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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
"The things that my soul refused to touch are as my sorrowful meat." Job 6:7
Here we are called upon to recognise the astounding reverses which may take place in life. It would seem as if nothing were impossible in the way of human reverses. The most shocking events become commonplaces, and the things that are most dreaded force upon us their unwelcome familiarity. Sometimes such reverses are good for us. The dainty soul despises all common life, all democracy, all popular association, and prefers to live in dignified solitude or in luxurious ease. When such a soul is brought by poverty, or ill-health, or any other circumstance, to mingle with hitherto despised classes, not unfrequently those classes appear in a better light than when seen from a distance. Many a man has been forced to a better interpretation of society by the loss of position which gave him uniqueness and assured him a large measure of ease and comfort. We can only be fully trained to the highest life by being changed from one position to another, and by being compelled to associate with those who are supposed to be beneath us, and take part in service which has always been avoided as drudgery. The poor present many aspects which are far from inviting to the rich; yet when they are approached sympathetically even they can contribute a good deal towards the solid comfort and real progress of their nominal superiors. Even disease, which when viewed in the abstract is most repulsive and intolerable, may come to create a kind of companionship between itself and the sufferer, so that the sufferer may look to his disease for instruction, chastening, discipline, and many moral advantages. The Psalmist said: It was good for me that I was afflicted: before I was afflicted I went astray. He: did not value the affliction for its own sake, but for the sake of the things which it wrought out in the cultivation and perfecting of his character. Job did not accept the discipline with gratitude when he declared that the things which his soul once refused had become his meat; he did not forget to add the word "sorrowful"; so the text stands as we find it. Nor may we complain that Job did not at once reach the highest ideal of character, assimilating things evil in themselves, and accounting them as good; there must be a period of training: for who can be at once familiar with sorrow, or immediately excite his affections in the interests of distress and loss and pain? Keep in view the point, that we may suffer the most violent reverses in fortune, and be compelled altogether to change our tastes and affinities. We are not separated from any form of disease or sorrow by permanent boundaries: now we are on this side, and now we are on that, and oftentimes it would appear as if we had no control over our position or lot in life. One thing we can do; we can discourage the spirit of contempt in regard to those whose lot is heavy and bitter, and see in them what we ourselves may one day be: the very thinnest partition divides the richest man from the poorest: the strongest man may be dead tomorrow: one lightning flash, and the most herculean frame may be thrown into decrepitude and helplessness. So we must learn from one another, and understand that the highest and the lowest are related, and that exchange of position is always within the range of possibility, and may sometimes be necessary to the perfecting of our spiritual culture.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... cause me to understand wherein I have erred." Job 6:24
Job does not admit his error, but inasmuch as he is suffering as if he had erred he wishes to have the mistake definitely pointed out. All unexplained suffering is made the larger by its very mystery. We do not always see the errors we have committed; sometimes they require to be distinctly pointed out by him against whom we have transgressed. Error is not broad, vulgar, and obvious, in all its manifestations. Sometimes it is spiritual, subtle, beyond the reach of words, and wholly invisible, except when high moral light falls upon it from above. The patriarch is in a reasonable mood, inasmuch as he desires to have his understanding enlightened as to his faults; at the same time, even our reasonableness may be barbed with a cruel sting: the soft tone does not always convey the soft meaning: even in this exclamation of the sufferer there may be a tone of self-complacency or even of defiance, as who should say, It is impossible to charge me with error: if I am chargeable with it, let me know what it is, for I have no consciousness of it, and if any proof can be furnished it will excite my surprise. Men are not quick to see their own errors. Even the best man requires all the light of heaven in which to see himself as he really is. Comparing ourselves with ourselves, we become wise in our own conceit, but comparing ourselves with the spiritual law of God, we see that even our virtue cannot boast to be without stain or flaw. The prayer may be turned to high practical uses: Search me, O God, and try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me. We must get rid of the deception that we fully and absolutely see ourselves as we really are: every day we need God's help to show us our true character, our real motive, our complete design. We can hide many things under a false exterior which we would not for the world expose to the light of day. We must insist upon viewing ourselves in the divine light, rather than judging ourselves by social canons and conventional standards. Let us go to God for full explanations of natural mysteries, personal perplexities, and all social hindrances and vexations. There is always more in a case of this kind than is obvious on the surface. All inward trouble does not indicate itself by outward symptoms: hence we need the intervention and guidance of the divine.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 6". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany