Job 7:12
Am I a sea, or a whale, that you set a watch over me?
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(12) Am I a sea, or a whale . . .?—This very hard verse it seems most reasonable to explain, if we can, from Scripture itself: e.g., in Jeremiah 5:22 we read, “Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea?" The writer was probably familiar with Egypt when the Nile, which is still called the sea, was carefully watched and guarded by dykes that its overflow might not destroy the land. So Job exclaims, “Am I like the sea, or one of its monsters—like that Leviathan which Thou hast made to take his pastime therein, that Thou keepest guard over me and makest me thy prisoner continually, shutting me up on every side so fast in prison that I cannot get free?”

Job 7:12. Am I a sea — Am I as fierce and unruly as the sea, which, if thou didst not set bounds to it, would overwhelm the earth? Or a whale? — Am I a vast and ungovernable sea-monster? that thou settest a watch over me? — That thou must restrain me by thy powerful providence; must shut me up and confine me under such heavy, unexampled, and insupportable sufferings, as these creatures are confined by the shore? “To set a watch over a whale,” says Dr. Dodd, “is certainly a very improper and absurd idea. Hence Houbigant, by a very slight alteration, reads it, Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou raisest a tempest against me? an idea which very well suits with that storm of troubles, wherewith Job was nearly overwhelmed.” We are apt in affliction to complain of God, as if he laid more upon us than there is occasion for: whereas we are never in heaviness but when there is need, nor more than there is need.7:7-16 Plain truths as to the shortness and vanity of man's life, and the certainty of death, do us good, when we think and speak of them with application to ourselves. Dying is done but once, and therefore it had need be well done. An error here is past retrieve. Other clouds arise, but the same cloud never returns: so a new generation of men is raised up, but the former generation vanishes away. Glorified saints shall return no more to the cares and sorrows of their houses; nor condemned sinners to the gaieties and pleasures of their houses. It concerns us to secure a better place when we die. From these reasons Job might have drawn a better conclusion than this, I will complain. When we have but a few breaths to draw, we should spend them in the holy, gracious breathings of faith and prayer; not in the noisome, noxious breathings of sin and corruption. We have much reason to pray, that He who keeps Israel, and neither slumbers nor sleeps, may keep us when we slumber and sleep. Job covets to rest in his grave. Doubtless, this was his infirmity; for though a good man would choose death rather than sin, yet he should be content to live as long as God pleases, because life is our opportunity of glorifying him, and preparing for heaven.Am I a sea? - That is, "am I like a raging and tumultuous sea, that it is necessary to restrain and confine me? The sense of the verse is, that God had treated him as if he were untamable and turbulent, as if he were like the restless ocean, or as if he were some monster, which could be restrained within proper limits only by the stern exercise of power. Dr. Good, following Reiske, renders this, "a savage beast," understanding by the Hebrew word ים yâm a sea-monster instead of the sea itself, and then any ferocious beast, as the wild buffalo. But it is clear, I think, that the word never has this meaning. It means properly the sea; then a lake or inland sea, and then it is applied to any great river that spreads out like the ocean. Thus, it is applied both to the Nile, and to the Euphrates; see Isaiah 11:15, note; Isaiah 19:15, note. Herder here renders it, "the river and its crocodile," and this it seems to me is probably the meaning. Job asks whether he is like the Nile, overflowing its banks, and rolling on impetuously to the sea, and, unless restrained, sweeping everything away. Some such flood of waters, and not a savage beast, is undoubtedly intended here.

Or a whale - תנין tannı̂yn. Jerome, cetus - a whale. The Septuagint renders it, δράκων drakōn, a dragon. The Chaldee paraphrases it, "Am I condemned as the Egyptians were, who were condemned and submerged in the Red sea; or as Pharaoh, who was drowned in the midst of it, in his sins, that thou placest over me a guard?" Herder renders it, "the crocodile." On the meaning of the word, see Isaiah 13:22, note; Isaiah 51:9, note. It refers here probably to a crocodile, or some similar monster, that was found either in the Nile or in the branches of the Red sea. There is no evidence that it means a whale. Harmer (Obs. iii. 536, Ed. Lond. 1808) supposes that the crocodile is meant, and observes that "Crocodiles are very terrible to the inhabitants of Egypt; when, therefore, they appear, they watch them with great attention, and take proper precautions to secure them, so as that they should not be able to avoid the deadly weapons the Egyptians afterward make use of to kill them." According to this, the expression in Job refers to the anxious care which is evinced by the inhabitants of countries where crocodiles abound to destroy them. Every opportunity would be anxiously watched for, and great solicitude would be manifested to take their lives. In countries, too, which were subject to inundation from waters, great anxiety would be evinced. The rising waters would be carefully watched, lest they should burst over all barriers, and sweep away fences, houses, and towns. Such a constant vigilance Job represents the Almighty as keeping over him - watching him as if he were a swelling, roaring, and ungovernable torrent, or as if he were a frightful monster of the deep, whom he was anxious to destroy. In both respects the language is forcible, and in both instances scarcely less irreverent than it is forcible. For a description of the crocodile, see the notes at Job 41.

12. Why dost thou deny me the comfort of care-assuaging sleep? Why scarest thou me with frightful dreams?

Am I a sea—regarded in Old Testament poetry as a violent rebel against God, the Lord of nature, who therefore curbs his violence (Jer 5:22).

or a whale—or some other sea monster (Isa 27:1), that Thou needest thus to watch and curb me? The Egyptians watched the crocodile most carefully to prevent its doing mischief.

Am I so great, and powerful, and dangerous a creature, that thou needest to use extraordinary power and violence to rule and subdue me? Am I as fierce and unruly as the sea, which, if thou didst not set a watch over it, and bounds to it, would overwhelm the earth, and destroy mankind upon it? Or am I a vast and ungovernable sea monster, which, if thou didst not restrain it by thy powerful providence, would overturn ships, and destroy men in them, and devour all the lesser fishes? Have I behaved myself towards thee, or towards men, with such rage and violence, as to need such chains to be put upon me? Or is my strength so great as that of the sea, which can endure so many and long storms one after another, and yet can subsist under them and after them? or of a whale, that can laugh at darts and spears? as is said, Job 41:29. No, Lord, thou knowest that I am but a poor weak creature, which thou canst crush with the least touch of thy finger, without these violent and unsupportable pains and miseries; and that I have not been so fierce and boisterous in my carriage as to need or deserve these extraordinary calamities.

That thou settest a watch over me; that thou shouldst guard and restrain me with such heavy and unexampled miseries, lest I should break into rebellion against thee, or into cruelty towards men. Am I a sea, or a whale,.... Like the restless sea, to which very wicked, profligate, and abandoned sinners are compared, that are continually casting up the mire and dirt of sin and wickedness; am I such an one? or like the raging sea, its proud waters and foaming waves, to which fierce and furious persecutors and tyrannical oppressors are compared; did I behave in such a manner to the poor and distressed in the time of prosperity? nay, was I not the reverse of all this, kind and gentle to them, took their part, and rescued them out of the hands of those that oppressed them? see Job 29:12; or like its tossing waves, which attempt to pass the bounds that are set to them; am I such an one, that have transgressed the laws of God and then, which are set as boundaries to restrain the worst of men? and am I a whale, or like any great fish in the ocean, the dragon in the sea, the leviathan, the piercing and crooked serpent? an emblem of cruel princes, as the kings of Egypt and Assyria, or antichrist, Isaiah 27:1; see Psalm 74:13. The Targum is,"as the Egyptians were condemned to be drowned in the Red sea, am I condemned? or as Pharaoh, who was suffocated in the midst of it for his sin, since thou settest a watch over me?''or, as another Targum,"am I as the great sea, which is moved to extreme parts, or the leviathan, which is ready to be taken?''or else the sense is, have I the strength of the sea, which subsists, notwithstanding its waves are continually heating, and which carries such mighty vessels upon it, and would bear down all before it, if not restrained? or of a whale, the leviathan, whose flakes of flesh are joined together, and his heart as firm as a stone, and as hard as a piece of the nether millstone, and laughs at the spear, the sword, and the dart? no, I have not; I am a poor, weak, feeble creature, whose strength is quite exhausted, and not able to bear the weight of the chains and fetters of afflictions upon me; or rather the principal thing complained of, and which he illustrates by these metaphors, is, that he was bound with the cords of afflictions, and compassed with gall and travail, and hedged in hereby, that he could not get out, as the church says, Lamentations 3:5; or could not get released from his sorrows by death, or otherwise; just as the sea is shut up with bars and doors, that its waves can come hitherto, and no further; and as the whale is confined to the ocean, or surrounded with vessels and armed men in them, when about to be taken; and thus it was with Job, and of this he complains:

that thou settest a watch over me? which Jarchi and others understand of Satan; and though in his hands, he was not suffered to take away his life; but besides him may be meant all his afflictions, calamities, and distresses, in which he lay fettered and bound, in which he was shut up as in a prison, and by which he was watched over and guarded; and from which he could make no escape, nor get a release.

Am I a sea, {h} or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?

(h) Am I not a poor wretch? Why do you need to lay so much pain on me?

12. First, he asks with bitter irony if he is the sea or the monster of the sea, that he must be watched and subdued with plagues lest he prove dangerous to the universe? The proud waves of the sea must be confined and a bound which they cannot pass set to them (ch. Job 38:8 seq.; Jeremiah 5:22); has he a wild, untameable nature like this? The monster of the sea here is no real creature such as the crocodile, “sea” being used in the sense of the river. The connexion shews that the reference is to the half poetical, half mythological conception of the raging sea itself as a furious monster, for it is God that sets a watch over it. Studer boldly renders, “am I the sea, or the sea serpent?” His sea serpent, however, is not that of the modern mariner and the mythology of our own day, but that of a more ancient mythology. The serpent of the sea—which was but the wild stormy sea itself—wound himself around the land and threatened to swallow it up, as the serpent of the sky swallowed up the heavenly luminaries (ch. Job 26:12, see on Job 3:8). God sets a watch upon the one, as His hand pierces the other, lest the fixed order of the world be disturbed and land and sea or light and darkness be confused. Job enquires if he must be watched and plagued like this monster lest he throw the world into disorder?Verse 12. - Job now begins his complaint, which is wholly addressed to God. The heads of it are:

(1) that he is confined and restrained, allowed no liberty (ver. 12);

(2) that he is terrified by visions in the night (vers. 13, 14);

(3) that he is not "let alone" (ver. 16);

(4) that so much attention is paid to him (vers. 17-19);

(5) that he is made a butt for God's arrows (ver. 20); and

(6) that he is not pardoned, but relentlessly persecuted (ver. 21). Am I a sea, or a whale? rather, Am I a sea or a sea-monster? Am I as wild and uncontrollable as the ocean, as fierce and savage as a crocodile or other monster of the deep? Do I not possess reason and conscience, by which I might be directed and guided? Why, then, am I treated as if I were without them? The sea must be watched, lest it break in upon the land; in Egypt there had been many such breaches, as the configuration of the coast, with its narrow belts of sand and its vast lagoons, shows; and crocodiles must be watched, lest they destroy human life; but is there any need that I should be watched, restrained, coerced, hedged in on every side (Job 3:23)? Am I so dangerous? Surely not. Some liberty therefore might have been safely given to me, instead of this irksome restraint. That thou settest a watch over me; or, a guard; i.e. a set of physical impediments, which leave me no freedom of action. 4 If I lie down, I:think:

When shall I arise and the evening break away?

And I become weary with tossing to and fro unto the morning dawn.

5 My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of earth;

My skin heals up to fester again.

6 My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle,

And vanish without hope.

Most modern commentators take מדּד as Piel from מדד: the night is extended (Renan: la nuit se prolonge), which is possible; comp. Ges. 52, 2. But the metre suggests another rendering: מדּד constr. of מדּד from נדד, to flee away: and when fleeing away of the evening. The night is described by its commencement, the late evening, to make the long interval of the sleeplessness and restlessness of the invalid prominent. In נדדים and מדד there is a play of words (Ebrard). רמּה, worms, in reference to the putrifying ulcers; and גּוּשׁ (with זעירא )ג, clod of earth, from the cracked, scaly, earth-coloured skin of one suffering with elephantiasis. The praett. are used of that which is past and still always present, the futt. consec. of that which follows in and with the other. The skin heals, רגע (which we render with Ges., Ew., contrahere se); the result is that it becomes moist again. ימּאס, according to Ges. 67, rem. 4 equals ימּס, Psalm 58:8. His days pass swiftly away; the result is that they come to an end without any hope whatever. ארג is like κερκίς, radius, a weaver's shuttle, by means of which the weft is shot between the threads of the warp as they are drawn up and down. His days pass as swiftly by as the little shuttle passes backwards and forwards in the warp.

Next follows a prayer to God for the termination of his pain, since there is no second life after the present, and consequently also the possibility of requital ceases with death.

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