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Zophar, the Naamathite, the third of Job's comforters (Job 2:11), and probably the youngest of them, now at last takes the word, and delivers an angry and violent speech. He begins by accusing Job of having spoken at undue length, and at the same time, boastfully and mockingly (verses 2-4). He then expresses a wish that God would take Job at his word, and really answer him, since he is sure that the result would be to show that Job had been punished much less than he. deserved to be (verses 5, 6). Job's complaints against the justice of God's dealings he meets by an assertion of God's unsearchableness and perfect wisdom, which he contrasts with the folly of man (verse 7-12). Finally, he suggests that a stricken man, being guilty, should humble himself, put away his iniquity, and turn to God, in which ease he may expect a restoration to favour. Otherwise, he has only to look for wretchedness, failure, and despair (verses 18-20).
Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said (see the comment on Job 2:11).
Should not the multitude of words be answered? A "multitude of words" is often reproved in Scripture, and taken as a sign of either folly (Ecclesiastes 5:8) or sin (Proverbs 10:19). Job had certainly been somewhat unduly verbose, and laid himself open to the taunt hero launched against him; but neither had brevity been studied by his other friends in their previous answers (Job 4:1-21; Job 5:1-27; Job 8:1-22.), nor is it greatly studied by Zophar here. And should a man full of talk be justified? literally, a man of lips' which may mean either "a great talker" or "a man who makes many professions." There is a widespread prejudice against a great orator, and a widespread notion that a good cause does net need many words.
Should thy lies make men hold their peace? or, thy boastings (see the Revised Version; and comp. Isaiah 16:5; Jeremiah 48:30). Zophar probably refers to such passages as Job 9:20, Job 9:35; Job 10:7, Job 10:15, where Job might seem to have justified himself altogether. And when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed I It is not quite easy to see what in Job's speeches up to this point could be regarded as "mocking." But perhaps Zophar would have thus characterized the following passages: Job 6:13, Job 6:14, Job 6:25-27; Job 7:12; Job 9:22-24.
For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure. Job had certainly not said this in so many words. In fact, he had not spoken of his "doctrine" (לקח), nor had he called either his doctrine or his conduct absolutely pure (זך). But, no doubt, he had maintained, in a certain sense, his innocency; not, indeed, his entire freedom from sin or guilt, but his honest endeavour to serve God and lead a good life. This was the real point disputed between him and his "comforters;" they argued, from his sufferings, that he must be a "chief sinner;" he maintained, from the testimony of his conscience, that he was free from all heinous sins. And I am clean in thine eyes (see above, Job 9:30; Job 10:7).
But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee! "Oh that God would do," i.e. "what thou hast challenged him to do"—show thee wherein he contends with thee! (comp. Job 10:2). Then how would thy reasonings be confuted, and thy boastings be brought low!
And that he would show thee the secrets of wisdom! In God are "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hid away" (ἀπόκρυφοι' Colossians 2:3). Zophar wishes that he would reveal to Job this wisdom, or a portion of it, as, in that case, all his pride and self-confidence would be confounded and fall away. That they are double to that which is! This phrase is very obscure. Some translate, "For he (i.e. God) is twice as wise as thou;" others, "That it (i.e. wisdom) is manifold in effectual working;" others, again, "That they (i.e. the treasures of wisdom) are double (or manifold) in substance." Perhaps this last rendering is to be preferred. The treasures of wisdom that are hid away in God have many depths, secret and unexplored; they "lie, as it were, fold over fold, in unexpected complexities, defying the shallow and unscrutinizing gaze" (Professor Stanley Leathes). If they were revealed to Job, they would astonish, confound, silence, him. Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth. "Be sure," i.e; "that God, so far from inflicting on thee a more severe punishment than thou deservest, in reality excuses much of thy guilt, and punishes thee less than is thy due." This is Zophar's conclusion from his general knowledge of God's dealings with man (comp. Ezra 9:13).
Canst thou by searching find out God? literally, Canst thou attain to the searching out of God? Canst thou suppose, that is, that, whatever thy wisdom, learning, subtlety, sagacity, power of insight, thou wilt be able to search out and fully know the character, attributes, modes of thought and action, of the Most High? No. In one sense, all men do well to profess them. selves "Agnostics"—not that they can know nothing of God, but that they can never know him fully, never exhaust the knowledge of him. As the apostle says, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God l how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?" (Romans 11:33, Romans 11:34). Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? rather. Canst thou attain to the perfection of the Almighty? understand, i.e; his inconceivable perfectness.
It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? literally, heights of the heavens; what canst thou do? But the meaning is probably that expressed in the Authorized Version. God's perfectness is unattainable by man's thought, as the heights of the heavens are by his feet. Deeper than hell; literally, than Sheol, or the receptacle of the dead (see the comment on Job 10:21). St. Paul speaks of the "deep things," or rather, "the depths" (τὰ βάθη) of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:10). What canst thou know? How small a part of the Divine nature can any man thoroughly comprehend and know!
The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. Zophar's metaphors are drawn from the objects which, to his mind, exceed in extent all others. "The earth" and "the sea" represent to him the illimitable.
If he cut off; rather, if he advance (comp. Job 9:11). And shut up; or, imprison. Or gather together; rather, and call to judgment (see the Revised Version). If God, that is, advance against a man in hostile fashion, seize and imprison him, and then call him to judgment, what is to be said or done? who can interfere with him? Matters must take their course. There is no ground for complaint It is simply God's mode of administering justice on the earth. Who can hinder him? literally, who can turn him sway? i.e. interfere with his action, interrupt it, divert it.
For he knoweth vain men. God is justified in these his judgments, even though he does not implead the man or bring him to account, or hear what he has got to say (Job 9:1-35 :39), since he intuitively and at once "knoweth vain men;" sooth, that is, into the ground of the heart, and recognizes vanity, pretence, false seeming, so that he can judge infallibly without the forensic apparatus wherewith human tribunals are rightly surrounded, on account of the weakness and fallibility of human judges. He sooth wickedness also. If God can detect in a moment vanity, pretence, false seeming, much more can he detect actual wickedness; which Zophar assumes to have been detected in Job's case. Will he not then consider it? rather, even though he consider it not (see the Revised Version). God does not need to pause and ponder and "consider" each case. He knows, without any such lengthened consideration, whether a man is true to him or not.
For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass's colt; rather, and a vain man may get understanding, and the colt of a wild ass become a than. Zophar seems to mean that, through Divine discipline, such as that described in Job 11:10, a vain, foolish, puffed-up man may be reclaimed and become a man of understanding—a stubborn and untamed one, wild as the colt of a wild ass, grow into a real man, i.e. acquire sense and discretion. If this is the meaning, undoubtedly Job is glanced at (so Schultens, Dillmann, and Canon Cook).
If thou prepare thine heart. Having indicated God's righteousness by these general remarks (Job 11:7-12), and implied that Job's complaints are vain and futile, Zophar, in conclusion, addresses Job once more directly: "If thou (אתּה) prepare thine heart," cleanse it, that is, of all defilement, direct it, and set it straight (see Psalms 78:8) before God, then such and such results (set forth in verses 15-19) will follow. And stretch out thine hands toward him. The outward act of worship must follow the inward movement of the heart, for the turning to God to be complete.
If iniquity be in thine hand. Zophar assumes this to be probable, nay, almost certain. He has already told Job that God has exacted from him less than his iniquity (און, the same word) deserves (verse 6). Conformably with this view, he now suggests that it would not do for Job to stretch out to God in prayer a hand full of iniquity, and that therefore, previously to making his supplication, he would do well to lay his iniquity aside. In a general way, the advice is excellent; but it was insulting to Job, who denied that he had any definite act of sin on his conscience. Put it far away; i.e. repent of it, confess it to God; if the case admits of it, make reparation or restitution. And let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles; or, in thy tents. The insinuation seems to be that Job is a robber chief, and that his tent and the tents of his followers are full of ill-gotten spoils, the fruit of his raids upon the defenceless.
For then; rather, surely then (see the Revised Version). Shalt thou lift up thy face without spot. At present, Zophar implies, he could not do so. The stain of many sins was on him (Job 11:6, Job 11:11, Job 11:14). Yea, thou shalt be steadfast; literally, molten—perhaps "pure as refined metal" (see Isaiah 1:25), perhaps "bright as a metallic mass." And shalt not fear. "Shalt be freed," i.e.," from all the fears that disturb thee now" (see Job 3:26; Job 6:4; Job 7:14; Job 9:28, etc.).
Because thou shalt forget thy misery. All thy past misery shall be clean swept away from thy remembrance, because of the happy condition whereto thou shalt be raised (see Job 11:18, Job 11:19). "Sorrow's memory" is not always "a sorrow still." And remember it as waters that pass away; i.e. remember it no more than a man remembers the shower that has passed away or the pool that is dried up.
And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; literally, shall arise above the noonday; i.e. "exceed it in splendour." Instead of the "thick darkness" to which Job is looking forward (Job 10:21, Job 10:22), he shall bask in a light brighter than that of the sun at noon. Thou shalt shine forth. The Hebrew cannot possibly bear this meaning. The uncommon word used is allied with עֵיפָה, "obscurity," and, if a verb, should mean "thou shalt be obscure," rather than "thou shalt shine forth." But it is perhaps a substantive, meaning "darkness;" and the translation of the Revised Version is perhaps correct: "Though there be darkness." Thou shalt be as the morning. "Thy light," as Professor Lee explains, "shall gradually rise and expand itself far and wide." It shall dispel the darkness, and take its place," shining more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18).
And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope. Job, entering on this second period of prosperity, would be and feel secure; safe, i.e.' from any return of calamity, because hope would once more animate him and be his predominant feeling. No doubt "hope springs eternal in the human breast;" and when Job's prosperity was actually restored (Job 42:12-16), these anticipations had their fulfilment; but, as uttered by Zophar, there is a ring of insincerity about them, and we cannot but feel that his object in expatiating at length on the details of Job's coming happiness is not to console and encourage his friend, but rather to annoy and exasperate him, since the entire basis on which he builds is the assumption of Job's heinous guilt (verses 3, 6, 11, 14), and the prosperity which he promises is to follow upon an acknowledgment of guilt and a putting sway of iniquity (verses 13, 14), which he knew that Job wholly repudiated. Yea, thou shalt dig about thee. So Schultens, who understands it to mean that Job shall dig a moat around his habitation, to make himself perfectly secure. The verb has, however, two other meanings—"to investigate" or "search out," and "to blush;" and it is taken here in each of these meanings by some critics. Our Revisers translate, "Yea, thou shalt search about thee;" and so Canon Cook and Professor Stanley Loathes. Rosenmuller, on the other hand, and Professor Lee render the words by "Though thou shouldst blush," or "be ashamed." It is difficult to decide between such high authorities; but the fast that Job uses the verb in the sense of "search," "look after," in Job 39:29, and does not elsewhere use it in either of the other senses, should incline us to accept the rendering of the Revised Version. And thou shalt take thy rest in safety; or, securely; i.e. with a sense of being in perfect security.
Also thou shalt lie down, and none shall make thee afraid; i.e. there shall be no more raids on the part of Sabeans (Job 1:15) or Chaldeans (Job 1:17) to affright and injure thee. Yea, many shall make suit unto thee. On the contrary, thy aid shall be invoked, thy interference on their behalf prayed for, by many.
Had Zophar ended with Job 11:19 Job might possibly have taken some comfort from his speech, holding out, as it did, a hope of restoration to God's favour and a return to happiness. But, as if to accentuate the unfavourable view which he takes of Job's conduct and character, he will not end with words of good omen, but appends a passage which has a ring of malice, menace, and condemnation. But the eyes of the wicked shall fail; or, waste away' grew weary, i.e.' of looking for a help that does not come, and a deliverer who does not make his appearance. And they shall not escape; literally, their refuge is perished from them. And their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost; rather, shall be the giving up of the ghost. They shall have no other hope but death—a manifest allusion to Job's repeated declarations that he looks for death, longs for it, and has no expectation of any other deliverance (see Job 3:21, Job 3:22; Job 6:7, Job 6:8; Job 7:15; Job 10:1, Job 10:18. etc.). Such, says Zophar, is always the final condition of the wicked.
Zophar to Job: 1. The opinions of a dogmatist.
I. ZOPHAR'S OPINIONS CONCERNING JOB. A severe but wholly unfounded indictment.
1. Loquacity. Job's previous orations, so full of lofty sentiment and fervent emotion, he characterizes as "a multitude of words," and Job himself as "a man full of talk [literally, 'a man of lips']." Prolixity in speech, though not a violation of God's Law, is certainly a breach of good taste. Words should never be employed except to represent thoughts, and should always be carefully selected and skilfully compacted. If brevity he the soul of wit, it is also the heart of wisdom. Mere talkativeness is a fool's gift (Ecclesiastes 5:3), and a frequent occasion of sin (Proverbs 10:19). On the other hand, "even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise; and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding' (Proverbs 17:28). A wise man, also, is never so much in danger of being mistaken for a fool as when he forgets to put a bridle on his tongue. God's people should be "swift to hear, slow to speak."
2. Boasting. Job's vehement language Zophar describes as "big talk "—the noisy declamation of a loud-mouthed controversialist, who talks his opponents down by sheer force of clamour, foolishly supposing he has thereby overcome them in argument. Words of truth and soberness should be used by all (Acts 26:25). Religious men especially should be careful, particularly in the hearing of weak brethren, of extravagant assertions as to either their own piety or their thoughts about God. Job's asseverations came near overstepping the limits of a just moderation; yet they appeared worse than they were because of Zophar's failure to understand them. or sympathize with their speaker.
3. Mockery. Job's sentiments Zophar pronounced to be wholly of an infidel tendency. But what Job scoffed at was only the representation of the Divine character and government which had been given by Eliphaz and Bildad. It may argue audacity and self-conceit to arraign the popular dogmas of the day; but one may do so, it is hoped, without being justly chargeable with impiety and unbelief.
4. Hypocrisy. Job's steadfast assertion of personal integrity seemed to Zophar mere religious pretence. But if a man, who is at heart insincere, may yet be esteemed righteous by his fellows (Matthew 6:1-6), it is not impossible that one, who seems a hypocrite in man's eyes, may in God's sight be "perfect and entire."
II. ZOPHAR'S OPINIONS CONCERNING GOD. Zophar suggests that, if God appeared to Job, he would be found:
1. Irresistible in teaching. "Oh that God would speak, and open his lips against [or, 'with thee']" (verse 5). Thy complaints would then be silenced by the convincing light of God's revelations! What Zophar here desiderated for his friend has been practically granted to all. "God manifest in the flesh," "the Man Christ Jesus," who appeared in the fulness of the times, is God's Answer to all preceding and subsequent centuries perplexed with the dark problem of existence. No solution of life's enigma but God's ever satisfies a soul. God can accomplish what no human teacher can (Job 36:22); he can exhibit to the soul truth in its naked purity, causing it to commend itself to every man's conscience, and, whether accepted or rejected, putting to silence all doubts and questionings as to its import (1 Corinthians 2:4-13; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
2. Unsearchable in wisdom. "And that he would show thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is [or perhaps, that it is fold upon fold']." True wisdom lies deep. Its secrets are seldom patent to superficial observation. Hidden fold over fold, their discovery is a work of labour, the fruit of profound reflection, the result of Heaven's revelation. Even that wisdom which is purely mundane requires patient, painful, persevering study (Proverbs 2:3, Proverbs 2:4); much more "that wisdom which cometh from above" (James 3:17). Most of all the wisdom of the Divine mind lies fold upon fold, deep, intricate, unfathomable, unsearchable, and therefore undiscoverable by man except through Divine revelation (see homiletics on next paragraph).
3. Merciful in judgment. "Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity [literally, 'forgets for thee of thy guilt']" (verse 6). Designed for Job's humiliation, the exhortation, nevertheless, contains precious truths.
(1) That God can forget a man's guilt, suffer it to drop out of his mind in such a way that it shall never plead against him for punishment (Isaiah 43:25; Romans 3:26).
(2) That God, in point of fact, forgets a portion of every man's guilt, since otherwise no man could stand before him (Psalms 130:3). Zophar failed to see
(3) that God can forget all a sinner's trespass, and exact from him nothing of what he deserves.
1. That all the opinions of a good man are not necessarily correct.
2. That it is sometimes harder to be just to one's fellow-men than it is to be fair to God.
3. That man's ideas of God and truth may be arraigned without incurring the charge of infidelity.
4. That men often behold sins in others which they cannot, though they should, see in themselves.
5. That good teaching should not be rejected, even though rudely proffered.
6. That even vulgar dogmatists may sometimes utter lofty truths.
7. That God is more merciful than even the best of men think.
A sermon on the Divine forbearance.
I. THE DESERT OF SIN.
1. The nature of it. The punishment of death—temporal, spiritual, and eternal.
2. The severity of it. Were this penalty exacted from each transgressor to the full, it would mean the extinction of every spark of terrestrial happiness, the withdrawal from the sinful soul of every gracious influence, the absolute cessation of hope of eternal felicity beyond the grave, with all the misery which such a melancholy state of being would entail.
3. The certainty of it. That is, unless the execution of this awful penalty can be delayed. That it can, constitutes the glad tidings of the gospel. But where the gospel of the grace of God is not permitted to interpose for the sinner's rescue, the infliction of this appalling retribution is inevitable.
4. The justness of it. To some minds it seems scarcely consistent with absolute equity to inflict so tremendous a chastisement upon feeble men for the trifling defalcations of a short lifetime. But this objection springs from imperfect notions of the heinousness of sin as committed against an infinite God and a holy Law. Besides, the penalty is that of the Divine Law, and we know that the Law is holy (Romans 7:12).
II. THE FORBEARANCE OF GOD.
1. The proof of it.
(1) Our own lives attest this.
(2) God's Word affirms this.
(3) God's providential dealings with men in general discover this.
2. The reason of it.
(1) In mercy to man, because he willeth not that any should perish.
(2) In justice to Christ, from whom the full penalty hath already been exacted.
(3) For the honour of himself, the glory of his grace being the highest motive by which God can be actuated.
III. THE INSTRUCTION OF MAN. "Know thou;" meaning that precious lessons should be derived from the study of so grand a truth.
1. Submission. It should silence all murmurings against afflictive dispensations.
2. Repentance. It ought to fill the human spirit with devout contrition.
3. Hope. It should teach man to "account the long-suffering of our God salvation."
Zophar to Job: 2. God's wisdom and man's folly.
I. THE PERFECTION OF DIVINE WISDOM.
1. Unsearchable. Zophar's interrogations (verse 7) may signify either that man can never fully understand God, or that man's wisdom can never fully equal God's. Taken either way, they mean that the Divine wisdom, already described as "fold upon fold" (verse 6), transcends the comprehension of a finite mind. Whether the knowledge of God attainable by the speculative reason is a real and immediate knowledge of God as he is, or "nothing more than a tissue of ambitious self-contradictions which only indicate what he is not" (Mansel, 'Limits of Religious Thought,' lect. 4.) may be relegated to philosophers and metapyhsicians to determine. It is certain the Divine Being is unsearchable by man in his essence (Job 36:26; Job 37:23), in his Person (Genesis 32:29; Judges 13:18; John 1:1; John 10:30), in his attributes (Psalms 147:5), e.g. in his wisdom (Isaiah 40:28; Romans 11:33), in his works (Job 5:9; Job 9:10), and in his ways (Nahum 1:3; Romans 11:33). Hence man's wisdom can never equal God's. Man's wisdom at the best can be fully comprehended; God's cannot.
2. Infinite. That which renders the Divine wisdom unsearchable is its infinitude (verses 8, 9). The wisdom displayed by Deity in the creation, decoration, and preservation of the universe does not exhaust the fulness that his Godhead contains. Could the human mind explore the former in every possible direction, there would still remain in each an infinitude beyond, representing the deep things of Eloah, and the perfection of Shaddai. Most impressively does the language convey the thought of man's inferiority to God in respect of wisdom. For if man by his utmost efforts cannot reach unto the perfection of the erect urea—if there be heights in heaven which he cannot scale, and depths in Sheol to which he cannot penetrate, if even the wide-rolling, far-resounding sea baffles him with its mystery—how much less should he hope to reach unto the perfection of the Creator?
3. Irresistible. "If he," i.e. the Almighty, acting under the guidance of his wisdom, "cut off [literally, 'should arrest'] and shut up," or imprison, "and gather together," i.e. a court to try man his prisoner, "then who can hinder him?" (verse 10).. A graphic picture representing
(1) God's ability to pursue, arrest, and shut up In prison those who offend against his holy Law, as he did with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8, Genesis 3:9), with Pharaoh (Exodus 14:23), with Jonah 1:4; as he still does with wicked men, pursuing them with the hot foot of an avenging providence (Proverbs 13:21), apprehending them with the strong hand of an awakened conscience (Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30), and as he will yet do with the finally impenitent who despise his offered grace (Matthew 10:28; Matthew 13:42; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
(2) The certainty that God will yet bring the ungodly into judgment at the last day (Job 21:30; Ecclesiastes 3:17; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 25:31; Romans 14:10; Hebrews 9:27), since he often does so prelusively and premonitorily on earth (Proverbs 11:31; Psalms 58:11). And
(3) the impossibility of any one being able to either contend with him in argument or outwit him with chicanery (Job 9:4, Job 9:12, Job 9:14). Men may seem at present to reply successfully against God, denying his existence, ignoring his providence, impeaching his justice, vindicating themselves and repudiating the charges of his Law; but when God holds the great assize it will be seen how utterly vain as well as preposterously foolish have all their endeavours been.
4. Omniscient. God knows vain men, and thoroughly comprehends their wickedness, without requiring to reflect upon either them or it. His knowledge of men is
(1) universal: "He knoweth men," i.e. he knows them all;
(2) particular: "He knoweth vain men," he knows their characters and their works;
(3) continuous, he constantly observes them; and
(4) intuitive, he knows them at once and thoroughly, with all-seeing, all-searching glance. And this omniscience lays the basis for God's invincibility in judgment.
II. THE CONSUMMATION OF HUMAN FOLLY. In contrast to the transcendent wisdom of Eloah, Zophar depicts men, and in particular Job, as:
1. Morally worthless. "Vain men," literally, "men of nothingness," men devoid of principle, and "hollow men," he styles them. The appellation is by no means incorrect, as descriptive of man's natural condition; man being now, in consequence of sin, emptied of all goodness and spiritual understanding.
2. Naturally witless. Prone to entertain exalted notions of his own wisdom, man is naturally senseless as a wild ass's colt—which also is not wholly astray from the truth, the estate of man from his birth being one of much ignorance, especially with regard to things Divine.
3. Essentially heartless. Zophar designs to say that hollow-hearted man can only be humanized by the salutary discipline of affliction. The change wrought upon him by the fierce discipline of life is as great as it would be for a wild ass's colt to become a man. But this implies that man is by sin dehumanized and without a heart.
4. Absolutely hopeless. Delitzsch reads, "But before an empty head gaineth understanding, a wild ass would become a man;" thus teaching that man's folly is irremediable. This black picture, however, is not in all points according to truth. Sinful man may be born again, may obtain a new heart, may acquire an enlightened understanding, and may eventually be arrayed in stainless moral purity.
1. To revere the transcendent majesty of him who is infinite and unsearchable in wisdom.
2. To trust the providential government of him who is "wonderful in counsel and excellent in working."
3. To believe the gracious revelations of him "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
4. To accept the heavenly gifts of him who "hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence."
5. To cherish deep humility before him "whose foolishness is wiser than men," and before whom man's highest wisdom is but folly.
6. To be thankful to him whose "manifold wisdom" hath been revealed for the enlightenment and salvation of foolish men..
Zophar to Job: 3. An exhortation to repentance.
I. THE ACTINGS OF PENTIENCE.
1. Preparation of the heart. "If thou prepare [literally, 'direct'] thy heart'" i.e. towards God. True penitence is a heart-work, beginning in the heart, relating to the heart, and carried on by the heart, though not without Divine assistance (Proverbs 16:1).
(1) An arduous work; the verb implying serious purpose, fixed resolution, continuous effort; and the concentration of the heart upon anything, much more upon what is spiritually good, being ever a task of supreme difficulty (Jeremiah 17:9).
(2) A complex work; the right setting or directing of the heart involving self-examination, to discover where the heart is wrong; serf-humiliation, or sincere sorrow on account of that wrongness of heart which is discovered; and self rectification, or the immediate, conscious, and deliberate reversal of that state of wrong (Psalms 119:59; Jeremiah 31:18, Jeremiah 31:19; Hosea 6:1).
(3) A necessary work; Scripture invariably representing this Godward direction of the heart as a constituent element in true repentance (1 Samuel 7:3; 2 Chronicles 20:33), as the want of it is no less strongly stigmatized as a mark of impenitence and sin (Psalms 78:8).
(4) A personal work; sinful man having many aids in the task expected of him, such as the external teaching of the Word, and the internal illumination of the Spirit, but still being himself held responsible for its actual performance.
2. Elevation of the soul. "If thou stretch out thine hands towards him," i.e. God; the lifting up and stretching forth of the hands being a common devotional attitude (Exodus 9:33; Ezra 9:5; 1 Kings 8:22), and hence a frequent biblical symbol of the outgoing and ascending of the soul to God in prayer (Psalms 63:4; Psalms 143:6; Isaiah 1:15). Such exercise implies a sense of the soul's need of God, a yearning of the soul after God, a perception of the soul's distance from God, an inward persuasion that this distance may be diminished, if not entirely removed, and the human soul again be at peace with God, and a fervent application that such confidential and loving relationship between the two may again be restored.
3. Reformation of the life. "If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles." This, no less than the two preceding, is indispensable to a complete work of penitence. Mere amendment of the external walk and conversation does not amount to, and will certainly not serve as a substitute for, the cleansing of the heart. On the other hand, the work of inward purification, though it could stand alone, would not suffice without a corresponding rectification of the daily life. True repentance consists in sorrowful acknowledgment of sin, and tearful supplication of mercy, followed by a steadfast resolution after new obedience. Beginning in the heart with the detection of sin, and proceeding to the lip with the confession of sin, it terminates in the life with the renunciation of sin (1 Samuel 7:3; Psalms 34:14; Isaiah 1:16; Isaiah 4:1-7; Jeremiah 7:5; Matthew 3:8). And this renunciation must be complete.
(1) The sin itself must be put away; all kind of it—open wickedness, secret iniquity, personal transgression, domestic wrong-doing, so far as this latter lies within one's power (Genesis 18:19; 1 Samuel 2:12, 1Sa 2:17; 1 Samuel 3:11, 1 Samuel 3:14; Psalms 101:2, Psalms 101:7).
(2) The separation effected must be thorough and final; sin being required to be not merely put away; but put far away—cast forth, like Hagar and Ishmael; like the scapegoat, into a land not inhabited, never to return.
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE PENITENT.
1. Cheerful confidence before God. (Verse 15.) Instead of cowering sorrow-stricken and shame-covered, like a trembling criminal, before his judge, filled with confusion and unable to lift up his head (Job 10:15), Job would be able to stand erect and firm, like a molten statue sitting squarely on its base, with no trace of tears upon his countenance, and no stain of punishable guilt upon his conscience. Nothing fills the soul with trembling and apprehension, or relaxes the cords and sinews of the heart, like a sense of unpardoned sin (Psalms 38:8). Nothing sooner shades the brow with gloom, or banishes the light of joy from the countenance (Genesis 4:5, Genesis 4:6; Luke 18:13), than the loss of Divine favour. On the contrary, nothing so effectually restores serenity of aspect and courageousness of soul to the individual as a consciousness of pardon. When the spot of guilt is removed from the conscience, the tear of sorrow is soon wiped from the face. A forgiven penitent may afterwards encounter affliction; but, sustained by the peace of God which passeth understanding, he can even joy in tribulation (Romans 5:3).
2. Perfect happiness in himself. (Verse 16.) That complete exemption from adversity would infallibly attend the repenting transgressor, was incorrect; that the inward comforts and enjoyments of the pardoned sinner would so surpass his former anguish as to cause it to be entirely forgotten, was as precious and consoling as it was true. The greatest happiness attainable or conceivable on earth is the joy of salvation, the joy which no man taketh from its possessor, the joy unspeakable and full of glory, which springs from a sense of acceptance with God. However deep the iron of conviction may have been driven into the penitent's soul, however bitter the anguish that may have racked his spirit, the moment the stricken heart is visited with a sense of Heaven's favour, it "remembereth no more the anguish for joy" that it has been forgiven. The only thing that can effectually drive out sorrow from the soul is the entrance of Heaven's joy.
3. Radiant prosperity in life. (Verse 17.) Job's after-career should be one of unclouded prosperity, which should shine around him with a brilliance outdazzling the noonday sun, and should never know decline or diminution; if it did, that decline would only be a gentle shading down as from meridian splendour to morning brightness, that diminution but a temporary obscuration, to be followed by the breaking forth of dawn. All this is, of course, true of the path of the just, only when spiritually considered.
4. Complete security on earth. "And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope." This marks the ground of the good man's confidence. Assurance of God's favour to an Old Testament saint was equivalent to a guarantee of permanent prosperity; to a New Testament believer it is tantamount to a promise of spiritual enrichment. Hence hope inspires the Christian with a feeling of security (Psalms 31:24; Psalms 146:5; Romans 5:5; Ephesians 6:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). The following clauses indicate the completeness of the saint's confidence. "Yea, thou shalt dig about thee [or, 'look around thee, inquiringly,' searching into all possibilities of danger, and finding none], thou shalt take thy rest in safety. Also thou shalt lie down, and none shall make thee afraid." So did David (Psalms 3:5, Psalms 3:6; Psalms 4:8), and so may all God's people, however circumstanced.
5. Growing influence among men. "Yea, many shall make suit unto thee;" literally, "shall stroke thy race," or caress thy cheeks, by way of flattery or supplication, perhaps both (Proverbs 19:6). A remarkable testimony to the influence of piety, which "would be more respected if it were more known" (Hutcheson). God's Israels have power with men as well as with God (Genesis 32:28), and Christ's followers are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Hence the favour and friendship of saints and of the Church are frequently coveted and even solicited by the unbelieving and ungodly (Genesis 26:26-29; Psalms 45:12; Matthew 25:8).
III. THE DOOM OF THE IMPENITENT.
1. Bitter disapointment' "But the eyes of the wicked shall fail," shall waste away with vain and anxious looking and longing for help which cometh not. He who expects God to either visit him with benign salvation or bless him with temporal prosperity while indulging in sin, is cherishing an ill-grounded hope. God may do the latter for wise purposes of his own; the former he cannot do. To anticipate that he will is to entertain a foolish dream (Job 8:14, Job 8:15).
2. Certain destruction. "They shall not escape;" literally, "their refuge perishes from them." As wicked men will not reach the good they look for, so neither will they avoid the evil they are afraid of. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished;" "The expectation of the wicked is wrath." Sooner or later calamity will overtake and overthrow the ungodly (Isaiah 13:9; Malachi 4:1; Ephesians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:3). Thanks to Divine grace, a refuge has been provided for the penitent—God himself (Psalms 46:1), or the hope of the gospel (Hebrews 6:18); but "how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3).
3. Final despair. "Their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost;" literally, "the breathing forth of the soul or life," i.e. it shall cease, and become utterly extinct. "The expectation of the wicked shall perish." "A wicked man's hope is but a cold coal, and an evanishing thing. It is but like a sob or two of a dying man, and then he is gone" (Hutcheson).
1. True happiness and true religion begin at the same point and in the same thing, viz. penitence.
2. When a soul returns to God in penitence, God never fails to return to it with prosperity, if not temporal and material, at least spiritual and eternal.
3. Though true piety does not look for a reward on earth, it most commonly finds one.
4. The damnation of the impenitent is as certain as is the salvation of the penitent.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Humble yourselves beneath the mighty hand of God.
Zophar, the youngest of the friends, now comes forward once more to beat down the complaint of Job with the old arguments and commonplaces. To support his words, he does not appeal to a vision like Eliphaz, nor rely on the wisdom of the ancients like Bildad, but depends on his own understanding and zealous though narrow instinct for God. His whole speech is an example of the beauty and, at the same time, the defect of religious zeal. In anxiety for God's honour he forgets to be considerate of his fellow-man. The general contents of the speech may be characterized as the rebuke of human ignorance.
I. INDIGNANT DENUNCIATION OF HUMAN COMPLIANT. (Verses 1-4.) He terms Job's outpourings a "torrent of words," "vain talk," and impious "mockery," a scoffing; and Job himself is an idle "prater." Further, he stoutly sums up all Job's speeches as meaning shortly this: "My teaching is pure, and I am guiltless in God's eyes." Job, in fact, has stepped quite out of his place, in Zophar's opinion, laying down principles and doctrines instead of meekly and penitently suffering in silence. It is an unjust view, manifestly; and we should be warned against the danger, in pleading for God, of being unjust and unfair, hard and uncharitable, to our fellow-man. To fetter the tongue, to attempt to lay fetters on the free course of the mind, especially in its moment of sorrow, may be to inflict a cruel injury on a sensitive heart.
II. WISH FOR GOD'S APPEARANCE. (Verses 5, 6.) He desires that God in the fulness of his revelation, in the complete disclosure of knowledge and truth, may convince Job how "doubly strong" is Wisdom in her nature and penetrating power (verse 6). Here would Job learn that, so far from being unjustly punished, God has rather passed by much of his guilt, and punishes him far less than he deserves. Here two defects are contrasted.
1. Half-knowledge of God. This according, to Zophar, is Job's condition. He has but a partial understanding of God; and the little that he sees he misapplies, and so is led into perplexity and passion. Zophar, assuming guilt in Job, deems, and wrongly, that Job is tempted to think only of his innocence, and to overlook his great and hidden sins. In the end (Job 38:1-41.), when God does manifest himself, Job does recognize that he is but a half-knower, but not that he is a hypocrite.
2. But there is, on the other hand, the assumption of knowledge on the part of the rebuking speaker which is not less a fault. This is, indeed, the error of all the friends, and it awaits the Divine answer. In seeking to remove the mote from Job's eye, they are unconscious of the beam in their own. These differences may be reconciled if we bear in mind the great saying of St. Paul, that we see but in part, and know but in part, and that all perplexities are solved by an absolute faith in the Divine love. We see again and again illustrated in Divine things the truth that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."
III. CHALLENGE TO HUMAN IGNORANCE: THE UNSEARCHABLENESS OF GOD. (Verses 7-9.) All measures of vastness, all ideas of infinity, are called in to impress this thought. The might and the wisdom of God are high as the unscalable heaven, deep as the dark lower world (comp. Job 22:12; Job 26:6). The infinity of God embraces the whole earth, and reaches beyond; it is longer than the firm land, broader than the broad sea, so that before it there is nothing too lofty, too obscure, too remote. It is the fixed thought-embrace of the universe. Will mortal man, then, be guilty of the folly of quarrelling with God's wisdom and power, and so incur the full weight of his judgment? Rather let him be dumb, and open not his mouth, and say, "Thou hast done it."
IV. HUMAN IGNORANCE CONVICTED AND ABASHED BEFORE THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. (Verses 10-12.) If God holds judgment with this supreme wisdom and power, then plainly man, be he never so stupid and obstinately ignorant of his guilt, must forthwith become conscious of it; and though he were furious and wild as a wild ass (comp. Job 39:5, Job 39:8), he must be subdued by that omnipotent power into tameness and docility. "The wild ass is now born as a man," converted by the terror of that moment of judgment. So speaks Zophar with caustic rebuke of what he considers the contumacy of Job. He seems to turn the language of Job, in Job 9:11, et seq' to his own purpose. Thus the arrival of the Judge to execute judgment is in the rush of a rapid storm (Job 9:10). He "passes bye" and thereupon follows the "shutting-up" or arrest of the accused, that he may not escape during the judgment; and then the "gathering together" of the people to hear the judgment.
V. WORDS OF HOPE AND PROMISE. (Job 9:13-20.) Severe as are the speeches of the three friends, they yet have a clear apprehension of the eternal gospel of God's mercy, and insist on the unfailing hope set before the true penitent in that gospel.
(1) (Job 9:13.) The "direction," or "preparation," or setting straight, of the heart. This is the first thing. Crooked feelings, perverted principles, must be rectified. There must be sincere penitence. Happiness does not begin with the outward life to pass into the inward; the process is the reverse. And the restoration must be in the same order. If the inward life be purified, the outward will flow into peace.
(2) Along with this there must be the "spreading forth of the hands to God;" in other words, true prayer. The symbol is put for the thing signified, the rite for the reality. Very significant and beautiful was the Hebrew attitude of prayer. It expressed longing, urgency, the effort of the soul to seize and hold fast the unseen power and grace in time of need.
(3) (Job 9:14.) There must be the removal of all previous iniquity from the home as well as the heart. Every vestige and association of it must be swept away—all that might remind the soul of forbidden pleasures, and tempt it into renewal of its sin. It might be well for a man in the endeavour to make his repentance thorough and sincere, and might help his mind to form new associations, to renew the face of his dwelling from top to bottom, and cast out all articles of furniture, pictures, utensils, etc; that might bring up the thought of former evil. For some minds it would at least be a wholesome discipline. At all events, let nothing be left undone to cleanse the heart, the imagination, the inward chambers of the soul, in preparation for the coming of the gracious renewing, consecrating presence of the Divine Guest.
2. The consequences of return to God.
(1) Courage (Job 9:15), fresh, calm, and strong. Referring to Job's complaint (Job 10:15) that he is compelled to bow his head in ignominy before the unworthy, his friend declares that he will be enabled to lift it up in the face of day. How serene the face, how clear the glance, how assured the step of the man who has no coward secret of ill in his heart, who by confession and repentance has made the mighty God his Friend!
(2) Oblivion of sorrow. (Verse 16.) Is memory on the whole a greater blessing or torment? Alas! Job has lately found it to be the latter. The "remembering happier things" has proved his "crown of sorrow." Like a returning tide, it has cast his wrecked treasures at his feet. But on the turning of his heart to God these bitter memories shall be carried away, as on a flowing stream, till they pass out of sight and disappear. Thank God that we can remember; but thank God, too, that we can forget!
(3) A season of brightness. (Verse 17.) Even if the darkness come, it will be comparatively light like the morning-exactly opposite to Job 10:22. For there is no darkness to him who has God as the Guest of his soul.
(4) Rest unbroken by danger (Job 10:18, Job 10:19); cheerful hope in toil; the respect and homage of friends and suitors. For there is something magnetic in piety and goodness; it seems a kind of amber which attracts to itself. Such will be, ever are, the fruits of a heart free from guile, and at peace with God. Zophar's enthusiastic picture is fitted to kindle a love of virtue and piety; but its exclusion of the facts and relations of life renders it but partially true, like the maxims of his two friends. We must be content to feel that there is a truth, and a very deep and Divine truth, in this sequence, without denying that there are complications of this truth with others, as in the case of Job, which God and eternity can alone unravel.
VI. DARK PICTURE, IN CONTRAST, OF THE WICKED. (Verse 20.)
1. The languor of vain longing. Their eyes waste and consume with watching and tears for a dawn that never comes (comp. Psalms 6:7).
2. Escape from the prima of their woe is denied.
3. Hope and life are together extinguished.—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
Even the lowly and humble are liable to over-estimate their own goodness, and the more so if roused to self-justification. All imperfect human judgments, given as Job's were, under the influence of deep feeling, are liable to be coloured, to be overdrawn and extravagant. Job's long speech in his own justification is likened by Zophar to a torrent. Zophar, like his companions, may judge Job harshly, wherein lies his error and theirs; but his words have a vein of truth in them. He is right in condemning the self-complacent, who can prate freely of his own goodness, whether he is judging Job rightly or wrongly.
I. SELF-COMPLACENCY APT TO BURY ITSELF IN A MULTITUDE OF WORDS. It would almost seem that the mere abundance of Job's answers to all the accusations raised against him excites his friend's retort. Yet how true is it that the self-complacent one, willing to justify himself, finds arguments in abundance! And, being on his defence, he is liable to view things with a prejudiced eye. The man "fall of talk" is in danger of burying truth in "the multitude of words." The greater need for guarding against the perils of exaggeration by how much many words are used. A strict watch necessary when the tongue runneth over.
II. SELF-COMPLACENCY SHOWN ESPECIALLY IN SELF-JUSTIFICATION. This the point of Zophar's accusation. This the constant danger. A man at peace with himself, rightly or wrongly believing in his own innocence, is most liable to justify himself. The lowly self-accused spirit is freed from this especial danger. Self-justification shows the standard by which life is judged to be a low one. As men rise in goodness, and so in their clearer discernment of the true nature of righteousness, they are bowed down in self-abasement. The self-justified has but a poor and very imperfect standard of right before his eyes. "Shall no man make thee ashamed?" Therefore—
III. SELF-COMPLACENCY HIDES THE JUDGMENT OF GOD FROM THE EYES. The man comes up to his standard. He is open to no more teaching. His "doctrine is pure;" he is "clean"—at least, in his own "eyes." Such a man in danger of perverting judgment. To close the eyes to the Divine judgment upon the life, even though that judgment be severe, is to do irreparable harm to the character. Let the true light shine, though it reveal faults of the gravest kind and bring down the pride of men to the very earth. Zophar may not intend to accuse Job of intentional lying, but he does accuse him of error. Men must err in their judgments if the standards by which they judge are false. The eye blinded by self-complacency cannot see that which, if clearly seen, would condemn.
IV. SELF-COMPLACENCY REBUKED BY AN ACCURATE VIEW OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS. To this Job was ultimately brought. We see him in the process—in the way. If God "speak," if he "open his lips," his words are sure to condemn. If he shows "the secrets of wisdom," then would appear his gracious forbearance, and, even in the case of the heavily afflicted, it would be revealed that he "exacteth less than iniquity deserveth." One day the clear light will shine, and not Job only, but every perplexed and suffering son of Adam, will see that the Lord is gracious and merciful, that he does not render to man the whole fruit of his evil doings. He remembers the frailty and error of men's judgments, and is patient and forgiving.—R.G.
Man humbled before God.
Vain man reasons upon the ways of God, and presumes to penetrate to the depths of the Divine wisdom. A professed wisdom lands him in folly. To scale the heavens is as easy as to "find out the Almighty to perfection," to fathom the depths of the Divine designs. Job and his friends and hosts of others of us attempt to explain the name and ways of God, but our efforts are vain, and but expose a folly equal to our ignorance.
I. THE DIVINE NATURE AND THE DIVINE PURPOSES INFINITELY BEYOND THE POSSIBLE KNOWLEDGE OF MAN. How soon may a prudent reflection on either of these assure men that they "cannot attain unto" them! "High as heaven, deeper than hell," "longer than the earth," "broader than the sea,"—these are the terms used by Zophar in his just description. As well may man attempt to touch the height of heaven, to reach to the depth of Hades, to stretch his arms to compass sea and land from the far cast to the distant west, as to pretend to comprehend, within the compass of his feeble and limited knowledge, an adequate estimate of the Divine nature, an adequate understanding of the Divine counsels,—"to find out God."
II. As the Divine Name is incomprehensible by man, and the Divine ways past his searching out, so is it equally BEYOND THE POWER OF MAN TO HINDER THE WORKING OUT OF THE DIVINE PURPOSE. In his ways God hides his wise design. He worketh towards a definite end. Men may oppose it in their folly or sinfulness, or seem to hinder it in their error. But like an onflowing tide it bears all before it. "Who can hinder him?" His work is an omnipotent work, as his Name is infinite. Against the might of God it is vain for feeble man to oppose his strength, or the energy of his will. The Divine "kingdom ruleth over all."
III. It is, therefore, utterly IMPOSSIBLE FOR MAN TO ESCAPE THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT OF ALMIGHTY GOD. Zophar would thus shut up Job unto self-abasement. Revealing his impotence before God, his inability so much as to know the Divine Name, or to grasp with his understanding the widespread ways of the Most High, he would compel Job to abasement—to a confession of guiltiness, to the wisdom of casting away his vain self-assurance, that of God he may be made wise. All these purposes are good in themselves, but the covert implication—God is angry with thee; God judgeth thee; "he seeth" thy "wickedness"—is harsh and erroneous. Like his brethren, he errs in the method of applying his good principles. Yet is it wise for all men
(1) to learn their impotence before God; to bow to the Divine ways;
(2) to assure themselves of the wisdom and goodness of the hidden purposes of God;
(3) to commit themselves in lowly reverential trust to the overruling power and government of God. Thus the intractable one shall become gentle, docile, and obedient—the "wild ass's colt" will become a man.—R.G.
The invitation to repentance.
All Job's friends would lead him to repentance. They see the judgments of God upon him in his afflictions. They know of no other cause for afflictions than as a punishment for wrong-doing. The conclusion is clear, "Thou hast sinned." This underlies all their speeches. But they have rightly seized the truth—God forgiveth the iniquity of the repentant. Therefore they urge their entreaty to their friend in one word, "Repent." And Zophar reveals to Job the method of repentance, the encouragement to it, and its reward.
I. THE METHOD OF REPENTANCE.
1. "Prepare thine heart." Give the heart its true direction—from evil towards God.
2. "Stretch out thine hands towards God"—in prayer—the true sign of repentance, the sign of lowly self-abasement, the very confession of sin, the opening of the heart with the lips to renounce evil, to sue for pardon. The hands stretched towards God is the human sign of return to him.
3. Put away iniquity. The actual renunciation of evil, forsaking and abandoning it with the heart and hands and voice lifted to God, is the certain and indubitable evidence of true repentance. No sorrow for sin becomes repentance until sin is by the sorrowing heart renounced. "If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away."
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO REPENTANCE.
1. "Then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot," i.e. of guilt. Thy heart, cleared of its guilt, shall be free and joyful.
2. And with consciousness of the Divine forgiveness thou wilt be able to look up without fear—"to lift up thy face"—to God.
3. Then sorrow shall be supplanted by peaceful joy. "Thou shalt forget thy misery." Thy grief shall leave no more trace than waters that flow by.
4. Then brightness shall dawn upon thy life, over its remainder shall be a time of gladness; "as the morning shalt thou be."
III. THE REWARD OF REPENTANCE. The encouragements to repentance are in themselves part of its reward, though that reward will be only truly, because only perfectly, found in the subsequent days of the life. Beautifully and cheeringly does this friend paint the rich prosperity of later days even to the overwhelmed sufferer. Although an error lurks beneath it all, which the teaching of the entire book is designed to correct; yet out of the bright encouragements, as out of an early morning, the full promise of blessing to the repentant arises. "Thou shalt be secure." The sense of security will take possession of the breast from which condemnation is removed. The assurance of the Divine forgiveness is a pledge of the Divine love, and the forgiven one hides in the God against whom in his folly he had sinned. Hope illumines the future, and his spirit, braced with holy courage, takes its rest in safety. He can lie down in peace and sleep, for he has gained a new trust in God. He defies his foes. Prosperity returns; "many make suit unto him: Such is the rich reward promised to Job by his friend, should he repent of his sin. True, as a great principle for human conduct it, however, lacks a correctness of application, for Job is not suffering for his sins. But every smitten one may learn the wisdom, the comfort, and the happy consequence of true repentance.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Zophar, the man of the world.
After the seer and the pedant comes Zophar, who poses as the man of the world. He can pretend to no supernatural illumination, neither has he any claims to put forth on the score of learning; but he thinks he knows men, he prides himself on his common sense, the ways of the world are familiar to him. Even from his low standpoint he thinks he can detect enough to condemn Job. We may see in Zophar the characteristics of a man of the world in his treatment of moral and religious questions, when he presents himself as a devout man and friendly adviser.
I. HE IS ORTHODOX. Zophar entirely agrees with the main position of Eliphaz and Bildad. He accepts the doctrines of the visionary when they have been endorsed by conventional society, and he echoes the traditions of antiquity after he has ascertained that they are not regarded as obsolete in his time. He has not the spiritual individuality to be singular. He will always side with the majority. The fear of Mrs. Grundy is ever before his eyes. It is bad form to be a heretic. Conventionality is orthodoxy with this man, and conventionality is the rule of his life.
II. HE IS A MAN OF THE TIMES. He would rather despise the dreams of the visionary and the sayings of the pedant. He thinks himself a modern man. But he is no power in his day, for he is but the creature of his age. It is the duty of Christians not to follow the age, but to rule it. When the worldly Christian follows it, he enslaves himself, and does his best to subject the kingdom of heaven to the prince of this world. We ought to understand our times, sympathize with their need, use their advantages, work for their progress, but never be their creatures and drudges.
III. HE IS BLIND TO THE GREATEST TRUTH. The whole spiritual world is a nonentity to this man. Being religious and orthodox, he talks the language of Divine things; but his words are meaningless counters. The reality of those things is quite beyond his grasp. He thinks he knows men, but he only sees one side of the world. A whole hemisphere of human experience is turned away from his gaze. He is like a person on this world looking at the moon, seeing one side in varying phases, but never able to catch a glimpse of the other side of it. The truly spiritual, the generous, the mystical, are all obscure to him. We cannot know the best truth till we are liberated from the shackles of conventionality.
IV. HE IS CENSORIOUS. Zophar joins his two friends in their condemnation of Job. The man of the world thinks himself broad-minded. Very often he is not over-scrupulous on moral questions that touch his own interest. But no one can be harder in condemning those who transgress the customs of the circle in which he moves. His religion has no softening, sweetening influence on him. It only seems to make him sour and disagreeable. So-called Christians of this stamp are the greatest possible hindrances to the progress of the gospel. It is their conduct that makes so many people hate the Christian religion.—W.F.A.
The provocation of a reply.
Zophar will not take the trouble to be courteous. He rudely addresses Job as a "man full of talk." He has been irritated by the "multitude of words" that Job has poured forth. The very volume of the patriarch's discourse provokes the man of the world to make a reply.
I. THE OVERFLOW OF FEELING FINDS VENT IN A MULTITUDE OF WORDS. Speech is not all calculated and purposeful. Sometimes it is aimless and reckless. It is not always directed to the end of telling some fact or influencing some person. It may be just the irrepressible outcome of emotion. The most taciturn become eloquent when in a passion. Excitement needs a safety-valve. The swollen river must have a vent or it will overflow its banks. The hottest words do not always lead to the most violent actions; but the fire that burns under unnatural restraints is likely to burst forth at length in the most fearful conflagration. Let us be patient with the hasty, passionate words of souls that are deeply moved, not weighing them nicely, nor treasuring them up for future accusation.
II. PASSIONATE WORDS CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD BY THE UNSYMPATHETIC. Zophar is vexed at Job's eloquence. One reason is that he cannot understand it. The man of the world is always angry with what he cannot comprehend. It annoys him to think that there may be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in his philosophy. The highest poetry is to him but a multitude of words. He is wearied with 'The Faery Queene;' 'Paradise Lost' is tedious to him. Browning he regards as a juggler with language. Even in Scripture the deepest utterances of psalmist and prophet are but empty words. Christ spoke in brief sententious utterances, graphic if enigmatic; yet even Christ's discourses are but dead words to those who will not lend a sympathetic ear. We always misjudge our fellow-men when we do not sympathize with them; then the deepest utterances of their hearts are but "sound and fury signifying nothing." A Pilate could never understand the prayers of Gethsemane.
III. A MULTITUDE OF WORDS PROVOKES REPLY. Zophar is roused to answer Job with more asperity than he would have shown if the patriarch had maintained the dignified silence with which he had received his friends. This is unreasonable, unkind, wrong; still it is only what must be expected under the circumstances. The world will not be reasonable or kind in its treatment of us. Therefore it may be well for us to be on our guard against noisy opposition beyond what is inevitable. Self-restraint is a grace which brings its own reward. The abandon of passion is certain to lead to vexation of spirit.
IV. THE PATIENCE OF GOD ENDURES A MULTITUDE OF WORDS. He does not hear us for our much speaking. There is no virtue in long prayers (Matthew 6:7). But deep feeling will find expression in unceasing prayer. Then our Father listens with more patience than our friends, show to us. Job had good reason to be thankful that he could make his complaints to Heaven. God was more patient than Zophar. He is ever ready to listen to the cries of his children.—W.F.A.
Oh that God would speak!
Zophar's wish is most ungenerous. Feeling his own inability to give a complete reply to the complaints of Job, he expresses a desire that God may interpose and give the requisite answer. He really wants God to come as his advocate and speak on the side of conventional orthodoxy. But though he is now moved by an uncharitable thought, the desire that he is led to express is significant of a common need of mankind. Both Job and his accusers look for a Divine interposition, and long for a clear utterance of God's mind.
I. IT IS NATURAL TO DESIRE A DIVINE VOICE. This desire springs out of our spiritual instincts. We cannot shake it off. It is almost universally felt among all races of men, and it becomes only deeper and more urgent with the progress of spiritual culture. The animals betray no signs of any such wish. We alone feel as orphans, as exiles from home; we alone crave a voice from heaven. This is but natural. The child longs to hear from his father. The perplexed looks for a guide, the sorrowful for a comforter, the wronged for an advocate. Will God come and solve the great riddle of existence?
II. IT IS UNREASONABLE TO EXPECT TO HEAR GOD'S VOICE WITH THE OUTWARD EAR. By our materialism we pervert the natural instinct that cries out for God. We Live so much in the body that we come to overvalue the experience of our senses. It seems to us that we should be better satisfied if we could hear God's voice sounding like the voice of our human friend. We forget that the senses may be subject to illusion. If we heard a voice as from heaven we could not be sure that it came from God. Moreover, it is not well that God should cut the knot and explain every mystery at once. We are not yet ready to receive all truth. It is good for our discipline that our patience should be tried, and that we should walk by faith.
III. GOD HAS SPOKEN. We listen for the thunder and ignore the still, small voice. But God is ever speaking to us in his Spirit through our consciences. He has given more explicit revelations of his truth through the inspiration of prophets and apostles. The circulation of the Bible is the going forth of God's voice. Christ is the incarnate Word of God. What Zophar wished for has in a measure appeared in Christ. The old craving for a Divine oracle is met in the best way by the advent of our Lord as "the truth" (John 14:6).
IV. GOD WILL SPEAK MORE FULLY AT THE END OF THE DAYS. God appeared at the end of Job's trials. A grand theophany in final judgment is promised us (Zechariah 14:4). Even in the light of the gospel many problems are still obscure. Christ did not bring the answer to every question when he appeared on earth. He brought sufficient light for saving knowledge, but he left us to walk by faith. Thus we may still crave the complete revelation, when God shall speak once more, vindicating the right and clearing the mystery of providence. Meanwhile. the nearer we walk to Christ the more of his voice can we hear, and the less perplexed shall we be; for he who follows Christ will not walk in darkness (John 12:35).—W.F.A.
The unsearchable depth of God.
It has been said that Zophar shows "some touch of the base courtier spirit and motive" in thus eulogizing the wisdom of God. He seems to wish to secure God on his side. While he rebukes Job he flatters God. Nevertheless, though his motive may be unworthy, the question which he here raises is real and important.
I. GOD'S THOUGHT IS UNFATHOMABLY DEEP.
1. It must be so because God is infinite. If we could understand God completely, it would be clear that he was but as one of us. A dog cannot fathom the thought of a man, because the inferior being can never enter into the depths of the experience of one greater in faculty. No creature can measure the mind of the great Creator.
2. It is found to be so in experience. We are continually baffled by riddles of providence. We are puzzled to find our calculations false, and our explanations unsatisfactory. We fail to understand the object and meaning of God's mysterious dealings with us.
II. WE CANNOT BUT DESIRE TO FATHOM THE DEPTHS OF GOD'S THOUGHT. NO inquiry can be more intensely interesting. God is the Source and controlling Power of our lives, and everything depends on what he thinks about us. Therefore true theology is no idle study of the cloister; it is the most practical inquiry concerning what most intimately affects our vital interests in time and in eternity. But apart from personal considerations, the study of God is the study of what is highest, best, and most wonderful in the universe. Can any more lofty employment for the human intellect be found? Is it not grossly unnatural for the child not to care to know about his father? Surely it is wrong to check an inquiring soul in its search after God, even when it seems to go sounding on through dim and perilous ways.
III. MEN HAVE MADE FOOLISH CLAIMS TO HAVE FATHOMED THE DEPTHS OF GOD. Zophar did this even while appearing to honour the vastness and mystery of the Divine thought; for he assumed that he knew God's idea, and that this was just identical with conventional orthodoxy. His was the common error of extreme dogmatists. Creeds may be excellent as clear, concise confessions of belief; but the moment a finality is claimed for them they cease to be a help, and become a positive stumbling-block and hindrance to truth. We cannot define God; he escapes all the bounds of the largest words. When we attempt to draw a circle about him we tacitly assume that he is not an Infinite Being.
IV. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS REAL, BUT PARTIAL. We cannot "find out the Almighty unto perfection." We cannot know God perfectly, cannot know all of God. We may know much of him. He is not represented in the Bible as the Unknowable, nor to Christians as "the Unknown God." Indeed Christians can say, "We know that we know him" (1 John 2:3). Our knowledge is not merely a knowledge of our thought about him; and theology is not simply the science of man's religion. We know God truly, as far as our knowledge extends. Yet we know but a very little of God. Therefore let us learn humility, patience, faith. We can never know all, but we may know more. Therefore let us "follow on to know the Lord" (Hosea 6:3).—W.F.A.
The blessedness of returning to God.
Zophar draws a beautiful picture of the joys and blessings of restoration to God, and, though its implied background must have spoilt it for Job by suggesting that the patriarch was a great sinner needing repentance, in itself the picture is true and helpful.
I. THE PROCESS OF RETURNING TO GOD.
1. By a right condition of the heart. The heart is first to be set right. We can only return to God with our heart. The heart wandered; the heart must come back. Going to church is not necessarily going to Cod. Beginning to attempt good works is not always entering the kingdom of heaven. We must begin with inward and deeper things.
2. By a personal approach to God. The hands are to be stretched out to him. This is the posture of a suppliant. It is the attitude of prayer, but it signifies more than the offering of a petition; it suggests that the helpless man is stretching out to God for deliverance, that the penitent child is trying to get near to his Father. We cannot be saved while we remain at a distance from God as our sin and ruin consist in our departure from God, so our restoration is accomplished in our personal return to him.
3. By a repentant renunciation of sin. Sin must no longer dwell in our tabernacles. We cannot recover God while we retain sin. The repentance must not only consist in confession and sorrow. The sin itself must be cast off. Until we are willing to do this in heart and life no restoration is possible. It was wrong and unfair of Zophar to assume that Job needed to come to God as a penitent, for the suffering man had done this long before his troubles, and he was already a redeemed and honoured servant of God. But till we have thus actively repented we cannot be restored. Zophar's principle applies to all who have not yet forsaken their sins.
II. THE HAPPY RESULTS OF THUS RETURNING. Zophar must be blamed for the narrowness, the unspirituality, and the conventionalism of his picture. Restoration to God brings higher blessings than Zophar dreamed of naming, and, on the other hand, it does not always bring the swift and visible rewards which he portrayed with sympathetic eloquence. Yet we may gather some hints of the blessings of restoration even from the partial lights of his picture.
1. Freedom from guilt. The restored penitent will "lift up" his "face without spot." The old stain has gone. Confidence takes the place of the shame of sin.
2. Fearless steadfastness. "Yea, thou shalt be steadfast, and shalt not fear." An evil conscience is timorous. The cure of sin brings strength and stability.
3. Forgetfulness of the sad past. It will go like the waters of the winter torrent, that disappear and leave their stony course dry in the summer heat. The sorrow seems to be eternal while we have it. But not only is time a healer; forgiveness and restoration hasten the process.
4. A bright reputation. This was Job's old possession, but he seemed to his friends to have lost it. Sin tarnishes a good character. But forgiveness and restoration prepare for a new Christian character. The darkness gives place to bright daylight.
5. Perfect security. The restored man can lie down in peace, fearing nothing, for God is with him.—W.F.A.
The security of hope.
I. IT IS OF THE NATURE OF HOPE TO GIVE A SENSE OF SECURITY. If a man thinks himself safe, he will go forward confidently; if he expects he can win, he will throw his energy into what he is doing; if he is sure of victory, he will not shrink from the foe. When hope has faded out of a man's life, he may still pursue his course with the doggedness of despair; but his step has lost its elasticity and his eye its fire.
II. HOPE TENDS TO CREATE REAL SECURITY. The loss of confidence is itself a weakness. When we expect to fail, we prepare failure for ourselves. On the other hand, a calm, fearless progress makes for success. There is a foolish sanguineness which only dreams of the joys that are to drop into one's lap unsought and unearned. But a true and sensible hope will not be thus blind and indolent. It will be the inspiration of effort. If we have hopes of victory over sin and of a useful Christian life, we are spurred on to attempt to realize them. Hope is necessary in Christian work. A hopeless missionary is not likely to be very fruitful.
III. A BASELESS HOPE LEADS TO A FALSE SECURITY, Hope may be a mere snare. Possibly the sanguine man is living in a fool's paradise. His hope may be altogether without foundation, and if so, in trusting to it he will only sink down to ruin. We need to have a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). Safety is not proportionate to confidence. Although, as we have just seen, hope simply as a subjective feeling does tend to victory, yet if it is quite groundless, its tendency will not be strong enough to overcome tangible obstacles.
IV. CHRIST HAS GIVEN TO US A TRUE AND INSPIRING HOPE.
1. It is true. Christ does not content himself with soothing our fears and instilling a sense of restfulness and confidence. That would be a fatal course, like drugging a patient with morphia instead of curing his disease. But when Christ instils the feeling of hope, he does so by setting before us good reasons for hope. The Christian hope is based on the revelation of God's love, on the atoning work of our Lord, on his resurrection and triumph. He is our Hope (Colossians 1:27), and all that gives worth to him and his work gives weight to the Christian hope.
2. It is inspiring. The great hope of Christ is that sin shall be conquered and the kingdom of heaven come in power.
(1) This is inspiring to the individual. No one of us need be satisfied with a low tone of Christian life. It is open to all to rise to great heights of holiness and fruitful living. The hope is in Christ, not in ourselves; and his resources are unlimited, his riches unsearchable (Ephesians 3:8).
(2) This is also inspiring for the Church. The weary battle of the ages is destined to ultimate victory. Christ, not the devil, must triumph at last. Difficulties press upon us and discouragements grow thick around us, yet the cause of God cannot fail The promise of victory should inspire the hope which helps forward the accomplishment.—W.F.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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