Verses 1–6

In these verses,

I. Eliphaz excuses the trouble he is now about to give to Job by his discourse (Job 4:2): “If we assay a word with thee, offer a word of reproof and counsel, wilt thou be grieved and take it ill?” We have reason to fear thou wilt; but there is no remedy: “Who can refrain from words?” Observe, 1. With what modesty he speaks of himself and his own attempt. He will not undertake the management of the cause alone, but very humbly joins his friends with him: “We will commune with thee.” Those that plead God’s cause must be glad of help, lest it suffer through their weakness. He will not promise much, but begs leave to assay or attempt, and try if he could propose any thing that might be pertinent, and suit Job’s case. In difficult matters it becomes us to pretend no further, but only to try what may be said or done. Many excellent discourses have gone under the modest title of Essays. 2. With what tenderness he speaks of Job, and his present afflicted condition: “If we tell thee our mind, wilt thou be grieved? Wilt thou take it ill? Wilt thou lay it to thy own heart as thy affliction or to our charge as our fault? Shall we be reckoned unkind and cruel if we deal plainly and faithfully with thee? We desire we may not; we hope we shall not, and should be sorry if that should be ill resented which is well intended.” Note, We ought to be afraid of grieving any, especially those that are already in grief, lest we add affliction to the afflicted, as David’s enemies, Ps. 69:26. We should show ourselves backward to say that which we foresee will be grievous, though ever so necessary. God himself, though he afflicts justly, does not afflict willingly, Lam. 3:33. 3. With what assurance he speaks of the truth and pertinency of what he was about to say: Who can withhold himself from speaking? Surely it was a pious zeal for God’s honour, and the spiritual welfare of Job, that laid him under this necessity of speaking. “Who can forbear speaking in vindication of God’s honour, which we hear reproved, in love to thy soul, which we see endangered?” Note, It is foolish pity not to reprove our friends, even our friends in affliction, for what they say or do amiss, only for fear of offending them. Whether men take it well or ill, we must with wisdom and meekness do our duty and discharge a good conscience.

II. He exhibits a twofold charge against Job.

1. As to his particular conduct under this affliction. He charges him with weakness and faint-heartedness, and this article of his charge there was too much ground for, Job 4:3-5. And here,

(1.) He takes notice of Job’s former serviceableness to the comfort of others. He owns that Job had instructed many, not only his own children and servants, but many others, his neighbours and friends, as many as fell within the sphere of his activity. He did not only encourage those who were teachers by office, and countenance them, and pay for the teaching of those who were poor, but he did himself instruct many. Though a great man, he did not think it below him (king Solomon was a preacher); though a man of business, he found time to do it, went among his neighbours, talked to them about their souls, and gave them good counsel. O that this example of Job were imitated by our great men! If he met with those who were ready to fall into sin, or sink under their troubles, his words upheld them: a wonderful dexterity he had in offering that which was proper to fortify persons against temptations, to support them under their burdens, and to comfort afflicted consciences. He had, and used, the tongue of the learned, knew how to speak a word in season to those that were weary, and employed himself much in that good work. With suitable counsels and comforts he strengthened the weak hands for work and service and the spiritual warfare, and the feeble knees for bearing up the man in his journey and under his load. It is not only our duty to lift up our own hands that hang down, by quickening and encouraging ourselves in the way of duty (Heb. 12:12), but we must also strengthen the weak hands of others, as there is occasion, and do what we can to confirm their feeble knees, by saying to those that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, Isa. 35:3, 4. The expressions seem to be borrowed thence. Note, Those should abound in spiritual charity. A good word, well and wisely spoken, may do more good than perhaps we think of. But why does Eliphaz mention this here? [1.] Perhaps he praises him thus for the good he had done that he might make the intended reproof the more passable with him. Just commendation is a good preface to a just reprehension, will help to remove prejudices, and will show that the reproof comes not from ill will. Paul praised the Corinthians before he chided them, 1 Cor. 11:2. [2.] He remembers how Job had comforted others as a reason why he might justly expect to be himself comforted; and yet, if conviction was necessary in order to comfort, they must be excused if they applied themselves to that first. The Comforter shall reprove, John 16:8. [3.] He speaks this, perhaps, in a way of pity, lamenting that through the extremity of his affliction he could not apply those comforts to himself which he had formerly administered to others. It is easier to give good counsel than to take it, to preach meekness and patience than to practise them. Facile omnes, cum valemus, rectum consilium aegrotis damus—We all find it easy, when in health, to give good advice to the sick.—Terent. [4.] Most think that he mentions it as an aggravation of his present discontent, upbraiding him with his knowledge, and the good offices he had done for others, as if he had said, “Thou that hast taught others, why dost thou not teach thyself? Isa. not this an evidence of thy hypocrisy, that thou hast prescribed that medicine to others which thou wilt not now take thyself, and so contradictest thyself, and actest against thy own know principles? Thou that teachest another to faint, dost thou faint? Rom. 2:21. Physician, heal thyself.” Those who have rebuked others must expect to hear of it if they themselves become obnoxious to rebuke.

(2.) He upbraids him with his present low-spiritedness, Job 4:5. “Now that it has come upon thee, now that it is thy turn to be afflicted, and the bitter cup that goes round is put into thy hand, now that it touches thee, thou faintest, thou art troubled.” Here, [1.] He makes too light of Job’s afflictions: “It touches thee.” The very word that Satan himself had used, Job 1:11; 2:5. Had Eliphaz felt but the one-half of Job’s affliction, he would have said, “It smites me, it wounds me;” but, speaking of Job’s afflictions, he makes a mere trifle of it: “It touches thee and thou canst not bear to be touched.” Noli me tangere—Touch me not. [2.] He makes too much of Job’s resentments, and aggravates them: “Thou faintest, or thou art beside thyself; thou ravest, and knowest not what thou sayest.” Men in deep distress must have grains of allowance, and a favourable construction put upon what they say; when we make the worst of every word we do not as we would be done by.

2. As to his general character before this affliction. He charges him with wickedness and false-heartedness, and this article of his charge was utterly groundless and unjust. How unkindly does he banter him, and upbraid him with the great profession of religion he had made, as if it had all now come to nothing and proved a sham (Job 4:6): “Isa. not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways? Does it not all appear now to be a mere pretence? For, hadst thou been sincere in it, God would not thus have afflicted thee, nor wouldst thou have behaved thus under the affliction.” This was the very thing Satan aimed at, to prove Job a hypocrite, and disprove the character God had given of him. When he could not himself do this to God, but he still saw and said, Job is perfect and upright, then he endeavoured, by his friends, to do it to Job himself, and to persuade him to confess himself a hypocrite. Could he have gained that point he would have triumphed. Habes confitentem reum—Out of thy own mouth will I condemn thee. But, by the grace of God, Job was enabled to hold fast his integrity, and would not bear false witness against himself. Note, Those that pass rash and uncharitable censures upon their brethren, and condemn them as hypocrites, do Satan’s work, and serve his interest, more than they are aware of. I know not how it comes to pass that Job 4:6 is differently read in several editions of our common English Bibles; the original, and all the ancient versions, put thy hope before the uprightness of thy ways. So does the Geneva, and most of the editions of the last translation; but I find one of the first, in 1612, has it, Isa. not this thy fear, thy confidence, the uprightness of thy ways, and thy hope? Both the Assembly’s Annotations and Mr. Pool’s have that reading: and an edition in 1660 reads it, “Isa. not thy fear thy confidence, and the uprightness of thy ways thy hope? Does it not appear now that all the religion both of thy devotion and of thy conversation was only in hope and confidence that thou shouldst grow rich by it? Was it not all mercenary?” The very thing that Satan suggested. Isa. not thy religion thy hope, and are not thy ways thy confidence? so Mr. Broughton. Or, “Was it not? Didst thou not think that that would be thy protection? But thou art deceived.” Or, “Would it not have been so? If it had been sincere, would it not have kept thee from this despair?” It is true, if thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength, thy grace, is small (Prov. 24:10); but it does not therefore follow that thou hast no grace, no strength at all. A man’s character is not to be taken from a single act.