Your words have upheld him that was falling, and you have strengthened the feeble knees.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Job 4:4. Thy words have upholden him that was falling — That was ready to sink under his pressures, or to fall into sin, or from God, through despondency and distrust of his providence and promise, or through impatience. And thou hast strengthened the feeble knees — Such as were weak-hearted, and fainting under their trials.
The feeble knees - Margin, "bowing." The knees support the frame. If they fail, we are feeble and helpless. Hence, their being weak, is so often used in the Bible to denote imbecility. The sense is, that Job, in the days of his own prosperity, had exhorted others to submit to God; had counselled them in such a manner as actually to give them support, and that the same views should now have sustained him which he had so successfully employed in comforting others.Him that was falling; ready to sink under their pressures, or to fall from God, or into sin, (as that word is used, 1 Corinthians 10:12 Galatians 6:2, and elsewhere,) through despondency and distrust of God’s providence and promise, or through impatience.
The feeble knees; such as were weak-hearted, and fainting under their trials. See Isaiah 35:3 Daniel 5:6 Hebrews 12:12. Psalm 73:2; or that was stumbling and falling off from the true religion by reason of the revilings and reproaches of men, and their persecutions for it; which is sometimes the case, not only of nominal professors, Matthew 13:21; but of true believers, though they do not so stumble and fall as to perish: or else being under afflictions themselves, were ready to sink under them, their strength being small; now Job was helped to speak such words of comfort and advice to persons in any and every of these circumstances as to support them and preserve them from failing, and to enable them to keep their place and station among the people of God. The Targum interprets it of such as were falling into sin; the words of good men to stumbling and falling professors, whether into sin, or into affliction by it, are often very seasonable, and very useful, when attended with the power and Spirit of God:
and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees; that were tottering and trembling, and bending, and not able to bear up under the weight of sin, which lay as an heavy burden, too heavy to bear; or of afflictions very grievous and intolerable; to such persons Job had often spoken words that had been useful to alleviate their troubles, and support them under them. It may be observed, that the cases and circumstances of good men in early times were much the same as they are now; that there is no temptation or affliction that befalls the saints but what has been common; and that Job was a man of great gifts, grace, and experience, and had the tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season to every weary soul, in whatsoever condition they were: and all this, so very laudable in him, is not observed to his commendation, but to his reproach; to show that he was not a man of real virtue, that he contradicted himself, and did not act according to his profession and principles, and the doctrines he taught others, and was an hypocrite at heart; though no such conclusion follows, supposing he had not acted according to his principles and former conduct; for it is a difficult thing for any good man to act entirely according to them, or to behave the same in prosperity as in adversity, or to take that advice themselves in affliction, and follow it, they have given to others, and yet not be chargeable with hypocrisy. It would have been much better in Eliphaz and his friends to have made another use of Job's former conduct and behaviour, namely, to have imitated it, and endeavoured to have strengthened, and upheld him in his present distressed circumstances; instead of that, he insults him, as follows.Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)4. the feeble knees] lit. as margin, the bowing, or tottering, knees; the figure being that of one tottering under a heavy load, which he is ready to sink beneath. See Isaiah 35:3-4; Hebrews 12:12.Verse 4. - Thy words have upholden him that was falling. Many a man, just on the point of falling, has been stopped in time by thy wise words and good advice to him. This is a strong testimony to Job's kindliness of heart, and active sympathy with sufferers during the period of his prosperity. And thou hast strengthened the feeble knees; literally, the bowing knees - those that were just on the point of collapsing and giving way through exhaustion or feebleness (comp. Isaiah 35:3).
And my roarings pour themselves forth as water.
25 For I fear something terrible, and it cometh upon me,
And that before which I shudder cometh to me.
26 I dwelt not in security, nor rested, nor refreshed myself:
Then trouble cometh.
That לפני may pass over from the local signification to the substitutionary, like the Lat. pro (e.g., pro praemio est), is seen from Job 4:19 (comp. 1 Samuel 1:16): the parallelism, which is less favourable to the interpretation, before my bread (Hahn, Schlottm., and others), favours the signification pro here. The fut. consec. ויּתּכוּ (Kal of נתך) is to be translated, according to Ges. 129, 3, a, se effundunt (not effuderunt): it denotes, by close connection with the preceding, that which has hitherto happened. Just so v. 25a: I fear something terrible; forthwith it comes over me (this terrible, most dreadful thing). אתה is conjugated by the ה passing into the original א of the root (vid., Ges. 74, rem. 4). And just so the conclusion: then also forthwith רגן (i.e., suffering which disorders, rages and ransacks furiously) comes again. Schlottm. translates tamely and wrongly: then comes - oppression. Hahn, better: Nevertheless fresh trouble always comes; but the "nevertheless" is incorrect, for the fut. consec. indicates a close connection, not contrast. The praett., Job 3:26, give the details of the principal fact, which follows in the fut. consec.: only a short cessation, which is no real cessation; then the suffering rages afresh.
Why - one is inclined to ask respecting this first speech of Job, which gives rise to the following controversy - why does the writer allow Job, who but a short time before, in opposition to his wife, has manifested such wise submission to God's dealings, all at once to break forth in such despair? Does it not seem as though the assertion of Satan were about to be confirmed? Much depends upon one's forming a correct and just judgment respecting the state of mind from which this first speech proceeds. To this purpose, consider (1) That the speech contains no trace of what the writer means by את־האלהים ברך: Job nowhere says that he will have nothing more to do with God; he does not renounce his former faithfulness: (2) That, however, in the mind of the writer, as may be gathered from Job 2:10, this speech is to be regarded as the beginning of Job's sinning. If a man, on account of his sufferings, wishes to die early, or not to have been born at all, he has lost his confidence that God, even in the severest suffering, designs his highest good; and this want of confidence is sin.
There is, however, a great difference between a man who has in general no trust in God, and in whom suffering only makes this manifest in a terrible manner, and the man with whom trust in God is a habit of his soul, and is only momentarily repressed, and, as it were, paralysed. Such interruption of the habitual state may result from the first pressure of unaccustomed suffering; it may then seem as though trust in God were overwhelmed, whereas it has only given way to rally itself again. It is, however, not the greatness of the affliction in itself which shakes his sincere trust in God, but a change of disposition on the part of God which seems to be at work in the affliction. The sufferer considers himself as forgotten, forsaken, and rejected of God, as many passages in the Psalms and Lamentations show: therefore he sinks into despair: and in this despair expression is given to the profound truth (although with regard to the individual it is a sinful weakness), that it is better never to have been born, or to be annihilated, than to be rejected of God (comp. Matthew 26:24, καλὸν ἦ αὐτῷ ει ̓ οὐκ ἐγεννήθη ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐκεῖνος). In such a condition of spiritual, and, as we know from the prologue, of Satanic temptation (Luke 22:31; Ephesians 6:16), is Job. He does not despair when he contemplates his affliction, but when he looks at God through it, who, as though He were become his enemy, has surrounded him with this affliction as with a rampart. He calls himself a man whose way is hidden, as Zion laments, Isaiah 40:27, "My way is hidden from Jehovah;" a man whom Eloah has hedged round, as Jeremiah laments over the ruins of Jerusalem, Lamentations 3:1-13 (in some measure a comment on Job 3:23), "I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath ... . He has hedged me round that I cannot get out, and made my chain heavy."
In this condition of entire deprivation of every taste of divine goodness, Job breaks forth in curses. He has lost wealth and children, and has praised God; he has even begun to bear an incurable disease with submission to the providence of God. Now, however, when not only the affliction, but God himself, seems to him to be hostile (nunc autem occultato patre, as Brentius expresses it),
(Note: Fries, in his discussion of this portion of the book of Job, Jahrbb. fr Deutsche Theologie, 1859, S. 790ff., is quite right that the real affliction of Job consists in this, that the inward feeling of being forsaken of God, which was hitherto strange to him, is come upon him. But the remark directed against me, that the feeling of being forsaken of God does not always stand in connection with other affliction, but may come on the favoured of God even in the midst of uninterrupted outward prosperity, does not concern me, since it is manifestly by the dispensations which deprive him of all his possessions, and at last affect him corporeally and individually, that Job is led to regard himself as one forsaken of God, and still more than that, one hated by God; and since, on the other hand also, this view of the tempted does not appear to be absolutely subjective, God has really withdrawn from Job the external proof, and at the same time the feeling, of His abiding love, in order to try the fidelity of His servant's love, and prove its absoluteness.)
we hear from his mouth neither words of praise (the highest excellence in affliction) nor words of resignation (duty in affliction), but words of despair: his trust in God is not destroyed, but overcast by thick clouds of melancholy and doubt.
It is indeed inconceivable that a New Testament believer, even under the strongest temptation, should utter such imprecations, or especially such a question of doubt as in Job 3:20 : Wherefore is light given to the miserable? But that an Old Testament believer might very easily become involved in such conflicts of belief, may be accounted for by the absence of any express divine revelation to carry his mind beyond the bounds of the present. Concerning the future at the period when the book of Job was composed, and the hero of the book lived, there were longings, inferences, and forebodings of the soul; but there was no clear, consoling word of God on which to rely, - no θεῖος λόγος which, to speak as Plato (Phaedo, p. 85, D), could serve as a rescuing plank in the shipwreck of this life. Therefore the πανταχοῦ θρυλλούμενον extends through all the glory and joy of the Greek life from the very beginning throughout. The best thing is never to have been born; the second best, as soon as possible thereafter, to die. The truth, that the suffering of this present time is not worthy of the glory which shall be revealed in us, was still silent. The proper disposition of mind, under such veiling of the future, was then indeed more absolute, as faith committed itself blindfold to the guidance of God. But how near at hand was the temptation to regard a troublous life as an indication of the divine anger, and doubtingly to ask, Why God should send the light of life to such! They knew not that the present lot of man forms but the one half of his history: they saw only in the one scale misery and wrath, and not in the other the heaven of love and blessedness to be revealed hereafter, by which these are outweighed; they longed for a present solution of the mystery of life, because they knew nothing of the possibility of a future solution. Thus it is to be explained, that not only Job in this poem, but also Jeremiah in the book of his prophecy, Job 20:14-18, curses the day of his birth. He curses the man who brought his father the joyous tidings of the birth of a son, and wishes him the fate of Sodom and Gomorrha. He wishes for himself that his mother might have been his grave, and asks, like Job, "Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, and that my days should be consumed in shame?" Hitzig remarks on this, that it may be inferred from the contents and form of this passage, there was a certain brief disturbance of spirit, a result of the general indescribable distress of the troublous last days of Zedekiah, to which the spirit of the prophet also succumbed. And it is certainly a kind of delirium in which Jeremiah so speaks, but there is no physical disorder of mind with it: the understanding of the prophet is so slightly and only momentarily disturbed, that he has the rather gained power over his faith, and is himself become one of its disturbing forces.
Without applying to this lyric piece either the standard of pedantic moralizing, or of minute criticism as poetry, the intense melancholy of this extremely plaintive prophet may have proceeded from the following reasoning: After I have lived ten long years of fidelity and sacrifice to my prophetic calling, I see that it has totally failed in its aim: all my hopes are blighted; all my exhortations to repentance, and my prayers, have not availed to draw Judah back from the abyss into which he is now cast, nor to avert the wrath of Jehovah which is now poured forth: therefore it had been better for me never to have been born. This thought affects the prophet so much the more, since in every fibre of his being he is an Israelite, and identifies the weal and woe of his people with his own; just as Moses would rather himself be blotted out form the book of life than that Israel should perish, and Paul was willing to be separated from Christ as anathema if he could thereby save Israel. What wonder that this thought should disburden itself in such imprecations! Had Jeremiah not been born, he would not have had occasion to sit on the ruins of Jerusalem. But his outburst of feeling is notwithstanding a paroxysm of excitement, for, though reason might drive him to despair, faith would teach him to hope even in the midst of downfall; and in reality, this small lyric piece in the collective prophecy of Jeremiah is only as a detached rock, over which, as a stream of clear living water, the prophecy flows on more joyous in faith, more certain of the future. In the book of Job it is otherwise; for what in Jeremiah and several of the psalms is compressed into a small compass, - the darkness of temptation and its clearing up, - is here the substance of a long entanglement dramatically presented, which first of all becomes progressively more and more involved, and to which this outburst of feeling gives the impulse. As Jeremiah, had he not been born, would not have sat on the ruins of Jerusalem; so Job, had he not been born, would not have found himself in this abyss of wrath. Neither of them knows anything of the future solution of every present mystery of life; they know nothing of the future life and the heavenly crown. This it is which, while it justifies their despair, casts greater glory round their struggling faith.
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