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The two chapters, Job 36:1-33; Job 37:1-24, form a single discourse, and ought not to have been separated; or, at any rate, not so unskilfully as they are, in the middle of a description of a thunderstorm. They constitute a final appeal to Job, who is exhorted to submission, resignation, and patience, in consideration of God's inscrutability, and of his perfect justice, wisdom, and strength. Job 36:1-33 begins with a short preface (Job 36:1-4), in which Elihu seeks to prove his right to offer counsel to Job, after which God's justice is demonstrated (verses 5-16), and Job warned that his petulance may lead to his complete destruction (verses 17-25). Finally, in illustration of God's might and unsearchableness, the description of a thunderstorm is commenced (verses 26-33), which is carried on into the next chapter.
Job 36:1, Job 36:2
Elihu also proceeded, and said, Suffer me a little, and I will show thee that I have yet to speak on God's behalf; literally, that there are yet words for God. The controversy, i.e; is not exhausted; there is yet much that may be urged on God's behalf, in respect of the charges thou hast made against him.
I will fetch my knowledge from afar. In neither case does the performance justify the pretentious character of the preface. Elihu's arguments are, for the most part, trite and commonplace. And will ascribe righteousness to my Maker. I will show, i.e; that God is righteous and just (comp. Job 34:10, Job 34:12).
For truly my words shall not be false: he that is perfect in knowledge is with thee. The words sound arrogant; but perhaps Elihu does not mean any more than W pledge himself to speak truthfully, and to say only what he has perfect knowledge of. It is clear that he speaks of himself, net of God (Stanley Loathes). in the second clause of the verse, as in the first.
Behold, God is mighty. The preface over, the argument to prove God's justice begins. First, he "is mighty." How unlikely that any one who is mighty—nay, almighty—should be unjust! Next, he despiseth not any. Job has wrongly charged him with "despising the work of his own hands." In truth, he despises nothing that he has made. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matthew 10:29, Matthew 10:30). Much less, then, is any man despised. Moreover, God is mighty in strength and wisdom; or rather, in strength of undertaking' and therefore above the weakness of being unjust.
He preserveth not the life of the wicked. There is no special providence over the life of the wicked, as Job had supposed, or pretended to suppose (Job 21:7; comp. Job 12:6). On the contrary, God "overturneth" wicked men "in the night, so that they are destroyed; he striketh them as wicked men in the open sight of others" (Job 34:25, Job 34:26). But giveth right to the poor. The poor and afflicted, the meek and humble, God vindicates. They are his special charge. So far is he from favouring the ungodly.
He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous. Under no circumstances does God cease to keep an eye upon the righteous, as Job had seemed to imply when he exclaimed, "Oh that I were as in months of old, in the days when God preserved me!" or "watched me!" (Job 29:2). "The eyes of the Lord are" always "upon the righteous, as his ears are open unto their cry" (Psalms 34:15). With kings are they on the throne. In some cases, God shows his care of the righteous by "setting them with princes, even with the princes of his people" (Psalms 113:8), raising them, that is, to high station, and making them companions of the great of the earth. Yea, he doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted. They are permanently established in their high positions, like Joseph and Mordecai and Daniel; and they are exalted to the highest pitch of prosperity.
And if they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction. On the other hand, there are doubtless eases where the righteous suffer adversity—are even "bound in fetters," and "holden in cords of affliction" (Genesis 39:20; Jeremiah 40:1 : Daniel 3:21; Matthew 14:3; Acts 12:6; Acts 16:24; Acts 24:27, etc.). But even here God's vigilance is not relaxed. On the contrary, he watches with the utmost care over their afflictions, apportioning them according to the needs of each, and making every possible effort, by means of them, to work their reformation (see the two following verses).
Then he sheweth them their work. God, by his chastisements, makes men see what has been faulty in their life's work, in what respects they have been negligent, where they have lapsed into actual sin. Signal afflictions are a call to men to "consider their ways," and search out the nature of their offences. Some afflictions, as sickness and imprisonment, by depriving men of active employment, almost force them to engage in such a retrospect. And their transgressions that they have exceeded; rather, and their transgressions' wherein they have behaved themselves proudly (compare the Revised Version). In all sin, as it is a contempt of God's Law, there is an element of pride. The temptation to pride especially besets those whose conduct is, in outward appearance, correct and virtuous.
He openeth also their ear to discipline. It is the especial merit of Elihu's theory of suffering that he views it as far less penal than disciplinary and restorative. Job's sufferings especially he views in this light. Instead of looking upon Job, like his other friends, as a heinous sinner, upon whom Go, I is taking vengeance, he regards him as a person who is being chastised, in love, for some fault or faults that he has committed, to his ultimate advantage and improvement. This, though not exactly the truth, is far nearer the truth than the view taken by the other three "friends." And commandeth that they return from iniquity. God's chastisements are to be viewed as commands to men to "go and sin no more."
If they obey and serve him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures (comp. Job 12:13-19; Jeremiah 7:23; Jeremiah 26:13). Under the old covenant, prosperity was promised to the righteous, and even to the repentant, frequently, and in the most definite terms. Under the new, when any such promise is made, it is carefully guarded (Mark 10:30); while in many passages the promise is of an opposite character—the righteous are told to expect tribulations and persecutions (John 16:33; Act 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12 : Hebrews 12:1-11; 1 Peter 4:12, 1 Peter 4:13, etc.).
But if they obey not, they shall perish by the sword. Not, necessarily, by a material sword, but by the sword of God's vengeance, which slays in a thousand different manners, piercing through all obstacles, and reaching to the heart and spirit. And they shall die without knowledge. Either without knowing that they are about to die, or in their wilful ignorance of God's intentions in chastising them.
But the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath. In his vindication of God's justice, Elihu here passes from the case of the righteous (Job 36:7) to that of the "hypocrites," or rather the ungodly. They, he says, "heap up wrath," i.e. "treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath" (Romans 2:5), continually intensify God's anger against them, and, as it were, lay in a store of it, which will one day be outpoured upon them. They cry not when he bindeth them. They do not cry to him, they do not deprecate his anger, when they first find themselves bound with the "cords of affliction" (Job 36:8), but allow his wrath to increase and accumulate.
They die in youth; literally, their sold dieth in youth. The result is that, while they are still young, the vital strength of their soul is sapped; they "come to a premature end, like youths who have destroyed the spring of life by licentiousness" (Cook). And their life is among the unclean. (On the particular "uncleanness" intended, see Deuteronomy 23:17.)
He delivereth the poor in his affliction; rather, he delivereth the afflicted by his affliction (see the Revised Version). Elihu recurs to what he had said in Job 36:10 with respect to the discipline of affliction. The bulk of the afflictions sent by God are, according to him, intended to act medicinally. If the afflicted man receives them aright, they are the very means of his deliverance (comp. Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71; Hebrews 12:11). And openeth their ears in oppression; rather, by suffering. Their sufferings lead them to God, cause them to pay more attention to his Word, lead them to open their ears to his inward voice.
Even so would he have removed thee out of the strait into a broad pine, where there is no straitness; and that which should be set on thy table should be full of fatness. Another quite different interpretation has been proposed by Ewald, and adopted by Dillmann and Canon Cook, who suppose Elihu to speak, not of what would have happened to Job under certain circumstances, but of what had actually happened to him, and render, "Thee moreover hath thy unbounded prosperity seduced from listening to the voice of affliction, and the ease of thy table which was full of fatness." But the rendering of the Authorized Version, which is substantially that of Schultens and Rosenmuller, is still upheld by many scholars, and has been retained by our Revisers. If we adopt it, we must understand Elihu as assuring Job that he too would have been delivered and restored to his prosperity, if he had accepted his afflictions in a proper spirits and learnt the lesson they were intended to teach him (see verses 9, 10).
But thou hast fulfilled the judgment of the wicked; i.e. but, as thou hast not so acted, the result has been different. Thy hardness and impenitence have brought upon thee the judgments reserved by God for the wicked—judgment and justice take hold on thee—thou art suffering the just penalty of thy obstinacy.
Because there is wrath, beware lest he take thee away with his stroke. The original is exceedingly obscure, and three or four quite distinct renderings have been proposed; but one of the latest critics (Professor Stanley Loathes) prefers to all the other translations that of the Authorized Version. Job is threatened by Elihu with a coming judgment which shall remove him from the earth altogether. Then a great ransom cannot deliver thee. Once let destruction fall, and there is no longer any place for ransom. Nothing can then deliver thee from thy just punishment.
Will he esteem thy riches! rather, Will thy riches suffice? (Revised Version); or Will they stand the shock of battle? (Schultens). Will they be a sufficient strength to thee in the time of trouble? No, not gold. This rendering is now generally given up, and the words, lo betsar (לא בצר), are taken in connection with the preceding sentence, thus: Will thy riches suffice' that thou be not in distress? or, in other words, Will they keep thee out of trouble? If not, will all the forces of thy strength suffice to do so? Assuredly, nothing will avail against the "stroke" of God (Job 36:18).
Desire not the night, when people (rather, peoples) are cut off in their place. This is an allusion to Job's repeatedly expressed desire to be cut off at once, and laid in the grave (Job 6:9; Job 7:15; Job 14:13, etc.). Elihu holds that such a desire is wrongful. It certainly implies a want of complete resignation to the Divine will.
Take heed, regard not iniquity; i.e. be on thy guard. Whilst thou art careful to preserve thy integrity and faith in God, do not fall into sin in other respects—as by impatient desires, or proud thoughts, or rash accusations of God. For this hast thou chosen rather than affliction. Rather than acquiesce in thy afflictions and bear them patiently, thou hast elected to murmur, to complain, to question the justice of God, and speak overboldly concerning him. There is some ground for Elihu's condemnation; but it is excessive; it fails to make allowance for the extremity of Job's sufferings, and the disturbing influence of extreme suffering on the mind and judgment. It is, at any rate, more severe than God's judgment upon his servant (Job 38:2; Job 42:7).
Behold, God exalteth by his power; rather, behold, God doeth loftily in his power (see the Revised Version). Who teacheth like him? This has been called "the key-note of Elihu's whole discourse" (Cook). The entire providential government of the world by God he views as didactic, as a series of moral lessons addressed to men by their Maker (see Job 33:14, Job 33:16; Job 35:11; Job 36:9, etc.). If the lessons intended are taken to heart, then all goes well with men; if they are rejected, then very sad and terrible results follow (Job 36:12).
Who hath enjoined him his way? (comp. Job 34:13). While God is thus the universal and all-perfect Teacher, there are some who would fain instruct him, dictate the course which he ought to pursue, improve and amend his universe. Something of this spirit has appeared in Job's remonstrances, which seem to insinuate that the Divine government of the world might be carried on better than it is (see Job 9:22-24; Job 10:3; Job 13:20-26; Job 16:11-17, etc.). Elihu's intention is to reprove Job for his presumption. Or who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity? Job has not said this; but he has gone near to saying it (Job 9:24; Job 10:3; Job 21:7-26; Job 24:2-12, etc.); compare the comment on Job 34:5-12.
Remember that thou magnify his work. Instead of murmuring, Job should "magnify God's work." He should recognize the mercy of God, even in his own afflictions, and praise him for it. Which men behold. Men are looking on, anxiously considering Job's sufferings; he is a spectacle to them, as the apostles were to men and angels (1 Corinthians 4:9), and the more reason therefore that he should, by patient endurance, by submission and confession, cause his sufferings to redound to the glory and honour of God.
Every man may see it; rather, sees it, or has seen it. Man may behold it afar off; rather, beholds it, or has beheld it, from afar. Job's afflictions have drawn all eyes upon them—not only those of his neighbours, but of many who look on "from afar."
Elihu passes now to a description, which must be allowed to be eloquent, of the power and providence of God, and especially of his power in the natural world. It is suggested that the storm, which ultimately broke at the theophania (Job 38:1), was already beginning to gather, and turned the thoughts of Elihu in this direction. He begins with the consideration of how rain is generated, passes rapidly to the gathering of the clouds from all quarters, and thence to the loud crashing of the thunder, and the dazzling flashes of the lightning, which illumine even the lowest depths of the sea (Job 36:30). The effects of the storm are then spoken of, in words the exact meaning of which is very obscure (Job 36:31-33).
Behold, God is great, and we know him not. This is the final lesson which Elihu seeks to impress on his hearers. God is so great their fully to comprehend him transcends the power of the human understanding. However much we know of him, there is more that we do not know. His nature is unsearchable; his depths (1 Corinthians 2:10) are inscrutable; try as we may, we can never "find him out" (Job 37:23). Neither can the number of his years be searched out. Even his duration, being eternal, is beyond us. We cannot realize the thought of pre- and post-eternity.
For he maketh small the drops of water; rather, he drawth up the drops of water; i.e. by the heat of his sun he causes exhalations to arise from the sea and the moist earth, and draws them up into the higher regions of the atmosphere, where they are condensed into clouds, that hang suspended in the air. They pour down rain according to the vapour thereof; literally, they flow down as rain for his mist. The water collected in the clouds flows down in the shape of rain for the purpose of watering the earth (see Genesis 2:6, where the same word (אד) occurs).
Which the clouds do drop and distil upon man abundantly. All is done for man, for his benefit and advantage.
Also can any understand the spreadings of the clouds? The rapid generation of clouds, their gathering together, seemingly, from all quarters, and the way they almost suddenly overspread the heavens (1 Kings 18:45). are among the most remarkable phenomena of nature, and are very difficult to "understand" and account for. Or the noise of his tabernacle. The awful crash of the thunder, which echoes along the sky—God's "tabernacle," or pavilion (Psalms 18:11)—is, if not as inexplicable, even more fearful and astounding. Man shrinks and quails before the terrible sound, and feels himself in the presence of a mighty and inscrutable power.
Behold, he spreadeth his light upon it. God flashes the weird brilliance of his lightning over the heaven—not over himself, as some translate (Rosenmuller, Cook). He lights up the whole sky at once with the electric splendour, and even covereth with it the bottom (literally, the roots) of the sea. This is, of course, hyperbole; but it seems to be Elihu's meaning.
For by them judgeth he the people. By his clouds God works two opposite effects. On the one hand, he executes judgment upon the peoples, destroying their crops, causing widespread ruin by inundations, smiting and slaying numbers with his thunderbolts; on the other, he giveth meat in abundance, restoring to the parched earth its fertility by means of copious and refreshing showers, stimulating vegetation, and so furthering the harvest.
With clouds he covereth the light; rather, he covereth both his hands with light, i.e. with the lightning. So Vul was represented in Assyrian and Zeus in Greek mythology, as filling their hands with thunderbolts, and hurling them upon their foes in their wrath. And commandeth it not to shine, etc. This rendering is wholly indefensible. Translate, And layeth command upon it that it strike the mark (compare the Revised Version).
The noise thereof showeth concerning it; or, concerning him. The loud crash proclaims the fierceness of God's anger. The cattle also concerning the vapour; rather, it sheweth the cattle also concerning him that goeth up; i.e. the very cattle also feel that God is in the storm, rides upon it, and "goeth up" (comp. Psalms 47:5). The rendering of the Revised Version, "(it showeth) the cattle also concerning the storm that cometh up," is very weak, and unworthy of such an orator as Elihu.
Elihu to Job: 3. A sermon on the Divine administration.
I. THE PREACHER INTRODUCES HIMSELF.
1. As having something further to say. A man who has nothing to communicate should not emerge from the safe regions of obscurity which Providence designs he should adorn. But alas! of preachers, orators, lecturers, talkers, who babble on without contributing anything to elucidate their themes or enlighten their hearers, however much to gratify themselves, the number is legion. The first requirement in one who aspires to be a teacher of men, whether from the pulpit or from the platform, is that he have something to impart. When in Zechariah's vision the angel was directed to "run," and "speak to the young man" with the measuring-line, he was at the same time entrusted with a message (Zechariah 2:4). The preacher who habitually delivers sermons of the vacuous and windy order affords perfectly sufficient evidence of having mistaken his calling. Neither God nor Christ ever commissioned an ambassador without giving him a message.
2. As proposing to speak in God's behalf. Of the controversy which Job carried on with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Elihu disposed by a simple expression of indignation (Job 32:3, Job 32:12). The full strength of his ability was directed to maintain the cause of God against Job, and to ascribe righteousness to One whom Job had charged with want of equity. So the mission of the Christian pulpit is not to plunge into the labyrinthine intricacies of theological discussion, in the hope of definitely pronouncing upon long-standing, world-famous controversies like those which engaged the attention of Milton's erudite devils ('Paradise Lost,' bk. 2:559), but to speak with men on God's behalf-on the one hand, to ascribe right to God, i.e. to vindicate the Divine character, the Divine administration, the Divine redemption as being in perfect accord with right and truth; and on the other hand, to bring sinful men to a right state of mind and heart towards God. It is a profanation of the sacred office of the ministry when it is employed to diffuse philosophy, to propagate science, to advance politics, to promote what is called culture as distinguished from religion—in short, to do anything that does not directly contribute to either the vindication of God or the salvation of man.
3. As offering a wide and comprehensive view of his subject. The chief fault of controversialists, and one requiring to be guarded against even by the wisest and fairest, is that of one-sided presentation, commonly resulting in exaggerated statement, rash generalization, unwarranted deduction. Such a fault usually proceeds from incapacity to perceive that truth is many-sided, or inability to grasp more sides than one; from unwillingness to admit that aspects of truth may be presented to one which are denied to another, or from overweening self-conceit which supposes nothing can be accurate which self does not see. Job and the three friends are good illustrations of men who look at the same object (e.g. the Divine administration) from different standpoints, and pronounce each other wrong. Elihu undertook to present views derived from an extensive induction of particulars, from a many-sided contemplation of truth, from long and deep reflection. So should preachers aim at setting forth only such expositions of Divine truth as have been gathered by patient industry and diligent research, of the widest and minutest sort, in the volume of the Scriptures, in the books of nature and history, in the records of experience; and even these only after they have been subjected to careful inspection and personally absorbed by deep meditation.
4. As speaking with the utmost sincerity. Elihu promised that his words should not be false as to matter, disingenuous as to aim, or beguiling as to form (verse 4); and neither should the utterances of a preacher in any one of these respects deviate from the straight path of rectitude. What he offers to the acceptance of his audience should be the unmixed truth of God (1 Corinthians 2:2, 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:2), presented not "with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Corinthians 2:4, 1 Corinthians 2:13), and exhibited with no ulterior motive of personal aggrandizement, but with honest endeavour to advance God's glory in man's salvation (2 Corinthians 4:2). Soundness of doctrine, simplicity of speech, singleness of aim, are qualifications indispensable for an efficient ministry.
5. As possessed of an adequate acquaintance with his theme. In claiming to be "perfect in knowledge" (verse 4), Elihu may be only asserting his honesty of purpose (Umbreit, Carey, Cook), but the application of the same phrase to God (Job 37:16) makes it probable that he here alludes to the "faultlessness and clearness of perception" (Delitzsch) with which he apprehends "the theodicy which he opposes to Job," and the intensity of that inward conviction which he holds as to its truth (Cook). So again should God's prophets and Christ's preachers, by prayerful study of the Divine Word, by prolonged cogitation on the themes they design to discuss, and in particular by humble dependence on that Spirit who instructed Elihu, labour to arrive at the veritable truth of God, and to have as complete an understanding thereof as possible, that so, in all their utterances, they may be able to say, like Christ, "We speak that we do know" (John 3:11); like David, "I believed: therefore have I spoken" (Psalms 116:10); and like St Paul, "We also believe, and therefore speak" (2 Corinthians 4:13).
II. THE PREACHER ANNOUNCES HIS THEME.
1. The character of the Divine Being. Introduced by a "Behold!" to mark its worthiness of Job's attention and admiration.
(1) Mighty. Meaning exalted in station, lofty in rank or quality of being, and resistless in power—a point frequently descanted on by Job himself (e.g. Job 9:4; Job 12:13), as well as by the friends.
(2) Condescending. Despising not any, acting not scornfully, as Job insinuated God did in turning a deaf ear to his entreaties, and regarding his misery without concern (Job 10:3; Job 19:7; Job 23:13). But the Supreme Governor of the universe, according to Elihu, is too exalted a Being to act unjustly, or even unkindly, towards any, even the meanest, of his creatures. On the contrary, his very greatness is the best guarantee for his absolute impartiality and condescending kindness. That God despises nothing he has made, neither man nor beast, but watches with loving care over the least as well as the greatest of his works, was asserted by Christ (Matthew 10:29), and experienced by David (Psalms 40:17), and may be confirmed by a reference to nature itself, in which the smallest objects (e.g. flowers and insects) have lavished on them the largest amount of skill in their construction, decoration, and preservation. This combination of strength and beauty, of power and gentleness, of dignity and condescension, which Elihu proclaims to be characteristic of God, was eminently exemplified in Christ, and lies at the foundation of all moral greatness into an.
(3) Wise. "Mighty in strength of heart" (verse 5), the Divine Being can penetrate through all disguises, discovering right and wrong everywhere, at all times, and altogether. Besides being of infinite power and of great kindness, he is also of omniscient understanding.
2. The character of the Divine administration.
(1) Punitive, or destructive towards the ungodly: "He preserveth not the life of the wicked"—the doctrine of the friends (Job 5:2; Job 8:12, Job 8:13; Job 11:20), but here advanced with greater fairness of statement (vide infra); and
(2) gracious, or preservative towards the pious: "He giveth right to the poor," or afflicted, i.e. he allotteth to them what is just, what is in moral and spiritual harmony with their condition, viz. deliverance and salvation—also a tenet of the friends (Job 5:17-27; Job 8:5-7; Job 11:13-19), though here again set forth with more precision and moderation than by them.
III. THE PREACHER DEVELOPS HIS ARGUMENT.
1. The Divine treatment of the righteous.
(1) Watching over them while doing right. "He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous"—a frequently stated doctrine of Scripture (2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalms 1:6; Psalms 34:15; Proverbs 10:3; Isaiah 26:7; Isaiah 27:3); illustrated by the cases of Noah (Genesis 7:1), the Israelites (Exodus 3:7), David (Psalms 139:1), and even Job himself (Job 23:10); and here declared to be of universal application, whether the objects of his observation are kings on the throne, like David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah, or prisoners in affliction, like Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, or St. Paul in Philippi.
(2) Rewarding them for their piety, "With kings are they [i.e. the righteous] on the throne; yea, he doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted" Sooner or later, the righteous are advanced to a state of regal prosperity; sometimes literally, as with Joseph, David, Daniel; but always spiritually, like the chosen people, who were made "a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6), and like Christians, who are constituted "kings and priests unto God" (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; 1 Peter 2:9) and appointed to reign for over and ever.
(3) Instructing them when afflicted. Assuming that the cords and fetters which hold them have been imposed as an act of mercy by God (Job 5:17; Psalms 94:12; Proverbs 3:11; Revelation 3:12), Elihu directs attention to a richer benefaction than the affliction, viz. the special education they receive from God during its continuance—an education in its character
(a) gracious, being imparted by God, chiefly through his Word and Spirit;
(b) convincing, unfolding to them the sin of which they have been guilty;
(c) humbling, pointing out the foolish pride and vainglory from which it has proceeded;
(d) admonitory, warning them of the danger in which they continue while impenitent;
(e) authoritative, enabling their awakened consciences to feel the urgent duty of departing from evil; and
(f) efficacious, leading m the case of every genuine child of God to a hearty return to God s ways.
(g) Restoring them when penitent. Defining that submission they accord to God as a hearing and serving (the essential ingredients of all true contrition), Elihu depicts them as finishing their days in the midst of "good," i.e. of every sort of pure enjoyment, and their years in the midst of pleasures, or things of loveliness and true delight.
2. The Divine treatment of the unrighteous. One principal aim of affliction is to sift the unrighteous from the righteous. As the latter are distinguished by their penitential return to God, so the former are recognized by opposite characteristics, neither hearing God's voice (verse 12; cf. John 18:37) nor submitting to God's hand, but cherishing wrath and indignation against God's justice in afflicting them (verse 13), nor praying for God's help (verse 13) when he has bound them, but either enduring in sullen silence or howling in impatient anguish. Accordingly, God leaves them to their richly merited and naturally evolved doom, of dying
(1) suddenly: "They shall pass away by the sword," the allusion being not so much to the violent manner of their departure, as to its being the result of a judicial visitation;
(2) hopelessly: "They shall die without knowledge"—"without having attained to wisdom" (Job 4:21), having missed the true end of their existence, having failed to reach that knowledge of God in which alone lies salvation (John 17:2), like the Gentiles of whom Paul writes, "Having no hope, and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12);
(3) prematurely: "They [literally. 'their souls'], die in youth" (verse 14), being cut down while as yet they are only standing on the threshold of life, their sun going down while it is yet noon (Amos 8:9), like Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:26), Alexander the Great, and others;
(4) filthily: "Their life is among the unclean" i.e. having spent their days in sensuality and prematurely enervating incontinence, like the sodomites (margin), like the consecrated men who practised nameless lewdness in heathen temples (1 Kings 14:24; 1 Kings 15:12; 1 Kings 22:47), like those whom St. Paul describes as "dishonouring their own bodies between themselves" (Romans 1:24-27), they were permitted to die as they had lived, and to find a grave in the moral filthiness in which they had wallowed, thus "receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet."
IV. THE PREACHER APPLIES HIS DISCOURSE. Generally, to the whole body of the righteous (verse 15), but more particularly to Job, by setting forth:
1. The blessing he had missed. If instead of murmuring and repining under God's chastisements, he had yielded penitential submission, God would ere now have interposed for his deliverance, and rescued him from the mouth of distress, inciting him forward till he had reached a broad place where, literally, whose "beneath" (ground) would have been no straitness, and where the letting down of his table, i.e. the food set thereon, should have been full of fatness (verse 16). So God engages to do for all who humbly trust his grace and power
(1) to deliver them in time of trouble (2 Kings 20:6; Psalms 34:19; Psalms 41:1; Psalms 91:14; Psalms 97:10), as he snatched David from the jaws of the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:37; Psalms 18:16, Psalms 18:17);
(2) to establish them in ease and comfort, setting them down in large places, as he did David (Psalms 18:19) and a later Hebrew bard (Psalms 118:5), as he did with Israel when he brought her out of Egypt first into the wilderness and then into Canaan (Exodus 3:8; Judges 18:10), and as he does with believers when he frees them from condemnation and introduces them into the liberty of the children of God; and
(3) to provide for them a table in the wilderness, as again he did for Israel (Psalms 78:19) and for David (Psalms 23:5), as he has done for all the world in the gospel (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 22:1), and for Christ's people in the Holy Supper (1 Corinthians 10:21; 1 Corinthians 11:20).
2. The sin he had committed. Job had "fulfilled the judgment of the wicked" (verse 17); i.e. like the wicked, he had pronounced a judicial sentence upon God and his dealings. Instead of humbly acquiescing in the Divine dispensations, he had, according to another rendering of the previous verse, suffered himself to be seduced from listening to the voice of affliction by his boundless prosperity and by the ease of his table, which was full of fatness (Ewald, Dillmann, Canon Cook), so that he had filled up the measure of his iniquity like a common evil-doer. It reveals a terrible declension on the part of a good man when he can behave no better under God's chastisements, and think no better of God because of them than an ordinary sinner. Yet good men, if left to themselves, may come to this. Therefore let us not be high-minded, but fear.
3. The danger he had incurred. In consequence of Job's insensate obstinacy and impenitent censoriousness towards God, "justice and judgment had taken hold on him;" he was now really undergoing such punishments as were due to wicked men from the even hand of justice. If good men by their ill behaviour place them. selves amongst the wicked, it need not surprise them if God should beat them, i.e. judge and punish them, as the wicked. Such judging as Job had been guilty of bordered close upon, and was commonly followed hard by, the judgment of God. The only judging that a good man can with safety perform is upon himself (1 Corinthians 11:31, 1 Corinthians 11:32).
4. The admonitions he required.
(1) Against declining into infidel scoffing. "Because there is anger [sc. in thy heart], let it not entice thee to scorning" (verse 18). Of this he had indeed been accused by Zophar (Job 11:3), and not entirely acquitted by Elihu (Job 34:37), who now, however, solemnly advertises him that that would be the certain issue of it if he yielded to his passionate feelings against God. The scorner's chair is the common terminus of such as begin by walking in the way of the ungodly.
(2) Against undervaluing the Divine wrath. "Because there is wrath" (sc. with God), beware "lest he take thee away with a stroke." "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). But the wicked man has no guarantee that, the Divine indignation against sin may not flame forth suddenly against him, as it did against Cain, the antediluvians, the cities of the plain, Pharaoh, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Haman, Herod, and others.
(3) Against trusting to any self-provided ransom or atonement. "Then a great ransom cannot deliver thee" (verse 18). Neither wealth (verse 19) nor suffering (verse 18) can avert the Divine wrath. Only one Ransom has sufficient merit to turn aside the sword of judgment.
(4) Against thinking that either wealth or any personal efforts can secure salvation. "Shall thy riches place thee beyond distress, and all the efforts of thy strength?" (verse 19). No; nothing will except repentance and faith.
(5) Against longing for a speedy death. "Desire not the night, when people are cut off in their place" (verse 20). of this verse, of which a commentator (Schultens) gives fifteen different explanations, the sense clearly is that Job had better be careful of foolishly indulging in any such wish as that God should cut him off (Job 6:9; Job 7:15), since God might take him at his word and remove him from his place below, i.e. from the earth (Delitzsch), or to a place below (Carey). Death removed whole peoples, and would have no difficulty in removing him. And Job might find his expectation disappointed. Instead of going up to an ameliorated condition, he might rather at death descend into a worse (Umbreit). No man that knows what death is will desire it sooner than God is pleased to send it.
(6) Against preferring wickedness to misery. "Take heed, regard not iniquity; for this hast thou chosen rather than affliction" (verse 21). That is, rather than endure with meekness God's chastening hand, Job had sinfully desired to die, independently altogether of whether or not it was God's will. A common temptation to saints no less than to ordinary men, to choose sin rather than suffering. To elect to die rather than sin is the triumph of grace.
1. The true dignity of a gospel minister as one who speaks for God and Christ.
2. The special business of a gospel minister, viz. to vindicate the ways of God with man.
3. The binding duty of a gospel minister, to give himself to reading and meditation.
4. The lofty aim of the gospel minister, always to speak from personal conviction.
5. The supreme glory of the Godhead, as combining infinite justice and infinite mercy, infinite greatness and infinite condescension.
6. The extreme anxiety God manifests to bring men to repentance and salvation.
7. The undoubted certainty that the impenitent and unrighteous will ultimately perish.
8. The absolute impossibility of salvation for those who despise the divinely provided ransom.
9. The great danger of indulging in wrath against either God or his dispensations.
10. The deep delusion of those who imagine death to be a blessing to any but God's people.
Elihu to Job: 4. A sermon on the greatness of God.
I. ABSOLUTE IN HIS SOVEREIGNTY.
1. Ruling by his own power. "Behold, God exalteth" (se. himself), i.e. showeth himself to be exalted, "acteth loftily" (Delitzsch) "in his strength" (verse 22). The universal empire of God is based on his omnipotence. With him might and right are co-ordinate and coextensive. "He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves" (Psalms 66:7).
2. Holding dominion from no superior. "Who hath enjoined him his way?" (verse 23). Princes and potentates of earth derive their authority from him (Proverbs 8:16); the ever-blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, derives his from none. "Dominion and fear are with him" (Job 25:2). Yea, saith Jehovah, "I am the Lord, and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:18).
3. Admitting of no inspection. "Who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity?" (verse 23). As the Almighty brooks no superior or rival on his throne, so admits he of no opposition to his work. "Whatsoever his soul desireth, that he doeth" (Job 23:13). As none can interpose to say, "What doest thou?" (Daniel 4:35), so none can claim a right to subject his work to critical inspection. To pass judgment on it is for a creature to be guilty of the highest arrogance. Substantially this was the sin of Job.
II. INCOMPARABLE IN HIS TEACHING. "Who teacheth like him?" (verse 22). In the judgment of Elihu, one of the principal ends contemplated by God's providential government of the world was the education of men (Job 33:14; Job 35:11; Job 36:9). Hence by Elihu God is styled an Instructor or Teacher—Moreh, translated by the LXX. "Lord." So God represented himself to Moses (Exodus 4:15), to Israel (Exodus 20:1), to David (Psalms 32:8). So is God to his people generally (Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 31:33, Jeremiah 31:34; Micah 4:2; John 6:45). As a Teacher of men, God surpasses all other instructors, possessing qualifications never found, unitedly or severally, to perfectly exist except in himself.
1. Ability. Many undertake to instruct others who are wholly destitute of the capacity to understand either their subjects, their pupils, or themselves. But no such deficiency can be with God, who, besides knowing himself, comprehends all things and accurately gauges all men. This qualification was possessed in an eminent degree by Christ.
2. Authority. The Divine authority to teach and the authoritative character of' the Divine teaching are based upon God's Lordship over man, and God's perfect knowledge of that which he teaches. So Christ, for exactly the same reasons, spake with authority, and not as the scribes (Matthew 7:29).
3. Variety. Like every intelligent instructor, God employs different methods in teaching—his works (Job 35:11), his Word (Psalms 94:10), his providential dispensations (Job 33:16), his Spirit (Nehemiah 9:20; Proverbs 1:23). So did Christ instruct his followers, by his works (Matthew 6:26-31), by his Word (Luke 24:27), by his providences (Luke 13:1-5), by his Spirit (Luke 12:12; John 14:26).
4. Suitability. God's teaching is always adapted to the occasion (Psalms 32:8; Isaiah 48:17); and to the capacities of his scholars (Isaiah 28:9, Isaiah 28:10); and so likewise was Christ's. The Holy Spirit also proceeds in the same gradual fashion in the work of illuminating darkened minds.
5. Simplicity. Aiming at the good of those who hear, God always teaches in the plainest and directest manner possible, speaking so clearly, distinctly, and intelligibly, that he requires, as with Adam (Genesis 3:9) and with Noah (Genesis 6:13), with Abimelceh (Genesis 20:3) and with Laban (Genesis 31:24), to speak only once; with such earnestness and eagerness that he often speaks twice, as he did with Abraham (Genesis 22:11), and as Christ did with Saul (Acts 9:4); yea, with a patience and gentleness so admirable that he even condescends to speak thrice, as he did with Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10).
6. Desirability. The teaching God gives is on subjects which it most behoves man to know, in particular on that which maketh wise unto salvation—the Being, character, and purpose of God; the original dignity, present condition, and future destiny of man; the nature, guilt, and penalty of sin; the Person, offices, and work of Christ; the source, means, and end of salvation; the law of life and the rule of duty; the way to die and the path to glory everlasting.
7. Efficiency. Desirable and complete as such a programme of instruction is, no one can learn it by his own unaided powers (1 Corinthians 2:14). But God can guide his people into the understanding of it in all its fulness (Psalms 25:9).
III. IMMACULATE IN HIS HOLINESS. "Who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity?" (verse 23).
1. Holiness inseparble from the idea of God. A Being who can be charged with iniquity cannot possibly be Divine. Hence God can, in no sense or degree, be the author of sin.
2. Men prone to connect sin with God. The heathen do so when they worship deities like themselves—"gods fierce, rapacious, cruel, and unjust." Philosophers do so when they hold God responsible for everything that exists. Even good people do so when they charge God with inequality or injustice in his ways.
3. God's holiness largely insisted on in scripture. The inveterate tendency of the fallen heart to forget the Divine purity demands that this be frequently held up for contemplation (Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 Samuel 2:2; Job 4:17; Job 34:10; Psalms 92:15; Psalms 111:9; Isaiah 57:15; Revelation 4:8).
IV. UNSEARCHABLE IN HIS BEING. "Behold, God is great, and we know him not" (verse 26).
1. We know him not directly. "No man hath seen God at any time," said Christ (John 1:18); with which agrees God's word to Moses (Exodus 33:20), and John's word to Christians (1 John 4:12). God reveals himself to man in creation (Psalms 19:1; Romans 1:20), in providence (Job 9:11, sqq.), in Christ (Joh 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Colossians 1:15), through the Spirit (Matthew 11:27).
2. We know him not completely. It is certain that the infinite God will never be entirely comprehended by a finite creature. But of even such a measure and degree of knowledge as is possible to man, it is likewise true that we have not reached the full measure. "Now we know in part" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Hereafter all that can be known of God by finite creatures will be realized.
3. We know him not clearly. Even what we do apprehend of the Divine Being is involved in much obscurity. "Now we see through a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Hereafter his servants shall behold his face with open vision (Revelation 22:4). Yet for all that, notwithstanding these limitations:
4. We know him not imaginarily, but really. That is, our knowledge of the Divine Being, though neither direct, nor adequate, nor perfectly clear, is real, accurate, and reliable so far as it goes.
V. ETERNAL IN HIS EXISTENCE. "Neither can the number of his years be searched out" (verse 26). The language which ascribes years to God is, of course, anthropomorphic (Psalms 102:24). Both Elihu and the Hebrew bard intend to represent God as "without beginning of days or end of years," as existing "from everlasting to everlasting," as exalted high above all the permutations and vicissitudes of created, life, and therefore as removed completely beyond the sphere of man's judgment or criticism.
VI. WONDERFUL IN HIS WORKING. To this thought Elihu recurs in detail in the ensuing chapter (vide homiletics). In the mean time he alludes to certain natural phenomena as indicative of God's excellent power in working.
1. Rain. "For he maketh small [literally, 'he draweth up,' sc. by evaporation] the small drops of water," after which "they pour down rain [or, 'as rain'], according to the vapour thereof," or "for this mist" (Cook), or "in connection with its mist" (Delitzsch). It is not the understanding of how rain is formed that constitutes either the wonder or the difficulty of the phenomenon; it is the making of rain, the institution and maintenance of those material laws and forces which produce rain. It is here that Divine power is required and seen.
2. Clouds. "Which the clouds do drop and distil upon man abundantly" (verse 28). Not the least interesting among those objects which attract the student of nature are the clouds of heaven, which receive the evaporated moisture of earth, and retain it floating in the atmosphere until it is again required by the parched soil. Objects of beauty in themselves, they strikingly attest the almighty power, matchless wisdom, and essential goodness of God.
3. Thunder. "Also can any understand the spreadings of the clouds, or the noise of his tabernacle?" (verse 29). The appearance of the sky in a thunderstorm is what the poet aims at depicting, when the dark clouds spread across the firmament, and the first thunder-crash falls upon the ear (vide homiletics on next chapter).
4. Lightning. "Behold, he spreadeth his light upon it," or over himself (Habakkuk 3:4), "and covereth the bottom [literally, 'the roots '] of the sea" (verse 30); i.e. he lights up the whole heaven, and even illuminates the hidden depths of the ocean by the glare of his lightning.
VII. BENEFICENT IN HIS ADMINISTRATION. "The two ideas of power and goodness are associated closely in Elihu's mind; whereas the three friends dwell more upon the combination of power and justice, and Job upon that of power and wisdom. Goodness, righteousness, wisdom, are one in God; various aspects under which the essential principle of love is manifested" (Canon Cook). The beneficence of the Divine administration in nature is represented in a twofold form.
1. Negatively, as judgment upon the nations. "For by them judgeth he the people" (verse 31). Seemingly severe in themselves, God's judgments upon the wicked men and nations are to righteous men and nations acts of grace and kindness. It is for the benefit of the world that sin should be chastised. Love no less than justice demands that the wicked should be overthrown.
2. Positively, as kindness to his people. "He giveth meat in abundance." In this aspect Elihu thinks of the rain, the clouds, the thunder, the lightning. The beneficent uses of these and other ordinary phenomena of nature are patent to the slightest reflection. The rain is the great fertilizer of the soil; the cloud, besides serving as a screen to moderate the warmth of the sun, operates to prevent the too speedy radiation of the earth's heat, while it also acts as the great rain-collector and distributor for the parched ground; the thunderstorm is the most effective of all atmospheric purifiers and rectifiers.
VIII. GLORIOUS IN HIS MANIFESTATIONS. Taking advantage, as usual, of the extreme obscurity of the last two verses (vide Exposition), and availing ourselves of the more probable of the offered interpretations, we find Elihu suggesting concerning the Divine manifestations that they are:
1. Announced by the elements. Elihu alludes, it is thought, to an approaching theophany, of which the thunderstorm was the herald. "With clouds he covereth the light," etc.; literally, "Upon both hands he spreadeth as a covering the light" (i.e. the lightning), "and commandeth it as one who hitteth the mark" (Delitzsch) against his enemy (Gesenius, Umbreit), in striking (Carey)whom it shall reach (Canon Cook). So was God's approach to Adam after he had fallen announced by a rush of wind through the garden (Genesis 3:8); to Israel by thunders and lightnings and the noise of a trumpet (Exodus 20:18); to Elijah by a wind, an earthquake, and a fire (1 Kings 19:11). So was God's advent to the world at the Incarnation proclaimed by signs and wonders both in heaven and on earth. The descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost was accompanied by a rushing mighty wind. The return of God to judge the world will be attended with alarming prodigies.
2. Recognized by the irrational oration. To the herds the rumble of the thunder is pictured by Elihu as announcing the arrival of God. So when Christ the Son of God came to earth, not only did the winds and the seas obey him (Mark 4:41), but the wild beasts gathered round him and forgot their ferocity (Mark 1:13). Among the signs that shall foretell his second coming will be the lying down of the wolf with the lamb, and of the leopard with the kid (Isaiah 11:6-9).
3. Presented to man. Neither the inanimate creation nor the irrational animals can consciously apprehend the glory of God. Hence the Divine manifestations, though heralded and unconsciously recognized by them, are not specifically meant for them, but for man, the head and crown of the material globe. To man alone of all God's creatures on the earth belongs the power of apprehending the Divine glory. Hence God's self-revelations are always for the sake of man. The one now approaching was for Job's sake. The Incarnation was for the sake of humanity. The second advent will be for the sake of the Church.
4. Directed against unrighteousness. "The sound thereof (i.e. the thunder-crash) announces concerning their fierceness of wrath against unrighteousness" (Cook). Even so the first Divine manifestation in the Incarnation and cross was a revelation of the wrath of God against all unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18); though of this character much more will the next Divine apocalypse partake.
5. Designed for the salvation of the righteous. According to another rendering (Umbreit), Elihu is understood to say that, while God fills both his hands with light, in the one hand he holds the lightning-shaft wherewith to strike the wicked, but in the other the cheering light of the sun to reveal to his friend, and even unto cattle and to plants. It may remind us again of the double purpose of all God's manifests-tions. The pillar of cloud and fire meant destruction to Egypt, but emancipation to Israel. Even the gospel is a savour of life unto some, but of death unto others. When Christ next comes, it will be not alone to punish his foes, but also to save his friends.
1. To magnify the work of God.
2. To celebrate the praise of God.
3. To reverence the Name of God.
4. To delight in the revelation of God.
5. To acquiesce in the purpose of God.
6. To listen to the teaching of God.
7. To accept the salvation of God.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Elihu's fourth speech: God the Loving, the Just, and the Holy.
In the preceding discourses of Elihu, be has dwelt chiefly upon the moral relations of man to God, and the view presented of God has been chiefly that obtained through the medium of human feelings and analogies. His present discourse rises to a sublime view of him as the infinitely mighty One, the wise and just Father of mankind. If we suppose that during this address the storm is brewing out of which Jehovah presently speaks, then all Elihu's references to the lightning, the thunder, the storm and rain receive, as he proceeds, their splendid illustration from the sublime scene around, and heighten the force of his appeals.
I. INTRODUCTION. (Job 37:1-4.) The speaker begins by announcing that he has something further of weight to say in justification of the ways of God to man. He has "words for God" to utter. Though God's works are his justification, and he needs no defence at the hands of man, yet it may be said that the free exercise of reason, in setting forth the glory of his goodness and justice, is an acceptable service to him. If he delights in the unconscious testimony of babes and sucklings (Psalms 8:1-9.), still more must he delight in the conscious spontaneous offerings of man's matured thought at his shrine, The great works of Christian theologians and apologists, such as Calvin's 'Institutes' or Butler's 'Analogy,' are the tributes of reason to the honour of God. But they are valueless unless they have that quality which Elihu so emphatically claims, sincerity, truth. He who ventures to speak for God must speak, not with the purpose of temporary expediency, but out of the consciousness of eternity.
II. THE JUSTICE OF GOD REVEALED IN THE HISTORY OF MAN. (Job 37:5-21.) The course of life, argues the speaker, shows that a chastening, a purifying, but at the same time a loving, Power is at work in the world. This is supported:
1. By a general view of human life. (Job 37:6-15.) God is revealed in the different courses of men's lives as Power, but not as arbitrary Power. His greatness is not associated with contempt for the lowliness of man. It is not reckless of right and wrong. It upholds the moral order—the godless sink unsupported into the ruin their own conduct has prepared for them; while those who suffer from the injustice of others are succoured and defended. God's watchful eye is upon all just men, from the king whose throne he establishes, whose dignity he guards, to the captive in his chains, to the beggar in his misery. This, as we have so often seen, is the firm foundation-truth which runs beneath the whole of this book, and through the whole of the Bible. And the seeming exceptions to these principles of the Divine administration are now explained as merely seeming; for they come under the principle of chastisement, which is but another illustration of love. According to this view—never more feelingly set forth than here-suffering may be, not the brand of guilt, but the silent token of love in the form of discipline. Without positive guilt there may be moral stagnation, in which the germs of future evil are discovered by the eye of the Divine Educator. Evil is forming in tendency or thought when it has not blossomed into deeds. Then comes the visit of God in suffering to warn, to hint of danger, to "open the ear" to instructions that were thought unnecessary in the days of perfect peace and self-complacency. And if the mind yields to this gracious leading, and bends itself to docility to this new revelation of the holy will, all shall yet be well. The season of depression and disaster will be passed through, and the sheep who have heard the Shepherd's voice will find themselves led once more into the green pastures of content (Job 37:6-11). But the God who is revealed to us in this tender and gracious aspect in the course el experience, under the condition of obedience, becomes clothed in sternness and severity to those who resist. Those who venture to war with law, to rebel against omnipotence and justice, can but meet an unhappy doom. In wondrous ways, unknown to man, God is able to bring men to their destined goal (Job 37:12-14). The great lesson, then, is to betake one's self to self-examination (the opening of the ear) and to prayer when the visitants of God's chastening love are knocking at the door of our heart. The lesson is expressed by pointing to the sad examples of unsubmissive, prayerless lives! These, like spots where the dew falls not, cannot thrive. Hearts, like bare rocks, that will not melt in the sun, callous, impenitent, heedless, perish for want of knowledge, of faith, of God; but those whose whole nature has been broken up and laid open by suffering are prepared to receive the seed of eternal wisdom which the Divine Husbandman seeks in such times to implant (Job 37:15).
2. By reference to Job's vicissitudes. (Verses 16-21.) In these verses, which are so obscure in meaning in our version, a deduction is made from the foregoing principles in reference to the case of Job. In verse 16 the verb should be taken in the present, "God's leading," or "is for leading" him out of his present straitened and distressed condition; but what if the conditions of submission, penitence, and docility are wanting in Job? Assuming that there is this want, solemn warnings are given—that he cannot, if in a state of sin, escape the judgment of God; that if he allows the fire of suffering to madden him into impiety instead of purifying his spirit, he will find himself in an evil plight, for no cries nor efforts can avail to extricate him from the fangs of doom. Let not Job, then, says the speaker (verse 20), perhaps pointing to the dark warning of the sky, long after the night (of judgment); for whole peoples pass away in that terrible darkness when the wrath of God is outpoured! And to conclude the warnings, let Job beware of the turning of the heart to vanity—the natural thoughtlessness of mankind in presence of the judgments of God. The application is unfair as regards Job; still, we are reminded indirectly that it is not sufficient to hold a true theory of God's moral government in general, without applying it to the facts of our own lives. Men may harshly apply great principles to our character and condition in the world; this cannot absolve us from the duty of applying them truly and honestly for ourselves.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD REVEALED IN NATURE. (Verse 22- Job 37:24.)
1. The wisdom and power of God as seen in nature's wonders. (Verse 22- Job 37:13.) Introduction. (Verses 22-25.) The sublime power of God fills every observer of Nature with awe. Who is a Ruler as he? Who can improve upon Nature? She is the great mechanist, artist, designer, executor. Man may produce new varieties of plants and, to some extent, of animals by the exercise of intelligence, but "o'er that art which men call nature is another art which nature makes." Art is the highest effort of human nature; and what nature can he honour who honours not the human? If, then, you have a quarrel with God, what is this but to dispute the beauty and the good of things, which all men delight to celebrate, on which no eyes are weary of looking with wonder?
2. Look, then, at the grandeur of the phenomena of nature—the rain the clouds' the storms. (Verse 26- Job 37:5.) Read the words of the description, compare them with your own feelings. In the very vagueness and vastness of nature there is a power to impress the imagination. This array of beauty and of grandeur is not only far beyond, but totally unlike, anything that man can conceive or accomplish. No words can better set forth these profound and unutterable impressions than the words of great poets, "thrown out" as it were at a distant, illimitable object which cannot be defined. "God thunders with his voice wondrously, doth great things that we understand not:" this is the sum of all. The indefinite grandeur of images and sounds, which is so impressive in the highest poetry, represents the inarticulate but overwhelming voice of nature which tells of the Being and the goodness of God. Again, these effects point to causes; and the regularity of effects to the regularity of causes; and the whole series of effects and causes resolves itself into the conception of law, high, unerring, unbroken. Even with a very imperfect knowledge of the structure of the cosmos, there is some dim perception of these truths: how much more should consummate science impress them upon the spirit! Every phenomenon that strikes with awe the senses, or that gently excites the wonder and curiosity of the mind, hints at an Intelligence which is ever at work. The snow, the rain-torrents, which give pause to the labours of man, and compel his gaze to the sky; the crouching of the wild beast in his lair before the fury of the storm; the rushing forth of the blasts as from some hidden repository (as the Greeks fabled, the cave of AEelus); the congelation of the waters; the clouds discharging their weight of moisture or flashing forth their lightnings;—all speak of superhuman power, ell-controlling and still guiding the march of nature by a principle of right; now scourging men's folly, and now rewarding and blessing their obedience. In the fearful and beautiful scenes of the storm and of winter we indeed no longer see signs of the personal displeasure of God. We explain them by the "laws of nature." But none the less do these phenomena tell of the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God, and hint to us the duty and the need of prayer to him who gave to Nature her laws.
3. Inferences; exhortations. (Job 37:14-24.) If this be the view Nature gives us of her God and of our Creator, instead of murmuring at him or disputing his dealings, let Job and all sufferers draw the true conclusions amidst the dark enigmas of their lives. Let the preceding impressions be laid well to heart, and in quiet contemplation let the mystery of the Divine operations be reviewed. Can man explain the secrets of nature? If not, why should he expect to explain fully that which is a part of the same system, under the same rule, controlled by the same God, namely, his own life and its mingled web of weal and woe (verse 14, sqq.)? "We have but faith; we cannot know." "If man is not called by God to his side in other matters of his daily doing, to be as a judge and counsellor, and this can be expected by none, and none presumes to murmur against that order, it is right that man should not demand that the method of God's government should be shown him in this world, but that he should acquiesce in it, whether he understands it or no; that he should believe his Word, and await his good in patience" (Cocceius).
CONCLUSION. find now the speaker—pointing to the rising storm which has been gathering during his discourse, brings his words, in solemn iteration and summing-up, to a close (verses 21-24). The aspect of yonder heaven is a symbol of Job's position in relation to God. The light that flashes in its wonted splendour behind the clouds is not seen just now, but a wind rises and sweeps those clouds away; and so the God who is concealed for a time, and of whom we are in danger of entertaining wrong thoughts, may suddenly, to our surprise and shame, discover himself. Let us, then, humble ourselves in presence of the destiny that just now is full of darkness. From the gloom as of midnight there bursts forth the gleam as of gold—brilliant token of the sublime power of Jehovah. And God remains inaccessible to sense, to knowledge, dwelling in the unapproachable light. But, amidst all the terror and the mystery, the voice of conscience, the moral sense in man, tells him that, though God be incomprehensible, this much concerning him may be known—he is no Perverter of right and justice; he is the infallibly good and wise, just and holy One. This faith is the foundation of reverence, of piety; and as for the "self-wise," the men wise in their own conceits, God holds them in no regard. (On the dazzling light, the symbol of the majesty of God, compare the hymn of Binney, "Eternal Light! Eternal Light!")—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The perfectness of the Divine ways.
Elihu continues to speak on God's behalf. He defends the Divine ways from what he esteems to be Job's reflections upon them. He will fain "ascribe righteousness ' to his "Maker." The perfectness and justness of the ways of him who is "mighty in strength and wisdom" is traced by Elihu in many instances. Though greatly exalted, God does not look disdainfully upon man; nor doth he despise the work of his own hands. His perfect work is seen—
I. IN HIS JUDGMENTS UPON THE UNGODLY. "He preserveth not the life of the wicked."
II. IN HIS JUSTICE TO THE OPPRESSED. "He giveth right to the poor;" "He deliverth the poor in his affliction" (verse 15).
III. IN HIS REGARD FOR THE OBEDIENT AND PURE. "He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous." This is especially seen—
IV. IN HIS DISCIPLINE AND CORRECTION OF THE RIGHTEOUS. This topic Elihu expands. While the Almighty suffers the wicked to perish, he maintains the lot of the oppressed and righteous poor, keeping them ever in view, and ever working all things together for their good.
1. In leading them to an established honour. "With kings are they on the throne." He "doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted."
2. He sanctifies their sorrows as means of spiritual discipline and correction. "If they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction, he showeth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded."
3. He imparts instruction, warning them away from the dangers of iniquity.
4. He crowns their obedience with ample reward. "If they obey and serve him," he makes them to spend their days in prosperity. How does this anticipate the final condition of Job? and in the process of this Divine poem, how is the unravelling of the mystery, the knot of human suffering, gradually promoted? Again, with another motive to urge Job to repentance, Elihu points out
5. That even the righteous, if they are disobedient to the Divine instructions and correction, "shall perish by the sword, and they shall die without knowledge." He makes a direct application of the whole teaching to Job: "Even so would he have removed thee out of the strait into a broad place;" but lays at Job's door the accusation of fulfilling the judgment of the evil-doer and suffering, as he does, for the severities of "judgment and justice." The principle of Elihu's teaching is just, if his application of it is faulty. All may learn
(1) to acknowledge,
(2) to bow to,
(3) to harmonize their life with, the perfect work of God.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Speaking on God's behalf.
Elihu is not a little held in roundly asserting that he is speaking on God's behalf. He may be fight, but his assertion needs testing. Not all who claim to speak for God can be accredited as his ambassadors. We must examine the credentials of those who say that they speak on behalf of God.
I. THE FALSE CLAIM TO SPEAK ON GOD'S BEHALF. This claim is put forth repeatedly.
1. By officialism. Because certain people hold a high office, they assume that they have a fight to represent God. But they may be true in their work and in discharging the proper functions of their office, and yet quite false in pretending to speak for God. God does not confine his heavenly communications to official channels.
2. By authoritative orthodoxy. No one can read the sad records of ecclesiastical history without seeing what ungodly passions have been engaged in the battles of theology. Dare we say that the issue of these miserable conflicts has always been a triumph for truth?
3. By personal dogmatism. Young men, such as Elihu, declare that they are speaking for God. They are very positive. But are they infallible? Would it not be well to see that God is not absolutely dependent on our advocacy? Vast mischief has accrued through bungling and even unrighteous attempts to vindicate God's truth and God's action. Can he not take care of his own cause? Shall we, like Uzzah, interfere at every crisis to save the ark of God from destruction? Much unbelief is simply due to unwise advocacy and defence of religion. Sometimes it is best to say nothing, but to trust God's cause to himself. "Be still, and know that I am God."
II. THE NECESSARY DUTY OF SPEAKING ON GOD'S BEHALF. There are times when God requires his people to speak for him, and we dare not be silent under all circumstances. Wrong must be denounced, error corrected, truth maintained, the gospel made known. How, then, can this advocacy be saved from the mischievous effects which follow from a wrong way of speaking for God?
1. By a Divine commission. They who speak for God must be called by God. Whatever be their human mission, they certainly need a Divine vocation. Let a man be well assured in his heart that God has called him before he opens his lips. The assurance may not come by any mystic voices, but by clear indications of providence, the prompting of conscience, the faculty to speak, the open door.
2. By a hold of truth. The teacher must be taught. The, advocate must have his brief; the envoy his despatch. The Christian missionary must be clear in his own grasp of Christian truth. We have the best guide to truth in the Bible. If any one would speak for God, let him follow the teachings of this book.
3. By sympathy with the Spirit of God. We cannot even speak the truth we know wisely and well, unless we are guided by the present influence of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to study our Bibles. We must be much in prayer, we must live near to God, so that we may speak in the strength and spirit of God.—W.F.A.
Knowledge fetched from afar.
I. KNOWLEDGE MUST BE FETCHED FROM AFAR. True to his character, the brilliant but pretentious young Elihu makes an ostentatious claim to having gone far for the knowledge that he is now about to declare. It might be said that many precious truths lie at our feet ready for us if only we would have the humility to stoop for them. Diamonds sparkle in the dust; we need not be for ever straining after the stars. Still, there is a knowledge that can only be got by far searching.
1. Over a wide realm. Elihu is about to launch forth into the great sea of nature. The infinite variety of facts and the grand harmony of laws there displayed are not perceived at a glance. Truth covers a large area. Many of our notions are erroneous just because our inductions are too narrow. We judge of the world by the parish. We estimate man by our private circle of acquaintances. We value life by our own experience. We must learn to break down the barriers, to master our shortness of sight, to take broad views, and look down long vistas of truth.
2. By persevering thought. A mere glance at truth is not enough. We must search for wisdom as for hidden treasure.
II. KNOWLEDGE FETCHED FROM AFAR VINDICATES THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. This is the conclusion to which Elihu has come. The three friends had declared for the same result, but they had started from much narrower premisses, and their cramped ideas could not satisfy Job. Elihu professes to take a wider view of the world, and so to establish his conclusion on a broader basis. We have only to know enough of God to be assured that all he does is good. The hard thoughts of God which we are tempted to entertain spring from partial and one-sided views of his works.
III. CHRIST HAS BROUGHT US KNOWLEDGE FROM AFAR WHICH REVEALS THE GOODNESS OF GOD. We are not left entirely to our own dim groping after truth in the great wilderness of existence. What we could never have discovered for ourselves has been brought to us by Jesus Christ. He has come from afar, from the distant heavens; and he has brought the knowledge of God and of eternity to earth. Now, if we would have the highest wisdom, our first course is, like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus. When we do this we shall learn that all that God does is good. Then we shall see that he is our Father, and that love is the principle that pervades all his government of the world. Some of us may yet be far from a perception of these glorious truths—because we are far from Christ. We have to know and trust him in order to reach the truest and best thoughts of God.—W.F.A.
The might and mercy of God.
The remarkable thought here brought before us is the juxtaposition of God's might and mercy. He is both powerful and pitiful, majestic and condescending, infinite and sympathetic.
I. GOD'S MIGHT DOES NOT DESTROY HIS MERCY, It is only a very low and earthly view that could lead us to suppose that it might do so. When small men are lifted up they begin to display their littleness by despising those who are beneath them. But no such conduct can be ascribed to the great God. We must not suppose that any one of his creatures is so humble that he will not stoop to care for it. His is not the rude strength of the giant.
II. GOD'S MERCY IS CONFIRMED BY HIS MIGHT. The truth is the opposite to what we might fear if we judged by the small experience of earthly greatness. God has no temptation to despise any of his creatures. He does not wish to make a display of his greatness.
1. He does not despise the small. Feeble strength and slight capacity lead to contempt among men; but what is the greatest strength, what the highest capacity in the sight of God, in whose eyes all men are but as dust and ashes? If he despised any, he would despise all.
2. He does not despise the wicked. He knows their sin, folly, and helplessness. He seems to treat them with contempt, as psalmists and prophets describe his actions. But all that he really does is to frustrate their foolish designs and show that he cannot be touched by their vain rebellion. If God despised the wicked, he would despise all his children, because in the light of his holiness the best men are covered with the shame of guilt.
III. GOD'S MIGHT AND MERCY WORK TOGETHER. The might gives effect to the mercy. If God is mighty, and if also he does not despise any, we may be sure that he will use his great power for the benefit of helpless creatures who are not beneath his notice. Sympathy is not enough for salvation, without strength. God has both.
IV. THE MIGHT AND MERCY OF GOD SHOULD LEAD US TO TRUST IN HIM. We have not to deal with an aristocratic Divinity who looks with contempt on the "dim multitude." Though high above us, God does not despise us; then we may venture to confide in him. No trouble is so foolish that he will not take account of it, if it realty vexes one of his children. Those who are despised by their fellow-men may take comfort from the thought that they are not so regarded by their God. It is well to find a refuge from the contempt of the world in the sympathy of God.
V. WE SHOULD NOT DESPISE ANY OF OUR BRETHREN. If God has not despised them, dare we do so? Whatever feelings may be provoked by the baseness and meanness of men, contempt is never justifiable. God respects the dignity of the child whom he has made in his own image; and we should learn to treat with respect the lowest of our fellow-men. Contempt not only hurts the feelings of the most humble, it degrades the most vicious. We shall not save the sinner by despising him; the only method is Christ's method—loving him and treating him as a brother.—W.F.A.
The kingship of righteousness.
Elihu assures Job that the righteous are to be with kings on the throne. In the New Testament we learn that Christians are "kings and priests unto God." Let us, then, inquire as to what the kingship of righteousness consists in.
I. ITS SOURCE. How does this kingly state come to be conferred on men?
1. By Divine favour. God favours righteousness. This is not apparent on earth, or, at all events, under circumstances of trouble and disappointment. Yet in the long run God sustains and exalts those who follow his will. No man can lift himself up to the high places of God. God, and God alone, raises up and casts down. God "withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous."
2. On condition of righteousness. This is not an arbitrary condition.
(1) It is just. The right should prevail. Good men are best fitted to be in the exalted positions.
(2) It is natural. If "the meek shall inherit the earth" by a silent law that gives them possession of it, the righteous shall rule it by force of a similar law in the very constitution of things. Right tends to prevail, for there is "a stream of tendencies that makes for righteousness."
3. Through faith. We must add this Christian thought to the teaching of Elihu, if we would have a complete view of the truth. Our own self-made righteousness will never exalt us to a kingly throne. There is no royalty about it. The kingly grace attaches to that righteousness of faith which is the gift of God.
II. ITS CHARACTER. In what sense is it said that righteous men are to be with kings on the throne? How can Christians be regarded as kings?
1. In true glory. Good men may not enjoy worldly glory; they may be poor, despised, obscure. Yet in the sight of God and the angels they may be sitting as kings with crowns on their heads. Royal dignity is not a matter of display. There is a glory which no eye of sense can see.
2. In spiritual power. Kings in the East, and in the olden time, were rulers who made their power felt; and in the Bible kingship involves ruling authority as well as reigning dignity. Now, there is influence in goodness. The man of character carries weight with his advice. In course of time he gains respect, and so acquires influence.
3. In future possession. These ideas of the kingship of the good point to a yet unseen future for their perfect realization. Righteousness is not yet by any means universally dominant. The future has in store for us a glorious kingdom of God, when all evil shall be suppressed, and when goodness shall take its rightful place. In that perfect Messianic age, with Christ reigning as King of kings, all his people will have the honour and power of royalty. In the mean time let us recollect that the kingdom must begin within. Until we can rule our own souls we are not fit to sit as kings. Kingly natures are those that have mastered themselves, and so are capable of ruling others. Righteousness implies self-mastery. When the self-mastery is complete it will be time to ask about the larger kingship.—W.F.A.
The ear that is open to discipline.
I. SUFFERING IS FOR DISCIPLINE. This is Elihu's great thought, and he returns to it again and again. It is familiar to us, but it seems to have been a new idea in the days of Job, and a fresh revelation for him and his friends. It is not the less important to us because we are well acquainted with it. Still, we have to enter into the meaning of it, and employ it as the key for unlocking the mysteries of our experience. Discipline is very different from punishment.
1. It is for the good of the sufferer. Punishment may be so; kind parents punish their children to benefit them. But this is not the sole object of punishment, which is also instituted to deter bad men from crime by the fear of its infliction, and to warn others by the wholesome lesson of its example. Discipline, on the other hand, is wholly schooling, entirely for the benefit of those who are subjected to it.
2. It is not necessarily consequent upon sin. Punishment is only for guilt; but discipline is for education. It may be the more needed on account of sin; but it is not confined to its effect on sin. Christ the Sinless was made perfect by the things which he suffered (Hebrews 5:8, Hebrews 5:9).
II. DISCIPLINE MUST BE RIGHTLY RECEIVED IF IT IS TO PROFIT. It is quite possible for it to be entirely thrown away upon the sufferer. Gold is purified by the fire because gold is but a dead metal. But souls are living, and the effects of the fires of affliction upon them are dependent on voluntary action. They may harden, they may consume, they may purify, they may strengthen. If they are to benefit as discipline they must be received in the right spirit. Now, this spirit is indicated by the open ear. The discipline brings a message from God. It does not only affect our feelings. It aims at reaching our thoughts. Probably it will do us no good at all if it does not lead us to think. An intelligent appreciation of God's dealings with us is valuable for discipline to work its right end. Then we need to think about our own way in life. Affliction arrests our attention and helps us to search our heart and see whether we have not been doing wrong; it encourages us to survey our whole life with a view to improving it for the future.
III. GOD HELPS HIS PEOPLE TO RECEIVE DISCIPLINE ARIGHT. We need to pray for grace to make the best use of affliction. When our hearts are right with God he will aid us to do this.
1. He will incline the heart to learn. When we are stubborn and self-willed, discipline is of little use. It may tend to break down the obstruction; but as long as that is standing it does little good. The disciple must be docile. Now, the inward influence of the Holy Spirit helps us to become docile under discipline.
2. He will assist the understanding to comprehend. We want to know what God is teaching us by his discipline. Our own wild, prejudiced ideas may lead us quite astray. Therefore it is well to fall upon our knees and pray that God will show us what he means by the special discipline he is putting us through—what he is teaching us, and whither he would lead us.—W.F.A.
Affliction as a deliverer.
Elihu says that God delivers the afflicted by his affliction. We have been accustomed to look on affliction as an evil, from which some deliverer may set us free. Elihu startles us with a very different view of it. In his opinion the affliction is itself a deliverer.
I. AFFLICTION IS NOT THE GREATEST EVIL. In our selfish cowardice we look for some escape from pain, as though that were our supreme foe. But sin is worse than suffering—more hurtful, more objectionable in itself. Any escape from trouble that leaves wickedness untouched is no salvation; but any process, however painful, that frees us from the power of sin is salvation.
II. AFFLICTION MAY BE NO EVIL AT ALL. In itself, of course, it is undesirable. But its "peaceable fruits of righteousness" may be so wholesome and profitable that, on the whole, the affliction must be accounted a good thing. We should judge of any experience by its results, not by its passing phases. We have to learn that the pain that blesses is really itself a blessing. The black cloud that brings a refreshing shower is not a threatening storm. The spur that drives us from the desert where we would perish to the streams of living water is not a cruel instrument of torture. The heavy blow that awakens us when we are sleeping in the snow the sleep that would end in death is nothing less than an angel of mercy.
III. AFFLICTION MAY BE A REAL DELIVERER. We have now to ask how this paradox can be true.
1. By humbling pride. When all is well we are tempted to be self-sufficient and self-satisfied. But in suffering we are cast low, and then our lowliness may be our salvation.
2. By inducing thought. We let the happy hours glide by in careless ease, dreaming life away. Trouble arouses us with a trumpet-blast. It odes, "Awake! Think!"
3. By revealing sin. In our humility and our reflectiveness we are led to a consciousness of sin.
4. By driving us to God. We need most of all to be delivered from ourselves and to be brought back to God. The utter helplessness of great trouble urges us in this direction.
IV. AFFLICTION DELIVERS FROM ITSELF. It is its own deliverer when it is rightly received.
1. The right reception of it overcomes its bitterness. There is no such victory over pain as the capacity to endure it with equanimity. We are more delivered from an evil when the thing we have regarded as evil ceases to hurt us than when we only escape from its clutches.
2. The patient endurance of it brings it to an end. When God sees that his scholar has learnt the desired lesson, he can close the book. No more of the scorching lines need be spelt out with tearful eyes. The student has graduated. Henceforth he is free from the old drudgery. Therefore the true way to escape from dreaded suffering which God sends as discipline is not to murmur against it, but to make the best use of it, in order that, being purified by fire, we may become vessels fit for the King's use.—W.F.A.
A broad place.
Elihu tells Job that it is the work of affliction to "lure" him out of a strait into a broad place.
I. LIFE IS IN DANGER OF BECOMING NARROW. Various influences combine to narrow it.
1. Selfishness. The disposition to think much of ourselves dwarfs the world to us. But when we are thus living chiefly for our own ends, we are shut into a small circle of personal, private interests, and, the great world being ignored, we ourselves shrink into littleness.
2. Worldliness. When we are absorbed in things of this world, the other and larger world is lost to view. The consequence is that we become short-sighted, and thought and interest are shut in to the domain of the visible and temporal.
3. Conventionality. We lose the courage of personal conviction, and fall back on the ideas and practices of our neighbours.
4. Routine. Since all goes smoothly, the mill grinds on in a dreamy atmosphere of changeless indifference. Then our lives miss the stimulus of a rousing call to arduous service.
II. GOD DELIVERS FROM NARROWNESS BY MEANS OF AFFLICTION.
1. A Divine work. Seeing how hurtful the narrowness is, and desiring us to escape from it, he puts forth his hand to draw us out of the imprisonment it involves. It is difficult for one who has fallen into a mountain gorge, and who lies among the stones bruised and battered, to lift himself up and climb the steep and treacherous crags. He who has fallen into a strait in life needs the strong arm of God to draw him out.
2. Accomplished through affliction. God comes to the rescue of his straitened servant. But the method of deliverance is strange and unexpected. Affliction is itself a strait; it seems to press on the soul, to hamper and limit its activity. Yet this is the very instrument employed in delivering the victim of narrowness, Narrowness of circumstances may deliver from narrowness of soul. The very pressure of this new strait rouses us and bids us exert ourselves. Then, as it cures our errors, it leads us out of its own constraints.
III. GOD'S DELIVERANCE SETS US IS A BROAD PLACE. First there is a fresh strait, a hard pressure of trouble on the right hand and on the left, with no door of escape. But when the affliction has accomplished its work there is deliverance.
1. Liberty of action. "The truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). God desires his people to serve willingly and lovingly, not with fetters on their ankles. The freedom is of a soul "at leisure from itself." There is a large place with great scope for work, which can only be enjoyed in unselfishness and unworldliness.
2. Breadth of view. It is wonderful how the vision is broadened by the experience of sorrow. Although at first it may be cramped and confined to the immediate present by the absorbing influence of pain, when deliverance comes, this is followed by a wonderful mental expansion. No one knows the depth and breadth of life who has not been through the waters of affliction.
3. Largeness joy. The broad place is open to the fresh air and the bright sunshine. Delivered from dank and dreary narrow regions, we can rejoice in our God-given liberty. This bliss is partly enjoyed on earth; it will be perfect in heaven, the large place of life and liberty.—W.F.A.
The uselessness of a great ransom.
Job had sinned, says Elihu, though not in the black and hypocritical way that his three friends attributed to him. His sin had been in judging God, and charging the Holy One with injustice; and this sin brought its own punishment; indeed, it was its own punishment, because to think that God, our Maker and our Judge, is unjust is to be in torment. Now Job is told that if he holds to this sin the greatness of a ransom will be of no avail; he cannot be saved.
I. MAN LOOKS FOR DELIVERANCE THROUGH A. RANSOM. This is not only a Christian idea. It is found in the Old Testament, and it is to be traced through heathen systems of religion, though among these systems it appears in a degraded and corrupted state.
1. Man has a sense of bondage. This he feels. When conscience is aroused, he has the most intense consciousness of its galling fetters. "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24).
2. Man cannot escape from his bondage. The old brigand, Satan, that great robber of souls, has too tight a hand on his victims to let them go free whenever they choose to escape from his clutches. Habit is a stronger bandage than the cords with which Samson was bound. The deliverance must come from without.
3. This deliverance must be at a great cost. We do not know what the cost must be, nor how it should be settled. It cannot be true, as some of the Fathers held, that a price must be paid to Satan that he may consent to liberate man. He never consents. He can have no compensation. The liberation is by the overthrow of Satan and the conquest of his domain. The Bastille must be stormed and hurled down if its prisoners are to escape. But this can only be done at great cost.
II. CHRIST IS THE RANSOM FOR THE DELIVERANCE OF MAN. This is his own statement (Matthew 20:28). His advent with humiliation in a state of servitude was a Divine payment—a sacrifice on the part of God. His death was his own surrender of his life for the liberation of man from sin. We need not understand why the ransom had to be paid in order to see that it has been paid. A clear idea of the reason and necessity of the payment might help our faith. Still, the fact is the great thing to know. Christ has given himself fur us, and through him we have liberty.
III. THE GREATEST RANSOM MAY BE UNAVAILING.
1. If it is not rightly paid. Men make great sacrifices in asceticism; yet there is no reason to think that they are of any adequate value, because they are not required by God, and they serve no good end.
2. If there is no repentance. The work of Christ is for the benefit of all who will avail themselves of it. But a first condition of profiting by it is repentance. While a man holds to his sin he cannot enjoy the benefits of Christ's sacrifice. For him Christ has died in vain.
3. If it is not accompanied try faith. This is the connecting link that joins the soul to Christ. All that he has done for us remains outside us, not touching our life and need, till we learn to confide in him.
CONCLUSION. It is worse for the ransom to be paid in vain than for it not to be paid at all. They who reject Christ are doubly without hope, for they are without excuse.—W.F.A.
Exaltation and instruction.
Both of these are from God, and both of them exceed any human effort. It is his power that exalts; he is the incomparable Teacher. Let us look at both of these truths and then at their mutual relations.
I. DIVINE EXALTATION.
1. The experience. God's people are not kept in perpetual depression. Sometimes they are cast down to the dust. But this is not their continual state. Salvation is not attained by means of ceaseless humiliation. There is exaltation
(1) in gladness, rejoicing over the love of God;
(2) in strength, rising to achieve great service in the kingdom;
(3) in victory, triumphing over failure and evil.
2. Its source. God exalts. Man cannot truly exalt himself, and when he tries to do so, pride and vanity give him an ugly fall. Success in this world even is dependent on God's providence; much more are true elevation of character and exaltation of energy dependent on his favour.
3. Its accomplishment. God exalts by his power. It is much to know that God is almighty as well as most merciful and gracious. To be favoured by one who had small resources would be pleasant, but it could not be very helpful. But God's power goes with his love to effect his good designs.
II. INCOMPABARLE INSTRUCTION. "Who teacheth like him?"
1. How God teaches
(1) By experience. He puts us to a school of life; he makes us feel the reality of his lessons. The sorrows and joys, the humiliations and the exaltations are all parts of the Divine instruction.
(2) In revelation. This Divine instruction carries us out of ourselves and opens to us visions of heavenly truth. God teaches partly through prophets and apostles in the Scriptures, but mainly through Christ in his great life, death, and resurrection.
2. Why his teaching is incomparable.
(1) Because he knows the lesson. The Teacher is a master of his subject. God knows all truth. Who, then, can teach it as he will teach it?
(2) Because he understands the pupils. This condition is necessary if the lesson is not to miss the mark. Great scholars are not always great teachers, because they cannot always enter into the difficulties of beginners and expound to the simple and ignorant what they are themselves most familiar with.
(3) Because he spares no pains. He is in earnest in desiring to teach his children. He is not like the listless teacher who drones over his perfunctory task. God means to get his lessons into the dullest of his pupils, and, being in earnest and full of sympathy, he is unequalled.
III. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE EXALTATION AND THE INSTRUCTION. Each helps the other.
1. The exaltation a method of instruction. As we rise higher we leave the mists of the valley, and at the same time our horizon expands. Gladness and strength and victory open our eyes to the love of God and the glory of the kingdom. Adversity has its lessons, but so also has prosperity.
2. The instruction an element of the exaltation. We cannot become great in mind until we rise above the petty, narrow, ignorant conceptions that belong to our more backward state. Spiritual greatness implies enlarged knowledge as well as an increase in other graces. When Christ sets his people in places of joy and honour, they have to show appreciation of their privileges by opening their souls to receive the fuller truth that he reveals.—W.F.A.
God praised for his works.
I. CONSIDER HOW WORTHY OF PRAISE ARE THE WORKS OF GOD. We do not prize them so much fro' their vast bulk and infinite number as for their character and the manner in which they are executed. A small statue is more admirable than a huge boulder, and a minute and finely cut gem more precious than a great sea crag. Wherein, then, shall we find the specially praiseworthy characteristics of the works of God?
1. In thoroughness. The infinitely little is as well wrought as the infinitely great. Thought and care are lavished on tiny insects. Exquisite workmanship is seen in humble weeds. The unseen parts of God's works are as perfect as those which are most prominent. The hosts of flowers that bloom on uninhabited prairies are as beautiful as those that smile at us from an English hedgerow.
2. In harmony. The various parts of God's works fit together and aid one another with mutual services. Not only is there a general peaceable arrangement of nature, but there is also a reciprocity that makes each part necessary to the whole. Plants live on the soil, animals on the plants, and these again on the perishing bodies of animals.
3. In beauty. The direct utility of nature might have been served in an ugly fashion. Clouds might all have been black, and leaves and flowers and earth of one dull hue. But God has breathed a spirit of beauty over his works.
4. In joy. God has made existence itself to be a gladness. Insects, birds, and beasts rejoice in the sunlight of a summer day. Man finds life a source of joy.
5. In progress. All nature is moving on in a grand progress to higher forms of life and more perfect types of organization. It is lull of hope, and it looks forward to God's greater future works.
II. REMEMBER HOW WELL IT IS THAT WE SHOULD PRAISE GOD FOR HIS WORKS.
1. In gratitude. We are ourselves part of his works, and we have to thank him that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." Then other works of God minister to our welfare, and as we profit by their utility or enjoy their beauty, it is becoming that we should praise him who is the Maker and Giver of them all.
2. In admiration. It is a miserable thing to sink into that cynical pessimism that can only criticize adversely and can never see and enjoy merit. It passes for cleverness, but it is really a form of dulness, for it is the result of a want of capacity to perceive the good points of that which only arrests attention on account of its real or supposed defects. This habit of mind prevents us from rising to any true greatness ourselves, because men are dawn upwards by admiration. When, however, we have learnt to admire the works of God, it is only fitting that we should go on and adore their great Artificer. The praise of the picture is the praise of the artist. Yet there are lovers of nature who seem to forget her Author.
3. In aspiration. The wings of praise carry the soul aloft. When we sing of the great and marvellous works of God with the heart and the understanding, we shall enter into the thoughts of God lovingly and with sympathy. We grow like what we adore. Following the angels in songs of praise, we shall grow like the angels in heavenly character, if we live in a spirit of worship, praising God not only by the hymns of the sanctuary, but by the grand psalm of a whole life of worship.—W.F.A.
God is great.
This is the Mussulman creed, and a truth of great force in Mohammedanism. Christianity also contains it, and simple as may be the conception when set forth in bare words, there are depths and wide reaches of inferences flowing from it that can never be exhausted.
I. GOD IS IRRESISTIBLE. This is the Mohammedan inference, and of course a necessary and true one, although it dues not describe all that we know of God. We know that it is simply foolish to run against the laws of nature. We cannot deflect one of them by a bait's breadth. But the laws of nature are the ways of God. Therefore there can be but one end to our opposition to God; it must fail. The sooner we own this obvious truth and act upon it the better for ourselves. If we cease to run madly against the will of God, we may repent and turn to the better way; if we still hurl ourselves headlong against it, we can but dash ourselves to pieces.
II. GOD IS UNFATHOMABLE. If we could measure God, he would cease to be God, for he would be no longer infinite. Therefore, instead of being surprised that we meet with mysteries in him, we should expect it, and take it as a sign that we are dealing with One who is vastly greater than we are. The child cannot understand all the actions of his earthly father. How, then, can any man think to understand God? This does not mean that we can know nothing of God. For God may be known as far as he has revealed himself to us, and as far as we are able to rise to a comprehension of some things in his nature. We may know God truly; but we cannot know him adequately. Before the awful mystery of his greatness we tremble, humbled and abashed.
1. Therefore we are not in a position to judge of God's actions. We see but a minute fraction of them. Their roots lie in dark depths beyond the reach of our inquiry; their purposes stretch far beyond the utmost rim of our horizon.
2. Therefore we should learn to trust God. We must walk by faith, for we cannot see all.
III. GOD IS ALMIGHTY TO SAVE. The Christian God is more than the Mussulman Allah. He is not like an inexorable Oriental despot. He is full of sympathy for his children, listening to their cry and coming to save them in their need. If he is great, that is the more reassuring for us when we put our trust in him. It is vain for us to resist him; but it is safe for us to trust him. Even the mysteriousness of God invites our confidence when once we are assured of his love. His almighty power is able to save unto the uttermost, and his great and wonderful thought invites us to repose in his wisdom. Henry Vaughan, in 'Silex Scintillans,' says—
"There is a God, some say—
A deep, but dazzling darkness;
As men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear.
Oh for that night! where I in him
Might live invisible and dim!"
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 36". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17