The reproofs Job here gives to his friends, whether they were just or no, were very sharp, and may serve for a rebuke to all that are proud and scornful, and an exposure of their folly.
I. He upbraids them with their conceitedness of themselves, and the good opinion they seemed to have of their own wisdom in comparison with him, than which nothing is more weak and unbecoming, nor better deserves to be ridiculed, as it is here. 1. He represents them as claiming the monopoly of wisdom, Job 12:2. He speaks ironically: “No doubt you are the people; you think yourselves fit to dictate and give law to all mankind, and your own judgment to be the standard by which every man’s opinion must be measured and tried, as if nobody could discern between truth and falsehood, good and evil, but you only; and therefore every top-sail must lower to you, and, right or wrong, we must all say as you say, and you three must be the people, the majority, to have the casting vote.” Note, It is a very foolish and sinful thing for any to think themselves wiser than all mankind besides, or to speak and act confidently and imperiously, as if they thought so. Nay, he goes further: “You not only think there are none, but that there will be none, as wise as you, and therefore that wisdom must die with you, that all the world must be fools when you are gone, and in the dark when your sun has set.” Note, It is folly for us to think that there will be any great irreparable loss of us when we are gone, or that we can be ill spared, since God has the residue of the Spirit, and can raise up others, more fit than we are, to do his work. When wise men and good men die it is a comfort to think that wisdom and goodness shall not die with them. Some think Job here reflects upon Zophar’s comparing him (as he thought) and others to the wild ass’s colt, Job 11:12. “Yes,” says he, “we must be asses; you are the only men.” 2. He does himself the justice to put in his claim as a sharer in the gifts of wisdom (Job 12:3): “But I have understanding (a heart) as well as you; nay, I fall not lower than you;” as it is in the margin. “I am as well able to judge of the methods and meanings of the divine providence, and to construe the hard chapters of it, as you are.” He says not this to magnify himself. It was no great applause of himself to say, I have understanding as well as you; no, nor to say, “I understand this matter as well as you;” for what reason had either he or they to be proud of understanding that which was obvious and level to the capacity of the meanest? “Yea, who knows not such things as these? What things you have said that are true are plain truths, and common themes, which there are many that can talk as excellently of as either you or I.” But he says it to humble them, and check the value they had for themselves as doctors of the chair. Note, (1.) It may justly keep us from being proud of our knowledge to consider how many there are that know as much as we do, and perhaps much more and to better purpose. (2.) When we are tempted to be harsh in our censures of those we differ from and dispute with we ought to consider that they also have understanding as well as we, a capacity of judging, and a right of judging for themselves; nay, perhaps they are not inferior to us, but superior, and it is possible that they may be in the right and we in the wrong; and therefore we ought not to judge or despise them (Rom. 14:3), nor pretend to be masters (Jas. 3:1), while all we are brethren, Matt. 23:8. It is a very reasonable allowance to be made to all we converse with, all we contend with, that they are rational creatures as well as we.
II. He complains of the great contempt with which they had treated him. Those that are haughty and think too well of themselves are commonly scornful and ready to trample upon all about them. Job found it so, at least he thought he did (Job 12:4): I am as one mocked. I cannot say there was cause for this charge; we will not think Job’s friends designed him any abuse, nor aimed at any thing but to convince him, and so, in the right method, to comfort him; yet he cries out, I am as one mocked. Note, We are apt to call reproofs reproaches, and to think ourselves mocked when we are but advised and admonished; this peevishness is our folly, and a great wrong to ourselves and to our friends. Yet we cannot but say there was colour for this charge; they came to comfort him, but they vexed him, gave him counsels and encouragements, but with no great opinion that either the one or the other would take effect; and therefore he thought they mocked him, and this added much to his grief. Nothing is more grievous to those that have fallen from the height of prosperity into the depth of adversity than to be trodden on, and insulted over, when they are down; and on this head they are too apt to be suspicious. Observe,
1. What aggravated this grievance to him. Two things:—(1.) That they were his neighbours, his friends, his companions (so the word signifies), and the scoffs of such are often most spitefully given, and always most indignantly received. Ps. 55:12, 13, It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I would have slighted it, and so borne it; but it was thou, a man, my equal. (2.) That they were professors of religion, such as called upon God, and said that he answered them: for some understand that of the persons mocking. “They are such as have a regard to heaven, and an interest in heaven, whose prayers I would therefore be glad of and thankful for, whose good opinion I cannot but covet, and therefore whose censures are the more grievous.” Note, It is sad that any who call upon God should mock their brethren (Jas. 3:9, 10), and it cannot but lie heavily on a good man to be thought ill of by those whom he thinks well of, yet this is no new thing.
2. What supported him under it. (1.) That he had a God to go to, with whom he could lodge his appeal; for some understand those words of the person mocked, that he calls upon God and he answers him; and so it agrees with Job 16:20. My friends scorn me, but my eye poureth out tears to God. If our friends be deaf to our complaints, God is not; if they condemn us, God knows our integrity; if they make the worst of us, he will make the best of us; if they give us cross answers, he will give us kind ones. (2.) That his case was not singular, but very common: The just upright man is laughed to scorn. By many he is laughed at even for his justice and his uprightness, his honesty towards men and his piety towards God; these are derided as foolish things, which silly people needlessly hamper themselves with, as if religion were a jest and therefore to be made a jest of. By most he is laughed at for any little infirmity or weakness, notwithstanding his justice and uprightness, without any consideration had of that which is so much his honour. Note, It was of old the lot of honest good people to be despised and derided; we are not therefore to think it strange (1 Pet. 4:12), no, nor to think it hard, if it be our lot; so persecuted they not only the prophets, but even the saints of the patriarchal age (Matt. 5:12), and can we expect to fare better than they?
3. What he suspected to be the true cause of it, and that was, in short, this: they were themselves rich and at ease, and therefore they despised him who had fallen into poverty. It is the way of the world; we see instances of it daily. Those that prosper are praised, but of those that are going down it is said, “Down with them.” He that is ready to slip with his feet and fall into trouble, though he has formerly shone as a lamp, is then looked upon as a lamp going out like the snuff of a candle, which we throw to the ground and tread upon, and is accordingly despised in the thought of him that is at ease, Job 12:5. Even the just upright man, that is in his generation as a burning and shining light, if he enter into temptation (Ps. 73:2) or come under a cloud, is looked upon with contempt. See here, (1.) What is the common fault of those that live in prosperity. Being full, and easy, and merry themselves, they look scornfully upon those that are in want, pain, and sorrow; they overlook them, take no notice of them, and study to forget them. See Ps. 123:4. The chief butler drinks wine in bowls, but makes nothing of the afflictions of Joseph. Wealth without grace often makes men thus haughty, thus careless of their poor neighbours. (2.) What is the common fate of those that fall into adversity. Poverty serves to eclipse all their lustre; though they are lamps, yet, if taken out of golden candlesticks, and put, like Gideon’s, into earthen pitchers, nobody values them as formerly, but those that live at ease despise them.