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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–12
Verses 1–12

Job’s friends had been very positive in it that they should soon see the fall of wicked people, how much soever they might prosper for a while. By no means, says Job; though times are not hidden from the Almighty, yet those that know him do not presently see his day, Job 24:1. 1. He takes it for granted that times are not hidden from the Almighty; past times are not hidden from his judgment (Eccl. 3:15), present times are not hidden from his providence (Matt. 10:29), future times are not hidden from his prescience, Acts 15:18. God governs the world, and therefore we may be sure he takes cognizance of it. Bad times are not hidden from him, though the bad men that make the times bad say one to another, He has forsaken the earth, Ps. 94:6, 7. Every man’s times are in his hand, and under his eye, and therefore it is in his power to make the times of wicked men in this world miserable. He foresees the time of every man’s death, and therefore, if wicked men die before they are punished for their wickedness, we cannot say, “They escaped him by surprise;” he foresaw it, nay, he ordered it. Before Job will enquire into the reasons of the prosperity of wicked men he asserts God’s omniscience, as one prophet, in a similar case, asserts his righteousness (Jer. 12:1), another his holiness (Hab. 1:13), another his goodness to his own people, Ps. 73:1. General truths must be held fast, though we may find it difficult to reconcile them to particular events. 2. He yet asserts that those who know him (that is, wise and good people who are acquainted with him, and with whom his secret is) do not see his day,—the day of his judging for them; this was the thing he complained of in his own case (Job 23:8), that he could not see God appearing on his behalf to plead his cause,—the day of his judging against open and notorious sinners, that is called his day, Ps. 37:13. We believe that day will come, but we do not see it, because it is future, and its presages are secret. 3. Though this is a mystery of Providence, yet there is a reason for it, and we shall shortly know why the judgment is deferred; even the wisest, and those who know God best, do not yet see it. God will exercise their faith and patience, and excite their prayers for the coming of his kingdom, for which they are to cry day and night to him, Luke 18:7.

For the proof of this, that wicked people prosper, Job specifies two sorts of unrighteous ones, whom all the world saw thriving in their iniquity:—

I. Tyrants, and those that do wrong under pretence of law and authority. It is a melancholy sight which has often been seen under the sun, wickedness in the place of judgment (Eccl. 3:16), the unregarded tears of the oppressed, while on the side of the oppressors there was power (Eccl. 4:1), the violent perverting of justice and judgment, Eccl. 5:8. 1. They disseize their neighbours of their real estates, which came to them by descent from their ancestors. They remove the land-marks, under pretence that they were misplaced (Job 24:2), and so they encroach upon their neighbours’ rights and think they effectually secure that to their posterity which they have got wrongfully, by making that to be an evidence for them which should have been an evidence for the rightful owner. This was forbidden by the law of Moses (Deut. 19:14), under a curse, Deut. 27:17. Forging or destroying deeds is now a crime equivalent to this. 2. They dispossess them of their personal estates, under colour of justice. They violently take away flocks, pretending they are forfeited, and feed thereof; as the rich man took the poor man’s ewe lamb, 2 Sam. 12:4. If a poor fatherless child has but an ass of his own to get a little money with, they find some colour or other to take it away, because the owner is not able to contest with them. It is all one if a widow has but an ox for what little husbandry she has; under pretence of distraining for some small debt, or arrears of rent, this ox shall be taken for a pledge, though perhaps it is the widow’s all. God has taken it among the titles of his honour to be a Father of the fatherless and a judge of the widows; and therefore those will not be reckoned his friends that do not to their utmost protect and help them; but those he will certainly reckon with as his enemies that vex and oppress them. 3. They take all occasions to offer personal abuses to them, Job 24:4. They will mislead them if they can when they meet them on the high-way, so that the poor and needy are forced to hide themselves from them, having no other way to secure themselves from them. They love in their hearts to banter people, and to make fools of them, and do them a mischief if they can, especially to triumph over poor people, whom they turn out of the way of getting relief, threaten to punish them as vagabonds, and so force them to abscond, and laugh at them when they have done. Some understand those barbarous actions (Job 24:9, 10) to be done by those oppressors that pretend law for what they do: They pluck the fatherless from the breast; that is, having made poor infants fatherless, they make them motherless too; having taken away the father’s life, they break the mother’s heart, and so starve the children and leave them to perish. Pharaoh and Herod plucked children from the breast to the sword; and we read of children brought forth to the murderers, Hos. 9:13. Those are inhuman murderers indeed that can with so much pleasure suck innocent blood. They take a pledge of the poor, and so they rob the spital; nay, they take the poor themselves for a pledge (as some read it), and probably it was under this pretence that they plucked the fatherless from the breast, distraining them for slaves, as Neh. 5:5. Cruelty to the poor is great wickedness and cries aloud for vengeance. Those who show no mercy to such as lie at their mercy shall themselves have judgment without mercy. Another instance of their barbarous treatment of those they have advantage against is that they take from them even their necessary food and raiment; they squeeze them so with their extortion that they cause them to go naked without clothing (Job 24:10) and so catch their death. And if a poor hungry family has gleaned a sheaf of corn, to make a little cake of, that they may eat it and die, even that they take away from them, being well pleased to see them perish for want, while they themselves are fed to the full. 4. They are very oppressive to the labourers they employ in their service. They not only give them no wages, though the labourer is worthy of his hire (and this is a crying sin, Jas. 5:4), but they will not so much as give them meat and drink: Those that carry their sheaves are hungry; so some read it (Job 24:10), and it agrees with Job 24:11; that those who make oil within their walls, and with a great deal of toil labour at the wine-presses, yet suffer thirst, which was worse than muzzling the mouth of the ox that treads out the corn. Those masters forget that they have a Master in heaven who will not allow the necessary supports of life to their servants and labourers, not caring whether they can live by their labour or no. 5. It is not only among the poor country people, but in the cities also, that we see the tears of the oppressed (Job 24:12): Men groan from out of the city, where the rich merchants and traders are as cruel with their poor debtors as the landlords in the country are with their poor tenants. In cities such cruel actions as these are more observed than in obscure corners of the country and the wronged have easier access to justice to right themselves; and yet the oppressors there fear neither the restraints of the law nor the just censures of their neighbours, but the oppressed groan and cry out like wounded men, and can no more ease and help themselves, for the oppressors are inexorable and deaf to their groans.

II. He speaks of robbers, and those that do wrong by downright force, as the bands of the Sabeans and Chaldeans, which had lately plundered him. He does not mention them particularly, lest he should seem partial to his own cause, and to judge of men (as we are apt to do) by what they are to us; but among the Arabians, the children of the east (Job’s country), there were those that lived by spoil and rapine, making incursions upon their neighbours, and robbing travellers. See how they are described here, and what mischief they do, Job 24:5-8. 1. Their character is that they are as wild asses in the desert, untamed, untractable, unreasonable, Ishmael’s character (Gen. 16:12), fierce and furious, and under no restraint of law or government, Jer. 2:23, 24. They choose the deserts for their dwelling, that they may be lawless and unsociable, and that they may have opportunity of doing the more mischief. The desert is indeed the fittest place for such wild people, Job 39:6. But no desert can set men out of the reach of God’s eye and hand. 2. Their trade is to steal, and to make a prey of all about them. They have chosen it as their trade; it is their work, because there is more to be got by it, and it is got more easily, than by an honest calling. They follow it as their trade; they follow it closely; they go forth to it as their work, as man goes forth to his labour, Ps. 104:23. They are diligent and take pains at it: They rise betimes for a prey. If a traveller be out early, they will be out as soon to rob him. They live by it as a man lives by his trade: The wilderness (not the grounds there but the roads there) yieldeth food for them and for their children; they maintain themselves and their families by robbing on the high-way, and bless themselves in it without any remorse of compassion or conscience, and with as much security as if it were honestly got; as Ephraim, Hos. 12:7, 8. 3. See the mischief they do to the country. They not only rob travellers, but they make incursions upon their neighbours, and reap every one his corn in the field (Job 24:6), that is, they enter upon other people’s ground, cut their corn, and carry it away as freely as if it were their own. Even the wicked gather the vintage, and it is their wickedness; or, as we read it, They gather the vintage of the wicked, and so one wicked man is made a scourge to another. What the wicked got by extortion (which is their way of stealing) these robbers get from them in their way of stealing; thus oftentimes are the spoilers spoiled, Isa. 33:1. 4. The misery of those that fall into their hands (Job 24:7, 8): They cause the naked, whom they have stripped, not leaving them the clothes to their backs, to lodge, in the cold nights, without clothing, so that they are wet with the showers of the mountains, and, for want of a better shelter, embrace the rock, and are glad of a cave or den in it to preserve them from the injuries of the weather. Eliphaz had charged Job with such inhumanity as this, concluding that Providence would not thus have stripped him if he had not first stripped the naked of their clothing, Job 22:6. Job here tells him there were those that were really guilty of those crimes with which he was unjustly charged and yet prospered and had success in their villanies, the curse they laid themselves under working invisibly; and Job thinks it more just to argue as he did, from an open notorious course of wickedness inferring a secret and future punishment, than to argue as Eliphaz did, who from nothing but present trouble inferred a course of past secret iniquity. The impunity of these oppressors and spoilers is expressed in one word (Job 24:12): Yet God layeth not folly to them, that is, he does not immediately prosecute them with his judgments for these crimes, nor make them examples, and so evince their folly to all the world. He that gets riches, and not by right, at his end shall be a fool, Jer. 17:11. But while he prospers he passes for a wise man, and God lays not folly to him until he saith, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee, Luke 12:20.