But Job answered and said,
Verses 1-34. - Job answers Zophar, as he had answered Bildad, in a single not very lengthy chapter. After a few caustic introductory remarks (vers. 2-4), he takes up the challenge which Zophar had thrown out, respecting the certain punishment, in this life, of the wicked (Job 20:4-29), and maintains, "in language of unparalleled boldness" (Cook), the converse of the proposition. The wicked, he says, live, grow old, attain to great power, have a numerous and flourishing offspring, prosper, grow rich, spend their time in feasting and jollity - nay, openly renounce God and decline to pray to him - yet suffer no harm, and when they die, go down to the grave without suffering, "in a moment" (vers. 5-15). To the suggestion that from time to time they are cut off suddenly in a signal way, he answers, "How often is this?" or rather, "How seldom!" (vers. 17, 18). To the further suggestion that they are punished in their children he replies, "How much better if they were punished in their own persons!" (vers. 19-21). As it is, he argues, one event happens to all (vers. 23-26). In conclusion, he observes that common opinion supports his view (vers. 29-33), and denounces as futile the attempts of his comforters to convince him, since his views and theirs respecting the facts of God's government are diametrically opposed to each other (ver. 34). Verses 1, 2. - But Job answered and said, Hear diligently my speech, and let this be your consolations. As ye have no other consolation to offer me, at least attend diligently to what I say. That will be some comfort to me, and I will accept it in lieu of the consolations which I might have looked for at your hands.
Hear diligently my speech, and let this be your consolations.
Suffer me that I may speak; and after that I have spoken, mock on.
Verse 3. - Suffer me that I may speak; or, suffer me, and I also will speak. There is an emphasis on the "I" (אנכי). Job implies that his opponents are not allowing him his fair share of the argument, which is an accusation that can scarcely be justified. Since the dialogue opened, Job's speeches have occupied eleven chapters, those of his "comforters" seven only. But a controversialist who has much to say is apt to think that sufficient time is not allowed him. And after that I have spoken, mock on. Job does not hope to convince, or silence, or shame the other interlocutors. When he has said his say, all that he expects is mockery and derision.
As for me, is my complaint to man? and if it were so, why should not my spirit be troubled?
Verse 4. - As for me, is my complaint to man? Do I address myself to man, pour out my complaint to him, and expect him to redress my wrongs? No; far otherwise. I address myself to God, from whom alone I can look for effectual assistance. And if it were so; rather, and if so, if this is the case, if my appeal is to God, and he makes me no answer, then why should not my spirit be troubled? or, Why should I not be impatient? (Revised Version). Job thinks that he has a right to be impatient, if God does not vouchsafe him an answer.
Mark me, and be astonished, and lay your hand upon your mouth.
Verses 5, 6. - Here we have an abrupt transition. Job is about to controvert Zophar's theory of the certain retribution that overtakes the wicked man in this life, and to maintain that, on the contrary, he usually prospers (vers. 7-18). Knowing that, in thus running counter to the general religious teaching, he will arouse much horror and indignation on the part of those who hear him, he prefaces his remarks with a notice that they will cause astonishment, and an acknowledgment that he himself cannot reflect upon the subject without a feeling of alarm and dismay. He thus hopes partially to disarm his opponents. Verse 5. - Mark me; literally, look to me; i.e. "attend to me," for I am about to say something well worth attention. And be astonished. Prepare yourselves, i.e., for something that will astonish you. And lay your hand upon your mouth. Harpocrates, the Egyptian god of silence, was often represented with his finger on his lips (see the author's 'History of Ancient Egypt,' vol. 1. p. 362). The symbolism is almost universal. Job begs his auditors to "refrain their lips," and, however much astonished, to keep silence until he has concluded.
Even when I remember I am afraid, and trembling taketh hold on my flesh.
Verse 6. - Even when I remember; i.e. "when I think upon the subject." I am afraid, and trembling taketh held on my flesh. A shudder runs through his whole frame. His words will, he knows, seem to verge upon impiety.
Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?
Verse 7. - Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power? Job asks for an explanation of the facts which his own experience has impressed upon him. He has seen that "the wicked live" quite as long as the righteous, that in many cases they attain to a ripe old age, and become among the powerful of the earth. The great "pyramid kings" of Egypt, whose cruel oppressions were remembered down to the time of Herodotus (Herod., 2:124-128), reigned respectively, according to Egyptian tradition, sixty-three and sixty-six years(Manetho ap. Euseb., 'Chronicles Can.,' pars 2.). Rameses II., the cruel oppressor of the Jews, and the Pharaoh from whom Moses fled, had a reign of sixty-seven years ('Hist. of Ancient Egypt,' vol. 2. p. 301).
Their seed is established in their sight with them, and their offspring before their eyes.
Verse 8. - Their seed is established in their sight with them (comp. Psalm 17:14; and see below, Job 27:14). It could scarcely be doubted that the wicked had as many children as the righteous, and often established them in posts of honour and emolument. And their offspring before their eyes. A pleonastic repetition.
Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them.
Verse 9. - Their houses are safe from fear; literally, their houses are in peace without fear. Neither is the rod of God upon them. So Asaph, "They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men" (Psalm 73:5). The chastening rod of God does not seem to smite them.
Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf.
Verse 10. - Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; rather, their cow conceiveth . Shor (שׁור), which is of both genders, must here be taken as feminine. Their cow (rather, their heifer) calveth, and casteth not her calf. Both conception and birth are prosperous; there is neither barrenness nor abortion.
They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance.
Verse 11. - They send forth their little ones like a flock. Free, i.e. joyful and frolicsome, to disport themselves as they please. The picture is charmingly idyllic. And their children dance. Frisk, i.e. "and skip, and leap," like the young of cattle full of health, and in the enjoyment of plenty" (Lee).
They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ.
Verse 12. - They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. The "timbrel" (תפ) is probably the tambourine, an instrument used from a remote antiquity by the Orientals. It consisted of a round hoop of wood, into which were sometimes inserted jingling rings of metal, and upon which was stretched at one end a sheet of parchment. It is represented on the monuments both of Egypt and Phoenicia ('Hist. of Egypt,' vol. 1. p. 522; 'Hist. of Phoenicia,' pp. 219, 223). The harp (כִנּור) was, in the early times, a very simple instrument, consisting of a framework of wood, across which were stretched from four to seven strings, which were of catgut and of different lengths, and were sounded either with the hand or with a plectrum. The "organ" (עוּנָב) was, of course, not an organ in the modern sense of the word. It was either a pan's pipe, which is a very primitive instrument, or more probably a double reed blown from the end, like a flageolet, examples of which are found in the remains both of Egypt and Phoenicia ('Hist. of Egypt,' vol. 1. p. 524; 'Hist. of Phoenicia,' l.s c.).
They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.
Verse 13. - They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. They die, i.e. without suffering from any prolonged or severe illness, such as that grievous affliction from which Job himself was suffering. Probably Job does not mean to maintain all this absolutely, or as universally the case, but he wishes to force his friends to acknowledge that there are many exceptions to their universal law, that wickedness is always visited in this world with condign punishment, and he wants them to account for them exceptions (see ver. 7).
Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
Verse 14. - Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us. It is this impunity which leads the wicked to renounce God altogether. They think that they get on very well without God, and consequently have no need to serve him. Job puts their thoughts into words (vers. 14, 15), and thus very graphically represents their tone of feeling. For we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. The wicked feel no interest in God; they do not trouble themselves about him; his ways are "far above out of their sight," and they do not care to know them.
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?
Verse 15. - What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? "Who is Jehovah," said Pharaoh to Moses, "that I should obey his voice? I know not Jehovah" (Exodus 5:2). So the ungodly in Job's time. They pretend to have no knowledge of God, no sense of his claims upon them, no internal consciousness that they are bound to worship and obey him. They are agnostics of a pronounced type, or at least they profess to be such. What profit, they ask, should we have, if we pray to him? Expediency is everything with them. Will serving God do them any good? Will it advance their worldly interests? Persuade them of that, and they will be willing to pay him, at any rate, a lip-service. But, having prospered so long and so greatly without making any religious profession, they see no reason to believe that they would prosper more if they made one.
Lo, their good is not in their hand: the counsel of the wicked is far from me.
Verse 16. - Lo, their good is not in their hand; i.e. their prosperity is not in their own power, not the result of their own efforts. God's providence is, at least, one element in it, since he exalts men and abases them, he casteth down and lifteth up. Hence it would seem to follow that they are his favourites. Shall Job therefore cast in his lot with them? No, he says, a thousand times, No! The counsel of the wicked is far from me; or better, be the counsel of the wicked far from me! I will have nothing to do with it. I will cling to God. I will maintain my integrity. Satan had charged Job with serving God for the sake of temporal reward. Job had disproved the charge by still clinging to God, notwithstanding all his afflictions. Now he goes further, and declines to throw in his lot with the wicked, even although it should appear that the balance of prosperity is with them.
How oft is the candle of the wicked put out! and how oft cometh their destruction upon them! God distributeth sorrows in his anger.
Verse 17. - How oft is the candle of the wicked put out? This is not an exclamation, but a question, and is well rendered in the Revised Version, "How oft is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out?" Is not the signal downfall of the wicked prosperous man a comparatively rare occur-fence? How oft cometh their destruction upon them*. When the problem here propounded came before Asaph, he seems to have solved it by the supposition that in all cases retribution visited the wicked in this life, and that they were cast down from their prosperity. "I went," he says, "into the sanctuary of God; then understood I the end of these men. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image" (Psalm 73:17-20). Job maintains that such a catastrophe happens but seldom, and that for the most part the wicked go down to the grave in peace. God distributeth sorrows in his anger. This is hot an independent clause. The sense runs on: How off is it that the candle of the wicked is put out and that destruction cometh upon them and God showers sorrows upon them in his anger? (compare the comment on the next verse).
They are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away.
Verse 18. - They are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away; rather, How oft is it that they are as stubble before the wind and as chaff etc.? The construction begun in the first clause of ver. 17 is carried on to the end of ver. 18. "Stubble" and "chaff" are ordinary figures for foolish and ungodly men, whom the blast of God's anger swoops away to destruction (comp. Exodus 15:7; Psalm 1:4; Psalm 35:5; Psalm 83:13; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 29:5; Isaiah 41:2, etc.).
God layeth up his iniquity for his children: he rewardeth him, and he shall know it.
Verse 19. - God layeth up his iniquity for his children. Job supposes his opponents to make this answer to his arguments. "God," they may say, "punishes the wicked man in his children" (comp. Exodus 20:5). Job does not deny that he may do so, but suggests a better course in the next sentence. He rewardeth him; rather, let him recompense it on himself - let him make the wicked man himself suffer, and then he shall know it. He shall perceive and know that he is receiving the due reward of his wickedness.
His eyes shall see his destruction, and he shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty.
Verse 20. - His eyes shall see his destruction (or, let his own eyes see his destruction), and he shall drink (or, let him drink) of the wrath of the Almighty. It will impress him far more with a sense of his wickedness, and of his guilt in God's sight, if he receives punishment in his own person, than if he merely suffers vicariously through his children.
For what pleasure hath he in his house after him, when the number of his months is cut off in the midst?
Verse 21. ? For what pleasure hath he in his house after him? What does he care, ordinarily, about the happiness of his children and descendants? "Apres moi le deluge" is the selfish thought of bad men generally, when they cast a glance at the times which are to follow their decease. The fate of those whom they leave behind them troubles them but little. It would scarcely cause them a pang to know that their posterity would soon be "clean put out." When the number of his months is cut off in the midst; i.e. when his appointed time is come, and he knows that "the number of his months' is accomplished.
Shall any teach God knowledge? seeing he judgeth those that are high.
Verse 22. - Shall any teach God knowledge? Job has been searching the "deep things of God," speculating upon the method of the Divine government of the world, he has perhaps rashly ventured to "rush in where angels fear to tread." Now, however, he cheeks himself with the confession that God's ways are inscrutable, his knowledge far beyond any knowledge possessed by man. Men must not presume to judge him; it is for him to judge them. Seeing he judgeth those that are high. None so exalted, none so advanced in wisdom and knowledge, none so venturesome in sounding depths that they cannot fathom, but God is above them, judges them, knows their hearts, and, according to his infallible wisdom, condemns or approves them. This is a chastening thought, and its effect on Job is to make him contract his sails, and, leaving the empyrean, content himself with s lower flight. Previously he has maintained, as if he were admitted to the Divine counsels, that the prosperity of the wicked was a rule of God's government. Now he goes no further than to say that there is no rule discoverable. Happiness and misery are dispensed - as far as man can see - on no definite principle, and, at the end, one lot happens to all: all go down into the tomb, and lie in the dust, and the worms devour them (vers. 23-26).
One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet.
Verse 23. - One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet. Some continue healthy and vigorous in body, peaceful and satisfied in mind, up to the very moment of their departure (comp. ver. 13, "They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave").
His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow.
Verse 24. - His breasts are full of milk; rather, his milk-pails, as in the margin. The main wealth of the time being cattle, the man whose milk-pails are always full is the prosperous man. And his bones are moistened with marrow. Being thus wealthy and prosperous, his body is fat and well nourished. Verse 24. - And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul. Others have to suffer terribly before death comes to them. Their whole life is wretched, and their spirit is embittered by their misfortunes. And never eateth with pleasure; rather, and never tasteth of good (see the Revised Version).
And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure.
They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them.
Verse 26. - They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them. However different the circumstances of their life, men are alike in their death. One event happens to all. All die, are laid in the dust, and become the prey of worms.
Behold, I know your thoughts, and the devices which ye wrongfully imagine against me.
Verse 27. - Behold, I know your thoughts, and the devices (or, surmisings) which ye wrongfully imagine against me. I know, i.e. what you think of me. I am quite aware that you regard me as having brought my afflictions upon myself by wicked deeds, which I have succeeded in keeping secret. You have not openly stated your surmises. but it has been easy for me to "read between the lines," and understand the true meaning of your insinuations, which are all wrongful and unjust.
For ye say, Where is the house of the prince? and where are the dwelling places of the wicked?
Verse 28. - For ye say, Where is the house of the prince? i.e. "What has become of the house of the powerful man (Job himself)? How is it fallen and gone to decay!" And whore are the dwelling-places (literally, the tent of the habitations) of the wicked! Again Job is intended, although the insult is veiled by the plural form being used. Job supposes that his opponents will meet his statement, that the righteous are afflicted and the wicked prosper, by pointing to his own case as one in which wickedness has been punished.
Have ye not asked them that go by the way? and do ye not know their tokens,
Verse 29. - Have ye not asked them that go by the way? Job refers his opponents to the first comer (τὸν ἐπιόντα) - the merest passer-by. Let them ask his opinion, and see if he does not consider that, as a general rule, the wicked prosper. And do ye not know their tokens? or, their observations; i.e. the conclusions to which they have come upon the subject from their own observation and experience.
That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath.
Verse 30. - These conclusions are now set forth. They are, that the wicked is reserved for (or rather, spared in) the day of destruction, and that they shall be brought forth to (rather, removed out of the way in) the day of wrath. This, according to Job, was the popular sentiment of his time; and, no doubt, there is in all ages a large mass of fleeting opinion to the same effect. Striking examples of wickedness in high places draw attention, and provoke indignation, and are much talked about; whence arises an idea that such cases are common, and ultimately, by an unscientific generalization in the vulgar mind, that they form the rule, and not the exception to the rule. It requires some power of intellect to take a broad and comprehensive view over the whole of human life, and fairly to strike the balance. Such a view seems to have been taken by Bishop Butler (among others); and the conclusion, reached by calm investigation and philosophic thought, is that, on the whole, ever in this life, the balance of advantage rests with the virtuous, who really prosper more than the wicked, have greater and higher satisfactions, escape numerous forms of suffering, and approach more nearly to happiness. An exact apportionment of happiness and misery to desert is a thing that certainly in this life does not take place; but the tendency of virtue to accumulate to itself other goods is clear; and Job's pessimistic view is certainly an untrue one, which we may suspect that he maintained, rather from a love of paradox, and from a desire to puzzle and confuse his friends, than from any conviction of its absolute truth.
Who shall declare his way to his face? and who shall repay him what he hath done?
Verse 31 - Who shall declare his way to his face? rather, Who shall denounce? i.e. Who will be bold enough to tell the rich and powerful man that he is wicked? that his "way," or course of life, is altogether wrong? And who shall repay him what he hath done? Still less will any one be found who will take upon him to attack such a one, to prosecute him in courts or otherwise bring him to condign punishment. Thus, being castigated neither by God nor man, he enjoys complete impunity.
Yet shall he be brought to the grave, and shall remain in the tomb.
Verse 32. - Yet shall he be brought to the grave; rather, he moreover is borne (in pomp) to the grave. Even in death the advantage is still with the wicked man. He is borne in procession to the grave - a mausoleum or a family vault - by a long train of mourners, who weep and lament for him, and pay him funeral honours. The poor virtuous man, on the other hand, is hastily thrust under the soil. And shall remain in in the tomb; or shall keep watch over his tomb. The allusion is probably to the custom, common certainly in Egypt and Phoenicia, of carving a figure of the deceased on the lid of his sarcophagus, to keep as it were watch over the remains deposited within. The figure was sometimes accompanied by an inscription, denouncing curses on those who should dare to violate the tomb or disturb the remains (see 'Records of the Past,' vol. 9. pp. 112-114; and compare the author's 'History of Phoenicia,' pp. 393-395).
The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him, and every man shall draw after him, as there are innumerable before him.
Verse 33. - The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him. In his mausoleum, by the side of the running stream, the very clods of the valley, wherein his tomb is placed, shall be sweet and pleasant to him - death thus losing half its terrors. And all men shall draw after him. Some explain this of the lengthy funeral procession which follows his corpse to the grave, and take the next clause of the multitude, not forming part of the procession, who gather together at the tomb beforehand, waiting to see the obsequies; but, as Rosenmuller remarks, this explanation seems precluded by the previous mention of the funeral procession (ver 32), besides being otherwise unsatisfactory. The real reference is probably to the common topic of consolation implied in the "Omnes eodem cogimur" of Horace. He is happy in his death, or at any rate not unhappy, seeing that he only suffers the common fate. He will draw after him all future men, who will likewise inevitably perish, just as there are innumerable before him, who have travelled the same read and reached the same resting-place.
How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood?
Verse 34. - How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood? Your position, that the godly always prosper, while the wicked are afflicted and brought low, being an absolutely false one, your attempts to console and comfort me are wholly vain and futile. Why continue them? Most commentators consider the second colloquy here to end, and a pause to occur, before Eliphaz resumes the argument.