Job 4 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Job 4
Pulpit Commentary
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,
Verse 1. - Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said (see the comment on Job 2:11).
If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? but who can withhold himself from speaking?
Verse 2. - If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? rather, If one assay a word against thee wilt thou be angry? Eliphaz feels that what he is about to say will be unwelcome, and, as it were, apologizes beforehand. Surely Job will not be angry if a friend just ventures a word. But who can withhold himself from speaking? Let Job be angry or not, Eliphaz must speak. It is impossible to hear such words as Job has uttered, and yet keep silence. God's wisdom and justice have been impugned, and must be vindicated.
Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands.
Verse 3. - Behold, thou hast instructed many; or, corrected many. When others have been afflicted and murmured, thou hast corrected them, and shown them that they were suffering only what they deserved to suffer. In so doing, thou hast strengthened the weak hands; "given moral strength," i.e., "to those who were morally weak," upheld them, saved them from impatient words and hard thoughts of God.
Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees.
Verse 4. - Thy words have upholden him that was falling. Many a man, just on the point of falling, has been stopped in time by thy wise words and good advice to him. This is a strong testimony to Job's kindliness of heart, and active sympathy with sufferers during the period of his prosperity. And thou hast strengthened the feeble knees; literally, the bowing knees - those that were just on the point of collapsing and giving way through exhaustion or feebleness (comp. Isaiah 35:3).
But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled.
Verse 5. - But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest. Now it is thy turn - calamity has come upon thee and all that thou weft wont to say to others is forgotten. The wise physician cannot heal himself. Instead of receiving thy chastisement in a right spirit, thou "faintest," or rather, "thou art angry, art offended" - as the same verb is also to be translated in the second verse. There is a tone of sarcasm about these remarks, which implies a certain hardness and want of real affection in the speaker, and which cannot but have been perceived by Job, and have detracted from the force of what Eliphaz urged. If one has to rebuke a friend, it should be done with great delicacy. Our "precious balms" should not be allowed to "break his head" (Psalm 141:6). It toucheth thee, and thou art troubled; or, perplexed - "confounded."
Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?
Verse 6. - Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways? Translate, with the Revised Version, Is not thy fear of God thy confidence and thy hope the integrity of thy ways? The verse is composed, as usual, of two clauses, balancing each other; and the meaning seems to be that, if Job is as convinced of his piety and uprightness as he professes to be, he ought still to maintain confidence in God, and a full expectation of deliverance from his troubles. If he does not, what is the natural inference? Surely, that he is not so confident of his innocence as he professes to be.
Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?
Verse 7. - Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? The heart of the matter is now approached. Job is called upon to "remember" the long-established moral axiom, that only evil-doing brings down upon men calamities, and that therefore, where calamities fall, them must be precedent wickedness. If he does not admit this, he-is challenged to bring forward examples, or even a single example, of suffering innocence. If he does admit it, he is left to apply the axiom to himself. Or where were the righteous cut off? Was the example of "righteous Abel" (Matthew 23:35) unknown to Eliphaz? And had he really never seen that noblest of all sights, the good man struggling with adversity? One would imagine it impossible to attain old age, in the world wherein we live, without becoming convinced by our own observation that good and evil, prosperity and adversity, are not distributed in this life according to moral desert; but a preconceived notion of what ought to have been seems here, as elsewhere so often in the field of speculation, to have blinded men to the actual facts of the case, and driven them to invent explanations of the facts, which militated against their theories, of the most absurdly artificial character. To account for the sufferings of the righteous, the explanation of "secret sins" was introduced, and it was argued that, where affliction seemed to fall on the good man, his goodness was not real goodness - it was a counterfeit, a sham - the fabric of moral excellence, so fair to view, was honeycombed by secret vices, to which the seemingly good man was a prey. Of course, if the afflictions wore abnormal, extraordinary, then the secret sins must be of a most heinous and horrible kind to deserve such a terrible retribution. This is what Eliphaz hints to be the solution in Job's case. God has seen his secret sins - he has "set them in the light of his countenance" (Psalm 90:8) - and is punishing them openly. Job's duty is to humble himself before God, to confess, repent, and amend. Then, and then only, may he hope that God will remove his hand, and put an end to his sufferings
Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.
Verse 8. - Even as I have seen; rather, according as I have seen - so far, that is, as my observation goes (see the Revised Version, which is supported by Professor Lee and Canon Cook). They that plough iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same (comp. Proverbs 22:8; Hosea 8:7; Hosea 10:13; Galatians 6:7, 8). The words translated "iniquity" and "wickedness" express in the original both moral and physical evil. Men sew the one and reap the other. Eliphaz extends this general rule into a universal law, or, at any rate, declares that he has never known an exception. He has not, therefore, been grieved and perplexed, like David, by "seeing the ungodly in such prosperity" (Psalm 73:3). He would seem not to have been a man of very keen observation.
By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.
Verse 9. - By the blast of God they perish; rather, by the breath of God, as in Job 37:10. The word used (גִשְׁמָה) means always, as Professor Lee observes," a slight or gentle breathing." The slightest breath of God's displeasure is enough to destroy those against whom it is directed. And by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed. Here "blast" would be better than "breath," for רוח is a stronger word than נשׁמה. Similarly, רוח is a stronger word than יאבדו. The breath kills, the blast utterly consumes, transgressors.
The roaring of the lion, and the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions, are broken.
Verse 10. - The roaring of the lion, and the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions, are broken. Wicked men, especially oppressors, are often compared to lions in Scripture (see Psalm 7:2; Psalm 10:9; Psalm 17:12, etc.; Ezekiel 19:3, 5; Nahum 2:12; Zephaniah 3:3, etc.). The meaning of Eliphaz is that, within his experience, all classes of wicked men, young, or old, or middle-aged, weak or strong, have received in this life the reward of their iniquity. However fiercely they might roar, however greedily they might devour, their roaring has died away, their teeth have been broken in their mouths, vengeance has lighted on them in some shape or other; they have paid the penalty of their transgressions. Five classes of lions seem to be spoken of in this and the following verses:

(1) the whelp (ver. 11);

(2) the half-grown lion, just able to make its voice heard;

(3) the young full-grown lion (cephir);

(4) the lion in full maturity (ariyeh); and

(5) the old lion which is growing decrepit (laish).

To these is joined (ver. 11) labi, "the lioness." Lions are still frequent in the Mesopotamian region ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 1. pp 39, 221), though no longer found in Palestine, nor in Arabia.
The old lion perisheth for lack of prey, and the stout lion's whelps are scattered abroad.
Verse 11. - The old lion perisheth for lack of prey. The human counterpart of the "old lion" is the oppressor whose strength and cunning begin to fail him, who can no longer carry things with a high hand, enforce his will on men by bluster and throats, or even set traps for them so skilfully that they blindly walk into them. Political charlatans whose role is played out, bullies whose nerve is beginning to fail, cardsharpers whose manual dexterity has de-sorted them, come under this category. And the stout lion's whelps; rather, the whelps of the lioness (see the Revised Version). Are scattered abroad. Even the seed of ill-doers suffer. They are involved in their parents' punishment (see Exodus 20:5). Eliphaz darkly hints that Job may have been among the class of oppressors, or (at any rate) of transgressors, and that the untimely fate of his children may have been the consequence of his evil-doings.
Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof.
Verses 12-21. - Eliphaz proceeds to narrate a spiritual experience of a very strange and striking character. It was night, and he had fallen asleep, when suddenly he was, or seemed to himself to be, awake. A horrible fear came over him, and all his limbs trembled and quaked. Then a spirit seemed to pass before his face, while every hair on his body rose up and stiffened with horror. It did not simply pass across him, but stood still, in a formless form, which he could see but not clearly distinguish. There was a deep hush. Then out of the silence there seemed to come a voice, a whisper, which articulated solemn words. "Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man," etc.? Supernatural visitations were vouchsafed by God to many besides the chosen people - to Laban, when he pursued Jacob (Genesis 31:24), to Abimelech (Genesis 20:6), to the Pharaoh of the time of Joseph (Genesis 41:1-7), to his chief butler (Genesis 40:9-11), and his chief baker (Genesis 40:16, 17), to Balaam the son of Beer (Numbers 22:12, 20; Numbers 23:5-10, 16-24; Numbers 24:3-9, 15-24), to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:28-35; Daniel 4:1-32), and others. The method and manner of these visitations raise a multitude of questions which it is impossible to answer, but are convincing evidence to all who believe Scripture to be true, that communications can pass between the spiritual and material worlds of a strange and mysterious character. The communication to Eliphaz may have been a mere vision, impressed upon his mind in sleep, or it may have been actually brought to him by a spiritual messenger, whom he could dimly see, and whose voice he was privileged to hear. Modern pseudo-science pronounces such seeing and hearing to be impossible. But poets are often clearer-sighted than scientists, and Shakespeare utters a pregnant truth when he says -

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Verse 12. - Now a thing was secretly brought to me; rather, a word (or, a message) was brought to me stealthily. And mine ear received a little thereof; rather, a whisper thereof (see the Revised Version, and comp. Job 26:14, and the Vulgate, which gives susurrus). As the form of the vision was not distinct to Eliphaz's eyes (ver. 16), so neither were the words which were uttered distinct to his ears. He thinks himself able, however, to give the sense of them (see vers. 17-21).
In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men,
Verse 13. - In thoughts from the visions of the night; literally, in the perplexities of the visions of night; i.e. "in that perplexing time when - how, they know not - visions come to men." The word translated "thoughts" occurs only here and in Job 20:2. When deep sleep falleth on men. Something more than ordinary sleep seems to be meant - something more approaching to what we call "trance" (comp. Genesis 2:21; Genesis 15:12; 1 Samuel 26:12, where the same word is used).
Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake.
Verse 14. - Fear came upon me, and trembling; compare the "horror of great darkness" which fell upon Abraham (Genesis 15:12). Our nature shrinks from direct contact with the spiritual world, and our earthly frame shudders at the unearthly presence. Which made the multitude of my bones to shake; or, which made my bones greatly to shake (so the LXX.' Professor Lee, and others).
Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up:
Verse 15. - Then a spirit passed before my face. It has been argued (Rosenmuller) that "a breath of air," and not "a spirit," is intended; but, in that ease, how are we to understand the expressions in the following verse: "it stood still," "the form thereof," "an image"? A breath of air, the very essence of which is to be in motion, cannot stand still, nor has it any "form," "appearance," or "imago." Granted that the Hebrew ruakh (רוח) may mean - like the Greek πνεῦμα, and the Latin spiritus - either an actual spirit, or a breath, a wind, it follows that, in every place where it occurs, we must judge by the context which is meant. Here certainly the context points to an actual living spirit, as what Eliphaz intended. Whether a spirit really appeared to him is a separate question. The whole may have been a vision; but certainly the impression left on Eliphaz was that he had had a communication from the spirit-world. The hair of my flesh stood up. Not the hair of his head only, but every hair on his whole body, stiffened, bristled, and rose up on end in horror (see the comment on ver. 14).
It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes, there was silence, and I heard a voice, saying,
Verse 16. - It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof. Canon Cook quotes, very appositely, Milton's representation of Death as a fearful shape,

"If shape it could be called that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed."
An image was before mine eyes; or, on appearance (LXX., μορφή). There was silence; or, a hush - "status aeris nullo motu turbati, et tranquillissimus" (Schulteus). And I heard a voice, saying. After a while the silence was broken by a voice, which whispered in Eliphaz's ear (setup. ver. 12).
Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?
Verse 17. - Shall mortal man be more just than God? Is it to be supposed that the ways of God can be rightly criticized and condemned by man? Surely not; for then man must be more penetrated with the spirit of justice than the Almighty. If our thoughts are not as God's thoughts, it must be, our thoughts that are wrong. Shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Equally impossible. God alone is absolutely pure. The best man must be conscious to himself, as Isaiah was (Isaiah 6:5), of uncleanness.
Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly:
Verse 18. - Behold, he put no trust in his servants; rather, he putteth no trust or he putteth not trust. The" servants" intended are those that minister to him directly in heaven, the members of the angelic host, as appears from the parallelism of the other clause of the verse. Even in them God does not trust implicitly, since he knows that they are frail and fallible, liable to err, etc., only kept from sin by his own sustaining and assisting grace (setup. Job 15:15, where Eliphaz expresses the same belief in his own person). And his angels he charged with folly; rather, chargeth. The exact meaning of the word translated "folly" is uncertain, since the word does not occur elsewhere. The LXX. renders by σκολιόν τι, "crookedness;" Ewald, Dillmann, and others, by "error." The teaching clearly is that the angels are not perfect - the highest angelic excellence falls infinitely short of God's perfectness. Even angels, therefore, would be incompetent judges of God's doings.
How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?
Verse 19. - How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay! rather, hew muck more cloth he not put trust in them that inhabit houses of clay! i.e. "earthly bodies," bodies made out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7; setup, Job 33:6). Whose foundation is in the dust; i.e." whose origin was the dust of the ground," which were formed from it and must return to it, according to the words of Genesis 3:19, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou must return." Which are crushed before the moth. This is somewhat obscure. It may mean, "which are so fragile that a moth, a fly, or other weak creature may destroy them," or "which are crushed with the same ease with which a moth is crushed and destroyed."
They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish for ever without any regarding it.
Verse 20. - They are destroyed from morning to evening. Human bodies undergo a continuous destruction. From the moment that we are born we begin to die. Decay of powers is coeval with their first exercise. Our insidious foe, Death, marks us as his own from the very first breath that we draw. Our bodies are machines wound up to go for a certain time. The moment that we begin to use them we begin to wear them out. They perish for ever. The final result is that Our" houses of clay "perish, crumble to dust, disappear, and come to nothing. They "perish for ever," says Eliphaz, repeating what he believed the spirit of ver. 15 to have said to him; but it is not clear that he understood more by this than that they perish and disappear for ever, so far as this life and this world are concerned. Without any regarding it. No one is surprised or thinks it hard. It is the lot of man, and every one's mind is prepared for it.
Doth not their excellency which is in them go away? they die, even without wisdom.
Verse 21. - Doth not their excellency which is in them go away! "Their excellency" (יתרם) would seem to mean that which is highest in them - their spirit, or soul. It does not make much difference if we translate, with the Old Testament Revisers" their tent-cord," since that would be merely a metaphor for the soul, which sustains the body as the tent-cord does the tent. What deserves especial remark is that the "excellency" does not perish; it goes away, departs, or is removed. They die, even without wisdom; literally, not in wisdom; i.e. not having learnt in the whole course of their lives that true wisdom which their life-trials were intended to teach them.

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