My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
Verses 1-22. - Having answered Bildad, Job proceeds to pour out the bitterness of his soul in a pathetic complaint, which he addresses directly to God. There is not much that is novel in the long expostulation, which mainly goes over ground covered in ch. 3, 6, and 7; but some new grounds are alleged as pleas for mercy, if not for justice. These are
(1) that he is God's gesture, and in the past (at any rate) has been the object of his care (vers. 8, 8-12);
(2) that God must be above judging as man judges (vers. 4, 5);
(3) that God knows his innocence (ver. 7); and
(4) that he (Job) is entirely in God's power (ver. 7). In conclusion, Job begs for a little respite, a little time of comfort (ver. 20), before he descends into the darkness of the grave (vers. 21, 22). Verse 1. - My soul is weary of my life. This is better than the marginal rendering, and well expresses the original. It strikes the key-note of the chapter. I will leave my complaint upon myself; rather, I will give free course to my complaint over myself, or I will allow myself in the expression of it (see the Revised Version). Job implies that hitherto he has put some restraint upon himself, but now he will give full and free expression to his feelings. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul (comp. Job 7:11).
I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; shew me wherefore thou contendest with me.
Verse 2. - I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; literally, do not pronounce me wicked My friends, as they call themselves, have, one and all, condemned me: do not thou also condemn me. A touching appeal! Show me wherefore thou contendest with me. One of Job's principal trials is the perplexity into which his unexampled sufferings have thrown him. He cannot understand why he has been singled out for such tremendous punishment, when he is not conscious to himself of any impiety or other heinous sin against God. So now, when he has resolved to vent all the bitterness of his soul, he ventures to ask the question - Why is he so tried? What has he done to make God his enemy? Wherefore does God fight against him continually?
Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress, that thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands, and shine upon the counsel of the wicked?
Verse 3. - Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress? Job assumes that he is oppressed. He has no conception that his sufferings are a purification (John 15:2), intended to lead to the elevation and improvement of his moral character. He therefore asks - Is it worthy of God, is it good in him, is it compatible with his perfect excellence, to be an oppressor? It is a sort of argumentum ad verecundiam well enough between man and man, but quite out of place between a man and his Maker. That thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands (comp. Psalm 138:8). This argument is more legitimate. God may be expected, not to despise, but to care for, the work of his own hands (comp. Isaiah 19:25; Isaiah 29:23; 64:21; Isaiah 64:8; Ephesians 2:10). Every maker of a thing, as Aristotle says, loves his work, and naturally guards it, cares for it, and cherishes it. And shine upon the counsel of the wicked (comp. Job 9:24). The prosperity of evil-doers must arise, Job thinks, from God allowing his countenance to shine upon them.
Hast thou eyes of flesh? or seest thou as man seeth?
Verse 4. - Hast thou eyes of flesh? or seest thou as man seeth? Notwithstanding the anthropomorphism of their language, the sacred writers are as fully aware as their modern critics of the immateriality of God, and the immense gap that separates his nature from human nature. It is on this that Job now dwells. God, being so much above man, having eyes that are not of flesh, and seeing not as man sooth, ought not to judge as man judges, with partiality, or prejudice, or even with extreme severity (ver. 6).
Are thy days as the days of man? are thy years as man's days,
Verse 5. - Are thy days as man's days? In short-lived man, shortsightedness and prejudice are excusable, but not in one whose days are unlike man's days - whose "years endure throughout all generations" (Is. 102:24). Such a one ought to be above all human infirmity. Or thy years as man's days? We should have expected "as man's years." But it marks the disparity more strongly to say, "Are thy years not greater in number even than man's [literally, 'a strong man's'] days?"
That thou inquirest after mine iniquity, and searchest after my sin?
Verse 6. - That thou inquirest after mine iniquity, and searchest after my sin. It seems to Job that God must have been "extreme to mark what he has done amiss" (Psalm 130:3), must have searched into every corner of Ms life, and hunted out all his sins and shortcomings, to have been able to bring together against him a total commensurate or even approximately commensurate, with the punishment wherewith he has visited him.
Thou knowest that I am not wicked; and there is none that can deliver out of thine hand.
Verse 7. - Thou knowest that I am not wicked; rather, although thou knowest (see the Revised Version). Conscious of his own integrity and faithfulness, Job feels that God too must know them; wherefore it seems to him all the harder that he should be made to suffer as if he were a "chief sinner." And there is none that can deliver out of thine hand.
"'Tis excellent to have a giant's strength;
But tyrannous to use it like a giant." Job's last ground of appeal is, that he is wholly at God s mercy, can look for no other deliverer, no other support or stay. Will not God, then, have pity, and "spare him a little, that he may recover his strength before he goes hence, and is no more seen "? (see Psalm 39:15; and comp. below, ver. 20).
Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet thou dost destroy me.
Verses 8-12. - Here we have an expansion of the plea in ver. 3, "Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest despise the work of thine own hands?" Job appeals to God, not only as his Greater, but as, up to a certain time, his Supporter and Sustainer. Verse 8. - Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about (comp. Psalm 139:12-16, "My reins are thine; thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well My bones are not hid from thee, though I be made secretly, and fashioned beneath in the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book were all my members written, which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them"). Canon Cook observes with much truth, "The processes of nature are always attributed in Scripture to the immediate action of God. The formation of every individual stands, in the language of the Holy Ghost, precisely on the same footing as that of the first man" ('Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 4. p. 50). Yet thou dost destroy me; literally, devour me (comp. Job 9:17, 22).
Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again?
Verse 9. - Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; rather, that thou hast fashioned me as day; i.e. "Thou hast formed me, as a potter fashions a pot out of clay." This is scarcely a reference to Genesis 3:19, but rather an early use of what became a stock metaphor (comp. Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 30:14:; 45:9; 64:8; Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:21-2.9, etc.). And wilt thou bring us into dust again? After having fashioned me out of clay into a human form, wilt thou undo thine own work, crumble me into powder, and make me mere dust once more?
Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese?
Verse 10. - Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese? "Didst not thou" i.e., "form me as an embryo in the womb, gradually solidifying my substance, and changing soft juices into a firm though tender mass?"
Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews.
Verse 11. - Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh. "To thee," that is, "I owe the delicate skin, which encloses my frame, and keeps it compact; to thee I owe the flesh whereof my frame chiefly consists." And hast fenced ms with bones and sinews; rather, and hast woven me or knit me together (see the Revised Version, and comp. Psalm 139:13, where the same verb is used in the same sense). The idea is that the body altogether is woven and compacted of skin, bone, flesh, sinews, etc., into a delicate and elaborate garment (comp. 2 Corinthians 5:2-4).
Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.
Verse 12. - Thou hast granted me life and favour. God, besides providing Job with a body so delicately and marvellously constructed, had added the gift of "life" (Genesis 2:7), and also that of "favour," or loving providential care, whereby his life was preserved from infancy to manhood, and from manhood to a ripe age, in peace and prosperity. Job has not forgotten his former state of temporal happiness (Job 1:2-5), nor ceased to feel gratitude to God for it (comp. Job 2:10). And thy visitation hath preserved my spirit; or, thy providence - "thy continual care."
And these things hast thou hid in thine heart: I know that this is with thee.
Verse 13. - And these things hast thou hid in thine heart; rather, get these things didst thou hide in thine heart; i.e. "Yet all the while, notwithstanding thy protecting care and gracious favour, thou wert hiding in thy heart the intention to bring all these evils upon me; thou couldst not but have known what thou wert about to do, though thou didst conceal thy intention, and allow no sign of it to escape thee." I know that this is with thee; rather, I know that this was with thee; i.e. this intention to destroy my happiness was "with thee" - present to thy thought - even while thou wert loading me with favour. Job's statement cannot be gainsaid; but it involves no real charge against God, who assigns men prosperity or suffering as is best for them at the time.
If I sin, then thou markest me, and thou wilt not acquit me from mine iniquity.
Verse 14. - If I sin, then thou markest me; rather, if I sinned then thou didst observe me. Thou tookest note of all my sins as I committed them, and laidest them up in thy memory. And thou wilt not acquit me from mine iniquity. This record of my offences thou still hast against me, and I cannot expect that thou wilt acquit me of them. Without some one to atone for them, men cannot be acquitted of their offences.
If I be wicked, woe unto me; and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction;
Verse 15. - If I be wicked, woe unto me! If, on the whole, this record of my sins be such that I am pronounced guilty before God, then I accept my doom. Woe unto me! I must submit to suffer. And if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. If, on the contrary, it be admitted that I have not sinned so grievously as to be pronounced unrighteous, even then I will not beast; I will not exalt myself; I will not hold up my head as if I were sinless. I am full of confusion. This clause should not be separated from the last. The sense runs on: "I will not lift up my head (being, as I am), full of confusion," or "of shame," through consciousness of my own imperfections (see the Revised Version). Therefore see thou mine affliction; rather, and seeing my afflictions. The sense given in the Authorized Version is maintained by Rosenmuller, De Wette, Stanley Leathes, and Merx, and defended by Canon Cook; but opposed by Schultens, Professor Lee, and our Revisers. If we accept the views of these last, the whole passage will run thus: "If I be [pronounced] wicked, woe unto reel but if righteous, yet will I not lift up my head, being [as I am] full of confusion, and seeing my afflictions." Job still views his afflictions as signs of God's disfavour, and therefore proofs of his sinfulness.
For it increaseth. Thou huntest me as a fierce lion: and again thou shewest thyself marvellous upon me.
Verse 16. - For it increaseth. Thou huntest me. This passage is very obscure, and has been taken in several quite different senses. On the whole, it is not clear that any better meaning can be assigned to it than that of the Authorized Version, "For my affliction increaseth," or "is ever increasing. Thou huntest me;" i.e. thou art continually pursuing me with thy plagues, thy "arrows" (Job 6:4), thy" wounds" (Job 9:17), thy poisoned shafts (Job 6:4). Thou givest me no rest, therefore I am ever conscious of my afflictions. As a fierce lion. Schultens regards Job as the lion, and so Jarchi and others. But most commentators take the view that the lion is God (comp. Isaiah 31:4; Isaiah 38:13; Jeremiah 25:38; Lamentations 3:10; Hosea 5:14; Hosea 13:7, 8). And again thou showest thyself marvellous upon me; or, thou dealest marvellously with me; i.e. "in-flictest on me strange and marvellous sufferings."
Thou renewest thy witnesses against me, and increasest thine indignation upon me; changes and war are against me.
Verse 17. - Thou renewest thy witnesses against me. Each fresh calamity that Job suffers is a new witness that God is displeased with him, both in his own eyes, and in those of his "comforters." Hie disease was no doubt continually progressing, and going from bad to worse, so that every day a new calamity seemed to befall him. And increasest thine indignation upon me; i.e. "makest it more and more evidently to appear, that thou art angry with me." Changes and war are against me; rather, changes and a host; i.e. attacks that are continually changing - a whole host of them, or "host after host" (Revised Version margin), come against me.
Wherefore then hast thou brought me forth out of the womb? Oh that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me!
Verse 18. - Wherefore then hast thou brought me forth out of the womb? A recurrence to his original complaint (Job 3:3-10); as if, after full consideration, he returned to the conviction that the root of the whole matter - the real thing of which he might justly complain - was that he had ever been born into the world alive! Oh that I had given up the ghost! Before birth, or in the act of birth (so Job 3:11). And no eye had seen me! "No eye," i.e., "had looked upon my living face." For then -
I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave.
Verse 19. - I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave. So short an existence would have been the next thing to no existence at all, and would have equally satisfied my wishes.
Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little,
Verse 20. - Are not my days few? Cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little. Job here returns from vague longings and idle aspirations to actual realities - the facts of the case - and asks, "Is not the time that I now have to live short? Must not my disease make an end of me in a very brief space? If so, then may I not make a request? My petition is that God will 'cease' from me, grant me a respite, 'let me alone' for a short time, remove his heavy hand, and allow me to 'take comfort a little,' recover my strength, and obtain a breathing-space, before my actual end, before the time comes for my descent to Sheol," which is then (vers. 21, 22) described. The parallel with Psalm 39:13 is striking.
Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;
Verse 21. - Before I go whence I shall not return (comp. Job 7:9; and see 2 Samuel 12:23). Even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death. Job's idea of the receptacle of the dead, while it has some analogies with the Egyptian under-world, and even more with the Greek and Roman conceptions of Hades or Orcus, was probably derived from Babylonia, or Chaldea, on which the land that he inhabited bordered (Job 1:17). It was within the earth, consequently dark and sunless (compare the Umbrae of the Romans, and Euripides's νέκρων κευθμῶνα καὶ σκότου πύλας), deep (Job 11:8), dreary, fastened with belts and bars (Job 17:16). The Babylonians spoke of it as "the abode of darkness and famine, where earth was men's food, and their nourishment clay; where light was not seen, but in darkness they dwelt; where ghosts, like birds, fluttered their wings; and where, on the doors and on the door-posts, the dust lay undisturbed" (Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, vol. 1. p. 118).
A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.
Verse 22. - A land of darkness, as darkness itself; or, a land of thick darkness (see the Revised Version). And of the shadow of death, without any order. The absence of order is a new and peculiar feature. We do not find it in the other accounts of Hades. But it lends additional horror and weirdness to the scene. And where the light is as darkness. Not, therefore, absolutely without light, but with such a light as Milton calls "darkness visible."