The Assaults of Satan
Remember that the man spoken about is "a perfect man and an upright, one that feared God and eschewed evil." The speaker is Satan, who came with the sons of God on the first occasion, and said, "Touch all that Job hath, and he will curse thee to thy face." He was allowed to touch Job"s property, and he failed in his purpose. On another occasion the same devil came back with the sons of God, and enlarged his proposition. He said, "Touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face."
We are fully agreed that there is no devil. That may be taken for granted. It is impossible for us to believe that there is a devil, and for this reason. Simply because there is nothing devilish, therefore how can we believe that there is a devil? Everybody is so good, everybody is so honest; all our habits, and practices, and customs are so transparently and beautifully moral, that it is utterly impossible for us to believe that there is a devil. Why do we speak of the existence of the devil? Because there is so much devilishness. The best way to prove that there is no devil is to get rid of the devilishness. When we have cleansed that out of the way we shall make it exceedingly difficult to believe either in a personal or an impersonal devil. But when persons are so dishonest, so quick in sharp practice, so malign, so cruel, so ready to take advantage, so prepared to oppress the weak and to mislead the ignorant, it becomes quite easy for us to believe that perhaps there is a devil!
In this incident it will be our privilege to see the devil twice wrong. Here is a man called Job who is chosen as the battlefield. In all lines and spheres of life some particular persons are called upon to illustrate universal truths and confer universal blessings. It is necessarily and unchangeably true that one man must die for the people. The great contest before us is God against the devil, and up to this time we have never seen that battle so sharply defined. We have always felt that there was a contest going on, but we never saw them face to face, hand against hand, mouth against mouth, before. It will be interesting to watch the encounter. We do not know that the devil has ever made this high challenge before. He has always been walking and working in the dark: he has been moving about stealthily and taking advantage where he could—but we are not aware that he has ever with undisguised audacity actually challenged the Almighty to fight it out in one particular case. At last the challenge has been given; it has been accepted, Job is the battlefield, and on the result will depend the veracity either of God or of the devil. But what of Job in that case? had he no compensations? was it all battle, and suffering, and pain, and humiliation on his part? Was there nothing on the other side? Does God simply afflict some men and leave them with their afflictions—does he simply gather his clouds over some heads and cause them to discharge their pitiless storms without setting the rainbow on the cloud-laden sky? It is easy for us who have endured but the secondary pains and ills of life to suggest compensations to those who are our leaders in suffering and our veterans in bearing the chastisements, the penalties, and visitations of God. Still, it is surely something to be God"s proof- Prayer of Manasseh, to be called out as the particular man on whose character, intelligence, grace, patience, fortitude—great results are staked. Surely God will not call a man to endure all the devil can inflict upon him without secretly giving that man sustenance, and at the end throwing upon his devastated life a fuller and gentler light than ever has illumined its yesterdays.
That is the view which we should take of our afflictions; that is to say, we should feel that perhaps we are made the medium through which God is answering the devil"s challenge. The devil may have been saying to the Almighty concerning this man or that: "Take his health away, take his trade away, touch his bone and his flesh, subtract considerably from the sum total of his indulgences, and his enjoyments, and then he will curse thee to thy face." That is the view every man and woman should take of personal sorrow and individual trial. The devil may have said, "Take his only son away, and thou wilt take his religion away," and God has allowed that dear boy to be removed—how dost thou bear? There are great stakes pending: God said, "He will bear it well, with the grace of a sanctified hero." The devil said, "He will burn his Bible and cast down his family altar." Who is right? If thou art bearing that heavy loss well, bowing thy poor old knees at the same altar, and saying, with a choking in thy throat, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord," thou hast enabled God to strike the devil on the face. The Lord help thee: it is bitter suffering; there is a hard stress upon thy poor life; thou needest all the grace treasured in the immeasurable heart of Christ; but his grace is sufficient for thee—draw heavily upon it, and the more thou dost yearn for that healing grace, the more shall it be given thee to overflow; it cannot be given to satisfy.
Could Job now look over the ages that have been healed and comforted by his example, stimulated to bear the ills of life by the grateful memory of his invincible patience, surely even now in heaven he would be taking in the reward of his long-continued and noble endurance of the divine visitation. It may be so with thee, poor Prayer of Manasseh, poor woman: thou dost not get all the sweet now: this shall be a memory to thee in heaven, long ages hence: the wrestling thou hast now may minister to thee high delight, keen enjoyment, rapture pure and abiding. Who can tell when God"s rewards end—who will venture to say, "This is the measure of his benediction?" He is able to give and to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. When, therefore, persons inquire of thee, What compensation hast thou? say, "It is given by instalments, today, tomorrow, in death, in the resurrection, all through the ages of eternity. Ask me thousands of ages hence, and I will reply to thy question concerning compensation." Life is not limited by the cradle and the tomb, and it is not between these two mean and near points that great questions are to be discussed or determined.
Job has been read by countless readers. His, of course, was a public trial, a tragedy that was wrought out for the benefit of multitudes in all generations. Nevertheless it is literally and pathetically true that every Prayer of Manasseh, the very obscurest, has his readers, fewer in number it may be, but equally earnest in attention. Think you that your children are not taking notice of you, seeing how you bear your temptations, and difficulties, and anxieties? Think you not that your eldest boy is kept away from the table of the Lord because you are as atheistic in sorrow as ever Voltaire was? Do you know that your daughter hates church because her pious father Is only pious in the three summer months of the year? He curls under the cold and biting wind as much as any mean atheist ever did: therefore the girl saith, "He is a sham and a hypocrite—my father in the flesh—no relative of mine in the spirit." You have your readers: the little Bible of your life is read in your kitchen, in your parlour, in your shop, and in your warehouse; and if you do not bear your trials, anxieties, and difficulties with a Christian chivalry and heroism, what is there but mockery on earth and laughter in hell? God give us grace to bear the chastisement nobly, serenely; bless us with the peace which passeth understanding, with the quietness kindred to the calm of God; and help us when death is in the house, and poverty on the hearthstone, and when there is a storm blinding the one poor small window we have, to say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. If I perish I will pray, and perish only here." That is Christianity—not some clever chatter and able controversy about metaphysical points, but noble temper, high behaviour, faultless constancy, invincible fortitude in the hour of trial and in the agony of pain.
Let us give the devil his due. We admit that the devil had but too much reason to believe that his propositions concerning Job were right. He did not speak without book. He had at his girdle many proofs that strong men had fallen under his stroke. The devil, therefore, may have reasoned that if so many had yielded to his ministry, Job, the mightiest and brightest of all, might yield as well. Why might he not? Name his victories—Adam, Cain, Saul, and a hundred others was he not, therefore, entitled to reason inductively from a very considerable basis and area of fact that Job would fall too? Where was he wrong? He was wrong in supposing that Adam, Cain, or Saul were godly men, that they had in them the divine and imperishable seed of truth. We altogether exaggerate Adam. What was he? He never was a boy—he never had anybody to speak to up to a considerable period of his life—he had no intellectual friction, no ambition, no opportunity of developing and growing strong by contest and antagonism. He was innocent in a negative way: he had done nothing, and so far he was good enough—but he had to be tried as every man has to be tried, and he fell. And Saul, mighty king but weak in heart, he was not a godly man. The true belief of the sons of God was not in that Prayer of Manasseh, and therefore he fell He was nominally right—officially right—called outwardly to a certain position, but the seed of God was not in him, and where the seed of God is not found in the heart, no matter what the intelligence may be, or the official influence, the man must fall.
Now the devil came upon a distinctively different man: he assailed Job, who was a perfect man and upright, one that feared God and eschewed evil—that is the man to fight, then. If the devil conquers there, he will tear the heavens to pieces, he will break up the throne of God, he will disband the angels, he will scatter the baleful fires of perdition upon the walls and floors of heaven"s city. It Isaiah, therefore, a great fight—it is a critical battle; everything depends upon the issue, for God has given permission to assail this perfect Prayer of Manasseh, and therefore he has put perfectness of character to the test. No godly man has ultimately fallen. No man in whom is the seed of the divine life can fall finally, for he hath the seed, the life, the Spirit of God abiding in him. Slips enough—alas! too many. Crimes too: see David, see Peter, for appalling proof. Falls daily—though he fall he shall not be utterly cast down. This is what we mean by the final perseverance of the saints: this is what we mean by the triumph of the grace of God in a poor human life. No man knows better than the true child of the Almighty how possible it is to sin in thought, in word, in deed, and to sin daily, yet under all the sin to have an inextinguishable love. Whoever has the true root in him shall be found at last to the praise and glory of God. Is this a dangerous doctrine to preach? Only because all doctrine is dangerous in some cases and in some circumstances; but this is our joy, our strength, our hope: if we have to be saved because we are always doing the right thing in the right way, accomplishing all our purposes, fulfilling all our duties—we never shall be saved. We are today no further than the publican was when he said, "God be merciful to me a sinner." But we know that, bad as we are, foul with many crimes, deep in the heart is love to Christ, and that inexplicable presence in the soul of divine elements and divine faculties comes up through all the superincumbent guilt, and shines at the top of it an inextinguishable light.
Even in Job himself we have complaint enough, murmuring enough, but in Job we have the true life, and therefore at the last he is more than conqueror. In this case we see really all that the devil can do. What is it in his power, as given by God, to inflict? Bereavement, poverty, pain, humiliation. God has given him these four great dogs to set upon our life: they will bite and gnaw us, but they cannot kill the true child of God. The devil has only one soliloquy: his is really the poorest intellect in the universe. He says, "I have got Job on my hands, what shall I do? Let me see: I will kill his sons and his daughters, and will take away his flocks and his herds, and I will give him boils; I will cover him with loathsome disease, and I will make his life disagreeable, and in every way I will plague him and torment him, and I will do it now." That is the devil"s brief programme: he cannot add a line to it if he could fill his hell by the doing of it. Beyond his chain he cannot go. Thou knowest, poor soul, what he can do—bereavement, poverty, pain, humiliation; sit down, count the cost, add it up line by line, item by item, and when thou hast done Song of Solomon, know the sum total, and ask whether the grace of God is sufficient to meet an exigency such as that result brings before thy view.
How afflictions may be made to show God"s grace! Let us try to take that view of our difficulties, cares, and sorrows. Great battles may be fought in our little lives: let us therefore every day think that God is fighting out some case along the line of our experience, and that our behaviour may have something to do with God"s own satisfaction. We have been managing our own affairs for many years and have failed: let us resign the administration of our lives and ask the Almighty to work his will in and through us without any suggestion, much less any interposition, from our side. The sorrow, it is bitter: it must have been soaked—soaked in the bitterest aloes that the devil could pluck from the foulest trees; but God"s grace is sufficient for us.
What is our special difficulty? Is it a home difficulty? Angels are waiting there, saying, "We have a great fight going on in this house: here is a poor life worried—worried—and we are waiting to see whether the devil"s poison or God"s grace shall get the better." Is it a business difficulty? Things have got twisted, honest, honourable man though you be, and you cannot disentangle them. God is saying, "I tied the knot—I allowed the devil to tie it—and we are both waiting to see the result of thy fingering." Try, wait, try again: pray, hope—ah, there! a touch did it at last: and the unravelled string lies out before thee, a straight line. Whatever our difficulties or sorrows, a great battle is being fought out in our lives; let us fight it sedulously, daily, constantly, lovingly. We have heard of the patience of Job: may the memory of that patience encourage us to toil on, suffer on; under the consciousness that on the third day, in our degree, we shall be perfected.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... none spake a word unto him." — Job 2:13
There are silent friends.—We must not suppose that all our friends are human.—Oftentimes the greatest friend a man can have in sorrow is silent yet ever-eloquent Nature.—The mountain can do more for some men than can be done by the most elaborate controversy. God himself called upon Jacob to look up and behold the host of heaven, and draw lessons from that great army of stars.—The Psalmist also was accustomed to turn his eyes in the same direction that he might learn great life-lessons and be soothed and comforted by the quietness of Nature.—But these were men who came to Job, and they showed their wisdom by their silence.—What can words do in the supreme agony of life?—Do not let a man suppose that he is useless because he cannot talk largely and fluently.—Men may imagine that if they could go forth well-armed with arguments and gifted with high eloquence they would soothe and bless the world. Nothing of the kind.—Never forget the potency of silence, the magic of wordless sympathy.—There is a touch of the hand that conveys impressions to the mind which no words could convey. There are also deeds so subtle and delicate and far-reaching in their meaning that they comfort the heart without disturbing the ear or calling for any audible reply. It is a blessed experience to be forced to silence.—Silent prayer is sometimes the most effectual of all.—So long as we can express ourselves fluently in words our fluency may but represent the shallowness of our feeling.—Only those should speak who know what to say.—The best-meant word, if uttered in a wrong tone, may exasperate the sorrow it was intended to soothe.—How good are right words! How pleasant and useful is divinely-inspired speech!—Sometimes a man is encouraged by seeing his friends overwhelmed by the grief which he bears: it touches his own sense of heroism; he feels that he has to exemplify certain virtues and graces which are supposed to characterise religious life.—Yet there is a time to speak.—If we cannot speak directly to the grief we would comfort, we may speak generally, and so include the one specific object with the necessities of the whole world.—Men may not like to be addressed directly and personally, yet they may not object to listen to a general appeal which includes their own particular case.—When grief silences men, oppression should never take away their speech, nor should wrong-doing of any kind.—We are never to sit down beside the sin of the world silently because we see that the sin is very great; the greatness of the sin should stir us into protest, denunciation, and then to gospel-preaching.—The majesty of God should be treated with silent reverence, yet there must be breaks in that silence, for we cannot withhold the hymn of praise, the ascription of adoration, and the declaration of filial trust and faithfulness.—"The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him,"—there is a period when silence is the best worship, but there is also a period when speech is an imperative duty.—What self-humiliation a man must experience who has allowed an opportunity to pass away without denouncing wrong, protesting against evil, and making declaration of the right under trying circumstances.—In addressing grief, we can never be wrong in adopting spiritual language.—Always have recourse to the holy Book for words of sympathy and condolence; they are venerable, they are lofty, they are full of reverence and tenderness, and they have been well tested in many generations.—We should at least begin with the language which we find in the Bible; if by-and-by we care to add a word of our own, or enlarge the meaning of the divine word, so be it; but every human heart responds in the hour of its agony to the solemn eloquence of Holy Writ.—The Bible was written for men who are in grief; it approaches the soul without intruding upon us; it is eloquent without being noisy; it is majestic without being overpowering.—In the darkest hours of our life the Bible is the best witness to its own inspiration.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 2". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany