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the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Job 38

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

Then the Lord answered Job - This speech is addressed particularly to Job, not only because he is the principal personage referred to in the book, but particularly because he had indulged in language of murmuring and complaint. God designed to bring him to a proper state of mind before he appeared openly for his vindication. It is the purpose of God, in his dealings with his people, “to bring them to a proper state of mind” before he appears as their vindicator and friend, and hence, their trials are often prolonged, and when he appears, he seems at first to come only to rebuke them. Job had indulged in very improper feelings, and it was needful that those feelings should be subdued before God would manifest himself as his friend, and address him in words of consolation.

Out of the whirlwind - The tempest; the storm - probably that which Elihu had seen approaching, Job 37:21-24. God is often represented as speaking to people in this manner. He spake amidst lightnings and tempests on Mount Sinai Exodus 19:16-19, and he is frequently represented as appearing amidst the thunders and lightnings of a tempest, as a symbol of his majesty; compare Psalms 18:9-13; Habakkuk 3:3-6. The word here rendered “whirlwind” means rather “a storm, a tempest.” The Septuagint renders this verse, “After Elihu had ceased speaking, the Lord spake to Job from a tempest and clouds.”

Verse 2

Who is this - Referring doubtless to Job, for he is specified in the previous verse. Some have understood it of Elihu (see Schultens), but the connection evidently demands that it should be understood as referring to Job. The object was, to reprove him for the presumptuous manner in which he had spoken of God and of his government. It was important before God manifested his approval of Job, that he should declare his sense of what he had said, and show him how improper it was to indulge in language such as he had used.

That darkeneth counsel - That makes the subject darker. Instead of explaining the reason of the divine dealings, and vindicating God from the objections alleged against him and his government, the only tendency of what he had said had been to make his government appear dark, and severe, and unjust in the view of his friends. It might have been expected of Job, being a friend of God, that all that he said would have tended to inspire confidence in him, and to explain and vindicate the divine dealings; but, God had seen much that was the very reverse. Even the true friends of God, in the dark times of trial, may say much that will tend to make people doubt the wisdom and goodness of his government, and to prejudice the minds of the wicked against him.

By words without knowledge - Words that did not contain a true explanation of the difficulty. They conveyed no light about his dealings; they did not tend to satisfy the mind, or to make the subject more clear than it was before. There is much of this kind of speaking in the world; much that is written, and much that fails from the lips in debate, in preaching, and in conversation, that explains nothing, and that even leaves the subject more perplexed than it was before. We see from this verse that God does not and cannot approve of such “words.” If his friends speak, they should vindicate his government; they should at least express their conviction that he is right; they should aim to explain his doings, and to show to the world that they are reasonable. If they cannot do this, they should adore in silence. The Savior never spoke of God in such a way as to leave any doubt that his ways could be vindicated, never so as to leave the impression that he was harsh or severe in his administration, or so as to lend the least countenance to a spirit of murmuring and complaining.

Verse 3

Gird up now thy loins like a man - To gird up the loins, is a phrase which has allusion to the mode of dress in ancient times. The loose flowing robe which was commonly worn, was fastened with a girdle when men ran, or labored, or engaged in conflict; see the notes at Matthew 5:38-41. The idea here is, “Make thyself as strong and vigorous as possible; be prepared to put forth the highest effort.” God was about to put him to a task which would require all his ability - that of explaining the facts which were constantly occurring in the universe. The whole passage is ironical. Job had undertaken to tell what he knew of the divine administration, and God now calls upon him to show his claims to the office of such an expositor. So wise a man as he was, who could pronounce on the hidden counsels of the Most High with so much confidence, could assuredly explain those things which pertained to the visible creation. The phrase “like a man” means boldly, courageously; compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 16:13.

I will demand of thee, and answer thou me - Margin, as in Hebrew, “make me known.” The meaning is, “I will submit some questions or subjects of inquiry to you for solution. Since you have spoken with so much confidence of my government, I will propose some inquiries as a test of your knowledge.”

Verse 4

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? - The first appeal is to the creation. The question here, “Where wast thou?” implies that Job was not present. He had not then an existence. He could not, therefore, have aided God, or counselled him, or understood what he was doing. How presumptuous, therefore, it was in one so short-lived to sit in judgment on the doings of him who had formed the world! How little could he expect to be able to know of him! The expression, “laid the foundations of the earth,” is taken from building an edifice. The foundations are first laid, and the super-structure is then reared. It is a poetic image, and is not designed to give any intimation about the actual process by which the earth was made, or the manner in which it is sustained.

If thou hast understanding - Margin, as in Hebrew “if thou knowest.” That is, “Declare how it was done. Explain the manner in which the earth was formed and fixed in its place, and by which the beautiful world grew up under the hand of God.” If Job could not do this, what presumption was it to speak as he had done of the divine adminisitration!

Verse 5

Who hath laid the measures thereof - That is, as an architect applies his measures when he rears a house.

If thou knowest - Or rather, “for thou knowest.” The expression is wholly ironical, and is designed to rebuke Job’s pretensions of being able to explain the divine administration.

Or who hath stretched the line upon it - As a carpenter uses a line to mark out his work; see the notes at Isaiah 28:17. The earth is represented as a building, the plan of which was laid out beforehand, and which was then made according to the sketch of the architect. It is not, therefore, the work of chance or fate. It is laid out and constructed according to a wise plan, and in a method evincing infinite skill.

Verse 6

Whereupon are the foundations - Margin, “sockets.” The Hebrew word (אדן 'eden) means “a basis,” as of a column, or a pedestal; and then also the foundation of a building. The language here is evidently figurative, comparing the earth with an edifice. In building a house, the securing of a proper foundation is essential to its stability; and here God represents himself as rearing the earth on the most permanent and solid basis. The word is not used in the sense of sockets, as it is in the margin.

Fastened - Margin, “made to sink.” The margin rather expresses the sense of the Hebrew word הטבעוּ hāṭâba‛û. It is rendered “sink” and “sunk” in Psalms 69:2, Psalms 69:14; Psalms 9:15; Lamentations 2:9; Jeremiah 38:6, Jeremiah 38:22; “drowned” in Exodus 15:4; and were settled in Proverbs 8:25. The word does not elsewhere occur in the Scriptures, and the prevailing sense is that of “sinking,” or “settling down,” and hence, to “impress” - as a seal “settles down” into wax. The reference here is to a foundation-stone that sinks or settles down into clay or mire until it becomes solid.

Or who laid the corner stone thereof - Still an allusion to a building. The cornerstone sustains the principal weight of an edifice, as the weight of two walls is concentrated on it, and hence, it is of such importance that it should be solid and firmly fixed. The question proposed for the solution of Job is, On what the earth is founded? On this question a great variety of opinions waft entertained by the ancients, and of course no correct solution could be given of the difficulty. It was not known that it was suspended and held in its place by the laws of gravitation. The meaning here is, that if Job could not solve this inquiry, he ought not to presume to sit in judgment on the government of God, and to suppose that he was qualified to judge of his secret counsels.

Verse 7

When the morning-stars - There can be little doubt that angelic beings are intended here, though some have thought that the stars literally are referred to, and that they seemed to unite in a chorus of praise when another world was added to their number. The Vulgate renders it, astra matutina, morning-stars; the Septuagint, ὅτε ἐγενήθηναι ἄστρα hote egenēthēnai astra - “ when the stars were made:” the Chaldee, “the stars of the zephyr,” or “morning” - צפר כוכבי. The comparison of a prince, a monarch, or an angel, with a star, is not uncommon; compare the notes at Isaiah 14:0. The expression “the morning-stars” is used on account of the beauty of the principal star which, at certain seasons of the year, leads on the morning. It is applied naturally to those angelic beings that are of distinguished glory and rank in heaven. That it refers to the angels, seems to be evident from the connection; and this interpretation is demanded in order to correspond with the phrase “sons of God” in the other member of the verse.

Sang together - United in a grand chorus or concert of praise. It was usual to celebrate the laying of a cornerstone, or the completion of an edifice, by rejoicing; see Zechariah 4:7; Ezra 3:10.

And all the sons of God - Angels - called the sons of God from their resemblance to him, or their being created by him.

Shouted for joy - That is, they joined in praise for so glorious a work as the creation of a new world. They saw that it was an event which was fitted to honor God. It was a new manifestation of his goodness and power; it was an enlargement of his empire; it was an exhibition of benevolence that claimed their gratitude. The expression in this verse is one of uncommon, perhaps of unequalled beauty. The time referred to is at the close of the creation of the earth, for the whole account relates to the formation of this world, and not of the stars. At that period, it is clear that other worlds had been made, and that there were holy beings then in existence who were of such a rank as appropriately to be called “morning-stars” and “sons of God.” It is a fair inference therefore, that the “whole” of the universe was not made at once, and that the earth is one of the last of the worlds which have been called into being.

No one can demonstrate that the work of creation may not now be going on in some remote part of the universe, nor that God may not yet form many more worlds to be the monuments of his wisdom and goodness, and to give occasion for augmented praise. Who can tell but that this process may be carried on forever, and that new worlds and systems may continue to start into being, and there be continually new displays of this inexhaustible goodness and wisdom of the Creator? When this world was made, there was occasion for songs of praise among the angels. It was a beautiful world. All was pure, and lovely, and holy. Man was made like his God, and everything was full of love. Surveying the beautiful scene, as the world arose under the plastic hand of the Almighty - its hills, and vales, and trees, and flowers, and animals, there was occasion for songs and rejoicings in heaven. Could the angels have foreseen, as perhaps they did, what was to occur here, there was also occasion for songs of praise such as would exist in the creation of no other world. This was to be the world of redeeming love; this the world where the Son of God was to become incarnate and die for sinners; this the world where an immense host was to be redeemed to praise God in a song unknown to the angels - the song of redemption, in the sweet notes which shall ascend from the lips of those who shall have been ransomed from death by the great work of the atonement.

Verse 8

Or who shut up the sea with doors - This refers also to the act of the creation, and to the fact that God fixed limits to the raging of the ocean. The word “doors” is used here rather to denote gates, such as are made to shut up water in a dam. The Hebrew word properly refers, in the dual form which is used here דלתים delethiym), to “double doors,” or to folding doors, and is also applied to the gates of a city; Deuteronomy 3:5; 1 Samuel 23:7; Isaiah 45:1. The idea is, that the floods were bursting forth from the abyss or the center of the earth, and were checked by placing gates or doors which restrained them. Whether this is designed to be a poetic or a real description of what took place at the creation, it is not easy to determine. Nothing forbids the idea that something like this may have occurred when the waters in the earth were pouring forth tumultuously, and when they were restrained by obstructions placed there by the hand of God, as if he had made gates through which they could pass only when he should open them. This supposition also would accord well with the account of the flood in Genesis 7:11, where it is said that “the fountains of the great deep were broken up,” as if those flood-gates had been opened, or the obstructions which God had placed there had been suffered to be broken through, and the waters of their own accord flowed over the world. We know as yet too little of the interior of the earth, to ascertain whether this is to be understood as a literal description of what actually occurred.

When it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb - All the images here are taken from child-birth. The ocean is represented as being born, and then as invested with clouds and darkness as its covering and its swaddling-bands. The image is a bold one, and I do not know that it is any where else applied to the formation of the ocean.

Verse 9

When I made the cloud the garment thereof - Referring to the garment in which the new-born infant is wrapped up. This image is one of great beauty. It is that of the vast ocean just coming into being, with a cloud resting upon it and covering it. Thick darkness envelopes it, and it is swathed in mists; compare Genesis 1:2,” And darkness was upon the face of the deep.” The time here referred to is that before the light of the sun arose upon the earth, before the dry land appeared, and before annuals and people had been formed. Then the new-born ocean lay carefully enveloped in clouds and darkness under the guardian care of God. The dark night rested upon it, and the mists hovered over it.

Verse 10

And brake up for it my decreed place - Margin, “established my decree upon it.” So Herder, “I fixed my decrees upon it.” Luther renders it, “Da ich ihm den Lauf brach mit meinem Damm” - “then I broke its course with my barrier.” Umbreit renders it, “I measured out to it my limits;” that is, the limits or bounds which I judged to be proper. So the Vulgate, “Circumdedi illud terminis meis” - “I surrounded it with my limits,” or with such limits as I chose to affix. The Septuagint renders it, “I placed boundaries to it.” Coverdale, “I gave it my commandment.” This is undoubtedly the sense which: the connection demands; and the idea in the common version, that God had broken up his fixed plans in order to accommodate the new-born ocean, is not in accordance with the parallelism. The Hebrew word (שׁבר shâbar) indeed commonly means “to break, to break in pieces.” But, according to Gesenius, and as the place here demands, it may have the sense of measuring off, defining, appointing, “from the idea of breaking into portions;” and then the sense will be, “I measured for it (the sea) my appointed bound.”

This meaning of the word is, however, more probably derived from the Arabic, where the word שׁבר shâbar means to measure with the span (Castell), and hence, the idea here of measuring out the limits of the ocean. The sense is, that God measured out or determined the limits of the sea. The idea of breaking up a limit or boundary which had been before fixed, it is believed, is not in the text. The word rendered “my decreed place” (חקי chuqiy) refers commonly to a law, statute, or ordinance, meaning originally anything that was “engraved” (חקק châqaq) and then, because laws were engraved on tablets of brass or stone, any statute or decree. Hence, it means anything prescribed or appointed, and hence, a “bound,” or “limit;” see the notes at Job 26:10; compare Proverbs 8:29, “When he gave to the sea his decree (חקו chuqô) that the waters should not pass his commandment.” The idea in the passage before us is, that God fixed the limits of the ocean by his own purpose or pleasure.

And set bars - Doors were formerly fastened, as they are often now, by cross-bars; and the idea here is, that God had inclosed the ocean, and so fastened the doors from where, it would issue out, that it could not pass.

Verse 11

And said, Hitherto shalt thou come - This is a most sublime expression, and its full force can be felt only by one who has stood on the shores of the ocean, and seen its mighty waves roll toward the beach as if in their pride they would sweep everything away, and how they are checked by the barrier which God has made. A voice seems to say to them that they may roll in their pride and grandeur so far, but no further. No increase of their force or numbers can sweep the barrier away, or make any impression on the limits which God has fixed.

And here shall they proud waves be stayed - Margin, as in Hebrew, “the pride of thy waves.” A beautiful image. The waves seem to advance in pride and self-confidence, as if nothing could stay them. They come as if exulting in the assurance that they will sweep everything away. In a moment they are arrested and broken, and they spread out humbly and harmlessly on the beach. God fixes the limit or boundary which they are not to pass, and they lie prostrate at his feet.

Verse 12

Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days - That is, in thy lifetime hast thou ordered the light of the morning to shine, and directed its beams over the world? God appeals to this as one of the proofs of his majesty and power - and who can look upon the spreading light of the morning and be insensible to the force and beauty of the appeal? The transition from the ocean to the morning may have been partly because the light of the morning is one of the striking exhibitions of the power of God, and partly because in the creation of the world the light of the sun was made to dawn soon after the gathering together of the waters into seas; see Genesis 1:10, Genesis 1:14. The phrase “since thy days,” implies that the laws determining the rising of the sun were fixed long before the time of Job. It is asked whether this had been done since he had an existence, and whether he had an agency in effecting it - implying that it was an ancient and established ordinance long before he was born.

Caused the day-spring to know his place - The day-spring (שׁחר shachar) means the “aurora, the dawn, the morning.” The mention of its “place” here seems to be an allusion to the fact that it does not always occupy the same position. At one season of the year it appears on the equator, at another north, and at another south of it, and is constantly varying its position. Yet it always knows its place. It never fails to appear where by the long-observed laws it ought to appear. It is regular in its motions, and is evidently under the control of an intelligent Being, who has fixed the laws of its appearing.

Verse 13

That it might take hold of the ends of the earth - Margin, as in Hebrew “wings.” Wings are in the Scriptures frequently given to the earth, because it seems to be spread out, and the expression refers to its extremities. The language is derived from the supposition that the earth was a plain, and had limits or bounds. The idea here is, that God causes the light of the morning suddenly to spread to the remotest parts of the world, and to reveal everything which was there.

That the wicked might be shaken out of it - Out of the earth; that is, by the light which suddenly shines upon them. The sense is, that the wicked perform their deeds in the darkness of the night, and that in the morning light they flee away. The effect of the light coming upon them is to disturb their plans, to fill them with alarm, and to cause them to flee. The idea is highly poetic. The wicked are engaged in various acts of iniquity under cover of the night. Robbers, thieves, and adulterers, go forth to their deeds of darkness as though no one saw them. The light of the morning steals suddenly upon them, and they flee before it under the apprehension of being detected. “The dawn,” says Herder, “is represented as a watchman, a messenger of the Prince of heaven, sent to chase away the bands of robbers.” It may illustrate this to observe that it is still the custom of the Arabs to go on plundering excursions before the dawn. When on their way this faithful watchman, the aurora, goes out to spread light about them, to intimidate them, and to disperse them; compare the notes at Job 24:13-17.

Verse 14

It is turned as clay to the seal - A great variety of interpretations has been given to this passage. Schultens enumerates no less than twenty, and of course it is not easy to determine the meaning. The Septuagint renders it, “Didst thou take clay of the earth, and form an animal, and place on the earth a creature endowed with speech?” Though this would agree well with the connection, yet it is a wide departure from the Hebrew. The reference is, undoubtedly, to some effect or impression produced upon the earth by the light of the morning, which bears a resemblance, in some respects, to the impression produced on clay by a seal. Probably the idea is, that the spreading light serves to render visible and prominent the forms of things, as the seal when impressed on clay produces certain figures.

One form of a Babylonian seal was an engraved cylinder, fixed on an axle, with a handle in the manner of a garden roller, which produced the impression “by being rolled on the softened wax. Mr. Rich (Second Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon, p. 59) remarks, “The Babylonian cylinders are among the most interesting and remarkable of the antiques. They are from one to three inches in length; some are of stone, and others apparently of paste or composition of various kinds. Sculptures from several of these cylinders have been published in different works. Some of them have cuneiform writing,” (for the “arrow-headed” character, p. 48), “but it has the remarkable peculiarity that it is reversed, or written from right to left, every other kind of cuneiform writing being incontestably to be read from left to right. This can only be accounted for by supposing that they were intended to roll off impressions. The cylinders are said to be chiefly found in the ruins of Jabouiga. The people of America are fond of using them as amulets, and the Persian pilgrims who came to the shrines of Ali and Hossein frequently carry back with them some of these curiosities.”

It may be observed, also, in the explanation of the passage, that clay was often used for the purpose of a seal in Oriental countries. The manner in which it was used was to daub a mass of it over the door or lock of a house, a caravansera, a room, or any place where anything valuable was deposited, and to impress upon it a rude seal. This indeed would not make the goods safe from a robber, but it would be an indication that the place is not to be entered, and show that if it had been entered it was by violence; compare Matthew 27:66. This impression on clay would be produced by the “revolving” or Babyionian seal, by turning it about, or rolling it on clay, and thus bringing the figures out prominently, and this will explain the passage here. The passing of the light over the earth in the morning, seems to be like rolling a cylinder-seal on soft clay. It leaves distinct impressions; raises up prominent figures; gives form and beauty to what seemed before a dark undistinguished mass. The word rendered “it is turned” (תתהפך tithâphak), means properly “it turns itself” - and the idea is that, like the revolving seal, it seems to roll over the face of the earth, and to leave a distinct and beautiful impression. Before, the face of the earth was obscure. Nothing, in the darkness of the night, could be distinguished. Now, when the dawn arises and the light spreads abroad, the figures of hills, and trees, and tents, and cities, rise before it as if a seal had been rolled on yielding clay. The image is one, therefore, of high poetic character, and of great beauty. If this be the correct interpretation, the passage does not refer to the revolution of the earth on its axis, or to any change in appearance or form which it assumes when the wicked are shaken out of it, as Schultens supposes, but to the beautiful change in appearance which the face of the earth seems to undergo when the aurora passes over it.

And they stand as a garment - This passage is perhaps even more difficult than the former part of the verse. Prof. Lee renders it, “And that men be set up as if accoutred for battle,” and according to him the idea is, that people, when the light shines, set themselves up for the prosecution of their designs. Coverdale renders it, “Their tokens and weapons hast thou turned like clay, and set them up again as the changing of a garment.” Grotius supposes it means that things by the aurora change their appearance and color like a variegated garment. The true idea of the passage is probably that adopted by Schultens, Herder, Umbreit, Rosenmuller, and Noyes, that it refers to the beautiful appearance which the face of nature seems to put on when the morning light shines upon the world. Before, all was dark and undistinguished. Nature seemed to be one vast blank, with no prominent objects, and with no variety of color. When the light dawns on the earth, the various objects - the hills, trees, houses, fields, flowers, seem to stand forth, or to raise themselves up (יתיצבו yityâtsabû), and to put on the appearance of gorgeous and variegated vestments. It is as if the earth were clothed with beauty, and what was before a vast blank were now arrayed in splendid vestments. Thus understood, there is no need of supposing that garments were ever made, as has been sometimes supposed, with so much in-wrought silver and gold that they would “stand upright themselves.” It is a beautiful conception of poetry - that the spreading light seems to clothe the dark world with a gorgeous robe, by calling forth the objects of creation from the dull and dark uniformity of night to the distinctness of day.

Verse 15

And from the wicked their light is withholden - While the light thus spreads over the earth, rendering every object beautiful and blessing the righteous, light and prosperity are withheld from the wicked; see the notes at Job 24:17. Or, the meaning may be, that when the light shines upon the world, the wicked, accustomed to perform their deeds in the night, flee from it, and retreat to their dark hiding-places.

And the high arm - Of the wicked. The arm is a symbol of strength. It is that by which we accomplish our purposes, and the idea here is, that the haughty power of the oppressor shall be crushed. The connection here seems to be this. In Job 38:12-14, there is a beautiful description of the light, and of its effects upon the appearance of natural objects. It was such as to clothe the world with beauty, and to fill the heart of the pious with gladness. In order now to show the greatness of the punishment of the wicked, it is added that all this beauty will be hidden from them. They will be driven away by the light into their dark hiding-places, and will be met there with the withdrawal of all the tokens of prosperity, and their power will be crushed.

Verse 16

Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? - The word here rendered “springs” (נבך nêbek), occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures. It is rendered by the Vulgate “profunda,” the deep parts; and by the Septuagint πηγὴν pēgēn - “fountains.” The reference seems to be to the deep fountains at the bottom of the sea, which were supposed to supply it with water. A large portion of the water of the ocean is indeed conveyed to it by rivers and streams that run on the surface of the earth. But it is known, also, that there are fountains at the bottom of the ocean, and in some places the amount of water that flows from them is so great, that its action is perceptible at the surface. One such fountain exists in the Atlantic ocean near the coast of Florida.

Or hast thou walked in the search of the depth? - Or, rather, in the deep places or caverns of the ocean. The word rendered “search” here (חקר chêqer), means “searching,” investigation, and then an object that is to be searched out, and hence, that which is obscure, remote, hidden. Then it may be applied to the deep caverns of the ocean, or the bottom of the sea. This is to man unsearchable. No line has been found long enough to fathom the ocean, and of course what is there is unknown. It is adduced, therefore, with great propriety as a proof of the wisdom of God, that he could look on the deep caverns of the ocean, and was able to search out all that was there. A sentiment similar to this occurs in Homer, when speaking of Atlas:

Ὅατε θαλάσσης;

Πάσης βένθεα οἷδεν.

Hoate thalassēs;

Pasēs benthea oiden.

Odyssey Job 1:5.

“Who knows the depths of every sea.”

Verse 17

Have the gates of death been opened unto thee - That is, the gates of the world where death reigns; or the gates that lead to the abodes of the dead. The allusion here is to “Sheol,” or “Hades,” the dark abodes of the dead. This was supposed to be beneath the ground, and was entered by the grave, and was inclosed by gates and bars; see the notes at Job 10:21-22. The transition from the reference to the bottom of the sea to the regions of the dead was natural, and the mind is carried forward to a subject further beyond the ken of mortals than even the unfathomable depths of the ocean. The idea is, that God saw all that occurred in that dark world beneath us, where the dead were congregated, and that his vast superiority to man was evinced by his being able thus to penetrate into, and survey those hidden regions. It is common in the Classical writers to represent those regions as entered by gates. Thus, Lucretius, i. 1105,

- Haec rebus erit para janua letl,

Hae se turba foras dabit omnis materai.

- “The doors of death are ope,

And the vast whole unbounded ruin whelms.”


So Virgil, Aeneid ii. 661,

- Pater isti janua leto,

“The door of death stands open.”

Or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death? - The doors which lead down to the gloomy realms where death spreads its dismal shades. This expression is more emphatic than the former, for the word צלמות tsalmâveth “shadow of death,” is more intensive in its meaning than the word מות mâveth, “death.” There is the superadded idea of a deep and dismal shadow; of profound and gloomy darkness; see the word explained in the notes at Job 3:5; compare Job 10:21-22. Man was unable to penetrate those gloomy abodes and to reveal what was there; but God saw all with the clearness of noon-day.

Verse 18

Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? - How far the earth extends. To see the force of this, we must remember that the early conception of the earth was that it was a vast plain, and that in the time of Job its limits were unknown. One of the earliest and most obvious inquiries would naturally be, What was the extent of the earth? By what was it bounded? And what was the character of the regions beyond those which were then known? All this was hidden from man at that time, and God, therefore, asks with emphasis whether Job had been able to determine this great inquiry. The knowledge of this is put on the same foundation as that of the depths of the sea, and of the dark regions of the dead, and in the time of Job the one was as much unknown as the other. God, who knew all this, must, therefore, be infinitely exalted above man.

Verse 19

Where is the way where light dwelleth? - Or, rather, where is the way or path to the place where light dwells? Light is conceived of as coming from a great distance, and as having a place which might be regarded as its home. It comes in the morning, and is withdrawn at evening, and it seems as if it came from some far distant dwelling-place in the morning to illuminate the world, and then retired to its home in the evening, and thus gave place for darkness to visit the earth. The idea is this, “Dost thou know, when the light withdraws from the world, to what place it betakes itself as its home? Canst thou follow it to its distant abodes, and tell where they are? And when the shadows of night come forth, and take its place, canst thou tell whence they come; and when they withdraw again in the morning, canst thou follow them, and tell where they are congregated together to abide?” The thought is highly poetic, and is not to be taken literally. The meaning is, that God only could know what was the great fountain of light, and where that was; and the question substantially may be asked of man with as much force and propriety now as in the time of Job. Who knows what is the great fountain of light to the universe? Who knows what light is? Who can explain the causes of its rapid flight from world to world? Who can tell what supplies it, and prevents it from being exhausted? Who but God, after all the discoveries of science, can fully understand this?

And as for darkness, where is the place thereof? - Darkness here is personified. It is represented as having a place of abode as coming forth to take the place of light when that is withdrawn, and again as retiring to its dwelling when the light reappears.

Verse 20

That thou shouldest take it to the bounds thereof - Margin, “or, at.” The sense seems to be this: God asks Job whether he was so well acquainted with the sources of light, and the place where it dwelt, that he could take it under his guidance and reconduct it to its place of abode.

And that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof? - The same idea is repeated here. Light has a home; a place of abode. It was far distant - in some region unknown to man. Did Job know the way in which it came, and the place where it dwelt so well, that he could conduct it back again to its own dwelling? Umbreit, Noyes, and Herder, suppose that this is to be understood ironically.

“For thou hast reached its boundaries!

For then knowest the path to its dwelling!”

But it has been commonly regarded as a question, and thus understood it accords better with the connection.

Verse 21

Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born? - This may either be a question, or it may be spoken ironically. According to the former mode of rendering it, it is the same as asking Job whether he had lived long enough to understand where the abode of light was, or whether he had an existence when it was created, and knew where its home was appointed. According to the latter mode, it is keen sarcasm. “Thou must know all this, for thou art so old. Thou hast had an opportunity of observing all this, for thou hast lived through all these changes, and observed all the works of God.” This latter method of interpreting it is adopted by Umbreit, Herder, Noyes, Rosenmuller, and Wemyss. The former, however, seems much better to accord with the connection, and with the dignity and character of the speaker. It is not desirable to represent God as speaking in the language of irony and sarcasm unless the rules of interpretation imperatively demand it.

Verse 22

Hast thou entered into the treasures of snow? - Snow is here represented as something which is laid up like treasure, and kept in reserve for use when God shall require it. Silver and gold were thus laid up for occasions when they would be wanted, and the figurative sentiment here is, that snow and hail were thus preserved for the use to which the Almighty might devote them, or for those great occasions when it would be proper to bring them forth to execute his purposes. Of course, it was to be expected that God would speak in the language which people commonly used when speaking of his works, and would not go into a philosophical or scientific explanation of the phenomena of nature. His object was not to teach science, but to produce a solemn impression of his greatness, and that is secured by such an appeal whether the laws of nature are understood or not. The simple appeal to Job here is, whether he could explain the phenomena of snow and hail?

Could he tell how they were formed? Whence they came? Where they were preserved, and how they were sent forth to execute the purposes of God? The idea is, that all that pertained to the snow was distinctly understood by God, and that these were facts which Job did not know of, and which he could not explain. The effect of time and of scientific investigation, in this as in other cases to which reference is made in this book, has been only to increase the force of this question. The effect of the discoveries which are made in the works of God is not to diminish our sense of his wisdom and majesty, but to change mere wonder to praise; to transform blind amazement to intelligent adoration. Every new discovery of a law of nature is fitted more to impress the mind with awe, and at the same time it becomes the basis of a new act of intelligent confidence in God. This is true of snow as of other things.

In the time and country of Job it came doubtless from the north. Vast quantities seemed to be poured forth from those regions at certain seasons of the year, as if it were reserved there in vast store-houses, or treasuries. Science has, however, told us that it is congealed vapor formed in the air, by the vapor being frozen there before it is collected into drops large enough to form hail. In the descent of the vapor to the earth it is frozen and descends in the numerous variety of crystallized forms in which the flakes appear. Perhaps there is nothing more fitted to excite pleasing conceptions of the wisdom of God - not even the variety of beauty in flowers - than the various forms of crystals in which snow appears. Those crystals present an almost endless variety of forms, Descartes and Dr. Hook were among the first whose minds seem to have been drawn to the figures of the crystals in snow, and since their investigations the suhject has excited great interest in others.

Captain Scoresby, who gave much attention to this subject and to other arctic phenomena, has given a delineation of 96 of these crystals. He adds, “The extreme beauty and the endless variety of the microsopic objects perceived in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, are perhaps fully equalled, if not surpassed, in both particulars of beauty and variety, by the crystals of snow. The principal configurations are the stelliform and the hexagonal; though almost every variety of shape of which the generating angle of 60 degrees and 120 degrees are susceptible, may, in the course of a few years’ observation, be discovered. Some of the general varieties in the figures of the crystals may be referred to the temperature of the air; but the particular and endless modifications of the same classes of crystals can only be referred to the will and pleasure of the First Great Cause, whose works, even the most minute and evanescent, and in regions the most remote from human observation, are altogether admirable.” See the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, “Snow.”

Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail - As if the hail were reserved in storehouses, like the weapons of war, to be called forth when God should please, in order to execute his purposes. Hail - so well known in its nature and form - consists of masses of ice or frozen vapor, falling from the clouds in showers or storms. These masses consist of little spherules united, but not all of the same consistence; some being as hard and solid as perfect ice, others soft like frozen snow. Hail-stones assume various figures; some are round, others angular, others pyramidal, others flat, and sometimes they are stellated, with six radii, like crystals of snow - Encylopedia as quoted in Webster’s Dictionary. Snow and hail are formed in the clouds when they are at an elevation where the temperature is below 32 degrees. The particles of moisture become congealed and fall to the earth. When the temperature below the clouds is more than 32 degrees, the flakes of snow often melt, and descend in the form of rain.

But hailstones, from their greater solidity and more rapid descent, often reach the earth even when the temperature is much higher; and hence, we have storms of hail in the summer. The difference in the formation of snow and hail is, that in the former case the vapor in the clouds is congealed before it is collected into drops; in the case of hail, the vapor is collected into drops or masses, and then frozen. “If we examine,” says Mr. Leslie, “the structure of a hailstone, we shall perceive a snowy kernel encased by a harder crust. It has very nearly the appearance of a drop of water suddenly frozen, the particles of air being driven from the surface toward the center, where they form a spongy texture. This circumstance suggests the probable origin of hail, which is perhaps occasioned by rain falling through a dry and very cold stratum of air” - Edinburgh Encyclopedia, “Meteorology.”

All the facts about the formation of hail were unknown in the time of Job, and hence, God appeals to them as evidence of his superior wisdom and greatness, and in proof of the duty of man to submit to him. These phenomena, which were constantly occurring, man could not explain; and how much less qualified, therefore, was he to sit in judgment on the secret counsels of the Almighty! The same observation may be made now, for though science has done something to explain the laws by which snow and hail are formed, yet those discoveries have tended to enlarge our conceptions of the wisdom of God, and have shown us, to an extent which was not then suspected, how much is still unknown. We see a few of the laws by which God does these things, but who is prepared to explain these laws themselves, or to tell why and how the particles of vapor arrange themselves into such beautiful crystallized forms?

Verse 23

Which I have reserved - As if they were carefully treasured up to be brought forth as they shall be needed. The idea is, that they were entirely under the direction of God.

The time of trouble - Herder “the time of need.” The meaning probably is, that he had kept them in reserve for the time when he wished to bring calamity on his enemies, or that he made use of them to punish his foes; compare the notes at Job 36:31-33.

Against the day of battle and war - Hailstones were employed by God sometimes to overwhelm his foes, and were sent against them in time of battle; see Joshua 10:11; Exodus 9:22-26; Psalms 18:12-13; compare the notes at Isaiah 29:6.

Verse 24

By what way is the light parted - The reference here is to the light of the morning, that seems to come from one point, and to spread itself at once over the whole earth. It seems to be collected in the east, or, as it were, condensed or concentrated there, and then to divide itself, and to expand over the face of the world. God here asks Job whether he could explain this, or show in what manner it was done. This was one of the subjects which might be supposed early to excite inquiry, and is one which can be as little explained now as then. The causes of the propagation of light, which seems to proceed from a center and to spread rapidly in every direction, are perhaps as little known now as they were in the time of Job. Philosophy has done little to explain this, and the mode in which light is made to travel in eight minutes from the sun to the earth - a distance of ninety million miles - and the manner in which it is “divided” or “parted” from that great center, and spread over the solar system, is as much of a real mystery as it was in the days of Job, and the question proposed here may be asked now with as much emphasis as it was then.

Which scattereth the east wind upon the earth - According to this translation, the idea would be that somehow light is the cause of the east wind. But it may be doubted whether this is the true interpretation, and whether it is meant to be affirmed that light has any agency in causing the wind to blow. Herder renders it:

“When doth the light divide itself,

When the east wind streweth it upon the earth?”

According to this, the idea would be that the light of the morning seemed to be borne along by the wind. Umbreit renders it, “Where is the way upon which the east wind flows forth upon the earth?” That is, the east wind, like the light, comes from a certain point, and seems to spread abroad over the world; and the question is, whether Job could explain this? This interpretation is adopted by Rosenmuller and Noyes, and seems to be demanded by the parallelism, and by the nature of the case. The cause of the rapid spreading of the wind from a certain point of the compass, was involved in as much obscurity as the propagation of the light, nor is that cause much better understood now. There is no reason to suppose that the spread of the light, has any particular agency in causing the east wind, as our common version seems to suppose, nor is that idea necessarily in the Hebrew text. The east wind is mentioned here either because the light comes from the east, and the wind from that quarter was more naturally suggested than any other, or because the east wind was remarkable for its violence. The idea that a strong east wind was somehow connected with the dawn of day or the rising of the sun, was one that prevailed, at least to some extent, among the ancients. Thus, Catullus (lxiv. 270ff) says:

Hic qualis flatu placidum mare matutino

Horrificans zephyrus proclivas incitat undas

Aurora exoriente, vagi sub lumina solis.

Verse 25

Who hath divided a water-course for the overflowing of waters - That is, for the waters that flow down from the clouds. The idea seems to be this, that the waters of heaven, instead of pouring down in floods, or all coming down together, seemed to flow in certain canals formed for them; as if they had been cut out through the clouds for that purpose. The causes of rain, the manner in which water was suspended in the clouds, and the reasons why the rain did not come down altogether in floods, early attracted attention, and gave occasion to investigation. The subject is more than once referred to in this book; see the notes at Job 26:8.

Or a way for the lightning of thunder - For the thunder-flash. The idea is this: a path seems to be opened in the dark cloud for the passage of the flash of lightning. How such a path was made, by what agency or by what laws, was the question proposed for inquiry. The lightning seemed at once to burst through the dark cloud where there was no opening and no sign of a path before, and pursue its zig-zag journey as if all obstructions were removed, and it passed over a beaten path. The question is, who could have traced out this path for the thunder-flash to go in? Who could do it but the Almighty? And still, with all the light that science has cast on the subject, we may repeat the question.

Verse 26

To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is - This is designed to heighten the conception of the power of God. It could not be pretended that this was done by man, for the rain was caused to fall in the desolate regions where no one dwelt. In the lonely desert, in the wastes remote from the dwellings of people, the rain is sent down, evidently by the providential care of God, and far beyond the reach of the agency of man. There is very great beauty in this whole description of God as superintending the falling rain far away from the homes of people, and in those lonely wastes pouring down the waters, that the tender herb may spring up, and the flowers bloom under his hand. All this may seem to be wasted, but it is not so in the eye of God. Not a drop of rain falls in the sandy desert or on the barren rock, however useless it may seem to be, that is not seen to be of value by God, and that is not designated to accomplish some important purpose there.

Verse 27

To satisfy the desolate and waste ground - As if it lifted an imploring voice to God, and he sent down the rain to satisfy it. The desert is thus like a thirsty pilgrim. It is parched, and thirsty, and sad, and it appeals to God, and he meets its needs, and satisfies it.

Or to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth - In the desert. There God works alone. No man is there to cultivate the extended wilds, and yet an unseen agency is going forward. The grass springs up; the bud opens; the leaf expands; the flowers breathe forth their fragrance as if they were under the most careful cultivation. All this must be the work of God, since it cannot even be pretended that man is there to produce these effects. Perhaps one would be more deeply impressed with a sense of the presence of God in the pathless desert, or on the boundless prairie, where no man is, than in the most splendid park, or the most tastefully cultivated garden which man could make. In the one case, the hand of God alone is seen; in the other, we are constantly admiring the skill of man.

Verse 28

Hath the rain a father? - That is, it is produced by God and not by man. No one among men can claim that he causes it, or can regard it as his offspring. The idea is, that the production of rain is among the proofs of the wisdom and agency of God, and that it is caused in a way that demonstrates his own agency. It is not by any power of man; and it is not in such a way as to constitute a relation like that between a father and a son. The rain is often appealed to in this book as something whose cause man could not explain, and as demonstrating the wisdom and supremacy of God. Among philosophic and contemplative minds it would early excite inquiry, and give occasion for wonder. What caused it? Whence came the water which fell? How was it suspended? How was it borne from place to place? How was it made to descend in drops, and why was it not poured down at once in floods?

Questions like these would early excite inquiry, and we are not to suppose that in the time of Job science was so far advanced that they could be answered; see the notes at Job 26:8; compare Job 38:37 notes. The laws of the production of rain are now better understood, but like all other laws discovered by science, they are adapted to elevate, not to diminish, our conceptions of the wisdom of God. It may be of interest, and may serve to explain the passages in this book which refer to rain, as illustrating the wisdom of God, to state what is now the commonly received theory of its cause. That theory is the one proposed by Dr. James Hutton, and first published in the Philosophical Transactions of Edinburgh, in 1784. In this theory it is supposed that the cause consists in the vapor that is held dissolved in the air, and is based on this principle - “that the capacity of the air for holding water in a state of vapor increases in a greater ratio than its temperature;” that is, that if there are two portions of air which would contain a certain quantity of water in solution if both were heated in an equal degree, the capacity for holding water would be alike; but if one of them be heated more than the other, the amount of water which it would hold in solution is not exactly in proportion to the heat applied, but increases much more rapidly than the heat.

It will hold much more water when the temperature is raised than is proportionate to the amount of heat applied. From the experiments which were made by Sanssure and others, it was found that while the temperature of the air rises in arithmetical progression, the dissolving power of the air increases nearly in geometrical progression; that is, if the temperature be represented by the figures 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc., the capacity for holding moisture will be nearly represented by the figures 2, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc. Rain is caused in the following manner. When two portions of air of different temperature, and each saturated with moisture, are intermixed, the quantity of moisture in the air thus intermixed, in consequence of the decrease of temperature, will be greater than the air will contain in solution, and will be condensed in a cloud or precipitated to the earth. This law of nature was of course unknown to Job, and is an arrangement which could have been formed only by the all-wise Author of nature; see “Edin. Ency., Art. Meteorology, p. 181.”

Or who hath begotten the drops of the dew? - Who has produced them - implying that they were caused only by the agency of God. No one among mortals could claim that he had caused the dew to fall. God appeals to the dew here, the causes of which were then unknown, as an evidence of his wisdom and supremacy. Dew is the moisture condensed from the atmosphere, and that settles on the earth. It usually falls in clear and calm nights, and is caused by a reduction of the temperature of that on which the dew falls. Objects on the surface of the earth become colder than the atmosphere above them, and the consequence is, that the moisture that was suspended in the atmosphere near the surface of the earth is condensed - in the same way as in a hot day moisture will form on the outside of a tumbler or pitcher that is filled with water. The coldness of the vessel containing the water condenses the moisture that was suspended in the surrounding atmosphere.

The cold, therefore, which accompanies dew, precedes instead of following it. The reason why the surface of the earth becomes cooler than the surrounding atmosphere at night, so as to form dew, has been a subject of considerable inquiry. The theory of Dr. Wells, which is now commonly adopted, is, that the earth is continually radiating its heat to the high and colder regions of the atmosphere; that in the day-time the effects of this radiation are not sensible, being more than counterbalanced by the greater influx of heat from the direct influence of the sun; but that during the night, when the counteracting cause is removed, these effects become sensible, and produce the reduction of temperature which causes dew. The surface of the earth becomes cool by the heat which is radiated to the upper regions of the atmosphere, and the moisture in the air adjacent to the surface of the earth is condensed. This occurs only in a clear and calm night. When the sky is cloudy, the clouds operate as a screen, and the radiation of the heat to the higher regions of the atmosphere is prevented, and the surface of the earth and the surrounding atmosphere are kept at the same temperature; see the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, “Meteorology,” pp. 185-188. Of course, these laws were unknown to Job, but now that they are known to us, they constitute no less properly a proof of the wisdom of God.

Verse 29

Out of whose womb came the ice? - That is, who has caused or produced it? The idea is, that it was not by any human agency, or in any known way by which living beings were propagated.

And the hoary frost of heaven - Which seems to fall from heaven. The sense is, that it is caused wholly by God; see the notes at Job 37:10.

Verse 30

The waters are hid as with a stone - The solid ice is laid as a stone upon them, wholly concealing them from view.

And the face of the deep is frozen - Margin, “taken.” The idea is, they seem to take hold of one another (יתלכדוּ yitlâkadû); they hold together, or cohere. The formation of ice is thus appealed to as a proof of the wisdom of God, and as a thing which Job could not explain. No man could produce this effect; nor could Job explain how it was done.

Verse 31

Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades? - The seven stars. On the meaning of the word used here (כימה kı̂ymâh), see the notes at Job 9:9. In regard to the meaning of the word rendered “sweet influences,” there has been considerable variety of interpretation. The Septuagint renders it, “Dost thou understand the band (δεσμόν desmon) of Pleiades?” The Hebrew word (מעדנה ma‛ădannâh) is naturally derived from a word signifying “pleasures,” or “delights” (מעדן ma‛âdan, from עדן âdan, “to be soft, or pliant; to enjoy pleasure or delight”; hence, the word “Eden”), and then it would mean, as in our translation, the delightful influences of the Pleiades; or the influences supposed to be produced by this constellation in imparting happiness, particularly the pleasures enjoyed in the spring time, when that constellation makes its appearance. But Gesenius supposes that the word is derived from ענד ânad, “to bind,” and that it is used by transposition for מענדות mā‛nadôth.

It would then refer to the “bands of Pleiades,” and the question would be whether Job had created the band which united the stars composing that constellation in so close union; whether he had bound them together in a cluster or bundle. This idea is adopted by Rosenmuller, Umbreit, and Noyes. Herder renders it, “the brilliant Pleiades.” The word “bands” applied to the Pleiades is not unfrequently used in Persian poetry. They were spoken of as a band or ornament for the forehead - or compared with a headband made up of diamonds or pearls. Thus, Sadi, in his Gullstan, p. 22, (Amsterdam, 1651), speaking of a garden, says,” The earth is strewed, as it were, with emeralds, and the bands of Pleiades appear upon the boughs of the trees.” So Hafiz, another Persian poet, says, in one of his odes, “Over thy songs heaven has strewed the bands of the Pleiades as a seal of immortality.” The Greenlanders call the Pleiades killukturset, a name given to them because they appear to be bound together.

“Egede’s Account of the Greenland Mission, p. 57;” see Rosenmuller, “Alte u. neue Morgenland, No. 768.” There seems, however, no good reason for departing from the usual meaning of the word, and then the reference will be to the time when the Pleiades or the seven stars make their appearance - the season of spring. Then the winter disappears; the streams are unlocked; the earth is covered with grass and flowers; the air is sweet and balmy; and a happy influence seems to set in upon the world. There may be some allusion here to the influence which the stars were supposed to exert over the seasons and the affairs of this world, but it is not necessary to suppose this. All that is required in the interpretation of the passage is, that the appearance of certain constellations was connected with certain changes in the seasons; as with spring, summer, or winter. It was not unnatural to infer from that fact, that the constellations exerted an influence in causing those changes, and hence, arose the pretended science of astrology. But there is no necessary connection between the two. The Pleiades appear in the spring, and seem to lead on that joyous season. These stars, so closely set together, seem to be bound to one another in a sisterly union (Herder), and thus joyously usher in the spring. God asks Job whether he were the author of that band, and had thus united them for the purpose of ushering in happy influences on the world.

Or loose the bands of Orion - In regard to this constellation, see the notes at Job 9:9. The word bands here has been supposed to refer to the girdle with which it is usually represented. Orion is here described as a man girded for action, and is the pioneer of winter. It made its appearance early in the winter, and was regarded as the precursor of storms and tempests; see the quotations in the notes at Job 9:9. Thus appearing in the autumn, this constellation seems to lead on the winter. It comes with strength. It spreads its influence over the air, the earth, the waters, and binds everything at its pleasure. God here asks Job whether he had power to disarm this giant; to unloose his girdle; to divest him of strength; to control the seasons? Had he power over summer and winter, so as to cause them to go or come at his bidding, and to control all those laws which produced them?

Verse 32

Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? - Margin, “the twelve signs;” that is, the twelve signs of the zodiac. There has been much diversity of opinion about the meaning of this word. It occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures, and of course it is not easy to determine its signification. The Septuagint retains the word μαξσυρὠθ maxsurōth, without attempting to translate it. Jerome renders it, “Luciferum - Lucifer,” the morning-star. The Chaldee, מזליא שטרי - the constellations of the planets. Coverdale, “the morning-star;” and so Luther renders it. Rosenmuller, “signa celestia” - the celestial signs, and so Herder, Umbreit, Gesenius, and Noyes, “the zodiac.” Gesenius regards the word מזרה mazzârâh, as the same as מזלה mazzâlâh, properly “lodgings, inns;” and hence, the “lodgings” of the sun, or the places or “houses” in which he appears in the heavens, and thus as meaning the signs in the zodiac. Most of the Hebrew interpreters adopt this view, but it rests on no certain foundation, and as we are not certain as to the meaning of the word, the only safe way is to retain the original, as is done in our common version. I do not see how it is possible to determine its meaning with certainty, and probably it is to be regarded as a name given to some constellation or cluster of stars supposed to exert an influence over the seasons, or connected with some change in the seasons, which we cannot now accurately understand.

Or canst thou guide Arcturus? - On the constellation “Arcturus” (עשׁ ayish), see the notes at Job 9:9. The word rendered “guide” in the text, is in the margin “guide them.” The Hebrew is, “and עשׁ ayish upon (or near - על al) her sons, canst thou lead them?” Herder and Umbreit render it, “And lead forth the Bear with her young,” or her children. The reference is to the constellation Arcturus, or Ursa Major, in the northern sky. The “sons” referred to are the stars that accompany it, probably the stars that are now called the” tail of the bear.” “Umbreit.” Another interpretation is suggested by Herder, which is that this constellation is represented as a nightly wanderer - a mother, who is seeking her lost children, the stars that are no longer visible, and that thus revolves around the heavens. But the probable reference is to the constellation conducted round and round the pole as by some unseen hand, like a mother with her children, and the question is, whether Job had skill and power to do this? God appeals to it as a manifestation of his majesty and power, and as far above the skill of man. Who ever looked upon that beautiful constellation and marked its regular revolutions, without feeling that its position and movements were such as God only could produce?

Verse 33

Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? - The laws or statutes by which the motions of the heavenly bodies are governed. These were wholly unknown in the time of Job, and the discovery of some of those laws - for only a few of them are yet known - was reserved to be the glory of the modern system of astronomy. The suggestion of the great principles of the system gave immortality to the name Copernicus; and the discovery of those laws in modern times has conferred immortality on the names of Brahe, Kepler, and Newton. The laws which control the heavenly bodies are the most sublime that are known to man, and have done more to impress the human mind with a sense of the majesty of God than any other: discoveries made in the material universe. Of course, all those laws were known to God himself, and he appeals to them in proof of his greatness and majesty. The grand and beautiful movements of the heavenly bodies in the time of Job were fitted to produce admiration; and one of the chief delights of those that dwelt under the splendor of an Oriental sky was to contemplate those movements, and to give names to those moving lights. The discoveries of science have enlarged the conceptions of man in regard to the starry heavens far toward immensity; have shown that these twinkling lights are vast worlds and systems, and at the same time have so disclosed the laws by which they are governed as to promote, where the heart is right, intelligent piety, and elevate the mind to more glorious views of the Creator.

Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? - That is, “dost thou assign the dominion of the heavens over the earth?” The reference is, undoubtedly, to the influence of the heavenly bodies upon sublunary objects. The exact extent of that cannot be supposed to have been known in the days of Job, and it is probable that much more was ascribed to the influence of the stars on human affairs than the truth would justify. Nor is its extent now known. It is known that the moon has an influence over the tides of the ocean; it may be that it has to some extent over the weather; and it is not impossible that the other heavenly bodies may have some effect on the changes observed in the earth which is not understood. Whatever it is, it was and is all known to God, and the idea here is, that it was a proof of his immense superiority over man.

Verse 34

Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee? - That is, canst thou command the clouds so that they shall send down abundant rain? Bouillier supposes that there is an allusion here to the incantations which were pretended to be practiced by the Magi, by which they claimed the power of producing rain at pleasure; compare Jeremiah 14:22, “Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles (the idols that they worship) that can cause rain? Art not thou he, O Lord our God?” The idea is, that it is God only who can cause rain, and that the control of the clouds from which rain descends is wholly beyond the reach of man.

Verse 35

Canst thou send lightnings? - That is, lightning is wholly under the control of God. So it is now; for after all that man has done to discover its laws, and to guard against it, yet still man has made no advances toward a power to wield it, nor is it possible that he ever should. It is one of the agencies in the universe that is always to be under the divine direction, and however much man may subsidize to his purposes wind, and water, and steam, and air, yet there can be no prospect that the forked lightning can be seized by human hands and directed by human skill to purposes of utility or destruction among people; compare the notes at Job 36:31-33.

And say unto thee, Here we are - Margin, “Behold us.” That is, we are at your disposal. This language is derived from the condition, of servants presenting themselves at the call of their masters, and saying that they stood ready to obey their commands; compare 1Sa 3:4, 1 Samuel 3:6,1 Samuel 3:9; Isaiah 6:8.

Verse 36

Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? - There is great variety in the interpretation of this passage. Jerome renders it, Quis posuit in visceribus heminis sapienttam? Vel quis dedit gallo intelligentiam? “Who hath put wisdom in the inner parts of man? Or who has given to the cock intelligence?” Just as strangely, the Septuagint has: “Who hath given to women skill in weaving, and a knowledge of the art of embroidering?.” One of the Targums renders it, “Who has given to the woodcock intelligence that he should praise his Master?” Herder renders it,

“Who gave understanding to the flying clouds,

Or intelligence to the meteors of the air?”


“Who placed wisdom in the dark clouds?

Who gave understanding to the forms of the air?”

Schultens and Rosenmuller explain it of the various phenomena that appear in the sky - as lightning, thunder, meteoric lights, etc. So Prof. Lee explains the words as referring to the “tempest” and the “thunder-storm.” According to that interpretation, the idea is, that these phenomena appear to be endowed with intelligence, There is proof of plan and wisdom in their arrangement and connection, and they show that it is not by chance that they are directed. One reason assigned for this interpretation is, that it accords with the connection. The course of the argument, it is remarked, relates to the various phenomena that appear in the sky - to the lightnings, tempests, and clouds. It is unnatural to suppose that a remark would be interposed here respecting the intellectual endowments of man, when the appeal to the clouds is again Job 38:37 immediately resumed. There can be no doubt that there is much weight in this observation, and that the connection demands this interpretation, and that it should be adopted if the words which are used will admit of it.

The only difficulty relates to the words rendered “inward parts,” and “heart.” The former of these (טחות ṭûchôt) according to the Hebrew interpreters, is derived from טוח ṭûach, “to cover over, to spread, to besmear”; and is hence given to the veins, because covered with fat. It occurs only in this place, and in Psalms 51:6, “Behold thou desirest truth in the inward parts,” where it undoubtedly refers to the seat of the affections or thoughts in man. The verb is often used as meaning to daub, overlay, or plaster, as in Leviticus 14:42; Ezekiel 22:28; Ezekiel 13:12, Ezekiel 13:14. Schultens, Lee, Umbreit, and others, have recourse in the explanation to the use of the Arabic word of the same letters with the Hebrew, meaning to wander, to make a random shot, etc., and thence, apply it to lightning, and to meteors. Umbreit supposes that there is allusion to the prevalent opinion in the East that the clouds and the phenomena of the air could be regarded as furnishing prophetic indications of what was to occur; or to the custom of predicting future events by the aspects of the sky.

It is a sufficient objection to this, however, that it cannot be supposed that the Almighty would lend his sanction to this opinion by appealing to it as if it were so. After all that bas been written on the passage, and all the force of the difficulty which is urged, I do not see evidence that we are to depart from the common interpretation, to wit, that God means to appeal to the fact that he has endowed man with intelligence as a proof of his greatness and supremacy. The connection is, indeed, not very apparent. It may be, however, as Noyes suggests, that the reference is to the mind of Job in particular, and to the intelligence with which he was able to perceive, and in some measure to comprehend, these various phenomena. The connection may be something like this: “Look to the heavens, and contemplate these wonders. Explain them, if possible; and then ask who it is that has so endowed the mind of man that it can trace in them such proofs of the wisdom and power of the Almighty. The phenomena themselves, and the capacity to contemplate them, and to be instructed by them, are alike demonstrations of the supremacy of the Most High.”

Understanding to the heart - To the mind. The common word to denote “heart” - לב lêb is not used here, but a word (שׂכוי śekvı̂y from שכה) meaning “to look at, to view”; and hence, denoting the mind; the intelligent soul. “Gesenius.”

Verse 37

Who can number the clouds? - The word here rendered “clouds” (שׁחקים shachaqiym) is applied to the clouds as made up of “small particles” - as if they were composed of fine dust, and hence, the word number is applied to them, not as meaning that the clouds themselves were innumerable, but that no one could estimate the number of particles which enter into their formation.

In wisdom - By his wisdom. Who has sufficient intelligence to do it?

Or who can stay the bottles of heaven? - Margin, as in Hebrew “cause to lie down.” The clouds are here compared with bottles, as if they held the water in the same manner; compare the notes at Job 26:8. The word rendered “stay” in the text, and in the margin “cause to lie down,” is rendered by Umbreit, “pour out,” from an Arabic signification of the word. Gesenius supposes that the meaning to “pour out” is derived from the idea of “causing to lie down,” from the fact that a bottle or vessel was made to lie down or was inclined to one side when its contents were poured out. This explanation seems probable, though there is no other place in the Hebrew where the word is used in this signification. The sense of pouring out agrees well with the connection.

Verse 38

When the dust groweth into hardness - Margin, “is poured, or, is turned into mire.” The words used here relate often to metals, and to the act of pouring them out when fused, for the purpose of casting. The proper idea here is, “when the dust flows into a molten mass;” that is, when wet with rain it flows together and becomes hard. The sense is, that the rain operates on the clay as heat does on metals, and that when it is dissolved it flows together and thus becomes a solid mass. The object is to compare the effect of rain with the usual effect in casting metals.

And the clods cleave fast together - That is, they are run together by the rain. They form one mass of the same consistency, and then are baked hard by the sun.

Verse 39

Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? - The appeal here is to the instincts with which God has endowed animals, and to the fact that he had so made them that they would secure their own food. He asks Job whether he would undertake to do what the lion did by instinct in finding his food, and by his power and skill in seizing his prey. There was a wise adaptation of the lion for this purpose which man could neither originate nor explain.

Or fill the appetite of the young lions - Margin, as in Hebrew “life.” The word life is used here for hunger, as the appetite is necessarily connected with the preservation of life. The meaning here is, “Wouldst thou undertake to supply his needs? It is done by laws, and in a manner which thou canst not explain. There are in the arrangement by which it is accomplished marks of wisdom which far surpass the skill of man to originate, and the instinct and power by which it is done are proof of the supremacy of the Most High.” No one can study the subject of the instincts of animals, or become in the least acquainted with Natural History, without finding every where traces of the wisdom and goodness of God.

Verse 40

When they couch in their dens - For the purpose of springing upon their prey.

And abide in the covert to lie in wait? - The usual posture of the lion when he seeks his prey. He places himself in some unobserved position in a dense thicket, or crouches upon the ground so as not to be seen, and then springs suddenly upon his victim. The common method of the lion in taking his prey is to spring or throw himself upon it from the place of his ambush, with one vast bound and to inflict the mortal blow with one stroke of his paw. If he misses his aim, however, he seldom attempts another spring at the same object, but deliberately returns to the thicket in which he lay in concealment. See the habits of the lion illustrated in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, “Mazology.”

Verse 41

Who provideth for the raven his food? - The same thought is expressed in Psalms 147:9,

He giveth to the beast his food,

And to the young ravens which cry.

Compare Matthew 6:26. Scbeutzer (in loc.) suggests that the reason why the raven is specified here rather than other fowls is, that it is an offensive bird, and that God means to state that no object, however regarded by man, is beneath his notice. He carefully provides for the needs of all his creatures.

When his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat - Bochart observes that the raven expels the young from the nest as soon as they are able to fly. In this condition, being unable to obtain food by their own exertions, they make a croaking noise, and God is said to hear it, and to supply their needs. “Noyes.” There are various opinions expressed in regard to this subject by the rabbinical writers, and by the ancients generally. Eliezer (cap. 21) says that, “When the old ravens see the young coming into the world which are not black, they regard them as the offspring of serpents, and flee away from them, and God takes care of them.” Solomon says that in this condition they are nourished by the flies and worms that are generated in their nests, and the same opinion was held by the Arabian writers, Haritius, Alkuazin, and Damir. Among the fathers of the church, Chrysostom, Olympiodorus, Gregory, and Isidorus, supposed that they were nurtured by dew descending from heaven.

Pliny (Lib. x. c. 12) says, that the old ravens expel the strongest of their young from the nest, and compel them to fly. This is the time, according to many of the older commentators, when the young ravens are represented as calling upon God for food. See Scheutzer, Physica Sacra, in loc. and Bochart, Hieroz. P. ii. L. ii. c. ii. I do not know that there is now supposed to be sufficient evidence to substantiate this fact in regard to the manner in which the ravens treat their young, and all the circumstances of the place before us will be met by the supposition that young birds seem to call upon God, and that he supplies their needs. The last three verses in this chapter should not have been separated from the following. The appeal in this is to the animal creation, and this is continued through the whole of the next chapter. The proper place for the division would have been at the close of Job 38:38, where the argument from the great laws of the material universe was ended. Then commences an appeal to his works of a higher order - the region of instinct and appetites, where creatures are governed by other than mere physical laws.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 38". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/job-38.html. 1870.
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