Lectures on Job 16-19

Job 16‑19  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 6
NEXT, in the answer of Job (chaps. 16, 17.), we may observe that he expresses his deep sense of their complete failure in meeting his case. “I have heard many such things,” said he: “miserable comforters are ye all. Shall vain words have an end? or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest? I also could speak as ye do: if your soul were in my soul's stead,” he adds very affectingly, “I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you.” Just let them change places, had this been possible; let those three friends be in the position of Job; let them have, not only their possessions, but their families, completely swept away by the besom of destruction, and in a manner that looked like the effect of divine displeasure; let their persons too suffer in a way as marked and excruciating as Job's, so as to afford to the most careless eye the most unmistakable sign of some peculiarly tremendous dealing with them; let them be only in such circumstances, and Job be the friend that comes to speak with them: could he not have indulged in words and looks quite as severe? I cannot but think the answer here a most touching appeal, especially when he goes on, “But I would strengthen you with my mouth.” There he has the unquestionable advantage in grace over them. “I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your grief.” Not a word had come from them with such a character or purpose.
“Though I speak, my grief is not assuaged: and though I forbear, what am I eased?” Certainly he did not disown what they interpreted to his disadvantage, the depth of his desolation. Had they pressed against him the fact that God had permitted it all? It was this very thing he felt so keenly. Thus far Job was, beyond contradiction, pious. He acknowledged the truth. He does not lay his ruin on the Chaldeans, or other secondary causes. He does not explain it away by instrumental circumstances. He saw God's hand without in the least entering into His mind about the trial, still less His love; and that was just the reason why all was at present so inexplicable to his soul. He holds fast his integrity, perfectly sure that there was nothing of that which they imagined against him, no dreadful secret, no burdening sin, which God was therein avenging. His conscience was good. Job could not tell how or why it was, while he mournfully felt that God was in it all; but he was no less certain that his friends foully wronged him; and that, if they stood in his shoes, far different would his words have been to them. “But now,” says he, “he hath made me weary: thou hast made desolate all my company. And thou hast filled me with wrinkles, which is a witness against me.” There was no hiding, no hard pretension in any way that he was suffering less than the reality. Nay, he goes to the opposite extreme, and uses language exceedingly to be regretted: “He teareth me in his wrath, who hateth me: he gnasheth upon me with his teeth; mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me.” This is strong language when we remember whence Job felt his troubles come, whoever might be the means or instrument of them. Still he admits, and holds to it firmly, that the enemy could not have discharged his vials of wrath upon him unless God had given the word. He saw then the twofold truth, on the one hand, of God holy, just, good; on the other hand, of God visiting him with trials unexampled and utterly overwhelming. But he could not solve the problem, still less his friends, who misread both to growing doubt of Job's faith and probity.
But Job clung still to God, though he complained bitterly and unbecomingly. How and why such trial of himself could be, wherefore God should reverse His ways with him, he could not understand; but he does not deny the truth for a moment. He does use language painfully descriptive of the distress his soul was passing through: “They have gaped upon me with their mouth.” It is not at all the only time that we may have to take notice of language that remarkably connects itself with that of the Psalms. Anyone that will take the trouble to compare the two books, may readily see a number of expressions pointedly similar. The instance before us may illustrate. Who in the Psalms speaks of their gaping like a ravening lion? It is the Lord on the cross. But what a difference! “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” Not a word of this is heard on Job's part. In consequence of the fiery trial that Job was passing through, he speaks as if God were dealing hardly with him, as if He were become mysteriously his enemy; consequently he breaks out into bitterness, the natural effect of such a thought. The state of the soul must always depend on how one looks, or fails to look, at God. How all-important, therefore, that one should have and enjoy the knowledge of God as He is, that the soul should be at ease and at home with Him, self-judging and resting in His love.
The effect of real enjoyment of God's love, of course, is that love flows from us. It was not so with anyone there. Job was right enough in feeling that God had to do with his sore trial. Little did he know what had taken place on high, which afforded the key at least to part of it. Still he could leave God out of no part, which, as it wrought in his friends to judge unduly of Job, and falsely of God—for they were wholly wrong—so it tended for the moment to give Job hard feelings about God. He murmured as if he were dealt with hardly. “God hath delivered me,” says he, “to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked.” He avows with the utmost frankness that without Him none of these trials could “happen.” There was real faith, although he was imperfectly instructed as yet. “I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark. His archers compass me round about, he cleaveth my reins asunder, and doth not spare; he poureth out my gall upon the ground. He breaketh me with breach upon breach, he runneth upon me like a giant. I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and defiled my horn in the dust.”
But was it true that he restrained prayer before God? Listen to his own words: “My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death; not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure.” Eliphaz had thoroughly wronged him. “O earth, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry have no place. Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high;” that is, he as to this can turn to God. Whether prayer had been restrained could be judged absolutely by none but God Himself. Job acts upon it here, it would seem; and, if I be not mistaken, this is just his appeal: “My witness is in heaven, and my record is on high. My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.” It was utterly false that he did not cry to God. “O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbor! When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return.”
And so through the next chapter (17.), where he pours out his lament, we find this. Had the suspicion—one might call it the charge—of his friends been true, there is one thing that, above all others, would have been terrible in his apprehension. Need I say that it would be death? So far from this, however, there was nothing that Job so much desired as death. It was in vain to talk to him about any change for him on earth; it was vain to talk to him about his family; or any retrieving the disasters that had swallowed all up. None of these things would have afforded the smallest comfort to the heart of Job; but if he could only die, if he could only approach near enough to God to plead before Him, not even now did he doubt what he would find there. How plain that, if it was only a partial revelation which had formed the heart of Job, still the substance of the truth was his.
Assuredly there is nothing that could more thoroughly test a man than that. A bad conscience would have shrunk from death, as the stripping it of all disguise, and destruction to the soul. Job, on the contrary, proved not his reality alone, but the state of his conscience, by the fact of his earnest desire to depart and be with God. We see his confidence in God then, even while he spreads out his sorrows, with no other thought than death before him. “If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister. And where is now my hope? as for my hope, who shall see it? They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust.”
Then (ch. 18.) the second of Job's friends takes up the word. As we noticed in the former debate, Bildad has much less gentleness of spirit and less self-restraint, than his older friend Eliphaz, who takes the lead in all these discussions. He therefore is much more unscrupulous in bringing out his doubt of Job, his implication of hypocrisy; for this is really what soon comes out. “How long will it be,” he says, “ere ye make an end of words? mark and afterward we will speak. Wherefore are we counted as beasts, and reputed vile in your sight? He teareth himself in his anger: shall the earth be forsaken for thee? and shall the rock be removed out of his place? Yea, the light of the wicked” (was this what he insinuates to be in Job, “the light of the wicked”?) “shall be put out, and the spark of his fire shall not shine. The light shall be dark in his tabernacle, and his candle shall be put out with him. The steps of his strength shall be straitened, and his own counsel shall cast him down. For he is cast into a net by his own feet, and he walketh upon a snare. The gin shall take him by the heel, and the robber shall prevail against him.” “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
Such is the spirit of Bildad. He was satisfied that, whatever might have been the appearances, they were all hollow, and that now the truth could no longer be hid: God's judgments and Job's language were making it manifest that he had been simply a prosperous fool, with its just and usual end in this life. We all understand, of course, what is meant in Scripture by the “fool” —a man without God. No folly is like it. So he believes it to have been with Job. Is it not humbling and solemn that we may be ever so sincere in what we believe, but completely wrong? We are just as responsible for what our convictions are as for what we do or say. The only one that is competent to give us the right thought or feeling is He who alone gives the wisdom and strength to carry it out. It is God Himself. We are entirely dependent on Him to form our thoughts and feelings according to His mind just as much as for our ways.
But to proceed. Bildad adds, “He shall have neither son nor nephew among his people.” It is painful to see how his hard spirit takes advantage of the pitiful calamity that had blotted out the children of Job. “Nor any remaining in his dwellings. They that come after him shall be astonied at his day, as they that went before were affrighted. Surely such are the dwellings of the wicked, and this is the place of him that knoweth not God.” Was Job such in the estimation of Bildad?
As this was the worst of the speeches hitherto, Job under the hand of God is led far out of and beyond himself. It may be slowly, and but for a little; still following this comes a bright glimpse at Him that is coming, the Seed of the woman, for whom saints waited from the first. “How long,” answered Job (ch. 19.), “will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words?” for he felt that in their reproaches there was no weight, nothing but words.
I turn now to what Job says in reply to Bildad: “And be it indeed,” says he, “that I have erred, mine error remaineth with myself.” He felt that they had in no wise corrected it. “If indeed ye will magnify yourselves against me, and plead against me my reproach” —too hasty to take occasion by his deep and accumulated afflictions “know now that God hath overthrown me.” How boldly he speaks out. And this, as far as it goes, could not have been without real faith, though it was far below the meek submission of our blessed Lord. Did they say that God was against Job? “God hath overthrown me,” he acknowledges. If it was any comfort for them to know, he confesses that his trouble came from His hand, that He “hath compassed me with his net. Behold, I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard: I cry aloud, but there is no judgment. He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he hath set darkness in my paths. He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head. He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and mine hope hath he removed like a tree.” He himself points, not they, to his universal desertion, to the desertion of his wife, of his brethren, of his servants, of his household: in short, even youngsters acting contemptuously towards him. Those who once revered had all now deserted him. “I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I intreated him with my mouth. My breath is strange to my wife, though I intreated for the children's sake of mine own body. Yea, young children despised me.” So complete, as well as sudden, was the descent of Job. “All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me.” It was the painful truth; and he allows it all.
“Have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.” This, so far as it went, seems to be excellent on Job's part. It was not the whole truth; but it was true, and not at all enfeebled because he holds fast the certainty that it was not for any wickedness that was in his hands. No evil had he been consciously cherishing; yet there was the undisguised fact—God was smiting him. He did not lay the blame on others; he would not attempt to account for it by human reasoning; just because he felt it to be from God, he felt it to be so painful. Whatever might be the means employed, it was God, the same God who had hedged him in and blessed him uniformly hitherto; and how to conciliate the present with the past he knew not. For that he had to wait. The answer came at last, when patience had its perfect work.
But he does not spare remonstrances or rebuke. “Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh?” It was distress enough that he was suffering in this way. Were they justified in destroying his confidence in God? The drift of what they were doing was to make him doubt the sincerity of his own faith, which is clearly the devil's work. The Spirit of God never leads to a doubt. “Oh that my words were but written, that they were but inscribed in the book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Here we come to the very distinct confession of his faith. “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” Beautiful too it was at such a time, in the deepest desolation and distress, where there was not one solitary friend among men, and God Himself was smiting him. How like Christ up to a certain point in his circumstances! How little like Him in his unwavering acknowledgment of God's holiness, as free from hardness as from repining! Still here we have a blessed confession, the more so because of the gloom, pain, and desertion in which it was uttered. “I know... 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.”
Some will probably have heard that people question, for one reason or another, the meaning of these words, or perhaps affirm that they mean “out of my flesh.” But then it ought to be remembered that “out of my flesh” can mean from within it, as you might look out from a window. It does not mean the separate spirit divested of the flesh. We must not confound “out of my flesh” with “without my flesh,” which it does not at all necessarily imply. It is the expression of his holding fast what every person, more particularly in the Old Testament, would maintain; that is, the true having to do personally with God, and in Old Testament thought personality meant the person fully, not merely therefore the soul and the spirit separate, but in the body too. So it is with Job; and this is what gives emphasis to his words. He can see the dissolution of his body at hand; he beholds everything crumbling into dust, and his flesh becoming the food of worms; but none the less does he cleave to the confidence that not only shall he see God, but this from out of his flesh. The resurrection therefore is clearly supposed in these words, and all the efforts of men to destroy the force of the passage are utterly vain.
But it is surely striking that we should hear such thoughts and language from these early days outside Israel. How comes it to pass? It is very evident that, after all, if there was but little made known by God, if there was but a comparatively small volume of truth revealed at that time, the Spirit of God gave that small revelation great force in the souls of those who believed it; and so we may be constantly surprised in the book of Genesis to find the advanced sentiments of one or another. I am far from saying that they speak in the know, ledge of the full light by which a Christian ought to judge now; but they display no mean acquaintance with the mind of God from time to time. Hear what Abraham and Isaac say, what even Jacob may utter, although it is granted that he has not at all the same moral elevation as Abraham; but still one learns from all that is recorded how much more they knew and could use in testimony than we might infer from their circumstances. It reminds me of a word in Proverbs, “There is much food in the tillage of the poor.” Thus, if there were but little, God knows how to make the little go far. This seems to be what He did with the patriarchs. Our danger now is in exactly the opposite direction. Grace has now revealed in Christ the fullness of truth; but, beloved brethren, how far do we turn it to His account? How does our “much” appear as compared with what we find these saints doing with their “little"? If theirs indeed was but a little, certainly God made it mighty, as we cannot deny, in its moral power and effects.
[W. K.]
(To be continued)