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Tuesday, June 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Job 3

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-26

Job 3:1-26

After this opened Job his month, and cursed his day.

The peril of impulsive speech

In regard to this chapter, containing the first speech of Job, we may remark that it is impossible to approve the spirit which it exhibits, or to believe that it was acceptable to God. It laid the foundation for the reflections--many of them exceedingly just--in the following chapters, and led his friends to doubt whether such a man could be truly pious. The spirit which is manifested in this chapter is undoubtedly far from that calm submission which religion should have produced, and from that which Job had before evinced. That he was, in the main, a man of eminent holiness and patience, the whole book demonstrates; but this chapter is one of the conclusive proofs that he was not absolutely free from imperfection. We may learn--

1. That even eminently good men sometimes give utterance to sentiments which are a departure from the spirit of religion, and which they will have occasion to regret. Here there was a language of complaint, and a bitterness of expression, which religion cannot sanction, and which no pious man, on reflection, would approve.

2. We see the effect of heavy affliction on the mind. It sometimes becomes overwhelming. It is so great that all the ordinary barriers against impatience are swept away. The sufferer is left to utter language of murmuring, and there is the impatient wish that life was closed, or that he had not existed.

3. We are not to infer that, because a man in affliction makes use of some expressions which we cannot approve, and which are not sanctioned by the Word of God, that therefore he is not a good man. There may be true piety, yet it may be far from perfection; there may be a general submission to God, yet the calamity may be so overwhelming as to overcome the usual restraints on our corrupt and fallen nature; and when we remember how feeble our nature is at best, and how imperfect is the piety of the holiest of men, we should not harshly judge him who is left to express impatience in his trials or who gives utterance to sentiments different from those which are sanctioned in the Word of God. There has been but one model of pure submission on earth--the Lord Jesus Christ. And after the contemplation of the best of men in their trials we can see that there is imperfection in them, and that if we would survey absolute perfection in suffering we must go to Gethsemane and Calvary.

4. Let us not make the expressions used by Job in this chapter our model in suffering. Let us not suppose that because he used such language, therefore we may also. Let us not infer that because they are found in the Bible, that therefore they are right; or that because he was an unusually holy man, that it would be proper for us to use the same language that he does. The fact that this book is a part of the inspired truth of revelation does not make such language right. All that inspiration does in such a case is to secure an exact record of what was actually said; it does not, of necessity, sanction it, any more than an accurate historian can be supposed to approve all that he records. There may be important reasons why it should be preserved, but he who makes the record is not answerable for the truth or propriety of what is recorded. The narrative is true; the sentiment may be false. (Albert Barnes.)

Good men not always at their best

1. The holiest person in this life doth not always keep in the same frame of holiness. “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?” This was the language we lately heard; but now cursing--certainly his spirit had been in a more holy frame, more sedate and quiet, than now it was. At the best in this life we are but imperfect; yet at some time we are more imperfect than we are at another.

2. Great sufferings may fill the mouths of holiest persons with great complainings.

3. Satan, with his utmost power and policy, with his strongest temptations and assaults, can never fully attain his ends upon the children of God. What was it that the devil undertook for? was it not to make Job curse his God? and yet when he had done his worst, and spent his malice upon him, he could but make Job curse his day,--this was far short of what Satan hoped.

4. God doth graciously forget and pass by the distempered speeches and bitter complainings of His servants under great afflictions. (J. Caryl.)

Good men weakened by calamities

The calamities and the suffering have wrought upon the weakened man. Depressed in spirit, perplexed in mind, in great bodily pain, Job opens his mouth and lifts up his voice. Great suffering generates great passions, and great passions are oft irrepressible, and hence the danger of extravagant speech. “Better,” says Trapp, “if Job had kept his lips still.” Surely that were impossible in an human being! One, and only One, was silent “as a sheep before her shearers is dumb.” Brooks says, “When God’s hand is on our back our hand should be on our mouth.” (H. E. Stone.)

Mistaken speech

Job’s tongue is loosened and his words are many. And what other form of speech was so true to his inmost feeling as the form which is known as malediction? 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. We best comment upon such words by repeating them, by studying the probable tone in which they were uttered. Thank God for this man, who in prosperity has uttered every thought appropriate to grief, and has given anguish a new costume of expression.

1. 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. Perhaps it was well that, in one instance at least, we should see the devil at his worst.

2. See what miracles may be wrought in human experience. In Job’s malediction, existence was felt to be a burden; but existence was never meant to be a heavy weight. It was meant to be a joy, a hope, a rehearsal of music and service of a quality and range now inconceivable. But under Satanic agency even existence is felt to be an intolerable burden. 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. But the speech of Job is full of profound mistakes, and the mistakes are only excusable because they were perpetrated by an unbalanced mind. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Infirmity appearing

At the ebb. As soon as the tide turned, numbers of crows and jackdaws came down upon the shore. While the beautiful waves were splashing over the sand there was no room for these black visitors; but as soon as the waters left, the harvest of these scavengers began. It seemed as though they must have carried watches, so well did they know the time of the receding tides. When the tide of grace runs low, how infirmities come upon us! If the tide of joy ebbs, the black birds of discontent soon appear, while doubts and fears always make their appearance if faith sinks low. (Footsteps of Truth.)

Defect in the best of men

Life at its best has a crack in it. Somehow the trail of the serpent is all over it. The most perfect man is imperfect, the most innocent man has his weak point. The infant Achilles in the Greek legend is dipped in the waters of the Styx, and the touch of the wave makes him invulnerable; but the water has not touched the heel by which his mother held him, and to that vulnerable heel the deathly arrow finds its way. Siegfried, in the “Nibelungen Lied,” bathes in the dragon’s blood, and it has made him, too, invulnerable; but, unknown to him, a lime tree leaf has fluttered down upon his back, and into the vital spot where the blood has not touched his skin the murderer’s dagger smites. Everything in the Icelandic Saga has sworn not to injure Balder, the brightest and most beloved of all the northern gods; but the insignificant mistletoe has not been asked to take the oath, and by the mistletoe he dies. These are the dim, sad allegories by which the world indicates that even the happiest man cannot be all happy, nor the most invincible altogether safe, nor the best altogether good. (Dean Farrar.)

Job’s distemper

Albeit Job’s weakness do thus for a time break forth, when his reason and experience are at under, and he is sensible of nothing but pain and sorrow, yet he doth not persist in this distemper, nor is it the only thing that appears in the furnace, but he hath much better purpose afterward in the behalf of God. And therefore, as in a battle men do not judge of affairs by what may occur in the heat of the conflict, wherein parties may retire and fall on again, but by the issue of the fight; so Job is not to be judged by those fits of distemper, seeing he recovered out of them at last; those violent fits do serve to demonstrate the strength of grace in him which prevailed at last over them all.

1. There are, in the most subdued child of God, strong corruptions ready to break forth in trial. The best of men ought to be sensible that they have, by nature, an evil heart of unbelief, even when they are strong in faith; that they have lukewarmness under their zeal, passion under their meekness.

2. Albeit natural corruptions may lurk long, even in the furnace of affliction, yet long and multiplied temptations will bring it forth.

(1) Every exercise and trial will not be a trial to every man, nor an irritation to every corruption within him.

(2) The length and continuance of a trial is a new trial, and may discover that which the simple trial doth not reach.

(3) When men get leisure in cold blood to reflect and pore upon their case it will prove more grievous than at first it doth.

(4) When men are disappointed of what they expect under trouble (as Job was of his friends’ comfort), it will grieve them more than if they, in sobriety, had expected no such thing. Doctrine--The Lord, in judging of the grace and integrity of His followers, doth afford many grains of allowance, and graciously passeth over much weakness, wherein they do not approve themselves. (George Hutcheson.)

Job cursing his day

How can Job be set up with so much admiration for a mirror of patience, who makes such bitter complainings, and breaks out into such distempered passions? He seems to be so far from patience that he wants prudence; so far from grace, that he wants reason itself and good nature; his speeches report him mad or distracted, breaking the bounds of modesty and moderation, striking that which had not hurt him, and striking that which he could not hurt--his birthday. Some prosecute the impatience of Job with much impatience, and are over-passionate against Job’s passion. Most of the Jewish writers tax him at the least as bordering on blasphemy, if not blaspheming. Nay, they censure him as one taking heed to, and much depending upon, astrological observations, as if man’s fate or fortune were guided by the constellations of heaven, by the sight and aspect of the planets in the day of his nativity. Others carry the matter so far, on the other hand, altogether excusing and, which is more, commending, yea applauding Job, in this act of “cursing his day.” They make this curse an argument of his holiness, and these expostulations as a part of his patience, contending--

1. That they did only express (as they ought) the suffering of his sensitive part, as a man, and so were opposite to Stoical apathy, not to Christian patience.

2. That he spake all this not only according to the law of sense, but with exact judgment, and according to the law of soundest reason. I do not say but that Job loved God, and loved Him exceedingly all this while, but whether we should so far acquit Job I much doubt. We must state the matter in the middle way. Job is neither rigidly to be taxed of blasphemy or profaneness, nor totally to be excused, especially not flatteringly commended, for this high complaint.

It must be granted that Job discovered much frailty and infirmity, some passion and distemper, in this complaint and curse; yet notwithstanding, we must assert him for a patient man, and there are five things considerable for the clearing and proof of this assertion.

1. Consider the greatness of his suffering: his wound was very deep and deadly, his burden was very heavy, only not intolerable.

2. Consider the multiplicity of his troubles. They were great and many--many little afflictions meeting together make a great one; how great, then, is that which is composed of many great ones!

3. Consider the long continuance of these great and many troubles: they continued long upon him--some say they continued divers years upon him.

4. Consider this, that his complainings and acts of impatience were but a few; but his submission and acts of meekness, under the hand of God, were very many.

5. Take this into consideration, that though he did complain, and complain bitterly, yet he recovered out of those complainings. He was not overcome with impatience, though some impatient speeches came from him; he recalls what he had spoken, and repents for what he had done. Look not alone upon the actings of Job, when he was in the height and heat of the battle; look to the onset, he was so very patient in the beginning, though vehemently stirred, that Satan had not a word to say. Look to the end, and you cannot say but Job was a patient man, full of patience--a mirror of patience, if not a miracle of patience; a man whose face shined with the glory of that grace, above all the children of men. Learn--

(1) The holiest person in this life doth not always keep in the same frame of holiness.

(2) Great sufferings may fill the mouths of holiest persons with great complainings,

(3) God doth graciously pass by and forget the distempered speeches and bitter complainings of His servants under great afflictions. (Joseph Caryl.)

The speech of Job and its misapprehensions

Job’s speech is full of profound mistakes, which 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. I know that Christian men 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 heaven.” 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? 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! Why has Job fallen into this strain? He has omitted the word which made his first speech noble. 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 forever 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 forever be the name of the delivering God! (Joseph Parker, D. D.)

The maddening force of suffering

A man’s language must be construed according to the mood of his soul. Here we have sufferings forcing a human soul--

To the use of extravagant language.

1. Great sufferings generate great passions in the soul. Hope, fear, love, anger, and other sentiments may remain in the mind during the period of ease and comfort, so latent and quiescent as to crave no expression. But let suffering come, and they will rush into passions that shake and convulse the whole man. There are elements in every human heart, now latent, that suffering can develop into terrific force.

2. Great passions often become irrepressible. Some men have a wonderful power of restraining their feelings. But passion sometimes rises to such a pitch in the soul that no man, however great his self-control, is able to repress. Like the volcanic fires, it will break through all the mountains that lie upon it, and flame up to the heavens.

3. When great passions become irrepressible they express themselves extravagantly. The flood that has broken through its obstructions does not roll on at once in calm and silent flow, but rushes and foams. He speaks not in calm prose, but in tumultuous poetry.

To deplore the fact of his existence.

1. The fact that he existed at all.

2. That, having existed, he did not die at the very dawn of his being. Incidentally, I cannot but remark how good is God in making provision for our support before we enter on the stage of life. The fact that suffering can thus make existence intolerable suggests the following truths--

(1) Annihilation is not the worst of evils. Better not to be at all than to be in misery; better to be quenched than to burn. Another truth suggested is--

(2) Desire for death is no proof of genuine religion. Another truth suggested is--

(3) Hell must be an overwhelmingly terrible condition of existence. Hell, the Bible tells us, is a condition of excruciating and hopeless suffering. There death is sought, but cannot be found.

Here is suffering urging a man to hail the condition of the dead.

1. As a real rest. Lying still in unconscious sleep, beyond the reach of any disturbing power. How profound is the rest of the grave! The loudest thunders cannot penetrate the ear of the dead. He looked at death--

2. As a common rest. “Kings and counsellors,” princes and paupers, tyrants and their victims, the illustrious and obscure--all are there together. The state of the dead, as here described, suggests two practical thoughts.

(1) The transitoriness of all worldly distinctions. The flowers that appear in our fields at this season of the year vary greatly in form, size, hues. Some are far more imposing and beautiful than others; but in a few weeks all the distinctions will be utterly destroyed. It is so in society. Great are the secular distinctions in this generation, but a century hence and the whole will be common dust. How egregiously absurd to be proud of mere secular distinctions.

(2) The folly of making corporeal interests supreme.

Here is suffering urging a man to pry into the reasons of a miserable life. Has the great Author of existence any pleasure in the sufferings of His creatures? There are, no doubt, good reasons, reasons that we shall understand and appreciate ere long.

1. Great sufferings are often spiritually useful to the sufferer. They are storms to purify the dark atmosphere of his heart; they are bitter ingredients to make spiritually curative his cup of life. Suffering teaches man the evil of sin; for sin is the root of all anguish. Suffering develops the virtues--patience, forbearance, resignation. Suffering tests the character; it is fire that tries the moral metal of the soul.

2. Great sufferings are often spiritually useful to the spectator. The view of a suffering human creature tends to awaken compassion, stimulate benevolence, and excite gratitude. From this subject we learn--

(1) The utmost power that the devil is capable of exerting on man.

(2) The strength of genuine religion. (Homilist.)

The cry from the depths

The outburst of Job’s speech falls into three lyrical strophes, the first ending at the tenth verse, the second at the nineteenth, the third closing with the chapter.

1. “Job opened his mouth, and cursed his day.” In a kind of wild, impossible revision of Providence, and reopening of questions long settled, he assumes the right of heaping denunciations on the day of his birth. He is so fallen, so distraught, and the end of his existence appears to have come in such profound disaster, the face of God as well as of man frowning on him, that he turns savagely on the only fact left to strike at--his birth into the world. But the whole strain is imaginative. His revolt is unreason, not impiety, either against God or his parents. He does not lose the instinct of a good man, one who keeps in mind the love of father and mother, and the intention of the Almighty, whom he still reveres. The idea is, Let the day of my birth be got rid of, so that no other come into being on such a day; let God pass from it--then He will not give life on that day. Mingled in this is the old-world notion of days having meanings and powers of their own. This day had proved malign--terribly bad!

2. In the second strophe cursing is exchanged for wailing, fruitless reproach of a long past day, for a touching chant in praise of the grave. If his birth had to be, why could he not have passed at once into the shades? The lament, though not so passionate, is full of tragic emotion. It is beautiful poetry, and the images have a singular charm for the dejected mind. The chief point, however, for us to notice is the absence of any thought of judgment. In the dim underworld, hid as beneath heavy clouds, power and energy are not. Existence has fallen to so low an ebb that it scarcely matters whether men were good or bad in this life, nor is it needful to separate them. It is a kind of existence below the level of moral judgment, below the level either of fear or joy.

3. The last portion of Job’s address begins with a note of inquiry. He strikes into eager questioning of heaven and earth regarding his state. What is he kept alive for? He pursues death with his longing as one goes into the mountain to seek treasure. And again, his way is hid, he has no future. God hath hedged him in on this side by losses, on that by grief; behind, a past mocks him, before is a shape which he follows, and yet dreads. It is indeed a horrible condition, this of the baffled mind to which nothing remains but its own gnawing thought, that finds neither reason of being nor end of turmoil, that can neither cease to question, nor find answer to inquiries that rack the spirit. There is energy enough, life enough to feel life a terror, and no more; not enough for any mastery even of stoical resolve. The power of self-consciousness seems to be the last injury--a Nessus shirt, the gift of a strange hate . . . Note that in his whole agony Job makes no motion towards suicide. The struggle of life cannot be renounced. (Robert A. Watson, D. D.)

Birth deplored

The Puritan mother of Samuel Mills, who, when her son, under the stress of morbid religious feeling, cried out, “Oh, that I had never been born!” said to him, “My son, you are born, and you cannot help it,” was more philosophical than he who says, “I am, but I wish I were not.” A philosophy that flies in the face of the existing and the inevitable forfeits its name. (T. T. Munger.)

Verse 17

Job 3:17

There the wicked cease from troubling.

Wicked men trouble the world

True rest and wickedness never meet; rest and the wicked meet but seldom. And it is but half a rest, and it is rest but to half a wicked man, to his bones in the grave; and it is rest to that half but for a little time, only till the resurrection. The word here used, and in divers other places, signifieth wickedness in the height, and men most active in wickedness. So that when Job saith, There the wicked are at rest, he means those who had been restless in sin, who could not sleep till they had done mischief, nor scarce sleep for doing mischief; he means those who had outrun others in the sinful activity (Acts 26:11).

1. Wicked men are troublers both of themselves and others. There the wicked cease from troubling; as if the wicked did nothing in the world, but trouble the world. Wicked ones are the troublers of all; they are troublers of their own families, troublers of the places and cities where they live, the troublers of a whole kingdom, troublers of the Churches of Christ, and the troublers of their own souls.

2. Wicked men, by troubling others, do as much weary and tire out themselves.

3. Wicked men will never cease troubling until they cease to live. In the grave they cease troubling, there they are at rest. If they should live an eternity in this world, they would trouble the world to eternity. As a godly man never gives over doing good, he will do good as long as he lives, though he fetches many a weary step; so wicked men never give over doing evil, until they step into the grave. And the reason of it is, because it is their nature to do evil. The wicked will sin while they have any light to sin by; therefore God puts out their candle, and sends them down into darkness, and there they will be quiet. The wicked shall be silent in darkness. (J. Caryl.)

And the weary are at rest.--

The rest of the grave

In the grave--where kings and princes and infants lie. This verse is often applied to heaven, and the language is such as will express the condition of that blessed world. But, as used by Job, it had no such reference. It relates only to the grave. It is language which beautifully expresses the condition of the dead, and the desirableness even of an abode in the tomb. They who are there are free from the vexations and annoyances to which men are exposed in this life; the wicked cannot torture their limbs by the fires of persecution, or wound their feelings by slander, or oppress and harass them in regard to their property, or distress them by thwarting their plans, or injure them by impugning their motives. All is peaceful and calm in the grave, and there is a place where the malicious designs of wicked men cannot reach us. The object of this verse and the two following is to show the reasons why it was desirable to be in the grave, rather than to live and to suffer the ills of this life. We are not to suppose that Job referred exclusively to his own case in all this. He is describing, in general, the happy condition of the dead, and we have no reason to think that he had been particularly annoyed by wicked men. But the pious often are; and hence it should be a matter of gratitude that there is one place, at least, where the wicked cannot annoy the good, and where the persecuted, the oppressed, and the slandered, may lie down in peace. For “there the weary be at rest,” the margin has “wearied in strength.” And the margin is according to the Hebrew. The meaning is, those whose strength is exhausted, who are worn down with the toils and cares of life, and who feel the need of rest. Never was more beautiful language employed than occurs in this verse. What a charm such language throws even over the grave--like strewing flowers and planting roses around the tomb! Who should fear to die, if prepared, when such is to be the condition of the dead? Who is there that is not in some way troubled by the wicked--by their thoughtless, godless life by persecution, contempt, and slander? (comp. 2 Peter 2:8; Psalms 39:1) Who is there that is not at some time weary with his load of care, anxiety, and trouble? Who is there whose strength does not become exhausted, and to whom rest is not grateful and refreshing? And who is there, therefore, to whom, if prepared for heaven, the grave would not be a place of calm and grateful rest? And though true religion will not prompt us to wish that we had lain down there in early childhood, as Job wished, yet no dictate of piety is violated when we look forward with calm delight to the time when we may repose where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest. O grave, thou art a peaceful spot! Thy rest is calm; thy slumbers are sweet. (Albert Barnes.)

Desire to depart

Thorns in our nest make us take to our wings; the embittering of this cup makes us earnestly desire to drink of the new wine of the kingdom. We are very much like our poor, who would stay at home in England, and put up with their lot, hard though it be; but when at last there comes a worse distress than usual, then straightway they talk of emigrating to those fair and boundless fields across the Atlantic, where a kindred nation will welcome them with joy, So here we are in our poverty, and we make the best of it we can; but a sharp distress wounds our spirit, and then we say we will away to Canaan, to the land that floweth with milk and honey, for there we shall suffer no distress, neither shall our spirits hunger any more. (J. Trapp.)

Departed trouble, and welcome rest

There the winked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. The day was, when it was thought fit that the Christian’s last resting place should be surrounded by gloomy and repulsive associations. It is not of peaceful rest that the burying place of the Middle Ages would remind you. We all remember the locked up, deserted, neglected churchyard, all grown over with great weeds and nettles, and not like God’s acre at all. How much more appropriate are the quiet, beautiful, open, carefully tended cemeteries of today! It is not merely better judgment but sounder faith that is here. It is a thoroughly Christian thing, to scatter the beauties of nature around the Christian grave. In the text I see something that is like turning the ghastly, neglected, nettle-grown churchyard which we may remember in childhood, into the quiet, sweet, thoughtful sleeping place which we find so common now. The text speaks to us over nearly four thousand years. Job lived in days when the light of truth was dim; Jesus had not yet brought life and immortality to light; so it is possible that we are able to understand Job’s words more fully and better than he understood them himself. The text may be read first of the grave; but in its best meaning it speaks of a better world, to which the grave is the portal.

These words as spoken of the grave, “the house appointed for all living.” We need not justify the impatient burst in which Job wished, as many others have wished since, that he had never been born. Job speaks of the rest to which he would gladly have gone. He would have slumbered with the wise, the great, and the good: how he would have lain still and been quiet, where trouble could never come, in the peaceful grave. There “the wicked cease from troubling.” There is one place into which the suffering can escape, where their persecutors have no power. There is nothing more striking about the state of those who have gone into the unseen world than the completeness of their escape from all worldly enemies, however malignant and however powerful. But there is something beyond the mere escape from worldly evil. Now the busy heart is quiet at last, and the weary head lies still. What a multitude there is of these weary ones. But there is a certain delusion in thinking of the grave as a place of quiet rest. The soul lives still, and is awake and conscious, though the body sleeps; and it is our souls that are ourselves. We have no warrant for believing that in the other world there will be any season of unconsciousness to the soul.

Take the words in their higher and truer meaning. They speak of a better world, whose two great characteristics are safety and peace.

1. There is safety and the sense of safety. Everything wicked--evil spirits, evil thoughts, evil influences cease from troubling. Everything evil, whether within us or around us, shall be done with. If evil were gone, trouble would go too. The great thing about evil and trouble here is not so much the pain and suffering they cause us, as the terrible power they have to do us fearful spiritual harm.

2. Besides the negative assurance, that trouble will be done with in heaven, we have the promise of a positive blessing. “There the weary are at rest.” The peace and happiness of the better world are summed up in that word. “The end of work is to enjoy rest,” said one of the wisest of heathen. Doubtless there will be rest from sin, from sorrow, from toil, from anxiety, from temptation, from pain; but all that fails to convey the whole unspeakable truth; it will be the beatific presence of the Saviour that will make the weary soul feel it never knew rest before! In that world the bliss will be restful, calm, satisfied, self-possessed, sublime. The only rest that can ever truly and permanently quiet the human heart is that which the Saviour gives. His peace. And He gives it only to His own. (A. K. H. Boyd.)

Verse 19

Job 3:19

The small and great axe there.

The common lot

Notice the sameness of all men in their birth. One and all are equal by nature. All inherit the sin of their first parents. The necessary consequence following from this truth is that there is a need of a “new birth” for everyone that would inherit everlasting life. There is, however, a distinction among men in their lives. There is a vast difference between men, both in spiritual and in temporal things. The inferences are simply these. If we look at men in matters temporal, and receive the truth that God makes one man great and another man small, we learn to be contented in whatsoever position of life God Himself has placed us. We learn that God is willing to make man that which man ought to be, even though He has to work with such wretched materials as we are made of. But whatever men’s differences in life, there is nevertheless a similarity in their death. “The small and the great are there.” Whether young or old, all must come to this. “He seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish.” “Man being in honour, abideth not.” (H. M. Villiers, M. A.)

Small and great in death

1. Death seizeth equally upon all sorts and degrees of men. The small and the great are there. The small cannot escape the hands, or slip through the fingers of death, because they are little; the greatest cannot rescue themselves from the power, or break out of the hands of death, because they are big.

2. That death makes all men equal; or, that all are equal in death. As there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory (1 Corinthians 15:41). So there is one terrestrial glory of kings, and another glory of nobles, and another glory of the common people, and these have not the same glory in common; even among them, one man differs from another man in this worldly glory; but when death comes, there is an end of all degrees, of all distinctions; there the small and the great are the same. There is but one distinction that will outlive death; and death cannot take it away; the distinction of holy and unholy, clean and unclean, believer and an infidel; these distinctions remain after death, and shall remain forever. (J. Caryl.)

Verse 20

Job 3:20

Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery.

Christian posture of the problem of evil in life

This question of universal, intellectual, and moral interest, as to the purpose of evil, is a question which has always been raised by ghastly facts in human life, parallel to Job’s. Why wert thou so visited, didst thou ask, O Job? Why but that, through thy momentary temptation to wonder and murmur, that beautiful patience and admirable piety of thine might be afterwards developed, and that thou mightest thus set up on earth a school of patience and trust in God, where all the after generations of men might study? Even so we may answer this old “why and wherefore” in our own experience. To what do we owe all that is soft, beautiful, and gentle in this rough, cross world, but to just such instances as we deplore? Job’s question, Why the light of human life is mixed with bitterness and misery, is answered then, in the demonstration that we are indebted for what is most valuable in temper, character, and hope, not alone to what is sunny and sweet, but to the shadow that hides our landscape, and the wormwood that dashes our cup. For the present let us not be anxious to know more. (C. A. Barrel.)

Reasons for life’s continuance

When it is asked why a man is kept in misery on earth, when he would be glad to be released by death, perhaps the following among others may be the reasons.

1. Those sufferings may be the very means which are needful to develop the true state of his soul. Such was the case with Job.

2. They may be the proper punishment of sin in the heart, of which the individual was not fully aware, but which may be distinctly seen by God. There may be pride, and the love of ease, and self-confidence, and ambition, and a desire of reputation. Such appear to have been some of the besetting sins of Job.

3. They are needful to teach true submission, and to show whether a man is willing to resign himself to God.

4. They may be the very things which are necessary to prepare the individual to die. At the same time that men often desire death, and feel that it would be a relief, it might be to them the greatest possible calamity. They may be wholly unprepared for it. For a sinner, the grave contains no rest; the eternal world furnishes no repose. One design of God in such sorrows may be to show to the wicked how intolerable will be future pain, and how important it is for them to be ready to die. If they cannot bear the pains and sorrows of a few hours in this short life, how can they endure eternal sufferings? If it is so desirable to be released from the sorrows of the body here,--if it is felt that the grave, with all that is repulsive in it, would be a place of repose, how important is it to find some way to be secured from everlasting pains! The true place of release from suffering, for a sinner, is not the grave; it is in the pardoning mercy of God, and in that pure heaven to which he is invited through the blood of the Cross. In that holy heaven is the only real repose from suffering and from sin; and heaven will be all the sweeter in proportion to the extremity of pain which is endured on earth. (A. Barnes.)

The will of God a sufficient reason for existence

The will of God is reason enough for man, and ought to be the most satisfying reason. If God say, I will have life remain in a man that is bitter in soul, that man should say, Lord, it is reason I should, because it is Thy pleasure, though it be to my own trouble. Yet it is but seldom that God makes His will His reason, and answers by His bare prerogative: He hath often given weighty reasons to this query. First, the life of nature is continued, that the life of grace may be increased. Again, such live in sufferings, that they may learn obedience by the things which they suffer. God teacheth us by His works, as well as by His Word, His dealings speak to us. Another reason of this “wherefore” may be this, God sets up some as patterns to posterity; He therefore gives the light of life to some that are in misery, to show that it is no new nor strange thing for His saints to be in darkness.

1. That the best things in this world may come to be burthens to us. See here a man, weary of light and life.

2. It is a trouble to possess good things when we cannot enjoy them. (J. Caryl.)

Why is the miserable man kept alive

The question here asked is, Why should man, whose misery leads him to desire death, be kept in life? A very natural question this. A modern expositor has answered the question thus--

1. Those sufferings may be the very means which are needful to develop the true state of the soul. Such was the case with Job.

2. They may be the proper punishment of sin in the heart, of which the individual was not fully aware, but which may be distinctly seen by God. There may be pride, and the love of ease, and self-confidence, and ambition, and a desire of reputation. Such appear to have been some of the besetting sins of Job.

3. They are needful to teach true submission, and to show whether a man is willing to resign himself to God.

4. They may be the very things which are necessary to prepare the individual to die. At the same time that men often desire death, and feel that it would be a great relief, it might be to them the greatest possible calamity. They may be wholly unprepared for it. (Homilist.)

Verse 23

Job 3:23

Why is light given to a man whose way is hid?

The light given-the way hidden

How immediately this question speaks to us! How it seems to describe that mental and moral incongruity of which we are more or less the subjects--that feeling in which we are so often disposed to say to our Maker, Why hast Thou made me thus? This is the subject of the Book of Job--the mystery of life--the vanity of knowledge--the mysterious conflict of what man feels he is, and what he feels he might be, and desires indeed to be. In the text is--

A great certainty. “Light is given.” Man is the subject of supernatural light. The light of nature, as it is called, is not generated and developed in the order and course of mere nature. The light within the soul falls from other worlds, from unseen, unrealised heights beyond the soul God lights up the faculties, kindles the imagination, informs the judgment, and animates the hope. I take it as a great certainty that we have a strange light kindled within our being, unaccountable and awful. How is Christ “the light of the world”? It is as He imparts to the world by His words a new consciousness. Christ deepens the springs and widens the horizons of our knowledge. God has never left Himself without a witness. “Light is given.”

A great perplexity. “The way is hid.” It seems that the light only reveals itself, neither the objects nor the way. It seems as if our consciousness became paralysed at the touch of speculation, a dark, black wall rises where we anticipated we should find a way. The great conflict now, as ever, waging here, is the conflict between light and will. The light faculty in us disports itself over a wide field of intelligence, and scans and comprehends all objects; but the will finds itself powerless, and inquires of the light, To what good is it that thou art here? Man’s happiness is in the equilibrium of these two. In human life there are heretics of the understanding; these are those properly called such--heresiarchs: and heretics of the will; the infirm of purpose. How happy are they who, small as their circle of light and life may be, find no disharmony; small, but a state in which the understanding is in harmony with the will. Does it not seem to thee, frequently, that thou art a man whose way is hid? This smiting perplexity, why, it occasionally strikes us all. God is love, but what a world of pain! Man is free, but what a hemming in of his being in every direction! Then come the errors and mistakes of actual life.

The great solution--the consolations of the light. I advance beyond the text. Light can only be seen in Christ. God only known in Him.

1. It is so from the very nature of the soul. The soul in its nature is light. Divinely derived, it can never forfeit its light power, but it is in eclipse. God has made the soul the fountain of light in its intentions, in its innate power to reason correctly on natural data. There is a light within, but it is unavailing without help from without; for the corruptions and the powers of the senses all tend to embase the light.

2. Why is light given? This is comfort--some light is given. He who has given some will give more.

3. Why is light given to a man whose way is hid? To enable him to find his way, and to escape beyond the hedge. Light is not its own end. It has an end beyond itself. Light is given to teach a man his dependence; to teach him to look beyond himself. Is it not humbling to find our entire inadequacy to even the most ordinary occasions of life? We step constantly into a labyrinth where our greatest cunning will not avail for us.

4. That which is naturally illegible to sense, and to the apprehension of sense, is legible to faith. Life, hidden still to the spirit of speculation, is revealed to the spirit of prayer. (E. Paxton Hood.)

Light and life

My object is to call your attention to life itself, and the reason why it is given. We do not ask the question, Why do I live? until trouble comes. Life is not a mystery to the little child, or the maiden, or the young man. It is when adversity comes to us, that we ask, “Wherefore is light given and life?” Why do we live? We are to recognise the fact that all things and all persons are of God, and exist for the pleasure of God, if we would solve this problem, If you leave God out of your reckoning, then it matters not what conclusion you may come to. There are some who think that God is equally glorified by the salvation or the ruin of a sinner. He is not. The very end of God is defeated in the ruin of the sinner. God has created us, and placed us here, not simply that we may live in this world, but that we may live for evermore. God has made us living men and women that we may serve and enjoy Him forever. (Charles Williams.)

Light on a hidden way

When Job put this question he was as far down in the world as a man can be who is not debased by sin. Two things, in this sad time, seem to have smitten Job with most unconquerable pain.

1. He could not make his condition chord with his conviction of what ought to have happened. He had been trained to believe in the axiom; that to be good is to be happy. Now he had been good, and yet here he was as miserable as it was possible for a man to be. And the worst of all was, he could not deaden down to the level of his misery. The light given him on the Divine justice would not let him rest. His subtle spirit, restless, dissatisfied, tried him every moment.

2. There appeared to by light everywhere, except on his own life. If life would strike a fair average; if other good men had suffered too, or even bad men, then he could bear it better. But the world went on just the same. Other homes were full of gladness. Perhaps not many men ever fall into such supreme desolation as this, that is made to centre in the life of this most sorrowful man. But one may reach out in all directions and find men and women who are conscious of the light shining, but who cannot find the way; who, in a certain sense, would be better if they were not so good. The very perfection of their nature is the way by which they are most easily bruised. Keen, earnest, onward, not satisfied to be below their own ideal, they are yet turned so woefully this way and that by adverse circumstances, that, at the last, they either come to accept their life as a doom, and bear it in grim silence, or they cut the masts when the storm comes, and drift a helpless hull broadside to the breakers, to go down finally like a stone. In men and nations you will find everywhere this discord between the longing that is in the soul, and what the man can do. Try to find some solution of the question of the text. We cannot pretend to make the mystery all clear, so that it will give no more trouble. Job, in his trouble, would have lost nothing and gained very much, if he had not been so hasty in coming to the conclusion that God had left him, that life was a mere apple of Sodom, that he had backed up to great walls of fate, and that he had not a friend left on earth. His soul, looking through her darkened windows, concluded the heavens were dark. Is not this now, as it was then, one of the most serious mistakes that can be made? I try to solve great problems of providence, perhaps, when I am so unstrung as to be entirely unfitted to touch their more subtle, delicate, and far-reaching harmonies. As well might you decide on some exquisite anthem when your organ is broken, and conclude there is no music in it because you can make no music of it, as, in such a condition of the life, and such a temper of the spirit, try to find these great harmonies of God. Job and his friends speculate all about the mystery, and their conclusions from their premises are generally correct, but they have forgotten to take in the separate sovereign will of God, as working out a great purpose in the man’s life, by which he is to be lifted into a grander reach of insight and experience than ever he had before. They were both wrong and all wrong, God often darkens the way that the melody may grow clear and entire in the soul. If this man could have known--as he sat there in the ashes, bruising his heart on this problem of providence--that, in the trouble that had come upon him, he was doing what one man may do to work out the problem for the world, he might again have taken courage. No man lives to himself. Job’s life is but your life and mine, written in larger text . . . God seldom, perhaps never, works out His visible purpose in one life: how, then, shall He in one life work out His perfect will? Then while we may not know what trials wait on any of us, we can believe, that as the days in which this man wrestled with his dark maladies are the only days that make him worth remembrance, so the days through which we struggle, finding no way, but never losing the light, will be the most significant we are called to live. Men in all ages have wrestled with this problem of the difference between the conception and the condition. But it is true that “men who suffered countless ills, in battles for the true and just,” have had the strongest conviction, like old Latimer, that a way would open in those moments when it seemed most impossible. (Robert Collyer.)

The sorrowful man’s question

Job’s case was such that life itself became irksome. He wondered why he should be kept alive to suffer. Could not mercy have permitted him to die out of hand? Light is most precious, yet we may come to ask why it is given. See the small value of temporal things, for we may have them and loathe them.

The case which raises the question. “A man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in.” He has the light of life, but not the light of comfort.

1. He walks in deep trouble, so deep that he cannot see the bottom of it. Nothing prospers, either in temporals or in spirituals. He is greatly depressed in spirit, he can see no help for his burden, or alleviation of his misery. He cannot see any ground for comfort either in God or in man, “His way is hid.”

2. He can see no cause for it. No special sin has been committed. No possible good appears to be coming out of it. When we can sea no cause we must not infer that there is none. Judging by the sight of the eyes is dangerous.

3. He cannot tell what to do in it. Patience is hard, wisdom is difficult, confidence scarce, and joy out of reach, while the mind is in deep gloom. Mystery brings misery.

4. He cannot see the way out of it. He seems to hear the enemy say, “They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in” (Exodus 14:3). He cannot escape through the hedge of thorn, nor see an end to it: his way is straitened as well as darkened. Men in such a case feel their griefs intensely, and speak too bitterly. If we were in such misery, we, too, might raise the question; therefore let us consider--

The question itself. “Why is light given?” etc. This inquiry, unless prosecuted with great humility and childlike confidence, is to be condemned.

1. It is an unsafe one. It is an undue exaltation of human judgment. Ignorance should shun arrogance. What can we know?

2. It reflects upon God. It insinuates that His ways need explanation, and are either unreasonable, unjust, unwise, or unkind.

3. There must be an answer to the question; but it may not be one intelligible to us. The Lord has a “therefore” in answer to every “wherefore”; but He does not often reveal it; for “He giveth not account of any of His matters” (Job 33:13).

4. It is not the most profitable question. Why we are allowed to live in sorrow is a question which we need not answer. We might gain far more by inquiring how to use our prolonged life.

Answers which may be given to the question.

1. Suppose the answer should be, “God wills it.” Is not that enough? “I opened not my mouth; because Thou didst it” (Psalms 39:9).

2. To an ungodly man sufficient answers are at hand. It is mercy which, by prolonging the light of fife, keeps you from worse suffering. For you to desire death is to be eager for hell. Be not so foolish. It is wisdom which restrains you from sin, by hedging up your way, and darkening your spirit. It is better for you to be downcast than dissolute. It is love which calls you to repent. Every sorrow is intended to whip you Godward.

3. To the godly man there are yet more apparent reasons. Your trials are sent to let you see all that is in you. In deep soul trouble we discover what we are made of. To bring you nearer to God. The hedges shut you up to God; the darkness makes you cling close to Him. Life is continued that grace may be increased. To make you an example to others. Some are chosen to be monuments of the Lord’s special dealings; a sort of lighthouse to other mariners. To magnify the grace of God. If our way were always bright we could not so well exhibit the sustaining, consoling, and delivering power of the Lord. To prepare you for greater prosperity. To make you like your Lord Jesus, who lived in affliction. Improvement--Be not too ready to ask unbelieving questions. Be sure that life is never too long. Be prepared of the Holy Spirit to keep to the way even when it is hid, and to walk on between the hedges, when they are not hedges of roses, but fences of briar. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Whom God hath hedged in.

Hedged in

We often read of God loving man, of God punishing man, but not of His hedging him in. And yet the idea is as solemn as it is striking, and as beautiful as it is solemn. Its application depends upon the manner in which we regard it, for the fact may be applied in different ways. Let us consider--

Who it is God hedges in.

1. Sometimes it is the wicked. When the violent man rages against God and is calculated to injure the cause of righteousness, he is restrained. The voice comes, “Thus far shalt thou go and no further.” Pharaoh was hedged in. Even Satan is hedged in.

2. Sometimes it is the righteous. Here we have an instance before us in the case of Job. He had done nothing to merit punishment. So it was with Jeremiah. He was shut up. Good men must be expected to be surrounded by a hedge. Such a position often causes suffering, sorrow, and pain.

How does God hedge in? He manifests His power to do so--

1. By providential government. How often do people realise practically the power of these words! They have wished to enter upon a different sphere of labour, to remove from one place to another, or to stay in the place they inhabit. But difficulty after difficulty has arisen, obstacle after obstacle has presented itself, till the person has found that he could not break through the hedge which surrounds him.

2. By affliction, sorrow, and distress.

3. By bodily pain or weakness. The Divine purposes are inscrutable.

Why does God hedge in?

1. To keep evil men from doing mischief. The unbridled lusts and passions of the wicked are not satisfied with self-satisfaction; they must persecute, injure, and destroy. Almighty God puts a bound to their licence for the benefit of the world.

2. To prevent good men from sin. To save the souls of weak but righteous men; He will keep them from the opportunity of being led astray.

3. To save His servants from danger.

4. To keep them engaged in some particular work.

5. To teach patience and resignation. (Homilist.)

Verse 26

Job 3:26

Yet trouble came.

Trouble and usefulness

What a heathen would have called “the blind and infamous dispensations of fortune,” Christians speak of as the unlikelihoods and inequalities of the providence of God. The facts, however, are not altered, though you may alter their representation This world of ours, in its moral aspects, is not a likely world. Not that even in the absence of a special revelation, still less with this in our hands, it giveth us the idea of terrestrial affairs being left to take their chance; but that there is, on the part of a Superior Power, a design to regulate these affairs so differently from as at times to be the reverse of what might have been expected. Design there is, but it is not in those directions in which we should look for it. It does not appear with what intent men, whether philosophers or theologians, have been so anxious to frame apologies for God’s providence; bending the stubborn truths of human history to some theory of their own devising, and using worse for better reasons to support that theory. This hath been called, after Milton, “the justification of the ways of God to man.” It is a very supererogatory work. Man need not be more anxious to justify God than God is to justify Himself. God will be justified by and by; but, at present He requireth not us to assist Him by explaining away appearances. “God is love.” Believe it always; question it never. You throw a doubt over it the moment you set about proving it. Let us take the facts, and forego the apology. To write books to the sons and daughters of affliction, from comfortable parlours and luxurious drawing rooms, in vindication of the providence of God, is worse than impertinent. No, take the facts of providence as they are. They will do our minds good, not harm, in the contemplation. Men are not to be argued into resignation to God’s will; nor are they to be reasoned into affection for His chastisements. All they need to believe is that what happeneth unto them is God’s will; then will there be resignation: to see that God doth chastise them; then will they love His chastisements. We do not in any degree oppose this view, by returning to our remark, that this world of ours is an unlikely world. Neither to the righteous nor to the wicked is it such as we should expect it to be. Its order is apparent confusion; its rule a seeming misdirection. God, here and there, appears as though He were opposing Himself; frustrating purposes in one direction, which He appears to be forwarding in another. Look at the victims of trial, at the heirs of suffering, at the children of sorrow, on every side: how capricious, how unaccountable, how incomprehensible, so far as we can judge, the selection! The heaviest burdens laid oftentimes upon the weakest shoulders; the greatest sinners often the slightest sufferers; they who for God have been called to do the most, disabled frequently by their trials from doing aught--powers of usefulness, to our judgment, paralysed for lack of aids which “perish with the using” there; while, yonder, uselessness and incapacity are overwhelmed with means and opportunities. Are these things chances, caprices, accidents? Their seeming to be all these prohibits the supposition of their really being either. We speak of the providence of God as though it were synonymous with momentary interference; whereas, the etymology showeth that it is such a foresight on God’s part as to render such interference unnecessary. Considering the case of God’s servant Job, though God cleared up this case at the last,--“making Job’s righteousness as clear as the light, and his just dealing as the noonday,”--to what self-reproaches, to what mistakes of friends, to what hard speeches of foes, during its progress, must it have given rise! Seemed it right, we might ask, to hazard all these for the sake of some spiritual advantage which might accrue to the tried child of God? Hardly. Seemeth it wise for God to “punish those, in the sight of men, whose hope is full of immortality”? “We know not now, we shall know hereafter.” (Alfred Bowen Evans.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/job-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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