Here is, I. A humbling challenge which God gave to Job. After he had heaped up many hard questions upon him, to show him, by his manifest ignorance in the works of nature, what an incompetent judge he was of the methods and designs of Providence, he clenches the nail with one demand more, which stands by itself here as the application of the whole. It should seem, God paused awhile, as Elihu had done, to give Job time to say what he had to say, or to think of what God had said; but Job was in such confusion that he remained silent, and therefore God here put him upon replying, Job 40:1, 2. This is not said to be spoken out of the whirlwind, as before; and therefore some think God said it in a still small voice, which wrought more upon Job than the whirlwind did, as upon Elijah, 1 Kgs. 19:12, 13. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, and then it does wonders. Though Job had not spoken any thing, yet God is said to answer him; for he knows men’s thoughts, and can return a suitable answer to their silence. Here, 1. God puts a convincing question to him: “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? Shall he pretend to dictate to God’s wisdom or prescribe to his will? Shall God receive instruction from every peevish complainer, and change the measures he has taken to please him?” It is a question with disdain. Shall any teach God knowledge? Job 21:22. It is intimated that those who quarrel with God do, in effect, go about to teach him how to mend his work. For if we contend with men like ourselves, as not having done well, we ought to instruct them how to do better; but is it a thing to be suffered that any man should teach his Maker? He that contends with God is justly looked upon as his enemy; and shall he pretend so far to have prevailed in the contest as to prescribe to him? We are ignorant and short-sighted, but before him all things are naked and open; we are depending creatures, but he is the sovereign Creator; and shall we pretend to instruct him? Some read it, Isa. it any wisdom to contend with the Almighty? The answer is easy. No; it is the greatest folly in the world. Isa. it wisdom to contend with him whom it will certainly be our ruin to oppose and unspeakably our interest to submit to? 2. He demands a speedy reply to it: “He that reproaches God let him answer this question to his own conscience, and answer it thus, Far be it from me to contend with the Almighty or to instruct him. Let him answer all those questions which I have put, if he can. Let him answer for his presumption and insolence, answer it at God’s bar, to his confusion.” Those have high thoughts of themselves, and mean thoughts of God, who reprove any thing he says or does.
II. Job’s humble submission thereupon. Now Job came to himself, and began to melt into godly sorrow. When his friends reasoned with him he did not yield; but the voice of the Lord is powerful. When the Spirit of truth shall come, he shall convince. They had condemned him for a wicked man; Elihu himself had been very sharp upon him (Job 34:7, 8, 37); but God had not given him such hard words. We may sometimes have reason to expect better treatment from God, and a more candid construction of what we do, than we meet with from our friends. This the good man is here overcome by, and yields himself a conquered captive to the grace of God. 1. He owns himself an offender, and has nothing to say in his own justification (Job 40:4): “Behold, I am vile, not only mean and contemptible, but vile and abominable, in my own eyes.” He is now sensible that he has sinned, and therefore calls himself vile. Sin debases us, and penitents abase themselves, reproach themselves, are ashamed, yea, even confounded. “I have acted undutifully to my Father, ungratefully to my benefactor, unwisely for myself; and therefore I am vile.” Job now vilifies himself as much as ever he had justified and magnified himself. Repentance changes men’s opinion of themselves. Job had been too bold in demanding a conference with God, and thought he could make his part good with him: but now he is convinced of his error, and owns himself utterly unable to stand before God or to produce any thing worth his notice, the veriest dunghill-worm that ever crawled upon God’s ground. While his friends talked with him, he answered them, for he thought himself as good as they; but, when God talked with him, he had nothing to say, for, in comparison with him, he sees himself nothing, less than nothing, worse than nothing, vanity and vileness itself; and therefore, What shall I answer thee? God demanded an answer, Job 40:2. Here he gives the reason of his silence; it was not because he was sullen, but because he was convinced he had been in the wrong. Those that are truly sensible of their own sinfulness and vileness dare not justify themselves before God, but are ashamed that ever they entertained such a thought, and, in token of their shame, lay their hand upon their mouth. 2. He promises not to offend any more as he had done; for Elihu had told him that this was meet to be said unto God. When we have spoken amiss we must repent of it and not repeat it nor stand to it. He enjoins himself silence (Job 40:4): “I will lay my hand upon my mouth, will keep that as with a bridle, to suppress all passionate thoughts which may arise in my mind, and keep them from breaking out in intemperate speeches.” It is bad to think amiss, but it is much worse to speak amiss, for that is an allowance of the evil thought and gives it an imprimatur—a sanction; it is publishing the seditious libel; and therefore, if thou hast thought evil, lay thy hand upon thy mouth and let it go no further (Prov. 30:32) and that will be an evidence for thee that that which thou thoughtest thou allowest not. Job had suffered his evil thoughts to vent themselves: “Once have I spoken amiss, yea, twice,” that is, “divers times, in one discourse and in another; but I have done: I will not answer; I will not stand to what I have said, nor say it again; I will proceed no further.” Observe here what true repentance is. (1.) It is to rectify our errors, and the false principles we went upon in doing as we did. What we have long, and often, and vigorously maintained, once, yea, twice, we must retract as soon as we are convinced that it is a mistake, not adhere to it any longer, but take shame to ourselves for holding it so long. (2.) It is to return from every by-path and to proceed not one step further in it: “I will not add” (so the word is); “I will never indulge my passion so much again, nor give myself such a liberty of speech, will never say as I have said nor do as I have done.” Till it comes to this, we come short of repentance. Further observe, Those who dispute with God will be silenced at last. Job had been very bold and forward in demanding a conference with God, and talked very boldly, how plain he would make his case, and how sure he was that he should be justified. As a prince he would go near unto him (Job 31:37); he would come even to his seat (Job 23:3); but he has soon enough of it; he lets fall his plea and will not answer. “Lord, the wisdom and right are all on thy side, and I have done foolishly and wickedly in questioning them.”