Lectures on Job 3-14

Job 3-14
We hear the outbursts of passionate grief at last from Job (ch. 3.). He could not stand the presence of his friends. Many sorrows and bitter suffering he had borne; but these friends came and looked on his misery without a word. It was too much for Job. Did they suspect him? He could not endure doubts Godward, especially from them. Were they not friends? If they loved him, why that silence—that ominous silence for seven days and seven nights? It might begin with deep feeling for him; but why not a word? Why not one drop of comfort for his parched lips? They began to think; and thinking is a dangerous thing. In God's presence we judge self and hear Him. These thoughts of ours, how often they mislead! What we want is to pray and hear, that we may from God receive His word. Ah, this is another thing, and exactly what is wanted! Their ear was not open. There was One who was wakened morning by morning, and whose ear was opened, who never knew our dullness of hearing God. But the three friends!-they first preserved this dread and distressing silence towards Job, who soon and bitterly had to learn what came out of that silence. Though he began, they followed; but it was their own thoughts and not the mind of God.
Job then bemoans and curses his day-not God, nothing of that kind; but still he unbecomingly expresses his horror of the day in which his birth was announced. His whole birth-scene was before him, wrapped in gloom. Everything connected with his coming into the world was horrible in his eyes; and so he bitterly launches forth: “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. Let that day be darkness.” And afterward, “Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein.” He asks why he had ever been born, one who was destined to such wretchedness? why he was not rather left, as he says so scathingly, “with kings and counselors of the earth, which build desolate places?” Is this what the greatness of this world comes to, kings building ruins for themselves? “or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver?” But gold and silver cannot redeem from sorrow or death. Was this life? or the work in which the kings of Egypt sought renown, the building of their own tombs? But his seemed more dismal still. Why had not he a lot to be laid in a desolate place like theirs? or why was he ever born at all?
Then opens the first debate of his friends, founded on this outburst of Job. We may notice these friends speaking with a certain difference of character and always in a similar order, throughout the three great discussions in the book. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar follow in regular succession, Job replying to each of them. In the third discussion it may be observed that one of the three
Zophar-drops off, while Job continues his discourse so long that we might almost think it an answer to that unspoken speech; that is, what Zophar would have had to say if he had spoken, Job completely refutes. In short, the main central portion of the book is occupied with what I have just described: three lines of arguments, sustained by the friends of Job on the one hand, and answered, each separately and fully, by Job on the other. Then follows a new personage, Elihu, Who silences Job as decidedly as Job had silenced the three; and finally Jehovah closes all, solving the problem of the book at the last. We shall look a little into the first discussion, if it please God; but must be brief on what I draw your attention to at this time.
Eliphaz the Temanite, who appears to be the oldest and the more dignified of the three friends, rebukes Job first of all for want of firmness in meeting the first distress which has befallen his family and himself. Not content, however, with this, he reproaches Job that he who had so well known how to meet others in their sorrows, failed when the trouble came on himself. He stands to the sure righteousness of God's way, who could never forsake the innocent any more than spare the guilty. He goes farther, and gives an account of that which appeared to him by a spirit, as he says, what was secretly brought to him, and his ear received a little thereof in thoughts from the visions of the nights. He describes graphically the apparition in these visions, which uttered a deeply solemn word in his hearing; the gist of which was the presumptuousness of mortal man daring to arraign God in any way. He insists on the folly of turning to creature help. All things are in the hand of Him who suddenly deals with the foolish who thought himself secure. Lastly, he calls on Job to repent; that if he would only humble himself before God, this trial would not be turned away, but leave him more blest than ever. This, I think, gives very briefly the general purport of the first discourse of Eliphaz, in chapters 4, 5.
Yet it is too remarkable to be passed by, that we have the Spirit of God employing as scripture the very words subsequently treated by Jehovah as a false estimate not merely of Job, but of Himself. It is not what Jehovah said at last, not what Elihu says as interpreter by the way, not even what Job pleads. The words of Eliphaz are quoted by the apostle Paul in the New Testament. This is very striking. God Himself pronounces what they had said to be not right words; but for all that the Holy Spirit gives all by inspiration, and employs the words of one as Scripture. Assuredly these two things can be reconciled, and very simply. One has only to examine the words of Eliphaz in order to see that in themselves they contain nothing but truth; but if we weigh them, as applied to Job, they are inexcusably wrong. How wise is the way of the Lord! how admirable the depth of what is given us in the scripture! The New Testament, both in the first epistle to the Corinthians and in the epistle to the Hebrews, quotes the words of Eliphaz; but then the application is perfectly good. In the history given in the Old Testament the application was wrong, and the speakers were reproved for it. In the New Testament the application is as right as the words themselves; all is in place. It is a marked instance, therefore, of the wonderful way in which God meets all in His own wisdom. But this merely by-the-bye.
Job then answers him in chapters 6, 7, but with considerable pain: “Oh, that my grief were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea: therefore my words are swallowed up. For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.” Thus Job's piety made him own that God not only must be, but was, concerned in all these calamities; and he was right so far. Job did not lay the blame on the Sheba or the Chaldeans, the lightning, the hurricane, or the elephantiasis, but looked far beyond the secondary instruments. He was right in bringing God into the trouble; only he was wrong, as we shall find at the end, in either supposing that there was nothing to correct in his soul, or that God could be anything else to him than gracious while faithful, and long-suffering while righteous. He did not take into account the power of evil and of Satan which is permitted but measured by God. He did not hold fast as he ought that it is in love to His own God allows them to be peculiarly sufferers in this world. All this practically he had to learn, so that at first sight his very piety made the difficulty greater in attributing everything to God, apart from His way and end; if so, how objectless seemed the crushing blows which had fallen thick and fast upon him! how could he reconcile it all? He was sure that God is righteous and holy, that He must be good and true and faithful; and yet it was from God that all these miseries came on him, a saint! It was a difficulty, and so much the more terrible for the man who lay under the anguish of these troubles at the moment, and not a person calmly reflecting afterward. How different for one who reads in the book of God the solution of all! We must remember this when we look into these matters. This, then, is what I would suggest in weighing that which follows in the reply of Job, who in his despondency desires to be cut off by God; especially as he had only disappointment from his brethren, as a thirsty caravan before the dried-up bed of waters they had longed for. He does not deprecate reproof; but theirs were but words caviling at his words. They had in no way reached the case. He could only again wish for death, and even expostulates with God, but soon owns his wrong, and implores forgiveness, but death too.
Next comes Bildad the Shuhite (chap. 8.), who succeeds Eliphaz, but with a great deal more of asperity, and consequently bringing out from Job a greater tartness in his rejoinder. He does not scruple in reproving Job to suppose that his children had brought on themselves the due reward of their deeds, and throws out hints that he himself could not be what he seemed. He speaks and thinks only of justice, yet urges repentance on Job, which would assuredly be followed by more blessing than ever. The juiciest and greenest herb is the first to wither, and the hope of the hypocrite or polluted is no more than a spider's web, whose place will deny the sight of him the upright is filled with joy.
In chapters 9, 10. Job repels the insinuation of Bildad, and maintains still that the very majesty of God made it impossible for him, a poor weak man, to stand up against the blows of such a God. This is the great point. It shows, therefore, that, even if he wished, he could not, however righteous, plead his righteousness before God—that God's all-holy eye must see sheer failure and imperfection in him; so that his only wish was that there might be a daysman between them both—some one who would be able to adjust the balance between God and man. He could only wish for death in his incompetence to resist the overwhelming might which had crushed him. This seems the, chief peculiarity of Job's reply to Bildad.
Then follows Zophar, in chap 11, who is the keenest of the three and the least considerate. He taxes him with moral blindness as well as mere bluster. He takes up the harsh thoughts of those who attacked, and gives no value at all to the pleadings of Job in his wretchedness. On the contrary, he begins to harbor that sad thought, which gets expression from them all, of some grave and secret evil which must lie at the bottom, the cause of the manifold and unparalleled calamities of Job. He is as decided as an evil surmise makes one. We shall find, however, considerably more of this when we come to look into the second argument between Job and his friends. Upon this we may not enter now.
But I close with stating that Job replies to Zophar, setting forth very completely the weakness and wretchedness of man doomed to die on the earth. None then could speak of the power of life. Christ, who has alone gained the victory over evil, was as yet in the future; but Job looks at man on the earth, and owns, in a most pathetic way, man's utter weakness, as born to trouble, before the incomparable majesty of God Himself. In this reply Job opens with some sarcasm. But he meets the hypothesis of present retribution with the most distinct negative and disproof. “The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure.” Nor was this confined to man. Every form of animate nature proclaims the same fact: the beasts of the earth, the fowls of the air, the fishes of the sea declare plainly that the violent carry it over the weak. God is sovereign; but for that very reason their law of government is a sophism, and to apply it to him unjust. God does as He pleases, and among men above all reserves all calculation.
Such had been the fruit of Job's observation (chap. 13.), and he was conscious of being more right than his friends. It was with God he wished to speak, not with such quacks as they, whose wisdom would be to hold their peace. What they had said he counted to be said wickedly and deceitfully for God, who had given them no such authority, and would surely reprove them, as in fact He did. His integrity he would hold fast before Him, say what they liked, and he knew he should be justified. He asked but a reprieve from suffering, and that His dread should not overwhelm him; he wished to find out all that was wrong in himself, and begged to know why he was driven to and fro like a leaf or dry stubble. He did not yet know the grace that was giving him self-judgment. He sees only a record kept of bitter things, and himself made to inherit his youthful iniquities, his feet put in the stocks, his ways watched, the very soles of his feet marked, whilst he was but consuming as a rotten thing or a moth-eaten garment.
He closes his answer (chap. 14.) with more general reflections on man's miserable lot in this world, frail and faulty in nature, and hopeless of revival in this life, unlike a tree, which may sprout again if cut down ever so low. But man cannot till the heavens be no more: then he too will wake from sleep. Again Job prays that he may be hidden in the grave till his change or renovation come, when God will call and he answer. Meanwhile he sees no ground of hope; for as even the strongest things fall to ruin, man passes so completely that, whether his sons come to honor or are brought low, he knows nothing.
But I hope to pursue a little more, on this day week, the chapters that follow, so as to present the scope of the great argument carried on between Job and his friends, and in its course to give a few hints—for I do not pretend to more—towards helping the children of God to the more profitable study of the book for themselves.
[W. K.]