Job’s friends all of them went upon this principle, that wicked people cannot prosper long in this world, but some remarkable judgment or other will suddenly light on them: Zophar had concluded with it, that the eyes of the wicked shall fail, Job 11:20. This principle Job here opposes, and maintains that God, in disposing men’s outward affairs, acts as a sovereign, reserving the exact distribution of rewards and punishments for the future state.
I. He asserts it as an undoubted truth that wicked people may, and often do, prosper long in this world, Job 12:6. Even great sinners may enjoy great prosperity. Observe, 1. How he describes the sinners. They are robbers, and such as provoke God, the worst kind of sinners, blasphemers and persecutors. Perhaps he refers to the Sabeans and Chaldeans, who had robbed him, and had always lived by spoil and rapine, and yet they prospered; all the world saw they did, and there is no disputing against sense; one observation built upon matter of fact is worth twenty notions framed by an hypothesis. Or more generally, All proud oppressors are robbers and pirates. It is supposed that what is injurious to men is provoking to God, the patron of right and the protector of mankind. It is not strange if those that violate the bonds of justice break through the obligations of all religion, bid defiance even to God himself, and make nothing of provoking him. 2. How he describes their prosperity. It is very great; for, (1.) Even their tabernacles prosper, those that live with them and those that come after them and descend from them. It seems as if a blessing were entailed upon their families; and that is sometimes preserved to succeeding generations which was got by fraud. (2.) They are secure, and not only feel no hurt, but fear none, are under no apprehensions of danger either from threatening providences or an awakened conscience. But those that provoke God are never the more safe for their being secure. (3.) Into their hand God brings abundantly. They have more than heart could wish (Ps. 73:7), not for necessity only, but for delight—not for themselves only, but for others—not for the present only, but for hereafter; and this from the hand of Providence too. God brings plentifully to them. We cannot therefore judge of men’s piety by their plenty, nor of what they have in their heart by what they have in their hand.
II. He appeals even to the inferior creatures for the proof of this—the beasts, and fowls, and trees, and even the earth itself; consult these, and they shall tell thee, Job 12:7, 8. Many a good lesson we may learn from them, but what are they here to teach us?
1. We may from them learn that the tabernacles of robbers prosper (so some); for, (1.) Even among the brute creatures the greater devour the less and the stronger prey upon the weaker, and men are as the fishes of the sea, Hab. 1:14. If sin had not entered, we may suppose there would have been no such disorder among the creatures, but the wolf and the lamb would have lain down together. (2.) These creatures are serviceable to wicked men, and so they declare their prosperity. Ask the herds and the flocks to whom they belong, and they will tell you that such a robber, such an oppressor, is their owner: the fishes and fowls will tell you that they are served up to the tables, and feed the luxury, of proud sinners. The earth brings forth her fruits to them (Job 9:24), and the whole creation groans under the burden of their tyranny, Rom. 8:20, 22. Note, All the creatures which wicked men abuse, by making them the food and fuel of their lusts, will witness against them another day, Jas. 5:3, 4.
2. We may from them learn the wisdom, power, and goodness of God, and that sovereign dominion of his into which plain and self-evident truth all these difficult dispensations must be resolved. Zophar had made a vast mystery of it, Job 11:7. “So far from that,” says Job, “that what we are concerned to know we may learn even from the inferior creatures; for who knows not from all these? Job 12:9. Any one may easily gather from the book of the creatures that the hand of the Lord has wrought this,” that is, “that there is a wise Providence which guides and governs all these things by rules which we are neither acquainted with nor are competent judges of.” Note, From God’s sovereign dominion over the inferior creatures we should learn to acquiesce in all his disposals of the affairs of the children of men, though contrary to our measures.
III. He resolves all into the absolute propriety which God has in all the creatures (Job 12:10): In whose hand is the soul of every living thing. All the creatures, and mankind particularly, derive their being from him, owe their being to him, depend upon him for the support of it, lie at his mercy, are under his direction and dominion and entirely at his disposal, and at his summons must resign their lives. All souls are his; and may he not do what he will with his own? The name Jehovah is used here (Job 12:9), and it is the only time that we meet with it in all the discourses between Job and his friends; for God was, in that age, more known by the name of Shaddai—the Almighty.
IV. Those words—(Job 12:11), Doth not the ear try words, as the mouth tastes meat? may be taken either as the conclusion to the foregoing discourse or the preface to what follows. The mind of man has as good a faculty of discerning between truth and error, when duly stated, as the palate has of discerning between what is sweet and what is bitter. Job therefore demands from his friends a liberty to judge for himself of what they had said, and desires them to use the same liberty in judging of what he had said; nay, he seems to appeal to any man’s impartial judgment in this controversy; let the ear try the words on both sides, and it would be found that he was in the right. Note, The ear must try words before it receives them so as to subscribe to them. As by the taste we judge what food is wholesome to the body and what not, so by the spirit of discerning we must judge what doctrine is sound, and savoury, and wholesome, and what not, 1 Cor. 10:15; 11:13.