Job 17 Bible Commentary

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

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In this chapter Job not only enlarges upon the reason given in the preceding chapter, why he was desirous of an advocate with God, and one to plead his cause with him for him, Job 17:1; but adds other reasons taken from the usage of his friends, from the impossibility of any but a divine Person being his surety; and of anyone being provided and appointed as such but by God himself; from the insufficiency of his friends to judge of his cause, and from the condition and circumstances he was in, Job 17:2; then he takes notice of the effects his present case would have on good men, that though they might be astonished at it, they would be filled with indignation against hypocrites, and would not be moved and stumbled by his afflictions to apostatize from and desert the good ways of God, Job 17:8; after which he addresses his friends, and either calls upon them to renew the dispute with him, or repent of their notions, and join with him in his sentiments, Job 17:10; and lastly describes his state and circumstances, according to his apprehension of things, observing the shortness of his life, and the darkness of the dispensation he was under, through one thing and another, Job 17:11; that he had nothing but the grave in view, which, and its attendants, he had made very familiar with him, Job 17:13; and that he had no hope of restoration to a better condition, as to his outward circumstances, and that he, and his hopes his friends would have him entertain, and they also, would go down together to the grave, and there should lie in the dust, and rest together till the morning of the resurrection, Job 17:15.

Verse 1. My breath is corrupt,.... Through the force of his disease, which made it have an ill smell, so that it was strange and disagreeable to his wife, Job 19:17; passing through his lungs, or other parts, which were affected with some disorder, or as frequently is the case of dying persons, and so Job thought himself to be. The word {n} used has the signification of pain, even of the pains of a woman in travail; and so may signify, that Job drew his breath with great pain, as people troubled with an asthma do, or dying persons in the hiccups, or just fetching their last breath; or "my spirit" {o}, as it may be rendered, that is, his vital spirits which were exhausted and spent, there were scarce any left in him; or "my mind" {p}, or soul, which was overwhelmed with grief, and so disturbed, that he was not himself, but in a manner distracted with the terrors of God, and the severity of his hand upon him:

my days are extinct; here Job corrects himself; he had spoken of a few years before, but it is as if he should say now, why do I talk of a few years, when I have but a few days to live, and even those are as good as gone? meaning not only his days of prosperity, which were at an entire end, as he thought, but the days of his natural life; the lamp of life was almost burnt out, the oil was spent, the wick was just extinguished, it was like the snuff of a candle going out:

the graves [are ready] for me; the place of his fathers' sepulchres, the burial place of his ancestors, where many graves were; or he may have respect to various things into which the dead are put, as into so many graves; as besides their being rolled up in linen, as was the way of the eastern countries, there was the coffin, a sort of a grave, and which sometimes was made of stone; and then the place dug in the earth, more properly called the grave, and often over that a sepulchral monument was erected; so that there was grave upon grave. Job does not seem to have any respect to the usage of kings, and great personages, preparing stately monuments for themselves while living, such as the pyramids of Egypt, built by and for their kings, as is supposed; for the words "are ready" are not in the text, only supplied, though they are also by the Targum; they are very short and significant in the original text, "the graves for me," or they are mine; the grave is my property, my house, where I expect shortly to be, and there to abide and dwell until the resurrection, and which was desirable to him; "a grave to me"; that is all that I desire, or can expect; here he wished to be, as he did not doubt he quickly should be; and it is as if he should say, I am ready for that, and so Jarchi paraphrases it; and happy is the man that is ready for the grave, for death, and eternity, for the coming of his Lord, having the grace of God wrought in him, and the righteousness of his living Redeemer on him, which was Job's case; such an one shall go into the nuptial chamber at once, and be received into everlasting habitations.

{n} Pineda. {o} yxwr "spiritus meus," V. L. Pagninus, Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, &c. {p} "Anima mea," Piscator, Schmidt.

Verse 2. [Are there] not mockers with me?.... Meaning not irreligious persons, such as make a mock at sin, a jest of religion, a laugh at good men, sneer at the doctrines and ordinances of God, and scoff at things future, as the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and a future judgment; with whom it is very uncomfortable to be, as well as with any sort of profane men, and such there were no doubt in Job's time; but he seems to design his friends, by whom be thought himself mocked, and who were, as he imagined, scorners of him, Job 12:4; and therefore for this reason entreats his case might be heard, and his cause pleaded:

and doth not mine eye continue in their provocation? or "lodge all night" {q}; his sense is, that they were continually provoking him with their words, their scoffs and jeers, their censures and calumnies, and the weak reasons and arguments they made use of to support their charges and suspicions; these dwelt upon his mind not only in the daytime but in the night, so that he could not get a wink of sleep for them; their words were so teasing and distressing, and they acted such a cruel part to him, and stuck so close to him, and hung upon his thoughts, that he could not get clear of them in the night season; but his mind ran upon them, which kept him waking, that he could not close his eyelids for thinking of them.

{q} Nlt "pernoctat," Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Schmidt, Michaelis, Schultens.

Verse 3. Lay down now,.... A pledge that thou wilt provide a surety, appoint and admit one to plead for me, and that thou wilt hear my cause, and determine it; or "put now," or "put, I pray thee" {r}, thy heart and mind to me and my case, to my petition and request, and grant it:

put me in a surety with thee; appoint, provide, and place a surety for me with thee, and let him appear to do his work and office: such an one Jesus Christ is; he is of God the Father's appointing to be the Mediator between God and men, and who himself voluntarily engaged and agreed to be the surety of the better testament; and this was known to the Old Testament saints, and to Job; and his prayer was the prayer of faith: and this work and office Christ performs; he was surety for his people from eternity, he drew nigh to God on their account, and struck hands with his Father, or covenanted and agreed with him about the salvation of his people, and the manner of it; he gave his word, his bond, to his Father for them, that he would save them; and upon that suretyship engagement of Christ all the Old Testament saints were pardoned, justified, and glorified; he promised and bound himself to pay all their debts, to satisfy for all their sins, to bring in an everlasting righteousness for them, and to bring them all safe to heaven and happiness; in order to which, he put himself in their room and stead, and laid down his life a ransom for them; upon which Job might say, and so may every believer, what follows,

who [is] he [that] will strike hands with me? that will enter the lists, litigate and dispute the point with me, or bring any charge or accusation against me, having such a surety to answer for me, such an advocate to plead my cause, such a Mediator between God and man, who has made reconciliation for sin, brought in everlasting righteousness, and satisfied law and justice, see Romans 8:33; or else the sense is, "who [is] he," besides him that is a surety of God's appointing and providing, "can strike bands with me?" or be a surety for me? there is no other Mediator, Saviour, or Redeemer, besides him; if he had not undertaken the cause of his people, and the redemption of them, it must have ceased for ever, no other was equal to such a work; so that here is another reason used with the Lord to provide a surety, since no other could to any purpose.

{r} an hmyv "pone nunc," Montanus; "poae quaeso," Pagninus, Piscator, Mercerus, Cocceius, Schmidt; "sub cor tunm," Vatablus.

Verse 4. For thou hast hid their heart from understanding,.... That is, the hearts of his friends, and therefore they were unfit to undertake his cause, or be sureties for him, or be judges in it. It is the same thing as to hide understanding from their hearts, which God sometimes does in a natural sense; when men like not the knowledge of him, as attainable by the light of nature, he gives them up to reprobate minds, minds void of knowledge and judgment in things natural; and sometimes, in a spiritual sense, he hides men's hearts from the knowledge of things divine and evangelical, and even this he does from the wise and prudent of this world; yea, sometimes he hides the knowledge of his providential dealings with men from his own people, as he did from Asaph, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and others; and, as it seems, from Job's friends, who therefore mistook his case, and were very unfit and insufficient to determine it:

therefore shalt thou not exalt [them]; to such honour and dignity, to be umpires, arbitrators, or judges in the case of Job; this God had reserved for another, Elihu, or rather himself, who decided the controversy between Job and his friends, and declared in his favour, and that they had not spoken the thing that was right of him, as his servant Job had done, Job 42:7;

Verse 5. He that speaketh flattery to [his] friends,.... As Job's friends did to him when they promised great outward prosperity, and a restoration to his former state, and to a greater affluence upon his repentance and reformation; or when they spoke deceitfully for God, pretending great regard to the honour of his justice and holiness, and therefore insisted on it that he must be a wicked man and an hypocrite, that was afflicted by him, as Job was:

even the eyes of his children shall fail; so hateful are some sins to God, and particularly deceitful tongues, and flattering lips, that he will punish them in their posterity; the eyes of their children shall fail for want of sustenance, and while they are looking in vain for salvation and deliverance out of trouble, see Exodus 20:4.

Verse 6. He hath made me also a byword of the people,.... Either Eliphaz, or God; for whatsoever befell him, whether more immediately by the hand of God, or by any instrument, the ascribes it to him, as being suffered in Providence to befall him; as when he became a byword or proverb to the people in common, to whom an example might be set by one or more of Job's friends. The name of Job is to this day a byword or proverb among men, both for his poverty and his patience; if a man is described as very poor, he is said to be as poor as Job; or if very patient under his afflictions, he is said to be as patient as Job; but as neither of these are to the disgrace of Job, something else seems rather intended here, even something to his reproach; as when a man was represented as a very wicked man, or an hypocrite, it used to be said, such an one is as wicked a creature, and as arrant an hypocrite, as Job:

and aforetime I was as a tabret; the delight of the people, who, when he appeared in the public streets, came out and went before him, singing, and dancing, and beating on tabrets, and such like musical instruments, to express their joy upon the sight of him; but now it was otherwise with him, and he whom they could not sufficiently extol and commend, now knew not well what to say bad enough of him; such a change in the sentiments and conduct of men must needs be very chagrining: or "aforetime I was as a lord," as Ben Gersom, from the use of the word in Daniel 3:2; as he supposes; he was like a lord or nobleman, or as one in some high office, and now as the offscouring of all things; or it denotes what he was "before them," the people, in their sight at present, and should be: the word used is "Tophet," which Aben Ezra takes to be the name of a place, and as it seems of that place where children were offered to Moloch, and which place was in being, and such practices used by the Canaanites in the times of Job; and this place, which was also called the valley of Hinnom, being afterwards used for hell, led the Targum to paraphrase the words thus, "and hell from within shall I be"; and so Sephorno, in appearance hell to all that see me; and in general it may signify that he was, or should be, avoided, as any unclean place, very ungrateful and disagreeable, as that place was; or as anything abominable, and to be loathed and rejected, and this way go several interpreters {s}; though some think respect is had to the punishment of tympanization, in which sufferers were beaten upon in several parts of their bodies, as if men were beating upon a tabret or drum, which gave great pain and torment, see Hebrews 11:35; and with such like cruelty and indignity Job suggests he was or should be used; and therefore begs for a surety, for one to interpose and plead on his behalf; let the carriage of men to him be what it will, that is here referred to; compare with this Psalm 69:11.

{s} Schmidt, Michaelis, Schultens.

Verse 7. Mine eye also is dim by reason of sorrow,.... Through excessive weeping, and the abundance of tears he shed, so that he had almost lost his eyesight, or however it was greatly weakened and impaired by that means, which is often the case, see Psalm 6:7;

and all my members [are] as a shadow; his flesh was consumed off his bones, there were nothing left scarcely but skin and bone; he was a mere anatomy, and as thin as a lath, as we commonly say of a man that is quite worn away, as it were; is a walking shadow, has scarce any substance in him, but is the mere shadow of a man; the Targum interprets it of his form, splendour, and countenance, which were like a shadow; some interpret it "my thoughts" {t}, and understand it of the formations of his mind, and not of his body, which were shadows, empty, fleeting, and having no consistence in them through that sorrow that possessed him.

{t} yruy "cogitationes meae," Pagninus, Bolducius, Codurcus, so Ben Gersom.

Verse 8. Upright men shall be astonished at this,.... Such as were upright in heart, and in their walk conversation, sincere and honourable in their profession of religion, these would be amazed at the afflictions of Job, and the unkindness of his friends; it is hereby suggested, that it would be then, and in ages to come, a matter of surprise to truly gracious persons, when they should hear of such sore afflictions laid upon so good a man, and he told what censures, calumnies, and reproaches, were cast upon him by his friends; this would be so astonishing, that they would not know how to believe it, and still more at a loss how to account for it, that such things should be permitted in Providence, there being reason to believe the truth of them:

and the innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite; that is, such, who though they are not free from sin, yet live holy and harmless lives and conversations among men, so that they are not chargeable with any gross iniquity, or what is scandalous and unbecoming their character; these shall rise up with indignation against such persons as pretend to a great deal of sanctify and devotion, and yet have no charity or love to an afflicted saint, but censure and reproach him, and add affliction to his affliction. Thus Job retorts the charge of hypocrisy his friends brought against him upon them; for he seems tacitly to design them, and delivers these words as a kind of solace to himself; that though he was thus used by them at that time, yet good men in future time would have different apprehensions of him, and rise up and vindicate his name and character.

Verse 9. The righteous also shall hold on his way,.... He that is righteous, not in appearance but really, not in a legal but in an evangelic sense; who is justified by the righteousness of Job's living Redeemer, who lives by faith on his righteousness, and in consequence of that in holiness of life and conversation; such an one being in Christ the way of righteousness and salvation, and walking in the paths of faith, holiness, and truth, and in all the tracks of religious worship, private and public, he will persevere therein, and will not on any account depart out of the right way into which he has been led and directed. This is opposed to a going back, as some do, and to a turning to the right hand or the left, as others, and to a standing still, being stumbled, offended, and discouraged; and it supposes a progress, a going forward in the way, so as not to be moved out of it by their own, or the afflictions of others, by the reproaches and persecutions of men, the temptations of Satan, the snares, riches, honours, and pleasures of the world, or through darkness, desertion, and unbelief; they may indeed have many slips and falls, and be almost, but not altogether, out of the way, and never finally or to perdition; which is owing not to their conduct and care, might and strength, but to the power of God, and the supplies of his grace, to Christ and his strength, and to the Spirit and his influence, guidance, and direction:

and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger; or "add strength" {u}; increase in it. This character is opposed to one of an immoral life and conversation, and describes one that is not guilty of any notorious crime, that does not live in any known sin, but in the general course of his life is upright and sincere, holy, harmless, and inoffensive; such a man as he is already a partaker of spiritual grace and strength, and so, as he wants more, it is given him; his spiritual strength is renewed, he goes from one degree of it to another, and even while walking in the way of God he finds an increase of it; yea, that itself is strength unto him; as his day is his strength is, to assist him in religious services, to enable him to resist his enemies, and endure afflictions, and continue in the good ways of God.

{u} Uma Pyoy "addet fortitudinem," Pagninus, Montanus.

Verse 10. But as for you all, do ye return, and come now,.... This is an address to his three friends, all and everyone of them, who he perceived were nettled with his reply, and were either departing, or preparing for a rejoinder; and being conscious of his innocence, and satisfied of the goodness of his cause, and having nothing to fear from them, boldly challenges them to go on with the dispute; for though they were three to one, he was a match for them all; or else he calls upon them to turn and repent of what they had said to him, to relinquish the bad notions and ill opinion they had of him, and to retract their hard speeches and unjust censures, and return to a friendly and amicable conversation; or however, that they would come and sit down quietly, and patiently hear what he had further to say to them for their information and instruction, which they stood in great need of:

for I cannot find [one] wise [man] among you; that took his case right, was capable of judging of it, and speaking pertinently to it, and of administering comfort to him in it; they were physicians, but not skilful ones; comforters, but miserable ones; had not the tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season; disputants, but wranglers, and knew not where the pinch of the controversy lay; and their arguments were weak and worthless, and their judgment and sense of things not deserving any regard, see 1 Corinthians 6:5.

Verse 11. My days are past,.... Or "passed away," or "passed over" {w}; not that they passed over the time fixed and appointed by God, for there is no passing the bound settled by him, Job 14:5; but either the common term of man's life was passed with Job, or he speaks of things in his own apprehension; he imagined his death was so near, that he had not a day longer to live; his days, as he before says, were extinct, were at an end, he should never enjoy another day; and therefore it was folly to flatter him with a promise of long life, or encourage him to expect it; which he may mention as a proof of there being not a wise man among them, since they all suggested this in case of repentance; or his meaning is, that his good days, or days of goodness, as Jarchi interprets it, were past; his days of prosperity were at an end, and evil days were come upon him, in which he had no pleasure; nor had he any reason to believe it would be otherwise with him:

my purposes are broken off; Job doubtless had formed in his mind great designs of good things, natural, civil; and religious, concerning the enlargement of his temporal estate, the settlement of his children in the world, making provision for the poor, supporting and enlarging the interest of true religion, the reformation of his Heathenish neighbours, and the spread of divine truths among them; but now they were all frustrated, he was not in a capacity of carrying them into execution, and was obliged to drop them, and think no more of them, nor was there with him any prospect of ever renewing them; they were "rooted up" {x}, or plucked up, as some render the word, so that there was no likelihood of their ever rising up again, and coming to any effect:

[even] the thoughts of my heart; or "the possessions" {y} of it, as the thoughts are; they are the things of a man, which especially belong to him; they are the inheritance of his mind, what none have a right unto, and a claim upon, but himself, nor can any know but himself, and to whom he discovers them: now the thread of these is broken off at death, they then cease; not that the mind or soul of man ceases to be, or ceases to be a thinking being, it still thinks; but only its thoughts are not employed about the same things in a future state, or in the state after death, as in this, see Psalm 146:4.

{w} wrbe "transierunt," Pagninus, Montanus, &c. {x} wqtn "evulsae sunt," Pagninus, Montanus, Piscator; "radicitus evulsae sunt," Michaelis. {y} yvrwm "possessiones," Montanus, Vatablus, Piscator, Cocceius, Schmidt; "haereditariae possessiones," Schultens; so Drusius & Michaelis.

Verse 12. They change the night into day,.... Meaning either his friends, by what they had said unto him, or the thoughts of his heart, which comes to the same sense; these being in the night season employed about what had been said to him in the day, insomuch that he could get no sleep, the night was as broad day unto him; or they put the day before the night, contrary to the order of nature, as Noldius {z} observes, whereas the night is before the day, Genesis 1:5; his friends promising him long days, and an age clearer than noon day, as bright as the morning, Job 11:17; when the night of death was coming on, and he was hastening to the dark and silent grave:

the light [is] short because of darkness; the morning light, or light of the day, when that comes continues but for a short time, because of the darkness of the evening, which quickly follows; or because of the darkness of fiction, which fills it up, and makes it uncomfortable; or the light of prosperity, could it be enjoyed, is but short, because of the darkness of adversity; or "the light is near" {a}, as in the original text; though Jarchi interprets the word "short" as we do; Noldius renders it, "the light is rather nearer than darkness" {b}; after the night has been spent without sleep, the morning light is nearer than darkness; that may soon be expected, and so an end to sleep and rest.

{z} Ebr. Part. Concord. No. 1931. {a} bwrq "propinquam," Pagninus, Montanus; so Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, &c. {b} Ib. p. 642.

Verse 13. If I wait, the grave [is] mine house,.... Not that Job put an "if" upon, or made a doubt of waiting upon God in private or public; or of waiting for him, his gracious appearances to him, answers of prayer, performance of promises, and deliverance out of trouble; and especially of waiting his appointed time till his change came, and hoping and expecting eternal life and happiness; all which he determined to do, and did, see Job 13:15; but he says this with respect to the advice of his friends, which should it be taken, the issue of would be no other than what he here suggests; they had intimated, that if he repented and reformed, he might hope for and expect a peaceable tabernacle, and a prosperous habitation, a line house, and affluent circumstances, Job 5:24. Now, says he, should I listen to this, and endeavour to cherish some hope and expectation of small things, and put myself in a waiting posture for them, alas! how soon would it be over, for what other house can I rationally expect but the grave? and this is what I have upon; I think of no other house than that, which is man's long home, the house appointed for all living; there I shall dwell, and make my abode until the morning of the resurrection, and I look for no other; and if I should, I am well assured! should be disappointed:

I have made my bed in the darkness: in the dark grave, where the light of the body is extinct, and where the light of the sun comes not; in houses there are various apartments, some for work and business, as is the shop; others for eating and drinking, as the dining room; and others for sleep and rest, as the bedchamber; now in the house of the grave there is no mention of any but the latter; for there is no work and device in the grave, nor eating and drinking there; but it is a bed where the weary saint lies down and rests upon from all his toil and labour, until he awakes at the resurrection: now Job had settled the matter with himself, he had laid it out in his own mind, and taken a kind of pleasure in the prospect of it; that he had got a house to move into, when he was dislodged from the earthly house of his tabernacle, and where he had made himself, in his own thought, an easy bed, on which he should lay his weary limbs, and take his sleep and rest, until the heavens be no more.

Verse 14. I have said to corruption, thou [art] my father,.... Not to the corruptible seed, of which he was begotten; nor to the corruption or purulent matter of his boils and ulcers, and the worms his flesh was now clothed with, Job 7:5; but to that corruption his body would turn to in the grave, lying long enough to see it, which Christ's body did not, Psalm 16:10; that is, "to the pit of corruption" {c}, as it may be rendered, meaning the grave, so called because in it dead bodies corrupt and putrefy: in houses are families consisting of various persons, of different relations, who dwell together in friendship and harmony, very lovingly and familiarly, as father and mother, brother and sister; so in the grave, the dwelling house of men, there are inhabitants that dwell together, as if they were familiar friends and acquaintance; and with these, Job claims kindred, such as corruption, rottenness, dust and worms, and these he speaks unto, not only very familiarly, but very respectfully; the note of Bar Tzemach is, "I honour the grave as a son a father, that it may receive me quickly;" yea, he speaks as not ashamed of the relation, but is fond of it; "I called" or "cried" {d} that is, aloud, with great vehemency and affection:

to the worm, [thou art] my mother and my sister; these are the rather mentioned, because the relation is near, and they are very loving and tender, and abide in the house, see Proverbs 7:4; he calls these his mother and sister, as the above Jewish commentator observes, because the might lie in their bosom; by all this Job would represent how familiar death and the grave were to him, and how little he dreaded them; yea, how desirable they were to him, since he should be at home, and among his relations and friends.

{c} txvl "foveam," Pagninus, Montanus, Tigurine version, Drusius, &c. {d} ytarq "vocavi," Montanus; "clamavi," Mercerus.

Verse 15. And where [is] now my hope?.... Not the grace of hope, which was in his heart; and though it might sometimes be low in exercise, it could not be lost; it is an anchor, sure and steadfast, and is one of the graces that always abides, and never disappoints and makes ashamed; nor the object of hope, eternal glory and happiness in another world, that is laid up in heaven, and for which he was looking and waiting by faith; but his hope of outward happiness, and of being restored to his former state of prosperity, or a better, which his friends encouraged him to; this had no place in him, nor did he see any reason to cherish it; all ground and foundation of it was removed, as he apprehended; there was nothing on which he could build such an hope as that, see Job 6:11;

as for my hope, who shall see it? that is, which his friends would have him hope for, a line house, a large estate, a numerous family, honour and respect among men, long life, and an abundance of outward peace and happiness; this he was firmly persuaded he should never see, being just going into the grave, nor his friends that suggested these things to him, nor anybody else; though indeed what he himself truly hoped for might be rightly thus described, being things not seen by the eye of the body, nor by carnal sense and reason, but are the invisible glories and realities of another world, for "hope that is seen is not hope," &c. Romans 8:24; but Job does not design these, but the former.

Verse 16. They shall go down to the bars of the pit,.... He himself, and his friends, and the hopes they would have him entertain; these should all go down together to the grave, and there lie barred and locked up; these hopes, so as never to rise anymore, and the bodies of himself, and his friends, till loosed by him who has the keys of hell and death: or "the bars shall go down to the grave"; the members of his body, as Jarchi, which are the bars of it, as some in Bar Tzemach; the strength and support of it, as particularly the bones, these shall go down to the grave, and there turn to rottenness and dust; and therefore, as if he should say, as he elsewhere does, "what is my strength, that I should hope?" Job 6:11;

when [our] rest together [is] in the dust; which is man's original, and to which he returns, and in which the dead lie and sleep until the resurrection; and where they are at rest from all adversity and affliction of body, mind, and estate; from all the troubles and vexations occasioned by wicked men, and from all disputes, wranglings, contentions, and animosities among friends, which would be the case of Job, and his friends, when their heads were laid in the dust, and which he supposed would quickly be; and therefore it was in vain for them to feed him with hopes of outward happiness, and for him to entertain them; it best came them both to think of death and the grave as near at hand, where their controversies would be buried, and they would be good friends, and lie quietly together, and take their rest until they should awake and rise to everlasting life.

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