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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Job 16



Verse 2

Many such things - That is, either things fitted to provoke and irritate, or sentiments that are common-place. There was nothing new in what they said, and nothing to the purpose.

Miserable comforters - Compare Job 13:4. They had come professedly to condole with him. Now all that they said was adapted only to irritate, and to deepen his distress. He was disappointed; and he was deeply wounded and grieved.

Verse 3

Shall vain words? - Margin, As in Hebrew words of wind; that is, words which were devoid of thought-light, trifling. This is a retort on Eliphaz. He had charged Job Job 15:2-3 with uttering only such words. Such forms of expression are common in the East. “His promise, it is only wind.” “Breath, breath: all breath.” Roberts.

Or what emboldeneth thee? - “What provokes or irritates thee, that thou dost answer in this manner? What have I said, that has given occasion to such a speech - a speech so severe and unkind?” The Syriac reads this, “do not afflict me any more with speeches; for if you speak any more, I will not answer you.”

Verse 4

I also could speak as ye do - In the same reproachful manner, and stringing together old proverbs and maxims as you have.

If your soul were in my soul‘s stead - If you were in my place. The idea is, that there is no difficulty in finding arguments to overwhelm the afflicted - a truth which most persons who have been unfortunate, have had opportunity to experience.

I could heap up words against you - Or, rather, “I could string together words against you.” The idea is not that of heaping up, or accumulating; it is that of tying together, or uniting; and refers here to stringing together old maxims, saws, and proverbs, in the form of a set argument or discourse. The idea of Job is, that their discourses were nothing but ancient proverbs, thrown together, or strung along without regard to order, pertinency, or force. The Hebrew word used here (חבר châbar ) means to bind, to bind together, to associate, to be confederate. It may be applied to friends - united in friendship; to nations - united in an alliance, etc. Gesenius supposes that it means here that he “would make a league with words against them;” but the above seems to be the more probable interpretation. The Septuagint renders it, “then I could insult you - ἐναλοῦμαι enaloumai - with words.” Jerome (Vulgate) “I would console you with words, and move my head over you.” The Chaldee is as the Hebrew - חבר châbar Dr. Good renders it, “against you will I string together old sayings.”

And shake mine head at you - An action common to all countries and ages, expressive of contempt, or of threatening; compare Jeremiah 18:16; Lamentations 2:15; Zephaniah 2:15; Matthew 27:39. So Lucretius ii. 1163:

Jamque caput quassans grandis suspirat ararat

Crebrius incassum magnum cecidisse laborem.

In like manner Virgil, Aeneid xii. 292:

Tum quassanos caput, haec effudit pectore dicta.

So, also, Homer, Odyssey ε e Κινήσας δὲ κάρη πρότι ὅν μυθήσατο Θυμόν.

Kinēsas de karē proti hon muthēsato thumon meaning of Job here is, that be could as easily have expressed contempt, reproach, and scorn, as they did. It required no uncommon talent to do it, and he felt that he would have been fully sufficient for the task.

Verse 5

(But I would strengthen you with my mouth With that which proceeds from the mouth - words.

And the moving of my lips - My speaking - implying that it would have been done in a mild, gentle, kind manner - so that the lips would appear just to move. Others, however, have given a different interpretation. Thus, Dr. Good renders it:

“With my own mouth will I overpower you,

Till the quivering of my lips shall fall.”

But the common interpretation is to be preferred. The word rendered “moving” ניד nı̂yd is from נוּד nûd - “to move,” “agitate,” and hence, denotes “motion.” It denotes here the motion of the lips when we speak. Gesenius renders it, “consolation,” “comfort” - because this is expressed by a motion of the head.

Should assuage your grief - The word used here (יחשׂך yachâśak ) means properly “to hold back,” “to restrain;” Job 7:11. Here it is correctly rendered, meaning that he would hold back, or check their sorrows. In other words, he would sustain them.

Verse 6

Though I speak, my grief is not assuaged - “But for me, it makes now no difference whether I speak or am silent. My sufferings continue. If I attempt to vindicate myself before people, I am reproached; and equally so if I am silent. If I maintain my cause before God, it avails me nothing, for my sufferings continue. If I am silent, and submit without a complaint, they are the same. Neither silence, nor argument, nor entreaty, avail me before God or man. I am doomed to suffering.”

What am I eased? - Margin. “Goeth from me.” Literally, “what goeth from me?” The sense is, that it all availed nothing.

Verse 7

But now he hath made me weary - That is, God has exhausted my strength. This verse introduces a new description of his sufferings; and he begins with a statement of the woes that God had brought on him. The first was, that he had taken away all his strength.

All my company - The word rendered “company” (עדה ‛êdâh ) means properly an assembly that comes together by appointment, or at stated times; but here it is evidently used in the sense of the little community of which Job was the head and father. The sense is, that all his family had been destroyed.

Verse 8

And thou hast filled me with wrinkles - Noyes renders this, “and thou hast seized hold of me, which is a witness against me.” Wemyss, “since thou hast bound me with chains, witnesses come forward.” Good, “and hast cut off myself from becoming a witness.” Luther, “he has made me “kuntzlich” (skillfully, artificially, cunningly,) and bears witness against me.” Jerome, “my wrinkles bear witness against me.” Septuagint, “my lie has become a witness, and is risen up against me.” From this variety of explanations, it will be seen that this passage is not of easy and obvious construction. The Hebrew word which is here used and rendered, “thou hast filled me with wrinkles” (תקמטני tı̂qâmaṭēnı̂y ), from קמט qâmaṭ - occurs only in one other place in the Bible; Job 22:16. It is there in the “Pual” form, and rendered “were cut down.” According to Gesenius, it means, to lay fast hold of, to seize with the hands, and answers to the Arabic “to bind.”

The word in Chaldee (קמט qâmaṭ ) means to wrinkle, or collect in wrinkles; and is applied to anything that is “contracted,” or rough. It is applied in the form קימט qâymaṭ to the pupil of the eye as being “contracted,” as in the declaration in Derek ‹Erets, c. 5, quoted by Castell. “The world is like the eye; where the ocean that surrounds the world is white; the world itself is black; the pupil is Jerusalem, and the image in the pupil is the sanctuary.” Probably the true notion of the word is to be found in the Arabic. According to Castell, this means, to tie together the four feet of a sheep or lamb, in order that it might be slain; to bind an infant in swaddling clothes before it is laid in a cradle; to collect camels into a group or herd; and hence, the noun is used to denote a cord or rope twisted of wool, or of leaves of the palm, or the bandages by which an infant is bound. This idea is not in use in the Hebrew; but I have no doubt that this was the original sense of the word, and that this is one of the numerous places in Job where light may be cast upon the meaning of a word from its use in Arabic. The Hebrew word may be applied to the “collecting” or “contraction” of the face in wrinkles by age, but this is not the sense here. We should express the idea by “being “drawn up” with pain or affliction; by being straitened, or compressed.” The meaning - is that of “drawing together” - as the feet of a sheep when tied, or twisting - as a rope; and the idea here is, that Job was drawn up, compressed, bound by his afflictions - and that this was a witness against him. The word “compressed” comes as near to the sense as any one that we have.

Which is a witness against me - That is, “this is an argument against my innocence. The fact that God has thus compressed, and fettered, and fastened me; that he has bound me as with a cord - as if I were tied for the slaughter, is an argument on which my friends insist, and to which they appeal, as a proof of my guilt. I cannot answer it. They refer to it constantly. It is the burden of their demonstration, and how can I reply to it?” The position of mind here is, that he could appeal to God for his uprightness, but these afflictions stood in the way of his argument for his innocence with his friends. They were the “usual” proofs of God‘s displeasure, and he could not well meet the argument which was drawn from them in his case, for in all his protestations of innocence there stood these afflictions - the usual proofs of God‘s displeasure against people - as evidence against him, to which they truimphantly appealed.

And my leanness rising up in me - Dr. Good renders this, “my calumniator.” Wemyss, “false witnesses.” So Jerome, “falsiloquus.” The Septuagint renders it,” my lie - τὸ ψευδός μου to pseudos mou - rises up against me.” The Hebrew word (כחשׁ kachash ) means properly “a lie, deceit, hypocrisy.” But it cannot be supposed that Job would formally admit that he was a liar and a hypocrite. This would have been to concede the whole point in dispute. The word, therefore, it would seem, “must” have some other sense. The verb כחשׁ kâchash is used to denote not only to “lie,” but also to “waste away, to fail.” Psalm 109:24, “my flesh “faileth” of fatness.” The idea seems to have been, that a person whose flesh had wasted away by sickness, as it were, “belied himself;” or it was a “false testimony” about himself; it did not give “a fair representation” of him. That could be obtained only when he was in sound health. Thus, in Habakkuk 3:17, “the labour of the olive “shall fail.”” Hebrew shall “lie” or “deceive;” that is, it shall belie itself, or shall not do justice to itself; it shall afford no fair representation of what the olive is fitted to produce. So the word is used Hosea 9:2. It is used here in this sense, as denoting “the false appearance of Job” - his present aspect - which was no proper representation of himself; that is, his emaciated and ulcerated form. This, he says, was a “witness” against him. It was one of the proofs to which they appealed, and he did not know how to answer it. It was usually an evidence of divine displeasure, and he now solemnly and tenderly addresses God, and says, that he had furnished this testimony against him - and he was overwhelmed.

Verse 9

He teareth me in his wrath - The language here is all taken from the ferocity of wild beasts; and the idea is, that his enemy had come upon him as a lion seizes upon its prey. Rosenmuller, Reiske, and some others suppose that this refers to God. Cocceius refers it to Satan. Schultens, Dr. Good, and some others, to Eliphaz, as the leading man among his adversaries. I have no doubt that this is the true reference. The connection seems to demand this; and we ought not to suppose that Job would charge this upon God, unless there is the clearest evidence. The whole passage is a description of the manner in which Job supposed his friends had come upon him. He says they had attacked him like wild beasts. Yet it must be admitted that he sometimes attributes these feelings to God, and says that he came upon him like a roaring lion see Job 10:16-17.

Who hateth me - Or rather, “and persecutes me, or is become my adversary,” for so the word used here (שׂטם śâṭam ) means; see the notes at Job 30:21.

He gnasheth upon me with his teeth - As an enraged wild animal does when about to seize upon its prey. A similar figure occurs in Otway, in his “Orphan:”

- For my Castalio‘s false;

False as the wind, the water, or the weather:

Cruel as tigers o‘er their trembling prey:

I feel him in my breast, he tears my heart,

And at each sigh he drinks the gushing blood.

And so Homer, when he describes the wrath of Achilles as he armed himself to avenge the death of Patroclus, mentions among other signs of wrath his gnashing his teeth:

Τοῦ καὶ ὀδόντων μὲν καναχὴ πέλε.

Tou kai odontōn men kanachē pele Iliad xix. 364.

So Virgil describes his hero as

furens animis, dentibus infrendens.

Aeneid viii. 228.

Mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me - Looks fiercely; watches me narrowly - as an animal does his victim when about to seize upon it. The image is probably drawn from the intense gaze of the lion when about to pounce upon his prey. “He darts piercing looks at me; or looks at me with a fierce and penetrating eye.”

Verse 10

They have gaped upon me - Changing the form from the singular to the plural, and including “all” his pretended friends. Such a change in the number is not uncommon. His mind seems to have passed from the particular instance which he was contemplating, to “all” his friends, and he suddenly felt that “all” had treated him alike. The meaning is, that, like wild beasts, they open their mouth to devour me.

They have gathered themselves together - They have entered into a conspiracy, and have “agreed” to oppose me. They are united in this thing, and all feel and act alike.

Verse 11

God hath delivered me - Margin “shut me up.” The meaning is, that God had committed him to their hands as a prisoner or captive. They had power over him to do as they pleased.

To the ungodly - Into the hands of wicked people - meaning undoubtedly his professed friends.

And turned me over - The word used here (from ירט yârat ) means to throw head long, to precipitate, to cast down. Here it means, “he has thrown me headlong into the hands of the wicked.”

Verse 12

I was at ease - I was in a state of happiness and security. The word used here (שׁלו shâlêv ) means sometimes to be “at ease” in an improper sense; that is, to be in a state of “carnal security,” or living unconcerned in sin (Ezekiel 23:42; compare Proverbs 1:32); but here it is used in the sense of comfort. He had everything desirable around him.

But he hath broken me asunder - He has crushed me.

He hath also taken, me by my neck - Perhaps as an animal does his prey. We have all seen dogs seize upon their prey in this manner.

And set me up for his mark - Changing the figure, and saying that God had directed his arrows against him; so Jeremiah, Lamentations 3:12:

He hath bent his bow,

And set me as a mark for the arrow.

Verse 13

His archers - He does not come alone to shoot at me; he has employed a company of bowmen, who also direct “their” arrows against me. The word used here רב rab means properly “much, large,” great; and is applied to that which is powerful or mighty. It is nowhere else used in the sense of “archers,” and might be rendered “his many;” that is, his bands, hosts, or armies. But as all the ancient versions render it “arrows,” or “archers,” probably that sense is to be retained. Allusion is here made to those who claimed to be the friends of Job, but who now showed to his apprehension that they were merely sharp-shooters under the control of God, to deepen his woes.

He cleaveth my reins asunder - With his arrows. They penetrate quite through me.

He poureth out my gall - The word “gall” means the “bile” - the yellowish green bitter fluid secreted in the liver. A similar figure occcurs in Lamentations 2:11, “My liver is poured upon the earth.” Among the pagan poets, also, the “liver” is represented as pierced, and as pouring out gore. Thus, Aesch. Agam. 442: θιγγάνει πρὸς ἧπαρ thinganei pros hēpar So also 801: Δῆγμα λύπης ἐφ ̓ ἧπαρ προσικνεἴται Dēgma lupēs eph' hēpar prosikneitai So in the Iliad, xiii. 412, xx. 469,470. The meaning here is, “I am transfixed with a deadly wound, and must die. God has come upon me as an armed man, and has pierced my vitals.”

Verse 14

He breaketh me - He crushes me.

With breach upon breach - He renews and repeats the attack, and thus completely overwhelms me. One blow follows another in such quick succession, that he does not give me time to recover.

He runneth upon me like a giant - With great and irresistible force - as some strong and mighty warrior whom his adversary cannot resist. The Hebrew is גבור gı̂bbôr - “a mighty one.” Septuagint, “The mighty - δυνάμενοι dunamenoi - run upon me.” Vulgate, “gigas ” - a giant.

Verse 15

I have sewed sackcloth - I have put on the badges of humiliation and grief; see the notes at Isaiah 3:24. This was the usual emblem of mourning. In order more deeply to express it, or to make it a “permanent” memorial of sorrow, it would seem that it was “sewed” around the body - as we “sew” crape on the hat.

And defiled my horn in the dust - The word rendered “defiled” (from עלל ‛âlal ) has, according to Gesenius, the notion of “repetition,” derived from the use of the Arabic word. The Arabic means, to drink again, that is, after a former draught; and then, to drink deep. Hence, the word is applied to any action which is repeated - as to the second blow by which one already struck down is killed; to an after-harvest, or to gleaning in the fields. Here Gesenius supposes it means to “maltreat,” to “abuse;” and the idea according to him is, that he had covered his whole head in the dust. The word “horn” is used in the Scriptures to denote strength and power. The figure is taken from horned animals, whose strength resides in their horns; and hence, as the horn is the means of defense, the word comes to denote that on which one relies; his strength, honor, dignity. A horn, made of “silver,” was also worn as an ornament, or as an emblem, on the forehead of females or warriors.

It was probably used at first by warriors as a symbol of “power, authority,” or “strength;” and the idea was undoubtedly derived from the fact that the strength of animals was seen to lie in the horn. Then it came to be a mere ornament, and as such is used still in the vicinity of Mount Lebanon. Oriental customs do not undergo those changes which are so common in the Western world, and it is possible that this custom prevailed in the time of Job. The “horn” was usually worn by females; it is also a part of the ornament on the head of a male, and as such would be regarded doubtless as an emblem of honor. The custom is prevalent at the present day among the Druses of Lebanon, the Egyptian cavalry, and in some parts of Russia bordering on Persia. Dr. Macmichael, in his “Journey,” says: “One of the most extraordinary parts of the attire of their females (Drusus of Lebanon), is a silver horn, sometimes studded with jewels, worn on the head in various positions, “distinguishing their different conditions.”

A married woman has it affixed to the right side of the head, a widow on the left, and a virgin is pointed out by its being placed on the very crown. Over this silver projection the long veil is thrown, with which they so completely conceal their faces to rarely have more than an eye visible.” The horn worn by females is a conical tube, about twelve inches long. Col. Light mentions the horn of the wife of an emir, made of gold, and studded with precious stones. Horns are worn by Abyssinian chiefs in military reviews, or on parade after a victory. They are much shorter than those of the females, and are about the size and shape of a candle extinguisher, fastened by a strong fillet to the head, which is often made of metal; they are not easily broken off. This special kind of horn is undoubtedly the kind made by the false prophet Zedekiah for Ahab, to whom he said, when Ahab was about to attack the enemy, “With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou hast conquered them;” 1 Kings 22:11; 2 Chronicles 18:10; compare Deuteronomy 33:17. The idea here is, that whatever once constituted the reliance or the glory of Job, was now completely prostrate. It was as if it were buried in the earth.

Verse 16

My face is foul with weeping - Wemyss, “swelled.” Noyes, “red.” Good, “tarnished.” Luther, “ist geschwollen” - is swelled. So Jerome. The Septuagint, strangely enough, ἡ γαστήρ μον συνκέκαυται, κ. τ. λ. hē gastēr mou sunkekautai etc. “my belly is burned with weeping.” The Hebrew word (חמר châmar ) means to boil up, to ferment, to foam. Hence, it means to be red, and the word is often used in this sense in Arabic - from the idea of becoming heated or inflamed. Here it probably means either to be “swelled,” as any thing does that “ferments,” or to be “red” as if “heated” - the usual effect of weeping. The idea of being “defiled” is not in the word.

And on my eyelid; is the shadow of death - On the meaning of the word rendered “shadow of death,” see the notes at Job 3:5. The meaning is, that darkness covered his eyes, and he felt that he was about to die. One of the usual indications of the approach of death is, that the sight fails, and everything seems to be dark. Hence, Homer so often describes death by the phrase, “and darkness covered his eyes;” or the form “a cloud of death covered his eyes” - θανάτου νέφος ὄσσε ἐκάλυψη thanatou nephos osse ekalupsē The idea here is, that he experienced the indications of approaching death.

Verse 17

Not for any injustice … - Still claiming that he does not deserve his sorrows, and that these calamities had not come upon him on account of any enormous sins, as his friends believed.

My prayer is pure - My devotion; my worship of God is not hypocritical - as my friends maintain.

Verse 18

O earth - Passionate appeals to the earth are not uncommon in the Scriptures; see the notes at Isaiah 1:2. Such appeals indicate deep emotion, and are among the most animated forms of personification.

Cover not thou my blood - Blood here seems to denote the wrong done to him. He compares his situation with that of one who had been murdered, and calls on the earth not to conceal the crime, and prays that his injuries may not be hidden, or pass unavenged. Aben Ezra, Dr. Good, and some others, however, suppose that he refers to blood shed “by” him, and that the idea is, that he would have the earth reveal any blood if he had ever shed any; or in other words, that it is a strong protestation of his innocence. But the former interpretation seems to accord best with the connection. It is the exclamation of deep feeling. He speaks as a man about to die, but he says that he would die as an innocent and a much injured man, and he passionately prays that his death may not pass unavenged. God had crushed him, and his friends had wronged him, and he now earnestly implores that his character may yet be vindicated. “According to the saying of the Arabs, the blood of one who was unjustly slain remained upon the earth without sinking into it; until the avenger of blood came up. It was regarded as a proof of innocence.” Eichhorn, “in loc” That there is much of irreverence in all this must, I think, be conceded. It is not language for us to imitate. But it is not more irreverent and unbecoming than what often occurs, and it is designed to show what the human heart “will” express when it is allowed to give utterance to its real feelings.

And let my cry have no place - Let it not be hid or concealed. Let there be nothing to hinder my cry from ascending to heaven. The meaning is, that Job wished his solemn protestations of his innocence to go abroad. He desired that all might hear him. He called on the nations and heaven to hear. He appealed to the universe. He desired that the earth would not conceal the proof of his wrongs, and that his cry might not be confined or limited by any bounds, but that it might go abroad so that all worlds might hear.

Verse 19

My witness is in heaven - That is, I can appeal to God for my sincerity. He is my witness; and he will bear record for me. This is an evidence of returning confidence in God - to which Job always returns even after the most passionate and irreverent expressions. Such is his real trust in God, that though he is betrayed at times into expressions of impatience and irreverence, yet he is sure to return to calmer views, and to show that he has true confidence in the Most High. The strength, the power, and the point of his expressions of passion and impatience are against his “friends;” but they “sometimes” terminate on God, as if even he was leagued with them against him. But he still had “permanent” or “abiding” confidence in God.

My record is on high - Margin “in the high places.” It means, in heaven. Luther renders this, und der mich kennet, ist in der Hohe- and he who knows me is on high. The Hebrew is שׂהדי śâhêdı̂y - “my witness;” properly an eye witness. The meaning is, that he could appeal to God as a witness of his sincerity.

Verse 20

My friends scorn me - Margin “are my scorners.” That is, his friends had him in derision and mocked him, and he could only appeal with tears to God.

Mine eye poureth out tears unto God - Despised and mocked by his friends, he made his appeal to one who he knew would regard him with compassion. This shows that the heart of Job was substantially right. Notwithstanding, all his passionate exclamations; and notwithstanding, his expressions, when he was urged on by his sorrows to give vent to improper emotions in relation to God; yet he had a firm confidence in him, and always returned to right feelings and views. The heart may sometimes err. The best of people may sometimes give expression to improper feelings. But they will return to just views, and will ultimately evince unwavering confidence in God.

Verse 21

Oh that one might plead for a man - A more correct rendering of this would be, “Oh that it might be for a man to contend with God;” that is, in a judicial controversy. It is the expression of an earnest desire to carry his cause at once before God, and to be permitted to argue it there. This desire Job had often expressed; see Job 13:3, note; Job 13:18-22, notes. On the grammatical construction of the passage, see Rosenmuller.

As a man pleadeth for his neighbour - Hebrew “the son of man;” that is, the offspring of man. Or, rather, as a man contendeth with his neighbor; as one man may carry on a cause with another. He desired to carry his cause directly before God, and to be permitted to argue the case with him, as one is permitted to maintain an argument with a man; see the notes at Job 13:20-21.

Verse 22

When a few years are come - Margin “years of number;” that is, numbered years, or a few years. The same idea is expressed in Job 7:21; see the notes at that place. The idea is, that he must soon die. He desired, therefore, before he went down to the grave, to carry his cause before God, and to have, as he did not doubt he should have, the divine attestation in his favor; compare the notes at Job 19:25-27. Now he was overwhelmed with calamities and reproaches, and was about to die in this condition. He did not wish to die thus. He wished that the reproaches might be wiped off, and that his character might be cleared up and made fair. He believed assuredly that if he could be permitted to carry his cause directly before God, he might be able to vindicate his character, and to obtain the divine verdict in his favor; and if he obtained that, he was not unwilling to die. It is the expression of such a wish as every man has, that his sun may not go down under a cloud; that whatever aspersions may rest on his character may be wiped away; and that his name, if remembered at all when he is dead, may go untarnished down to future times, and be such that his friends may repeat it without a blush.


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 16:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

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