Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,
If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? but who can withhold himself from speaking?IV.
(2) If we assay.—Rather, perhaps, Has one ever assayed? or, Has a word ever been tried? It appears from Job 29:9-10, that Job was held in great honour and reverence by all, and Eliphaz regarded him with awe such as would have constrained him to be silent, but he is so convinced that Job is wrong and deserves reproof, that he cannot refrain from speaking. He strikes a note, however, which the friends all sound, namely, that it is the wicked who suffer, and that all who suffer must be wicked. This, in a variety of forms, is the sum and substance of what they have to say.
Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands.(3) Behold, thou hast instructed many.—There is a conspicuous want of feeling in Eliphaz. Without any true sympathy, however, he may have given the outward signs of it (Job 2:12-13). He charges Job with inability to derive from his own principles that support which he had expected them to afford to others, and seems almost to rejoice malevolently that one who had been so great a help to others was now in need of help himself. “Calamity touches thee, and thou art overwhelmed by it.”
Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?(6) Is not this thy fear, thy confidence . . .?—The meaning seems to be, “Should not thy fear or piety be thy confidence, and the uprightness of thy ways thy hope? Should not the piety thou wast so ready to commend to others supply a sufficient ground of hope for thyself?” Or we may understand, “Is not thy reverence, thy confidence, thy hope, and thy integrity shown to be worthless if thou faintest as soon as adversity toucheth thee?” The drift of the speaker is virtually the same in either case.
Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?(7) Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent?—He challenges Job’s experience, and quotes his own in proof of the universal connection between sin and suffering. In so doing, his object may be to insinuate that Job is sinful; or, as seems perhaps more probable, and certainly more gracious, to prove to him that if he is what he was supposed to be, that itself is a ground of hope, inasmuch as no innocent person is allowed to perish. He utters here a half-truth, which, however, is after all true, inasmuch as God will never fail, though He may try, those who trust in Him.
Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.(8) They that plow iniquity.—Comp. Galatians 6:7-8; and comp. also the strange expression of Isaiah 5:18.
The old lion perisheth for lack of prey, and the stout lion's whelps are scattered abroad.(11) The old lion perisheth . . .—This means that even though wickedness is joined with strength, it is equally unable to prosper. It is to be observed that no less than five different words are here used for lion, showing that these animals must have been common and of various kinds in Job’s country.
Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof.(12) Now a thing.—He now proceeds to enforce and illustrate what he has said in highly poetical language, which has been versified in one of Byron’s Hebrew Melodies.
Secretly brought to me.—Literally, was stolen for me. Joseph uses the same expression of himself in Genesis 40:15.
Mine ear received a little, compared with the inexhaustible resources remaining unrevealed. The word used for little is only found once again, and in the mouth of Job (Job 26:14).
In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men,(13) In thoughts from the visions of the night.—The Book of Genesis exhibits the same idea of revelation through visions of the night, e.g., Job 15:1; Job 20:3; Job 30:11; Job 40:5; Job 41:1; afterwards it is not common, except in the Book of Daniel. The word rendered “thoughts” only occurs once again, in Job 20:2. The “deep sleep” of this place is like a reminiscence of Genesis 2:21; Genesis 15:12. It is used again in Job 33:15, otherwise only once in 1Samuel 26:12, once in Proverbs 19:15, and once in Isaiah 29:10.
Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up:(15) A spirit passed before my face.—It is vain to argue from this passage that spiritual essences are capable of being seen by the bodily eye, because, first of all, the language is highly figurative and poetical, and because, secondly, every one understands that a spiritual manifestation can be made only to the spirit. The notion, therefore, of seeing a spirit is absurd in itself, because it involves the idea of seeing the invisible; but it is conceivable that the perceptions of the inner spirit may be so vivid as to assume the character of outward manifestations.
Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?(17) Shall mortal man be more just than God?—This is the burden, or refrain, upon which the friends of Job are for ever harping. It is perfectly orthodox, but at the same time perfectly inadequate to deal with the necessities of Job’s case. He is willing to admit that it is impossible for any man to be just with God; but then arises Job’s dilemma, Where is God’s justice if He punishes the innocent as the guilty? The word rendered “mortal” man is really weak, frail man, involving, it may be, the idea of mortality, but not immediately suggesting it. As far as mortality implies sin, the notion of being just is absurd; and even a strong man—such is the antithesis—cannot be more pure than He that made him, who, it is assumed, must be both strong and righteous.
Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly:(18) Behold, he put no trust in his servants.—The statement is a general one; it does not refer to any one act in the past. We should read putteth and chargeth. Eliphaz repeats himself in Job 15:15.
How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?(19) Houses of clay.—This may perhaps contain an allusion to Genesis 11:3.
Are crushed before the moth?—That is to say, are so frail that even the moth destroys them.
They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish for ever without any regarding it.(20) From morning to evening.—The process is continual and unceasing, and when we consider the ravages of time on history, we may well say, as in Job 4:20, that “none regardeth it.”
The next verse, however, may seem to imply that they themselves are unmindful of their decay, it is so insidious and so complete.