No doubt but ye are the people - That is, the only wise people. You have engrossed all the wisdom of the world, and all else are to be regarded as fools. This is evidently the language of severe sarcasm; and it shows a spirit fretted and chafed by their reproaches. Job felt contempt for their reasoning. and meant to intimate that their maxims, on which they placed so much reliance, were common-place, and such as every one was familar with.
And wisdom shall die with you - This is ironical, but it is language such as is common perhaps every where. “The people of the East,” says Roberts, “take great pleasure in irony, and some of their satirical sayings are very cutting. When a sage intimates that he has superior wisdom or when he is disposed to rally another for his meagrc attainments, he says, ‹Yes, yes, you are the man! ‹ ‹Your wisdom is like the sea.‘ ‹When you die, whither will wisdom go?‘” In a serious sense, language like this is used by the Classical writers to describe the death of eminently great or good men. They speak of wisdom, bravery, piety, or music, as dying with them. Thus, Moschus, Idyll. iii. 12.
Ὅττι βίων τέθνηκεν ὁ βώκολος, ἔττι σὺν αὐτῷ Καὶ τὸ μέλος τέθνακε, καὶ ὤλετο Δωρίς ἀειδός.
Καὶ τὸ μέλος τέθνακε, καὶ ὤλετο Δωρίς ἀειδός.
Hotti biōn tethnēken ho bōkolos esti sun autō
Kai to melos tethnake kai ōleto Dōris aeidos “Bion the swain is dead, and with him song
Has died, and the Doric muse has perished.”
Expressions like these are common. Thus, in the “Pleasures of Hope” it is said:
And Freedom shrieked when Kosciusko fell.
But I have understanding as well as you - Margin, as in the Hebrew “an heart.” The word “heart” in the Scriptures is often used to denote the understanding or mind. It seems to have been regarded as the source of that which was called life or soul. Indeed, I do not recollect a single instance in the Scriptures in which the word “head” is used, as with us, as the seat of the intellect, or where the distinction is adverted to that is so common with us, between the head and the heart. With us, the heart is the seat of the affections and emotions; with the Hebrews, it was the seat of understanding, and the σπλάγχνα splangchna - the viscera, the bowels, were the seat of the emotions; see the notes at Isaiah 16:11. A more correct physiology has taught us that the brain is the organ of the intellect, and we now speak of “the heart” as the seat of the affections. The Romans regarded the “breast” as the seat of the soul. Thus, Virgil, speaking of the death of Lucagus by the hand of Aeneas, says:
Tum latebras animae pectus mucrone recludit
Aeneid x. 601.
I am not inferior to you - Margin, “fall not lower than.” This is the literal translation: “I do not fall beneath you.” Job claims to be equal to them in the power of quoting the sayings. of the ancients; and in order to show this, he proceeds to adduce a number of proverbial sayings, occupying the remainder of this chapter, to show that he was familiar with that mode of reasoning, and that in this respect he was fully their equal. This may be regarded as a trial of skill, and was quite common in the East. Wisdom consisted in storing up a large amount of proverbs and maxims, and in applying them readily and pertinently on all public occasions; and in this controversy, Job was by no means disposed to yield to them.
Yea, who knoweth not such things as these? - Margin, “With whom” are “not such as these?” The meaning is, that instead of being original, the sentiments which they advanced were the most commonplace imaginable. Job not only said that he knew them, but that it would be strange if every body did not know them.
I am as one mocked of his neighbour - There has been considerable variety in the interpretation of this verse. The general sense is, that Job felt himself to be a mere laughing-stock for his neighbors. They treated him as if he were not worth regarding. They had no sympathy for him in his sorrows, and they showed no respect for his opinions. Dr. Good understands this and the following verses as a part of the controversy in which Job proposes to show his skill in debate, and to adduce proverbs after the manner of his friends. But it is more probably an allusion to himself, and is designed to state that he felt that he was not treated with the respect which was due to him. Much difficulty has been felt in understanding the connection. Reiske contends that Job 12:2 has no connection with Job 12:3, and that Job 12:11-12, should be interposed between them. The connection seems to me to be this: Job complains that he was not treated with due deference. They had showed no respect for his understanding and rank. They had urged the most common-place topics; advanced stale and trite apothegms, as if he had never heard them; dwelt on maxims familiar even to the meanest persons; and had treated him in this manner as if he were a mere child in knowledge. Thus, to be approached with vague common-places, and with remarks such as would be used in addressing children, he regarded as insult and mockery.
Who calleth upon God, and he answereth him - This phrase has given occasion to great variety in the interpretation. Umbreit renders it, “I, who once called upon God, and he answered me;” that is, I, who once was a happy man, and blessed of God. Schultens renders it, “I, who call upon God,” that is, for trial, “and am ready to answer him.‘ Rosenmuller supposes that Job has reference to the assurances of his friends, that if he would call upon God, he would answer him, and that in view of that suggestion he exclaims, “Shall a man who is a laughing-stock to his neighbor call upon God, and will he answer him!‘ The probable meaning is, that he had been a man who had had constant communion with God. He had been a favorite of the Almighty, for he had lent a listening ear to his supplications. It was now a thing of which he might reasonably complain, that a man who had enjoyed such manifest tokens of the divine favor, was treated with reproach and scorn.
He that is ready to slip with his feet - The man whose feet waver or totter; that is, the man in adversity; see Proverbs 25:19. A man in prosperity is represented as standing firm; one in adversity as wavering, or falling; see Psalm 73:2.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone;
My steps had well nigh slipped.
There is much difficulty in this passage, and it has by no means been removed by the labor of critics. The reader may consult Rosenmuller, Good, and Schultens, on the verse, for a more full attempt to illustrate its meaning. Dr. Good, after Reiske and Parkhurst, has offered an explanation by rendering the whole passage thus:
The just, the perfect man is a laughing-stock to the proud,
A derision amidst the sunshine of the prosperous,
While ready to slip with his foot.
It does not appear to me, however, that this translation can be fairly educed from the Hebrew text, and I am disposed to acquiesce in the more common and obvious interpretation. According to that, the idea is, that a man in adversity, when failing from a high condition of honor, is regarded as an almost extinguished lamp, that is now held in contempt, and is cast away. When the torch was blazing, it was regarded as of value; when nearly extinguished, it would be regarded as worthless, and would be cast away. So when a man was in prosperity, he would be looked up to as a guide and example. In adversity, his counsels would be rejected, and he would be looked upon with contempt. Nothing can be more certain or more common than the fact here adverted to. The rich and the great are looked up to with respect and veneration. Their words and actions have an influence which those of no other men have. When they begin to fall, others are willing to hasten their fall. Long cherished but secret envy begins to show itself; those who wish to rise rejoice in their ruin, and they are looked upon with contempt in proportion to their former honor, rank, and power. They are regarded as an extinguished torch - of no value, and are cast away.
In the thought - In the mind, or the view.
Of him that is at ease - In a state of comfort and prosperity. He finds no sympathy from them. Job doubtless meant to apply this to his friends. They were then at ease, and were prosperous. Not suffering pain, and not overwhelmed with poverty, they now looked with the utmost composure on him - as they would on a torch which was burned out, and which there would be no hope of rekindling.
The tabernacles of robbers prosper - The tents or dwellings of robbers are safe and secure. This is Job‘s original proposition, to which he all along adheres. It is, that God does not deal with people in this life according to their character; and in support of this he now appeals to the fact that the tents or dwellings of robbers are safe. Arabia would furnish many illustrations of this, which could not be unknown to the friends of Job. The Arabs dwelt in tents, and they were then, as now, wandering, predatory tribes. They lived, to a great extent, by plunder, and doubtless Job could appeal to the observation of his friends for the proof of this. He affirms that so far from dealing with people according to their character, God often seemed to protect the public robber, and the blasphemer of his name.
Prosper - They are secure, tranquil, at rest - for so the Hebrew word means. They are not disturbed and broken in upon.
And they that provoke God - Or rather, “the tents are secure to those who provoke God.” Dr. Good renders it, “and are fortresses to those who provoke God;” but the true idea is, that the tents of those who provoke God by their conduct are safe. God does not seem to notice them, or to come out in judgment against them.
Into whose hand God bringeth abundantly - Dr. Noyes renders this, “who carry their God in their hand;” but with much less accuracy, as it seems to me, than commonly characterizes his version. Eichhorn renders it in a sense somewhat similar:
Die ihre Faust fur ihre Gottheit achten -
“Who regard their fist as their God.”
And so Stuhlman renders it:
Und wem die Faust fur Gottheit gilt -
“And to whom the fist avails for their God;”
That is, says he, Job means that this is the course of the world. Dr. Good renders it, “of him who hath created all these things with his hand” - still less accurately. In order to this, he is obliged to suppose an error in the text, but without the slightest authority. Jerome renders it as in our version. The Septuagint, “who provoke the Lord as if there would be no trial to them - ἔτασις αὐτῶν etasis autōn - here-after;” which certainly makes sense, but it was never obtained from the Hebrew. Rosenmuller renders it, “who have their own hand, that is, power for God;” a description, says he, of a wicked and violent man who thinks it right for him to do as he pleases. It seems to me, however, that the common interpretation, which is the most simple, is most in accordance with the Hebrew, and with the drift of the passage. According to this it means, that there is security to the man who lives to provoke that God who is constantly bringing to him in abundance the tokens of kindness. This is the fact on which Job is insisting - that God does not treat people in this world according to their real character, but that the wicked are prospered and the righteous are afflicted.
But ask now the beasts - Rosenmuller supposes that this appeal to the inferior creation should be regarded as connected with Job 12:3, and that the intermediate verses are parenthetical. Zophar had spoken with considerable parade of the wisdom of God. He had said (Job 11:7 ff) that the knowledge of God was higher than the heavens, and had professed Job 12:6 to have himself exalted views of the Most High. In reply to this, Job says that the views which Zophar had expressed, were the most commonplace imaginable. He need not pretend to be acquainted with the more exalted works of God, or appeal to them as if his knowledge corresponded with them. Even the lower creation - the brutes - the earth - the fishes - could teach him knowledge which he had not now. Even from their nature, properties, and modes of life, higher views might he obtained than Zophar had. Others suppose, that the meaning is, that in the distribution of happiness, God is so far from observing moral relations, that even among the lower animals, the rapacious and the violent are prospered, and the gentle and the innocent are the victims.
Lions, wolves, and panthers are prospered - the lamb, the kid, the gazelle, are the victims. Either of these views may suit the connection, though the latter seems to me to be the more probable interpretation. The object of Job is to show that rewards and punishments are not distributed according to character. This was so plain in his view as scarcely to admit of argument. It was seen all over the world not only among people, but even in the brute creation. Every where the strong prey upon the weak; the fierce upon the tame; the violent upon the timid. Yet God does not come forth to destroy the lion and the hyaena, or to deliver the lamb and the gazelle from their grasp. Like robbers Job 12:6, - lions, panthers, and wolves prowl upon the earth; and the eagle and the vulture from the air pounce upon the defenseless, and the great robbers of the deep prey upon the feeble, and still are prospered. What a striking illustration of the course of events among people, and of the relative condition of the righteous and the wicked. Nothing could be more pertinent to the design of Job than this appeal, and nothing was more in accordance with the whole structure of the argument in the poem, where wisdom is seen mainly to consist in the result of careful observation.
And they shall teach thee - Shall teach thee that God does not treat all according to their character. He does not give security to the gentle, the tame, and the innocent, and punish the ferocious, the blood-thirsty, and the cruel.
And the fowls - They shall give thee information of the point under discussion. Those that prey upon others - as the eagle and the vulture - are not exposed at once to the divine displeasure, and the tender and harmless are not protected. The general principle is illustrated in them, that the dealings of God are not always in exact accordance with character.
Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee - Perhaps this appeal to the earth may mean, as Stuhlman supposes, that the same thing is shown in the productions of the earth, as in the case of fierce animals. Noxious weeds and useless plants are more thrifty than the plants which are useful and the growth of poisonous or annoying things on the earth illustrates the same thing as the dealings of God with people - that his dealings are not in accordance with the real nature of objects.
And the fishes of the sea - The same thing is manifested in the sea, where the mighty prey upon the feeble, and the fierce and the ferocious overcome the defenseless. The sentiment is that it is a great principle which pervades all things that the ferocious the strong, the wicked, are often prospered, while the weak, the defenseless, the innocent, the pious, are subject to calamities, and that God does not apportion his dealings to the exact character of his creatures. Undoubtedly Job was right in this. and this general principle might be seen then as now, to pervade the world.
Who knoweth not in all these - Who cannot see in all these the proofs of the same divine and sovereign agency? Who cannot see the hand of the same God and the same great principles of administration? The meaning of Job is, that the position which he defends is so plain, that it may be learned from the very earth and the lowest orders of animals which God has made.
That the hand of the Lord hath wrought this - In this place the original word is יהוה yehovâh On the meaning of the word see the notes at Isaiah 1:2. The Chaldee also renders it here יה yâhh It is remarkable that this is the only place where the name yahweh occurs in poetical parts of the book of Job, in the printed editions. In Job 28:28, yahweh is found in some manuscripts, though the word “Adonai” is in the printed copies. Eichhorn, Einleit. section 644, Note. In Job 12:9, the word yahweh, though found in the printed editions, is missing in nine ancient manuscripts. Dr. John P. Wilson on the “Hope of Immortality,” p. 57. The word yahweh constantly occurs in the historical parts of the book. On the argument derived from this, in regard to the antiquity of the Book of Job, see the introduction, Section 4.
In whose hand is the soul of every living thing - Margin, “Life.” The margin is the more correct rendering. The idea is, that all are under the control of God. He gives life, and health, and happiness when he pleases, and when he chooses he takes them away. His sovereignty is manifested, says Job, in the inferior creation, or among the beasts of the field, the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of heaven.
And the breath of all mankind - Margin, “Flesh of man.” The margin is in accordance with the Hebrew. The meaning is, that man is subjected to the same laws as the rest of the creation. God is a sovereign, and the same great principles of administration may be seen in all his works.
Doth not the ear try words? - The literal meaning of this, which is evidently a proverbial expression, is plain; but about its bearing here there is more difficulty. The literal sense is, that it is the office of the ear to mark the distinction of sounds, and to convey the sense to the soul. But in regard to the exact bearing of this proverb on the case in hand, commentators have not been agreed. Probably the sense is, that there ought to be a diligent attention to the signification of words, and to the meaning of a speaker, as one carefully tastes his food; and Job, perhaps, may be disposed to complain that his friends had not given that attention which they ought to have done to the true design and signification of his remarks. Or it may mean that man is endowed with the faculty of attending to the nature and qualities of objects, and that he ought to exercise that faculty in judging of the lessons which are taught respecting God or his works.
And the mouth - Margin, as in the Hebrew חך chêk - “palate.” The word means not merely the palate, but the lower part of the mouth (Gesenius), and is especially used to designate the organ or the seat of taste; Psalm 119:103; Job 6:30.
His meat - Its food - the word “meat” being used in Old English to denote all kinds of food. The sense is, man is endowed with the faculty of distinguishing what is wholesome from what is unwholesome, and he should, in like manner, exercise the faculty which God has given him of distinguishing the true from the false on moral subjects. He should not suppose that all that had been said, or that could be said, must necessarily be true. He should not suppose that merely to string together proverbs, and to utter common-place suggestions, was a mark of true wisdom. He should separate the valuable from the worthless, the true from the false, and the wholesome from the injurious. Job complains that his friends had not done this. They had shown no power of discrimination or selection. They had uttered common place apothegms, and they gathered adages of former times, without any discrimination, and had urged them in their arguments against him, whether pertinent or not. It was by this kind of irrelevant and miscellaneous remark that he felt that he had been mocked by his friends, Job 12:4.
With the ancient is wisdom - With the aged. The word ישׁישׁ yâshı̂ysh used here, means an old man, one gray-headed. It is used chiefly in poetry, and is commonly employed in the sense of one who is decrepit by age. It is rendered “very aged” in Job 15:10; “him that stooped for age.” 2 Chronicles 36:17; “very old,” Job 32:6; and “the aged,” Job 29:8 The Septuagint renders it, Ἐν πολλῷ χρόνῳ En pollō chronō “in much time.” The sense is, that wisdom might be expected to be found with the man who had had a long opportunity to observe the course of events; who had conversed with a former generation, and who had had time for personal reflection. This was in accordance with the ancient Oriental views, where knowledge was imparted mainly by tradition, and where wisdom depended much on the opportunity of personal observation; compare Job 32:7.
With him is wisdom - Margin, correctly, “God.” However much wisdom there may seem to be with aged men, yes the true wisdom - that which was supreme and worthy of the name - was to be found in God alone. The object of Job was to lead the thoughts up to God, and to bring his friends to a contemplation of the wisdom which he manifests in his works. Accordingly he goes on in the remainder of this chapter to state some of the illustrations of wisdom and power which God had exhibited, and particularly to show that he was a sovereign, and did his pleasure every where. He made all things; he sustains all things; he reverses the condition of people at his pleasure; he sets up whom he pleases, and when he chooses he casts them down. His works are contrary in many respects to what we should anticipate; and the sense of all is, that God was a holy and a righteous sovereign, and that such were the reverses under his administration that we could not argue that he treated all according to their character on earth.
Behold, he breaketh down - None can repair what he pulls down. Cities and towns he can devote to ruin by fire, or earthquake, or the pestilence, and so completely destroy them that they can never be rebuilt. We may now refer to such illustrations as Sodom, Babylon, Petra, Tyre, Herculaneum, and Pompeii, as full proof of what is here affirmed.
He shutteth up a man - He can shut up a man in such difficulties and straits that he cannot extricate himself; see Job 11:10. The Chaldee renders this, “he shuts up a man in the grave (בקבורתא ) and it cannot be opened.” But the more correct idea is, that God has complete control over a man, and that he can so hedge up his way that he cannot help himself.
He withholdeth the waters - From the clouds and springs. He has control over the rains and the fountains; and when these are withheld, rivers and lakes become dry. The Syriac renders this, - “if he rebuke the waters,” supposing that there might perhaps be an allusion to the drying up of the Red Sea, or the formation of a passage for the Israelites. But it is remarkable that in the argument here there is no allusion to any historical fact, not to the flood, or to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or to the passage through the Red Sea, though these occurrences would have furnished so appropriate illustrations of the points under discussion. Is it to be inferred that Job had never heard of any of those events? Or may it have been that the lessons which they were adapted to teach had been actually embodied in the proverbs which he was using, and furnished well-known illustrations or the basis of such apothegms?
He sendeth them out, and they overturn the earth - Such inundations may have occurred in the swollen torrents of Arabia, and indeed are so common everywhere as to furnish a striking illustration of the power and sovereign agency of God.
The deceived and the deceiver are his - This is designed to teach that all classes of people are under his control. All are dependent on him, and all are subject to him. He has power to keep them, and he can destroy them when he pleases. Dr. Good supposes that Job refers here to himself and his friends who had beguiled him into expressions of impatience and complaint. But it is more probably a general declaration that all classes of people were under the control of God.
He leadeth counsellors away spoiled - Plundered or captive. That is, the counsels of wise and great men do not avail against God. Statesmen who promised themselves victory as the result of their plans he disappoints, and leads away into captivity. The object of this is to show that God is superior over all, and also that people are not dealt with in exact accordance with their character and rank. God is a sovereign, and he shows his sovereignty when defeating the counsels and purposes of the wisest of men, and overturning the plans of the mighty.
And maketh the judges fools - He leaves them to distracted and foolish plans. He leaves them to the adoption of measures which result in their own ruin. He is a sovereign, having control over the minds of the great, and power to defeat all their counsels, and to render them infatuated. Nothing can be clearer than this. Nothing has been more frequently illustrated in the history of nations. In accordance with this belief is the well-known expression:
Quem Deus vult perdere prius dementat.
“Whom God purposes to destroy, he first infatuates.”
He looseth the bond of kings - The bond of kings (מוּסר mûsâr ) here means that by which they bind others. Their power over others he loosens or takes away.
And girdeth their loins with a girdle - That is, he girds them with a rope or cord, and leads them away as prisoners. The whole series of remarks here refers to the reverses and changes in the conditions of life. The meaning here is, that the bonds of authority which they imposed on others are unbound, and that their own loins are bound with a girdle, not a girdle of royal dignity and ornament, but such a one as they are bound with who are servants, or who travel. “Pict. Bib.”
He leadeth princes away spoiled - That is, plundered. The word here rendered “princes” כהנים kôhênı̂ym means properly priests, and it is usually so rendered in the Scriptures. The ancient Hebrew interpreters suppose that the word sometimes also means prince. The Chaldee paraphrasist has not unfrequently so rendered it, using the word רבא to express it; Genesis 41:45; Psalm 110:4. In this place, the Vulgate renders it, “sacerdotes;” and the Septuagint, ἱερεῖς hiereis “priests.” So Luther renders it, “Priester.” So Castellio. It can be applied to princes or statesmen only because priests were frequently engaged in performing the functions of civil officers, and were in fact to a certain extent officers of the government. But it seems to me that it is to be taken in its usual signification, and that it means that even the ministers of religion were at the control of God, and were subject to the same reverses as other people of distinction and power.
And overthroweth - The word used here (סלף sâlaph ) has the notion of slipping, or gliding. So in Arabic, the word means to slip by, and to besmear; see Proverbs 13:6: “Wickedness overthroweth תסלף tesâlaph causes to slip) the sinner;” compare Proverbs 21:12; Proverbs 22:12. Here it means to overthrow, to prostrate. The most mighty chieftains cannot stand firm before him, but they glide away and fall.
He removeth away the speech of the trusty - Margin, “lip of the faithful.” “He takes away the lip,” that is, he takes away the power of giving safe counsel or good advice. The “trusty” or “faithful” here refer to those of age and experience, and on whose counsel men are accustomed to rely. The meaning here is, that their most sagacious anticipations are disappointed, their wisest schemes are foiled. They fail-in their calculations of the coarse of events, and the arrangements of Providence are such that they could not anticipate what was to occur.
The understanding of the aged - To whom the young were accustomed to look up with deference and respect. The meaning here is, that they who were accustomed to give wise and sound advice, if left by God, give vain and foolish counsels.
He poureth contempt upon princes - He has power to hurl them from their thrones, and to overwhelm them with disgrace.
And weakeneth the strength of the mighty - Margin, as in Hebrew “looseth the girdle of the strong.” The Orientals wore loose flowing robes, which were secured by a girdle around the loins. When they labored, ran, or traveled, their robes were girded up. But this is common everywhere. Wrestlers, leapers, and runners, put a girdle around them, and are able thus to accomplish much more than they otherwise could. To loosen that, is to weaken them. So Job says that God had power to loosen the strength of the mighty. He here seems to labor for expressions, and varies the form of the image in every way to show the absolute control which God has over people, and the fact that his power is seen in the reverses of mankind. Lucretius has a passage strongly resembling this in the general sentiment:
Usque adeo res humanas vis abdita quaedam
Obterit; et pulchros fasces, saevasque secures,
Proculcare, atque ludibrio sibi habere, videtur.
Lib. v. 1232.
So from his awful shades, some Power unseen
O‘erthrows all human greatness! Treads to dust
Rods, ensigns, crowns - the proudest pomps of state;
And laughs at all the mockery of mad!
He discovereth deep thirsts out of darkness - That is, God discloses truths which are wholly beyond the power of man to discover - truths that seem to be hidden in profound night. This may refer either to the revelation which God was believed to have furnished, or to his power of bringing out the most secret thoughts and purposes, or to his power of predicting future events by bringing them out of darkness to the clear light of day, or to his power of detecting plots, intrigues, and conspiracies.
And bringeth out to light the shadow of death - On the meaning of the word rendered “shadow of death,” see the notes at Job 3:5. It here denotes whatever is dark or obscure. It is rather a favorite expression with the author of this poem (see Job 10:22; Job 16:16; Job 24:17; Job 34:22; Job 38:17), though it occurs elsewhere in the Scriptures. The deepest darkness, the obscurest night, are represented by it; and the idea is, that even from the most dark and impenetrable regions God could bring out light and truth. All is naked and open to the mind of God.
He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them - He has entire control over them. The sources of prosperity are in his hand, and at his pleasure he can visit them with famine, pestilence, or war, and diminish their numbers and arrest their prosperity. Dr. Good renders this very improperly, “He letteth the nations grow licentious;” but the word שׂגא śâgâ' never has this sense. It means, to make great; to multiply; to increase.
And straiteneth them again - Margin, “leadeth in.” So the word נחה nâchâh means. The idea is, that he increases a nation so that it spreads abroad beyond its usual limits, and then at his pleasure leads them back again, or confines them within the limits from where they had emigrated.
He taketh away the heart - The word heart here evidently means mind, intelligence, wisdom; see the notes at Job 12:3.
Of the chief of the people - Hebrew “Heads of the people;” that is, of the rulers of the earth. The meaning is, that he leaves them to infatuated and distracted counsels. By withdrawing from them, he has power to frustrate their plans, and to leave them to an entire lack of wisdom; see the notes at Job 12:17.
And causeth them to wander in a wilderness - They are like persons in a vast waste of pathless sands without a waymark, a guide, or a path. The perplexity and confusion of the great ones of the earth could not be more strikingly represented than by the condition of such a lost traveler.
They grope in the dark - They are like persons who attempt to feel their way along in the dark; compare the notes at Isaiah 59:10.
And he maketh them to stagger like a drunken man - Margin, “wander.” Their unstable and perplexed counsels are like the reelings of a drunken man; see Isaiah 19:14, note; Isaiah 24:20, note. This closes the chapter, and with it the controversy in regard to the ability to adduce pertinent and striking proverbial expressions; see the notes at Job 12:3. Job had showed them that he was as familiar with proverbs respecting God as they were, and that he entertained as exalted ideas of the control and government of the Most High as they did. It may be added, that these are sublime and beautiful expressions respecting God. They surpass all that can be found in the writings of the pagan; and they show that somehow in the earliest ages there prevailed views of God which the human mind for ages afterward, and in the most favorable circumstances, was not capable of originating. These proverbial sayings were doubtless fragments of revealed truth, which had come down by tradition, and which were thus embodied in a form convenient to be transmitted from age to age.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany