Job was not only so rich and great, but withal so wise and good, and had such an interest both in heaven and earth, that one would think the mountain of his prosperity stood so strong that it could not be moved; but here we have a thick cloud gathering over his head, pregnant with a horrible tempest. We must never think ourselves secure from storms while we are in this lower region. Before we are told how his troubles surprised and seized him here in this visible world, we are here told how they were concerted in the world of spirits, that the devil, having a great enmity to Job for his eminent piety, begged and obtained leave to torment him. It does not at all derogate from the credibility of Job’s story in general to allow that this discourse between God and Satan, in these verses, is parabolical, like that of Micaiah (1 Kgs. 22:19-29), and an allegory designed to represent the malice of the devil against good men and the divine check and restraint which that malice is under; only thus much further is intimated, that the affairs of this earth are very much the subject of the counsels of the unseen world. That world is dark to us, but we lie very open to it. Now here we have,
I. Satan among the sons of God (Job 1:6), an adversary (so Satan signifies) to God, to men, to all good: he thrust himself into an assembly of the sons of God that came to present themselves before the Lord. This means either, 1. A meeting of the saints on earth. Professors of religion, in the patriarchal age, were called sons of God (Gen. 6:2); they had then religious assemblies and stated times for them. The King came in to see his guests; the eye of God was on all present. But there was a serpent in paradise, a Satan among the sons of God; when they come together he is among them, to distract and disturb them, stands at their right hand to resist them. The Lord rebuke thee, Satan! Or, 2. A meeting of the angels in heaven. They are the sons of God, Job 38:7. They came to give an account of their negotiations on earth and to receive new instructions. Satan was one of them originally; but how hast thou fallen, O Lucifer! He shall no more stand in that congregation, yet he is here represented, as coming among them, either summoned to appear as a criminal or connived at, for the present, though an intruder.
II. His examination, how he came thither (Job 1:7): The Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? He knew very well whence he came, and with what design he came thither, that as the good angels came to do good he came for a permission to do hurt; but he would, by calling him to an account, show him that he was under check and control. Whence comest thou? He asks this, 1. As wondering what brought him thither. Isa. Saul among the prophets? Satan among the sons of God? Yes, for he transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:13, 14), and would seem one of them. Note, It is possible that a man may be a child of the devil and yet be found in the assemblies of the sons of God in this world, and there may pass undiscovered by men, and yet be challenged by the all-seeing God. Friend, how camest thou in hither? Or, 2. As enquiring what he had been doing before he came thither. The same question was perhaps put to the rest of those that presented themselves before the Lord, “Whence came you?” We are accountable to God for all our haunts and all the ways we traverse.
III. The account he gives of himself and of the tour he had made. I come (says he) from going to and fro on the earth. 1. He could not pretend he had been doing any good, could give no such account of himself as the sons of God could, who presented themselves before the Lord, who came from executing his orders, serving the interest of his kingdom, and ministering to the heirs of salvation. 2. He would not own he had been doing any hurt, that he had been drawing men from the allegiance to God, deceiving and destroying souls; no. I have done no wickedness, Prov. 30:20. Thy servant went nowhere. In saying that he had walked to and fro through the earth, he intimates that he had kept himself within the bounds allotted him, and had not transgressed his bounds; for the dragon is cast out into the earth (Rev. 12:9) and not yet confined to his place of torment. While we are on this earth we are within his reach, and with so much subtlety, swiftness, and industry, does he penetrate into all the corners of it, that we cannot be in any place secure from his temptations. 3. He yet seems to give some representation of his own character. (1.) Perhaps it is spoken proudly, and with an air of haughtiness, as if he were indeed the prince of this world, as if the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them were his (Luke 4:6), and he had now been walking in circuit through his own territories. (2.) Perhaps it is spoken fretfully, and with discontent. He had been walking to and fro, and could find no rest, but was as much a fugitive and a vagabond as Cain in the land of Nod. (3.) Perhaps it is spoken carefully: “I have been hard at work, going to and fro,” or (as some read it) “searching about in the earth,” really in quest of an opportunity to do mischief. He walks abut seeking whom he may devour. It concerns us therefore to be sober and vigilant.
IV. The question God puts to him concerning Job (Job 1:8): Hast thou considered my servant Job? As when we meet with one that has been in a distant place, where we have a friend we dearly love, we are ready to ask, “You have been in such a place; pray did you see my friend there?” Observe, 1. How honourably God speaks of Job: He is my servant. Good men are God’s servants, and he is pleased to reckon himself honoured in their services, and they are to him for a name and a praise (Jer. 13:11) and a crown of glory, Isa. 62:3. “Yonder is my servant Job; there is none like him, none I value like him, of all the princes and potentates of the earth; one such saint as he 8000 is worth them all: none like him for uprightness and serious piety; many do well, but he excelleth them all; there is not to be found such great faith, no, not in Israel.” Thus Christ, long after, commended the centurion and the woman of Canaan, who were both of them, like Job, strangers to that commonwealth. The saints glory in God—Who is like thee among the gods? and he is pleased to glory in them—Who is like Israel among the people? So here, none like Job, none in earth, that state of imperfection. Those in heaven do indeed far outshine him; those who are least in that kingdom are greater than he; but on earth there is not his like. There is none like him in that land; so some good men are the glory of their country. 2. How closely he gives to Satan this good character of Job: Hast thou set thy heart to my servant Job? designing hereby, (1.) To aggravate the apostasy and misery of that wicked spirit: “How unlike him are thou!” Note, The holiness and happiness of the saints are the shame and torment of the devil and the devil’s children. (2.) To answer the devil’s seeming boast of the interest he had in this earth. “I have been walking to and fro in it,” says he, “and it is all my own; all flesh have corrupted their way; they all sit still, and are at rest in their sins,” Zech. 1:10, 11. “Nay, hold,” saith God, “Job is my faithful servant.” Satan may boast, but he shall not triumph. (3.) To anticipate his accusations, as if he had said, “Satan, I know thy errand; thou hast come to inform against Job; but hast thou considered him? Does not his unquestionable character give thee the lie?” Note, God knows all the malice of the devil and his instruments against his servants; and we have an advocate ready to appear for us, even before we are accused.
V. The devil’s base insinuation against Job, in answer to God’s encomium of him. He could not deny but that Job feared God, but suggested that he was a mercenary in his religion, and therefore a hypocrite (Job 1:9): Doth Job fear God for nought? Observe, 1. How impatient the devil was of hearing Job praised, though it was God himself that praised him. Those are like the devil who cannot endure that any body should be praised but themselves, but grudge the just share of reputation others have, as Saul (1 Sam. 18:5-16) and the Pharisees, Matt. 21:15. 2. How much at a loss he was for something to object against him; he could not accuse him of any thing that was bad, and therefore charged him with by-ends in doing good. Had the one half of that been true which his angry friends, in the heat of dispute, charged him with (Job 15:4; 22:5), Satan would no doubt have brought against him now; but no such thing could be alleged, and therefore, 3. See how slyly he censured him as a hypocrite, not asserting that he was so, but only asking, “Isa. he not so?” This is the common way of slanderers, whisperers, backbiters, to suggest that by way of query which yet they have no reason to think is true. Note, It is not strange if those that are approved and accepted of God be unjustly censured by the devil and his instruments; if they are otherwise unexceptionable, it is easy to charge them with hypocrisy, as Satan charged Job, and they have no way to clear themselves, but patiently to wait for the judgment of God. As there is nothing we should dread more than being hypocrites, so there is nothing we need dread less that being called and counted so without cause. 4. How unjustly he accused him as mercenary, to prove him a hypocrite. It was a great truth that Job did not fear God for nought; he got much by it, for godliness is great gain: but it was a falsehood that he would not have feared God if he had not got this by it, as the event proved. Job’s friends charged him with hypocrisy because he was greatly afflicted, Satan because he greatly prospered. It is no hard matter for those to calumniate that seek an occasion. It is not mercenary to look at the eternal recompence in our obedience; but to aim at temporal advantages in our religion, and to make it subservient to them, is spiritual idolatry, worshipping the creature more than the Creator, and is likely to end in a fatal apostasy. Men cannot long serve God and mammon.
VI. The complaint Satan made of Job’s prosperity, Job 1:10. Observe, 1. What God had done for Job. He had protected him, made a hedge about him, for the defence of his person, his family, and all his possessions. Note, God’s peculiar people are taken under his special protection, they and all that belong to them; divine grace makes a hedge about their spiritual life, and divine providence about their natural life, so they are safe and easy. He had prospered him, not in idleness or injustice (the devil could not accuse him of them), but in the way of honest diligence: Thou hast blessed the work of his hands. Without that blessing, be the hands ever so strong, ever so skilful, the work will not prosper; but, with that, his substance has wonderfully increased in the land. The blessing of the Lord makes rich: Satan himself owns it. 2. What notice the devil took of it, and how he improved it against him. The devil speaks of it with vexation. “I see thou hast made a hedge about him, round about;” as if he had walked it round, to see if he could spy a single gap in it, for him to enter in at, to do him a mischief; but he was disappointed: it was a complete hedge. The wicked one saw it and was grieved, and argued against Job that the only reason why he served God was because God prospered him. “No thanks to him to be true to the government that prefers him, and to serve a Master that pays him so well.”
VII. The proof Satan undertakes to give of the hypocrisy and mercenariness of Job’s religion, if he might but have leave to strip him of his wealth. “Let it be put to this issue,” says he (Job 1:11); “make him poor, frown upon him, turn thy hand against him, and then see where his religion will be; touch what he has and it will appear what he is. If he curse thee not to thy face, let me never be believed, but posted for a liar and false accuser. Let me perish if he curse thee not;” so some supply the imprecation, which the devil himself modestly concealed, but the profane swearers of our age impudently and daringly speak out. Observe, 1. How slightly he speaks of the affliction he desired that Job might be tried with: “Do but touch all that he has, do but begin with him, do but threaten to make him poor; a little cross will change his tone.” 2. How spitefully he speaks of the impression it would make upon Job: “He will not only let fall his devotion, but turn it into an open defiance—not only think hardly of thee, but even curse thee to thy face.” The word translated curse is barac, the same that ordinarily, and originally, signifies to bless; but cursing God is so impious a thing that the holy language would not admit the name: but that where the sense requires it it must be so understood is plain form 1 Kgs. 21:10-13, where the word is used concerning the crime charged on Naboth, that he did blaspheme God and the king. Now, (1.) It is likely that Satan did think that Job, if impoverished, would renounce his religion and so disprove his profession, and if so (as a learned gentleman has observed in his Mount of Spirits) Satan would have made out his own universal empire among the children of men. God declared Job the best man then living: now, if Satan can prove him a hypocrite, it will follow that God had not one faithful servant among men and that there was no such thing as true and sincere piety in the world, but religion was all a sham, and Satan was king de facto—in fact, over all mankind. But it appeared that the Lord knows those that are his and is not deceived in any. (2.) However, if Job should retain his religion, Satan would have the satisfaction to see him sorely afflicted. He hates good men, and delights in their griefs, as God has pleasure in their prosperity.
VIII. The permission God gave to Satan to afflict Job for the trial of his sincerity. Satan desired God to do it: Put forth thy hand now. God allowed him to do it (Job 1:12): “All that he has is in thy hand; make the trial as sharp as thou canst; do thy worst at him.” Now, 1. It is a matter of wonder that God should give Satan such a permission as this, should deliver the soul of his turtle-dove into the hand of the adversary, such a lamb to such a lion; but he did it for his own glory, the honour of Job, the explanation of Providence, and the encouragement of his afflicted people in all ages, to make a case which, being adjudged, might be a useful precedent. He suffered Job to be tried, as he suffered Peter to be sifted, but took care that his faith should not fail (Luke 22:32) and then the trial of it was found unto praise, and honour, and glory, 1 Pet. 1:7. But, 2. It is a matter of comfort that God has the devil in a chain, in a great chain, Rev. 20:1. He could not afflict Job without leave from God first asked and obtained, and then no further than he had leave: “Only upon himself put not forth thy hand; meddle not with his body, but only with his estate.” It is a limited power that the devil has; he has no power to debauch men but what they give him themselves, nor power to afflict men but what is given him from above.
IX. Satan’s departure from this meeting of the sons of God. Before they broke up, Satan went forth (as Cain, Gen. 4:16) from the presence of the Lord; no longer detained before him (as Doeg was, 1 Sam. 21:7) than till he had accomplished his malicious purpose. He went forth, 1. Glad that he had gained his point, proud of the permission he had to do mischief to a good man; and, 2. Resolved to lose no time, but speedily to put his project in execution. He went forth now, not to go to and fro, rambling through the earth, but with a direct course, to fall upon poor Job, who is carefully going on in the way of his duty, and knows nothing of the matter. What passes between good and bad spirits concerning us we are not aware of.