Moreover Job continued his parable, and said,
Verses 1-25. - From these deep musings upon the nature of true wisdom, and the contrast between the ingenuity and cleverness of man and the infinite knowledge of God, Job turns to another contrast, which he pursues through two chapters (ch. 29. and 30.) - the contrast between what he was and what he is - between his condition in the period of his prosperity and that to which he has been reduced by his afflictions. The present chapter is concerned only with the former period; and gives a graphic description of the life led, in Job's time and country, by a great chieftain, the head of a tribe, not of mere nomads, but of perseus who had attained to a considerable amount of civilization. The picture is one primitive in its features, but not rude or coarse. It is entirely un-Jewish, and has its nearest parallel in some of the early Egyptian records, as the Stele of Beka, and the Instructions of Amen-em-hat ('Records of the Past,' vol. 2. pp. 11-16; vol. 10. pp. 7-10). Verse 1. - Moreover Job continued his parable, and said (see the comment on Job 27:1).
Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me;
Verse 2. - Oh that I were as in months past! or, in the months of old. To Job the period of his prosperity seems long, long ago - some-thing far away in the mist of time, which he recalls with difficulty. As in the days when God preserved me. Job never forgets to refer his prosperity to God, or to be grateful to him for it (see Job 1:21; Job 2:10; Job 10:8-12, etc.).
When his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness;
Verse 3. - When his candle shined upon my head (comp. Psalm 18:28, "For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness"). A "candle," or "lamp," is a general symbol in Scripture for life and prosperity. God is said to light men's candles when he blesses them and maizes his countenance to shine upon them; conversely, when he withdraws his favour he is said to put their candles out (Job 18:6; Job 21:17). And when by his light I walked through darkness. The light of God's countenance shining about a man's path enables him to walk securely even through thick darkness, i.e. through trouble and perplexity.
As I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle;
Verse 4. - As I was in the days of my youth; literally, in the days of my autumn - by which Job probably means the days of his "ripeness" or "full manhood" - which he had reached when his calamities fell upon him. When the secret of God was upon my tabernacle; or, the counsel of God; when, i.e., in my tent I held sweet counsel with God, and communed with him as friend with friend (comp. Psalm 25:14, "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant;" and Proverbs 3:32, "For the froward is abomination to the Lord: but his secret is with the righteous").
When the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were about me;
Verse 5. - When the Almighty was yet with me. These are terribly sad words. Job, in his afflictions, has come to look on the Almighty as no longer "with him " - no longer on his side; but rather against him, an enemy (see Job 6:4; Job 7:19; Job 9:17; Job 10:16, etc.). When my children were about me (comp. Job 1:2, 4, 5).
When I washed my steps with butter, and the rock poured me out rivers of oil;
Verse 6. - When I washed my steps with butter. Trod, as it were, upon fatness, moved amid all that was gladsome, joyful, and delicious. And the rock poured me out rivers of oil. "The rock" is probably the ground, rugged and stony, on which his olives grew. "Olives," says Dr. Cunningham Geikie, "flourish best on sandy or stony soil" ('The Holy Land and the Bible' vol. 1. p. 138) They brought him in so great a quantity of oil that the rock seemed to him to flow with rivers of it.
When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street!
Verse 7. - When I went out to the gate through the city; rather, by the city, or over against the city. The "gate" was the place where justice was administered, and public business generally despatched. It would be "over against" the city, separated from it by a large square or place (רְחוב), in which a multitude might assemble (sue Nehemiah 8:1). Hither Job was accustomed to proceed from time to time, to act as judge and administrator. When I prepared my seat in the street. On such occasions a seat would be brought out and "prepared," where the judge would sit to hear causes and deliver sentences (comp. Nehemiah 3:7).
The young men saw me, and hid themselves: and the aged arose, and stood up.
Verse 8. - The young men saw me, and hid themselves; retired, i.e. withdrew to corners, that they might not obtrude themselves on one so much their superior. Compare the respect paid to age by the Spartans. And the aged arose, and stood up. Here the respect paid was not to age so much as to dignity. Men as old as himself, or older, paid Job the compliment of standing up until he was seated, in consideration of his rank and high office. So. in many assemblies, as in our own courts of justice, in Convocation, and elsewhere, when the president enters, all rise.
The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth.
Verse 9. - The princes refrained talking. The other head-men of the tribe, recognizing Job's superior rank and dignity, refrained from words as soon as he made his appearance, and in silence awaited what he would say. Perhaps we are scarcely to understand literally the further statement that they laid their hand on their mouth, which is probably as much an idiom as our phrase, "they held their tongues "(comp. Job 21:5).
The nobles held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth.
Verse 10. - The nobles held their peace. The other leading men followed the example of the "princes," and equally kept silence till Job had spoken. And their tongue cleaved to the roof of their month. A pleonastic repetition. The meaning is simply they said nothing, they stood in rapt attention.
When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me:
Verse 11. - When the ear heard me, then it blessed me. Job, having described his reception by the nobles and chief men of the city, proceeds to speak of the behaviour of the common people. The former were respectful and attent, the latter rejoiced and made acclamation. Being of the class most exposed to oppression and wrong, they hailed in the patriarch a champion and a protector. They were sure of redress and justice where he was the judge. And when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me. The eye of the poor man lighted up with joy and rejoicing as Job sat down upon the seat of judgment, thus hearing witness to his fairness, candour, and integrity.
Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.
Verse 12. - Because I delivered the poor that cried (compare the Instructions of Amen-em-hat: "Because I have made the afflicted ones free from their afflictions, so that their cries are heard no more" ('Records of the Past,' vol. 2 p. 12). And again the Inscription of Ameni-Amenemha: "No little child have I injured; no widow have I oppressed; no fisherman have I hindered; no shepherd have I detained; no foreman have I taken from his gang to employ him in forced labour" (ibid., vol. 12:63). And the fatherless, and him that had none to help him (compare what is said of the ideal king in Psalm 72:12-14," He shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall sabre the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight"). Championship of the poor was anciently regarded as characteristic of the wise, good, strong ruler.
The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.
Verse 13. - The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me (comp. ver. 11). Oppression in the East sometimes drives its victims to actual starvation or to suicide. Isaiah calls the oppressors against whom he inveighs "murderers" (Isaiah 1:21). These "perishing" ones Job often saved, and they "blessed" him. And I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. How cold are the words of Ameni, "No widow have I oppressed," compared with these! Job was not content with mere abstinence from evil, mere negative virtue. He so actively and effectually relieved distress that affliction was turned into happiness, and lamentation into rejoicing.
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem.
Verse 14. - I put on righteousness, and it clothed me (comp. Isaiah 61:10; Psalm 132:9, etc.). Job "put on righteousness;" i.e. made it as the garment wherewith he clothed himself withal (Psalm 109:18, 19), covered up with it all his own natural imperfections, and made it part and parcel of his being. It was a beautiful covering, and, when once he had put it on, it clung to him, and could not be removed. It "clothed him," or rather, if we translate the Hebrew literally, "clothed itself with him." putting him on, as he had put it on. It was not merely external; it was internal, a habit of his soul and spirit. My judgment was as a robe and a diadem; rather, my justice (see the Revised Version). My "justice," or "righteousness" (for the words are synonymous), was at once my robe and my crown, my necessary clothing and my ornament (comp. Isaiah 61:10, "He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels").
I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame.
Verse 15. - I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. The Persian kings had officials, whom they called their "eyes" and their "ears" - observers who were to inform them of all that went on in the provinces ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 3. p. 213). Job acted as "eyes" to the blind of his time, giving them the information which their infirmity hindered them from obtaining. He was also feet to the lame, taking messages for them, going on their errands, and the like. He was kind and helpful to his fellow-men, not only in great, but also in little matters.
I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.
Verse 16. - I was a father to the poor (comp. ver. 12, and see below, ch. 31:16-22): and the cause which I knew not I searched out; rather, the cause of him that I knew not I searched out (see the Revised Version). When men were quite unknown to him, Job still gave to their causes the utmost possible attention, "searching them out," or investigating them, as diligently as if they had been the causes of his own friends.
And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.
Verse 17. - And I brake the jaws of the wicked (comp. Psalm 58:6). It is scarcely meant, as Canon Cook supposes, that Job was himself the executioner. "Quod facit per allure facit per so." Job would regard as Age doing what he ordered to be done. And plucked the spoil out of his teeth. Either by disappointing him of a prey which he was on the verge of making ms own, or by compelling him to make restitution of a prey that he had actually laid hold of.
Then I said, I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the sand.
Verse 18. - Then I said, I shall die in my nest. The metaphor of "nest" for "dwelling-place" occurs in Numbers 24:21; Jeremiah 49:16: Obadiah 1:4; and Habakkuk 2:9. It is also employed by Healed ('Op. et Di.,' 1:301). And I shall multiply my days as the sand. Some translate, "I shall multiply my days as the phoenix," the fabulous bird which was supposed to live for five hundred years (Herod., 2:72), to burn itself on a funeral pile of spices, and then to rise again from its ashes. But the view seems to be a mere rabbinical tradition, and is unsupported by etymology. Khal (חול) means "sand" in Genesis 22:17; Jeremiah 33:22; and elsewhere. It is taken in this sense by Rosenmuller, Schultens, Professor Lee, Canon Cook, and our Revisers.
My root was spread out by the waters, and the dew lay all night upon my branch.
Verse 19. - My root was spread out by the waters (comp. Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8); rather, to the waters - so that the waters reached it and nourished it. And the dew lay all night upon my branch. Job compares himself, in his former prosperous state, to a tree growing by a river-side, which receives a double nourishment - from the actual water of the stream, which reaches its roots, and from the moisture evaporated from the stream, which hangs in the air, and descends in the shape of dew upon its leaves and branches. Both sources of refreshment represent the grace and favour of God.
My glory was fresh in me, and my bow was renewed in my hand.
Verse 20. - My glory was fresh in me; i.e. "my glory remained fresh" - received no tarnish, continued as bright as it had been at the first. And my bow was renewed in my hand. My strength did not fail. When it seemed on the point of failing, it was secretly and mysteriously "renewed." Some commentators regard vers. 19 and 20 as a portion of the speech begun in ver. 18, and view the verbs, not as past tenses, but as futures (compare the translation of the Revised Version). The general meaning is much the same, whichever of the two views we take.
Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel.
Verse 21. - Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel (comp. vers. 9, 10). Job, however, does not repeat himself, sines in the previous passage he is speaking of his work and office as judge, whereas now he declares the position which he had occupied among his countrymen as statesman and counsellor.
After my words they spake not again; and my speech dropped upon them.
Verse 22. - After my words they spake not again. When Job had spoken, the debate commonly came to an end. It was felt that all had been said, and that further remark would be superfluous. And my speech dropped upon them (comp. Deuteronomy 32:2, "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew"). The silent, penetrating influence of wise counsel is glanced at.
And they waited for me as for the rain; and they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain.
Verse 23. - They waited for me as for the rain; i.e. "they were as eager to heat' me speak as the parched ground is to receive the winter rain, which it expects and waits for and absorbs greedily." And they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain. They drank in my discourse as the spring vegetation drinks in the spring showers, known in the East generally as "the latter rains."
If I laughed on them, they believed it not; and the light of my countenance they cast not down.
Verse 24. - If I laughed on them, they believed it not; rather, if I smiled on them. If, as a mark of favour, I smiled on any, they thought it such graciousness and condescension that they could scarcely believe it possible. And the light of my countenance they cast not down. They never put me out of countenance, or made me sad and gloomy, by opposing my views and ranging themselves against me.
I chose out their way, and sat chief, and dwelt as a king in the army, as one that comforteth the mourners.
Verse 25. - I chose out their way, and sat chief. Though not an absolute monarch, but only a patriarchal head, I practically determined the course which the tribe took, since my advice was always followed. I thus "sat chief" - nay, dwelt as a king in the army (or, in the host i.e. among the people), as one that comforteth the mourners; i.e. as one to whom all looked for comfort in times of distress and calamity, as much as for counsel and guidance at other times (vers. 21-23).