Job’s discourse is here somewhat broken and interrupted, and he passes suddenly from one thing to another, as is usual with men in trouble; but we may reduce what is here said to three heads:—
I. The deplorable condition which poor Job was now in, which he describes, to aggravate the great unkindness of his friends to him and to justify his own complaints. Let us see what his case was.
1. He was a dying man, Job 17:1. He had said (Job 16:22), “When a few years have come, I shall go that long journey.” But here he corrects himself. “Why do I talk of years to come? Alas! I am just setting out on that journey, am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. My breath is already corrupt, or broken off; my spirits are spent; I am a gone man.” It is good for every one of us thus to look upon ourselves as dying, and especially to think of it when we are sick. We are dying, that is, (1.) Our life is going; for the breath of life is going. It is continually going forth; it is in our nostrils (Isa. 2:22), the door at which it entered (Gen. 2:7); there it is upon the threshold, ready to depart. Perhaps Job’s distemper obstructed his breathing, and short breath will, after a while, be no breath. Let the Anointed of the Lord be the breath of our nostrils, and let us get spiritual life breathed into us, and that breath will never be corrupted. (2.) Our time is ending: My days are extinct, are put out, as a candle which, from the first lighting, is continually wasting and burning down, and will by degrees burn out of itself, but may by a thousand accidents be extinguished. Such is life. It concerns us therefore carefully to redeem the days of time, and to spend them in getting ready for the days of eternity, which will never be extinct. (3.) We are expected in our long home: The graves are ready for me. But would not one grave serve? Yes, but he speaks of the sepulchres of his fathers, to which he must be gathered: “The graves where they are laid are ready for me also,” graves in consort, the congregation of the dead. Wherever we go there is but a step between us and the grave. Whatever is unready, that is ready; it is a bed soon made. If the graves be ready for us, it concerns us to be ready for the graves. The graves for me (so it runs), denoting not only his expectation of death, but his desire of it. “I have done with the world, and have nothing now to wish for but a grave.”
2. He was a despised man (Job 17:6): “He” (that is, Eliphaz, so some, or rather God, whom he all along acknowledges to be the author of his calamities) “has made me a byword of the people, the talk of the country, a laughing-stock to many, a gazing-stock to all; and aforetime (or to men’s faces, publicly) I was as a tabret, that whoever chose might play upon.” They made ballads of him; his name became a proverb; it is so still, As poor as Job. “He has now made me a byword,” a reproach of men, whereas, aforetime, in my prosperity, I was as a tabret, deliciae humani generis—the darling of the human race, whom they were all pleased with. It is common for those who were honoured in their wealth to be despised in their poverty.
3. He was a man of sorrows, Job 17:7. He wept so much that he had almost lost his sight: My eye is dim by reason of sorrow, Job 16:16. The sorrow of the world thus works darkness and death. He grieved so much that he had fretted all the flesh away and become a perfect skeleton, nothing but skin and bones: “All my members are as a shadow. I have become so poor and thin that I am not to be called a man, but the shadow of a man.”
II. The ill use which his friends made of his miseries. They trampled upon him, and insulted over him, and condemned him as a hypocrite, because he was thus grievously afflicted. Hard usage! Now observe,
1. How Job describes it, and what construction he puts upon their discourses with him. He looks upon himself as basely abused by them. (1.) They abused him with their foul censures, condemning him as a bad man, justly reduced thus and exposed to contempt, Job 17:2. “They are mockers, who deride my calamities, and insult over me, because I am thus brought low. They are so with me, abusing me to my face, pretending friendship in their visit, but intending mischief. I cannot get clear of them; they are continually tearing me, and they will not be wrought upon, either by reason or pity, to let fall the prosecution.” (2.) They abused him too with their fair promises, for in them they did but banter him. He reckons them (Job 17:5) among those that speak flattery to their friends. They all came to mourn with him. Eliphaz began with a commendation of him, Job 4:3. They had all promised him that he would be happy if he would take their advice. Now all this he looked upon as flattery, and as designed to vex him so much the more. All this he calls their provocation, Job 17:2. They did what they could to provoke him and then condemned him for his resentment of it; but he thinks himself excusable when his eye continued thus in their provocation: it never ceased, and he never could look off it. Note, The unkindness of those that trample upon their friends in affliction, that banter and abuse them then, is enough to try, if not to tire, the patience even of Job himself.
2. How he condemns it. (1.) It was a sign that God had hidden their heart from understanding (Job 17:4), and that in this matter they were infatuated, and their wonted wisdom had departed from them. Wisdom is a gift of God, which he grants to some and withholds from others, grants at some times and withholds at other times. Those that are void of compassion are so far void of understanding. Where there is not the tenderness of a man one may question whether there be the understanding of a man. (2.) It would be a lasting reproach and diminution to them: Therefore shalt thou not exalt them. Those are certainly kept back from honour whose hearts are hidden from understanding. When God infatuates men he will abase them. Surely those who discover so little acquaintance with the methods of Providence shall not have the honour of deciding this controversy! That is reserved for a man of better sense and better temper, such a one as Elihu afterwards appeared to be. (3.) It would entail a curse upon their families. He that thus violates the sacred laws of friendship forfeits the benefit of it, not only for himself, but for his posterity: “Even the eyes of his children shall fail, and, when they look for succour and comfort from their own and their father’s friends, they shall look in vain as I have done, and be as much disappointed as I am in you.” Note, Those that wrong their neighbours may thereby, in the end, wrong their own children more than they are aware of.
3. How he appeals from them to God (Job 17:3): Lay down now, put me in a surety with thee, that is, “Let me be assured that God will take the hearing and determining of the cause into his own hands, and I desire no more. Let some one engage for God to bring on this matter.” Thus those whose hearts condemn them not have confidence towards God, and can with humble and believing boldness beg of him to search and try them. Some make Job here to glance at the mediation of Christ, for he speaks of a surety with God, without whom he durst not appear before God, nor try his cause at his bar; for, though his friends’ accusations of him were utterly false, yet he could not justify himself before God but in a mediator. Our English annotations give this reading of the verse: “Appoint, I pray thee, my surety with thee, namely, Christ who is with thee in heaven, and has undertaken to be my surety let him plead my cause, and stand up for me; and who is he then that will strike upon my hand?” that is, “Who dares then contend with me? Who shall lay any thing to my charge if Christ be an advocate for me?” Rom. 8:32, 33. Christ is the surety of the better testament (Heb. 7:22), a surety of God’s appointing; and, if he undertake for us, we need not fear what can be done against us.
III. The good use which the righteous should make of Job’s afflictions from God, from his enemies, and from his friends, Job 17:8, 9. Observe here,
1. How the saints are described. (1.) They are upright men, honest and sincere, and that act from a steady principle, with a single eye. This was Job’s own character (Job 1:1), and probably he speaks of such upright men especially as had been his intimates and associates. (2.) They are the innocent, not perfectly so, but innocence is what they aim at and press towards. Sincerity is evangelical innocency, and those that are upright are said to be innocent from the great transgression, Ps. 19:13. (3.) They are the righteous, who walk in the way of righteousness. (4.) They have clean hands, kept clean from the gross pollutions of sin, and, when spotted with infirmities, washed with innocency, Ps. 26:6.
2. How they should be affected with the account of Job’s troubles. Great enquiry, no doubt, would be made concerning him, and every one would speak of him and his case; and what use will good people make of it? (1.) It will amaze them: Upright men shall be astonished at this; they will wonder to hear that so good a man as Job should be so grievously afflicted in body, name, and estate, that God should lay his hand so heavily upon him, and that his friends, who ought to have comforted him, should add to his grief, that such a remarkable saint should be such a remarkable sufferer, and so useful a man laid aside in the midst of his usefulness; what shall we say to these things? Upright men, though satisfied in general that God is wise and holy in all he does, yet cannot but be astonished at such dispensations of Providence, paradoxes which will not be unfolded till the mystery of God shall be finished. (2.) It will animate them. Instead of being deterred from and discouraged in the service of God, by the hard usage which this faithful servant of God met with, they shall be so much the more emboldened to proceed and persevere in it. That which was St. Paul’s care (1 Thess. 3:3) was Job’s, that no good man should be moved, either from his holiness or his comfort, by these afflictions, that none should, for the sake hereof, think the worse of the ways or work of God. And that which was St. Paul’s comfort was his too, that the brethren in the Lord would wax confident by his bonds, Phil. 1:14. They would hereby be animated, [1.] To oppose sin and to confront the corrupt and pernicious inferences which evil men would draw from Job’s sufferings, as that God has forsaken the earth, that it is in vain to serve him, and the like: The innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite, will not bear to hear this (Rev. 2:2), but will withstand him to his face, will stir up himself to search into the meaning of such providences and study these hard chapters, that he may read them readily, will stir up himself to maintain religion’s just but injured cause against all its opposers. Note, The boldness of the attacks which profane people make upon religion should sharpen the courage and resolution of its friends and advocates. It is time to stir when proclamation is made in the gate of the camp, Who is on the Lord’s side? When vice is daring it is no time for virtue, through fear, to hide itself. [2.] To persevere in religion. The righteous, instead of drawing back, or so much as starting back, at this frightful spectacle, or standing still to deliberate whether he should proceed or no (allude to 2 Sam. 2:23), shall with so much the more constancy and resolution hold on his way and press forward. “Though in me he foresees that bonds and afflictions abide him, yet none of these things shall move him,” Acts 20:24. Those who keep their eye upon heaven as their end will keep their feet in the paths of religion as their way, whatever difficulties and discouragements they meet with in it [3.] In order thereunto to grow in grace. He will not only hold on his way notwithstanding, but will grow stronger and stronger. By the sight of other good men’s trials, and the experience of his own, he will be made more vigorous and lively in his duty, more warm and affectionate, more resolute and undaunted; the worse others are the better he will be; that which dismays others emboldens him. The blustering wind makes the traveller gather his cloak the closer about him and gird it the faster. Those that are truly wise and good will be continually growing wiser and better. Proficiency in religion is a good sign of sincerity in it.