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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Job 26

 

 

Verse 1

JOB’S EIGHTH REPLY.

1. But Job answered — As Bildad had made no reply to his argument, Job, in the deepest spirit of sarcasm, fills out the jejune speech of the former with a transcendent description of the power, dominion, and works of God. Bildad had essayed the heavens; Job, on adventurous wing, explores the under world of the dead; looks down upon “the earth, that, self-balanced from her centre hung;” pores “upon the clouds and firmament that veil the throne of God;” and “passes the flaming bounds of time and space” to where the dominion of darkness is unbroken. God’s breath, he says, garnished the heavens, and “his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.” The climax is reached in a deity triumphant over evil. All this is “a whisper-word” of the might and glory of God. First division — SHARP REBUKE OF BILDAD, Job 26:2-4.


Verse 3

Strophe — Job compliments Bildad on his inapposite discourse, which has served not only to exhaust the subject but Bildad himself , Job 26:2-4.

3. Plentifully — Job ridicules the brevity of Bildad’s speech. The first four verses are exquisitely ironical.


Verse 4

4. Whose spirit — By whose inspiration hast thou spoken? He insinuates that Bildad has borrowed his few meagre thoughts, for instance, from Eliphaz, Job 4:17-21; Job 15:14-16.


Verse 5

Second division — AN INCOMPARABLE DESCRIPTION OF THE DIVINE MAJESTY AND GLORY, Job 26:5-14.

Strophe a Not only are the heavenly hosts pacified by the majestic presence of the Lord as Bildad had shown, (Job 25:1,) but the shades of the under world tremble at the outgoings of the divine power; a power also displayed in upholding the world, Job 26:5-7.

5. With his characteristic abruptness Job launches into his subject, in medias res. Job first portrays the glory of God as felt in sheol, the world of the dead. The verse should be read, The dead tremble beneath the waters, and the inhabitants thereof.

Dead things הרפאים, The Rephaim. This word, primarily used of a race of giants, (Genesis 14:5 ; Genesis 15:20,) was in the course of time applied to the dead, (Psalms 88:10; Isaiah 14:9; Isaiah 14:19; Isaiah 26:14; Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 9:18; Proverbs 21:16,) to whom the imagination attributed a towering form. Vitringa thinks that the word originally denoted the shades of the departed, and was transferred to denote men of gigantic bulk, and so finally became an appellation of both. (Com. on Isaiah, 1, 433.) The word is cognate with the Arabic rafaa, “to soften,” and signifies “the weak,” “the relaxed,” (Delitzsch,) or “the shadowy,” (Furst,) corresponding to the Greek οι καμοντες, “the wearied,” also “the relaxed,” an epithet of the dead. The best modern Hebraists accordingly ascribe to the Rephaim here spoken of the classic meaning of Manes, (“the Shades”) i.e., beings consciously alive. This word also occurs in the Phoenician inscription of Sargon.

Are formed יחוללו, substantially the same word, in Habakkuk 3:10 is rendered trembled, which is its meaning here, according to Hahn, Zockler, Hitzig, etc. Compare James 2:19. Whether the word be derived from hhoul or hhalal, it carries with it, the idea of suffering, a fact which leads Delitzsch, Dillmann, etc., to translate “are put to pain.” This passage is of moment not only in that it indicates and confirms Job’s belief in the consciousness of the dead, but also that some of them — those gigantic in wickedness, (Rephaim) — trembled, or, as others say, “writhed” (T. Lewis) beneath the display of God’s power.

Under the waters — The terrors of sheol were heightened by the popular notion not only that it was subterranean, but that it extended beneath the sea, with its many monsters. The strange horror of death by water which possessed the ancient mind, (see note of Servius on the AEneid, 1:93,) possibly taking its rise in the awfulness of the deluge, may account for the association in the popular mind of the abode of a portion of the dead with the great deep. “That even these dwellers in the under world, although otherwise without feeling or motion, and at such an immeasurable distance from God’s dwelling-place, should be touched and terrified by the workings of the divine agency — this is a much stronger evidence of God’s greatness than aught that Bildad had alleged.” — Hirtzel.


Verse 6

6. Hell — Hebrew, sheol.

Naked — Compare Hebrews 4:13.

Destruction — Hebrews Abaddon. The rabbins were led, by Psalms 88:11, where the same word is used, to regard Abaddon as the nethermost of the two worlds into which they divided the under world. (See Excursus III, page 74.)


Verse 7

7. The north — Delitzsch shows satisfactorily that we are not to understand by this the northern portion of the earth, as is held by Dillmann, etc., but the northern sky, which, with the ancients, was of more consideration than the southern. In the northern hemisphere were the great constellations mentioned by Job — the Bear, the Serpent, Orion, etc. Among the ancient poets the north pole was used synonymously for the heavens, and in this sense the north may be employed here. The arctic desolation disclosed by modern exploration singularly corresponds to the tohu, “desolateness,” over which Job in figure spreads out “the north.”

Empty place — Hebrew, tohu. Same word as in Genesis 1:2. That the sky should overarch the immeasurable void without visible supports was always a marvel to the Oriental mind. Hence the poetical invention of pillars. See Job 9:6. Thus the Koran, Sur. xiii, “It is Allah who has built the heavens on high, without the support of visible pillars.” Nothing — The Hebrew word is a compound, בלימה, literally, not what, that is, nothing, (no-thing,) and is found in the Scriptures only here. This disclosure, which for so many ages preceded its scientific confirmation, stands out in yet more bold relief when compared with the mythologies of other ancient nations. The father of modern science, Lord Bacon, incidentally speaks of this among other passages: “The book of Job, likewise, will be found, if examined with care, pregnant with the secrets of natural philosophy. For example, when it says, ‘he stretcheth out the north,’ etc., the suspension of the earth and the convexity of the heavens are manifestly alluded to.… So in another place, ‘who maketh Arcturus,’ etc., Job 9:9 ; he again refers to the depression of the south pole in the expression, ‘interiora austri,’ ‘chambers of the south,’ because the southern stars are not seen in our hemisphere.” — Advancement of Learning, book 1. Kepler, the great astronomer, treating of the yet unsolved problems of science, thus reverently speaks of the disclosures made in the book of Job: “These, and other similar things, lie hidden in the pandects of coming times, and are not to be understood until God, the arbiter of the ages, shall have unfolded this book (Job) to mortals.” — Cited by Delitzsch. The Jerusalem Gemara says, that Alexander the Great is sometimes represented as holding a ball in his hand, because he had ascertained that the earth, which he had traversed to conquer, had the figure of a sphere. (Avoda Sara, chap. 3.) For a brief sketch of the conflicting opinions of the ancients upon this subject the reader is referred to Etheridge’s “Hebrew Literature,” p. 272.


Verse 8

Second strophe — In lofty flight Job’s imagination rises from the under world and the earth to the heavens, the seat of God’s throne, and thence surveys the enshrouding clouds (Psalms 18:11) and the confines of light and darkness, Job 26:8-10.

8. The waters in his thick clouds — That an inconceivable weight of water should be suspended mid-heaven, not unlike the earth, self-balanced, struck Job as a never ceasing manifestation of divine power. Compare Job 37:16.


Verse 9

9. Holdeth back Who veileth. The word אחז, used in Nehemiah 7:3 in the sense of barring (the gate,) also signifies “hold fast,” (see Job 23:11,) or “fasten together.” 2 Chronicles 9:18. In this, the sole case of the Piel form, it is generally interpreted to mean “enshroud,” or “inclose,” although Merx understands its meaning to be that of bearing or holding up, with the idea that God miraculously holds up the throne on which he sits. But the text, it is to be remembered, speaks of “the outside,” “the face,” of the throne. It is a beautiful poetical conception that the firmament not only reflects the splendour of God, (Exodus 24:10,) but also veils his throne (literally, the face of his throne) from human eyes. Isaiah 66:1. All nature may be regarded as a veil of deity “through whose mantling folds” he deigns to show so much of his being as eye or heart can bear. Compare Amos 9:6; Psalms 104:3.


Verse 10

10. He hath compassed the waters with bounds — The Syriac gives a satisfactory rendering of this difficult passage thus, He hath described a circle on the face of the waters. According to some, (Rosenmuller,) the idea is, He has appointed a rotary motion of the heavens round and above the sea, by which the vicissitudes of day and night are regulated. The more simple view of Dr. A. Clarke is the more correct one, “Perhaps this refers merely to the circle of the horizon, the line that terminates light and commences darkness, called here, until the completion of light with darkness,” which Pareau renders more freely, “unto the confines of light and darkness.” The use of the word taklith, “end,” in Nehemiah 3:21, shows that the marginal rendering here is substantially correct. Comp. Job 11:7. There is no occasion for attributing to Job ancient misconceptions, (VIRGIL, Georg., 1:247,) which lasted well into the middle ages — that the earth is surrounded by the ocean, on the other side of which the region of darkness begins. This view of possible misconception, held by Dillmann, Hitzig very properly scouts.


Verse 11

Third strophe — The mightiest forces of nature are simply the agencies of the divine will, a will which subdues to itself the most discordant elements of the physical and moral world. All that we can know, and all that we can think, of God, is but a zephyr of his presence as he walks in the visible garden of the universe, (Genesis 3:8,) Job 26:11-14.

11. Pillars of heaven — See note on Job 26:7 and Job 9:6. That the reference of Job to the popular belief that the mountains, as “pillars,” upheld the heavens, must be figurative, is evident from Job 26:7, where the power of God is said to uphold the north (the heaven) over the empty place.

Tremble — The Hebrew yerophaphou, occurring only here, may be fancied to oscillate like the earth-quivering it is intended to convey.

Reproof — The thunder, which is often called “the voice of God,” was regarded as his rebuke of the world. Psalms 104:7. By a powerful personification, the mountain heights (pillars of heaven) are represented as being astonished with terror! Psalms 114:6.


Verse 12

12. Divideth the sea — A prime idea of רגע is “rouse,” thence terrify. Others, however, guided by its other root idea, translate it quell.

Smiteth through Mahhats is rendered also to crush, break in pieces.

The proud — Hebrew, rahab, (see on Job 9:13,) is parallel to sea, and seems to call for “a sea-monster” of some kind, which is the version of the Septuagint. Such a monster may have represented to the popular mind the power of evil, and thus have paved the way for the allusion to “the fleeing serpent” of the next verse. Dillmann has as little reason for supposing that Job makes use of a traditionary saying which was equivalent to “he hath stilled the raging sea,” as others have for referring the text to the exodus, and the crushing of pride at the Red Sea.


Verse 13

13. Garnished the heavens — Literally, By his breath the heavens are bright. At the root of Shiphra, bright, (a woman’s name in Exodus 1:15,) lies the idea of beauty. “The word is used,” says Scott, “by the elegant Hariri of a beautiful woman unveiling and shining out to her admirers.”

Formed חללה, pierced through. So the Syriac, Arabic, Furst, Hirtzel, Dillmann, Ewald, Hitzig, etc. The same word in the participial form is used in Isaiah 51:9, where it unquestionably signifies the piercing of the dragon. Some, however, give to the word a different root form, and make it to signify, as in the Authorized Version, to “form,” or “create:” — Welte, Renan, Conant, etc.

Crooked serpent — Better, the fleeing serpent. The Septuagint renders the phrase, “he destroyed the apostate serpent,” which reduced Tyndale to translate it, “With his hand hath he wounded the rebellyous serpent.” In the opinion of some there is a reference to a mythological legend, as in Job 3:8, (see note.). On the contrary, as the mention of the sea suggested its Rahab, so that of the sky suggests its Serpent, a constellation that from the remotest ages has borne either this or kindred names. This constellation, (Draco, the Dragon,) with its nearly a hundred stars and its head beneath the foot of Hercules, winds its way between the greater and lesser Bears, almost half around the polar circle. Popular imagination conceived that the hand of God pierced it through as it strove to escape, and thus transfixed it in its course. The tragical story of the garden is seemingly transferred to the skies. Hitzig links “the fleeing serpent” with “the host of the height,” (Isaiah 24:21,) and regards it as a veil of a πνευματικον του πονηρου, or, evil intelligences, kindred to Ephesians 6:12. Prof. Lee and Wordsworth see in the passage a transition from the works of creation to that of redemption. The wounding of the serpent, also paraphrased in Isaiah 27:1, where this very “fleeing serpent” is said to be pierced with the sword, may harbinger the triumph of the cross, in which Christ bruised the head of the serpent. If so, the sublime description of the works of creation culminates in the vastly greater work of redemption. The two verses, 12 and 13, are thus linked in the one common thought — the final subjugation of evil. Bildad speaks of the uncleanness and hopelessness of man, (Job 26:4;) — Job’s reply, far reaching and in shadowy vision, embraces the cross.


Verse 14

14. Parts Ends; “the extreme point;” “the border.” Exodus 25:19; Exodus 28:7. The Arabian schoolmen called our present knowledge the ends, or off-cuttings of things. “They compared it to the threads which stick out from the lower or wrong side of the tapestry which the great Artificer is weaving above.” Compare 1 Corinthians 13:9; 1 Corinthians 13:12. But how little a portion, etc. — Literally, what a whisper-word is that we hear. For shemets, “whisper,” see note on Job 4:12. It was a pleasing conceit of Pythagoras that the heavenly bodies in their motions emitted sounds which were blended together in musical harmony. The reason we do not hear it. Cicero says, is because “the sound is so loud as to transcend our power of hearing.” “Tantus sonitus ut eum aures hominum capere non possint.” — De Republica, Job 6:18. Kepler’s discoveries give countenance to the very old conception of the philosophers. Schlottmann’s interpretation, that what we hear of God’s ways and works is but an echo of the distant thunder, falls greatly below the thought of Job, whose figure is that of a whispered word compared with the mightier thunder, “the thunder of his power.” May it not be just as true still, now that science has brought to our knowledge “a hundred million worlds,” that these are the outskirts of his universe, the fringes of his royal garment, “the ends of his ways?”

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 26:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/job-26.html. 1874-1909.

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