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Job 4:17-19

Context

4:17 “Is 1  a mortal man 2  righteous 3  before 4  God?

Or a man pure 5  before his Creator? 6 

4:18 If 7  God 8  puts no trust in 9  his servants 10 

and attributes 11  folly 12  to his angels,

4:19 how much more to those who live in houses of clay, 13 

whose foundation is in the dust,

who are crushed 14  like 15  a moth?

1 tn The imperfect verbs in this verse express obvious truths known at all times (GKC 315 §107.f).

2 tn The word for man here is first אֱנוֹשׁ (’enosh), stressing man in all his frailty, his mortality. This is paralleled with גֶּבֶר (gever), a word that would stress more of the strength or might of man. The verse is not making a great contrast between the two, but it is rhetorical question merely stating that no human being of any kind is righteous or pure before God the Creator. See H. Kosmala, “The Term geber in the OT and in the Scrolls,” VTSup 17 (1969): 159-69; and E. Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, 156-57.

3 tn The imperfect verb in this interrogative sentence could also be interpreted with a potential nuance: “Can a man be righteous?”

4 tn The classification of מִן (min) as a comparative in this verse (NIV, “more righteous than God”; cf. also KJV, ASV, NCV) does not seem the most probable. The idea of someone being more righteous than God is too strong to be reasonable. Job will not do that – but he will imply that God is unjust. In addition, Eliphaz had this vision before hearing of Job’s trouble and so is not addressing the idea that Job is making himself more righteous than God. He is stating that no man is righteous before God. Verses 18-21 will show that no one can claim righteousness before God. In 9:2 and 25:4 the preposition “with” is used. See also Jer 51:5 where the preposition should be rendered “before” [the Holy One].

5 sn In Job 15:14 and 25:4 the verb יִזְכֶּה (yizkeh, from זָכָה [zakhah, “be clean”]) is paralleled with יִצְדַּק (yitsdaq, from צָדֵק [tsadeq, “be righteous”).

6 tn The double question here merely repeats the same question with different words (see GKC 475 §150.h). The second member could just as well have been connected with ו (vav).

7 tn The particle הֵן (hen) introduces a conditional clause here, although the older translations used “behold.” The clause forms the foundation for the point made in the next verse, an argument by analogy – if this be true, then how much more/less the other.

8 tn Heb “he”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

9 tn The verb יַאֲמִין (yaamin), a Hiphil imperfect from אָמַן (’aman) followed by the preposition בּ (bet), means “trust in.”

10 sn The servants here must be angels in view of the parallelism. The Targum to Job interpreted them to be the prophets. In the book we have already read about the “sons of God” who take their stand as servants before the Lord (1:6; 2:1). And Ps 104:4 identifies the angels as servants (using שָׁרַת, sharat).

11 tn The verb שִׂים (sim, “set”) with the preposition בּ (bet) has the sense of “impute” or “attribute something to someone.”

12 tn The word תָּהֳלָה (toholah) is a hapax legomenon, and so has created some confusion in the various translations. It seems to mean “error; folly.” The word is translated “perverseness” in the LXX; but Symmachus connects it with the word for “madness.” “Some commentators have repointed the word to תְּהִלָּה (tÿhillah, “praise”) making the line read: “he finds no [cause for] praise in his angels.” Others suggest תִּפְלָה (tiflah, “offensiveness, silliness”) a bigger change; this matches the idiom in Job 24:12. But if the etymology of the word is הָלַל (halal, “to be mad”) then that change is not necessary. The feminine noun “madness” still leaves the meaning of the line a little uncertain: “[if] he does not impute madness to his angels.” The point of the verse is that God finds flaws in his angels and does not put his trust in them.

13 sn Those who live in houses of clay are human beings, for the human body was made of clay (Job 10:9; 33:6; and Isa 64:7). In 2 Cor 4:7 the body is an “earthen vessel” – a clay pot. The verse continues the analogy: houses have foundations, and the house of clay is founded on dust, and will return to dust (Gen 3:19; Ps 103:14). The reasoning is that if God finds defects in angels, he will surely find them in humans who are inferior to the angels because they are but dust. In fact, they are easily crushed like the moth.

14 tn The imperfect verb is in the plural, suggesting “they crush.” But since there is no subject expressed, the verb may be given an impersonal subject, or more simply, treated as a passive (see GKC 460 §144.g).

15 tn The prepositional compound לִפְנֵי (lifne) normally has the sense of “before,” but it has been used already in 3:24 in the sense of “like.” That is the most natural meaning of this line. Otherwise, the interpretation must offer some explanation of a comparison between how quickly a moth and a human can be crushed. There are suggestions for different readings here; see for example G. R. Driver, “Linguistic and Textual Problems: Jeremiah,” JQR 28 (1937/38): 97-129 for a change to “bird’s nest”; and J. A. Rimbach, “‘Crushed before the Moth’ (Job 4:19),” JBL 100 (1981): 244-46, for a change of the verb to “they are pure before their Maker.” However, these are unnecessary emendations.



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