Job 23:8
Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Job 23:8-9. I go forward — קדם, kedem, ad orientem, toward the east: אחור, achor, ad occidentem, toward the west; so the Vulgate, which is likewise the interpretation of the Jewish commentators, who by the left hand, and the right, in the next verse, understand the north and the south. They have a tradition that Adam was created with his face placed toward the east, that he might see the rising sun. From whence they say the east was to him kedem, the anterior part of the world. From that situation they named the other quarters. But Job in both these verses certainly intended nothing more than that, let him turn himself which way he pleased, in no place could he find God present, namely, as a judge to hear and determine his cause, of which he is speaking: for, otherwise, he knew God was essentially present in all places. On the left hand where he doth work — That is, in a special and peculiar manner, say some interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, the north being the more habitable and more populous part of the world. Ibi genres, says Cartwright, rebus gestis et bello omni ævo clarissimæ: ibi evangelium generalius et luculentius promulgatum. “There the nations have flourished, most famous in all ages for exploits and war; and there the gospel has been more generally and successfully promulgated.” All this may be true, yet as the whole world is God’s workmanship, and is continually preserved by him, and as his providential care reacheth equally to every part, no one place is here intended to be signalized more than another, with regard to the works of God. He hideth himself on the right hand — He moves and works invisibly in all quarters of the world, but yet I cannot behold him appear as my judge, nor discover him to plead my cause in his sight.23:8-12 Job knew that the Lord was every where present; but his mind was in such confusion, that he could get no fixed view of God's merciful presence, so as to find comfort by spreading his case before him. His views were all gloomy. God seemed to stand at a distance, and frown upon him. Yet Job expressed his assurance that he should be brought forth, tried, and approved, for he had obeyed the precepts of God. He had relished and delighted in the truths and commandments of God. Here we should notice that Job justified himself rather than God, or in opposition to him, ch. 32:2. Job might feel that he was clear from the charges of his friends, but boldly to assert that, though visited by the hand of God, it was not a chastisement of sin, was his error. And he is guilty of a second, when he denies that there are dealings of Providence with men in this present life, wherein the injured find redress, and the evil are visited for their sins.See the notes on this verse for an explanation of the terms used; compare the following places, where similar geographical terms occur; Judges 18:12; Deuteronomy 11:24; Zechariah 14:8; Exodus 10:19; Joshua 17:7; 2 Kings 23:13; 1 Samuel 23:24; Genesis 14:15; Joshua 19:27.

Whatever was the form of the earth, and the manner in which it was sustained, it is evident from the following passage that the land was regarded as surrounded by a waste of waters, whose outer limit was deep and impenetrable darkness:

He hath drawn a circular bound upon the waters,

To the confines of the light and darkness. Job 26:10.

Yet the whole subject is represented as one with which man was then unacquainted, and which was beyond his grasp:

Hast thou observed the breadths of the earth?

Declare, if thou knowest it all. Job 38:18.

For a full illustration of this passage, and the views of geography which then prevailed, the reader is referred to the notes. It is evident that the knowledge of geography, so far as is indicated by this book, was then very limited, though it should also be said that in the argument of the poem there was little occasion to refer to knowledge of this kind, and that few intimations are to be expected on the subject.

IV. Meteorology

There are much more frequent intimations of the state of knowledge on the various subjects embraced under this head, than of either astronomy or geography. These intimations show that these subjects had excited much attention, and had been the result of careful observation; and in regard to some of them there are indications of a plausible theory of their causes, though most of them are appealed to as among the inscrutable things of God. The facts excited the wonder of the Arabian observers, and they clothed their conceptions of them in the most beautiful language of poetry; but they do not often attempt to explain them. On the contrary, these obvious and undisputed facts, so inscrutable to them, are referred to as full proof that we cannot hope to comprehend the ways of God, and as reason why we should bow before him with profound adoration. Among the things referred to are the following:

(a) The Aurora Borealis, or Northern lights. Thus the magnificent description of the approach of the Almighty to close the controversy Job 37:21-23, seems to have been borrowed by Elihu from the beautiful lights of the North, in accordance with the common opinion that the North was the seat of the Divinity:

And now - man cannot look upon the bright splendor that is

On the clouds:

For the wind passeth along and maketh them clear.

continued...

8. But I wish in vain. For "behold," &c.

forward … backward—rather, "to the east—to the west." The Hebrew geographers faced the east, that is, sunrise: not the north, as we do. So "before" means east: "behind," west (so the Hindus). Para, "before"—east: Apara, "behind"—west: Daschina, "the right hand"—south: Bama, "left"—north. A similar reference to sunrise appears in the name Asia, "sunrise," Europe, "sunset"; pure Babylonian names, as Rawlinson shows.

I go forward, i.e. towards the east, which in Scripture is accounted the forepart of the world, as the Hebrew name of it signifies, because of the light of the sun, which ariseth there, and draweth the eye of men towards it.

He is not there, to wit, so as I would have him, as a judge to hear and determine my cause, of which he is here speaking; for otherwise he knew and believed that God was essentially present in all places.

Backward, i.e. towards the west; so also the north is called the left hand, and the south the right hand, Job 23:9, because so they all are to a man who looks towards the east. He names all the several parts of the world, to show his eager desire and restless endeavours to find out God, and to present himself before him. Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,.... Job here returns to what he had said before, Job 23:3; as Jarchi observes, where he expresses his earnest desire after God, that he might know where he was, and come up to his seat; here he relates the various ways he took to find him, and his fruitless search of him. Cocceius thinks, by these phrases "forward" and "backward", are meant times future and past; and that the sense is, that Job looked into the future times of the Messiah, and the grace promised him, his living Redeemer, that should stand on the earth in the latter day; and that he looked back to the ages before him, and to the first promise made to Adam; but could not understand by either the reason why good men were afflicted; and by the "right" hand and "left", the different dispensations of God to men, granting protection with his right hand, and distributing the blessings of his goodness by it; and with his left hand laying afflictions and evils upon them; and yet, neither from the one nor the other could he learn the mind and will of God concerning men, since love and hatred are not to be known by these things: but rather, with the Jewish commentators in general, we are to understand places by these various expressions; even each of the parts of the world, east, west, north, and south; which Job went through, and surveyed in his mind, to find God in, but to no purpose; for, when a man stands with his face to the rising sun, the east is before him, and, if he goes forward, he goes eastward; and behind him is the west, and, if he goes that way, he goes backward; so the eastern sea is called the former sea, and the western, or Mediterranean sea, the hinder sea, Zechariah 14:8; and a man, in this position, will have the north on his left hand, and the south on his right; see Genesis 13:9; now Job says that he went "forward", that is, eastward; but, says he of God, "he is not there", or "is not" (g); meaning not that he was not in being, did not exist; for he most firmly believed the existence of God, or that he was, but, as we rightly supply, he was not there, that is, eastward; and yet the greatest, the most glorious, and most gracious appearances of him were in the east; man was made in the east; the garden of Eden was planted eastward; here God appeared to Adam, both before and after his fall; and it was in the east, Christ, the second Adam, was born; his star appeared in it, and his Gospel was first preached in the eastern parts; in the east Job now lived, and had been the greatest man in it; but now God did not appear to him, as the Vulgate Latin version, not in a kind and gracious manner; nor could he find him at his throne of justice here, as he wished for; he was there, though Job saw him not; for he is everywhere; indeed he is not confined or limited to any place; for, as the heaven of heavens cannot contain him, so much less any part or corner of the earth:

and backward, but I cannot perceive him; or understand where he is, or get intelligence of him, and of the reason of his dispensations, especially concerning himself.

(g) "et non ipse", Montanus, Drusius, Bolducius.

{e} Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him:

(e) Meaning, that if he considers God's justice, he is not able to comprehend his judgments on what side or whatever part he turns himself.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8–9. From this fascinating dream of a Divine tribunal after the manner of that of a human judge, Job awakens to realise the actual circumstances in which he is placed. God, everywhere present, everywhere eludes him; he feels His omnipotent power, but in vain seeks to see His face.Verses 8, 9. - Here Job returns to the complaint of ver. 3. He cannot "find" God. God hides himself. It is in vain that he searches on every side. There is no manifestation, no open vision. Nothing, however, leads him to doubt God's existence, or even his presence where he is unperceived. "Job's conviction of God's absolute presence comes out most strongly when he feels that he cannot discern him" (Cook). Verse 8. - Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; that is, "He is not there to my perceptions." I may believe it, but I have no sensible proof of it, and I cannot demonstrate it. And backward, but I cannot perceive him. In describing locality, the Hebrews, Arabs, and Orientals generally always imagined themselves to be looking eastward, facing the rising sun. Hence the same word is used for" in front," "forwards," and "the east;" for "behind," "backwards," and "the west;" for "the left hand" and "the north;" for "the right hand" and "the south." 1 Then began Job, and said:

2 Even to-day my complaint still biddeth defiance,

My hand lieth heavy upon my groaning.

3 Oh that I knew where I might find Him,

That I might come even to His dwelling-place!

4 I would lay the cause before Him,

And fill my mouth with arguments:

5 I should like to know the words He would answer me,

And attend to what He would say to me.

Since מרי (for which the lxx reads ἐκ τοῦ χειρός μου, מידי; Ew. מידו, from his hand) usually elsewhere signifies obstinacy, it appears that Job 23:2 ought to be explained: My complaint is always accounted as rebellion (against God); but by this rendering Job 23:2 requires some sort of expletive, in order to furnish a connected thought: although the hand which is upon me stifles my groaning (Hirz.); or, according to another rendering of the על: et pourtant mes gmissements n'galent pas mes souffrances (Renan. Schlottm.). These interpretations are objectionable on account of the artificial restoration of the connection between the two members of the verse, which they require; they lead one to expect וידי (as a circumstantial clause: lxx, Cod. Vat. καὶ ἡ χεὶρ αὐτοῦ). As the words stand, it is to be supposed that the definition of time, גּם־היּום (even to-day still, as Zechariah 9:12), belongs to both divisions of the verse. How, then, is מרי to be understood? If we compare Job 7:11; Job 10:1, where מר, which is combined with שׂיח, signifies amarum equals amartiduo, it is natural to take מרי also in the signification amaritudo, acerbitas (Targ., Syr., Jer.); and this is also possible, since, as is evident from Exodus 23:21, comp. Zechariah 12:10, the verbal forms מרר and מרה run into one another, as they are really cognates.

(Note: מרר and מרה both spring from the root מר [vid. supra, p. 396, note], with the primary signification stringere, to beat, rub, draw tight. Hence Arab. mârrâ, to touch lightly, smear upon (to go by, over, or through, to move by, etc.), but also stringere palatum, of an astringent taste, strong in taste, to be bitter, opp. Arab. ḥalâ, soft and mild in taste, to be sweet, as in another direction חלה, to be loose, weak, sick, both from the root Arab. ḥl in ḥalla, solvit, laxavit. From the signification to be tight come amarra, to stretch tight, istamarra, to stretch one's self tight, to draw one's self out in this state of tension - of things in time, to continue unbroken; mirreh, string, cord; מרה, to make and hold one's self tight against any one, i.e., to be obstinate: originally of the body, as Arab. mârrâ, tamârrâ, to strengthen themselves in the contest against one another; then of the mind, as Arab. mârâ, tamârâ, to struggle against anything, both outwardly by contradiction and disputing, and inwardly by doubt and unbelief. - Fl.)

But it is more satisfactory, and more in accordance with the relation of the two divisions of the verse, if we keep to the usual signification of מרי; not, however, understanding it of obstinacy, revolt, rebellion (viz., in the sense of the friends), but, like moreh, 2 Kings 14:26) which describes the affliction as stiff-necked, obstinate), of stubbornness, defiance, continuance in opposition, and explain with Raschi: My complaint is still always defiance, i.e., still maintains itself in opposition, viz., against God, without yielding (Hahn, Olsh.: unsubmitting); or rather: against such exhortations to penitence as those which Eliphaz has just addressed to him. In reply to these, Job considers his complain to be well justified even to-day, i.e., even now (for it is not, with Ewald, to be imagined that, in the mind of the poet, the controversy extends over several days, - an idea which would only be indicated by this one word).

In Job 23:2 he continues the same thought under a different form of expression. My hand lies heavy on my groaning, i.e., I hold it immoveably fast (as Fleischer proposes to take the words); or better: I am driven to a continued utterance of it.

(Note: The idea might also be: My hand presses my groaning back (because it would be of no use to me); but Job 23:2 is against this, and the Arab. kamada, to restrain inward pain, anger, etc. by force (e.g., mât kemed, he died from suppressed rage or anxiety), has scarcely any etymological connection with כבד.)

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