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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 17–35
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Verses 17–35

Eliphaz, having reproved Job for his answers, here comes to maintain his own thesis, upon which he built his censure of Job. His opinion is that those who are wicked are certainly miserable, whence he would infer that those who are miserable are certainly wicked, and that therefore Job was so. Observe,

I. His solemn preface to this discourse, in which he bespeaks Job’s attention, which he had little reason to expect, he having given so little heed to and put so little value upon what Job had said (Job 15:17): “I will show thee that which is worth hearing, and not reason, as thou dost, with unprofitable talk.” Thus apt are men, when they condemn the reasonings of others, to commend their own. He promises to teach him, 1. From his own experience and observation: “That which I have myself seen, in divers instances, I will declare.” It is of good use to take notice of the providences of God concerning the children of men, from which many a good lesson may be learned. What good observations we have made, and have found benefit by ourselves, we should be ready to communicate for the benefit of others; and we may speak boldly when we declare what we have seen. 2. From the wisdom of the ancients (Job 15:18): Which wise men have told from their fathers. Note, The wisdom and learning of the moderns are very much derived from those of the ancients. Good children will learn a good deal from their good parents; and what we have learned from our ancestors we must transmit to our posterity and not hide from the generations to come. See Ps. 78:3-6. If the thread of the knowledge of many ages be cut off by the carelessness of one, and nothing be done to preserve it pure and entire, all that succeed fare the worse. The authorities Eliphaz vouched were authorities indeed, men of rank and figure (Job 15:19), unto whom alone the earth was given, and therefore you may suppose them favourites of Heaven and best capable of making observations concerning the affairs of this earth. The dictates of wisdom come with advantage from those who are in places of dignity and power, as Solomon; yet there is a wisdom which none of the princes of this world knew, 1 Cor. 2:7, 8.

II. The discourse itself. He here aims to show,

1. That those who are wise and good do ordinarily prosper in this world. This he only hints at (Job 15:19), that those of whose mind he was were such as had the earth given to them, and to them only; they enjoyed it entirely and peaceably, and no stranger passed among them, either to share with them or give disturbance to them. Job had said, The earth is given into the hand of the wicked, Job 9:24. “No,” says Eliphaz, “it is given into the hands of the saints, and runs along with the faith committed unto them; and 5890 they are not robbed and plundered by strangers and enemies making inroads upon them, as thou art by the Sabeans and Chaldeans.” But because many of God’s people have remarkably prospered in this world, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it does not therefore follow that those who are crossed and impoverished, as Job, are not God’s people.

2. That wicked people, and particularly oppressors and tyrannizing rulers, are subject to continual terrors, live very uncomfortably, and perish very miserably. On this head he enlarges, showing that even those who impiously dare God’s judgments yet cannot but dread them and will feel them at last. He speaks in the singular number—the wicked man, meaning (as some think) Nimrod; or perhaps Chedorlaomer, or some such mighty hunter before the Lord. I fear he meant Job himself, whom he expressly charges both with the tyranny and with the timorousness here described, Job 22:9, 10. Here he thinks the application easy, and that Job might, in this description, as in a glass, see his own face. Now,

(1.) Let us see how he describes the sinner who lives thus miserably. He does not begin with that, but brings it in as a reason of his doom, Job 15:25-28. It is no ordinary sinner, but one of the first rate, an oppressor (Job 15:20), a blasphemer, and a persecutor, one that neither fears God nor regards man. [1.] He bids defiance to God, and to his authority and power, Job 15:25. Tell him of the divine law, and its obligations; he breaks those bonds asunder, and will not have, no, not him that made him, to restrain him or rule over him. Tell him of the divine wrath, and its terrors; he bids the Almighty do his worst, he will have his will, he will have his way, in spite of him, and will not be controlled by law, or conscience, or the notices of a judgment to come. He stretches out his hand against God, in defiance of him and of the power of his wrath. God is indeed out of his reach, but he stretches out his hand against him, to show that, if it were in his power, he would ungod him. This applies to the audacious impiety of some sinners who are really haters of God (Rom. 1:30), and whose carnal mind is not only an enemy to him, but enmity itself, Rom. 8:7. But, alas! the sinner’s malice is as impotent as it is impudent; what can he do? He strengthens himself (he would be valiant, so some read it) against the Almighty. He thinks with his exorbitant despotic power to change times and laws (Dan. 7:25), and, in spite of Providence, to carry the day for rapine and wrong, clear of the check of conscience. Note, It is the prodigious madness of presumptuous sinners that they enter the lists with Omnipotence. Woe unto him that strives with his Maker. That is generally taken for a further description of the sinner’s daring presumption (Job 15:26): He runs upon him, upon God himself, in a direct opposition to him, to his precepts and providences, even upon his neck, as a desperate combatant, when he finds himself an unequal match for his adversary, flies in his face, though, at the same time, he falls on his sword’s point, or the sharp spike of his buckler. Sinners, in general, run from God; but the presumptuous sinner, who sins with a high hand, runs upon him, fights against him, and bids defiance to him; and it is easy to foretel what will be the issue. [2.] He wraps himself up in security and sensuality (Job 15:27): He covers his face with his fatness. This signifies both the pampering of his flesh with daily delicious fare and the hardening of his heart thereby against the judgments of God. Note, The gratifying of the appetites of the body, feeding and feasting that to the full, often turns to the damage of the soul and its interests. Why is God forgotten and slighted, but because the belly is made a god of and happiness placed in the delights of sense? Those that fill themselves with wine and strong drink abandon all that is serious and flatter themselves with hopes that tomorrow shall be as this day, Isa. 56:12. Woe to those that are thus at ease in Zion, Amos 6:1, 3, 4; Luke 12:19. The fat that covers his face makes him look bold and haughty, and that which covers his flanks makes him lie easy and soft, and feel little; but this will prove poor shelter against the darts of God’s wrath. [3.] He enriches himself with the spoils of all about him, Job 15:28. He dwells in cities which he himself has made desolate by expelling the inhabitants out of them, that he might be placed alone in them, Isa. 5:8. Proud and cruel men take a strange pleasure in ruins, when they are of their own making, in destroying cities (Ps. 9:6) and triumphing in the destruction, since they cannot make them their own but by making them ready to become heaps, and frightening the inhabitants out of them. Note, Those that aim to engross the world to themselves, and grasp at all, lose the comfort of all, and make themselves miserable in the midst of all. How does this tyrant gain his point, and make himself master of cities that have all the marks of antiquity upon them? We are told (Job 15:35) that he does it by malice and falsehood, the two chief ingredients of his wickedness who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, They conceive mischief, and then they effect it by preparing deceit, pretending to protect those whom they design to subdue, and making leagues of peace the more effectually to carry on the operations of war. From such wicked men God deliver all good men.

(2.) Let us see now what is the miserable condition of this wicked man, both in spiritual and temporal judgments.

[1.] His inward peace is continually disturbed. He seems to those about him to be easy, and they therefore envy him and wish themselves in his condition; but he who knows what is in men tells us that a wicked man has so little comfort and satisfaction in his own breast that he is rather to be pitied than envied. First, His own conscience accuses him, and with the pangs and throes of that he travaileth in pain all his days, Job 15:20. He is continually uneasy at the thought of the cruelties he as been guilty of and the blood in which he has imbrued his hands. His sins stare him in the face at every turn. Diri conscia facti mens habet attonitos—Conscious guilt astonishes and confounds. Secondly, He is vexed at the uncertainty of the continuance of his wealth and power: The number of years is hidden to the oppressor. He knows, whatever he pretends, that they will not last always, and has reason to fear that they will not last long and this he frets at. Thirdly, He is under a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation (Heb. 10:27), which puts him into, and keeps him in, a continual terror and consternation, so that he dwells with Cain in the land of Nod, or commotion (Gen. 4:16), and is made like, Pashur, Magor-missabib—a terror round about, Jer. 20:3, 4. A dreadful sound is in his ears, Job 15:21. He knows that both heaven and earth are incensed against him, that God is angry with him and that all the world hates him; he has done nothing to make his peace with either, and therefore he thinks that every one who meets him will slay him, Gen. 4:14. Or he is like a man absconding for debt, who thinks every man a bailiff. Fear came in, at first, with sin (Gen. 3:10) and still attends it. Even in prosperity he is apprehensive that the destroyer will come upon him, either some destroying angel sent of God to avenge his quarrel or some of his injured subjects who will be their own avengers. Those who are the terror of the mighty in the land of the living usually go down slain to the pit (Ezek. 32:25), the expectation of which makes them a terror to themselves. This is further set forth (Job 15:22): He is, in his own apprehension, waited for of the sword; for he knows that he who killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword, Rev. 13:10. A guilty conscience represents to the sinner a flaming sword turning every way (Gen. 3:24) and himself inevitably running on it. Again (Job 15:23): He knows that the day of darkness (or the night of darkness rather) is ready at his hand, that it is appointed to him and cannot be put by, that it is hastening on apace and cannot be put off. This day of darkness is something beyond death; it is that day of the Lord which to all wicked people will be darkness and not light and in which they will be doomed to utter, endless, darkness. Note, Some wicked people, though they seem secure, have already received the sentence of death, eternal death, within themselves, and plainly see hell gaping for them. No marvel that it follows (Job 15:24), Trouble and anguish (that inward tribulation and anguish of soul spoken of Rom. 2:8, 9, which are the effect of God’s indignation and wrath fastening upon the conscience) shall make him afraid of worse to come. What is the hell before him if this be the hell within him? And though he would fain shake off his fears, drink them away, and jest them away, it will not do; they shall prevail against him, and overpower him, as a king ready to the battle, with forces too strong to be resisted. He that would keep his peace, let him keep a good conscience. Fourthly, If at any time he be in trouble, he despairs of getting out (Job 15:22): He believeth not that he shall return out of darkness, but he gives himself up for gone and lost in an endless night. Good men expect light at evening time, light out of darkness; but what reason have those to expect that they shall return out of the darkness of trouble who would not return from the darkness of sin, but went on in it? Ps. 82:5. It is the misery of damned sinners that they know they shall never return out of that utter darkness, nor pass the gulf there fixed. Fifthly, He perplexes himself with continual care, especially if Providence ever so little frown upon him, Job 15:23. Such a dread he has of poverty, and such a waste does he discern upon his estate, that he is already, in his own imagination, wandering abroad for bread, going a begging for a meal’s meat, and saying, Where is it? The rich man, in his abundance, cried out, What shall I do? Luke 12:17. Perhaps he pretends fear of wanting, as an excuse of his covetous practices; and justly may he be brought to this extremity at last. We read of those who were full, but have hired out themselves for bread (1 Sam. 2:5), which this sinner will not do. He cannot dig; he is too fat (Job 15:27): but to beg he may well be ashamed. See Ps. 109:10. David never saw the righteous so far forsaken as to beg their bread; for, verily, they shall be fed by the charitable unasked, Ps. 37:3, 25. But the wicked want it, and cannot expect it should be readily given them. How should those find mercy who never showed mercy?

[2.] His outward prosperity will soon come to an end, and all his confidence and all his comfort will come to an end with it. How can he prosper when God runs upon him? so some understand that, Job 15:26. Whom God runs upon he will certainly run down; for when he judges he will overcome. See how the judgments of God cross this worldly wicked man in all his cares, desires, and projects, and so complete his misery. First, He is in care to get, but he shall not be rich, Job 15:29. His own covetous mind keeps him from being truly rich. He is not rich that has not enough, and he has not enough that does not think he has. It is contentment only that is great gain. Providence remarkably keeps some from being rich, defeating their enterprises, breaking their measures, and keeping them always behind-hand. Many that get much by fraud and injustice, yet do not grow rich: it goes as it comes; it is got by one sin and spent upon another. Secondly, He is in care to keep what he has got, but in vain: His substance shall not continue; it will dwindle and come to nothing. God blasts it, and what came up in a night perishes in a night. Wealth gotten by vanity will certainly be diminished. Some have themselves lived to see the ruin of those estates which have been raised by oppression; but, where this is not the case, that which is left goes with a curse to those who succeed. Deut. male quaesitis vix gaudet tertius haeres—Ill-gotten property will scarcely be enjoyed by the third generation. He purchases estates to him and his heirs for ever; but to what purpose? He shall not prolong the perfection thereof upon the earth; neither the credit nor the comfort of his riches shall be prolonged; and, when those are gone, where is the perfection of them? How indeed can we expect the perfection of any thing to be prolonged upon the earth, where every thing is transitory, and we soon see the end of all perfection? Thirdly, He is in care to leave what he has got and kept to his children after him. But in this he is crossed; the branches of his family shall perish, in whom he hoped to live and flourish and to have the reputation of making them all great men. They shall not be green, Job 15:32. The flame shall dry them up, Job 15:30. he shall shake them off as blossoms that never knit, or as the unripe grape, Job 15:33. They shall die in the beginning of their days and never come to maturity. Many a man’s family is ruined by his iniquity. Fourthly, He is in care to enjoy it a great while himself; but in that also he is crossed. 1. He may perhaps be taken from it (Job 15:30): By the breath of God’s mouth shall he go away, and leave his wealth to others; that is, by God’s wrath, which, like a stream of brimstone, kindles the fire that devours him (Isa. 30:33), or by his word; he speaks, and it is done immediately. This night thy soul shall be required of thee; and so the wicked is driven away in his wickedness, the worldling in his worldliness. 2. It may perhaps be taken from him, and fly away like an eagle towards heaven: It shall be accomplished (or cut off) before his time (Job 15:32); that is, he shall survive his prosperity, and see himself stripped of it. Fifthly, He is in care, when he is in trouble, how to get out of it (not how to get good by it); but in this also he is crossed (Job 15:30): He shall not depart out of darkness. When he begins to fall, like Haman, all men say, “Down with him.” It was said of him (Job 15:22), He believeth not that he shall return out of darkness. He frightened himself with the perpetuity of his calamity, and God also shall choose his delusions and bring his fears upon him (Isa. 66:4), as he did upon Israel, Num. 14:28. God says Amen to his distrust and despair. Sixthly, He is in care to secure his partners, and hopes to secure himself by his partnership with them; but that is in vain too, Job 15:34, 35. The congregation of them, the whole confederacy, they and all their tabernacles, shall be desolate and consumed with fire. Hypocrisy and bribery are here charged upon them; that is, deceitful dealing both with God and man—God affronted under colour of religion, man wronged under colour of justice. It is impossible that these should end well. Though hand join in hand for the support of these perfidious practices, yet shall not the wicked go unpunished. (3.) The use and application of all this. Will the prosperity of presumptuous sinners end thus miserably? Then (Job 15:31) let not him that is deceived trust in vanity. Let the mischiefs which befal others be our warnings, and let not us rest on that broken reed which always failed those who leaned on it. [1.] Those who trust to their sinful ways of getting wealth trust in vanity, and vanity will be their recompence, for they shall not get what they expected. Their arts will deceive them and perhaps ruin them in this world. [2.] Those who trust to their wealth when they have gotten it, especially to the wealth they have gotten dishonestly, trust in vanity; for it will yield them no satisfaction. The guilt that cleaves to it will ruin the joy of it. They sow the wind, and will reap the whirlwind, and will own at length, with the utmost confusion, that a deceived heart turned them aside, and that they cheated themselves with a lie in their right hand.