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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Job 38

Verse 1

XXXVIII.

(1) Then the Lord answered Job.—This chapter brings the grand climax and catastrophe of the poem. Unless all was to remain hopelessly uncertain and dark, there could be no solution of the questions so fiercely and obstinately debated but by the intervention of Him whose government was the matter in dispute. And so the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, or tempest: that is to say, the tempest which had been long gathering, and which had been the subject of Elihu’s remarks. The one argument which is developed in the remaining chapters is drawn from man’s ignorance. There is so much in nature that man knows not and cannot understand, that it is absurd for him to suppose that he can judge aright in matters touching God’s moral government of the world. Though Job is afterwards (Job 42:8) justified by God, yet the tone of all that God says to him is more or less mingled with reproach.

Verse 2

(2) Who is this?—The question may be answered by Job’s own words (Job 14:1). It is a man as so described, a dying and enfeebled man, like Job himself, not even a man in his best estate, but one so persecuted and exhausted as Job: one, therefore, altogether unequal to the task he has undertaken.

That darkeneth counsel.—That is, probably, my counsel, which was the matter under debate. The words, however, are often used proverbially in a general sense. Such discussions, carried on, as they cannot but be, in entire ignorance by blind mortals, must to God’s omniscience seem thus, and cannot be otherwise than the darkening of counsel by words without knowledge.

Verse 4

(4) Where wast thou?—The comparison of the creation of the world to the building of an edifice is such a concession to the feebleness of man as serves of itself to heighten the effect of the inevitable answer to the question preferred.

Verse 7

(7) The morning stars.—The context seems to suggest that by the stars are meant the angels entrusted with their guardianship, from whence Milton has borrowed his conceptions. The magnificent sublimity of the expression and the thought needs no comment.

Verse 10

(10) And brake up for it my decreed place.—Rather, And prescribed for it my decree: that is to say, determined the boundaries of its abode. When we bear in mind the vast forces and unstable nature of the sea, it seems a marvel that it acknowledges any limits, and is held in restraint by them.

Verse 12

(12) And caused the dayspring to know his place.—Changing, as it does, from day to day with the changing seasons.

Verse 13

(13) Shaken out of it.—The figure is that of a man shaking a cloth (Job 24:15-17).

Verse 14

(14) As clay to the seal.—In the darkness every object is without form and void, just as clay or wax, which has no distinctness of shape till the seal is applied, and then the impression is clear and manifest. So with the coming of the daylight after darkness. We should rather render, It is changed as clay under the seal, and all things stand forth as in their proper raiment.

Verse 16

(16) The search of the depthi.e., the secret recesses of it. The “springs of the sea” are rather, perhaps, the mazes, intricacies, &c. of the trackless, pathless deep. This leads to the cognate thought of the bottomless pit of death (Job 38:17).

Verse 18

(18) Perceived.—Or rather, perhaps, comprehended.

The breadth of the earth.—The earth being conceived of as a vast plain (comp. Job 38:13). Unscientific as all this language is, it is not a little remarkable that the majestic sublimity of it is not one whit affected thereby.

Verse 20

(20) That thou shouldest take it—i.e., go with or track it.

Verse 21

(21) Knowest thou it?—It is better to read this verse without an interrogation, as sublime irony. “Doubtless thou knowest all this, for thou wast born then, and the number of thy days is so great!”

Verse 23

(23) The time of trouble.—As was the case with the Canaanites, in Joshua 10:11. (Comp. Psalms 18:13.)

Verse 24

(24) By what way is the light parted?i.e., distributed in turn to all the inhabitants of the earth.

The east wind.—As naturally suggested by the origin of light and the mention of it.

Verse 25

(25) Who hath divided a watercourse.—Rather, cleft a channel for the water-flood.

Verse 26

(26) To cause it to rain on the earth.—Because God is mindful of His creation, independently of the wants of man.

Verse 30

(30) The waters are hid.—Or, The waters hide themselves and become like stone. Water loses its familiar quality, and is turned into stone.

Verse 31

(31) The sweet influences.—With reference to their supposed effect on weather and the like, or perhaps the word means chain or band, with allusion to their group—“Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.” The context, however, of “the bands of Orion” seems rather to favour the other view. “Canst thou regulate the influences exerted by these several constellations in either direction of increase or diminution?”

Verse 32

(32) Mazzaroth is commonly understood to mean the signs of the Zodiac, and by the children of Arc-turus the three stars in the tail of Ursa Major.

Verse 33

(33) The ordinances of heaven.—Comp. Job 28:26. That is, the recurring seasons and their power of influencing the earth.

Verse 36

(36) Wisdom in the inward parts.—The mention of the inward parts and the heart here, in the midst of natural phenomena, perplexes every one; but it is a natural solution to refer them to the lightnings personified: “Who hath put such understanding in their inward parts?”

Verse 37

(37) Who can stay the bottles of heaven?—This is understood in two opposite senses—of pouring out the bottles or of laying them up in store. It is not easy to decide which is most in accordance with the context, for the context also is somewhat uncertain, according as we interpret the solid mass of thick mud or of hard, dry soil. The survey of physical phenomena ends with this verse.

Verse 39

(39) Wilt thou hunt the prey?—The new chapter ought to begin here with this verse, inasmuch as the animal creation now passes under review.

Verse 41

(41) They wander for lack of meat.—The second clause is not a direct statement, but is dependent on the previous one; thus: “When his young ones cry unto God, when they wander for lack of meat.”

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Job 38". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/job-38.html. 1905.