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by Editor - Joseph Exell
Interpretation of the Book of Job
We purpose to give a concise view of our reasons for maintaining--
I. The existence and reality of Job.
II. The patriarchal antiquity, origin, and authorship of the Book.
III. Its references to a future state and the way of salvation; and
IV. Its Divine inspiration and canonical authority.
1. That Job is not a poetical or imaginary, but an historic character, appears from the mention of him in connection with Noah and Daniel, in Ezekiel 14:14; Ezekiel 14:20; and the allusion of St. James, James 5:10-11. Here we think it may be inferred that Job was among, “the prophets who have spoken in the name of the Lord,” and who, he says, “were to be taken for an example of suffering and patience”; for he immediately adds, “Behold we count them happy who endure” (itself a reference to Job 5:17). “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, etc., and seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.” It has been suggested that this quotation does not refer to Job’s faith, but his patience. But surely faith is the foundation of patience; and the Divine writer would not have cited him, even as an instance of suffering, if he had not been a real character. We find no such personifications of our Lord’s parables in the Epistles. It has also been objected that Job is not among the instances of faith in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. But this was probably because the apostle was addressing arguments derived from the law and the writings of the Hebrews; and an objector might have refused to bow to Job who would yield to Moses and Samuel. But even if it were otherwise, he shares the omission together with Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Ruth, whose books are placed by the Jews, with Job and Daniel, among the Hagiographae, not with the prophets. Very little, indeed, can be argued from omission, as Paley has shown, with reference to historical facts. The particularity of names and circumstances, the very dramatis personae, are before our eyes in all the individuality of real characters. “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job,” is not less definite or historical in style than, “Now it came to pass in the days when the Judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land; and a certain man of Bethlehem Judah,” etc., with which the Book of Ruth opens.
2. With reference to the patriarchal antiquity of the times and history of Job, we remark, that the Book contains no allusion to any of the historical facts or even ceremonies of the Israelites, or to any events later than their sojourn in Egypt; even if some reference to the deluge, or the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, may be traced. The language also of the body of the work (chaps. 3 to 12) is indeed as distinct from the introductory and concluding chapters as the style of AEschylus from that of Xenophon, or Milton from Goldsmith. It is poetical and archaic; that is, not only elevated in style, but also has many ancient forms of expression, brief and obscure; words of Chaldaic or Aramaean origin, such as we meet with in those parts of the Book of Genesis which refer to the affairs of Jacob and Laban in Padan Aram, and some whereof the roots are only to be found in Arabic. There is no reference to an established priesthood, or to the worship of images; but to that most ancient form of idolatry, the worship of the sun, moon, and stars; much less to any of the peculiar ordinances of the Jewish ritual. The frequent use of the name of God in the singular (Eloah), and of El-Shaddai, the Almighty, are marks of a primitive age; while the sacred name of Jehovah is only once used except in the prologue and epilogue. But here it corresponds with the language used, which is pure Hebrew. Hence the conjecture of Kennicott, Michaelis, and Lee (adopted also by Mr. Titcomb) is, that Moses, finding the poem among the Midianites, when he was with his father-in-law Jethro, committed it to writing, with an introduction and conclusion, for the comfort of the Israelites, Job himself being the original author; whether or not it was committed to writing, or existed only in floating recitations, like the songs of the Celtic nations, or perhaps only in fragments, as the poems of Homer before the time of Pisistratus, almost every subsequent writer of the Old Testament will be found to have borrowed from the Book of Job. Job is said to have lived in the land of Uz; and from this it has been concluded that he was a descendant, either of Uz, the son of Aram, or of Huz, the son of Nahor (if they were not the same person, spoken of by anticipation, as the names are the same in Hebrew). There was a place in Idumea named Uz, as appears from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:20; Lam 4:23). The greater number of writers, ancient and modern, incline to the land of Edom as the dwelling place of the illustrious patriarch, “the greatest of the sons of the East,” who stands forth amidst a system of theology which has nothing in common with any of the relics of subsequent times among the nations surrounding Judea. Of contemporary times there are no other relics. Arabia itself has no literature earlier than the Koran of Mohammed; but the doctrine of Job is perfectly accordant with the glimpses which we gather from the writings of Moses of the state of those nations in patriarchal times, when an Abimilech in Syria, a Pharaoh in Egypt, a Jethro in Midian, a Johab (who by many, including the Septuagint writers, is supposed to be the same with Job), and even Balaam, in the mountains of the East, had some reverence for true religion--“the fear of the Lord.” Even the subsequent corruptions and idolatrous rites point to a primitive state of things such as we find in the Book of Job; when the nomadic tribes went everywhere “lifting up holy hands” to God; looking for some great deliverer--an avenger--to overcome the power of the serpent; practising burnt sacrifices, and worshipping the Supreme on hills and in groves; cherishing the tradition of an invisible world of spirits, and a future eternal judgment.
3. We do not wonder, therefore, at the indications of an eternal world, or the way of salvation--the Christology--which the Church of the Jews, as well as of the Christians, have found in this sublime Book. Were there, in fact, no traces of these primitive truths, we should have found a system of mere Theism existing amidst a world possessed with supernatural convictions; and this is just that conclusion to which the school of modern infidelity would fain conduct us, and reduce this Book to its own negation of revealed truth. For the glorious hope of a final reward, which made Job so confident, they would “fill themselves with the east wind” of a stoical endurance of evil for virtue’s sake; or a mystic love of God, without reference to any past or future experience of His loving kindness--a system at once at variance with what we know practically and experimentally of ourselves, as agents influenced by hope and fear, and opposed to all the discoveries of His dealings with us. God has never required us to love Him merely from an adoration of His abstract excellencies, independent of all experience of His mercy. When we find the woman praised who gave much because “she loved much,” and set forth as an example of a true motive of action, we perceive only a reflexive exercise of the same principle,--a grateful sense of favours already received,--she had been forgiven much. Those writers, therefore, who deny to Job, under his troubles, the hope of a restitution in the eternal world (he certainly expected none in this life), and would set him forth as an instance of that love which disregards alike reward and punishment, describe a creature as fabulous as the centaur or the griffin, the offspring of their own vain imagination, wedded to an ignorance of human nature, or a hatred of evangelical truth. But can it be shown that either prophets or apostles, martyrs or warriors, had no “regard to the recompense of the reward”? Such, indeed, we are told, was a motive not unworthy of our Saviour’s own consideration, whom even these moralists would exalt at least as our example--“for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the Cross, despising the shame.” To have found, therefore, in Job a patient sufferer, without a hope of deliverance or reward, in time or eternity, would have been a greater contradiction of experience than any of the miracles of the New Testament, and would have required a stronger force of evidence to support its existence. A priori, therefore, in any record, or even parabolic narrative, which affected to describe man as he is, much more in one which did contain such august truths relative to God, angels, true wisdom, human corruption, the fear of the Lord, the Jehovah of the patriarchs, propitiated by sacrifice, and interfering in human affairs, we should be warranted in expressing surprise did we not learn “that there is a judgment”; that the universally looked for Avenger or Redeemer were introduced; and that, while “the hope of the hypocrite was as the spider’s web,” he who relied on the Lord, and who, even in death, would not let go his integrity, should find spiritual deliverance, filling his heart with hope, and his lips with praise. An attempt is made to get rid of the testimony of Elihu, by asserting that “it is now decisively pronounced by Hebrew scholars not to be genuine.” This decision we deny, both as to its critical truth and intrinsic justice. What manuscript or version wants this integral part of the Book? Does Kennicott or De Rossi intimate any such deficiency? Lightfoot, indeed, and Rosenmuller, attribute the Book itself to Elihu. And though it stands apart from the other interlocutions, it is introductory in its arguments to the grand conclusion; when not only the three mistaken friends are reproved, but both Job and Elihu silenced by the awful voice of God repeating and expanding, in magnificent language, the Abrahamic sentence, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” With reference to the principal passage, “The Testament of Job” (Job 19:23-29), little that is new can be brought forward either for or against the received interpretation; the difficulties of which occurred to Grotius and Warburton, and have only been repeated by modern sceptics. There stands the oracle--“I know that my Redeemer liveth”--introduced by the most solemn announcement of an all-important truth, worthy of perpetual and durable record. On the translation of the introductory sentences there seems to be no substantial difference of opinion--
“Would that, now, my words were recorded;
Would that in a book they were engraven;
With an iron style and lead;
Forever on the rock, that they were hewn!”
Now, would such an exordium be fitting for any general assurance of a return of prosperity, which Job nowhere intimates; or of an exhibition of his righteousness in this life? Would such a hope be worthy of such a magniloquent expression? On the other hand, if the prophet were suddenly possessed with a Divine confidence in that hope of future things, which is not built “on transitory promises,” what more sublime or suitable introduction? And we know that the rocks of the Arabian desert are full of such inscriptions! We have similar asseverations or demands for attention, in Scripture, when important enunciations are about to follow. “Verily, verily I say unto you”; “This is a faithful saying”; “The voice said, Cry”; “I heard a voice from heaven, saying, Write.” All these precede important announcements. The exact meaning of the prophecy itself has found a variety of interpreters; but there can be no doubt that the words are very emphatic, brief, and pregnant.
“I assuredly know that my Deliverer liveth,
And hereafter, upon the dust shall He arise;
And (though) after my skin, they pierce this (body),
Yet from my flesh shall I see God.
Which I, and not another, shall see for me,
And mine eyes shall have beheld;
My reins have been consumed within me,
For ye shall say, ‘Why have they persecuted him.’
And the root of the matter shall have been found in me.
Withdraw ye from the presence of the sword,
For the anger which is due to transgression, is the sword;
Know ye, therefore, that there is a judgment.”
But this famous text is far from the only one in the Book which is an evidence of the faith of Job. What can be clearer, on the hypothesis of a future state, than Job 13:15 : “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,” reading as in the text (Kethib), or, “Though He slay me, shall I not hope?” as in the margin (Keri). The sense is the same, as Calvin remarked, and the whole context agrees: “How could I risk my life, and rush into His presence, if I were not innocent? Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. I am prepared to argue my ways in His presence; and even this trial shall turn to my salvation (although) no hypocrite can come before Him.” Here he maintains his appeal to the Searcher of hearts, the final and eternal Judge; even beyond the bounds of time and sense. And this is also agreeable with other passages, in which he declares (Job 16:19) that “his Witness is in heaven, his record is on high.” While assured of his ultimate deliverance from the grave, he exclaims (Job 14:13-15), “Oh, that Thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that Thou wouldest keep me secret, until Thy wrath be past, that Thou wouldest appoint me a time, and remember me!” “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait until my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer. Thou wilt have a desire to the work of Thine hands.’“ Here he will, as a soldier at his post, await the release of his spirit, by the arrival of the relief guard. He feels assured that God will not forget him, even in the dust; but will, in His own time, have a longing, as it were, a parental “desire to the work of His hands.” Many other expressions, indeed Job’s general confidence in his integrity, his readiness of appeal to the Supreme Tribunal on all occasions, in reply to the mistaken judgments of his friends, can only be reconciled by an inward consciousness of a future, infallible decision. The speech of Elihu next demands attention. It has been assailed as “not genuine,” upon mere supposition that it is “the work of a different hand,” which even if maintained would not amount to a diversity greater than that existing between the historical and poetical portions. But the argument of Elihu, though not void of infirmity, is certainly in advance of the previous speakers, and prepares the mind of the reader, as it may have done that of Job, for the voice of the Almighty, silencing rather than convincing the gainsayers. Elihu intimates that he is animated with a desire to direct Job to the true source of comfort: that he should humble himself, and not justify himself before God; that he speaks (Job 33:22-25), as none of the others had done, of the Messenger, or Interpreter, one of a thousand, to show man the Divine righteousness; of the ransom provided, and of the return of the sinner to the moral condition of a little child. That there should be some glimpses of the Gospel in patriarchal times is demanded by what we know from other sources, Jewish and Gentile, as well as the general economy of God, who left Himself not without a witness, either to His own being and attributes, or the remedy that He had provided for the sin of man,--the Great Deliverer or Avenger, on the head of the serpent, of the ruin of the primitive race; that Daystar whom Balaam, probably a countryman and descendant of Job, should “see, but not know; should behold, but not nigh”; and who, thus seen dimly by the blessed chain of ancient witnesses, stood out at last plainly revealed in the One Victorious Mediator and future Eternal Judge.
4. If we have at all established these Divine references we have gone far towards maintaining, from internal evidence, the inspiration of the Book of Job. And we are not without other Scriptural proof. The apostle Paul, referring to Job 5:13, says, “It is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” And again (referring to Psalms 92:11), “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.” Making no difference between the authority of one and the other. This kind of quotation confers equal weight, as part of the sacred canon, on the Book of Job, with that ascribed to the Book of Psalms. The same expression, “It is written,” occurring frequently; but only where the words cited are those of Divine inspiration, as in the account of the temptation of our Lord. Unacknowledged quotations may be found in the Psalms, Proverbs, and most of the Prophets; seeming to show that although the history of Job formed no part of the national records of Israel, nor indeed of the history of the line of the promised seed, or of the people of God, as marked out by any special designation; yet that it formed the subject of thought and study to the devout and inspired among the Jews, while it was a mirror of the best days of Gentile religion among those who maintained the institutions of Noah. Its views of the invisible world, and the humbling discipline of God; the necessity of true repentance, and the duty of propitiatory sacrifices; “the end of the Lord,” and the blessedness of His service, pure from the idolatrous leaven of the Canaanitish nations, point to a Divine hand, guiding the poet and the historian to the record of true facts and the utterance of true doctrine. And this appears, not only in the calm language of the early chapters, but even in his own distracted effusions, under the pressure of extreme calamity, and when irritated by the injudicious treatment of his friends. To have gone so far, and then stopped short, is one of the proofs, as well of the genuineness as of the inspiration of the Book. It conducts us back to the manners of the patriarchal age, and the morals prevalent among the people of God, who were even then “scattered abroad,” inheriting the blessing of Shem, Melchisedeck, Abraham, Ishmael, and Edom, though not the specialities of the covenant sealed to Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. Tribes sustained, under the pressure of Satan’s temptations, by the hope of a Deliverer, and testifying, wherever they went, that they were pilgrims, having an eternal home beyond the shadowy region of the grave. In this faith they lived; in this faith they died Each could say with dying Jacob, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord!” Like him, they gathered around them their houses, and, with “holy Job,” sanctified them by prayer and sacrifice, while they delivered to them their testimony, to be treasured up for unborn generations; and their wish has been granted: their “words are written, as with an iron pen and lead upon the rocks forever,” in wisdom that is older than the pyramids, and which shall survive unwasted when they have mouldered in the dust. (Christian Observer.)
The Date and Origin of the Book of Job
Nothing can be safely inferred from the Aramaean words which are frequently employed in it; and that, not simply because the Aramaisms occur chiefly in the speech of Elihu, and are appropriate in his mouth, since he himself was an Aramaean; nor simply because all Hebrew poetry, of whatever age, is more or less Aramaic; but also and mainly because the presence of Aramaean words in any Scripture may indicate either its extreme antiquity or its comparatively modern date. For these Aramaisms--as “Rabbi” Duncan tersely puts the conclusion of all competent scholars are either--
1. Late words borrowed from intercourse with the Syrians; or
2. Early ones common to both dialects. Any argument, therefore, which is based on the use of these words cuts both ways. Both the pervading tone of the Book and its literary style point steadily and unmistakably to the age of Solomon as the period in which it at least assumed the form in which it has come down to us. There is in it a noble universality, “as if it were not Hebrew.” It does not contain a single allusion to the Mosaic laws and customs, or to the characteristic beliefs of the Jews, or to the recorded events of their national history. Hence many have concluded that it was written in the patriarchal age. But to this there is at least one fatal objection. The literary form of the poem, the proverbial form, decisively marks it out as one of the Chokmah books, and forbids us to ascribe it to any age earlier than that of Solomon. “Job” belongs to the Chokmah both in spirit and in form. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)
Arguments against the earlier Date of the Book of Job
It is not merely that the language in which the Book is written is not, we are assured, that of the oldest extant form of Hebrew, but, at the very earliest, that not of the morning, but of the high noon, of Jewish literature. It is not merely that the author, when speaking in his own person, speaks invariably of God by the name in which He was revealed to Moses as the covenant God of the people of Israel; nor merely that he seems to have been familiar, if not with many other portions of the Old Testament, certainly with at least one Psalm; or that expressions occur, such as Ophir, as the recognised name for gold, which would have been inconceivable before, at the very earliest, the reign of Solomon. It is more than this. The very problem which the Book discusses, the riddle which vexes the soul of Job, is not one which springs into full life, or would form the subject of a long and studied and intensely argued and elaborate discussion, in any early or simple stage of a nation’s progress. The work is clearly by a Hebrew. It bears no signs of being a translation. The stamp of originality is on every page. When, or where, could a Hebrew have found a place for such a work in the infancy of his nation? The struggle between a traditional creed which told him that all suffering was a penalty for actual sin, all prosperity a reward for goodness, and the spectacle of undeserved suffering as seen in the world of a more complex experience--the question of the inherent value and sacredness of goodness in itself, as apart from the outward or inward happiness which it brings,--the very character of the awful Ruler of the universe, His justice and His goodness, as distinct from His sovereignty and goodness--these are scarcely problems which would force themselves, like armed intruders, on the human soul in the simpler and earlier stages of social or national progress. We smile as we read the assertions of doctor after doctor of the Jewish or Christian Church, that the awful questionings, which you and I have faced and shall face in the words of the tortured Job, were read to comfort oppressed and ignorant bondsmen in the slave gangs of Egypt; or to cheer the “stiff-necked” tribes of half-civilised wanderers in the forty years of their desert life. How little can those who tell us so have faced the full meaning of the largest and the central portion of the Book. The elements, doubtless, of such perplexities may have existed from the day when the blood of some unavenged successor of righteous Abel cried in vain for retribution. But we can hardly imagine that their full and elaborate discussion would have found voice, or echo, or hearing, still less enshrined itself in a nation’s literature, till a sadder and more perplexing experience had opened men’s eyes to darker and more tangled thoughts than come to the childhood of nations. God’s Spirit does not transport men out of their own epoch. Great men may mould their age, may see further than their contemporaries, but they are moulded also by, are the children of, their age. Great and lofty as are the utterances, they would have been born out of due time, till the problems with which they deal had been brought home to the hearts of thinkers by familiarity with much unexplained and inexplicable suffering, by long and painful musing over the mysteries and riddles of human life. (Dean Bradley.)
The Book of Job a Poem
The Book of Job is, in its main portion, a poem, not a narrative or history. It is as truly and certainly a poem as the Paradise Lost or the Iliad are poems of England or of Greece. To what class of poems does it belong? It is not, like the Book of Psalms, a series of detached hymns, embodying the very highest meditative outpourings, glad or sorrowful, of the human heart, national or individual, to its God. Nor do we find in its pages the common sense of the many, framed in verse by the wisdom of one or more, as in so large a portion of the Book of Proverbs. It is as different as possible from the poetry, idyllic or mystic, of the Song of Solomon; or from the meditations on life, placed on the borderland of prose and poetry, in the Book of Ecclesiastes. It resembles Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, as dealing with the practical and the speculative interests of human life. But it differs, in other respects, fundamentally from both. First, it gathers all its teaching round a single personage, the hero of the poem, who from the beginning to the end forms the one centre of interest. And secondly, whatever problems it raises, or whatever lessons it teaches, comes to us, when once we have read the first line of the actual poem, through the lips, never of the author himself, but of the speakers, human or Divine or other, whom he places on the stage. Hence men have called it an epic poem, or a drama. Like epic poems, it has a hero, a struggle, and a conquest. It is so far a drama, that it consists almost entirely of dialogue, and that the author will speak to us only to introduce the different speakers to whose words we shall listen. Yet we cannot without reserve call that a drama in which there is no change of scene, no movement, no event, no action. It has been called also a parable, and there is a sense, no doubt, in which the word, however vaguely and loosely used, may well be applied to it. I make no attempt to bring the book, the poem, under any special class or denomination. It stands alone in the Bible, alone in the literature of the world, as the very flower of inspired Hebrew poetry; and as such let us accept it, seeking for its true teaching and its true import in its contents, and in these only. (Dean Bradley.)
The Problem of the Book of Job
The problem of the Book is not one but many. No doubt the poet intended to vindicate the ways of God to men. No doubt, therefore, he had passed through and beyond that early stage of religious faith in which the heart simply and calmly assumes the perfect goodness of God, and had become aware that some justification of the Divine ways was demanded by the doubt and anguish of the human heart. The heavy and the weary weight of the mystery which shrouds the providence of God, the burden of this unintelligible world, was obviously making itself profoundly felt. Unquestionably the Book of Job does show, in the most tragic and pathetic way, that good no less than wicked men lie open to the most cruel losses and sorrows; that these losses and sorrows are not always signs of the Divine anger against sin; “that they are intended to correct and perfect the righteousness of the righteous,--or, in our Lord’s figure, that they are designed to purge the trees which already hear good fruit, in order that they may bring forth more fruit. But, after all, can it be the main and ruling intention of the Book to teach us that noble lesson? A door is opened into heaven. The King sits on His throne; His ministers gather round Him, and sit in session; among them appears a spirit, here simply named the “Adversary” or “Accuser,” whose function is to scrutinise the actions of men, to present them in their worst aspect, that they may be thoroughly sifted and explored. He himself has sunk into an evil condition, for he delights in making even good men seem bad, in fitting good deeds with evil motives. Self is his centre, not God; and he suspects all the world of a selfishness like his own. He cannot, or will not, believe in an unselfish, a disinterested goodness. When Jehovah challenges him to find a fault in Job, he boldly challenges Jehovah to put Job to the proof, and avows beforehand his conviction that it will be found Job has served God only for what he could gain thereby. This challenge, as Godet has been quick to observe, does not merely affect the character of man; it touches the very honour of God Himself: “for if the most pious of mankind is incapable of loving God gratuitously,--that is, really, it follows that God is incapable of making Himself loved.” And “as no one is honoured except in so far as he is loved,” by this malignant aspersion, the adversary really assails the very heart and crown of the Master of the Universe. Jehovah, therefore, takes up the challenge, and Himself enters the lists against the adversary; Jehovah undertaking to prove that man is capable of a real and disinterested goodness, Satan undertaking to prove that the goodness of man is but a veiled selfishness, and the heart of Job is to be the arena of the strife. On the one hand, the poem was designed to demonstrate to the spiritual powers in heavenly places that God is capable of inspiring a pure and disinterested love, by proving that man is capable of a real, an unselfish goodness; and, on the other hand, to relieve the mystery of human life by showing that its miseries are corrective, and by strengthening the hope of a future life in which all the wrongs of time are to be redressed. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)
The Book of Job
It seems to me that the highest critical authorities must be right in thinking that the drama of Job is nearly the latest, as well as the only formally artistic product of the poetic genius of the Jews. This, at least, is in intention, as well as in fact, a literary effort--an attempt to present, and perhaps more or less to solve, in a dramatic form, some of the highest problems of man’s spiritual life. It is the only important Book in the Old Testament which is not closely interwoven with the real history and life of the nation,--which stands apart as a conscious effort of imagination. No doubt the Book of Job marks in many ways the culmination of the national genius, and the transition from the exclusively Divine centre of the Hebrew poetic thought to the wider range of insight into nature and man, from the natural as well as the supernatural side, which was to succeed it. The very treatment of a Divine theme under the human conditions of an imaginary drama would alone appear to indicate this. The conflict with the narrowly Jewish conceptions of Providence which it contains would also indicate it. The contemplative delight which the wonders of nature and the mysteries of animal life arouse in the writer’s mind, and the naturalistic minuteness with which they are painted, as well as the delineations of the inward perplexities of the spiritual life, all point to an origin in an age when that more genial appreciation of nature and man which we perceive in the later prophecies bearing the name of Isaiah had been carried even further. Moreover, as regards man himself, the whole argument turns on the subtle distinction between that part of his nature which, finite and short-sighted though he is, yet gives him a right to claim a real affinity with God, and that part which, finite and limited as it is, necessarily obscures his power of judgment. This is not a point which could well have been discussed in an early period of the Jewish literature. There is an evident effort throughout the drama to distinguish the “creature” in Job from that “spirit” in him which gives him a right to plead with God. The drama is usually understood as a mere exposure of the false view which makes calamity a certain index of the wrath of God, and therefore of guilt. This, no doubt, it is; but it is much more. It is a discussion of the mystery of God’s relation to man, and to the lower universe. There is an effort, I believe, in the poem to show that man is related to God in two ways,--as a spiritual being, and as a creature. As a spiritual being, he may justify himself, and speak what God Himself cannot override, and will certainly affirm; as a creature, he is in complete ignorance of the lot it may be right for the Ruler of the universe to assign him, since he only can judge who sees the universe as a whole, who moves the very springs of its life. Man cannot and ought not to accuse Providence of injustice in any external lot He may send, unless he could undertake to wield the whole scheme of Providence in His place; then, and then only, might he “disannul” God’s judgment, and condemn Him in order to “establish his own righteousness.” The ignorant creature is wrong in criticising the acts of the Creator; but the spirit of the man is right in asserting the absolute character of his highest spiritual convictions against any array of external argument. Job is sustained in his assertion that though his body should be destroyed, yet a living Redeemer should vindicate his inward purity; he is sustained in reiterating, “God forbid that I should justify you till I die; I will not remove my integrity from me; my righteousness will I hold fast, and will not let it go”; he is sustained in holding fast by the judgment of his spirit on his own actions, for that is a judgment with full knowledge; but he is condemned for judging God’s outward conduct to him by any standard whatever; since in doing so he judges by “words without knowledge,” seeing that the knowledge requisite for such judgment would be the omniscience of the Creator Himself. The argument is illustrated with the fullest delineation of the mystery of nature, the broadest contrast between the narrow circle of spiritual knowledge and independence really reserved to man, and to man alone, and the utter incompetence of man to wield a single attribute of Providence either over His own world or that of the lower creation The Hebrew poet had already distinguished between the direct knowledge of God’s Spirit, which spiritual communion gives, and the indirect knowledge of His mysterious ways which can only be gained by a study of those ways. It shows that he had mastered the conviction, that to neglect the study of the natural mysteries of the universe leads to an arrogant and illicit intrusion of moral and spiritual assumptions into a different world,--in a word, to the false inferences of Job’s friends as to his guilt, and his own equally false inference as to the injustice of God. (Richard Holt Hutton, M. A.)
The General Lessons of the Book
1. To command the virtue of patience.
2. To maintain the Providence of God.
3. To encourage the hopes of the believer. There shall be no mistake at last: his person will be justified, his integrity manifested, and his holiness perfected in the day or end of the Lord.
4. To promote humility. This was the peculiar lesson which Job had to learn.
5. Love to God as a gracious Father. This is the character in which He was not known to the heathen.
6. Charity to man. It teaches that the people of God are not to be censorious and ready to judge one another, or interpret misfortunes as peculiar proofs of His wrathful indignation towards those who, in their general walk and conversation, bear the marks of His family. “Charity thinketh no evil.”
7. A lesson in knowledge. This is put last in order, because it is probably rather incidental than primary. The great truths of Revelation, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, are briefly disclosed, glancing out as if by accident in this Divine Book. Greenfield says, “The Church of God has been greatly enriched by having bequeathed to it the vast treasury of Divine truth which is found in the Book of Job,--a Book containing the purest morality, the sublimest philosophy, the simplest ritual, and the most majestic creed.” In the spiritual Church, patience hath its perfect work; faith learns to walk as seeing Him who is invisible; hope rests on Him as an anchor, sure and steadfast, fast bound to the eternal shore, entering into that which is within the vail; humility becomes conformed to Him; perfect love casteth out fear; charity suffereth long, and is kind; and wisdom acquaints itself with God, and is at peace. (Charles Augustus Hulbert, M. A.)
Three Friends and only one Job
The friends represent nothing but the early faith, as it has already become a delusion and superstition. This faith is from its nature that which more commonly prevails, which seeks to maintain itself with emphasis and earnestness against every innovation and variation. With profound insight the poet introduces several friends in contrast with the solitary Job. Unusual calamities and unusual experiences are the lot of but a few; endurance under unexpected trials, and steady resistance of current narrower views, founded upon fresh and certain experience, is still more uncommon; but most uncommon of all is the hero who successfully brings out triumphantly a new truth which is still weak and little understood. Accordingly the poet must bring forward Job alone, without human help or stay, as every great truth can at first by one man only be felt and defended so keenly and powerfully that the one acts decisively for all. Job must by himself wage the whole conflict, and refute the antiquated views by means of his own personal experience, which is peculiar to himself in this degree. On the opposite side stands the great multitude with its prepossessions, consciously or unconsciously combating the man that revolts against them. The poet accordingly causes the representative personality hostile to Job to divide into a number of separate persons, bringing forward three old sympathetic friends of Job, who, on visiting him and considering more closely his misfortunes, soon become his opponents. (Heinrich August Von Ewald.)
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27