Job’s friends had passed a very severe censure upon him as a wicked man because he was so grievously afflicted; now here he tells them how ill he took it to be so censured. Bildad had twice begun with a How long (Job 8:2; 18:2), and therefore Job, being now to answer him particularly, begins with a How long too, Job 19:2. What is not liked is commonly thought long; but Job had more reason to think those long who assaulted him than they had to think him long who only vindicated himself. Better cause may be shown for defending ourselves, if we have right on our side, than for offending our brethren, though we have right on our side. Now observe here,
I. How he describes their unkindness to him and what account he gives of it. 1. They vexed his soul, and that is more grievous than the vexation of the bones, Ps. 6:2, 3. They were his friends; they came to comfort him, pretended to counsel him for the best; but with a great deal of gravity, and affectation of wisdom and piety, they set themselves to rob him of the only comfort he had now left him in a good God, a good conscience, and a good name; and this vexed him to his heart. 2. They broke him in pieces with words, and those were surely hard and very cruel words that would break a man to pieces: they grieved him, and so broke him; and therefore there will be a reckoning hereafter for all the hard speeches spoken against Christ and his people, Jude 1:15. 3. They reproached him, (Job 19:3), gave him a bad character and laid to his charge things that he knew not. To an ingenuous mind reproach is a cutting thing. 4. They made themselves strange to him, were shy of him now that he was in his troubles, and seemed as if they did not know him (Job 2:12), were not free with him as they used to be when he was in his prosperity. Those are governed by the spirit of the world, and not by any principles of true honour or love, who make themselves strange to their friends, or God’s friends, when they are in trouble. A friend loves at all times. 5. They not only estranged themselves from him, but magnified themselves against him (Job 19:5), not only looked shy of him, but looked big upon him, and insulted over him, magnifying themselves to depress him. It is a mean thing, it is a base thing, thus to trample upon those that are down. 6. They pleaded against him his reproach, that is, they made use of his affliction as an argument against him to prove him a wicked man. They should have pleaded for him his integrity, and helped him to take the comfort of that under his affliction, and so have pleaded that against his reproach (as St. Paul, 2 Cor. 1:12); but, instead of that, they pleaded his reproach against his integrity, which was not only unkind, but very unjust; for where shall we find an honest man if reproach may be admitted for a plea against him?
II. How he aggravates their unkindness. 1. They had thus abused him often (Job 19:3): These ten times you have reproached me, that is, very often, as Gen. 31:7; Num. 14:22. Five times they had spoken, and every speech was a double reproach. He spoke as if he had kept a particular account of their reproaches, and could tell just how many they were. It is but a peevish and unfriendly thing to do so, and looks like a design of retaliation and revenge. We better befriend our own peace by forgetting injuries and unkindnesses than by remembering them and scoring them up. 2. They continued still to abuse him, and seemed resolved to persist in it: “How long will you do it?” Job 19:2, 5. “I see you will magnify yourselves against me, notwithstanding all I have said in my own justification.” Those that speak too much seldom think they have said enough; and, when the mouth is opened in passion, the ear is shut to reason. 3. They were not ashamed of what they did, Job 19:3. They had reason to be ashamed of their hard-heartedness, so ill becoming men, of their uncharitableness, so ill becoming good men, and of their deceitfulness, so ill becoming friends: but were they ashamed? No, though they were told of it again and again, yet they could not blush.
III. How he answers their harsh censures, by showing them that what they condemned was capable of excuse, which they ought to have considered. 1. The errors of his judgment were excusable (Job 19:4): “Be it indeed that I have erred, that I am in the wrong through ignorance or mistake,” which may well be supposed concerning men, concerning good men. Humanum est errare—Error cleaves to humanity; and we must be willing to suppose it concerning ourselves. It is folly to think ourselves infallible. “But be it so,” said Job, “my error remaineth with myself,” that is, “I speak according to the best of my judgment, with all sincerity, and not from a spirit of contradiction.” Or, “If I be in an error, I keep it to myself, and do not impose it upon others as you do. I only prove myself and my own work by it. I meddle not with other people, either to teach them or to judge them.” Men’s errors are the more excusable if they keep them to themselves, and do not disturb others with them. Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself. Some give this sense of these words: “If I be in an error, it is I that must smart for it; and therefore you need not concern yourselves: nay, it is I that do smart, and smart severely, for it; and therefore you need not add to my misery by your reproaches.” 2. The breakings out of his passion, though not justifiable, yet were excusable, considering the vastness of his grief and the extremity of his misery. “If you will go on to cavil at every complaining word I speak, will make the worst of it and improve it against me, yet take the cause of the complaint along with you, and weigh that, before you pass a judgment upon the complaint, and turn it to my reproach: Know then that God has overthrown me,” Job 19:6. Three things he would have them consider:—(1.) That his trouble was very great. He was overthrown, and could not help himself, enclosed as in a net, and could not get out. (2.) That God was the author of it, and that, in it, he fought against him: “It was his hand that overthrew me; it is in his net that I am enclosed; and therefore you need not appear against me thus. I have enough to do to grapple with God’s displeasure; let me not have yours also. Let God’s controversy with me be ended before you begin yours.” It is barbarous to persecute him whom God hath smitten and to talk to the grief of one whom he hath wounded, Ps. 69:26. (3.) That he could not obtain any hope of the redress of his grievances, Job 19:7. He complained of his pain, but got no ease—begged to know the cause of his affliction, but could not discover it—appealed to God’s tribunal for the clearing of his innocency, but could not obtain a hearing, much less a judgment, upon his appeal: I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard. God, for a time, may seem to turn away his ear from his people, to be angry at their prayers and overlook their appeals to him, and they must be excused if, in that case, they complain bitterly. Woe unto us if God be against us!