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by Joseph Benson
THE BOOK OF JOB.*
* Moses is thought to have written the book of Job, while among the Midianites, before Christ, cir. 1520.
THE preceding books of Scripture are, for the most part, plain and easy narratives, which he that runs may read and understand; but in the five poetical books, on which we are now entering, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Solomon’s Song, are many things hard to be understood. These, therefore, require a more close application of mind, which yet the treasures they contain will abundantly recompense. The former books were mostly historical; these are doctrinal and devotional. And they are written in verse, according to the ancient rules of versifying, though not in rhyme, nor according to the rules of latter tongues. But though they are poetical, yet they are serious, and full of majesty. They have a poetic force and flame, without poetic fury; move the affections, without corrupting the imagination; and, while they gratify the ear, improve the mind, and profit the more by pleasing. In them we have much of God, his infinite perfections, and his government both of the world and of the church. And we have much of Christ, who is the spring, and soul, and centre of revealed religion. Here is what may enlighten our understandings, and acquaint us with the deep things of God. And this divine light may bring into our souls a divine fire, which will kindle and inflame devout affections; on which wings we may soar upward, until we enter into the holiest.
In the book of Job, in particular, which comes first under our consideration, we find the most sublime disquisitions on God’s moral government, his wonderful and unlimited greatness, his indisputable sovereignty over all beings, and his incomprehensible wisdom; together with a most illustrious pattern of solid and fixed piety, and entire resignation to the divine will. So that, whether we consider the importance and dignity of the subjects, the magnificent and profound sentiments, the beauty of the language, or the amiable picture of virtuous manners which it sets forth, we shall find it worthy of our most attentive study, and greatest veneration for its high excellence. It is thought by many learned men to be the most ancient book of the Scriptures, and it really bears all the genuine marks of the most remote antiquity, both in the composition and style; and this may account for its being so difficult to be understood.
Although most of the accounts which have been given of the author of this book, and the exact time when it was written, are but conjectures, unsupported by any authority; yet there seems very sufficient ground to determine, that the foundation of it is laid in matters of fact; namely, That, in very ancient times, there was a rich and powerful person named Job; that he was remarkable for his integrity, piety, and unshaken confidence in God; that he was, by very great, unexpected, and sudden calamities, reduced to a state of great distress; that this circumstance gave occasion to a discussion and contest between him and some of his friends, men of great wisdom and piety, whether severe afflictions ever happen to truly good men? and, if they do, whether they do not come by way of punishment, and as a mark of God’s displeasure? that Job bore his afflictions with uncommon patience and resignation to the will of God; and, lastly, that he was afterward advanced to a greater degree of prosperity than he had enjoyed in the former part of his life. These, we say, appear undoubtedly to have been facts, and on them the whole book is built. That there was such a man as Job, is evident from his being mentioned by Ezekiel 14:14, and ranked with Noah and Daniel, as a man famous for piety above most others. And the Apostle James 5:10, says, Take the prophets for an example of suffering affliction and of patience. Ye have heard of the patience of Job. And, unquestionably, the narrative which we here have of his prosperity and piety, of his strange affliction and exemplary patience, with the substance of his conferences with his friends, God’s discourse with him out of the whirlwind, and his return to a prosperous condition, are all exactly true.
We are sure, also, that this book is very ancient, probably of equal date with the book of Genesis itself. It is likely Job was of the posterity of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, whose firstborn was Uz, and in whose family religion was kept up, as appears Genesis 31:53, where God is called, not only the God of Abraham, but the God of Nahor. He evidently lived before sacrifices were confined to one altar, before the general apostacy of the nations, and while God was known by the name of אל שׁדי , Eel Shaddai, God Almighty, more than by the name of יהוה , Jehovah; for he is called Shaddai, the Almighty, above thirty times in this book. And that he lived before the deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt, we may gather from hence, that there is no allusion at all to that grand event in any part of the book; as well as from his great longevity; there being no instance, after that time, of any person’s living, as it appears he did, to near the age of two hundred years.
We have said that this book is poetical. We may call it a kind of dramatic or heroic poem, though by no means a complete drama. The first two chapters are a kind of prologue, containing the argument, which is not in verse, but in a narrative or historical style, as being a relation of matters of fact; but the interlocutory parts of the work are evidently in metre, in the original Hebrew, as is agreed by most learned men. In this noble poem we have, 1. A monument of primitive theology, teaching us that, considering the corruption, ignorance, and weakness of human nature, on the one hand, and the infinite wisdom, the unspeakable greatness, and unspotted holiness of God, on the other, mankind should renounce all confidence in their own righteousness and strength, and put their whole trust in the mercy and grace of God, and submit themselves to him with the greatest humility and reverence. This is evidently the principal design of the poem. It contains, however, 2. A specimen of Gentile piety, for Job was not of the promised seed, not an Israelite, nor a proselyte to the religion of the Israelites. 3. We have here an exposition of the book of Providence, and a clear solution of many difficult passages therein. 4. A great example of close adherence to God in the deepest calamities; and, 5. An illustrious type of Christ, emptied and humbled, in order to his exaltation and greater glory.
But “the principal benefit,” says Bishop Patrick, “which I hope pious souls, especially the afflicted, will reap by this book, is, to be persuaded thereby that all things are ordered and disposed by Almighty God; without whose command or permission neither good angels, nor the devil, nor men, nor any other creature, can do any thing. And that, as his power is infinite, so is his wisdom and goodness, which is able to bring good out of evil. And, therefore, we ought not to complain of him in any condition, as if he neglected us, or dealt hardly with us; but rather cheerfully submit ourselves to his blessed will; which never doth any thing without reason, though we cannot always comprehend it. To that issue, God himself, at last, brings all the dispute between Job and his friends; representing his works, throughout the world, to be so wonderful and unaccountable, that it is fit for us to acknowledge our ignorance, but never to accuse his providence. If we cannot see the cause why he sends any affliction, or continues it long upon us; instead of murmuring and complaining in such a case, this book effectually teaches us to resign ourselves absolutely to him; silently to adore and reverence the unsearchable depth of his wise counsels; contentedly to bear what he inflicts upon us; still to assert his righteousness in the midst of the calamities which befall the good, and in the most prosperous successes of the wicked; and steadfastly to believe, that all, at last, shall turn to our advantage, if, like his servant Job, we persevere in faith, and hope, and patience.” Taking a general view of the chapters of this book, we observe, An account of Job’s sufferings, chap. 1., 2.; not without a mixture of human frailty, chap. 3.; a dispute between him and his three friends, chap. 4.-31.; the interposal of Elihu, and of God himself, chap. 32.-41.; the end of all, in Job’s posterity, chap. 42.
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