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a Bible passage

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Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,

and you cannot look on wrongdoing;

why do you look on the treacherous,

and are silent when the wicked swallow

those more righteous than they?

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The Prophet here expostulates with God, not as at the beginning of the chapter; for he does not here, with a holy and calm mind, undertake the defense of God’s glory, but complains of injuries, as men do when oppressed, who go to the judge and implore his protection. This complaint, then, is to be distinguished from the former one; for at the beginning of the chapter the Prophet did not plead his own cause or that of the people; but zeal for God’s glory roused him, so that he in a manner asked God to take vengeance on so great an obstinacy in wickedness; but he now comes down and expresses the feelings of men; for he speaks of the thoughts and sorrows of those who had suffered injuries under the tyranny of their enemies.

And he says, O God, thou art pure in eyes, thou lookest not on evil. Some render the verb טהור, theur in the imperative mood, clear the eyes; but they are mistaken; for the verse contains two parts, the one contrary to the other. The Prophet reasons from the nature of God, and then he states what is of an opposite character. Thou, God, he says, art pure in eyes; hence thou canst not look on evil; it is not consistent with thy nature to pass by the vices of men, for every iniquity is hateful to thee. Thus the Prophet sets before himself the nature of God. Then he adds, that experience is opposed to this; for the wicked, he says, exult; and while they miserably oppress the innocent, no one affords any help. How is this, except that God sleeps in heaven, and neglects the affairs of men? We now then understand the Prophet’s meaning in this verse. 2020     Adjectives and participles in Hebrew commonly take a plural form, but not always, as evidently in the present case; for the word for “pure,” though singular, will admit of a better construction with “eyes” than in any other way; and so Grotius renders the clause, “Purer are thine eyes,” etc.; which is better than our version, followed by Newcome and Henderson. The whole passage will thus read better:—
   Purer are thine eyes than to behold evil,
And to look on wickedness thou art not able:
then lookest thou on the perfidious,
And art still when the wicked swallows up
One more righteous than himself?
And makest man to be like the fish of the sea,
Like the reptile which has no ruler?

   “Evil” means here wrong, injustice; the corresponding clause is “the wicked” swallowing up or oppressing his better. The Jews were bad, but better than the Chaldeans. “Wickedness,” [עמל], is such a mischief as is done through treachery: hence in the next line, which, according to the style of the Prophets, corresponds with this, “the perfidious” are mentioned, improperly rendered “plunderers” by Henderson, and “transgressors” by Newcome. The Chaldeans had been the allies of the Jews.

   With respect to the reptile or the crawling fish, such as keep to the bottom of the waters, why is it said to be without a ruler? Is it more insulated and less gregarious, so to speak, than other fish? If so, “without a ruler” has an obvious meaning.—Ed.

By saying that God is pure in eyes, he assumes what ought to be deemed certain and indubitable by all men of piety. But as God’s justice does not always appear, the Prophet has a struggle; and he shows that he in a manner vacillated, for he did not see in the state of things before him what yet his piety dictated to him, that is, that God was just and upright. It is indeed true, that the second part of the verse borders on blasphemy: for though the Prophet ever thought honourably and reverently of God, yet he murmurs here, and indirectly charges God with too much tardiness, as he connived at things, while he saw the just shamefully oppressed by the wicked. But we must notice the order which the Prophet keeps. For by saying that God is pure in eyes, he no doubt restrains himself. As there was danger lest this temptation should carry him too far, he meets it in time, and includes himself, in a manner, within this boundary—that we ought to retain a full conviction of God’s justice. The same order is observed by Jeremiah when he says, ‘I know, Lord, that thou art just, but how is it that the ungodly do thus pervert all equity? and thou either takest no notice, or dost not apply any remedy. I would therefore freely contend with thee.’ The Prophet does not immediately break out into such an expression as this, “O Lord, I will contend with thee in judgement:” but before he mentions his complaint, knowing that his feelings were strongly excited, he makes a kind of preface, and in a manner restrains himself, that he might check that extreme ardor which might have otherwise carried him beyond due bounds; “Thou art just, O Lord,” he says. In a similar manner does our prophet speak here, Thou art pure in eyes, so as not to behold evil; and thou canst not look on trouble

Since, he says, thou canst not look on trouble, we find that he confirms himself in that truth—that the justice of God cannot be separated from his very nature: and by saying, לא תוכל, la tucal, “thou canst not,” it is the same as though he had said, “Thou, O Lord, art just, because thou art God; and God, because thou art just.” For these two things cannot be separated, as both the eternity, and the very being of God, cannot stand without his justice. We hence see how strenuously the Prophet struggled against his own impetuosity, so that he might not too much indulge himself in the complaint, which immediately follows.

For he then asks, according to the common judgement of the flesh, Why dost thou look on, when the ungodly devours one more just than himself? The Prophet here does not divest God of his power, but speaks in doubt, and contends not so much with God as with himself. A profane man would have said, “There is no God, there is no providence,” or, “He cares not for the world, he takes his pleasure in heaven.” But the Prophet says, “Thou seest, Lord.” Hence he ascribes to God what peculiarly belongs to him—that he does not neglect the world which he has created. At the same time he here inclines two ways, and alternates; Why does thou look on, when the ungodly devours one more just than himself? He says not that the world revolves by chance, nor that God takes his delight and ease in heaven, as the Epicureans hold; but he confesses that the world is seen by God, and that he exercises care over the affairs of men: notwithstanding, as he could not see his way clear in a state of things so confused, he argues the point rather with himself than with God. We now see the import of this sentence. The Prophet, however, proceeds—