Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
At this also - That is, in view of the thunderstorm, for it is that which Elihu is describing. This description was commenced in Job 36:29, and is continued to Job 37:5, and should not have been separated by the division into chapters. Elihu sees a tempest rising. The clouds gather, the lightnings flash, the thunder rolls, and he is awed as with the conscious presence of God. There is nowhere to be found a more graphic and impressive description of a thunder-storm than this; compare Herder on Hebrew Poetry, vol. i., 85ff, by Marsh, Burlington, 1833.
My heart trembleth - With fear. He refers to the palpitation or increased action of the heart produced by alarm.
And is moved out of his place - That is, by violent palpitation. The heart seems to leave its calm resting place, and to burst away because of fright. The increased action of the heart under the effects of fear, as described here by Elihu, has been experienced by all. The "cause" of this increased action is supposed to be this. The immediate effect of fear is on the extremities of the nerves of the system, which are diffused ever the whole body. The first effect is to prevent the circulation of the blood to the extremities, and to drive it back to the heart, and thus to produce paleness. The blood thus driven back on the heart produces an increased action there to propel it through the lungs and the arteries, thus causing at the same time the increased effort of the heart, and the rapid action of the lungs, and of course the quick breathing and the palpitation observed in fear. See Scheutzer, Physica. Sacra, in loc. An expression similar to that which occurs here, is used by Shakespeare, in Macbeth:
"Why do I yield to that suggestion,
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair,
And make ray seated heart knock at my ribs
Against the use of nature."
Hear attentively - Margin, as in Hebrew "hear in hearing;" that is, bear with attention. It has been supposed by many, and not without probability, that the tempest was already seen rising, out of which God was to address Job Job 38, and that Elihu here calls the special attention of his hearers to the gathering storm, and to the low muttering thunder in the distance.
The noise of his voice - Thunder is often represented as the voice of God, and this was one of the most natural of all suppositions when its nature was little understood, and is at all times a beautiful poetic conception; see the whole of Psa 29:1-11. The word rendered "noise" (רגז rôgez), means properly "commotion," that which is fitted to produce perturbation, or disquiet (see Job 3:17, Job 3:26; Isa 14:3), and is used here to denote the commotion, or "raging" of thunder.
And the sound - The word used here (הגה hegeh) means properly a "muttering growling" - as of thunder. It is often used to denote sighing, moaning, and meditation, in contradistinction from clear enunciation. Here it refers to the thunder which seems to mutter or growl in the sky.
He directeth it under the whole heaven - It is under the control of God, and he directs it where he pleases. It is not confined to one spot, but seems to be complaining from every part of the heavens.
And his lightning - Margin, as in Hebrew "light." There can be no doubt that the lightning is intended.
Unto the ends of the earth - Margin, as in Hebrew "wings." The word wings is given to the earth from the idea of its being spread out or expanded like the wings of a bird; compare Job 38:13; Eze 7:2. The earth was spoken of as an expanse or plain that had corners or boundaries (see Isa 11:12, note; Isa 24:16, note; Isa 42:5, note), and the meaning here is, that God spread the lightning at pleasure over the whole of that vast expanse.
After it a voice roareth - After the lightning; that is, the flash is seen before the thunder is heard. This is apparent to all, the interval between the lightning and the hearing of the thunder depending on the distance. Lucretius, who has referred to the same fact, compares this with what occurs when a woodman is seen at a distance to wield an axe. The glance of the axe is seen long before the sound of the blow is heard:
Sed tonitrum fit uti post antibus accipiamus,
Fulgere quam cernunt ocuil, quia semper ad aures
Tardius adveniunt, quam visum, guam moveant res.
Nunc etiam licet id cognoscere, caedere si quem
Ancipiti videas ferro procul arboris actum.
Ante fit, ut cernas ictum, quam plaga per aures
Det sonitum: Sic fulgorem quoque cernimus ante.
He thundereth with the voice of his excellency - That is, with a voice of majesty and grandeur.
And he will not stay them - That is, he will not hold back the rain, hail, and other things which accompany the storm, when he begins to thunder. "Rosenmuller." Or, according to others, he will not hold back and restrain the lightnings when the thunder commences. But the connection seems rather to demand that we should understand it of the usual accompaniments of a storm - the wind, hail, rain, etc. Herder renders it, "We cannot explore his thunderings." Prof. Lee, "And none can trace them, though their voice be heard." According to him, the meaning is, that "great and terrific as this exhibition of God's power is, still the progress of these, his ministers, cannot be followed by the mortal eye." But the usual interpretation given to the Hebrew word is that of "holding back," or "retarding," and this idea accords well with the connection.
God thundereth marvelously - He thunders in a wonderful manner. The idea is, that the voice of his thunder is an amazing exhibition of his majesty and power.
Great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend - That is, not only in regard to the thunder and the tempest, but in other things. The description of the storm properly ends here, and in the subsequent verses Elihu proceeds to specify various other phenomena, which were wholly incomprehensible by man. The reference here to the storm, and to the other grand and incomprehensible phenomena of nature, is a most appropriate introduction to the manifestation of God himself as described in the next chapter, and could not but have done much to prepare Job and his friends for that sublime close of the controversy.
The passage before us Job 36:29-33; Job 37:1-5, is probably the earliest description of a thunderstorm on record. A tempest is a phenomenon which must early have attracted attention, and which we may expect to find described or alluded to in all early poetry. It may be interesting, therefore, to compare this description of a storm, in probably the oldest poem in the world, with what has been furnished by the masters of song in ancient and modern times, and we shall find that in sublimity and beauty the Hebrew poet will suffer nothing in comparison. In one respect, which constitutes the chief sublimity of the description. he surpasses them all: I mean in the recognition of God. In the Hebrew description. God is every where in the storm He excites it; he holds the lightnings in both hands; he directs it where he pleases; he makes it the instrument of his pleasure and of executing his purposes. Sublime, therefore, as is the description of the storm itself, furious as is the tempest; bright as is the lightning: and heavy and awful as is the roar of the thunder, yet the description derives its chief sublimity from the fact that "God" presides over all, riding on the tempest and directing the storm as he pleases. Other poets have rarely attempted to give this direction to the thoughts in their description of a tempest, if we may except Klopstock, and they fall, therefore, far below the sacred poet. The following is the description of a storm by Elihu, according to the exposition which I have given:
Who can understand the outspreading of the clouds,
And the fearful thunderings in his pavilion?
Behold, he spreadeth his light upon it;
He also covereth the depths of the sea.
By these he executeth judgment upon the people,
By these he giveth food in abundance.
With his hands he covereth the lightning,
And commandeth it where to strike.
He pointeth out to his friends -
The collecting of his wrath is upon the wicked.
At this also my heart palpitates,
And is moved out of its place.
Hear, O hear, the thunder of his voice!
The muttering thunder that goes from his mouth!
He directeth it under the whole heaven.
And his lightning to the end of the earth.
After it, the thunder roareth;
He thundereth with the voice of his majesty,
And he will not restrain the tempest when his voice is heard.
God thundereth marvelously with his voice;
He doeth wonders, which we cannot comprehend.
The following is the description of a Tempest by Aeschylus, in the Prometh. Desm., beginning,
- Χθὼν αεσάλευται;
Βρυχία δ ̓ ἠχὼ παραμυκᾶται
- Chthōn sesaleutai;
Bruchia d' ēchō paramukatai
- "I feel in very deed
The firm earth rock: the thunder's deepening roar
Rolls with redoubled rage; the bickering flames
Flash thick; the eddying sands are whirled on high;
In dreadful opposition, the wild winds
Rend the vex'd air; the boisterous billows rise
Confounding earth and sky: the impetuous storm
Rolls all its terrible fury."
Ovid's description is the following:
Aethera conscendit, vultumque sequentia traxit
Nubila; queis nimbos, immistaque fulgura ventis
Addidit, et tonitrus, et inevitabile fulmen.
The description of a storm by Lucretius, is the following:
Praeterea persaepe niger quoque per mare nimbus
Ut picis e coelo demissum flumen, in undas
Sic cadit, et fertur tenebris, procul et trahit atram
Fulminibus gravidam tempestatem, atque procellis.
Ignibus ac ventis cum primus ipse repletus:
In terris quoque ut horrescant ae tecta requirant.
S c igitur sutpranostrum caput esso putandum est
Tempestatem altam. Neque enim caligine tanta
Obruerat terras, nisi inaedificata superne
Multa forent multis exempto nubila sole.
The well-known description of the storm by Virgil is as follows:
Nimborum in patriam, loca foeta furentibus austris,
Aeoliam venit. Hic vasto Rex Aeolus antro
Luctantis ventos tempestatesque sonoras
Imperio premit, ac vinelis et carcere frenat.
Illi indignantes, magno cum murmure, montis
Circum claustra fremunt. Celsa sedet Aeolus arce,
Sceptra tenens: molliitque animos, et temperat iras.
- Venti, velut agmine facto.
Qua data petra, ruunt, et terras turbine perflant.
Incubuere mari, totumque a sedibus imis,
Una Eurusque Notusque ruunt, creberque procelis
Africus, et vastos volvunt ad litora fluctus.
Aeneid i. 51-57, 82-86.
One of the most sublime descriptions of a storm to be found any where, is furnished by Klopstock. It contains a beautiful recognition of the presence and majesty of God, and a most tender and affecting description of the protection which his friends experience when the storm rushes by. It is in the Fruhlingsfeier - a poem which is regarded by many as his masterpiece. A small portion of it I will transcribe:
Wolken stromen herauf!
Sichtbar ist; der komant, der Ewige!
Nun schweben sie, rauschen sie, wirbeln die Winde!
Wie beugt sich der Wald! Wie hebet sich det Strom!
Sichtbar, wie du es Sterblichen seyn kannst,
Ja, das bist du, sichtbar, Unendlicher!
Zurnest du, Herr,
Weil Nacht dein Gewand ist?
Diese Nacht ist Segen der Erde.
Vater, du Zurnest nicht!
Seht ihr den Zeugendes Nahen, den zucken den Strahi?
Hort ihr Jehovah's Donner?
Hort ihr ihn? hort ihr ihn.
Der erschtternden Donner des Herrn?
Herr! Herr! Gott!
Barmhertzig, und gnadig!
Sey dein herrlicher Name!
Und die Gowitterwinde! Sie tragen den Donner!
Wie sie rauschen! Wie sie mit lawter Woge den Wald du: chstromen!
Und nun schwiegen sie. Langsam wandelt
Die schwartze Wolke.
Seht ihr den neurn Zeugen des Nahen, den fliegenden Strahl!
Horet ihr hoch in Wolke den Donner dex Herrn?
Er ruft: Jehova! Jehova!
Und der geschmetterte Wald dampft!
Abet nicht unsre Hutte
Unser Vater gebot
Vor unsrer Hutte voruberzugehn!
For he saith to the snow - That is, the snow is produced by the command of God, and is a proof of his wisdom and greatness. The idea is, that; the formation of snow was an illustration of the wisdom of God, and should teach people to regard him with reverence. It is not to be supposed that the laws by which snow is formed in the atmosphere were understood in the time of Elihu. The fact that it seemed to be the effect of the immediate creation of God, was the principal idea in the mind of Elihu in illustrating his wisdom. But it is not less fitted to excite our admiration of his wisdom now that the laws by which it is produced are better understood; and in fact the knowledge of those laws is adapted to elevate our conceptions of the wisdom and majesty of Him who formed them. The investigations and discoveries of science do not diminish the proofs of the Creator's wisdom and greatness. but every new discovery tends to change blind admiration to intelligent devotion; to transform wonder to praise. On the formation of snow, see the notes at Job 38:22.
Be thou on the earth - There is a strong resemblance between this passage and the sublime command in Gen 1:3, "And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." Each of them is expressive of the creative power of God, and of the ease with which he accomplishes his purposes.
Likewise to the small rain - Margin, "and to the shower of rain, and to the showers of rain of his strength." The word which is used here in the Hebrew (גשׁם geshem), means "rain" in general, and the phrase "small rain" ( גשׁם ( מטר mâṭâr geshem), seems to be used to denote the "rain" simply, without reference to its violence, or to its being copious. The following phrase, "the great rain of his strength" (עזוּ מטרות גשׁם geshem mâṭârôt ‛ôzû) refers to the rain when it has increased to a copious shower. The idea before the mind of Elihu seems to have been that of a shower, as it commences and increases until it pours down torrents, and the meaning is, that alike in the one case and the other, the rain was under the command of God, and obeyed his will. The whole description here is that which pertains to winter, and Elihu refers doubtless to the copious rains which fell at that season of the year.
He sealeth up the hand of every man - That is, in the winter, when the snow is on the ground, when the streams are frozen, and when the labors of the husbandman cease. The idea of "sealing up the hand" is derived from the common purpose of a seal, to make fast, to close up, to secure (compare Job 9:7, note; Job 33:16, note), and the sense is, that the hands can no more be used in ordinary toil. Every man in the snow and rain of winter is prevented from going abroad to his accustomed toil, and is, as it were, sealed up in his dwelling. The idea is exquisitely beautiful. God confines human beings and beasts in their houses or caves, until the winter has passed by.
That all men may know his work - The Septuagint renders this," That every man may know his own weakness" - ἀσθένειαν astheneian. Various interpretations have been given of the passage, but our common version has probably expressed in the main the true sense, that God thus interrupts the labors of man, and confines him in his home, that he may feel his dependence on God, and may recognize the constant agency of his Creator. The Hebrew literally is "For the knowledge of all the men of his making;" that is, that all the people whom he has created may have knowledge. The changing seasons thus keep before us the constant evidence of the unceasing agency of God in his works, and prevent the feeling which we might have, if everything was uniform that the universe was under the control of "fate." As it is, the succession of the seasons, the snow, the rain, the dew, and the sunshine, all bear marks of being under the control of an intelligent Being, and are so regulated that we need not forget that his unceasing agency is constantly round about us. It may be added, that when the farmer in the winter is laid aside from his usual toil, and confined to his dwelling, it is a favorable time for him to meditate on the works of God, and to acquaint himself with his Creator. The labors of man are thus interrupted; the busy affairs of life come to a pause, and while nature is silent around us, and the earth wrapped in her fleecy mantle forbids the labor of the husbandman, everything invites to the contemplation of the Creator, and of the works of his hands. The winter, therefore, might be improved by every farmer to enlarge his knowledge of God, and should be regarded as a season wisely appointed for him to cultivate his understanding and improve his heart.
Then the beasts go into dens - In the winter. This fact appears to have been early observed, that in the season of cold the wild animals withdrew into caves, and that many of them became torpid. This fact Elihu adverts to as an illustration of the wisdom and greatness of God. The proof of his superintending care was seen in the fact that they withdrew from the cold in which they would perish, and that provision is made for their continuance in life at a time when they cannot obtain the food by which they ordinarily subsist. In that torpid and inactive state, they need little food, and remain often for months with almost no nourishment.
Out of the south - Margin, "chamber." Jerome, "ab interioribus - from the interior," or "inner places." Septuagint, ἐκ ταυείων ek taueiōn - "from their chambers issue sorrows" - ὀωύνας othunas. The Hebrew word used here (חדר cheder) denotes properly "an apartment," or "chamber," especially an inner apartment, or a chamber in the interior of a house or tent: Gen 43:30; Jdg 16:9, Jdg 16:12. Hence, it means a bed-chamber, Sa2 4:7, or a female apartment or harem, Sol 1:4; Sol 3:4. In Job 9:9, it is connected with the "south" - "the chambers of the south" (see the notes at that place), and means some remote, hidden regions in that quarter. There can be little doubt that the word "south "is here also to be understood, as it stands in contrast with a word which properly denotes the north. Still there may have been reference to a supposed opinion that whirlwinds had their origin in deep, hollow caves, and that they were owing to the winds which were supposed to be pent up there, and which raged tumultuously until they broke open the doors of their prison, and then poured forth with violence over the earth; compare the description of the storm in Virgil, as quoted above in Job 37:5. There are frequent allusions in the Scriptures to the fact that whirlwinds come from the South; see the notes at Isa 21:1; compare Zac 9:14. Savary says of the south wind, which blows in Egypt from February to May, that it fills the atmosphere with a fine dust, rendering breathing difficult, and that it is filled with an injurious vapor. Sometimes it appears in the form of a furious whirlwind, which advances with great rapidity, and which is highly dangerous to those who traverse the desert. It drives before it clouds of burning sand; the horizon appears covered with a thick veil, and the sun appears red as blood. Occasionally whole caravans are buried by it in the sand. It is possible that there may be reference to such a whirlwind in the passage before us; compare Burder, in Rosenmuller's Alte u. neue Morgenland. No. 765.
The whirlwind - See Job 1:19, note; Job 30:22, note.
And cold out of the north - Margin, "scattering" winds. The Hebrew word used here (מזרים mezâriym) means literally, "the scattering," and is hence used for the north winds, says Gesenius which scatter the clouds, and bring severe cold. Umbreit thinks the word is used to denote the north, because we seem to see the north winds strewed on the clouds. Probably the reference is to the north wind as scattering the snow or hail on the ground. Heated winds come from the south; but those which scatter the snow, and are the source of cold, come from the north. In all places north of the equator it is true that the winds from the northern quarter are the source of cold. The idea of Elihu is, that all these things are under the control of God, and that these various arrangements for heat and cold are striking proofs of his greatness.
By the breath of God frost is given - Not by the violent north wind, or by the whirlwind of the south, but God seems to "breathe" in a gentle manner, and the earth is covered with hoary frost. It appears in a still night, when there is no storm or tempest, and descends upon the earth as silently as if it were produced by mere breathing. Frost is congealed or frozen dew. On the formation and cause of dew, see the notes at Job 38:28. The figure is poetical and beautiful. The slight motion of the air, even when the frost appears, seems to be caused by the breathing of God.
And the breadth of the waters is straitened - That is, is contracted by the cold; or is frozen over. The waters are "compressed" into a solid mass (במוצק bemûtsaq), or are in a state of "pressure" or "compression" - or so the word used here means. What were before expanded rivers or arms of the sea, are now compressed into solid masses of ice. This, also, is proof of the greatness and power of God, for though the cause was not understood by Elihu, yet there was no doubt that it was produced by his agency. Though the laws by which this occurs are now better understood than they were then, it is no less clearly seen that it is by his agency; and all the light which we obtain in regard to the laws by which these things occur, only serve to exalt our conceptions of the wisdom and greatness of God.
Also by watering - Very various interpretations have been given of this phrase. Herder renders it, "His brightness rendeth the clouds." Umbreit, Und Heiterkeit vertreibt die Wolke - "and serenity or clearness drives away the clouds." Prof. Lee, "For irrigation is the thick cloud stretched out." Rosenmuller, "Splendor dispels the clouds." Luther, "The thick clouds divide themselves that it may be clear." Coverdale, "The clouds do their labor in giving moistness." The Vulgate, "The grain desires the clouds," and the Septuagint, "The cloud forms the chosen" - ἐκλεκτον eklekton. This variety of interpretation arises from the uncertainty of the meaning of the original word - ברי berı̂y. According to the Chaldee and the rabbis, this word means "clearness, serenity" of the heavens, and then the whole clause is to be rendered, "serenity dispelleth the cloud." Or the word may be formed of the preposition ב (be), and רי rı̂y, meaning "watering" or "rain," the same as רוי reviy. The word does not occur elsewhere in Hebrew, and hence, it is not easy to determine its meaning. The weight of authority is in favor of serenity, or clearness - meaning that the thick, dark cloud is driven away by the serenity or clearness of the atmosphere - as where the clear sky seems to light up the heavens and to drive away the clouds. This idea seems, also, to be demanded by the parallelism, and is also more poetical than that in the common version.
Wearieth - Or removes, or scatters. The verb used here (טרח ṭârach) occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures, though nouns derived from the verb are found in Isa 1:14, rendered "trouble," and Deu 1:12, rendered "cumbrance." In Arabic it means "to cast down, to project," and hence, to lay upon as a burden. But the word may mean to impel, drive forward, and hence, the idea that the dark thick cloud is propelled or driven forward by the serenity of the sky. This "appears" to be so, and hence, the poetic idea as it occurred to Elihu.
He scattereth his bright cloud - Margin, "the cloud of his light." The idea seems to be, that "his light," that is, the light which God causes to shine as the tempest passes off, seems to scatter or disperse the cloud. The image before the mind of Elihu probably was, that of a departing shower, when the light seems to rise behind it, and as it were to expel the cloud or to drive it away. We are not to suppose that this is philosophically correct, but Elihu represents it as it appeared, and the image is wholly poetical.
And it is turned round about - The word here rendered "it" (הוא hû') may refer either to the "cloud," and then it will mean that it is driven about at the pleasure of God; or it may refer to God, and then it will mean that "he" drives it about at pleasure. The sense is not materially varied. The use of the Hebrew participle rendered "turned about" (in Hithpael), would rather imply that it refers to the cloud. The sense then is, that it turns itself round about - referring to the appearance of a cloud in the sky that rolls itself about from one place to another.
By his counsels - By the counsels or purposes of God. It is not by any agency or power of its own, but it is by laws such as he has appointed, and so as to accomplish his will. The object is to keep up the idea that God presides over, and directs all these things. The word which is rendered "counsels" (תחבולה tachebûlâh) means properly a "steering, guidance, management," Pro 11:14. It is usually applied to the act of steering, as a vessel, and then to prudent management, wise counsel, skillful measures. It is rendered "wise counsels," and "counsels," Pro 1:5; Pro 11:14; Pro 12:5; Pro 24:6, and "good advice," Pro 20:18. It does not elsewhere occur in the Scriptures. The word is derived from חבל chebel, "a rope," or חבל chôbêl, "a sailor, pilot," and hence, the idea of "steering," or "directing." The meaning is, that the movements of the clouds are entirely under the "direction" of God, as the vessel is of the pilot or helmsman. The Septuagint appears not to have understood the meaning of the word, and have not attempted to translate it. They retain it in their version, writing it, θεεβουλαθὼq theeboulathōth, showing, among other instances, how the Hebrew was "pronounced" by them.
That they may do whatsoever he commandeth them - See Psa 147:17-18. The idea is, that even the clouds, which appear so capricious in their movements, are really under the direction of God, and are accomplishing his purposes. They do not move at haphazard, but they are under the control of one who intends to accomplish important purposes by them. Elihu had made this observation respecting the lightning Job 36:30-33, and he now says that the same thing was true of the clouds. The investigations of science have only served to confirm this, and to show that even the movements of the clouds are regulated by laws which have been ordained by a Being of infinite intelligence.
He causeth it to come - That is, the rain, or the storm. It is entirely under the hand of God, like the lightning Job 36:30, and designed to accomplish his purposes of mercy and of justice.
Whether for correction - Margin, as in Hebrew "a rod." The rod is often used as an emblem of punishment. The idea is, that God, when he pleases, can send the rain upon the earth for the purpose of executing punishment. So he did on the old world Gen 7:11-12, and so the overflowing flood is often now sent to sweep away the works of man, to lay waste his fields, and to cut off the wicked.
Or for his land - When necessary to render the land productive. He waters it by timely rains. It is called "his land," meaning that the earth belongs to the Lord, and that he cultivates it as his own; Psa 24:1.
Or for mercy - In kindness and benignity to the world. But for this, the earth would become baked and parched, and all vegetation would expire. The idea is, that the rains are entirely under the control of God, and that he can make use of them to accomplish his various purposes - to execute his judgments, or to express his benignity and love. These various uses to which the lightning, the storm, and the rain could be made subservient under the divine direction. seem to have been one of the main ideas in the mind of Elihu, showing the supremacy and the majesty of God.
Hearken unto this, O Job - That is, to the lesson which such events are fitted to convey respecting God.
Stand still - In a posture of reverence and attention. The object is to secure a calm contemplation of the works of God, so that the mind might be filled with suitable reverence for him.
Dost thou know when God disposed them? - That is, the winds, the clouds, the cold, the snow, the sky, etc. The question refers to the manner in which God arranges and governs them, rather than to the time when it was done. So the Hebrew implies, and so the connection demands. The question was not whether Job knew "when" all this was done, but whether he could explain "how" it was that God thus arranged and ordered the things referred to. Elihu asks him whether he could explain the manner in which the balancings of the clouds were preserved; in which the lightnings were directed; in which his garments were warm, and in which God had made and sustained the sky? The Septuagint renders this, "We know that God hath disposed his works that he hath made light out of darkness."
And caused the light of his cloud to shine - That is, Canst thou explain the cause of lightning? Canst thou tell how it is that it seems to break out of a dark cloud? Where has it been concealed? And by what laws is it now brought forth? Elihu assumes that all this was done by the agency of God, and since, as he assumes to be true, it was impossible for people to explain the manner in which it was done, his object is to show that profound veneration should be shown for a God who works in this manner. Somewhat more is known now of the laws by which lightning is produced than there was in the time of Job; but the question may still be asked of man, and is as much fitted to produce awe and veneration as it was then, whether he understands the way in which God produces the bright lightning from the dark bosom of a cloud. Can he tell what is the exact agency of the Most High in it? Can he explain all the laws by which it is done?
Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds? - That is, Dost thou know how the clouds are poised and suspended in the air? The difficulty to be explained was, that the clouds, so full of water, did not fail to the earth, but remained suspended in the atmosphere. They were poised and moved about by some unseen hand. Elihu asks what kept them there; what prevented their falling to the earth; what preserved the equilibrium so that they did not all roll together. The phenomena of the clouds would be among the first that would attract the attention of man, and in the early times of Job it is not to be supposed that the subject could be explained. Elihu assumes that they were held in the sky by the power of God, but what was the nature of his agency, he says, man could not understand, and hence, he infers that God should be regarded with profound veneration. We know more of the facts and laws respecting the clouds than was understood then, but our knowledge in this, as in all other things, is fitted only to exalt our conceptions of the Deity, and to change blind wonder into intelligent adoration.
The causes of the suspension of the clouds are thus stated in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, Art. Meteorology: "When different portions of the atmosphere are intermixed so as to produce a deposition of moisture;" (compare the notes at Job 38:28), "the consequence will be the formation of a cloud. This cloud, from its increased specific gravity, will have a tendency to sink downward; and were the lower strata of the air of the same temperature with the cloud, and saturated with moisture, it would continue to descend until it reached the surface of the earth - in the form of rain, or what is commonly called mist. In general, however, the cloud in its descent passes through a warmer region, when the condensed moisture again passes into a vapor, and consequently ascends until it reaches a temperature sufficiently low to recondense it, when it will begin again to sink. This oscillation will continue until the cloud settles at the point where the temperature and humidity are such as that the condensed moisture begins to be dissipated, and which is found on an average to be between two and three miles above the surface of the earth." By such laws the "balancing" of the clouds is secured, and thus is shown the wisdom of Him that is "perfect in knowledge."
The wondrous works of him that is perfect in knowledge - Particularly in the matter under consideration. He who can command the lightning, and hold the clouds suspended in the air, Elihu infers must be perfect in knowledge. To a Being who can do this, everything must be known. The reasoning of Elihu here is well-founded, and is not less forcible now than it was in the time of Job.
How thy garments are warm - What is the reason that the garments which we wear produce warmth? This, it would seem, was one of the philosophical questions which were asked at that time, and which it was difficult to explain. Perhaps it has never occurred to most persons to ask this apparently simple question, and if the inquiry were proposed to them, plain as it seems to be, they would find it as difficult to give an answer as Elihu supposed it would be for Job. Of the fact here referred to that the garments became oppressive when a sultry wind came from the south, there could be no dispute. But what was the precise difficulty in explaining the fact, is not so clear. Some suppose that Elihu asks this question sarcastically, as meaning that Job could not explain the simplest matters and the plainest facts; but there is every reason to think that the question was proposed with entire seriousness, and that it was supposed to involve real difficulty. It seems probable that the difficulty was not so much to explain why the garments should become oppressive in a burning or sultry atmosphere, as to show how the heated air itself was produced It was difficult to explain why cold came out of the north Job 37:9; how the clouds were suspended, and the lightnings caused Job 37:11, Job 37:15-16; and it was not less difficult to show what produced uncomfortable heat when the storms from the north were allayed; when the earth became quiet, and when the breezes blowed from the south. This would be a fair question for investigation, and we may readily suppose that the causes then were not fully known.
When he quieteth the earth - When the piercing blast from the north dies away, and the wind comes round to the south, producing a more gentle, but a sultry air. It was true not only that the whirlwind came from the south Job 37:9, but also that the heated burning air came also from that quarter, Luk 12:55. We know the reason to be that the equatorial regions are warmer than those at the north, and especially that in the regions where Job lived the air becomes heated by passing over extended plains of sand, but there is no reason to suppose that this was fully understood at the time referred to here.
Hast thou with him spread out the sky? - That is, wert thou employed with God in performing that vast work, that thou canst explain how it was done? Elihu here speaks of the sky as it appears, and as it is often spoken of, as an expanse or solid body spread out over our heads, and as sustained by some cause which is unknown. Sometimes in the Scriptures it is spoken of as a curtain (Notes, Isa 40:22); sometimes as a "firmament," or a solid body spread out (Septuagint, Gen 1:6-7); sometimes as a fixture in which the stars are placed (Notes, Isa 34:4), and sometimes as a scroll that may be rolled up, or as a garment, Psa 102:26. There is no reason to suppose that the true cause of the appearance of an expanse was understood at that time, but probably the prevailing impression was that the sky was solid and was a fixture in which the stars were held. Many of the ancients supposed that there were concentric spheres, which were transparent but solid, and that these spheres revolved around the earth carrying the heavenly bodies with them. In one of these spheres, they supposed, was the sun; in another the moon; in another the fixed stars; in another the planets; and it was the harmonious movement of these concentric and transparent orbs which it was supposed produced the "music of the spheres."
Which is strong - Firm, compact. Elihu evidently supposed that it was solid. It was so firm that it was self-sustained.
And as a molten looking-glass - As a mirror that is made by being fused or cast. The word "glass" is not in the original, the Hebrew denoting simply "seeing," or a "mirror" (ראי re'ı̂y). Mirrors were commonly made of plates of metal highly polished; see the notes at Isa 3:23; compare Wilkinson's Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, vol. iii. p. 365. Ancient mirrors were so highly polished that in some which have been discovered at Thebes the luster has been partially restored, though they have been buried for many centuries. There can be no doubt that the early apprehension in regard to the sky was, that it was a solid expanse, and that it is often so spoken of in the Bible. There is, however, no direct declaration that it is so, and whenever it is so spoken of, it is to be understood as popular language, as we speak still of the rising or setting of the sun, though we know that the language is not philosophically correct. The design of the Bible is not to teach science, but religion, and the speakers in the Bible were allowed to use the language of common life - just as scientific men in fact do now.
Teach us what we shall say unto him - This seems to be addressed to Job. It is the language of Elihu, implying that he was overawed with a sense of the majesty and glory of such a God. He knew not in what manner, or with what words to approach such a Being, and he asks Job to inform him, if he knew.
We cannot order our speech by reason of darkness - Job had repeatedly professed a desire to bring his cause directly before God, and to argue it in his presence. He felt assured that if he could do that, he should be able so to present it as to obtain a decision in his favor; see Job 13:3, note; Job 13:18-22, notes. Elihu now designs, indirectly, to censure that confidence. He says that he and his friends were so overawed by the majesty of God, and felt themselves so ignorant and so ill qualified to judge of him and his works, that they would not know what to say. They were in darkness. They could not understand even the works of his hands which were directly before them, and the most common operations of nature were inscrutable to them. How then could they presume to arraign God? How could they manage a cause before him with any hope of success? It is scarcely necessary to say, that the state of mind referred to here by Elihu is that which should be cultivated, and that the feelings which he expresses are those with which we should approach the Creator. We need someone to teach us. We are surrounded by mysteries which we cannot comprehend, and we should, therefore, approach our Maker with profound reverence and submission
Shall it be told him that I speak? - Still the language of profound awe and reverence, as if he would not have it even intimated to God that he had presumed to say anything in regard to him, or with a view to explain the reason of his doings.
If a man speak - That is, if he attempt to speak with God; to argue a case with him; to contend with him in debate; to oppose him. Elihu had designed to reprove Job for the bold and presumptuous manner in which he bad spoken of God, and for his wish to enter into a debate with him in order to vindicate his cause. He now says, that if anyone should attempt this, God had power at once to destroy him; and that such an attempt would be perilous to his life. But other interpretations have been proposed, which may be seen in Rosenmuller, Umbreit, and Lee.
Surely he shall be swallowed up - Destroyed for his presumption and rashness in thus contending with the Almighty. Elihu says that on this account he would not dare to speak with God. He would fear that he would come forth in his anger, and destroy him. How much man by nature instinctively feels, when he has any just views of the majesty of God, that he needs a Mediator!
And now men see not the bright light which is in the clouds - Either the lightning that plays on the clouds in an approaching tempest, or a glorious light spread over the sky on the approach of God. There is reason to believe that as Elihu delivered the sentiments recorded in the close of this chapter, he meant to describe God as if he were seen to be approaching, and that the symbols of his presence were discovered in the gathering tempest and storm. He is introduced in the following chapter with amazing sublimity and grandeur to speak to Job and his friends, and to close the argument. He comes in a whirlwind, and speaks in tones of vast sublimity. The tokens of his coming were now seen, and as Elihu discerned them he was agitated, and his language became abrupt and confused. His language is just such as one would use when the mind was overawed with the approach of God - solemn, and full of reverence, but not connected, and much less calm than in his ordinary discourse. The close of this chapter, it seems to me, therefore, is to be regarded as spoken when the tempest was seen to be gathering, and when in awful majesty God was approaching, the lightnings playing around him, the clouds piled on clouds attending him, the thunder reverberating along the sky, and an unusual brightness evincing his approach; Notes, Job 37:22. The idea here is, that people could not steadfastly behold that bright light. It was so dazzling and so overpowering that they could not gaze on it intently. The coming of such a Being strayed in so much grandeur, and clothed in such a light, was fitted to overcome the human powers.
But the wind passeth, and cleanseth them - The wind passes along and makes them clear. The idea seems to be, that the wind appeared to sweep along over the clouds as the tempest was rising, and they seemed to open or disperse in one part of the heavens, and to reveal in the opening a glory so bright and dazzling that the eye could not rest upon it. That light or splendor made in the opening cloud was the symbol of God, approaching to wind up this great controversy, and to address Job and his friends in the sublime language which is found in the closing chapters of the book, The word rendered "cleanseth" (טהר ṭâhêr) means properly to shine, to be bright; and then to be pure or clean. Here the notion of shining or brightness is to be retained; and the idea is, that a wind appeared to pass along, removing the cloud which seemed to be a veil on the throne of God, and suffering the visible symbol of his majesty to be seen through the opening; see the notes at Job 26:9, "He holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it."
Fair weather - Margin, "gold," The Hebrew word (זהב zâhâb) properly means "gold," and is so rendered by the Vulgate, the Syriac, and by most versions. The Septuagint renders it, νέψη χρυσαυγουντα nepsē chrusaugounta, "clouds shining like gold." The Chaldee, אסתניא, the north wind, Boreas. Many expositors have endeavored to show that gold was found in the northern regions (see Schultens, in loc.); and it is not difficult so to establish that fact as to be a confirmation of what is here said, on the supposition that it refers literally to gold. But it is difficult to see why Elihu should here make a reference to the source where gold was found, or how such a reference should be connected with the description of the approaching tempest, and the light which was already seen on the opening clouds. It seems probable to me that the idea is wholly different and that Elihu means to say that a bright, dazzling light was seen in the northern sky like burnished gold, which was a fit symbol of the approaching Deity. This idea is hinted at in the Septuagint, but it has not seemed to occur to expositors. The image is that of the heavens darkened with the tempest, the lightnings playing, the thunder rolling, and then the wind seeming to brush away the clouds in the north, and disclosing in the opening a bright, dazzling appearance like burnished gold, that bespoke the approach of God. The word is never used in the sense of "fair weather." An ancient Greek tragedian, mentioned by Grotius, speaks of golden air - χρυσωπός αἰθήρ chrusōpos aithēr. Varro also uses a similar expression - aurescit aer, "the air becomes like gold." So Thomson, in his Seasons:
But yonder comes the powerful king of day
Rejoicing in the east. The lessening cloud.
The kindling azure, and the mountain's brow,
Illumed with fluid gold, his near approach
Out of the north - That is, the symbol of the approaching Deity appears in that quarter, or God was seen to approach from the north. It may serve to explain this, to remark that among the ancients the northern regions were regarded as the residence of the gods, and that on the mountains in the north it was supposed they were accustomed to assemble. In proof of this, and for the reasons of it, see the notes at Isa 14:13. From that region Elihu sees God now approaching, and directs the attention of his companions to the symbols of his advent. It is this which fills his mind with so much consternation, and which renders his discourse so broken and disconnected. Having, in a manner evincing great alarm, directed their attention to these symbols, he concludes what he has to say in a hurried manner, and God appears, to close the controversy.
With God is terrible majesty - This is not a declaration asserting this of God in general, but as he then appeared. It is the language of one who was overwhelmed with his awful majesty, as the brightness of his presence was seen on the tempest.
Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out - See the notes at Job 11:7-9. This sentiment accords with all that Elihu had said, and indeed is what he designed particularly to enforce. But it has a special emphasis here, where God is seen approaching in visible splendor, encompassed with clouds and tempests, and seated on a throne of burnished gold. Such a God, Elihu says, it was impossible to comprehend. His majesty was overwhelming, The passage is much more impressive and solemn, and accords much better with the original, by omitting the words which our translators have introduced and printed in italics. It would then be,
The Almighty! - We cannot find him out!
Great in power, and in justice, and in righteouness!
Thus, it expresses the overwhelming emotion, the awe, the alarm produced on the mind of one who saw God approaching in the sublimity of the storm.
He is excellent in power - He excels, or is vast and incomprehensible in power.
And in judgment - That is, in justice.
And in plenty of justice - Hebrew, "in multitude of righteousness." The meaning is, that there was an overflowing fulness of righteousness; his character was entirely righteous, or that trait abounded in him.
He will not afflict - Or, he will not oppress, he will not crush. It was true that he "did afflict" people, but the idea is, that there was not harshness or oppression in it. He would not do it for the mere sake of producing affliction, or when it was not deserved. Some manuscipts vary the reading here so as to mean "he will not answer;" that is, he will not give any account of what he does. The change has relation only to the points, but the above is the usual interpretation, and accords well with the connection.
Men do therefore fear him - There is reason why they should fear him, or why they should treat him with reverence.
He respecteth not any that are wise of heart - He pursues his own plans, and forms and executes his own counsels. He is not dependent upon the suggestions of people, and does not listen to their advice. In his schemes he is original and independent, and people should therefore regard him with profound veneration. This is the sum of all that Elihu had to say - that God was original and independent; that he did not ask counsel of people in his dealings; that he was great, and glorious, and inscrutable in his plans; and that people therefore should bow before him with profound submission and adoration. It was to be presumed that he was wise and good in all that he did, and to this independent and almighty Sovereign man ought to submit his understanding and his heart. Having illustrated and enforced this sentiment, Elihu, overwhelmed with the awful symbols of the approaching Deity, is silent, and God is introduced to close the controversy.