.

On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him:
But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
10. The reason of God’s thus hiding Himself and refusing to allow Himself to be approached is that He knows Job’s innocence, but is resolved to treat him as guilty and bring him to death (Job 23:13).

But he knoweth the way that I take] Rather, for He knoweth, &c.; lit. the way that is with me, i. e. the conduct I pursue, and the thoughts I cherish. Job refers in these words to his innocency (Job 23:11-12).

when he hath tried me I shall] Rather, if He tried me I should come forth as gold. God refuses to permit Job access to Him, or to plead his cause before Him, because He knows his innocence, and that if He tried him he would come forth as pure gold.

My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined.
11. hath held his steps] Or, held fast to His steps, i. e. followed closely His footsteps; comp. Isaiah 2:3.

11–12. Fuller particulars given by Job of “the way that is with him”—his innocent, upright life.

Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.
12. more than my necessary food] Lit. more than (or, above) my own law; i. e. perhaps, more than the law of my own mind or inclination. The words recall the exhortation of Eliphaz, ch. Job 22:22. Any reference to food seems out of place.

But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.
13–17. Job’s innocency though known to God is disregarded by Him. He is unchangeable in His resolution, and He has resolved to destroy him.

For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him.
14. For he performeth] Or, Yea He will perform, or, accomplish. The “thing appointed” for Job is his death through his malady, which the Almighty has resolved upon. This is the profound enigma to Job; but it is far from being a solitary one: “many such things are with Him”—the instance is but one out of many similar ones that happen under God’s rule of the world of mankind; comp. ch. Job 21:23 seq.

Therefore am I troubled at his presence: when I consider, I am afraid of him.
15. It is this thought of the moral riddle which his history presents, and of the moral iniquity that characterizes God’s government, that perplexes and paralyses Job.

at his presence] Or, before him, i. e. because of Him, or, at the thought of Him; comp. “when I consider” in next clause. The thought that God acts in such a manner confounds Job.

For God maketh my heart soft, and the Almighty troubleth me:
16. For God maketh] Or, and God. The emphasis is on God; it is God,—the thought that God should act in this unrighteous manner—that makes his heart “soft,” i. e. makes him faint-hearted and terror-stricken.

Because I was not cut off before the darkness, neither hath he covered the darkness from my face.
17. This verse reads,

For I am not dismayed because of the darkness,

Nor because of myself whom thick darkness covereth.

The words refer back to the language of Eliphaz, ch. Job 22:11, “or seest thou not the darkness?” The “darkness” is the fatal calamity that has overtaken Job, a frequent use of the word. What dismays Job, or strikes him dumb with moral awe, is not his calamity in itself, nor himself (or, his face) marred and distorted by disease, but this, that it is God who has inflicted the calamity upon him, not because he is guilty, but in the arbitrary and unjust exercise of His almighty power. This is the point in this whole speech, both in ch. 23 and ch. 24; Job misses any true moral rule in the world. The A. V. seems to make the enigma consist in this, that Job was not removed by death before such afflictions overtook him. But this would at best have substituted one enigma for another.

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