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The Trial of Job
Job has made two speeches up to this point Both of them admirable more than admirable, touching a point to which imagination can hardly ascend in its moral sublimity:
"Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:20 , Job 1:21 .)
Mark in how short a space the sacred name is mentioned three times. The second speech is equal in religiousness to the first:
"Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10 .)
Again the divine name is invoked, and set in its right place, at the very centre of things, upon the very throne of the universe. Job's first speech was so full of noble submission, and so truly religious and spiritually expressive, that it has become a watchword in the bitterest Christian experience. Who has not said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord"? Sometimes there has been hesitation as to the close of the sentence; the voice has not been equally steady throughout the whole enunciation: the sufferer has been able to say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away," then came a mark of punctuation not found in the books, not known to writers and scholars a great heart-stave; and after that the words were added with some tremulousness "blessed be the name of the Lord." But it is not easy talk. Do not let us imagine that passages like this can be quoted glibly, flippantly, thrown back in easy retort when grief has come and darkened the house and turned the life into a cloud. Words so noble can only be uttered by the heart in its most sacred moments, and then can hardly be uttered in trumpet tone, but in a stifled voice; yet, notwithstanding the stifling and the sobbing, there is a strong tone that goes right through all the bitterness and the woe, and magnifies God. Where have we found these words? We have found them on our tombstones. Walk up and down the cemetery, and read the dreary literature which is often to be found there, and you will in many instances come upon the words of Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." It has helped many to bear the loss of children: is there any greater grief in all the resources of woe? This passage has wrought miracles in face of the empty cot. Strong men have been able to write even upon the tombstones of little children "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away." Hardly like the Lord when he so took away. He might have taken away all the flock, and ripped up all the trees in one black night, and the passage could have been quoted with somewhat of exultation; the loss would have been as nothing; so long as the children were about the mourner they would make him forget his loss. What but the grace of God, the Father of the universe, could make a man bear the silence which follows the loss of children? The miracle has been wrought, and the bearing of that silence has not been a stoical answer to a great distress, but an answer full of intelligence intelligence growing up into consent, and consent that has sometimes said in moments of rapture, "I would not have it otherwise." These are the eternal miracles of grace.
Reckoning the first and second speeches as one deliverance, we now come to another view of Job's case. Job's tongue is loosened, and his words are many. How did he come to speak so much? Because his friends had gathered around him, and after seven days and seven nights of silence, "Job opened his mouth, and cursed his day." What a secret masonry is this of friendship and sympathy. Job would have taken his grief downward, as it were, swallowed it, digested it, and turned it mayhap into some degree of spiritual strength; but the sight of friendship, the touch of sympathy, brought it out of him evoked, elicited it; and what other form of speech was so true to his inmost feeling as the form which is known as malediction? Do not read the words as a grammarian would read them. Do not parse this grammar! the speech is but one sentence, and it rushes from a soul that is momentarily out of equipoise. Our friends often draw out of us the very worst that is in us. It is one of two things under the mysterious touch of fellowship and sympathy: either we surprise our friends by the dignity and volume of our prayer, or we amaze them by our power of deprecation and malediction. But the Lord's recording angel never sets down the words as terms that are to be grammatically examined, critically scrutinised, as if we had gathered ourselves up for a supreme literary composition, and were prepared to be judged finally by its merits as a literary structure. We best comment upon such words by repeating them, by studying the probable tone in which they were uttered. We read them best when we read them through our tears. They do us good when we forget the letters but feel all the magic of the grief. Let no wanton man trample upon this sacred ground: no lion should be here, nor any ravenous beast go up hereon; it should not be found here; but the redeemed of the Lord should read this chapter, and they should annotate it with their own experience, and say, Thank God for this man, who in prose-poetry has uttered every thought appropriate to grief, and has given anguish a new costume of expression. To the end of time the wobegone will come to this chapter to find the words which they could never themselves have invented.
Notice how terrible after all is satanic power. Look at Job if you would see how much the devil can under divine permission do to human life: the thief has taken away all the property; the assassin has struck blows of death at unoffending men and women; the malign spirit: whose name is Cruelty has carried the trouble from the body into the soul. When the Lord said, "but save his life," he seemed almost to add a drop to the agony rather than assuage the pain. Within a limited sphere, it would seem as if it had been more merciful to say, "Kill him, outright, at one blow; do not prolong the agony; smite him with a blow which means death." The words read, "but save his life," save his power of feeling, save his sensibility, save that peculiar nerve which feels everything, and which becomes either the medium of ecstacy or of agony. But we must not judge the words within limits which our invention could assign; we must wait the issue to know God's meaning in sparing a life out of which the life was taken. Oh! what an irony, what a contradiction in terms a lifeless life, a life all death! Yet even into the meaning of that mystery some souls can come today. Look at the picture, and as you look at it write underneath, This is what the enemy would do in every case. If there is any other picture in human life, do not credit that picture to the devil; if there is a happy little child anywhere, do not say, This is the devil's work; if today in all life's black misery there is a man who is momentarily glad, call that gladness a miracle of God: we owe nothing of beauty, music, love, trust, progress to the enemy; every smile is a sunbeam from above; every throb of gladness is communicated from the life of God. Perhaps it was well that in one instance at least we should see the devil at his worst. Such historical instances are needed now and again in any profound and complete perusal of human life. There must be no play-work here. The devil must show what he would, do in every case by what he has done in one. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." There be those who ask whether there is any personal devil: why ask such a question? We have already answered that the devilishness, which is obvious, makes the existence of the devil more than a presumption: if there were no devilishness, there would be no devil. Let his work certify his existence.
What miracles may be wrought in human experience! The word "miracles" is not misapplied when we study Job's bitter malediction upon the day of his birth. See how existence is felt to be a burden. Existence was never meant to be a heavy weight. Existence is an idea distinctively God's. "To be" who could have thought of that but the "I AM"? Existence was meant to be a joy, a hope, a rehearsal of music and service of a quality and range now inconceivable; every nerve was made to tingle with pleasure; every faculty was constructed to bring back to its owner harvests from the field of the universe. But under satanic agency even existence is felt to be an intolerable burden to be, is to be in hell. "To be" the verb of every speech, and without which speech is impossible, is a conjugation of agony. Go through all the moods of this infinite verb, and it is like going through the gamut of grief. Even this miracle can be wrought by Satan. He can turn our every faculty into a heavy calamity. He can so play upon our nerves as to make us feel that feeling is intolerable. Then in the case of Job all the blessed past was forgotten. Not a word is said about the good time he has already enjoyed; there is nothing here of spiritual remembrance: there is no reference to the time when "his substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east" ( Job 1:3 ). It is easy to forget sunshine. It is no miracle on our part that we obliterate the past in the presence of an immediate woe. We are accustomed to this obliteration. Our hand, with infernal skill, rubs out the record of yesterday's redemption. To this pass would the devil drive us! We should have no memory of light, music, morning, joy, festival: the past would be one great black cold cloud, without a hint of summer through which the soul has passed. Then again, in the case of Job, the spirit of worship was driven out by the spirit of atheism. There is no God in this malediction. Only once is the divine name invoked, and then it is invoked for no spiritual purpose. Yet the same man made all the three speeches. The man who said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord"; "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" uttered the whole of this back monologue. There is but a step between the soul and atheism. We have but to turn round from the altar to face a prayerless state and to forget the living God. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." What is there so easily shaken off as religious usage, spiritual habit, and all that constitutes an outward and public relation to the altar of heaven?
But the speech of Job is full of profound mistakes, and the mistakes are only excusable because they were perpetrated by an unbalanced mind. The eloquent tirade proceeds upon the greatest misapprehensions. Yet we must be merciful in our judgment, for we ourselves have been unbalanced, and we have not spared the eloquence of folly in the time of loss, bereavement, and great suffering. We may not have made the same speech in one set deliverance, going through it paragraph by paragraph, but if we could gather up all reproaches, murmurings, complainings, which we have uttered, and set them down in order, Job's short chapter would be but a preface to the black volume indited by our atheistic hearts. Job makes the mistake that personal happiness is the test of Providence. Job did not take the larger view. What a different speech he might have made! He might have said, Though I am in these circumstances now, I was not always in them: weeping endureth for a night, joy cometh in the morning: I will not complain of one bitter winter day when I remember all the summer season in which I have sunned myself at the very gate of heaven. Yet he might not have said this; for it lies not within the scope of human strength. We must not expect more even from Christian men than human nature in its best moods can exemplify. They are mocked when they complain, they are taunted when they say their souls are in distress; there are those who stand up and say, Where is now thy God? But "the best of men," as one has quaintly said, "are but men at the best." God himself knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust; he says, They are a wind which cometh for a little time, and then passeth away; their life is like a vapour, curling up into the blue air for one little moment, and then dying off as to visibleness as if it had never been. The Lord knoweth our days, our faculties, our sensibilities, our capacity of suffering, and the judgment must be with him. Then Job committed the mistake of supposing that circumstances are of more consequence than life. If the sun had shone, if the fields and vineyards had returned plentifully, answering the labour of the sower and the planter with great abundance, who knows whether the soul had not gone down in the same equal proportion? It is a hard thing to keep both soul and body at an equal measure. "How hardly" with what straining "shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God." Who knows what Job might have said if the prosperity had been multiplied sevenfold? "Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked." Where is the man who could bear always to swelter under the sun-warmth of prosperity? Where is the man that does not need now and again to be smitten, chastened, almost lacerated, cut in two by God's whip, lest he forget to pray? "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then ye are bastards, and not sons." Let suffering be accounted a seal of sonship, if it come as a test rather than as a penalty. Where a man has justly deserved the suffering, let him not comfort himself with its highest religious meaning, but let him accept it as a just penalty; but where it has overtaken him at the very altar, where it has cut him down when he was on his way to heaven with pure heart and pure lips, then let him say, This is the Lord's doing, and he means to enlarge my manhood, to increase the volume of my being, and to develop his own image and likeness according to the mysteriousness of his own way: blessed be the name of the Lord! But what a temptation there is to find our religion in our circumstances! Who can realise the profound truth that to live is better than to have? We are prone to say that not to have is not to live. What a mystery is life! Men cling to it oftentimes in the extremest pain. Sometimes, indeed, just when the agony is at its most burning heat, they may say, Oh that I could die! but all human history shows that men would rather put up with much misery than give up life. There is a mystery in life; there is a divine element in being, in existing, in having certain faculties and powers. This is the way of the Lord!
Why has Job fallen into this strain? He has omitted the word which made his first speech noble. We have pointed out that in the first speech the word "Lord" occurs three times, and the word Lord never occurs in this speech for purely religious purposes; he would only have God invoked that God might carry out his own feeble prayer for destruction and annihilation; the word "God" is only associated with complaint and murmuring, as, for example, "Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it" ( Job 3:4 ); and again "Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?" ( Job 3:23 ). This is not the "Lord" of the first speech; this is but invoking Omnipotence to do a puny miracle: it is not making the Lord a high tower, and an everlasting refuge into which the soul can pass, and where it can for ever be at ease. So we may retain the name of God, and yet have no Lord living, merciful, and mighty, to whom our souls can flee as to a refuge. It is not enough to use the term God; we must enter into the spirit of its meaning, and find in God not almightiness only but all-mercifulness, all-goodness, all-wisdom. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Yet we must not be hard upon Job, for there have been times in which the best of us has had no heaven, no altar, no Bible, no God. If those times had endured a little longer, our souls had been overwhelmed; but there came a voice from the excellent glory, saying, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee." Praised for ever be the name of the delivering God!
Cursing the Day. The translation of this passage is wrong, so far as the second clause is concerned, though the margin of our Bibles gives the word "leviathan" instead of "mourning." Rendered literally the text would run "Let the curse of the day curse it they who are skilled to raise up leviathan." Leviathan is the dragon, an astro-mythological being, which has its place in the heavens. Whether it be the constellation still known by the name "draco," or dragon, or whether it be serpens, or hydra, constellations lying farther south, it is not possible to decide. But the dragon, in ancient popular opinion, had the power to follow the sun and moon, to enfold, or even to swallow them, and thus cause night. Eastern magicians pretended to possess the power of rousing up the dragon to make war upon the sun and moon. Whenever they wished for darkness they had but to curse the day, and hound on the dragon to extinguish for a time the lamp that enlightened the world. Job, in his bitterness, curses the day of his birth, and utters the wish that those who control leviathan would, or could, blot that day and its deeds from the page of history. Biblical Things not Generally Known.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 3". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany