on Job 38 :14
It is turned as clay to the seal - The earth, like soft clay, is capable of modifying itself in endless ways, and assuming infinite forms. As a proof of this, see the astonishing variety of plants, flowers, and fruits, and the infinitely diversified hues, odours, tastes, consistency, and properties, of its vegetable productions. There seems to be an allusion here to the sealing of clay, which I believe has been, and is now, frequent in the East. Six of those Eastern seals for sealing clay, made of brass, the figures and characters all in relief, the interstices being entirely perforated and cut out, so that the upper side of the seal is the same as the lower, now lie before me. They seem to have been used for stamping pottery, as some of the fine clay still appears in the interstices.
And they stand as a garment - The earth receiving these impressions from the solar light and heat, plants and flowers spring up, and decorate its surface as the most beautiful stamped garment does the person of the most sumptuously dressed female. Mr. Good translates the whole verse thus: - "Canst thou cause them to bend round as clay to the mould, so that they are made to sit like a garment?" He supposes that reference is here made to the rays of light; but take his own words: "The image, as it appears to me, is taken directly from the art of pottery, an image of very frequent recurrence in Scripture; and in the present instance admirably forcible in painting the ductility with which the new light of the morning bends round like clay to the mould, and accompanies the earth in every part of its shape so as to fit it, as we are expressly told in the ensuing metaphor, like a garment, as the clay fits the mould itself." Mr. Good supposes that a mould in which the pottery is formed, not a seal by which it is impressed, is referred to here. In this sense I do not see the metaphor consistent, nor the allusion happy. It is well known that the rays of light never bend. They may be reflected at particular angles, but they never go out of a straight course. A gun might as well be expected to shoot round a corner, as a ray of light to go out of a straight line, or to follow the sinuous or angular windings of a tube, canal, or adit. But if we take in the sun as he advances in his diurnal voyage, or rather the earth, as it turns round its axis from west to east, the metaphor of Mr. Good will be correct enough; but we must leave out bending and ductility, as every part of the earth's surface will be at least successively invested with the light.
on Job 38 :14
It is turned as clay to the seal - A great variety of interpretations has been given to this passage. Schultens enumerates no less than twenty, and of course it is not easy to determine the meaning. The Septuagint renders it, "Didst thou take clay of the earth, and form an animal, and place on the earth a creature endowed with speech?" Though this would agree well with the connection, yet it is a wide departure from the Hebrew. The reference is, undoubtedly, to some effect or impression produced upon the earth by the light of the morning, which bears a resemblance, in some respects, to the impression produced on clay by a seal. Probably the idea is, that the spreading light serves to render visible and prominent the forms of things, as the seal when impressed on clay produces certain figures.
One form of a Babylonian seal was an engraved cylinder, fixed on an axle, with a handle in the manner of a garden roller, which produced the impression "by being rolled on the softened wax. Mr. Rich (Second Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon, p. 59) remarks, "The Babylonian cylinders are among the most interesting and remarkable of the antiques. They are from one to three inches in length; some are of stone, and others apparently of paste or composition of various kinds. Sculptures from several of these cylinders have been published in different works. Some of them have cuneiform writing," (for the "arrow-headed" character, p. 48), "but it has the remarkable peculiarity that it is reversed, or written from right to left, every other kind of cuneiform writing being incontestably to be read from left to right. This can only be accounted for by supposing that they were intended to roll off impressions. The cylinders are said to be chiefly found in the ruins of Jabouiga. The people of America are fond of using them as amulets, and the Persian pilgrims who came to the shrines of Ali and Hossein frequently carry back with them some of these curiosities."
It may be observed, also, in the explanation of the passage, that clay was often used for the purpose of a seal in Oriental countries. The manner in which it was used was to daub a mass of it over the door or lock of a house, a caravansera, a room, or any place where anything valuable was deposited, and to impress upon it a rude seal. This indeed would not make the goods safe from a robber, but it would be an indication that the place is not to be entered, and show that if it had been entered it was by violence; compare Matthew 27:66. This impression on clay would be produced by the "revolving" or Babyionian seal, by turning it about, or rolling it on clay, and thus bringing the figures out prominently, and this will explain the passage here. The passing of the light over the earth in the morning, seems to be like rolling a cylinder-seal on soft clay. It leaves distinct impressions; raises up prominent figures; gives form and beauty to what seemed before a dark undistinguished mass. The word rendered "it is turned" (תתהפך tithâphak), means properly "it turns itself" - and the idea is that, like the revolving seal, it seems to roll over the face of the earth, and to leave a distinct and beautiful impression. Before, the face of the earth was obscure. Nothing, in the darkness of the night, could be distinguished. Now, when the dawn arises and the light spreads abroad, the figures of hills, and trees, and tents, and cities, rise before it as if a seal had been rolled on yielding clay. The image is one, therefore, of high poetic character, and of great beauty. If this be the correct interpretation, the passage does not refer to the revolution of the earth on its axis, or to any change in appearance or form which it assumes when the wicked are shaken out of it, as Schultens supposes, but to the beautiful change in appearance which the face of the earth seems to undergo when the aurora passes over it.
And they stand as a garment - This passage is perhaps even more difficult than the former part of the verse. Prof. Lee renders it, "And that men be set up as if accoutred for battle," and according to him the idea is, that people, when the light shines, set themselves up for the prosecution of their designs. Coverdale renders it, "Their tokens and weapons hast thou turned like clay, and set them up again as the changing of a garment." Grotius supposes it means that things by the aurora change their appearance and color like a variegated garment. The true idea of the passage is probably that adopted by Schultens, Herder, Umbreit, Rosenmuller, and Noyes, that it refers to the beautiful appearance which the face of nature seems to put on when the morning light shines upon the world. Before, all was dark and undistinguished. Nature seemed to be one vast blank, with no prominent objects, and with no variety of color. When the light dawns on the earth, the various objects - the hills, trees, houses, fields, flowers, seem to stand forth, or to raise themselves up (יתיצבו yityâtsabû), and to put on the appearance of gorgeous and variegated vestments. It is as if the earth were clothed with beauty, and what was before a vast blank were now arrayed in splendid vestments. Thus understood, there is no need of supposing that garments were ever made, as has been sometimes supposed, with so much in-wrought silver and gold that they would "stand upright themselves." It is a beautiful conception of poetry - that the spreading light seems to clothe the dark world with a gorgeous robe, by calling forth the objects of creation from the dull and dark uniformity of night to the distinctness of day.
on Job 38 :14
38:14 It - The earth. Turned - Is changed in its appearance. By the seal - The seal makes a beautiful impression upon the clay, which in itself hath no form, or comeliness. So the earth, which in the darkness of night lies like a confused heap without either form or beauty, when the light arises and shines upon it, appears in excellent order and glory. They - The men and things of the earth, whether natural, as living creatures, herbs and trees; or artificial, as houses or other buildings. Stand - Present themselves to our view. Garment - Wherewith the earth is in a manner clothed and adorned.