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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 8–19
Verses 8–19

Bildad here discourses very well on the sad catastrophe of hypocrites and evil-doers and the fatal period of all their hopes and joys. He will not be so bold as to say with Eliphaz that none that were righteous were ever cut off thus (Job 4:7); yet he takes it for granted that God, in the course of his providence, does ordinarily bring wicked men, who seemed pious and were prosperous, to shame and ruin in this world, and that, by making their prosperity short, he discovers their piety to be counterfeit. Whether this will certainly prove that all who are thus ruined must be concluded to have been hypocrites he will not say, but rather suspect, and thinks the application is easy.

I. He proves this truth, of the certain destruction of all the hopes and joys of hypocrites, by an appeal to antiquity and the concurring sentiment and observation of all wise and good men; and an undoubted truth it is, if we take in the other world, that, if not in this life, yet in the life to come, hypocrites will be deprived of all their trusts and all their triumphs: whether Bildad so meant or no, we must so take it. Let us observe the method of his proof, Job 8:8-10.

1. He insists not on his own judgment and that of his companions: We are but of yesterday, and know nothing, Job 8:9. He perceived that Job had no opinion of their abilities, but thought they knew little. “We will own,” says Bildad, “that we know nothing, are as ready to confess our ignorance as thou art to condemn it; for we are but of yesterday in comparison, and our days upon earth are short and transient, and hastening away as a shadow. And hence,” (1.) “We are not so near the fountain-head of divine revelation” (which then for aught that appears, was conveyed by tradition) “as the former age was; and therefore we must enquire what they said and recount what we have been told of their sentiments.” Blessed be God, now that we have the word of God in writing, and are directed to search that, we need not enquire of the former age, nor prepare ourselves to the search of their fathers; for, though we ourselves are but of yesterday, the word of God in the scripture is as nigh to us as it was to them (Rom. 10:8), and it is the more sure word of prophecy, to which we must take heed. If we study and keep God’s precepts, we may by them understand more than the ancients, Ps. 119:99, 100. (2.) “We do not live so long as those of the former age did, to make observations upon the methods of divine providence, and therefore cannot be such competent judges as they in a cause of this nature.” Note, The shortness of our lives is a great hindrance to the improvement of our knowledge, and so are the frailty and weakness of our bodies. Vita brevis, ars longa—life is short, the progress of art boundless.

2. He refers to the testimony of the ancients and to the knowledge which Job himself had of their sentiments. “Do thou enquire of the former age, and let them tell thee, not only their own judgment in this matter, but the judgment also of their fathers, Job 8:8. They will teach thee, and inform thee (Job 8:10), that all along, in their time, the judgments of God followed wicked men. This they will utter out of their hearts, that is, as that which they firmly believe themselves, which they are greatly affected with and desirous to acquaint and affect others with.” Note, (1.) For the right understanding of divine Providence, and the unfolding of the difficulties of it, it will be of use to compare the observations and experiences of former ages with the events of our own day; and, in order thereto, to consult history, especially the sacred history, which is the most ancient, infallibly true, and written designedly for our learning. (2.) Those that would fetch knowledge from the former ages must search diligently, prepare for the search, and take pains for the search. (3.) Those words are most likely to reach to the hearts of the learners that come from the hearts of the teachers. Those shall teach thee best that utter words out of their heart, that speak by experience, and not by rote, of spiritual and divine things. The learned bishop Patrick suggests that Bildad being a Shuhite, descended from Shuah one of Abraham’s sons by Keturah (Gen. 25:2), in this appeal which he makes to history he has a particular respect to the rewards which the blessing of God secured to the posterity of faithful Abraham (who hitherto, and long after, continued in his religion) and to the extirpation of those eastern people, neighbours to Job (in whose country they were settled), for their wickedness, whence he infers that it is God’s usual way to prosper the just and root out the wicked, though for a while they may flourish.

II. He illustrates this truth by some similitudes.

1. The hopes and joys of the hypocrite are here compared to a rush or flag, Job 8:11-13. (1.) It grows up out of the mire and water. The hypocrite cannot gain his hope without some false rotten ground or other out of which to raise it, and with which to support it and keep it alive, any more than the rush can grow without mire. He grounds it on his worldly prosperity, the plausible profession he makes of religion, the good opinion of his neighbours, and his own good conceit of himself, which are no solid foundation on which to build his confidence. It is all but mire and water; and the hope that grows out of it is but rush and flag. (2.) It may look green and gay for a while (the rush outgrows the grass), but it is light and hollow, and empty, and good for nothing. It is green for show, but of no use. (3.) It withers presently, before any other herb, Job 8:12. Even while it is in its greenness it is dried away and gone in a little time. Note, The best state of hypocrites and evil-doers borders upon withering; even when it is green it is going. The grass is cut down and withers (Ps. 90:6); but the rush is not cut down and yet withers, withers before it grows up (Ps. 129:6): as it has no use, so it has no continuance. So are the paths of all that forget God (Job 8:13); they take the same way that the rush does, for the hypocrite’s hope shall perish. Note, [1.] Forgetfulness of God is at the bottom of men’s hypocrisy, and of the vain hopes with which they flatter and deceive themselves in their hypocrisy. Men would not be hypocrites if they did not forget that the God with whom they have to do searches the heart and requires truth there, that he is a Spirit and has his eye on our spirits; and hypocrites would have no hope if they did not forget that God is righteous, and will not be mocked with the torn and the lame. [2.] The hope of hypocrites is a great cheat upon themselves, and, though it may flourish for a while, it will certainly perish at last, and they with it.

2. They are here compared to a spider’s web, or a spider’s house (as it is in the margin), a cobweb, Job 8:14, 15. The hope of the hypocrite, (1.) Isa. woven out of his own bowels; it is the creature of his own fancy, and arises merely from a conceit of his own merit and sufficiency. There is a great deal of difference between the work of the bee and that of the spider. A diligent Christian, like the laborious bee, fetches in all his comfort from the heavenly dews of God’s word; but the hypocrite, like the subtle spider, weaves his out of a false hypothesis of his own concerning God, as if he were altogether such a one as himself. (2.) He is very fond of it, as the spider of her web; pleases himself with it, wraps himself in it, calls it his house, leans upon it, and holds it fast. It is said of the spider that she takes hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces, Prov. 30:28. So does a carnal worldling hug himself in the fulness and firmness of his outward prosperity; he prides himself in that house as his palace, fortifies himself in it as his castle, and makes use of it as the spider of her web, to ensnare those he has a mind to prey upon. So does a formal professor; he flatters himself in his own eyes, doubts not of his salvation, is secure of heaven, and cheats the world with his vain confidences. (3.) It will easily and certainly be swept away, as the cobweb with the besom, when God shall come to purge his house. The prosperity of worldly people will fail them when they expect to find safety and happiness in it. They seek to hold fast their estates, but God is plucking them out of their hands; and whose shall all those things be, which they have provided? or what the better they will be for them? The confidences of hypocrites will fail them. I tell you, I know you not. The house built on the sand will fall in the storm, when the builder most needs it and promised himself the benefit of it. When a wicked man dies his expectation perishes. The ground of his hopes will prove false; he will be disappointed of the thing he hoped for, and his foolish hope with which he buoyed himself up will be turned into endless despair; and thus his hope will be cut off, his web, that refuge of lies, swept away, and he crushed in it.

3. The hypocrite is here compared to a flourishing and well-rooted tree, which, though it do not wither of itself, yet will easily be cut down and its place no it no more. The secure and prosperous sinner may think himself wronged when he is compared to a rush and a flag; he thinks he has a better root. “We will allow him his conceit,” says Bildad, “and give him all the advantage he can desire, and bring him in suddenly cut off.” He is here represented as Nebuchadnezzar was in his own dream (Dan. 4:10) by a great tree. (1.) See this tree fair and flourishing (Job 8:16) like a green bay-tree (Ps. 37:35), green before the sun, it keeps its greenness in defiance of the scorching sun-beams, and his branch shoots forth under the protection of his garden-wall and with the benefit of his garden-soil. See it fixed, and taking deep root, never likely to be overthrown by stormy winds, for his roots are interwoven with the stones (Job 8:17); it grows in firm ground, not, as the rush, of mire and water. Thus does a wicked man, when he prospers in the world, think himself secure; his wealth is a high wall in his own conceit. (2.) See this tree felled and forgotten notwithstanding, destroyed from his place (Job 8:18), and so entirely extirpated that there shall remain no sign or token where it grew. The very place say, I have not seen thee; and the standers by shall say the same. I sought him, but he could not be found, Ps. 37:36. He made a great show and a great noise for a time, but he is gone of a sudden, and neither root nor branch is left him, Mal. 4:1. This is the joy (that is, this is the end and conclusion) of the wicked man’s way (Job 8:19); this is that which all his joy comes to. The way of the ungodly shall perish, Ps. 1:6. His hope, he thought, would in the issue be turned into joy; but this is the issue, this is the joy. The harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow, Isa. 17:11. This is the best of it; and what then is the worst of it? But shall he not leave a family behind him to enjoy what he has? No, out of the earth (not out of his roots) shall others grow, that are nothing akin to him, and shall fill up his place, and rule over that for which he labored. Others (that is, others of the same spirit and disposition) shall grow up in his place, and be as secure as ever he was, not warned by his fall. The way of worldlings is their folly, and yet there is a race of those that approve their sayings, Ps. 49:13.