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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Job 31

 

 

Verses 1-40

Job 31

1. I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid? [Some think that Job"s wife was now dead.]

2. For what portion of God is there [would be] from above? and what inheritance of the Almighty from on high?

3. Is not destruction to the wicked? and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity?

4. Doth not he [emphatic, meaning God] see my ways, and count all my steps?

5. If I have walked with vanity [inward falsehood], or if my foot hath hasted to deceit;

6. Let me be weighed in an even balance [in a balance of righteousness], that God may know [will know] mine integrity.

7. If my step hath turned out of the way [the narrow way of righteousness], and mine heart walked after mine eyes, and if any blot hath cleaved to mine hands,

8. Then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out.

9. If mine heart have been deceived [befooled] by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbour"s door;

10. Then let my wife grind unto another [perform all menial offices like a slave], and let others bow down upon her.

11. For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges.

12. For it is a fire that consumeth to destruction [the same thought in Deuteronomy 32:22, Deuteronomy 32:25], and would root out all mine increase.

13. If I did despise [an answer to chap. Deuteronomy 22:5] the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me [so slaves had rights, which honest men recognised];

14. What then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?

15. Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?

16. If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail;

17. Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof;

18. (For from my youth he [the fatherless] was brought up with me, as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother"s womb;)

19. If I have seen any perish for want of clothing [any wanderer without clothing], or any poor without covering;

20. If his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;

21. If I have lifted up [waved] my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate [in the court of justice]:

22. Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder-blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone [the charnel-bone].

23. For destruction from God was a terror to me, and by reason of his highness I could not endure [I was unable to act thus].

24. If I have made gold my hope [referring to the admonition of Eliphaz, chap. Deuteronomy 22:23-24], or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence;

25. If I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much;

26. If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness [Job seems to have known only one kind of idolatry];

27. And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand:

28. This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge [probably, my Judges , meaning God]: for I should have denied the God that is above [star-worship was a legal offence].

29. If I rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him:

30. Neither have I suffered my mouth to sin by wishing a curse to his soul.

31. If the men of my tabernacle said not, Oh that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied.

32. The stranger did not lodge in the street: but I opened my doors to the traveller [the wayfarer. Compare Genesis 19:2-3; Judges 19:20-21].

33. If I covered my transgressions as Adam [as man], by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom:

34. Did I fear a great multitude, or did the contempt of families terrify me, that I kept silence, and went not out of the door?

35. Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire Isaiah , that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book.

36. Surely I would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me.

37. I would declare [I would readily give an account of all my actions, and meet him with alacrity and perfect confidence] unto him the number of my steps; as a prince [conscious of inward and inalienable dignity] would I go near unto him.

38. If my land cry against me, or that the furrows likewise thereof complain [a strong impersonation to express the consequences of oppression and wrong-doing];

39. If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money, or have caused the owners thereof to lose their life:

40. Let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley. The words of Job are ended.

Job"s Retrospect and Protest

Job is now winding up his wonderful parable, and is about to retire from the fray of words. It will be curious to notice how the great sufferer closes his review. Will it be as dark at the end as it was at the beginning? Can mere controversy ever illuminate the providence of God, or must God himself always dissolve the cloud which hides his love? Looking over the whole ground which we have traversed, it cannot be said that the case has been imperfectly stated: eloquence was never sublimer, frankness was never more explicit, consciousness of integrity was never more stoutly maintained. What then, can man do with any divine riddle; or how can he settle the tumult and uproar of human life? Verily man can do nothing, and this is the lesson he is meant to learn. He will not learn it by mere exhortation; he must fight his way to it. Every man must, as it were—though that is a hard word to use—eat of the forbidden tree for himself, and die in his own person. To have begun with the exhortation,—"Man can know nothing as it really Isaiah , and must wait for all divine solutions," would have been to mistake human nature, and to waste patience and time. Men will not believe. Experience goes for next to nothing with most of us. We always think that we ourselves could do better. We see a thousand men fall, and yet we criticise them and say, If we had made the attempt certainly we should not have fallen. So we go boldly to the front, and fall down dead just as they did, and all the generations come on after us—dying, always dying. History is thus lost upon us, as we have had occasion many times to remark. We learn nothing by what happened in our neighbour"s house. We have seen what has come of ill-assorted marriage or partnership, or adventurous speculation; yet we have gone and repeated the very thing, with our minds full of knowledge, and our hearts warned with ghostly advice. What, then, will the end of the review be? Simply silent despair or silent waiting.

Let us look at the kind of life Job says he lived, and in doing so let it be remarked that all the critics concur in saying that this chapter contains more jewels of illustration, of figure or metaphor, than probably any other chapter in the whole of the eloquent book. Job Isaiah , therefore, at his intellectual best. Let him tell us the kind of life he lived: whilst he boasts of it we may take warning by it; the very things he is clearest about may perhaps awaken our distrust.

Job had tried a mechanical life:—

"I made a covenant with mine eyes" ( Job 31:1).

The meaning of "a mechanical life" Isaiah , a life of regulation, penance, dicipline; a life all marked out like a map; a kind of tabulated life, every hour having its duty, every day its peculiar form or expression of piety. Job smote himself; he set before his eyes a table of negations; he was not to do a hundred things. He kept himself well under control: when he burned with fire, he plunged into the snow; when his eyes wandered for a moment, he struck them both, and blinded himself in his pious indignation. He is claiming reward for this. Truly it would seem as if some reward were due. What can a man do more than write down upon plain paper what he will execute, or what he will forbear doing, during every day of the week? His first line tells what he will do, or not do, at the dawn; he will be up with the sun, and then he will perform such a duty, or crucify such and such a passion: he will live a kind of military life; he will be a very soldier. Is this the true way of living? or is there a more excellent way? Can we live from the outside? Can we live by chart, and map, and schedule, and printed regulation? Can the race be trained in its highest faculties and aspects within the shadow of mount Sinai? Or is the life to be regulated from within? Is it the conduct that is to be refined, or the motive that is to be sanctified and inspired? Is life a washing of the hands, or a cleansing of the heart? The time for the answer is not now, for we are dealing with an historical instance, and the man in immediate question says that he tried a scheduled life. He wrote or printed with his own hand what he would do, and what he would not do, and he kept to it; and though he kept to it, some invisible hand struck him in the face, and lightning never dealt a deadlier blow.

Job then says he tried to maintain a good reputation amongst men,—

"If I have walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit; let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity. If my step hath turned out of the way, and mine heart walked after mine eyes, and if any blot hath cleaved to mine hands; then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out" ( Job 31:5-8).

That was a public challenge. There were witnesses; let them stand forth: there was a public record kept; let it be read aloud. This man asks for no quarter; he simply says, Read what I have done; let the enemy himself read it, for even the tongue of malice cannot pervert the record of honesty. Will not this bring a sunny providence? Will not this tempt condescending heaven to be kind and to give public coronation to so faithful a patron? Is there no peerage for a man who has done all this? Nay, is he to be displaced from the commonalty and thrust down that he may be a brother to dragons and a companion to owls? All this has he done, and yet he says—"My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat. My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep." This is not what we have thought of Providence. We have said, Who lives best in the public eye will be by the public judgment most honourably and cordially esteemed: the public will take care of its servants; the public will stand up for the man who has done all he could in its interests; slave, man or woman, will spring to the master"s rescue because of remembered kindnesses. Is Job quite sure of this? Certainly, or he would not have used such imprecations as flowed from his eloquent lips:—If I have done thus, and Song of Solomon , then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out: let my wife grind servilely unto another: let mine arm fall from my shoulder-blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone So then Job himself is speaking earnestly. Yet, he says, though I have done all this, I am cast into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes: though I have done all this, God is cruel unto me, and he does not hear me: I stand up, and he regardeth me not: with his strong hand he opposeth himself against me: he has lifted me up to the wind, and he has driven me away with contempt: he has not given me time to swallow down my spittle: I, the model man of my day, have been crushed like a venomous beast. Job , therefore, does not modify the case against God. He misses nothing of the argument and withholds nothing of the tragic fact. He makes a long, minute, complete, and urgent statement. And this statement is found in the Bible! Actually found in a book which is meant to assert eternal providence and justify the ways of God to man! It is something that the Bible could hold within its limits the book of Job. It is like throwing one"s arms around a furnace; it is as if a man should insist upon embracing some ravenous beast and accounting him as a member of the household. These charges against Providence are not found in a book written in the interests of what is called infidelity or unbelief; this impeachment is part of God"s own book.

But do not interrupt Job; let him tell us more of the tale of his life. And next we shall find him claiming to have lived a deeply beneficent life. The proof is in Judges 19:13-22 :

"If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb? If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof; (for from my youth he was brought up with me, as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother"s womb;) if I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering; if his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; if I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate: then let mine arm fall from my shoulder-blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone."

So Job had not lived a luxurious life at the expense of the public comfort. Job kept a large table; his feast overflowed the bounds of his house, and took in a large outside space, and there the stranger, the fatherless, and the helpless were welcome. Judged by the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew , this testimony would be a passport to heaven. Compare the passage now before us with the passage in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew , which shows the ground on which heaven is apportioned, and you would say, Job must go in first; no man could compete with him; rivalry is out of the question here; Job did everything with a princely hand; there was not a mean thought in all his intellectual range; how to do good and to do it to the most undeserving seems to have been his supreme thought: stand back, and let Job go up to heaven first. Yet Job says there was nothing for him but shame and sorrow: he was abhorred; his cord was loosed; he was afflicted; upon his right hand youth rose up, and pushed away his feet, and his path was marred. This overturns all our conceptions of a beneficent Providence. What spoils this ointment? Who can name the dead fly that is in it? Was it self-consciousness? Had Job after all kept a record of what he had been doing? Did he put down in the twilight of evening all the good things he had done during the day? Was he self-congratulatory as well as self-condemnatory? Did he in effect write every day at the foot of the page in his diary, Behold, how good a man I am: when these words are read after my death all the world will be amazed at my munificence and philanthropy? Was this an investment? Was this a plume worn only upon ornamental occasions? Did Job say, I will have my horse ready, and if any challenge be made as to my reputation you will find me at the front, well-mounted, white-plumed, going right out at the head of the procession, challenging the loudest, meanest, most malignant critic to tell his tale, and I will devour him as he proceeds in his vicious accusation? The people in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew were surprised to hear how good they had been. Not a word did they say about themselves. They were told they had been beneficent, and they said, We have no recollection of it. Is it possible for men to be laying up good works, hardly knowing that they are doing so? Is there after all a papal doctrine of supererogation written in every heart? Is there a temptation which says, If you do double good today you may take fine holidays with the devil tomorrow? We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Do we ever go to the bank of our beneficence and draw upon it, that with its sacred wealth we may feast at the devil"s table? We can but put these questions to ourselves, thrust them into ourselves like two-edged swords. Do we buy ourselves off for the week by going to church on Sunday? Do we make bargains with Fate? Do we whisper to that great Force—whatever it be, God or Fate, Jehovah, Jove, or Lord—and say, Take this, and allow me a little more liberty? No man may answer these questions, because no man can reply to them without cutting himself to pieces. Yet it is well to put them searchingly to the heart, to strike the heart dumb: well to take the hymn sometimes from our lip, to strike it speechless, that the mouth may learn to utter condemnation as well as praise. Still, there is the mystery. Do not try to lessen it, to modify it, to evade it. It stands before us as a fact, that men have prayed, and have been smitten down at the altar; men have done good, and have been left with an empty hand; saints have been tried by fire. All this must be cleared up, and no doubt all this will be elucidated; in the meantime we lose nothing by looking at the mystery in all its proportions, in all its darkness—yea, in all its apparent cruelty. Who are the sick today? Do we find any real Christians amongst the poor? Are there honest souls that hardly know where to get the next mouthful of bread? Are there lives, that appear to be lived for others, by way of example, they having to endure all the excruciating pain, and to be lifted up, whilst others look, and wonder, and learn?

Then Job says he was not only living a mechanical life and a beneficent life, and trying to maintain a good reputation amongst men, but he was constant in his religious fidelity.

"If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand: this also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge" ( Job 31:26-28).

Job knew of only one kind of idolatry. He seems not to have been learned in the idolatrous corruptions of the time. It was a beautiful idolatry. What act could be so nearly religious as to fall down before the sun, and hail that majesty of light with hymn, and Psalm , and praise, sometimes so intense as to be mute? If any man may be forgiven idolatry, surely he will be forgiven who saw in the sun a kind of deity. Or, Job said, If I have kissed my hand to the moon—fair moon, leaf of purity, banner of heaven, most lovely of all the night-shining ones—if I have done this, I am willing to be punished: but I have never played the Babylonian idolater, I have never followed sun or moon, I have been constant in my aspirations after the living God; and yet the men who have beheld the sun, and nightly kissed their hands to the moon, are rich and fat and strong, and I am a heap of corruption. Surely God has not been careful to maintain his supremacy by patronage of those who have believed in him! He has not supported his throne by always crowning those who acknowledged it and received their laws from it; that is to say, judging between given points of time, they in some cases seem to have been the despised and rejected of men. Yet—let us repeat, for there is something of the nature of an argument in the admission—all this is found in the Book of God! What a clearing-up there will be! When the sun does come he will shine in his strength. Meanwhile, the night is sevenfold in darkness; no candle of men"s lighting can have any effect upon this gloom: surely some new sun must be created to dissolve this night and restore the dawn. But believing as we do in God, we have confidence in the end. "Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." But who can tell how the light will come? Will a sun be sent, or will God come himself? Are there occasions in history in which preacher, minister, priest, officer, annotator, must all stand back, whilst God takes the case into his own hands, and speaks audibly to those who have been long waiting for the revelation of his law?

Job , however, reserves the severest point to the last; he calls God "his adversary." We never thought that he could have done that. He began by saying, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord "; but now he calls God his foe, his enemy, and he says, "My desire is that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book." How often is this text misapplied! How often is it made almost to point a jest? What does the suffering patriarch want? He wants the case written down that he might have it examined in some court of justice. He is dealing with anonymous charges. He says in effect, Would that God would state in plain terms what he has against me, for I do not know what he can have against his servant: I have never wandered from him, I have never worshipped sun, or moon; I have been kind to the poor, gracious to the friendless, my house has been an open house to every traveller who cared to come that way and take its bread; I have attended to my morals, I have been scrupulous about my conduct; I have written a law for my eyes, my hands, my feet: oh that mine adversary, accuser, Judges , punisher, would write a book, would put down upon a scroll in plain letters that I could read what it is that has come between him and me! Yes, there we all sometimes stand. We cannot tell what it is that we have done. We go over our prayers and say, They were at least well meant if not well expressed. We review our Church relations, and say, We have been faithful to our bonds and obligations and promises; we have loved the house of God, and longed for the opening of its gates: and now, behold what a black procession comes into the house—loss, pain, poverty, affliction many-coloured and many-shaped, and death: were the charge written in black ink upon white paper we could see it, and measure it, and answer it; but it is the air that accuses us, it is the darkening heaven that fills us with dismay; it is an anonymous contempt under which our soul withers. So we will not diminish the mystery one whit; we will read it as an infidel might read it in all the letters which are before us by way of historical statement We will not speak it as if it were some light thing, frivolous in its suggestions and easily borne as to its penalties. We will read it as an unbeliever might read it: we will read it with a vicious accent; we will exhaust our ingenuity of emphasis, in order to make out this mystery in all its bulk and blackness. Better it be so. The answer is not in diminishing the mystery, but in bringing to bear upon it such light as will banish it, drive it away like a shadow that seems to be afraid.


Verse 40

Ended Words

Job 31:40

What have they come to? What can words come to at any time? What lies within the scope of the most eloquent controversy? Yet the Almighty permits us now and again to talk ourselves right out. By no other method can he teach us so clearly and effectually how little we can do for ourselves when we come face to face with the great and solemn mysteries of life. Observe, we can speak; we have that sometimes unhappy and fatal gift. Notice also how providence arranges for us opportunities of telling all we know, speaking all we think, and arguing about all the facts which lie within our cognisance. The question Isaiah , What does it amount to? The great wind of controversy has passed: what is left behind? The facts are very much where the speakers found them.

Observe the limit of words; and see how difficult it is for us to accept that limit as indicating a providential design and a method of instruction. How eloquently the comforters began after their seven days" silence! They opened well. Truly they were gifted speakers. There was no want of language. Now the whole speech has been made—many-coloured, many-toned—what does it come to? How soon we reach the point of agnosticism! Yet agnosticism is paraded before us as quite a new invention, something perfectly novel, and not without a certain degree of bewitchment to certain peculiarly constituted minds. We do not come upon that point in theology only. We soon come upon it in materialism. We see nothing as it really is There is a point of agnosticism in the plainest piece of wood we ever had in hand. The philosophers themselves acknowledge this. They do not claim to be agnostics only in theology, or in spiritual thinking, or in metaphysics of any name or degree: they say plainly, We are also agnostics in matter: we do not know everything in the wood we handle and in the stone we tread upon. Surely this is not the very last idea in Christian or general civilisation. This supposedly novel idea runs through the Bible from end to end. We see a notable illustration of its action in this controversy as between Job and his three friends. We cannot call them ineloquent men, and say, Had your gift of words been greater, your discoveries would have been larger and brighter. We have been amazed at the copiousness and dignity of their eloquence; yet when such speakers have ended, what has all the conference amounted to?

Notice the despair of words as well as their limit. All has come to nothing. Yet how many weapons have been used, and used with masterly skill! They were not inexperienced controversialists; they represented the highest debating power of their age. We might name some of the weapons in order to assure ourselves that nothing was wanting in the armoury: there was eloquence, abundant; self-accusation, tipped with criticism,—an accusation that spared no feeling, that could not be turned aside by any pity or clemency or regard for human sensitiveness; a style of impeachment that struck right home. The men were not afraid to tell Job what an evil life he must have lived, and on Job"s part there was abundant self-defence. All the weakness he suffered in his body did not prevent him, so to say, standing mentally erect and returning blow for blow every charge that was made against him. He held to his integrity. He was skilled, too, in recrimination. He did not allow the tu quoque argument to remain unused. He was as skilled a fencer as any of his friends. And now the whole fray is over what does it amount to? This point may be worth insisting upon as showing how little can be done by words, even in argument, in persuasion, in the counter-action of sophistical reasoning, and in the education of prejudiced minds. Have we not had sufficient argument in the Church? Is it not now time we took to some other course—mayhap of action, or dignified suffering, to the cultivation of fraternal sentiments, to the expression of religious solicitudes? Is it not time to cease the argument and begin the mighty prayer? What has ever been settled by words? The settlement has been momentary, has been expediential, has been of the nature of compromise too often. Whoever had exactly the same meaning attached to the same word, when it came to argument as between two men or two typical sets of mind? Silence is sometimes more eloquent than speech, and prayer is often mightier than controversy. It must always be allowed that there must be individuality of speech; that every man Isaiah , so to speak, his own interpreter of his own words; that we do not understand the speech until we understand the speakers; that we know nothing of the words until we know the very soul of the man who uttered them. Here, then, must be liberty, so long as it does not infringe the rights of integrity, absolute consecration to the very spirit and genius of truth. How pleasant is this silence! Now we can look back and review, and estimate, and infer, and conclude about things, with all the evidence before us.

See what it is to endure unexplained misery. Job was doing this. He was unaware of the concert or compact which had been entered into at the beginning of the book which records his experience. So long as we can trace causes we find in that very tracing some elements of comfort. When we can explain how it is that we have come to pain, loss, sorrow, we fall back upon the explanation, and turn it into a species of solace: but the unexplained miseries of life make us tremble as with a double distress,—first the actual pain of bodily or mental suffering, and, secondly, the mysteriousness which is ever coming round about us, descending upon us, and touching our imagination as with the sting of fire. When not one sound can be heard in the still night, and yet in the morning the tower of life is found rent, yea, thrown down in one shapeless ruin, the very silence of the process adds to the pain of the result. Could we have felt the shock of an earthquake, could we have seen the flying thunderbolt, could we have heard the mighty tearing tempest, we should have said, The downfall of the tower is no mystery: verily it can be accounted for precisely and completely: what could survive the storm which raged in the night-time? But all was quiet: the night was never more silent: not a voice could be heard, not the faintest breeze seemed to be stirring; and yet the tower has fallen down. Are there not men who are enduring unexplained miseries? We should have said, looking upon them from the outside, They do not deserve all this discipline: surely some great mistake is at the root and bottom of all this difficulty; the men are sober, honest, upright, God-fearing; they sanctify every morning with prayer, and they pass into their rest every night with a hymn of praise upon their lips; and yet they suffer like lepers; they are impoverished, baffled, disappointed: who can explain this great sorrow? There is nothing romantic in the history of Job. In the mere letter, in the transient colour of the occasion, there may be a good deal that is special or unique, but in the substantial meaning of the history we ourselves can sympathise with Job: for who can tell how that great loss was incurred? Who can explain the sorrow that fell upon us so swiftly and shut out all God"s bright sky? We have criticised our history, examined ourselves clearly and unsparingly; our scrutiny has been pushed almost to the point of cruelty, and yet we have not been able to detect an adequate reason for all this sudden gloom and overwhelming judgment; and if through the cloud we have cried, Oh, that we could tell why this distress has fallen upon us! God has not chided us for expressing a wonder that is religious, a surprise ennobled by reverence. See Job , then, living a life of unexplained misery. We cannot account for Job"s misery by the general law of apostacy. We might say, All men have sinned, and Job is only enduring the proper rewards of sin. That reasoning proves too much, and therefore proves nothing. There is a point of speciality as well as a point of generality in human experience. If this be the general law of human apostacy, then why were there comforters as well as a comforted man? why were they not in the same state? Why not all moaning because of a common sorrow? We must beware how we attempt to meet specific cases by merely general laws. Such an application of general laws divests our speech of that sweetest of all music, the tone of sympathy,—unless indeed it seal our lips in silence, or reduce us to the necessity of saying, We also endure the same pain, for we are in the same condemnation.

See how man can be talked to by comforters who do not understand him. The three comforters were well-disposed, but they were not on the same level; they were kindly in spirit, but they were wanting in similarity of experience. Only he can exhort to courage who has himself felt the need of such exhortation. Only he can sympathise who has suffered. The sufferer knows when the really sympathetic voice is addressing him. Somehow it is not in the words that the sufferer finds the truest comfort, but in the words as spoken by a particular tone: the words themselves may be right, may be chosen from the very volume of inspiration, but if they be not uttered with the tenderness of simplicity, with the ardour of a fellow-feeling, with all the music of remembered pain, they will fail of their happiest effect. Here is the power of the pulpit. The man who preaches must be the man who has suffered: then he will preach well,—not, perhaps, according to some canon of preaching as laid down by mechanicians and formalists, but well in the sense of touching the inner line of experience, now and again coming down with gracious power upon special suffering, unique necessity; and the common people will hear the preacher gladly, because he knows how broken is the human heart, how self-helpless is the general spiritual condition of man. Now there have been comforters who have Sought to address the distressed. We know their modern names. We do not resent their approach, but we know in a moment that they do not understand us. They do not speak our language. If they speak the words of our mother tongue, they speak them with a foreign accent. But these very words they often decline to use. Has not Science come to speak with some measure of comforting to the world? Let us hear what it has to say. What is the disqualification of science for speaking to the common experience of the human heart? It is wise, it is learned, it abounds in information; yet when it attempts to comfort the world it fails. Why? Because science has never had a broken heart. What, then, can it do to broken hearts? It speaks loftily, it sets its mouth against the heavens; it hardly ever speaks but in ponderous polysyllables: but science never cried, science was never blinded with tears, science has not lived the life of sorrow, and therefore taken up the language of sorrow. Herein the Son of God stands without rival or equal or approach; when we hear him we wonder at the gracious words which proceed out of his mouth; we say, What Wisdom of Solomon , what tenderness, what pathos, what knowledge of the human heart! oh! never man spake like this man: continue thy healing speech, oh thou Saviour of the world! Then Political Economy has come to rectify us and to comfort us: but political economy never buried a child, political economy never dug a grave. Let it deal with averages, with supply and demand, and with comings, and goings of produce; let it elaborate all its calculations, and we shall be thankful for what measure of help it can render to the living of this multitudinous life: but when it comes to darkness, sorrow, bereavement, heart-ache, how dumb the thing is! It cannot speak to such agony! See it gathering up all its papers and calculations, and hastening away affrighted because of the heartbreak that came for one moment into the darkened human face. And Philosophy has come to adjust our relations, and to account for our condition, and to supply a high basis of reasoning: but philosophy never had a guilty conscience. Philosophy also talks well. Indeed all these comforters are gifted speakers. But how well they look! Not one of them ever had a head-ache that sprang from real pain of heart; when they have been weary it has been with high intellectual pursuit, and they will soon recruit their energy and renew their youth. With what dignity they walk! They have never been bowed down with burden-carrying of the kind which the heart knows but two well. Eliphaz, and Bildad, and Zophar,—and Science, and Political Economy and Philosophy, if you so please to change their names—are gifted; yea, they are not without genius itself; they are noble-minded, they are welcomed and honoured within proper limits: "but they do not know what a guilty conscience is—that fire within which will not allow the life one moment"s rest. So then, in asking for comfort we must always insist upon a similar experience as the necessity of fundamental, complete, and permanent sympathy. Where do we find this similar experience? Nowhere so fully as in the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: there it grows like a flower in its native soil; there all men may listen to profit and edification. We are well aware that there are times when this sympathy is not needed; when men are young, radiant, hopeful, successful; when wherever they walk flowers spring up in their footprints: what do they want with sympathy? They want high converse, intellectual dignity, philosophic speculation. That is right. The pulpit has nothing to say in condemnation of one set of circumstances being met by a similar set of circumstances: nay, that is the very point of our immediate argument, that similarity is essential to true fellowship. Now comes the Job period: the wind has struck down the house, all the sons are dead, all the cattle taken away; the flesh smitten with sore diseases, the very breath turned into a vapour of corruption, the whole life become a burden, a pestilence, a living pain: now who can speak? Given a world in which there is no experience, and you have given a world in which you need no New Testament; but dealing with facts as they are, and as we know them to be, and as we represent them, we are aware that there are moments in human life when no man dare speak to us but one who has; been sent from God. Here, let me repeat, is the power of the Church, the power of the Bible, the power of the true ministry—a human ministry, rich with human sympathy, quick with human sensitiveness, and yet baptised, yea, saturated with the very spirit of the Cross of Christ.

Here is a man also who is representing in his own individual experience an aspect of the providence of God which could not be otherwise made clear. There are various kinds of what may be called vicarious suffering. What if sometimes one man has to suffer in a way which can teach the whole race what suffering really Isaiah , and to what sources of consolation suffering should retire? God may be using some men for the illustration of personal integrity. Each sufferer should say, Perhaps God is teaching the world through me: all this calamity has not fallen upon me personally because of inmediate sin, but through me God is revealing his providence and kingdom; he is saying in effect, This is the child of my family who can best represent this particular aspect of discipline: many other children have I, but this one could show best what it is to suffer and be strong, to have no day but only night in the weary, weary life, and yet all the time to be able to show a faith which never falters, and to glorify God in sevenfold darkness. Perhaps some of our suffering may be used for this public purpose. We may be called to preach illustratively. We may have no words; we may be without argument, or learning, or power of exposition, and yet by suffering, as if in fellowship with Christ, we may be revealing to other men sources of truth undiscovered and unsuspected by them. Let us, then, take the largest view of life, and not the smallest; let us bring in the whole to assist the part; let us bring within our purview the great field of time in order to illustrate the immediate moment.

The sublime lesson is that we need some one who understands us all and who can talk to us all. The preacher, be he ever so able, can often but speak to one class of mind, but the Son of God can speak to all mankind, to men, to women, to little children, to learned scribe, and rabbi, and pompous Pharisee, to self-smiting publican, and wandering woman, and wondering little child. The Son of God can confound the wisdom of the wise, and take the crafty in their own net, and send them away crestfallen, wondering that they have been in the presence of one who overwhelmed them with a new and uncalculated dignity. And little children can be with him, so that they want to come back again, and remain there always, for never saw they so sweet a smile, never felt so gentle a touch, never looked upon such a face. We bear witness to this. We have been in many moods, but never found Jesus Christ unequal to them. Sometimes men have been intellectual; they have felt a conscious elevation of mental faculty, so that really they began to think they could do something in pure intellect, and when they came to the Son of God they found that his sayings were unfathomable and his suggestions were infinite philosophies. They have said so; they have uncovered themselves in the presence of the great Teacher, and said with reverence, Lord, evermore give us this bread. Sometimes we have been blinded with tears; we could not read our own mother"s handwriting; we could see nothing but threatening clouds: then the Son of God has spoken to us, and soon the rain was over and gone, the voice of the turtle was heard in the land, and the soul rejoiced with gladness celestial. We have gone to him when we had none other to go to, and he has opened his heart-door to its lull width, and made us welcome to the heaven of his peace. We have tottered to him from the churchyard, where we have laid all that was dearest and had nothing left; then in our weariness, and reeling, and deprivation, and darkness we have groped for him, and found him, and he has not let us go until he has enriched us with a new hope, and made us strong with a new comfort. We have not read this, or you might dash the book out of our hands; we have felt this, known this. To destroy its power you must destroy our recollection. To take away this evidence of Christ"s deity, sonship, priesthood, you must first destroy our consciousness. Let those who have profited by Christ speak for their Lord. Let those who have been benefited by his word and thought and comfort, stand up and say so. The enemy is bold with impertinence and defiance: let the friends of Christ be bold with reverence and thankfulness.

Note

In the third dialogue ( Job 22-31) no real progress is made by Job"s opponents. They will not give: up, and cannot defend, their position. Eliphaz ( Job 22) makes a last effort, and raises one new point which he states with some ingenuity. The station in which Job was formerly placed presented temptations to certain crimes; the punishments which he undergoes are precisely such as might be expected had those crimes been committed; hence he infers they actually were committed. The tone of this discourse thoroughly harmonises with the character of Eliphaz. He could scarcely come to a different conclusion without surrendering his fundamental principles, and he urges with much dignity and impressiveness the exhortations and warnings which in his opinion were needed. Bildad has nothing to add but a few solemn words on the incomprehensible majesty of God and the nothingness of man. Zophar, the most violent and least rational of the three, is put to silence, and retires from the contest.

In his two last discourses Job does not alter his position, nor, properly speaking, adduce any new argument, but he states with incomparable force and eloquence the chief points which he regards as established ( Job 26). All creation is confounded by the majesty and might of God; man catches but a faint echo of God"s word, and is baffled in the attempt to comprehend his ways. He then ( Job 27) describes even more completely than his opponents had done the destruction which, as a rule, ultimately falls upon the hypocrite, and which he certainly would deserve if he were hypocritically to disguise the truth concerning himself, and deny his own integrity. He thus recognises what was true in his opponent"s arguments, and corrects his own hasty and unguarded statements, Then follows ( Job 28) the grand description of Wisdom of Solomon , and the declaration that human wisdom does not consist in exploring the hidden and inscrutable ways of God, but in the fear of the Lord, and in turning away from evil. The remainder of this discourse ( Job 29-31) contains a singularly beautiful description of his former life, contrasted with his actual misery, together with a full vindication of his character from all the charges made or insinuated by his opponents. Thus ends the discussion, in which it is evident both parties had partially failed. Job has been betrayed into very hazardous statements, while his friends had been on the one hand disingenuous, on the other bigoted, harsh, and pitiless. The points which had been omitted, or imperfectly developed, are now taken up by a new interlocutor ( Job 32-37) Elihu. [See note, post, p328.]—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 31:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/job-31.html. 1885-95.

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Friday, May 29th, 2020
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