Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then Job answered and said,XVI.
(1) Then Job answered.—Job, in replying, ceases to continue the argument, which he finds useless; but, after complaining of the way his friends have conducted it, and contrasting the way in which they have treated him with that in which he would treat them were they in his case, he proceeds again to enlarge upon his condition, and makes a touching appeal to Heaven, which prepares us for the more complete confession in Job 19. He ends by declaring that his case is desperate.
I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.(2) I have heard many such things.—Trite rather than true, or at least the whole truth.
“Common is the common-place,
And vacant chaff well meant for grain.”
Shall vain words have an end? or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest?(3) Shall vain words have an end?—The English idiom rather requires, “Shall not vain words have an end? for if not, what emboldeneth or provoketh thee that thou answerest?” Eliphaz had contributed nothing to the discussion in his last reply; he had simply reiterated what had been said before.
I also could speak as ye do: if your soul were in my soul's stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you.(4) If your soul.—i.e., person=“ If you were in my place, I could heap up words,” &c. It is doubtful whether this is in contrast to what comes afterwards in the fifth verse, as in the Authorised Version, or whether it may not be in parallelism with it; thus: “I would make myself a companion to you—condole and sympathise with you. in words, and shake my head at you as a mark of sympathy.” The phrase differs somewhat from that in Psalm 22:7; Isaiah 37:22, where to shake the head expresses contempt and derision.
Though I speak, my grief is not asswaged: and though I forbear, what am I eased?(6) Though I speak . . .—“I cannot but reply, though to reply gives me no relief.”
But now he hath made me weary: thou hast made desolate all my company.(7) But now he hath made me weary.—He turns again, in his passionate plaint, to God, whom he alternately speaks of in the third person and addresses in the second. “Thou hast made desolate all my company,” by destroying all his children and alienating the hearts or his friends.
And thou hast filled me with wrinkles, which is a witness against me: and my leanness rising up in me beareth witness to my face.(8) Witness against me.—As in Job 10:17. The wrinkles in his body, caused by the disease, were a witness against him; and certainly, in the eyes of his friends, they furnished unquestionable proof of his guilt.
He teareth me in his wrath, who hateth me: he gnasheth upon me with his teeth; mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me.(9) He teareth me in his wrath.—Terrible as the language is that Job has used against God, he seems here almost to exceed it, for he calls Him his adversary. It is hardly possible not to understand the expression of God, for though he immediately speaks of his friends, yet just afterwards he openly mentions God.
God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked.(11) The ungodly and the wicked are the terms he retorts upon his friends, and they have certainly earned them. Now follows—
I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark.(12) I was at ease.—A highly poetical passage, in which Job becomes, as it were, a St. Sebastian for the arrows of God. It is hardly possible to conceive a more vivid picture of his desolate condition under the persecuting hand of the Almighty.
I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and defiled my horn in the dust.(15) I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin.—Referring, probably, to the state of his skin, which had become hard and rugged as sackcloth. As the second half of the verse must be figurative, there seems to be no reason to understand the first half otherwise.
My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death;(16) Foul.—Rather, perhaps, red, as with wine.
Not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure.(17) Not for any injustice.—Literally, for no injustice, just as in Isaiah 53:9 : “because he had done no violence,” should be “not because he had done any violence, or because deceit was in his mouth.”
O earth, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry have no place.(18) Let my cry have no place.—That is, “Let there be no place in the wide earth where my cry shall not reach: let it have no resting place: let it fill the whole wide earth.”
Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.(19) My witness is in heaven.—It is very important to note passages such as these, because they help us to understand, and serve to illustrate, the famous confession in Job 19. This is surely a wonderful declaration for a man in the position of Job. What can the believer, in the full light of the Gospel revelation, say more, with the knowledge of One in heaven ever making intercession for him? And yet Job’s faith had risen to such a height as this, and had grasped such a hope as this. In no other book of the Bible is there such a picture of faith clinging to the all-just God for justification as in the Book of Job.
My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.(20) My friends scorn me.—Or, as an apostrophe, “Ye my scorners who profess and ought to be my friends: mine eye poureth out tears unto God that He would maintain the right of man with God, and of the son of man with his neighbour;” or, “that one might plead for man with God as the son of man pleadeth for his neighbour”—this is what he has already longed for in Job 9:33.
When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return.(22) When a few years are come.—Literally, years of number, which means either “years than can be easily numbered,” as men of number (Genesis 34:20) is used to express few men; or “years that are numbered,” that is, allotted, determined. It is strange to find Job speaking, in his condition, of years, but so, for that matter, is it to find a man so sorely tormented as he was indulging in so long an argument. Perhaps this shows us that the narrative of Job is intended to be an ideal only, setting forth the low estate of sin-stricken humanity: this is only thrown out as a suggestion, no weight is assigned to it more than it may chance to claim. Perhaps, however, these words are spoken by Job in contemplation of his condition as a dying man, even had he not been so afflicted.