Discipline: 20. Job

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Bildad replies (chap. 18) in angry and reproachful terms; and in a pointed way traces step by step the course of the wicked; first “taken in a snare, because his own counsel hath cast him down, until he shall have neither son nor nephew among his people. Surely such are the dwellings of the wicked, and this is the place of him that knoweth not God.” Well might Job reply—thus goaded with the assertion that he knew not God— “How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words?” What a wonderful time for the soul, when with conscience and faith in God, it seeks to justify itself, amid all the affliction and sorrow which here judicially and righteously is the common lot of all, and still more when they are for discipline. Job repels the accusation of having been taken in his own snare, saying, “Know now that God hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me with his net.” He ascribes it to God, but cannot see any reason for it. But with all this probing of the wound in the increased sense of being unduly afflicted by God, his spirit is nevertheless strengthening in hope, as we may discover in his words. “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.”
Chapter 20- Zophar now in the most emphatic manner presents to Job the utter and overwhelming ruin of the wicked. He denounces him without pity. Heaven shall reveal his iniquity, and the earth shall rise up against him. Job replies (chap. 21) detailing the prosperity of the wicked in order to skew that Zophar must be in error, and yet, though he knows that the reproaches of his friends are unfounded, he has no clear idea of God's will or of any order or purpose in His dealings. Knowing nothing more than that He is omnipotent, and can do as He likes, without being able to see that He always has a distinct end before Him for every one of His ways. “Known to God are all his works from the foundation of the world.” “How then,” he retorts, “comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood.”
Chapter 22- Eliphaz, now for the last time addresses him, and endeavors to make an impression upon him by the enormity of his charges. “Is not thy wickedness great, and thine iniquity infinite?” reiterating again that false principle, so ready to the carnal mind with reference to God's dealings, that He gives the gold and the silver to them who return to Him. “If thou return to the Almighty thou shalt be built up, thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles. Then shalt thou lay up gold as dust, and the gold of Ophir as the stones of the brooks.” (Ver. 23.)
Now in chapters 23 and 24 there are two points which come out: the first, that Job is sensible of his distance from God, and while sensible of it, desires to be brought near. It is the true exercise of a quickened soul—groping as it were in darkness for what it yearns after. “Behold,” he says, “I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him.” With this there is a sense of the unchangeableness of God's purpose. “He is in one mind, and who can turn him?” And yet the true fear, the solemn effect of His presence is not unknown, for he says, “I am troubled at his presence; when I consider, I am afraid of him.” The second point is that Job turns his eyes on men; he has not found rest or acceptance for himself with God, and now he looks at men; and he sees that the wicked prosper in the world; yet they have their secret sorrows, and death checks their career. But at this stage of his experience, he is not so much magnifying himself; he seeks to be near God, but fears His presence, because not at rest or in acceptance. Varied indeed are the exercises which a soul must be put through while refusing to see the completeness of its ruin in the sight of God.
Chapter 25- Bildad concludes his strictures, reiterating the greatness of God and uncleanness of man; as if there could be no ground of reparation between them. Bitter words to a worn one seeking for standing ground with God, whom in his spirit, he knew and believed in. Chapters 27-31—Job now gives a summary of his state, &c., as he is in himself and also as to his apprehension of God. The greatness of God creationally comes before him; but this never makes the soul conscious of the character of its distance from God; hence, in the next chapter we have Job maintaining his integrity. If not in the light I must maintain my integrity, unless I have broken some law—done some overt act; so here Job thus seeks to relieve himself from the reproach of being stricken of God. In chapter 28, where he finely describes wisdom, it is interesting to mark how, under all the pressure, his soul is advancing in true light and knowledge; and that thus the discipline is effective. The more I see the wisdom of God and His way (as one does sometimes when under pressure) the more depressed I shall become, if not able to connect myself acceptably with God; and as a consequence, I turn back on my own history, and become occupied with myself. Thus Job in chapter 29 dwells on the past, and this is always an evidence of the soul not being right with God; for if it were going on with him it would have greater things than the past to recount. This is especially the case when what it has to recall is self-amiability and God's gifts and goodness, which made up the sum of the young ruler's possessions. If I have a sense of sin from having been a transgressor, then retrospection is necessarily shorn of its charms; but when in misery the Lord can recall a time of uninterrupted blamelessness of life and conduct; the light of God's favor in His gifts shed around it; such a retrospect is attractive and engrossing to the heart. Job's time was before the land was given; and hence as a Gentile he is learning the evil of himself, not by law but in the presence of God and having lived in all good conscience, he found it no easy matter to count all as dung and dross. He is allowed to dwell on it in order to show us how the righteousness which is of ourselves may engage and hinder us; and yet on the other hand how utterly futile the course Job's friends adopted to help him to a true estimate of himself before God, and according to God Himself. Thus still occupied with himself, Job in chapter 29 dwells on his former prosperity, while in chapter 31 he goes seriatim over the goodness of his whole course and ways, judging himself according to man's judgment; and after it all he sums up thus: “My desire is that the Almighty would answer me.” Such are the exercises of a soul which, without having done anything to offend the natural conscience, has not seen itself in the light of God's presence, and therefore knows not the corruption of its nature. If the natural conscience could have formed wherewithal to convict, its action might have been easy and summary; but where the moral sense is not offended, a lengthened process is required for the soul ere it can reach a spiritual sense; i.e., an estimate of itself formed in the light of God's presence.
We now come to another epoch in this interesting history. We have traced briefly and inadequately the patient, searching process by which God leads a soul to discover its utter ruin in His sight. The example before us is one against whom no one could bring any charge. As far as works went, God Himself could challenge Satan and assert that there will none like Job in all the earth; an upright man and one that escheweth evil. But while either to man's eye or to Satan's eye there was nothing to blame or censure in Job, God would have Job know that in His sight he was utterly corrupt and lost. To learn this is most painful and bitter work to nature. Nature must die. Job begins by feeling that death would be preferable to life, all being misery here. He then, both from his own “mens conscia recti,” and also his knowledge of God's ways (while tortured by the unjust reproaches and surmising of his friends as to his concealed guilt) rebuts the doctrine which they uphold, even that God rules and determines things for man, according to man's works here; that He has no other principles of government; and that man's acts suggest to God a course of action; thus placing God without a purpose, and only like an ordinary sovereign legislating according to the vicissitude of circumstances. Job by all this exercise is strengthened in two points, which only add the more to his perplexity. He is the more deeply convinced of the sovereignty of God, and that all power is from Him; and, secondly, as his friends have failed to touch his conscience, he is bolder in self-justification.
Chapter 32- At this juncture Elihu comes in. This servant of God comes, as we shall see, from God's side, and supplies now to Job the teaching he so much needed. We are not aware often of the severe process of soul which we must pass through before we are prepared to hear of God from His own side. We may have to weary ourselves in very darkness before we are ready to hear the word of light; for light comes from God only; He (Christ) is the “light which lighteth every man which cometh into the world.” All reasoning from man's side, as Job's friends had done, only occupied him the more with himself, and provoked his self-vindication, while it necessarily made him more sensible of the distance between himself and God, and therefore deepened in his soul the need of God. Elihu now shows that it is not true what Job had asserted; that God acts arbitrarily; that “he findeth occasions against me.” His first argument is, that God is stronger than man. “Why dost thou strive against him?” “He giveth not account of his matters.” The first great thing for a soul is to humble itself under the mighty hand of God. This Job has not yet done. But furthermore, adds Elihu, God in dreams deals with man “that he may withdraw man from his purpose.” How gracious, that when all is in the stillness of sleep. God should show His wakeful interest for man, and warn him in dreams! God is full of mercy, as we see. (Ver. 23-28.) When there is confession on the ground of God's righteousness, there is mercy and salvation from God. All these things worketh God oftentimes with man. We get in the case of Isaac an example of the convulsion that occurs when the truth of God regains its power and rule in the soul. He trembled with an exceeding great trembling. Job must now learn this; he had allowed his own mind to judge God, instead of submitting himself to God, and waiting for instruction from Him.
Chapter 34- The next point with Elihu is that God must be righteous. Job had said that he himself was righteous, and that God had taken away his judgment. If God were not righteous, yea, the fountain of righteousness, how could He govern? “Shall even he that hateth right govern? surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.” “Who hath given him a charge over the earth?” Elihu exhorts Job to understand that God is righteous and in His righteousness He can act as He will. “He will not lay upon men more than is right, that he should enter into judgment with God.” Seeing this to be so, the true place for Job was that of confession. “Surely it is meet to be said unto God I have borne chastisement—I will not offend any more.” Though these varied lessons, these progressive steps in the history of a soul are presented to us as one continued unbroken tale, we must bear in mind, that there are often long and suffering intervals while each step is being learned. It is the order of their succession that is presented to us here; rather than the suffering which the soul goes through in learning them.
In chapter 35 Elihu touches on a new point; namely, that God is infinitely above man; that man's works can in no wise affect Him. Job must learn that “If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand?” “If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” There ought to be perception of the goodness that cometh from God; but on the contrary “none saith where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night,” —when all around is darkness. Job had dwelt on what he was to God, not on what God was to him. And then, “surely God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it.”
In chapter 36 another point is pressed on Job, even that if he looks at things from God's side, he must see His righteousness. Job ought to understand that “He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous “He openeth also their ear to discipline” — “He delivereth the poor in his affliction.” Here it was that Job had failed; he had been occupied in justifying himself, instead of having his ear opened to discipline. “Behold God is great.” There is an immense advance in the soul when it comes to this; and regards things distinctly as from God's side. When I have a true sense of what He is, the effect must be to humble myself under His mighty hand, and to wait on Him.
In chapter 37- Elihu leads Job into further contemplation of what God is in His greatness and His works; just as the Lord said “Believe me for the very works' sake.” And this is the introduction, if I may so say, for what we shall find in the next chapter; when God Himself addresses Job apart from any recognized instrumentality, instructing him in His own greatness and power. Job has listened to Elihu, and now prepared for God's voice, God in His mercy, deals directly and closely with his soul. How deep and solemn the exercise; when the soul, alone with God is in His wondrous grace and mercy taught by Him the majesty and goodness of Himself.
In chapter 38 we read “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” And calls on him to ponder and consider. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” “Through faith we understand that the worlds were formed by the word of God.” This is the beginning of faith, as also, that he that cometh to God must believe that He is. Job did believe in God as existing, but his faith was not simple and fixed in the might of God; in His greatness. He is now called to consider whether he could explain or know the origin of any of God's works. Could he reach or comprehend them? God challenges him, “Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts, or who hath given understanding to the heart?” In the material world God proves Job to be ignorant of the origin of any of His works; and now in chapter 39, he is required to ponder how unable he is to rule over the animal world. Be it the unicorn, the horse, or the eagle; each and all are superior to Job in strength. How much more He who created and gave them their qualities, ought not He to command supremely Job's reverence and fear! “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him?” (Chap. 40) Now it is that Job feels the force of the divine word. Then Job answered the Lord and said, “Behold I am vile, what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer; yea, twice, but I will proceed no further.” He is now brought to a sense of his vileness; but only so far as this, that he will be silent; for he knows not how to answer. He feels condemned, but has not yet reached simple self-renunciation. One may have a sense of vileness, and inability to answer, and yet hope to improve. It may be only a pause to recover from the conviction which the word of God must effect in the soul stunned but not subdued. If the sense of ruin and vileness were complete, there would be no promise of improvement, or expression that one was doing something better now than heretofore. Hence the voice of God still addresses Job; and he is subjected to the divine challenge again. Chapters 40, 41. This time God presses upon him, that Behemoth, the Leviathan, is a greater creature by many degrees than he; “upon earth there is not his like who is made without fear;” and for this purpose, the variety and order of God's ways with regard to this strange and mighty being, is brought before the soul of Job, who feels himself in the presence of God, and is confounded.
Now it is that he arrives at the end, desired of God, in all the discipline to which He has been subjecting him. Job now seeing God, forms a true estimate of himself, and repents in dust and ashes. The blameless man, in nature good, and as a man upright, when brought into the presence of God abhors himself. As a man, he has whereof he may boast; he may justify himself to his fellows, but not before God. Before, and in the presence of God, he can claim nothing, expect nothing, and feel himself entitled to nothing. In the sight of God's holy eye, his only consciousness of self is to abhor himself and repent in dust and ashes.
Job has now done with himself. Happy fruit and consummation of all discipline! And so completely is he freed from himself that, before there is any relief from the circumstances and trial which had been the proximate cause of all his misery and soul exercise and which Satan had brought upon him to prove his hollowness, he can pray for his friends. Superior to his own sufferings, he thinks of his friends before God, and then it is that the Lord turns the captivity of Job, proving (and how deeply we may lay it to heart!) that “the end of the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.” Amen.