What Job had said of man’s utter inability to contend with God he here applies to himself, and in effect despairs of gaining his favour, which (some think) arises from the hard thoughts he had of God, as one who, having set himself against him, right or wrong, would be too hard for him. I rather think it arises from the sense he had of the imperfection of his own righteousness, and the dark and cloudy apprehensions which at present he had of God’s displeasure against him.
I. He durst not dispute with God (Job 9:14): “If the proud helpers do stoop under him, how much less shall I (a poor weak creature, so far from being a helper that I am very helpless) answer him? What can I say against that which God does? If I go about to reason with him, he will certainly be too hard for me.” If the potter make the clay into a vessel of dishonour, or break in pieces the vessel he has made, shall the clay or the broken vessel reason with him? So absurd is the man who replies against God, or thinks to talk the matter out with him. No, let all flesh be silent before him.
II. He durst not insist upon his own justification before God. Though he vindicated his own integrity to his friends, and would not yield that he was a hypocrite and a wicked man, as they suggested, yet he would never plead it as his righteousness before God. “I will never venture upon the covenant of innocency, nor think to come off by virtue of that.” Job knew so much of God, and knew so much of himself, that he durst not insist upon his own justification before God.
1. He knew so much of God that he durst not stand a trial with him, Job 9:15-19. He knew how to make his part good with his friends, and thought himself able to deal with them; but, though his cause had been better than it was, he knew it was to no purpose to debate it with God. (1.) God knew him better than he knew himself and therefore (Job 9:15), “Though I were righteous in my own apprehension, and my own heart did not condemn me, yet God is greater than my heart, and knows those secret faults and errors of mine which I do not and cannot understand, and is able to charge me with them, and therefore I would not answer.” St. Paul speaks to the same purport: I know nothing by myself, am not conscious to myself of any reigning wickedness, and yet I am not hereby justified, 1 Cor. 4:4. “I dare not put myself upon that issue, lest God should charge that upon me which I did not discover in myself.” Job will therefore wave that plea, and make supplication to his Judge, that is, will cast himself upon God’s mercy, and not think come off by his own merit. (2.) He had no reason to think that there was anything in his prayers to recommend them to the divine acceptance, or to fetch in an answer of peace, no worth or worthiness at all to which to ascribe their success, but it must be attributed purely to the grace and compassion of God, who answers before we call and not because we call, and gives gracious answers to our prayers, but not for our prayers (Job 9:16): “If I had called, and he had answered, had given the thing I called to him for, yet, so weak and defective are my best prayers, that I would not believe he had therein hearkened to my voice; I could not say that he had saved with his right hand and answered me” (Ps. 60:5), “but that he did it purely for his own name’s sake.” Bishop Patrick expounds it thus: “If I had made supplication, and he had granted my desire, I would not think my prayer had done the business.” Not for your sakes, be it known to you. (3.) His present miseries, which God had brought him into notwithstanding his integrity, gave him too sensible a conviction that, in the ordering and disposing of men’s outward condition in this world, God acts by sovereignty, and, though he never does wrong to any, yet he does not ever give full right to all (that is, the best do not always fare best, nor the worst fare worst) in this life, because he reserves the full and exact distribution of rewards and punishments for the future state. Job was not conscious to himself of any extraordinary guilt, and yet fell under extraordinary afflictions, Job 9:17, 18. Every man must expect the wind to blow upon him and ruffle him, but Job was broken with a tempest. Every man, in the midst of these thorns and briers, must expect to be scratched; but Job was wounded, and his wounds were multiplied. Every man must expect a cross daily, and to taste sometimes of the bitter cup; but poor Job’s troubles came so thickly upon him that he had no breathing time, and he was filled with bitterness. And he presumes to say that all this was without cause, without any great provocation given. We have made the best of what Job said hitherto, though contrary to the judgment of many good interpreters; but here, no doubt, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips; he reflected on God’s goodness in saying that he was not suffered to take his breath (while yet he had such good use of his reason and speech as to be able to talk thus) and on his justice in saying that it was without cause. Yet it is true that as, on the one hand, there are many who are chargeable with more sin than the common infirmities of human nature, and yet feel no more sorrow than that of the common calamities of human life, so, on the other hand, there are many who feel more than the common calamities of human life and yet are conscious to themselves of no more than the common infirmities of human nature. (4.) He was in no capacity at all to make his part good with God, Job 9:19. [1.] Not by force of arms. “I dare not enter the lists with the Almighty; for if I speak of strength, and think to come off by that, lo, he is strong, stronger than I, and will certainly overpower me.” There is no disputing (said one once to Caesar) with him that commands legions. Much less is there any with him that has legions of angels at command. Can thy heart endure (thy courage and presence of mind) or can thy hands be strong to defend thyself, in the days that I shall deal with thee? Ezek. 22:14. [2.] Not by force of arguments. “I dare not try the merits of the cause. If I speak of judgment, and insist upon my right, who will set me a time to plead? There is no higher power to which I may appeal, no superior court to appoint a hearing of the cause; for he is supreme and from him proceeds every man’s judgment, which he must abide by.”
2. He knew so much of himself the he durst not stand a trial, Job 9:20, 21. “If I go about to justify myself, and to plead a righteousness of my own, my defence will be my offence, and my own mouth shall condemn me even when it goes about to acquit me.” A good man, who knows the deceitfulness of his own heart, and is jealous over it with a godly jealousy, and has often discovered that amiss there which had long lain undiscovered, is suspicious of more evil in himself than he is really conscious of, and therefore will by no means think of justifying himself before God. If we say we have no sin, we not only deceive ourselves, but we affront God; for we sin in saying so, and give the lie to the scripture, which has concluded all under sin. “If I say, I am perfect, I am sinless, God has nothing to lay to my charge, my very saying so shall prove me perverse, proud, ignorant, and presumptuous. Nay, though I were perfect, though God should pronounce me just, yet would I not know my soul, I would not be in care about the prolonging of my life while it is loaded with all these miseries.” Or, “Though I were free from gross sin, though my conscience should not charge me with any enormous crime, yet would I not believe my own heart so far as to insist upon my innocency nor think my life worth striving for with God.” In short, it is folly to contend with God, and our wisdom, as well as duty, to submit to him and throw ourselves at his feet.