Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 9–10. Job’s reply to Bildad
The Discourse though formally a reply to Bildad seems to touch also upon things said in the speech of Eliphaz. It is rather difficult to divide into paragraphs, not being calm and logical but passionate and hurried and passing on by rapid steps from one point to another all more or less connected, and fusing all together in the glow of a fire the colours of which are awe before an omnipotent Power, and moral terror and indignation mixed with piteous despair at the indiscriminate severity with which it crushes men.
Job starts with a sneering adhesion to the maxim of his friends, How can man be righteous with God? by which he means, How can man make his righteousness appear, though he has it, seeing God’s might will overpower him in all attempts to substantiate it? This idea is carried on throughout ch. 9. At the end of this chapter there is a pause. The sufferer has exhausted his idea in his terrible pictures of the Divine might and the hopeless paralysis of the Creature before His Majesty in any meeting with Him to vindicate its own innocence.
But now as he pauses for a moment and looks around on his condition, the idea returns with a new force and fills his mind, and pushes him out upon a new stream of complaint. And as in ch. Job 7:12-21 he had exhausted possibility in speculating what it could be in man or himself that provoked the Almighty’s hostility to him, he now boldly enters the Divine mind itself and explores every corner of it in the hope of discovering what thought or feeling or defect in God it could be that led Him thus to afflict and destroy him in a way in such contradiction to His former gracious treatment of him. Baffled in every effort he leaps to the desperate conclusion that His present treatment of him reveals God’s real character, and that His former favour and care had been lavished on him only that at the last He might the more effectually torment him.
Thus the Discourse falls into two great sections:
Ch. 9. God’s might and the terror of His Majesty will prevent man from substantiating his innocence in his plea with God.
Ch. 10. Job’s efforts to discover in the Divine mind the secret of the terrible afflictions with which God visited him.
Ch. 9. God’s Might and the Terror of his Majesty will prevent man from establishing his innocence in his plea with God
Starting with the question, How can man substantiate his innocence in the face of God’s overpowering might (Job 9:2-3), Job passes on to a delineation of this Divine power, which he conceives as a terrible irresistible Force, which moves mountains, and shifts the earth from its place; which dictates to the sun that he shine not; which made the mighty constellations of the sky; and whose workings are beyond the compass of the human mind to grasp (Job 9:4-10).
Then passing from the material world to creatures he imagines this Power coming, say, upon himself, unseen, beyond intelligence (Job 9:11), irresistible, irresponsible (Job 9:12), and cites as an instance good for all the memorable defeat of the abettors of Rahab, the helpers of Rahab succumbed to him, how then should I answer him? (Job 9:13-14). What Job describes is a meeting of God and man that the latter may uphold his innocence against Him, or perhaps any meeting of God and man; and such a meeting has Job to face in the attempt to establish his innocence. He must be overpowered and fail though guiltless:—if I were innocent I could not assert my innocence, I must fall down and supplicate my omnipotent Opponent (Job 9:15). This feeling of helplessness before a crushing power altogether overmasters Job and rouses him to a recklessness which is that of despair, and going back upon his words, if I were innocent, he cries, I am innocent, innocent and guilty He destroys alike; the earth is given into the hands of the wicked, He covers the faces of the judges thereof—if it is not He, who then is it? (Job 9:16-24).
But now the paroxysm being over Job proceeds more calmly to speak of his own condition, which is but an illustration of what is everywhere, seen, but sorrow and perplexity now prevail over indignation. He describes the pitiful brevity of his life (Job 9:25-26). And with a touching pathos he tells how he sometimes resolves to leave off his sad countenance and brighten up, but the thought that God has resolved not to hold him innocent again crushes him, he has to be guilty, and all his efforts to shew himself to be clear are vain (Job 9:27-31). And he rounds off his speech with a reference to that with which he began, the central difficulty: God is not a man that man might answer Him; there is no umpire between Him and man to impose his authority on both; but if He would lift His afflicting rod from Job and not affright him with His Majesty, he would speak without fear, for his conscience is void of offence (Job 9:32-35).
Then Job answered and said,2. It is not quite easy to see what form of the maxim of the friends it is to which Job gives his sneering assent in this verse, when he says, To be sure I know that it is so. In Job 9:10 he quotes words from Eliphaz, ch. Job 5:9, verbatim, and he may refer to the form in which this speaker put forward the principle common to them all, Shall man be righteous before God? ch. Job 4:17. In this case the second member of the verse merely explains the words that it is so,
Of a truth I know that it is so:
How shall man be righteous with God?
Job, however, gives a different turn to the words, meaning by them, How shall man substantiate his righteousness, and make it to appear, when he has to maintain it in the face of the overpowering might of God? (Job 9:3). Or, Job may attach his reply to Bildad’s question, Will God pervert right? (ch. Job 8:3). To which he replies: Of course—but how shall man have right with God? God’s power makes right. Job does not quibble with words. He speaks from the point of view of his own circumstances and the construction which he put on them. His afflictions were proof that God held him guilty, while his own conscience declared his innocence. But he was helpless against God’s judgment of him. In the view of his friends and all men, and even himself, his afflictions were God’s verdict against him. And his answer is that man must be guilty before God because he cannot contend with an omnipotent power resolved to hold him guilty.
I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?
If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand.3. if he will contend] Or, if he would; if he (man) should desire to contend with God. “To contend” is a legal term meaning to enter a plea with, the idea of a court or judge being in the mind of the speaker. Here man is supposed to have a plea with God on the question of his innocency, or on any question involving his righteousness. The question in Job 9:4, “Who hath hardened himself against Him?” makes it probable that man is here considered the appellant. Others take the subject to be God: if He were pleased to contend with him (man), cf. Job 9:14; Job 9:16. This suits the second half of the verse, but seems less suitable to the general connexion.
he cannot answer him] Or, he (man) could not answer him (God) one of a thousand of the questions with which in His infinite wisdom (Job 9:4) He would ply him.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?4. wise in heart] i. e. in mind, corresponding to “mighty in power.”
hardened himself] Probably hardened his neck, i. e. braved him, Proverbs 29:1.
hath prospered] lit. been safe, or as we say, “with impunity.”
Which removeth the mountains, and they know not: which overturneth them in his anger.5–10. Description of God’s omnipotent power as it displays itself in the material world.
they know not] Suddenly and unexpectedly, Psalm 35:8; Jeremiah 50:24.
Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble.6. The reference is probably to earthquakes. The earth is conceived as a structure supported on pillars, ch. Job 38:6; Psalm 75:3. The conception was poetical; if the pillars were supposed anything actual, they were probably the roots of the great mountains which extended downwards and bore up the earth, as the part of them above the earth supported the heavens.
Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars.7. The reference may be to days when from storm and darkness the sun seems not to rise, or to eclipses and sudden obscurations of the heavenly bodies.
Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.8. The point lies in the gigantic power of God who “alone” and of Himself stretched out the heavens; cf. the expression of the same idea of power, Isaiah 40:12; Isaiah 44:24. In Isaiah 40:22 it is said that God stretches out the heavens as a curtain and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in. Our “firmament” is a relic of a false astronomy for which scripture is not responsible.
waves of the sea] lit. heights of the sea, cf. heights of the earth, Amos 4:13. The “sea” here is scarcely the celestial waters, Psalm 29:3. God is represented as walking on the sea when its waves mount up to heaven, and His voice may be heard in the thunder.
Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south.9. The Hebrew names are ‘âsh (‘ayish ch. Job 38:32), keseel, and keemah. These names may possibly denote the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades or seven stars; there is, however, considerable uncertainty. The word keseel means “fool,” which is to be interpreted as the Syr. and Chal. in this place, giant, cf. Genesis 6:4, that is, some heaven-daring rebel, who was chained to the sky for his impiety. Such mythological ideas belong to a time anterior to authentic history, though as still lingering in the popular mind they are alluded to in such poems as Job. In Isaiah 13:10 the word is used in the general sense of constellations. Keemah perhaps means heap, and is a natural name for the Pleiades. Others have interpreted the expressions differently (see Delitzsch Comment. p. 127).
the chambers of the south] are probably the great spaces and deep recesses of the southern hemisphere of the heavens, with the constellations which they contain. These being known to exist, but only suggested to the eye, are alluded to generally.
Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number.10. The description of the operation of God’s might in the material world concludes with a general statement that this operation surpasses all power of comprehension by the human mind. The words are exactly those of Eliphaz ch. Job 5:9, but while to Eliphaz all God’s operations have an ethical meaning and subserve one great purpose of goodness, to Job they seem the mere un-moral play of an immeasurable Force. This force was of course a Person, for an impersonal force is an idea unknown to the Shemitic mind. But this force seemed all the more tremendous to Job from his having no idea of second causes or of what we call laws of nature; the phenomena of the universe, even the most stupendous, were the immediate work of this mighty agent.
Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not: he passeth on also, but I perceive him not.11. This power is subtle and invisible in its presence, felt but impossible to grasp.
11–24. From the operation of this terrible force in the physical world Job passes on to describe its display among creatures, and to shew how it paralyses and crushes them.
Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou?12. It is irresistible and irresponsible.
taketh away] Carries off, as a beast of prey its booty.
who can hinder him] Or, turn him back.
If God will not withdraw his anger, the proud helpers do stoop under him.13. if God will not withdraw] Rather, God withdraws not. His fury is persistent and inexorable till it has accomplished its purpose, cf. ch. Job 23:13-14.
the proud helpers do stoop] Rather, the helpers of Rahab did stoop. The “helpers” are the abettors, the partizans and company of Rahab; and the clause illustrates by an example, the highest example that could be chosen, the statement in the first clause, God withdraws not his anger; to this wrath even the aiders of Rahab succumbed. (1) “Rahab” means pride or arrogancy. But the “helpers of pride” or the “proud helpers” is an expression too indefinite to occur in the present connexion, where, in addition, the perf. bowed beneath him, points to a distinct historical event, adduced as an illustration. (2) In Psalm 87:4 Rahab is a name for Egypt; so Psalm 89:10, Isaiah 30:7 (for, “their strength” read Rahab), Isaiah 51:9. Any historical illustration, however, from the history of Egypt in connexion with Israel is not to be looked for in this Book, the scene of which is laid in an age anterior to the Exodus. Direct allusions do not occur to the history of Israel. Allusions of any kind are rare, but such as are made are to the general history of mankind before Israel became a nation, cf. ch. Job 22:16, a reference to the flood or the cities of the Plain. (3) In Isaiah 51:9 the parallel clause to “cut Rahab (Egypt) in pieces,” is, “wounded the Dragon.” Again in Psalm 74:13-14 the parallel to “didst divide the sea” is “brakest the heads of Leviathan.” From this it appears that Egypt was called Rahab, Dragon or Leviathan with reference to its native monster, which was taken as the symbol of the nation and its character (cf. Psalm 68:30 margin). All this leads finally to the conclusion that Rahab is the monster of the sea, which is probably nothing but the sea itself, as appears from Job 26:12. In the poetical nature-myth this stormy sea, assaulting heaven with its waves, was personified as a monster leading his helpers on to wage war with heaven, but was quelled (ch. Job 26:12) by the might of God. This is the instance of God’s power adduced by Job. That the Poet makes use of the floating fragments of superstition and mythology still existing in the popular mind has nothing surprising in it.
How much less shall I answer him, and choose out my words to reason with him?14. Job now draws an inference from this instance to his own—how much less should he meet God in a hostile plea?
choose out my words] In a plea against God circumspection and careful selection of language would be needful, but the self-possession and calmness requisite for this would be destroyed by His overbearing might, and the terror of His majesty.
Whom, though I were righteous, yet would I not answer, but I would make supplication to my judge.15. though I were righteous] i. e. though I were in the right, though my cause was just against Him.
make supplication to my judge] Rather, to mine adversary, or opponent. Had Job right on his side he could not maintain it; overpowered by the irresistible and awful might of his opponent he would desert his own just plea and supplicate his adversary.
If I had called, and he had answered me; yet would I not believe that he had hearkened unto my voice.16. In Job 9:14-15 the plea against God is not supposed actually entered upon; the idea of such a plea presents itself to Job’s mind and he pictures the results that would follow upon himself; in Job 9:16 he assumes the plea entered upon, that he had actually cited God, who had appeared, and he describes what would follow at this stage.
if I had called] i. e. cited God as a party in my plea against Him.
that he had hearkened] Rather, that he would hearken. Had Job with a superhuman courage cited God, and had God appeared, Job would not believe that He would listen to him, cf. Job 9:35, ch. Job 13:21 seq., Job 23:6 seq.
For he breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds without cause.17. he breaketh] Rather, he would break. Similarly, and multiply. The word translated break may mean to seize and swallow up, that is, to sweep away, cf. ch. Job 30:22.
17–21. These verses describe what would ensue in the supposed case that God had actually responded to Job’s citation. He would not listen to Job’s plea but would crush him with His infinite power. The words do not describe what Job actually suffers at present or has suffered, but what he would have to endure then, though the colours of the terrible picture are drawn from his actual sufferings.
He will not suffer me to take my breath, but filleth me with bitterness.18. will not suffer] Rather, would not suffer. And so, but fill.
If I speak of strength, lo, he is strong: and if of judgment, who shall set me a time to plead?19–21. These three verses read as follows,
If you speak of the strength of the mighty, Here I am! (saith He)
If of judgment, Who will set me a time?
If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.20. Were I in the right, mine own mouth would condemn me,
Were I perfect, He would prove me perverse:
20. In Job 9:20 Job is the speaker; he describes the effect upon him of the might of God,—though he had right on his side his own mouth would make him out wrong; out of terror he would speak at random or say the opposite of what he should say. The word perfect is used as in ch. Job 1:1, not in an absolute sense, but to mean upright and free from transgression. The subject in the second clause is more probably God than it, i. e. my mouth; were Job perfect the effect of God’s power would be that he would appear perverse or wicked.
Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life.21. I am perfect! I regard not myself,
I despise my life.
The speaker in Job 9:19 is God, at least it is He who uses the words, “Here I am,” and “Who will set me a time?” The rest may be words of Job, in which case the words “saith He” must be supplied to these two phrases alone. It gives a more vigorous sense to suppose the whole verse spoken by God. The frightened imagination of Job with much dramatic force represents God as suddenly flinging Himself into, the arena before all, with a consciousness of irresistible might and irresponsibility, ready for any encounter of strength and defying any to bring Him to law. The action of “appointing one a time” or ordaining a day, is of course not the action of the plaintiff but of a judge, and the words imply the irresponsibility and superiority to all law of the speaker.
21. This feeling of being helpless in the hands of an overmastering might, which has no regard to his innocence, drives Job on to a reckless defiance of his adversary, and he will assert his innocence in His face though it should cost him his life. Going back upon the words, “if I were perfect,” he cries, I am perfect, I regard not myself, I despise my life. The phrase, I regard not, care not for, myself, is lit. I know not myself, cf. Genesis 39:6, Psalm 1:6. On the last words cf. ch. Job 7:20. The speaker feels that his bold assertion of his innocence may provoke his adversary altogether to destroy him, but he proclaims his indifference.
This is one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked.22. This verse reads,
It is all one, therefore I say,
He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked,
that is, indiscriminately. Here there is not only the former statement of ch. 7. that the destiny of man at the hands of God is hard and crushing, but in addition an express denial of the position of Bildad that God’s dealing with men was discriminating. An emphasis falls on He. It is not quite easy to decide what is meant by it is all one. The close connexion with Job 9:21 makes it most natural to understand: it is all one whether I live or die; so that the Job 9:21-24 are all one outburst, in which the Almighty is described as a crushing force that bears down on all good and bad without distinction.
If the scourge slay suddenly, he will laugh at the trial of the innocent.23. Further illustration of this character of God.
the scourge] i. e. the plague, as pestilence, famine, war, and the like, Isaiah 28:15.
will laugh at the trial] Or, mocks at the despair, cf. Job 6:14.
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked: he covereth the faces of the judges thereof; if not, where, and who is he?24. The same illustrated on the widest scale. Job 9:23 spoke of particular calamities afflicting portions of the earth. At the despair of the innocent under these God mocks, distant and indifferent. Now Job makes the sweeping statement that the earth is one scene of injustice. The wicked prevail in it, it is given into their hand, to rule and dominate within it. Comp. ch. 24.
covereth the faces of the judges] that they cannot see the right, to give the innocent justice. It is God who covereth their faces; He not only does not hinder wrong, He ensures that it prevail and have the upper hand.
if not, where, and who is he] Rather, if not He, who then is it—who does all this (Job 9:24), if it is not He? Others besides Job have asked such questions.
In this passage Job’s spirit reaches the lowest abyss of its alienation from God. From this time onwards his mind is calmer and the moral idea of God begins to reassert its place in his thoughts. Here God appears to him as a mere omnipotent power, with a bias, if He have one, to evil and cruelty, and he speaks of Him distantly as “he” (cf. ch. Job 3:20). His conception is but the reflection of his own case, as he conceived it, flung over the world, though his conception of his own case was false. To a Shemitic mind who had no conception of second causes or of general laws or of a scheme of providence, but regarded God as the immediate author of every single occurrence, the danger must always have been imminent of being driven to conclude that God was the author of the misery and wrong and cruel hardship under which men groaned.
In these verses Job traverses directly the maxim of his friends in regard to the discriminating righteousness of God, and the examples which he cites he might have used to demolish their theory. But he is little concerned with their theory here; later he does use his examples to drive them from the field. But here he is occupied with himself, with the impossibility of making his innocence which he is conscious of to appear and be admitted; for, of course, to himself and to all others his afflictions were the testimony of God to his guilt. And thus, though in the last verses his view extends to the world in general, he comes back in Job 9:25 to himself.
Now my days are swifter than a post: they flee away, they see no good.25. Now my days] Better, and my days—under the weight of this unjust and oppressive Force (Job 9:5-24).
than a post] i. e. a courier, 2 Samuel 18:22; 2 Samuel 18:24.
They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.26. the swift ships] the ships of reed. These skiffs, constructed of a wooden keel and the rest of reeds, are the “vessels of bulrushes” of Isaiah 18:2. They carried but one or two persons, and being light were extremely swift. The ancients were familiar with them; Plin. xiii. 11, ex ipso quidem papyro navigia texunt; and Lucan, Phars, iv. 36,
conseritur bibula Memphitis cymba papyro,
(quoted in Gesenius, Com. on Is. i. p. 577).
Job as usual heaps images together to picture out the brevity of his life, cf. ch. Job 7:6 seq. Here the images are new, a runner, a skiff of reed, an eagle swooping on his prey.
If I say, I will forget my complaint, I will leave off my heaviness, and comfort myself:27. my complaint] i. e. as always, my complaining, ch. Job 7:13.
my heaviness] lit. my faces, my sad mien, 1 Samuel 1:18.
comfort myself] lit. brighten up, ch. Job 10:20; Psalm 39:13. The word in Arab, (balija) means to have a space clear of hair between the eyebrows, hence to have an open, bright countenance. A certain woman described the Prophet (Mohammed) as ablaju’lwajhi, bright in countenance. Then the word came to mean also to be bright, of the dawn or the day.
I am afraid of all my sorrows, I know that thou wilt not hold me innocent.28. As Job’s afflictions were the proof of his guilt in the estimation of God, “to hold him innocent” means to remove his afflictions, as the first clause suggests.
If I be wicked, why then labour I in vain?29. if I be wicked] Rather, I shall be guilty, that is, I have to be, shall be held, guilty; God has resolved so to consider me. Everywhere in these verses guilt and afflictions mean the same thing, the one being the sign of the other.
If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean;30. with snow water] This is according to one reading (bemê). According to another (bemô), with snow. The latter is better; snowwater is turbid and foul, ch. Job 6:16; snow is the symbol of the most perfect purity, Isaiah 1:18, Psalm 51:7. Locman’s 23rd fable illustrates this Oriental idea very well: “A stripped himself of his clothes one day and began rubbing his body with snow. He was asked, Why do you rub yourself with snow? He answered, Perhaps I shall become white. A wise man passing by said to him, You fellow, don’t fatigue yourself, your body may well make the snow black, but it will never make you white. The moral is &c.”
make my hands never so clean] lit. cleanse my hands with lye, or, potash.
Yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.31. An expressive figure for, to cover again with uncleanness. The naked body (Job 9:30) is supposed plunged in the ditch, and the clothes refuse to cover so foul an object.
For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment.32–34. The preceding verses described how unavailing all Job’s efforts were to make out his innocence in the face of the fixed resolution of God to hold him guilty. Now Job comes back to what is the real difficulty,—God is not a man like himself.
Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both.33. any daysman] i. e. any umpire, or, arbiter. The word possibly comes from the Lat. diem dicere, to fix a day for hearing a cause.
For what art thou
That mak’st thyself his dayes-man to prolong
The vengeance prest?
Spenser, Fae. Q. ii. 8. 28. (Wright, Bible Word-Book.)
lay his hand] i. e. impose his authority on both, and do justice between the two. There is no prophecy of the incarnation in these verses. But there is a cry of the human heart amidst its troubles that it might meet and see God as a man. Then man’s relations to Him might be understood and adjusted. That the cry is uttered under a misconception of God and of the meaning of His providence does not make the expression of man’s need any the less real or touching, for in our great darkness here misconceptions of God prevail so much over true conceptions of Him.
Let him take his rod away from me, and let not his fear terrify me:34. The subject is God, not the daysman—let God remove His rod, His afflictions.
his fear terrify me] Or, his terror affright me. The “terror” of God is His overawing majesty, cf. ch. Job 13:21, Job 33:7, the last passage with direct reference to the present one.
Then would I speak, and not fear him; but it is not so with me.35. If God would meet Job as a man, removing His afflicting rod and laying aside His awful majesty, Job would speak out his innocence and plead his own cause without fear.
but it is not so with me] Rather, for I am not so in myself—in my own consciousness I am not so, or such, that I should fear Him. “In myself” is lit. with myself, cf. ch. Job 10:13, Job 23:14, Job 27:11, and St Paul’s by myself, 1 Corinthians 4:4.