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Changes of Fortune
Job has been comparing his past and his present from a personal and social point of view. Hear his words in the twenty-ninth chapter, "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 30:8-10 ). That was the past condition of affairs in Job's social circle. He was chief, king, dominant at all times and under all circumstances. Job was the towering and overshadowing figure wherever he went. He remembered all that perhaps too vividly. Compare what you find in the thirtieth chapter "But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock" ( Job 30:1 ). That is the present report.
Verily Job is a man who has seen the extremes of life. One of two things must be the result of this double experience: either he will be soured, and come out of the whole process with a bitter nature, an unkind, unresponsive heart, he will shake off the very kind of people to whom he once responded benevolently and liberally; or this other thing will happen: he will be a richer man, riper, larger; he will understand human speech more perfectly, see into the condition of human life more vividly; if he shall survive this storm, he will be a man worth talking to: a new tone will come into his voice, mellow, rich, tender, a tone with history in it, charged with the music of sympathy. Here we ought to learn a lesson. How many of us come out of our sufferings embittered, soured, resentful! We say we will bide our time, and then draw the bow and let the arrow fly where it may: we are going to be even with men; we are going to take thunder-bolts into our own hand, and sit down upon the throne of judgment. Then is affliction lost upon us. God himself let us say it with reverence has sown seed upon the wind or in stony places, and nothing has come of it; or the tares sown by the enemy put out the wheat sown in the providence of God, and at the last nothing is seen in all the field but poisonous weeds. We may be the better for our losses; we may be the tenderer for our afflictions; we may come out of the furnace saving, We went in the larger part of us dross, but by God's grace and wisdom and loving discipline we have come up out of the furnace all gold, meet for the master's use: "He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." Here we have an opportunity of working miracles; here the dumb man can speak eloquently for God: gift of argument he may have none; his speech may be marked by the utmost poverty of expression; he may fail for want of words; but his character may be so eloquent, graphic, expressive, that people will take knowledge of him that he has been with the master, that he has come home from the sanctuary to tell good news, and vindicate by solidity of life, by completeness of patience, by tenderness of sympathy, a great verbal argument for God, and providence, and redemption. We want advocates of that kind. The Church has never lacked eloquence; her trumpets have always been a thousand in number, and her trumpeters have always been strong enough to use the instruments: but her sufferers who have conquered in the strife, her brave hearts that have carried heavy burdens mile after mile, and never complained impiously, these must come to the front, and say with simplicity but great emphasis and strength, One thing I know: nothing but the grave could have created for me a light in the valley, nothing but the almightiness of love could have protected me in the wildness of the storm.
Let us look at Job's comparison of his past and present. He speaks of the very same men, sometimes directly and definitely, and always by implication, and he says, Circumstances have developed them: I did not know them in the day of my prosperity; I thought they were all good and true, and right valiant, but now what Hounds they are! What base men! I should never have known these men but for my afflictions. So it is all through society. We never know ourselves but by our afflictions: how, then, can we know other people except by the same severe infallible test? Let a man succeed: "Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself;" they will say, He must be good or great, ingenious, inventive, have wonderful forcefulness and energy of character; there is more in him than we at first supposed or suspected: verily he is a chosen child of God, and will go forward to enthronement and coronation. Vain babblers! They read nothing but the vulgarist print of circumstances and events; they have not that keen inward vision that reads character, purpose, moral quality. Let the same man fail, then what will the same people say? That they always prognosticated the failure: what else could be expected? Anybody whose eyes were open could see how things would eventuate, and thus they assume prophetic dignity, as if they had known it all the time.
Circumstances develop men, reveal character, and show us the real quality of things all round. It is thus with religion itself. Any religion that is sustained by flattery or custom will come down, no matter how elaborate the creed, or how profound the claim to immediate attention. Any religion or religious institution living by patronage, fashion, custom, the spirit of the hour, will come down to ruin and to shame. So will any orthodoxy that lives upon majorities. We cannot tell righteousness by numbers. Were the test numerical, at how many points in human history would righteousness have gone down and virtue have been sent a-begging! Let us remember, then, that there is an inner quality of things, and that not until we have pierced to that innermost quality, do we know any man, faith, church, family, or institution. We must count our friends in the storm; we shall know what they are worth when we need them. What do you know about the man you praise so much? Let us hear all you know. Do you answer, He is so pleasant, so agreeable, so friendly, so social, so condescending; there are no airs about him or sign of superior claims? Have you ever been in real distress and invoked his aid? Have you ever attempted, honourably, to borrow money of him? Have you ever sent for him when all the winds of heaven had seized the tower of your life and shaken it? Have you ever been in a position to say to him I am no longer popular, or esteemed by my fellow-men: you now find me solitary and wobegone, and if you can put your hand in mine and let me feel a friend's strong grip I shall be glad? If in that hour he answered bravely, with an affirmative generosity, with a self-surrendering liberality, then grapple him to thyself with hooks of steel: he is a child of truth and of God. Men are tested by opposition. The man you find so agreeable has a piety exactly skin-deep. Refuse him his requests, oppose him in his notions, separate yourself from him in his most ardent thinking, forget to answer his letter, and the revelation will surprise you. If otherwise, then esteem him highly; write him down in the record you prize most, and which you will read in your latter days as a kind of second Bible, chronicling things that were good amongst men and helpful along all the school-road of life. The preacher must count his congregation on wet days. It is nothing to gather a crowd when the crowd can go nowhere else. It is a pitiable thing to take Sunday statistics of church-going. We must go to church or not go anywhere. Nothing else is open on Sundays. Count your flock mid-week; count them when the attractions round about are many and strenuous. Poor creature! and yet so kind he is and fond of setting down on private papers whole catalogues of friends. He says, They will support me when I am old; they will remember me when I was in my prime, when they waited for me and welcomed me with the fervour of enthusiastic love. Do not spoil his monologue: it is a generous self-deception. Love him when he is old? Need we reply to the suggestion? Remember him when, he was young, radiant, tuneful, strong, leaping into the breach, leading the host? What is forgotten so soon and so completely as the preacher's influence and benediction? Here, again, we must put the other side, for blessed be God there is another side. There are people who grow old along with the preacher, and they remember all the yesterdays, and to the last are as faithful as at the first; yea, if they cannot be more faithful they are more tender, and tenderness added to faithfulness makes a great virtue.
Job now began to know his friends and what they were worth. But let us be just in our judgment, and being so we cannot acquit Job altogether. He who takes notice of praise will miss it. We thought Job was taking no notice of anybody who had for him adulation, obeisance, and every expression of almost servility; we thought his chin was so high in the air that he did not see who rose, who bowed down, who passed by: it turns out now that he saw all the trick. What if we, too, see something of the whole game of life, and yet apparently in a kind of religious haughtiness walk about as though we saw nothing of it? He who notices praise, we repeat, will miss it; he will say, The papers are not so cordial, the applause was not so enthusiastic. What! then you read the columns of adulation and listened to the boisterous roar of welcome which you always expected in the crowded house? We thought you so absorbed in your work that you did not hear a single note or blast of it, and now you sit and whimper as though you had valued it supremely. He who lives upon approval will wither under neglect. What, then, are we to do? We are to serve the Lord with faithfulness; we are not to be men-pleasers; we are not to work as with eye-service, calculating upon reward and applause and abiding human friendship. Who is sufficient for these things? None. Nevertheless we must hold up the ideal. We must pray great prayers even whilst we are living unworthy lives. The prayer is the life we would live; the actual experience is the life we are able now to live. We ought not to care for human applause, otherwise we shall be setting our course accordingly. We shall say, Will this please? Will this be accounted orthodox? Will this suffice the congregation? Will this propitiate the critics? There is but one critic, and that is God. Could we live in his sight, and for his glory, and in all the inspiration of his love, whilst not defying men we should be independent of them, and whilst most pleasing God we should in the long run most satisfy all the men who are worth satisfying. Poor Job, then, was but human at the best. He reveals his own quality in thus deploring his own change of social fortune and social esteem. With all due respect for Job, it must be admitted that he did not conceal his sufferings. A wonderful gift of rhetoric was bestowed upon him. He may have been a very silent man in the days of his prosperity, but affliction made him right eloquent in words of woe, in threnodies solemn and awful; he became the poet of grief, the very seer and sage of the school of sorrow, so that we all go to Job when we want to utter complaint or sadness or write some epitaph on departed worth and loveliness. All that grief ever needs in the way of language can be found in the book of Job. Out of that book the biggest cemetery on earth could be filled with epitaphs, with suitable monumental inscriptions and passages. He did not, then, hide his woe; he uttered it.
He brought charges against God; he says that God had forsaken him
"I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not. Thou art become cruel to me" ( Job 30:20-21 ).
This is true, and not true. When Job said that God answered not his cry, Job spoke the truth; when he inferred that God would not answer his cry or could not, he did injustice to God. It may be perfectly true that God has not answered a single prayer that we have ever offered to him, and yet what if the blame be in the prayer and not in the hearer? Who thinks of fastening the controversy upon the prayer? In all the argument against the uses of prayer, who has fixed himself with deadly criticism upon the prayer? Who has not rather knocked at the door of heaven, and said, It is fastened on the inner side, and all the bleeding hands that ever knocked upon it in earnest entreaty spent their strength in vain? A truer voice says, "Ye have not because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss." Let the criticism begin at the right point, and spend itself upon the right centre, then we have no fear of the issue. Judge the earth by winter, and you will say, Thou rebel earth, thou sinning clod, thou guilty star, thy sun hath forsaken thee; he would never allow this snow and ice to lie upon thee and cover thee with this white pall if he cared for thee: thou art a sinful earth. Judge the earth by summer, and how different! a flower blooming at every corner, every pore of the earth an outlet of life and beauty. Which is the right standard of judgment? Neither, How then are we to judge? By taking both into account. God moves in circles; he sitteth upon the circle of the earth; his eternity is a circle, significant of completeness, inclusiveness, incapability of amendment. What then must we do with all these unanswered prayers to which Job calls attention? Better blame the prayer than blame the Lord to whose mercy-seat it was addressed. We have a thousand unanswered prayers. Are there not men who can bless God that some prayers were never answered? Do we not live to correct our own supplications, so that if we had life to live over again there are some prayers we would never repeat? There is but one prayer; we find our way to that by many different roads: but the real prayer is the Lord's prayer, not as commonly understood, but that final prayer, that Gethsemane cry "Not my will, but thine, be done." That prayer is always answered. What know we as to the petty supplications Job may have addressed to the throne of grace? What if we turn the complaint back upon the suppliant and say, Thou didst not pray aright, thy heart was wrong; thou wast embittered, ungenerous, resentful, narrow-minded; thou didst not see the whole outspread purpose of love: fix thine eyes upon thyself, thou critic of God, nor charge the Almighty foolishly. There have not been wanting men of greatness and repute who have contended that God cannot be almighty or he would not allow certain evils to exist. Some of the greatest philosophers of our time have made that their creed Speaking even reverently of God, they have said, Nothing can be clearer than whatever attributes he may possess he cannot be omnipotent, or he would destroy evil, disease, and every form of vice and mischief. The argument does not commend itself to me as sound or good in any sense. There is more than almightiness in the providence that rules us. Who could worship sheer power, naked strength? who could live if there were nought but omnipotence? "Power belongeth unto God: also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy." God is not only all-mighty, he is all-wise; he is not only all-wise, he is all-patient; not only all-patient, but all-loving. We must not fix, therefore, the attention upon a single attribute, and argue from its singularity; we must not tear one attribute of the Almighty from another, and reason about it in its separateness. We ought to resent with some measure of indignation anything like a vivisection of God, a cruel and impious analysis, though done not irreverently; at the same time we must remember that God is all-mighty, all-wise, all-loving, according to the Christian conception of him. This being the case, he does not hurl his almightiness against his universe, or universe there would soon be none, for the heavens are not clean in his sight and his angels are charged with folly. Along with almightiness not above it, but concurrently with it, giving it atmosphere, attempering it, we find wisdom, love, patience, grace, compassion, and viewing God thus in the completeness of his personality, we must give him time to work out his designs. In proportion to our littleness we are impatient. Ignorance cannot wait. There are men amongst us who display the very vice to which this argument is directly pointing; they want to have everything done in one little hour, because whatever they do is done upon the surface and done for the moment; it does not take in the whole purview; it does not balance all influences, ministries, and issues of things; their action is crude, partial, and often self-defeating. God moves by a long line. He takes a long time in the development of his purpose. He sitteth in eternity, and with him a thousand years are but as one day, one day is as a thousand years. We have made a clock, but he never looks at it; we have cut up duration into moments, but the trick is ours, the philosophy of it is not in God. The All-Being can know but one time, and that is eternity; but one continuance, and that is infinity. We have ourselves, in a largely secondary degree, constructed time, and made false calculations by the very chronometers we have invented.
There are Jobs in the world; there are down-trodden righteous men; there are misunderstood children of virtue; there are saints who have apparently incurred the frown of God; there are unanswered prayers; there is a devil; there is a bottomless pit: all these things would seem to throw into doubt the almightiness of God; thus are we who accept the revelation of his word in the holy Bible, constrained to say, Wait for the end; let God take what period of duration he pleases for the accomplishment of his purposes; it is ours, children of yesterday, to wait and believe, to live in holy, loving confidence. One thing is certain, if Job lived in social opinions, social criticisms and estimations; if Job trusted to uncertain riches; if Job thought to die in a nest because it was large and warm, he has taught us by his experience not to put our trust in these things, but to look otherwhere for security and rest. But where shall rest be found? Here we are brought by all human history, by all personal experience, by everything we see of the dicipline of life, to cry great cries after the Everlasting, the Complete, the All-Blessed and All-Blessing. We are forced into our greatest prayers. We, who would palter with words and manufacture syllables and make a plaything of supplication, are made to pray, are scourged into penitential crying, are compelled to say, Can this be all, this measurable, empty thing, call it earth or time, or load of the flesh, can it be all? Then verily its pain is greater than itself; death is greater than life. In that mood there may come sweet gospels to us saying, Hope thou in God, for thou shalt yet praise him: hold fast to the skirts of the Almighty and the Eternal, for even yet he may turn his kind face upon thee: wait in reverent love and patience, and thou shalt see that this little time-world is but a gate into the infinite spaces and the eternal liberties: wait thou at the gate, saying to thyself, It will soon be opened. It is always right to wait until the gate is opened from the inside; it must not be forced violently; at any moment it may open, and when it opens we shall see the explanation of every mystery, the meaning of every pain that has tortured and tried our groaning life.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? was not my soul grieved for the poor? When I looked for good, then evil came unto me: and when I waited for light, there came darkness? Job 30:25-26
Job did not always see the connection between cause and effect. It is idle to deny that there are surprises in the working of this law in daily providence. Events do not occur as we should have predicted. It would even seem as if wheat brought forth tares, and thistles grew upon the vine. The facts of life are very hard; they are moral mysteries, even such as trouble the conscience. The assurance is that if we care for the poor the Lord will care for us; yet here is a man whose soul was grieved for the poor, and he himself was thrust down into the greatest distress. The question arises whether we see the whole of the case, or whether at best we see but transient phases of things that are real and permanent. It would seem as if every day we needed the comfort which arises from the exercise of patience in this matter of time. The patriarch, having wept for him that was in trouble, expected that good would come, and whilst he stood at his door looking for the radiant angel to advance, behold, evil came upon him! a great dense cloud gathered over his head and discharged its floods upon his house. Job was conscious of having done right, of having been kind, of having spared nothing of all his wealth from the cry of the poor and the needy: then said he to himself, "Light will surely come," and when he looked for the light the whole heaven blackened into a frown. We must look at facts in all their reality and seriousness. Within points that can be easily fixed, the argument of facts would often seem to be dead against the doctrine of a benign and watchful providence. We have to wait for the latter end. It is often a long time to wait, and many hearts break down in the weary process. Surely God will not be harsh with such hearts, for his trials are very many and very great. We may learn a good deal from our inability as well as our ability in the matter of bearing trial. It is right that our pride should be humbled and crushed, and that we should know ourselves to be but men. When the unbeliever taxes us with having done good, and yet with having received evil at the hand of the Lord, our reply should be a frank avowal of the fact, and our argument should be that as yet we know only in part. There is a time in the process of germination when everything seems to be against the seed which has been sown: there is a point at which it is true, Thou fool! that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die. How absurd the suggestion that we too must die in order to live, we must become weak that we may be strong, we must empty ourselves that we may be filled of God. No doubt, the atheist has occasions on which the argument seems to be wholly on his side. Beyond all question, he can point to men of prayer who are doomed to poverty, men of faith who are slaves to circumstances, over-burdened and over-driven every day, their best toil coming back upon them like a mockery and a penalty. So again and again we have to fall back upon the exhortation which bids us rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him; he knows exactly how much purification we need, how much disappointment is best for us, how many days we have to be in the prison of fear, in order to prepare us for the joy of liberty. Not my will, but thine, be done: I long to see another process in providence, one which will bear more directly upon the belief of unwilling minds, and the surrender of reluctant wills; I long for thee, O God, to triumph, and to make manifest thy kingdom; but thou art wise and I am foolish; I came up from the emptiness and ignorance of yesterday, and will not dictate to the eternal God: O teach me from my heart to say, "Thy will, my God, be done!"
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 30". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany