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Tuesday, June 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Job 12

Parker's The People's BibleParker's The People's Bible

Verses 1-25

Job's Reply to His Three Friends. V.

Job 12-14

Now that the case in some measure of completeness is before us, we may profitably consider the history on a larger scale than its merely personal aspect. We have elements enough, in these fourteen chapters, for the construction of a world. We have the good man; the spirit of evil; the whole story of affliction and loss, pain and fear; and we have three comforters, coming from various points, with hardly various messages to be addressed to a desolate heart. Now if we look upon the instance as typical rather than personal, we shall really grasp the personal view in its deepest meanings. Let us, then, enlarge the scene in all its incidents and proportions; then instead of one man, Job, we shall have the entire human race, instead of one accuser we shall have the whole spirit of evil which works so darkly and ruinously in the affairs of men, and instead of the three comforters we shall have the whole scheme of consolatory philosophy and theology, as popularly understood, and as applied without utility. So, then, we have not the one-Job, but the whole world-Job: the personal patriarch is regarded but as the typical man; behind him stand the human ranks of every age and land.

We have little to do with the merely historical letter of the Book of Genesis: we want to go further; we want to know what man was in the thought and purpose of God. The moment we come to printed letters, we are lost. No man can understand letters, except in some half-way, some dim, intermediate sense, which quite as often confuses as explains realities. Yet we cannot do without letters: they are helps little, uncertain, yet not wholly inconvenient auxiliaries. We want to know what God meant before he spoke a single word. The moment he said, "Let us make man in our image," we lost the solemnity of the occasion, that is to say, the higher, diviner solemnity. If it had been possible for us to have seen the thought without hearing, when it was a pure thought, without even the embodiment of words, the unspoken, eternal purpose of God, then we should understand what is to be the issue of this tragedy which we call Life. It was in eternity that God created man: he only showed man in time, or gave man a chance of seeing his own little imperfect nature. Man is a child of eternity. Unless we get that view of the occasion, we shall be fretted with all kinds of details; our eyes will be pierced and divided as to their vision by ten thousand little things that are without focus or centre: we must from eternity look upon the little battlefield of time, and across that battlefield once more into the calm eternity; then we shall see things in their right proportions, distances, colours, and relations, and out of the whole will come a peace which the world never gave and which the world cannot take away. Hear the great Creator in the sanctuary of eternity; his words are these "My word shall not return unto me void." What is his "word"? This: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Is that word not to return void to the speaker? That is certainly the decree and oath of the Bible. But how long it takes to work out this sacred issue! Certainly: because the work is great. Learn how great in the idea of God is humanity from the circumstance that it takes long ages to shape and mould and inspire a man with the image and likeness and force of God. The great process is going on; God's word is to be verified and fulfilled; at the last there is to stand up a humanity, faultless, pure, majestic, worthy, through God, to share God's eternity.

Now, as a matter of fact, some men are farther on in this divine line than others are. We have seen the purpose: it is to make a perfect man and an upright; a man that fears God and eschews evil and lives in God; and, as a matter of fact, let us repeat, some men are farther along that ideal line than other men are. As a simple matter of experience, we are ready to testify that there are Jobs, honestly good men, honourable persons, upright souls: men that say concerning every perplexity in life, What is the right thing to be done? what is good, true, honest, lovely, and of good report? men who ask moral questions before entering into the engagements, the conflicts, and the business of life. And, as a matter of fact, these Jobs do develop or reveal or make manifest the spirit of evil: they bring up what devil there is in the universe, and make the universe see the dark and terrible image. But for these holy men we should know nothing about the spirit of evil. Wherever the sons of God come together we see the devil most patently. We are educated by contrasts, or we are helped in our understanding of difficulties by things which contrast one another: we know the day because we know the night, and we know the night because we know the day. We are set between extremes; we look upon the one and upon the other, and wonder, and calculate, and average, and then make positive and workable conclusions. Why fight about "devil"? There is a far greater word than that about which there is no controversy. Why then fret the soul by asking speculative questions about a personality that cannot be defined and apprehended by the mortal imagination, when there lies before our sight the greater word "evil"? If there had been any reason to doubt the evil, we should have made short work of all controversy respecting the devil. It is the evil which surrounds us like a black cordon that makes the devil possible. In a world in which we ourselves have seen and experienced in many ways impureness, folly, crime, hypocrisy, selfishness, all manner of twisted and perverted motive, why should we trouble ourselves to connect all these things with a personality, speculative or revealed? There are the dark birds of night the black, the ghastly facts: so long as they press themselves eagerly upon our attention, and put us to all manner of expense, inconvenience, and suffering, surely there is ground enough to go upon, and there is ground enough to accept the existence of any number of evil spirits a number that might darken the horizon and put out the very sun by their blackness. We might discredit the mystery if we could get rid of the fact. So far, then, we have the purpose of God, the ideal man, the spirit of evil arising to counteract his purposes and test his quality; then we have the whole spirit of consolatory philosophy and theology as represented by Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar. Let us hear what that whole system has to give us:

Three things, with varieties and sub-sections; but substantially three things. First, Fate. Philosophy has not scrupled to utter that short, sharp, cruel word. Things happen because they must happen: you are high or low, bad or good, fortunate or unfortunate, because there is an operation called Fatalism severe, tyrannous, oppressive, inexorable. So one comforter comes to tell you that what you are suffering cannot be helped; you must bear it stoically: tears are useless, prayer is wasted breath; as for resignation, you may sentimentalise about it, but as a matter of fact, you must submit. One comforter talks this dark language: he points to what he calls facts; he says, Look at all history, and you will find that men have to sup sorrow, or drink wine out of golden goblets, according to the operation of a law which has not yet been apprehended or authoritatively defined: life is a complicated necessity; the grindstone is turned round, and you must lay yourselves upon it, and suffer all its will a blind, unintelligent will; a contradiction in terms if you like; a will that never gives any account of itself, but grinds on, and grinds small. That comforter makes his speech, and the suffering world says No: thou art a miserable comforter: oh that I could state my case as I feel it! continues that suffering world then all thy talk would be so much vanity, or worthless wind: thou braggart, thou stoic, thou man of the iron heart, eat thine own comfort if thou canst digest steel, and feed upon thy philosophy if thou canst crush into food the stones of the wilderness: thy comfort is a miserable condolence.

Then some other comforter says: The word "Fate" is not the right word; it is cold, lifeless, very bitter; the real word is Sovereignty intelligent, personal sovereignty. Certainly that is a great rise upon the former theory. If we have come into the region of life, we may come into the region of righteousness. Explain to me, thou Bildad, what is the meaning of Sovereignty: I am in sorrow, my eyes run away in rivers of tears, and I am overwhelmed with bitterest distress, what meanest thou by Sovereignty? I like the word because of its vitality; I rejected the other speaker who talked of Fate because I felt within me that he was wrong, although I could not answer him in words; but Sovereignty tell me about that. And the answer is: It means that there is a great Sovereign on the throne of the universe; lofty, majestic, throned above all hierarchies, princedoms, powers; an infinite Ruler; a Governor most exalted, giving to none an account of his way, always carrying out his own purposes whatever man may suffer; he moves with his head aloft; he cares not what life his feet tread upon, what existences he destroys by his onward march: his name is God, Sovereign, Ruler, Governor, King, Tyrant. And the suffering world-Job says, No: there may be a Sovereign, but that is not his character; if that were his character he would be no sovereign: the very word sovereign, when rightly interpreted, means a relation that exists by laws and operations of sympathy, trust, responsibility, stewardship, account, rewards, punishments: be he whom he may who walks from star to star, he is no tyrant: I could stop him on his course and bring him to tears by the sight of a flower; I could constrain him to marvel at his own tenderness: I have seen enough of life to know that it is not a tyrannised life, that it does not live under continual terror; often there is a dark cloud above it and around it, but every now and then it breaks into prayer and quivers into song: No! Miserable comforter art thou, preacher of sovereignty; not so miserable as the apostle of Fate, but if thou hast ventured to call God Tyrant, there is something within me, even the heartthrob, which tells me that thou hast not yet touched the reality, the mystery of this case.

Then another man Zophar he may be called says, Not "Fate," not "Sovereignty" as just defined by Bildad, but Penalty, that is the meaning of thy suffering, O world: thou art a criminal world, thou art a thief, a liar, oft-convicted; thou hast broken every commandment of God, thou hast sinned away the morning and the midday, yea, and at eventide thou hast been far from true and good: world, thou art suffering pains at thine heart, and they are sharp pains; they are God's testimony to thine ill-behaviour; a well-conducted world would have swung for ever and ever in cloudless sunshine; thou hast run away from God, thou art a prodigal world, thou art in a far country in the time of famine, and God has sent hunger to punish thee for thy wantonness and iniquity. And the world-Job says No: miserable comforters are ye all! There seems to be a little truth even in what the first speaker said, a good deal of truth in what the second speaker revealed to me about sovereignty, and there is an unquestionable truth in what Zophar has said about penalty: I know I have done wrong, and I feel that God has smitten me for my wrong-doing; but I also feel this, that not one of you has touched the reality of the case: I cannot tell you what the reality is yet, but you have left the ground uncovered, you are the victims of your own philosophy, and your own imperfect theology; I rise and at least convict you of half-truths: you have not touched my wound with a skilled hand.

This is the condition of the Book of Job up to this moment; that is to say, within the four corners of the first fourteen chapters Job the ideal man; Job developing the spirit of evil by his very truth and goodness; men coming from different points with little creeds and little dogmas, and imperfect philosophies and theologies, pelting him with maxims and with truisms and commonplaces; and the man says, "Miserable comforters are ye all": I know what ye have said, I have seen all that long ago; but you have not touched the heart of the case, its innermost mystery and reality; your ladder does not reach to heaven; you are clever and well-skilled in words up to a given point, but you double back upon yourselves, and do not carry your reasoning forward to its final issue. That is so. Now we understand this book up to the fourteenth chapter. We were not surprised to find a Job in the world, a really honest, upright, good man, reputed for his integrity and trusted for his wisdom; that did not surprise us: we were not surprised that such a man should be assaulted, attacked by the spirit of evil, for even we ourselves, in our imperfect quality of goodness, know that there is a breath from beneath, a blast from hell, that hinders the ascent of our truest prayers. And we can believe well in all these comforters as realities; they are not dramatic men, they are seers and traditionalists and lovers of maxims, persons who assail the world's sorrow with all kinds of commonplaces, and incomplete and self-contradictory nostrums and assertions: and we feel that Job is right when he says I cannot take your comfort; the meat you give me I cannot eat, the water you supply me with is poison: leave me! Oh that I could come face to face with God! He would tell me and he will yet tell me the meaning of it all. We need not pause here, because we have the larger history before us, and we know the secret of all. What is it? What was hidden from Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar? What was it these men did not see? They did not see the meaning of chastening, chastisement, purification by sorrow, trial by grief; they did not know that Love is the highest sovereignty, and that all things work together for good to them that love God; that loss is gain, poverty is wealth, that affliction is the beginning of real robustness of soul, when rightly apprehended and fearlessly and reverently applied: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby"; "Brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations"; "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." That is the real meaning of all the sorrow, allowing such portion of truth to the theory of Sovereignty and Penalty, which undoubtedly inheres in each and both of them. But God means to train us, to apply a principle and process of cultivation to us. He will try us as gold is tried: but he is the Refiner, he sits over the furnace; and as soon as God can discover his own image in us he will take us away from the fire, and make us what he in the far eternity meant to make us when he said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." How all this process of chastening becomes necessary is obvious enough, if we go back into our own hearts, and run our eye over the whole line of our own experience. If we have true light in us we shall have no doubt as to the necessity of this chastening and its meaning. Even God to reach his own ideal had himself to suffer. Is God simply a watching Sovereign, saying, These men must suffer a little more; the fire must be made hotter, the trial must be made intenser: I will watch them in perfect equanimity; my calm shall never be disturbed; the suffering shall be theirs, not mine; I will simply operate upon them mechanically and distantly? That is not the Bible conception of God. This is the Bible conception, namely, that in working out the ideal manhood, God himself suffers more than it is possible for man to suffer, because of the larger capacity the infinite capacity of woe. Now we seem to be coming into better ground. How much does God suffer for his human children? We know that he has wept over them, yearned after them, proposed to send his Son to save them, has in reality sent his Son in the fulness of time, born of a woman, born under the law; we know that the Bible declares that the Son of God did give himself up for us all, the just for the unjust, and that Christ, the God-man, is the apostle of the universe; his text is Sacrifice, his offer is Pardon. How much did God suffer? The sublimest answer to that inquiry is Behold the cross of Christ. If you would know whether God's heart was broken over our moral condition, look at the cross of Christ; if you would understand that God is bent on some gracious and glorious purpose of man-making, behold the cross of Christ. It will not explain itself in words, but it is possible for us to wait there, to watch there, until we involuntarily exclaim, This is no man; this is no malefactor: who is he? Watch on, wait on; read yourself in the light of his agony, and at last you will say, "Truly this man was the Son of God." What is he doing there? Redeeming the world. What is his purpose? To make man in God's image and God's likeness. Then is the process long-continued, stretching over the ages? Yes: he who is from everlasting to everlasting takes great breadths of time for the revelation of his fatherhood and the realisation of all the purposes of his love.

Verse 3

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"I am not inferior to you." Job 12:3

This may be a mere boast, or it may contain truth which is of great spiritual significance. The spirit of defiance ought to be taken out of it, and the substantial suggestion should be adopted by every man who wishes to make real progress in Christian instruction and experience. The poorest man may say to the greatest I am not inferior to you in my desire to appreciate my life and make the most of it; therefore I cannot be turned aside by vain quibbling or frivolous criticism, but I must go to the fountain of knowledge itself, and there make my own inquiries and decisions. So the poor man may say I am not inferior to you in the sight of God; social distinctions there are in abundance, often invidious, vexatious, troublesome, sometimes rational, useful and beneficent; but after all, the true judgment of man is with God, and God looks upon the rich and the poor alike, with an eye of love and interest. This being the case, he may continue the argument and say, God will also take care of me and my children; he has spoken kinder words to the poor than he ever spoke to the rich; he seems to have made his promises on purpose for those who were desolate, and helpless, and sad. Then he may cheer himself with the thought that there are inferiorities which are only for the time being, they are transient, and the true standard of superiority will by-and-by be worked out, and God will put every man in his legitimate place; the first shall be last, and the last shall be first; it is not for us to say who shall go forward, and who shall be thrust behind; our function is to discover our duty, to accept it, to do it with both hands earnestly, and to leave the whole result of classification and promotion to him who ruleth over all. In speaking of inferiority and superiority, the spirit of vexatious criticism or envious defiance should always be suppressed and destroyed, and this only can be done by the reigning and superabundant grace of God. He who boasts himself of himself is a fool; he who appeals to the divine standard and abides by the divine discrimination is a wise man, and he will accept the lowest place, not with humility only, but with thankfulness and joy, should such be the will of his Father in heaven.

Verse 10

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"... the soul of every living thing? Job 12:10

Observe, not only "every living thing," but actually the soul of it. There is great meaning in this expression; it shows that we do not see the life in its innermost recesses and springs, but only some appearance or shape of it from the outside. We have often said that no man has seen himself: the man is within the man; the life is within the life. This rule holds good with regard to everything round about us; notably, it holds good with regard to the Church, for the Church is within the Church, that is to say it is a spiritual reality, of which the visible Church is but the outward embodiment; and if we are not members of the spiritual kingdom it is of no importance what eminence we have attained with regard to formal position or membership. The rule holds good also in regard to the Bible: in an emphatic sense, the Bible is within the Bible; a man may read the merely literary Bible from end to end, and know absolutely nothing about the revelation of God: that revelation is only granted to the wise and understanding heart, to those who are simple of mind, single and earnest in purpose, whose one desire is to know what God has said, and to do it: hence criticism can never get out of the Bible the soul of its living things: only sympathy with God, pureness of heart, and all the quiet graces of love, meekness, and docility, can reap great spoils in the harvest-field of the Bible. The rule holds good also with regard to all ecclesiastical sacraments: they may be good or bad, useful or useless, just as we approach them or appropriate them. We may turn them into mere idols and so may actually sin against the very purpose of their constitution; or we may regard them as instruments, mediums, or vehicles, through which God is pleased in some way to show himself to the waiting and expectant heart; used in this latter way, they become in very deed means of grace, valueless when viewed purely and absolutely in themselves but infinitely precious when regarded as the medium through which God descends upon the loving heart. The same rule applies to the right interpretation of what is called material nature: who can tell what is behind it all? Agnostics themselves acknowledge that even in matter there is something which they cannot comprehend. Agnosticism, or know-notism, is not, therefore, confined to what are usually known as spiritual subjects, but has a direct bearing upon things which are substantial and visible. All these secrets of life being more or less beyond us, we are led up at once to the great principle that only God can be judge of all. We know nothing as it really is. He alone is the critic, whose penetration can pierce to the innermost thought, motive, and purpose of the heart; with him, therefore, must be left all judgment and all destiny. It is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of man.

Verse 17

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"He... maketh the judges fools." Job 12:17

This is for their good. If they were not rebuked, they would go on from one presumption to another, until they utterly forgot themselves and idolised their own ability. It is good for the wise man to be made to know the measure of his wisdom, and for the judge to step down sometimes amongst the common people, and to own that there are questions too high for him. The word "judges" should not be limited to the merely judicial function, as exercised in courts of law. The principle covers a large area. It includes, for example, all theologians; they should not stand up as men who know everything, and to whom is given the treasure of heavenly mystery, to be expended as they please: they are most influential when they are least presumptuous: they should claim to be fellow-readers, and fellow-students, and fellow-worshippers; and out of this sympathy with the common heart, they will acquire all true spiritual influence. We are taught, by this divine visitation, not to put our confidence oven in men who occupy supreme positions: we may have come to them at a time, when their wits were bewildered, and their judgment had been turned upside down. God does not take away their title, but he depletes it of all meaning and force, so that they represent the most seductive and disastrous irony, being judges only in name, and not in faculty. It is clear that God will not give his glory unto another. The wise man is not to glory in his wisdom, nor the mighty man in his power. All flesh is to glory in the Lord. God recognises judges, leaders, princes, captains, men of pre-eminent power and influence; and he has never withheld from them the tribute which was due to all their greatness and utility: nay, he himself has been the author of that greatness, and has been pleased to confer the blessedness of utility upon the service of the chief in his household; yet he has never given his glory to another, in the sense of being unable to withdraw it; the greatest servant may be deposed in an hour; there is but a step between the strongest man and death. We are only judges in so far as we are docile students, reverential worshippers, patient waiters upon God. In all matters of Biblical judgment, the spiritual faculty is generally with those who are least in their own esteem; who, passing by all that is merely initial and instrumental, come at once upon the pith and reality of things: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." In all cases God has chosen the teachable spirit as his peculiar dwelling-place. What a lesson this is to all men in high position, in authority, children of fame, persons who suppose their castle to be founded upon rocks, and mighty men who scorn the idea of being brought down from their loftiness: "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."

Verse 25

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"He maketh them to stagger like a drunken man." Job 12:25

Here are men who are drunk, but not with wine; men who suppose themselves to be highly gifted, and yet who do not know their way home again when they have once gone astray. God controls all physical substance and faculty: he toucheth the strength of a man, and it fades away: he waves his hand, so to say, across his brain, and all power of thinking is for ever suspended: he turneth a man's purposes upside down. The deplorable and lamentable thing, viewed from a human standing-point, is that the men appear to be as strong and prosperous as ever, when their right hand has forgotten its cunning and their tongue can no longer speak familiar words: they represent death in life; they are as walking sepulchres: all the framework is there in its entirety, but the spirit within is humiliated, dispossessed, or quenched. What, then, is our security? What is the guarantee that to the end we may possess sanity of mind, strength and dignity of judgment? We are only safe in proportion as we keep company with God; as we invoke the abiding presence and ministry of the Holy Ghost; as we remember that we are nothing and have nothing, and that every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights. We sometimes ascribe great failures of mind and body to small causes. We should remember that there is a great Sovereign above all, who appoints and disappoints, who leads forward and smites backward, who makes the first last, and the last first, not according to some arbitrary will, but according to a law of grace and love, the full scope of which we have not yet comprehended. Better to be abased in this world, than to be destroyed in the next. Better to understand here and now that we are only servants than to be taught hereafter that there is no hope for us. This is the time of school, of drill, of discipline, of all the educational processes which may end in mature wisdom and strength. Here, again, we come upon the salutary exhortation, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom." We are limited on every side. Our wisdom is but partial. Our greatest intellectual successes are but beginnings. We shall begin to go down in all the best qualities of our soul, when we suppose we have approached the point of finality, because then we may turn round and make demands upon society, which are unsupported by reason and justice. Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: put thine hand round about me, then I shall no longer stagger like a drunken man. What is my hope? What is my confidence? Yea, what is my expectation? Truly I will think nothing of myself, and attempt to be nothing in my own power and right: I will live as God's servant, I will pray as God's little child, I will have no way of my own from morning to night; in life, in death, my cry shall be: Not my will, but thine, be done.

Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 12". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/job-12.html. 1885-95.
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