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Then Job answered the Lord, and said.
Job’s confession and restoration
I. Job’s acknowledgment of God’s greatness. Throughout his speeches Job had frequently asserted the majesty of God. But now he has a new view of it, which turns awe into reverence and fear into adoration.
II. Job’s confession of his ignorance. He felt that in his past utterances he had been guilty of saying that which he understood not. It is a very common fault to be too confident, and to match our little knowledge with the wonders of the universe. “Behold, we know not anything,” is man’s truest wisdom.
III. Job’s humbleness before God. A great change had passed over his spirit. At the beginning he had sought to vindicate himself, and to charge God--with the strangeness and the mystery of His ways. Now, at the close, he repents in dust and ashes, and even abhors himself for his effrontery and impatience.
IV. God’s condemnation of Job’s friends. The friends of Job had not spoken the thing that was right of God and His ways. They had ascribed a mechanical severity to His administration of human affairs. In addition to that they had shown an acrimonious spirit in their denunciation of Job. So God reproved them, and ordered that they should prepare a burnt offering of seven bullocks and seven rams to offer for their sin.
V. Job’s abundant prosperity. Great End prosperous as Job had been before his afflictions, he was still greater and more prosperous afterwards. God gave him twice as much as he had before. (S. G. Woodrow.)
Job’s confession and restoration
This passage sets before us the result of Jehovah’s coming into communion with Job.
I. The result inwardly.
1. Job’s new knowledge.
(1) He has a new knowledge of God--not new in its facts, exactly, but new in his appreciation of them. It was not so much a knowledge that God is, as that He is omnipotent, and wise in His providence. Every revelation of God to our hearts has for its contents, above the fact of God’s existence, the facts of His character. God is never shown to us except with His attributes. This new knowledge came to Job because he suffered. When Job sees God, and learns of his attributes, the cue attribute which he has questioned, and which he would naturally want to know about--justice--remains in the background. When God shows Himself to us we are satisfied, even though He does not show that part of Himself which we have most wanted to see.
(2) A new knowledge of himself. He says frankly that he had been talking about which he was ignorant. All along Job had been discussing God with his friends upon two assumptions--that he was able to know all about Him, and that he did know all about Him. He now finds that he was mistaken in both. How difficult it is to know ourselves, even negatively. A sight of the Infinitely Holy convicts us of sin. We learn what we are by contrast with something else.
2. In connection with Job’s new knowledge there came a new state of heart.
(1) He was willing to have his questions unanswered. All thought of the vexing problem of suffering seems to be forgotten. Faith has silenced doubt. We are not made to know some things. The question is, how to be satisfied while not knowing.
(2) The appearance of God brought to Job the rare virtue of humility. We cannot truthfully say that heretofore Job had shown any excess of this virtue. Now he sees that the attitude of mind out of which his bold words Godward had arisen was unbecoming one who was but a creature. It is no mark of greatness to fancy oneself infallible. To acknowledge mistake is a sign of progress.
(3) Job goes beyond humility to repentance. He says that dust and ashes are the best exponent of his state of mind. Repentance is open to any man who thinks. No one, not even righteous Job, needs to hunt long for reasons for repentance.
II. The result outwardly of Job’s coming into connection with God.
1. His misfortunes were reversed. We cannot infer from this that God will always literally restore earthly prosperity for those who are afflicted by its loss. What we may reasonably infer is that God controls outer things for good ends to us. We are not to infer that the Lord’s hand is shortened, but He chooses His own way.
2. God transforms Job’s sorrow into joy. Some time or some where He will do the same for us if we are His. It may be largely in this life, as in the case of Job. The area of vision has been enlarged by our blessed Lord, who brought life and immortality to light.
3. Job was able to be of service to his friends. Jehovah was angry against the three friends. God’s coming to Job was a means of his being a blessing to others. It is so with ourselves.
III. General lessons.
1. The conclusion of the Book of Job shows to us the mercy of God. God sometimes seems unmerciful, but it is only seeming.
2. Job’s questions remain unanswered. The mystery of Providence is unsolved.
3. Yet Job was satisfied. It was better for him to have Jehovah reveal Himself and His glory to him, than to know all things he wanted to know. There is something better than knowledge, something for which knowledge would be no substitute, the peace of the soul in fellowship with God.
4. The supreme lesson of this sublime Book is that joy comes through submission to God happiness for the human soul is not in conquest, but in being conquered; not in exaltation, but in humiliation. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Job’s confession and restoration
The primary object of the Book of Job is to prove and illustrate the glory and force of a pure, unselfish religion. Job was reconciled to his sufferings, not by argument, but by a direct revelation of the character of God. We have here what has been well called “a religious controversy issuing in utter failure.” Neither party was convinced; each retained his own views. The result in this case, as in every religious controversy which has occurred since, was bitterness of spirit and alienation of heart, without adding much to the cause of truth. It was not when the friends addressed him that Job was convinced, but when Jehovah addressed him--when He brought him face to face with the wonders of creation--then the mystery of suffering was solved. The moment a man begins to have a living perception of God, when God becomes a presence and a reality to him, he begins to be sorry for his wrong-doing. Job had been peevish, complaining, and somewhat vindictive under his trials. The nearer a man approaches his perfect ideal, the more he feels his imperfections. As the moral sense of the race increases, the more heinous seem the so-called smaller sins. The term which Job uses when he says “I repent” is identical with that which is used in the New Testament to indicate the godly sorrow which is not to be repented of. It means a genuine turning away from evil Observe that the reprovers are reproved. The doctors are treated with a dose of their own medicine. Their dogma falls upon their own heads. They had been placing the justice of God above all His other attributes, and now this very justice has pronounced against them. It is very easy to fall into the error of Job’s three friends, to set ourselves up as monopolists of the truth, and make people around us who do not happen to agree with us very uncomfortable. The trouble with Job’s friends was, that in their zeal to vindicate their favourite doctrine they not only ignored other doctrines which were fully as important, but they violated some of the simplest principles of righteousness. How does God treat these unprofitable debaters? He rebukes their assumption by sending them to the victim of their persecution, that he may pray for them. They did as they were told. The lesson was humiliating, but it was salutary, and they showed their real goodness of heart by their prompt obedience. We must not miss noticing in the beautiful climax the double lesson which it contains. There had been wrong on both sides. Job had little occasion to boast of his victory, and the greatness of his soul appeared in the heartiness with which he accepted the Divine decision. Here we have the only true solution of the religions controversy. Among Christians who disagree there can be no victor or vanquished, Dissensions which end in the glorification of one party and the humiliation of the other are only followed by more bitter conflicts, or are the beginning of a long estrangement. It is only when Eliphaz and Job can get down on their knees together that a real peace is established. (C. A. Dickinson.)
I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear.
Job’s knowledge of God
The text shoots a ray of light athwart the dark problem discussed in the earlier portion of this Book. How are the afflictions of a righteous man to be reconciled with moral government? How can God be just, and yet leave His righteous servants to be visited with every form of trial? The text discloses at least part of “the end of the Lord” in such mysterious procedure. No discipline can be unjust, no trials too severe, through which a soul is brought, as Job’s was, to a clearer knowledge of God, which is its life. Once the end was reached, Job would have been the last man to have wished one pang of that painful experience recalled.
I. A general contrast between two kinds of knowledge of God. We know the difference which there is in ordinary matters between a knowledge which rests on testimony and a knowledge gained by personal experience and observation. There is a contrast in vividness between the two kinds of knowledge: a battle, a thunderstorm, foreign scenery. There is a contrast also in certainty. We may distrust or question what comes to us only as report--we may reject it as unsupported by sufficient evidence; but we cannot doubt what we have seen with our own eyes. Job’s knowledge of God had hitherto been the traditional knowledge common to himself and his friends. Now he knew God for himself, as if by direct personal vision. He saw. Can man, then, see God? or is Job using here merely the language of strong metaphor? Certainly in one sense God is not and cannot be seen. He is not an object of sensuous perception; we cannot see Him with the natural eye, as we see the forms and hues of objects around us. But that may be true, and yet man be able to “see God.” Job had heard God speaking to him in the whirlwind, but it is not of that he is thinking here. It was the “eyes of his understanding (Gr., heart)” which had been enlightened. Whereas formerly he had heard of God by the hearing of the ear, he had now a direct spiritual intuition of His presence, of His nearness, of His majesty, of His omnipotence, of His holiness. We need not, therefore, hesitate to affirm that in man’s soul there abides a power enabling him spiritually to apprehend God, and in some measure to discern His glory; a kind of Divine faculty, buried deep, it may be, in sense, filmed over by manifold impurities, and needing to be quickened and cleansed by an outward revelation, and by the inward operation of the Spirit; but still there. Happy the misfortunes which, like Job’s, help to clear the spiritual vision, and enable us to see God better.
II. This contrast one which discloses itself in a series of ascending stages.
1. And first the text may be taken to express the contrast between the knowledge which a converted man and the knowledge which an unconverted man has of God. The one, the unconverted man, has heard of God with the hearing of the ear, as the blind man hears of the splendour of the landscape and the glory of the flowers, without being able to attach any definite ideas to what he hears; the other, the converted man, in comparison with this, has seen God with the seeing of the eye. A light has broken in on him to which the other is a stranger He cannot perhaps explain very clearly the rationale of the change--as who can? but the fact itself he knows, that whereas he was blind, now he sees. How many have heard of God with the hearing of the ear, have acquired notions about Him, have learned of Him from books, from the creed, from catechisms, in church! But how few comparatively walk with Him, and commune with Him as a living Presence! Ah! that is a never-to-be forgotten moment in a man’s life when first the reality of God’s presence breaks in on him like a revelation. He will not always he able to keep alive those vivid, soul-thrilling views of God which he had in the hour of his conversion; still, God can never again he the same to him as before his eyes were opened. God is a reality, not a mere name to him. The light of life has visited his soul, and its illumination never wholly deserts him. The contrast in his experience is broad and unmistakable.
2. The text expresses the contrast between the knowledge of God which a good man has in his prosperity, and the revelations which are sometimes made to him in his adversity. The former was the contrast between nature and grace; this is the contrast between grace and higher grace. Up to this time Job seems to have been remarkably prosperous. His sky bad scarcely known a cloud. But what Job knew of God in his prosperity was little compared with what he knew of God now in the day of his adversity. And is not this always the effect of sanctified affliction? All love the sunshine and the smooth way. No one prays for adversity, yet few who have come through the furnace will question its purifying power. When real affliction comes, a man can’t live on hearsays and hypotheses, but is driven back on the great realities, and compelled to keep a tight hold upon them.
3. The text fitly expresses the contrast between the knowledge which Old Testament saints had of God and that which we now have in Jesus Christ. Compared with ours, theirs was but the hearing of the ear; compared with theirs, ours is the seeing of the eye. The Scripture itself strongly emphasises this contrast. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” No revelation which God ever gave of old can for a moment compare with that now vouchsafed in the person, character, and work of Christ. Job himself, were he to return to earth, would be the first to say to us, “Blessed are your eyes that ye see, and your ears that ye hear,” etc.
4. Lastly, the text may be taken as expressive of the contrast between the state of grace and the state of glory, and in this view its meaning culminates. It can go no higher. “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Earth at its best, in comparison with that, is but hearing with the ear; in heaven alone the eye seeth God. Conclusion: Every step upward in the knowledge of God will be attended by a downward step in humility and consciousness of sin (verse 6). (J. Orr, M.)
Changed views of God
These words were uttered by Job at a very remarkable period of his affecting history. Up to this moment his sorrows had been unassuaged: the Almighty seemed fiercely to contend with him, and his arrows drank up his spirit. His friends also had bitterly reproached him, and he remained unvindicated from their charges; and no ray of hope had hitherto burst through the gloom that surrounded him. But the verses that follow our text point out a most favour, able change in his condition. “The Lord,” it is said, “turned the captivity of Job.” This change in the conduct of God towards Job was preceded by a change in the mind of Job himself; the nature of which change is shown in the words of our text. Formerly he had justified himself, as we find up to the thirty-first chapter; after which he begins to condemn himself; he is humbled on account of his transgressions. “He answered the Lord,” it is said in the first verse of the chapter before us, but not as he had formerly spoken, in the language either of self-applause, or of repining against the dispensations of God, for he had wisely determined to speak no longer in this manner; “Behold,” said he, “I am vile; what shall I answer Thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken, but I will not answer again; yea twice, but I will proceed no further.”
I. Let us inquire what we are to understand in the text by seeing God; for Job says that he had heard of Him before by the hearing of the ear, but now his eye saw Him. He does not mean through his bodily senses; for in this manner, says our Saviour, “no man hath seen God at any time.” “God is a spirit”; “the king invisible,” “dwelling in the light, which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, or can see.” Even when God revealed Himself to the people of Israel, “they saw no manner of similitude.” It was not so much a new or miraculous knowledge of God which he had obtained, as a practical conviction and application of those truths respecting Him which he had known before, but which had not been before brought home to his heart and conscience with their due force, so as to produce the fruits of repentance, humility, and submission to the will of God. He had heard of the wisdom, the power, and the providence of the Creator; of His justice, His mercy, and the veneration due to Him. His friends, especially Eliphaz, and even Job himself, had uttered many admirable maxims on these subjects; but now his knowledge had become more than ever practical in its effects. He felt assured that God could do all things; that none could resist His will; yet that it was never too late to hope for His mercy. His knowledge was attended with such a lively faith as made it, according to the definition of the apostle, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” He had known and confessed many important doctrines and precepts of true religion at an earlier period of his history. He had acknowledged, in the first place, his infinite obligations to God, “Thou hast granted me life and favour, and Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.” He had, further, confessed his sinfulness in the sight of God; for, though he vindicated his character against the unjust suspicions of his fellow creatures, he knew that his righteousness extended not to his Creator: “I! I justify myself,” said he, “mine own mouth shall condemn me; if I say I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.” He could trust to no merit of his own: for he felt so forcibly the imperfection of his best observances in the sight of art infinitely holy God, that he says, “If I be righteous, yet will not I lift up my head”; and again, “If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean, yet shalt Thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.” He knew that God could, and would, deliver him, and in the end make all things, and not least his severe afflictions, work together for his good. “When He hath tried me,” said he, “I shall come forth like gold”; elsewhere adding, with the most exalted faith and confidence, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” Yet all his former knowledge of these things, clear and accurate as it once seemed, appeared now to him but like a verbal report, compared with the vivid distinctness of his present convictions. He had heard, he now saw; he had believed, but his faith now became more than ever active and influential on his character. Before, he mourned chiefly for his afflictions; now, he mourns for his sinfulness in the sight of God: and he exhibits his penitence by the most expressive emblems; he repents “in dust and ashes.”
II. To apply the subject to our own times and circumstances. We also have heard of God by the hearing of the ear. We were born in a Christian country; we have, perhaps, had the benefits of early Christian education; of frequent instruction in the Word of God; of the prayers and example of religious friends: we cannot therefore be wholly ignorant of our obligations to God Yet, with all our advantages, our professed religion and knowledge of God may have been hitherto but “the hearing of the ear.” It was by this faith that “Moses endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.” Now, there are too many, even of those who call themselves Christians, who “live without God in the world.” He is as much unseen by the eye of their mind as by their bodily senses. Far from “setting the Lord always before them,” the practical language of their conduct is rather, “Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.” But is not this a heinous sin? Is it not also the height of folly? Will it profit us, at the Last Day, that we have heard of God by the hearing of the ear, if we have no true practical knowledge of Him, like that of Job in our text? Let us, then, “acquaint ourselves with God, and be at peace; and thereby good shall come unto us.” And let us ever remember that the only medium of this peace and intercourse between God and man is Christ Jesus the Mediator. (J. Orr, M.)
The knowledge of God producing repentance
In the warmth of the debate which took place between Job and his friends, and in the anguish of his sufferings, Job had used some impatient expressions respecting the conduct of God towards him. For these he was first reproved by Elihu, and then by God Himself, who, with unspeakable force and majesty, displays the glory of the Divine perfections. Job was deeply humbled, and acknowledges in the strongest terms his own vileness and insignificance. The impressions he now had of the majesty and glory, the wisdom and holiness, of God, were far stronger and more distinct than any he had felt before. From this passage of Scripture we learn that a clear view of the perfections of God has a powerful effect in producing repentance. But the view of the Divine perfections which has this tendency, it ought to be understood, is not a speculative knowledge of the natural attributes of the Deity, but a spiritual and affecting discovery of it is moral excellencies; of the glory of His infinite purity, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
1. It convinces us of sin, by bringing to light those evils which the deceitfulness of our own hearts is apt to hide from our view. There is a light and glory in the presence of God which exposes the works of darkness, and tends to produce a deep sense of our sinfulness. Nor is it difficult to explain how it is that a view of the Divine glory produces this effect. By applying a straight rule to a line we discover all its unevennesses. What is deformed appears more frightful when compared with what is beautiful. In the same way, a clear view of the purity of God, and of His constant presence with us, and inspection over us, tends to bring those sins to light, and to cover us with confusion on account of them, which before we contrived to justify, excuse, or conceal. This truth may be further illustrated by the different behaviour of vicious persons, when in society like themselves, and when in that of men eminent for piety.
2. A view of the glory of God serves to point out the evil of sin, with its aggravations, and to take away all excuse from the sinner. When the law of God shows us our sins, and condemns us for them, we may be ready to complain of it as severe; but when we see that law to be but a copy of the moral perfections of God, and when we contemplate those perfections, we must be convinced that all sin must be hateful to God, and must necessarily be opposed to His nature. A view of the glory of God produces such a conviction of His rights as our Creator, and of our obligations as the creatures of His hand, as constrains us to acknowledge His justice in the punishment of sin. When we reflect on the omnipresence and omniscience of God, how great appears to be the folly of thinking to veil even our most secret sins from Him! When we reflect on His power, how does it add to the guilt and madness of presumption! This is in a more especial manner the effect of a view of the glory of God as it shines forth in Jesus Christ. The unparalleled love shown to sinners in the Gospel greatly heightens their ingratitude. It may be said in general, that it is a light sense of the evil of sin which leads men to commit it; and when they have committed it, to frame excuses for it; and also to indulge a hope that the threatenings against sin will not be executed. But a discovery of the glory of God, and particularly of His infinite holiness and justice, by showing the evil of sin in its true colours, sweeps away all such delusions.
3. A proper view of the glory of God serves further to point out the danger of sin.
4. Lastly, a view of the glory of God tends to produce repentance, because, by setting before us His infinite mercy, it encourages us to turn to Him.
1. We may learn from this subject the force of those passages of Scripture in which the knowledge of God is put for the whole of religion--“Know the Lord.” “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” On the other hand, the wicked are described as those “that know not God.” The truth is, God is either wholly unknown to wicked men, or greatly mistaken by them.
2. From what has been said we may also learn the great danger of a state of ignorance. If repentance take its rise from a knowledge of the perfections of God, does it not follow that those who are ignorant of Him must be in a deplorable state, strangers to the power and practice of religion, and that if they die in this state they must perish everlastingly?
3. We may learn also, from what has been said, the absolute necessity of regeneration, or an inward change of heart. It is not, as has been already observed, a speculative knowledge of the nature and perfections of God that leads to repentance, but an affecting view of His excellence and amiableness. This none can have, but those who are in some measure changed into the same image. And true Christians will see, from what has been said, how closely connected the right knowledge of God--in other words, true religion--is with humility and self-abasement. (Christian Observer.)
God known in various manners
These are the words of one of the most virtuous of our race. This is the language of one who added to moral virtues the noblest beneficence; and who added to a charity almost unbounded a piety the most sincere and consistent. Exalted as were his attainments in the school of religion, he had much more yet to learn. There appears through the whole of his conversations with his friends the indications of a mind claiming too unqualified a freedom from guilt, and yielding to a spirit of impatience. The Lord appears, and answers Job out of the whirlwind. He makes such a glorious display of His greatness and majesty; of the multitude and stupendous character of His works, interspersed with notices of the littleness and short-sightedness of man, that Job seems now to know more than he had ever known before. Evidently, then, there are various manners in which God may be known; various degrees in the clearness, the certainty, and the satisfaction of knowing Him. Discoveries of God produce effects upon the mind proportionably to their nature. The men who have a speculative knowledge of God, which is defective and false. They speak of the heavenly Father; the claims of the Ruler they overlook. They dwell on the mercies of the God of grace; they pass by the awfulness of the avenger of sin. Such persons may glow with enthusiasm as they contemplate the vast or the beautiful; but all this may be without any beneficial influence on the soul.
2. The speculative knowledge of God that is true. This is the true knowledge of God, which comes to the intellect, and there it is arrested,--which stands in idea and sentiment. Everything is acknowledged. The Divine perfections are not separated and sacrificed. The theological system is correct. Religion has been learned as a science, but with no better a moral and spiritual influence. These men have not seen God; they never had those views of God that are peculiar to a regenerate and purified heart. The report has reached the understanding, but has never been echoed through the soul. Bare knowledge does but “puff up.”
3. A knowledge of God which is spiritual and true, but an incipient acquaintance with God. This is a higher description of knowledge, yet is it only a beginning. Such a knowledge is as decided in its effects as it is Divine in its nature. But in its first degrees, although it brings salvation into the soul, this knowledge of God is but as the distant, though well-established report of what is true. We come now to the consideration of an advanced stage in the spiritual knowledge of God; that which constitutes its ripeness in the present world. Such a maturity in grace is not to be attributed to more abundant instruction, or to any new method of instruction. It was a purifying of his heart by the influences of the Holy Spirit. The perfection of the knowledge of God must not be hoped for in the present world. Examine, then, into the nature of that knowledge of God which you possess. (T. Kennion, M. A.)
Knowing by the ear and the eye
What is suggested through the ear does, of necessity, affect the heart more languidly than what is presented to the faithful eye. What was the change in Job’s impression of his own moral character and condition produced by his being placed in the immediate presence of the Almighty, and how the alteration in his circumstances was fitted to produce the alteration in his feelings. Job had conducted his part of the controversy in a spirit which prompted him to palliate and diminish the sins which he confessed, to exalt and magnify the virtues which he claimed. It carried him so far as once and again to implore, to demand, of the Sovereign Judge that He would vouchsafe to him the opportunity of arguing the whole cause before Him. The Almighty had granted his request. Jehovah’s own voice came forth upon the patriarch’s ear, challenging, indeed, and reproving the proud presumption with which a mortal man had ventured to dispute, as it were, on terms of equality with Him of whose infinite grandeur and absolute perfection all this wondrous universe is one vast type. But what a change has been effected on the spirit and demeanour of that presumptuous challenger of the Almighty, by the simple fact of the Almighty presenting Himself to abide the challenge, the answer, the appeal. There is no more palliation of his own sins,--no more boasting of his own excellencies. What was there in the uttered perceptions of Jehovah now enjoyed by Job to produce and to account for the altered emotions with which he now contemplated himself? He was placed in personal contact with the Father-spirit of the universe, and the effect was to impart a sudden accession of force and vividness to all those impressions of the holiness of God which, while God Himself was absent, had been comparatively faint and languid and ineffective. The impression of adoring reverence and awe which the contemplation of Jehovah’s wondrous works in the kingdoms of nature and providence is fitted to produce mingles well and naturally with that of lowly self-abhorrence of which the comparison of His moral character with ours is the parent and the source. And the physical greatness of the Deity affords to the overwhelmed and prostrate soul a ready and a most impressive standard by which to estimate His moral excellence.
1. How strong a resemblance there is between the estimate which Job formed of his own character before the vision and the voice of God had met him, and that which the multitude of men are wont to entertain and to express regarding themselves.
2. All that I implore of you, in prospect of that solemn entrance which awaits us all into the sphere of Jehovah’s more peculiar residence, and on the consciousness of a more present Deity, is to judge from the recorded example of Job what will be the effect on all your conceptions of Jehovah’s awful holiness, and of your own contrasted sinfulness. (J. B. Patterson, M. A.)
The hearing of God by the hearing of the ear
Who amongst us has not heard of God thus? No doubt, Job had been religiously brought up. The great truths of religion had been impressed upon his mind. He displayed an almost more than human measure of patience and resignation. Though he had heard by the hearing of the ear, at an advanced period of life he declared that his eye had, for the first time, seen God. Then, he embraced in his mind’s eye, one vast and comprehensive view of the majesty, of the glory, of the goodness, of the purity of Jehovah. He gazed upon Him, as it were, in the length and the breadth of His infinite perfection. It is not enough to have the means and opportunities of grace afforded to us, or even to make use of them. Not a few of us fall short of one thing, a full, and comprehensive, and Christian view of the nature and attributes of God. We do not conceive rightly of His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His holiness, His love. The first thing Job did, as soon as his eye had seen God, was to abhor himself. He had hitherto looked upon himself with complacency and satisfaction. He betook himself immediately to repentance; a humble, abasing, sincere, heartfelt sorrow for sin. That godly sorrow which worketh reformation. Happy are those among us, whose abhorrence of their own selves, and earnest repentance of their sins, attest that their eyes have been permitted to see the Almighty in all His goodness and His glory. (Edward Girdlestone, M. A.)
On being brought to see God
Job, though the most patient of men, had been betrayed, under the pressure of his severe sufferings, into some unreasonable and rebellious murmurs. He had acknowledged the providence and the power of God, but not with a full submission of heart. On the occasion now before us, he is brought to a juster sense of his own unworthiness, and the omnipotence and omniscience of Jehovah. His meaning in what he says may be this: that he had before obtained some knowledge of God from various opportunities afforded him; from education, from instruction, from his own researches, and the conference of his friends; but a scene, which he had lately witnessed, had made such discoveries to him of the Divine glory, and had so deeply affected his heart, that all he ever felt or knew before was nothing as compared with his present perception and knowledge. This fuller knowledge had produced, as it is always calculated to do, the fruit of humility in the heart. As a humble penitent, he desired to lie low in self-condemnation, and in the frame of his spirit before God, casting himself wholly on His mercy, and submitting unreservedly to His will . . . Far indeed should we be from supposing that religion consists in feelings and experiences; a more false and delusive standard than this cannot be proposed to mankind; the true faith and the true principle must always be measured by the fruit. Yet still there may have been a fair appearance of fruit without the full establishment of the principle; there may have been a considerable and hopeful profession without a vital communion with God in the Gospel. Though our guilt is washed away by the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, yet this does not prevent the necessity of our afterwards feeling a deep and distressful sense of sin, as often as it is committed, together with the dreadfulness of its consequence; we still need the profoundest humiliation at the foot of the throne of mercy, a thorough abasement of soul in the presence of a just and holy God. Not only must there be a habit of sincere repentance on all occasions of actual transgression, but a positive abhorrence of all evil, in thought, and word, and deed, must be rooted in the heart; accompanied, as it surely will be, with a constant unfailing love of our God and Redeemer, such as will incline our hearts to keep His law in all its holiness and integrity. Wherever this change has taken place, this enlightenment been vouchsafed, this true view of the Gospel been formed, this life of God in the soul established, there will have been a result and experience similar to the case of the patriarch of old. “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” I perceive the wretchedness of my condition by nature; and though my profession was fair, and my conduct not immoral, my heart was not spiritual, my affections not purified, nay will not brought into a self-denying and total subjection to the Divine law. This conviction and confession would doubtless lead to a deep repentance “in dust and ashes.” Leave two questions with you.
1. Are there any here who have never needed such an alteration in their views, and principles, and conduct? Let them pour out their hearts in grateful thanksgiving for this singular benefit and mercy.
2. The other questions relate to those who are conscious that there was a period at which their hearts were not right with God. Have they now turned to God in sincerity and truth? Do they now see God in the fulness of His grace and power and blessing? To find ourselves lodged in the ark of His salvation is a consolation for all ills, a constraining motive to all duty, the sweetest food for the immortal soul, and a “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (J. Slade, M. A.)
Hearsay and conviction
This is the moral of the whole story. Job had maintained his innocence all along. He had indignantly protested against the supposition that his calamities were the direct result of his evil life. And he was regarded with the Divine approval. But Job’s words at the last indicate that,, after all, he had not been altogether’ right, and the arguments of his friends had not been altogether wrong. What produced this great change? It was that he no longer measured himself by human standards, that he no longer compared himself with other men, but with the perfect holiness of the law of God. “Now mine eye seeth Thee.” How had this great sight been granted him? It was by bringing before him the blindness and ignorance of man, and the marvels of the universe, and the majesty of Him by whom the universe was governed. What did he know of that power, that government which he had been impugning? Job was summoned to consider the mysteries which lay round about him, the events and things in which he had been accustomed to think there was any mystery at all. He saw around him so much that he could not understand; he saw around him powers with which he could not contend; what must be the power which embraced and controlled them all? How foolish, how presumptuous, to make of his own weak sight, of his own insignificant case, the measure of the mighty whole! There was order, though he might not see it; there was law, though he might not understand it. This conclusion was come to simply because he saw more clearly what had always been visible. The volume of nature outspread before him revealed to him, wherever he turned, the infinite wisdom, and power, and righteousness. It was God whose presence and whose working he discerned in everything--nowhere could he look but God was visible. In seeing God he saw himself. When he looked from himself to God, when he saw the eternal holiness and purity, the new sight awoke within him a knowledge of himself which all his self-inspection had been unable to produce. The greatest earthly wisdom became as foolishness, the greatest earthly virtue became as vileness by the contrast. There are many who can bear witness to a change like that which took place in Job having taken place in themselves. They have passed from a belief which is the result of hearsay to a faith which is the result of personal conviction; and this experience in some form is needful for us everyone. The modes in which it may be attained are very various, but no one can be right till that vision has been granted to him, till the God of whom he has been taught becomes a reality, is seen and known by the eye of faith. There comes a crisis, a distinct period, in the lives of some, when God speaks to them out of the whirlwind, out of the storm of affliction which has broken over them, out of the storm of agitation by which their spirits are convulsed. It is the vision of Divine love and power and forgiveness which strikes our doubting dumb, which alone affords relief to the spirit longing to believe that all is well, that human hopes and aspirations are not a mockery and an illusion. But it is a vision which each must see for himself. One cannot communicate to another what he has seen. We must not rest content until spiritual things become realities. (F. M’Adam Muir.)
The second-hand and the primary knowledge of God
I. Here is implied a second-hand knowledge of God.
1. This second-hand knowledge is very common.
2. It is spiritually worthless. There is no moral value in it. Its influence on the soul is that of the lunar ray, cold and dead, rather than that of the solar beam, warm and life-giving.
II. Here is implied a primary knowledge of God. “Now mine eye seeth Thee.” The Great One came within Job’s horizon.
1. This primary knowledge silenced all controversy. Job, under the influence of a secondhand knowledge, had argued long and earnestly; but as soon as he is brought face to face with his Maker, he felt Him as the greatest fact in his consciousness, and all controversy was hushed. Experimental knowledge of God disdains polemics. It is second-hand knowledge that breeds controversies.
2. This primary knowledge subdued all pride. Hast thou this primary knowledge? Is God Himself thy teacher, or art thou living on second-hand information? (Homilist.)
Tradition and experience
The theme of this book is the old, yet ever new problem which meets each thoughtful man, the problem of this strange chequered life of ours, and of God’s relation to it.
I. The real root of Job’s perplexities. They sprung from the traditional but inadequate conception of God’s moral government accepted in his day. The Book represents a transition period in Jewish religious thought, and one of much interest and importance. Men’s minds were passing from an older and simpler faith to the fuller recognition of the facts of the Divine government. The old creed was this--the outward lot is an index to the inward character. This is true in its essence, but rudimentary in its form. But, according to the ways of human nature, the form became stereotyped, as though the letter rather than the spirit of the law were the abiding and essential element. Presently the question arose, How is this creed to be reconciled with facts? What about the prosperity of the wicked? What as to the sore troubles and afflictions of the righteous? Men of honest purpose could not shut their eyes to the seeming contradiction. Must they then yield up their trust in Jehovah as the supreme and righteous Ruler? It was the emerging out of comparative childhood, an advance to a theology at once more spiritual, more true to the facts of life, and charged, moreover, with new sympathies for human sorrow and need; an advance, indeed, of no insignificant character towards that highest point of prophetic thought--the conception of the ideal servant of Jehovah, as “marred in His visage more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” In this poem we have the lasting record of this immense transition--this passing of the old faith into the new. As to the three friends and their characteristic talk, at every period of advance in men’s conceptions of Divine truth these same good men have reappeared--with the same appeal to traditional beliefs, the same confidence that their hoary formulae express the whole of truth, the same inability to conceive it possible that they may be mistaken, the same dark suspicion of those who question their conclusions, and the same disposition to wax bitter, and to use hard words against the apostles of advance. On the other side we have Job. He had accepted the traditional view, but he sees plainly that in his case the belief does not square with the facts. And he is too honest and too fearless to shut his eyes to the contradiction. He will neither be untrue to his own consciousness of integrity, nor yet will he “speak unrighteously for God.” Like many a man after him, Job found himself adrift on the surging waves of doubt. He asks, Can it be that the God I have trusted is simply force, resistless force, indifferent to moral distinctions? Or can it be that He has pleasure in the misery of His creatures? Or can it be that He sees as man sees, is capable of mistake, of confounding innocence with guilt?
II. How was the deliverance obtained? “Now mine eye seeth Thee.” He clings to God even when most keenly sensible that His ways were harsh and repelling. He is resolved to hold on to God. From the traditional conception he presses upward to the thought that, somehow and somewhere, the righteous God will ultimately vindicate and honour righteousness. The answers of God did not deal directly with his problem, but they gave him such a vision of the glory of God, that his whole being was stilled into reverent trust. “Now mine eye seeth Thee”;--there is faith’s foundation. (Walter Ross Taylor.)
Clear views of God correct errors
Job’s afflictions were charged to secret sins; he defended his innocence with great power; but not till God answered him from the whirlwind, did he know either himself or God’s dealings. Seeing God, he abhorred himself.
1. Clear views of God correct errors touching His character. Caught in some speculation, we are whirled about as in an eddy, till, in bewilderment, we may deny that there is a God, or deny some attribute--His justice or His grace, His goodness or His power. But let a man’s eyes be opened by the Holy Spirit so that he shall see God, as did Job, Moses, Paul, and error vanishes.
2. Clear views of God correct errors touching God’s providence. Here all men are staggered at times, their steps well-nigh slip; the wicked prosper, the righteous suffer. The wise man dies even as the fool. Does it not seem wrong that our lot is cast, and our wishes not regarded? Our purposes are baffled, our plans miscarry, our way is hedged, till hope lies crushed. Does ever an accident distinguish between the innocent and the guilty? Does not a mistake kill as quickly as an intent? Does death spare the child or the mother? We cannot escape these agonising questions; can we find relief in them? With all the light shining from another world on the dark spots of this, tormenting doubts will not be allayed until we come into a clearer view of God. Let the Spirit reveal God, and doubts dissolve in the fulness of the light.
3. Clear views of God correct errors touching our moral condition. They convict of sin. Even the most godly then abhor themselves. The elder Edwards wrote, “I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God.” “My wickedness, as I am in myself,. . .looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell.”
4. Clear views of God correct errors touching Jesus and His salvation. Shall men never have done with the question, What think ye of Christ? Yes, men are slowly exalting Him to the throne of His glory. Have we had these clearer rays of God? We may see Jesus, and yet nail Him to the Cross. Men seeing God in the face of Christ may turn their backs on Him. But when Christ is accepted, forgiveness, peace, life eternal are sure. (A. Hastings Ross, D. D.)
We need not all be as Job in the depths of affliction and self-renunciation. There was an intensity about his case which was peculiar to it. But in our measure, and according to our position as members of the body of Christ, we should be able to sympathise with Job.
I. Job’s earlier and superficial experience. “I have heard of Thee with the hearing of the ear.” I have heard of Him as the God of creation, the God of providence, the God of Israel, the God of the universe, the God who, in Christ, was incarnate for my salvation. But not what we hear is the thing, but what we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.
II. Job’s present vivid realisation. “Now mine eye seeth Thee.” Note the emphasis of this short phrase; what awe, what closeness, what personality, what a majestic presence they imply. There is no escape, no evasion, not an attempt at it. He stands or lies before God, “naked and open.”
III. The gracious consequences. “I abhor myself, and repent.” Those are gracious consequences. The unconverted may shrink from them, but the people of God covet them. Job had been entertaining a vast amount of self-complacency, which generated pride and a refined idolatry. He had been petulant, impatient, imperious. This is what he alludes to when he says, “I abhor myself.” Now I perceive myself to be loathsome, corrupt, brutish, guilty, miserable. Was not that a gracious consequence of his vivid realisation of God? Then he adds, “I repent.” He repented of his self-sufficiency, of his charging God foolishly, of his irritation under His rebukes, of his exalting himself above his fellows, of his hastiness in speech with them, etc. The regenerate amongst you will not limit your repentance to your grievous offences, you will mourn over what defiles the white linen within, our sinful aims, motives, desires, our opposition to God, reproaches of God, murmurings against God. (J. Bolton, B. A.)
Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
A view of the glory of God humbling to the soul
Though Job had supported the truth on the subject of Divine providence, yet in the heat of the debate and the anguish of his own sufferings he had let fall some expressions, not only of impatience, but of disrespect to the conduct of the Lord his Maker. For these he was first reproved by Elihu, and then by God Himself, who asserts the dignity of His power and the righteousness of His providence. Perhaps God gave Job some visible representation of His glory and omnipotence.
I. The effect of a discovery of the glory of God. Attend to the following preliminary remarks.
1. This truth (that a view of the glory humbles the soul) will hold equally certain in whatever way the discovery is made. God manifests Himself to His people in very different ways. In miraculous ways; by affecting dispensations of providence; by His ordinances, or instituted worship, accompanied with the operation of His Spirit; and sometimes by this last alone, without the help or accession of any outward mean.
2. We may add the manifestations given us in the Gospel of the Divine glory.
3. When I speak of the influence of a discovery of the glory of God, I mean an internal and spiritual discovery, and not such a knowledge as is merely speculative, and rests in the understanding without descending into the heart. A barren speculative knowledge of God is that which fixes chiefly on His natural perfections. The true knowledge of God is an inward and spiritual discovery of the amiableness and excellence of His moral perfections.
What influence has such a discovery of the glory of God in producing a repentance, and increasing humility?
1. It tends to convince us of sin, and particularly to bring to light those innumerable evils which a deceitful heart often hides from our view. There is a light and glory in the presence of God which discovers and exposes the works of darkness. Nothing makes any quality appear so sensibly as a comparison with its opposite.
2. It serves to point out the evil of sin, the aggravations of particular sins, and to take away the excuses of the sinner.
3. It serves to point out the dangers of sin. It is the hope of immunity that emboldens the sinner to transgress, and to persist in his transgressions. But a discovery of the Divine glory at once destroys the foundation of this stupid security and impious presumption. “All things are naked before Him,” so that there is no hope of lying concealed. God in Scripture reveals the glory of His own nature as the effectual means of restraining us in the commission of sin, or turning us from it; plainly supposes that nothing but ignorance of Him can encourage sinners in their rebellion.
4. It tends to lead us to repentance, as it sets forth His infinite mercy, and affords encouragement to, as well as points out the profit of repentance. Just and proper conceptions of God cannot be given us without including His great mercy. It is in the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ that we have the brightest and clearest display of Divine mercy.
II. Practical improvement.
1. Learn the force and meaning of those passages of Scripture, in which the whole of religion is expressed by the knowledge of God.
2. The great danger of a state of ignorance.
3. The necessity of regeneration, or an inward change of heart, in order to real religion. Finally, address those who are strangers to true religion. See also the reason why every truly good man, the more he groweth in religion, the more he groweth in humility. (J. Witherspoon, D. D.)
Knowledge of God and self simultaneous
Other knowledge discovers other things, but not a man’s self; like a dark lantern, which shows us other persons and things, but obscures ourselves from the sight of ourselves; but the knowledge of God is such a light whereby a man beholds himself as well as the Way wherein he should walk. (S. Charnock.)
Humility and self-abhorrence
The moral of this book is, that man must be abased, and God alone exalted. Humility and self-abhorrence form so essential a part of the Christian temper, that no person can be a real Christian who is destitute of them. Job was on the side of truth so far as related to his own sincerity and the dispensations of providence. But his importunate wishes after death, his confident appeals to God for the perfect innocence of his heart and ways, his peevish exclamations in the heat of the debate, and his rash arraignment of the Divine justice in afflicting him so severely, are quite unjustifiable, and plainly prove that he was unacquainted with the evil of his own heart, and had too good an opinion of his own righteousness. On the discovery of the Divine glory and perfections, the sufferer is deeply humbled. He no longer stands upon his vindication with God, but his pleas are silenced, and he is abased in the dust with a sense of his guilt and unworthiness. This is a truth which we are all unwilling to learn. It is with the utmost difficulty we are brought to see and confess that we are such sinners as the Word of God declares us to be. Salvation by Christ was contrived on purpose, that no flesh should glory in themselves, but in the Lord. The reason why so many have slight views of the evil of sin, and continue in the practice of it, without any apprehension of danger, is, because they are ignorant of God. (W. Richardson.)
Sell-abasement for sin
No one can be perfect who commits sin at all, and “all have sinned,” so we must include Job among the number. He was sincere, but when he was brought into more close communion with God, he saw his own vileness in a degree in which he had never perceived it before. Similar has been the happy experience of many of God’s children in every age. The more we are humbled under a sense of our own sinfulness, the more we shall see the need of the perfect and completed work of Christ. Let us examine ourselves, and see what we can say to our own consciences and to God, as to the state of our souls before Him. Have we grown in grace? Has improvement kept pace with knowledge? Have you been content with the mere acknowledgment of yourself as a sinner? Or is the remembrance of your sins grievous to you, and the burden of them intolerable? Let me exhort you to “think on these things, and to consider your latter end.” (F. Orpen Morris, B. A.)
The intervention of the Deity in the magnificent last act of the drama is an intervention rather of majesty than of explanation. In the revelation of God in any one of His attributes, in the manifestations of the fountain of being in any form of reality, lies the germ at least of all satisfaction and of all comfort . . . The point and moral of the book does not lie in the sinfulness of the chief actor. All else is subordinated to this main point, the beautiful and glorious steadfastness of the godly man under temptation. If this is so, how shall we read, and how interpret the words of the text itself? It might be thought that the thing which God accepted in Job was this self-abasement and self-abhorrence before the manifested glory. The text carries us from the godly or Godward sorrow which worketh repentance, to that repentance itself, which is unto salvation.
1. The very narrow and limited view commonly taken of repentance. As though repentance were either a regretful and sorrowful backward looking upon some particular sin or sins; or, at best, an altered mind towards that particular kind and shape of sinning. But repentance is not the necessity of some; it is the necessity of all. Repentance is not an act, but a state; not a feeling, but a disposition; not a thought, but a mind. Repentance is too real a grace to live in the ideal. Of course, if there are sins in sight, past or present, repentance begins with these. It is of the nature of repentance to be quick-sighted, and quick-souled, and quick-conscienced; she cannot dwell complacently with evil, be it but in memory. But she goes far, far deeper than any particular exhibition or ebullition of evil. Repentance is the consciousness not of sins, but of sin--the consciousness of sinfulness as the root and ground of all sinning. The new mind, the “after-mind,” according to the Greek word for repentance, is the mind which eschews the fallen state, the taint and bias of evil, which is what we mean, or ought to mean, by original sin. Thus a deep, pervading humility, a lowly self-estimate, what our Lord speaks of as “poverty of spirit,” takes a possession not to be disturbed of the very thought and soul of the man. This is one part of the grace.
2. The connection of repentance with what is here called the sight of God. This is contrasted with another thing which is called the hearing of God by the hearing of the ear. We are not to dream of any literal sight. It is a figurative contrast between hearing of and seeing. The former is a hearer hearing; the latter is a direct communication, like that face to face vision, which has nothing between the person seeing and the person looked upon. The experience spoken of is always the turning point between the two kinds of repentance. We have all heard of God by the hearing of the ear. The Godward sorrow, before it reaches repentance, has had another experience. It has seen God; it has realised the Invisible. The Godward sorrow will grow with each access to the God who breathes it, and repentance itself will be seen as the gift of gifts, foretaste of heaven below, and atmosphere of heaven above. (Dean Vaughan.)
Experiences of the inner life
Human sin is the prime fact with which the Gospel deals, and to which all its provisions of grace are adapted. Whatever estimate we form of it must, therefore, necessarily extend throughout the whole of our religion, both doctrinal and practical. Enlarge your estimate of sin, or depreciate it, and you either raise or lower in the same degree your estimate of the Gospel, alike as regards the work of atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ in His life and death, and as regards the work of conversion and sanctification by the Holy Spirit of God. The general estimate of human sin falls much below the positive language of the Church. The objection to the Church doctrine of sin appears to be three fold. The doctrine of the utter corruption of human nature offends self-respect, and is thought not only to lower, but even to degrade the man, of whose faith it forms a part. Extending this feeling of the individual to mankind at large, it is supposed to affront the conscious dignity of human nature and the nobility of the soul of man. And further extending the thought from ourselves to the scheme of God’s saving love towards us, it is thought to deprive the Gospel of its genial beauty, and to make it harsh, distasteful, and unloving. The estimate of sin implied in these difficulties is a profound mistake. A true doctrine of sin elevates the man, not degrades him; the sense of sin is a sign of strength and knowledge, not of weakness and ignorance, exalting human nature, and making it greater, alike in the memories of the past, the magnificent hopes of the future, and the condition of the present. It gives loveliness and glory to the whole Gospel scheme, and invests it with a captivating power over the human heart otherwise unknown.
I. Look at the sense of sin in the individual. Place in as sharp a contrast as our personal experience may enable us to do, the two states of the man, converted and unconverted. What is the difference that has been made between them? The man has lost nothing except his pride. He has not deteriorated one whit since the change. He has gained a new ideal, a higher conception of moral goodness, a loftier standard by which to measure himself. A man grows into his aims, and rises or sinks with them. The man satisfied with his own work can never be great. It is the same with the conscience that it is with the intellect. The same laws pervade all our nature. The man who has acquired a sense of sin has simply grown. How has this conception been gained? The text gives the answer. The soul of Job was filled with deepest humiliation. Now there had flashed upon his soul an actual vision of God. The words “now mine eye seeth Thee” express inward sight, not outward. It is remarkable that Job saw God mainly in His immensity and sovereignty, for to these, rather than His moral attributes, the words of God refer. In that sight Job saw the infinite distance between God and himself.
II. When we look to the aggregate of mankind the sense of sin suggests the grandeur of human nature. The human nature is a fallen thing, sadly different to what it was when it came first from the Creator’s hand, the finite reflection of His own infinite perfections, if human nature be not fallen, then all its sins and sorrows are an essential part of itself, and never can be otherwise. The man was made thus. What hope can there ever be of change?
III. The doctrine of sin gives such a height and depths of glory to the Gospel as it can possess in no other way. From this alone we understand the occasion of the Gospel, and see the necessity for it. The greatness and value of a remedy can only be commensurate with the evil that it cures. I do not say that sin is a good or noble thing. The sense of sin is a prelude to the song of triumph. (E. Garbett, M. A.)
Humiliation and exaltation
Something more was needed to be wrought in Job’s heart. A great work had been wrought there, when he was brought to exclaim, “Behold, I am vile.” But still he must descend a step lower. The valley of humiliation is very deep, and the sufferer must go down to its very lowest point. This Job did when he spoke the words of the text. But how do these words show more humiliation than the preceding ones, “Behold, I am vile”? It is a question which may well be asked. Something was still wanting in him. And as the last confession was the end of his trial, we may still further conclude that what was wanting before was then attained. It must strike us that the last is in every respect a more full expression--a manifest expansion of the former. In that Job acknowledged his exceeding sinfulness, and was silent before God. But in this be confesses what he had overlooked before, the power and omniscience of God, and he enters into a more detailed acknowledgment of his sins. Look a little, first, into the progress of Job’s inner life. His former knowledge he compares to the hearing of the ear, his latter experience to the sight of the eye. Job does not mean to express that, before this affliction, he was entirely destitute of all saving knowledge of God. The words, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear,” taken by themselves, and without reference to Job’s history, might mean this. His words must be understood in a comparative, not in an absolute sense. Job means to describe his progress in the knowledge of God, and this he does by comparing it to the two senses of hearing and sight. And this comparison is very instructive; for the ear, as compared with the eye, is a very imperfect medium of knowledge. Do you see, then, the difference between the two degrees of knowledge? in the first there may be tolerably clear apprehensions of God, accompanied by some fear and love. The characteristic of the second is that God’s presence impresses the heart. It is the precious knowledge of God in Christ which those have who walk by living faith--who enjoy constant communion with God, who live on Jesus. Some there are who, through grace, walk in this blessed vision of God; God is near them, and they realise His nearness. To see God, remember that you must behold Him in Christ Jesus. But the increase of light, in Job’s case, was followed by a depth of humiliation. Job was a believer, and therefore a penitent man long before this. It was a repentance for sins committed after he knew God--for sins of self-righteousness, of impatience, of murmuring. It is not enough to repent once only, when we are first brought to God. We need Constant repentance. (George Wagner.)
Man’s worse self
After all, were the charges brought by the three friends against the patriarch just? Was he in the end proved to be the transgressor and the self-deceiver which they had affirmed from the beginning he was? If not, what means this confession, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes, extorted from him at this late hour?” “I abhor myself, and repent,” sounds very differently from his former asseverations. How are we to explain the incongruity? This confession, in the text, is unquestionable evidence that in no respect was Job hypocritical. Considering what had come to pass, the abhorrence of himself which he now expressed was a stronger testimony that there was no unrighteousness in him than all his previous self-justification. Had there been a doubt of his integrity before, there could have been none now. But was it the same person who said, I abhor myself and repent,” and was he in the same state when he said it, as when he said, “My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go”? Yea, the very same. The very opposition of the language, coupled with the variation of the accessories, demonstrates the identity of the speaker. What had happened? God appeared, walking upon the wings of the wind, had confronted the patriarch, and pleaded His cause; hence, the subdued and self-despising tone of his reply; and hence, neither by his Divine Justifier, nor his human accusers, could anything be added to it, nor anything be taken from it. It was the free confession of a perfect man, humble and abasing as it was: How is the apparent discrepancy to be explained? In the presence of God man is very differently affected by the sight of himself than when in the presence of his fellows. The difference of self-estimate here is the difference between man in man’s sight and in God’s, and this alone. In the presence of his fellows man doth not clearly see himself, any more than he seeth them clearly. We know neither the worst about the bad in this world, neither the best about the good. Overhanging the world is a moral haze. If it hinder us from the perception of some excellence, it also prevents our seeing much depravity. When a man “cometh to God,” or rather God come to him, the man “cometh to the light.” When a man seeth himself in the blaze of that “Sun of Righteousness,” compared with whose brightness the sun in the material heavens is as a dark ball, he is at once made conscious of a number of flaws and failings, faults and fallacies in the moral constitution, of which he may have had no previous knowledge; and which, had not He who is the source of light and love darted His heavenly beams into the secret corners of “the chambers of his imagery” within, he might have remained ignorant forever. Man is a two-sided being. In his moral aspects he is by turns a dwarf and a giant. He possesses a better self and a worse. He hath a sincere and an evil double. No man ever had his good self built up within him, who was not constantly upon his guard against his bad self. What then is the difference between man and man? It is that one man is duly mindful of the phenomenon, and another is not. It behoves us then to determine which side of our nature we will take; and having taken it, to beseech of God that we may never desert it, or go over to the other. According to the side we habitually take, we are what we are; and such do we appear to the world, and the world to us. On the sunny side of the road all things look sunny; on the opposite all things look shaded. He who acts from the worst side is against God; and he who is against God is against himself; as he who is not on God’s side is no longer on his own. (Alfred Bowen Evans.)
The sinner’s mourning habit
The Lord hath many messengers by whom He solicits man. But none despatcheth His business surer or sooner than affliction. If that fail of bringing a man home, nothing can do it. Job was not ignorant of God before, when he sat in the sunshine of peace. But he says that in his prosperity, he had only heard of God; now, in his trial, he had seen Him. When we hear a man described, our imagination conceives an idea or form of him but darkly; if we see him, and intentively look upon him, there is an impression of him in our minds. Such a more full and perfect apprehension of God did calamity work in this holy man. Here is a Jacob’s ladder, but of four rounds. Divinity is the highest. “I have seen Thee; therefore.” Mortality is the lowest. “Dust and ashes.” Between these sit two others, “shame,” and “sorrow”; no man can abhor himself without shame, nor repent without sorrow. “Wherefore.” This refers to the motive that humbled him; and that appears by the context to be a double meditation--one of God’s majesty, another of His mercy. Put both these together, and here is matter of humiliation. “Even to dust and ashes.” Humility is not only a virtue itself, but a vessel to contain other virtues. The children of grace have learned to think well of other people, and to abhor themselves. He that repents truly, abhors himself. “I repent.” Repentance hath much acquaintance in the world, and few friends; it is better known than practised, and yet not “more known than trusted. It is every man’s medicine, a universal antidote. Repentance is the fair gift of God. There is no other fortification against the judgments of God but repentance. “In dust and ashes.” An adorned body is not a vehicle for a humbled soul. Repentance gives a farewell not only to wonted delights, but even to natural refreshings. In both dust and ashes we have a lesson of our mortality. I call you not to cast dust on your heads, or to sit in ashes, but to that sorrow and compunction of soul whereof the other was but an external symbol. Let us rend our hearts, and not our garments. (T. Adams.)
Job among the ashes
In the confession that now lies before us, Job acknowledges God’s boundless power. He sees his own folly, Notwithstanding, the man of God proceeds to draw near unto the Lord, before whom he bows himself. Foolish as he confesses himself, he does not therefore fly from the supreme wisdom.
I. We have sometimes very vivid impressions of God. Job had long before heard of God, and that is a great matter. If you have heard God in the secret of your soul, you are a spiritual man; for only a spirit can hear the Spirit of God. Now Job has a more vivid apprehension of Him. Notice that in order to this close vision of God affliction had overtaken him. In prosperity God is heard; in adversity God is seen, and that is a greater blessing. Possibly helpful also to this seeing God, was Job’s desertion by his friends. Still, before Job could see the Lord, there was a special manifestation on God’s part to him. God must really come and in a gracious way make a display of Himself to His servants, or else they will not see Him. Your afflictions will not of themselves reveal God to you. If the Lord does not Himself unveil His face, your sorrow may even blind and harden you, and make you rebellious.
II. When we have these vivid apprehensions of God, we have lowlier views of ourselves. Why are the wicked so proud? Because they forget God.
1. God Himself is the measure of rectitude, and hence, when we come to think of God, we soon discover our own shortcomings and transgressions. Too often we compare ourselves among ourselves, and are not wise. If thou wouldest be right, thou must measure thyself with the holiness of God. When I think of this, self-righteousness seems to me to be a wretched insanity. If you would know what God is, He sets Himself before us in the person of His own dear Son. In every respect in which we fall short of the perfect character of Jesus, in that respect we sin.
2. God Himself is the object of every transgression, and this sets sin in a terrible light. See then the impertinence of sin. How dare we transgress against God! The fact that sin is levelled at God makes us bow in lowliness. When God is seen with admiration, then of necessity we are filled with self-loathing. Do you know what self-loathing means?
III. Such a sight fills the heart with true repentance. What did Job repent of?
1. Of that tremendous curse which he had pronounced upon the day of his birth.
2. Of his desire to die.
3. Of all his complaints against God.
4. Of his despair.
5. Of his rash challenges of God.
According to our text, repentance puts man into the lowest place. All real repentance is joined with holy sorrow and self-loathing. But repentance has comfort in it. The door of repentance opens into the halls of joy. Job’s repentance in dust and ashes was the sign of his deliverance. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends.
Job’s friends condemned and he acquitted
These words suggest the following reflections.
I. God is an auditor to all the discussions of mankind. If men realised this, all frivolous, vain, ill-natured, deceitful, profane, irreverent, and untruthful speech will be hushed.
II. The professed advocates of religion may commit sin in their advocacy. These three men were engaged in an endeavour to vindicate the ways of God. They considered Job a great heretic; and they took on themselves to stand up for God and truth. Notwithstanding this, they had not spoken of Him the thing that was right. There are professed advocates of religion who speak not “the thing that is right” concerning God.
III. A practical confession of sin is the duty of all sinners. “Take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering,” etc.
IV. Intercession of one man for another is a Divine law. “Go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you; for him will I accept.”
1. Intercessory prayer is an instinct of the soul. Nothing is more natural than to cry to heaven on behalf of those in whom we feel a vital interest.
2. Intercessory prayer is a blessing to the soul.
V. The life of a good man is a blessing to a community. “My servant Job shall pray for you; for him will I accept; lest I deal with you after your folly.” For Job’s sake these men were forgiven and blessed. God educates, saves, and ennobles man by man. (Homilist.)
As My servant Job hath.
My servant Job
Look at Job in his misery. Now comes the problem. Why this sudden, this awful change? Morally, spiritually, religiously, this man is just what he was before. The friends vainly tried to account for it on the score of his own ill-doings and moral defects. Job victoriously repels all their charges and insinuations. Elihu tries to meet the case by arguing that “God is greater than man.” How can the finite have the infinite made simple? You cannot pour the ocean into a pond. Though we cannot understand His matters, yet He has revealed enough of Himself and His doings, and more than enough, to show us that trust in His providence, loyalty to His rule, and hope in His Word is gloriously certain to result in our safety and security, our sustentation and deliverance, our ultimate prosperity and peace. “My servant Job.” God calls him by that name in the days of his wealth and prosperity. Riches and grace can go together. God calls him by the same name before ever the days of testing, trial, and calamity came upon him. The expression is used by the Almighty at the end of the book as well as at the beginning, and what was Job’s condition then? Just before this was said, Job bad uttered hard things of his God,--of His government, of His dealings with himself. Even when God came to speak to him he was sullen under a sense of wrong. And yet, in spite of all his faults, infirmities, and sins, the Lord lays His hand lovingly on his bended head, and fondly owns him, in the presence of his three friends, as “My servant Job.” (J. Jackson Wray.)
In the wrong
It is not the first time in the history of the world that the majority of religious professors have been wrong. The solitary thinker, the philosopher, the heretic, the forlorn monk, the rejected of his day, has been sometimes, even in spite of many errors, in the right, That little group in that unknown land of Uz, who tried to silence the one among them who was in his wild cries and low wails the herald and the apostle of a truth that was one day to be embodied in the symbol of Christ’s religion--they warn us against thinking that truth is always to be found on the side of numbers, that the God of truth marches always with the largest battalions. How startling to those who heard them, how instructive to us who read them, are the words which we shall find when next we meet, “Ye who have been so earnest, so rigid in justifying My ways, and asserting My righteousness; ye have not spoken the thing that is right, as My servant Job hath.” (Dean Bradley.)
And the Lord turned the captivity of Job.
The turning of Job’s captivity
Since God is immutable He acts always upon the same principles, and hence His course of action in the olden times to a man of a certain sort will be a guide as to what others may expect who are of like character. God does not act by caprice, nor by fits and starts. We are not all like Job, but we all have Job’s God. Though we have neither risen to Job’s wealth, nor will, probably, ever sink to Job’s poverty, yet there is the same God above us if we be high, and the same God with His everlasting arms beneath us if we be brought low; and what the Lord did for Job He will do for us, not precisely in the same form, but in the same spirit, and with like design. If, therefore, we are brought low tonight, let us be encouraged with the thought that God will turn again our captivity; and let us entertain the hope that after the time of trial shall be over we shall be richer, especially in spiritual things, than ever we were before.
I. First, then, the Lord can soon turn His people’s captivity. That is a very remarkable expression--“captivity.” It does not say, “God turned his poverty,” though Job was reduced to the extremity of penury. We do not read that the Lord turned his sickness, though he was covered with sore boils. A man may be very poor, and yet not in captivity, his soul may sing among the angels when his body is on a dunghill and dogs are licking his sores. A man may be very sick, and yet not be in captivity; he may be roaming the broad fields of covenant mercy, though he cannot rise from his bed. Captivity is bondage of mind, the iron entering into the soul. I suspect that Job, under the severe mental trial which attended his bodily pains, was, as to his spirit, like a man bound hand and foot and fettered. I mean that, together with the trouble and trial to which he was subjected, he had lost somewhat the presence of God; much of his joy and comfort had departed; the peace of his mind had gone. He could only follow the occupation of a captive, that is, to be oppressed, to weep, to claim compassion, and to pour out a dolorous complaint. Poor Job! He is less to be pitied for his bereavements, poverty, and sickness, than for his loss of that candle of the Lord which once shone about his head. Touch a man in his bone, and in his flesh, and yet he may exult; but touch him in his mind--let the finger of God be laid upon his spirit--and then, indeed, he is in captivity. The Lord can deliver us out of spiritual captivity, and that very speedily. Some feel everything except what they want to feel. They enjoy no sweetness in the means of grace, and yet for all the world they would not give them up. They used at one time to rejoice in the Lord; but now they cannot see His face, and the u most they can say is, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” Therefore, mark well this cheering truth--God can turn your captivity, and turn it at once. Some of God’s children seem to think that to recover their former joy must occupy a long period of time. It is true, that if you had to work your passage back to where you came from it would be a weary voyage. He will vouchsafe to you the conscious enjoyment of His presence on the same terms as at first, that is, on terms of free and sovereign grace. Did you not at that time admit the Saviour to your soul because you could not do without Him? Is it not a good reason for receiving Him again? Was there anything in you when you received Him which could commend you to Him? Say, were you not all over defilement, and full of sin and misery? And yet you opened the door, and said, “My Lord, come in, in Thy free grace: come in, for I must have Thee, or I perish.” Having begun to live by grace, wouldst thou go on to live by works? Well do I know what it is to feel this wondrous power of God to turn our captivity. The Lord does not take days, months, weeks, or even hours to do His work of revival in our souls. He made the world in six days, but He lit it up in an instant with one single word. He can do the same as to our temporal captivity. Now, it may be I address some friend who has been a great sufferer through pecuniary losses. The Lord can turn your captivity. When Job had lost everything, God readily gave him all back. “Yes,” say you, “but that was a very remarkable case.” I grant you that, but then we have to do with a remarkable God, who works wonders still. If you consider the matter you will see that it was quite as remarkable a thing that Job should lose all his property as it was that he should get it back again. If you had walked over Job’s farm at first, and seen the camels and the cattle, if you had gone into his house and seen the furniture and the grandeur of his state, and if you had gone to his children’s house, and seen the comfort in which they lived, you would have said, “Why, this is one of the best-established men in all the land of Uz. I have heard of great fortunes collapsing, but then they were built on speculations. They were only paper riches, made up of bills and the like; but in the case of this man there are oxen, sheep, camels, and land, and these cannot melt into thin air. Job has a good substantial estate, I cannot believe that ever he will come to poverty.” Surely if God could scatter such an estate as that He could, with equal ease, bring it back again. But this is what we do not always see. We see the destructive power of God, but we are not very clear about the up-building power of God. Yet surely it is more consonant with the nature of God that He should give than take, and more like Him that He should caress than chastise. Does He not always say that judgment is His strange work? When the Lord went about to enrich His servant Job again, He went about that work, as we say, con amore--with heart and soul. He was doing then what He delights to do, for God’s happiness is never more clearly seen than when He is distributing the largesses of His love. Why can you not look at your own circumstances in the same light? The Lord can turn the captivity of His people. You may apply the truth to a thousand different things. You Sunday school teachers, if you have had a captivity in your class, and no good has been done, God can change that. You ministers, if for a long time you have ploughed and sowed in vain, the Lord can turn your captivity there. You wives who have been praying for your husbands, you fathers who have been pleading for your children, and have seen no blessing yet, the Lord can turn your captivity in those respects.
II. There is generally some point at which the Lord interposes to turn the captivity of His people. In Job’s case, I have no doubt, the Lord turned his captivity, as far as the Lord was concerned, because the grand experiment which had been tried on Job was now over. The suggestion of Satan was that Job was selfish in his piety--that he found honesty to be the best policy, and therefore he was honest--that godliness was gain, and therefore he was godly. The devil generally does one of two things. Sometimes he tells the righteous that there is no reward for their holiness, and then they say, “Surely, I have cleansed my heart in vain and washed my hands in innocency”; or else he tells them that they only obey the Lord because they have a selfish eye to the reward. God puts His servants sometimes into these experiments that He may test them, that Satan himself may know how true-hearted God’s grace has made them, and that the world may see how they can play the man. Good engineers, if they build a bridge, are glad to have a train of enormous weight go over it. I am sure that if any of you had invented some implement requiring strength you would be glad to have it tested, and the account of the successful trial published abroad. “Do your worst or do your best, it is a good instrument; do what you like with it”; so the maker of a genuine article is accustomed to speak; and the Lord seems to say the same concerning His people. “My work of grace in them is mighty and thorough. Test it, Satan; test it, world; test it by bereavements, losses, and reproaches: it will endure every ordeal.” And when it is tested, and bears it all, then the Lord turns the captivity of His people, for the experiment is complete, Most probably there was, in Job’s character, some fault from which his trial was meant to purge him. If he erred at all, probably it was in having a somewhat elevated idea of himself and a stern manner towards others. A little of the elder brother spirit may, perhaps, have entered into him. When, through the light of trial, and the yet greater light of God’s glorious presence, Job saw himself unveiled, he abhorred himself in dust and ashes. You see, the trial had reached its point. It had evidently been blessed to Job, and it had proved Satan to be a liar, and so now the fire of the trial goes out, and like precious metal the patriarch comes forth from the furnace brighter than ever. I will try and indicate, briefly, when I think God may turn your trial.
1. Sometimes He does so when that trial has discovered to you your especial sin.
2. Perhaps, too, your turning point will be when your spirit is broken. We are by nature a good deal like horses that want breaking in, or, to use a scriptural simile, we are as “bullocks unaccustomed to the yoke.” Well, the horse has to go through certain processes in the menage until at last it is declared to be “thoroughly broken in,” and we need similar training. You and I are not yet quite broken in, I am afraid.
3. Sometimes, again, trial may cease when you have learned the lesson which it was intended to teach you, as to some point of Gospel truth. “It is enough; I have taught my child the lesson, and I will let him go.”
4. I think, too, it may be with some of us that God gives us trouble until we obtain a sympathetic spirit. How can a man sympathise with trouble that he never knew? How can he be tender in heart if he has never been touched with infirmity himself? If one is to be a comforter to others, he must know the sorrows and the sicknesses of others in his measure.
5. In Job’s case the Lord turned his captivity when he prayed for his friends. Prayer for ourselves is blessed work, but for the child of God it is a higher exercise to become an intercessor, and to pray for others. Prayer for ourselves, good as it is, has just a touch of selfishness about it; prayer for others is delivered from that ingredient.
III. That believers shall not be losers for their God. God, in the experiment, took from Job all that he had, but at the end He gave him back twice as much as he had. If a man should take away my silver and give me twice the weight in gold in return, should I not be thankful? And so, if the Lord takes away temporals and gives us spirituals, He thus gives us a hundred times more than He takes away. You shall never lose anything by what you suffer for God. If, for Christ’s sake you are persecuted, you shall receive in this life your reward; but if not, rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. You shall not lose anything by God’s afflicting you. You shall, for a time, be an apparent loser; but a real loser in the end you shall never be. We serve a good Master, and if He chooses to try us for a little we will bear our trial cheerfully, for God will turn our captivity ere long. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Book of Job resembles a drama. An English biblical scholar calls it “the Prometheus or the Faust of the most complete age of Jewish civilisation.” What, as illustrated in the story of Job, is the ripe result of affliction?
1. A true knowledge of God (verse 2). He had assumed that he, a finite man, could understand the mystery of God’s providence. He had held a theory of religion which made prosperity the reward of goodness, and suffering the effect and evidence of sin, and which denied that the latter could ever befall the godly. By the calamities which overtook him, while conscious of his integrity, this theory had been violently shaken. It seemed to him that the Almighty had set him up as a mark for His arrows, without any cause. In the stupor of his distress and amazement he had sat down in the ashes in silent misery and brooded like one in a trance over the perplexing mystery. His heart ran over in the fulness of its sorrow, and he uttered a cry of regret that he had ever been born. It seemed to him that God had utterly forgotten and cast off His child. No other composition so describes the wrestlings of a distressed human spirit with the mystery of sorrow, none breathes out such longings for death as a refuge and escape from trouble. In his conception God was a being of arbitrary purposes and action, who governed the world in veiled obscurity, remote, inaccessible to tender appeal, regardless of man’s weal or woe. Out of the darkness we hear him call to the incomprehensible and invisible One. Who has not this feeling of uncertainty and remoteness toward God when in great trouble the soul gropes in the darkness for Him? Job reckoned not that man is incapable of judging the meaning of God’s dark providences; that within the range of God’s view there might be broad zones of light, though to his narrow vision all was dark; and that within the resources of God’s omnipotent power there might be found stores of relief and goodness that should give a way of escape from his trouble far better than that offered by the grave. To this larger and truer view, however, he was brought at last. As we read the book from the beginning to the end, we can perceive the change of view gradually going on. In the struggle of his mind with the mystery of his sorrow, another conception of God is seen slowly shaping itself in his thoughts. God is not indifferent to our sorrows, neither does He recklessly inflict on us pain.
2. A second fruit of his affliction was a feeling of humility and penitence for his sin (verses 3-6). All his upbraidings of God had been like the complaint of a foolish child. His proper place was only that of an humble inquirer. God alone was able to answer the problems that environed his existence. He was humbled to the dust before the new view of God which dawned upon him. Spiritual conceit vanishes at the sight of the Holy One. The night of sorrow produces more than the day of prosperity.
3. The sufferer’s manifest acceptance with God (verses 7-10). Job was approved of God, while his three friends, who had seemed to be the special champions of God’s truth, are condemned. The temper of the friends had grown more harsh, and their conduct more and more reprehensible. They sin against charity and truth. A lesson underlies the restoration. Job’s earthly possessions may, without his being aware of it, have had too large a place in his heart. Now Job was able to use the world as not abusing it. One thought in conclusion. It is that when trouble comes and lies heavy on us, the thing to be done is not to long for death, or to accuse God of cruelty and injustice, but to be patient and wait for deliverance. (Sermons by Monday Club.)
When he prayed for his friends.--
“The Lord turned the captivity of Job.” So, then, our longest sorrows have a close, and there is a bottom to the profoundest depths of our misery. Our winters shall not frown forever; summer shall soon smile. The tide shall not eternally ebb out; the floods retrace their march. The night shall not hang its darkness forever over our souls; the sun shall yet arise with healing beneath his wings--“The Lord turned again the captivity of Job.” Our sorrows shall have an end when God has gotten His end in them. When Satan is defeated, then shall the battle cease. The Lord aimed also at the trial of Job’s faith. Many weights were hung upon this palm tree, but it still grew uprightly. Another purpose the Lord had was His own glory. And God was glorified abundantly. Job had glorified God on his dunghill; now let him magnify his Lord again upon his royal seat in the gate. God had another end, and that also was served. Job had been sanctified by his afflictions. His spirit had been mellowed. Thou hast had a long captivity in affliction. He shall make again thy vineyard to blossom, and thy field to yield her fruit. “The Lord turned again the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends.” Intercessory prayer was the omen of his returning greatness. It was the bow in the cloud, the dove bearing the olive branch, the voice of the turtle announcing the coming summer. When his soul began to expand itself in holy and loving prayer for his erring brethren, then the heart of God showed itself to him by returning to him his prosperity without, and cheering his soul within.
I. First, then, by way of commending the exercise, let me remind you that intercessory prayer has been practised by all the best of God’s saints. Take Abraham, the father of the faithful. How earnestly did he plead for his son Ishmael! “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” With what importunity did he approach the Lord on the plains of Mamre, when he wrestled with Him again and again for Sodom. Remember Moses, the most royal of men, whether crowned or uncrowned; how often did he intercede! But further, while we might commend this duty by quoting innumerable examples from the lives of eminent saints, it is enough for the disciple of Christ if we say that Christ in His Holy Gospel has made it your duty and your privilege to intercede for others. When He taught us to pray, he said, “Our Father,” and the expressions which follow are not in the singular, but in the plural--“Give us this day our daily bread.” If in the Bible there were no example of intercessory supplication, if Christ had not left it upon record that it was His will that we should pray for others, and even if we did not know that it was Christ’s practice to intercede, yet the very spirit of our holy religion would constrain us to plead for others. Dost thou go up into thy closet, and in the face and presence of God think of none but thyself? Surely the love of Christ cannot be in thee, for the spirit of Christ is not selfish. No man liveth unto himself when once he has the love of Christ in him. I commend intercessory prayer, because it opens man’s soul, gives a healthy play to his sympathies, constrains him to feel that he is not everybody, and that this wide world and this great universe were not, after all, made that he might be its petty lord, that everything might bend to his will, and all creatures crouch at his feet. It does him good, I say, to make him know that the cross was not uplifted alone for him, for its far-reaching arms were meant to drop with benedictions upon millions of the human race. I do not know anything which, through the grace of God, may be a better means of uniting us the one to the other than constant prayer for each other. Shall I need to say more in commendation of intercessory prayer except it be this, that it seems to me that when God gives any man much grace, it must be with the design that he may use it for the rest of the family. I would compare you who have near communion with God to courtiers in the king’s palace. What do courtiers do? Do they not avail themselves of their influence at court to take the petitions of their friends, and present them where they can be heard? This is what we call patronage--a thing with which many find fault when it is used for political ends, but there is a kind of heavenly patronage which you ought to use right diligently.
II. We turn to our second point, and endeavour to say something by way of encouragement, that you may cheerfully offer intercessory supplications. First, remember that intercessory prayer is the sweetest prayer God ever hears. Do not question it, for the prayer of Christ is of this character. In all the incense which now our Great High Priest puts into the censer, there is not a single grain that is for Himself. His work is done; His reward obtained. Now, you do not doubt but that Christ’s prayer is the most acceptable of all supplications. Remember, again, that intercessory prayer is exceedingly prevalent. What wonders it has wrought!
III. A suggestion as to the persons for whom we should more particularly pray. It shall be but a suggestion, and I will then turn to my last point.
1. In the case of Job, he prayed for his offending friends. They had spoken exceedingly harshly of him. They had misconstrued all his previous life, and though there had never been a part of his character which deserved censure--for the Lord witnessed concerning him, that he was a perfect and an upright man yet they accused him of hypocrisy, and supposed that all he did was for the sake of gain. Now, perhaps, there is no greater offence which can he given to an upright and a holy man, than to his face to suspect his motives and to accuse him of self-seeking. Carry your offending ones to the throne of God, it shall be a blessed method of proving the trueness of your forgiveness.
2. Again, be sure you take there your controverting friends. These brethren had been arguing with Job, and the controversy dragged its weary length along. It is better to pray than it is to controvert. You say, “Let two good men, on different sides, meet and fight the matter out.” I say, “No! let the two good men meet and pray the matter out.” He that will not submit his doctrine to the test of the mercy seat, I should suspect is wrong.
3. This is the thing we ought also to do with our haughty friends. Eliphaz and Bildad wire very high and haughty--Oh! how they looked down upon poor Job! They thought he was a very great sinner, a very desperate hypocrite; they stayed with him, but doubtless they thought it very great condescension. Why be angry with your brother because of his being proud? It is a disease, a very bad disease, that scarlet fever of pride; go and pray the Lord to cure him; your anger will not do it; it may puff him up, and make him worse than ever he was before, but it will not set him right. But particularly let me ask you to pray most for those who are disabled from praying for themselves. Job’s three friends could not pray for themselves, because the Lord said He would not accept them if they did. He said He was angry with them, but as for Job, said He, “Him will I accept.” Do not let me shock your feelings when I say there are some, even of God’s people, who are not able to pray acceptably at certain seasons.
IV. I have to exhort you to pray for others. Do you always pray for others? Do you think you have taken the case of your children, your church, your neighbourhood, and the ungodly world before God as you ought to have done? I begin thus, by saying, how can you and I repay the debt we owe to the Church unless we pray for others? How was it that you were converted? It was because somebody else prayed for you. Now, if by others’ prayers you and I were brought to Christ, how can we repay this Christian kindness, but by pleading for others? He who has not a man to pray for him may write himself down a hopeless character. Then, again, permit me to say, how are you to prove your love to Christ or to His Church if you refuse to pray for men? “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” Christians are priests, but how priests if they offer no sacrifice? Christians are lights, but how lights unless they shine for others? Christians are sent into the world, even as Christ was sent into the world, but how sent unless they are sent to pray? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God made an act of piety on the part of Job the condition of his restoration to his lost possessions and dignities.
I. The agreement of this fact with the teaching of Scripture. Honour is always put on intercession. It may be said that we see not how the blessing of one can be effected by the fervency or carelessness of another. But this reasoning would put an end to all prayer and effort. For who can explain how our requests can affect the Divine will, or change the course of events?
II. The encouragement here held forth to us. Clear is the duty of intercession. Great is the honour, that we who are unworthy to pray for ourselves should be admitted as petitioners for others. Yet all will feel the need of encouragement in this duty. Sometimes by reason of sin and temptation the Christian cannot come to God in prayer. The best thing to do at such times is, pray for his friends. Thus his heart will be insensibly enlarged, and his spirit drawn heavenward. Whatever raises us out of our miserable slavery to ourselves augments devotional feeling. Some feel themselves desolate in the world, as if none knew their sorrows, or cared for their souls. But if they were frequent in intercession, the comfortable truth would come home to them, that all the children of God are, in private and public worship really praying for them. Others sigh for a wider field of activity; but if they would give themselves to prayer for other workers, they would understand that they bear no mean or needless office in Christ’s Church. In mutual and common prayer we shall find deliverance from the jealousies, suspicions, enmities and divisions which cramp and mar the spiritual life of the Church and her members. (M. Biggs, M. A.)
Preparation for success
A man of God is not prepared to enjoy success till he has tasted defeat. Many an heir of heaven will never be fit for heaven till first of all he has been brought near to the gates of hell: A traveller said to me, speaking of the heat, how different it is from cold; for the more you suffer heat, the less you can endure it; but the more you are tried with cold, the more you can bear it, for it hardens you. I am sure it is so as to the influences of prosperity and adversity. Prosperity softens and renders us unfit for more of itself; but adversity braces the soul, and hardens it to patience. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Sell-triumph through self-forgetfulness
The climax in Job’s life was the hour when, in his terrible desolation and sorrow, he ceased to think of himself, and began to pray for his friends. Even his oxen and asses came back to him, when, unmindful of his own poverty, he was busy seeking spiritual riches for others. Self-forgetfulness in work for others turns away many degrading captivities.
1. It saves us from the tyranny of an overweening self-conceit. Self-conceit blinds its victims. It blocks the doorway to true knowledge. It robs us of sympathy. Work for others rescues us from that dangerous tyrant, “Myself.”
2. It rescues us from the slavish monotony and narrowness of a selfish life. We are told of a little street waif who was once taken to the house of a wealthy English lady. Looking about on the unaccustomed splendour, the child asked, “Can you get everything you want?” The mistress of the mansion replied, “Yes, I think so.” “Can you buy anything you would like to have? Yes.” The keen little eyes looked at her pityingly as she said, “Don’t you find it dull?” Many a man and many a woman, given up to a life of simply looking after self, have found it intolerably dull, and have yawned themselves out of life from pure monotony.
3. It frees us from captivity to covetousness. Some men are human sponges that absorb all the good things of life they touch, but never give up anything unless they are squeezed so tight that they can’t help doing it. God saves us frequently from this meanest of tyrants, by setting us to work to distribute what He has given us, for the benefit of others. Self-forgetfulness in work for others does also some positive things for us. It beautifies the character. (L. A. Banks.)
Job’s prayer for his friends a moral victory
Notice that this flagellation by the three friends was premeditated. They did not merely happen in, and come suddenly upon trouble for which they could not offer a compound. The Bible says, “They had made an appointment together.” The interview was prearranged. The meanness of the attack of these religious critics was augmented by the fact that they had the sufferer in their power. When we are well, and we do not like what one is saying, we can get up and go away. But Job was too ill to get up and go away. First he endured the seven days and seven nights of silence, and then he endured their arraignment of his motives and character, and after their cruel campaign was ended, by a sublime effort of soul, which I this day uphold for imitation, he triumphed in prayer for his tantalisers. In all history there is nothing equal to it, except the memorable imploration by Christ for His enemies. No wonder that after that prayer of Job was once uttered, a thrill of recovery shot through every nerve and vein of his tortured body, and every passion of his great soul; and God answered it by adding nearly a century and a half to his lifetime, and whitened the hills With flocks of sheep, and filled the air with the lowing of cattle, and wakened the silent nursery of his home with the swift feet and the laughing voices of childhood--seven sons and three daughters celebrated for their beauty, the daughters to refine the sons, the sons to defend the daughters. There is nothing that pays so well as prayer, and the more difficult the prayer to make, the greater the reward for making it. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Prayer for others salutary
Now, will you please explain to me how Job’s prayer for his friends halted his catastrophes. Give me some good reason why Job on his knees in behalf of the welfare of others arrested the long procession of calamities. Mind you, it was not prayer for himself, for then the cessation of his troubles would have been only another instance of prayer answered, but the portfolio of his disaster was roiled up while he supplicated God in behalf of Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. I must confess to you that I had to read the text over and over again before I got its full meaning. “And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends.” Well, if you will not explain it to me, I will explain it to you. The healthiest, the most recuperative thing on earth to do is to stop thinking so much about ourselves and go to thinking about the welfare of others. Job had been studying his misfortunes, but the more he thought about his bankruptcy, the poorer he seemed; the more he thought of his carbuncles, the worse they hurt; the more he thought of his unfortunate marriage, the more intolerable became the conjugal relation; the more he thought of his house blown down the more terrific seemed the cyclone. His misfortunes grew blacker and blacker. But there was to come a reversal of these sad conditions. One day he said to himself, “I have been dwelling too much on my bodily ailments, and my wife’s temper, and my bereavements. It is time I began to think about others and do something for others, and I will start now by praying for my three friends.” Then Job dropped upon his knees, and as he did so, the last shackle of his captivity of trouble snapped and fell off. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job.
The limitation of Job’s blessings to this life
Is there not something incongruous in the large award of temporal good, and even something unnecessary in the renewed honour among men? To us it seems that a good man will be satisfied with the favour and fellowship of a loving God. Yet, assuming that the conclusion is a part of the history on which the poem was founded, we can justify the blaze of splendour that bursts on Job after sorrow, instruction, and reconciliation. Life only can reward life. That great principle was rudely shadowed forth in the old belief that God protects His servants even to a green old age. Job had lived strongly, alike in mundane and moral region. How is he to find continued life? The author’s power could not pass the limits of the natural to promise a reward. Net yet was it possible, even for a great thinker, to affirm that continued fellowship with Eloah, that continued intellectual and spiritual energy that we call eternal life. A vision of it had come to him; he had seen the day of the Lord afar off, but dimly, by moments. To carry a life into it was beyond his power. Sheol made nothing perfect; and beyond Sheol no prophet eye had ever travelled. There was nothing for it then, but to use the history as it stood, adding symbolic touches, and show the restored life in development on earth, more powerful than ever, more esteemed, more richly endowed for good action. Priestly office and power are given to Job. Wider opportunities for service, more cordial esteem and affection, the highest office that man can bear, these are the reward of Job. And with the terms of the symbolism we shall not quarrel who have heard the Lord say, “Well done, thou good servant; because thou wast found faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.” (R. A. Watson.)
Light at eventide
Have not some of us had experience in the glorious Alps, when, on nearly reaching the top, we have been surrounded by clouds, mist filled the air, the tempest hurtled around us, and we sat down utterly disappointed in our hope of a glorious view, and ready to wail with despair at a lost day, a lost prospect, a lost joy? But by and by a strong wind swept the heavens and revealed the beauty of the skies! There stood the white throne of the Monta Rosa and yonder the magnificent Matterhorn, and as the evening sun bathed it in rosy glory we have stood lost in admiration. “At evening time it was light.” Have not you and I had experiences in the past like that? Ah! we have, and realised the blessed hope. We cannot give up in despair, even in times of trial. Many are the experiences of this kind in the history of God’s people. Look at poor old Jacob, bewailing the fate of his dead: “All these things are against me; I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning.” Wait a minute! The caravan is coming! Glorious news! His sons returning, bringing full sacks of corn to Jacob and his family. At evening time to the old man it is light--it is light! (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
“All’s well that ends well”
The Book of Job is sometimes called a “key to the Bible.” Certain it is that it explains one of the deep moral problems that has vexed mankind, as well as it did the patriarch and his friends.
1. Job discerns the nature of afflictions, and repents of his sin and folly.
2. His character is vindicated before his friends.
3. His former dignity and honour are restored.
4. His former prosperity is doubled.
(1) It is generally believed that he lived, after these afflictions, twice his former age.
(2) His property was doubled.
(3) His offspring became as numerous as before.
We have here an indication of immortality. His former children were not lost, though dead. He was doubly enriched; for he had not now as many on earth as in heaven. Reflections--
1. All earthly troubles must, sooner or later, have an end, even as cycles of time.
2. The success of a life is to be judged from its ending--e.g., Solon and Croesus.
3. The afflictions of the righteous are not penal, but corrective and sanctifying.
4. If this year ends well morally for us each--no matter how it may be otherwise--we should be devoutly thankful, and press onward till we reach that final ending which shall sum up a whole lifetime. (Lewis O. Thompson.)
Were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job.
It is a long lane that has no turning. Job’s captivity was turned at last. It is a true saying that godliness is profitable for the life that now is. Job’s family was again built up. He had buried all his children, but God had repaired the breach.
I. These daughters of Job were remarkable for their beauty. Whether beauty is a good gift or not depends upon the use made of it. Beauty is a Divine talent, and may be gloriously used for God. The secret of beauty is the shining through of a consecrated spirit.
II. They were remarkable for their character. This appears in their several names.
1. Jemima, or “Light of the morning.” Let it stand for the influence of young womanhood at home. No one can estimate the influence of a gentle sister among a group of boisterous lads.
2. Kezia or Cassia, “Breath of the garden.” Let her stand for the influence of young womanhood in social life.
3. Keren-happuch, or “All plenteousness.” Let her stand for the influence of young womanhood in the Church of God.
III. These daughters were remarkable for their inheritance. “Their father gave them an inheritance among their brethren.” This was a rare thing in those days. This inheritance means, to begin with, life at the Cross. All sons and daughters are equal here. What else? The joy of service. What else? Participation in the heavenly glory. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
So Job died, being old and full of days.
Fulness of days
“Full of days.” This form of speech, though not in common use amongst ourselves, is sufficiently familiar from our acquaintance with the language of Scripture (Genesis 25:8; Genesis 35:29; 1 Chronicles 23:1; 1 Chronicles 29:28). The propriety of this expression will not be questioned by those who have had even a moderate experience of human life--who are drawing near themselves to the term of their mortal existence; or who have seen their neighbours, each in his turn, relaxing his hold of life, worn out in mind and body, and at last “gathered to his people, being old and full of days.” The expression implies--
1. A natural limit to our mortal life. A man may be said to die “full of days” when he has attained or passed the average duration of human life. It is only courtiers and flatterers who would dare to tell any man that they wish him to “live forever.”
2. The failure of our natural powers, both of body and mind. Man is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” All the parts of his constitution are accurately adjusted to each other, and to the work which they have to perform. The frame is constructed to last a certain time, and no longer. The wonder is, not that our natural powers and appetites should fail us at the last, but that they should serve us so long and so well as they do. Especially considering that we have not always used them well; sometimes imprudently, sometimes viciously, we have taxed them beyond their strength and worn out a machine which, if fairly used, would have performed twice the work that we have got out of it. But, whether well or ill used, it comes to the same thing in the end. Even while he lives, “man dieth and wasteth away.” Every year that passes over the head of the old man, takes something from his remaining strength. His friends perceive it, if he does not himself. He stoops more than he did. He cannot walk as he used. His hearing or his eyesight is affected. The mind also partakes of the decay of the body. The memory drops her treasures. The judgment is dethroned from its seat. “Last scene of all . . . is second childishness and mere oblivion.” Our aged friend is seen no more abroad. Even at home his infirmities continue to increase. At last he takes to his bed. There let us leave him; leave him in the hands of his Maker, and of that human love “strong as death,” which will never quit his pillow so long as one office of affection remains unperformed.
3. Enough of anything is always better than too much. Fulness implies satiety. When a man has passed through all the stages of human life; has attained, in succession, the various objects and prizes which, at different periods in their course, men propose to themselves; has tasted of every kind of gratification which came in his way; has performed all the duties which belonged to his station and condition; has had his full share of the troubles and disappointments of life; has lived out his appointed time upon earth, and “accomplished, as an hireling, his day”; is it not a natural feeling which prompts him to say, “I would not live alway; let me alone, for my days are vanity”? Perhaps there is something yet unattained; some object for which he would wish to be spared a little longer. But when that is happily accomplished, what more has he to live for? But when we see aged persons planning fresh schemes, and proposing to themselves new objects, to the very verge of life as keen in the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, or honour, as if they were just beginning to live, or as if they were to live always--more like hungry guests sitting down to table, than full ones rising up from it--is there not something unnatural and almost shocking in such a perversion of feeling? Will such persons ever be “full of days”? ever have played out their part? ever retire with dignity from that post of life which they are no longer able with dignity to tread?
4. We Christians will never consent to call any man “full of days” merely because he has attained to a good old age, or because he is worn out in body and mind, or even because he has had enough of life and desires no more of it. We ask, not only whether he is willing, but whether he is prepared to die? Is his soul “full of days”--weary of her protracted sojourn in this land in which she is a stranger, and longing to enter upon a new, separate, and eternal state of being? We shall better be able to answer this question if we consider what constitutes preparation for death, in the Christian view of it. In this view, then, a man may be said to be “full of days”--
(1) When he has finished the work which God has given him to do. Has he been diligent in the business of his station, whatever that station may have been? Has he “provided for his own,” for all who are in any way connected with him or dependent on him? Has he discharged all his social and relative duties? Has he “served his generation according to the will of God”? Has he made the most of those abilities and opportunities which he has enjoyed for doing good, for promoting the happiness or alleviating the misery of his fellow creatures? Has he endeavoured, both by his influence and example, to discountenance wickedness and vice, and to advance the cause of true religion and virtue in the world? And, lastly, does he take no merit, and claim no reward for his best services? not expecting to be thanked because he has done a few of the things that were commanded him; but even though he should have done all, ever ready to confess, “I am an unprofitable servant; I have done that which was my duty to do”?
(2) But preparation for death, in the Christian view of it, implies also a certain disposition of the soul in relation to God. Though we know little of the state of the soul after death, both reason and Scripture inform us that it enters into a nearer and closer connection with the Almighty than it was capable of while yet in the body. This is variously expressed by its “returning to God who gave it,” appearing before God, meeting or seeing God. And we have an instinctive feeling, that whenever our souls shall depart from the body, they will, in some inconceivable manner, be brought into an immediate communication with the Author of their being, the God of the spirits of all flesh. For this event we ought to be training and fashioning our inner man from the beginning of our days to the end of them. And every man is “full of days” and prepared to die exactly in proportion to the progress he has made in this spiritual work, to the degree in which his soul is alive to and in communion with his God. This inward religion or life in the soul is, in fact, the great business of our lives. All the ordinances of religion, and all the exercises of devotion, have this end in view--to make the soul more and more independent of the body with which it is associated and the world in which it is placed, so that finally it may be able to exist in a state of separation from both. Who, then, can look upon a hoary head and a bent body without asking, What is the state of the soul which is enclosed in that venerable frame? Is that also chilled with age? Does that look downwards to the earth, and move slowly and feebly towards God? The body, we see, has done its work; has the inner man been equally active and diligent in those labours which are proper to it? Is this “old man, and full of days,” also full of faith, full of prayer, overflowing with those holy affections and heavenward aspirations which are the fruits of faith and prayer? Has he lived all his life and all his days near to God, and has he regarded every event in his life and every addition to his days as a call to live still nearer, a warning voice saying to him, “Draw nigh to Me, and I will draw nigh to you”? And in the contemplation of that event, which cannot be far off, when his body “shall return to the earth as it was, and his spirit shall return unto God who gave it,” is he able to say, “I have set God always before me; for He is on my right hand”? etc.
(3) There is one other qualification, without which let no Christian be called “full of days,” or “prepared to meet his God.” Does our aged friend, “being justified by faith,” enjoy “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”? The saddest sight of all is the unconverted old man, the Christian in name, but in everything that belongs to Christian faith and Christian hope, incurable, ignorant, or irremediably reprobate. There can be no more momentous inquiry respecting the condition of any aged person than this--Has he made his peace with God? Does he believe in Him whom He hath sent? This is “fulness of days” in the highest and Christian sense of the words. This is not a mere weariness of life, a distaste for those duties which we can no longer perform, and those pleasures which we can no longer enjoy; but a deliberate conviction, shared alike by our reason and our feelings, that we are going to a better place--to a place where we shall be far happier than we now are, or have ever been; to a place where, in the presence and at the right hand of God, we shall find fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore. (Frederick Field, LL. D.)
Job’s history reviewed
Note the following facts--
1. The unconquerable force of an unselfish religion. Job loved the right for its own sake. His religion was not a means to an end; but the end itself, the centre of his affections, and the spring of his activities. A sublimer force is not found in the creation of God than the force of genuine religion.
2. The comparative worthlessness of theological controversy. This lengthened and often excited talk led to no satisfactory solution of the difficulties connected with the Divine procedure. Neither party was convinced of its mistakes.
3. The absurdity of boasting of the march of intellect. In mental and moral culture, what are we superior to the men who figure on the pages of this wonderful book?
4. The impropriety of deeming all outside the Gospel as morally worthless and lost. Conventional Christianity and missionary theology do this. They depict all the teeming millions of heathendom as without virtue, doomed to irremediable ruin. But here we find men who had no written revelation, no Gospel, not only theologically and ethically enlightened, but highly moral and profoundly religious.
5. The egregious folly of estimating man’s moral character by his external circumstances. This is what the friends of Job did, and this is what men have been prone to do in every age.
6. To attempt to comfort the afflicted by discussion is to the last degree unwise.
7. A man may have many imperfections of character, and yet be good in the sight of God. Job was not a “perfect” man, but a genuinely good man. Men are to be judged, not by their imperfections, but by their “fruits.”
8. With the fact that a righteous life will ultimately be victorious. Job’s was a righteous life. And God blessed the latter end of Job more than the beginning. (Homilist.)
Life of Job
This history gives us much information with respect to Divine providence; warns us against uncharitably censuring our brethren, or judging of their piety by outward circumstances; presents the strongest consolations to the afflicted, the tempted, and the oppressed; and teaches us the benefit and duty of relying upon God, even in the most disastrous circumstances. Job’s piety was manifested in all his conduct. He did not forget the wants of the poor, and the woes of the destitute. Instead of indulging bitter and malignant passions, truth and justice ever directed him, and the fear of God Most High restrained him from all profane wishes against others. His whole conduct was a living comment on that solemn direction given many centuries after by the apostle Paul to Timothy, “Charge them that are rich in this world,” etc. Satan accusing Job of serving God only through mercenary principles, and from a desire of promoting his own interests, the Lord permits this evil spirit to deprive him of all his possessions, that his sincerity might thereby be tested. It is in trials and spiritual contests that the reality and degree of the Christian soldier’s graces are manifested. Satan was defeated, for “in all this did not Job sin with his lips.” Surrounded by calamities, yet displaying the power of Divine grace, the firmness of religious principle! (H. Kollock, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 42". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany