Elihu here returns an answer to another word that Job had said, which, he thought, reflected much upon the justice and goodness of God, and therefore ought not to pass without a remark. Observe,
I. What it was that Job complained of; it was this, That God did not regard the cries of the oppressed against their oppressors (Job 35:9): “By reason of the multitude of oppressions, the many hardships which proud tyrants put upon poor people and the barbarous usage they give them, they make the oppressed to cry; but it is to no purpose: God does not appear to right them. They cry out, they cry on still, by reason of the arm of the mighty, which lies heavily upon them.” This seems to refer to those words of Job (Job 24:12), Men groan from out of the city, and the soul of the wounded cries out against the oppressors, yet God lays not folly to them, does not reckon with them for it. This is a thing that Job knows not what to make of, nor how to reconcile to the justice of God and his government. Isa. there a righteous God, and can it be that he should so slowly hear, so slowly see?
II. How Elihu solves the difficulty. If the cries of the oppressed be not heard, the fault is not in God; he is ready to hear and help them. But the fault is in themselves; they ask and have not, but it is because they ask amiss, Jas. 4:3. They cry out by reason of the arm of the mighty, but it is a complaining cry, a wailing cry, not a penitent praying cry, the cry of nature and passion, not of grace. See Hos. 7:14; They have not cried unto me with their heart when they howled upon their beds. How then can we expect that they should be answered and relieved?
1. They do not enquire after God, nor seek to acquaint themselves with him, under their affliction (Job 35:10): But none saith, Where is God my Maker? Afflictions are sent to direct and quicken us to enquire early after God, Ps. 78:34. But many that groan under great oppressions never mind God, nor take notice of his hand in their troubles; if they did, they would bear their troubles more patiently and be more benefited by them. Of the many that are afflicted and oppressed, few get the good they might get by their affliction. It should drive them to God, but how seldom is this the case! It is lamentable to see so little religion among the poor and miserable part of mankind. Every one complains of his troubles; but none saith, Where is God my Maker? that is, none repent of their sins, none return to him that smites them, none seek the face and favour of God, and that comfort in him which would balance their outward afflictions. They are wholly taken up with the wretchedness of their condition, as if that would excuse them in living without God in the world which should engage them to cleave the more closely to him. Observe, (1.) God is our Maker, the author of our being, and, under that notion, it concerns us to regard and remember him, Eccl. 12:1. God my makers, in the plural number, which some think is, if not an indication, yet an intimation, of the Trinity of persons in the unity of the Godhead. Let us make man. (2.) It is our duty therefore to enquire after him. Where is he, that we may pay our homage to him, may own our dependence upon him and obligations to him? Where is he, that we may apply to him for maintenance and protection, may receive law from him, and may seek our happiness in his favour, from whose power we received our being? (3.) It is to be lamented that he is so little enquired after by the children of men. All are asking, Where is mirth? Where is wealth? Where is a good bargain? But none ask, Where is God my Maker?
2. They do not take notice of the mercies they enjoy in and under their afflictions, nor are thankful for them, and therefore cannot expect that God should deliver them out of their afflictions. (1.) He provides for our inward comfort and joy under our outward troubles, and we ought to make use of that, and wait his time for the removal of our troubles: He gives songs in the night, that is, when our condition is ever so dark, and sad, and melancholy, there is that in God, in his providence and promise, which is sufficient, not only to support us, but to fill us with joy and consolation, and enable us in every thing to give thanks, and even to rejoice in tribulation. When we only pore upon the afflictions we are under, and neglect the consolations of God which are treasured up for us, it is just with God to reject our prayers. (2.) He preserves to us the use of our reason and understanding (Job 35:11): Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, that is, who has endued us with more noble powers and faculties than they are endued with and has made us capable of more excellent pleasures and employments here and for ever. Now this comes in here, [1.] As that which furnishes us with matter for thanksgiving, even under the heaviest burden of affliction. Whatever we are deprived of, we have our immortal souls, those jewels of more worth than all the world, continued to us; even those that kill the body cannot hurt them. And if our affliction prevail not to disturb the exercise of their faculties, but we enjoy the use of our reason and the peace of our consciences, we have much reason to be thankful, how pressing soever our calamities otherwise are. [2.] As a reason why we should, under our afflictions, enquire after God our Maker, and seek unto him. This is the greatest excellency of reason, that it makes us capable of religion, and it is in that especially that we are taught more than the beasts and the fowls. They have wonderful instincts and sagacities in seeking out their food, their physic, their shelter; but none of them are capable of enquiring, Where is God my Maker? Something like logic, and philosophy, and politics, has been observed among the brute-creatures, but never any thing of divinity or religion; these are peculiar to man. If therefore the oppressed only cry by reason of the arm of the mighty, and do not look up to God, they do no more than the brutes (who complain when they are hurt), and they forget that instruction and wisdom by which they are advanced so far above them. God relieves the brute-creatures because they cry to him according to the best of their capacity, Job 38:41; Ps. 104:21. But what reason have men to expect relief, who are capable of enquiring after God as their Maker and yet cry to him no otherwise than as brutes do?
3. They are proud and unhumbled under their afflictions, which were sent to mortify them and to hide pride from them (Job 35:12): There they cry—there they lie exclaiming against their oppressors, and filling the ears of all about them with their complaints, not sparing to reflect upon God himself and his providence—but none gives answer. God does not work deliverance for them, and perhaps men do not much regard them; and why so? It is because of the pride of evil men; they are evil men; they regard iniquity in their hearts, and therefore God will not hear their prayers, Ps. 66:18; Isa. 1:15. God hears not such sinners. They have, it may be, brought themselves into trouble by their own wickedness; they are the devil’s poor; and then who can pity them? Yet this is not all: they are proud still, and therefore they do not seek unto God (Ps. 10:4), or, if they do cry unto him, therefore he does not give answer, for he hears only the desire of the humble (Ps. 10:17) and delivers those by his providence whom he has first by his grace prepared and made fit for deliverance, which we are not if, under humbling afflictions, our hearts remain unhumbled and our pride unmortified. The case is plain then, If we cry to God for the removal of the oppression and affliction we are under, and it is not removed, the reason is not because the Lord’s hand is shortened or his ear heavy, but because the affliction has not done its work; we are not sufficiently humbled, and therefore must thank ourselves that it is continued.
4. They are not sincere, and upright, and inward with God, in their supplications to him, and therefore he does not hear and answer them (Job 35:13): God will not hear vanity, that is, the hypocritical prayer, which is a vain prayer, coming out of feigned lips. It is a vanity to think that God should hear it, who searches the heart and requires truth in the inward part.