Job 4:17
Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?
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(17) Shall mortal man be more just than God?—This is the burden, or refrain, upon which the friends of Job are for ever harping. It is perfectly orthodox, but at the same time perfectly inadequate to deal with the necessities of Job’s case. He is willing to admit that it is impossible for any man to be just with God; but then arises Job’s dilemma, Where is God’s justice if He punishes the innocent as the guilty? The word rendered “mortal” man is really weak, frail man, involving, it may be, the idea of mortality, but not immediately suggesting it. As far as mortality implies sin, the notion of being just is absurd; and even a strong man—such is the antithesis—cannot be more pure than He that made him, who, it is assumed, must be both strong and righteous.

Job 4:17. Shall mortal man be more just than God? — Shall man, fallen man, as the word אנושׁ, enosh, here used, signifies, subject as he is to diseases, troubles, and all those calamities which are the necessary consequences of sin and disobedience, pretend more strictly to observe the laws of justice, and therefore to be more just, than the righteous God? The sense is, Thou, O Job, dost presumptuously accuse God of dealing harshly and unrighteously with thee in sending thee into the world upon such hard terms, and punishing an innocent and righteous man with unparalleled severity; but, consider things calmly within thyself. Were it possible for God and thee to come to trial before any equal and impartial judge, canst thou think that thou wouldest go away justified, and that the great God would be condemned? No righteous man will punish another without cause, or more than he deserves; and, therefore, if God do so with thee, as thy words imply, he is less just than man, which it is blasphemous and absurd to imagine. Shall a man — Hebrew, גבר, geber, a great and mighty man, as this word signifies; shall even such a one a man eminent for wisdom, or holiness, or power, or any other perfections, who therefore might expect more favour than a poor, miserable, and contemptible man, signified by the former word enosh; be more pure than his Maker? — More holy and righteous; show a greater hatred to injustice, or be more equitable in his proceedings, which he would be if he could justly reprehend any of the divine dispensations, and would not act toward his fellow-creatures, as he supposes God acts toward him or others? No, this cannot be: it would be the most daring presumption to entertain a thought of the kind; for though a man may have some qualifications which are not in others of his fellow-creatures, and some pre-eminences above many of them; yet, in the presence of his Maker, from whom he has received every excellence which he possesses, and on whom he is daily dependant for them, and all things, he must acknowledge his own comparative nothingness, and confess that the highest qualities which are in him are both derived from God, and exist in God in an infinitely greater degree. It is not without reason that enosh, fallen man, is here placed in opposition to Eloath, the great and holy God; and geber, a mighty man, to gnoseh, his Maker. For the contrast in both cases is remarkably striking, namely, between man, sinful, miserable, mortal, and the immutable, holy, blessed, and immortal God; and between even a great and mighty man, and the Being from whom he has received all his might and greatness, nay, and his very existence, and on whom he is dependant for them every moment; or between the man of power, and the maker and upholder of that power. In this expression of the angel, Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?

was contained an unanswerable argument against, and a forcible reproof of, Job’s impatience and complaints: as if he had said, He made thee, and that for himself and his own glory; and therefore he hath an unquestionable right to deal with thee and dispose of thee, who art the work of his hands, as he sees fit. Wo to him that striveth with his Maker, Isaiah 45:9. 4:12-21 Eliphaz relates a vision. When we are communing with our own hearts, and are still, Ps 4:4, then is a time for the Holy Spirit to commune with us. This vision put him into very great fear. Ever since man sinned, it has been terrible to him to receive communications from Heaven, conscious that he can expect no good tidings thence. Sinful man! shall he pretend to be more just, more pure, than God, who being his Maker, is his Lord and Owner? How dreadful, then, the pride and presumption of man! How great the patience of God! Look upon man in his life. The very foundation of that cottage of clay in which man dwells, is in the dust, and it will sink with its own weight. We stand but upon the dust. Some have a higher heap of dust to stand upon than others but still it is the earth that stays us up, and will shortly swallow us up. Man is soon crushed; or if some lingering distemper, which consumes like a moth, be sent to destroy him, he cannot resist it. Shall such a creature pretend to blame the appointments of God? Look upon man in his death. Life is short, and in a little time men are cut off. Beauty, strength, learning, not only cannot secure them from death, but these things die with them; nor shall their pomp, their wealth, or power, continue after them. Shall a weak, sinful, dying creature, pretend to be more just than God, and more pure than his Maker? No: instead of quarrelling with his afflictions, let him wonder that he is out of hell. Can a man be cleansed without his Maker? Will God justify sinful mortals, and clear them from guilt? or will he do so without their having an interest in the righteousness and gracious help of their promised Redeemer, when angels, once ministering spirits before his throne, receive the just recompence of their sins? Notwithstanding the seeming impunity of men for a short time, though living without God in the world, their doom is as certain as that of the fallen angels, and is continually overtaking them. Yet careless sinners note it so little, that they expect not the change, nor are wise to consider their latter end.Shall mortal man - Or, shall feeble man. The idea of "mortal" is not necessarily implied in the word used here, אנושׁ 'ĕnôsh. It means man; and is usually applied to the lower classes or ranks of people; see the notes at Isaiah 8:1. The common opinion in regard to this word is, that it is derived from אנשׁ 'ânash, to be sick, or ill at ease; and then desperate, or incurable - as of a disease or wound; Jeremiah 15:18; Micah 1:9; Job 34:6. Gesenius (Lex) calls this derivation in question; but if it be the correct idea, then the word used here originally referred to man as feeble, and as liable to sickness and calamity. I see no reason to doubt that the common idea is correct, and that it refers to man as weak and feeble. The other word used here to denote man (גבר geber) is given to him on account of his strength. The two words, therefore, embrace man whether considered as feeble or strong - and the idea is, that none of the race could be more pure than God.

Be more just than God - Some expositors have supposed that the sense of this expression in the Hebrew is, "Can man be pure before God, or in the sight of God?" They allege that it could not have been made a question whether man could be more pure than God, or more just than his Maker. Such is the view presented of the passage by Rosenmuller, Good, Noyes, and Umbreit:

"Shall mortal man be just before God?

Shall man be pure before his Maker?"

In support of this view, and this use of the Hebrew preposition מ (m), Rosenmuller appeals to Jeremiah 51:5; Numbers 32:29; Ezekiel 34:18. This, however, is not wholly satisfactory. The more literal translation is that which occurs in the common version, and this accords with the Vulgate and the Chaldee. If so understood, it is designed to repress and reprove the pride of men, which arraigns the equity of the divine government, and which seems to be wiser and better than God. Thus, understood, it would be a pertinent reproof of Job, who in his complaint Job 3 had seemed to be wiser than God. He had impliedly charged him with injustice and lack of goodness. All people who complain against God, and who arraign the equity and goodness of the divine dispensations, claim to be wiser and better than he is. They would have ordered flyings more wisely, and in a better manner. They would have kept the world from the disorders and sins which actually exist, and would have made it pure and happy. How pertinent, therefore, was it to ask whether man could be more pure or just than his Maker! And how pertinent was the solemn question propounded in the hearing of Eliphaz by the celestial messenger - a question that seems to have been originally proposed in view of the complaints and murmurs of a self-confident race!

17. mortal man … a man—Two Hebrew words for "man" are used; the first implying his feebleness; the second his strength. Whether feeble or strong, man is not righteous before God.

more just than God … more pure than his maker—But this would be self-evident without an oracle.

The sense is, Thou, O Job, dost presumptuously accuse God for dealing harshly and unrighteously with thee, in sending thee into the world upon such hard terms, and punishing all innocent and righteous man with such unparalleled severity; but consider things calmly within thyself; if God and thou come to a trial before any equal judge, canst thou think that thou wilt go away justified, and the great God shall be condemned? No righteous man will punish another without cause, or more than he deserves; and therefore if God do so with thee, as thy words imply, he is less just than a man; which is blasphemous and absurd to imagine.

Shall a man; a great and mighty man, as this word signifies, a man eminent for wisdom, or justice, or power, or any other perfections, such as thou art thought by thyself or others to be; who therefore might expect more favour than a poor miserable and contemptible man, which the word enosch, used in the former branch, signifies. So he anticipates this objection which Job might make.

Be more pure than his Maker? an unanswerable argument against Job. He made thee, and that for himself and his own glory, and therefore hath an unquestionable right to deal with thee, and dispose of thee, the work of his hands, as he sees fit. Woe to him that striveth with his maker! Isaiah 45:9. Besides, he made man just and pure; if any man have any thing of justice or purity in him, it is derived from God, the undoubted and only fountain of it; and therefore it must necessarily be in God in a far more eminent degree. Shall mortal man be more just than God?.... Poor, weak, frail, dying man, and so sinful, as his mortality shows, which is the effect of sin; how should such a man be more righteous than God? who is so originally and essentially of himself, completely, perfectly, yea, infinitely righteous in his nature, and in his works, both of providence and grace; in chastising his people, punishing the wicked, and bestowing favours upon his friends, even in their election, redemption, justification, pardon, and eternal happiness: yea, not only profane wicked sinners can make no pretensions to anything of this kind, but even the best of men, none being without sin, no, not man in his best estate; for the righteousness he had then was of God, and therefore he could not be more just than he that made him upright. This comparative sense, which our version leads to, is more generally received; but it seems not to be the sense of the passage, since this is a truth clear from reason, and needed no vision or revelation to discover it; nor can it be thought that God would send an angelic spirit in such an awful and pompous manner, to declare that which every one knew, and no man would contradict; even the most self-righteous and self-sufficient man would never be so daring and insolent as to say he was more righteous than God; but the words should be rather rendered, "shall mortal man be justified by God, or be just from God?" or "with" him, or "before" him (t), in his sight, by any righteousness in him, or done by him? shall he enter into his presence, stand at his bar, and be examined there, and go away from thence, in the sight and account of God, as a righteous person of himself? no, he cannot; now this is a doctrine opposed to carnal reasoning and the common sentiments of men, a doctrine of divine revelation, a precious truth: this is the string of pearls Eliphaz received, see Job 4:12; that mortal man is of himself an unrighteous creature; that he cannot be justified by his own righteousness in the sight of God; and that he must look and seek out for a better righteousness than his own, to justify him before God; and this agrees with Eliphaz's interpretation of the vision, Job 15:14; with the sentiments of his friend Bildad, who seems to have some respect to it, Job 25:4; and also of Job himself, Job 9:2; and in like manner are we to understand the following clause:

shall a man be more pure than his Maker? even the greatest and best of men, since what purity was in Adam, in a state of innocence, was from God; and what good men have, in a state of grace, is from the grace of God and blood of Christ, without which no man is pure at all, and therefore cannot be purer than him from whom they have it: or rather "be pure from", or "with", or "before his Maker" (u), or be so accounted by him; every man is impure by his first birth, and in his nature state, and therefore cannot stand before a pure and holy God, who of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; or go away his presence, and be reckoned by him a pure and holy creature of himself; nor can any thing that he can do, in a moral or ceremonial manner, cleanse him from his impurity; and therefore it is necessary he should apply to the grace of God, and blood of Christ, for his purification.

(t) "an mortalis a Deo justificabitur?" Codurcus' Bolducius, Deodatus, Gussetius, Ebr. Comment. p. 709. "Num mortalis a numine justus erit?" Schultens; so Mr. Broughton, "can the sorrowful man be holden just before the Puissant?" (u) "an quisquam vir a factore suo mundus habebitur?" Codurcus; "an a conditore suo purus erit vir?" Schultens; so Mr. Broughton, "can the human being be clear before him that was his Maker?"

Shall mortal man be more {l} just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?

(l) He proves that if God punished the innocent, the creature would be more just than the creator, which was blasphemy.

17. be more just than God] This translation is possible. It is very unnatural, however; for though, if a man were found complaining of God’s ways, the immediate inference might be that he was making himself more righteous (at least in the perception of moral rectitude) than God, such an inference does not seem drawn by any of the speakers, the idea of a man being more righteous than God being too absurd to suggest itself. The charge brought against Job was that he made God unrighteous, not that he claimed to be more righteous than He. Two senses seem possible, either,

Can man be righteous before God?

Can a man be pure before his Maker?

a sense which the phrase has Numbers 32:22, and is adopted by the Sept.; or, can man be in the right in his plea against God? a meaning which the phrase has in the speeches of Elihu, ch. Job 32:2. This latter sense is less suitable to the second clause of the verse. The first and more general sense is the more probable because, of course, the vision appeared to Eliphaz before Job’s calamities befell him and had no direct reference to them. This sense also suits the scope of the following verses, and the general aphorism ch. Job 5:6-7 with which Eliphaz sums up this paragraph of his speech, and is most in harmony with the studiously general tone of Eliphaz’s first discourse.Verse 17. - Shall mortal man be more just than God? Is it to be supposed that the ways of God can be rightly criticized and condemned by man? Surely not; for then man must be more penetrated with the spirit of justice than the Almighty. If our thoughts are not as God's thoughts, it must be, our thoughts that are wrong. Shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Equally impossible. God alone is absolutely pure. The best man must be conscious to himself, as Isaiah was (Isaiah 6:5), of uncleanness. 6 Is not thy piety thy confidence,

Thy Hope? And the uprightness of thy ways?

7 Think now: who ever perished, being innocent?!

And where have the righteous been cut off?!

8 As often as I saw, those who ploughed evil

And sowed sorrow, - they reaped the same.

9 By the breath of Eloah they perished,

By the breath of His anger they vanished away.

10 The roaring of the lion, and the voice of the shachal,

And the teeth of the young lions, are rooted out.

11 The lion wanders about for want of prey,

And the lioness' whelps are scattered.

In Job 4:6 all recent expositors take the last waw as waw apodosis: And thy hope, is not even this the integrity of thy way? According to our punctuation, there is no occasion for supposing such an application of the waw apodosis, which is an error in a clause consisting only of substantives, and is not supported by the examples, Job 15:17; Job 23:12; 2 Samuel 22:41.

(Note: We will not, however, dispute the possibility, for at least in Arabic one can say, zı̂d f-hkı̂m Zeid, he is wise. Grammarians remark that Arab. zı̂d in this instance is like a hypothetical sentence: If any one asks, etc. 2 Samuel 15:34 is similar.)


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