We have here,
I. The bad words which Elihu charges upon Job, Job 35:2, 3. To evince the badness of them he appeals to Job himself, and his own sober thoughts, in the reflection: Thinkest thou this to be right? This intimates Elihu’s confidence that the reproof he now gave was just, for he could refer the judgment of it even to Job himself. Those that have truth and equity on their side sooner or later will have every man’s conscience on their side. It also intimates his good opinion of Job, that he thought better than he spoke, and that, though he had spoken amiss, yet, when he perceived his mistake, he would not stand to it. When we have said, in our haste, that which was not right, it becomes us to own that our second thoughts convince us that it was wrong. Two things Elihu here reproves Job for:—1. For justifying himself more than God, which was the thing that first provoked him, Job 32:2. “Thou hast, in effect, said, My righteousness is more than God’s,” that is, “I have done more for God than ever he did for me; so that, when the accounts are balanced, he will be brought in debtor to me.” As if Job thought his services had been paid less than they deserved and his sins punished more than they deserved, which is a most unjust and wicked thought for any man to harbour and especially to utter. When Job insisted so much upon his own integrity, and the severity of God’s dealings with him, he did in effect say, My righteousness is more than God’s; whereas, though we be ever so good and our afflictions ever so great, we are chargeable with unrighteousness and God is not. 2. For disowning the benefits and advantages of religion because he suffered these things: What profit shall I have if I be cleansed from my sin? Job 35:3. This is gathered from Job 9:30, 31. Though I make my hands ever so clean, what the nearer am I? Thou shalt plunge me in the ditch. And Job 10:15; If I be wicked, woe to me; but, if I be righteous, it is all the same. The psalmist, when he compared his own afflictions with the prosperity of the wicked, was tempted to say, Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, Ps. 73:13. And, if Job said so, he did in effect say, My righteousness is more than God’s (Job 35:9); for, if he got nothing by his religion, God was more beholden to him than he was to God. But, though there might be some colour for it, yet it was not fair to charge these words upon Job, when he himself had made them the wicked words of prospering sinners (Job 21:15; What profit shall we have if we pray to him?) and had immediately disclaimed them. The counsel of the wicked is far from me, Job 21:16. It is not a fair way of disputing to charge men with those consequences of their opinions which they expressly renounce.
II. The good answer which Elihu gives to this (Job 35:4): “I will undertake to answer thee, and thy companions with thee,” that is, all those that approve thy sayings and are ready to justify thee in them, and all others that say as thou sayest: “I have that to offer which will silence them all.” To do this he has recourse to his old maxim (Job 33:12), that God is greater than man. This is a truth which, if duly improved, will serve many good purposes, and particularly this to prove that God is debtor to no man. The greatest of men may be a debtor to the meanest; but such is the infinite disproportion between God and man that the great God cannot possibly receive any benefit by man, and therefore cannot be supposed to lie under any obligation to man; for, if he be obliged by his purpose and promise, it is only to himself. That is a challenge which no man can take up (Rom. 11:35), Who hath first given to God, let him prove it, and it shall be recompensed to him again. Why should we demand it, as a just debt, to gain by our religion (as Job seemed to do), when the God we serve does not gain by it? 1. Elihu needs not prove that God is above man; it is agreed by all; but he endeavours to affect Job and us with it, by an ocular demonstration of the height of the heavens and the clouds, Job 35:5. They are far above us, and God is far above them; how much then is he set out of the reach either of our sins or of our services! Look unto the heavens, and behold the clouds. God made man erect, coelumque tueri jussit—and bade him look up to heaven. Idolaters looked up, and worshipped the hosts of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars; but we must look up to heaven, and worship the Lord of those hosts. They are higher than we, but God is infinitely above them. His glory is above the heavens (Ps. 8:1) and the knowledge of him higher than heaven, Job 11:8. 2. But hence he infers that God is not affected, either one way or other, by any thing that we do. (1.) He owns that men may be either bettered or damaged by what we do (Job 35:8): Thy wickedness, perhaps, may hurt a man as thou art, may occasion him trouble in his outward concerns. A wicked man may wound, or rob, or slander his neighbour, or may draw him into sin and so prejudice his soul. Thy righteousness, thy justice, thy charity, thy wisdom, thy piety, may perhaps profit the son of man. Our goodness extends to the saints that are in the earth, Ps. 16:3. To men like ourselves we are in a capacity either of doing injury or of showing kindness; and in both these the sovereign Lord and Judge of all will interest himself, will reward those that do good and punish those that do hurt to their fellow-creatures and fellow-subjects. But, (2.) He utterly denies that God can really be either prejudiced or advantaged by what any, even the greatest men of the earth, do, or can do. [1.] The sins of the worst sinners are no damage to him (Job 35:6): “If thou sinnest wilfully, and of malice prepense, against him, with a high hand, nay, if thy transgressions be multiplied, and the acts of sin be ever so often repeated, yet what doest thou against him?” This is a challenge to the carnal mind, and defies the most daring sinner to do his worst. It speaks much for the greatness and glory of God that it is not in the power of his worst enemies to do him any real prejudice. Sin is said to be against God because so the sinner intends it and so God takes it, and it is an injury to his honour; yet it cannot do any thing against him. The malice of sinners is impotent malice: it cannot destroy his being or perfections, cannot dethrone him from his power and dominion, cannot disturb his peace and repose, cannot defeat his counsels and designs, nor can it derogate from his essential glory. Job therefore spoke amiss in saying What profit is it that I am cleansed from my sin? God was no gainer by his reformation; and who then would gain if he himself did not? [2.] The services of the best saints are no profit to him (Job 35:7): If thou be righteous, what givest thou to him? He needs not our service; or, if he did want to have the work done, he has better hands than ours at command. Our religion brings no accession at all to his felicity. He is so far from being beholden to us that we are beholden to him for making us righteous and accepting our righteousness; and therefore we can demand nothing from him, nor have any reason to complain if we have not what we expect, but to be thankful that we have better than we deserve.