on Job 4 :19
How much less - Rather, with the Vulgate, How much more? If angels may be unstable, how can man arrogate stability to himself who dwells in an earthly tabernacle, and who must shortly return to dust? Crushed before the moth? The slightest accident oftentimes destroys. "A fly, a grape-stone, or a hair can kill." Great men have fallen by all these. This is the general idea in the text, and it is useless to sift for meanings.
on Job 4 :19
How much less - (אף 'aph). This particle has the general sense of addition, accession, especially of something more important;" yea more, besides, even." Gesenius. The meaning here is, "how much more true is this of man!" He puts no confidence in his angels; he charges them with frailty; how much more strikingly true must this be of man! It is not merely, as our common translation would seem to imply, that he put much less confidence in man than in angels; it is, that all he had said must be more strikingly true of man, who dwelt in so frail and humble a habitation.
In them that dwell in houses of clay - In man. The phrase "houses of clay" refers to the body made of dust. The sense is, that man, from the fact that he dwells in such a tabernacle, is far inferior to the pure spirits that surround the throne of God, and much more liable to sin. The body is represented as a temporary tent, tabernacle, or dwelling for the soul. That dwelling is soon to be taken down, and its tenant, the soul, to be removed to other abodes. So Paul 2 Corinthians 5:1 speaks of the body as ἡ ἐπίγειος ἡμῶν οἰκία τοῦ σκήνους hē epigeios hēmōn oikia tou skēnous - "our earthly house of this tabernacle." So Plato speaks of it as γηΐ́νον σκῆνος gēinon skēnos - an earthly tent; and so Aristophanes (Av. 587), among other contemptuous expressions applied to people, calls them πλάσματα πηλοῦ plasmata pēlou, "vessels of clay." The idea in the verse before us is beautiful, and as affecting as it is beautiful. A house of clay (חמר chômer) was little fitted to bear the extremes of heat and cold, of storm and sunshine, of rain, and frost, and snow, and would soon crumble and decay. It must be a frail and temporary dwelling. It could not endure the changes of the seasons and the lapse of years like a dwelling of granite or marble. So with our bodies. They can bear little. They are frail, infirm, and feeble. They are easily prostrated, and soon fall back to their native dust. How can they who dwelt in such edifices, be in any way compared with the Infinite and Eternal God?
Whose foundation is in the dust - A house to be firm and secure should be founded on a rock; see Matthew 7:25. The figure is kept up here of comparing man with a house; and as a house that is built on the sand or the dust may be easily washed away (compare Matthew 7:26-27), and could not be confided in, so it was with man. He was like such a dwelling; and no more confidence could be reposed in him than in such a house.
Which are crushed - They are broken in pieces, trampled on, destroyed (דכא dâkâ'), by the most insignificant objects.
Before the moth - See Isaiah 50:9, note; Isaiah 51:8, note. The word moth (עשׁ ‛âsh), Greek σής sēs, Vulgate, tinea, denotes properly an insect which flies by night, and particularly that which attaches itself to woolen cloth and consumes it. It is possible, however, that the word here denotes the moth-worm. This "moth-worm is one state of the creature. which first is inclosed in an egg, and thence issues in the form of a worm; after a time, it quits the form of a worm, to assume that of the complete state of the insect, or the moth." Calmet. The comparison here, therefore, is not that of a moth flying against a house to overset it, nor of the moth consuming man as it does a garment, but it is that of a feeble worm that preys upon man and destroys him; and the idea is, that the most feeble of all objects may crush him. The following remarks from Niebuhr (Reisebeschreibung von Arabien, S. 133), will serve to illustrate this passage, and show that so feeble a thing as a worm may destroy human life. "There is in Yemen, in India, and on the coasts of the South Sea, a common sickness caused by the Guinea, or nerve-worm, known to European physicians by the name of vena Medinensis. It is supposed in Yemen that this worm is ingested from the bad water which the inhabitants of those countries are under a necessity of using. Many of the Arabians on this account take the precaution to strain the water which they drink. If anyone has by accident swallowed an egg of this worm, no trace of it is to be seen until it appears on the skin; and the first indication of it there, is the irritation which is caused. On our physician, a few days before his death, five of these worms made their appearance, although we had been more than five months absent from Arabia. On the island of Charedsch, I saw a French officer, whose name was Le Page, who after a long and arduous journey, which he had made on foot, from Pondicherry to Surat, through the heart of India, found the traces of such a worm in him, which he endeavored to extract from his body.
He believed that be had swallowed it when drinking the waters of Mahratta. The worm is not dangerous, if it can be drawn from the body without being broken. The Orientals are accustomed, as soon as the worm makes its appearance through the skin, to wind it up on a piece of straw, or of dry wood. It is finer than a thread, and is from two to three feet in length. The winding up of the worm frequently occupies a week; and no further inconvenience is experienced, than the care which is requisite not to break it. If, however, it is broken, it draws itself back into the body, and then becomes dangerous. Lameness, gangrene, or the loss of life itself is the result." See the notes at Isaiah referred to above. The comparison of man with a worm, or an insect, on account of his feebleness and shortness of life, is common in the sacred writings, and in the Classics. The following passage from Pindar, quoted by Schultens, hints at the same idea:
Ἐπάμεροι, τί δέ τις; τί δ ̓ οῦ τις;
Σκιᾶς ὄναρ ἄνθρωποι.
Epameroi, ti de tis; ti d' ou tis;
Skias onar anthrōpoi.
"Things of a day! What is anyone? What is he not? Men are the dream of a shadow!" - The idea in the passage before us is, that people are exceedingly frail, and that in such creatures no confidence can be placed. How should such a creature, therefore, presume to arraign the wisdom and equity of the divine dealings? How can he be more just or wise than God?
on Job 4 :19
4:19 How, and c. - The sense is, what strange presumption then is it for a foolish and mortal man, to make himself more just than God. In them - Who though they have immortal spirits, yet those spirits dwell in mortal bodies, which are great clogs, and incumbrances, and snares to them. These are called houses, (because they are the receptacles of the soul, and the places of its settled abode) and houses of clay, because they were made of clay, or earth, and to note their great frailty and mutability; whereas the angels are free spirits, unconfined to such carcasses, and dwell in celestial, and glorious, and everlasting mansions. Whose - Whose very foundation, no less than the rest of the building, is in the dust; had their original from it, and must return to it. We stand but upon the dust: some have an higher heap of dust to stand upon than others. But still it is the earth that stays us up, and will shortly swallow us up. Before - Sooner than a moth is crushed, which is easily done by a gentle touch of the finger. Or, at the face of a moth. No creature is so contemptible, but one time or other it may have the body of man in its power.