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Job having ended his complaint, Eliphaz the Temanite, the first-named of his three friends (Job 2:11), and perhaps the eldest of them, takes the word, and endeavours to answer him. After a brief apology for venturing to speak at all (verse 2), he plunges into the controversy. Job has assumed that he is wholly guiltless of having given any cause for God to afflict him. Eliphaz lays it down in the most positive terms (verses 7, 8) that the innocent never suffer, only the wicked are afflicted. He then passes on to the description of a vision which has appeared to him (verses 12-21), from which he has learnt the lesson that men must not presume to be "more wise than their Maker."
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said (see the comment on Job 2:11).
If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? rather, If one assay a word against thee' wilt thou be angry? Eliphaz feels that what he is about to say will be unwelcome, and, as it were, apologizes beforehand. Surely Job will not be angry if a friend just ventures a word. But who can withhold himself from speaking? Let Job be angry or not, Eliphaz must speak. It is impossible to hear such words as Job has uttered, and yet keep silence. God's wisdom and justice have been impugned, and must be vindicated.
Behold, thou hast instructed many; or, corrected many. When others have been afflicted and murmured, thou hast corrected them, and shown them that they were suffering only what they deserved to suffer. In so doing, thou hast strengthened the weak hands; "given moral strength," i.e; "to those who were morally weak," upheld them, saved them from impatient words and hard thoughts of God.
Thy words have upholden him that was falling. Many a man, just on the point of falling, has been stopped in time by thy wise words and good advice to him. This is a strong testimony to Job's kindliness of heart, and active sympathy with sufferers during the period of his prosperity. And thou hast strengthened the feeble knees; literally, the bowing knees—those that were just on the point of collapsing and giving way through exhaustion or feebleness (comp. Isaiah 35:3).
But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest. Now it is thy turn—calamity has come upon thee' and all that thou weft wont to say to others is forgotten. The wise physician cannot heal himself. Instead of receiving thy chastisement in a right spirit, thou "faintest," or rather, "thou art angry, art offended"—as the same verb is also to be translated in the second verse. There is a tone of sarcasm about these remarks, which implies a certain hardness and want of real affection in the speaker, and which cannot but have been perceived by Job, and have detracted from the force of what Eliphaz urged. If one has to rebuke a friend, it should be done with great delicacy. Our "precious balms" should not be allowed to "break his head" (Psalms 141:6). It toucheth thee, and thou art troubled; or, perplexed—"confounded."
Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways? Translate, with the Revised Version, Is not thy fear of God thy confidence' and thy hope the integrity of thy ways? The verse is composed, as usual, of two clauses, balancing each other; and the meaning seems to be that, if Job is as convinced of his piety and uprightness as he professes to be, he ought still to maintain confidence in God, and a full expectation of deliverance from his troubles. If he does not, what is the natural inference? Surely, that he is not so confident of his innocence as he professes to be.
Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? The heart of the matter is now approached. Job is called upon to "remember" the long-established moral axiom, that only evil-doing brings down upon men calamities, and that therefore, where calamities fall, them must be precedent wickedness. If he does not admit this, he-is challenged to bring forward examples, or even a single example, of suffering innocence. If he does admit it, he is left to apply the axiom to himself. Or where were the righteous cut off? Was the example of "righteous Abel" (Matthew 23:35) unknown to Eliphaz? And had he really never seen that noblest of all sights, the good man struggling with adversity? One would imagine it impossible to attain old age, in the world wherein we live, without becoming convinced by our own observation that good and evil, prosperity and adversity, are not distributed in this life according to moral desert; but a preconceived notion of what ought to have been seems here, as elsewhere so often in the field of speculation, to have blinded men to the actual facts of the ease, and driven them to invent explanations of the facts, which militated against their theories, of the most absurdly artificial character. To account for the sufferings of the righteous, the explanation of "secret sins" was introduced, and it was argued that, where affliction seemed to fall on the good man, his goodness was not real goodness—it was a counterfeit, a sham—the fabric of moral excellence, so fair to view, was honeycombed by secret vices, to which the seemingly good man was a prey. Of course, if the afflictions wore abnormal, extraordinary, then the secret sins must be of a most heinous and horrible kind to deserve such a terrible retribution. This is what Eliphaz hints to be the solution in Job's case. God has seen his secret sins—he has "set them in the light of his countenance" (Psalms 90:8)—and is punishing them openly. Job's duty is to humble himself before God, to confess, repent, and amend. Then, and then only, may he hope that God will remove his hand, and put an end to his sufferings
Even as I have seen; rather, according as I have seen—so far, that is, as my observation goes (see the Revised Version, which is supported by Professor Lee and Canon Cook). They that plough iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same (comp. Proverbs 22:8; Hosea 8:7; Hosea 10:13; Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8). The words translated "iniquity" and "wickedness" express in the original both moral and physical evil. Men sew the one and reap the other. Eliphaz extends this general rule into a universal law, or, at any rate, declares that he has never known an exception. He has not, therefore, been grieved and perplexed, like David, by "seeing the ungodly in such prosperity" (Psalms 73:3). He would seem not to have been a man of very keen observation.
By the blast of God they perish; rather, by the breath of God, as in Job 37:10. The word used (גִשְׁמָה) means always, as Professor Lee observes," a slight or gentle breathing." The slightest breath of God's displeasure is enough to destroy those against whom it is directed. And by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed. Here "blast" would be better than "breath," for רוח is a stronger word than נשׁמה. Similarly, רוח is a stronger word than יאבדו. The breath kills, the blast utterly consumes, transgressors.
The roaring of the lion, and the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions, are broken. Wicked men, especially oppressors, are often compared to lions in Scripture (see Psalms 7:2; Psalms 10:9; Psalms 17:12, etc.; Ezekiel 19:3,Ezekiel 19:5; Nahum 2:12; Zephaniah 3:3, etc.). The meaning of Eliphaz is that, within his experience, all classes of wicked men, young, or old, or middle-aged, weak or strong, have received in this life the reward of their iniquity. However fiercely they might roar, however greedily they might devour, their roaring has died away, their teeth have been broken in their mouths, vengeance has lighted on them in some shape or other; they have paid the penalty of their transgressions. Five classes of lions seem to be spoken of in this and the following verses:
(1) the whelp (Job 4:11);
(2) the half-grown lion, just able to make its voice heard;
(3) the young full-grown lion (cephir);
(4) the lion in full maturity (ariyeh); and
(5) the old lion which is growing decrepit (laish).
To these is joined (Job 4:11) labi, "the lioness." Lions are still frequent in the Mesopotamian region, though no longer found in Palestine, nor in Arabia.
The old lion perisheth for lack of prey. The human counterpart of the "old lion" is the oppressor whose strength and cunning begin to fail him, who can no longer carry things with a high hand, enforce his will on men by bluster and throats, or even set traps for them so skilfully that they blindly walk into them. Political charlatans whose role is played out, bullies whose nerve is beginning to fail, cardsharpers whose manual dexterity has de-sorted them, come under this category. And the stout lion's whelps; rather, the whelps of the lioness (see the Revised Version). Are scattered abroad. Even the seed of ill-doers suffer. They are involved in their parents' punishment (see Exodus 20:5). Eliphaz darkly hints that Job may have been among the class of oppressors, or (at any rate) of transgressors, and that the untimely fate of his children may have been the consequence of his evil-doings.
Eliphaz proceeds to narrate a spiritual experience of a very strange and striking character. It was night, and he had fallen asleep, when suddenly he was, or seemed to himself to be, awake. A horrible fear came over him, and all his limbs trembled and quaked. Then a spirit seemed to pass before his face, while every hair on his body rose up and stiffened with horror. It did not simply pass across him, but stood still, in a formless form, which he could see but not clearly distinguish. There was a deep hush. Then out of the silence there seemed to come a voice, a whisper, which articulated solemn words. "Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man," etc.? Supernatural visitations were vouchsafed by God to many besides the chosen people—to Laban, when he pursued Jacob (Genesis 31:24), to Abimelech (Genesis 20:6), to the Pharaoh of the time of Joseph (Genesis 41:1-7), to his chief butler (Genesis 40:9-11), and his chief baker (Genesis 40:16, Genesis 40:17), to Balaam the son of Beer (Numbers 22:12, Numbers 22:20; Numbers 23:5-10, Numbers 23:16-24; Numbers 24:3-9, Numbers 24:15-24), to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:28-35; Daniel 4:1-32), and others. The method and manner of these visitations raise a multitude of questions which it is impossible to answer, but are convincing evidence to all who believe Scripture to be true, that communications can pass between the spiritual and material worlds of a strange and mysterious character. The communication to Eliphaz may have been a mere vision, impressed upon his mind in sleep, or it may have been actually brought to him by a spiritual messenger, whom he could dimly see, and whose voice he was privileged to hear. Modern pseudo-science pronounces such seeing and hearing to be impossible. But poets are often clearer-sighted than scientists, and Shakespeare utters a pregnant truth when he says—
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Now a thing was secretly brought to me; rather, a word (or, a message) was brought to me stealthily. And mine ear received a little thereof; rather, a whisper thereof (see the Revised Version, and comp. Job 26:14, and the Vulgate, which gives susurrus). As the form of the vision was not distinct to Eliphaz's eyes (Job 4:16), so neither were the words which were uttered distinct to his ears. He thinks himself able, however, to give the sense of them (see Job 4:17-21).
In thoughts from the visions of the night; literally, in the perplexities of the visions of night; i.e. "in that perplexing time when—how, they know not—visions come to men." The word translated "thoughts" occurs only here and in Job 20:2. When deep sleep falleth on men. Something more than ordinary sleep seems to be meant—something more approaching to what we call "trance" (comp. Genesis 2:21; Genesis 15:12; 1 Samuel 26:12, where the same word is used).
Fear came upon me, and trembling; compare the "horror of great darkness'' which fell upon Abraham (Genesis 15:12). Our nature shrinks from direct contact with the spiritual world, and our earthly frame shudders at the unearthly presence. Which made the multitude of my bones to shake; or, which made my bones greatly to shake (so the LXX.' Professor Lee, and others).
Then a spirit passed before my face. It has been argued (Rosenmuller) that "a breath of air," and not "a spirit," is intended; but, in that ease, how are we to understand the expressions in the following verse: "it stood still," "the form thereof," "an image"? A breath of air, the very essence of which is to be in motion, cannot stand still, nor has it any "form," "appearance," or "image." Granted that the Hebrew ruakh (רוח) may mean—like the Greek πνεῦμα, and the Latin spiritus—either an actual spirit, or a breath, a wind, it follows that, in every place where it occurs, we must judge by the context which is meant. Here certainly the context points to an actual living spirit, as what Eliphaz intended. Whether a spirit really appeared to him is a separate question. The whole may have been a vision; but certainly the impression left on Eliphaz was that he had had a communication from the spirit-world. The hair of my flesh stood up. Not the hair of his head only, but every hair on his whole body, stiffened, bristled, and rose up on end in horror (see the comment on Job 4:14).
It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof. Canon Cook quotes, very appositely, Milton's representation of Death as a fearful shape,
"If shape it could be called that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed."
An image was before mine eyes; or, on appearance (LXX; μορφή). There was silence; or, a hush—"status aeris nullo motu turbati, et tranquillissimus" (Schulteus). And I heard a voice, saying. After a while the silence was broken by a voice, which whispered in Eliphaz's ear (comp. Job 4:12).
Shall mortal man be more just than God? Is it to be supposed that the ways of God can be rightly criticized and condemned by man? Surely not; for then man must be more penetrated with the spirit of justice than the Almighty. If our thoughts are not as God's thoughts, it must be, our thoughts that are wrong. Shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Equally impossible. God alone is absolutely pure. The best man must be conscious to himself, as Isaiah was (Isaiah 6:5), of uncleanness.
Behold, he put no trust in his servants; rather, he putteth no trust' or he putteth not trust. The" servants" intended are those that minister to him directly in heaven, the members of the angelic host, as appears from the parallelism of the other clause of the verse. Even in them God does not trust implicitly, since he knows that they are frail and fallible, liable to err, etc; only kept from sin by his own sustaining and assisting grace (setup. Job 15:15, where Eliphaz expresses the same belief in his own person). And his angels he charged with folly; rather, chargeth. The exact meaning of the word translated "folly" is uncertain, since the word does not occur elsewhere. The LXX. renders by σκολιόν τι, "crookedness;" Ewald, Dillmann, and others, by "error." The teaching clearly is that the angels are not perfect—the highest angelic excellence falls infinitely short of God's perfectness. Even angels, therefore, would be incompetent judges of God's doings.
How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay! rather, hew muck more cloth he not put trust in them that inhabit houses of clay! i.e. "earthly bodies," bodies made out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7; setup, Job 33:6). Whose foundation is in the dust; i.e." whose origin was the dust of the ground," which were formed from it and must return to it, according to the words of Genesis 3:19, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou must return." Which are crushed before the moth. This is somewhat obscure. It may mean, "which are so fragile that a moth, a fly, or other weak creature may destroy them," or "which are crushed with the same ease with which a moth is crushed and destroyed."
They are destroyed from morning to evening. Human bodies undergo a continuous destruction. From the moment that we are born we begin to die. Decay of powers is coeval with their first exercise. Our insidious foe, Death, marks us as his own from the very first breath that we draw. Our bodies are machines wound up to go for a certain time. The moment that we begin to use them we begin to wear them out. They perish for ever. The final result is that Our" houses of clay "perish, crumble to dust, disappear, and come to nothing. They "perish for ever," says Eliphaz, repeating what he believed the spirit of Job 4:15 to have said to him; but it is not clear that he understood more by this than that they perish and disappear for ever, so far as this life and this world are concerned. Without any regarding it. No one is surprised or thinks it hard. It is the lot of man, and every one's mind is prepared for it.
Doth not their excellency which is in them go away! "Their excellency" (יתרם) would seem to mean that which is highest in them—their spirit, or soul. It does not make much difference if we translate, with the Old Testament Revisers" their tent-cord," since that would be merely a metaphor for the soul, which sustains the body as the tent-cord does the tent. What deserves especial remark is that the "excellency" does not perish; it goes away, departs, or is removed. They die, even without wisdom; literally, not in wisdom; i.e. not having learnt in the whole course of their lives that true wisdom which their life-trials were intended to teach them.
Eliphaz to Job: the opening of the second controversy: 1. The relation of suffering to sin.
I. A COURTEOUS EXORDIUM. Eliphaz, the oldest and wisest of the friends, adopts an apologetic strain in replying to Job's imprecation, representing the task assumed by him as:
1. Painful to Job; which it certainly was. In circumstances even the most favourable, it requires no little grace to receive admonition with equanimity; not to speak of counting it a kindness and esteeming it an excellent oil (Psalms 141:5), and embracing its dispenser with affection (Proverbs 9:8); and much more when that admonition is not only felt to be undeserved, but spoken at a time when the soul, crushed beneath the burden of its misery, wants sympathy rather than reproof, and when, besides, the reproof is unfeeling in its tone and somewhat flavoured with self-complacency on the part of the giver. If to hear and accept rebuke be a sign of grace (Proverbs 15:5) and a pathway to wisdom (Proverbs 15:32) and honour (Proverbs 13:18), it is much more a mark of tender piety and fine Christian sagacity to be able to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and to rebuke with long-suffering (2 Timothy 4:2). Reproof that lacerates seldom profits.
2. Distasteful to himself (Eliphaz). Charity dictates that the best construction, rather than the worst, should be put upon the conduct of the Temanite. Hence, instead of pronouncing his language coarse, haughty, arrogant, and violent, we regard it, especially in the introduction, as characterized by delicacy and consideration, hinting, as it manifestly does, that Eliphaz had entered on the office of Mentor to his friend with reluctance; and certainly an office so fitted to give pain, and so apt to produce harmful results, should never be engaged in except with palpable tokens of grief.
3. Required by cerise. "But who can withhold himself from speaking?" The impulse which Eliphaz confessed was not the kindling heat of poetic fire, but the moral constraint of duty.
(1) Duty to God (Le Job 19:17). A safe rule never to distribute censure except when so impelled. Only "compulsion from our own spirit should not be mistaken for impulsion from God's." Men who never speak but under a sense of duty, seldom speak unkindly or in vain.
(2) Duty to Job (Proverbs 27:5). Unless satisfied of our own sincerity in aiming at the good of those we censure, it is better to be silent; nay, it is wrong to speak.
(3) Duty to himself (Proverbs 28:23). The light possessed by Eliphaz would have made silence on his part both a gross dereliction of duty and an indirect participation in the sin of Job. If, therefore, he would keep his conscience clean, he must "assay to commune with his friend."
II. A GENEROUS COMMENDATION. The piety of Job was acknowledged by Eliphaz to have been:
1. Conspicuous. "Behold!" Eminent piety can usually speak for itself, always secure attention, and seldom fails to elicit commendation. Even so should Christians let their light shine (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12).
2. Philanthropic. Job's piety was not simply intellectual and emotional, but also practical, aiming at the good of others. Like the great Exemplar (Matthew 20:28; Acts 10:38), of whom in some respects he was a type, this Arabian patriarch went about doing good (Job 29:12-17). So Christ instructs his followers to do (Matthew 10:42; Luke 10:37; Joh 14:15; 1 Corinthians 14:1; Galatians 5:14; Colossians 3:12-14). Where works of faith and labours of love are entirely absent, there is ground to suspect that genuine religion is not present (Galatians 5:22; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17).
(1) Instructing the ignorant (Job 29:21-23), giving counsel as a prince or magistrate in the gate, or as a friend and leader supplying directions for daily duty.
(2) Correcting the wayward—according to another translation—by either the infliction of penalties for wrong-doing or the administration of judicial reprimand.
(3) Sustaining the weak, upholding the sinking and fainting heart by kindly sympathy, and strengthening the feeble knees and hands by helpful succour.
4. Habitual. The tenses of the verbs indicate customary actions and lifelong habits. Isolated good deeds do not necessarily proceed from gracious hearts; there can be no better evidence of saintship than a lifetime of holy walking.
III. A DELICATE INSINUATION.
1. That Job's piety had failed where it ought to have stood. "But now it is come upon thee and, thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled" (verse 5). Either
(1) an expression of sincere astonishment that Job, who had so often and so efficiently ministered consolation to others, should have proved faint-hearted when like trouble fell upon himself,—reminding us that it is easier to preach patience than to practise it, that they who counsel others should strive to illustrate their own precepts, and that the world is never slow in remarking the deficiencies of good men; or
(2) an utterance of keen invective (if we adopt the uncharitable view of Eliphaz's language), as if he meant to taunt Job with doing the very thing for which he had so piously admonished others, exhibiting the same craven spirit in adversity against which he had warned them,—an interpretation which, if it is correct, reminds us that good men are long in getting rid of their corruptions, that grace often finds a lodging in strange quarters, that the Horatian maxim of seeing and approving better things and yet following worse was not unknown to Eliphaz any more than to Paul; but on either hypothesis
(3) the record of a frequent experience, Job having been neither the first nor the last who has felt himself unequal to the task of practising what he has tried to preach.
2. That Job's confidence had stood where it ought to have failed. "Is not thy fear thy confidence? And thy hope, is it not the uprightness of thy ways?" (verse 6)
(1) Perhaps implying that Job had been previously resting with complacent satisfaction on his religious character, and deriving hope of Divine favour from the elevation of his piety, which, if Job had been doing, he had been living in egregious error, since "by the deeds of the Law shall no flesh living be justified;" but the statement of Eliphaz was a gratuitous slander, which one good man should always be careful in circulating, saying, or even thinking about another, since God alone can read the heart.
(2) Insinuating that this previous confidence on the part of Job had been ill grounded, inasmuch as his piety could not have been sincere, in which case Job must have been guilty of hypocrisy; but this, again, was a mere inference on the part of Eliphaz, and in point of fact was incorrect.
(3) Directing Job to find encouragement and hope in a return to the fear of God and to moral rectitude of life—an advice which, as addressed to Job, was not required, and, as given by Eliphaz, was a pure impertinence.
IV. A FALLACIOUS PHILOSOPHY.
1. That good men never perish. "Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?" (verse 7).
(1) An unkind statement, even if it had been true; considering Job's situation. If there is "a time to speak," there is also "a time to be silent;" and though it is unquestionably wrong to suppress or tamper with the truth, there is nothing in religion that requires one to proclaim all the truth irrespective of circumstances, or even to present truth under any circumstances in its most repulsive forms.
(2) An incorrect statement, as well as an unkind one. It was contradicted by the plainest facts of history, as Job maintained, and as the least competent observer might have perceived (Genesis 4:8; Acts 2:22, Acts 2:23; Hebrews 11:37). Those who undertake to comfort sufferers, and those who propound philosophies of affliction (or, indeed, of anything), should be careful to adhere to truth.
2. That bad men always perish. "Even as I have seen, they that plough iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same" (verse 8); in which may be noted:
(1) The graphic description of wicked men, who are depicted
(a) metaphorically as ploughing iniquity and sowing wickedness, alluding, perhaps, to the deliberate purpose, mental activity, steady perseverance, onward progress, and eager expectation with which great criminals contrive and carry out their nefarious schemes; and
(b) analogically, being likened to a lion passing through the successive stages of its development, and increasing as it grows in strength, ferocity, and violence.
(2) The melancholy overthrow of wicked men, who are consumed
(a) in accordance with the natural laws of retribution, reaping the whirlwind where they have sown the wind (Proverbs 22:8; Hosea 8:7; Hosea 10:13; Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8);
(b) by the express visitation of God, perishing (as Job's children did, is what he means) by the blast of God, and before the breath of his nostrils; and
(c) to the complete extinction of their former greatness, the providentially overtaken and divinely punished transgressor being compared to an old lioness, once formidable and powerful, roaring and devouring, but now lying helpless and impotent, toothless and voiceless, dying for lack of prey, and abandoned even by her whelps.
(3) The amount of truth in the representation, which is correct in so far as it describes individual cases; as e.g. the antediluvians, the cities of the plain, Adonibezek (Judges 1:7), Belshazzar (Daniel 5:22, Daniel 5:30), Herod (Acts 12:23); but incorrect in so far as it claims to be of universal application.
1. To cultivate the habit of politeness of speech. Courtesy is a dictate of religion as well as an element of virtue.
2. To commend where we can, and reprove only where we must. To detect goodness in others is a higher attainment than to espy faults.
3. To beware of trusting in self-righteousness, as much after conversion as before. The saint's trust should never be in himself, but always in his God.
4. To be cautious in making general deductions from what may, after all, be isolated facts. One man's observation does not afford a basis broad enough for the construction of a philosophy of life.
5. To think about the harvests we shall reap before commencing to plough and sow. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap"
I. THE SOURCE OF IT.
(1) It comes not without a cause. "The curse causeless shall not come" (Proverbs 26:2).
(2) It comes not for any cause; i.e. by haphazard, by accident, since the whole universe is under the dominion of law (Matthew 10:29).
(3) It comes not from a material cause; it springs not from the ground; it is not the result of a man's terrestrial environment
(1) It comes from within man himself; it is the fruit of his own sin
(2) It comes in accordance with universal moral law, which connects sin and suffering together as cause and effect.
(3) It comes as an inseparable concomitant of man's nature. Man, when he is born, finds himself introduced into a scene of trouble.
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF IT.
1. Universal. It is the portion, not of one man, or a few, or even of many, but of the race. It forms a portion of the birthright of humanity.
2. Certain. It is absolutely unavoidable. As surely as the sparks ascend, so surely will those sinful passions rage that entail suffering and misery.
3. Perpetual. Meeting man upon the threshold of his birth, it accompanies him throughout life till its close.
III. THE ESCAPE FROM IT.
1. Not by refractory rebellion. Not by behaving like the fool, or like Job, who cursed his day, and fumed and fretted against his misery.
2. But by patient submission. "Humble thyself beneath the hand of God, and he shall lift thee up."
Eliphaz to Job: 2. A message from the spirit-world.
I. THE DEVOUT SEER.
1. Reposing on his couch. A modern poet (Robert Buchanan, 'Book of Orm.,' 1.), depicting how "in the beginning, ere time grew," the beautiful Maker of all things drew around his face, which has ever since been invisible to mortal eye, the wondrous veil of the firmament, represents that face as closest pressed in the daytime, when the sky is clearest, adding that at nightfall, when the darkness deepens and the stars swim out, and the evening wind begins to blow like the breath of God, that veil is backward drawn. It more, however, accords with universal experience that the unseen world seems in closest proximity to the human soul when it looks down through "the star-inwrought luminous folds of the wondrous veil." That the light of garish day has a tendency, by shutting man into his own little world, to shut out from his apprehension the infinitudes above, is not more certain than it is that the finite spirit becomes more quickly conscious of the supernatural amidst the darkness and silence of night, than when these have been succeeded by the radiance and turmoil of day.
2. Wrapt in meditation. If day be the season for labour, unquestionably night is the time most congenial for the exercise of thought, especially for revolving the great problems of religion. As David meditated on God in the night-watches (Psalms 63:6), and Asaph communed with his heart in the night, his wakeful spirit making diligent search into those brooding mysteries which oppressed his waking hours (Psalms 77:6), and as a Greater than either spent whole nights among the Galilaean hills in prayer to God (Luke 6:12), so Eliphaz had "thoughts from the visions of the night."
3. Raised into ecstasy. Disengaged from the activities and disturbances of waking existence, and soothed by the calming influences of night, the meditative prophet fell into a deep sleep, not simply such a profound slumber as steeps the senses in oblivion to all outward things, but such a supernatural repose as Adam was cast in before the creation of Eve (Genesis 2:21), and Abraham at the making of the covenant (Genesis 15:12). and Daniel on the banks of the Ulai (Daniel 8:18), in which, while for the time the human spirit is severed from its physically conditioned life, it is yet in the innermost depths of its being possessed of a conscious existence—a mode of being perhaps as nearly approaching what man's disembodied state will be as anything we can think of.
4. Visited by revelations. The deep sleep just described having been that into which prophets and others were east when about to receive Divine communications (cf. Abraham, Genesis 15:12; Jacob, Genesis 28:12; Daniel 2:19; Peter, Acts 10:10; Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:2, 2 Corinthians 12:3). Eliphaz the entranced was honoured by a visitation from the unseen world of ghosts.
II. THE FORMLESS SPECTRE.
1. The premonition of its coming. "Fear came upon me, and trembling" (verse 14). Even good men are not always able to contemplate the supernatural with self-possession (cf. Matthew 14:26; Luke 24:37). That man should evince a horror of visitors from the spirit-world is a melancholy proof of his fall, Innocence would not be discomposed by knowing that "millions of spirits walk this air, both when we wake and when we sleep" (Milton). But sinful man, being out of harmony with the Supreme Spirit and the entire circle of creation, universally feels afraid of the unseen world by which he is surrounded (cf. 'Macbeth,' Acts 3:0. sc. 4).
2. The manner of its coming. Gliding suddenly out of the darkness in which the entranced seer lay, flitting softly and noiselessly along upon the still, supernatural atmosphere with which the chamber was filled, moving steadily up till it came in full view of the dreamer's open eye, it stood! The sleeper saw and was perfectly conscious of its presence, could discern there was an image, a dim shadowy nebulous appearance, but felt altogether incompetent to analyze its features. Yet there is no reason to suppose that, like Macbeth's sword, this formless spectre was "a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain" ('Macbeth,' Acts 2:0. sc. 1). The Sadducees denied the existence of spirits (Acts 23:8); but the language of Christ (Luke 24:39) implies that they were wrong, though, of course, it does not sanction either the ancient superstitious belief in ghost-stories or the modern delusion of spirit-rapping.
3. The effect of its coming. The terror of anticipation felt by Eliphaz deepened rote a nameless horror, in which "the hair of his flesh stood up" (verse 15), "like quills upon the fretful porcupine" ('Hamlet,' Acts 1:0. sc. 5), or rather like nails or spikes upon a wall, each individual bristle stiffening itself into a cold and chilling isolation.
4. The accompaniment of its coming. A still, small voice fell upon his ear, like a dead and stealthy whisper (cf. 1 Kings 19:12).
III. THE SHADOWY VOICE.
1. A clear demonstration of the sinfulness of man.
(1) A question proposed: "Shall mortal man be mere just than God? shall a man be more pure than his Maker?" (verse 17). A great question, which, read as it stands (Calvin, Davidson, Cox, etc.), may be described as
(a) searching, going down into the foundations of man's being, inquiring into the ideas he possesses of moral excellence and spiritual integrity, as well as the measures and degrees in which those ideas have been realized in his own personal existence;
(b) elevating, lifting man up into the serene altitudes of absolute purity in which God dwells, and setting him down with the dimmed lustre of his imperfect goodness beside the clear white light of God's ineffable rectitude;
(c) discriminating, neither confounding the two things, man's righteousness and God's, as if they were one and the same, nor mistaking the one for the other, as if they almost rivalled one another in their splendour, but distinguishing each from the other as essentially diverse and apart, God's righteousness and holiness being inherent, perfect, eternal, while that of man is derived, immature, capable of increase and diminution, mutable, and subject to decay; and
(d) challenging, demanding of sinful man whether he would dare to exalt himself, in respect of justice and purity, above the supreme God, his Maker? Formally, perhaps, no one would be guilty of the immeasurable presumption implied in asserting that he was equal to this; yet practically ever), sinner makes the claim of having stricter ideas of moral and spiritual integrity than God, when he impeaches either the equity of the Divine dealings with, Or the justness of the Divine sentence of condemnation against, himself.
(2) A premiss stated: "Behold, he puts no trust in his servants, and his angels he charges with folly [or, 'imputeth to them wrong']" (verse 18). The impious assumption that the creature might surpass the Creator in moral purity, the ghost quickly disposes of by showing that the former cannot possibly equal the latter, and this he does by establishing the moral inferiority to God of even the highest intelligences, the unfallen angels who serve him day and night in his celestial temple. Even they, beings of exalted dignity and radiant goodness, when brought up alongside of the light inaccessible and full of glory of the Divine character, appear to have their lustre tarnished. Whence the next step is inevitable.
(3) A deduction made: "How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay!" (verse 19). If man is inferior to the angels, then much more is he inferior to God; and man's inferiority to angels the spirit next proves.
2. An affecting representation of human frailty. Contrasted with the angelic race, man is depicted as a creature
(1) whose origin is mean, being characterized as a dweller in a clay house, whose foundation is in the dust (verse 19), the allusion being to his corporeal frame, which, being composed of material elements, incontestably proclaims his inferiority;
(2) whose duration is short, he being an ephemerid who is" crushed before the moth" (verse 19) and "destroyed from morning to evening" (verse 20), i.e. in the course of a single day;
(3) whose importance is small, he being regarded with such contempt, not only by higher orders of intelligence, but by the members of his own race, that he is a]lowed to die unheeded, "to perish for ever without any regarding it" (verse 20);
(4) whose glory is evanescent, whatever grandeur or excellency man may attain on earth passing away with him when he dies: "Doth not their excellency which is in them go away?' (verse 21); and
(5) whose failure is conspicuous, man commonly dying as he was born, "without wisdom'" i.e. without having attained to more than the alphabet of knowledge. Yet, affecting as this picture of man is, it is only half true. It exhibits only one aspect of man's nature and condition. If a dweller in a house of clay, man is yet of Divine origin, being the breath of God's Spirit, and an immortal whose existence shall not be counted by years, and of such importance in the universe that God parted with his Son in order to effect his redemption, and whose true glory (Isaiah 60:19) shall never fade, and whose ultimate attainment to wisdom shall be made good in a brighter and better world.
1. That heaven is never far removed from the pious.
2. That those who think most about God obtain most communications from God.
3. That even good men may long remain, through fear of death and the unseen world, subject to bondage
4. That Divine voices seldom speak in tempests and hurricanes, but mostly in still, small voices.
5. That God, being higher than the highest, should be regarded by all his creatures with reverence and fear.
6. That man, even at his best state, is altogether vanity.
7. That, in the judgment of Heaven, no life is successful that terminates without having attained to wisdom.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Eliphaz and Job: forgotten truths called to mind.
However misapplied to his particular case may have been the speeches of Job's friends, there can be no dispute concerning the purity and the sublimity of the great truths for which they here appear as spokesmen. If not well directed to Job, they may be well directed to us. Each of the friends represents a certain aspect of the truths which relate man to God. In the speech of Eliphaz the main position taken is that man, in his ignorance and sinfulness, must be silent in presence of the all-just and all-holy God.
I. COMPARISON OF PAST WITH PRESENT EXPERIENCE. (Verses 1-6.) Job is reminded of what he was, and asked to account for what he is.
1. The appeal to memory. A bright, a radiant memory it was. He had been the director of many—"guide, philosopher, and friend" to young and old in the perplexities of life. Again, he had been the comforter of the sorrowful and the weak; had strengthened the hands that hung down and the feeble knees: had led in straight paths the feet of those who erred. It is a beautiful picture of an amiable, benevolent, God-like career. He had not, like many, to look back upon a barren waste, a selfish and misspent life, but upon one filled with "deeds of light." Thanks to God if any man can turn in the hour of despondency to memories so fair and green!
2. Expostulation with his present mood. How is it, then, now that pain and grief have touched his own person, that he is so utterly cast down? Why not apply the medicine and the balm for your own disease and hurt which were found so healing in the case of others? If the remedy was ever good for them, 'twas because it was first good for you. If the counsel and the comfort you were wont to offer to the sick and sad had not been proved by you, it was of no avail to press them upon others. But if they accepted it and were blessed, why can you not now prescribe for your own malady'? "Physician, heal thyself. Sink in thyself, then ask what ails thee at that shrine!"
3. Appeal to the power of religion and to the consciousness of innocence. The sixth verse would be better rendered, "Is thy religion [fear of God] not thy confidence? thy hope the innocence of thy ways?" Religion is a great mainstay in all the storms of the soul. So long as a man can say, "It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good," he has a support which nothing can move. But so also is conscious integrity a grand spring of comfort, because of hope "hops that reaps not shame." To sow the seeds of virtue in health and activity is to reap the harvest of hope in illness, enforced idleness, in weakness, and in death. Hope is the kind nurse of the ailing and the old; and why is Job without the angelic ministry of her presence now? Let us put these questions of Eliphaz to ourselves.
II. INFERENCES FROM SUFFERING. (Verses 7-11.) These Eliphaz proceeds to draw, Job still remaining silent at his first appeal. The inference is that there has been guilt to account for these great troubles. And the inference is justified by an appeal to the great teacher, experience.
1. General experience proves that calamity points to guilt. As a rule, it is not good men who sink, nor upright hearts that are utterly overwhelmed. There are, or seem to be, exceptions of which the philosophy of Eliphaz takes no account. But, indeed, how slight are upon the whole these seeming exceptions to the grand moral rule! As in grammar, so in life, the exceptions may be found, on closer examination, only to enlarge and illustrate our conception of the rule.
2. The teaching of experience is supported by that of nature. (Verse 8.) The laws of nature are constant. Every reaping implies a previous sowing, every harvest is the offspring of the early labour of the year. Therefore—this is the rigid reasoning of Eliphaz—this trouble of his friend implies a previous sowing in the fields of sin. It is the rough, broad statement of a sublime principle in the government of God. It is given without exceptions, but it will be time enough to look at the exceptions when we have first mastered the rule.
3. Pictures from nature, which illustrate this moral law. (Verses 9, 10, 11.) Nature flashes back her light upon those truths which we have first learned from experience and conscience. Two such pictures are here sketched. One is that of the violent blast from heaven, which breaks the rotten tree, hurls the dry leaves into the stream, scatters the worthless chaff. Such is the fate of the worthless man, the mind devoid of principle and therefore of vitality and worth. The other picture—and it is less familiar, and perhaps still more powerful—is that of the fierce lion, toothless, vainly roaring, perishing at last for lack of prey, its young ones all dispersed l Such, again, is the fate of the bold, bed man. To this end his devouring lusts have brought him. The appetite for sin continuing to the last—the food of appetite, nay, the very power to enjoy, at last withdrawn. Where, in the compass of so few lines, can we find so powerful an illustration of the wages and the end of sin? Side by side with this powerful image we may place some other pictures in which Scripture represents the doom of the unprincipled and godless man. He is like the chaff before the breeze, like the juniper in the desert, unwetted by the refreshing dew of heaven, like the tree all flourishing to-day, to-morrow feeling the stroke of the woodman's axe, or like the dross which is consumed in the furnace where the true gold brightens, like the rapidly burning tow, or like a dream when one awakes—an image, the unreality of which is destined to be discovered and scorned.—J.
The oracle in a dream of the night.
Here we have the narration of one of those revelations in visions of the night, through which man so frequently learned in the elder time to know the will of the Eternal. Every line of the description is significant and impressive.
I. THE ASSOCIATIONS OF THE NIGHT.
1. It is the season of solitude. In the daytime we have many to keep us company, to encourage us, it may be, in false or idle thoughts, or divert us from those that are serious. Now at last we are alone, and must stand face to face with self, with truth, with God.
2. It is the season of silence. There is no noise, no confusion, drowning the still, small voices which otherwise might be heard.
3. It is the time of darkness. The eye is no longer filled with sights that divert the fancy and unbend the fixity of the mind's direction. Pascal says that the reason why men pursue field sports and other amusements with so much eagerness is that they may fly from themselves, which is a night that none can bear. But the darkness, throwing a veil above the bright outer world, flings the man back upon himself, forces him into the inner chamber of conscience. Happy those who have learned to employ the wakeful hours in self-communion and in communion with God, and who find that "night visions do befriend, while waking dreams are fatal."
II. THE STILNESS OF GOD'S VOICE. This is a thought made very prominent in the description, as in the revelation to Elijah on Horeb—the calmness and gentleness of the voice of the Unseen and the Divine. Eliphaz says the word "stole" upon him, and it was a "gentle sound" his ear received (Job 5:12). It was a "whispering voice" (Job 5:16), like the susurrus, or rustling of the leaves of a tree in the quiet air of night. For all who willingly listen, the voice of the great Father of spirits is calm, quiet, gentle, though strong and awful. Only upon the stubborn ear and obdurate heart does it peal in the end with thunder and menace.
III. THE EFFECT UPON THE HUMAN HEART OF GOD'S VOICE. (Job 5:14.) It cannot be heard without awe and without terror. One tone of that voice vibrating through the whole consciousness awakens instantly all the sense of our weakness, our ignorance, and our sin. And here we have all the physical symptoms faithfully described which testify to the agitation of the soul in presence of the Unseen. There is a trembling and quivering of the whole frame in every limb. The hair stands on end. A materialistic philosophy, which either denies or ignores man's relation to the Unseen, can never explain away these phenomena. They are involuntary witnesses to the reality of that power which besets us behind and before, which is "closer to us than our breathing, nearer than hands and feet," from which we cannot flee.
IV. THE APPARITION. (Job 5:15, Job 5:16.) It is well to note in what vague and awful touches the presence of the Divine is hinted. A spirit passes before the sleeper—it stands still—but its form, its features, cannot be exactly discerned. There is the like vagueness in Moses' vision, and in that of Isaiah in the temple. For no man can look upon the face of God, no man can receive aught but the dimmest and faintest impression of that inexpressible form. These descriptions yield us lessons as public teachers. They remind us that a tone of reserve, a simplicity of description, not overpassing the reverential bounds of Scripture, the suggestion of a vast background of mystery, should accompany all that we venture to speak to men concerning God.
V. THE ORACLE. (Verses 17-21.) It is a solemn rebuke to that spirit which Eliphaz thought he discerned in his friend—the assumption of innocence and righteousness in the presence of God. "For there is not a just man upon earth, which doeth good and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Its contents may be summed up m the words of the psalm (Psalms 143:2), "In thy sight shall no man living be justified." Its meaning is echoed in such words as these: "Righteous, O God, art thou in thy judgments" (Jeremiah 12:1); "Let God be true, and every man a liar, as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged" (Romans 3:4) There is no privilege of question, of criticism, of reproach, or complaint' when man approaches the works of God. His part is to understand and to submit. The right of criticism implies some equality of knowledge; but how can this subsist between the creature and the Creator? "Who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" (Romans 9:20). Criticism is silenced in the presence of overwhelming superiority. There are a few great works even of human art before which the tongue of cavil and fault-finding is hushed. Who dares to sit in judgment on the sculptures of a Phidias, or the paintings of a Raphael, or the poems of a Shakespeare? Admiration, study, have here alone place. At least, in these mere human works, the presumption ever is that the master is right and the critic is a fool. How much more must this be so in the relation between the ignorant creature and the omniscient Creator? But in the oracle, this great truth is supported, not by a comparison of ignorant man with great geniuses, but by a comparison of men with angels. They are the immediate servants of the Most High; they stand nearer to him than man. Yet they are imperfect, unworthy of the full confidence of their Divine Lord, liable to error and mistake. How much more so man, who is conscious of sin as they are not—sin that disturbs his judgment, that clouds his perceptions! Again, the angels enjoy a life ever vigorous and young, that knows not decay nor death! But man inhabits a house of clay, an earthly tabernacle; he wears a "muddy vesture of decay," and lives on "this dim spot of earth." He is an ephemeral creature, living from dawn to sunset; easily crushed like a moth; living in dense ignorance, amid which death suddenly surprises him. This, it is true, is not the only aspect of human life. All is comparison. If man's spiritual nature be contrasted with the shortness of his life and the feebleness of his powers, it rises into grandeur by the comparison. But if his mere intellect be brought into contrast with the Infinite Intelligence, then he must needs sink into insignificance. A true comparison will either teach us faith and hope, or humility; and both lessons are derived from the nearer view of the pro-founder knowledge of the greatness of God.
VI. INFERENCES FROM THE ORACLE.
1. The idleness of complaints against God.. (Job 5:1.) For the very angels, should Job apply to one of them, would in the consciousness of their relation to the Supreme, adopt no complaint of the kind.
2. Such complaining spirit is the sign of a fatal folly. (Verses 2, 3.) 'Tis a sin which, if indulged, will slay the sinner. And here follows another powerful picture of the dread fatality attending upon the fool—upon him who would in thought and life nourish a quarrel with Heaven. He may for a time appear prosperous and firmly rooted, but the doom will fall upon him and his house. "I knew such a case," says Eliphaz, with emphasis. "Not blinded by the outward dazzle of his future, I, in abhorrence of his character, predicted his downfall; and it has come to pass. His sons, feeling all the weight of a father's guilt, are thrust aside, and can obtain no justice at the hands of their fellows (verse 4). Those whom the father had oppressed seize, as in the hunger and thirst of the 'wild justice' of revenge, upon the property of the sons; they ravage and despoil, and snatch the vainly guarded harvest even from among the thorns" (verse 5).
CONCLUDING LESSON. There is a cause of every human suffering, and that cause is not external, but internal (verses 6, 7). Not external. Not accidental. Not like the weed that springs from the earth, and which can be rooted out at will. But internal. The cause of man's sufferings is deeply seated in his nature. He is born to suffer. He is a native of the territory of woe. As certain this as any physical law—as that sparks should fly upward, and that stones should fall. Vain, then, these murmurs against the course and constitution of things. Whatever is, is best. If sorrow be a great part of our destiny, resignation is our wisdom and our duty. And he who has learned calmly to bow before the inevitable, and to submit to law, is prepared to listen to those sweet consolations which Eliphaz proceeds to unfold from the nature of him whose will is to bless, not curse; who follows out, by the very means of pain and sorrow, the eternal counsels of love.—J.
The teacher tested.
Throughout the words of Job's friends many truths are to be found both accurately stated and beautifully illustrated; but in many cases—almost generally—a wrong application of them is made. The friends designing to be comforters do, through imperfect views of the mystery of human suffering, indeed become accusers, and make the burden heavier which they proposed to lighten. But the words now under consideration are perfectly true. He who had formerly been the instructor of many, and the strengthener of them of feeble knees, is now himself smitten, and he faints; he is touched and troubled. The lesson is therefore to the teacher who can pour out words of instruction to others, and to the comforter who aims at consoling the sorrowful. His principles will one day be tested in his own experience, and he will in his own life prove their truthfulness or their falsity. Eliphaz insinuates, if he does not actually affirm, Job's failure. "To be forewarned is to be forearmed;" and the wise teacher will become a learner in presence of these words. We may, then, say—
I. TRUTH MAKES ITS GREATEST DEMANDS ON ITS EXPOSITORS. They ally themselves with it. They proclaim it. They declare their faith in it. They vouch for it. The more really a man is a teacher the more is he a disciple. It is the perfect alliance of the teacher with the truth he teaches that gives him power over others in its exposition. Upon him, then, the greatest demand is made that the truth he has affirmed should find its highest illustration in his own life—that his life should not give the lie to his lips. It is thus that—
II. THE TEACHER OF TRUTH HAS THE BEST OPPORTUNITY OF BECOMING ITS MOST EFFECTUAL EXPOSITOR. Eliphaz could not yet see how Job, holding fast his integrity, would present a brilliant example of the truthfulness of his doctrine. To expound truth with the lips is possible to the simulator and hypocrite. He may say, and do not. He may declare the authority of a truth, and contradict that authority and his own saying by disobedience. Such were the Pharisees of our Lord's time. From them truth received the highest homage by verbal acknowledgment, but they proved themselves untrue and unfaithful disciples of truth by the discredit they threw upon it by their disobedience to its requirements. The teacher of truth, making the truth his own by a thorough embrace of it, and a real and unfeigned sympathy with it, teaches more by his life than by his lips; for the one men discredit, but the other is undeniable. Fidelity in the teacher is the highest proof of his faith in his doctrine, and by it he pays the utmost tribute to the doctrine that he is able to pay.
III. THE SUPREME DUTY OF THE TEACHER IS FIDELITY TO HIS DOCTRINE. By his faithfulness his scholars are confirmed in their belief and steadfastness. It is a black crime for a man to proclaim a truth or a teaching that affects the life and hope of his fellow-men, and yet prove a traitor to it by unfaithfulness. The foundations of the hope of many have been shaken and even uprooted by such conduct. By how much the truth a man proclaims is important, by so much is the responsibility of his own treatment of that truth great. Job was a bright example of fidelity, though severely tried.
IV. THE HONOURABLENESS OF A FAITHFUL ADHESION TO A GREAT TRUTH. He who links himself with great truths is exalted by them. They honour him who houours them. They bring him to glory and true renown.—R.G.
The consequences of evil-doing.
The New Testament teaching is, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." It is precisely as the present verses. "They that plough iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same." So does the testimony of the ages warn evil-doers. This rule is inevitable; it is just; it is natural; it is admonitory.
I. THIS ORDER IS INEVITABLE. He who has ordained the laws of nature, fixed, calm, indestructible, has also ordained that the doer of evil shall reap the fruit of his ill-doing. An inevitable Nemesis follows the steps of every offender against Divine laws. Sooner or later judgment is passed. No skilfulness can evade the omnipotent rule. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished." Minutely did our Lord lay down the same teaching: "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." One may as well try to throw off the law of gravitation. It holds us all fast in its firm grip. So does this Divine law framed by the same hand.
II. THIS LAW IS JUST. The wise and holy Ruler of all—"the Creator of all worlds, the Judge of all men"—will do right, does do right in the administrations of his holy laws. He is not vindictive. His anger is holy anger; his wrath is as truly just as his love is tender. He has laid the foundations of human life in righteousness. He is just; for he rendereth to every man according to his deeds. Without doubt he takes note of all the circumstances in which every one is placed, and neither accuses the guiltless nor excuses the guilty. Men find in their own acts the cause of their sufferings, and the justification of the righteous judgment of God. In every breast the most painful conviction will be the assurance of the perfect righteousness of the Divine ways, and the justice of every Divine infliction. The inward reflection of the Divine judgment of condemnation is the most painful of all judgments.
III. THE OPERATION OF THIS LAW IS PERFECTLY NATURAL. Consequences follow causes with the same regularity of law in the moral as in the material world. A wrong thought gives a wrong bias to the mind, and leaves it so much the more liable to be influenced in a wrong direction; so of every word or deed of evil. Each wrong act is a seed cast into the ground, and it bears its fruit after its own kind to him Who sows it, Of evil, good cannot spring up. So every man by his wrong-doing treasures up for himself wrath against the day of wrath. He receives his reward in his character, in the condition of mind and life to which he is reduced by evil or elevated by goodness.
IV. THIS LAW IS ADMONITORY TO ALL. There is no escape by mere law from the ill consequences of any bad act. The inevitable consequences which follow all wrongdoing should warn men off from forbidden paths. "By the blast of God they perish" is the warning threat against the sowers of wickedness and them that "plough iniquity." Though men rage as the fierce lions, their roaring is broken; they perish, and their seed is scattered abroad.—R.G.
The condemnation of man in presence of the Divine holiness.
With a figure of great boldness and grandeur Eliphaz urges his words upon Job. He is trying to illustrate the great principle of the righteous retributions of the Divine government. In the visions of the night there appeared a spirit to pass before his face, and in the dead silence he heard a voice saying, "Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his Maker?" It cannot be. And the vision of Eliphaz finds its fulfilment in Job himself, who in the end is bowed down to the earth in self-abasing shame and condemnation.
I. ALL MEN MUST OF NECESSITY BE SELF-CONDEMNED IN PRESENCE OF THE DIVINE HOLINESS. Alas! we are all sinful; our best deeds are faulty, and the element of sinfulness mingles with all our acts as truly as the element of imperfectness. We cannot stand in the presence of the absolutely Perfect One. Even the rudest vanity must be appalled and humbled in his sight.
II. THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE DIVINE HOLINESS A SALUTARY CHECK TO SELF-CONFIDENT BOASTING. In the absence of a true and lofty standard of right, men boast themselves of their goodness. Measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, they are led to the proud assumption of fancied righteousness. The standards are faulty; even the faulty ones, therefore, reach them. He is wise who can say, "But now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
III. THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE DIVINE HOLINESS A STIMULUS TO LOWLY, HUMBLE, RELIGIOUS FEAR. This fear is the beginning of wisdom; and the highest attainments of wisdom do not depart from this fear. It is the beginning and the consummation of holy wisdom.
IV. THE PUREST AND MOST EXALTED BEINGS ARE ABASED IN THE DIVINE PRESENCE. "His angels he charged with folly." How much more, therefore, the children of the dust,—"them that dwell in houses of clay"!—R.G.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Eliphaz the visionary.
After Job has broken the seven days' silence, each of his friends assays to comfort him, with that most irritating form of consolation—unsolicited advice. Although, perhaps, some of the critics have thought they detected greater differences Between the three friends than are really apparent from the narrative, we cannot but notice certain distinctive features. What they have in common is more pronounced than their points of difference. Thus they all three are friends of Job, who really desire to show their sympathy and help the sufferer. They all tender unasked counsel. They all assume an irritating position of superiority. They all adhere to the prevalent dogma that great calamity is to be accounted for as the punishment of great sin. They all believe in the justice of God and his readiness to forgive and restore if Job will but confess his sins and humble himself. But they manifest certain interesting differences. The first friend to speak is Eliphaz, who appears as a seer of visions.
I. THERE ARE MEN WHO SEEM TO BE NATURALLY IN AFFINITY WITH THE SPIRITUAL WORLD. All men are not able to see the sights with which these men are familiar. They are the seers of visions. Too often such men are visionaries and nothing else. They are so wrapt up in the excitement of their experiences of another world that they have no interest or capacity left for the discharge of present earthly duties. It would go ill with us if there were many such unpractical people among us. But even these men have their sphere, and there are higher visionaries to whom we should be pro-roundly grateful. It is a great descent from Paul the apostle in the third heavens to "Sludge the medium" at a seance. The follies of spiritualism should not blind us to the revelations of true seers. Even the half-mad visions of a Blake have given the world some wonderful fruits of imagination, that would never have grown on the stock of conventional worldly experience.
II. TRUTH IS NOT ALWAYS FOUND WITH THE SEER OF VISIONS. God's seer will see God's truth. If the veil is lifted from before the unseen world, some genuine revelations must appear. God has given us truths of the Bible in some cases through the visions of his prophets. But the mere affirmation of a vision is no voucher for the truth of what is said. The seer may be a deceiver, he may be a deluded fanatic, or he may see a vision of "lying spirits." Therefore what he says must be tested, and should not be accepted on the mere authority of his vision. Here was the mistake of Eliphaz, who thought to overawe and silence Job by the recital of his vision. It is safer to turn from all such pretensions to the clear "word of prophecy' and the historical revelation of Christ. Our religion is based, not on visions, but on historical facts.
III. IT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO CULTIVATE SYMPATHY WITH THE UNSEEN WORLD. If we are not visionaries, we need not be materialists. Though we do not look for spiritualistic manifestations, we need not be Sadducees who believe in no spirits. There is a vision of God for the pure in heart, which can deceive none, and which is the inspiration of this world's highest service.—W.F.A.
Eliphaz says," Who can withhold himself from speaking?" He utters his own sentiment, but it is a very common one—far more common than the honest admission of it with which Eliphaz justifies his address to Job.
I. IRREPRESSIBLE SPEECH SPRINGS FROM VARIOUS INFLUENCES, Sometimes it is difficult to find words. What, then, are the things that break open the fountains of speech?
1. Natural temperament. Some are naturally loquacious, others as naturally taciturn. No man is responsible for his original constitution; his responsibility begins with his use of it.
2. Wealth of ideas. It is not only verbal fluency that runs into a volume of speech. One who thinks much will have the materials for talking much. Coleridge meditated deeply; Macaulay read enormously, and remembered all he read; and both were great talkers.
3. Depth of feeling. Passion elves eloquence to the least gifted person. Sympathy will seek for words. So the long contemplation of Job's sufferings urged Eliphaz to speak.
4. Provocation. Eliphaz was shocked at Job's cursing the day of his birth. Unable to enter into the tragic depths of the sufferer's grief, he could easily perceive the highly improper tone of the language used. Controversy rouses the least beautiful, but often the most vigorous, kind of eloquence.
5. Vanity. To many people there is a strange charm in the sound of their own voices.
II. IRREPRESSIBLE SPEECH MAY BE A SOURCE OF GREAT EVIL, The talker rarely seems to consider how keen a weapon he is wielding. He does not appear to remember that his words are like arrows, and that the bow drawn at a venture may inflict a mortal wound; that they are as seeds which may spring up and bear hitter fruit long after the sower has forgotten when and where he threw them broadcast over the earth. Certain points in particular need to be noticed.
1. Irrepressible speech lacks due reflection. It is hasty and ill-judged. Thus it may say far more than the speaker intended, and it may even convey a very false impression. Spoken without due thought, the hurried word may make a suggestion which mature consideration would utterly repudiate. Words lead to deeds, and thus irrepressible speech becomes an unalterable act. "Volatility of words," says Lavater, "is carelessness in actions; words are the wings of actions."
2. Irrepressible speech is likely to be inconsiderate of the feelings of others. Surely Job's three comforters could not have known what cruel barbs their words were, or they would scarcely have tormented the sufferer as they did. It is so easy to wound with the tongue, that if we talk hastily and without thought, it is most likely that we shall do so even without intending it.
3. Irrepressible speech is a slight on the mission of silence. Those seven days of silence served as a healing ministry, or at least they were days of unadulterated sympathy on the part of the three friends. Why, then, should the good men change their tactics? Evidently they had not enough faith in silence.
4. Irrepressible speech needs the preservation of Divine grace. Great talkers should especially look for help from above, that their speech may be "seasoned with salt." He who spake as never man spake is a model of wise, laconic utterance. To be safe in the use of the tongue we need to be much in company with Christ, often in converse with Heaven.—W.F.A.
The teacher at fault.
After one brief word of apology for breaking the seemly silence of mourning, Eliphaz plunges in medias res, and at once commences to reproach Job by reminding him of his former conduct, and contrasting his present state with it as an evidence of glaring inconsistency. Job could teach others how to conduct themselves, but no sooner is the test brought home to himself than he fails. The teacher cannot pass the examination for which he has been preparing his pupils.
I. THE MISSION OF INSTRUCTING OTHERS IS ONE OF HONOUR AND USEFULNESS. No greater work can be conceived than that of forming character. Thomas Carlyle pointed out the absurdity of heaping honours on the soldier which we deny to the schoolmaster. He thought the cane was a token of greater dignity than the sword. There is no happier result of a life's work than to see those one has influenced growing in wisdom and goodness and strength of character. It was well, indeed, that Job was one who strengthened the weak. This was wholly good, whatever might be his subsequent character.
II. HE WHO INSTRUCTS OTHERS IS EXPECTED TO FOLLOW HIS OWN PRECEPTS. The eyes of the world are upon him; his own scholars watch him narrowly. Teaching which is not backed up by example soon becomes quite ineffective. The Christian minister can often do more good by his exemplary life than by his most excellent sermons. If his walk and conversation among men do not adorn the gospel he proclaims, they will mar and mutilate it. The world refuses to separate the preacher from the man. It declines to believe that clerical vestments transform a slovenly, shifty, self-indulgent person, whom no one can respect, into a herald from heaven. The Sunday school teacher whose business reputation is low has no right to expect that his lofty words will train up a noble life in the young people whom he instructs.
III. IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE AN INSTRUCTOR OF OTHERS AND YET FAIL ONE'S SELF, The charge of Eliphaz was unfair, for it took no account of the unparalleled troubles of Job—none had been tried like this man—or rather it assumed that he must have been an exceptionally bad man or he would not have suffered such a tremendous reverse of fortune. Thus it suggested that the venerated leader and teacher had been a hypocrite all along. This was doubly unfair. It is possible to have been in earnest while teaching, and yet afterwards to fall before unexpected temptations without having been a hypocrite; for good men are fallible, and no one knows how weak he is till he has been tried. Moreover, in the present case the teacher had not fallen as his censor supposed. Still, there is great force in his warning. Unfortunately, the world is not wanting in men to whom it is only too applicable. There is a great danger of delusion in the faculty of teaching. All of us who instruct others are tempted to confuse our knowledge with our attainments, and our language with our experience. Thus intellectual and professional familiarity with holy things may be mistaken for that vital communion with them which perhaps is not to be found accompanying it. There has only been one perfect Teacher whose conduct was as lofty as his instructions. All others may well learn to walk humbly while teaching the most exalted lessons.—W.F.A.
A true principle falsely applied.
We have now reached the kernel of the controversy with which Job and his friends are to be engaged. While—as the prologue shows—the primary purpose of the Book of Job is to refute Satan's low, sneering insinuation implied in the words, "Doth Job serve God for nought?" and to prove that God can and does inspire disinterested devotion, the long discussion among the friends is concerned with the problem of suffering, and the old orthodox notion that it was just the punishment of sin, showing the inadequacy of that notion, and the deep mystery of the whole subject. Now we are introduced to this perplexing question. It comes before us in the form of a principle that is undoubtedly true, although the application of it by Job's friends turned out to be egregiously false.
I. THE TRUTH OF THE PRINCIPLE.
1. This is communicated in the New Testament by St. Paul, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7).
2. This is in accordance with experience. Eliphaz had seen it. We need not suppose that he had been deceived by some strange hallucination. We must all have observed how men make or mar their own fortunes. We know what will be the end of the career of the idle and dissipated. We are constantly watching the triumph of diligence and prudence.
3. This is after the analogy of nature. Then the harvest is according to the sowing, and it is determined by absolute laws. But there is no chaos in the human sphere. Moral causation works there as strictly as physical causation in the outer world. There is no escaping from the natural consequences of our deeds. He who sows the wind will most assuredly reap the whirlwind.
4. This is just. Job's friends were right in feeling that the wicked ought to suffer and that the good ought to be blessed. The attempt to evade the great law of causation in the spiritual sphere is as immoral as it is futile. Why should any one expect to be saved firm the harvest which he has himself sown?
II. THE FALSE APPLICATION OF THE PRINCIPLE. The whole Book of Job demonstrates that Job's friends were wrong in applying this principle to the case of the patriarch. But why was it not applicable?
1. They anticipated the harvest. The harvest is the end of the world. Some firstfruits may be gathered earlier; often we see the evil consequences of misdeeds ripening rapidly. But this is not always the case. Meanwhile we can judge of no life until we have seen the whole of it. In the end Job reaped an abundant harvest of blessings (Job 42:10-17).
2. They ignored the variety of causes. It is a recognized rule of logic that while you can always argue from the cause to the effect, you cannot safely reverse the process and reason back from the effect to the cause, because the same effect may come from any one of a number of causes. Job might bring calamity on himself, and if he did wrong he would bring it—in the long run. But other causes might produce it. In this case it was not Job, but Satan, who brought it. It was not the husbandman, but an enemy, who sowed tares in the field.
3. They mistook the nature of the harvest. The man who sows iniquity will not necessarily reap temporal calamity. He will get his natural harvest, which is corruption, but he may have wealth and temporal, external prosperity on earth. And the man who sows goodness may not reap money, immunity from trouble, etc.; for these things are not the natural products of what he sows. They are not "after its kind." But he will reap "eternal life." Nothing that had happened to Job indicated that he would not gather that best of all harvests.—W.F.A.
The visionary now tells the thrilling tale of his vision. He thinks that he will overawe Job with a message from one who was no mortal man. All the details and circumstances of the vision are graphically narrated, that the horror of it may add to the weight of its authority.
I. THE REALITY OF THE APPARITION. There is every reason to believe that Eliphaz spoke in good faith. He does not appear before us as a deceiver, though he is certainly capable of making a great mistake. Therefore it cannot be doubted that he narrated his genuine experience. But then we may naturally ask—What did really happen?
1. Possibly a subjective illusion. The apparition may have been only a creature of the visionary's excited imagination. "Seeing" should not be always "believing." We are not justified in invariably trusting our senses. A diseased or a merely disordered brain will evolve visions. Perhaps without derangement the brain's very exaltation may help it to create phantasms.
2. Possibly a real spiritual manifestation. It is not scientific to deny the possibility of any such thing. Science is growing conscious of the endless varieties of existence and of the boundless potentialities of nature. We cannot say that there are no spirits but our own, nor can we say that no other spirits ever do make themselves manifest to men. There may be no external, material presence; the spiritual contact may be internal, and the vision thrown out from it through the brain of the seer; and yet there may be a something in contact with the soul—a real spiritual presence.
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE APPARITION.
1. In solitude. The thing was "secretly brought to" Eliphaz. Some may say, as there were no spectators to check the accuracy of his vision, the whole scene was a delusion. But on the other hand, solitude would be most suitable for a revelation of the other world. The pressure cf earthly things shuts out the very thought of the unseen.
2. In the night. Here, again, the darkness of the material surroundings might give an opportunity for the appearance of the immaterial.
3. In meditation. "In thoughts from the visions of the night." This shows that Eliphaz was in a condition to receive spiritual impressions. The extraordinary writings of Lawrance Oliphant indicate that some kind of peculiar experience is attained by those who think themselves into the preparation necessary for it. This may only lead to the quagmire of "Spiritualism." But it is too much for a "Philistine" scepticism to say that no good influences have ever come in this way.
III. THE EFFECT OF THE APPARITION.
1. A shock of terror. Eliphaz describes most graphically the horror of his experience. The figure was vague, shapeless, nameless, impersonal, and described by the visionary as "It." He felt something pass him, his limbs trembled beneath him, his hair stood up on end! Men dread the supernatural. Some attribute this dread to the guilt of conscience; but the strange, the unknown, the unnatural, suggest fearful possibilities of danger. It is happier to live in the sunshine with children and flowers than in gloom with ghosts. The pursuit of "Spiritualism," even if it is not following a delusion, entails an unhealthy and melancholy fascination.
2. A voice of truth. "It" gave Eliphaz a message. God has revealed truth in dream and vision. The message of the apparition was great and important. Yet that message was not new; and it was liable to misapplication by Eliphaz. We shall be very foolish if we forsake Christ and the Scriptures for spirit-voices—which now generally appear to talk nonsense in bad grammar. It is foolish to make conscience and reason subject to any unauthenticated vision.—W.F.A.
A message from the unseen.
The apparition spoke and this is what "It" said. No one can gainsay the truth of the words uttered. The only question is how they applied to Job. Eliphaz assumed that Job's position was thereby condemned Leaving this out of account, however, we may see how lofty, true, and important the words that came in the Temanite's vision were.
I. THE OBVIOUS FACTS. One would have thought that no ghost was wanted to make such self-evident facts as are here narrated clear to everybody. As we look at the vision of Eliphaz we are tempted to suspect a pompous pretentiousness in it. And yet, though the facts referred to are obvious and unquestionable, they cannot be too impressively insisted on or too profoundly felt. Therefore it may be well that they are brought before us shrouded in the awe of an apparition. These facts concern the littleness of man compared with the greatness of God. At the end of the poem God himself appears and brings them home to Job with a force that is not found in the vision of Eliphaz, partly because God's dealings with Job himself are wise and fair, while the conduct of Eliphaz is unreasonable and unjust. Note three regions in which man's littleness is contrasted with God's greatness.
1. Moral. One man may be more pure or more just than another man. But who can surpass God? Before him the best men shrink and own their utter unworthiness.
2. Intellectual. Some men are more discerning and wise than others, but the height of human capacity is but folly before God.
3. Vital. Man's life is frail and brief. His ephemeral existence is as nothing compared to the eternity of God. All these truths are trite; their importance lies in the application of them.
II. THEIR JUST EFFECTS. The tremendous mistake people make is to admit the obvious facts, and then to live exactly as if they did not exist. But if they are they should have great effects upon conduct. Note some of the results they should work in us.
1. Humility. We may not understand God, but we should not venture to judge One so infinitely greater than ourselves. Reverence is our right attitude before the mysteries of Providence.
2. Contrition. We may defend ourselves among men, but we cannot do so in the presence of God. Not only can we conceal nothing from God—we should not wish to do that—but further, we see a higher standard in God than that which prevails among men, and judged by that standard the saint is a sinner.
3. Patience. God is infinitely just; he knows all; he cannot fail. We do not know what he is doing, nor why he acts. But we can wait.
4. Trust. This goes beyond patience. We have a right to confide in so just, wise, and strong a God. His greatness strikes terror in the rebellious soul; but when one is reconciled to God, that very greatness becomes a mighty, invincible rock of refuge.
5. Obedience. Our duty is to do more than submit without a murmur, and wait patiently for God. He is our Master, our King, and our business is to follow his great authority. Sin is self-will, pride, distrust, disobedience. The Christian life is one of active service; it is treading humbly in the way which our infinite God assigns to us. His greatness justly commands implicit obedience.—W.F.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent