Lectures on Job 19-31

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To resume then, Job says, “In my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself.” It is not merely the hope of blessing for himself, but real personal enjoyment of God; and this without fear or shrinking in the least. “Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” He might come to nothing meanwhile; but in that day God will be everything, and prove it by maintaining His own in their full personality before Him. “But ye should say, Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me? Be ye afraid of the sword.” He sees too that in that day divine judgment was coming. It was not merely that there was a Kinsman-redeemer in prospect to vindicate His own people, but in that day, as all Scripture shows, would be a time of judgment. “Be ye afraid of the sword: for wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment.”
Did Job's confession touch the hearts of his friends? On the contrary, there follows an uncommonly bitter speech from Zophar (ch. 20.). He seems to have been the lowest morally, of the three, and, as one generally finds, the most presumptuous in word and least broken in spirit. “Therefore do my thoughts,” he says, “cause me to answer.” And truly it was so. He gives us his “thoughts.” It was in no way that the fear of God moved his lips, or jealousy for His grace and truth. We have his own thoughts. “Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer, and for this I make haste"; which a believer does not. “I have heard the check of my reproach, and the spirit of my understanding causeth me to answer. Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short?” That is the one thought of Zophar. “The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment.” Job was the wicked; Job was the hypocrite. “Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; yet he shall perish forever like his own dung: they which have seen him shall say, Where is he? He shall fly away as a dream.” And so he pursues to the end of the chapter this reckless onslaught—for I can call it no less on a man incomparably better than himself. What is it all but persevering, laborious, and extravagant effort to wound him whom they failed to convict or convince, if it were possible, by the words of their mouth? The words of their mouth were drawn swords.
“But Job answered and said, Hear diligently my speech.” From this point there appears to be a certain improvement in Job. It is not that his soul as yet was brought into the presence of God; for this we must wait for another dealing of God, which we may hope to have before us on the next occasion. But every view of grace is strengthening to the soul; and I think that Job never gives way, either to the same measure of hardness in speaking of God, or of despondency; nor does he yield to such desire after death as a release from suffering. It is not unnatural for a believer who saw nothing before him but the most dismal condition here, and this from God. It would be great relief to go into the presence of God; and he knew what he would find there from Him. What marks the change not a little is, that he allows henceforth whatever there was of truth in what his friends had urged on him. Scarce anything shows a man gaining the advantage morally over his adversaries so much as this. What can be less happy than to see two debating, where they take up each a side of truth? There is never a satisfactory close to the question until you acknowledge whatever is true in him that opposes you. It is a plain enough proof that God is giving you a victory over self; and this is great gain. So we find that Job from this time acknowledges the measure of truth there was in what his friends—sad to say his adversaries, as really they were—had said. But he does also demonstrate the folly of shutting one's eyes to God's actual long-suffering in respect of evil-doers. “As for me, is my complaint to man? and if it were so, why should not my spirit be troubled? Mark me, and be astonished, and lay your hand upon your mouth. Even when I remember I am afraid, and trembling taketh hold on my flesh. Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?” Thus, before he concedes their point, he draws attention to the undeniable fact that, so far is the present life from being an adequate expression of God's moral government, there is nothing more startling than to find wickedness so often allowed to triumph, and the righteous as often utterly cast down and tried peculiarly. This was a flat contradiction, no doubt, of their thesis; and he draws it out before making the concession already referred to. “Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?”
What have his friends to say in answer? The ground was cut completely from under them. They had assumed that, according to God's government, no wicked man prospered, no righteous man but must prosper. A falser view of the world that now is there cannot possibly be. When the Lord takes the reins, it will be so. Then indeed the righteous are to be established, and all iniquity shall stop her mouth; then there will be no such thing as evil tolerated. But who can look upon the world as it is, and seriously allow such a thought?
But how came these pious men to make such a strange mistake? There are none who make stranger mistakes than the pious when not walking in dependence on God. Their very piety gives them a stronger abhorrence of evil; and if there be not the power of grace, and the sense of their need of grace in God Himself guarding them, none will be more severe, none less just. This is a solemn warning. And how comes it to pass? Is it merely that no flesh shall glory in the presence of the Lord? There is more still; there is an adversary, the devil, as well as God, who will have us learn that only His grace is sufficient for us.
To this point tends the whole action of the book; not only the intervention of Elihu and the decision of Jehovah, but the reasonings of the interlocutors. But each part has its own moment; and it is well for us to take all into account.
Job describes then the wicked in prosperity in strong terms. “Their seed is established in their sight with them, and their offspring before their eyes.” It is not merely that you have one here and there, but the wicked really take root in the world; they are at home there. “Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them.” They come under no special chastening. “Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf. They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance. They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ.” It is they that enjoy the world, if you leave out God, and take man's appreciation of present life. There is no disputing that such is the fact, account for it or not, if one looks at the world as it is. “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?” In their case it would have been true to say that prayer is restrained.
Impiety has ever characterized the world. But is this all the truth? “Lo, their good is not in their hand: the counsel of the wicked is far from me. How oft is the candle of the wicked put out!” Here, it will be seen, he acknowledges the other side; and it is no less true that God does not leave Himself without witness. He presses the fact that the present world is no expression of God's moral government; but he acknowledges that in the midst of men's seeming prosperity a divine blow falls on them; in a moment their candle is put out. Exceptional dealings, therefore, are admitted. There was another sort of dealing that he did not yet see, and this was what he had to learn, that God acts among His own in the way of chastening, trial, or discipline, just as surely as He may lay His hand on the wicked in the way of a solemn judgment.
But beyond a doubt the time is not yet come for all things to be manifested in power according to His mind and will. It is in vain for Israel or the church to hurry it, as both have done; for the due time cannot be till Christ comes. “Lo, their good is not in their hand: the counsel of the wicked is far from me. How oft is the candle of the wicked put out! and how oft cometh their destruction upon them! God distributeth sorrows in his anger. They are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away. God layeth up his iniquity for his children: he rewardeth them, and he shall know it. His eyes shall see his destruction.” That is, it is not merely the man himself, but sometimes his family; and this accordingly is pursued fully to the end of the chapter.
Eliphaz, exceedingly taken aback by so complete an answer to his argument, tries to reply, for the last time, in the chapter before us. One cannot wonder that he fails. “Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said, Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself?” The ground taken now is, that God is above all questions of whether a man's conduct is useful to him or not. “Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect? Will he reprove thee for fear of thee? will he enter with thee into judgment?” Job's maintenance of his integrity against their imputations he does not scruple to brand as wickedness. “Is not thy wickedness great? and thine iniquities infinite?” Provoked by such a clenching answer to his argument, he now distinctly charges Job with hidden evil. He that suspects upon appearances will soon dispense even with appearances. “Is not thy wickedness great? and thine iniquities infinite? For thou hast taken a pledge from thy brother for naught, and stripped the naked of their clothing.” It was the very reverse of Job's real character! “Thou hast not given water to the weary to drink” —Job gave more than ever Eliphaz did “and thou hast withholder bread from the hungry.” What could be less true? “But as for the mighty man, he had the earth; and the honorable man dwelt in it. Thou hast sent widows away empty, and the arms of the fatherless have been broken. Therefore snares are round about thee.” “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace:... and the light shall shine upon thy ways” (chap. 22.). Totally wrong in all his charges, this grave old man waxes bold enough to call job to cease from his impiety, and to humble himself before God. “And thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee.” He means that there was only one door open—humiliation of himself before God because of his hypocrisy.
Job answers, “Even to-day is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning. Oh that I knew where I might find him.” Is this the language or the feeling of one conscious of wickedness before God? We never hear such language even from Eliphaz or any other of the friends. I am not denying their faith, but only saying that their state was not comparable with that of job, in spite of all his bitter complaints. “I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me. Will he plead against me with his great power?” Job knew God better. “No; but he would put strength in me. There the righteous might dispute with him; so should I be delivered forever from my judge” (chap. 23.).
Their spirit was judicial from beginning to end, and such a spirit is always wrong. There may be a measure of truth, but a judicial spirit, as it never saves a soul from death, so it profits least those who indulge in it: it does not suit a saint in such a world as this. But there was exactly where they were. They did not know God as Job did. “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there.” This was his trouble. He could not enjoy God; for he had not yet the key to his distress at His hand. He desired Him, and was miserable to be practically at a distance from Him, with all these troubles intervening to cloud His goodness from his soul. “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” He knew not how it could he for His glory or his own blessing he should be so tried; but he was thoroughly satisfied that hypocrisy was the last thing that could be justly ascribed to him.
In the next chapter (24.) he describes, in a touching and solemn way, the nature of the often successful wickedness in this world. On that I need not dwell now.
Next comes Bildad, who is reduced to what might be almost called a few platitudes about the glorious power of God. Who doubted what is said? It is all true; but how did it apply to the case? How was Job's soul met? or their suspicions justified? (chap. 25.).
And what does chapter 26 let us hear Job saying in answer? That, after an ironical compliment to the speech just delivered for its power and wisdom, as the settlement of the question in debate, he can set forth the power of God, in spite of all his misery, far more comprehensively as well as more glowingly than they. He adds the solemnities of the unseen world.
In chapter 27 he handles another topic, not the glory of God, but the wretchedness of the hypocrite, and his awful doom, in stronger colors than they themselves had done, but still with the firmest maintenance of his integrity, though God had not yet vindicated him, and they had been unjust.
This is followed by a chapter yet more remarkable, in which he sets forth man in his eager pursuit of what is rare in this world—his restless search after gold, silver, and precious stones of every kind. But where is wisdom to be found? Man can, no doubt, steer his course across the waters; man can cut a road through the rocks; man can not only level mountains and fill valleys, in his eagerness for his own objects, but he can go where the vulture flies not and sees not; he can pierce where no wild beast ever penetrates; he can sink a shaft into the earth; he can make his way in quest of that which he values where no creature burrows, where the wildest would fear to follow. But where is wisdom to be found? The finest gold cannot buy it; the most precious gems and the finest works of art can be no meet exchange; the treasures of the deep, even pearls, fail in comparison. Man knows nothing of wisdom; but it is not here. Death and destruction have heard the report of it; they have heard that it is somewhere. It is not in this world; it is not in man as he is: avidity after present objects only excludes it. There is no wisdom here. In death and destruction there is at least a sad reality. “But where is wisdom to be found?” The answer comes at last from God Himself, and it is this: “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, that is understanding.” To this Job brings all. Is it not solemn, yet the foundation of all, and verified in the conversion of every soul? Such is the wonderful end of a wonderful chapter (chap. 28.).
In what follows we have the final defense of job. Had he been able, Zophar might here have brought in his little word; but he was shut up to total silence. If Bildad had little to say, Zophar has absolutely nothing. Thus the friends were completely refuted, even by the sick and suffering Job. For the moment, and really as far as they were concerned, Job has it all to himself, and proceeds to speak at great length. He sets forth in an affecting manner his former brightness (chap. 29.), and the painful blight that had come over him and his (chap. 30.). In chapter 31 he protests his innocence in the most solemn way, his personal purity, his equity and consideration of his servants, his remembrance of the poor, his horror of idolatry, his freedom from vindictiveness, his cultivation of hospitality, his non-concealment of any iniquity, and this without fear before the Almighty; and if his fields could testify of fraud or force, he prays for thorns instead of wheat, and weeds instead of barley. I do not know a finer piece in this way, unless indeed when it is not merely the experience of a man under such a tremendous reverse from God, but the same man bowing down afterward in his perfect submission to God. But on this I will not treat now, reserving the great final lesson of the book for the next lecture.
[W. K.]
(To be continued)