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From these deep musings upon the nature of true wisdom, and the contrast between the ingenuity and cleverness of man and the infinite knowledge of God, Job turns to another contrast, which he pursues through two chapters (Job 29:1-25; Job 30:1-31.)—the contrast between what he was and what he is—between his condition in the period of his prosperity and that to which he has been reduced by his afflictions. The present chapter is concerned only with the former period; and gives a graphic description of the life led, in Job's time and country, by a great chieftain, the head of a tribe, not of mere nomads, but of perseus who had attained to a considerable amount of civilization. The picture is one primitive in its features, but not rude or coarse. It is entirely un-Jewish, and has its nearest parallel in some of the early Egyptian records, as the Stele of Beka, and the Instructions of Amen-em-hat.
Moreover Job continued his parable, and said (see the comment on Job 27:1).
Oh that I were as in months past! or, in the months of old. To Job the period of his prosperity seems long, long ago—some-thing far away in the mist of time, which he recalls with difficulty. As in the days when God preserved me. Job never forgets to refer his prosperity to God, or to be grateful to him for it (see Job 1:21; Job 2:10; Job 10:8-12, etc.).
When his candle shined upon my head (comp. Psalms 18:28, "For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness"). A "candle," or "lamp," is a general symbol in Scripture for life and prosperity. God is said to light men's candles when he blesses them and maizes his countenance to shine upon them; conversely, when he withdraws his favour he is said to put their candles out (Job 18:6; Job 21:17). And when by his light I walked through darkness. The light of God's countenance shining about a man's path enables him to walk securely even through thick darkness, i.e. through trouble and perplexity.
As I was in the days of my youth; literally, in the days of my autumn—by which Job probably means the days of his "ripeness" or "full manhood"—which he had reached when his calamities fell upon him. When the secret of God was upon my tabernacle; or, the counsel of God; when, i.e; in my tent I held sweet counsel with God, and communed with him as friend with friend (comp. Psalms 25:14, "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant;" and Proverbs 3:32, "For the froward is abomination to the Lord: but his secret is with the righteous").
When the Almighty was yet with me. These are terribly sad words. Job, in his afflictions, has come to look on the Almighty as no longer "with him "—no longer on his side; but rather against him, an enemy (see Job 6:4; Job 7:19; Job 9:17; Job 10:16, etc.). When my children were about me (comp. Job 1:2, Job 1:4, Job 1:5).
When I washed my steps with butter. Trod, as it were, upon fatness, moved amid all that was gladsome, joyful, and delicious. And the rock poured me out rivers of oil. "The rock" is probably the ground, rugged and stony, on which his olives grew. "Olives," says Dr. Cunningham Geikie, "flourish best on sandy or stony soil" They brought him in so great a quantity of oil that the rock seemed to him to flow with rivers of it.
When I went out to the gate through the city; rather, by the city, or over against the city. The "gate" was the place where justice was administered, and public business generally despatched. It would be "over against" the city, separated from it by a large square or place (רְחוֹב), in which a multitude might assemble (sue Nehemiah 8:1). Hither Job was accustomed to proceed from time to time, to act as judge and administrator. When I prepared my seat in the street. On such occasions a seat would be brought out and "prepared," where the judge would sit to hear causes and deliver sentences (comp. Nehemiah 3:7).
The young men saw me, and hid themselves; retired, i.e. withdrew to corners, that they might not obtrude themselves on one so much their superior. Compare the respect paid to age by the Spartans. And the aged arose, and stood up. Here the respect paid was not to age so much as to dignity. Men as old as himself, or older, paid Job the compliment of standing up until he was seated, in consideration of his rank and high office. So. in many assemblies, as in our own courts of justice, in Convocation, and elsewhere, when the president enters, all rise.
The princes refrained talking. The other head-men of the tribe, recognizing Job's superior rank and dignity, refrained from words as soon as he made his appearance, and in silence awaited what he would say. Perhaps we are scarcely to understand literally the further statement that they laid their hand on their mouth, which is probably as much an idiom as our phrase, "they held their tongues "(comp. Job 21:5).
The nobles held their peace. The other leading men followed the example of the "princes," and equally kept silence till Job had spoken. And their tongue cleaved to the roof of their month. A pleonastic repetition. The meaning is simply they said nothing, they stood in rapt attention.
When the ear heard me, then it blessed me. Job, having described his reception by the nobles and chief men of the city, proceeds to speak of the behaviour of the common people. The former were respectful and attent, the latter rejoiced and made acclamation. Being of the class most exposed to oppression and wrong, they hailed in the patriarch a champion and a protector. They were sure of redress and justice where he was the judge. And when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me. The eye of the poor man lighted up with joy and rejoicing as Job sat down upon the seat of judgment, thus hearing witness to his fairness, candour, and integrity.
Because I delivered the poor that cried. And again the Inscription of Ameni-Amenemha: "No little child have I injured; no widow have I oppressed; no fisherman have I hindered; no shepherd have I detained; no foreman have I taken from his gang to employ him in forced labour" (ibid; vol. 12.63). And the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. Championship of the poor was anciently regarded as characteristic of the wise, good, strong ruler.
The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me (comp. Job 29:11). Oppression in the East sometimes drives its victims to actual starvation or to suicide. Isaiah calls the oppressors against whom he inveighs "murderers" (Isaiah 1:21). These "perishing" ones Job often saved, and they "blessed" him. And I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. How cold are the words of Ameni, "No widow have I oppressed," compared with these! Job was not content with mere abstinence from evil, mere negative virtue. He so actively and effectually relieved distress that affliction was turned into happiness, and lamentation into rejoicing.
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me (comp. Isaiah 61:10; Psalms 132:9, etc.). Job "put on righteousness;" i.e. made it as the garment wherewith he clothed himself withal (Psalms 109:18, Psalms 109:19), covered up with it all his own natural imperfections, and made it part and parcel of his being. It was a beautiful covering, and, when once he had put it on, it clung to him, and could not be removed. It "clothed him," or rather, if we translate the Hebrew literally, "clothed itself with him." putting him on, as he had put it on. It was not merely external; it was internal, a habit of his soul and spirit. My judgment was as a robe and a diadem; rather, my justice (see the Revised Version). My "justice," or "righteousness" (for the words are synonymous), was at once my robe and my crown, my necessary clothing and my ornament.
I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. The Persian kings had officials, whom they called their "eyes" and their "ears"—observers who were to inform them of all that went on in the provinces. Job acted as "eyes" to the blind of his time, giving them the information which their infirmity hindered them from obtaining. He was also feet to the lame, taking messages for them, going on their errands, and the like. He was kind and helpful to his fellow-men, not only in great, but also in little matters.
I was a father to the poor (comp. Job 29:12, and see below, Job 31:16-22): and the cause which I knew not I searched out; rather, the cause of him that I knew not I searched out (see the Revised Version). When men were quite unknown to him, Job still gave to their causes the utmost possible attention, "searching them out," or investigating them, as diligently as if they had been the causes of his own friends.
And I brake the jaws of the wicked (comp. Psalms 58:6). It is scarcely meant, as Canon Cook supposes, that Job was himself the executioner. "Quod facit per allure facit per so." Job would regard as Age doing what he ordered to be done. And plucked the spoil out of his teeth. Either by disappointing him of a prey which he was on the verge of making ms own, or by compelling him to make restitution of a prey that he had actually laid hold of.
Then I said, I shall die in my nest. The metaphor of "nest" for "dwelling-place" occurs in Numbers 24:21; Jeremiah 49:16 : Obadiah 1:4; and Habakkuk 2:9. It is also employed by Healed ('Op. et Di.,' 1.301). And I shall multiply my days as the sand. Some translate, "I shall multiply my days as the phoenix," the fabulous bird which was supposed to live for five hundred years (Herod; 2:72), to burn itself on a funeral pile of spices, and then to rise again from its ashes. But the view seems to be a mere rabbinical tradition, and is unsupported by etymology. Khol (חוֹל) means "sand" in Genesis 22:17; Jeremiah 33:22; and elsewhere. It is taken in this sense by Rosenmuller, Schultens, Professor Lee, Canon Cook, and our Revisers.
My root was spread out by the waters (comp. Psalms 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8); rather, to the waters—so that the waters reached it and nourished it. And the dew lay all night upon my branch. Job compares himself, in his former prosperous state, to a tree growing by a river-side, which receives a double nourishment—from the actual water of the stream, which reaches its roots, and from the moisture evaporated from the stream, which hangs in the air, and descends in the shape of dew upon its leaves and branches. Both sources of refreshment represent the grace and favour of God.
My glory was fresh in me; i.e. "my glory remained fresh"—received no tarnish, continued as bright as it had been at the first. And my bow was renewed in my hand. My strength did not fail. When it seemed on the point of failing, it was secretly and mysteriously "renewed." Some commentators regard Job 29:19 and Job 29:20 as a portion of the speech begun in Job 29:18, and view the verbs, not as past tenses, but as futures (compare the translation of the Revised Version). The general meaning is much the same, whichever of the two views we take.
Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel (comp. Job 29:9, Job 29:10). Job, however, does not repeat himself, sines in the previous passage he is speaking of his work and office as judge, whereas now he declares the position which he had occupied among his countrymen as statesman and counsellor.
After my words they spake not again. When Job had spoken, the debate commonly came to an end. It was felt that all had been said, and that further remark would be superfluous. And my speech dropped upon them (comp. Deuteronomy 32:2, "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew"). The silent, penetrating influence of wise counsel is glanced at.
They waited for me as for the rain; i.e. "they were as eager to heat' me speak as the parched ground is to receive the winter rain, which it expects and waits for and absorbs greedily." And they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain. They drank in my discourse as the spring vegetation drinks in the spring showers, known in the East generally as "the latter rains."
If I laughed on them, they believed it not; rather, if I smiled on them. If, as a mark of favour, I smiled on any, they thought it such graciousness and condescension that they could scarcely believe it possible. And the light of my countenance they cast not down. They never put me out of countenance, or made me sad and gloomy, by opposing my views and ranging themselves against me.
I chose out their way, and sat chief. Though not an absolute monarch, but only a patriarchal head, I practically determined the course which the tribe took, since my advice was always followed. I thus "sat chief"—nay, dwelt as a king in the army (or, in the host, i.e. among the people), as one that comforteth the mourners; i.e. as one to whom all looked for comfort in times of distress and calamity, as much as for counsel and guidance at other times (Job 29:21-23).
Job's second parable: 1. Regretful memories of bygone days.
I. DAYS OF RELIGIOUS HAPPINESS. In tender elegiActs strains Job resumes his monologue of sorrow, casting a pathetic glance upon "the times of yore," already faded in the far past and gone beyond recall; not the days of his youth (Authorized Version), hut the autumn season of his mature manhood, when, like a field that the Lord had blessed (Genesis 27:27), groaning beneath the exuberance of its harvest fruits, he was loaded with an abundance of good things (Psalms 103:1-5). Heaven's blessings were so many and so varied, so ripe and so ready, that it seemed to him like a very time of vintage for his soul. But, alas! these bright days of golden sunshine were departed, carrying with them all the treasures of felicity they had brought; and of these that which by its loss now struck the keenest pang of anguish into his melancholy soul was the blessed fellowship, the familiar, confiding, unreserved intercourse which he then enjoyed with Eloah, who, in the threefold capacity of Guardian, Guide, and Friend, was an habitual Visitor at his tent.
1. As a Guardian. Then Eloah preserved, or protected, him, as Satan, in the cloning of the fundamental controversy of the poem, complained (Job 1:10), and as Eliphaz (Job 5:11-21; Job 22:25), followed by Zophar (Job 11:18), assured him God would again do, if he returned in penitential submission to Eloah's ways. This Divine guardianship must not be limited to the setting up of a fence around the patriarch's estate, but extended to that of which it was a symbol, the casting of a shield around the patriarch's soul. In the happy days of old Job nestled beneath the shadow of the Almighty's wings (Ruth 2:12; Psalms 91:1), body, soul, and spirit, feeling himself secure against calamity of every sort, inward or outward, spiritual or material. What God was to Job he likewise proved himself to be to David and other Old Testament saints, and to-day offers himself to be to all Christ's believing followers—a Defender against the charges of the Law, of conscience, or of Satan (Psalms 32:1-5; Psalms 65:3; Psalms 85:2, Psalms 85:3; Isaiah 44:22; Romans 8:1, Romans 8:31, Romans 8:33); a Protector against the ills and temptations of life (Psalms 46:1; Psalms 48:3; Psalms 121:3; Proverbs 3:6, Proverbs 3:23, Proverbs 3:24; Isaiah 54:14 Isaiah 54:17; Zechariah 9:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Peter 3:13).
2. As a Guide. Job also recollects that, in the bright days whose departure he laments, Eloah's candle (or lamp) shone above his head, enabling him to walk with perfect safety even in nights of thickest darkness. The allusion probably is to the custom of suspending lamps in rooms or tents over the head (Carey); and the meaning is that, while rejoicing in Heaven's favour and fellowship, Job's feet never stumbled in the path of duty. If perplexities arose around or before him, through Divine grace he was always able to resolve them, threading his way through the deepest intricacies, and moving straight on in an even path. This was no doubt owing partly to the circumstance that his consciousness of inward peace and sincerity permitted him to make the best possible use of his natural faculties, and partly to the fact that he enjoyed the special illumination of Heaven. If piety does not confer new powers, it enables old ones to be turned to the best advantage Then the singleness of aim which a good man possesses largely facilitates the discovery of light in times of darkness. And, finally, saints have special promises guaranteeing providential guidance when placed in situations of perplexity m' peril (Psalms 25:8, Psalms 25:9; Psalms 32:1-11; Psalms 37:23; exit. 4).
3. As a Friend. More particularly Job mentions that, in the times of blessedness referred to, "the secret," or favour (Cox), or blessed fellowship (Delitzsch), or counsel (Fry) of Eloah was upon his tent. Whether Job was honored like Abraham to receive theophanies (Genesis 18:1, Genesis 18:2), so that he might actually speak of God being a Visitor at his tent (Carey), the language (literally, "in the seat or cushion of God being at my tent") obviously points to an intercourse of the most friendly and familiar kind between him and God—such a dwelling together as Eliphaz affirmed should take place (Job 22:21) if Job and God were to be at peace. The friendship here depicted as having existed between Job and Eloah was realized in the case of Abraham and Jehovah (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23), and is in a certain sense still realized in the experience of Christians and the Saviour (John 15:15). As one result of this friendly intercourse between Eloah and Job, Job became acquainted with Eloah's counsel or secret purpose, as Abraham was informed of Jehovah's determination concerning Sodom (Genesis 18:17), as the prophets generally were afterwards instructed about the mind of God (Amos 3:7), as "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (Psalms 25:14; Proverbs 3:32), and as on believers is conferred an unction from the Holy One, enabling them to know all things (1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27; 1 John 5:20), but more particularly the mind of Christ (John 16:13-15; 1 Corinthians 2:16).
II. DAYS OF DOMESTIC FELICITY. It is a special mark of piety in Job that, enumerating his lost blessings, he begins with what the worldly or wicked man would have plied last, viz. the Divine friendship. As to David (Psalms 63:3) and to Asaph (Psalms 73:25), so to Job the favour and fellowship of God constituted the principal ingredient in his full cup of blessing. But next to fellowship with a God of mercy and salvation, no earthly happiness can be compared to a home illumined by the sunshine of genuine religion, and gladdened by the cheery voices of loving and obedient children. Job cannot recall the time when the Almighty was still with him (verse 5) without remembering that then also his children (his young men, his boys) were about him—a numerous, happy, loving, united, and, it may be hoped, a pious family (Job 1:1-5; vide homiletics). It is contrary to religion for a good man, or any man, to prize his wife and children above his Saviour and his God (Matthew 10:37); it is contrary to nature to behold them taken from his side by the hand of death without weeping (Genesis 23:2; Joh 11:1-57 :81, 83, John 11:35); it is contrary to neither nature nor religion to cherish them with loudest affection, and to mourn for their death with sincere lamentation.
III. DAYS OF MATERIAL PROSPERITY. Guarded by Divine care and guided by Divine light, like Jacob in Padan-aram (Genesis 31:5, Genesis 31:7, Genesis 31:11, Genesis 31:12, Genesis 31:42), Job attained to extensive wealth, the poetic imagery employed (verse 6) to depict it meaning, when converted into unadorned prose, that his flocks became so abundant, and their yield of milk so rich and plentiful, that he might almost be said to wash his steps in butter, which among the Arabs was mostly a liquid preparation, and that everywhere throughout his domain the crags were clothed with olive trees so prolific that the very rocks appeared to pour forth oil It was another mark of Job's fervent piety and well-balanced judgment that he preferred his children to his flocks and trees, giving these latter only the third place in his esteem, and that he ascribed his material prosperity, no less than his domestic felicity, to the circumstance that then the Almighty was with him. So did Jacob when serving with Laban (Genesis 31:5), and Joseph when ruling for Pharaoh (Genesis 45:8), recognize God as the Author of their temporal advancement. So does Scripture habitually trace to God every blessing which the saint enjoys (Psalms 75:6, Psalms 75:7; James 1:17).
IV. DAYS OF CIVIC HONOUR. A saint of eminent piety, the father of a numerous family, and the proprietor of vast possessions, Job had likewise been the chief magistrate, or supreme dispenser of law and justice, in his clan. Passing beyond the bounds of his own private domain, and entering the adjacent city, when he took his seat among the elders in the broad way, i.e. in the open space usually reserved in Oriental cities, either in front of the gate (2 Chronicles 32:6; Nehemiah 8:1, Nehemiah 8:8, Nehemiah 8:16), or in the vaulted recesses beneath the archway (Genesis 19:1; 1 Kings 22:10), for the transaction of business (Ruth 4:1), the dispensing of justice (Proverbs 31:23), or the conducting of other negotiations, he was saluted with marked tokens of respect. The younger men, conscious of his greatness, retired into the background; the old men amongst the councillors received him standing; the voice of the greatest magnate amongst them was silent until he had uttered his opinion. A remarkable testimony to the high esteem in which Job was held for his personal qualities and commanding abilities.
V. DAYS OF PUBLIC PHILANTHROPY. What Eliphaz once admitted (Job 4:3, Job 4:4), Job is now constrained to avow, that his whole by-past career had been one of unwearied benevolence. In his magisterial capacity he had:
1. Espoused the cause of the poor and needy. In conspicuous contradiction to Eliphaz, who had charged him (Job 22:5-9) with intolerable oppression and cruelty, with robbing the poor, and inhumanly suffering the naked and hungry to perish, he had taken, it might be said, the whole family of the unfortunate under his protection. When a poor man oppressed by his neighbour had cried out for help, when an orphan had poured into his ear a tale or pitiful distress, when a miserable outcast half-dead through cold and nakedness, or through hunger and thirst, had found the way to his door, when a broken-hearted widow had appealed to him for assistance, he had had an ear for every cry, a heart for every sorrow, and a hand for every need. Job's sympathies had inclined him to feel for the defenceless and the poor. And in this Job had shown himself to be a good man (Psalms 40:1), and an eminent type of Christ (Psalms 72:4; Matthew 8:16, Matthew 8:17). Nay, Job had considered no care or trouble too much to expend on behalf of his clients. He had both taken pains to understand their complaint, and had not been satisfied till he had rectified their grievance. And with such skill, energy, and perseverance had he conducted their causes, that he commonly carried them forward to success, delivering the poor and fatherless who cried to him (verse 12), causing the widow's heart to sing for joy (verse 13), breaking the jaws of the wicked and plucking the spoil out of his teeth (verse 17). And in all that Job had said or done in his magisterial capacity he had:
2. Acted with the most scrupulous regard to justice. He had not met chicanery and oppression by resorting to the same dishonest weapons. If he had stood forth for justice to the poor, he had not attempted to withhold it from the rich. So unchallengeably just had been his decisions, and so unimpeachable the principles of equity by which these were guided, that he felt himself entitled to say he had literally clothed himself in righteousness, and assumed integrity as a robe and turban; in this, again, typifying strikingly the Lord Jesus Christ (Psalms 72:2; Psalms 96:13). And so successful had Job been in his determination to combine "mercy and truth, righteousness and peace," in his magisterial capacity, that he had:
3. Gained the good opinion and respect of all. Unlike Aristides, whom his fellow-countrymen ostracized because they could not longer bear to hear him called the "just" the fellow-citizens of Job had saluted him on every side with words and looks of commendation and esteem (verse 11).
VI. DAYS OF UNANTICIPATED EVIL. Pious, rich, honoured, useful, trusted, revered, Job was unconscious of a single gloomy foreboding. All round him, above him, before him, the prospect was clear and exhilarating. Not a speck of cloud lay upon the bright horizon that encompassed him. Job had no thought but that he should live a long, prosperous, and honoured life, multiplying his days like the sand, or like the phoenix, the fabulous bird of Egyptian mythology, or, perhaps, like the. palm tree, and at last dying calmly in his nest, i.e. like Abraham (Genesis 25:8), m the bosom of his family. Two things contributed to foster such a pleasing anticipation in the mind of Job.
1. The apparent stability of his outward or material prosperity. Comparing himself to a tree planted by the rivers of waters—a frequent biblical emblem of a good man (Psalms 1:3; Psalms 92:12; Jeremiah 17:8)—he had hoped that, since his roots were open to the waters, whence they could always draw a plentiful supply of moisture, and since his branches were nightly laden with dew (verse 19), nothing ever would or even could occur to interrupt the outward course of his temporal greatness. The sources of his wealth appeared so permanent and inexhaustible that he never imagined they could either be diminished or dried up. His honours were so fresh upon him (cf. 'Henry VIII.,' Acts 3:0. sc. 2) that he dreamt not of their decline. And his manly vigour, his capability of warding off danger, represented by the bow which he carried in his hand, was so full and so easily renewed that he feared not an overthrow to his unexampled fortune, or an eclipse to the shining splendour of his honourable name.
2. The unlimited extent of his authority and influence. The autobiographical fragment introduced in verses 21-25 is not designed as a continuation or resumption of the theme treated of above (verses 7, 8), but is intended to explain how dark forebodings never crossed the mind of Job when reposing in the brilliant sunshine of his earthly glory. The profound veneration in which his countrymen held him, causing them with patient silence and eager expectation to wait for his counsel (verses 21, 23); the awful respect in which they held his words, regarding them as final on every subject they handled (verse 22); the effect which his decisions never failed to produce upon those who heard them, his speech distilling upon them with reviving and enlivening influences, and being welcome to their hearts as the early and the latter rains (verse 23); the influence he wielded over them by his kindly manners, his very smile being regarded as an act of gracious condescension which they could hardly believe was meant for them, but which, nevertheless, they were loth to lose, and which seemed to have a talismanic power in dispelling their sadness (verse 24); and the unquestioning, nay, joyous, submission with which they hailed his instructions, his position among them being at once that of a monarch and a friend (verse 25);—all these considerations rendered it difficult for Job to think that ever for him an evil day should dawn.
1. The propriety and profit of recalling and reviewing the past.
2. In enumerating blessings, much depends upon assigning to each its exact place in the order of importance.
3. To a good man the things of God ever stand in the front rank.
4. Having flint obtained Heaven's favour, a man may legitimately aspire to acquire the riches of the world and the good opinions of his fellow-men.
5. An upright and useful life seldom fails to meet its recompense, even upon earth.
6. He whom God has enriched with wealth, ability, and influence should devote them to the service of the poor and needy.
7. The blessings of those whom a good man relieves are greater riches than accumulated gold and silver.
8. The retrospect of a well-spent life is a great consolation in the season of adversity.
9. It is dangerous to look for permanence in anything on earth.
10. It is well when great men can combine love with authority, and sympathy with power.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Wistful retrospect of past happy days.
I. PICTURES OF MEMORY; HAPPINESS FOUNDED ON THE FRIENDSHIP OF GOD. (Job 29:1-10.)
1. Friendship with God the source of happiness. (Job 29:1-5.) This is beautifully indicated in figurative expressions. He thinks of the days when God's light beamed upon his brow, by God's light he walked through the darkness; the days of his ripe and mellow age (rather than of his "youth"), when the secret, i.e. the intimacy, of the Almighty was a shelter and a blessing to his home. The word "secret" means "intimacy," confidential intercourse (see Job 19:19; Psalms 25:14; Psalms 55:15; Proverbs 3:32). God was near to him, and the next greatest blessing to that favour of God, viz. the blessing of children, was granted to him. (Compare on the blessing of children, Psalms 127:3, sqq.; Psalms 128:3.) The outward blessings of life are chiefly to be valued as signs of the deeper, the inward good; the constant nearness of God, the consciousness of his approval, the certainty of his guidance.
2. Features of outward happiness. (Job 29:6-10.)
(1) Abundance of means. Here the favourite Oriental figures are employed. He bathed his steps in butter, and the rock at his side gushed with streams of oil (comp. Deuteronomy 32:13).
(2) Respect and dignity. When he went to the gate of the city, the great public place of assembly in Oriental cities, corresponding to the agora of the Greeks, the forum of the Romans, and the market-place of Our old towns (Job 5:4; Job 31:21; Proverbs 1:21; Proverbs 8:3); when he placed his seat in the market—the wide open place close by the gates—the young men retired in reverential respect before him, and the old men rose and remained standing until he had taken his seat; while princes ceased their conversation, laying the hand upon the mouth (Job 21:5); the voice of persons of consideration was hushed, their tongue cleaving to the roof of their mouth. The possession of the respect of others is one of the noblest kinds of wealth, as the consciousness of being despised, looked down upon, scouted, and flouted is an element of the deepest misery. Out of the dark present Job looks back to those sunny days. His life is "in the sere and yellow leaf," and his is "the crown of sorrow," the "remembering happier things." "It is the pensive autumn feeling, the sensation of half-sadness that we experience when the longest day of the year is past, and every day that follows is shorter, and the light fainter, and the feebler shadows tell that Nature is hastening with gigantic footsteps to her winter grave." As Christians, we should learn to look forward, and forget the past, in so far as its recollection paralyzes or depresses (Philippians 3:13, Philippians 3:14). (Read F. W. Robertson's sermon on this: 'Christian Progress by Oblivion of the Past.')
"Not backward are our glances bent,
But onwards to our Father's home."
The past is gone for ever; but there is a present and a future which is still our own.
II. THE SOURCE OF HAPPINESS IN GOODNESS. (Verses 11-17.) His benevolence and his strict integrity were mediately the cause of his prosperity. For although God is the one and only Cause of all things, the gracious Author of our bliss, yet his dispensations are not arbitrary. Blessing is conditioned by faith; and faith is proved by conduct. Job's public and private life was known and seen and elicited approval from all. He was the succourer of the poor and the helpless orphan; the blessing of the forlorn and the wretched was breathed forth on his behalf. He had clothed himself with rectitude (compare for this figure, Isaiah 11:5; Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 59:17; Psalms 132:9). It was to him like a robe and a turban. He was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame; a father to the needy. He searched out the cause of unknown men, to help them as surety or otherwise if their cause was good. He put down men of violence and oppression, and recovered their ill-gotten booty from them, as one snatches the prey from the jaws of the wild beast. Despite the mournful mood of Job, what solace is there not, even in the greatest affliction, through the memory of having been permitted to do some good and reap some reward of affection from others in the world? And, looking to the sequel of the story, let us remember that God is not unrighteous to forget the labour of love. Every cause has its effect; every act of benevolence will be followed in due time by its bright flowers of peace and joy in the conscience and the memory. Go on, then, in the work of doing good, steadfast and immovable in the work of the Lord. Be like fountains watering the earth and spreading fertility. "Subdue discord, mutiny, widespread despair by manfulness, justice, mercy, and wisdom. Chaos is dark, deep as hell; let light be, and there is instead a green, flowery world. Oh, it is great, and there is no other greatness! To make some work of God's creation a little more fruitful, better, more worthy of God; to make some human hearts a little wiser, more manful, happier, more blessed; it is a work for God!" (Carlyle).
III. THE MEMORY OF BRIGHT HOPES; THE RESPECT AND INFLUENCE IN FORMER DAYS. (Verses 18-25.)
1. Everything in that happy period pointed with seeming prophetic power to a long life' to a blessed old age. He thought within himself that he should end his days in his nest. in the besom of his family, in peace and security; and like the sand (or the days of the phoenix) would be their number. If the word be taken as denoting the phoenix, then the allusion is to the legend of the bird living five hundred years, then burning in its nest, and rising from the ashes. Peace and prosperity bred in his mind great hopes. Like a well-watered tree, he thought his life would spread, the refreshing dew resting by night upon its branches, and that his honour would ever freshly remain with him; that his bow—the symbol of lusty manhood and strength (1 Samuel 2:4; Psalms 46:9; Psalms 76:3; Jeremiah 49:35; Jeremiah 51:56)—would renew itself in his hand. We learn here, in passing, the lesson not to build on the constancy of earthly things, not to lay up treasures of hope here. If it be well with us now, let us be prepared for reverses (Sirach 11:25). This lesson comes back to us from many a saying of the ancient world, mixed no doubt with much of superstition, and ignorance of the nature of God, but still in the main expressed with the truth of experience. "There is nothing secure in the world, no glory, no prosperity. The gods toss all life into confusion, mix everything with its reverse, that all of us, from our ignorance and uncertainty, may pay them the more worship and reverence". "God hath power to change the lowly for the lofty; he weakens the distinguished, he brings the obscure to the light; Fortune with shrill sound here removes the towering crest, and here she sets it up" (Horace, 'Od.,' 1:35). The brief sum of life's days forbids us to cherish a long hope (ibid; Job 1:4). We must learn in a Christian sense to "pluck the day, and have the smallest confidence in what is to come" (ibid; Job 1:11). What the morrow may bring we should shun to inquire, and count as a gain every day that may be given us (ibid; Job 1:9). "Too late is the life of to-morrow; live to-day!" (Martial).
2. A further picture of the social esteem and respect in which his past days had been spent. The members of his tribe or clan all looked up to him, listened in silence to his address, and had nothing to add alter he had spoken. His speech fell upon them like the refreshing rain for which the thirsty pastures long—the late rain which in March or April blesses the ripening crops (comp. Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23; Hosea 6:3). His cheerful smile dismissed men's rising fears, the light of his countenance was like the sun dispelling the clouds of doubt or alarm. He sat in the midst of the assembly of his tribe, guiding, commanding, directing, like a king in the midst of his battle-host; or, as if this picture were too warlike and remote from the peaceful scenes of the patriarch's life, he sat among them as a general consoler, a comforter of the mourners. Thus—
"Remembrance wakes with all her busy train,
Sucks at his breast, and turns the past to pain?
But we have a power over this "bosom-spring," and may cheer or sadden ourselves with retrospect, according as we take the golden key of faith or the iron key of despondency wherewith to unlock the door of the past. Do not these bright memories of a well-spent past afford solace to the afflicted hero, though they also touch the nerves to pain? Let it be ours so to use memory that it still yield instructive joy and hope. As we turn over her mixed records, let us say to ourselves, "The joys we have possessed are ever ours—out of the reach of chance and change. Let past years, so far as they are marked with the greatness of God, with acts of piety, works of love, breed in us perpetual benedictions."—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
A mournful reflection upon a happy past.
Job had lived in honour and great respect. He was "the greatest of all the men of the East." The Divine testimony concerning him was, "There is none like him in the earth." Job's was an enviable condition, and his own words indicate how sensible he was of it. In his mournful utterance, made as he looks back upon a dead past, we see wherein consisted his happiness; and we learn what arc the elemental conditions of the highest felicity in human life—at least at that period of the world's history. Nor can we think of loftier conditions to-day. The conditions of happiness on the loss of which Job mournfully reflected are—
I. THE ASSURED FAVOUR OF JEHOVAH. The proof of this to Job was in his abounding prosperity.
II. DOMESTIC FELICITY. If the joy of home be destroyed, all joy must wither.
III. THE RESPECT OF SURROUNDING SOCIETY. It is always painful to a right-minded man not to be held in respect by his fellow-men; and although it may minister to pride in the unwary, it is to the prudent a source of the greatest satisfaction, especially when it is subordinated to the honour that cometh from God only.
IV. THE HONOURABLE REGARD EVEN OF THE GREAT. The very princes and nobles held silence when he spake. He who is so highly honoured cannot but honour himself. Happy the man whose self-respect so ripens.
V. THE EXERCISE OF CHARITY, without which the heart would become selfish.
VI. THE RESPONSIVE BLESSINGS OF MEN, sweet as nard of great price.
VII. CONSCIOUSNESS OF INTEGRITY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS—a conscience void of offence.
VIII. THE EXERCISE OF HIS POWER AND WEALTH FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE NEEDY AND OPPRESSED. Every kind act leaves a fragrance on the hand of him who does it.
IX. THE POSSESSION OF HOPE. It might be said the hope of the permanence of these precious possessions.
X. A CAUSE OF BLESSING TO OTHERS. In these lies the secret of the truest happiness, but many deserve them not, and having them are not able to retain their integrity and simplicity. Hence how often are they withdrawn! The absence of these Job is called to mourn. To hold fast his integrity in the loss as truly as amidst the possession of these things marks the true greatness and goodness of the man, and ultimately brings him the highest honour.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Regrets for the happy past.
I. IT IS NATURAL TO LOOK BACK WITH REGRET ON THE HAPPY PAST. The memory of past joy is not wholly pleasant. If the joy is gone, the memory only adds pain to the present sense of loss. Several things contribute to give intensity to the feeling of regret.
1. Many of the best blessings are not appreciated while we possess them. We have to lose them to learn their value. This is especially true of great common blessings, such as the buoyancy of youth, health, affluence. When all goes well with us we do not consider how many gifts of God we are enjoying. The charm of summer is appreciated when dull November makes us look back on the lost days of brightness. We wake up to the value of our loved ones when they have been taken from us by the hand of death. Adversity reveals the privileges of prosperity. Declining years teach the value of youth.
2. Reflection grows with years. It has been remarked upon as a misfortune that so many of the best things in life seem to be lavished upon an age that is carelessly negligent of them. Strength, energy, health, happiness, in abundance are enjoyed in youth without a thought. When these treasures are more scarce they are carefully economized and highly valued. In later years the habit of looking backward grows upon us, and reflection takes the place of heedless activity. Thus we consider find appreciate with regret in the later years of life what we disregarded in the earlier times of possession.
3. Memory throws a delusive glamour over the past. The distant hills are beautiful; we see their purple shadows, we do not observe their stony paths. Youth is not so sunny as age paints it. Keen pains of youth are forgotten in after-years, especially if those years have brought with them the fortitude that despises such sufferings. For there is a gain in years, and this very gain leads to an over-valuation of youth. Patience and self-control are acquired by experience, and while they help us to bear much that would be intolerable to youth, they also lead us to smile at and under-estimate the wild distresses of earlier years.
IX. IT IS GOOD TO APPRECIATE THE DIVINE BLESSINGS OF THE HAPPY PAST. Job acknowledged that God had preserved him in past days. The candle of the Lord had then shone upon his head. He enjoyed God's friendship when he came to maturity.
1. This adds poignancy to the grief of regret. God has not been sufficiently appreciated. His blessings have not been acknowledged with merited gratitude. Or if no self-accusations arise on these points, still the loss of God's favour seems to accompany the loss of his gifts. The regret has deeper thoughts than those concerning earthly good things. Apparently deserted by God, the troubled man cries, with poor Cowper—
"Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and his Word?"
2. This should really inspire hope. God is not fickle. His constancy is deeper than appearances. We may have lost hold of his goodness through our own sin or distrust. Perhaps, however, we are deluding ourselves; he is really nearer to us in adversity than he was in prosperity, only we cannot understand the mysteries of his providence. Assuredly, if God once loved and cared for his children, he will never forsake them.
3. This should urge the young to appreciate their privileges. It is not desirable that any should reflect overmuch on their present happy condition, because the charm of it is its unconscious freedom and activity. But it is only right to acknowledge the goodness of God with thankfulness; and to so use early privileges that we shall not afterwards look back with regret on a misspent youth.—W.F.A.
The character that wins respect.
Job paints a glowing picture of his honoured condition in past days. Then he was more than prosperous. He was treated with great deference. Let us gather up the traits of the character that wins respect, and in order to do so let us distinguish them from false grounds of deference.
I. FALSE GROUNDS OF DEFERENCE.
1. Power. Multitudes cringe before mere power, either in fear of giving offence or with a hope of gaining some advantage. The Oriental makes his humble salaam to the infidel whom in his heart he despises. This deference is no credit to either party.
2. Wealth. The worship of mammon may be less visibly cruel than the worship of Mars, and yet in some respects it is more degrading, for it calls out no heroic qualities. The deference shown to the rich simply because they are rich is one of the most unworthy characteristics of human weakness. It is not peculiar to our own age; this miserable sycophantic spirit was ridiculed by Roman satirists and reprobated by New Testament writers (e.g. James 2:2). Its sordid meanness humiliates all who are enslaved by it.
3. Self-assertion. The world is often too easy in taking men at their own valuation of themselves. Because a great claim is made it is often tacitly assented to, simply because people are too indolent or too cowardly to question it. But self-importance is not greatness.
4. Success. There is more in this when it is not merely a business matter, when it indicates sterling qualities of ability and energy. Still, good fortune may have much to do with it, and conscientious scruples may have been trampled down in the fierce determination to win it at any cost. Then the failure that would not stoop to the lower and more easy means of success is infinitely more worthy of honour.
II. THE TRUE CHARACTER THAT WINS RESPECT. it is portrayed in Job's description of his own happy past. Why was this hushed deference of old men as well as young, of princes and nobles? The answer is to be found in the conduct of Job.
1. Active benevolence. "Job delivered the poor that cried," etc. Here was more than princely generosity. It costs a man absolutely nothing to leave a big legacy to the poor, and it does not hurt him much to give freely during his lifetime out of his superfluous cash. On the contrary, the money may be profitably laid out, even from a purely worldly and selfish point of view, in the honour of standing well in subscription-lists. But the greater honour is due to those who exert themselves for the good of their brother-men. Lord Shaftesbury was a man of small means. His fame is not founded on money gifts; it rests on the more solid foundation of self-denying labours.
2. Integrity. Job put on righteousness, and it clothed him. Without this, benevolence is of little value. We must be just before we are generous. A Christian man of business should see to it that his name is without reproach in the commercial world. Truth and honesty are primary conditions of respect.
3. Wisdom. "Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel" (verse 21). Had Job been a foolish, though a well-meaning man, deference to his counsel would have been asign of weakness on the part of others. But he proved himself to be a man of strong mental power and of true wisdom. We owe respect to the "men of light and leading" when their leading is determined by their light.—W.F.A.
The blessing of him that was ready to perish.
I. WHY IT IS VALUABLE. We cannot but be struck with this beautiful trait in Job's autobiographical sketch. It is better than all renown. The clamours of the multitude are poor plaudits compared with the blessing of the poor. Many people may be indifferent to it. They may be satisfied if only they can grasp power, and compel the homage of the great, although their path is followed by "curses not loud, but deep." Cruel conquerors, ruthless tyrants, hard-hearted men of the world, know nothing of the blessing Job here describes. Yet it is solid and real.
1. It springs from true appreciation. This is no superficial praise required by custom or prompted by shallow motives. It arises out of a genuine perception of goodness.
2. It is characterized by gratitude. Thus it con-talus warmer feelings than those of admiration. An element of awakening affection enters into it. Now, it is better to be loved by the obscure than to be merely honoured by the great; it is better to be loved by a few than to be applauded by a multi-rode.
3. It is accompanied by the approval of Christ. He tells us that what we do to one of the least of his brethren we do to him. He commends the good Samaritan to us as an approved example. Therefore the gratitude of the humble poor carries with it the smile of Heaven.
4. It is powerful for good. Men try to win the favour of the great who can do much for them, and selfishly disregard the opinions of the poor who seem to have power to do them but little good or harm. Yet the blessings of the helpless are prayers to the great Friend of the helpless. They bring down the blessings of God. Happy is the man who lives under these conditions!
II. HOW IT IS EARNED.
1. By means of genuine goodness. Clamours of applause may be won by very equivocal conduct. Superficial things may excite extraordinary admiration. People rush to stare and shout after any celebrity. But they want to know more before they will bless one. This devout well-wishing and praying for a person which we call blessing can only be earned by real and solid goodness.
2. Through the exercise of sympathy. The helpless and perishing may be constrained to avail themselves of favours tossed to them from a distance by a hand of proud patronage, and perhaps even of scornful contempt, But if there is no grace in the gift there will be little gratitude in the reception of it. If we would earn the blessing of the helpless we must win their love, and in order to do that we must manifest love to them. Sympathy unlocks the fountains of the heart.
3. In deeds of active helpfulness. If the sympathy is genuine it will lead spotaneously to such deeds. We cannot truly sympathize with a person in trouble without desiring to help him. Now, the active helpfulness will be the sign and seal of the sympathy. This it was that secured Job's place in the heart of the poor. Men have heaped honours on the head of the "Happy Warrior." The time has come when we should revive the better glories of Job's days. If we desire to win a position in the world, let us save our ambition from sordid or even wicked aims. Let him be first in love and service who would be first in honour. This is Christ's rule (Mark 9:35).—W.F.A.
Clothed with righteousness.
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS CLOTHES A MAN AS WITH A GARMENT.
1. It covers. If a man has but a good character, we can pardon much else in him. He may be weak, foolish, unfortunate. He may have failed in the world, and have come down to poverty. Yet he is not in rags. A royal robe covers him, and, in the eyes of those who can appreciate true worth, this is the one thing seen about him.
2. It protects. The garment is to keep off the chill winds and damping mists and scorching sun. Righteousness is more than a stout garment. It is a piece of armour—a breastplate, protecting the heart (Ephesians 6:14). When once a man is assured of the integrity of his cause he can look the whole world in the face; he can dare to go through fire and water; he is strong and safe where one with an evil conscience may well tremble and cower.
3. It adorns. This righteousness is not only decent and comforting, like a thick, warm, homespun garment; it is more beautiful than a king's clothing of purple and silk and gold embroidery. There is no beauty so fair as that of goodness.
4. It cannot be hidden. It is not a secret confined to the heart. It must be there first, it must spring from the heart. But it is not hidden within. Character is visible, like a garment worn in the street.
II. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH THUS CLOTHES MUST BE REAL. It is only the perversity of an erroneous theology that could ever make it necessary to utter so obvious a sentence as this. There is a way of referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ as though this dispensed with the necessity of our being ourselves righteous. Surely such a doctrine would be immoral. In what respects could this so-called robe of righteousness be distinguished from the hypocrite's cloak? If Christ's righteousness were only to hide our unrighteousness without curing it, not only would a great deception be practised, but no real good would be done. The result would be an unmitigated evil. For what is our curse and our ruin? Is it not our sin? If so, nothing can benefit us that does not destroy that sin. Therefore an attempt to cover it up and leave it unaltered will do us no good, but will injure us by drugging our conscience and giving us a false assurance. In Eastern cities an open drain runs down the middle of the street, and is not so offensive as one might think, because it is always being oxidized and purified by the fresh air. We cover over our drains, but make ventilating holes in our streets, through which gases of concentrated foulness, unmixed with pure air, are continually rising among the passers-by. Have we gained much?
III. ONLY CHRIST CAN CLOTHE US WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS. Self-righteousness is a delusion. We cannot make ourselves righteous, nor can any law put us right with God. St. Paul demonstrated this in the opening chapters of his Epistle to the Romans. But he also showed that God had given us righteousness in Christ (Romans 3:21, Romans 3:22). Now, this comes first of all in forgiveness. We are then put in a right relation with God, before we have overcome all the sin that dwells within us. Christ is the promise of our future righteousness. In this way his righteousness means much to us. God cannot be taken in by any fiction. He can only regard us just as we are. But he can treat us for Christ's sake better than we deserve. So through Christ we are placed in right relations with God, and those right relations are the channels through which real righteousness comes into us.—W.F.A.
Accepting the rendering that is now adopted by most of the abler commentators—that which is given in the margin of the Revised Version—we see Job comparing himself in his earlier days to the phoenix, which, "according to the Egyptian legend, lived five hundred years, and then, setting fire to its nest, renewed its youth in the funeral pyre." Youth cannot believe in death, unless, indeed, it falls into a sentimental mood, or is startled by the ugly fact itself. Naturally, when health is unbroken, and all goes well, life seems to open up an endless vista of days to the young man. This view contains both a foolish delusion and a Divine truth.
I. THE FOOLISH DELUSION. The phoenix was only a fabulous bird; no such creature exists in nature. No one has ever found the elixir of life. The idea that life is long is a delusion of youth. It springs in part from the freshness of things, and in part from the overflowing vitality of youth. In his address to a butterfly, Wordsworth says—
Sit near us on the bough!
We'll talk of sunshine and of song,
And summer days, when we were young;
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now."
Perhaps there is no reason to shatter this delusion. Why should we spoil the sunshine of youth with the shadow of coming years? The world could not go on without young enthusiasm, and hope is essential to young enthusiasm. Yet it is possible to be led into practical mistakes by this delusion. The young may think that there is plenty of time before them, and the thought may be used as an excuse for indolence, negligence, and the postponement of duty. Then a sudden awakening comes with a shock of alarm, as it is perceived only too late that the golden opportunities of youth are gone—for ever!
II. THE DIVINE TRUTH. Clement of Rome appealed to the phoenix as a witness for the resurrection. We smile at his credulity. But may we not appeal to the legend of the phoenix as an evidence of the instinct of immortality? Why is it so natural to us to believe that life will go on for ever? Shall we put this idea down entirely to the delusion of circumstances and of our own vitality? Does it not spring from something deeper in our nature? Be that as it may, however, Christ has come to satisfy the desire and to confirm the hope. Job confessed the foolishness of his youthful dreams, yet even he in those old-world days had occasional glimpses of the life beyond the grave, and we have a grand assurance of that life in Christ and his resurrection. The mistake is to dream of an earthly immortality. The old man who cherishes fond hopes of living a little longer is not much better off than the drowning man catching at a straw. But he who has a hold on the life eternal can afford to see the years rushing away, swifter than a weaver's shuttle. He must make the best of them while he has them; for this life is with him but once, and he will have to give an account of it hereafter; for there is a hereafter—a great day of God's eternity that knows no sunset.—W.F.A.
Among the happy circumstances of Job's sunny days of prosperity, he recalls the welcome that was accorded to his words of advice. Too often advice is more freely offered than thankfully received. Let us, then, consider the quality, the utility, and the acceptance of welcome counsel.
I. THE QUALITY OF WELCOME COUNSEL. What conditions must be fulfilled to make advice worthy of acceptation?
1. It must be full of knowledge. A glib tongue is ready enough to offer gratuitous advice, but we want to ascertain whether a full mind is inspiring it. Religious teachers must know for themselves before they can safely lead others. The doubt that is pardonable in the private person may be fatal to the public instructor.
2. It must be based on experience. Evidently Job was a man of wide experience. He spoke out of the fulness of his own observation of the world. Armchair counsellors are not much valued. An apprenticeship must be served to the affairs on which we would give advice.
3. It must be accompanied by practical wisdom. Knowledge and experience may find a man very foolish, and leave him so. We have to learn how to apply our acquisitions. We need practical tact in dealing with men and affairs.
4. It must be offered in sympathy. It is very little good to give preaching advice. We must talk to a man as a brother. We must let people see that we care for them, and that we are truly studying their good. A suspicion that the advice is not disinterested vitiates it entirely.
II. THE UTILITY OF WELCOME COUNSEL. Bushels of advice have to be thrown on one side as so much burdensome rubbish. Nevertheless, the rare value of really good advice is beyond all reckoning.
1. Right living is supremely important. Counsel deals with life rather than with opinions. It touches conduct. Now, as Matthew Arnold quaintly says, "conduct is three parts of life." Anything that really helps conduct must be valuable.
2. Right living is not easy. We are often perplexed and in uncertainty. Our prejudices and interests warp our judgments.
3. External advice brings new light. It may not be better than what we already possess; but it is an addition. The wise counsellor helps us to look at our affairs from a fresh point of view. At the same time, he comes with a certain calmness and detachment that enable him to take a fair view of the situation.
III. THE ACCEPTANCE OF WELCOME ADVICE.
1. It needs humility to receive it. We are all ready to receive the advice that concurs with our previous opinions; but that advice is scarcely needed. The difficulty is to accept the advice that contradicts our notions or wishes. Pride resents it; yet it may be most needful to us.
2. It should be taken with discrimination. Well-meant advice may be very foolish; even wise advice is not infallible. We have to select what commends itself to our judgment.
3. It ought not to supersede independent thought and choice. We may be advised by counsellors; but we have no business to let ourselves be ruled by them. After all, it is we and not they who will be responsible for what we do. Let us, then, preserve independence of judgment, and cultivate strength of will.
4. It deserves to be treated with gratitude. For the sake of its value. Also because, if it is worth much, it must have cost our counsellor time and pains. Too often giving advice is a very thankless task. N.B.—All earthly counsel is useful only in so far as it follows the heavenly, of which it is a type. The most welcome counsel should be that which comes through the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.—W.F.A.
The contrast is now completed. Having drawn the portrait of himself as he was, rich, honoured, blessed with children, flourishing, in favour with both God and man, Job now presents himself to us as he is, despised of men (verses 1-10), afflicted of God (verse 11), a prey to vague terrors (verse 15), tortured with bodily pains (verses 17, 18), cast off by God (verses 19, 20), with nothing but death to look for (verses 23-31). The chapter is the most touching in the whole book.
But now they that are younger than I have me in derision. As Job had been speaking last of the honour in which he was once held, he beans his contrast by chewing how at present he is disgraced and derided. Men who are outcasts and solitary themselves, poor dwellers in caves (verse 6), who have much ado to keep body and soul together (verses 3, 4), and not men only' but youths, mere boys, scoff at him, make him a song and a byword (verse 9). nay, "spare not to spit in his face" (verse 10). There seem to have been in his vicinity weak and debased tribes, generally contemned and looked down upon, regarded as thieves (verse 5) by their neighbours, and considered to be of base and vile origin (verse 8), who saw in Job's calamities a rare opportunity for insulting and triumphing over a member of the superior race which had crushed them, and thus tasting, to a certain extent, the sweetness of revenge. Whose fathers I would have disdained (rather, I disdained) to have set with the dogs of my flock. Job had not thought their fathers worthy of employing even as the lowest class of herdsmen, those reckoned on a par with the sheep-dogs.
Yes, whereto might the strength of their hands profit me? Men, who had no such strength in their hands as to yield an employer any profit—poor, weak creatures, in whom old age (rather, manly vigour) was perished. An effete race seems to be pointed at, without strength or stamina, nerveless, spiritless, "destined to early decay and premature death;" but how they had sunk into such a condition is not apparent. Too often such remanents are merely tribes physically weak, whom more powerful ones have starved and stunted, driving them into the least productive regions, and in every way making life hard for them.
For want and famine they were solitary; rather, they were gaunt (see the Revised Version). Compare the descriptions given to us of the native races of Central Africa by Sir S. Baker, Speke, Grant, Stanley, and others. Fleeing into the wilderness; rather, gnawing the wilderness; i.e. feeding on such dry and sapless roots and fruits as the wilderness produces. In former time desolate and waste; or, on the eve of wasteness and desolation.
Who cut up mallows by the bushes. One of the plants on which they feed is the malluch, not really a "mallow," but probably the Atriplex halimus, which is "a shrub from four to five feet high, with many thick branches; the leaves are rather sour to the taste; the flowers are purple, and very small; it grows on the sea-coast in Greece, Arabia, Syria, etc; and belongs to the natural order Chenopodiace". And juniper roots for their meat. Most moderns regard the rothen as the Genista monosperma, which is a kind of broom. It is a leguminous plant, having a white flower. and grows plentifully in the Sinaitic desert, in Palestine, Syria, and Arabia. The root is very bitter, and would only be used as food under extreme pressure, but the fruit is readily eaten by sheep, and the roots would, no doubt, yield some nourishment.
They were driven forth from among men. Weak races retreat before strong ones, who occupy their lands, and whose will they do not dare to dispute. They are not intentionally "driven out," for the strong raecs would gladly make them their drudges; but they retire into the most inaccessible regions, as the primitive population has done in India and elsewhere. They cried after them as after a thief. Outcast tribes naturally, and almost necessarily, become robber-tribes. Deprived of their productive lands, and driven into rocky deserts, want makes them thieves and marauders. Then those who have made them what they are vilify and decry them.
To dwell in the cliffs of. the valleys; of in the clefts (Revised Version). Western Asia is full of rocky regions, seamed with deep gorges and clefts, the walls of which rise abruptly or in terraces, and are themselves pierced with caves and cracks. The tract about Petra is, perhaps, the most remarkable of these regions; hut there are many others which closely resemble it. These places afford refuges to weak and outcast tribes, who hide in them, either in caves of the earth, or in the rocks. The Greeks called these unfortunates "Troglodytes", the Hebrews "Horim," from חוֹר "a hole."
Among the bushes they brayed. The sounds which came from their mouths sounded to Job less like articulate speech than like the braying of asses. Compare what Herodotus says of his Troglodytes: "Their language is unlike that of any other people; it sounds like the screeching of bats." Under the nettles (or, wild vetches) they were gathered together; rather, huddled together.
They were children of fools. The physical degeneracy whereof Job has been speaking is accompanied in most instances by extreme mental incapacity. Some of the degraded races cannot count beyond four or five; others have not more than two or three hundred words in their vocabulary. They are all of low intellect, though occasionally extremely artful and cunning. Yea, children of base men; literally, children of no name. Their race had never made for itself any name, but was unknown and insignificant. They were viler than the earth; rather, they were scourged out of the land. This must not be understood literally. It is a rhetorical repetition of what had been already said in verse 5. The expression may be compared with the tale in Herodotus, that when the Scythian slaves rebelled and took up arms, the Scythians scourged them into subjection (Herod; 4.3, 4).
And now am I their song, yea, I am their byword (see above, Job 17:6; and comp. Psalms 69:12).
They abhor me, they flee far from me; rather, they abhor me, they stoat aloof from me (see the Revised Version). And spare not to spit in my face. This has generally been taken literally, as it seems to have been by the LXX. But it, perhaps, means no more than that they did not refrain from spitting in Job's presence.
Because he hath loosed my cord. "He," in this passage, can only be God; and thus Job turns here to some extent from his human persecutors to his great Afflicter, the Almighty. God has "loosened his cord," i.e. has relaxed his vital fibre, taken away his strength, reduced him to helplessness. Hence, and hence only, do the persecutors dare to crowd around him and insult him. And afflicted me. God has afflicted him with blow after blow—with impoverishment (Job 1:14-17), with bereavement (Job 1:18, Job 1:19), with a sore malady (Job 2:7). They have also let loose the bridle before me. This has given his persecutors the courage to east aside all restraint, and lead him with insult after insult (verses 1, 9, 10).
Upon my right hand rise the youth; literally, the brood; i.e. the rabble—a crowd of half-grown youths and boys, such as collects in almost any town to hoot and insult a respectable person who is in trouble and helpless. In the East such gatherings are very common and exceedingly annoying. They push away my feet; i.e. they try to throw me down as I walk. They raise up against me the ways of their destruction. They place obstacles in my way, impede my steps, thwart me in every way that they find possible.
They mar my path; i.e. interfere with and frustrate whatever I am bent on doing. They set forward my calamity, Professor Lee translates, "They profit by my ruin." They have no helper. If the text is sound, we must understand, "They do all this, they dare all this, even though they have no powerful men to aid them." But it is suspected that there is some corruption in the passage, and that the original gave the sense which is found in the Vulgate," There is none to help me."
They came upon me as a wide breaking in of waters; i.e. with a force like that of water when it has burst through a bank or dam. In the desolation they relied themselves upon me. Like the waves of the sea, which follow one after another.
Terrors are turned upon me Job seems to pass here from his human persecutors to his internal sufferings of mind and body. "Terrors' take hold upon him. He experiences in his sleep horrible dreams and visions (see Job 7:14), and even in his waking hours he is haunted by fears. The "terrors of God do set themselves in array against him" (Job 6:4). God seems to him as One that watches, and "tries him every moment" (Job 7:18), seeking occasion against him, and never leaving him an instant's peace (Job 7:19). These terrors, he says, pursue my soul as the wind; literally, pursue mine honour, or my dignity. They flutter the calm composure that befits a godly man, disturb it, shake it, and for a time at any rate, cause terrors and shrinkings of soul. Under these circumstances, my welfare passeth away as a cloud. It is not only my happiness, but my real welfare, that is gone. Body and soul are equally in suffering—the one shaken with fears and disturbed with doubts and apprehensions; the other smitten with a sore disease, so that there is no soundness in it.
And now my soul is poured out upon me (comp. Psalms 42:4). My very soul seems to be gone out of me. "I faint and swoon away, because of my fears" (Lee). The days of affliction have taken hold upon me. All my prosperity is gone, and I am come to "the days of affliction." These "take hold on me," and, as it were, possess me.
My bones are pierced in me in the night season. In Elephantiasis anaesthetics' says Dr. Erasmus Wilson, "when the integument is insensible, there are deep-seated burning pains, sometimes of a bone or joint, and sometimes of the vertebral column. These pains are greatest at night; they prevent sleep, and give rise to restless,less and frightful dreams". And my sinews take no rest; rather, my gnawings, or my gnawing pains (see the Revised Version; and comp. Job 30:3, where the same word is properly rendered by "gnawing [the wilderness]").
By the great force of my disease is my garment changed; or, disfigured. The purulent discharge from his ulcers disfigured and made filthy his garment, which stiffened as the discharge dried, and clung to his frame. It bindeth me about as the collar of my coat. The whole garment clung to his body as closely as it is usual for a mall's collar, or "neck-hole" (Professor Lee), to cling about his throat.
He (i.e. God) hath cast me into the mire. "The mire" here is the lowest depth of misery and degradation (comp. Psalms 40:2; Psalms 69:2, Psalms 69:14). Job feels himself cast into it by God, but nevertheless does not forsake him nor cease to call upon him (verses 20-23). And I am become like dust and ashes; i.e. unclean, impure, offensive to my fellow-men, an object of dislike and disdain.
I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me. It is the worst of all calamities to be God-forsaken, as Job believed himself to be, because he had no immediate answer to his prayers. The bitterest cry upon the cross was "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" But no good man is ever really God-forsaken, and no rightful and earnest prayers are ever really unheard. Job "had need of patience" (Hebrews 10:36), patient as he was (James 5:11). He should have trusted God more, and complained less. I stand up, and thou regardest me not; rather, I stand up, as the manner of the Jews usually was in prayer (Luke 18:11), and thou lookest at me (see the Revised Version). Job's complaint is that, when he stands up and stretches out his hands to God in prayer, God simply looks on, does nothing, gives him no help.
Thou art become cruel to me; literally, thou art turned to be cruel to me. In other words, "Thou art changed to me, and art become cruel to me." Job never forgets that for long years God was gracious and kind to him, "made him and fashioned him together round about," "clothed him with skin and flesh, and fenced him with bones and sinews," "granted him life and favour, and by his visitation preserved his spirit" (Job 10:9-12); but the recollection brings, perhaps, as much of pain. as of pleasure with it. One of our poets says—
"Joy's recollection is no longer joy;
But sorrow's memory is a sorrow still."
At any rate, the contrast between past joy and present suffering adds a pang to tile latter. With thy strong hand thou opposest thyself against me; literally, with the might of thy hand dost thou persecute me (see the Revised Version). "Haec noster irreverentius" (Schultens); comp. Job 19:6-13.
Thou liftest me up to the wind; thou tensest me to ride upon it; i.e. thou makest me to be storm-tossed. I am as it were a straw caught up by a whirlwind, and borne hither and thither in the wide regions of space, unknowing whither I go. I am treated as I have described the wicked man to be treated (Job 27:20, Job 27:21). And dissolvest my substance. "Dissolvest me entirely" (Professor Lee); dissolvest me in the storms (Revised Version).
For I know that thou wilt bring me to death. Job has all along expressed his conviction that he has nothing to look for but death. He feels within himself the seeds of a mortal malady; for such, practically, was elephantiasis in Job's time. He is devoid of any expectation of recovery. Death must come upon him, he thinks, ere long; and then God will bring him to the house appointed for all living. This, as he has already explained (Job 10:21, Job 10:22), is "the land of darkness and the shadow of death, a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness." It is a melancholy prospect; but we must regard it as cheered by the hope of an ultimate resurrection, such as seems indicated, if not absolutely proclaimed, in Job 19:25-27 (see the comment on that passage).
Howbeit he will not stretch out his hand to the grave, though they cry in his destruction. This is one of the most obscure passages in the entire Book of Job, and scarcely any two independent commentators understand it alike. To give all the different renderings, and discuss them, would be an almost endless task, and one over-wearisome to the reader. It will, per-Imps, suffice to select the one which to the present writer appears the most satisfactory. This is the rendering of Professor Stanley Leathes, who suggests the following: "Howbeit God will not put forth his hand to bring a man to death and the grave, when there is earnest prayer for them, not even when he himself hath caused the calamity." The same writer further explains the passage as follows: "I know that thou wilt dissolve and destroy me, and bring me to the grave (verse 23), though thou wilt not do so when I pray to thee to release me by death from my sufferings. Thou wilt surely do so [some time or other], but not in my time, or according to my will, but only in thine own appointed time, and as thou seest fit."
Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? i.e. do I claim a sympathy which I do not deserve? When men wept and entreated me, did not I do my best to give them the aid which they requested? Did not I weep for them, and intercede with God for them? Was not my soul grieved for the poor? (comp. Job 29:12-17; Job 31:16-22).
When I looked for flood, then evil came unto me. Job was "looking for good," expecting fully the continuance of his great wealth and prosperity, when the sudden shock of calamity fell upon him It was wholly unexpected, and therefore the harder to bear. And when I waited for light, there came darkness. This may refer to periods, after his calamities began, when he had hopes that his prayers would be answered, and a rest or pause, an interval of repose, be granted him (Job 9:34; Job 10:20), but when his hopes were disappointed, and the darkness closed in upon him thicker and murkier than ever.
My bowels boiled, and rested not; rather, boil and rest not (see the Revised Version). It is his present condition of which Job speaks from verse 27 to verse 31. His "entrails," i.e. his whole innermost nature, is disturbed, tormented, thrown into confusion. The days of affliction prevented me; rather, are come upon me (comp. verse 16).
Job 30:28, Job 30:29
I went mourning without the sun; rather, I go about blackened, but not by the sun. Grief and suffering, according to Oriental notions, blackened the face (see Lamentations 4:8; Lamentations 5:10; Psalms 119:83; and below, Psalms 119:30). I stood up, and I cried in the congregation; rather, I stand up in the assembly' and cry for help (see the Revised Version). Job feels this as the most pitiable feature in his ease. He is broken down; he can no longer endure. At first he could sit in silence for seven days (Job 2:13); now he is reduced to uttering complaints and lamentations. He is a brother, not to dragons, but to jackals. His laments are like the long melancholy cries that those animals emit during the silence of the night, so well known to Eastern travellers. He adds further that he is a companion, not to owls, but to ostriches; which, like jackals, have a melancholy cry.
My skin is black upon me (see the comment on Job 30:28, Job 30:29, ad init.), and my bones are burned with heat. The "burning pains" in the bones, which characterize at least one form of elephantiasis, have been already mentioned (see the comment on Job 30:17). In ordinary elephantiasis there is often "intense pain in the lumbar region and groin," which the patient might think to be in his bones.
My harp also is turned to mourning. The result of all is that Job's harp is laid aside, either literally or figuratively. Its music is replaced by the sound of mourning (see verses 28, 29). And my organ (or rather, my pipe) into the voice of them that weep. The pipe also is no longer sounded in his presence; he hears only the voice of weeping and lamentation. Thus appropriately ends the long dirge in which he has bewailed his miserable fare.
Job's second parable: 2. A lamentation over fallen greatness.
I. THE CHARACTER OF JOB'S DERIDERS.
1. Juniors in respect of age. (Verse 1.) These were not the young princes of the city (Job 29:8), by whom he had formerly been held in reverential regard, but "the young good-for-nothing vagabonds of a miserable class of men" (Delitzsch) dwelling in the neighbourhood. Job's inferiors in point of years, they should have treated him with honour and respect (Leviticus 19:32), especially when they beheld his intense wretchedness and misery. That they failed to accord him such veneration as was due to seniority in age, and much more that they made him the butt of their contemptuous derision, was not only an express violation of the dictates of nature and religion, but a special mark of depravity in themselves, as well as a certain index to the social and moral degradation of the race to which they belonged. The good qualities of an advancing and the bad qualities of a retrograding people, infallibly discover themselves in the moral characteristics of the youthful portion of the community.
2. Base in respect of ancestry. (Verses 1, 8.) The foregoing inference from the ribald behaviour of the younger men Job confirms by describing them as "children of fools, yea, children of base men," literally, "of men without a name," and as men "whose sires" he "would have disdained to set with the dogs of his flock." It is doubtful if Job does not in this and other expressions of this passage (verses 1-8) repay the contempt of his scornful assailants with fourfold liberality, thereby failing to evince that meekness in resenting injuries which good men should study to display, and perpetrating the same offence which he imputes to others, as well as talking about his fellow-men (God's creatures and God's children no less than himself) in a way that was scarcely excusable even in a patriarchal sage. Nevertheless, what he purposes to convey through the medium of his heated, if also poetic, language is that his revilers were the offspring of a vile, worthless, degraded, brutalized race, who had well-nigh sunk to the level of the beasts that perish.
3. Worthless in respect of service. (Verse 2.) Like their fathers whom Job would have disdained to rank with the dogs of his flock, i.e. whom he regarded as not worthy of being compared to these wise and faithful animals who watched his sheep, they (i.e. these younger vagabonds) were idle and effeminate triflers, lazy, worthless rascals, as little able to work as willing, the ethnic deterioration they were undergoing revealing itself in enervated physical constitutions no less than in depraved moral dispositions. The truth here enunciated with regard to nations and communities is also true of individuals, that sin, vice, immorality, has a tendency to impair the bodily strength, mental vigour, and moral power of such as yield to its fatal fascinations.
4. Furnished in respect of food. (Verses 3, 4.) Strangely blending pity with scorn, Job informs us that in great part the feebleness of those wretched creatures, who "could bring nothing to perfection" (Cox), and were not worth employing to do the work of a shepherd's dog, was due to the difficulty they had in finding nourishment. Lean and haggard, benumbed from want and hunger, they literally gnawed the desert, picking up such scanty sustenance as the barren steppe afforded, plucking mallows in the thicket, i.e. "the salt-wort from off the stalk" (Fry), the salt-wort, or sea-purslain,- being a tall shrubby, plant which thrives in the desert as well as on the coast, "the buds and young leaves of which" also "are gathered and eaten by the poor" (Delitzsch); and taking the roots of broom for their bread, the broom abounding in the deserts and sandy places of Egypt and Arabia, and growing to a height sufficient to afford shelter to a person sitting down. A melancholy picture of destitution, which has its counterpart not only among expiring races, effete desert tribes, and wretched Troglodytes, but also in many a centre of modern civilization. It is hardly questionable that in the lower strata of society in our large cities there are thousands for whom the physical conditions of life are as severe as those just depicted by the Poet.
5. Outcasts in respect of society. (Verse 5.) In consequence of their pilfering and marauding habits, they were banished forth from the pale of the organized community Nay, when it happened that they ventured near the precincts of civilized life, they at once became the objects of a hue and cry, men hallooing after them as they did after a thief, and chasing them away to their own miserable haunts of poverty and vice. It is clear they were the criminal classes of patriarchal times, and were regarded with much the same abhorrence as the pariahs of modern society, who wage war against all constituted authority, prey upon the industry of the virtuous and law-abiding, and as a consequence live in a perpetual state of social ostracism.
6. Troglodytes in respect of habitation. (Verse 6.) Driven beyond the pale of civilized society, they were compelled "to dwell in the cliffs of the valleys," literally, "in the horror of glens," i.e. in dismal and gloomy gorges, like the Horites (or cave-men) of Mount Seir (Genesis 14:6), betaking themselves for shelter to the caves of the earth and the holes in the rocks. According to modern scientific theory, they would exemplify man in the earliest or lowest stage of his development; according to the testimony of revelation, the Troglodytes would attest man's degeneracy from a primeval standard of perfection. And so persistent is this downward tendency in man apart from Divine grace, that almost every civilized community has its social and moral Troglodytes, who dwell in dismal valleys—its wretched outcasts, children of sin and shame, whose lurking-places are dens of infamy and haunts of vice.
7. Dehumanized in respect of nature. (Verse 7.) Having previously (Job 24:5) described these evicted aborigines as leading a gregarious life, like wild asses roaming the desert under the guidance of a leader (Job 39:5), Job recurs to the comparison to indicate, not the eager ferocity with which they scour the steppe for fodder, but how near to the brutes they have been brought by their misery, representing them as huddling themselves together under the bushes, and croaking out, in unintelligible jargon like the brayings of an ass, a doleful lamentation over their miserable condition. Herodotus compares the language of the Troglodyte Ethiopians to the screeching of bats. The speech of savage races is mostly composed of "growling gutturals and sharp clicks" (Cox). As a nation advances in civilization its tongue purifies and refines. Like the cave-men of Western Asia and Ethiopia, the moral Troglodytes of society have a jargon of their own; e.g. the language of thieves.
II. THE BEHAVIOUR OF JOB'S DERIDERS.
1. Mockery and contempt. (Verses 1, 9, 10.) Physically and morally degraded, this worthless rabble of marauders, half men and half beasts, having fallen in with Job in their wanderings, were so little touched by sympathy for his misfortunes, that they turned his miseries into merry jests, and made bywords of his groans. It is a special mark of depravity when youth mocks at age (2 Kings 2:3) and laughs at affliction. The experience of Job was reproduced in the eases of David (Psalms 35:15; Psalms 69:12), Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:14, Lamentations 3:63), and Christ (Matthew 27:43; Luke 23:35).
2. Insult and outrage. (Verse 10.) They gave open and undisguised expression to the abhorrence with which they regarded him, by fleeing far from him, or standing at a distance, and making their remarks upon him. If they ventured to come near him it was either to spit in his presence, "the greatest insult to an Oriental" (Carey), or perhaps to spit in his face (cf. Numbers 12:14; Deuteronomy 25:9), thus carrying their contempt and scorn to the lowest depth of indignity. Job had fallen low indeed to be thus outraged by the vilest dregs of society; but not lower than did Christ, who was similarly treated by the rabble of Judaea (Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:30), as long before it bad been predicted that he should be (Isaiah 1:6). No doubt in all this Job's sufferings were typical of Christ's.
3. Hostility and violence. (Verses 12-15.) Not content with words and gestures, the young vagabonds proceeded to acts of open violence. Having found the poor fallen prince groaning in wretchedness and misery upon the ash-heap outside his house, they abstained not from direct hostility. Like a crowd of witnesses starting up on his right hand, they overwhelmed him with accusations; like an army of assailants thrusting his feet away, they disputed with him every inch of ground, compelling him to retire ever further and further back; pressing on like a tumultuous besieging host, they cast up their ways of destruction, i.e. their military causeways, against him, tearing down his path so as to render escape impossible, breaking in upon him as through a wide breach, and causing him to flee in terror before their irresistible approach, so that his nobility was dispersed like the wind, and his prosperity swept away like a cloud.
III. THE MOTIVE JOB'S DERIDERS.
1. Not Job's unkindness. It was true that these insolent vagabonds, with their fathers, had been summarily evicted from their pristine settlements—had been compelled, not without cruel oppression and intolerable hardship, to retire before the superior race who had dislodged them; it may also be that of that conquering Arab tribe Job was a conspicuous member, and might on that account be held responsible for the indignities and wrongs that had been heaped upon the wretched aborigines; but, in point of fact, Job disclaims having taken part in those ruthless acts of tyranny which caused the poor of the land to slink away and hide themselves, naked and shivering, in the dens and caves of the earth, in the holes and crevices of the rocks (Job 24:4-8), and rather indicates that he regarded their sorrowful lot with compassion, even while, with disgust and aversion, he shrank from any contact with themselves. But:
2. Their own wickedness. They simply saw that he, whom they once knew as a powerful prince, was overtaken by evil fortune, and they turned upon him accordingly. That they traced Job's calamities, as Job himself did, to the hand of God (verse 11), was unlikely. Yet the result was the same. God, according to Job—according to them, fate—had unloosed iris bow and sent a shaft through the heart of this imperious autocrat, or had loosened the cord which upheld the tent of his hitherto vigorous body, and had laid him prostrate beneath a loathsome and painful disease; and so they, casting off restraint, assailed him with unbridled arrogance, acting out, in these early times, the familiar story of the kicking ass and the dead lion,
"But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world; now lies he there,
And none so poor to do him reverence."
('Julius Caesar,' Acts 3:0. sc. 2.)
1. The certainty that man may decade himself beneath the level of the beasts.
2. The right of society to protect itself against the lawless and depraved.
3. The tendency of all wickedness to lead to misery even on earth.
4. The infallibility with which moral depravity perpetuates itself.
5. The instability which attends all human greatness.
6. The length to which wicked men will go in persecuting and oppressing others when God grants permission.
7. The inevitable approach of a nation's doom when its youth has become corrupt and depraved.
Job's second parable: 3. A sorrowful survey of present misery.
I. JOB'S BODILY AFFLICTION.
1. Overpowering. It was no trifling ailment that wrung from the heart of this fallen great man the exquisitely plaintive lament of the present section. The malady which had struck its fangs into his vitals was one that made his bowels boil, and rest not (verse 27); that caused his heart to melt like wax in the midst of his bowels (Psalms 22:14); yea, that dissolved his soul in tears (verse 16). Most men have reason to be thankful that the afflictions they are called to endure are not absolutely intolerable; for which the praise is due to God's mercy alone. Yet not unless the soul is suitably affected by the ills that assail the body do these latter bring forth their designed results, the peaceable fruits of righteousness. The case of Job suggests that through the union and sympathy of soul and body man possesses an almost infinite capacity for suffering pain; while the fact that pain may minister to man's improvement is a testimony to man's superiority over the creatures.
2. Sudden. This was one of the circumstances that rendered Job's affliction so unmanning. It had sprung upon him unawares, apprehending him, and holding him fast as a detective might do a criminal (verse 16), at the very moment when he had been saying to himself, "I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the sand" ( Job 29:18), and offering congratulations to himself on the apparently permanent as well as inexhaustible sources of his wealth, and on the palpably stable and unfading character of his glory.
3. Wasting. A second circumstance which tended to dissolve the soul of Job as he reflected on his physical trouble was the revolting character of the disease by which he had been overtaken. According to one view, Job by a strong poetic figure personifies the night (verse 17; cf. Job 3:2) as a wild beast, which had leapt upon him in the darkness, and rent him limb from limb—the allusion being to the terrible nature of the Lepra Arabica, which "feeds on the bones and destroys the body in such a manner that single limbs are completely detached" (Delitzsch). To this, also, the wasting character of the disease (verse 18) is believed by the just-named commentator to refer.
4. Unsightly. An additional source of grief to the patriarch in thinking over his malady was the disfigurement of his person which it had occasioned. "By its great strength the garment (of his skin) was changed" (Gesenius), probably through frequent purulent discharge, or through the foul incrustations which covered his body; his skin also had become black, and was peeling off from his emaciated skeleton, while his bones within him were being consumed by a parching heat (verse 30). It is a special cross when God, through disease, readers a man of displeasing aspect to his fellows.
5. Incessant. The pain which Job suffered was seemingly continuous and without interruption. Already frequently insisted on in previous discourses (Job 3:24; Job 7:3, Job 7:4, Job 7:13, Job 7:15; Job 10:20, etc.), it is here presented in a fresh series of images, Job describing his sinews as taking no rest (verse 17), literally, "my gnawers," meaning either his tormenting pains (Gesenius), or the gnawing worms formed in his ulcers (Delitzsch), "rest not," and speaking of his disease as binding him fast, and sticking closely to him like the collar of his coat (verse 18), and finally adding that his bowels, as the seat of pain, boiled and rested not (verse 27).
6. Manifold. In this his last lament Job confines not his attention to the one point of his bodily ailment, but makes a survey of the whole course of his affliction—from the day when, bereft of his family and possessions, he went about the streets as a mourner, arrayed in sackcloth, without the sun (verse 28), i.e. in such a state of grief and dejection that even the gladdening sunshine failed to give him pleasure, to that moment when he had become as "a brother to dragons and a companion to owls" (verse 29).
7. Degrading. By reason of this terrible disease he had been cast into the mire, and had become like dust and ashes (cf. Job 16:15, Job 16:16); nay, lower even than that, he had been reduced to the level of jackals and ostriches, creatures whose dolorous howlings fill men with shuddering and dejection.
II. JOB'S MENTAL ANGUISH. The thought which most keenly lacerated Job's bosom was the fixed and immovable idea which had fastened on his soul, that the God whom he had loved and served had become to him a changed God, who treated him with unsparing cruelty (verse 21). Of this the proof to Job's mind lay in several considerations.
1. That God was the real Author of Job's sufferings. It was he and no other who had cast Job into the mire (verse 19). In a very real sense this was true, since Job's malignant and unsleeping adversary could have had no power over him, except it had been given him from above; but in the sense which Job meant it was a hideous misconception, Satan and not God having been the enemy who had touched his bones and his flesh. Saints should be careful not to impute to God the blame of what he only permits.
2. That God remained deaf to Job's entreaties. "I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me;" i.e. lookest fixedly at me (verse 20), meeting my earnest reverential upward glance with a stare of stony indifference, if not of hostile intent (cf. verse 24). A fearful perversion of the truth which Job's prolonged misery cannot justify. God is the enemy of no man who does not first make himself an enemy of God. "The face of God is set against them that do evil;" but "God's eyes are ever towards the righteous" with looks of love and benignant compassion. Even when he forbears to help, and seems to be deaf to the good man's supplications, he hears and pities. If God answers not, it is in love rather than in hate. Whatever befalls a saint he should hold fast by the unchanging and unfaltering love of the Divine Father. Believers under the gospel should find this easier to do than Job did.
3. That God was insensible to Job's feebleness. With the strength of his omnipotent arm he Appeared to be making war upon one who was insignificant and frail, heedless of the agonies he inflicted or the terrors he inspired, lifting up his victim upon the fierce hurricane of tribulation, causing him to drive along before its howling blasts and to vanish in the crashing of the storm, as a thin cloud is caught by the whirling tempest, "blown with restless violence found about the pendent world," and finally dispersed by the violent agitation it endures (verses 21, 22).
4. That God had fixedly resolved on Job's destruction. In Job's anguish-laden mind it was a foregone conclusion that God had determined to pursue him to the grave, to bring him down to the dust of death; to shut him up in the house of assembly for all living (verse 23). Job's conception of the grave was sublimely true. It was and is "the great involuntary rendezvous of all who live in this world." Job's belief that God would eventually conduct him thither was likewise correct. "It is appointed unto all men once to die." Job's apprehension that his immediate dissolution was decreed was wrong. The times of all are in the hand of God; and it is not given to any to anticipate with certainty the day and the hour of departure from this sublunary scene. So also was Job's inference erroneous that prayer was unavailing when God had determined on a creature's destruction (verse 24). It was not so in the case of Hezekiah, to whom God, in answer to his fervent supplication, added fifteen years (2 Kings 20:1-7; Isaiah 38:1-5). But even should God decline to move the shadow on the dial backward, it is still not in vain for dying men to call aloud to him in prayer, inasmuch as he can help them by his grace to meet that which by his hand he will not avert.
5. That God took no account of Job's philanthropies. Job had wept for him that was in trouble or whose day was hard, and his soul had been grieved for the needy (Job 29:12, Job 29:13). Yet God was to all appearance indifferent. This, however, was only another misconception on the part of Job. The Almighty notes with loving eye every kind deed performed by his servants on earth, and will reward even a ernst of bread or a cup of cold water given in his name to a poor one. Only the time of recompense will be hereafter. Hence no one is entitled to expect, like Job, that his good actions shall be rewarded here. "Do good, hoping for nothing again," is the maxim prescribed to Christ's followers. Acted upon, it will save them from the disappointment which almost crushed the soul of Job (verse 26).
1. The absolute impossibility of avoiding days of suffering.
2. The ease with which God can remove happiness from the lot of man.
3. The inability of any one to sustain the burden of affliction without Divine help.
4. The foolishness of glorying in either strength or beauty, since both can at a word be transformed into dust and ashes.
5. The extreme danger of allowing affliction to pervert the mind's views of God.
6. The error of supposing that God can regard any creature, much less any child of his own, with hate.
7. The propriety of frequently considering where life's journey terminates.
8. The certainty that death cannot be turned aside by either piety or prayers.
9. The evil case of him who can find no enjoyment in Heaven's mercies.
10. The sinfulness of giving free course to one's complaint, especially against God, in the time of affliction.
11. The inevitable tendency of trouble to deteriorate and debase those whom it does not exalt and refine.
12. The possibility of one who thinks himself a brother of jackals and companion of ostriches becoming a son of God and fellow of the angels.
13. The certainty that for all saints mourning will yet be turned into joy.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The troubles of the present.
In contrast to the happy past of honour and respect on which he has been so wistfully dwelling in the previous chapter, Job sees himself now exposed to the scorn and contempt of the meanest of mankind; while a flood of miseries from the hand of God passes over him. From this last chapter we have learned the honour and authority with which it sometimes pleases God to crown the pious and the faithful. From the present we see how at other times he crucifies and puts them to the proof. They must be tried on "the right hand and on the left" (2 Corinthians 6:7; comp. Philippians 4:12). We are reminded, too, of the transiency of all worldly good. The heavens and the earth shall perish; how much more the glory, power, and happiness of the flesh (Isaiah 40:1-31.)!
I. THE CONTEMPT OF MEN. (Verses 1-10.) The young men, who were wont to rise in his presence, laugh him to scorn; youths whose fathers, the lowest of mankind—thievish, faithless, and worthier, a—were of leas value than the watch-dogs of his flock (verse 1). Themselves, the young men had been of no service to him; they had failed of the full strength of manhood; dried up with want and hunger, they had derived their scanty subsistence from the desolate and barren steppe (verses 2, 3); plucking up the salt herbs and bushes and juniper roots for food (verse 4). These wretches led the life of pariahs; driven forth from the society of men, the hunt-cry was raised after them as after thieves. Their place of dwelling was in horrid ravines and caves and rocks (verses 5, 6). Their wild shouts were heard in the bush; they lay and formed their plots of robbery among the nettles (verse 7). Sons of fools and base men, they were scourged out of the land (verse 8). A fearful picture of the dregs of human life! Perhaps those Troglodytes (comp. Job 24:4 :) were the Horites, the original inhabitants of the mountainous country of Seir, conquered by the Edomites (Genesis 36:6-8; Deuteronomy 2:12, Deuteronomy 2:22). Of these degraded beings Job has now become the scoffing-song, the derisive byword (verse 9). They show towards him every mark of abhorrence, retreating from him, or only drawing near to spit in his face with the silent coarse language of contumely and disgust (verse 10; comp. Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:30). Had Job in any way brought this treatment upon himself from the vilest of mankind? Certainly there is nothing in the story which leads us to cast the blame of haughty or heartless conduct upon the hero. Still, it is ever true that we reap as we sow; but the sower and the reaper may be different persons. The cruel measure meted out to these unfortunates is now measured to the innocent Job. It is not in human nature to requite love with hatred or to give loathing in return for kindness. The responsibility of society for its outcasts is a deep lesson which we have only begun in modern times to learn. All men, however fallen and low, must be treated as the creatures of God. If we treat them as wild beasts, we can but expect the wild-beast return. Said Rabbi Ben Azar, "Despise not any man, and spurn not anything. For there is no man that hath not his hour, nor is there anything that hath not its place." Says our own Wordsworth—
"He who feels contempt
For any living thing, hath faculties
That he hath never used, and thought with him
Is in its infancy."
"Be assured That least of all can aught that ever owned
The heaven-regarding eye and front sublime
Which man is born to, sink, howe'er depressed,
So low as to be scorned without a sin,
Without offence to God, cast out of view."
"Condescend to men of low estate." Gentleness and compassion to our inferiors is one of the chief lessons of our holy religion.
II. ABANDONMENT TO MISERY BY GOD. (Verses 11-15.) Health and happiness are ours when God holds us by his hand; sickness, languor, and mental misery when he loosens his grasp. Job's nerves are relaxed. The war-bands of the Almighty have loosed the bridle; angels and messengers of ill, diseases and plagues, hunt the unhappy sufferer down (verse 11). This dark throng seems to rise up at his right hand—the place of the accuser (Psalms 109:6)—and to push away his feet, driving him into a narrow space, laying open before him their ways of destruction, heaping up against him besieging ramparts, thus tearing down his own path, his formerly undisputed way of life. They help forward his ruin, needing no assistance from others in the pernicious work (verses 12, 13). On comes this terrible besieging host, as through a wide breach in the wall of life—rolls on with loud roar, while the defences fall into ruin (verse 14). Terrors turn against him, sudden horrors of death (comp. Job 18:11, Job 18:14; Job 27:20) hunting after his honour—the honour depicted in Job 29:20, seq. His happiness, in consequence of these violent assaults, passes away suddenly and tracklessly as a cloud from the face of heaven (Job 29:15; comp. Job 7:9; Isaiah 44:22). If God lays his hand upon the body or outward happiness of his children, there will seldom be release without inward conflict, anguish, fear, and terror. It is with such persons as with St. Paul; without is conflict, and within is fear (2 Corinthians 7:5).
III. INCONCEIVABLE INWARD DISTRESS. (Job 29:16-23.) His soul is melted and poured out within him; his frame is dissolved in tears. Days of pain hold him in their grip, refuse to depart and leave him in peace (Job 29:16). The night racks and pierces his bones, and allows his sinews no rest (Job 29:17). By the fearful power of God he is so withered up that his garment hangs loose about him, wraps him like the collar of a coat, nowhere fitting his body (Job 29:18). God has cast him upon the ash-heap—a sign of the deepest humiliation (Job 16:15)—till his skin resembles dust and ashes in its hue (Job 29:19). In this nerveless condition prayer itself seems unable to stir its loftiest, most hopeful energies. He can but cry, grievously and in supplication, but without the hope of being heard. "I stand, and thou lookest fixedly at me"—no sign of attention in thy glance, of favour in thine eye (Job 29:20). The aspect of the almighty Father, seen through the medium of intense suffering, becomes one of cruelty and horror (Job 29:21). Lifting him upon the storm-wind as upon a chariot, God causes him to be carried away, and dissolved as it were in the yeasty surging of the storm (Job 29:22). He knows that God is carrying him to death, the place of assembly for all the living (Job 29:23).
IV. FAILURE OF ALL HIS HOPES. (Job 29:24 -31.) According to human calculation, he must despair of life. But can the unhappy man be blamed if he stretches out his hand for help amidst the ruin of his fall, and sends forth his cry as he passes into destruction? Is not this a law for all living creatures (Job 29:24)? Did not Job show compassion in all the misfortunes of others, and has he not, therefore, a right to complain, and expect compassion in his own (verse 25)? All the suffering of Job is condemned in the thought that, after the happiness of former days had bred hopes of the like future, he was visited by the deepest misery, and cast into the lowest distress (verses 26-31). The light of former days glances upon him again, and so his address reverts to its beginning (Job 29:1-25.). Hoping for good, there ensued evil (Isaiah 59:9; Jeremiah 14:19); waiting for the light, deeper darkness came on. There is an inward seething of the mind. Days of affliction have fallen upon him. He goes darkened, without the glow of the sun; his swarthy appearance is due to another cause—he is smeared with dust and ashes. He stands in the assembly, giving loud vent to his lamentation amidst the mourning company who surround him. A "brother to the jackals, a comrade of the ostriches," these desert creatures of the loud and plaintive cry, is be. His black skin parts and falls from him; his bones are parched by a consuming heat. And then, in one beautiful poetic touch, the whole description of his woe is summed up, "My harp became mourning, and my shalm mournful tones." But he will yet learn to tune his harp again to gladness and praise. Now, however, his melancholy haunts him; and not one kindly glance pierces the gloom of his dark thoughts to give him comfort. But despair of self has never led Job to despair of God. There is still, therefore, a glimmering spark of hope amidst this wild storm. He carries in his hand a bud which will yet unfold into a flower. This is no example of the fatal sorrow of the world, but of the life-giving power of the sorrow that is after God (compare Robertson's sermon on the 'Power of Sorrow,' vol. 2.).—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
A sorrowful contrast.
Job's condition has become one of sorrowfulness, the humiliation of which stands in direct contrast to his former state. He graphically expresses it in a few words: "But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock." The picture of sorrowful humiliation, standing in contrast, to previous honour, wealth, and power, is very striking. It is a typical example, showing to what depths the loftiest may be reduced. The details are as follows.
I. THE CONTEMPTUOUS TREATMENT OF MEAN AND UNWORTHY MEN. "They were children of fools, yea, children of base men: they were viler than the earth. And now am i their song, yes, I am their byword. They abhor me, they flee far from me, and spare not to spit in my race.' It requires the utmost strength of righteous principle, and the most complete self-command and self-restraint, to endure such treatment without violent outbreaks of passion.
II. GREAT MENTAL AFFLICTION. "Terrors are turned upon me;" "My soul is poured out in me."
III. GREAT BODILY PAIN. a My bones are pierced in me in the night season: and my sinews take no rest."
IV. APPARENT INDIFFERENCE OF GOD TO HIS PRAYER. Saddest hour of all the sad hours of the human life is that when the one unfailing Helper closes his ear. The lowest depth of sorrow reached by the Man of sorrows found expression in "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
V. To this is added THE FEAR THAT GOD HIMSELF TURNS HIS HAND AGAINST HIM. "Thou art become cruel to me.' His afflictions appear to him as Divine judgments; yet he knoweth not why he is afflicted.
VI. THE GLOOMY APPREHENSION THAT ALL WILL END IN DEATH. "Thou wilt bring me to death." No brightness in the afar-off cheers the sufferer. There is no prospect of light at eventide.
VII. To all is added THE SITTER PAINFULNESS OF EXCLUSION. He is an outcast. There is no help for him in man. "I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls." Bitter, indeed, is the cup mixed of such ingredients. Strong the heart that can thus suffer and not break.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The fall from honour to contempt.
I. MISFORTUNE BRINGS CONTEMPT, Job has just been reciting the honours of his happier days. With the loss of prosperity has come the loss of those honours. He who was slavishly flattered in wealth and success is cruelly scorned in the time of adversity. This is monstrously unjust, and Job feels it to be so. Nevertheless, it is only true to life. Men do judge by the outward appearance. Therefore any who experience in some proportion what Job experienced need not be taken by surprise. The judgment of the world is of little worth. The good opinion of men may shift like a weathercock. We need to look for a higher, more sure and true and lasting glory than that of man's honour.
II. PRIDE PREPARES FOR CONTEMPT. There is a note of pride in verse 1, "Whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock." A relic of aristocratic hauteur creeps out in this utterance of the humiliated patriarch. If we treat men like dogs, we may expect that, when they get the chalice to do so, they will turn on us like dogs. They may cower and cringe when we are strong, but they waft be eager to snap at us when our time of weakness comes.
III. MEAN NATURES JUDGE SUPERFICIALLY. As Job describes them, the miserable creatures who turned upon him were the very dregs of the populace. They were outlaws and thieves and worthless people who had been driven to mountain-caves—idlers and degraded beings who grubbed up weeds to live on. Plainly these men are to be distinguished from the poor whose only defect is their want of means. Yet among them may have been some of those who in his more prosperous days blessed Job for helping them when they were ready to perish (see Job 29:13). Ingratitude is only too common among all men, and we cannot be surprised at finding it in persons of low and brutal habits.
IV. IT IS PAINFUL TO SUFFER FROM CONTEMPT. In his prosperity Job would have despised the opinion of those who now vex him with their insults. Yet he could never have been complacent under contempt. It has been well said that the greatest man in the world would receive some discomfort if he came to know that the meanest creature on earth despised him from the bottom of his heart. The pride that is quite indifferent to the good or ill opinion of others is not a virtue. Humility will set some value on the favour of the lowest. If we have a spirit of brotherliness we cannot but desire to live on good terms with all our neighbours.
V. IT IS POSSIBLE TO TURN FROM THE CONTEMPT OF MAN TO THE APPROVAL OF GOD. The Christian should learn to bear contempt, since Christ bore it. He was "despised and rejected of men" (Isaiah 53:3). Like Job, he was insulted and spat upon. Yet we feel that all the insults with which he was loaded did not really humiliate him. On the contrary, he never appears to us so dignified as when "he opened not his mouth" in the midst of contumely and outrage. In that awful scene of the night before the crucifixion, it is the enemies of Christ who appear to us as lowered and degraded. Now we know that the cross was the ground of Christ's highest glory. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him" (Philippians 2:9). The Church crowned the memories of her martyrs with honour. Despised, suffering Christians may learn to possess their souls in patience if they are walking in the light of God's countenance.—W.F.A.
The thraldom of affliction.
Job is not only passing through the waters of affliction; he feels that he is laid hold of and overpowered by his troubles. Let us see what this condition involves—the stale of thraldom and its effects.
I. THE STATE OF THRALDOM. This simply results from the fact that the affliction has mounted to such a height that it has overpowered the sufferer.
1. The trouble cannot be thrown off. There are troubles from which we can escape. Often we can beat down our adverse circumstances. We can face our enemy and defeat him. But other troubles cannot be driven back. When the enemy comes in like a flood, no human effort can stem the torrent.
2. The distress cannot be calmly endured. Milder troubles may be simply borne in patience. We cannot drive them away, but we can learn to treat them as inevitable. There is a strength that is born of adversity. The oak grows sturdy in contending with the storm. The muscles of the wrestler are strong as iron. But distress may reach a point beyond which it cannot be mastered. Patience is broken down.
3. The affliction absorbs the whole life. The pain rises to such a height that it dominates consciousness and excludes all other thoughts. The man is simply possessed by his agony. Huge waves of anguish roll over his whole being and drown every other feeling. The sufferer is then nothing but a victim, Action is lost in fearful pain. The martyr is stretched on the rack. His torturer has deprived him of all energy and freedom.
II. THE EFFECTS OF THIS CONDITION. Such a state of thraldom must be an evil. It is destructive of personal effort. It excludes all service of love and submission of patience. And yet it may be a means to a good end.
1. It should be a wholesome chastisement. For the time being it is grievous. In its acutest stage it may not allow us to learn its less,ms. But when it begins to abate its fury, and we have some calmness with which to look back upon it, we may see that the storm has cleared the air and swept away a mass of unwholesome rubbish.
2. It should be a motive to drive us to God. Such a tremendous affliction requires the only perfect refuge for the distressed. So long as we can bear our troubles we are tempted to trust to our own strength; but the miserable collapse, the utter break-down, the humiliating thraldom, prove our helplessness and our need of One who is mightier than we are. Now, the very possibility of such overwhelming troubles is a reason why we should seek the refuge of God's grace. It is hard to find the haven when the tempest is raving around us. We need to be fortified beforehand by the indwelling strength of God.
3. It should make us sympathetic with others. If we have escaped from the thraldom, it is our part to help those who are in it. We know its terrors and its despair.
4. It should lead us to make the best use of prosperous times. Then we can learn the way of Divine strength. Martyrs have triumphed where weaker men have been in bondage. The life of unselfish service, loyalty, and faith is a life of freedom. God will not permit such a life to be utterly enthralled by affliction. That awful late is the doom of the lost.—W.F.A.
Charging God with cruelty.
At the first onset of his afflictions it could be said of the patriarch, "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (Job 1:22). But the aggravation of his troubles, followed by the vexatious advice of his friends, has since then more than once forced unwise words from his lips, and now he is directly charging God with becoming cruel to him.
I. GOD'S ACTION MAY APPEAR CRUEL TO MAN. God permits or inflicts pain. When man cries for relief, relief does not come—at least in the way expected. It is not easy to see why the suffering is sent. To us it seems unnecessary. We think we could have done our duty better without it. There appears to be an iron fate bearing down upon us regardless of our needs, or deserts, or helplessness. This is brought home to us with peculiar poignancy, under the most trying circumstances.
1. An accumulation of troubles. One man has more than his share of them. Blow follows blow. The fallen is crushed. Tender wounds are chafed. This was Job's experience.
2. The suffering of the innocent. Bad men are seen to be flourishing while good men are in distress. This looks like indifference to moral claims.
3. The overthrow of the useful. Job had been a most helpful man in his time; his downfall meant the cessation of his kind services for many people in trouble. We see valuable lives cut off or made useless, while mischievous people thrive and grow fat.
4. The refusal to deliver. Job had not been proud, unbelieving, self-contained. He had prayed. But God appeared not to hear or regard him (verse 20).
II. GOD IS NEVER CRUEL TO MAN. Job was now charging God foolishly. We have to judge of a man's character by his deeds till we know him. Then, if we become fully assured that he is good, we reverse the process, and estimate any dubious-looking conduct by the clear character of the man In the same way, after we have come to know that God is a true Father, that his nature is love, our wisest course is not to fling off our faith, and charge God with cruelty when he deals with us in what looks to us like a harsh manner. He cannot be false to his nature. But our eyes are dim; our sight is short; our self-centred experience perverts our judgment. We have to learn to trust the constant character of God when we cannot understand his present conduct.
III. NARROW RELIGIOUS VIEWS LEAD TO UNJUST CHARGES AGAINST GOD. Job's three friends were to a large extent responsible for the patriarch's condition of mind, in which he was driven to charge God with cruelty. They had set up an impossible rule, and the evident falsehood of it had driven Job to desperation. A harsh orthodoxy is responsible for very much unbelief. Self-elected advocates of God have thus a good deal of mischief to answer for. In attempting to defend the Divine government some of these people have presented it in a very ugly light. Whilst they have been dinning their formal precepts into men's ears on what they regard as the authority of revelation, they have been rousing a spirit of revolt, till what is most Divine in man, his conscience, has risen up and protested against their dogmas. From the days of Job till our own time theology has too often darkened the world's idea of God. If we turn from man to God himself, we shall discover that he is better than his advocates represent him to be. When it is our duty to speak of religion, let us be careful not to fall into the error of Job's friends, and generate hard thoughts of God by narrow, un-Christ-like teachings.—W.F.A.
The house of death.
Job expects nothing better than death, which he regards as "the house appointed for all living," or rather as the house for the meeting of all living.
I. THE JOURNEY OF LIFE ENDS IS THE HOUSE OF DEATH. The living are marching to death. In a striking passage of 'The City of God,' St. Augustine, following Seneca, describes how we are always dying, because from the first moment of life we are drawing nearer to death. We cannot stay our chariot-wheels. The river will not cease to flow, and it is bearing us on to the ocean of death. It is difficult for the young and strong to take in the idea that they will not live for ever, and we come upon the thought of death with something of a shock. But this only means that we cannot see the end of the road while it winds through pleasant scenery that distracts our attention from the more distant prospect.
II. THE HOUSE OF DEATH IS IN DARK CONTRAST WITH THE JOURNEY OF LIFE. It is the living who are destined to enter this dreadful house. Here is one of the greatest possible contrasts—life and death; here is one of the most tremendous transitions—from life to death. All our revolutions on earth are as nothing compared with this tremendous change. Death is only the end and cessation of life, while all other experiences, even the greatest and most upsetting, are but modifications of the life which we still retain. It is not wonderful, then, that this dark house of death has strongly affected the imagination of men. The surprising thing is that so many should be indifferent to it.
III. THE HOUSE OF DEATH IS FOR EVERY LIVING MAN. No truism is more hackneyed than the assertion that all men are mortal. Here is a commonplace which cannot be gainsayed, yet its very evident character should emphasize its significance. Death is the great leveller. In life we go many ways; at last we all go the same way. Now some pass through palace gates and others through dungeon-portals; at the end all must go through the same narrow door. Should not this commonness of destiny help to bring all mortals nearer together in life?
IV. THE HOUSE OF DEATH IS A PLACE OF MEETING. It is described by Job as a house of assemblage. Multitudes are gathered there. They who depart thither go to "join the majority." There dwell many whom we have known on earth, some whom we have loved. Much mystery surrounds the house of death; but it cannot be an utterly strange place if so many who have been near to us on earth are awaiting us there. The joy of reunion should scatter the darkness of death. Every dear one lost to earth makes for us more of a home in the Unseen.
V. THE HOUSE OF DEATH LEADS TO THE REALM OF LIFE FOR ALL WHO SLEEP IN CHRIST. It is no gloomy prison. It is but a dark ante-chamber to a realm of light and blessedness. Indeed, death is not an abode, but a passage. We have no reason for thinking that death is a lasting condition in the case of those whose souls do not die in sin; for the impenitent, indeed, it is a fearful doom of darkness. But for such as have the new life of Christ in them death may be but the momentary act of dying. Certainly it is not their eternal condition. We talk of the blessed dead; we should think of the glorified living, born into the deathless state of heavenly bliss.—W.F.A.
Job was disappointed in meeting with fearful evils when he was looking for good. Disappointment such as his is rare; yet in some form it is the frequent experience of all of us. Let us consider the significance of disappointment.
I. DISAPPOINTMENT IS ONE OF THE INEVITABLE TRIALS OF LIFE. We should not be overwhelmed with despair when we meet with it. It is part of the common lot of man, part of the common fate of nature. How many blossoms of spring fall to the ground frost-bitten and fruitless! How many hopes of men are but "castles in Spain"! If all we had dreamed of attaining bad become ours, earth would not be the world we know, but some rare paradise.
II. DISAPPOINTMENT AGGRAVATES TROUBLE. Its inevitability does not draw its sting. To be expecting good and yet to meet with ill is doubly distressing. It gives a shock like that which is experienced in coming upon a descending step where one was preparing to take an ascending step. All sense of security is lost, and a painful surprise is felt. Feeling is just experienced in the transition from one condition to another, and the violence of the transition intensifies the sensation. When the eye is adjusted to see a bright light, the gloom of a dark place is all the deeper. The sanguine suffer from pangs of distress which duller natures are not prepared to experience.
III. DISAPPOINTMENT SPRINGS FROM IGNORANCE. There must have been an error somewhere. Either we judged by mere appearances, or we trusted too much to the desires of our own hearts. God can never be disappointed, for God knows all and sees the end from the beginning. Hence his patience and long-suffering. It is well to see that God who thus knows everything is supremely blessed. No disillusions can dispel his perfect joy. Therefore not evil and pain, but good and gladness, must be ultimately supreme in the universe.
IV. DISAPPOINTMENT IS A WHOLESOME DISCIPLINE. God suffers us to be disappointed that we may profit by the painful experience. Sometimes we have been trusting to an unworthy hope; then it is best that the idol should be shattered. If any earthly hope has been idolized, the loss of it may be good, driving us to our true God. It is possible, however, to be the worse for disappointment, which may embitter the soul and lead to misanthropy and despair. We need a stout faith to stand up against the blows of unexpected trouble.
V. DISAPPOINTMENT WILL NEVER DESTROY THE TRUE CHRISTIAN HOPE. Earthly hopes may vanish in smoke, but the hope in Christ is sure. Even this may be lost sight of as the beacon-light is obscured by the driving storm; but it is not extinguished. For our Christian hope rests on the eternal constancy of God, and it concerns not fading and fragile earthly things, but the everlasting verities of heaven. Browning describes the man whose heart and life are strong against disappointment—
"One who never turned his back,
but marched breast forward;
Never doubted clouds would break;
Never dreamed, though right were worsted,
wrong would triumph
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake."
The harp turned to mourning.
This is disappointing and incongruous. The harp is not like the pipes used at Oriental funerals for lamentation. It is an instrument for joyous music. Yet Job's harp is turned to mourning.
I. MAN HAS A NATURAL FACULTY OF JOY. Job had his harp, or that in him of which the harp was symbolical. Some people are of a more melancholy disposition than others, but nobody is so constituted as to be incapable of experiencing gladness. We rightly regard settled melancholy as a form of insanity. Joy is not only our heritage; it is a needful thing. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
II. THE SAD WERE ONCE JOYOUS. Job's harp is tuned to mourning. Then its use had to be perverted before it could be thought of as an instrument of lamentation. It was then put to a new, unwonted employment. This implies that it had been familiarly known as a joyous instrument. In sorrow we do not sufficiently consider how much gladness we have had in life, or, if we look back on the brighter scenes of the past, too often this is simply in order to contrast them with the present, and so to deepen our feeling of distress. But it would be more fair and grateful for us to view our lives in their entirety, and to recognize how much gladness they have contained as a ground for thankfulness to God.
III. LIFE IS MARKED BY ALTERNATIVE EXPERIENCES. Few lives are without a gleam of sunshine, and no lives are without some shadow of sorrow. The one form of experience passes over to the other—often with a shock of surprise. We are all too easily accustomed to settle down in the present form of experience, as though it were destined to be permanent. But the wisest course is to take the vicissitudes of life, not as unnatural convulsions, as revolutions against the order of nature; but, like the changing seasons, as occurring i, the ordered and regular course of events.
IV. IT IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE MUSIC IN SADNESS. Job does not describe himself as like those captives of Babylon who hung their harps upon the willows (Psalms 137:2). His harp is sounding still, but the music must agree with the feelings of the time, and gaiety must give place to plaintive notes. Therefore the tune is in a minor key. Still there is melody. The Book of Job, which deals largely with sorrow, is a poem—it is composed in musical language. Sorrow is a great inspiration of poetry. How much music would be lost if all the harmonies that have come from sad subjects were struck out! If, then, sorrow can inspire song and music, it is natural to conclude chat suitable song and music should console sorrow. Feeble souls wail in discordant despair, but strong souls harmonize their griefs with their whole nature; and though they may not perceive it at the time, when they reflect in after-days they hear the echo of a solemn music in the memory of their painful experience. When the angel of sorrow takes up the harp and sweeps the strings, strange, awful, thrilling notes sound forth, far richer and deeper than any that leap and dance at the touch of gladness. The Divine mystery of sorrow that gathers about the cross of Christ is not harsh, but musical with the sweetness of eternal love.—W.F.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 29". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13