We regard it as little short of a miracle that this very ancient book should have been accepted by the people of Israel as part of "the oracles of God," which were "committed" to their hands (see, Romans 3: 2). Job may have been a contemporary of Abraham but he was certainly not of Abrahamic stock, and therefore a Gentile, and yet introduced to us with such words of commendation as we hardly find accorded to any son of Israel. In the book moreover is no allusion to the law in which the Jew made his boast. There was therefore in it nothing that would particularly appeal to the Jew, but rather that which might offend. Yet there through the centuries it has stood, and been handed down to us.
In this we see not only the wisdom of God but His mercy also. Directly sin entered the world a baffling problem presented itself in the slaying of righteous Abel. Why should the godly suffer? If a man's life really pleases God, why should that pleasure not be indicated by special good being his in this life? There is, of course, the alternative problem Why should the ungodly prosper)-and this is dealt with in Psalm 73. But long before the days of the Psalmists God saw fit in His mercy to solve the enigma for us by permitting extreme disaster to come upon Job, and then causing the story to be recorded and preserved in an inspired writing. The solution was given as soon as "the oracles of God" began to appear.
In the very first verse the inspired writer-whoever he was-makes the exceptional character of Job very clear, and in verse 8 he records that a precisely similar description of him had come from the lips of Jehovah Himself, but with the addition that in his piety he surpassed his contemporaries, for there was "none like him in the earth." Of all men, therefore, here was the man upon whom the smile of the Almighty should rest.
And indeed he had been greatly prospered in the providence of God. He had a well favoured family, and immense possessions of those animals, in which wealth consisted in those days. He was the greatest among the men of the east, as well as the most godly. His piety embraced his family as well as himself, for he offered burnt offerings for them in the days of their festivities lest they should have in any way offended. Such is the picture presented of this remarkable man.
In verses 7-12, we are granted a glance behind the scenes of this world. Satan, though a fallen creature, still is permitted access to the presence of God. His casting down to earth, mentioned in Revelation 12, is still future. He is spoken of in that chapter as, "the accuser of our brethren," and that is just what we see him doing here: he does not change. He accused Job of self-seeking in his apparent piety: in other words, that he was in large measure a hypocrite - just what presently we shall find the three friends insinuating. He virtually challenged God to test him by some catastrophe, when Job's skin-deep piety would be broken through, and he would curse the God whom he professed to regard.
The Lord accepted Satan's challenge and permitted the adversary to act against all that he had, but not against himself. Satan promptly acted and the disasters fell with devastating effect.
It was a most instructive scene. We perceive three causes and two effects. The great First Cause is God. The second inferior cause is Satan. The third still lesser cause - or rather, causes - the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, and what men would call the forces of nature. The first effect was a complete sweeping away of all Job's family and possessions: the second and ultimate effect was a crushing blow delivered against Job.
What must have made it so crushing to Job was the fact that four different agents were employed. If one gigantic calamity had engulfed the lot, the effect on his mind would probably not have been so great. But four separate calamities, all in one day, and two of them what we should now call "acts of God," must have made Satan's malicious deed staggering beyond all our thoughts or words. We venture to think that such a collection of catastrophes, falling upon one man in one day, has never been equalled in the whole history of the world.
The piety of Job was proved not to be skin-deep merely. God knew how to sustain His true servant, and he stood the test and did not curse God. Satan was proved a liar and defeated. Job's words, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away," have been repeated millions of times by sorrowing saints, who also have blessed God instead of cursing Him, even as Job did.
Satan, however, returned to the charge, though God could again give His testimonial to Job's remarkable character. He knew very well that a man's own bodily self is nearer and dearer to him than all he may possess, so he said, "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." This remark of the devil was once quoted in court by a barrister, wishing to further his case. He prefaced it by saying, "As a great authority has said... ," feeling he was quite safe in his authority since he quoted from the Bible! The judge knew his Bible better than the counsel, so he quietly said, "I am interested to observe whom the learned counsel quotes as, 'a great authority!'"
It will be useful therefore to remind our readers that in this book we have quoted not only the words of Satan, but also many words of men, some of them true enough, as other scriptures show, but others much open to question. None of these men who spoke were inspired in their utterances, though we have an inspired account of what they said, so that the picture presented is perfectly true. We must never overlook the difference between revelation and inspiration. All Scripture is inspired of God, but not every word found therein is a revelation from God. When Solomon wrote, for instance, "There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink..." (Eccles. 2: 24), he was not uttering a revelation from God but rather his own foolishness - inspired to put it on record for our warning.
But to return to our story: given permission by God, Satan afflicted poor Job with as virulent a disease as has ever been on record, though not permitted to take his life. His state became so fearful and repulsive that his own wife urged him to the sin that Satan designed to lead him into. She only was left to him and thus she became, perhaps unwittingly, an abettor of Satan's design. But again, supported by God, Job stood the test and did not sin with his lips. The record of Job's reaction is this time more negative than positive, we notice still Satan was defeated, and from this point he disappears from the story.
Here, therefore, the story might end, if the point of it were only to show us how the power of God triumphs over the malign doings of the adversary. This is indeed made clearly manifest, but there was the further point of demonstrating how that same power, coupled with His searching kindness, triumphed in the conscience and heart and life of His tried saint, ultimately turning the blackest disaster into rich blessing, of a spiritual sort as well as material.
As a first move toward this, Job's three friends appeared on the scene. At the end of Job 2, they are introduced to us, and what is recorded indicates that they came full of sympathy and with the best of intentions. The record of his disasters and the horror of his bodily state moved them to tears, and so staggered them that for a whole week they sat in his presence speechless. The reality of it all far exceeded what they had heard. Dreadful it must have been to reduce them to this speechless condition. The expressions of sympathy they intended to make froze upon their lips.
But the week of silence had to end. Their presence, their tears, their rent mantles, the dust upon their heads, affected Job, and led him at last to break the silence. He opened his mouth and cursed his day. He did not curse God, be it noted. He called down a curse upon the day he was born; deploring the fact that he had not died when his mother gave him birth. He anticipated that, had he never seen the light, he would have "been at rest," and not in this dire affliction. In Job's day there was not much light as to the unseen world, yet he knew that death did not mean extinction of being, but for the saint rest, and freedom from the trouble caused by the wicked, such as he had experienced by Sabeans and Chaldeans. "There the wicked cease from troubling," (Job 3: 17); from troubling other people, not from being troubled themselves. There those, whose strength is worn out, are at rest.
Amongst mankind almost universally, a birthday is an occasion of remembrance and rejoicing. To poor Job it seemed a moment to be deplored and cursed. In his days of prosperity he had feared some kind of adversity might supervene. Now it had come upon him with unparalleled force. His agonized utterance, recorded in Job 3, surely moves our sympathy as we read it, some four thousand years after it was spoken.
The silence of a week being broken, Eliphaz was moved to speak. His earliest words, at the beginning of Job 4, have a gentle and considerate spirit. He acknowledged that Job had been a helper and sustainer of others, but asked a pertinent question in verse 6, which in Darby's New Translation is rendered, "Hath not thy piety been thy confidence, and the perfection of thy ways thy hope?"
Here, we believe, he did put his finger upon the weak spot in Job, as is shown in the remainder of the book. That Job's character and ways were excellent has been guaranteed by God Himself, but that being the case, how subtle the snare to make them the basis of one's confidence and hope, and to build everything upon them, before God as well as before men. It is what many a very godly saint has done since the days of Job.
But in his next paragraph (verses 7-11) Eliphaz completely misunderstands the situation. He asks, "Who ever perished, being innocent?" Doubtless he had no knowledge of Genesis, that book probably not having been written in his day, yet ancient things were known by carefully preserved tradition. What about Abel? He perished being innocent. Why, the first disaster recorded after sin entered the world disproved the position Eliphaz took up. The righteous Abel was cut off. Hence the idea, which he elaborated by his figure of the lions, broke down. The reaping of disaster does not mean of necessity that those who reap, "plow iniquity, and sow wickedness."
From verse 12 onwards, the standpoint that Eliphaz takes comes more clearly to light. He begins to relate a rather terrifying experience of his own, when he saw some spirit apparition, and received a word of warning as to man's frailty and impurity in the presence of his Maker. What he heard is perfectly true. No mortal man can be more pure or just than God. In both he falls infinitely short of God's glory.
As we open Job 5, we find Eliphaz continuing on this note and again he refers to what he had seen. Verse 3 begins, "I have seen . . .," and if we turn to Job 15, where his second speech is recorded, again we find him saying, "That which I have seen I will declare" (verse 17). It is evident then that his argument mainly rests for its validity upon his own powers of observation. In those powers he trusted for his opinion of the meaning of the calamities that had fallen upon Job.
Some of the sayings of Eliphaz in this chapter are perfectly true: for instance, "Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward," in this world of sin. Again, it is certainly true that God, "taketh the wise in their own craftiness," and that, "Happy is the man whom God correcteth." But we can see that all these facts are advanced in a way that turned them against poor Job. He had seen men taking root and then suddenly cursed, but these were "the foolish." And further, their children were smitten, and robbers swallowed up their possessions. It is obvious that all these remarks carried an insinuation against Job. He had appeared to be wise but was now taken in his craftiness - so it appeared to Eliphaz.
The advice given toward the end of his discourse was good. Job should not despise the chastening of the Almighty, but rather accept the correction, and then the tide of evil would turn and blessing come in. The closing verses speak of God's deliverance coming in; of renewed prosperity. Verse 24 has been rendered, "Thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace; and thou wilt survey thy fold, and miss nothing." Verse 25 speaks of a numerous posterity, and verse 26 of Job himself coming to his end in ripe old age.
These things did indeed mark Job's latter days as we know, but the insinuation was that the absence of any such prosperity at that moment was punishment from God for his sin, which had lain beneath the surface of his life in the past. Eliphaz closed by confidently asserting the truth of his remarks. "So it is," he declared, for he had searched it out and seen it for himself.
By all this Job was stirred to reply, and he begins by acknowledging that the arrows that had smitten him were from the Almighty but these friends of his had no proper sense of the weight of his calamity and grief. Well fed animals do not express distress by braying or lowing, so he did not cry out without ample cause. He was being fed on "sorrowful meat," and he desired that God would cut him off completely rather than prolong his misery.
From verses 14-23, Job upbraids his friends. He was the afflicted one to whom his friends should show pity, if they desired to walk in the fear of God, but on the contrary they were beginning to deal deceitfully with him. They were like streams that dried up in the heat, just when they were most needed by caravans of Tema or Sheba.
At verse 24 a more direct appeal begins. He challenged his friends to leave vague insinuations for direct accusation. Let them show where he had erred, so that, taught by them, he might hold his tongue. He rightly remarked, "How forcible are right words," but what did Eliphaz's "arguing," or "upbraiding," effect? How often among brethren in Christ have vague insinuations, or even accusations, wrought havoc, where "right words," based on specific facts, would have proved forcible and wrought good.
Job's reply continues into Job 7, and here his discourse seems to divide into two parts verses 1-10, and, 11-21. One cannot read the first section without being struck by the pathos of his plight. He felt it deeply himself and hence expressed it in moving fashion. "Months of vanity" and "wearisome nights" had been his portion, so that, just as a servant or hireling longed for the shadow of evening and the wages, he was longing for the end. Like the weaver's shuttle his days fled away and he was hopeless. His pathetic state is most vividly described and his friends should have been more filled with compassion.
But in the second part Job evidently turned Godward, and began to address Him with his bitter complaint. He realized his own littleness. He was not something great as a sea or a sea-monster, and, in verses 13-16, he cries out that his very nights are a torment with dreams and visions of terror which, he feels, come to him from God. He loathes his present life and tells God that he desires to die.
But it is noticeable how the tone of his complaint and cry changes, when he turns to God from the presence of his friends. He at once is made to realize the insignificance and even the sinfulness of mankind. His cry is, "What is man . . .?" and though he could not answer the question with the clearer light vouch-safed to David in Psalm 8, or the full light of the New Testament, he knew enough to admit that man is not what he ought to be, and that it is a wonder that God should set His heart upon him.
In verse 20, he goes even further. He realized God would not let him alone and he confesses to sin. The New Translation renders the opening of that verse, "Have I sinned, what do I unto Thee, Thou Observer of men?" and we understand that "Observer" and not "Preserver" is the correct translation. He knew he was under God's eye, who could perceive error where he was hardly aware of it. And why did God not grant pardon and remove the weight of his load?
Thus from the outset Job admitted some consciousness of guilt, but as yet, fortified by a life of piety and outward correctness, he did not realize its greatness. God was beginning the process which would lead him to see how deep and black it was.
What have we seen of the same thing in ourselves? Have we reached Paul's confession, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7: 18)?
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