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Song of Solomon
Job 38 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)
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Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind
. It is remarked, with reason, that the special mention of Job as the person answered "implies that another speaker had intervened" (Wordsworth); while the attachment of the article to the word "whirlwind" implies some previous mention of that phenomenon, which is only to be found in the discourse of Elihu (
). Both points have an important bearing on the genuineness of the disputed section, ch. 32- 37.
. The question whether there was an objective utterance of human words out of the whirlwind, or only a subjective impression of the thoughts recorded on the minds of those present, is unimportant. In any case, there was a revelation direct from God, which furnished an authoritative solution of the questions debated to all who had been engaged in the debate.
this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
It is very noticeable that God entirely ignores the reasonings of Elihu, and addresses himself, in the first instance, wholly to Job, with whom he begins by remonstrating. Job has not been without fault. He has spoken many "words without knowledge" or with insufficient knowledge, and has thus trenched on irreverence, and given the enemies of God occasion to blaspheme. Moreover, he has "darkened counsel." Instead of making the ways of God clear to his friends and companions, he has east doubts upon God's moral government (
), upon his mercy and loving-kindness (
), almost upon his justice (
). He is thus open to censure, and receives censure, and owns himself "vile" (
), before peace and reconciliation can be established.
Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
Gird up now thy loins like a man
. Job had desired to contend with God, to plead with him, and argue out his case (
Job 13:3, 18-22
). God now offers to grant his request, and bids him stand forth "as a man'" and "gird himself" for the contest, which he has challenged.
For I will demand of thee, and answer thou me
. He will begin with interrogatories which Job must answer; then Job will be entitled to put questions to him. Job, however, on the opportunity being given him, shrinks back, and says, "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken: but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further" (
Job 40:4, 5
). The confident boldness which he felt when God seemed far off disappears in his presence, and is replaced by diffidence and distrust.
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Wast thou present? Didst thou witness it? If not, what canst thou know concerning it? And if thou knowest nothing of creation, what canst thou know of deeper things? The metaphor, by which the creation of the earth is compared to the foundation of an edifice, is a common one (
Isaiah 51:13, 16
, etc.), and is to be viewed as a concession to human weakness, creation itself, as it actually took place, being inconceivable. Declare, if thou hast understanding. That is, if thou hast any knowledge on the subject (comp. ver. 18).
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Who determined the measures thereof?
Everything in creation is orderly, measured, predetermined, governed by law and will The actual weight of the planets is fixed by Divine wisdom, with a view to the stability and enduringness of the solar system (comp.
). If thou knowest; literally,
for thou knowest
- an anticipation of the lofty irony which comes out so remarkably in ver. 21.
Or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Human builders determine the dimensions of their constructions by means of a measuring-line (
, etc.). The writer carries out his metaphor of a building by supposing a measuring-rod to have been used at the creation of the earth also. Some find a trace of the idea in
, where they translate
, "Let the waters be
marked out with a line."
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?
These details follow naturally upon the adoption of the particular metaphor of a house or building. They are not to be pressed. The object is to impress on Job his utter ignorance of God's ways in creation.
Or who laid the corner-stone thereof?
Who gave the last finishing touch to the work (see
)? Canst thou tell? If not, why enter into controversy with the Creator?
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
When the morning stars sang together
. The stars generally, or the actual stars visible on the morn of creation, are probably meant. They, as it were, sang a song of loud acclaim on witnessing the new marvel. Their priority to the earth is implied, since they witness its birth. Their song is, of course, that silent song of sympathy, whereof Shakespeare speaks when he says, "Each in its motion like an angel sings" ('Merchant of Venice,' act 5. sc. 1).
And all the sons of God shouted for joy
. "The sons of God" here must necessarily be the angels (see
), since there were no men as yet in existence. They too joined in the chorus of sympathy and admiration, perhaps lifting up their voices (
Revelation 5:11, 12
), perhaps their hearts only, praising the Creator, who had done such marvellous things.
shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth,
it had issued out of the womb?
Or who shut up the sea with doors?
From the earth a transition is made to the sea, as the second great wonder in creation (comp.
Genesis 1:9, 10
Psalm 104:24, 25
). God's might is especially shown in his power to control and confine the sea, which rages so terribly and seems so utterly uncontrollable. God has blocked it in "with doors" -
with "bounds that it cannot pass, neither turn again to cover the earth" (
). Sometimes the barrier is one of lofty and solid rock, which seems well suited to confine and restrain; but sometimes it is no more than a thin streak of sliver sand or a bank of loose, shifting pebbles. Yet, in both cases alike, the restraint suffices. "The sand is placed for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it" (
); the beach of shifting pebbles remains as firm as the rock itself, and never recedes or advances more than a few feet.
When it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb
at its birth, when it was first formed, by the gathering together of the waters into one place (see
When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,
When I made the cloud the garment thereof
. The account of creation here given is certainly not drawn wholly from Genesis It is to be viewed as a second, independent, account of the occurrences, in fuller detail, but vaguer, by reason of the poetical phraseology.
And thick darkness a swaddllng-band for it
. The infant sea, just come from the womb (ver. 8), is represented as clothed with a cloud, and swaddled in thick darkness, to mark its complete subjection to its Creator from the first.
And brake up for it my decreed
, and set bars and doors,
And brake up for it my decreed place
; rather, as in the margin, and established my decree upon it; or, as in the Revised Version,
and prescribed for it my
decree. The decree itself is given in ver. 11.
And set bars and doors
(see above, ver. 8, where the imagery of "doors" has been already introduced). As Professor Lee observes, "The term
contains a metaphor taken from the large folding-doors of a city, which are usually set up for the purpose of stepping the progress of an invading enemy, and are hence supplied with bolts and bars" ('Book of Job,' p. 490). Representations of such folding-doors are common in the Assyrian sculptures; and in one instance the doors themselves, or, to speak more exactly, their outer bronze easing, has been recovered (see a paper in the 'Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology,' on the Bronze Gates discovered by Mr. Rassam at Balawat, vol. 7. pp. 85-115). These gates were twenty-two feet high and six feet broad each.
And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?
And said, Hitherto shalt thou corns, but no further
. The law is not quite absolute. Wherever the sea washes a coast-line, there is a continual erosive action, whereby the land is, little by little, eaten away, and the line of the coast thrust back. But the action is so slow that millennia pass without any considerable effect being produced, and encroachments in some places are generally counterbalanced by retrenchment in others, so that the general contour of laud and water, with the proportion of the one to the other, remain probably very much the same at the present day as when the earth first became the habitation of man.
And here shall thy proud waves be stayed
. The waves of the sea "rage horribly," and every now and then topple down a rock or undermine a cliff, and seem proud of their achievements; but how little do they effect, even in thousands of years! The little islet of Psyttaleia still blocks the eastern end of the straits of Salamis. The Pharos island lies off the westernmost mouth of the Nile. Even the low, fiat Aradus, on the Syrian coast, has not been swept away. Everywhere the waves are practically "stayed," and all the menaces of the sea against the land come to nought.
Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;
caused the dayspring to know his place;
Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days?
by reason of ray length of
days - a similar irony to that observable in vers. 5, 21, etc. The third marvel of creation brought before us is the dawn, or daybreak - that standing miracle of combined utility and beauty. Has Job authority to issue his orders to the dawn, and tell it when to make its appearance? Has he caused the dayspring to know his place? Job cannot possibly pretend to any such power.
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it?
- That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be
shaken out of it?
The idea seems to he that the dawn, suddenly appearing, seizes hold of all the ends of the earth "at one rush" (Canon Cook), and lights up the whole terrestrial region. The wicked, lovers of darkness, are taken by surprise, and receive a shock from which they recover with difficulty (comp.
Job 24:16, 17
). That they are "shaken from the earth" must be regarded as Oriental hyperbole.
It is turned as clay
the seal; and they stand as a garment.
It is turned as clay to the seal
it changes as the clay of a seal.
The seals of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and others were commonly impressed upon clay, and not upon wax (Lsyard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' pp. 153-156). As the seal changed the clay from a dull, shapeless lump to a figured surface, so the coming of the dawn changes the earth from an indistinct mass to one diversified with form and colour. As M. Renan explains, "L'aurore fair our la terre l'effet d'un sceau sur la torte sigillee, en dormant de laforme, et du relief, a la surface do l'univers, qui pendant la nuit est somme un chaos indistinct." And they stand as a garment; rather,
and things stand out as a garment
on a garment -
a richly embroidered dress is intended, on which the pattern stands out in relief.
And from the wicked their light is withholden, and the high arm shall be broken.
And from the wicked their light is withholden
. Then, when the dawn bursts forth, "from the wicked, their light"-which is darkness (
) - "is withholden," and the consequence is that the high arm - the arm that is proud and lifted up - shall be broken. Detection and punishment fall upon the wicked doers who are surprised by the daylight.
Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?
Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?
The emphasis is on the word "springs," which means sources, origin, or deepest depths (see the Septuagint, which has
, and the Vulgate, which has
). Canst thou go to the bottom of anything, explore its secrets, explain its cause and origin?
Or hast thou walked in the search
the deep places
of the depth?
Art thou not as ignorant as other men of all these remote and secret things? Physical science is now attempting the material exploration of the ocean-depths, but "deep-sea dredgings" bring us no nearer to the origin, cause, or mode of creation of the great watery mass.
Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?
Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?
By "the gates of death," Sheol, the abode of the dead, seems to be intended (comp.
Job 10:21, 22
). Has Job explored this region, and penetrated its secrets? Or is it as unknown to him as to the rest of mankind? The second hemistich -
Or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?
- is a mere echo of the first, adding an new idea.
Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.
Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth?
the dimensions generally. The
dimensions are probably not even yet known. Job can scarcely have had any conception of them. To him the earth was probably a vast plain, extended, he knew not how far, in all directions.
Declare if thou knowest it all
(comp. vers. 4, 5, and 21).
light dwelleth? and
the place thereof,
Where is the way where light dwelleth?
Which is the way to the dwelling-place of light
' does light dwell? What is its original and true home? Light is a thing quite distinct from the sun and moon and planets (
Genesis 1:3, 16
). Where and what is it? Dost thou know the way to its dwelling-place? If not, why, once more, dost thou pretend to search out the deep things of God?
And as for darkness, where is the place thereof?
Darkness, too, light's antithesis, must not that have a home - a "place" of abode, as Job himself had postulated, when he spoke of "a land of darkness and the shadow of death, a land of darkness as darkness itself... Where the light is as darkness" (
Job 10:21, 22
)? If so, can Job point out the locality?
That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths
the house thereof?
That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof
. Can Job "take" light and darkness, and lead them to their proper places, and make them observe their proper "bounds," as God can (
And that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof
(comp. ver. 19).
, because thou wast then born? or
the number of thy days
Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born?
The irony that has underlain the whole address comes here to the surface, and shows itself palpably. Job, of course, is as old as the Almighty, or, at any rate, coeval with creation; otherwise he could not presume to take the tone which he has taken, and arraign the moral government of the Creator. Or because the number of thy days is great! Compare the sarcasm of Eliphaz (
Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,
Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?
The "treasures of the snow" are the storehouses, wherein the snow is, poetically, supposed to be laid up. Vast accumulations of snow actually exist in various portions of the earth's surface, but the fresh snow that falls is not taken from these treasuries, but newly generated by the crystallization of floating vapours in the atmosphere. Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail! This expression is to be explained similarly, as
Hail is nowhere kept in store. It is generated by the passage of rain-drops through a layer of freezing air.
Which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?
Which I have reserved against the time of trouble
. Hail is reckoned throughout Scripture as one of the ministers of the Divine vengeance (see
Psalm 18:12, 13
Psalm 78:47, 48
Ezekiel 13:11, 13
). Its destructive effect upon crops, even in temperate latitudes, is indicated by the insurances against damage from hail, which, even in our own country, so many farmers think it worth their while to pay. In tropical and semi-tropical regions the injury caused by hailstorms is far greater.
Against the day of battle and war
. Compare especially
, which, however, we need not suppose to have been in the mind of the writer. In ancient times, when the bow held the place in war which is now occupied by the rifle or the musket, a heavy hailstorm, striking full in the face of the combatants on one side, while it only fell on the backs of their adversaries, must of tea have decided a battle.
By what way is the light parted,
scattereth the east wind upon the earth?
By what way is the light parted?
, so as to be enjoyed by all the inhabitants of the earth (Stanley Loathes). Which scattereth, etc.; rather,
or by what way is the east wind scattered over the earth?
(see the Revised Version) Job is asked to explain God's
in nature, which, of course, he cannot do. Hence his answer in
Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder;
Who hath divided a water-course for the overflowing of waters?
rather, as in the Revised Version, Who
hath cleft a channel for the water-flood? i.e.
Who has furrowed and seamed the ground (in Western Asia) with deep gullies, or "water-courses," for the rapid carrying off of the violent rains to which those regions are subject? The wadies of Syria and Arabia seem to be alluded to. They too are God's work, not Job's.
Or a way for the lightning of thunder?
The "way" for the passage of the electric current is not marked out beforehand, like the way for the escape of the superfluous waters; but it is equally determined on and arranged previously by God, who has laid down the laws which it is bound to follow.
To cause it to rain on the earth,
the wilderness, wherein
To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man
. God not only causes his rain to fall equally on the just and on the unjust (
), but equally, or almost equally, on inhabited lauds and uninhabited. His providence does not limit itself to supplying the wants of man, but has tender regard to the beasts, and birds, and reptiles, and insects which possess the lands whereon man has not yet set his foot.
To satisfy the desolate and waste
; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?
To satisfy the desolate and waste ground
. Parched ground seems to cry aloud for water, and so to make a piteous appeal to Heaven. Perhaps rain is not wholly wasted, even on the bare sands of the Sahara, or the rugged rocks of Tierra del Fuego. It may have uses which are beyond our cognizance.
And to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth
. Where the rain produces herbage, it is certainly of use, for wherever there is herbage there are always insects, whose enjoyment of life has every appearance of being intense.
Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?
Hath the rain a father?
or who hath begotten the drops of dew? How do rain and dew come into existence? Can Job make them, or any other man? Can man even conceive of the process by which they were made? If not, must not their Maker, who is God, be wholly inscrutable?
Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?
Out of whose womb came the ice?
Modern scientists admit that the process by which a liquid is metamorphosed into a solid transcends their utmost power of thought. They know nothing more than the fact that at the temperature of 32° Fahr. water, and at other temperatures other liquids, are solidified (see an article by Professor Tyndall on the generation of a snowflake in the
of 1880). It is thus not only creation itself, but the transformations of created things, that transcend the scientific intellect and are inexplicable.
And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?
This is the same question as that of the previous clause, expressed in different words
The waters are hid as
a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.
The waters are hid as with a stone
the waters are hardened
like unto stone.
When the frost comes, the waters are congealed and rendered as hard as stone. (So Dillmann and Canon Cook
.) And the face of the deep is frozen
. By "the deep" (
) is certainly not meant here either the open ocean, which, in the latitudes known to the dwellers in South Western Asia, never freezes, or the Mediterranean. Some of the lakes which abound in the regions inhabited by Job and his friends are probably meant. These may occasionally have been thinly coated with ice in the times when the Book of Job was written (see the comment on Job 6:16).
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades?
(On the almost certain identification of the Hebrew
with the Pleiades, see the comment on Job 9:9.) Whether the "sweet influences" of the constellation are here spoken of is very doubtful. Schultens and Professor Lee support the rendering; but most critics prefer to translate the word employed (
) by "chains" or "fastenings" (Rashi, Kimchi, Rosenmuller, Dillmann, Canon Cook). If we adopt this view, we must suppose the invisible links which unite the stars into a constellation to be intended. Job is asked whether he can draw the links nearer together, and bind the stars closer to one another.
Or loose the bands of Orion?
The identity of
with Orion is generally allowed. Job is asked if he can loosen the tie which unites the several members of this constellation together. Of course, he can pretend to no such powers.
Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?
Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?
The context implies that "Mazzaroth' is a constellation on a par with the Pleiades, Orion, and the Bear (Kimah,
). This makes it impossible to accept the meaning, so generally assigned, of "the twelve signs of the Zodiac." Again, the plural form is fatal to the conjecture that "Mazzaroth" designates a single star or planet, as Jupiter, Venus, or Sirius (Cook). The word is derived probably from the root zahar, "to shine," "to be bright," and should designate some especially brilliant cluster of stars Whether it is to be regarded as a variant of
2 Kings 23:5
) is uncertain.
Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?
(On the identity of '
with the Great Bear, see the comment on Job 9:9.) The "sons" of '
conjectured to be the three large stars in the tail of Ursa Major (Stanley Leathes); but the grounds on which the conjecture rests are very slight.
Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?
Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?
the physical laws by which the course of nature is governed (comp.
Psalm 119:90, 91
). The general prevalence of law in the material world is quite as strongly asserted by the sacred writers as by modern science. The difference is that modern science regards the laws as physical necessities, self-subsisting, while Scripture looks upon them as the ordinances of the Divine will. This latter view involves, of course, the further result that the Divine will can at any time suspend or reverse any of its enactments.
Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?
If Job does not even know the laws whereby the world is governed, much less can he establish such laws himself, and make them work.
Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee?
Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of water may sever thee?
Will the clouds take their orders from thee, listen to thee, obey thy voice? None but the "medicine-men" of savage tribes profess to have any such power. Elijah, indeed, "prayed, and the heaven gave rain" (
); but this was a very different thing from "commanding the clouds of heaven." His prayer was addressed to God, and God gave the rain for which he made his petition.
Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we
Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Hers we are?
If Job cannot command the clouds, much less can he send (or rather,
) lightnings - these marvellous and terrible evidences of almighty power. Even now, with all our command of electricity, our savants would, from the best electrical ms-chine, find it difficult to produce the effects which often result from a single flash of lightning.
Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart?
Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?
Some refer this to human wisdom, and understand the Almighty as asking - Who has put man's wisdom into his inward parts? literally,
into his kidneys
, or as our idiom would express it, "into his heart." But there is great difficulty in supposing a sudden transition from clouds and lightning in vers. 34, 35 to the human understanding in ver. 36,
with a return to clouds and rain
in ver. 37. Hence many of the best critics understand ver. 36 of the purpose and intelligence that may be regarded as existing in the clouds and rain and lightning themselves, which are God's ministers, and run to and fro at his command, and execute his pleasure. (So Schultens, Rosenmuller, Professor Lee, and Professer Stanley Leathes.) To obtain this result, we must translate the word
By "tempest" or "thunder-belts," and the word
, in the next clause, by "storm n or something similar (see the Revised Version, where "dark clouds" is suggested as an alternative for "inward parts'" and "meteor" as an alternative for "heart"). The whole passage will then run thus: Who
hath put wisdom in the thunderbolts? or who hath given understanding to the tempest?
Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,
Who can number the clouds in wisdom?
Who is wise enough to number the clouds, and say how many they are? Or who can stay the bottles of heaven! rather,
Who can pour out
? (see the Revised Version). The "bottles," or "water-skins," of heaven are the dense clouds heavy with rain, which alternately hold the moisture like a reservoir, and pour it out upon the earth. God alone can determine when the rain shall fall.
When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?
When the dust groweth into hardness
) here, as often, means "earth," or "soil," rather than "dust." When by the heat of the sun's rays the ground grows into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together, baked into a compact mass, then is the time when rain is most needed, and when the Almighty in his mercy commonly sends it. The consideration of inanimate nature here ends, with the result that its mysteries altogether transcend the human intellect, and render speculation on the still deeper mysteries of the moral world wholly vain and futile.
Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,
Wilt thou hunt the prey for the
A new departure. Ch. 39 should commence from this point. What does Job know of the habits and instincts of animals? Can he arrange so that the lion (rather,
) shall obtain its proper prey, and thus fill the appetite - or,
satisfy the appetite
(Revised Version) - of the young lions, which depend on their dam? Certainly not. "The lions, roaring after their prey, do seek their
meat from God"
When they couch in
abide in the covert to lie in wait?
- When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait
Psalm 10:9, 10
Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.
Who provideth for the raven his food?
, "Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and
God feedeth them"
). God's mercy is "over all his works," not only over those whereof man sees the utility; but also over beasts of prey, and birds thought to be of ill omen. Especially he cares for the young of each kind, which most need protection. When his young ones cry unto God. So
, "He giveth to the beast his food, and to the
young ravens which
cry." The young ravens are driven to cry out, when they,
the parent birds, wander for lack of meat, and have a difficulty in finding it.
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