Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 29–31. Job’s final survey of his whole circumstances and cause
The passage falls into three parts, corresponding to the separate chapters:
First, ch. 29, a sorrowful and regretful retrospect of his past happiness.
Second, ch. 30, a contrasted picture of his present abject condition.
Third, ch. 31, a solemn repudiation of all offences that might account for such a change, and a new entreaty that God would reveal to him the cause of his afflictions.
Ch. 29. A pathetic picture of Job’s former prosperity and respect
The passage has these parts:
First, Job 29:2-10, a sorrowful review of the happiness of former days, in which the things that made up this happiness, now departed, are enumerated: (1) God’s keeping of him (Job 29:2), His light upon his path (Job 29:3), and His intimacy and protection over his tent (Job 29:4); (2) the presence of his children about him (Job 29:5); (3) the prosperity, almost more than natural, that flowed in upon him in ways unsought (Job 29:6); and (4) above all the respect and reverence paid him by his fellow citizens, as he sat in their council and went among them (Job 29:7-10). This last is the great thought that fills the chapter and forms the contrast to the wretchedness and the contempt from the meanest of mankind which he now endures (ch. 30).
Second, Job 29:11-17, the reason of this universal reverence of men for him—his benevolence and impartial justice.
Third, Job 29:18-20, an almost involuntary reference to his calm and sure outlook into the future amidst this universal respect.
Fourth, Job 29:21-25, after which the great thought of the passage, his high place among men and the delight which his benevolent intercourse with them was to him, again rushes into his mind.
Moreover Job continued his parable, and said,
Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me;2. Job begins with a pathetic expression of regret as he remembers happier times. His former happiness was due to God’s preserving or watching over him, and the loss of it was due to God’s forsaking him.
When his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness;3. This verse expands “preserved” or “watched over” in Job 29:2.
his candle shined upon] Or, his lamp shined over. God’s lamp shone above him, and lighted his path, so that the darkness before him was made to be light, Isaiah 42:16. God’s “lamp” is a figure for His favour and enlightenment and prospering of him.
As I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle;4. days of my youth] lit. days of my autumn. It is doubtful if Job means to describe by this expression any period of his own age, namely his manhood. He rather compares his former time of prosperity to the season of the year, the autumn, the time of fruit-gathering and plenty and joy, and also thankfulness to God (clause second).
the secret of God] i. e. the intimacy and friendship of God; comp. on ch. Job 19:19. God’s friendship or intimacy watched over his tent.
When the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were about me;5. Naturally the first element in Job’s happiness in those past days was the presence of his children.
When I washed my steps with butter, and the rock poured me out rivers of oil;6. The second, though a less, element of his happiness was his overflowing abundance.
when I washed my steps] Or, when my steps were washed in butter, i. e. bathed—a figure for the overflowing abundance amidst which he walked.
the rock poured me out] As marg., poured out with me or beside me. The unfruitful rock poured out rivers of oil beside him; his blessings were so abundant that they came unsought and seemed above nature.
When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street!7. The third and chiefest element of his past happiness was the respect of men, and the joy of intercourse with them. This is the main subject of the chapter.
the gate through the city] Or, the gate by the city. Job, a rich landowner, probably did not live in the city but on his estate that adjoined it. He took part, however, in all the life of the city, and sat in the council that guided its affairs. The “gate” is spoken of as the place where the Council or Assembly of the town met. Such a “gate” is usually a building of considerable size, like an arcade, and hence it is spoken of here as an independent edifice by or beside the city. Others render up to the city, supposing that the city, as not unusual, was built on an eminence.
in the street] lit. broad place, i. e. market place, a synonym for “gate.”
The young men saw me, and hid themselves: and the aged arose, and stood up.8. hid themselves] The young men withdrew out of reverence, not knowing perhaps how to meet and rightly salute one so great as Job was.
arose, and stood up] The aged are supposed already met in the gate and seated; on Job’s approach they rise and remain standing till he has sat down.
The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth.9, 10. The meaning seems to be that Job’s arrival put a stop to speech and discussion already going on, which was not resumed until he should be heard.
The nobles held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth.
When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me:11. This verse may read,
For the ear that heard of me blessed me,
And the eye that saw me gave witness to me.
Those who had only heard of him by report “blessed” him, that is, “called him happy,” as one whom blessing and prosperity must follow because of his benevolence and mercy to the needy; and they who saw him as he lived among men bore testimony to his goodness—as Job 29:12 indicates.
11–17. The ground of this universal reverence—Job’s benevolent care of the poor and his strict justice to their cause.
Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.12. and him that had none to help him] Perhaps, the fatherless, that had none to help him, only two classes being referred to, the “poor” and the “fatherless.”
The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem.14. and it clothed me] Rather, and it clothed itself in me. Job clothed himself with righteousness, so that as a man he was lost in the justice that clothed him; and justice clothed itself in him—he on the other hand was justice become a person.
I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame.15. The blind he enabled to see that which of themselves they could not perceive; the lame he enabled to attain to that which of themselves they were unable to reach.
I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.16. the cause which I knew not] Rather, the cause of him whom I knew not. Not merely the poor about him, to whom he might feel that he owed help, but even strangers who had a cause that needed unravelling he aided by his wisdom and justice.
And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.17. The figure is that of a beast of prey, who has its booty already in its teeth. The verse carries on Job 29:16; even when the unjust oppressor seemed already to have triumphed and carried off his prey, it was torn from his jaws.
Then I said, I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the sand.18. in my nest] i. e. surrounded by those belonging to him; he should die before them, not they before him, and in the midst of his possessions.
my days as the sand] Sand is the usual rendering of the word occurring here—an image of countless number. Most modern writers translate as the Phœnix, in accordance with Jewish tradition. The Sept. renders as the branch of the palm (φοίνικος). The Heb. word however can hardly have been translated palm, a meaning which does not belong to it, and the present Sept. text may have arisen from a misunderstanding of its original reading, like the Phœnix. The word “nest” in the first clause favours this translation. This bird was fabled to live 500 years, and to consume himself and his nest with fire, only to arise anew to life out of the ashes. Hence the name became a proverb, expressing the highest duration of life, φοίνικος ἔτη βιοῦν, to live as long as the Phœnix. The fable being current in Egypt the author of the Book might readily become acquainted with it.
18–20. Job’s outlook on the future, amidst this benevolent and active life. He anticipated length of days and continued prosperity.
My root was spread out by the waters, and the dew lay all night upon my branch.19. Comp. the image, ch. Job 14:8-9. The dew lying all night upon his branch would keep it fresh and green.
19, 20. These verses continue the description of Job’s outlook into the future in those happy days. They read better thus,
19. My root shall be spread out to the waters,
And the dew shall lie all night upon my branch;
20. My glory shall be fresh in me,
And my bow shall be renewed in my hand.
My glory was fresh in me, and my bow was renewed in my hand.20. His “glory,” i. e. high respect and rank, would continue “fresh,” lit. new, never be tarnished or diminished. His bow, symbol of strength and power, would like a tree renew its freshness and suppleness in his hand.
Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel.21–25. Return to the main thought of the passage, his place among men, his brothers.
After my words they spake not again; and my speech dropped upon them.22. dropped upon them] i. e. like a refreshing, quickening rain, when they were wearied and perplexed in counsel.
And they waited for me as for the rain; and they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain.
If I laughed on them, they believed it not; and the light of my countenance they cast not down.24. The verse means rather,
I laughed on them, when they had no confidence,
And the light of my countenance they cast not down.
Job, with his broader insight and more capable counsel, smiled on those who were perplexed and despondent; what seemed insurmountable difficulty or threatened disaster to them, seemed to him a thing easy to overcome and nothing to create alarm; while on the other hand the despondency of others was never able to cloud the cheerfulness of his countenance, so full was his mind of resource.
I chose out their way, and sat chief, and dwelt as a king in the army, as one that comforteth the mourners.25. A concluding picture of the joy which he had in the fellowship of men, and how they recognised his worth and set him as a king among them, and yet how he with his high advantages and great wealth felt towards them, being among them as one that comforteth the mourning.
I chose out their way] The words probably mean that Job “chose” the way that led to the society of men, he gladly sought intercourse with them, and delighted himself in their fellowship. The other sense, I chose out the way for them to go, is less natural.