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This chapter is a kind of spiritual inventory. Job begins to enumerate the blessings which he once had, and as he sets them down in order they seem to multiply and brighten in the process. We all know what that means. Blessings seem to brighten as they take their flight. We did not know how precious they were at the time; we were partially contented with them; probably they were all we needed just at that particular moment, but we had no special or exuberant joy in their possession; after they all vanished we began to think how truly good they were, and precious even to invaluableness. We do so with our friends now. Verily we praise the dead more than the living in more senses than one. Men whom we treat but unkindly or thoughtlessly now we shall one day speak of as wonderful men, men who deserved all confidence and honour and love: how much better rightly to esteem the blessing which is in hand which constitutes the immediate joy of life, than to neglect that blessing and only revere and value and regret it long months after it has gone! He that hath ears to hear let him hear. Let us have no more vain lamentations, for they may but express a form of hypocrisy, inasmuch as it is just possible that were the blessings to return we should set as little store by them the second time as we did the first. Let us avail ourselves of the present moment, and be kind to every one, and value and appreciate every one highly and justly and generously; thus shall we do good to ourselves, so marvellously are things constituted that we cannot allow ourselves to go out in blessing others without preparing ourselves for a redoubled blessing in our own hearts. He that watereth others shall be watered himself. With what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged. Your appreciation is not wasted; it enlarges the heart that encourages it; it purifies the lips that express it; it returns to its source, a blessing for the man who sent it forth. Job is not speaking of romantic losses. When he sets down in his catalogue loss after loss we begin to feel that the loss was real and disastrous. He has lost what today we call religion. He has lost the consciousness he used to have of the divine presence and nearness and love; he has lost the light; in place of the great sun he seems to have a greater cloud; he does not know where the altar is, or if he could find the rude pile no flame would burn upon it, and there would be nothing round about it to certify the divine recognition and benediction.
The first loss of Job is an infinite religious loss
"Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness; as I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle; when the Almighty was yet with me" ( Job 29:2-5 ).
The patriarch did not feel that the loss of religion was the gain of liberty; he does not testify that in proportion as he got away from religious centres and religious obligations he got into freedom and light and enjoyment. Let this man's experience go for something. There is a common sophism that if we could only get rid of religion we should all be free and happy, unbeclouded by a fear, undeterred by a single menace. Granted that that may be our opinion, yet we must set side by side with it the testimony of men who have lost religious consciousness and gone away into more or less of melancholy, depression, gloom, and religious solitude. Who would not have expected Job to say, Now I have entered upon the real meaning of life: up to this time I have been superstitious, spending my reverence where veneration was not valued, throwing my best faculties away; but now, having abandoned the book and the altar and the religious vow and the whole spiritual life, why, I am a man? Job bears no such testimony. Rather he says I want the old days back again; they rose in brightness, they increased in glory, and when they went down at sunset the death was as precious as the birth, for it held within it all the hope of a new morning: once I could pray, and heaven seemed to meet me half-way when I said I will supplicate the throne that is unseen; my mouth was full of song and sacred laughter, and my heart pulsed like music, and all things bore testimony to the benediction of God. Is it so with us? It will be one day if we live a neglectful life and so forfeit our religious privileges. Now and again it does seem that if we could destroy the Bible, obliterate the Sabbath, forget the Cross, escape the Church, we should spend the remainder of our lives in green pastures, in drinking wine that would exhilarate us, and in dwelling under fruitful trees, the very produce of which would drop into our open mouths and melt there and nourish us, without trouble or effort. But men come to a better mind; they long even for the old familiar tunes; they desire but one vision of the ancient times when they assembled with the people of God in the sanctuary, and kept: holy-day with the great multitude, and were interested in all holy services and sacrifices. What would the flowers say, if they could speak, did the sun not come back punctually to them with his blessing? Hanging their heads on the second day they would say Oh that it were with us as it used to be but a few hours since! We are cold, we are heart-struck, we are without joy: Oh that the sun would come back again and bless us, and. we would answer his light with all our love! What would the picture say in the Royal Academy if the sun did not go before any other visitor went? Suppose he should tarry a day, a week and leave them there on their decorated walls? Could they speak, what would they say? Surely they would say, We are nothing without the light; we cannot be seen, we cannot show ourselves, we are not self-illuminating: oh that it were with us as it used to be! Then we could see one another; we could look across the hall, and salute one another in all the enthusiasm of mutual appreciation: we were modestly proud of our colour: but what are we without the sun? Nothing. We are not pictures; we might as well be empty canvas; it might as well be with us as if the hand of genius had never touched us; we seem now to see what the sun really is; the sun is more than mere light; light is the artist, light is the revealer, light is the great medium, the holy messenger: oh that it were with us as when the sun filled these rich halls and made every wall eloquent with colour and suggestion! so it is with the soul. Man cries out for the living God. For a time he is joyous enough without him in a superficial way; presently we shall hear a voice saying, "As the heart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." We were made for God. It was meant that we should love him, and live in him, and be his sons and daughters evermore. Under any other thought we are not ourselves: we are wild men, we are decentralised, we are cut off from the mountain spring, we shall soon be dried up and withered; let us cry mightily for the days that have gone.
A wonderful thing Job says, almost incredible indeed to modern readers. We find this singular expression in the fourth verse, "As I was in the days of my youth." Who can utter that prayer? Tell us where youth has not been misspent. Point out a man who has found in his youth all that was pure, lovely, and beautiful, and given his heart to it, and has not grown away from that youthhood which was nearly heaven. Other men have said they have been made to reap the sins of their youth: Job desires to be in his older age as he was in his early days. A sweet memory that! We are not now speaking of childhood innocent, prattling, trustful, musical, happy, all-holiday childhood, but of a more advanced youth. Are there not some men who would evermore forget their youth if they could? It is a blot, a wound, a shame, a blasphemy. Let others take heed, and live their youth well, so that when old age comes it may return in sweet and tender memory to make old age green, vernal, flowery.
When Job lost religious consciousness he lost something that was vital, he lost companionship. He says, "The days when the Almighty was with me." He complains of loss of light, loss of communion, loss of the divine "secret" "when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle," when God hung the key upon my tabernacle wall, the key of all things, that mysterious, marvellous, beneficent secret which is with them that fear the Lord: call it by what name you please; sympathy will do, so will insight, prevision, that prophetic power that sees over the intervening hills of time away into fruitful plains and gardens far beyond, yea, into millenniums. Now the secret has gone, and Job becomes a common man, who could but talk upon the topics of the day; he who was wont in his own degree to handle eternity is left with the bone and crust of time; he who once spake noble words, poems, prophecies, whose rhetoric was wisdom, whose eloquence was a revelation, now chatters the commonplaces of common men. To part with God's own secret is to part with all that makes life powerful, real, beneficent. Job had lost his companion; he had no spirit that understood him to talk to any more: when he spoke it was to unsympathising listeners, when he poured out his complaint he was pouring the river of his sorrow into the empty air. There was none that understood him; there was none that could do him good. Take care how you lose God. Let us beware how we part with our Father the Father of our spirits. That loss cannot be expressed in words: it is the loss of self, the loss of heaven.
Job does not lower his key much when he bemoans the second loss in the cry, "When my children were about me." He had not been used to live alone. The children were so many that he became one of them; their dispositions were so varied that he became self-multiplied; he had to listen to so many tones, pleas, supplications, definitions, arguments, that he himself was enlarged by the very process of listening and replying. No man liveth unto himself. No man is really happy who is left to his own individuality. He must have another self, somewhere, in some form; it may be a self in childhood, in work, in service, in thought, but there must be another self in which every man must live, if he would live his full life, and enjoy all the advantage God intended him to reap from being. "When my children were about me:" they seemed to divide the very burden which they created: if I had difficulty with them, I had more enjoyment: when they were very little they gave me pleasure enough for a lifetime; even if they proved in after life what I did not want them to be, yet when I think of their early existence and their early gifts of joy to me, I feel as if I had at the beginning my share of heaven: would, said Job, we could all be at home again the grand old home! We perhaps have no palace such as Job had, but every man's home is a palace, if it be watched by love, if it be filled with prayer. Value home. Count the children one by one. When was there one too many even for the poorest man's one loaf? When did not the loaf multiply when cut by the hand of love? It will be worse than useless to lament and regret and pine and whine over things that are gone if we do not now make home the gladdest place on earth. To find a man's character inquire about him at home. Do not ask what he is in the marketplace, or on the platform, on in the church, or what he is when he has his professional robe upon him, or when he goes forth for the purpose of cutting and being a figure in society. Read his character on the hearthstone; inquire what he is amongst his nearest ones; then advance to his dependents, and see what view they take of him; and if a man can stand that test, he need not care much what critics say, who never spent an hour with him, and who know nothing about the innermost qualities of his loving heart. Make home precious now. Make it so precious that it can never fade out of the memory. And do not imagine that home can only be made precious by great deeds, by romantic actions, by great, splendid, dramatic efforts to make one day in the year a very red-letter day. Home is made precious by little acts, thoughtful deeds, quiet attentions, patient endurances; by smile, and grip of hand, and word of cheer, by a thousand little things that go without name but all minister to the upbuilding and comforting of family life.
Then Job tells us what he was socially, and wants to be the great man he once was amongst his fellow citizens. He used to be the principal man of his time. His steps were washed with butter; and the rock poured him out rivers of oil.
"The young men saw me, and hid themselves: and the aged arose, and stood up. The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth. The nobles held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth" ( Job 29:8-10 ).
He was a great man then. Now everybody sees that providence is against him. It is precisely the same in modern days. Given, a man rich, prosperous, influential, quite a noble figure in the social sphere, and it is easy to think that he is a favourite of heaven. Let him come to ill-health and poverty and abandonment of a social kind, and there will not be wanting those far-sighted owls who think that they see that God has turned from the man in anger because of the man's wickedness. But Job was not only a great man socially; he was a great man amongst the poor as well as amongst the princes
"When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me: because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.... I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth" ( Job 29:11-17 ).
We may pardon a man some egotism who had done this all. He might remind himself of how the princes stood and bowed down to him, when he remembered that he was the friend of the poor, and that whenever he met oppression on the high road he rent it in twain, and left the two sundered pieces to come together again if they could. Now what Job says he was personally, religion, as represented by Christ, ought to be influentially. We cannot indeed be all these in the letter, for every man is not a Job in mental capacity or in material possessions; but the Church can be what Job was in its unity. The Church must play the Job of this twenty-ninth chapter of his book. Religion should be the greatest figure in society: it should be the great voice in council; it should represent what we find Job was in the twenty-fifth verse "I... dwelt as a king in the army, as one that comforteth the mourners." The Church that is not all this is not Christ's Church, or if it be Christ's Church it is ungrown, undeveloped, unaware of its privileges and responsibilities. Do not let us lose the golden thought of the occasion by imagining that there was but one Job, and that when he died all the actualities and possibilities of this chapter died along with him. What the one man was the one Church may be. Imagine a Church that can say, "When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me: because" not, because I made great theologies, but "because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him." What will come upon the Church by way of crown and honour and robe of primacy and monarchy? "The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy."
"My glory was fresh in me, and my bow was renewed in my hand. Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel. After my words they spake not again; and my speech dropped upon them. And they waited for me as for the rain; and they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain," ( Job 29:20-23 ).
There is a career for the Church! The Church is to be a friend of the poor and the helpless and the destitute; the Church is to be the terror of oppression; the Church is to be the chief figure in all the social economy. Not the Church as a piece of mechanism and organisation and institution, but the spiritual Church, the Christ-loving Church, the Church born at the cross and crowned in heaven. Where is the Church now? Meek with modesty! Where is she? She ought to be at the front. She begs to be permitted to live! She spends her life in elaborate apologies! She is edged out by all manner of rivals and competitors. We wrong the Church if we deny her the first place, and she wrongs herself if she does not claim it. Now she has to go behind, when she ought to go before; she has whispered where she ought to have thundered; she has kissed the hand of the oppressor, when she ought to have smitten his cheekbone. There is no Church! She is indeed not dead, but she sleepeth. The time of her awakening must come. Lord Jesus, come and awake her out of sleep! If she had not a public holiday in the week called Sunday she would die utterly. She lives on the advantage of a public holiday! The people have then nothing else to do, or they weary in the doing of it, so they make the Church a kind of recreation: but if the Church had not this Sunday she would be swallowed up in the muddy river of the common times. She lives upon this holiday! She does not live in the week-time; she could not live then: Art, Business, Pleasure would laugh her to scorn; the theatre could outshine the sanctuary, and the reciter of poems would put the preacher down. We cling now to this one little day in the week, and that is fast going. When that goes the Church will go, and the pulpit, and all religious organisation. Lord Jesus, thou still dost work miracles oh, work a miracle in thine own Church! Arouse her; vitalise her; quicken her. She ought to be first in music, in art, in literature, in science; she ought to pull down her walls, and extend her boundaries, and heighten her roof, and kill the fatted calf, and bring forth the gold ring, and the best robe, and all good things, and make her house a place of feasting and banqueting. She is getting old, and economical, and poor, and toothless, and fearful, and decrepid, and men are laughing at the ancient heroine that struggled with the lion and beat him, that lived on the mountain and grew strong on the air of the hills, that found home in the fissures of the rocks and in the caves of the earth. Now she has been brought into the city, and she is giving way under the blandishments of civilisation, the seductions of luxury and fashion. May she not be recovered from the error of her way? Then come thyself, O Christ, and "dwell as a King in the army, and as one that comforteth the mourners"!
In Job 29:0 (a fine specimen of flowing, descriptive Hebrew poetry) Job recalls the honour in which he used to be held, and the beneficent acts which he was enabled to perform. Modesty were out of place, for he is already in the state of "one turned adrift among the dead" ( Psa 88:5 ). In Job 30:0 and Job 31:0 he laments with the same pathetic self-contemplation his ruined credit, and the terrible progress of his disease. Then by a somewhat abrupt transition, he enters upon an elaborate profession of his innocence, which has been compared to the solemn repudiation of the forty-two deadly sins by the departed souls of the good in the Egyptian "Book of the Dead." The resemblance, however, must not be pressed too far. Job's morality, even if predominantly "legal," has a true "evangelical" tinge. Not merely the act of adultery, but the glance of lust; not merely unjust gain, but the confidence reposed in it by the heart; not merely outward conformity to idol-worship, but the inclination of the heart to false gods are in his catalogue of sins. His last words are a reiteration of his deeply cherished desire for an investigation of his case by Shaddai. With what proud self-possession he imagines himself approaching the Divine Judge! In his hands are the accusations of his friends and his own reply. Holding them forth, he exclaims,
The Wisdom of the Old Testament. By the Rev, Canon Cheyne, M.A., D.D.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"I was eyes to the blind." Job 29:15
This may lead us to consider the subject of self-multiplication. No man liveth unto himself. We hold all our faculties and properties, not for ourselves alone but for others also; in this respect we have all things in common. No man is at liberty to say, when there is a blind man to be helped, that his eyes are wholly his own, and that he must devote them to his own occupations and interests. In this way it lies within the power of every man to do good: without money, without genius, without influence, he can yet conduct a blind child across a thoroughfare, or speak a kind word to the dispirited traveller, or offer to do some deed of love to the friendless man. Beneficence does not confine itself to one line. Unhappily, in many instances, it is so confined, and thus it is in danger of falling into a mere trick or habit. Some men will give money largely who will not give any time to the promotion of good causes; others do not grudge their time, but it is next to impossible to persuade them to contribute of their substance. Each man will be judged according to his faculty and opportunity. All that some men can do is to lead the blind, cheer the lonely, advise the perplexed; these services to humanity are never set down in the subscription-lists of society; it would seem as if it was only money that could be recorded, and not service of a still richer kind. Many are sitting in darkness and desolation who do not need money; they need sympathy, counsel, encouragement. Let every man consider what his particular power of serving society is. We must not judge ourselves by one another, but must inquire into the gift which gives us individuality; that is the gift which is to be stirred up; that is the gift which indicates the line of our service. Some men have ten gifts, others two, others one, and each man must examine himself and work according to his particular endowment. Blessed are they who live in others. The blind who are helped ought not to forget the man who helped them. They should remember the touch of his kind hand, the cheerfulness of his generous voice, and by their thanks they should inspire him to continue his benevolent services to all who need them. The man who has the word of wisdom has the key of many a prison. Even services of the humblest kind should be rendered with tender grace, for thus their value may be doubled. Many persons never see the blind because they never look for them. There is other blindness than that of the eyes of the body blindness of mind, of conscience, and even of affection. What if a man should see well with his bodily eyes, but should blind the vision of his soul? What if the eyes of imagination should wander through eternity, feasting themselves upon the riches of the universe, if the eyes of conscience and responsibility and social trust should be put out, so that those who are round about us needing our help should escape our observation. Many persons are quick to see the faults of others, but blind to their own. Let us remember that sympathy, counsel, encouragement, prayer, religious exhortation, may all come under the designation of that large and generous service which gives eyes to the blind.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 29". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany