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In this chapter Elihu turns from Job to those whom he addresses as "wise men" (verse 2), or "men of understanding" (verse 10). Whether these are Job's three special friends, or others among the company which had perhaps gathered to hear the debate, is uncertain. He makes the subject of his address to them Job's conduct—scarcely a polite thing to do in Job's presence. Job, he says, has scorned God and charged him with injustice (verses 5-9). He will vindicate him. This he proceeds to do in verses 10-30. He then points out what Job's course ought to be (verses 31-33), and winds up by an appeal to the "men of understanding" to endorse his condemnation of Job as a sinner and a rebel (verses 34-37).
Job 34:1, Job 34:2
Furthermore Elihu answered and said, Hear my words, O ye wise men. Having, as he may have thought, reduced Job to silence by the fame of his reasonings, Elihu, wishing to carry with him the general consent of his audience, makes an appeal to them, or, at any rate, to the wise among them, to judge Job's conduct and pronounce upon it. It is probable, as Schultens remarks, that a considerable number of influential persons had by this time collected together to hear the discussion which was going on. To these Elihu specially addresses himself: Give ear unto me, ye that have knowledge.
For the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat. A proverbial expression, already used by Job in the dialogue (Job 12:11). "It is as much the business of the ear to discriminate between wise and foolish words, as of the palate to distinguish between wholesome and unwholesome food."
Let us choose to us judgment; i.e. "Let us seek to come to a right conclusion (mishphat) on each subject that comes before us for consideration." Let us know among ourselves that which is good. "Let us know, discern, and recognize that which is right and good." Excellent sentiments, but somewhat pompously put forth by a young man addressing elder ones.
For Job hath said, I am righteous. Job had maintained his "righteousness" in a certain sense, i.e. his integrity, his honesty, his conviction that God would ultimately acquit him; but he had not maintained his sinlessness (see the comment on Job 33:9). He had not even said, in so many words, "I am righteous." The nearest that he had come to saying it was when (in Job 13:18) he had exclaimed, "I know that I shall be held righteous," or "justified." And God hath taken away my judgment. Job had said this (Job 27:2), but in the sense that God had withheld from him the judgment on his cause which he desired, not that he had perverted judgment, and wrongfully condemned him.
Should I lie against my right? This was an essential portion of Job's argument (see Job 27:4). Against the theory of his secret heinous wickedness put forward by his "comforters," he maintained consistently his freedom from conscious deliberate opposition to the will of God, and refused to make the confessions which they suggested or required, on the ground that they would have been untrue—in making them he would have "lied against his right." In this certainly Job "sinned not." But it was essential to the theory of Elihu, no less than to that of Eliphaz and his friends, that Job was suffering on account of past iniquity, whether he were being punished for it in anger or chastised for it in love (see Job 33:17, Job 33:27). My wound (literally, my arrow; comp. Job 6:4) is incurable without transgression; i.e. without my having committed any transgression to account for it.
What man is like Job, who drinketh up scorning like water? This comment is not only unnecessary, but unfair. It was not for Elihu, who professed a desire to "justify" (or completely exonerate) Job, to aggravate his guilt by means of rhetorical comment; and the comment itself was unfair, for Job had not indulged in scorn to any extent, much less "drunk it up like water" (comp. Job 15:16). He had in no respect scorned God; and if he had occasionally poured some scorn upon his "comforters" (Job 6:21; Job 12:2; Job 13:4-13; Job 16:2; Job 21:2-5; Job 26:2-4), must it not be admitted that they had deserved it? It was the duty of Elihu to act as moderator between Job and the "comforters," whereas he here seeks to exasperate them, and lash them up to fury against their afflicted friend. Perhaps Job's impassive attitude has embittered him.
Which goeth in company with the workers of iniquity. It is impossible to supply any other antecedent to "which" than Job himself. Elihu therefore accuses Job of having turned aside from righteousness, and betaken himself to the "counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners, and the seat of the scornful" (Psalms 1:1). This is grossly to exaggerate Job's faults of temper, and puts Elihu very nearly on a level with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar in respect of misconception and rudeness. And walketh with wicked men. If no more is meant than that Job has adopted principles and arguments commonly used by wicked men (Canon Cook), the language employed is unfortunate.
For he hath said, It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God. Again it must be remarked that Job had not said this. The nearest approach to it is to be found in Job 9:22, where this passage occurs: "It is all one; therefore I say, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked" (Revised Version). Elsewhere Job speaks, not generally, but of his own individual case, remarking that his righteousness has not saved him from calamity (Job 9:17, Job 9:18; Job 10:15; Job 17:9 -17, etc.). And the fact is one that causes him the deepest perplexity.
Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding (comp. Job 34:2). Elihu repeats himself, wishing to call special attention to his justification of God (Job 34:10-30). Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness. Elihu probably means that to do wickedness is contrary to the very nature and idea of God; but he does not express himself very clearly. And from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity. An evil God, a God who can do wrong, is a contradiction in terms—an impossible, inconceivable idea. Devil-worshippers, if there are or ever have been such persons, do not conceive of the object of their worship as really God, but as a powerful malignant spirit. Once rise to the height of the conception of a Power absolutely supreme, omniscient, omnipresent, the Author of all things, and it is impossible to imagine him as less than perfectly good.
For the work of a man shall he render unto him. God "rewardeth every man according to his work" (Ps 62:13), renders to each one good or evil, according as his own deeds have been the one or the other. But this must be understood of the man's whole conduct, and God's entire treatment of him. Such an absolute rectitude of God's moral government, considered as a whole, is implied and involved in his absolute and perfect justice. And cause every man to find according to his ways. We "find according to our ways" when, having "ploughed iniquity, and sown wickedness, we reap the same" (Job 4:8), or when, on the other hand, having "sown in righteousness, we reap in mercy" (Hosea 10:12). Exact retribution is the law of God's rule; but the exactness cannot be seen, or tested, or demonstrated in this life. It will appear, however, and be recognized by all, at the consummation of all things.
Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment. Elihu is fond of rhetorical amplification, like most young speakers. Job 34:11, Job 34:12 contain nothing that is really additional to the statement in Job 34:10.
Who hath given him a charge over the earth? The argument seems to be that if God had "received a charge," and were in possession of a mere delegated authority, like the subordinate gods of heathen nations, he might have an interest apart from that of those whom he governs, and so be tempted to be unjust; but as he is the Author of all and the sole Ruler of all, his interest must be bound up with the true interests of his creatures, and cannot clash with them. He can thus never be unjust, since he can have no temptation to be unjust. Or who hath disposed the whole world? rather, Who hath laid upon him the whole world?. Elihu repeats the idea of the previous clause in other words.
If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit and his breath. Two renderings are proposed, both supported By about equal authority:
(1) "If he (i.e. God) set his heart upon himself, if he should gather to himself his own spirit, and breath," then all flesh would perish, etc.
(2) "If he [i.e. God] set his heart upon [or, 'against'] man, if he were to gather to himself man's spirit and man's breath," then, etc.
The difference is not great. God could, either by withdrawing from man the breath and spirit which he has given him, or simply by withholding from man the quickening and sustaining influences which he is perpetually putting forth, reduce all humankind to nothingness. Being so completely master of man, he would surely not condescend to treat him with injustice. Injustice implies something of opposition, struggle, rivalry.
All flesh shall perish together (comp. Psalms 104:29). Without God's sustaining hand, all creatures would fall back into nothingness. And man shall turn again unto dust. Either Elihu refers here to Genesis 3:19, or else he has a traditional knowledge of man's origin, handed down from a remote antiquity, which is in entire conformity with the Hebrew belief.
If now thou hast understanding, hear this. The appeal is not to Job, but to any wise and intelligent man among the many hearers who were present (see the comment on verses 1, 2). Hearken to the voice of my words (comp. verses 2, 10).
Shall even he that hateth right govern? Is it conceivable that there can be at the head of the universe, its Ruler and Guide, One who hates justice? The appeal is to the instinctive feeling that in the one God perfect goodness and omnipotence are united. Its spirit is exactly that of Abraham's question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (see Genesis 18:5). And wilt thou condemn him that is most just? rather, him that is both just and strong (see the Revised Version).
Is it fit to say to a king, Thou art wicked? and to princes, Ye are ungodly? Would any subject of an earthly king deem it fitting to accuse his sovereign of wicked and unjust conduct? Would he even tax those who stood next to the king—the princes and great officers of the court—with ungodliness? If a sense of what is becoming and seemly would restrain a man from the use of language of this sort towards his earthly ruler, can it be right that he should allow himself in such liberty or speech towards his heavenly King, his absolute Lord and Master? Job had not really used such language of God, though the complaints which he had made with respect to God's treatment of him might not unreasonably be held to imply some such accusation.
How much less to him that accepteth not the persons of princes! How much less becomingly is such language used of One so far above princes that he regards them as on a level with all other men, and pays them no special respect! Worldly rank is, of course, nothing with God. All mankind are his subjects and servants, whom he differentiates one from another solely by their moral and spiritual qualities. Nor regardeth the rich more than the poor. If earthly rank is of no account with God, much less is abundance of possessions. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus places his complete indifference in a strong light. For they all are the work of his hands. All classes of men, rich and poor, powerful and weak, are equally God's creatures, brought into the world by him, given by him their several stations, and regarded by him with favour or disfavour, according as they conduct themselves in their various occupations and employments.
In a moment shall they die. All lie under the same law of death—
"Pallida Mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas
(Horace,'Od.,' 1.4, 11. 13, 14.)
"In a moment," whenever God wills, they pass from life and disappear, the rich equally with the needy, the powerful prince as much as the outcast and the beggar. And the people shall be troubled at midnight, and pass away. (comp. Exodus 12:29; 2 Kings 19:35). Such sudden catastrophes are infrequent; but it is within the power of God to produce them at any time. When they occur, they strikingly exemplify the equality of his dealings with all classes of men, since none escape (Exodus 11:5; Exodus 12:29). And the mighty shall be taken away without hand; i.e. without human agency (comp. Daniel 2:34).
For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. Elihu proceeds to a fresh argument. The omniscience of God is a security against his acting unjustly. He knows exactly each man's powers, capacities, temperament, temptations, circumstances He can exactly me, sure each man's due, and will assuredly mete it out to each without partiality or prejudice.
There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13). However careful wicked men may be to conceal their misdeeds by "waiting for the twilight" (Job 24:15), or doing them "in the dark" (Job 24:16), they will find it quite impossible to escape the all-seeing eye of the Almighty, which is as clear-sighted in the deepest darkness as in the brightest light ("Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day; the darkness and light to thee are both alike," Psalms 139:11, Prayer-book Version).
For he will not lay upon man more than right; rather,for he needeth not further to consider a man (see the Revised Version). He has no need to consider any man's case twice; he sees it at the first glance, and judges it infallibly. That he should enter into judgment with God. Were it not so, a man might perhaps claim to have a second trial, and, pleading in his own defence, might "enter into judgment with God," or (according to others) "go before God in judgment;" but God's absolute omniscience precludes this.
He shall break in pieces mighty men without number; rather, in ways that are unsearchable, or in ways past finding out (see the Revised Version). And set others in their stead.
Therefore (i.e. to that end' or with that object in view) he knoweth (rather, taketh knowledge of) their works. As God governs the world, and governs it, to a large extent, by exalting some men and depressing others, he is bound to take strict account of their conduct, that he may exalt the worthy and depress the unworthy. And he overturneth them in the night (comp. Job 34:20). So that they are destroyed; literally, crushed. God's judgments fall on men suddenly, either "in the night," or as "In the night, i.e. suddenly, unexpectedly, when they are quite unprepared; and fall on them with "crushing" force, with a might that is wholly irresistible,
He striketh them as wicked men; i.e. as open and acknowledged malefactors. In the open sight of others; literally, in the place of beholders; i.e. publicly, openly, where their fate is an example to others.
Because they turned back from him (On the sin of "turning back," see 2 Kings 17:15, 2 Kings 17:16; Proverbs 26:11; 2 Peter 2:22.) And would not consider any of his ways (comp. Psalms 28:5; Isaiah 5:12). The folly and wickedness of such conduct is reproved by Solomon in the strongest terms, "Because I have called, and ye refused: I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Thou shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their Own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them" (Proverbs 1:24-32).
So that they cause the cry of the poor to come unto him. Elihu views the wicked man as almost certainly an oppressor, whose misdeeds "cause the cry of the poor to come before God," and provoke God, the Avenger of the poor and needy, to visit him with chastisement. And he heareth the cry of the afflicted (comp. Exodus 2:23, Exodus 2:24; Exodus 22:23, Exodus 22:24; Psalms 12:5, etc.) God's ears are ever open to the cry of the oppressed, and his hand is ever heavy upon those who "afflict" the weak and defenceless (Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 3:12-15; Amos 5:11, Amos 5:12; Micah 3:1-4; Habakkuk 1:13).
When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble? literally, Who then can condemn? The sentiment is the same as that of St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, "If God be for us, who can be against us?… Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?" (Romans 8:31-34). And when he hideth his face, who then can behold him? When God hideth away his face, then all flesh is troubled (Psalms 104:29); man shrinks into himself, and despairs of happiness; nature itself seems to fail and fade. None nan behold him when he hides himself; none can do more than deprecate his anger, and pray, "Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us" (Psalms 4:6). Whether it be done against a nation, or against a man only. The results are similar, whether God withdraws the light of his countenance from a nation or from an individual. In either case, there is no help from without; ruin and destruction follow.
That the hypocrite reign not, lest the people be ensnared; rather, that an ungodly man reign not, that a people be not a snare. (So Schultens, Professor Lee, and others.) The passage is obscure from its brevity; but this seems to be the best sense. God withdraws his favour from an ungodly king or from a wicked nation, that the king may cease to injure men by his rule, and the nation cease to be a snare to its neighbours.
Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement. (So Rosenmuller and others.) If the passage be thus rendered, Elihu must be considered as, like Eliphaz (Job 5:8), Bildad (Job 8:5), and Zophar (Job 11:13-15), counselling Job to submit himself to God, acknowledging his sin, accepting his punishment, and promising amendment for the future (verse 22). But perhaps it is better to regard the passage as interrogative, and Elihu as asking—What man, among those whom God has cast down and punished, has ever sought to deprecate his wrath by contrition, confession, and promise of amendment, implying that, had they done so, God would have relented and forgiven them? (see the Revised Version). In this case no direct counsel is offered to Job; but still an indirect hint is given him. I will not offend any more. This is preferable to the marginal rendering of the Revised Version, "though I have not offended."
That which I see not, teach thou me; i.e. "If in anything I fail to see thy will, teach thou it me. Make thy way plain before my face." If I have done iniquity, I will do no more. The hypothetical form seems to be preferred, as more acceptable to Job, who maintained his righteousness, than a positive confession of sin.
Should it be according to thy mind? he will recompense it. The two clauses should be taken together, and the translation should run, "Should God recompense" (i.e. make his awards) "according to thy pleasure'" or "as thou wiliest?" Elihu turns to Job and directly addresses him, "Can he expect that God will make his decrees—condemn and absolve men—just as Job thinks right?" Whether thou refuse; rather, since thou refusest them. Job had refused to acknowledge the justice of God's awards and decisions. Or whether thou choose; and not I; rather, but thou must choose, and not I. It is Job who must determine how he will act. Elihu, a friend, can only point out and recommend a course, as he had done in verses 31, 32. It is for Job himself to determine what course he will take. Therefore speak what thou knowest; i.e. "Say what thou hast determined on."
Let men of understanding tell me, and let a wise man hearken unto me. As Job does not answer him, Elihu turns to his "men of understanding" (supra, verses 2, 10). He feels sure that he will at least have carried them with him, and that they will join in the condemnation of Job's words as wanting in true wisdom. "Men of understanding," he says, "will say unto me, yea, every wise man that heareth me will say, Job speaketh without knowledge," etc. (see the Revised Version).
Job hath spoken without knowledge, and his words were without wisdom; literally, not in wisdom. The words intended are, of course, those in which Job has seemed to tax God with injustice (see the comment on verse 9).
My desire is that Job may be tried unto the end; literally, Would that Job were tested to the uttermost!—"tested'" i.e; as gold is tested, by the touchstone, and "to the uttermost," so that there should be no doubt as to the result. Elihu had his wish. Job was tried as severely as possible, and the issue was pronounced by God himself. "Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath" (Job 42:8, Revised Version). Because of his answers for wicked men; rather, after the manner of wicked men (comp. above, verses 5, 6, 9.). This was the view which Elihu took of Job's rash words.
For he addeth rebellion unto his sin. Elihu holds that it is Job's "sin" which has brought on him his chastisement, and regards his expostulations and complaints as flagrant "rebellion" against the Most High. He clappeth his hands among us; i.e. he applauds himself, approves of his own conduct, and, instead of repenting, makes a boast of it. And multiplieth his words against God. Job had continued to the last (Job 31:1-40.) to justify himself and protest his integrity; which, in the view of Elihu, was to tax God with injustice.
Elihu to the bystanders: the case of Job tried.
I. THE COURT CONSTITUTED.
1. The panel. Job, a good man, a great sufferer, sorely calumniated deeply perplexed, involved in doubt and darkness, and guilty of much presumption.
2. The judges. Either the three friends ironically addressed as "wise men," or the bystanders, among whom were doubtless many possessed of sound wisdom and discretions" wise" and "knowing ones" (verse 2), "men of understanding," literally, "men of heart," i.e. persons of intelligence and ripe experience, capable of forming a judgment upon so high a matter as that about to be submitted to them.
3. The prosecutor. Elihu. Details of his personality have been given in Job 32:2. A young Arabian prophet claiming to speak under a Divine impulse, end introduced for the purpose of delivering a preliminary verdict upon Job's case, with a view to preparing Job for the subsequent theophany of Jehovah (Job 38:1).
4. The address. Elihu invites the court of jurymen to attend to the details of the case, as he should present it for their consideration, to use discrimination in sifting what the ear heard, so as to separate the essential from the accidental, the important from the unimportant, the pertinent from the irrelevant, the ear being endowed with a faculty of trying words as the palate is with a capacity for tasting meats (verse 3), and, in the exercise of a sound judgment, to resolve upon arriving at the truth (verse 4). What are here commended to the listeners and spectators beside the "ash-heap" as indispensable qualifications for judging the case of Job aright, viz. attention, discrimination, and probation, are needful for all inquirers after truth, and are specially enjoined upon believing students of the Word of God, who are commanded not only, like the Beroeans, "to receive the Word with all readiness of mind," and "to search the Scriptures daily" (Acts 17:11), but, like the Thessalonians, to "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
II. THE INDICTMENT PREFERRED.
1. That Job had declared himself to be righteous. Elihu doubtless alludes to those passages in which Job had asserted his innocence as against the baseless aspersions of his friends (Job 9:17, Job 9:21; Job 10:7; Job 13:18; Job 16:17). Though true in the sense that Job was guiltless of flagrant wickedness, yet in the judgment of Elihu such vehement protestations of stainless integrity as had fallen from his lips were hardly becoming in a sinful creature (vide Job 32:2, homiletics).
2. That Job charged God with injustice. Again Elihu faithfully reports what he regards as the substance of Job's contention, that he would be guilty of falsehood and hypocrisy were he to admit the correctness of his friends' allegations (Job 27:4); that the seemingly incurable malady which had overtaken him (God's arrow, as in Job 6:4; Job 16:9; Job 19:11) had come upon him although he was "without transgression" (Job 10:17), and that consequently God had taken away his right (Job 27:2), which he supposes to mean, had denied him justice and treated him as a criminal, while in reality he was innocent.
3. That Job had indulged in blasphemy. In charging Job with "drinking up scorning like water," i.e. uttering blasphemous censures against God, Elihu, it has been said (Canon Cook), "goes now for the first time far beyond the truth," since "Job's words" of fierce and bitter remonstrance "were wrung from him by agony, and by the taunts of his unfriendly counsellors," while "his scorn was altogether directed against them, not, as Elihu seems to assume, against God." But it may be questioned whether this is not an illustration of forgetting to act upon Elihu's canon, "Let us choose to us judgment: let us know among ourselves what is fight." Excusable as was the scornful contempt Job hurled against the friends, it is impossible to recall the wild, passionate, often reckless and unreasonable appeals and expostulations he addressed to God without agreeing with Elihu that at such moments he did overstep the limits of a just and holy moderation, and came perilously near, if he did not actually touch, the bounds of an impious and blasphemous irreverence. "We cannot but feel that he often pushed his inferences against the Divine justice and providence much too far, as indeed he himself confessed he had when at last he saw Jehovah face to face" (Cox).
4. That Job had adopted the sentiments and maxims of the ungodly. Without explicitly asserting that Job had himself been a ribald and profane jester at holy things, Elihu affirms that by maintaining that "it profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God" (verse 9), Job had practically gone over to the side of the irreligious. Though nowhere is the above declaration stated in so many words, it is by no means an unnatural inference from Job's words (Job 9:22; Job 21:7; Job 24:1; Job 30:26). A reasoner is not unfairly held responsible for what may be deduced by just and necessary consequence from his premises, even though he himself should tail to perceive, or, perceiving, should not mean, what these premisses involve. Now, Job had relatedly insisted on the apparently anomalous distribution of good and evil among mankind; and while, as an answer to the friends, that was perfectly legitimate, it was possible to so exhibit that perplexing circumstance as to make it carry the conclusion that the supreme Governor of the universe was indifferent to the characters of his subject intelligences, and that a good man derived no advantage from his piety, while a wicked man suffered no disadvantage in consequence of his irreligion. This, in the judgment of Elihu, Job had done, and against this Elihu proceeded to protest.
III. THE COUNTER-PROPOSITION STATED. The position taken by Elihu was the negative of Job's, viz. that the perpetration of wrong against any of his creatures was on the part of God simply impossible, that with him such a thing as perversion of judgment was inconceivable, and that, when rightly comprehended, the principle of the Divine administration was one of absolute equity. The three friends maintained, not only that such was the principle of the Divine administration, but that its operation was always visible. Job contended that the operation of such a principle was not always visible in God's dealings with mankind, and hence Job sometimes doubted whether that was the principle on which the universe was governed, though in his inmost soul he felt that it ought to be. Elihu affirms that, whether visible or not to human intelligence and in particular cases, such and no other was the law or rule of the Divine procedure.
IV. THE NEEDFUL DEMONSTRATION OFFERED.
1. The absolute supremacy of God. (Verses 13-15.) The argument has three points.
(1) God governs the world with no delegated authority. No one hath given him a charge over the whole earth, or committed to him, as to a satrap or underling, the viceroyalty of the globe (verse 13). On the contrary, he rules with a right that is essential and underived, indisputable and irresponsible.
(2) God governs the world with no insufficient power. Were God selfishly to fix his attention on himself alone (Grotius, Eichhorn, Delitzsch, Umbreit, Carey, Cook, Cox), rather than on man, regarding him as an enemy (Vulgate, Targums, De Wette, Rosenmuller), and in consequence to gather unto himself his Spirit and his breath, by which all living creatures are sustained (Job 12:9, Job 12:10), the result would be the complete extinction of all animated being on the face of earth (verse 15). The meaning is that God has all creatures so entirely in his hand that they are nothing, and can do nothing except in so far as they are upheld by him. Hence
(3) God governs the world for no selfish end. If he did, he could easily dispose of a rebel universe by reducing it to dust or consigning it to annihilation. That he does not is proof that he regards not himself alone, or, in other words, that he is impelled by considerations of unselfish love for man. And this being so, it is manifestly impossible that God can inflict injustice on a creature whom he loves.
2. The immaculate purity of God. (Verse 17.) Elihu's argument amounts to this: that the necessary basis of all government is right—integrity in the Person and equity in the Law of the Ruler; that without this every administration, human or Divine, would fall into anarchy and confusion; and that, consequently, unless these conditions were supplied by the supreme Governor of mankind, the administration he conducted would sooner or later be overwhelmed in ruin. If it be true that the stability of any government depends ultimately upon the righteous character of its rulers and the equitable nature of its laws, much more must the moral administration of the universe be founded on the immaculate holiness of God and the unchangeable justice of his laws.
3. The strict impartiality of God. According to Elihu it is little short of lese-majesty, or high treason, for a subject to accuse either kings or princes of corruption (Exodus 22:28), thereby denying them the first and most indispensable qualification of a ruler.
"The king-becoming graces
Are justice, verity, temperance, stableness."
And "he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God ' (2 Samuel 23:3). What, then, must it be to impeach him who "accepteth not the persons of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor?" (verse 19). Respect of persons, a common enough failing even with good people (Deuteronomy 1:17; Deuteronomy 16:19; James 2:1, James 2:9), is impossible with God (2 Samuel 14:14; Acts 10:34; 1 Peter 1:17), whose impartiality towards men is based on the consideration that they are all alike "the work of his hands" (verse 19), therefore all alike possessed of the same essential dignity, amenable to the same high authority, and entitled to be cared for by the same paternal government. And as It is based on the fundamental equality of men in the sight of Heaven, so is it proved by the palpable fact that all alike are subjected to the same impartial doom (verse 20); great and mighty potentates dying in a moment, like Belshazzar (Daniel 5:30) or like Pharaoh (Exodus 14:28), or, being taken away without hand (cf. Daniel 2:34; Daniel 8:25), i.e. by some supernatural visitation, like the rebellious princes of the congregation (Numbers 16:29) or like Herod (Acts 12:23), and their peoples being troubled at midnight, like the Egyptians (Exodus 12:29), or soddenly and unexpectedly overthrown, like the antediluvians (Genesis 7:22) and the inhabitants of the cities of the plain (Genesis 19:24, Genesis 19:25).
4. The all-encompassing omniscience of God. (Verse 21.) The eyes of the Supreme are constantly on the ways of man. There is no darkness nor shadow of death where workers of iniquity can hide themselves from his penetrating glance. With such accuracy can he read the human heart, that he does not require to regard a man twice in order to understand his character and conversation. He has no need to pause before bringing the individual into judgment. Job's demand that God should hold a court of assizes and put his case to trial was wholly superfluous. So thoroughly does God comprehend man by the glance of his omniscient eye that he can proceed to break the mighty without investigation, making short work of their trial, and setting others in their stead (verse 24). Clearly, reasons Elihu, a God who thus exactly and fully comprehends every case that is brought before him is not likely to be guilty of committing wickedness by perverting judgment.
5. The unchallengeable righteousness of God. (Verses 24-30.) Elihu means that the absolute integrity of God may be established by a consideration of the character of his judgments, which are:
(1) Sudden. "He overturneth the wicked in the night" (verse 25); i.e. instantaneously and unexpectedly, which, of course, he would not and could not do unless he were completely satisfied with the righteous character of his judgments. But "he knoweth their works" without investigation, in virtue of his omniscience; and hence he does not hesitate, as if fearing miscarriage of justice, to proceed to swift execution.
(2) Public. "He striketh them as wicked men"—i.e. as convicted malefactors, about whose criminality there can be no question—"in the open sight of others," literally, "in the place of spectators." "He that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." But God, whose works are all of them verity and judgment, and done in truth and uprightness (Psalms 111:7, Psalms 111:8), has no need to shun observation or be afraid of criticism. Hence he never does resort to star-chambers or secret inquisitions, but courts the greatest possible publicity for all he does.
(3) Retributive. When God steps out of his place to inflict sufferings on men, it is never for the gratification of any private feeling of revenge, never in the reckless exercise of merely arbitrary power, but always for the vindication of insulted justice, always for the punishment of some outrageous display of wickedness. When mighty tyrants are struck down in the open sight of others, it will generally be found, says Elihu, that it has been "because they turned back from him, and would not consider any of his ways," but proceeded to such a height of daring impiety, oppressing and trampling on the poor, that they "caused the cry of the poor to come unto him," and in a manner obliged him to hear the cry of the afflicted (verse 28). Examined into, every such case will be found in its most essential features to be in complete accord with the eternal fitness of things.
(4) Unimpeachable. They are so evidently right, so self-justifying, in fact, that no one can venture to assail them on the ground of inequity. "When he giveth quietness"—i.e. maketh peace by striking down the oppressor of the poor (Delitzsch, Gesenius, Carey), rather than "when he striketh to the earth" (Umbreit)—"who then will condemn him?" or "who then will make a noise?" as if he had perpetrated an injustice. And vice versa, "when he hideth his face," in the sense of being angry with and punishing an individual or a nation (Psalms 30:8; Psalms 104:29), "who then can behold him, i.e. make him visible, and cause him to restore his favour, as if by withdrawing his regard he had been guilty of doing wrong? The universal conscience feels, says Elihu, that the Almighty in so acting is acting rightly.
(5) Beneficent. And not only so, but God's judgments evince the most benevolent and philanthropic design, being dictated by a lofty regard for the general welfare of mankind, to the end that "the hypocrite'[literally, 'the ungodly,' such as lead others to impiety] reign not, that they be not snares to the people" (verse 30), as wicked rulers commonly are; e.g. Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28), Omri (1 Kings 16:25, 1 Kings 16:26), Ahab (1 Kings 16:31), Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:2), and other monarchs both of Israel and of Judah. It is a special mercy to a people when God cuts short the lives of wicked kings.
V. THE COUNSEL GIVEN. To adopt the model confession next recited (verses 31, 32), in which are three things worthy of consideration.
1. A humble submission to God's chastisements. "Surely it is meet to be said unto God; I have borne!" (sc. chastisement). Resignation in affliction is the duty of all (Proverbs 3:11); it is specially incumbent on God's people (Luke 21:19), indispensable as a condition of returning favour (Leviticus 26:40 Leviticus 26:42), and one of the surest signs of a truly penitent heart (Jeremiah 31:18). Nothing enables one to manifest genuine resignation like the clear recognition of God's hand in affliction (Mic 6:9; 1 Samuel 3:18; James 4:7), and of the true design of affliction to chastise rather than punish (Hebrews 12:5; Psalms 119:75). Resignation in affliction and submission to Divine chastisement were exemplified by Aaron (Le Job 10:3), the children of Israel (Judges 10:15), Eli (1 Samuel 3:18), David (2 Samuel 15:26), Job (Job 1:21; Job 2:10), Micah 7:9. St. Paul (Acts 21:14).
2. A hearty promise of amendment. "I will not offend any more" (verse 31); "If I have done iniquity, I will do no more" (verse 32). Such a promise distinctly involved the confession that one had offended; and without confession there can be no forgiveness (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9), as, on the other hand, without amendment there is no evidence that confession is sincere (Job 22:23; Isaiah 1:16; Ezekiel 14:6; Hosea 14:8).
3. An earnest desire after Divine instruction. "That which I see not teach thou me" (verse 32). Converted souls are always more or less deeply sensible of their ignorance, especially in regard to spiritual things, as e.g. the wickedness of their own hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), the subtlety of sin (Psalms 19:12), the specific purposes of providential dispensations (John 13:7), the right path of holy living (Jeremiah 10:23); and with reference to all these and many other points they are ever ready to receive heavenly enlightenment, saying, "Teach me to know thy way" (Psalms 27:11), and "to do thy will" (Psalms 143:10).
VI. THE APPLICATION MADE.
1. An appeal to Job.
(1) A question. "Shall he"—i.e. God—"recompense it ' (so. man's wickedness, and actions generally) "according to thy mind?" i.e. shall God adopt a mode of government or principle of administration to please thee?
(2) A reason. "For thou hast found fault" (Delitzsch); "For thou hast despised" (sc. his judgments) (Cook). That is, Job had expressed dissatisfaction with God's dispensations. Whence the obvious inference arose that Job deemed these dispensations should have been framed according to his ideas.
(3) A duty. "So that thou hast to choose, and not I," meaning that in the circumstances Job had better make up his mind about that better plan of government for the world than God's, and publish it as soon as possible: "And what thou knowest speak out."
2. An address to the bystanders. Finding Job silent, Elihu turns to the listeners and spectators, whom he dexterously salutes as "men of understanding' and "wise ones," asking them to say whether it is not the case that they agree with him in the verdict, "Job speaketh without knowledge, and his words are without wisdom" (verses 34, 35). A severe verdict, whether the audience appealed to endorsed it or not! Yet Jehovah afterwards affirmed its truth (Job 38:2). And surely it is an index of folly for puny man, as Job did, to sit in judgment on God.
3. A declaration by Elihu.
(1) Elihu's desire. That Job's trial might be further continued, which may signify either that Job's sentiments might be more thoroughly examined, or that Job's afflictions might be further prolonged—the first, a wish becoming a genuine seeker after and an earnest preacher of the truth; and the second, though seemingly harsh, yet not necessarily unkind or inconsistent with the obligations and claims of friendship.
(2) Elihu's reason. Generally, that Job's affliction had not yet produced that beneficial effect upon him for which it was intended. Particularly, that
(a) his sentiments were irreligious—"his answers were "after the manner of evil men;"
(b) his wickedness was great—"he addeth rebellion," or the most aggravated form of transgression, "that of blasphemous speeches" (Delitzsch), "unto sin," i.e. his unconscious and unintentional errors;
(c) his scorn was conspicuous—" among us he clappeth" (se. his hands), expressive of triumphant contempt, showing that "though victorious in the argument," he was "not yet humbled in spirit" (Robinson); and
(d) his irreverence was extreme—he "multiplieth his words against God," "carrying himself as victor, not only over men, but also over God" (Robinson).
1. That good men, in pronouncing judgment upon their fellows, should proceed with the utmost care and caution.
2. That God's people should be studious in giving utterance to words calculated to leave wrong impressions in the minds of hearers.
3. That saints may sometimes be mistaken for sinners because of the indiscreetness of their talk.
4. That the justice of God is a fundamental maxim in all sound theology.
5. That equally the unselfishness (or graciousness) of God must in every adequate conception of his character stand correlative with his justice.
6. That the God of the Bible is the only Deity possessed of qualifications adequate for the government of the world, not to say the universe.
7. That God's judgments, as exhibited in his providential government of the earth, are admirably fitted to teach man righteousness.
8. That God is profoundly interested in the welfare of nations and communities as well as of private persons.
9. That the Divine administration is ever carried on in the interests of holiness.
10. That the true attitude of man in presence of the Divine government is meek and cheerful submission.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Elihu's second discourse: man has no right to doubt of God's fustier.
I. CENSURE OF JOB'S DOUBTS. (Job 34:1-9.) In silence Job has listened to the reproof of his friend, and has apparently taken to heart the lesson that in justifiable self-defence we may carry our protests beyond the true boundary, and exaggerate our innocence while rejecting false imputations. Elihu therefore rises again, and proceeds with his second reproof. Job has represented God as a cruel, unjust persecutor of his innocence. He doubts then of the justice of the world-ruling dominion of God. To the refutation of this position the present discourse is directed. Elihu appeals to the common sense of men, to the unbiassed wisdom of experience. The ear has a power of trying words, the mind has a faculty of judgment and taste, analogous to that of the body, whereby we discriminate the false from the true, and the good from the evil, This, indeed, must be the last appeal in every controversy whether on Divine or human things. A written word, a positive revelation, is always open to diverse interpretations; and this makes it the more necessary to ascertain the broad dictates of conscience and of the common judgment, with which every true revelation agrees. The question now is—Does this common religious sense condemn the utterances and the attitude of Job or not? He has asserted, "I am innocent, and yet God has denied me justice, has taken away my right. In spite of the fact that right is on my side, I shall be a liar if I maintain it. The wound caused by the shaft of God's wrath is incurable." This, according to the speaker, was the effect of Job's language. He indignantly repels it. Borrowing an expression from Eliphaz (Job 15:16), he denounces Job as one who drinks scoffing like water; and by these blasphemies associates himself with the wicked. Job denies, according to the speaker, that there is any profit or use in piety—in living in friendship with God. He had never said this in so many words; but the sense of much that he had said resembled this (Job 9:22, Job 9:23; Job 21:7, Job 21:8; Job 24:1, sqq.). Such expressions seemed to deny the very foundation of religion. Job was turning against the light within. And though he had several times censured and half recalled his own words, the offence had nevertheless been repeated.
II. PROOFS OF THE DIVINE JUSTICE. (Verses 10-30.)
1. From the creative goodness of God. (Verses 10-15.) The point is to show that God is incapable of doing wrong, of perverting justice and right in his dealings with men; to show that he rewards men according to their works, gives them the proper fruit of their sowing, causes the life-path they choose to conduct to the happy or unhappy issue, according to the rightness of their choice or otherwise. He sets before them blessing and cursing; and the responsibility of the result is theirs alone. But how may we have the conviction that all this is so? The answer is by showing that the works of God exclude the thought of selfishness; and selfishness alone can explain the perversion of right. We cannot conceive of self-seeking in God. None entrusted to him the charge of the earth; none but he has founded the circle of the earth. As first and absolute Cause, all things am his; there is no division of power, profit, or glory. Ambition, greed, jealousy—every passion that tempts men to wrong their fellows—is shut out of the very idea of God. He is ever pouring forth out of the fulness of his life and blessedness upon his creatures—the very opposite action to that of selfishness, which draws as much as possible into itself of good, and parts with as little as possible. Only suppose for a moment that God were to become a self-absorbed Being, "directing his heart only to himself, taking in his spirit and breaths" instead of giving it forth, universal death must at once ensue; men must perish, returning to the dust. The very impossibility of such a supposition shows the impossibility of ascribing self-seeking and self-love to God. He is the Eternal Father; and as the pure parent's love has the least alloy of self in it of any earthly love, we are to take this as the type of the nature of God. These are sublime and inspiring thoughts. God cannot injure man, or do wrong, because he would thus injure himself and sully his own glory. No one can consciously betray or wrong himself. All that we call wrong-doing implies that man has his equals as free beings by his side, and disposes of the property of others. This is impossible with God, because all things belong to him, being the product of his loving activity, his self-giving fulness of life.
2. From the idea of God as the supreme Ruler. (Verses 16-30.) As the Governor of the world, he cannot be unjust, because government can only be maintained by constant and equal righteousness, and must be destroyed by the lack of it. God is at once the Just and the Mighty, because he could not exercise the one quality without the other. Experience, the great teacher, shows this by the constant course of events.
III. CONCLUSION. THE FOLLY AND CONTRADICTORY NATURE OF JOB'S ACCUSATIONS AGAINST GOD. (Verses 31-37.) A reluctant confession is introduced, as if uttered by Job: "I am chastised, without doing evil; what I see not, that do thou show me! If I do wrong, I wilt do so no more!" (verses 31, 32.) He seems to say that he will repent provided only wrong be pointed out (comp. Job 7:20; Job 19:4). But, asks Elihu, shall God pass unpunished thy discontented complaint against his mode of retribution, and adopt a mode that is agreeable to thy mind? Are the laws of the Divine government to be dictated by individual wishes or notions of what is right? Is man to choose, and not God, the way in which he is to be rewarded or punished?. And say, then, what is the true retribution? Speak! But this direct appeal must convince the murmurer of his inability to suggest a better method of administering the world. God's ways may not be clear to us in many particulars; but we should recollect, as Bishop Butler teaches, that we See only "parts of a scheme imperfectly understood." Were all known, doubt and distress would cease. In conclusion, the speaker sums up his meaning in the words of the men of understanding to whose judgment he appeals, condemning the want of true insight in the words of Job, and expressing the hope that he may be further tried, because of his replies "in the manner of the reprobate," because he adds insult to sin, adopts the tone of the scoffer, and multiplies words against God. Whether this view of Job's state of mind be right or wrong, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.'' Blessed he who can exclaim, amidst sufferings which he cannot but feel to he dissociated from guilt, "Search me, O God, and try me; prove me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The righteousness of the Divine dealings.
Elihu's words continue. His accusation against Job is that he saith, "I am righteous." He "addeth rebellion unto his sin" (verse 37). And in his own self-justification he casts a shadow upon the Divine procedure. "He multiplieth his words against God ' (verse 37). Such is Elihu's contention. He says Job declares," God hath taken away my judgment." To defend the Divine work and so bring Job to acknowledge his sin is the purpose of Elihu. He here declares the righteousness of the Divine dealings. "Far be it from God to do wickedness." The righteousness of God's ways is seen—
I. IN HIS ABSOLUTE IMPARTIALITY TOWARDS MAN. "He accepteth not the person of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor." Truly there is no respect of persons with God. "The work of a man shall he render to him n (verse 11), be it good or evil.
II. IN THE PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE DIVINE NAME is to be found the utmost pledge of justness. "Surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment" (verse 12). "For he will not lay upon man more than right" (verse 23). This is further illustrated—
III. IN THE SELF-IMPOSED GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. "Who hath given him a charge over the earth?" If he please he can "gather unto himself his spirit and his breath." Then would "all flesh perish together, and man would turn again to dust." He has no temptation to depart from right in his dealings with men, since all are entirely in his hand. But a further and striking evidence of the righteousness of the Divine ways is seen—
IV. IN THE JUDGMENT UPON THE UNGODLY, The evil ones "he striketh as wicked men in the open sight of others' (verse 26). Elihu finds a further confirmation of this—
V. IN THE EFFECTUAL PURPOSES OF THE DIVINE BENIGNITY. "When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?" etc. (verse 29). All this is done "that the hypocrite reign not." From all this he would lead Job to confession. "If I have done iniquity, I will do no more." So must the purpose of the righteous ways of God be to lead:
1. To consciousness of evil.
2. To confession of known wrong.
3. To amendment of life.
4. To patience under Divine afflictions.
This Elihu teaches, though he knows not yet the purpose of Job's suffering.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The test of truth.
I. IT IS LEFT FOR MAN TO TEST TRUTH. There is no unmistakable oracle. In the multitude of voices we have to discover which is the cry of truth, which that of error. We know the voice of God, not because we are assured beforehand that it is he and he only who will speak to us, but because we detect the heavenly utterance in contrast with the many syren-songs that would fain allure us to destruction, detect it by its own tones, and not merely because of any authority that assures it to us. The Church may claim to guide us in this important quest; but the Church consists of human members, who have to use those faculties which God has given them, although no doubt the Church is aided with the presence of the Holy Spirit in her midst. So when individual men seek for truth, God's Spirit is for them a Light and Guide. Still, the search must be made; words must be tried and sifted.
1. This is a warning against credulity. Many voices claim our attention. Let us be careful that we are not deceived.
2. This is a stimulus to thought. We are not to be like the dull earth that gives growth to whatever seeds fall into it—ugly weeds as much as beautiful flowers, poisonous plants as well as fruitful crops. We have an independent capacity to sift and winnow, choose and reject. Therefore let us use our minds.
3. This is for the cultivation of our souls. The very effort of testing truth contributes to mental and spiritual growth. When we hold it after testing it, the truth is more real to us than if we had received it without an effort.
4. This should drive us to prayer. How shall we distinguish between the many specious voices? Our unaided faculties are likely to err. Therefore let us seek light from above, not to supersede our own powers, but to strengthen and illuminate them.
II. THE TEST OF TRUTH IS LIKE THE TASTE OF FOOD.
1. It is natural. God has given us a natural sense of taste by which to discriminate between what is wholesome and what is noxious in our food, and he has implanted in us a similar faculty of mental and spiritual discernment.
2. It should be trained. In some respects the natural appetite is not a safe guide. The child may delight in sweet but unwholesome delicacies. Some poisons are not distasteful. Therefore the mere perception of agreeableness is not sufficient. Some very pleasant because flattering ideas are very false and hurtful. What is "just to our taste" may be neither true nor good for us. To select favourite ideas is not to obtain certain truths. We have to train the truth-testing faculty to recognize sterling worth in what is not attractive, and to reject meretricious charms.
3. It may be corrupted. The appetite may be vitiated. An unhealthy liking for unwholesome food may be engendered by practice; good, wholesome food may seem disgusting to one who is in a bad state of health. Corrupt thoughts and feelings lead to a degeneration of the truth-testing faculty. Even the natural sense for truth is blunted. The needle ceases to point to the north. The chemical reagent is impure, and so it fails to act as a test. The false and impure soul chooses lies and rejects truth.
4. It needs correction. After all, the test of truth is not like a bodily sense. It is not immediate. It involves reflection. But, in order that the reflection may be true and sound, the whole spiritual nature needs to be pure and simple and healthy. It is dangerous to rely too much on our private faculty of testing truth. Our only safety is in keeping close to Christ, who is the Truth, and to Christ's Church. which he bade us "hear" (Matthew 18:17).—W.F.A.
The certain justice of God.
Job appeared to have arraigned the Divine justice. Elihu emphatically asserts its absolute perfection. Whatever else we may fail to see, one landmark must not be lost sight of. God is perfectly free from all evil. We may not understand his ways of action, but most assuredly he is acting justly.
I. THE GROUNDS OF FAITH IN THE CERTAIN JUSTICE OF GOD. Why can we thus dogmatically assert that God is perfectly just? Notice three grounds of assurance.
1. The essential character of God. We understand the very idea of God to involve justice. He would not be God if he ceased to be just. Now, his absolute justice is like his infinite power. There is no reason for limiting it. If either attribute exists at all, it is most natural to suppose that it exists in perfection. There is nothing to limit God. God is too great to be tempted to be unjust.
2. The revealed character of God. All through the Bible the justice of God is asserted and reasserted. Those men who knew God best affirmed most clearly that he was just.
3. The tried character of God. We know God in life. We may not be always able to assure ourselves of the justice of what God does while he is doing it. Then it may look dark and dreadful. But how often have we found, on looking back on the most gloomy tracts of life, that the clouds have passed, and the justice of God has been made clear as the noonday!
II. THE TRIAL OF FAITH IN THE CERTAIN JUSTICE OF GOD. To each individual man the fact of God's justice must be a matter to be taken on faith. That is to say, though there is good evidence for it, we cannot see how it obtains in our own personal circumstances. This is to be expected, however, and may be accounted for by various causes.
1. Partial views. We cannot see the whole pattern at which God is working, and therefore the crossing threads often seem to us confusing and wrongly placed.
2. Perverted ideas. We judge of God by our own standard. But that standard may have been warped. Then what is straight in God looks crooked to us, simply because our rule is crooked.
3. Trial of faith. There is a reason in God's providential government why he should permit us to be in the dark as to the meaning and purpose of some of his actions. He wishes to lead us to trust him. If we could see all, faith would have no scope, no exercise, and therefore no development. It would perish for want of use.
III. THE EXERCISE OF FAITH IN THE CERTAIN JUSTICE OF GOD.
1. In our own lives. Here we are called upon to walk by faith. When the way is hard and painful, let us call to mind the truth that God is doing well with us, though we cannot see how.
2. In history. Nations are led by the King of kings. Through strange revolutions he is bringing about his righteous will. If we could believe this, we should view the dark and threatening aspect of the world without dismay.
3. In nature. Here, too, God is acting for the good of the whole, and in justice to each. The fierce strife of nature looks cruel. But peace! God is just.
4. In redemption. Here God shows himself both a just God and a Saviour, upholding righteousness while he has pity on sinners.—W.F.A.
The peace of God.
I. PEACE IS A BLESSING OF THE HIGHEST VALUE. There is a quietness of death; the defeated are stilled; lethargy and inertness are quiet. And there is no blessedness in these things. True peace is alive, watchful, full of power and faculty, yet calm. The peace which our souls crave is inward restfulness. This may be found with much external activity, with much life and thought within also, but without confusion or tumult. The activity is harmonious. It is possible for peace to coexist with many sorrows. Peace is deeper than pain. When it dwells within it gives a strength as well as a sense of satisfaction, so that suffering which otherwise would seem intolerable becomes quite bearable, though it can never cease to be distressful. The deepest desire is not for joy; it is
. Now he seems to turn round on this principle and repudiate it. Yet he is not inconsistent, for there must be limits to private judgment. We cannot sit in judgment on Providence. Let us, then, consider in what respect the decision as to truth is to be removed from the court of our own reason and judgment. What are the limits to private judgment? We may consider these from two points of view—from that of our own imperfection, and from that of God's greatness.
I. THE LIMITS THAT RESULT FROM OUR OWN IMPERFECTION.
1. Ignorance. The best judge cannot decide aright till all the facts are laid before him. We know but a few of the circumstances that determine the action of Providence; and we do not know the laws and principles that have to be applied.
2. Prejudice. We are not impartial judges; our justice is not blindfold; our scales are not even. Pride, self-interest, and passion blind our eyes and warp our judgment.
3. Sin. This is worse than prejudice; it is a directly deceiving influence. It leads us to ignore moral distinctions, and even to call evil good. We are unjust judges concerning truth when we are the enemies of the highest truth and justice.
4. Natural weakness. Apart from all these defective conditions, there are natural conditions that limit our powers of judgment. With all possible enlightenment and moral rectification we should still remain human, i.e. we should still be creatures of very small capacity in regard to the great problems of the universe. These problems are too high for us; we cannot attain unto them. They baffle thought.
II. THE LIMITS THAT RESULT FROM THE GREATNESS OF GOD. Our imperfection limits us in judging all questions; but more especially does it limit us in estimating the action of God. The special idea of Elihu is that we cannot judge of God's providential dealings with us. The three friends were wrong in their defence of it—as Job said, "speaking wickedly for God; ' and Job was wrong in thinking hardly of it. For neither party was in a position to decide about it. We cannot choose our own course in the world wisely, much less can we decide how God shall act. The greatness of God and of his works far exceeds the range of our view.
1. Supreme wisdom. Ideas quite above our comprehension rule in the purposes of God.
2. Large designs. God is not confined to the consideration of a single individual or a little circle; he administers a universe. Therefore his schemes and purposes must far exceed our view in the extent of their range as well as in the character of their aim.
3. Perfect goodness. God must decide aright, for in him is no evil. His holiness and love should make us feel that we dare not sit in judgment on his actions. If they are dark to us, they are so from excess of light.—W.F.A.
The completion of trial.
Elihu wishes Job to be "tried unto the end." His desire strikes us as cruel. Yet, perhaps unknown to himself, great good may come out of the fulfilment of it.
I. THERE IS AN END OF TRIAL. As we look down the long vista of troubles we can see no terminus; it seems to run on for ever into the darkness. But whatever may be the appearance, the reality is not everlasting. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Never was night more long. Its slow hours drag on wearily; yet they must pass, and day must come in God's good time. The long life of trouble will end at last in the peace of the grave. But many earthly troubles pass like stormy noons, and there is "light at eventide."
II. A GOOD USE OF TRIAL MAY HASTEN THE END OF IT. So long as we fret against it God may find it necessary to keep it with us. If we are slow in learning our lesson we must be kept long at school. But when the lesson is learnt the school may be broken up.
III. THE COMPLETION OF TRIAL IS SEEN IN ITS FRUITS The fire has not done its work if the dross has not been separated from the metal. Only when the crucible shows the required chemical change is the test complete. Therefore we should be watching for results. Great troubles are wasted on men who will not submit to them, so that they may bear their de. signed fruits in patience, humility, contrition, amendment, etc.
IV. WE CANNOT JUDGE OF TRIAL TILL WE HAVE SEEN THE END OF IT. We have to read to the end of the story of Job before we can discover for what he is being led through the deep waters. The rounded life shows the place and purpose of its several episodes, but those episodes by themselves look fragmentary and meaningless. Therefore we have to "wait for the end." When this arrives many a riddle will be solved, many a hard experience will be explained, many a black cloud will be glorified into golden splendour.
V. GOD MAY DISPENSE WITH THE NATURAL COMPLETION OF TRIAL. Trouble is not like a tunnel, from which there is no exit except at its ends. It is a burden which may be lifted whenever God sees fit. The object of trial may be obtained by other means, and it is possible that gentler methods may bring about the same results. Thus God leads to repentance by his goodness as well as by purgatorial afflictions. Therefore we should not live as though some iron fate held us to a certain amount of trial. God is a living Spirit and a loving Father; and he will nut permit his children to suffer, when peaceable methods of discipline will do the desired work for them. Our part is to take patiently what God sends, and to use it profitably, trusting God to cut short the trouble or lengthen it as he sees best.—W.F.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 34". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13