Job 6
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 6–7. Job’s reply to Eliphaz

Job’s reply to the first of his three friends falls into three great sections:—

First, Job 6:1-13. He defends against the remonstrances of Eliphaz the bitterness of his complaining and his despair.

Second, Job 6:14-30. He laments with sorrowful disappointment the attitude his friends have taken up towards him.

Third, ch. 7. He falls anew into a bitter lamentation over his sorrowful destiny, and appeals against God’s treatment of him in language much more direct and keen than that used in ch. 3.

But Job answered and said,
Ch. Job 6:1-13. Job defends the violence of his complaints and his despair

Eliphaz had made no reference directly to sin on Job’s part; but he drew dark pictures of the evilness of human nature before the eye of his friend, and for his advantage. Job shews a dislike to touch this point. His dislike is that of a man conscious of his innocence, and who can hardly believe that his friends seriously mean what their indirect allusions seem to imply. Hence he attaches his reply to what Eliphaz had openly expressed, namely, his wonder at the despair of Job and his blameable impatience. The idea of his having sinned he touches only in passing and with strong repudiation of it (ch. Job 6:28-30).

Eliphaz had used the word “confounded” of Job’s hopeless despair (ch. Job 4:5); he had spoken of “impatience,” and “passion”; and had referred to the “fool” or godless man, as shewing this kind of temper under affliction (Job 6:2). All this wounds Job deeply, and he first of all replies to it, justifying the bitterness of his complaints by the overwhelming heaviness of his sorrow.

First, he wishes that his impatience and his calamity were laid against one another in the balance. His calamity is heavier than the sand of the sea. For that which gives it its terror is that it is from God. The arrows of the Almighty are in him, and his spirit drinks in their poison and is paralysed, Job 6:1-4.

Second, a more kindly judgment, he thinks, would have reasoned the other way from his friends, namely, from the violence of his complaints to the greatness of his sufferings. So men reasoned with regard to beasts even. No creature complained if it had no want or no pain; neither would he complain if what was unbearable were not thrust upon him, Job 6:5-7.

Third, so far he goes in his defence. But so keenly does he realize as he describes it (Job 6:6-7) the misery and loathsomeness of his state that here he breaks out into a passionate cry for death, his mind passes into a momentary frenzy, and he says he would leap for joy in the midst of unsparing pain, if it brought death with it. This is the consolation that he seeks. And this consolation he can look for, for he has never denied the words of the Holy One. And no other can he look to, for his flesh is not brass that it should resist his exhausting afflictions; and what issue has he to expect that he should be patient? Job 6:8-13.

Oh that my grief were throughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together!
2. my grief] Rather, my impatience (ch. Job 4:2). The word expresses the whole demeanour which in ch. 3, and to the eyes of his friends, he shews under his trouble. He desires that it were weighed and also his calamity. Naturally he wishes them weighed against one another. It is not certain that this is expressed in the word together; that word may mean, and my whole calamity laid in the balances.

For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea: therefore my words are swallowed up.
3. the sand of the sea] A frequent figure for that which is infinite in weight, Proverbs 27:3, or number, Genesis 32:12, or measure, Jeremiah 33:22.

are swallowed up] Rather, have been wild, or perhaps vain or idle. Probably the word is allied to an Arabic root that signifies to speak, and also, to speak wrongly and foolishly. Job with transparent simplicity concedes a certain extravagance in his language, although he excuses it (Job 6:4 seq.). Elsewhere he says in reference to himself that the words of one that is desperate go into the wind (Job 6:26).

For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.
4. the arrows of the Almighty] This explains his bearing and excuses it. Everywhere Job says that it is not his afflictions in themselves that terrify him, it is that they come from God; it is the moral problem that lies under his calamities and that God has become his enemy that makes his heart “soft” (ch. Job 23:15 seq.). The “arrows” of God are the plagues, diseases and pains with which He assails men, ch. Job 16:12 seq.; cf. Psalm 38:2 seq.; Deuteronomy 32:23. So Hamlet,

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

the poison whereof drinketh] Rather, the poison of which my spirit drinketh in. God’s arrows are poisoned arrows, the poison of which the spirit sucks in and becomes enervated and paralysed. This is the idea, rather than maddened. The figure in the end of the verse is that of a beleaguering army; this host is composed of “terrors” from God. The reference is again not to Job’s mere physical pains, but to the perplexing thoughts and fears which they occasioned.

Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass? or loweth the ox over his fodder?
5, 6. Job’s complaints are proof of his pain, for does any creature complain when it has what its nature desires? The “braying” and “lowing” here are those expressing discontent or want.

be eaten without salt] Rather, can that be eaten which is unsavoury and saltless?

the white of an egg] This is the traditional interpretation and is perhaps the most probable. Others think of some insipid herb, and render: the slime (broth) of purslain. The reference in the passage is to Job’s afflictions, which he compares here to an insipid, and in next verse to a loathsome, food, cf. ch. Job 3:24. Others have thought that the reference was to the insipid harangues of the friends. But such a reference entirely breaks the connexion.

Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?
The things that my soul refused to touch are as my sorrowful meat.
7. This verse may be rendered not quite literally,

My soul refuseth to touch them!

Such things are like loathsome food to me.

Literally, like my corrupted, or, diseased food. Job does not name his afflictions but refers to them indirectly as “they” and “such things.” He compared his sufferings to food in ch. Job 3:24.

Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for!
8, 9. So keenly does Job realize the loathsomeness of his sufferings that he forgets his defence and breaks out into a passionate cry for death, which he calls the thing that he longs for.

Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off!
Then should I yet have comfort; yea, I would harden myself in sorrow: let him not spare; for I have not concealed the words of the Holy One.
10. This verse reads,

And I should yet have my comfort,

And I would leap (for joy) amidst unsparing pain;

For I have not denied the words of the Holy One.

His comfort or consolation that he would have is death, the only one he seeks or can receive (Job 6:11). The second clause betrays a rising frenzy in the sufferer’s mind. The third clause is thrown in almost in parenthesis. It expresses Job’s feeling that there is nothing that would impair his comfort or mar his joy in death, for he has never denied or disobeyed the words, or commands, of the Holy One. Perhaps the words may be flung out also against a thought which Job felt might rise in the minds of his friends. They serve at least to give an emphatic contradiction to their suspicions, by shewing how fearlessly he looks at death.

Others render the verse somewhat differently: and it should still be my consolation … that I have not denied, etc., making his consolation in death to consist in the thought that he had never disobeyed the words of the Holy One, cf. ch. Job 13:16; Job 27:8 seq. But this gives a prominence to the innocence of Job which is not suitable in this place, and makes his words too reflective and self-possessed for the rest of the passage.

What is my strength, that I should hope? and what is mine end, that I should prolong my life?
11. This verse should read,

What is my strength that I should wait?

And what is mine end that I should be patient?

His impatient cry for death and his despair are justified by his condition. “Mine end”—i. e. what can the end of my afflictions be but death? Why then should I wait?

11–13. With more calmness Job proceeds to describe his hopeless condition, carrying out in this indirect way his defence of his despair.

Is my strength the strength of stones? or is my flesh of brass?
12. Unless his strength were that of stones or his flesh brass he could not hold out against the exhausting afflictions which he has to bear, or recover from them.

Is not my help in me? and is wisdom driven quite from me?
13. This verse reads something as follows,

Is not my help within me gone,

And recovery driven away from me?

Both clauses seem to refer to the exhaustion caused by his disease. He feels that all resource within himself and all possibility of recovery is gone. The word “recovery” is that used in ch. Job 5:12, “anything effectual” (see notes), and probably signifies substance, or powers of recovery. The word might also be applied, as in ch. Job 11:6, to a condition of the mind and signify mental resource, but this sense does not seem to suit the connexion.

To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend; but he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty.
14. The most probable sense of the verse is this:—

Kindness from his friend is due to him that is despairing,

To him that is forsaking the fear of the Almighty.

The sense of the second clause proposed by some, else he will forsake the fear, is good in itself, but the language hardly admits it. The word “kindness” has the sense of reproach, Proverbs 14:34 (the verb, Proverbs 25:10, put to shame), and some adopt this sense here: if reproach from his friend fall upon him that is despairing, he will forsake the fear, &c. The word, however, is not used elsewhere in the Book of Job in this sense, and the interpretation destroys the strong antithesis between this verse and the opening words of the next, my brethren, &c.

14–30. Job’s sorrowful disappointment at the position taken up towards him by his three friends

Job had freely expressed his misery in ch. 3, believing that the sympathies of his friends were entirely with him. He is

a brother noble,

Whose nature is so far from doing harms

That he suspects none.

Lear, i. 2.

And more sorrowful to him than any cold, critical words which they have uttered is the feeling that his friends have taken up such a position against him. This was what he had not looked for. And his disappointment is like that of the thirsty caravan that finds the long-looked-for waters dried up in the heat. Every emotion seems now to find a place in Job’s mind in succession. First, his disappointment, expressed in this beautiful figure, is mixed with the feeling how unworthy his friends’ conduct was. They had not acted to him as men do to one who is, as he describes himself, “despairing” and “losing hold of the fear of the Almighty.” Kindness is due to such a one, but they had turned against him from sheer feebleness of spirit, because they saw that his calamity was from God, Job 6:14-21.

Second, this mixed sadness and contempt passes into sarcasm when he tells them that he could have understood their fear if he had asked anything from them—even one’s friends must not be put under that strain—but he sought only sympathy, Job 6:22-23.

Third, this sarcasm then gives place to a direct appeal of great severity, in which he demands that they should shew him the sins at which they had indirectly hinted, and wonders at their superficial captiousness in fastening on the mere excited words of a man in despair; adding in terms of bitter invective that their disposition was so hard that they would cast lots for the orphan and make market of their own friend, Job 6:24-27.

Finally, he challenges them to seek the explanation of his afflictions on other principles than the supposition of his guiltiness, asking them whether, in asserting his innocence, he would lie in their faces, and if he was not able to say whether his calamities were deserved or not? Job 6:28-30.

My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away;
15. they pass away] Better, that pass away, cf. ch. Job 11:16. The other sense, that overflow (their banks), is improbable.

Which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid:
16. are blackish] Rather, are black, that is, turbid.

is hid] lit. hides itself, that is, dissolves.

Pleasures are like poppies spread,

You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;

Or like the snow-falls in the river—

A moment white, then melts for ever.

What time they wax warm, they vanish: when it is hot, they are consumed out of their place.
The paths of their way are turned aside; they go to nothing, and perish.
18. they go to nothing] Rather, they go up into the waste. The expression go up in Heb. is used when no ascent in the strict sense is meant; it signifies to go inland, into the interior of a region. The streams of these brooks flow out and wind into the desert and are consumed by the heat or lost in the sand. A somewhat different sense is drawn from the words by many writers. The word paths, Job 6:18, is the same as troops or caravans, Job 6:19, and they assume that the reference to the caravans is already made in Job 6:18, rendering: the caravans that go by the way of them (the streams) turn aside, they go up into the desert and perish. In favour of this interpretation it is urged that there is something unnatural in the use of the same word in different senses in two consecutive verses; and that it is customary in the Poets to express a general idea first (Job 6:18) and then to particularize and exemplify it (Job 6:19). On the other hand Ibn Ezra has already remarked that it is not usual for caravans to leave the route and “turn aside” in search of water, a route is selected and formed rather because water is found on it. The danger of the caravan is that it be exhausted before it reach the place where water is known to be, or, as here, that the water may be found dried up.

The troops of Tema looked, the companies of Sheba waited for them.
19. Tema lies in the northern highlands of Arabia, towards the Syrian desert, Isaiah 21:14; Jeremiah 25:33. On Sheba see Job 1:15.

They were confounded because they had hoped; they came thither, and were ashamed.
For now ye are nothing; ye see my casting down, and are afraid.
21. ye are nothing] Or, are become nothing. Job applies his comparison. Another reading is: ye are become it, i. e. the deceitful, disappointing brook. The general sense remains the same.

my casting down] lit. ye see a terror. Job’s comparison of his friends to the brook is graphic and telling. In winter these brooks are full, but in summer when the thirsty caravan needs them and looks for them they are found to have disappeared before the heat. And Job’s friends may have been effusive in their offers of friendship when friendships were abundant, but now when he needs their aid, the sight of his terrible affliction, like the summer heat, dissipates their sympathy and makes them “nothing,” without power to help. In the words “ye see a terror and are afraid” Job insinuates more than that his friends are paralysed at the sight of his calamity, he means probably that, judging his calamity to be from God, they have not courage to shew him sympathy, cf. Job 13:7 seq.

Did I say, Bring unto me? or, Give a reward for me of your substance?
22. a reward] Rather, a gift.

22, 23. He had not asked anything very great from his friends, which would have been too severe a strain on their friendship, only sympathy, and straightforward dealing, and that they should consider him the truthful man whom they knew him to be.

Or, Deliver me from the enemy's hand? or, Redeem me from the hand of the mighty?
23. hand of the mighty] that is, the powerful robber, who held his captives to ransom.

Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred.
24–27. In answer to their covert insinuations Job demands that they should bring home to him the sins of which they suspected him.

How forcible are right words! but what doth your arguing reprove?
25. how forcible are right words] Or, words of uprightness, that is honest, straightforward, close dealing with a man about himself, or his offences, sign of true friendship, Psalm 141:5; cf. ch. Job 33:3, where Elihu claims to speak out of this rectitude of mind. The word rendered forcible is of rather uncertain meaning. It occurs again 1 Kings 2:8, a grievous curse, Micah 2:10, a sore destruction, and in Job 16:3, what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest? The fundamental sense of the word is assumed to be to be sharp, hence, to be strong, vehement. This is conjectural. What may be but another form of the word occurs in Psalm 119:103, how sweet are thy words unto my taste! And many prefer that meaning here: how sweet are words of uprightness.

your arguing reprove] lit. what doth reproving from you, the kind of reproving that comes from you, insinuations and captious laying hold of more excited language, reprove? In Job 6:24 Job demanded to know from his friends directly what sins they laid to his charge. He would welcome straightforward dealing that went into his circumstances.

Do ye imagine to reprove words, and the speeches of one that is desperate, which are as wind?
26. do ye imagine] that is, is it your purpose? think ye?

and the speeches … which are as wind] Rather, though the speeches of one that is desperate go into the wind.

Yea, ye overwhelm the fatherless, and ye dig a pit for your friend.
27. This verse probably reads,

Yea, ye would cast lots upon the fatherless,

And bargain over your friend.

A strong invective against their unfeeling behaviour. The words are severe; the preceding passage, however, in which their refusal of sympathy (Job 6:22-23), and their petty faultfinding with Job’s language (Job 6:25-26), are referred to, naturally leads up to the idea. The same phrase to cast lots occurs 1 Samuel 14:42, and the phrase, bargain over or make merchandise of, occurs again, Job 41:6 (Heb. 40:30), “will the partners bargain over him?” The “fatherless” is probably the child of the debtor. After his death the ruthless creditors cast lots for possession of the child as a slave.

Now therefore be content, look upon me; for it is evident unto you if I lie.
28. The verse means as a whole,

Now, therefore, be pleased to look upon me,

I will not surely lie to your face!

“Be pleased,” or, as we say, be good enough. “To your face,” as in ch. Job 1:11. Job desires that instead of speaking at him with averted faces they would look him in the face, and judge from his countenance whether he would lie directly in asserting his innocence—a test that only conscious honesty would propose.

Return, I pray you, let it not be iniquity; yea, return again, my righteousness is in it.
29. Return, I pray you] The verse means,

Turn, I pray you, let there be no injustice;

Turn again, I say; my cause is righteous.

The word “turn” appears to mean not “begin anew,” but “adopt another course,” that is, proceed on other suppositions than that of my guiltiness, and seek another explanation of my calamities. Hence, he adds, let there be no injustice, or wrong, that is, on the part of his friends in imputing guilt to him. The phrase “my cause is righteous” means literally my right is in it, that is, is here, is present; in other words, I have a righteous cause. In it can hardly mean, in the matter under discussion, as if the meaning were: the question is one that concerns my rectitude. By his right or righteous cause Job means his plea against God in reference to his afflictions; in this plea he has right on his side.

Is there iniquity in my tongue? cannot my taste discern perverse things?
30. In Job 6:28 Job asseverated that he spoke truth in affirming his innocence. In Job 6:29 he affirmed that he had right on his side in his plea against God, in other words that he was wrongly afflicted. This verse, therefore, can hardly be a new assertion that he speaks the truth when he affirms his innocence; it must refer to a point further back, and be, in the form of a question, an affirmation of his ability to say whether he is innocent or not, and to judge rightly regarding the nature of his afflictions. The question, Is there iniquity in my tongue? means Is my tongue perverted that it cannot distinguish? In the second clause “taste” or “palate” is not referred to as an organ of speech but of perception (ch. Job 12:11).

The expression “perverse things” may mean wickednesses. This may be used generally and the question in the second clause have the same meaning as that in the first, viz. whether Job had lost moral sense and could not distinguish wrong from right? And the whole would be an affirmation of the soundness of his moral judgments, meant to support the asseveration of his innocence and the righteousness of his cause (Job 6:28-29). The phrase “perverse things” is that rendered “calamity” Job 6:2, and this might be the meaning here: “cannot my taste discern calamities?” i. e. the true nature of my afflictions, and perceive that they are undeserved and unjust?

Either of the above meanings forms a fitting and pathetic transition to the renewed cry of despair in ch. 7. For that which makes Job’s condition so crushing to him is that though innocent he feels himself in the hands of a ruthless and arbitrary fate, which, regardless of his innocence, is bent on destroying him. For this fate he has no other name but God; cf. ch. Job 9:22 seq., Job 23:13 seq.

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