He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who has hardened himself against him, and has prospered?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Job 9:4. He is wise in heart — He is infinitely wise, and searcheth all men’s hearts and ways, and discovers a multitude of sins, which men’s short-sighted eyes cannot see; and therefore can charge them with innumerable evils, of which they thought themselves innocent, and sees far more malignity than men can discern in their sins. Mighty in strength — So that, whether men contend with God by wisdom or by strength, God will be conqueror. Who hath hardened himself, &c. — Obstinately contended with him. The devil promised himself that Job, in the day of his affliction, would curse and speak ill of God. But, instead of that, he sets himself to honour God and speak highly of him. As ill pained as he is, and as much as he is taken up with his own miseries, when he has occasion to mention the wisdom and power of God, he forgets his complaints, and expatiates, with a flood of eloquence, on that glorious subject.
Even the wise and the powerful,
Who hath withstood him and prospered?
But the more common interpretation is to refer it to God. The meaning of Job appears to be, that God was a sagacious adversary; that he was able to manage his cause; that he could meet and refute all objections which could be urged; and that it would be in vain to engage in a litigation before him. He so well understood the whole ground of debate, and was so entirely skilled in the merits of the controversy, and could so successfully meet all that could be alleged, that it was useless to attempt to hold an argument with him.
And mighty in strength - He is able to execute all his designs, and to carry all his purposes into effect. Man is weak and feeble, and it is hopeless for him to attempt to contend with the Almighty.
Who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered? - To harden oneself, here means to resist or withstand him. It refers to the firmness or resolution which one is obliged to adopt who opposes another. Here it means the opposition which man makes to the law and government of the Most High; and the affirmation is, that no one can make such opposition who will not be ultimately overcome. God is so great, so powerful, and so just, that a successful resistance cannot be made. The arrangements of God will take their course, and man must yield to his claims and his government, or be prostrated. None can successfully resist God; and the true policy of man, as well as his duty, is to yield to him, and be at peace with him.
And hath prospered - Or been successful. He has failed in his opposition, and been obliged to yield. Prosperity is not found in opposing God. It is only by falling in with his arrangements and following his designs. A prosperous voyage is made by falling in with winds and currents, and not in opposing them; prosperous agriculture is carried on by coinciding with the favorable seasons of the year, and taking advantage of the dews, and rains, and sunbeams that God sends, and not in opposing them; prosperity in regard to health is found in taking advantage of the means which God gives to secure it, and not in opposing them. And the sinner in his course has no more chance of success and prosperity, than a man would have who should make it a point or principle of life always to sail against tides, and currents, and head winds; or he who should set at defiance all the laws of husbandry, and plant on a rock, or in the dead of winter; or he who should feed himself on poison rather than on nutritious food, and cultivate the nightshade rather that wheat. The great principle is, that if a man desires prosperity, he must fall in with the arrangements of God in his providence and grace; and wisdom is seen in studying these arrangements, and in yielding to them.
hardened himself—or his neck (Pr 29:1); that is, defied God. To prosper, one must fall in with God's arrangements of providence and grace.Wise in heart; either,
1. Really and profoundly wise; or,
2. Wise in his mind or understanding, which in Hebrew is oft called the heart, as Proverbs 2:10 6:32 Hosea 4:11, because the Hebrews make the heart the seat of the understanding, or of the reasonable soul. The sense is, He is infinitely wise, and so knows all things, and searcheth all men’s hearts and ways, and discovers a multitude of sins which men’s short-sighted eyes cannot see; and therefore can charge them with innumerable evils where they thought themselves innocent, and sees far more malignity than men could discern in their sins: and men cannot conceal any of their sins from him, nor cheat him, as they may other men, with crafty devices and evasions; so that there is no contending with him.
Mighty in strength, i.e. omnipotent; and therefore if men contumaciously persist in contending with him after they are convicted and condemned, he can easily crush them. So that whether men contend with God by wisdom or by strength, (which are the two ways of one man’s contending with another,) God will be conqueror.
Who hath hardened himself against him, i.e. obstinately contended with him? Or, spoken hard things towards him; quarrelling with him, opposing and reproaching God’s providence towards him as hard and unjust. Compare Judges 1:15.
Hath prospered, Heb. hath been at peace, i.e. hath not provoked God to his own destruction. A common figure, called meiosis, whereby more is understood than is expressed.
and mighty in strength; he is the most mighty; he is the Almighty; he has a mighty arm and strong hand; and unless a man had a strong arm like him, his own right hand can never save him, or his own righteousness justify him; wherefore, to what purpose is it for a feeble man to contend and strive with him? and since he is not a man, as he is, how should they come together in judgment? and what a vain thing must it he to set a time for it, since, if we speak of strength, lo, he is strong? see Job 9:19,
who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered? either by behaving proudly and insolently to him, as Pharaoh, Sennacherib, and others, by speaking hard words against him, as the Jews in the times of Malachi; and such hard speeches ungodly sinners utter against God, Christ, his Gospel, ordinances, people, ways, and worship, of which they will be convinced, and for which they will be condemned at the last judgment; and by bold and daring acts of sin, running upon the thick bosses of his buckler, giving themselves up to commit all uncleanness with greediness, and making a covenant with hell and an agreement with death, and so think themselves safe and secure at all events; but such never prospered and succeeded as they promised themselves, but came to ruin and destruction: or "had peace" (x), or "found quietness", as Mr. Broughton: there is no peace to wicked men, true, solid peace, either here or hereafter; when they cry "Peace", or promise themselves much of it, destruction comes; and if God sets home the guilt of sin upon their consciences, the lead of it is intolerable; it sinks them into despair, and what then will be the worm that dieth not?He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)4. wise in heart] i. e. in mind, corresponding to “mighty in power.”
hardened himself] Probably hardened his neck, i. e. braved him, Proverbs 29:1.
hath prospered] lit. been safe, or as we say, “with impunity.”Verse 4. - He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength. The sense is strengthened if we omit "he is," and render, Wise in heart, and mighty in strength, who hath hardened etc.? God's combination of perfect wisdom with infinite strength renders it hopeless for any man to contend with him. Who hath hardened himself against him; and hath prospered? Job fully admits the wisdom of all that Eliphaz (Job 4:17) and Bildad (Job 8:3-6) have said, or hinted, with respect to his inability wholly to justify himself. No one has ever taken this line of absolute self-justification, and prospered.
And taketh not evil-doers by the hand.
21 While He shall fill thy mouth with laughing,
And thy lips with rejoicing,
22 They who hate thee shall be clothed with shame,
And the tent of the ungodly is no more.
"To take by the hand," i.e., ready to help as His own, as Isaiah 41:13; Isaiah 42:6. Instead of עד (Job 8:21), there is no great difficulty in reading עוד: again (as e.g., Psalm 42:6) He will fill; but even עד is supportable; it signifies, like Job 1:18; Psalm 141:10, while. On the form ימלּה, vid., Ges. 75, 21, b. This close of Bildad's speech sounds quite like the Psalms (comp. Psalm 126:2 with Job 8:21; Psalm 35:26; Psalm 109:29; Psalm 132:18, with Job 8:22). Bildad does all he can to win Job over. He calls the ungodly שׂנאיך, to show that he tries to think and expect the best of Job.
We have seen that Job in his second speech charges God with the appearance of injustice and want of compassion. The friends act as friends, by not allowing this to pass without admonition. After Job has exhausted himself with his plaints, Bildad enters into the discussion in the above speech. He defends the justice of God against Job's unbecoming words. His assertion that God does not swerve from the right, is so true that it would be blasphemy to maintain against him that God sometimes perverts the right. And Bildad seems also to make the right use of this truth when he promises a glorious issue to his suffering, as a substantial proof that God does not deal unjustly towards him; for Job's suffering does actually come to such an issue, and this issue in its accomplishment destroys the false appearance that God had been unjust or unmerciful towards him. Bildad expresses his main point still more prudently, and more in accordance with the case before him, when he says, "Behold! God does not act hostilely towards the godly, neither does He make common cause with the evil-doer" (Job 8:20), - a confession which he must allow is on both sides the most absolute truth. By the most telling figures he portrays the perishableness of the prosperity of those who forget God, and paints in glowing colours on this dark background the future which awaits Job. What is there in this speech of Bildad to censure, and how is it that it does not produce the desired cheering effect on Job?
It is true that nothing that God sends to man proceeds from injustice, but it is not true that everything that He sends to him comes from His justice. As God does not ordain suffering for the hardened sinner in order to improve him, because He is merciful, so He does not ordain suffering for the truly godly in order to punish him, because He is just. What we call God's attributes are only separate phases of His indivisible holy being, - ad extra, separate modes of His operation in which they all share, - of which, when in operation, one does not act in opposition to another; they are not, however, all engaged upon the same object at one time. One cannot say that God's love manifests itself in action in hell, nor His anger in heaven; nor His justice in the afflictions of the godly, and His mercy in the sufferings of the godless.
Herein is Bildad's mistake, that he thinks his commonplace utterance is sufficient to explain all the mysteries of human life. We see from his judgment of Job's children how unjust he becomes, since he regards the matter as the working out of divine justice. He certainly speaks hypothetically, but in such a way that he might as well have said directly, that their sudden death was the punishment of their sin. If he had found Job dead, he would have considered him as a sinner, whom God had carried off in His anger. Even now he has no pleasure in promising Job help and blessing; accordingly from his point of view he expresses himself very conditionally: If thou art pure and upright. We see from this that his belief in Job's uprightness is shaken, for how could the All-just One visit Job with such severe suffering, if he had not deserved it! Nevertheless אתה וישׁר זך אם (Job 8:6) shows that Bildad thinks it possible that Job's heart may be pure and upright, and consequently his present affliction may not be peremptory punishment, but only disciplinary chastisement. Job just - such is Bildad's counsel - give God glory, and acknowledge that he deserves nothing better; and thus humbling himself beneath the just hand of God, he will be again made righteous, and exalted.
Job cannot, however, comprehend his suffering as an act of divine justice. His own fidelity is a fact, his consciousness of which cannot be shaken: it is therefore impossible for him to deny it, for the sake of affirming the justice of God; for truth is not to be supported by falsehood. Hence Bildad's glorious promises afford Job no comfort. Apart from their being awkwardly introduced, they depend upon an assumption, the truth of which Job cannot admit without being untrue to himself. Consequently Bildad, though with the best intention, only urges Job still further forward and deeper into the conflict.
But does, then, the confession of sin on the part of constantly sinful man admit of his regarding the suffering thus appointed to him not merely not as punishment, but also not as chastisement? If a sufferer acknowledges the excessive hideousness of sin, how can he, when a friend bids him regard his affliction as a wholesome chastisement designed to mortify sin more and more, - how can he receive the counsel with such impatience as we see in the case of Job? The utterances of Job are, in fact, so wild, inconsiderate, and unworthy of God, and the first speeches of Eliphaz and Bildad on the contrary so winning and appropriate, that if Job's affliction ought really to be regarded from the standpoint of chastisement, their tone could not be more to the purpose, nor exhortation and comfort more beautifully blended. Even when one knows the point of the book, one will still be constantly liable to be misled by the speeches of the friends; it requires the closest attention to detect what is false in them. The poet's mastery of his subject, and the skill with which he exercises it, manifests itself in his allowing the opposition of the friends to Job, though existing in the germ from the very beginning, to become first of all in the course of the controversy so harsh that they look upon Job as a sinner undergoing punishment from God, while in opposition to them he affirms his innocence, and challenges a decision from God.
The poet, however, allows Bildad to make one declaration, from which we clearly see that his address, beautiful as it is, rests on a false basis, and loses its effect. Bildad explains the sudden death of Job's children as a divine judgment. He could not have sent a more wounding dart into Job's already broken heart; for is it possible to tell a man anything more heart-rending that that his father, his mother, or his children have died as the direct punishment of their sins? One would not say so, even if it should seem to be an obvious fact, and least of all to a father already sorely tried and brought almost to the grave with sorrow. Bildad, however, does not rely upon facts, he reasons only priori. He does not know that Job's children were godless; the only ground of his judgment is the syllogism: Whoever dies a fearful, sudden death must be a great sinner; God has brought Job's children to such a death; ergo, etc. Bildad is zealously affected for God, but without understanding. He is blind to the truth of experience, in order not to be drawn away from the truth of his premiss. He does not like to acknowledge anything that furnishes a contradiction to it. It is this same rationalism of superstition or credulity which has originated the false doctrine of the decretum absolutum. With the same icy and unfeeling rigorism with which Calvinism refers the divine rule, and all that happens upon earth, to the one principle of absolute divine will and pleasure, in spite of all the contradictions of Scripture and experience, Bildad refers everything to the principle of the divine justice, and indeed, divine justice in a judicial sense.
There is also another idea of justice beside this judicial one. Justice, צדקה or צדק, is in general God's dealings as ruled by His holiness. Now there is not only a holy will of God concerning man, which says, Be ye holy, for I am holy; but also a purpose for the redemption of unholy man springing from the holy love of God to man. Accordingly justice is either the agreement of God's dealings with the will of His holiness manifest in the demands of the law, apart from redemption, or the agreement of His dealings with the will of His love as graciously manifested in the gospel; in short, either retributive or redemptive. If one, as Bildad, in the first sense says, God never acts unjustly, and glaringly maintains it as universally applicable, the mystery of the divine dispensations is not made clear thereby, but destroyed. Thus also Job's suffering is no longer a mystery: Job suffers what he deserves; and if it cannot be demonstrated, it is to be assumed in contradiction to all experience. This view of his affliction does not suffice to pacify Job, in spite of the glorious promises by which it is set off. His conscience bears him witness that he has not merited such incomparably heavy affliction; and if we indeed suppose, what we must suppose, that Job was in favour with God when this suffering came upon him, then the thought that God deals with him according to his works, perhaps according to his unacknowledged sins, must be altogether rejected.
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