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Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Job 19

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

Verses 1-29

Job's Reply to the Second Speech of Bildad

Job 19:0

The patriarch touched the reality of the case when he described the speeches which had been addressed to him as "words," saying, "How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words?" (Job 19:2 .) Words are different in their meaning according to the difference of the tone in which they are uttered. Every speaker should be heard in his own personality, and hardly any one who has not heard him should be entrusted with the pronunciation of his words. You may take the meaning out of a letter of love; you may turn the Bible itself into a mere gathering up of words: the heart is the reader, and the heart is the listener; he who listens only with his bodily ear cannot pay attention; the heart must be on the alert, the spirit must be alive. Has not the Church too long dealt in the useless medicine of words? Has not the Church indeed often been the victim of phrases that are now obsolete? Is it not time to adopt the language of the current day and to serve up the wine of the Gospel in goblets which people prefer? The wine will be the same, and the bread from the heart of Christ charged with the elements of immortal health. Why insist upon always adopting the same words and being bound by the same formularies? Why not rather consider the reality and vitality of the case, and subordinate everything to the supreme purpose of bringing men back from ways forbidden, and setting their wandering feet in roads that lie upwards toward the sky? But Job might have pitied the men if they had confessed that they were uttering only words. A speaker draws to himself our confidence when he assures us that he would do better if he could. The moment the speaker says, I am aware that I cannot go the whole distance covered by this necessity, but I will tell you all I know; I will offer you the advantage of my own experience; if you care to accept such brotherly sympathy and guidance, I shall be thankful; but I am well aware that when all my words have been uttered there lies beyond a pain I cannot touch, a necessity I cannot satisfy, to such a man we listen, we repay him with our gratitude, because we know he would have done more if he could, that he only ceased because he was conscious he had nothing more to deliver by way of helpful message. But Job's friends were not so; they spoke out all their words as if they were all the words that could be spoken; hence Job reproves them thus: "Ye are not ashamed that ye make yourselves strange to me" ( Job 19:3 ). If you blushed with shame, I could forgive you; if you halted or faltered in your poor message, I should pity you, and believe you up to a given point; but ye are proud, self-conscious, loaded with vanity, and ye stand before me as if ye were the men, and wisdom would die with you. The Church ought to be ashamed when it separates itself from the necessities of the world. The Church must not be allowed to luxuriate and philosophise and poetise and dream as if it were doing God's holy service. The world is a dying world, and all messages delivered to it must be accommodated to its weakness, or must be measured out in their energy according to the pressure of the exigency. But the Church has separated itself from the world; made itself strange to the world; has adopted a language of its own; might indeed have a dictionary peculiarly belonging to itself; all this is mischievous, all this is anti-Christian: the Church should speak the language of the whole world, and should breathe a spirit which all men can understand. Sad beyond all sadness is it that the Church has made a profession of the great word Theology! Sad that men should be examined in Epictetus, when they ought to be examined in the condition of the next slum! Unpardonable that men should be qualified in the classics, and know nothing about the state of the men, women, and children dying around the very environs of the Church. If the one should be done the other should not be left undone. It was said of Daniel O'Connell, the great agitator and the great leader, "Other orators studied rhetoric, Daniel O'Connell studied man." That is what the Church must do; then the Church will no longer make itself strange to the people, but it will sit down beside them, and talk about the debt that cannot be paid, the illness that is hard to bear, the prodigal son who is far away, and will converse upon all the heartbreak that makes up life's daily tragedy: who then will be so welcome to the family circle as the minister of Christ, the gentle, gracious, genial, tender soul, the outgoing of whose breath is like the outgoing of a benediction? We do not want men to stand apart from us and talk at us; the world needs men who understand it, and will come down to it, or go up to it; who will confess all that is good, really or apparently, in it, and then begin the mighty and redeeming work which is associated with the name of Christ. In this way the Church will reclaim a great deal of property. When men say they are Agnostics, the Church will say, So am I. The Church is the very place for Agnostics for men who know nothing, but who are perfectly willing to know all that can be known. A man who calls himself an Agnostic and shuts all the windows, and bars all the doors, and lives in the darkness he creates, is not an Agnostic he is a fool. We know nothing, but we want to know so much; we are very ignorant, but we put out our hand like a prayer; we can answer few questions, and oftentimes the answer is as great a mystery as the original enigma: still, we grope, and inquire, and hope, for at any moment all heaven may come down to rest with us, and give us peace. We cannot, therefore, allow the Agnostics to form themselves into a body, peculiar and distinct from the Christian Church; we claim them all, in so far as they are reverent, self-renouncing, and docile. When men say they are Secularists, the Church should say, So am I. You cannot go off on that ground. In short, we give the enemy all his points, and then demolish him as an antagonist. The great heaven of truth lies beyond all the prickly fences which men have planted, and in which they take an unspeakable and unwholesome pride.

Now Job will talk another language. He has found that there is a great gulf between him and his friends; they are friends no longer in the deepest sense of the word. He is my friend who knows my soul, and can say to me with sweet frankness, You are wrong; stop that; turn round. Or, otherwise, You are right; stand to it; play the man; be courageous; do not be laughed down or talked down. The time will come when friendship will be redefined; then he will be the true friend who knows most of the soul, the thought, the purpose, and the right way of doing things, the royal road to life and joy.

What, then, is Job's new position? He assumes it in the sixth verse: "Know now that God hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me with his net." Now he will be a better man. He has turned away from human comforters: he has ventured to pronounce the right word, that word being God, as if he said, Now I know who made this wound; God made it: now I understand who has taken away all my children and all my property; God has taken them: I should have said so theoretically, Job might have continued, But now I know it experimentally; when the first blow fell upon me, I said, "The Lord hath taken away," but I did not know that truth then as I know it now, then I uttered it as part of a creed, but now I declare it as the sum-total of my faith. Thus Job was driven back upon the truth by the emptiness of human interpretation. So many men have been driven to God by incompetent teachers; the needy souls have listened to the word that was spoken, and they have said, No: that is not it, that is mere composition; that is mere make-up of words and phrases; the speaker seemed to be afraid of his subject, and did not tell all that was in him in the common open speech of the time: now I must go to God face to face, and make the whole of my experience known to him, and we must talk it out together in awful solitude.

See from Job's description, beginning at the seventh verse and going onward, what God can do to man, or permit to be done. "He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass:" yet the road seems open enough. That is the difficulty. We say to some men, Why do you not go forward? And they reply, My way is fenced up so that I cannot pass; and we ridicule the idea; we say, There is no fence: what mania is this, what foolish delusion? the road is wide open, pass on! But every man sees his own road as no other man can see it. Every traveller on life's perilous journey sees lights, images, fences, boundaries, which no other traveller can see in just the same way. Is not God doing this in reality? Our answer must be a decided affirmative. We know there are things we cannot do, and yet there seems to be absolutely no obstruction in the way of our doing them. What is this which makes a man unable to reach just one inch farther? Is there some one at the end of his arm taunting him, saying, Reach higher: you ought to be able to do so? Is there some sprite that laughs at our limitation? There, however, is the fact of the boundary. We come to a given point, and say, Why not go ten points higher? That the sea has been asking in every rolling billow which ventured on the shore, and the answer was: "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther." Who is it that speaks that limiting word? What voice is it that says, I have set the boundaries, and no man may trespass them? This we could dismiss as a theory if we could get rid of it as a fact. Then again: "He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head." Can a man not keep on the diadem by laying his hands upon it? No. You cannot bind the diadem to your brow when God has meant to take it off, and leave you bereaved of every aureole and halo, and sign of glory. Then again: "He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone." Is not that true of life? We are not able to do the things we wished to do, and we cannot tell why. We are not always conscious of this loss; of personal power: "Grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not;" decay comes on imperceptibly; we are destroyed on every side: we used to speak authoritatively, and now we have to make requests; the royal voice has gone down into a whisper that cannot be heard; the power that never tired is now unconscious of energy. What is this? Call it "law of nature." You have not explained the mystery. What is "law"? What is "nature"? Why not rather face the fact that after a given point in life we go down? Why not say, It is with life as with the clock once twelve is struck, the rest is after noon? Truly it is a law. If it came and went and varied its operations, we should call it a whim, a play of haphazard, a variety of fortune; but it comes so subtly, proceeds so steadily, moves so silently and majestically, and has everything its own way. They who wish to be content with the word "law," are content to live upon ice; they who say, "This is the law of the living God," feed upon the bread of life. Then again: "I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I entreated him with my mouth:" I am thrown down into contempt; my words come back again upon me. Yet man thought he could be as God. There is a mounting time in life, an upgoing time, when we say, All the rest is ascension. But suddenly we find that the rest is going down, passing along the other part of the circle. We cannot go beyond a certain point. To-day those are masters who yesterday were servants; tomorrow they will be servants who today are masters. This is how God keeps society in some measure sweet. There is a self-adjusting power in society. Aristocracies come for a day when they come aright, and no man is an aristocrat today because his father was one yesterday. The Son of man shall come, and men will be valued for what they are, and can do, and they will go down and go up, and thus society will be kept in motion: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first not by the operation of any arbitrary law, but just to sweeten and fraternise the world.

Job turns back to his friends and says: "Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me" ( Job 19:21 ). We must be just to the friends. How do we know what action God has permitted to take place upon the minds of the three comforters? May not God have said, Hitherto shall ye come, but no farther; I will touch you, as well as touch Job; I will bring you to intellectual poverty that ye may cry unto me as ye have never cried before; I will riddle your wisdom through and through, so that it shall be useless to you; I will make you as men who are trying to draw water with a sieve? God does a great deal of collateral work. The whole of his action may not exercise itself in the personality of Job; the whole outlying world may be touched by the mystery of Job's education. We ought to learn something from great sufferers; and we ought to learn something about prayer from the pointlessness of our own. When we utter the prayer and receive no answer, we should fix ourselves upon the prayer and say, The fault is there. Instead whereof we have fixed ourselves upon the answer and said, Behold the inutility of prayer. "Ye have not, because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss."

Now we see how to agony we are indebted for many a bright word. Suddenly Job exclaims:

"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another" ( Job 19:25-27 ).

There is no need to push these words too far. We lose a great deal by attempting to find in a passage like this what in reality is not in it. Suppose that Job is referring to the Goel, the elder brother of the family, whose business it was to redeem, and protect, and lead onward to liberty suppose that this is an Oriental image, that is no reason for saying that it is nothing more. There have been unconscious prophecies; men have uttered words, not knowing what they were uttering; thus Caiaphas said to the council, "Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient: for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not," not knowing himself what he said. We must allow for the unconscious region of life, the mysterious belt that is round about so-called facts and letters; we must allow for that purple horizon, so visible, so inaccessible. He would be an unwise teacher who said Job knew all that we understand by Christ, Resurrection, and Immortality; but he would be unwiser still who said that when his soul had been wrought up to this high pitch of enthusiasm in the ardour of his piety he knew nothing of the coming glory. Let Job speak literally, and even then he leaves a margin. Here we find a man at the utmost point of human progress; figure him to the eye; say the progress of the world, or the education of the world, is a long mysterious process; and here, behold, is a man who has come to the uttermost point: one step farther and he will fall over: there however he stands until vacuity is filled up, until vaticination becomes experience, until experience has become history, until history, again, by marvellous spiritual action, shapes itself into prophecy, and predicts a brighter time and a fairer land. There have been men who have stood on the headlines of history: they dare not take one more step, or they would be lost in the boundless sea. Thus the world has been educated and stimulated by seer, and dreamer, and prophet, and teacher, and apostle. There have never been men wanting who have been at the very forefront of things, living the weird, often woeful, sometimes rapturous, life of the prophet. What was a dream to Job is a reality to us. We can fill up all Job would have said had he lived in our day; now we can say I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. When these words are sung, do not think they are the words of Job that are being sung; they are Job's words with Christ's meaning. Yes, we feel that there must be a "Redeemer." Things are so black and wrong, so corrupt, so crooked, so wholly unimaginable, with such a seam of injustice running through all, that there must be a Goel, a Firstborn, an elder Brother, a Redeemer. It is the glory of the Christian faith to proclaim the personality and reality of this Redeemer. I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the almightiness of God, the very omnipotence of the Trinity, to every one that believeth. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Nor can we consent to change his name: what word sweeter than "Redeemer"? what word mightier? A poem in itself; an apocalypse in its possibilities; divine love incarnated. Oh, come thou whose right it is! "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save." That same Son of Mary, Son of man, Son of God. Accept him as thy Redeemer!

Verse 14

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"My familiar friends have forgotten me." Job 19:14

What does this amount to? As a social fact it was simply ruinous. A man without friends is without fellowship, confidence, hope. What is a house without windows looking out upon the lighted landscape? What is it to have great thoughts, and yet to have no listener, into whose eager ear the high music can be poured? Job is therefore not mourning something that is of no consequence, but is lamenting one of the most serious incidents that can occur in social experience. Still, spiritual advantages may accrue from loss of friends. When friends are gone we begin to inquire what can be left; and if in our desolation we find that God remains behind in all faithfulness and love, we may say with Christ, "I am alone, yet not alone, for the Father is with me." What a lesson is this upon the whole subject of friendship, not friendship of a common kind, but friendship which involved former familiarity and almost oneness of thought and sympathy! Let us take care upon what staff we lean. We should remember that the best of men are but men at best. We see, in this instance, how friendship was dependent in a large degree upon circumstances. There are fair-weather friends, and there are friends whom no foul weather can drive from our side. There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. It is the peculiar glory of Jesus Christ that he has promised to be with us for ever, not a casual friend, not a day-long acquaintance, not a mere passer-by, but to abide with us and see us through all the cloud of time and the valley of death, and bring us into the sunlight of eternity. To be forgotten, how sad a case is that! At first, it would appear to be a simple impossibility, yet we have known it as a lamentable fact; the memory has cast out names which it once prized. Let us see to it that when we are forgotten, it is not for moral reasons; let the ingratitude be on the other side. There comes a time when it is right to forget a man who has broken every commandment and turned a deaf ear to every expostulation; even Jesus Christ appoints a time when an offending brother is to become a heathen man and a publican. As to forgetfulness, we ought to search into its quality, lest there be bidden within it anything of the nature of unthankful-ness. Never forget a benefactor or a benefit. To think of the sacred and fruitful past is to make the present glow with a holy influence. God will not forget those who remember him. God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up. Our conscious loneliness will be among the chief of our blessings if it lead us to consider whether the blessing of God is not available. Let our friendships be rooted in intelligent conviction, deep moral sympathy, congeniality of spiritual tastes, and even the roughest wind will leave them probably unbent, certainly unbroken.

Verse 28

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me?" Job 19:28

The time will come when every judgment will be regulated by the radical condition of men. At present, judgment is superficial, relating largely to circumstances and changing conditions. We should be concerned about the real character of a man, and in the light of that character view his eccentricities, peculiarities, and even the failings that seem to alienate our confidence. Perfect men we need not expect to find, because we are not perfect ourselves; but without being perfect, a man may be rooted in the true life, and may be enriched with the true knowledge. Men should be judged by the larger aspects of their character. There may be a thousand slips, mistakes, foibles, and yet underneath all there may be a living reality of faith and love. We are not to break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax, or turn aside that which is lame out of the way; we are to be pitiful, considerate, large-minded towards all men. Once be satisfied that the root of the matter is in a man that is to say, that he means well, that his motives are simple, that his purposes are upright then it will be easy to deal with the inequalities of his character. There are some men who never show themselves to advantage. Unfortunately for them, they are always disclosing the weaker side of their nature, asserting their peculiarities, and, almost of set purpose, concealing their real quality. "By their fruits ye shall know them" is a rule which cannot be amended, not by the fruits of this particular day or that, but the fruits of the whole lifetime. No man who has the root of the matter in him can wholly disguise its presence and effect in his life. The fruit will appear at unexpected times, and will be most abundant when there is the largest opportunity of feeding hunger without the observation of others. Surely there is a sense in which the root of the matter is in every man, some trace of divinity, some symbol of high origin, some thought not born of earth, some flash of light that must have been enkindled in eternity: it is this that inspires philanthropy with immortal hope, that nerves and succours it amid all the gathering discouragements which would suppress and destroy it. Every man knows whether the root of the matter is in him or not. This has not to be revealed to him by others; it is a fact which his own conscience can positively determine. Let there be no mistake as to the nature of the root, it is not profession, it is not sentiment, it is not official alliance with this or that particular section of the Christian Church, it is not veneration for things past, or superstition for things sacerdotal and ecclesiastical; it is a life, it is a conscious enjoyment of God, it is a deep and unalterable vow to serve the living God, whatever others may do.

Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 19". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/job-19.html. 1885-95.
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