Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Elihu also proceeded - Hebrew added - ויסף vayâsaph. Vulgate "addens;" Septuagint, Ηροσθεὶς Eerostheis - "adding, or proceeding." The Hebrew commentators remark that this word is used because this speech is "added" to the number which it might be supposed he would make. There had been "three" series of speeches, by Job and his friends, and in each one of them Job had spoken three times. Each one of the three friends had also spoken thrice, except Zophar, who failed to reply when it came to his turn. Elihu had also now made three speeches, and here he would naturally have closed, but it is remarked that he "added" this to the usual number.
Suffer me a little - Even beyond the regular order of speaking; or, allow me to go on though I have fully occupied my place in the "number" of speeches. Jarchi remarks that this verse is "Chaldaic," and it is worthy of observation that the principal words in it are not those ordinarily used in Hebrew to express the same thought, but are such as occur in the Chaldee. The word rendered "suffer" (כתר kâthar) has here a signification which occurs only an Syriac and Chaldee. It properly means in Hebrew: to "surround," in a hostile sense; Jdg 20:43; Psa 22:12; then in the Hiphil to crown oneself. In Syriac and Chaldee, it means "to wait" - perhaps from the idea of going round and round - and this is the meaning here. He wished them not to remit their attention, but to have patience with what he would yet say.
And I will show thee that - Margin, "there are yet words for God." The Hebrew is, "And I will show you that there are yet words for God;" that is, that there were yet many. considerations which could be urged in vindication of his government. The idea of Elihu is not so much that "he" had much to say, as that in fact there was much that "could be" said for him. He regarded his character and government as having been attacked, and he believed that there were ample considerations which could be urged in its defense. The word which is here rendered "I will show thee" (אחוך 'achâvekā), is also Chaldee in its signification. It is from חוה châvâh (Chaldee) not used in the Qal, but it occurs in other forms in the Chaldee portion of the Scriptures; see Dan 2:11, Dan 2:16, Dan 2:24, Dan 2:27. The use of these Chaldee words is somewhat remarkable, and perhaps may throw some light on the question about the time and place of the composition of the book.
I will fetch my knowledge from afar - What I say shall not be mere commonplace. It shall be the result of reflection on subjects that lie out of the ordinary range of thought. The idea is, that he did not mean to go over the ground that had been already trodden, or to suggest such reflections as would occur to anyone, but that he meant to bring his illustrations from abstruser matters, and from things that had escaped their attention. He in fact appeals to the various operations of nature - the rain, the dew, the light, the instincts of the animal creation, the vicissitudes of the seasons, the laws of heat and cold, and shows that all these prove that God is inscrutably wise and gloriously great.
And will ascribe righteousness to my Maker - That is, I will show that these things to which I now appeal, "prove" that he is righteous, and is worthy of universal confidence. Perhaps, also, he means to contrast the result of his reflections with those of Job. He regarded him as having charged his Maker with injustice and wrong. Elihu says that it was a fixed principle with him to ascribe righteousness to God, and that he believed it could be fully sustained by an appeal to his works. Man should "presume" that his Maker is good, and wise, and just; he should be "willing" to find that he is so; he should "expect" that the result of the profoundest investigation of his ways and works will prove that he is so - and in such an investigation he will never be disappointed. A man is in no good frame of mind, and is not likely to be led to any good result in his investigations, when he "begins" his inquiries by believing that his Maker is unjust, and who "prosecutes" them with the hope and expectation that he will find him to be so. Yet do people never do this?
For truly my words shall not be false - This is designed to conciliate attention. It is a professed purpose to state nothing but truth. Even in order to vindicate the ways of God he would state nothing but what would bear the most rigid examination. Job had charged on his friends a purpose "to speak wickedly for God;" to make use of unsound arguments in vindicating his cause, (see the notes at Job 13:7-8), and Elihu now says that "he" will make use of no such reasoning, but that all that he says shall be founded in strict truth.
He that is perfect in knowledge is with thee - This refers undoubtedly to Elihu himself, and is a claim to a clear understanding of the subject. He did not doubt that he was right, and that he had some views which were worthy of their attention. The main idea is, that he was of "sound" knowledge; that his views were not sophistical and captious; that they were founded in truth, and were worthy, therefore. of their profound attention.
Behold, God is Mighty - This is the first consideration which Elihu urges, and the purpose seems to be to affirm that God is so great that he has no occasion to modify his treatment of any class of people from a reference to himself. He is wholly independent of all, and can therefore be impartial in his dealings. If it were otherwise; if he were dependent upon human beings for any share of his happiness, he might be tempted to show special favor to the great and to the rich; to spare the mighty who are wicked, though he cut off the poor. But he has no such inducement, as he is wholly independent; and it is to be presumed, therefore, that he treats all impartially; see the notes at Job 35:5-8.
And despiseth not any - None who are poor and humble. He does not pass them by with cold neglect because they are poor and power. less, and turn his attention to the great and mighty because he is dependent on them.
He is mighty in wisdom - Margin, "heart." The word "heart" in Hebrew is often used to denote the intellectual powers; and the idea here is, that God has perfect wisdom in the management of his affairs. He is acquainted with all the circumstances of his creatures, and passes by none from a defect of knowledge, or frown a lack of wisdom to know how to adopt his dealings to their condition.
He preserveth not the life of the wicked - Elihu here maintains substantially the same sentiment which the three friends of Job had done, that the dealings of God in this life are in accordance with character, and that strict justice is thus maintained.
But giveth right to the poor - Margin, "or afflicted." The Hebrew word often refers to the afflicted, to the humble, or the lowly; and the reference here is to the "lower classes" of society. The idea is, that God deals justly with them, and does not overlook them because they are so poor and feeble that they cannot contribute anything to him. In this sentiment Elihu was undoubtedly right, though, like the three friends of Job, he seems to have adopted the principle that the dealings of God here are according to the "characters" of people. He had some views in advance of theirs. He saw that affliction is designed for "discipline" Job 33; that God is willing to show mercy to the sufferer on repentance; that he is not dependent upon human beings, and that his dealings "cannot" be graduated by any reference to what he would receive or suffer from people; but still he clung to the idea that the dealings of God here are a proof of the character of the afflicted. What was mysterious about it he resolved into sovereignty, and showed that man "ought" to be submissive to God, and to "believe" that he was qualified to govern. He lacked the views which Christianity has furnished, that the inequalities that appear in the divine dealings here will be made clear in the retributions of another world.
He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous - That is, he constantly observes them, whether they are in the more elevated or humble ranks of life. Even though he afflicts them, his eye is upon them, and he does not forsake them. It will be remembered that one of the difficulties to be accounted for was, that they who professed to be righteous are subjected to severe trials. The friends of Job had maintained that such a fact was in itself proof that they who professed to be pious were not so, but were hypocrites. Job had verged to the other extreme, and had said that it looked as if God had forsaken those that loved him, and that there was no advantage in being righteous; notes, Job 35:2. Elihu takes a middle ground, and says that neither was the correct opinion. It is true, he says, that the righteous are afflicted, but they are not forsaken. The eye of God is still upon them, and he watches over them, whether on the throne or in dungeons, in order "to bring good results" out of their trials.
But with kings are they on the throne - That is, if the righteous are in the state of the highest earthly honor and prosperity, God is with them, and is their protector and friend. The same thing Elihu, in the following verses, says is true respecting the righteous, when they are in the most down-trodden and depressed condition.
Yea, he doth establish them for ever - The meaning of this is, that they are regarded by God with favor. When righteous kings "are" thus prospered, and have a permanent and peaceful reign, it is God who gives this prosperity to them. They are under his watchful eye, and his protecting hand.
And if they be bound in fetters - That is, if the righteous are thrown into prison, and are subjected to oppressions and trials, or if they are chained down, as it were, on a bed of pain, or crushed by heavy calamities, the eye of God is still upon them. Their sufferings should not be regarded either as proof that they are hypocrites, or that God is regardless of them, and is indifferent whether people are good or evil. The true solution of the difficulty was, that God was then accomplishing purposes of discipline, and that happy results would follow if they would receive affliction in a proper manner.
Then he showeth them their work - What their lives have been. This he does either by a messenger sent to them Job 33:23, or by their own reflections Job 33:27, or by the influences of his Spirit leading them to a proper review of their lives. The object of their affliction, Elihu says, is to bring them to see what their conduct has been, and to reform what has been amiss. It should not be interpreted either as proof that the afflicted are eminently wicked, as the friends of Job maintained, or as furnishing an occasion for severe reflections on the divine government, such as Job had indulged in. It is all consistent with an equitable and kind administration; with the belief that the afflicted have true piety - though they have wandered and erred; and with the conviction that God is dealing with them in mercy, and not in the severity of wrath. They need only recal the errors of their lives; humble themselves, and exercise true repentance, and they would find afflictions to be among even their richest blessings.
Transgressions that they have exceeded - Or, rather, "he shows them their transgressions that they have been very great"; that they have made themselves great, mighty, strong - יתגברוּ yitgâbarû. The idea is, that their transgressions had been allowed to accumulate, or to become strong, until it was necessary to interpose in this manner, and check them by severe affliction. All this was consistent, however, with the belief that the sufferer was truly pious and might find favor if he would repent.
He openeth also their ear to discipline - To teaching; or he makes them willing to learn the lessons which their afflictions are designed to teach; coral). See the notes at Job 33:16.
If they obey and serve him - That is, if, as the result of their afflictions, they repent of their sins, seek his mercy, and serve him in time to come, they shall be prospered still. The design of affliction, Elihu says, is, not to cut them off, but to bring them to repentance. This sentiment he had advanced and illustrated before at greater length; see the notes at Job 33:23-28. The object of all this is, doubtless, to assure Job that he should not regard his calamities either as proof that he had never understood religion - as his friends maintained; or that God was severe, and did not regard those that loved and obeyed him - as Job had seemed to suppose; but that there was something in his life and conduct which made discipline necessary, and that if he would repcnt of that, he would find returning prosperity, and end his days in happiness and peace.
But if they obey not - If those who are afflicted do not turn to God, and yield him obedience, they must expect that he will continue their calamities until they are cut off.
They shall perish by the sword - Margin, as in Hebrew "pass away." The word rendered "sword" (שׁלח shelach) means properly "anything sent" - as a spear or an arrow - "a missile" - and then an instrument of war in general. It may be applied to any weapon that is used to produce death. The idea here is, that the man who was afflicted on account of the sins which he had committed, and who did not repent of them and turn to God, would be cut off. God would not withdraw his hand unless he acknowledged his offences. As he had undertaken the work of discipline, he could not consistently do it, for it would be in fact "yielding" the point to him whom he chastised. This "may" be the case now, and the statement here made by Elihu may involve a principle which will explain the cause of the death of many persons, even of the professedly pious. They are devoted to gain or amusement; they seek the honors of the world for their families or themselves, and in fact they make no advances in piety, and are doing nothing for the cause of religion. God lays his hand upon them at first gently. They lose their health, or a part of their property. But the discipline is not effectual. He then lays his band on them with more severity, and takes from them an endeared child. Still, all is ineffectual. The sorrow of the affliction passes away, and they mingle again in the frivolous and busy scenes of life as worldly as ever, and exert no influence in favor of religion. Another blow is needful, and blow after blow is struck; but nothing overcomes their worldliness, nothing makes them devotedly and sincerely useful, and it becomes necessary to remove them from the world.
They shall die without knowledge - That is, without any true knowledge of the plans and government of God, or of the reasons why he brought these afflictions upon them. In all their sufferings they never "saw" the design. They complained, and murmured, and charged God with severity, but they never understood that the affliction was intended for their own benefit.
But the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath - By their continued impiety they lay the foundation for increasing and multiplied expressions of the divine displeasure. Instead of confessing their sins when they are afflicted, and seeking for pardon: instead of returning to God and becoming truly his friends, they remaian impenitent, unconverted, and are rebellious at heart. They complain of the divine government and plans, and their feelings and conduct make it necessary for God further to interpose, until they are finally cut off and consigned to ruin. Elihu had stated what was the effect in two classes of persons who were afflicted. There were those who were truly pious, and who would receive affliction as sent from God for purposes of discipline, and who would repent and seek his mercy; Job 36:11. There were those, as a second class, who were openly wicked, and who would not be benfited by afflictions, and who would thus be cut off, Job 36:12. He says, also, that there was a third class - the class of hypocrites, who also were not profited by afflictions, and who would only by their perverseness and rebellion heap up wrath. It is "possible" that he may have designed to include Job in this number, as his three friends had done, but it seems more probable that he meant merely to suggest to Job that there was such a class, and to turn his mind to the "possibility" that he might be of the number. In explaining the design and effect of afflictions, it was at least proper to refer to this class, since it could not be doubted that there were people of this description.
They cry not when he bindeth them - They do not cry to God with the language of penitence when he binds them down by calamities; see Job 36:8.
They die in youth - Margin, "Their soul dieth." The word "soul" or "life" in the Hebrew is used to denote oneself. The meaning is, that they would soon be cut down, and share the lot of the openly wicked. If they amended their lives they might be spared, and continue to live in prosperity and honor; if they did not, whether openly wicked or hypocrites. they would be early cut off.
And their life is amnong the unclean - Margin, "Sodomites." The idea is, that they would be treated in the same way as the most abandoned and vile of the race. No special favor would be shown to them because they were "professors" of religion, nor would this fact be a shield against the treatment which they deserved. They could not be classed with the righteous, and must, therefore, share the fate of the most worth mss and wicked of the race. The word rendered "unclean" (קדשׁים qâdêsh) is from קדשׁ qâdash, "to be pure or holy"; and in the Hiphil to regard as holy, to consecrate, or devote to the service of God, as e. g. a priest; Exo 28:41; Exo 29:1. Then it means to consecrate or devote to "any" service or purpose, as to an idol god. Hence, it means one consecrated or devoted to the service of Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians or Venus, and as this worship was corrupt and licentious, the word means one who is licentious or corrupt compare Deu 23:18; Kg1 14:24; Gen 38:21-22. Here it means the licentious, the corrupt, the abandoned; and the idea is, that if hypocrites did not repent under the inflictions of divine judgment, they would be dealt with in the same way as the most abandoned and vile. On the evidence that licentiousness constituted a part of the ancient worship of idols, see Spencer "de Legg. ritual Hebraedor." Lib. ii. cap. iii. pp. 613, 614, Ed. 1732. Jerome renders this, "intereffoeminatos." The Septuagint strangely enough has: "Let their life be wounded by angels."
He delivereth the poor in his affliction - Margin, "or afflicted." This accords better with the usual meaning of the Hebrew word (עני ‛ânı̂y) and with the connection. The inquiry was not particularly respecting the "poor," but the "afflicted," and the sentiment which Elihu is illustrating is, that when the afflicted call upon God he will deliver them. The object is to induce Job to make such an application to God that he might be rescued from his calamities, and be permitted yet to enjoy life and happiness.
And openeth their ears - Causes them to understand the nature of his government, and the reasons why he visits them in this manner: compare Job 33:16, Job 33:23-27. The sentiment here is a mere repetition of what Elihu had more than once before advanced. It is his leading thought; the "principle" on which he undertakes to explain the reason why God afflicts people, and by which he proposes to remove the difference between Job and his friends.
In oppression - This word expresses too much. It refers to God, and implies that there was something oppressive, harsh, or cruel in his dealings. This is not the idea of Elihu in the language which he uses. The word which he uses here (לחץ lachats) means "that which crushes"; then straits, distress. affliction. Jerome, "in tribulatione." The word "affliction" would express the thought.
Even so would he have removed thee - That is, if you had been patient and resigned, and if you had gone to him with a broken heart. Having stated the "principles" in regard to affliction which he held to be indisputable, and having affirmed that God was ever ready to relieve the sufferer if he would apply to him with a proper spirit, it was natural to infer from this that the reason why Job "continued" to suffer was, that he did not manifest a proper spirit in his trials. Had he done this, Elihu says, the hand of God would have been long since withdrawn, and his afflictions would have been removed.
Out of the strait into a broad place - From the narrow, pent up way, where it is impossible to move, into a wide and open path. Afflictions are compared with a narrow path, in which it is impossible to get. along; prosperity with a broad and open road in which there are no obstructions; compare Psa 18:19; Psa 31:8. "And that which should be set on thy table." Margin, "the rest of thy table." The Hebrew word (נחת nachath - from נוח nûach, "to rest," and in the Hiphil to set down, to cause to rest) means properly a "letting," or "settling down;" and then that which is set down - as e. g. food on a table. This is the idea here. that the food which would be set on his table would be rich and abundant; that is, he would be restored to prosperity, if he envinced a penitent spirit in his trials, and confessed his sins to God. The same image of piety occurs in Psa 23:5, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
But thou hast fulfilled the judgment of the wicked - Rosenmuller explains this as meaning, "If under divine inflictions and chastisements you wish to imitate the obduracy of the wicked, then the cause and the punishment will mutually sustain them selves; that is, the one will be commensurate with the other." But it is not necessary to regard this as a "supposition." It has rather the aspect of; an affirmation, meaning to express the fact that Job "had," as Elihu feared, envinced the same spirit in his trials which the wicked do. He had not seen in him evidence of penitence and of a desire to return to God, but had heard complaints and murmurings, such as the wicked indulge in. He had "filled up," or "fulfilled," the judgment of the wicked; that is, he had in no way come short of the opinion which "they" expressed of the divine dealings. Still it is possible that the word "if" may be here understood, and that Elihu means merely to state that if Job should manifest the same spirit with the wicked, instead of a spirit of penitence, he would have reason to apprehend the same doom which they experience.
Judgment and justice take hold on thee - Margin, "or, should uphold thee." The Hebrew word here rendered "take" - יתמכוּ yitmokû, is from תמך tâmak - "to take hold of, to obtain, to hold fast, to support." Rosenmuller and Gesenius suppose that the word here has a "reciprocal" sense, and means they take hold of each other, or sustain each other. Prof. Lee renders it, "Both judgment and justice will uphold this;" that is, the sentiment which he had just advanced, that Job had filled up the judgment of the wicked. Urnbrett renders it, "If thou art full of the opinion of the wicked, then the opinion and justice will rapidly follow each other."
Doch worm du yell bist yon des Frevlers Urtheil,
So werden Urthoil und Gericht schnell auf einander folgen.
According to this the meaning is, that if Job held the opinions of wicked people, he must expect that these opinions would be rapidly followed by judgment, or that they would go together, and support each other. This seems to me to be in accordance with the connection, and to express the thought which Elihu meant to convey. It is a sentiment which is undoubtedly true - that if a man holds the sentiments, and manifests the spirit of the wicked, he must expect to be treated as they are.
Because there is wrath - That is, the wrath of God is to be dreaded. The meaning is, that if Job persevered in the spirit which he had manifested, he had every reason to expect that God would suddenly cut him off. He might now repent and find mercy, but he had shown the spirit of those who were rebellions in affliction, and if he persevered in that, he had nothing to expect but the wrath of God.
With his stroke - With his smiting or chastisement; compare Job 34:26.
Then a great ransom cannot deliver thee - Margin, "turn thee aside." The meaning is, that a great ransom could not prevent him from being cut off. On the meaning of the word ransom, see the notes at Job 33:24. The idea here is, not that a great ransom could not deliver him "after" he was cut off and consigned to hell - which would be true; but that when he had manifested a spirit of insubmission a little longer, nothing could save him from being cut off from the land of the living. God would not spare him on account; of wealth, or rank, or age, or wisdom. None of these things would be a "ransom" in virtue of which his forfeited life would be preserved.
Will he esteem thy riches? - That is God will not regard thy riches as a reason why he should not cut you off, or as a ransom for your forfeited life. The reference here must be to the fact that Job "had been" a rich man, and the meaning is, either that God would not spare him because he "had been" a rich man, or that if he had now all the wealth which he once possessed, it would not be sufficient to be a ransom for his life.
Nor all the forces of his strength - Not all that gives power and influence to a man - wealth, age, wisdom, reputation, authority, and rank. The meaning is, that God would not regard any of these when a man was rebellious in affliction, and refused in a proper manner to acknowledge his Maker. Of the truth of what is here affirmed, there can be no doubt. Riches, rank, and honors cannot redeem the life of a man. They do not save him from the grave, and from all that is gloomy and revolting there. When God comes forth to deal with mankind, he does not regard their gold, their rank, their splendid robes or palaces, but he deals with them as "men" - and the "happy," the beautiful, the rich, the noble, moulder back, under his hand, to their native dust in the same manner as the most humble peasant. How forcibly should this teach us not to set our hearts on wealth, and not to seek the honors and wealth of the world as our portion!
Desire not the night - That is, evidently, "the night of death." The darkness of the night is an emblem of death, and it is not uncommon to speak of death in this manner; see Joh 9:4, "The night cometh, when no man can work." Elihu seems to have supposed that Job might have looked forward to death as to a time of release; that so far from "dreading" what he had said would come, that God would cut him off at a stroke, it might be the very thing which he desired, and which he anticipated would be an end of his sufferings. Indeed Job had more than once expressed some such sentiment, and Elihu designs to meet that state of mind, and to charge him not to look forward to death as relief. If his present state of mind continued, he says, he would perish under the "wrath" of God; and death in such a manner, great as might be his sufferings here, could not be desirable.
When people are cut off in their place - On this passage, Schultens enumerates no less than "fifteen" different interpretations which have been given, and at the end of this enumeration remarks that he "waits for clearer light to overcome the shades of this night." Rosenmullcr supposes it means," Long not for the night, in which nations go under themselves;" that is, in which they go down to the inferior regions, or in which they perish. Noyes renders it, "To which nations are taken away to their place." Urnbroil renders it, "Pant not for the night, to go down to the people who dwell under thee;" that is, to the Shades, or to those that dwell in Sheol. Prof. Lee translates it, "Pant not for the night, for the rising of the populace from their places." Coverdale, "Prolong not thou the time, until there come a night for thee to set other people in thy stead." The Septuagint, "Do not draw out the night, that the people may come instead of them;" that is, to their assistance.
Dr. Good "Neither long thou for the night, for the vaults of the nations underneath them;" and supposes that the reference is to the "catacombs," or mummy-pits that were employed for burial-places. These are but specimens of the interpretations which have been proposed for this passage, and it is easy to see that there is little prospect of being able to explain it in a satisfactory manner. The principal difficulty in the passage is in the word rendered "cut off," (עלה ‛âlâh) which means "to go up, to ascend," and in the incongruity between that and the word rendered in their place (תחתם tachthâm), which literally means "under them." A literal translation of the passage is, "Do not desire the night to ascend to the people under them;" but I confess I cannot understand the passage, after all the attempts made to explain it. The trauslation given by Umbreit, seems best to agree with the connection, but I am unable to see that the Hebrew would bear this. See, however, his Note on the passage. The word עלה ‛âlâh he understands here in the sense of "going away," or "bearing away," and the pbrase the "people under them," as denoting the "Shades" in the world beneath us. The whole expression then would be equivalent to a wish "to die" - with the expectation that there would be a change for the better, or a release from present sufferings. Elihu admonishes Job not to indulge such a wish, for it would be no gain for a man to die in the state of mind in which he then was.
Take heed, regard not iniquity - That is, be cautious that in the view which you take of the divine government, and the sentiments which you express, you do not become the advocate of iniquity. Elihu apprehended this from the remarks in which he had indulged, and regarded him as having become the advocate of the same sentiments which the wicked held, and as in fact manifesting the same spirit. It is well to put a man who is afflicted on his guard against this, when he attempts to reason about the divine administration.
For this hast thou chosen rather than affliction - That is, you have chosen rather to give vent to the language of complaint, than to bear your trials with resignation. "You have chosen rather to accuse divine Providence than to submit patiently to his chastisements." "Patrick." There was too much truth in this remark about Job; and it is still not an uncommon thing in times of trial, and indeed in human life in general. People often prefer iniquity to affliction. They will commit crime rather than suffer the evils of poverty; they will be guilty of fraud and forgery to avoid apprehended want. They will be dishonest to their creditors rather than submit to the disgrace of bankruptcy. They will take advantage of the widow and the fatherless rather than suffer themselves. "Sin is often preferred to affliction;" and many are the people who, to avoid calamity, would not shrink from the commission of wrong. Especially in times of trial, when the hand of God is laid upon people, they "prefer" a spirit of complaining and murmuring to patient and calm resignation to the will of God. They seek relief even in complaining; and think it "some" alleviation of their sufferings that they can "find fault with God." "They who choose iniquity rather than affliction, make a very foolish choice; they that ease their cares by sinful pleasures, escape their troubles by sinful projects, and evade sufferings for righteousness' sake by sinful compliances against their consciences; these make a choice they will repent of, for there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction." Henry.
Behold, God exalteth by his power - The object of Elihu is now to direct the attention of Job to God, and to show him that he has evinced such power and wisdom in his works, that we ought not to presume to arraign him, but should bow with submission to his will. He remarks, therefore, that God "exalts," or rather that God is "exalted," or "exalts himself" (ישׂגיב yaśagiyb) by his power. In the exhibition of his power, he thus shows that he is great, and that people ought to be submissive to him. In support of this, he appeals, in the remainder of his discourse, to the "works" of God as furnishing extraordinary proofs of power, and full demonstration that God is exalted far above man.
Who teacheth like him? - The Septuagint renders this, δυνάστης dunastēs - "Who is so powerful as he?" Rosenmuller and Umbreit render it Lord: "Who is Lord like him?" But the Hebrew word (מורה môreh) properly means "one who instructs," and the idea is, that there is no one who is qualified to give so exalted conceptions of the government of God as he is himself. The object is to direct the mind to him as he is revealed in his works, in order to obtain elevated conceptions of his government.
Who hath enjoined him his way? - Who hath prescribed to him what he ought to do? Who is superior to him, and has marked out for him the plan which he ought to pursue? The idea is, that God is supreme and independent; no one has advised him, and no one has a right to counsel him. Perhaps, also, Elihu designs this as a reproof to Job for having complained so much of the government of God, and for being disposed, as he thought, to "prescribe" to God what he should do.
Who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity? - Thou hast done wrong. The object of Elihu is here to show that no one has a right to say this; no one could, in fact, say it. It was to be regarded as an indisputable point that God is always right, and that however dark his dealings with people may seem, the "reason" why they are mysterious "never is, that God is wrong."
Remember that thou magnify his work - Make this a great and settled principle, to remember that God is "great" in all that he does. He is exalted far above us, and all his works are on a scale of vastness corresponding to his nature, and in all our attempts to judge of him and his doings, we should bear this in remembrance. He is not to be judged by the narrow views which we apply to the actions of people, but by the views which ought to be taken when we remember that he presides over the vast universe, and that as the universal Parent, he will consult the welfare of the whole. In judging of his doings, therefore, we are not to place ourselves in the center, or to regard ourselves as the "whole" or the creation, but we are to remember that there are other great interests to be regarded, and that his plans will be in accordance with the welfare of the whole. One of the best rules for taking a proper estimate of God is that proposed here by Elihu - to remember that he is great.
Which men behold - The Vulgate renders this, "de quo cecinerunt viri" - "concerning which men sing." The Septuagint, ὧν ἦρξαν ἄνδρες hōn ērxan andres - "over which men rule." Schultens accords with the Vulgate. So Coverdale renders it, "Whom all men love and praise." So Herder and Noyes understand it, "Which men celebrate with songs." This difference of interpretation arises from the ambiguity of the Hebrew word (שׁררוּ shorerû) some deriving it from שׁור shûr, "to go round about, and then to survey, look upon, examine"; and some from שׁיר shı̂yr, "to sing, to celebrate." The word will admit of either interpretation, and either will suit the connection. The sense of "seeing" those works, however, better agrees with what is said in the following verse, and perhaps better suits the connection. The object of Elihu is not to fix the attention on the fact that people "celebrate" the works of God, but to turn "the eyes to the visible creation," as a proof of the greatness of the Almighty.
Every man may see it - That is, every man may look on the visible creation, and see proofs there of the wisdom and greatness of God. All may look on the sun, the moon, the stars; all may behold the tempest and the storm; all may see the lightning and the rain, and may form some conception of the majesty of the Most High. The idea of Elihu here is, that every man might trace the evidences that God is great in his works.
Man may behold it afar off - His works are so great and glorious that they make an impression even at a vast distance. Though we are separated from them by a space which surpasses the power of computation, yet they are so great that they fill the mind with vast conceptions of the majesty and glory of their Maker. This is true of the heavenly bodies; and the more we learn of their immense distances from us, the more is the mind impressed with the greatness and glory of the visible creation.
Behold, God is great, and we know him not - That is, we cannot fully comprehend him; see the notes at Job 11:7-9.
Neither can the number of his years be searched out - That is, he is eternal. The object of what is said here is to impress the mind with a sense of the greatness of God, and with the folly of attempting fully to comprehend the reason of what he does. Man is of a few days, and it is presumption in him to sit in judgment on the doings of one who is from eternity. We may here remark that the doctrine that there is an Eternal Being presiding over the universe, was a doctrine fully held by the speakers in this book - a doctrine far in advance of all that philosophy ever taught, and which was unknown for ages in the lands on which the light of revelation never shone.
For he maketh small the drops of water - Elihu now appeals, as he proposed to do, to the works of God, and begins with what appeared so remarkable and inexplicable, the wisdom of God in the rain and the dew, the tempest and the vapor. That which excited his wonder was, the fact in regard to the suspension of water in the clouds, and the distilling of it on the earth in the form of rain and dew. This very illustration had been used by Eliphaz for a similar purpose (Notes, Job 5:9-10), and whether we regard it as it "appears" to people without the light which science has thrown upon it, or look at the manner in which God suspends water in the clouds and sends it down in the form of rain and dew, with all the light which has been furnished by science, the fact is one that evinces in an eminent degree the wisdom of God. The word which is rendered "maketh small" (גרע gâra‛), means properly "to scrape off, to detract, to diminish, to take away from." In the Piel, the form used here, it means, according to Gesenius, "to take to one's self, to attract;" and the sense here, according to this, is, that God attracts, or draws upward the drops of water. So it is rendered by Herder, Noyes, Umbreit, and Rosenmuller. The idea is, that he "draws up" the drops of the water to the clouds, and then pours them down in rain. If the meaning in our common version be retained, the idea would be, that it was proof of great wisdom in God that the water descended in "small drops," instead of coming down in a deluge; compare the notes at Job 26:8.
They pour down rain - That is, the clouds pour down the rain.
According to the vapour thereof - - לאדו le'êdô. The idea seems to be, that the water thus drawn up is poured down again in the form of a "vapory rain," and which does not descend in torrents. The subject of admiration in the mind of Elihu was, that water should evaporate and ascend to the clouds, and be held there, and then descend again in the form of a gentle rain or fine mist. The reason for admiration is not lessened by becoming more fully acquainted with the laws by which it is done than Elihu can be supposed to have been.
Upon man abundantly - That is, upon many people. The clouds having received the ascending vapor, retain it, and pour it down copiously for the use of man. The arrangement, to the eye even of one who did not understand the scientific principles by which it is done, is beautiful and wonderful; the beauty and wonder are increased when the laws by which it is accomplished are understood. Elihu does not attempt to explain the mode by which this is done. The fact was probably all that was then understood, and that was sufficient for his purpose. The Septuagint has given a translation of this verse which cannot be well accounted for, and which is certainly very unlike the original. It is, "But when the clouds east a shade over the dumb creation, he impresseth a care on beasts, and they know the order for retiring to rest - κοίτης τάξιν koitēs taxin. At all these things is not their understanding confounded? And is not thy heart starting from thy body?"
Also, can any understand the spreadings of the clouds? - The out spreading - the manner in which they expand themselves over us. The idea is, that the manner in which the clouds seem to "spread out," or unfold themselves on the sky, could not be explained, and was a striking proof of the wisdom and power of God. In the early periods of the world, it could not be expected that the causes of these phenomena would be known. Now that the causes "are" better known, however, they do not less indicate the wisdom and power of God, nor are these facts less fitted to excite our wonder. The simple and beautiful laws by which the clouds are suspended; by which they roll in the sky; by which they spread themselves out - as in a rising tempest, and by which they seem to unfold themselves over the heavens, should increase, rather than diminish, our conceptions of the wisdom and power of the Most High.
Or, the noise of his tabernacle - Referring, doubtless, to thunder. The clouds are represented as a tent or pavilion spread out for the dwelling of God (compare the notes at Isa 40:22), and the idea here is, that the noise made in a thunder-storm is in the unique dwelling of God. Herder well expresses it, "The fearful thunderings in his tent," compare Psa 18:11 -
He made darkness his secret place,
His pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.
The sense here is, who can understand and explain the cause of thunder? The object of Elihu in this is, to show how great and incomprehensible is God, and nature furnishes few more impressive illustrations of this than the crash of thunder.
Behold, he spreadeth his light upon it - That is, upon his tabernacle or dwelling-place - the clouds. The allusion is to lightning, which flashes in a moment over the whole heavens. The image is exceedingly beautiful and graphic. The idea of "spreading out" the light in an instant over the whole of the darkened heavens, is that which Elihu had in his mind, and which impressed him so forcibly. On the difficulty in regard to the translation of the Septuagint here, see Schleusner on the word ἡδὼ hēdō.
And covereth the bottom of the sea - Margin, "roots." The word roots is used to denote the bottom, as being the lowest part of a thing - as the roots of a tree. The meaning is that he covers the lowest part of the sea with floods of waters; and the object of Elihu is to give an exalted conception of the greatness of God, from the fact that his agency is seen in the higlest and the lowest objects. He spreads out the clouds, thunders in his tabernacle, diffuses a brilliant light over the heavens, and at the same time is occupied in covering the bottom of the sea with the floods. He is Lord over all, and his agency is seen every where. The highest and the lowest objects are under his control, and his agency is seen above and below. On the one hand, he covers the thick and dense clouds with light; and on the other, he envelopes the depth of the ocean in impenetrable darkness.
For by them judgeth he the people - By means of the clouds, the rain, the dew, the tempest, and the thunderbolt. The idea seems to be, that he makes use of all these to execute his purposes on mankind. He can either make them the means of imparting blessings, or of inflicting the severest, judgments. He can cause the tornado to sweep over the earth; he can arm the forked lightning against the works of art; he can withhold rain and dew, and spread over a land the miseries of famine.
He giveth meat in abundance - That is, by the clouds, the dew, the rain. The idea is, that he can send timely showers if he chooses, and the earth will be clothed with plenty. All these things are under his control, and he can, as he pleases, make them the means of comfort to man, or of punishing him for his sins; compare Psa 65:11-13.
With clouds he covereth the light - The Hebrew here is, על־כפים ‛al-kaphiym - "upon his hands." Jerome, "In manibus abscondit lucem," "he hideth the light in his hands." Septuagint, Ἐπὶ χειρῶν ἐκάλυψε φῶς Epi cheirōn ekalupse fōs - "he covereth the light in his hands." The allusion is, undoubtedly, to the lightning, and the image is, that God takes the lightning in his hands, and directs it as he pleases. There has been great variety however, in the exposition of this verse and the following. Schultens enumerates no less than "twenty-eight" different interpretations, and almost every commentator has had his own view of the passage. It is quite evident that our translators did not understand it, and were not able to make out of it any tolerable sense. What idea they attached to the two verses Job 36:32-33, it would be very difficult to imagine, for what is the meaning Job 36:33 of the phrase, "the cattle also concerning the vapor?"
The general sense of the Hebrew appears to be, that God controls the rapid lightnings which appear so vivid, so quick, and so awful; and that he executes his own purposes with them, and makes them, when he pleases, the instruments of inflicting punishment on his foes. The object of Elihu is to excite admiration of the greatness of God who is "able" thus to control the lightning's flash, and to make it an obedient instrument in his hands. The particular expression before us, "By his hands he covereth the light," seems to mean that he seizes or holds the lightning in his hands (Herder), or that he covers over his hands with the lightning (Umbreit), and has it under his control. Prof. Lee supposes that it means, that he holds the lightning in the palms of his hands, or between his two hands, as a man holds a furious wild animal which he is about to let loose for the purpose of destroying. With this he compares the expression of Shakespeare, "Cry havock, and let slip the dogs of war. There can be no doubt, I think, that the phrase means that God has the lightning under his control that it is in his hands, and that he directs it as he pleases. According to Umbreit (Note) the allusion is to the "double use" which God makes of light, in one hand holding the lightning to destroy his foes, and in the other the light of the sun to bless his friends, as he makes use of the rain either for purposes of destruction or mercy. But this idea is not conveyed in the Hebrew.
And commandeth it not to shine - The phrase "not to shine" is not in the Hebrew, and destroys the sense. The simple idea in the original is, "he commandeth it;" that is, he has it under his control, directs it as he pleases, makes use even of the forked lightning as an instrument to execute his pleasure.
By the cloud that cometh betwixt - The words "the cloud" are also inserted by our translators, and destroy the sense. There is no allusion to a cloud, and the idea that the light is intercepted by any object is not in the original. The Hebrew word (במפגיע bemapgiy‛) means "in occurring, in meeting, in striking upon," (from פגע pâga‛ - to strike upon, to impinge to fall upon, to light upon), and the sense here would be well expressed' by the phrase "in striking." The idea is exactly that which we have when we apply the word "strike" or "struck" to lightning, and the meaning is, that he gives the lightning commandment "in striking," or when "it strikes." Nothing could better answer the purpose of an illustration for Elihu in exciting elevated views of God, for there is no exhibition of his power more wonderful than that by which he controls the lightning.
The noise thereof showeth concerning it - The word "noise" here has been inserted by our translators as a version of the Hebrew word (רעו rê‛ô), and if the translators attached any idea to the language which they have used, it seems to have been that the noise attending the lightning, that is, the thunder, furnished an illustration of the power and majesty of God. But it is not possible to educe this idea from the original, and perhaps it is not possible to determine the sense of the passage. Herder renders it, "He pointeth out to them the wicked." Prof. Lee, "By it he announceth his will." Umbreit, "He makes known to it his friend;" that is, he points out his friend to the light, so that it may serve for the happiness of that friend. Noyes, "He uttereth to him his voice; to the herds and the plants." Rosenmuller," He announces what he has decreed against people, and the flocks which the earth has produced."
Many other expositions have been proposed, and there is no reasonable ground of hope that an interpretation will be arrived at which will be free from all difficulty. The principal difficulty in this part of the verse arises from the word רעו rê‛ô, rendered in our version, "The noise thereof." This may be from רוע rûa‛, and may mean a noise, or outcry, and so it is rendered here by Gesenius, "He makes known to him his thunder, that is, to man, or to his enemies." Or the word may mean "his friend," as the word רע rêa‛ is often used; Job 2:11; Job 19:21; Pro 27:17; Sol 5:16; Hos 3:1. Or it may denote "will, thought, desire;" Psa 139:2, Psa 139:17. A choice must be made between these different meanings according to the view entertained of the scope of the passage. To me it seems that the word ""friend"" will better suit the connection than anyone of the other interpretations proposed. According to this, the idea is, that God points out "his friends" to the lightning which he holds in his hand, and bids it spare them. He has entire control of it, and can direct it where he pleases, and instead of sending it forth to work indiscriminate destruction, he carefully designates those on whom he wishes it to strike, but bids it spare his friends.
The cattle also concerning the vapour - Margin, "that which goeth up." What idea the translators attached to this phrase it is impossible now to know, and the probability is, that being conscious of utter inability to give any meaning to the passage, they endeavored to translate the "words" of the original as literally as possible. Coverdale evidently felt the same perplexity, for he renders it, "The rising up thereof showeth he to his friends and to the cattle." Indeed almost every translator and expositor has had the same difficulty, and each one has proposed a version of his own. Aa examination of the "words" employed is the only hope of arriving at any satisfactory view of the passage. The word rendered "cattle" (מקנה miqneh), means properly:
(1) expectation, hope, confidence; Eze 28:26; Ezr 10:2;
(2) a gathering together, a collection, as
(a) of waters, Gen 1:10; Exo 7:19,
(b) a gathering together, a collection, or company of people, horses, etc. - a caravan. So it may possibly mean in Kg1 10:28, where interpreters have greatly differed.
The word "cattle," therefore, by no means expresses its usual signification. That would be better expressed by "gathering, collecting," or "assembling." The word rendered also (אף 'aph), denotes:
(1) also, even, more, besides, etc., and
(2) "the nose," and then "anger" - from the effect of anger in producing hard breathing, Pro 22:24; Deu 32:22; Deu 29:20.
Here it may be rendered, without impropriety, "anger," and then the phrase will mean, "the collecting, or gathering together of anger." The word rendered "vapour" (עולה ‛ovelâh - if from עלה ‛âlâh), means that which "ascends," and would then mean anything that ascends - as smoke, vapor; or as Rosenmuller supposes, what "ascends" or "grows" from the ground - that is, plants and vegetables, And so Umbreit, "das Gewachs" - "plants of any kind." Note. But with a slight variation in the pointing עולה ‛ovelâh - instead of עולה ‛oleh), the word means "evil, wickedness, iniquity" - from our word "evil;" Job 24:20; Job 6:29; Job 11:14; Job 13:7; and it may, without impropriety, be regarded as having this signification here, as the points have no authority. The meaning of the whole phrase then will be, "the gathering, or collecting of his wrath is upon evil, that is, upon the wicked;" and the sense is, that while, on the one hand, God, who holds the lightning in his hands, points out to it his friends, so that they are spared; on the other hand the gathering together, or the condensation, of his wrath is upon the evil. That is, the lightnings - so vivid, so mighty, and apparently so wholly beyond law or control, are under his direction, and he makes them the means of executing his pleasure. His friends are spared; and the condensation of his wrath is on his foes. This exposition of the passage accords with the general scope of the remarks of Elihu, and this view of the manner in which God controls even the lightning, was one that was adapted to fill the mind with exalted conceptions of the majesty and power of the Most High.