Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then Job answered . . .—Job’s reply to Bildad differs from that to Eliphaz, inasmuch as he exposes the hollowness of Bildad’s position by sapping his foundation. Admitting the general propriety of all he has said, he confronts him with the anterior question, “How can weak man be just with God?” and this is the question, if fairly dealt with, which must always confound shallow generalisers like Bildad.
Then Job answered and said,
If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand.(3) If he will contend with him.—If man choose to contend with God, he cannot answer Him one question of a thousand, once in a thousand times.
Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars.(7) And sealeth up the stars—Comp. Job 41:15. The idea of shutting up, taking away the power of, &c., is contained in the expression “sealing.”
Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.(8) Waves of the sea.—Literally, high place of the sea: the sea when and where it runs mountains high. The various physical phenomena of earthquake, eclipse, and hurricane are here described as the field of Divine action and the operations of His hands.
Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south.(9) Which maketh Arcturus . . .—This shows us that in the time of this writer, whoever he was, his fellow-countrymen had attained to such knowledge of astronomy as is here implied in the specific names of definite constellations. The Great Bear is the glory of the northern hemisphere, Orion of the southern sky, and the Pleiades of the east; the chambers of the north are the unknown and unexplored regions, of which the speaker has no personal experience.
Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number.(10) Which doeth great things.—He adopts the very words his former antagonist, Eliphaz, had used in Job 5:9.
Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not: he passeth on also, but I perceive him not.(11) He passeth on also.—This, again, is an expression Eliphaz had used in Job 4:15. Here in words of great sublimity Job depicts the unapproachable majesty of God omnipotent, but invisible, and shows the utter hopelessness of entering into judgment with Him. Unfortunately, though this is a proposition to which all must assent, yet none is virtually so much repudiated or practically so often contravened. Men still cast about to justify themselves before God, and will do so till the end of time; but it is in teaching such as this that the Book of Job has laid the foundation of the Gospel by preparing for its acceptance by overthrowing man’s natural and habitual standing-ground in himself.
Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou?(12) What doest thou?—Putting the case even that God were, so to say, in the wrong, and the assailant, yet even then He would maintain His cause from sheer might, and crush His adversary.
If God will not withdraw his anger, the proud helpers do stoop under him.(13) Proud helpers.—Literally, helpers of Rahab. (See Isaiah 30:7; Psalm 87:4.) But whether Rahab was Egypt, or a poetical name for the lost archangel, it is impossible to say. If the former, then there is a probable allusion here to the overthrow of Pharaoh and his hosts; but we lack evidence to make it plain. The phrase is evidently used as expressing the very ideal of strength—the race of the giants.
Whom, though I were righteous, yet would I not answer, but I would make supplication to my judge.(15) Though I were righteous.—He now puts the alternative case: that he were actually righteous; yet even then supplication, and not assertion, would best become him.
For he breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds without cause.(17) He breaketh me . . .—This is one of the three passages in which this word is found, the other two being Genesis 3:15, “It shall bruise,” &c., and Psalm 139:11, “If I say the darkness shall cover me.”
He will not suffer me to take my breath, but filleth me with bitterness.(18) Take my breath.—The action being that of breathing again after complete exhaustion—recovering breath and the power to breathe, &c. “If I say I am perfect, it also shall prove me perverse by the very act of saying so; because for man to maintain his righteousness before God is at once to proclaim his iniquity. The finite cannot come into competition with the Infinite, nor measure itself therewith.”
If I speak of strength, lo, he is strong: and if of judgment, who shall set me a time to plead?(19) If I speak of strength.—All this is the most uncompromising acknowledgment of the absolute inability of man to stand in judgment before God. The whole of this is so very abrupt and enigmatical that it is extremely difficult to be sure of the argument, though naturally the general drift of it is obvious enough. “If it were a trial of strength—Who is Almighty?—and if it was a matter of judgment, is He not judge and court together? and what authority that He would acknowledge could give me the opportunity of pleading my cause before Him? Were I righteous, my own mouth would show me wicked; were I perfect, then would it or He prove me perverse. Were I perfect, I should not know myself, or know it myself. I despise my life under such conditions; therefore, said I, it is all one: He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked alike.”
If the scourge slay suddenly, he will laugh at the trial of the innocent.(23) The scourge slay suddenly.—Probably meaning that in the case of hidden calamity overtaking an innocent man, He, God, will laugh at it: that is to say, take no more notice of it than if it furnished Him with sport. The very fact of such calamity befalling, as it often does, the innocent is at all events, in one view, a proof of His indifference to it who, by the exercise of His providence, could easily interpose to prevent it, and so looks as if He verily winked at it. Job’s argument is the argument of a man who wilfully shuts out faith in his estimate of God’s dealings; not that Job is devoid of faith, but in the course of arguing with his friends, who maintain the strict, rigid justice of God, he confronts them with the severe logic of facts, which they can neither contradict nor explain. Of course, for the very requirements of argument, he takes the pessimist view of the Divine providence, and declares even that the earth is given over into the hands of the wicked man. “He covereth the face of the judges thereof; and if it is not He that doeth this, who is it? there can be none other. He either doeth the evil Himself, or He permits it to be done; and what is the difference, supposing Him able to prevent it?” When we review the disorders of the earth—and how much more in Job’s days was it so—all must admit that faith is sorely tried; and even faith can render but a very partial explanation of them, so that such a line as this is fully justified, when the adversary is determined to maintain that all is rose-coloured, happy, and equal as Job’s friends did. They had before them an instance of inequality in the Divine conduct, and they must either make it square with the Divine justice or give up the contest. They could not do the one, and were unwilling to do the other; it only remained, therefore, for Job to assert the inequality of the Divine dealings, and he puts the case as strongly as he can, all the time, it must never be forgotten, holding fast his faith in God, so that at the last he is even justified by God, who says to his friends, “Ye have not spoken of me that which is right, like my servant” (Job 42:8).
Now my days are swifter than a post: they flee away, they see no good.(25) Swifter than a post.—The runner, with his messages and dispatches. He now turns away from the contemplation of God and His dealings to that of his own misery.
They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.(26) Swift ships.—What is meant by the swift ships, or ships of Desire, no one knows. Literally, ships of Eveh, probably a proper name, and perhaps referring to a particular kind of boat in use on the Nile; if so, this is one instance out of many of Job’s acquaintance with Egypt. The Vulgate has, naves poma portantes. Job is a problem to himself; he is confident of his innocence, and yet he is confident that that very innocence will avail him nothing before God, he is sure that he must be condemned. Now, it is impossible to deny that this is the very attitude of the Gospel; it is, therefore, if we bear in mind the vast antiquity of the confession, both a witness to the truth of the Gospel and an anticipation of it that God alone could give. Indeed, it is hopelessly impossible to enter into the position of Job unless we are ourselves enlightened with the teaching of the Gospel, and able to look at it from the Gospel standpoint. While, therefore, admitting this fact, we are the better able to appreciate the wonderful confession Job is about to make in Job 9:32-33.
For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment.(32, 33) For he is not a man, as I am . . .—Is not that confession, if we believe that such a daysman as Job longed for has been given, itself a witness that it came from God, and was given by God? The light that has shined upon us was shining then in the heart of Job, and shines for ever in the pages of his book. Job felt, as he had been taught to feel, that in himself there not only was no hope, but no possibility of justification with God, unless there should be an umpire and impartial mediator, who could make the cause of both his own, and reconcile and unite the two in himself. It is useless to inquire what other particular form the aspiration of Job may have taken, or how far he understood and meant what he said; but here are his words, and this is what they must mean, and it is for us to adore the wisdom by which they were taught accurately to correspond with what we know has been given to us by God. We know that a daysman has laid his hand upon us both; and while we see that this is what Job wanted, we cannot but see more plainly that this is what we want. It is to be observed that this word daysman, or judge, is immediately connected with the Scripture phrase, “the day of the Lord,” and St. Paul’s words, “the day shall declare it” (1Corinthians 3:13).
Then would I speak, and not fear him; but it is not so with me.(35) It is not so with me.—Literally, I am not so with me. The words are variously understood: “It is not so with me,” i.e., “I am not thus without fear,” as the former part of the verse supposes; or, “I am not so as ye suppose,” i.e., guilty, but innocent; or, “Am I not right with myself?” i.e., inwardly conscious of my integrity and innocence (Job 10:1).