I. ACCUSATION OF JOB AS A GREAT SINNER. (Vers. 2-10.)
1. These questions taken together (vers. 2-5) form a syllogism (Zockler). The major premiss (vers 2, 3) expresses the thought: in God, the all-sufficing One, who is not affected by man's good or evil, the cause of Job's unhappiness cannot lie; the minor premiss shows that if Job himself bears the blame, this cannot possibly be because of his reverence for God (ver. 4); and the conclusion is drawn to the prejudice of the moral character of Job (ver. 5). "Does man bring profit to God? No, the man of sense profits himself." God needs nothing, and gains nothing, whether man's conduct be wise or foolish; therefore if he has acted wisely, man is but cousulting his own interest. "Is it an advantage to the Almighty, if thou art just? or a gain, if thou makest thy ways sound?' i.e. pure and free from blame and punishment. Therefore it cannot be selfish or arbitrary motives which determine God to afflict men. "Will he chastise thee for thy reverence, go with thee to judgment?" If the reason of your doom is to be found in yourself, can it be reverence to him for which he punishes you? It must be the very opposite. Then comes the conclusion, "Is thy wickedness not great, and of thy transgressions no end?" On the rigid principles of Eliphaz and his companions, no other conclusion can be drawn. "The things said are good, but they are carnally understood. For the wisdom of the flesh thinks that blessing outwardly belongs in this world to the godly, and to the ungodly, curses; but the truth teaches that the godly enjoy blessing in this life under the guise of cursing, life in death, salvation in seeming condemnation; but, on the contrary, the ungodly are cursed under the show of blessing, are dead while they live, are condemned though in seeming safety" (Brenz).
2. Enumeration of Job's supposed sins (vers. 6-10). They are the sins of the rich and powerful, such as Job had been. "For thou didst take a pledge of thy brother without cause," thine abundance rendering such measures against a poor neighbour unnecessary. Note the indignation with which the Bible ever treats sins against the poor and needy. "And stripped off the clothes of the naked," i.e. the ragged, the scantily clothed. Common humanity would forbid the taking of the last garment of such in pledge; and the Law of Moses strictly, prohibited it (Exodus 22:25,. sqq.; Deuteronomy 24:6, 10, sqq.) "Thou gavest... not the thirsty water to drink, and didst refuse the hungry bread;" comp. Isaiah 58:10, and the beautiful contrast in the words of Christ concerning giving the cup of cold water to the little one (Matthew 10:42). "And the powerful man [literally, 'the man of arm'], his was the land, and the man of consideration was to dwell in it." A picture, as the speaker supposes, true to the life of what Job had been. "Widows thou didst send empty away, and the arms of the orphans were crushed'" i.e. their rights and their resources, all that they could rely on (Psalm 37:17; Ezekiel 30:22). "Therefore snares are round about thee, and terror comes upon thee suddenly" (comp. Job 18:11; Proverbs 3:25). The truth of God's special care over widows and orphans, over the poor, the prisoners, and the oppressed is thus incidentally brought out with force. Sins against them are amongst the vilest that cry to Heaven (Sirach 35:14, 15, 18, sqq.).
II. WARNING OF FURTHER PUNISHMENT. (Vers. 11-20.)
1. "Or darkness that thou canst not see, and a flood of waters covers thee" - the night of woe and the deep misery which have come upon him in consequence of his sins (ver. 1). "Is not Eloah heaven-high?" - infinitely exalted - "and do but behold the head [or, 'highest'] of the stars, how exalted they are!" (ver. 12). Then how idle is every thought of the limitation of his power, and every doubt of the absolute justice of his doings! In vers. 13,14 Job's doubts of the justice of God's government are construed by the speaker as denials of God's knowledge of earthly things and his providence over mankind, like the Epicureans in ancient and the deists in modern times. "And thou sayest, What knoweth God? will he judge through the dark clouds? clouds are his covering, that he seeth not; and he walketh on the circumference of the heaven," deigning not to give heed to this little and insignificant earth. Similar expressions of ancient scepticism are found in Psalm 73:11; Psalm 94:7; Isaiah 29:15; Ezekiel 8:12. Its refutation is in the words of Jeremiah 23:23, sqq.. God is not afar off, but near to every creature - not far from every one of us (vers 27, 28; Acts 17.). To think that God is too exalted to attend to our mean affairs, is to set out on the road of unbelief, sin, and ruin. Rather, because God is so exalted, nothing is hidden from him. He is as manifest in the microscopic dust as in the planetary worlds. He knows our most secret deeds, our inmost feelings, our sufferings that most retire from the notice of others (Jeremiah 23:23, 24; Psalm 139:1, sqq.; Matthew 6:8; 1 John 3:20).
2. The overthrow of the godless. (Vers. 15-20.) "Wilt thou observe the way of the old world, which men of perdition trod?" - alluding, perhaps, to those before the Deluge (2 Peter 2:5). Swept away before their time, their foundation was poured away like a stream, so that they could not remain (ver. 16). These ungodly ones had said to God, "Depart from us;" had asked, "What can the Almighty do for us?" (ver. 17). Job had in the previous chapter (vers. 14, 15) put words like these into the mouth of the prosperous bad men; and now Eliphaz ascribes them to the subject of his description, to show Job that he approves up to a certain point of the representation he had made of the relation of external happiness to human guilt (Zockler). "And yet it was he that had filled their houses with blessing," giving the contrast between the sudden Divine judgments and the previous prosperous condition which suggested their exemption from punishment. "The counsel of the wicked be far from me!" exclaims the speaker (ver. 18), echoing Job (Job 21:16), as if to imply only one who, like myself, has no doubt of God's retributive justice, may dare thus to speak. The wish of the godly is that God may draw near, ever nearer, to him; that of the ungodly is always, "Remove, depart from us!" "They would willingly leave God his heaven, if he would only leave them their earthly comfort "(Starke). Ver. 19, the overthrow of the wicked is a subject of rejoicing even of derision, to the righteous and innocent, according to the proverb, "He laughs best who laughs last" (comp. Psalm 58:10, 11; Psalm 64:9, 20). Ver. 20 contains the words of triumph of the godly, "Verily, our adversaries are destroyed, and their remainder the fire has consumed." Contrast the spirit of Christ (Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:42, sqq.; James 5:19, 20).
III. EXHORTATION TO REPENTANCE AND PROMISE OF SALVATION. (Vers. 21-30.)
1. Exhortation. "Make friends with him, and be at peace" (James 4:8), "thereby blessing will come to thee ' (ver. 21); "Take instruction from his mouth" (Proverbs 2:6). "If thou returnest to the Almighty, thou wilt be built again; if thou put wrong far from thy tents, and lay in the dust the precious metal, and under the gravle of the brooks the Ophir gold" - getting rid of it as a worthless thing - "then will the Almighty be thy Treasure, and silver in heaps" (vers. 23, 25; see on this sentiment the New Testament passages, Matthew 6:20, 33; Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33; 1 Timothy 6:16-19). God's grace builds up what sin destroys. To enjoy that grace is competency, is wealth. Deus meus et cranial (Psalm 73:25, 26). "Let thy heart rely on God, and thou mayest cast away thy gold, lose it without care; the Almighty remains thine inviolable Treasure; whilst, on the other hand, without him the most troubled watching and anxiety are of no avail" (vide Gerlach).
2. Promises continued. (Vers. 26-30) "Yea, then thou writ delight thyself, in the Almighty, and lift up thy face to God" (ver. 26), in the freedom of a conscience without guilt (Job 11:15; comp. Psalm 37:4; Isaiah 58:14). "If thou prayest to him, he will hear thee, and thy vows thou wilt pay" (Psalm 22:25; Psalm 50:14; Psalm 61:8; Psalm 65:2). The vow is looked at in the light of promise rather than of duty; God will always grant so much that thou canst fulfil all thy vows. "If thou resolvest on anything, it will come to pass, and light shall beam on thy way. If they [the ways] go downwards, thou sayest, Up!" - a cry of triumph and thanksgiving. "And to the cast down he gives help. He will deliver the not-innocent, and he is delivered by the cleanness of thy hands" (vers. 28-30). For the sake of thy innocence, which thou shalt have regained, God will be gracious to others who need atonement for their guilt. Little does the Pharisaic speaker dream that it is he who will receive the pardon at God's hands for Job's sake (Job 42:8). The "prayer of a righteous man availeth much." At his intercession evil-doers may be spared, and not visited with the merited punishment (Genesis 18:23, 24; Ezekiel 14:14, sqq.). - J.
Can a man be profitable unto God?
Homilist.Two general truths.
I. That the great God is perfectly INDEPENDENT OF MAN'S CHARACTER, WHETHER RIGHT OR WRONG. "Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to Him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?"
1. He is so independent of it that He is not affected by it. No hellish crimes can lessen His felicity; no heavenly virtue can heighten His blessedness. He is infinitely more independent of all the virtues in heaven than the orb of day is independent of a candle's feeble rays, more independent of all the crimes of hell than noontide brightness is of a mere whiff of smoke. He is not worshipped with men's hands as though He needed anything. This fact should impress us —(1) With the duty of humility. He is independent of the most righteous services of the highest intelligence in the universe. None are necessary to the carrying out of His purposes.(2) With the benevolence of His legislation. Why does He lay down laws for the regulation of human conduct? Simply and entirely for our own happiness.
2. He is so independent of it that He will not condescend to explain His treatment of it. "Will He reprove thee for fear of thee? Will He enter with thee into judgment?" One great cause of Job's murmuring was that God had sent punishment upon him without any explanation. For this Eliphaz here reproves him, and virtually says, "Is it not in the highest degree absurd to expect that the Maker should be willing to explain His doings to the creatures He has made?"
II. MAN'S CHARACTER IS OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE TO HIMSELF. "He that is wise may be profitable unto himself." Eliphaz means to say that the wise and pious man is profitable to himself. To the man himself, character is everything. The wealth of Croesus, the strength of Samson, the wisdom of Solomon, and the dominion of Caesar are nothing to a man in comparison to his character. His character is the fruit of his existence, the organ of his power, the law of his destiny. It is the only property he carries with him beyond the grave.
I. THY IMPOSSIBILITY THAT MEN SHOULD BE PROFITABLE UNTO GOD. Think of the greatness of God, how inaccessible He is, how immeasurably removed from all created being. Thinking of this, you can scarcely indulge the idea, that the services of any creature, however exalted and endowed, can be necessary to God. If you examine with the least attention, you must see that, supposing God injured by our sin, or advantaged by our righteousness, is the equivalent to supposing our instrumentality necessary in order to the accomplishment of His purposes.
II. THE INFERENCES WHICH FOLLOW FROM THIS TRUTH. Note the perfect disinterestedness of God in sending His own Son to die for the rebellious. It cannot be that God redeemed us because He required our services. The only account which can be given of the amazing interposition is, that God loves us; and even this evades, rather than obviates, the difficulty. Remember that, though you can do nothing for God, He is ready in Christ to do everything for you.
(Henry Melvill, B. D.)
I. IT IS IMPLIED THAT MEN ARE NATURALLY VERY PRONE TO ENTERTAIN AS OPINION OR PERSUASION, THAT THEY ARE ABLE TO MERIT OF GOD, OR BE PROFITABLE TO HIM. The truth of this will appear from two considerations.
1. It is natural for men to place too high a value both upon themselves and their own performances. That this is so is evident from universal experience. Every man will be sure to set his own price upon what be is, and what he does, whether the world will come up to it or no; as it seldom does.
2. The natural aptness of men to form and measure their apprehensions of the supreme Lord of all things, by what they apprehend and observe of the princes and potentates of this world, with reference to such as are under their dominion. This is certainly a very prevailing fallacy, and steals too easily upon men's minds, as being founded in the unhappy predominance of sense over reason, No marvel then, if they blunder in their notions about God, a Being so vastly above the apprehensions of sense. From misapplied premises, the low, gross, undistinguishing reason of the generality of mankind, presently infers that the creature may, on some accounts, be as beneficial to his Creator as a subject may be to his prince. Men are naturally very prone to persuade themselves that they are able to merit of God, or be profitable to Him.
II. SUCH A PERSUASION IS UTTERLY FALSE AND ABSURD, FOR IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR MEN TO MERIT OF GOD. Show the several ingredients of merit, and the conditions necessary to render an action meritorious.
1. That an action be not due; that is to say, it must not be such as a man stands obliged to the doing of, but such as he is free either to do or not to do, without being chargeable with any sinful omission in case he does not. But all that any man alive is capable of doing, is but an indispensable homage to God, and not a free oblation; and that also such an homage as makes his obligation to what he does much earlier than his doing of it, will appear both from the law of nature, and that of God's positive command.
2. It should really add to and better the state of the person of whom it is to merit. The reason of which is because all merit consists properly in a right to receive some benefit, or the account of some benefit first done.(1) God offers Himself to our consideration as a Being infinitely perfect, infinitely happy, and self-sufficient, depending upon no supply or revenue from abroad.(2) On the other hand, is man a being fit and able to make this addition? Man only subsists by the joint alms of heaven and earth, and stands at the mercy of everything in nature, which is able either to help or hurt him. Is this now the person to oblige his Maker?
3. That there be an equal proportion of value between the action and the reward. This is evident from the foundation already laid by us; to wit, that the nature of merit consists properly in exchange; and that, we know, must proceed according to a parity of worth on both sides, commutation being most properly between things equivalent. Can we, who live by sense, and act by sense, do anything worthy of those joys which not only exceed our senses, but also transcend our intellectuals?
4. He who does a work whereby he would merit of another, does it solely by his own strength, and not by the strength or power of him from whom he is to merit.
III. THIS PERSUASION IS THE SOURCE AND FOUNDATION OF TWO OF THE GREATEST CORRUPTIONS OF RELIGION THAT HAVE INFESTED THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. These are pelagianism and popery. Pelagianism is resolvable into this one point, that a man contributes something of his own, which he had not from God, towards his own salvation.
IV. REMOVE AN OBJECTION NATURALLY APT TO ISSUE FROM THE FOREGOING PARTICULARS. Can there be a greater discouragement than this doctrine to men in their Christian course? Answer —
1. It ought not to be any discouragement to a beggar to continue asking an alms, and in doing all that he can to obtain it, though he knows he can do nothing to claim it.
2. I deny that our disavowing this doctrine of merit, cuts us off from all plea to a recompense for our Christian obedience from the hands of God. It cuts us off from all plea on the score of strict justice. But God's justice is not the only thing that can oblige Him in His transactings with men. His veracity and His promise also oblige Him.
(Robert South, D. D.)
I. UPON THE SURFACE, THE QUESTIONS ADMIT OF NO ANSWER BUT A NEGATIVE. "Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself?" We cannot conceive of the Deity as other than perfect, self-contained and self-sufficient. His power is omnipotent, and His years eternal. What can man do to enhance such adorable perfections? Will the light of a candle add to the glory of the sunshine at midday? Will a single drop of water perceptibly increase the volume of the ocean? Our Christian activities do not enrich God, as the work of shop assistants enriches their employers. Nor do our religious offerings add to His wealth. All is already His, and of His own do we give Him. The gain is on our side; not God's. We profit by our holiness of character, our Christian zeal, and our religious offerings. Nothing can be more sublimely ludicrous than the patronage which some men accord religion. They give to religious objects in the spirit of monarchs dispensing alms to the needy. They graciously allow their names to be printed as patrons of religious institutions.
II. YET, LOOKING AT HIS WORDS AGAIN, WE FEEL THAT THEY MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO PASS WITHOUT QUALIFICATION OR AMENDMENT. They are true to a certain extent, and in that limited degree may be usefully employed. Eliphaz in his laudable attempt to exalt God above the deities of the heathen, who according to the conceptions of their worshippers were enriched or impoverished by their piety or the lack of it, elevated Him to a pinnacle of remoteness and indifference which He does not occupy. In his extremely proper endeavour to magnify God he belittled man, which is both unnecessary and wrong. Is it the case that religion is merely an insurance? Is godliness nothing more than prudence? Do our saintliest serve God only for what they can get? Well, religion is less attractive than it seemed if the struggles that won our admiration and the sacrifices that moved us to tears were only prompted by self-interest. It is an insufficient explanation. Again, is it true, as Eliphaz insinuates, that human righteousness gives no pleasure to God? It is a crushing suggestion. The Eternal is high above you and cares nothing for your little concerns, even for your small virtues and petty victories over sin! It is a crushing suggestion. And surely it is a fallacious one. We may take the good He has given us or we may leave it, He does not care! His eternal calm is unruffled, His ineffable completeness unbroken, by the fortunes of mortal men! "Can a man be profitable unto God? No, he that is wise is profitable unto himself. Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that thou art righteous? or is it gain to Him that thou makest thy ways perfect?" Oh, it is a repellent picture. We are prepared to hear that there is a fallacy in it.
III. ITS EFFECT IS TO DEMORALISE AND DEBAUCH MAN. And it really does not magnify God. While professing to exalt Him, it lowers Him. Is God too great to notice man? That is not real greatness which can only condescend to notice great affairs. The answer to it lies in the book which records it. We see the Almighty contemplating with satisfaction the uprightness of a man. We see Him defending that uprightness against the malicious insinuations of His own enemy and man's, Satan. A better reply still is furnished by the teaching of Jesus. He revealed God. He was God. And in beautiful similitudes He spoke of the Divine concern for the soul of man and the Divine joy in its salvation. God, if we may reverently say so, has given His case away by the revelation of His fatherhood. We cannot argue upon the ground of majesty, but on this level we are at home. We know how a father hungers for the love of his child. So we can please God: we can wound Him. For love craves a return, and love lies bleeding from indifference. Jesus, yearning over Jerusalem, is the answer in the affirmative to the questions of Eliphaz. But the supreme answer lies not in the teaching of Jesus, convincing though that is, but in Jesus Himself. That answer is final. Is the moral condition of man of no concern to God? Then come with me to Bethlehem, to a stable behind the village inn. Is the soul of man uncared for by God? Then come with me to Calvary. Do you see that Man dying, amid throes of unutterable agony, on a cross of wood?
(B. J. Gibbon.)
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