George R. (George Rapall) Noyes.

A new translation of Job, Ecclesiastes and the Canticles : with introductions, and notes, chiefly explanatory online

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Online LibraryGeorge R. (George Rapall) NoyesA new translation of Job, Ecclesiastes and the Canticles : with introductions, and notes, chiefly explanatory → online text (page 1 of 32)
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y 1^ I T A H t A N












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Entered, according to Act of Oongrees, In the year 1867, by


In the Clerk's Ofllce of the IMstriot Court of the District of Massachusetts.



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Job 37

Introduction to Ecclesiastbs ......... 103

ecclesiastes 125

Introduction to the Canticles 141

The Song of Songs (i. q. The Canticles) .... 171

Notes on Job .... * 186

Notes on Ecclesiastes 283

Notes on the Canticles 329


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The work, which it is the design of the present volume to illus-
trate, is in many respects one of the most remarkable productions
of any age or country. It is, without doubt, in its general plan,
a§ well as in the rhythmical construction and high poetic character \
of its language, the elaborate work of a skilful artist. Deep
thought and long-continued study must have been united with
genius in its production. Yet has it, in a much higher degree than
most compositions, the freshness of an unstudied effusion of the
soul of the author ; a soul full of the sublimest conceptions of
the Parent of nature and his glorious works, and of true and deep
sympathy with all that is great and amiable in the character, and
affecting in the condition, of man. The imagination of the autljior
seems to have ranged freely through every part of the universe,
and to have enriched itself from almost every department of na-
ture and of art. Whether he attempt to describe the residence
of Him "who maintaineth peace in his high places," or "the
land of darkness and the shadow of death ; " the passions and pur-
suits of man, or the nature and features of the animal creation ;
the phenomena of the air and the heavens, or the dark operations
of the miner, — he is ever familiar with his subject, and seems to
tell us what his eyes have seen and his ears have heard. And not
more remarkable are the richness and vigor of his imagination
than his power in representing the deep emotions and the tender
affections of the soul. Admirable, too, in a poem of so high anti-
quity, is the skill with which he makes all the delineations of the
human heart, and all the descriptions of external nature, subservi-



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ent to the illustration of one important moral subject ; thus uniting
the attributes of the poet and philosopher. It is true that we
miss the perfection of Grecian art in the structure of the work of
a Hebrew poet who wrote more than a century before -^schylus ;
and his plan required him to set forth the general workings of the
human heart, rather than to delineate the nicer shades of human
character. It was in harmony with the ethical nature of the com-
position, that his characters should make speeches, rather than
converse. Yet no one can fail to perceive the unity of design
which pervades the work, and the adaptation of the various parts
of it to its completion.

The first place among the Hebrew poets has usually been as-
signed .to Isaiah. But in what respect the Great Unknown, the
author of the Book of Job, can be regarded as inferior to any
Hebrew poet, or any other poet, unless perhaps we except Shaks-
peare, I am at a loss to conceive. In comprehensiveness of
thought, and in richness and strength of imagination, he seems to
me to be unsurpassed ; and in depth and tenderness of feeling
to be incomparable, when we consider that female loveliness con-
stitutes no part of the interest of the work. Almost every Chris-
tian poet has felt his influence in respect both to thought and
expression. But to delineate the excellences and beauties of the
Book of Job is a task far beyond my capacity. They must be
understood and felt, rather than described.

There has been much discussion in former times, in regard to
the particular department of poetry and literature under which
the Book of Job should be classed. Undue importance has with-
out doubt been attached to this question ; and the scope and spirit
of the work have in a degree been lost sight of, in the eagerness
with which different writers have sought to establish its claim to
the appellation of epic or dramatic, or its place in a particular
department of poetical composition. The truth is, that there is
nothing which bears an exact resemblance to it in Grecian, Ro-
man, or modem literature. It has something in common, not
only with different forms of composition, but with different
departments of literature. Those who have given it the appel-
lation of an epic poem have applied to it a term the least
suited to its character, and die most unjust to its daims as


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a work of art. They have made unimportant circumstances, in
regard to its form, of more consequence than its substantial char-
acter, spirit, and design. Nothing can be more evident than the
fact, that to excite interest in the personal fortunes of Job, as
the hero of a poem, was not the principal design of the writer.
Still less was it his design to unfold characteristic traits in the
other personages introduced into the work. So^e, indeed, have
discovered, as they supposed, striking characteristic traits in Eli-
phaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naama-
thite ; and have pointed out the diflferent degrees of severity which
they exhibited towards their friend in his distress. It appears to
me that these writers have drawli largely on their own imagina-
tions to make their opinions probable. There is, no doubt, some
diversity in the manner and substance of the discourses of the
friends of Job. The author may have put the longest and best
speeches into the mouth of an inhabitant of a city so famous for
its wisdom as Teman; * and to Elihu, whom some regard as
thrust into the place he occupies by a later writer than the author,
he certainly assigns, at least in the beginning of Elihu^s speech,
and in the preambles in chap, xxxiii. 1-9, 31-33, xxxiv. 2-4, xxxv.
2-4, the language of a young man who has madi rather an extrav-
agant estimate of his abilities and his consequence. But I seek in
vain for evidence that the author made it a principal object to
excite an interest in the actions or characters of the personages
whom he introduces. He had little dramatic power.

There is more plausibility in the views of those who have
regarded and named the Book of Job a dramatic poem. For, \/^

undoubtedly, the character of Job has a tragic interest, and remindsy
one of the most interesting characters of Grecian tragedy, suffer- )
ing by the will of the gods or the necessities of fate, especially I
the Prometheus Vinctus of -SJschylus. In regard to its form,
there is something that resembles dialogue, — though the per-
sons taking part in it make speeches rather than converse, —
and something that bears a distant resemblance to a prologue and
an epilogue. The author has also skilfully introduced into vari-
ous parts of the work hints having reference to the final issue of

* Jer. xlix. 7.


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the fortunes of Job, similar to those which occur in the best of the
Greek tragedies, such as the (Edipus Tyrannus. (See chap. viii.
6, 7 ; xvi. 19 ; xix. 25, &c., compared with chap, xiii.) Still,
to give the name of a drama or a tragedy to this production is to
give it a name from what is incidental to it, rather than from its
pervading spirit and prominent design. To call it a poem of any
kind fails to suggest the characteristic feature of the work, though
it contains poetry, which perhaps has never been surpassed.

If we have regard to the main design, the substance and spirit
of the work, we shall refer it to the department of moral or reli-
gious philosophy. It contains the moral or religious philosophy
of the time when it was produced. It is rather a philosophical
religious discussion in a poetical form than an epic or dramatic
poem. It is more nearly allied to the Essay on Man than to Para-
dise Lost, or Prometheus Yinctus. It is the efi^sion of the mind
and heart of the author upon a moral subject which has agitated
the human bosom in every age. Still, the author was a poet as
well as a religious philosopher. In the mode of presenting the
subject to his readers, he aimed, like other poets, to move the
human feelings by exhibitions of passion and scenes of distress,
and to please the ^ste by the sublime flights of his imagination.
He aimed to give the highest interest to his subject by clothing
his thoughts in the loftiest language of poetry, and arranging them
in the measured rhythm which is one of the characteristics of He-
brew poetry.

It might be interesting to analyze the pure religious doctrines
which the author held, and, witii wonderful liberality for one of
the Jewish nation, ascribed to Arabians ; but such an analysis is
hardly necessaiy in an introduction to the book. It seems par-
ticularly remarkable that he should ascribe Divine inspiration to
Eliphaz the Temanite. (See chap. iv. 12-21.)

The special subject of this unique production is the ways of
Providence in regard to the distribution of good and evil in the
world, in connection with the doctrine of a righteous retribution
in the present life, such as seemed to be contained in the Jewish
religion. It sets forth the struggle between faith in the perfect
government of God, or in a righteous retribution in the present
life, and the various doubts excited in the soul of man by what it


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feels or sees of human misery, and by what it knows of the pros-
perity of the contemners of God. These doubts the author
expresses in strong and irreverent language from the lips of Job ;
while the received doctrine of an exact earthly retribution, which
pervades the Jewish religion, is maintained and reiterated by the
personages introduced as the friends of Job.

The subject is one which comes home to men^s business and
bosoms. Even under the light of Christianity, perhaps there are
few who have not in peculiar seasons felt a conflict between faith
in the perfect government of God, and various feelings excited in
their minds by what they have experienced or witnessed of human
suffering. The pains of the innocent, — of those who cannot dis-
cern their right hand from their left hand, — the protracted calam-
ities which are often the lot of the righteous, and the prosperity
which oft^n crowns the designs of the wicked, have at times ex-
cited wonder, perplexity, and doubt in almost every thoughtful
mind. We, as Christians, silence our doubts, and confirm our
faith, by what experience teaches us of the general wisdom and
benevolence of the Creator, by the consideration that affliction
comes from the same merciful hand which is the source of aU the
good that we have ever enjoyed, by the perception of the moral
and religious influences of adversity, and especially by the hope
of the joy to be realized in a better world, which is set before
those who endure to the end. The apostle could say for the con-
solation of himself and his fellow-suifferers, **For I reckon that
the sujSerings of this present time are not worthy to be compared
with the glory which shall be revealed in us." And every Chris-
tian knows that the Captain of his salvation ascended to his throne
of glory from the ignominious cross. The cross is the great
source of the Christian's consolation. But let us suppose our-
selves to be deprived of those sources of consolation which are
peculiar to a disciple of Christ, and we may conceive of the state
of mind of the author of the Book of Job, upon whom the Sun of
righteousness had never dawned. Is it strange that the soul of a
pious Jew, who lived before "life and immortality were brought
to light through the gospel," should have been agitated by the
conflict between such a faith in temporal retribution as his religion
seemed to require, and the doubts and murmurings excited by what


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he felt and saw of the calamities of the righteous, and witnessed
of the prosperity of the wicked ? One of the most enlightened of
the Komans, whea called to mourn the early loss of the children
of his hopes, was led, as he says, almost *'to accuse the gods,
and to exclaim, that no Providence governed the world." An
Arabic poet, quoted by Dr. Pococke,* writes j —

Quot intellecta prsestantes in angustias rediguntur,
£t 8umm^ stolidofl inv^es proepeie agentesl
Boc est quod animos perplexos relinqmt,
£t egregi^ doctos Sadducaeos reddit

" How many wise men are reduced to distress,
And how many fools will you find in prosperity I
It is this that leaves the mind in perplexity.
And makes Sadduoees of vexy learned men.'*

We think that many have stated too strongly the argument for
the inmiortality of the soul, drawn from the apparent inequalities
of the present state. To maintain that there is little or no retri-
bution in this part of the Oreator^a dominions appears to me not
the best way of proving that there will be a perfect one in another
part of them. Nor is such a representation true. To a very
important extent, ** we still have justice here." But the senti-
ments referred to above, respecting the limited retributions of the
present life, may serve to illustrate the mental condition of a pious
man of exalted genius, who appears to have had no conception,
or at least no belief, of a state after death that was desirable in
comparison with the present life.

In Ps. Ixxiii. we have the thoughts whidi passed through the
mind of another upon the same subject : —

" Yet my feet almost gave way;
My steps had well nigh slipped:

For I was envious of the profane, •

When I saw the prosperity of the wicked," &e.

Ps. xxxvii. may also be considered as being upon the same sub*
ject, and so likewise the Book of Ecclesiastes ; though a more
sceptical spirit seems to pervade the latter than either of the
psalms above mentioned, or the Book of Job.

* Not. in Port Mos. c vii, 0pp. p. 214.


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Such being the subject which filled the mind of the author of
this book, the question arises, how he has treated it, or what he
aimed to accomplish in regard to it. That in his own view he had
solved all the difficulties which embarrass the human understanding
in regard to the subject is not very probable. But that he pro-
posed to establish some definite truths in relation to it, as well as
to inculcate the duty of entire submission to God, and unreserved
faith in him, is, I think, clear. I do not believe, with De Wette,
that he meant to leave the subject an utter mystery, and merely
to bring man to a helpless consciousness of his ignorance. The
prologue and epilogue, which this writer admits to be genuine, to
say nothing of the speech of Elihu, refute such an opinion. The
most prominent part of the author^s design is, indeed, to enforce
the duty of unqualified submission to the will of God, and of rev- |
erential faith amid all the difficulties which perplex the understand-
ing in relation to the government of Grod. But a part of it is also (
to illustrate the truth, that moral character is not to be inferred
from outward condition (see <;hap. xxxiii. 19-28) ; that afiiictions
are designed as the trial of piety, and as means for its advance-
ment ; and that they lead ^in the end to higher good than would
otiierwise be obtained; and thus«to assert eternal providence, and
justify the ways of God to man. And, while he enforces the duty
of entire submission to God, he incidentally intimates that un-
founded censures and unkind treatment of a friend in distress are
more offensive to the Deity than those expressions of impatience
which afiiiction may wring from the lips of the pious.*

The author aims to show, that, in the distribution of good and
evil in the world, God is sometimes influenced by reasons which
man can neither discover nor comprehend, and not solely by the
merit or demerit of his creatures ; that the righteous are often
afilicted, and the wicked prospered : but that this course of provi- \
dence is perfectly consistent with wisdom, justice, and goodness ■
in the Deity, though man is unable to discern the reasons of it ;
that afiiictionff are often intended as the trials of piety and the
means of moral improvement ; that man is an incompetent judge of
the Divine dispensations ; that, instead of rashly daring to pene-

* Chap. xlu. 7.


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trate or to censure the counsels of his Creator, it is his duty to
submit to his will, to reyerence his character, and to obey his
laws ; and that the end will prove the wisdom as well as the obli-
gation and the happy consequences of such submission, reyer-
ence, and obedience.

In this view* I have taken the whole book, as we now haye it,
to be genuine. I think this supposition is attended with the
fewest difficulties. Those who discard the speech of Elihu, the
twenty-eighth chapter and part of the twenty-seventh, and the
prose introduction and conclusion, must give, of course, an ac-
count of it somewhat different. They imagine that by the exclu-
sion of these portions they give greater unity to the composition.
But where did they learn that every poem must have perfect unity,
or even perfect consistency P

In order to accomplish the design, or express the views, which
I have exhibited, in such a manner that his work should possess
the highest interest for his readers, the author employs a form of
composition resembling that of the drama. He brings forward a
personage, celebrated probably in the traditions of his country
on account of the distinguished.excellence of his character, and
the marvellous vicissitudes through which he had passed. In the
delineation of the character and fortunes of this personage, he
uses the liberty of a poet in stating every thing in extremes, or in
painting every thing in the broadest colors, that he might thus the
better illustrate the moral truth, and accompli^ the moral pur-
pose, which he had in view.

He introduces to the reader an inhabitant of the land of U2,
in the northern part of Arabia, equally distinguished by his piety
and his prosperity. He was pronounced by the Searcher of
hearts an upright and good man ; and he was surrounded by a
happy family, and was the most wealthy of all the inhabitants of
the East,

If virtue and piety could in any case be a security against calam-
ity, then must Job's prosperity have been lasting. Who ever had
more reason for expecting continued prosperity, the favor of men,
and the smiles of Providence? ** But, when he looked for good,
evil came." A single day produces a complete reverse in his


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eonditian, and reduces him from the heiglit of prosperity to the
lowest depths of misery* He is stripped of his possessions. His
children, a ntmierous family^ for whom he had never forgotten to/
offer to God a ^morning sacrifice, are buried under the ruins of ^
their houses, which a hurricane levels with the ground ; and, finally,
he is afiflicted, in his own person, with a most loathsome and dan-
gerous disease. Thus the best man in the world haS beeome the ^
most miserable man in the world.

The reader is made acquainted in the outset with the cause of
the afflictions of Job. At an assembly of the sons of Grod, — that
is, the inhabitants of heaven, — in the presence of the Governor
of the world, an evil spirit, Satan, the adversary or accuser in the f
Oourfe of heaven, had come, on his return from an excursion over I
the earth, to present himself before God, or to stand in readiness (
to receive his commands. Jehovah puts the question to Satan,
whether he had taken notice of the model of human excellence
exhibited in ihe .character of his servant Job, and sets forth the
|H*aise of this good man in terms so emphatic as to excite the envy
and ill-will of that suspicious accuser of his brethren. Satan inti- \y'
mates that selfishness is the sole motive of Job^s obedience ; that
It was with views of profit, and not from sentiments o( reverence
toward €k)d, that he paid him an outward service ; that, if Jehovah
should take away the possessions of him whom he believed* so
ikiihful, he would at once renounce his service. '* Doth Job fear
God for nought P'^ To establish the truth of what he had said in
commendation of his servant, Jehovah is represented as giving
permission to Satan to put the piety of Job to the test, by taking
away at once all his possessions and all his children. But the
evil spirit gains no triumph. Job remains true to his idlegiance.
He sins not even with his lips. There is yet another assembly
of the heavenly S|nrit8 ; and here the hateful spirit, the disbe-
liever in human virtue, persists in maintaining that it is the love of
Hfe, the dearest of all possessions to man, which retains Job in

Online LibraryGeorge R. (George Rapall) NoyesA new translation of Job, Ecclesiastes and the Canticles : with introductions, and notes, chiefly explanatory → online text (page 1 of 32)