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Bible Commentaries
Job 17

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-16

Instead of Hope I Have Only Despair (17:1-16)

In chapter 17 Job is facing the prospect of immediate death. This he emphasizes in three dramatically broken outcries, bewailing his broken spirit, his extinct days, and the waiting grave (Job 17:1). The movement of his thought parallels that of chapter 16 as he turns from the injustice of his situation to the failure of all human resources (Job 17:2), finally back to God (vss. 3-5). Verse 3 is clearly an appeal to God, his Judge, to be his Witness or Advocate as well. In the concept of God’s laying down a "pledge" with himself there appears again the thought of God who is for Job along with the God who is against him. The second line asks in desperation if there is anyone (besides God) who can give "surety" for Job, that is, who can stand for him.

Verse 4 in the Revised Standard Version involves a slight change in the text, and suggests that Job is certain his friends have no prospect of triumph over him in their arguments, for the same God who has visited Job with suffering has visited them with obtuseness. In the same mood verse 5 is a bitter thrust against the friends, likening them to informers for personal gain, and warning them that the results they may receive will be quite different from what they expect. It must be admitted that it is hard to see how this fits the thought of the section, and it is certainly extreme to charge Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar with taking a stand against Job because they hope to have a share in his property (according to the Prologue he had none left!). It is better to concede that in this verse we again have a text the meaning of which is not clear — no new view, for the ancient Greek version, the Septuagint, omits the first line of verse 5.

In verse 6 Job returns to the tragic circumstances of his life, dwelling on them with a kind of morbid fascination. God has made him a "byword" (for the same idea see 12:4) and a symbol of God’s curse.

In verse 8 Job either points to his case as a present cause for wonder or, more probably, to the fact that he will in the future stand as an astonishment (the verbs may be read as futures). In the latter case he is expressing his confidence that in days to come he will not be a byword or an object of scorn, but a symbol for the righteous and a stimulus to the innocent to withstand the "godless." This may be the reason, then, that he makes the amazing assertion of verse 9, that in spite of all temptations, in spite of the proddings of his disease, in spite of the advice of the friends, he will hold fast to his claim of integrity and will thereby grow "stronger and stronger." It is certainly a surprising remark, representing another dramatic shift in the mood of the speaker. It is, moreover, the explanation of verse 10, where Job apparently has to call back his friends, who have risen to leave in shocked protest against such bold impiety.

The contrast between actuality and the superficial judgments of the friends appears vividly in the closing words of Job’s speech, words of great pathos (vss. 11-16). They have declared that "night" is day; that is, they reverse the truth or treat what is undeniably dark as not dark at all. This is supported by the remark in the second line, where Job summarizes their advice as a kind of bland assertion that soon the darkness will be over, that morning is about to dawn for Job. The opposite is true, he declares, for his whole existence is now turned not to dawn but to darkness, to the darkness of death and Sheol. Who is he to hope as they have advised him? How can he hope? Do they mean that he is to carry his hope with him into Sheol?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 17". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-17.html.
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