What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?…
Eliphaz takes up Job's words (Job 14:1-4), but turns them against their author. Job had spoken of inherited frailty as a ground for pity; Eliphaz seizes on it as an accusation of guilt. How dare this puny, imperfect creature, man, boast of his innocence in the sight of the holy God?
I. GOD'S HOLINESS IS INCOMPARABLE. This is an idea which we take for granted. Yet it was not found in most heathen religions. Monotheism is commonly reckoned as the great peculiarity of the Hebrew faith; but a more striking peculiarity is holiness. The neighbouring divinities were just representations of magnified human passions, often more degraded and immoral than men. The revelation of the true God shows that he is not only above all human passion; he is perfect in holiness. We can find no image with which to compare his purity. The mountain is high above the plain, but mountain and plain are equally low when we think of the stars. Our goodness may mean something among men, but it does not extend to God (Psalm 16:2). Even the very angels veil their faces before him, awed by the majesty of absolute goodness. Yet God's goodness in being absolute is not so because he is infinite. If it were, it would be unfair to complain that we could not approach it. An inch of snow may be as pure as an acre of snow.
II. GOD'S HOLINESS REVEALS MAN'S SIN. We do not know our sin till we see it in the light of God. There are in the farmyard fowls black and white. But when the snow has fallen the white fowls look so no longer, because by the side of the Heaven-sent purity of the snow their plumage is seen to be of a very impure colour. There are men of various character, and some are accounted white-souled saints. But when placed by the side of God's holiness these are the first to confess that their righteousness is as filthy rags. Christ revealed the sin of his age in contrast to his own holiness. We do not own our sinfulness because we do not know God's goodness. It is not the Law, but God's goodness in Christ, that most makes us feel our sin.
III. GOD'S HOLINESS CANNOT ENDURE SIN. Sin may stand uurebuked and unchecked in the world, because all are "tarred with the same brush." Thus there is a dangerous condoning of conventional evil. But this is not possible with God. Holiness and sin are opposed as light and darkness. The thought of God's holiness alone makes men tremble.
Eternal Light, Eternal Light!
How pure the soul must be
When, placed within thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live and look on thee!" Therefore God must deal with sin, to banish and destroy it. If the sinner cleaves to his sin he cannot but share in its doom. If, however, he will detach himself from it, it will be destroyed, while he is saved. God hates the sin, not the sinner. Now, God's holy hatred of sin should be regarded by us as a reason for great thankfulness. For the sin he hates is just our most deadly enemy. If he destroys our sin, he saves our soul from its fatal foe. On the other hand, only God can give the purity which is needed for his presence. We may make ourselves seem fair before man. Only God can purify us so that we are fit for his presence, only the blood of Christ can cleanse from all sin (1 John 1:7). - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?