Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Eliphaz returns to the argument with the repetition of what he and his friends have said before. He reproaches Job, professes a high idea of the majesty and righteousness of God, and reiterates the assertion that the wicked man, by the sure retribution of the Divine Providence, receives the reward of his iniquity in this world. In Job 15:16 he uses strong general language, which is probably meant to reflect on Job, and the inference is suggested that Job himself, because so sorely chastened, must be wicked.
Then answered Eliphaz the Temanite, and said,
Should a wise man utter vain knowledge, and fill his belly with the east wind?(2) Should a wise man utter vain knowledge . . .—Job therefore is not wise, and his words have been vain and windy.
Should he reason with unprofitable talk? or with speeches wherewith he can do no good?(3) Should he reason with unprofitable talk?—Nay, his arguments, though pretentious and apparently recondite, are unprofitable, and can do no good.
Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God.(4) Yea, thou castest off fear.—The tendency also of Job has been to encourage a kind of fatalism (e.g., Job 12:16-25), and therefore to check the offering of prayer to God, besides setting an example which, if followed, as from Job’s position it was likely to be, would lead to murmuring and blasphemy.
For thy mouth uttereth thine iniquity, and thou choosest the tongue of the crafty.(5) Thy mouth uttereth thine iniquity.—These words may mean either “Thy mouth teacheth thine iniquity,” or “Thine iniquity teacheth thy mouth,” and the second clause must be taken adversatively or otherwise according as we understand the meaning, “Thy mouth proclaimeth thine iniquity, though thou choosest the tongue of the crafty, and so contrivest in some degree to conceal it;” or, “Thine iniquity teacheth thy mouth its eloquence, and by consequence thou choosest the tongue of the crafty.” We incline to the latter, though it is fair to say that the next verse seems rather to favour the other meaning.
Art thou the first man that was born? or wast thou made before the hills?(7) Art thou the first man that was born?—This is a retort upon Job 12:2; Job 12:7; Job 12:9, where Job had claimed equal knowledge for the inanimate creation.
Are the consolations of God small with thee? is there any secret thing with thee?(11) Are the consolations of God small with thee?—This is one of the obscure phrases of Job upon which it is very difficult to decide. The Authorised Version gives very good sense, which seems to suit the context in the following verse; but it is susceptible of other phases of meaning: e.g., “or a word that dealeth gently with thee (2Samuel 4:5), such as ours have been (?)”; or “the word that he hath spoken softly with thee” (but see Job 15:8); or, again, the consolations of God may mean strong consolations (Psalm 80:11), such as ours have been, spoken in strong language,” in which case the second clause would mean, “Was thine own speech gentle?” “Small with thee” means, of course, too small for thee.
Why doth thine heart carry thee away? and what do thy eyes wink at,(12) What do thy eyes wink at?—Or, Why do they wink? as though it was only thou who perceivedst it.
What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?(14) What is man?—This is the ceaseless burden.·(See Job 4:17; Job 9:2; Job 25:4, &c.)
Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight.(15) Behold.—Comp. Job 4:18; Job 5:5.
How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?(16) How much more abominable and filthy is man . . .—This strong language, thus couched in general terms, is doubtless intended to reflect on Job, otherwise it would not need to have been so strong.
Which wise men have told from their fathers, and have not hid it:(18) Which wise men have told from their fathers.—Here he adopts the language of Bildad (Job 8:8), appealing both to his own experience and that of universal tradition in an age prior to civil commotion and foreign disturbance.
The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, and the number of years is hidden to the oppressor.(20) Travaileth with pain.—This and the following verses contain the result of this experience. Here, again, we have a highly-coloured and poetical description of the oppressor, true to the character of the speaker in Job 4:12, &c. We should read Job 15:20 : The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, even the number of years that are laid up for the oppressor. It is not an independent statement, as in the Authorised Version. A sound of terror is for ever in his ears lest the spoiler should come upon him in his prosperity—he always seems to dread his war-swoop. And this condition of darkness within, which contrasts so painfully with his outward prosperity, he sees no escape from; he is over in fear of a sword hanging over him, like Damocles.
He wandereth abroad for bread, saying, Where is it? he knoweth that the day of darkness is ready at his hand.(23) He wandereth abroad for bread.—This is one of the points in which the picture seems inconsistent, because overdrawn, except that forage as well as plunder may be the object of marauding raids.
Trouble and anguish shall make him afraid; they shall prevail against him, as a king ready to the battle.(24) As a king ready to the battle.—Or, They prevail against him like a king: he is destined to be like a ball (comp. Isaiah 22:18), the tennis-ball of calamity.
For he stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty.(25) For he stretcheth out his hand.—It is instructive to note the difference in time indicated here. “Because he hath stretched out his hand against God. and behaveth himself proudly against the Almighty. He runneth upon Him with haughty neck, with the thick bosses of his bucklers; “fully protected as he supposes against the vengeance of the Most High. (Comp. Psalm 10:6; Psalm 10:11, &c.) The English version, with less probability, represents the armour as being God’s; on the contrary, it is the wicked man’s prosperity which hath thus blinded and hardened him. (See Deuteronomy 32:15; Psalm 17:10.)
And he dwelleth in desolate cities, and in houses which no man inhabiteth, which are ready to become heaps.(28) Which are ready to become heaps.—This completes the description of the haughty tyrant. He dwelt in cities that are to be desolate, or that are desolate, which are ready to become heaps. This may point either to what they were in his intention, or to what he had made them, or to what, in the opinion of the speaker, they were likely to become, notwithstanding his having fortified and dwelt in them.
He shall not be rich, neither shall his substance continue, neither shall he prolong the perfection thereof upon the earth.(29) He shall not be rich.—Now comes the destiny which awaits him in the judgment of the speaker. “Neither shall he prolong the perfection thereof upon the earth.” The word rendered “perfection thereof” occurs nowhere else, so that it is very doubtful what it means. Some render, “Neither shall their produce (that of the wicked) bend (luxuriantly) to the earth;” or, “their possessions or their achievements extend on the earth.”
He shall not depart out of darkness; the flame shall dry up his branches, and by the breath of his mouth shall he go away.(30) He shall not depart out of darkness.—See Job 15:22. “By the breath of his mouth shall he go away.” What this means is not very clear: probably as in Job 11:20; or, “When he expires it shall be the end of him; he shall leave nothing permanent that is destined to last;” or, “He shall pass away suddenly and completely, like his own breath.”
Let not him that is deceived trust in vanity: for vanity shall be his recompence.(31) Let not him that is deceived trust in vanity.—Or, Let him not trust in vanity deceiving himself. (Comp. James 1:26; 1Samuel 12:21.)
It shall be accomplished before his time, and his branch shall not be green.(32) It shall be accomplished.—That is, paid in full before its time.
The remainder of this chapter calls for little explanation. In it the speaker only repeats the orthodox and familiar saw that the wicked are punished in life, and therefore, by implication, the good rewarded: a maxim which fails utterly in the face of afflictions like those of Job, unless, as his friends insinuated, he was one of the wicked. After stating the doom of the ungodly, Eliphaz, in the last verse, sums up the character of those he has been denouncing. Not only are they evil in themselves, but they hatch evil; but it is evil that recoils on themselves.
For the congregation of hypocrites shall be desolate, and fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery.(34) Desolate.—This was Job’s own word (Job 3:7), and as it is an uncommon word, there may be some intentional reference to his use of it.