Job 4:21
Does not their excellency which is in them go away? they die, even without wisdom.
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Job 4:21. Doth not their excellency which is in them go away? — Whatsoever is really, or by common estimation, excellent in men, all their natural, and moral, and civil accomplishments, as high birth, great riches, power, and wisdom; these are so far from preserving them from perishing, as one would think they should, that they perish themselves, together with those houses of clay in which they are lodged. Or, the Hebrew יתרם, jithram, may be rendered reliquiæ illorum, their remains go away. In a little time the departure of the most skilful projectors, who seem to lay the deepest and strongest foundations for permanent wealth, power, and enjoyment, is such, that every thing belonging to them is absolutely removed. If you inquire after the place and station of life they filled; the fortunes they possessed; the families they raised, you shall find them all taken away, and nothing, not the least remains to be seen. And, what is still worse, they die even without wisdom — All that skill and policy, all those arts and contrivances, which distinguished them from others, and placed them in a superior rank and situation, are, at the point of death, even in their own opinion, no better than worldly craft and human folly. They die like fools, without having attained that only wisdom for which they came into the world. Now shall such a mean, weak, foolish, sinful, dying creature as this pretend to be more just than God, more pure than his Maker? No, instead of quarrelling with his afflictions, let him admire that he is out of hell! 4:12-21 Eliphaz relates a vision. When we are communing with our own hearts, and are still, Ps 4:4, then is a time for the Holy Spirit to commune with us. This vision put him into very great fear. Ever since man sinned, it has been terrible to him to receive communications from Heaven, conscious that he can expect no good tidings thence. Sinful man! shall he pretend to be more just, more pure, than God, who being his Maker, is his Lord and Owner? How dreadful, then, the pride and presumption of man! How great the patience of God! Look upon man in his life. The very foundation of that cottage of clay in which man dwells, is in the dust, and it will sink with its own weight. We stand but upon the dust. Some have a higher heap of dust to stand upon than others but still it is the earth that stays us up, and will shortly swallow us up. Man is soon crushed; or if some lingering distemper, which consumes like a moth, be sent to destroy him, he cannot resist it. Shall such a creature pretend to blame the appointments of God? Look upon man in his death. Life is short, and in a little time men are cut off. Beauty, strength, learning, not only cannot secure them from death, but these things die with them; nor shall their pomp, their wealth, or power, continue after them. Shall a weak, sinful, dying creature, pretend to be more just than God, and more pure than his Maker? No: instead of quarrelling with his afflictions, let him wonder that he is out of hell. Can a man be cleansed without his Maker? Will God justify sinful mortals, and clear them from guilt? or will he do so without their having an interest in the righteousness and gracious help of their promised Redeemer, when angels, once ministering spirits before his throne, receive the just recompence of their sins? Notwithstanding the seeming impunity of men for a short time, though living without God in the world, their doom is as certain as that of the fallen angels, and is continually overtaking them. Yet careless sinners note it so little, that they expect not the change, nor are wise to consider their latter end.Doth not their excellency ... - Dr. Good renders this, "Their fluttering round is over with them," by a very forced construction of the passage. Translators and expositors have been very much divided in opinion as to its meaning; but the sense seems to be, that whatever is excellent in people is torn away or removed. Their excellence does not keep them from death, and they are taken off before they are truly wise. The word "excellency" here refers not only to moral excellency or virtue, but everything in which they excel others. Whatever there is in them of strength, or virtue, or influence, is removed. The word used here יתר yether means, literally, something hanging over or redundant (from יתר yâthar, to hang over, be redundant, or to remain), and hence, it means abundance or remainder, and then that which exceeds or abounds. It is thus applied to any distinguished virtue or excellency, as that which exceeds the ordinary limits or bounds. Men perish; and however eminent they may have been, they are soon cut off, and vanish away. The object here is to show how weak, and frail, and unworthy of confidence are people even in their most elevated condition.

They die, even without wisdom - That is, before they become truly wise. The object is to show, that people are so short-lived compared with angels, that they have no opportunity to become distinguished for wisdom. Their days are few; and however careful may be their observation, before they have had time to become truly wise they are hurried away. They are, therefore, wholly disqualified to sit in judgment on the doings of God, and to arraign, as Job had done, the divine wisdom.

Here closes the oracle which was addressed to Eliphaz. It is a description of unrivaled sublimity. In the sentiments that were addressed to Eliphaz, there is nothing that is contradictory to the other communications which God has made to people, or to what is taught by reason. Every reader of this passage must feel that the thoughts are singularly sublime, and that they are such as are adapted to make a deep impression on the mind. The error in Eliphaz consisted in the application which he makes of them to Job, and in the inference which he draws, that he must have been a hypocrite. This inference is drawn in the following chapter. As the oracle stands here, it is pertinent to the argument which Eliphaz had commenced, and just fitted to furnish a reproof to Job for the irreverent manner in which he had spoken, and the complaints which he had brought Job 3 against the dealings of God. Let us learn from the oracle:

(1) That man cannot be more just than God; and let this be an abiding principle of our lives;

(2) Not to complain at his dispensations, but to confide in his superior wisdom and goodness;

(3) That our opportunities of observation, and our rank in existence, are as nothing compared with those of the angels, who are yet so inferior to God as to be charged with folly;

(4) That our foundation is in the dust, and that the most insignificant object may sweep us away; and

(5) That in these circumstances humility becomes us.

Our proper situation is in the dust; and whatever calamities may befall us, we should confide in God, and feel that he is qualified to direct our affairs, and the affairs of the universe.

21. their excellency—(Ps 39:11; 146:4; 1Co 13:8). But Umbreit, by an Oriental image from a bow, useless because unstrung: "Their nerve, or string would be torn away." Michaelis, better in accordance with Job 4:19, makes the allusion be to the cords of a tabernacle taken down (Isa 33:20).

they die, even without wisdom—rather, "They would perish, yet not according to wisdom," but according to arbitrary choice, if God were not infinitely wise and holy. The design of the spirit is to show that the continued existence of weak man proves the inconceivable wisdom and holiness of God, which alone save man from ruin [Umbreit]. Bengel shows from Scripture that God's holiness (Hebrew, kadosh) comprehends all His excellencies and attributes. De Wette loses the scope, in explaining it, of the shortness of man's life, contrasted with the angels "before they have attained to wisdom."

Whatsoever is really or by common estimation excellent in men, all their natural, and moral, and civil accomplishments, as high birth, great riches, power, and wisdom, &c.; these are so far from preserving men from perishing, as one would think they should do, that they perish themselves, together with those houses of clay in which they are lodged.

Which is in them go away; or, go away (i.e. die and perish, as that phrase is oft used as Genesis 15:15 Joshua 23:14 Job 10:21 Psalm 58:9 Ecclesiastes 12:5 Matthew 26:21) with, (as beth is oft used) them; it doth not survive them.

Without wisdom: either,

1. Like fools. Wise men and fools die alike, Ecclesiastes 2:16. Or,

2. They never attain to perfect wisdom, to that wisdom which man once had, much less to that wisdom which is in God, which Job conceiveth he hath; otherwise he would not so boldly censure the counsels and works of God as unrighteous or unreasonable, because his human and narrow capacity cannot fully understand them. Moreover, as folly is oft put for unrighteousness and wickedness, so is wisdom for justice and goodness; which is so known, that it is needless to prove it; and so by wisdom here may be meant that perfect justice and purity which Job arrogated to himself, and which Eliphaz here denies to all men, Job 4:17, &c. Doth not their excellency which is in them go away?.... Either the soul which is in them, and is the most excellent part of them; this, though it dies not, yet it goes away and departs from the body at death; and so do all the powers and faculties of it, the thoughts, the affections, the mind, and memory, yea, all the endowments of the mind, wisdom, learning, knowledge of languages, arts, and sciences, all fail at death, 1 Corinthians 13:8; and so likewise all that is excellent in the body, the strength and beauty of it depart, its strength is weakened in the way, and its comeliness turned into corruption: or, as it may be rendered, "which is with them" (l); and so may likewise denote all outward enjoyments, as wealth and riches, glory and honour, which a man cannot carry with him, do not descend into the grave with him, but then go away: a learned man (m) renders the words, "is not their excellency removed which was in them?" and thinks it refers to the corruption of nature, the loss of original righteousness, and of the image of God in man, which formerly was his excellency in his state of innocence, but now, through sin and the fall, is removed from him; and this, indeed, is the cause, the source and spring, of his frailty, mortality, and death; hence it follows:

they die even without wisdom; that dies with them, or whatsoever of that they have goes away from them at death; wise men die as well as fools, yea, they die as fools do, and multitudes without true wisdom, not being wise enough to consider their latter end; they die without the wisdom which some are made to know, in the hidden part, without the fear of God, which is real wisdom, or without the knowledge of Christ, and of God in Christ, which is the beginning, earnest, and pledge of life eternal. Now then since man is such a frail, mortal, foolish, and sinful creature, how can he be just before God, or pure in the sight of his Maker? which, is the thing designed to be proved and illustrated by all this; and here ends the divine oracle, or the revelation made to Eliphaz, when he had the vision before related.

(l) "cum ipsis", Piscator; so some in Mercerus and Drusius, and Mr. Broughton. (m) Schmidt; "quae fuerat", Beza.

Doth not their excellency which is in them go away? they die, even without {q} wisdom.

(q) That is, before any of them were so wise, as to think of death.

21. their excellency go away] This verse is obscure. The word rendered go away means to pull out, as a pin or the posts of a gate, Jdg 16:3; Jdg 16:14 (English version, went away with), or the stake of a tent, Isaiah 33:20 (be removed). This is probably the original meaning. Then the word is used in a secondary, more general sense, to break up an encampment, to remove or journey, to depart, e.g. very often in Numbers 33. In the present verse the verb is pass., and probably has its original sense, plucked up, or torn out. The word translated excellency has that meaning, e.g. Genesis 49:3; Proverbs 17:7. In other places the word means a cord, Jdg 16:7-9, the string of a bow, Psalm 11:2; and similarly Job 30:11. The figure in the Poet’s mind here is the pulling down of a tent, to which the death of man is compared; so in Isaiah 38:12, where the meaning is, my habitation is removed. The meaning cord suits this figure better than excellency, and the sense would be, their tent-cord is torn away. As to the relation of the two clauses of the verse to one another, the construction is probably the same as in ch. Job 4:2, if one should venture … wilt thou be grieved? Therefore,

If their tent-cord is torn away in them,

Do they not die, and not in wisdom?

There is an emphasis on die; the moment the tent falls, through the tearing-away of the cord that upheld it, the inhabitant wholly perishes. It is not necessary to ask what the tent-cord is. The cord belongs to the figure, and is scarcely to be interpreted of the soul.

They die without attaining unto wisdom. This trait heightens the darkness of the picture of man’s condition. He is not only frail, his frailty is but another side of his moral imperfection, and this cleaves to him to the very end.

There is something very wise and considerate as well as profoundly reverential in these words of the aged speaker. He does not touch Job’s murmurs directly, but seeks to reach them by suggesting other thoughts to Job. First, he speaks of the exalted purity of God, to awaken reverence in Job’s mind. Then he descends to the creatures and seeks to look at them as they appear unto God. In His eyes, so sublime is He in holiness, all creatures, angels and men, are erring. Thus Eliphaz makes Job cease to be an exception, and renders it more easy for him to reconcile himself to his history and acknowledge the true cause of it. He is but one where all are the same. There is nothing strange in his having sinned (ch. Job 5:6-7). Neither, therefore, are his afflictions strange. But it will be something strange if he murmurs against God.Verse 21. - Doth not their excellency which is in them go away! "Their excellency" (יתרם) would seem to mean that which is highest in them - their spirit, or soul. It does not make much difference if we translate, with the Old Testament Revisers" their tent-cord," since that would be merely a metaphor for the soul, which sustains the body as the tent-cord does the tent. What deserves especial remark is that the "excellency" does not perish; it goes away, departs, or is removed. They die, even without wisdom; literally, not in wisdom; i.e. not having learnt in the whole course of their lives that true wisdom which their life-trials were intended to teach them.

12 And a word reached me stealthily,

And my ear heard a whisper thereof.

13 In the play of thought, in visions of the night,

When deep sleep falleth on men,

14 Fear came upon me, and trembling;

And it caused the multitude of my bones to quake with fear.

15 And a breathing passed over my face;

16 It stood there, and I discerned not its appearance:

An image was before my eyes;

A gentle murmur, and I heard a voice.

The fut. יגגּב, like Judges 2:1; Psalm 80:9, is ruled by the following fut. consec.: ad me furtim delatum est (not deferebatur). Eliphaz does not say אלי ויגנּב (although he means a single occurrence), because he desires, with pathos, to put himself prominent. That the word came to him so secretly, and that he heard only as it were a whisper (שׁמץ, according to Arnheim, in distinction from שׁמע, denotes a faint, indistinct impression on the ear), is designed to show the value of such a solemn communication, and to arouse curiosity. Instead of the prosaic ממּנוּ, we find here the poetic pausal-form מנהוּ expanded from מנּוּ, after the form מנּי, Job 21:16; Psalm 18:23. מן is partitive: I heard only a whisper, murmur; the word was too sacred and holy to come loudly and directly to his ear. It happened, as he lay in the deep sleep of night, in the midst of the confusion of thought resulting from nightly dreams. שׂעפּים (from שׂעיף, branched) are thoughts proceeding like branches from the heart as their root, and intertwining themselves; the מן which follows refers to the cause: there were all manner of dreams which occasioned the thoughts, and to which they referred (comp. Job 33:15); תּרדּמה, in distinction from שׁנה, sleep, and תּנוּמה, slumber, is the deep sleep related to death and ecstasy, in which man sinks back from outward life into the remotest ground of his inner life. In Job 4:14, קראני, from קרא equals קרה, to meet (Ges. 75, 22), is equivalent to קרני (not קרני, as Hirz., first edition, wrongly points it; comp. Genesis 44:29). The subject of הפחיד is the undiscerned ghostlike something. Eliphaz was stretched upon his bed when רוּח, a breath of wind, passed (חלף( dessap, similar to Isaiah 21:1) over his face. The wind is the element by means of which the spirit-existence is made manifest; comp. 1 Kings 19:12, where Jehovah appears in a gentle whispering of the wind, and Acts 2:2, where the descent of the Holy Spirit is made known by a mighty rushing. רוּח, πνεῦμα, Sanscrit âtma, signifies both the immaterial spirit and the air, which is proportionately the most immaterial of material things.

(Note: On wind and spirit, vid., Windischmann, Die Philosophie im Fortgang der Weltgesch. S. 1331ff.)

His hair bristled up, even every hair of his body; סמּר, not causative, but intensive of Kal. יעמד has also the ghostlike appearance as subject. Eliphaz could not discern its outline, only a תמוּנה, imago quaedam (the most ethereal word for form, Numbers 12:8; Psalm 17:15, of μορφή or δόξα of God), was before his eyes, and he heard, as it were proceeding from it, רקל דּממה, i.e., per hendiadyn: a voice, which spoke to him in a gentle, whispering tone, as follows:

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