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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Job 17

Verse 1


(1) My breath is corrupt.—As it is said to be in Elephantiasis. Some understand it, “My spirit is consumed.” (See margin.)

The graves.i.e., the grave is minemy portion. The plural is frequently used for the singular in Hebrew, as, e.g., in the case of the word blood, which is commonly plural, though with us it is never so used.

Verse 2

(2) Mine eye continue in their provocation?—“It sees, and can see nothing else; has nothing else to look upon “: a bitter reproach against his friends.

Verse 3

(3) Lay down now . . .i.e., Give now a pledge; be surety for me with Thyself. He has declared that he has a witness in the heavens, but he desires some present token of the vindication to come of which he is confident, and so he asks God to give him such a pledge. This is virtually the same prayer that we find Hezekiah using (Isaiah 38:14): “O Lord, I am oppressed: undertake for me,” that is, “Be surety for me.” (See also Psalms 119:122 : “Be surety for thy servant for good.”) There is that in man which demands exact and rigorous fulfilment or expiation of non-fulfilment. Job felt that his only hope of this fulfilment or expiation of non-fulfilment lay with God Himself: that same God who had put this sense of obligation within him; therefore he says, Be surety for me with Thyself.” He longed for the daysman who should lay his hand upon both him and God; he now longs for that surety with God that God alone can give. The surety must be Divine if his witness is in the heavens; it must be the witness of God to God himself. In this wonderful way does the language of Job fit in with all that we have since and elsewhere learnt of the persons in the Godhead.

Who is he that will strike hands with me?—This was the method of becoming surety; but he knows that there is no one among his friends who will do this, or that could do it if he would. (Comp. Psalms 49:7.)

Verse 4

(4) Their heart.—i.e., the heart of his friends.

Verse 5

(5) He that speaketh flattery to his friends.—The three words thus rendered are, from their very brevity, most obscure. Literally, they run: for a portion he will tell friends. But what is the meaning of this? Some render, “He denounceth his friends for a prey,” i.e., such is the conduct of Job’s friends towards Job. Others understand it, “He would say, friends should take their part,” i.e., any one who would undertake to be surety for me would naturally expect my friends to share the responsibility; but so far from this, the eyes of his sons would fail in looking for it; they would never see it.

Verse 6

(6) He (i.e., God) hath made me also a byword of the people; and aforetime I was as a tabret.—Or, I am become as a tabret, or drum openly, i.e., a signal of warning. “My case will be fraught with warning for others.” But some render it, “I am become an open abhorrence, or one in whose face they spit.” The general meaning is perfectly clear, though the way it may be expressed varies.

Verse 8

(8) Upright men shall be astonied.—“As a result of the warning my case would give, upright men would be astonished at it, innocent men would be encouraged, and the righteous would persevere and wax bold.”

Verse 10

(10) But as for you all, do ye return.—This is probably said with irony. “Come again and renew the argument between us; but I shall not be able to find a wise man among you. I am willing to listen to your argument, but I am confident as to the result of it.”

For I cannot find.—Rather, and I shall not find: i.e., if ye renew the argument.

Verse 12

(12) They change the night into day.—Comp. Job 11:17. So little did his friends enter into his case that they wanted him to believe that his night of trial was the reverse of darkness, and that there was light at hand. This was to him only the more painful mockery, because of its contrast to his felt condition. He, on the contrary, says that his only hope is in the grave. “The light,” say they, “is near unto the darkness; that it is near before the darkness cometh; they try to persuade me that prosperity is close at hand.”

Verse 16

(16) They shall go down to the bars of the pit.—The last verse of this chapter, which is itself one of the most difficult, is the most difficult of all. The difficulty consists in this: the bars of the grave are masculine, and the verb, they shall go down, is feminine plural; it seems improbable that the bars of the grave should be the subject of the verb (though perhaps not absolutely impossible); but if the bars of the grave are the place to which the going down is, as in the Authorised Version, then what is the subject to the verb, go down, seeing that hope, the apparent subject, is a feminine singular? Some render “it shall go down,” but this is in defiance of the grammar, though, probably, the meaning it conveys is not far from the truth. The words clearly express a condition of utter despair, and that Job’s only hope of rest is in the grave. It is a rule in Hebrew grammar that when the verb precedes its subject it need not agree with it in gender or number; but here the verb must, at all events, come after its subject, and consequently, it is very difficult to determine what that subject is. The only apparent subject is to be found in the corruption of the worm of Job 17:14; but they, instead of going down to the grave, are already there.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Job 17". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.