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Job's Answer to Eliphaz
The speech of Eliphaz, which we have already considered, was not the kind of speech to be answered off-handedly. We have been struck by its nobleness and sublimity, its fulness of wisdom; and, indeed, we have not seen any reason, such as Job seems to have seen, for denying to that great speech the merit of sympathy. Why, then, does Job break out into these lamentations? The reason appears to be obvious. We must come upon grief in one of two ways, and Job seems to have come upon grief in a way that is to be deprecated. He came upon it late in life. "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." Observe how Job comes before us a master, a chief, a very prince, a great flockmaster, and in possession of all comforts, privileges, and enjoyments usually accounted essential to solid prosperity and positive and genuine comfort Grief must tell heavily whenever it comes upon a man in such a condition. This accounts for his lamentation, and whine, and long-drawn threnody. He was not accustomed to it. Some men have been born into trouble, and they have become acclimatised; it has become to them a kind of native condition, and its utterances have been familiar as the tongue of nativity. Blessed are they who come upon grief in that method. Such a method appears to be the method of real mercy. Sad is it, or must it be, to begin life with both hands full, with estate upon estate, with luxury upon luxury, so that the poor little world can give nothing more! When grief strikes a child born under the disadvantage of riches, it must make him quail it must be hard upon him. Grief must come. The question would seem to be, When? or, How? Come it will. The devil allows no solitary life to pass upward into heaven without fighting its way at some point or other. It would seem to me as if the suggestion that Job came upon grief late in life was a kind of key to many utter ances of suffering, and many questions as to the reality and beneficence of God's government. Yet, what is to be done? No doubt there is a practical difficulty. Who can help being born into riches? Not the child. The responsibility, then, is with the father. What do you want with everything? When are you going to stop the self-disappointing process of acquisition? You think it kind to lay up whole thousands for the boy. In your cruel kindness you start him with velvet. Secretly or openly, you are proud of him as you see him clothed from head to foot, quite daintily, almost in an aesthetic style, without a sign on his little hands of ever having earned one solitary morsel of bread. You call him beautiful; you draw attention to his form and air and whole mien, and inwardly chuckle over the lad's prospects. Better he had been born in the workhouse! And you are to blame! You are the fool! But grief must come. You cannot roof it out with slates and tiles, nor keep it at bay with stone walls. Let us say, again and again, "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth"; and you know it, because you bore the yoke in your youth. Your father, or grandfather, was quite in a small way of business: but oh, how you enjoyed the bread! You had to run an errand before breakfast, and came back with an appetite, your boy comes down late, without any soul for his food; and you think him not well, and call in aid, and elicit neighbourly sympathy! Oh, how unwise! How untrue to the system of things which God has established in his universe! Make your acquaintance with a man who has seven sons, three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she asses, and a very great household; and you might well say, What a field there is for the devil to try temptation in! Yet how to obviate the difficulty is certainly a question not easily answered. We can but approach the possible solution of the problem little by little, ordering everything in a spirit of discipline, without ever touching the meanness of oppression. It is one thing to be Job, and another to read his book. We do not read it well. We read it as if it had all been done with in an hour or two; whereas the book ought to be spaced out almost like the first chapter of Genesis. We have had occasion to say that the first chapter of Genesis would create less confusion if we inserted a millennium now and then if we punctuated it with a myriad ages here and there. But we rush through it. Quite in a hot gallop we finish the Book of Job. Who can understand such a dramatic history so reading it? Why not remember that seven days and seven nights elapsed before a word was spoken by Eliphaz, after he had seen that the grief of Job was very great? Observe where the period of silence comes in; and consider the thought that it is possible that days and nights may have elapsed as between the various speeches, setting them back in time, giving them an opportunity for taking upon themselves the right atmosphere and colour, and affording the speakers also an opportunity of uttering their grief with appropriate gesture and accent. The speeches were punctuated with sobs. The sentences were never uttered flippantly, but were drawn out as is the manner of sorrow, or were ejected, thrown out, with a jerk and hurry characteristic of some moods of grief. Let us allow, then, that the speech of Eliphaz had been uttered, and had lain as it were some time in the mind of Job. Grief delights in monologue. Job seems scarcely to lay himself down mentally upon the line adopted by Eliphaz. It is most difficult to find the central line of Job's speech, and yet that very difficulty would seem to show the reality of his grief, the tumult of his ungovernable emotion. Too much logic would have spoiled the grief. Reasoning there is, but it comes and goes; it changes its tone now hardly like reason in its logical form; now a wave, an outburst of heart-sorrow; and then coming firmly down upon realities it strikes the facts of life as the trained fingers of the player might strike a chord of music.
Note how interrogative is the tone of Job's speech, and found an argument upon its interrogativeness. More than twenty questions occur in Job's reply. He was great, as grief often is, in interrogation. What do these marks of interrogation mean? They almost illustrate the speech; for he who asks questions after this fashion is as a man groping his way in darkness. A blind man's staff is always asking questions. You never saw a blind man put out his hand but that hand was really in the form of an interrogation, saying, in its wavering and quest, Where am I? What is this? What is my position now? Am I far from home? Do I come near a friend? The great speeches of Demosthenes have been noted for their interrogation; the marks of interrogation stand among the sentences like so many spears, swords, or implements of war; for there was battle in every question. It would appear as if grief, too, also took kindly to the interrogative form of eloquence. Job is asking, Are the old foundations still here? things have surely been changed in the night-time, for I am unaccustomed to what is now round about me: is the sky torn down? does the sun still rise? does the sun still set? is old sweet mother nature still busy getting the table ready for her hungry children? or has everything changed since I have passed into this trance of sorrow? All this is natural. It is not mere eloquence. It is eloquence coloured with grief; eloquence ennobled by pain. The great words might be read as a mere school exercise; whereas they ought to be read by shattered men, who can annotate every sentence by a corresponding record in their own experience. Is it not what men do just now in times of change and great stress and fear? They ask one another questions; they elevate commonplaces into highly-accentuated inquiries; things that have been perfectly familiar to them now startle them into questioning and wonder, because surely since they themselves have been so unbalanced, caught in so tremendous an uproar and tumult, things must have been decentrailsed, or somehow thrown out of equipoise and shape.
Notice how many misunderstandings there are in this speech of the suffering man:
"Oh that my grief were throughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea" ( Job 6:2-3 ).
Who ever thought that his grief was exactly comprehended by his friends? Job makes much of the grief with which a thousand other men had been familiar all their lives. When the rich man loses any money, what an outcry there is in his house! When the poor man loses something, he says As usual! well, we must hope that tomorrow will be brighter than today! But let a great, prosperous, space-filling rich man lose any money, and he loses a whole night's sleep immediately after it; he says, "Oh that my grief were throughly weighed!" He likes "thorough" work when the work is applied to sympathising with him. So we misunderstand our friends; then we misunderstand our pain:
"Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand and cut me off! Then should I yet have comfort" ( Job 6:8-10 ).
We do not know that our pain is really working out for us, if we truly accept it, the highest estate and effect of spiritual education. No man can enjoy life who has not had at least one glimpse of death. What can enjoy food so keenly as hunger? Who knows the value of money so well as he who has none, or has to work hardly for every piece of money that he gains? Such is the mystery of pain in human education Have not men sometimes said: It was worth while to be sick, so truly have we enjoyed health after the period of disablement and suffering? Pain cannot be judged during its own process. From some pictures we must stand at a certain distance in order to see them in proper focus, and get upon them interpreting and illuminating lights. It is sympathetically so with pain. The pain that tears us now like a sharp instrument, working agony in the flesh, will show its whole meaning tomorrow, or on the third day God's resurrection day, and day of culmination and perfecting. "Let patience have her perfect work."
Job not only misunderstood his friends and misunderstood his pain, he misunderstood all men, and the whole system and scheme of things. He said::
"My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away; which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid: what time they wax warm, they vanish: when it is hot, they are consumed out of their place. The paths of their way are turned aside; they go to nothing, and perish. The troops of Tema looked, the companies of Sheba waited for them" ( Job 6:15-19 ).
How suffering not rightly accepted, or not rightly understood, colours and perverts the whole thought and service of life! Job said:
"Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling? As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work: so am I made to possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me" ( Job 7:1-3 ).
So we return to our starting-point, that sorrow must come. It is difficult for the young to believe this. The young have had but a transient ache or pain, which could be laughed off, so superficial was it. So when preachers talk of days that are nights, and summers that are made cold by unforgotten or fast-approaching winters, the young suppose the preachers are always moaning, and the church is but a painted grave, and it is better to be in the lighted theatre and in the place of entertainment, where men laugh wildly by the hour and take hold of life with a light and easy touch. The preachers must bear that criticism, committing themselves to time for the confirmation of their words, which indicate the burden, stress, and the weariness of life. Life has been one continual grief. Death soon came into the house, and made havoc at the fireside. Poverty was a frequent visitor at the old homestead lean, wrinkled, husky-voiced poverty, without a gleam of sunlight on its weird face, without a tone of music in its exhausted voice; want painted upon every feature, necessity embodied in every action and attitude: then every enterprise failed; the letter that was to have brought back the golden answer was either never received or never answered. Now the natural issue of sorrow is gloom, dejection, despair of life. To this end will sorrow bring every man who yields himself to it. Suffering will pluck every flower, destroy every sign of beauty, put back the dawn, and lengthen the black night. This is what sorrow, unblessed, must always do. It will blind the eye with tears; it will suffocate the throat with sobs; it will enfeeble the very hand when it is put out to make another effort at self-restoration. But has it come to this, that sorrow must be so received and yielded to? Is there any way-by which even sorrow can be turned into joy? The Bible discloses such a way. The Bible never shrinks from telling us that there is grief in the world, and that that grief can be accounted for on moral principles. The Bible measures the grief: never lessens it, never makes light of it, never tells men to shake themselves from the touch and tyranny of grief by some merely human effort; the Bible says, The grief must be recognised: it is the black child of black sin; it is God's way of showing his displeasure; but even sorrow, whether it come in the form of penalty or come simply as a test, with a view to the chastening of the man's heart and life, can be sanctified and turned into a blessing. Any book which so speaks deserves the confidence of men who know the weight and bitterness of suffering. Look at the old family Bible, and observe where it is thumbed most. Have we not said before that we can almost tell the character of the household from the finger-marks upon the old family Bible? Did we not once say, Turn to the twenty-third Psalm, and see how that has been treated? Ah! there how well thumbed it is! There has been sorrow in this house. Turn to the fourteenth chapter of John, and see whether that chapter is written upon a page unstained by human touch; and behold how all the margin seems to be impressed as by fingers that were in quest of heaven's best consolations! Do not come to the Bible only for condolence and sympathy; come to it for instruction, inspiration, and then you may come to it for consolation, sympathy, tenderest comfort for the very dew of the morning, for the very balm of heaven, for the very touch of Christ. We must not make a convenience of the Bible, coming to it only when we are in sore straits; we must make a friend of it a great teacher. God's statutes should be our songs in the house of our pilgrimage, and if we are faithful at Sinai we shall be welcomed at the Mount of Beatitudes. If we have struggled well as faithful servants there will not be wanting at last the welcome which begins and means all the reward of heaven.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"I have seen the foolish taking root." Job 5:3
This calls us to the curious sights in human life. There are sights that are surprising, delightful, unexpected, overwhelming. The sight which most puzzles the good man is that the foolish take root, and that the vicious should prosper. A good man can make something of almost every other sight in the world, but this overwhelms him with dismay. It seems to be against the fitness of things; it seems to discourage all attempts at virtue; it seems to offer a premium to vice. This was the difficulty of Asaph; he says his feet had well-nigh gone when he beheld the prosperity of the foolish and listened to the revels of the wicked, for there were no bands in their death, they had more than heart could wish, their eyes stood out with fatness. This is not an enemy who is bearing witness against Providence, it is a good man who is setting down what he has seen as a simple matter of fact. He would not have been so surprised if he had seen the foolish flaming for a moment like a rocket, making a dash of display which perished in its own action; nor would he have complained perhaps if the foolish had made an occasional success in life: the thing which troubled him was that he had seen the foolish taking root, as if they were going to abide on the earth and come to maturity of power. We must not ignore the difficult facts of Providence, but we must not limit our view to facts as we see them, or as they lie upon the surface; though they may be all that we can see with our bodily eyes, yet we are to bring our religious reflection to bear upon the case. The world is old enough now to afford us a basis of reasoning and inference respecting all appearances, combinations, and phenomena generally. The root-idea of the Christian religion is that God is against all wickedness, and that in the long run he will overwhelm it and bring it to its appropriate punishment. Let us be well grounded in that fundamental principle. If we could for a moment doubt the reality of that principle our whole faith would be gone. We speak it reverently when we say that if God could cause any man to succeed simply because the man was wicked, his claim to human confidence would be destroyed. Here, then, lies the great basis-principle, that the eternal God is against evil, and is pledged to the extinction of wickedness. In view of this principle, what becomes of all apparent success and root-taking, and honour, and influence, and pomp? These things are but indications that the judgment will be of equal magnitude, and will come even more suddenly than the success is supposed to have come. Meanwhile the difficulty is a great one, and there are circumstances under which men need all their deepest religious convictions to sustain them in the presence of providences which seem to be dead against the assertion and progress of truth and justice. Sad is the case of heathen nations; sadder still is the condition of nations which are partially Christian, and which turn Christian civilisation itself into a means of extending their wickedness. Sometimes we wonder how God can sit in the heavens and behold it all; we are troubled that he does not awake, so to speak, and come down in judgment that cannot be mistaken, and rectify relations that are thrown out of course. Many a grief of this kind we have to hide in our own heart. Yet why should we hide our griefs in view of providences which we cannot understand? Let us go back to history. Let us be faithful to the interpretation of great breadths of human experience, and in all cases it will be seen that, however mysterious the process, God has in the end vindicated goodness and repelled from the throne of righteousness those who would overturn its pillars. Man of God, take heart; the trial is no doubt hard; things have happened in one day which in human wisdom would have happened exactly in the other way, and we are dismayed, confounded, and put to silence, when we see how great is the grief of honest souls. All we can do is to recur to history, to pray for the consolidation of our faith, for the increase of our spirit of patience and longsuffering: perhaps the longer God is in coming as a great light, the brighter will be the glory, the more blessed the vision, when it does arise to reward our weary waiting.
"He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." Job 5:13
No doubt there are men who call themselves wise who do not believe in God. Let us not consider them all fools in any merely intellectual sense. There is a craft which prides itself on its sagacity, depth, cleverness, agility, and boasts itself of the multitude of its resources. God often gives such craft room enough for its own display: he allows it to come to maturity that he may abase it the more effectually. God delights to throw down towers that were meant to reach unto heaven. Call no man wise until his plans have been thoroughly matured and carried out; they may look well in outline, they may begin very energetically, they may seem to carry within themselves all the elements of success; but God allows the man to go so far, until he can make an example of him. Where is the wickedness that has continued from age to age to prosper? Where is the counsel that has really thriven as against God? Where are the heathen opponents that have not been broken as with a rod of iron? There is no cleverness that can stand against true wisdom. The difference between cleverness and wisdom is a difference of depth and quality: they do not belong to the same lineage or line of things; the one is superficial, sparkling, dashing, claiming attention by its loud boastfulness, a sight to be gaped at and wondered about and forgotten; but wisdom is profound, far-reaching, calm, taking in a great range of view, moving by a long line, and justifying itself in the end by revelations which never came within the purview of mere intellectual cleverness. The cleverness of the world has never discovered any cure for the world's deepest diseases. We have had reforms enough, guesses, hypotheses, theories, speculations; but it never lay within the scope of mere cleverness to find a redemption that would meet all the necessities of sin and soothe all the accusations and agonies of conscience. The world by wisdom knew not God. The world by cleverness never invented a world-wide gospel, an all-time evangelisation; it lay with God alone to reveal a plan by which all human calculations were upset, all human cleverness abashed, and eternity accommodated to the narrow limits of time, and all heaven brought to supply what the earth needed in its supremest distresses. Let us beware of cleverness everywhere; there is nothing in it. Let us rather seek for wisdom, and cry for understanding; searching diligently for that which is more precious than silver and gold, and with which rabies are not to be compared. The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, nor can it stand in the day of final judgment. We are of yesterday, and know nothing; we see only parts and aspects of things: how, then, can we provide for a whole world, and for all the exigencies of time?
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Thou shall come to thy grave in full age." Job 5:26
Wonderful to notice how light and shade mingle in Bible story and in the story of general life. "Thou shalt come to thy grave" is a solemn warning; but when it is added, "in full age," it would seem as if the solemnity were relieved by a beam of cheerfulness. The two statements must be taken together, if we would do justice to the providence of God. To look at the grave alone is unfair to the divine purpose; so it is unfair to look at crosses, trials, and all manner of disappointment and discipline: the right view will take in all the circumstances, so far as possible, from the beginning to the end. Interpreted in this way, providence is a grand disclosure of the righteousness, love, and wisdom of God. We should accustom ourselves to look for the mitigations of human sorrow or disappointment. The eye that is always on the outlook for such mitigations will find a plentiful harvest in the providence of daily life. Where is there a human lot that has not some mitigation of his burden and suffering? Sometimes, indeed the sufferer is more apt to see the mitigation than are the observers. What lies heavily on the body may be in large part counteracted by inborn cheerfulness of soul, so that the spirit may triumph over the flesh. What is wanting in one region of life may be more than made up by a superabundance of good in another. The great lesson is, we are always to look for whatever can mitigate, lessen, or in any way throw a gleam of happiness upon the distresses of life. Think of a completed course, such as is sketched in the text. There is always more or less of beauty in completeness. It is when the column is broken in two that it appeals to us pathetically. When the column is completed we admire and wonder, and are filled with gladness because of the fitness of things: something in the human spirit responds to outward harmony: there can be no true harmony where there is incompleteness or failure of design. We may not come to our grave "in full age," for that is an Old Testament term; but we may come to our grave in full character, in full preparedness, meet for the Master's use, content to leave the earth, yea, rather desiring to flee away from it and be at rest in heaven. Where the sense of immortality is triumphant, every burden of life is not only lessened but destroyed; that is to say, it is no longer felt as a burden; we endure as seeing the invisible; we despise the shame of the cross because of the glory that is soon to be revealed. A sad thing when the only completion of a man is the number of years which he has lived. Completeness of age should suggest completeness of character. The old man should be full of the wisdom of experience, even though he be ignorant of the knowledge of letters: he should have seen enough of life to justify certain broad practical inferences; and without being sated with life he should feel that he has had enough of it on earth, should it be God's will to open the gate of heaven and allow him to enter into its service. Seeing there is an appointed time to man upon the earth that there is "full age" it behoves man to reckon the number of his days, that he may see what fortune of time he has to spend, and so invest it as to make the largest results accrue. No human power can prevent our coming to the grave, but it lies very much with ourselves to say whether we shall come as conquerors or as conquered men.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 5". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany