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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 12–21
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Verses 12–21

Eliphaz, having undertaken to convince Job of the sin and folly of his discontent and impatience, here vouches a vision he had been favoured with, which he relates to Job for his conviction. What comes immediately from God all men will pay a particular deference to, and Job, no doubt, as much as any. Some think Eliphaz had this vision now lately, since he came to Job, putting words into his mouth wherewith to reason with him; and it would have been well if he had kept to the purport of this vision, which would serve for a ground on which to reprove Job for his murmuring, but not to condemn him as a hypocrite. Others think he had it formerly; for God did, in this way, often communicate his mind to the children of men in those first ages of the world, Job 33:15. Probably God had sent Eliphaz this messenger and message some time or other, when he was himself in an unquiet discontented frame, to calm and pacify him. Note, As we should comfort others with that wherewith we have been comforted (2 Cor. 1:4), so we should endeavour to convince others with that which has been powerful to convince us. The people of God had not then any written word to quote, and therefore God sometimes notified to them even common truths by the extraordinary ways of revelation. We that have Bibles have there (thanks be to God) a more sure word to depend upon than even visions and voices, 2 Pet. 1:19. Observe,

I. The manner in which this message was sent to Eliphaz, and the circumstances of the conveyance of it to him. 1. It was brought to him secretly, or by stealth. Some of the sweetest communion gracious souls have with God is in secret, where no eye sees but that of him who is all eye. God has ways of bringing conviction, counsel, and comfort, to his people, unobserved by the world, by private whispers, as powerfully and effectually as by the public ministry. His secret is with them, Ps. 25:14. As the evil spirit often steals good words out of the heart (Matt. 13:19), so the good Spirit sometimes steals good words into the heart, or ever we are aware. 2. He received a little thereof, Job 4:12. And it is but a little of divine knowledge that the best receive in this world. We know little in comparison with what is to be known, and with what we shall know when we come to heaven. How little a portion is heard of God! Job 26:14. We know but in part, 1 Cor. 13:12. See his humility and modesty. He pretends not to have understood it fully, but something of it he perceived. 3. It was brought to him in the visions of the night (Job 4:13), when he had retired from the world and the hurry of it, and all about him was composed and quiet. Note, The more we are withdrawn from the world and the things of it the fitter we are for communion with God. When we are communing with our own hearts, and are still (Ps. 4:4), then is a proper time for the Holy Spirit to commune with us. When others were asleep Eliphaz was ready to receive this visit from Heaven, and probably, like David, was meditating upon God in the night-watches; in the midst of those good thoughts this thing was brought to him. We should hear more from God if we thought more of him; yet some are surprised with convictions in the night, Job 33:14, 15. 4. It was prefaced with terrors: Fear came upon him, and trembling, Job 4:14. It should seem, before he either heard or saw any thing, he was seized with this trembling, which shoo 34e2 k his bones, and perhaps the bed under him. A holy awe and reverence of God and his majesty being struck upon his spirit, he was thereby prepared for a divine visit. Whom God intends to honour he first humbles and lays low, and will have us all to serve him with holy fear, and to rejoice with trembling.

II. The messenger by whom it was sent—a spirit, one of the good angels, who are employed not only as the ministers of God’s providence, but sometimes as the ministers of his word. Concerning this apparition which Eliphaz saw we are here told (Job 4:15, 16), 1. That it was real, and not a dream, not a fancy. An image was before his eyes; he plainly saw it; at first it passed and repassed before his face, moved up and down, but at length it stood still to speak to him. If some have been so knavish as to impose false visions on others, and some so foolish as to be themselves imposed upon, it does not therefore follow but that there may have been apparitions of spirits, both good and bad. 2. That it was indistinct, and somewhat confused. He could not discern the form thereof, so as to frame any exact idea of it in his own mind, much less to give a description of it. His conscience was to be awakened and informed, not his curiosity gratified. We know little of spirits; we are not capable of knowing much of them, nor is it fit that we should: all in good time; we must shortly remove to the world of spirits, and shall then be better acquainted with them. 3. That it puts him into a great consternation, so that his hair stood on end. Ever since man sinned it has been terrible to him to receive an express from heaven, as conscious to himself that he can expect no good tidings thence; apparitions therefore, even of good spirits, have always made deep impressions of fear, even upon good men. How well it is for us that God sends us his messages, not by spirits, but by men like ourselves, whose terror shall not make us afraid! See Dan. 7:28; 10:8, 9.

III. The message itself. Before it was delivered there was silence, profound silence, Job 4:16. When we are to speak either from God or to him it becomes us to address ourselves to it with a solemn pause, and so to set bounds about the mount on which God is to come down, and not be hasty to utter any thing. It was in a still small voice that the message was delivered, and this was it (Job 4:17): “Shall mortal man be more just than God, the immortal God? Shall a man be thought to be, or pretend to be, more pure than his Maker? Away with such a thought!” 1. Some think that Eliphaz aims hereby to prove that Job’s great afflictions were a certain evidence of his being a wicked man. A mortal man would be thought unjust and very impure if he should thus correct and punish a servant or subject, unless he had been guilty of some very great crime: “If therefore there were not some great crimes for which God thus punishes thee, man would be more just than God, which is not to be imagined.” 2. I rather think it is only a reproof of Job’s murmuring and discontent: “Shall a man pretend to be more just and pure than God? more truly to understand, and more strictly to observe, the rules and laws of equity than God? Shall Enosh, mortal and miserable man, be so insolent; nay, shall Geber, the strongest and most eminent man, man at his best estate, pretend to compare with God, or stand in competition with him?” Note, It is most impious and absurd to think either others or ourselves more just and pure than God. Those that quarrel and find fault with the directions of the divine law, the dispensations of the divine grace, or the disposals of the divine providence, make themselves more just and pure than God; and those who thus reprove God, let them answer it. What! sinful man! (for he would not have been mortal if he had not been sinful) short-sighted man! Shall he pretend to be more just, more pure, than God, who, being his Maker, is his Lord and owner? Shall the clay contend with the potter? What justice and purity there is in man, God is the author of it, and therefore is himself more just and pure. See Ps. 94:9, 10.

IV. The comment which Eliphaz makes upon this, for so it seems to be; yet some take all the Job 4:18-21 to be spoken in vision. It comes all to one.

1. He shows how little the angels themselves are in comparison with God, Job 4:18. Angels are God’s servants, waiting servants, working servants; they are his ministers (Ps. 104:4); bright and blessed beings they are, but God neither needs them nor is benefited by them and is himself infinitely above them, and therefore, (1.) He puts no trust in them, did not repose a confidence in them, as we do in those we cannot live without. There is no service in which he employs them but, if he pleased, he could have it done as well without them. He never made them his confidants, or of his cabinet-council, Matt. 24:36. He does not leave his business wholly to them, but his own eyes run to and fro through the earth, 2 Chron. 16:9. See this phrase, Job 39:11. Some give this sense of it: “So mutable is even the angelical nature that God would not trust angels with their own integrity; if he had, they would all have done as some did, left their first estate; but he saw it necessary to give them supernatural grace to confirm them.” (2.) He charges them with folly, vanity, weakness, infirmity, and imperfection, in comparison with himself. If the world were left to the government of the angels, and they were trusted with the sole management of affairs, they would take false steps, and everything would not be done for the best, as now it is. Angels are intelligences, but finite ones. Though not chargeable with iniquity, yet with imprudence. This last clause is variously rendered by the critics. I think it would bear this reading, repeating the negation, which is very common: He will put no trust in his saints; nor will he glory in his angels (in angelis suis non ponet gloriationem) or make his boast of them, as if their praises, or services, added any thing to him: it is his glory that he is infinitely happy without them.

2. Thence he infers how much less man is, how much less to be trusted in or gloried in. If there is such a distance between God and angels, what is there between God and man! See how man is represented here in his meanness.

(1.) Look upon man in his life, and he is very mean, Job 4:19. Take man in his best estate, and he is a very despicable creature in comparison with the holy angels, though honourable if compared with the brutes. It is true, angels are spirits, and the souls of men are spirits; but, [1.] Angels are pure spirits; the souls of men dwell in houses of clay: such the bodies of men are. Angels are free; human souls are housed, and the body is a cloud, a clog, to it; it is its cage; it is its prison. It is a house of clay, mean and mouldering; an earthen vessel, soon broken, as it was first formed, according to the good pleasure of the potter. It is a cottage, not a house of cedar or a house of ivory, but of clay, which would soon be in ruins if not kept in constant repair. [2.] Angels are fixed, but the very foundation of that house of clay in which man dwells is in the dust. A house of clay, if built upon a rock, might stand long; but, if founded in the dust, the uncertainty of the foundation will hasten its fall, and it will sink with its own weight. As man was made out of the earth, so he is maintained and supported by that which cometh out of the earth. Take away that, and his body returns to its earth. We stand but upon the dust; some have a higher heap of dust to stand upon than others, but still it is the earth that stays us up and will shortly swallow us up. [3.] Angels are immortal, but man is soon crushed; the earthly house of his tabernacle is dissolved; he dies and wastes away, is crushed like a moth between one’s fingers, as easily, as quickly; one may almost as soon kill a man as kill a moth. A little thing will destroy his life. He is crushed before the face of the moth, so the word is. If some lingering distemper, which consumes like a moth, be commissioned to destroy him, he can no more resist it than he can resist an acute distemper, which comes roaring upon him like a lion. See Hos. 5:12-14. Isa. such a creature as this to be trusted in, or can any service be expected from him by that God who puts no trust in angels themselves?

(2.) Look upon him in his death, and he appears yet more despicable, and unfit to be trusted. Men are mortal and dying, Job 4:20, 21. [1.] In death they are destroyed, and perish for ever, as to this world; it is the final period of their lives, and all the employments and enjoyments here; their place will know them no more. [2.] They are dying daily, and continually wasting: Destroyed from morning to evening. Death is still working in us, like a mole digging our grave at each remove, and we so continually lie exposed that we are killed all the day long. [3.] Their life is short, and in a little time they are cut off. It lasts perhaps but from morning to evening. It is but a day (so some understand it); their birth and death are but the sun-rise and sun-set of the same day. [4.] In death all their excellency passes away; beauty, strength, learning, not only cannot secure them from death, but must die with them, nor shall their pomp, their wealth, or power, descend after them. [5.] Their wisdom cannot save them from death: They die without wisdom, die for want of wisdom, by their own foolish management of themselves, digging their graves with their own teeth. [6.] It is so common a thing that nobody heeds it, nor takes any notice of it: They perish without any regarding it, or laying it to heart. The deaths of others are much the subject of common talk, but little the subject of serious thought. Some think the eternal damnation of sinners is here spoken of, as well as their temporal death: They are destroyed, or broken to pieces, by death, from morning to evening; and, if they repent not, they perish for ever (so some read it), Job 4:20. They perish for ever because they regard not God and their duty; they consider not their latter end, Lam. 1:9. They have no excellency but that which death takes away, and they die, they die the second death, for want of wisdom to lay hold on eternal life. Shall such a mean, weak, foolish, sinful, dying creature as this pretend to be more just than God and more pure than his Maker? No, instead of quarrelling with his afflictions, let him wonder that he is out of hell.