Lectures on Job 38-43

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You have heard a saying not unworthy of a good and great man, “that all matter never produces mind, and all mind never produces love.” 1God had acted on the same principle here, in these words taking up but a small part of His wisdom and power in the outward world; and this just because they are so insignificant an object compared with the ways of His grace. They are no more than what, so to speak, His fingers have formed. If I look at the heavens the firmament showeth His handywork, as David says in Psalm 19. Do you suppose that His ways with us are the mere fruit of such skill? They speak of incomparably more. His heart, His thoughts, His plan of love and goodness—all that God is—has come out in the blessing of His saints, because He has Himself appeared on their behalf in Christ, the One who is not merely the alone true, but also the full, expression of what God is in Himself and towards us. Here He does not, of course, bring out, even by the most distant anticipation, what was to be unfolded in the New Testament. He does refer, as we have seen, to the external manifestation of His power and glory: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. Who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth?” &c. It did not matter whether He pointed up to the heavens, or whether He looked down into the sea: in every part of the creation man's ignorance and powerlessness are evident. No answer to a single question of Jehovah could be given. “When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, and brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?” (chap. 38:4-11).
Thus it is evident that God is here bringing to nothing all the proud talk of Job. But He does not content Himself with demonstrating man's littleness by that which is vast; He takes up what we might think comparatively small things. After traversing the immense heavens and the uncontrollable sea, and then again the treasures of the snow and the hail, of the lightning and the waters, He notices various heavenly bodies in detail; but descends at length towards the end of the chapter to the little things of nature, where man is equally at fault. Thus it matters little whether we gaze at the greatest, or whether we look into the least, of the works of God; everywhere meets us that which is entirely beyond the ken of man. “Who can number,” said He, “the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven, when the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together? Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait? Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.” What could better expose the futility of man's arraigning God? Job had even pretended to judge the depths of God morally; but he could not face, nor had he the slightest adequate idea of, what God is in the least part of His universe.
In the next chapter Jehovah carries on the same appeal to Job, here taking up animate nature more fully. What did he know of the mountain goats and the hinds? what control had he over the wild ass or the wild ox? Let him weigh the sovereignty of God as to the ostrich and the war-horse, the hawk and the eagle. Into this we need not enter more, however beautiful may be the details.
Let me only draw your attention to His putting the question pointedly in chapter 40 to Job in person. “Moreover Jehovah answered Job, and said, Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him?” He ought to be able, if he judge God. This is precisely what fills Job with shame: “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him?” Job had contended with the Almighty. “He that reproveth God, let him answer it.” And Job does answer. This is important as connected with the unraveling of all at the close. Job was thoroughly brought down in his own conceit, and ashamed of having murmured against God and His ways without understanding the least of them. Having accepted this, and bowed to God, assured in his soul that God must have a most worthy and gracious end in all his troubles, Job now does answer. This is important. He no longer holds his peace like the others. “Then Job answered Jehovah, and said, Behold, I am vile” —not a word more about Jehovah now— “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.”
Thus he has been brought to nothing before God, and to this humiliation as to himself with confidence in God; for a mere withering up of man would be little but despair, unless the heart turned in confidence to God. And this is of great moment in our practical walk. Take, for instance, the principle of separation, without which there can be no real holiness. But what is the worth of separation, brethren, if it spring not from communion with God? Be assured there is no small danger when people get the habit of harping on separation without dwelling on its only divine power. Severed from that gracious spring and motive, it becomes not only hollow, but really repulsive. Those formed by a dry principle are mere Pharisees, instead of witnessing Christ, the Holy, the True (Revelation 3). Thus it is of deep consequence that we should always have not merely the outward manifestation, but the root, which alone gives divine sap and the real pith.
Here, then, in Job's case we have both manifested—his own vileness, but his confidence in God; and it was the latter, we may be very sure, that made him feel and own his vileness. His grace is the power. The last thing a man comes to is to think ill of himself.
Again, in the last two chapters of Jehovah's answer (40, 41.), on which I must be very brief, we have God surveying, not the whole realm of nature, but quite enough, and more than enough, to convict Job of ignorance and incapacity to speak before God. This he needed to learn in order that he might distrust himself as well as confide in God. In these He takes up, as we may see, only two of His creatures—one, a powerful beast of the earth, in chap. 40; the other, an equally mighty monster of the deep, in chap. 41. There is behemoth on the one hand, and leviathan on the other. The two chapters indeed give the finest description that ever was written of these works of God.
But His object seems to be not the least that for which men use them. Men talk as if God's object was merely to occupy us with His works. God, on the contrary, brings forward His works to turn us away from our thoughts and bow us to Himself; for if the works of God be so wondrous, who is He that wrought the work, and what is man if he dare to judge such a God? This is the point in hand. God's object therefore, in describing them in magnificent language, is not in the least to induce us to rest there, making them a study so as to occupy our minds and arrest our souls; but the very reverse. He would turn us away from ourselves to confide in Himself. Do you think that after this Job was occupied with behemoth or with leviathan? Not at all, but with God; and this was the design of it all. The people, therefore, that spend their time and thoughts on the wonders of creation, and cite these chapters to that end, do evidently show that they have not entered into the purpose of God in the least. It was not even so in the Old Testament, still less in the New.
Let us now briefly turn to the account of the final result. “Then Job answered Jehovah, and said, I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not.” He takes up the humbling words that God addressed to him in order to apply them to himself. This was right; he owns they were “things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak; I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.” So had God before said, and he repeats them to his own humiliation. “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” It was nothing external now; no mere distant rumor. “Now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself.” Do you think that searching into the structure or habits of behemoth and leviathan would have led to anything of the sort? Assuredly not. He had to do with God Himself, who used them for the express purpose, and had thereby turned Job from all to Himself. “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” So in the New Testament the Lord used the crowing of a cock to convict the great apostle of the circumcision.
And it was so that, after Jehovah had spoken these words unto Job, Jehovah said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends.” He singles out the oldest of them, who after all, had spoken with the least acrimony of the three, but still guiltily; for he as the wisest ought to have known best. “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” What is that especially which God singles out as the right thing? For on the surface of the book one might think that Job had been saying as many wrong things about God as the rest. Indeed it would appear to a superficial reader that Job had spoken more rashly than either Eliphaz or his two friends. But the truth is that the grace of God bears much more tenderly than men suppose with the random words that men utter under the pressure of so terrible a trial as that of Job.
Do not think that this in any way makes light of Job's faultiness. I repeat that there is all the difference in the world between three men that were not in trial and the man who was. It is all well for those that are not suffering to find fault with the embittered words of one under such pressure. But God felt gravely as to men, who assuming to speak properly, underneath that calm surface wholly failed to apply the truth of God to the case. And let me say that this is much to be observed, and can only be through the Spirit. Abstract truth is altogether in vain for the saints of God. There may be more harm done by things which are true, misunderstood and misapplied, than by many a thing that is false; because misapplied truth gives the apparent authority of God to an error, which has all the more weight because it comes as the truth. If a foolish thing be said, or one unequivocally false, people despise it; but no believer can slight the truth of God. If the truth of God, therefore, be wrongly used—if it be applied to crush one that is an object of intense interest to God at the time, how foreign and offensive to His mind! How hateful that His name should be so perverted. They were guilty of this. How often is the truth of God now used to exalt self; yet how utterly opposed to His character and will! Had they not done both these things?
The mistakes of Job are palpable enough. Wherein then was the thing that was right? There was this that we can readily see. It was assuredly to say the thing that was right when he humbled himself utterly before God. I do not say it was the only thing right in Job; but this none need hesitate to accept or endorse. Job had said that which was right in his last words, his answer to Jehovah's appeal to him. There he was brought into the presence of God. There he does speak as became a man that had right feelings at the bottom of his heart; but at the surface, ah, there was many a thing wrong! But now Jehovah brings to light the depths of his heart. Now he himself has got there at length. All the rest, all that was superficial, had been judged. Consequently here we may be sure there was what was right to speak of, none else now: Job's justifying God at his own expense; Job's maintaining, not his righteousness now, but his own nothingness and vileness in dust and ashes before God whom he owns unreservedly to be perfectly right.
Then God tells Eliphaz to take unto him “seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt-offering.” At this time it does not appear that there were sin-offerings; and this is no small intimation of the exceeding early date of the book, or rather of the circumstances recorded in it. It must have been before the law. In Levitical days there would have been of course a sin-offering offered; but before the law had brought out that careful and minute prescription of what was required in the case of sin, the burnt-offering regularly was offered. So we find at the beginning, in Noah's time, as in other cases. One might have thought otherwise that the sin-offering ought to have been here; but God speaks of burnt-offerings in that day.
This He prescribes as a solemn confession of sin: “lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job.” It was done, of course, accordingly. “And Jehovah turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends": a beautiful expression of the work of grace. It was not merely that He turned their punishment away when Job prayed, but He turned Job's own captivity when his heart went out on their behalf. Job himself now was consciously delivered. He had felt himself a captive held in a vice up to this time, one may say; but Jehovah turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends. His heart was active in grace; he had seen grace, and now he expressed grace, and this too for the very people that had wounded him most. Job never had been so grievously wounded by any in the world as by his three friends. They were now the very persons for whom he prayed. And God loved to see it, and turned his captivity when he prayed for them.
But Jehovah also gave Job twice as much as he had before; for the book could not end without a witness of God's goodness even outwardly. Though it be not yet the time for careful adjusting of all that is crooked, or of remembering every good or righteous deed, yet Jehovah does not allow His saint to go without a proof of His interest and of His blessing. Job therefore received even then this testimony of what God is. He did not forget the man who had passed through such a storm of trial, and who had held to Him when He seemed against His servant, though obliged to learn what he was himself when the devil left, after the first question had been decided against the enemy. But Job only held fast God because God held fast Job. Such was the real root of the matter. It is grace after all that gives and keeps integrity. But God was not unrighteous to forget Job. He showed His sense of all, even before the day of requital came. The fullest testimony of respect and confidence poured in from all his relatives and even his acquaintances. “Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold. So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Kerenhappuch. And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren. After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons' sons, even four generations. So job died, being old and full of days.”
May the Lord then bless His own word, and bless His saints who deeply need to cleave to that word in this day of increasing confusion and unbelief.
W. K.
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