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Satan At Work
When we read that "there was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job," we are to understand a noble, conspicuous, influential, and altogether unique man. The narrator is not pointing to any man, a dramatic shadow, a figure which he intends to use for dramatic purposes; he is indicating the greatest man in the society to which that man belongs say a typical man, the best specimen of humanity, altogether the finest, completest, strongest man. It is well to understand this, because if there is to be any great contest as between human nature and malign powers, we should like it to be as equal as possible. We should feel a sense of discontentment were the devil to challenge some puny creature a man known only for his meanness and weakness. On the other hand, we feel that the conditions are admirable as to their proportions and completeness, and the best, strongest, purest man is chosen to represent human nature in the tremendous contest. That is the case in the present instance,. Read the character
"That man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" ( Job 1:1 ).
This is a complete character. What more could be added? What need for further vision of God, or supply of grace, or miracle of progress? Have we any character equal to Job's, as thus described, in the New Testament? Even if Job be but a dramatic personage, the Old! Testament is not afraid to have such a man represented upon its pages. But we must not stop at that point; otherwise we should come to false conclusions respecting the growth of character under Old Testament conditions. The Old Testament makes its men more rapidly than the New Testament does; and we are not to take back the New Testament by which to judge the men of the Old Testament. If men do not grow so rapidly in the gospels and epistles, it is because the spirit of moral criticism has changed, has become more searching, has looked for fuller and wider results, has penetrated beyond and beneath the surface, and asked questions about motive, purpose, inmost thought. Here, however, in Old Testament life, and under Old Testament conditions, is the completest man of his day. What can he do with Satan? What can Satan do with him?
Not only was the personal character complete, but the surroundings were marked by great prosperity, affluence, all but boundless resources, as resources were reckoned in Oriental countries.
"His [Job's] substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household" ( Job 1:3 ).
Who could get at him? You must knock at a hundred gates before you can present yourself before the presence of this king. Circle after circle concentrically surrounds, environs, protects him. He is within at the very centre of all circles. We have to leap over tower after tower before we come to the tower of brass, solid, seamless, within which he is entrenched and concealed.
Not only have we a complete personal character, a great substantial fortune, but there is in this mysterious man a priestly feeling. The father of the family was then the priest of the household. His sons and daughters were social; they grasped one another with the hand of love; they exchanged liberally all the courtesies which make up much of the happiness of social life. The father was not amongst them; he was away, but still looking on. He said: It may be that in all their feasting and enjoyment my sons have sinned, and have misunderstood God in their hearts; therefore, I will arise early in the morning and offer sacrifices on their account. Although this is now done away ceremonially and literally, yet there abides the priestliness of fatherhood and motherhood that strange, never-perfectly-described feeling, which says, There is yet something to be done about the children: they are good children, their fine qualities it is impossible to deny, but human nature is human nature after all, and another prayer for them may do good. That prayer may never be offered in words, it may be offered in sighs, in wordless aspirations, in the strange, never-to-be-reported language of the heart. Yet, still, there is the fact, that in every true heart there is a priestly instinct that cannot be satisfied until it has remembered in prayer some that may have strayed, and others that may need special vision of light and special communication of grace. "Pray without ceasing." Pray often. "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." And the God of peace shall fill your hearts with eternal Sabbath day.
So far, then, we are reading a noble poem. Were the statement to end with the first five verses, it would be difficult to match the paragraph by aught so rich in spiritual quality, so noble in personal character, so sweet, tender, and friendly in social feeling and exchange of love. But where does life's chapter end? An end it seems not to have. Life would rather appear to be all beginnings, new attempts, new mornings, new endeavours, new resolutions, and the end is always far off, making great promises, and exercising a wondrous influence in life by its allurement and beckoning and promise of rest. It is in this way that posterity does much for us, notwithstanding the ignorant gibe concerning it. The end makes us do what we attempt in the present. We cannot work for the past. If we work at all, it must be for the future, for, blessed be God, things are so shaped and set together that no man liveth unto himself, or can so live: even while he attempts that miracle he fails in its execution, and does good where no good was intended. No credit to him. It will not be set down to his credit in the books. Still, as a matter of fact, even the bad man cannot spend his money without doing good in many unintended ways. Where, then, we repeat, does life's chapter end? Certainly it does not end in the case of Job by a description of his personal character and his social status.
In the sixth verse we come upon the inevitable temptation. Every man, woman, and child has got to have a face-to-face interview with the devil. Adam was not tempted for all the race. He but symbolised the tragic and awful fact that every man is led up into the Eden of his time to be tried, tested, pierced, assaulted, and put to extremities, so that he may be revealed to himself. That is the great difficulty namely, the difficulty of self-revelation; because a man seeing some other man do a wickedness stands back and says he could not have done that; whereas he could have done it every whit, with just as red a colour, and just as black an infamy, whatever it was the murder by Cain, the treachery committed by Jacob, the kiss inflicted by Iscariot. So every man must be revealed to himself, and made to feel that his heart not some other man's heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. The devil could not rest. He must go to and fro in the earth, and walk up and down in it, so long as there is one good man upon it. It is the good man that adds another flame to the devil's hell. He does not care about indifferent characters, doubting minds, wavering faiths; men who are orthodox today, heretical tomorrow, speculative on the third day, and immoral all the time: they occasion him no anxiety, they are all well chained, and the chain is well fastened in the pit. But a really good man a veritable Job must be the devil's vexation. He must be a mystery to the satanic mind. Nor can the devil afford to let him alone. One Job will do more harm to bad policies and bad spiritualities than a thousand nominally professing good men could ever do. Job will be looked at, estimated, talked about; people will say, Here is concrete goodness, real, sound character, and the kind of faculty that gets hold of all the worlds that are good, and represents all sides of life quite radiantly and fascinatingly. "Whence comest thou," black fiend, spirit of night, demon? "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it," it is my earth, my estate, my hunting-ground: as yet I have only scorched it; I want to burn it through and through. Why not sit down? I cannot! Why not? Because there is a man upon it that I want to ruin. Here is no poetic strain, no dramatic exaggeration, no colour put in merely for the sake of literary effect: this is strong, sound reason, broad and deep philosophy, an unchangeable reality in moral economies: the bad cannot rest while the good are within sight, and the good cannot escape the last temptation, the fieriest assault of the enemy. A marvellous power is the power of goodness: bad men are afraid of it; no heart that has in it a wicked scheme dare so much as come before a good man and say My scheme is thus, and so, and such: will you join me in it? Dishonesty fears honesty. This is the power of the good over the evil the restraining power, the refining power, and the elevating power, as to its social effects. Do we give the enemy any trouble? When he hears our prayers is he alarmed, saying, Verily they are growing in grace: they daily get one inch nearer heaven: on the third day they will be perfected, and seize the very city, and take it by the violence of love? Or does he say, The prayers are going down in quality: they have now descended to mere talk: there is no blood in them, no sacrifice, no atonement kindred according to its own capacity with the atonement wrought by the Son of God: these are not prayers? If so, he will not be troubled by our presence, though we be a million strong and rich with all earth's gold mines. It is character that the devil fears solid, pure, noble, brilliant character, just as good at the core as it is on the surface; solid in its cubic completeness and reality of goodness.
But Job was misunderstood by the devil, who said, This is a question of circumstances: if I could take away his seven thousand sheep, he would be less religious; if I could break in upon the five hundred yoke of oxen, he would begin to whimper and whine like a common man; if his balance at the next reckoning should be in three figures instead of five, he would forget to pray that night: this is how I must assail him; I shall never get at this man through his principles, I must get at him through his property, that is my policy. There was the fatal misunderstanding of the man. Being misunderstood, Job was also underestimated. Who can tell the good man's full measure of strength? He is a man of many resources. We read of the unsearchable riches of Christ, and there is a sense in which every Christian is endowed with those riches, so that being impoverished at one point he is as wealthy as ever at all other points: he can overget all distress and all loss. It is interesting to hear a being from another world talk. Here the devil gives us his description of Job's position. It will be intensely interesting to hear how the position of a man can be described by an infernal spirit. What he says can be rendered into our mother-tongue. We do not sufficiently consider that it is a devil who is made to speak in one instance, or an angel in another; we take it as if devil and angel were natives of the same clime with ourselves, and had undergone the same schooling, and had used the same words, with the same colour and weight of emphasis. Nothing of the kind. These people are speaking a foreign tongue; yet they speak it as with a native accent. Hear the devil upon the position and security of Job:
"Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land" ( Job 1:10 ).
He reads like a surveyor; he peruses a memorandum, and gives out the facts in literal lines. "Hast not thou made an hedge about him?" I have walked round that hedge; I have tried it here, there, and at seven other places; I have gone round it in summer and winter, in spring and autumn, by night and by day, when the snow was on the ground and when the sun was in full summer heat, and the hedge is round about him with the solidity of iron; and not about him only, but "about his house, and about all that he hath on every side" every sheep, every camel, every ox, every ass seems to be hedged about, so that I cannot strike one of them: I have no chance; thou hast shut me out from opportunity in regard to this man: give me the opportunity, and I will bring his piety to ruin "put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face" ( Job 1:11 ). The devil did not speak without reason. He is sometimes forced to facts. He could have substantiated this declaration by countless instances; he could have said, I have overthrown kings before today; I have seen the effect of poverty, loss, pain, distress, exile, upon some men who had quite as good an appearance as Job has: their piety has gone after their property: they no sooner were thrown down socially than they were unclothed religiously, and were proved to be, practically, at least, hypocrites: I want to see the same plan tried upon Job; it has succeeded in cases innumerable it cannot but succeed here. But the point now immediately under consideration is the devil's estimate of the good man's position, and the devil says the good man is hedged about; he is protected on every side; all that he has excites the interest of heaven; there is not a sheep in the flock that God does not account as of value. This is real. This is the very testimony of Jesus Christ himself, who says, The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do we realise this to be our happy condition? We do not As Christian men and women we are just as fretful, anxious, and dispirited, in the presence of cloud and threatening, as are our worldliest neighbours. If that is not true in some instances, let us bless God for the miraculous exceptions; but wherein it is true we affirm the devil's estimate of our supposed security: it is a security which believes in black ink letters, in actual and positive property, and is not a security which rests in spiritual promise of spiritual protection.
This incident destroys the idea that environment can keep away temptation. How often have we said to ourselves, If our circumstances were better, our religion would be stronger; thus men tell lies to their own souls; thus men degrade life into a question of surrounding and circumstance and condition; thus men say that "fat sorrow is better than lean"; and thus men add up the worldly conditions of assaulted life, and say, With such conditions the assault really amounts to nothing. All spiritual history declares against that sophistical doctrine. Every man has his own battle to fight. Job had a deadlier battle to conduct than we can have, because he was a stronger man; there was more in him and about him; he exhibited, so to say, a larger field, and was therefore accessible at a greater number of points. We think of royalty in its palace, see itself upon the throne, and saying, What can reach me here? I am safe beyond the touch of temptation. We think of great influence, as of statesmen and rulers, and we suppose that if we were as elevated as they are we should be out of the reach of the devil's arrow. Sometimes we think of great genius, of the marvellous minds that can create worlds and destroy them, and recreate them, and dramatise the very air, and populate it with images that shine and talk, that dazzle and amuse the very men who created them; and we say, Such genius can know nothing of temptation; only those who are in sordid conditions, driven down to the dust to find tomorrow's bread, men doomed to daily grinding, only they can know what temptation is and pain and sorrow. Such is not the case. No palace can shut out temptation; no high authority or rulership can escape the blast of hell; and as for genius, it seems to be the very sport of infernal agency. Environment, then, is no protection against temptation. What is the protection? There is none: every man must be tempted, every Adam must fall, every Adam must eat of the forbidden tree; one after the other, millions in a day, on they go, without exception, without break: "Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." Certainly. If that chapter had not been in his life, the life would have been incomplete, and would have been no gospel to us: we should have said, The reading is very good, but it is like the reading of a poem, or the perusal of a musical composition; we have not yet come to the hell-chapter, the devil-clutch, the fight with him who overthrew our integrity, and chained our spirits to his chariot. So we have Christ's temptation written in plain letters, the whole story told in highly accentuated speech, the articulation distinct, every syllable throbbing with life. What then? Do we rest there, and say, Behold the end? Then were the world not worth making, then had the Creator committed an irretrievable mistake: this is not the end. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man," and with every temptation God will make a way of escape. "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience" and purity, increase of faith and increase of grace; and the temptation may become the root of much true strength and joy.
In the case of Job the internal is proved to be greater than the external. When the trials came one after another like shocks of thunder, "in all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly." But did he speak? That is the point. If he did not, perhaps he was dazed; he felt a tremendous blow on the forehead, and reeled, and was not in a condition to bear witness about the matter. If he said anything let us know what he did say. Could he speak in that tremendous crisis? Yes, he spoke. His words are before us. Like a wise man he went back to first principles. He said, Circumstances are nothing; they are temporary arrangements; the man is not what he has but what he is; I do not hold my life in my hands saying, It weighs so much, and count up to a high number. Job went back to first principles, to elementary truths; he said:
"Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither [that is how I began]: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away [as he had a right to do; I had nothing of my own]; blessed be the name of the Lord" ( Job 1:21 ).
There he stands, a naked man, destitute, childless, friendless, practically houseless, without property, all the environment changed; and now that all the walls are thrown down we can see the more clearly how the man kneels, and with what heart-eloquence he prays. We never do see some men until the walls of their prosperity are thrown down. When they have lost all, then they begin to make an impression upon us. Said one man, from whom every penny in the world was taken, "The treasure is all gone, but I have an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." He was a minister of the gospel, a man in high pulpit position; but circumstances were against him, the events of the day impoverished him; he was left without gold, silver, copper, chair to sit upon, bed to lie upon, book to read, and in that condition he said, in our own country and in our own time, "The treasure is all gone, but I have an inheritance that cannot be destroyed." We should not have known the man but for the circumstances which tested him and revealed him. What was real in his case is possible in every other case. "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." The more things we have the better, if we use them aright There is no crime in wealth. There is no iniquity in being rich. Blessed be God, there are men who are rich and good, abounding in wealth, and yet the more they have the more the church has, the more the poor have. We bless God for them. They hold their riches with a steward's faithfulness, with a trustee's fidelity. Nor is there any virtue in poverty. A man is not a saint because he has no clothes, no house, no fortune. Nothing of the kind. All these questions, on both sides, go deeper, go right into the spirit and soul and heart of things, and "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Said one man, "I have nothing except that which I have given away." His meaning was that at last, although fortune had been heavy against him, he had as a real property, in his very memory and soul, every farthing he had ever given in the cause of charity: they could never be taken away from him. There is one wealth we need never part with, one substance we may keep for ever in health, in sickness, in summer, in winter, in earth, in heaven, in time, in eternity, and that substance is a spotless, holy character.
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"Thus did Job continually." Job 1:5
Many persons do good occasionally. It is easy to be good outwardly on ceremonial occasions: it is to be in the fashion; it is to be running along the rut of custom; not indeed to appear to be good under such circumstances would be to incur opprobrium. Church-going may be an occasional exercise; prayer may be an intermittent enjoyment. The characteristic excellence of Job's worship was that it was permanent, continuous, unbroken, proceeding with the regularity of life, and completing itself from time to time like a piece of concerted music. We are exhorted to pray without ceasing. The apostle desires us in everything by prayer and supplication to make known our requests unto God. Exercise in such holy worship is like exercise in everything else: it strengthens the faculties; it encourages the soul; it tends towards perfectness. We should read the Bible continually, that is to say, it should be the man of our counsel, the companion of our day-march, and the enjoyment of our solitude; it is not to be read here and there, intermittently, eclectically, but is to be studied throughout in all its proportion and harmony. People do not get good by going to church once: a single shower upon the earth is of little consequence; the great rain consists in shower upon shower, the water coming down for the time being continuously, copiously, and as it were hospitably, feeding and nourishing the earth. It is by patient continuance in well-doing that we are to achieve glory, honour, and immortality, and to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, showing that our good-doing is not a spasmodic feeling or action, but is the very breath and energy of the soul, the sweet and gracious necessity of the new life that is within us. To be irregular in sacrifice, in worship, in devotion, in service, is to be irregular in the heart-beat of love towards God. Who does not regret the irregular action of the heart, even from a physical point of view? What, then, shall be said of irregularity of heart-action in reference to spiritual loyalty and continuity in the exhibition and enjoyment of a holy life? But there is no continuance in ourselves; "we all do fade as a leaf;" our poor little life plays itself out: what, then, is to be done? Underneath, our life must be connected with the Fountain of all being; it must be identified with God in Christ and through Christ, as the branch is part of the vine. Hear the Lord Jesus: "Abide in me... without me ye can do nothing;" hear the Apostle Paul: "I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me." All the passages which exhort to godly life exhort also to its continuance: "Be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee a crown of life:" "He that endureth to the end shall be saved." The Bible is full of such animating and encouraging speech.
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"Whence contest thou?" Job 1:7
This, indeed, is the great puzzle of metaphysical and spiritual life. There is a certain degree of comfort in the fact that it was the Lord himself who put the question to our great enemy: "Satan, whence comest thou?" We know that it was not because he was ignorant of the origin and purposes of the enemy, but we may accommodate the question to express our own feeling and wonder in relation thereto. Who has not dwelt upon the origin of evil? How the question has taxed the resources of the philosopher and the theologian! The enemy himself refers to locality and action upon the surface of the earth, and thus even in his reply to God he would seem to evade the profoundest relations of the inquiry. We do not ask, Whence comest thou? as inquiring into the last place of visitation or the last instance of assault or seduction: we ask concerning the very origin of evil, the root and core, the very beginning, the genesis of all that is false, impure, corrupt. Let us be on our guard lest we press this inquiry too far. Undoubtedly it is an inquiry of profoundest interest, and may therefore profitably occupy reverential attention for a time. There is, however, a still greater question namely, how to get rid of evil. As a matter of mournful fact, evil is in the world, Satan is a great, dark, overshadowing figure in all our personal and social life: the question, therefore, is not so much whence he came as how to get rid of his personality and influence and destructive ministry. It is possible to be more anxious about the origin of evil than about its extinction. Practical men must direct attention to the means which have been set up according to revelation for the extirpation of the enemy and all his works. When he comes he does not necessarily come as a conqueror; we must not suppose that there is no answer to his seductions and no escape from his wiles: "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you;" "Take unto you the whole armour of God." The question may be treated metaphysically, and dealt with on the broad grounds of human history and general experience; but let every man attack the question as related to his own heart: there the devil often sits: there he revels in triumph; there he seems to have everything his own way. Whatever may be said of demoniacal possession as revealed in the New Testament, there can be no doubt of it as to the fact of evil influences operating directly and disastrously in every human heart. Here we need all the resources of revelation, all the helps of pastoral encouragement and friendly sympathy, all that can be done by mutual Christian love. To dispossess one's soul of the devil is to bring that soul into light and liberty and prospect of eternal blessedness.
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"And there came a messenger unto Job" Job 1:14
As a matter of literal interpretation this was simple enough; but regarded suggestively the thought admits of large and useful expansion. Messengers are always coming to men; if not living messengers, living messages impulses, words of exhortation, encouragement, warning, the whole ministry of truth and light. A voice came to Samuel in the darkness; we have seen already in earlier studies how many anonymous ministries there are in life, men coming in the darkness, figures appearing in visions, voices heard in dreams, events forcing themselves upon religious attention. There are many practical messengers coming to the cry of the heart every day: messengers of poverty, pain, bereavement; men requiring intellectual help, spiritual comfort, commercial direction: children needing to be trained, nurtured, directed, stimulated in right paths, protected from diabolical assaults. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Providence itself is a great messenger and a great message. If we choose to play the fool we can deafen ourselves to every voice and blind ourselves to every token: we can go up and down the earth saying that we hear nothing, see nothing; that we are practical, and that we pay no attention to the emotions of the soul, the peculiar actions that stir the inner being. That certainly is one way of living; it is the poorest, meanest way of all; it is the way of the flower that has but a small root, and because there is no deepness of earth it will soon wither away. He who dwells in daily communion with God fears no messenger who can come to him, even with evil news. The fear of God takes away all other fear. The surprise of the saintly soul is but a superficial or transient wonder; it does not affect the fountain and reality of his faith. "If thou forbear to deliver him that is drawn unto death, God will judge thee; if thou sayest, Behold, I knew it not, he that searcheth the heart will bring thee to the judgment seat." To the man who listens there is many an appeal; to the man who is wakeful there is many a passing vision from which he can learn abiding truths. A messenger has come to every one of us to declare the everlasting gospel. He flies abroad in the midst of heaven; he proclaims his truth regardless of age, condition, or estate; his message is to every creature under heaven: it is a message charged with good news, meant to redeem and save and bless the heart. Happy is the man who sees this messenger, and hears him, and provides for him a guest-chamber in his heart.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 1". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter