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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Job 23



Verse 2

Even to-day - At the present time. I am not relieved. You afford me no consolation. All that you say only aggravates my woes.

My complaint - See the notes at Job 21:3.

Bitter - Sad, melancholy, distressing. The meaning is, not that he made bitter complaints in the sense which those words would naturally convey, or that he meant to find fault with God, but that his case was a hard one. His friends furnished him no relief, and he had in vain endeavored to bring his cause before God. This is now, as he proceeds to state, the principal cause of his difficulty. He knows not where to find God; he cannot get his cause before him.

My stroke - Margin, as in Hebrew “hand;” that is, the hand that is upon me, or the calamity that is inflicted upon me. The hand is represented as the instrument of inflicting punishment, or causing affliction; see the notes at Job 19:21.

Heavier than my groaning - My sighs bear no proportion to my sufferings. They are no adequate expression of my woes. If you think I complain; if I am heard to groan, yet the sufferings which I endure are far beyond what these would secm to indicate. Sighs and groans are not improper. They are prompted by nature, and they furnish “some” relief to a sufferer. But they should not be:

(1) with a spirit of murmuring or complaining;

(2) they should not be beyond what our sufferings demand, or the proper expression of our sufferings. They should not be such as to lead others to suppose we suffer more than we actually do.

(3) they should - when they are extorted from us by the severity of suffering - lead us go look to that world where no groan will ever be heard.

Verse 3

Oh that I knew where I might find him! - Where I might find “God.” He had often expressed a wish to bring his cause directly before God, and to be permitted to plead his cause there; see Job 13:3, note; Job 13:20, notes. But this he had not yet been able to do. The argument had been with his three friends, and he saw that there was no use in attempting further to convince them. If he could get the cause before God, and be allowed go plead it there, he felt assured that justice would be done him. But he had not been able to do this. God had not come forth in any visible and public manner as he wished, so that the cause could be fairly tried before such a tribunal, and he was in darkness. The “language” used here will express the condition of a pious man in the times of spiritual darkness. Hc cannot find God. He has no near access as he once had to him. In such a state he anxiously seeks to find God, but he cannot. There is no light and no comfort to his soul. This language may further describe the state of one who is conscious of uprightness, and who is exposed to the suspicion or the unkind remarks of the world. His character is attacked; his motives are impugned; his designs are suspected, and no one is disposed to do him justice. In such a state, he feels that “God” alone will do him justice. “He” knows the sincerity of his heart, and he can safely commit his cause to him. It is always the privilege of the calumniated and the slandered to make an appeal to the divine tribunal, and to feel that whatever injustice our fellow-men may be disposed to do us, there is One who will never do a wrong.

That I might come even to his seat - To his throne, or tribunal. Job wished to carry the cause directly before him. Probably he desired some manifestation of God - such as he was afterward favored with - when God would declare his judgment on the whole matter of the controversy.

Verse 4

I would order my cause before him - Compare the notes at Isaiah 43:26. That is, I would arrange my arguments, or plead my cause, as one does in a court of justice. I would suggest the considerations which would show that I am not guilty in the sense charged by my friends, and that notwithstanding my calamities, I am the real friend of God.

And fill my mouth with arguments - Probably he means that he would appeal to the evidence furnished by a life of benevolence and justice, that he was not a hypocrite or a man of distinguished wickedness, as his friends maintained.

Verse 5

I would know the words which he would answer me - That is, I wish to understand what would be “his” decision in the case - and what would be his judgment in regard to me. That was of infinitely more importance than any opinion which “man” could form, and Job was anxious to have the matter decided by a tribunal which could not err. Why should “we” not desire to know exactly what God thinks of us, and what estimate he has formed of our character? There is no information so valuable to us as that would be; for on “his” estimate hangs our eternal doom, and yet there is nothing which people more instinctively dread than to know what God thinks of their character. It would be well for each one to ask himself, “Why is it so?”

Verse 6

Will he plead against me with his great power? - “Will he make use of his mere power to overwhelm me and confound me? Will he take advantage of omnipotence to triumph over me, instead of argument and justice? No: he will not do it. The discussion would be fair. He would hear what I have to say, and would decide according to truth. Though he is Almighty, yet he would not take advantage of that to prostrate and confound me.” When Job Job 13:3 wished to carry the cause directly before God, he asked of Him two conditions only. One was, that he would take off his hand from him, or remove his afflictions for a time, that he might be able to manage his own cause; and the other was, that He would not take advantage of his power to overwhelm him in the debate, and prevent his making a fair statement of his case; see the notes at Job 13:20-21. He here expresses his firm conviction that his wish in this respect would be granted. He would listen, says he, to what; I have to say in my defense as if I were an equal.

No; but he would put strength in me - The word “strength” is not improperly supplied by our translators. It means that he would enable him to make a fair presentation of his cause. So far from taking advantage of his mere “power” to crush him, and thus obtain an ascendency in the argument, he would rather “strengthen” him, that he might be able to make his case as strong as possible. He would rather aid him, though presenting his own cause in the controversy, than seek to weaken his arguments, or so to awe him by his dread majesty as to prevent his making the case as strong as it might be. This indicates remarkable confidence in God.

Verse 7

There the righteous might dispute with him - One who is conscious of his integrity might carry his cause there, with the assurance that he would be heard, and that justice would be done him. There can be no doubt that Job here refers to himself, though. he speaks in the third person, and advances this as a general proposition.

So shall I be delivered forever from my judge - From him who would judge or condemn me (משׁפטי mı̂shâphaṭı̂y ). He does not here refer to “God,” as if he would be delivered from him, but to anyone who would attempt to judge and condemn him, as his friends had done. The meaning is, that having, as he confidently expected he would, obtained the verdict of God in his favor, he would be ever after free from condemnation. The decision would be final. There was no higher tribunal, and no one would dare to condemn him afterward. This shows his consciousness of integrity. It may be applied to ourselves - to all. If we can obtain, at the last day, when our cause shall be brought before God, the divine verdict in our favor, it will settle the matter forever. No one, after that, will condemn us; never again shall our character or conduct be put on trial. The divine decision of that day will settle the question to all eternity. How momentous, then, is it that we should so live as to be acquitted in that day, and to have “an eternal sentence” in our favour!

Verse 8

Behold, I go forward - The meaning of these verses is, I go in all directions, but I cannot find God. I am excluded from the trial which I seek, and I cannot bring my cause to his throne. Job expresses his earnest desire to see some visible manifestation of the Deity, and to be permitted to argue his cause in his presence. But he says he sought this in vain. He looked to all points of the compass where he might rationally expect to find God, but all in vain. The terms here used refer to the points of the compass, and should have been so rendered. The Oriental geographers considered themselves as facing the East, instead of the North, as we do. Of course, the West was behind them, the South on the right hand, and on the left the North. This was a more natural position than ours, as day begins in the East, and it is natural to turn the face in that direction. There is no reason why our maps should be made so as to require us to face the “North,” except that such is the custom.

The Hebrew custom, in this respect, is found also in the notices of geography in other nations. The same thing prevails among the Hindoos. Among them, Para, or Purra, signifying “before,” denotes the East; Apara and Paschima, meaning “behind,” the West; Dacshina, or “the right hand,” the South; and Bama, or “the left hand,” the North; see Wilford‘s Inquiry respecting the Holy Isles in the West, Asiatic Researches, vol. viii. p. 275. The same thing occurred among the ancient Irish; see an Essay on the Antiquity of the Irish language, by an unknown author, Dublin, 1772; compare on this subject, Rosenmuller‘s Alterthumskunde i. s. 136-144. The same custom prevailed among the Mongols. “Gesenius.” On the notices of the science of geography exhibited in the book of Job, compare Introduction, Section 8. The phrase, therefore, “Behold, I go forward,” means, “I go to the East. I look toward the rising of the sun. I see there the most wonderful of the works of the Creator in the glories of the sun, and I go toward it in hopes of finding there some manifestation of God. But I find him not, and, disappointed, I turn to other directions.” Most of the ancient versions render this the East. Thus, the Vulgate, “Si ad Orientem iero.” The Chaldee למדינא, “to the sun-rising.”

But he is not there - There is no manifestation of God, no coming forth to meet me, and to hear my cause.

And backward - (ואחור ve'âchôr ). To the West - for this was “behind” the individual when he stood looking to the East. Sometimes the West is denoted by this term “behind” (אחור 'âchôr ), and sometimes by “the sea” (ים yâm ), because the Mediterranean was at the West of Palestine and Arabia; see the notes at Isaiah 9:12; compare Exodus 10:19; Exodus 27:13; Exodus 38:12; Genesis 28:14.

But I cannot perceive him - The meaning is, “Disappointed in the East, the region of the rising sun, I turn with longing to the West, the region of his setting, and hope, as his last beams fade from the view, that I shall be permitted to behold some ray that shall reveal God to my soul. Before the night settles down upon the world, emblem of the darkness in my soul, I would look upon the last lingering ray, and hope that in that I may see God. In that vast region of the West, illuminated by the setting sun, I would hope somewhere to find him; but I am disappointed there. The sun withdraws his beams, and darkness steals on, and the world, like my soul, is enveloped in gloom. I can see no indications of the presence of God coming forth to give me an opportunity to argue my cause before him.”

Verse 9

On the left hand - That is, in the North - at the left hand when the face was turned to the East. So the Chaldee, בצפונא - “on the North.” The other versions, the Vulgate, the Septuagint, the Syriac, Castellio, Luther, etc., render it “on the left hand.” The common term among the Hebrews for the “North” is צפון tsâphôn - (from צפן tsâphan - “to hide,” or “conceal”), meaning the hidden, concealed, or dark region, since the ancients regarded the North as the seat of gloom and darkness, (Homer, Odyssey ix. 25ff), while they supposed the South to be illuminated by the sun. “Gesenius.” Frequently, however, as here, the word “left,” or “left hand,” is used. The region of the North is intended.

Where he doth work - Where there are such wonderful manifestations of his majesty and glory. May Job here not refer to the “Aurora Borealis,” the remarkable display of the power of God which is seen in those regions? May he not have felt that there was some special reason why he might hope to meet with God in that quarter, or to see him manifest himself amidst the brilliant lights that play along the sky, as if to precede or accompany him? And when he had looked to the splendor of the rising sun, and the glory of his setting, in vain, was it not natural to turn his eye to the next remarkable manifestation, as he supposed, of God, in the glories of the Northern lights, and to expect to find him there? There is reason to think that the ancient Chaldeans, and other pagans, regarded the regions of the North, illuminated with these celestial splendors, as the special residence of the gods (see the notes at Isaiah 14:13), and it seems probable that Job may have had allusion to some such prevailing opinion.

But I cannot behold him - I can see the exhibition of remarkable splendor, but still “God” is unseen. He does not come amidst those glories to give me an opportunity to carry my cause before him. The meaning, then, of this is, “Disappointed in the East and the West. I turn to the North. There I have been accustomed to witness extraordinary manifestations of his magnificence and glory. There beautiful constellations circle the pole. There the Aurora plays, and seems to be the manifestation of the glory of God. Next to the glory of the rising and setting sun, I turn to those brilliant lights, to see if there I may not find my God, but in vain. Those lights are cold and chilly, and reveal no God to my soul. Disappointed, then I turn to the last point, the South, to see if I can find him there.”

He hideth himself on the right hand - On the South. The South was to the ancients an unknown region. The deserts of Arabia, indeed, stretched away in that region, and they were partially known, and they had some knowledge that the sea was beyond. But they regarded the regions farther to the South, if there was land there, as wholly impassable and uninhabitable on account of the heat. The knowledge of geography was slowly acquired, and, of course, it is impossible to tell what were the views which prevailed on the subject in the time of Job. That there was little accuracy of information about remote countries must be regarded as an indisputable fact; and, probably, they had little conception of distant parts of the earth, except that formed by conjecture. Interesting details of the views of the ancients, on this subject, may be found in the Encyclopedia of Geography, vol. i. pp. 10-68; compare particularly the notes at Job 26:10.

The earth was regarded as encompassed with waters, and the distant southern regions, on account of the impossibility of passing through the heat of the torrid zone, were supposed to be inaccessible. To those hidden and unknown realms, Job says he now turned, when he had in vain looked to each other quarter of the heavens, to see if he could find some manifestation of God. Yet he looked to that quarter equally in vain. God “hid” or “concealed” himself in those inaccessible regions so that he could not approach him. The meaning is, “I am also disappointed here. He hides himself in that distant land. In the burning and impassable wastes which stretch themselves to an unknown extent there, I cannot find him. The feet of mortals cannot traverse those burning plains, and there I cannot approach him. To whatever point of the compass I turn, I am left in equal darkness.” What a striking description is this of the darkness that sometimes comes over the Christian‘s soul, prompting to the language, “O that I knew where I might find him! That I could come to his throne!”

Verse 10

But he knoweth the way that I take - Margin, “is with me.” That is, “I have the utmost confidence in him. Though I cannot see him, yet he sees me, and he knows my integrity; and whatever people may say, or however they may misunderstand my character, yet he is acquainted with me, and I have the fullest confidence that he will do me justice.”

When he hath tried me - When he has subjected me to all the tests of character which he shall choose to apply.

I shall come forth as gold - As gold that is tried in the crucible, and that comes forth the more pure the intenser is the heat. The application of fire to it serves to separate every particle of impurity or alloy, and leaves only the pure metal. So it is with trials applied to the friend of God; and we may remark

(1) That all real piety will bear “any” test that may be applied to it, as gold will bear any degree of heat without being injured or destroyed.

(2) That the effect of all trials is to purify piety, and make it more bright and valuable, as is the effect of applying intense heat to gold.

(3) There is often much alloy in the piety of a Christian, as there is in gold, that needs to be removed by the fiery trial of affliction. Nothing else will remove it but trial, as nothing will be so effectual a purifier of gold as intense heat.

(4) A true Christian should not dread trial. It will not hurt him. He will be the more valuable for his trials, as gold is for the application of heat. There is no danger of destroying true piety. It will live in the flames, and will survive the raging heat that shall yet consume the world.

Verse 11

My foot hath held his steps - Roberts, in his Oriental Illustrations, and the Editor of the Pictorial Bible, suppose that there is an allusion here to the active, grasping power which the Orientals have in their feet and toes. By constant usage they accustom themselves to make use of them in holding things in a manner which to us seems almost incredible, and they make the toes perform almost the work of fingers. We bind ours fast from early childhood in our close shoes, and they become useless except for the purpose of walking. But the Orientals use theirs differently. They seize upon an object with their toes, and hold it fast. If in walking along they see anything on the ground which they desire to pick up, instead of stooping as we would, they seize it with their toes, and lift it up. Alypulle, a Kandian chief, was about to be beheaded. When he arrived at the place of execution, he looked round for some object on which to seize, and saw a small shrub, and seized it with his toes, and held it fast in order to be firm while the executioner did his office. “Roberts.” So an Arab in treading firmly, or in taking a determined stand, seems to lay hold of, to grasp the ground with his toes, giving a fixedness of position inconceivable to those whose feet are cramped by the use of tight shoes. This may be the meaning here, that Job had fixed himself firmly in the footsteps of God, and had adhered tenaciously to him; or, as it is rendered by Dr. Good,” In his steps will I rivet my feet.”

And not declined - Turned aside.

Verse 12

Neither have I gone back - I have not put away or rejected.

The commandment of his lips - That which he has spoken, or which has proceeded out of his mouth.

I have esteemed - Margin, “hid,” or, “laid up.” The Hebrew is, “I have hid,” as we hide or lay up that which is valuable. It is a word often applied to laying up treasures, or concealing them so that they would be safe.

More than my necessary food - Margin, “or, appointed portion.” Dr. Good renders it, “In my bosom have I laid up the words of his mouth.” So Noyes, “The words of his mouth I have treasured up in my bosom.” So Wemyss; and so it is rendered in the Vulgate, and by the Septuagint. The variety in the translation has arisen from the difference of reading in regard to the Hebrew word מחקי mēchôqı̂y Instead of this meaning “more than my portion” or “allowance,” the Septuagint and Vulgate appear to have read בחקי bēchôqı̂y - “in my bosom.” But there is no authority for the change, and there seems to be no reason for it. The word חק chôq means something decreed, designated, appointed; then an appointed portion, as of labor, Exodus 5:14; then of food - an allowance of food, Proverbs 30:8; then a limit, bound, law, statute, etc. It seems to me that the word here means “purpose, intention, rule, or design,” and that the idea is that he had regarded the commands of God more “than his own purposes.” He had been willing to sacrifice his own designs to the will of God, and had thus shown his preference for God and his law. This sense seems to be the most simple of any, and it is surprising that it has not occurred to any expositors. So the same word is used in Job 23:14. If this be the meaning, it expresses a true sentiment of piety in all ages. He who is truly religious is willing to sacrifice and abandon his own plans at the command of God. Job says that he was conscious of having done this, and he thus had a firm conviction that he was a pious man.

Verse 13

But he is in one mind - He is unchangeable. He has formed his plans, and no one can divert him from them. Of the truth of this sentiment there can be no dispute. The only difficulty in the case is to see why Job adverted to it here, and how it bears on the train of thought which he was pursuing. The idea seems to be, that God was now accomplishing his eternal purposes in respect to him; that he had formed a plan far back in eternal ages, and that that plan must be executed; that he was a Sovereign, and that however mysterious his plans might be, it was vain to contend with them, and that man ought to submit to their execution with patience and resignation. Job expected yet that God would come forth and vindicate him; but at present all that he could do was to submit. He did not pretend to understand the reason of the divine dispensations; he felt that he had no power to resist God. The language here is that of a man who is perplexed in regard to the divine dealings, but who feels that they are all in accordance with the unchangeable purpose of God.

And what his soul desireth, even that he doeth - He does what he pleases. None can resist or control him. It is vain, therefore, to contend against him. From this passage we see that the doctrine of divine sovereignty was understood at a very early age of the world, and entered undoubtedly into the religion of the patriarchs. It was then seen and felt that God was absolute; that he was not dependent on his creatures; that he acted according to a plan; that he was inflexible in regard to that plan, and that it was in vain to attempt to resist its execution. It is, when properly understood, a matter of unspeakable consolation that God has a plan - for who could honor a God who had “no” plan, but who did everything by hap-hazard? It is matter of rejoicing that he has “one” great purpose which extends through all ages, and which embraces all things - for then everything falls into its proper place, and has its appropriate bearing on other events. It is a matter of joy that God “does” execute all his purposes; for as they are all good and wise, it is “desirable” that they should be executed. It would be a calamity if a good plan were not executed. Why then should people complain at the purposes or the decrees of God?

Verse 14

For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me - “I am now meeting only what has been determined by his eternal plan. I know not what is the “reason” why it was appointed; but I see that God had resolved to do it, and that it is vain to resist him.” So when we suffer, we may say the same thing. It is not by chance or hap-hazard that we are afflicted; it is because “God” has “appointed” that it should be so. It is not by passion or caprice on his part; not by sudden anger or wrath; but it is because he had determined to do it as a part of his eternal plan. It is much, when we are afflicted, to be able to make this reflection. I had rather be afflicted, feeling that it is “the appointment of God,” than feeling that it is “by chance” or “hap-hazard.” I had rather think that it is a part of a plan calmly and deliberately formed by God, than that it is the result of some unexpected and uncontrollable cause. In the one case, I see that mind and thought and plan have been employed, and I infer that there is a “reason” for it, though I cannot see it; in the other, I can see no proof of reason or of wisdom, and my mind finds no rest. The doctrine of divine purposes or decrees, therefore, is eminently adapted to give consolation to a sufferer. I had infinitely rather be under the operation of a plan or decree where there “may” be a reason for all that is done, though I cannot see it, than to feel that I am subject to the tossings of blind chance, where there can possibly be no reason.

And many such things are with him - The purpose does not pertain to me alone. It is a part of a great plan which extends to others - to all things. He is executing his plans around me, and I should not complain that in the development of his vast purposes I am included, and that I suffer. The idea seems to be this, that Job found consolation in the belief that he was not alone in these circumstances; that he had not been marked out and selected as a special object of divine displeasure. Others had suffered in like manner. There were “many” cases just like his own, and why should he complain? If I felt that there was special displeasure against “me;” that no others wcre treated in the same way, it would make afflictions much more difficult to bear. But when I feel that there is an eternal plan which embraces all, and that I only come in for my share, in common with others, of the calamities which are judged necessary for the world, I can bear them with much more ease and patience.

Verse 15

Therefore am I troubled at his presence - The doctrine of divine purposes and decrees “is fitted to impress the mind with awe.” So vast are the plans of God; so uncertain to us is it what will be developed next; so impossible is it to resist God when he comes forth to execute his plans, that they fill the mind with reverence and fear. And this is one of the objects for which the doctrine is revealed. It is designed to rebuke the soul that is filled with flippancy and self-conceit; to impress the hcart with adoring views of God, and to secure a proper reverence for his government. Not knowing what may be the next development of his plan, the mind should be in a state of holy fear - yet ready to submit and bow in whatever aspect his purposes may be made known. A Being, who has an eternal plan, and who is able to accomplish all that he purposes, and who makes known none of his dealings beforehand, should be an object of veneration and fear. It will not be the same “kind of dreadful fear” which we would have of one who had almighty power, but who had “no plan” of any kind, but profound veneration for one who is infinitely wise as well as almighty. The fear of an Almighty Being, who has an eternal plan, which we cannot doubt is wise, though it is inscrutable to us, is a fear mingled with confidence; it is awe leading to the profoundest veneration. His eternal counsels may take away “our” comforts, but they are right; his coming forth may fill us with awe, but we shall venerate and love him.

When I consider - When I endeavor to understand his dealings; or when I think closely on them.

I am afraid of him - This would be the effect on any mind. A man that will sit down alone and “think” of God, and on his vast plans, will see that there is abundant occasion to be in awe before him.

Verse 16

For God maketh my heart soft - That is, “faint.” He takes away my strength; compare the notes at Isaiah 7:4. This effect was produced on Job by the contemplation of the eternal plan and the power of God.

Verse 17

Because I was not cut off before the darkness - Before these calamities came upon me. Because I was not taken away in the midst of prosperity, and while I was enjoying his smiles and the proofs of his love. His trouble is, that he was spared to pass through these trials, and to be treated as if he were one of the worst of men. This is what now perplexes him, and what he cannot understand. He does not know why God had reserved him to treat him as if he were the chief of sinners.

Neither hath he covered the darkness from my face - The word “neither” is supplied here by our translators, but not improperly. The difficulty with Job was, that God had not “hidden” this darkness and calamity so that he had not seen it. He could not understand why, since he was his friend, God had not taken him away, so that all should have seen, even in his death, that he was the friend of God. This feeling is not, perhaps, very uncommon among those who are called to pass through trials. They do not understand why they were reserved to these sufferings, and why God did not take them away before the billows of calamity rolled over them.


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 23:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

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