THE THOUGHT OF A DAYSMAN
Job 9:1-35; Job 10:1-22
IT is with an infinitely sad restatement of what God has been made to appear to him by Bildad’s speech that Job begins his reply. Yes, yes; it is so. How can man be just before such a God? You tell me my children are overwhelmed with destruction for their sins. You tell me that I, who am not quite dead as yet, may have new prosperity if I put myself into right relations with God. But how can that be? There is no uprightness, no dutifulness, no pious obedience, no sacrifice that will satisfy Him. I did my utmost; yet God has condemned me. And if He is what you say, His condemnation is unanswerable. He has such wisdom in devising accusations and in maintaining them against feeble man, that hope there can be none for any human being. To answer one of the thousand charges God can bring, if He will contend with man, is impossible. The earthquakes are signs of His indignation, removing mountains shaking the earth out of her place. He is able to quench the light of the sun and moon, and to seal up the stars. What is man beside the omnipotence of Him who alone stretched out the heavens, whose march is on the huge waves of the ocean, who is the Creator of the constellations, the Bear, the Giant, the Pleiades, and the chambers or spaces of the southern sky? It is the play of irresistible power Job traces around him, and the Divine mind or will is inscrutable.
"Lo, He goeth by me and I see Him not:
He passeth on, and I perceive Him not.
Behold, He seizeth. Who will stay Him?
Who will say to Him, What doest Thou?"
Step by step the thought here advances into that dreadful imagination of God’s unrighteousness which must issue in revolt or in despair. Job, turning against the bitter logic of tradition, appears for the time to plunge into impiety. Sincere earnest thinker as he is, he falls into a strain we are almost compelled to call false and blasphemous. Bildad and Eliphaz seem to be saints, Job a rebel against God. The Almighty, he says, is like a lion that seizes the prey and cannot be hindered from devouring. He is a wrathful tyrant under whom the helpers of Rahab, those powers that according to some nature myth sustain the dragon of the sea in its conflict with heaven, stoop and give way. Shall Job essay to answer Him? It is vain. He cannot. To choose words in such a controversy would be of no avail. Even one right in his cause would be overborne by tyrannical omnipotence. He would have no resource but to supplicate for mercy like a detected malefactor. Once Job may have thought that an appeal to justice would be heard, that his trust in righteousness was well founded. He is falling away from that belief now. This Being whose despotic power has been set in his view has no sense of man’s right. He cares nothing for man.
What is God? How does He appear in the light of the sufferings of Job?
"He breaketh me with a tempest,
Increaseth my wounds without cause.
If you speak of the strength of the mighty, ‘Behold Me,’ saith He;
If of judgment-‘Who will appoint Me a time?’"
No one, that is, can call God to account. The temper of the Almighty appears to Job to be such that man must needs give up all controversy. In his heart Job is convinced still that he has wrought no evil. But he will not say so. He will anticipate the wilful condemnation of the Almighty. God would assail his life. Job replies in fierce revolt, "Assail it, take it away, I care not, for I despise it. Whether one is righteous or evil, it is all the same. God destroys the perfect and the wicked" (Job 9:22).
Now, are we to explain away this language? If not, how shall we defend the writer who has put it into the mouth of one still the hero of the book, still appearing as a friend of God? To many in our day, as of old, religion is so dull and lifeless, their desire for the friendship of God so lukewarm, that the passion of the words of Job is incomprehensible to them. His courage of despair belongs to a range of feeling they never entered, never dreamt of entering. The calculating world is their home, and in its frigid atmosphere there is no possibility of that keen striving for spiritual life which fills the soul as with fire. To those who deny sin and pooh-pooh anxiety about the soul, the book may well appear an old-world dream, a Hebrew allegory rather than the history of a man. But the language of Job is no outburst of lawlessness; it springs out of deep and serious thought.
It is difficult to find an exact modern parallel here; but we have not to go far back for one who was driven like Job by false theology into bewilderment, something like unreason. In his "Grace Abounding," John Bunyan reveals the depths of fear into which hard arguments and misinterpretations of Scripture often plunged him, when he should have been rejoicing in the liberty of a child of God. The case of Bunyan is, in a sense, very different from that of Job. Yet both are urged almost to despair of God; and Bunyan, realising this point of likeness, again and again uses words put into Job’s mouth. Doubts and suspicions are suggested by his reading, or by sermons which he hears, and he regards their occurrence to his mind as a proof of his wickedness. In one place he says: "Now I thought surely I am possessed of the devil: at other times again I thought I should be bereft of my wits; for, instead of lauding and magnifying God with others, if I have but heard Him spoken of, presently some most horrible blasphemous thought or other would bolt out of my heart against Him, so that whether I did think that God was, or again did think there was no such thing, no love, nor peace, nor gracious disposition could I feel within me." Bunyan had a vivid imagination. He was haunted by strange cravings for the spiritually adventurous. What would it be to sin the sin that is unto death? "In so strong a measure," he says, "was this temptation upon me, that often I have been ready to clap my hands under my chin to keep my mouth from opening." The idea that he should "sell and part with Christ" was one that terribly afflicted him; and, "at last," he says, "after much striving, I felt this thought pass through my heart, Let Him go if He will. . . . After this, nothing for two years together would abide with me but damnation and the expectation of damnation. This thought had passed my heart-God hath let me go, and I am fallen. Oh, thought I, that it was with me as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me."
The Book of Job helps us to understand Bunyan and those terrors of his that amaze our composed generation. Given a man like Job or like Bunyan, to whom religion is everything, who must feel sure of Divine justice, truth, and mercy, he will pass far beyond the measured emotions and phrases of those who are more than half content with the world and themselves. The writer here, whose own stages of thought are recorded, and Bunyan, who with rare force and sincerity retraces the way of his life, are men of splendid character and virtue. Titans of the religious life, they are stricken with anguish and bound with iron fetters to the rock of pain for the sake of universal humanity. They are a wonder to the worldling, they speak in terms the smooth professor of religion shudders at. But their endurance, their vehement resolution, break the falsehoods of the time and enter into the redemption of the race.
The strain of Job’s complaint increases in bitterness. He seems to see omnipotent injustice everywhere. If a scourge (Job 9:23) such as lightning, accident, or disease slayeth suddenly, there seems to be nothing but mockery of the innocent. God looks down on the wreck of human hope, from the calm sky after the thunderstorm, in the evening sunlight that gilds the desert grave. And in the world of men the wicked have their way. God veils the face of the judge so that he is blinded to the equity of the cause. Thus, after the arguments of his friends, Job is compelled to see wrong everywhere, and to say that it is the doing of God. The strophe ends with the abrupt fierce demand, -If not, who then is it?
The short passage from the twenty-fifth verse to the end of chapter 9 (Job 9:25-35) returns sadly to the strain of personal weakness and entreaty. Swiftly Job’s days go by, more swiftly than a runner, in so far as he sees no good. Or they are like the reed skiffs on the river, or the darting eagle. To forget his pain is impossible. He cannot put on an appearance of serenity or hope. God is keeping him bound as a transgressor. "I shall be condemned whatever I do. Why then do I weary myself in vain?" Looking at his discoloured body, covered with the grime of disease, he finds it a sign of God’s detestation. But if he could wash it with snow, that is, to snowy whiteness, if he could purify those blackened limbs with lye, the renewal would go no further. God would plunge him again into the mire; his own clothes would abhor him.
And now there is a change of tone. His mind, revolting from its own conclusion, turns towards the thought of reconciliation. While as yet he speaks of it as an impossibility there comes to him a sorrowful regret, a vague dream or reflection in place of that fierce rebellion which discoloured the whole world and made it appear an arena of injustice. With that he cannot pretend to satisfy himself. Again his humanity stirs in him:-
"For He is not a man, as I, that I should answer Him,
That we should come together in judgment.
There is no daysman between us
That might lay his hand upon us both.
Let Him take away His rod from me,
And let not His terror overawe me;
Then would I speak and not fear Him:
For I am not in such case in myself."
If he could only speak with God as a man speaks with his friend the shadows might be cleared away. The real God, not unreasonable, not unrighteous nor despotic, here begins to appear; and in default of personal converse, and of a daysman, or arbiter, who might lay reconciling hands upon both and bring them together, Job cries for an interval of strength and freedom, that without fear and anguish he may himself express the matter at stake. The idea of a daysman, although the possibility of such a friendly helper is denied, is a new mark of boldness in the thought of the drama. In that one word the inspired writer strikes the note of a Divine purpose which he does not yet foresee. We must not say that here we have the prediction of a Redeemer at once God and man. The author has no such affirmation to make. But very remarkably the desires of Job are led forth in that direction in which the advent and work of Christ have fulfilled the decree of grace. There can be no doubt of the inspiration of a writer who thus strikes into the current of the Divine will and revelation. Not obscurely is it implied in this Book of Job that, however earnest man may be in religion, however upright and faithful (for all this Job was), there are mysteries of fear and sorrow connected with his life in this world which can be solved only by One who brings the light of eternity into the range of time, who is at once "very God and very man," whose overcoming demands and encourages our faith.
Now, the wistful cry of Job-"There is no daysman between us"-breaking from the depths of an experience to which the best as well as the worst are exposed in this life, an experience which cannot in either case be justified or accounted for unless by the fact of immortality, is, let us say, as presented here, a purely human cry. Man who "cannot be God’s exile," bound always to seek understanding of the will and character of God, finds himself in the midst of sudden calamity and extreme pain, face to face with death. The darkness that shrouds his whole existence he longs to see dispelled or shot through with beams of clear revealing light. What shall we say of it? If such a desire, arising in the inmost mind, had no correspondence whatever to fact, there would be falsehood at the heart of things. The very shape the desire takes-for a Mediator who should be acquainted equally with God and man, sympathetic toward the creature, knowing the mind of the Creator-cannot be a chance thing. It is the fruit of a Divine necessity inwrought with the constitution and life of the human soul. We are pointed to an irrefragable argument; but the thought meanwhile does not follow it. Immortality waits for a revelation.
Job has prayed for rest. It does not come. Another attack of pain makes a pause in his speech, and with the tenth chapter begins a long address to the Most High, not fierce as before, but sorrowful, subdued.
"My soul is weary of my life.
I will give free course to my complaint;
I will speak in bitterness of my soul."
It is scarcely possible to touch the threnody that follows without marring its pathetic and profound beauty. There is an exquisite dignity of restraint and frankness in this appeal to the Creator. He is an Artist whose fine work is in peril, and that from His own seeming carelessness of it, or more dreadful to conceive, His resolution to destroy it.
First the cry is, "Do not condemn me. Is it good unto Thee that Thou shouldest despise the work of Thine hands?" It is marvellous to Job that he should be scorned as worthless, while at the same time God seems to shine on the counsel of the wicked. How can that, O Thou Most High, be in harmony with Thy nature? He puts a supposition, which even in stating it he must refuse, "Hast Thou eyes of flesh? or seest Thou as man seeth?" A jealous man, clothed with a little brief authority, might probe into the misdeeds of a fellow creature. But God cannot do so. His majesty forbids; and especially since He knows, for one thing, that Job is not guilty, and, for another thing, that no one can escape His hands. Men often lay hold of the innocent, and torture them to discover imputed crimes. The supposition that God acts like a despot or the servant of a despot is made only to be east aside. But he goes back on his appeal to God as Creator, and bethinks him of that tender fashioning of the body which seems an argument for as tender a care of the soul and the spirit life. Much of power and lovingkindness goes to the perfecting of the body and the development of the physical life out of weakness and embryonic form. Can He who has so wrought, who has added favour and apparent love, have been concealing all the time a design of mockery? Even in creating, had God the purpose of making His creature a mere plaything for the self-will of Omnipotence?
"Yet these things Thou didst hide in Thine heart."
These things-the desolate home, the outcast life, the leprosy. Job uses a strange word: "I know that this was with Thee." His conclusion is stated roughly, that nothing can matter in dealing with such a Creator. The insistence of the friends on the hope of forgiveness, Job’s own consciousness of integrity go for nothing.
"Were I to sin Thou wouldst mark me,
And Thou wouldst not acquit me of iniquity.
Were I wicked, woe unto me;
Were I righteous, yet should I not lift up my head."
The supreme Power of the world has taken an aspect not of unreasoning force, but of determined ill-will to man. The only safety seems to be in lying quiet so as not to excite against him the activity of this awful God who hunts like a lion and delights in marvels of wasteful strength. It appears that, having been once roused, the Divine Enemy will not cease to persecute. New witnesses, new causes of indignation would be found; a changing host of troubles would follow up the attack.
I have ventured to interpret the whole address in terms of supposition, as a theory Job flings out in the utter darkness that surrounds him. He does not adopt it. To imagine that he really believes this, or that the writer of the book intended to put forward such a theory as even approximately true, is quite impossible. And yet, when one thinks of it, perhaps impossible is too strong a word. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God is a fundamental truth; but it has been so conceived and wrought with as to lead many reasoners into a dream of cruelty and irresponsible force not unlike that which haunts the mind of Job. Something of the kind has been argued for with no little earnestness by men who were religiously endeavouring to explain the Bible and professed to believe in the love of God to the world. For example: the annihilation of the wicked is denied by one for the good reason that God has a profound reverence for being or existence, so that he who is once possessed of will must exist forever; but from this the writer goes on to maintain that the wicked are useful to God as the material on which His justice operates, that indeed they have been created solely for everlasting punishment in order that through them the justice of the Almighty may be clearly seen. Against this very kind of theology Job is in revolt. In the light even of his world it was a creed of darkness. That God hates wrongdoing, that everything selfish, vindictive, cruel, unclean, false, shall be driven before Him-who can doubt? That according to His decree sin brings its punishment yielding the wages of death-who can doubt? But to represent Him who has made us all, and must have foreseen our sin, as without any kind of responsibility for us, dashing in pieces the machines He has made because they do not serve His purpose, though He knew even in making them that they would not-what a hideous falsehood is this; it can justify God only at the expense of undeifying Him.
One thing this Book of Job teaches, that we are not to go against our own sincere reason nor our sense of justice and truth in order to square facts with any scheme or any theory. Religious teaching and thought must affirm nothing that is not entirely frank, purely just, and such as we could, in the last resort, apply out and out to ourselves. Shall man be more just than God, more generous than God, more faithful than God? Perish the thought, and every system that maintains so false a theory and tries to force it on the human mind! Nevertheless, let there be no falling into the opposite error; from that, too, frankness will preserve us. No sincere man, attentive to the realities of the world and the awful ordinances of nature, can suspect the Universal Power of indifference to evil, of any design to leave law without sanction. We do not escape at one point; God is our Father; righteousness is vindicated, and so is faith.
As the colloquies proceed, the impression is gradually made that the writer of this book is wrestling with that study which more and more engages the intellect of man-What is the real? How does it stand related to the ideal, thought of as righteousness, as beauty, as truth? How does it stand related to God, sovereign and holy? The opening of the book might have led straight to the theory that the real, the present world charged with sin, disaster, and death, is not of the Divine order, therefore is of a Devil. But the disappearance of Satan throws aside any such idea of dualism, and pledges the writer to find solution, if he find it at all, in one will, one purpose, one Divine event. On Job himself the burden and the effort descend in his conflict with the real as disaster, enigma, impending death, false judgment, established theology and schemes of explanation. The ideal evades him, is lost between the rising wave and the lowering sky. In the whole horizon he sees no clear open space where it can unfold the day. But it remains in his heart; and in the night sky it waits where the great constellations shine in their dazzling purity and eternal calm, brooding silent over the world as from immeasurable distance far withdrawn. Even from that distance God sends forth and will accomplish a design. Meanwhile the man stretches his hands in vain from the shadowed earth to those keen lights, ever so remote and cold.
Show me wherefore Thou strivest with me.
Is it pleasant to Thee that Thou should’st oppress,
That Thou should’st despise the work of Thy hands
And shine upon the counsel of the wicked?
Hast Thou eyes of flesh?
Or seest Thou as man seeth?
Thy days-are they as the days of man?
Thy years-are they as man’s days,
That Thou inquirest after fault of mine,
And searchest after my sin,
Though Thou knowest that I am not wicked,
And none can deliver from Thy hand?
Thine hands have made and fashioned me
Together round about; and Thou dost destroy me. [Job 10:2-8]
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 10". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany