Esther 8
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures

The Deliverance of the Jews



ESTHER 8:1–17

I. Esther and Mordecai receive authority to order all things needful for the deliverance of the Jews. Esther 8:1–8

1ON that day did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman, the Jews’ enemy, unto Esther the queen: and Mordecai came before the king; for Esther had told what he was unto her. 2And the king took [removed] off his ring [signet], which he had taken [caused to pass] from Haman, and gave it unto Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman. 3And Esther spake yet again [added and spoke] before the king, and fell down at [before] his feet, and besought him with tears [wept and supplicated to him] to put away [cause to pass] the mischief [evil] of Haman the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews. 4Then [And] the king held out the golden sceptre toward [to] Esther. So [And] Esther arose, and stood before the king, 5And said, If it please [be good upon] the king, and if I have found, favor in his sight [before him], and the thing [word] seem right before the king, and I be pleasing [good] in his eyes, let it be written to reverse the letters [books] devised by [of the devising of] Haman the son of Hammedatha [the Medatha] the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which[who] are in all the king’s provinces: 6For how can I endure to see [and (i.e., when) I see (i.e., look) on] the evil that shall come unto my people [my people shall find]? or [and] how can I endure to see [and (i.e., when) I see (i.e., look) on] the destruction 7of my kindred? Then [And] the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen, and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows [tree], because [upon that] he laid [sent forth] his hand upon the Jews. 8Write ye also [And write ye] for [upon] the Jews, as it liketh you [is the good in your eyes], in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s ring [signet]: for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring [signet], may no man [there is no one to] reverse.

II. Mordecai authorizes the Jews to make preparations for a common defence. Esther 8:9–14

9Then [And] were the king’s scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth [twenty] day thereof [in it]: and it was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants [satraps], and the deputies [pashas], and [the] rulers [princes] of the provinces which are from India [Hodu], [and] unto Ethiopia [Cush], a hundred [and] twenty and seven provinces, unto every province [province and (i.e., by) province], according to the writing thereof, and unto every people [people and (i.e., by) people] after [according to] their language [tongue], and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language [tongue]. 10And he wrote in the king Ahasuerus’ name, and sealed it with the king’s ring [signet]; and sent letters [books] by posts [the hand of the runners] on horseback [the horses], and riders on [of] mules [the steed], camels [the mules], and young dromedaries [sons of the 11mares]: Wherein [Which] the king granted [gave to] the Jews which [who] were in every city [and (i.e., by) city] to gather [congregate] themselves together, and to stand for [upon] their life [soul], to destroy, to slay [smite], and to cause to perish, all [every] the power of the people and province that would assault them, both 12little ones and women, and to take [he gave] the spoil of them for a prey. Upon one day, in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus, namely, upon the thirteenth [thirteen] 13day of [to] the twelfth [twelve] month, which [that] is the month Adar. The copy of the writing, for a commandment [law] to be given in every province [and (i.e., by) province] was published [revealed] unto all people [the peoples], and that the Jews should [for the Jews to] be ready against [to] that day to avenge themselves on [from] their enemies. 14So the posts [runners] that rode upon [riders of] mules and camels [the steed] went out, being hastened and pressed on by the king’s commandment [word]. And the decree [law] was given at [in] Shushan the palace [citadel].

III. Mordecai’s honor and the joy of the Jews. Esther 8:15–17

15And Mordecai went out from the presence of [before] the king in royal apparel of blue [violet] and white [linen], and with a great crown of gold, and with a garment [robe] of fine linen [byssus] and purple: and the city of Shushan rejoiced [shouted] and was glad. 16The Jews had [To the Jews was] light, and gladness, and joy, and honour. 17And in every province and in every city [and (i.e., by) city], whithersoever [which] the king’s commandment [word] and his decree [law] came [was approaching], the Jews had [was to the Jews] joy [gladness] and gladness [joy], a feast and a good day. And many of [from] the people [peoples] of the land became Jews [Judaized themselves]; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.


It seems almost self-evident after what occurred in chap. 7 that now, next to Esther, Mordecai should also come to great distinction. Whether, however, they would be able fully to reverse the fate that threatened the Jews, remained uncertain in view of the difficulty of the situation. Even after Mordecai had taken his own protective measures, up to the very hour when success was assured, uncertainty continued. In chap. 8 it is to be shown first what authority he received and what measures of policy he adopted.

Esther 8:1–8. First, Mordecai’s authority. On the very day in which Haman fell the king presented the queen with his house. Justly enough the Targums understand by the term “house,” also the people in it, and the entire possessions belonging thereto. It was usual for Persian kings to possess themselves of the property of those who had been punished with death (Josephus, Antiq.XI. 1, 3; 4, 6). Mordecai came before the king,i.e. he was made one of the officers who saw the face of the king (comp. Esther 1:10, 4; 7:9). He owed his position, not merely to his merit, as having himself been of service to the king, and now meriting the title benefactor of the king (Herod. VIII. 85), but because of his relation to Esther (Esther 2:7). Indeed the king took off his ring (Esther 8:2, וַיָּפַר, as in Esther 3:10), his seal-ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it unto Mordecai.—הֶעֱבִיר מִן, as in Jon. 3:6; he made him prime minister (Gen. 41:42; 1 Macc. 6:15; comp. Esther 3:10).1 In addition Esther placed him over the house of Haman, i.e. left to him the honorable and lucrative management of the large estate thus reverting to her, in fact made him her governor of the house. Both henceforth enjoyed a brilliant position; but they were not misled thereby into evil. The remarks with reference to the present prosperity of Esther and Mordecai are evidently made with regard to what followed. They did not take their ease at the expense of the needed care over their people; these were not forgotten. On the contrary they believed it incumbent upon them to do all in their power to make their people happy and prosperous. The mourning of Esther was still great; it did not cease until full deliverance came to them.

Esther 8:3. And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears.2—She thus caused him to understand distinctly that she was by no means satisfied with what had been done. In so far as Esther had implored him in a general manner to cause to be put away, to neutralize, to annul (הֶעֱבִיר) the mischief of Haman (which he expected to inflict upon the Jews), and his device that he had devised against the Jews (comp. Jer. 18:11; Ezek. 38:10), the king showed his willingness to comply, and as in Esther 4:11; 5:2, he again stretched forth the golden sceptre toward her, so that she could take courage to arise and stand before him. Still it was necessary to find out the ways and means how the thing should be begun.

Esther 8:5. Esther suggested: If it please the king (comp. Esther 1:19; 5:4, 8; 7:3); and further on feeling the doubtful character of her proposition, she added: and the thing seem right, advisable to him. כָּשֵׁר = to succeed, to accomplish, and in this sense has reference to seed which has sprouted well (Eccl. 11:6, in the Hiphil, Eccl. 10:10); it is a later word of which elsewhere we only find the noun בִּשְׁרוֹן (Eccl. 2:21; 4:4; 5:10). Let it be written, or commanded by an edict, as in Esther 3:9, to reverse the letters (לְהָשִׁיב, to cause to change from the state of being to non-existence) devised by Haman.—As is often the case, here the substance of a letter is indicated by an apposition, מַחֲשֶׁבֶת הָמָן (comp. Esther 3:8 sq. and 12 sqq.). But in order the more certainly to carry through this doubtful proposal, she adds in Esther 8:6: For how can I endure to see evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?—With reference to the connection of אוּכַל וְרָאִיתִי, we may indicate that one of the verbs, instead of being in the Infin. (with לְ) is subordinate to the other as a finite verb (with וְ), comp. Ewald, § 285 c. Still לא אוּכַל itself means: “I cannot endure, it,” or “I will not be able to stand it” (comp. Isai. 1:13), and the term וְאָרִיתִּי is equal to “when I shall have seen.” רָאָה with בְּ indicates to look upon some one with interest, be it that of pleasure, as is usual, or of pain or sorrow, as is the case here; comp. in this relation Gen. 12:1.

Esther 8:7, 8. In order to indicate in advance that his good will abounds towards Esther and Mordecai, and that he would grant them all that the law would sanction in favor of the Jews, the king here reminds them of what he had so far done for Esther and Mordecai. Since, however, he could not directly annul his first decrees, but could simply make them powerless in effect, he commands them not to send new orders to the governors—in this manner a suspension or recall of the first edict could not be accomplished— but to send an edict to the Jews themselves, commanding them to prepare for their defence. The sentence: For the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse, may have the sense, and so it is generally held, that the simple recall of the first edicts was not possible.אֵין לְהָשִׁיב may indicate a reflection upon לְהָשִׁיב in Esther’s petition in Esther 8:5.3 But since these words so nearly correspond to what precedes: “Let it be written in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring,” it is clearer and more natural to understand him to say: The new edict to the Jews will be just as authoritative and irreversible as was the former one to the governors. This must equally be obeyed with that. Of course the confirmation belongs still to the words of the king. The phraseology speaks only in an objective sense of the “king,” because it refers to a general rule. The infin. absol. Niph. וְנַחְתּוֹם is used instead of the perfect [by an ellipsis of the substantive verb].

Esther 8:9–14. These contain the measures of Mordecai.4 In the same manner as did Haman (Esther 3:12–15) on the 13th of the first month, so Mordecai wrote to and “commanded the Jews and the rulers of the provinces,” on the 23d of the third month, i. e. Sivan. This was fully two months later, although Haman’s fall must have occurred soon after the edict of extermination was published. No doubt Mordecai thought it expedient first to establish himself in his new position before taking such steps and proposing such measures. He wrote to the Jews, but so that the governors became acquainted with the nature of this order, and were obliged to forward it in their extensive provinces to every single Jewish community (comp. Esther 1:1).

The subject of וַיִּכְתֹּב in Esther 8:10 is the one transmitting or originating the writing, i. e. Mordecai. In order to speedily make known the edict so as to free the Jews from their anxiety, and avert the evil in time, he dispatched the messengers with the greatest speed. רָצִים, i.e. couriers, בַּסּוּסִים, i.e. on horses, by posts on horseback, and riders on mules, and young dromedaries.רֶבֶשׁ, in distinction from סוּם, is the saddle-horse (dromedary), the race-horse (1 Kings 5:8), and is here used in a collective sense. אֲחֵשְׁתְּרָנִים (Esther 8:10–14) are not “asses,” according to the modern Persian estar, which in the Sanscrit = acvatara, and hence may have been acpatara in old Persian; but they were princely, royal horses, hence belonging to the court, from kshatra, “royal,” king, according to Haug, in Ewald’s Bibl. Jahrb. V., p. 154. רַמָּךְ= the Syriac ramco, “herd,” particularly a herd of horses, with which we may also compare the word ramakat, “stud,” in the Arabic.

Esther 8:11. Mordecai wrote that the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life,i.e. to defend themselves (comp. Dan. 12:1), to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish all the power, which like an army would raise itself against them (חַיִל), of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.—This too was to take place on the day already designated in Esther 3:13, viz. the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. The reduplication of the expression “to destroy,” etc., refers to Esther 3:13. The same should be granted the Jews which, according to Haman’s edict, was allowed the heathen. The Jews were permitted to apply the jus talionis. The case then stood that the governors and other authorities were by no means obligated to assist in the preparation for the destruction of the Jews, nor yet to obstruct or hinder the resistance which the Jews would offer to their assailants, as might seem to be implied in the first edict. For then the second edict, which was equally authoritative, would have been little respected; but they could leave the case to the people, whether they would attack the Jews and risk a conflict, and they need not afterward punish such Jews as had slain their enemies. But still more. It was permitted the Jews to assemble and prepare and arm for their common defence in advance, so that they might act as one man against all the assaults and reverses, which in case of their standing disunited would surely have befallen them. לְהִקָּהֵל (to collect), placed in advance here, was especially important (comp. its prominence in Esther 9:2, 15, 16, 18). Without this the Jews would not have possessed more than the simple right of self-defence, which, under any circumstances, they would have availed themselves of. Besides, even in the Persian empire the larger portion of the inhabitants seem to have possessed humanity enough to feel the disreputableness of an attack upon the Jews for the purpose of rapine, and they were little inclined to participate therein. On Esther 8:13 comp. Esther 3:14b, and on Esther 8:14, Esther 3:15.

Esther 8:15–17. The effect of this new measure was to produce great and general joy, and to bring great honor to Mordecai. He went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white (comp. Esther 1:6), and with a great crown of gold,[5] and with a garment of fine linen and purple[6] (תַּכְרִיךְἁπ. λεγ., in Aramaic תַּכְרִיכָא). He was thus adorned doubtless to show what honor had been shown him by the king, but more particularly to make it manifest how he had succeeded in the matter of the Jews, and at the same time to publish his joyous feelings thereat. Importance attaches here not to the royal garment, which had already been given him in Esther 6:8 sq., but to the State robes of the first minister at court, which, it appears, Mordecai had not put on at the time of his elevation (Esther 8:1–2), but which he put on after his care for his people was removed. Then the city of Shushan, i.e., its inhabitants one and all, and not the Jews alone, of whom there is separate mention made in Esther 8:16, rejoiced (צהל is not exactly to cry aloud, comp. Isa. 24:14) and was glad.—Hence they had deprecated the massacre awaiting the Jews, and perhaps apprehended with fear the great disorders and dangers that would ensue. But the Jews, Esther 8:16—i.e., those living in Shushan—for the others are mentioned in Esther 8:17, had light and joy in contrast to the darkening of their future fate (אוֹרָה, found in the fem. in Ps. 39:12; in Isa. 26:19, pl. אוֹרֹת), and gladness, and joy, and honor.

Esther 8:17. So also the joy spread to those without, who were so exceedingly distressed through Haman’s edict (Esther 9:3). They indulged in feasts, and in a good, joyous day, i.e., a holiday (comp. Esther 9:19, 22). But this was not all. Many of the people of the land became Jews (מִתְיַהֲדִים, derived from יְהוּדִי, and found only here), because the fear of the Jews, and doubtless also of the mighty and powerful God of the Jews, ruling over their destiny, and not so much the fear of Mordecai and Esther, had fallen upon them (comp. Ex. 15:16; Deut. 11:25).7


On Esther 8:1 sqq. 1. If in the present case the danger that threatened the Jews had not been so imminent and the disposition of both Esther and Mordecai so patriotic, then they might possibly have become proud in view of the wealth and high life and station that they now enjoyed, or they might have grown indifferent or reserved with respect to the distress of their countrymen. It is too frequent an occurrence that upstarts fear to lose caste by paying regard to former relations. Hence they are quick to forget and neglect their previous friends. There is no question that the attainment of honor and wealth will bring a blessing only when these become an incentive to good works, especially in promoting God’s kingdom. There is connected with their enjoyment sufficient discontent, envy and misery, and also enough trouble and curses. In general, Christians who have come to power are more timid in taking care of their friends than worldly people are. Hence the latter can more safely count on the applause of the great mass of men. But the world will not thank the former for their timidity, and God will hold them to account.

FEUARDENT: “We are taught by Mordecai’s example that even pious men sometimes come to the head of affairs, and are safely entrusted with the reins of government; and that God adorns with this glory on earth those whom He will afterwards crown in heaven likewise. They are promoted, however, not so much for their own sake as that they may aid and promote the church and people of God, and may free and console those in affliction.”

STARKE: “We should have sympathy for oppressed brethren in the faith (1 Pet. 3:8; Col. 3:12; Gal. 6:10). The innocence of the guiltless should be protected (Sir. 4:9; 1 Sam. 20:32). He who has no pity for the pious and innocent when they are in danger is not worthy of the name of a man, much less that of a Christian; for we are members of one body (1 Cor. 12:12).”

2. Although Haman had been removed and Mordecai raised to his present station, yet the people still stood in jeopardy of their lives. Since the edict issued against them was irrevocable, their case was still critical. There were not many perhaps who deemed it possible that any means could be found to avert the threatened calamity. Mordecai himself may have long been in doubt regarding the way to be pursued out of the difficulty. And even after it suggested itself to him, it may have seemed improbable that it should lead to success. All depended on the question whether the assailants would not be too numerous for the Jews to overpower. This could not be previously ascertained. It may afford us light to know that he waited two months after his elevation before he issued the new edict. The period until then was one of dark foreboding to the Jews. But the pious Jews doubtless knew how to comfort themselves. “God often delays help, not because He will render none, but in order to exercise our faith, and to stimulate us the more to call upon Him. Then also the help granted will make the deliverance more sweet, and transform a great distress into a great joy” (Berl. Bible).

Mordecai, for his part, doubtless held fast to the thought that one must not despair of the salvation of God’s people, and that though the danger be ever so great, God is infinitely greater, and that it is man’s duty to do all in his power for himself. With respect to Esther, it was something extraordinary that she, although by descent nothing but a poor Jewess, should propose to the great king of the Persians, the mighty and proud Ahasuerus, that he would revoke in one way or another an edict whose irrevocable character as a Persian dogma was fixed. Really this was a demand to divest himself of that higher divine glory (δόξα) which the faith of the people had surrounded him with. It was to run the risk of unsettling the faith of the people in himself, and to expose himself to State disturbances. The difficulties surrounding him may even remind us of the problem that presented itself to Christ, when He, in the face of the sentence of condemnation upon the sinner on the part of justice, still made provision for grace. Esther might have feared that though her power over Ahasuerus had become great, still he might resent such boldness, and indignantly turn her away, refuse her request, and, if possible, become still more embittered against the Jews. Whatever considerations, however, may have arisen in her heart at the time, still she was doubtlessly incited by the predominant thought that the higher position one holds, the greater are the responsibilities connected therewith; that the more influence one wields, the greater must also be the courage to sustain it, so that one must not hesitate to strive after the highest aims and to tread the most difficult paths in the line of duty. But this correct view, this beautiful conviction, could not have been possible unless she had been first in possession of a pure love for her work. As is the case with men, so it was also with her, as a woman, that a true and correct conviction depended upon the state of her heart. If, in the following chapter, she manifests a sharp contrast with the heathen according to the Jewish Old Testament view, which threatened to cause her to err in the Christian view, and to bring vengeance and hate into play, yet, on the other hand, she reveals toward her people a love so strong, so self-sacrificing, and so bold, that it seems as if she had heard and apprehended the great question: “This I did for thee; what doest thou for me?” She here shows that mercy which is appropriate to him who recognizes how great the mercy was that met him.

3. It is a great and precious word which Esther utters in justification of her large and bold request: “How can I endure to see all the evil which will come upon my people, and how shall I bear to see the destruction of my friends?” She here openly expresses the fact that, though she is now greatly elevated, yet she is not able to sever the bond that unites her to her kindred. But, still more, she asserts that her life, though embellished with all the glory that Ahasuerus could bestow, has no value to her if she cannot also know that the lives of her kindred are safe from harm. All this was so well expressed by her that her word is very appropriate in pointing for our comfort to that Prince who in reality makes this sentiment His own—who, though in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but laid aside His glory, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. But it is also appropriate as an exhortation for us, which should impel us in our circumstances to more and more approach her in this duty. It would be little credit to us should we prefer only those who are alike spiritually-minded with ourselves, and should we neglect or ignore those who are related to us according to the body, and should we look upon the perdition of so many souls with indifference.

On Esther 8:7–14. The great excitement which now took place in Shushan, beginning among the scribes of the king and spreading through all the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the great Persian empire, from India to Ethiopia, by means of the couriers who rode the best and fleetest horses of the king’s stud, and which seized all satraps and governors, but particularly all Jewish communities, may, as a first effect, have provoked much inquiry respecting the meaning of the message, and then great astonishment at it. It is, however, hardly possible that any one already comprehended the significance of the event. What was visible was seemingly only a shell in which lay secreted a seed capable of infinite developments, a new universal law, or rather a new and glorious gospel which should henceforth rule over the world’s history and expand to ever increasing authority. The Jews were to have the right to arm themselves against the day of attack on the part of the heathen. This implied that though externally dependent, still among and in themselves they should have freedom and the right to observe their laws and religion. This again prophetically indicates that the kingdoms of the world, although outwardly powerful, should inwardly lay themselves more and more open to the power of the kingdom of God. The Jews should now be empowered to take their defence against their enemies into their own hands. Thus it was implied that, in spite of the restricted sphere to which they were consigned, they still had a right to self-exertion. This mode of action upon attack only left them in an externally insufficient position for successful defence. Yet even in this was contained the prophecy that the people of God are permitted, in an inward and higher sense, themselves to do the best for victory over their enemies, and this the more since the means of the world’s empires are here insufficient. Both the right to exist and to be active in the new sphere which they should enter, though as yet existing in embryo, was never sanctioned here. And if Judaism even today expects to find in the book of Esther that which will afford it joy, then we must go still further and apprehend its deeper and more glorious import for Christianity and the Christian church.

On Esther 8:15–17. Mordecai, after having attained all his requests, went out from the king clothed in royal garments, adorned with a large golden crown upon his head. And in all the land and cities, wherever the new law was promulgated, joy and rejoicing arose among the Jews. A great festival day had come for them. We do not know in how far their joy was pure. If it only arose because they could now make the necessary preparations to defend themselves from the attacks of their assailants, then no one will begrudge them their joy. It was certainly a time of deliverance for them. It is just such times as these that have made great impressions not only upon the Jews, but likewise upon the heathen surrounding them. As in the case of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt (Ex. 12:38; Numb. 10:29), so also here many of the people of the land joined themselves to the Jews, indeed were converted to Judaism. Prophecies such as Isa. 14:1; 44:5 began to be in part realized. Periods of deliverance are chiefly periods of the extension of God’s kingdom. Would that we might realize this in our times of trouble! Since the time of sorrow must of necessity have an end and make way for a time of deliverance, we may very properly rejoice in prospect of the future growth in the church, however threatening the outlook may be. It is on this account that our Lord exhorts us to raise the head when all these things are in process of fulfilment.

The points most important in our chapter are given in brief terms closely following each other. There is God’s watchful and energetic care for His instruments for good. Esther and Mordecai are in advance established in their influential position, so that they may the more effectually execute His will. Then comes His care for His people, from whom He averts the threatening danger, and lastly the world is cared for.

BRENZ: “What an example is here presented to us of the issue of the greatest dangers which may threaten God’s people or church. But what is said of the safety of the universal church, the same holds true of every private individual who is a member of the church. ‘I pray not for them alone,’ says Christ, ‘but for those who through their word shall believe in me.’ ”

STARKE: “It is a small thing for God to turn the seasons of sorrow of the pious into hours of joy (Ps. 30:12; John 16:20). God helps His people (Luke 1:52) and causes them to rejoice over their enemies (Ps. 92:12).”


[1][“A pleasure-seeking Persian king, like Xerxes, was glad to be relieved of the toil of governing, and willingly committed to one favorite after another the task of issuing and signing with the royal signet the decrees by which the government was administered. That the official entrusted with these high powers might be a eunuch, appears from Diodorus (XVI. 50). RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[2][From the statement of Esther 8:4 that the king again held out to her the golden sceptre, “we must understand that Esther had once more intruded on Ahasuerus unsummoned.” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[3][“The answer of Ahasuerus is a refusal, but one softened as much as possible. He first dwells on the proofs which he had just given of his friendly feeling towards the Jews (Esther 8:7). He then suggests that something may be done to help them without revoking the decree (Esther 8:8). Finally, he excuses himself by appealing to the well-known immutability of Persian law”. RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[4][“ The suggestion of Ahasuerus quickened the inventive powers of Esther and Mordecai. The scribes were at once summoned, and a decree issued, not revoking the former one, but allowing the Jews to stand on their defence, and to kill all who attacked them. It has been pronounced incredible that any king would thus have sanctioned civil war in all the great cities of his empire; but some even of the more sceptical critics allow that Xerxes might not improbably have done so (De Wette, Einleitung, p. 198 a).” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[5][“Not a crown like the king’s (כֶּתֶר), but a mere golden band or coronet (עֲטָרָה).” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[6][“The tunic or minor robe of the king was of purple, striped with white (Xenoph. Cyrop. VIII. 3, § l3; Plutarch, Alex. § 51; Q. Curt. III. 5).” RAWLINSON.TR.]

[7][“Mordecai’s power might by itself hare caused some fear, but the chief alarm felt probably was lest the Jews, when the day came for revenging themselves, should account the large class of indifferent persons among their enemies. Persons of this class avoided the danger by becoming Jews.” RAWLINSON.—TR.]


ESTHER 9:1–32

I. The common defence of the Jews is very successful. Esther 9:1–15

1Now [And] in the twelfth [twelve] month, that is the month Adar, on the thirteenth [thirteen] day of the same [in it], when [that] the king’s commandment [word] and his decree [law] drew near to be put in the execution [done], in the day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to have power over [on] them, (though it [and (i.e., then) that] it was turned to the contrary that the Jews [themselves] had rule [should have power] over [on] them that hated them [their haters]), 2the Jews gathered [congregated] themselves together in their cities, throughout [in] all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, to lay [send forth] hand on such as sought their hurt [on the seekers of their evil] ; and no man could withstand [stood in the face 3of] them; for the fear of them fell upon all people [the peoples]. And all the, rulers [princes] of the provinces, and the lieutenants [satraps], and the deputies [pashas], and [the] officers of the king [doers of the work which was to the king], 4helped [were lifting] the Jews; because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them. For Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame [hearing] went [was going] out throughout [in] all the provinces; for this [the] man Mordecai waxed greater 5and greater [was going and great]. Thus [And] the Jews smote [on] all their enemies with the stroke [smiting] of the sword, and slaughter and destruction, and did what they would [according to their pleasure] unto those that hated them [on their haters]. 6And in Shushan the palace [citadel] the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men. And 7Parshandatha, and Dalphon, and Aspatha, and 8Poratha, and Adalia, and Aridatha, 9and Parmashta, and Arisai, and Aridai, and Vajezatha, 10the ten sons of Haman, the son of Hammedatha [the Medatha], the enemy of the Jews, slew they; but [and] on the spoil laid [sent forth] they not their hand. 11On that day the number of those that were slain [the slain ones] in Shushan the palace 12[citadel] was brought [came] before the king. And the king said unto Esther the queen, The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the palace [citadel], and the ten sons of Haman; what have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now [And] what is thy petition? and it shall be granted [given to] 13thee; or [and] what is thy request further [again]? and it shall be done. Then [And] said Esther, If it please [be good upon] the king, let it be granted [given] to the Jews which [who] are in Shushan to do to-morrow also according unto this day’s [to-day’s] decree [law], and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged [let them hang] upon the gallows [tree]. 14And the king commanded [said] it so to be done; and 15the decree [law] was given at Shushan; and they hanged Haman’s ten sons. For [And] the Jews that were in Shushan gathered [congregated] themselves together on the fourteenth day also of the month Adar, and slew [smote] three hundred men [males] at Shushan; but [and] on the prey [booty] they laid not their hand.

II. At the desire of Mordecai the Jews resolve to celebrate the 14th and 15th of the month Adar as Purim. Esther 9:16–28

16But [And] the other [remainder of the] Jews that were in the king’s provinces gathered [congregated] themselves together, and stood [there was a standing] for [upon] their lives [soul], and had rest from their enemies, and slew [there was a smiting] of [in] their foes seventy and five thousand (but they laid not their hands 17[hand] on the prey [booty]). On the thirteenth day of the month Adar: and on the fourteenth day of the same [in it] rested they [there was a resting], and made 18[there was a making] it a day of feasting [banquet] and gladness. But [And] the Jews that were at Shushan assembled [congregated] together on the thirteenth day thereof [in it], and on the fourteenth thereof [in it]; and on the fifteenth day of the same [in it] they rested [there was a resting], and made [a making] it a day of feasting [banquet] and gladness. 19Therefore the Jews of the villages [country places], that dwelt in the unwalled towns [cities of the country places], made [were making] the fourteenth day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting [banquet], and a good day, and of sending portions one [a man] to another [his neighbor]. 20And Mordecai wrote these things [words], and sent letters [books] unto all the Jews that were in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, both [the] nigh and [the] far, 21to stablish this among [upon] them, that they should keep [to be making] the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same [in it] yearly, [in every year and (i.e., by) year], 22as the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy [gladness], and from mourning into a good day; that they should make [to make] them days of feasting [banquet] and joy [gladness], and of sending portions one [a man] to another [his neighbor], and gifts to the poor. 23And the Jews undertook [each received] to do as they had begun [what they had begun to do], and as [what] Mordecai 24had written unto them; because Haman the son of Hammedatha [the Medatha] the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had devised against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, the lot) to consume [discomfit] them, and 25to destroy them: but [and] when Esther [it] came before the king, he commanded [said] by [with the] letters [books], that his wicked [evil] device, which he devised against the Jews, should return upon his own head, and that he [him] 26and his sons should be hanged [they should hang] on the gallows [tree]. Wherefore [Therefore] they called these days Purim, after [upon] the name of [upon] Pur: therefore for [upon] all the words of this letter, and of that which [and what] they had seen concerning this matter [upon thus], and which [what] had come unto them. 27The Jews ordained [established], and took [each received] upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined [the ones joining] themselves unto [upon] them, so as [and] it should not fail [pass], that they would keep [to be making] these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time, [in] every year [and (i.e., by) year]; 28and that these days should be [these days were] remembered and kept [made] throughout [in] every generation [and (i.e., by) generation], every family [family and (i.e., by) family], every province [province and (i.e., by) province], and every city [city and (i.e., by) city]; and that these days of Purim should not fail [pass] from among [the midst of] the Jews, nor the memorial [remembrance] of them perish [cease] from their seed.

III. At the request of Esther the Jews also resolve to commemorate the feast of Purim with fasting and mourning. Esther 9:29–32

29Then [And] Esther the queen, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew, wrote with all authority, to confirm [establish] this second letter of [the] Purim. 30And he sent the letters [books] unto all the Jews, to the hundred twenty and seven 31provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth, to confirm [establish] these days of [the] Purim in their times appointed, according as Mordecai the Jew and Esther the queen had enjoined [established upon] them, and as they had decreed [established] for [upon] themselves [their soul], and for [upon] their seed, the matters [words] of the fastings and their cry. 32And the decree [saying] of Esther confirmed [established] these matters [words] of [the] Purim; and it was written in the book.




CHAPTER 10:1–3

1AND the king Ahasuerus laid [put] a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of 2the sea. And all the acts [work] of his power [authority] and of his might, and the declaration [spreading] of the greatness of Mordecai, whereunto the king advanced him [whom the king made great], are they not written in [upon] the book of the Chronicles [words of the days] of the kings of Media [Madai] and Persia [Paras]? 3For Mordecai the Jew was next [second] unto [the] king Ahasuerus, and great among [to] the Jews, and accepted of [to] the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of [good to] his people, and speaking peace to all his seed.


The author here gives us the last and most important part of the solution, the success which followed the measures of Mordecai for the deliverance of the Jews. Thus his history takes such a turn that the great Persian heathen empire, which at first rejoiced with feasting and hilarity, now suffers a great defeat. Moreover this occurs by the very Jewish nation which Haman and similar enemies hoped to destroy. The time of joyous feasting now came to the Jews and to those who had joined them. Mordecai’s measure for the removal of the danger was quite sufficient. This was true first (Esther 9:1–5) in the Persian empire in general.

Esther 9:1. Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, whenאֲשֶׁר may here be taken as the accus, of time, in which, or where, the king’s commandment and his decree drew near to be put into execution,i.e., in which the king’s word and law should be carried out, in the day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to have power over them (though it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews had rule over them that hated them). The infin. absol. וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא may be made to depend, as a continuation of the preceding perfect upon אֲשֶׁר. Then הוּא will stand as a neuter for the thing which their enemies hoped to accomplish on the thirteenth. וְנַהֲפוֹךְ may also serve as a remark inserted as a casual intermediate expression, then הוּא will probably refer back to יוֹם, comp. Esther 9:22: “As the day was turned unto them (so) that,” etc. As this remark does not anticipate, and in advance indicate the result afterward realized, but only speaks of change brought about by the issue of the second royal edict, שָׁלַט stands the second time for the “might” or “power” which now awaited the Jews according to right and law, but had not yet been realized. הֵמָּה added to the subject, serves to make a sharp contrast between the Jews and their enemies, so that it may be translated ipsi, (themselves) comp. Ewald, § 314 a. In Esther 9:2 follows the mention of a fixed time: The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities,i, e., those in which they were more numerous, but yet dwelt mixed up with the heathen inhabitants. They gathered themselves, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt,i.e., according to chap 8:11, such as attacked them to destroy them. And no man could withstand them,—so עָמַד בִּפְנֵי (comp. Josh. 10:8; 21:42; 23:9), because fear of them, or their fear had fallen upon all the people (comp. Esther 8:17).1

Esther 9:3. All the princes, the satraps, and governors, and also other persons of rank whom it is unnecessary here to name (comp. Esther 3:9), assisted the Jews. מְנַשְּׂאִים, as in Ezek. 1:4.2

Esther 9:4. These were especially influenced by the fear of Mordecai, who now became more and more powerful and authoritative, (comp. 1 Chron. 17:12, where we find instead of גָּדוֹל the intrans. partic. גָּדֵל).

Esther 9:5. Thus the Jews inflicted a great defeat upon all their enemies with the sword, slaughter and destruction: they carried out the right of retaliation which had been accorded them in Esther 8:11. הִכָּה with בְּ is to smite, to defeat some one (2 Sam. 23:10; 24:17; Num. 22:6). מַכַּת can only depend upon הֶרֶג ;הִכָּה and אִבְדָּן both belong to מכת (comp. Esther 9:5, where מַכַּת־הֶרֶב corresponds to הִשׁמִיד).

Esther 9:6–15. The defence of the Jews succeeded especially well in Shushan. Esther 9:6. And in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men[3] The infin. abs. וְאַבֵּד as a supplement to the foregoing perfect expresses: “they slew and destroyed.”

Esther 9:7. The insertion of the names of the ten sons of Haman who were also destroyed, corresponds to the author’s method of exactness, and his disposition to mention names, as is seen in Esther 1:14. Jewish rabbis have found these names indicative of representative importance, and have taken the individual traits to mean something prophetic. This peculiar mode of writing, corresponding so well to the style of later mystical modes of interpretation of later Jewish theology, may have been inherent in its spirit, or it may have been because they find the “minuscule” letter ת in the first, שׁ in the seventh, and ז in the tenth name, and also the “majuscule” letter ו in the tenth name.[4] According to statements made by Buxtorf (Synag. Jud., p. 588) the mode of writing should be a sign that the ten sons were suspended in a perpendicular line, one over the other, or an omen that after their fall they should never more rise to glory. The Jews did not take the booty of their enemies as was permitted them to do in the edict of Esther 8:11. This, however, was the order given to their enemies in the edict of Haman, Esther 3:13, and the author here gives it prominent mention, in order to show that there was no intention on the part of the Jews, to gratify a low avaricious disposition, but only to defend themselves.

Esther 9:11–15. After Ahasuerus had discovered the number of those who had perished in Shushan, he stated the same to Esther, adding: What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? i.e., how many must they not have destroyed there; this he said in order to prove to her that he had granted a great favor to the Jews, and hence that he was well-disposed toward them (comp. Esther 8:7, 8). But to the same intent he also adds the promise following: Now what is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee.—Perhaps he recognized the fact that, if the Jews had to do with so many opponents, they could hardly have mastered them, and even now great danger threatened them on the part of those remaining, if they could not hunt down such in their hiding places (and there must have been many in so large a city) and destroy them utterly, וְיִנָּתֶו, masc. or rather neuter, with reference to מָה, while in Esther 7:2 we find the fem. וְתִנָּהֶן in relation to שְׁאֵלָתֵךְ. The necessity of extending the privilege granted the Jews to the following day, must be evident, since Esther (Esther 8:11) on her part, without consulting Mordecai, still further requested it. And let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows,i.e., crucify the dead bodies in order to increase the disgrace of their execution, but more in order to augment the fear of the Jews. This was the Hebrew and Persian custom (see Ezra 6:11 [comp. Plutarch, Artax. 17]).

Esther 9:14. The king acceded to Esther’s request, and so another edict was issued. This contained principally or exclusively a renewed permission for the Jews. This must be publicly proclaimed. With respect to the sons of Haman a simple command was sufficient. The words, and they hanged Haman’s ten sons, by no means indicates the substance or consequence of the law; opposed to this are the accents and the perfect תָּלוּ. But since the publication of a law was the consequence of the king’s acquiescence, so it was also with the hanging of Haman’s sons.

Esther 9:16–28. The establishment of Purim.—In Esther 9:16–19 we find the historical introduction to the new edict of Mordecai, in Esther 9:20–23 an index of contents, and in Esther 9:24–28, still further, a supplement, confirmatory of what preceded, and which seems to have been taken from some other writing.

The statement in Esther 9:16: But the other Jews—separate from those in Shushan, etc.— again connects with what preceded in Esther 9:1 and 2, in order first, to add the number of those whom they had slain, and next to give due mention to the day of their conflict as well as to the fact that the 14th was for them already a day of rest.[5] The author adds after the phrase and stood for their lives (comp. Esther 8:11): and had rest from their enemies.נוֹחַ is instead of the more usual נוּח, Infin. Absol. as in Num. 11:25. And though he is interested to publish the result for which the Jews stood, namely, that they slew 75,000 of their enemies, yet he is more busied with the main thought that, these outside Jews, in distinction from those in Shushan, had peace soon after their first defence. The perfect in Esther 9:16, 17, as also in Esther 9:18, is continued by subordinated infinitives (comp. Ewald, § 351 c). The statement that the outside Jews had rest already on the 14th of Adar, is here the main point. The other, in Esther 9:18, that the Jews in Shushan first had peace and joy on the fifteenth, is subordinate. This relation is best expressed by the word “while,” by which Esther 9:19, with its עַל־כֵּן, may be joined to Esther 9:16 and 17: Therefore the Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns, made the fourteenth day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting,etc.—It does not matter much about the first season of joy, as stated in Esther 9:17, but it is important that this season had now become a custom of the people, and must have existed down to the time of our author. As evidence of this we have the partic. עשִׂים, and also the particles עַל־כֵּן, which latter is generally employed in an explanation as to how a custom originated. It seems, therefore, that for a long time there existed a difference of time as respects the day of the feast of Purim. It appears that the Jews in the smaller villages had one day, and those residing in the larger cities, i.e., also in Jerusalem (according to some MSS. of the Septuagint version αἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐν ταῖς μητροπόλεσιν) had another. The writing of Mordecai, mentioned in the following verses, which ordered a uniform celebration, viz., of two days (on the 14th and 15th of Adar) soon restored uniformity. But its acceptance had as a first consequence that, only those chief communities in the larger cities (Esther 9:23, 27), obeyed the order, but the smaller bodies still retained the 14th Adar as the chief day of the feast. To assume a contradiction between Esther 9:23 and 27 (as does Bertheau) would be unwarranted even if the section beginning with Esther 9:20 be not an addition by our author, but by some later person. At the time of Josephus it seems that the season of celebration was uniform (comp. Antiq. VI. 13). According to the Mishna (Megilla,) this difference only exists that the book of Esther should be read on the 14th in the smaller towns, but on the 15th in the ancient walled cities of Palestine הַפְּרוֹזִים, with the Kethib, is the plural of פְּרוֹזִ, countryman. The Keri is the same as Deut. 3:5, and 1 Sam. 6:18. There could have been another form from פָּרָז such as פָּרוֹז, as in קָטוֹן beside קָטָן מִשְׁלֹחַ. is the accus., dependent on עֹשִׂים: And of sending portions one to another.—According to Esther 9:22 (comp. Neh. 8:10) one made presents in these feasts, similar to the sacrificial feasts, to those less wealthy, but also to others to whom one desired to signify a joyous mind.

Esther 9:20–23. The writing which Mordecai sent to all the Jews, doubtless contained the substance of our book of Esther, חַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה; i.e., it recounted the danger which had threatened the Jews, and the way in which they were preserved from destruction; for this was needful to state here, in order to give cause and color to the feast ordered by Mordecai. But this did not, therefore, need to include the whole book of Esther.

Esther 9:21. Mordecai’s purpose was: To stablish this among them, that they should keep the,etc.קִיֵם besides this place (verses 20–32) occurs only in Ruth 4:7; Ezra 13:6; Ps. 119:28, 106; and used with עַל it signifies to establish something as binding upon some one, so that it shall become a duty obligatory on him. עָשָׂה with יוֹם here seems to mean (comp. Esther 9:27), to celebrate, a day. The phrase לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים, following upon the long intervening sentences of Esther 9:21, is again taken up in Esther 9:22 by לַעֲשׂות אוֹתָם יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה and still more enlarged. The result was (Esther 9:23) that what the Jews had begun to do (Esther 9:22) and what Mordecai wrote to them to do was by them established as a valid and permanent custom. קִבֵּל, to “accept” (Esther 9:4), here means, according to later linguistic usage, to recognize something as a valid tradition or law. The sing, form is explained by the fact that the verb precedes its subject, according to Gesen. § 114. [Rather it denotes a distribution or individual sense.—TR.]

Esther 9:24–28. Now in order both to give the name of the feast just mentioned as well as its duration through two days, our author again briefly repeats the substance of the historical basis in Esther 9:24 and 25. He also makes brief mention of the facts decisive of the name, and then refers us in Esther 9:26 to Mordecai’s letter and the experiences of the Jews as forming its basis. In Esther 9:24 we find Haman’s intention to destroy the Jews (comp. Esther 3:1, 6 sqq.), and he then points to the feast of Pur or casting of lots (Esther 3:7). לְהֻמָּם, “to destroy them,” from an older word, חָמַם, which generally describes confusion and anguish such as comes from God (Ex. 14:24; Deut. 2:15), but which here may have been selected as a play upon the name of Haman. As regards the edict so friendly to the Jews in Esther 9:25, comp. chap, 8:8 sqq.—But when (it) came before the king,etc. The suffix of the word בְּבֹאָהּ can have no reference to Esther; she is not mentioned in this connection (so opposed to the Targum, Syriac and most interpreters), but can only be taken as a neuter (as for example in Ezek. 33:33), (so Bertheau and Keil); and this the more in keeping with the intention of Haman, which is placed in its proper light.—He commanded by letters that,etc.אָמַר עִס־הַסֵּפֶר for: “to command by writing,” occurs only in this place. It is also peculiar in this section that the command: that his wicked device, which he devised against the Jews, should return upon his own head, is given in direct speech, while usually in the rest of the book the infin. with לְ is employed. Finally the author also mentions the execution of Haman and his sons, on which see Esther 7:10 and 9:6 sqq. In Esther 9:26 follows the declaration of the name of the day of the celebration, to which the author here designed to give prominence; but this is followed by the statement, after עַל־כֵּן, that this should last two days. What is simply indicated by the particles עַל־כֵּן is further enlarged upon by עֲל־כָּל־דִּבְרֵיTherefore for all the words of this letter (of Mordecai in accordance with Esther 9:20), and (of all that) which they had seen concerning the matter (עַל־כָּכָה, concerning the so and thus), and which had come unto them; hence also because their own experience fully corroborated the substance of Mordecai’s letter. In Esther 9:27 follows after עַל־כֵּן the concluding sentence: The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them (i.e. all proselytes), so as it should not fail (but be unalterably established, לֹא יַעֲבֹר, as in Esther 1:19), that they would keep these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year (year after year).—עָשָׁה following upon Esther 9:21 is easily comprehensible. Their writing and determination of time can only have come to them from Mordecai’s. In Esther 9:28 there follows the further injunction: And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation,etc. The partic. נִזְכָּרִים, etc., depend upon לְהְיוֹת in the preceding verse. סוּף מִך == “to have an end,” to cease.

Esther 9:29–32. In order more firmly to establish the new law, and the confirmation of a new custom, which thus far had only been observed by Mordecai and Esther, that is, to connect a day of fasting and mourning with the days of the feast of Purim, a second letter was published. This time it was Queen Esther who composed the letter, hence the femin. וַתִּכְתֹּב. Mordecai is also mentioned; but possibly he was only added to give the letter authority and legality, as being the highest functionary in the realm, and to add the writings mentioned in Esther 9:30. It was especially Esther’s concern that the fasts and wailings which had their origin with herself at the time of the decisive step should serve as a reminder of the great distress so happily overcome. According to Esther 2:15 she was the daughter of Abihail, and on account of the solemnity of the occasion she is expressly designated as such. אֶת־כָּל־תֹּקָף, “with all strength” (power), תֹּקֶף occurs only here, in Esther 10:2 and Dan. 11:17, and would signify the great emphasis that Esther laid on the season of fasting and mourning no less than on the celebration of the joyous feast. The object of לְקַיֵּם, “to make valid as a law,” this second letter of Purim (the first was that of Mordecai in Esther 9:20), is also the object of the preceding וַתִּכְתֹּב By the word “this” the author designates the second letter, since he has in mind not to give its substance, but simply to indicate its existence.

Esther 9:30 explains somewhat why Mordecai is also mentioned in Esther 9:29 along with Esther: And he sent the letters unto all the Jews. The subject can here only be Mordecai himself. The סְפָרִים, however, which he sent were not copies of Esther’s letter (Keil), but writings accompanying it. These may have had the object of further confirming and explaining the facts on account of which fasts and seasons of mourning should be instituted, and of giving a historic sketch of the fast and mourning of the Jews living in Shushan. The words: And he sent the letters unto all the Jews to the hundred twenty and seven provinces, are in apposition to the kingdom of Ahasuerus.—The contents of the writing are briefly designated as words of peace, i.e. as words that meant well, which aimed at the welfare of Israel by thus recommending a good custom for general observance, and which were based on truth.

Esther 9:31. The aim of both Esther and Mordecai’s letters was: to confirm these days of Purim in their times appointed.—This does not mean that it had reference only to certain periods or divisions of the days of Purim in which fasts and mourning should take place, and for which arrangements should be made (Bertheau and also Keil); for that would have been expressed otherwise and more definitely; but it gives the proper validity to the selected days of the feast of Purim, the 14th and 15th Adar. The main thing, however, is contained in the following: According as Mordecai the Jew and Esther the queen had enjoined them, and as they had decreed for themselves and for their seed, the matters of the fastings and their cry.—Hence they would also establish the feast of Purim for themselves, so that they might join fasting and lamentation to the feast as Mordecai and Esther had previously done. The suffix of עֲלֵיהֶם may also refer to the above-mentioned days of Purim (not as to their definite time, Bertheau and Keil; for this is only mentioned incidentally); but since קִיֵּם with עַל always means to make a thing obligatory, it is naturally referred to Esther and Mordecai. It is true there follows the phrase עַל־נַפְּשָׁם; but we may understand this in the sense of עֲלֵיהֶם when preceding וֲעל־זרְעָם. There cannot well be any other subject intended by קִוְּמיּ than (against Keil) the above-mentioned Mordecai and Esther. עַל־זַרְעָם is a zeugmatic mode of expression. It has practical reference to Mordecai’s posterity since Esther, as regards her descendants, could not well hope to see them perpetuate Jewish customs.

Esther 9:32 strengthens the foregoing greatly.— And the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim, those, namely, that had reference to the fasts and mourning.—And it was written in the book, of course not in Esther’s letter, nor in Mordecai’s writing accompanying the decree, which would be designated by the plural סְפָרִים; but it was written in the book indicated in Esther 9:20, in which Mordecai wrote concerning these events, and which is not identical with our Esther-book, but may have served as one of its sources.6 The day of fasting and mourning is not definitely fixed nor stated here; but it was probably the 13th of Adar, which Haman had set apart for the destruction of the Jews, and which the Jews celebrate as תַּעֲנִית אֶסֶתֵּר, Esther’s fast, although in the period of the Talmud there is mention made of a three days’ fast, which was observed after that of Purim.

Chap. 10. Our book aims not only to present the deliverance, but also the elevation of Judaism in the time and midst of the great and powerful heathenism of the period of Ahasuerus. It would represent the latter in the person of Haman, the enemy to Judaism, and the former in the person of Mordecai. Hence at its close it speaks once more of Mordecai’s greatness and honor.—And the king Ahasuerus laid a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of the sea.—The Kethib אחשרש is an orthographical mistake for מַם .אתַשְׁוֵרשׁ, “a levy,” tribute (a tribute-service), here means a tax levied, and this for the reason that tribute-service belonged to products or moneys which were rendered to the king.[7] It may be asked why this remark occurs in our book, which, according to all that has gone before, does not belong to the history of Ahasuerus, but has to do with quite another matter. Keil thinks the author wished briefly to indicate at the close whence Ahasuerus derived the means to support such magnificent state as was described at the beginning of our book. But this inference would be superfluous, and would come somewhat late here. The only safe answer is given us by the manner in which the author, in Esther 9:2, connects the power of Ahasuerus with the greatness of Mordecai. The greater the power of Ahasuerus and his wealth, the more powerful the dignity of Ahasuerus. It is as if the author would tell us: Ahasuerus had power extending over the whole earth, and he caused its wealth to flow into his treasury, and hence made himself felt as the head and lord of the entire power of the earth. It is worth while in this connection to observe the comprehensive statement עַל־הָאָרֶץ וְאִיֵּי הַיָם But this concentration of universal sway in himself did not avail for the suppression of an externally despicable Judaism; it rather served for the recognition and elevation of the latter, since, according to the Providence recognized in our book, Mordecai, the Jew, became the second ruler after Ahasuerus. Although it seemed as if the people of God had been stricken out of the list of people of the earth, still, in Mordecai, because of his relation to Ahasuerus, it became possessed of the wealth of the peoples of the earth.8

Esther 10:2. The author does not designate either the wealth or the power of Ahasuerus or of Mordecai more minutely, but rather refers, for particulars on both to the archives of the empire of the Medes and Persians.9 It is enough for him to be able to refer to these, and it is especially honorable for Mordecai’s cause, that even the archives of heathen kings must remember him. For פָּרָשׁה, “clear statement,” summary, comp. Esther 9:7.

Esther 10:3. Here the author must once more give prominence to the fact that Mordecai, the Jew, who for him stands as the representative of Judaism, stood next to king Ahasuerus, since therefrom it follows that the greatness of the one was also that of the other.

מִשְׁנֶה, “the second,” here means the first minister (comp. 2 Chron. 28:7), and hence indicates that Mordecai was great among the Jews, and favored among the multitude of his brethren; i.e., that he really occupied a representative position among them.10 On רָצוּי comp. Deut. 33:24. The expression רוֹב אֶחָיו is not to be taken in a limited sense, as if he would say less than: “all his brethren;” but may be explained, as Bertheau justly remarks, from the poetic elevation to which his speech rises at its close. The additional sentence also: Seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed, is quite in place here, in so far as it indicates that what came to Mordecai also redounded to the good of his entire people. זַרְעוֹ, in parallelism with עַמּוֹ, is the family to which he belongs, as in 2 Kings 11:1; Is. 61:9, and not his posterity.


On Esther 9:1. The day in which the enemies of the Jews expected to see the realization of their hopes, became instead for the Jews a day of victory, and for their enemies a day of reverse and defeat. This, under existing circumstances, seemed to be a change which could only be brought about, as it were, by a miracle. It was indeed one of those Providences by means of which it has pleased God to reveal Himself from time to time in an especially remarkable manner. At all events, the prophets had foretold such occurrences as a matter surely to be expected. When the captivity of Israel shall have reached its culmination, when the people of God are on the point of expiring under the rod of their drivers, then, instead of really perishing, they should become captors for their captors and taskmasters for their drivers (Is. 14:2). What is here shown in a small prelude, according to such prophecy, should attain a much larger circumference and a much greater glory. Our book itself, according to its deeper significance, points in a manner typical or prophetical to this great and glorious final history. As a matter of fact, this change of affairs was itself deeply grounded in the nature and circumstances of things. So certain as the God of Israel was the only true God, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed, but through all apparent reverses shall continually rise to new and greater victories, so likewise to His people—so long as it is the sole bearer of His sway, the grave, which threatens to swallow it up, shall ever be a place of revivification and resurrection. And to-day also His empire must continue; and that which thought to overcome its power must itself be overcome, and either be absorbed or consigned to destruction. All the days of persecution for God’s kingdom are days indeed in which its enemies hope to overcome it, but it always turns out that such enemies are themselves conquered at last.

BRENZ: “We have above such an example in Haman, who was himself hung on the cross which he had prepared for Mordecai. So the Egyptians were themselves overwhelmed in the sea to which they had driven the Israelites in order to overwhelm them. So also Saul, who had driven David over to the Philistines, that they might destroy him, was himself destroyed by the Philistines.”

On Esther 9:2–4. At the time of the deliverance from Egypt and the entrance into Canaan, the Lord showed abundantly that He was able to make His people a great nation despite the most powerful of their enemies. Now in its exile He again showed them that, as for Himself, He now no longer had need of them as a people, at least as a politically independent one. The great deeds that were then done were edifying and elevating in tendency; what He now did was momentous and instructive. It was plainly evident that He could accomplish His purpose aside from external means or political circumstances. It is still more manifest than it then was that it has pleased Him to be powerful in those who are weak, and great in those who have little influence. In those days he prepared as His instruments the chief persons and princes of His own people, who were in an especial manner filled with the Spirit. Now, however, he employs instead the satraps and governors of Persia, little as they were willing or fit for such work. Together with and among kings, such as Cyrus and Ahasuerus, they must also further God’s purposes. There was a time when the Lord had caused fear and terror to fall upon the peoples before Israel, especially those who stood opposed in war, so that they fled from before them (comp. Deut. 2:25). Now, however, the princes and governors, who had great fear, were obliged to protect the rights of the subjects of the king, and thus they protected Israel. This corresponded entirely to His greatness. Therein is shown His claim as the God of all men. This is itself further evinced by the fact that, if His people will only become more spiritual, as is His wish, and partake of His nature, He will by no means leave them fatherless. But the more spiritual His kingdom, i.e., His people, will become, the more will He assist them to arrive at truth, justice, and security through the world while in it.

On Esther 9:5–11. 1. We now know a different and better mode of conquering enemies than by the sword and through bloodshed. We know that love only will gain the victory over hate. The people of God is strongest where it is given over to sacrifice and suffering. But we know further that this spiritual mode of combat and victory has become possible only since the time when we received spiritual strength and weapons. In the Old Testament time one could only speak of an external victory over opponents, but not of an internal one. Hence we find it explicable why Israel was compelled to fight such sanguinary battles and merciless wars of destruction. What is most striking in our history is the fact that the Jews, although living in circumstances in which they did not need to wield the sword, nevertheless seized the sword. Though they were no more a people in a political sense, and hence could not procure help for themselves, still they acted as a separate political community. The cause that made them wield the sword of destruction with much the greater pleasure and satisfaction was the fact that Esther stood at their head, and instead of bespeaking a shortening of the work of blood, she promoted it. It is observable also that after the destruction of so many enemies, instead of expressing pain that it needed so severe a conflict, she manifested only joy over their success. But we may nevertheless ask whether condemnation of the then Jews, whom one judges so severely often, as well as criticism of the author, who must have thought and felt as they did, does not proceed from a too rigid doctrinal stand-point, which is inclined to measure every thing by an arbitrary standard, without sufficient regard for circumstances. We would doubtless excuse the then expressions of vindictiveness, were it not for the principle that seems to be involved. For in a real war, in which the patriotic feeling has supreme control, and the weakening of an enemy is a duty of self-preservation, we find such feelings as are exhibited in Judaism and Esther very natural, to say the least. We also perceive the same sentiments often displayed by Israel in its earlier conflicts, without taking so serious an account of them. But the main objection really fails. For the carnage was not of their free will, but a matter of stern necessity. It resulted from the peculiar situation of the case; in fact it was so ordered by the government that the Jews should seize the sword. They were not only entitled, but actually necessitated in this case to return to their political independence. Hence the older interpreters very properly lay great stress upon the fact that the Jews did not venture this of themselves, but at the instance of higher authority. STARKE also says: “It is one thing to take revenge of one’s self, another to do so on the order of authority; not the latter, but the former, is forbidden. The simple command of a government will justify such an act only in so far as it is a guaranty against pure thirst for revenge. Every thing here depends upon the disposition of mind. But we would certainly misjudge the temper of the then Jews were we to assume that because the people were but a religious community, we are at liberty to apply a Christian standard to them. It would be unjust to deny them the privilege, which they as an independent people formerly enjoyed, of rejoicing in a victory over their enemies; and it would be little to the purpose, if instead of aiming at their conversion, we acquiesced in their destruction. Instead of justifying the complaint that, we do not pay sufficient regard to those Old Testament national conditions, we must also remember that Old Testament saints could not well avoid often taking a stand-point opposed to their enemies, just as we are still allowed to assume a position at variance with those in enmity against God. Besides, we are not to forget that, for those who will not join themselves to the kingdom or people of God, whatever its form or degree of development, this very hostility is a ground of condemnation. All things that cannot be employed for a good end will finally issue in destruction and extinction. This is still true, and will be true until the end of time. In the same manner even the angels in heaven could not have acted differently from Esther with regard to those enemies in the city of Shushan. We would be more just to Esther, to the Jews spoken of in our book, and to the book itself, if, in what was done in Shushan as well as in all Persia, we would see an anticipation of the judgments connected and parallel with the progress of the kingdom of God on earth, and especially of the final judgment. If the animus of the O. T. with respect to the destruction of enemies seems to us terribly vindictive, rather than mild, yet this may not only be excusable, but may even be a prophetic intimation The fact, so prominently and emphatically expressed, in the present instance, that the Jews did not stretch out their hands after the goods (spoil) of their enemies, proves to us that they meant to conduct this contest as a measure of self-protection, or better as a holy war, the sole purpose of which was the removal of their enemies.

BRENZ: “This example, however, is set before us not that we should take it upon ourselves to avenge injuries, according to our own judgment, but that we may recognize the severity of the divine wrath against the impious persecutor of the people of God, and that in persecution we might most confidently expect deliverance through faith, and be obedient to the calls of God.”

2. That the sons of Haman should also suffer was agreeable to Persian law, according to which, in many cases, the whole circle of relationship of a criminal must suffer death with him (comp. Amm. Marcell. xxiii. 6). Nor was this mode of proceeding contrary to the Mosaic code. The law that the children should not die for their fathers (more correctly: at the same time), Deut. 24:16, was only applicable to those cases in which the children had no part in the crime of their parents (comp. 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4). Doubtless the sons of Haman belonged to those who were inimical to the Jews and attacked them; indeed they may have been their bitterest enemies. It is fair to suppose them in the same state of mind with their father, so that Isa. 14:21 came true in their case. Esther requested that, after they were executed, they should also be hung. That the Jews really executed this climax of punishment, may indicate the especially severe judgment that will overtake those who are the principal agents of Antichrist on earth; and this illustrates the truth that opposition against whatever is antagonistic to goodness and piety, must rise till it reaches its overwhelming acme. This is a principle valid even for Christians, that they must be in a hostile attitude to evil to the last degree.

BRENZ: “This is written in admonition of parents, in order that they may be incited to cultivate piety, lest along with themselves they may also drag their children down into destruction. Such severity of God is stated in the Decalogue: ‘Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me’ (comp. John, 18:17 sq.).”

On Esther 9:11–32. 1. In the first pages of our book Ahasuerus, together with the representatives of his empire, indeed heathendom itself, celebrated a great feast. Here, at the end, however, it is for the Jewish people to celebrate a feast. The way of the world begins with pleasure and mirth, but does not end so. The way of God’s people leads through sorrow, but at its end is the great feast which is described by Zech. in chap. 14., as a feast of tabernacles; since it will be celebrated in the tabernacles of undisturbed peace. This, according to Isa. 25:6 sqq., may also be the celebrating feast of salvation and consolation, in which God will wipe away all tears from all eyes. We here have to do with the celebration of a feast in time. This obviously differs greatly from the heathen festival. When in later centuries Purim was celebrated with heathenish abandon and luxury, when it seemed to the Jews that they regarded it as a duty to so intoxicate themselves so that they could not distinguish between the names of Mordecai and Haman, this became a striking proof to how low a level, even to heathenism, Judaism had sunk.

The festivals that the people of the Lord as such celebrate, have quite a different purpose from those of heathendom. Ahasuerus aimed to show the riches of his glorious kingdom. God’s people desire first of all to praise God’s grace. They would give thanks for the gifts bestowed upon them. They would secure and keep what they already have by rendering thanks and praise to God as its author. Their’s are feasts of gratitude. Hence these also have a different character from the others. The pious cannot manifest their spirit of gratitude to God for all His benefits without also proving this by benefaction to their brethren in the faith. The love of God has kindled love to their fellows in their hearts; this would prove itself in deeds of kindness and benevolence. They would confess their allegiance to God as to one mild and kindly; they would else deny Him were they not to give sway, on their part, to mildness and kindliness. Their festivals, therefore, are seasons of refreshing, but especially so to the poorer brethren among them (comp. Esther 9:19, 22). At the same time there is joined to their spirit of rejoicing one of great seriousness. They cannot enjoy their deliverance without also looking back upon the sorrow that preceded it. They can only appreciate the former by taking a full view of the latter. They do not forget that though salvation is theirs, still there are even yet abundant causes for sorrow and grief. The chief cause of this is the remains of sin in them. As the Mazzoth (unleavened) days are followed by the serious Paschal sacrifice, and as the joy of the feast of tabernacles is preceded by the repentance of the fast of the day of atonement, so also here the joyous feast of Purim is connected with a preparation of fasting and mourning (comp. Esther 9:31). In eternity also will this transition hold true.

STARKE: “It is the privilege of God’s children to rejoice in the Lord (Deut. 12:15; Phil. 4:4). When God presents us with days of joy and blessing, we should also remember the poor, (Sir. 14:4; Ps. 22:27 sqq.).”

2. In Deut 13:1, it is commanded neither to add to nor to take from the law. If then the Jewish people nevertheless added another feast to those already existing then, doubtless they took into account the principle that what one is encouraged to do in view of a certain law is not so much an addition as an outflow of the same. At any rate the Jewish church already began in this manner to assume a freer position with respect to the Law. And this, if the interior impulse be true, not so much to the letter as rather to the spirit, would be still loyal; nor could it very easily transform the “writing,” spoken of in Esther 9:21, 27, into an objectionable system of statute law.

STARKE: “We can well receive or retain good church ceremonies, if only they are not opposed to the Word of God, in view of our Christian freedom. Even the holidays ordered by the authorities of one’s country should be celebrated in a becoming manner (Zech. 7:2–5).”

On Esther 10. That next to the great power of Ahasuerus, having such extensive dominions, all subject to taxation, the greatness of the Jew Mordecai should have been handed down to the memory of all times in the books of record of remarkable events of the Medes and Persians, was a great honor to the Jews. To this day they rejoice over his elevation. But they may well look to it to see whether they may now claim him as their own. That which God especially honored and protected in Mordecai and the then Judaism, was their fidelity to Him and His law. And only where these are found will we find a church that may receive the book of Esther as a prophecy of its victory and continuance in spite of all oppressions on the part of the world.

BRENZ: “The Jews, because they rejected Christ, the true seed of Abraham, are now no longer the people of God, no more His Church, but belong to Ishmael and Esau, who always have persecuted the true seed of Abraham. And since they persecute the true Israel, i.e., Christians with the same enmity with which Haman once persecuted them, it is clear that they are themselves the kindred and allies of Haman the Amalekite.”

Only where we suffer like Mordecai may one take comfort, as is so convincingly expressed in our book in the thought that the crown is at the end of the cross.

FEUARDENT: “Mordecai, in order to vindicate the glory of God and his countrymen from the Hamanites, endured the hatred of many. He afflicted himself with fastings, prayers, sackcloth, cryings and lamentations; he constantly spurned that impious man; and was at last adjudged to suffer on the ignominious cross. Now, however, by the singular favor of God he is crowned beyond all men (Ahasuerus alone excepted) with glory and honor even in this world.”


[1][“The Jews apparently did not remain wholly on the defensive. Their enemies were no doubt well known to them, and were prepared for the struggle which it was seen must come. Sometimes the one side, sometimes the other, would commence the attack.” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[2][“This is very important. It has been stated that according to the narrative of Esther the Jews were allowed to kill ‘75,000 Persians;’ and this (supposed) feature of the narrative has been pronounced ‘incredible.’ The present verse shows that the real Persians, who formed the standing army which kept the empire in subjection, and were at the disposal of the various governors of the province, took the Jews’ side. Their enemies were almost entirely to be found among the idolatrous people of the subject nations, for whose lives neither the Persians generally, nor their monarchs, cared greatly.” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[3][“By ‘Shushan the palace’ or ‘the fort,’ we are probably to understand the whole of the upper town, which occupied an area of above a hundred acres, and contained, no doubt, many residences besides the actual palace. It is not likely that the Jews would have ventured to shed blood within the palace precincts.” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[4][“Excepting Adalia, all these names are readily traceable to Old Persian roots. Parshandatha is ‘given to Persia,’ or ‘to the Persians;’ Dalphon, which in Persian must have been Darphon or Darpon, is probably the Persian representative of the Sansc. darpin, ‘arrogant;’ Aspatha is from aspa, ‘horse,’ and would probably mean ‘horseman;’ Poratha is apparently from paru, ‘much, great,’ and ratha, ‘a chariot,’ and would mean ‘having many chariots;’ Aridatha is from the roots ari ‘very,’ and da, ‘to give,’ and would mean ‘liberal’ (comp. Phradates). Parmashta is a little doubtful, but may be from fra, an intensive particle, and mathista, ‘greatest’ (comp. Lat. prœmagnus). Arisai has the intensive ari prefixed to a root saya, which is perhaps ‘to conquer’ or ‘to go;’ and Aridai has the same intensive prefixed to the root da, ‘to give.’ Finally, Vajezatha comprises two elements, vaya, ‘the wind.’ and zatha, (comp. Zend. zyat), ‘powerful;’ and would mean ‘strong as the wind’ (comp. Chitratachma, ‘strong as the leopard;’ Tritantæchmes, ‘strong as Tritan, i.e., Feridem).” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[5][Shushan here is “probably the lower town, which lay east of the upper one and was of about the same size.” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[6][“As book elsewhere in Esther (סֵפֶר, in the sing.) always means a particular book—“the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia (Esther 2:23; 6:1; q. 2), it seems best to give it the same sense here.” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[7][“Some fresh arrangement of the tribute is likely to have followed on the return of Xerxes from Greece. His exchequer would be exhausted, and steps would have to be taken to replenish it. The expression in the original does not necessarily imply the first imposition of a tribute.” RAWLINSON.TR.]

[8][Upon the expression isles of the sea, in this connection, Rawlinson remarks: “Cyprus, Aradus, the island of Tyre, Platea, etc., remained in the hands of the Persians after the victories of the Greeks, and may be the ‘isles’ here intended. Or Xerxes may have ignored the loss of the Ægean Islands, and have ‘laid’ his tribute upon them, though he might not be able to exact it.”—TR.]

[9][“In the latter years of Xerxes his ‘power and might’ were chiefly shown in the erection of magnificent buildings, more especially at Persepolis. He abstained from military expeditions.” “Media takes precedence of Persia (contrary to Esther 1:3, 14,18. etc. because the kingdom of Media had preceded that of Persia, and in the ‘Book of the Chronicles’ its history came first.” RAWLINSON.—TR.]

[10][“It has been objected that Artabanus, the captain of the guard, and not Mordecai, was Xerxes’ chief favorite in his twelfth and thirteenth years. But this view rests upon the false chronology of Ctesias, who gives Xerxes 13 years only, instead of the 21 of Ptolemy, Manetho, and the generality of the Greek writers. Artabanus was favorite towards the close of Xerxes’ reign, i.e., in his 20th and 21st years.” RAWLINSON.—TR.]




































THIS volume embraces three distinct parts, as follows:

1. A General Introduction to the Poetical Books of the Old Testament, by the American Editor. It corresponds to a similar Introduction to the Prophetical Books. In its preparation I have chiefly consulted Lowth, Herder, and Ewald. I might have considerably enlarged it by introducing more specimens, and discussing minutely the difficult questions of Hebrew metre, rhyme, and versification generally, but the great extent of this volume suggested brevity.

2. A new Version of the Book of Job, with brief philological annotations, a preliminary essay, and a series of dissertations on the more difficult passages of the Book, by Prof. TAYLER LEWIS, who has made Job for years the object of special study. He discusses with rare ability and vigor its grand all-pervading Theism, its leading idea and aim, and finds in the humble and unconditional submission to the Divine will the final answer to Satan’s question in the Prologue: “Will a man serve God for naught?” The theistic relation of man, made in the image of God, so strongly expressed in Job and Genesis, contains “the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16), though a future state is not dogmatically expressed. The veiled Shemitic idea has more moral power than the Greek or Vedaic conceptions of another life, though the latter seem so much more definite and mythologically clear. The Rhythmical Version aims at fidelity and conciseness, smoothness of measure, and harmony with the Hebrew accentuation and divisions. The Exegetical Notes pay special attention to the broken, ejaculatory or soliloquizing style of Job’s speeches, as distinguished from the less impassioned addresses of others; also to the passages on the great works of nature, and those questions in the latter part of Job which—according to Humboldt’s dictum—have not as yet been answered by science. (See especially notes on chs. 28, 36 to 39) Of the twelve Excursuses on important sections, those on the famous passage Job 19:25 (pp. 173 sqq.), on the peculiar character of Job’s speeches (175), and on the Angel Intercessor (pp. 208 sqq.) deserve special attention.

3. The Commentary of Prof. ZOECKLER, prepared for the Lange Series (Leipzig, 1872, pp. 321), translated by Dr. L. J. EVANS, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Literature in Lane Theological Seminary, Cincinnati. Prof. Evans has given a faithful and idiomatic version of the German work, and has added valuable references, citations, and critical remarks, mostly in the exegetical part, where the general utility of the commentary seemed to require it. He has also, in the Introduction (pp. 252–262), ventured upon a new and ingenious suggestion in respect to the vexed question of the authorship, which deserves careful consideration. He ascribes it to king Hezekiah, and regards the beautiful ode after his recovery, which Isaiah has preserved (Job 38:9–20), as the key-note rather than the echo of Job. To the same age, though not the same author, Ewald, Renan and Merx assign the composition. But the conjectures of a post-Mosaic and post-Solomonic authorship leave it an inexplicable mystery that a pious Israelite enjoying the blessings of the theocracy and the temple service, should, in such a long poem on the highest theme, have purposely ignored the sacred laws and institutions of his Church, and gone back to a simpler and more primitive religion. Ancient literature furnishes no example of such a complete reproduction of a byegone age. For, whoever was the author, he certainly represents a patriarchal state of society and a religion of the order of Melchizedek, the cotemporary of Abraham, the mysterious ἱερεὺς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑφίστου, βασιλεὺς, δικαιοσύνης, ἀπάτωρ, ἀμήτωρ, ἀγενεαλόγητος.

But I cannot enter into details. The object of the Preface is simply to introduce the reader to the contents of this volume. The remaining parts of the Old Testament division of this Commentary are considerably advanced, even in anticipation of the German work, which has not yet reached Isaiah, the last historical Books, and the post-exilian Prophets.


NEW YORK, November 7, 1874.









* Robert Lowth (son of William Lowth, who wrote a Commentary on the Prophets, born at Winchester, 1710, Prof. of Poetry, Oxford, since 1741, Bishop of London, since 1777, died 1787): De Sacra Poesi Hebræorum Prælectiones Academicæ, 1753; with copious notes by John David Michaelis (Prof. in Göttingen, d. 1791), Gött. 1770; anothered. with additional notes by Rosenmüller, Leipz. 1815; best Latin edition, with the additions of Michaelis, Rosenmüller, Richter, and Weiss, Oxon. 1828. English translation (“Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, with the principal notes of Michaelis”) by G. Gregory, 1787; re-edited with improvements by Calvin E. Stowe, Andover, 1829. Comp. also Lowth’s preliminary dissertation in his translation of Isaiah (13th ed., Lond., 1842). Lowth’s work is the first earnest attempt at a learned and critical discussion of Hebrew Poetry.

* J. Gottfried Herder(an almost universal genius and scholar, poet, historian, philosopher and theologian, born 1744 at Mohrungen in East Prussia, died as court chaplain at Weimar, 1803): Geist der Hebräischen Poesie. Dessau, 1782; 3d ed. by Justi, Leipz., 1825. Full of enthusiasm for the purity and sublimity of Hebrew poetry. English translation by President James Marsh, Burlington, Vt., 1833, 2 vols. Comp. also the first twelve Letters of Herder on the Study of Theology.

L. T. Kosegarten:Ueber den Dichtergeist der heil. Schriftsteller und Jesu Chr., Greifsw., 1794.

A. Gügler:Die heil. Kunst der Hebräer. Landshut, 1844.

J. L. Saalschütz:Von der Form der hebräischen Poesie, Königsberg, 1825.

M. Nicolas;Forme de la poesie hébraique, 1833.

J. G. Wenrich:Commentatio de poeseos Hebraicæ atque Arabicæ origine, indole mutuoque consensu atque discrimine. Lips. 1843 (276 pp.).

J. G. Sommer:Vom Reime in der hebr. Volks-poesie, in his Bibl. Abhandlungen, Bonn, 1846, pp. 85–92.

H. Hupfeld:Rhythm and Accentuation in Hebrew Poetry, transl. by Prof. Charles M. Mead in the Andover ‘Bibliotheca Sacra’ for 1867.

Isaac Taylor(Independent, a learned layman, d. 1865): The Spirit of the Hebrew Poetry, repub., New York, 1862 (with a biographical introduction by Dr. Wm. Adams).

Ernst Meier:Geschichte der poetischen National-Literatur der Hebräer, Leipz., 1856. The same: Die Form der Hebräischen Poesie, Tübingen, 1853.

Older essays on Hebrew poetry and music by Lowth (see above), Ebert, Gomarus, Schramm, Fleury, Dannhauer, Pfeiffer, Leyser, Le Clerc, Hare, and others may be found in the XXXIst and XXXIId vols. of Ugolini’s Thesaurus.


G. B. Winer:Poesie hebräische in his Bibl.-Realwörterbuch, Vol. II., 264–268 (3d ed., 1849).

Ed. Reuss:Hebräische Poesie, in Herzog’s Real-Encyclopædie, Vol. V., 598–608.

W. A. Wright: Hebrew Poetry, in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, (enlarged Am. ed.), Vol. III., pp. 2549–2561.

Diestel:Dichtkunst der Hebräer, in Schenkel’s Bibellexicon, I., 607–615.


* H. Ewald:Die Dichter des Alten Bundes, in 3 Parts, Göttingen, 1854–67; 2d ed., 1865 sqq., Vol. I., pp. 300. Full of genius and independent research.

E. Meier:Die poet. Bücher des A. T., Stuttgart, 1864.

J. G. Vaihinger:Die dichterischen Schriften des A. B. Stuttg., 1856–’58.

R. Weber:Die poet. Bücher des A. B. Stuttg., 1853–’60.

Tayler Lewis:Metrical Version of Koheleth, with an introduction (in an Appendix to his translation of Lange on Koheleth, New York, 1870.

The relevant sections in the Critical Introductions to the Old Testament by DE WETTE, HAEVERNICK, KEIL, BLEEK, HORNE, etc.


Poetry and music—the highest and most spiritual of the fine arts—are older than the human race; they hail from heaven and from a pre-historic age. The old legend traces the origin of music to the angels, and Raphael paints St. Cecilia, the patroness of church music, as faintly echoing the higher and sweeter chorus from the celestial world. The same applies to poetry, for music presupposes poetry and derives from it its inspiration. Christianity was sung into life by the anthem of the heavenly hosts, who existed before the hexaëmeron or certainly before man, and who are the agents of God in the realm of nature as well as in all great epochs of revelation. The same angels raised their anthems of glory and peace at the completion of the first creation by the hand of the Almighty. Then

“The morning stars sang together,

And all the sons of God shouted for joy.”1

As poetry and music began in heaven, so they will end in heaven, and constitute a rich fountain of joy to angels and sanctified men.


Poetry and music came from the same God as religion itself, and are intended for the same holy end. They are the handmaids of religion, and the wings of devotion. Nothing can be more preposterous than to assume or establish an antagonism between them. The abuse can never set aside the right use. The best gifts of God are liable to the worst abuse. Some have the false notion that poetry is necessarily fictitious and antagonistic to truth. But poetry is the fittest expression of truth, its Sabbath dress, the silver picture of the golden apple, the ideal embodied in and shining through the real. “Let those,” says Lowth,2 “who affect to despise the Muses, cease to attempt, for the vices of a few, who may abuse the best of things, to bring into disrepute a most laudable talent. Let them cease to speak of that art as light and trifling in itself, to accuse it as profane or impious; that art which has been conceded to man by the favor of his Creator, and for the most sacred purposes; that art, consecrated by the authority of God Himself, and by His example in His most august ministrations.” Dean Stanley says:3 “There has always been in certain minds a repugnance to poetry, as inconsistent with the gravity of religious feeling. It has been sometimes thought that to speak of a book of the Bible as poetical, is a disparagement of it. It has been in many Churches thought that the more scholastic, dry, and prosaic the forms in which religious doctrine is thrown, the more faithfully is its substance represented. Of all human compositions, the most removed from poetry are the Decrees and Articles of Faith, in which the belief of Christendom has often been enshrined as in a sanctuary.4 To such sentiments the towering greatness of David, the acknowledged preëminence of the Psalter are constant rebukes. David, beyond king, soldier, or prophet, was the sweet singer of Israel. Had Raphael painted a picture of Hebrew as of European Poetry, David would have sate aloft at the summit of the Hebrew Parnassus, the Homer of Jewish song.”


More than one-third of the Old Testament is poetry.

This fact is concealed, and much of the beauty of the Bible lost to many readers by the uniform printing of poetry and prose in our popular Bibles. The current versicular division is purely mechanical, and does not at all correspond to the metrical structure or the laws of Hebrew versification.

The poetry of the Old Testament is contained in the Poetical Books, which in the Jewish canon are included among the Hagiographa or Holy Writings, namely, Job, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Besides these the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and most of the Prophets are likewise poetic in sentiment and form; and a number of lyric songs, odes, and prophecies, are scattered through the historical books.

The poetic sections of the New Testament are the Magnificat of the blessed Virgin, the Benedictus of Zachariah, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Nunc dimittis of Simeon, the Parables of our Lord, the Anthems of the Apocalypse, and several poetic quotations in the Epistles, e.g., 1 Tim. 3:16.

Sometimes the prose of the Bible is equal to the best poetry, and blends truth and beauty in perfect harmony. It approaches also, in touching the highest themes, the rhythmical form of Hebrew poetry, and may be arranged according to the parallelism of members.5 Moses was a poet as well as a historian, and every prophet or seer is a poet, though not every poet a prophet. The same is true of the prose of the New Testament. We need only refer to the Beatitudes and the whole Sermon on the Mount, the Parables of our Lord, the Prologue of St. John, the seraphic description of love by St. Paul in the thirteenth chapter of second Corinthians, and his triumphant pæan at the close of the eighth chapter of Romans, which, in the opinion of Erasmus, surpasses the eloquence of Cicero.6

In this wider sense the Bible begins and ends with poetry. The retrospective vision of the first creation, and the prospective vision of the new heavens and the new earth are presented in language which rises to the summit of poetic beauty and power. There can be nothing more pregnant and sublime in thought, and at the same time more terse and classical in expression than the sentence of the Creator:

“Let there be light! And there was light.”

Is there a loftier and more inspiring conception of man than that with which the Bible introduces him into the world, as the very image and likeness of the infinite God? And the idea of a paradise of innocence, love and peace at the threshold of history is poetry as well as reality, casting its sunshine over the gloom of the fall, and opening the prospect of a future paradise regained. Then, passing from the first chapters of Genesis to the last of the Apocalypse, how tender and affecting is St. John’s description of the new Jerusalem—the inspiring theme of all the hymns of heavenly home-sickness from “Ad perennis vitæ fontem” to “Jerusalem the golden,” which have cheered so many weary pilgrims on their journey through the desert of life.

Hebrew poetry has always been an essential part of Jewish and Christian worship. The Psalter was the first, and for many centuries the only hymn-book of the Church. It is the most fruitful source of Christian hymnody. Many of the finest English and German hymns are free reproductions of Hebrew psalms; the 23d Psalm alone has furnished the keynote to a large number of Christian hymns, and the 46th Psalm to Luther’s master-piece: “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.”

As among other nations, so among the Jews, poetry was the oldest form of composition. It precedes prose, as youth precedes manhood, and as feeling and imagination are active before sober reflection and logical reasoning.

Poetry and music were closely connected, and accompanied domestic and social life in seasons of joy and sorrow. They cheered the wedding, the harvest, and other feasts (Jos. 9:3; Jud. 21:19; Amos 6:5; Ps. 4:8). They celebrated victory after a battle, as the song of Moses, Ex. 15, and the song of Deborah, Judg. 5; they greeted the victor on his return, 1 Sam. 18:8. The shepherd sung while watching his flock, the hunter in the pursuit of his prey. Maidens deplored the death of Jephthah’s daughter in songs (Judg. 11:40), and David the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:18), and afterwards Abner (2 Sam. 3:33). Love was the theme of a nobler inspiration than among the sensual Greeks, and the Song of Songs celebrates the Hebrew ideal of pure bridal love, as reflecting the love of Jehovah to His people, and prefiguring the union of Christ with His Church.


In a wider sense all true poetry is inspired. The civilized nations of antiquity, particularly the Greeks, regarded it as a divine gift, and poets as prophets and intimate friends of the gods; and all the ceremonies, oracles and mysteries of their religion were clothed in poetic dress. There is, however, a two-fold inspiration, a Divine, and a Satanic; and the poetry which administers to pride and sensual passion, idolizes the creature, ridicules virtue, and makes vice attractive, is the product of the evil spirit.

The poetry of the Hebrews is in the highest and best sense the poetry of inspiration and revelation. It is inspired by the genius of the true religion, and hence rises far above the religious poetry of the Hindoos, Parsees and Greeks, as the religion of revelation is above the religion of nature, and the God of the Bible above the idols of the heathen. It is the poetry of truth and holiness. It never administers to trifling vanities and lower passions; it is the chaste and spotless priestess at the altar. It reveals the mysteries of the divine will to man, and offers up man’s prayers and thanks to his Maker. It is consecrated to the glory of Jehovah and the moral perfection of man.

The most obvious feature of Bible poetry is its intense Theism. The question of the existence of God is never raised, and an atheist—if there be one—is simply set down as a fool (Ps. 14). The Hebrew poet lives and moves in the idea of a living God, as a self-revealing, personal, almighty, holy, omniscient, all-pervading and merciful Being, and overflows with his adoration and praise. He sees and hears God in the works of creation, and in the events of history. Jehovah is to him the Maker and Preserver of all things. He shines in the firmament, He rides on the thunder-storm, He clothes the lilies, He feeds the ravens and young lions, and the cattle on a thousand hills, He gives rain and fruitful seasons. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of Moses, David and the prophets, He dwells with Israel, He is their ever-present help and shield, their comfort and joy, He is just and holy in His judgments, good, merciful and true in all His dealings, He overrules even the wrath of man for His own glory and the good of His people.

To this all-prevailing Theism corresponds the anthropology. Man is always represented under his most important moral and religious relations, in the state of innocence, in the terrible slavery of sin, or in the process of redemption and restoration to more than his original glory and dominion over the creation. Hebrew poetry reflects in fresh and life-like colors the working of God’s law and promise on the heart of the pious, and every state of his experience, the deep emotions of repentance and grief, faith and trust, gratitude and praise, hope and aspiration, love and peace.

Another characteristic of Bible poetry is the childlike simplicity and naturalness with which it sets forth and brings home to the heart the sublimest ideas to readers of every grade of culture, who have a lively organ for religious truth.7 The scenery and style are thoroughly oriental and Hebrew, and yet they can be translated into every language without losing by the process—which cannot be said of any other poetry. Greek and Roman poetry have more art and variety, more elegance and finish, but no such popularity, catholicity and adaptability. The universal heart of humanity beats in the Hebrew poet. It is true, his experience falls far short of that of the Christian. Yet nearly every phase of Old Testament piety strikes a corresponding chord in the soul of the Christian; and such are the depths of the divine Spirit who guided the genius of the sacred singers that their words convey far more than they themselves were conscious of, and reach prophetically forward into the most distant future.8

All this applies more particularly to the Psalter, the holy of holies in Hebrew poetry. David, “the singer of Israel,” was placed by Providence in the different situations of shepherd, courtier, outlaw, warrior, conqueror, king, that he might the more vividly set forth Jehovah as the Good Shepherd, the ever-present Helper, the mighty Conqueror, the just and merciful Sovereign. He was open to all the emotions of friendship and love, generosity and mercy; he enjoyed the highest joys and honors; he suffered poverty, persecution and exile, the loss of the dearest friend, treason and rebellion from his own son. Even his changing moods and passions, his sins and crimes, which with their swift and fearful punishments form a domestic tragedy of rare terror and pathos, were overruled and turned into lessons of humility, comfort and gratitude. All this rich spiritual biography from his early youth to his old age, together with God’s merciful dealings with him, are written in his hymns, though with reference to his inward states of mind rather than his outward condition, so that readers of very different situation or position in life might yet be able to sympathize with the feelings and emotions expressed. His hymns give us a deeper glance into his inmost heart and his secret communion with God than the narrative of his life in the historical books. They are remarkable for simplicity, freshness, vivacity, warmth, depth and vigor of feeling, childlike tenderness and heroic faith, and the all-pervading fear and love of God. “In all his works,” says the author of Ecclesiasticus (40:8–12), he praised the Holy One most high with words of glory; with his whole heart he sang songs, and loved Him that made him. He set singers also before the altar, that by their voices they might make sweet melody and daily sing praises in their songs. He beautified their feasts and set in order the solemn times until the end, that they might praise His holy name, and that the temple might sound from morning. The Lord took away his sins and exalted his horn forever; He gave him a covenant of kings and the throne of glory in Israel.”9

This inseparable union with religion, with truth and holiness, gives to Hebrew poetry such an enduring charm and undying power for good in all ages and countries.10 It brings us into the immediate presence of the great Jehovah, it raises us above the miseries of earth, it dispels the clouds of darkness, it inspires, ennobles, purifies and imparts peace and joy, it gives us a foretaste of heaven itself.

In this respect the poetry of the Bible is as far above classic poetry as the Bible itself is above all other books. Homer and Virgil dwindle into utter insignificance as compared with David and Asaph, if we look to the moral effect upon the heart and the life of their readers. The classic poets reach only a small and cultured class; but the singers of the Bible come home to men of every grade of education, every race and color, every condition of life, and every creed and sect. The Psalter is, as Luther calls it, “a manual of all the saints,” where each one finds the most truthful description of his own situation, especially in seasons of affliction. It has retained its hold upon the veneration and affections of pious Jews and Christians for these three thousand years, and is even now and will ever be more extensively used as a guide of private devotion and public worship than any other book. “When Christian Martyrs, and Scottish Covenanters in dens and caves of the earth, when French exiles and English fugitives in their hiding-places during the panic of revolution or of mutiny, received a special comfort from the Psalms, it was because they found themselves literally side by side with the author in the cavern of Adullam, or on the cliffs of Engedi, or beyond the Jordan, escaping from Saul or from Absalom, from the Philistines or from the Assyrians. When Burleigh or Locke seemed to find an echo in the Psalms to their own calm philosophy, it was because they were listening to the strains which had proceeded from the mouth or charmed the ear of the sagacious king or the thoughtful statesman of Judah. It has often been observed that the older we grow, the more interest the Psalms possess for us as individuals; and it may at most be said that by these multiplied associations, the older the human race grows, the more interest do they possess for mankind.”11


In its religious character, as just described, lies the crowning excellence of the poetry of the Bible. The spiritual ideas are the main thing, and they rise in richness, purity, sublimity and universal importance immeasurably beyond the literature of all other nations of antiquity.

But as to the artistic and æsthetic form, it is altogether subordinate to the contents, and held in subserviency to the lofty aim. Moses, Solomon, David, Isaiah, and the author of Job, possessed evidently the highest gifts of poetry, but they restrained them, lest human genius should outshine the Divine grace, or the silver pitcher be estimated above the golden apple. The poetry of the Bible, like the whole Bible, wears the garb of humility and condescends to men of low degree, in order to raise them up. It gives no encouragement to the idolatry of genius, and glorifies God alone. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory,” (Ps. 115:1)

Hence an irreligious or immoral man is apt to be repelled by the Bible; he feels himself in an uncongenial atmosphere, and is made uneasy and uncomfortable by the rebukes of sin and the praise of a holy God. He will not have this book rule over him or disturb him in his worldly modes of thought and habits of life.

Others are unable to divest themselves of early prejudices for classical models; they esteem external polish more highly than ideas, and can enjoy no poetry which is not cast in the Greek mould, and moves on in the regular flow of uniform metre and stanza. And yet these are no more essential to true poetry than the music of rhyme, which was unknown to Homer, Pindar, Sophocles, Virgil and Horace, and was even despised by Milton as “the invention of a barbarous age to set off wretched matter and lame metre, as the jingling sound of like endings trivial to all judicious cars and of no true musical delight.” This is indeed going to the opposite extreme; for although rhyme and even metre are by no means necessary, especially in the epos and drama, they yet belong to the perfection of some forms of lyric poetry, which is the twin sister of music.

If we study the Bible poetry on its own ground, and with unclouded eyes, we may find in it forms of beauty as high and enduring as in that of any nation ancient or modern. Even its artless simplicity and naturalness are sometimes the highest triumph of art. Simplicity always enters into good taste. Those poems and songs which are the outgushing of the heart, without any show of artificial labor, are the most popular, and never lose their hold on the heart. We feel that we could have made them ourselves, and yet only a high order of genius could produce them.

Where is there a nobler ode of liberty, of national deliverance and independence, than the Song of Moses on the overthrow of Pharaoh in the Red Sea (Ex. 15)? Where a grander panorama of creation than in the one hundred and fourth Psalm? Where a more charming and lovely pastoral than the twenty-third Psalm? Where such a high view of the dignity and destiny of man as in the eighth Psalm? Where a profounder sense of sin and divine forgiveness than in the thirty-second and fifty-first Psalms? Where such a truthful and over-powering description of the vanity of human life and the never-changing character of the holy and just, yet merciful God, as in the ninetieth Psalm, which has been styled “the most sublime of human compositions, the deepest in feeling, loftiest in theologic conception, the most magnificent in its imagery?” Where have the infinite greatness and goodness of God, His holiness, righteousness, long-suffering and mercy, the wonders of His government, and the feeling of dependence on Him, of joy and peace in Him, of gratitude for His blessings, of praise of His glory, found truer and fitter embodiment than in the Psalter and the Prophets? Where will you find such sweet, tender, delicate and exquisite expression of pure innocent love as in the Song of Songs, which sounds like the singing of birds in sunny May from the flowery fields and the tree of life in Paradise? Isaiah is one of the greatest of poets as well as of prophets, of an elevation, a richness, a compass, a power and comfort that are unequalled. No human genius ever soared so high as this evangelist of the old dispensation. Jeremiah, the prophet of sorrow and affliction, has furnished the richest supply of the language of holy grief in seasons of public calamity and distress from the destruction of Jerusalem down to the latest siege of Paris; and few works have done this work more effectively than his Lamentations. And what shall we say of the Book of Job, the Shakspeare in the Bible? Where are such bold and vivid descriptions of the wonders of nature, of the behemoth and leviathan, and of the war-horse “who paweth in the valley and rejoiceth in his strength, who swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage, who saith among the trumpets Ha, ha! and smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shout of war?” What can be finer than Job’s picture of wisdom, whose price is far above rubies? And what a wealth of comfort is in that wonderful passage, which inspired the sublimest solo in the sublimest musical composition, those words graven in the rock forever, where this holy outsider, this patriarchal sage and saint of the order of Melchisedec, expresses his faith and hope that his Redeemer liveth and will stand the last on the grave, and that he shall see Him with his own eyes on the morning of resurrection.

The times for the depreciation of Bible poetry have passed. Many of the greatest scholars and poets, some of whom by no means in sympathy with its religious ideas, have done it full justice. I quote a few of them who represent different stand-points and nationalities.

Henry Stephens, the greatest philologist of the sixteenth century, thought that there was nothing more poetic (ποιητικώτερον), nothing more musical (μουσικώτερον), nothing more thrilling (γοργώτερπν), nothing more full of lofty inspiration (διθυραμβικώτερον) than the Psalms of David.

John Milton, notwithstanding his severe classic taste, judges: “There are no songs comparable to the songs of Zion, no orations equal to those of the Prophets, and no politics like those which the Scriptures teach.” And as to the Psalms, he says: “Not in their divine arguments alone, but in the very critical art of composition, the Psalms may be easily made to appear over all the kinds of lyric poesy incomparable.”

Sir William Jones: “I have regularly and attentively read the Holy Scriptures, and am of the opinion that this volume, independently of its divine origin, contains more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, more important history and finer strains both of poetry and eloquence, than could be collected from all other books.”

Sir D. K. Sandford: “In lyric flow and fire, in crushing force and majesty, the poetry of the ancient Scriptures is the most superb that ever burnt within the breast of man.”

John von Müller, the German Tacitus: “There is nothing in Greece, nothing in Rome, nothing in all the West, like David, who selected the God of Israel to sing Him in higher strains than ever praised the gods of the Gentiles.”

Herder, who was at home in the literature of all ages and countries, is full of enthusiastic admiration for the pure and sublime beauties of Hebrew poetry, as may be seen on almost every page of his celebrated work on the subject. He regards it as “the oldest, simplest, sublimest” of all poetry, and in the form of a dialogue between Alciphron and Eutyphron, after the Platonic fashion, he triumphantly vindicates its merits against all objections, and illustrates it with admirable translations of choice passages.

Goethe pronounced the book of Ruth “the loveliest thing in the shape of an epic or idyl which has come down to us.”

Alexander von Humboldt, in his “Cosmos,” (where the name of God scarcely occurs, except in an extract from the heathen Aristotle), praises the Hebrew description of nature as unrivalled, especially the 104th Psalm, as “presenting in itself a picture of the whole world.” “Nature,” he says, “is to the Hebrew poet not a self-dependent object, but a work of creation and order, the living expression of the omnipresence of the Divinity in the visible world.”

Thomas Carlyle calls the book of Job, “apart from all theories about it, one of the grandest things ever written by man. A noble book! All men’s book! Such living likenesses were never since drawn. Sublime sorrow, sublime reconciliation; oldest choral melody, as of the heart of manhood; so soft and great as the summer midnight; as the world with its seas and stars. There is nothing written, I think, of equal literary merit.”

Isaac Taylor: “The Hebrew writers as poets were masters of all the means and the resources, the powers and the stores, of the loftiest poetry, but subservient to a far loftier purpose than that which ever animates human genius.”

Henry Ewald calls the old Hebrew poetry “unique in its kind and in many respects unsurpassed, because as to its contents it is the interpreter of those sublime religious thoughts which lived in Israel, and are found nowhere else in antiquity in such purity, vigor and durability, and as to its form it has a wonderful simplicity and naivete flowing from that sublimity of thought.”

Dean Stanley: “The Psalms are beyond question poetical from first to last, and he will be a bold man who shall say that a book is less inspired, or less true, or less orthodox, or less Divine, because it is like the Psalms. The Prophet, in order to take root in the common life of the people, must become a Psalmist.”

J. J. Stewart Perowne: “The very excellence of the Psalms is their universality. They spring from the deep fountains of the human heart, and God, in His providence, and by His Spirit, has so ordered it, that they should be for His Church an everlasting heritage. Hence they express the sorrows, the joys, the aspirations, the struggles, the victories, not of one man, but of all. And if we ask, How comes this to pass? the answer is not far to seek. One object is ever before the eyes and the heart of the Psalmist. All enemies, all distresses, all persecutions, all sins, are seen in the light of God. It is to Him that the cry goes up; it is to Him that the heart is laid bare; it is to Him that the thanksgiving is uttered. This it is which makes them so true, so precious, so universal. No surer proof of their inspiration can be given than this, that they are ‘not of an age but for all time,’ that the ripest Christian can use them in the fulness of his Christian manhood, though the words are the words of one who lived centuries before the coming of Christ in the flesh.”


Hebrew poetry may be divided into lyric didactic, prophetic, and dramatic. The first two are the prevailing forms. The third may be regarded as a branch of didactic poetry, or perhaps better, as a substitute for epic poetry. The fourth is not to be confounded with the Greek drama, and is in close connection either with the lyric or didactic. Hence many writers admit only these two.12

The absence of epic poetry in its proper sense is due to the fact that the revealed religion excludes mythology and hero-worship, which control this kind of poetry, and that it substitutes for them monotheism, which is inconsistent with any kind of falsehood and idolatry. The real hero, so to speak, of the history of revelation is Jehovah Himself, the only true and living God, to whom all glory is due. And so He appears in the prophetic writings. He is the one object of worship, praise and thanksgiving, but not the object of a narrative poem. He is the one sovereign actor, who in heaven originates and controls all events on earth, but not one among other actors, co-operating or conflicting with finite beings. Epic poetry reproduces historic facts at the expense of truth, and exalts its hero above merit. The Bible poetry never violates truth.

There are, however, epic elements in several lyric poems which celebrate certain great events in Jewish history, as the Song of Moses, Exod. 15, and the Song of Deborah, Judg. 5; although even here the lyric element preponderates, and the subjectivity of the poet is not lost in the objective event as in the genuine epos. The Book of Ruth has been called an epic by Göthe. The Prologue and Epilogue of Job are epic, and have a truly narrative and objective character; but they are only the framework of the poem itself, which is essentially didactic in dramatic form. In the apocryphal books the epic element appears in the book of Tobith and the book of Judith, which stand between narrative and fiction, and correspond to what we call romance or novel.


Lyric poetry, or the poetry of feeling, is the oldest and predominant form of poetry among the Hebrew as all other Semitic nations. It is the easiest, the most natural, and the best adapted for devotion both private and public. It is closely connected with song, its twin sister. It wells up from the human heart, and gives utterance to its many strong and tender emotions of love and friendship, of joy and gladness, of grief and sorrow, of hope and desire, of gratitude and praise. Ewald happily describes it as “the daughter of the moment, of swift, rising, powerful feelings, of deep stirrings and fiery emotions of the soul.”13

Among the Greeks the epos appears first; but the older lyric effusions may have been lost. Among the Hindoos they are preserved in the Vedas. Lyric poetry is found among all nations which have a poetic literature; but epic poetry, at least in its fuller development, is not so general, and hence cannot be the primitive form.

Lyric poetry contains the fruitful germ of all other kinds of poetry. When the poetic feeling is kindled by a great event in history, it expresses itself more or less epically, as in the battle and victory hymns of Moses and Deborah. When the poet desires to teach a great truth or practical lesson, he becomes didactic. When he exhibits his emotions in the form of action and real life, he approaches the drama. In like manner the lyric poetry may give rise to mixed forms which appear in the later stages of literature.14

The oldest specimen of lyric poetry is the song of Lamech to his two wives (Gen. 4:23). It has already the measured arrangement, alliteration and musical correspondence of Hebrew parallelism. It is a proud, fierce, defiant “sword-song,” commemorating in broken, fragmentary utterances the invention of weapons of brass and iron by his son Tubal Cain (i.e., lance-maker), and threatening vengeance:

Adah and Zillah! hear my voice,

Ye wives of Lamech, listen to my speech:

For I have slain15 a man for wounding me,

Even a young man for hurting me.

Lo! Cain shall be avenged seven-fold,

But Lamech seventy and seven-fold.16

Here we have the origin of secular poetry and music (for the other son of Lamech, Jubal, i.e., Harper, invented musical instruments), in connection with the progressive material civilization of the descendants of Cain.

The other poetic remains of the ante-Mosaic age are the Prediction of Noah concerning his three sons (Gen. 9:25–27), and the death-chant of Jacob (Gen. 49:1–27); but these belong rather to prophetic poetry.

In the Mosaic age we meet first with the song of deliverance which Moses sang with the children of Israel unto the Lord after the overthrow of Pharaoh’s hosts in the Red Sea (Ex. 15:1–19). It is the oldest specimen of a patriotic ode (from ὀείδειν, to sing), and may be called the national anthem, or the Te Deum of the Hebrews. It sounds through all the thanksgiving hymns of Israel, and is associated by the Apocalyptic Seer with the final triumph of the Church, when the saints shall sing “the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3). Its style is archaic, simple and grand. It is arranged for antiphonal singing, chorus answering to chorus, and voice to voice; the maidens playing upon the timbrels. It is full of alliterations and rhymes which cannot be rendered, and hence it necessarily loses in any translation.17

I will sing unto Jehovah,

For He hath triumphed gloriously:

The horse and his rider

Hath He thrown into the sea.

Jehovah is my strength and song,

And He is become my salvation.

This is my God, and I will praise Him;18

My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.

Jehovah is a man of war;

Jehovah is His name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his hosts

Hath He cast into the sea:

And his chosen captains

Are sunk in the Red Sea.

The depths cover them.

They went down to the bottom like a stone.

Thy right hand, O Jehovah, glorious in power,

Thy right hand, O Jehovah, dasheth in pieces the enemy.

And in the greatness of Thy majesty

Thou overturnest them that rise up against thee:

Thou sendest forth Thy wrath,

It consumeth them like stubble.

And with the blast of Thy nostrils the waters were piled up.

The floods stood upright as an heap.

The depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil,

My soul shall be satisfied upon them;

I will draw my sword,

My hand shall destroy them.

Thou didst blow with Thy wind,

The sea covered them:

They sank as lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like unto Thee, O Jehovah, among the gods?

Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness,

Fearful in praises, doing wonders?

Thou stretchedst out Thy right hand,

The earth swallowed them.

Thou in Thy mercy hast led the people

Which Thou hast redeemed.

Thou hast guided them in thy strength

To thy holy habitation.

The peoples have heard, they tremble:19

Pangs have taken hold on the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then were the chiefs of Edom dismayed.

The mighty men of Moab, trembling taketh hold upon them.

All the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away;

Terror and dread fall upon them.

By the greatness of Thine arm they are as still as a stone;

Till Thy people pass over, O Jehovah,

Till the people pass over,

Which Thou hast purchased.

Thou shalt bring them in,

And plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance.

The place, O Jehovah, which. Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in,

The sanctuary, O Jehovah, which Thou hast established.

Jehovah shall reign for ever and ever.

Here the song ends, and what follows (ver. 19) is probably a brief recapitulation to fix the event in the memory:

For the horses of Pharaoh went in with his chariots

And with his horsemen into the sea,

And Jehovah brought again the waters of the sea upon them;

But the children of Israel walked on dry land

In the midst of the sea.

Moses wrote also that sublime farewell-song which celebrates Jehovah’s merciful dealings with Israel (Deut. 32), the parting blessing of the twelve tribes (Deut. 33), and the ninetieth Psalm, called “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God,” which sums up the spiritual experience of his long pilgrimage in the wilderness, and which proves its undying force at every death-bed and funeral service.

In the book of Joshua (10:12, 13) there is a poetic quotation from “the Book of the Upright,” which was probably a collection of patriotic songs:

“Sun, stand still upon Gibeon,

And thou, moon, upon the valley of Ajalon!”

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed her course,

Until the nation were avenged of their enemies.

The song of Deborah (Judges 5.), from the heroic period of the Judges, eight centuries before Pindar, is a stirring battle-song full of fire and dithyrambic swing, and breathing the spirit of an age of disorder and tumult, when might was right.20

Another but very different specimen of female poetry is Hannah’s hymn of joy and gratitude when she dedicated her son Samuel, the last of the Judges, to the service of Jehovah (1 Sam. 2:1–10). It furnished the key-note to the Magnificat of the Virgin Mary after the miraculous conception.

The reign of David was the golden age of lyric poetry. He was himself the prince of singers in Israel. His religious poetry is incorporated in the Psalter. Of his secular poetry the author of the Books of Samuel has preserved us two specimens, a brief stanza on the death of Abner, and his lament for the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:19–27). The latter is a most pathetic and touching elegy full of the strength and tenderness of the love of friendship. His generosity in lamenting the death of his persecutor who stood in his way to the throne, enhances the beauty and effect of the elegy.

Thy Glory, O Israel,21 is slain upon thy heights.

(CHORUS)     How are the heroes fallen!

Tell it not in Gath,

Publish it not in the streets of Askelon;

Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,

Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.

Ye mountains of Gilboa, no dew nor rains

Come upon you, and ye fields of offerings.22

For there the shield of the hero is polluted,23

The shield of Saul not anointed with oil.24

From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the heroes,

The bow of Jonathan turned not back,

And the sword of Saul

Returned not empty.

Saul and Jonathan, lovely and pleasant in their lives,

And in their death they are not divided.

They were swifter than eagles,

They were stronger than lions.

Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,

Who clothed you in purple with delight,

Who put ornaments of gold

Upon your apparel.25

(CHORUS)     How are the heroes fallen in the midst of the battle!

O Jonathan, slain upon thy heights!

I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan,

Very pleasant hast thou been unto me:

Thy love to mo was wonderful,

Passing the love of women.26

(CHORUS)     How are the heroes fallen,27

And the weapons of war28 perished.

Lyric poetry flourished during the reigns of David and Solomon, then declined with the decline of the nation, and revived for a short period with the restoration of the temple and the theocracy, when the harps were taken from the willows to accompany again the songs of Zion. It is altogether improbable that the Psalter contains hymns of the Maccabæan age, as Hitzig conjectures. The canon was closed long before (B. C. 450).29

The Magnificat of the Virgin Mary, the Benedictus of Zacharias, and the Nunc dimittis of Simeon are the golden sunset of Hebrew psalmody, and the dawn of Christian hymnody.

The various kinds of lyric poetry are designated by the following names, which occur in the titles of the Psalms:30

Shîr (Sept. ᾠδή), song for the voice alone.

Mizmôr (Sept. ψαλμός), psalm, song of praise, with instrumental accompaniment (μέλος).

Maschîl (συνέσεως, εἰς σύνεσιν), a skilfully constructed ode, a reflective, contemplative, didactic song.

Michtham (στηλογραφία, or εἰς στηλογραφίαν, lit., song of inscription), a golden poem, or a song of mysterious, deep import. (Delitzsch: catch-word poem).

Shiggaion, an excited, irregular, dithyrambic ode.

Thehillah, a hymn of praise. The plural thehillîm is the Hebrew title of the Psalter.

Thephillah, a prayer in song. (Pss. 17, 86, 90, 142, Hab. 3).

Shîr jedîdoth, song of loves, erotic poem (Ps. 45).

Shîr hammaaloth (Sept. ᾠδὴ τῶν ἀνάβανμῶν, Vulg. canticum graduum, E. V. “song of degrees”), most probably a song of the goings up, i.e., pilgrim song for the journeys to the yearly festivals of Jerusalem.

Kinah (θρῆνος), a lament, dirge, elegy.31 Here belong the laments of David for Saul and Jonathan, 2 Sam. 1:19–27, for Abner (2 Sam. 3:33, 34), and for Absalom (2 Sam. 18:33), the psalms of mourning over the disasters of Judah, Ps. 49, 60, 73, 137), and the Lamentations of Jeremiah.

The PSALTER is the great depository of the religious lyric poetry of the Jewish Church, and the inexhaustible fountain of devotion for all ages. The titles are not original, but contain the ancient Jewish traditions more or less valuable concerning the authorship, historical occasion, musical character, liturgical use of the Psalms. Seventy-three poems are ascribed to David (לדוד);32 twelve to Asaph (לאסף), one of David’s musicians (Ps. 50, 73–83.); eleven or twelve to the sons of Korah, a family of priests and singers of the age of David Pss. 42–49, 84, 85, 87, 88); one to Heman the Ezrahite (88);33 one to Ethan the Ezrahite (89); two to Solomon (72, 127); one to Moses (90); while fifty are anonymous and hence called Orphan Psalms in the Talmud. The Septuagint assigns some of them to Jeremiah (137), Haggai and Zechariah (146, 147).

The PSALTER is divided into five books, and the close of each is indicated by a doxology and a double Amen. In this division several considerations seem to have been combined—authorship and chronology, liturgical use, the distinction of the divine names (Elohistic and Jehovistic Psalms), perhaps also the five-fold division of the Thorah (the Psalter being, as Delitzsch says, the subjective response or echo from the heart of Israel to the law of God). We have an analogy in Christian hymn- and tune-books, which combine the order of subjects and the order of the ecclesiastical year, modifying both by considerations of convenience, and often adding one or more appendixes. The five books represent the gradual growth of the collection till its completion after the exile, about the time of Ezra. The collection of first book, consisting chiefly of Psalms of David, may be traced to Solomon, who would naturally provide for the preservation of his father’s poetry, or, at all events, to King Hezekiah, who “commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph, the Seer” (2 Chron. 21:30; Prov. 35:1).

If we regard chiefly the contents, we may divide the Psalms into Psalms of praise and adoration, Psalms of thanksgiving, Psalms of faith and hope under affliction,34 penitential Psalms, didactic Psalms, historic Psalms, Pilgrim Songs (120–136), prophetic or Messianic Psalms. But we cannot enter here into details, and refer to the full and able Introduction of MOLL’S Commentary in this series.

Before we leave lyric poetry, we must say a few words on the LAMENTATIONS (קִינוֹת, νρῆνοι, elegiæ) of Jeremiah—the most extensive elegy in the Bible. They are a funeral dirge of the theocracy and the holy city after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldees, and give most pathetic utterance to the most intense grief. The first lines strike the key-note. Jerusalem is personified and bewailed as a solitary widow:

(ALEPH)     How sitteth solitary

The city once full of people!

She has become as a widow!

She that was great among the nations,

A princess over the provinces,

Has become subject to tribute.

(BETH)     She weepeth bitterly in the night,

And her tears are upon her cheeks:

She hath no comforter

From among all her lovers:

All her friends have turned traitors to her,

They have become her enemies.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

(LAMED)     Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?

Behold and see,

If there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow,

Which is inflicted on me,

Wherewith Jehovah hath afflicted me

In the day of His fierce anger.

The ruin and desolation, the carnage and famine, the pollution of the temple, the desecration of the Sabbath, the massacre of the priests, the dragging of the chiefs into exile, and all the horrors and miseries of a long siege, contrasted with the remembrance of former glories and glad festivities, and intensified by the awful sense of Divine wrath, are drawn with life-like colors and form a picture of overwhelming calamity and sadness. “Every letter is written with a tear, every word is the sob of a broken heart!” Yet Jeremiah does not forget that the covenant of Jehovah with His people still stands. In the stormy sunset of the theocracy he beheld the dawn of a brighter day, and a new covenant written, not on tables of stone, but on the heart. The utterance of his grief, like the shedding of tears, was also a relief, and left his mind in a calmer and serener frame. Beginning with wailing and weeping, he ends with a question of hope, and with the prayer:

Turn us, O Jehovah, and we shall turn;

Renew our days of old!

These Lamentations have done their work very effectually, and are doing it still. They have soothed the weary years of the Babylonian Exile, and after the return they have kept up the lively remembrance of the deepest humiliation and the judgments of a righteous God. On the ninth day of the month of Ab (July) they are read year after year with fasting and weeping by that remarkable people who are still wandering in exile over the face of the earth, finding a grave in many lands, a home in none. Among Christians the poem is best appreciated in times of private affliction and public calamity; a companion in mourning, it serves also as a book of comfort and consolation.

The poetic structure of the Lamentations is the most artificial in the Bible. The first four chapters are alphabetically arranged, like the 119th and six other Psalms, and Proverbs 31:10–31. Every stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in regular order; all the stanzas are nearly of the same length; each stanza has three nearly balanced clauses or members which together constitute one meaning; chaps. 1, 2 and 4 contain twenty-two stanzas each, according to the number of Hebrew letters; the third chapter has three alphabetic series, making sixty-six stanzas in all. Dante chose the terza rima for his vision of hell, purgatory, and paradise; Petrarca the complicated sonnet for the tender and passionate language of love. The author of Lamentations may have chosen this structure as a discipline and check upon the intensity of his sorrow—perhaps also as a help to the memory. Poems of this kind, once learnt, are not easily forgotten.35


Didactic poetry is the combined product of imagination and reflection. It seeks to instruct as well as to please. It is not simply the outpouring of subjective feeling which carries in it its own end and reward, but aims at an object beyond itself. It is the connecting link between pure poetry and philosophy. It supplies among the Shemitic nations the place of ethics, with this difference, that it omits the reasoning and argumentative process, and gives only the results of observation and reflection in a pleasing, mostly proverbial, sententious style, which sticks to the memory. It is laid down in the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Many Psalms also are didactic (1, 19, 37, 119, etc.), and the Book of Job is a didactic drama (see below).

The palmy period of didactic or gnomic poetry is the peaceful and brilliant reign of Solomon, which lasted forty years (B. C. 1015–975). He was a favorite child of nature and grace. He occupies the same relation to the Proverbs as David to the Psalter, being the chief author and model for imitation. He was the philosopher, as David was the singer, of Israel. The fame of his wisdom was so great that no less than three thousand proverbs were ascribed to him. “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea-shore. And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:29–34). According to a rabbinical tradition, Aristotle derived his philosophy from the Solomonic writings which Alexander the Great sent him from Jerusalem.36

The usual word for a didactic poem is mâshâl (מָשָׁל, παροιμία, παραβολή), a likeness, similitude, comparison; then, in a wider sense, a short, sharp, pithy maxim, sententious saying, gnome, proverb couched in figurative, striking, pointed language. A proverb contains multum in parvo, and condenses the result of long observation and experience in a few words which strike the nail on the head and are easily remembered. It is the philosophy for the people, the wisdom of the street. The Orientals, especially the Arabs, are very fond of this kind of teaching. It suited their wants and limits of knowledge much better than an elaborate system of philosophy. And even now a witty or pithy proverb has more practical effect upon the common people than whole sermons and tracts.37

The PROVERBS of the Bible are far superior to any collection of the kind, such as the sayings of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, the Aurea Carmina attributed to Pythagoras, the Remains of the Poetæ Gnomici, the collections of Arabic proverbs. They bear the stamp of divine inspiration. They abound in polished and sparkling gems. They contain the practical wisdom (chokma) of Israel, and have furnished the richest contributions to the dictionary of proverbs among Christian nations. They trace wisdom to its true source, the fear of Jehovah (Job 1:7). Nothing can be finer than the description of Wisdom in the eighth chapter, where she is personified as the eternal companion and delight of God, and commended beyond all earthly treasures:

Wisdom is better than rubies,

And no precious things compare with her.

I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,

And find out knowledge of wise counsels.

The fear of Jehovah is to hate evil;

Pride, haughtiness, and an evil way,

And a perverse mouth, do I hate.

Counsel is mine, and reflection;

I am understanding; I have strength.

By me kings reign,

And princes decree justice.

By me princes rule,

And nobles, all the judges of the earth.

I love them that love me;

And they that seek me early shall find me.

Riches and honor are with me.

Yea, enduring riches and righteousness.

My fruit is better than gold, yea, than refined gold;

And my increase than choice silver.

I walk in the way of righteousness,

In the midst of the path of rectitude;

To make, ensure abundance to those that love me,

And to fill their storehouse.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Blessed is the man that heareth me,

Watching daily at my gates,

Waiting at the posts of my doors!

For whosoever findeth me findeth life;

And shall obtain favor from Jehovah.

The description of the model Hebrew woman in her domestic and social relations (Job 31:10–31, in the acrostic form) has no parallel for truthfulness and beauty in all ancient literature, and forms the appropriate close of this book of practical wisdom; for from the family of which woman is the presiding genius, springs private and public virtue and national prosperity.

“The Book of Proverbs,” says a distinguished modern writer, “is not on a level with the Prophets or the Psalms. It approaches human things and things divine from quite another side. It has even something of a worldly, prudential look, unlike the rest of the Bible. But this is the very reason why its recognition as a Sacred Book is so useful. It is the philosophy of practical life. It is the sign to us that the Bible does not despise common sense and discretion. It impresses upon us, in the most forcible manner, the value of intelligence and prudence, and of a good education. The whole strength of the Hebrew language, and of the sacred authority of the book is thrown upon these homely truths. It deals, too, in that refined, discriminating, careful view of the finer shades of human character, so often overlooked by theologians, but so necessary to any true estimate of human life. ‘The heart knoweth its own bitterness, and the stranger does not intermeddle with its joy.’ How much is there, in that single sentence, of consolation, of love, of forethought! And, above all, it insists, over and over again, upon the doctrine that goodness is ‘wisdom,’ and that wickedness and vice are ‘folly.’ There may be many other views of virtue and vice, of holiness and sin, better and higher than this. But there will always be some in the world who will need to remember that a good man is not only religious and just, but wise; and that a bad man is not only wicked and sinful, but a miserable, contemptible fool!”38

The poetic structure of the Proverbs is that of Hebrew parallelism in its various forms. They consist of single, double, triple, or more couplets; the members corresponding to each other in sense and diction, either synonymously or antithetically. Delitzsch calls them two-liners, four-liners, six-liners, eight-liners.39 The first section, 10.–22:16, contains exclusively two-liners. Besides these there are a few three-liners, five-liners and seven-liners, where the odd line is either a repetition or a reason for the idea expressed in the first lines. A few specimens will make this clear.

1. Single synonymous couplets:

CHAP. 3:1.

 My son, forget not my law:

And let thy heart keep my commandments.


 Whom Jehovah loveth He correcteth:

Even us a father the son in whom he delighteth.


 Blessed the man who finds wisdom:

And the man who obtains understanding.


 The liberal soul shall be made fat:

And he that watereth shall himself be watered.


 He that is slow to auger is better than the mighty:

And he that ruleth his own spirit than he who taketh a city.

2. Single antithetic couplets:

CHAP. 10:1.

 A wise son maketh a glad father:

But a foolish son is the grief of his mother.


 Hatred stirreth up strifes:

But love covereth all sins.


 The wages of the righteous is life:

The gain of the wicked is sin.


 The light of the righteous shall be joyous:

But the lamp of the wicked shall go out.


 He that spareth his rod hates his son:

But he that loveth him giveth him timely chastisement.


 He that is first in his own cause seemeth right:

But his neighbor cometh and searcheth him.

3. Single couplets which merely express a comparison:

CHAP. 27:8.

 As a bird that wandereth from her nest,

So is a man that wandereth from his place.


 A continual dropping in a very rainy day,

And a contentious woman are alike.


 As in water face answereth to face,

So the heart of man to man.

4. Single couplets where the second member completes the idea of the first or assigns a reason or a qualification:

CHAP. 16:24.

 Pleasant words are as a honey-comb,

Sweet to the soul and health to the bones.


 The hoary head is a crown of glory,

If it be found in the way of righteousness.

5. Three-liners:

CHAP. 3:3.


 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee:

Bind them about thy neck;

Write them upon the table of thine heart.



 Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way:

He shall fall himself into his own pit,

But the upright shall inherit good things.



 Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend forsake not:

Neither go into thy brother’s in the day of thy calamity;

For better is a neighbor near than a brother afar off.

6. Double couplets or four-liners: 23:15 sq.; 24:3 sq., 28 sq.; 30:5 sq., 17 sq.; 22:22 sq., 24 sq.; 25:4 sq. These are all synonymous, or synthetic, or corroboratory, but there seems to be no example of an antithetic four-liner.

7. Five-liners; the last three usually explaining and confirming the idea of the first two lines: 23:4 sq.; 25:6 sq.; 30:32 sq.

8. Triple couplets or six-liners, which spin out an idea with more or less repetition or confirmations and illustrations: 23:1–3, 12–14, 19–21; 24:11 sq.; 30:29–31.

9. Seven-liners: 23:6–8. The only specimen in the Proverbs.

10. Quadruple couplets or eight-liners: 23:22–25.

But these four, six, and eight-liners, so-called, may be easily resolved into two, three, or four single couplets. Take, e. g., Job 23:12–14, which Delitzsch quotes as a six-liner, and we have there simply three couplets which carry out and unfold one idea, or expand the mashal sentence into a mashal poem:

Apply thy heart to instruction:

And thine ears to the words of knowledge.

Withhold not correction from the child:

For if thou beatest him with a rod, he shall not die.

Thou shalt beat him with the rod,

And shalt deliver his soul from hell.

ECCLESIASTES or KOHELETH is a philosophic poem, not in broken, disconnected maxims of wisdom, like the Proverbs, but in a series of soliloquies of a soul perplexed and bewildered by doubt, yet holding fast to fundamental truth, and looking from the vanities beneath the sun to the eternal realities above the sun. It is a most remarkable specimen of Hebrew scepticism subdued and moderated by Hebrew faith in God and His holy commandments, in the immortality of the soul, the judgment to come, the paramount value of true piety. It corresponds to the old age of Solomon, as the Song of Songs reflects the flowery spring of his youth, and the Proverbs the ripe wisdom of his manhood.40 Whether written by the great monarch or not (which question is fully discussed on both sides in this Commentary), it personates him (1:12) and gives the last sad results of his experience after a long life of unrivalled wisdom and unrivalled folly, namely, the overwhelming impression of the vanity of all things earthly, with the concluding lesson of the fear of God, which checks the tendency to despair, and is the star of hope in the darkness of midnight. The key-note is struck in the opening lines, repeated at the close (12:3):

O vanity of vanities! Koheleth saith;

O vanity of vanities! all—vanity!

This is the negative side. But the leading positive idea and aim is expressed in the concluding words:

Fear God and keep His commandments,

For this is all of man.

Some regard Koheleth as an ethical treatise in prose, with regular logical divisions. But it is full of poetic inspiration, and in part at least also poetic in form, with enough of rhythmical parallelism to awaken an emotional interest in these sad soliloquies and questionings of the poet. Prof. Tayler Lewis (in his additions to Zöckler’s Commentary) has translated the poetic portions in Iambic measure, with occasional use of the Choriambus, We transscribe two specimens from chap. 7. and chap. 11.:

Better the honored name than precious oil;

Better the day of death than that of being born.

Better to visit sorrow’s house than seek the banquet hall;

Since that (reveals) the end of every man,

And he who lives should lay it well to heart.

Better is grief than mirth;

For in the sadness of the face the heart becometh fair.

The wise man’s heart is in the house of mourning

The fool’s heart in the house of mirth.

Better to heed the chiding of the wise

Than hear the sons of fools.

For like the sound of thorns beneath the pot,

So is the railing laughter of the fool.

This, too, is vanity.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Rejoice, O youth, in childhood; let thy heart

Still cheer thee in the day when thou art strong.

Go on in every way thy will shall choose,

And after every form thine eyes behold;

But know that for all this thy God will thee to judgment bring.

O, then, turn sorrow from thy soul, keep evil from thy flesh;

For childhood and the morn of life, they, too, are vanity.

Remember thy Creator, then, in the days when thou art young;

Before the evil days are come, before the years draw nigh;

When thou shalt say—delight in them is gone.

To didactic poetry belong also the FABLE and the PARABLE. Both are allegories in the style of history; both are conscious fictions for the purpose of instruction, and differ from the MYTH, which is the unconscious product of the religious imagination. But the fable rests on admitted impossibilities and introduces irrational creatures to teach maxims of secular prudence and lower, selfish morality; while the parable takes its illustrations from real life, human or animal, with its natural characteristics, and has a much higher moral and religious aim. It is, therefore, far better adapted, as a medium of instruction, to the true religion. “The fable seizes on that which man has in common with the creatures below him; the parable rests on the truth that man is made in the image of God.” The former is only fitted for the instruction of youth, which does not raise the question of veracity; the latter is suited to all ages.

There are no fables in the New Testament, and only two in the Old, viz., the fable of Jotham: the trees choosing their king, Judges 9:8–15, and the fable of Jehoash: the cedars of Lebanon and the thistle, 2 Kings 14:9, and 2 Chr. 25:18. The riddle (parable) of Ezekiel 17:1–10 introduces two eagles as representatives of human characters, but without ascribing to them human attributes.

The parable occurs 2 Sam. 12:1 (the poor man’s ewe lamb), Isa. 5:1 (the vineyard yielding wild grapes), also 1 Kings 20:39; 22:19. It was cultivated by Hillel, Shammai and other Jewish rabbis, and appears frequently in the Gemara and Midrash. It is found in its perfection in the Gospels. The parables of our Lord illustrate the various aspects of the kingdom of heaven (as those in the Synoptical Gospels), or the personal relation of Christ to His disciples (as the parable of the good shepherd, and that of the vine and the branches, in the Gospel! of John). They conceal and reveal the profoundest ideas in the simplest and most lucid language. They are at once pure truth and pure poetry. Every trait is intrinsically possible and borrowed from nature and human life, and yet the composition of the whole is the product of the imagination. The art of illustrative teaching in parables never rose so high before or since, nor can it ever rise higher.41


This is peculiar to the Bible and to the religion of revelation. Heathen nations had their divinations and oracles, but no divinely inspired prophecy. Man may have forebodings of the future, and may conjecture what may come to pass under certain conditions; but God only knows the future, and he to whom He chooses to reveal it.

Prophecy is closely allied to poetry. The prophet sees the future as a picture with the spiritual eye enlightened by the Divine mind, and describes it mostly in more or less poetic form. Prophetic poetry combines a didactic and an epic element.42 It rouses the conscience, enforces the law of God, and holds up the history of the future, the approaching judgments and mercies of God for instruction, reproof, comfort and encouragement. Prophecy is too elevated to descend to ordinary prose, and yet too practical to bind itself to strict rules. Ezekiel and Daniel, like St. John in the Apocalypse, use prose, but a prose that has all the effect of poetry. The other prophets employ prose in the narrative and introductory sections, but a rhythmical flow of diction in the prophecies proper, with divisions of clauses and stanzas, and rise often to the highest majesty and power. The sublime prayer of Habakkuk (Job 3) is a lyric poem and might as well have a place in the Psalter.

The greatest poet among the prophets is Isaiah. He gathers up all the past prophecies to send them enriched into the future, and combines the deepest prophetic inspiration with the sublimest and sweetest poetry.43

The earliest specimens of prophetic poetry are the prediction of Noah, Gen. 9:25–27, the blessing of Jacob, Gen. 49, the prophecies of Balaam, Numb. 24, and the farewell blessing of the twelve tribes by Moses, Deut. 33. The golden age of prophetic poetry began with the decline of lyric poetry, and continued till the extinction of prophecy, warning the people of the approaching judgments of Jehovah, and comforting them in the midst of their calamities with His promise of a brighter future when the Messiah shall come to redeem His people and to bless all the nations of the earth.

We select one of the oldest specimens, a part of the remarkable prophecy of Balaam concerning Israel, which has a melodious lyrical flow (Num. 24:4–10, 17–19):

He saith who heareth the words of God,

Who seeth the vision of the Almighty,

Falling down, and having his eyes opened:

How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob,

Thy tabernacles, O Israel!

As the valleys are they spread forth,

As gardens by the river side,

As lign aloes which the Lord hath planted,

As cedar trees beside the waters.

He shall flow with water from his buckets,

And his seed shall be in many waters,

And his king shall be higher than Agag,

And his kingdom shall be exalted.

God bringeth him forth out of Egypt;

He hath as it were the strength of a buffalo:

He shall eat up the nations his enemies,

And shall break their bones in pieces,

And smite them through with his arrows.

He couched, he lay down as a lion,

And as a lioness; who shall stir him up?

Blessed is he that blesseth thee,

And cursed is be that curseth thee.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

There shall come forth a Star out of Jacob,

And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel

And shall smite through the corners of Moab,

And break down all the sons of tumult.

And Edom shall be a possession,

And Seir shall be a possession, his enemies;

While Israel doeth valiantly.

And out of Jacob shall he have dominion.

And shall destroy the remnant from the city.

The nearest approach which the prophecy of the Old Testament several hundred years before Christ made to the very heart of the gospel salvation, is in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah:

Who hath believed our report?

And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,

And as a root out of a dry ground:

He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him,

There is no beauty that we should desire Him.

He is despised and rejected by men;

A Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:

And we hid as it were our faces from Him,

He was despised and we esteemed Him not.

Surely He hath borne our griefs,

And carried our sorrows:

Yet we did esteem Him stricken,

Smitten of God and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities.

The chastisement of our peace was upon Him;

And with His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

We have turned every one to his own way;

And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and He was afflicted,

Yet He opened not His mouth:

He is brought as a Lamb to the slaughter,

And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,

So He openeth not His mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment:

And who shall declare his generation?

For He was cut off out of the land of the living:

For the transgression of my people was He stricken.

And He made His grave with the wicked,

And with the rich in His death;

Because He had done no violence,

Neither was any deceit in His mouth:

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;

He hath put Him to grief.

When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin,

He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,

And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.

He shall see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied.

By His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many;

For He shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore will I divide Him, a portion with the great,

And He shall divide the spoil with the strong;

Because He hath poured out His soul unto death:

And He was numbered with the transgressors;

And He bare the fin of many,

And made intercession for the transgressors.


If we start with the Greek conception of the drama, there is none in the Bible. But if we take the word in a wider sense, and apply it to lengthy poetic compositions, unfolding an action and introducing a number of speakers or actors, we have two dramas in the Old Testament. The Song of Solomon is a lyric drama or melo-drama; the Book of Job, a didactic drama.

The best judges of different ages and churches, as Gregory of Nazianzen, Bossuet, Lowth, Ewald, Renan, Stanley, recognize the dramatic element in these two poems, and some have even gone so far as to suppose that both, or at least the Canticles, were really intended for the stage.44 But there is not the slightest trace of a theatre in the history of Israel before the age of Herod, who introduced foreign customs; as there is none at the present day in the Holy Land, and scarcely among the Mohammedan Arabs, unless we regard the single reciters of romances (always men or boys) with their changing voice and gestures as dramatic actors. The modern attempts to introduce theatres in Beirut and Algeria have signally failed.

1. The CANTICLES presents the Hebrew ideal of pure bridal and conjugal love in a series of monologues and dialogues by different persons: a lover, king Solomon (Shelomoh, the Peaceful), a maiden named Shulamith, and a chorus of virgins, daughters of Jerusalem. There are no breaks or titles to indicate the change of scene or speakers, and they can be recognized only from the sense and the change of gender and number in the personal pronoun. The English version is much obscured by a neglect of the distinction of feminine and masculine pronouns in the Hebrew.

The poem is full of the fragrance of spring, the beauty of flowers, and the loveliness of love. How sweet and charming is Solomon’s description of spring, Job 2:10–14, which a German poet calls “a kiss of heaven to earth.”

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and go forth!

For, lo, the winter is past,

The rain is over, is gone.

The flowers appear on the earth,

The time for the singing of birds is come,

And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

The fig-tree spices its green figs,

And the vines with tender blossoms give fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one, and go forth!

My dove, in the clefts of the rock,

In the recess of the cliffs,

Let me see thy countenance,

Let me hear thy voice;

For thy voice is sweet,

And thy countenance is comely.

The Song of Solomon canonizes the love of nature, and the love of sex, as the Book of Esther (where the name of God never occurs) canonizes patriotism or the love of country. It gives a place in the Book of God to the noblest and strongest passion which the Creator has planted in man, before the fall, and which reflects His own infinite love to His creatures, and the love of Christ to His Church. Procul abeste profani! The very depth of perversion to which the passion of love can be degraded, only reveals the height of its origin and destiny. Love in its primal purity is a “blaze” or “lightning flash from Jehovah” (Shalhebeth-Jah, Job 8:6), and stronger than death, and as it proceeds from God so it returns to Him; for “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).45

As to the artistic arrangement or the number of acts and cantos in each act of this melodrama of Love there is considerable difference among commentators. Some divide it into five acts, according to the usual arrangement of dramas (Ewald, Böttcher, Zöckler, Moody Stuart, Davidson, Ginsburg), some into six (Delitzsch, Hahn), some into seven, corresponding to the seven days of the Jewish marriage festival for which the successive portions of the poem are supposed to have been intended to be sung (Bossuet, Percy, Williams). Ewald subdivides the five acts into thirteen, Renan into sixteen, others into more or less cantos. On the other hand Thrupp and Green give up the idea of a formal artistic construction, such as the Indo-European conception of a drama would require, and substitute for it a looser method of arrangement or aggregation with abrupt transitions and sudden changes of scene. All the parts are variations of the same theme, “the love of king Solomon and his bride, the image of a divine and spiritual love.” Those who regard the poem as an idyl rather than a drama (Sir William Jones, Good, Fry, Noyes, Herbst, Heiligstedt) divide it into a series of songs, but likewise differ as to the number and the pauses.

This is not the place to enter into the wilderness of interpretations of this wonderful and much abused Song, which are fully discussed in this Commentary by Drs. Zöckler and Green. But I must protest against the profane, or exclusively erotic interpretation which in various contradictory shapes has of late become so fashionable among scholars, and which makes the position of this book in the canon an inexplicable enigma. I add the judicious remarks of Dr. Angus on the subject.46 “Much of the language of this poem has been misunderstood by early expositors. Some have erred by adopting a fanciful method of explanation, and attempting to give a mystical meaning to every minute circumstance of the allegory. In all figurative representations there is always much that is mere costume. It is the general truth only that is to be examined and explained. Others, not understanding the spirit and luxuriancy of eastern poetry, have considered particular passages as defective in delicacy, an impression which the English version has needlessly confirmed, and so have objected to the whole, though the objection does not apply with greater force to this book than to Hesiod and Homer, or even to some of the purest of our own authors. If it be remembered, that the figure employed in this allegory is one of the most frequent in Scripture, that in extant oriental poems it is constantly employed to express religious feeling, that many expressions which are applied in our translation to the person, belong properly to the dress, that every generation has its own notions of delicacy (the most delicate in this sense being by no means the most virtuous), that nothing is described but chaste affection, that Shulamith speaks and is spoken of collectively, and that it is the general truth only which is to be allegorized, the whole will appear to be no unfit representation of the union between Christ and true believers in every age. Properly understood, this portion of Scripture will minister to our holiness. It may be added, however, that it was the practice of the Jews to withhold the book from their children till their judgments were matured.” The most recent commentator, too, justly remarks:47 “Shall we then regard it as a mere fancy, which for so many ages past has been wont to find in the pictures and melodies of the Song of Songs types and echoes of the actings and emotions of the highest Love, of Love Divine, in its relations to Humanity; which, if dimly discerned through their aid by the Synagogue, have been amply revealed in the gospel to the Church? Shall we not still claim to trace in the noble and gentle history thus presented foreshadowings of the infinite condescensions of Incarnate Love?—that Love which, first stooping in human form to visit us in our low estate in order to seek out and win its object (Ps. 136:23), and then raising along with itself a sanctified Humanity to the Heavenly Places (Eph. 2:6), is finally awaiting there an invitation from the mystic Bride, to return to earth once more and seal the union for eternity (Rev. 22:17)?”

2. The Book of JOB is a didactic drama, with an epic introduction and close. The prologue (chs. 1 and 2) and the epilogue (ch 42:7–17) are written in plain prose, the body of the poem in poetry. It has been called the Hebrew tragedy, but differing from other tragedies by its happy termination. We better call it a dramatic theodicy. It wrestles with the perplexing problem of ages, viz., the true meaning and object of evil and suffering in the world under the government of a holy, wise and merciful God. The dramatic form shows itself in the symmetrical arrangement, the introduction of several speakers, the action, or rather the suffering of the hero, the growing passion and conflict, the secret crime supposed to underlie his misfortune, and the awful mystery in the background. But there is little external action (δρᾶμα) in it, and this is almost confined to the prologue and epilogue. Instead of it we have here an intellectual battle of the deepest moral import, mind grappling with mind on the most serious problems which can challenge our attention. The outward drapery only is dramatic, the soul and substance of the poem is didactic, with all the Hebrew ideas of Divine Providence, which differ from the Greek notion of blind Fate as the light of day differs from midnight. It is intended for the study, not for the stage.48

The book opens, like a Greek drama, with a prologue, which introduces the reader into the situation, and makes him acquainted with the character, the prosperous condition, the terrible misfortunes, and the exemplary patience of the hero. Even God, and His great antagonist, Satan, who appears, however, in heaven as a servant of God, are drawn into the scenery, and a previous arrangement in the Divine counsel precedes and determines the subsequent transaction. History on earth is thus viewed as an execution of the decrees of heaven, and as controlled throughout by supernatural forces. But we have here the unsearchable wisdom of the Almighty Maker and Ruler of men, not the dark impersonal Fate of the heathen tragedy. This grand feature of Job has been admirably imitated by Göthe in the prologue of his Faust.

The action itself commences after seven days and seven nights of most eloquent silence. The grief over the misfortunes which, like a succession of whirlwinds, had suddenly hurled the patriarchal prince from the summit of prosperity to the lowest depths of misery, culminating in the most loathsome disease, and intensified by the heartless sneers of his wife, at last bursts forth in a passionate monologue of Job, cursing the day of his birth. Then follows the metaphysical conflict with his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who now turn to enemies, and “miserable comforters,” “forgers of lies, and botchers of vanities.” The debate has three acts, with an increasing entanglement, and every act consists of three assaults of the false friends, and as many defences of Job (with the exception that in the third and last battle Zophar retires and Job alone speaks).49 The poem reaches its height in the triumphant assertion of faith in his Redeemer (Job 19:25–27), by which “the patriarch of Uz rises to a level with the patriarch of Ur as a pattern of faith.”50 After a closing monologue of Job, expressing fully his feelings and thoughts in view of the past controversy, the youthful Elihu, who had silently listened, comes forward, and in three speeches administered deserved rebuke to both parties with as little mercy for Job as for his friends, but with a better philosophy of suffering, whose object he represents to be correction and reformation, the reproof of arrogance and the exercise of humility and faith. He begins the disentanglement of the problem and makes the transition to the final decision. At last God Himself, to whom Job had appealed, appears as the Judge of the controversy, and Job humbly submits to His infinite power and wisdom, and penitently confesses his sin and folly. This is the internal solution of the mighty problem, if solution it can be called.

A brief epilogue relates the historical issue, the restoration and increased prosperity of Job after this severest trial of his faith, and patient submission to God.

To the external order corresponds the internal dialectic development in the warlike motion of conflicting sentiments and growing passions. The first act of the debate shows yet a tolerable amount of friendly feeling on both sides. In the second the passion is much increased, and the charges of the opponents against Job made severer. In the last debate Eliphaz, the leader of the rest, proceeds to the open accusation of heavy crimes against the sufferer with an admonition to repent and to convert himself to God. Job, after repeated declarations of his innocence and vain attempts at convincing his opponents, appeals at last to God as his Judge. God appears, convinces him, by several questions on the mysteries of nature, of his ignorance, and brings him to complete submission under the infinite power and wisdom of the Almighty, Job 42:2–6.

I know that Thou canst do all things;

And no thought can be withheld from Thee.

Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge?

I have then uttered what I understand not.

But hear me now, and let me speak;

Thee will I ask, and do Thou teach me.

I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear;

But now mine eyes behold Thee.

Therefore I abhor it (I recant),51

And repent in dust and ashes.

The Book of Job, considering its antiquity and artistic perfection, rises like a pyramid in the history of literature, without a predecessor and without a rival.


The language of Hebrew as well as of all other poetry, is, in one respect, more free, in other respects more bound, than the language of prose. It is the language of imagination and feeling, as distinct from the language of sober reflection and judgment. It is controlled by the idea of beauty and harmony. It is the speech of the Sabbath-day. It soars above what is ordinary and common. It is vivid, copious, elevated, sonorous, striking, impressive. To this end the poet has more license than the prose-writer; while, on the other hand, it imposes on him certain restraints of versification to secure greater æsthetic effect. He is permitted to use words which are uncommon or obsolete, but which, for this very reason, strike the attention and excite the emotion. He may also use ordinary words in an extraordinary sense. The licenses of the Hebrew poets are found in the following particulars:

1. Archaic forms and peculiar words, some of Aramaic or even a prior Shemitic dialect: Eloah for Elohim (God), enosh for adam (man), orach for derech (path), havah for haiah (to be), millah for dabar (word), paal for asah (to do), katal for razah (to kill). Sometimes they are accumulated for poetic effect.52

2. Common words in an uncommon sense: Joseph for the nation of Israel; adjectives for substantive objects, as ‘the hot’ for the sun, ‘the white’ for the moon (Cant. 6:10), ‘the strong’ for a bull (Ps. 50:13), ‘the flowing’ for streams (Isa. 44:3).

3. Peculiar grammatical forms, or additional syllables, which give the word more sound and harmony, or an air of antiquity; as the paragogic ah (ָה) affixed to nouns in the absolute state, o (–וֹ), and i (–ִי) affixed to nouns in the construct state; the feminine termination ath (for the ordinary ah); the plural ending in and ai (for im); the verbal suffixes mo, amo, and emo; the pronominal suffixes to nouns and prepositions—amo (for am), and ehu (for an); also lengthened vowel forms of pronouns and prepositions—lamo (for lo or lahem), lemo (for לְ), bemo (for בִּ), kemo (for כְ), eleh (for אֶל), adai (for עַד).


Hebrew poetry has a certain rhythmical flow, a rise and fall (arsis and thesis), versicular and strophic divisions, also occasional alliterations and rhymes, and especially a correspondence of clauses called parallelism, but no regular system of versification, as we understand it. It is not fettered by mechanical and uniform laws, it does not rest on quantity or syllabic measure, there is no equal number of syllables in each line or verse, nor of lines in each stanza or strophe. It is a poetry of sense rather than sound, and the thought is lord over the outward form. It differs in this respect from classical, modern, and also from later Hebrew poetry.53

This freedom and elasticity of Hebrew poetry gives it, for purposes of translation, a great advantage above ancient and modern poetry, and subserves the universal mission of the Bible, as the book of faith and spiritual life for all nations and in all languages. A more artificial and symmetrical structure would make a translation a most difficult task, and either render it dull and prosy, by a faithful adherence to the sense, or too free and loose, by an imitation of the artistic form. Besides it would introduce confusion among the translations of different Christian nations. The Iliad of Homer, the Odes of Horace, Dante’s Divina Comedia, Petrarca’s Sonnets, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Göthe’s Faust, could not be translated in prose without losing their poetic charm, yea, their very soul. They must be freely reproduced in poetic form, and this can only be done by a poetic genius, and with more or less departure from the original. But the Psalms, the Book of Job, and Isaiah can be transferred by a good and devout scholar, in form as well as in substance, into any language, without sacrificing their beauty, sublimity, force, and rhythm. The Latin, English, and German Psalters are as poetic as the Hebrew, and yet agree with it and among themselves. It is impossible not to see here the hand of Providence, which made the word of truth accessible to all.

The few acrostic or alphabetical poems can hardly be called an exception, viz., Pss. 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119 and 145, the Lamentations, and the last chapter of Proverbs (31:10 sqq.). For the alphabetical order is purely external and mechanical, and at best only an aid to the memory. Pss. 111 and 112 are the simplest examples of this class; each contains twenty-two lines, according to the number of the Hebrew alphabet, and the successive lines begin with the letters in their regular order. Ps. 119 consists of twenty-two strophes, corresponding to the number of Hebrew letters; each strophe begins with the letter of the alphabet, and has eight parallelisms of two lines each, and the first line of each parallelism begins with the initial letter of the strophe. The remaining four acrostic Psalms are not so perfect in arrangement.

Many attempts have been made by Jewish and Christian scholars to reduce the form of Hebrew poetry to a regular system, but they have failed. Josephus says that the Song of Moses at the Red Sea was composed in the hexameter measure, and the Psalms in trimeters, pentameters and other metres. But he and Philo were anxious to show that the poets of their nation anticipated the Greek poets even in the art of versification. Jerome, the most learned among the Fathers (appealing to Philo, Josephus, Origen, and Eusebius for proof), asserts that the Psalter, the Lamentations, Job and almost all the poems of the Bible are composed in hexameters and pentameters, with dactyls and spondees, or in other regular metres, like the classic poems, and points also to the alphabetical arrangement of Pss. 111, 112, 119, 145, and the Lamentations. Among later scholars some deny all metrical laws in Hebrew poetry (Joseph Scaliger, Richard Simon); others maintain the rhythm without out metre54 (Gerhard Vossius); others both rhythm and metre (Gomarus, Buxtorf, Hottinger); others a full system of versification, though differing much in detail (Meibomius, Hare, Anton, Lautwein, Bellermann); while still others, believing in the existence of such a system, in whole or in part, think it impossible to recover it (Carpzov, Lowth, Jahn, to some extent also Herder and Wright). Ewald discusses at great length the Hebrew rhythm, verses and strophes, also Hebrew song and music, without making the matter very clear. Merx finds in the Book of Job a regular syllabic and strophic structure, eight syllables in each stich or line, and an equal number of stichs in each strophe, but he is obliged to resort to arbitrary conjectures of lacunæ or interpolations in the masoretic text.

The conceded and most marked feature of Bible poetry is the parallelism of members, so-called.55 It consists in a certain rhythmical and musical correspondence of two or more sentences of similar or opposite meaning, and serves by a felicitious variation to give full expression and harmony to the thought. The parallel members complete or illustrate each other, and produce a music of vowels and consonants. Paralellism reflects the play of human feeling, and supplies the place of regular metre and rhyme in a way that is easily understood and remembered, and can be easily reproduced in every language. Ewald happily compares it to “the rapid stroke as of alternate wings,” and “the heaving and sinking as of the troubled heart.”

There are different forms of parallelism, according to the nature of the internal relation of the members. The correspondence may be either one of harmony, or one of contrast, or one of progressive thought, or one simply of comparison, or of symmetrical structure. Since Lowth, it has become customary to distinguish three classes of parallelisms: synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic or constructive. The majority belong to the third class, and even those which are usually counted as synonymous, show more or less progress of thought, and might as well be assigned to the third class. A large number of parallelisms cannot be brought under either class.

1. SYNONYMOUS parallelism expresses the same idea in different but equivalent words, as in the following examples:

PS. 8:4.

 What is man that Thou art mindful of him?

And the son of man that Thou visitest him?

PS. 19:1, 2.

 The heavens declare the glory of God:

And the firmament showeth His handiwork.

Day unto day uttereth speech:

And night unto night proclaimeth knowledge.

PS. 103:1.

 Bless the Lord, O my soul:

And all that is within me, bless His holy name.

These are parallel couplets; but there are also parallel triplets, as in Ps. 1:1:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly:

Nor standeth in the way of sinners,

Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Similar triplets occur in Job 3:4, 6, 9; Isa. 9:20.

Parallel quatrains are less frequent, as in Ps. 103:11, 12, where the first member corresponds to the third, and the second to the fourth:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

So great is His mercy towards them that fear Him.

So far as the East is from the West,

So far has He removed our transgressions from Him.

When the two members are precisely the same in word and sense, they are called identic parallelism; but there are no cases of mere repetition, unless it be for the sake of emphasis, as in Isa. 15:1; Ps. 94:1, 3.

2. ANTITHETIC parallelism expresses a contrast or antithesis in sentiment:

PS. 1:6.

 For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous:

But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

PS. 37:9.

 Evil-doers shall be cut off:

But those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.

PROV. 10:7.

 The memory of the just is a blessing;

But the name of the wicked shall rot.

PROV. 12:10.

 A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast,

But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.

HOS. 14:9.

 The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them;

But the transgressors shall fall therein.

3. SYNTHETIC or CONSTRUCTIVE parallelism. Here the construction is similar in form, without a precise correspondence in sentiment and word as equivalent or opposite, but with a gradation or progress of thought, as in Ps. 19:7–11; 148:7–13; Isa. 14:4–9. We quote the first:

The law of Jehovah is perfect, converting the soul:

The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple.

The statutes of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart:

The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes.

The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring forever:

The judgments of Jehovah are truth, they are righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, and much fine gold:

And sweeter than honey, and the honey comb.

Moreover, by them is thy servant warned:

In keeping of them there is great reward.

To these three kinds of parallelism Jebb (Sacred Literature) adds a fourth, which he calls introverted parallelism, where the first line corresponds to the last (fourth), and the second to the penultimate (third), as in Prov. 23:15, 16. De Wette distinguishes four, slightly differing from Lowth, Delitzsch six or eight forms of parallelism, as we have already seen in the remarks on the Proverbs.

The pause in the progress of thought determines the division of lines and verses. Hebrew poetry always adapts the poetic structure to the sense. Hence there is no monotony, but a beautiful variety and alternation of different forms. Sometimes the parallelism consists simply in the rhythmical correspondence of sentences or clauses, without repetition or contrast, or in carrying forward a line of thought in sentences of nearly equal length, as in Psalm 115:1–8.

Not unto us, Jehovah, not unto us,

But unto Thy name give glory,

For Thy mercy,

For Thy truth’s sake.

Wherefore should the heathen say,

“Where is now their God?”

But our God is in the heavens;

All that He pleased He has done.

Their idols are silver and gold,

The work of the hands of men.

A mouth have they, but they speak not;

Eyes have they, but they see not;

Ears have they, but they hear not;

Noses have they, but they smell not;

Hands have they, but they handle not;

Feet have they, but they walk not;

They make no sound in their throat.

Like them are they that made them,

All that trust in them.

This looser kind of parallelism or rhythmical correspondence and symmetrical construction of sentences, characterizes also much of the Hebrew prose, and is continued in the New Testament, e. g., in the Sermon on the Mount (especially the Beatitudes), in the Prologue of John, in Rom. 5:12 sqq.; 8:28 sqq.; 2 Cor. 13:1 sqq.; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:11, and other passages which we are accustomed to read as prose, but which even in form are equal to the best poetry—gems in beautiful setting, apples of gold in pictures of silver.






Among all writings, inspired or uninspired, the Book of Job stands preëminent for its lofty representations of the pure moral personality, the holiness, the unchallengeable justice, the wisdom, the Omnipotence, the absolute Sovereignty of God. Whatever may be said of its obscurities and difficulties in other respects, in the splendor of its theism it is unsurpassed. Whether we take the earlier or the later date that has been assigned to it, the wonder is still the same. “Crude theistic conceptions” have been charged upon the whole Old Testament, surpassing, in some respects, those of surrounding nations, yet still characteristic of the infancy of the race and the infancy of science. The Book of Job refutes this. Our best modern theology, in its most approved and philosophical symbols, may be challenged to produce any thing surpassing the representations which this ancient writing gives us of God as “a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Nothing approaches its ideal of the ineffable purity of the divine character, before which the heavens veil their brightness, and the loftiest intelligences are represented as comparatively unholy and impure. God the Absolute, the Infinite, the Unconditioned, the Unknowable,—these are the terms by which our most pretentious philosophizing would characterize Deity as something altogether beyond the ordinary theological conception. But even here this old Book of Job surpasses them in setting forth the transcending glory, the ineffable height, the measureless profundity of the Eternal. How much stronger the intellectual and moral impression of this, as derived from the vivid metaphors of Zophar, than any thing that comes to us from the negatives of Sir William Hamilton, or from any such powerless abstractions as philosophy is compelled to employ: “Canst thou explore the deep things of God? Canst thou find out the Almighty in His perfection? Higher than Heaven, what canst thou do? Deeper than Hades, what canst thou know? Longer than the earth; broader than the sea;” excelling all height, going beneath all depth, extending beyond all space; infinite in its unsearchableness, yet never dissociated from the idea of a personal Divine presence more wondrous in its nearness than in any conception we can form of its immensity.


In connection with such a sublime theism, there is to be noted another fact, worthy of attention in itself, but more especially in its bearing on the first and greater aspect of the Book. This exalted idea of God is almost wholly separated from any dogmatic view of a future life for man, although it most distinctly recognizes what has ever been regarded as having a close connection with this latter doctrine, namely, a spiritual world inhabited by superhuman beings, good and bad, among whom a conspicuous place is held by those who are called בניֹ אלהים, or “Sons of God.” The idea of another side of human existence, of some state beyond, whether in Sheol, or after the dominion of Sheol, cannot, indeed, be said to be wholly wanting. It gleams upon us from certain passages, but as something repressed rather than as intended to be prominently revealed. It is kept back; a veil seems thrown over it; it is silenced, as it were, even in places where it would appear to be almost breaking through, and struggling to manifest itself in circumstances most adapted to call out its utterance. This is a remarkable feature of the Book, very suggestive in respect to its purpose,—its problem, as some would call it,—or, to speak more correctly, the lesson it truly teaches, whatever may be said as to its artistic design.

The Foundation of Religious Belief

Two tenets are commonly regarded as fundamental in religion,—as indispensable, in fact, whatever else may be received or rejected. These are, 1st, the belief in a personal God having moral relations to a world of rational beings, a Ruler, Lawgiver and Judge, instead of a mere physical Creator; 2d, the belief in a future state for man, or of some higher life, however conceived, which shall give dignity to that relation, or make man a fit subject of a divine moral government appealing to the highest motives, and the most transcending reasons that can influence one appointed to such a destiny. They are the two necessary articles in every system of theology. Piety cannot exist without them. So it seems to us in the present age of the world. We find it difficult to think of religion as separate from some very clear and decided belief in another state of existence. And yet it has not always been so. Nothing is more certain than that, in the early days of the human world, this second article which, in certain kinds of modern religionism, seems to usurp the first place, to be the great dogma, in fact, giving its chief importance to the other, did certainly hold a very subordinate rank in the mind’s conceptions. If it existed at all, its form was most shadowy and indefinite. It was a feeling rather than a dogma having any defining limits in respect to any conceived time, state, or locality. And yet there was a strong sense of a high moral relation between man and God,—a relation somehow eternal, though one of the parties was mainly thought of as finite, earthly, and mortal.

The Exalted Piety of the Patriarchal Life as compared with the Scantiness of its Creed

Connected with this scanty creed, or rather with this wholly deficient creed, as we would deem it, there was an exalted piety, a rapt contemplation described as a “walking with God,” an adoring view of the divine holiness, an ecstatic longing for the blessedness of the divine communion. Strange as this may seem, it cannot be denied whilst we have before us the history of those early patriarchs who appeared ever to live as in the presence of God, and to whose earthly existence this feeling gave such an unearthly aspect, though knowing nothing, seemingly, of any state beyond.

Difference between it and Modern Religionism

It is difficult for as to conceive how it could have been so. Nothing of the kind is seen or known in our modern world. The creed of the materialist, or of the mortal Deist, as he is called, would seem outwardly to present but little difference from that of the patriarch in regard to this item of a future life, but how utterly does it repel every idea of such an exalted piety, such an adoring theism, as characterized these men who called their earthly stage a pilgrimage, but who knew not whither it tended, or what was its meaning, except that it was assigned to them by God. We never find such a belief now, or rather such an absence of belief, separated from some form of sheer worldliness, sensuality, animalism, ambition, utter selfishness in some aspect, vulgar or refined,—ever characterized by indifference to all religious thought, and wholly wanting in adoration or reverence for God, though theoretically believed.

Earliest Ideas of Death and of Continued Being

It is not easy for us now to enter into the mind of the early men, and to understand precisely what view they took of the strange phenomenon of death, or what conception they formed of any possible after being. It was a cessation of visible activity, but we are not warranted in supposing that they regarded it as extinction, on the one hand, or that they formed any idea of something separating, going off, and continuing as a distinct immaterial existence, on the other. It was a great mystery in respect to which nothing had been told them, except that it was a condition into which men entered on account of sin. It was the beginning of something, so far as the mere act of dying or the cessation of activity was concerned, but they had nothing to warrant them in regarding it as an end of being. It was not annihilation. They had no such word or figure—no such conception to be expressed by it. It was a state, a state of being, instead of a ceasing to be. It was a penal state, and the first dawning of a better hope and of a more distinct idea must have arisen from the strong desire of deliverance from it as from a darkness and a prison, which, although they may have interrupted their conscious active powers, did not destroy their personal identity. It was a state strange and indescribable—inconceivable, we may also say—yet held, nevertheless, as a fact of which they could give no account. The body lies motionless before them. They see it beginning to undergo a fearful change. As far as sense is concerned, every thing seems at an end; and yet they continue to speak of the dead man as one who somehow yet is. He has yet relations to God and to the living. He is not all gone. His “blood cries from the ground.” God has yet a care for him, and makes inquisition for him, as a yet remaining entity having rights and wrongs. Such language may have become mere empty figures as used now; but it could not well have become so in the early day; it meant something. They are gone from the congregation of the active living, but they are gathered into another—into a community of beings in a similar strange condition. Especially is this thought and said of the pious: “They are gathered to the fathers,” “gathered to their people.” The earthly living go to them; they come not back to us (Gen. 37:36). This is before any pictures of locality have been formed. Even those exceedingly dim conceptions first embodied in such words as Sheol and Hades had not yet assumed a rudimentary distinctness. The subterranean imagery had not yet grown out of the forms of burial. Still, even before all this, there was the feeling, the sentiment, of something in man, or belonging to man, that did not perish; and that, because of his vital moral relation to the ever Living God. “Because He lived,” therefore, in some way they knew not how, and on some ground they did not understand, “they should live also.” Hence that early Hebrew oath, which afterwards became so frequent, חי יהוה וחי נפשך, “as the Lord liveth and as thy soul liveth.” Surely there was meaning in all this; it was not mere verbiage. From this arose that kind of language which, as we learn from 2 Sam. 25:29, afterward pervaded the common Jewish speech. Thus Abigail uses it to David as a sort of habitual or proverbial utterance of the formal religionism; “The soul of my lord bound up in the bundle of life, צרור החיים, with the Lord thy God.” Compare also Ps. 36:10: “For with thee is the fountain of life, מקור החיים, in thy light do we see light.” There is here “the power of an endless life,” even though time conception and local scenery be wholly absent. It is astonishing that some of our most learned and most acute commentators see so little in such remarkable language, whilst so keen to find meaning in the common-place ethics, or mystical rhapsodies of Zoroastrian, Brahminic, or Confucian writings.

Pilgrims and Sojourners. The Covenant Idea

This absence of local conception, and of forms of expression for it, should not lead us to imagine a complete destitution of the idea, or of the feeling, as we may rather call it. They were “strangers and pilgrims upon earth” (ξένοι, παρεπίδημοι, גֵּרִים), way-farers; “and they that say such things make it clear (ἐμφανίζουσιν) that they seek a country.” At the command of God, it is said, they went out from their native land, “not knowing whither they went;” and the same may be said of their apparent departure from the earthly state of being: They went down to Sheol, not knowing whither they went, yet firmly trusting God, who had made a “covenant with them well ordered in all things and sure.” Hence the great significance of this covenant idea which forms so peculiar a feature of the Old Testament, and especially of the patriarchal, economy. God does not deal with them as He does with nature. He raises them above the plane of an arbitrarily imposed and an involuntarily accepted law. He stipulates with man, he proposes terms to him, as one rational mind to another. But such a transaction implies a greater being in the party thus treated than the transient earthly life. God deals not thus with creatures of a day. “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” It is our Saviour’s argument with the Sadducees, most rational, most Scriptural, and most conclusive, though some of the Rationalists have not hesitated to characterize it as a force upon the text quoted, and an evasion of the difficulty presented.


It cannot be denied that there may be a feeling, a sentiment, an influence, call it what we will, that may have an immense power over the soul, giving it a most peculiar character, and yet wholly undefined in the forms either of thought or of language. It may be the consciousness of some greater being, strongly felt, yet without any conceived accompaniments of time, state, and locality. It is that mysterious idea which characterized the priesthood of Melchizedeck, and which the Apostle calls “the power of an endless life,” δύναμιν ζωῆς ἀκαταλύτον (Heb. 7:16),—of an indissoluble, unbroken being. It is a power truly instead of a bare dogmatic idea, and yet indissolubly connected with that other and higher idea of the eternal God, with its awful moral relations to the human soul.

It demands a Pure Theism first as the Ground of all other Religious Ideas

Thus it is that these two great articles of religion, though inseparably connected in their essence, stand to each other in a causal relation of birth and development. The second, so far as respects its definiteness of conception, was to grow out of the first, and find in it its security against all perversion. To this end the first was to be clearly established, and to have the dominion of the soul, before the second assumed such form as might make it, in any degree, really or seemingly, independent of it. The clear acknowledgment of God as a moral Governor, whatever might become of man, or whatever might be thought of the duration or the importance of his being,—this was to be first, not only for its own sake as intrinsically greater than any other idea, but also on account of the second itself, as being a dogma, which, without such clear recognition of the greater dogma, might become vain, imaginative, grotesque, bringing in all kinds of monstrous chimeras on the one hand, or of pretty sentimentalities on the other, and, in either way, wholly losing all moral power.

Doctrine of a Future Life developed from it

From the doctrine of the being, personality, moral government, and moral sovereignty of God, were to grow out all other religious ideas. Under the divine direction of human history, and especially of the people who were chosen to be keepers of truth for the world, their development in the soul was to be their revelation. The Scriptures are the record of this revelation, made by divinely chosen and divinely guided instruments; or rather it is the record of the circumstances and events, natural or supernatural, common or extraordinary, in which, under the divine control, these developments had their origin and growth. Thus the idea of retribution was born in the sharp human conviction of something due to great crime—awakening also the thought that there might be a heinousness in such crimes, and even in what were regarded as common sins, far beyond that ordinary estimate which might itself have fallen with fallen beings. In the murderer’s conscience was born essentially the idea of Hell before any Hadean penalty was conceived of, either as to mode or locality. So the acknowledged relation of God as Moral Governor, as Redeeming Angel, as Covenant Friend, must have produced in the souls of the pious a feeling that becomes the preparation on which the idea of a blessed future being was, in time, firmly and definitely to rest. In such an acknowledged relationship there was this “power of an endless life,” of infinite being, as the germ of every idea that might afterwards be held in respect to the human destiny or the human soteriology.

The Hebrew Despondency more spiritual than any Heathen Confidence. Anacreon and David. Farewell to the World—Farewell to the Idea of God

This appears even in their despondency, or their moments of apparent skepticism. There is really something more spiritual in the seeming despair, even, than in many a belief that might be regarded as greatly surpassing in dogmatic statement or conceptive clearness. To the worldly mind, with a dim hope of futurity, or even with one possessing some degree of distinctness, yet without moral power, the agonizing thought in view of death is the leaving behind this fair earth, with its prospects of pleasure or of ambition. See how it meets us in the heathen gnomic poetry, in the Greek monumental verses, and in the Choral odes of the Dramatists. Very affecting are such representations, as they may be all summed up sometimes in that touching expression so common in Homer: ὀρᾶν φάος ἠελίοιο—λείπειν φάος ἠελίοιο—“to see no more, to leave forever, the light of the sun.” See EURIPIDES HIPPOL. 4; PHŒNISS. 8; IPHIG. in Aul. 1218, ἡδυ νὰρ τὸ φῶς βλέπειν, “For O ’tis sweet the sunlight to behold.” To bid farewell to this loved life, with all its worldly hopes: such was the burden of the heathen song, whether tuned to the Anacreontic or the more solemn tragic key. How differently affected in view of death was the pious Shemitic mind, whether as represented in the patriarchal, the Jobean, or the more common Israelitish life. “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord,” says the dying Jacob; though should the Rationalist maintain that there is no evidence of the patriarch having any distinct hope of a life beyond the grave, it would not be easy to refute him. But greater still is the difference, we may say, when all seemed dark respecting that other unknown shore. To the pious descendant of Jacob, in such a season of despondency, the great grief of his departure was the bidding farewell to God—if the expression does not seem too strange—or the going out forever of that idea which had been his life, his higher life, even here on earth: “Shall the dead praise Thee? Shall one speak of Thy goodness in the grave, Thy faithfulness " אמונתך, thy covenant faithfulness] in Abaddon (the world of the perished)? Shall Thy miracles be known in the darkness, Thy righteousness in the land of oblivion?” Ps. 88:11, 13. So Ps. 6:6: “In Sheol who shall make confession unto thee?” It was to be parted forever from that soul-vision of the Divine eternity, the loss of which was sorer than any diminution of their own being considered merely in itself. Hence the affecting contrasts of man’s dying, going out, passing away, and God’s everlasting continuance. The contemplation of this is the reason assigned in praying for the continuance of the human life. “O take me not away in the midst of my days; Thy years are through all generations.” “Thou sendest man back to dissolution (עַד דַּכָּא, to decay and dust), and thou sayest, return ye sons of Adam.” “But Thou art from everlasting unto everlasting;” “of thy years there is no end;” לא תמו, they never fail. There is, however, a rising hope of eternity in the very thought, as though reflected back on the human soul that thus contemplated itself in God, and leading it to say: “Thou hast been to us our dwelling-place in all generations;” or in the rapt language of the Prophet: “Art Thou not from everlasting, Jehovah, my God, my Holy One? We shall not die.” Hab. 1:12.

This “Power of an Endless Life,” thus implied, stronger than any Dogmatic Utterance

It is in these and in similar ways that the inspired feeling—for such we may call it even in its apparent skepticism—breathes itself out in many a passage where not a word is said dogmatically of any future state, and yet the language seems all filled with this “power of an endless life.” Thus in the “Psalm of Asaph,” 73:24: “Whom have I in the Heavens (but Thee); and in all the earth there is nothing that I desire beside Thee.”—עִמְּךָ in comparison with Thee. Take away this æonic inspiration, and all, at once, collapses. The language, regarded as coming from a mere worldly soul, speaking from a worldly stand-point, is wholly overstrained. There is nothing to call out a state of feeling so high and rapturous.56 “My flesh and my heart (my body and my soul) both fail, but Thou art the strength (the rock) of my heart, and my portion (חֶלְקִי, my decreed or allotted portion) for ever.” Not a word here, it may be said, of immortality, or of any life beyond the grave; no one would quote it as a proof-text for the doctrine dogmatically considered; and yet the power is there—the δύναμις ζωῆς ἀκαταλύτου—“the power of an endless life.”

Examples from Job—God mourned for more than his Loss or Pain

So is it with Job, though the darkness and sadness of his outward state gives a different form to the expression. The loss of property he hardly mentions—his bereavement of his children he barely alludes to; but it is for God he mourns—for the hiding of His face, “the light of His countenance,” that ineffable good for which our purest modern religion finds its best expression in the language of this ancient theism. Such a feeling is not inconsistent with the daring, and, as they seem to us, almost profane, expostulations wrung from him by the long continuance of his sharp bodily pains. In every subsidence of this great misery—for there must have been such seasons of remission, or he could not have borne it—there returns again the humbled, mourning spirit, with its divine want: “O that I knew where I might find Him; O that I might set my cause in order before Him; that I might know the words He would answer me,” 23:3, 5; “Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face?” 13:24; “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,”57 13:15. From the lowest depth, hope springs up. Just after he had said, “My face is foul with weeping, and the death shade is on my eyelids” (16:16), he cries out, “Even now my Witness is in Heaven, my Attestor is on high,”58 16:19; “My friends are my mockers, but mine eye droppeth unto God,” 20. The tearful appeal is made as unto a better friend, who, in the days of his prosperity, had never been absent from his soul’s most cherished thoughts: “O that it were with me as in months that are past, in the days when God watched over me (ישמרני), when His lamp shone upon my head, when by His light I walked through darkness; when the Almighty was with me; when the secret of God [סוד, consessus colloquium, His secret presence and communion, see Ps. 25:14] was upon my tabernacle,” 29:2–4. Our highest rationalism has now no such remembrance and no such mourning. It may talk of the dimness of Job’s views, the inadequate conceptions entertained by the author of the poem in respect to the character of God, or the absence of any clear mention of a future life, but his darkness is better than their light, his intense theistic feeling is stronger than their theory; they have no such skepticism, perhaps, because they have no such faith.

Longing for Goa as distinguishing the Hebrew Theism from all other

It is the same feeling, as characteristic of this ancient theism, which breaks out in that ecstatic longing before alluded to: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God!” Picture the image of the thirsting animal (moaning, with outstretched neck, as ערג vividly denotes) in its intense desire for the refreshing element; then transfer it to the rational sphere, and we see that it is a superhuman, earth-transcending good that is so ardently sought. “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God”—for the God of life. The epithet is not a superfluity. It distinguishes Him from the dead idol, on the one hand, and the equally dead idea, or theosophism, on the other. “It is Thy favor which is life, Thy loving-kindness which is more than life.” Again, Ps. 63:1: “O God! O Thou my God! my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee [כלה, denoting that strong passion which makes even the body faint under the intensity of its desire) as in a dry and thirsty land wherein no water is.” Our Saviour shows His estimate of the power of this language by consecrating the image in His own highest term for spiritual blessedness—the “water of life,” the “fountain leaping up to everlasting life.” There is no mistaking the significance of such an appeal to God. No joy in this world without the beatific sense of the divine presence.

Transition from Despondency to Rapture. Job 19:25

Such was this ancient theism. It carried with it “the power of an endless life,” without any dogmatic mention, and this is the reason why the highest emotion of modern religion still finds in it its most adequate, as well as its most impassioned, expression. There is less of it in Job; but there, too, we find it, carrying him, sometimes, out of the deepest despondency into a spiritual region where his sharpest pains seem, for the moment, forgotten. In the first part of Job 19. it seems to be all over with him. No hope, either for body or for soul: “He hath fenced up my way, that I cannot pass; He hath set darkness in my path; He hath broken me down on every side, and I am gone; He uproots, like a tree, my hope; my bone cleaves to my skin, and to my flesh; I am laid bare, the skin from my teeth.”59 A little before (17:1), he had said, “My breath (my breathing) is exhausted” (חֻבָּלָה, not “corrupt,” but from the other sense of חִבֵּל, denoting great pain, as of one in travail, hard and painful breathing, quick panting); my breath comes hard, my days are going out (נזעבו), the graves are my portion.” 5:11,12. “My purposes are broken off, even the treasured thoughts of my heart,” all my pleasant earthly remembrances. The light is departing. “They60 are putting night for day:” the shades of death are gathering fast around him. All hope of life is gone, much more the expectation of restored wealth and worldly prosperity, which the rationalist would regard as the only significance of the triumphal strain that follows, 19:25. He is in extremis; but such is the very time when this “power of an endless life” asserts itself. At the lowest ebb, as though such a time had been necessary to bring out its returning force, he breaks forth with those ever memorable words so sublime and super-earthly in spite of every lowering strain that criticism will put upon them, the words he wished “engraved,” as his monument, “with an iron stile and lead in the rock forever:”


My Avenger, who takes my part against my murderer or the great unseen evil Power of whose hostility Job sometimes seems to have a kind of dreamy consciousness. There is the same idea of survivorship so touchingly alluded to in the Psalms. He is my אחרון, my Nachmann, my Next of Kin. He lives on; “and after they61 have broken up this skin of mine, yet from my flesh (or out of my flesh, translate it as we will) shall I see God”—see Him with the eyes of my soul, and not with any outwardly derived theoretical knowledge—see Him as the Living God, as my God, and not a stranger. This beatific thought of God as “all his salvation and all his desire” carries him out of and far away from himself. It becomes an insupportable rapture giving rise to that same intense language before referred to in the 63d Psalm, and elsewhere. It is that most passionate verb כלה, having for its subject the paronomastic noun כליות (the reins, renes, φρενες), denoting the most interior part of the body, regarded as in nearest connection with the spiritual emotion: “My reins faint within me,” כלו כליותי בחקי. Consuming, exhaustion, completion, are the primary sense, hence, of disappearing (schwinden), going out, fainting, swooning with ecstatic joy. Ewald’s treatment of the passage is most admirable. He, however, refers זר to Job himself, and makes the personal idea conveyed by it one of the chief elements of his insupportable bliss: “Nicht ein Fremder, no more a stranger. It is no other than myself; no, no; all doubt is gone. It is I (ich, ich), I that shall thus behold Him. So deeply does he feel the bliss, that he seems to have wholly forgotten the outer world; and finally, in the highest transport, like one swooning, he cries out, O ich vergehe, O I am almost gone; I faint from trembling joy and insupportable desire.” EWALD, Job, p. 200. He refers to Psalms 84:3, 119:8. Compare also the use of οἴχεται by the Greek Dramatists, καρδία γὰρ οἴχεται.

Similar Fluctuations of Faith and Hope. Job 14

It is the same feeling, though in a calmer or less ecstatic form, that prompts the language, Job 14:13: מי יתן בשאול תצפנני, “O that Thou wouldst lay me up (like a deposit) in Sheol, that Thou wouldst keep me secret till Thy wrath should turn (שוב), that Thou wouldst appoint me a time and then remember me.” Is it really so? The thought suddenly breaks out of his gloom: “Is it really so: If a man die, shall he live again?” Every thing depends here upon what we regard as the emotional point of the question. The musing, soliloquizing style should also be remembered. It is not so much answering his friends, as talking to himself, and pausing between each solemn utterance. It may be the language of skepticism, or of rising hope, not denying the idea, but expressive of wonder at some new aspect of its greatness. It may have been intended—and the thought is not unworthy of inspiration—that different readers, according to their different degrees of spiritual-mindedness, might take higher or lower views of the strange interrogatory. Even for Job himself it may have had its various aspects. There may have been intended the denial or the doubt; or there may have been the feeling of wonder before mentioned; or it may have been an entirely new view, carrying with it a rising assurance: “If a man die, shall he live?” May it be that death is the way to life?62—that through it we attain the real life? However momentary the feeling, it immediately raises him to a higher confidence. Its first fruit is the earnest prayer for remembrance and security in Sheol; then the stronger faith grounded on the more unreserved submission: “All the days of my appointment” (what he had prayed for in the verse preceding) will I wait until my change63 shall come.” And now we have language which seems to mount to almost full assurance: “For Thou wilt call and I will answer Thee; Thou wilt yearn64 towards the work of Thy hands.” The darkness soon comes over him again; but these words stand, nevertheless, like the monumental engraving that describes the rapture of the later passage. Even as Ewald describes him then, he seems, for a short period, so carried away by the deep question he is pondering, as to have forgotten the outer world and all his surroundings. “Thou wilt have regard to the work of Thy hands; Thou wilt call and I will answer.” It is “the power of an endless life,” carrying him for a moment beyond the thought of death, or suffering, or human injustice. It is, however, but a transient gleam, and the close of the chapter—following, we may suppose, a pause or pauses in his soliloquy—becomes again as mournful as its beginning. One inference most strongly suggests itself from all this. There is a true experience here, an actual life that is lived. A soul went through these sorrows. It had these transitions of hope and despair—now moaning and expostulating with God, now rapt in the deepest meditation, now praying and trusting, now utterly cast down, and now, when “the light is just before darkness,” as Dr. Conant renders 17:12, rising suddenly to a height of rapture in which every thing disappears before the beatific vision of God. To a mind in a right state there comes from this an irresistible argument for the actual truthfulness of the history, not only in its general outlines, but also in what has been called its dramatic representation. This is not an invented picture. It would require a power and a style of writing not only unknown to the early world, but surpassing the highest skill of modern fiction, even could we suppose the greatest dramatists of Grecian, German, or English literature capable of describing such a state of soul, or of descending, without divine aid, into the depths of such an experience.

Bidding Farewell to God; this Idea in the Psalms connected with the Temple and Ritual Worship

In language like this we have quoted from Job and the Psalms, every hope of future being, or of any greater or higher being now connected with the earthly life, is sustained by, and derived from, the idea of God. It is this which gives such a preciousness to everything associated with the divine name. In the Psalms, however, there is a peculiar feature most worthy of note, because leading to a most important inference. In the expression of the glorious divine attributes, and of man’s great need of God, their theism is substantially the same with that of Job and the Patriarchs. A new element, however, appears in the passionate language used in respect to the outward divine worship. The occasional feeling of despondency in view of death, as before referred to, is enhanced by the thought of leaving every thing on earth associated with the divine name,—the temple, the sanctuary, the altar, “the courts of Thine house.” See the prayer of Hezekiah, Isaiah 38. Similar to this is the longing expressed when circumstances, even in this life, have cut them off from privileges so highly prized: “O when shall I come and appear before the face of God?” “How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts! Longs, yea, even faints (גם כלתה נכספה) my soul for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry aloud (ירננו) for the Living God.” Hence that endeared expression בית יהוה, “the house of the Lord,” used not only for the temple, the place of worship, but for the people of God who worship there. A still further extension of the idea makes it denote the religious as distinguished from the worldly life, or even as something transcending the earthly state, though undefined in time and space. As Ps. 23:4: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” In that verse our translation may be amended. The words שבתי בבית יהוה, all belong to the subject of the sentence, as even the accents show: “My dwelling in the House of the Lord—shall be, לארך ימים, for length of days,” that is, continuously, or without interruption: My religious life shall not be simply on Sabbath-days, or on the stated festivals, but one unbroken adoration. Comp. Rev. 4:8. It is thus that, when far removed, or deprived in any way of this divine presence, they so earnestly pray:

O send again that heavenly hour,

That vision so divine,

“Even Thy strength and Thy glory, as we have seen them in the Sanctuary. For better is Thy love than life; our lips shall ever praise Thee. Thus will I bless Thee while I live; thus, in Thy name, lift up my hands. As with marrow and fatness (beyond comparison with any earthly pleasure), so shall my soul be satisfied; with songs of joy shall my mouth glorify Thee.” It is a spiritual joy, transcending any “good of corn and wine.” It is a soul-worship, a soul-rapture, no mere affair of trumpets, incense, altars, or cherubic symbols, no imposing ceremonial, however gorgeous or comely its forms, however elevating or pietistic its influence. “In the shadow of Thy wings do I trust.” The outward temple worship suggests the image, but it is in deepest retirement that its power is felt: “For surely I remember Thee upon my bed; I meditate upon Thee in the watches of the night; my soul followeth hard after Thee; Thy right hand upholdeth me.” It is an absorbing devotion; the whole heart is there; the highest thoughts of God are there; it is a model which our best modern worship may strive to reach but cannot surpass. “For better is Thy love than life:” No mere rationalistic theism now talks to itself in this way; it was no mere theosophy, much less any known form of patrial or local worship that used the language then. It is an abiding sense of the power of this ancient devotion that has made the Psalms, in all ages, the Litany of the Christian Church.

Inference from the Absence of all such Language in Job

It is true that there are no passages of this latter kind in the Book of Job; but the inference from the fact is most obvious as well as most important. The story of that book, and even the seances (the dramatic discourses) as recorded, to say nothing of any later writer or recorder, were long before those inspiring temple and tabernacle ideas. They were before the Mosaic Law. That has been ably maintained as proof of the patriarchal character of the book, and we think that some of our modern Evangelical Commentators, such as Hengstenberg, and others, have been rash in giving up a view sustained by so profound a scholar as Spanheim, and indirectly supported by so learned an Orientalist as Schultens. Ni historia sit, fraus scriptoris, says the former. A pure dramatic work, avowed to be such, or carrying evidence of its dramatic character upon its very face, might have a place in inspired Scripture regarded as given by God for human instruction. Almost every other style of writing is there. But a parable, an allegory, a myth even, we at once know to be such. There is no concealment, no attempt to conceal, no artifice employed to put in what does not belong to the time of the composition, or to keep out what would at once undeceive the reader in regard to the appearance it would maintain. Such an intention, so employed, seems certainly akin to fraud. No subsequent writer was ever led to regard our Saviour’s Parables as actual histories; but such, certainly, was the view derived by the Prophet Ezekiel from this Book of Job, then a part of the Jewish Canon. He no more regarded it as unreal than the histories, as contained in the same Canon, or firmly held by tradition, of Noah and Daniel.

Difficulties of the pure Dramatic view in excluding all reference to the Divine Law and Testimony so frequent in the Psalms

According to the pure dramatic view, the writer selects a “hero,” wholly imaginary, or faintly disclosed in the dimmest nucleus of an ancient legend. He clothes him with the character of the patriarchal age. He carefully keeps from him, and from the speakers with whom he is associated, the least reference to the Mosaic law. This might be comparatively easy, if it lay before him as a written document, which he might at any time examine, comparing it with his own work, and expunging or modifying as the case might demand. But there would be something far more difficult. The Jewish liturgical writings, older than the time ascribed by most modern critics to the Book of Job, abound in references to this old law. They give it a great variety of names, such as statutes, judgments, ordinances, testimonies. See how this kind of language is multiplied in the 119 Psalm, and in others certainly older, if the 119. is to be carried down to a late date. Language is taxed to express this ardent devotion of the soul, this ecstatic love of the comparatively limited revelation God had as yet given to the world, and that, too, veiled, for the most part, under outward and ceremonial ordinances. Yet what a rapture does it call out for the spiritual mind: “O how love I Thy law! Thy word is very pure, therefore Thy servant loveth it; The entrance of Thy word giveth light; Great peace have they who love Thy testimonies; Thy precepts are my delight (שַׁעֲשֻׁעַי, in the plural, deliciæ meæ, my exceeding joy) sweet to my taste, yea, sweeter than the honey, or the droppings of the comb.” What care must it have taken to avoid anything of this kind! How still more difficult to keep clear of any such language as we first set forth, not referring to the Law, even indirectly, but deriving its spirit from it, and full of those remembrances of the sanctuary, and of the outward worship which were its fruit. All this kept out!65 not the slightest anachronism to be discovered, nothing but what is perfectly consistent with that far more ancient Patriarchal age to which the writer evidently wishes the reader to regard his imaginary hero and history as belonging. It is incredible.

Such Dramatic Skill and Invention out of Harmony with the Idea of Inspiration, and even of the highest Order of Genius

It would be wholly at war with that simplicity and truthfulness which we cannot separate from the idea of a holy and inspired writer. Such studied precaution would be inconsistent even with the lower human enthusiasm demanded for such a work of genius. It would simply be the genius of invention, and not even a miracle could carry it out of itself and into that higher sphere towards which it soars. Moreover, such a style of writing is inconsistent with any idea we can form of the earliest times. Modern fictitious writing has carried the art to its utmost capabilities, but even here it stops short (as from the very nature of the case it must) of the highest order of genius. It always fails when it attempts to meddle with the most sacred themes. We may confidently repeat it, therefore, that such success in such an effort, by a writer of the days of Solomon, is simply incredible.

But why not, then, take it as it purports to be—a true story of the Patriarchal age—and a substantially true report of discourses arising out of it, given in that chanting semi-rhythmical style that we know was earliest employed for the expression of all thoughts of a higher order, or regarded as having an extraordinary value. It is the same reflective, meditative, self-repeating rhythm, requiring little or no outward artifice, that we see in some of the earliest chants in Genesis, in the Song of Miriam, and in the Oracles of Balaam, the Prophet and Poet of the early East. It was the same, probably, from which the later fixed style of Hebrew poetry derived its origin. There seems to be demanded some ancient work of great repute to be the standard of authority for the later parallelistic chanting, and to give it rule and fixedness; just as Homer became the model of the Hexameter for all later Epic poetry of the Greeks.

Internal Truthfulness. Place of Job in Hebrew Literature

There are other alleged stumbling-blocks, and other objections to the historical reality of the Book, such as the appearance of Satan in the Prologue, the round and double numbers in the narrative, and the theophany at the close, which may be treated elsewhere. In regard, however, to the substantial subject-matter of the story, it may well be asked, why may it not be received, as we receive the early narrations in Genesis? What is there in the testing, the sufferings, and the final integrity of Job, more difficult of belief than the similar account and similar lesson of Abraham’s templation, or of Jacob’s long probation, or of the strange vicissitudes of Joseph’s history, or of the exile and severe trials of Moses? Such questions it would, indeed, be difficult to answer; but the main thing here is that for which there have been cited these glowing passages from the Psalms, containing ideas so apropros to the author’s supposed times, but which have no counterpart in the record of his hero’s thoughts and sayings, either by way of resemblance or of contrast. The inference is a very rational one. It shows that Job lived—and the first reporter, too, we think—not only before the giving of the Mosaic Law, but at that still earlier time when there was, indeed, a most sublime theism, but when there had not yet been developed the forms or the idea of local outward worship in gathered assemblies. There were no temples, no sanctuaries, no sacred places. It was at the time when the family was the Church, in which the father was head and priest; when pious men knew each other, and held intercourse, as did Abraham and Melchizedeck, but when holy days and rites (except sacrifice), and outward collective worship, as such, were things unknown. That such things should have been before the time of Job, and yet without the most remote allusion to them in the Book, seems most incredible, even though the greatest pains had been taken to keep them out. The spirit of such ideas, and of such observances, would have somehow come in, in spite of every effort to exclude the letter. To this collective or temple worship, or sanctuary holiness, revelation had not yet educated even the pious mind. To say nothing, however, of inspiration, or of the divine purposes, and viewing it as a mere question of criticism, it may be maintained that the consistency of Hebrew literature, as we find it, demands that there should be assigned in it a very ancient place to the Book of Job. Such we believe, too, would be the almost unanimous decision of Rationalism, should a similar question, and on similar grounds, be raised in regard to Greek or Hindu writings.


Alleged to be more clear than those of the Hebrews

At any date that may be taken for the Book of Job, there was, unquestionably, among the surrounding nations a belief in a future life that had assumed the form of a dogma possessed of a good degree of definiteness in regard to state and conceived local aspect. Such was the case even with Shemitic nations other than the Hebrew. The Syrians had it. Paréau has shown that such a belief existed among the early Arabians. There is proof of it, moreover, from the Koran, all the more satisfactory as it comes in incidentally by way of unquestioned reference. Repeatedly in the contests of Mohammed with the infidels of his day do they characterize as fables of the ancients,66 as ideas once firmly held in the earlier simple world, but now regarded as antiquated and wholly obsolete, asatirulawwalina, those doctrines of a future life, and of a resurrection, which he professed to revive and to urge upon them. If we may trust Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, the most ancient Egyptians had a similarly clear belief. Says the latter, Lib. I., sec. 51, “The abodes of the living they call καταλύσεις, temporary lodging-places or inns, those of the departed (τετελευτηκότων, the dead, not as extinguished, or non-existent, but as a state of being), they call ἀϊδίους ὄικους, everlasting mansions.” The idea of the present life as a pilgrimage would seem akin to that expressed in the patriarchal language: “Pilgrims and strangers upon the earth,” and may have been derived from it; but there the Hebrew mind, and the Hebrew imagination was stayed. A home to that pilgrimage was indeed implied, and in that they rested. “They went out, not knowing whither they went,” nor making any inquiry, nor indulging in any fancy about it, but committing everything to their covenant God. The Egyptian imagination, on the other hand, unchecked by any divine purpose in the development of the doctrine, ran on and made a distinct Hadean world of it, with its distinctly conceived abodes. The idea being separated, too, almost wholly, from that of the personal God, or being independently held as something by itself, became gross and earthly, as though it were a living in catacombs and pyramids, and surrounded by a funereal imagery. Other ancient peoples pictured the thought with lighter and more cheerful accompaniments. We need not refer to the Chaldæans, the Persians, and the Hindoos, as early possessing the idea of a future life; for with them the rationalist has no difficulty. It is only in regard to the Jews that he finds it hard to believe in anything spiritual or unearthly. They could only have learned it from foreign sources; but, in regard to these foreign sources themselves, no questions need be raised. All is easy, except when some strange feeling—of the true nature of which they are, perhaps, not distinctly aware—prompts them to deny all traces of such ideas as originating in the Scriptures, or as being first held, or independently held, by the Hebrew mind. So far, however, as regards these surrounding nations, they are undoubtedly correct. They all had a more or less distinct doctrine of a future life. On that of the Greeks we need not dwell. In the times referred to, in the Iliad and the Odyssey, a local Hadean world of spirits was distinctly conceived and universally held. So was it among the people of Western Europe. The best testimony shows that the Druids, or Celtic priesthood, possessed it, even in that early day.

The Veil thrown over the Doctrine in the Old Testament

And now here is the wonder which has stumbled many. How is it that such a belief, so universal, so intimately connected, as it would seem, with the very life of religion in any form, and without which we find it difficult to conceive of its having any power for the soul—how is it that such a belief should have been so faint among the people who are called the people of God? Why so little mentioned, if mentioned at all, by those who were chosen as depositaries of the great world-ideas, or the truths by which the race was finally to be regenerated? The wonder is enhanced by the fact that this Hebrew people, the pious among them, had the most exalted ideas of the Divine Being, and the Divine Holiness, so far surpassing all who seemed to be before them, in a distinct conception of the other doctrine. How is it that in Homer the belief is so clearly expressed, whilst in Job it is so veiled? It is altogether stranger from the fact that in Homer there seems little or no demand for it—no moral demand, we mean—whilst in Job the attending spiritual circumstances are such as would appear to call for it in almost every appeal, whether of charge or response. It would have cleared up the great debate at once. So we would have thought. Instead of being used, however, for any such purpose, it seems actually repressed when about to make its appearance. In places where it may be said to have actually broken through the surrounding darkness, it is only for a moment that it shines. It is laid aside; the gloom returns; the old difficulties again crowd the path of their ever-circling argument. So is it elsewhere in the Old Scriptures. The more pious the mind, the more exalted its conceptions of God, the greater the reserve on this point; so that even when it seems to be expressed, or implied, the greatest care is used to exhibit its dependence on the higher idea. The personal God is ever the controlling as well as the fundamental thought: “Thou wilt show me the way of life;” “I shall be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness;” “Thou wilt guide me by Thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.”67 In other cases, it is simply the expression of the divine care for man, and the strange importance attached to his acts and moral condition; as when Job says, 14:3, “Upon such a one dost Thou open Thine eye, and bring me into judgment with Thee?” “What is man that Thou shouldst be so mindful of him?” Again, it is the expression of a soul absorbed in Deity, as it were: “Whom have I in Heaven, or upon the earth, but THEE?” No mention is made of another life, but the power, as we have said, is there; the dogmatic presence is simply veiled in the splendor of the higher idea.

Reasons for this Reserve

Now there must have been some divine purpose in all this. May we not reverently conclude that such a reserve, in respect to the precious idea of the human immortality, was for the very purpose of preserving it in its highest strength and purity? All other nations had marred the doctrine. They had early received it, and early perverted it. They exercised upon it all the license of an unrestrained imagination. They turned it into fables. They deformed it in every way; or, in endeavoring to add to its mythical interest, they took from it all its moral power. God did not mean thus to give up His own people to their fancies. He had some better thing for them, especially for the more pious and spiritual in Israel. Hence this veil upon the sacred idea, and its indissoluble connection with the divine. It was not because the Hebrews were deficient in imagination. The vulgar belief in a ghost-world, to which we have referred (see note, p. 13), shows that they let it rove, just as all other ancient peoples did, and even to an extent which required divine legislation for its suppression. We can not compare the mythical fancies that seem so universally prevalent with the reserve that was maintained in the Book of Job, or in the utterances of David, Solomon, and the Prophets, without acknowledging the presence of a divine restraint, making the Jewish literature, in this, as well as in its sublime theistic aspect, so different from that of all surrounding or cotemporary nations.

Objections to the Hebrew Scriptures. Alleged Superiority of the Greeks. Homer, Pindar, et al

And yet this very thing has been urged as an argument against the Bible, and against the spirituality of the Old Testament writers. The very fact that it was esteemed too awful a doctrine for utterance, or even for the imagination, has been used as a testimony against its existence in any form. Witness the effort to explain away every passage which may seem, in any way, directly or indirectly, capable of such a meaning. The Greeks, it has been said, were far beyond them in the development of the doctrine of another life. As early as Homer, and long before Homer—for it could not have sprung up at once—they had a defined topography of the Hadean land. Besides the mysterious spirit-world in its general aspect, as graphically detailed in the XI. Book of the Odyssey, there was the more special abode of the blessed, according to the Greek conception of blessedness. Beyond the earth, or at the extremity of the earth, ἐς πείρατα γαίης, Odyssey, iv. 563, they had their “Elysian Plain, where presided in judgment the golden-haired Rhadamanthus, where life is ever free from care and toil, where tempest never comes, nor rain nor snow invade, but evermore sweet-breathing gales of Zephyrus refresh the souls of men.” Hesiod gives the same picture, Works and Days, 154; and adds to it, as a then current mythology, the conception of “The Isles of the Blessed.”

ἐν μακἀρων νήσοισιν ἀκηδέα θυμὸν ἔχοντες.

Of which Pindar, not long afterwards, gives such a glowing description, Olymp. II. 11068 (BOECKH): “Where the sun is ever shining, where the souls of the just spend a tearless eternity, ἄδακρυν νέμονται αἰῶνα (or a tearless existence); whilst those of a still higher degree “Take the way of Jove that leads to Saturn’s tower, where Ocean’s gales breathe round the isles of the blessed, where flowers of gold and fruits immortal grow.” In comparison with this, how poor, as some would estimate it, is the dark, shadowy, unlocalized, and wholly indefinite conception of the Old Testament writers, if it can be called a conception at all.

Greater Moral Power of this Old Testament Reserve. Its connection with a Pure Theism

To a true theological insight, however, there are two thoughts which must reverse the scale, and lead to a very different conclusion. In the first place, there is in this Greek picture but the dimmest idea of God (if there is any such, except in the local designations where divine names seem to be employed), or of any divine righteousness. It is such a view as might be entertained by a writer, who, in another place, PIND., Nem. 6:1, makes us all the children of nature, gods as well as men. The second thought is its utter lack of moral power. We feel this as we read, and find it confirmed by the fact of the little influence the Greek Hadean conception actually had upon their moral or religious life. In the Hebrew conception, as held by the pious mind, the idea of God, so prominent, so controlling, more than makes up for its dimness, and more than fills out all its scenic or local deficiency. “THOU wilt show me the way of life;” “O that Thou wouldst lay me up in Hades,” Job 14; “Thou wilt call, and I will answer; Thou wilt have regard to the work of Thy hands.” To say nothing now of such a triumphant outburst as we have, Job 19:25, “I know that my Redeemer liveth;” or such clear hopes as are expressed, Ps. 17:15, “I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake, Thy likeness;” the comparison might be rested on one of the briefest declarations of Scripture, in which death is contemplated as a going to God, and the whole idea of immortality is reduced to a single trust in some undefined blessedness. As Psalm 31:6: בידך אפקיד רוחי, “Into THY hands do I commit my spirit; THOU hast redeemed me; Lord, God of truth.” It matters but little whether we regard this declaration as made in extremis, or in view of some great danger. It is, in either view, the committing of the whole being unto God, as something belonging to Him, in virtue of an eternal relation, expressed by the word, פדיתה אותי, “Thou hast redeemed me,” and the covenant idea appearing in אֱמֶת, which ever means truth, as trust or faithfulness, or truth in its personal rather than in its abstract or speculative aspect. “Into Thy hands;” that is all; but how immensely does it transcend in moral power—in “the power of an endless life,”—all those Homeric, Hesiodean, and Pindaric pictures which some would regard as so rich in comparison with the Hebrew poverty.

Comparison of the Early Hindu and Shemitic Belief. Merx’ Claim of Superiority for the former

This lack of a true moral and theological insight is strikingly, though unwittingly, shown by MERX (Das Gedicht von Hiob., p. 10), where, in respect to this belief in another life, he asserts the superiority of the Vedas to the Bible. “In the representations of such an existence after death,” he proceeds to say, “there is a deep difference between the people of our race (the Arian) and the Shemitic. The latter know no Isles of the blest, where the noble heroes live. All that is included in that word hero seems to them a reckless audacity. The old men of renown (בני שם, or men of name), appear to them as impudent evil doers. The Semites, in consequence of living with their herds in the plains, and shunning the mountain peaks, fail in the development of the loftier, energies. It was otherwise with our ancestral kindred, as we learn from the monuments of their religion. It is true that, in the Vedas, allusions to a life after death do not often occur. They had too much to do with the present world. Still, as a reward for piety, there was held to be admission to the abodes of the Heavenly Powers.” As a proof of the superiority of the Hindu to the Shemitic belief in this respect, he gives us passages from the Rigveda, ix. 113, 7–11, in the rhythmical version of Prof. Roth.

Da, wo der Schimmer nie erlöscht,

Zur Welt des Sonnenlichtes hin,

Der ewigen unsterblichen—

Dahin, O Soma, bringe mich.

Wo König ist Vivaswant’s Sohn,

Und wo des Himmels Innerstes,

Wo jene Wasserquellen sind,

Dort lasse mich unstcrblich sein!

Wo man behaglich sich ergeht,

Im dritten hohen Himmelsraum,

Wo Schimmer alle Räume füllt

Dort lasse mich unsterblich sein!

Wo Wunsch und Wohlgefallen ist,

Die Höh’, zu der die Sonne klimmt

Wo Lust ist und Befriedigung,

Dort lasse mich unsterblich sein:

Wo Freuden und Ergötzungen,

Wo jubelndes Entzücken wohnt,

Wo sich ein jeder Wunsch erfüllt,

Dort lasse mich unsterblich sein.

Other extracts are made, and of a similar kind. There is a striking sameness in their imagery—all joy and glitter. The first thought that occurs is a doubt whether a writing containing such ideas, and so expressed, can really be regarded as very ancient. There is something about this Epicurean Heaven so full of sunshine,69 with such a glee, as it were, arising from the immediate gratification of every desire, and the instantaneous fulfilment of every wish, that is inconsistent with the gravity, the awed contemplative spirit, and solemn reticence of great antiquity. The second thought is its destitution of moral power. It is a mere picture of what is held best on earth, transferred to a supposed higher sphere. It is a pure poetic fancy, the product of the Brahminic imagination, artistic and artificial. It was never inspired in the highest sense. It was not born in any soul travail, nor nursed by the contemplation of any holy or divine idea. God is not in it as the chief and controlling thought. Its heaven is not made by His presence. The mind that dreamed it Was not wholly atheistical, but it had no such conception as that of a covenant God and Redeemer, educating men in their first lesson of immortality through the ideas inseparable from such a relation. In other words, these Vedaic, Homeric, and Pindaric fancies, so extolled above the dim Hebraic conceptions, were lacking in that element to which we have so repeatedly alluded, σύναμις ζωῆς ἀκατάλυτου, “the power of an endless life,” of a being indissoluble, because of its connection with the divine. The Vedaic theology, even in its pantheistic mysticism, has no true recognition of this. To its outward, or Epicurean picture, it is wholly lacking. It knows nothing of the αἰώνιος ζωὴ of the Scriptures, or the true immortality. The sonorous refrain—

Dort lasse mich unsterblich sein,

carries with it no higher conception than that of mere undyingness. It is but a living on in some way differing from the present simply by a higher joyousness, in some higher locality, whether above the Himalaya, or on the summits of Olympus, or even in the skies themselves, with the gods as merely a higher class of companions. The Scriptures were intended for a higher education than this, and hence their very silence is ofttimes more expressive, more suggestive of ideas that are full of life than the most positive language of other ancient writings. “O that I knew where I might find Him.” How poor this groping, sighing despair, it may be said, in comparison with the rapture which Merx gives us as a specimen of the higher and clearer ideas of our Arian kinsmen! But Job’s darkness is better than its light. The subdued trust of the Psalmist is better than its vain soaring: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the death-shade (the terra umbrarum, see Job 10:21, 38:17), I will fear no evil; for THOU art with me.” Sombre as are the thoughts suggested by the Hebrew Tzalmaveth, the idea of the redeeming Presence gives it a glory transcending all the sunlight, all the shimmer, and sparkle of the Vedaic hymn.

Merx proceeds farther with this contrast, attempting to sustain it by reference to the modes of burial or burning that arose from the different views entertained of death. In every thing of the kind the superiority is assigned to the Arian races. The translation of Enoch had been regarded as an early intimation of a higher life with God, to which one was taken who had “walked with God” on earth. But the contemned Shemites must be robbed even of this. “How widely different,” says Merx, that is, how inferior, “were the views of the Hebrews, of whom we must not judge from any thing in the Enoch legend (der Henochsage), since the Hebrew origin of it is more than doubtful.”70 It is certainly a curious phase of “the higher criticism,” as it calls itself, this constant tendency to depreciate the Shemitic Scriptures, whilst never allowing a doubt as to the antiquity or value of any thing, however poor its supporting testimony, that they may choose to place in contrast with them.

Moral Danger in separating the Idea of a Future Life from a Pure Theism. Modern Spiritualism and Modern Science

Still the fact remains a very strange one, especially as judged by the ordinary criticism, that in this peculiar Shemitic race, and at this very early day, there should have been such a deep religiousness, such a lofty piety, and yet with a conception of a future life so very dim, if it existed at all. We wonder most to find it so deeply veiled in this Book of Job, where the clearer view seems so greatly needed. The divine wisdom, however, in such a veiling, such a reserve, will be the more readily seen and acknowledged, when we think of the wild fables and mischievous notions to which the unguarded Hadean doctrine gave rise among other peoples of antiquity, and especially as it became more and more dissevered from any regulating divine idea. Of this we have already spoken. It remains to say that in our own times we find a still more striking proof of the moral danger of such a severance. The modern “spiritualism,” as it calls itself, would be unworthy of grave notice here, were it not as a manifestation of such a tendency. It is becoming almost wholly naturalistic, and even atheistical. Its continual babble about natural laws shows its strong desire to keep out, as far as possible, the ideas of God and moral causation. The same may be said in respect to some aspects of modern science. How strong the aversion which is manifested, in certain quarters, to the idea of a personal God, with its necessarily associated ideas of Providence and Prayer! They interfere with the doctrine of fixed evolution, or of uninterrupted physical causation. And yet it is most worthy of note, that there is no such aversion, to the mere idea of a post-mortem existence. Some who have gone to the very verge of atheism have expressed a willingness to patronize the other dogma, provided it can be presented in some scientific form. Separate it from the thought of God, or of any dread moral government; reduce it to a mere physical fact, and there need be no objection to it. There is nothing in the way. The theories of the origin of life, as held by many, are quite consistent with its continuance in some finer organization, or in some higher physical development.

Atheism and Materialism not Inconsistent with some Doctrine of Future Being

In this way, the most crass materialism may have its future state, possessing, perhaps, a memory of the former; since memory and consciousness are merely the results of organization, and may thus be carried through from one to the other. Even atheism cannot wholly shut out the idea, or the phantom, if it would. It may have a ghostly world of the future, even as it makes a ghost of the present. It may have its spectres and its demons, all the product of natural laws, even if it has no God. It cannot escape the thought of the fearful by denying the existence of any power above nature. Who knows what forms of being such an omnipotent and eternal nature may produce? And who can say that they may not be inconceivably dire and monstrous? If one says, that cannot be so,—there must be something in the universe, as a whole, which prevents the predominance of what we call evil, whether physical or moral—the question at once arises, how does he know that from any science, with its infinitesimal experience? He is unconsciously taking refuge in a higher doctrine, or borrowing ideas from the contemned theological sphere of thought. Even the Democritic, or the Atomic philosophy, whether in its most ancient or its most modern form, may have its future state. Among the endless phenomena of the physical universe, man may re-appear; the very same man, so far as there can be any such thing as personal identity. Given infinite time, and infinite space, and infinite variety, of working, and the atoms which compose his brain may come together in the same proportion, site, and arrangement as before. When this takes place, there he is again, with the same feelings, thoughts, knowledge, memory, consciousness,—all being, as before, simply the results of that peculiar material organization which alone makes him what he is. The idea of another life after death is not, in itself, an absolute essential of religion; since, as Genesis and this Book of Job most clearly prove, there may be even a lofty piety where there is only the dimmest conception of such a state. In its perversion, on the other hand, it may even become the ally of irreligion. Severed from the divine idea, it may be the parent of the most monstrous superstitions, or link itself with some gross doctrine of a physical metempsychosis—becoming, in either case, a more evil thing than the densest skepticism.


The Great Lesson of the Book—The Absolute Sovereignty of God

The distinctions made in the preceding pages have been the more largely dwelt upon as furnishing a reason, we may reverently suppose, why, in the early revelation, this doctrine of a future life is kept so much under the veil. It is that the other and the diviner doctrine may be the more fully learned, and firmly fixed in the human mind, as the conservative principle, the purifying power of all other religious beliefs. The subordinate idea, as we have said, is not wholly excluded from the Book of Job. It now and then appears amid the darkness; but there is made no use of it in enforcing the great lesson, which is, to teach the absolute moral sovereignty of God, and the unqualified duty of human submission, as to a demand carrying in itself its own inherent righteousness. The theism, the theodicé of the Book is its great feature. Never were the divine personality, the divine holiness, the divine government unchallengeable, in a word, the absolute divine sovereignty, more sublimely set forth. Here there is no reserve: God most wise and good, most just and holy, to be acknowledged as such whether we can see it or not; God who “maketh one vessel to honor and another to dishonor,” who “setteth on high or casteth down,” who “bindeth up or breaketh in pieces,” who is to be regarded as having the holiest reasons for all this, yet “giveth no account of His ways,” allowing “no one to touch His hand, and say unto Him what doest Thou?”

Not the Solution of a Problem—Not a Doctrine of Compensation

Such is the lesson taught. This is the problem solved, if we may use the language most commonly employed in reference to the Book. We do not, however, regard it as the best. The idea that the poem, or drama, of Job is intended for the solution of a problem, or as the authoritative decision of a debate, has led astray, we think, from a right view of its true character. There is no objection to the word, if it is used simply as a name for the great lesson undoubtedly taught, and which Job so thoroughly learned, namely,—this holy divine sovereignty,—but when we attempt to specify any other issue regarded as involved in the arguments of the speakers, and as finally decided by the divine appearing, we fall into endless confusion, as is evinced by the number of varying and discordant theories to which such a view of the Book has given rise. The design certainly cannot be to teach a future state. What has been already said is sufficient in respect to that point. Neither can it be to prepare the way for such a doctrine by furnishing representations which drive to its necessary acknowledgment as the only solution of the alleged problem.71 The hope of compensation such views might seem to involve would be out of harmony with that other and greater acknowledgment which Job at last makes so unreservedly, and some idea of which seems to pervade the Book from beginning to end. In respect to all such ideas of compensation, whether in this life or in any other, it is sufficient to say that no mention is made of them in the divine address, whatever may have been the subsequent fact; they are not assigned as having any bearing upon Job’s affliction, or as clearing up, in any way, the mystery that surrounds it. The same may be said in regard to any disciplinary purpose, on which Elihu so largely insists. The divine voice makes no allusion to it. The criminations of his friends, Job’s assertions of his integrity (in those most eloquent concluding appeals of chapters 29, 30, 31), and Elihu’s “pretentious wisdom,” as some have characterized it, are all dismissed as being, so far as the great mystery is concerned, but a “darkening of counsel by words without knowledge.”


Delitzsch, Merx, Umbreit, etc

“Why do afflictions befall the righteous man?” “This,” says Delitzsch, “is the question, the answering of which is made the theme of the Book of Job.” “This answer,” he proceeds, “if we look at the conclusion of the Book alone, is, that such afflictions are the way to a two-fold blessedness.” The first of these is the restoration of the earthly good of which he had been deprived. This, however, Delitzsch pronounces inadequate as a solution, and not, in general, true. The second is the internal blessedness which the righteous man finds through such a process. “It is the important truth,” he says, “that there is a suffering of the righteous which is not a decree of wrath, but a dispensation of love, and this is the heart of the Book of Job.” To this general view he gives two divisions: 1. The afflictions of the righteous are a means of discipline and purification; 2. They are proofs and tests of character coming from the love and regard of God. In short, “they are disciplinary and they are testing.” All this may be admitted as, in some way, taught in the Book, or truly suggested by it. So, also, there are other theories presented in various ways by other writers, but all coming to nearly the same thing. Some express themselves with more freedom in respect to the question of fact, whether the Book really furnishes the solution it seems to propose. Merx, the latest interpreter, does not hesitate to pronounce it a failure. After saying much of the Vergeltungslehre of the Mosaic religion, and of the Old Testament generally, and of this Book as being polemically opposed to such a doctrine of retribution—all of which Delitzsch justly estimates as “a phantom of the Rationalists”—he goes on to speak, in the highest terms, of the artistic excellence of the work, patronizing it even to extravagance, but does not shrink from saying that the solution it proposes is not only inadequate but false. The great problem is still unsolved, and the writer intimates that it all comes from the fact that the author of the Book was ignorant of “the Critical Philosophy.” “Of this,” says Merx, with more naïveness than he ascribes to the old poet, “he does not seem to have had the faintest notion.” How the Critical Philosophy would have saved the difficulty, or rather would have shown it to be wholly imaginary, he endeavors to tell us, but it seems far less clear than the Book of Job itself, and may be dismissed with the same sentence of failure and inadequateness. Still the objections made by such commentators as Umbreit and Merx have much force in them as applied to many of the so-called solutions. A stronger objection to some of them is that they receive no countenance from the prologue, or from the address of Jehovah at the close,—where, if anywhere, such a clear solution of the problem might have been expected.

Key in the Prologue—A Super-earthly Probation

If we are to judge it solely as an artistic production, then the plan and design of it are to be sought in the prose introduction, just as we look there for the design of a Greek drama,—and this without any nice discussion of the unimportant question, whether the book is to be called dramatic, any more than lyrical or epic. Here is a preface with the evident design of explaining what the mere poem might leave unknown, and without which, as has been tersely said, the dramatic speeches would be artistically a mere torso,—a trunk without a head. In this introduction we do find something which, in the absence of other considerations, we should be required to take as the leading idea of the work. It is, that there are reasons for human events, even for the sufferings of good men, that may wholly transcend this earthly sphere, having no reference to any human probation, for its own sake, either by way of discipline or retribution, but designed to serve a purpose in the super-human world. It is a problem for the בני אלהים the Sons of God, one in which they are interested, by which they are to be influenced, but in which a man is the sufferer, the testing patient through whom the truth is exhibited. Thus, earth may be the theatrum in which dramatic events are represented for the instruction of higher beings. It may be to show them that there is such a thing as human virtue, that man immersed in nature, and exposed to the strongest temptations, may “serve God for nought,” that is, disinterestedly, or from pure love of the service; as Job did, both in his prosperity and in his perfect submission, at last, to a dispensation unexplained and inexplicable. Such a thought seems plainly in the prologue; but be it what it may, there is a conceivable design of this kind sufficiently great and beneficent to justify the ways of God, even to our reason, without any demand of compensation to the one by whom the example or the test is made,—especially in view of the fact that such a demand, or even such an expectation, would be the most direct proof of its failure.72

The Lesson of Unqualified Submission

The design may be discipline or punishment, having reference solely to the individual. All that need to be maintained is, that it is not necessarily such. They may be admitted as subordinate aims, in connection with something higher and more universal. As thus subordinate, they may even become prominent in the dramatic teaching, as seems to be the case in Job, and yet without furnishing the idea, or the grounds, of the great lesson. Or it may be the design, aside from these, or in connection with these, to teach the lesson of absolute and unconditional submission to the divine will, and an acknowledgment of its necessary wisdom and goodness, whether we see it or not, either in the present or in any other life. This is quite different from a stoical fatality, or from any mere arbitrariness. It is not that the divine will makes right, but that it constitutes for us an evidence of its absolute righteousness that is not to be called in question. The because, we may say, has reference to our judgments. He does it because it is absolutely right in itself; we say it is right (in the absence of other knowledge) because He does it. As the Psalmist says, 39:10: “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.” It is a theism inadequate, impure, tainted by some ideas of fatality, or of a power higher than God, that hesitates in making this full and absolute affirmation. The reasons of the divine procedure in any particular case may be wholly or partially hidden. They may have reference to the individual experience, discipline, or purgation of the sufferer, and yet be wholly unknown to him. Job vehemently asserts his innocence. There is something noble in his expostulations; it was not a vain display of self-righteousness; he was driven to it by unjust criminations; and yet there might have been hidden evils whose existence his inexplicable sufferings should have led him to suspect, aside from the question whether they were, or were not, the sole cause of the calamities which had come upon him. He should have searched for them as the Psalmist did, and prayed for self-knowledge. His earnest appeal to God: “O show me wherefore Thou thus dealest with me,” is indeed very touching, but it manifests too serene a confidence in his entire integrity. It is not like the prayer of David: “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults;” or of him who said: “Make me to know wisdom in the inward parts;” or of the later exile, who so fervently prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; prove me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any evil way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” If it be said that Job was very defective here as compared with some others of the Old Testament worthies, it may be urged, on his behalf, that the accusations of his friends, charging him with open transgressions of which he knew he was not guilty, led him away into a mode of defence just in respect to them, but not maintainable before the All-knowing, as he himself afterwards most clearly saw.

Reasons Transcending Human Knowledge

But aside from this, or along with this disciplinary purpose, there may have been other reasons belonging to the ἅῤῥητα, the ineffable, the mysterious, transcending, perhaps, the human faculties, but which he was bound to admit as possible, however much he or others might fail in finding an explanation of the severe trial to which he had been exposed. “He giveth not account of his ways.” Such a view may be characterized as harsh and arbitrary, but it is perfectly consistent with the highest estimate of the Divine clemency. “God knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.” He hath pity upon man. Even the thought of his depravity, the fact that “the imagination of the heart of man is evil from his youth,” is mentioned (Gen. 9:21) as one of the grounds of the divine compassion. But he knoweth, too—are we not warranted, from the tenor of revelation, in saying it—that the loftiest height to which the human soul can attain, and ultimately its highest blessedness, is the acknowledgment of God’s absolute right, as the acknowledgment of His absolute glory! It is that to which the human soul of the Saviour attained when, in the great struggle with Satan, in the mysterious and inexplicable agony, he said, “Thy will be done.”

The Absolute Divine Sovereignty before any Doctrine of Human Destiny

Thus regarded, the value of a pure theism, in which the absolute divine sovereignty holds its sovereign place, is beyond that of every other dogma.73 Without it, all other religious teaching may become not only vain but mischievous. Without it, the doctrine of a future life may become the source of the greatest moral evils, leading, at last, to atheism, after having been the ally of the grossest superstitions. On this account, may we say again, was there need of a reserve that might hold in check the roving imagination,—of a veil, not wholly obscuring, but allowing only the faintest glimpses, now and then, to keep the soul from utterly sinking. Such a schooling of the chosen people, as the world’s representatives, was demanded, we may say, until the other great and conserving truth should be perfectly learned, and indelibly stamped upon the soul. Far better a dim shadowy belief in a future life, or a mere feeling without any distinct conception of state or locality, or resolving itself into a pure elementary trust in a covenant God,—far better this than an unrestrained imaginative picturing, destitute of all true moral power, and to which the thought of God, as a moral sovereign, is, in a great measure, alien, if not wholly lost. Far better the old patriarchal and Hebrew reserve in this respect than such a Hades, and such an Elysium, as we read of in the Greek poets, or any such rhapsodies as the Rationalist so triumphantly quotes for us from the Rigveda. Among the many other solutions, then, of the Book of Job, this seems certainly entitled to respectful attention. It is the teaching of such a theism, whilst throwing into the back-ground, to say the least, not only the dogma of a future life, but every thought of compensation,74 discipline, or anything else, that might interfere with the absolute unconditionality of the greater doctrine.


Its One Idea: The Divine Omnipotence. God “can do All Things”

If the solution of the problem, as some call it, is to be found anywhere, it is in the address of the Almighty. That is what every reader naturally expects, and is disappointed, to some extent, in not finding. No explanation, however, is given of the cause of Job’s mysterious sufferings, nor any decision made in regard to the matters in debate between him and his antagonists. Instead of that, one idea, predominant and exclusive, pervades every part of that most sublime exhibition. It is that of power, omnipotent power, first as exhibited in the great works of creation,75 and afterwards in those greater productions of nature that seem next in rank to the creative power itself. Nothing is said of any purpose in the great trial, or of anything which should be made known to Job as preparatory to his submission. There is no hint in respect to ultimate compensation as a motive for endurance, such as is held out in the Gospel to the Christian: “They that endure unto the end, shall be saved.” There is no allusion to any scheme of discipline, no suggestion of afflictions which are only evils apparently, since they are designed for purification, or as a preparative for a higher blessedness. The curtain is not withdrawn to disclose to us any vision of optimism as a motive for the creature’s submission. Nothing of this kind appears, but only that idea of power, omnipotent power, thundered forth in tones that seem intended to silence rather than to convince. However strange it may seem, this is all the voice we hear, startling and confounding at first, but soon causing us to forget everything in a feeling of its sublime appropriateness: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” What knowest thou of the divine purposes in thy own creation, or in that of the universe? What right, therefore, hast thou to challenge any of them as unrighteous or unwise, much less to dream of any fatality, or of any nature of things by which they might be baffled, whether they be purposes of justice or of clemency? It would seem as though its only design was to overwhelm, and it is overwhelming. Job falls upon his face and acknowledges that he has learned the lesson. It is not mere terror. Deep is the reverence; but there is also the conviction of the understanding and the conscience: “I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose76 of Thine can be hindered.” Had he doubted it before? It would certainly seem so, whether at the time he had been fully conscious of it or not.

The Old Idea of Fate—The Name El Shaddai as Opposed to it

A feeling of something irresistible in the vast surrounding nature, something with which it is vain for man to struggle, and against which not even a divine power could help him, shows itself, more or less, in all the early heathen religions, as it appears afterwards in the systems of philosophy. They called it fate, μοῖρα, doom, destiny. It was superior to gods as well as to men. It was irrational, inconsistent with any true theistic conception, but its ever-pressing nearness, as well as the vastness and indefinableness of its aspect, gave it an overpowering weight. That some feeling of this kind, some beginning of a fatalistic idea, may have been in the minds of God’s people, tainting even the otherwise pure theism of the patriarchs, would seem probable from the stress laid upon that assuring epithet, אל שדי, occurring so often in Genesis and Job, and furnishing such strong evidence of the antiquity of the latter Book. “Almighty God,” אל שדי, Deus potentissimus, omnipotens, παντοκράτωρ, the strong God, Deus sufficiens, אשר לא יבצר ממנו מאומה, “from whom nothing can be hindered,” to whom nothing can fail—this was the great name of strength and encouragement which God Himself employs to cheer the hearts of those early men, and keep them from fainting in their pilgrimage: אני אל שדי, “I am El Shaddai, therefore, fear ye not, but walk before me.” Thus regarded, too, much of the language of the Old Testament respecting the divine power, the divine sovereignty, and the extreme jealousy that guards against the least impeachment of these attributes, loses all its seeming harshness. Like the denunciations of idolatry, it is conservative of pure religion. It is a protest against the nature-worship, the fatalistic ideas that were everywhere coming in to pervert the true theistic conception. Thus viewed, it is the language of paternal Deity, encouraging to faith and submission as the only blessedness of the human state: “Fear not, for I can do all things.”

The Fatalistic Idea betrays Itself in the Speeches of Job and his Friends

Such a misgiving dread of some insurmountable fatality, putting his case beyond the reach even of any divine help, seems to lurk in the speeches of Job at the times of his extremest despair. The friends were not pressed to it, as he was, by an anguish unendurable. They had not his experience to breed a doubt. Free from pain and trouble, they could theorize complacently on the divine excellencies, “speaking good words for God,” as Job taunts them, and expatiating at their ease on this attribute of omnipotence. Here the speeches of Zophar and Bildad are peculiarly eloquent, however ill-timed. Job, too, is roused to emulation, and strives to surpass them (see especially chs. 25 and 26). And yet this very style of speech seems, now and then, to betray a want of the confidence it so loudly assumes. The speaker seems to indulge in it as a mode of fortifying himself in a faith not wholly free from a lurking skepticism. None of them, however, ever intimated a doubt of the justice and wisdom of God. In his extreme anguish, Job may seem to be approaching some thought of the kind, but immediately revolts from it, as from the edge of an abyss. He cannot give it up: God is good; He is righteous; He is most pure and holy; but may it not be that there is something, be it fate, be it nature, be it an invisible, fiendish77 power, that baffles all His mercy and all His wisdom. “The earth is given into the hands of the wicked,” 9:24; is this the work, or the permission, or the weakness of God? אם לא אפו מי הוא, “if not, who then?” Would there be such sore evils? Above all, would they come upon the innocent, if he could help it? Is there not a nature, a fixed order of things (as Job, according to Merx, would have said, had he understood “the Critical Philosophy,” or the distinction between “the moral and the practical reason,”) which cannot be set aside?

The Divine Address adapted to this Fatalistic Idea.—Job’s Renunciation of it

He has not ventured to say it openly in words; the very thought seemed to demand repression whenever it showed itself, however dimly, to the consciousness. It was there, however, as is shown by the language of the divine address so directly adapted to such a state of soul, and the closing acknowledgment of Job, expressing a new and clear conviction that admits no doubt. It is absolute certainty,—the certainty of sight, as compared with any abstract theorizing, or any traditional “hearing by the ear:” I know,”—it is like the ecstatic assurance he had of his Redeemer’s living—“I know78 that Thou canst do all things; and that nothing is hindered from Thee.” It is as though he had said: Now I am sure of it; if the continuance of my misery is not from Thy want of goodness and mercy, much less is it from Thy lack of power; nothing is too hard for Thee; no nature can baffle Thee; no fate stands in Thy way; no invisible power of evil, however mighty, can prevent Thee from “doing according to Thy sovereign will, either in the armies of heaven, or among the inhabitants of the earth.” He bows before this divine utterance as conclusive, not only of its own truth, but in respect to everything in the character and government of God that may have been, either directly or indirectly, called in question. It is Thou then who hast done it, and therefore is it holy, just, and wise. Once shown that it is truly God’s act—not nature’s, merely, or Satan’s—and that, if it had not been such, everything in nature that stood in the way would have been crushed out if necessary,—all else follows to the believing soul. Thou hast done it, therefore, is it right? I ask no farther. “Surely have I uttered what I did not understand; things wonderful,” far beyond my knowledge. But, oh! “hear me now; let me speak; let me ask of Thee, and do Thou give me knowledge. By the hearing of the ear had I heard of Thee; but now Thou comest near, and I confess Thee as the Almighty. Wherefore, I reject myself (my arguments), and repent in dust and ashes.” There is deep feeling here, as of one who has come to a new view of himself and of his relations to God. It is to be noted, however, that it is not from any disclosure of the causes of his sufferings, nor from any hope held out of their alleviation, but altogether from this thunder voice, the tones of which, however varied in the presentation of the great natural or the great supernatural, ever modulate themselves to this one key of Omnipotent, unchallengeable power.

God the Only Power in the Universe

Not only no other God, but no other power than God in the universe. Compare Isaiah 44:6: “I am the first, and I am the last; beside me there is no God.” It reminds us of the oft-repeated Arabic formula, so concise, and yet so full: No God but God, which must have entered most significantly into the early religion of the Arabians, as we may judge from its prevailing use in the later Koranic. The Mohammedan fatalism, as it has been called, may sometimes have a superstitious aspect, but, in its pious form, as thus expressed, it is rather a protest against a physical fatalism, or against any other power than God, such as is made here in the challenge of Shaddai, the Almighty. There is not only no other personal Deity, but no power in Nature, or in Fate, or in any system of things, that can, for a moment, stand in His way, if the vindication of His holiness, His wisdom, or His goodness, demand its breach, or its removal.

Job’s Musing Soliloquy and Confession—Note on the Genuineness of the Elihu Portion

In this view, we see the force of that musing, wondering language which intervenes, ver. 3, where Job seems, without any reason, to be repeating to himself the words of the Almighty, as though they struck him in a new aspect, or suggested something which he had not thought of before: “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” They seem so strange, that Merx and others, with a lack of critical insight, we think, reject them as an interpolation or a misplacement. As first uttered by Jehovah, we have reason to regard them as most directly applicable to the speech of Elihu, who, although uttering great truths (the soundest ethical doctrine, and approaching the nearest of all the speakers to a solution of the supposed problem), had yet done it in a somewhat pretentious manner. As the last speaker, too, he may be regarded as first noticed in the divine address. It does not militate against this that it is said: “The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” There is nothing in the way of regarding these first words as the briefest allowable notice of the man whose voice had just done sounding,79 stopped, as it were, by the sudden interruption, and then followed by the turning, in a different style, to Job the subject of the general answer: “But gird up now thy loins, like a man; I have something to say to thee.” In this second appeal, 42:3, Job seems to take the language to himself, and yet in a manner which shows that it had not been his first thought. In a sort of dreamy maze, he says over the former words of Jehovah, which had made so deep an impression on his mind: “Who is this? Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Yes; it is I. I am the man; I see it now; I am that man who has uttered what he understood not. It is a still deeper feeling of what he had said before: “Surely I am vile (MERX, weak—dogmaticé), what shall I answer Thee? I lay my hand upon my mouth. Once, twice have I spoken, but I will not answer. I say no more.” “Who is this (dost Thou ask) that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” To whomsoever else they are applicable, surely they apply to me. In his deep confession and self-abasement, he thinks only of himself and his position in the sight of God. And herein lies the difference between Job and the others. They stand in amazement, it may be, awed by this display of the divine majesty, yet without prostration or confession. Still confident in their own wisdom, they may actually regard these thunder-tones of omnipotence as a decision in their favor, as their vindication, in fact, instead of their rebuke. For had not they, also, all of them, expatiated on this idea of the divine power, to the crushing and humiliation of the trembling Job? The repetition of the words, “who is this?” has the appearance of interrupting the train of thought and feeling. On this account, the critic rejects what a closer insight into this rapt, soliloquizing, ejaculatory style, shows to be in harmony with the tone and spirit of the scene. The seeming irregularity gives vivid evidence, not only of its artistic, but of its actual scenic truthfulness. It supplies that emotional connection which carries us over all seeming logical or philological breaks.

Job Distinguished from the Others by his Submission

For what else is Job commended but for the completeness of this submission, with its deep humility and hearty penitence? It would be difficult to find any answer to this, except what has arisen from the theory, very ancient, indeed, and supported by the highest authorities, that the design of the Book, and especially of the theophany at its close, is the decision of a debate, or to determine which party had the better of this long argument about the cause of Job’s sufferings. As the traditional view we are reluctant to call it in question, and yet it may be very defective, if not in itself, yet by rejecting or ignoring another which is important as collateral, and, in certain aspects, may be regarded as presenting the predominant lesson. Job is approved not for what he said, or chiefly for what he said, in chs. 3 or 16, or even in chapters 28 and 31, but for the few words spoken, 40:4, 42:2–6. This is in accordance with the opinion of Abenezra, the most judicious of the Jewish commentators, who restricts the words of God, 42:7: “Ye have not spoken to me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath done,” solely to the confession Job had made (40:4, 42:2–6), and they had not.


Origin and Progress of the Dispute

In order to determine how far such a view may be defended, let us briefly review the general course of the narrative, and of the argument, so far as it can be called by that name.

In the first stages of Job’s grievous affliction, he seems to have borne it perfectly. Philosophical stoicism must confess itself immeasurably transcended by such a declaration as is ascribed to Job 1:21: “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken, blessed be the name of the Lord.” What is there in Seneca or Epictetus to compare with this conception of “the old Dichter,” as the Rationalists call him? Again, that declaration afterwards made to his tempting wife: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” No language could more clearly and strongly express that idea of unconditional submission on which we have insisted,—that unreserved surrender that asks no questions as to the cause or the issue, makes no demand of compensation, hints at no injustice, seeks for no other reason of its being right than that God hath done it, and that, therefore, it must be right. “In all this,” it says, “Job sinned not with his lips,” 2:10. The latter words in this place—though not occurring in the previous passage, 1:22, where it is said, absolutely, “Job sinned not,”—must have a significance. They may denote the beginning of a change, to a degree, perhaps, of which he was yet unconscious. Raschi regards it as a negative pregnant, implying that, though his words were right, there was the beginning of something wrong in his thoughts and feelings; אבל בלבו חטא, “but he sinned in his heart.” Below the lips, ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ, in that deep unconscious place lying beneath the thoughts, and out of which, as our Saviour says, thoughts ascend (ἀναβαίνουσι), there had been some working of that hidden force which afterwards breaks out so irrepressibly. Another supposition may be indulged, that there had come upon him, or doubtless had greatly increased, that severe bodily anguish which, in its protracted continuance, is so unendurable. Christian martyrs have borne it with divine aid, such as we may suppose Job here not to have had, and because of the briefness of the pain, soon destroying itself, or leading to insensibility. Without this, or when there is no remission or alleviation, it may be safely said that such anguish continuing on, and beyond a certain degree, cannot be endured. The man cannot refrain from fiercely crying out, and it matters but little what the language of his cry may be, since it is only, in any sense, a physical expression of this unendurable agony. “He knoweth our frame.” God doth not blame Job for this; neither should his friends have blamed him. But this is what they did, and it was the beginning of that wrong direction taken in their subsequent discoursings, and growing more and more devious and confused at every step. They could not put themselves in Job’s position. They were astonished at his wild outcries, leading them to imagine something terrible in his state of which they had never thought before. It was this that first led to their chiding tone. They regarded it, not as the involuntary language of extreme suffering, having little of any more accountability attached to it than the mere physical manifestations of tears and groans, but as the evidence of rebellion in the spirit, or of some unknown actual guilt. They had witnessed this during the days of their astonished silence, until they can refrain no longer. His violent language seemed to them like an outburst of profanity; they undoubtedly knew of his fair reputation in the days of his prosperity, corresponding to the character which God Himself gives of His servant. “They had heard of all this evil that had come upon him.” Immediately each starts “from his place;” they make an appointment (וַיִּוָּעֲדוּ) “to go and mourn with him, and to comfort him.” At the sight of their friend, so changed by suffering that “they knew him not, they wept aloud, and rent their garments, and threw dust upon their heads.” In all this there is the deepest sympathy, but no unfavorable judgment.

No Polemical Interest—The Rationalists’ Fanciful Vergeltungslehre

Neither had they any polemical interest against him in maintaining the old Vergeltungslehre, “that phantom of their own imagination,” of which the Rationalists are so fond. There is no evidence that they had come, “each from his place,” to dispute with him about that. There is no such doctrine of retribution in the Mosaic Law, as differing from the later Christian, or from the universal experience of the world in either the earliest or the latest times. Always have men believed, and had reason to believe, both truths: that impious deeds are often strikingly punished, even in this world, and also that the righteous often suffer in a manner that seems inexplicable. The Rationalists describe their Vergeltungslehre as peculiar to the old Patriarchal and Mosaic times; but there is abundant evidence to the contrary in the narratives of Genesis. Good men are represented as suffering, without any impeachment of their characters, either on the part of God or man, or on the ground of any specific guilt assigned as the cause of it. The lives of Jacob, Joseph, and Moses prove this. So does the whole history of the Israelites in their sore bondage, for which there is no evidence that the immediate sufferers received or expected compensation, and who certainly were not worse, to say the least, than the nations around them, who had none of those severe trials which were sent upon God’s chosen people. So far as there was any basis for the idea in the Mosaic institutions, it will generally be found in connection with promises made to families and nations, rather than to individuals. This is the case with the Fifth commandment, which is so often cited in support of this imaginary Vergeltungslehre. Although seemingly addressed to individuals, yet it is in the national aspect that that motive is chiefly held out. It was the nation that was to reap the direct benefit. It was not simply long life, but length of days, continued generations, “in the land which the Lord thy God giveth to thee.” And so it is in regard to other blessings promised to the Israelites. Their political aspect is everywhere specially predominant, and, in this sense, they ever held most true. The people among whom filial reverence was maintained, as a foundation virtue, along with that deference which a new generation owed to the experience of the elders—such a people would have “length of days;” their institutions would derive a strength and a permanency from such a cause which no other could give. The words “in the land,” show this. Promises thus made to nations have no such reserve as must be supposed to be connected with them when made, really or apparently, to individuals whose cases are affected by such a multiplicity of outside moral and physical relations. They have no exceptions, expressed or implied, and history would show that, in such a civic sense, they always hold true. The nation has only an earthly being, and this difference was felt, even before the individual after-life was distinctly maintained. The individual virtue stood on a higher platform. It was connected with a higher order of ideas. Though the thought, as a conception, was not dogmatically formed, or consciously received, yet there was in it this mysterious “power of an endless life.” Hence, the question which Job’s friends mistakingly put in reference to the individual, might have been fairly asked in reference to a people, “When did a nation perish, being innocent?” When did a people cease to flourish that perseveringly obeyed God’s commands, and acknowledged Him to be its Lord?

This fantastic Vergeltungslehre, as thus held by the Rationalists, is inconsistent moreover with the tone of the most important and most serious of the Psalms. Comp. Pss. 73, 17, etc. In Ecclesiastes it is most expressly repudiated. In the Proverbs, a purely ethical book, there seems to be more of it, but nothing more than any system of popular ethics, ancient or modern, must admit, namely, that virtue is, in the main, favorable to happiness or prosperity in this world, and that the practice of it, therefore, may well be recommended by the moralist on that ground. In the Proverbs themselves, however, there is evidence that the general truth has its exceptions, not arbitrary, but arising out of circumstances and reasons connected with a higher ground, demanding a higher rule transcending the ordinary experience.

Job’s Violent Language the First Cause of Crimination—Opening Address of Eliphaz

There is no evidence that Job’s friends held this secular Vergeltungslehre as a thing exceptionless. Their own speeches frequently admit the contrary idea. They would, perhaps, have advised Job to examine himself, try his ways, pray God, as the Psalmist does, “to show him if there might be some unknown evil thing in him,” that thus he might be “led in the way everlasting.” They might have urged him, as the calmer Elihu afterwards did, to regard afflictions, however sore, as sent in love for some mysterious good of discipline or purification. But it is not at all probable that they would have charged him with crimes, had they not been led to do so in consequence of the seeming profanity of his violent language, and his own apparent criminations of the divine justice. This first explains the doubt; and then the increasing harshness of their imputations is the natural consequence of the controversial spirit engendered, becoming the more personal, paradoxical as it may seem, in proportion as it becomes more dogmatic and abstract. Yet still the opening language of Eliphaz is that of a true friend—a pious friend who wished to sooth the sufferer, and yet mildly rebuke his violently complaining spirit. Together with astonishment and compassion, it manifests a tender diffidence which is very finely expressed in Dr. Conant’s translation: “Should one venture a word to thee; wilt thou be offended? but who can forbear speaking?” It seems to come after a silence occasioned by a subsidence in the great anguish. There had been, too, a sort of cadence in Job’s language which lets us into the interior of the man, showing that his former state, though outwardly fair and prosperous, was not free from spiritual trouble: “I was not at ease, I was not tranquil, I was not at rest, yet trouble came” (3:26). There was something strange about the case; yet the words of Eliphaz, that follow, are far from crimination, or even suspicion. It is the gentlest of reproofs, reminding him of what he himself had done to others in similar cases of suffering, and counselling him now to do the same for his own support and consolation: “Lo Thou hast admonished many: Thou hast strengthened the feeble hands; Thy words have confirmed the faltering.” Surely this testifies to a belief in Job’s previous reputation for benevolence and piety. Nothing could be farther from the spirit of the harsh charges that seem to be made by this same Eliphaz, 22:5–10. “Thou hast comforted many”—it is the mildest of rebukes, if it be a rebuke at all—“but now it comes to thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art confounded. Is not thy religion thy confidence (so יראתך, should be rendered); thy hope, is it not the uprightness of thy ways?” Job’s character for integrity is remembered and admitted, with the intimation that he should now derive comfort from the thought. Keeping before us this most natural view of Eliphaz’s attempt to comfort, we have the key to what follows. It was not received as it should have been; and hence the beginning of that personal controversy which arose, in a great measure, from Job’s violent retorts. He begins it; although he has the better of them afterwards, when the polemical spirit, thus aroused, has driven them far from the sympathy they came to express.

Had it not been for the effect produced upon our minds by this latter turn, or had this speech of Eliphaz stood alone, we should have carried with us a different feeling, resulting in a different style of interpretation. The words that follow would have appeared to us in another light: “Remember now”—consider your own experience, try and recall a case—“when has the innocent perished?” The perfectly innocent, some would say in order to soften the imputation, but the emphasis is on the word אבד. The use of it is consistent not only with the belief, but even the firm persuasion, of Job’s comparative guiltiness, and the hope of his speedy restoration after a temporary trial. אבד is an extreme word of perdition. Here, especially, as the spirit of the context, and its association with that other strong term נכחדו very clearly show, it denotes a final, irrecoverable doom. It is suggested by the idea intimated above, that Job should not forget his religion, his confidence in God, but should derive a pure comfort from the thought of “the uprightness of his ways.” God does not mean to destroy you; you shall not utterly sink under this trouble; all will come right at last. Such is the spirit of the appeal. Good men may suffer affliction, but where have you known the innocent to perish? “Therefore, hope thou in God; for thou shalt yet praise Him, who is the salvation of thy face (thine open salvation), and thy God.” There is nothing forced in such a view. There may have been a want of appreciation of Job’s extreme suffering, such as an outside comforter would find it difficult to conceive, but it seems the best thing that he could do, and the best advice he could offer him under the circumstances. It is confirmed by the repetition of the question in language still more emphatic, and intended to be still more assuring: “When were the righteous cut off (נכחדו80)—finally cut off? Cheer up, therefore, give not way to despair, God will not forsake thee.”

It is not a questioning of Job’s righteousness, but an assuming of it, in fact, as the ground on which he should yet exercise hope in the divine restoring goodness. The remark, however, here as well as elsewhere, leads to an enlargement on the doom of the wicked man: but any application of this to Job would be inconsistent with the evident assumptions of the context. This doom of the wicked is not thy doom. He has no fear (no religion), no hope as thou hast. Severe as may be thy pains, thy case is very different from that of the men “who plough iniquity and reap mischief.” Thou shalt not perish as those “roaring lions” of evil. He who “breaks their teeth” shall bind up thy wounds. Therefore, hope on. Then follows that sublime account of the spiritual appearance, and the moral lesson it brings from the unearthly sphere, so different from the gabble which the modern naturalizing “Spiritualism” would have given us in its stead, as has been before remarked. It is still that grand theism, presented all alone, and in its ineffable purity, as intended to precede all other articles of faith—God’s personal being, and His immeasurable holiness: “Shall a man (אֱנוֹשׁ, weak mortal man) be just with God? Shall a man (נֶבֶד, the strongest and most confident man) be pure before his Maker?”81 He had indeed given Job credit for uprightness; he had clearly intimated that he might and ought to find comfort in the remembrance; but here comes the vision of the night, the solemn, sober, second thought,—that there is something far more holy than our best righteousness, high as that may seem when a man compares himself with other men, or any standard of human ethics. It is an intimation that even Job, with all his uprightness, and though fully corresponding to that charming account given of his moral character in the prologue, cannot yet so stand upon his righteousness as to cry out against suffering—even extreme suffering—as though it were a strange injustice. Far different, indeed, is his case from that of those “lions” of iniquity to whom Eliphaz alludes,—those utterly Godless transgressors to whom their utter perdition is but a “reaping of what they have sown;” but still he is not righteous, he is not pure before God.

Increasing Severity—Cause of it—Mutual Recriminations—Note on the Atrocious Charges of Job 22

Such is a fair interpretation of this fourth chapter. As uttered in a similar spirit, must we regard much of the language of the fifth; although, probably from some signs of impatience in Job, it seems to increase in severity: “Call now; is there any one who will answer thee” whilst indulging in such extravagant appeals? Who of the Holy Ones can listen to thy imprecatory language? “It is the foolish (evil) man whom wrath slayeth; it is the simple man whom envy killeth.” The noun, קִנְאָה, could be better rendered jealousy. It furnishes the key to the train of thought, or the view Eliphaz took of Job’s state of mind, as complaining of God, because men manifestly wicked had lived and died more free from pain than himself. Though the language be dark, and full of a passionate abruptness, such seems to be the meaning of what he had said, 3:14–17, about “kings and counsellors” who, after lives of uninterrupted prosperity, have lain down beneath their costly monuments, leaving their houses full of treasure. Why could he not have “so lain down,”82 at the end of an untroubled life, and “been at rest.” To correct this murmuring jealousy, Eliphaz insists upon what his own experience had taught him to the contrary: “I have myself seen the wicked taking root, but soon I cursed his habitation” (his seemingly undisturbed stability). I have seen what followed them, the ruin of their posterity, the restorations they were compelled to make. He is not here charging Job with personal crimes, but cautioning him—and surely there was need of it—against being led into complaints of God as one who lets the wicked live and prosper, and die, at last, without any “bands (dolores, Ps. 73:4) in their death.” This experience of Eliphaz was true. There is a Vergeltungslehre. God does not let the wicked ultimately prosper, even in this world. During their own lives, and in their posterity after them, this general law of the divine government receives its manifestation. Job’s mere groaning under his misery as something inexplicable, is very different from the feeling which suggests such comparisons, as though there were really no God ruling in the earth, and all things happened alike to all, or, what is worse, God actually favors unrighteousness. He himself, Job seems to say, with all his uprightness, was in fact more miserable, had a more grievous lot, than those wicked tyrants. It was this קִנְאָה, or envy, that was killing him. So it seemed to Eliphaz, and it is enough in interpreting that the idea furnishes the clue to the train of thought. God’s favoring the wicked, or suffering them to go with impunity, is very different from the idea that he may send suffering, explained or unexplained, upon the comparatively righteous—Eliphaz is here repelling the former idea.

Some similar view may be taken of most of the speeches of the friends in controversy.83 They can be explained, or regarded as essentially modified, without supposing that, in the beginning, they had any thought of charging him with crime. That would have been wholly inconsistent with the friendly motive which brought them from their distant homes to mourn and weep with him. The story, it will thus be seen, is best interpreted by regarding it as an actual picture of actual life. But even artistic, or dramatic propriety would be grossly violated by such a preposterous fact, that they should, all of them, all at once, fall to making charges against him, not only so atrocious, but so motiveless and abrupt.

The Dispute turned into the Defensive on the Part of the Friends—Does God favor the Wicked?

In all the steps of the discussion, it will be discovered that it is not so much a disposition to impute actual crime to Job as to repel his seeming assaults upon their theoretical views of the divine justice. The question, whether afflictions may not come upon the righteous, is lost sight of in another which engages all their zeal: Does God favor the wicked? Does He let them prosper, and ultimately die in peace, as Job sometimes seems to assert? They strongly maintain the negative. This leads to the most vivid pictures of the doom that awaits an evil life. Job, not to be outdone, and not heeding his consistency,84 is drawn to vie with them in the assertion of his own experience to the same effect. Sometimes they all seem to say very much the same thing, and then it is worthy of note how some commentators strive to give a good aspect to Job’s language, and a bad look to theirs; all coming from the traditional assumption in regard to the judgment at the end of the Book. And their apparent recriminations may, in fact, be taken in two ways: Such is the doom of the wicked, the enormous evil-doers; but you, Job, are not one of them, although you are now behaving very wrongly; therefore, you may yet hope in God. Or it may be an actual imputation of crime. The first, as we have seen, may be the view taken of Eliphaz’s early address; the second, as the effect produced by the exasperation of debate. It is thus they get themselves entangled in a question truly collateral, yet seemingly connected with the other and more important issue: Are sufferings, in themselves, evidence of crime? Why they are sent upon good men, or why they are permitted even, may remain a mystery; and that mystery, we think, is not solved or attempted to be solved in this Book of Job. But surely it is something quite different from the other thought, that God suffers the wicked to go with impunity, or makes no difference between them and His servants, even in this world.

The Didactic Value of the Speeches as Inspired Scripture

The idea that the chief design of the Book is the decision of a debate has had an effect, more or less, in perverting its exposition. It all depends upon the view we take of the language used, Job 42:7, and the object of its most immediate reference. Before dwelling on that, however, there may come in here a remark in respect to the value of the various speeches in their didactic use. It is true that, in a dramatic work, we look to the great lesson which it teaches as a whole; and in consistency with this, much of what is said may be regarded merely in its dramatic propriety, and not in its absolute didactic truth as uttered, more or less, by all the speakers. It may be a question, however, whether we can apply this strictly to a composition we deem inspired, or divinely given, even though there may be grounds for calling it dramatic. God may instruct us by this style of writing, as well as by other kinds to which we give the names, historical, poetical, parabolic, ethical, or even, mythical, if the evidences of such, or such a kind of diction appear on the very face of it. Thus, Job may be said to contain internal evidence of a dramatic intent. It is not a mere collection of precepts, or lofty sayings, but a great spiritual action, a true praxis or drama, the instructiveness of which does not absolutely depend upon the precise truth, or exact moral value of every utterance that composes it. This is easily understood, and not to be dwelt upon. And yet the thought is not irrational, that such an inspired drama, or one that has a true divine authorship, and for a divine purpose, through whatever media it may have been composed, may be so written, so arranged, and so acted, as to combine both ideas, the dramatic and the preceptive. Even if we regard the speeches of Job’s three friends as wrong in their applications, they may, nevertheless, form a body of preceptive truth of the highest value, far beyond anything to be found in Seneca or Epictetus. In this view it may be said of each one of them, that they are Sacred “Scripture, profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness,” or that they are divine words “most pure,” as the Psalmist says, “like silver tried in an earthen vessel, and seven times purified.” Thus regarding them, the practical expositor, and the preacher, may study them with confidence, as golden sentences containing golden truth, and which, when “opened up,” as the old lovers of Scripture used to say, will furnish, each by themselves, most profitable themes of meditation. It would be difficult to point out a single utterance made by the three friends of Job that does not contain, in itself, such a golden thought, and worthy of a writing for which there is claimed a divine authorship. All ancient and modern books, Oriental or Occidental, will be searched in vain for a purer or loftier theism than that set forth in these speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. The same may be said of Job’s language, when regarded as a calm utterance, or something more than a dramatic groan. His impassioned assertions of his integrity, his casting away of all false humility, his vehement expostulations with God, so almost terrifying us by their boldness: “Wilt Thou put in fear the driven leaf; wilt Thou pursue the withered chaff?”—all this may be regarded even with reverence as viewed from the stand-point of the sufferer. There is no cant about Job; no affected piety; no mere sentimentality; no cold and showy theorizing. All this seeming irreverence, nevertheless, is consistent with a manly piety, most anxious to understand its true relation to the Holy One. He seems, at times, upon the borders of profanity. He makes the boldest declarations; but they are all renounced afterwards, when a new aspect of the matter is presented to his mind, leading him to say אמאם, “I reject;” I throw them all away; I cannot bear them now. He argues no more; neither does he remain silent like the others; but falls upon his face, saying, only: “I repent in dust and ashes.” Here he said “the thing that was right,” wholly right; but even during the calmer periods given to him from suffering, he seems to rise immediately to a higher position. It is after such pauses that he brings in those impassioned soliloquies in which the disputants around him seem wholly lost sight of; as in that meditation on the unsearchable Wisdom, Job 28, or when he breaks out with that sublime appeal: “I know that my Redeemer liveth;” or when he says, “O that I knew where I might find Him;” or when he shows that he can surpass Zophar and Bildad in magnifying the divine glory, whilst he is behind none of them in sententious wisdom.

The right “sayings about God” for which Job is commended

If, however, there are to be found in the Book any utterances in themselves false or evil, they are to be looked for in those passages in which Job seems to pass almost entirely beyond the bounds of reverence, if regarded as speaking of God (as in Job 16), and not rather of the evil being, of whom, in some way, he seems conscious as a great and malignant antagonist. (See note, page 7.) But the exposition which proceeds upon the idea of the Book being the solving of a problem, or the decision of a debate, must find these false things “said about God,” or to God (אלי), in the utterances of the three friends. This might, perhaps, be maintained if there is intended, not their abstract truth, but their practical application to the sufferer; but then they could hardly be called, with consistency, “wrong things about God.” They would have been, rather, wrong things said about Job. Now it may be admitted, that, with all his errors and extravagances, there was a general rightness belonging to Job’s position. In spite of his expostulations and vehement upbraidings, even of Deity Himself, there was something in his impassioned sincerity, that called out the divine pity, the divine admiration, to speak anthropopathically, so as to give even his errors, in the divine sight, an interest beyond that of the cold, theoretical, unappreciative, casuistical wisdom of his antagonists. In reference to the whole action of the drama, instead of the mere dialectical merit, it might have been said, in the old patriarchal style, that “Job found favor, or grace, in His sight;” and in this way the traditional exposition may be accepted. We may take it as implied also in any form of the decision, and it may stand, if insisted on, as the leading solution of the Book: “Job found grace in the sight of God.” With this, however, the question may still be raised, whether, in the declaration, 42:7, לא דברתם אלי נכונה, “Ye have not spoken,” &c., there was not intended a more special saying, a particular and noted declaration standing by itself, as outside of the long discussion—not something which Job had said better than they, but something which he had said, and they did not say at all,—not something said about God, but directly to Him, and according to the almost exceptionless usage of that most frequent preposition, אל.

Meaning of אֵלַי, 42:7

This is, in the first place, an almost purely philological question. The particle is one of the most common in Hebrew, and we might also add, one of the most uniform in its meaning and application. Let us, therefore, examine whether אֵלַי, in this place, has been rightly translated by the makers of the English and other versions. If not, it might be asked, why have so many commentators taken the wrong direction? The answer may be found in the influence of the view, so early entertained, that the Book was intended as the solution of a problem, and the decision of a debate. The supposed dramatic character and construction aided this idea. The tendency thus given would at once affect this passage, and the same feeling would perpetuate the peculiar interpretation it had originated. Instead of taking as a key the clear and usual sense of the preposition, they made it subservient to a hypothesis derived from other sources. This inverse method appears very plainly in one of the notes of Tympius (285) to Noldius’ Concordance of the Hebrew Particles: “Luth., Anglic., Trem., Piscat., Belgic., Schmid, Glass, Geier, de me. Nam amici Jobi, non ad Deum loquuti sunt, sed de Deo.” Here it is taken for granted that there is a decision of something said concerning God, and the preposition is rendered accordingly. Tympius, with the LXX., Syriac and Vulgate, would render it before me, but it is from the same idea of a judicial debate, only carried still farther in that direction; “for the friends,” he says, “non sinistre loquuti sunt de Deo tantum, sed et de Jobo, de cruce fidelium, de impiorum in hac vita prosperitate,” &c. Some commentators, when they come to this place, simply say אל for על, or אלי for עלי and that is all the notice they take of it; or they content themselves with rendering it about, concerning, in respect to, von mir, in Beziehung auf mich (see Dillmann, Delitzsch, Rosenmüller, et al.), without giving any reasons. But אל for על is as rare in the Hebrew as ad for de in Latin, or the English to in the same sense. We say, indeed, speak to a question, or to a point in debate, but this is a technical sense; it is figurative, moreover, denoting direction, or keeping the mind intent upon a thing, and never used with a person or a personal pronoun. How infrequent in Hebrew is this supposed use of אל for על, may be seen from the few cases85 given by Noldius, and of out many hundreds adhering to the common usage.

Commentators find it difficult to determine for what sayings, in the general argument, Job is commended. The word נְכוֹנָה, 42:7

Another argument for the view here taken is derived from the disagreements among commentators in respect to the things said for which Job is commended and the friends are condemned. According to Ewald and Schlottmann, נְכוֹנָה denotes subjective truth, uprightness, integrity. Zöckler takes the other view: It was Job’s correct knowledge, and truthful assertion of his own general innocence, in which he was right, and they were wrong, because they failed to acknowledge it, or were silent about it. So Delitzsch says: “The correctness in Job’s speeches consists in his holding fast the consciousness of his innocence without suffering himself to be persuaded of the opposite.” This would make it almost contrary, in spirit at least, to the language of his confession, when he says אמאם: “I reject (throw away, renounce, recant), and repent in dust and ashes;” or in the other place, 41:4: “I lay my hand upon my mouth; once have I spoken—twice—I will say no more.” Raschi takes this “once—twice” as referring specially to Job’s two hard sayings,86 Job 9:22; the first: “He consumes the righteous with the wicked,” the second: “When the scourge destroys suddenly, He mocks at the distress of the innocent.” It is as though Job meant to specify these, because they were the only ones he could remember. In his Rabbinic particularity, Raschi overlooks the Hebraism: “Once—twice,” repeatedly, over and over again, “have I uttered what I understood not, things too hard for me, which I knew not.” See, too, how Dillmann strives to make out a case for Job against the friends, and labors with his distinction between the subjective and the objective truth; as though the declaration itself of the Almighty needed defending and clearing up as much as Job’s integrity. In some senses, he would maintain, both were right and both were wrong. Not every word he uttered in itself was true, nor were their’s all wrong; but only on the whole, or on the question of Job’s innocence, was the balance of truth in his favor. Truly this is a very unsatisfactory view of the great matter which God decides, as though it were a mere question as to the weight of argument in a debate about Job’s absolute or comparative innocence; it being a fact, too, of which Job had knowledge, whilst they could only judge from outer circumstances. A man should maintain his integrity, if he is not guilty of particular crimes laid to his charge; that is true; but is there no higher lesson taught in this Book? Again, this mere summing up of a balance of right, with so much difficulty about it as to occasion such a diversity of comment, is inconsistent with the clearness and peculiar nature of that word, נְכוֹנָה. It is not used of personal moral character, either subjectively or objectively, like צדיק ,ישר, etc. Such a view of the word would seem to confine it to things said about Job, instead of something said about God and addressed directly to Him. The radical idea of the word is firmness, that which shall stand; hence completeness, security, perfection. When used of an outward object it expresses its best and most finished state, as in the infinitive form, Prov. 4:18, נְכוֹן הַיֹּום, the perfection of the day, σταθερὸν ἦμαρ, when the sun has reached its height, and seems to stand—“clearer and clearer unto the perfect day.” As a saying, it is here the one most perfect saying that could be said—a saying expressing all.

The Real Utterance for which Job is Commended

We must search among Job’s sayings for something corresponding to the high and distinguishing commendation expressed by this word נְכוֹנָה,—something that stands the test, clear, decided, full. When found there will be no mistaking it. It will have a superlative, a finished, and not a mere comparative excellence. Other things said may have been more or less correct, but this is right, exactly right, the very thing,—something which, if it had not been said, would have left all else dark, undecided, insecure. Such was the saying, Job 40:4, 42:1–6, and for this we may believe that Job was specially commended. It was also said directly to God, and this perfectly suits the preposition אל, 42:7, without any necessity of giving it a sense which, to say the least, is very unusual, and only to be resorted to when the context allows no other. This is certainly not the case here. In giving to אֵלַי the same sense which אל has immediately above, in the words אֶל־אִיּוֹב, there is suggested a reference to Job’s confession; and we venture to say, that, had it been so rendered, in the early versions, there would hardly have been a thought of any other interpretation. Commentators, generally, as Aben Ezra has done, would have restricted it to that memorable saying unto God, and so have avoided the never-to-be-settled disputes as to the particular respects in which Job had the better of the argument against his three friends. There is also something in the appointment of Job as the sacrificing and interceding priest for the others that is in beautiful harmony with the view here taken of the difference between him and them. They had not fallen upon their faces, and laid their hands upon their mouths; they had not confessed, and “repented in dust and ashes.” This Job had done. He humbled himself, and therefore did God highly exalt him to be a priest and a mediator for the others. We will not say that this might not have been a proper distinction conferred upon him for his success in the argument by which he maintained his own righteousness; but the whole spirit of the Scriptures, old and new, seems more in harmony with the interpretation which regards the other as the prominent, if not the only view to be taken of this great decision. It need only be further said, in this place, that the LXX. have rendered אֵלַי, ἐνώπιόν μου, the Vulgate, coram me, in my presence–before me. To the same purport the Syriac קדמי. These are better than the modern versions, since they leave open the question of reference. They are in better harmony, too, with the usual sense of the preposition than the renderings of, or concerning, in Beziehung auf mich, etc.; but even these translations have been influenced by the idea of a debate held in the presence of a judge, or umpire, who is to decide on the merits of the argument. It is a notion quite plausible, closely connected with the dramatic conception, but receiving no countenance either in the abrupt address of Jehovah, or in anything previously said by the several speakers.


Errors of Interpretation arising from so regarding it

The tendency to this idea of a problem to be solved, or of a debate to be decided, appears especially in those commentators who have most to say about the Book of Job as a work of art, lauding it greatly in this way, as though to make up for what sometimes seems lacking in a true appreciation of its divine merit. It has given rise to supposed plans and divisions as variant as they are artificial. The great outlines of the Book are marked upon its very face; but when the attempt is made to discover, under this main scheme, a more artistic development, the result is very unsatisfactory. Besides the prologue and epilogue, which are evident enough, the main body of the work has been arranged under certain divisions, or stages in the dramatic action, all regarded as having been regularly planned in the mind of the artist. These are described by technical names invented for the purpose. There is the δέσις and the λύσις,—the envelopment and the development, the tying up and the loosing. The subdivisions are arranged most artificially, though we can hardly call them artistic, the great excellence of which is the absence or concealment of all studied artificialness. For example, some give as 1st. The Anknüpfung, or Introductory Statement, of which nothing need be said; 2d. The Movement of the Debate, or the Commencing Development, iv. xiv. ; 3d. The Second Movement, or the Advancing Development, xv., xxi.; 4th. The Third Movement of the Debate, or the Most Advanced Development, xxii., xxvi.; 5th. The Transition from the Development (or rather the maximum Envelopment), to the Solution, or from the δέσις to the commencing λύσις, Job’s Vindication, xxvii., xxxi.; 6th. The Consummation, or the Durchbruch, the breaking through, the transition from the δέσις to the λύσις, the Speech of Elihu, xxxii., xxxvii.; 7th. The Solution in the Consciousness, xxxviii. 42 42; 8th. The Solution in outward Actuality, Job’s Restoration to Prosperity, xlii. 7–17. This is Zöckler’s. In the scheme of Delitzsch we have 1st. The Introduction; 2d. The Opening; 3d. The Entanglement; 4th. The Transition to the Unravelment; 5th. The Unravelment Divided into 6th. The Unravelment in the Consciousness; 7th. The Unravelment in outward Reality. There is no need of giving the Divisions of Umbreit, Ewald, etc. They are all marked by the same artificialness. They may be an assistance to the memory; but the reader feels that he is getting little or no help from them in regard to the governing idea of the Book, or the meaning of particular passages. The very fact of the differences existing between them detracts from their reliability. Thus regarded, they may be in the way of a true appreciation of the Book, whatever aid they may seem to give in its critical study; for almost any division furnishes some facility in that respect. If, however, the old author really had no such scheme mapped out in his own mind,—if, under the influence of some divine enthusiasm, he was simply giving vent, irregularly it may be, to thoughts of which his soul was full,—or was truthfully relating a story which he had heard, and which was firmly believed in his day,—then all reasonings from such artistic divisions would be “a darkening counsel by words without knowledge,” leading farther and farther from the actual fact, and from the divine thought. It all proceeds upon the fixed idea that the object of the Book is solely a debate, dramatically presented and dramatically concluded. There is a problem to be solved, a δέσις, or an entanglement first to be made, as intricate as possible, and then to be untied. For this purpose, God dramatically appears at the end, like a Deus ex machina, and closes the debate by deciding in favor of one of the parties, and against the others.

The Reality of the Theophany—Compared with other Theophanies in the Bible

It is a clear answer to the above dramatic view, that the divine speech itself decides nothing, though Job may be regarded as afterwards commended for the humbling and penitence-producing effect it had upon him. We may say this without irreverence. That most sublime address hardly takes notice of any of the points about which they had been wrangling, whether regarded as matters of fact, or of abstract truth. It had a higher purpose, a grander lesson to teach,—that lesson of unconditional submission, without the learning of which all solutions of problems, whether higher or lower, would be of no avail. God “makes His glory to pass before them,” as He did before Moses when hidden in the cleft of the rock, or before Elijah, in Horeb, when “he wrapped his face in his mantle at the presence of the Lord.” So Job fell on his face before God, whilst the others stood speechless in bewildered astonishment. To him the vision presented itself in its most interior aspect. He saw something in it beyond the eye of sense,—he heard something, as he himself seems to affirm, beyond “the hearing of the ear.” They stood ἐννεοὶ, like Paul’s companions on the journey to Damascus, ἀκούοντες μὲν θεωροῦντες δ̓ οὐ, hearing the outward sounds, distinguishing the words, it may be, in their lexical and logical sense, but having no spiritual perception. Perhaps they, too, had they fallen on their faces, might have had their inward eye opened, as Job’s was, and with the same spiritual effect. But he alone “made confession unto righteousness;” therefore, he was justified and they were condemned. We are not attaching too much importance to this divine appearance in making it the central idea as well as the central fact, of the Book. Why should it be turned into a poetical drama, any more than other similar manifestations recorded in the Scriptures? There is no other part of the Bible in which the theophany so belongs to the very essence of the revelation. It is here the very lesson taught. It is something given for its own sake, and not merely as a scenic means to something else. It is that to which all the parts of the wondrous narrative are preparatory, and in which all its words, and all its ideas, all its arguments, true or false, have their culminating significance. Though formally solving no problems, it is not a mere barren display. What more instructive than such an announcement of a personal divine presence challenging to itself the homage of all rational beings? And such is the very idea of revelation. It is not primarily to teach us doctrines, or to give us moral precepts, or to solve questions of ethical or even theological casuistry, but to bring nigh to us the divine power, and right, and vivid personality. All revelation, in short, is the revelation of the glory of God. To those who say that this seems a harsh and arbitrary teaching, the answer is, that it is most intimately connected with the loftiest human well-being. For men to see it is, in fact, their most satisfying knowledge, to confess and feel it is their highest blessedness.


The chasm its rejection would leave between the last words of Job, chap. 29.–31., and the Divine Appearance

Had the Book of Job ended with the speech of Elihu, the reader would have had good grounds for regarding this portion as containing the solution of the problem of which so much has been said. Suffering, as intended for purification and discipline, and therefore consistent with the goodness of God, and a general righteousness in the sufferer; this is the main idea it enforces, and in a way to bring out some of the best practical ethics to be found in this or any other book. No part of Job is, in this respect, better adapted to the moralist or the preacher. Chapter 33, especially, is a mine of precious instruction, clear and practical, full of consolations to good men amid all the trials of life, and of strength for the performance of its duties.87 He comes the nearest, too, to the speech of Jehovah, so far as any approach can be made to it, in the descriptions of the divine power as exhibited in the greater natural phenomena. This seems to be done, too, for a similar purpose; to show that God is hindered by no physical fatality; every thing that takes place is by the divine decree, or the divine permission. “He hath done it,” and therefore (not as a reason in itself, but as demanding the assent of the finite intelligence) is it holy, just and good. “Why dost thou strive with Him (ריבות, litigate, reason, argue); for He giveth no account (לא יַעֲנֶה, He maketh no answer) in respect to His matters” (33:13). We have already dwelt on a few of the arguments for the genuineness of this portion of the Book, and especially on the difficulty that would be occasioned by having nothing between the noble vindication of Job 29–31 and the sudden mention of the88 whirlwind out of which Jehovah speaks. But there are also internal evidences in its favor. As before said, it is remarkably characteristic, and, in fact, the very traits that are urged against it should commend themselves to those who claim so much critical insight. It is true that Elihu hesitates and repeats, but for this there is a fair and natural explanation. He gives us the impression of one personally diffident in the presence of the older and the wiser, so esteemed, yet conscious of having important and timely truth, the utterance of which he cannot suppress (32:18–20). He asks pardon often, as Eliphaz had done in the beginning, but with a good grace, manifesting reverence for age, and respect for suffering, but still more respect for what he deems true and right. The “higher criticism,” as Davidson says, “cannot maintain its gravity over these peculiarities, and discharges at them a great amount of bad language.” “His speeches,” it says, “are filled with gemachtes Pathos, and erfolglos Forcirtes,” with other charges of a similar kind. Now, nothing is less reliable, or more uncertain, than this kind of jaunty remark in respect to an ancient composition. It is a pretentiousness worse than any that can be imputed to Elihu, which would pretend to judge thus of words, and style, and the genuineness of certain kinds of phraseology, in a literature affording such scanty means of comparison. Besides, it is very easy to imagine some critical theory of the Rationalists in which these very peculiarities, or similar ones, would probably be cited as all-important. Striking Arabian circumlocutions, they might be called, such as marked the old seances, and were regarded as a literary excellence, or marked Kohelethisms, or any thing else that might be thought to have a critical interest, or a bearing upon the question of some supposed place or time of authorship.

If Elihu is the last speaker, then the words, “who is this that darkens counsel,” &c., might be regarded as spoken of him incidentally, or as first disposing of what had just preceded, although the address, generally, is to Job. There might be assigned reasons for this, consistent with the favorable view we have taken of him. The confusion of speech, before alluded to as occasioned by the appalling approach of the storm, and which, he himself confesses, would furnish a ground for it. These opening words resemble very much his own language, as though echoed back to him from the thunder-cloud: “Is it told Him that I am speaking? (אֲדַבֵּר tense of description) we cannot order our speech in the presence of (מִפְּנֵי), or by reason of the darkness.” Or, again, it might be called a “darkening of counsel,” not in respect to its abstract truth, but when presented as a solution of the great problem, to the exclusion of other grounds in the proceedings of Him who, according to Elihu himself, “giveth no account of His ways.”


One might be led to think, at first view, that the great matter worthy of such a sublime Book as this, would be the solution of the problem of evil—how sin came into the world, and man is held accountable. It is the question of the ages, to the settling of which not even the Critical Philosophy makes an approach. There is, however, no allusion to it in the divine allocution, except as comprehended in that awful declaration of power and sovereignty, seeming to say, as the voice said to Moses: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious—forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin—visiting iniquities unto the third and fourth generation, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.” Beyond this, no solution is offered, and Merx is right in saying, however irreverent it may seem, that if any clearing up of this dark problem had been the design of the Book, it must certainly be regarded as a failure;—that question stands just as it did before.

The Divine Address, and the modern Natural Theology. No argument from Design

It has been said that this speech of Jehovah contains an implied argument similar in substance to the one offered by oar modern Natural Theology. So MERX, Das Gedicht von Hiob, pa. 30: “It is to exhibit the theology of nature, and that the rational aims visible therein furnish proof that God has like rational aims in all His government, moral as well as physical.” With this he connects what Job says about Wisdom,89 Job 28, etc., as a preparatory or transition step in the Lösung or Solution of the Problem. The argument may be thus stated: The divine speech is an exhibition of God’s wisdom in nature; therefore must we gard it as intended to show that He must be equally wise in His spiritual government. But that would not be a solution. It would be simply an assertion, on a grander scale, of what is assumed by all the speakers throughout the Book, all of whom seem to vie with each other in lauding the divine wisdom. Job especially dwells upon its greatness and unsearchableness (28:20, &c.), leaving to man, as his peculiar and highest wisdom, the duty of reverencing it (ver. 28), acknowledging it, and “departing from evil.” Architectural excellence is, indeed, a pervading idea of this divine address; but that power, almighty power, is the predominant one, is shown not only in the general style of its thunder tones, but also in its effect on Job, whose first words in reply are: “I know that Thou canst do all things,” as before cited: Now I know it, whatever misgiving thought of some fatality I may have betrayed in former words now wholly renounced. It does not tell us in general that God acts solely from moral reasons; there is something in the language that gives the idea of artistic purposes regarded as having a value in themselves, aside from any moral or utilitarian considerations. He may make worlds, and lesser works, such as some of the great animals, for the glory and beauty of them, irrespective of any benefit90 to man, or to other rational beings.

The Divine Ways Transcending and Ineffable. Eph. 3:10; John 9:3

There may be æsthetic reasons. And then, again, there may be others altogether ineffable, whose explanations man could not receive if God, or super-human beings, should offer them. What right have we to apply the measure of our Ethics, or our Psychology, or our Ontology, to Him “whose ways are above our ways, and whose thinking is above our thinking, even as the heavens are high above the earth,” that is, immeasurably and inconceivably beyond us? Sober Scripture sanctions such a representation. As before intimated, the designs of God, in His dealings with men, may be connected with effects to be produced in higher spheres (Eph. 3:10, before cited); and so what He does, or permits to be done, to individuals may have relations, wise and just, extending far beyond them, whether in the present world or in any other. We are safe here in simply receiving the teaching of our Saviour (John 9:2) when “the disciples asked him: Rabbi, who sinned, this man himself, or his parents, that he was born blind?” It was for the sin of neither, is the answer, “but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” Here is no throwing it upon nature, as the Rationalist would have done, but a positive assertion of a Divine purpose, and yet that that purpose had respect to something altogether separate from any punishment, discipline, or general well-being of the individual sufferer. “Who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say unto him who formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” Such is the idea that is brought to us by this voice from the thunder-cloud. It is that of a personal omnipotence unchallengeable, doing all things wisely, all things well, yet giving no account (לא יענה, answering not) to any who demand the reason of its ways. It is the first great truth for man to learn—the predominant truth to take rank before all others—the fundamental truth, not for the infancy of the world merely, but most especially needed in this age of naturalism, of scientific boasting, of godless spiritualism.


Is Job a truthful narrative, a legend with a dim nucleus of fact, or a pure fiction? In answer to the first of these questions, some would deem it sufficient to say, that the book is a poem on its very face. But this does not settle the matter. It may be so called unquestionably; and yet it may well be doubted whether, at the date of its authorship, even assigning it to the Solomonic period, there was that clear line of distinction between prose and poetry that afterwards existed. All high and animating thought has a tendency to measured language, to some kind of formal emphasis or repetition called parallelism, and which, in the Shemitic tongues, at least, is the beginning of rhythmical movement. It seems to be a demand of strong emotion, or of some strong interest in the thought expressed, whether devotional, prophetic, or sententious. There is reason, too, for thinking that the more animated colloquial style among the Hebrews and other Shemitic peoples had much of this parallelism or germinal poetry; as in the language of Abigail to David, 1 Sam. 25:28, 29, or in the pleadings of the widow of Tekoah, 2 Sam. 14:13, 15, and other places that might be cited, where just in proportion as the thought or feeling rises in earnestness, do the words also seem to rise into a species of parallelism, and take on more and more of a rhythmical aspect. Thus viewed, the style of the speeches in Job may be held to be the natural one for the expression of such thoughts, requiring neither study nor artifice. That was the way men talked when deeply earnest, or under the influence of strong emotion, or when the gravity of the ideas discussed seemed to demand something corresponding to it in the style of utterance, some measured cadence, be it of the simplest kind, that might mark them as grave and emphatic. The exact prose style, on the other hand, may have been, in fact, the more artificial, as carefully avoiding this kind of sententious, emotional utterance, so ill adapted to statistical narrative, though suiting well the thoughtful soliloquy, or some forms of animated colloquialism. There is, therefore, really nothing unnatural, nothing artificial—rather the reverse—in the fact that these speeches in Job have this easy rhythmical cadence, which the reader, if he have taste and feeling, must acknowledge to be in perfect harmony with the gravity of the subjects discussed. Far removed as we are from this Oriental style, we should have been a little surprised, nevertheless, had the lamentations of Job, and the responses of his friends, been carried on in the same kind of talk we have in the prologue and other narrative Scripture.91

The Book of Job a Drama, and yet subjectively true

The two ideas are perfectly consistent. It may have the dramatic form, the dramatic interest, the dramatic emotion, the dramatic teaching, and yet be substantially a truthful narrative. Making allowance for what are merely matters of language, such as the use of round and double numbers to express things that are beyond statistical estimate, we may believe in the general outward verity, whilst regarding this mode of stating the vastness of Job’s possessions, and the suddenness of his calamities, as itself evidence of a subjective truthfulness. It testifies to the deep impression left by the story as explicable only on some basis of actuality consistent with emotional hyperbole, but repelling the thought of artistic skill or frigid invention. It is this subjective truthfulness which is all that is required for a true faith in the divinity of the Holy Scriptures. It includes every thing else of value, and, once firmly held throughout, brings with it the idea of the outward supernatural as not easily separable from such a book, and such a history, lying, as it does, in the midst of such cotemporary human surroundings. We are compelled to take with it a corresponding measure of objective truth, regarded as separate from the necessarily emotional language, or as far as may be demanded for the moral and spiritual impression. In this way, what we have called subjective truthfulness may be very easily denned. It is the perfect honesty of the writer or writers whom God has chosen as the recorders of the great objective events which constitute the revelation He has made to the world. We are only to suppose that they heartily believed the truth of what they wrote, according to its evident intent as historical, dramatic, or allegorical, to be judged of according to the clear marks left upon its style. When we thus believe in the perfect honesty of the writers, we shall find ourselves, if truthful and candid, compelled to believe in a great deal more. Applying this to the Book of Job, we can thus hold that the writer, whoever he may have been, and in whatever age he may have lived, truly believed the substantial historical verity of what his pen has transmitted to us. This subjective truthfulness is unaffected by the steps or media through which such a belief may have come to him. It may have been in one of three ways: the writer may have been an eye-witness; or he may have received it from near cotemporary testimony, in which he fully trusts; or it may have reached him through a tradition, of whose substantial truthfulness he has no doubt. There has thus come to him the substance of the story: a rich and prosperous man suddenly reduced to the extreme of poverty, bereavement, and pain; his sore trial, the treatment of his friends, the prolonged discussions between them, the alleged divine interposition, and the sufferer’s restoration to a state of still greater prosperity. Along with this is the idea of a super-earthly nexus of events, originating the providential means by which the trial is brought about, and furnishing a reason for the strange suffering. This revelation of events belonging to the superhuman sphere, and the modes by which they may be supposed to become known to the human mind, whether as pictorial accommodations, or in any other way, present a question standing by itself. The ground of faith in them, is the same as that of other Scriptural narratives which carry us above the plane of human knowledge. It is enough for one who believes in the Bible as truly a divine book, that they are spiritually and dramatically consistent with the earthly events of the story and the spiritual design to which they furnish the key. On the round numbers we have already remarked. They should disturb no one who is familiar with the style of the Bible. They are simply methods of expressing vastness without regard to statistical accuracy. It may be said, indeed, that the use of units, tens, and hundreds, in such narratives, would have furnished good ground of suspicion, or actually detracted from our perfect trust in this subjective truthfulness of the writer which we rationally regard as beyond every other excellence. The same may be said in respect to the rapid connection of the events. It is a picture giving us the most vivid impression of suddenness, or one trouble coming whilst another is fresh in its effect and remembrance, breaking the victim, as Job says, “with breach upon breach.” Human experience confirms this as something not infrequent in the great trials of life, to whatever causation they may be referred. Such a story leads to hyperboles. They may almost be said to be its natural and therefore most truthful language. Their absence would betray an unemotional state out of harmony with the deep interest of the events believed.92 They would characterize the style even of an animated eye-witness. Still more might they be expected in one who gives such an account its second transmission; and thus this language of emotion would become its fitting, or, as we might even call it, its truthful vehicle, getting a traditional form which is the strongest evidence of a once vivid actuality, easy to be distinguished from the wild myth, or the more fanciful legend. The same view may be taken of Job’s restoration. In itself, it is not an improbable event. The round numbers here are doubled, but this, too, is matter of language. It is a mode of expressing the fact that the restored prosperity greatly exceeded that of the former state; as in sober descriptive Greek we may have διπλάσιος used as only another term for πολυπλάσιος, or the multifold.93 In judging of this truthfulness, it is enough if we can be satisfied of the absence of all invention, or of any thing that looks like literary artifice. There is abundant internal evidence, that the scenes and events recorded were real scenes and real events to the writer, whoever he may have been. He believed the story; he gives the discussions either as he heard them, or as they had been repeated, over and over, in many an ancient consessus. The very modes of transmission show the deep impression it had made, in all the East, as a most veritable as well as most marvellous event. It may be this, and yet as truly a drama, with its heroic action, whether outward or spiritual, and having as much right to the name94 as any others, so-called, which are inventions, either in whole or in part.

Or it may be regarded as purely poetic, in fact as well as in form, with the exception, perhaps, of a few human elements, whether legendary or historical, that may have aided in inspiring the idea of its composition. By those who adopt this view, as is done by some of our most pious as well as learned commentators, it is, of course, held that the Prologue, and the Theophany at the close, belong to the dramatic scenery. As maintained, however, by men like Hengstenberg, Dillmann, and Delitzsch, this theory of poetic invention does not come from any such aversion to the very idea of the supernatural as characterizes the whole Rationalist school. It is not with them the mere shunning of difficulties, or for the sake of making the Book more credible and acceptable as a part of Holy Writ. They think that they discover in the Book itself, in its apparent plan and style, evidence of such dramatic intent. And this does not diminish its value. There is almost every style of writing in the Bible, historical, devotional, ethical, allegorical, and even mythical. God may employ this dramatic mode of representing truth as well as any other. It may be received as we receive the parables of our Saviour. There would be demanded, however, a method of exegesis different from that which would be proper for such books as Genesis and Samuel. Another reason is that they regard this kind of didactic representation as belonging to what they call the Chokma period (the Wisdom or Philosophy period) of Hebrew literature, and, therefore, not to be judged by the same rules that would be applied to the older Scripture. This view of Job as being, in the main, a poetic invention, at least in its superhuman representations, may be regarded as the one now current in the Christian Church. The weight of critical argument may even seem to be in its favor; and yet it may not be amiss to consider what may be said for the older view, and whether there is such a difference, in this respect, between Job and other parts of the Bible.

The Rationalist is repelled by the supernatural everywhere. He has a most irrational, and yet an easily-explained, dislike to the very idea, in whatever part of the Scriptures he may meet with it. Viewing it then as a question wholly by itself, it may well be asked, why the superhuman accounts in Job may not be received just as we receive them in the narrations of Exodus, or of Luke’s Gospel, or of the Acts of the Apostles. The question may refer to the supernatural simply when displayed upon earth as visible matter-of-fact, or to superhuman scenes narrated as transpiring in a superhuman sphere. In regard to the latter, it may be said, as we have before hinted, that the difficulties are by no means peculiar to the Book of Job. The question as to the mode of inspiration, or the way in which such superhuman or ante-historical facts become known to the writers, meets us in other parts of the Bible. The same mystery hangs over the first of Genesis. It suggests itself immediately in reading such accounts as that of 2 Chronicles 18:18–21, or the recitals of divine messages coming to the prophets. If, however, we are convinced, on general grounds, that the Bible is a divine book in the honest sense of the word, that is, given specially by God for our instruction in a way that other books are not, the minor difficulties vanish. If the Book of Job, or any other book, is truly inspired, and we receive it as such, then may it be trusted that God provides for all such communications, whether by trance vision, by symbolic imagery, or by filling some human mind with the general idea and the accompanying emotion, then leaving it to its own modes of conceiving, as controlled, more or less, by its measure of science, and clothed in its own necessarily imperfect human language. Thus may it be given to us in the Holy Canon as the representative of a superhuman fact, some knowledge of which is demanded as a fact ineffable, or incapable of communication in any other way. To deny the possibility of this is simply the bold irrationality of affirming that there can be no communication between the infinite and the finite mind, or of still more recklessly asserting that there are no superhuman scenes—that between man and God, if there be a God, there is an infinite blank, unoccupied by beings or events, and in which nothing can take place that may, in any way, affect the course of the human history either collective or individual. Some such general view in regard to modes of revealing may be rationally adopted by one who regards the book of Job as true and inspired—that is, in some way given by God as other books are not. If uninspired, if a mere human production, then this Book of Job has for us simply an archaic interest, like the early Arabian songs, or some Carmen Moallakat written in golden letters, and suspended in the temple at Mecca. If no higher view can be taken of it than this, then, surely, the vast amount of comment bestowed upon it, by Rationalists as well as by believers, has been far beyond its deserts. The immense labor might have been better devoted to other and more useful purposes.

The Supernatural in Job not to be Rejected

A rejection of the book on the ground of its supernatural and superhuman origin is simply in accordance with the procedure of the Rationalists everywhere. They even think it too much for its poetry, unless regarded as fiction throughout, or without any nucleus of truth, however dim and legendary. Thus, in defiance of such passages as Isaiah 6:1–4, Umbreit asserts that the Old Testament recognizes no theophanies after the times of Moses. In Job, therefore, it was a pure poetic fiction, hardly admissible unless the action and the scenery are dramatically assigned to the Patriarchal period. And so he asks with an expression of contempt for any one who might even imagine the contrary: “Wenn die ganze Sache Dichtung war, was war denn die Gotteserscheinung im Sturme? Wahrheit?” It is not, however, the degree of outward splendor in the theophany, or the magnitude of the sense marvel, as we may call it, that makes the difficulty for this class of interpreters. The objection is to any idea of God in the world as a manifest causation, whether it be in “the whisper,” or in “the thunder of his power” (Job 26:14). They are haunted by the thought of their dislike to the miraculous in any sense, or of any divinely-caused deviation from the course that things would otherwise take, whether in nature or in history. And yet they must reject the most undeniable facts, or admit marvels greater, in truth, than any that may be styled physical miracles—strange deviations from the general course of things in the moral and spiritual human, that, to a thoughtful contemplation, are more inexplicable than any analogous departures or irregularities, seemingly, in nature. Such an anomalous spiritual phenomenon is the very position of this old book of Job, or this old “poem,” lying, as it does, in the literature of the ancient heathen world. Let the serious yet intelligent reader fix his mind upon the cotemporary theologies and mythologies. A little to the south-west lies Egypt, so lauded now for its ancient culture, and its alleged longæval supremacy in what is called civilization, or the peculiar condition of “the higher man,”—Egypt, so well known then as the land of crocodile and serpent worship, of the grossest animal superstition, of the most debasing, God-forgetting worldliness. Not far to the east, or just beyond the Indus, are the monstrous forms of Nature worship, as exhibited in the strangest combinations of mystic, pantheistic, and polytheistic ideas. To the Mediterranean west, yet still within the Shemitic knowledge, are the myriad fancies of the Greek mythology, with its Bacchanalian festivals, its worship not only destitute of moral power, but the cherisher everywhere of impure ideas—æsthetic, it is true, famed for its ideas of the beautiful in art, yet most unclean. Almost in contact with it lies the Dagon idolatry, or fish worship, of the Philistines and the Phœnicians. To the north, on the Euphrates, the weird Chaldæan and Babylonian superstitions, as we learn from the dark phantoms of them that haunt us in reading the book of Daniel. Right below it, on the south, the Sabæan idolatry, or star worship, which had infected the primitive monotheism of the Shemitic Joktanites. There is no need of going farther in such a summary. Everywhere was there the rapid verifying of Paul’s words (Rom. 1:21–28), setting forth the ways in which men destroy for themselves the pure knowledge of a personal God, Now think of this book of Job in the midst of such surroundings—the transparent purity of its religious ideas yielding in no respect to the loftiest of modern conceptions, the marvellously sublime representations it makes of the divine personality, omnipotence, infinity, unsearchableness, wisdom, grace and holiness—in a word, its distinguishing theism jealous even of the admiration of the heavenly bodies, the “sun in its splendor, the moon walking in brightness,” lest it might seem to detract from the reverence due to Him “who setteth his glory above the Heavens.” What restraining and conserving influence kept it so clean, so rational, so holy, in the very midst of such abounding impurities? If tendencies so universal and so constant may be called nature, then surely must there have been here the manifestation of a divine power. That One above the human sphere should sometimes speak to us, even though it might be in a voice from the cloud, is not a greater marvel for the reason, though it might be more astounding to the sense. For reason, too, has its marvels, and one of them—the greatest of them, perhaps—would be such an everlasting silence of the super-human worlds, or that to man—himself a supernatural as well as a rational being—no direct communication should ever come from a higher plane than that of nature.

It is the moral sublime of the book of Job that makes the supernatural—if fair criticism should allow us to regard it as having such an element—all the more easy of belief. With such an accompaniment, it becomes all the more natural—if we may use the seeming paradox—or the more to be looked for in the whole course of things including every movement, moral and spiritual as well as physical. It seems fitting that there should be a theophany in such a drama; and this fittingness would be none the less if we regard the human elements as being, at the same time, an outward historical reality. And so we might say of the supernatural everywhere in the Bible, so different from the wild, grotesque, unmeaning, or monstrous supernatural that meets us in all those “other ancient mythologies” with which the Rationalist is so fond of classing the Hebrew Scriptures. In these other books, these “other mythologies,” there is nothing to give significance to the miraculous, whereas throughout our Holy Book, from the opening creative scenes to the apocalyptic closing, it is the great moral and spiritual, the great theological ideas, that make the supernatural events narrated seem its fitting and most reasonable accompaniment. It would be strange, on the other hand, that, in connection with such grand unearthly teaching, the appearance of a super-earthly power, the intervention of a super-earthly mind or voice, should be wholly lacking.

It is thus that we may hold in respect to this Book of Job. Is there internal evidence, as some of the best critics maintain, for regarding it as a divine poem, and the opening and closing events as the appropriate dramatic scenery? Such a view is entirely consistent with a belief in its inspiration, and of its being designed to occupy a high place in the Divine Canon. Aside from such a theory, however, and such alleged internal evidence, or regarded simply in themselves, the supernatural events that appear to be set forth in this book may be received just as we receive similar narrations in other parts of the Bible. What is there in the voice from the storm cloud, or even in the prolonged utterances that follow it, more incredible than the voice from Sinai with its specific law-givings, the voice to Elijah in Horeb, the voices that, in some way, came to the Prophets, the voice from the burning bush, the voice that spake to Paul from the midday sky? Above all, what is there in it more strange or faith-surpassing than what is told us in respect to our Saviour’s baptism, when the Heavens opened, and the Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice from the firmament was heard saying: “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased?” In all these cases the exceeding greatness of the moral sublime throws in the back-ground the physical strangeness. There is a harmony in it which not only favors, but demands assent. Granting the human elements of the story, just as they are narrated, in all their human and natural grandeur, the supernatural, whether voice or appearance, seems but its fitting complement. It is true, that to those who are eye-witnesses of the event, the miracle is the attestation of the doctrine; but for minds that read or contemplate it, the converse also holds: it is the glory of the truth that makes the miracle easy of belief.


1Job 38:7.

2Lectures on H. P., Stowe’s ed., p. 28.

3History of the Jewish Church, II. 164, Am. ed.

4This disparaging remark about creeds is too sweeping and inapplicable to the oldest and best, the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, which sound like liturgical poems through all ages of Christendom, together with the Te Deum and Gloria in Excelsis of the same age.

5Isaac Taylor says (l. c. p. 68): “Biblical utterances of the first truths in theology possess the grandeur of the loftiest poetry, as well as a rhythmical or artificial structure.”

6Quid unquam Cicero dixit grandiloquentius?” The heathen rhetorician, Longinus, placed Paul among the greatest orators.

7“Not less in relation to the most highly-cultured minds than to the most rude—not less to minds disciplined in abstract thought, than to such as are unused to generalization of any kind—the Hebrew Scriptures, in the metaphoric style, and their poetic diction, are the fittest medium for conveying, what is their purpose to convey, concerning the Divine Nature, and concerning the spiritual life, and concerning the correspondence of man—the finite, with God—the Infinite.” This idea is well carried out in the work of Isaac Taylor, see p. 50.

8The higher order of secular poetry furnishes an analogy. Shakespeare was not aware of the deep and far-reaching meaning of his own productions. Goethe said that the deepest element in poetry is “the unconscious” (das Unbewusste), and that his master-piece, the tragedy of Faust, proceeded from the dark and hidden depths of his being.

9Comp. Ewald’s admirable portrait of David as a poet, in the first volume of Die Dichter des A. B., p. 25. Prof. Perowne in his Commentary on the Psalms, vol. I., pp. 8, 9 third ed. (1873), gives this truthful description of him: “As David’s life shines in his poetry, so also does his character. That character was no common one. It was strong with all the strength of man, tender with all the tenderness of woman. Naturally brave, his courage was heightened and confirmed by that faith in God which never, in the worst extremity, forsook him. Naturally warm-hearted, his affections struck their roots deep into the innermost centre of his being. In his love for his parents, for whom he provided in his own extreme peril—in his love for his wife Michal—for his friend Jonathan, whom he loved as his own soul—for his darling Absalom, whose death almost broke his heart—even for the infant whose loss he dreaded—we see the same man, the same depth and truth, the same tenderness of personal affection. On the other hand, when stung by a sense of wrong or injustice, his sense of which was peculiarly keen, he could flash out into strong words and strong deeds. He could hate with the same fervor that he loved. Evil men and evil things, all that was at war with goodness and with God—for these he found no abhorrence too deep, scarcely any imprecations too strong. Yet he was, withal, placable and ready to forgive. He could exercise a prudent self-control, if he was occasionally impetuous. His true courtesy, his chivalrous generosity to his foes, his rare delicacy, his rare self-denial, are all traits which present themselves most forcibly as we read his history. He is the truest of heroes in the genuine elevation of his character, no less than in the extraordinary incidents of his life. Such a man cannot wear a mask in his writings. Depth, tenderness, fervor, mark all his poems.”

10Winer, too, derives from the religious character of Hebrew poetry its “sublime flight and never-dying beauty.” Angus says: “The peculiar excellence of the Hebrew poetry is to be ascribed to the employment of it in the noblest service, that of religion. It presents the loftiest and most precious truths, expressed in the most appropriate language.” Ewald remarks that “Hebrew poetry is the interpreter of the sublimest religious ideas for all times, and herein lies its most important and imperishable value.”

11Stanley: Hist. of the Jewish Church, II. 167.

12So Perowne (The Book of Psalms, Vol. I., p. 1, third ed.): “The poetry of the Hebrews is mainly of two kinds, lyrical and didactic. They have no epic, and no drama. Dramatic elements are to be found in many of their odes, and the Book of Job and the Song of Songs have sometimes been called Divine dramas; but dramatic poetry, in the proper sense of that term, was altogether unknown to the Israelites.”

13Dichter des A. B. I., p. 17: “Die lyrische Dichtung oder das Lied ist überall die nächste Art von Dichtung, welche bei irgend einem Volke entsteht. Sie ist es ihrem Wesen nach: denn sie ist die Tochter des Augenblicks, schnell emporkommender gewaltiger Empfindungen, tiefer Rührungen und feuriger Bewegungen des Gemüthes, von welchen der Dichter so ganz hingerissen ist, dass er in sich wie verloren nichts als sie so gewaltig wie sie in ihm leben, aussprechen will. Sie ist es ebenso der Zeit nach: das kurze Lied ist der beständigste, unverwüstlichste Theil von Poesie, der erste und letzte Erguss dichterischer Stimmung, wie eine unversiegbare Quelle, welche zu jeder Zeit sich wieder frisch ergiessen kann. Sie ist also auch bei allen Völkern nothwendig die älteste, die welche zuerst eine dichterische Gestaltung und Kunst gründet und allen übrigen Arten von Dichtung die Wege bahnt.” On p. 91 Ewald says: “Und so bleibt das Lied in seinem ganzen reinen und vollen Wesen wie der Anfang so das Ende aller Dichtung.”

14Ewald, l. c., p. 1 g:Der besondere Zweck, welchen der Dichter verfolgen mag, kann im Allgemeinen nur ein dreifacher sein: er will entweder mit seinen geflügelten Worten wie mit einer Lehre andre treffen, oder er will erzählend beschreiben, oder endlich er will das volle Leben selbst ebenso lebendig wiedergeben: und so werden LEHRDICHTUNG, SAGENDICHTUNG (Epos) und LEBENSDICHTUNG (Drama) die drei Arten höherer Dichtung sein, welche sich überall wie von selbst ausbilden wollen. Erst wenn sie sich vollkommen aus gebildet haben, entstehen auch wohl neue ZWITTERARTEN, indem das Lied als die Urart aller Dichtung seine eigenthümliche Weise mit einer derselben neu verschmilzt und diese stets nächste und allgegenwärtigste Urdichtung sich so in neuer Schöpfung mannichfach verjüngt.”

15The perfect, I have slain (הָרַגְתִּי, Sept. ἀπέκτεινα, Vulg. occidi), is probably used in the spirit of arrogant boasting, to express the future with all the certainty of an accomplished fact. Chrysostom, Theodoret, Jerome, Jarchi and others set Lamech down as a murderer (of Cain), who here confesses his deed to ease his conscience; but Aben-Ezra, Calvin, Herder, Ewald, Delitzsch, take the verb as a threat: “I will slay any man who wounds me.”

16 The law of blood for blood is strongly expressed also in the tragic poetry of Greece, especially in the Eumenides of Æschylus, also the Chœphoræ, 398 (quoted by Prof. T. Lewis, Com. on Gen. in loc.):

“There is a law that blood once poured on earth

By murderous hands demands that other blood

Be shed in retribution. From the slain

Erynnys calls aloud for vengeance still,

Till death in justice meet be paid for death.”

17Herder says of this poem, of which he gives a free German translation: “Der Durchgang durchs Meer hat das älteste und klingendste Siegeslied hervorgebracht, das wir in dieser Sprache haben. Es ist Chorgesang: eine einzelne Stimme malte vielleicht die Thaten selbst, die der Chor auffing und gleichsam verhallte. Sein Bau ist einfach, voll Assmanzen und Reime, die ich in unsrer Sprache ohne Wortzwang nicht zu geben wüsste; denn die ebræische Sprache ist wegen ihres einförmigen Baues solcher klingenden Assonanzen voll Leichte, lange, aber wenige Worte verschweben in der Luft, und meistens endigt ein dunkler, einsylbiger Schall, der vielleicht den Bardit des Chors machte.” Dr. Lange thus happily characterizes this ode (Comm. on Ex.): “Wie der Durchgang durch das Rothe Meer als eine fundemmtale Thatsache des typischen Reiches Gottes seine Beziehung durch die ganze Heilige Schrift ausbreitet, wie er sich rückwärts auf die Sündfluth bezieht, weiter vorwärts auf die christliche Taufe, und schliesslich auf das Endgericht, so gehen auch die Reflexe von diesem Liede Moses durch die ganze Heilige Schrift. Rückwärts ist es vorbereitet durch die poetischen Laute der Genesis und durch den Segen Jakobs, vorwärts geht es durch kleine epische Laute über auf das Abschiedslied des Moses und seinen Segen 5 Mos. 32, 33. Zwei grossartige Seitenstücke, welche folgen, das Siegeslied der Debora und das Rettungslied des David 2 Sam. 22 (Ps. 18), leiten dann die Psalmen-poesie ein, in welcher vielfach der Grundton unsres Liedes wieder mit anklingt, Pss. 77, 78, 105, 106, 114. Noch einmal ist am Schlusse des N. T. von dem Liede Mosis die Rede; es tönt fort als das typische Triumphlied des Volkes Gottes bis in die andre Welt hinein, Offenb. 15, 3.”

18The E. V.: ‘I will prepare Him an habitation’ (sanctuary), would anticipate the building of the tabernacle, but is not justified by the Hebrew.

19The poet now, after giving thanks for the past, looks to the future and describes the certain consequences of this mighty deliverance, which struck terror into the hearts of all enemies of Israel, and must end in the conquest of Canaan, as promised by God.

20An admirable German translation is given by Herder, and another by Prof. Cassel, in his Com. on Judges, translated by Prof. Steenstra.

21Or: “The Glory (the Beauty) of Israel.” Ewald, Bunsen, Keil, take ישׂראל, as vocative, “O Israel;” the E. V. (“the beauty of Israel”), De Wette, Erdmann (Die Zierde Israels), and others, as genitive. צִבִי means splendor, glory (Isa. 4:2; 13:19; 24:16, and is often used of the land of Israel, and of Mount Zion, which is called “the mountain of holy beauty,” חר צבי קדשׁ, Dan. 11:45); also a gazelle, from the beauty of its form (1 Kings 5:3; Isa. 13:14). The gazelles were so much admired by the Hebrews and Arabs that they even swore by them (Cant. 2:7; 3:5). Herder (Israel’s Reh), and Ewald (Der Steinbock, Israel—to avoid the feminine die Gazelle) take it in the latter sense, and refer it to Jonathan alone. Ewald conjectures that Jonathan was familiarly known among the soldiers of Israel as the Gazelle on account of his beauty and swiftness. Jonathan was, of course, much nearer to the heart of the poet, but in this national song David had to identify him with Saul, so that both are included in the Glory of Israel.

22 שׂדי תּרוּמוֹת, Sept. ἀγροὶ ἀπαρχῶν, Vulg. neque sint agri primitiarum, fertile fields from which the first fruits are gathered. The E. V. renders with Jerome: “nor (let there be) fields of offerings.” On the different interpretations and conjectures see Erdmann in Lange’s Com. It is a poetical malediction or imprecation of such complete barrenness that not even enough may grow on that bloody field for an offering of first-fruits.

23By blood and dust. A great indignity to a soldier. Homer says that the helmet of Patroclus was rolled under the horses’ feet, and soiled with blood and dust (Il. 16:794). The E. V., following the Vulgate (abjectus), translates נִגְעַל vilely cast away.

24But with blood. The E. V., following again the Vulgate (quasi non esset), supplies “as though he had not been anointed,” i.e., as if he had not been a king (1 Sam. 10:1). So also Herder: “Königes Schild, als wär er nimmer mit Oel geheiligt.” But the more natural interpretation is: “the shield of Saul was not anointed with oil,” as was usual in preparation for battle, and after it had been polluted by blood or corrupted by rust (Isa. 21:5). The unanointed shield here is an emblem of utter defeat and helplessness.

25Lowth: “This passage is most exquisite composition. The women of Israel are most happily introduced, and the subject of the encomium is most admirably adapted to the female characters.”

26The sweet, tender, devoted, enduring love with which women love. A picture of the ideal of friendship sanctified by the consecration of their hearts to Jehovah. The Vulgate inserts here the clause: Sicut mater unicum amat filium suum, ita ego te amabam, which has no foundation either in the Hebrew or the Septuagint.

27The repetition of this lament, probably by the chorus, is entirely in keeping with the nature of an elegy, which likes to dwell upon the grief, and finds relief by its repeated utterance.

28 The כְּלֵי מִלְחָמָה are the heroes themselves, as the living weapons of war. So Ewald and Erdmann (die Rüstzeuge des Streits). Comp. Isa. 13:5; Acts 9:15, where St. Paul is called “a chosen vessel” (σκεῦος). It is less lively and poetic to understand it literally of the material of war, as the Vulgate does (arma bellica), and Herder who renders:

Ach, wie fielen die Helden und ihre Waffen des Krieges

Liegen zerschlagen umher.

29Hengstenberg, Hävernick, Keil, among the orthodox divines, Gesenius, Ewald, Thenius, Dillmann, among the liberal critics, deny the possibility of Maccabæan Psalms. Ewald says (Preface to third ed of his Com. on the Ps.) against Hitzig: “No hing can be more false and perverse than to suppose that there can be Maccabæan poems in the Psalter.” Delitzsch (Com. über den Psalter, new ed. 1867, p. 9) admits the possibility, but denies the existence of such late Psalms.

30For particulars on the names and musical titles in the inscriptions of the Psalms, some of which are very obscure and variously interpreted, we must refer to the commentaries of Ewald, Hitzig, Delitzsch Mell (in Lange), and Perowne.

31From ἐ ἐ λέγειν, to cry woe, woe! Comp. the German, Klaglied, Trauerlied, Todtenlied, Grablied.

32Thirty-seven in the first Book, Ps. 3–41, 18 in the second, 1 in the third, 2 in the fourth, 15 in the fifth Book. The Septuagint ascribes to David 85 Psalms (including 99 and 104, which are probably his). The N. T. quotes as his also the anonymous Pss. 2 and 95 (Acts 4:25, 26; Hebr. 4:7), and Ps. 2 certainly has the impress of his style and age (as Ewald admits). But some of the Psalms ascribed to him, either in the Hebrew or Greek Bible, betray by their Chaldaisms a later age. Hengstenberg and Alexander mostly follow the Jewish tradition; Delitzsch (Commentar über die Psalmen, p. 7) thinks that at least fifty may be defended as Davidic; while Hupfeld, Ewald, and especially Hitzig, considerably reduce the number. Ewald regards Ps. 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 15, 18, 19, 24, 29, 32, 101, as undoubtedly Davidic; Ps. 2, 23, 27, 62, 64, 110, 138, as coming very near to David.

33This Psalm is called shir mismor and maschil, and is ascribed both to the sons of Korah and to Heman the Ezrahite, of the age of Solomon (1 Kings 5:11). The older commentators generally regard the former as the singers of the shir, the latter as the author of the maschil. Hupfeld thinks that the title combines two conflicting traditions.

34What the Germans would call Kreuz- und Trost-Psalmen.

35“In the scatterings and wanderings of families,” says Isaac Taylor (p. 375), “and in lonely journeyings, in deserts and cities, where no synagogue-service could be enjoyed, the metrical Scriptures—infixed as they were in the memory, by the very means of these artificial devices of versets and of alphabetic order, and of alliteration—became food to the soul. Thus was the religious constancy of the people and its brave endurance of injury and insult sustained and animated.”

36Comp. on the wisdom of Solomon, Ewald’s Geschichte des Volkes Israel, Vol. III. pp. 374 sqq.; and Stanley’s Lectures on the History of the Jewish Church, Vol. II. pp. 252 sqq. Ewald exclaims with reference to the visit of the Queen of Sheba (p. 379): “O glückliche Zeit wo mächtige Fürsten mitten in ihren von heiliger Gottesruhe umfriedigten Ländern so zu einander wallfahrten, so in Weisheit und was noch mehr ist, im regen Suchen derselben wetteifern können!

37Cicero says: “Gravissimæ sunt ad beate vivendum breviter enunciatæ sententiæ.”

38Stanley, Vol. II., p. 269. A different view is presented and elaborately defended in the commentary of Rev. John Miller, of Princeton (New York, 1872), who maintains that the Proverbs, being an inspired book, can have no secular, but must have throughout a spiritual, meaning. He charges King James’ version with making the book “hopelessly secular in many places” (p. 12).

39Zweizeiler, Vierzeiler, Sechszeiler, Achtzeiler. Commentary on Proverbs, Leipz., 1873, pp. 8 sqq.

40This comparison was made by Rabbi Jonathan on the assumption of the Solomonic authorship of the three works.

41Ewald (p. 54) says of the parables of Christ: “Was hier aus der Menschenwelt erzählt wird, ist vollkommen wahr, d. i. den menschlichen Verhältnissen vollkommen entsprechend, sodass keiner der es hürt an seinem Dasein zeweifeln kann, und ist dennoch nur Bild, nur Lehre, und nicht anders gemeint. Aber mit der höchsten Wahrheit der Schilderung dieses menschlichen Lebens verbindet sich hier ihre höchste Einfalt, Lieblichkeit und Vollendung, um ihr den unwiderstehlichsten Zauber zu geben.”

42Ewald treats prophecy as a part of didactic poetry. “Ein reiner Dichter,” he says (p. 51), “im ursprünglichsten Sinne des Wortes ist der Prophet nicht: was er ausspricht, soll von vorne an bestimmend, vorschreibend, belehrend auf Andere wirken. Aber sein Wort will von der Begeisterung Flügeln getragen von oben herab treffen, und muss so von vorn an erhaben in gleicher Höhe sich bis zum Ende halten.… So drängt sich denn dem Propheten die längst gegebene Dichterweise unwillkührlich auf, ähnlich hebt und senkt sich bei ihm der Strom der Rede, nur der Gesang fällt vor der ungewöhnlichen Höhe und dem Ernste seiner Worte leicht von selbst weg.”

43Comp. the eloquent description of Isaiah by Ewald in his Die Propheten des Alten Bundes, Stuttg. 1840, vol. I., p. 166.

44Ewald (Die Dichter des A. B., I. 72 sqq.) asserts very positively, but without proof, that dramas were enacted on the great festivals, and at the courts of David and Solomon. He calls the Canticles “the purest model of a comedy (Lustspiel)”; Job, “a genuine tragedy (Trauerspiel).” He admits, however, that in no case could God (who is one of the actors in Job) have been introduced on a Jewish stage, like the gods in the Greek dramas. Renan (Le Cantique des Cantiques) denies the existence of public theatres among the Hebrews, owing to the absence of a complicated mythology which stimulated the development of the drama among the Hindoos and Greeks, but maintains that the Song of Songs, being a dramatic poem, must have been represented in private families at marriage feasts.

45 That most pure and godly German hymnist Tersteegen, in his sweet hymn: “Ich bete an die Macht der Liebe,” traces all true love to Christ as the fountain-head, in these beautiful lines:

Ehr’ sei dem hohen Jesusnamen,

In dem der Liebe Quell entspringt,

Von dem hier alle Bächlein kamen,

Aus dem der Sel gen Schaar dort trinkt.

46Bible Handbook, Lond. ed., p. 449.

47Kingsbury, in the “Speaker’s Commentary” (vol. IV., p. 673).

48W. A. Wright (in W. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, III. 2553) says of the Book of Job: “Inasmuch as it represents an action and a progress, it is a drama as truly and really as any poem can be which develops the working of passion and the alternations of faith, hope, distrust, triumphant confidence, and black despair, in the struggle which it depicts the human mind as engaged in, while attempting to solve one of the most intricate problems it can be called upon to regard. It is a drama as life is a drama, the most powerful of all tragedies; but that it is a dramatic poem intended to be represented upon the stage, or capable of being so represented, may be confidently denied.”

49The significance of the ruling number three reminds one of the trilogies in Dante’s Divina Comedia.

50See a fine exposition of this passage in Dr. Green’s Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded, New York, 1874, pp. 181 sqq.

51 אֶמְאַם (from מאם to reject, to despise, to abhor), without the pronominal object, which is either the person of Job (Sept. ἐμαυτόν; Vulg. me; E. V., myself; Luther, mich), or his argument, his foolish wisdom (Aben Ezra: quicquid antea in te sum temere loquutus et imperite). Ewald translates indefinitely: Drum widerrufe ich und übe Reue; Similarly Zöckler: Darum widerrufe ich und thue Busse.

52So in the highly poetic Ps. 8:8 we have Zoneh (sheep) for the prosaic צֹאך, alaphim(oxen) for בָקָר, sadai (field) for שָֹׁדֶה and bahamoth sadai (beasts of the field) instead of חַיַּת הָאָרֶע.

53Delitzsch (Com. on the Psalms, Leipz., 1867, p. 17) says: “Die althebräische Poesie hat weder Reim noch Metrum, welche beide erst im 7 Jahr. n. Chr. von der jud. Poesie angeeignet wurden.” But afterwards he qualifies this remark and admits that the beginnings of rhyme and metre are found in the poetry of the O. T., so that there is an element of truth in the assertion of Philo, Josephus, Eusebius and Jerome, who find there the Greek and Roman metres. Ewald (l. c., p. 104) denies the existence of rhyme in Hebrew poetry; yet the occasional rhymes and alliterations in the song of Lamech, the song of Moses, the song of Deborah, etc., can hardly be merely accidental.

54All metre is rhythm, but not all rhythm is metre, as Augustine says (De musica).

55Lowth is the author of a more fully developed system of parallelism and its various forms. But the thing itself was known before under different names. Aben Ezra calls it duplicatio (כָפוּל), Kimchi: duplicatio sententiæ verbis variatis. See Delitzsch, 1. c. p. 18. Rabbi Azariah, and especially Schöttgen (Horæ Hebraicæ, Vol. I. 1249–1263), as quoted by Prof. Wright (Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, III. 2557), seem to have anticipated the main features of Lowth’s system. Parallellism is also found among other Shemitic nations, in Old Egyptian poetry, and among the Chinese.

56 General application.

57The Keri here (לו for לא) of the Masoretic text must be very ancient, since it is sustained by the Syriac, the Targum, the Vulgate, and the Arabic of Saadias. It is in the closest grammatical harmony with the verb איחל; and no one can deny that the rendering produced is in perfect consistency with the spirit of the whole Book.

58 שׂהדי. A word from the same root in Arabic means attesting angel, or angels: Angeli, testes in ultimo judicio. See Koran Surat. xi. 21. Is not the שָׂהֵד or Attestor, on whom Job calls here, the same with the גּאֵר 19:25?

59It would seem to denote that ghastly look, and that ghastly condition of extreme emaciation, when the skin will no more close over the protruding teeth. This sense may be got for מלט without going to the corresponding Arabic word. It is closely connected with the common Hebrew sense of escape or deliverance (one thing parting or parted from another). It is like the accusative with preposition after passive verbs denoting condition. I am parted, the skin of my teeth, or in the skin of my teeth—that is, the flesh that covers my teeth. It denotes the extreme of emaciation and suffering.

60 ישימו. “They are putting.” Who are they? It is one of those cases where the agent, real or supposed, is not named because of something fearful, perhaps, associated with it. “They”—invisible powers, it may be, either actually believed or used figuratively or proverbially to heighten the effect of the language. Grammarians call it the using of the active for the passive impersonal, but this does not explain the matter. As parallel passages, compare Job 7:3, 4:19, 18:18, 19:26; Ps. 49:15, and especially the Greek of Luke 12:20. It is generally used by way of deprecating something hostile. But it may also be from reverence. See Isaiah 60:11.

61The same idiom referred to in the note above. They, the agent, too fearful or too revolting to be named, may refer to the worms reducing his skin to shreds, or to the strange hostile powers that were then destroying his body through disease, regarded as produced by evil agency.

62 It is the same style of musing query given in Plato, Gorgias, 493, A, by way of extract from a lost drama of Euripides:

Τὶς δ’ οἶδεν, ἐι τὸ ζῆν μέν ἐστι κατθανεῖν,

Τὸ κατθανεῖν δὲ ζῇν ?

Who knows but life, the present life, be death,

And death be living?

Socrates explains it from the saying of the wise men of old, “that we are now dead and buried in the body.” Who shall say that the same, or a kindred thought, may not have come to an Idumean sage, as well as to the old σοφοί to whom Plato ascribes it?

63 Umbreit and other commentators of the same school will have it that the change here is that from life to death. The arguments against it are threefold. There is, first, the consistency of the context. Secondly, if חליפה stood here alone, without any thing to determine it one way or the other, it might be said that in other passages the transition denoted by the root is that of renewal, whenever connected with the idea of life, as in Ps. 90:3; Ps. 102:27, where it seems to denote a new garment for nature, a change of raiment in the sense of renewal. There is, thirdly, the direct use of יחליף, the Hiphil, for reviviscence, in the seventh verse, as applied to the comparison of the tree. Would the noun here, so obviously from it, so soon lose the same idea, and be taken in another directly opposite? and is there not the strongest critical reason for regarding the use of the noun in ver. 14 as suggested by the parallel thought, ver. 7: “Even as there is hope of a tree that it will germinate again (יחליף), so also will I wait until my springing forth, my חליפה, come.” “For Thou wilt call,” etc.

64 תכסף. Primary sense, palluit, the face growing pale, like silver, from strong desire. We have used Dr. Conant’s admirable translation, “yearns.” In Ps. 84:3 it is used, together with כלה, to denote the longing of the pious soul for God, and that makes more impressive here the converse idea of God’s yearning love for man.

65The author is represented as showing the most marvellous skill in keeping out every allusion to things most deeply interwoven in the Israelitish life. All is foreign and antique. And yet Commentators who maintain this, find the grossest anachronisms in the Book, whenever they can serve the purpose of assigning to it some comparatively modern period. Thus, Merx, p. xli, finds in Job 15:15, 19, an allusion to the Assyrian invasion of 760, or to the fact that foreigners were in the land, and obscuring all the old ideas. Eliphaz is made to refer to the older people “to whom alone was given the land.” It is very much the same as if one professing to give a dramatic picture of the Pilgrim Fathers, and striving to keep every thing in harmony with that early time, should suddenly betray himself by an allusion to the late Rebellion. But with some, the greatest inconsistency is excusable, if it will favor the latest date that can be given to the Book.

66See Surat. 23:85: “How is it that when we are dead, and have become dust and bones, that we live again? They are only fables of the ancients, 5:38. Away, then, with what we are threatened with! There is no other life. We live and we die, and then we live no more. They are but stories of the early times.” See, also, 26:137, 27:69, 70.

67 It was only, however, by the more pious and meditative, or those who were chosen as the mediums of the written revelation, that the power of this reserve was chiefly felt. That the vulgar Jewish mind had the same views of a ghost-world as prevailed among other nations of antiquity, and as now popularly prevail, is proved by the most unmistakable evidence. We need only refer to such passages as Lev. 19:31, 20:6, 27; Deut. 18:11; 2 Kings 21:16; Isa. 8:19, 29:4. They show a belief so strong and prevalent, in the continued existence of the dead, that there had arisen, in the very earliest times, a class of persons who professed to be mediums of communication between the two worlds. They are called ידענים ,אוֹבוֹת, Necromancers, or “Seekers to the dead,” דרשׁים אל מתים‏‏‏. Our modern Spiritualism is only a revived form of this impiety, so early condemned. Another example is furnished by the case of Saul and the Witch of Endor, 1 Sam. 28:3. Whether these were wholly or partly imposture, makes no difference in the argument. Such practices could only have been grounded on a very prevalent popular belief in a ghost-world. Here as elsewhere, the idea, when left to itself, became only the nourisher of a pestilent superstition; because the thought of God, as the conservative idea, became dissociated from it, just as in the modern doctrine, and the modern practice that so closely resembles it. Hence such a belief, instead of being encouraged, is most sharply condemned in the Scriptures. The great guilt consisted in meddling with what belonged solely to God, to be revealed or veiled according to the divine wisdom. The practice of such necromancy prevailed most under the most wicked kings, such as Manasseh; and its evil in the Divine sight is shown by the vehement denunciations of the Prophet: The farther the people departed from God, the more common became this “seeking to the dead.”

Glimpses, however, of a better popular belief in some higher and purer spirit-world appear in the Book of Job itself. Whether the word רוח, in the Vision of Eliphaz, 4:15, denote a spirit, or a breath, the whole context intimates a communication supposed to come from another world. Calling it a dream makes no difference, since dreams show the course of human thinking and belief. The thing, however, most worthy of note in this view, is the nature of the communication made. How different, in this respect, from the modern spiritualism referred to! There is nothing to gratify curiosity—no talk about “spheres,” and “progress, or a “coming light,” but a most solemn moral announcement. It is for this alone that the separating curtain is for a moment withdrawn. No disclosure is made of states or scenes within. The regulating divine idea is all-controlling. That must first of all be learned in its ineffable holiness: “Shall man be more just than God? shall mortal man be more pure than his Maker?” Everything else is withheld, as though until this is firmly established in the soul, the doctrine of a spirit-life may be in itself, morally powerless, and even unfavorable to a true piety.

68 It may be said, too, that in this passage of Pindar there is fully developed the other idea, or the doom of the wicked. See line 120.

Τοι δ· ἀπροσόρατον ὀκχέοντι πόνον.

A woe on which no eye can gaze.

69 The resemblance to the Odyss., iv. 565, vi. 42, and especially to the latter passage, is very striking. A close comparison strongly favors the conclusion that the lines of the Veda, if the translation be correct, must have been, in some way, drawn from these of Homer; a supposition not extravagant, if we suppose them later than Alexander's expedition, and the knowledge that may, perhaps, have come into India from that source.

Wo Schimmer alle Räume füllt,

——ἀλλὰ μαλ’ αἴθρη

πέπταται ἀνέφελος, λενκὴ δ· ἐπιδέδρομεν αἴγλη.

70More than doubtful.” What knowledge has he enabling him to make so nice an estimate? The reason given is that “Enoch is representative of the departed year gone to the Ewigkeit.” We may see by this what rapid progress Rationalism sometimes makes. What Ewald hazarded as a mere conjecture, founded on nothing stronger than the coincidence (very remarkable among so many stated numbers!) of Enoch's age with the number of days in the year, Merx treats as a settled point, which none now would think of calling in question. Nothing, however, is more improbable. Those very “wise Egyptians,” as late as the time of Herodotus, had not yet determined the year by five days, still treating it, in some respects, as 360, and yet these critics would have it not only settled in the days of Enoch, but so well settled as to make a myth out of it. Then, again, it would be a mere sentimentalism, suiting well in modern times, but inconsistent with a great antiquity.

71According to this view, it would be tentative and skeptical,—we mean skeptical in a good sense,—like some of the Socratic discourses, which are thus entitled, because they come to no conclusion, yet have served a good purpose in teaching us our ignorance, or by showing the great value of the truth sought, and stimulating to more earnest study to be rewarded by the disclosures of a more advanced revelation.

72Some such thought of a superearthly drama appears in what the Apostle says, Eph. 3:10: “That now through the Church there might be made known to the Principalities and Powers in the Heavenly World (ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις), the manifold (πολυποίκιλος, immensely varied) wisdom of God.” See Olshausen on the text: “The Church (good men on earth, whether in their piety or their sufferings) is the theatre (seiner Wirksamkeit) through which this manifold wisdom and teaching are made known to the angels.” In support of the idea, Olshausen very properly cites 1 Pet. 1:12: εἰς ὰ ἐπιθυμοῦσιν ἄγγελοι παρακύψαι: “Which things the angels desire to look into” (to bend eagerly forward for that purpose) and Paul's language, 1 Cor. 4:9: θέατρον ἐγενήθημεν τῷ κοσμῳ καὶ ὰγγέλοις.

73It is not too much to say that even now, in this advanced age of theology, there is arising a new need of this idea. There is something in the naturalistic tendencies of our science, and our literature, which more and more demands a revival of the thought of a personal, holy, omnipotent, unchallengeable God, who “doeth all things according to His good pleasure,” whether through nature, or against nature, or above nature. The sharpening of this would give a new edge to every other religious dogma. The ideas of sin, holiness, accountability, would receive a new impress of clearness and power. The doctrine of a future life would get a moral significance, throwing in the back-ground those naturalistic and merely imaginative features which are now making it a matter of curious speculation, or of physical, rather than of ethical interest. Such a sudden sharpening of the divine idea would have a startling effect, like the actual witnessing of a miracle, in bringing so near the thought of God as to set it in a new and surprising light, resembling vision rather than theory, and calling forth something like the exclamation of Job, when “the hearing of the ear” had become an actual beholding.

74As matter of outward fact, indeed, there is set forth in the close of the drama a full compensation. It forms, what some, who are fond of the more artistic criticism, call “the outer disentanglement,” or Die Lüsung in äusserer Wirklichkeit; but we are nowhere told that this entered into the idea of the poem. As such, it would be inconsistent with the thought so prominent in the prologue, or the possibility of a man’s serving God for nought. As a mere outward scene, however, it has a certain appropriateness, like the matter-of-fact close of a Greek drama, sometimes brought in as a satisfaction to the reader, to save him from pain, by making a harmony in the outward narrative. But in Job the great lesson is complete without it. We read it with pleasure, as something simply due to dramatic consistency, that when the spiritual drama is over, the hero, as the Rationalists, with some propriety, call him, may not be left in his state of suffering; but the great inward design is concluded by the submission of Job, which would have been utterly spoiled by the intimation of any expected recompense. The apparent design, too, of the prologue is satisfied without it. When Job submits, Satan is baffled, and God’s judgment is true.

75It is worthy of note how the appeal is made alike to the great natural and the great supernatural, as though the distinction had not then been made; or the line drawn, as in our modern thinking; or as though to the Divine Mind such a distinction was of no account. Nature and law are clearly recognized in the Bible; but both departments, the natural and the supernatural, are regarded as equally illustrating the power and greatness of God as manifested in all. The same may be said of the appeal to the great animal creations, surpassing man in strength and magnitude. It is not to show design, or utilitarian ends, as in our modern natural theology, and hence to demonstrate the existence of a Deity. Job is not addressed as doubting that, or as needing any proof of God’s wisdom and goodness. Everything, on the other hand, bears upon this one idea of omnipotence. It is to show that God “can do all things”—a truth which Job confesses (42:2), in language intimating that he had not before fully realized it.

76 Literally, “hindered from Thee.” בצר has its Syriac sense of diminution, restraint, failure. LXX. ἀδυνατεῖ δέ σοι ούδέν. The Syriac has “nothing can be hidden from Thee,” and in this it resembles our common version. Dr. Conant’s is better: “And from Thee no purpose can be withheld;” but fails, we think, in giving the full thought, which is that of insufficiency, or want of power in the execution.

77 There is language in chapter 16 from which it would seem that Job had such beings in view,—a multitude of them, in fact, as well as the great enemy mentioned in the prologue. Such expressions as those in verses 9 and 10, of that chapter, can hardly be used of the three friends: “His anger rends me; he lies in wait for me (ישטמני, cognate with שׂטן, Satan); he gnashes on me with his teeth; mine enemy (צרי), sharpens his eyes upon me (glares at me); they gape upon me with their mouths” (כערו, like the yawning Orcus, Is. 5:14). We are shocked at the very thought of such words being applied to God, although most of the commentators have so taken them. The language that follows: “God delivers me up,” etc., though strong, is in a different style; simply presenting the idea of an unjust surrender into Satan’s hands. It might be said, too, that the absence of any expressed subject (simply implied, he, they, etc.) is evidence of something fearful in the thought, as in the cases mentioned, note, p. 7. The referring them to God, would be inconsistent, moreover, with the appeal to the Witness on high, ver. 20. The language of vers. 9 and 10 shows an imagination wildly excited, as though at the sight of fiends making hideous faces, scowling, and glaring at him. It would seem strange, too, that Satan should so figure in the prologue, and that afterwards no allusion whatever should be made to him. It would not be artistic, if that, as some say, is the chief character of the book. Is there not an implied reference to this great persecutor and murderer (ἀνθρωπόκτονος, John 8:44), in the appeal to the Avenger or Redeemer, 19:25? Raschi speaks very confidently in respect to the language, 16:9, as though it could not admit of a doubt: “Satan here is the enemy;” והשטן חוא הצר.

78 Merx, the latest commentator on Job, in the short notes he adds to his new text and translations, is very fond of putting the word dogmatic to the renderings, ancient or modern, which he rejects. He means by this to stigmatize them as made in a dogmatic interest, even though sometimes giving the only possible meaning which the Hebrew will admit. He ought to have seen how greatly his own version is affected by that precisely identical kind of interest, which we may call the dogmatic anti-dogmatic. He cannot understand this passage according to the text, and so he does not hesitate to give different punctuation, allowing him to render it: “Thou knowest that Thou canst do all things,” an answer which wholly mars the force of Job’s appeal. Although it may still be taken as his confession of the great truth, yet the putting it thus in the second person makes it not only a pointless assertion, but seems greatly to change the aspect and spirit of the passage. It would be as though he had said: I submit, I lay my hand upon my mouth, because any other course would be of no avail. Thou knowest, Thyself, that Thou art infinitely strong, and canst do as Thou pleasest; of what use, then, any remonstrance? God knoweth the difficulties and darkness of our minds as well as our bodily frames. We may, therefore, believe that a doubt in respect to His power would be less displeasing to Him than such a captious irreverence. There is a shadow of authority for Merx. The pointing is of the first person, but the closing yod is supplied by the Keri. It is the same in this respect as in Ps. 140:13, יָדַעְתִ for יָדַעְתִי, in full, and in עָשִׂיתִ for עָשִׂיתִי, Ezek. 41:19. It may be also taken as an Aramaism, as it would doubtless have been called could it have been made to suit a rationalistic purpose.

79 The genuineness of the speech of Elihu, which has been much attacked, may be defended on three grounds that, aside from their moral weight, are entitled to attention from those who patronize the Book chiefly on its alleged artistic merits. These are—

1st. That, without it, the appearance and address of Jehovah must be taken as immediately following Job 31, in which case the words, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel,” etc., must refer directly to the clearest, most consistent, and most eloquent speech in the Book, namely, Job’s noble vindication of his fair life against the damnatory accusations of his friends. It is a most manly appeal, undeserving, we reverently think, of being thus characterized as vain and dark, at least in comparison with those of the others. Besides, the term, עצה, counsel, teaching, argument, cannot be applied to it as it can to the speech of Elihu, which is ostentatiously didactic. Job’s appeal, Job 31, is simply a vindicatory statement of fact, in opposition to unrighteous charges. If he is divinely commended for anything, except his last words of submission and repentance, it must be for this noble defence.

2d. The language, “Who is this, etc.” would be applicable to much in the general style and spirit of Elihu’s discourse. Although the divine answer, as a whole, is addressed to Job, yet nothing would seem more natural than such an incidental reference to the last speaker, who is seemingly interrupted in his eloquence by the sudden rebuke of the supernatural voice. It was a giving counsel, an assumption of wisdom, a claiming “to speak for God;” and although we think that those critics altogether overstrain the matter who charge Elihu with being merely a loquacious babbler, or a vain, pretentious disputant, yet, as an attempted vindication of the divine ways, it was a more fit subject for this comparative censure, than the honest and glowing words of Job in Job 31, to which it immediately, or without the least preparation, succeeds, if the part of Elihu is left out. The repetitions of this last speaker, on which some have so much insisted, are of little consequence. They may be blemishes, or rhetorical excellencies, according to the stand-point from which they are viewed. The specimens we have of the old Arabic Seance, or Consessus, show that such a repetitive style of sententious moralizing was held in literary repute. At all events, it is characteristic, and this they should regard as a dramatic merit in what they call a “work of art.” But, aside from this, there is something in the whole of Job 37, and especially in the closing verses, to which the language is very applicable, as referring to the last speaker, although the divine address is described, generally, by the historian, as made to Job, to whom, personally, it immediately turns. The words “darkening counsel,” etc., denote invalidity of argument, doubtless, but, along with this, they are descriptive of the apparent timidity, abruptness, and awe-struck confusion that seem to characterize the close of Elihu’s harrangue. It is the language of one gazing on some strange appearances. The emotion and the exclamations thence produced mingle with his didactic utterances, so that he says, ver. 19: “Tell us what we shall say, for we cannot order our speech, by reason of darkness.” And this suggests the—

3d Ground, namely, That the whole scene is a reality, and that this interlude of Elihu, and especially his abrupt exclamatory closing words, are a convincing evidence of it. It is either a painting from the life, or it is the most consummate art. There is the strongest internal evidence that, during this speech of Elihu, there is represented the approach of the storm-cloud, the rising tornado, interrupting and confusing his words, calling away his attention, and giving rise to broken remarks on the vivid phenomena that accompany it, until he is suddenly silenced by the awful voice. Some of the best commentators have thus regarded the language as referring to an actual coming storm. Delitzsch cites Bridel for the opinion that the thunder, mentioned 37:1, is not a mere matter of eloquent description, but something actually presented to the senses: “L’éclair brille, la tonnere gronde.” It is the language of an eye and ear witness, or if it is a mere work of art—it is so arranged and expressed as to convey that impression. So Rosenmüller, in the words of Bouillier: “Inter verba Elihu, dum hæc loqueretur, tonitru exauditum; ad cujus cæcum murmur, mox in fragorem horrendum et fulgur erupturum, circumstantes jubet contremiscere.” So, also, on the comment on זהב, ver. 22; “Ceterum splendoris ex aquilone mentio pertinet ad descriptionem appropinquantis media in tempestate Dei.” We find the beginning of this in the close of Job 36: “His thunder is announcing Him;” the cattle (מִקְנֶה), feeding on the plains are startled by the ominous noise (36:33). Then, immediately (37:1), “At this” (אף לזאת, as though pointing to something coming on and visible to all), “my heart trembles, and leaps out of its place.” “Hear, O hear, the roar of His voice, the muttering that proceedeth from His mouth; under the whole heavens He is sending it; His lightning to the far horizon. After it, hark, a sound is roaring (ישאג, descriptive future). He is thundering with His majestic voice, and we cannot trace them when that voice is heard.” It is all most graphic, calling to mind the speech of Prometheus (ÆSCH. Prom. Vinct. 1081) as he goes down in the midst of the storm:

βρυχία δ’ ἠχὼ παραμυκᾶται—

how it bellows long and loud. Here, as there, it is the deep baritone thunder reverberating all round the horizon. “There is no tracking it (לֹא יְעַקְבֵם), though the sound is heard.” It seems to be everywhere; there is no determining the long roll to any particular quarter of the sky. Then follows a stillness for a time, during which the black סְעָרָה is slowly rising. Again the speaker, though there is an awe upon his soul, attempts to go on with his moralizing on the voice and the marvellous works of God; in all of which he seems more or less influenced by the signs in the heavens as they become more and more startling, or give rise to occasional sudden remarkings upon particular phenomena: “See how He spreads His lightning cloud (CONANT), and turns it with His guidance every way” (5:12). The tempestuous wind (5:17), is growing in heat and strength; the intervals of darkness become overpowering; he “cannot order his speech by reason of them.” But, lo, a new and startling appearance,—a strange light coming out of the North. He calls it זהב, gold, literally, but here most probably a golden sheen (LXX. νέφη χρυσαυγοῦντα), some electrical or auroral light (aureus, aurum), suddenly gleaming forth from the Borealic region, or, it may be, lining the edge of the nimbus, as is sometimes the case when it is heavily charged with the electric fluid. “From the North, see, the amber light is coming,” comp. Ezek. 1:4 (יאתה, descriptive future). It is this phenomenon, so remarkable and so suddenly arresting the attention of all, that gives the subsequent language its ejaculatory character. There is terror mingled with the glory: “Surely with God there is dreadful majesty.” What follows is in the same broken and elliptical style. אדי, “Shaddai, He it is; we cannot find Him out.” All through there are those descriptive features indicating something coming on of an eventful character. The language becomes more and more that of one subdued in spirit, and awed by the sense of a near divine presence, driving him from his loquacious wisdom: “Great in strength and righteousness; He answers not” (לֹא יַעֲנֶח in Kal, instead of Piel); surely should we fear Him;” that is now more becoming than argument, however seemingly profound; for “He regardeth not the חכמי לב, those who are wise in their own understandings,” and presume to judge of His ways.

“Then answered Jehovah from the storm-cloud,” הַסְּעָרָה, with the article, the storm-cloud that has been described. As thus viewed in connection with Elihu’s speech, and especially the latter part of it, so broken and abrupt, there is a power in the whole representation which compels us to regard it as consummately artistic or, what is still more credible, an actual painting from the life, a real scene from that olden time, and an actual theophany, like those witnessed by Abraham, Moses, and Elijah. On the other hand, cut out the speech of Elihn, or bring the divine address right after Job 31, and we seem to have a hiatus in the drama which all criticism fails to mend.

The remarkable language, 5:22, about “the gold coming from the North (the Borealic aurora) may well be compared with Ezek. 1:4: “A storm (סערה) coming from the North, and a brightness in the circuit, and in the midst of it, כעין החשמל) like the color of brass (aurichalcum) Vulg. quasi species electri.”

80The primary sense of כחד is abnegation,—treating a thing as though it was not, or casting it off as utterly false and vile. Hence in Hiphil it gets the sense of putting out of sight (ἀφανίζειν, which is used in the Greek to denote extreme destruction), exstirpavit, delevit. The Niphal is passive of Hiphil. See its strong sense, Exod. 23:3; Zech. 11:8.

81 More just than God, more pure, etc. So our translation and Luther have it, with which Dr. Conant agrees. The Vulgate, Dei comparatione. Umbreit, Ewald, Delitzsch, Dillmann, Merx, Rosenmüller, et al., reject the idea of מן, comparative, and regard it as equivalent to עם, 25:4; Coram Deo, and in Numb. 32:22; Jeremiah 51:5. The reasons are that the other rendering, “more just than God” would be an utterly extravagant thought, which no one would think of seriously holding. And yet it might be suggested by Job’s bitter complainings.

82 III. 13. ישנתי: “I should have slept; then would there have been rest to me”—יָנוּח לִי to me, or even to me. The impersonal form with the preposition is emphatic. This feeling of distrust and jealousy is made more clear by what he says at the close about his want of rest, even in the day of his prosperity: “What he had somehow feared had come upon him,” 3:25.

83 Even the harshest parts assume something of a different aspect when we thus take into view the origin and progress of the controversy. Many of these charges will appear to be essentially hypothetical. For it is clear that the friends of Job had no knowledge of any crimes that he had committed. In Job 22. Eliphaz seems to charge him directly with the most atrocious deeds. But the beginning of the chapter is evidently the repelling of the idea, on which Job seems strongly to insist, of a personal controversy, as it were, between him and God, or as one contending with him. It is not, as Eliphaz would seem to argue, such a personal contending whatever else it may be; for that could only be on account of some great sins which had truly roused the divine anger. This hypothetical view may be carried clear through the chapter: “Will He for fear of thee rebuke thee, or enter with thee into controversy? Is it not rather (הלא), or would it not be rather רעתך רבה, thy great evil, or for some great evil of thine?” So the Vulgate takes it as a hypothetical question instead of a direct charge: Numquid timens arguat te et non propter malitiam tuam plurimam; “Would it not be on account of thy wickedness, and because of thine iniquities numberless?” Thus stated, hypothetically, the כי that follows is specificative. Would it not be on account of thy numerous iniquities, namely, that thou hadst taken a pledge, that thou hadst stripped the naked, favored the mighty, and oppressed the widow, etc.? The manner of stating these crimes (the standing Bible examples of great wickedness) would also seem to show that the imputations were hypothetical, instead of direct. It may be a suspicion occasioned by Job’s vehement complaints, but it would hardly seem to amount to anything stronger,—or a mere conjecture, as Cocceius regards it: “Nam fortassis pignus cepisti, etc.—conjecturaliter et disjunctive explico, nulla repugnante Grammatica, ne crudeliores sententias quam ipsi amici in Jobum cudam.” Umbreit and Ewald express surprise at the particularity of these atrocious accusations, and wonder how Eliphaz came to the knowledge of them, but the charges themselves they would easily explain by their all—explaining Vergeltungslehre: Job suffered severely; therefore, he must have been an enormous sinner.

What soon follows shows that we must somehow modify the interpretation that makes these charges to be direct, or as something truly believed by the speaker: “Acquaint now thyself with Him (ver. 21), and be at peace” (שׁלם) give up this idea of a contention, or be composed. There is, indeed, a general exhortation to return to the Almighty, and put away evil; as it had also been said that he was in darkness and terror, on account of the spirit he showed (vers. 10, 11, 23). But it is not the kind of language we should expect to be used towards one who had robbed widows, and broken, the arms of orphans. Nothing less than unconditional repentance and restitution would have been thought of. But how different the advice of this reproving friend: הסכן (the Kal, ver. 3, and denoting quieting, profitable intercourse) Here, in Hiphil, it is well rendered “acquaint thyself,” be quiet before God, become familiar with Him, learn to think better of Him and His ways; “lay up His words in thy heart.” It is addressed to one supposed to be in the wrong, yet still having some degree of favor with God, or, at least, one with whom God was not contending, as He contends with the hardened and atrocious sinner, so particularly described.

84 This appears especially in chapters 21 and 27, where Job would seem to aim at surpassing them in this kind of painting. Sometimes the transition is quite sudden, as though he had felt he had gone too far in the opposite direction. The surprise occasioned by this has led to forced constructions. Thus, 21:17, some would render כמה, “how seldom,” or, “how often,” with the implied idea of doubt, or with a sarcastic reference. This is contrary to the constant usage of כמה, and Ps. 78:40, cited by Gesenius and Hupfeld, does not support it.

85 From these we may at once exclude those in which אל follows the verb נִבָּא, or הִתְנָבֵּא, to prophesy. They may be rendered, prophecy concerning; but the preposition does not lose its original idea of direction—prophecy to, or at, or against. So also where Noldius renders it propter as Lam 4:17: “our eyes are consumed,” אל עזרתנו, “on account of our help.” The idea is, looking to or for our help, elliptically expressed. There is the same kind of ellipsis in the few other examples he gives, as 1 Sam. 4:21: “this she said (looking to, in view of) the taking of the ark,” &c. There is no need of rendering it propter; the vivid pathos is lost by so doing. 2 Sam. 21:1: “And the Lord said,” אל שאול—there is an ellipsis any way. “And the Lord said—to Saul”—that is, look to Saul. Noldius fills it up tamely: “(it is) on account of Saul and his bloody house.” 1 Kings 19:3: “He went, אל נפשו, for his life”—a peculiar phrase, but may be rendered literally, instead of by propter, on account of. Ps. 84:3, “My heart and flesh cry out,” אֶל־אֵל חָי, rendered by Noldius: “On account of the living God,” but far better literally, “to the living God.” So in the cases where he would render it de, it will be found that the object is ever present, and there is the idea of direct reference, or pointing to it. As 1 Sam. 1:27, where Hannah says, “I prayed, אל הנעד הזה, for this child,” as something present—the direct object. 2 Kings 19:32, “Thus saith the Lord,” אל מלך. It was indeed about the King of Assyria, but how much more vivid is it when taken directly, to, at, against; Deodat. French Version, touchant le roi. The two or three others under that head can all be resolved in the same manner. 2d Psalm 7, אספרה אל חק, cannot be rendered “concerning the decree.” Gen. 20:2, “And Abraham said, אל שרה, to Sarah, she is my wife.” Sarah was present, and the saying was to her—as an intimation to Abimelech.

86 See Raschi Comment. Job 40:4, 42:7. In the latter place he puts his strained interpretation in the mouth of Deity Himself: “Ye have not spoken the right like my servant Job, שהרי הוא לא פשע בי כי אם על אשר אמר תם ורשע הוא מכלה וגו, for lo, he never transgressed against Me except in that he said, The innocent and the wicked He alike consumes,” and “of the scourge,” etc.

87 The substance of the argument for and against the much controverted genuineness of the Elihu passage, is briefly yet clearly given by Rev. A. B. Davidson, in his excellent Commentary on Job, the first volume of which was published in 1862. After presenting the main objections in the text, with very satisfactory answers of his own, as well as from Stickel and others, he gives, in a note to page 41, some others which he justly styles “examples, less of reason than of critical petulance”: “As the following, (1) That Elihu does not appear in the Prologue. But Job’s three friends are not named as coming to debate with him; their object was condolence. (2) Elihu is not named in the Epilogue. But there was really nothing to say of him; so far as he agreed with Job he is commended in his commendation; so far as he agreed with the words of God, he has his reward in hearing his own sentiments repeated by the divine lips. The reference made even to the friends of Job, in the Epilogue, is but casual; for the drama concerns Job only, and takes end with him; and even Satan, who should have come before the curtain humbled and prostrate, to receive the jeers of an assembled world, nowhere appears. (3) Job makes no answer to Elihu. And for the best of reasons: His heart is stricken by Elihu’s words. (4) Elihu addresses Job by name, as the original disputants do not. But Elihu comes in as an arbiter, and must use names to distinguish between both parties whom he addresses; and God Himself adopts the same mode of addressing Job in opposition to the friends.” The objection arising from Elihu’s alleged Aramaisms, is well answered by Stickel (cited by Davidson), in saying: “that Elihu is himself an Aramean (Job 32:2, of the family of Ram, that is, Aram), and naturally spoke in that dialect.” But these Aramaisms are greatly overstated. There is evidence in several places of other persons being present during parts, at least, of this long discussion—some to pity, some to mock Job, and some as silent spectators.

88 הַסְּעָרָה. The article (the storm) is very natural, if we take it in connection with those strong premonitory symptoms of an approaching tempest that marked the close of Elihu’s speech. In the other supposed connection it is far from being easy, though possibly allowable.

89 It is in respect to this that Job is assigned, by many commentators, to what they call the Chokma portion of the Bible, making it coeval with the Proverbs, or the time of Solomon, a little earlier or a little later. Delitzsch supposes the Wisdom of the Proverbs to be an advance development, and therefore later. Merx, on the other hand, regards the author of Job as “polemizing” against the Proverbs writer. But why not the other way, if there is a difference, the author of Prov. 8 “polemizing” against the older author of Job?

90 The modern Natural Theology has very little like it in the Bible. It may be said, too, in general, to be out of the line of the ancient thinking, Pythagorean and Platonic, as well as Shemitic. Ideas, divine thoughts, as having in themselves an artistic or intellectual excellence, in a word, the glory of God, take precedence of mere utilitarian final causes.

91 Instead of a sense of artificialness, it is truly with something like a feeling of ease and freedom that we emerge from the curt, statistical dialect into these more spontaneous utterances, in whatever parts of the Bible they may occur. As when Moses, as though weary of his lawgiving, breaks out into song:

Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak;

And hear, O Earth, the words of my mouth.

Equally unconscious of anything artificial was Isaiah when he opens his prophecy with similar language, or predicts that men

Shall beat their swords into ploughshares,

Their spears into pruning-hooks;

Or the sententious Solomon thus falling into measure in the utterance of his prudential wisdom:

My son, hear the instructions of thy father,

And forsake not the law of thy mother.

It is found everywhere in Scripture, and in the mouths of all classes, whatever may be their variety of character:

Lord, when Thou wentest out of Zion,

When thou marched’st out of the field of Edom.


Where thou goest, I will go;

Where thou lodgest, I will lodge;

Thy people shall be my people,

Thy God my God.


The soul of my lord is bound in the bundle of life;

The souls of thine enemies cast forth from the sling.


For we must needs die, and are as water spilt,

But God doth gather again his banished ones.


The Spirit of the Lord spake by me;

His word was in my tongue.


The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich;

He bringeth low and lifteth high.


So in Luke, Elizabeth, and Mary, and Simeon, break out spontaneously in this same rapt measured language; and in like manner does John in the Revelation rise into poetry, if we choose to give it that name. It is, however, nothing essentially different from what we have in the Psalms and Job, and even in Ecclesiastes. Those who made such utterances did not think they were speaking or writing poetry as a studied or artificial language. The state of soul, as caused by the moving circumstances, made it spontaneous; usage made it easy; it was a natural speaking—not an improvising as some might be inclined to call it; for that implies something like knack or skill, however acquired, and has, besides, but little of value or significance beyond the mere surprise it occasions. It need only be said, that we have something of an echo of this old style in the Koranic rhymes and cadences, though there the artifice is clearly visible.

92 It is, in fact, this very kind of language, indicating, as it does, the absence of invention, which shows the state of the writer’s mind in relation to it, and his firm belief in the substantial truth of the story, whether derived from near witnesses, or from remoter tradition. As we have elsewhere remarked (Note to Lange Gen. , p. 319), “there is something in this subjective truthfulness as denoted by wide and rounded statements. which is far more precious to a right faith, than any attempt at objective or scientific accuracy.” “All the high hills under the whole heaven” Gen. 7:19, is evidently the language of a spectator deeply moved by the scene as he beholds it. How much more full of satisfaction is this to a right thinking, than any numerical or geographical settlement of the question about the extent of the flood. In the emotion evidently denoted by such words, there is carried the vivid impression of reality, and this is what we most need. So, too, Acts 2:5: “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews devout men out of every nation under heaven!” We cannot resist the feeling of some most real memorable assemblage, that gave rise to such an impassioned description. It is not at all the style of legend but of deep emotion. A still more remarkable proof of our seeming paradox, is the language of the loving and beloved disciple, John 21:23. What a vivid reality must there have been in that character which calls out the seemingly extravagant language: “Not even the world could contain the books that should be written.” The comparison is to be taken, not as a measure of outward fact, but as an expression of devotion, of admiration, of boundless love. In this sense it is no extravagance; the hyperbole wholly disappears. When John wrote that Gospel, the world of sense, with all its images, failed to set forth the excellence of Christ. “Heaven and earth were full of his glory.” He must have lived, most objectively lived, who produced such an impression. Inwardly it was the most truthful of utterances. Let us suppose that the statement had been more guardedly made, and instead of the world it had been said: “Hardly a folio volume would have sufficed for the recital of what Jesus had done;” how would it have diminished that real power and truthfulness to which the strongest utterances were inadequate.

The same view may be taken of all parts of the Old Testament, where immense numbers, especially round numbers, are employed; as in the emotional statements of certain great battles with their countless slaughter. The case is different when statistical accuracy enters into the very essence of the account, as in the details of the Tabernacle and of the Levitical sacrifices.

93 A difficulty is made from the statement of Job’s age at the close of the Book. It comes from adding the number there mentioned (140 years) to his supposed former life, which could hardly have been less than 50 or 60 years, thus making, in all, two hundred years or more. But there is no need of this; the most easy and unforced rendering would take this term, 140 years, as the entire length of his life. He lived till he became 140 years old. This is in harmony with his seeing his children to the fourth generation, or great grand-children, even though born after he was fifty years old. The words אַֹהֲרֵי זֹאת, “after this” are not in conflict with such a view. It may very easily be rendered: “After this Job lived on, even to the age of 140 years.” Such an age is not improbable, even for a later time than the patriarchal. There are examples of such longevity in quite modern times.

94 There are the best of reasons for calling Job a drama, if we do not take the word in too narrow a sense. It has all the essential parts of such a composition: its Prologue, its Dialogue, and its Crisis. It has, moreover, its great ἆθλον, trial or prize. It is the very heart of the Book, possessing even an Epic grandeur of interest. The integrity of Job, the very soul of Job, we may say, is the matter of this test, the subject of this ἀγών, or strife between God and Satan. To accommodate Homer’s language, Iliad xxii. 160, to a far higher theme:

οὐχ ἱερήίον, οὐδὲ βοείη,

ἄλλὰ περὶ ψΥΧΗΣ μάρνανται ἀθανάτοιο.

Even if its action were wholly spiritual, it would, none the less, be entitled to the name dramatic. It has, however, as much of outward movement as the Prometheus Vinctus of Æschylus, or the Philoctetes of Sophocles. In the latter, too, the dramatic interest is chiefly in the spiritual strife arising out of intense bodily pain.

We may say, too, on the ground of the same authorities, that its historical truth, be it more or less, does not at all stand in the way of its dramatic character. Some degree of such historical truth, real or supposed, is, in fact, demanded by it. All the Greek tragedies are so constructed on old narratives believed to be real; such as those of the Trojan and Argonautic ages. It needed something of the kind to inspire them; so that while a few, like the Persæ of ÆSCHYLUS, are almost wholly historical, none are pure fictions.

On that day did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman the Jews' enemy unto Esther the queen. And Mordecai came before the king; for Esther had told what he was unto her.
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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