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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Job 12


Job’s answer: his friends’ self-conceit: the miserable always despised, though upright; the wicked prosper, Job 12:1-6.

God’s power and providence is seen in his works, Job 12:7-11.

With the ancient is wisdom, but especially in God, and power: judges are fools, princes weak and mean, darkness light, before him, Job 12:12-22;

and whole nations are overruled by him, Job 12:23-25.

Verse 2

Ye are the people; you three, and you only, are the people, i.e. people of all people for eminency of wisdom, the only company of reasonable creatures; all others are but fools or beasts: you have engrossed all the reason of mankind; and each of you have as much wisdom as a whole people put together. It is an ironical expression, as the next verse showeth.

Wisdom shall die with you; all the wisdom and knowledge of Divine things which is in the world lives in you, and will die and be utterly lost when you die. This you think of yourselves; and this makes you so confidently and peremptorily deliver your opinions, and give laws to me and all mankind, and even to God himself.

Verse 3

An understanding, Heb. a heart; which is oft put for the understanding, as Job 34:34; Jeremiah 5:21; Acts 8:22; i.e. God hath given me also the knowledge and ability to judge of these matters.

I am not inferior to you in these things; which he speaketh, not in a way of vain-glorious boasting, but for the just and necessary vindication both of himself; and of that cause of God, which for the matter and substance of it he maintained rightly, as God himself attests, Job 42:7.

Who knoweth not such things as these? the truth is, neither you nor I have any reason to be puffed up with our knowledge of these things; for the most foolish and barbarous nations know that God is infinite in wisdom, and power, and justice. But this is not the question between you and me.

Verse 4

As one mocked of his neighbour, Heb. I am a derision (the infinitive being put for a noun, as is usual both in the Hebrew and other languages) to my neighbour, i.e. to these three, who have pretended and would be thought to be my friends and neighbours; whom therefore such carriage doth very ill become. Instead of supporting and comforting me, they make a sport and scorn of me.

Who calleth upon God, and he answereth him. This who belongs either,

1. To Job, who here declares his own practice in this case: When you mock me, I go to God with my complaints and prayers, and he hears me, though you will not. But this seems not to agree either with the context, or with other passages of Job; in which he constantly complains that God did not hear nor regard his prayers, nor pity and help him. Or,

2. To Job’s friends; and so this is either,

1. An aggravation of their crime, that they should mock him who made a great profession of religion, who used duly to call upon God, and to receive answers from him, and therefore should have carried themselves more piously, and charitably, and compassionately towards their miserable brother. Or,

2. As the reason of their mockage of Job, because God, who neglected Job’s prayers, heard theirs, and gave them those mercies for which they prayed; and therefore being themselves well and at ease, they were hard-hearted towards their poor afflicted brother, as the manner of men is. This seems to suit well with the following verse. Or,

3. As all argument against their scorning or slighting of him: God hears you when you pray, therefore you should turn your mocks of me into prayers for me; and you should pity me, whom God doth not hear when I pray; and as God hears you, so you should hear and comfort me, when I pour out my complaints to you. But these words may be brought in mimetically, as being some of their scoffing words: They say of me, Let him call upon God, and God will hear him; for so they had suggested to Job, Job 5:8; Job 8:5; Job 11:13. But this, saith Job, I take for a piece of mockery, and insulting over my miseries; for I know by sad experience, and they see the contrary, that though I call and cry again and again, yet God hath no regard to me.

The just, upright man is laughed to scorn, i.e. I, who, notwithstanding all their hard censures and reproaches, must and dare still own it, that through God’s grace I am a just and upright man, am derided by them. This he repeats again, because it was very grievous and burdensome to him.

Verse 5

i.e. The just man last mentioned, who is upon the brink of the pit or grave, ready to fall into mischief, so as never to rise again in this world, which is my case, and the occasion of their scorn and contempt.

As a lamp despised, i.e. like a lamp or torch, which whilst it shines clearly and in a dark night is very useful and comfortable; but when it draws towards an end, and is nigh extinct, and in the light, is neglected and despised, as that which is unnecessary, and troublesome, and offensive. So the same man, who, when his feet stand fast in a prosperous condition, is magnified and adored by all, when his feet slip or stumble, as the phrase is Psalms 94:18; Jeremiah 13:16, when he is in misery, is commonly forsaken and despised.

In the thought of him that is at ease, i.e. in the opinion of a man that lives in great ease and outward happiness, which generally makes persons to forget and despise those who are in affliction. But these words are a little otherwise rendered, and that agreeably to the order of the words in the Hebrew text, He (which is easily understood out of Job 12:4, the just and upright man) is as a torch despised in the opinion or thought (as this or the like words coming from the same Hebrew root are used, Psalms 146:4; Daniel 6:3; Jonah 1:6. Or, because of the splendour; for so this root and its derivatives elsewhere signify, as Song of Solomon 5:14; Jeremiah 5:28; Ezekiel 27:19. And either of these significations agree well with the place. Or, compared with the splendour or greater lustre and glory) of him that lives in tranquillity; he (i.e. the just man) is (or, because he is; for this may be the reason of the contempt) ready to slip with his foot, i.e. ready to perish.

Verse 6

The tabernacles of robbers prosper: thy opinion, delivered Job 11:14, &c, is confuted by daily experience; which shows that the most wicked, and injurious, and impudent oppressors, tyrants, and robbers, are so far from meeting with those disappointments and miseries wherewith thou didst threaten them, that they commonly succeed in their cursed enterprises, and flourish in wealth and glory, and fill their houses with the goods of others which they violently took away; whereof the Chaldeans and Sabeans, Job 1:15,Job 1:17, are a present and pregnant evidence.

They that provoke God are secure; they whose common practice it is to despise and provoke God are confident and secure, live without danger or fear.

Into whose hand God bringeth abundantly; so far is God from crushing such persons, that he seems to favour them with wonderful success, and by his special and more than common providence puts into their hands the opportunities which they seek, and the persons and goods of other more righteous men, which they lie in wait for.

Verse 7

They shall teach thee, to wit, objectively, i.e. if thou observest the beasts, and their properties, and actions, and events, from them thou mayst learn this lesson. What lesson? I answer, either,

1. That which was last mentioned, Job 12:5. God’s providence doth order things in the like manner among the very beasts, and fowls, and fishes; of which the most ravenous and mischievous fare the best, whilst those which are more harmless, and serviceable, and beneficial to men meet with the hardest usage. Or,

2. That which Zophar had uttered with so much pomp and gravity, Job 11:7-9, concerning God’s infinite wisdom; which, saith Job, thou needest not go into heaven or hell to know, but thou mayst learn it even from the beasts, &c.

Verse 9

In all these, or, by all these, brute creatures, that God by his power and wisdom hath created and ordered all this which is in them, or is done by and among them.

Verse 10

In whose hand, i.e. at whose absolute disposal, it is to give it, or take it away, when and how it seemeth good to him.

The soul; the life, or the soul the principle of life.

Of every living thing, i.e. of all unreasonable creatures, of which he spoke Job 12:7, opposed to man in the last words.

The breath, or, the spirit, as that word is commonly used, i.e. the immortal soul; which is no less a creature, and in God’s power to dispose of it, than the animal soul of unreasonable creatures.

Verse 11

As the mouth tasteth and thereby judgeth of meats, and as it liketh or disliketh, so it receiveth or rejecteth, what is put into it; so it is the office of the ear, or rather of the mind, which hears and receives the opinions and discourses of others by the ear, not rashly to approve or condemn every thing which it hears, but diligently and thoroughly to search and try whether it be true, and so to be embraced, or false, and to be rejected. Interpreters are much puzzled about the connexion and design of these words; but they seem to be either,

1. An apology for himself, why he did not comply with their opinion and all arguments, because they did not suit with his ear or mind; and though he had considered and tried them, he could not discern any weight in them. Or rather,

2. A reproof to his friends, that they did so hastily condemn his person and his doctrine without a strict and serious inquiry. Or,

3. A preface to his following discourse; whereby he invites them to hear and judge of his words and arguments more candidly and impartially; and not to scorn that he said because of his present poverty and misery, as men at ease used to do; nor to cast away the good for any mixture of bad with it; but calmly to weigh and debate things, both within and among themselves, and with him, that they and he too might all agree in disallowing whatsoever should appear to be false, and owning of every truth.

Verse 12

These words contain a concession of what Bildad had said Job 8:8,Job 8:9, and a joining with him in that appeal; but withal, an intimation that this wisdom was but finite, and imperfect, and liable to many mistakes; and indeed mere ignorance and folly, if compared with the Divine wisdom, of which he speaks in the next and following verses. And therefore that antiquity which they pretended for their opinion ought not to be received against the oracles or truths of the eternal and most wise God.

Verse 13

With him, i.e. with God; the relative being put for the antecedent, which is easily and necessarily understood out of the scope of the place, and all the following verses.

Wisdom; perfect wisdom is only in him, and all wisdom in the world cometh from him, who giveth to old or young as it pleaseth him. The ancient are not wise without his gift and grace, and with that a younger man may be wiser than the ancients, as David was, Psalms 119:100.

Counsel and understanding; counsel, i.e. practical wisdom to guide all the affairs of the world; and understanding, or a speculative knowledge of all persons and things.

Verse 14

He breaketh down, to wit, houses, castles, cities, which God designeth to destroy utterly.

He shutteth up; if he will shut up a man in prison, or in any straits or troubles.

There can be no opening, without God’s permission and providence.

Verse 15

He withholdeth the waters; which are reserved in the clouds, that they may not fall upon the earth.

They dry up, i.e. the waters upon the earth, ponds, and springs, and brooks, and rivers.

Verse 16

He doth the things here mentioned in the foregoing and succeeding verses, and that both powerfully, so as no creature can resist and hinder him, and wisely, so as none can prevent and overreach him. The same thing he had said before, Job 12:13, but he repeats it here to prepare the way for the following events, which are eminent instances both of his power and wisdom.

Are his, i.e. from or by him, and wholly subject to his disposal. That one man deceiveth another, and that the other is deceived by him, either in Divine or civil and worldly things, (which seem to be principally intended here, by comparing the following verses,) this is from God, and by the conduct of his wise and powerful providence. God giveth to the deceiver more wit, and knowledge, and art, and withal opportunity, and all favourable circumstances for his deceit. He also gives less understanding to the deceived, and withdraws from him, either wholly or in part, that common light of discretion which is his free gift; and he may justly give, or take away, as he pleaseth, and leaves him to his own ignorance and error, pride and self-conceit, and to all those prejudices, passions, and lusts which commonly corrupt men’s minds, and to the power and crafts of Satan, that grand deceiver. He governs the deceiver, and sets bounds to his deceits, to whom, and when, and how far they shall extend; as is manifest from Deuteronomy 13:1; 1 Kings 22:20; Isaiah 19:14; Ezekiel 14:9; Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:11; Revelation 20:3,Revelation 20:8. He also overrules all this to his own glory, and the accomplishment of his righteous designs of trying the good, and punishing wicked men, by giving them up to believe lies. Yet God is not the cause or author of any error or sin, but only the wise and holy governor and disposer of it.

Verse 17

The wise counsellors or statesmen, by whom the affairs of kings and kingdoms are ordered, he leadeth away as captives in triumph, being spoiled either of that wisdom which they had, or seemed or pretended to have; or of that power and dignity which they had enjoyed.

Maketh the judges fools; partly by discovering their folly, and partly by infatuating their minds, and turning their own counsels to their ruin; of which see 2 Samuel 15:31; 2 Samuel 17:14,2 Samuel 17:23; Isaiah 19:11; 1 Corinthians 1:19.

Verse 18

He looseth the bond of kings; either,

1. Passively, whereby they are bound. He freeth them from prison or restraint. Or rather,

2. Actively, that wherewith they bind their subjects to obedience, to wit, their power and authority, and that majesty which God stamps upon kings to keep their people in awe; all which God can, and oft doth, take away from them, and freeth the people from their bonds, when it pleaseth him; of which all histories give instances. See Daniel 2:21.

With a girdle; either,

1. With a girdle of dignity and glory, which was put upon the loins of men in great honour and authority, as Isaiah 11:5; Isaiah 22:21; Jeremiah 13:1,Jeremiah 13:2. So this member of the verse is opposite to the; former, and the sense of the whole is, he either casteth down kings or raiseth them up, as he pleaseth. But the Scripture no where mentions this girdle as one of the ornaments of kings. Or rather,

2. With a servile girdle; for seeing all, both the foregoing and succeeding passages, do evidently note acts of judgment or punishments inflicted upon them, it seems improper to understand this alone of an act of God’s favour to them. So the sense is, he reduceth them into a mean and servile condition; which is thus expressed, because servants did use to gird up their garments, (which after the manner of those parts and time were loose and long,) that they might be fitter for attendance upon their masters; of which see Luke 12:37; Luke 17:8. And so this is an amplification of the former sentence. He not only deposeth them from their thrones, but brings them into bondage and slavery.

Verse 19

Princes; so this word, which usually signifies priests, is oft used, as Genesis 41:45; Genesis 47:22,Genesis 47:26; Exodus 2:16; 2 Samuel 8:18, compared with 1 Chronicles 18:17.

Verse 20

Removeth away the speech; either,

1. By taking away or restraining the gift of utterance from them, that they should not be able to express their thoughts with such clearness and power as they used to do; which God oft doth to wise and eloquent men. Or,

2. By bringing them into such straits and troubles that they know not what to say or advise. Or,

3. By taking away their understanding, which should suggest and direct their speech, as it here follows. Or,

4. By permitting them to betray their trust, and either not to speak when they should, or to speak otherwise than they should and to use their wit and rhetoric not to direct, but to deceive, and so destroy a prince.

Of the trusty, i.e. of those wise and eloquent counsellors that were, and for their great abilities might be, trusted by the greatest princes with all their affairs.

Verse 21

He poureth contempt upon princes, i.e. he makes them contemptible to their subjects and others.

Weakeneth, Heb. he looseth the girdle; which phrase signifies weakness, as Isaiah 5:27; as the girding of the girdle notes strength and power, as Isaiah 22:21; Isaiah 45:5; both these phrases being taken from the quality of their garments, which being loose and long, did disenable a man for travel or work.

Verse 22

Deep things out of darkness, i.e. the most secret and crafty counsels of princes, which are contrived and carried on in the dark.

Verse 23

What hitherto he said of princes, he now applies to nations and people, whom God doth either increase or diminish as he pleaseth.

He enlargeth the nations; he multiplies them, so that they are forced to send forth colonies into other lands.

Straiteneth them again; or, leadeth them in, or bringeth them back, into their own land, and confineth them there.

Verse 24

The heart; which signifies either,

1. Their courage, as Psalms 76:12; or rather,

2. Their wisdom and counsel, as Job 5:13; Isaiah 3:4, as the following words show.

The chief; either for place and power, or for wisdom and conduct.

Causeth them to wander in a wilderness, i.e. fills them with confusion, and uncertainty, and perplexity of mind, so that they know not how to govern themselves or their people.

Verse 25

They grope, like men that cannot see their way.

In the dark without light; two phrases expressing the same thing, emphatically to express their profound darkness.

Like a drunken man, who reels hither and thither without any certainty. So they sometimes take one course, and sometimes another, as resolving to try all experiments, and indeed not knowing what to do.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Job 12". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.