‘Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Look, He puts no trust in his servants; and His (fallen) angels, He charges with folly. How much less, in them that dwell in houses of clay; whose foundation is in the dust which is crushed before the moth? They are destroyed, from morning to evening. They perish for ever…. Doesn’t their excellence which is in them, go away? They die!’ Job 4:17-21.
Did Job strive to make God unrighteous? No! How can fallen man be righteous before God? How can a man be pure before his Maker? Can man be in the right, in his plea against God?
In his Institutes III:12:1 & III:17:9, Calvin remarked: “All must immediately perish, as Job declares (4:17-20)…. I would go still further, and ask whether there be any work which may not justly be convicted of impurity or imperfection? How then will it appear to that Eye before which even the Heavens are not clean, and angels are chargeable with folly? (Job 4:18).”
In his Tracts and Treatises III:425, Calvin adds: “In the history of Job (4:19), we read (of) ‘those who dwell in houses of clay’…. This, if you attend to it, you must see to apply to the soul — which dwells in a clay body. He did not call man a vessel of clay, but says that he inhabits a vessel of clay — as if the good part of man which is the soul, were contained in that earthly abode.” Men’s ‘houses of clay’ are their bodies, which are made from and return to dust (Genesis 2:7 & 3:19).
Men’s bodies being compared to houses, are now spoken of — like houses — as having a foundation. They are not only of earth. They are founded on earth — of the earth, earthy. They are built of earth; derived from earth; limited to earth. Men dwell in clay-houses of fragile material.
And men’s very foundation, is ultimately crushed before the moth. Crushed by the moth which destroys, and crushed before the moth itself gets crushed by God. ‘And He consumes it like a rotten thing; like a moth-eaten garment’ (Job 13:28).
Men are destroyed, ‘from morning to evening’ — in the course of a single day. Like may-flies. Thus the wicked pass away unobserved, like ephemeral insects. Such men are destroyed easily, and soon.
Their excellence then goes away — gets pulled out like the pin of a gate-post (Judges 16:3-14); or like the stake of a tent gets extracted (Isaiah 33:20). Like an encampment gets broken up (Numbers 33:1-6). Plucked up, or torn out. The death of ungodly men is here compared to the pulling down of a tent — the removal of their habitation (Isaiah 38:12). Their tent-cord is torn away.
Does their excellence in them, then not go away? For they die (Job 4:21).
Die! The moment their tent falls, through the tearing-away of its pole or cord, the ungodly inhabitants perish. And their unwisdom cleaves to them, to the very end. Thus the destruction of the ungodly, who merely dwell in clay-houses.