Elihu, being to speak on God’s behalf, and particularly to ascribe righteousness to his Maker, here shows that the disposals of divine Providence are all, not only according to the eternal counsels of his will, but according to the eternal rules of equity. God acts as a righteous governor, for,
I. He does not think it below him to take notice of the meanest of his subjects, nor does poverty or obscurity set any at a distance from his favour. If men are mighty, they are apt to look with a haughty disdain upon those that are not of distinction and make no figure; but God is mighty, infinitely so, and yet he despises not any, Job 36:5. He humbles himself to take cognizance of the affairs of the meanest, to do them justice and to show them kindness. Job thought himself and his cause slighted because God did not immediately appear for him. “No,” says Elihu, God despises not any, which is a good reason why we should honour all men. He is mighty in strength and wisdom, and yet does not look with contempt upon those that have but a little strength and wisdom, if they but mean honestly. Nay, for this reason he despises not any, because his wisdom and strength are incontestably infinite and therefore the condescensions of his grace can be no diminution to him. Those that are wise and good will not look upon any with scorn and disdain.
II. He gives no countenance to the greatest, if they be bad (Job 36:6): He preserves not the life of the wicked. Though their life may be prolonged, yet not under any special care of the divine Providence, but only its common protection. Job had said that the wicked live, become old, and are mighty in power, Job 21:7. “No,” says Elihu: “he seldom suffers wicked men to become old. He preserves not their life so long as they expected, nor with that comfort and satisfaction which are indeed our life; and their preservation is but a reservation for the day of wrath,” Rom. 2:5.
III. He is always ready to right those that are any way injured, and to plead their cause (Job 36:6): He gives right to the poor, avenges their quarrel upon their persecutors and forces them to make restitution of what they have robbed them of. If men will not right the injured poor, God will.
IV. He takes a particular care for the protection of his good subjects, Job 36:7. He not only looks on them, but he never looks off them: He withdraws not his eyes from the righteous. Though they may seem sometimes neglected and forgotten, and that befals them which looks like an oversight of Providence, yet tender careful eye of their heavenly Father never withdraws from them. If our eye be ever towards God in duty, his eye will be ever upon us in mercy, and, when we are at the lowest, will not overlook us.
1. Sometimes he prefers good people to places of trust and honour (Job 36:7): With kings are they on the throne, and every sheaf is made to bow to theirs. When righteous persons are advanced to places of honour and power, it is in mercy to them; for God’s grace in them will both arm them against the temptations that attend preferment and enable them to improve the opportunity it gives them of doing good. It is also in mercy to those over whom they are set: When the righteous bear rule the city rejoices. If the righteous be advanced, they are established. Those that in honour keep a good conscience stand upon sure ground, and high places are not such slippery ground to them as they are to others. But, because it is not often that we see good men made great men in this world, this may be supposed to refer to the honour to which the righteous shall rise when their Redeemer shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; for then only they shall be exalted for ever, and established for ever; then shall they all shine forth as the sun, and be made kings and priests to our God.
2. If at any time he bring them into affliction, it is for the good of their souls, Job 36:8-10. Some good people are preferred to honour and power, but others are in trouble. Now observe, (1.) The distress supposed (Job 36:8): If they be bound in fetters, laid in prison as Joseph was, or holden in the cords of any other affliction, confined by pain and sickness, hampered by poverty, bound in their counsels, and, notwithstanding all their struggles, held long in this distress. This was Job’s case; he was caught, and kept fast, in the cords of anguish (as some read it); but observe, (2.) The design God has, in bringing his people into such distresses as these; it is for the benefit of their souls, the consideration of which should reconcile us to affliction and make us think well of it. Three things God intends when he afflicts us:—[1.] To discover past sins to us, and to bring them to our remembrance. Then he shows them that amiss in them which before they did not see. He discovers to them the fact of sin: He shows them their work. Sin is our own work. If there be any good in us, it is God’s work; and we are concerned to see what work we have made by sin. He discovers the fault of sin, shows them their transgressions of the law of God, and withal the sinfulness of sin, that they have exceeded, and have been beyond measure sinful. True penitents lay a load upon themselves, do not extenuate, but aggravate, their sins, and own that they have exceeded in them. Affliction sometimes answers to the sin; it serves, however, to awaken the conscience and puts men upon considering. [2.] To dispose our hearts to receive present instructions: Then he opens their ear to discipline, Job 36:10. Whom God chastens he teaches (Ps. 94:12), and the affliction makes people willing to learn, softens the wax, that it may receive the impression of the seal; yet it does not do this of itself, but the grace of God working with and by it; it is he that opens the ear, that opens the heart, who has the key of David. [3.] To deter and draw us off from iniquity for the future. This is the errand on which the affliction is sent; it is a command to return from iniquity, to have no more to do with sin, to turn from it with an aversion to it and a resolution never to return to it any more, Hos. 14:8.
3. If the affliction do its work, and accomplish that for which it is sent, he will comfort them again, according to the time that he has afflicted them (Job 36:11): If they obey and serve him,—if they comply with his design and serve his purpose in these dispensations,—if, when the affliction is removed, they continue in the same good mind that they were in when they were under the smart of it and perform the vows they made then,—if they live in obedience to God’s commands, particularly those which relate to his service and worship, and in all instances make conscience of their duty to him,—then they shall spend their days in prosperity again and their years in true pleasures. Piety is the only sure way to prosperity and pleasure; this is a certain truth, and yet few will believe it. If we faithfully serve God, (1.) We have the promise of outward prosperity, the promise of the life that now is, and the comforts of it, as far as is for God’s glory and our good; and who would desire them any further? (2.) We have the possession of inward pleasures, the comfort of communion with God and a good conscience, and that great peace which those have that love God’s law. If we rejoice not in the Lord always, and in hope of eternal life, it is our own fault; and what better pleasures can we spend our years in?
4. If the affliction do not do its work, let them expect the furnace to be heated seven times hotter till they are consumed (Job 36:12): If they obey not, if they are not bettered by their afflictions, are not reclaimed and reformed, they shall perish by the sword of God’s wrath. Those whom his rod does not cure his sword will kill; and the consuming fire will prevail if the refining fire do not; for when God judges he will overcome. If Ahaz, in his distress, trespass yet more against the Lord, this is that king Ahaz that is marked for ruin, 2 Chron. 28:22; Jer. 6:29, 30. God would have instructed them by their afflictions, but they received not instruction, would not take the hints that were given them; and therefore they shall die without knowledge, ere they are aware, without any further previous notices given them; or they shall die because they were without knowledge notwithstanding the means of knowledge which they were blessed with. Those that die without knowledge die without grace and are undone for ever.
V. He brings ruin upon hypocrites, the secret enemies of his kingdom (such as Elihu described, Job 36:12), who, though they were numbered among the righteous whom Elihu had spoken of before, yet did not obey God, but, being children of disobedience and darkness, become children of wrath and perdition; these are the hypocrites in heart, who heap up wrath, Job 36:13. See the nature of hypocrisy: it lies in the heart, which is for the world and the flesh when the outside seems to be for God and religion. Many that are saints in show and saints in word are hypocrites in heart. That spring is corrupt, and there is an evil treasure there. See the mischievousness of hypocrisy: hypocrites heap up wrath. They are doing that every day which is provoking to God, and will be reckoned with for it all together in the great day. They treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, Rom. 2:5. Their sins are laid up in store with God among his treasures, Deut. 32:34; Jas. 5:3. As what goes up a vapour comes down a shower, so what goes up sin, if not repented of, will come down wrath. They think they are heaping up wealth, heaping up merits, but, when the treasures are opened, it will prove they were heaping up wrath. Observe, 1. What they do to heap up wrath. What is it that is so provoking? It is this, They cry not when he binds them, that is, when they are in affliction, bound with the cords of trouble, their hearts are hardened, they are stubborn and unhumbled, and will not cry to God nor make their application to him. They are stupid and senseless as stocks and stones, despising the chastening of the Lord. 2. What are the effects of that wrath? They die in youth, and their life is among the unclean, Job 36:14. This is the portion of hypocrites, whom Christ denounced many woes against. If they continue impenitent, (1.) They shall die a sudden death, die in youth, when death is most a surprise, and death (that is, the consequence of it) is always such to hypocrites; as those that die in youth die when they hoped to live, so hypocrites, at death, go to hell, when they hoped to go to heaven. When a wicked man dies his expectations shall perish. (2.) They shall die the second death. Their life, after death (for so it comes in here), is among the unclean, among the fornicators (so some), among the worst and vilest of sinners, notwithstanding their specious and plausible profession. It is among the Sodomites (so the margin), those filthy wretches, who going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire, Jude 1:7. The souls of the wicked live after death, but they live among the unclean, the unclean spirits, the devil and his angels, forever separated from the new Jerusalem, into which no unclean thing shall enter.