the Fourth Week of Lent
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
THE greatest of all the men of the East, as Job afterwards became, he began his life with having nothing. In his own lowly-minded words, Job was at one time poor even to nakedness. When he was at the top of his shining prosperity, and when he suddenly lost it all in one day, his utter desolation threw his mind back on his absolutely destitute youth. The Lord gave, he said, with splendid thankfulness and with splendid submission, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. But, far worse than all his early poverty, and far more difficult to escape and to surmount, were the long-lived sins of his youth. I have been in the same great trespass, says old Bishop Andrewes, from my youth up, and even to this day. Perfect and upright, and one that feared God and eschewed evil, as Job had now for such a long time been, at the same time he tells us that the heels of his feet still left an accusing and an arresting mark behind him, whatever he did, and wherever he dwelt. Job had been freely and fully forgiven of God, but vengeance was still being taken of God on all Job's inventions, as God's way has always been with His best saints, and always will be. My sins are ever before me, was Job's continual confession made toward God; while, all the time, he held fast his integrity toward all men, and in the face of all men. To his three friends, who so cruelly accused him of hypocrisy, and who kept insisting that there must be some cloked-up sin in Job's present life that was the cause of all his terrible troubles, he replied with a magnificent and a conclusive vindication of his absolute innocence and perfect integrity. But, all the time, we see Job turning from all men to God and confessing, with the most poignant shame and sorrow, both his past sins and his present sinfulness. 'How many are mine iniquities and my sins! For Thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth. Thou puttest my feet also into the stocks, and lookest narrowly to all my paths. Thou settest a print on the heels of my feet. If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean, yet Thou wilt plunge me into the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.' The truth is: Job is both guilty and not guilty. Job is both unclean and vile. Job is absolutely innocent of all that Eliphaz and his fellows insinuate and impute to him. The Philistines understand me not, says John Bunyan in his Grace Abounding. But Job is not without much sin in his past life, and much sinfulness in his present heart. And it is this-with his unparalleled sufferings, and with the incessant insinuations and insults of his three friends-it is all this that so racks and tortures Job's tender conscience, and so darkens and crushes his pious heart, and so embitters and exasperates, sometimes almost to rank blasphemy, his far too many defences of himself.
'How long have I to live?' said Barzillai to David, when, at his restoration to the throne, David invited the loyal, hospitable, Highland chieftain to a thanksgiving feast in Jerusalem. 'I am this day fourscore years old. Can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women?' And in like manner, when Job's sons and daughters said to their old father, 'Come to our feasts with us!' Job answered them thus: 'No, my children. There is a time for everything. I am no longer young as you are. Rejoice,' said the genial old man, 'in the days of your youth. Go your way; eat the fat and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared.' Only, all the time, Job had not forgotten his own early days. He knew to his lasting cost that folly is bound up in a young man's heart, and that eating and drinking and dancing, more than anything else, lets all that folly out. And thus it was that Job's sons and daughters had no sooner set out to the days of their feasting and the nights of their dancing, than their father set himself to his days and nights of prayer on behalf of his children. And every morning and every evening till the days of their feasting were all gone about Job never ceased his sacrifices and intercessions in his children's behalf. For each one of his sons and daughters their old father offered a special sacrifice, and set apart for each a special diet of intercession. So much so, that there is not a father or a mother among us to this day to whom God has not often said, Hast thou, in this matter of thy children, considered my servant Job? No. We confess with pain and shame and guilt concerning our children, that Job here condemns us to our face. But we feel tonight greatly drawn, if it is not too late, to imitate Job henceforth in behalf of our children. We have not wholly neglected them, nor the Great Sacrifice in their behalf. But we have not remembered it and them together at all with that regularity, and point, and perseverance, and watchfulness, that all combined to make Job such a good father to his children, and such a good servant to his God. But if our children are still about us, and if it is not yet too late, we shall vow before God tonight that whilst they are still with us we shall not again so forget them. When they set out to school we shall look out of our windows after them, and we shall imagine and picture to ourselves the life into which they must all enter and cannot escape. We shall remember the streets and the playgrounds of our own schooldays, and the older boys and their conversations. And we shall reflect that the games, and sports, and talks of the playground will bring things out of our children's hearts that we never see nor hear at home. And, then, when they come the length of taking walking and cycling tours, and fishing and shooting expeditions; and, still more, when they are invited out to eat and to drink and to dance, till they must now have a latch-key of their own-by that time it is more than time we had done with all our own late hours, and had taken ourselves to almost nothing in this world but intercessory prayer. We shall not go with them, but we shall not sleep till they have all come home and shut the door to our hearing behind them. And we shall every such night, and in as many words, plead before God the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, for each several one of our own and our neighbours' children. We shall go over their names, one after another. We shall spread out our fears and our hopes before God. We shall go over their ages, their temperaments, their inherited virtues and vices. We shall call up and remember where we were living, and what we were doing at their age; and that will make us fall on our face and plead with God that the heels of our son's feet shall leave no such marks behind them as our feet have left. It had been better they had never been born; it were better they died even now than that they should live to possess the iniquities of their youth, and to be put into those terrible stocks that God still keeps for young sinners. And, then, when they come home late at night, and see his candle still burning in their father's room, without any one pointing it out to them, or casting it up to them, they will understand their father's wistful ways, and that will bring them to their own knees also for the day past, and for the night past, and for their own souls, and for the souls of their companions. Thus did Job and his sons and his daughters continually.
The curse that always waits in this world on controversy and contradiction has never been clearer seen than it is seen in Job's case. For never was so much shrewd truth, and so many truly pious positions, and so much divine and human eloquence heard on both sides, and from any other five debating men, as was heard all round Job's ash-heap. The authorities on these things tell us that the debating in the Book of Job is the most wonderful piece of genius that has ever been heard or read since debating genius was. And, yet, such is the malignant and incurable curse of all controversy, even at its best, that Job and all his four friends seem sometimes as if they are to be consumed one of another-out of the same mouth so much blessing and so much cursing both proceed. If Job could have but endured to the end the near neighbourhood, and the suspicious looks, and the significant gestures, and the open broadsides of his four friends, 'that daily furnace of men's tongues,' as Augustine has it, Job would have been far too patient and far too perfect for an Old Testament saint. For, till Christ came, no soul was ever made such a battle-ground between heaven and hell, as Job's soul was made. Job's sorrows came not in single spies, but in battalions. Like the Captain of Salvation Himself, Job, His forerunner, took up successful arms against a whole sea of sorrows, and he would have won every battle of them all had he only been able to bear up under the suspicious looks and the reproving speeches of his four friends. But what Satan could not do with all his Sabeans, and all his Chaldeans, and all his winds from the wilderness to help him, that he soon did with the help of the debating approaches and the controversial assaults of Eliphaz, and Zophar, and Bildad, and Elihu. Oh, the unmitigable curse of controversy! Oh, the detestable passions that corrections and contradictions kindle up to fury in the proud heart of man! Eschew controversy, my brethren, as you would eschew the entrance to hell itself. Let them have it their own way. Let them talk. Let them write. Let them correct you. Let them traduce you. Let them judge and condemn you. Let them slay you. Rather let the truth of God itself suffer, than that love suffer. You have not enough of the divine nature in you to be a controversialist. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He is brought as a Iamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not: by whose stripes ye were healed. Heal me, prays Augustine again and again, of this lust of mine of always vindicating myself. Read Santa Teresa's advice about self-excusing.
But, splendid, and, to this day, unapproached composition as the Book of Job is; and, magnificent victory of faith and patience as Job at last achieved; at the same time, the whole tragedy, down to its completion and coronation, is all displayed on an immensely lower stage of things than are a thousand far greater tragedies at present in progress among ourselves. For, after all, both Job's trials, and his triumphs of faith and patience also, savour somewhat too much of this present world. Job suffers first the loss of his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his camels, and his servants; and then, with that, the loss of his sons and daughters; after which the patriarch is smitten in his own body with such a dreadful disease that he is more like a rotten carcass than a living man. All of which was surely tribulation enough for that day and that dispensation. But the fatal loss and the absolute despair of ever attaining to any true holiness of heart; to any true and spiritual love either to God or man; that is a trial of faith and patience to some men in our day that Job with all his battalions of trials knew nothing about. The Lord chastens some men among us with a heart so full of the blains, and boils, and elephantiasis of spiritual sin that a single day of it would have driven Job downright mad. Under it, in his day, Job would have cursed God, and died. But let those among us who are God's elect to the sanctification of the Spirit take comfort. And let them have patience; ay, and far more patience than all the patience of Job, even as they are called to endure far more than all the accumulated losses and all the intolerable diseases of Job. Let them be absolutely sure that when God has sufficiently tried them, they, too, shall come forth as gold. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. The time is long; but the thing is true. Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer Thee? I shall lay my hand upon my mouth. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee. Therefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. It was when Job had been taught of God to see and to say all that, as never before; it was then that the Lord took pity and turned the captivity of Job. And it will just be when you both see and feel all that; and that a thousand times clearer and a thousand times keener than Job could either see it or feel it; it will just be then that the Lord will turn your captivity also till you will be like men that dream. For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. For the which cause I also suffer these things; for I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Be ye also patient, and stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Job'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​j/job.html. 1901.