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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Job 1

 

 

Verses 1-5

II.

THE OPENING SCENE ON EARTH

Job 1:1-5

THE land of Uz appears to have been a general name for the great Syro-Arabian desert. It is described vaguely as lying "east of Palestine and north of Edom," or as "corresponding to the Arabia Deserta of classical geography, at all events so much of it as lies north of the 30th parallel of latitude." In Jeremiah 25:20, among those to whom the wine cup of fury is sent, are mentioned "all the mingled people and all the kings of the land of Uz." But within this wide region, extending from Damascus to Arabia, from Palestine to Chaldaea, it seems possible to find a more definite locality for the dwelling place of Job. Eliphaz, one of his friends, belonged to Teman, a district or city of Idumaea. In Lamentations 4:21, the writer, who may have had the Book of Job before him, says, "Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz"; a passage that seems to indicate a habitable region, not remote from the gorges of Idumaea. It is necessary also to fix on a district which lay in the way of the caravans of Sheba and Tema, and was exposed to the attacks of lawless bands of Chaldaeans and Sabeans. At the same time there must have been a considerable population, abundant pasturage for large flocks of camels and sheep, and extensive tracts of arable land. Then, the dwelling of Job lay near a city at the gate of which he sat with other elders to administer justice. The attention paid to details by the author of the book warrants us in expecting that all these conditions may be satisfied.

A tradition which places the home of Job in the Hauran, the land of Bashan of Scripture, some score of miles from the Sea of Galilee, has been accepted by Delitzsch. A monastery, there, appears to have been regarded from early Christian times as authentically connected with the name of Job. But the tradition has little value in itself, and the locality scarcely agrees in a single particular with the various indications found in the course of the book. The Hauran does not belong to the land of Uz. It was included in the territory of Israel. Nor can it by any stretch of imagination be supposed to lie in the way of wandering bands of Sabeans, whose home was in the centre of Arabia.

But the conditions are met-one has no hesitation in saying, fully met-in a region hitherto unidentified with the dwelling place of Job, the valley or oasis of Jauf (Palgrave, Djowf), lying in the North Arabian desert about two hundred miles almost due east from the modern Maan and the ruins of Petra. Various interesting particulars regarding this valley and its inhabitants are given by Mr. C.M. Doughty in his "Travels in Arabia Deserta." But the best description is that by Mr. Palgrave, who, under the guidance of Bedawin, visited the district in 1862. Travelling from Maan by way of the Wadi Sirhan, after a difficult and dangerous journey of thirteen days, their track in the last stage following "endless windings among low hills and stony ledges," brought them to greener slopes and traces of tillage, and at length "entered a long and narrow pass, whose precipitous banks shut in the view on either side." After an hour of tedious marching in terrible heat, turning a huge pile of crags, they looked down into the Jauf.

"A broad, deep valley, descending ledge after ledge till its innermost depths are hidden from sight amid far-reaching shelves of reddish rock, below everywhere studded with tufts of palm groves and clustering fruit trees in dark green patches, down to the farthest end of its windings; a large brown mass of irregular masonry crowning a central hill; beyond, a tall and solitary tower overlooking the opposite bank of the hollow, and farther down, small round turrets and flat house roofs, half buried amid the garden foliage, the whole plunged in a perpendicular flood of light and heat; such was the first aspect of the Djowf as we now approached it from the west."

The principal town bears the name of the district, and is composed of eight villages, once distinct, which have in process of time coalesced into one. The principal quarter includes the castle, and numbers about four hundred houses. "The province is a large oval depression, of sixty or seventy miles long by ten or twelve broad, lying between the northern desert that separates it from Syria and Euphrates, and the southern Nefood, or sandy waste." Its fertility is great and is aided by irrigation, so that the dates and other fruits produced in the Jauf are famed throughout Arabia. The people "occupy a halfway position between Bedouins and the inhabitants of the cultivated districts." Their number is reckoned at about forty thousand, and there can be no question that the valley has been a seat of population from remote antiquity. To the other points of identification may be added this, that in the Wadi Sirhan, not far from the entrance to the Jauf, Mr. Palgrave passed a poor settlement with the name Oweysit, or Owsit, and the Outz, or Uz, of our text. With population, an ancient city, fertile fields, and ample pasturage in the middle of the desert, the nearest habitable region to Edom, in the way of caravans, generally safe from predatory tribes, yet exposed to those from the east and south that might make long expeditions under pressure of great need, the valley of the Jauf appears to correspond in every important particular with the dwelling place of the man of Uz.

The question whether such a man as Job ever lived has been variously answered, one Hebrew rabbi, for example, affirming that he was a mere parable. But Ezekiel names him along with Noah and Daniel, James in his epistle says, "Ye have heard of the patience of Job"; and the opening words of this book, "There was a man in the land of Uz," are distinctly historical. To know, therefore, that a region in the Arabian desert corresponds so closely with the scene of Job’s life is to be reassured that a true history forms the basis of the poem. The tradition with which the author began his work probably supplied the name and dwelling place of Job, his wealth, piety, and afflictions, including the visit of his friends, and his restoration after sore trial from the very gate of despair to faith and prosperity. The rest comes from the genius of the author of the drama. This is a work of imagination based on fact. And we do not proceed far till we find, first ideal touches, then bold flights into a region never opened to the gaze of mortal eye.

Job is described in the third verse as one of the Children of the East or Bene-Kedem, a vague expression denoting the settled inhabitants of the North Arabian desert, in contrast to the wandering Bedawin and the Sabeans of the South. In Genesis and Judges they are mentioned along with the Amalekites, to whom they were akin. But the name as used by the Hebrews probably covered the inhabitants of a large district very little known. Of the Bene-Kedem Job is described as the greatest. His riches meant power, and in the course of the frequent alternations of life in those regions one who had enjoyed unbroken prosperity for many years would be regarded with veneration not only for his wealth, but for what it signified- the constant favour of Heaven. He had his settlement near the city, and was the acknowledged emeer of the valley taking his place at the gate as chief judge. How great a chief one might become who added to his flocks and herds year by year and managed his affairs with prudence we learn from the history of Abraham; and to the present day, where the patriarchal mode of living and customs continue, as among the Kurds of the Persian highland, examples of wealth in sheep and oxen, camels and asses almost approaching that of Job are sometimes to be met with. The numbers-seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she-asses-are probably intended simply to represent his greatness. Yet they are not beyond the range of possibility.

The family of Job-his wife, seven sons, and three daughters-are about him when the story begins, sharing his prosperity. In perfect friendliness and idyllic joy the brothers and sisters spend their lives, the shield of their father’s care and religion defending them. Each of the sons has a day on which he entertains the others, and at the close of the circle of festivities, whether weekly or once a year, there is a family sacrifice. The father is solicitous lest his children, speaking or even thinking irreverently, may have dishonoured God. For this reason he makes the periodic offering, from time to time keeping on behalf of his household a day of atonement. The number of the children is not necessarily ideal, nor is the round of festivals and sacred observances. Yet the whole picture of happy family life and unbroken joy begins to lift the narrative into an imaginative light. So fine a union of youthful enjoyment and fatherly sympathy and puritanism is seldom approached in this world. The poet has kept out of his picture the shadows which must have lurked beneath the sunny surface of life. It is not even suggested that the recurring sacrifices were required. Job’s thoughtfulness is precautionary: "It may be that my sons have sinned, and renounced God in their hearts." The children are dear to him, so dear that he would have nothing come between them and the light of heaven.

For the religion of Job, sincere and deep, disclosing itself in these offerings to the Most High, is, above his fatherly affection and sympathy, the distinction with which the poet shows him invested. He is a fearer of the One Living and True God. the Supremely Holy. In the course of the drama the speeches of Job often go back on his faithfulness to the Most High; and we can see that he served his fellow men justly and generously because he believed in a Just and Generous God. Around him were worshippers of the sun and moon, whose adoration he had been invited to share. But he never joined in it, even by kissing his hand when the splendid lights of heaven moved with seeming Divine majesty across the sky. For him there was but One God, unseen yet ever present, to whom, as the Giver of all, he did not fail to offer thanksgiving and prayer with deepening faith. In his worship of this God the old order of sacrifice had its place, simple, unceremonious. Head of the clan, he was the priest by natural right, and offered sheep or bullock that there might be atonement, or maintenance of fellowship with the Friendly Power who ruled the world. His religion may be called a nature religion of the finest type-reverence, faith, love, freedom. There is no formal doctrine beyond what is implied in the names Eloah, the Lofty One, Shaddai, Almighty, and in those simple customs of prayer, confession, and sacrifice in which all believers agreed. Of the law of Moses, the promises to Abraham, and those prophetical revelations by which the covenant of God was assured to the Hebrew people Job knows nothing. His is a real religion, capable of sustaining the soul of man in righteousness, a religion that can save; but it is a religion learned from the voices of earth and sky and sea, and from human experience through the inspiration of the devout obedient heart. The author makes no attempt to reproduce the beliefs of patriarchal times as described in Genesis, but with a sincere and sympathetic touch he shows what a fearer of God in the Arabian desert might be. Job is such a man as he may have personally known.

In the region of Idumaea the faith of the Most High was held in remarkable purity by learned men, who formed a religious caste or school of wide reputation: and Teman, the home of Eliphaz, appears to have been the centre of the cultus. "Is wisdom no more in Teman?" cries Jeremiah. "Is counsel perished from the prudent? Is their wisdom (hokhma) vanished?" And Obadiah makes a similar reference: "Shall I not in that day, saith the Lord, destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau?" In Isaiah the darkened wisdom of some time of trouble and perplexity is reflected in the "burden of Dumah," that is, Idumaea: "One calleth unto me out of Seir," as if with the hope of clearer light on Divine providence, "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?" And the answer is an oracle in irony, almost enigma: "The morning cometh, and also the night. If ye will inquire, inquire; turn, come." Not for those who dwelt in shadowed Dumah was the clear light of Hebrew prophecy. But the wisdom or hokhma of Edom and its understanding were nevertheless of the kind in Proverbs and elsewhere constantly associated with true religion and represented as almost identical with it. And we may feel assured that when the Book of Job was written there was good ground for ascribing to sages of Teman and Uz an elevated faith.

For a Hebrew like the author of Job to lay aside for a time the thought of his country’s traditions, the law and the prophets, the covenant of Sinai, the sanctuary, and the altar of witness, and return in writing his poem to the primitive faith which his forefathers grasped when they renounced the idolatry of Chaldaea was after all no grave abandonment of privilege. The beliefs of Teman, sincerely held, were better than the degenerate religion of Israel against which Amos testified. Had not that prophet even pointed the way when he cried in Jehovah’s name-"Seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba. Seek Him that maketh the Pleiades and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth; Jehovah is His name"? Israel after apostasy may have needed to begin afresh, and to seek on the basis of the primal faith a new atonement with the Almighty. At all events there were many around, not less the subjects of God and beloved by Him, who stood in doubt amidst the troubles of life and the ruin of earthly hopes. Teman and Uz were in the dominion of the heavenly King. To correct and confirm their faith would be to help the faith of Israel also and give the true religion of God fresh power against idolatry and superstition.

The book which returned thus to the religion of Teman found an honourable place in the roll of sacred Scriptures. Although the canon was fixed by Hebrews at a time when the narrowness of the post-exilic age drew toward Pharisaism, and the law and the temple were regarded with veneration far greater than in the time of Solomon, room was made for this book of broad human sympathy and free faith. It is a mark at once of the wisdom of the earlier rabbis and their judgment regarding the essentials of religion. To Israel, as St. Paul afterwards said, belonged "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." But he too shows the same disposition as the author of our poem to return on the primitive and fundamental-the justification of Abraham by his faith, the promise made to him, and the covenant that extended to his family: "They which be of faith, the same are sons of Abraham"; "They which be of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham"; "Not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed"; "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ." A greater than St. Paul has shown us how to use the Old Testament, and we have perhaps misunderstood the intent with which our Lord carried the minds of men back to Abraham and Moses and the prophets. He gave a religion to the whole world. Was it not then the spiritual dignity, the religious breadth of the Israelite fathers, their sublime certainty of God, their glow and largeness of faith for which Christ went back to them? Did He not for these find them preparers of His own way?

From the religion of Job we pass to consider his character described in the words, "That man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil." The use of four strong expressions, cumulatively forming a picture of the highest possible worth and piety, must be held to point to an ideal life. The epithet perfect is applied to Noah, and once and again in the Psalms to the disposition of the good. Generally, however, it refers rather to the scheme or plan by which conduct is ordered than to the fulfilment in actual life; and a suggestive parallel may be found in the "perfection" or "entire sanctification" of modern dogma. The word means complete, built up all round so that no gaps are to be seen in the character. We are asked to think of Job as a man whose uprightness, goodness, and fidelity towards man were unimpeachable, who was also towards God reverent, obedient, grateful, wearing his religion as a white garment of unsullied virtue. Then is it meant that he had no infirmity of will or soul, that in him for once humanity stood absolutely free from defect? Scarcely. The perfect man in this sense, with all moral excellences and without weakness, would as little have served the purpose of the writer as one marred by any gross or deforming fault.. The course of the poem shows that Job was not free from errors of temper and infirmities of will. He who is proverbially known as the most patient failed in patience when the bitter cup of reproach had to be drained. But undoubtedly the writer exalts the virtue of his hero to the highest range, a plane above the actual. In order to set the problem of the book in a clear light such purity of soul and earnest dutifulness had to be assumed as would by every reckoning deserve the rewards of God, the "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

The years of Job have passed hitherto in unbroken prosperity. He has long enjoyed the bounty of providence, his children about him, his increasing flocks of sheep and camels, oxen and asses feeding in abundant pastures. The stroke of bereavement has not fallen since his father and mother died in ripe old age. The dreadful simoom has spared his flocks, the wandering Bedawin have passed them by. An honoured chief, he rules in wisdom and righteousness, ever mindful of the Divine hand by which he is blessed, yearning for himself the trust of the poor and the gratitude of the afflicted. Enjoying unbounded respect in his own country, he is known beyond the desert to a circle of friends who admire him as a man and honour him as a servant of God. His steps are washed with butter, and the rock pours him out rivers of oil. The lamp of God shines upon his head, and by His light he walks through darkness. His root is spread out to the waters, and the dew lies all night upon his branch.

Now let us judge this life from a point of view which the writer may have taken, which at any rate it becomes us to take, with our knowledge of what gives manhood its true dignity and perfectness. Obedience to God, self-control and self-culture, the observance of religious forms, brotherliness and compassion, uprightness and purity of life, these are Job’s excellences. But all circumstances are favourable, his wealth makes beneficence easy and moves him to gratitude. His natural disposition is towards piety and generosity; it is pure joy to him to honour God and help his fellow men. The life is beautiful. But imagine it as the unclouded experience of years in a world where so many are tried with suffering and bereavement, foiled in their strenuous toil and disappointed in their dearest hopes, and is it not evident that Job’s would tend to become a kind of dream life, not deep and strong, but on the surface, a broad stream, clear, glittering with the reflection of moon and stars or of the blue heaven, but shallow, gathering no force, scarcely moving towards the ocean? When a Psalmist says, "Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in Thy wrath: we bring our years to an end as a tale that is told," he depicts the common experience of men, a sad experience, yet needful to the highest wisdom and the noblest faith. No dreaming is there when the soul is met with sore rebuffs and made aware of the profound abyss that lies beneath, when the limbs fail on the steep hills of difficult duty. But a long succession of prosperous years, immunity from disappointment, loss, and sorrow, lulls the spirit to repose. Earnestness of heart is not called for, and the will, however good, is never braced to endurance. Whether by subtle intention or by an instinctive sense of fitness, the writer has painted Job as one who with all his virtue and perfectness spent his life as in a dream and needed to be awakened. He is a Pygmalion’s statue of flawless marble, the face divinely calm and not without a trace of self-conscious remoteness from the suffering multitudes, needing the hot blast of misfortune to bring it to life. Or, let us say, he is a new type of humanity in paradise, an Adam enjoying a Garden of Eden fenced in from every storm, as yet undiscovered by the enemy. We are to see the problem of the primitive story of Genesis revived and wrought out afresh, not on the old lines, but in a way that makes it real to the race of suffering men. The dream life of Job in his time of prosperity corresponds closely with that ignorance of good and evil which the first pair had in the garden eastward in Eden while as yet the forbidden tree bore its fruit untouched, undesired, in the midst of the greenery and flowers.

When did the man Job live? Far back in the patriarchal age, or but a short time before the author of the book came upon his story and made it immortal? We may incline to the later date, but it is of no importance. For us the interest of the book is not antiquarian but humane, the relation of pain and affliction to the character of man. the righteous government of God. The life and experiences of Job are idealised so that the question may be clearly understood; and the writer makes not the slightest attempt to give his book the colour of remote antiquity.

But we cannot fail to be struck from the outset with the genius shown in the choice of a life set in the Arabian desert. For breadth of treatment, for picturesque and poetic effect, for the development of a drama that was to exhibit the individual soul in its need of God, in the shadow of deep trouble as well as the sunshine of success, the scenery is strikingly adapted, far better than if it had been laid in some village of Israel. Inspiration guided the writer’s choice. The desert alone gave scope for those splendid pictures of nature, those noble visions of Divine Almightiness, and those sudden and tremendous changes which make the movement impressive and sublime.

The modern analogue in literature is the philosophic novel. But Job is far more intense, more operatic, as Ewald says, and the elements are even simpler. Isolation is secured. Life is bared to its elements. The personality is entangled in disaster with the least possible machinery or incident. The dramatising altogether is singularly abstract. And thus we are enabled to see, as it were, the very thought of the author, lonely, resolute, appealing, under the widespread Arabian sky and the Divine infinitude.


Verses 6-12

III.

THE OPENING SCENE IN HEAVEN

Job 1:6-12

WITH the presentation of the scene in heaven, the genius, the pious daring, and fine moral insight of the writer at once appear-in one word, his inspiration. From the first we feel a sure yet deeply reverent touch, a spirit composed in its high resolve. The thinking is keen, but entirely without strain. In no mere flash did the overworld disclose itself and those decrees that shape man’s destiny. There is constructive imagination. Wherever the idea of the heavenly council was found, whether in the vision Micaiah narrated to Jehoshaphat and Ahab, or in the great vision of Isaiah, it certainly was not unsought. Through the author’s own study and art the inspiration came that made the picture what it is. The calm sovereignty of God, not tyrannical but most sympathetic, is presented with simple felicity. It was the distinction of Hebrew prophets to speak of the Almighty with a confidence which bordered on familiarity yet never lost the grace of profound reverence; and here we find that trait of serious naivete. The writer ventures on the scene he paints with no consciousness of daring nor the least air of difficult endeavour, but quietly, as one who has the thought of the Divine government of human affairs constantly before his mind and glories in the majestic wisdom of God and His friendliness to men. In a single touch the King is shown, and before Him the hierarchies and powers of the invisible world in their responsibility to His rule. Centuries of religious culture are behind the words, and also many years of private meditation and philosophic thought. To this man, because he gave himself to the highest discipline, revelations came, uplifting, broad, and deep.

In contrast to the Almighty we have the figure of the Adversary, or Satan, depicted with sufficient clearness, notably coherent, representing a phase of being not imaginary but actual. He is not, as the Satan of later time came to be, the head of a kingdom peopled with evil spirits, a nether world separated from the abode of the heavenly angels by a broad, impassable gulf. He has no distinctive hideousness, nor is he painted as in any sense independent, although the evil bent of his nature is made plain, and he ventures to dispute the judgment of the Most High. This conception of the Adversary need not be set in opposition to those which afterwards appear in Scripture as if truth must lie entirely there or here. But we cannot help contrasting the Satan of the Book of Job with the grotesque, gigantic, awful, or despicable fallen angels of the world’s poetry. Not that the mark of genius is wanting in these; but they reflect the powers of this world and the accompaniments of malignant human despotism. The author of Job, on the contrary, moved little by earthly state and grandeur, whether good or evil, solely occupied with the Divine sovereignty, never dreams of one who could maintain the slightest shadow of authority in opposition to God. He cannot trifle with his idea of the Almighty in the way of representing a rival to Him; nor can he degrade a subject so serious as that of human faith and well being by painting with any touch of levity a superhuman adversary of men.

Dante in his "Inferno" attempts, the portraiture of the monarch of hell:-

That emperor who sways

The realm of sorrow, at mid-breast from the ice

Stood forth; and I in stature, am more like

A giant than the giants are to his arms

If he were beautiful

As he is hideous now, and yet did dare

To scowl upon his Maker, well from him

May all our misery flow.

The enormous size of this figure is matched by its hideousness; the misery of the arch fiend, for all Its horror, is grotesque:-

"At six eyes he wept; the tears

Adown three faces rolled in bloody foam."

Passing to Milton, we find sublimity in his pictures of the fallen legions, and it culminates in the vision of their king:-

Above them all the archangel; but his face

Deep scars of thunder had intrenched, and care

Sat on his faded cheek, but under brows

Of dauntless courage, and considerate pride

Waiting revenge: cruel his eye, but cast

Signs of remorse and passion, to behold

The fellows of his crime

Millions of spirits for his fault amerced

Of heaven, and from eternal splendours flung

For his revolt.

The picture is magnificent. It has, however, little justification from Scripture. Even in the Book of Revelation we see a kind of contempt of the Adversary, where an angel from heaven with a great chain in his hand lays hold on the dragon, that old serpent which is the devil, and Satan, and binds him a thousand years. Milton has painted his Satan largely, as not altogether unfit to take arms against the Omnipotent, grown gigantic, even sublime, in the course of much theological speculation that had its source far back in Chaldaean and Iranian myths. Perhaps, too, the sympathies of the poet, playing about the fortunes of fallen royalty, may have unconsciously coloured the vision which he saw and drew with such marvellous power, dipping his pencil "in the hues of earthquake and eclipse."

This splendid regal archfiend has no kinship with the Satan of the Book of Job; and, on the other hand, the Mephistopheles of the "Faust," although bearing an outward resemblance to him, is, for a quite different reason, essentially unlike. Obviously Goethe’s picture of a cynical devil gaily perverting and damning a human mind is based on the Book of Job. The "Prologue in Heaven," in which he first appears, is an imitation of the passage before us. But while the vulgarity and insolence of Mephistopheles are in contrast to the demeanour of the Adversary in presence of Jehovah, the real distinction lies in the kind of power ascribed to the one and the other. Mephistopheles is a cunning tempter. He receives permission to mislead if he can, and not only places his victim in circumstances fitted to ruin his virtue, but plies him with arguments intended to prove that evil is good, that to be pure is to be a fool. No such power of evil suggestion is given to the Adversary of Job. His action extends only to the outward events by which the trial of faith is brought about. Cynical he is and bent on working evil, but not by low cunning and sophistry. He has no access to the mind. While it cannot be said that Goethe has descended beneath the level of possibility, since a contemporary and friend of his own, Schopenhauer, might almost have sat for the portrait of Mephistopheles, the realism in Job befits the age of the writer and the serious purpose he had in view. "Faust" is a work of genius and art, and succeeds in its degree. The author of Job succeeds in a far higher sense, by the charm of simple sincerity and the strength of Divine inspiration, keeping the play of supernatural agency beyond human vision, making the Satan a mere instrument of the Divine purpose, in no sense free or intellectually powerful.

The scene opens with a gathering of the "sons of the Elohim" in presence of their King. Professor Cheyne thinks that these are "supernatural Titanic" beings who had once been at strife with Jehovah, but who now at stated times paid him their enforced homage; and this he illustrates by reference Job 21:22 and Job 25:2. But the question in the one passage, "Shall any teach God knowledge? seeing He judgeth those that are high" [µymir, the heights of heaven, highnesses], and the affirmation in the other, "He maketh peace in His high places," can scarcely be held to prove the supposition. The ordinary view that they are heavenly powers or angels, willing servants, not unwilling vassals of Jehovah, is probably correct. They have come together at an appointed time to give account of their doings and to receive commands, and among them the Satan or Adversary presents himself, one distinguished from all the rest by the name he bears and the character and function it implies. There is no hint that he is out of place, that he has impudently forced his way into the audience chamber. Rather does it appear that he, like the rest, has to give his account. The question "Whence comest thou?" expresses no rebuke. It is addressed to the Satan as to the others. We see, therefore, that this "Adversary," to whomsoever he is opposed, is not a being excluded from communication with God, engaged in a princely revolt. When the reply is put into his mouth that he has been "going to and fro in the earth, and pacing up and down in it," the impression conveyed is that a certain task of observing men, perhaps watching for their misdeeds, has been assumed by him. He appears a spirit of restless and acute inquiry into men’s lives and motives, with a keen eye for the weaknesses of humanity and a fancy quick to imagine evil.

Evidently we have here a personification of the doubting, misbelieving, misreading spirit which, in our day, we limit to men and call pessimism. Now Koheleth gives so finished an expression to this temper that we can hardly be wrong in going back some distance of time for its growth; and the state of Israel before the northern captivity was a soil in which every kind of bitter seed might spring up. The author of Job may well have drawn from more than one cynic of his day when he set his mocking figure in the blaze of the celestial court. Satan is the pessimist. He exists, so far as his intent goes, to find cause against man, and therefore, in effect, against God, as man’s Creator. A shrewd thinker is this Adversary, but narrowed to one line and that singularly like some modern criticism of religion, the resemblance holding in this that neither shows any feeling of responsibility. The Satan sneers away faith and virtue; the modern countenances both, and so has an excellent reason for pronouncing them hollow; or he avoids both, and is sure there is nothing but emptiness where he has not sought. Either way, all is habel habalim-vanity of vanities. And yet Satan is so held and governed by the Almighty that he can only strike where permission is given. Evil, as represented by him, is under the control of Divine wisdom and goodness. He appears as one to whom the words of Christ, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve," would bring home a sense neither of duty nor privilege, but of a sheer necessity, to be contested to the last. Nevertheless he is a vassal of the Almighty. Here the touch of the author is firm and true.

So of pessimistic research and philosophy now. We have writers who follow humanity in all its base movements and know nothing of its highest. The research of Schopenhauer and even the psychology of certain modern novelists are mischievous, depraving, for this reason, if no other, that they evaporate the ideal. They promote generally that diseased egotism to which judgment and aspiration are alike unknown. Yet this spirit too serves where it has no dream of serving. It provokes a healthy opposition, shows a hell from which men recoil, and creates so deadly ennui that the least gleam of faith becomes acceptable, and even Theosophy, because it speaks of life, secures the craving mind. Moreover, the pessimist keeps the church a little humble, somewhat awake to the error that may underlie its own glory and the meanness that mingles too often with its piety. A result of the freedom of the human mind to question and deny, pessimism has its place in the scheme of things. Hostile and often railing, it is detestable enough, but needs not alarm those who know that God takes care of His world.

The challenge which begins the action of the drama-by whom is it thrown out? By the Almighty God sets before the Satan a good life: "Hast thou considered My servant Job? that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil." The source of the whole movement, then, is a defiance of unbelief by the Divine Friend of men and Lord of all. There is such a thing as human virtue, and it is the glory of God to be served by it, to have His power and divinity reflected in man’s spiritual vigour and holiness.

Why does the Almighty throw out the challenge and not wait for Satan’s charge? Simply because the trial of virtue must begin with God. This is the first step in a series of providential dealings fraught with the most important results, and there is singular wisdom in attributing it to God. Divine grace is to be seen thrusting back the chaotic falsehoods that darken the world of thought. They exist; they are known to Him who rules; and He does not leave humanity to contend with them unaided. In their keenest trials the faithful are supported by His hand, assured of victory while they fight His battles. Ignorant pride, like that of the Adversary, is not slow to enter into debate even with the All-wise. Satan has the question ready which implies a lie, for his is the voice of that scepticism which knows no reverence. But the entire action of the book is in the line of establishing faith and hope. The Adversary is challenged to do his worst; and man, as God’s champion, will have to do his best, -the world and angels looking on.

And this thought of a Divine purpose to confound the falsehoods of scepticism answers another inquiry which may readily occur. From the first the Almighty knows and asserts the virtue of His servant, -that he is one who fears God and eschews evil. But why, then, does He condescend to ask of Satan, "Hast thou considered My servant Job?" Since He has already searched the heart of Job and found it faithful, He does not need for His own satisfaction to hear Satan’s opinion. Nor are we to suppose that the expression of this Adversary’s doubt can have any real importance. But if we take the Satan as representing all those who depreciate faith and undermine virtue, the challenge is explained. Satan is of no account in himself. He will go on cavilling and suspecting. But for the sake of the race of men, its emancipation from the miserable suspicions that prey on the heart, the question is proposed. The drama has its prophetical design; it embodies a revelation; and in this lies the value of all that is represented. Satan, we shall find, disappears, and thereafter the human reason is alone addressed, solely considered. We pass from scene to scene, from controversy to controversy, and the great problem of man’s virtue, which also involves the honour of God Himself, is wrought out that our despondency and fear may be cured; that we may never say with Koheleth, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

To the question of the Almighty, Satan replies by another: "Doth Job fear God for nought?" With a certain air of fairness he points to the extraordinary felicity enjoyed by the man. "Hast Thou not made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land." It is a thought naturally arising in the mind that very prosperous people have all on the side of their virtue, and may be less pure and faithful than they seem. Satan adopts this thought, which is not only blameless, but suggested by what we see of God’s government. He is base and captious in using it, and turns it with a sneer. Yet on the surface he only hints that God should employ His own test, and so vindicate His action in making this man so prosperous. For why should Job show anything but gratitude towards God when all is done for him that heart can desire? The favourites of kings, indeed, who are loaded with titles and wealth, sometimes despise their benefactors, and, being raised to high places, grow ambitious of one still higher, that of royalty itself. The pampered servant becomes an arrogant rival, a leader of revolt. Thus too great bounty is often met with ingratitude. It does not, however, suit the Adversary to suggest that pride and rebellion of this kind have begun to show themselves in Job, or will show themselves. He has no ground for such an accusation, no hope of proving it true. He confines himself, therefore, to a simpler charge, and in making it implies that he is only judging this man on general principles and pointing to what is sure to happen in the case. Yes; he knows men. They are selfish at bottom. Their religion is selfishness. The blameless human fear is that much may be due to favourable position. The Satan is sure that all is due to it.

Now, the singular thing here is the fact that the Adversary’s accusation turns on Job’s enjoyment of that outward felicity which the Hebrews were constantly desiring and hoping for as a reward of obedience to God. The writer comes thus at once to show the peril of the belief which had corrupted the popular religion of his time, which may even have been his own error once, that abundant harvests, safety from enemies, freedom from pestilence, such material prosperity as many in Israel had before the great disasters, were to be regarded as the evidence of accepted piety. Now that the crash has fallen and the tribes are scattered, those left in Palestine and those carried into exile alike sunk in poverty and trouble, the author is pointing out what he himself has come to see, that Israel’s conception of religion had hitherto admitted and may even have gendered a terrible mistake. Piety might be largely selfishness-was often mingled with it. The message of the author to his countrymen and to the world is that a nobler mind must replace the old desire for happiness and plenty, a better faith the old trust that God would fill the hands that served Him well. He teaches that, whatever may come, though trouble after trouble may fall, the great true Friend is to be adored for what He is, obeyed and loved though the way lies through storm and gloom.

Striking is the thought that, while the prophets Amos and Hosea were fiercely or plaintively assailing the luxury of Israel and the lives of the nobles, among those very men who excited their holy wrath may have been the author of the Book of Job. Dr. Robertson Smith has shown that from the "gala days" of Jeroboam II to the fall of Samaria there were only some thirty years. One who wrote after the Captivity as an old man may therefore have been in the flush of youth when Amos prophesied, may have been one of the rich Israelites who lay upon beds of ivory and stretched themselves upon their couches, and ate lambs out of the flock and calves out of the midst of the stall, for whose gain the peasant and the slave were oppressed by stewards and officers. He may have been one of those on whom the blindness of prosperity had fallen so that the storm cloud from the east with its vivid lightning was not seen, who held it their safety to bring sacrifices every morning and tithes every three days, to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which was leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings and publish them. [Amos 4:4-5] The mere possibility that the author of Job may have had this very time of prosperity and religious security in his own past and heard Hosea’s trumpet blast of doom is very suggestive, for if so he has learned how grandly right the prophets were as messengers of God. By the way of personal sorrow and disaster he has passed to the better faith he urges on the world. He sees what even the prophets did not fully comprehend, that desolation might be gain, that in the most sterile wilderness of life the purest light of religion might shine on the soul, while the tongue was parched with fatal thirst and the eye glazed with the film of death. The prophets looked always beyond the shadows of disaster to a new and better day when the return of a penitent people to Jehovah should be followed by a restoration of the blessings they had forfeited-fruitful fields and vineyards, busy and populous cities, a general distribution of comfort if not of wealth. Even Amos and Hosea had no clear vision of the prophetic hope the first exile was to yield out of its darkness to Israel and the world.

The question, then, "Doth Job fear God for nought?" sending a flash of penetrating light back on Israel’s history, and especially on the glowing pictures of prosperity in Solomon’s time, compelling all to look to the foundation and motives of their faith, marks a most important era in Hebrew thought. It is, we may say, the first note of a piercing strain which thrills on to the present time. Taking rise here, the spirit of inquiry and self-examination has already sifted religious belief and separated much of the chaff from the wheat. Yet not all. The comfort and hope of believers are not yet lifted above the reach of Satan’s javelin. While salvation is thought of mainly as self-enjoyment, can we say that the purity of religion is assured? When happiness is promised as the result of faith, whether happiness now, or hereafter in heavenly glory, the whole fabric of religion is built on a foundation insecure, because it may be apart from truth, holiness, and virtue. It does not avail to say that holiness is happiness, and so introduce personal craving under cover of the finest spiritual idea. To grant that happiness is in any sense the distinctive issue of faith and faithfulness, to keep happiness in view in submitting to the restraints and bearing the burdens of religion, is to build the highest and best on the shifting sand of personal taste and craving. Make happiness that for which the believer is to endure and strive, allow the sense of personal comfort and immunity from change to enter into his picture of the reward he may expect, and the question returns, Doth this man serve God for nought? Life is not happiness, and the gift of God is everlasting life. Only when we keep to this supreme word in the teaching of Christ, and seek the fulness and liberty and purity of life, apart from that happiness which is at bottom the satisfaction of predominant desires, shall we escape from the constantly recurring doubt that threatens to undermine and destroy our faith.

If we look further, we find that the very error which has so long impoverished religion prevails in philanthropy and politics, prevails there at the present time to an alarming extent. The favourite aim of social meliorists is to secure happiness for all. While life is the main thing, everywhere and always, strength and breadth and nobleness of life, their dream is to make the warfare and service of man upon the earth so easy that he shall have no need for earnest personal endeavour. He is to serve for happiness, and have no service to do that may even in the time of his probation interfere with happiness. The pity bestowed on those who toil and endure in great cities and on bleak hillsides is that they fail of happiness. Persons who have no conception that vigour and endurance are spiritually profitable, and others who once knew but have forgotten the benefits of vigour and the gains of endurance, would undo the very order and discipline of God. Are human beings to be encouraged to seek happiness, taught to doubt God because they have little pleasure, given to understand that those who enjoy have the best of the universe, and that they must be lifted up to this level or lose all? Then the sweeping condemnation will hang over the world that it is following a new god and has said farewell to the stern Lord of Providence.

Much may be justly said in condemnation of the jealous, critical spirit of the Adversary. Yet it remains true that his criticism expresses what would be a fair charge against men who passed this stage of existence without full trial. And the Almighty is represented as confirming this when He puts Job into the hands of Satan. He has challenged the Adversary, opening the question of man’s fidelity and sincerity. He knows what will result. It is not the will of some eternal Satan that is the motive, but the will of God. The Adversary’s scornful question is woven into God’s wise ordinance, and made to subserve a purpose which completely transcends the base hope involved in it. The life of Job has not yet had the difficult and strenuous probation necessary to assured faith, or rather to the consciousness of a faith immovably rooted in God: It would be utterly inconsistent with the Divine wisdom to suppose God led on and beguiled by the sneer of His own creature to do what was needless or unfair, or indeed in any sense opposed to His own plan for His creation. And we shall find that throughout the book it is assumed by Job, implied by the author, that what is done is really the doing of God Himself. The Satan of this Divine poem remains altogether subsidiary as an agent. He may propose, but God disposes. He may pride himself on the keenness of his intellect; but wisdom, compared to which his subtlety is mere blundering, orders the movement of events for good and holy ends.

The Adversary makes his proposal: "Put forth now Thine hand, and touch all that he hath, and he will bid Thee farewell." He does not propose to make use of sensual temptation. The only method of trial he ventures to suggest is deprivation of the prosperity for which he believes Job has served God. He takes on him to indicate what the Almighty may do, acknowledging that the Divine power, and not his, must bring into Job’s life those losses and troubles that are to test his faith.

After all some may ask, Is not Satan endeavouring to tempt the Almighty? And if it were true that the prosperous condition of Job, or any man, implies God’s entire satisfaction with his faith and dutifulness and with his character as a man, if, further, it must be taken as true that sorrow and loss are evil, then this proposal of the Satan is a temptation. It is not so in reality, for "God cannot be tempted to evil." No creature could approach His holiness with a temptation. But Satan’s intention is to move God. He considers success and happiness to be intrinsically good, and poverty, and bereavement to be intrinsically evil. That is to say, we have here the spirit of unfaith endeavouring to destroy God as well as man. For the sake of truth professedly, for his own pride of will really, he would arrest the righteousness and grace of the Divine. He would unmake God and orphan man. The scheme is futile of course. God can allow his proposal, and be no less the Infinitely generous, wise, and true. The Satan shall have his desire; but not a shadow shall fall on the ineffable glory.

At this point, however, we must pause. The question that has just arisen can only be answered after a survey of human life in its relation to God, and especially after an examination of the meaning of the term evil as applied to our experiences. We have certain clear principles to begin with: that "God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempteth no man"; that all God does must show not less beneficence, not less love, but more as the days go by. These principles will have to be vindicated when we proceed to consider the losses, what may be called the disasters that follow each other in quick succession and threaten to crush the life they try.

Meanwhile, casting a glance at those happy dwellings in the land of Uz, we see all going on as before, no mind darkened by the shadow that is gathering, or in the least aware of the controversy in heaven so full of moment to the family circle. The pathetic ignorance, the blessed ignorance in which a man may live hangs upon the picture. The cheerful bustle of the homestead goes on, the feasts and sacrifices, diligent labour rewarded with the produce of fields, the wine and oil of vineyards and olive gardens, fleeces of the flock and milk of the kine.


Verses 13-22

IV.

THE SHADOW OF GOD’S HAND

Job 1:13-22

COMING now to the sudden and terrible changes which are to prove the faithfulness of the servant of God, we must not fail to observe that in the development of the drama the trial of Job personally is the sole consideration. No account is taken of the character of those who, being connected with his fortunes and happiness, are now to be swept away that he may suffer. To trace their history and vindicate Divine righteousness in reference to each of them is not within the scope of the poem. A typical man is taken as hero, and we may say the discussion covers the fate of all who suffer, although attention is fixed on him alone.

The writer is dealing with a story of patriarchal life, and himself is touched with the Semitic way of thinking. A certain disregard of the subordinate human characters must not be reckoned strange. His thoughts, far-reaching as they are, run in a channel very different from ours. The world of his book is that of family and clan ideas. The author saw more than any man of his time; but he could not see all that engages modern speculation. Besides, the glory of God is the dominant idea of the poem; not men’s right to joy, or peace, or even life; but God’s right to be wholly Himself and greatly true. In the light of this high thought we must be content to have the story of one soul traced with such fulness as might be compassed, the others left practically untouched. If the sufferings of the man whom God approves can be explained in harmony with the glory of Divine justice, then the sudden calamities that fall upon his servants and children will also be explained. For, although death is in a sense an ultimate thing, and loss and affliction, however great, do not mean so much as death; yet, on the other hand, to die is the common lot, and the quick stroke appears merciful in comparison with Job’s dreadful experiences. Those who are killed by lightning or by the sword do but swiftly and without protracted pain fall into the hands of God. We need not conclude that the writer means us to regard the sons and daughters of Job and his servants as mere chattels, like the camels and sheep, although the people of the desert would have so regarded them. But the main question presses; the range of the discussion must be limited; and the tradition which forms the basis of the poem is followed by the author whenever it supplies the elements of his inquiry.

We have entirely refused the supposition that the Almighty forgot His righteousness and grace in putting the wealth and happiness of Job into the hands of Satan. The trials we now see falling one after the other are not sent because the Adversary has suggested them, but because it is right and wise, for the glory of God and for the perfecting of faith, that Job should suffer them. What is God’s doing is not in this case nor in any case evil. He cannot wrong His servant that glory may come to Himself.

And just here arises a problem which enters into all religious thought, the wrong solution of which depraves many a philosophy, while the right understanding of it sheds a flood of light on our life in this world. A thousand tongues, Christian, non-Christian, and neo-Christian, affirm that life is for enjoyment. What gives enjoyment is declared to be good, what gives most enjoyment is reckoned best, and all that makes for pain and suffering is held to be evil. It is allowed that pain endured now may bring pleasure hereafter, and that for the sake of future gain a little discomfort may be chosen. But it is evil nevertheless. One doing his best for men would be expected to give them happiness at once and, throughout life, as much of it as possible. If he inflicted pain in order to enhance pleasure by and by, he would have to do so within the strictest limits. Whatever reduces the strength of the body, the capacity of the body for enjoyment and the delight of the mind accompanying the body’s vigour, is declared bad, and to do anything which has this effect is to do evil or wrong. Such is the ethic of the philosophy finally and powerfully stated by Mr. Spencer. It has penetrated as widely as he could wish; it underlies volumes of Christian sermons and semi-Christian schemes. If it be true, then the Almighty of the Book of Job, bringing affliction, sorrow, and pain upon His servant, is a cruel enemy of man, to be hated, not revered. This matter needs to be considered at some length.

The notion that pain is evil, that he who suffers is placed at moral disadvantage, appears very plainly in the old belief that those conditions and surroundings of our life which minister to enjoyment are the proofs of the goodness of God on which reliance must be placed so far as nature and providence testify of Him. Pain and sorrow, it was held, need to be accounted for by human sin or otherwise; but we know that God is good because there is enjoyment in the life He gives. Paley, for example, says that the proof of the Divine goodness rests upon contrivances everywhere to be seen for the purpose of giving us pleasure. He tells us that, when God created the human species, "either He wished them happiness, or He wished them misery, or He was indifferent and unconcerned about either"; and he goes on to prove that it must be our happiness He desired, for, otherwise, wishing our misery, "He might have made everything we tasted, bitter; everything we saw, loathsome; everything we touched, a sting; every smell, a stench; and every sound, a discord": while, if He had been indifferent about our happiness we must impute all enjoyment we have "to our good fortune," that is, to bare chance, an impossible supposition. Paley’s further survey of life leads to the conclusion that God has it as His chief aim to make His creatures happy and, in the circumstances, does the best He can for them, better far than they are commonly disposed to think. The agreement of this position with that of Spencer lies in the presupposition that goodness can be proved only by arrangements for giving pleasure. If God is good for this reason, what follows when He appoints pain, especially pain that brings no enjoyment in the long run? Either He is not altogether "good" or He is not all-powerful.

The author of the Book of Job does not enter into the problem of pain and affliction with the same deliberate attempt to exhaust the subject as Paley has made; but he has the problem before him. And in considering the trial of Job as an example of the suffering and sorrow of man in this world of change, we find a strong ray of light thrown upon the darkness. The picture is a Rembrandt; and where the radiance falls all is sharp and bright. But the shadows are deep; and we must seek, if possible, to make out what lies in those shadows. We shall not understand the Book of Job, nor form a just opinion of the author’s inspiration, nor shall we understand the Bible as a whole, unless we reach a point of view clear of the mistakes that stultify the reasoning of Paley and plunge the mind of Spencer, who refuses to be called a materialist, into the utter darkness of materialism.

Now, as to enjoyment, we have the capacity for it, and it flows to us from many external objects as well as from the operation of our own minds and the putting forth of energy. It is in the scheme of things ordained by God that His creatures shall enjoy. On the other hand, trouble, sorrow, loss, bodily and mental pain, are also in the scheme of things. They are provided for in numberless ways-in the play of natural forces causing injuries, dangers from which we cannot escape; in the limitations of our power; in the antagonisms and disappointments of existence; in disease and death. They are provided for by the very laws that bring pleasure, made inevitable under the same Divine ordinance. Some say it detracts from the goodness of God to admit that as He appoints means of enjoyment so He also provides for pain and sorrow and makes these inseparable from life. And this opinion runs into the extreme dogmatic assertion that "good," by which we are to understand happiness,

"Shall fall At last far off, at last to all."

Many hold this to be necessary to the vindication of God’s goodness. But the source of the whole confusion lies here, that we prejudge the question by calling pain evil. The light-giving truth for modern perplexity is that pain and loss are not evil, are in no sense evil.

Because we desire happiness and dislike pain, we must not conclude that pain is bad and that, when any one suffers, it is because he or another has done wrong. There is the mistake that vitiates theological thought, making men run to the extreme either of denying God altogether because there is suffering in the world, or of framing a rosewater eschatology. Pain is one thing, moral evil is quite another thing. He who suffers is not necessarily a wrong doer; and when, through the laws of nature, God inflicts pain, there is no evil nor anything approaching wrong. In Scripture, indeed, pain and evil are apparently identified. "Shall we receive good at the hands of God, and shall we not receive evil? Is there evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it? Thus saith the Lord, Behold I will bring upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, all the evil that I have pronounced against them." In these and many other passages the very thing seems to be meant which has just been denied, for evil and suffering appear to be made identical. But human language is not a perfect instrument of thought, any more than thought is a perfect channel of truth. One word has to do duty in different senses. Moral evil, wrongness, on the one hand; bodily pain, the misery of loss and defeat, on the other hand-both are represented by one Hebrew word [displeased]. In the following passages, where moral evil is clearly meant, it occurs just as in those previously quoted: "Wash you, make you clean, cease to do evil, learn to do well"; "The face of the Lord is against them that do evil." The different meanings which one Hebrew word may bear are not generally confused in translation. In this case, however, the confusion has entered into the most modern language. From a highly esteemed thinker the following sentence may be quoted by way of example: "The other religions did not feel evil like Israel; it did not stand in such complete antagonism to their idea of the Supreme, the Creator and Sovereign of man, nor in such absolute contradiction to their notion of what ought to be; and so they either reconciled themselves as best they could to the evil that was necessary, or invented means by which men could escape from it by escaping from existence." The singular misapprehension of Divine providence which underlies a statement like this can only be got rid of by recognising that enjoyment and suffering are not the good and evil of life, that both of them stand quite apart from what is intrinsically good and bad in a moral sense, and that they are simply means to an end in the providence of God.

It is not difficult, of course, to see how the idea of pain and the idea of moral evil have been linked together. It is by the thought that suffering is punishment for evil done; and that the suffering is therefore itself evil. Pain was simply penalty inflicted by an offended heavenly power. The evil of a man’s doings came back to him, made itself felt in his suffering. This was the explanation of all that was unpleasant, disastrous, and vexing in the lot of man. He would enjoy always, it was conceived, if wrong doing or failure in duty to the higher powers did not kindle divine anger against him. True, the wrongdoing might not be his own. The son might suffer for the parent’s fault. Iniquity might be remembered to children’s children and fall terribly on those who had not themselves transgressed. The fates pursued the descendants of an impious man. But wrong done somewhere, rebellion of some one against a divinity, was always the antecedent of pain and sorrow and disaster: And as the other religions thought, so, in this matter, did that of Israel. To the Hebrew the deep conviction of this, as Dr. Fairbairn has said, made poverty and disease peculiarly abhorrent. In Psalms 89:1-52, the prosperity of David is depicted, and Jehovah speaks of the covenant that must be kept: "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes." The trouble has fallen, and out of the depth of it, attributing to past sin all defeat and disaster from which the people suffer - the breaking down of the hedges, curtailment of the vigour of youth, overthrow in war-the Psalmist cries, "How long, O Lord, wilt Thou hide Thyself forever? How long shall Thy wrath burn like fire? O remember how short my time is: for what vanity hast Thou created all the children of men?" There is here no thought that anything painful or afflictive could manifest the fatherhood of God; it must proceed from His anger and force the mind back upon the memory of sin, some transgression that has caused the Almighty to suspend His kindness for a time.

Here it was the author of Job found the thought of his people. With this he had to harmonise the other beliefs-peculiarly theirs-that the lovingkindness of the Lord is over all His works, that God who is supremely good cannot inflict moral injury on any of His covenanted servants. And the difficulty he felt survives. The questions are still urged: Is not pain bound up with wrong doing? Is not suffering the mark of God’s displeasure? Are they not evil, therefore? And, on the other hand, Is not enjoyment appointed to him who does right? Does not the whole scheme of Divine providence, as the Bible sets it forth, including the prospect it opens into the eternal future, associate happiness with well doing and pain with evil doing? We desire enjoyment, and cannot help desiring it. We dislike pain, disease, and all that limits our capacity for pleasure. Is it not in accordance with this that Christ appears as the Giver of light and peace and joy to the race of men?

These questions look difficult enough. Let us attempt to answer them.

Pleasure and pain, happiness and suffering, are elements of creaturely experience appointed by God. The right use of them makes life, the wrong use of them mars it, They are ordained, all of them in equal degree, to a good end; for all that God does is done in perfect love as well as in perfect justice. It is no more wonderful that a good man should suffer than that a bad man should suffer: for the good man, the man who believes in God and therefore in goodness, making a right use of suffering, will gain by it in the true sense; he will reach a deeper and nobler life. It is no more wonderful that a bad man, one who disbelieves in God and therefore in goodness, should be happy than that a good man should be happy, the happiness being God’s appointed means for both to reach a higher life. The main element of this higher life is vigour, but not of the body. The Divine purpose is spiritual evolution. That gratification of the sensuous side of our nature for which physical health and a well-knit organism are indispensable-paramount in the pleasure philosophy-is not neglected, but is made subordinate in the Divine culture of life. The grace of God aims at the life of the spirit-power to love, to follow righteousness, to dare for justice’ sake, to seek and grasp the true, to sympathise with men and bear with them, to bless them that curse, to suffer and be strong. To promote this vitality all God appoints is fitted-pain as well as pleasure, adversity as well as prosperity, sorrow as well as joy, defeat as well as success. We wonder that suffering is so often the result of imprudence. On the ordinary theory the fact is inexplicable, for imprudence has no dark colour of ethical faultiness. He who by an error of judgment plunges himself and his family into what appears irretrievable disaster, may, by all reckoning, be almost blameless in character. If suffering is held to be penal, no reference to the general sin of humanity will account for the result. But the reason is plain. The suffering is disciplinary. The nobler life at which Divine providence aims must be sagacious no less than pure, guided by sound reason no less than right feeling.

And if it is asked how from this point of view we are to find the punishment of sin, the answer is that happiness as well as suffering is punishment to him whose sin and the unbelief that accompanies it pervert his view of truth, and blind him to the spiritual life and the will of God. The pleasures of a wrong doer who persistently denies obligation to Divine authority and refuses obedience to the Divine law are no gain, but loss. They dissipate and attenuate his life. His sensuous or sensual enjoyment, his delight in selfish triumph and gratified ambition are real, give at the time quite as much happiness as the good man has in his obedience and virtue, perhaps a great deal more. But they are penal and retributive nevertheless; and the conviction that they are so becomes clear to the man whenever the light of truth is flashed upon his spiritual state. We read Dante’s pictures of the Inferno, and shudder at the dreadful scenes with which he has filled the descending circles of woe. He has omitted one that would have been the most striking of all, -unless indeed an approach to it is to be found in the episode of Paolo and Francesca, -the picture of souls self-doomed to seek happiness and to enjoy, on whose life the keen light of eternity shines, revealing the gradual wasting away of existence, the certain degeneration to which they are condemned.

On the other hand, the pains and disasters which fall to the lot of evil men, intended for their correction, if in perversity or in blindness they are misunderstood, again become punishment; for they, too, dissipate and attenuate life. The real good of existence slips away while the mind is intent on the mere pain or vexation and how it is to be got rid of. In Job we find a purpose to reconcile affliction with the just government of God. The troubles into which the believing man is brought urge him to think more deeply than he has ever thought, become the means of that intellectual and moral education which lies in discovery of the will and character of God. They also bring him by this way into deeper humility, a fine tenderness of spiritual nature, a most needful kinship with his fellows. See then the use of suffering. The impenitent, unbelieving man has no such gains. He is absorbed in the distressing experience, and that absorption narrows and debases the activity of the soul. The treatment of this matter here is necessarily brief. It is hoped, however, that the principle has been made clear.

Does it require any adaptation or under-reading of the language of Scripture to prove the harmony of its teaching with the view just given of happiness and suffering as related to punishment? Throughout the greater part of the Old Testament the doctrine of suffering is that old doctrine which the author of Job found perplexing. Not infrequently in the New Testament there is a certain formal return to it; for even under the light of revelation the meaning of Divine providence is learnt slowly. But the emphasis rests on life rather than happiness, and on death rather than suffering, in the gospels; and the whole teaching of Christ pointed to the truth. This world and our discipline here, the trials of men, the doctrine of the cross, the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ, are not fitted to introduce us into a state of existence in which mere enjoyment, the gratification of personal tastes and desires, shall be the main experience. They are fitted to educate the spiritual nature for life, fulness of life. Immortality becomes credible when it is seen as progress in vigour, progress towards that profound compassion, that fidelity, that unquenchable devotion to the glory of God the Father which marked the life of the Divine Son in this world.

Observe, it is not denied that joy is and will be desired, that suffering and pain are and will remain experiences from which human nature must recoil. The desire and the aversion are wrought into our constitution; and just because we feel them our whole mortal discipline has its value. In the experience of them lies the condition of progress. On the one hand pain urges, on the other joy attracts. It is in the line of desire for joy of a finer and higher kind that civilisation realises itself, and even religion lays hold of us and lures us on. But the conditions of progress are not to be mistaken for the end of it. Joy assumes sorrow as a possibility. Pleasure can only exist as alternative to the experience of pain. And the life that expands and reaches finer power and exaltation in the course of this struggle is the main thing. The struggle ceases to be acute in the higher ranges of life; it becomes massive, sustained, and is carried on in the perfect peace of the soul. Therefore the future state of the redeemed is a state of blessedness. But the blessedness accompanying the life is not the glory. The glory of the perfected is life itself. The heaven of the redeemed appears a region of existence in which the exaltation, enlargement, and deepening of life shall constantly and consciously go on. Conversely the hell of evildoers will not be simply the pain, the suffering, the defeat to which they have doomed themselves, but the constant attenuation of their life, the miserable wasting of which they shall be aware, though they find some pitiful pleasure, as Milton imagined his evil angels finding theirs, in futile schemes of revenge against the Highest.

Pain is not in itself an evil. But our nature recoils from suffering and seeks life in brightness and power, beyond the keen pangs of mortal existence. The creation hopes that itself "shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption." The finer life is, the more sensible it must be of association with a body doomed to decay, the more sensible also of that gross human injustice and wrong which dare to pervert God’s ordinance of pain and His sacrament of death, usurping His holy prerogative for the most unholy ends. And so we are brought to the Cross of Christ. When He "bore our sins in His own body on the tree," when He "suffered for sins once, the Righteous for the unrighteous," the sacrifice was real, awful, immeasurably profound. Yet, could death be in any sense degrading or debasing to Him? Could evil touch His soul? Over its most insolent assumption of the right to injure and destroy He stood, spiritually victorious in the presence of His enemies, and rose, untouched in soul, when His body was broken on the cross. His sacrifice was great because He bore the sins of men and died as God’s atonement. His sublime devotion to the Father whose holy law was trampled under foot, His horror and endurance of human iniquity which culminated in His death, made the experience profoundly terrible. Thus the spiritual dignity and power He gained provided new life for the world.

It is now possible to understand the trials of Job. So far as the sufferer is concerned, they are no less beneficent than His joys; for they provide that necessary element of probation by which life of a deeper and stronger kind is to be reached, the opportunity of becoming, as a man and a servant of the Almighty, what he had never been, what otherwise he could not become. The purpose of God is entirely good; but it will remain with the sufferer himself to enter by the fiery way into full spiritual vigour. He will have the protection and grace of the Divine Spirit in his time of sore bewilderment and anguish. Yet his own faith must be vindicated while the shadow of God’s hand rests upon his life.

And now the forces of nature and the wild tribes of the desert gather about the happy settlement of the man of Uz. With dramatic suddenness and cumulative terror stroke after stroke descends. Job is seen before the door of his dwelling. The morning broke calm and cloudless, the bright sunshine of Arabia filling with brilliant colour the far horizon. The day has been peaceful, gracious, another of God’s gifts. Perhaps, in the early hours, the father, as priest of his family, offered the burnt offerings of atonement lest his sons should have renounced God in their hearts; and now, in the evening, he is sitting calm and glad, hearing the appeals of those who need his help and dispensing alms with a generous hand. But one comes in haste, breathless with running, scarcely able to tell his tale. Out in the fields the oxen were ploughing and the asses feeding. Suddenly a great band of Sabeans fell upon them, swept them away, slew the servants with the edge of the sword: this man alone has escaped with his life. Rapidly has he spoken; and before he has done another appears, a shepherd from the more distant pastures, to announce a second calamity. "The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped to tell thee." They scarcely dare to look on the face of Job, and he has no time to speak, for here is a third messenger, a camel driver, swarthy and naked to the loins, crying wildly as he runs. The Chaldaeans made three bands-fell upon the camels-swept them away-the servants are slain-I only am left. Nor is this the last. A fourth, with every mark of horror in his face, comes slowly and brings the most terrible message of all. The sons and daughters of Job were feasting in their eldest brother’s house; there came a great wind from the wilderness and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell. The young men and women are all dead. One only has escaped, he who tells the dreadful tale.

A certain idealism appears in the causes of the different calamities and their simultaneous, or almost simultaneous, occurrence. Nothing, indeed, is assumed which is not possible in the north of Arabia. A raid from the south, of Sabeans, the lawless part of a nation otherwise engaged in traffic; an organised attack by Chaldaeans from the east, again the lawless fringe of the population of the Euphrates valley, those who, inhabiting the margin of the desert, had taken to desert ways; then, of natural causes, the lightning or the fearful hot wind which coming suddenly stifles and kills, and the whirlwind, possible enough after a thunderstorm or simoom, -all of these belong to the region in which Job lived. But the grouping of the disasters and the invariable escape of one only from each belong to the dramatic setting, and are intended to have a cumulative effect. A sense of the mysterious is produced, of supernatural power, discharging bolt after bolt in some inscrutable mood of antagonism. Job is a mark for the arrows of the Unseen. And when the last messenger has spoken, we turn in dismay and pity to look on the rich man made poor, the proud and happy father made childless, the fearer of God on whom the enemy seems to have wrought his will.

In the stately Oriental way, as a man who bows to fate or the irresistible will of the Most High, Job seeks to realise his sudden and awful deprivations. We watch him with silent awe as first he rends his mantle, the acknowledged sign of mourning and of the disorganisation of life, then shaves his head, renouncing in his grief even the natural ornament of the hair, that the sense of loss and resignation may be indicated. This done, in deep humiliation he bows and falls prone on the earth and worships, the fit words falling in a kind of solemn chant from his lips: "Naked came I forth from my mother’s womb, and naked I return thereto. Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away. Let Jehovah’s name be blessed." The silence of grief and of death has fallen about him. No more shall be heard the bustle of the homestead to which, when the evening shadows were about to fall, a constant stream of servants and laden oxen used to come, where the noise of cattle and asses and the shouts of camel drivers made the music of prosperity. His wife and the few who remain, with bowed heads, dumb and aimless, stand around. Swiftly the sun goes down, and darkness falls upon the desolate dwelling.

Losses like these are apt to leave men distracted. When everything is swept away, with the riches those who were to inherit them, when a man is left, as Job says, naked, bereft of all that labour had won and the bounty of God had given, expressions of despair do not surprise us, nor even wild accusations of the Most High. But the faith of this sufferer does not yield. He is resigned, submissive. The strong trust that has grown in the course of a religious life withstands the shock, and carries the soul through the crisis. Neither did Job accuse God nor did he sin, though his grief was great. So far he is master of his soul, unbroken though desolated. The first great round of trial has left the man a believer still.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 1:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/job-1.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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