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Bible Commentaries
Job 38

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



“The aim of which is, to prove that the almighty and only wise God, with whom no mortal should dispute, might also ordain suffering simply to prove and test the righteous.” Zockler.


Though Job, who at the close of the debate was conqueror, (see page 170,) has maintained the silence he had promised in case he should be convinced, (Job 6:24,) there is as yet nothing to indicate that the soul has been subdued. Notwithstanding he is defeated in the realm of mind, he may yet stand erect in vainglory and self-exaltation.

To say nothing of the spiritual aspect of the case, the work, in an artistic view, would be incomplete with its hero unsubdued and defiant. The pious and evangelical addresses of Elihu have, therefore, served a twofold purpose: that of argumentative conviction of the mind, and of transition to soul conviction a work which belongs not to man, but to God alone. Elihu, as we have remarked, appeared upon the scene as messenger and deputy of God. (See page 201.) The address of the Almighty consequently does not propose to contravene that of his deputy, and is, therefore, made to Job.

It takes up the subject from the sphere of natural phenomena, where Elihu, in alarm, had left it, and begins with a rebuke of Job for darkening counsel by words without knowledge. The discourse practically endorses that of Elihu, and confessedly adds but little to dogmatic argument. However, “a question rightly asked is already half answered.” as Jacobi has observed, and this may be the secret of the divine mode in this address, the severity of which is tempered with divine benignity and condescension. It consists of a series of questions “the proper mode of utterance for the awful majesty of God” which must have fallen upon the startled ear of Job like so many claps of thunder. The lesson which each of these questions served more deeply to impress upon the soul of Job was one of unconditional submission, “without the learning of which, all solutions of problems, whether higher or lower, would be of no avail.” His pride is abased by the unexpected manner in which God appears. We have seen intimations that Job cherished expectations of some grand as well as gracious interference, which, as with a Naaman, should pay great deference to him, the innocent sufferer. He certainly had anticipated a high conference with Deity, in which the reasons of his sufferings should be unfolded, and himself justified. Instead of this, the muttering storm must have aroused apprehensions that the God who draws near has indeed come to judgment. The clearing of the sky betokens the theophany to be one of mercy and of love, an unconscious prophecy of the future incarnate One, of whom it was to be said, A bruised reed shall he not break, and a glimmering wick shall he not quench. Isaiah 42:3. God comes now not to argue, nor bring solutions of evil, but to “offer himself as that which supersedes solution.” The contemplation of the divine glory stills the voice of murmur; the high-sounding arguments Job had prepared against the appearing of Jehovah are all forgotten; and “the problem of trouble is cast aside as a worthless quibble.”

In the mirror of the divine wisdom, goodness, and power, Job sees himself ignorant, self-righteous, vain, and presumptuous. His loud complaints of divine neglect nay, that God had turned to be his enemy suffer stern rebuke from the divine care for the deserted brood of the voracious raven. As Hengstenberg well says, “The lion and the raven, the aristocracy and the proletariat of the world of beasts, rise up as witnesses against Job.… At first sight it must occasion surprise that the mind of the suffering righteous is directed to the war-horse, to the hawk, to the raven, to the behemoth or hippopotamus, to the leviathan or crocodile. And yet, more carefully examined, we see that such a course was fully adapted to its purpose. An almighty, all-knowing, and all-wise God, who is not at the same time righteous, is in truth an unthinkable thought. For this reason those who doubt God’s righteousness are on the high road to doubt His existence.… Then, should we fall into error regarding one side of the divine nature, we shall be able to lift ourselves up by cleaving all the more firmly to another. By and by even the dark side will become light.”

The change of style, when compared with the sublime utterances of Job even, is noteworthy. The tone is exalted; the fires of passion kindle through every verse; the imagery is grander and more massive; the speaker seems to stand within the realms of antediluvian life, and to hold at his command all departments of nature and of being, and, humanly speaking, to have fired his imagination by sights and conceptions to which we have nothing to correspond.

The discourse divides itself into six great strophes, three of which contain twelve verses each; two of them contain eleven verses each, and one of them ten verses.

Verse 1

1. The Lord Jehovah. See note, Job 1:21. This name of tenderness, mercy and hope reappears as the solution of the mystery draws nigh.

Answered Job Bishop Wordsworth remarks, that the mention of the fact that the Lord answered Job is tantamount to an intimation that some one else had spoken just before the Lord’s answer. This was Elihu.

Out of the whirlwind מנ הסערה ; more properly, out of the storm. Canon Cook ( Speaker’s Com.) justly observes, that the article refers to the last part of Elihu’s address. It is an attestation to the genuineness of that discourse, nor has any satisfactory explanation been suggested by those who reject it. Nothing could be more abrupt than the transition from Job’s last words to this statement.

And said The natural inference is, that the communication was an articulate utterance, and not, as Canon Cook intimates, a mere mental impression upon the understanding. The closing description of Elihu shows that the storm was abating. There is, therefore, no intrinsic difficulty in supposing an audible voice of God.

Verse 2

Introduction By a pertinent question Jehovah singles Job out as the object of special address, and recognizes him as the leader in arraigning the divine counsel, and proceeds to summon him to prepare for the divine adjudication he has so often invoked, (Job 9:34-35; Job 13:18; Job 23:3; Job 31:35,) and more especially to meet the conditions of his own challenge, (Job 13:22:) THEN CALL THOU, AND I WILL ANSWER, Job 38:2-3.

2. Who is this that darkeneth, etc. A more pertinent and mortifying rebuke for the victor in debate could hardly be conceived.

Counsel In the sense of plan, of which the sufferings of Job were a part an idea which God proceeds more fully to illustrate by the additional design or plan which appears in the formation of the world. The quaint old divine, Thomas Brooks, citing this text, says: “Men of abstract conceits and wise speculations are but wise fools: like the lark that soareth on high, peering and peering, but at last falleth into the net of the fowler. Such persons are as censorious as curious, and do Christ and his Church but very little service in this world.”

Verse 3

3. Gird up now thy loins See note, Job 12:20. Job, who controverts the purposes of the Most High, from the nature of the case assumes an equal or co-extensive knowledge with Deity an assumption now to be tested by a series of questions which shall still further demonstrate his absolute ignorance of the physical world, and logically show his utter incompetency to sit in judgment upon the simplest questions of the moral world. He is, therefore, called upon to “gird up his loins.” for he will need all his resources for the task before him.

Like a man A recognition of the true nobleness of the manhood of normal man. 1 Corinthians 16:13. Poverty and distress, and even the loathsomeness of disease, sully it not “a man’s a man for a’ that.”

Verse 4



“All true knowledge is genetic.” Hitzig. He who claims insight into that which is, must know how it came to be, for nature ( natura) is a perpetual birth. This first long strophe treats of the wonder-working of Omnipotence. Each of the minor strophes consists of four verses, the fourth verse of each, according to Schlottmann, forming a climax in the thought.

a. Job is summoned to explain the founding of the earth; the laying out of its architectural proportion; and even so simple and yet glorious a matter as the laying of its corner-stone, Job 38:4-7.

4. Laid the foundations When I founded the earth (a more exact rendering) better harmonizes with the wonderful scientific disclosure of Job 26:7.

Verse 5

5. If thou knowest Rather, That thou shouldst know. This sounds the key-note to the whole series of questions the folly of man’s assuming to comprehend the work of God. The puniness of the human mind will be set forth, just as a molehill finds its true dimensions beneath the shadow of a mountain. Each question conveys an oblique allusion to Job for his folly in arraigning an incomprehensible God. Job 9:35; Job 13:18; Job 13:22; Job 23:3-7; Job 31:35-37. Stretched the line Like a wise master-builder, with measuring-line he lays out the world. “Behold,” says Samuel Wesley, “the architecture of God! The terms are those of the geometer or builder. The bases, the hinges, the lines, the perpendicular, the corner-stone, the measures.”

Verse 6

6. Whereupon are… fastened On what were its foundations sunk? A question that implies that the earth hung free in space, as stated Job 26:7. Foundations The Hebrew signifies also “pedestals,” “bases.”

The corner-stone In ancient times it was massive, and not only served to bind together the sides of the building, but also as a depository for sacred objects. Sennacherib, in the Bellino inscription, speaks several times of the tinim the clay tablets or cylinders that were inscribed with sacred writings, and deposited in the corner-stone. Compare a discourse in loc., by E.M. Goulburn.

Verse 7

7. Morning stars According to some, literal stars, whose song is one of metaphor. They are called morning stars because of their association with the dawn of the world. A beautiful figure it would be, that of the rejoicing of the brightest worlds over the birth of a sister star: (see note Job 3:6) but the less fanciful view, is that which regards the morning stars as a higher order of angels “creatures of such glory that they surpass all other creatures of God, in the same way that the brightness of the morning star ( Lucifer, Isaiah 14:12) eclipses all the other stars.” Zockler. Stars, in the Scriptures, are the standing figure for angels. Christ calls himself “the bright and morning star,” since he ushers in the everlasting day. Revelation 22:16. The promise of Christ to give “the morning star” to “him that overcometh,” (Revelation 2:28.) leads Dr. Candlish to the speculation that “it may seem probable that some joint-fellowship of angels and men in Christ’s sonship is what, by thus connecting together, in so close a verbal relation, the widely-separated books of Job and the Revelation, the Spirit intends to teach. For thus we find the title ‘ morning star,’ which is associated with that of ‘ son of God’ in the case of the angels, applied to the Son of God himself, and in him, also, to the overcoming Christian.… In particular, as used in these texts, taken together, it surely points to the identification of unfallen angels and redeemed men with the second person in the Godhead.” See his Cunningham Lectures, pp. 125, 155, 156. Sang together The ancients laid a cornerstone with music and songs. Ezra 3:10; Zechariah 4:7. Bishop Wordsworth alludes to the songs of the angels “at the laying of the foundation-stone of the temple of the new creation, in the nativity of Christ.”

Sons of God Sons of Elohim. See note on Job 1:6. Kurtz ( Bible and Astronomy, see. 18) enlarges upon the term Elohim: “Let it be borne in mind that angels are always called the sons of God, but not of Jehovah. The term Elohim designates the Divine Being as the fulness and source of life, of power, of blessedness, of holiness, of glory and majesty. The term Jehovah describes him as merciful and gracious.”… “The sons of Elohim are, therefore, they in whom shine forth his power and glory. The sons of Jehovah are those who receive, and are the vehicles of his redeeming mercy. In this sense Israel is called the firstborn son of Jehovah. Exodus 4:22. ” See note, Job 1:21.

Whether the interpretation given to “the morning stars,” spoken of above, be that they belong to the inanimate or animate creation, we are justified in the remark that their creation preceded that of this world. The present allusion to “sons of God” makes it clear that there were conscious and joyous beings of a high grade in existence before the founding of our world; that is, before the creative work described in Genesis 1:0. This fact leads to the wider inference, that the whole of the universe was not created at once.

Verse 8

b. Job may, perhaps, tell who separated the sea from the womb of primeval chaos, and restrained its violence and rage within doors and bars, and made it docile and pliant as an infant in the hands of God, and subjected it to the dominion of eternal law, Job 38:8-11.

8. As if it had issued When it issued, or burst forth. The figure is one of incomparable grandeur. At the command of God the sea comes forth from the chaos in which, as in a womb, it had lain concealed. The same verb, גיח , “burst forth,” is used in Psalms 22:9 of the issuing of the fetus from the womb.

Verse 9

9. Thick darkness a swaddling band The mighty sea, as it broke forth from unseen depths, was but an infant in the hands of God, with the cloud for garment, and the thick darkness its swaddling cloth. This carrying forward of the image of the newborn sea is evidently an allusion, if not a parallel, to “the darkness on the deep.” (Genesis 1:2.) “I do not believe that this object was ever presented under a bolder figure than that by which it is expressed, of an infant which the Creator of the world swathes and clothes with its appropriate garments. It bursts forth from the clefts of the earth, as from the womb of its mother; the Ruler and Director of all things addresses it as a living being, as a young giant exulting in his subduing power, and with a word the sea is hushed, and obeys him forever.” HERDER, Hebrew Poetry, 1:89.

Verse 10

10. Brake up… decreed place Rather, And broke over it my decree. The tumultuous violence of the ocean is still in the poet’s mind its struggles were Titanic as it came into contact with the divine law. “The breaking of the land upon it represents, better than any other linguistic painting could do, its wild stubbornness. It is really the sea breaking itself against law; but there is great vividness and even sublimity in the converse of the figure.”- T. Lewis. Schlottmann sees in this sublime description an ambition on the part of the young sea infinitely to extend its mass and limits; (comp. Job 7:12, with note;) but these are broken off with violence by one more powerful, even God himself, and so forever confined within prescribed limits. Job may take comfort; God can also set bars and doors to sorrow’s waves.

Verse 11

11. Hitherto shalt thou come No one would, a priori, have conceived that so vast and mighty a body of water as the ocean could be kept in place by so contemptible a barrier as a shore of sand. There may have been in the mind of the speaker a more enlarged conception than that of a mere coast girding the sea on every side. That conception may have embraced the wonderful forces which unite to secure the stability of the ocean, and maintain its equilibrium. “The mean depth of the sea, according to the calculations of Laplace, is four or five miles. On this supposition, the addition to the sea of one fourth of the existing waters would drown the whole of the globe, excepting a few chains of mountains. Whether this be exact or no, we can easily conceive the quantity of water which lies in the cavities of our earth to be greater or less than it at present is. With every such addition or subtraction the form and magnitude of the dry land would vary” producing vastly important and destructive consequences, which Whewell proceeds to unfold. Astronomy and General Physics, book i, chap. 4. The stability of the ocean is secured by numerous nicely adjusted forces, among which the mean specific gravity of the earth, as well as the specific gravities of the moon, planets, and sun, may be mentioned as the most important. To enlarge upon but one of these influences the density of our earth: the simple circumstance that it is about five times that of water an exact proportion, which needed a divine mind to establish furnishes a restraint upon the immense fluid masses, by which they are held incumbent within their ocean bed. “The density of Jupiter is one fourth, that of Saturn less than one seventh, of that of the earth. If an ocean of water were poured into the cavities upon the surface of Saturn its equilibrium would not be stable. It would leave its bed on one side of the globe; and the planet would finally be composed of one hemisphere of water and one of land. If the earth had an ocean of a fluid six times as heavy as water, (quicksilver is thirteen times as heavy,) we should have in like manner a dry and fluid hemisphere” WHEWELL, ibid., book ii, chap. 6. Be stayed Literally, One shall set “a bound” evidently being understood.

Verse 12

c. If so be Job was not in being when the foundations of the world were laid, perhaps he has, during his short life, shown his power and skill in carrying on the works of nature; has, at least once, spread forth upon the earth the light of the morn, causing the aurora to know its place; and thereby, to a certain extent, wielded the moral government of the world, Job 38:12-15.

12. Hast thou commanded the morning “A morning,” בקר . Since the creation of the earth God has, uncounted times, commanded the morning to arise at its time; has Job since his birth (literally “from thy days”) commanded one morning to break ( bakar) the darkness of the night.

Dayspring This word ( שׁחר ) is rendered “day,” Job 3:9, on which see note.

To know his place “This seems to refer to the different points in which daybreak appears during the course of the earth’s revolution in its orbit; and which variety of points of appearing depends on this annual revolution. For as the earth goes round the sun every year in the ecliptic, one half of which is on the north side of the equinoctial, and the other half on its south side, the sun appears to change its place every day.” ( A. Clarke.) The aurora changes its place according to unerring law, in march and countermarch so exact, that like an intelligent being, it may be said from long association to “know its place.” See note on Job 7:10. Perhaps the so great knowledge of Job may have been by some means communicated to the fleeting, insubstantial, but beauteous, morn, ( Shahhar, to shine,) so that, like him, it deviates not from the right, though it may constantly remove its place!! As respects processes of nature, the Semitic mind, from its earliest records, manifested implicit faith in their permanence, for the obvious reason that they are but the out-goings of the Divine Being, (Psalms 65:8-11;) so much so that even the dawn stands as an abiding emblem of the divine faithfulness, for, “His rising is fixed [ nakon, ] like the morning dawn.” Hosea 6:3. See note, Job 42:7. On the other hand, to the early Aryan mind everything in nature was fanciful and capricious. “The Titanic assurance with which we [Aryans, enlightened by a divine revelation] say the sun must rise, was unknown to the early worshippers of nature.… It seems to us childish when we read in the Veda such expressions as ‘ Will the sun rise?’ ‘ Will our old friend, the dawn, come back again?’ ‘ Will the power of darkness be conquered by the God of light?’” MAX MULLER Chips, etc., 2:93-100.

Verse 13

13. Ends of the earth See note on Job 37:3. Daylight, as it chases evil-doers back to their hiding places, seems “to take hold of the carpet of the earth, as it were, by the edges,” and shake from it the wicked. The dawn shines forth under the figure of “a watchman, a messenger of the prince of heaven sent to chase away bands of robbers,” with their deeds of darkness. In ancient times justice was administered in the early morning, (Jeremiah 21:12,) as Drusius has fully shown. There is an unmistakable allusion to Job’s complaint, (Job 24:16-17.) The constant return of the light of the day “thus becomes an image of the perpetual flight and destruction of wicked men before God.” Ewald, 297.

Verse 14

14. It is turned as clay to the seal It is changed like signet-clay. The earth, which beneath the veil of night appeared an obscure and disfigured mass, takes the impress of the rising light, and reveals forms of beauty and lineaments of design, just as the uncouth clay receives and retains the stamp of the seal. In other words, the dark earth no sooner feels the touch of the morning light the seal the Almighty holds in his hand than it responds by a disclosure of a widespread landscape in all its diversified form and hue. The figure is one of exquisite beauty. Many of the Assyrian seals, according to Layard, ( Nineveh, etc., vol. 2:421; 3:608,) were most delicately and minutely ornamented with various sacred devices. They were often cylindrical, and turned on an axis. “They were evidently rolled on the moist clay at the same time as the characters were impressed. The tablet was then placed in the furnace and baked.” Some suppose that there is a reference here to the revolution of the earth around its axis. See note of Hitzig, in loc.

As a garment The objects thus revealed stand forth like the variegated embroidery of a garment. The ancient Egyptians, according to Eusebius, portrayed the world after the form of a man clad in a variegated garment reaching down to the feet.

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Verse 15

15. Their light Darkness is their light, ( Delitzsch, “their favourite light,”) as in Job 24:17; John 3:19. The high arm Compare Job 22:8-9; Job 31:22. Shall be broken Inasmuch as the light of the day prevents the accomplishment of the nefarious work for which the arm was uplifted.

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Verse 16


This second long strophe descants upon the attribute of wisdom, with the closely allied attribute of omniscience.

α . The knower of all things must have explored the fountains of the sea; have seen the gates of death unveiled; and com-passed the breadths of the earth, Job 38:16-18.

16. The search חקר : the recesses. Same as in Job 11:7, which see. Compare Esther 4:7-8; Esther 4:7-8; Esther 8:8; Esther 8:8.

Verse 17

17. Gates of death Used figuratively, or according to the usage of that age. The Assyrian legend of the descent of Ishtar into hades, “the house men enter but cannot depart from,” speaks of seven gates. On the Egyptian sarcophagus of Oimenepthah, each department of the regions of the dead is divided from the next by a tall door, turning upon pivots, and guarded, as in the annexed engraving, by a serpent. The British Museum contains a stone door brought from Syria, which turned upon pivots like this door. Comp. 1 Chronicles 22:3; 1 Kings 7:50. As in Job 26:5-6, (which see,) mention of the secrets of the great deep is linked with the under world of the dead, which lay near by, according to the popular view. Man’s science knows as little of the world of the dead now as then.

Hast thou seen And yet Job has talked of death and its desirableness as if well acquainted with its extended domain; (Job 3:13-19; Job 10:21-22; Job 14:12-13; Job 17:13-16, etc.;) but not even the gates of death has Job ever seen.

Shadow of death See note, Job 3:5.

Verse 18

18. The breadth of the earth Plural, “breadths.” However far and whichever way he may travel, man never perceives the breadth of the earth. It is ever fleeing from him. This, then, also belongs to the unknown.

Verse 19

β . He must also understand the cosmical phenomena of light and darkness; must not only know the paths to their house, but himself, venerable in years, must at some time have escorted them to their home, Job 38:19-21.

19. Way where light dwelleth Neither does the corpuscular theory of Newton, nor Huyghens’ undulatory theory, account for the rise, the cause, or the source of light. Its dwelling place, “in what kind of land it dwells,” (Septuagint,) is an impenetrable mystery. “Ask of the learned THE WAY, the learned are blind.”

Speaking of light, Prof. Tyndall remarks: “We are here dealing, for the most part, with suppositions and assumptions merely. We have never seen the atoms of a luminous body, nor their motions. We have never seen the medium which transmits their motions, nor the waves of that medium.” The Forms of Water, pp. 10, 12. And yet science has penetrated so far into the arcana of nature as to measure the magnitude of ‘the light waves’ by their effects, and to find them varying from one thirty thousandth to one sixty thousandth of an inch. “The whole of that region of space over which astronomers have extended their survey, and doubtless a region many millions of millions of times more extended, may be compared to a wave-tossed sea, only that, instead of a wave-tossed surface, there is a wave-tossed space. At every point, through every point, along every line, athwart every line, myriads of light waves are at all times rushing with the inconceivable velocity of 185,000 miles per second.” R.A. Proctor. Science, instead of solving, is constantly adding to, its difficulties. Its tetra incognita its land of the unknown in an inverse ratio to the explorations made, is constantly enlarging. The most approved works of modern science, professedly clearing the way to the penetralia of nature, do but little more than open up a multitude of indeterminate problems. The haze that rests upon the nature of ultimate material causes upon the beginning or essence of nature’s forces is no less dense now than in the days of Job. The secret of this lies in the profound thought of Edmund Burke, that every subject we attempt to explore branches into the infinite. The most that philosophy does is to record the processes of nature to peer a little into the infinite unknown, in which the primordia of nature DWELL. To make man sensible of his consummate ignorance, and to open up to him the essential finiteness of the human mind, is really the gist of these questions; questions which, though they he never so simple, philosophy will be powerless fully to unfold so long as mind is cased in flesh and blood. “As in Genesis i, the light is here regarded as a self-subsistent, natural force, independent of the heavenly luminaries by which it is transmitted; and herein modern investigation agrees with the direct observations of antiquity.” Schlottmann. See an article entitled “Drifting Light Waves,” by R.A. Proctor, in Contemporary Review, 1877, 2. pp. 219-240. Also, “On the Place where Light Dwelleth,” in Eclectic Magazine, 1870, i, pp. 725-739; 2. 80-86, taken from the British Quarterly Review.

Verse 20

20. Bound thereof The boundary between light and darkness, (Hirtzel;) or, rather, if we make it parallel with “house,” of the second clause, the primordial, or beginning place. A climax is reached by asking Job if he can escort either light or darkness back to its home.

Verse 21

21. Knowest thou it Thou knowest! for then wast thou born, and the number of thy days is great! The keenest irony. Job knows so much, that he must have come into existence at the time when light and darkness were created!

Verse 22

γ . He must have penetrated to the storehouses of snow and hail, and entered nature’s laboratory, where, like so many implements of war, they are produced in vast quantities; he must have found his way to the focal centre from which light divides itself and whence the east wind is dispersed over the earth, Job 38:22-24.

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22. Treasures of the snow אצרות : a word applied frequently to the treasures of the temple, (1 Kings 7:51,) or to those of the royal house. 1 Kings 14:26; 1 Kings 15:18, etc. It is also employed for “magazines,” “treasuries,” or “storehouses;” but here poetically and figuratively for rich and precious treasures that God has laid up against a time of trouble, of which explanation is given in the following verse. Delitzsch finds in the word otseroth (treasures) a deeper meaning the final causes of these phenomena which God has created; the form of the question, the design of which is ethical, not scientific, being regulated according to the infancy of the perception of natural phenomena among the ancients. Cp. Psalms 135:7. These weapons of war (Job 38:23) come forth from the divine and unseen arsenal, displaying evidences of divine elaboration and skill. Seen under a microscope they present a beauty and a variety unsurpassed by objects either in the animal or vegetable kingdom. Produced in calm air, the snow builds itself into beautiful stellar shapes, each star possessing six rays. Sir John Herschel remarks, that the variety of forms affected by these delicate mechanisms is infinite; the beauty of their patterns incomparable.

The treasures of the hail Hail falls most commonly in the latter part of the spring, in very heavy storms, and the hail stones are of an enormous size, etc. RUSSELL, Hist, of Aleppo, 1:71. Of Palestine in general, Robinson says: Hail falls in the hill country in the rainy season more frequently than snow; but does not, in general, occasion much damage. Fine hail mingled with rain is common. Phys. Geog. of Holy Land, 265.

Verse 23

23. The day of battle and war Man’s ordnance for war is the wide-mouthed and wide-resounding cannon; God’s, the silent snowflake, the blight, the unseen fungi floating in the air, or marshalled hosts of insects. “Providence,” said Napoleon, “is on the side of the heaviest battalions;” heaven’s answer consisted simply of snow and hail and cold; and one of the mightiest armies of modern times was laid low. Horace has a similar thought:

Too long, alas! with storms of hail and snow,

Jove has chastised the world below.

Demosthenes compares the destructive course of King Philip to a storm of hail. For Scripture illustrations see Exodus 9:18; Joshua 10:11; 1Sa 7:10 ; 2 Samuel 23:20; Psalms 68:14; Isaiah 28:17, etc.

Verse 24

24. By what way, etc. What is the way that light divides itself? (Dillmann and Hitzig.) Which scattereth, etc. [ How ] does the east wind scatter itself over the earth? The east wind, for diffusiveness and destructiveness corresponding to the Eurus of the classics, is here used representatively. It was an east wind that was summoned to hurl the wicked man out of his place, (Job 27:21, on which see note,) and an east wind also which broke the ships of Tarshish. Psalms 48:7. The reason that light and the east wind are mentioned together may be that they both take their rise in the same quarter of the sky, or because of the extreme heat associated with each.

Verse 25

δ . Who formed the heavenly conduits, through which the water torrents flow? and who providentially guides the thunderbolt, so that untenanted wastes and the thirsty wilderness are blessed? Job 38:25-27.

25. Overflowing of waters The rain falls in such immense masses that the sky seems to overflow. Some one’s mind directs, as through aqueducts, these outpourings (literally, “the water gush” of the sky) which inundate specific regions, and even those unoccupied by man.

A way for the lightning of thunder The Hebrew is verbatim the same as in Job 28:26, on which see note. Thunder is now generally regarded as the result of the sudden re-entrance of the air into a void space, as in the experiment of a bladder tied over an open-mouthed receiver, and burst by the pressure of the external air. This vacuum is supposed to be generated by the lightning in its passage through the air. Electricity communicates a powerful repulsive force to the particles of air along the path of its discharge, producing thus a momentary void, into which immediately afterward the surrounding air rushes with a violence proportioned to the intensity of the electricity. LOOMIS’ Meteorology, p. 168. Dr. Clarke (Com., in loc.) gives a dissertation on the connexion between thunder and rain.

Verse 26

26. Where no man is God lays stress on this circumstance in order to humble man, and to show him that the earth was made neither by him nor for him. (Renan.) The subject trenches upon the unfathomable mystery of lavish expenditure, if not apparent waste, in the universe of God.

Matthew 26:8. For instance, according to Lockyer, our earth intercepts only one ray out of about two thousand million rays of the sun, the rest, for the most part, falling on no planet, but seemingly poured uselessly into empty space. One of the Arabian poets of the Moallakat works on account of their superexcellence suspended in the Kaaba at Mecca beautifully says, “The cloud unloadeth its freight on the Desert of Ghabeit, like a merchant of Yemen alighting with his bales of rich apparel.”

Verse 27

27. To satisfy the desolate and waste ground As if it lifted an imploring voice to God, and he sent down the rain to satisfy it. The desert is thus like a thirsty pilgrim. (Barnes.)

Verse 28

Third long strophe MORTIFYING QUESTIONS AS TO THE ORIGIN OF METEOROLOGICAL PHENOMENA, THE CONSTITUTION AND CONTROL OF MIGHTY CONSTELLATIONS, AND THE CREATIVE COMMAND OF SO INSIGNIFICANT PHENOMENA AS THE CLOUDS OF JOB’S OWN SKY, Job 38:28-38. Predominant in this strophe is the twofold conception of power and wisdom which leads more particularly to questions as to the source of wisdom in man, ( Job 5:36,) the boasted counterpart of God.

α . Perhaps a human parentage may be found for the rain, the dew, the ice, and the hoar frost, and Job may be able to produce them at pleasure! Job 38:28-30.

28. The rain… the drops of dew The parentage of the rain and the dew is not with man, but with God. Jablonski declares that the enlightened Egyptian considered the moon to be the parent of dew a fact which gives emphasis to the question of the Almighty.

Begotten “The figure of generation, ” as Dr. T. Lewis remarks, “is kept up in הוליד , ‘ begotten.’

There has been a great lack of attention to the momentous fact that so much of this language of generation, or of evolution, or production by birth, (one thing coming out of another,) is employed in Scripture, not only in the poetical parts, such as Psalms 90:2; Psalms 104:0, Proverbs 8:22, and here in Job; but in the prose account of Genesis 1:0, ‘ The earth bringing forth; ’ ‘ the waters swarming with life;’ ‘ the Spirit brooding upon them;’ ‘the generations, תולדות , of the heavens and the earth.’” The questions of these two verses intimate that nature has within herself no life, or potency of life, except such as God himself imparts. Nor is matter the universal mother “who brings forth all things as the fruit of her own womb,” as Bruno (cited by Prof. Tyndall) would say, but rather a capacity for the evolving of life, and the various forms and qualities of life, either directly, by the creative will of God, or indirectly, according to divinely-devised laws, to which God originally imparted, or continues still to impart, life-giving power. The questions of these verses spring from the remarkable generalization, which true science now justifies, that there can be no life without semination. This thought the text transfers in figure to the formation of the rain and the dew, the ice and the hoar frost; even these dead forms or products of nature must have had an author.

Job 38:29 is an enlargement of the thought of the preceding verse. The variation in gender is accommodated to the idea that the ice and frost come forth from the earth, (see note, Job 1:21,) while the rain and drops of dew take their rise in heaven.

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Verse 30

30. The waters are hid as with a stone The waters harden like stone. Thus Furst, etc. The root idea of חבא is that of “hiding,” “concealing:” here used in the Hithpael it signifies “they hide themselves.” in other words, “congeal;” to which Umbreit gives the idea of “hiding under a stone.” The comparison to a stone is introduced rather to show the result of freezing, which is a hardness like that of stone, כאבן . The son of Sirach speaks of the cold north wind clothing the water as with a breastplate. Sir 43:20 .

Is frozen Cleaves together. See note on Job 37:10. The same word, יתלכדו , is used in Job 41:17 of the joining together of the scales of the leviathan. The face of the deep closes in together after the manner of the human face, (thus Hitzig,) whose lineaments constitute the countenance. Tyndall, in his treatise on “The Structure and Properties of Ice,” describes the transmission, in various directions, of sunbeams, condensed by a lens, through slabs of ice. “The path of every beam was observed to be instantly studded with lustrous spots, which increased in magnitude and number as the action continued. On examining the spots more closely they were found to be flattened spheroids, and around each of them the ice was so liquified as to form a beautiful flower-shaped figure possessing six petals. From this number there was no deviation. At first the edges of the liquid leaves were unindented; but a continuance of the action usually caused the edges to become serrated like those of ferns.” In his work on “Forms of Water,” (pp. 35-38.) the same author says, “In all cases the flowers are formed parallel to the surface of freezing. They are formed when the sun shines upon the ice of every lake; sometimes in myriads, and so small as to require a magnifying glass to see them.… Here we have a reversal of the process of crystallization… In this exquisite way every bit of the ice over which our skaters glide in winter is put together.”

Verse 31

β . Perhaps Job can tell who formed the constellations, “Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the South,” upon which he descanted so sublimely, (Job 9:9,) and who set them in their lofty places, and ordained and confirmed their influences upon the earth! Job 38:31-33.

31. Sweet influences Our Authorized Version is based on the natural derivation of מעדנות from עדן , “to be soft” or “tender,” the root idea of the word Eden. According to this rendering the meaning is, as given by Patrick, “Canst thou forbid the sweet flowers to come forth, when the ‘seven stars’ arise in the spring; or open the earth for the husbandman’s labour, when the winter season, at the rising of Orion, ties up their hands;” an interpretation fanciful and weak. The word is now generally supposed to be, by metathesis, from ענד , “to bind;” hence bands. Furst, Gesenius, etc., follow the Septuagint and Targum in this rendering. The word kimah, rendered PLEIADES, (the seven stars,) signifies heap or group, and naturally suggests the ties that bind it together into its beautiful order, which leads Persian poets to compare it to a bouquet formed of jewels, (see note, Job 9:9,) and one of the Moallakat to say, “It was the hour when the Pleiades appeared in the firmament, like the folds of a silken sash, variously decked with gems.” With Oriental poets “the bands of the Pleiades” is a frequent figure. It will illustrate the Authorized Version to add that Madlar reached the conclusion that Alcyone, the principal star in the group of the Pleiades, now occupies the centre of gravity, and is at present the sun or great centre about which our universe of stars is revolving. This “focal point,” it is proper to add, was conjectured by Struve to lie between π and μ , in the group Hercules; while Argelander fixed upon Perseus as “the empire constellation of our astral system.” These “seven stars,” which in unspeakable beauty shine conspicuously forth from a vast throng ( heap) of apparently minor stars, out of a distance perhaps forty million times as great as that of our own earth from the sun, send forth tender and as yet unestimated powerful influences, some of which our own earth is not too small to gather up and to feel.

The bands of Orion (See Job 9:9.) מושׁכות , signifies also fetters, or its belt of three stars. (Hitzig.) These are the stars by which the giant form seems to be fastened to the heaven. (Hirtzel.) These mighty stars canst thou move from the places God has assigned them? Job can neither place in order the clustering Pleiades nor displace the stars of Orion. There is, possibly, an allusion to the wonderful nebula within this constellation. “Orion and the Pleiades are visible in the Syrian sky longer in the year than with us, and there they come about 17 higher above the horizon than with us.” Delitzsch.

Verse 32

32. Mazzaroth Even at the time of the translation made by the Seventy, the meaning of this word was uncertain. It is now generally supposed to be the same as Mazzaloth, (“the planets,” 2 Kings 23:5,) or a mere variant form, and to stand for the (twelve) signs of the zodiac. The supposition that Mazzaloth and Mazzaroth are one word may be argued from the like termination, which is both plural and feminine, and from the interchangeableness of the liquids l and r in most languages; for instance, the Latin Parilia for Palilia, “the festival of Pales;” the Hebrew Tsahar and Tsahal, “to shine;” the Arabic Kalban and the Hebrew Kereb, “heart.” The division of the ecliptic (the apparent path of the sun) into twelve equal signs or constellations, called signs of the zodiac, is generally understood to be of great antiquity. The porticoes of the temples at Denderah and Esne bear representations of the zodiac which so markedly resemble the zodiacal figures of the ancient Hindus, Persians, Chinese, and Japanese, as to indicate that they had one common origin. The Greeks, however, evidently derived their ideas and arrangements of the zodiac from the Chaldees.

Other commentators, for instance Zockler (in Lange) and Dillmann, are led by a supposed etymology of the word (Mazzaroth) to fix upon some pre-eminently bright stars (for example, the planets Venus, Jupiter, Mars) which were conspicuous for their change of place in the sky. Canon Cook ( Speaker’s Com.) points to a very ancient word Masarati, probably derived from a similar hieroglyphic word, signifying the course or march of the Sun-god indicating “the milky way,” which was thought by the ancients to have “represented the course of the sun at a remote period the traces, so to speak, of his footsteps.” (See Rawlinson’s Ancient Mon., 2:574, sec. ed.: Layard’s Nineveh, 2:440; Greswell’s Fasti, 3:252-326; Maurice’s Hindostan, 1:272-359.)

Arcturus See note on Job 9:9. The pregnant question, Canst thou guide? may possibly contain an occult allusion, which none but Jehovah could make, to the diverging movement of these stars, according to which the nearest of “the Pointers” is swiftly approaching our earth, while the other is rapidly receding, in which motion the other five participate a supposed discovery that science has recently made. Proctor, Expanse, etc.. p. 295.

With his sons The three bright stars that form the tail of the Bear, which in some languages are fancifully deemed to be children following “the bier,” for such was the name the Arabs gave to the four leading stars of this constellation, which constitute a square. “The expression,” ( ‘hayish or ‘hash,) says Ideler, in his treatise on the names of the stars, “denotes particularly the bier on which the dead are borne, and, taken in this sense, each of the two biers (in the Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) is accompanied by three mourning women. The biers and the mourning women together are called Benat-n’ash, literally, daughters of the bier, that is, those who pertain to the bier.” Hitzig devotes a learned but exceedingly unsatisfactory note to his view that Mazzaroth is the morning star, and ‘hayish, Arcturus, is the evening star, thus adopting the rendering of the Septuagint, εσπερυς for עישׁ .

Verse 33

33. The ordinances חקות : meaning here the laws that guide the stars, and control the seasons, etc. The intimate and commanding relationships of the heavenly bodies to our earth are those of a king to his subjects. Hence the immediate reference to “dominion,” a thought that modern science illustrates and confirms.

Dominion thereof משׁשׂרו , used only here, is a more significant word than the preceding one, (ordinances;) it is derived from shatar, “to cut into,” “write,” metaphorically administer; the art of writing being used in ancient times almost exclusively for legislative and judicial purposes, (Furst;) in accordance with which the word shoter signifies “an overseer,” “an administrator.” This pregnant question of the Almighty, Delitzsch reads, “Dost thou define its influence on the earth?” Hitzig, “Dost thou determine its relation to the earth?” a question which will ever task to the utmost the resources of science to answer.

Verse 34

γ . Maybe Job can legislate for the firmament by wielding the thunder, draw down and empty the cloud, or by a word give life to the lightnings, that they may fulfil his behests, Job 38:34-35.

34. Thy voice to the clouds Not a rain-drop can the human voice call from the sky, and yet abundance of rain is essential to the weal of our race.

Verse 35

35. Canst thou send lightnings Electric forces man may wield, but the lightnings, who can send and who control?

Verse 36

δ . Job is plied with questions as to the source of wisdom and understanding, on which man ( Job) prides himself so highly; and whether, with all his wisdom, he can even number the clouds, or make them to incline, that they may empty themselves upon the earth, Job 38:36-38.

36. The inward parts שׂחות : a word which appears once besides, Psalms 51:6. Its root meaning, covered, hidden, points to the seat of affections, or moral nature, which, of all the elements of our being, is the most concealed. According to the Rabbis, whom Gesenius follows, it means the reins or kidneys, in Hebrew physiology regarded as the abode of instinctive yearnings, and which also were deemed so Delitzsch thinks to be the organs of the faculty of foreboding. See note on Job 16:13. These and similar functions were, according to Plato, discharged by the liver a fancy which probably gave rise to the prophetic inspection of the liver among the ancient Babylonians, (Ezekiel 21:21,) Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans. See Diodorus Siculus, ii, ch. iii, Booth ed., 1:125. Recent German commentators for the most part regard tuhhoth as phenomenal, in like manner with the corresponding word of the next clause, ( sekvi,) and render it “dark clouds,” (Zockler, Dillmann, Hitzig,) on the assumption that it is demanded by the context.

The heart Sekvi. Another rare word, whose meaning also is difficult to determine. Its radical idea, of insight, some of the best critics associate with mind or heart, and it is thus rendered. The context induces others to seek a meaning in the phenomena or powers of nature. The derivation of the word שׂכוי , heart, from שׂכה , “to see,” figuratively “to understand,” is now generally admitted, and yet it has led to weak and insipid interpretations: such as, “phenomena caused by light,” (Hahn, Ewald;) “the full moon,” (Dillmann;) “atmospheric phenomena,” (Zockler, Hitzig;) while Conant, Schlottmann, Renan, Hengstenberg, and others, properly render as in the Authorized Version. The word is evidently cognate with משׂכיות , (Psalms 73:7,) “thoughts,” and seemingly justifies the view of Gesenius, ( Thes. 1329,) that it signifies that which sees rather than that which is seen. The mention of the subtle lightning not unnaturally suggests the subtler spiritual nature of man. If the wonderful endowments of a mental and moral being powers infinitely superior to the brute forces of nature are not alluded to in this verse, the discourse altogether ignores them; an omission simply incredible. The connexion of thought Schlottmann finds in the mention of the celestial laws and their ruling in the earth, which suggests most naturally that greater work of God, the making and implanting of the faculties which may comprehend his works. Hengstenberg finds the pivot of thought in wisdom, ( hhokmah, Job 38:36-37,) of which man is the great embodiment. To say the least, the “putting wisdom ( hhokmah) into ” the dark clouds, and “the giving intelligence ( binah, see note on Job 28:12,) to ” fiery meteors, full moons, or atmospheric phenomena of any kind, involves a medley which is no more to be tolerated in the Hebrew use of words or their modes of thought than in our own. The interpretation of the Septuagint, from an apparently corrupted text. “And who has given woman skill in weaving, or knowledge of embroidery,” may be mentioned as one of the many vagaries to which this text has given occasion.

Verse 37

37. Number the clouds A metaphor taken from a military enrolment same word as in 2 Samuel 24:10.

Who can stay the bottles of heaven Rather, the bottles of heaven, who inclines them? as in the margin, with the meaning, “As water is poured from a bottle when inclined, so when the clouds are full of rain they empty themselves upon the earth.”

Ecclesiastes 11:3. Sir J. Herschel’s explanation of the formation and descent of rain is as good, perhaps, as any yet proposed. “In whatever part of a cloud the original ascensional movement of the vapour ceases, the elementary globules of which it consists being abandoned to the action of gravity, begin to fall. By the theory of the resistance of fluids, the velocity of descent in air of a given density is as the square root of the diameter of the globule. The larger globules, therefore, fall fastest, and if (as must happen) they overtake the slower ones they incorporate, and, the diameter being thereby increased, the descent becomes more rapid, and the encounters more frequent, till at length the globule emerges from the lower surface of the cloud at the ‘ vapour plain,’ as a drop of rain; the size of the drops depending on the thickness of the cloud stratum and its density.” Meteorology, s.v.

Bottles of heaven “This phrase,” says Dr. Good, “is a direct Arabism for the clouds, and is to be found in every poet.” Among the citations Schultens makes from the Arabic poets is the following translation:

A broad, deep cloud, that fed the rest, was nigh,

And burst its bottle mid the warring sky.

A figure of the south wind adorns the Temple of Winds at Athens, holding a kind of pitcher (a swelling urceus) in his bared arms, as if it would deluge the earth. (See Wordsworth’s Athens and Attica, p. 153.) Scott observes that this image is similar to the inclined urn which the heathen poets place in the hand of a river god; the urn represents the fountain from which the river flows, and what fountains are to rivers the clouds are to rain. Dr. Hutchinson thinks that there is an allusion to the working of a Persian wheel, “the pitchers or bottles of which, as they come up, lie down or along, and so discharge their contents. As this discharge can only take place at a particular moment, and in consequence of the proper working of the wheel, so the discharge from the clouds can only take place at the proper moment, when allowed by the Creator.”

Verse 38

38. When the dust… hardness When dust is poured into a molten mass. The rain consolidates the dust.

Verses 39-40



In the following three long strophes the discussion is directed to the goodness of God.

α . Job is asked whether such as he would ever have provided meat for beasts and birds, for instance, such representatives of the brute world as the greedy lion and the carrion raven, Job 38:39-41.

39, 40. As Jehovah now proceeds to speak of the mysteries of the animal kingdom, some (Luther) would make the 39th verse the beginning of a new chapter. The king of beasts is mentioned first. Canst thou comprehend the instinct of the lioness, that guides her in taking prey for her whelps? or instruct the young lions how to provide food for themselves? They are taught like soldiers to “lurk” in ambush. See note Job 4:11.

Verse 41

41. They wander for lack of meat Better, (and) wander without food. The question includes the whole verse. “Of the raven,” says Dr. Tristram, ( Natural History,) there are eight species found in Palestine. In no country are the species more numerous in individuals. Of all the birds of Jerusalem the raven tribe are the most characteristic and conspicuous, though the larger species is quite outnumbered by its smaller companion. They are present everywhere to eye and ear, and the odours that float around remind us of their use. The raven is a bird of almost world-wide distribution. It is found from Iceland to Japan.”… In turning to the kingdom of birds we should have expected the mention of their king, the eagle; but instead, it is, as in Luke 12:24, the clamorous raven, with its hoarse croaking, that is singled out. Even this bird, filthy and ceremonially unclean, serves as an emblem of God’s protecting care and goodness. It was an olden belief, as appears in the works of Aristotle, AElian, and Philo, that the raven was cruel to its young, “driving them from the nest and compelling them to fly.” (Pliny.) Even such ugly, raven -ous waifs God takes care of; he hears their hateful cry and gives them food. Psalms 147:9. “Do not therefore, O Job, imagine that because I afflict thee, therefore I do not love thee.” Chrysostom.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 38". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/job-38.html. 1874-1909.
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