Discipline: 19. Job

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The allusion which is made to Job in James 5:1111Behold, 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. (James 5:11)., viz., “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,” is enough to draw the attention of any earnest soul to the study of a history so fully recorded for us
Job is at first presented to us as a pattern man, happy in his own condition, faithful and true in his relations toward God. We see in him a man who had on every side risen above the evil and sorrow which is the lot of man; a remarkable instance and exemplar among men of how God could distinguish from the rest of men—one strong and superior to them; at once for God on earth, and blessed abundantly by God. He was perfect and upright; one that feared God and eschewed evil, and as to possessions and earthly things they were so abundant that this man was the greatest of all the men of the East.
It is important to see that Job was walking on the earth well pleasing to God” and owned by Him as such, when Satan first called in question his fidelity and imputed to him the unworthy motive which was couched in the question “Doth Job serve God for naught?” It affords us the clue to a true apprehension of the nature of the discipline to which he was subjected, when we see that it was not primarily on account of personal failure; but the rather for the purpose of exemplifying to Satan the truth of God's estimate of His servant. It will be seen that much personal failure was betrayed by Job, while under the divine discipline; for though the trials which he suffered were inflicted by Satan, and with the intent to verify his calumny on him, yet they were used of God to accomplish in Job that self-renunciation and faith in God, which did eventually enable him to establish in full blessedness, the truth of the estimate which God had in His goodness given of him. It is wonderful and most interesting to trace the way and manner in which the blessed God at once confound', Satan, vindicates His own judgment, and educates His servant up to the standing he had ascribed to him, and having brought him to it, rebukes Satan by bestowing on Job twice as much as he had before.
We must seek to realize in our minds what it must have been for one in the circumstances in which Job was, to be suddenly plunged into such reverses. We see him but a moment before enjoying the full circle of God's mercies, and at the same time maintaining a scrupulous conscientiousness with God; in the jealousy of his zeal rising up early in the morning, after the feasting of his sons, to offer up burnt-offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts; and this he did continually.” When every known point of the circle was thus carefully and with jealousy of heart toward God watched over, we might have expected, and doubtless Job had reckoned, that there would have been no disturbance of the rest in which through mercy he was set. Doubtless whatever might be the fears, which, like clouds coursing the sky on the brightest day, beset him, he had no idea of the malignant spirit who, by aspersing him before God, only moves the blessed God to surrender him into Satan's bands, in order that He might in the most unequivocal manner prove his integrity and unshaken fidelity to God. We must also bear in mind that while it is God's purpose in His dealings with Job to vindicate His own estimate of His servant, it is at the same time shown us how He educates or disciplines that servant so as to render him worthy of this estimate.
It was at a moment when Job could little have expected it that the crush came. No doubt he often had his fears; for he says “that which I feared greatly has come upon me;” and this must ever be the case when the soul has no better security for the love than the evidence and presence of its gifts. The gifts are thus a snare to us, and Satan's imputation against us is often in a measure true; our ground for rest and quietness of spirit before God being His kindness and mercies to us, and not simply the knowledge of His love. This is very evident from the violent grief and despair many of His people fall into when they are deprived of any particular mercy. They had rested in the gift more than in God, and the gift was to them the evidence of His love—the love itself not the rest of the heart. Satan knows man's tendency and therefore hesitates not to accuse Job of it, asserting that he had no link with God, or reverence for Him, but on account of His abundant mercies to him. God in His grace had challenged Satan as to His servant that there was none like him in all the earth. Satan retorts, imputing to Job a sordid motive for his allegiance; and asserting that if he were deprived of all which now attached him to God, he would curse Him to His face. The Lord on this, in order to verify His own estimate, and to render Job in himself worthy of this estimate, permits Satan to deprive him of all he has.
In one day, in quick succession, Job loses property, children, everything. Never was a catastrophe so rapid and so complete. “Then Job arose and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground and worshipped.” He bears these first great waves of adversity in a most exemplary manner, and says, “Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither; the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
It is to be noted that at first a great accumulation of afflictions are better borne than afterward. The strength that is in the heart, the confidence in God, is the resource where the crash is sudden and terrific; and in the rapidity with which Satan used his power, it appears to me he outwitted himself, for certainly sufferings with an interval between them are more trying. Satan, however, hoped that the crash would be so overwhelming, that Job could not but reproach God for the calamity. But extreme difficulty always calls out the latent strength, as with a drowning man; where a lesser difficulty would not. The trial is not sufficient at times to rouse one to effort. It is when the effort has been drawn out by extreme difficulty and has proved unavailing, that real helplessness is felt, and the cloud of despair invests the soul. Job had borne his troubles so well that the gracious God is able again to challenge Satan as to his estimate of His servant. Satan retorts, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life, but put forth thine hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.” Of course, it fills the cup of misery, if besides being deprived of everything my heart clings to, and the whole scene once so lovely and pleasing to me now a waste—with but tombs of my former enjoyments; if besides this, I have become by bodily infliction a burden to myself! Surely bodily suffering and disease would in such a case be the bitterest way of reminding me of my utter desolation without heart or power to retrieve my condition. God permits Satan to afflict Job with the most grievous bodily suffering; he is smitten with sore boils from the crown of his bead to the sole of his foot. How complete his misery! his wife is overwhelmed, and in her distress falls into Satan's snare, and counsels her husband to curse God and die. Thus everything is against Job. What a moment of exercise to his soul! How he must have wrought within himself as to hope in God! But every exercise, though the sufferer at the time little knows it, is strengthening the soul in God. The deeper the distress, the deeper the sense of His grace in relieving it; the one only makes a good rooting ground for the other.
Job bears up wonderfully at first. He rebukes his wife, saying, “What, shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” But he is further tested. His friends come to mourn with and comfort him. If I am passing through discipline from God, which my most intimate friends or relatives do not understand, their intimacy and offers of help and comfort disturb and injure me rather than the reverse. This Job had to encounter from his wife, on one side, and his three friends, on the other; one on the ground of nature, the other on the ground of superior intelligence. What a scene it was! “When the friends lifted up their eyes afar off and knew him not, they lifted up their voice and wept; and they rent every one his mantle and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him, for they saw that his grief was very great.”
“After this Job opened his mouth and cursed his day.” Under the weight of a terrible blow there is such utter exclusion from everything all round, that there is no attempt to complain or to express oneself. And if the soul has confidence in God it is more shut up unto it, while the sufferer is unable to look at himself in relation to things here, and as he was among them. But the moment he awakes to the reality of his relation to everything here, himself must occupy him, unless he is done with himself. The discipline is administered in order to set aside self, and introduce the heart into its true relation apart from self with God. Hence, the effect of the discipline is to expose the secret workings and feelings of self, which otherwise would not have been detected or known, and, if not known, not renounced. Job felt himself now a hapless one, with misery all around him, having outlived every enjoyment on earth, and be cursed his day. What had he lived for, and what should he live for? Little he knew the place he was occupying before God, or how God was preparing him, through terrible sufferings, to vindicate His own estimate of him to Satan. We have now to examine how God effects this His blessed purpose; noting the course which a soul under discipline from God necessarily takes in order to arrive at simple dependence and rest in Him.
The first thought, and the most bitter one, after awaking to a full sense of one's misery, is to curse one's day; a terrible impression, and the one which leads to suicide, when God is not known. But when God is known, as in Job's case, it is the beginning of healthy action; not in the discontent and wretchedness which it discloses, but because the sense of death, utter extermination from everything, is known and felt. I may give way to rebellion and discontent in learning the utter wretchedness of man on earth, but the sense of this is necessary to full self-renunciation. I ought not to blame God for it, but I need to realize it as man's true place. Death, because of such present misery, is preferred. To live in it has no attraction for the heart. This Job feels. He knows not that God seeks to make him a witness of dependence on Himself against Satan. But this is God's way. Discipline may have the effect of making us feel that death is preferable to life, but it is working out God's purpose.
To this experience Job receives a check in the reply of Eliphaz the Temanite. I think we should regard these three friends as representing to us the various exercises which engage our consciences when under this order of discipline. Eliphaz intimates to Job that he deserved these afflictions; “even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity and sow wickedness reap the same,” and still more (chap. 5:17), that it is not even chastening; for if it were, “He that maketh sore bindeth up:” thus insinuating that as He had not bound up, it was something more than chastening. In consequence of this, Job is now (chap. 6:7) not so much occupied with his misery, as with his right to complain and endeavor to retort the suggestions of his friend. He gives us a history of his calamities, disappointment in his friends being added to the list—occupied with self-vindication, though at the same time only the more convinced that his days are vanity, saying, “My soul chooseth strangling and death rather than life.” What lessons of anguish one has to learn before one sees the wisdom of renouncing self! What has not the soul to pass through in discipline in order that it may be brought to this! How tormented it is with one suggestion and another; which never could reach or trouble it only for the amount of self which exists. It is the possibility of the truth of a charge which makes it painful and irritating.
Bildad replies. This is another exercise to Job. It is well for us to have recorded in God's word an account of the often unexplainable exercises through which we pass when learning the nothingness of man in himself—suggestions claiming to be friends, afflicting us still more sorely. Bildad here severely reproves Job; telling him that the words of his mouth are like a strong wind, and that if he were pure and upright God would awake for him; thus throwing him still more on himself and implying, that his trials are judicial requitals for sin, and not, as really was the case, the discipline of God leading him to the full end of himself. He is now no longer so much overwhelmed with his misery, as occupied with righting himself in the sight of his friends. Painful and cruel work is it to the spirit to repel charges made by friends, of deserving irretrievable misery. Job knew that he had done nothing to deserve it; but what he had to learn was that he was entitled to nothing, and this his friends knew no more than he; they stood entirely on righteousness.
Job now owns the greatness of God. He is turned God ward; yet while he owns the greatness of God and His power, he uses it only to show the distance that is between himself and God; even that they cannot meet on equal terms; but that if they could, he should not fear. It is evident his soul has a link with God, but his friends have occupied him with God as a judge, intimating that the deprivation of temporal mercies is a punishment for sin, which implies of course that the gift of them is the contrary. In this new exercise, he sees God's greatness and does not see God's care for himself: as under His hand, what (he argues) can he avail? He sees no reason in it, regards it as arbitrary, and implies that if he had a daysman who could place them on a common footing, he could make good his case; but as it is, there is no hope. “Oh (he cries) that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me!”
Zophar replies, endeavoring to convict him, pressing on him that God “exacteth less of thee than thine iniquity deserveth;” and if there were no iniquity, there would be present mercies. “Thou shouldest lift thy face without spot and take thy rest in safety.” Zophar makes man's acts the measure of God's dealings. He does not see the evil of man in himself, and his consequent distance from God, as without title to any blessing. Job replies. What little way a soul makes when occupied with self-justification! The friends had stung him with reproaches, that his afflictions must be on account of sin. Job, unconscious of any evil that would warrant such suffering, denies it. The reproaches which the Lord bore without reply, though unjustly heaped upon Him, Job rebuts because he has not seen himself as he is before God. He is only judging himself as a man would, and as his friends ought, who really were on no higher ground than himself. God's sovereignty accounts to him for everything. He sees no purpose of grace in God's ways with him, and yet it is evident his soul is gaining ground, for he exclaims, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” and a gleam of hope bursts in on his path; for he adds, “Thou shalt call and I will answer thee, thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.” What a season when the soul passes through all this exercise and anguish in order to emerge from self-satisfaction and rest only in God! yet God's way is perfect, as the end always proves.
Eliphaz replies. (Chap. 15) He waxes severe and unmeasured in his efforts to convince Job that he and his companions have wisdom, and therefore that they are right in their statements that God is now dealing with men according to their merits, that the wicked man travaileth with pain all his days; and he adds, “a dreadful sound is in my ears: in prosperity the destroyer shall come upon him.”
Unless we study the exercises of our own hearts we can hardly estimate the heart-rending which these censures must have caused Job. They turned him in the wrong direction; they engaged him with himself. He could not deny that he was afflicted; he did not see, measuring himself with man, that he had done any act to subject himself to so great affliction; and his friends harassed him, directing and confining his mind to this one point, that God's doings were all according to man's acts, and therefore, as he suffered so much, he must have been wicked in an extraordinary degree. Job resists (chap. 16), and pronounces his friends “miserable comforters;” and so they were. “Though I speak,” he cries, “my grief is not assuaged; and though I forbear, what am I eased?” He has now the bitterest of feelings; even that God had delivered him to the ungodly. He tastes of our Lord's sufferings as a man. Who can comprehend the bitterness of the sorrow that now devours the soul of Job! “My friends scorn me,” he exclaims, “but mine eye poureth out tears to God.” In all his sense of the terribleness of his affliction and suffering, there drops out now and again the link, that, as a regenerate soul, he has with God. He has not yet seen himself in the sight of God; and therefore he maintains (ver. 17), “Not for any injustice in my hands, also my prayer is pure;” and therefore he looks to plead with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbor. He has a partial sense of God's greatness; but he has not the sense of His holiness; and the reason of this is, that he has never been near enough to God; for it is nearness to Him that produces the sense of His holiness. Therefore he concludes that if he could plead with Him, he must be acquitted. We see thus what terrible distress of soul arises from estimating sufferings from God's band according to man; i.e., looking man-ward in respect of them. How much of Job's self is before his mind! He feels that be is a “by-word of the people.” “Upright men shall be astonied at this, and the innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite.” To such thoughts as these death can be time only release. “If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness.”
(To be continued.)