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Bible Commentaries
Job 34

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

Furthermore, Elihu answered and said - That is, evidently, after a pause to see if Job had anything to reply. The word answered in the Scriptures often means “to begin a discourse,” though nothing had been said by others; see Job 3:2; Isaiah 14:10; Zechariah 1:10; Zechariah 3:4; Zechariah 4:11-12. Sometimes it is used with reference to a subject, meaning that one replied to what could be suggested on the opposite side. Here it maybe understood either in the general sense of beginning a discourse, or more probably as replying to the sentiments which Job had advanced in the debate with his friends.

Verse 2

Hear my words, O ye wise men - Addressing particularly the three friends of Job. The previous chapter had been addressed to Job himself. He had stated to him his views of the design of affliction, and he had nothing to reply. He now addresses himself to his friends, with a particular view of examining some of the sentiments which Job had advanced, and of showing where he was in error. He addresses them as “wise men,” or sages, and as endowed with “knowledge,” to conciliate their attention, and because he regarded them as qualified to understand the difficult subject which he proposed to explain.

Verse 3

For the ear trieth words - Ascertains their meaning, and especially determines what words are worth regarding. The object of this is, to fix the attention on what he was about to say; to get the ear so that every word should make its proper impression. The word ear in this place, however, seems not to be used to denote the external organ, but the whole faculty of hearing. It is by hearing that the meaning of what is said is determined, as it is by the taste that the quality of food is discerned.

As the mouth tasteth meat - Margin, as in Hebrew “palate.” The meaning is, as the organ of taste determines the nature of the various articles of food. The same figure is used by Job in Job 12:11.

Verse 4

Let us choose to us judgment - That is, let us examine and explore what is true and right. Amidst the conflicting opinions, and the sentiments which have been advanced, let us find out what will abide the test of close investigation.

Verse 5

For Job hath said, I am righteous - see Job 13:18, “I know that I shall be justified;” compare Job 23:10-11, where he says, if he was tried he would come forth as gold. Elihu may have also referred to the general course of remark which he had pursued as vindicating himself.

And God hath taken away my judgment - This sentiment is found in Job 27:2; see the notes at that place.

Verse 6

Should I lie against my right? - These are also quoted as the words of Job, and as a part of the erroneous opinions on which Elihu proposes to comment. These words do not occur, however, as used by Job respecting himself, and Elihu must be understood to refer to what he regarded as the general strain of the argument maintained by him. In regard to the meaning of the words, there have been various opinions. Jerome renders them, “For in judging me there is falsehood - mendacium est; my violent arrow (the painful arrow in me) is without any sin.” The Septuagint, “He the Lord hath been false in my accusation” - ἐψένσατο δὲ τῳ κρίματί μου epseusato de tō krimati mou - “my arrow is heavy without transgression.” Coverdale, “I must needs be a liar, though my cause be right.” Umbreit renders it, “I must lie if I should acknowledge myself to be guilty.”

Noyes, “Though I am innocent, I am made a liar.” Prof. Lee, “Should I lie respecting my case? mine arrow is mortal without transgression.” That is, Job said he could not lie about it; he could use no language that would deceive. He felt that a mortal arrow had reached him without transgression, or without any adequate cause. Rosenmuller renders it, “However just may be my cause, I appear to be a liar.” That is, he was regarded as guilty, and treated accordingly, however conscious he might be of innocence, and however strenuously he might maintain that he was not guilty. The meaning probably is, “I am held to be a liar. I defend myself; go over my past life; state my course of conduct; meet the accusations of my friends, but in all this I am still held to be a liar. My friends so regard me - for they will not credit my statements, and they go on still to argue as if I was the most guilty of mortals. And God also in this holds me to be a liar, for he treats me constantly as if I were guilty. He hears not my vindication, and he inflicts pain and woe upon me as if all that I had said about my own integrity were false, and I were one of the most abandoned of mortals, so that on all hands I am regarded and treated as if I were basely false.” The literal translation of the Hebrew is, “Concerning my judgment (or my cause) I am held to be a liar.”

My wound is incurable - Margin, as in Hebrew “arrow.” The idea is, that a deadly arrow had smitten him, which could not be extracted. So in Virgil:

Haeret lateri letalis arundo. Aeneid iv. 73.

The image is taken from an animal that had been pierced with a deadly arrow.

Without transgression - Without any sin that deserved such treatment. Job did not claim to be absolutely perfect; he maintained only that the sufferings which he endured were no proper proof of his character; compare Job 6:4.

Verse 7

What man is like Job, who drinketh up scorning like water? - A similar image occurs in Job 15:16. The idea is, that he was full of reproachful speeches respecting God; of the language of irreverence and rebellion. He indulged in it as freely as a man drinks water; gathers up and imbibes all the language of reproach that he can find, and indulges in it as if it were perfectly harmless.

Verse 8

Which goeth in company with the workers of iniquity - That is, in his sentiments. The idea is, that he advocated the same opinions which they did, and entertained the same views of God and of his government. The same charge had been before brought against him by his friends; see the notes at Job 21:0.

Verse 9

For he hath said, It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself in God - That is, there is no advantage in piety, and in endeavoring to serve God. It will make no difference in the divine dealings with him. He will be treated just as well if he lives a life of sin, as if he undertakes to live after the severest rules of piety. Job had not used precisely this language, but in Job 9:22, he had expressed nearly the same sentiment. It is probable, however, that Elihu refers to what he regarded as the general scope and tendency of his remarks, as implying that there was no respect paid to character in the divine dealings with mankind. It was easy to pervert the views which Job actually entertained, so as to make him appear to maintain this sentiment, and it was probably with a special view to this charge that Job uttered the sentiments recorded in Job 21:0; see the notes at that chapter.

Verse 10

Therefore hearken unto me - Elihu proceeds now to reply to what he regarded as the erroneous sentiments of Job, and to show the impropriety of language which reflected so much on God and his government. Instead, however, of meeting the facts in the case, and showing how the actual course of events could be reconciled with justice, he resolves it all into a matter of sovereignty, and maintains that it is wrong to doubt the rectitude of the dealings of one so mighty as God. In this he pursues the same course substantially which the friends of Job had done, and does little more to solve the real difficulties in the case than they had. The facts to which Job had referred are scarcely adverted to; the perplexing questions are still unsolved, and the amount of all that Elihu says is, that God is a sovereign, and that there must be an improper spirit when people presume to pronounce on his dealings.

Ye men of understanding - Margin, as in Hebrew men of “heart.” The word heart is used here as it was uniformly among the Hebrews; the Jewish view of physiology being that the heart was the seat of all the mental operations. They never speak of the head as the seat of the intellect, as we do. The meaning here is, that Elihu regarded them as sages, qualified to comprehend and appreciate the truth on the subject under discussion.

Far be it from God - Hebrew חלילה châlı̂ylâh - “profane, unholy.” It is an expression of abhorrence, as if the thing proposed were profane or unholy: 1 Samuel 20:2; Genesis 18:25; Joshua 24:16. The meaning here is, that the very idea that God would do wrong, or could patronize iniquity, was a profane conception, and was not to be tolerated for a moment. This is true enough, and in this general sentiment, no doubt, Job would himself have concurred.

Verse 11

For the work of a man shall he render unto him - He shall treat each man as he deserves - and this is the essence of justice. Of the truth of this, also, there could have been no question. Elihu does not, indeed, apply it to the case of Job, but there can be little doubt that he intended that it should have such a reference. He regarded Job as having accused God of injustice, for having inflicted woes on him which he by no means deserved. He takes care, therefore, to state this general principle, that with God there must be impartial justice - leaving the application of this principle to the facts in the world, to be arranged as well as possible. No one can doubt that Elihu in this took the true ground, and that the great principle is to be held that God can do no wrong, and that all the facts in the universe must be consistent with this great principle, whether we can now see it to be so or not.

Verse 12

Yea, surely God will not do wickedly - So important does Elihu hold this principle to be, that he repeats it, and dwells upon it. He says, “it surely (אמנם 'omnâm) must be so.” The principle must be held at all hazards, and no opinion which contravenes this should be indulged for one moment. His ground of complaint against Job was, that he had not held fast to this principle, but, under the pressure of his sufferings, had indulged in remarks which implied that God might do wrong.

Neither will the Almighty pervert judgment - As Elihu supposed Job to have maintained; see Job 34:5. To “pervert judgment” is to do injustice; to place injustice in the place of right.

Verse 13

Who hath given him a charge over the earth? - That is, he is the great original Proprietor and Ruler of all. He has derived his authority to govern from no one; he is under subjection to no one, and he has, therefore, an absolute right to do his own pleasure. Reigning then with absolute and original authority, no one has a right to call in question the equity of what he does. The argument of Elihu here, that God would do right, is derived solely from his independence. If he were a subordinate governor, he would feel less interest in the correct administration of affairs, and might be tempted to commit injuries to gratify the feelings of his superior. As he is, however, supreme and independent, he cannot be tempted to do wrong by any reference to a superior will; as the universe is that which he has made, and which belongs to him, every consideration would lead him to do right to all. He can have no partiality for one more than another; and there can be no one to whom he would desire to do injustice - for who wishes to injure that which belongs to himself? Prof. Lee, however, renders this, “Who hath set a land in order against him?” He supposes that the remark is designed to show the folly of rebelling against God. But the former interpretation seems better to accord with the scope of the argument.

Or who hath disposed the whole world? - Who has arranged the affairs of the universe? The word rendered “world,” usually means the habitable earth, but it is employed here in the sense of the universe, and the idea is, that God has arranged and ordered all things, and that he is the supreme and absolute Sovereign.

Verse 14

If he set his heart upon man - Margin, as in Hebrew “upon him” - meaning “man.” That is, if he fixes his attention particularly on him, or should form a purpose in regard him. The argument seems to be tbis. “If God wished such a thing, and should set his heart upon it, he could easily cut off the whole race. He has power to do it, and no one can deny him the right. Man has no claim to life, but he who gave it has a right to withdraw it, and the race is absolutely dependent on this infinite Sovereign. Being such a Sovereign, therefore, and having such a right, man cannot complain of his Maker as unjust, if he is called to pass through trials.” Rosenmuller, however, supposes this is to be taken in the sense of severe scrutiny, and that it means, “If God should examine with strictness the life of man, and mark all his faults, no flesh would be allowed to live. All would be found to be guilty, and would be cut off.” Grotius supposes it to mean, “If God should regard only himself; if he wished only to be good to himself - that is, to consult his own welfare, he would take away life from all, and live and reign alone.” This is also the interpretation of Umbreit, Schnurrer, and Eichhorn. Noyes regards it as an argument drawn from the benevolence of God, meaning if God were severe, unjust, and revengeful, the earth would be a scene of universal desolation. It seems to me, however, that it is rather an argument from the absolute sovereignty or power of the Almighty, implying that man had no right to complain of the divine dealings in the loss of health, property, or friends; for if he chose he might sweep away the whole race, and leave the earth desolate.

If he gather unto himself his spirit and his breath - The spirit of man is represented as having been originally given by God, and as returning to him when man dies; Ecclesiastes 12:7, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”

Verse 15

All flesh shall perish together - If God chose, he would have a right to cut down the whole race. How then shall people complain of the loss of health, comforts, and friends, and presume to arraign God as if he were unjust?

Verse 16

If now thou hast understanding hear this - This appears to be addressed to Job. The discourse before this had been directed to his three friends, but Elihu appears here to have turned to Job, and to have made a solemn appeal to him, whether this were not so. In the subsequent verses he remonstrates with him about his views, and shows him that what he had said implied severe reflections on the character and government of God.

Verse 17

Shall even he that hateth right govern? - Margin, as in Hebrew “bind.” That is, shall he bind by laws. The argument in this verse seems to be an appeal to what must be the conviction of mankind, that God, the Great Governor of the universe, could not be unjust. This conviction, Elihu appears to have supposed, was so deep in the human mind, that he might appeal even to Job himself for its truth. The question here asked implies that it would be impossible to believe that one who was unjust could govern the universe. Such a supposition would be at variance with all the convictions of the human soul, and all the indications of the nature of his government to be found in his works.

And wilt thou condemn him that is most just? - The great and holy Ruler of the universe. The argument here is, that Job had in fact placed himself in the attitude of condemning him who, from the fact that he was the Ruler of the universe, must be most just. The impropriety of this he shows in the following verses.

Verse 18

Is it fit to say to a king, Thou art wicked? - The argument here is this: “There would be gross impropriety in arraigning the conduct of an earthly monarch, and using language severely condemning what he does. Respect is due to those of elevated rank. Their plans are often concealed. It is difficult to judge of them until they are fully developed. To condemn those plans, and to use the language of complaint, would not be tolerated, and would be grossly improper. How much more so when that language relates to the Great, the Infinite God, and to his eternal plans!” It may be added here, in accordance with the sentiment of Elihu, that people often indulge in thoughts and language about God which they would not tolerate respecting an earthly monarch.

Verse 19

How much less to him that accepteth not the person of princes - To accept the person of anyone is to treat him with special favor on account of his rank, his wealth, or from favoritism and partiality. This God often disclaims in respect to himself; (compare Galatians 2:6; Acts 10:34; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25), and solemnly forbids it in others; see James 2:1, James 2:3,James 2:9; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; Deuteronomy 16:19. The meaning here is, that God is entirely impartial in his administration, and treats all as they ought to be treated. He shows favor to no one on account of wealth, rank, talent, office, or joyous apparel, and he excludes no one from favor on account of poverty, ignorance, or a humble rank in life. This it seems was an admitted sentiment in the time of Elihu, and on the ground of the fact that it was indisputable, he strongly argues the impropriety of calling in question the equity of his administration in language such as that which Job had used.

For they all are the work of his hands - He regards them all as his creatures. No one has any special claim on him on account of rank, talent, or wealth. Every creature that he has made, high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, may expect that impartial justice will be done him, and that his external circumstances will not control or modify the divine determinations in regard to him, or the divine dealings toward him.

Verse 20

In a moment shall they die - That is, the rich and the great. They pass suddenly off the stage of action. They have no power to compel God to favor them, and they have no permanency of existence here which can constitute a claim on his special favor. Soon they will lie undistinguished in the dust. All are in his hand; and when he wills it, they must lie down in the dust together. He exempts none from death; spares none on account of beauty, rank, wealth, talent, or learning, but consigns all indiscriminately to the grave-showing that he is disposed to treat them all alike. This is urged by Elihu as a proof that God has no partiality, but treats all people as being on the same level - and there is no more striking illustration of this than is furnished by death. All die. None are spared on account of title, wealth, rank, beauty, age, or wisdom. All die in a manner that shows that he has no favoritism. The rich man may die with a malady as painful and protracted as the poor man; the beautiful and accomplished with a disease as foul and loathsome as the beggar. The sad change that the body undergoes in the tomb is as repulsive in the one case as in the other; and amidst all the splendor of rank, and the magnificence of dress and equipage, God intends to keep the great truth before the minds of people, that they are really on a level, and that all must share at his hand alike.

And the people shall be troubled - They shall be shaken, agitated, alarmed. They dread impending danger, or the prospect of sudden destruction.

At midnight - The image here is probably taken from an earthquake, or from a sudden onset made by a band of robbers on a village at night. The essential thought is that of the suddenness with which God can take away the mighty and the mean together. Nothing can resist him, and as he has this absolute control over people, and deals with all alike, there is great impropriety in complaining of his government.

And the mighty - Margin, “They shall take away the mighty.” The idea is, that the great shall be removed - to wit, by sudden death or by overwhelming calamiiy. The argueat of Elihu in this passage Job 34:18-20 is, that it would be esteemed great presumption to arraign the conduct of a prince or king, and it must be much more so to call in question the doings of him who is so superior to princes and kings that he shows them no partiality on account of their rank, but sweeps them away by sudden calamity as he does the most humble of mankind.

Without hand - That is, without any human instrumentality, or without the use of any visible means. It is by a word - by an expression of his will - by power where the agency is not seen. The design is, to show that God can do it with infinite ease.

Verse 21

For his eyes are upon the ways of man - None can escape from his notice; compare Psalms 139:2-3.

Verse 22

There is no darkness - No dark cavern which can furnish a place of concealment. The guilty usually take refuge in some obscure place where people cannot detect them. But Elihu says that man has no power of concealing himself thus from God.

Nor shadow of death - A phrase here signifying deep darkness; see it explained in the notes at Job 3:5.

Where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves - That is, where they may conceal themselves so as not to be detected by God. They may conceal themselves from the notice of man; they may escape the most vigilant police; they may elude all the officers of justice on earth. But they cannot be hid from God. There is an eye that sees their lurking places, and there is a hand that will drag them forth to justice.

Verse 23

For he will not lay upon man more than right - Very various translations have been given of this verse. According to our common version, it means that God will not deal with man in such a manner as to give him just reason for calling in question the rectitude of the divine dealings. He shall in no case receive more than his sins deserve, so as to give him cause for complaint. This is undoubtedly a correct sentiment; but it may be doubted whether it is the sense conveyed by the original. Umbreit renders it:

Denn er braucht auf einem Mann nicht lang zu achten

Um ihm vor Gott in das Gericht zn ziehen.

“For he needs not long to regard a man in order to bring him before God in judgment” - meaning that he has all power; that he can at once see all his character; and that he can bring him at once to his bar. This translation undoubtedly accords with the general scope of the argument. Noyes renders it:

He needeth not attend long to a man,

To bring him into judgment before God.

Wemyss renders it in a similar way:

He has no need of laborious inquiry,

In order to convict men at his tribunal.

Rosenmuller gives a similar sense to the passage. According to this, the meaning is, that there is no need that God should give long attention to a man, or go into a protracted investigation, in order that he may bring him to judgment. He knows him at a glance. He can at once convict him, and can decide the case in a moment without danger of error. Human tribunals are under a necessity of long and patient investigation, and then are often deceived; but no such necessity, and no such danger, pertains to God. This interpretation agrees with the scope of the passage (compare the notes at Job 34:24), and seems to me to be correct. The Hebrew literally is, “For not upon man will he place (scil. his mind or attention) long that he should go before God in judgment;” that is, there is no need of long and anxious investigation on his part, in order that he may prove that it is right for him to cut man off. He may do it at once, and no one has a right to complain.

Verse 24

He shall break in pieces - He crushes or destroys the great. He is not intimidated by their wealth, their rank, or their number.

Without number - Margin, more correctly, “searching out.” That is, he does it without the protracted process of a judicial investigation. The Hebrew word used here (חקר chêqer) means properly “a searching out,” “an examination”; and the meaning here is, that there is no need of his going into a protracted investigation into the lives of wicked people before he brings them to punishment. He sees them at once; knows all their conduct, and may proceed against them without delay. Hence, it is that he comes often in such a sudden manner, and cuts them off. A human tribunal is under a necessity of examining witnesses and of attending to all the palliating circumstances, before it can pronounce a sentence on an offender. But it is not so with God. He judges at once and directly, and comes forth therefore in a sudden manner to cut down the guilty.

And set others in their stead - Place others in the situation which they now occupy. That is, he can with the utmost case make entire revolutions among people.

Verse 25

Therefore he knoweth their works - Or, “Because he knoweth their works.” The word (לכן lākên) here rendered “therefore” is evidently used as denoting that since or because he was intimately acquainted with all which they did, he could justly bring vengeance upon them without long investigation.

And he overturneth them in the night - literally, “he turneth night;” meaning, probably, he turns night upon them; that is, he brings calamity upon them. The word “night” is often used to denote calamity, or ruin. Umbreit understands it in the sense of “turning about the night;” that is, that they had covered up their deeds as in the night, but that God “so turns the night about” as to bring them to the light of day. The Vulgate renders it “et ideireo inducit noctem,” “and therefore he brings night;” that is, he brings adversity and ruin. This is probably the correct interpretation.

So that they are destroyed - Margin, “crushed.” The idea is, that when God thus brings adversity upon them, they are prostrated beneath his power.

Verse 26

He striketh them as wicked men - literally, “Under the wicked, or on account of the wicked, he smites them.” That is, he deals with them “as if” they were wicked; he regards and treats them as such. He deals with them “under” the general character of wicked people, and punishes them accordingly.

In the open sight of others - Margin, as in Hebrew “in the place of beholders.” The idea is, that it is done openly or publicly. Their sins had been committed in secret, but they are punished openly. The manifestation of the divine displeasure is in the presence of spectators, or is so open and public, that it cannot but be seen. It is very probable that in all this description Elihu had his eye upon the public calamities which had come upon Job, and that he meant to include him among the number of mighty men whom God thus suddenly overturned.

Verse 27

Because they turned back from him - Margin, “from after him.” That is, they receded, or went away from God.

And would not consider any of his ways - They would not regard or attend to any of his commands. The word way, in the Scriptures, is often used to denote “religion.” A “way” denotes the course of life which one leads; the path in which he walks. The “ways of God” denote his course or plan, his precepts or laws; and to depart from them, or to disregard them, is only another mode of saying that a man has no religion.

Verse 28

So that they cause the cry of the poor to come unto him - - Their character is that of oppressors. They take away the rights of the poor; strip away their property without any just claims, and cause them to pour out their lamentations before God.

And he heareth the cry of the afflicted - They oppress the poor so that they appeal unto him, but God hears their cry, and brings punishment upon the oppressor. This is “a general remark” thrown in here, meaning that God “always” regards the cry of the oppressed. Its bearing on the case before us is, that God hears the appeal which the oppressed make to him, and as a consequence brings calamity upon those who are guilty of wrong.

Verse 29

When he giveth quietness - That is, when God designs to give rest, comfort, ease, or prosperity in any way to a man. The Hebrew word used here may refer to any kind of ease, rest, or peace. The idea which Elihu intends to convey is, that God has all things under his control, and that he can bring prosperity or adversity upon an individual or a nation at his own pleasure.

Who then can make trouble? - literally, “Who can condemn, or hold guilty” - ירשׁע yarâsha‛. The sense is, that no one can overwhelm him with the consciousness of guilt, to whom God intends to give the peace resulting from his favor and friendship. Or, no one can bring calamities upon a man “as if” he were guilty, or so as to “show” that he is guilty, when God intends to treat him as if he were not. This is as true now as it was in the time of Elihu. When God designs to give peace to a man’s soul, and to impart to him the evidence that his sins are forgiven, there is no one who can excite in his mind the conviction of guilt, or take away the comfort that God gives. When he designs to “treat” a man as if he were his friend, and to impart to him such evidences of his favor as shall convince the world that he is his friend, there is no one who can prevent it. No one can so calumniate him, or so prejudice the world against him, or so arrest the descending tokens of the divine favor, as to turn back the proof of the favor of God; compare Proverbs 16:7.

And when he hideth his face - To “hide the face,” is a common expression in the Scriptures to denote calamity, distress, and the lack of spiritual comfort, as the expression “to lift up the light of the countenance” is a common phrase to denote the opposite; compare Job 13:24.

Who then can behold him? - An expression denoting that no one can then have cheering and elevating views of God. No one can then have those clear conceptions of his character and government which will give peace to the soul. “This” is also as true now as it was in the time of Elihu. We are dependent on God himself for any just views of his own character, for any elevating and purifying conceptions of his government and plans, and for any consolation flowing in upon our souls from the evidence that he is our friend.

Whether it be done against a nation, or against a man only - The same truth pertains to nations and to individuals. The same laws respecting the sources of peace and happiness apply to both. Both are alike dependent on God, and neither can secure permanent peace and prosperity without him. Both are alike at his sovereign disposal; and neither can originate permanent sources of prosperity. This, too, is as true now as it was in the time of Elihu. Nations are more prone to forget it than individuals are, but still it is a great truth which should never be forgotten, that neither have power to originate or perpetuate the means of happiness, but that both are alike dependent on God.

Verse 30

That the hypocrite reign not - All this is done to prevent wicked men from ruling over the people. The remarks of Elihu had had respect much to princes and kings, and he had shown that however great they were, they were in the hands of God, and were wholly at his disposal. He “now” says that the design of his dealings with them was to prevent their oppressing their fellow-men. The general scope of the remarks of Elihu is, that God is the universal Sovereign; that he has all people under his control, and that there are none so powerful as to be able to resist his will. The remark in this verse is thrown in, not as illustrating this general sentiment, but to show what was “in fact” the aim for which he thus interposed - to save people from being oppressed and crushed by those in authority.

Lest the people be ensnared - Hebrew “From their being snarers of the people.” He thrusts down the mighty, in order that they may not be left to take the people as wild beasts are taken in the toils. They were disposed to make use of their power to oppress others, but God interposes, and the people are saved. For a fuller view of this verse, see the remarks of Rosenmuller.

Verse 31

Surely it is meet to be said unto God - It is evident that this verse commences a new strain of remark, and that it is designed particularly to bring Job to proper reflections in view of what had occurred. There has been, however, much diversity of opinion about the meaning of this and the following verses. Schultens enumerates no less than “fifteen” different interpretations which have been given of this verse. The “general” meaning seems to be, that a man who is afflicted ought to submit to God, and not to murmur or complain. He ought to suppose that there is some good reason for what God does, and to be resigned to his will, even where he cannot “see” the reason of his dispensations. The drift of all the remarks of Elihu is, that God is a great and inscrutable Severeign; that he has a right to reign, and that man should submit unqualifiedly to him. In this passage he does not reproach Job harshly.

He does not say that he had been guilty of great crimes. He does not affirm that the sentiments of the three friends of Job were correct, or maintain that Job was a hypocrite. He states a “general” truth, which he considers applicable to all, and says that it becomes all who are afflicted to submit to God, and to resolve to offend no more; to go to God with the language of humble confession, and when everything is dark and gloomy in the divine dealings to implore “his” teachings, and to entreat him to shed light on the path. Hence, he says, “It is meet or proper to use this language before God. It becomes man. He should presume that God is right, and that he has some good reasons for his dealings, though they are inscrutable. Even when a sufferer is not to be reckoned among the most vile and wicked; when he is conscious that his general aim has been to do right: and when his external character has been fair, it is to be “presumed to be possible” that he may have sinned. He may not have wholly known himself. He may have indulged in things that were wrong without having been scarcely conscious of it. He may have loved the world too much; may have fixed his affections with idolatrous attachment on his property or friends; may have had a temper such as ought not to be indulged; or he may have relied on what he possessed, and thus failed to recognize his dependence on God. In such cases, it becomes man to have so much confidence in God as to go and acknowledge “his right” to inflict chastisement, and to entreat him to teach the sufferer “why” he is thus afflicted.”

I have borne chastisement - The word “chastisement” is not in the Hebrew. The Hebrew is simply - נשׂאתי nâśâ'tiy, “I have borne,” or “I bear.” Umbreit renders it, “I repent.” Some word like “chastisement” or “punishment” must be understood after “I have borne.” The idea evidently is, that a man who is afflicted by God, even when he cannot see the reason “why” he is afflicted, and when he is not conscious that he has been guilty of any particular sin that led to it, should be willing to regard it as “a proof” that he is guilty, and should examine and correct his life. But there is a great variety of opinion in regard to the meaning of this passage - no less than fifteen different interpretations being enumerated by Schultens.

I will not offend any more - אחבל לא lo' 'châbal - “I will not act wickedly; I will no more do corruptly.” The sense is, that his afflictions should lead him to a resolution to reform his life, and to sin no more. This just and beautiful sentiment is as applicable to us now as it was to the afflicted in the time of Elihu. It is a common thing to be afflicted. Trial often comes upon us when we can see no particular sin which has led to it, and no special reason why we should be afflicted rather than others. We should, however, regard it as a proof that there is something in our hearts or lives which may be amended, and should endeavor to ascertain what it. is, and resolve to offend no more. Anyone, if he will examine himself carefully, can find sufficient reasons why “he” should be visited with the rod of chastisement, and though we may not be able to see why others are preserved from such calamities, yet we can see that there are reasons in abundance why we should be recalled from our wanderings.

Verse 32

That which I see not, teach thou me - That is, in regard to my errors and sins. No prayer could be more appropriate than this. It is language becoming every one who is afflicted, and who does not see clearly the reason why it is done. The sense is, that with a full belief that he is liable to error and sin, that he has a wicked and deceitful heart, and that God never afflicts without reason, he should go to him and ask him to show him “why” he has afflicted him. He should not complain or repine; he should not accuse God of injustice or partiality; he should not attempt to cloak his offences, but should go and entreat him to make him acquainted with the sins of heart and life which have led to these calamities. Then only will he be in a state of mind in which he will be likely to be profited by trials.

If I have done iniquity, I will do no more - Admitting the possibility that he had erred. Who is there that cannot appropriately use this language when he is afflicted?

Verse 33

Should it be according to thy mind? - Margin, as in Hebrew “from with thee” - המעמך hamē‛imekā. There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to the meaning of this verse. It is exceedingly obscure in the original, and has the appearance of being a proverbial expression. The general sense seems to be, that God will not be regulated in his dealings by what may be the views of man, or by what man might be disposed to choose or refuse. He will act according to his own views of what is right and proper to be done. The phrase, “should it be according to thy mind,” means that it is not to be expected that God will consult the views and feelings of man rather than his own.

He will recompense it - He will visit with good or evil, prosperity or adversity, according as he shall judge to be right.

Whether thou refuse, or whether thou choose - Whatever may be your preferenccs or wishes. He will act according to his own views of right. The idea is, that God is absolute and independent, and does according to his own pleasure. He is a just Sovereign, dispensing his favors and appointing calamity, not according to the will of individual people, but holding the scales impartially, and doing what “he” esteems to be right.

And not I - Rosenmuller, Drusius, DeWette, and Noyes, render this, “And not he,” supposing that it refers to God, and means that the arrangements which are to affect people should be as “he” pleases, and not such as “man” would prefer. Umbreit explains it as meaning, “It is for you to determine in this matter, not for me. You are the person most interested. I am not particularly concerned. Do you, therefore, speak and determine the matter, if you know what is the truth.” The Vulgate renders it, “Will God seek that from thee because it displeases thee? For thou hast begun to speak, not I: for if thou knowest anything better, speak.” So Coverdale, “Wilt thou not give a reasonable answer? Art thou afraid of anything, seeing thou begannest first to speak, and not I?” The great difficulty of the whole verse may be seen by consulting Schultens, who gives no less than “seventeen” different interpretations, which have been proposed - his own being different from all others. He renders it,” Lo, he will repay you in your own way; for thou art full of sores - ”namquesubulceratus es:” which, indeed, thou hast chosen, and not I - and what dost thou know? speak.” I confess that I cannot understand the passage, nor do any of the interpretations proposed seem to be free from objections. I would submit the following, however, as a paraphrase made from the Hebrew, and differing somewhat from any interpretation which I have seen, as possibly expressing the true sense of the whole verse. “Shall it be from thee that God will send retribution on it (that is, on human conduct), because thou refusest or art reluctant, or because it is not in accordance with thy views? For thou must choose, and not I. Settle this matter, for it pertains particularly to you, and not to me, and what thou knowest, speak. If thou hast any views in regard to this, let them be expressed, for it is important to know on what principles God deals with men.”

Verses 34-35

Let men of understanding - Margin, as in Hebrew “heart.” The “heart,” as there has been frequent occasions to remark, in the Scriptures is often used to denote the seat of the mind or soul, as the head is with us. Rosenmuller, Umbreit, and Noyes, render this passage as if it were to be taken in connection with the following verse, “Men of understanding will say, and a wise man who hears my views will unite in saying, ‘Job has spoken without knowledge, and his words are without wisdom.’” According to this, the two verses express a sentiment in which Elihu supposes every wise man who had attended to him would concur, that what Job had said was not founded in knowledge or on true wisdom.

Verse 36

My desire is - Margin, “or, “my father, let Job be tried.”” This variation between the text and the margin, arises from the different interpretations affixed to the Hebrew word אבי 'âbiy. The Hebrew word commonly means “father,” and some have supposed that that sense is to be retained here, and then it would be a solemn appeal to God as his Father - expressing the earnest prayer of Elihu that Job might be fully tried. But the difficulties in this interpretation are obvious:

(1) Such a mode of appeal to God occurs nowhere else in the book, and it is little in the spirit of the poem. No particular reason can be assigned why that solemn appeal should be made here, rather than in many other places.

(2) The name “Father,” though often given to God in the Scriptures, is not elsewhere given to him in this book.

The probability is, therefore, that the word is from אבה 'âbâh - “to breathe after, to desire,” and means that Elihu “desired” that Job should have a fair trial. No other similar form of the word, however, occurs The Vulgate renders it, “Pater mi, my father;” the Septuagint, “But learn, Job, no more to make reply like the foolish;” the Chaldee, צבינא - “I desire.”

May be tried - That his views may be fully canvassed and examined. He had expressed sentiments which Elihu thought should not be allowed to pass without the most careful examination into their truth and bearing. “Unto the end.” In the most full and free manner; that the matter should be pursued as far as possible, so that it might be wholly understood. Literally, it means “forever” - עד־נצח ad-netsach.

Because of his answers for wicked men - Because of the views which he has expressed, which seem to favor the wicked. Elihu refers to the opinions advanced by Job that God did not punish people in this life, or did not deal with them according to their characters, which “he” interpreted as giving countenance to wickedness, or as affirming the God was not the enemy of impiety. The Vulgate renders this, “My Father, let Job be tried to the end; do not cease from the man of iniquity;” but the true meaning doubtless is, that Job had uttered sentiments which Elihu understood to favor the wicked, and he was desirous that every trial should be applied to him which would tend to correct his erroneous views.

Verse 37

For he addeth rebellion unto his sin - To the sin which he has formerly committed and which bas brought these trials upon him, he now adds the sin of complaining and rebellion against God. Of Job, this was certainly not true to the extent which Elihu intended, but it is a very common case in afflictions. A man is visited with calamity as a chastisement for his sins. Instead of searching out the cause why he is afflicted, or bowing with resignation to the superior wisdom of God when he cannot “see” any cause, he regards himself as unjustly dealt with; complains of the government of God as severe, and gives “occasion” for a severer calamity in some other form. The result is often that he is visited with severe affliction, and is made to see both his original offence and the accumulated guilt which has made a new form of punishment necessary.

He clappeth his hands amongst us - To clap the hands is either a signal of applause or triumph, or a mark of indignation, Numbers 24:10, or of derision, Job 27:23. It seems to be used in some such sense here, as expressing contempt or derision for the sentiments of his friends. The meaning is, that instead of treating the subject under discussion with a calm spirit and a disposition to learn the truth and profit by it, he had manifested in relation to the whole matter great disrespect, and had conductcd like one who attempts to silence others, or who shows his contempt for them by clapping his hands at them. It is scarcely necessary to say, that, notwithstanding all the professed candor and impartiality of Elihu, this is a most unfair representation of the general spirit of Job. That he had sometimes given vent to improper feelings there can be no doubt, but nothing had occurred to justify this statement.

And multiplieth his words against God - That is, his arguments are against the justice of his government and dealings. In the special phrase used here - “he multiplieth “words,”” Elihu means, probably, to say, that there was more of “words” than of argument in what Job had said, and that he was not content even with expressing his improper feelings once, but that he piled words on words, and epithet on epithet, that he might more fully give utterance to his reproachful feelings against his Maker.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 34". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/job-34.html. 1870.
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