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The general subject of this chapter is the prosperity of the wicked, whose proceedings and their results are traced out in detail (Job 24:2-24). A single note of perplexity (Job 24:1) forms a sufficient introduction; and a single note of challenge a sufficient epilogue (Job 24:25).
Why, seeing times are not hidden from the almighty. By "times" seem to be meant God's special periods of exhibiting himself in action as the moral Governor of the world, vindicating the righteous, and taking vengeance upon sinners. Such "times" are frequently spoken of in the prophetical Scriptures as "days of the Lord" (see Isaiah 2:12; Isaiah 3:18; Isaiah 4:1; Isaiah 13:6, Isaiah 13:9; Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1, Joel 2:11; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7, Zephaniah 1:14, etc.). They are, of course, "not hidden" from him, seeing that it is he who determines on them beforehand, and, when their fixed date is come, makes them special "days," or "times," different from all others. Do they who know him not see his days? i.e. why are even they, who know and serve God, kept in the dark as to these "times," so that they do not foresee them or know when they are coming? This is to Job a great perplexity.
Some remove the landmarks. (On this form of wickedness, see Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10; Hosea 5:10.) Where neighbouring properties are not divided by fences of any kind, as in the East generally, the only way of distinguishing between one man's land and another's is by termini, or "landmarks," which are generally low stone metes or bourns, placed at intervals on the boundary-line. An easy form of robbery was to displace these bourns, putting them further back on one's neighbour's land. They violently take away flocks. Others openly drive off their neighbours' flocks from their pastures, mix them with their own flocks, and say that they are theirs (comp. Job 1:15-17). And feed thereof; rather, and feed them; i.e. pasture them.
They drive away the ass of the fatherless. This was another form of oppression. "Whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed?" says Samuel, on laying down his judgeship (1 Samuel 12:3). The "fatherless" were particularly liable to such ill treatment, seeing that they had lost their natural protector. They take the widow's ox for a pledge. It may be true that this was nowhere a legal offence, not even among the Hebrews (Lee); but it was a real act of oppression, and forms a fitting counterpart to the injury done to the orphan. (On the natural tendency of selfish men to bear hard on these two classes, see Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalms 94:6; Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 5:28; Zechariah 7:10.)
They turn the needy out of the way. Either "they force poor men to turn out of the road when they are using it, and wait till they have passed" (compare the recent practice of the Japanese daimios), or "they make the highways so dangerous with their violence that they compel the poor and needy to seek byways for safety" (Judges 5:6). The second hemistich favours the latter interpretation. The poor of the earth (or, the meek of the earth) hide themselves together. In the East there have always been superior and subject races, as well as proud nobles and down-trodden men of the same race. It is not clear of which of these two Job speaks. The former were often hunted out of all the desirable lands, and forced to fly to rooks and caves and holes in the ground, whence they were known as "Troglodytes." The latter, less frequently, handed together, and withdrew to remote and sequestered spots, where they might hope to live unmolested by their oppressors (Hebrews 11:38).
Behold, as wild asses in the desert, go they forth to their work. Plundering bands of wicked marauders scour the desert, like troops of wild asses, going forth early to their work, and late taking rest—rising betimes for a prey, and generally finding it, since the wilderness yieldeth food for them and for their children. They are sure to find some plunder or other ere the day is over.
They reap every one his corn in the field. When they have scoured the desert, the marauders approach the cultivated ground bordering on it, and thence carry off, each of them. a quantity of "fodder," or "provender" (Revised Version), for the sustentation of their horses. And they gather the vintage of the wicked; rather, as in the margin, and the wicked gather the vintage. (So Rosenmuller and Professor Lee.) Sometimes they burst into the vineyards, and rob them, carrying off the ripe grapes.
They cause the naked to lodge without clothing; rather, they lie all night naked, without clothing. The marauders are still the subject of the narrative. When engaged in their raids, they endure to pass the night without clothing, as the Bedouins are said to do to this day, so that they have no covering in the cold. They are so bent upon plunder that they do not mind these inconveniences.
They are wet with the showers of the mountains, and embrace the rock for want of a shelter. Further unpleasant consequences of marauding, hut endured without complaint by the wild robber-tribes.
They pluck the fatherless from the breast. Other oppressors, not of the marauding class, but dwellers in towns (Job 24:12), are so cruel that they tear the unweaned child of the debtor from the mother's breast, as satisfaction for a debt, and carry him off into slavery. And take a pledge of the poor; literally, take in pledge that which is on the poor—in other words, their clothing. They will not lend to them on any other terms, and so force them to part with their garments, and go about naked. Even Hebrew creditors seem to have done this (Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:12, Deuteronomy 24:13); and the Mosaic Law did not forbid the practice, but only required the creditor to let the debtor have his garment at night, that he might sleep in it (Exodus 22:27; Deuteronomy 24:13).
They cause him to go naked without clothing; rather, they go naked without clothing. The effects of the oppression on its victims are now traced. First of all, the poor man, whose only wrap or cloak has been taken in pledge, is com-polled to go naked, or almost naked, both day and night, exposed alike to extremes of heat and cold. Secondly, he is compelled to reap and bind and carry home the sheaves of his oppressor, while he himself is half famished with hunger. The second clause of the verse is wrongly translated in the Authorized Version, where we read, and they take away the sheaf from the hungry; the real meaning being, "and they who are an hungered, carry the sheaves" (compare the Revised Version).
Which make oil within their walls, and tread their wine-presses, and suffer thirst. In the third place, the same unfortunates are employed in the homesteads of their oppressors to express oil from the olives and wine from the rich clusters of grapes, while they themselves are tormented with unceasing thirst.
Men groan from out of the city. It is not only in the wild tracts bordering on the desert (Job 24:5-8), or on the large farms of rich landholders (Job 24:9-11), that oppression takes place. Men's groans are heard also "from the city," and in the midst of the city, where murder, robbery, burglary, adultery, and other crimes of the deepest dye abound. Then the soul of the wounded crieth out. In appeals to God for help, or in inarticulate cries, the wounded spirit of the oppressed and injured vents itself. Yet God layeth not folly to them. Yet God seems to take no notice. He gives no sign of disapproval, but allows the oppressors to go on in their foolish courses unchecked.
They are of those who rebel against the light. These city oppressors go beyond the others in entirely rejecting the light of reason, conscience, and law. They threw off every restraint. The "light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" is nothing to them. They know not the ways thereof. They will not know, will not have anything to do with, the law of moral restraint—much less will they abide in the paths thereof; i.e. acknowledge and be guided by such restraints continually. On the contrary,
The murderer rising with the light killeth the poor and needy. The murderer rises at the first glimpse of dawn—the time when mast men sleep most soundly. He cannot go about his wicked business in complete darkness. He has not the courage to attack the great and powerful, who might be well armed and have retainers to defend them, but enters the houses of a comparatively poor class, in which he is less afraid to risk himself. Here, in the night he is as a thief. He has not come into the house simply for murder. Theft is his main object. He will not take life unless he is resisted or discovered, and so, in a certain sense, driven to it.
The eye also of the adulterer waiteth for the twilight, saying, No eye shall see me. There is an analogy between moral and physical light, and between moral and physical darkness. The class of men here spoken of (Job 24:14-16), who have rebelled against moral light (Job 24:13), and refused its ways, and rejected its paths, are no great lovers of physical light. Their deeds of darkness are only suited to be done in the dark, and they wait for the evening twilight or the dusk of dawn to engage in them. And he disguiseth his face. As a further precaution against discovery, the adulterer disguiseth, or covereth up, his face. The same is often done by thieves and murderers.
In the dark they dig through houses. In ancient times, burglary commonly took this form. Windows were few, and high up in the walls; doors were strongly fastened with bolts and bars. But the walls, being of clay, or rubble, or sun-dried brick, were weak and easily penetrable. This was especially the ease with party walls; and if burglars entered an unoccupied house, nothing was easier than to break through the slight partition which separated it from the house next door. The Greek word for "burglar" is τοιχώρυχος'" he who digs through a wall." Which they had marked for themselves in the daytime; rather, they shut themselves up in the daytime; literally, they seal themselves up; the meaning being that they carefully keep themselves close. Professor Lee, however, defends the Authorized Version. They know not the light; i.e. they avoid it, keep away from it, will have nothing to do with it.
For the morning is to them even as the shadow of death. They hate the morning light. It is associated in their minds with the idea of detection; for when it breaks in upon them unexpectedly in the midst of their ill deeds, detection commonly follows; and detection is a true "shadow of death," for it commonly means the gallows. If one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death; rather, for they know the terrors of the shadow of death (see the Revised Version). It is a familiar experience to them; as, whenever crime is severely punished, it is to the criminal class generally.
He is swift as the waters. "Locus obscurissimus" (Schulteus). Scarcely any two commentators agree even as to the subject on which Job proceeds to speak. Some regard him as giving his own judgment on the ultimate fate of the wicked; others, as anticipating what his opponents will say on the point. One recent expositor takes the passage as referring to the efforts made by the malefactors of verses 14-16 to escape from justice, and to the discredit and difficulty in which they involve themselves. Another suggests that Job here calls attention to a fresh class of oppressors, viz. water-thieves (see Strabo, Job 16:18), who, starting in light boats from some island in a lake or river, plundered the neighbouring lands, making the portions of the landholders worthless, and causing them to neglect the cultivation, even of their vineyards. If we accept this view, the proper translation of the present verse will be, Swift is he (i.e. the water-thief) upon the face of the waters: then is the portion of them who dwell in the land worthless; no one turneth his face toward his vine. yards.
Drought and heat consume the snow waters; so doth the grave those which have sinned. This rendering is further confirmed by the next verse. Accepting it, we must suppose Job to pass at this point to the consideration of the ultimate end of the wicked, though in verse 21 he returns to the consideration of their ill doings. The heat and drought of summer, he says, consume and dry up all the water which comes from the melting of the winter's snows. So does Shoel, or the grave, absorb, and as it were consume, the wicked.
The womb shall forget him: Some regard this as equivalent to "Earth shall forget him;" but most suppose "the womb" to mean "his own mother." The worm shall feed sweetly on him (comp. Job 17:14). He shall be no more remembered. Oblivion shall fall upon him and his doings. And wickedness shall be broken as a tree. As a strong wind suddenly snaps off a tree at the root, so wickedness, in the person of the wicked man—the abstract for the concrete—shall be overtaken by death, and perish in a moment (comp. Job 24:24).
He evil entreateth the barren that beareth not. Oppressors of another class are perhaps here spoken of, or perhaps there is a mere return to the idea with which Job's enumeration opened (verse 3), which was the oppression of the weaker and more defenceless classes. As barrenness in women was considered the greatest possible misfortune (1 Samuel 1:5-8; 1 Samuel 3:1-10), so oppressing one that was barren indicated extreme cruelty. And doeth not good to the widow; i.e. neglects to vindicate her cause—an admitted part of man's duty (see Job 22:9; Job 29:13; Job 31:16).
He draweth also the mighty with his power; i.e. he draws to his side, and makes his helpers, those who are mighty, attracting them or compelling them to join him by the power which he already has. He riseth up, and no man is sure of life. This is also the translation of the Revised Version. Some commentators, however, prefer to render, "He riseth up, when he has despaired of life; "i.e. the wicked man, when he has been brought into trouble, either sickness or danger of death at the hands of Justice, to men's surprise, "riseth up"—is delivered from the danger, and recovers his prosperity.
Though it be given him to be in safety, whereon he resteth; rather, he (i.e. God) granteth him to be in security' and thereon he resteth; i.e. God allows the escape of the wicked man from his trouble, and lets him live on, safe and secure, and the man himself rests on the security thus afforded him, quite contented with it. Yet his eyes are upon their ways. God's eyes are still upon the ways of the wicked: they are, or seem to be, the objects of a special providential care.
They are exalted for a little while, but are gone and brought low; rather, they are exalted: after a little while they are gone' they are brought low. Job has to admit that death comes upon wicked men at last; but he minimizes the terrors of their death, and exaggerates its alleviations. First, it comes on them when they have risen to eminence, have gained themselves a reputation, and "are exalted." Next, it is sudden and painless, preceded by no long, lingering illness, but just a sinking into non-existence; a tranquil passing away. Thirdly, it is at a ripe age, when they have reached the full term of human life, and are as ears of corn ripe for the harvest. Further, it is the common fate: They are taken out of the way as all other (comp. Job 9:22; Job 21:13), and cut off as the tops of the ears of corn. We may gather from this expression that the reaping in the land of Uz was conducted in Job's time much in the same way as it was in Egypt under the early Pharaohs, viz. by cutting the stalk with a sharp sickle almost immediately below the ear, and collecting the ears in baskets.
And if it be not so now; i.e. "if these things be not as I say." Who will make me a liar? Which of you will stand forth and disprove them, and so "make me a liar "? And make my speech nothing worth? Show, i.e.' my whole discourse to be valueless. This bold challenge no one attempts to take up.
Job to Eliphaz: 4. An answer wanted to a great question'
I. AS IMPORTANT PROPOSITION STATED. That the Almighty does not call wicked men before his tribunal on earth. "Why are not times," i.e. of reckoning or punishment, "reserved," or kept in store, "by the Almighty, and why do they who know him see not his days?" i.e. his doomsdays, or days of judicial visitation on the wicked (verse 1).
1. A caution. The language does not imply either that there should not be, or that there do not exist, such times of reckoning with the ungodly, and indeed with all men. On the contrary, it tacitly assumes that God both ought to have, and in point of fact does have, days of retribution which are appropriately described as "his." That men ought to be judged for their characters and lives, the moral instincts of humanity proclaim; that men will be arraigned before Shaddai's impartial tribunal, is explicitly asserted in Scripture (Job 21:30; Job 34:11; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Psalms 98:9; Daniel 7:10; Matthew 25:32; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 9:27).
2. An explanation. What the language asserts is that such court-days are not kept by the Almighty on earth, or at least that his people do not see them; in other words, that the godlessness of men is permitted to stalk forth on earth unchallenged and unavenged, without let or hindrance, pretty much as if there were no such tribunal in existence. And this fact, which Job so strenuously affirms, in addition to having been observed by Asaph (Psalms 73:5), David (Psa 1:1-6 :21), the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 8:11), Jeremiah 12:1, Habakkuk 1:15, Habakkuk 1:16, and others, is likewise recognized in Scripture generally as correct.
II. A CONVINCING DEMONSTRATION OFFERED. That the Almighty does not hold a regular assize on earth established by two patent facts.
1. The most execrable wickedness is suffered to rage without either punishment or restraint. The special form of ungodliness depicted is that of ruthless oppression of the helpless and defenceless, exemplified in such crimes as:
(1) Secret fraud. "They," i.e. the tyrannical oppressors of the aborigines of the soil, "remove the landmarks," shift the stones or stakes which mark the boundary-line between the poor man's plot and the rich man's farm, so as to diminish the one and increase the other—an act of impiety denounced in the Law of Moses as worthy of, and certain to be punished by, the curse of God (Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17), a crime practised in the days of Solomon (Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10) and of Hosea 5:10, a form of wickedness not unknown to modern society. Every attempt by covert fraudulence to augment one's own estate at the expense of a neighbour's, whether that neighbour be poor or rich, is equivalent to a removing of the landmark between meum and tuum, and as such incurs the Divine displeasure. If one thing is more saddening than the prevalence of indirect and minute spoliation amongst all ranks and classes, it is that good men should not be able to sea that theft is still theft, although practised in infinitesimal proportions and by underhand contrivances, and that even wicked men should not be deterred from such nefarious actions by a recollection of God's anathemas against the thief.
(2) Barefaced robbery. "They violently take away flocks and feed them" (Hosea 5:2), not taking the trouble to dispose of the stolen sheep by slaughter or sale, but openly and coolly retaining them amongst their own, as the Sabeans had done with Job's oxen (Job 1:14)—an aggravation of their crime that they were so shameless and audacious in its commission; but they who could brave God's curse in order to remove a landmark would not likely shrink from enduring man's scorn in order to steal a flock. Sin inevitably tends to sear the conscience and to petrify the feelings.
(3) Pitiless exaction. "They drive away the ass of the fatherless, they take the widow's ox for a pledge" (verse 3). Besides being out of all proportion, and therefore unjust, to carry off an ass or an ox in payment of a trifling loan or debt, it was unspeakably heartless to proceed to such extremity against those whose friendless condition should have drawn forth sympathy and succour. It was also a clear violation of the Divine Law to appropriate what was so indispensable to the subsistence of an orphan as the one ass wherewith he laboured, or so needful for the widow as the ox which ploughed her plot of ground. For similar reasons the Mosaic Law forbade the taking in pledge of a widow's raiment (Deuteronomy 24:17), and much more, it may be argued, of a widow's yoke ox, or of an orphan's ass (Exodus 22:22). The nether or the upper millstone also, for a like cause, was an illegal pledge (Deuteronomy 24:6).
(4) Violent oppression. "They turn the needy out of the way" (verse 4), thrusting them out of their accustomed paths and pursuits, compelling them through fear to abandon the highways and travel through trackless regions, ejecting them by force from their wonted habitations and ancient possessions (cf. Job 22:8, homiletics).
(5) Merciless subjugation. "They pluck the fatherless from the breast, and take a pledge of the poor" (verse 9). So pitiless are these inhuman monsters, that they distrain not the widow's ox merely, but her infant child as well, plucking it from her bosom, and carrying it off to be reared in miserable servitude; yea, if the second clause may be added to the first, after robbing the broken-hearted mother of her babe, stripping her of her raiment, and turning her forth naked and trembling to find food and clothing as best she may. It is doubtful if any American Legree or modern slave-driver ever eclipsed these ancient child-stealers in relentless barbarity.
2. The most extreme misery is allowed to go unnoticed and unrelieved. In three affecting pictures, according to one view of the poet's meaning, he sketches the calamitous fate of the unhappy victims of those remorseless destroyers. The first (verses 5-8) depicts the melancholy fortunes of the poor of the land (perhaps the aboriginal inhabitants), who being cast forth from their ancient possessions are obliged to "hide themselves together" (verse 4), or to slink away out of sight, disappearing, as inferior races have since done, because unable to stand before the violence of their invaders.
(1) Leading a gregarious and wandering life, like wild asses in the desert, like the vagrant gipsies of modern times, rising up early and going forth in search of food with an appetite as keen as if they were hunting prey, with infinite labour extracting a scanty subsistence for themselves and children from the innutritious roots and herbs of the inhospitable steppe.
(2) Enraging in the lowest forms of menial service, being obliged to hire themselves out as day labourers, and the only work available for them being the cutting of fodder for the rich man's cattle—not the better sorts of grain, lest they should be tempted to pluck and eat; or the gleaning of the late ripening grapes of the rich man's vineyard—not the earliest and best, for fear they should seek to quench their thirst by devouring the luscious fruit.
(3) Reduced to the saddest state of destitution, being without clothes, so that they must pass the night in a stripped and naked condition, exposed to the "frequent and continuous storms that visit the mountains," and without homes, so that "they embrace the rock for want of a shelter." The second picture (verses 10, 11) is, if possible, more excruciatingly painful in the aspect of wretchedness it presents. It recites the evil hap of those widows' children who have been taken for their mothers' debt, or of the poorer section of the conquering clan themselves who in turn have become victims of the haughty tyrants, and have been reduced to a condition little short of abject slavery.
(1) Utter penury. In consequence of the oppressive exactions of their masters, they are compelled to part with the last stitch of clothing, and to slink away in almost entire nudity like a gang of slaves driven to the market or the cotton-field.
(2) Unrequited toil. Hungry, they must not pluck a handful of ears from their overseer's cornfield, a privilege not denied to the brute beasts beside them (Deuteronomy 25:4). Thirsty, they dare not moisten their parched tongues with the must running from the presses as they squeeze but the oil and tread down the grapes. The abominable wickedness of exacting labour without remuneration (and that also adequate), as is done in slavery, is severely reprehended in Scripture (Le Job 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15; Jeremiah 22:13; James 5:4). The third picture (verse 12) alludes to the miseries of a densely populated city, where
(1) oppression reigns as fierce and intolerable as exists in the country, causing men to groan in anguish—a description not exclusively applicable to an ancient Arabian town suddenly invaded by hordes of freebooters, but finding also too faithful realization in the great cities and large centres of population belonging to the nineteenth Christian century, in which the same spectacle is still seen, of the strong trampling on the weak, the rich on the poor, the lordly and tyrannical on the plebeian and servile; and where
(2) strife rages, leading not unfrequently to bloodshed and murder, in which the soul of the wounded mourns—a state of things as often seen today as it was some five or six thousand years ago, nothing being so characteristic of the present times as just the internecine warfare existing between the various classes of society, and leading as a natural result to a prolific development of crimes against the person and estate. And all this sweltering abomination, this moral putridity, social disorder, and civil corruption which infests both town and country, the Almighty appears to be as indifferent to as he was in the days of Job (Psa 1:1-6 :21).
III. AN URGENT QUESTION ASKED. Why does not God call wicked men to account?
1. Not for want of power. Otherwise he would not be Shaddai, the Almighty, the all-powerful and all-sufficient Deity, whose ability to perform his counsel Job has just commented on (Job 23:13).
2. Not for lack of knowledge. Job's atheistical contemporaries supposed that mundane affairs were concealed from the gaze of him who walked upon the circuit of the heavens, and whose feet were wrapped about with clouds (Job 22:13); but Job and his friends alike admitted that times, i.e. at any rate the main events and circumstances of terrestrial history, were not hidden from Shaddai's omniscient glance (verse 1, Authorized Version).
3. Not for want of right. Both parties in the present controversy recognize that such appalling wickedness should not be suffered to go for ever unchallenged and unpunished, that such detestable criminals as above described ought to be arrested and brought before the tribunal of Heaven. Nay, on the theory of the friends, these workers of iniquity ought at once to be called to account. Yet notoriously, says Job, they are not. Hence it can only be:
4. For lack of will. It is not God's intention to hold a circuit court here on earth, and try men for their misdeeds. In other words, the Divine government is not, so far as this world is concerned, as the friends contended, strictly retributive.
1. The impunity of sinners on earth is no proof that they shall enjoy like impunity hereafter.
2. That God's people do not now discern his judgment throne is no argument that such a throne does not exist.
3. Little faults are as really sins, and as certain to be punished, as great offences.
4. Criminals who start with stealthy and minute acts of transgression are in danger of proceeding to large as well as open works of wickedness.
5. "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn."
6. Mighty despots may deprive the poor of their estates by either fair means or foul; but God regards the deed as spoliation and robbery.
7. It is a wiser policy to prevent pauperism from being developed in a state than to provide for it after it has been developed.
8. Town and country are much the same in their moral characteristics.
9. It is a mistake to infer from God's silence that he neither sees nor cares for the wickedness and misery of man.
A threefold religious emblem; of the shelter of the rock.
I. AN EMBLEM OF THE SINNER'S MISERABLE CONDITION.
1. Exposed to a storm. Like the unhappy victims of tyrannical oppression, men, in their unconverted state, are liable to be overtaken by the tempest of God's righteous wrath and indignation against sin (Psalms 11:6; Romans 1:18; Colossians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Revelation 6:16, Revelation 6:17), which will not assail the body merely, but destroy both soul and body in hell (Luke 12:5), and that for ever.
2. Destitute of shelter. Like the houseless and homeless wanderers among the mountains, unpardoned souls are without a refuge to which they can betake themselves in the day of their calamity. Driven forth from the place of safety in which they originally stood, they have now "no covering in the cold," no garment of righteousness in which they can wrap their trembling spirits. Nor can they by any wisdom, wealth, or labour of their own construct or discover for themselves a habitation and defence against the storm.
II. AN EMBLEM OF THE GREAT SALVATION OFFERED IN THE GOSPEL. As the shivering outcasts crept into the rocky caves on the mountain-side, so Christ has been set forth as a Rock and a Hiding-place (Isaiah 32:2).
1. Accessible by all; the approach to him being hindered by no formidable barriers, and no stupendous effort being required to reach his side (Romans 10:6), nothing beyond a simple exercise of faith which is within the ability of even a child.
2. Sufficient for all; there being room enough in Christ for all who come to him in faith (Luke 14:22), yea, for the entire world of mankind (Isaiah 45:22; John 3:16), if only they sincerely come to him; and perfect safety and protection for all who gain its shelter, complete defence against the charges of the Law, the accusations of conscience, the penalties of sin, the terrors of death, and of the wrath to come (Romans 5:1).
3. Free to all; every one who seeks his presence and assistance being accorded a welcome, without money and without price.
"All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel our need of him."
III. AN EMBLEM OF THE ACT OF SAVING FAITH. As the miserable victims of the strong man's oppression embraced the rock for a shelter, so must needy sinners embrace Christ the Rock.
1. With personal application; Christ being of no more use to a sinner without individual appropriation than the mountain rock would have been to those who did not cling to it. Faith is the hand that lays hold of and embraces Christ as he is exhibited in the gospel.
2. With fervent gratitude; giving thanks to God for his abundant mercy in providing such a shelter for the soul, as no doubt the poor creatures whom the mountain-storms drenched were grateful for even the protection of a cave.
3. With immediate action; allowing no delay to prevent the soul from fleeing from the storm of impending wrath to the hope set before it in the gospel.
Job to Eliphaz: 5. Ancient rebels against the light.
I. THEIR BLACK CHARACTER.
1. They are hostile to the light. The light alluded to is the light of day. The wicked persons spoken of regard that light with aversion, as being unfavourable to the special forms of ungodliness they delight to practise. Distinguished from the previously mentioned sinners who transact their nefarious deeds openly and unblushingly beneath the clear firmament of heaven, these night-birds may be taken, in their general characteristics at least, as representatives of those evil-doers whom Christ designates (John 3:20) haters of the light. Light is a frequent biblical symbol for Divine truth (Proverbs 6:23; Psalms 119:105; Isaiah 2:5), and in particular for the gospel (Matthew 4:16; Luke 2:32; John 12:36; Ephesians 5:8). Hence the unbelieving and therefore unconverted wicked heart naturally looks upon the light of God's Law and of Christ's gospel with repugnance (Romans 8:7), and for the same reason, that the light condemns their works.
2. They know not the ways of the light. They have no familiarity with such modes of living as men practise in open day. The ordinary avocations of law-abiding citizens possess for them no interest and yield to them no enjoyment; in which respect again they fitly typify ungodly men in general, who neither know nor care for the ways of holiness and truth. The way of the wicked is a way of darkness (Proverbs 4:19; Romans 13:12), of unbelief (Hebrews 3:12), of disobedience (Romans 8:7), of folly (Proverbs 12:15), of sorrow (Proverbs 13:15), a way that is displeasing to God (Proverbs 15:9), and that leadeth unto death (Matthew 7:13; Romans 6:23). The way of truth (Psalms 119:30), of understanding (Isaiah 40:14), of holiness (Isaiah 35:8), of peace (Isaiah 59:8; Romans 3:17), of life (Matthew 7:14), they do not keep, love, or know.
3. They shun the paths of the light. They remove themselves and their nefarious practices as far as possible from the light, lest they should be seen of men. Even so evil workers come not to the light lest their deeds should be reproved (John 3:20). Honest men fear not to stand in the sun. Nor do children of the light require to wrap themselves in cloaks of darkness. But because God's light (of the Law and the gospel) has a singular power of discovering men's wickedness to themselves and others (Ephesians 5:13), the children of darkness avoid the light.
II. THEIR DARK DEEDS. The poet sketches portraits of three of these ancient rebels against the light.
1. The murderer; whose villainies are described by a threefold characteristic.
(1) The time of their perpetration—"at the dawn," i.e. just before the breaking forth of the morning light, or while it is yet dark, that hour being selected for
(a) its adaptation to the works about to be performed, works of darkness (Romans 13:12), such as robbery and murder, which cannot bear the light, and
(b) the facilities it affords for finding subjects on which to operate.
(2) The victims of their perpetration—"the poor and needy," who by reason of penury are obliged at that early hour to be afoot, probably on the road to their daily tasks. Murder, in itself an atrocious crime, is immensely aggravated when, for the petty spoil which can thereby be obtained, it is committed against the indigent and feeble.
(3) The manner of their perpetration—by sudden ambush. "At dawn the manslayer riseth up," i.e. out of his concealment, "and killeth the poor and the needy;" another aggravation of his wickedness. The language may also indicate the alacrity and earnestness with which this son of darkness, this child of the devil, sets about his unhallowed work; in which respect his conduct may administer rebuke to the children of light.
2. The adulterer; who also is possessed of the infernal sagacity to select the season most appropriate, and the manner most effective, for accomplishing his diabolic purpose. Not at early dawn, but with the falling of the evening twilight, he sallies forth towards his neighbour's harem, saying, "No eye shall see me;" to render detection impossible, putting a mask upon his face, forgetting that masks hide from men, but not from God, who can see as well in darkness as in light. But most criminals and sinners omit to reckon with the invisible Spectator of their abominations. Notoriously so did Cain (Genesis 4:10), David (2 Samuel 11:4), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:2). Yet, again, from even a teacher so unworthy as this violator of marriage sanctities, God's people may derive a lesson to transact their deeds of light with wisdom and efficiency.
3. The burglar; who, already referred to as the highwayman of the morning dawn (verse 14), is reintroduced as the midnight housebreaker who, with pick and spade (the modern thief using crowbar and chisel, skeleton keys, etc.), digs beneath the mud walls of rich men's abodes, marked by him during day (verses 16, 17). The more probable translation, however, sets forth the housebreaker's horror of the light: "In the daytime they shut themselves up," because "they know not," i.e. hate, "the light:" and "to them together the morning is as the shadow of death," i.e. through fear of discovery; "for they are acquainted with," and therefore are greatly afraid of, "the terrors of the shadow of death."
III. THEIR TERRESTRIAL REWARDS. The treatment of neither of the two classes described in the present chapter is strictly retributive.
1. The fate of the petty criminals; i.e. of the murderer, the adulterer, the thief, and all included in the category of rebels against the light. According to Eliphaz, these creatures of the darkness should be overtaken with calamities proportioned to their crimes; but, according to Job, the contrary is the case—they are
(1) prosperous in life, gliding down the stream and current of time like a light skiff (verse 18), experiencing no curse upon their heritages while they live; and
(2) honoured in death, by being vouchsafed
(a) a quick and easy disappearance from the earth, like the passing away of a light substance upon the face of the waters (cf. Job 9:26), instead of struggling towards the grave through protracted and painful suffering, or like the melting of snow before the scorching heats of summer (verse 19), going down into Sheol suddenly as in a moment (Job 21:13); and
(b) a complete escape from the just penalties of their crimes, the curse not descending upon their heritages until they themselves have departed from the scene (verse 18), and though forgotten by the very mothers that bore them because of their wickedness, yet not compelled to eat the bitter fruits of their transgression, since by death their iniquity has been broken off like a tree, i.e. before it has had time to yield its appropriate results.
2. The fate of the rapacious despots; i.e. of those sketched in the preceding section (verses 2-12), who are here identified as the oppressors of barren and widowed women (verse 21). They, too, should be arrested by visible judgments; but altogether different, according to Job, is their lot.
(1) They are preserved alive by that very hand which should rather slay them (verse 22). So were God to deal with any sinners on earth according to their iniquities they would instantly be cut down (Psalms 130:3). But God magnifies his grace and evinces his long-suffering towards sinful men by upholding in existence those who bid defiance to every danger, and even to God himself, who are not only insensible to all Divine impulses, but flagrant violators of all Divine laws.
(2) They are raised up from sickness at the moment when they seem to be about to die (verse 22). The mercy God's singer guarantees to the humble saint that considereth the poor (Psalms 41:1), and Christ's servant promises to the believing Christian (James 5:15), is extended to the poor man's oppressor, and the supreme God's denier—another marvel of grace!
(3) They are kept in security instead of living in constant terror (verse 23). Were God not to moderate the fears of good men, much more therefore of bad men, their lives would be intolerable. But God's special providence watches over villains as well as over virtuous people, keeping both from danger, fear, and death, hoping thereby to lead the former to repentance, and seeking to induce the latter to confide in his grace.
(4) They are exalted for a season in conscious prosperity instead of being humbled and cast down (verse 24)—an additional proof of God's kindness towards them. And
(5) when the end comes they only share in the common lot, being taken out of the way like all other men.
1. The unnatural wickedness of those who despise God's mercies—even his common gifts of providence, but much more his grandest gift of grace.
2. It is an unmistakable evidence of depravity when a man loves the darkness rather than the light.
3. The present-day forms of wickedness are of extreme antiquity, some of them, such as murder, being nearly as old as the Fall.
4. The soul that hates the light has the seed-corn in his heart out of which the greatest crimes may be developed.
5. The truest security a man can have that he shall never perpetrate such wickedness as murder, adultery, etc; is to walk in the light.
6. The destruction of the most powerful sinner that walks the earth is a work of perfect ease to God.
7. A man's triumph or superiority over his fellows terminates with the grave.
8. That wickedness must be great which causes a mother to forget her child.
9. That mercy must be great which continues when human love in its highest form is exhausted.
10. Death may seem to remove the curse from the sinner, but in reality it only conducts the sinner to the curse.
11. God's goodness and mercy may follow a sinner to the grave's mouth; there is no evidence that it can pursue him further.
12. It is appointed unto all men once to die.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Examples of God's incomprehensible dealings.
I. DEEDS OF VIOLENCE AND FRAUD. (Job 24:1-4.) "Why are not times laid up," i.e. reserved, determined by the Almighty, "and why do those who know him (i.e. his friends) not see his days?"—the days when he arises to judgment, days of revelation, days of the Son of man (Ezekiel 30:3; Luke 17:22). Then comes a series of acts of violence, oppression, persecution, permitted by God the removal of landmarks (Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10); the plunder of herds (Job 20:19); the taking of the property of the helpless in pledge (Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:6); the thrusting of the poor from the way into pathless spots, so that the miserable of the land are compelled to hide themselves from the intolerable oppression.
II. THE MISERY OF THE PERSECUTED. (Job 24:5-8) Job 24:5 is an apt description of the beggarly vagabond way of life of these Troglodytes, the types of the present Hottentots or Bushmen in South Africa: "As wild asses in the desert they go forth in their daily work, looking out for booty; the steppe gives them food for their children. On the field they reap the fodder of the cattle, and glean the vineyard of the wicked," thievishly not labouring in his service. Naked, cold, shelterless, exposed to the rain amidst the mountains, they cower for shelter among the rocks (verses- 7, 8).
III. FURTHER DESCRIPTIONS OF TYRANNY. (Job 24:9-12.) The orphan is torn from the mother's breast by cruel creditors, who intend to repay themselves by bringing up the child as a slave. The property of the poor is seized in pledge (comp. Amos 2:8; Micah 2:9). Then follows another picture of the victims of oppression, not now as wanderers of the steppe, but as the wretched denizens of inhabited cities (Job 24:10-12). In nakedness and hunger, they carry sheaves for the supply of the rich man's table, while they themselves are starving. And thus the cry of those whose wages have been kept back by fraud goes up to Heaven (Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 5:4). We have a picture of ancient labour in the olive- and vine-growing East. While they press the olive or tread the wine-press they suffer cruelly from thirst. The groans of dying men fill the air, "and yet God never speaks a word!" "He heeds not the folly" with which these impious tyrants disregard and trample upon the moral order.—J.
Pictures of secret end unpunished evil-doers.
I. THE MURDERER AND THE ADULTERER. (Job 24:13-17.) A class of the wicked different from the foregoing is now placed before us; rebels, revolters against the light, who refuse to know anything of the ways of light, and to abide in its paths. These are the "children of darkness," so emphatically contrasted in the New Testament with the "children of light" (Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:8, etc.; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). Before the morning breaks, the murderer rises, to strike down the poor and needy, and at night he carries on the trade of the thief. The adulterer waits for the dusk, and veils his face (Proverbs 7:9). In the darkness houses are broken into by men who have shut themselves up during the day—men who have no affinity with the light, as the description repeats (Job 24:16). To these malefactors the dense darkness is their morning; for then, when others sleep from daily toil, their vile work and trade begin, "because they know the terrors of the gloomy darkness' (Job 24:17), being as. familiar with them as others are with the bright daytime. The joyous consciousness, the cheerful spirits of the children of the light, are contrasted with the fear, the anxiety, the incessant terrors of the children of darkness. Conscience, that makes cowards of all, will not suffer the most hardened to escape. "Certain dregs of conscience' will remain even in the most imbruted; the murderer will start at the shadow of a falling leaf. When the light that is within a man has become darkness, the very blessed day itself is turned to night. In their revolt from God, the eternal Light, they carry about night in their bosom, and all their terrors are present to them in the brightness of the day (Matthew 6:23; John 11:10).
II. JUDGMENT ON THESE EVIL-DOERS; ITS CERTAINTY. (Job 24:18-21.) They pass away swiftly as upon some gliding flood (Job 9:26; Hosea 10:7). His portion in the land being cursed—either by men or by God, or by both—the wicked man no more bends his steps to his vineyard and his other beloved possessions. Then—a powerful comparison—as dryness and heat carry away the short snows of winter, so the sinner evaporates as it were into hell (Psalms 49:14; Psalms 21:9). Forgotten by a mother's womb! Deserted even of the most tenacious affections the human heart can know, worms make a dainty repast upon his flesh. He is like a blasted tree upon the heath, or a felled trunk in the forest (Job 19:10; Ecclesiastes 11:3; Daniel 4:10). For he was rotten at the core; the heart of kindly affections was eaten away; he had plundered the childless and dealt cruelly with the widow.
III. JUDGMENT, THOUGH CERTAIN, IS DELAYED. (Job 24:22-24.) "God maintains the tyrant for a long time by his power," does not execute judgment at once (Isaiah 13:22; Psalms 36:11; Psalms 85:6). Although the oppressor is sometimes in despair of life, yet he rises up and flourishes again. God grants him safety, and he is supported, and God's eyes are upon his ways to protect and to bless. But it is for a little while only that this recovery and this security last—then they vanish (Genesis 5:24). Oppressors are bowed down, perish, pass away like ears of corn.
Conclusion of Job's address. "If it should not be so, who will punish me for lies, and make my speech as nought?" It is a triumphant expression of his superiority, maintained in these lessons of experience on the incomparable dealings of God in the destinies of men. Because sin seems unpunished, it is not forgotten. Retribution is certain, though it may be delayed. The "treacherous calm" is more to be dreaded than the "tempests overhead." The greater the forbearance and the long-suffering shown by God towards the wicked, the more severe their punishment in the end.—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
Apparent anomalies in the Divine judgment.
Job again points to the anomalous conditions of human life—goodness, which has its approval in every breast, and on which, by universal consent of belief, a Divine blessing rests, is nevertheless often overcast with the shadow of calamity; and, on the other hand, evil-doing, which merits only judgment, affliction, and correction, is often found to prosper. To it outward events seem to be favourable. Men sin without let or hindrance. Apparently, "God layeth not folly to them." This aspect of human affairs is much dwelt upon in the Book of Job; it seems to be one of the central themes of the book. It finds its exemplification in the case of Job himself. The principal idea of the book is the unravelling of this mysterious confusion. Punishment may follow evil-doing, but it does not always immediately accompany it. Therefore some explanation is needed. It is evident—
I. THAT A TRUE ESTIMATE OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT MUST NOT BE BASED ON MERE INCIDENTS. Incidents do not always explain themselves. There are hidden springs of events. We know but little of every incident. We cannot trace its rise or its end. Other considerations must be taken into view besides the mere events on which judgment is to be passed.
II. THE ESTIMATE OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT MUST NOT BE BASED ON A PARTIAL VIEW. All the materials needed to enable one to form a just estimate of God's dealings in any single instance are not always immediately to hand. Much is hidden. Many purposes are to be served as much by the Divine inaction as by the Divine work. Men expect judgment upon an evil work to be presently executed. The Divine hand is withheld for many purposes which are not apparent. All judgment, to be true, must take all things into account. A wide range of vision needed for this. Few have opportunity of making it; therefore judgment must be suspended.
III. THE ESTIMATE OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT CAN ONLY BE TRULY FORMED WHEN THE WHOLE PURPOSES OF GOD ARE MADE KNOWN. The one purpose most vital to S correct estimate may be withheld. It may be beyond the power of the human mind to grasp all. Certainly it is not possible to see all the bearings of the conduct of men. God alone can see the end from the beginning. In patience then must men wait for the end. A final judgment is needed to clear up the apparent anomalies of the present. Judgment upon the wicked is mercifully suspended that men may repent; chastisement falls upon the righteous for the perfecting of character. In due time the chastened, sorrowful, but good man shall receive an ample reward. These latter truths are especially illustrated in the history of Job.—R.G.
Job 24:23, Job 24:24
The prosperity of the wicked unsolved.
In the midst of many apparent anomalies in the method of the Divine dealing with evil-doing, there shines out one obvious indication of the Divine judgment against the evil-doer. "They are exalted for a little while," but suddenly they "are gone and brought low." Patiently the good Ruler waits, giving opportunity for repentance and amendment; but if the wicked return not, he will bend his bow and make ready his arrow upon the string. Iniquity shall not go wholly unpunished; nor shall that punishment be merely a hidden one—it shall be made apparent. Such is the general testimony and experience; but there are many striking instances which seem to contradict this view, and Job adduces the frequent prosperity of the evil-doer.
I. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED IS AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY. Even with the clearer light that now shines on human life it is not possible wholly to divest the mind of the feeling of surprise at the anomalous instances of prospering wickedness and suffering virtue.
II. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED A FURTHER EXERCISE TO THE PATIENCE AND FAITH OF THE GODLY. It demands that the eye of faith be turned upwards to God. Events do not explain themselves. Nor are men able to find the Divine purposes revealed by events. More and more must the tried and tempted believer look off from the uncertain event, and place his faith in God alone. That faith is strained, but it grows thereby.
III. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED IS NO GUARANTEE OF DEFENCE FROM JUDGMENT. Judgment lingers. It is even hidden. The good Lord of all would fain altogether restrain it. He rejoices in mercy. Wickedness often takes advantage of the withholding of judgment; but in this is no assurance that the judgment which is held back shall not be revealed.
IV. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED NEEDS THE SOLUTION OF THE FUTURE. It points to a future judgment when men must give account, and seems to demand it. In that future what is mysterious in history will doubtless be made plain. No work can be fairly estimated until its completion. If it ever please the Lord of all to justify his dealings with men, he will do it in that dread judgment when each shall receive the due reward of his deeds.
V. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED MAY BE A MERCIFUL FORBEARANCE IN THE HOPE OF REPENTANCE. God is kind, and waiteth long for the returning one, in hope that even the goodness of God may lead him to repentance. How often is this abused! but such is the spirit of wrong that it abuses the best of God's gifts, and is indifferent to the kindest of God's dealings.
The Book of Job represents the entanglement of human affairs, but it throws light upon it and helps to resolve it. We live in clearer light, but the clearest light of all has yet to shine when we shall see light in his light. For this we must prepare and patiently wait.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
God's special days.
Job thinks that if it may not be always possible to see God, there may at least be certain times when he can be found. If he cannot be always giving an audience to his people, can he not be like a judge on circuit, allowing a day for those who would seek his aid at each part of his dominions?
I. THERE ARE TIMES OF SPECIAL DIVINE MANIFESTATION. God does give, in some manner, what Job is asking for. There is the" day of the Lord," when he breaks through the settled order of the world, and sets his court as the Judge of all men. Such a day was often spoken of by. the Hebrew prophets. It came in Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem, and again in the later overthrow of the city by Titus and the Roman legions. It is predicted in the great final judgment of the world. So also there is a "day of the Lord" for individual men, when God breaks up the normal condition of life, and in the upheaval and confusion a Divine coming to judgment may be recognized. But God also has gracious seasons of visitation, "times of refreshing from the Lord." Then the soul perceives his nearness, and enters into the joy and light of his presence.
II. GOD IS PRESENT WHEN HE DOES NOT MANIFEST HIMSELF. Although when thus simply stated this is a truism, it is certainly not commonly recognized in the world. Nobody denies it; yet many ignore it. God's presence being invisible, and not generally evidenced by startling signs, men come to pass it by in their full absorption in secular pursuits. The practical question then arises—How may the constant unseen presence of God come to be more fully recognized? It is absolutely necessary that we should learn to withdraw ourselves more from the things that are seen and temporal. If the pressure of worldly pursuits is allowed to crowd the thought of God out of the soul, the result must be a perfect deadness in regard to his presence—a practical atheism, a living as though there were no God. When the desolation and dreariness of this life is perceived, we may well start back in horror from such a condition of spiritual decay.
III. IT IS FOOLISH TO WAIT FOR A NEW MANIFESTATION OF GOD. Job seemed to need this because his position was peculiar, and he was set to work out new problems of providence. But we have, what he had not, the fuller revelation of God in Christ. What we now need is not a fresh revelation, but eyes to read and hearts to perceive the Christian revelation. External, visible manifestations of God are not to be looked for now. Miracles were useful in the childhood of the race and in the infancy of the Church, but we have no right to expect miracles to make God better known to us. With us the need is of an interior illumination. So long as our spiritual sympathies are blind to God, no external manifestation will satisfy our needs. At the same time, we may well pray for God's hand to be stretched forth in action. There are huge wrongs in the world and sorrowful miseries. The Church cries out for the fuller coming of Christ in his kingdom.—W.F.A.
Removing the landmarks.
This was an old offence under the Jewish Law (Deuteronomy 19:14). Here it appears first in a list of unjust actions. It introduces us to questions concerning the ethics of property.
I. PRIVATE PROPERTY IS RECOGNIZED BY SCRIPTURE. We cannot say that this indubitable fact is a complete answer to the proposals of the socialist, because it is not the function of revelation to determine social systems. It comes in to regulate our conduct under existing arrangements. Still, the recognition of private property shows that it is not in itself an evil thing. It may be urged that similar arguments would apply to polygamy and slavery, both of which are recognized and regulated in the Bible. There is this difference, however, that an enlightened Christian conscience perceives that the last-named practices are evil, and could only have been tolerated for a time to prevent greater evils; but the Christian conscience does not repudiate the idea of private property. Socialism may be fairly presented and argued about on grounds of expediency; but it cannot claim Christian teaching as favouring it rather than a wise and brotherly exercise of the rights of property. The short, temporary experiment at Jerusalem, when the disciples held all things in common, whatever this was (and it was far short of socialism), soon broke down. It was never urged on apostolic authority; it cannot be quoted as the model for all Church life.
II. PRIVATE PROPERTY NEEDS CLEAR DEFINITION. There must be landmarks, or there will be trespassing, springing from misunderstanding, leading to quarrelling. Wars between nations arise often out of disputes about boundaries, and private differences most frequently originate in a want of common agreement in the definition of rights. This is true of abstract as well as concrete rights. Nothing is more necessary for the maintenance of social order than that each individual in the state should know the limits that the just claims of others put upon his liberty. Absolute freedom is only possible on the prairie, or for a Robinson Crusoe on his solitary island. Directly we come to live in society we have to study mutual harmony, and to adjust the claims of neighbours. The perfect state becomes a sort of mosaic in which each individual has his place without overlapping that of his neighbour.
III. ONLY CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE WILL PREVENT THE ABUSE OF PRIVATE PROPERTY. Each man is tempted to enlarge upon his rights. Without considering himself a thief, he is urged to remove the landmarks to his own advantage. State justice and the strong arm of the law prevent this wrong as far as possible. But real justice between man and man can never be perfectly established by government. There are innumerable ways in which the strong can oppress the weak, and the cunning impose upon the unwary, without any interference by the law. We must have a spirit of justice in the people to prevent these evils. Now, it is the glory of the Old Testament that it constantly impresses on us the duty of justice and the sin of injustice. This grand lesson is not the less imperative because we live in New Testament times. The grace of Christ is the inspiration of all goodness. No one can be a true Christian who is not upright in business, and straightforward in his dealings with his neighbours. Christian charity does not dispense with the primitive duty of justice.—W.F.A.
Oppressing the poor.
I. A COMMON PRACTICE. The Old Testament rings with denunciations of this evil, showing that it was rife in the days of ancient Israel. The New Testament repeats the denunciations of the Old. John the Baptist and Christ himself had to speak against unjust exactions. St. James suggests that the practice was even found in Christian Churches (James 5:4). It has not disappeared in our own day, though it often assumes subtle and deceptive forms. Many things contribute to an unfair treatment of the poor.
1. Their ignorance. They do not always know their rights, nor perceive where cunning men have an advantage over them. Thus they are not able to protect themselves fairly.
2. Their obscurity. It is difficult for a poor person who has been wronged to attract attention. Nobody knows him. He has no influential friends.
3. Their inability to obtain legal redress. Theoretically the law is equal in its treatment of rich and poor. Practically it is nothing of the kind. For the law is proverbially costly, and a poor man cannot afford to put its machinery in motion.
4. Their prejudiced position. People look askance at shabby clothes. If a man is low in the social scale, a certain stigma attaches to him in the eyes of money-worshippers. His poverty is a reproach. Our own day has seen the emancipation of labour. The organized working classes can exact their rights. But the very poor are beneath the help of the new trades union machinery. The tendency of the sweating system and of other forms of selfishness is to grind down and oppress the most helpless and needy.
II. A GREAT SIN. The commonness of the practice does not lessen its guilt. Because many of the well-to-do people who manage affairs combine to get as much as they can for themselves out of the less fortunate people beneath them, they are not individually innocent. The law regards combination to do a wrong as conspiracy, and therefore as an aggravated offence; and conspiracy to oppress the poor is an aggravated offence in the sight of God.
1. Against justice. Poor men have their rights, even if the law cannot help them to exact them. A right is not the less morally inviolable because means cannot be found to put it in force. This may not be recognized now. But the righteous government of God cannot ignore the sin of trampling on the just claims of the helpless.
2. Against Christian brotherhood. Christ has taught us to rise above the plea of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" He has shown that we are not to regard ourselves as self-contained, or as having no interest in our neighbours. The parable of "the good Samaritan" has set before us for all time the pattern of the conduct that he approves of. All who need have claims upon us—claims springing directly out of their need and our neighbourhood in regard to them. Christ's own life and work teach us that the helpless are our brothers. To oppress them is to commit an outrage against members of our own family. It is the mission of Christianity to spread the spirit of brotherhood among men, and so to substitute brotherly kindness for heartless oppression.—W.F.A.
The bitter cry of the city.
An ominous characteristic of the social condition of modern England is the continuous draining of the population out of the rural districts into the cities. No greater scandal exists than the condition of the crowded multitudes in these great centres. From time to time we are roused by some prophet-voice that draws our attention to the misery and degradation of the city poor, and warns us of the danger that lurks therein. But it is not enough to be periodically startled, and to make occasional spasmodic efforts to remedy the evil. Continuous study and patient, unremitting toil are called for to cope with the dark problem. The bitter cry is shrill and penetrating, and of many voices.
I. POVERTY. This is the first visible cause of the misery. The poor regard London as an Eldorado. It seems as though they must get some employment in the vast, busy city. So they pour into it in shoals. There individually they are lost sight of. The very multitude of them drowns their separate claims and appeals. A huge mass of poverty does not touch personal sympathies. It is a horror of misery, but it does not call for the aid that the distress of one person whose exact circumstances and history are known elicits.
II. OVERCROWDING. This evil means more than wretchedness. It is a distinct cause of moral deterioration, a direct source of dark vices. Herded like beasts, is it wonderful that men live like beasts? The decencies of life are impossible. All the finer feelings are crushed by coarse surroundings. The gracious influences of silence and privacy are unknown. People are forced to live and move and have their being in the midst of a noisy mob. The certain result is a break-down of civilization, and a corrupt civilization is worse than barbarism. The savagery of city slums is of a more degraded type than that of African forests.
III. DRINK. All who have looked carefully into the condition of the miserably poor of great cities are driven to the one conclusion that the most prolific source of evil is intemperance. No doubt the overcrowding, the misery, the absence of all other resources drive people to this one desperate consolation. We must remove the causes of intemperance if we would sweep away the vice. Still, it is a vice. Indulgence in it is morally degrading. So huge a vice demands exceptional treatment. It is the duty of Christian people not merely to enjoy their aesthetic worship, but also to follow Christ in saving the lost. Temperance work must take a prominent place in the activities of the Church.
IV. NARROWNESS OF LIFE. The town life is dingy and compressed. The influences of nature are not felt. The School Board has not yet brought the spirit of culture within the horizon of the crowded people in the lower parts of great cities. Religion is little more than a name to too many of these unhappy people. Such a cramped and crushed life cannot grow and bear fruit in the graces of human experience. Here, then, is a bitter cry that all Christians should hearken to for Christ's sake. It is humiliating to a Christian nation that such a cry should be heard in our land; it will be a sign that our religion is but hypocritical Pharisaism if the cry is unheeded.—W.F.A.
The death-penalty of sin.
Job admits this as. freely as his friends. Sin must lead to the grave. It may not do this so swiftly as the friends assume; nor may the course thither be what they anticipate. But, in the long run, a man's sin must be his death.
I. THE SPECIFIC PENALTY OF SIN IS DEATH. Sin may fulfil, and more than fulfil, some of its promises first; but the end is death. This dreadful fact, which is made clear to us from the story of Adam and Eve, throughout the whole of the Old and New Testaments, is obscured by popular conceptions of the future. The Church has regarded pain as the main consequence of sin. The gruesome mediaeval hell has been presented to the trembling sinner as the goal of his evil course. Now suffering, bitter and grievous, is in store for the impenitent, for Christ speaks of "wailing and gnashing of teeth." But suffering is not the only end of sin. Much more frequent than any references to the suffering of the wicked are the Scripture warnings of death and destruction. Whatever interpretation we put upon these warnings—whether we take them as denoting absolute extinction of being, pure annihilation, or whether we regard them as pointing to some corrupting, dissolving influence—they mean something else than keen, wakeful pain.
II. THE DEATH-PENALTY IS A NATURAL CONSEQUENCE OF SIN. Job tells us that the effect is like that of drought and heat consuming the snow-waters. No destroying angel need be sent forth with flaming sword to cut down the army of sinners. They are their own destroyers. The sword is in their own conduct. This is often seen in the physical effects of vice, which sows seeds of disease, and hastens premature decay. It is always present in the moral consequences of evil. The spiritual nature is diseased, corrupted, lowered. Powers and faculties fade and wither away. The true self shrinks and shrivels. Existence in the body on earth becomes a living death. When the life of the body is gone it is difficult to see what life is left, for this life seemed to be all that was possessed.
III. THE DEATH-PENALTY CAN ONLY BE AVOIDED BY THE GENERATION OF A NEW LIFE. Sentence has gone out against us; the sentence is in our own constitution. Here is the difficulty. If it were external, an external process might abolish it; but seeing that it is internal, it must be dealt with internally. No mere decree of pardon will be sufficient, for the poison is in the blood, the death is already at work there. A simple order of forgiveness can do nothing. The pressing need is for an antidote within. Nay, the old self has been so injured and corrupted by sin, that a new life is needed. We are beyond cure; we are like lepers who have lost limbs in their disease. Healing is not enough; a new creation is necessary. Now, this is just what Christ effects. He does not only give external pardon, he is not satisfied to manipulate legal points; he regenerates. He says, "Ye must be born again (John 3:3); and St. Paul tells us that he that is in Christ Jesus is a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17).—W.F.A.
A little while.
Job is here taking a step towards the solution of the problem that his misfortunes have raised. Rejecting the hackneyed doctrine of his friends that trouble comes as the temporal punishment of sin, and seeing that bad men often escape trouble, he concludes that all the injustice is but temporary. The prosperity of the wicked is but for "a little while." Before long there will be a fair treatment of all.
I. WICKEDNESS MAY BE ACCOMPANIED BY TEMPORARY PROSPERITY,
1. This is an obvious fact. Only the extraordinary blindness of bigotry could have allowed the three friends to deny it. Job has only to point to events which are open to the eyes of all, to show that there are bad prosperous men. This is always admitted when it is approached from another point of view, i.e. when the sins of the rich are denounced.
2. This should not dismay us. All faith has grown up in face of the obvious fact of the prosperity of the wicked. If we have not considered it, others have in bygone ages. Yet faith has flourished and triumphed, although she could not explain the mystery. Therefore faith may still find ground to stand on, even when one more person discovers to his surprise what has always been patent to all who would take the trouble to observe it.
3. This cannot justify wickedness. Earthly prosperity is not the seal of heavenly approval. The assumption that it is so only originated in a mistake. Here ancient orthodoxy has proved to be in error. If the notion is erroneous when used against a man in misfortune, it is equally erroneous when claimed by one who is temporarily prosperous.
II. THE PROSPERITY THAT ACCOMPANIES WICKEDNESS CAN ONLY ENDURE FOR A LITTLE WHILE.
1. It does not outlast death. By the nature of things it cannot do so, because it simply springs from accidental circumstances and earthly influences, which are confined to this life. It has not its source in a deep and enduring spiritual experience. The very triumph of it rests on the score of the spiritual. But though the spiritual may be trampled on now, it cannot be pretended that the material will continue after death. Riches, pleasures, pomp, and prowess are all left behind on this side of the grave.
2. Its earthly existence is brief. The careless man may postpone all consideration of his end. He may be satisfied that he has enough and to spare for the present. Nevertheless, the present is rushing away from him. As he looks back, all past years seem to be but a brief period, and coming years will accelerate their speed. What, then, is this short tenure of prosperity for which he is selling himself? A passing shadow!
3. It is of/ no worth even while possessed. The temporary character of this prosperity of the wicked is a sign that it is a hollow deception. Its charms are proved to be meretricious by the fact that it will not remain with us. So ephemeral a good cannot be substantial. The seeds of decay are in it from the first. And what is its joy but a deceitful mockery? There is a dreadful doom in the very quietness of this hopeless life. All that is worth living for is gone out of it. Rich, gay, outwardly prosperous, the soul is
"Left in God's contempt apart,
With ghastly smooth life, dead at heart."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 24". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter