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Job 4:18-21

Context

4:18 If 1  God 2  puts no trust in 3  his servants 4 

and attributes 5  folly 6  to his angels,

4:19 how much more to those who live in houses of clay, 7 

whose foundation is in the dust,

who are crushed 8  like 9  a moth?

4:20 They are destroyed 10  between morning and evening; 11 

they perish forever 12  without anyone regarding it. 13 

4:21 Is not their excess wealth 14  taken away from them? 15 

They die, 16  yet without attaining wisdom. 17 

1 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.

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

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

4 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).

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

6 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.

7 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.

8 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).

9 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.

10 tn The form יֻכַּתּוּ (yukkatu) is the Hophal imperfect of the root כָּתַת (katat, “to be pounded, pulverized, reduced to ashes” [Jer 46:5; Mic 1:7]). It follows the Aramaic formation (see GKC 182 §67.y). This line appears to form a parallelism with “they are crushed like a moth,” the third unit of the last verse; but it has its own parallel idea in this verse. See D. J. A. Clines, “Verb Modality and the Interpretation of Job 4:20, 21,” VT 30 (1980): 354-57.

11 tn Or “from morning to evening.” The expression “from morning to evening” is probably not a merism, but rather describes the time between the morning and the evening, as in Isa 38:12: “from day to night you make an end of me.”

12 sn The second colon expresses the consequence of this day-long reducing to ashes – they perish forever! (see 20:7 and 14:20).

13 tn This rendering is based on the interpretation that מִבְּלִי מֵשִׂים (mibbÿli mesim) uses the Hiphil participle of שִׂים (sim, “set”) with an understood object “heart” to gain the idiom of “taking to heart, considering, regarding it” – hence, “without anyone regarding it.” Some commentators have attempted to resolve the difficulty by emending the text, a procedure that has no more support than positing the ellipses. One suggested emendation does have the LXX in its favor, namely, a reading of מֹשִׁיעַ (moshia’, “one who saves”) in place of מֵשִׂים (mesim, “one who sets”). This would lead to “without one who saves they perish forever” (E. Dhorme, Job, 55).

14 tn The word יֶתֶר (yeter, here with the suffix, יִתְרָם [yitram]) can mean “what remains” or “rope.” Of the variety of translations, the most frequently used idea seems to be “their rope,” meaning their tent cord. This would indicate that their life was compared to a tent – perfectly reasonable in a passage that has already used the image “houses of clay.” The difficulty is that the verb נָסַע (nasa’) means more properly “to tear up; to uproot.” and not “to cut off.” A similar idea is found in Isa 38:12, but there the image is explicitly that of cutting the life off from the loom. Some have posited that the original must have said their tent peg was pulled up” as in Isa 33:20 (A. B. Davidson, Job, 34; cf. NAB). But perhaps the idea of “what remains” would be easier to defend here. Besides, it is used in 22:20. The wealth of an individual is what has been acquired and usually is left over when he dies. Here it would mean that the superfluous wealth would be snatched away. The preposition בּ (bet) would carry the meaning “from” with this verb.

15 tc The text of the LXX does not seem to be connected to the Hebrew of v. 21a. It reads something like “for he blows on them and they are withered” (see Isa 40:24b). The Targum to Job has “Is it not by their lack of righteousness that they have been deprived of all support?”

tn On the interpretation of the preposition in this construction, see N. Sarna, “The Interchange of the Preposition bet and min in Biblical Hebrew,” JBL 78 (1959): 310-16.

16 sn They die. This clear verb interprets all the images in these verses – they die. When the house of clay collapses, or when their excess perishes – their life is over.

17 tn Heb “and without wisdom.” The word “attaining” is supplied in the translation as a clarification.

sn The expression without attaining wisdom is parallel to the previous without anyone regarding it. Both verses describe how easily humans perish: there is no concern for it, nor any sense to it. Humans die without attaining wisdom which can solve the mystery of human life.



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