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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Job 4

 

 


Verses 1-21

The Argument of Eliphaz.
I.

Job 4

We must remember that the three comforters who came to Job in the hour of his great grief probably never heard such a speech as that which Job poured forth when after seven days and seven nights he opened his mouth, and cursed his day. Who could reply to such a speech? It may be that Eliphaz was the oldest and the chief of the comforters who came to the suffering patriarch, and therefore he began the conversation. The best comment upon his speech, as indeed upon the whole Book of Job , is not a critical handling of the individual words and sentences, but a paraphrase,—a turning of the grand old controversy into modern forms and present-day applications. It has been customary to sneer at the comforters of Job. Surely there is nothing to sneer at in the great speech of Eliphaz? It might be so read as to appear to be cold, haughty, reproachful, bitter, so as to turn Eliphaz himself into an insufferable Pharisee; but it may also be so read as to disclose in Eliphaz a Christian by anticipation, a philosophical comforter,—a man whose condolence was not the utterance of vapouring sentiment, but the balm of sanctified philosophy and reason. Better read it so. Why should these men have sprung all at once into reproachful critics? They had heard of their friend being impoverished, smitten down, crushed almost to death; they came from various quarters and from long distances to condole with him: what was there to turn them instantly into sourness, and to embitter their spirit? They themselves were so overcome by what they had seen of Job"s grief and desolation that for a whole week, in and out, they could not speak a word to him. Strange, passing all credulity, that they should instantly turn themselves into sour critics, and throw stones at the sufferer, with pharisaic self-conceit and haughtiness. There is nothing of this kind in the opening of the conversation. What there may be by-and-by we shall discover. Evidently, however, the case was wholly new to Eliphaz. He was a somewhat ponderous speaker—slow, deliberate, majestic. Whilst he is talking we feel that he is looking round about the case, trying to discern its meaning; for it is wholly novel, and it comes upon him so as to create surprise. He has certain great principles with which he never parts; he has based his life upon certain solid philosophies, and whatever happens he will try everything by these great conclusions. But he talks slowly, and whilst he is talking he is thinking, and whilst he is thinking he is endeavouring to discern something in the case that will be as light upon a mystery, or a key to a stubborn lock. This kind of experience never occurred before: what wonder if some mistakes were made? and what wonder if Job resented even balm and cordial and music in such enfeebled distress? There are agonies which will not bear the utterance of words, even on the part of sympathising friends: well-meant remarks only seem to drive the iron farther into the quivering life. A broad view, therefore, must be taken of the whole situation, and taking that broad view it may happen that we shall change our whole appreciation of this history of Job , and find in it things that we had hitherto left undiscovered.

Eliphaz approaches the suffering man with an "if," and with a double interrogation:—"If we assay, or attempt, to speak, will it add to thy grief? If Song of Solomon , we will still hold our peace. Yet who can withhold or restrain himself from speaking? It is a poor thing to do; still, who can resist the impulse? Understand us: we do not want even to breathe upon thy pain, lest the breathing should increase its agony; yet, if we went home without saying a word, without endeavouring to present another view of the case than that which has darkened upon thy poor life, it would seem as if we were judging thee, and even by silent judgment increasing an intolerable pain. That, O poor suffering friend, is our position. We are afraid to speak, and yet we must speak. We could not have uttered a word if thou hadst not begun to speak thyself, but seeing that thou hast taken to speaking, may we follow thee? It may be that in talking out all these thousand problems relief may come. Let us then reverently and tenderly betake ourselves to a contemplation of the marvellous drama and tragedy of human life." He begins as if he meant to succeed. He loses nothing by this apparent weakness. It is the beginning of his strength. If he were feebler he would be more furious: it is because he is strong that he can afford to be slow. Then Hebrews , with a master"s skill, proceeds to a positive declaration:—"Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was fallen, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees" ( Job 4:3-4). Sometimes an encouraging word by way of review helps a man to listen, to think, and to pray. All the beneficent past was not forgotten, the comforters knew the former status of Job—the chief man in the land, the prime counsellor; a very fountain of consolation; a man who was asked for and sought for when the whole horizon darkened with thunder. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our better selves. It may do us good to be told that once we were good, brave, wise, tender. A reference of that kind may bring tears to a strong man"s eyes, and make him say in his heart—"If you think of me so kindly as all that, God helping me, I will pluck up courage and try again to be as good a man as you have supposed me to be." We lose nothing in our education of men by words of encouragement, seasonably and lovingly spoken. What is appropriate to a sufferer is sometimes appropriate to a prodigal. Tell him that once he was the bravest in the whole set at school, whose face would have gathered up into unutterable scorn at the bare mention of a lie or a thing mean and cowardly; tell him of the days when his name was a charm, a watchword, which had only to be spoken and at once it would symbolise honour, integrity, unselfishness. Let us try that species of medicament when we attempt to heal wounds that are gaping and bleeding, and that mean swift death.

Eliphaz is now entitled to say, "But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled" ( Job 4:5). I see no taunt in these words. The man is rather called to recollection of what he himself would have said to other men, and, in the sixth verse, "Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?"—simply means, in a broad sense: Recall thine own principles; hasten to thine own sureties, and strong towers, and refuges; thou didst point them out with eloquence and unction to other men, now will they not be enough for thyself? Flee unto them, and accept sanctuary at the hands of God. Then Job was but human, for he did quail under desolations, and losses, and torments, concerning which he had comforted other men. If he live to get out of this, he will comfort them as he never comforted them before. We cannot tell (reading the history as if we had not read it before) what will become of this man; but if he survive this night—all nights grouped into one darkness—he will speak as he has never spoken before; he will be but a little lower than the angels.

In the seventh verse Eliphaz appears to be reproachful and bitter, and to suggest that Job had been playing the part of a hypocrite:—"Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the righteous cut off." How easy it would be to spoil that music by one rough tone; and how difficult it is to lift those words into music such as one strong man could communicate to another, more than his equal once in strength and dignity. But apart from the immediate application to Job"s case, here is a sublime historical testimony. Leaving Job for a moment, here is a challenge to the men who have read history—"Who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the righteous cut off?" Eliphaz knew of no such case, and Eliphaz, by his own talk, whoever he was, was not a little Prayer of Manasseh , judging by his words, judging by the handling of his language. For the moment forgetting all about inspiration and theology, and taking the speech as a piece of literature, we are bound to say that the speaker is no contemptible person. Hebrews , having established his authority to speak by the very manner of his speech, challenges men to say when innocence perished, and where righteousness was cut off. The usual rendering has been: Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent,—if thou hadst been innocent thou wouldst not have been in this condition; remember, I pray thee, where were the righteous cut off,—if thou hadst been righteous every son and daughter would have been living today, and the hills would have been alive with thy flocks. But who reads it so? Surely not the brave, gentle soul inhabited by the angel of Charity or the angel of Justice. Read it in some other tone; then its meaning will be this: Job , remember who ever perished, being innocent? And we all know the life you have led: you have been eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, a tongue to the dumb, a home to the homeless; you have lived amongst us a spotless character: do not fear, therefore, you will not be driven to destruction: the strife is very heavy; all the winds of heaven seem to have conspired in one furious gust and to be driving thee away, but remember your integrity, and take comfort: from the fact that innocence was never utterly destroyed: where were the righteous cut off? Job , there lives not a man who could charge you with unrighteousness; were any witness suborned to tell this lie, we would all rise up against him, and convict him of high treason against the law of truth and righteousness: that being the case, stand upon this grand broad fact, that God will not allow the righteous man to be cut off. Thus what appeared to be a harsh criticism is turned into a noble argument for the consolation and sustenance of a desolated and impoverished soul.

Eliphaz is not afraid to look at the other side of the case:

"Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same. By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed" ( Job 4:8-9).

Then he falls into the images of the lions, so difficult to put into our language, because we have to help ourselves by epithets to give the full meaning of the metaphor of the lion. But the whole meaning of Eliphaz is this: Wickedness does perish: men that plough iniquity reap the black harvest; when they appear to come to the mountain-top it is that they may be the farther blown away into the infinite void. Thus the great comforter puts both cases before Job , intimating by the last metaphor that it would have gone hard with him if he had been either wanting in innocence or in righteousness; then surely God would have been severe with him, and would not have given him time to curse the day of his birth, but would have crushed him ere he had begun the eloquent malediction. That Job had been spared so far was part of the argument of Eliphaz, that something was to come out of this trial which at present was not discernible by human foresight.

Now he changes his whole method of speech. He was surely a master in the treatment of human distress. Is there anything finer in all history than what follows from Job 4:12-19? It is only due to the Bible, whoever wrote it, to say that scholars learned in every tongue have confessed the sublimity of this representation of the revelation of God to the human soul. Let us read it:—

"Now a thing was secretly brought to me"—literally, Now a thing was stealthily brought to me; or, more literally still, Now a thing was stolen for me: a spirit put forth, as it were, a felonious hand, and brought something down from heaven to me; this is no idea of my own which I am now about to tell thee, Job; I will show thee a secret or stolen truth—"and mine ear received a little thereof": there was much more that I could not follow; our words are such poor little vessels they cannot hold all heaven"s rain; my vessels gave out, not God"s Revelation , but what I did catch I will hand over to thee, poor sufferer. "In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men"—when distance is nothing, when time is nothing, when we are our winged selves, when we can rise above the earth, and float through the air, or fly across seas, or complete the circuit of the horizon: in the mysteries of the night, when we can believe anything, however unusual, about ourselves; when we are so great, so wise, so far-sighted: when we seem to be in possession of the liberty of creation—"fear came upon me, and trembling": I was melted, I was dissolved: fear "which made all my bones to shake": so that this is no bravery, or audacity, or presumption on my part: I received this revelation when I was hardly able to receive it, as to the consciousness of mere strength. This is God"s way. He strikes great Saul to the earth, and when the man lies weakly on his back he brings heaven"s gospel to him. "When I am weak, then am I strong." Lying there, in the wilderness of the night, in the desolation of darkness, in the weakness of fear, "then a spirit passed before my face"—what are "spirits"? who was the first man to invent the impossible, to conceive the non-existent? His name should be famous in the world—"the hair of my flesh stood up"—as we ourselves have felt the rising in times of blank fear. The spirit "stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof": if shape it had, that shape had none. "An image was before mine eyes"—a shapeless image—as if the darkness had brought itself into a shapeless shape: "there was silence": I heard the silence; my breathing in it was like a tempest—oh that silence!—"and I heard a voice"—a whisper, as if all eternity had humbled itself into the smallest tone—"saying, Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?" These are not invented words. They bear their own seal upon them that they are a language from a higher place. There is an odour in them belonging to the gardens of paradise; there is a sublimity in them belonging to the throne of justice; there is an augustness in them as if they were embodied heavens. "Behold, he putteth no trust in his servants,"—for he knows they are but a breath, a vapour, frail even in their strength,—"and his angels"—his firstborn, the beings that began the mystery of finiteness—"he chargeth with imperfection": he calls them short lives, pieces of a whole, atoms of an infinite integer, broken fractions, sparks struck off. "How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?" He treats them according to their capacity; he is not harsh with them even in his judgments; he says they are but of yesterday: what can they know? They are built upon clay: how high can they rise? The poor weak clay would be crushed, and the whole tower would totter and fall.

That is part of the speech of Eliphaz: beginning with a question, proceeding to a tribute, advancing to an argument, and now approaching a great spiritual revelation which is of a moral kind. What if all morality be a revelation? What if we know nothing about justice and purity but what some spirit has "stolen" for us, or stealthily brought to us? What if our boasted talk about ethics and morals and good conduct be but an ungrateful forgetfulness that all we do know we have received from heaven?

How self-testing is Revelation , according to the speech of Eliphaz!

"Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker" ( Job 4:17).

This is the test of all messages. Say that a spirit has spoken to you, and we have a right to ask, What message did he deliver? Put that question in regard to this communication from the spirit-land. Say to Eliphaz, If a spirit spoke to thee, tell us his words, and by the words we will judge the quality and character of the spirit. Was it some frivolous communication he made? Let the communication speak for itself—"Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?" When a spirit speaks such words we know that the spirit is of God. To this test we would subject the Bible, always and everywhere. What does it say? What is the burden of its song? What is the purport of its message? If it be a book of frivolous anecdote, of maundering, pointless sentiment, of dream without practical value, of consolation that never touches the broken heart, then the world will be the richer for its banishment from all study; but if the book be self-evidencing, if it speak to us as if it knew us, if it can touch the wound without hurting it, if it can sit up with us all night, however long the night Isaiah , and speak to us in a language the heart can understand, then the world will not let it go. Let us have no fear as to the place of the Bible in civilisation and in the world at large: the hearts that owe it everything owe it preservation. Is there anywhere a finer description of human nature than these words—"mortal man?" We have read them so often that by our familiarity with them their originality is destroyed, and the vigour of the conception they represent "Mortal man"—little, frail, dying man: call him king—you do but decorate death; call him ruler and prince and captain of a thousand hosts—you cannot by your epithets block out the infinite disadvantage of his mortality. Yet here Isaiah , to me at least, a sign that immortality was not unknown to the ancient patriarchal mind. It is too often forgotten that to have such a God as is revealed in the Bible is to have immortality. We cannot have the one without having the other. Eliphaz, by his very grip of things, by his large reasoning, by his seizure and realisation of great things, is immortal. There are certain conclusions which follow without being named, without submitting to the degradation of words. Here, somewhere between the days of Abraham and Moses; here, at an assignable point in historic time, is a speaker who, looking over all he has seen of the world"s story, calls man—proud man—calls him "mortal man." This is a humiliation in the one aspect, but an exaltation in the other: the mortal is the fleshly, the visible, the palpable, and the ponderable; but if spirit can speak to Prayer of Manasseh , then man has in him an answering spirit. We have, therefore, here in the sleeping Eliphaz, the disabled Prayer of Manasseh , his bones shaking, his bodily strength all gone,—we have something left that can hold communion with heaven. Whatever that Isaiah , it could not die.

A very fine figure is given in the twentieth verse. Speaking of men, whom he has referred to as "mortal," he says, "They are destroyed from morning to evening,"—literally, They are destroyed betwixt morning and evening. Morning and evening are as two great iron plates—gone is a man when they close upon him! He steps upon no eternities, he does not live from generation to generation, in his little personality,—proud, mighty, royal, rich: he will die somewhere "betwixt "morning and evening." Lord, teach us to know ourselves; Lord, teach us to know ourselves to be but men: so teach us to number our days as to apply our hearts unto wisdom. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place from one generation to another; continue to open the doors of thine eternity to our mortality; and when the eventide comes, in all its shadow and blackness, may this mortality be swallowed up of life!

Prayer

Almighty God, we are thine, and would be bondmen unto thee, and live evermore in the slavery of love. Sweet the bondage, light the yoke, which thou dost impose: without them we should have no liberty; thine is a liberty that is glorious. The Son hath made us free, and therefore we are free indeed: how great the freedom of those who live in God, who are one with Christ, who yield themselves to the daily ministry of the Holy Ghost! We have learned, through unimaginable suffering, to say, Not my will, but thine, be done; and ever since we gave up our own will we have begun to live in heaven. This is the miracle of God; this is the triumph of the Cross; this is the mystery of all spiritual culture. Save us from ourselves! In every sense we are of yesterday, and know nothing; thou art from everlasting to everlasting, and there is no secret to thine eyes. O thou who knowest what is best, fittest, wisest for us, undertake our whole life, and set it out in portion and division, and let us feel how good thou art in permitting us to live. May our life be hidden with Christ in God, and thus become a double life, rooted so that it can never be eradicated, stablished, strengthened, settled, so that it never can be disturbed. Great peace have they that love thy law. Oh that we had hearkened unto thy commandments, and followed in the way of thy precepts; for then had our peace flowed like a river, and our righteousness as the waves of the sea. But we are filled with sorrow, our hearts are cast down with self-reproach; heal us lest we die, save us with daily salvation, that so our faithfulness may be kept alive. Go before us in all the way of life: it is difficult, it is steep, it is too much for our poor frail strength; but we can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us. O thou who art the Son of the Everlasting Father, the Brother of Prayer of Manasseh , the Saviour of the world, come to us, and give us to know how good a thing it is to stand in thy strength, and to believe in thy grace. Amen.


Verse 5

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"... it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled"Job 4:5

This is the same in all human experience.—It is easy to carry the burdens of others.—It may be quite delightful to speak to men who are suffering as to the way in which they should bear themselves in the hour of trial.—He can best sympathise who has most suffered.—It is one thing to see sorrow at a distance, and another to admit it into the innermost room in our own house and live within it night and day.—These are the times, however, when we can show our true spiritual quality.—So long as the affliction was at a distance we merely talked about it, but when it came near us we felt it, and under the agony of our feeling we showed what our souls were really trusting to.—Well-borne trial is the finest argument that can be set up on behalf of the grace of God.—The promises of Scripture are not so many jewels to be worn as a necklace; they are to be appropriated, and to become part of our very selves, giving us strength, patience, dignity, so that even the smell of fire shall not pass upon us when we go through the furnace of trial.—He can preach best who has had largest experience, it may be even of ill-health, loss, disappointment, and bereavement.—He also can read the Bible best who has passed through similar experience.—Every trial that comes to Us furnishes an opportunity through which the soul can show the fulness of the grace of heaven.—If Christian men fall down in trial, what are un-Christian men to think of them and of their faith? If the very sons and princes of God quail in the day of adversity as do other men, what, then, has their religion done for them? By their depression, their fear, their want of light and hope, they not only show their own nature, they actually bring discredit upon the very religion which they profess.—How did such men come to take up with such a religion? What possible motive could they have for identifying themselves with a faith which, beyond all other faiths, is marked by heroic characteristics?—Cowards must not be numbered with those who follow the banner of the brave.—Some men have been greater in affliction than they have ever been in prosperity.—Their friends did not know them as to their real quality until they were called upon to carry heavy burdens, and to be tried by perils in the city, and perils in the wilderness, and perils on the sea, and perils amongst false brethren,—it was amidst such testing perils that the true quality of the spirit was disclosed, and that many a man who was thought timid and frail discovered himself to be a very giant in the family of God.—There is another aspect of the case which enables us to address men who are sensitive themselves whilst encouraging other men to be noble and brave under assault.—The men referred to exhort others not to take heed of neglect or insult or dishonour; they say those who suffer from such attacks ought to be above them, ought not to resent them, ought to treat them with moderation and perhaps with occasional contempt: but how is it when the very same attacks are made upon themselves? Then how energetic they are in repelling them, how sensitive to every unkind word, how strong in their self-love, how violent in their self-conceit!—Example is better than precept.—To exhort another man to be magnanimous is not half so good as to be magnanimous under trial of any kind.


Verse 12

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Now a thing was secretly brought to me."Job 4:12

Things which are so brought are often the best things.—They are not meant for the bodily eye, which can see but imperfectly, but for the vision of the soul, which, where the character is good, is strong and clear.—We call the sum of our experiences, "impressions," "feelings," "impulses,""tendencies;" we are afraid to characterise or define them by some positively religious name.—Who, for example, dare say he was inspired? Who has sufficient religious boldness to say that the Holy Spirit fell upon him, and taught him this or that, or awakened his faculties to such and such an exercise?—Those who are believers in the Bible ought to have no hesitation in using religious terms for the definition of religious impressions.—Inspiration is always a secret communication.—The Spirit of God steals, so to speak, upon the spirit of Prayer of Manasseh , suddenly, in darkness, in out-of-the-way places, and, communing with him, transforms him into a new being, increasing his faculties both in number and strength, and clothing him with new and beneficent power.—When a good impulse stirs the heart, better trace it to a high origin than to a low one.—When we are moved in the direction of self-sacrifice for the good of others we should instantly seal the action of the Spirit with the name of God, and thus give it sanctity and nobleness, and turn it into an imperative and gracious obligation.—When a man supposes anything has been secretly brought to him from heaven, it was not meant that it should be locked up in his own heart; the very man who says that a secret message was delivered to him now begins to speak of it and to relate it all in graphic detail.—We should repeat this experience.—Who has not had conviction of sin?—Who has not known the mysterious action of conscience?—Who has not felt deeply and irresistibly that this world is not all, but that upon the horizon of time there gleams the beginning of eternity?—We should speak of these better impulses, these religious exhortations and ecstasies; we should never be ashamed of them, but hold them as in our personal trust for the benefit of the common family of man.—Great ideas were never meant to be merely personal possessions; "There is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty"—intellectually and spiritually as well as financially. "He that watereth shall be watered also himself."—Make no secret of your best ideas, your noblest impulses, your highest enthusiasms; tell them to others; the very stating of them may be as the declaration of gospels, the revelations of the unseen kingdom of Christ.—Of course the wise man will not throw his pearls before swine; he will study circumstances, opportunities, and conditions; the very spirit that brought the secret thing to him will indicate the right time and place under which he is to make revelations! of what he has seen and known and handled of the word of life.—Some gospels are to be preached to solitary persons; other gospels are to be thundered as it were from mountain-tops, and to be made known in all their majesty and grandeur and beneficence to the whole family of mankind.—The heart at once identifies messages which have been brought from heaven: there is no disguising or perverting such messages so as to obliterate their identity.—Even when but poorly delivered there is something about them which declares a heavenly origin.—This is emphatically so with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.—Even when men are tempted to ridicule it, they seem to be trifling with a temple, to be bringing into disdain the noblest tower ever built upon the earth and reaching to heaven.—There is a spirit in Prayer of Manasseh , and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.—Perhaps even the commonest soul knows true music from false: there is something in it which claims a species of kinship with the man and awakens him into a new and blessed consciousness.

 


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

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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