Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that you are righteous? or is it gain to him, that you make your ways perfect?
To this Eliphaz we cannot take kindly. There is so much in him that reminds us of the Pharisee of our Lord's day. With all his conscientiousness — and it is remarkable what sins against God and our brother are committed under the garb of conscientiousness — he seems to be one of those who "speak wickedly for God." Looking at the argument of the Temanite in this chapter, it is, at best, a piece of sophistry. The words of the text seem humble words, so calculated to move us in the direction of self-repression; but we are not required to build humility upon a lie.
1. This verse is but an expansion of the thought contained in the previous verse, which reads thus, "Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself?" The force of this comparison tends to disarm criticism, for the least taught among Christian people can never think they are doing God the service they are rendering themselves. In those cases in which men think they are in some way doing God a splendid service, their presumption is its own condemnation. But such a thought does not enter Christian believing minds. What are they to say to the challenge of the next verse? Is there not something true within us that rises up against its merciless and terrible conclusion? A man may be far from as profitable to God as unto himself. He must feel that all the weight of obligation is on his side, since God alone is the source of all his goodness and power; and yet he may, I think he must, if he have a spark of the Divine life and light in him, resist so fearful and disheartening a conclusion as that God has no pleasure in his rectitude, and that he is all loss and no gain to God.
(1) Such a conclusion is most disheartening to endeavours after goodness. Practically carried into the inner life of men, it would be fatal to that goodness. There can be little faith in a goodness that is not nurtured by love and fed by willing cheerfulness. The difference between a Divine compulsion and the sort of thing called compulsion among men, is that the former is made up of affection, the other of necessity. A Divine compulsion, beginning with love, creates an obedience which becomes more and more congenial and native to the soul of the subject of it. We all need educating in virtue and goodness. Human nature has to be raised and sanctified by the energy of Divine grace. The "righteous" man is the creation of that Divine grace which comes to the aid of the struggling one in his contest with dark, evil forces. And the more successful will he be in that contest, the more clearly he discerns what that Divine force is which is helping him. Most discouraging is it to all endeavours after a better life that we should doubt the pleasure of the Eternal in those endeavours. If we do so, we misjudge our relation to the Infinite. It will be as new life to us when we learn to believe in the words of Jesus about the Father. Against the unfaith of men in this Divine Fatherhood, we have constantly to contend.
(2) Such a conclusion is also dishonouring to God. It is against the entire scope and tone of Divine revealings from age to age, up to the day when John, the latest seer of the New Testament, spoke of the God of love. It dishonours Him, because it takes away from Him some of those finer instincts which all men worthy of the name have. We take pleasure in endeavours to please us — else we are scarcely human. We allow for infirmity and frailty; and it were indeed a hard and cruel faith about God to deny Him such instincts. And surely God must be pleased with that work into which He throws most of His own pure soul and Spirit. The more of the Divine self in anyone, the truer and more complete the Divine satisfaction.
2. Consider what of truth we can find in these words.
(1) It would be vastly mischievous were we to come to look upon that righteousness as our own, and so try to sever the stream from the fount. It is ours only because it is God's gift. All our righteousness is of God.
(2) There may be a high-mindedness in Christian service which finds needed correction in the thought that God is not so much served by us as we are served by Him.
3. We need to feel that all the weight of obligations is on our side. When we think of the Divine pleasure and gain, we cannot but think how beneficent that pleasure is. We cannot serve God without a recompense. Yet there are many who shrink from God, as though He were the receiver, instead of the Giver, of all good. They start back from duty as though it would be fatal to their joy. Nothing He commands but for your good. Nothing He orders but for your eternal delight.
(G. J. Proctor.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?