Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 26. Job rivals Bildad in magnifying the greatness of God
Bildad in his short speech magnified the greatness of God, and His purity, before which even the heavens are not clean. Job had heard all this before, it did not touch the enigma of his life and of providence. Hence, first, he pours out the full vials of his sarcasm on Bildad’s irrelevant statements, ch. Job 26:2-4. He knows God’s greatness not less than Bildad, if knowledge of it only helped him in any way or had any bearing on the dispute, which was not concerning the Greatness of God, but concerning His Justice.
And second, to shew that he does not need to be taught concerning God’s greatness, he proceeds to give a far more brilliant picture of it than Bildad had attempted, shewing how it manifests itself,
(1) in the underworld of the Shades, Job 26:5-6;
(2) in the world above, the earth and heavens, Job 26:7-13; ending with the sublime thought that, mighty and majestic as the operations of God are which are seen in these parts of the universe, they are but the fringes or outskirts of His ways, only a whisper in comparison to the full thunder of His power.
But Job answered and said,
How hast thou helped him that is without power? how savest thou the arm that hath no strength?2. how savest thou?] Rather, how hast thou saved? i. e. succoured.
2–4. Job sarcastically expresses his admiration of Bildad’s speech, and gratitude for the help it has been to him.
How hast thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? and how hast thou plentifully declared the thing as it is?3. plentifully declared the thing as it is] Rather, plentifully, or, abundantly, declared knowledge, or, wisdom. The word is that which occurs in ch. Job 5:12; see notes. “Him that is without power,” “that hath no wisdom” &c., is of course Job himself; and he expresses his admiration of the contribution made by Bildad to the clearing up of his perplexities and the solution of the riddle of his life. It is not quite clear whether Job means to say: “I am weak and unnerved, perplexed and ignorant, and how mightily in all this thou hast helped me!” or, whether he is not thinking with Bildad’s mind and giving bitter expression to the thoughts which that speaker doubtless entertained of his own performance, and of the effect it should have on the person whom he addressed: “Doubtless thou hast abundantly instructed and strengthened the weak and ignorant man before thee!” The former sense is the more natural, the other fits better into connexion with Job 26:4.
To whom hast thou uttered words? and whose spirit came from thee?4. to whom hast thou uttered words?] Job refers to himself and asks, Who is it that thou hast spoken such things to? The same feeling of conscious superiority to his friends and disdain of the instructions they were giving him reappears here, which came out already in ch. Job 12:4. It is the same feeling as was expressed by the magnates of Jerusalem in reference to the continual harping of Isaiah: “Whom will he teach knowledge, and whom will he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk and drawn from the breast?” Has he children before him that he gives precept upon precept, line upon line, &c.? Isaiah 28:9.
and whose spirit came from thee?] Or, came forth from thee. Job asks, Under what lofty inspiration hast thou spoken? Is it, indeed, the very spirit of God that has found expression through thy mouth? The words carry a sarcastic reference to the poverty of Bildad’s speech, possibly also to the oracular air with which it was uttered.
Dead things are formed from under the waters, and the inhabitants thereof.5, 6. God’s presence and power in the underworld. Job 26:5 reads according to the pointing,
The Shades tremble
Underneath the waters and their inhabitants.
The “Shades” (Heb. Refáim, the flaccid) are the departed persons, whose place of concourse is Sheol. Comp. Isaiah 14:9, where “the dead” are the shades, so Isaiah 26:14 (the deceased). This abode of deceased persons lies deep down under the waters of the sea and all the inhabitants of these waters, for the sea belongs to the upper world. Yet the power of God is felt even at this immeasurable distance from His abode on high. Bildad had referred to the power of God as “making peace” on high; Job points to what is a more wonderful illustration of His power, it pervades the underworld, and the dead tremble under its influence. Whether the statement is general, or whether perhaps there may not be allusion to great convulsions in nature, shaking the earth, and rousing up out of their lethargy even the drowsy, nerveless, shades with terror, may be doubtful.
5–13. That Job has no need to be instructed regarding the greatness of God he now shews, by entering upon an exhibition of its operations in every sphere of that which exists, Hades, the Earth and Heaven, in which he far outstrips the feeble effort of Bildad.
Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.6. Hell] is in Heb. Sheol, the place where deceased persons congregate, the world beneath. It is not a place of pain, though a dark and dreary abode, ch. Job 10:21-22. Those there are the dead, who still subsist, though they do not live. “Destruction,” Heb. abaddon, is a synonym for Sheol, ch. Job 28:22. This as well as all things is naked to the eyes of Jehovah. Comp. Amos 9:2; Psalm 139:8.
He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.7. It may be doubtful whether “the north” refers to the northern part of the earth or to the northern heavens. In favour of the latter reference is the fact that the expression “stretch out,” often said in regard to the heavens (e.g. ch. Job 9:8), is not elsewhere used with reference to the earth, and it is scarcely probable that “the earth” would be used as a parallel to “the north,” a part of the earth. The northern region of the heavens also, with its brilliant constellations clustering round the pole, would naturally attract the eye, and seem to the beholder, who looked up to it through the transparent atmosphere, to be stretched out over the “empty place,” that is, the vast void between earth and heaven. That a different mode of representation is found elsewhere, the arch of the heavens being spoken of as reposing on the earth (Isaiah 40:22), is of little consequence. Where religious wonder and poetical feeling, not scientific thought, dictate the language in which nature and its phenomena are described, uniformity of conception or expression is not to be looked for. And the words seem to refer to the appearance of the heavens by night, when the horizon is not so visible, and the dark “void” between earth and heaven more impressive. Others think of the northern region of the earth, the region where lofty mountains rise, and whose stability without support seems most wonderful. It is difficult in this case, however, to conjecture what the void is over which the “north” is stretched; the opinion of Ewald that it is the abyss of Sheol is too adventurous.
hangeth the earth upon nothing] To hang “upon” is to hang from; the representation, therefore, is that the earth is suspended, attached to nothing above it which sustains its weight, not that it hangs with no support under it. The representation obviously is the other side of that in reference to “the north” in the first clause. The eye was impressed by the great void between earth and the starry heavens. The latter were stretched over this abyss, upheld by nothing under them, a striking instance of the power of God; while the broad face of the earth lay firm below this void though hung from no support that upheld it. The idea of modern astronomy that the earth is a ball, poised free on all sides in space, is of course not found here.
7–13. God’s power and greatness in heaven and earth.
He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them.8. The wonder of the clouds, floating reservoirs of water, which do not burst under the weight of waters which they contain. Men bind up water in skins or bottles, God binds up the rain floods in the thin, gauzy texture of the changing cloud, which yet by His power does not rend under its burden of waters. Comp. Proverbs 30:4; Job 38:37.
He holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it.9. he holdeth back] Or, he shutteth up, or, enshrouds. The “face of his throne” is perhaps the outside of it, or that view which it would present if seen; and the meaning is that He enshrouds His throne so that it is not seen by those below. The idea cannot be that this is an occasional phenomenon, as if sometimes His throne could be seen, for though He has set His glory on the heavens, Psalm 8:2 (comp. Exodus 24:10; Psalm 18:12), this is but a reflection of the inner glory. The conception rather is that clouds are ever about Him, in His lofty abode, and even accompany and enshroud Him in all His movements; ch. Job 38:1; Amos 9:6; Psalm 104:3-13.
He hath compassed the waters with bounds, until the day and night come to an end.10. The verse reads,
He hath drawn as a circle a bound upon the face of the waters,
At the confines of light and darkness.
The second clause is literally; even to the confines of light with (or, by) darkness, i. e. as far as where the utmost bound of light borders with darkness. The idea seems to be this: around the surface of the earth flows the ocean (“the face of the waters”); upon this like a circle all around the earth the arch of heaven comes down; all within this bound is light, for the sun rises on one side of it and goes down at the other; beyond this circle lies the utter darkness. Comp. ch. Job 38:19 seq.
The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof.11. The “pillars” of the heavens, if the conception be not wholly ideal, may be the lofty mountains on which the heavens seem to rest, and which, as they are lost in the clouds, are spoken of as belonging to heaven. At God’s rebuke, when His voice of thunder rolls, or when earthquakes shake the earth, they tremble with terror of His majesty,
He divideth the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smiteth through the proud.12, 13. These verses probably read,
12. He quelleth the sea with his power,
And by his understanding he smiteth through Rahab.
13. By his breath the heavens are bright,
His hand pierceth the fleeing serpent.
Others for “quelleth” or stilleth, prefer the meaning “stirreth up.” Comp. Isaiah 51:15; Jeremiah 31:35. The word means “to terrify,” and the parallelism of the second clause “smiteth through Rahab,” which refers to the subduing of a raging monster, suggests that the sea when “terrified” or rebuked is in a state of fury, and is quelled by the power of God. So already the Sept. κατέπαυσεν. This sense is also more suitable to the words “by his power.” On Rahab see notes, ch. Job 9:13.
By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent.13. by his spirit he hath garnished] Rather as above. The reference is to the clearing away of storm clouds, that darken the heavens, by the breath of God.
hath formed] Rather as above, pierceth. The words express the half poetical, half mythological conception that the darkening in storm or in eclipse of the heavenly bodies was caused by the Dragon swallowing them up. See on ch. Job 3:8, Job 7:12. There is no reason to identify the swift or fleeing serpent with the constellation of the Dragon. Comp. Isaiah 27:1, with Mr Cheyne’s excellent note.
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?14. The verse reads,
Lo these are the outskirts of his ways;
And how small a whisper is that which we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?
The power of God is illustrated in the mighty works described in Job 26:5-13. Yet what we see of Him in these is but the ends, the outskirts of His real operations. And what we hear of Him is but as a faint whisper; the thunder of the full unfolding of His power who can understand? The nervous brevity and sublimity of these words are unsurpassable.