i.e. Even at this time, notwithstanding all your promises and pretended consolations, I find no ease or satisfaction in all your discourses; and therefore in this and the following chapters Job seldom applies his discourse to his friends, but only addresseth his speech to God, or bewaileth himself.
Is my complaint bitter, i.e. I do bitterly complain, and have just cause to do so. But this clause is and may be otherwise rendered, Even still (Heb. at this day) is my complaint called or accounted by you rebellion or bitterness, or the rage of an exasperated mind? Do you still pass such harsh censures upon me after all my declarations and solemn protestations of my innocency?
My stroke, Heb. my hand, passively, i.e. the hand or stroke of God upon me, as the same phrase is used, Psalms 77:2; and mine arrow, Job 34:6.
Is heavier than my groaning, i.e. doth exceed all my complaints and expressions; so far are you mistaken, that think I complain more than I have cause. Some render the words thus, my hands are heavy (i.e. feeble and hanging down, as the phrase is, Hebrews 12:12. My strength and spirit faileth) because of my groaning.
Where I might find him, to wit, God, as his friends well knew, and the thing itself showeth. Thou biddest me acquaint myself with him, Job 22:21. I desire nothing more than his acquaintance and presence; but, alas, he hides his face from me that I cannot see him, nor come near him.
To his seat, i.e. to his throne or judgment-seat, to plead my cause before him, as it here follows, Job 22:4, not upon terms of strict justice, but upon those terms of grace and mercy upon which God is pleased to deal with his sinful creatures: see before, Job 9:34,35 16:21 17:3. And this my confidence may be some evidence that I am not such a gross hypocrite as you imagine me to be.
I would orderly declare the things which concern and prove the right of my cause; not only debating the controversy between my friends and me, concerning my sincerity or hypocrisy before God, as a witness or judge; but also pleading with God as a party, and modestly inquiring whether he doth not deal more rigorously with me than I might reasonably expect, wherein I desire no other judge but himself.
Fill my mouth with arguments, to prove my innocency and sincerity towards God, and consequently that am severely used.
I long to know what he would say, either to prove me a hypocrite, or to justify his harsh proceedings against me; and if be should discover to me any secret and unknown sins, for which he contendeth with me, I should humble myself before him, and accept of the punishment of mine iniquity.
Will he oppress me with his sovereign and absolute power, as men do those whom they cannot fairly and justly conquer?
He would put strength in me; the word strength, or power, being fitly supplied out of the former branch of the verse, as is very usual in Scripture. He would not use his power against me, but for me; by enabling; me to plead my cause, and giving sentence according to that clemency and benignity, which according to his gracious covenant he useth towards his children. Or, he would put or set his heart (this very verb of putting or setting being elsewhere used in this defective manner for putting or setting the heart, as Job 7:17 Isaiah 41:10, as it is fully expressed, Isaiah 57:1 Ezekiel 40:4 44:5) upon (the preposition beth, in, being sometimes used for al, upon, as Nehemiah 2:12 Isaiah 21:13) me, to wit, to hear me and all my reasons meekly, and to judge favourably, and to help and deliver me, as that and the like phrases commonly signify in Scripture use.
There; at that throne of grace, as it is called, Hebrews 4:16, where God lays aside his majesty and power, and judgeth according to his wonted grace and clemency.
The righteous; such as I do and dare avow myself to be, to wit, in sincerity, though not in perfection. Might dispute with him; humbly and modestly propounding the grounds of their confidence, and the evidences of their righteousness. So; upon such a fair and equal hearing.
From my judge; either,
1. From the severe censures of all corrupt and partial judges, such as you my friends are. Or rather,
2. From the damnatory sentence of God; for he is not only pleading before him, but also with him. He would give sentence for me, and against himself. This and some such expressions of Job cannot be excused from reverence towards God, and too great a confidence in himself; for which therefore God sharply reproves him hereafter, and Job abhorreth himself.
I go forward, i.e. towards the east, which in Scripture is accounted the forepart of the world, as the Hebrew name of it signifies, because of the light of the sun, which ariseth there, and draweth the eye of men towards it.
He is not there, to wit, so as I would have him, as a judge to hear and determine my cause, of which he is here speaking; for otherwise he knew and believed that God was essentially present in all places.
Backward, i.e. towards the west; so also the north is called the left hand, and the south the right hand, Job 23:9, because so they all are to a man who looks towards the east. He names all the several parts of the world, to show his eager desire and restless endeavours to find out God, and to present himself before him.
Where he doth work, to wit, in a special and peculiar manner, more than in other parts of the world; for so indeed God did work in those parts which were northward from Job, because there mankind (among whom God delights to be and to work) were most numerous, and most ingenious to discern God’s works. There also was the seat of the Assyrian empire, which was eminent in Job’s time, and afterwards of the other successive empires; in and by all which God did many great and glorious works. But this Hebrew word is by others, and that very properly and fitly, rendered when, or whilst, he worketh, to wit, in an eminent manner. So this is added to aggravate Job’s unhappiness. We may certainly find any man when and where he is working; but I, saith he, search for God even when and where he is working, and yet cannot find him out.
He hideth himself, to wit, from me; he withdraweth his favour, and will not afford me his presence and audience.
I cannot see him; either,
1. I cannot discern his counsels and ways, and the reasons of his severe dealings with me. Or rather,
2. He doth not appear to me as a judge, to examine my cause and arguments, but condemns me without hearing me.
But, though I cannot see him, yet my comfort is, that he seeth me and my heart, and all my actions. Or, for, as this particle commonly signifies. So this verse contains a reason why he so vehemently desired that he might plead his cause with or before God.
He knoweth the way that I take; he cannot be deceived nor blinded, either by the artifices of bold accusers or advocates, or by his own misapprehensions or passions, but he exactly knows the way that is with me, i.e. the disposition of my heart, and the whole course or manner of my life.
When he hath tried me; if he would examine me thoroughly, which above all things I desire.
I shall come forth as gold; which cometh out of the furnace pure from all dross. It would appear upon a fair hearing that I am free, though not from all sin, as he had confessed before, yet from that hypocrisy and those gross enormities wherewith my friends charge me.
My foot hath held, i.e. made a free and fixed choice, and taken fast hold of them; been firmly and strongly settled, and resolved to continue in them, as the word signifies.
His steps; either,
1. Actively, the steps or ways in which God himself walks; the paths of holiness, justice, mercy, &c., wherein he walked with or after God, as the phrase is, Genesis 5:24 2 Kings 23:3, following his example. Or,
2. Passively, the steps or paths which God hath appointed men to walk in, as Job 21:14.
His way have I kept, and not declined; the same thing with that in the former part of the verse, in different expressions.
Neither have I gone back, i.e. not turned aside to any crooked or sinful path or course of life, human infirmity excepted.
I have esteemed, Heb. I have hid, or laid it up, as men do their best treasures, or what they most love and value. The phrase notes a high estimation of it, a hearty affection to it, and a diligent care to preserve it.
My necessary food, or my appointed food, or my daily portion, i.e. that food or provision which is necessary for the support of my life, as this word is used, Genesis 47:22 Proverbs 30:8 31:15, which is more prized and desired than all the riches in the world.
He is in one mind, i.e. notwithstanding all these evidences of my sincere piety, and all my prayers to him, he still continues in the same mind and course of afflicting me. Or,
but he is, i.e. if he be, against one, or against any man, as that word is oft used, as he now setteth himself against me. Or, but he is one, the Hebrew prefix beth being here the note of a nominative case, as it is Job 18:8 Psalms 68:5 Hosea 13:9, and elsewhere. So the sense is, But why do I waste words to no purpose? All my former constant integrity, and my present profession of it, gives me no case, he is still one and the same, constant, unchangeable in his purposes and counsels of proceeding against me. Or, he is alone, and there is none besides him who can either restrain, or advise, or move him.
Who can turn him? no man can change his counsels or course, or incline him to show favour to me. He is most absolute and free to do what he pleaseth, and he dealeth with me accordingly, and not by those milder methods which he useth towards other men.
What his soul desireth, even that he doeth; he will not do what I please or desire, but only what pleaseth himself.
Or, he will perfect or finish my appointed portion, i.e. those calamities which he hath allotted to me for my portion, which as he hath begun to lay on me, so he is resolved to make a full end of them.
And many such things are with him; there are many such examples of God’s proceeding with men in way of absolute sovereignty and severity, and his counsels and providences, though always just, yet are oft secret, and we cannot discern the reasonableness or equity of them, which is my case.
Therefore; in consideration of his glorious majesty, and sovereign and irresistible power, by which he can do whatsoever pleaseth him, without giving any account of his matters.
At his presence; when I present him to my thoughts. Or, when he appears or manifesteth himself to me. Or, for fear or dread of him; or, by reason of him.
Soft, or tender. He hath bruised, and broken, or melted it, so that I have no spirit, nor courage, nor strength in me, as this or the like phrase is used, Deuteronomy 20:3 Psalms 39:11 Isaiah 7:4 Jeremiah 51:46.
Because I was not cut off; because God did not cut me off by death. Before the darkness, i.e. before these dark and dismal miseries came upon me. Or, before the face, or by reason of the darkness, i.e. that God hath not yet cut me off by these calamities, but prolonged nay days under them, that he might increase my torment.
Neither hath he covered the darkness from my face; so that I might no longer see or feel my miseries, but might be taken out of them by my long-desired death. Seeing (and consequently having before one’s face) is oft put for experiencing, for enjoying good, or feeling evil, as Job 20:17 Psalms 16:10, &c. Or, but he hath covered darkness, to wit, death, which is so called Job 10:21,22, and elsewhere, from my face, i.e. he will not allow me the favour to see death.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Job 23". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent