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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Job 12

Verses 1-3

1 The Job began, and said:

2 Truly then ye are the people,

And wisdom shall die with you!

3 I also have a heart as well as you;

I do not stand behind you;

And to whom should not such things be known?

The admission, which is strengthened by כּי אמנם , truly then (distinct from אמנם כּי , for truly, Job 36:4, similar to כּי הנּה , behold indeed, Psalms 128:4), is intended as irony: ye are not merely single individuals, but the people = race of men ( עם , as Isaiah 40:7; Isaiah 42:5), so that all human understanding is confined to you, and there is none other to be found; and when once you die, it will seem to have died out. The lxx correctly renders: μὴ ὑμεῖς ἐστὲ ἄνθρωποι μόνοι (according to the reading of the Cod. Alex.); he also has a heart like them, he is therefore not empty, נבוב , Job 11:12. Heart is, like Job 34:10, comp. נלבב , Job 11:12, equivalent to νοῦς διάνοια ; Ewald's translation, “I also have a head even as you” (“brains” would better accord with the connection), is a western form of expression, and modern and unbiblical (vid., Division ”Herz und Haupt,” Psychol. iv. §12). He is not second to them; מן נפל , like Job 13:2, properly to slip from, to be below any one; מן is not the comparative (Ewald). Oetinger's translation is not bad: I cannot slink away at your presence. Who has not a knowledge of such things as those which they, by setting themselves up as defenders of God, have presented to him! אתּי היה is equivalent to ידעתּי , σύνοιδα , Isaiah 59:12.

Verses 4-6

4 I must be a mockery to my own friend,

I who called on Eloah and He heard me;

A mockery - the just, the godly man.

5 Contempt belongs to misfortune, according to the ideas of the prosperous;

It awaits those who are ready to slip.

6 Tents of the destroyer remain in peace,

And those that defy God are prosperous,

Who taketh Eloah into his hand.

The synallage of לרעהוּ for לרעי is not nearly so difficult as many others: a laughing-stock to his own friend; comp. Isaiah 2:8, they worship the work of their (his) own hands ( ידיו ). “One who called on Eloah ( לאלוהּ , for which לאלוהּ is found in lxx at Job 36:2) and He heard him” is in apposition to the subject; likewise תמים צדיק , which is to be explained according to Proverbs 11:5, צדיק (from צדק , Arab. ṣdq , to be hard, firm, stiff, straight), is one who in his conduct rules himself strictly according to the will of God; תמים , one whose thoughts are in all respects and without disguise what they should be-in one word: pure. Most old translators (Targ., Vulg., Luther) give לפּיד the signification, a torch. Thus e.g., Levi v. Gerson explains: “According to the view of the prosperous and carnally secure, he who is ready for falterings of the feet, i.e., likely to fall, is like a lighted torch which burns away and destroys whatever comes in contact with it, and therefore one keeps aloof from him; but it is also more than this: he is an object of contempt in their eyes.” Job might not inappropriately say, that in the eyes of the prosperous he is like a despised, cast-away torch (comp. the similar figure, Isaiah 14:19, like a branch that is rejected with contempt); and Job 12:5 would be suitably connected with this if למועדי could be derived from a substantive מעד , vacillatio , but neither the usage of the language nor the scriptio plena (after which Jerome translates tempus statutum , and consequently has in mind the מועדים , times of festal pilgrimages, which are also called ררלים in later times), nor the vowel pointing (instead of which מעדי would be expected), is favourable to this. רגל מועדי signifies vacillantes pede , those whose prosperity is shaken, and who are in danger of destruction that is near at hand. We therefore, like Abenezra and modern expositors, who are here happily agreed, take לפיד as composed of ל and פּיד , a word common to the books of Job (Job 30:24; Job 31:29) and Proverbs (ch. Proverbs 24:22), which is compared by the Jewish lexicographers, according both to form and meaning, to כּיד (Job 21:20) and איד , and perhaps signifies originally dissolution (comp. פדה ), decease (Syr. f'jodo , escape; Arab. faid , dying), fall, then generally calamity, misfortune: contempt (befits) misfortune, according to the thoughts (or thinking), idea of the prosperous. The pointing wavers between לעשׁתּות and the more authorized לעשׁתּוּת , with which Parchon compares the nouns עבדוּת and מרדּוּת ; the ת , like ד in the latter word, has Dag. lene, since the punctuation is in this respect not quite consistent, or follows laws at present unknown (comp. Ges. §21, rem. 2). Job 12:5 is now suitably connected: ready (with reference to בוז ) for those who stumble, i.e., contempt certainly awaits such, it is ready and waiting for them, נכון , ἕτοιμος , like Exodus 34:2.

While the unfortunate, in spite of his innocence, has thus only to expect contempt, the tents, i.e., dwellings and possessions, of the oppressor and the marauder remain in prosperity; ישׁליוּ for ישׁלוּ , an intensive form used not only in pause (Psalms 36:8; comp. Deuteronomy 32:37) and with greater distinctives (Numbers 34:6; Psalms 122:6), but also in passages where it receives no such accent (Psalms 36:9; Psalms 57:2; Psalms 73:2). On אהלים , instead of אהלים , vid., Ges. §93, 6, 3. The verbal clause ( Job 12:6) is followed by a substantival clause ( Job 12:6). בּטּחות is an abstract plural from בּטּוּח , perfectly secure; therefore: the most care-less security is the portion of those who provoke God (lxx περοργίζουσι );

(Note: Luther takes בטחות as the adverb to מרגיזי : und toben wider Gott thürstiglich (vid., Vilmar, Pastoraltheolog. Blätter, 1861, S. 110-112); according to the Vulg., et audacter provocant Deum .)

and this is continued in an individualizing form: him who causes Eloah to go into his hand. Seb. Schmid explains this passage in the main correctly: qui Deum in manu fert h.e. qui manum aut potentiam suam pro Deo habet et licitum sibi putat quodlibet ; comp. Habakkuk 1:11: “this his strength becomes God to him,” i.e., he deifies his own power, and puts it in the place of God. But הביא signifies, in this connection with לידו (not בידו ), neither to carry, nor to lead (Gesenius, who compares Psalms 74:5, where, however, it signifies to cause to go into = to strike into); it must be translated: he who causes Eloah to enter into his hand; from which translation it is clear that not the deification of the hand, but of that which is taken into the hand, is meant. This which is taken into the hand is not, however, an idol (Abenezra), but the sword; therefore: him who thinks after the manner of Lamech,

(Note: [Comp Pentateuch, at Genesis 4:25, Clark's Foreign Theological Library. - Tr.])

as he takes the iron weapon of attack and defence into his hand, that he needs no other God.

Verses 7-10

7 But ask now even the beasts - they shall teach it thee;

And the birds of heaven - they shall declare it to thee:

8 Or look thoughtfully to the ground - it shall teach it thee;

And the fish of the sea shall tell it thee.

9 Who would not recognise in all this

That the hand of Jehovah hath wrought this,

10 In whose hand is the soul of every living thing,

And the breath of all mankind?!

The meaning of the whole strophe is perverted if זאת (Job 12:9), is, with Ewald, referred to “the destiny of severe suffering and pain,” and if that which precedes is accordingly referred to the testimony of creation to God as its author. Since, as a glance at what follows shows, Job further on praises God as the governor of the universe, it may be expected that the reference is here to God as the creator and preserver of the world, which seems to be the meaning of the words. Job himself expresses the purpose of this hymn of confession, Job 12:2., Job 13:1.: he will show the friends that the majesty of God, before which he ought, according to their demands, to humble himself in penitence, is not less known to him than to them; and with ואולם , verum enim vero , he passes over to this subject when he begins his third answer with the following thought: The perception in which you pride yourselves I also possess; true, I am an object of scornful contempt to you, who are as little able to understand the suffering of the godly as the prosperity of the godless, nevertheless what you know I also know: ask now, etc. Bildad had appealed to the sayings of the ancients, which have the long experience of the past in their favour, to support the justice of the divine government; Job here appeals to the absoluteness of the divine rule over creation. In form, this strophe is the counterpart of Job 8:8-10 in the speech of Bildad, and somewhat also of Job 11:7-9 in that of Zophar. The working of God, which infinitely transcends human power and knowledge, is the sermon which is continuously preached by all created things; they all proclaim the omnipotence and wisdom of the Creator.

The plural בּהמות is followed by the verb that refers to it, in the singular, in favour of which Genesis 49:22 is the favourite example among old expositors (Ges. §146, 3). On the other hand, the verb might follow the collective עוף in the plural, according to Ges. §146, 1. The plural, however, is used only in Job 12:8, because there the verb precedes instead of following its subject. According to the rule Ges. §128, 2, the jussive form of the fut. follows the imperative. In the midst of this enumeration of created things, שׂיח , as a substantive, seems to signify the plants - and especially as Arab. šı̂h even now, in the neighbourhood of Job's ancient habitation, is the name of a well-known mountain-plant - under whose shade a meagre vegetation is preserved even in the hot season (vid., on Job 30:4.). But (1) שׂיח as subst. is gen. masc. Genesis 2:5); (2) instead of לערץ , in order to describe a plant that is found on the ground, or one rooted in the ground, it must be על־הארץ or בארץ ; (3) the mention of plants between the birds and fishes would be strange. It may therefore be taken as the imperative: speak to the earth (lxx, Targ., Vulg., and most others); or, which I prefer, since the Aramaic construction לו סח , narravit ei , does not occur elsewhere in Hebrew (although perhaps implicite , Proverbs 6:22, &#תשׂיחך לך תשׂיח , favulabitur , or confabulabitur tibi ), as a pregnant expression: think, i.e., look meditatively to the earth (Ewald), since &#שׂוּח שׂיח ), like הגה , combines the significations of quiet or articulate meditation on a subject. The exhortation directs attention not to the earth in itself, but to the small living things which move about on the ground, comprehended in the collective name רמשׂ , syn. שׁרץ (creeping things), in the record of creation. All these creatures, though without reason and speech, still utter a language which is heard by every intelligent man. Renan, after Ewald, translates erroneously: qui ne sait parmi tous ces êtres. They do not even possess knowledge, but they offer instruction, and are a means of knowledge; בּ with ידע , like Genesis 15:8; Genesis 42:33, and freq. All the creatures named declare that the hand of Jehovah has made “this,” whatever we see around us, τὸ βλεπόμενον , Hebrews 11:3. In the same manner in Isaiah 66:2; Jeremiah 14:22, כּל־אלּה is used of the world around us. In the hand of God, i.e., in His power, because His workmanship, are the souls of all living things, and the spirit (that which came direct from God) of all men; every order of life, high and low, owes its origin and continuance to Him. אישׁ is the individual, and in this connection, in which נפשׁ and רוּח (= נשׁמה ) are certainly not unintentionally thus separated, the individual man. Creation is the school of knowledge, and man is the learner. And this knowledge forces itself upon one's attention: quis non cognoverit? The perf. has this subjunctive force also elsewhere in interrogative clauses, e.g., Psalms 11:3 (vid., on Genesis 21:7). That the name of God, JEHOVAH, for once escapes the poet here, is to be explained from the phrase “the hand of Jehovah hath made this,” being a somewhat proverbial expression (comp. Isaiah 41:20; Isaiah 66:2).

Job now refers to the sayings of the fathers, the authority of which, as being handed down from past generations, Bildad had maintained in his opposition to Job.

Verses 11-13

11 Shall not the ear try sayings,

As the palate tasteth food?

12 Among the ancients is wisdom,

And long life is understanding.

13 With Him is wisdom and strength;

Counsel and understanding are His.

The meaning of Job 12:11 is, that the sayings ( מלּין , Job 8:10, comp. Job 5:27) of the ancients are not to be accepted without being proved; the waw in וחך is waw adaequationis , as Job 5:7; Job 11:12, therefore equivalent to quemadmodum ; it places together for comparison things that are analogous: The ear, which is used here like αἰθητήριον ( Hebrews 5:14), has the task of searching out and testing weighty sayings, as the palate by tasting has to find out delicious and suitable food; this is indicated by לו , the dat. commodi . So far Job recognises the authority of these traditional sayings. At any rate, he adds (Job 12:12): wisdom is to be expected from the hoary-headed, and length of life is understanding, i.e., it accompanies length of life. “Length of days” may thus be taken as the subject (Ewald, Olsh.); but בּ may also, with the old translations and expositors, be carried forward from the preceding clause: ἐν δὲ πολλῷ βίῳ ἐπιστήμη (lxx). We prefer, as the most natural: long life is a school of understanding. But - such is the antithesis in Job 12:13 which belongs to this strophe - the highest possessor of wisdom, as of might, is God. Ewald inserts two self-made couplets before Job 12:12, which in his opinion are required both by the connection and “the structure of the strophe;” we see as little need for this interpolation here as before, Job 6:14. עמּו and לו , which are placed first for the sake of emphasis, manifestly introduce an antithesis; and it is evident from the antithesis, that the One who is placed in contrast to the many men of experience is God. Wisdom is found among the ancients, although their sayings are not to be always implicitly accepted; but wisdom belongs to God as an attribute of His nature, and indeed absolutely, i.e., on every side, and without measure, as the piling up of synonymous expressions implies: חכמה , which perceives the reason of the nature, and the reality of the existence, of things; עצה , which is never perplexed as to the best way of attaining its purpose; תּבוּנה , which can penetrate to the bottom of what is true and false, sound and corrupt (comp. 1 Kings 3:9); and also גּבוּרה , which is able to carry out the plans, purposes, and decisions of this wisdom against all hindrance and opposition.

In the strophe which follows, from his own observation and from traditional knowledge (Job 13:1), Job describes the working of God, as the unsearchably wise and the irresistibly mighty One, both among men and in nature.

Verses 14-16

14 Behold, He breaketh down and it cannot be built again,

He shutteth up, and it cannot be opened.

15 Behold, He restraineth the waters and they dry up,

And He letteth them out and they overturn the earth.

16 With Him is might and existence,

The erring and the deceiver are His.

God is almighty, and everything in opposition to Him powerless. If He break down (any structure whatever), it can never be rebuilt; should He close upon any one (i.e., the dungeon, as perhaps a cistern covered with a stone, Lamentations 3:53, comp. Jeremiah 38:6; על with reference to the depth of the dungeon, instead of the usual בּעד ), it (that which is closed from above) cannot be opened again. In like manner, when He desires to punish a land, He disposes the elements according to His will and pleasure, by bringing upon it drought or flood. יעצר , coercet, according to the correct Masoretic mode of writing יעצר with dagesh in the Ssade, in order clearly to distinguish in the pronunciation between the forms j'a-ssor and jaa'ssor ( יעצר );

(Note: Vid., my notice of Bär's Psalter-Ausgabe, Luth. Zeitschr. 1863, 3; and comp. Keil on Leviticus 4:13 ( Comm on Pent., Clark's transl.).)

ויבשׁוּ (for which Abulwalid writes ויבשׁוּ ) is a defective form of writing according to Ges. §69, 3, 3; the form ויהפכוּ with the similarly pointed fut. consec., 1 Samuel 25:12, form a pair (zuwg) noted by the Masora. By תּוּשׁיּה , which is ascribed to God, is here to be understood that which really exists, the real, the objective, knowledge resting on an objective actual basis, in contrast with what only appears to be; so that consequently the idea of Job 12:16 and Job 12:13 is somewhat veiled; for the primary notion of חכמה is thickness, solidity, purity, like πυκνότης .

(Note: The primary notion of חכם , Arab. hkm , is, to be thick, firm, solid, as the prim. notion of Arab. sachfa (to be foolish, silly) is to be thin, loose, not holding together (as a bad texture). The same fundamental notions are represented in the expression of moral qualities (in distinction from intellectual) by צדק , Arab. sdq , and רשׁע , (Arab. rs' , rsg ).)

This strophe closes like the preceding, which favours our division. The line with עמּו is followed by one with לו , which affirms that, in the supremacy of His rule and the wisdom of His counsels, God makes evil in every form subservient to His designs.

Verses 17-21

It is unnecessary to understand כהנים , after 2 Samuel 8:18, of high officers of state, perhaps privy councillors; such priest-princes as Melchizedek of Salem and Jethro of Midian are meant. איטנים , which denotes inexhaustible, perennis , when used of waters, is descriptive of nations as invincible in might, Jeremiah 5:15, and of persons as firmly-rooted and stedfast. נאמנים , such as are tested, who are able to speak and counsel what is right at the fitting season, consequently the ready in speech and counsel. The derivation, proposed by Kimchi, from נאם , in the sense of diserti , would require the pointing &#נאמנים טעם is taste, judgment, tact, which knows what is right and appropriate under the different circumstances of life, 1 Samuel 25:33. יקּח is used exactly as in Hosea 4:11. Job 12:21 is repeated verbatim, Psalms 107:40; the trilogy, Ps 105-107, particularly Ps 107, is full of passages similar to the second part of Isaiah and the book of Job (vid., Psalter, ii. 117). אפיקים (only here and Job 41:7) are the strong, from אפק , to hold together, especially to concentrate strength on anything. מזיח (only here, instead of מזח , not from מזח , which is an imaginary root, but from זחח , according to Fürst equivalent to זקק , to lace, bind) is the girdle with which the garments were fastened and girded up for any great exertion, especially for desperate conflict (Isaiah 5:27). To make him weak or relaxed, is the same as to deprive of the ability of vigorous, powerful action. Every word is here appropriately used. This tottering relaxed condition is the very opposite of the intensity and energy which belongs to “the strong.” All temporal and spiritual power is subject to God: He gives or takes it away according to His supreme will and pleasure.

Verses 22-25

22 He discovereth deep things out of darkness,

And bringeth out to light the shadow of death;

23 He giveth prosperity to nations and then destroyeth them,

Increase of territory to nations and then carrieth them away;

24 He taketh away the understanding of the chief people of the land,

And maketh them to wander in a trackless wilderness;

25 They grope in darkness without light,

He maketh them to stagger like a drunken man.

The meaning of Job 12:22 in this connection can only be, that there is nothing so finely spun out that God cannot make it visible. All secret plans of the wicked, all secret sins, and the deeds of the evil-doer though veiled in deep darkness, He bringeth before the tribunal of the world. The form of writing given by the Masora is עמוּקות with koph raphatum , consequently plur. from עמוּק , like &#ערוּמים עצוּמים from &#ערוּם עצוּם , not from עמק .

(Note: Kimchi in his Wörterbuch adopts the form עמקּות , but gives Abulwalid as an authority for the lengthened form, which, according to the Masora on Leviticus 13:3, Leviticus 13:25, is the traditional. The two exceptions where the form occurs with a long vowel are Proverbs 23:27 and this passage.)

The lxx translates משגיא πλανῶν , as it is also explained in several Midrash-passages, but only by a few Jewish expositors (Jachja, Alschech) by מטעה . The word, however, is not משׁגּיא , but משׂגּיא with ש sinistrum , after which in Midrash Esther it is explained by מגדיל ; and Hirzel correctly interprets it of upward growth (Jerome after the Targ. unsuitably, multiplicat ), and שׁטח , on the other hand, of growth in extent. The latter word is falsely explained by the Targ. in the sense of expandere rete , and Abenezra also falsely explains: He scatters nations, and brings them to their original peace. The verb שׁטח is here connected with ל , as הפתּה (Genesis 9:27); both signify to make a wider and longer space for any one, used here of the ground where they dwell and rule. The opposite, in an unpropitious sense, is הנחה , which is used here, as 2 Kings 18:11, in a similar sense with הגלה ( abducere , i.e., in servitutem ). We have intentionally translated גוים nations, עם people; for גּוי , as we shall show elsewhere, is the mass held together by the ties of a common origin, language, and country; ( &#עם עם , the people bound together by unity of government, whose membra praecipua are consequently called &#העם ראשׁי הארץ is, in this connection, the country, although elsewhere, as Isaiah 24:4, comp. Job 42:5, הארץ עם signifies also the people of the earth or mankind; for the Hebrew language expresses a country as a portion of the earth, and the earth as a whole, by the same name. Job dwells longer on this tragic picture, how God makes the star of the prosperity of these chiefs to set in mad and blind self-destruction, according to the proverb, quem Deus perdere vult prius dementat. This description seems to be echoed in many points in Isaiah, especially in the oracle on Egypt, Job 19 (e.g., כּשּׁכּור , Job 19:14). The connection ברך לא בתהו is not genitival; but דרך לא is either an adverbial clause appended to the verb, as חקר לא , Job 34:24, בנים לא , 1 Chronicles 2:30, 1 Chronicles 2:32, or, which we prefer as being more natural, and on account of the position of the words, a virtual adjective: in a trackless waste, as אישׁ לא , Job 38:26; עבות לא , 2 Samuel 23:4 (Olsh.).

Job here takes up the tone of Eliphaz (comp. Job 5:13.). Intentionally he is made to excel the friends in a recognition of the absolute majesty of God. He is not less cognizant of it than they.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Job 12". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.