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Job, acknowledging God's justice, sheweth that there is no contending with him. Man's innocency is not to be condemned by afflictions.
Before Christ 1645.
Job 9:1. Then Job answered and said— In reply to Bildad, Job begins with hinting that their opinions seemed a little to clash; Eliphaz had insisted from revelation, that the common failings of men were a sufficient justification of Providence, even in the most afflicting dispensations. Bildad says, if he were pure and upright, God would interpose in his behalf. Job replies, that all this is very true; but the difficulty is, to be thus pure and upright; "For I am not exempt from the common failings of men: if, therefore, they are sufficient to account for the great calamities which have befallen me, I am still without a remedy. As to God's power and wisdom, I am as thoroughly convinced, and can give as many instances of it, as you; and, therefore, I know it is in vain for me to contend with him; Job 9:2-13. I have nothing left but to acknowledge my own vileness, and to make my supplication to him, Job 9:14-19. But yet, as to any heinous crimes, beyond the common frailties of human nature, there I disclaim; and, let the event be what it may, I will rather part with my life, than accuse myself wrongfully. And whereas you affirm, that affliction is an infallible mark of guilt, you quite mistake the matter; for afflictions are indifferently assigned to be the portion of the righteous and the guilty. God, indeed, sometimes in his anger destroys the wicked; but doth he not as frequently afflict the righteous? The dispensations of Providence in this world are frequently such, that, were it not that God now and then lets loose his fury against them, one would be almost tempted to imagine the rule of this world was delivered over into the hands of wicked men; Job 9:21-24. As for my own part, my days are almost come to an end; therefore it is labour lost for me to plead the cause of my innocence. Besides, in the sight of God I must appear all vileness; so that it is not for such a one as me to pretend to put myself on a level with him: and even if I were able to do so, there is no one who hath sufficient authority to judge between us; Job 9:25-33. Yet were it his pleasure to grant me a little respite, I should say a great deal in my own vindication; but, as matters stand, I dare not; for which reason my life is a burden to me, and my desire is, that it may speedily come to an end; Job 10:1 to the end. I would, however, expostulate a little with the Almighty;"—And here he enters into the most beautiful and tender pleadings that heart can conceive; ending, as before, with a prayer, that his sufferings and life might soon come to a period, and that God would grant him some little respite before his departure hence. Heath.
Job 9:3. If he will contend— To contend is a judicial term, and signifies properly to wage law. To answer him one of a thousand, signifies to justify himself for one of the thousand crimes which shall be charged against him. Though the uncharitableness and reproaches of Job's friends transported him into some passionate and bold expressions of his own innocence and integrity, yet he no sooner perceived that they took advantage of those expressions to charge him with presumption, as if God had unjustly afflicted him, but he made haste to free himself from that imputation. How should a man be just with God? and he who is best prepared for an account with him, can pay him nothing but his own coin; and that, rather laid up in a napkin, than husbanded and employed as it ought to have been. If he could offer him a good thought, an honest purpose and intention, he had received them from him, and, it may be, wanted courage to improve and execute them; and so the world had no more fruit of them, than if his heart had been as wicked as his neighbour's. So that, when he has said the best he can for himself, there will be no abiding the judgment which must still be deprecated; mercy must be implored; no satisfaction or payment pretended; but an entire release and pardon begged and relied upon.
Job 9:5. And they know not— And they are not broken to pieces: an instance of the power of the Almighty, who can remove whole mountains as easily as the least pebble. See Heath, and Judges 8:16. Schultens and Houbigant render it, on a sudden, unawares. See Psalms 35:8.
Job 9:6. And the pillars thereof tremble— The image is taken from a man in so great fear, that all his limbs tremble and shake like a leaf.
Job 9:7. Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not— Bishop Warburton supposes that this alludes to the miraculous history of the people of God; such as the Egyptian darkness, and the stopping of the sun's course by Joshua. But surely there is no necessity, from the words themselves, to suppose any allusion of this kind, or, indeed, any thing miraculous, since God, by throwing a cloud over the sun and stars, can and does obscure them when he pleases; and thus it is that the Chaldee paraphrast understands it; and seals up the stars with clouds: or, if we will take Bishop Patrick's exposition, it is thus, that the heavens are subject to the power of God, and neither sun nor stars can shine if he forbid it. There is a beautiful fragment of Pindar preserved to us by Clemens Alexandrinus; where he gives it as an instance of the "power of God," that he can, when he will, cause the pure light to spring out of thick darkness, or cover with a gloomy cloud the clear lustre of the day.
Job 9:8. And treadeth upon the waves of the sea— Mr. Heath (following the reading of the Hebrew found in a correct copy) agrees with Houbigant in rendering this, who treadeth on the heights of the clouds; which, as he justly observes, makes a more elegant image. See ch. Job 22:14.Isaiah 14:14; Isaiah 14:14.
Job 9:9. Which maketh Arcturus, &c.— Who maketh the constellation of the northern hemisphere, as well as the hidden chambers of the south, i.e. the furthest part of the south, or those constellations which are toward the south pole. The various and unsatisfactory attempts of learned men to ascertain the several constellations here mentioned, are sufficient to convince any person that we do not know enough of the ancient astronomy to determine upon it with any certainty; only, as these three seem to be put in opposition with the chambers of the south, I think it best, says Mr. Heath, to translate it in general, the constellations of the northern hemisphere. Parkhurst renders it, making the fire, the spirit or air, and the light; which he supposes to give us a nobler idea of Jehovah's power, than claiming the formation of these three constellations; and he observes, that all the fixed stars had been claimed as Jehovah's workmanship only two verses before. See his Lexicon on the word כימה kimah, and Peters, p. 136.
Job 9:11. Lo, he goeth by me, &c.— Who, if he passeth by me, I cannot behold him: yea, while he glideth swiftly away, I perceive him not. Houbigant and Heath.
Job 9:12. Behold he taketh away, &c.— But if he should take any thing away, who shall prevent him, or cause him to make restitution. Houbigant and Heath.
Job 9:13. If God will not withdraw his anger— He is not a God who will restrain his anger; they stoop beneath him, who have surrounded themselves with strength: i.e. his majesty is most dreadful and inaccessible, which nothing can resist, and to which every thing that dares to oppose it must submit. Houbigant and Schultens.
Job 9:14. And choose out my words to reason with him— And choose out arguments against him. This is in the judicial stile, and signifies the pleadings of the person accused. To my judge, in the next verse, should be rendered, to my adversary. Heath. Houbigant renders the word which we translate answer, in this and the next verse, by dispute.
Job 9:16. If I had called, and he had answered me— But if I should call, that he might answer me, I could not easily believe that he would hear my voice; Job 9:17. Since he hath broken me with a tempest, and inflicted many wounds upon me without cause, Job 9:18. Nor hath given me space to take my breath, so hath he filled me with bitterness. Houbigant. This version shews the connection, and seems to give us the true sense of the passage. See Lowth's Prelections, p. 455. 8vo.
Job 9:19. If I speak of strength— If we were to plead by strength, he is most strong; if by law, or judgment, who shall bear testimony for me? Houbigant. The meaning is, says Heath, "If I think to right myself by force, it is in vain; for he is infinitely stronger than I: if I choose to decide our dispute by law, who hath authority to call us before him?"
Job 9:20. If I justify myself— If I call myself righteous, my mouth shall condemn me: if innocent, it shall prove me perverse; Job 9:21. Innocent, or being innocent, yet would I not make trial; nor would my soul be less weary of life. Houbigant and Schultens. The meaning of the 21st verse is sufficiently cleared by the 22nd. Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul, or life; i.e. "I would make no account of it,—I would despise it; (as it follows) for I should not think this perfection any security either for a long life or a prosperous; much less, were I never so perfect, should I flatter myself with the vain hope that you would instil into me, of being delivered from this deep distress wherein I am now plunged, and from which nothing but a miracle can restore me. For, one thing I have learned from experience, that God destroys the perfect as well as the wicked." And of this he gives a demonstration in the following verse: If the scourge slay suddenly, &c. i.e. "In times of common calamity, the righteous and the wicked perish for the most part indiscriminately." This is apparently the general course of Providence; and if any exceptions be made, they are rare and extraordinary, by the special appointment and direction of the great Lord and ruler of the world, for extraordinary reasons of which he alone is judge. But no wise man would ever build any great hopes upon these extraordinary and excepted cases; at least, they can never be a just ground for confidence and assurance. This seems plainly to be the sense of Job in this matter; for, it is very observable, that he builds his arguments on the general course of Providence; the others argue chiefly from the extraordinary exceptions to it. They had seen a good man now and then remarkably delivered; they had seen many a wicked man remarkably punished. These remarkable things, as they are the most sensible demonstrations of a present Providence, led Job's friends, whose thoughts were full of them, to push the matter of an exactly remunerating Providence in this life too far; so as scarcely to allow a good man to be finally unhappy in the present world, or a wicked man prosperous upon the whole. And I suppose their own prosperity, which they were but too fond, perhaps, of ascribing to the blessing of God upon their piety, (for, except their hard censures of Job, there is nothing but what shews them to have been good religious persons in the main,) might help to confirm them in this notion; for it is an old observation, that we borrow our very thoughts and reasonings sometimes from the state and temper that we are in. Job therefore, on the other hand, being in a state of the deepest distress, we need not wonder that his thoughts were black and cloudy; that, even with the consciousness of an upright heart and righteous life, he could neither enjoy himself by day with cheerful thoughts, nor prevent the dreadfullest dreams by night, especially considering the obscure dispensation under which he lived. See chap. Job 7:13-14. The same melancholic disposition it was, no doubt, which made him dwell upon the general course of Providence, without allowing for those extraordinary and excepted cases, wherein God, as it were, makes bare his arm, to deliver a good man from distress, and of which he himself was in the end a noble instance. Peters. And we must never forget, that Job lived under a dispensation far inferior to ours. Schultens renders the 23rd verse, If the scourge slay suddenly, it [the scourge] will laugh at the trial of the innocent. The figure is bold, but not too bold for the elevated poetry of this book.
Job 9:24. He covereth the faces of the judges— He hath covered the face of the judgments which are done in it; but the cause of his anger who shall declare? That is, Who can set forth the reasons why God is angry at miserable mortals, and why he permits the earth to the wicked? Houbigant. Heath, after the Syriac, renders the last clause, were it not for his fury, who would regard him? i.e. This would be the language of the wicked, if the Almighty did not sometimes let loose his fury, and shew them that they are but men.
Job 9:26. As the swift ships, &c.— There are but two places that I remember, says Mr. Peters, in the book of Job, where there is any allusion to navigation. One in the present passage, where Job compares the course of human life, and the rapidity wherewith it passes, to the swift ships, [swiftest ships, most excellent for sailing, Houbigant,] or, as it is in the margin of our English Bibles, ships of desire; i.e. such as are longed for, and long to be at their destined port, and crowd all the sail they can for that purpose. This gives, indeed, a very poetical image. But, if we will take the judgment of Schultens, he tells us, it ought rather to be rendered, ships of cane, or the Papyrus; i.e. such light vessels as they used in passing the river Nile, and other great rivers and arms of the sea. This, no doubt, was the first essay made by mankind towards navigation, and, perhaps, the utmost that their skill had reached in Job's time. See chap. Job 28:4 and Peters.
Job 9:28. I am afraid of all my sorrows— I shudder in all my limbs. Heath, after the LXX.
Job 9:29. If I be wicked, &c.— I shall be esteemed as guilty; why, therefore, should I take so much pains? Houbigant. Let me be condemned, why should I, &c. Heath.
Job 9:30-31. If I wash myself, &c.— i.e. Though I should appeal to my former life, spent in a religious, holy, and virtuous manner, yet this will be in vain; as I find, from the increase of my calamities, that I shall perish under them; and, being plunged into an immature death, shall have all my former ornament of righteousness and justice defiled; myself being esteemed, at least in the sight of my friends, as an impure and wicked monster.
Job 9:33. Any day's-man— There is no one who may judge between us; who may lay his hand, &c. Houbigant. The laying the hand on both parties, implies a coercive power to enforce the execution of his decrees. This no one could have over the Almighty: it was in vain, therefore, to contend with Him. Heath. In some of the northern parts of England, any arbitrator, umpire, or elected judge, is commonly termed a dies-man, or day's-man. Dr. Hammond, in his Annotations upon Heb 10:25 observes, that the word day, in all idioms, signifies judgment.
Job 9:35. But it is not so with me— For thus I am not myself. Houbigant. But I am not sufficient master of myself. Heath.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Without a reflection on the insinuations of his unkind friend, Job enters directly into the argument.
1. He admits God's justice as a sure truth, nor dared to question how unequal a match he was for his Maker. Unable to stand before his bar, sinful man could not answer to one of a thousand of the charges that God could bring against him, but must plead guilty; nor can he resist the execution of his deserved sentence. Should he dare to plead for himself, God is wise in heart, and would detect the folly, and silence the sophistry of his arguments: should he dare to resist, God is mighty in power, yea, almighty to put his sentence in force, and every struggle is vain; for who ever hardened himself against him, in self-justification, or impious opposition, and prospered? Note; (1.) The knowledge of our own sinfulness, and especially of our fallen nature, will silence all self-dependance, and bring us to God through the infinite and alone merits of Jesus, for justification unto life. (2.) Though wicked men and devils harden themselves in rebellion against God, as if he was weak to punish them, or negligent about their iniquity, a few short days will detect their folly, and lay them trembling under the rod of judgment in the belly of hell.
2. He expatiates on the glorious evidences of God's wisdom and power: so far was he from cursing God, that he could, in the midst of his pains, delight to dwell on the contemplation of his divine perfections. (1.) His power how amazing! At his word the mountains leap from their rooted bases, and they know not whither they are hurled: if his anger burns, they are overturned as the mole-hill. Shaken by his arm, earth's loosened pillars tremble, and all the cumbrous load thereon sustained shakes like the leaf, and is as easily removed. The sun, that rose in glory at his word, shall, at his will, sink back into primaeval darkness, or, standing still in its course, withdraw from our hemisphere the light of day. Black with thick tempests, the lowering sky veils the bright stars, and their light is sealed up in darkness. Such works of wonder God wrought, when in the deluge the powers of earth and heaven were shaken; and works equally wonderous, whenever he pleases, he can still repeat, to scourge guilty mortals, and make his power be known. (2.) His wisdom how great! He alone spread the heavens over us with such admirable contrivance, and the waves of the sea beneath his feet retire to their appointed deep: yea, though they lift high their curling heads, their boundary is fixed, which they cannot pass.
Each constellation moves in its appointed order, and the southern stars, unseen by us in this hemisphere, rise and set in regular succession, as we return to, and go forth from, our chambers. Note; The heavens are an expanded volume, the stars legible characters, where man should read the wisdom, power, and glory of God. (3.) His agency is invisible, and his works unsearchable. We cannot comprehend their number, or fathom his mysterious ways. He passes by us, and we see him not. The effects of his wisdom and power are evident, while himself, his counsels, his agency, are hid and secret. (4.) His sovereignty is uncontrollable. Whatever he pleases he doth in the hosts of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth. If he take away every gift that he has bestowed, who can hinder him, or make him restore it again? who dare plead with him, and say, What dost thou? may he not do what he will with his own? (5.) His anger is terrible: if God will not withdraw it, the proud helpers, or the helpers of pride, the stoutest sinners, the most exalted of the sons of pride, can neither support themselves, nor afford others the least succour: they do stoop under him, sinking down to the earth in affliction, or lower, crushed into hell under the insupportable load of his wrath. Note; How should we then fear to offend him, if such is the power of his anger?
2nd, Job applies to his own case the views of God's perfections which he had described, as a ground of self-abasement before him. However he could maintain his cause before man, as being in no wise a hypocrite, as was alleged, he could not vindicate himself before God as not being a sinner.
1. He owns his inability to stand the contest with God: he is too wise for man to plead with him; too mighty to be retired; and from his judgment no appeal can lie to any superior court. Note; There is no standing before God on the footing of our own deserts: in a covenant of grace, only, not of works, can the sinner be justified. Therefore,
2. However righteous he was as a magistrate, and sincere in profession as a good man, he resolves rather to cry for mercy than to plead his merits: not that he expected to be heard for his prayer's sake; but, if answered, he should ascribe it solely to God's rich grace, and not to the worth of his own supplications. Note; Mercy, not desert, must be our plea; nor can our best prayers make God our debtor.
3. Job had spoken rightly hitherto; but his infirmity now appears in the conclusion he draws, that while his afflictions were not removed, his prayers could not be answered; and, though acknowledging himself a sinner, he seems to think that his sufferings exceeded his deserts. He breaketh me with a tempest of afflictions, and multiplieth my wounds without cause, any such cause at least at his censorious friends had suggested. He will not suffer me to take my breath, I can scarcely pray or speak through the violence of my disease; but he filleth me with bitterness. Note; We must not judge that our prayers are rejected, because our sufferings remain: though we cannot now see why God deals with us thus, we shall be convinced by and by, that the greatest kindness God could do us was the continuance of our affliction.
3rdly, The grand point in dispute is, Whether the wicked are always miserable, and the innocent prosperous. This his friends affirm, and he as resolutely denies. This is one thing, singular as it may appear to you, yet certain and sure, and which from the fullest conviction I advance, God destroyeth the perfect and the wicked; eternally, indeed, the faithful cannot perish; but often they fall in the promiscuous ruin, when desolating judgments arise; and if the scourge slay suddenly, he will laugh at the trial of the innocent. Not that God delights in the miseries of his people, but if he seem unconcerned for their sufferings, it is because he intends their trials for the increase of their graces, and the brightening of their crown. The earth, in general, is given into the hand of the wicked; they prosper, have dominion, and bear the sway. He covereth the faces of the judges thereof; gives them up to blindness of heart, and leaves them to execute their unrighteous decrees, to the oppression of the innocent: if not, if this be not fact and truth, where and who is he that can confute me? God hath the government of the world, and these things cannot be done but by his permission: sufferings, therefore, are no proof of his anger, nor prosperity of his favour. Note; (1.) Though the righteous here suffer with the wicked, they suffer not as the wicked; their afflictions are merciful corrections, not angry judgments, and the end of them not their ruin, but more abundant glory. (2.) It must silence our complaints under oppression, and suppress all envy at the prosperity of the wicked, that it is permitted for wise ends, which, though we know not now, we shall know hereafter.
4thly, His complaints mingle with his arguments.
1. He bewails his past prosperity fled, his present sorrows incurable. Swifter than a post on full speed his days of joy were hurried by, and now are succeeded by days of misery, which made the former forgotten, as if they had never been: they are gone, like ships that skim before the wind; and, as if labouring for an expression to set forth their velocity, fled as the eagle, when darting on his prey. In vain he sought to recover a glimpse of former comfort, or to compose himself under present afflictions; If I say, I will forget my complaint, I will leave off my heaviness, and comfort myself, the attempt were fruitless; sorrows followed him close as his shadow, and he feared they would overwhelm him at last. Note; (1.) Time is rapid, our day expiring, all temporal good transitory; let us be wise then to redeem it, that when the present moment is lost in eternity, as the drop in the boundless ocean, our happy portion there may be secured. (2.) It is easier to know that we ought to submit, and to bid the miserable forget their complaints, than to exercise that silent resignation which is so evidently our bounden duty.
2. He despairs of being able to plead with God: either it is the language of humility, expressive of his worthlessness, or of his impatience and hard thoughts of God, as if he had cleansed his hands in vain. I know that thou wilt not hold me innocent; I begin to despair of recovery, and expect, in the continuance of my afflictions, to be treated as if I be wicked, which will be believed, without doubt, if I perish in my suffering. Why then labour I in vain to clear myself, when the calamities that I suffer will plead against me in the eyes of the world, stronger than any arguments that I can urge will vindicate me. If I wash myself with snow-water, and make my hands never so clean, use every effort to maintain my innocence, and shew my conversation never so blameless, yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch of deep afflictions, and mine own clothes shall abhor me; my dearest friends will construe my case abominable, and my sufferings will make me a burden to myself. Note; (1.) The best of men have the lowest thoughts of themselves. (2.) The more a sinner goeth about to establish his own righteousness, instead of submitting to "the righteousness of faith," [Romans 4:13.] the more desperate his case grows.
3. He complains of the unequal contest. He is not a man, as I am; the potsherds may strive with the potsherds of the earth, but impossible it is, that I, a worm, should answer him, the glorious and infinite God, and that we should come together in judgment, or alike, on equal terms. He can have no superior, nor is there any court where the cause can be tried; neither is there any day's-man, or arbitrator, to whom the cause can be referred, and by whose decisions we must abide. Or, it may be rendered, O that there were a mediator, that might lay his hand upon us both, so as effectually to settle and adjust the dispute. Note; The Lord Jesus Christ appears to be the day's-man whom Job wanted: his hand is laid on both, to bring an offended God near in mercy to sinful man, and to incline man, a sinner, to return in humiliation to a pardoning God.
4. He wishes for a short respite, that he might speak for himself. Let him take his rod away from me, of chastisement that oppressed him, and let not his fear terrify me, that dread of his awful majesty which now overwhelmed him; then would I speak, in prayer and supplication, or plead for himself, and not fear him, as in his present state he did, God appearing as an enemy; or perhaps, daring as the challenge was, he would then maintain his cause without fear, and, though a sinner confessed, reason with him on the exceeding greatness of his sufferings; but it is not so with me; I am disabled by his terrors to speak before him; and I have no day's-man; or, I am not so with myself, so master of himself, as to be able, in his disordered state, to maintain his cause aright. Note; Even truly godly men, under sore trials, have spoken unadvisedly with their lips; therefore we had need ever pray, that we may not be led into temptation.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Job 9". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany