Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, by Matthew Henry, , at sacred-texts.com
In this and the two following chapters we have Job's answer to Zophar's discourse, in which, as before, he first reasons with his friends (see Job 13:19) and then turns to his God, and directs his expostulations to him, from thence to the end of his discourse. In this chapter he addresses himself to his friends, and, I. He condemns what they had said of him, and the judgment they had given of his character (Job 12:1-5). II. He contradicts and confronts what they had said of the destruction of wicked people in this world, showing that they often prosper (Job 12:6-11). III. He consents to what they had said of the wisdom, power, and sovereignty of God, and the dominion of his providence over the children of men and all their affairs; he confirms this, and enlarges upon it (Job 12:12-25).
The reproofs Job here gives to his friends, whether they were just or no, were very sharp, and may serve for a rebuke to all that are proud and scornful, and an exposure of their folly.
I. He upbraids them with their conceitedness of themselves, and the good opinion they seemed to have of their own wisdom in comparison with him, than which nothing is more weak and unbecoming, nor better deserves to be ridiculed, as it is here. 1. He represents them as claiming the monopoly of wisdom, Job 12:2. He speaks ironically: "No doubt you are the people; you think yourselves fit to dictate and give law to all mankind, and your own judgment to be the standard by which every man's opinion must be measured and tried, as if nobody could discern between truth and falsehood, good and evil, but you only; and therefore every top-sail must lower to you, and, right or wrong, we must all say as you say, and you three must be the people, the majority, to have the casting vote." Note, It is a very foolish and sinful thing for any to think themselves wiser than all mankind besides, or to speak and act confidently and imperiously, as if they thought so. Nay, he goes further: "You not only think there are none, but that there will be none, as wise as you, and therefore that wisdom must die with you, that all the world must be fools when you are gone, and in the dark when your sun has set." Note, It is folly for us to think that there will be any great irreparable loss of us when we are gone, or that we can be ill spared, since God has the residue of the Spirit, and can raise up others, more fit than we are, to do his work. When wise men and good men die it is a comfort to think that wisdom and goodness shall not die with them. Some think Job here reflects upon Zophar's comparing him (as he thought) and others to the wild ass's colt, Job 11:12. "Yes," says he, "we must be asses; you are the only men." 2. He does himself the justice to put in his claim as a sharer in the gifts of wisdom (Job 12:3): "But I have understanding (a heart) as well as you; nay, I fall not lower than you;" as it is in the margin. "I am as well able to judge of the methods and meanings of the divine providence, and to construe the hard chapters of it, as you are." He says not this to magnify himself. It was no great applause of himself to say, I have understanding as well as you; no, nor to say, "I understand this matter as well as you;" for what reason had either he or they to be proud of understanding that which was obvious and level to the capacity of the meanest? "Yea, who knows not such things as these? What things you have said that are true are plain truths, and common themes, which there are many that can talk as excellently of as either you or I." But he says it to humble them, and check the value they had for themselves as doctors of the chair. Note, (1.) It may justly keep us from being proud of our knowledge to consider how many there are that know as much as we do, and perhaps much more and to better purpose. (2.) When we are tempted to be harsh in our censures of those we differ from and dispute with we ought to consider that they also have understanding as well as we, a capacity of judging, and a right of judging for themselves; nay, perhaps they are not inferior to us, but superior, and it is possible that they may be in the right and we in the wrong; and therefore we ought not to judge or despise them (Rom 14:3), nor pretend to be masters (Jam 3:1), while all we are brethren, Mat 23:8. It is a very reasonable allowance to be made to all we converse with, all we contend with, that they are rational creatures as well as we.
II. He complains of the great contempt with which they had treated him. Those that are haughty and think too well of themselves are commonly scornful and ready to trample upon all about them. Job found it so, at least he thought he did (Job 12:4): I am as one mocked. I cannot say there was cause for this charge; we will not think Job's friends designed him any abuse, nor aimed at any thing but to convince him, and so, in the right method, to comfort him; yet he cries out, I am as one mocked. Note, We are apt to call reproofs reproaches, and to think ourselves mocked when we are but advised and admonished; this peevishness is our folly, and a great wrong to ourselves and to our friends. Yet we cannot but say there was colour for this charge; they came to comfort him, but they vexed him, gave him counsels and encouragements, but with no great opinion that either the one or the other would take effect; and therefore he thought they mocked him, and this added much to his grief. Nothing is more grievous to those that have fallen from the height of prosperity into the depth of adversity than to be trodden on, and insulted over, when they are down; and on this head they are too apt to be suspicious. Observe,
1. What aggravated this grievance to him. Two things: - (1.) That they were his neighbours, his friends, his companions (so the word signifies), and the scoffs of such are often most spitefully given, and always most indignantly received. Psa 55:12, Psa 55:13, It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I would have slighted it, and so borne it; but it was thou, a man, my equal. (2.) That they were professors of religion, such as called upon God, and said that he answered them: for some understand that of the persons mocking. "They are such as have a regard to heaven, and an interest in heaven, whose prayers I would therefore be glad of and thankful for, whose good opinion I cannot but covet, and therefore whose censures are the more grievous." Note, It is sad that any who call upon God should mock their brethren (Jam 3:9, Jam 3:10), and it cannot but lie heavily on a good man to be thought ill of by those whom he thinks well of, yet this is no new thing.
2. What supported him under it. (1.) That he had a God to go to, with whom he could lodge his appeal; for some understand those words of the person mocked, that he calls upon God and he answers him; and so it agrees with Job 16:20. My friends scorn me, but my eye poureth out tears to God. If our friends be deaf to our complaints, God is not; if they condemn us, God knows our integrity; if they make the worst of us, he will make the best of us; if they give us cross answers, he will give us kind ones. (2.) That his case was not singular, but very common: The just upright man is laughed to scorn. By many he is laughed at even for his justice and his uprightness, his honesty towards men and his piety towards God; these are derided as foolish things, which silly people needlessly hamper themselves with, as if religion were a jest and therefore to be made a jest of. By most he is laughed at for any little infirmity or weakness, notwithstanding his justice and uprightness, without any consideration had of that which is so much his honour. Note, It was of old the lot of honest good people to be despised and derided; we are not therefore to think it strange (Pe1 4:12), no, nor to think it hard, if it be our lot; so persecuted they not only the prophets, but even the saints of the patriarchal age (Mat 5:12), and can we expect to fare better than they?
3. What he suspected to be the true cause of it, and that was, in short, this: they were themselves rich and at ease, and therefore they despised him who had fallen into poverty. It is the way of the world; we see instances of it daily. Those that prosper are praised, but of those that are going down it is said, "Down with them." He that is ready to slip with his feet and fall into trouble, though he has formerly shone as a lamp, is then looked upon as a lamp going out like the snuff of a candle, which we throw to the ground and tread upon, and is accordingly despised in the thought of him that is at ease, Job 12:5. Even the just upright man, that is in his generation as a burning and shining light, if he enter into temptation (Psa 73:2) or come under a cloud, is looked upon with contempt. See here, (1.) What is the common fault of those that live in prosperity. Being full, and easy, and merry themselves, they look scornfully upon those that are in want, pain, and sorrow; they overlook them, take no notice of them, and study to forget them. See Psa 123:4. The chief butler drinks wine in bowls, but makes nothing of the afflictions of Joseph. Wealth without grace often makes men thus haughty, thus careless of their poor neighbours. (2.) What is the common fate of those that fall into adversity. Poverty serves to eclipse all their lustre; though they are lamps, yet, if taken out of golden candlesticks, and put, like Gideon's, into earthen pitchers, nobody values them as formerly, but those that live at ease despise them.
Job's friends all of them went upon this principle, that wicked people cannot prosper long in this world, but some remarkable judgment or other will suddenly light on them: Zophar had concluded with it, that the eyes of the wicked shall fail, Job 11:20. This principle Job here opposes, and maintains that God, in disposing men's outward affairs, acts as a sovereign, reserving the exact distribution of rewards and punishments for the future state.
I. He asserts it as an undoubted truth that wicked people may, and often do, prosper long in this world, Job 12:6. Even great sinners may enjoy great prosperity. Observe, 1. How he describes the sinners. They are robbers, and such as provoke God, the worst kind of sinners, blasphemers and persecutors. Perhaps he refers to the Sabeans and Chaldeans, who had robbed him, and had always lived by spoil and rapine, and yet they prospered; all the world saw they did, and there is no disputing against sense; one observation built upon matter of fact is worth twenty notions framed by an hypothesis. Or more generally, All proud oppressors are robbers and pirates. It is supposed that what is injurious to men is provoking to God, the patron of right and the protector of mankind. It is not strange if those that violate the bonds of justice break through the obligations of all religion, bid defiance even to God himself, and make nothing of provoking him. 2. How he describes their prosperity. It is very great; for, (1.) Even their tabernacles prosper, those that live with them and those that come after them and descend from them. It seems as if a blessing were entailed upon their families; and that is sometimes preserved to succeeding generations which was got by fraud. (2.) They are secure, and not only feel no hurt, but fear none, are under no apprehensions of danger either from threatening providences or an awakened conscience. But those that provoke God are never the more safe for their being secure. (3.) Into their hand God brings abundantly. They have more than heart could wish (Psa 73:7), not for necessity only, but for delight - not for themselves only, but for others - not for the present only, but for hereafter; and this from the hand of Providence too. God brings plentifully to them. We cannot therefore judge of men's piety by their plenty, nor of what they have in their heart by what they have in their hand.
II. He appeals even to the inferior creatures for the proof of this - the beasts, and fowls, and trees, and even the earth itself; consult these, and they shall tell thee, Job 12:7, Job 12:8. Many a good lesson we may learn from them, but what are they here to teach us?
1. We may from them learn that the tabernacles of robbers prosper (so some); for, (1.) Even among the brute creatures the greater devour the less and the stronger prey upon the weaker, and men are as the fishes of the sea, Hab 1:14. If sin had not entered, we may suppose there would have been no such disorder among the creatures, but the wolf and the lamb would have lain down together. (2.) These creatures are serviceable to wicked men, and so they declare their prosperity. Ask the herds and the flocks to whom they belong, and they will tell you that such a robber, such an oppressor, is their owner: the fishes and fowls will tell you that they are served up to the tables, and feed the luxury, of proud sinners. The earth brings forth her fruits to them (Job 9:24), and the whole creation groans under the burden of their tyranny, Rom 8:20, Rom 8:22. Note, All the creatures which wicked men abuse, by making them the food and fuel of their lusts, will witness against them another day, Jam 5:3, Jam 5:4.
2. We may from them learn the wisdom, power, and goodness of God, and that sovereign dominion of his into which plain and self-evident truth all these difficult dispensations must be resolved. Zophar had made a vast mystery of it, Job 11:7. "So far from that," says Job, "that what we are concerned to know we may learn even from the inferior creatures; for who knows not from all these? Job 12:9. Any one may easily gather from the book of the creatures that the hand of the Lord has wrought this," that is, "that there is a wise Providence which guides and governs all these things by rules which we are neither acquainted with nor are competent judges of." Note, From God's sovereign dominion over the inferior creatures we should learn to acquiesce in all his disposals of the affairs of the children of men, though contrary to our measures.
III. He resolves all into the absolute propriety which God has in all the creatures (Job 12:10): In whose hand is the soul of every living thing. All the creatures, and mankind particularly, derive their being from him, owe their being to him, depend upon him for the support of it, lie at his mercy, are under his direction and dominion and entirely at his disposal, and at his summons must resign their lives. All souls are his; and may he not do what he will with his own? The name Jehovah is used here (Job 12:9), and it is the only time that we meet with it in all the discourses between Job and his friends; for God was, in that age, more known by the name of Shaddai - the Almighty.
IV. Those words - (Job 12:11), Doth not the ear try words, as the mouth tastes meat? may be taken either as the conclusion to the foregoing discourse or the preface to what follows. The mind of man has as good a faculty of discerning between truth and error, when duly stated, as the palate has of discerning between what is sweet and what is bitter. Job therefore demands from his friends a liberty to judge for himself of what they had said, and desires them to use the same liberty in judging of what he had said; nay, he seems to appeal to any man's impartial judgment in this controversy; let the ear try the words on both sides, and it would be found that he was in the right. Note, The ear must try words before it receives them so as to subscribe to them. As by the taste we judge what food is wholesome to the body and what not, so by the spirit of discerning we must judge what doctrine is sound, and savoury, and wholesome, and what not, Co1 10:15; Co1 11:13.
This is a noble discourse of Job's concerning the wisdom, power, and sovereignty of God, in ordering and disposing of all the affairs of the children of men, according to the counsel of his own will, which none dares gainsay or can resist. Take both him and them out of the controversy in which they were so warmly engaged, and they all spoke admirably well; but, in that, we sometimes scarcely know what to make of them. It were well if wise and good men, that differ in their apprehensions about minor things, would see it to be for their honour and comfort, and the edification of others, to dwell most upon those great things in which they are agreed. On this subject Job speaks like himself. Here are no passionate complaints, no peevish reflections, but every thing masculine and great.
I. He asserts the unsearchable wisdom and irresistible power of God. It is allowed that among men there is wisdom and understanding, Job 12:12. But it is to be found only with some few, with the ancient, and those who are blessed with length of days, who get it by long experience and constant experience; and, when they have got the wisdom, they have lost their strength and are unable to execute the results of their wisdom. But now with God there are both wisdom and strength, wisdom to design the best and strength to accomplish what is designed. He does not get counsel or understanding, as we do, by observation, but he has it essentially and eternally in himself, Job 12:13. What is the wisdom of ancient men compared with the wisdom of the ancient of days! It is but little that we know, and less that we can do; but God can do every thing, and no thought can be withheld from him. Happy are those who have this God for their God, for they have infinite wisdom and strength engaged for them. Foolish and fruitless are all the attempts of men against him (Job 12:14): He breaketh down, and it cannot be built again. Note, There is no contending with the divine providence, nor breaking the measures of it. As he had said before (Job 9:12), He takes away, and who can hinder him? so he says again. What God says cannot be gainsaid, nor what he does undone. There is no rebuilding what God will have to lie in ruins; witness the tower of Babel, which the undertakers could not go on with, and the desolations of Sodom and Gomorrah, which could never be repaired. See Isa 25:2; Eze 26:14; Rev 18:21. There is no releasing those whom God has condemned to a perpetual imprisonment; if he shut up a man by sickness, reduce him to straits, and embarrass him in his affairs, there can be no opening. He shuts up in the grave, and none can break open those sealed doors - shuts up in hell, in chains of darkness, and none can pass that great gulf fixed.
II. He gives an instance, for the proof of this doctrine in nature, Job 12:15. God has the command of the waters, binds them as in a garment (Pro 30:4), holds them in the hollow of his hand (Isa 40:12); and he can punish the children of men either by the defect or by the excess of them. As men break the laws of virtue by extremes on each hand, both defects and excesses, while virtue is in the mean, so God corrects them by extremes, and denies them the mercy which is in the mean. 1. Great droughts are sometimes great judgments: He withholds the waters, and they dry up; if the heaven be as brass, the earth is as iron; if the rain be denied, fountains dry up and their streams are wanted, fields are parched and their fruits are wanted, Amo 4:7. 2. Great wet is sometimes a great judgment. He raises the waters, and overturns the earth, the productions of it, the buildings upon it. A sweeping rain is said to leave no food, Pro 28:3. See how many ways God has of contending with a sinful people and taking from them abused, forfeited, mercies; and how utterly unable we are to contend with him. If we might invert the order, this verse would fitly refer to Noah's flood, that ever memorable instance of the divine power. God then, in wrath, sent the waters out, and they overturned the earth; but in mercy he withheld them, shut the windows of heaven and the fountains of the great deep, and then, in a little time, they dried up.
III. He gives many instances of it in God's powerful management of the children of men, crossing their purposes and serving his own by them and upon them, overruling all their counsels, overpowering all their attempts, and overcoming all their oppositions. What changes does God make with men! what turns does he give them! how easily, how surprisingly!
1. In general (Job 12:16): With him are strength and reason (so some translate it), strength and consistency with himself: it is an elegant word in the original. With him are the very quintessence and extract of wisdom. With him are power and all that is; so some read it. He is what he is of himself, and by him and in him all things subsist. Having this strength and wisdom, he knows how to make use, not only of those who are wise and good, who willingly and designedly serve him, but even of those who are foolish and bad, who, one would think, could be made no way serviceable to the designs of his providence: The deceived and the deceiver are his; the simplest men that are deceived are not below his notice; the subtlest men that deceive cannot with all their subtlety escape his cognizance. The world is full of deceit; the one half of mankind cheats the other, and God suffers it to be so, and from both will at last bring glory to himself. The deceivers make tools of the deceived, but the great God makes tools of them both, wherewith he works, and none can hinder him. He has wisdom and might enough to manage all the fools and knaves in the world, and knows how to serve his own purposes by them, notwithstanding the weakness of the one and the wickedness of the other. When Jacob by a fraud got the blessing the design of God's grace was served; when Ahab was drawn by a false prophecy into an expedition that was his ruin the design of God's justice was served; and in both the deceived and the deceiver were at his disposal. See Eze 14:9. God would not suffer the sin of the deceiver, nor the misery of the deceived, if he knew not how to set bounds to both and bring glory to himself out of both. Hallelujah, the Lord God omnipotent thus reigns; and it is well he does, for otherwise there is so little wisdom and so little honesty in the world that it would all have been in confusion and ruin long ago.
2. He next descends to the particular instances of the wisdom and power of God in the revolutions of states and kingdoms; for thence he fetches his proofs, rather than from the like operations of Providence concerning private persons and families, because the more high and public the station is in which men are placed the more the changes that befal them are taken notice of, and consequently the more illustriously does Providence shine forth in them. And it is easy to argue, If God can thus turn and toss the great ones of the earth, like a ball in a large place (as the prophet speaks, Isa 22:18), much more the little ones; and with him to whom states and kingdoms must submit it is surely the greatest madness for us to contend. Some think that Job here refers to the extirpation of those powerful nations, the Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emim, and the Horites (mentioned Gen 14:5, Gen 14:6; Deu 2:10, Deu 2:20), in which perhaps it was particularly noticed how strangely they were infatuated and enfeebled: if so, it is designed to show that whenever the like is done in the affairs of nations it is God that does it, and we must therein observe his sovereign dominion, even over those that think themselves most powerful, politic, and absolute. Compare this with that of Eliphaz, Job 5:12, etc. Let us gather up the particular changes here specified, which God makes upon persons, either for the destruction of nations and the planting of others in their room or for the turning out of a particular government and ministry and the elevation of another in its room, which may be a blessing to the kingdom; witness the glorious Revolution in our own land twenty years ago, in which we saw as happy an exposition as ever was given of this discourse of Job's. (1.) Those that were wise are sometimes strangely infatuated, and in this the hand of God must be acknowledged (Job 12:17): He leadeth counsellors away spoiled, as trophies of his victory over them, spoiled of all the honour and wealth they have got by their policy, nay, spoiled of the wisdom itself for which they have been celebrated and the success they promised themselves in their projects. His counsel stands, while all their devices are brought to nought and their designs baffled, and so they are spoiled both of the satisfaction and of the reputation of their wisdom. He maketh the judges fools. By a work on their minds he deprives them of their qualifications for business, and so they become really fools; and by his disposal of their affairs he makes the issue and event of their projects to be quite contrary to what they themselves intended, and so he makes them look like fools. The counsel of Ahithophel, one in whom this scripture was remarkably fulfilled, became foolishness, and he, according to his name, the brother of a fool. See Isa 19:13, The princes of Zoan have become fools; they have seduced Egypt, even those that are the stay of the tribes thereof. Let not the wise man therefore glory in his wisdom, nor the ablest counsellors and judges be proud of their station, but humbly depend upon God for the continuance of their abilities. Even the aged, who seem to hold their wisdom by prescription, and think they have got it by their own industry and therefore have an indefeasible title to it, may yet be deprived of it, and often are, by the infirmities of age, which make them twice children: He taketh away the understanding of the aged, Job 12:20. The aged, who were most depended on for advice, fail those that depended on them. We read of an old and yet foolish king, Ecc 4:13. (2.) Those that were high and in authority are strangely brought down, impoverished, and enslaved, and it is God that humbles them (Job 12:18): He looseth the bond of kings, and taketh from them the power wherewith they ruled their subjects, perhaps enslaved them and ruled them with rigour; he strips them of all the ensigns of their honour and authority, and all the supports of their tyranny, unbuckles their belts, so that the sword drops from their side, and then no marvel if the crown quickly drops from their head, on which immediately follows the girding of their loins with a girdle, a badge of servitude, for servants went with their loins girt. Thus he leads great princes away spoiled of all their power and wealth, and that in which they pleased and prided themselves, Job 12:19. Note, Kings are not exempt from God's jurisdiction. To us they are gods, but men to him, and subject to more than the common changes of human life. (3.) Those that were strong are strangely weakened, and it is God that weakens them (Job 12:21) and overthrows the mighty. Job 12:19. Strong bodies are weakened by age and sickness; powerful armies moulder and come to nothing, and their strength will not secure them from a fatal overthrow. No force can stand before Omnipotence, no, not that of Goliath. (4.) Those that were famed for eloquence, and entrusted with public business, are strangely silenced, and have nothing to say (Job 12:20): He removeth away the speech of the trusty, so that they cannot speak as they intended and as they used to do, with freedom and clearness, but blunder, and falter, and make nothing of it. Or they cannot speak what they intended, but the contrary, as Balaam, who blessed those whom he was called to curse. Let not the orator therefore be proud of his rhetoric, nor use it to any bad purposes, lest God take it away, who made man's mouth. (5.) Those that were honoured and admired strangely fall into disgrace (Job 12:21): He poureth contempt upon princes. He leaves them to themselves to do mean things, or alters the opinions of men concerning them. If princes themselves dishonour God and despise him, if they offer indignities to the people of God and trample upon them, they shall be lightly esteemed, and God will pour contempt upon them. See Psa 107:40. Commonly none more abject in themselves, nor more abused by others when they are down, than those who were haughty and insolent when they were in power. (6.) That which was secret, and lay hidden, is strangely brought to light and laid open (Job 12:22): He discovers deep things out of darkness. Plots closely laid are discovered and defeated; wickedness closely committed and artfully concealed is discovered, and the guilty are brought to condign punishment - secret treasons (Ecc 10:20), secret murders, secret whoredoms. The cabinet-councils of princes are before God's eye, Kg2 6:11. (7.) Kingdoms have their ebbings and flowings, their waxings and wanings; and both are from God (Job 12:23): He sometimes increases their numbers, and enlarges their bounds, so that they make a figure among the nations and become formidable; but after a while, by some undiscerned cause perhaps, they are destroyed and straitened, made few and poor, cut short and many of them cut off, and so they are rendered despicable among their neighbours, and those that were the head become the tail of the nations. See Psa 107:38, Psa 107:39. (8.) Those that were bold and courageous, and made nothing of dangers, are strangely cowed and dispirited; and this also is the Lord's doing (Job 12:24): He taketh away the heart cf the chief of the people, that were their leaders and commanders, and were most famed for their martial fire and great achievements; when any thing is to be done they are heartless, and ready to flee at the shaking of a leaf. Psa 76:5. (9.) Those that were driving on their projects with full speed are strangely bewildered and at a loss; they know not where they are nor what they do, are unsteady in their counsels and uncertain in their motions, off and on, this way and that way, wandering like men in a desert (Job 12:24), groping like men in the dark, and staggering like men in drink, Job 12:25. Isa 59:10. Note, God can soon nonplus the deepest politicians and bring the greatest wits to their wits' end, to show that wherein they deal proudly he is above them.
Thus are the revolutions of kingdoms wonderfully brought about by an overruling Providence. Heaven and earth are shaken, but the Lord sits King for ever, and with him we look for a kingdom that cannot be shaken.