My breath is corrupt, my days are extinct, the graves are ready for me.
Verses 1-16. - The general character of this chapter has been considered in the introductory section to ch. 16. It is occupied mainly with Job's complaints of his treatment by his friends, and his lamentations over his sufferings (vers. 1-12). At the end he appeals to the grave, as the only hope or comfort left to him (vers. 13-16). Verse 1. - My breath is corrupt; or, my spirit is oppressed. But the physical meaning is the more probable one. A fetid breath is one of the surest signs of approaching dissolution. My days are extinct; or, cut off. The verb used does not occur elsewhere. The graves are ready for me; or, the chambers of the grave are mine already. The plural form is best explained by regarding it as referring to the niches commonly cut in a sepulchral chamber to receive the bodies of the departed (see Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' vol. 3. pp. 1528-1536).
Are there not mockers with me? and doth not mine eye continue in their provocation?
Verse 2. - Are there not mockers with me? literally, mockeries - the abstract for the concrete. (For the sentiment, comp. Job 16:20 and Job 30:1-14.) And doth not mine eye continue in their provocation? i.e. "Have I anything else to look upon? Are not the mockers always about me, always provoking me?"
Lay down now, put me in a surety with thee; who is he that will strike hands with me?
Verse 3. - Lay down now; or, give now a pledge (see the Revised Version). The terms used in this verse are law terms. Job calls upon God to go into court with him, and, first of all, to deposit the caution-money which the court will require before it undertakes the investigation of the case. Next, he goes on to say, put me in a surety with thee; or rather (as in the Revised Version), be surety for me with thyself which is either the same thing with giving a pledge, or a further legal requirement. Finally, he asks the question, Who is he that will strike hands with me? meaning, "Who else is there but thyself, to whom I can look to be my surety, and by striking hands (comp. Proverbs 6:1) with me to accept the legal responsibility?" As Dr. Stanley Leathes says, "It is wonderful the way in which the language of Job fits in with what we have since and elsewhere learnt concerning the Persons in the Godhead."
For thou hast hid their heart from understanding: therefore shalt thou not exalt them.
Verse 4. - For thou hast hid their heart from understanding. My so-called friends will certainly not undertake for me, since thou hast blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts against me. Therefore shalt thou not exalt them. God will not exalt those who are without understanding.
He that speaketh flattery to his friends, even the eyes of his children shall fail.
Verse 5. - He that speaketh flattery to his friends; rather, he that denounceth his friends for a prey. Job means to accuse his "comforters" of so acting. By their persistent belief in his grievous wickedness they give him up, as it were, for a prey to calamity, which they pronounce him to have deserved on account of his secret sins. Even the eyes of his children shall fail. Whoever so acts shall be punished, not only in his own person, but also in the persons of his descendants (comp. Exodus 20:5).
He hath made me also a byword of the people; and aforetime I was as a tabret.
Verse 6. - He hath made me also a byword of the people. God, by the unprecedented character of his afflictions, has made Job a byword among the surrounding nations - a byword, that is, for an afflicted person. Job, by the manner in which he bore his afflictions, made himself a byword for patience and endurance among God's people throughout all ages (see James 5:11). And aforetime I was as a tabret; rather, I am become an abomination before them; or, as our Revisers translate, 1 am become an open abhorring (comp. Job 30:10).
Mine eye also is dim by reason of sorrow, and all my members are as a shadow.
Verse 7. - Mine eye also is dim by reason of sorrow (comp. Psalm 6:7; Psalm 31:9). Excessive weeping, such as stains the cheeks (Job 16:16), will also in most cases dim and dull the eyesight. And all my members are as a shadow. Weak, that is, worn out, unstable, fleeting, ready to pass away.
Upright men shall be astonied at this, and the innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite.
Verse 8. - Upright men shall be astonied at this. When Job's case comes to beknown, "upright men" will be astonished at it. They will marvel how it came to pass that such a man - so true, so faithful, so "perfect" (Job 1:1) - could have been allowed by God to suffer so terribly. In a world where, up to Job's time, prosperity had been taken as the measure of goodness, the marvel was naturally great. Even now many a Christian is surprised and disturbed in mind if he gives the case prolonged and serious attention, though he holds the clue to it in that most enlightening phrase, "perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). And the innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite. On astonishment will follow indignation. When it becomes generally recognized that, in a vast number of cases, the righteous suffer, while the wicked enjoy great prosperity, good men's feelings will be stirred up against these prosperous ones; they will wax indignant, and take part against them.
The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.
Verse 9. - The righteous also; rather, yet the righteous. A strong opposing clause. Notwithstanding all the afflictions that befall him, and all the further afflictions which he anticipates, yet the truly righteous man shall hold on his way; i.e. maintain his righteous course, neither deviating from it to the right hand nor to the left, but holding to the strict line of rectitude without. wavering. Job is not thinking particularly of himself, but bent on testifying that righteous men generally act as they do, not from any hope of reward, but from principle and the bent of their characters. And he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger. Not only will the just man maintain his integrity, but, as time goes on, his goodness will be more and more firmly established (comp. Aristotle's 'Theory of Habits').
But as for you all, do ye return, and come now: for I cannot find one wise man among you.
Verse 10. - But as for you all, do ye return, and come now. A challenge to his detractors. Return, all of you, to your old work of detraction, if you so please. I care not. Your accusations no longer vex me. For I cannot find one wise man among you. If I could the case would be different. But, as you have all shown yourselves wholly devoid of wisdom (comp. Job 42:8), what you say has no real importance.
My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart.
Verse 11. - My days are past. My days are slipping away from me. Life is well-nigh over. What, then, does it matter what you say? My purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart; literally, the possessions of my heart all the store that it has accumulated - my desires, purposes, wishes. I no longer care to vindicate my innocence in the sight of men, or to clear my character from aspersions.
They change the night into day: the light is short because of darkness.
Verse 12. - They change the night into day. They, my detractors, who are also my so-called "comforters," pretend to change my night into day; assure me that the cloud which rests on me is only for a time, and will ere long give place to the brightness of day, to a glorious burst of sunshine (see Job 5:18-26; Job 8:21, 22; Job 11:15-19). The light (they say) is short because of darkness; or, rather, is near because of the darkness. To extreme darkness shows that dawn must be near, that the day must soon break when my sorrow will be turned into joy. Job had not found himself comforted by these assurances, which lacked the ring of sincerity, and could not be accomplished except by miracle, which he did not feel that he had any right to expect.
If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness.
Verse 13. - If I wait, the grave is mine house; rather, surely I look for the grave (Sheol) as my house; i.e. I expect no return of prosperity, no renewal of life in a sumptuous mansion, no recovery of the state and dignity from which I have fallen - I look only for Sheol as my future abode and resting-place -there, in Sheol, I have made my bed in the darkness; i.e. I regard myself as already there, lying on my narrow bed in the darkness, at rest after my afflictions.
I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister.
Verse 14. - I have said to corruption, Thou art my father; i.e. I do not murmur; I accept my lot; I am ready to lie down with corruption, and embrace it, and call it "my father," and henceforth remain with it. The idea that the soul is still with the body in the grave, more or less closely attached to it, and sensible of its condition and changes, was widely prevalent in the ancient world. Where bodies were simply buried, the horrible imagination of a close association with corruption naturally and almost necessarily intruded itself, and led to such reflections as those of Job in this verse. It was partly to get rid of this terrible nightmare that the Egyptians were so careful to embalm the bodies of their dead, and that the Babylonians deposited them in baked clay coffins, which they filled with honey (Herod., 1:198); while others still more effectually prevented the process of corruption by cremation. The modern revival of cremation is remarkable as indicating a peculiar form of atavism or recurrence to ancient types. For many ages after the coming of Christ, men so separated between the soul and the body after death that the corruption of the grave had no horror for them. Now materialistic ideas have so far recurred, that many of those who believe the soul to live on after death are doubtful whether it may not still be attached to the body more or less, end, dreading contact with the corruption, of the latter, fall back upon the old remedy. To the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister. An expansion of the idea contained in the previous clause.
And where is now my hope? as for my hope, who shall see it?
Verse 15. - And where is now my hope? (comp. Job 14:18-15). At first sight it might seem that to cue in Sheol there could be no hope. But Job is too conscious of his own ignorance to dogmatize on such a subject. What does he know of Sheol? How can he be sure that it is "God's last word to men"? There may be As for my hope, who shall see it? i.e. what eye can penetrate the darkness of the future, and solve the riddle for me?
They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust.
Verse 16. - They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust. There is great difficulty in determining the subject to the verb "go down," which is the third person plural feminine, whereas the only plural substantive at all near - the word translated "bars" - is masculine. Some suppose Job's hopes to be meant, "hope" in the preceding verse having the force of any number of "hopes" (so the R.V.) Others disregard the grammatical difficulty of the plural feminine verb, and, making "bars" the nominative, translate, "The bars of Sheol shall go down," i.e. "be broken down, perish;" or interrogatively, "Shall the bars of Sheol go down?" This rendering is thought to be "in harmony with the whole undercurrent of thought in the chapter;" but it has not approved itself to many commentators. The present commentator must acknowledge that he is unable to attach any satisfactory meaning to the words of the Hebrew text.