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The discourse of Job, here begun, continues through three chapters (Job 12:1-25; Job 13:1-28; Job 14:1-22.). It is thought to form the conclusion of the first day's colloquy. In it Job for the first time really pours scorn upon his friends, and makes a mock of them (see verses 2, 8, 20; Job 13:4-13). This, however, is a secondary matter; his main object is to justify his previous assertions,
(1) that the whole course of mundane events, whether good or evil, must be attributed to God (verses 6-25);
(2) that his sufferings entitle him to plead with God, and demand to know why he is so punished (Job 13:3-28). A comparatively mild expostulation concludes the first series of speeches (Job 14:1-22.).
Job 12:1, Job 12:2
And Job answered and said, No doubt but ye are the people. Bitterly ironical. Ye are those to whom alone it belongs to speak—the only "people" to whom attention is due. And wisdom shall die with you. "At your death," i.e; "all wisdom will have fled the earth; there will be no one left who knows anything." At least, no doubt, you think so.
But I have understanding as well as you. "I, however, claim to have just as much understanding [literally, 'heart'] as you, and to be just as well entitled to speak, and to claim attention;" since I am not inferior to you. "I am not conscious," i.e; "of any inferiority to you, intellectual or moral. I do not fall below you in either respect." Yea, who knoweth not such things as these? "Not," Job means to say, "that much understanding is necessary in such a ease as this; any man of common intelligence can form a correct judgment on the point in dispute between us." The special point, in Job's mind, seems to be God's complete mastery over the world, and absolute control over all that takes place in it (see the introductory paragraph).
I am as one mocked of his neighbour. You have accused me of mockery (Job 11:3): but it is I that have been mocked of you. The allusion is probably to Job 11:2, Job 11:3, Job 11:11, Job 11:12, and Job 11:20. Who calleth upon God, and he answereth him. You mock me, though I have always clung to religion, have called upon God in prayer, and from time to time had my prayers answered by him. Thus it is the just upright man that is laughed to scorn.
He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease; rather, as in the Revised Version, In the thought of him that is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it (i e. contempt) is ready for them whose foot dippeth. The meaning is, "I am despised and scorned by you who sit at ease, because my foot has slipped, and I have fallen into misfortune."
The tabernacles of robbers prosper. Having set at rest the personal question between himself and his friends, Job reverts to his main argument, and maintains that, the whole course of mundane events being under God's governance, all the results are to be attributed to him, and among them both the prosperity of the wicked, and, by parity of reasoning, the sufferings of the righteous. And they that provoke God are secure (comp. Job 9:24; Job 10:3). Into whose hand God bringeth abundantly. So both the Authorized and the Revised Versions; but recent critics mostly render, "who bring their God in their hand," i.e. "who regard their own right hand as their God" (comp. Virgil, 'Aen; 10:773, "Dextra mihi Dens")
But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee. Job here begins his review of all creation, to show that God has the absolute direction of it. The order of
(3) fishes, is that of dignity (comp. Genesis 9:2; Psalms 8:7, Psalms 8:8).
Job maintains that, if appeal were made to the animal creation, and they were asked their position with respect to God, they would with one voice proclaim him their absolute Ruler and Director. And the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee. The instincts of birds, their periodical migrations, their inherited habits, are as wonderful as anything in the Divine economy of the universe, and as much imply God's continually directing hand.
Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee. If the material earth be intended, the appeal must be to its orderly course, its summers and winters, its seedtime and harvest, its former and latter rains, its constant productivity, which, no less than animal instincts, speak of a single ruling power directing and ordering all things. If the creeping things of the earth, the reptile creation, be meant, then the argument is merely an expansion of that in the preceding verse. The instincts of reptiles are to be ascribed, no less than those of beasts and birds, to the constant superintending action and providence of the Almighty. And the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. The testimony will be unanimous—beasts, birds, reptiles, and fishes will unite in it.
Who knoweth not in all these; or, by all these; i.e. by all these instances. That the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? literally, the hand of Jehovah. The name "Jehovah does not occur elsewhere in the dialogue, though it is employed frequently in the historical sections (Job 1:6-12, Job 1:21; Job 2:1-7; Job 38:1; Job 40:1, Job 40:3,Job 40:6; Job 42:1, Job 42:7-12). The writer probably regards the name as unfamiliar, if not unknown, to Job's neighbours, and therefore as avoided by him in his discussions with them. But here, for once, he forgets to be consistent with himself. Outside Scripture, the name is first found on the Moabite Stone, where it designates the God worshipped by the Israelites.
In whose hand is the soul of every living thing. A brief summary of what had been said in Job 12:7, Job 12:8, to which is now appended the further statement, that in God's hand—wholly dependent on him—is the entire race of mankind also. And the breath of all mankind; literally, and the spirit of all flesh of man.
Doth not the ear try words? and the month taste his meat? rather, as the palate tasteth its meat? (see the Revised Version). In other words, "Is it not as much the business of the ear to discriminate between wise and unwise words, as of the palate to determine between pleasant and unpleasant tastes?" The bearing of the verse on the general argument is not clear.
With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding. Men get their wisdom gradually and painfully by much experience during a long stretch of time, so that it is not until they are" ancient" that we can call them wise or credit them with "understanding." But with God the case is wholly different.
With him is wisdom and strength. With God wisdom and strength dwell essentially. He is not wiser or stronger at one time than at another. Time and experience add nothing to the perfection of his attributes, which are unchangeable. Such wisdom infinitely transcends any to which man can attain, and therefore is doubtless the wisdom whereby the world is governed. He hath counsel and understanding. God has these qualities as his own. They are not acquired or imparted, but belong to him, necessarily and always.
Behold, he breaketh down, and it cannot be built again. Professor Lee thinks that the allusion is to the cities of the plain (Genesis 19:24-29). But the sentiment is so general, that we may well doubt if particular instances were in Job's mind. At any rate, the destructive agencies of nature must be as much included as any supernatural acts. He shutteth up a man (comp. Job 11:10). God "shuts up" men when be hedges them in with calamities or other circumstances, which take away from them all freedom of action (Job 3:23; Job 19:8) When he does this, the result follows—There can be no opening. No other power can give release.
Behold, he withholdeth the waters, and they dry up. God, at his pleasure, causes great droughts, which are among the worst calamities that can happen. He withholds the blessed rain from heaven (Deuteronomy 11:17; 1 Kings 8:35; 1 Kings 17:1), and the springs shrink, and the rivers dry up, and a fruitful land is turned into a desert, and famine stalks through the land, and men perish by thousands. Also he sendeth them out, and they overturn the earth; i.e. he causes floods and inundations. Once upon a time he overwhelmed the whole earth, and destroyed almost the entire race of mankind, by a deluge of an extraordinary character, which so fixed itself in the human consciousness, that traces of it are to be found in the traditions of almost all the various races of men. But, beside this great occasion, he also in ten thousand other cases, causes, by means of floods, tremendous ruin and devastation, sweeping away crops and cattle, and even villages and cities, sometimes even "overturning the earth," causing lakes to burst, rivers to change their course, vast tracts of land to be permanently submerged, and the contour of coasts to be altered.
With him is strength and wisdom; rather (as in the Revised Version), with him is strength and effectual working. God has not only the wisdom to design the course of events (Job 12:13), but the power and ability to carry out all that he designs. The deceived and the deceiver are his. Not only does God rule the course of external nature, but also the doings of men. "Shall there be evil in a city, and shall not he have done it?" (Amos 3:6) He allows some to deceive, and others to be deceived. Moral evil is thus under his control, and, in a certain sense, may be celled his doing. But it behoves men, when they approach such great mysteries, to be very cautious and wary in their speech. Job touches with somewhat too bold a hand the deepest problems of the universe.
He leadeth counsellors away spoiled. The wise of the earth cannot resist or escape him; he frustrates their designs and overthrows them, and, as it were, leads them away captive. And maketh the judges fools; rather, and judges maketh he fools. There is no article, and no particular judges are referred to (comp. Isaiah 44:25).
He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle. This may either mean that God at his pleasure both looses kings from captivity, and also binds them with a cord and causes them to be carried away captive; or that he looses the authority which kings have over their subjects, and then lets them be carried away captive by their enemies. The latter is perhaps the more probable sense.
He leadeth princes away spoiled; rather, priests (כהנים), as in the Revised Version. This is the only mention of "priests" in the Book of Job, and a priest-caste, such as that of Egypt or of Israel, can scarcely be meant. The priests are placed among the mighty, on a par with kings (verse 18), princes (verse 21), and "the strong" (verse 21). This context makes us naturally think of those priest-kings whom we hear of in the olden times, such as were Melchizedek (Genesis 19:18-20) and Jethro (Exodus 3:1; Exodus 18:1-27), and the Egyptian kings of the twenty-first dynasty, and Ethbaal of Tyre, and Sethos, and others. Job's allusion is probably to persons of this exalted class, who no doubt were sometimes defeated and dragged into captivity, like other rulers and governors. And overthroweth the mighty. Schultens understands by ethanim (איחנים) "great teachers;" but the ordinary meaning of the word is "strong" or "mighty" (see Job 33:19; Micah 6:2).
He removeth away the speech of the trusty. God deprives trusted statesmen of their eloquence, destroys their reputation and their authority. And taketh away the understanding of the aged. He turns wise and aged men into fools and drivellers, weakening their judgments and reducing them to imbecility.
He poureth contempt upon princes; literally, upon the munificent. But the word has often the more generic sense of "princes," "great men" (see 1 Samuel 2:8; Proverbs 25:7, etc.). And weakeneth the strength of the mighty; literally, looseth the belt of the strong. But our version sufficiently expresses the meaning.
He discovereth deep things out of darkness. By "deep things" are probably meant the "deeply laid schemes" which wicked men concoct in darkness (or secrecy). These God often "discovers," or causes to be laid bare. English history can point to such a case in the discovery of the famous "Gunpowder Plot" in the second year of King James I. And bringeth out to light the shadow of death. There is nothing secret which God cannot, if he choose, reveal; nor is there anything hid which he cannot make known. Dark, murderous schemes, on which lies a shadow as of death, which men plan in secret, and keep hidden in their inmost thoughts, he can, and often does, cause to be brought to light and made manifest in the sight of all. Every such scheme, however carefully guarded and concealed, shall be one day made known (Matthew 10:26). Many are laid bare even in the lifetime of their devisers.
He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them. God's providence concerns itself, not only with the fate of individual men, bet also with that of nations. With Israel, his "peculiar people" (Deuteronomy 14:2), he especially concerned himself, but not with Israel only. Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Elam, Edom, Ammon, Moab, were likewise objects of his attention, of his guidance, of his chastening hand, of his avenging rod. Particular nations were consigned by God to the charge of particular angels (Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:20). At his pleasure he can "increase" nations by blessing them with extraordinary fecundity (Exodus 1:7-12), or "destroy" them by internal decay, by civil wars, or by the swords of their neighbours. He enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again; i.e. "enlarges their bounds, or diminishes them." In Western Asia, where Job lived, empires were continually starting up, growing and expanding, increasing to vast dimensions, and then after a while shrinking back again to their original narrow limits Egypt, Elam, Babylon, and the Hittite nation were eases in point.
He taketh away the heart of the chief of the people of the earth; rather. the chiefs of the people' or "the popular chief talus" (Lee). He deprives these "chiefs" of their wisdom or courage, or both, and thus brings down the nations under their governance. And causeth them to wander in a wilderness where there is no way; rather, in a chaos—one of the words used in Genesis 1:2 to describe the condition of the material universe before God had ordered and arranged it. The chieftains, deprived of their "heart," are so confused and perplexed that they do not know what to do, or which way to turn.
They grope in the dark without light (comp. Job 5:14 and Deuteronomy 28:29). And he maketh them to stagger like a drunken man; literally, to wander—to pursue a devious course instead of a straight one.
Job to Zophar: 1. The conduct of the friends criticized.
I. ARROGANT ASSUMPTION REPELLED.
1. With sarcastic admiration. "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you." Irony is a weapon difficult and dangerous to use, apt to wound the hand that wields it as well as the heart that feels it, and seldom becoming on the lips of any, least of all of good men. Admirably adapted to sting and lacerate, it rarely improves or conciliates those against whom it is directed. Yet, not being absolutely sinful, it may be employed with success against arrogant pretension and haughty assumption. Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:27), and St. Paul in his Epistles (Galatians 5:15; Philippians 3:2; 1 Corinthians 4:8), used satire with remarkable effect. Job also in the present instance may be held as justified in retorting on Zophar and his colleagues, whose conduct richly deserved castigation.
2. With vehement self-assertion. "But I have understanding [literally, 'a heart'] as well as you; I am not inferior to you [literally, 'I fall not beneath or behind you']." Modesty, which at all times becomes good men (Proverbs 30:3; Daniel 2:30; John 1:27; 2 Corinthians 3:5), and is specially enjoined upon God's people (Psalms 25:9; Isaiah 66:2; Micah 6:8), and Christ's followers (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 18:4; Romans 12:3; Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 5:5), need not prevent a frank self-assertion when one is, like Job, unjustly aspersed. It is sometimes false humility to sit with uncomplaining silence beneath the tongue of slander. Provided one indulge not in extravagant assertion, and assume not the credit of gifts and graces which have descended from above, a man may honestly and even boldly maintain his intellectual and moral worth, should these appear to be maliciously traduced. Job might have safely claimed to surpass his antagonists in mental capacity and acquaintance with the culture of the day, in ripe personal experience and ability to interpret the ways of God to man; but with much modesty he only aspires to be their equal, to have a heart (Anglice, a head, a brain) as well as they, and not to be the shallow-pated witling, or wild ass's colt, they insinuated.
3. With scornful contempt. "Yea, who knoweth not such things as these?" The sublime wisdom with which they sought to overwhelm him was the veriest commonplace; their much-paraded teaching but a string of threadbare maxims, "familiar in the mouth as household words," of which he himself could supply an endless series of examples, as beautiful and more correct—which he does in the present chapter. It is a just ground of complaint when old and hackneyed sentiments in morals or religion, science or philosophy, are served up with the air of, and made to do duty for, original discoveries. Yet it is proper to remember that truth once apprehended by the mind does not deteriorate, or become less valuable, by age. Besides, it is of more consequence that a doctrine should be true than that it should be new. Still, new truth, or, what is often mistaken for such, new aspects of old truths, possess a singular fascination for vigorous and independent minds.
II. UNKIND BEHAVIOUR RESENTED.
1. Its character described. "I am as one mocked of his neighbour;" "The just upright man is laughed to scorn." By serving up such trite platitudes as Job had listened to, they had simply been converting him and his calamities into a laughing-stock, because they saw him standing on the sharp edge of ruin, as a traveller might cast away "a despised lamp," of which he had no further need. To make a man the subject of laughter, the butt of ridicule, the object of scornful wit on account of either personal appearance (Genesis 21:9), bodily infirmity (2 Kings 2:23), providential adversity (Lamentations 2:15), or religious character (Psalms 42:3), is severely reprehended by the Word of God (Proverbs 3:34 :; Proverbs 17:5; Proverbs 30:17). Yet good men may expect to receive such treatment at the hands of worldly unbelievers and nominal professors, since the like was meted out to Christ (Matthew 26:67, Matthew 26:68; Matthew 27:27-31; Luke 23:35), David (Psalms 22:7; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 69:11, Psalms 69:12), and the apostles (Acts 2:13), to Old Testament saints (2 Chronicles 30:10; 1 Kings 22:24; Hebrews 11:36), and New Testament preachers (Acts 17:32) and disciples (Jud Job 1:18).
2. Its aggravations recited. These were twofold.
(1) Job, who had been subjected to this scornful laceration, had been
(a) a good man, personally just and upright, and therefore such a one as saints should not have ridiculed;
(b) one who had enjoyed confidential communications with Heaven—a man of prayer, who had called upon God and been answered by him—and therefore not a person to be lightly spoken of or to; and
(c) a miserable sufferer overtaken by adversity—one who was "ready to slip with his feet," and on that account all the more requiring to be comforted instead of scorned.
(2) They who had scorned him had been
(a) his neighbours, his friends, at whose hands he should rather have received pity (Job 6:14); and
(b) were themselves in the enjoyment of ease, which might have kindled in their flinty bosoms a spark of sympathy for his misfortunes.
3. Its extenuation stated. It was common. "Contempt for the weak, who totter and fall on slippery paths, is the habitual impulse of those who stand firmly on the firm ground of security, and see no reason why other men should not be as vigorous and 'resolute' and prosperous as themselves" (Cox). The world worships success; failure is its unpardonable sin. When fortune smiles upon a person he is known of all; when adversity engulfs him, he is forgotten by all (Job 8:18). Recall the language of Buckingham on his way to execution: "This from a dying man receive as certain," etc. ('King Henry VIII.,' Acts 2:0. sc; 1); and Mark Antony's address over Ceasar's dead body: "But yesterday," etc. (Julius Caesar,' Acts 3:0. sc. 2).
1. If adversity has its uses, prosperity has its dangers, being prone to engender self-conceit, arrogance, lack of sympathy, and contempt for others.
2. Wisdom is the noblest excellence of man; yet of wisdom no man enjoys a monopoly.
3. It is no disparagement to truth to be styled commonplace, since precisely as it becomes commonplace does it accomplish its mission.
4. As prayer will not always hinder persecution, so neither should persecution by either friends or foes be allowed to extinguish prayer.
5. Few faults of men are so completely bad that no sort of extenuation can be discovered for them.
Job to Zophar: 2. The dogma of the friends demolished.
I. BY THE FACTS OF EXPERIENCE.
1. The adverse fortunes of the good. Exemplified in Job's own case, which showed
(1) that a man might be upright and yet lull into misfortune;
(2) that a person enjoying confidential relations with Heaven, calling upon God and receiving answers, might sink so low in the mire of adversity as to become a scorn and a byword, and be regarded as a sort of infidel and outcast; and
(3) that the largest and heaviest portion of a good man's affliction might even come from the good themselves, from those who enjoyed the reputation at least of being religious, from his neighbours and friends, who were themselves sitting in the sunshine of prosperity. And the entire veracity of these deductions is abundantly confirmed by the concurrent testimony of all past ages, by the histories, e.g. of Abel, of Joseph, of David, of Christ; while it is sustained by the voice of all contemporary observation.
2. The prosperous fortunes of the bad. Apt illustrations were at hand in the seemingly unchanging success which waited on the footsteps of those marauding caterans with which Arabia Deserta was overrun.
(1) As to character, they were notoriously wicked, in fact, flagrantly immoral, outrageously ungodly. They were:
(a) Robbers of men, violent and rapacious plunderers, who put might for right, "men of the arm" (Job 22:8), acting on
"The good old rule, the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can;"
like the Nephilim and Gibborim of Noah's day, who deluged the world with immorality and violence (Genesis 6:4)
(b) Defiers of God, impudent and audacious sinners who openly and presumptuously trampled on Heaven's laws in order to obtain their unhallowed will, like the tower-builders of Babel (Genesis 11:4), like Pharaoh (Exodus 5:2), like Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:19-35), like wicked men generally, whose foolish tongues "talk loftily," and "set themselves against the heavens," and "walk through the earth" (Psalms 73:8, Psalms 73:9), and whose carnal minds, inflamed with enmity against God (Romans 8:7), conspire against the Lord and his Anointed (Psalms 2:2).
(c) Worshippers of the sword, who had no deity but the dagger which they carried in their bands, as the glutton has no god but his belly (Philippians 3:19); who, like Lamech, made ballads to their rapiers (Genesis 4:23); like Laban, regarded brute force as the supreme power of the world (Genesis 31:29); and like the ancient Chaldeans, took military strength for their god (Habakkuk 1:11).
(2) As to fortune' it was as widely removed from that of the virtuous and pious as it could welt be.
(a) Their tents were peaceful. That is, their habitations were tranquil, their families were united and numerous; their domestic felicity was deep (cf. Job 21:8-11; Psalms 17:14; Psalms 49:11).
(b) Their persons were secure. Calamity seldom, almost never, overtook them. Winds and hurricanes that desolated the righteous left them untouched (Psalms 73:4).
(c) Their baskets were full. Retaining the Authorized Version (Carey and others), we understand Job to have said that God brought to them abundantly with his own hand, as if he had taken them under his especial protection.
II. BY THE TEACHINGS OF THE CREATURES.
1. The teachers. The entire circle of animate and inanimate creation—everything on the earth, in the air, and in the sea. The natural and the supernatural, the visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual, the mundane and the heavenly, are in God's universe so indissolubly linked together, and so wisely adjusted to each other, that the one is a picture or reflection of the other, the earthly and material an emblem of the heavenly and spiritual. Hence all nature is full of subtle analogies to things and thoughts existing in the realms above it—the intellectual, the moral, the spiritual, the human, the celestial. Hence the wise student of nature may find
"Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."
('As You Like It,' Acts 2:0. sc. 1.)
Hence man is frequently counselled by Scripture writers to learn wisdom from the creatures. "Solomon sends us to the ant; Agur to the coney, the locust, the spider; Isaiah to the ox and the ass; Jeremiah to the stork, the turtle-dove, the crane, the swallow; and the heavenly Teacher himself to the fowls of the air" (Thomas). Of all teachers Christ stood indisputably first in interpreting the hidden thoughts of nature.
2. The teaching. While the creatures say much to man concerning God, his almighty power, unerring wisdom, unwearied goodness, and ever-watchful care; and concerning duty, reminding man that he, like them, should act in harmony with the laws of his nature, and in obedience to the will of his Creator (Psalms 148:7-13), they are here introduced as instructors on the subject of Divine providence. Among the lower creatures phenomena exist analogous to those above described as occurring in the higher world of men. How often is the harmless lamb devoured by the wolf, the kid by the panther, the gazelle by the tiger, the patient ass by the ferocious lion! Are not the eagle, the vulture, and the hawk but as rapacious robbers swooping down upon the dove the sparrow, and the robin? Can greater plunderers be found than the vast aquatic monsters, the whale, the shark, and the crocodile, which roam through the deep, striking terror among the lesser tribes that haunt the seas? And yet "who knoweth not in all these that the hand of Jehovah hath wrought this, in whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?" Well, if these things occur under God's government among the lower creatures, why, asks Job, might similar occurrences not transpire under the same government among men?
III. BY THE SAYINGS OF THE FATHERS.
1. The ground of their authority. The weight attached by Zophar, and indeed allowed by Job himself, to the maxims of antiquity, was derived from the fact that they were the concentrated wisdom of antecedent ages, which had been carefully elaborated by long-lived sages as the result of their individual and collective experience (vide homiletics on Job 8:8-22).
2. The limit of their authority. Granting that these sagacious apothegms and profound parables were fairly entitled to be heard, Job contended that they were not possessed of absolute authority. They were not to be accepted with unquestioning submission, but with wise and intelligent discrimination, the ear, and of course "the judgment which sits behind the ear," having been given to try words as the palate does food. And even at the best they were only human judgments, the thoughts of long-lived patriarchs, of much-observing as well as deep-reflecting sages, but not at all to be compared with the thoughts of him with whom is "wisdom and strength, counsel and understanding" (verse 13). They were, therefore, not to be accepted as final interpretations of the facts of providence, which were the concrete expressions of eternal Wisdom, as much as these traditional maxims were the abstract utterances of patriarchal wisdom. Man's thoughts never can be more than a finite projection, or contracted image, of God's. Hence the danger of setting man's thoughts in place of God's, investing confessions, catechisms, and symbolical books generally with the authority which belongs only to the supreme revelation of God's mind. Hence also the folly of attempting to crush the boundless realm of God's truth into the narrow dimensions of any formula, however beautiful or well-arranged, however strictly scientific or profoundly philosophic. The fundamental principles of all intelligent Protestantism may be summed up in two thoughts: man's formulas are not the exact measure of God's revelations; "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good."
3. The verdict of their authority. If rightly discriminated, the voice of patriarchal wisdom will be found to be on Job's side; in support of which assertion he proceeds, in the next section, to recite other sayings of antiquity, which certainly give countenance rather to his than to their view of God's providential government of the world and mankind. So perhaps it will be generally found that the best thoughts of men in all ages harmonize with the thoughts of God as expressed both in the Bible and in providence.
1. "He that is first in his own cause seemeth right; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him."
2. "A half-truth is sometimes as dangerous as a whole lie."
3. "In contemplation of created things, by steps we may ascend to God."
4. It is not true that "man is the measure of the universe."
5. "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in man's philosophy."
6. "That alone is true antiquity which embraces the antiquity of the world, and not that which would refer us back to a period when the world was young."
Job to Zophar: 3. The providence of God described.
I. As INFINITELY WISE AND POWERFUL. "With God is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding" (verse 13)—a sentiment repeated in verse 16. Of the two attributes here mentioned, the first is involved in his supreme Divinity; though in the connection Job seems to base it on his eternal existence, as if he meant to say, "You affirm that in length of days is understanding, and I grant it; but what then must be the wisdom of him who is eternal in his years?" The second, which is equally involved in the conception of Godhead, may here be said to rest upon the already stated fact that "in his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind" (verse 10). The Creator of the universe must be strong, and the Eternal Intelligence must be wise. Being, then, infinitely wise and powerful, the like qualities must appear in his handiwork. As the artist puts his conceptions into the painting which he executes, and the artificer directs attention to the work he has fashioned as a proof of his ability; so, reasons Job, will the providential government of God be seen, when thoroughly examined, to reflect the matchless wisdom of his omniscient mind, and attest the measureless force of his almighty hand.
II. AS ABSOLUTELY SOVEREIGN AND RESISTLESS. "Behold, he breaketh down, and it cannot be built again: he shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening" (verse 14). The first may allude to the destruction of the Tower of Babel, and the second to the confusion of tongues; though the reference may be more general, to such acts of destruction/and, by implication, of restoration) and of restraint (and again, by implication, of liberation) as attest his almighty power. Illustrations of the former may be found in the burning of Sodom by fire; the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Titus; the overthrow of Babylon and Nineveh; the engulfment of Herculaneum and Pompeii by volcanic agency; while the shutting up of men in prisons may be regarded as having been exemplified in Joseph (Genesis 37:24), Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:53; cf. Jeremiah 38:6), Jonah 1:17.
III. AS EXTENDING TO NATURE AND MAN.
1. To nature. "Behold, he withholdeth the waters, and they dry up: also he sendeth them out, and they overturn the earth" (Jonah 1:15). Perhaps exemplified in the first formation of the dry land (Genesis 1:9), and in the Deluge (Genesis 7:11); though more probably pointing to the Divine agency as the true cause of drought (1 Kings 17:1), and of floods or destructive inundations.
2. To man. "The deceived and the deceiver are his" (Jonah 1:16). Possibly alluding to himself and his companions (M. Good), though it is better to give the language a wider reference. Exemplified in Satan and man (Job 1:12; Revelation 20:3), the lying spirit and Ahab (1 Kings 22:22), antichrist and unbelievers (2 Thessalonians 2:11). The language forcibly expresses God's complete control over all classes of men.
IV. As CONTROLLING INDIVIDUALS AND COMMUNITIES.
(1) Civic riflers. "He leadeth counsellors away spoiled [literally, 'naked,' i.e. 'stripped of their official robes, and of their clothes and shoes as captives '], and maketh judges fools," destroying their power and degrading their position (cf. Isaiah 3:2, Isaiah 3:4; Isaiah 40:23; Isaiah 44:25). "He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle" or cord; meaning either he unbinds their prisoners, and makes them prisoners instead, or he unlooses the jewelled girdle of kings, the insignia of royalty, and ties their loins with the cords of servitude. Illustrations: Zedekiah, Napoleon, etc.
(2) Ecclesiastical officers. "He leadeth princes [literally, 'priests'] away spoiled [literal]y, 'stripped of their robes '], and overthroweth the mighty [or, 'the long established'—those of great and high repute for sanctity and wisdom, probably such priest-princes as Melchizedek and Jethro].'
(3) Eloquent senators. "He removeth away the speech [literally, 'the lip'] of the trusty, and taketh away the understanding of the aged" (verse 20). So he turned the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness (2 Samuel 15:31).
(4) Haughty nobles. "He poureth contempt upon princes, and weakeneth the strength of the mighty;" literally, "looseth the girdle of the strong" (verse 21). The girdle being the belt by which the garments were fastened prior to undertaking any violent exertion, the language expresses the idea that it is God's province either to impart or to withhold the strength requisite for any undertaking in which man may engage.
(5) Intriguing politicians. "He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death" (verse 22). While the language may with perfect propriety be applied to the power possessed by God of disclosing truths which lie beyond the reach of the human intellect, as e.g. those of revelation, or of bringing to light recondite discoveries in science and philosophy, which are ever wrapt in impenetrable darkness till he is pleased to unfold them, the connection seems to rather point to God's ability to read the secret thoughts and intentions of the human heart (Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 4:13), and in particular to detect and expose "the deep and desperate designs of traitors, conspirators, and other state villains" (Good); as those, e.g. of Absalom against David (2 Samuel 15:6), and Haman against the Jews (Esther 3:9), of Herod against Christ (Matthew 2:8), and of the Jews against Paul (Acts 23:21), as the Catiline conspiracy in Rome, and the Gunpowder Plot in England.
(1) National tendencies. The deep things out of darkness and the discovered death-shade may also allude to "the hidden bents and currents which slowly give shape to the character and functions of a nation or ever it is aware, or ever even its rulers are aware, of them; that stream of tendency running partly underground for a while, which silently carries us we know not whither, we know not how, and lands us in enterprises and modes of national activity alien and opposed to those towards which our subtlest politicians supposed they were guiding us" (Cox).
(2) National movements. "He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again" (verse 23). The original distribution of mankind into nations, and their dispersion over the face of earth, although effected in accordance with natural law, was directly the work of God (Genesis 10:1-32; Genesis 11:1-32.). So national increase and national diminution, national prosperity and national adversity, however these may seem to be the result of well-known and invariably operating causes, are traceable in the last analysis to the will and power of God (Psalms 22:28; Psalms 24:1; Psalms 47:2, Psalms 47:3; Isaiah 40:22, Isaiah 40:23; Daniel 4:17; Acts 17:26). He increased Israel in Egypt (Exodus 1:12), and diminished it in the wilderness (Numbers 14:29), advanced it to prosperity under David (2Sa 8:6, 2 Samuel 8:11, 2 Samuel 8:14), and gave it up to decay from the time of Rehoboam forward (1 Kings 12:24). He enlarged in turn Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome, and in turn straitened them. He has exalted Britain, America, Germany, but he has not deprived himself of power to bring them to the dust again.
(3) National leaders. "He taketh away the heart of the chief of the people of the earth, and causeth them to wander in a wilderness where there is no way," leaving them to their own foolish and distracted counsels, so that "they grope in the dark without light," and causing them "to wander in a wilderness where there is no way" (verses 24, 25). It is not in man that walketh, whether he be a statesman or a ploughman, to direct his steps aright. They that guide either themselves or others by the light of their own understanding are like travellers who follow an ignis fatuus to their destruction. Hence no politician can safely guide a state, unless God first guides him. A gigantic intellect, splendid eloquence, prolonged experience, the subtlest craft, the most careful deliberation, the rarest sobriety of judgment, will not suffice for political success (of the highest kind) without the help of Divine wisdom and strength. Even a Solomon, if deserted by God, will begin to play the fool, and a Samson to be weak as other men.
1. To recognize God's hand in the providential government of the world. Habitually to do so is no inconsiderable sign of a gracious heart.
2. Not to look for an exact distribution of rewards and punishments on earth. It is not included in the Divine programme that the justice of God's procedure here shall always be perceptible by those to whom it relates.
3. To rest assured notwithstanding that God doeth all things well "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
4. To reverently bow before the providential dispensations of him who reigns in heaven and rules on earth. Though his will is too absolute to be resisted, yet the choice of how we shall submit to that will has been placed in our hands.
5. To carry the thought of God's overruling providence with us into all the relations and duties of life. It is a great help to piety to recollect that God is near.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The resentment of a wounded spirit.
Repeated reproaches and accusations falling upon the conscience of an innocent man sting him into self-defence. They may do a service by rousing him out of stupor and weakness, and may bring to light the nobler qualities of his soul. We are indebted to the slanders of the Corinthians for some of the noblest self-revelations of St. Paul.
I. OUTBURST OF INDIGNANT SCORN. (Job 12:1-3.) With bitter irony Job rebukes the assumption of these men to know better than himself concerning matters which belonged to the common stock of intelligence, and in which he was in no wise inferior to them. To claim superior knowledge over others is always offensive. To do so against a sick and broken man from the vantage-ground of health and prosperity is nothing less than a cruelty. And to make this pretension in matters of common tradition and acceptance, where all stand about on a level, is an insult to the sufferer's understanding.
II. INDIGNANT REMONSTRANCE AGAINST THE COURSE OF THE WORLD. (Verses 4-6.)
1. Cruel inversions of life. Job, who in his just and innocent life, had hitherto stood in confidential relations with God, who had prayed and whose prayers had been heard, is now a butt for laughter and scorn. He calls now and God no longer hears (verse 4).
2. The injustice of human opinion. (Verse 5.) "Contempt belongs to misfortune, in the opinion of the secure." A true description of the opinion of the world. If "nothing succeeds like success; then nothing damns like failure in the common opinion of the unfeeling world. "It awaits those whose foot is slipping." As the herd of wolves turn upon the sick and fallen brute, so the thoughtless man tramples upon the man who is down. To those who are banded together by the tie of selfish pleasure only or convenience, the very sight of that which interferes for a moment with their content is hateful. How different the sanctified instincts of pity, compassion, and helpfulness which Christ has planted in his society, the Church! It is the mission of the Christian community to leaven with its principles the heartless mass of society. On the other hand, nothing succeeds like success; "restful dwellings" (verse 6) and confident security are enjoyed by the wasters or desolators who by word and deed hold God in contempt, and think to make him bend to their purposes. The rude man of violence, who owns no law but that of the strong hand, thinks that where force is there is God, and all must bow to force as if to God. So he "taketh God in his hand;" he "imputes his power unto his god;" he sacrifices to his net, and burns incense unto his drag (Habakkuk 1:11, Habakkuk 1:16). His motto is like that of the impious warrior, "My right hand is god" (Virg; 'AEn.' 10.773, "Dextra mihi deus").—J.
The wisdom and tile power of God a truth universally known.
It is not the peculiar possession of those fancied wise friends. It is a truth impressed on all nature and on the experience of man.
I. APPEAL TO THE LIVING CREATURES. (Job 12:7-10.) The beasts, the birds of the air, the earth with all its living growths, the creatures of the sea,—all bear traces of his skill, all receive from him their life and sustenance, all are subject to his omnipresent power (comp. Psalms 104:26-30).
II. APPEAL TO THE EXPERIENCE OF AGE. As the palate tries and discriminates between the different dishes on the table, so does the ear try the various opinions to which it listens, and selects the best, the ripest, as its guide (Job 12:11). Long life means large experience, and largo experience gives the criterion of truth and the guide of life. Yet experience is but the book of common experiences. It fails us when we have to deal with the peculiar and the exceptional, which is the present situation of Job (verse 12).
III. ELOQUENT DESCRIPTION OF THE POWER AND WISDOM OF GOD. (Verses 13-25.) Here Job rivals and surpasses his friends. With repeated blows, as of the hammer on the anvil, he impresses the truth that the might and intelligence of the Supreme are irresistible, and before him all human craft and power must be reduced to impotence. The power and the wisdom of God alternately occupy his thought, appear and reappear in a variety of images.—J.
Job 12:13-15, Job 12:18-21, Job 12:23-25
Images of the irresistible power of God.
I. THE WALL, OR HOUSE, OR CITY THUS DEMOLISHED CANNOT BE BUILT UP AGAIN. (Job 12:14.) Swept with the besom of destruction, it becomes the possession of the bittern and pools of water (Isaiah 14:23). The ruined walls of Babylon and her charred gates defy the weary toil of the people (Jeremiah 51:58); she sinks, and shall not rise from the evil that Jehovah will bring upon her (Jeremiah 51:64). Men may build, but he will throw down (Malachi 1:4).
II. THE PRISON-DOORS WHICH HE SHUTS NO MAN CAN OPEN. (Job 12:14.) He hath the key of David (Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7). Vain all human bravery when the Lord hath determined to "deliver a man into the hand of his enemy" (1 Samuel 26:8). Yet there is a merciful aspect of this seeming harsh truth, as pointed out by St. Paul: "He hath shut them all up in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all" (Romans 11:32).
III. THE DRYING UP AND SENDING OF FLOODS. (Job 12:15.) As illustrated in the ancient story of Genesis 6:1-22. and 8; and of the drought in Elijah's time (1 Kings 17:1-24.). He shuts the heaven (1 Kings 8:35), arid he alone can give showers (Jeremiah 14:22).
IV. THE SUBJUGATION OF EARTHLY KINGS. (Genesis 6:18.) As illustrated in the carrying of Manasseh captive to Babylon (2 Chronicles 23:1-21.), and of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 52:1-34.). The thought is repeated in verse 21, and further illustrations may be drawn from the cases of Pharaoh, of Saul, of Ahab.
V. THE DEPRIVATION OF SPEECH AND WISDOM. (Verse 20.) Men's sagacity is turned to folly; their prudence is vain when it pleases him to put forth his power (comp. Isaiah 3:1-3). So in verse 24, where we are reminded of the striking judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:1-37.).
VI. THE INCREASE AND DESTRUCTION OF NATIONS. (Verse 23.) The rise and fall of empires and peoples is determined by constant laws. Obedience to law means increase and prosperity; violation of law, decay and ruin.
VII. CONFUSION AND BEWILDERMENT are evidences of the practical power of God (verses 24, 25). Chaos, wandering, darkness, helpless vacillation, fall upon men and nations from time to time, because they have been unfaithful to the true light and the Divine leading.—J.
Job 12:16, Job 12:17, Job 12:22
Instances of the overruling wisdom of God.
I. THE DECEIVER AND THE DECEIVED ARE HIS. (Job 12:16.) He can cause the spirit of the faithless prophet to be a lying spirit (1 Kings 22:1-53.), to be deceived in his oracles, and incur destruction (Ezekiel 14:9).
II. So THE JUDGES ARE MADE FOOLS. (Job 12:17.) In short, God hath made from time to time the wisdom of this world foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:1-31.), that no flesh might glory in his presence.
III. HE BRINGS NEW DISCOVERIES OF TRUTH TO LIGHT. (Job 12:22.) This is the revelation of God in history, and its page is full of illustrations. The calling of Abraham; the raising up of Moses; the deliverance of Israel; the elevation of David, the "rod out of his stem'" the lowly Messiah; the progress of the gospel and triumph over the wisdom of Greece and pride of Rome; the beginnings of the Reformation,—are but a few of the salient points in this providential history of the world.
The whole description is fitted to teach:
(1) Humility in the sense of the feebleness of our power, the inferiority of our knowledge in presence of the power and wisdom of God.
(2) Reverence in the study of history and the observation of nature.
(3) Watchful and confident expectation of changes in the course of providence, by which iniquity will be overturned, the rule of falsehood be brought to an end, and the Divine kingdom be advanced in the world.—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
Contempt the lot of misfortune.
Job is driven to retort. He affirms his own competency to speak. He claims equality with his would-be teachers, whose words are yet far from healing or comforting his sorely afflicted heart. "I have understanding as well as you." But to him belongs the contempt which is the lot of misfortune. Sad is the story told in a sentence here, but repeated in every day's history and in every land and every age. The selfish heart, rising to a higher level of prosperity, looks down, and looks contemptuously down, on him over whom Misfortune casts her dark shade. "The just upright man is laughed to scorn." Note the truth of this, its wrong and its remedy.
I. UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE TESTIFIES TO THIS—THAT CONTEMPT IS THE LOT OF MISFORTUNE. The testimony comes up from a thousand sufferers towards whom fortune has shown no favour. The wounds may be deep, the pangs of sorrow keen; dark desolation may encompass; but the joyful, the well-to-do, on whom the smile of prosperity rests, become incompetent to descend to the lowly lot. On such the tale of woe makes little impression. There is a sad, if not even natural, revulsion from the mere sight of suffering, and the step is easy from this to the bitter, scathing complaint, "Ah! he brought it all upon himself!' From Job's days downward the same has been ever seen. Prosperity seems to blind the eyes, to harden the heart, to withdraw the sympathies even from the friend overtaken in misfortune. It is an interruption to ease and felicity, to quiet and comfort. And Well-to-do resists as impertinent the appeals of the victim of misfortune; or, as here, takes up an accusation against him, and treats him as an offender. Everywhere the truth of this is seen. "He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thoughts of him that is at ease;"
II. IT IS NOT MORE GENERAL THAN IT IS WRONG. It is unworthy, unbrotherly, unneighbourlike. The great Teacher hit the evil with his hard words, and exposed for ever to the gaze of men the self-sufficiency of the prosperous one and his carelessness as to the condition of the sufferer. He passes by on the other side, indisposed to help the poor wretch lying in his blood, stript and sore. Pride fills the heart to overflowing that is well-nigh full of treasure. There is little room in it for sympathy and pity, and the tender communion of sorrow. He who is lifted up does not feel that the lot of him who is trodden down is any affair of his. He cannot be hindered on his way. Shame upon the heart that is so far forgetful of the common interest that it leaves the needy and sad, and finds itself absorbed in its own comfort! The curl of contempt upon the lip and the hard word upon the tongue—Job fathomed this depth, and in the bitterness of his soul rebukes the wrong.
III. WE TURN TO OTHER WORDS FOR THE CORRECTION OF THIS ERROR. True, Job by his irony accuses his severe friends, who transport themselves into accusers. In their hard words he traces the contempt of which he complains, and takes his lot with others who suffer like himself. He is not unmindful of the true Source of help. He is one who "calleth upon God." lie retains his integrity, and the consciousness of it gives him support even under this trouble. "The just upright man is laughed to scorn." But the assurance of his uprightness is a deep consolation. Here, then, are the true sources of help. The tested faith in God will find its reward, and the testimony of a good conscience is of price untold. By these Job is upheld, and by that strength which is secretly imparted to all faithful ones who call upon God, though it may seem as though they were abandoned and forgotten. If the "neighbour" mocketh, the righteous Judge does not mock; and though the trial is permitted and continued, a Divine and gracious end is reserved which Job lived fully to prove.—R.G.
The testimony of the creature to the Divine government.
Job again vindicates himself in presence of his accusing friends. He professes his knowledge to be as theirs, and he even points them to the lower animals to find wisdom from them. The very beasts of the earth, the fowls of the air, the fruitful field, the fishes in the deep, all tell the great truth—Jehovah reigns supreme. "In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind;" all proclaim the Almighty, all speak of the Ever-living One in whom all live. This testimony is witnessed—
I. IN THE CONSCIOUS LIFE OF EVERY CREATURE. Even man, at the head of all, is conscious of the dependence of his life upon some power higher than himself. There is one Lord of life, Author of all life, Supporter of all. Every individual life declares "the hand of the Lord hath wrought this." In his hand alone is "the soul "—the life "of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind." He is the Creator and Preserver of every life.
II. IN THE INFINITE VARIETY OF LIFE. What an unlimited variety do we behold! The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the fish of the sea, abound in a wide diversity of life. All speak of the infinite Creator, in whom are the possibilities of infinite life; who, of his own infinite resources, has created and made the whole. That the species vary according to the encircling conditions of their life does not detract from their testimony to the infinite and supreme Power. For the very existence of every life speaks of that Power. How great is he whose creative skill reveals itself in this unlimited variety!
III. NOT LESS TESTIMONY IS BORNE BY THE CONTINUOUS REPRODUCTION OF THE VAST VARIETIES. That age after age this power continues to bring forth, each after its own kind, is another testimony to the greatness of him "in whose hand is the soul of every living thing." The creation and preservation of the many species age after age speaks to the thoughtful mind of him who is the one Lord of all life, who by his omnipotent overruling preserves all in their order and in their continuance.
IV. BUT IN THE MARVELLOUS STRUCTURE OF THEIR BODIES ANOTHER TESTIMONY IS BORNE. How delicate are the organs of the body—the powers of sight, of hearing, of activity; the strength of one, the delicacy of the structure of another! How wonderful are the nerves of the body, conveying the impression from the outer world to the brain! Equally so the blood-vessels, and the hidden powers by which the bones are built up, and again the powers of nutrition gathering food from without and assimilating it to the body in all its parts. This is done without the knowledge and consent of the creature; for the creature, even man, knows not how it is done. it is above him; it speaks definitely and distinctly and loudly of God, "in whose hand is the breath of all mankind."
V. YET A FURTHER TESTIMONY IS TO BE SEEN IN THE ABUNDANT PROVISION MADE FOR THE SUSTENANCE OF ALL. Notwithstanding the vastness of the realm in which creature-life is found, and the variety of the forms of life, each having its own peculiar needs, yet he "satisfieth the desire of every living thing," Food is abundant for man and beast, and of the fowls of the air it is truly said, "he feedeth them." So the Divine work is seen on every side; and from all the varieties of conscious life one testimony arises to the great truth, "The Lord reigneth." On every work the truth lies clearly impressed, "The hand of Jehovah made this."—R.G.
The Devine supremacy illustrated.
Bildad appeals to "the ancients." Job replies, "I also know their teaching." But there is a wisdom higher than that of the ancients. Wisdom—unfailing wisdom—is a Divine attribute. From the earthly to the heavenly wisdom Job turns. He speaks of a higher and a mightier One—One "with whom is strength and wisdom," by which he rules. The supremacy of that Divine rule he illustrates from a very wide field of survey. He points to the evidences of the Divine almightiness—
I. IN THE CONTRASTED POWERLESSNESS OF THE HUMAN OPPOSITION TO THE DIVINE WILL. (Verse 14.)
II. IN THE CONTROL OF THE MIGHTY ELEMENTS OF NATURE. The very "waters" obey his behest (verse 15).
III. IN COMPELLING EVEN THOSE THAT ERR AND THOSE THAT DECEIVE TO BE SUBSERVIENT TO HIS WILL AND PURPOSE. (Verse 16.)
IV. IN CONFOUNDING THE WISDOM OF THE WISE. Leading "counsellors away spoiled," and bringing down the judge to the level of the fool (verse 17).
V. IN HUMBLING KINGS AND PRIESTS AND MIGHTY MEN. (Verses 18, 19.)
VI. IN RESTRAINING THE SPEECH OF THE ELOQUENT AND ROBBING THE AGED OF THEIR UNDERSTANDING. (Verse 20.)
VII. IN CASTING CONTEMPT UPON THE HONOURABLE, AND MAKING THE STRONG TO TOTTER WITH WEAKNESS. (Verse 21.) He giveth or taketh away wisdom and might as it pleaseth him, proving that he is wise and mighty above all; for these are his gifts to the children of men that have them.
VIII. HE FURTHER SHOWS THAT THE HIDDEN THINGS OF DARKNESS ARE OPEN TO HIS VIEW. He discovereth the secret works of evil. Even the thick shadow of death cannot hide from him (verse 22).
IX. NATIONAL HISTORY IS EQUALLY UNDER HIS CONTROL. His power is over the nations; he enlarges or straitens as he pleases. He scatters or gathers as he will (verse 23).
X. THE VERY CHIEFEST AMONG ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH ABE SUBJECT TO HIS SOVEREIGN SWAY. It is a little thing for him to remove the light of reason from them, confounding and Confusing them, and casting them into darkness and gloom. Elsewhere we learn why and when the Almighty deals thus with men. Job's purpose is to show that man is as nothing before him. In his highest honour, in his utmost wisdom, in his greatest strength, he cannot Contend with Jehovah. Over the individual life in all its various conditions, over the Combined lives of men in their national or political combinations, he is still supreme. And over the heavens and the earth he is Lord—even over all. This is Job's faith and his declaration. He can proclaim the supreme and absolute majesty of Jehovah as truly, and even more strikingly than his friends.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
I. IRONY IS TO BE FOUND IN SCRIPTURE. There is great variety in the style of Scripture. Almost every modification of language is to be found in the Bible, consecrated to some holy purpose. Even the faculty of humour is utilized, as in the incident of Balaam's ass (Numbers 22:28-30), and in St. Paul's recommendation that the woman who will not wear a veil had better complete the exposure of her head by being shorn (1 Corinthians 11:6). The prophets abound in irony. Christ used irony in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-20).
II. THERE IS A PLACE FOR IRONY IN DISCOURSE. Some evils can be best met just by being exposed. Now, irony is a method of showing a thing in an unexpected light, so that, while admitting all its claims, we make it apparent that those very claims are absurd. Slight failings will be best castigated with simple ridicule; more serious ones, if they are not great sins, with grave irony.
III. PRETENTIOUSNESS ESPECIALLY PROVOKES IRONY. Each of Job's three friends has now spoken. Though they were not alike in attainments nor in natural dispositions, they agreed in their dogmas and in their judgment of Job. A tone of conscious superiority and irritating censoriousness rings through all their speeches. This not only vexes Job; it prompts an ironical retaliation. It is dangerous to make grand pretensions. Humility is a great security, and when humility is lost, we lay ourselves open to attack on the ground of our assumptions. Pretentiousness does not only thus provoke ironical replies; it best meets its merited castigation by these replies, which humilitate it in a most unanswerable manner.
IV. IRONY IS A DANGEROUS WEAPON FOR A CHRISTIAN TO WIELD. It may be a lawful weapon- There are times when it can be used in the cause of righteousness with tremendous effect. But there is great danger lest the employment of it should destroy "the greatest thing in the world"—love. There is always a tendency to push it too far, and to go beyond wholesome rebuke in the direction of cruel scorn. This is distinctly unchristian. Moreover, as Job's friends did not understand him, possibly he did not understand them. If so, his irony may have been too severe for justice. We should be careful that we are in no error before we venture to use irony against our brother. Even then, zeal for righteousness should be tempered by brotherly kindness.
V. GOD DISPLAYS IRONY IN PROVIDENCE. The Greek tragedians saw irony in fate. Man's greatness was shown to be a very small thing, and his boasted success a mere bubble. The old classical idea was dark and hard, for it did not take into account the Fatherhood of God. But within God's infinite purpose of love there is room for irony. By the slow unrolling of the course of events, the boasting of the pretentious ends in confusion. God humbles his creatures in their pride and vanity, giving them sudden falls, by means of which they cannot but feel their helplessness and littleness. The monarch is choked by a fly. Such things are not done vindictively, or in scorn; but because we are mined by boasting and saved in our humiliation. Thus the ugly weapon of irony may prepare us for the healing grace of the gospel.—W.F.A.
Contempt for the unfortunate.
Like Jesus, when he prayed for his murderers, with the plea that they knew not what they were doing (Luke 23:34), though in much less perfect magnanimity, Job sees some excuse for the conduct of his censors. He finds that conduct to be an instance of a common rule of action, viz. that the prosperous despise the unfortunate.
I. WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE TROUBLE WE DO NOT SHARE. Job's vast woe was quite beyond the comprehension of his would-be sympathizers. They thought that they had fathomed its depths, and that they were in a position to adjudicate upon its merits. But they had scarcely skimmed its surface. They did not know what Job suffered; much less did they see why God had permitted him to be thus afflicted. The happy look flora their sunny homes on the dark abodes of misery, but they cannot understand the sorrows they have never tasted. They who have always had their wants satisfied simply do not know what hunger and thirst are. The unbroken family cannot conceive of the agony of bereavement
II. WE ARE TEMPTED TO DESPISE THE TROUBLE WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND. As We have not the faculty to dive into its mystery, it seems to us a shallow thing. Therefore, when the sufferers appear to make much of it, we are inclined to think that they are exaggerating it; that they are giving way to it in a cowardly weakness; that they are indecently demonstrative or even shamming hypocritically. The rich are too often ready to regard the very poor as whining impostors. They who have never felt the pangs of conscience look with contempt on the penitent's tears.
III. WE MAY USE OUR OWN TROUBLE AS A MEANS OF STIMULATING OUR SYMPATHY WITH THE TROUBLES OF OTHERS. Possibly this is one reason why it is sent to us. We have been too narrow and selfish in our view of it, thinking it must be confined to some effect directly and solely beneficial to ourselves. But it may be largely intended to prepare us for our work in helping others in trouble. The widow can sympathize with the widow; the poor show most kindness to the poor. The experience of the prostration of a great illness enables a person to understand and help sick people. Thus sorrow is a talent to be used for the good of others, by being invested in sympathy.
IV. THE SORROWS OF CHRIST HELPED TO MAKE HIM A PERFECT SAVIOUR. If Christ understands anything, it is sorrow; for was he not "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief"? Therefore the sufferer who is despised by his prosperous brethren can turn with assurance of sympathy to the Saviour of men. Christ not only understands sorrow, he knows how to use it. He converted his cross into a lever for raising a fallen world. He will help his suffering disciples to despise their own sorrows while sympathizing with the sorrows of others. Strong in his victory over sin, sorrow, and death, Christ for ever sanctifies suffering. While the superficial may despise it, true Christians can now see in it a means of heavenly grace.—W.F.A.
Lessons of nature.
I. NATURE REBUKES MAN'S IGNORANCE. Job refers his friends to nature in a tone of reproach. They ought to have known what nature was proclaiming. There are two grounds for this rebuke.
1. The wealth and fulness of nature's testimony to her Creator. Go where one may, nature is ready to speak for God. The beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the creeping things on the ground, the fishes of the sea, all speak for the power and wisdom of their Maker. There is variety in this grand utterance of nature, yet there is unity. Many creatures, of diverse sorts, concur to bear witness to the same great truths. If we cannot understand the beasts, the birds may teach us; if the insects are an enigma, the fishes may instruct us. Though all these different voices of nature may not be sounding in our ears as once, we cannot be long out of the reach of some of them. Therefore—
"In contemplation of created things
By stops we may ascend to God."
2. The greater intelligence of man. "But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee"—as though those dull brutes knew what man had missed discovering. So the lord of creation is sent to be a pupil of his humblest subjects. Of course, to be prosaically accurate, it must be said that the beasts do not understand the lessons they teach; that only man can know God, and that the testimony of nature is unconscious. Still, the higher faculty of man makes it a shame that he should not know what nature is teaching in so many ways all around him.
II. NATURE REVEALS GOD'S PRESENCE.
1. By its constitution. The very variety of the creation bespeaks the mind and power of the Creator. For this variety is not confused, but orderly. There must be a sameness about the very disorder of chaos which is not seen in the cosmos. The various species of living creatures keep their several places in the scale of creation, fulfil their distinctive destinies and perform their separate functions. There is mind and purpose in the very variety of nature.
2. By its life. Nature is not a huge mosaic. If its variegated picture were motionless and changeless, we could not but admire the infinite skill with which it had been put together. The exhibition of stuffed specimens of dead animals in a natural history museum gives us abundant proof of the skill of the Creator. But the fields show us what no museum can reveal. In the great world of nature all is life and movement. Thus we have not the relics of an ancient Divine activity of God, like fossils of extinct animals, but the creatures in the very flush of life. And this life must be constantly maintained. Then by its very continuance it proclaims the presence of God. He is in nature, energizing in it every moment. In his hand is the soul of every living creature.
3. By its human connections. Man shares in the common life of nature. The hand that holds the soul of every living thing holds the breath of all mankind. "In him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Therefore we have not only to lock around us on the animal creation. If we do but consider our own existence, we have daily evidence of the presence of God. The testimony of creation is designed to remind us of our own dependence on God. It is especially a good corrective of the subjective notions of a visionary. Job answers Eliphaz and his awful vision most aptly by appealing to the great living voice of nature.—W.F.A.
Job seems to mean that, as the mouth detects differences of taste, so the ear discerns distinctions of words. We do not eat all that we taste. We can reject the nauseous and select the palatable. In the same way we do not accept and believe all that we hear. We can discriminate between the sayings that come to us. Bildad in particular has been attempting to settle the question of providence by appealing to the traditions of antiquity. Job shows that he can make the same appeal to another series of proverbs, and the result will be very different. Tradition is not unanimous. It is not reasonable, therefore, to take all that comes to hand from it as infallible truth. We must examine and test it, selecting what is wise, rejecting what is erroneous.
I. DISCRIMINATION IS NEEDED. Note why.
1. Many voices claim a hearing. We are not left to a monotone of advice. A very Babel of tongues assails us. We are besieged on all sides by claimants for our belief. We live under a perfect rain of rival notions. Every theory pretends to be absolute truth; yet each novel theory gives the lie to its predecessor. In religion this is very painfully apparent. Not only do the great historic religions of the world compete for supremacy, but Christianity itself speaks to us in many voices. What are we to believe amid the conflict of the sects and parties, some urging to extreme sacerdotalism, others to evangelicalism; some contending for the ancient creeds, others favouring new lights? We must use discrimination, for it is childish folly to give our assent to the first voice that chances to attract our attention.
2. It is important to accept the purest truth. Truth is the food of the soul. We dare not play with its ideas in dilettante indifference. To be deluded is to be ensnared. We suffer by feeding on error. As we must distinguish between wholesome and unwholesome diet if we would be in bodily health, so we must distinguish between truth and error if we would be in spiritual health. There are even deadly poisons which look beautiful They must be detected and rejected if our souls are not to be killed.
II. DISCRIMINATION IS POSSIBLE.
1. We have a natural faculty of judgment. Job claimed to possess this, and he compared it with the natural discriminating ability of the palate. Our minds were made by God for use. If we weakly and indolently fail to employ them, and so become the slaves of any unscrupulous deceiver, we have only ourselves to blame for our ruinous error. While we have to walk by faith, we need first to use our reason in order to be assured of a good ground of faith. To deny the possibility of doing so is to play into the hands of the ultramontane Roman Catholics.
2. Our judgment can be enlightened by the Holy Spirit. We must be aware that we often err. The palate is not an infallible guide, for what is pleasant to the taste may be most unwholesome. There are sweet poisons. How shall we be able to avoid attractive errors? This question is most important, because our taste has been depraved; a vicious appetite has perverted the natural faculty of discrimination. But Christ has provided for the difficulty by promising the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Let us but be sure we are humbly depending on the Spirit of God, and we cannot err fatally—W.F.A.
The wisdom and might of God.
Job meets his friend's authoritative utterances of proverbs and worldly maxims by a citation of similar sayings, but with a different import. It is not true that the righteous always prosper, and that the wicked always suffer. Such a primitive notion implies too anthropocentric a conception of the universe; it goes on the assumption that all things are done just to suit our condition and conduct. Now, Job takes a higher and wider view. He appeals to sayings that speak of the supreme wisdom and irresistible might of God, altogether irrespective of man and his concerns.
I. GOD'S WISDOM AND MIGHT ARE OVER ALL. We cannot fathom his thought; we cannot resist his arm. He will do what he thinks best whether we concur or not. The universe is under an irresistible Ruler. It is possible for us to question what God does, but we cannot answer him. We may rebel against his authority, but we cannot overthrow it. Therefore we should escape from our petty parochialism, and consider God's large world and universal rule, before we attempt to form any theory of life.
II. GOD'S SUPREME WISDOM AND MIGHT CONCERN OTHER INTERESTS THAN THOSE OF MAN. Our narrow views of God's government lead to false opinions about his action. We are tempted to fancy that all he does is solely with a view to its effect on ourselves. Thus we colour the universe with our egotism. But the Lord of all must have vast interests to consider of which we know nothing. What looks foolish to us because we cannot see the end in view—an end often quite outside ourselves, would appear in a very different light if we knew all God's far-reaching designs.
III. GOD'S WISDOM AND MIGHT ARE BOTH IN HARMONY WITH HIS GOODNESS. This is not so apparent in Job's representation of the Divine action as it must be to a Christian. The patriarch has fallen into the error of a one-sided view in combatting the narrow and erroneous opinion of his friends, and he has come to represent God too much as the irresponsible Oriental autocrat, whose only law is his will, but whose will may follow mere caprice, and may be free from all considerations of justice. Job would not say as much of God, but his description leans in this direction. Now, we know that the most supreme thing in God is not his might, nor is it his wisdom; it is his love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:9). Therefore, although we cannot understand his large purpose, that must be a good one. We see God in his irresistible might casting down kings and princes, leading clever people into scenes of bewilderment, apparently playing with all sorts of men as mere pawns. But this is only because we are short-sighted. The large purposes which include other worlds than ours do not exclude our world. God does not brush man aside as a nonentity when he goes forth to achieve his vast designs. One of God's greatest purposes is the redemption of man by the gift of his own Son (John 3:16).—W.F.A.
Deep things out of darkness.
I. HOW GOD DISCOVERS DEEP THINGS OUT OF DARKNESS. He has means of knowledge which are sealed to us, a key which unlocks the most secret chamber, an eye that can see down to the most hidden depths. He sees the skeleton in the cupboard. The mask of the hypocrite can never deceive him.
1. God sees inwardly. Man looks on the outward countenance, God on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). His indwelling Spirit sees as far as it influences, and it influences the inmost springs of our being.
2. God sees immediately. This results from his inward vision. We have to infer and draw conclusions by means of a chain of reasoning. God can dispense with this process. He sees everything; his knowledge is direct and intuitive.
3. God sees everywhere. Our vision is limited to a certain area. Even when we stand on the top of a mountain and endeavour to take in a great panorama of scenery, we can only look attentively at one part of the prospect at a time. But God's infinite gaze takes in all the facts of the universe at once.
II. WHAT DEEP THINGS GOD BRINGS TO LIGHT.
1. He discovers hidden sin. The nefarious design of the unscrupulous statesman concocted within the locked doors of the council-chamber, the dark plot of the little band of desperate conspirators, the ugly scheme of the robber horde, the fell purpose of the betrayer, are all quite known to God from the moment when the first black thoughts entered the minds of their originators. The sin which has once been committed is all known to God, though it may have been hushed up and kept from the observation of men. In the great day of judgment God will bring it to light.
2. He discovers hidden goodness. All that God brings out of its secret hiding-place is not evil. There are hidden treasures. Miners bring up precious minerals from the dark interior of the earth. The voyage of the Challenger was a means of bringing to light many wonderful works of God from the dim depths of the sea. God observes all hidden worth.
"The violet born to blush unseen"
is perfectly well known to him. He also understands the innocence that is cruelly misjudged and condemned as guilt by men. Some day he will bring that to light, and vindicate the cause of every true martyr.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES THAT RESULT FROM GOD'S DISCOVERY OF THE DEEP THINGS OF DARKNESS: He will rectify all wrong. He will give righteous judgments. The dark creatures of sin that are brought to light cannot be left out in the full blaze of the sun to befool the day with their obscenity. As we stamp on the unclean things that creep out of dark places when they are suddenly disturbed and crush them, so God must destroy the wicked when their evil is brought to light. The revelation can only be preliminary to the condemnation. Meanwhile the delusion which leads men to harbour their sin is fatal. Whatever excuse covers it is a lie.
"For love of grace,
Lay not that flattering unction to your soul;
It will but skin and film the ulcerous place;
Whiles rank corruption, mining all within, Infects unseen."
On the other hand, the ultimate vindication of the right is a grand encouragement to "patient perseverance in well-doing."—W.F.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19