The Last Speech of Eliphaz
There are two interpretations of Scripture. One is the critical and literal, dealing searchingly and usefully with the grammar of the text, seeking to know exactly what each speaker and each writer meant at the very time of his utterance and at the very time of his authorship. That must always be a work of high utility. We cannot, indeed, proceed legitimately until we have settled the grammar of the text. But we should not rest there. There is a second interpretation, which we may call the larger. That interpretation brings up the word to our own time, sets it in direct: reference to our own thought and action—not by any violent process, but by a legitimate development. The question which the wise reader will put to himself in perusing the Bible is to this effect: What would these inspired men say were they living now, were they addressing me as they addressed their interlocutors and general contemporaries? This is not forcing meanings into their words; this is not an unnatural and perverting exaggeration of terms: this is what we have described as a legitimate development of the thought and purpose of the men. What Eliphaz said to Job was of the greatest possible consequence to the patriarch, and is of the greatest possible consequence to all ages. But is it not open to us to discover from what Eliphaz has said what he would say under modern circumstances and under our own immediate conditions? Is there not an enlarging faculty, a peculiar power of the mind which attests the operation of the Holy Ghost, by which we can definitely say what the Bible writers would have written now? If we have such faculty, if we enjoy such immediate ministry of God the Holy Spirit, we shall be able to verify it by inquiring how far what we now say, either in reasoning or exhortation, coincides with what is written in the book of inspiration. There must be no difference of quality; there must be no contradiction in moral tone or purpose; conscience must not be disturbed by this larger translation, this widening and brightening of things said long ago the root and the branch are really one; we must not graft anything upon the old trunk, the tree of the Lord"s right-hand planting, but we must watch its natural, legitimate, and purposed developments; and thus we shall have an ever-enlarging Bible, a book old as the ink with which it was first written, yet new as this morning"s dew, as this day"s holy dawn. This is what the Bible Isaiah,—old and new; coming up from eternity, yet condescending upon every day of time, and leaving behind light and blessing. Never be satisfied, therefore, with the mere interpretation of the scribe. He lives in the letter. He would seem almost to pay homage to the ink. Up to a given point he may be right; but there is a point beyond—the large interpretation, the moral meaning, the persistence of thought, by which thought urges its way through all coming days, events, circumstances; proclaims the old commandments, and the old beatitudes, with new force, new sympathy, new considerateness. This is why we go back to the old speakers and old writers. We are not mere superstitious devotees. It is because the present coincides with the past, and the past dignifies the present, and because we perceive that God"s providence is an organic whole, a grand beneficent scheme, that we revert to the olden time, and come up to the immediate day, feeling how true it is that God"s thought is one, God"s love is unchanging, God"s mercy endureth for ever. Under the light of this canon, see how Eliphaz the Temanite sits down beside us today, and with what gravity he talks, with what pungent questions he pierces us, with what solemn appeals he challenges our attention. Have no faith in those easy and superficial critics who tell you to attend to the present time and think nothing of Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar, because they lived long ago. They did not—in any sense which has rendered them obsolete. There is nothing new that is true; there is nothing true that is new. The Lamb slain for sin was historically crucified on Calvary: but morally, redeemingly, divinely, he died before the foundation of the world. We lose our dignity when we live within the present sunrise and sunset, when we sever the present day from the fountains of history. Eliphaz will come to us, and like a seer will be quiet, like a prophet of the Lord he will burn, like an apostle who grasps the genius and the end of the present time he will flame, and appeal, and exhort, with heavenly eloquence. Let us hear him.
How he rebukes the supposed patronage which men would offer the living God!
"Can a man be profitable unto God?... Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?" ( Job 22:2-3).
The legitimate interpretation of these words, their fair and honest enlargement, leads us to say: no man can confer patronage upon God, upon the altar, upon the cross, upon the church, upon the truth. We get all; we can give but little or nothing—so little, that giving it we do not know we are worthy of any honour. It is a matter of fact that some men do suppose they add something to God"s greatness by according to him their patronage! They would not say so in words. Men are sometimes afraid of their own voices. Not on any account would they say so in so many sentences or phrases; but is there not working in the human heart—that marvellous webwork of mystery—some remote subtle thought that by going to church we confer some favour, not only upon the Church, but upon God himself? How curious in its working is the human heart! Some men seem to live to confer respectability upon whatever they touch. The Church is partly to blame for this. The Church is far too eager to put away the common people and bid them be quiet, in order that some uncommon man may come in and take his velvet-cushioned seat in God"s temple. There are some who say that if such and such arguments be true, or such and such men have taken a right view, they will give up religion altogether. What a threat! How it makes the sun tremble, and sends a pain to the earth"s very heart! A man who can give up religion has no religion to give up. What! Is religion something to be held in the hand, and laid down at will and pleasure? Is it a garment that is worn, and of which the body can be dispossessed? That is not the indwelling Spirit of God, the ever-living, ever-glowing soul of goodness. Herein is true what has often been misunderstood by the expression of "the perseverance of the saints": they must be saints to persevere; if they do not persevere they are not saints. A man can no more give up religion than he can give up breathing; that is to say, when he gives up breathing he commits suicide. Religion is not a set of phrases, something in book form, a mystery that can be written down and cancelled by the hand that wrote it; it is the soul"s life, the heart"s sympathy with God, identity with Christ: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Who can separate the two? They are not two—they are one. When a man threatens to give up his religion, O Church of the living God, quiet thyself! say, as a great philosopher said to a too-excited Prayer of Manasseh, "Why so hot, my little sir?" Really, no intolerable catastrophe will have occurred if such men—observe the emphasis upon the word such—should perpetrate the impossibility of giving up what they never possessed! There are others again who threaten the State in the same way. Truly we live in. very anxious and solemn times. Some men threaten to abandon the service of the State if such and such a policy is pursued. The State will still go on! There are those who say, If this be done and said, we shall give up public life. By all means give it up; the threat does not make us much afraid. A man can no more give up patriotism than he can give up religion, regard being had to quality and degree. Patriotism is part of the man; it is mixed, so to say, with his very blood; he drew it in with his mother"s milk; if he can give it up, he ought never to have avowed it.
To this solemn issue must we come—that men must recognise that religion is greater than they are, patriotism is greater than they are, and neither Church nor country ought to be under such obligation to any man as to be unable to do without him. We are honoured by the Church; but honour, how little we can give! We are honoured by living in the country; if we can give any little honour in return, God be praised! There are also some men who occasionally threaten to give up the ministry. Would God they would! If a man can ever threaten to leave the ministry, let him go! It is recorded that in an early Wesleyan Conference Mr. Charles Wesley said that if such and such things were done he would leave the Conference. His elder and greater brother said, "Will some brother be kind enough to give him his hat?" That is not the way to treat great organisations, and sublime policies, and holy altars. What! a man leave the ministry, except through old age, failure of faculty, exhaustion of power? He cannot, if ever he gave himself to it at the cross, under the baptism of blood. We are not called to this ministry by men, nor by men can we be dismissed from it. If we be true ministers, we are the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, and from him only can we obtain our release. That a man may throw himself out of it by giving Christ the treacherous kiss, by selling his Lord for thirty pieces of silver,—that a man may thrust himself out of it thus by unfaithfulness and unworthiness, is the very tragic point of spiritual history: but so long as the man is brokenhearted, penitent, contrite, loving, his whole soul set in the direction of heaven"s beckoning hand, he will never think of giving up the ministry; when he dies it will be but to exchange the helmet for the crown. Let us live in the spirit of humility, true, genuine spiritual modesty, knowing that all the advantage of religion is upon our side, and that it is not in our power to add to God"s dignity.
Whilst all this may be readily acknowledged, perhaps our consent may be more reluctant to the next point. Were Eliphaz amongst us today he would be what is termed a personal preacher. That preacher is never popular. If a minister would be "popular"—whatever the meaning of that word may be—he must preach to the absentees; smite the Agnostics, hip and thigh; pour lava upon the Mormons who are thousand miles away: but he must not speak to the man in the nearest pew. Eliphaz comes amongst us like a fire. He is skilful in the cruel art of cross-examination. To Job he said,—
"Is not thy wickedness great? and thine iniquities infinite?" ( Job 22:5).
The man who could preach so would not vary his method on account of circumstances. He addressed Job personally. The preacher who speaks to thousands of men must bring himself to feel that after all he is only addressing one man. There is only one Prayer of Manasseh, if we could see things in their reality; multitudinous are the details: but address the one Prayer of Manasseh, aim at the one target. The more we become filled with the spirit of preaching, the less shall we care about the mere numbers who listen to us; we do not reject them, or undervalue them, but the more will the value of the one man rise, so that a little child shall be a congregation, one listener worthy of all the resources of learning and eloquence we may be able to control. The young preacher is afraid of the wet day, because he has written a most elaborate discourse which he intended the whole congregation to hear—and to admire. He will outgrow that. Be patient with him now. Efflorescence in youth is natural and seasonable. By-and-by he will not know whether it is raining, or shining, or thundering: the whole truth will be in him, and must be uttered to any soul that may be present to hear it.
Eliphaz accuses Job specifically. He says,—
"For thou hast taken a pledge from thy brother for bought, and stripped the naked of their clothing. Thou hast not given water to the weary to drink, and thou hast withholden bread from the hungry" ( Job 22:6-7).
Do not run off with the devil"s suggestion that these are Oriental terms; they are modern words. The colouring may be eastern, but the genius of the accusation is eastern and western, northern and southern, wide as the world, detailed as the varieties of the human species. Is it possible that men may say, What is the meaning of taking a pledge from thy brother for nought, and stripping the naked of their clothing? What is the meaning of not giving water to the weary to drink? Is it possible to grammarise these words, vivisect them, to understand their Oriental allusion, and to escape their immediate and mortal application to ourselves? We have not done this in the letter, yet every day we may be doing it in the spirit. Do we crush the poor? Do we make the poor man feel that his poverty is a crime? Do we snub him and humiliate him because he is poor? whereas we should crouch before the same man were he a millionaire,—the same Prayer of Manasseh, without more mental capacity, literary resource, spiritual refinement! It is not enough to find out just what Eliphaz meant in these lines: what he meant in the spirit is what we ought to be in quest of. Have we contemned the weak? Have we turned our poor brother into an occasion of jibing and sneering? Have we been deaf to entreaty? Have we pleaded excess of business, extremity of position, dignity of office, so that we might turn away from him who had a prayer to breathe to our benevolence and clemency? Away with all merely literal orthodoxy, if it be not supported by the broader orthodoxy of love, sympathy, and sacrifice. Eliphaz would not hesitate to remind us of broken vows; he would give us day and date; he would remind us that we told God that if he would save us in a given extremity we would serve Him evermore; and Eliphaz would lay his hand upon us, and look at us as fire only can look, and ask us whether we have redeemed the vow. This is the only preaching worthy of any attention, namely, preaching that goes to the immediate case, the real, actual, concrete experience of the hearer. Nor will it always come with judgment and accusation; it will often come as the rain, as the dew, as a still small voice. We do injustice to God if we suppose that by personal preaching is always and only meant accusatory preaching There is consolatory personal preaching. There are brave men who are fighting hard battles—at home, in the marketplace, in their own hearts, in the Church, in the State; and he is the preacher sent of God who will recognise the existence and necessity of such men, and will make them strong by brotherly prayer, and by brotherly sympathy and exhortation. The preacher can never be wrong in speaking to broken hearts. There may be only a few learned men or critics in his congregation, but there are many blighted lives, broken hearts, wounded spirits,—men lost in thick fogs, mental and spiritual; souls tormented of the devil by unnamable temptations. Therefore in our personal preaching we must not always play the part of impeachment, but must remember the part of consolation and sympathy, sweet advice and generous comfort; then they that are ready to perish will bless us, and souls that came into the sanctuary weary and overborne, will return to their work nerved, and strengthened, and blessed.
Eliphaz, then, were he amongst us, would avail himself of history in support of the exhortation:—
"Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden? which were cut down out of time, whose foundation was overflown with a flood: which said unto God, Depart from us: and what can the Almighty do for them?"( Job 22:15-17).
That also is practical preaching. Eliphaz claims all history as his book of anecdotes. Why invent stories, when the whole experience of mankind goes to show that wickedness never comes to a good end, and that the way of transgressors is hard? Let us keep to history, and then we cannot be dislodged from our position. Stand by the realities of life—not as seen within any given five minutes, but as spreading themselves through the length and breadth of history—and we shall find written upon all the pages of the past the fact that God is against the wicked Prayer of Manasseh, the stars in their courses fight against wickedness, and that only judgment and fiery indignation can be the portion of those who violate the spirit of obedience and defy the spirit of law. Blessed be God, we need not trust to our invention in the discharge of this solemn ministry: all facts are ours, all history is our book of evidences; we do not bandy opinions with men equally able or still more skilful than we are; if they have discovered laws, so have Christian thinkers, and one of those laws is that God punishes iniquity with everlasting punishment, if the man guilty of it do not repent and seek the sanctuary of the cross. If any man had said so only yesterday, we should have said, Let time try him. It is not yesterday, as the last day gone, that speaks to us, but all time"s yesterdays, the thousands multiplied by thousands and millions,—they all stand, as it were, upon the horizon, and say, Preacher, speak up, fear not; tell the wicked man that all God"s omnipotence is against him, and he must perish in the tremendous conflict. And is there not another side also to this? Has history nothing to say about the good, the true, the pure, the wise? Is not God a sun and a shield? Will he withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly? Has he not promised them an exceeding great reward? And yet has he not wrought in them a miracle of grace that without thinking of the reward they would die for the cross of his Son? This is our mission. If we cannot preach as Eliphaz preached, we ought to vacate the pulpit, and leave stronger men to occupy it. We want no new inventions, no curiously coloured hypotheses; we want the old revelation spoken with the modern accent—eternal truth offered to men in language they can understand—the awful affection of God for the human race, represented in the cross of Christ, preached as a sweet gospel, always ending with a loving invitation, such as, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;" "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." Speak these words; the men may not be thirsting now, but when the fire burns them, memory will be awakened, they will say, Where heard we words about water that could quench this thirst? and when they ask the question, your opportunity will have come.
The law of Moses did not contemplate any raising of loans for the purpose of obtaining capital, a condition perhaps alluded to in the parables of the "pearl" and "hidden treasure" ( Matthew 13:44-45). Such persons as bankers and sureties, in the commercial sense ( Proverbs 22:26, Nehemiah 5:3), were unknown to the earlier ages of the Hebrew commonwealth. The Law strictly forbade any interest to be taken for a loan to any poor person, either in the shape of money or of produce, and at first, as it seems, even in the case of a foreigner; but this prohibition was afterwards limited to Hebrews only, from whom, of whatever rank, not only was no usury on any pretence to be exacted, but relief to the poor by way of loan was enjoined, and excuses for evading this duty were forbidden ( Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35, Leviticus 25:37; Deuteronomy 15:3, Deuteronomy 15:7-10, Deuteronomy 23:19-20). The instances of extortionate conduct mentioned with disapprobation in the Book of Job probably represent a state of things previous to the Law, and such as the Law was intended to remedy ( Job 22:6, Job 24:3, Job 24:7). As commerce increased, the practice of usury, and so also of suretiship, grew up; but the exaction of it from a Hebrew appears to have been regarded to a late period as discreditable ( Proverbs 6:1, Proverbs 6:4, Proverbs 11:15, Proverbs 17:18, Proverbs 20:16, Proverbs 22:26; Psalm 15:5, Psalm 27:13; Jeremiah 15:10; Ezekiel 18:13, Ezekiel 22:12). Systematic breach of the law in this respect was corrected by Nehemiah after the return from captivity. In later times the practice of borrowing money appears to have prevailed without limitation of race, and to have been carried on on systematic principles, though the original spirit of the Law was approved by our Lord ( Matthew 5:42, Matthew 25:27; Luke 6:35, Luke 19:23). The money-changers (κερματισαί, and κολλυβισταί), who had seats and tables in the Temple, were traders whose profits arose chiefly from the exchange of money with those who came to pay their annual half-shekel ( Matthew 21:12). The documents relating to loans of money appear to have been deposited in public offices in Jerusalem.—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible.
21. Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee.
22. Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thine heart.
23. If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt be built up, thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles.
24. Then shalt thou lay up gold as dust, and the gold of Ophir as the stones of the brooks.
25. Yea, the Almighty shall be thy defence, and thou shalt have plenty of silver.
26. For then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God.
27. Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee, and thou shalt pay thy vows.
28. Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and the light shall shine upon thy ways.
29. When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, There is lifting up; and he shall save the humble person.
30. He shall deliver the island of the innocent: and it is delivered by the pureness of thine hands.
Reconciliation and Results
That is all the three friends could, in substance, say. It is difficult to read the exhortation of another man. We are, indeed, apt to put our own tone into all reading, and thereby sometimes we may do grievous injustice to the authors or speakers whom we seek to interpret. Of one thing, however, we may be quite sure, namely, that when a man so seer-like, so prophet-like as Eliphaz, concluded his controversy with Job, observing the suffering and the sorrow of the patriarch, he would be certain to drop his voice into the music of consolation, and would endeavour, whilst speaking words of apparently legal and mechanical preciseness, to utter them with the tone of the heart, as if in the very sorrow were hidden a gracious gospel, and as if duty might, by some subtle power, be turned into the most precious of delight. All hortatory words may be spoken with too much voice, with too strong a tone, so as to throw them out of proportion in relation to the hearer, whose sorrow already fills his ears with muffled noises. Let us imagine Eliphaz—eldest of the counsellors, most gracious of the speakers—laying his hand, as it were, gently upon the smitten patriarch, and approaching his ear with all the reverence of affectionate confidence, and giving him these parting instructions: then the exhortation becomes music; the preacher does not thunder his appeal, but utters it persuasively, so that the heart alone may hear it, and the soul be melted by the plea. May it not be so with us also? We do not need the strong exhortation, but we do need the consolatory appeal and stimulus. We may frighten a man by calling out very loudly when he is within one inch of a brink; the nearer the man is to the precipice, the more subdued, the less startling, should be the appeal: we might whisper to him as if nothing were the matter,—rather lure his attention than loudly and roughly excite it; and then when we get firm hold of him bring him away to the headland as urgently and strongly as we can. May it not be that some hearts are so far gone that one rude tone from the preacher would break up what little hope remains? Should we not rather sometimes sit down quite closely to one another and say softly, "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace": think of what all thy life comes to, poor soul, and see if even now, just at the very last, the flickering lamp cannot be revived and made strong and bright: come, let us pray? Who can tell in what tone the Lord said, "Come now, and let us reason together," as if we were equals; for the time being let us be as brothers; let the case be stated on both sides, and argued out with all the urgency and zeal of truest love? Never regard the Gospel as having come roughly, violently, but as always coming like the dawn, like the dew, like music from afar, which having travelled from eternity stops to accommodate itself to the limitations of time. Still the exhortation has the strength within it. Speak it as we may, it is the strongest exhortation that can be addressed to human attention. You may soften it as to tone, you may pray God for many days that when you do come to utter your message you may speak it without offence, lovingly, tenderly, with a voice full of tears; yet, even when so spoken, the Gospel has within it fire and sword and force almighty. When the tone is softened, it is not that the law has given up the pursuit of the soul, or has ceased to press its infinite claims upon the trespasser. Do not mistake the persuasions of the Gospel for the weaknesses of the preacher, and do not regard the errors of the preacher as implying in any degree defect on the part of his message.
Eliphaz tells Job what he must do; let us read his bill of directions: "Acquaint now thyself with him." Here is a call to mental action. Job is invited to bethink himself. He is exhorted to put himself at the right point of view. Instead of dealing with social questions and personal details, the seer invites the smitten patriarch to betake himself to the sanctuary, and to work out the whole solution in the fear and love of God. There are amongst men questions that are supreme and questions that are inferior. Who would care for the inferior if he could solve the supreme, and fill himself with all the mystery of Deity? What are all our inventions, arts, sciences, and cleverest tricks, and boldest adventures into the region of darkness, compared with the possibility of knowing human thought—the power of removing the veil that separates man from Prayer of Manasseh, and looking into the arcana of another soul? But this is kept back from us. We are permitted to dig foundations, to build towers and temples; we are allowed to span rivers with bridges, and bore our way through rocky hills; but we cannot tell what the least little child is thinking about. Given the possibility that a man may, by a certain process of study, qualify himself to read all that is in our minds, who would not avail himself of that opportunity with eagerness and gratitude! All other learning would be contemptible in comparison with an attainment so vast and useful. This is the explanation of men spending their days over crucibles, in hidden places, in darkened dungeons, seeking in the crucible for the particular Something that would dissolve everything that was hard, and reveal everything that was dark. This is the meaning of the quest in which men have been engaged for the Sangreal, the philosopher"s stone—that marvellous and unnamable something which, if a man had, he would open every kingdom and be at home in every province of the universe. You cannot kill that mysterious ambition of the human heart. It will come up in some form. It is the secret: of progress. Even when men say they have renounced the quest, they may be most busily engaged in the pursuit; when they seem to be most practical and soberminded, and to have given up all thought whatever of sitting upon the circle of the heavens, there may be something in their hearts which says, You are only resting awhile; even yet you will receive the secret, and turn it to highest uses. All this leads to the uppermost thought, namely, that if a man could acquaint himself with God, live with God, would not that be the very highest attainment of all? If he could enter the tabernacles of the Most High, and survey the universe from the altar where burns the Shekinah, what would all other attainments and acquisitions amount to? Yet this is the thing to be aimed at: grow in grace; grow in all life; for it means, in its fruition, acquaintance with God, identification with God, absorption in God; living, moving, having the being in God; taking God"s view of everything; made radiant with God"s Wisdom of Solomon, and calm with God"s peace. Assuming that to be a possibility, how all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory thereof, fade away into the dim distance! How grandly some of the old seers now and again touched the vital point; and how the ages have thrilled with their touch, knowing that at last they had left detail and cloud and mystification, and touched the very pulse of things! Here stands the great truth, the eternal verity: until we have acquainted ourselves with God, by means prescribed in God"s own book, our knowledge is ignorance, and our mental acquisitions are but so many proofs of our mental incapacity. Eliphaz, therefore, lifts up the whole discussion to a new level. He will not point to this wound or that, to the sore boil or blain, to the withering skin, to the patriarch"s pitiful physical condition; he begins now to touch the great mystery of things, namely, that God is in all the cloud of affliction, in all the wilderness of poverty, and that to know his purpose is to live in his tranquillity.
Then Eliphaz says—"Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth": do not have second-hand references, do not be content with what other people have said; but go straight to the fountainhead: there is a law—a law of event, accident, progress, providence, retribution; a law of light and darkness; a law that comes and goes like the revolving seasons: there may be even now, poor Job, some scraps of written law: consider everything; take in knowledge from every quarter; if light shall shine from unexpected points, look for it, examine it; if it be light indeed, receive it, and be thankful for it. We need the strong word Law—just as we need great corner-stones in the building, and solid beams here and there in the edifice. There may be in the building an abundance of colour, and gold, and fine artistic display; but somewhere in the building, if it have to stand winter and summer, there must be iron, solid woodwork, massive blocks of stone, and great beams of wood. So in the life-house there may be decoration, intellectual accomplishment, all manner of fancy characteristics and advantages, but if that life-house is to stand when the sea roars, when the mountains shake, when all things are tried, there must be in it depth, solidity, massiveness, obedience to the geometry of the universe, complete harmony with all the forces that secure the stability and permanence of material things. We cannot escape this pressure. We speak about the law as if it infringed liberty; whereas the law is the very secret of liberty, its security, and its crown. Is there any law in our spiritual life, any sovereignty in the very charity which softens our heart? Is there any righteousness behind to account for the beauties that are scattered upon the surface? Is the blossoming at the top of the tree fastened on artificially? or does it come up from the black root and tell that its life is hidden in the sun? We have read of men who, having received the word of God gladly, went out and forgot all about it, and became their old selves again, because there was no deepness of earth—let us say now, because there was no law, righteousness, sovereignty, government, founded upon wisdom and upon the innermost and completest knowledge of human nature.
"And lay up his words in thine heart": dispossess the heart of all bad notions by filling it with all true ideas; do not have one little corner in the heart where you can put a sophism; let the heart be so stored with Christly words and Christly wisdom that there shall be no room in it for any superstition. That is the only plan of true education, and the only guarantee of ultimate complete manhood. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." Do not have part of God"s word and part of some other word locked up in the heart together, like the ark as it was locked up with Dagon; but fill the whole heart with God"s words: they are music, they are law, they are gospel, they are light, they are comfort, they are bread for the hungry, and living water for burning thirst. Feed upon the divine word. Lord, evermore give us this bread! Eliphaz is now a gospel preacher, a great evangelist; he cannot tell the whole range of what he is saying; the morning is not the midday, the spring is not the autumn; but it lies in the right line of it; the autumnal golden glory will come in due time: "in the process of the suns" we shall see the words of Eliphaz completed in the words of Christ.
"If thou return to the Almighty" certain results will accrue. What are those results? Reconstruction: "thou shalt be built up." Comforting word! We know what it is to be shattered, broken all to pieces, to have lost our squareness and completeness, our hold of things and our entire status, and we know by bitter experience what it is to be clashed to atoms. Sin leaves no man whole; evil-doing is destruction: it tears a man as it were limb from limb, and delights in seeing him broken up, thrown into hopeless incoherence. The very first thing true religion does is to gather a man up again; it seems to say to him, We must begin with reconstruction: what are you? where are you? let us grapple with the reality of the situation, however tragical, however hopeless it may be. To tell a man that he may be built up again is to give him hope. Say to some poor overthrown one, Come now! you are not always to live like this: there is hope for you; even you can be put in joint again, even you can be gathered up by the miracle of the Holy Ghost working within you, the miracle of grace: even you can be made a Prayer of Manasseh,—and at first the answer may be sullen—not because of obduracy of heart, but because of hopelessness of spirit—but the man will turn the words over in his heart, he will take them home with him; when the feast spread for the body is all consumed he will say, I have bread to eat that these people know not of: a good brave man told me in the city today that I, even I, could be built up again: oh, God of heaven, is that true? is that a possible miracle? can this bewildered head be made steady again? and can these lips pray any more? Who can tell what the angels may say to the soliloquist then? Man likes to think that he can be built up, Revelation -established, and comforted with great consolation. This is what the Gospel says, or it is no gospel: "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy." What are they? that the lost may be found, that the dead may live: believest thou this? All things are possible unto him that believeth. Say, in all broken-heartedness—for that is the beginning of strength—"Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
Then Eliphaz, working according to the light of his time, makes Job a great promise of silver and gold; he says:
"Then shalt thou lay up gold as dust, and the gold of Ophir [see note, p234] as the stones of the brooks. Yea, the Almighty shall be thy defence, and thou shalt have plenty of silver" ( Job 22:24-25).
Was the motive a bad one? Nothing of the kind; otherwise the whole of the Old Testament is vitiated by the suggestion. The Lord has always worked upon this plan of promising men what they could understand, of accommodating his kingdom to some form, parabolic or material, which might touch the imagination and even the senses of the people whom he addressed. Thus the Lord said unto Abram: Arise, come away, and I will give thee a land flowing with milk and honey. Was that an appeal to a selfish motive? Certainly not. It was the only appeal which Abram could then understand. The Lord promised the patriarchs length of days. Now we would not have length of days, for we are weary of old grey time. The period comes when a man says, When is the upper door going to be opened? I would not live alway; I have seen every revolution of this little wheel, and I am tired of watching the tautology; I know spring and summer, and autumn and winter, and birth and marriage, and death, and weal and woe, and loss and gain, and book-keeping and balancing, and profit and disadvantage, and sickness and recovery and dissolution: I am tired of watching that mocking monotony: when will the golden gates swing back, and let me pass where the light is purer, and where the service is without weariness? Did God, then, appeal to a poor motive when he promised length of days? The answer Isaiah, Certainly not; he made the only possible appeal—that Isaiah, the only appeal that could be understood. When life was new, men liked to have plenty of it—an abundance of years; yea, life is represented in the ancient books as extending over centuries—four and five, and six and eight, and nine centuries, and one man lived nearly a thousand years! So Eliphaz was talking in Old Testament language, in ancient and early terms, when he promised Job heaps of gold and plenty of silver—"the gold of Ophir," or "Ophir," which is a symbolical term for gold which could be laid up like the stones of the brooks—great stones, small stones, thousands and countless numbers of stones of gold. Now we have come to know that we cannot take away one little pebble with us, that at best we have but the handling of the mocking stuff for a few years, and then, however anxious we may be to begin the next world rich with gold, we must start God"s next world without a single penny. Eliphaz was not appealing to selfish motive, to mean ambition; nor was he degrading the kingdom of peace and light and pureness when he thus promised Job reward of gold and silver; he was speaking up to his last point of light and attainment. Now, what is promised to us? All heaven! Blessed be God, we have been born at a period when the next word is "heaven." That brings us very near to God"s ultimate purpose. Abram was born in a time when a land flowing with milk and honey filled his imagination. Old Testament men lived in times when length of days was the only possible notion of duration. We live in a time when life and immortality have been brought to light in the Gospel, and now we want no lands flowing with milk and honey, or Ophir, or silver in plentifulness, except for immediate convenience and transient purposes. We seek a country out of sight. We attest the progress of spiritual civilisation by being afflicted with an ambition which nothing can satisfy but God"s own dwelling-place—the very heavens of eternity.
Then Eliphaz promised Job a plentiful intercourse with God:—
"For then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God. Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee, and thou shalt pay thy vows" ( Job 22:26-27).
But Eliphaz also points out a result which is full of practical instruction:—
"When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, There is lifting up; and he shall save the humble person" ( Job 22:29).
The meaning Isaiah, when you are right with God, you will be a fountain of consolation and strength to weak men. Why, here is an anticipation of the time when the whole commandment of God, ranging over every point of life, shall be divisible into two thoughts—the love of God, and the love of neighbour. "When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, There is lifting up." And thou shalt prove it, for thou shalt say, I too was cast down, and behold I am lifted up; I too was broken in pieces, and now I am built and established, and I enjoy a sense of incorporation with the whole scheme of things planned, fashioned, and formed by the Living One. This is the test of our piety. How do weak men regard us? Do they say when listening to us, That is the man who will help me in trouble; that is the counsellor to whom I should go were I in perplexity; that is the man to whom I would tell all the tale of sin and shame, had I such a tale to relate; I would seek him out, and he would receive me and listen to me; he might insist that I told him everything that is in my heart, but having done Song of Solomon, he would put his strong arms around me and say, Wanderer, prodigal, foolish soul, even yet there is hope for thee! Our piety is a pretence if it be not available to men who are in distress, in weakness, and in hopelessness. This is the mystery of the divine kingdom, that it does not run up into metaphysics only, and lose itself in transcendent thoughts, but that, having been up there amid the transfiguring glory, it comes down to heal the sick and show the wanderer the way straight home.
Ophir is a seaport or region from which the Hebrews, in the time of Song of Solomon, obtained gold in vessels which went thither in conjunction with Tyrian ships from Ezion-geber, near Elath, on that branch of the Red Sea which is now called the Gulf of Akabah. The gold was proverbial for its fineness, so that "gold of Ophir" is several times used as an expression for fine gold ( Psalm 45:10; Job 28:16; Isaiah 13:12; 1 Chronicles 29:4); and in one passage ( Job 22:24) the word "Ophir" by itself is used for gold of Ophir, and for gold generally. In addition to gold, the vessels brought from Ophir almug wood and precious stones.
The precise geographical situation of Ophir has long been a subject of doubt and discussion. The two countries which have divided the opinions of the learned have been Arabia and India, while some have placed it in Africa. There are only five passages in the historical books which mention Ophir by name; three in the Book of Kings ( 1 Kings 9:26-28, 1 Kings 10:11, 1 Kings 22:48), and two in the Book of Chronicles ( 2 Chronicles 8:18, 2 Chronicles 9:10). The latter were probably copied from the former. In addition to these passages, the following verse in the Book of Kings has very frequently been referred to Ophir: "For the king (i.e. Solomon) had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks" ( 1 Kings 10:22). But there is not sufficient evidence to show that the fleet mentioned in this verse was identical with the fleet mentioned in 1 Kings 9:26-28, and 1 Kings 10:11, as bringing gold, almug trees, and precious stones from Ophir. If the three passages of the Book of Kings are carefully examined, it will be seen that all the information given respecting Ophir is that it was a place or region accessible by sea from Ezion-geber on the Red Sea, from which imports of gold, almug trees, and precious stones were brought back by the Tyrian and Hebrew sailors.—Smith"s Old Testament History.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 22". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent