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AS A PRINCE BEFORE THE KING
Job 29:1-25; Job 30:1-31; Job 31:1-40
FROM the pain and desolation to which he has become inured as a pitiable second state of existence, Job looks back to the years of prosperity and health which in long succession he once enjoyed. This parable or review of the past ends his contention. Honour and blessedness are apparently denied him forever. With what has been he compares his present misery and proceeds to a bold and noble vindication of his character alike from secret and from flagrant sins.
In the whole circle of Job’s lamentations this chant is perhaps the most affecting. The language is very beautiful, in the finest style of the poet, and the minor cadences of the music are such as many of us can sympathise with. When the years of youth go by and strength wanes, the Eden we once dwelt in seems passing fair. Of those beyond middle life there are few who do not set their early memories in sharp contrast to the ways they now travel, looking back to a happy valley and long bright summers that are left behind. And even in opening manhood and womanhood the troubles of life often fall, as we may think, prematurely, coming between the mind and the remembered joy of burdenless existence.
How changed are they!-how changed am I!
The early spring of life is gone, Gone is each youthful vanity, -
But what with years, oh what is won?
I know not-but while standing now
Where opened first the heart of youth,
I recollect how high would glow
Its thoughts of Glory, Faith, and Truth-
"How full it was of good and great,
How true to heaven, how warm to men.
Alas! I scarce forbear to hate
The colder breast I bring again."
First in the years past Job sees by the light of memory the blessedness he had when the Almighty was felt to be his preserver and his strength. Though now God appears to have become an enemy he will not deny that once he had a very different experience. Then nature was friendly, no harm came to him; he was not afraid of the pestilence that walketh in darkness nor the destruction that wasteth at noon day, for the Almighty was his refuge and fortress. To refuse this tribute of gratitude is far from the mind of Job, and the expression of it is a sign that now at length he is come to a better mind. He seems on the way fully to recover his trust.
The elements of his former happiness are recounted in detail. God watched over him with constant care, the lamp of Divine love shone on high and lighted up the darkness, so that even in the night he could travel by a way he knew not and feel secure. Days of strength and pleasure were those when the secret of God, the sense of intimate fellowship with God, was on his tent, when his children were about him, that beautiful band of sons and daughters who were his pride. Then his steps were bathed in abundance, butter provided by innumerable kine, rivers of oil which seemed to flow from the rock, where terrace above terrace the olives grew luxuriantly and yielded their fruit without fail.
Chiefly Job remembers with gratitude to God the esteem in which he was held by all about him. Nature was friendly and not less friendly were men. When he went into the city and took his seat in the "broad place" within the gate, he was acknowledged chief of the council and court of judgment. The young men withdrew and stood aside, yea the elders, already seated in the place of assembly, stood up to receive him as their superior in position and wisdom. Discussion was suspended that he might hear and decide. And the reasons for this respect are given. In the society thus with idyllic touches represented, two qualities were highly esteemed-regard for the poor and wisdom in counsel. Then, as now, the problem of poverty caused great concern to the elders of cities. Though the population of an Arabian town could not be great, there were many widows and fatherless children, families reduced to beggary by disease or the failure of their poor means of livelihood, blind and lame persons utterly dependent on charity, besides wandering strangers and the vagrants of the desert. By his princely munificence to these Job had earned the gratitude of the whole region. Need was met poverty relieved, justice done in every case. He recounts what he did, not in boastfulness, but as one who rejoiced in the ability God had given him to aid suffering fellow creatures. Those were indeed royal times for the generous-hearted man. Full of public spirit, his ear and hand always open, giving freely out of his abundance, he commended himself to the affectionate regard of the whole valley. The ready way of almsgiving was that alone by which relief was provided for the destitute, and Job was never appealed to in vain.
"The ear that heard me blessed me,
The eye that saw bare witness to me,
Because I delivered the poor that cried,
And the fatherless who had no helper.
The blessing of him that was ready to die came upon me,
And I caused the widow’s heart to sing with joy."
So far Job rejoices in the recollection of what he had been able to do for the distressed and needy in those days when the lamp of God shone over him. He proceeds to speak of his service as magistrate or judge.
"I put on righteousness and it indued itself with me,
My justice was as a robe and a diadem;
I was eyes to the blind
And feet was I to the lame."
With righteousness in his heart so that all he said and did revealed it and wearing judgment as a turban, he sat and administered justice among the people. Those who had lost their sight and were unable to find the men that had wronged them came to him and he was as eyes to them, following up every clue to the crime that had been committed. The lame who could not pursue their enemies appealed to him and he took up their cause. The poor, suffering under oppression, found him a protector, father. Yea, "the cause of him that I knew not I searched out." On behalf of total strangers as well as of neighbours he set in motion the machinery of justice.
"And I brake the jaws of the wicked
And plucked the spoil from his teeth."
None were so formidable, so daring and lion-like, but he faced them, brought them to judgment, and compelled them to give up what they had taken by fraud and violence.
In those days, Job confesses, he had the dream that as he was prosperous, powerful, helpful to others by the grace of God, so he would continue. Why should any trouble fall on one who used power conscientiously for his neighbours? Would not Eloah sustain the man who was as a god to others?
"Then I said, I shall die in my nest,
And I shall multiply my days as the Phoenix;
My root shall spread out by the waters,
And the dew shall be all night on my branch:
My glory shall be fresh in me,
And my bow shall be renewed in my hand."
A fine touch of the dream life which ran on from year to year, bright and blessed as if it would flow forever. Death and disaster were far away. He would renew his life like the Phoenix, attain to the age of the antediluvian fathers, and have his glory or life strong in him for uncounted years. So illusion flattered him, the very image he uses pointing to the futility of the hope.
The closing strophe of the chapter proceeds with even stronger touch and more abundant colour to represent his dignity. Men listened to him and waited. Like a refreshing rain upon thirsty ground-and how thirsty the desert could be!-his counsel fell on their ears. He smiled upon them when they had no confidence, laughed away their trouble, the light of his countenance never dimmed by their apprehensions. Even when all about him were in dismay his hearty hopeful outlook was unclouded. Trusting God, he knew his own strength and gave freely of it.
"I chose out their way, and sat as a chief,
And dwelt as a king in the crowd,
As one that comforteth the mourners."
Looked up to with this great esteem, acknowledged leader in virtue of his overflowing goodness and cheerfulness, he seemed to make sunshine for the whole community. Such was the past. All that had been is gone, apparently forever.
How inexpressibly strange that power so splendid, mental, physical, and moral strength used in the service of less favoured men should be destroyed by Eloah! It is like blotting out the sun from heaven and leaving a world in darkness. And most strange of all is the way in which low men assist the ruin that has been wrought.
The thirtieth chapter begins with this. Job is derided by the miserable and base whose fathers he would have disdained to set with the dogs of his flock. He paints these people, gaunt with hunger and vice, herding in the wilderness where alone they are suffered to exist, plucking mallows or salt wort among the bushes and digging up the roots of broom for food. Men hunted them into the desert, crying after them as thieves, and they dwelt in the clefts of the wadies, in caves and amongst rocks. Like wild asses they brayed in the scrub and flung themselves down among the nettles. Children they were of fools, base-born, men who had dishonoured their humanity and been whipped out of the land. Such are they whose song and by word Job is now become. These, even these abhor him and spit in his face. He makes the contrast deep and dreadful as to his own experience and the moral confusion that has followed Eloah’s strange work. For good there is evil, for light and order there is darkness. Does God desire this, ordain it?
One is inclined to ask whether the abounding compassion and humaneness of the Book of Job fail at this point. These wretched creatures who make their lair like wild beasts among the nettles, outcasts, branded as thieves, a wandering base-born race, are still men. Their fathers may have fallen into the vices of abject poverty. But why should Job say that he would have disdained to set them with the dogs of his flock? In a previous speech (chapter 24) he described victims of oppression who had no covering in the cold and were drenched with the rain of the mountains, clinging to the rock for shelter; and of them he spoke gently, sympathetically. But here he seems to go beyond compassion.
Perhaps one might say the tone he takes now is pardonable, or almost pardonable, because these wretched beings, whom he may have treated kindly once, have seized the occasion of his misery and disease to insult him to his face. While the words appear hard, the uselessness of the pariah may be the mare point. Yet a little of the pride of birth clings to Job. In this respect he is not perfect; here his prosperous life needs a check. The Almighty must speak to him out of the tempest that he may feel himself and find "the blessedness of being little."
These outcasts throw off all restraint and behave with disgraceful rudeness in his presence.
Upon my right hand rise the low brood,
They push away my feet,
And cast up against me their ways of destruction;
They mar my path,
And force on my calamity-
They who have no helper.
They come in as through a wide breach,
In the desolation they roll themselves upon me.
The various images, of a besieging army, of those who wantonly break up paths made with difficulty, of a breach in the embankment of a river, are to show that Job is now accounted one of the meanest, whom any man may treat with in dignity. He was once the idol of the populace; "now none so poor to do him reverence." And this persecution by base men is only a sign of deeper abasement. As a horde of terrors sent by God he feels the reproaches and sorrows of his state.
"Terrors are turned upon me;
They chase away mine honour as the wind.
And my welfare passeth as a cloud.
And now my soul is poured out in me
The days of affliction have taken hold upon me."
Thought shifts naturally to the awful disease which has caused his body to swell and to become black as with dust and ashes. And this leads him to his final vehement complaint against Eloah. How can He so abase and destroy His servant?
I cry unto Thee and Thou dost not hear me;
I stand up, and Thou lookest at me.
Thou art turned to be cruel unto me:
With the might of Thine hand Thou persecutest me.
Thou liftest me up to the wind,
Thou causest me to ride on it;
And Thou dissolvest me in the storm.
For I know that Thou wilt bring me to death,
And to the house appointed for all living.
Yet in overthrow doth not one stretch out his hand?
In destruction, doth he not because of this utter a cry?
Standing up in his wretchedness he is fully visible to the Divine eye, still no prayer moves Eloah the terrible from His purpose. It seems to be finally appointed that in dishonour Job shall die. Yet, destined to this fate, his hope a mockery, shall he not stretch out his hand, cry aloud as life falls to the grave in ruin? How differently is God treating him from the way in which he treated those who were in trouble! He is asking in vain that pity which he himself had often shown. Why should this be? How can it be, and Eloah remain the Just and Living One? Pained without and within, unable to refrain from crying out when people gather about him, a brother to jackals whose howlings are heard all night, a companion to the grieving ostrich, his bones burned by raging fever, his harp turned to wailing and his lute into the voice of them that weep, he can scarce believe himself the same man that once walked in honour and gladness in the sight of earth and heaven.
Thus the full measure of complaint is again poured out, unchecked by thought that dignity of life comes more with suffering patiently endured than with pleasure. Job does not know that out of trouble like his a man may rise more human, more noble, his harp furnished with new strings of deeper feeling, a finer light of sympathy shining in his soul. Consistently, throughout, the author keeps this thought in the background, showing hopeless sorrow, affliction, unrelieved by any sense of spiritual gain, pressing with heaviest and most weary weight upon a good man’s life. The only help Job has is the consciousness of virtue, and that does not check his complaint. The antinomies of life, the past as compared with the present, Divine favour exchanged for cruel persecution, well doing followed by most grievous pain and dishonour, are to stand at the last full in view. Then He who has justice in His keeping shall appear. God Himself shall declare and claim His supremacy and His design.
This purpose of the author achieved, the last passage of Job’s address-chapter 31-rings bold and clear like the chant of a victor, not serene indeed in the presence of death, for this is not the Hebrew temper and cannot be ascribed by the writer to his hero, yet with firm ground beneath his feet, a clear conscience of truth lighting up his soul. The language is that of an innocent man before his accusers and his judge, yea of a prince in presence of the King. Out of the darkness into which he has been cast by false arguments and accusations, out of the trouble into which his own doubt has brought him, Job seems to rise with a new sense of moral strength and even of restored physical power. No more in reckless challenge of heaven and earth to do their worst, but with a fine strain of earnest desire to be clear with men and God, he takes up and denies one by one every possible charge of secret and open sin. Is the language he uses more emphatic than any man has a right to employ? If he speaks the truth, why should his words be thought too bold? The Almighty Judge desires no man falsely to accuse himself, will have no man leave an unfounded suspicion resting upon his character. It is not evangelical meekness to plead guilty to sins never committed. Job feels it part of his integrity to maintain his integrity; and here he vindicates himself not in general terms but in detail, with a decision which cannot be mistaken. Afterwards, when the Almighty has spoken, he acknowledges the ignorance and error which have entered into his judgment, making the confession we must all make even after years of faith.
From the taint of lustful and base desire he first clears himself. He has been pure in life, innocent even of wandering looks which might have drawn him into uncleanness. He has made a covenant with his eyes and kept it. Sin of this kind, he knew, always brings retribution, and no indulgence of his ever caused sorrow and dishonour. Regarding the particular form of evil in question he asks:-
"For what is the portion from God above,
And the heritage of the Almighty from on high?
Is it not calamity to the unrighteous
And disaster to them that work iniquity?"
Grouped along with this "lust of the flesh" is the "lust of the eyes," covetous desire. The itching palm to which money clings, false dealing for the sake of gain, crafty intrigues for the acquisition of a plot of ground or some animal-such things were far from him. He claims to be weighed in a strict balance, and pledges himself that as to this he will not be found wanting. So thoroughly is he occupied with this defence that he speaks as if still able to sow a crop and look for the harvest. He would expect to have the produce snatched from his hand if the vanity of greed and getting had led him astray. Returning then to the more offensive suspicion that he had laid wait treacherously at his neighbour’s door, he uses the most vigorous words to show at once his detestation of such offence and the result he believes it always to have. It is an enormity, a nefarious thing to be punished by the judges. More than that, it is a fire that consumes to Abaddon, wasting a man’s strength and substance so that they are swallowed as by the devouring abyss. As to this, Job’s reading of life is perfectly sound. Wherever society exists at all, custom and justice are made to bear as heavily as possible on those who invade the foundation of society and the rights of other men. Yet the keenness with which immorality of the particular kind is watched fans the flame of lust. Nature appears to be engaged against itself; it may be charged with the offence, it certainly joins in bringing the punishment.
Another possible imputation was that as a master or employer he had been harsh to his underlings. Common enough it was for those in power to treat their dependants with cruelty. Servants were often slaves; their rights as men and women were denied. Regarding this, the words put into the mouth of Job are finely humane, even prophetic:-
"If I despised the cause of my man-servant or maid
When they contended with me
What then shall I do when God riseth up?
And when He visiteth what shall I answer Him?
Did not He that made me in the womb make him?
And did not One fashion us in the womb?"
The rights of those who toiled for him were sacred, not as created by any human law which for so many hours’ service might compel so much stipulated hire, but as conferred by God. Job’s servants were men and women with an indefeasible claim to just and considerate treatment. It was accidental, so to speak, that Job was rich and they poor, that he was master and they under him. Their bodies were fashioned like his, their minds had the same capacity of thought, of emotion, of pleasure and pain. At this point there is no hardness of tone or pride of birth and place. These are well doing people to whom as head of the clan Job stands in place of a father.
And his principle, to treat them as their inheritance of the same life from the same Creator gave them a right to be dealt with, is prophetic, setting forth the duties of all who have power to those who toil for them. Men are often used like beasts of burden. No tyranny on earth is so hateful as many employers, driving on their huge concerns at the utmost speed, dare to exercise through representatives or underlings. The simple patriarchal life which brought employer and employed into direct personal relations knew little of the antagonism of class interests and the bitterness of feeling which often menaces revolution. None of this will cease till simplicity be resumed and the customs which keep men in touch with each other, even though they fail to acknowledge themselves members of the one family of God. When the servant who has done his best is, after years of exhausting labour, dismissed without a hearing by some subordinate set there to consider what are called the "interests" of the employer-is the latter free from blame? The question of Job, "What then shall I do when God riseth up, and when He visiteth what shall I answer Him?" strikes a note of equity and brotherliness many so-called Christians seem never to have heard.
To the poor, the widow, the fatherless, the perishing, Job next refers. Beyond the circle of his own servants there were needy persons whom he had been charged with neglecting and even oppressing. He has already made ample defence under this head. If he has lifted his hand against the fatherless, having good reason to presume that the judges would be on his side-then may his shoulder fall from the shoulder blade and his arm from the collar bone. Calamity from God was a terror to Job, and recognising the glorious authority which enforces the law of brotherly help he could not have lived in proud enjoyment and selfish contempt.
Next he repudiates the idolatry of wealth and the sin of adoring the creature instead of the Creator. Rich as he was, he can affirm that he never thought too much of his wealth, nor secretly vaunted himself in what he had gathered. His fields brought forth plentifully, but he never said to his soul, Thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. He was but a steward, holding all at the will of God. Not as if abundance of possessions could give him any real worth, but with constant gratitude to his Divine Friend, he used the world as not abusing it.
And for his religion: true to those spiritual ideas which raised him far above superstition and idolatry, even when the rising sun seemed to claim homage as a fit emblem of the unseen Creator, or when the full moon shining in a clear sky seemed a very goddess of purity and peace, he had never, as others were wont to do, carried his hand to his lips. He had seen the worship of Baal and Ishtar, and there might have come to him, as to whole nations, the impulses of wonder, of delight, of religious reverence. But he can fearlessly say that he never yielded to the temptation to adore anything in heaven or earth. It would have been to deny Eloah the Supreme. Dr. Davidson reminds us here of a legend embodied in the Koran for the purpose of impressing the lesson that worship should be paid to the Lord of all creatures, "whose shall be the kingdom on the day whereon the trumpet shall be sounded." The Almighty says: "Thus did we show unto Abraham the kingdom of heaven and earth, that he might become of those who firmly believe. And when the night overshadowed him he saw a star, and he said, This is my Lord; but when it set he said, I like not those that set. And when he saw the moon rising he said, This is my Lord; but when he saw it set he said, Verily, if my Lord direct me not, I shall become one of the people who go astray. And when he saw the rising sun he said, This is my Lord; this is the greatest; but when it set he said, O my people, verily I am clear of that which ye associate with God; I direct my face unto Him who hath created the heavens and the earth." Thus from very early times to that of Mohammed monotheism was in conflict with the form of idolatry that naturally allured the inhabitants of Arabia. Job confesses the attraction, denies the sin. He speaks as if the laws of his people were strongly against sun worship, whatever might be done elsewhere.
He proceeds to declare that he has never rejoiced over a fallen enemy nor sought the life of any one with a curse. He distinguishes himself very sharply from those who in the common Oriental way dealt curses without great provocation, and those even who kept them for deadly enemies. So far was this rancorous spirit from him that friends and enemies alike were welcome to his hospitality and help. Job 31:31 means that his servants could boast of being unable to find a single stranger who had not sat at his table. Their business was to furnish it every day with guests. Nor will Job allow that after the manner of men he skilfully covered transgressions. "If, guilty of some base thing, I concealed it, as men often do, because I was afraid of losing caste, afraid lest the great families would despise me" Such a thought or fear never presented itself to him. He could not thus have lived a double life. All had been above board, in the clear light of day, ruled by one law. In connection with this it is that he comes with princely appeal to the King.
"Oh that I had one to hear me!-
Behold my signature-let the Almighty answer me.
And oh that I had my Opponent’s charge!
Surely I would carry it on my shoulder, I would bind it unto me as a crown.
I would declare unto Him the number of my steps,
As a prince would I go near unto Him."
The words are to be defended only on the ground that the Eloah to whom a challenge is here addressed is God misunderstood, God charged falsely with making unfounded accusations against His servant and punishing him as a criminal. The Almighty has not been doing so. The vicious reasoning of the friends, the mistaken creed of the age make it appear as if He had. Men say to Job, You suffer because God has found evil in you. He is requiting you according to your iniquity. They maintain that for no other reason could calamities have come upon him. So God is made to appear as the man’s adversary; and Job is forced to the demonstration that he has been unjustly condemned. "Behold my signature," he says: I state my innocence; I set to my mark; I stand by my claim: I can do nothing else. Let the Almighty prove me at fault. God, you say, has a book in which His charges against me are written out. I wish I had that book! I would fasten it upon my shoulder as a badge of honour; yea, I would wear it as a crown. I would show Eloah all I have done, every step I have taken through life by day and night. I would evade nothing. In the assurance of integrity I would go to the King; as a prince I would stand in His presence. There face to face with Him whom I know to be just and righteous I would justify myself as His servant, faithful in His house.
Is it audacity, impiety? The writer of the book does not mean it to be so understood. There is not the slightest hint that he gives up his hero. Every claim made is true. Yet there is ignorance of God, and that ignorance puts Job in fault so far. He does not know God’s action though he knows his own. He ought to reason from the misunderstanding of himself and see that he may fail to understand Eloah. When he begins to see this he will believe that his sufferings have complete justification in the purpose of the Most High.
The ignorance of Job represents the ignorance of the old world. Notwithstanding the tenor of his prologue the writer is without a theory of human affliction applicable to every case, or even to the experience of Job. He can only say and repeat, God is supremely wise and righteous, and for the glory of His wisdom and righteousness He ordains all that befalls men. The problem is not solved till we see Christ, the Captain of our salvation, made perfect by suffering, and know that our earthly affliction "which is for the moment worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory."
The last verses of the chapter may seem out of place. Job speaks as a landowner who has not encroached on the fields of others but honestly acquired his estate, and as a farmer who has tilled it well. This seems a trifling matter compared with others that have been considered. Yet, as a kind of afterthought, completing the review of his life, the detail is natural.
"If my land cry out against me,
And the furrows thereof weep together,
If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money,
Or have caused the owners to lose their life:
Let thistles grow instead of wheat
And cockle instead of barley.
The words of Job are ended."
A farmer of the right kind would have great shame if poor crops or wet furrows cried against him, or if he could otherwise be accused of treating the land ill. The touch is realistic and forcible.
Still it is plain at the close that the character of Job is idealised. Much may he received as matter of veritable history; but on the whole the life is too fine, pure, saintly for even an extraordinary man. The picture is clearly typical. And it is so for the best reason. An actual life would not have set the problem fully in view. The writer’s aim is to rouse thought by throwing the contradictions of human experience so vividly upon a prepared canvas that all may see. Why do the righteous suffer? What does the Almighty mean? The urgent questions of the race are made as insistent as art and passion, ideal truth and sincerity, can make them. Job lying in the grime of misery, yet claiming his innocence as a prince before the Eternal King, demands on behalf of humanity the vindication of providence, the meaning of the world scheme.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 31". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany