Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered - See the notes at Job 2:11.
If we assay to commune with thee - Margin, A word. Hebrew - הנסה דבר dâbâr hanı̂câh. "May we attempt a word with thee?" This is a gentle and polite apology at the beginning of his speech - an inquiry whether he would take it as unkind if one should adventure on a remark in the way of argument. Jahn, in characterizing the part which Job's three friends respectively take in the controversy, says: "Eliphaz is superior to the others in discernment and delicacy. He begins by addressing Job mildly; and it is not until irritated by opposition that he reckons him among the wicked."
Wilt thou be grieved? - That is, Wilt thou take it ill? Will it be offensive to you, or weary you, or tire your patience? The word used here (לאה lâ'âh) means to labor, to strive, to weary, to exhaust; and hence, to be weary, to try one's patience, to take anything ill. Here it is the language of courtesy, and is designed to introduce the subsequent remarks in the kindest manner. Eliphaz knew that he was about to make observations which might implicate Job, and he introduced them in as kind a manner as possible. There is nothing abrupt or harsh in his beginning. All is courteous in the highest degree, and is a model for debaters.
But who can withhold himself from speaking? - Margin, "Refrain from words." That is, "the subject is so important, the sentiments advanced by Job are so extraordinary, and the principles involved are so momentous, that it is impossible to refrain." There is much delicacy in this. He did not begin to speak merely to make a speech. He professes that be would not have spoken, if he had not been pressed by the importance of the subject, and had not been full of matter. To a great extent, this is a good rule to adopt: not to make a speech unless there are sentiments which weigh upon the mind, and convictions of duty which cannot be repressed.
Behold, thou hast instructed many - That is, thou hast instructed many how they ought to bear trials, and hast delivered important maxims to them on the great subject of the divine government. This is not designed to be irony, or to wound the feelings of Job. It is intended to recall to his mind the lessons which he had inculcated on others in times of calamity, and to show him how important it was now that he should reduce his own lessons to practice, and show their power in sustaining himself.
Thou hast strengthened the weak hands - That is, thou hast aided the feeble. The hands are the instruments by which we accomplish anything, and when they are weak, it is an indication of helplessness.
Thy words have upholden him that was falling - That is, either falling into sin, or sinking under calamity and trial. The Hebrew will bear either interpretation, but the connection seems to require us to understand it of one who was sinking under the weight of affliction.
The feeble knees - Margin, "bowing." The knees support the frame. If they fail, we are feeble and helpless. Hence, their being weak, is so often used in the Bible to denote imbecility. The sense is, that Job, in the days of his own prosperity, had exhorted others to submit to God; had counselled them in such a manner as actually to give them support, and that the same views should now have sustained him which he had so successfully employed in comforting others.
But now it is come upon thee - That is, calamity; or, the same trial which others have had, and in which thou hast so successfully exhorted and comforted them. A similar sentiment to that which is here expressed, is found in Terence:
Facile omnes, cum valemus, recta consilia aegrotis damus.
And. ii. i. 9.
It toucheth thee - That is, affliction has come to yourself. It is no longer a thing about which you can coolly sit down and reason, and on which you can deliver formal exhortations.
And thou art troubled - Instead of evincing the calm submission which you have exhorted others to do, your mind is now disturbed and restless. You vent your complaints against the day of your birth, and you charge God with injustice. A sentiment resembling this, occurs in Terence, as quoted by Codurcus:
Nonne id flagitium est, te aliis consilium dare,
Foris sapere, tibi non posse te auxiliarier?
Something similar to this not unfrequently occurs. It is an easy thing to give counsel to others, and to exhort them to be submissive in trial. It is easy to utter general maxims, and to suggest passages of Scripture on the subject of affliction, and even to impart consolation to others; but when trial comes to ourselves, we often fail to realize the power of those truths to console us. Ministers of the gospel are called officially to impart such consolations, and are enabled to do it. But when the trial comes on them, and when they ought by every solemn consideration to be able to show the power of those truths in their own case, it sometimes happens that they evince the same impatience and want of submission which they had rebuked in others; and that whatever truth and power there may have been in their instructions, they themselves little felt their force. It is often necessary that he who is appointed to comfort the afflicted, should be afflicted himself. Then he can "weep with those who weep;" and hence, it is that ministers of the gospel are called quite as much as any other class of people to pass through deep waters. Hence, too, the Lord Jesus became so pre-eminent in suffering, that he might be touched with the feelings of our infirmity, and be qualified to sympathize with us when we are tried; Heb 2:14, Heb 2:17-18; Heb 4:15-16. It is exceedingly important that when they whose office it is to comfort others are afflicted, they should exhibit an example of patience and submission. Then is the time to try their religion; and then they have an opportunity to convince others that the doctrines which they preach are adapted to the condition of weak and suffering man.
Is not this thy fear, thy confidence? - There has been considerable variety in the interpretation of this verse. Dr. Good renders it,
Is thy piety then nothing? thy hope
Thy contidence? or the uprightness of thy ways?
Noyes renders it,
Is not thy fear of God thy hope,
And the uprightness of thy ways the confidence?
Rosenmuller translates it,
Is not in thy piety and integrity of life
Thy confidence and hope?
In the Vulgate it is translated, "Where is thy fear, thy fortitude, thy patience, and the integrity of thy ways?" In the Septuagint, "Is not thy fear founded on folly, and thy hope, and the evil of thy way?"
Castellio translates it,
Nimirum tanturn religionis, quantum expectationis;
Quantum spei, tanturn habebas integritatis morum;
And the idea according to his version is, that he had as much religion as was prompted by the hope of reward; that his piety and integrity were sustained only by his hope, and were not the result of principle; and that of course his religion was purely selfish. If this be the sense, it is designed to be a reproach, and accords with the charge in the question of Satan Job 1:9, "Doth Job fear God for naught?" Rosenmuller adopts the opinion of Ludovicus de Dieu, and explains it as meaning," You seemed to be a man fearing God, and a man of integrity, and you were led hence to cherish high hopes and expectations; but now you perceive that you were deceived. Your piety was not sincere and genuine, for the truly pious do not thus suffer. Remember therefore that no one perishes being innocent." Codurcus renders it, "All thy hope was placed in thy religion, and thy expectation in the rectitude of thy ways; consider now, who perishes being innocent?" The true sentiment of the passage has undoubtedly been expressed by Good, Noyes. and Codurcus. The Hebrew rendered thy fear יראתך yârê'tek means doubtless religious fear, veneration, or piety, and is a word synonymous with εὐλάβεια eulabeia, εὐσέβεια eusebeia, religion. The sentiment is, that his confidence or hope was placed in his religion - in his fear of God, his respect and veneration for him, and in reliance on the equity of his government. This had been his stay in times past; and this was the subject which was naturally brought before him then. Eliphaz asks whether he should not put his trust in that God still, and not reproach him as unequal and unjust in his administration.
The uprightness of thy ways - Hebrew, The perfection of thy ways. Note Job 1:1. The idea is, that his hope was founded on the integrity of his life, and on the belief that the upright would be rewarded. The passage may be rendered,
Is not thy confidence and thy expectation
Founded on thy religion,
And on the integrity of thy ways?
This is the general sentiment which Eliphaz proceeds to illustrate and apply. If this was a just principle, it was natural to ask whether the trials of Job did not prove that he had no well grounded reason for such confidence.
Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? - The object of this question is manifestly to show to Job the inconsistency of the feelings which he had evinced. He claimed to be a righteous man. He had instructed and counselled many others. He had professed confidence in God, and in the integrity of his own ways. It was to have been expected that one with such pretensions would have evinced resignation in the time of trial, and would have been sustained by the recollection of his integrity. The fact, therefore, that Job had thus "fainted," and had given way to impatient expressions, showed that he was conscious that he had not been altogether what he had professed to be. "There must have been," is the meaning of Eliphaz, "something wrong, when such calamities come upon a man, and when his faith gives way in such a manner. It would be contrary to all the analogy of the divine dealings to suppose that such a man as Job had professed to be, could be the subject of overwhelming judgments; for who, I ask, ever perished, being innocent? It is a settled principle of the divine government, that no one ever perishes who is innocent, and that great calamities are a proof of great guilt."
This declaration contains the essence of all the positions held by Eliphaz and his colleagues in this argument. This they considered as so established that no one could call it in question, and on the ground of this they inferred that one who experienced such afflictions, no matter what his professions or his apparent piety had been, could not be a good man. This was a point about which the minds of the friends of Job were settled; and though they seem to have been disposed to concede that some afflictions might happen to good men, yet when sudden and overwhelming calamities such as they now witnessed came upon them, they inferred that there must have been corresponding guilt. Their reasoning on this subject - which runs through the book - perplexed but did not satisfy Job, and was obviously based on a wrong principle - The word "perished" here means the same as cut off, and does not differ much from being overwhelmed with calamity. The whole sentence has a proverbial cast; and the sense is, that when persons were suddenly cut off it proved that they were not innocent. Job, therefore, it was inferred, could not be a righteous man in these unusual and very special trials.
Or where were the righteous cut off? - That is, by heavy judgment; by any special and direct visitation. Eliphaz could not mean that the righteous did not die - for he could not be insensible to that fact; but he must have referred to sudden calamities. This kind of reasoning is common - that when men are afflicted with great and sudden calamities they must be especially guilty. It prevailed in the time of the Savior, and it demanded all his authority to settle the opposite principle; see Luk 13:1-5. It is that into which people naturally and easily fall; and it required much observation, and long experience, and enlarged views of the divine administration, to draw the true lines on this subject. To a certain extent, and in certain instances, calamity certainly does prove that there is special guilt. Such was the case with the old world that was destroyed by the deluge; such was the case with the cities of the plain; such is the case in the calamities that come upon the drunkard, and such too in the special curse produced by indulgence in licentiousness. But this principle does not run through all the calamities which befall people. A tower may fall on the righteous as well as the wicked; an earthquake may destroy the innocent as well as the guilty; the pestilence sweeps away the holy and the unholy, the profane and the pure, the man who fears God and him who fears him not; and the inference is now seen to be too broad when we infer, as the friends of Job did, that no righteous man is cut off by special calamity, or that great trials demonstrate that such sufferers are less righteous than others are. Judgments are not equally administered in this world, and hence, the necessity for a future world of retribution; see the notes at Luk 13:2-3.
Even as I have seen - Eliphaz appeals to his own observation, that people who had led wicked lives were suddenly cut off. Instances of this kind he might doubtless have observed - as all may have done. But his inference was too broad when he concluded that all the wicked are punished in this manner. It is true that wicked people are thus cut off and perish; but it is not true that all the wicked are thus punished in this life, nor that any of the righteous are not visited with similar calamities. His reasoning was of a kind that is common in the world - that of drawing universal conclusions from premises that are too narrow to sustain them, or from too few carefully observed facts.
They that plow iniquity - This is evidently a proverbial expression; and the sense is, that as people sow they reap. If they sow wheat, they reap wheat; if barley, they reap barley; if tares, they reap tares. Thus, in Pro 22:8 :
"He that soweth iniquity shall reap also vanity."
So in Hos 8:7 :
"For they have sown the wind,
And they shall reap the whirlwind:
It hath no stalk; the bud shall yield no meal
If so be it yield, strangers shall swallow it up"
Thus, in the Persian adage:
"He that planteth thorns shall not gather roses."
Ἄτης ἄρουρα Θάνατον ἐκκαρπίζεται.
Atēs aroura thanaton ekkarpizetai.
The field of wrong brings forth death as its fruit.
The meaning of Eliphaz is, that people who form plans of wickedness must reap appropriate fruits. They cannot expect that an evil life will produce ultimate happiness.
By the blast of God - That is, by the judgment of God. The figure is taken from the hot and fiery wind, which, sweeping over a field of grain, dries it up and destroys it. In like manner Eliphaz says the wicked perish before God.
And by the breath of his nostrils - By his anger. The Scripture often speaks of breathing out indignation and wrath; Act 9:1; Psa 27:12; Sa2 22:16; Psa 18:15; Psa 33:6; notes at Isa 11:4; notes at Isa 30:28; notes at Isa 33:11. The figure was probably taken from the violent breathing which is evinced when the mind is under any strong emotion, especially anger. It refers here to any judgment by which God cuts off the wicked, but especially to sudden calamity - like a tempest or the pestilence.
The roaring of the lion - This is evidently a continuation of the argument in the preceding verses, and Eliphaz is stating what had occurred under his own observation. The expressions have much of a proverbial cast, and are designed to convey in strong poetic language what he supposed usually occurred. There can be no reasonable doubt here that he refers to men in these verses, for
(1) It is not true that the lion is destroyed in this manner. No more frequent calamity comes upon him than upon other animals, and perhaps he is less frequently overcome than others.
(2) Such a supposition only would make the remarks of Eliphaz pertinent to his argument. He is speaking of the divine government in regard to wicked people, and he uses this language to convey the idea that they are often destroyed.
(3) It is common in the Scriptures, as in all Oriental writings, and indeed in Greek and Roman poetry, to compare unjust, cruel, and rapacious men with wild animals; see the notes at Isa. 11; compare Psa 10:9; Psa 58:6.
Eliphaz, therefore, here by the use of the words rendered lion, means to say that men of savage temper, and cruel dispositions, and untamed ferocity, were cut off by the judgments of God. It is remarkable that he employs so many words to designate the lion in these two verses. No less than five are employed, all of them probably denoting originally some special and striking characteristics of the lion. It is also an illustration of the copiousness of the Hebrew language in this respect, and is a specimen of the custom of speaking in Arabia. The Arabic language is so copious that the Arabs boast that they have four hundred terms by which to designate the lion. A large part of them are, indeed, figurative expressions, derived from some quality of the animal, but they show a much greater copiousness in the language than can be found in Western dialects. The words used here by Eliphaz are about all the terms by which the "lion" is designated in the Scriptures. They are אריה 'aryêh, שׁחל shachal, כפיר kephı̂yr, לישׁ layı̂sh, and לביא lâbı̂y'. The word שׁחץ shachats elations, pride, is given to the lion, Job 28:8; Job 41:34, from his proud gait; and perhaps the word אריאל 'ărı̂y'êl, Sa1 17:10; Ch1 11:22. But Eliphaz has exhausted the usual epithets of the lion in the Hebrew language. It may be of some interest to inquire, in a few words, into the meaning of those which he has used.
The roaring of the lion - The word used here (אריה 'aryêh) or in a more usual form (ארי 'ărı̂y), is from, ארה 'ârâh, to pull, to pluck, and is probably given to the lion as the puller in pieces, on account of the mode in which he devours his prey, Bochart, however, contends that the name is not from, ארה, because, says he, the lion does not bite or crop his food like grass, which, he says, the word properly means, but is from the verb ראה râ'âh, to see, because, says he, the lion is the most keen-sighted of the animals; or rather from the fire of his eyes - the terror which the glance of his eye inspires. So the Greeks derive the word lion, λέοντα leonta, from λάω laō, to see. See Beehart, Hieroz. Lib. iii. c. 1, p. 715.
The voice of the fierce lion - The word here translated "fierce lion" (שׁחל shı̂chal) is from שׁחל shachal, to roar, and hence, given for an obvious reason to a lion. Bochart understands by it the swarthy lion of Syria; the lion which the Arabians call adlamon. This lion, says he, is dark and dingy. The usual color of the lion is yellow, but Oppian says that the lion in Aethiopia is sometimes found of a dark color, μελανόχροος melanochroos; see Bochart, Hieroz. Lib. i. c. 1, p. 717, 718.
The teeth of the young lions - The word used here, כפיר kephı̂yr, means a "young lion already weaned, and beginning to hunt for prey." - Gesenius. It thus differs from the גוּר gûr, which means a whelp, still under the care of the dam; see Eze 19:2-3; compare Bochart, Hieroz. Lib. iii. c. 1, p. 714. Some expression is here evidently to be understood that shall be applicable to the voice, or the roaring of the lion. Noyes supplies the words, "are silenced." The words "are broken" can be applicable only to the teeth of the young lions. It is unnatural to say that the "roaring" and the "voice" are broken. The sense is, that the lion roars in vain, and that calamity and destruction come notwithstanding his growl; and as applied to men, it means that men who resemble the lion are disappointed and punished.
The old lion - The word used here, לישׁ layı̂sh, denotes a lion, "so called," says Gesenius," from his strength and bravery," or, according to Urnbreit, the lion in the strength of his old ago; see an examination of the word in Bochart, Hieroz. P. i. Lib. iii. c. 1, p. 720.
Perisheth for lack of prey - Not withstanding his strength and power. That is, such a thing sometimes occurs. Eliphaz could not maintain that it always happened. The meaning seems to be, that as the strength of the lion was no security that he would not perish for want, so it was with men who resembled the lion in the strength of mature age.
And the stout lion's whelps - The word here rendered "stout lion," לביא lâbı̂y', is probably derived from the obsolete root לבא lâbâ', "to roar," and it is given to the lion on account of his roaring. Bochart, Hieroz. P. i. Lib. iii. c. 1. p. 719, supposes that the word means a lioness. These words complete the description of the lion, and the sense is, that the lion in no condition, or whatever name indicative of strength might be given to it, bad power to resist God when he came forth for its destruction. Its roaring, its strength, its teeth, its rage, were all in vain.
Are scattered abroad - That is, when the old lion is destroyed, the young ones flee, and are unable to offer resistance. So it is with men. When the divine judgments come upon them, they have no power to make successful resistance. God has them under control, and he comes forth at his pleasure to restrain and subdue them, as he does the wild beasts of the desert, though so fearful and formidable.
Now a thing - To confirm his views, Eliphaz appeals to a vision of a most remarkable character which he says he had had on some former occasion on the very point under consideration. The object of the vision was, to show that mortal man could not be more just than God, and that such was the purity of the Most High, that he put no confidence comparatively even in the angels. The design for which this is introduced here is, evidently, to reprove what he deemed the unfounded self-confidence of Job. He supposed that he had been placing an undue reliance on his own integrity; that he had not a just view of the infinite holiness of God, and had not been aware of the true state of his own heart. The highest earthly excellency, is the meaning of Eliphaz, fades away before God, and furnishes no ground for self-reliance. It is so imperfect, so feeble, so far from what it should be, that it is no wonder that a God so holy and exalted should disregard it: He designed also, by describing this vision, to reprove Job for seeming to be more wise than his Maker in arraigning him for his dealings, and uttering the language of complaint. The word "thing" here means a word (Hebrew), a communication, a revelation.
Was secretly brought to me - Margin, "by stealth." The Hebrew word (גנב gânab) means "to steal," to take away by stealth, or secretly. Here it means, that the oracle was brought to him as it were by stealth. It did not come openly and plainly, but in secrecy and silence - as a thief approaches a dwelling. An expression similar to this occurs in Lucian, in Amor. p. 884, as quoted by Schultens, κλεπτομένη λαλιὰ καί ψιθυρισμός kleptomenē lalia kai psithurismos.
And mine ear received a little thereof - Dr. Good translates this, "And mine ear received a whisper along with it." Noyes, "And mine ear caught a whisper thereof." The Vulgate, "And my ear received secretly the pulsations of its whisper" - venas susurri ejus. The word rendered "a little," שׁמץ shemets, occurs only here and in Job 26:14, where it is also rendered little. It means, according to Gesenius, a transient sound rapidly uttered and swiftly passing away. Symm. ψιθυρισμός psithurismos - a whisper. According to Castell, it means a sound confused and feeble, such as one receives when a man is speaking in a hurried manner, and when he cannot catch all that is said. This is probably the sense here. Eliphaz means to say that he did not get all that might have been said in the vision. It occurred in such circumstances, and what was said was delivered in such a manner, that he did not hear it all distinctly.
But he beard an important sentiment, which he proceeds to apply to the case of Job. - It has been made a question whether Eliphaz really had such a vision, or whether he only supposed such a case, and whether the whole representation is not poetic. The fair construction is, that he had had such a vision. In such a supposition there is nothing inconsistent with the mode in which the will of God was made known in ancient times; and in the sentiments uttered there is nothing inconsistent with what might have been spoken by a celestial visitant on such an occasion. All that was spoken was in accordance with the truth everywhere revealed in the Scriptures, though Eliphaz perverted it to prove that Job was insincere and hypocritical. The general sentiment in the oracle was, that man was not pure and holy compared with his Maker; that no one was free from guilt in his sight; that there was no virtue in man in which God could put entire confidence; and that, therefore, all were subjected to trials and to death. But this general sentiment he proceeds to apply to Job, and regards it as teaching, that since he was overwhelmed with such special afflictions, there must have been some secret sin of which he was guilty, which was the cause of his calamities.
In thoughts - Amidst the tumultuous and anxious thoughts which occur in the night. The Hebrew word rendered thoughts, (שׂעפים śâ‛ı̂phı̂ym), means thoughts which divide and distract the mind.
From the visions of the night - On the meaning of the word visions, see the notes at Isa 1:1. This was a common mode in which the will of God was made known in ancient times. For an extended description of this method of communicating the will of God, the reader may consult my Introduction to Isaiah, Section 7.
When deep sleep falleth on men - The word here rendered deep sleep, תרדמה tardêmâh, commonly denotes a profound repose or slumber brought upon man by divine agency. So Schultens in loc. It is the word used to describe the "deep sleep" which God brought upon Adam when he took from his side a rib to form Eve, Gen 2:21; and that, also, which came upon Abraham, when an horror of great darkness fell upon him; Gen 15:12. It means here profound repose, and the vision which he saw was at that solemn hour when the world is usually locked in slumber. Umbreit renders this, "In the time of thoughts, before the night-visions," and supposes that Eliphaz refers to the time that was especially favorable to meditation and to serious contemplation before the time of sleep and of dreams. In support of this use of the preposition מן mı̂n, he appeals to Hag 2:16, and Noldius Concord. Part. p. 546.
Our common version, however, has probably preserved the true sense of the passage. It is impossible to conceive anything more sublime than this whole description. It was midnight. There was solitude and silence all around. At that fearful hour this vision came, and a sentiment was communicated to Eliphaz of the utmost importance, and fitted to make the deepest possible impression. The time; the quiet; the form of the image; its passing along, and then suddenly standing still; the silence, and then the deep and solemn voice - all were fitted to produce the proroundest awe. So graphic and so powerful is this description, that it would be impossible to read it - and particularly at midnight and alone - without something of the feeling of awe and horror which Eliphaz says it produced on his mind. It is a description which for power has probably never been equalled, though an attempt to describe an apparition from the invisible world has been often made. Virgil has attempted such a description, which, though exceedingly beautiful, is far inferior to this of the Sage of Teman. It is the description of the appearance of the wife of Aeneas:
Infelix simulacrum atque ipsius umbra Crousae
Visa mihi ante oculos, et nora major imago.
Obstupui, steteruntque comae, et vox faucibus haesit.
Aeneid ii. 772.
- "At length she hears,
And sudden through the shades of night appears;
Appears no more Creusa, nor my wife,
But a pale spectre, larger than the life.
Aghast, astonished, and struck dumb with fear,
I stood: like bristles rose my stiffened hair."
In the poems of Ossian, there are several descriptions of apparitions or ghosts, probably more sublime than are to be found in any other uninspired writings. One of the most magnificent of these, is that of the Spirit of Loda, which I will copy, in order that it may be compared with the one before us. "The wan cold moon rose in the east. Sleep dcscended on the youths. Their blue helmets glitter to the beam; the fading fire decays. But sleep did not rest on the king. He rose in the midst of his arms, and slowly ascended the hill, to behold the flame of Sarno's tower. The flame was dim and distant: the moon hid her red flame in the east. A blast came from the mountain; on its wings was the Spirit or loda. He came to his place in his terrors, and shook his dusky spear. His eyes appear like flames in his dark face; his voice is like distant thunder. Fingal advanced his spear amid the night, and raised his voice on high. 'Son of Night, retire: call thy winds, and fly! Why dost thou come to my presence with thy shadowy arms? Do I fear thy gloomy form, spirit of dismal Loda? Weak is thy shield of clouds; feeble is that meteor, thy sword! The blast rolls them together; and thou thyself art lost. Fly from my presence, Son of Night! Call thy winds and fly! ' 'Dost thou force me from my place? ' replied the hollow voice. 'The people bend before me. I turn the battle in the field of the brave. I look on the nations, and they vanish; my nostrils pour the blast of death. I come abroad on the winds; the tempests are before my face, but my dwelling is calm above the clouds; the fields of my rest are pleasant.'" Compare also, the description of the Ghost in Hamlet.
Fear came upon me - Margin, "Met me." The Chaldee Paraphrase renders this, "a tempest," זיקא. The Septuagint, φρίκη frikē - "shuddering," or "horror." The sense is, that he became greatly alarmed at the vision.
Which made all my bones to shake - Margin, as in Hebrew, the multitude of my bones. A similar image is employed by Virgil,
Obstupuere auimis, gelidusque per ima cucurrit
Aeneid ii. 120.
"A cold tremor ran through all their bones."
Then a spirit passed before my face - He does not intimate whether it was the spirit of a man, or an angel who thus appeared. The belief in such apparitions was common in the early ages, and indeed has prevailed at all times. No one can demonstrate that God could not communicate his will in such a manner as this, or by a messenger deputed from his immediate presence to impart valuable truth to people.
The hair of my flesh stood up - This is an effect which is known often to be produced by fear. Sometimes the hair is made to turn white almost in an instant, as an effect of sudden alarm; but usually the effect is to make it stand on end. Seneca uses language remarkably similar to this in describing the effect of fear, in Hercule Oetoeo:
Vagus per artus errat excussos tremor;
Erectus horret crinis. Impulsis adhuc
Star terror animis. et cor attonitum salit,
Pavidumque trepidis palpitat venis jecur.
Steteruntque comae, et vox faucibus haesit.
Aeneid ii. 774.
See also Aeneid iii. 48, iv. 289. So also Aeneid xii. 868:
Arrectaeque horrore comae.
A similar description of the effect of fear is given in the Ghost's speech to Hamlet:
"But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood.
Make thy two eyes like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotty and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine."
The fact here referred to - that fear or fright; causes the hair to stand on end - is too well established, and too common to admit a doubt. The cause may be, that sudden fear has the effect to drive the blood to the heart, as the seat of vitality, and the extremities are left cold, and the skin thus contracts, and the effect is to raise the hair.
It stood still - It took a fixed position and looked on me. It at first glided by, or toward him, then stood in an immovable position, as if to attract his attention, and to prepare him for the solemn announcement which it was about to make. This was the point in which most horror would be felt. We should be less alarmed at anything which a strange messenger should say, than to have him stand and fix his eyes steadily and silently upon us. Hence, Horatius, in "Hamlet," tortured by the imperturbable silence of the Ghost, earnestly entreated it to give him relief by speaking.
Hor. - What art thou that usurp'st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometime march? By heaven, I charge thee, speak.
Mar. - It is offended.
Ber. - See: It stalks away.
Hor. - Stay; speak: speak, I charge thee speak.
Act i. Sc. i.
Hor. - But, soft; behold! lo, where it comes again!
I'll cross it, though it blast me. - Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
Speak to me:
If there be any good thing to be done,
That may to thee do ease, and grace to me,
Speak to me:
Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid,
If thou art privy to thy country's fate.
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it; stay, and speak.
Act i. Sc. i.
Hor. - Look, my lord; it comes!
Ham. - Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn'd,
Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape,
That I will speak to thee: I'll call thee, Hamlet,
King, father, royal Dane: O, answer me;
Let me not burst in ignorance!
Act i: Sc. iv.
But I could not discern the form thereof - This might have arisen from fear, or from the darkness of the night, or because the spirit was not distinct enough in its outline to enable him to do it. There is here just the kind of obscurity which is essential to the sublime, and the statement of this circumstance is a master-stroke in the poet. A less perfect imagination would have attempted to describe the form of the spectre, and would have given an account of its shape, and eyes, and color. But none of these are here hinted at. The subject is left so that the imagination is most deeply impressed, and the whole scene has the aspect of the highest sublimity. Noyes very improperly renders this, "Its face I could not discern." But the word used, מראה mar'eh, does not mean "face" here merely; it means the form, figure, aspect, of the spectre.
An image was before mine eyes - Some form; some appearance was before me, whose exact figure I could not mark or describe.
There was silence - Margin, "I heard a still voice." So Rosenmuller says that the word here, דּממה demâmâh, does not mean silence, but a gentle breeze, or air - auram lenem - such as Elijah heard after the tempest had gone by, and when God spoke to him, Kg1 19:12-13. Grotins supposes that it means here the בת־קול bath qôl, or "daughter of the voice," of which the Jewish Robbins speak so often - the still and gentle voice in which God spoke to people. The word used דממה demâmâh usually means silence, stillness, as of the winds after a storm, a calm, Psa 107:29. The Septuagint renders it, "I heard a gentle breeze, αυραν auran, and a voice," καί φωνὴν kai phōnēn. But it seems to me that the common reading is preferable. There was stillness - a solemn, awful silence, and then he heard a voice impressively speaking. The stillness was designed to fix the attention, and to prepare the mind for the sublime announcement which was to be made.
Shall mortal man - Or, shall feeble man. The idea of "mortal" is not necessarily implied in the word used here, אנושׁ 'ĕnôsh. It means man; and is usually applied to the lower classes or ranks of people; see the notes at Isa 8:1. The common opinion in regard to this word is, that it is derived from אנשׁ 'ânash, to be sick, or ill at ease; and then desperate, or incurable - as of a disease or wound; Jer 15:18; Mic 1:9; Job 34:6. Gesenius (Lex) calls this derivation in question; but if it be the correct idea, then the word used here originally referred to man as feeble, and as liable to sickness and calamity. I see no reason to doubt that the common idea is correct, and that it refers to man as weak and feeble. The other word used here to denote man (גבר geber) is given to him on account of his strength. The two words, therefore, embrace man whether considered as feeble or strong - and the idea is, that none of the race could be more pure than God.
Be more just than God - Some expositors have supposed that the sense of this expression in the Hebrew is, "Can man be pure before God, or in the sight of God?" They allege that it could not have been made a question whether man could be more pure than God, or more just than his Maker. Such is the view presented of the passage by Rosenmuller, Good, Noyes, and Umbreit:
"Shall mortal man be just before God?
Shall man be pure before his Maker?"
In support of this view, and this use of the Hebrew preposition מ (m), Rosenmuller appeals to Jer 51:5; Num 32:29; Eze 34:18. This, however, is not wholly satisfactory. The more literal translation is that which occurs in the common version, and this accords with the Vulgate and the Chaldee. If so understood, it is designed to repress and reprove the pride of men, which arraigns the equity of the divine government, and which seems to be wiser and better than God. Thus, understood, it would be a pertinent reproof of Job, who in his complaint Job 3 had seemed to be wiser than God. He had impliedly charged him with injustice and lack of goodness. All people who complain against God, and who arraign the equity and goodness of the divine dispensations, claim to be wiser and better than he is. They would have ordered flyings more wisely, and in a better manner. They would have kept the world from the disorders and sins which actually exist, and would have made it pure and happy. How pertinent, therefore, was it to ask whether man could be more pure or just than his Maker! And how pertinent was the solemn question propounded in the hearing of Eliphaz by the celestial messenger - a question that seems to have been originally proposed in view of the complaints and murmurs of a self-confident race!
Behold, he put no trust in his servants - These are evidently the words of the oracle that appeared to Eliphaz; see Schultens, in loc. The word servants here refers to angels; and the idea is, that God was so pure that he did not confide even in the exalted holiness of angels - meaning that their holiness was infinitely inferior to his. The design is to state that God had the highest possible holiness, such as to render the holiness of all others, no matter how exalted, as nothing - as all lesser lights are as nothing before the glory of the sun. The Chaldee renders this, "Lo, in his servants, the prophets, he does not confide;" but the more correct reference is undoubtedly to the angels.
And his angels he charged with folly - Margin, Or," Nor in his angels, in whom he put light." The different rendering in the text and in the margin, has arisen from the supposed ambiguity of the word employed here - תהלה tohŏlâh. It is a word which occurs nowhere else, and hence, it is difficult to determine its true signification. Walton renders it, gloriatio glorying; Jerome, pravitas, wickedness; the Septuagint, σκολιόν skolion, fault, blemish; Dr. Good. default, or defection; Noyes, frailty. Gesenius says that the word is derived from הלל hâlăl, (No. 4), to be foolish. So also Kimchi explains it. According to this, the idea is that of foolishness - that is, they are far inferior to God in wisdom; or, as the word folly in the Scriptures is often synonymous with sin, it might mean that their purity was so far inferior to his as to appear like impurity and sin. The essential idea is, that even the holiness of angels was not to be compared with God. It is not that they were polluted and unholy, for, in their measure, they are perfect; but it is that their holiness was as nothing compared with the infinite perfection of God. It is to be remembered that a part of the angels had sinned, and they had shown that their integrity was not to be confided in; and whatever might be the holiness of a creature, it was possible to conceive that he might sin. But no such idea could for a moment enter the mind in regard to God. The object of this whole argument is to show, that if confidence could not be reposed in the angels, and if all their holiness was as nothing before God, little confidence could be placed in man; and that it was presumption for him to sit in judgment on the equity of the divine dealings.
How much less - (אף 'aph). This particle has the general sense of addition, accession, especially of something more important;" yea more, besides, even." Gesenius. The meaning here is, "how much more true is this of man!" He puts no confidence in his angels; he charges them with frailty; how much more strikingly true must this be of man! It is not merely, as our common translation would seem to imply, that he put much less confidence in man than in angels; it is, that all he had said must be more strikingly true of man, who dwelt in so frail and humble a habitation.
In them that dwell in houses of clay - In man. The phrase "houses of clay" refers to the body made of dust. The sense is, that man, from the fact that he dwells in such a tabernacle, is far inferior to the pure spirits that surround the throne of God, and much more liable to sin. The body is represented as a temporary tent, tabernacle, or dwelling for the soul. That dwelling is soon to be taken down, and its tenant, the soul, to be removed to other abodes. So Paul Co2 5:1 speaks of the body as ἡ ἐπίγειος ἡμῶν οἰκία τοῦ σκήνους hē epigeios hēmōn oikia tou skēnous - "our earthly house of this tabernacle." So Plato speaks of it as γηΐ́νον σκῆνος gēinon skēnos - an earthly tent; and so Aristophanes (Av. 587), among other contemptuous expressions applied to people, calls them πλάσματα πηλοῦ plasmata pēlou, "vessels of clay." The idea in the verse before us is beautiful, and as affecting as it is beautiful. A house of clay (חמר chômer) was little fitted to bear the extremes of heat and cold, of storm and sunshine, of rain, and frost, and snow, and would soon crumble and decay. It must be a frail and temporary dwelling. It could not endure the changes of the seasons and the lapse of years like a dwelling of granite or marble. So with our bodies. They can bear little. They are frail, infirm, and feeble. They are easily prostrated, and soon fall back to their native dust. How can they who dwelt in such edifices, be in any way compared with the Infinite and Eternal God?
Whose foundation is in the dust - A house to be firm and secure should be founded on a rock; see Mat 7:25. The figure is kept up here of comparing man with a house; and as a house that is built on the sand or the dust may be easily washed away (compare Mat 7:26-27), and could not be confided in, so it was with man. He was like such a dwelling; and no more confidence could be reposed in him than in such a house.
Which are crushed - They are broken in pieces, trampled on, destroyed (דכא dâkâ'), by the most insignificant objects.
Before the moth - See Isa 50:9, note; Isa 51:8, note. The word moth (עשׁ ‛âsh), Greek σής sēs, Vulgate, tinea, denotes properly an insect which flies by night, and particularly that which attaches itself to woolen cloth and consumes it. It is possible, however, that the word here denotes the moth-worm. This "moth-worm is one state of the creature. which first is inclosed in an egg, and thence issues in the form of a worm; after a time, it quits the form of a worm, to assume that of the complete state of the insect, or the moth." Calmet. The comparison here, therefore, is not that of a moth flying against a house to overset it, nor of the moth consuming man as it does a garment, but it is that of a feeble worm that preys upon man and destroys him; and the idea is, that the most feeble of all objects may crush him. The following remarks from Niebuhr (Reisebeschreibung von Arabien, S. 133), will serve to illustrate this passage, and show that so feeble a thing as a worm may destroy human life. "There is in Yemen, in India, and on the coasts of the South Sea, a common sickness caused by the Guinea, or nerve-worm, known to European physicians by the name of vena Medinensis. It is supposed in Yemen that this worm is ingested from the bad water which the inhabitants of those countries are under a necessity of using. Many of the Arabians on this account take the precaution to strain the water which they drink. If anyone has by accident swallowed an egg of this worm, no trace of it is to be seen until it appears on the skin; and the first indication of it there, is the irritation which is caused. On our physician, a few days before his death, five of these worms made their appearance, although we had been more than five months absent from Arabia. On the island of Charedsch, I saw a French officer, whose name was Le Page, who after a long and arduous journey, which he had made on foot, from Pondicherry to Surat, through the heart of India, found the traces of such a worm in him, which he endeavored to extract from his body.
He believed that be had swallowed it when drinking the waters of Mahratta. The worm is not dangerous, if it can be drawn from the body without being broken. The Orientals are accustomed, as soon as the worm makes its appearance through the skin, to wind it up on a piece of straw, or of dry wood. It is finer than a thread, and is from two to three feet in length. The winding up of the worm frequently occupies a week; and no further inconvenience is experienced, than the care which is requisite not to break it. If, however, it is broken, it draws itself back into the body, and then becomes dangerous. Lameness, gangrene, or the loss of life itself is the result." See the notes at Isaiah referred to above. The comparison of man with a worm, or an insect, on account of his feebleness and shortness of life, is common in the sacred writings, and in the Classics. The following passage from Pindar, quoted by Schultens, hints at the same idea:
Ἐπάμεροι, τί δέ τις; τί δ ̓ οῦ τις;
Σκιᾶς ὄναρ ἄνθρωποι.
Epameroi, ti de tis; ti d' ou tis;
Skias onar anthrōpoi.
"Things of a day! What is anyone? What is he not? Men are the dream of a shadow!" - The idea in the passage before us is, that people are exceedingly frail, and that in such creatures no confidence can be placed. How should such a creature, therefore, presume to arraign the wisdom and equity of the divine dealings? How can he be more just or wise than God?
They are destroyed from morning to evening - Margin, "beaten in pieces." This is nearer to the Hebrew. The phrase "from morning to evening" means between the morning and the evening; that is, they live scarcely a single day; see the notes at Isa 38:12. The idea is, not the continuance of the work of destruction from morning to evening; but that man's life is excecdingly short, so short that he scarce seems to live from morning to night. What a beautiful expression, and how true! How little qualified is such a being to sit in judgment on the doings of the Most High!
They perish forever - Without being restored to life. They pass away, and nothing is ever seen of them again!
Without any regarding it - Without its being noticed. How strikingly true is this! What a narrow circle is affected by the death of a man, and how soon does even that circle cease to be affected! A few relatives and friends feel it and weep over the loss; but the mass of men are unconcerned. It is like taking a grain of sand from the sea-shore, or a drop of water from the ocean. There is indeed one less, but the place is soon supplied, and the ocean rolls on its tumultuous billows as though none had been taken away. So with human life. The affairs of people will roll on; the world will be as busy, and active, and thoughtless as though we had not been; and soon, O how painfully soon to human pride, will our names be forgotten! The circle of friends will cease to weep, and then cease to remember us. The last memorial that we lived, will be gone. The house that we built, the bed on which we slept, the counting-room that we occupied, the monuments that we raised, the books that we made, the stone that we directed to be placed over our graves, will all be gone; and the last memento that we ever lived, will have faded away! How vain is man! How vain is pride! How foolish is ambition! How important the announcement that there is another world, where we may live on forever!
Doth not their excellency ... - Dr. Good renders this, "Their fluttering round is over with them," by a very forced construction of the passage. Translators and expositors have been very much divided in opinion as to its meaning; but the sense seems to be, that whatever is excellent in people is torn away or removed. Their excellence does not keep them from death, and they are taken off before they are truly wise. The word "excellency" here refers not only to moral excellency or virtue, but everything in which they excel others. Whatever there is in them of strength, or virtue, or influence, is removed. The word used here יתר yether means, literally, something hanging over or redundant (from יתר yâthar, to hang over, be redundant, or to remain), and hence, it means abundance or remainder, and then that which exceeds or abounds. It is thus applied to any distinguished virtue or excellency, as that which exceeds the ordinary limits or bounds. Men perish; and however eminent they may have been, they are soon cut off, and vanish away. The object here is to show how weak, and frail, and unworthy of confidence are people even in their most elevated condition.
They die, even without wisdom - That is, before they become truly wise. The object is to show, that people are so short-lived compared with angels, that they have no opportunity to become distinguished for wisdom. Their days are few; and however careful may be their observation, before they have had time to become truly wise they are hurried away. They are, therefore, wholly disqualified to sit in judgment on the doings of God, and to arraign, as Job had done, the divine wisdom.
Here closes the oracle which was addressed to Eliphaz. It is a description of unrivaled sublimity. In the sentiments that were addressed to Eliphaz, there is nothing that is contradictory to the other communications which God has made to people, or to what is taught by reason. Every reader of this passage must feel that the thoughts are singularly sublime, and that they are such as are adapted to make a deep impression on the mind. The error in Eliphaz consisted in the application which he makes of them to Job, and in the inference which he draws, that he must have been a hypocrite. This inference is drawn in the following chapter. As the oracle stands here, it is pertinent to the argument which Eliphaz had commenced, and just fitted to furnish a reproof to Job for the irreverent manner in which he had spoken, and the complaints which he had brought Job 3 against the dealings of God. Let us learn from the oracle:
(1) That man cannot be more just than God; and let this be an abiding principle of our lives;
(2) Not to complain at his dispensations, but to confide in his superior wisdom and goodness;
(3) That our opportunities of observation, and our rank in existence, are as nothing compared with those of the angels, who are yet so inferior to God as to be charged with folly;
(4) That our foundation is in the dust, and that the most insignificant object may sweep us away; and
(5) That in these circumstances humility becomes us.
Our proper situation is in the dust; and whatever calamities may befall us, we should confide in God, and feel that he is qualified to direct our affairs, and the affairs of the universe.