JOB’S THIRD REPLY, Job 12:12-14.
1.Job answered — He scouts the pompous pretensions of the “friends” to superior wisdom, which, however, he remarks, do not prevent their treating misfortune with contempt. A single matter-of-fact utterance, (Job 12:6,) foils all their laboured arguments — a fact which they should have learned from the most ordinary view of society. The inferior creation is ready to instruct man, if he will but listen, instead of pluming himself with the wise saws of the ancients, which Job says are not to be accepted until they have been fully tested. Infinite in knowledge and in power, God holds all events and results in his hands; and his wisdom and might are not less mysterious and inexplicable in his providence over men than in the worlds of nature. (Chap. 13.) Conscious of innocence, and assured that he will not find justice at the hands of men, who, for various reasons, are ever ready to pervert the truth, Job takes the only course open to him, and formally, as in open court, makes his appeal to God. He is painfully sensible that he takes his life in his hands; and yet, such is his faith in God and in truth, that he triumphantly declares that if God should smite him down he would still hold fast to his faith — even in death God should be his salvation. Though pain, passion, and despair burn within him, the flame that lifts itself to sight is one of blended faith and hope which nothing can extinguish. His appeal commences with a bold and unjustifiable challenge, (23-28,) and ends in a heart-rending wail. Chap. 14. Heir of a fleeting existence, which brings with it the taint of corruption, Job pleads the miserable lot of man as a reason for clemency on the part of God. For vegetation there is a possible renewal of life, but for man there is none in this present world, not even till the heavens be no more. His one striking prayer is, that he may be hidden in the grave until the present dark scheme shall have ended, and another day have dawned, when God shall try the cause of Job under an economy different from that which now prevails (Job 12:15). In a scene where even rocks and mountains waste away, man can cherish but little, if any, hope. A gloom rests upon the whole of mortal life, “which is lighted up as by a lightning flash, only by the possibility of another life after death.” — Dillmann. This, the last and greatest address of Job in the first debate, divides itself according to the chapters, the first of which is in two sections of about equal length.
Section 1: SARCASTIC COMMENDATION OF THAT WISDOM WHICH FAILS TO RECOGNIZE THE SECURITY OF THE WICKED, Job 12:2-12.
a. Piety in straits is an object of derision; while robbers (such as the Sabeans and Chaldaeans) are at peace, Job 12:2-6.
2.Wisdom shall die with you — The people of the East take great pleasure in irony, and some of their satirical sayings are very cutting. When a sage intimates that he has superior wisdom, of when he is disposed to rally another for his meagre attainments, he says, “Yes, yes; you are the man! Your wisdom is like the sea.’ When you die, whither will wisdom go!’ When gone, alas! what will become of wisdom?” — ROBERTS’S Oriental Illustrations. Moschus thus laments the death of Bion: —
“Bion, the swain, and all with him, is dead;
Song lives no more, the Doric muse is fled.”
3.Understanding — Or, a heart. With the ancient Hebrews the heart was the seat of the understanding, and the bowels the seat of the emotions. “He also has a heart like them; he is, therefore, not ‘empty.’” — Delitzsch. Job thus courteously replies to Zophar’s savage onslaught. See note on Job 11:12. Inferior to you — Either in argument, or, perhaps, (ironically,) in the ability to bring forward proverbs. Who knoweth not, etc. — Your wisdom is commonplace. Common sense should have taught you this.
4.I am one mocked — Literally, A mockery to his friend, am I; [I] who railed upon God and he answered him: a mockery is the just, upright man.
Answereth him — As if it were too great a thing for Job to say that God had heard and answered his prayer, he passes from the first to the third person. What appears to be a solecism, is really the humility of true greatness. If we truly appreciate the significance of prayer we shall not wonder at this; for prayer assumes that the invisible God is near to hearken to, and consciously answer, the cry of mortals. Its privilege confers on the mind of man the greatest conceivable exercise of might — none the less than to move the Divine Being to the exertion of his power for our good. The secret of this lies in the parental affection of God. No attainment of greatness raises the Father above the touching appeal of an infant’s cry. “When ye pray, say, Our Father.”
5.A lamp despised — All interpreters acknowledge the obscurity of this verse to be exceedingly great. Schultens speaks of more than ten different opinions. “The words of this text are dark,” says the quaint Caryl, “and there are not a few who make the lamp the darkest word in it.” Rosenmuller and others render it: “A despised torch, in the thought of one happy, is he who is ready to slip with his feet.” Friends were meant for use. When no longer serviceable they are thrown away like burned out torches. Prosperity thrusts away the scaffolding by the help of which the edifice was built. Thus these friends basked in the light of Job’s success — but now they treat him as they would a useless torch. Such is the way of the world in every age — “to give to the tottering still another push.” — Dillmann. But most critics properly regard the le of (torch) as a prefix, and the pidh as meaning misfortune. For misfortune (there is) scorn in the thought of the secure; (scorn) ready for those who waver in their steps. In like mariner Ewald, Conant, Hirtzel, etc. In the last clause Dillmann and Furst follow Eichhorn in rendering nakhon, (ready,) a blow or destruction.
6.Tabernacles of robbers prosper — Literally, Are at peace. Zophar had spoken of the security of the tabernacle where virtue dwelt; (Job 11:14-19;) Job adduces other matters of fact — vice has also its security.
In ancient Egypt robbing was regarded as a necessity of its civilization, and was treated as a profession. Those who followed the craft “gave in their names to the chief of the robbers, and agreed that he should be informed of every thing that they should thence forward steal, the moment it was in their possession. In consequence of this the owner of the lost goods always applied by letter to the chief for their recovery.” — WILKINSON’S Anc. Egyptians, Pop. Acct., 2:216. Into whose hand God bringeth — Now generally rendered, he who brings God in his hand, (Ewald, etc.,) that is, who either deifies his hand, or, as some say, that which is taken into the hand. Thus Mezentius says, “Dextra mihi Deus — My right hand is God.” — AEneid, 10:773. Habakkuk speaks in like manner of the Chaldaean:
Literally, This its strength is its God. Job 1:11.
b. The divine wisdom on which Zophar has descanted, the entire brute creation might have taught him. And yet Zophar does not know that He who is Lord over life and death, lets the wicked live, Job 12:7-12.
7.Ask now the beasts’ and the fowls, etc. — Among the Hindus, if any one refuses instruction or will not be convinced, he is told to ask the cattle, inquire of the birds, and that they will give him wisdom. (Roberts.) Some imagine that Job appeals to the brute creation to show that the most rapacious are most secure. But others more correctly suppose that he resumes the thought with which his discourse opens (Job 12:3) — that of the power and wisdom of God. In the world’s great school (he says) anybody might learn “these.” The Scriptures frequently summon the so-called inferior creation to instruct man in things pertaining to wisdom. “Every creature hath a trumpet in his mouth to proclaim the Deity.” The world of instinct is one of mystery which man cannot fathom. It is with us, but separated from us by a great gulf which neither man nor brute can cross. As respects the interchange of thought, the brute world moves around us in an orbit of silence, but one that none the less reflects its Maker’s praise. Lord Erskine would never allow animals to be called the brute creation; he called them the mute creation. Instinct trenches upon reason at so many points, in some respects vastly surpassing it, that it does not become the monarch man to look upon his subjects with disdain. In ways we know not of, they may proclaim in the ear of the great Creator his wisdom, power, and love.
8.Speak to the earth — That is, to “every creeping thing” (Genesis 1:30) which is on the earth. The division of animate creation is the same and in the same order as in Genesis 9:2. Beasts, birds, creeping things, fishes. The downward gradation, closing with the fish, probably the least intelligent of all, admirably chimes in with Job’s strain of irony.
9.Lord — Jehovah. This is the only place in the poetical part of this book (if we except Job 28:28) where the name Jehovah appears. Jehovah, the Self-existent, is the source of life to all these — “the things seen.” Hebrews 11:3. Compare Isaiah 66:2.
This — The totality of creation, corresponding to, but more comprehensive than, “all these;” or better — “the administration of God among his creatures.”
10.The breath of all mankind — Literally, the spirit of all the flesh of man. The soul (nephesh) is the principle of natural life which man shares with the inferior creation; while the spirit (rouahh) is that higher endowment belonging, among animals, exclusively to man, by which he is allied to angels and to God.
11.And — Even as.
Taste his meat — Literally, Taste food for itself. In the same manner the testimony of the ancients is to be put to proof, and accepted on no other ground than that it should stand the test.
12.The ancient — Old men. In length, etc. — Length of days is understanding. Omit the in.
Section Second — THE WISDOM OF GOD, SUBORDINATED TO INFINITE AND IRRESISTIBLE POWER, INVOLVES THE DIVINE MORAL GOVERNMENT IN AN INEXPLICABLE MAZE, Job 12:13-25.
First double strophe. Job 12:13-18.
a. Admits the wisdom and power of God, as illustrated by the divine government in the natural world, Job 12:13-15.
13.Him — God. The rest of this chapter is thought by some to be an old Idumaean poem, or else a collection of maxims handed down from antediluvian ancestors or sages. (Wemyss.) In the original, the first word, WISDOM, (hhokmah,) is the general and most comprehensive word for wisdom; the second, STRENGTH, (gebourah,) from the same root as geber, man, implies the ability to carry into execution the behest of the will; the third, COUNSEL, (‘hetsah,) gives the idea of “strength,” the “making firm” — practical wisdom; fourth, UNDERSTANDING, (tebounah,) implies the intellectual perception, characterized by its power of penetrating into, and distinguishing between, the true and false.
14.Shutteth up a man — In the sense of closing over. This is explained by the nature of the prisons among the Hebrews, which were subterranean excavations, whose mouth was covered with a stone. Lamentations 3:53. The Chaldee renders it, “He shuts man up in the grave, and it cannot be opened.”
Saint Gregory moralizes upon this clause: “Evil deeds build a prison for man in the depths of his conscience. Habit bars the doors, and blindness of understanding darkens the windows. Thus God shuts him in. If ever the desire arise to break forth from his dungeon, he is not able.” But all this tends to depreciate the grace of the gospel, which is powerful to break any prison bar that habit or appetite has forged.
15.Is thought by some to refer to the deluge. Compare Psalms 104:29-30.
b. For the sake of the argument Job acknowledges the divine wisdom and might in the moral world; but at once saddles these attributes with calamities that strike deceived and deceiver alike; as much as to say, Grand descriptions, such as the friends had given of the power and wisdom of God, do not explain the dark mysteries of the divine government, Job 12:16-18.
16.Strength and wisdom — The word translated wisdom (toushiyyah) we have had before. Job 11:6. “Its fundamental signification can only be, true existence, actual being.” — Furst. Dr. Adam Clarke remarks, “God is strength, or power in essence, and an eternal potentiality. With him is every excellence in potentia and in esse. He borrows nothing; he derives nothing. As he is self-existent, so he is self-sufficient.”
The deceived and the deceiver — “A proverb denoting all kinds of sinful men.” — Furst. All are in His power, though allowed at will to disport themselves during the brief day of life. The delay of judgment does not render judgment less certain. Ecclesiastes 8:11. Bishop Sherlock thinks that there is an allusion in this passage to the fall of man through the tempter.
17.Spoiled — Barefoot. Captives were often stripped of their covering.
Isaiah 20:4. Fools — The counsels of Ahithophel, (brother of folly,) the counsellor of Absalom, were “turned into foolishness,” in answer to the prayer of David. 2 Samuel 15:31.
18.Bond of kings — The bond or fetter with which they bound their subjects.
Girdeth their loins — Literally, Binds a (girdle) fetter upon their loins. An instance of like retribution. The tyrannical binder of his subjects is himself bound with a captive’s cord. History is full of instances of such sad vicissitudes of fate. With no class of society has fortune been a more “fickle goddess” (so called) than with monarchs. The wreck of thrones, on the other hand, is an unceasing proclamation that “God reigns.” Lucretius (12:1232) had remarked the instability of all human glory, but failed to perceive in its oft-repeated overthrow the providence and power of God: —
So from his awful shades, some POWER UNSEEN
O’erthrows all human greatness! treads to dust
Rods, ensigns, crowns — the proudest pomps of state,
And laughs at all the mockery of man.
Second double strophe, Job 12:19-25.
a. This wisdom confounds and overwhelms the best as well as the mightiest of the earth. Job 12:19-21.
19.Princes — The Hebrew also means priests. They who wait on God’s altars are not exempt from a similar doom. In many ancient states priests were held in esteem quite equal to that of the sovereign. Sometimes, as with Melchisedek, Jethro, and the Assyrians, the two characters of priest and prince were blended together in the same person.
The mighty — Those firmly established.
21.Weakeneth the strength, etc. — Literally, Looseth the girdle of the strong; a proverbial phrase, says Umbreit, “for destroying their power, that is, in the eyes of the people.” The garments of the Orientals were long and flowing, and were consequently in the way when active service was demanded. The girdle served to bind them up; and hence, to unloose the girdle typified inaction or effeminacy. God promised to unloose the loins of kings before Cyrus, (Isaiah 45:1,) that is. to render them unfit for material resistance.
b. The same wisdom on the one side brings “the hidden things of darkness,” (1 Corinthians 4:5,) all the dark plans of wickedness, into light; and on the other, plunges nations, together with their magnates, into the darkness of calamity and hopeless bewilderment, Job 12:22-25.
22.Darkness’ the shadow of death — Though the shadow of death be spread over the evil deeds of men God shall bring them to light.
23.Straiteneth them — Leadeth them away (into captivity). Compare 2 Kings 18:11.
24.The heart — The same word, and perhaps the same allusion, as in Job 12:3. The first clause of the 21st verse, and the last clause of this, are literally reproduced in Psalms 107:40. “A plain allusion,” says Dr. Adam Clarke, “to the journeyings of the Israelites in the deserts of Arabia on their way to the promised land.” The Koran has a similar thought in connexion with the leadership of Moses: “God causeth to err whom he pleaseth, and directeth whom he pleaseth.” (Sur. Job 14:5.)
25.They grope, etc. — They feel the darkness and not light. — Gesenius. The reading of the Septuagint is nearly the same. Their blindness must be intense, when the sense of feeling is their sight.
He maketh — God is said to do what he permits to be done. Men who resist grace he leaves a prey to the laws of nature — laws outside of the kingdom of grace. Their work God is said to perform, because it is through laws of his enactment. If he withdraw the enlightening and restraining influences of his grace, the twofold result — darkness and confusion — must follow. Thus deserted, nations like Egypt, (Isaiah 19:14,) and individuals like Saul, alike stagger to their doom. The withdrawal of himself is the great positive evil God inflicts upon an impure soul in the eternal world.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany