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Job's Answer to Bildad. II.
We must remember, if we would understand Job's mournful and noble complaint and eloquence, that Job himself is utterly unaware of the circumstances under which he is suffering. Unfortunately for ourselves as readers, we know all that the historian or dramatist can tell us about the case; but Job knew only his suffering. A Why? almost indignant came from his lips again and again. And no wonder. It is one thing, we have seen, to read the Book of Job, and another to be Job himself. A pitiful thing if we can only annotate the Book of Job, an excellent if we can comment upon it through our experience and our sympathy. Consider the case well, then:
There has been an interview between God and the devil: the subject of that interview was Job's integrity and steadfastness: the devil challenged Job's position, and said that he was but circumstantially pious; he had everything heart could wish; a hedge was round about him on every side, and if such a man were not pious the more shame be his: take away, said the enemy, the hedge, the security, the prosperity, and this praying saint will curse thee to thy face. Job knew nothing about this. There is an unconscious influence in life a mysterious ghostly discipline, an unexplained drill; a sorrow anonymous, and lacking explication. Job understood that he was a servant of the living God, a diligent student of the divine law, a patient follower of the divine statutes and commandments; he was to his own consciousness a good man; certainly inspired by noble aspirations, sentiments, and impulses; good to the poor, and helpful to those who needed all kinds of assistance; and, therefore, why he should have been struck by these tremendous thunderbursts was an inquiry to which he had no answer. But consider, on the other hand, that the whole pith of the story and meaning of the trial must be found in the very fact that Job had no notion whatever of the circumstances under which he was suffering.
Had Job known that he was to be an example, that a great battle was being fought over him, that the worlds were gathered around him to see how he would take the loss of his children, his property, and his health, the circumstances would have been vitiated, and the trial would have been a mere abortion: under such conditions Job might have strung himself up to an heroic effort, saying, if it has come to this if God is only withdrawing himself from me for a moment, and is looking upon me from behind a cloud, what care I if seven hells should burn me, and all the legions of the pit should sweep down upon me in one terrific assault? this is but for a moment: God has made his boast of me; I am God's specimen man, God's exemplary saint; he is pointing to me, saying, See in Job what I myself am; behold in him my grace magnified and my providence vindicated. This would have been no lesson to the ages. We must often suffer, and not know the reason why: we must often rise from our knees to fight a battle, when we intended to enjoy a long repose: things must slip out of our hands unaccountably, and loss must befall our estate after we have well tended all that belongs to it, after we have securely locked every gate, and done the utmost that lies within the range of human sagacity and strength to protect our property. These are the trials that we must accept. If everything were plain and straightforward, everything would be proportionately easy and proportionately worthless. It is after we have prayed our noblest prayer, and brought back from heaven's garden all the flowers we asked for, that we must be treated as if we were wicked, and overthrown as if we had defied the spirit of justice. So must our education proceed. Brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials and persecutions and tests: all these things are meant for the culture of your strength, the perfecting of your patience, the consolidation of your hope and love. Thus we should interpret history. God will not explain the causes of our affliction to us, any more than he explained the causes of Job's affliction to the patriarch. But history comes to do what God himself refrains from doing: all history says that never is a good man tried without the trial being meant to answer some question of the devil, or to test some quality of the man. God does not send trials merely for the sake of sending them; he is not arbitrary, capricious, governing his universe by whims and fancies and changeable moods. But seeing that he made us, as Job here contends, and knows us altogether, we must accept the trials of life as part of the education of life.
What course does Job say he will take? A point of departure is marked in the tenth chapter. Hitherto Job has more or less answered the men who have spoken to him; now he turns away from them, and says I will speak straight up to heaven. He determines to be frank. "I will speak in the bitterness of my soul." That is right. Let us hear what the soul has to say. Let us make room for pale, haggard grief, that she may tell her harrowing tale. Men are sickened by luxury. Men are sated with mere delights. Life would be poor but for the wealth of agonised experience, and dull but for the music of sanctified desolation. Job has begun well in saying he will speak right out to God. It soothes poor misery "hearkening to her tale." If a man could once assure himself that he was speaking as it were face to face with God, the greatness of the auditor would lift up the speech to a worthy level, and the very interview with one divine would help our human nature up to the very divinity to whose radiance it has been admitted.
Do not let us speak our misery downwards; otherwise our tears will soak into the dust, and there will be no answer in flowers. Let us venture to lift up our heads even in the time of grief and misery and loss and loneliness, and speak all we feel right into the ear of God. He will not be angry with us. He will make room for our speech. He framed us; he knows our composition; he understands us altogether, and blessed be his name and his love, he knows that a little weeping would ease our hearts, and that long talk with himself would end in a mitigation of our grief. Do not be harsh with men who speak with some measure of indignation in the time of sorrow. Sorrow is not likely to soothe our feelings, and to pick out for us the very daintiest words in our mother-tongue. We are chafed and fretted and vexed by the things which befall our life. It is not easy to put the coffin-lid upon the one little child's face; it is not easy to surrender the last crust of bread that was meant to satisfy our hunger; it is not pleasant to look into the well-head and find the water gone at the spring. Yet, in our very frankness, we should strive at least to speak in chastened tones, and with that mystic spirit of hopefulness which, even in the very agony of fear, whispers to the soul, Perhaps, even now, at the very last, God may be gracious unto me. Have we thus turned our sorrows into spiritual controversies with God? or have we degraded them into mere criticisms upon his providence, and turned them to stinging reproaches upon the doctrine which teaches that all things work together for good to them that love God? Let us go alone, shut the door of the chamber, and spend all day with God, and all night; for even in talking over our grief, sentence by sentence, and letter by letter, in the presence and hearing of the King, without his personally saying one word to us, we may feel that much of the burden has been lifted, and that light is preparing to dawn upon an experience which we had considered to be doomed to enduring and unrelieved darkness.
Job says he will ask for a reason. "I will say unto God, do not condemn me; show me wherefore thou contendest with me" ( Job 10:2 ). I cannot tell why; I am not conscious of any reason; the last time we met it was in prayer, in loving fellowship; the last interview I had with heaven was the pleasantest I can remember; lo, I was at the altar offering sacrifices for my children, when the great gloom fell upon my life, and the whole range of my outlook was clothed with thunder-clouds oh, tell me why! We need not ask whether these words actually escaped Job's lips, because we know they are the only words which he could have uttered, or that this is the only spirit in which he could have expressed himself; he would have been God, not man, if under all the conditions of the case he had expressed himself in terms less agonising, and in wonder less distracting.
Job will also appeal to the divine conscience, if the expression may be allowed:
"Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress, that thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands, and shine upon the counsel of the wicked?" ( Job 10:3 ).
"Is it good," is it in harmony with the fitness of things; is it part of the music of divine justice? How will this incident be interpreted by those who are looking on? Art thou not doing more mischief by this experiment than good? There are men who are observing me, who knew that I was a man of prayer, a man of spiritual fame, and they will say, If thus God treats the good, is it not better to be wicked? And there are wicked men looking on who are saying, It has come out just as we expected; all this religious sentiment ends in spiritual reaction, and God is not to be worshipped as Job has worshipped him. O living, loving, saving God, Shepherd of the universe, consider this, and answer me! Once shake a man's confidence in right, and he could no longer go to the altar of the God whom he could charge with wrong; once let a man feel that good may come to nothing, and prayer is wasted breath, and that the balances of justice are in unsteady hands, and all religious lectures are properly lost upon him, and all pious appeals are but so much wasted breath. We must have confidence in the goodness of God. We must be able to say to ourselves, The lot is dark, the road is crooked, the hill is steep; I cannot tell why these trials should have come upon me, but see me tomorrow, or the third day, and I shall have an answer from heaven, the enigma shall be solved, and the solution shall be the best music my soul ever listened to.
Job then pleads himself his very physiology, his constitution:
"Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet thou dost destroy me. Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again? Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese? Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews" (Job 10:8-11 .)
I am made by thee; didst thou make make me to destroy me? Art thou so fickle? Art thou a potter that fashions a beautiful vase, and then dashes it to the ground? I am all thine, from the embryo for that is the reference made in the tenth verse: "Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese?" I am thine from the very embryo, the very germ; there is nothing about me that I have done myself; I am the work of thine own hands; art thou a fantastic maker, creating toys that thou mayest have the delight of crushing them between the palms of thine hands? A very pathetic inquiry is this "Thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again?" is this the law of evolution? is this the science or philosophy of development? is all life simply a little beginning, rising out of itself, and returning to itself? and is "dust" the only word appropriate to man? is life a journey from dust to dust, from ashes to ashes, from nothing to nothing? Consider this, O loving Creator! Job says he will reason otherwise. God, who has made so much out of nothing, means to make more out of so much: the very creation means the redemption and salvation and coronation of the thing that was created in the divine image and likeness. Creation does not end in itself: it is a pledge, a token, a sign yea, a sure symbol, equal in moral value to an oath, that God's meaning is progress unto the measure of perfection. This is how we discover the grand doctrine of the immortality of the soul, even in the Old Testament even in the Book of Genesis and in the Book of Job. What was it that lay so heavily upon Adam and upon Job? It was the limitation of their existence; it was the possible thought that they could see finalities, that they could touch the mean boundary of their heart's throb and vital palpitation. When men can take up the whole theatre of being and opportunity and destiny, and say, This is the shape of it, and this is the weight, this is the measure, this is the beginning, and this is the end, then do they weary of life, and they come to despise it with bitterness; but when they cannot do these things, but, contrariwise, when they begin to see that there is a Beyond, something farther on, voices other than human, mystic appearances and revelations, then they say, This life as we see it is not all; it is an alphabet which has to be shaped into a literature, and a literature which has to end in music. The conscious immortality of the soul, as that soul was fashioned in the purpose of God, has kept the race from despair.
Job said if this were all that we see, he would like to be extinguished. He would rather go out of being than live under a sense of injustice:
"Oh that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave. Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness" ( Job 10:18-22 ).
Thus he exhausts the Hebrew tongue in piling image upon image by which to signify the everlasting extinction and eternal darkness. Yet he would choose extinction rather than life under a galling sense of injustice. It is so with individual men. It is so with nations of men. There comes a time when the sense of injustice becomes intolerable. Anarchy, the sufferers say, is better; and as for darkness, it is to be chosen in preference to light which is only used for the perpetration of iniquity. "My soul is weary of my life." Is that a solitary expression? We have heard Rebekah say the same words she would die. We have heard David say, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away," a term which indicates distance without measure "and be at rest." We have heard great Elijah royal, lion-like, terrible Elijah say, "Let me die" give me release from life. What wonder if other men have uttered the same expression. It is, let us say again and again, the natural and necessary expression, except there be hidden in the heart the hope of immortality. Thus Paul triumphed: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen: but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." Eternity must help time, or time will be the grave of its own creations and aspirations. What hold have we upon eternity? Is our citizenship in heaven? From what fountain do we drink? If from the fountains of eternity, then we shall be satisfied for ever, and labour will be but a preparation for the enjoyment of rest, and rest shall bring back the energy which we shall rejoice to spend in service. Are we trusting to the tricks, the chances, the revolutions of some mere wheel of fortune? or are we living in the living God? Are we crucified with Christ, yet have we risen with him? are we living in him, and is he living in us? Is the life we now live in the flesh a life of faith in the Son of God? Then, come weal, come woe, at the end there shall be festival, celestial Sabbath, infinite liberty, unspeakable joy. We fearlessly preach the doctrine that all things are done by God. We cannot recognise any devil that eclipses the omnipotence of the Almighty. Boldly would we say, "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" Do we suppose there are two rival powers in the universe, and that one endeavours to overreach the other, to be before the other, in the culture or the destruction of human nature? That is not a Christian doctrine as we understand the teaching of Holy Scripture. "The Lord reigneth." The devil is a chained enemy: "beyond his chain he cannot go." When he wants a new link added to it he has to ask the Omnipotent to lengthen his tether by one short inch. All things are in the hands of God. All earthquakes, and tumults, and revolutions, all national uprisings, all political upheavals, all the mysterious, tragic, awful process of development, we must find in the hand and under the government of God. Therefore will we not be afraid; we will say, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble;" though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, the throne of the Eternal is left untouched, and the government of the Everlasting is left unimpaired. We will hide ourselves in the Sanctuary of our Father until all calamities be overpast. Out of the agony and the throes of individual experience, and national convulsions, there shall come a creation fair as the noonday, quiet as the silent but radiant stars!
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet thou dost destroy me." Job 10:8
The fact is correct, but the reasoning is false. It often happens so in reasoning under strong feeling. The argument ought to have proceeded in exactly the opposite way; then Job would have said with the Psalmist, "Thou wilt not forsake the work of thine own hands." There is a strong temptation to recognise Providence in parts and sections, but not to continue the thought throughout the whole line of human life and experience. Many persons will acknowledge: a Creator, who do not acknowledge the providential government which touches every detail of existence. Others, again, will acknowledge Providence. but deny the reality of Redemption.
Others, again, are devoted to the collection of facts, and yet, when they have brought all their facts into a focus, they seem to be unable to draw the right inferences from them. Man often perishes at the point of argument. Man ought often to let argument alone and simply rest upon facts. Where argument does arise in a case like this, it should take some such terms as the following: Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; therefore thou hast a living and loving interest in me, and although I cannot understand the discipline through which thou art now making me to pass, I am confident, from the excellence and minuteness of thy creation, that thy providence cannot fall short of what is there so vividly and graciously displayed. Jesus Christ always reasoned from the lower to the higher: If God takes care of oxen, will he not take care of you; if he clothe the grass of the field, etc; if he care for the fowls of the air, etc.; if ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, etc. This is the Saviour's argument, always rising upwards towards the unseen, the eternal. By creating man, God does not set up any right to destroy him. Creation would be too narrowly viewed if it were regarded as simply an arbitrary act. Even in the region of manufactures, who is there that makes an article for the sake of destroying it, and, even though there may be the right of destroying such an article, yet who is not restrained by reason from perpetrating its destruction? In the case of man, however, the circumstances are wholly different: man is rational; man is responsible; man can hold companionship with God; man is capable of enduring the most excruciating agonies; under all these conditions of life the very act of creation implies the further act of care, patience, training, love, and redemption. We should reason that if God has given us the light of the sun he will not withhold needful illumination from the mind: if God has filled the earth with bread and other food for man, he has made some provision for the nurture and sustenance of the soul: if he has made us, he means to keep us, yea, though we sin against him, he will come out after us, that he ho has been our Creator may also be our Redeemer.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"I am full of confusion." Job 10:15
This is a fact, and ought to be regarded seriously. Providence is often such as to bewilder our merely intellectual faculties. Things do not happen in the sequence which we have determined. We seem, for the moment, at least, to sow one thing and reap another. All our calculations are upset as to the prosperity of virtue and the degradation of vice. We make bold to prophesy what will happen tomorrow in the order of God's providence; we say, The wicked man will return from his attempts worsted and ashamed, and yet he comes in successful and glorying in his abundant prosperity. Being full of confusion, we should ( a ) wait; ( b ) take an appointed course of inquiry; ( c ) not suppose that it lies within our power to comprehend the whole counsel of God. These broad and frank confessions of confusion or of ignorance are not at all harmful even in the Christian teacher; when he avows his inability to deal with certain questions he acquires for himself an additional measure of confidence in regard to those subjects which he does undertake to elucidate. The Bible itself does not propose to clear up every mystery, or drive away every cloud. There is a sense indeed in which the Bible is the greatest mystery of all. Even in the wildest mental confusion, there are often some points of certainty, some solid facts, histories, or experiences, upon which we can rest the mind. We should abide there until the storm abates a little, or the light so increases as to create a larger day. No man need be altogether in confusion if he be frank-minded, really earnest, and religious in spirit. Some little thing at least will be given to him, which he can seize and hold with a firm hand. Stand by the one thing which is clear and plain, and from that work onward and outward towards those truths which seem to hang on the distant horizon.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 10". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
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