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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Job 4

 

 


Verse 1

The First Course of the Controversy. Chaps. 4-14.

FIRST DISCOURSE OF ELIPHAZ, ch. 4, 5.

1. Eliphaz the Temanite — He was the most sensible and discerning of the three friends, “and so modest, that in the first lesson which he aims to give Job he does not speak his own thoughts altogether, but communicates an oracle.” — HERDER. Hebrews Poet., 1:117. His address was calm and dignified; his thoughts weighty with the experience of many years. Admitting his premises, his reasoning was just and impressive. Throughout all there was a strange lack of sympathy. Less was to be expected from the disputants as they warmed in debate. Certainly the first words might have been of solace, rather than cold compliment. The cry from out the depths, de profundis, was enough to have moved a heart of adamant. The heart of Job craved the bread of consolation, only to receive the cold stone of argument. The theory of Eliphaz is, that suffering is a necessary proof of previous sin. This proposition is implied in Job 4:7-8. This he illustrates —

1.) By the death of the wicked, whom he compares to the lion, who, though he be the king of beasts, is powerless against the shafts of death. Job 4:8-11.

2.) By the disclosures of a vision, in which he had seen that all men are impure in the sight of God, which accounts for the ordinary sufferings of life. Job 4:12-21.

3.) By the acknowledged punishment of the wicked, involving even their children. Chap. Job 5:1-4.) Evil seems inwrought in man, which mystery, however, is to be referred to Him whose ways are unsearchable. Chap. Job 5:6 to Job 16:5.) Affliction is not fortuitous, but a blessing to man, in that it is remedial. Chap. Job 5:17; Job 18:6.) The subject enforces faith and trust in God from a twofold consideration — first, his providential care of the good, Job 4:19-21; second, the certain prosperity of the righteous, Job 4:24-27. “The speech is exquisitely climactic, rising, as Ewald says, from the faint whisper and tune of the summer wind, to the loud and irresistible thunder of the wintry storm.” — Davidson.


Verse 2

First double strophe — Proposition — MISERY IMPLIES GUILT, Job 4:2-11. First strophe — Reproof of Job for the failure of his faith, Job 4:2-6.

2. If we assay — Literally, Should we attempt a word with thee, wilt thou take it ill? The address of Telemachus to Antinous in the Odyssey opens in a similar manner, almost word for word. Who can withhold himself, etc. — Better, “Yet to restrain words, who is able?” A delicate and courteous beginning.


Verse 3

3. Instructed — Admonished many.

Strengthened the weak hands — He very properly reminds Job of his past offices of consolation by way of compliment; not, as some suppose, in irony.


Verse 4

4. Feeble knees — Literally, sinking knees. Schultens sees in these verses a beautiful image drawn from the palestra, and the contests of wrestlers. The duty was devolved upon one to prepare for, and assist others in, such contests. A like office Job has filled as a moral instructor and helper. This sense, however, is forced. Similar figures are used elsewhere to describe moral traits. 2 Samuel 4:1; Isaiah 35:3; Ezekiel 7:17.


Verse 5

5. Troubled — Rather, confounded.


Verse 6

6. Is not this thy fear — More literally, Is not thy fear (of God) thy confidence? thy hope (is it not) the uprightness of thy ways? Eliphaz in all cases uses the word fear in the sense of the fear of God. “The word fear is the most comprehensive term for that mixed feeling called piety, the contradictory reverence and confidence, awe and familiarity, which, like the centripetal and centrifugal forces, keep man in his orbit around God.” — Davidson. This verse was meant in kindness, “but it is two-edged, for there is also implied, if thou despairest, thou hast no fear of God.” — Dillmann. The introduction is a masterpiece, judged by rhetorical rules. It has admirably paved the way for the fundamental thought of the next two verses. It has been simple, pertinent, conciliatory. It has treated, in the main, of the kind offices of Job to others. In the meantime, he is reminded that he has not been equal to the emergency, which is thus far the only sentiment to which exception could have been taken. Job, the well known consoler of the feeble, ought to have been strong to bear his own grievous trials.

Second strophe — The axiom Eliphaz proceeds to lay down (Job 4:8) involves an insinuation of wrong-doing on the part of Job , vv7-11.

The horns of the grand dilemma of the debate now begin to take shape, and for the first time protrude themselves. If Job’s case be a hopeless one, he must be a transgressor, for the testimony of experience everywhere is, that hopeless sufferers are not guiltless.


Verse 7

7. Who… perished, being innocent — Eliphaz strangely overlooks the fact that the first recorded human death was the murder of a good and innocent man. The killing of Abel was premeditated if we may trust the Septuagint, Targums, and other ancient versions. The Septuagint thus begins the sad tale, “And Cain said unto Abel, his brother, Let us go out into the field,” etc.


Verse 8

8. Even as (so far as)… they that plough iniquity — A principle profoundly true, everywhere a matter of observation, and often expressed in a like figure. The error of Eliphaz is, that he perverts it. He makes great suffering an evidence and a measure of personal sin. He intimates that all suffering is the harvest of wrong doing, which was not true, for instance, in the case of Job. He is right when he says that all sin will sooner or later be punished; he is wrong when he reasons that the individual can have no suffering that does not spring from his own sins. Illustrations abound. Thus AEschylus:

Nothing worse,

In whatever cause, than impious fellowship;

Nothing of good is reaped: for when the field

Is sown with wrong, the ripen’d fruit is death. Septem, 602.

Cicero cites a Latin proverb, “As you sow you will reap.” — De Orat., 2:94. The Institutes of Manu teach the Hindu that all diseases are the punishment of past offences, and they assign a particular disease to each particular crime. Chap. 11. The teaching of the sacred books of the Chinese would, perhaps, be more readily accepted by Eliphaz: “The good or evil which Heaven sends to men depends upon their virtue.” — Shoo-King, IV, ch. 4. Striking instances might be adduced in illustration of the thought that to the very field where iniquity was perpetrated retribution often comes. The grandson of Ahab is himself slain by treachery in the portion of the field of Naboth the Jezreelite. 2 Kings 9:25-26. Hoffman was the first to remark, that, according to Acts 1:18, Judas must have met his end in the very field he bought with the price of a Saviour’s blood. All sin is seminal. Seed of every kind carries within itself the germ, and as some say the form, of the future growth. Sin is essentially retributive. It embodies the elements of retribution. Change of place and lapse of time do not affect their vitality. “Sin (peccasse) is the first and greatest punishment of those that sin. Nor is any wickedness unpunished: since in wickedness is the punishment of wickedness.” — SENECA, Epist, 97.


Verse 9

9. The blast of God — The breath of God.

The breath of his nostrils — An expression used figuratively for wrath. “In the Mediterranean languages,” says Furst, “anger is conceived of as a snorting, glowing, or smoking of the nose.” Thus אַף (aph) is used both for the nostril and wrath. The lively faith of the sons of the East saw in their fiery winds, destroying life and devastating wide-spread fields of vegetation, the breath or blast of God. Thevenot, an eastern traveller, thus speaks of the effects of the Simoon: “This year, 1665, in the month of July, there died in Bassora, of that wind called Samiel, four thousand people in three weeks’ time.” — Part 2. p. 57. The air we must breathe becomes a medium of divine chastisement. The word epidemic — επι and δημος (upon the people) — takes up and transmits the sentiment of Eliphaz. The great pestilences come down upon the nations; the very winds become the dark wings upon which the dispensations of God are spread abroad over the world. The faith of the Hebrews called such visitations the visitation of God. The poisoned blast was no unloosed courser; no plaything of chance. It was the breath of God. With the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. Isaiah 11:4. “As the previous verse describes retribution as a natural necessity founded in the order of the world, so does this verse trace back this same order of the world to the divine causality.” — Schlottmann.


Verse 10

10. The lion — In early times the lion was common in Syria. That some places should have taken their name from the lion, as Lebaoth (lionesses) and Beth Lebaoth, shows how numerous must have been this terrible beast of prey. The exploits of Samson and David will be borne in mind, which were quite paralleled by that of Lysimachus, who, hunting in Syria, single handed killed a large lion, but not until the beast had torn his shoulder to the bone. — Q. Curtius, viii, chap. 1. The lion has been honoured in Oriental languages by a great variety of names. If we may credit Golius, there are more than five hundred appropriated to him in the Arabic. (Lex. under Asamah.) Eliphaz beautifies his address by using no less than five of the seven different names which rabbinical writers have discovered in the Old Testament as belonging to this animal. He mentions first the aryeh, the general name for the lion, “so called from his rending and mangling his prey.” — Gesenius.

The fierce lion — The shahhal, the roarer, (Furst,) is perhaps the maneless lion.

The young lions Kephir, and on account of youthful vigour most ferocious, and exceedingly bloodthirsty. — Gesenius. “The young lions are mentioned along with the old in order to exemplify the destruction of the haughty sinner with his entire household.” — Schlottmann.


Verse 11

11. The old lion Layish, (the Homeric λις,) not indicative of decrepitude, but maturity of strength; the root of the word signifying “to be strong.”

The stout lion Labi, the lioness, whose fierceness when with her whelps very properly furnishes the climax of the description. Gallius calls her the boldest and fiercest of animals. There are now two distinct species of lions in Mesopotamia, the one maneless and the other with a long, black, and shaggy mane. — Layard, 3:487. Here, as is frequently the case in the Scriptures, evil-doers are represented by the lion. Psalms 10:9; Psalms 58:6. He is everywhere regarded as the king of beasts, and a symbol of bloodthirstiness, and on this account is employed by the apostle to represent another king — the prince of fallen spirits. But the roar of the lion has an end, and even the teeth of young lions, proverbially sharp and terrible, are broken. The wicked, however they may pride themselves upon their leonine strength, are in like manner brought low.


Verse 12

Second double strophe — A HEAVENLY REVELATION, Job 4:12-21. Strophe a This revelation is given in a night vision, Job 4:12-16.

12. A thing A word, a divine communication. “The law shall not perish from the priest… nor the word from the prophet.” Jeremiah 18:18. Secretly brought Stole (literally, was stolen) upon me. The Pual form of the verb indicates that the “word” was sent. The whole description signifies “that there is nothing forced or strained in God’s communication to man; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.”

Milton has a similar beautiful thought: —

A soft and solemn breathing sound Rose like the scent of rich distilled perfumes,

And stole upon the air.

A little שׁמצ, (a whisper.) See note, Job 26:14, where the word stands in contradistinction to thunder. In patriarchal times God employed visions and dreams to communicate his will to men. Abram, (Genesis 15:1,) Jacob, (Genesis 46:2,) and Moses, (Exodus 3:2,) were thus favoured. That this oracle should be communicated through a vision, points to a very early age for the time of its delivery, for then such communications were of most frequent occurrence. Eliphaz introduces the vision to show that no one is pure or just in the sight of God, and consequently man has no reason to complain of his sufferings, since all by nature are attainted with sinful infirmity. A few bold strokes set before us the vision, which is as vivid to his soul as if he had seen it the night before. It stands unique in all literatures — “amazingly sublime.” — Burke. The mind of man has never portrayed aught that has at all approached its stern and awful grandeur. No one can read it alone in the still hours of the night, “when deep sleep falleth on men,” without feeling somewhat the horror which fell upon Eliphaz when brought face to face with the supernatural. “There is form and yet no form; a gentle whisper, a murmuring like the voice of the wind, but with it also the power of the wind, the energy of spirit.” — Herder. It is no more than just to the genius of man to cite its best effort at ghostly description. This, Dr. Good finds in the poems of Ossian, “whose descriptions of apparitions possess more terror and sublimity than are to be met with anywhere out of the Old Testament.” The poet thus describes the spirit of Loda:

“The wan, cold moon rose in the east. Sleep descended on the youths, their blue helmets glitter to the beam; the fading fire decays. But sleep did not rest on the king. He rose in the midst of his arms and slowly ascended the hill to behold the flame of Sarno’s tower. The flame was dim and distant; the moon hid the red flame in the east. A blast came from the mountain; on its wings was the spirit of Loda. He came to his place in his terrors and shook his dusky spear. His eyes appear like flame in his dark face; his voice is like distant thunder. Fingal advanced his spear amid the night, and raised his voice on high.

“‘Son of Night, retire! call thy winds and fly. Why dost thou come to my presence with thy shadowy arms? Do I fear thy gloomy form, spirit of dismal Loda? Weak is thy shield of clouds; feeble is that meteor, thy sword. The blast rolls them together, and thou thyself art lost. Fly from my presence, son of Night! Call thy winds and fly!’

“‘Dost thou force me from my place?’ replied the hollow voice. ‘The people bend before me. I turn the battle in the field of the brave. I look on the nations and they vanish. My nostrils pour the blast of death. I come abroad on the winds; the tempests are before my face, but my dwelling is calm above the clouds; the fields of my rest are pleasant.’” Compare the description of the ghost in Hamlet, Acts 1, scene 5.


Verse 13

13. Thoughts שׁעפים. At its root lies the idea of “dividing,” “branching out.” It embodies the figure that thoughts spring from the soul, like the branches of a tree, intersecting and intertwining one with another.

Deep sleep — The same word is used to describe the supernatural slumber which fell upon Adam. Genesis 2:21. Eliphaz means simply to indicate the depth of night, when men are most profoundly lost in slumber; not that he himself was asleep, as Hengstenberg conjectures.


Verse 14

14. All my bones — Literally, the multitude of my bones. Virgil similarly describes the effects of horror, — “gelidus per ima cucurrit ossa tremor,” (AEneid, 2:120,) — through the inmost bones an icy tremor ran.


Verse 15

15. A spirit רוח, rouahh, as a verb, signifies to breathe or to blow, and as a noun, bears the meaning of breath or spirit, according as the associated thought shall determine. Locke early announced the principle, “I doubt not but if we could trace them to their source we should find, in all languages, the names which stand for things that fall not under our senses to have had their first rise from sensible ideas.” The use of a kindred word for spirit may have been developed in, or transmitted to, all these different languages through the reflection that breath and spirit are alike invisible, that they are so intimately associated together that, with the extinction of life, they both disappear from the knowledge of men. Or, as Delitzsch (Bib. Psych., p. 273) more profoundly suggests, “that the breathing… is that form of life, wherewith life begins to become self-life… and to evidence itself outwardly.” Thus, in the Latin, we have animus, the mind, which Cicero says is so called from anima, air or breath. The Greek word πνευμα, pneuma; the Sanscrit, atman; the Aztec, checatl; the Mohawk, atonritz; and our own word, spirit, (Latin, spiritus,) as well as similar words in other languages, primarily bore the meaning of breath or wind, as well as of spirit. The word rouahh belongs to the same class. With significance it appears here, as in 1 Kings 22:21, (a rare construction,) in agreement with the masculine form of the verb. Its spiritual meaning was evidently just as fixed in the days of Job, (Job 32:8,) as that of spirit is in ours. In our text the word must mean spirit, as in 1 Kings 22:21, and in the Targum, since acts of moral consciousness and spiritual intelligence are attributed to it. It speaks, reasons, (uses the argumentum a fortiori,) and communicates the sublimest thoughts upon the relations of man to God. This passage is of great interest, as it unquestionably shows that unembodied existence was taken for granted in the days of Job. This is the first time on scripture page that spirit, other than God, sundered from bodily restrictions, is personified. Subsequently evil spirits appear on their dark missions, as in 1 Samuel 16:15; 1 Samuel 16:23, etc. Whether this being was human or of some other order of spiritual intelligences, does not appear from the vision. Commentators in general have been of the opinion that it was an angel. We have an important datum, in the free and natural assumption of Eliphaz, that spirit can live without a body. This datum will materially help us to a proper conception of the knowledge that Job possessed in those early ages, and will shed light upon the controverted passages in this book, as to the condition of the dead.

Passed יחל, glided by. The same word is used in Job 9:11, of deity. The employment of this verb thus in connexion with conscious existence, disposes of the reasoning Hitzig bases upon the verb, for rendering its subject rouahh, wind, (hauch.)

The hair of my flesh — In like manner the ghost of Hamlet could tell a tale that would make: —

Thy knotted and combined locks to part, And each particular hair to stand on end,

Like quills upon the fretful porcupine. Ibid.

Arrectae que horrore comae, et vox faucibus haesit. The hair stood up with horror, etc. — AEneid, 12:868.


Verse 16

16. An image תמונה(rendered by the Septuagint μορφη, form, comp. Philippians 2:6) is used in Numbers 12:8 of some glorious, visible representation of God. (Sept. δοξα, also same in Psalms 17:15.) The word happily blends the indefiniteness and the substantiality of spiritual existence — answering to Milton’s idea of that which: —

Substance might be called that shadow seemed.

The preceding word form Hitzig renders face, visage, that which has features.

Silence, and I heard a voice — Septuagint, I heard a soft murmur (αυραν) and a voice. Dillmann scouts the idea of rendering דממה, silence, “because we cannot hear silence,” and in common with Schlottmann and other German commentators, adopts the Septuagint. Renan and Conant hold to the radical meaning of the word, which is unquestionably silence. Mercerus renders it, I heard silence and a voice, “as if his wonderful words were compounded of silence and a voice.” In 1 Kings 19:12, even prosaical description admits of the “voice of silence,” קול דממה. This would be no bolder a stroke for poetry than that of the author of “The Seasons,” who thus personifies silence, —

Come, then, expressive silence, muse his praise.

We can almost feel the silence that for a little while prevailed as the shadowy form stood before the trembling Eliphaz. There is nothing in the structure of the sentence to conflict with the version of the text, (there was) silence, etc. Tyndale’s rendering is more explicit, “There was stylnes, so that I heard this voice.”


Verse 17

Second strophe — The purport of the revelation whose faintest whisper Eliphaz heard, Job 4:17-21. Job 4:17 contains the thesis which the subsequent portion of the disclosure illustrates.

17. Man Geber, the mighty one, forms a climax with mortal man, (enosh,) sickly man; the latter being a collective word for the entire race. The root of this word man (enosh) involves moral disease, as in Jeremiah 17:9, where a participial form (anush) is translated desperately wicked.

More just than God — The Septuagint, (εναντιον,) Rosenmuller, and the Germans generally, render מן, min, before God.

Thus, “Is a mortal just before God? Is a man pure before his Maker?” They base their translation on the objection of Codurcus, that no one was ever so foolish as to suppose that man is more just than God. The Hebrew, however, will admit also of the rendering of the text, which is that of the Chaldee and the Vulgate — more just than God. This view Conant judiciously defends: “Whoever censures the course of Providence by complaining of his own lot (as Job had done) claims to be more just than God, the equity of whose government he thus arraigns.” With this view agrees that of Hengstenberg. Each complaint over too hard a fate is a pretension that we may be more just than God; that we may have received less from God than we have given him. Such pretensions Job had made by his murmurings against the divine dispensations. These pretensions are refuted in what follows by adducing the sinfulness of our race. Compare H. Melville’s sermon, (in loc.,) “The Spectre’s Sermon a Truism.”


Verse 18

18. His servants — The highest orders of angels are accounted as servants.

Put no trust Trusteth not, in the sense of reliance. The same word is used (Isaiah 28:16) to express trust in the tried Cornerstone. “Since the angels are created they are not by their nature immutable, like God, and consequently not immovable from goodness and virtue.” — Chrysostom.

Charged with folly תהלה. As this word is used nowhere else in the Bible, it is difficult to determine its meaning. Schultens derives it from a similar word in the Arabic, signifying lapse or failure. The Septuagint translates, he perceived perverseness (σκολιον τι) in his angels. Among the multiplicity of views (see Dr. Good) the best is that of Umbreit: “He attributeth imperfection to his angels.” In asking the question how an imperfect holiness can be attributed to the angels, Hengstenberg observes that “the idea of holiness in the Scripture embraces infinitely more than mere sinlessness; that it includes within itself the independent possession of the highest perfection.… That holiness in this sense does not belong to the angels, whose holiness is only relative, is evident from the possibility of their fall.… If God were like the angels he would not be the Holy One.”


Verse 19

19. Much less in them אַף, (aph,) much more them. The strong logical argument is to be remarked. The same kind of argument is employed in Job 15:16; Job 25:5-6. Houses of clay — A far more expressive figure for them than for us. Niebuhr says of the huts among the Arabs: “The walls are of mud mixed with dung, and the roof is thatched with a sort of grass.” — Trav. 1:255. Such habitations are exceedingly exposed to destruction from floods of rain or storms of wind, and are a poor protection against the depredations of men. Belzoni witnessed the destruction of several villages of earth-built cottages by the rising of the Nile. “Men, women, children, cattle, corn, every thing was washed away in an instant.” The body is a similar house of clay. Paul speaks of “our earthly house of this tabernacle:” (2 Corinthians 5:1 :) a like figure to which, Plato employs when he calls the body an earthly tent. If the angels untainted by sin are imperfect and untrustworthy in the sight of God, much more men, dwellers in “vile bodies,” that is, “bodies of humiliation,” (Philippians 3:21,) houses of clay. Natural inference — the soul may live apart from the body as a man may away from his house.

Crushed before the moth Easier or sooner than the moth. (Furst, Hahn.) Or, liphne may be better rendered, as the moth (is crushed.) The moth is a destructive insect which every one is ready to destroy. And such a being, alas! is man. Nature on every side antagonizes man, the great destroyer; ever arraying her forces against him. For a little while he maintains his hold upon life, and passing, justifies the moral of Pindar: “Men are the dream of a shadow,” — Σκιας οναρ ανθρωποι.


Verse 20

20. From morning to evening — So short is their life that they may be called ephemeral.

They perish forever — That is, from this present life.

Without any regarding it — So insignificant is man, that though thousands perish, the face of society remains the same. The landscape shines no less brightly though many a blade of grass may have withered; and the ocean rolls no less majestically after it has dashed its long line of surf against the shore. Of as little account in the estimate of man is man himself. It is of infinite moment to man how he shall have lived, not so much what others shall think of him (if they think of him at all) when once he is dead. This verse has such a human look that we might imagine the spirit that speaks to have once been of our race, one of life’s great actors, his name already blotted out from human remembrance. It is more profitable to reflect that the oft-recurring event of death has so little power to affect the human heart. Its visitations, really more ghastly than those of a ghost, elicit this strange feature of the heart, that the frequent repetition of that which is most terrible renders us correspondingly indifferent if not insensible. The shafts of death are for the most part powerless to turn the infatuated children of men from the pursuit of folly. The subject shows in its true light the desperate perverseness of the heart of man.


Verse 21

21. Excellency יתר. Among its significations is also that of a cord, for instance, of a tent. The language is now generally regarded as figurative. The mysterious soul holds up the body as a cord does the tent: if that be torn away ( נסע) the body dies, just as a tent, with its cord broken, falls to the earth. Dillmann happily renders the passage. “Is it not so, if their cord in them is torn away they die?” Renan observes, “The image is a familiar one among the Semitic races for expressing death. The body is compared to a tent, the soul to the cord which sustains the tent.” Isaiah 38:12. “In them is neither superfluous nor awkward, (against OLS.,) since it is intended to say that their duration of life falls in all at once, like a tent when that which in them corresponds to the cord of a tent (that is, the soul) is drawn away from it.” — Delitzsch. If we keep in view that there is nothing so excellent as the soul, and that the Scriptures sometimes connect with its removal the idea of force, we may retain the word excellency, and translate, Is not their excellency (that is) in them torn away? The spirit makes more definite the excellency to which he refers by adding in them.

Even without wisdom — Literally, and not in wisdom. In folly they lived, in folly they died. The lessons ever before them — the vanity of human life, the weakness and sinfulness of our mortal state, the relations of perishable man to an imperishable God, the necessity of some kind of preparation for another life — they had not heeded. The race of man dies without wisdom! Thus with a sense of pain closes this remarkable vision of Eliphaz. To him, one of nature’s noble children, was granted a revelation which was afterward denied to the more enlightened brothers of Dives. The vision impressed upon him these momentous truths: 1. The existence of a God; 2. That God was the maker of Prayer of Manasseh 1:3. The impurity of the human heart; 4. The possible existence of unembodied spirit, which must have suggested the immortality of his own soul. The painful question cannot fail to arise, whether this sage of the desert yielded his soul to this divine call of mercy? Did it exert a reforming power over his inner nature, guiding its out-goings to Him who should afterward come? or did he sink down into the vast deep of moralizings that encompass every thoughtful being? Literature every where abounds in profound reflections upon this weird and ephemeral life of ours. Lamentably do they fail to lead the soul to the pursuit of Him who is himself wisdom and righteousness.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 4:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/job-4.html. 1874-1909.

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