Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible

Job 38

Verse 1

JOB CHAPTER 38

The Lord answers Job, Job 38:1-3: declareth his works of creation; the foundation and the measures of the earth, Job 38:4-6; the stars; the sea, and its bounds, Job 38:7-11; the morning, and its light, Job 38:12-15; the depth of the sea; the gates and shadow of death; the breadth of the earth, Job 38:16-18; the place of light and darkness; the treasures of snow and hail for battle, Job 38:19-23; the east wind, springs, and rain for the earth, Job 38:24-30; the planets, ordinances of heaven, and their dominion on the earth; clouds and lightning, Job 38:31-35. Wisdom and understanding in the heart of man, and in his works more than we can understand: he feedeth the lion and the raven, Job 38:36-41.

Answered Job, i.e. began to debate the matter with him, as Job had desired.

Out of the whirlwind, i.e. out of a dark and thick cloud, from which he sent a terrible and tempestuous wind, as the harbinger of his presence. In this manner God appears and speaks to him, partly, because this was his usual method in those times, as we see, Exodus 19:18 Numbers 9:15,16; see also 1 Kings 19:11 Ezekiel 1:4; partly, to awaken Job and his friends to the more serious and reverent attention to his words; partly, to testify his displeasure, both against Job, and against his three friends; and partly, that all of them night be more deeply and thoroughly humbled and abused within themselves, and prepared the better to receive, and longer to retain, the instructions which God was about to give them.

Verse 2

Who is this? it is a question of admiration and reprehension, What and where is he that presumeth to talk at this rate? this language becomes not a creature, much less a professor of religion. The person here designed is not Elihu, who spoke last; but Job, who had spoken most, as is apparent from Job 38:1, and from Job 42:3, where Job takes the following reproof to himself, and from the following discourse, wherein God convinceth Job by divers of the same kind of arguments which Elihu had used against him.

That darkeneth counsel; either,

1. His own counsel, i.e. that expresseth his own mind darkly and doubtfully. But that was not Job’s fault. He spake his mind too plainly and freely. Or rather,

2. God’s counsel, which is called simply counsel by way of eminency, as the word and the commandment are oft put for the word and command of God. For the great matter of the dispute between Job and his friends was concerning God’s counsel, and purpose, and providence in afflicting Job; which being a wise, and just, and glorious action of God, Job had endeavoured to obscure, and misrepresent, and censure. And God’s decrees and judgments are frequently called his counsels, as Psalms 32:11 Proverbs 19:21 Isaiah 28:29 Acts 2:23.

By words; God doth not charge Job, as his three friends had done, with hypocrisy and wickedness in the course of life, nor with atheistical opinions of God or his providence, as some of the Hebrew writers do, but confines his reproof to his hard speeches.

Without knowledge; proceeding from ignorance, and mistake, and inconsiderateness; not from malice or rage against God, as his friends accused him.

Verse 3

Gird up now thy loins; as warriors then did for the battle. Prepare thyself for the combat with me, which thou hast oft desired. I accept of thy challenge, Job 13:22, and elsewhere.

I will demand of thee; or, I will ask thee questions; which he doth in the following verses.

Verse 4

Then thou wast no where, thou hadst no being; thou art but of yesterday; and dost thou presume to judge of my eternal counsels? I made the world without thy help, and therefore can govern it without thy counsel, and I do not need thee to be the controller or censurer of my works.

When I laid the foundations of the earth; when I made the earth, which is as the foundation or lower part of the whole world, and settled it as firm and fast upon its own centre as if it had been built upon the surest foundations. But if thou art ignorant of these manifest and visible works, do. not pretend to the exact knowledge of my secret counsels and mysterious providences.

Verse 5

Who hath prescribed how long and broad and deep it should be?

Or who hath stretched the line, to wit, the measuring line, to regulate all its dimensions, so as might be most convenient both for beauty and use?

Verse 6

This strong and durable building hath no foundations but in God’s power and word, which hath marvellously established it upon itself.

Or who laid the cornerstone thereof; by which the several walls and parts of the building are joined and fastened together, and in which, next to the foundations, the stability of any building does consist? The sense is, Who was it that did build this goodly fabric, and established it so firmly that it cannot be moved without a miracle?

Verse 7

The morning stars; either,

1. The stars properly so called, who are said to sing and praise God, objectively, because they give men ample occasion to do it in regard of their glorious light and stupendous motions, &c. Compare Psalms 19:1 148:1, &c. But,

1. These stars are not here the objects or matter, but the authors or instruments, of God’s praises for the founding of the earth.

2. The stars were not created when the earth was founded, but upon the fourth day.

3. There is no satisfactory reason given why all the stars should be called

morning stars, especially when there is but one star known by that name. Or rather,

2. The sons of God, as it here follows, the latter clause of the verse being explicatory of the former, as is most frequent in this and some other books of Scripture, to wit, the angels, who may well be called stars, as even men of eminent note, and particularly ministers of God’s word, are called, Daniel 8:10 12:3 Revelation 1:16,20; and morning stars, because of their excellent lustre and glory, for which they are called angels of light, 2 Corinthians 11:14, and Christ for the same reason is called the Morning Star, Revelation 22:16. The sons of God; the blessed angels; for man not being yet made, God had then no other sons; and these are called the sons of God, partly because they had their whole being from him, and partly because they were made partakers of his Divine and glorious image. And all these are said to join in this work of praising God, probably because none of the angels were as yet fallen from their first estate, though they did fall within a very little time after.

Shouted for joy; rejoiced in and blessed God for his works; whereby he intimates that they neither did advise or any way assist him in his works, nor dislike or censure any of his works, as Job had presumed to do with the works of his providence, which are not inferior to those of creation.

Verse 8

Who was it, thou or I, that did set bounds to the vast and raging ocean, and shut it up as it were with doors within its proper place and storehouse, that it might not overflow the earth; which without God’s powerful restraint it would do? See Psalms 33:7 104:9. This sense seems most proper, and to be confirmed by the following verses.

When it brake forth, or, after it had broken forth, to wit, from the womb or bowels of the earth, within which the waters were for the most part contained, Genesis 1:2; compare 2 Peter 3:5; and out of which they were by God’s command brought forth into the proper place or channel which God had appointed for them.

Verse 9

When I covered it with vapours and clouds which arise out of the sea. and by God’s appointment hover above it, and cover it like a garment.

Thick darkness, i. e. black and dark clouds, called darkness by a usual metonymy of the adjunct. So the same thing is repeated in other words, after the manner. Having compared the sea to a new-born infant, he continues in the same metaphor, and makes the clouds as swaddling-bands to keep the sea within its bounds; though indeed neither clouds, nor air, nor sands and shores can bound the sea, but it is God alone who doth it in and with these things.

Verse 10

Brake up for it my decreed place, i.e. made those valleys, or channels, and hollow places in the earth, which might serve for a cradle to receive and hold this great and goodly infant when it came out of the womb. See Genesis 1:9,10 Psa 33:7. Or, ordained or established my decree upon or concerning it. Set bars and doors, i.e. fixed its bounds as strongly as if they were fortified with bars and doors.

Verse 11

To wit, at the sand and shore of the sea, Jeremiah 5:22.

Thy proud waves; which rage and swell as if they would overwhelm all the earth.

Verse 12

The morning, i.e. the morning light, or the sun, which is the cause of it. Didst thou create the sun, and appoint the order and succession of day and night?

Since thy days; since thou wast born. This work was not done by thee, but by me, and that long before thou wast born.

To know his place; to observe the punctual time when, and the point of the heavens where, it should arise; which varies every day. Was this thy contrivance or mine?

Verse 13

That this morning light should in a moment spread itself over the face of the whole earth, from one end of the hemisphere to the other.

Shaken out of it, from the face of the earth. And this effect the morning light hath upon the wicked, partly because it discovers them, and drives them into their lurking holes; whereas the darkness hides them, and draws them forth, and gives them opportunity to execute their villanies without observation, Job 24:15-17; and partly because it brings them to condign punishment, the morning being the most fit and the most usual time for executing judgment; of which see Psalms 101:8 Jeremiah 21:12.

Verse 14

It, to wit, the earth, mentioned in the next foregoing verse.

Is turned; is transformed and changed in its shape and appearance.

To the seal, or, by the seal, which makes a beautiful or valuable impression upon that clay, which in itself hath no form, nor worth, nor comeliness in it. So the earth, which in the darkness of the night lies like a confused heap, without either form or beauty, when the light ariseth and shineth upon it, appears in excellent order and great glory.

They; either,

1. The inhabitants of the earth, and particularly the wicked, mentioned both in the foregoing and following verses. Or,

2. More generally, the men and things of the earth, whether natural, as living creatures, herbs, and trees, &c.; or artificial, as houses or other buildings.

Stand, i. e. present themselves to our view, for which that posture of standing is most convenient. Or, consist, or abide, or are constituted.

As a garment; wherewith the earth is in a manner clothed and adorned as with a garment; as the blessed God himself is said to cover himself with light as with a garment, Psalms 104:2.

Verse 15

And, or but; for the following words seem to be added by way of opposition to what went before. The earth, and the men, and the things in it have the comfort and benefit of the light, but so have not the wicked. Their light, i.e. their portion of light. That light which is enjoyed by others is withholden from them, either by their own choice, because they love and choose darkness rather than light; or by the judgment of God, or the magistrate, by whom they are cut off from the light of the living, as it is called, Job 33:30, or at least deprived of their peace, and comfort, and prosperity, which frequently goes under the name of

light in Scripture, and may be so called here by an elegant allusion to the natural light of the sun mentioned before.

The high arms; their great strength, which they used tyrannically, to the oppression and crushing of others.

Verse 16

The springs, Heb. the tears, i.e. the several springs out of which the waters of the sea flow as tears do from the eyes. Hast thou found out the utmost depth and bottom of the sea, which in divers places could never be reached by the wisest mariner, or the longest cables? And how then canst thou fathom the depths of my counsels?

Verse 17

Hast thou seen, or dost thou perfectly know, the place and state of the dead, the depths and bowels of that earth in which the generality of dead men are buried, or the several ways and methods of death, or the various states and conditions of men after death? And the same thing is repeated.

Verse 18

Dost thou exactly know the whole compass and all parts of the earth, and the state and quality of all countries, and of the men and things in them? Give me an answer to these questions, which is far more easy to do, than to answer me to many other questions which I could put to thee about my secret counsels and providences, and the reasons of my dealing with thee as I do.

Verse 19

The way; or rather, the place, as the next clause explains it, and the Hebrew phrase will bear.

Where light dwelleth, i.e. hath its constant and settled abode; for in the place where Job lived, and in most other parts of the inhabited world, it is like a traveller, that cometh and goeth continually every day. This may be referred either,

1. To the place under the two poles, where first the light, and then the darkness, continues for six months together. Or rather,

2. To the sun, the fountain of light. And as this is a poetical book, so this may be a poetical expression and question, Whither goes the sun, when it departs from this hemisphere? Where is the tabernacle and the chamber in which both sacred, as Psalms 19:4,5, and profane poets suppose the sun to rest? Dost thou know the place where the sun when it sets may be found, and whence thou canst fetch it back again. For it is to be carefully observed, that he speaks not here of a bare and simple knowledge of this matter, which was plain and easy to Job, and many others, who were not ignorant that the sun was the fountain of light, from whose approach light comes, and by whose departure darkness is caused; but of an operative knowledge, even such as could and did enable him to take it to the bound thereof, as it follows, Job 38:20. And withal, he seems here to speak not only of the daily course and motion of the sun, and the vicissitude of day and night, but also and especially of the first production of the light, which was before Job was born, as is evident from Job 38:21. And this makes the question more difficult and more considerable, the sense whereof may be this: Seeing there was a time when there was nothing but gross and comfortless darkness upon the face of the earth, what way came light into the world? which was the place where light dwelt at that time, and whence it was fetched? and whence came that orderly constitution and constant succession of light and darkness? Was this thy work? or wast thou privy to it, or a counsellor or assistant in it? or was it not done by me alone long before thou hadst a being?

Verse 20

That thou shouldest take it, i.e. taking, bring or lead it, as this verb is oft used, as Exodus 25:2 Psalms 68:29, compared with Ephesians 4:11 1 Kings 3:24 17:10 Hosea 14:2. And many other such pregnant verbs there are in the Hebrew language, having the signification of two verbs included in one, And this it refers principally to the light, and secondarily to darkness, as the consequent of the other.

To the bound thereof, i.e. its whole course, from the place of its abode whence it is supposed to come, to the end of its journey which it is to go. Didst thou direct or guide the light or the sun, that he should at first take, and afterward constantly continue, in that course which now it holds; that it should go from east to west, and rise sometimes in one point or part of the heaven, and sometimes in another, and that its day’s journey should be longer in one season of the year, and shorter in another? This regular and excellent course must needs be the effect of great wisdom. And whose wisdom was it? thine or mine?

That thou shouldest know, to wit, practically, so as to direct or lead it in the manner now expressed.

The paths to the house thereof; where thou mayst find it, and whence thou mayst fetch it.

Verse 21

An ironical question: If thou pretendest that thou knowest these things, and canst readily answer these questions, how comest thou by this knowledge? Was it from hence, because thou wast born when I made the world, and that first constitution of the light and darkness in that order and succession which continues to this day, and thereby hadst the opportunity of inspecting my works, and seeing whence the light came, and because thou hast gained this knowledge by long experience, as having lived ever since the creation of the world until this time? whereas in truth thou art but of yesterday, and knowest nothing, as was said, Job 8:9. But the words are and may be otherwise rendered, Dost or didst thou know, either by thy own remembrance, or by the information of others,

that thou wast then born? (to wit, when I made the world. Or, Didst thou know that thou shouldest then be born? then, to wit, when thou wast born. Or, Didst thou then know, the two Hebrew particles being transplaced, as is not unusual in that language, that thou shouldest be born? How couldst thou know this, when thou hadst no being?) and that the number of thy days should be great? that thou shouldst live so long as thou hast lived? Thou couldst neither foreknow the time of thy birth, nor the length of thy life. Or, and is the number of thy days great, i.e. so great that it reacheth to the time of the world’s creation?

Verse 22

Dost thou know where I have laid up those vast quantities of snow and hail which I draw forth when I see fit? Dost thou know the causes of them, and the way to produce them? But if thou art unacquainted with these treasures, it is intolerable presumption in thee to pretend that thou knowest those treasures of wisdom which lie hid in my own breast.

Verse 23

Which, i.e. which snow, and especially hail.

Against the time of trouble, i.e. when I intend to bring trouble or calamity upon any country or people for their sins, or for their trial. Or, against the time of the enemy, i.e. when I intend to punish mine or my people’s enemies, and to fight against them with these weapons; of which see instances Exodus 9:14 Joshua 10:11. Compare 1 Samuel 7:10 Job 36:31 Isaiah 30:30.

Verse 24

By what way; dost thou know all the causes, means, methods, and circumstances of this work of God? Is the light parted or dispersed or distributed, to wit, in the air, or upon the face of the earth? By

light he understands either,

1. The lightning, which breaks forth suddenly out of a cloud, and with strange swiftness disperseth itself, and fleeth from east to west, as is noted, Matthew 24:27. But this word light put by itself, and being understood properly, is constantly used in this book for the light of the sun, and never for the lightning; and where it is meant of the lightning, there is some other word added to it, as Job 37:15, where it is called the light of his cloud. And besides, he speaks of the lightning in the next verse; which were superfluous, if it were here mentioned. Or rather,

2. Of the light of the sun, which is commonly called light without any other word added to it, as Job 3:4,9,16 24:14 25:3, &c. And this light of the sun is variously parted or distributed in the world, shining in one place and time, when it doth not shine in another; or for a longer time, or with greater brightness, and power, and virtue, than it doth in another; all which are the effects of God’s infinite wisdom and power, and such as were out of Job’s reach to understand, or at least to effect.

Which scattereth the east wind upon the earth, i.e. which light scattereth, &c., i.e. raiseth, the east wind, and causeth it to blow hither and thither upon the earth. For as the sun is justly called by the poets and others the father of the winds, because he draws up those exhalations which give matter to the winds, and for other reasons; so in particular the east wind is oft observed to rise together with the sun, from which also it hath both its Latin and Greek name. But some make this a distinct question from the former, and render the words thus; and (repeat, by which way)

the east wind (under which all the other winds may be comprehended) scattereth itself upon the earth, i.e. whence the winds come, and whither they go, which is mentioned as a secret in nature, John 3:8, and how it comes to pass that they blow in such several manners, and with such various and even contrary effects. Or thus, and by which way the east wind scattereth (to wit, the clouds, or other light things; for this is noted in Scripture to be a most vehement wind, and to scatter the clouds, Exodus 14:21 Jonah 4:8)

upon the earth, i.e. whence it comes to pass that the east wind was so violent and furious. But the words may be rendered thus, which (i.e. which light of the sun, or when it, to wit, this light) scattereth itself (as divers here render this word, that conjugation being often used reciprocally, as is confessed) from (the prefix mem being understood, as it is very frequently in the Hebrew text)

the east (for this Hebrew word doth not only signify the eastern wind, but also the east, or the eastern part of the heavens or earth, as Ezekiel 40:19 42:16 Habakkuk 1:9, and in many other places; and kedem, the root of this word, is constantly so used) upon or over the earth, all over the earth. And this is justly mentioned as a wonderful work of God, that as soon as ever the sun ariseth, it parteth or scattereth its light in an instant from one end of the hemisphere to another. But this I propose with submission.

Verse 25

For the overflowing of waters; for the showers of rain which come down out of the clouds, orderly, moderately, and gradually, as if they were conveyed in pipes or channels; which, without the care of God’s providence, would fall confusedly, and all together; and, instead of refreshing, would overwhelm the earth.

For the lightning of thunder, i.e. for that lightning which, breaking out of the cloud with violence, causeth thunder. Or, for lightning and thunder. Who opened a passage for them out of the cloud in which they were imprisoned? And these are here joined with the rain, because they are commonly accompanied with great showers of rain; which is here noted as a wonderful work of God, that fire and water should come out of the same cloud.

Verse 26

To cause it to rain; that the clouds being broken by lightning and thunder might pour down rain.

Wherein there is no man, to wit, to water those parts by art and industry, as is usual in cultivated and inhabited places; which makes this work of Divine Providence more necessary and more remarkable, in providing for the relief of the wild beasts, and plants, and other fruits of these forsaken lands, which otherwise would perish with drought.

Verse 27

To satisfy, by raining, not sparingly, but liberally and abundantly upon it.

To cause the bud of the tender herb to springforth; there being many excellent and useful herbs found in desert places, which otherwise would be utterly neglected and despised.

Verse 28

To wit, besides me. Is there any man upon earth than can beget or produce rain at his pleasure? No, this is my peculiar work. And therefore seeing thou knowest and canst do nothing as to the government of these ordinary effects of nature, how great presumption is it to arrogate to thyself the knowledge and management of the secret and mysterious affairs of my providence in the disposal of men!

Verse 29

What man either can produce them, or doth fully understand where or how they are engendered? For philosophers speak of these things only by guess, and the reasons which some assign for them are confuted by others; and so they will confute one another to the end of the world, and prove nothing solidly but their own ignorance and the reasonableness of these questions.

Verse 30

As with a stone, i.e. with ice as hard as a stone.

The face of the deep, i.e. the great sea, which is oft called the deep, as Genesis 7:11 Psalms 107:24 Isaiah 51:10 63:13 2 Corinthians 11:25, which in some parts is frozen, which is a wonderful work of God.

Verse 31

Bind, i.e. restrain or hinder them. Canst thou bind or shut up the earth when they open it?

The sweet influences; or, the delights; because this constellation by its benign and opening influences brings in the spring, the herbs and flowers, and other delights of the earth.

Pleiades, called also the Seven Stars. Of this and the following constellation, see Job 9:9.

The bands; by which it binds up the air and earth, by bringing storms of rain or hail, or frost and snow; and withal binds or seals the hands of workmen, as is noted, Job 37:7.

Orion: this is another constellation, which riseth in November, and brings in winter. So the sense of the verse is, Thou canst not bind the earth when the one looseth or openeth it, nor loose or open it when the other binds or shutteth it up.

Verse 32

Canst thou bring forth to wit, into view? canst thou make him to arise and appear in thy hemisphere?

Mazzaroth; by which he designs either,

1. All the constellations, and especially the twelve sign of the zodiac; or rather

2. Some particular constellation, as all the rest here mentioned are understood. But whether this be that which is called the chambers of the south, Job 9:9, or the Dog Star, or some other visible in Job’s country, but not in ours we may be safely and contentedly ignorant, seeing even the Hebrew doctors are not agreed therein.

Arcturus; a northern constellation, of which See Poole "Job 9:9".

With his sons, to wit, the lesser stars which belong to it, and are placed round about it, and attend upon it, as children upon their parents.

Verse 33

Knowest thou? either,

1. Simply, and by speculation, dost thou understand them? Or,

2. Practically, or operatively, so as to establish or rule them, as the next clause implies.

The ordinances of heaven; the laws, which are firmly established concerning their order, motion, or rest and their powerful influences upon this lower world. Didst thou give these laws? or dost thou perfectly know them?

Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? canst manage and overrule their influences, that they shall bring such seasons and such weather as thou wouldst have?

Verse 34

Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds; either thundering in them, or calling to them with a loud voice, commanding them to rain?

May cover thee, i.e. thy land, when it needs and requires rain.

Verse 35

Canst thou send at thy pleasure, and upon thy errand?

Here we are; an expression of servants, declaring their readiness to obey their masters’ commands; of which See Poole "Genesis 22:1" See Poole "Isaiah 6:8".

Verse 36

In the inward parts, to wit, of a man. Compare @Job 19:27 Psalms 51:6. Who gave thee that wit and understanding which thou hast, and which thou now usest so arrogantly and wickedly, to contend with me, and to censure my actions?

Who hath given understanding to the heart; so he limits the former general expression of the inward parts. The heart is made by the Hebrews the seat of the understanding, and is commonly put for it in Scripture.

Verse 37

Who can wisely search out and exactly find the number of the clouds? They are numberless, and filled with water, as the next clause implies.

Who can stay the bottles of heaven, to wit, the clouds? in which the rain is kept as in bottles, out of which God poureth it when he sees fit.

Verse 38

This verse containeth a description either,

1. Of a great drought, when the earth grows hard, and close, and compact; or

2. Of the condition of the earth presently after the fall of the rain, when the earth, which in time of drought was much of it dissolved into dust, is now by the rain cemented or united together. In either of these cases it is the work of God alone to keep the clouds from pouring down more rain upon the earth.

Verse 39

Is it by thy care and providence that the lions, who live in desert places, are furnished with necessary provisions? This is justly mentioned as another wonderful work of God.

Verse 40

When through age and infirmity they cannot range abroad for prey, as the young lions do; but lie still in their dens, as if they were expecting their food from God, from whom also they receive it.

To lie in wait; watching till some beast come that way upon which they may prey.

Verse 41

Having mentioned the noblest of brute creatures, he now mentions one of the most contemptible and loathsome, to show the care of God’s providence over all creatures, both great and small; which is more remarkable in ravens, because,

1. They devour flesh, which it is not easy for them to find.

2. They are greedy, and eat very much.

3. They are generally neglected and forsaken by mankind.

4. Their young ones are so soon forsaken by their dams, that if God did not provide for them in a more than ordinary manner, they would be starved to death.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Job 38". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://pro.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/job-38.html. 1685.