Job 9:21
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.

9:14-21 Job is still righteous in his own eyes, ch. 32:1, and this answer, though it sets forth the power and majesty of God, implies that the question between the afflicted and the Lord of providence, is a question of might, and not of right; and we begin to discover the evil fruits of pride and of a self-righteous spirit. Job begins to manifest a disposition to condemn God, that he may justify himself, for which he is afterwards reproved. Still Job knew so much of himself, that he durst not stand a trial. If we say, We have no sin, we not only deceive ourselves, but we affront God; for we sin in saying so, and give the lie to the Scripture. But Job reflected on God's goodness and justice in saying his affliction was without cause.Though I were perfect - The same mode of expression occurs here again. "I perfect! I would not know it, or recognize it. If this were my view, and God judged otherwise, I would seem to be ignorant of it. I would not mention it."

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.

21. Literally, here (and in Job 9:20), "I perfect! I should not know my soul! I would despise," [that is], "disown my life"; that is, Though conscious of innocence, I should be compelled, in contending with the infinite God, to ignore my own soul and despise my past life as if it were guilty [Rosenmuller]. i.e. Though God should acquit me in judgment, and pronounce me perfect or righteous,

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.

Though I were perfect,.... Really and truly so, not conscious of any sin in thought, word, or deed; this is only a case supposed:

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)
21.  I am perfect! I regard not myself,

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. Job 9:2121 Whether I am innocent, I know not myself,

My life is offensive to me.

22 There is one thing-therefore I maintain - :

The innocent and wicked He destroyeth.

23 If the scourge slay suddenly,

He laugheth at the melting away of the innocent.

24 Countries are given into the hand of the wicked;

The countenance of its rulers He veileth -

Is it not so, who else doeth it?

Job 9:21 is usually considered to be an affirmation of innocence on the part of Job, though without effect, and even at the peril of his own destruction: "I am innocent, I boldly say it even with scorn of my life" (Schnurr., Hirz., Ewald, Schlottm.). But although נפשׁי אדע לא may mean: I care nothing for my soul, i.e., my life (comp. Genesis 39:6), its first meaning would be: I know not my soul, i.e., myself; and this sense is also quite in accordance with the context. He is innocent, but the contradiction between his lot and his innocence seems to show that his self-consciousness is deceptive, and makes him a mystery to himself, leads him astray respecting himself; and having thus become a stranger to himself, he abhors this life of seeming contradictions, for which he desires nothing less than its long continuance (vid., Job 7:16). The היא אחת which follows we do not explain: "it is all the same to me whether I live or not," but: it is all one whether man is innocent or not. He himself is a proof of this; therefore he maintains, etc. It is, however, also possible that this expression, which is similar in meaning to Ecclesiastes 9:2 (there is one event, אחד מקרה, to the righteous and to the wicked), and is well translated in the Targ. by היא מכילא חדא (there is one measure of retribution, מכילא equals מדּה, μέτρον, Matthew 7:2), refers to what follows, and that "therefore I maintain" is parenthetical (like אמרתי, Psalm 119:57; אמר לי, Isaiah 45:24), and we have translated it accordingly. There is certainly a kind of suspense, and על־כן d introduces an assertion of Job, which is founded upon the fact of the continuance of his own misfortune, - an assertion which he advances in direct contradiction to the friends, and which is expressly censured by Elihu.

In Job 9:23., by some striking examples, he completes the description of that which seems to be supported by the conflict he is called to endure. שׁוט, a scourge, signifies a judgment which passes over a nation (Isaiah 28:15). It swept off the guiltless as well, and therefore Job concludes that God delights in מסּה, πειρασμός, trial, or perhaps more correctly the melting away (from מסס, as Job 6:14) of the guiltless, i.e., their dissolution in anguish and dismay, their wearing away and despondency. Jerome rightly remarks that in the whole book Job says nihil asperius than what he says in Job 9:23. Another example in favour of his disconsolate היא אחת is that whole lands are given into the hand of the wicked: the monarch is an evil man, and the countenance of their judges He (God) covers, so that they do not distinguish between right and wrong, nor decide in favour of the former rather than of the latter. God himself is the final cause of the whole: if not, i.e., if it is not so, who can it then be that causes it? אפו (four times in the book of Job instead of the usual form אפוא) is, according to the current opinion, placed per hyperbaton in the conditional instead of the interrogative clause; and מי אפו are certainly not, with Hirzel, to be taken together. There is, however, not a proper hyperbaton, but אפו here gives intensity to the question; though not directly as Job 17:15 (Ges. 153, 2), but only indirectly, by giving intensity to that which introduces the question, as Job 24:25 and Genesis 27:37; translate therefore: if it really is not so (comp. the Homeric expression ει ̓ δ ̓ ἄγε). It is indisputable that God, and no one else, is the final cause of this misery, apparently so full of contradiction, which meets us in the history of mankind, and which Job now experiences for himself.

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