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Bible Commentaries
Job 12

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2484. B.C. 1520.

Job blames his friends for their self-conceit and unkind behaviour, Job 12:1-5 . Shows that the wicked often prosper, Job 12:6-11 . Confirms and enlarges upon what had been said of the wisdom, power, and providence of God, Job 12:12-25 .

Verse 1

Job 12:1. And Job answered Greatly vexed that his friends should entertain so firm an opinion of his being a wicked man, and that they should press him so hard with their maxim, “that affliction was a demonstration of guilt,” he can no longer refrain from answering them with great sharpness. He taxes them with self-conceit; their maxims he treats as mean and poor, the contrary of which was evident to all observing persons; good men were frequently in distress, while robbers and public plunderers enjoyed their ill-gotten wealth in perfect security, Job 12:2-6. This was so notorious, that it was impossible it could have escaped their observation, Job 12:7. This was indeed the work of Jehovah, who was all-wise and all- powerful, and no one could call him to account. All this he was as sensible of as they could be, for which reason he was the more desirous to argue the point with God, Job 13:1-10. And, as for them, if they would pretend to be judges, they should take great care to be upright ones; since God would by no means excuse corruption of judgment, though it should be in his own behalf; and his all-seeing eye would penetrate their motives, though ever so closely concealed from human view; and in his sight all their maxims of wisdom, on which they seemed so much to value themselves, would be regarded as dross and dung. That he was not in the least apprehensive of bringing his cause to an issue; because he was satisfied that the Almighty, far from oppressing him by dint of power, would rather afford him strength to go through his defence; and he was persuaded the issue would be favourable to him, Job 12:11-19. He, therefore, challenges any one among them to declare himself the accuser; secure enough as to that point, as he was sensible they could not make good their charge. He again ends with a tender expostulation with the Almighty, begging he might have, before his death, an opportunity of publicly vindicating his innocence, since afterward he could have no hope of doing it, Job 12:20 to the end of chap. 14. Heath.

Verse 2

Job 12:2 . No doubt but ye are the people You, of all people, are the most eminent for wisdom; the only men living of distinguished knowledge and prudence. You have engrossed all the reason of mankind, and each of you has as much wisdom as a whole people put together. And wisdom shall die with you All the wisdom which is in the world lives in you, and will be utterly lost when you die. When wise and good men die, it is a comfort to think that wisdom and goodness do not die with them: it is folly to think that there will be a great, irreparable loss of us when we are gone, since God has the residue of the Spirit, and can raise up others more fit to do his work.

Verse 3

Job 12:3. But I have an understanding Hebrew, a heart, which is often put for the understanding: God hath given me also the knowledge and ability to judge of these matters. I am not inferior to you In these things; which he speaks, not in a way of boasting, but for the just vindication both of himself and of that cause of God, which, for the substance of it, he maintained rightly, as God himself attests, Job 42:6. Who knoweth not such things The truth is, neither you nor I have any reason to be puffed up with our knowledge of these things; for the most barbarous nations know that God is infinite in wisdom, and power, and justice. But this is not the question between you and me.

Verse 4

Job 12:4. I am as one mocked of his neighbour שׂחק לרעהו אהיה , sechok leregnehu ehjeh, literally, a jest to his friend, I am. Thus Jeremiah complains, I was a derision to all my people, Lamentations 3:14. Who calleth upon God, and he answereth him This is applied by Sol. Jarchi, and the commentators in general, to Job’s neighbour or friend; intimating that such a one, addressing himself to God, received a favourable answer; when Job himself had no satisfactory return paid to his loud cries and importunate complaints. But the words are capable of a very different construction if we refer them to Job, and not to his friend, and as containing the mocking words thrown out against him: Thus, He calleth (say they) upon God; but doth he answer him? He is loud and importunate in protesting his innocence; in clearing and vindicating himself; in appealing to the tribunal of Heaven. But to what purpose? Are his importunities and clamours received, his solemn protestations heard or admitted? His trust and confidence (he would have us to believe) are entirely on God; but is he eased of his troubles; is he delivered from his miseries? Thus the Jews mocked our Lord Jesus: “He trusted in God; (said they;) let him deliver him now, if he will have him.” “This man calleth for Elias; let us see whether Elias will come and save him.” The just upright man is laughed to scorn The words have a peculiar beauty, being spoken with much religious concern and modesty; for Job does not say, I, a just and upright man, am made a laughing-stock; but he delivers himself in general terms; the just and upright man, &c. His meaning however is, that, notwithstanding all their hard censures and reproaches, he must still believe himself to be, through God’s grace, a just and upright man; and must say that, as such, he was derided by them.

Verse 5

Job 12:5. He that is ready to slip with his feet The just man, last mentioned, who is ready to fall, or has already fallen into trouble; is as a lamp despised That is, like a lamp or torch, which, while it shines clearly in a dark night, is very useful and comfortable; but when it is almost extinct, or when the light of the morning approaches, is neglected and despised, as that which is unnecessary, troublesome, and offensive. So the same man, who, while his feet stood fast in a prosperous condition, was magnified and honoured by all, and he shone as a lamp; when he appears to be ready to slip with his feet, and to fall into adversity and trouble, is looked upon as a lamp going out, or as the snuff of a candle, which we throw to the ground and tread upon: Despised in the thought of him that is at ease That is, in the opinion of a man that lives in great ease and outward happiness; which generally make people forget and despise those who are in affliction. Heath interprets the verse thus: In calamity contempt is ready in the thought of the insolent, for those whose feet are tottering. The words being transposed in the English version, Chappelow thinks, if they be taken in the order in which they occur in the Hebrew, their meaning becomes more manifest. It is thus: A lamp, despised in the opinion of an indolent man, is prepared for the slips of the foot: that is, he who is a lamp or light to enlighten and instruct other people, though despised by those who are indolent, as if they wanted no instruction, is prepared for the several accidents of life, (the trials or troubles,) which are as natural and common to man as it is natural for him sometimes to stumble or slip with his foot. Here also Job’s words are general, without a particular application to himself, though doubtless he spoke them with reference to his own distressed circumstances.

Verse 6

Job 12:6. The tabernacles of robbers prosper Job’s friends had all supposed that wicked men cannot prosper long in the world. This Job opposes, and maintains that God herein acts as sovereign, and reserves that exact distribution of rewards and punishments for the other world. As if he had said, Thy opinion, O Zophar, (see Job 11:14, &c.,) is confuted by daily experience; which shows that very wicked, injurious, and impudent oppressors, tyrants, and robbers, are so far from always meeting with those disappointments and miseries of which thou spakest as being their certain portion, that they frequently succeed in their iniquitous and daring enterprises, flourish in wealth and glory, and fill their houses with the goods of others, which they violently took away; of which the Chaldeans and Sabeans (Job 1:15; Job 1:17 ) are a present and striking evidence. And they that provoke God are secure They, whose common practice it is to despise and provoke God, are confident and safe, apparently living without danger or fear. Into whose hands God bringeth abundantly So far is God from crushing such persons, that he seems to favour them with wonderful success; by his providence, puts into their hands the opportunities which they seek, of enriching themselves by injustice and oppression, and the persons and goods of other more righteous men, for which they lie in wait.

Verse 7

Job 12:7. Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee If thou observest the beasts, and their properties, actions, and events, from them thou mayest learn this lesson: namely, that which Zophar had uttered with so much pomp and gravity, (Job 11:7-9,) concerning God’s unsearchable wisdom, almighty power, and absolute sovereignty: thou dost not need, says Job, to go into heaven or hell to know it; but thou mayest learn it even from the brute creatures. The beasts of the earth, the fowls of the air, the fishes of the sea, all animals, and even plants, fruits, and flowers, are daily and hourly evidences to us, of the being and infinite perfections of God. The wonderful contrivance and admirable mechanism manifested in their formation, the preparation made for their wants, the exact adaptation of their organs to the particular mode of life for which they are intended; the wonderful regularity observed in their propagation: these things as plainly tell us, they are the work of God, as if they all had intelligible voices and declared it to us. Some commentators suppose that Job referred here to the greater and stronger brute creatures, preying on the lesser and weaker, as a fact illustrative of his argument respecting the power and prosperity of robbers, oppressors, and tyrants; and to the inferior animals in general, ministering to the pride, luxury, and indulgence of ungodly men; the earth and its richest produce being their property, and all nature drudging, as it were, to gratify their lusts. But the following verses seem rather to lead to the interpretation first mentioned, which certainly is the more instructive use of the words.

Verse 9

Job 12:9. Who knoweth not in all these Or, by all these brute creatures; that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this That God, by his power and wisdom, hath created and ordered all that is in them, or that is done by and among them. Job meant in these verses to express his firm opinion that all animate and inanimate nature clearly bore testimony to the creating power and overruling providence of God: see Nehemiah 9:6. This is the only time that we meet with the name Jehovah in all the discourses between Job and his friends. For God in that age was more known by the name of Shaddai, the Almighty.

Verse 10

Job 12:10. In whose hand is the soul That is, the life, or the principle of life; of every living thing That is, of all irrational animals, of which he spake, Job 12:7, opposed to man in the last words of this verse. He means, in whose absolute power it is to give life or to take it away, when and how it seemeth good to him; and the breath of all mankind Or, the spirit, as the word רוח , ruach, here used, commonly means; that is, the immortal soul, which is no less a creature, and in God’s power to dispose of it, than the animal soul or life of brutes.

Verse 11

Job 12:11. Doth not the ear try words? &c. Doth not the mind distinguish truth from falsehood, and wisdom from folly, as exactly as the palate distinguishes a sweet from a bitter taste? These words may either be considered as the conclusion of the foregoing discourse, or as a preface to the following. And he thereby demands from his friends the liberty of judging for himself of what they had said, and invites them to use the same liberty with respect to what he had advanced; wishing them to hear and judge of his words candidly and impartially, that they and he might agree in disavowing what should appear to be false or foolish, and in owning what was true and important.

Verse 12

Job 12:12. With the ancient is wisdom These words contain a concession of what Bildad had said (Job 8:8-9,) and a joining with him in that appeal; but withal, an intimation that this wisdom was but imperfect, and liable to many mistakes; and indeed mere ignorance and folly, if compared with the divine wisdom, of which he speaks in the following verses. And therefore that antiquity ought not to be received against the truths of the most wise God.

Verse 13

Job 12:13 . With him is wisdom That is, with God. Perfect wisdom is only in him, and all wisdom in the world cometh from him, who giveth to young and old as it pleaseth him. The ancients were not wise without his gift and grace, and with that a younger man may be wiser than the ancients. He hath counsel Practical wisdom to guide and govern all the affairs of the world; and understanding A perfect knowledge of all persons and things. “Job shows, in the following verses, that the affairs of the world, and the fortunes of men, are subject to such variety of changes, that all human reason and wisdom must be silent with respect to them; since the same calamities involve the good and the wicked, and seem rather to flow from the supreme dominion and unsearchable will of God, than to be distributed according to the rule of exact justice.” Schultens and Dodd.

Verse 14

Job 12:14. Behold, he breaketh down Houses, castles, cities; and it cannot be built again It is not in the power of any creature to repair what he designs utterly to destroy. He shutteth up a man In prison, or in straits and troubles; and there can be no opening Without his permission and providence. Yea, he shuts up in the grave, and none can break open those sealed doors. He shuts up in hell, in chains of darkness, and none can pass that great gulf.

Verse 15

Job 12:15. He withholdeth the waters Which are reserved in the clouds, that they may not fall upon the earth; and they dry up Namely, the waters upon the earth, springs, brooks, and rivers dry up, as after the general deluge, to which here is a manifest allusion.

Verse 16

Job 12:16. With him is strength, &c. He doth the things mentioned in the foregoing and following verses so powerfully, that no creature can resist him and hinder his operations; and so wisely, that none can prevent him or frustrate his counsels. He had said the same thing before, (Job 12:13,)

but he repeats it here to prepare the way for the following events, which are eminent instances both of his power and wisdom. The deceived and the deceiver are his Wholly subject to his disposal. He governs the deceiver, and sets bounds to his deceits, how far they shall extend: he also overrules all this to his own glory, and the accomplishment of his righteous designs of trying the good and punishing wicked men, by giving them up to believe lies. Yet God is not the author of any error or sin, but only the wise and holy governor of it.

Verse 17

Job 12:17. He leadeth counsellors away spoiled The wise counsellors, or statesmen, by whom the affairs of kings and kingdoms are ordered, he leadeth away as captives in triumph, being spoiled either of that wisdom which they had, or seemed to have; or of that power and dignity which they had enjoyed. And maketh the judges fools By discovering their folly, and by infatuating their minds, and turning their own counsels to their ruin.

Verse 18

Job 12:18. He looseth the bond of kings He takes from them the power and authority wherewith they ruled their subjects; ruled them with rigour, perhaps tyrannised over and enslaved them: and he divests them of that majesty which he had stamped upon them, and by which they kept their people in awe. These God can, and often does, take away from them, and thereby free the people from their bonds, of which we have abundance of instances in the history of different nations; and girdeth their loins with a girdle He reduces them to a mean and servile condition; which is thus expressed, because servants used to gird up their garments, (which, after the manner of those parts of the world, were loose and long,) that they might be fitter for attendance upon their masters: he not only deposes them from their thrones, but brings them into slavery.

Verse 20

Job 12:20. He removeth away the speech of the trusty Of those wise and experienced counsellors that were trusted by the greatest princes. He either, 1st, Takes away from them the gift of utterance, or restrains them in the use of it; so that they are not able to express their thoughts with such clearness and force as they used to do. Or, 2d, He brings the affairs of their employers into such straits and difficulties, that they know not what to say or advise. Or, 3d, He takes away their understanding, which should suggest and direct their speech, as it here follows. Or, 4th, He permits them to betray their trust, and either not to speak when they ought, or to speak otherwise than they ought, and to use their understanding and eloquence, not to direct, but to deceive and so to destroy their princes and other superiors.

Verses 21-22

Job 12:21-22. He poureth contempt upon princes That is, he makes them contemptible to their subjects and others; and weakeneth the strength of the mighty The word מזיח , meziach, here rendered strength, occurs also Psalms 109:19, where it is translated girdle. The clause might here have been rendered, He looseth the girdle of the mighty, a phrase which signifies weakness, Isaiah 5:27; as the girding of the girdle denotes strength and power, Isaiah 22:21; Isaiah 45:5. Both these phrases are taken from the quality of their garments, which, being loose and long, disabled a man for walking or working. He discovereth deep things out of darkness That is, the most secret and crafty counsels of princes: which are contrived and carried on in the dark.

Verses 23-25

Job 12:23-25. He increaseth the nations, &c. What he had hitherto said of princes, he now applies to nations and people, whom God either increases or diminishes as he pleases. He enlargeth the nations He multiplies them so that they are forced to send forth colonies into other lands; and straiteneth them again Diminishes them by war, famine, or pestilence: or, as ינחם , janchem, more properly signifies, leadeth them in, or bringeth them back, namely, into their own land, and confineth them there. So that whole nations, as well as their princes, are perfectly under his power, and he enlarges their bounds, or reduces them into more narrow limits, as he pleaseth. He taketh away the heart of the chief of the people Deprives them both of courage and judgment, and causeth them to wander in a wilderness; that is, fills them with confusion, uncertainty, and perplexity of mind, so that they know not which way to turn themselves. They grope in the dark Like men that cannot see their way. And he maketh them to stagger like a drunken man Who reels hither and thither without any certainty. So they sometimes take one course, and sometimes another, as resolving to try all experiments, and indeed not knowing what to do. All their counsels and motions are as unsteady and fluctuating as those of a man intoxicated.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 12". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/job-12.html. 1857.
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