While yet the storm gathers along the sky, Elihu is led to speak of other phenomena of nature which also display the power and wisdom of God. Everywhere appears a benevolent design, even in the fearful lightning’s path. God wields the forces of nature for the moral weal of man. Our ignorance of the simplest processes of nature (Job 37:14-19) should teach us calm acquiescence in the divine will, for there is light in the darkest clouds. Men should, therefore, not withhold themselves from a doxology of praise (Job 37:23) to the terribly majestic Being whose acts never transcend the bounds of justice and of right. Humboldt, the consummate scientist, thus speaks of “the thirty-seventh chapter of the ancient, if not the antemosaic, Book of Job: — The meteorological processes which take place in the atmosphere, the formation and solution of vapour according to the changing direction of the wind, the play of its colours, the generation of hail and of the rolling thunder, are described with individualizing accuracy; and many questions are propounded which we, in the present state of our physical knowledge, may, indeed, be able to express under more scientific definitions, but scarcely to answer satisfactorily.” — Cosmos, 2:414.
Strophe d. The thunder storm — through its lightnings gleaming even to the ends of the earth, while its thunders roll along the whole heaven — pre-eminently speaks of the all-embracing power of God. In declaring the awful greatness of God, it equally displays his goodness, which is the outgoing of his greatness, Job 37:1-5.
1.At this — Literally, Because of this, the terror of the approaching storm.
Is moved — Literally, Starts up. The same Hebrew word is sometimes used in another form for the sudden leap of the locust.
Leviticus 11:21. The grandeur of the following description of a thunder storm is best seen by comparison with similar descriptions in the classics; for instance, a scene in the Iliad, 7:470-482, in which a storm broke in upon a scene of carousal: —
Humble they stood! pale horror seized them all,
While the deep thunder shook the aerial hall.
The reader may be referred to the celebrated but vastly interior description given in the Koran, (Sura 2:18,) the beauty of which is said to have made the poet Lebid a follower of the false prophet.
2.Attentively — The Hebrew text repeats the preceding word, as in the margin, and may be read, “Hear, O hear.”
The sound — signifies, also, a murmur (thus Maurer) or a thought. “We spend our years as a tale,”
(as a thought.) Psalms 90:9. The thunder was the voice, the thought, of God. In the startled language, “Hear, O hear,” Elihu directs attention to the low-voiced, muttering thunder rolling along the sky.
3.He directeth — He letteth it (the thunder) loose; or, better yet, sendeth it forth.
Unto the ends of the earth — “Wings” or “fringes” of the earth; same as in Job 38:13. The word might be rendered “boundaries,” the same word in the Arabic (kanafa) being employed to express bounding. In Isaiah 11:12, and in Ezekiel 7:2, the word is associated with the numeral four, and is evidently used for the cardinal points. Comp. Revelation 7:1; Revelation 20:8. In the view of Renan, the earth is here compared “to a carpet spread out; its extremities being in some sort the border of the carpet.” The Greeks in the time of Eratosthenes, so Rosenmuller states, (Bib. Geog., Job 1:3,) compared the shape of the earth to that of an outspread chlamys, or cloak. At one time Gesenius supposed that the Hebrews had, in like manner, erred in taking the earth to be of a quadrangular form. This opinion he afterward retracted by advancing the more correct view, that the Hebrews regarded the four “ends of the earth” as equivalent to the four quarters of heaven. (See his Com. on Isaiah 11:12.) Winer, however, (Rwb., 1:340,) thinks it to be exceedingly doubtful that the Hebrews ever formed a fixed opinion as to the shape of the earth.
His lightning unto the ends of the earth — We have been assured by a celebrated Abyssinian traveller, that he has seen flashes in that country extending from horizon to horizon, and which he could not estimate as under fifty or one hundred miles in length. — SIR JOHN HERSCHEL, in Encyc. Brit., 8th ed., 14:662.
4.After it a voice roareth — The words of Lucretius furnish a good comment: —
The flash first strikes the eye, and then we hear
The clap, which does more slowly reach the ear.— 6:164, 165.
Compare Psalms 29, where the word voice also frequently appears.
The voice of his excellency — Of his majesty: nor is there a sound in nature more descriptive of, or more becoming, the majesty of God, than that of thunder, says Dr. Clarke, who gives here a dissertation on lightning.
He will not stay them — That is, the lightnings. Elihu paints with vivid colours the approaching thunder-storm. The lightnings become more vivid and frequent, flashing even unto the ends of the earth; the thunder follows more closely upon the flash, “after it a voice roareth!” and then we have the matchless swiftness of the lightning — so swift that none but God could “slay them.” The exclamations of astonishment and alarm, intermingling with the lightning flashes, point to a scene actually present to the senses.
Strophe e. — The thunder-storm suggests to the mind of Elihu other meteorological phenomena of nature, such as snow, rains, wind, ice, and in general the reign of winter, which, by scaling up the face of nature, furnishes man abundant opportunity for reflection, Job 37:6-10.
6.Be thou — As in the Septuagint; or, Fall thou, according to some critics, which, as Conant says, “very poorly expresses the gentle falling of the snow.” As respects sublimity, the passage reminds us of the divine fiat that called light into being. Genesis 1:3. The uncounted flakes of snow, in crystallized beauty, and pure as the light of the day, no less express the merciful thought of God than, as Elihu intimates, his ever-recurring creative act. E.H. Palmer, when in Idumaea, encountered a heavy storm of snow, which soon rendered the mountain paths impassable, and subjected the party to extreme discomfort. (Desert of the Exodus, p. 444.)
Small rain — Rather, a gush of rain, such as follows a clap of thunder. So copious is the Hebrew language, that it has no less than seven different words for rain. The view of Hirtzel and Dillmann, that there is a reference here to the early and latter rain, is not sustained.
7.Sealeth up — That is, through storms and cold. He compels men to cease from rural labours, that they who are his work (literally, all men of his work) may be led to reflect upon Him and his ways, “that every man may know his own weakness,” (Septuagint.) A Persian poet (Saadi) has aptly said of the green leaves of the forest,
In the eye of the intelligent,
Every single leaf, is a book of knowledge evincing a creator.
AEschylus uses a like phrase, “the sealing up of thunder,” for restraining it. (Eumen., 830.) Dr. T. Lewis refers to the magnificent description of a thunder storm in Psalms 29, as witnessed from the sheltering temple, whilst at every thunder peal “every one in His temple (Job 37:9) is crying ‘Glory!’” ( .) Similarly, a sheltering home should lead to a like grateful recognition of God, as “he doth fly upon the wings of the wind,” letting loose the forces of nature, and controlling, while intensifying, their power. Palmistry — the art of divining one’s fate by inspecting the lines and lineaments of the hand — founded its foolish pretensions upon a false reading of this passage, making it to mean that God has sealed upon every man’s hand how long he shall live. See WEMYSS on Job, p. 300.
8.The world is thus left to man alone in the presence of God. (Canon Cook.)
9.Out of the south — Not unlike the Greek, the Oriental imagined a secret chamber, or home, for the whirlwind, from which God summoned it forth. Careering over the broad Arabian desert, which lay to the south, these storms acquired a fearful momentum. See note on Job 1:19. The north — Hebrew, mezarim, Furst supposes to mean the constellations of the north; others, as in the margin, the scatterers, the name given to the winds in the Koran.
10.By the breath of God — See note on Job 4:9. Frost is given — The preceding verse has spoken of the whirlwind of the south, and the mysterious mezarim that “scatter” the clouds, and prepare the way for “the cold,” ( ,) the wintry king of nature. But these stormy messengers do not so much speak of God as the silent frost, ( ,) whose beneficent mission is accomplished amid the general silence of nature. “Frost,” says Dr. Clarke, “is God’s universal plough, by which he cultivates the whole earth.” “The waves of cold,” of which science speaks, that in solemn silence sweep across continents, Elihu sublimely attributes to the breath of God.
Is straitened — Compare Job 38:30. Hitzig acutely remarks, that “it is not the mass of waters that is spoken of, but their breadth.” The straitening of the waters does not necessarily refer, therefore, to the freezing of them over, but rather to their restriction, or narrowing, by reason of the ice along each side or bank, and, therefore, has nothing to do with the scientific fact that water expands in the act of congealing. The citation Umbreit makes from an Arabic poet will illustrate another possible rendering of , “firmly bound,” (thus T. Lewis,) instead of “straitened:” — “The floods are fettered in bonds of iron.”
Strophe f — The constantly-flashing lightning, and the ever-changing and revolving clouds, lead Elihu to again speak of lightning and of cloud, and show that even these are under the guidance of God, Job 37:11-13.
“The storm in its magnificent approach drifts victoriously before all the senses of Elihu, so that from all other images, brought forward, as they are, with a certain haste, he ever recurs to that of the storm.” — Schlottmann.
11.By watering’ cloud — Literally, with moisture he loadeth the cloud. While yet the burdened and wearied cloud discharges itself upon the earth, God spreadeth abroad the cloud of his light, which some regard as a lightning cloud.
Scattereth — For import of Hebrew word, compare Job 38:24.
12.It is turned’ counsels — The changing, whirling, apparently capricious clouds are really under his guidance (“steering, after the manner of a ship,” Dillmann) for the accomplishment of his beneficent or retributive designs towards “the world of the earth;” more literally, on the face of the habitable land of the earth. Hengstenberg thinks that the expression it is turned, or “turns itself” (Hithpael, same as in Genesis 3:24) round “in circles,” refers to the revolution of the seasons, which “accomplish, as it were, a complete course.” This would be a digression hardly justified by the preceding and following verses, which treat of the clouds as messengers of God’s mercy or his wrath.
13.Or for his land — Some, not so well, read this expression parenthetically, (when for his land.) It stands rather as a divine providence between the dearth that brings correction and sorrow and the abundance which means mercy, but which is too oft perverted into channels of spiritual blight and apostasy: “so tempered.” says Warburton, “in a long-continued course as to produce that fertility of soil which was to make one of the blessings of the Promised Land, a providence as distinct from the other two of correction and mercy as the genus is from the species.” — Divine Legation, vi, sec. 2. In chastisement the world is no less the care of God than when under the more constant regime of mercy. The very clouds, “the most elevating part of nature,” whose design is one of mercy, ever tempering the sun’s intolerable glare — frail and evanescent purveyors of heaven’s wondrous gift of rain — may by the sins of men be converted into a scourge and blight to the world.
Third division — AN APPLICATION TO JOB OF THE PRECEDING DISCOURSES. THE FOLLY OF CONTENDING WITH GOD, OR OF STRIVING TO GRASP THE MYSTERY OF SUFFERING WHILE THE MYSTERIES OF GOD’S WORKING IN NATURE REMAIN UNEXPLAINED, Job 37:14-24.
a. He who presumes to arraign God in judgment, (compare Job 37:19 with Job 13:18; Job 23:4,) and cannot account for the simplest of his doings except to admit that they are, may with reason fear that such blindness of mind will transform itself into a fool-headedness of action which will bring down swift destruction, Job 37:14-20.
15.When — Others, how. The most satisfactory reading is that of Heiligstedt: “Knowst thou how God imposed [laws] upon them; how he did, that these wonders should arise; for instance, how the light streams forth from out the dark cloud.”
16.The balancings of the clouds — The suspension of the clouds in the atmosphere, especially those freighted with rain, has not yet been satisfactorily explained. Dr. Samuel Clarke has a sermon in loc. on the “Omniscience of God.”
17.How — . Some of the best critics link the three verses (16-18) in one continuous thought, and read Thou whose garments are warm, etc. Shall he who suffers from heat which he does not understand exalt himself to a joint makership of the vault of the skies? The Authorized Version is quite as satisfactory, with which Hitzig agrees. The oppressive, murky sultriness which immediately precedes the outburst of a heavy thunder-storm may have suggested the thought to Elihu.
When he quieteth the earth — Or, according to some, “when the earth is quiet” or sultry. The experience of Dr. Thomson (Land and Book, 2:312) furnishes a fit illustration: “The sirocco to-day is of the quiet kind.’ Pale lightnings played through the air like forked tongues of burnished steel, but there was no thunder and no wind. The heat, however, became intolerable, and I escaped from the burning highway into a dark vaulted room at the lower Bethhoron.’ This sensation of dry, hot clothes is only experienced during the siroccos, and on such a day, too, one understands the other effects mentioned by the prophet, (Isaiah 25:5,) bringing down the noise, and quieting the earth. There is no living thing abroad to make a noise.’ No one has energy enough to make a noise, and the very air is too weak and languid to stir the pendant leaves of the tall poplars.” Compare Isaiah 18:4.
18.Molten looking-glass — Septuagint, Vision of Melting. The mirrors of the ancients were made of metal, whose power of reflection depended upon their being highly burnished. Such a mirror might stand as an image of brightness or effulgence, as well as of strength or stability. The dazzling effulgence of an eastern sky, too great for the eye to bear, may have been really the point of comparison in the mind of Elihu. The apostle alludes to the comparatively imperfect reflection of mirrors made of metal, (1 Corinthians 13:12;) but this divine mirror, notwithstanding all the storms which pass over it, is as bright now as in the morn of creation. In speaking of the strength of the sky, there is no evidence that Elihu regarded it as solid. On the contrary, as Petavius long ago suggested, though but thin and vaporous expanse, (rakia’h,) it separates and holds up the waters. “as if it were a most solid wall.” Comp. Genesis 1:6-7. Our own word firmament, from the Latin word firmus, (strong,) corresponds to the Greek στερεωμα, a word once used in the New Testament, and then applied by the apostle to faith, (Colossians 2:5,) which our translators have rendered by steadfastness, that is, “firm in its place,” the old Danish word sted signifying “place.” For Scripture views of the sky, compare Exodus 24:10, (transparent sapphire;) Psalms 102:26, (vesture;) Psalms 104:2, (a curtain;) Isaiah 40:22, (“as a curtain,” or, “like gauze.”)
19.We cannot order our speech — Literally, We cannot set in order.
This is evidently a stern rebuke of Job for his boastful declarations in Job 13:18, and in Job 23:4, that he had set in order his cause: — the same word ( ) being used in all three cases, and furnishing an instance among the many in this speech that it is an integral portion of the work.
By reason of darkness — The reference is to the darkness of the understanding. Umbreit suggests that the sense of the preceding verse should lead us to think of the bewildering blinding of the eyes when they are turned, in a bold controversy with the Almighty, towards the sunny heavens.
20.That I speak — Shall it be told Him that I question and arraign his moral government — even I, involved in such darkness (Job 37:19) that I cannot order aright my speech? He who thus speaks has reason to fear destruction: for such is the overwhelming presence of God that none can “see his face and live,” much less speak to him face to face.
If a man speak’ swallowed up — Dillmann and the best critics render these words as a question: “Hath a man ever said that he would (fain) be destroyed?” Will one readily pursue a course involving certain destruction, such as Job would have done had he intruded himself before God? Exodus 19:21; Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22, etc.
b. The changing phenomena in the sky lead Elihu to remark that the bright light may for a time be veiled by clouds and darkness, but these shall be chased away. So the hidden and unsearchable God, all of whose attributes harmonize with each other, shall disclose himself in love to the heart that submissively bends before his incomparable majesty and glory, Job 37:21-24.
21.And now is used in the temporal sense. The changes then taking place in the sky suggest the following beautiful figure: —
Men see’ cleanseth them — Delitzsch, Zockler, and Hitzig read cleanseth, cleareth [chaseth] them away. Every cloud, however dark, not only has “a silver lining,” as we would say, but hides in ( ) and behind itself the precious light. The wind passes over the sky and clears away the clouds, and the hidden light is revealed. The clouds that are black to us are brightness on the other side. “There is abundance of light,” says Dr. Bushnell, “which we might readily infer from the fact that so much of it shines through.” — Sermon, in loc. “Elihu hereby means to say that the God who is hidden only for a time, respecting whom one runs the risk of being in perplexity, can suddenly unveil himself to our surprise and confusion, and that, therefore, it becomes us to bow humbly and quietly to his present mysterious visitation.” — Delitzsch. The following view of Conant, which agrees with that of Rosenmuller, Ewald, Hirtzel, etc., does not so well harmonize with the context: — “Men cannot look on the clear sunlight in the cloudless sky; how then (Job 37:22) can they comprehend God, whom a more fearful majesty surrounds? Compare 1 Timothy 6:16.”
22.Fair weather — , gold. Literally, out of the north cometh gold, and is rendered by the Septuagint, “clouds shining like gold.” It would certainly have been a descent from this sublime description of an Eastern thunderstorm for the poet to stop for the mere record of a well attested fact, that gold, in ancient times, was found in the north. The word must be used here in a figurative sense, an instance of which is given in Zechariah 4:12, where the word gold is used for “pure oil.” Such figurative use of gold for splendour of light is common in Oriental literature: “The sun is gold” says Abulala. God is now approaching, as Elihu himself feels, for he again breaks forth, “With (literally, upon) God is terrible majesty.” A golden sheen fills the northern sky as the awful Eloah draws near. The uplifting of the clouds indicated in the preceding verse prepares us for the irruption of divine glory.
Samuel Wesley, in his learned dissertations on Job, may not have been far out of the way in his view that this splendour was that of the Aurora Borealis, lifting itself above the storm. Wemyss indorses this view, while Tayler Lewis remarks, “that it was something that combined the beautiful, as we may judge from the name he gives it, with the terrible. That there was something of this fearful fascination about it is evident from the sudden cry which it calls out: With God is dreadful majesty.” The interpretation of Hirtzel and Delitzsch is a constrained one, to wit, that man may lay bare the hidden treasures of gold, but cannot search out God, nor comprehend the depths of his wisdom and power.
23.Touching the Almighty’ he will not afflict — The Almighty! We cannot find him out; great (is he) in power, but right and the fulness of justice he will not pervert. A most worthy ascription to Deity. His infinite power is restricted by his sense of right and justice. “The incomprehensibility and infinite perfection of God silence all objections to his government.” — Scott. Thus the great difficulties stated by Job are met and answered. The humblest may cherish trust in God that “he will not afflict willingly,” for chastisement and trial, which arise from the dark and unsearchable depths, really come from the divine heart. In place of He will not afflict, (he will not pervert, ,) Hirtzel and Rosenmuller read, “He answers not,” when arraigned by the puny mind of man.
We cannot find him out — See note on Job 11:7, and “Garbett’s Bampton,” (1867,) lec. 4.
24.He respecteth not — He regardeth not, (or, as nothing — Schultens,) any of the wise of heart. “who seem to themselves to be wise.” (Vulgate.) The self-conceited wisdom of men is beneath the contempt of God. Even “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” 1 Corinthians 1:25-29. The dispute, so long protracted, ends in the nothingness of man. Human wisdom, that flaunted high pretensions, trails in the dust. The murmuring and rebellious sufferer, who but a little before defied man and questioned God, is now abashed into silence, and by his silence acknowledges the justice of Elihu’s reasoning and rebuke, (comp. Job 6:24,) so that now naught remains but the divine disclosure, which Job has every reason to apprehend.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 37". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany