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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Job 4

 

 

Verses 1-21

Job 4:1-21

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said.

The first colloquy

At this point we pass into the poem proper. It opens with three colloquies between Job and his friends. In form these colloquies closely resemble each other. But while similar in form, in spirit they differ widely. At the outset the friends are content to hint their doubts of Job, their suspicion that he has fallen into some secret and heinous sin, in general and ambiguous terms; but, as the argument rolls on, they are irritated by the boldness with which he rebuts their charges and asserts his integrity, and grow ever more candid and harsh and angry in the denunciation of his guilt. With fine truth to nature, the poet depicts Job as passing through an entirely opposite process. At first, while they content themselves with hints and “ambiguous givings-out,” with insinuating in general terms that he must have sinned, and set themselves to win him to confession and repentance, he is exasperated beyond all endurance, and challenges the justice both of man and God; for it is these general charges, these covert and undefined insinuations of some “occulted guilt,” which, because it is impossible to meet them, most of all vex and disturb the soul. But as, in their rising anger, they exchange ambiguous hints for open, definite charges, by a fine natural revulsion, Job grows even more calm and reasonable; for definite charges can be definitely met; why then should he any longer vex and distress his spirit? More and more he turns away from the loud, foolish outcries of his friends, and addresses himself to God, even when he seems to speak to them. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)

The message of the three friends

When Job opened his mouth and spoke, their sympathy was dashed with pious horror. They had never in all their lives heard such words. He seemed to prove himself far worse than they could have imagined. He ought to have been meek and submissive. Some flaw there must have been: what was it? He should have confessed his sin, instead of cursing life, and reflecting upon God. Their own silent suspicion, indeed, is the chief cause of his despair; but this they do not understand. Amazed, they hear him; outraged, they take up the challenge he offers. One after another the three men reason with Job, from almost the same point of view, suggesting first, and then insisting that he should acknowledge fault, and humble himself under the hand of a just and holy God. Now, here is the motive of the long controversy which is the main subject of the poem. And, in tracing it, we are to see Job, although racked by pain and distraught by grief--sadly at disadvantage, because he seems to be a living example of the truth of their ideas--rousing himself to the defence of his integrity and contending for that as the only grip he has of God. Advance after advance is made by the three, who gradually become more dogmatic as the controversy proceeds. Defence after defence is made by Job, who is driven to think himself challenged not only by his friends, but sometimes also by God Himself through them. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar agree in the opinion that Job has done evil and is suffering for it. The language they use, and the arguments they bring forward are much alike. Yet a difference will be found in their way of speaking, and a vaguely suggested difference of character. Eliphaz gives us an impression of age and authority. When Job has ended his complaint, Eliphaz regards him with a disturbed and offended look. “How pitiful!” he seems to say but also, “How dreadful, how unaccountable!” He desires to win Job to a right view of things by kindly counsel; but he talks pompously, and preaches too much from the high moral bench. Bildad, again, is a dry and composed person. He is less the man of experience than of tradition. He does not speak of discoveries made in the course of his own observation; but he has stored the sayings of the wise and reflected upon them. When a thing is cleverly said he is satisfied, and he cannot understand why his impressive statements should fail to convince and convert. He is a gentleman like Eliphaz, and uses courtesy. At first he refrains from wounding Job’s feelings. Yet behind his politeness is the sense of superior wisdom--and wisdom of ages and his own. He is certainly a harder man than Eliphaz. Lastly, Zophar is a blunt man with a decidedly rough, dictatorial style. He is impatient of the waste of words on a matter so plain, and prides himself on coming to the point. It is he who ventures to say definitely, “Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth,”--a cruel speech from any point of view. He is not so eloquent as Eliphaz, he has no air of a prophet. Compared with Bildad, he is less argumentative. With all his sympathy--and he too is a friend--he shows an exasperation which he justifies by his zeal for the honour of God. The differences are delicate, but real, and evident even to our late criticism. In the author’s day the characters would probably seem more distinctly contrasted than they appear to us. Still, it must be owned, each holds virtually the same position. One prevailing school of thought is represented, and in each figure attacked. It is not difficult to imagine three speakers differing far more from each other. One hears the breathings of the same dogmatism in the three voices. The dramatising is vague, not at all of our sharp, modern kind, like that of Ibsen, throwing each figure into vivid contrast with every other. (Robert A. Watson, D. D.)

Eliphaz as a natural religionist

See such an one estimating man’s character.

I. He regarded the fact that a man suffered as proof of his wickedness. It is true that the principle of retribution is at work amongst men in this world. It is also true that this principle is manifest in most signal judgments. But retribution here, though often manifest, is not invariable and adequate; the wicked are not always made wretched, nor are the good always made happy in this life. To judge a man’s character by his external circumstances is a most flagrant mistake.

1. Suffering is not necessarily connected (directly) with sin.

2. Suffering seems almost necessary to the human creature in this world.

3. Suffering, as a fact, has a sanitary influence upon the character of the good.

II. He regarded the murmuring of a man under suffering as a proof of his wickedness. Job had uttered terrible complaints. Eliphaz was right here: a murmuring spirit is essentially an evil. In this complaining spirit Eliphaz discovers two things. Hypocrisy. Ignorance of God. He then unfolds a vision he had, which suggests three things.

1. That man has a capacity to hold intercourse with a spirit world.

2. That man’s character places him in a humiliating position in the spirit world.

3. That man’s earthly state is only a temporary separation from a conscious existence in the spirit world. (Homilist.)

The error of Eliphaz

Let us avoid the error of Eliphaz, the Temanite, who, in reproving Job, maintained that the statute of requital is enforced in all cases, rigorously and exactly--that the world is governed on the principle of minute recompense--that sin is always followed by its equivalent of suffering in this present life. This is not so. To the rule of recompense we must allow for a vast number of exceptions. The penalty does not always follow directly on the heels of sin. It is oftentimes delayed, may be postponed for years, may possibly never be inflicted in this world at all And meantime the wicked flourish. They sit in places of honour and authority. As it is said, “The tabernacles of robbers do prosper, and they that provoke God are secure. They are not in trouble as other men. They increase in riches, and their eyes stand out with fatness. Yea, I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.” “Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?”

1. It is not because God is unobservant. Ah, no. “The iniquities of the wicked are not hid from Mine eyes,” saith the Lord. He seeth our ways, pondereth our goings, hath set a print upon the very heels of our feet.

2. Nor is it because of any indifference on the part of God. Seeing our sin, He abhors it; otherwise He would not be God.

3. Nor is it for want of power. The tide marks of the deluge, remaining plain upon the rocks even unto this day, attest what an angry God can do. Why then is the sinner spared? And why is the just penalty of his guilt not laid upon us here and now? Because the Lord is merciful. Sweep the whole heavens of philosophy for a reason and you shall find none but this, the Lord is merciful. “As I live,” saith the Lord, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

A few practical inferences--

1. The fact that a sinner is afflicted here will not exempt him hereafter from the just penalty of his ill-doing. We say of a man sometimes when the darkest waves of life are rolling over him, “He is having his retribution now.” But that cannot be.

2. The fact that a sinner does not suffer here is no evidence that he will always go scot-free. If the sentence be suspended for a timer it is only for a time--and for a definite end. The Roman emblem of Justice was an old man, with a two-edged sword, limping slowly but surely to his work.

3. The fact that the wicked are sometimes left unpunished here, is proof conclusive of a final day of reckoning. For the requital is imperfect. Alas, for justice, if its administration is to be regarded as completed on earth!

4. The fact that compensation is often delayed so long, in order that the sinner may have abundant room for repentance, is a complete vindication of God’s mercy though the fire burn forever.

5. The fact that all sin must be and is in every case, sooner or later, followed by suffering, proves the absolute necessity of the vicarious pain of Jesus. God sent forth His only-begotten and well-beloved Son to bear in His own body on the tree the retribution that should have been laid upon us. So He redeemed the lost, yet did no violence to justice. And thus it comes about that God can be just and yet the justifier of the ungodly. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)


Verses 1-21

Job 4:1-21

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said.

The first colloquy

At this point we pass into the poem proper. It opens with three colloquies between Job and his friends. In form these colloquies closely resemble each other. But while similar in form, in spirit they differ widely. At the outset the friends are content to hint their doubts of Job, their suspicion that he has fallen into some secret and heinous sin, in general and ambiguous terms; but, as the argument rolls on, they are irritated by the boldness with which he rebuts their charges and asserts his integrity, and grow ever more candid and harsh and angry in the denunciation of his guilt. With fine truth to nature, the poet depicts Job as passing through an entirely opposite process. At first, while they content themselves with hints and “ambiguous givings-out,” with insinuating in general terms that he must have sinned, and set themselves to win him to confession and repentance, he is exasperated beyond all endurance, and challenges the justice both of man and God; for it is these general charges, these covert and undefined insinuations of some “occulted guilt,” which, because it is impossible to meet them, most of all vex and disturb the soul. But as, in their rising anger, they exchange ambiguous hints for open, definite charges, by a fine natural revulsion, Job grows even more calm and reasonable; for definite charges can be definitely met; why then should he any longer vex and distress his spirit? More and more he turns away from the loud, foolish outcries of his friends, and addresses himself to God, even when he seems to speak to them. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)

The message of the three friends

When Job opened his mouth and spoke, their sympathy was dashed with pious horror. They had never in all their lives heard such words. He seemed to prove himself far worse than they could have imagined. He ought to have been meek and submissive. Some flaw there must have been: what was it? He should have confessed his sin, instead of cursing life, and reflecting upon God. Their own silent suspicion, indeed, is the chief cause of his despair; but this they do not understand. Amazed, they hear him; outraged, they take up the challenge he offers. One after another the three men reason with Job, from almost the same point of view, suggesting first, and then insisting that he should acknowledge fault, and humble himself under the hand of a just and holy God. Now, here is the motive of the long controversy which is the main subject of the poem. And, in tracing it, we are to see Job, although racked by pain and distraught by grief--sadly at disadvantage, because he seems to be a living example of the truth of their ideas--rousing himself to the defence of his integrity and contending for that as the only grip he has of God. Advance after advance is made by the three, who gradually become more dogmatic as the controversy proceeds. Defence after defence is made by Job, who is driven to think himself challenged not only by his friends, but sometimes also by God Himself through them. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar agree in the opinion that Job has done evil and is suffering for it. The language they use, and the arguments they bring forward are much alike. Yet a difference will be found in their way of speaking, and a vaguely suggested difference of character. Eliphaz gives us an impression of age and authority. When Job has ended his complaint, Eliphaz regards him with a disturbed and offended look. “How pitiful!” he seems to say but also, “How dreadful, how unaccountable!” He desires to win Job to a right view of things by kindly counsel; but he talks pompously, and preaches too much from the high moral bench. Bildad, again, is a dry and composed person. He is less the man of experience than of tradition. He does not speak of discoveries made in the course of his own observation; but he has stored the sayings of the wise and reflected upon them. When a thing is cleverly said he is satisfied, and he cannot understand why his impressive statements should fail to convince and convert. He is a gentleman like Eliphaz, and uses courtesy. At first he refrains from wounding Job’s feelings. Yet behind his politeness is the sense of superior wisdom--and wisdom of ages and his own. He is certainly a harder man than Eliphaz. Lastly, Zophar is a blunt man with a decidedly rough, dictatorial style. He is impatient of the waste of words on a matter so plain, and prides himself on coming to the point. It is he who ventures to say definitely, “Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth,”--a cruel speech from any point of view. He is not so eloquent as Eliphaz, he has no air of a prophet. Compared with Bildad, he is less argumentative. With all his sympathy--and he too is a friend--he shows an exasperation which he justifies by his zeal for the honour of God. The differences are delicate, but real, and evident even to our late criticism. In the author’s day the characters would probably seem more distinctly contrasted than they appear to us. Still, it must be owned, each holds virtually the same position. One prevailing school of thought is represented, and in each figure attacked. It is not difficult to imagine three speakers differing far more from each other. One hears the breathings of the same dogmatism in the three voices. The dramatising is vague, not at all of our sharp, modern kind, like that of Ibsen, throwing each figure into vivid contrast with every other. (Robert A. Watson, D. D.)

Eliphaz as a natural religionist

See such an one estimating man’s character.

I. He regarded the fact that a man suffered as proof of his wickedness. It is true that the principle of retribution is at work amongst men in this world. It is also true that this principle is manifest in most signal judgments. But retribution here, though often manifest, is not invariable and adequate; the wicked are not always made wretched, nor are the good always made happy in this life. To judge a man’s character by his external circumstances is a most flagrant mistake.

1. Suffering is not necessarily connected (directly) with sin.

2. Suffering seems almost necessary to the human creature in this world.

3. Suffering, as a fact, has a sanitary influence upon the character of the good.

II. He regarded the murmuring of a man under suffering as a proof of his wickedness. Job had uttered terrible complaints. Eliphaz was right here: a murmuring spirit is essentially an evil. In this complaining spirit Eliphaz discovers two things. Hypocrisy. Ignorance of God. He then unfolds a vision he had, which suggests three things.

1. That man has a capacity to hold intercourse with a spirit world.

2. That man’s character places him in a humiliating position in the spirit world.

3. That man’s earthly state is only a temporary separation from a conscious existence in the spirit world. (Homilist.)

The error of Eliphaz

Let us avoid the error of Eliphaz, the Temanite, who, in reproving Job, maintained that the statute of requital is enforced in all cases, rigorously and exactly--that the world is governed on the principle of minute recompense--that sin is always followed by its equivalent of suffering in this present life. This is not so. To the rule of recompense we must allow for a vast number of exceptions. The penalty does not always follow directly on the heels of sin. It is oftentimes delayed, may be postponed for years, may possibly never be inflicted in this world at all And meantime the wicked flourish. They sit in places of honour and authority. As it is said, “The tabernacles of robbers do prosper, and they that provoke God are secure. They are not in trouble as other men. They increase in riches, and their eyes stand out with fatness. Yea, I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.” “Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?”

1. It is not because God is unobservant. Ah, no. “The iniquities of the wicked are not hid from Mine eyes,” saith the Lord. He seeth our ways, pondereth our goings, hath set a print upon the very heels of our feet.

2. Nor is it because of any indifference on the part of God. Seeing our sin, He abhors it; otherwise He would not be God.

3. Nor is it for want of power. The tide marks of the deluge, remaining plain upon the rocks even unto this day, attest what an angry God can do. Why then is the sinner spared? And why is the just penalty of his guilt not laid upon us here and now? Because the Lord is merciful. Sweep the whole heavens of philosophy for a reason and you shall find none but this, the Lord is merciful. “As I live,” saith the Lord, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

A few practical inferences--

1. The fact that a sinner is afflicted here will not exempt him hereafter from the just penalty of his ill-doing. We say of a man sometimes when the darkest waves of life are rolling over him, “He is having his retribution now.” But that cannot be.

2. The fact that a sinner does not suffer here is no evidence that he will always go scot-free. If the sentence be suspended for a timer it is only for a time--and for a definite end. The Roman emblem of Justice was an old man, with a two-edged sword, limping slowly but surely to his work.

3. The fact that the wicked are sometimes left unpunished here, is proof conclusive of a final day of reckoning. For the requital is imperfect. Alas, for justice, if its administration is to be regarded as completed on earth!

4. The fact that compensation is often delayed so long, in order that the sinner may have abundant room for repentance, is a complete vindication of God’s mercy though the fire burn forever.

5. The fact that all sin must be and is in every case, sooner or later, followed by suffering, proves the absolute necessity of the vicarious pain of Jesus. God sent forth His only-begotten and well-beloved Son to bear in His own body on the tree the retribution that should have been laid upon us. So He redeemed the lost, yet did no violence to justice. And thus it comes about that God can be just and yet the justifier of the ungodly. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)


Verses 3-5

Job 4:3-5

Thou hast strengthened the weak hands.

Preaching easier than practising

Behold, thou hast instructed many, etc. To do each day’s duty with Christian diligence, and to bear each day’s crosses with Christian patience; thou hast done it well. But how comes it now to pass that thy present doings shame thy former sayings? and that, as it was noted of Demosthenes the orator, thou art better at praising of virtue than at practising of it? What a shame was it that Hilary should complain that the people’s ears were holier than the preachers’ hearts, and that Erasmus, by a true lest, should be told that there was more goodness in his book of the Christian soldier than in his bosom! Eliphaz from this ground would here argue that Job was little better than a hypocrite; a censure over-rigid, it being the easiest thing in the world, as a philosopher observed, to give good counsel, and the hardest thing to take it. Dr. Preston, upon his death bed, confessed, that now it came to his own turn, he found it somewhat to do to practise that which he had oft pressed upon others. (J. Trapp.)

Job’s usefulness in the past

1. That to teach, instruct, and comfort others, is not only a man’s duty, but his praise. For here Eliphaz speaks it in a way of commendation, though with an intent to ground a reproof upon it.

2. That such as know God in truth and holiness, are very ready to communicate the knowledge of God unto others.

3. That honourable and great men lose nothing of their honour and greatness by descending to the instruction of others, though their inferiors.

4. That charity, especially spiritual charity, very liberal and open-hearted. Job instructed not only his own, but he instructed others, he instructed many; he did not confine his doctrine and his advice to his own walls, but the sound thereof went wheresoever he went: he instructed many.

5. That the words of the wise have a mighty power, strength, and prevalency in them. You see how efficacious the words of Job were. Job’s instructions were strengthenings: thou hast strengthened the weak hands and feeble knees; his words were as stays to hold them up that were ready to fall. When a word goes forth clothed with the authority and power of God, it works wonders. (J. Caryl.)

But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest.--Thou hast instructed many, thou hast strengthened the weak hands, etc. But now it is come upon thee, etc. That is, trouble and affliction are come upon thee. And thou faintest. The word signifies an extraordinary fainting; when a man is so wearied and spent, that he knows not what he doth, when his reason seems tired, as much as his strength. So that the words, Now it is come upon thee, thou faintest, may import thus much; thou art in such a case, that thou seemest to be beside thyself, thou knowest not what thou dost, thou speakest thou knowest not what. The word is translated in the first verse, by grieved; in other Scriptures, by mad and furious (Proverbs 26:18). As a mad man who casteth firebrands, etc. And whereas we say (Genesis 47:13), The land of Egypt fainted by reason of the famine, many render it, The land of Egypt was enraged or mad, because of the famine. Want of bread turns to want of reason; famine distracts. The Egyptians were so extremely pinched with hunger, that it did even take away their wits from them; and scarcity of food for their bodies, made a dearth in their understandings. So there is this force in the word: Thou who hast given such grave and wise instruction unto others, from those higher principles of grace, now it is come upon thee, thou art even as a mad man, as a man distracted, not able to act by the common principles of reason. It toucheth thee. It is the same word which we opened before; the devil desired that he might but touch Job; now his friend telleth him he is touched. And thou art troubled. That word also hath a great emphasis in it. It signifies a vehement, amazed trouble; as in that place (1 Samuel 28:21), where, when the woman, the witch of Endor, had raised up Samuel (in appearance) as Saul desired, the text saith, that when all was ended, she came unto Saul, and she saw he was sore troubled: think what trouble might fall upon a man in such a condition as Saul was in, after this acquaintance with the visions of hell; think what a deep astonishment of spirit seized upon him, such disorder of mind this word lays upon Job. Now it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled. Hence observe--

1. To commend a man with a “but,” is a wound instead of a commendation. Thou hast instructed many, “But,” etc. How many are there who salute their friends very fair to their faces, or speak them very fair behind their backs, yet suddenly (as Joab to Amasa) draw out this secret dagger, and stab their honour and honesty to the heart!

2. Observe, great afflictions may disturb the very seat of reason, and leave a saint, in some acts, below a man.

3. That when we see any doing ill, it is good to mind him of the good which he hath done.

4. That the good we have done, is a kind of reproach to us, when we do the contrary evil.

5. It is an easier matter to instruct others in trouble, than to be instructed, or take instruction ourselves in our own troubles.

6. It is a shame for us to teach others the right way, and to go in the wrong ourselves. (J. Caryl.)


Verse 6

Job 4:6

Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope?

The confidence of a godly fear

These words are understood by divers of the Hebrew writers for a direct and simple assertion, and they give it thus, “Will not, or would not thy fear be thy confidence, and the uprightness of thy ways thy hope?” As if Eliphaz had thus said unto him, Job, thou hast pretended much holiness and religion, fear and uprightness; why art thou so disquieted now that the hand of God is upon thee? Why art thou so amazed under these sufferings Would not that fear be thy confidence? And would not that uprightness of thy ways be thy hope? Surely it would, if thou hadst any such fear as thou pretendest; this fear would be thy confidence, and this uprightness thy hope; thou wouldst be very bold, and by hope cast anchor upon the goodness and faithfulness of God in the midst of all this storm: thy heart would be poised, settled, and established, notwithstanding all these shakings. Would not thy fear be thy confidence?

1. They who fear most in times of peace, have most reason to be confident in times of trouble.

2. The uprightness of a man’s ways in good times, doth mightily strengthen his hope in evil times. (Joseph Caryl.)

Times of trouble are special times for the use of our graces

It is as if Eliphaz had said, Thou thyself, and all that knew thee, have spoken much of thy grace, but now is the time to use it; where is it? Show it me now. Where is thy fear and thy confidence? If a man have been reported very skilful at his weapon, when he comes into danger, then is the time to show his skill: and we may say to him, Where is thy skill now? Where is thy art now? So here. Now that thou hast most need of thy graces, where are they? Bring them forth. Are they to seek now? Is thy righteousness as the morning dew, and as a cloud vanished away? (Joseph Caryl.)


Verse 7

Job 4:7

Who ever perished, being innocent?

Divine retributions

This grand maxim, of a just and sure retribution at the hand of God, must be admitted to be sound and true. His blessing is over the righteous, and His face “against them that do evil.” Job takes exception to this as a rule of God’s providential dealings with mankind, and rejects the inference that, because he is now overwhelmed in trouble, he has been a transgressor. As to the extent of his friend’s suspicions, he was right. But still, the rule laid down by Eliphaz must be considered as holding universally. But the reasons of the present proceedings of God are not always within the ken of human observation; the short prosperity of the wicked may be both for a judgment to others and for their own manifestation and increased punishment. Under the execution of the holy discipline, it is not for innocency and righteousness that the children of God suffer; but most commonly for sin--sin unacknowledged and unconfessed; or with some view to their correction and advancement in holiness, where they were too remiss in perfecting it in the fear of God. Eliphaz’s maxim was not altogether wrong, even as applied to Job. But his inference of secret hypocrisy, or of some outward notorious transgression, from the judgment that had overwhelmed him, was altogether unwarranted. He is mistaken, too, as well as the poor sufferer himself, if he concluded that this affliction was remediless, and sent for his utter destruction. How different was the aspect of his calamity when the end of the Lord was seen! (John Fry, B. A.)


Verse 8-9

Job 4:8-9

Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.

Sowing and reaping

Eliphaz speaks of himself here as an observer of God’s providence; and the result of his observations is, the discernment of the law, that “they who plow iniquity and sow wickedness, reap the same.” Was Eliphas wrong in this? No. He perceived a very great and important law of the kingdom. Where, then, was he wrong? It was in applying this to Job, and in so easily concluding that his severe sufferings were the consequence of his own individual sins. The friends often expressed most beautiful and important truths, and only failed because they misapplied them. For this law, compare Hosea 8:7; Hosea 10:12-13; Galatians 6:7-8. We see the operation of this law in the natural world. There, in that world, as people sow, so they reap; nor do they ever expect it to be otherwise. But in the moral and spiritual world, nothing is more common than to meet with those who sow iniquity, and yet do not expect to reap of the same, either in this world or in the world to come. Men do not expect any consequences to follow a life of carelessness and impenitence. It may be that you have seen solemn and affecting instances of the operation of this law; if not, ministers of Christ will tell you that they have seen them only too often. They have seen those who have lived careless and self-indulgent lives struggle at last in vain. The hardened heart was but the fulfilment of the solemn law of God’s kingdom. Amongst the many ways of sowing to the flesh, there is one which we cannot omit. It is the indulgence of pride and self-confident feelings. St. Paul speaks of sowing to the Spirit. In which way have you been sowing? Do you wish to escape the consequences--the harvest of misery--which, in the very nature of things, will follow your sowing to the flesh? Through grace you may do it. (George Wagner.)

An old axiom

There was truth underlying the proposition set forth by Eliphaz, applicable to all ages and states of the world. The axiom is a very old one as propounded by Job’s expostulator; it may have been older than he; but it is not so old now as to have become obsolete; nor will it ever become so while the world is the same world, and its Governor is the same God. As St. Paul reproduced it in his day, so may we in ours. Its principle is incorporated with this dispensation as much as with the last. It is its application that is modified under the Gospel; the principle is just the same. It is as true now as it was of old time, that men reap as they sow; that the harvest of their recompense is according to the agriculture of their actions. The difference in the truth, as propounded during the age of Moses, and as recognised in “the days of the Son of Man,” is, that during the latter, its confirmation and realisation are thrown further forward. The distinction is indicated by the respective forms into which the axiom is cast by Eliphaz and St. Paul. The one saith, “They that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.” The other, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Eliphaz makes both portions of this moral process, present, palpable, perspicuous. The apostle severs the two; projecting the latter portion into the future. With the Jew, this truth was a fact of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. With us, it is rather a matter of faith for the future, the far off, the eternal. Eliphaz states the subject in accordance with the order of the past dispensation; as doth St. Paul with the genius of this. In the eyes of the ancient Israelite, the doctrine of Divine retribution was like some mountain of his native country, which upreared its brow close over against him, overshadowing him whithersoever he went; its rugged aspect being all the more sharply defined through the sunshine of temporal prosperity in which his nation reposed, so long as the people were “obedient unto the voice of the Lord their God.” As to us, the mountain is in the distance; far away, as Sinai itself is, from many a shore on which the standard of the Redeemer’s Cross hath been planted; but visible in the distance still, though its outline be rendered indistinct in the twilight of that mystery which now encompasseth God’s government of our world. At the period when Eliphaz reasoned, a state of things had just been inaugurated, under which, as a rule, retribution of a temporal kind was to follow “every transgression and disobedience”; when punishment was to be contemporaneous with the commission of crime; and when a man would begin to reap the fruit of his deeds shortly after his sowing. And the reasoner could not understand how the patriarch, or anyone else, could be an exception to the rule; still less, that a state of things inaugurated by both the teaching and the history of Jesus Christ, under which the rule itself would become the exception, was to succeed. That was a state under which God judged men for their sins continually and instantaneously; this a state under which God is not judging them; seeing “He hath appointed a day in which He will judge them by that Man whom He hath ordained”; through whose intercession at the right hand of the Father, judgment is at present suspended. Now it is our consolation to know that whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth; then the man whom the Lord chastened, He might have had a controversy with, and was visiting for his misdeeds. (Alfred Bowen Evans.)

Is the old axiom true still

1. It is so far true as to assure us that there is a righteous Governor and a just Judge of the world. We cannot apply the rule laid down by Eliphaz. It is a rule to us no longer. We have no right to fix upon any individual or nation upon earth, and to affirm that Almighty God is dealing with the one or the other in a way of retribution, because they may be suffering such and such things. But, notwithstanding this, there is a principle at work in the affairs of men, so far manifest as to show that the world is not left to take its chance, and that the children of men cannot do as they please.

2. It is so far true as it hath respect to the natural constitutions of men. Men cannot transgress the principles of their nature with impunity, nor run counter to the rules of their constitution unharmed. Nature is not to be trifled with. And the retribution that followeth the violation of physical laws is a sure pledge of a retribution that will follow the infringement of moral.

3. It is true so far as to obviate the necessity of our ever taking vengeance into our own hands. God repayeth that we need not. Vengeance is His, that it may not be ours. It has been said, “God avengeth those that do not avenge themselves.”

4. It is true so far as to inspire us with a salutary fear for ourselves. There is to be a resurrection of action as well as of agents; of deeds as well as of doers; of works as well as of men. And we know not how soon, as to some of its details, this resurrection may take place. The transgressor is never safe. Whatsoever wrong any man hath done may be required of him at any time. (Alfred Bowen Evans.)

The life of the sinner a foolish agriculture

I. Human life is a sowing and a reaping. All the actions of a man’s life are inseparable, united by the law of causation. One grows out of another as plants out of seed. The sowing and the reaping, strange to say, go on at the same time. In reaping what we sowed yesterday, we sow what we shall have to reap tomorrow.

II. Life’s reaping is determined by its sowing. “I have seen, they that plow iniquity,” etc. Like begets like everywhere, the same species of seed sown will be reaped in fruit. He that soweth hemlock will not reap wheat, but crops of hemlock. All moral actions are moral seeds deposited in the soul.

III. The reaping of the sinner is a terrible destiny. What a destiny this: to be reaping wickedness, to be reaping whirlwinds of agony. From this subject learn--

1. The great solemnity of life. There is nothing trifling. The most volatile sin is a seed that must grow, and must be reaped. Take care!

2. The conscious rectitude of the sinner’s doom. What is hell? Reaping the fruit of sinful conduct. The sinner feels this, and his conscience will not allow him to complain of his fate.

3. The necessity for a godly heart. All actions and words proceed from the heart: out of it are the issues of life. Hence the necessity of regeneration. (Homilist.)

Sinful sowing and penal reaping

1. That to be a wicked man is no easy task; he must go to plough for it. It is ploughing, and you know ploughing is laborious, yea, it is hard labour.

2. That there is an art in wickedness. It is ploughing, or, as the word imports, an artificial working. Some are curious and exact in shaping, polishing, and setting off their sin. So to say such a man is an abomination worker, or a lie maker, notes him not only industrious, but crafty, or (as the prophet speaks) “wise to do evil.”

3. That wicked men expect benefit in ways of sin, and look to be gainers by being evil-doers. They make iniquity their plough; and a man’s plough is so much his profit, that it is grown into a proverb, to call that (whatsoever it is) by which a man makes his living or his profit, his plough. Every man tills in expectation of a crop; who would put his plough into the ground to receive nothing? It is even so with wicked men, when they are stoning, they think themselves thriving, or laying up that in the earth a while, which will grow and increase to a plentiful harvest. What strange fancies have many to be rich, to be great, by ways of wickedness! Thus they plough in hope, but they shall never be partakers of their hope.

4. That every sinful act persisted in shall have a certain sorrowful reward.

5. That the punishment of sin may come long after the committing of sin. The one is the seedtime, and the other a reaping time; there is a great distance of time between sowing and reaping. The seeds of sin may lie many years under the furrows.

6. That the punishment of sin shall be proportionable to the degrees of sin. He shall reap the same, saith the text, the same in degree. If ye sow sparingly, ye shall reap sparingly; on the other side, if ye sow plentifully, ye shall reap plentifully.

7. Punishment shall not exceed the desert of sin.

8. That the punishment of sin shall be like the sin in kind. It shall be the same, not only in degree, but also in likeness. Punishment often bears the image and superscription of sin upon it. You may see the father’s face and feature in the child. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7). (J. Caryl.)


Verses 13-17

Job 4:13-17

In thoughts from the visions of the night.

The spectre’s question

Disguise it how we may, this is a ghost story.

I. Attempt to realise the spectre. Recollect that for every one of us spirit has clothed itself with shape and vesture, and that the basis of the whole world in which we live is spiritual. Look at some of the circumstances favourable to such a spectre.

1. It was produced by a likeness of moral state. It was a time of thought. The mind was wandering amazed, the labyrinthine way stretched out on every hand, the mind trod the dark pathways, I do not see that we are under any necessity to suppose a ghost, in the real, spectral, objective sense of that word. The thought of Eliphaz is of God. It was God who was “a trouble to him.” And shapeless terror, while it was a Very objective reality to him, need not be regarded as such by us. It was the answer to the voice of conscience within.

2. The fear anticipated the vision. Where man does not feel he wilt not fear; where he does not tear the spectre, he will usually see none, feel none, know none. But man, every man, is accessible to fear. We do not dwell so near to terror as our fathers. Yet what a riddle there is in fear! Until Adam fell, Adam had no conscience, because he was one, his whole nature was a religious sensation. It is different now. The conscience is not free, it would be free, but it is nailed. Conscience is moral fear--conscience is the surgery of the soul. Possibly, all men have not fears. How comes it that man knows what moral fear is? It comes from the forbidden. Our world is a house full of fears, because the fall has removed us into the night, away from God. This is the natural history of fear--of moral fear. What is this natural capacity of fear in me? Nervousness, you say! Nervousness, what is that? It is a term used to describe the fine sheathing of the soul; it is man’s capacity for mental and moral suffering.

II. From the spectre to the question. The ghost’s question touches very appropriately and comprehensively the whole topic also of the Book of Job. It is a message from the dead, or rather, a message from the solemn kingdom of spirits.

1. How large is the field of thought the message covers. It is the assertion of the purity and universality of Divine providence. It is a glance at the alleged injustice of God. Man stands whence he thinks he can behold flaws in the Divine government. Job and his friend had met together in the valley of contemplation in the kingdom of night; in Job it was an experience, in Eliphaz a mournful contemplation. The spectre’s question then was a reality. In the vision of the night the soul was shaken with the terror, and it is the overwhelming thought--God. God was only known as terror. What must the appearance of God be, if an apparition can startle so terribly? The spectator was crushed by the spectre, and by the question of the spectre. If thy thoughts transcend nature, not less assuredly does thy Maker transcend thee.

2. The question was directed to the delectability of man. Consider thyself, thy littleness, thy narrowness, the limited sphere of thy vision. And thou art presuming to find a flaw in the Divine purposes and arrangements.

3. Hitherto, the ghost only crushes; it was not the purpose of the spectre to do more. It asked of man the question which had its root only in the eternal and illimitable will. It referred all to God. But the message probably included the following chapter.

III. The ghost is asking his question still. “Shall mortal man be just with God?” The moral fear of man, his conscience, is his best assurance of God. Man’s ideas are the best proof that there is a God over him, higher than he is, infinite in goodness and wisdom. It is from God Himself man derives the terrors that scare him. God Himself has reflected His own being in the conscience within the soul. But then it is a wounded conscience, and needs healing. (E. Paxton Hood.)

The discourse of the apparition

The text was uttered by an individual for whom we cannot perhaps claim that he Spake by the Spirit of God. Eliphaz recounts a vision; he records words which were mysteriously brought to him amid the deep silence of the night. We use the wild and awful circumstances of this vision to give solemnity to the truth which is brought to our notice. “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?” We have the account of an apparition. A purely spiritual being, such as an angel, assumed a visible though indescribable form, and stood before Eliphaz in the stillness of the night. We see nothing in the statements of Scripture or the deductions of reason, from which to decide that there cannot be apparitions; that the invisible state may never communicate with the visible through the instrumentality of phantoms, strange and boding forms that are manifestly not of this earth. There may easily be a weak and fond credulity in regard of ghosts and apparitions; but there may be also a cold and hard scepticism. The Bible, so far from discountenancing the notion of apparitions, may be said to give it the weight of its testimony, and that too, in more than one instance. Of this one thing may we be fully persuaded, that it would not be on any trivial or ordinary occasion that God drew aside the veil, and commissioned spiritual beings to appear upon earth. So terrible is the apparition in the text, that we naturally prepare ourselves for some very momentous communication. But the expectation does not appear to be answered. If there is an elementary truth, it surely is that man cannot be more just than God, nor more pure than his Maker. There is no debate that a pure theism was the creed of Job and his friends. What, then, are we to gather from the visit of the spectre? We wish you to contrast the solemnity and awfulness of the agency employed with the simplicity and commonness of the message delivered. But is there not often needed some such instrumentality as that of the spectre to persuade even ourselves that mortal man is neither more just nor more pure than his Maker? The vision was probably granted, and certainly used to oppose an infidelity more or less secret,--an infidelity which, fostered by the troubles and discrepancies of human estate, took the Divine attributes as its subject, and either limited or denied them altogether. Is there no such infidelity among ourselves? We are persuaded that, if you will search your own hearts, you will find that you often give it some measure of entertainment. We are persuaded of this in regard both of God’s general dealings and of His individual or personal. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)

The spectre

It was midnight. All without was hushed and still. No breeze stirred the foliage of the trees. No bird broke the silence with its song. Deep sleep had fallen on man. Eliphaz, the friend of Job, was musing in solitude, either about former visions that he had received, or about some of those grave questions which have in all ages perplexed the minds of thoughtful men. He had evidently had glimpses of the unseen--strange hints and whispers, the full meaning of which he could not grasp. And these had been followed by disturbed and anxious thoughts. His whole frame was trembling and agitated. His spirit was possessed with that vague premonitory awe which precedes the approach of something unusual and unknown. And Eliphaz was not anticipating such communications. But he was alone; and his mind was evidently in a state of bewilderment, groping its way to find a light. He was in a fit condition to receive ghostly impressions timorous, restless, anxious, shivering, brooding over mysteries--a condition favourable to the creation of weird shapes and forms. At this solemn hour, whilst thus musing, lo! a spirit passed before him, and then stood still. He could not discern its form clearly. Either he was too frightened to observe it closely, or the darkness was too dense, or the shape of the spirit was not sharply defined. He was so frightened that not only his limbs shook, but even his hair stood on end; and amid the stillness that reigned around, a voice was heard, saying, “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?” Was it a dream, or a reality? Opinion is divided on this subject. Some think that Eliphaz was wrapped in slumber like those around him; others, that while they slept he was awake. But it is quite possible that the spectre, though not a mere creation of a disordered brain, was visible only to the mind of Eliphaz. It partook somewhat of the character of a dream vision, though it seems to have affected his bodily frame. The spectre was the medium through which God conveyed to him solemn and important truths. It was God’s answer to man’s perplexities; and though it first startled, it finally allayed his anxieties and fears. The description is a master stroke, and was evidently written by one who saw what he described. The spirit first gliding by; then pausing, as if to arrest attention; the terror it awakened; the solemn, breathless silence; the obscurity in which it was veiled; and then the gentle voice, with its calming, soothing influence; all indicate that the writer is narrating his own experience. When the spectre appeared to Eliphaz we do not know. It may have been a considerable time before he spoke of it to Job; but he referred to it in his address to the patriarch, because of its supposed applicability to his theory that Job’s sufferings were the result of sin. At the present day men often see, in the declarations of God’s Word, only so much as can be made to fit in with their preconceived opinions; and if Eliphaz spoke about matters that were too high for him, if the words of the spectre, which he regarded as supporting his argument, rather operated against it, does not this fact go to prove that the vision was not a mere invention of his own, but a direct message from the Almighty? Let us turn, however, from Eliphaz and his opinions, and consider what the spectre said to him: “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?” This was his first utterance, and it contains the germ of all that follows. It declares the rectitude of God. At first such a question as this seems superfluous. Who would think of suggesting that man was purer than his Maker? Who would set up a claim to deal out justice with more regularity and fidelity than He? And yet those who criticise God’s dealings with men do virtually set themselves up as His superiors. They would have kept out sin, and prevented the inroads of suffering and sorrow. They would have made men happy all round, and ordained gladness and prosperity from one end of the year to the other. Such are the boasts of self-confident men; and it is in reply to such, apparently, that the spectre utters this solemn appeal. There are few of us, probably, who have not at some time or other passed judgment upon God. How much there is that is mysterious! How much that seems to baffle the skill of the wisest interpreter! We have traversed the same ground as Eliphaz, and have been as perplexed and bewildered as he. How inscrutable are God’s dealings with men! How terrible are the convulsions of nature! How disastrous are the conflicts of nations! How bitter are the sorrows of individual men! But these words will bear another rendering. “Is mortal (or feeble) man just from the side of God, namely, from God’s standpoint, or more briefly, before God? Is man pure before his Maker?” The rectitude of God is thus placed in contrast with the frailty of man. This fact, so humbling in itself, and so suggestive of man’s inability to do better than God, is brought out more fully in the verses that follow, which most commentators regard as a continuation of the spectre’s declaration. “Behold, He put no trust in His servants; and His angels He Charged with folly. How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth!” First, the spectre draws a comparison between God and the angels, who are His servants. They are God’s servants, not His equals; His messengers, not His counsellors. There are some things which they do not understand; some things which they long desired to look into, but in vain. Some of the angels once fell from their first estate. It would not, therefore, seem to be an absolute impossibility for angels to sin. But God’s purity is the essence of His character. All His ways are just and true. And if God put no trust in His angels,--if they are imperfect compared with His infinite perfection,--how much more is this true of men, who may be described as dwelling in houses of clay, and who are crushed as easily as a moth. That is the argument; and surely it is calculated to restrain men from passing judgment upon the equity of God’s ways. Then are we qualified to sit in judgment on God? Could we govern the world better than He? Are we even capable of comprehending His plans and purposes? There are still many mysteries around us; and there are stiff many like Eliphaz, who have brooded over them in silence in the hour when deep sleep falleth upon men. We have thought, perhaps, of the departed, and wanted to know what they were doing. We have pondered the history of our past life,--so strange and chequered,--and asked why we were led, or,--it may be,--driven by circumstances, into the path that we have now to tread. We have caught ourselves drifting into speculations that might lead to dangerous results. We have even been tempted to let go the faith which we once held so dear. It is not fresh facts that are required, but clearer vision;--a disposition to accept that which has been revealed already, and act upon it; for (according to Christ’s own words) obedience is the way to knowledge. “If any man do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine.” There was no written Word in the days of Eliphaz; no risen Christ; no Holy Spirit in the world to convince the understanding, and sanctify the heart. But it is otherwise now. God has spoken to us in terms far clearer and more explicit than those which He addressed, through the spectre, to the friend of Job. He has not proposed to us simply the question, “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be purer than his Maker?” He has declared in the most emphatic terms, that He is just and holy; and that instead of dealing with men according to their sins, and rewarding them according to their iniquities, He is gentle and forbearing, even to the hardened and impenitent. He has done more. He has assured us that chastisement is a proof of love; that He inflicts it not for His pleasure, but for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. We have no right to expect that God will explain or justify all His actions. Where, then, would there be room for the exercise of faith? We could not question a spectre, probably, if he were to appear. Most likely he would only terrify and alarm us. But we can turn again and again to the written Word. But God has given us more than the written Word. He sent His Son into the world--“the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person,” and through Him we have obtained more light upon the character of God and His relations to men than any spectre could ever have given us. He came from the world of spirits. Eliphaz was afraid of the spectre. And we, probably, should be quite as frightened if a spectre were to appear to us. But there is something more terrible than a spectre. It is the sight of an offended God. When Adam sinned he hid himself among the trees of the garden, for he was afraid to meet God. And so will it be at last with every unpardoned sinner. He may hide himself in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; he may call upon the rocks to fall on him and hide him from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. But it will be of no avail. Eliphaz trembled at the sight of the spectre. But there is something more appalling still; it is the sight of the ghosts of unforgiven sins. (F. J. Austin.)

Super sensuous phenomena

Physical science has established the remarkable fact that there may be, and in all probability are, phenomena which cannot be perceived by our senses. There are sounds which a trained ear can distinguish, which altogether escape an ordinary ear. There are musical variations which are detected by the practised ear of a skilled composer which altogether escape an uncultured listener. Sound vibrations of more than 38,000 pulsations a second are inaudible by ordinary persons, but are heard and registered by persons sensitive to the highest notes. Moreover, there appears to be no reason for doubting that there may be sound vibrations all around us of such extreme rapidity that we cannot hear them. Pass from acoustics to optics. White light consists of a complete series of coloured rays which, when refracted through a triangular bar of glass, form a continuous spectrum, passing by imperceptible shades from dark red through yellow, green and blue, to very dark violet. Just the same colours are seen in the rainbow. Now, there are rays at each end of the spectrum which cannot be seen. At one end there are heat rays, and at the other end there are chemical (actinic) rays, which are unperceived by our senses, whose existence is attested by other delicate instruments. And physical science gives no reason to believe that we know the absolute limit of the spectrum at either end. The man, then, who says he will not believe anything but what he can see, or what comes within the observation of his senses, limits his belief very considerably, and ignores a great deal that exists in the universe. (T. T. Waterman.)


Verse 16

Job 4:16

There was silence and I heard a voice.

Silence and a voice

1. God’s humbling dispensations toward His people will all come to a good issue, and the close of all His dealings will still be sweet. For after all his humbling and fear, preparing Eliphaz for the vision, and assuring him that God was present, the voice cometh.

2. The composing of our spirits, from the confusions and tumultuous disorders incident to them, is a necessary antecedent to God’s revealing of His mind. For when “there was silence, I heard a voice.”

3. As for this way of the Lord’s speaking by a still, or calm voice, albeit we need inquire after no reason why He makes use of it, who doth all things after the counsel of His own will, yet without wresting we may observe these in it.


Verse 17

Job 4:17

Shall a man he more pure than his Maker?

Man compared with God

The sum of the assertion in this verse is, that no man can be more pure and just than God. Let a man be never so just or sincere, yet there ought no comparison be made betwixt his righteousness and God’s. Learn--

1. God is most righteous, pure, and holy, within Himself and in His administration, so that He can do no wrong, nor ought He to be challenged by any. Sufficient arguments are not wanting whereby to clear this righteousness of God in all His dealings, and particularly in His afflicting godly men, and suffering the wicked to prosper; but when we consider His absolute dominion and sovereignty, and His holiness in Himself, it will put the matter beyond all debate, though we dip no further into the particulars.

2. This righteousness and holiness of God is so infinitely transcendent, that the holiness of the best of men cannot compare with it; but it becomes impurity, except he look on them in a Mediator.

3. Though God be thus just and holy, and that infinitely above the best of men, yet men are not wanting, in many cases, to reproach and reflect upon the righteousness of God, yea, and to cry up their own worth and holiness, to the prejudice of His righteousness.

4. An impatient complainer under affliction doth, in effect, wrong God and His righteousness, and sinfully extol his own holiness.

5. Whatever liberty men take to vent their passions, and to judge harshly of God and His dealing; and whatever their passion suggest for justifying thereof, yet men’s own consciences and reason, in cold blood, will tell them that their sentence is unjust.

6. Men’s frailty and mortality bear witness against them, that they are not perfectly pure, and that they may not compare with God.

7. Man, considered not only in his frailties, but even in his strength and best endowments, is infinitely inferior to God.

8. If men consider that God is their Creator and Maker, and that they have no degree of perfection which is not from God, they will find it a high presumption to compete with Him in the point of perfection. (George Hutcheson.)

On humility

“Shall man be more just than God?” The vision described in the passage from which the text is taken, is awful and sublime. Its spiritual meaning, and the moral instruction it conveys, are of superior interest and importance. That the acknowledged probity of Job’s life might not justify such impatience and complaint, Eliphaz, from a vision that was revealed unto him, disparages all human attainments and excellency before God, in order to vindicate the ways of God to man; to prove that all His laws are holy, just, and good; to repress pride and inculcate humility. The duty of humility may be proved--

I. From man’s relative condition in the world. That we did not bring ourselves into existence, and are incapable, for a moment, to support ourselves in it, are self-evident truths. If we, and all that belongs to us, be the gift of God, of what have we to be proud, even in the most favourable estimate we can make of ourselves, and of all our acquisitions? Of scientific improvement and cultivated talents how little reason there is for boasting. Of moral and religious improvement how can he boast who even knows not his secret errors?

II. From the example of our Saviour. As it is a perfect pattern of universal excellence, so in the display of this virtue it is eminently instructive. If anything could give addition to such illustrious acts of goodness, it was the mildness, the tenderness, the humility, with which they were conferred. If we be His true disciples, we, like Him, will be clothed with humility, and consider it as the distinguishing characteristic of our Christian profession.

III. The advantages with which it is attended, strongly enforce the practice of this virtue. It paves the way for general esteem, exempts us from the mortifications of vanity and pride; by enabling us to form just views of our own characters, it teaches us where to correct them when wrong, and where to improve their excellence when good; it leaves us in full possession of all our powers and attainments, without envy and without detraction; it repels chagrin and engenders contentment; it is a sunshine of the mind, which throws its mild lustre on every object; and affords to every intellectual and moral excellence the most advantageous light in which it can appear. In short, it is leasing to God, and equally ornamental and advantageous to man. (A. Stifling, L. L. D.)


Verses 18-21

Job 4:18-21

And His angels He charged with folly.

Folly in angels

“His angels He charged with folly.” Revelation conveys to us the highly interesting information that there is between the great Spirit and man, an intermediate order of spirits whose habitation is in the high and holy place. But the discoveries which Divine revelation makes to us of the invisible world, surprising and sublime as they are, were not intended to raise our astonishment, or gratify our curiosity. They are uniformly brought forward in the Scriptures for practical purposes of the highest kind. The doctrine of angels is introduced to illustrate the amazing condescension of the Son of God. At other times it is taught for the consolation of the saints, who have assurance that they are encompassed, preserved, and provided for by God’s invisible host. At other times it is adduced to set forth the greatness, wisdom, and holiness of God on the one hand, and the folly, weakness, and nothingness of man on the other. This is the view introduced in the passage before us. Some of the angels, by pride and rebellion, forfeited their place. Was God, after this, to place His confidence in man, even though created in His image? What is asserted of angels is applicable to them still. God only possesses in Himself all excellence. Angels derive their being, and all its excellences, from Him. If the text is the estimate which the Most High forms of angels, how insignificant and contemptible must we be in His sight! What are our bodies, but moulded, moving, breathing, speaking clay! And what can be frailer than a house of clay! Practical lessons--

1. The subject teaches the folly of covetousness and ambition. Covetousness is in itself sinful, and as it usurps the place due to God in the heart, it is idolatry; but when viewed in the light of the text, it is folly and madness, and wilful madness, which exposes its victim to merited derision.

2. It teaches us to avoid pride and security.

3. It teaches us not to trust or glory in man. Why has God declared His trust in His servants, and accused His angels of folly, but to teach us more effectually the sin and danger of all creature confidence and boasting? (Thomas MCrie, D. D.)

The imperfect angel

I want to put the truth of God’s purity in its right relation to His patience and long-suffering and gentleness. Side by side with the text’s setting forth God’s unapproachable purity, may be placed such texts as Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 10:42, which set forth the patience and beneficence of His character, and the scrupulous and delicate equities of His administration. In the addresses of Eliphaz, God’s strict and unapproachable purity is depicted in exalted and impressive phraseology. This seer, Eliphaz, sinned through overweening confidence in his own prophetic gift. His error consisted in the misapplication of truths that were obviously inspired, rather than in the premises he laid down as the basis of his appeal to Job. He was right in his abstract principles. We may accept his truth about the inconceivable purity of God.

1. God’s ideals of purity are so transcendent and so terrible, that the purity of the angel nearest to His throne is little better than stain, shadow, darkness in comparison. “His angels He chargeth with folly.” But is not the whole subject, with the angel in the background, vague, misty, fanciful? It is surely not unscientific to assume the existence of the pure and mighty beings spoken of by seers and prophets of the olden time, nor speculative to ponder well the words which declare that in comparison with God Himself, the angels have about them traces of finite dimness, blemish, imperfection. Are the angels, then, frail and foolish and defective? Are the angels disfigured with limitation, even as we? Put them in comparison with man, fallen man, and they will well justify the title “holy.” Bring them into comparison with God, and the title will seem incongruous, arrogant, and misplaced. The fall of some of their number shows that, as a class, the angels have not yet passed beyond the stage of defectibility. They have not risen into a wisdom so complete that no illusion can betray it, nor into a strength so unassailable that no temptation can score its record of disfigurement upon their lives. They are free, it is true, from actual transgression, but they are passing through the first crude stages of a development in which, because of inward weakness and limitation, there is perilous room for the wiles of the tempter. They have not reached the transcendent holiness of God, who cannot be tempted with evil. An incarnation, with its perils and possibilities, would be fatal to an angel. God can never forget the frailty, weakness, limitation, that may be latent in the unfallen types of angelic life.

2. The holiness of an angel will appear as little better than a frailty if we think of it in comparison with the uncreated holiness of God. The Divine holiness has in it a transcendent originality, with which that of the creature can never hope to vie. The holiness of the angel is a mere echo. The angels are but copyists, and their workmanship is unutterably inferior to the original conception.

3. In the judgment of the Most High, the holiness of the angel verges upon a frailty, because of its inferior vitality and its less consuming fervour. No angel knows what it is to love with a mighty intenseness that makes the love necessarily vicarious, and the heart break with pure grief over the sin, and grief, and shame of others. No Bethlehems, or Gethsemanes, or Golgothas have ever immortalised angelic devotion and love. Their love, however crystal pure, is a love to which sacrifice is strange. It does not draw them into incarnations and propitiatory offerings, and down into the shadows of vast redeeming shames and agonies. If Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the Father must have been touched in some sense from everlasting with the same sorrow. Before all worlds there was some dim mystery of self-sacrificing pain in the heart of God.

4. The defect of the angel is a defect of narrowness. In comparison with the Catholic and all-comprehending love of God, his love is insular and restrained. All perfect moral qualities are boundless. The graces of these celestial envoys are dwarfed into frailty and insignificance when brought into contrast with the perfect moral life of God.

5. The holiness of the angel has about it the defect and limitation inseparable from the briefness of its own history. It is a frail thing of yesterday in comparison with the holiness of God. Think of the amazing epochs through which God’s holiness has been unfolding itself. The worth of a moral quality is proportioned to the period through which it has verified and established itself. Angel life is but of recent birth.

6. The holiness of the angel has about it the defect of immaturity. The insight and holiness of the angel are but starting points for some higher and more magnificent evolution of character, the first cell out of which shall issue the wonder and transfiguration of their after destiny . . . Consider the unparalleled patience and gentleness of God. “His angels He chargeth with folly.” Yes; but He keeps them at His feet, and with exhaustless grate carries on their education, epoch after epoch. Is there no contradiction in these views? No. Only He who is infinitely holy can afford to be absolutely gracious and gentle. His very greatness enables Him to stoop. The incomparable holy dare stoop to blemish, and frailty, and weakness, and help it out of its dark and humiliating conditions. There is no contradiction here.. Then again, the infinitely holy can discern the hidden promise and possibility of holiness in the weak and erring. It would be an awful thing if we were left to suppose that God was microscopic in His scrutiny for judgment and condemnation only, and not also for blessing and approval. He discerns hope and fine possibility all the more keenly through the very affluence of His own purity. The perfection of righteousness is realised in the perfection of love. (Thomas G. Selby.)

On Easter Day

In the resurrection we shall be as the angels. And that we might not flatter ourselves in a dream of a better state than the angels have, in this text we have an intimation what their state and condition is--“His angels He charged with folly.”

I. Of whom were these words spoken? Angels. But it does not appear whether good or bad angels; those that fell or those that stood. Calvin thinks the good angels, considered in themselves, may be defective. The angels were Created in a possibility of everlasting blessedness, but not in actual possession of it. This admits of no doubt, because some of them actually did fall.

II. What words were spoken?

1. What is positively said.

2. What is consequently inferred. (John Donne.)


Verse 19

Job 4:19

Them that dwell in houses of clay.

The frailty and mortality of man

The great design of God in His Word and in His providence is to humble the pride and cure the fatal presumption of man.

I. The impressive description here of our frail and mortal condition. Angels are pure spirits, men are partly spiritual and partly corporal. “We dwell in houses of clay.” The frailty of our frame is thus set forth. Its foundation is in the dust, its origin and subsistence are from the dust. This too is a significant expression, “Who are crushed before the moth,” that is, sooner than the moth.

II. This impressive description of our frailty is verified by instances of daily occurrence. Illustrate by cases of death from simple and sudden accident, and from insidious disease. Draw some practical inferences.

1. If the frame of man is so frail, and liable to death from causes so numerous, what egregious and culpable folly is it to be wholly engrossed in the pursuits and pleasures of the present life.

2. How important to be prepared for a world where death and sorrow are unknown! But what is a due preparation for immortal bliss!

3. If the body is so frail and mortal, and the mind so apt to turn and stray from the solemn consideration required, how necessary is it to pray for light and grace to direct and fix our thoughts on this deeply interesting subject! To learn the method of profitably numbering our days on earth, we all need Divine teaching, and this must be sought of Him who is willing to impart it. (Essex Remembrancer.)


Verse 21

Job 4:21

They die, even without wisdom.

Dying in ignorance

“Alas! while the body stands so broad and brawny must the soul be blinded, dwarfed, stupefied, almost annihilated? Alas! This too was a breath of God: bestowed in heaven, but on earth never to be unfolded. That there should one man die ignorant who had capacity for knowledge, this I call a tragedy.” (Carlyle.)

Unpreparedness for death:

“One should think,” said a friend to the celebrated Dr. Samuel Johnson, “that sickness and the view of death would make men more religious.” “Sir,” replied Johnson, “they do not know how to go to work about it. A man who has never had religion before, no more grows religious when he is sick than a man who has never learned figures can count when he has need of calculation.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 4:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/job-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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