Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Moreover, Job continued his parable - See the notes at Job 27:1. It is probable that Job had paused to see if anyone would attempt a reply. As his friends were silent, he resumed his remarks and went into a more full statement of his sufferings. The fact that Job more than once paused in his addresses to give his friends an opportunity to speak, and that they were silent when they seemed called upon to vindicate their former sentiments, was what particularly roused the wrath of Elihu and induced him to answer; Job 32:2-5.
Oh that I were - Hebrew "Who will give?" a common mode of expressing a wish; compare Job 6:8; Job 11:5; Job 13:5; Job 23:3.
As in months past - O that I could recall my former prosperity, and be as was when I enjoyed the protection and favor of God. Probably one object of this wish was that his friends might see from what a state of honor and happiness he had been brought down. They complained of him as impatient. He may have designed to show them that his lamentations were not unreasonable, when it was borne in mind from what a state of prosperity he had been taken, and to what a condition of wo he had been brought. He, therefore, goes into this extended description of his former happiness, and dwells particularly upon the good which he was enabled then to do, and the respect which was shown him as a public benefactor. A passage strikingly similar to this occurs in Virgil, Aeneid viii. 560:
O mihi praeteritos referat si Jupiter annos!
Quails eram, cum primam aciem Praeneste sub ipsa
Stravi, scutorumque incendi victor acervos.
"O would kind heaven my strength and youth recall,
Such as I was beneath Praeneste's wall;
There where I made the foremost foes retire,
And set whole heaps of conquered shields on fire!"
When his candle shined upon my head - Margin, or, "lamp;" compare notes Job 18:6. It was remarked in the note on that place, that it was common to have lamps or lights always burning in a house or tent. When Job speaks of the lamps shining "on his head," the allusion is probably to the custom of suspending a lamp from the ceiling - a custom which prevails among the wealthy Arabs. "Scott." Virgil speaks of a similar thing in the palace of Dido:
- Dependent lychni laquearibus aureis Incensi.
Aeneid i. 726.
"From gilded roofs depending lamps display
Nocturnal beams that imitate the day."
See, also Lucretius, ii. 24. Indeed the custom is common everywhere and the image is a beautiful illustration of the divine favor - of light and happiness imparted by God, the great source of blessedness from above. The Hebrew word rendered "shined" בהלו behilô) has been the occasion of some perplexity in regard to its form. According to Ewald, Hebrew Gram. p. 471, and Gesenius, Lex, it is the Hiphil form of הלל hâlal - to shine, the He preformative being dropped. The sense is, "In his causing the light to shine." Others suppose that it is the infinitive of the Qal, with a pleonastic suffix; meaning "when it shined;" that is, the light. The sense is essentially the same; compare Schultens and Rosenmuller in loc.
And when by his light - Under his guidance and direction.
I walked through darkness - "Here is reference probably to the fires or other lights which were carried before the caravans in their nightly travels through the deserts." "Noyes." The meaning is, that God afforded him protection, instruction, and guidance. In places, and on subjects that would have been otherwise dark, he counselled and led him. He enjoyed the manifestations' of the divine favor; his understanding was enlightened, and he was enabled to comprehend subjects that would have been otherwise perplexing and difficult. He refers, probably, to the inquiries about the divine government and administration, and to the questions that came before him as a magistrate or an umpire - questions that he was enabled to determine with wisdom.
As I was in the days of my youth - The word here rendered "youth" (חרף chôreph), properly means "autumn - from" (חרף châraph), to "pluck, pull," as being the time when fruits ace gathered. Then it means that which is mature; and the meaning here is probably "mature" or "manly" - "As I was in the days of my ripeness;" that is, of my vigor or strength. The whole passage shows that it does not mean "youth," for he goes on to describe the honor and respect shown to him when in mature life. So the Septuagint - Ὅτε ἤμην ἐπιβρίθων ὁδοὺς Hote ēmēn epibrithōn hodous - "When I made heavy or laded my ways," an expression referring to autumn as being laden with fruit. So we speak of the spring, the autumn, and the winter of life, and by the autumn denote the maturity of vigor, experience, and wisdom. So the Greeks used the word ὸπώρα opōra, Pindar, Isthm. 2, 7, 8; Nem. 5, 10, Aeschyl. Suppl. 1005, 1022. So Ovid:
Excessit Autumnus posito fervore javentae
Maturus, mitisque inter juvenemque senemqae;
Temperie medius, sparsis per tempora canis.
Inde senilis hiems tremulo venit horrida passu.
Aut spoliata suos, aut. quos habet, alba capillos.
Metam. 15. 200.
The wish of Job was, that he might be restored to the vigor of mature life, and to the influence and honors which he had then, or rather, perhaps, it was that they might have a view of what he was then, that they might see from what a height he had fallen, and what cause he had of complaint and grief.
When the secret of God was upon my tabernacle - The meaning of this language is not clear, and considerable variety has obtained in the interpretation. The Septuagint renders it, "When God watched over - ἐπισκοπὴν ἐποιεῖτο episkopēn epoieito - my house." Vulgate, "When God was secretly in my tabernacle." Noyes, "When God was the friend of my tent." Coverdale renders the whole, "As I stood when I was wealthy and had enough; when God prospered my house." Umbreit, Als noch traulich Gott in meinem Zette weilte - "When God remained cordially in my tent." Herder, "When God took counsel with me in my tent." The word rendered "secret" (סוד sôd), means a "couch" or "cushion" on which one reclines, and then a divan, or circle of friends sitting together in consultation; see the word explained in the notes at Job 15:8. The idea here probably is, that God came into his tent or dwelling as a friend, and that Job was, as it were, admitted to the secrecy of his friendship and to an acquaintance with his plans.
When the Almighty was yet with me - Job regarded God as withdrawn from him. He now looked back with deep interest to the time when he dwelt with him.
When I washed my steps with butter - On the word rendered "butter," see the notes at Isa 7:15. It properly means curdled milk. Umbreit renders it, Sahne; cream. Noyes, milk, and so Wemyss. The Septuagint, "When my ways flowed with butter" - βουτύρῳ bouturō. So Coverdale, "When my ways ran over with butter." Herder, "And where I went a stream of milk flowed on." The sense may be, that cream or butter was so plenty that he was able to make use of it for the most common purposes - even for that of washing his feet. That butter was sometimes used for the purpose of anointing the feet - probably for comfort and health - as oil was for the head, is mentioned by Oriental travelers. Hassilquist (Travels in Palestine, p. 58), speaking of the ceremonies of the priests at Magnesia on holy Thursday, says, "The priest washed and dried the feet, and afterward besmeared them with butter, which it was alleged was made from the first milk of a young cow." Bruce says that the king of Abyssinia daily anointed his head with butter. Burder in Rosenmuller's alte u. neue Morgenland, in loc. It is possible that this use of butter was as ancient as the time of Job, and that he here alludes to it, but it seems more probable that the image is designed to denote superfluity or abundance; and that where he trod, streams of milk or cream flowed - so abundant was it round him. The word rendered "steps" הליכם hâlı̂ykam) does not properly denote "the feet" but "the tread, the going, the stepping." This sense corresponds with that of the other member of the parallelism.
And the rock poured me out rivers of oil - Margin, "with me." The idea is, that the very rock near which he stood, seemed to pour forth oil. Instead of water gushing out, such seemed to be the abundance with which he was blessed, that the very rock poured out a running stream of oil. Oil was of great value among the Orientals. It was used as an article of food, for light, for anointing the body, and as a valuable medicine. To say, then, that one had abundance of oil, was the same as to say that he had ample means of comfort and of luxury. Perhaps by the word "rock" here, there is an allusion to file places where olives grew. It is said that those which produced the best oil grew upon rocky mountains. There may be, also, an allusion to this in Deu 32:13 : "He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock." Prof. Lee, and some others, however, understand here by the rock, the press where oil was extracted from olives, and which it is supposed was sometimes made of stone.
When I went out to the gate - The "gate" of a city was a place of public concourse, and where courts were usually held. Job speaks here as a magistrate, and of the time when he went forth to sit as a judge, to try causes.
When I prepared my seat in the street - That is, to sit as a judge. The seat or tribunal was placed in the street, in the open air, before the gate of the city, where great numbers might be convened, and hear and see justice done. The Arabs, to this day, hold their courts of justice in an open place, under the heavens, as in a field or a market-place. Norden's Travels in Egypt, ii. 140. There has been, however, great variety of opinion in regard to the meaning of this verse. Schultens enumerates no less than ten different interpretations of the passage. Herder translates it:
"When from my house I went to the assembly,
And spread my carpet in the place of meeting."
Prof. Lee translates it, "When I went forth from the gate to the pulpit, and prepared my seat in the broad place." He supposes that Job refers to occasions when he addressed the people, and to the respect which was shown him then. Dr. Good renders it, "As I went forth, the city rejoiced at me." It is probable, however, that our common version has given the true signification. The word rendered "city" (קרת qereth), is a poetic form for (קריה qiryâh) "city," but does not frequently occur. It is found in Pro 8:3; Pro 9:3, Pro 9:14; Pro 11:11. The phrase "upon the city" - Hebrew עלי־קרת ‛aly-qereth - or, "over the city," may refer to the fact that the gate was in an elevated place, or that it was the chief place, and, as it were, over or at the head of the city. The meaning is, that as he went out from his house toward the gate that was situated in the most important part of the city, all did him reverence.
The young men saw me, and hid themselves - That is, they retired as if awed at my presence. They gave place to me, or reverently withdrew as I passed along.
And the aged arose, and stood up - They not merely rose, but they continued to stand still until I had passed by. "This is a most elegant description, and exhibits most correctly the great reverence and respect which was paid, even by the old and the decrepit, to the holy man, in passing along the streets, or when he sat in public. They not only rose, which in men so old was a great mark of distinction, but they stood; and they continued to do it, though the attempt was so difficult." Lowth. The whole image presents a beautiful illustration of Oriental manners, and of the respect paid to a man of known excellence of character and distinction.
The princes refrained talking - As a mark of respect, or in awe of his presence.
And laid their hand on their mouth - To lay the finger or the hand on the mouth is every where an action expressive of silence or respect; Notes, Job 21:5. "In one of the subterranean vaults of Egypt, where the mummies lie buried, they found in the coffin an embalmed body of a woman, before which was placed a figure of wood, representing a youth on his knees, laying a finger on his mouth, and holding in his other hand a sort of chafing dish, which was placed on his head, and in which, without doubt, had been some perfumes." Maillet.
The nobles - Margin, "The voice of the nobles was hid." Literally, this may be rendered, "as to the voice the nobles hid themselves;" or the phrase here employed (נגידים קול נחבאו nechâbâ'û qôl nāgı̂ydiym) may be rendered, "the voice of the nobles was hid" - it being common in the Hebrew when two nouns come together, of different numbers and gender, for the verb to conform to the latter. Rosenmuller. The word "nobles" here is to be understood in the sense of "counsellors," or men of rank. They would now be called "Emirs," or "Sheiks."
And their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth - They were so awed by my presence that they could not speak.
When the ear heard me. - A personification for "they who heard me speak, blessed me." That is, they commended or praised me.
And when the eye saw me - All who saw me.
It gave witness to me - That is, the fixed attention to what he said and the admiration which was shown by the eyes of the multitudes, were witnesses of the respect and honor in which he was held. Gray has a beautiful expression similar to this when he says,
"He reads his history in a nation's eyes."
Because I delivered the poor that cried - This is spoken of himself as a magistrate or judge - for the whole description relates to that. The meaning is, that when the poor man, who had no means of employing counsel, brought his cause before him, he heard him and delivered him from the grasp of the oppressor. He never made an appeal to him in vain; compare Pro 21:13; Pro 24:11-12.
And the fatherless - The orphan who brought his cause before him. He became the patron and protector of those whose natural protectors - their parents - had been removed by death; compare the notes at Isa 1:17.
And him that had none to help him - The poor man who had no powerful patron. Job says that, as a magistrate, he particularly regarded the cause of such persons, and saw that justice was done them - a beautiful image of the administration of justice in patriarchal times. This is the sense in which our translators understood this. But the parallelism seems rather to require that this should be applied to the fatherless who had no one to aid him, and the Hebrew, by understanding the ו (w) conjunctive as meaning "when," will bear this construction. So it is understood by Rosenmuller, Umbreit, Herder, and Noyes.
The blessing of him that was ready to perish ... - Of the man who was falsely accused, and who was in danger of being condemned, or of him who was exposed to death by poverty and want.
And I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy - By becoming her patron and friend; by vindicating her cause, and saving her from the oppressive exactions of others; compare Isa 1:17.
I put on righteousness - Or "justice" - as a magistrate, and in all his transactions with his fellow-men. It is common to compare moral conduct or traits of character with various articles of apparel; compare Isa 11:5, note; Isa 61:10, note.
And it clothed me - It was my covering; I was adorned with it. So we speak of being "clothed with humility;" and so, also, of the "garments of salvation."
My judgment - Or rather justice - particularly as a magistrate.
Was as a robe - The word "robe" (מעיל me‛ı̂yl) denotes the "mantle" or outer garment that is worn by an Oriental. It constitutes the most elegant part of his dress; Notes at Isa 6:1. The idea is, that his strict justice was to him what the full flowing robe was in apparel. It was that for which he was best known; that by which he was distinguished, as one would be by an elegant and costly robe.
And a diadem - Or, "turban". The word used here צניף tsânı̂yph - is from צנף tsânaph, to roll, or wind around, and is applied to the turban, because it was thus wound around the head. It is applied to the mitre of the high priest Zac 3:5, and may also be to a diadem or crown. It more properly here, however, denotes the "turban," which in the East is an essential part of dress. The idea is, that he was fully clad or adorned with justice.
I was eyes to the blind - An exceedingly beautiful expression, whose meaning is obvious. He became their counsellor and guide.
And feet was I to the lame - I assisted them, and became their benefactor. I did for them, in providing a support, what they would have done for themselves if they had been in sound health.
I was a father to the poor - I took them under my protection, and treated them as if they were my own children.
And the cause which I knew not I searched out - This is according to the interpretation of Jerome. But the more probable meaning is, "the cause of him who was unknown to me, that is, of the stranger, I searched out." So Rosenmuller, Herder, Umbreit, and Good. According to this, the sense is, that, as a magistrate, he gave particular attention to the cause of the stranger, and investigated it with care. It is possible that Job here designs specifically to reply to the charge brought against him by Eliphaz in Job 22:6 ff. The duty of showing particular attention to the stranger is often inculcated in the Bible, and was regarded as essential to a character of uprightness and piety among the Orientals.
And I brake the jaws of the wicked - Margin, "jaw-teeth, or, grinders." The Hebrew word מתלעה methalle‛âh, the same, with the letters transposed, as מתלעות, is from לתע, to "bite" - and means "the biters," the grinders, the teeth. It is not used to denote the jaw. The image here is taken from wild beasts, with whom Job compares the wicked, and says that he rescued the helpless from their grasp, as he would a lamb from a lion or wolf.
And plucked - Margin, "cast." The margin is a literal translation, but the idea is, that he violently seized the spoil or prey which the wicked had taken, and by force tore it from him.
Then I said - So prosperous was I, and so permanent seemed my sources of happiness. I saw no reason why all this should not continue, and why the same respect and honor should not attend me to the grave.
I shall die in my nest - I shall remain where I am, and in my present comforts, while I live. I shall then die surrounded by my family and friends, and encompassed with honors. A "nest" is an image of quietness, harmlessness, and comfort. So Spenser speaks of a nest:
Fayre bosome! fraught with virtue's richest tresure,
The neast of love, the lodging of delight,
The bowre of bliss, the paradise of pleasure.
The image here expresses the firm hope of a long life, and of a peaceful and tranquil death. The Septuagint renders it, "My age shall grow old like the trunk of a palm tree" - στέλεχος φοίνικος stelechos phoinikos - I shall live long; compare Bochart, Hieroz. P. ii. Lib. vi. c. v. p. 820, for the reason of this translation.
And I shall multiply my days as the sand - Herder renders this, "the Phoenix;" and observes that the Phoenix is obviously intended here, only through a double sense of the word, the figure of the bird is immediately changed for that of the palm-tree. The rabbis generally understand by the word here rendered "sand" (חול chôl) the Phoenix - a fabulous bird, much celebrated in ancient times. Osaia in the book "Bereshith Rabba," or Commentary on Genesis, says of this bird, "that all animals obeyed the woman (in eating the forbidden fruit) except one bird only by the name of חול chûl, concerning which it is said in Job, 'I will multiply my days as the כחול kechûl.'" Jannai adds to this, that "this bird lives a thousand years, and in the end of the thousand years, a fire goes forth from its nest, and burns it up, but there remains, as it were, an egg, from which again the members grow, and it rises to life:" compare Nonnus in Dionys. Lib. 40. Martial, Claudian, and others in Bochart, Hieroz. P. ii. Lib. vi. c. v. pp. 818-825. But the more correct rendering is, doubtless, the common one, and it is usual in the Scriptures to denote a great, indefinite number, by the sand; Gen 22:17; Jdg 7:12; Hab 1:9. A comparison similar to this occurs in Ovid, Metam. Lib. xiv. 136ff:
- Ego pulveris hausti
Ostendens cumulum, quot haberet corpora pulvis,
Tot mihi natales contingere vana rogavi.
The meaning is, that he supposed his days would be very numerous. Such were his expectations - expectations so soon to be disappointed. Such was his condition - a condition so soon to be reversed. The very circumstances in which he was placed were fitted to beget a too confident expectation that his prosperity would continue, and the subsequent dealings of God with him should lead all who are in similar circumstances, not to confide in the stability of their comforts, or to suppose that their prosperity will be uninterrupted. It is difficult, when encompassed with friends and honors, to realize that there ever will be reverses; it is difficult to keep the mind from confiding in them as if they must be permanent and secure.
My root was spread out by the waters - Margin, as the Hebrew, "opened." The meaning is, that it was spread abroad or extended far, so that the moisture of the earth had free access to it; or it was like a tree planted near a stream, whose root ran down to the water. This is an image designed to denote great prosperity. In the East, such an image would be more striking than with us. Here green, large, and beautiful trees are so common as to excite little or no attention. In such a country as Arabia, however, where general desolation exists, such a tree would be a most beautiful object, and a most striking image of prosperity; compare DeWette on Psa 1:3.
And the dew lay all night upon my branch - In the absence of rain - which seldom falls in deserts - the scanty vegetation is dependent on the dews that fall at night. Those dews are often very abundant. Volney (Travels i. 51) says, "We, who are inhabitants of humid regions, cannot well understand how a country can be productive without rain, but in Egypt, the dew which falls copiously in the night, supplies the place of rain." See, also, Shaw's Travels, p. 379. "To the same cause also (the violent heat of the day), succeeded afterward by the coldness of the night, we may attribute the plentiful dews, and those thick, offensive mists, one or other of which we had every night too sensible a proof of. The dews, particularly, (as we had the heavens only for our covering), would frequently wet us to the skin." The sense here is, as a tree standing on the verge of a river, and watered each night by copious dews, appears beautiful and flourishing, so was my condition. The Septuagint, however, renders this, "And the dew abode at night on my harvest" - καί δρόσος ἀυλισθήσεται ἐν τῷ θερισμῷ μου kai drosos aulisthēsetai en tō therismō mou. So the Chaldee - וטלא בחצדי יבית. A thought, similar to the one in this passage, occurs in a Chinese Ode, translated by Sir William Jones, in his works, vol. ii. p. 351:
Vide illius aquae rivum
Virides arundines jucunde luxuriant!
Sic est decorus virtutibus princeps noster!
"Seest thou yon stream, around whose banks
The green reeds crowd in joyous ranks?
In nutrient virtue and in grace,
Such is the Prince that rules our race."
My glory was fresh in me - Margin, "new." "As we say, the man shall not overlive himself." Umbreit. The idea is, that he was not exhausted; he continued in vigor and strength. The image is probably taken from that suggested in the previous verse - from a tree, whose beauty and vigor were continued by the waters, and by the dew that lay on its branches.
And my bow - An emblem of vigor and strength. The ancients fought with the bow, and hence, a man who was able to keep his bow constantly drawn, was an image of undiminished and unwearied vigor; compare Gen 49:24 : "But his bow abode in strength."
Was renewed in my hand - Margin, as in Hebrew "changed." The meaning is, that it constantly renewed its strength. The idea is taken from a tree, which "changes" by renewing its leaves, beauty, and vigor; Isa 9:10; compare Job 14:7. The sense is that his bow gathered strength in his hand. The figure is very common in Arabic poetry, many specimens of which may be seen in Schultens in loc.
Unto me men gave ear - Job here returns to the time when he sat in the assembly of counsellors, and to the respectful attention which was paid to all that he said. They listened when he spoke; they waited for him to speak before they gave their opinion; and they were then silent. They neither interrupted him nor attempted a reply.
After my words they spake not again - The highest proof which could be given of deference. So full of respect were they that they did not dare to dispute him; so sagacious and wise was his counsel that they were satisfied with it, and did not presume to suggest any other.
And my speech dropped upon them - That is, like the dew or the gentle rain. So in Deu 32:2 :
My doctrine shall drop as the rain;
My speech shall distil as the dew,
As the small rain upon the tender herb,
And as the showers upon the grass.
So Homer speaks of the eloquence of Nestor,
Τοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ γλώσσης μέλιτος γλυκίων ῥέεν αὐδή.
Tou kai apo glōssēs melitos glukiōn rēn audē.
"Words sweet as honey from his lips distill'd."
So Milton, speaking of the eloquence of Belial, says,
- Though his tongue
Dropt manna, and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and dash
Paradise Lost, B. ii.
The comparison in the Scriptures of words of wisdom or persuasion, is sometimes derived from honey, that drops or gently falls from the comb. Thus, in Pro 5:3 :
For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honey-comb,
And her mouth is smoother than oil,
So in Sol 4:11 :
Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb;
Honey and milk are under thy tongue.
And they waited for me as for the rain - That is, as the dry and thirsty earth waits for the rain. This is a continuation of the beautiful image commenced in the previous verse, and conveys the idea that his counsel was as necessary in the assemblies of people as the rain was to give growth to the seed, and beauty to the landscape.
And they opened their mouth wide - Expressive of earnest desire; compare Psa 119:131 : "I opened my mouth and panted."
As for the latter rain - The early and the latter rains are frequently spoken of in the Scriptures, and in Palestine and the adjacent regions are both necessary to the harvest. The early, or autumnal rains, commence in the latter half of October, or the beginning of November, not suddenly, but by degrees, so as to give the husbandman an opportunity to sow his wheat and barley. The rains come mostly from the west, or southwest, continuing for two or three days at a time, and failing especially during the nights. During the months of November and December, they continue to fall heavily; afterward they return only at longer intervals, and are less heavy; but at no period during the winter do they entirely cease to occur. Rain continues to fall more or less during the month of March, but it is rare after that period. The latter rains denote those which fall in the month of March, and which are so necessary in order to bring forward the harvest, which ripens early in May or June. If those rains fail, the harvest materially suffers, and hence, the expressions in the Scriptures, that "the husbandman waits for that rain;" compare Jam 5:7; Pro 16:15. The expression, "the early and the latter rain" seems, unless some material change has occurred in Palestine, not to imply that no rain fell in the interval, but that those rains were usually more copious, or were especially necessary, first for sowing, and then for bringing forward the harvest. In the interval between the "latter" and the "early" rains - between March and October - rain never falls, and the sky is usually serene; see Robinson's Bibl. Researches, vol. ii. pp. 96-100. The meaning here is, that they who were assembled in counsel, earnestly desired Job to speak, as the farmer desires the rain that will bring forward his crop.
If I laughed on them they believed it not - There is considerable variety in the interpretation of this member of the verse. Dr. Good renders it, "I smiled upon them, and they were gay." Herder, If I laughed at them, they were not offended." Coverdale," When I laughed, they knew well it was not earnest." Schultens, "I will laugh at them, they are not secure." But Rosenmuller, Jun. et Trem., Noyes and Umbreit, accord with the sense given in our common translation. The Hebrew literally is, "Should I laugh upon them, they did not confide;" and, according to Rosenmuller, the meaning is, "Such was the reverence for my gravity, that if at any time I relaxed in my severity of manner, they would scarcely believe it, nor did they omit any of their reverence toward me, as if familiarity with the great should produce contempt." Grotius explains it to mean, "Even my jests, they thought, contained something serious." The word used here, however (שׂחק śâchaq), means not only to laugh or smile upon, but; to laugh at, or deride; Psa 52:6; Job 30:1; compare Job 5:22; Job 39:7; Job 22:19. It seems to me, that the sense is that so great was his influence, that he was able to control them even with a smile, without saying a word; that if, when a measure was proposed in debate, he should even smile, though he said nothing, they would have no confidence in it, but would at once abandon it as unwise. No higher influence than this can be well conceived, and this exposition accords with the general course of remark, where Job traces along the various degrees of his influence until he comes to this, the highest of them all.
And the light of my countenance they cast not down - His smile of favor on an undertaking, or his smile at the weakness or lack of wisdom of any thing proposed, they could not resist. It settled the matter. They had not power by their arguments or moral courage to resist him even if he did not say a word, or even to change the aspect of his countenance. A look, a token of approbation or disapprobation from him, was enough.
I chose out their way - That is, I became their guide and counsellor. Rosenmuller and Noyes explain this as meaning, "When I came among them;" that is, when I chose to go in their way, or in their midst. But the former interpretation better agrees with the Hebrew, and with the connection. Job is speaking of the honors shown to him, and one of the highest which he could receive was to be regarded as a leader, and to have such respect shown to his opinions that he was even allowed to select the way in which they should go; that is, that his counsel was implicitly followed.
And sat chief - Hebrew "Sat head." He was at the head of their assemblies.
And dwelt as a king in the army - As a king, surrounded by a multitude of troops, all of whom were subservient to his will, and whom he could command at pleasure. It is not to be inferred from this, that Job was a king, or that he was at the head of a nation. The idea is, merely, that the same respect was shown to him which is to a monarch at the head of an army.
As one that comforteth the mourners - In time of peace I was their counsellor, and in time of war they looked to me for direction, and in time of affliction they came to me for consolation. There were no classes which did not show me respect, and there were no honors which they were not ready to heap on me.
It may seem, perhaps, that in this chapter there is a degree of self-commendation and praise altogether inconsistent with that consciousness of deep unworthiness which a truly pious man should have. How, it may be asked, can this spirit be consistent with religion? Can a man who has any proper sense of the depravity of his heart, speak thus in commendation of his own righteousness, and recount with such apparent satisfaction his own good deeds? Would not true piety be more distrustful of self, and be less disposed, to magnify its own doings? And is there not here a recalling to recollection of former honors, in a manner which shows that the heart was more attached to them than that of a map whose hope is in heaven should be? It may not be possible to vindicate Job in this respect altogether, nor is it necessary for us to attempt to prove that he was entirely perfect. We are to remember, also, the age in which he lived; we are not to measure what he said and did by the knowledge which we have, and the clearer light which shines upon us. We are to bear in recollection the circumstances in which he was placed, and perhaps we shall find in them a mitigation for what seems to us to exhibit such a spirit of self-reliance, and which looks so much like the lingering love of the honors of this world. Particularly we may recall the following considerations:
(1) He was vindicating himself from charges of enormous guilt and hypocrisy. To meet these charges, he runs over the leading events of his life, and shows what had been his general aim and purpose. He reminds them, also, of the respect and honor which had been shown him by those who best knew him - by the poor the needy, the inhabitants of his own city, the people of his own tribe. To vindicate himself from the severe charges which had been alleged against him, it was not improper thus to advert to the general course of his life, and to refer to the respect in which he had been held. Who could know him better than his neighbors? Who could be better witnesses than the poor whom he had relieved; and the lame, the blind, the sorrowful, whom he had comforted? Who could better testify to his character than they who had followed his counsel in times of perplexity and danger? Who would be more competent witnesses than the mourners whom he had comforted?
(2) It was a main object with Job to show the greatness of his distress and misery, and for this purpose he went into an extended statement of his former happiness, and especially of the respect which had been shown him. This he contrasts beautifully with his present condition, and the colors of the picture are greatly heightened by the contrast. In forming our estimate of this chapter, we should take this object into the account, and should not charge him with a design to magnify his own righteousness, when his main purpose was only to exhibit the extent and depth of his present woes.
(3) It is not improper for a man to speak of his former prosperity and happiness in the manner in which Job did. He does not speak of himself as having any merit, or as relying on this for salvation. He distinctly traces it all to God Job 29:2-5, and says that it was because he blessed him that he had enjoyed these comforts. It was not an improper acknowledgment of the mercies which he had received from his hand, and the remembrance was fitted to excite his gratitude. And although there may seem to us something like parade and ostentation in thus dwelling on former honors, and recounting what he had done in days that were past, yet we should remember how natural it was for him, in the circumstances of trial in which he then was, to revert to past scenes, and to recall the times of prosperity, and the days when he enjoyed the favor of God.
(4) It may be added, that few people have ever lived to whom this description would be applicable. It must have required uncommon and very remarkable worth to have made it proper for him thus to speak, and to be able to say all this so as not to be exposed to contradiction. The description is one of great beauty, and presents a lovely picture of patriarchal piety, and of the respect which then was shown to eminent virtue and worth. It is an illustration of the respect that will be, and that ought to be, shown to one who is upright in his dealings with people, benevolent toward the poor and the helpless, and steady in his walk with God.