Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Job 9:21. Though I were perfect, &c. — Hebrew, תם אני, tam ani, the perfect I, would not know my soul — Namely, myself as the word נפשׁ, nephesh, is rendered, Esther 4:13; or, my heart, or spirit. That is, my thinking myself perfect, or completely innocent and faultless, would be an evidence that I did not know myself. Or, the meaning of the verse is, Were I to be tried by infinite justice, however perfect I may now think myself, I should then be astonished at finding how little I knew myself, and what a multitude of faults God had taken notice of, which I had not perceived in myself; so that, when they were set before me, I should no longer insist upon, nor trust to, the integrity, either of my soul and heart, or of my life, so as any longer to attempt to justify myself before the pure eyes of the all- seeing God; but I would condemn myself and despise my life; would put no value upon it, nor be in any care about prolonging it, while it is loaded with these miseries. And, therefore, I abhor the thoughts of contending with my Maker, whereof you accuse me.
Yet would I not know my soul - Or, "I could not know my soul. If I should advance such a claim, it must be from my ignorance of myself." Is not this true of all the claims to perfection which have ever been set up by man? Do they not demonstrate that he is ignorant of his own nature and character? So clear does this seem to me, that I have no doubt that Job expressed more than three thousand years ago what will be found true to the end of time - that if a man advances the claim to absolute perfection, it is conclusive proof that he does not know his own heart. A superficial view of ourselves, mingled with pride and vanity, may lead us to think that we are wholly free from sin. But who can tell what he would be if placed in other circumstances? Who knows what latent depravity would be developed if he were thrown into temptations?
I would despise my life - Dr. Good, I think, has well expressed the sense of this. According to his interpretation, it means that the claim of perfection would be in fact disowning all the consciousness which he had of sinfulness; all the arguments and convictions pressed on him by his reason and conscience, that he was a guilty man. Schultens, however, has given an interpretation which slightly differs from this, and one which Rosenmuller prefers. "Although I should be wholly conscious of innocence, yet that clear consciousness could not sustain me against the infinite splendor of the divine glory and majesty; but I should be compelled to appear ignorant of my own soul, and to reprobate, condemn, and despise my life passed with integrity and virtue." This interpretation is in accordance with the connection, and may be sustained by the Hebrew.
yet would I not know, i.e. regard or value, (as that word is oft used,) my soul, i.e. my life; as the soul frequently signifies, as Genesis 19:17 Job 2:6 John 10:15,17; and as it is explained in the following branch, where life is put for soul, and despising for not knowing: and so the same thing is repeated in differing words, and the latter clause explains the former, which was more dark and doubtful, according to the usage of sacred Scripture. So the sense is, Though God should give sentence for me, yet I should be so overwhelmed with the dread and terror of the Divine Majesty, that I should be weary of my life. And therefore I abhor the thoughts of contending with my Maker, whereof you accuse me; and yet I have reason to be weary of my life, and to desire death. Or thus, If I say, I am perfect, as the very same Hebrew words are rendered, Job 9:20, i.e. if I should think myself perfect,
yet I would not know, i.e. not acknowledge,
my soul; I could not own nor plead before God the perfection and integrity of my soul, but would only make supplication to my Judge, as he said, Job 9:15, and flee to his grace and mercy; I would abhor, or reject, or condemn my life, i.e. my conversation. So the sense is, I would not insist upon nor trust to the integrity, either of my soul and heart, or of my life, so as to justify myself before the pure and piercing eyes of the all-seeing God.
yet would I not know my soul; I would not own myself to be so before God; I would not insist upon such perfection in his presence, as what would justify me before him; since I am sensible the highest perfection of a creature is imperfection when compared with him: or the sense may be, should I say I were "perfect, I should not know my own soul"; I should plainly appear to be ignorant of myself, as all perfectionists are; they do not know their own souls, the plague of their hearts, the evil of their thoughts, the vanity of their minds; they do not take notice of these things, or do not look upon them as sinful; they know not the nature of sin, and the exceeding sinfulness of it:
I would despise my life; even if ever so innocent, perfect, and just; his meaning is, that he would not insist upon the continuance of it on that account; he had no such value for it, such a love of life as to contend with God upon the foot of justice about it; nor did he think it worth asking for, so mean an opinion had he entertained of it, see Job 7:16.Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
I despise my life.
The speaker in Job 9:19 is God, at least it is He who uses the words, “Here I am,” and “Who will set me a time?” The rest may be words of Job, in which case the words “saith He” must be supplied to these two phrases alone. It gives a more vigorous sense to suppose the whole verse spoken by God. The frightened imagination of Job with much dramatic force represents God as suddenly flinging Himself into, the arena before all, with a consciousness of irresistible might and irresponsibility, ready for any encounter of strength and defying any to bring Him to law. The action of “appointing one a time” or ordaining a day, is of course not the action of the plaintiff but of a judge, and the words imply the irresponsibility and superiority to all law of the speaker.
21. This feeling of being helpless in the hands of an overmastering might, which has no regard to his innocence, drives Job on to a reckless defiance of his adversary, and he will assert his innocence in His face though it should cost him his life. Going back upon the words, “if I were perfect,” he cries, I am perfect, I regard not myself, I despise my life. The phrase, I regard not, care not for, myself, is lit. I know not myself, cf. Genesis 39:6, Psalm 1:6. On the last words cf. ch. Job 7:20. The speaker feels that his bold assertion of his innocence may provoke his adversary altogether to destroy him, but he proclaims his indifference.Verse 21. - Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life. The original is very elliptical and very obscure. The words run, I perfect - I know not myself - I abhor my life which some explain as meaning, "Were I perfect, I should not know it myself; I despise my life under such conditions" (Stanley Loathes); others, "I am perfect" (i.e. guiltless of any plain offence), "but do not understand myself, and care not what becomes of me" (Canon Cook); others again, "Were I perfect, should I not know myself, and, knowing myself, despise my own life?" (Professor Lee). The Septuagint gives us no help, as it plainly follows a different reading. Probably our present text is a corrupt one.
And passeth by and I perceive Him not.
12 Behold, He taketh away, who will hold Him back?
Who will say to Him: What doest Thou?
13 Eloah restraineth not His anger,
The helpers of Rahab stoop under Him -
14 How much less that I should address Him,
That I should choose the right words in answer to Him;
15 Because, though I were right, I could not answer, -
To Him as my Judge I must make supplication.
God works among men, as He works in nature, with a supreme control over all, invisibly, irresistibly, and is not responsible to any being (Isaiah 45:9). He does not turn or restrain His anger without having accomplished His purpose. This is a proposition which, thus broadly expressed, is only partially true, as is evident from Psalm 78:38. The helpers of Rahab must bow themselves under Him. It is not feasible to understand this in a general sense, as meaning those who are ready with boastful arrogance to yield succour to any against God. The form of expression which follows in Job 9:14, "much less I," supports the assumption that רהב עזרי refers to some well-known extraordinary example of wicked enterprise which had been frustrated, notwithstanding the gigantic strength by which it was supported; and שׁחהוּ may be translated by the present tense, since a familiar fact is used as synonymous with the expression of an universal truth. Elsewhere Rahab as a proper name denotes Egypt (Psalm 87:4), but it cannot be so understood here, because direct references to events in the history of Israel are contrary to the character of the book, which, with remarkable consistency, avoids everything that is at all Israelitish. But how has Egypt obtained the name of Rahab? It is evident from Isaiah 30:7 that it bears this name with reference to its deeds of prowess; but from Psalm 89:11; Isaiah 51:9, it is evident that Rahab properly denotes a sea-monster, which has become the symbol of Egypt, like tannn and leviathan elsewhere. This signification of the word is also supported by Job 26:12, where the lxx actually translate κητος, as here with remarkable freedom, ὑπ ̓ ἀυτοῦ ἐκάμφθησαν κήτη τὰ ὑπ ̓ οὐρανόν. It is not clear whether these "sea-monsters" denote rebels cast down into the sea beneath the sky, or chained upon the sky; but at any rate the consciousness of a distinct mythological meaning in רהב עזרי is expressed by this translation (as also in the still freer translation of Jerome, et sub quo curvantur qui portant orbem); probably a myth connected with such names of the constellations as Κῆτος and Πρίστις (Ewald, Hirz., Schlottm.). The poesy of the book of Job even in other places does not spurn mythological allusions; and the phrase before us reminds one of the Hindu myth of Indras' victory over the dark demon Vritras, who tries to delay the descent of rain, and over his helpers. In Vritras, as in רהב, there is the idea of hostile resistance.
Job compares himself, the feeble one, to these mythical titanic powers in Job 9:14. כּי אף (properly: even that), or even אף alone (Job 4:19), signifies, according as the connection introduces a climax or anti-climax, either quanto magis or quanto minus, as here: how much less can I, the feeble one, dispute with Him! אשׁר, Job 9:15, is best taken, as in Job 5:5, in the signification quoniam. The part. Poel משׁפטי we should more correctly translate "my disputant" than "my judge;" it is Poel which Ewald appropriately styles the conjugation of attack: שׁופט, judicando vel litigando aliquem petere; comp. Ges. 55, 1. The part. Kal denotes a judge, the part. Poel one who is accuser and judge at the same time. On such Poel-forms from strong roots, vid., on Psalm 109:10, where wedorschu is to be read, and therefore it is written ודרשׁוּ in correct Codices.
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