on Job 4 :21
Doth not their excellency - go away! - Personal beauty, corporeal strength, powerful eloquence, and various mental endowments, pass away, or are plucked up by the roots; they are no more seen or heard among men, and their memory soon perisheth.
They die, even without wisdom - If wisdom means the pursuit of the best end, by the most legitimate and appropriate means, the great mass of mankind appear to perish without it. But, if we consider the subject more closely, we shall find that all men die in a state of comparative ignorance. With all our boasted science and arts, how little do we know! Do we know any thing to perfection that belongs either to the material or spiritual world? Do we understand even what matter is? What is its essence? Do we understand what spirit is? Then, what is its essence? Almost all the phenomena of nature, its grandest operations, and the laws of the heavenly bodies, have been explained on the principle of gravitation or attraction; but in what does this consist? Who can answer? We can traverse every part of the huge and trackless ocean by means of the compass; but who understands the nature of magnetism on which all this depends? We eat and drink in order to maintain life; but what is nutrition, and how is it effected? This has never been explained. Life depends on respiration for its continuance; but by what kind of action is it, that in a moment the lungs separate the oxygen, which is friendly to life, from the nitrogen, which would destroy it; suddenly absorbing the one, and expelling the other? Who, among the generation of hypothesis-framers, has guessed this out? Life is continued by the circulation of the blood; but by what power and law does it circulate? Have the systole and diastole of the heart, on which this circulation depends, ever been satisfactorily explained? Most certainly not. Alas, we die without wisdom; and must die, to know these, and ten thousand other matters equally unknown, and equally important. To be safe, in reference to eternity, we must know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent; whom to know is life eternal. This knowledge, obtained and retained, will entitle us to all the rest in the eternal world.
on Job 4 :21
Doth not their excellency ... - Dr. Good renders this, "Their fluttering round is over with them," by a very forced construction of the passage. Translators and expositors have been very much divided in opinion as to its meaning; but the sense seems to be, that whatever is excellent in people is torn away or removed. Their excellence does not keep them from death, and they are taken off before they are truly wise. The word "excellency" here refers not only to moral excellency or virtue, but everything in which they excel others. Whatever there is in them of strength, or virtue, or influence, is removed. The word used here יתר yether means, literally, something hanging over or redundant (from יתר yâthar, to hang over, be redundant, or to remain), and hence, it means abundance or remainder, and then that which exceeds or abounds. It is thus applied to any distinguished virtue or excellency, as that which exceeds the ordinary limits or bounds. Men perish; and however eminent they may have been, they are soon cut off, and vanish away. The object here is to show how weak, and frail, and unworthy of confidence are people even in their most elevated condition.
They die, even without wisdom - That is, before they become truly wise. The object is to show, that people are so short-lived compared with angels, that they have no opportunity to become distinguished for wisdom. Their days are few; and however careful may be their observation, before they have had time to become truly wise they are hurried away. They are, therefore, wholly disqualified to sit in judgment on the doings of God, and to arraign, as Job had done, the divine wisdom.
Here closes the oracle which was addressed to Eliphaz. It is a description of unrivaled sublimity. In the sentiments that were addressed to Eliphaz, there is nothing that is contradictory to the other communications which God has made to people, or to what is taught by reason. Every reader of this passage must feel that the thoughts are singularly sublime, and that they are such as are adapted to make a deep impression on the mind. The error in Eliphaz consisted in the application which he makes of them to Job, and in the inference which he draws, that he must have been a hypocrite. This inference is drawn in the following chapter. As the oracle stands here, it is pertinent to the argument which Eliphaz had commenced, and just fitted to furnish a reproof to Job for the irreverent manner in which he had spoken, and the complaints which he had brought Job 3 against the dealings of God. Let us learn from the oracle:
(1) That man cannot be more just than God; and let this be an abiding principle of our lives;
(2) Not to complain at his dispensations, but to confide in his superior wisdom and goodness;
(3) That our opportunities of observation, and our rank in existence, are as nothing compared with those of the angels, who are yet so inferior to God as to be charged with folly;
(4) That our foundation is in the dust, and that the most insignificant object may sweep us away; and
(5) That in these circumstances humility becomes us.
Our proper situation is in the dust; and whatever calamities may befall us, we should confide in God, and feel that he is qualified to direct our affairs, and the affairs of the universe.
on Job 4 :21
4:21 Excellency - Whatsoever is by common estimation excellent in men, all their natural, and moral, and civil accomplishments, as high birth, great riches, power and wisdom, these are so far from preserving men from perishing, that they perish themselves, together with those houses of clay in which they are lodged. Without wisdom - Even without having attained that only wisdom for which they came into the world. Shall such mean, weak, foolish, sinful, dying creatures as this, pretend to be more just than God, more pure than his maker? No: instead of quarrelling with his afflictions, let him admire that he is out of hell.