But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock.
Verses 1-31. - The contrast is now completed. Having drawn the portrait of himself as he was, rich, honoured, blessed with children, flourishing, in favour with both God and man, Job now presents himself to us as he is, despised of men (vers. 1-10), afflicted of God (ver. 11), a prey to vague terrors (ver. 15), tortured with bodily pains (vers. 17, 18), cast off by God (vers. 19, 20), with nothing but death to look for (vers. 23-31). The chapter is the most touching in the whole book. Verse 1. - But now they that are younger than I have me in derision. As Job had been speaking last of the honour in which he was once held, he beans his contrast by chewing how at present he is disgraced and derided. Men who are outcasts and solitary themselves, poor dwellers in caves (ver. 6), who have much ado to keep body and soul together (vers. 3, 4), and not men only but youths, mere boys, scoff at him, make him a song and a byword (ver. 9). nay, "spare not to spit in his face" (ver. 10). There seem to have been in his vicinity weak and debased tribes, generally contemned and looked down upon, regarded as thieves (ver. 5) by their neighbours, and considered to be of base and vile origin (ver. 8), who saw in Job's calamities a rare opportunity for insulting and triumphing over a member of the superior race which had crushed them, and thus tasting, to a certain extent, the sweetness of revenge. Whose fathers I would have disdained (rather, I disdained) to have set with the dogs of my flock. Job had not thought their fathers worthy of employing even as the lowest class of herdsmen, those reckoned on a par with the sheep-dogs.
Yea, whereto might the strength of their hands profit me, in whom old age was perished?
Verse 2. - Yes, whereto might the strength of their hands profit me? Men, who had no such strength in their hands as to yield an employer any profit - poor, weak creatures, in whom old age (rather, manly vigour) was perished. An effete race seems to be pointed at, without strength or stamina, nerveless, spiritless, "destined to early decay and premature death;" but how they had sunk into such a condition is not apparent. Too often such remanents are merely tribes physically weak, whom more powerful ones have starved and stunted, driving them into the least productive regions, and in every way making life hard for them.
For want and famine they were solitary; fleeing into the wilderness in former time desolate and waste.
Verse 3. - For want and famine they were solitary; rather, they were gaunt (see the Revised Version). Compare the descriptions given to us of the native races of Central Africa by Sir S. Baker, Speke, Grant, Stanley, and others. Fleeing into the wilderness; rather, gnawing the wilderness; i.e. feeding on such dry and sapless roots and fruits as the wilderness produces. In former time desolate and waste; or, on the eve of wasteness and desolation.
Who cut up mallows by the bushes, and juniper roots for their meat.
Verse 4. - Who cut up mallows by the bushes. One of the plants on which they feed is the malluch, not really a "mallow," but probably the Atriplex halimus which is "a shrub from four to five feet high, with many thick branches; the leaves are rather sour to the taste; the flowers are purple, and very small; it grows on the sea-coast in Greece, Arabia, Syria, etc., and belongs to the natural order Chenopodiace" (see Smith's 'Dict. of the Bible,' vol. 2. p. 215). And juniper roots for their meat. Most moderns regard the rothen as the Genista monosperma, which is a kind of broom. It is a leguminous plant, having a white flower. and grows plentifully in the Sinaitic desert, in Palestine, Syria, and Arabia. The root is very bitter, and would only be used as food under extreme pressure, but the fruit is readily eaten by sheep, and the roots would, no doubt, yield some nourishment (see Dr. Cunningham Geikie's work,' The Holy Land and the Bible,' vol. 1. p. 258).
They were driven forth from among men, (they cried after them as after a thief;)
Verse 5. - They were driven forth from among men. Weak races retreat before strong ones, who occupy their lands, and whose will they do not dare to dispute. They are not intentionally "driven out," for the strong raecs would gladly make them their drudges; but they retire into the most inaccessible regions, as the primitive population has done in India and elsewhere. They cried after them as after a thief. Outcast tribes naturally, and almost necessarily, become robber-tribes. Deprived of their productive lands, and driven into rocky deserts, want makes them thieves and marauders. Then those who have made them what they are vilify and decry them.
To dwell in the clifts of the valleys, in caves of the earth, and in the rocks.
Verse 6. - To dwell in the cliffs cf. the valleys; of in the clefts (Revised Version). Western Asia is full of rocky regions, seamed with deep gorges and clefts, the walls of which rise abruptly or in terraces, and are themselves pierced with caves and cracks. The tract about Petra is, perhaps, the most remarkable of these regions; but there are many others which closely resemble it. These places afford refuges to weak and outcast tribes, who hide in them, either in caves of the earth, or in the rocks. The Greeks called these unfortunates "Troglodytes"(Herod., 4:183; Strabo, 16. p. 1102; Diod. Sic., 3:14.etc.), the Hebrews "Horim," from חור "a hole."
Among the bushes they brayed; under the nettles they were gathered together.
Verse 7. - Among the bushes they brayed. The sounds which came from their mouths sounded to Job less like articulate speech than like the braying of asses. Compare what Herodotus says of his Troglodytes: "Their language is unlike that of any other people; it sounds like the screeching of bats." Under the nettles (or, wild vetches) they were gathered together; rather, huddled together.
They were children of fools, yea, children of base men: they were viler than the earth.
Verse 8. - They were children of fools. The physical degeneracy whereof Job has been speaking is accompanied in most instances by extreme mental incapacity. Some of the degraded races cannot count beyond four or five; others have not more than two or three hundred words in their vocabulary. They are all of low intellect, though occasionally extremely artful and cunning. Yea, children of base men; literally, children of no name. Their race had never made for itself any name, but was unknown and insignificant. They were viler than the earth; rather, they were scourged out of the land. This must not be understood literally. It is a rhetorical repetition of what had been already said in ver. 5. The expression may be compared with the tale in Herodotus, that when the Scythian slaves rebelled and took up arms, the Scythians scourged them into subjection (Herod., 4:3, 4).
And now am I their song, yea, I am their byword.
Verse 9. - And now am I their song, yea, I am their byword (see above, Job 17:6; and comp. Psalm 69:12).
They abhor me, they flee far from me, and spare not to spit in my face.
Verse 10. - They abhor me, they flee far from me; rather, they abhor me, they stoat aloof from me (see the Revised Version). And spare not to spit in my face. This has generally been taken literally, as it seems to have been by the LXX. But it, perhaps, means no more than that they did not refrain from spitting in Job's presence (see Professor Lee's ' Book of Job,' p. 422).
Because he hath loosed my cord, and afflicted me, they have also let loose the bridle before me.
Verse 11. - Because he hath loosed my cord. "He," in this passage, can only be God; and thus Job turns here to some extent from his human persecutors to his great Afflicter, the Almighty. God has "loosened his cord" i.e. has relaxed his vital fibre, taken away his strength, reduced him to helplessness. Hence, and hence only, do the persecutors dare to crowd around him and insult him. And afflicted me. God has afflicted him with blow after blow - with impoverishment (Job 1:14-17), with bereavement (Job 1:18, 19), with a sore malady (Job 2:7). They have also let loose the bridle before me. This has given his persecutors the courage to east aside all restraint, and lead him with insult after insult (vers. 1, 9, 10).
Upon my right hand rise the youth; they push away my feet, and they raise up against me the ways of their destruction.
Verse 12. - Upon my right hand rise the youth; literally, the brood; i.e. the rabble - a crowd of half-grown youths and boys, such as collects in almost any town to hoot and insult a respectable person who is in trouble and helpless. In the East such gatherings are very common and exceedingly annoying. They push away my feet; i.e. they try to throw me down as I walk. They raise up against me the ways of their destruction. They place obstacles in my way, impede my steps, thwart me in every way that they find possible.
They mar my path, they set forward my calamity, they have no helper.
Verse 13. - They mar my path; i.e. interfere with and frustrate whatever I am bent on doing. They set forward my calamity, Professor Lee translates, "They profit by my ruin." They have no helper. If the text is sound, we must understand, "They do all this, they dare all this, even though they have no powerful men to aid them." But it is suspected that there is some corruption in the passage, and that the original gave the sense which is found in the Vulgate," There is none to help me."
They came upon me as a wide breaking in of waters: in the desolation they rolled themselves upon me.
Verse 14. - They came upon me as a wide breaking in of waters; i.e. with a force like that of water when it has burst through a bank or dam. In the desolation they relied themselves upon me. Like the waves of the sea, which follow one after another.
Terrors are turned upon me: they pursue my soul as the wind: and my welfare passeth away as a cloud.
Verse 15. - Terrors are turned upon me Job seems to pass here from his human persecutors to his internal sufferings of mind and body. "Terrors' take hold upon him. He experiences in his sleep horrible dreams and visions (see Job 7:14), and even in his waking hours he is haunted by fears. The "terrors of God do set themselves in array against him" (Job 6:4). God seems to him as One that watches, and "tries him every moment" (Job 7:18), seeking occasion against him, and never leaving him an instant's peace (Job 7:19). These terrors, he says, pursue my soul as the wind; literally, pursue mine honour, or my dignity. They flutter the calm composure that befits a godly man, disturb it, shake it, and for a time at any rate, cause terrors and shrinkings of soul. Under these circumstances, my welfare passeth away as a cloud. It is not only my happiness, but my real welfare, that is gone. Body and soul are equally in suffering - the one shaken with fears and disturbed with doubts and apprehensions; the other smitten with a sore disease, so that there is no soundness in it.
And now my soul is poured out upon me; the days of affliction have taken hold upon me.
Verse 16. - And now my soul is poured out upon me (comp. Psalm 42:4). My very soul seems to be gone out of me. "I faint and swoon away, because of my fears" (Lee). The days of affliction have taken hold upon me. All my prosperity is gone, and I am come to "the days of affliction." These "take hold on me," and, as it were, possess me.
My bones are pierced in me in the night season: and my sinews take no rest.
Verse 17. - My bones are pierced in me in the night season. In Elephantiasis anaesthetics says Dr. Erasmus Wilson, "when the integument is insensible, there are deep-seated burning pains, sometimes of a bone or joint, and sometimes of the vertebral column. These pains are greatest at night; they prevent sleep, and give rise to restless,less and frightful dreams" (Quain's 'Dictionary of Medicine,' vol. 1. p. 817). And my sinews take no rest; rather, my gnawings, or my gnawing pains (see the Revised Version; and comp. ver. 3, where the same word is properly rendered by "gnawing [the wilderness]").
By the great force of my disease is my garment changed: it bindeth me about as the collar of my coat.
Verse 18. - By the great force of my disease is my garment changed; or, disfigured. The purulent discharge from his ulcers disfigured and made filthy his garment, which stiffened as the discharge dried, and clung to his frame. It bindeth me about as the collar of my coat. The whole garment clung to his body as closely as it is usual for a mall's collar, or "neck-hole" (Professor Lee), to cling about his throat.
He hath cast me into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes.
Verse 19. - He (i.e. God) hath cast me into the mire. "The mire" here is the lowest depth of misery and degradation (comp. Psalm 40:2; Psalm 69:2, 14). Job feels himself cast into it by God, but nevertheless does not forsake him nor cease to call upon him (vers. 20-23). And I am become like dust and ashes; i.e. unclean, impure, offensive to my fellow-men, an object of dislike and disdain.
I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not.
Verse 20. - I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me. It is the worst of all calamities to be God-forsaken, as Job believed himself to be, because he had no immediate answer to his prayers. The bitterest cry upon the cross was "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" But no good man is ever really God-forsaken, and no rightful and earnest prayers are ever really unheard. Job "had need of patience" (Hebrews 10:36), patient as he was (James 5:11). He should have trusted God more, and complained less. I stand up, and thou regardest me not; rather, I stand up, as the manner of the Jews usually was in prayer (Luke 18:11), and thou lookest at me (see the Revised Version). Job's complaint is that, when he stands up and stretches out his hands to God in prayer, God simply looks on, does nothing, gives him no help.
Thou art become cruel to me: with thy strong hand thou opposest thyself against me.
Verse 21. - Thou art become cruel to me; literally, thou art turned to be cruel to me. In other words, "Thou art changed to me, and art become cruel to me." Job never forgets that for long years God was gracious and kind to him, "made him and fashioned him together round about," "clothed him with skin and flesh, and fenced him with bones and sinews," "granted him life and favour, and by his visitation preserved his spirit" (Job 10:9-12); but the recollection brings, perhaps, as much of pain. as of pleasure with it. One of our poets says -
"Joy's recollection is no longer joy;
But sorrow's memory is a sorrow still." At any rate, the contrast between past joy and present suffering adds a pang to the latter. With thy strong hand thou opposest thyself against me; literally, with the might of thy hand dost thou persecute me (see the Revised Version). "Haec noster irreverentius" (Schultens); comp. ch. 19:6-13.
Thou liftest me up to the wind; thou causest me to ride upon it, and dissolvest my substance.
Verse 22. - Thou liftest me up to the wind; thou tensest me to ride upon it; i.e. thou makest me to be storm-tossed. I am as it were a straw caught up by a whirlwind, and borne hither and thither in the wide regions of space, unknowing whither I go. I am treated as I have described the wicked man to be treated (Job 27:20, 21). And dissolvest my substance. "Dissolvest me entirely" (Professor Lee); dissolvest me in the storms (Revised Version).
For I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living.
Verse 23. - For I know that thou wilt bring me to death. Job has all along expressed his conviction that he has nothing to look for but death. He feels within himself the seeds of a mortal malady; for such, practically, was elephantiasis in Job's time. He is devoid of any expectation of recovery. Death must come upon him, he thinks, ere long; and then God will bring him to the house appointed for all living. This, as he has already explained (Job 10:21, 22), is "the land of darkness and the shadow of death, a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness." It is a melancholy prospect; but we must regard it as cheered by the hope of an ultimate resurrection, such as seems indicated, if not absolutely proclaimed, in Job 19:25-27 (see the comment on that passage).
Howbeit he will not stretch out his hand to the grave, though they cry in his destruction.
Verse 24. - Howbeit he will not stretch out his hand to the grave, though they cry in his destruction. This is one of the most obscure passages in the entire Book of Job, and scarcely any two independent commentators understand it alike. To give all the different renderings, and discuss them, would be an almost endless task, and one over-wearisome to the reader. It will, per-Imps, suffice to select the one which to the present writer appears the most satisfactory. This is the rendering of Professor Stanley Leathes, who suggests the following: "Howbeit God will not put forth his hand to bring a man to death and the grave, when there is earnest prayer for them, not even when he himself hath caused the calamity." The same writer further explains the passage as follows: "I know that thou wilt dissolve and destroy me, and bring me to the grave (ver. 23), though thou wilt not do so when I pray to thee to release me by death from my sufferings. Thou wilt surely do so [some time or other], but not in my time, or according to my will, but only in thine own appointed time, and as thou seest fit."
Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? was not my soul grieved for the poor?
Verse 25. - Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? i.e. do I claim a sympathy which I do not deserve? When men wept and entreated me, did not I do my best to give them the aid which they requested? Did not I weep for them, and intercede with God for them? Was not my soul grieved for the poor? (comp. Job 29:12-17; Job 31:16-22).
When I looked for good, then evil came unto me: and when I waited for light, there came darkness.
Verse 26. - When I looked for flood, then evil came unto me. Job was "looking for good," expecting fully the continuance of his great wealth and prosperity, when the sudden shock of calamity fell upon him It was wholly unexpected, and therefore the harder to bear. And when I waited for light, there came darkness. This may refer to periods, after his calamities began, when he had hopes that his prayers would be answered, and a rest or pause, an interval of repose, be granted him (Job 9:34; Job 10:20), but when his hopes were disappointed, and the darkness closed in upon him thicker and murkier than ever.
My bowels boiled, and rested not: the days of affliction prevented me.
Verse 27. - My bowels boiled, and rested not; rather, boil and rest not (see the Revised Version). It is his present condition of which Job speaks from ver. 27 to ver. 31. His "entrails," i.e. his whole innermost nature, is disturbed, tormented, thrown into confusion. The days of affliction prevented me; rather, are come upon me (comp. ver. 16).
I went mourning without the sun: I stood up, and I cried in the congregation.
Verses 28, 29. - I went mourning without the sun; rather, I go about blackened, but not by the sun. Grief and suffering, according to Oriental notions, blackened the face (see Lamentations 4:8; Lamentations 5:10; Psalm 119:83; and below, ver. 30). I stood up, and I cried in the congregation; rather, I stand up in the assembly and cry for help (see the Revised Version). Job feels this as the most pitiable feature in his ease. He is broken down; he can no longer endure. At first he could sit in silence for seven days (Job 2:13); now he is reduced to uttering complaints and lamentations. He is a brother, not to dragons, but to jackals. His laments are like the long melancholy cries that those animals emit during the silence of the night, so well known to Eastern travellers. He adds further that he is a companion, not to owls, but to ostriches; which, like jackals, have a melancholy cry (see Micah 1:8; and comp. Dr. Hooker's article in Smith's 'Dict. of the Bible,' vol. 2. p. 650).
I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls.
My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat.
Verse 30. - My skin is black upon me (see the comment on vers. 28, 29, ad init.), and my bones are burned with heat. The "burning pains" in the bones, which characterize at least one form of elephantiasis, have been already mentioned (see the comment on ver. 17). In ordinary elephantiasis there is often "intense pain in the lumbar region and groin," which the patient might think to be in his bones.
My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep.
Verse 31. - My harp also is turned to mourning. The result of all is that Job's harp is laid aside, either literally or figuratively. Its music is replaced by the sound of mourning (see vers. 28, 29). And my organ (or rather, my pipe) into the voice of them that weep. The pipe also is no longer sounded in his presence; he hears only the voice of weeping and lamentation. Thus appropriately ends the long dirge in which he has bewailed his miserable fare.