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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Job 12

 

 

Verses 1-25

XII.

BEYOND FACT AND FEAR TO GOD

Job 12:1-25; Job 13:1-28; Job 14:1-22

Job SPEAKS

ZOPHAR excites in Job’s mind great irritation, which must not be set down altogether to the fact that he is the third to speak. In some respects he has made the best attack from the old position, pressing most upon the conscience of Job. He has also used a curt positive tone in setting out the method and principle of Divine government and the judgment he has formed of his friend’s state. Job is accordingly the more impatient, if not disconcerted. Zophar had spoken of the want of understanding Job had shown, and the penetrating wisdom of God which at a glance convicts men of iniquity. His tone provoked resentment. Who is this that claims to have solved the enigmas of providence, to have gone into the depths of wisdom? Does he know any more, he himself, than the wild ass’s colt?

And Job begins with stringent irony-

"No doubt but ye are the people

And wisdom shall die with you.

The secrets of thought, of revelation itself are yours. No doubt the world waited to be taught till you were born. Do you not think so? But, after all, I also have a share of understanding, I am not quite so void of intellect as you seem to fancy. Besides, who knoweth not such things as ye speak? Are they new? I had supposed them to be commonplaces. Yea, if you recall what I said, you will find that with a little more vigour than yours I made the same declarations.

"A laughing stock to his neighbours am I,

I who called upon Eloah and He answered me, -

A laughing stock, the righteous and perfect man."

Job sees or thinks he sees that his misery makes him an object of contempt to men who once gave him the credit of far greater wisdom and goodness than their own. They are bringing out old notions, which are utterly useless, to explain the ways of God; they assume the place of teachers; they are far better, far wiser now than he. It is more than flesh can bear.

As he looks at his own diseased body and feels again his weakness, the cruelty of the conventional judgment stings him. "In the thought of him that is at ease there is for misfortune scorn; it awaiteth them that slip with the foot." Perhaps Job was mistaken, but it is too often true that the man who fails in a social sense is the man suspected. Evil things are found in him when he is covered with the dust of misfortune, things which no one dreamed of before. Flatterers become critics and judges. They find that he has a bad heart or that he is a fool.

But if those very good and wise friends of Job are astonished at anything previously said, they shall be more astonished. The facts which their account of Divine providence very carefully avoided as inconvenient Job will blurt out. They have stated and restated, with utmost complacency, their threadbare theory of the government of God. Let them look now abroad in the world and see what actually goes on, blinking no facts.

The tents of robbers prosper. Out in the desert there are troops of bandits who are never overtaken by justice; and they that provoke God are secure, who carry a god in their hand, whose sword and the reckless daring with which they use it make them to all appearance safe in villainy. These are the things to be accounted for; and, accounting for them, Job launches into a most emphatic argument to prove all that is done in the world strangely and inexplicably to be the doing of God. As to that he will allow no question. His friends shall know that he is sound on this head. And let them provide the defence of Divine righteousness after he has spoken.

Here, however, it is necessary to consider in what way the limitations of Hebrew thought must have been felt by one who, turning from the popular creed, sought a view more in harmony with fact. Now-a-days the word nature is often made to stand for a force or combination of forces conceived of as either entirely or partially independent of God. Tennyson makes the distinction when he speaks of man:

"Who trusted God was love indeed

And love creation’s final law,

Though nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravin, shrieked against the creed,"

and again when he asks-

"Are God and nature then at strife

That nature lends such evil dreams,

So careful of the type she seems,

So careless of the single life?"

Now to this question, perplexing enough on the face of it when we consider what suffering there is in the creation, how the waves of life seem to beat and break themselves age after age on the rocks of death, the answer in its first stage is that God and nature cannot be at strife. They are not apart; there is but one universe, therefore one Cause. One Omnipotent there is whose will is done, whose character is shown in all we see and all we cannot see, the issues of endless strife, the long results of perennial evolution. But then comes the question, What is His character, of what spirit is He who alone rules, who sends after the calm the fierce storm, after the beauty of life the corruption of death? And one may say the struggle between Bible religion and modern science is on this very field.

Cold heartless power, say some; no Father, but an impersonal Will to which men are nothing, human joy and love nothing, to which the fair blossom is no more than the clod, and the holy prayer no better than the vile sneer. On this, faith arises to the struggle. Faith warm and hopeful takes reason into counsel, searches the springs of existence, goes forth into the future and forecasts the end, that it may affirm and reaffirm against all denial that One Omnipotent reigns who is all-loving, the Father of infinite mercy. Here is the arena; here the conflict rages and will rage for many a day. And to him will belong the laurels of the age who, with the Bible in one hand and the instruments of science in the other, effects the reconciliation of faith with fact. Tennyson came with the questions of our day. He passes and has not given a satisfactory answer. Carlyle has gone with the "Everlasting Yea and No" beating through his oracles. Even Browning, a later athlete, did not find complete reason for faith.

"From Thy will stream the worlds, life, and nature, Thy dread sabaoth."

Now return to Job. He considers nature; he believes in God; he stands firmly on the conviction that all is of God. Hebrew faith held this, and was not limited in holding it, for it is the fact. But we cannot wonder that providence disconcerted him, since the reconcilation of "merciless" nature and the merciful God is not even yet wrought out. Notwithstanding the revelation of Christ, many still find themselves in darkness just when light is most urgently craved. Willing to believe, they yet lean to a dualism which makes God Himself appear in conflict with the scheme of things, thwarted now and now repentant, gracious in design but not always in effect. Now the limitation of the Hebrew was this, that to his idea the infinite power of God was not balanced by infinite mercy, that is, by regard to the whole work of His hands. In one stormy dash after another Job is made to attempt this barrier. At moments he is lifted beyond it, and sees the great universe filled with Divine care that equals power; for the present, however, he distinguishes between merciful intent and merciless, and ascribes both to God.

What does he say? God is in the deceived and in the deceiver; they are both products of nature, that is, creatures of God. He increaseth the nations and destroyeth them. Cities arise and become populous. The great metropolis is filled with its myriads, "among whom are six-score thousand that cannot discern between their right hand and their left." The city shall fulfil its cycle and perish. It is God. Searching for reconciliation Job looks the facts of human existence right in the face, and he sees a confusion, the whole enigma which lies in the constitution of the world and of the soul. Observe how his thought moves. The beasts, the fowls of the air, the fishes of the sea, all living beings everywhere, not self-created, with no power to shape or resist their destiny, bear witness to the almightiness of God. In His hand is the lower creation; in His hand also, rising higher, is the breath of all mankind. Absolute, universal is that power, dispensing life and death as it broods over the ages. Men have sought to understand the ways of the Great Being. The ear trieth words as the mouth tasteth meat. Is there wisdom with the ancient, those who live long, as Bildad says? Yes: but with God are wisdom and strength; not penetration only, but power. He discerns and does. He demolishes, and there is no rebuilding. Man is imprisoned, shut up by misfortune, by disease. It is God’s decree, and there is no opening till He allows. At His will the waters are dried up; at His will they pour in torrents over the earth. And so amongst men there are currents of evil and good flowing through lives, here in the liar and cheat, there in the victim of knavery; here in the counsellors whose plans come to nothing; there in the judges who sagacity is changed to folly; and all these currents, and cross currents, making life a bewildering maze, have their beginning in the will of God, who seems to take pleasure in doing what is strange and baffling. Kings take men captive; the bonds of the captives are loosed, and the kings themselves are bound. What are princes and priests, what are the mighty to Him? What is the speech of the eloquent? Where is the understanding of the aged when He spreads confusion? Deep as in the very gloom of the grave the ambitious may hide their schemes; the flux of events brings them out to judgment, one cannot foresee how. Nations are raised up and destroyed; the chiefs of the people are made to fear like children. Trusted leaders wander in a wilderness; they grope in midnight gloom; they stagger like the drunken. Behold, says Job, all this I have seen. This is God’s doing. And with this great God he would speak; he, a man, would have things out with the Lord of all. [Job 13:3]

This impetuous passage, full of revolution, disaster, vast mutations, a phantasmagoria of human struggle and defeat, while it supplies a note of time and gives a distinct clue to the writer’s position as an Israelite, is remarkable for the faith that survives its apparent pessimism. Others have surveyed the world and the history of change, and have protested with their last voice against the cruelty that seemed to rule. As for any God, they could never trust one whose will and power were to be found alike in the craft of the deceiver and the misery of the victim, in the baffling of sincere thought and the overthrow of the honest with the vile. But Job trusts on. Beneath every enigma, he looks for reason; beyond every disaster, to a Divine end. The voices of men have come between him and the voice of the Supreme. Personal disaster has come between him and his sense of God. His thought is not free. If it were, he would catch the reconciling word, his soul would hear the music of eternity. "I would reason with God." He clings to God-given reason as his instrument of discovery.

Very bold is this whole position, and very reverent also, if you will think of it; far more honouring to God than any attempt of the friends who, as Job says, appear to hold the Almighty no better than a petty chief, so insecure in His position that He must be grateful to any one who will justify His deeds. "Poor God, with nobody to help Him." Job uses all his irony in exposing the folly of such a religion, the impertinence of presenting it to him as a solution and a help. In short, he tells them, they are pious quacks, and, as he will have none of them for his part, he thinks God will not either. The author is at the very heart of religion here. The word of reproof and correction, the plea for providence must go straight to the reason of man, or it is of no use. The word of the Lord must be a two-edged sword of truth, piercing to the dividing asunder even of soul and spirit. That is to say, into the centre of energy the truth must be driven which kills the spirit of rebellion, so that the will of man, set free, may come into conscious and passionate accord with the will of God. But reconciliation is impossible unless each will deal in the utmost sincerity with truth, realising the facts of existence, the nature of the soul and the great necessities of its discipline. To be true in theology we must not accept what seems to be true, nor speak forensically, but affirm what we have proved in our own life and gathered in utmost effort from Scripture and from nature. Men inherit opinions as they used to inherit garments, or devise them, like clothes of a new fashion, and from within the folds they speak, not as men but as priests, what is the right thing according to a received theory. It will not do. Even of old time a man like the author of Job turned contemptuously from school-made explanations and sought a living word. In our age the number of those whose fever can be lulled with a working theory of religion and a judicious arrangement of the universe is rapidly becoming small. Theology is being driven to look the facts of life full in the face. If the world has learned anything from modern science, it is the habit of rigorous research and the justification of free inquiry, and the lesson will never be unlearned.

To take one error of theology. All men are concluded equally under God’s wrath and curse; then the proofs of the malediction are found in trouble, fear, and pain. But what comes of this teaching? Out in the world, with facts forcing themselves on consciousness, the scheme is found hollow. All are not in trouble and pain. Those who are afflicted and disappointed are often sincere Christians. A theory of deferred judgment and happiness is made for escape; it does not, however, in the least enable one to comprehend how, if pain and trouble be the consequences of sin, they should not be distributed rightly from the first. A universal moral order cannot begin in a manner so doubtful, so very difficult for the wayfaring man to read as he goes. To hold that it can is to turn religion into an occultism which at every point bewilders the simple mind. The theory is one which tends to blunt the sense of sin in those who are prosperous, and to beget that confident Pharisaism which is the curse of church life. On the other hand, the "sacrificed classes," contrasting their own moral character with that of the frivolous and fleshly rich, are forced to throw over a theology which binds together sin and suffering, and to deny a God whose equity is so far to seek. And yet, again, in the recoil from all this men invent wersh schemes of bland goodwill and comfort, which have simply nothing to do with the facts of life, no basis in the world as we know it, no sense of the rigour of Divine love. So Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar remain with us and confuse theology until some think it lost in unreason.

"But ye are patchers of lies,

Physicians of nought are ye all.

Oh that ye would only keep silence,

And it should be your wisdom". [Job 13:4-5]

Job sets them down with a current proverb-"Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise." He begs them to be silent. They shall now hear his rebuke.

"On behalf of God will ye speak wrong?

And for Him will ye speak deceit?

Will ye be partisans for Him?

Or for God will ye contend?"

Job finds them guilty of speaking falsely as special pleaders for God in two respects. They insist that he has offended God, but they cannot point to one sin which he has committed. On the other hand, they affirm positively that God will restore prosperity if confession is made. But in this too they play the part of advocates without warrant. They show great presumption in daring to pledge the Almighty to a course in accordance with their idea of justice. The issue might be what they predict; it might not. They are venturing on ground to which their knowledge does not extend. They think their presumption justified because it is for religion’s sake. Job administers a sound rebuke, and it extends to our own time. Special pleaders for God’s sovereign and unconditional right and for His illimitable good nature, alike have warning here. What justification have men in affirming that God will work out His problems in detail according to their views? He has given to us the power to apprehend the great principles of His working. He has revealed much in nature, providence, and Scripture, and in Christ; but there is the "hiding of His power," "His path is in the mighty waters, and His judgments are not known." Christ has said, "It is not for you to know times and seasons which the Father hath set within His own authority." There are certainties of our consciousness, facts of the world and of revelation from which we can argue. Where these confirm, we may dogmatise, and the dogma will strike home. But no piety, no desire to vindicate the Almighty or to convict and convert the sinner, can justify any man in passing beyond the certainty which God has given him to that unknown which lies far above human ken.

"He will surely correct you

If in secret ye are partial.

Shall not His majesty terrify you,

And His dread fall upon you?" [Job 13:10-11]

The Book of Job, while it brands insincerity and loose reasoning, justifies all honest and reverent research. Here, as in the teaching of our Lord, the real heretic is he who is false to his own reason and conscience, to the truth of things as God gives him to apprehend it, who, in short, makes believe to any extent in the sphere of religion. And it is upon this man the terror of the Divine majesty is to fall.

We saw how Bildad established himself on the wisdom of the ancients. Recalling this, Job flings contempt on his traditional sayings.

"Your remembrances are proverbs of ashes,

Your defences, defences of dust."

Did they mean to smite him with those proverbs as with stones? They were ashes. Did they intrench themselves from the assaults of reason behind old suppositions? Their ramparts were mere dust. Once more he bids them hold their peace, and let him alone that he may speak out all that is in his mind. It is, he knows at the hazard of his life he goes forward; but he will. The case in which he is can have no remedy excepting by an appeal to God, and that final appeal he will make.

Now the proper beginning of this appeal is in the twenty-third verse (Job 13:23), with the words: "How many are mine iniquities and my sins?" But before Job reaches it he expresses his sense of the danger and difficulty under which he lies, interweaving with the statement of these a marvellous confidence in the result of what he is about to do. Referring to the declarations of his friends as to the danger that yet threatens if he will not confess sin, he uses a proverbial expression for hazard of life.

"Why do I take my flesh in my teeth,

And put my life in my hand?"

Why do I incur this danger, do you say? Never mind. It is not your affair. For bare existence I care nothing. To escape with mere consciousness for a while is no object to me, as I now am. With my life in my hand I hasten to God.

"Lo! He will slay me: I will not delay-

Yet my ways will I maintain before Him". [Job 13:15]

The old Version here, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," is inaccurate. Still it is not far from expressing the brave purpose of the man- prostrate before God, yet resolved to cling to the justice of the case ashe apprehends it, assured that this will not only be excused by God, but will bring about his acquittal or salvation. To grovel in the dust, confessing himself a miserable sinner more than worthy of all the sufferings he has undergone, while in his heart he has the consciousness of being upright and faithful-this would not commend him to the Judge of all the earth. It would be a mockery of truth and righteousness, therefore of God Himself. On the other hand, to maintain his integrity which God gave him, to go on maintaining it at the hazard of all, is his only course, his only safety.

"This also shall be my salvation,

For a godless man shall not live before Him."

The fine moral instinct of Job, giving courage to his theology, declares that God demands "truth in the inward parts" and truth in speech-that man "consists in truth"-that "if he betrays truth he betrays himself," which is a crime against his Maker. No man is so much in danger of separating himself from God and losing everything as he who acts or speaks against conviction.

Job has declared his hazard, that he is lying helpless before Almighty Power which may in a moment crush him. He has also expressed his faith, that approaching God in the courage of truth he will not be rejected, that absolute sincerity will alone give him a claim on the infinitely True. Now turning to his friends as if in new defiance, he says:-

"Hear diligently my speech,

And my explanation with your ears.

Behold now, I have ordered my cause;

I know that I shall be justified.

Who is he that will contend with me?

For then would I hold my peace and expire."

That is to say, he has reviewed his life once more, he has considered all possibilities of transgression, and yet his contention remains. So much does he build upon his claim on God that, if any one could now convict him, his heart would fail, life would no more be worth living; the foundation of hope destroyed, conflict would be at an end.

But with his plea to God still in view he expresses once more his sense of the disadvantage under which he lies. The pressure of the Divine hand is upon him still, a sore enervating terror which bears upon his soul. Would God but give him respite for a little from the pain and the fear, then he would be ready either to answer the summons of the Judge or make his own demand for vindication.

We may suppose an interval of release from pain or at least a pause of expectancy, and then, in verse twenty-third (Job 13:23), Job begins his cry. The language is less vehement than we have heard. It has more of the pathos of weak human life. He is one with that race of thinking, feeling, suffering creatures who are tossed about on the waves of existence, driven before the winds, of change like autumn leaves. It is the plea of human feebleness and mortality we hear, and then, as the "still sad music" touches the lowest note of wailing, there mingles with it the strain of hope.

"How many are mine iniquities and sins?

Make me to know my transgression and my sin."

We are not to understand here that Job confesses great transgressions, nor, contrariwise, that he denies infirmity and error in himself. There are no doubt failures of his youth which remain in memory, sins of desire, errors of ignorance, mistakes in conduct such as the best men fall into. These he does not deny. But righteousness and happiness have been represented as a profit and loss account, and therefore Job wishes to hear from God a statement in exact form of all he has done amiss or failed to do, so that he may be able to see the relation between fault and suffering, his faults and his sufferings, if such relation there be. It appears that God is counting him an enemy (Job 13:24). He would like to have the reason for that. So far as he knows himself he has sought to obey and honour the Almighty. Certainly there has never been in his heart any conscious desire to resist the will of Eloah. Is it then for transgressions unwittingly committed that he now suffers-for sins he did not intend or know of? God is just. It is surely a part of His justice to make a sufferer aware why such terrible afflictions befall him.

And then-is it worthwhile for the Almighty to be so hard on a poor weak mortal?

Wilt thou scare a driven leaf-

Wilt thou pursue the dry stubble-

That thou writest bitter judgments against me,

And makest me to possess the faults of my youth,

And puttest my feet in the stocks,

And watchest all my paths,

And drawest a line about the soles of my feet-

One who as a rotten thing is consuming,

As a garment that is moth eaten?

The sense of rigid restraint and pitiable decay was perhaps never expressed with so fit and vivid imagery. So far it is personal. Then begins a general lamentation regarding the sad fleeting life of man. His own prosperity, which passed as a dream, has become to Job a type of the brief vain existence of the race tried at every moment by inexorable Divine judgment; and the low mournful words of the Arabian chief have echoed ever since in the language of sorrow and loss.

"Man that is born of woman,

Of few days is he and full of trouble.

Like the flower he springs up and withers;

Like a shadow he flees and stays not.

Is it on such a one Thou hast fixed Thine eye?

Bringest Thou me into Thy judgment?

Oh that the clean might come out of the unclean!

But there is not one."

Human frailty is both of the body and of the soul; and it is universal. The nativity of men forbids their purity. Well does God know the weakness of His creatures; and why then does He expect of them, if indeed He expects, a pureness that can stand the test of His searching? Job cannot be free from the common infirmity of mortals. He is born of woman. But why then is he chased with inquiry, haunted and scared by a righteousness he cannot satisfy? Should not the Great God be forbearing with a man?

"Since his days are determined,

The number of his moons with Thee,

And Thou hast set him bounds not to be passed.

Look Thou away from him that he may rest,

At least fulfil as a hireling his day,"

Men’s life being so short, his death so sure and soon, seeing he is like a hireling in the world, might he not be allowed a little rest? might he not, as one who has fulfilled his day’s work, be let go for a little repose ere he die? That certain death, it weighs upon him now, pressing down his thought.

For even a tree hath hope;

If it be hewn down it will sprout anew,

The young shoot thereof will not fail.

If in the earth its root wax old,

Or in the ground its stock should die

Yet at the scent of water it will spring,

And shoot forth boughs like a new plant.

But a man: he dies and is cut off;

Yea, when men die, they are gone.

Ebbs away the water from the sea,

And the stream decays and dries:

So when men have lain down they rise not;

Till the heavens vanish they never awake,

Nor are they roused from their sleep.

No arguments, no promises can break this deep gloom and silence into which the life of man passes. Once Job had sought death; now a desire has grown within him, and with it recoil from Sheol. To meet God, to obtain his own justification and the clearing of Divine righteousness, to have the problem of life explained-the hope of this makes life precious. Is he to lie down and rise no more while the skies endure? Is no voice to reach him from the heavenly justice he has always confided in? The very thought is confounding. If he were now to desire death it would mean that he had given up all faith, that justice, truth, and even the Divine name of Eloah had ceased to have any value for him.

We are to behold the rise of a new hope, like a star in the firmament of his thought. Whence does it spring?

The religion of the Book of Job, as already shown, is, in respect of form, a natural religion; that is to say, the ideas are not derived from the Hebrew Scriptures. The writer does not refer to the legislation of Moses and the great words of prophets. The expression "As the Lord said unto Moses" does not occur in this book, nor any equivalent. It is through nature and the human consciousness that the religious beliefs of the poem appear to have come into shape. Yet two facts are to be kept fully in view.

The first is that even a natural religion must not be supposed to be a thing of man’s invention, with no origin further than his dreams. We must not declare all religious ideas outside those of Israel to be mere fictions of the human fancy or happy guesses at truth. The religion of Teman may have owed some of its great thoughts to Israel. But, apart from that, a basis of Divine revelation is always laid wherever men think and live. In every land the heart of man has borne witness to God. Reverent thought, dwelling on justice, truth, mercy, and all virtues found in the range of experience and consciousness, came through them to the idea of God. Every one who made an induction as to the Great Unseen Being, his mind open to the facts of nature and his own moral constitution, was in a sense a prophet. As far as they went, the reality and value of religious ideas, so reached, are acknowledged by Bible writers themselves. "The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and divinity." God has always been revealing Himself to men.

"Natural religion" we say: and yet, since God is always revealing Himself and has made all men more or less capable of apprehending the revelation, even the natural is supernatural. Take the religion of Egypt, or of Chaldaea, or of Persia. You may contrast any one of these with the religion of Israel; you may call the one natural, the other revealed. But the Persian speaking of the Great Good Spirit or the Chaldaean worshipping a supreme Lord must have had some kind of revelation; and his sense of it, not clear indeed, far enough below that of Moses or Isaiah, was yet a forth reaching towards the same light as now shines for us.

Next we must keep it in view that Job does not appear as a thinker building on himself alone, depending on his own religious experience. Centuries and ages of thought are behind these beliefs which are ascribed to him, even the ideas which seem to start up freshly as the result of original discovery. Imagine a man thinking for himself about Divine things in that far away Arabian past. His mind, to begin with, is not a blank. His father has instructed him. There is a faith that has come down from many generations. He has found words in use which hold in them religious ideas, discoveries, perceptions of Divine reality, caught and fixed ages before. When he learned language the products of evolution, not only psychical, but intellectual and spiritual, became his. Eloah, the lofty one, the righteousness of Eloah, the word of Eloah, Eloah as Creator, as Watcher of men, Eloah as wise, unsearchable in wisdom, as strong, infinitely mighty, -these are ideas he has not struck out for himself, but inherited. Clearly then a new thought, springing from these, comes as a supernatural communication and has behind it ages of spiritual evolution. It is new, but has its root in the old; it is natural, but originates in the over nature.

Now the primitive religion of the Semites, the race to which Job belonged, to which also the Hebrews belonged, has been of late carefully studied; and with regard to it certain things have been established that bear on the new hope we are to find struck out by the Man of Uz.

In the early morning of religious thought among those Semites it was universally believed that the members of a family or tribe, united by blood relationship to each other, were also related in the same way to their God. He was their father, the invisible head and source of their community, on whom they had a claim so long as they pleased him. His interest in them was secured by the sacrificial meal which he was invited and believed to share with them. If he had been offended, the sacrificial offering was the means of recovering his favour; and communion with him in those meals and sacrifices was the inheritance of all who claimed the kinship of that clan or tribe. With the clearing of spiritual vision this belief took a new form in the minds of the more thoughtful. The idea of communion remained and the necessity of it to the life of the worshipper was felt even more strongly when the kinship of the God with his subject family was, for the few at least, no longer an affair of physical descent and blood relation. ship, but of spiritual origin and attachment. And when faith rose from the tribal god to the idea of the Heaven-Father, the one Creator and King communion with Him was felt to be in the highest sense a vital necessity. Here is found the religion of Job. A main element of it was communion with Eloah, an ethical kinship, with Him, no arbitrary or merely physical relation but of the spirit. That is to say, Job has at the heart of his creed the truth as to roans origin and nature. The author of the book is a Hebrew; his own faith is that of the people from whom we have the Book of Genesis; but he treats here of man’s relation to God from the ethnic side, such as may be taken now by reasoner treating of spiritual evolution.

Communion with Eloah had been Job’s life and with it had been associated his many years of wealth, dignity, and influence. Lest his children should fall from it and lose their most precious inheritance, he used to bring the periodical offerings. But at length his own communion was interrupted. The sense of being at on with Eloah, if not lost, became dull and faint. It is for the restoration of his very life-not as we might think of religious feeling, but of actual spirit energy-he is now concerned. It is this that underlies his desire for God to speak with him, his demand for an opportunity of pleading his cause. Some might expect that he would ask his friends to offer sacrifice on his behalf, But he makes no such request. The crisis has come in a region higher than sacrifice, where observances are of no use. Thought only can reach it; the discovery of reconciling truth alone can satisfy. Sacrifices which for the old world alone sustained the relation with God could no more for Job restore the intimacy of the spiritual Lord. With a passion for this fellowship keener than ever, since he now more distinctly realises what it is, a fear blends in the heart of the man, Death will be upon him soon. Severed from God he will fall away into the privation of that world where is neither praise nor service, knowledge nor device. Yet the truth which lies at the heart of his religion does not yield. Leaning all upon it, he finds it strong, elastic. He sees at least a possibility of reconciliation; for how can the way back to God ever be quite closed?

What difficulty there was in his effort we know. To the common thought of the time when this book was written, say that of Hezekiah, the state of the dead was not extinction indeed, but an existence of extreme tenuity and feebleness. In Sheol there was nothing active. The hollow ghost of the man was conceived of as neither hoping nor fearing, neither originating nor receiving impressions. Yet Job dares to anticipate that even in Sheol a set time of remembrance will be ordained for him and he shall hear the thrilling call of God. As it approaches this climax the poem flashes and glows with prophetic fire.

Oh that Thou would’st hide me in Sheol,

That Thou would’st keep me secret until Thy wrath be past,

That Thou would’st appoint a set time, and remember me!

If a (strong) man die, shall he live?

All the days of my appointed time would I wait

Till my release came.

Thou would’st call, I would answer Thee;

Thou would’st have a desire to the work of Thy hands.

Not easily can we now realise the extraordinary step forward made in thought when the anticipation was thrown out of spiritual life going on beyond death ("would I wait"), retaining intellectual potency in that region otherwise dark and void to the human imagination ("I would answer Thee"). From both the human side and the Divine the poet has advanced a magnificent intuition, a springing arch into which he is unable to fit the keystone-the spiritual body; for He only could do this who long afterwards came to be Himself the Resurrection and the Life. But when this poem of Job had been given to the world a new thought was implanted in the soul of the race, a new hope that should fight against the darkness of Sheol till that morning when the sunrise fell upon an empty sepulchre, and one standing in the light asked of sorrowful men, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

"Thou would’st have a desire to the work of Thy hands." What a philosophy of Divine care underlies the words! They come with a force Job seems hardly to realise. Is there a High One who makes men in His own image, capable of fine achievement, and then casts them away in discontent or loathing? The voice of the poet rings in a passionate key because he rises tea thought practically new to the human mind. He has broken through barriers both of faith and doubt into the light of his hope and stands trembling on the verge of another world. "One must have had a keen perception of the profound relation between the creature and his Maker in the past to be able to give utterance to such an imaginative expectation respecting the future."

But the wrath of God still appears to rest upon Job’s life; still He seems to keep in reserve, sealed up, unrevealed, some record of transgressions for which He has condemned His servant. From the height of hope Job falls away into an abject sense of the decay and misery to which man is brought by the continued rigour of Eloah’s examination. As with shocks of earthquake mountains are broken, and waters by constant flowing wash down the soil and the plants rooted in it, so human life is wasted by the Divine severity. In the world the children whom a man loved are exalted or brought low, but he knows nothing of it. His flesh corrupts in the grave and his soul in Sheol languishes.

"Thou destroyest the hope of man.

Thou ever prevailest against him and he passeth

Thou changest his countenance and sendest him away."

The real is at this point so grim and insistent as to shut off the ideal and confine thought again to its own range. The energy of the prophetic mind is overborne, and unintelligible fact surrounds and presses hard the struggling personality.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 12:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/job-12.html.

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Saturday, January 25th, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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