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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Job 17

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

My breath is corrupt - Margin or “spirit is spent.” The idea is, that his vital powers were nearly extinct; his breath failed; his power was weakened, and he was ready to die. This is connected with the previous chapter, and should not have been separated from it. There was no necessity of making a new chapter here, and we have one of those unfortunate breaks in the middle of a paragraph, and almost of a sentence, which are too common in the Scriptures.

The graves are ready for me - The Hebrew is plural, but why so used I know not. The Vulgate is singular - sepulchrum. The Septuagint renders it, “I pray for a tomb (singular, ταφῆς taphēs), but I cannot obtain it.” Possibly the meaning is, “I am about to be united “to the graves,” or “to tombs.”” Schultens remarks that the plural form is common in Arabic poetry, as well as in poetry in general.

Verse 2

And doth not mine eye continue in their provocation? - Margin “lodge.” This is the meaning of the Hebrew word used here - נלן tālan. It properly denotes to pass the night or to lodge in a place, as distinguished from a permanent residence. The idea here seems to be, that his eye “rested” on their provocations. It remained fixed on them. It was not a mere glance, a passing notice, but was such a view as resulted from a careful observation. It was not such a view as a traveler would obtain by passing hastily by, but it was such as one would obtain who had encamped for a time, and had an opportunity of looking around him with care, and seeing things as they were. Thus explained, there is much poetic beauty in the passage. The Vulgate, however, renders it, “I have not sinned, and mine eye remains in bitterness.” The Septuagint, “I supplicate in distress - κάμνων kamnōn - yet what have I done? Strangers came, and stole my substance: who is the man?” The simple meaning is, that Job had a calm view of their wickedness, and that he could not be deceived.

Verse 3

Lay down now - This is evidently an address to God - a repetition of the wish which he had so often expressed, that he might be permitted to bring his cause directly before him; see Job 13:3. The whole passage here is obscure, because we are in a great measure ignorant of the ancient practices in courts of law, and of the ancient forms of trial. The general sense seems to be, that Job desires the Deity to enter into a judicial investigation, and to give him a “pledge” - or, as we should say, a “bond,” or “security” - that he would not avail himself of his almighty power, but would place him on an equality in the trial, and allow him to plead his cause on equal terms; see the notes at Job 13:20-22. The phrase “lay down now” means, lay down a pledge, or something of that kind; and may have referred to some ancient custom of giving security on going to trial, that no advantage would be taken, or that the parties would abide by the decision in the case.

Put me in a surety with thee - The word used here (ערבני ârabı̂yn) is from ערב ârab, to mix, mingle; to exchange, to barter and then to become surety for anyone - that is, to “exchange” places with him, or to stand in his place; Genesis 43:9; Genesis 44:32. Here the idea seems to be, that Job wished the Deity to give him some pledge or security that justice would be done, or that he would not take advantage of his power and majesty to overawe him. Or, as has been remarked, it may refer to some custom of furnishing security on a voluntary trial or arbitration, that the award of the referees would be observed. I think it most probable that this is the idea. The controversy here was to be voluntary. In a voluntary trial, or an arbitration, there is a necessity of some security by the parties that the decision shall be submitted to - a pledge to each other that they will abide by it. Such a pledge Job desired in this case. All this is language taken from courts, and should not be pressed too much, nor should Job be hastily charged with irreverence. Having once suggested the idea of a “trial” of the cause, it was natural for him to use the language which was commonly employed in reference to such trials; and these expressions are to be regarded as thrown in for the sake of “keeping,” or verisimilitude.

Who is he that will strike hands with me? - Striking hands then, as now, seems to have been one mode of confirming an agreement, or ratifying a compact. The idea here is,” Who is there that will be surety to me for thee?” that is, for the faithful observance of right and justice. There is an appearance of irreverence in this language, but it arises from carrying out the ideas pertaining to a form of trial in a court. In entering into “sureties,” it was usual to unite hands; see Proverbs 6:1 :

My son, if thou be surety for thy friend,

If thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger.

So Proverbs 17:18 :

A man void of understanding striketh hands,

And becometh surety in the presence of his friend

Compare Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 22:26. The same custom prevailed in the times of Homer and of Virgil. Thus, Homer (Iliad, β b. 341) says:

Ποῦ δὴ -

- δεξιαὶ ἦς ἐπέπιθμεν -

Pou Deuteronomy 4:0 -

- dexiai hēs epepithmen -

And so Virgil (Aeneid 4:597) says;

- en dextra fidesque.

Verse 4

For thou hast hid their heart from understanding - That is, the heart of his professed friends. Job says that they were blind and perverse, and indisposed to render him justice; and he therefore pleads that he may carry his cause directly before God. He attributes their want of understanding to the agency of God in accordance with the doctrine which prevailed in early times, and which is so often expressed in the Scriptures, that God is the source of light and truth, and that when people are blinded it is in accordance with his wise purposes; see Isaiah 6:9-10. It is “because” they were thus blind and perverse, that he asks the privilege of carrying the cause at once up to God - and who could blame him for such a desire?

Therefore thou shalt not exalt them - By the honor of deciding a case like this, or by the reputation of wisdom. The name of sage or “wise” man was among the most valued in those times; but Job says that that would not be awarded to his friends. God would not exalt or honor people thus devoid of wisdom.

Verse 5

He that speaketh flattery to his friends - Noyes renders this, “He that delivers up his friend as a prey, the eyes of his children shall fail.” So Wemyss, “He who delivers up his friends to plunder.” Dr. Good, “He that rebuketh his friends with mildness, even the eyes of his children shall be accomplished.” The Septuagint, “He announces evil for his portion; his eyes fail over his sons.” The Vulgate, “He promises spoil to his companions, and the eyes of his sons fail.” The word rendered “flattery” (חלק chêleq) properly means “that which is smooth, smoothness” (from חלק châlaq to be smooth); and thence it denotes “a lot” or “portion,” because “a smooth stone” was anciently used to cast lots in dividing spoils; Deuteronomy 18:8. Here it is synonymous with plunder or spoil; and the idea is, that he who betrayeth his friends to the spoil or to the spoiler, the eyes of his children shall fail. The meaning in this connection is, that the friends of Job had acted as one would who should announce the residence of his neighbors to robbers, that they might come and plunder them. Instead of defending him, they had acted the part of a traitor. Schultens says that this verse is “a Gordian knot;” and most commentators regard it as such; but the above seems to give a clear and consistent meaning. It is evidently a proverb, and is designed to bear on the professed friends of Job, and to show that they had acted a fraudulent part toward him. In Job 17:4, he had said that God had hid their heart from understanding, and that wisdom had failed them. He “here” says that in addition to a want of wisdom, they were like a man who should betray his neighbors to robbers.

Even the eyes of his children shall fail - He shall be punished. To do this is a crime, and great calamity shall come upon him, represented by the failure of the eyes of his children. Calamity is not unfrequently expressed by the loss of the eyes; see Proverbs 30:17.

Verse 6

He hath also - That is, God has done this.

Also a by-word - A proverb (משׁל mâshâl); a term of reproach, ridicule, or scorn. lie has exposed me to derision.

And aforetime - Margin “before them.” The margin is the correct translation of the Hebrew, פנים pânı̂ym. It means, in their presence, or in their view.

I was as a tabret - This is an unhappy translation. The true meaning is,” I am become their “abhorrence,” or am to them an object of contempt.” Vulgate, “I am an exampie (“exemplum”) to them.” Septuagint, “I am become a laughter (γέλως gelōs) to them.” The Chaldee renders it, “Thou hast placed me for a proverb to the people, and I shall be Gehenna (גיהנם gayhı̂nnôm) to them.” The Hebrew word תפת tôpheth - or “Tophet,” is the name which is often given in the Scriptures to the valley of Hinnom - the place where children were sacrificed to Moloch; see the notes at Matthew 5:22. But there is no evidence or probability that the word was so used in the time of Job. It is never used in the Scriptures in the sense of a “tabret,” that is a tabor or small drum; though the word תף toph is thus used; see the notes at Isaiah 5:12. The word used here is derived, probably, from the obsolete verb תיף typ - “to spit out;” and then to spit out with contempt. The verb is so used in Chaldee. “Castell.” The meaning of the word probably still lives in the Arabic, The Arabic word means to spit out with contempt; and the various forms of the nouns derived from the verb are applied to anything detested, or detestable; to the parings of the nails; to an abandoned woman; to a dog, etc. See “Castell” on this word. I have no doubt that is the sense here, and that we have here a word whose true signification is to be sought in the Arabic; and that Job means to say that he was treated as the most loathsome and execrable object.

Verse 7

Mine eye is dim by reason of sorrow - Schultens supposes that this refers to his external appearance in general, as being worn down, exhausted, “defaced” by his many troubles; but it seems rather to mean that his eyes failed on account of weeping.

And all my members are as a shadow - “I am a mere skeleton, I am exhausted and emaciated by my sufferings.” It is common to speak of persons who are emaciated by sickness or famine as mere shadows. Thus, Livy (L. 21:40) says, Effigies, imo, “umbrce hominum;” fame, frigore, illuvie, squalore enecti, contusi, debilitati inter saxa rupesque. So Aeschylus calls Oedipus - Οἰδίπου σκιαν Oidipou skian - the shadow of Oedipus.

Verse 8

Upright men shall be astonished at this - At the course of events in regard to me. They will be amazed that God has suffered a holy man to be plunged into such calamities, and to be treated in this manner by his friends. The fact at which he supposes they would be so much astonished was, that the good were afflicted in this manner, and that no relief was furnished.

And the innocent shall stir up himself - Shall rouse himself, or assume vigor to resist the wicked.

The hypocrite - The wicked - alluding probably to his professed friends. The idea of hypocrisy which the sentence conveys arises from the fact, that they professed to be “his” friends, and had proved to be false; and that they had professed to be the friends of God, and yet had uttered sentiments inconsistent with any right views of him. He now says, that that could not go unnoticed. The world would be aroused at so remarkable a state of things, and a just public indignation would be the result.

Verse 9

The righteous also shall hold on his way - The meaning of this verse is plain; but the connection is not so apparent. It seems to me that it refers to “Job himself,” and is a declaration that “he,” a righteous man, who had been so grievously calumniated, would hold on his way, and become stronger and stronger, while “they” would sink in the public esteem, and be compelled to abandon their position. It is the expression of a confident assurance that “he” would be more and more confirmed in his integrity, and would become stronger and stronger in God. Though Job intended, probably, that this should be applied to himself, yet he has expressed it in a general manner, and indeed the whole passage has a proverbial cast; and it shows that even then it was the settled belief that the righteous would persevere. As an expression of the early faith of the pious in one of the now settled doctrines of Christianity, “the perseverance of the saints,” this doctrine is invaluable. It shows that that doctrine has traveled down from the earliest ages. It was one of the elementary doctrines of religion in the earliest times. It became a proverb; and was admitted among the undisputed maxims of the wise and good, and it was such a sentiment as was just adapted to the circumstances of Job - a much tried and persecuted man. He was in all the danger of apostasy to which the pious are usually exposed; he was tempted to forsake his confidence in God; he was afflicted for reasons which he could not comprehend; he was without an earthly friend to sustain him, and he seemed to be forsaken by God himself; yet he had the fullest conviction that he would be enabled to persevere. The great principle was settled, that if there was true religion in the heart, it would abide; that if the path of righteousness had been entered, he who trod it would keep on his way.

And he that hath clean hands - The innocent; the friend of God; the man of pure life; see the notes at Job 9:30; compare Psalms 24:4. “Clean hands” here, are designed to denote a pure and holy life. Among the ancients they were regarded as indicative of purity of heart. Porphyry remarks (de antro Nympharum) that in the “mysteries,” those who were initiated were accustomed to wash their hands with honey instead of water, as a pledge that they would preserve themselves from every impure and unholy thing; see Burder, in Rosenmuller’s Alte u. neue Morgenland, in loc.

Shall be stronger and stronger - Margin, as in Hebrew add strength. He shall advance in the strength of his attachment to God. This is true. The man of pure and blameless life shall become more and more established in virtue; more confirmed in his principles; more convinced of the value and the truth of religion. Piety, like everything else, becomes stronger by exercise. The man who speaks truth only, becomes more and more attached to truth; the principle of benevolence is strengthened by being practiced; honesty, the more it is exhibited, becomes more the settled rule of the life; and he who prays, delights more and more in his appoaches to God. The tendency of religion in the heart is to grow stronger and stronger; and God intends that he who has once loved him, shall continue to love him forever.

Verse 10

But as for you all, do you return - This may mean, either, “return to the debate;” or, “return from your unjust and uncharitable opinion concerning me.” The former seems to accord best with the scope of the passage. Tindal renders it, “Get you hence.” Dr. Good, “Get ye hence, and begone, I pray.” Wemyss, “Repeat your discourses as often as you may, I do not find a wise man among you.” It is doubtful, however, whether the Hebrew will bear this construction.

For I cannot find one wise man among you - Perhaps the idea here is, “I have not yet found one wise man among you, and you are invited, therefore, to renew the argument. Hitherto you have said nothing that indicates wisdom. Try again, and see if you can say anything now that shall deserve attention.” If this is the meaning, it shows that Job was willing to hear all that they had to say, and to give them credit for wisdom, if they ever evinced any.

Verse 11

My days are past - “I am about to die.” Job relapses again into sadness - as he often does. A sense of his miserable condition comes over him like a cloud, and he feels that he must die.

My purposes are broken off - All my plans fail, and my schemes of life come to an end. No matter what they could say now, it was all over with him, and he must die; compare Isaiah 38:12 :

“My habitation is taken away, and is removed from me

Like a shepherd’s tent;

My life is cut off as by a weaver

Who severeth the web from the loom;

Between the morning and the night thou wilt make an end of me.”

Even the thoughts of my heart - Margin, possessions. Noyes, “treasures.” Dr. Good, “resolves.” Dr. Stock, “the tenants of my heart.” Vulgate, “torquen’es cor meum.” Septuagint, τὰ ἄρθρα τῆς καρδίας μου ta arthra tēs kardias mou - the strings of my heart. The Hebrew word (מורשׁ môrâsh) means properly possession (from ירשׁ yârash, to inherit); and the word here means the dear possessions of his heart; his cherished plans and schemes; the delights of his soul - the purposes which he had hoped to accomplish. All these were now to be broken on by death. This is to man one of the most trying things in death. All his plans must be arrested. His projects of ambition and gain, of pleasure and of fame, of professional eminence and of learning, all are arrested midway. The farmer is compelled to leave his plow in the furrow; the mechanic, his work unfinished; the lawyer, his brief half prepared; the student, his books lying open; the man who is building a palace, leaves it incomplete; and he who is seeking a crown, is taken away when it seemed just within his grasp. How many unfinished plans are caused by death every day! How many unfinished books, sermons, houses, does it make! How many schemes of wickedness and of benevolence, of fraud and of kindness, of gain and of mercy, are daily broken in upon by death! Soon, reader, all your plans and mine will be ended - mine, perhaps, before these lines meet your eye; yours soon afterward. God grant that our purposes of life may be such that we shall be willing to have them broken in upon - all so subordinate to the GREAT PLAN of being prepared for heaven, that we may cheerfully surrender them at any moment, at the call of the Master summoning us into his awful presence!

Verse 12

They change - The word “they” in this place, some understand as referring to his friends; others, to his thoughts. Rosenmuller supposes it is to be taken impersonally, and that the meaning is, “night is become day to me.” Wemyss translates it, “night is assigned me for day.” So Dr. Good renders it. The meaning may be, that the night was to him as the day. He had no rest. The period when he had formerly sought repose, was now made like the day, and all was alike gloom and sadness.

The light is short because of darkness - Margin, near. The meaning is, probably, “even the day has lost its usual brilliancy and cheerfulness, and has become gloomy and sad. It seems to be like night. Neither night nor day is natural to me; the one is restless and full of cares like the usual employments of day, and the other is gloomy, or almost night, where there is no comfort and peace. Day brings to me none of its usual enjoyments. It is short, gloomy, sad, and hastens away, and a distressing and restless night soon comes on.”

Verse 13

If I wait - Or more accurately, “truly I expect that the grave will be my home.” The word rendered “if” (אם 'ı̂m) is often used in such a sense. The meaning is, “I look certainly to the grave as my home. I have made up my mind to it, and have no other expectation.”

The grave - Hebrew שׁאול she'ôl. It may mean here either the grave, or the region of departed spirits, to which he expected soon to descend.

Mine house - My home; my permanent abode.

I have made my bed - I am certain of making my bed there. I shall soon lie down there.

In the darkness - In the grave, or in the dark world to which it leads; see the notes at Job 10:21-22.

Verse 14

I have said - Margin, cried, or called. The sense is, “I say,” or “I thus address the grave.”

To corruption - The word used here (שׁחת shachath) means properly a pit, or pit-fall, Psalms 7:15; Psalms 9:15; a cistern, or a ditch, Job 9:31; or the sepulchre, or grave, Psalms 30:9; Job 33:18, Job 33:30. The Septuagint renders it here by θανάτον thanaton - death. Jerome (Vulgate), putredini dixi. According to Gesenius (Lex), the word never has the sense of corruption. Schultens, however, Rosenmuller, and others, understand it in the sense of corruption or putrefaction. This accords, certainly, with the other hemistich, and better constitutes a parallelism with the “worm” than the word “grave” would. It seems probable that this is the sense here; and if the proper meaning of the word is a pit, or the grave, it here denotes the grave, as containing a dead and moulderling body.

Thou art my father - “I am nearly allied to it. I sustain to it a relation like that of a child to a father.” The idea seems to be that of family likeness; and the object is to present the most striking and impressive view of his sad and sorrowful condition. He was so diseased, so wretched, so full of sores and of corruption (see Job 7:5), that he might be said to be the child of one mouldering in the grave, and was kindred to a family in the tomb!

To the worm - The worm that feeds upon the dead. He belonged to that sad family where the body was putrifying, and where it was covered with worms; see the notes at Isaiah 14:11.

My mother - I am so nearly allied to the worms, that the connection may be compared to that between a mother and her son.

And my sister - “The sister here is mentioned rather than the brother, because the noun rendered worm in the Hebrew, is in the feminine gender.” Rosenmuller. The sense of the whole is, that Job felt that he belonged to the grave. He was destined to corruption. He was soon to lie down with the dead. His acquaintance and kindred were there. So corrupt was his body, so afflicted and diseased, that he seemed to belong to the family of the putrifying, and of those covered with worms! What an impressive description; and yet how true is it of all! The most vigorous frame, the most beautiful and graceful form, the most brilliant complexion, has a near relationship to the worm, and will soon belong to the mouldering family beneath the ground! Christian reader! such are you; such am I. Well, let it be so. Let us not repine. Be the grave our home; be the mouldering people there our parents, and brothers, and sisters. Be our alliance with the worms. There is a brighter scene beyond - a world where we shall be kindred with the angels, and ranked among the sons of God. In that world we shall be clothed with immortal youth, and shall know corruption no more. Then our eyes will shine with undiminished brilliancy forever; our cheeks glow with immortal health; our hearts beat with the pulsations of eternal life. Then our hands shall be feeble and our knees totter with disease or age no more; and then the current of health and joy shall flow on through our veins forever and eye! Allied now to worms we are, but we are allied to the angels too; the grave is to be our home, but so also is heaven; the worm is our brother, but so also is the Son of God! Such is man; such are his prospects here, such his hopes and destiny in the world to come. He dies here, but he lives in glory and honor hereafter forever.

Shall man, O God of light and life,

For ever moulder in the grave?

Canst thou forget thy glorious work,

Thy promise and thy power to save?

Shall life revisit dying worms,

And spread the joyful insects’ wing;

And O shall man awake no more,

To see thy face, thy name to sing?

Faith sees the bright, eternal doors,

Unfold to make her children way;

They shall be clothed with endless life,

And shine in everlasting day.

The trump shall sound, the dead shall wake,

From the cold tomb the slumberers spring;

Through heaven with joy these myriads rise,

And hail their Savior and their King.

Dr. Dwight

Verse 15

And where is now my hope? - What hope have I of life? What possibility is there of my escape from death?

Who shall see it? - That is, who will see any hopes that I may now cherish fulfilled. If I cherish any, they will be disappointed, and no one will see them accomplished.

Verse 16

They shall go down - That is, my hopes shall go down. All the expectations that I have cherished of life and happiness, will descend there with me. We have a similar expression when we say, that a man “has buried his hopes in the grave,” when he loses an only son.

To the bars of the pit - “Bars of Sheol” - שׁאול בד bad she'ôl. Vulgate, “Profoundest deep.” Septuagint, εἰς ᾅδην eis hadēn - to Hades. Sheol, or Hades, was supposed to be under the earth. Its entrance was by the grave as a gate that led to it. It was protected by bars - as prisons are - so that those who entered there could not escape; see the notes at Isaiah 14:9. It was a dark, gloomy dwelling, far away from light, and from the comforts which people enjoy in this life; see Job 10:21-22. To that dark world Job expected soon to descend; and though he did not regard that as properly a place of punishment, yet it was not a place of positive joy. It was a gloomy and wretched world - the land of darkness and of the shadow of death; and he looked to the certainty of going there not with joy, but with anguish and distress of heart. Had Job been favored with the clear and elevated views of heaven which we have in the Christian revelation, death to him would have lost its gloom.

We wonder, often, that so good a man expressed such a dread of death, and that he did not look more calmly into the future world. But to do him justice, we should place ourselves in his situation. We should lay aside all that is cheerful and glad in the views of heaven which Christianity has given us. We should look upon the future world as the shadow of death; a land of gloom and spectres; a place beneath the ground - dark, chilly, repulsive; and we shall cease to wonder at the expressions of even so good a man at the prospect of death. When we look at him, we should remember with thankfulness the different views which we have of the future world, and the source to which we owe them. To us, if we are pious in any measure as Job was, death is the avenue, not to a world of gloom, but to a world of light and glory. It opens into heaven. There is no gloom, no darkness, no sorrow. There all are happy; and there all that is mysterious in this life is made plain - all that is sad is succeeded by eternal joy. These views we owe to that gospel which has brought life and immortality to light; and when we think of death and the future world, when from the midst of woes and sorrows we are compelled to look out on eternity, let us rejoice that we are not constrained to look forward with the sad forebodings of the Sage of Uz, but that we may think of the grave cheered by the strong consolations of Christian hope of the glorious resurrection.

When our rest together is in the dust - The rest of me and my hopes. My hopes and myself will expire together.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 17". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/job-17.html. 1870.
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