Consider helping today!
The "Historical Introduction" ended, we come upon a long colloquy, in which the several dramatis personae speak for themselves, the writer, or compiler, only prefacing each speech with a very few necessary words. The speeches are, one and all of them, metrical; and are well represented in the Revised Version. The first colloquy extends from Job 3:1-26 to Job 14:22.
After this opened Job his mouth. The first to take the word is Job, as, indeed, etiquette made necessary, when the visit paid was one of condolence. It can only be conjectured what the feelings were which had kept him silent so long. We may, perhaps, suggest that in the countenances and manner of his friends he saw something which displeased him, something indicative of their belief that he had brought his afflictions upon himself by secret sins of a heinous character. Pharisaism finds it very difficult to conceal itself; signs of it are almost sure to escape; often it manifests itself, without a word spoken, most offensively. The phrase, "opened his mouth," is not to be dismissed merely as a Hebraism. It is one used only on solemn occasions, and implies the utterance of deep thoughts, well considered beforehand (Psalms 78:21; Matthew 5:2), or of feelings long repressed, and now at length allowed expression. And cursed his day; "cursed," i.e; the "day of his birth." Some critics think that "cursed" is too strong a word, and suggest "reviled;" but it cannot be denied that "to curse" is a frequent meaning of קָלל and it is difficult to see in Job's words (verses 3-10) anything but a "curse" of a very intense character. To curse one's natal day is not, perhaps, a very wise act, since it can have no effect on the day or on anything else; but so great a prophet as Jeremiah imitated Job in this respect (Jeremiah 20:14-18), so that before Christianity it would seem that men were allowed thus to relieve their feelings. All that such cursing means is that one wishes one had never been born.
Job 3:2, Job 3:3
And Job spake, and said, Let the day perish wherein I was born. An idle wish, doubtless; the vague utterance of extreme despair. Days cannot perish, or, at any rate, one day cannot perish more than another. They all come, and then are gone; but no day can perish out of the year, which will always have its full complement of three hundred and sixty-five days till time shall be no more. But extreme despair does not reason. It simply gives utterance to the thoughts and wishes as they arise. Job knew that many of his thoughts were vain and foolish, and confesses it further on (see Job 6:3). And the night in which it was said; rather, which said. Day and night are, both of them, personified, as in Psalms 19:2. There is a man child conceived. A man child was always regarded in the ancient world as a special blessing, since thus the family was maintained in being. A girl passed into another family.
Let that day be darkness; i.e. let a cloud rest upon it—let it be regarded as a day of ill omen, "carbone notandus." Job recognizes that his wish, that the day should perish utterly, is vain, and limits himself now to the possible. Let not God regard it from above; i.e. let not God, from the heaven where he dwells, extend to it his protection and superintending care. Neither let the light shine upon it. Pleonastic, but having the sort of force which belongs to reiteration.
Let darkness and the shadow of death. "The shadow of death" (צלמות) is a favourite expression in the Book of Job, where it occurs no fewer than nine times. Elsewhere it is rare, except in the Psalms, where it occurs four times. It is thought to be an archaic word. Stain it; rather, claim it, or claim it for their own (Revised Version). Let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. The hot, stifling "blackness" of the khamsin wind is probably meant, which suddenly turns the day into night, spreading all around a thick lurid darkness. When such a wind arises, we are told, "The sky instantly becomes black and heavy; the sun loses its splendour, and appears of a dim violet hue; a light, warm breeze is felt, which gradually increases in heat till it almost equals that of an oven. Though no vapour darkens the air, it becomes so grey and thick with the floating clouds of impalpable sand, that it is sometimes necessary to use candles at noonday".
As for that night. The night, that is, of Job's conception (see above, verse 3). Let darkness seize upon it. The Revised Version has thick darkness' but this is unnecessary. Let it not be joined unto the days of the year. According to the Massorites' pointing, we should translate, "Let it not rejoice among the days of the year;" and so the Revised Version. But many of the best critics prefer the pointing which is followed by the LXX. and by King James's translators. The succeeding clause strongly supports this interpretation. Let it not come into the number of the months (comp. verse 3, and the comment on it). Job wishes the day of his birth and the night of his conception to be utterly blotted out from the calendar; but, aware that this is impossible, he subsides into a milder class of imprecations.
Lo, let that night be solitary; or, sterile; "let no one be born in it." Lot no joyful voice come therein; literally, no song. Perhaps the moaning is, "Let no such joyful announcement be made," as that mentioned in Job 3:3.
Let them curse it that curse the day. Very different explanations are given of this passage. Some suppose it to mean, "Let those desperate men curse it who are in the habit of cursing their day," like Job himself (Job 3:1) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14). Others suggest a reference to such as claimed power to curse days, and to divide them into the lucky and the unlucky. In this case Job would mean, "Let the sorcerers who curse days curse especially this day," and would thus seem, if not to sanction the practice, at any rate to express a certain amount of belief in the sorcerers' power. The second clause has also a double interpretation, which adapts it to either of these two suggested meanings (vide infra). Who are ready to raise up their mourning. This is an impossible rendering. Translate (with the Revised Version), who are ready to rouse up leviathan. "Rousing leviathan" may be understood in two ways. It may be regarded as spoken in the literal sense of those who are rash enough and desperate enough to stir up the fury of the crocodile (see the comment on Job 41:1), or in a metaphorical sense of such as stir up to action by their sorceries the great power of evil, symbolized in Oriental mythologies by a huge serpent, or dragon, or crocodile. On the whole, the second and deeper sense seems preferable; and we may conceive of Job as believing in the power of sorcery, and wishing it used against the night which he so much dislikes.
Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; i.e. "let not even the light of a star illuminate the morning or evening twilight of that night; let it be dark from beginning to end, uncheered even by the ray of a star." Let it look for light, but have none. Again a personification. The night is regarded as consciously waiting in hope of the appearance of morning, but continually disappointed by the long lingering of the darkness. And let it not see the dawning of the day; rather, as in the margin and in the Revised Version, let it not behold the eyelids of the morning (compare Milton's 'Lycidas,' "Under the opening eyelids of the morn," and Soph; 'Antigone,' χρυσσέης ἁμέρας βλέφαρον).
Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb; literally, of my womb; i.e. "of the womb which bare me." By a stretch of imagination, the night is supposed to have power to open or shut wombs, and is blamed for not having shut up the womb in which Job was conceived. Nor hid sorrow from mine eyes; i.e. "and did not so prevent all the sorrows that have befallen me."
Why died I not from the womb? "From the womb" must mean, "as soon as I came out of the womb," not "while I yet remained within it" (comp. Jeremiah 20:17, "Because he slew me not from the womb"). Many of the ancients thought that it was best not to be born; and next best, if one were born, to quit the earth as soon as possible. Herodotus says that with the Trauri, a tribe of Thracians, it was the custom, whenever a child was born, for all its kindred to sit round it in a circle, and weep for the woes that it would have to endure now that it was come into the world; while, on the other hand, whenever a person died, they buried him with laughter and rejoicings, since they said that he was now free from a host of sufferings, and enjoyed the completest happiness (Herod; Job 5:4). Sophocles expresses the feeling with great terseness and force: Μὴ φῦναι τὸν ἅπαντα νικᾷ λόγον τὸ δ ἐπεὶ φασῆ βῆναι κεῖθεν ὅθεν περ ἥκει πολὺ δεύτερον ὡστάχιστα: "Not to be born is best of all; once born, next best it is by far to go back there from whence one came as speedily as possible." Modem pessimism sums up all in the phrase that "life is not worth living." Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? As so often, the second clause of the distich repeats the idea of the first, merely varying the phraseology.
Why did the knees prevent me? i.e. "Why did my mother take me on her knees and nurse me, instead of casting me on the ground, where I should have perished?" There seems to be an allusion to the practice of parents only bringing up a certain number of their children. Or why the breasts that I should suck? i.e. "Why were breasts offered to me, that I should suck them? How much better would it have been if I had been allowed to perish of inanition!"
For now should I have lain still and been quiet. "In that case, I should now (עתָּה) have been lying still and resting myself," instead of tossing about, and being full of restlessness and suffering." I should have slept. The life in the intermediate state is called "sleep," even in the New Testament (Matthew 9:24; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:18, 1 Corinthians 15:51, etc.). Job, perhaps, imagined it to be, actually, a sound, dreamless slumber. Then should I have been at rest; literally, then (אז) would there have been rest for me."
With kings and counsellers of the earth. As a great man himself, nobly born probably, Job expects that his place in another world would have been with kings and nobles (see Isaiah 14:9-11, where the King of Babylon, on entering Sheol, finds himself among "all the kings of the nations"). Which built desolate places for themselves. Some understand "restorers of cities which had become waste and desolate;" others, "builders of edifices which, since they built them, have become desolate;" others, again, "builders of desolate and dreary piles," such as the Pyramids, and the rock-tombs common in Arabia, which were desolate and dreary from the time that they were built. The brevity studied by the writer makes his meaning somewhat obscure.
Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver. This may either mean simply," princes who were rich in silver and gold during their lifetime," or "princes who have gold and silver buried with them in their tombs." It was the custom in Egypt, in Phoenicia, and elsewhere throughout the East, to bury large quantities of treasure, especially gold and silver vessels, and jewellery, in the sepulchres of kings and other great men. A tomb of a Scythian king in the Crimea, opened about fifty years ago, contained a golden shield, a golden diadem, two silver vases, a vase in electrum, and a number of ornaments, partly in electrum and partly in gold. Another Scythian tomb near the Caspian, opened by the Russian authorities, contained ornaments set with rubies and emeralds, together with four sheets of gold, weighing forty pounds. A third, near Asterabad, contained a golden goblet, weighing seventy ounces; a pot, eleven ounces, and two small trumpets. The tombs of the kings and queens in Egypt were so richly supplied with treasure that, in the time of the twentieth dynasty, a thieves' society was formed for plundering them, especially of their golden ornaments. The tomb of Cyrus the Great contained, we are told (Arrian, 'Exp. Alex.,' Job 6:29), a golden couch, a golden table set out with drinking-cups, a golden bowl, and much elegant clothing adorned with gems. Phoenician tombs, in Cyprus especially, have recently yielded enormous treasures. If the "gold" and "silver" of the present passage refer to treasures buried with princes and kings, we must understand by the "houses" of the second clause their tombs. The Egyptians called their tombs their "eternal abodes" (Diod. Sic; 1.51).
Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light. This is added as another way in which Job might have escaped his misery. Though conceived and brought to the birth, he might have been still-born, and so have known no suffering.
There. The word has no expressed antecedent, but the general tenor of the passage supplies one. "There" is equivalent to "in the grave." The wicked cease from troubling; i.e." cease from their state of continual perturbation and unrest" (comp. Isaiah 57:20, "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt "). This is their condition, so long as they live; nothing satisfies them; they are always in trouble themselves, and always causing trouble to others. In the grave alone do they rest, or seem to rest. And there the weary be at rest; literally, the weary in strength' or "in respect of strength;" i.e. those whose strength is utterly exhausted and worn out. Here Job undoubtedly alludes to himself. He looks to the grave as his only refuge, the only hope he has of recovering peace and tranquillity.
There the prisoners rest together. "There those who in life were prisoners, condemned to work at enforced labours, enjoy sweet rest together." They hear not the voice of the oppressor; rather, of the taskmaster (comp. Exodus 3:7; Exodus 5:6, where the same word is used). The task. master continually urged on the wearied labourers with such words as those of Exodus 5:13, "Fulfil your works, fulfil your daily tasks. In the grave these hated sounds would not be heard.
The small and great are there; i.e. "all are there, the small and great alike;" for
"Omnes eodem cogimur, cranium
Versatur urna serius ocius
Sors exitura, et nos in aeternum
Exilium impositura cymbae."
(Her; ' Od.')
And the servant is free from his master; rather, the slave (עֶבֶד).
Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery? Why, Job asks, is the miserable man forced to continue on the earth and see the light to-day? Why is he not sent down at once to the darkness of the grave? Surely this would have been better. Man often speaks as if he were wiser than his Maker, and could have much improved the system of the universe, if he had had the arranging of it; but he scarcely means what he says commonly. Such talk is, however, foolish, as is all captious questioning concerning the ways of God. The proper answer to all such questioning is well given by Zophar in Job 11:7, Job 11:8, "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell (Sheol); what canst thou know?" And life unto the bitter in soul (see the comment on Job 11:11, ad fin.).
Which long for death, but it cometh not; literally, which wait for death' anxiously and longingly (comp. Psalms 33:20). And dig for it more than for hid treasures; i.e. "seek it more earnestly than even they seek who dig for hid treasures." As Professor Lee remarks, "From the great instability of all Eastern governments, treasures were in Eastern countries often hid away". And hence treasure-seeking became a profession, which was pursued with avidity by a large number of persons. Even at the present day Orientals are so possessed with the idea, that they imagine every European, who is eager to unearth antiquities, must be seeking for buried treasure.
Which rejoice exceedingly; literally, to exultation' or "to dancing;" i.e. so that they almost dance with joy. And are glad, when they can find the grave. Job speaks as if he knew of such eases; and, no doubt, the fact of suicide proves that among men there are some who prefer to die rather than live. But suicides are seldom altogether in possession of their senses. Of sane men it may be doubted whether one in a thousand, however miserable, really wishes to die, or is "glad when he can find the grave." In such thoughts as those to which Job here gives expression there is something morbid and unreal.
Why is light given to a man whose way is hid? "Obscured," that is, "darkened," "placed under a cloud" (comp. Job 3:20, where the sentiment is nearly the same). And whom God hath hedged in. Not in the way of protection, as in Job 1:10, but of obstruction and confinement: (comp. Job 19:8 and Hosea 2:6). Job feels himself confined, imprisoned, blocked in. He can neither see the path which he ought to pursue nor take steps in any direction.
For my sighing cometh before I eat literally, before my meat; i.e. "more early and more constantly than my food" (Professor Lee). And my roarings are poured out. The word translated "roaring" is used primarily of the roar of a lion (Zechariah 11:3; comp. Amos 3:8); secondarily, of the loud cries uttered by men who suffer pain (see Psalms 22:1; Psalms 32:4). (On the loud cries of Orientals when suffering from grief or pain, see the comment on Job 2:12.) Like the waters; i.e. freely and copiously, without let or stint. Perhaps the loud sound of rushing water is also alluded to.
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me; literally, for I fear a fear, and it comes upon me. The meaning is not that the affliction which has come upon him is a thing which Job had feared when he was prosperous; but that now that he is in adversity, he is beset with fears, and that all his presentiments of evil are almost immediately accomplished. The second clause, And that which I was (rather, am) afraid of is come unto me, merely repeats and emphasizes the first (see the comment on verse 11).
I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came. Some Hebraists give quite a different turn to this passage, rendering it as follows: "I am not at ease, neither am I quiet, neither have I rest; but trouble cometh". Professor Lee, however, certainly one of the most eminent of modern Hebraists, maintains that the far more pregnant meaning of the Authorized Version gives the true sense. "If I rightly apprehend," he says, "the drift of the context here, Job means to have it understood that he is conscious of no instance in which he has relaxed from his religious obligations; of no season in which his fear and love of God have waxed weak; and, on this account, it was the more perplexing that such a complication of miseries had befallen him"; and he translates the passage, "I slackened not, neither was I quiet, neither took I rest; yet trouble came." Job's complaint is thus far more pointedly terminated than by a mere otiose statement that, "without rest or pause, trouble came upon trouble."
The stricken patriarch's lament: 1. Deploring his birth.
I. DELIBERATE DISCOURSE.
1. The time. "After this;" i.e. after the seven days' silence, after waiting, perhaps, for some expression of sympathy from his friends, perhaps also after discerning no mitigation in his misery—an indication that Job spoke not under the influence of some sudden paroxysm of grief, but with fixed resolve and after mature consideration. Language that is passionate may also be deliberate; and although hasty words are sometimes more excusable than composed utterances, as a rule it is wiser and better, especially when under strong emotion, to be "swift to hear, but slow to speak" (James 1:19).
2. The manner. "Opened Job his mouth." The usual Hebrew formula for intimating the commencement of a speech; this may also mark, in accordance with Oriental custom, the grave composure and solemn stateliness with which Job began his address, as well as hint at the exceptional character of his discourse. Already, since the beginning of his troubles, he had twice opened his mouth to bless God and justify his ways; never until now had he opened his mouth to curse.
II. IMPASSIONED ELOQUENCE.
1. The sublimity of Job's language. "There is nothing in ancient or modern poetry equal to the entire burst, whether in the wildness and horror of its imprecations, or the terrible sublimity of its imagery (Goode). "There is indeed a tremendous bulk and heat in his words; his imagination has Titanic grasp and violence in it. All nature's powers he translates into living things" (Davidson).
2. The naturalness of Job's language. Even on the hypothesis that the verses contain rather the formulated conceptions of the author than the ipsissima verba of Job, one cannot but feel the dramatic suitability of beth their thought and language to the situation, as well as to the individual to whom they have been assigned. It does not strike one as too lofty for a man of the intellectual calibre of Job; nor does it appear to be inappropriate as a vehicle for the burning thoughts that were then struggling for utterance within his grief-laden soul.
3. The influence of Job's language. "The boldest and most animated poets of Jerusalem made it the model of their threnodies or grief-songs, whenever uttered in scenes of similar distress" (Goode; cf. Lamentations 3:1-20; Jeremiah 20:14 Jeremiah 20:16; Ezekiel 30:14-18; Ezekiel 32:7-9, etc.). Among the instances in which modem poetry has been indebted to the imagery of the present chapter, may be mentioned Shakespeare, 'King John,' Acts 3:0. sc. 1; Acts 3:0. sc. 4; 'Macbeth,' Acts 2:0. sc. 4.
III. WILD IMPRECATION.
1. The day of his birth is in general terms execrated: "Let the day perish wherein I was born" (verse 3); meaning, let it be erased from the calendar of existence, let it be filled with misery, buried in obscurity, and loaded with dishonour, or let it be blotted out from all remembrance. After which in detail he prays that it may be:
(1) Enshrouded in darkness (verse 4); unillumined by the light of heaven, which imparts loveliness to all mundane things—an imprecation conversely reminding us of the value of light.
(2) Abandoned by God (verse 4), who, while interesting himself in all his other creatures, should never ask after it. "Job's wish of darkness had done his day no great hurt, unless he had taken the eye of God from it also' (Caryl). God's favour is the greatest blessing of the creature; and neither day nor man can be truly happy from which that favour is withdrawn.
(3) Reclaimed by death (verse 5): "Let darkness and deathshade claim it"—redeem it as a stray portion of their original kingdom, which had wandered into the realms of light, and carry it back to its primeval abode. Adhering to the metaphor which compares the light of day to a captive escaped from the prison-house of darkness, we may remember by whose power it was that the light was first liberated (Genesis 1:3), and whose hand it is that still directs it to the ends of the earth (Job 37:3). We may note too that we have a better Kinsman than Job's day had—one who can buy us back, not like it, from light to darkness, but from darkness to light.
(4) Haunted by terrors: "Let the blackness of the day terrify it" (verse 5); as if it were a living thing cowering and shrinking in abject horror before troops of black omens continually occuring on it, such as eclipses, unnatural obscurations, pestilential vapours, dark storm-clouds; meaning, let it be a day to inspire terror in all beholders. The human soul is easily alarmed by unusual phenomena; but why should it when God is in them (Psalms 97:1-5)?
2. The night of his conception he likewise anathematizes in general terms (verse 3); after which, personifying it, he measures out for it too a series of detailed imprecations, imploring that it might be:
(1) Excluded from the calendar; being overtaken by the surging waves of primal darkness, seized and carried back upon its ebbing tide to "chaos and old night," so that it should never join in the choral procession of the days and months that compose the year (verse 6)—a foolish curse, since the blotting out of the night could have no effect upon his sorrow.
(2) Destitute of gladness; "sitting in solitary, unrelieved gloom, nothing living and rejoicing in life coming from its womb, while other nights around it experience a parent's joy, and ring with birthday rejoicing" (verse 7)—a cruel curse, which sought to transfer his own misery to others.
(3) Cursed by enchanters, those who by their incantations can bring calamities on days otherwise propitious, rousing up leviathan (whether the crocodile, as the emblem of evil, or the dragon, i.e. the constellation of the serpent, as the enemy of the sun and moon, vide Exposition) to swallow it up (verse 8)—a superstitious curse, showing that good men are not always so enlightened as they should be.
(4) Doomed to darkness; always trembling on the verge of daylight, but never beholding the eyelids of the dawn (verse 9)—a presumptuous curse, since it thought to arrest a divinely appointed ordinance.
IV. ASTOUNDING SELFISHNESS.
1. Thinking nothing of the happiness of others.
(1) Neither of his mother's joy in his birth, who doubtless rejoiced over his advent into life, as Sarah did over Isaac's, as Elisabeth did over John's, and as every mother worthy of the name does over her babe's; who probably, in the exultation of the moment, named him Job ("Joyous'), and experienced a fresh thrill of gladness every time she paused to note his opening manhood and his ripening piety;—of all which she would have been bereft had Job not been born.
(2) Nor of the interest of others in his birthday, not, perhaps, because it was his, but because it was their own, or their children's, or their parents', or their friends'; and why should they have all their happiness blighted because Job counted it a terrible misfortune that he had been ushered into life?
2. Thinking continually upon the misery of himself. The sole reason for his tremendous imprecation is the tact that on that particular day (and night) he had entered on his miserable career of existence. Suffering and sorrow, which are sent, and supposed, to render men sympathetic, not unfrequently result in selfishness, especially when conjoined with impatience, which is "ordinarily a great ponderer of griefs, because they are ours, little weighing the troubles of others" (Hutcheson).
V. RASHNESS APPROACHING TO WICKEDNESS.
1. Its extenuations. Much to be ascribed to
(1) the emotional nature of Orientals;
(2) the comparatively unenlightened age in which Job lived;
(3) the extreme severity, multiplicity, and continuance of his troubles; and
(4) the provocation he may have received from the reproachful and suspicious looks of his friends.
2. Its aggravations. With every disposition to palliate Job's offence, it is impossible to acquit him of sin; for
(1) he immoderately indulged his sorrow, which, though natural in itself, and at times becoming, and even sanctioned by religion, should yet never be permitted to exceed (1 Corinthians 7:30);
(2) he overstepped the bounds of propriety in speech, employing phrases and terms full of passion as well as force, whereas saints should exercise restraint upon their tongues as well as tempers (Psalms 141:3; Colossians 4:6; Titus 2:8);
(3) he used the language of imprecation, which became not a good man (Romans 12:14), and was a frequent mark of bad men (Psalms 10:7; Psalms 109:18);
(4) if he cursed not God, he execrated God's gift, his birthday, thus showing himself guilty of presumption in denouncing what God had blessed (Genesis 1:28; Psa 127:1-5 :8), and of ingratitude in despising what God had bestowed, viz. life (Genesis 2:7; Acts 17:28);
(5) he did all this knowingly and deliberately (Job 3:1); and
(6) without regard to the interests of others.
1. That a good man may stand long, and yet at length show symptoms of falling. "Be not highminded, but fear."
2. It is specially to be deplored when great gifts are employed for sinful purposes. Upon every talent should be inscribed, "Holiness to the Lord!"
3. That the tongue is a world of iniquity when it is set on fire of hell "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"
4. That every creature of God is good, and to be received with thanksgiving; even birthdays, for which saints should bless God while they live.
5. That though sins may be palliated, they still require to be pardoned; excuses do not cancel guilt.
6. That from the greatest depth of wickedness into which a child of God can fall, he may ultimately be recovered. "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin."
The stricken patriarch's lament: 2. Bewailing his life.
I. THE DESPISED GIFT—LIFE. In bitterness of soul, Job not only laments that ever he had entered on the stage of existence at all, but with the perverse ingenuity of grief which looks at all things crosswise, he turns the very mercies of God into occasions of complaint, despising God's care of him:
1. Before birth. "Why died I not from the womb?" i.e. while I was yet unborn; surely a display of monstrous ingratitude, since, if God did not protect the tender offspring of men prior to their birth, it would be impossible that they should ever see the light (contrast Psalms 139:13).
2. At birth. "Why did 1 not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?" To which he might himself have returned answer:
(1) Because of God's sovereign will; man being God's creature (Genesis 5:1; Deuteronomy 4:32; Job 10:8; Job 12:10; Job 27:3; Job 33:4), and God ever doing according to his will among the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of earth (Job 9:12; Job 12:9; Job 33:13).
(2) Because of God's great power, the hour of birth being a time so fraught with peril to a tender babe as well as to a suffering mother, that only God's watchful guardianship can account for a child not dying as soon as it is born (Job 31:15; Psalms 71:6).
(3) Because of God's spontaneous kindness; life being a gift to the bestowal of which God can be moved by nothing but his own free favour, as Job afterwards acknowledged (Job 10:12).
3. After birth. "Why did the knees prevent"—i.e. anticipate—"me? or why the breasts that I should suck?" (verse 12). To which, again, he might have responded that man is so helpless in infancy that without the safe shelter of a father's arms and the strong support of a father's knees, as well as the warm nest of a mother's bosom and the rich consolations of a mother's breasts, he must inevitably perish. That God has provided these for man is a signal proof of the Divine wisdom and loving-kindness. That any should despise them is a mark of thoughtlessness, if not of depravity (cf. Psalms 22:9, Psalms 22:10; Psalms 71:5, Psalms 71:6).
II. THE LOST BLESSING—THE GRAVE. Thus undervaluing God's great gift of life, he proceeds to depict a blessing of which he foolishly as well as sinfully supposes himself to have been deprived in consequence of having entered on the stage of existence, viz. the peaceful repose of the grave, in which he should have enjoyed:
1. Perfect rest' "Now should I have lain still," like one reclining on his couch after the labours of the day—death being compared to a night of resting after the day of working life (Ecclesiastes 9:1-18; Ecclesiastes 10:1-20; Psalms 104:23; Revelation 14:13). "And been quiet"—at peace, withdrawn from every kind of trouble and annoyance—the grave being a place of absolute security against every form of temporal calamity (verses 17, 18; Ecclesiastes 9:5). "I should have slept"—death being often likened to a sleep (John 11:11; Acts 7:60; Act 13:1-52 :86; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:10). "Then had I been at rest;" my sleep being untroubled, a profound slumber unvisited by dreams—the rest of the grave being, especially for the good man, a couch of the most peaceful repose (Genesis 15:15; Ecclesiastes 12:5; Job 7:2 l; Job 30:23), in comparison with which Job's maladies and miseries allowed him neither rest nor quiet.
2. Dignified companionship. "Then had I been at rest with kings and counsellors of the earth," etc. Enjoying a splendid association with the great ones of the earth, now lying in their magnificent mausoleums, instead of sitting, as I presently do, on this ash-heap, in sublime but sorrowful isolation, an object of loathing and disgust to passers-by. The human heart, in its seasons of distress, longs for society, in particular the society of sympathetic friends; and sometimes the loneliness of sorrow is so great that the thought of the grave, with its buried millions, presents to the sufferer a welcome relief. However obscure, isolated, miserable, the lot of a saint on earth, death introduces him to the noblest fellowships Ñ of his fathers (Genesis 15:15; Genesis 25:8); of "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23); of the Saviour (Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23).
3. Absolute equality. Whereas he was now spurned by his fellows, he would then, had he died in infancy, have attained to as much glory as the aforesaid counsellors, kings, and princes, who, notwithstanding their ambitious greatness, which had led them to construct gorgeous sepulchres and amass untold hoards of wealth, were now lying cold and stiff within their desolate palaces. Behold the vanity of earthly greatness!—monarchs mouldering in the dust (Isaiah 14:11; Ezekiel 32:23). See the impotence of wealth—it cannot arrest the footsteps of death (James 1:11; Luke 16:22). Note that death is a great leveller (Ecclesiastes 2:14, Ecclesiastes 2:16; Psalms 89:48; Hebrews 9:27), and the grave a place where distinctions are unknown (verse 19; Ecclesiastes 3:20).
4. Complete tranquillity. "As a hidden untimely birth I had not been, and as children that have never seen the light" (verse 16; cf. Ecclesiastes 6:4, Ecclesiastes 6:5); unconscious and still as non-existence itself, as those "upon whose unopened ear no cry of misery ever fell, and on whose unopened eye the light, and the evil which the light reveals, never broke;" a tranquillity deeper (and, in Job's estimation, more blessed) than that of those who only attain rest after passing through life's ills—a doctrine against which both the light of nature and the voice of revelation protest (vide homily on verse 16).
5. Entire emancipation. A perfect cessation from all life's troubles, and a final escape from the exactions of his unseen oppressor. "There the wicked cease from troubling," etc. (verses 17-19; cf. Ecclesiastes 9:5-10)—a sentiment, again, which is only partially correct, i.e. so far as it relates to the ills of life.
1. God's best gifts are often least appreciated.
2. Men frequently mistake ill for good.
3. What we have not commonly appears more desirable than what we have.
4. "Better is a living dog than a dead lion."
5. The grave is a poor place for a man to hide his sorrows in.
6. It is better to bear the ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.
7. It is well to scrutinize keenly all that we either think or say in trouble.
8. There is a greater sin than despising the gift of temporal existentence, viz. despising the offer of eternal life.
I. A REGION OF IMPENETRABLE DARKNESS.
II. A REALM OF UNBROKEN SILENCE.
III. AN ABODE OF DEEP TRANQUILLITY.
IV. A BED OF PEACEFUL SLUMBER.
V. A WORLD OF ABSOLUTE EQUALITY.
VI. A PLACE OF UNIVERSAL RENDEZVOUS.
VII. A HOUSE OF TEMPORARY LODGING.
To be or not to be.
I. AGAINST BEING AND IN FAVOUR OF NOT-BEING.
1. Life is little other than a capacity for suffering affliction.
2. At the best, life is so short, and man's powers so feeble, that nothing he undertakes can attain to perfection.
3. In every instance life involves the terrible necessity and painful experience of dying.
4. Life always carries in its bosom the possibility of coming short of everlasting felicity.
II. IN FAVOUR OF BEING AND AGAINST NOT-BEING.
1. Life in itself is a thing of pure enjoyment.
2. Man's powers, though imperfect, are susceptible of infinite improvement.
3. The day of existence, whether long or short, affords a noble opportunity for serving God.
4. The fact that one is born gives him a chance, by being born again, of attaining to salvation and eternal life.
1. Notwithstanding all the miseries of human life, it is better to have been born than to have remained in non-existence.
2. Notwithstanding all its brevity and imperfection, life is worth living.
3. Because of all its hardships and sorrows, it should be given up with resignation when God recalls it to himself.
The stricken patriarch's lament: 3. Desiring his death.
I. DOLEFUL LAMENTATION. Job pitifully wails forth that his soul was in bitterness because of:
1. The miseries of life. Which he depicts as:
(1) inward trouble; not merely bodily pain, but mental anguish, bitterness of soul (verse 20); the acutest form of all distress (Proverbs 18:14; cf. 'Macbeth,' Acts 5:0. sc. 3).
(2) Constant trouble, which came to him as regularly as his daily bread: "My sighing cometh before I eat" (cf. Psalms 80:5; Isaiah 30:20).
(3) Abundant trouble, like the gushing forth of waters: "My roarings are poured out like the waters" (verse 24)—a frequent image for affliction (cf. 2 Samuel 22:17; Psalms 42:7; Psalms 88:7).
(4) Paralyzing trouble, terror overtaking him the moment he thought of it: "I feared a fear, and it came upon me" (verse 25; cf. "He that but fearer etc; 'Henry IV.,' pt. 2, Acts 1:0. sc. 1).
(5) Superfluous trouble; i.e. his misery had not sprung upon him revelling in sinful and luxurious ease, which might have afforded some justification for so appalling a visitation as had overtaken him; but when already he was a stricken man, another and a greater sorrow leapt forth upon him: "I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came" (verse 26).
2. The perplexities of providence. To these he alludes when he describes himself as a man "whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in" (verse 23). The term "way" is often put for course of life (Psalms 1:6; Proverbs 4:19; Isaiah 26:7; Jeremiah 10:23); and a man's way may be said to be hid (i.e. to himself) when either its future character is concealed from his perception, or the reason for its present shape is not understood. Now, to all men a veil inscrutable separates the future, the immediate no less than the remote, from the present (Proverbs 27:1; James 4:14). The special ground of complaint felt by Job was, not so much that he had been subjected to adversity, but that he could not discern the reason of God's mysterious dealings with him; that his sufferings so engirt him like a lofty wall, that he not only knew not which way to turn, but that he failed to discover any way to turn. The like perplexity has frequently been experienced by God's people (of Jeremiah 12:1; Psalms 42:5; l73:2; Lamentations 3:7). But it is unreasonable to expect that God's ways should be perfectly patent to the finite understanding. Man cannot always fathom the purposes or comprehend the plans of his fellow-creatures: how much less should he think to gauge the counsel of him whose wisdom is "fold over fold" (Job 11:6); or discern the reason of every dark dispensation that is measured out by him whose judgments are a great deep (Psalms 36:6)! Hence God charges his saints, when they see that clouds and darkness surround his throne, that his footsteps are in the sea, and that his way is not known, to preserve their souls in patience, to decline to be perplexed, and to calmly trust their present way and future course to him who always walketh in the light, and who, out of the greatest entanglements and darkest riddles of life, is able to evolve his own glory and their good (Psalms 37:5; Isaiah 26:3, Isaiah 26:4; Romans 8:28).
II. QUERULOUS EXPOSTULATION. "Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery," etc? (verses 20, 23). The interrogation indicated:
1. Astonishing presumption on the part of Job, not only in questioning the Supreme, seeing that he giveth no account of his doings unto any, and least of all to men (Job 33:13; Psalms 46:10; Jeremiah 18:6; Daniel 4:35); but much more in addressing to him such a question, which practically meant—Why should a man be sent into this world? or, if sent into it, why should he be kept in it, unless his existence is to be always encircled with the radiance of prosperity, and exhilarated with the wine of joy, and unless he is to be assisted both to pierce the veil of futurity and to penetrate the overshadowing clouds of the present?
2. Monstrous ingratitude; in first depreciating what, after Christ and salvation, is God's highest gift to man, viz. existence; in forgetting the manifold blessings he had enjoyed during the former period of his prosperity; and in overlooking the fact that he had some good gifts remaining still. But men are prone to forget past mercies (Psalms 103:2; cf. 'Troilus and Cressida,' Acts 3:0. sc. 3), and to appreciate what the)' have not more highly than what they have. True thankfulness magnifies the gifts it has received, and does not grudge that the great Giver still reserves something to bestow (cf. 'Timon of Athens,' Acts 3:0. sc. 6).
3. Extraordinary ignorance; in not discerning that the ultimate end and chief aim of life are not to render men happy, but to make them holy; not to make them wise as the gods (Genesis 3:5), but to form them into sons of God (Hebrews if. 10); and that these sublime purposes may be secured as well through adversity as through prosperity. But perhaps the absence of gospel light should explain and extenuate in Job's case what in ours would be reprehensible in the extreme.
III. MELACHOLY EXULTATION. Job's vehement longing for death bespoke:
1. An intense pressure of misery. Seeing that life is essentially joyous (Ecclesiastes 11:7), that men naturally cling to life above every earthly possession (Job 2:4), and that the intrinsic worth and happiness of life are a thousandfold increased by the addition of Heaven's favour, it indicates an amount and degree of wretchedness transcending ordinary experience when a man yearns for life's extinction, exults in the prospect of dissolution, would be blithe to find a grave, however humble or obscure—
"Mad from life's history,
Glad to death's mystery,
Swift to be hurl'd,
Anywhere, anywhere out of the world."
(Hood, 'Bridge of Sighs.')
They who find life's calamities in any measure tolerable have reason to bless God for laying on them no heavier burden than they are able to bear, and for imparting to them strength to bear the burden which he does impose. God's grace alone keeps men from sinking beneath the weight and pressure of life's ills. Contrast with Job's present state of mind that of St. Paul in the Roman prison (Philippians 1:23).
2. An utter extinction of hope. "The miserable hath no other medicine, but only hope"—hope that things will eventually improve; that the clouds of adversity will yet give place to the fair sunshine of prosperity; but even this the patriarch appears to have abandoned. It would be incorrect to affirm that Job had absolutely lost his hold on God; but of hope in a return to health and happiness he had none. Yet in this Job erred—erred two ways: in thinking himself at the worst, which he was not; and in despairing of recovery, which he should not. It is seldom so sad with any one that it could not be sadder; and it is seldom so bad that it cannot be improved. All things are possible with God, and God reigneth; therefore nil desperandum either in nature or in grace.
3. A sad want of faith. Had Job been able calmly to trust himself and his future to God, it is certain he would not have so inordinately longed for death. He would have reasoned that neither the miseries of life nor the perplexities of providence were a sufficient reason for God's cancelling the grant of life, or for a saint seeking the relief of death; since:
(1) God has an absolute right to dispose of his creatures as he may.
(2) No man has a claim on God for complete exemption from trouble.
(3) Affliction in some shape or another is every man's desert in this world.
(4) The higher purposes of life may be secured better through adversity than through prosperity.
(5) It is not certain that escape from misery would in every instance be attained by escape from life.
(6) And it is possible for bodily calamity and mental trouble and soul-anguish to pass away before the end of life, while life once withdrawn can never be restored.
1. Men are apt to think there is no reason for that for which they can see no reason.
2. The best gifts of God may become burdensome to their possessors.
3. Some look for death, but cannot find it; death ever finds those for whom it looks.
4. Afflictions are commonly accompanied by much darkness, which faith only can illumine.
5. Though a man's way is sometimes hid from himself, it never is concealed from God.
Two marvels that are no mysteries.
I. LIVING MEN ARE OFTEN MISERABLE.
1. Surprising; when we consider
(1) that men are the creatures of a loving God;
(2) that their Creator designed them for happiness;
(3) that the most abundant provision has been made for their felicity. Yet:
2. Not inexplicable; when we remember
(1) that men are sinful creatures, and deserve to be miserable;
(2) that men carry the true source of misery within themselves, in their sinful hearts; and
(3) that men not unfrequently neglect that which alone can remove their misery—God's grace and Christ's blood.
II. MISERABLE MEN OFTEN CONTINUE LIVING.
1. Astonishing; if we reflect upon
(1) the frailty of life, and the ease with which it may be terminated;
(2) the heaviness of that burden of sorrow it is sometimes called to support;
(3) the intensity with which sufferers not unfrequently long for death. Still:
2. Not insoluble; if we recollect
(1) how they are kept in life by the power of God; and
(2) why they are kept in life, viz.
(a) to glorify God, by exhibiting his power in sustaining them, and his grace in giving them opportunity to improve;
(b) to benefit themselves, by allowing time for suffering, if possible, to perfect them in obedience; and, supposing this end attained,
(c) to instruct their fellows how to bear and how to profit by affliction.
(along with Job 1:10).
The two hedges; of the hedge of prosperity and the hedge of adversity.
I. IN WHAT THEY COMPARE.
1. In being planted by God. Job's prosperity was from God; his adversity was not without God.
2. In encircling the saint. Job was equally a pious man in both positions.
3. In being both removable. If Job's prosperity was exchanged for adversity, his adversity was afterwards succeeded by prosperity,
II. IN WHAT THEY CONTRAST.
1. In the frequency of their setting. Adversity a more frequent experience than prosperity.
2. In the comfort they afford. Prosperity a hedge of roses; adversity of thorns.
3. In the effects they produce. Prosperity more dangerous to a man's spiritual interests than adversity.
III. IN WHAT THEY SUGGEST.
1. That God's hand is in everything.
2. That the saint's good may be advanced by everything.
3. That the devil's arrows shoot at everything.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The eloquence of grief.
This book, so entirely true to nature, presents here one of the darkest moods of the grief-stricken heart. The first state is that of paralyzed silence, dumbness, inertia. Were this to continue, death must ensue. Stagnation will be fatal. The currents of thought and feeling must in some way be set flowing in their accustomed channels, as in the beautiful little poem of Tennyson on the mother suddenly bereaved of her warrior-lord-
"All her maidens, wondering, said,
She must weep or she must die."
A period of agitation ensues when the mind resumes its natural functions; and the first mood that succeeds to silent prostration is that of bitter resentment and complaint. As we hail the irritability of a patient who has been deadly sick as the sign of returning convalescence, so we may look upon this petulance of grief when it finds at length a voice. We do not blame; we pity, and are tender towards the irritable invalid whose heart we know to be in its depth patient and true; and he who knows the heart better than we do is forbearing with those wild cries which suffering may wring from even constant and faithful bosoms like Job's. We may read these words of passion with consideration if God can listen to them without rebuke. There are three turns in the thought here expressed.
I. THE SPIRIT OF MAN IN REVOLT FROM LIFE. Curses on the day of his birth. (Verse 1-10.) There seems to be some reference to the ancient belief, which we find in later times among the Romans, in unlucky or ill-starred days. Such a day, to the sufferers present feeling, must have been the day of his birth. But he will learn better by-and-by. He cannot see things rightly through the present medium of pain. True religion teaches us—the Christian religion above all—that no "black" days are sent us from him who causes his sun to shine on the evil and the good. It is only ill deeds that make ill days. We have met with Job's complaint again and again in different forms. Men and women have complained that they were brought into the world without their consent being asked, and sometimes passionately exclaim, "I wish I had never been born!" Let us admit what our calm and healthy judgment dictates—these feelings are morbid and transitory; and they are partial, because they represent only one, and that an extreme, mood of the ever-changing mind. We must take our morning, not our midnight, moods if we would know the truth about ourselves. The instinct which leads us to keep birthdays with joy and mutual congratulation should instruct us in our debt of thankfulness: "Thanks that we were men!"
II. THE IRRATIONALITY OF DESPAIR. (Verses 11-19.) But such wishes against the inevitable and for the impossible, the mind, even in the paroxysm of despair, feels to be absurd. It sinks to a degree less irrational in the next wish that an early death had prevented all this misery. Would that a frost had nipped the just-blown flower (verses 11, 12)! Yet this mood is only a shade less unreasonable than the former. For does not the instinct which leads us all to speak of death in infancy and early childhood as "untimely, premature," rebuke this fretfulness, and witness to the truth again that life is a good? And does not the common aspiration after "length of days," so marked in the Old Testament, supply another argument in the same direction? Job will yet live to smile, from out of the depths of a serene old age, at these passionate clamours of a turbulent grief. Again, he passes into the contemplation of death with pleasure, with a deep craving for its rest. He describes, in simple, beautiful language, that final earthly resort, where agitated brains and restless hearts find at last peace (verses 17-19). Such a sentiment, again, is common to the experience of suffering hearts, is deeply embedded in the poetry of the world. But how far more common and frequent the happy, healthy mood which finds a zest and relish in the mere sense of existence, in the simple, natural pleasures of every day! The longing for the rest of the grave is the mood of intense weariness and disease; and it is counteracted by the mood of restored health, which longs for activity, even in heaven. Well has that poet, who has entered so deeply into all the phases of modern sadness, sung—
"Whatever crazy Sorrow saith,
No life that breathes with human breath
Hath ever truly longed for death.
life whereof our nerves are scant;
Oh, life, not death, for which we pant;
More life and fuller, that we want."
III. INTERROGATION OF LIFE'S MYSTERIES. (Verses 20-26.) Once more, from longing for death, the distressed mind of the sufferer passes to impatient questioning. Why should life, if it is to be given to any, be given to sufferers who desire death? why should it be given to him who can find no rest, who is ever in dread of fresh woes? This complaint, again, is natural, but it is not wise. We are impatient of pain; we should otherwise have no quarrel with the mystery of being. But pain is a great fact in the constitution of the world; it is there; it is there evidently by Divine appointment; it cannot be glozed over nor explained away. The wisdom of piety is in reconciling ourselves to it as the dispensation of God, in submitting to it as his will, supporting it with patience. Then, "though no affliction for the present be joyous, but grievous, yet afterward it will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11). In hope let us—
"Strain through years
To catch the far-off interest of tears."
To the question of Job the answer is—Suffering is the signet of a majestic being. The light of eternity, falling athwart our tears, forms a rainbow prophetic of our glorious destiny. But the final and most significant of all answers is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is the union of highest life with extremest suffering. Born to suffer, and by suffering to be made perfect, the Lord Jesus Christ supplies for them that trust in him a power by which they can rise out of the mysterious darkness of pain, believing that what is tried, even as by fire, shall be found unto praise and honour and glory at his appearing. The study of this paroxysm of extreme pain of mind will be instructive if it help us to govern any similar moods which may arise in our own minds.
1. There is a natural and precious relief from mental pain in words,
"Poor breathing orators of miseries!
Let them have scope; though what they do impart
Help nothing else, yet they do ease the heart."
2. God, our gracious Father, is not offended by our sincerity. Greater than our hearts, he knows all things. This book and many of the psalms teach us a childlike piety by repeating words in which sufferers poured forth all their complaints as well as thanksgivings into the ear of him who misunderstands nothing.
3. There is an exaggeration in all the moods of depression. We are prone to overstate the ills of life, and to forget the numberless hours of joy in which we have instinctively thanked God for the blessing of existence.
4. The very intensity and exaggeration of such moods point forward to a reaction. They will not continue long in the course of nature. God has mercifully so constructed this fine mechanism of body and mind that these extremes bring their own remedy. Patience, then. The hour is darkest that is nearest the dawn. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
Human infirmity revealed in deep affliction.
Frail is the heart of man. With all its heroism, its endurance and power, yet the stout heart yields and the brave spirit is cowed. The strongest bends beneath the heavy pressure. But if the human life is to be truthfully presented, its failures as well as its excellences must be set forth. It is an evidence that the writer is attempting an impartial statement, and in the midst of his poetical representations is not led away to mere extravagance and exaggeration in depicting the qualities of the righteous man. Job's strength of heart receives a shock. He is in the whirlpool of suffering and sorrow. He will recover himself in time; but for the present he is as one who has lost his balance. Let it not be forgotten how severe the strain upon him is. His possessions have been torn from him; his family stricken down by death; his body is the seat of a fierce and foul disease; his friends are powerless to help him. No wonder that "his grief was very great." Out of that grief springs his wail of complaint—the cry of a spirit overburdened. This is an instance of what may escape from the lips of a strong and good man under the pressure of unusual affliction. In judging the cry of sorrow or forming our estimate of the character of him who raises it, we must remember—
I. THAT IT DOES NOT ACCURATELY REPRESENT THE UTTERANCE OF A CALM UNBIASED JUDGMENT. The sufferer is so liable to be unmanned at such an hour. There is too vivid a perception of the pains of life for the cry to be an accurate judgment on life itself.
II. THAT IT IS THE EXPRESSION OF THE SOUL'S FEELINGS IN THE EXTREMITY OF ITS CIRCUMSTANCES. And although the true test of strength is in an ability to bear the heaviest pressure, yet that perfection of virtue by which the severest strain can be borne with calmness is only an uncommon experience; if, indeed, it can ever be found but in the Perfect One.
III. THE INHERENT HUMAN FRAILTY. In this instance Job, "the perfect man and upright," falls behind the one absolute Example of patient endurance of the severest sufferings. Job, judged by the ordinary standard of human life, must be pronounced a model of patient endurance. The inherent weakness, the true mark of humanity, is apparent here. The world needed one "greater than Job" as its typical Example of patience.
IV. But in all we may also learn THE USELESSNESS OF THAT CRY OF SORROW WHICH DEMANDS THE IMPOSSIBLE. In quietness and self-composure Job would not have cried thus. Reason is not always supreme. In moments of great suffering her authority is assailed, impaired, even sometimes lost.
In our judgment upon the cries of our frail brethren, we must, therefore, extend our utmost charity, make every allowance for the extreme conditions of which they are the expressions; and in our own habit of life accustom ourselves so to receive our minor afflictions that we may be tutored to comport ourselves rightly under the extremset pressure.—R.G.
The grave a rest.
In the toil and sorrow of life men long for rest. They lighten the toils and brighten the darkness of the present by the hope of repose and gladness in the future. Without such a hope life's burdens would be much heavier than they are; and in some cases almost insupportable. As the worn labourer longs for the rest of the even-tide, so does the over-wrought spirit of the sad desire the rest of the grave. It is proper to consider if this is a healthy, a just, a well-grounded desire. To the grave men of widely different characters look for rest. Let us think of the grave—
I. AS LONGED FOR BY THE WEARY. "Then had I been at rest." This is not always to be commended. The present is our time for toil. These are the hours of the day. They that sleep should sleep in the night. It is not a Christian spirit to wish life shorter. Rather should we ask for grace to be faithful, even unto death. Resignation, obedience, hope, will check the desire to diminish the term of life. What is suicide but the adding violence to this desire? For our change we must wait.
II. AS THE ONLY REST KNOWN TO THE IGNORANT. By Christian teaching and discipline we learn where the spirit may find rest; and we are encouraged to wait for the end of our toil. But the ignorant know nothing of this good hope.
III. THE GRAVE BRINGS NO REST TO THE UNFAITHFUL. He owns rest who does a day's work. To him that rest is sleep. To the idler death will bring no rest. It will change the canditions and surroundings of life. But it is a dire delusion to suppose that the spirit, in putting off the garment of the flesh, will escape from all toil. Its burdens are within itself, not in the fleshy tent. All sensation is in the mind during the bodily life, and all the sad weariness of the spirit, springing from consciousness of disobedience, that spirit carries with it. The sting of punishment for the wicked pierces the spirit; often through the flesh, it is true. But the sting is not left in the flesh, to be cast off when the body is laid down. The weapons of the spiritual foe penetrate beyond the clothes. The wicked deluded in life is deluded by death. Some long so eagerly for death that they rush through the thin veil that separates them from the regions of the dead. But it is rushing from darkness to light. It is rushing into the presence of the All-seeing One whose apprehended judgment upon life is the severest of all punishments.
IV. THE REST OF THE GRAVE IS A TRUE REWARD TO THE FAITHFUL. Fidelity in toil has its reward in rest. To the faithful ones it is sweet. But not as a mere cessation of activity.
1. It ends for them the time of exposure to temptation.
2. It marks the limits of probation.
3. It exchanges warfare for triumph; hard toil for honourable repose; danger for safety; the cross for the crown.
4. It brings the perfectness of all blessing in the everlasting life and the fulness of joy which are promised to the obedient and the pure.—R.G.
The unanswered question.
From the lips of Job words escape which prove how deeply he suffered. "Why?" is ever on the lips of men when they consider God's hidden work. But he giveth none account of his ways. Clouds and darkness are round about him. Happy the man who at all times is persuaded that justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne. The question here proposed by Job is the unanswered question running through the whole book. Until all is accomplished, the design of the process is unexplained. That the afflictions of Job had some other purpose than merely to respond to Satan's appeal, none will deny; but what the purpose was is not stated in words. The whole story alone explains it. New Testament readers have light upon the mystery of human suffering denied to the -saints of old. But with all the light and teaching granted, a veil of mystery still hangs over all. Partial answers may, however, be found. The demand of Job is unreasonable. It amounts to requiring that all who suffer should be permitted at once to end their sorrows in the silence of the grave. In other words, that none should suffer. "Why is life given unto the bitter in soul?" It is the cry of a sufferer distracted by his pain. Reasons why death should not come immediately to him that longs for it may be readily given. Let our thoughts rest on the purposes that are obviously answered by pain.
I. SUFFERING ARISES FROM THE INFRINGEMENT OF SOME NATURAL LAW, EITHER WILFULLY OR IGNORANTLY DONE. Pain, therefore, is the guardian of the life, giving sharp warning of disobedience or of ignorant exposure to wrong. How often would life be sacrificed in ignorance were not pain to declare the departure from the path of safety!
II. PAIN FORMS AN ELEMENT OF THAT TESTING OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT BY MEANS OF WHICH CHARACTER IS DEVELOPED. Patience, bravery, faith, resignation, hope, and obedience, and many other graces that adorn the human spirit, are celled into play and strengthened by the sharp severities of pain. It is a means of growth.
III. Afflictions, if not directly imposed by a Divine hand, are USED AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL CORRECTION, INSTRUCTION, AND GOVERNMENT. The great law finds its application here, "It is for chastening that ye endure." A wise father disciplines his loved son, not suffering him to run wild. So the Lord, the true Father, "dealeth with" men "as with sons."
IV. The true end of all suffering is thus found in the GROWTH, THE SANCTITY, THE CULTURE, AND ]PERFECTING OF THE SOUL. "That we may be partakers of his holiness."—R.G.
The curse of despair.
Job had endured bravely up to this moment. But when his courage broke down his despair swept all before it like an avalanche. Existence itself then seemed only a curse, and Job thought it a matter of regret that he had ever been brought into the world. In his despair he cursed the day of his birth.
I. THE CAUSES OF THE CURSE. Job was no mere dyspeptic pessimist. His utterance of despair was not simply bred from the gloom of a discontented mind. Nor was he a hasty, impatient man who rebelled against the first sign of opposition to his will. The curse was wrung out of him by a most terrible conjunction of circumstances.
1. Unparalleled calamities. He had lost nearly all—not property only, but children; not outside things only, but health and strength. He was bereft of almost everything in the world that promised to make life dear. Why then, should he value it any longer?
2. Long brooding over trouble. Job did not speak in haste. For seven days he had been sitting dumb with his three silent companions—dumb, but not unconscious. What an array of thoughts must have passed through his mind while he thus suppressed all utterance! Benumbed at first, perhaps, his mind must have gradually roused itself to take in all the truth. Thus he had time to realize it. Nothing is worse than to suffer without being able to do anything to meet and conquer our trouble. Action is a powerful antidote to despair. Inaction intensifies pain. Thought and imagination add tremendous horrors of the mind to the greatest external and bodily troubles.
3. Sympathy. The kind presence of his friends broke down Job's self-restraint. Men can bear in solitude with calmness; but sympathy opens the wells of emotion. This is best, for the heart that does not let out its pent-up feelings will break with concealed agony.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE CURSE.
1. Its bitterness. Satan said, "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life" (Job 2:4). Now Job unconsciously answers the superficial word of the accuser, though from an unexpected point of view. Life itself may become so cruel as to be not worth living, as to be a curse rather than a blessing. But the trouble must indeed be great that can thus conquer and reverse a primary instinct of nature. The exceeding bitterness of future punishment will be that the life which has become dead, and yet which is not unconscious, must still be endured.
2. Its humiliation. Job cursed his day, only his day; he did not curse his God, nor the universe. He did not vent his agony in rage against the whole order of things. He confined it to his own miserable existence. At worst he only complained that he had been brought into being; he did not complain that the general order of the world was unjust. Here is a token of humility, patience, self-control. Weak sufferers rail against all things in earth and heaven. They take their experience as a sign of universal mismanagement. It is, indeed, difficult not to judge the universe by our own feelings.
3. Its mistake. Job's despair was very excusable. Yet it was an error. It was an outbreak of impatience, though sadly provoked and bravely limited. No man is able to judge of the worth of his own life. The life which is miserable to its owner may yet be serving some high Divine purpose, may yet be a blessing to mankind. This was the case with Job's. We cannot know the use and value of life till we see it as a finished whole and from the other side of the grave.—W.F.A.
The rock-tombs, mausoleums, and pyramids, which are most striking features of Eastern and especially of Egyptian architecture, are noted by Job with some feeling of envy. It is not that the splendour of these strange works excites his admiration. His thought dwells rather on their desolation, but this desolation is brought out the more vividly by contrast with their vastness and original magnificence. To be associated with such imposing embodiments of the idea of death is just the most enviable goal of despair. Job thus directs our attention to the pyramids. Let us note their significant features.
I. THEIR USE. What was the object of the builders of these monstrous structures? For a long while men regarded the question as an insoluble riddle. Some suggested that the pyramids contained mystic prophecies shaped in symbolical measurements of architecture. Others saw in them astronomical records and libraries of science. But whatever subsidiary ends they may have served, it is now generally agreed that the primary object of the pyramids was to serve as tombs for their builders. Thus they emphasize the importance of death. We strive to banish the thought of our end; the Egyptians kept it most prominently before their eyes. We toil for the present ministry of life; the Egyptians toiled for the dead. A Pharaoh spent far more in constructing a home for his corpse than in building a palace for his present life. Here was a strange perversion of the idea that we should prepare for death and look forward to existence beyond.
II. THEIR VASTNESS. The great Pyramid of Gizeh was one of the wonders of the world, and already of hoary antiquity when the Book of Job was written. It is now certainly the most stupendous structure that has ever been built.
1. A sign of patient toil. Thousands of poor slaves must have been sacrificed to the construction of such a building. There is scarcely any limit to the results that may be produced by unremitting labour.
2. A proof of concentration of effort. Only a Pharaoh could build a pyramid in those old days. It needed the master of a nation to gather together the materials and the workmen. The greatest works come from combination of efforts. The highest spiritual efforts must not be in isolation. We must learn to unite and concentrate our spiritual service.
III. THEIR DESOLATION. These pyramids were "desolate places" from the first. They were never beautiful. The dismal use to which they were put must always have given to them an atmosphere of gloom. They were and are the most enduring structures in the world; yet their polished surface has been stripped off, and on near approach they appear like massive ruins. They were designed to preserve the mummied remains of their masters in safety; but their secret chambers are emptied, robbed by unknown hands of their carefully concealed contents. We cannot disguise the fact that death is desolation. We may build a splendid tomb, but it will only cover loathsome corruption. We cannot cheat death and decay by any earthly device. True immortality cannot be found on earth. But the Christian looks forward to a more solid and enduring home than any pyramid—to "a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."—W.F.A.
The peace of the grave.
I. TROUBLE ANTICIPATES THE PEACE OF THE GRAVE. There is a famous picture of Orcagna's in the Campo Santa at Florence, representing Death suddenly appearing in a motley crowd of men and women, and producing the most opposite effects. The rich, the young, and the gay flee in terror; but the poor, the miserable, and the sick stretch forth arms of longing welcome to their deliverer. When life is despaired of, death is sweet. Seeing that all must die, this is some compensation for the inequalities of life. The sleep of the tired toiler is deep and calm; and the footsore pilgrim on life's highway looks forward at times to his final rest with unspeakable eagerness. He can endure in view of the delicious repose which he sees beyond all his sufferings—a repose, however, which has no attraction for the healthy end happy. It is only a false sentimentalism that leads vigorous young people to apply the well-known words of the text to themselves.
II. WICKEDNESS IS AT THE ROOT OF THE TROUBLE THAT MAKES THE PEACE OF THE GRAVE DESIRABLE. Job's first thought is that the wicked cease from troubling in the land of the dead. There the captive no longer hears the odious voice of his oppressor. Injustice and heartless selfishness make a hell of this earth, which would be a very paradise if all men lived in the atmosphere of 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. It is horrible to think how often man's cruelty to man has turned the natural love of life into a yearning for the release of death. Certainly this wrong cannot continue beyond the grave. And yet there is a deeper and more personal truth. Our own sin is our greatest trouble. Too often we are ourselves the wicked who trouble our own hearts.
III. CHRISTIANITY OFFERS SOMETHING BETTER THAN THE PEACE OF THE GRAVE. We must remember that we have not here a complete Divine oracle concerning the future. Job is merely giving utterance to his despair. There is a certain truth in what he says, but it is not the whole truth. It is true that "there remaineth a rest to the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9). But Christ offers more than negative relief from the troubles of this life. He brings to us eternal life. To the Christian death is not sinking into silence for ever, but sleeping in Christ to awake in a new resurrection-life. Job looked forward to the still grave. We can anticipate the blessed heaven,
IV. THE CHRISTIAN HOPE RESTS ON MORE THAN THE EXPERIENCE OF DEATH. To die was all that Job hoped for; to die as an embryo dies who has never known life seems to him far better than to drag out such a weary existence as he now sees before him. Thus the mere dying and ceasing to be are enough. But for the larger Christian hope more is needed. Death is not the door to heaven; Christ is that Door. There is no certain road to peace through death; for death may lead to darker distress in a future of banishment from God. There is no peace in the "outer darkness," but "weeping and gnashing of teeth." For future rest even, and for the life eternal which is better than rest, we have to be born from above, and w be walking on earth in the footsteps of Christ. If we are doing this, it is not for us to long for death, but to "work while it is day; for the night cometh, wherein no man can work."—W.F.A.
Death, the leveller.
No thought is more hackneyed than the idea that the present inequalities of life end at death. Yet the practical significance of this idea is never fully realized and acted on. Let us consider its lessons. What does death the leveller teach us?
I. IT TEACHES HUMILITY. The master of an empire will soon own but six feet of soil The worms will shortly feed on one to whom princes bowed as slaves.
"O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure?
But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world: now lies he there,
And none so poor to do him reverence."
II. IT WARNS AGAINST INJUSTICE. The oppressor's sway is but brief. After a few swift years the rod will fall from his hand, and he will lie exactly on a level with the oppressed. How will he face his victims when he and they are in equal state? Christ bids his disciples make themselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that at the end they may receive them into everlasting habitations. There is a generous way of using money and influence that helps to win true friends among our brethren. They who have acted in the opposite way must expect a friendless future.
III. IT ENCOURAGES PATIENCE. The injustice is but temporary. The hard servitude will cease with death. The slave may look forward to his complete liberation. Hope may be the present inspiration of those whose lot is the most bitter, if only they can be assured of a portion in the life beyond the grave.
IV. IT POINTS TO HIGHER THAN EARTHLY THINGS FOR TRUE GREATNESS. If there were nothing above the words of our text, Job's thought would suggest a cynical contempt for all ambition and aspiration, because, if all must end at last in the low plain of death, nothing can be of permanent value. But if there is another world, the collapse of this world should urge us the more to store our treasures in that heavenly region. This does not mean that we are simply to live in preparation for the future beyond death; for we may have heaven in the present life; but it means that we should find true greatness in heavenly things, in spiritual grace and service.
V. IT CALLS US INTO TRUE BROTHERHOOD. Why should we wait for death to abolish the shams and pretensions, the unjust claims and cruel oppressions, of earth? The large liberty of the future should be a type and pattern for more fair dealings in the present. Already we might begin the process of liberation and justice which death will ultimately accomplish. We need not resort to the violent levelling processes of the anarchist. Nihilism is not Christianity. But it is incumbent upon us to do all that is in our power to establish a state of society which recognizes the brotherhood of man.—W.F.A.
The mystery of limitations.
Job here refers to two kinds of limitations—limits to knowledge and limits to power. Each is mysterious and perplexing.
I. THE MYSTERY OF LIMITED KNOWLEDGE. There are many kinds of knowledge that are of no immediate and practical importance to us. It would satisfy our curiosity if an answer could be found for our inquiries about such subjects; but it is by no means necessary that an answer should be forthcoming, and we can very well be content to go on without it. But the case is very different where we have to do with our own lives and their course of experience. Here the mystery is as perplexing and distressing as it is profound and insoluble. This is just Job's trouble. His way is hid.
1. The meaning of the present is not seen. The events that happen are so contrary to expectation and apparently to reason. Changes seem to happen like the aimless shiftings of a kaleidoscope. Useless troubles appear to fall upon us, Undeserved calamities seem to assail us.
2. The prospect of the future is obscure. If we could discern a happy issue out of our troubles, they might be endured with equanimity. But perhaps, as in Job's case, it is often impossible to see whither they are leading us. There is no bow in the cloud.
3. The discipline of life is conducted in mystery. Assuredly there is a purpose in the mystery, though we cannot see it. It would be bad for us to know all. Job could not have proved his disinterested devotion so effectively as he did prove it if he had known that the eye of the universe was on Satan's experiment of which he was the subject. God trains us in faith by means of obscurity. In the mean time he does not leave us. Our way may be hidden, but it is known to God. He is able to lead us safely over the darkest paths.
II. THE MYSTERY OF LIMITED POWER.
1. Human faculties are limited. They must be, or we should be infinite beings, i.e. we should be as God. But if there are necessarily some bounds to our power, we have only a question of degree when we are considering where this boundary is set. Still, the weak man wonders why he is not strong. Why should not the pigmy be a giant? Why should not the commonplace man have the intellect of a Plato? Why cramp him with a small mind? This is all mysterious, as it seems to bring injustice. But God only expects according to what is given, and surely there are some who cannot be trusted with the powers which others are capable of using.
2. Human circumstances are limited. A man has great powers; but he is hedged in. How hard this seems! If only he were at liberty what grand feats would he perform! So the poor man thinks he would do wonders if he were but a millionaire. But we have all to learn that "he shall choose our inheritance for us," because he knows us better than we know ourselves. Meanwhile the very hedge has its good effect. Satan had complained that God had set a hedge about Job (Job 1:10) for protection. Job apparently sees another hedge, and thinks it a hindrance. But may not the hindrance be a protection? The river runs the swifter when its channel is narrowed. There is a gathering of strength from the concentration of effort that limited circumstances require. There is an inspiration in difficulty. If we all had perfect liberty and power, we should lose the bracing discipline which now helps to train us. Finally, observe, no hedge set up by God can keep us from our true mission or our rightful heritage. Job did not fail, but, on the contrary, did his great life's work the better through' the mysterious cramping of his circumstances.—W.F.A.
Job 3:25, Job 3:26
Fears confirmed by facts.
Job complained that he was not foolishly confident in his prosperity, and so courting a reverse of fortune by pride and presumption. On the contrary, he was anticipating the possibility of evil and walking in fear. His action, as it appears in the opening verses of the book, shows us a man of an anxious temperament (Job 1:5). He thinks it hard that trouble should come to him who had feared it. This may be unreasonable in Job; but it is quite natural, and not at all inexplicable. Inconsistent as it may seem, our very anticipation of evil is unconsciously taken as a sort of insurance against it. Because we are prepared to expect it we somehow come to think that we should not receive it. Our humility, foresight, and apprehension are unconsciously treated as making up a sort of compensation which shall buy off the impending evil. When they turn out to be nothing of the kind we are sadly disappointed.
I. OUR WORST FEARS MAY BE REALIZED.
1. On earth. Anxious people are not ipso facto saved from trouble. The world does contain great evils. The ills of life are not confined to the imagination of the despondent. They are seen in plain prosaic facts.
2. After death. The fear of death will not save from death, nor will the fear of hell save from hell. A person may have very dark views of his impending fate, and, if he deserves it, he may find that it is quite equal to his fears. Nothing can be more disastrous than the notion that the expectation of future punishment is only the dream of a scared conscience. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" is a great fundamental law of nature.
II. THE RIGHT WAY TO DISPEL FEARS IS TO REMOVE THEIR GROUNDS. To soothe fears without touching the facts which justify them is the height of folly. The facts remain, however much we may be hoodwinked into disregarding them. Salvation is not to be got by means of any manipulation of the sinner's fears. Sin is the fundamental cause of all ruin, and the justification of men's worst fears. The one necessity is to remove the sin; then the fears will vanish of their own accord. The sickening letters from condemned criminals, who are quite sure that they are going straight from the gallows to heaven, although they give no sign of genuine penitence for sin, reveal a very unwholesome style of religious instruction. Surely the chief business of a Christian teacher is not to lull the fears of an alarmed conscience, and induce a condition of placid resignation. Hypnotism would do this more effectively; but to be hypnotized into placidity is not to be saved. If, however, men learn to confess their sins, and to loathe themselves on account of those sins, then indeed the gospel of Christ assures perfect redemption for all who turn to him in faith. When this is the soul's experience fear may be banished. Trouble, indeed, may come. But it is useless to anticipate it. It is better to take our Lord's advice, and "be not anxious for the morrow."—W.F.A.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany