Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
O that my grief were thoroughly weighed - The word rendered "grief" here (כעשׂ ka‛aś) may mean either vexation, trouble, grief; Ecc 1:18; Ecc 2:23; or it may mean anger; Deu 32:19; Eze 20:28. It is rendered by the Septuagint here, ὀργή orgē - anger; by Jerome, peccata - sins. The sense of the whole passage may either be, that Job wished his anger or his complaints to be laid in the balance with his calamity, to see if one was more weighty than the other - meaning that he had not complained unreasonably or unjustly (Rosenmuller); or that he wished that his afflictions might be put into one scale and the sands of the sea into another, and the one weighed against the other (Noyes); or simply, that he desired that his sorrows should be accurately estimated. This latter is, I think, the true sense of the passage. He supposed his friends had not understood and appreciated his sufferings; that they were disposed to blame him without understanding the extent of his sorrows, and he desires that they would estimate them aright before they condemned him. In particular, he seems to have supposed that Eliphaz had not done justice to the depth of his sorrows in the remarks which he had just made. The figure of weighing actions or sorrows, is not uncommon or unnatural. It means to take an exact estimate of their amount. So we speak of heavy calamities, of afflictions that crush us by their weight. etc.
Laid in the balances - Margin, "lifted up." That is, raised up and put in the scales, or put in the scales and then raised up - as is common in weighing.
Together - יחד yachad. At the same time; that all my sorrows, griefs, and woes, were piled on the scales, and then weighed. He supposed that only a partial estimate had been formed of the extent of his calamities.
Heavier than the sand of the sea - That is, they would be found to be insupportable. Who could bear up the sands of the sea? So Job says of his sorrows. A comparison somewhat similar is found in Pro 27:3.
Heavy is a stone, and weighty the sand of the Sea,
But a fool's wrath is heavier than them both.
My words are swallowed up - Margin, "I want words to express my grief." This expresses the true sense - but not with the same poetic beauty. We express the same idea when we say that we are choked with grief; we are so overwhelmed with sorrow that we cannot speak. Any very deep emotion prevents the power of utterance. So in Psa 77:4 :
Thou holdest mine eyes waking:
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
So the well-known expressions in Virgil,
Obstupui, steteruntque comae, et vox faucibus haesit.
There has been, however, considerable variety in the interpretation of the word here rendered swallowed up - לוּע lûa‛. Gesenius supposes that it means to speak rashly, to talk at random, and that the idea is, that Job now admits that his remarks had been unguarded - "therefore were my words rash." The same sense Castell gives to the Arabic word. Schultens renders it, "therefore are my words tempestuous or fretful." Rosenmuller, "my words exceed due moderation." Castellio, "my words fail." Luther, "therefore it is vain that I speak." The Septuagint, "but my words seem to be evil." Jerome, "my words are full of grief." In this variety it is difficult to determine the meaning; but probably the old interpretation is to be retained, by which the word is derived from לוּע lûa‛, to absorb, to swallow up; compare Pro 20:25; Oba 1:16; Job 39:30; Pro 23:2. The word does not elsewhere occur.
For the arrows of the Almighty are within me - That is, it is not a light affliction that I endure. I am wounded in a manner which could not be caused by man - called to endure a severity of suffering which shows that it proceeds from the Almighty. Thus called to suffer what man could not cause, he maintains that it is right for him to complain, and that the words which he employed were not an improper expression of the extent of the grief.
The poison whereof drinketh up my spirit - Takes away my rigor, my comfort, my life. He here compares his afflictions with being wounded with poisoned arrows. Such arrows were not unfrequently used among the ancients. The object was to secure certain death, even where the wound caused by the arrow itself would not produce it. Poison was made so concentrated, that the smallest quantity conveyed by the point of an arrow would render death inevitable. This practice contributed much to the barbarity of savage war. Thus, Virgil speaks of poisoned arrows:
Ungere tela manu, ferrumque armare veneno.
Aeneid ix. 773
And again, Aen x. 140:
Vulnera dirigere, et calamos armare veneno.
So Ovid, Lib. 1. de Ponto, Eleg. ii. of the Scythians:
Qui mortis saevo geminent ut vulnere causas,
Omnia vipereo spicula felle linunt.
Compare Justin, Lib. ii. c. 10. section 2; Grotius, de Jure Belli et Pacis; and Virgil, En. xii. 857. In the Odyssey, i. 260ff we read of Ulysses that he went to Ephyra, a city of Thessaly, to obtain from Ilus, the son of Mermer, deadly poison, that he might smear it over the iron point of his arrows. The pestilence which produced so great a destruction in the Grecian camp is also said by Homer (Iliad i. 48) to have been caused by arrows shot from the bow of Apollo. The phrase "drinketh up the spirit" is very expressive. We speak now of the sword thirsting for blood; but this language is more expressive and striking. The figure is not uncommon in the poetry of the East and of the ancients. In the poem of Zohair, the third of the Moallakat, or those transcribed in golden letters, and suspended in the temple of Mecca, the same image occurs. It is thus rendered by Sir William Jones:
Their javelins had no share in drinking the blood of Naufel.
A similar expression occurs in Sophocles in Trachinn, verse 1061, as quoted by Schultens, when describing the pestilence in which Hercules suffered:
ἐκ δὲ χλωρὸν αἵμα μου Πέπωκεν ἤδη -
ek de chlōron haima mou Pepōken ēdē -
This has been imitated by Cicero in Tusculan. Disp. ii. 8:
Haec me irretivit veste furiali inscium,
Quae lateri inhaerens morsu lacerat viscera,
Urgensque graviter, pulmonum haurit spiritus,
Jam decolorem sanguinem omnem exsorbuit.
So Lucan, Pharsa. ix. 741ff gives a similar description:
Ecce subit virus taciturn, carpitque medullas
Ignis edax calidaque iacendit viscera tabe.
Ebibit humorem circa vitalia fusum
Pestis, et in sicco linguan torrere palato Coepit.
Far more beautiful, however, than the expressions of any of the ancient Classics - more tender, more delicate, more full of pathos - is the description which the Christian poet Cowper gives of the arrow that pierces the side of the sinner. It is the account of his own conversion:
I was a stricken deer that left the herd
Long since. With many an artery deep infix'd
My panting side was charged when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There I was found by one, who had himself
Been hurt by the archers. In his side he bore,
And in his hands and feet, the cruel scars.
Task, b. iii.
Of such wounding he did not complain. The arrow was extracted by the tender hand of him who alone had power to do it. Had Job known of him; had he been fully acquainted with the plan of mercy through him, and the comfort which a wounded sinner may find there, we should not have heard the bitter complaints which he uttered in his trials. Let us not judge him with the severity which we may use of one who is afflicted and complains under the full light of the gospel.
The terrors of God do set themselves in array against me - Those things which God uses to excite terror. The word which is rendered "set in array" (ערך ‛ârak) properly denotes the drawing up of a line for battle; and the sense is here, that all these terrors seem to be drawn up in battle array, as if on purpose to destroy him. No expression could more strikingly describe the condition of an awakened sinner, though it is not certain that Job used it precisely in this sense. The idea as he used it is, that all that God commonly employed to produce alarm seemed to be drawn up as in a line of battle against him.
Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass? - On the habits of the wild ass, see the notes at Job 11:12. The meaning of Job here is, that he did not complain without reason; and this he illustrates by the fact that the wild animal that had a plentiful supply of food would be gentle and calm, and that when its bray was heard it was proof that it was suffering. So Job says that there was a reason for his complaining. He was suffering; and perhaps he means that his complaint was just as natural, and just as innocent, as the braying of the ass for its food. He should have remembered however, that he was endowed with reason, and that he was bound to evince a different spirit from the brute creation.
Or loweth the ox over his fodder? - That is, the ox is satisfied and uncomplaining when his needs are supplied. The fact that he lows is proof that he is in distress, or there is a reason for it. So Job says that his complaints were proof that he was in distress, and that there was a reason for his language of complaint.
Can that which is unsavoury - Which is insipid, or without taste.
Be eaten without salt - It is necessary to add salt in order to make it either palatable or wholesome. The literal truth of this no one can doubt, Insipid food cannot be relished, nor would it long sustain life. "The Orientals eat their bread often with mere salt, without any other addition except some dry and pounded summer-savory, which last is the common method at Aleppo." Russell's Natural History of Aleppo, p. 27. It should be remembered, also, that the bread of the Orientals is commonly mere unleavened cakes; see Rosenmuller, Alte u. neue Morgenland, on Gen 18:6. The idea of Job in this adage or proverb is, that there was a fitness and propriety in things. Certain things went together, and were necessary companions. One cannot be expected without the other; one is incomplete without the other. Insipid food requires salt in order to make it palatable and nutritious, and so it is proper that suffering and lamentation should be united.
There was a reason for his complaints, as there was for adding salt to unsavory food. Much perplexity, however, has been felt in regard to this whole passage; Job 6:6-7. Some have supposed that Job means to rebuke Eliphaz severely for his harangue on the necessity of patience, which he characterizes as insipid, impertinent, and disgusting to him; as being in fact as unpleasant to his soul as the white of an egg was to the taste. Dr. Good explains it as meaning, "Doth that which has nothing of seasoning, nothing of a pungent or irritating power within it, produce pungency or irritation? I too should be quiet and complain not, if I had nothing provocative or acrimonious; but alas! the food I am doomed to partake of is the very calamity which is most acute to my soul, that which I most loathe, and which is most grievous or trying to my palate." But the real sense of this first part of the verse is, I think, that which is expressed above - that insipid food requires proper condiment, and that in his sufferings there was a real ground for lamentation and complaint - as there was for making use of salt in that which is unsavory. I see no reason to think that he meant in this to reproach Eliphaz for an insipid and unmeaning address.
Or is there any taste in the white of an egg? - Critics and commentators have been greatly divided about the meaning of this. The Septuagint renders it, εἰ δέ καί ἐστί γεῦμα ἐν ῥήμασι κενοῖς ei de kai esti geuma en rēmasi kenois; is there any taste in vain words? Jerome (Vulgate), "can anyone taste that which being tasted produces death?" The Targums render it substantially as it is in our version. The Hebrew word rendered "white" (ריר rı̂yr) means properly spittle; Sa1 21:13. If applied to an egg, it means the white of it, as resembling spittle. The word rendered "egg" (חלמוּת challâmûth) occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures. If it be regarded as derived from חלם châlam, to sleep, or dream, it may denote somnolency or dreams, and then fatuity, folly, or a foolish speech, as resembling dreams; and many have supposed that Job meant to characterize the speech of Eliphaz as of this description.
The word may mean, as it does in Syriac, a species of herb, the "purslain" (Gesenius), proverbial for its insipidity among the Arabs, Greeks, and Romans, but which was used as a salad; and the whole phrase here may denote purslain-broth, and hence, an insipid discourse. This is the interpretation of Gesenius. But the more common and more probable explanation is that of our common version, denoting the white of an egg. But what is the point of the remark as Job uses it? That it is a proverbial expression, is apparent; but in what way Job meant to apply it, is not so clear. The Jews say that he meant to apply it to the speech of Eliphaz as being insipid and dull, without anything to penetrate the heart or to enliven the fancy; a speech as disagreeable to the mind as the white of an egg was insipid to the taste. Rosenmuller supposes that he refers to his afflictions as being as unpleasant to bear as the white of an egg was to the taste. It seems to me that the sense of all the proverbs used here is about the same, and that they mean, "there is a reason for everything which occurs. The ass brays and the ox lows only when destitute of food. That which is insipid is unpleasant, and the white of an egg is loathsome. So with my afflictions. They produce loathing and disgust, My very food Job 6:7 is disagreeable, and everything seems tasteless as the most insipid food would. Hence the language which I have used - language spoken not without reason, and expressive of this state of the soul."
The things that my soul refused to touch - That I refused to touch - the word "soul" here being used to denote himself. The idea here is, that those things which formerly were objects of loathing to him, had become his painful and distressing food. The idea may be either that he was reduced to the greatest pain and distress in partaking of his food, since he loathed that which he was obliged to eat (compare notes, Job 3:24), or more probably his calamity is described under the image of loathsome food in accordance with the Oriental usage, by which one is said to eat or taste anything; that is, to experience it. His sorrows were as sickening to him as the articles of food which he had mentioned were to the stomach. The Septuagint renders it strangely, "For my wrath - μοῦ ἡ ὀργή mou hē orgē - cannot cease. For I see my food offensive as the smell of a lion' - ὥσπερ ὀσμὴν λέοντος hōsper osmēn leontos.
Oh that I might have my request - To wit, death. This he desired as the end of his sorrows, either that he might be freed from them, or that he might be admitted to a happy world - or both.
Would grant me the thing that I long for - Margin, "My expectation." That is, death. He expected it; he looked out for it; he was impatient that the hour should come. This state of feeling is not uncommon - where sorrows become so accumulated and intense that a man desires to die. It is no evidence, however, of a preparation for death. The wicked are more frequently in this state than the righteous. They are overwhelmed with pain; they see no hope of deliverance from it and they impatiently wish that the end had come. They are stupid about the future world, and either suppose that the grave is the end of their being, or that in some undefinable way they will be made happy hereafter. The righteous, on the other hand, are willing to wait until God shall be pleased to release them, feeling that He has some good purpose in all that they endure, and that they do not suffer one pang too much. Such sometimes were Job's feelings; but here, as in some other instances, no one can doubt that he was betrayed into unjustifiable impatience under his sorrows, and that he expressed an improper wish to die.
Even that it would please God to destroy me - To put me to death, and to release me from my sorrows; compare Job 3:20-21. The word rendered "destroy" here (דכא dâkâ') means properly to break in pieces, to crush, to trample under foot, to make small by bruising. Here the sense is, that Job wished that God would crush him, so as to take his life. The Septuagint renders it "wound" - τρωσάτω trōsatō. The Chaldee renders it, "Let God, who has begun to make me poor, loose his hand and make me rich."
That he would let loose his hand - Job here represents the hand of God as bound or confined. He wishes that that fettered hand were released, and were so free in its inflictions that he might be permitted to die.
And cut me off - This expression, says Gesenius (Lexicon on the word בצע betsa‛), is a metaphor derived from a weaver, who, when his web is finished, cuts it off from the thrum by which it is fastened to the loom; see the notes at Isa 38:12. The sense is, that Job wished that God would wholly finish his work, and that as he had begun to destroy him he would complete it.
Then should I yet have comfort - Dr. Good renders this, "then would I already take comfort." Noyes, "yet it should still be my consolation." The literal sense is, "and there would be to me yet consolation;" or "my consolation would yet be." That is, he would find comfort in the grave (compare Job 3:13 ff), or in the future world.
I would harden myself in sorrow - Dr. Good renders this, "and I will leap for joy." In a similar way Noyes renders it, "I would exult." So Schultens understands the expression. The Hebrew word rendered "I would harden myself" (סלד sâlad) occurs nowhere else, and expositors have been divided in regard to its meaning. According to Castell, it means to strengthen, to confirm. The Chaldee (סלד) means to grow warm, to glow, to burn. The Arabic word is applied to a horse, and means to beat the earth with his feet, and then to leap, to exult, to spring up; and this is the idea which Gesenius and others suppose is to be retained here - an idea which certainly better suits the connection than the common one of hardening himself in sorrow. The Septuagint renders it ἡλλόμήν hēllomēn - "I would leap," or exult, although they have sadly missed the sense in the other part of the verse. They render it, "Let but my city be a grave, upon whose walls I will leap; I will not spare, for I have not falsified the holy words of my God." The Chaldee renders it, "and I will exult (ואבוע) when fury comes upon the wicked." The probable meaning is, that Job would exult or rejoice, if be was permitted to die; he would triumph even in the midst of his sorrow, if he might lie down and expire.
Let him not spare - Let him not withhold or restrain those sufferings which would sink me down to the grave.
For I have not concealed the words of the Holy One - I have openly and boldly maintained a profession of attachment to the cause of God, and to his truth. I have, in a public and solemn manner, professed attachment to my Maker; I have not refused to acknowledge that I am his; I have not been ashamed of him and his cause. How much consolation may be found in such a reflection when we come to die! If there has been a consistent profession of religion; if there has been no shrinking back from attachment to God; if in all circles, high and low, rich and poor, frivolous and serious, there has been an unwavering and steady, though not ostentatious, attachment to the cause of God, it will give unspeakable consolation and confidence when we come to die. If there has been concealment, and shame, and shrinking back from a profession of religion, there will be shame, and regret, and sorrow; compare Psa 40:9; Act 20:20-27.
What is my strength, that I should hope? - Job had hitherto borne his trials without apprehension that he would lose his constancy of hope, or his confidence in God. He here seems to apprehend that his constancy might fail, and he therefore wishes to die before he should be left to dishonor God. He asks, therefore, what strength he had that he should hope to be able to sustain his trials much longer.
And what is mine end, that I should prolong my life? - Various interpretations have been given of this passage. Some suppose it means, "What is the limit of my strength? How long will it last?" Others, "What end is there to be to my miseries?" Others, "How distant is mine end? How long have I to live?" Noyes renders it, "And what is mine end that I should be patient?" Rosenmuller supposes that the word "end" here means the "end of his strength," or that he had not such fortitude as to be certain that he could long bear his trials without complaining or murmuring. The phrase rendered "prolong my life," probably means rather "to lengthen the patience," or to hold out under accumulated sorrows. The word rendered life נפשׁ nephesh often means soul, spirit, mind, as well as life, and the sense is, that he could not hope, from any strength that he had, to bear without complaining these trials until the natural termination of his life; and hence, he wished God to grant his request, and to destroy him. Feeling that his patience was sinking under his calamities, be says that it would be better for him to die than be left to dishonor his Maker. It is just the state of feeling which many a sufferer has, that his trials are so great that nature will sink under them, and that death would be a relief. Then is the time to look to God for support and consolation.
Is my strength the strength of stones? - That is, like a rampart or fortification made of stones, or like a craggy rock that can endure assaults made upon it. A rock will bear the beatings of the tempest, and resist the floods, but how can frail man do it? The idea of Job is, that he had no strength to bear up against these accumulated trials; that he was afraid that he should be left to sink under them, and to complain of God; and that his friends were not to wonder if his strength gave way, and he uttered the language of complaint.
Or is my flesh of brass? - Margin, "brazen." The comparison used here is not uncommon. So Cicero, Aca. Qu. iv. 31, says, Non enim est e saxo sculptus, ant e robore dolatus homo; habet corpus, habet animum; movetur mente, movetur sensibus: - "for man is not chiselled out of the rock, nor cut from a tree; he has a body, he has a soul; he is actuated by mind, he is swayed by senses." So Theocritus, in his description of Amycus, Idyll. xxii. 47:
Στήθεα δ ̓ ἐσφαίρωτο πελώρια και πλατὺ νῶτον,
Σαρκὶ σιδαρείῃ σφυρήλακος οἷα κολασσός.
Stēthea d' esfairōto pelōria kai platu nōton,
Sarki sidareiē sfurēlakos hoia kolossos.
Round as to his vast breast and broad back, and with iron flesh, he is as if a colossus formed with a hammer - So in Homer the expression frequently occurs - σιδήρειον ἦτορ sidēreion ētor - an iron heart - to denote courage. And so, according to Schultens, it has come to be a proverb, οὐκ ἀπὸ δρυὸς, οὐκ ἀπο πέτρης ouk apo druos, ouk apo petrēs - not from a tree, not from a rock. The meaning of Job is plain. He had flesh like others. His muscles, and nerves, and sinews, could not bear a constant force applied to them, as if they were made of brass or iron. They must give way; and he apprehended that he would sink under these sorrows, and be left to use language that might dishonor God. At all events, he felt that these great sorrows justified the strong expressions which he had already employed.
Is not my help in me? - This would be better rendered in an affirmative manner, or as an exclamation. The interrogative form of the previous verses need not be continued in this. The sense is, "alas! there is no help in me!" That is, "I have no strength; I must give up under these sorrows in despair." So it is rendered by Jerome, Rosenmuller, Good, Noyes, and others.
And is wisdom quite driven from me? - This, also, should be read as an affirmation, "deliverance is driven from me." The word rendered wisdom (תשׁיה tûshı̂yâh) means properly a setting upright; then help, deliverance; and then purpose, enterprise; see the notes at Job 5:12. Here it means that all hope of deliverance had fled, and that he was sinking in despair.
To him that is afflicted - Margin, "melteth." The word here used (מס mâs) is from מסס mâsas, to melt, flow down, waste away, and here means one who pines away, or is consumed under calamities. The design of this verse is, to reprove his friends for the little sympathy which they had shown for him. He had looked for consolation in his trials, and he had a right to expect it; but he says that he had met with just the opposite, and that his calamity was aggravated by the fact that they had dealt only in the language of severity.
Pity should be showed from his friend - Good renders this, "shame to the man who despiseth his friend." A great variety of interpretations have been proposed of the passage, but our translation has probably expressed the true sense. If there is any place where kindness should be shown, it is when a man is sinking under accumulated sorrows to the grave.
But he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty - This may be either understood as referring to the language which Job says they had used of him - charging him with forsaking the fear of God, instead of consoling him; or it may mean that they had forsaken the fear of God in reproaching him, and in failing to comfort him; or it may mean that if such kindness were not shown to a friend in trial, he would be left to cast off the fear of God. This last interpretation is adopted by Noyes. Good supposes that it is designed to be a severe reproach of Eliphaz, for the course which he had pursued. It seems to me that this is probably the correct interpretation, and that the particle ו (v) here is used in an adversative sense, meaning that while it was an obvious dictate of piety to show kindness to a friend, Eliphaz had forgotten this obligation, and had indulged himself in a strain of remark which could not have been prompted by true religion. This sentiment he proceeds to illustrate by one of the most beautiful comparisons to be found in any language.
My brethren - To wit, the three friends who had come to condole with him. He uses the language of brethren, to intimate what he had a right to expect from them. It is common in all languages to give the name brethren to friends.
Have dealt deceitfully - That is, I have been sadly disappointed. I looked for the language of condolence and compassion; for something to cheer my heart, and to uphold me in my trials - as weary and thirsty travelers look for water and are sadly disappointed when they come to the place where they expected to find it, and find the stream dried up. The simile used here is exquisitely beautiful, considered as a mere description of an actual occurrence in the deserts of Arabia. But its chief beauty consists in its exact adaptation to the case before him, and the point and pith of the reproof which it administers. "The fullness, strength, and noise of these temporary streams in winter, answer to the large professions made to Job in his prosperity by his friends. The dryness of the waters at the approach of summer, resembles the failure of their friendship in time of affliction." Scott, as quoted by Noyes.
As a brook - That is, as a stream that is swelled by winter torrents, and that is dry in summer. Such streams abound in Arabia, and in the East generally. The torrents pour down from the hills in time of rain, or when swelled by the melting of the ice; but in summer they are dry, or their waters are lost in the sand. Even large streams are thus absorbed. The river Barrady, which waters Damascus, after passing to a short distance to the southeast of the city toward the Arabian deserts, is lost in the sand, or evaporated by the heat of the sun. The idea here is, that travelers in a caravan would approach the place where water had been found before, but would find the fountain dried up, or the stream lost in the sand; and when they looked for refreshment, they found only disappointment. In Arabia there are not many rivers. In Yemen, indeed, there are a few streams that flow the year round, and on the East the Euphrates has been claimed as belonging to Arabia. But most of the streams are winter torrents that become dry in summer, or rivulets that are swelled by heavy rains.
An illustration of the verse before us occurs in Campbell's Travels in Africa. "In desert parts of Africa it has afforded much joy to fall in with a brook of water, especially when running in the direction of the journey, expecting it would prove a valuable companion. Perhaps before it accompanied us two miles it became invisible by sinking into the sand; but two miles farther along it would reappear and raise hopes of its continuance; but after running a few hundred yards, would sink finally into the sand, no more again to rise." A comparison of a man who deceives and disappoints one to such a Stream is common in Arabia, and has given rise, according to Schultens, to many proverbs. Thus, they say of a treacherous friend, "I put no trust in thy torrent;" and, "O torrent, thy flowing subsides." So the Scholiast on Moallakat says, "a pool or flood was called Gadyr, because travelers when they pass by it find it full of water, but when they return they find nothing there, and it seems to have treacherously betrayed them. So they say of a false man, that he is more deceitful than the appearance of water" - referring, perhaps, to the deceitful appearance of the mirage in the sands of the desert; see the notes at Isa 35:7.
And as the stream of brooks they pass away - As the valley stream - the stream that runs along in the valley, that is filled by the mountain torrent. They pass away on the return of summer, or when the rain ceases to fall, and the valley is again dry. So with the consolations of false friends. They cannot be depended on. All their professions are temporary and evanescent.
Which are blackish - Or, rather, which are turbid. The word used here (קדרים qoderı̂ym) means to be turbid, foul, or muddy, spoken of a torrent, and then to be of a dusky color, to be dark-colored, as e. g. the skin scorched by the sun, Job 30:28; or to be dark - as when the sun is obscured; Joe 2:10; Joe 3:15. Jerome renders it, Qui timent pruinam - "which fear the frost, when the snow comes upon them." The Septuagint renders it, "they who had venerated me now rushed upon me like snow or hoar frost, which melting at the approach of heat, it was not known whence it was." The expression in the Hebrew means that they were rendered dark and turbid by the accumulated torrents caused by the dissolving snow and ice.
By reason of the ice - When it melts and swells the streams.
And wherein the snow is hid - That is, says Noyes, melts and flows into them. It refers to the melting of the snow in the spring, when the streams are swelled as a consequence of it. Snow, by melting in the spring and summer, would swell the streams, which at other times were dry. Lucretius mentions the melting of the snows on the mountains of Ethiopia, as one of the causes of the overflowing of the Nile:
Forsitan Aethiopum pentrue de montibus altis
Crescat, ubi in campos albas descendere ningues
Tahificiss subigit radiis sol, omnia lustrans.
Or, from the Ethiop-mountains, the bright sun,
Now full matured, with deep-dissolving ray,
May melt the agglomerate snows, and down the plains
Drive them, augmenting hence the incipient stream.
A similar description occurs in Homer, Iliad xi. 492:
Ὡς δ ̓ ὁπόε πλήφων ποταμός πεδίνδε κάτεισι
Χειμάῤῥους κατ ̓ ὄρεσφιν, κ. τ. λ.
Hōs d' hopote plēthōn potamos pedionde kateisi
Cheimarrous kat' oresfin, etc.
And in Ovid also, Fast. ii. 219:
Ecce, velut torrens andis pluvialibus auctus,
Ant hive, quae, Zephyro victa, repente fluit,
Per sara, perque vias, tertur; nec, ut ante solebat,
Riparum clausas margine finit aquas.
What time - In the time; or after a time.
They wax warm - Gesenius renders this word (יזרבו yezorebû) when they became narrow, and this version has been adopted by Noyes. The word occurs nowhere else. Taylor (Concord.) renders it, "to be dissolved by the heat of the sun." Jerome, fuerint dissipati - "in the time in which they are scattered." The Septuagint, τακεῖσα Θέρμης γενομένης takeisa thermēs genomenēs - "melting at the approach of heat." The Chaldee, "In the time in which the generation of the deluge sinned, they were scattered." Castell says that the word זרב zârab in the Piel, as the word in Chaldee (זרב zerab) means "to flow"; and also that it has the same signification as צרב tsârab, to become warm. In Syriac the word means to be straitened, bound, confined. On the whole, however, the connection seems to require us to understand it as it is rendered in our common translation, as meaning, that when they are exposed to the rays of a burning sun, they evaporate. They pour down from the mountains in torrents, but when they flow into burning sands, or become exposed to the intense action of the sun, they are dried up, and disappear.
They vanish - Margin, "are cut off." That is, they wander off into the sands of the desert until they are finally lost.
When it is hot - Margin, "in the heat thereof." When the summer comes, or when the rays of the sun are poured down upon them.
They are consumed - Margin, "extinguished." They are dried up, and furnish no water for the caravan.
The paths of their way are turned aside - Noyes renders this, "The caravans turn aside to them on their way." Good, "The outlets of their channel wind about." Rosenmuller, "The bands of travelers direct their journey to them." Jerome, "Involved are the paths of their steps." According to the interpretation of Rosenmuller, Noyes, Umbreit, and others, it means that the caravans on their journey turn aside from their regular way in order to find water there; and that in doing it they go up into a desert and perish. According to the other interpretation, it means that the channels of the stream wind along until they diminish and come to nothing. This latter I take to be the true sense of the passage, as it is undoubtedly the most poetical. It is a representation of the stream winding along in its channels, or making new channels as it flows from the mountain, until it diminishes by evaporation, and finally comes to nothing.
They go to nothing - Noyes renders this very singularly, "into the desert," - meaning that the caravans, when they suppose they are going to a place of refreshment, actually go to a desert, and thus perish. The word used here, however תהוּ tôhû, does not occur in the sense of a desert elsewhere in the Scriptures. It denotes nothingness, emptiness, vanity (see Gen 1:2), and very appropriately expresses the nothingness into which a stream vanishes when it is dried up or lost in the sand. The sense is, that those streams wander along until they become smaller and smaller, and then wholly disappear. They deceive the traveler who hoped to find refreshment there. Streams depending on snows and storms, and having no permanent fountains, cannot be confided in. Pretended friends are like them. In times of prosperity they are full of professions, and their aid is proffered to us. But we go to them when we need their assistance, when we are like the weary and thirsty traveler, and they disappear like deceitful streams in the sands of the desert.
The troops of Tema looked - That is, looked for the streams of water. On the situation of Tema, see Notes, Job 2:11. This was the country of Eliphaz, and the image would be well understood by him. The figure is one of exquisite beauty. It means that the caravans from Tema, in journeying through the desert, looked for those streams. They came with an expectation of finding the means of allaying their thirst. When they came there they were disappointed, for the waters had disappeared. Reiske, however, renders this, "Their tracks (the branchings of the flood) tend toward Tema;" - a translation which the Hebrew will bear, but the usual version is more correct, and is more elegant.
The companies of Sheba waited for them - The "Sheba" here referred to was probably in the southern part of Arabia; see the notes at Isa 45:14. The idea is, that the caravans from that part of Arabia came and looked for a supply of water, and were disappointed.
They were confounded because they had hoped - The caravans of Tema and Sheba. The word "confounded" here means ashamed. It represents the state of feeling which one has who has met with disappointment. He is perplexed, distressed, and ashamed that he had entertained so confident hope; see the notes at Isa 30:5. They were downcast and sad that the waters had failed, and they looked on one another with confusion and dismay. There are few images more poetic than this, and nothing that would more strikingly exhibit the disappointment of Job, that he had looked for consolation from his friends, and had not found it. He was down-cast, distressed, and disheartened, like the travelers of Tema and of Sheba, because they had nothing to offer to console him; because he had waited for them to sustain him in his afflictions, and had been wholly disappointed.
For now ye are as nothing - Margin, "or, Ye are like to it, or them." In the margin also the word "nothing" is rendered "not." This variety arises from a difference of reading in the Hebrew text, many MSS. having instead of (לא lô'), not, (לו lô'), to him, or to it. Which is correct, it is not easy to determine. Rosenmuller supposes that it is only a variety in writing the word לא l', where the waw is often used for .א The probability is, that it means, that they were as nothing - like the stream that had disappeared. This is the point of the comparison; and this Job now applies to his friends. They had promised much by their coming - like the streams when swollen by rains and melted ice. But now they were found to be nothing.
Ye see my casting down - חתת chăthath - my being broken or crushed; my calamity. Vulgate, plugam. Septuagint, τραῦμα trauma, wound.
And are afraid - Are timid and fearful. You shrink back; you dare not approach the subject boldly, or come to me with words of consolation. You came with a professed intention to administer comfort, but your courage fails.
Did I say, Bring unto me? - Job proceeds to state that their conduct in this had been greatly aggravated by the fact that they had come voluntarily. He had not asked them to come. He had desired no gift; no favor. He had not applied to them in any way or form for help. They had come of their own accord, and when they came they uttered only the language of severity and reproach. If he had asked them to aid him, the case would have been different. That would have given them some excuse for interposing in the case. But now the whole was gratuitous and unasked. He did not desire their interference, and he implies by these remarks that if they could say nothing that would console him, it would have been kindness in them to have said nothing.
Or, Give a reward for me of your substance? - That is, did I ask a present from you out of your property? I asked nothing. I have on no occasion asked you to interpose and aid me.
Or, Deliver me out of the enemy's hand? - At no time have I called on you to rescue me from a foe.
Or, Redeem me? - That is, rescue me from the hand of robbers. The meaning is, that he was in no way beholden to them; he had never called on them for assistance; and there was therefore no claim which they could now have to afflict him further by their reflections. There seems to be something peevish in these remarks; and we need not attempt to justify the spirit which dictated them.
Teach me, and I will hold my tongue - That is, give me any real instruction, or show me what is my duty, and I will be silent. By this he means that Eliphaz had really imparted no instruction, but had dealt only in the language of reproof. The sense is, "I would willingly sit and listen where truth is imparted, and where I could be enabled to see the reason of the divine dealings. If I could be made to understand where I have erred, I would acquiesce."
How forcible are right words! - How weighty and impressive are words of truth! Job means that he was accustomed to feel their power, and to admit it on his soul. If their words were such, he would listen to them with profound attention, and in silence. The expression has a proverbial cast.
But what doth your arguing reprove? - Or rather, what doth the reproof from you reprove? or what do your reproaches prove? Job professes a readiness to listen to words of truth and wisdom; he complains that the language of reproach used by them was not adapted to instruct his understanding or to benefit his heart. As it was, he did not feel himself convinced, and was likely to derive no advantage from what they said.
Do ye imagine to reprove words? - A considerable variety of interpretation has occurred in regard to this verse. Dr. Good, following Schultens, supposes that the word translated wind here רוּח rûach means sighs, or groans, and renders it,
Would ye then take up words for reproof,
The mere venting the means of despair?
But Rosenmuller has well remarked that the word never has this signification. Noyes renders it,
Do ye mean to censure words?
The words of a man in despair are but wind.
In this, he has probably expressed the true sense. This explanation was proposed by Ludov. de Dieu, and is adopted by Rosenmuller. According to this, the sense is, "Do you think it reasonable to carp at mere words? Will you pass over weighty and important arguments and facts, and dwell upon the words merely that are extorted from a man in misery? Do you not know that one in a state of despair utters many expressions which ought not to be regarded as the result of his deliberate judgment? And will you spend your time in dwelling on those words rather than on the main argument involved?" This is probably the true sense of the verse; and if so it is a complaint of Job that they were disposed to make him "an offender for a word" rather than to enter into the real merits of the case, and especially that they were not disposed to make allowances for the hasty expressions of a man almost in despair.
Yea, ye overwhelm the fatherless - Job undoubtedly means that this should be applied to himself. He complains that they took advantage of his words, that they were disposed to pervert his meaning, and unkindly distorted what he said. The word rendered" fatherless" יתום yâthôm properly denotes an orphan; Exo 22:22; Deu 10:18; Deu 14:29. But it is possible that it is not to be taken in this limited signification here. The word is still retained in the Arabic language - the language spoken in the country where Job lived, - where the word יתום yâthôm means to be lonely, bereaved, etc. It may be that this idea occurs under the form of the word used here, that Job was lonely and bereaved; that he was as desolate and helpless as a fatherless child; and especially that they manifested a spirit like that of those who would oppress an orphan. The word "overwhelm" תפילוּ tapı̂ylû means properly, "ye fall upon;" that is, you deal with him violently. Or, it may mean here, in the Hiphil, "you cause to fall upon," referring to a net, and meaning, that they sprung a net for the orphan. So Rosenmuller and Noyes understand it. To do this was, in Oriental countries, regarded as a crime of special enormity, and is often so spoken of in the Bible; see the notes at Isa 1:17.
And ye dig a pit for your friend - You act toward your friend as hunters do toward wild beasts. They dig a pit and cover it over with brushwood to conceal it, and the hunted animal, deceived, falls into it unawares. So you endeavor to entrap your friend. You lay a plan for it. You conceal your design. You contrive to drive him into the pit that you have made, and urge him on until you have caught him in the use of unguarded language, or driven him to vent expressions that cover him with confusion. Instead of throwing a mantle of charity over his frailties and infirmities, you make the most of every word, take it out of its proper connection, and attempt to overwhelm him in shame and disgrace. On the method of hunting in ancient times, see the notes at -Job 18:8-10.
Now, therefore, be content - Rosenmuller has better rendered this, "if it please you." The sense is, "if you are willing, look upon me." That is, "if you are disposed, you may take a careful view of me. Look me in the countenance. You can see for yourselves whether I am sincere or false. I am willing that my whole demeanor should be subjected to the utmost scrutiny."
For it is evident unto you if I lie - Margin, as in Hebrew before your face. That is, "you yourselves can see by my whole demeanor, by my sufferings, my patience, my manifest sincerity, that I am not playing the hypocrite." Conscious of sincerity, he believed that if they would look upon him, they would be convinced that he was a sincere and an upright man.
Return, I pray you - That is, return to the argument. Give your attention to it again. Perhaps he may have discerned a disposition in them to turn away from what he was saying, and to withdraw and leave him. Job expresses his belief that he could convince them; and he proposes more fully to state his views, if they would attend to him.
Let it not be iniquity - Let it not be considered as wrong thus to come back to the argument. Or, let it not be assumed that my sentiments are erroneous, and my heart evil. Job means, that it should not be taken for granted that he was a hypocrite; that he was conscious of sincerity, and that he was convinced that he could satisfy them of it if they would lend a listening ear. A similar sentiment he expresses in Job 19:28 :
But ye should say, Why persecute we him?
Seeing the root of the matter is found in me.
My righteousness is in it - Margin, that is, this matter. The sense is, "my complete vindication is in the argument which I propose to state. I am prepared to show that I am innocent." On that account, he wishes them to return and attend to what he proposed to say.
Is there iniquity in my tongue? - This is a solemn appeal to their consciences, and their own deep conviction that he was sincere. Iniquity in the tongue means falsehood, deceit, hypocrisy - that which would be expressed by the tongue.
Cannot my taste discern perverse things? - Margin, palate. The word used here חך chêk means properly the palate, together with the corresponding lower part of the mouth, the inside mouth. Gesenius. Hence, it means the organ of taste, residing in the mouth. The meaning is, that Job was qualified to discern what was true or false, sincere or hypocritical, just or unjust, in the same manner as the palate is fitted to discern the qualities of objects, whether bitter or sweet, pleasant or unpleasant, wholesome or unwholesome. His object is to invite attention to what he had to state on the subject. To this proposed vindication he proceeds in the following chapter, showing the greatness of his calamity, and his right, as he supposes, to complain. Their attention was gained. They did not refuse to listen to him, and he proceeds to a fuller statement of his calamity, and of the reasons why he had allowed himself to use the language of complaint. They listened without interruption until he was done, and then replied in tones of deeper severity still.