Notes on Job: Introduction

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THE book before us is as isolated in form as underneath it is bound up by the closest ties with all scripture. In it we breathe the fresh and free air of desert life, in the strongest antithesis to the settled polity of Israel in Canaan; yet is it quite distinct from the pilgrim character of the fathers, rather approaching the place of Lot, though with a sensible difference as suits the wealthiest chief of Uz, but an independent and honored visitor of the city, not its denizen. No foreign land is so well known as Egypt; yet Job's own habits lie outside it. Revolutions were known, science and art making progress; godly men discussed the deepest moral questions. The marks of hoar antiquity are graven on it, yet it falls in admirably with the latest outflow of grace to the Gentile. Contemporaneous with, if not before, the five books of Moses, it is of all parts of the Old Testament the most free from the trammels of the law or even from allusions to it; yet none the less does it shadow the ways of God with Israel, blessed of old, losing all meanwhile, but about to be blessed once more and for more in the end than in the beginning.
The problem handled in the book is the moral government of God: how to conciliate His righteousness with the sufferings, and even extreme sufferings, of a just and godly man? how to understand the permission of evil, in its worst form of malignant persecution, with His own good, and this before and apart from His revelation in Christ and by redemption? The books of Moses prepare the way for His government of a people, His own elect Israel, where all was to be manifest and a testimony before the world. Here it is His dealings with a soul before the true light shone, and the veil was rout, and sin condemned in the cross, along with the expression of exercises of heart and conscience under God's dealings. Now that we are reconciled to God by Christ's death and know ourselves to be in Christ before God, there is or ought to be a wholly now experience; but it is of the deepest interest and profit to see how the believer was enabled, not merely to walk uprightly when things were prosperous in an evil world, but to confide in God spite of adversity and crushing affliction, and not only to submit to His will as chastening, but to measure and abhor himself in dust and ashes before God. The beginning teaches that not Satan but God is the source of the action, the middle that He only and effectually carries forward the true lesson for the soul, the end that He is exceeding pitiful and of tender mercy. A whole long book devoted to the exercises of a soul in suffering, and he a Gentile, and this in the canon of the Jewish scriptures from the first! But it is not yet what some call the “mystery of the cross:” this was reserved for Christ.
The plan or structure is very distinct. There is a prologue in chapters 1, 2. with a corresponding conclusion or epilogue in the last chapter (42:7-17). The question is raised in heaven between God and Satan, the man on earth most concerned being wholly ignorant of it till grace prevailed and the word revealed all Job, the object of divine interest, becomes therefore the butt of the malice of Satan, who is allowed to inflict his heaviest blows on his possessions and his family, then on his person short of his life, and utterly failing to ensnare the saint into sin disappears from the scene. But God, who had taken the initiative, carries on the trial, which, if it had stopped here, had failed to deal with that which needed to be reached in Job's heart and judged by himself in order to his deeper blessing. Hence the three friends are introduced, whose presence in silence, as they looked on his overwhelming misery and grief, at length opens his mouth in curses on his day, not on God. (Chap. 3)
Then follows a threefold series of colloquies between Job and his friends, rich in moral suggestion and full of feeling, especially on the part of the sufferer, whose language may seem often in words to approach that of Christ in the Psalm but is really in contrast with His perfection. For He ever abode in the love of His Father, and never failed to justify His God, even when on the cross, abandoned by Him, which Job never was more than any other servant of His that ever lived. (Chaps. 4-31.) Hence Job stands as the instructive foil, and this not as a man merely, but as a man of God, to the Second man and last Adam. So little are the ancients and moderns to be relied on who agree in declaring that Job prefigured Christ as the Victim or undeserving Sufferer. Inconsistency most grave we see not in Christ but in Job, though real integrity—and disinterestedness, whatever said his friends or Satan.
The converse of Christ, in absolute submission and justifying God under suffering (and what suffering!) instead of bitter complaint, is thus lost.
In this profound discussion, after the passionate outburst of the long patient sufferer, each of the three friends first insinuates these charges home on Job—that grave secret sin alone could account for such calamities, that therefore his could be only a show of piety, that in short he must be a hypocrite. To each Job replies, with less or more indignation insisting on his integrity, but while he yearns after God, if he could only get near Him, he complains of His dealings as severe and unpitying. On the third occasion (chaps. 22.-31.), the assailants are so evidently convicted of a too narrow and judicial estimate of God's ways, that Eliphaz drops his original mildness, acts unfairly by Job's reasoning, and plays the sophist himself by converting special instances of divine judgment on the wicked into a sample of His ordinary dealings, ignoring the righteous. Bildad, unable to resist the rejoinder of Job who points out the tangled web of human things, while he admits the occasional intervention in this world of Him who will judge infallibly in the next, is obliged to admit the to man incomprehensible ways of God now, yet still holds to his suspicions of Job under the application of the sententious wisdom of others. After a withering fire from Job of heavier metal from the same arsenal, Job cleaves to the assertion of his sincerity before God, and magnificently contrasts with the petty and acrimonious short-sightedness of his miserable comforters that wisdom which is beyond the ken of the creature and pertains to God alone, however He of His grace may vouchsafe it to him that fears Himself and departs from evil. Zophar is utterly silenced.
Thereon appears a hitherto unnoticed person, Elihu, who had kept silence as became one considerably younger, but now speaks as interpreting God's ways with man, with the soul, so that Job is reduced to silence no less than his friends. Their assaults Elihu defends no more than he insinuates hidden evils against Job, but reproves the irreverence of his replies, vindicates the dealings of God, whether in judgment of man or in discipline of the righteous, and proves how perilous his language might be for encouraging men in the path of reckless pursuit of prosperity here below. He urges on Job self-judgment and submission to God, exposing his self-righteousness, and condemning the wish for death to escape suffering as wholly unworthy, as well as vain before Him, whose glory and withal interest in creation he describes in terms of great beauty and force. He completely avoids the error of those who see not correction but only judgment in God's ways. (Chaps. 32-37.)
Jehovah then answers Job out of the whirlwind, asserting the majesty of His power, laying bare Job's ignorance to himself, and pointedly demanding, Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct Him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it. This brings out from Job the confession of his vileness, which is carried on still farther, we may say fully, by a fresh appeal of Jehovah mainly grounded on but two of His earthly creatures. (Chaps. 38-42:6.) There could be no more till Christ came not only bringing life and incorruption to light, but clearing up what must then have been left to God as insoluble by man.
The conclusion follows, Elihu the interpreter of good disappearing at the end, as Satan the messenger of evil at the beginning, and Jehovah turning the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends, as well as giving him twice as much as he had before. (Chap. 42:7-17.) The friends were merely silenced; Job opens his mouth in full confession and thus wins forgiveness not merely for himself but for them by interceding on their behalf.
The longevity of Job and the priestly action as head of the family (his historic reality being attested by Ezekiel in the Old Testament and by James in the New) point to patriarchal times: after Abraham and before the Exodus would seem the limits, if indeed Moses himself did not write the book. At any rate Dr. S. Lee has given a copious list of striking coincidences with the Pentateuch. The reader will notice how “the Almighty” (the revelation of God to the fathers) appears familiarly in the speeches of Job and his friends, as well as “God” as such. Jehovah is regularly used only when the writer describes or introduces Himself as speaking. The exception is in chapter 12:9, 28:18 being Adonai and not Jehovah, Genesis proves however that the name of Jehovah was not a secret before God gave it by Moses as a name of relation to Israel. The idolatry alluded to in chapter 31 is the earliest that came in by Satan's craft, and therefore suits well the patriarchal age; but it does prove that the book must have been written after the flood, for we hear of no idolatry before it. The mention of angels as the “sons of God” tallies with the Mosaic phrase in Gen. 6, and Satan's character with the serpent of Gen. 3. For these and similar reasons, some of a linguistic nature, one sees how the book fits in with the days of the earliest revelation from God to man. Nothing can be conceived more opposed to the truthful simplicity of scripture than a late writer (I will not say indulging in a fiction, but) even in a true narrative affecting the archaic style and language of an age long past. Nor is it rational, to take the lowest ground, that the Jewish canon could have admitted such a book unless the prophets had accepted it as inspired no less than authentic, as it is the weightiest and earliest witness against their narrow and exclusive spirit in respect of all outside themselves. The same principle applies to Melchisedec in Genesis and to Jethro in Exodus and Numbers. The book of Job therefore stands properly at the head of the Hagiographa, or poetical books of the Old Testament. Indeed a late Hebrew commentator deserts the general belief of the Rabbins for the skepticism of Samuel Bar Nachman, and a few others, on the express ground of incredulity that the patriarchs of Israel should be so left behind in spiritual power by a Gentile like Job, not to speak of his three, friends and Elihu.