CONFRONTED WITH HIS RELATIVE SMALLNESS, JOB IS HUMBLED AND SILENCED
Elmer Smick: Job, the challenger, in a hand-over-mouth posture that signifies his intention to remain silent (v.4), realizes how complex and mysterious God’s ways are. In other words, the view of the things from God’s perspective has chastened Job. His reply is based not so much on his unworthiness (NIV) as on his insignificance. God has not crushed Job. God has not done what the counselors wanted when they reduced Job to zero, but he has cured Job’s presumption. The Hebrew verb translated “unworthy” means “to be light” or “lightly esteemed” (GK 7837) and in that sense “contemptible.” Job sees how contemptible it must have appeared to God when he said “like a prince I would approach him” (31:37).
David Clines: Job’s first response seems at first timid and insipid, as well as surprisingly brief; it is a far cry from the passion and the scope of his previous speech in chaps. 29—31. Yet the position he adopts is quite subtle, and not at all without bravery. He admits to feeling humiliated by Yahweh, and yet he does not concede that he is in the wrong. If anything, he wants what he has said, over and over again (which is what ‘once … twice’ [v 5] means), to stand on the record. He is adding nothing to what he has said, but he is withdrawing nothing.
Tremper Longman: Challenged by God (see v. 2), Job responds, but not with a defense. Though Job on occasion thought he would put God in his place (31:35–37), God has just set Job in his place. Job knows this and so responds appropriately, acknowledging that he is “small” compared to God. Thus he will not offer a defense. He places his hand over his mouth. While some modern interpreters offer the absurd and unsupported interpretation that this is a gesture indicating contemptuous revulsion, the context clarifies the significance of the action: Job has decided to stop speaking. Job had spoken in earlier chapters but now has come to regret his statements. He will not make the same mistake twice.
David Atkinson: In this context, Job realizes for the first time that he has in fact overstepped the mark in his protest. He should not have found fault with the Almighty. He should not have insisted on his own understanding. He should not have accused God of injustice. So he replies: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? . . . I will say no more” (40:4). For once he is practically silenced. God has spoken to Job, and Job has very little left to say.
Thomas Constable: Earlier in the book Job had hesitated to confront God (9:14). Gradually he became more confident and demanded an audience with God (13:22a). Still later, he spoke almost as God’s equal, boasting that he would approach God as a prince (31:37). Now, having discovered his own insignificance (40:4), he had nothing more to say to God (40:5). God had humbled him. Job felt no need to speak more, since he had repeated himself earlier (cf. 33:14). However, Job did not confess any sin. Therefore, God proceeded to speak again.
Roy Zuck: Seeing that man is not the world’s master, and that God controls and cares for his creation, Job acknowledged
(a) his insignificance (unworthy comes from the verb qalal, “to be silent, trifling, small, insignificant”) and
(b) his inability to defend himself further. His former self-confidence . . . now was changed to humble submission.
Warren Wiersbe: Until we are silenced before God, He can’t do for us what needs to be done. As long as we defend ourselves and argue with God, He can’t work for us and in us to accomplish His plan through us.
But Job was not quite broken and at the place of sincere repentance. He was silent but not yet submissive; so, God continued His address.
(:3) PROLOGUE: JOB’S FIRST REPLY
“Then Job answered the LORD and said,”
I. (:4) JOB IS SILENCED IN LIGHT OF HIS RELATIVE SMALLNESS
“Behold, I am insignificant;
what can I reply to Thee?
I lay my hand on my mouth.”
G. Campbell Morgan: Quite literally it means, of no weight. Job did not here in the presence of the majesty of God confess moral perversity, but comparative insignificance.
Spurgeon: We must all be caused to see our “lightness” next to God. Surely, if any man had a right to say I am not vile, it was Job; for, according to the testimony of God himself, he was ‘a perfect and an upright man, one that feared God and eschewed evil.’ Yet we find even this eminent saint when by his nearness to God he had received light enough to discover his own condition, exclaiming, ‘Behold I am vile.’
David Guzik: All of the arguing of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu could not bring Job to this place. Only the revelation of God could so humble Job and set him in his right place before the LORD. Job made his strong and sometimes outrageous statements when he felt, to the core of his soul, that the LORD had forsaken him. Now with his sense of the presence of the LORD restored, Job could better see his proper place before God.
It is important to remember that God never did forsake Job; that while He withdrew the sense of His presence (and this was the cause of profound misery to Job), God was present with Job all along, strengthening Him with His unseen hand. Job could have never survived this ordeal without that unseen, unsensed hand of God supporting him.
Mason: Perhaps one of the most worshipful gestures of all is the uncommon one that Job here performs: covering the mouth with the hand. The act is a demonstration of total submission. One can fall on one’s face and yet continue to blubber and babble. But to yield the tongue is to yield everything.
George Barton: To come face to face with the Creator and Sustainer of the mysteries of life had made Job feel his own insignificance. This was the first step necessary to a healthy frame of mind. His sufferings, as is shown by his earlier speeches, had made him extremely egotistical; the universe seemed to centre in him. He now realizes what an atom he is.
F. B. Meyer: What a different tone is here! This is he who so vehemently protested his innocence, and defended himself against the attacks of his accusers. The Master is come, and the servant who had contended with his fellows takes a lowly place of humility and silence.
The first step in the noblest life, possible to any of us, is to learn and say that we are of small account. We may learn it by successive and perpetual failures which abash and confound us. It is better to learn it by seeing the light of God rise in majesty above the loftiest of earth’s mountains. “When I was young,” said Gounod to a friend, “I used to talk of ‘I and Mozart.’ Later I said, ‘Mozart and I.’ But now I only say Mozart.’” Substitute God, and you have the true story of many a soul.
II. (:5) JOB OFFERS NO MORE CHALLENGES TO GOD’S JUSTICE
“Once I have spoken, and I will not answer;
Even twice, and I will add no more.”
Joseph Benson: Vain, therefore, are the excuses which some interpreters make for Job, as if he were faultless in his foregoing speeches, when both God charges him with blame therein, and Job himself confesses that he was blameable.
Adam Clarke: I shall attempt to justify myself no longer I have spoken repeatedly; and am confounded at my want of respect for my Maker, and at the high thoughts which I have entertained of my own righteousness. All is impurity in the presence of thy Majesty.
Ron Daniel: When confronted with the true and living God, Job realizes his inability to say anything. Who is he to reprove God? Who is he to question His ways? Who is he compared to the Lord?