The long discourse of Job now begins, which forms the central and most solid mass of the book. It continues through six chapters (Job 26-31.). In it Job, after hastily brushing aside Bildad's last speech as superfluous and out of place (verses 1-4), proceeds to deliver his real sentiments apart from controversial issues. He sets forth, first of all, the might and majesty of God (verses 5-14), after which he proceeds to deal with the questions which concern his own integrity, and God's dealings with mankind. The former he still maintains; with respect to the latter, he recants his earlier argumentative contention (Job 24:2-24), and admits that retribution always or almost always comes upon the wicked at last (Job 27:1-23.). In Job 28:1-28; after paying a deserved tribute of admiration to man's intelligence and ingenuity in regard to earthly things and physical phenomena, he pronounces the spiritual world and the principles of the Divine government to be inscrutable by him, and his only true wisdom to be right conduct. Finally, he returns to himself, and having given a pathetic description of his old life, with its prosperity and honour (Job 29:1-25.), and contrasted it with his actual life of degradation, contempt, and suffering (Job 30:1-31.), he concludes with a solemn protestation of his integrity in all the various duties and obligations imposed upon man by natural law and natural religion (Job 31:1-40.). In this way he brings to its termination the colloquy begun with his three friends in Job 3:1-26; and, emphatically to mark that here he closes his own part in the debate, he winds up with the statement, "The words of Job are ended" (Job 31:40).
Job 26:1, Job 26:2
But Job answered and said, How hast thou helped him that is without power? Assuming Bildad's benevolent intentions towards himself, Job asks, how he can suppose that what he has said will in any way be helpful to a person in so helpless a condition? He had told Job nothing that Job had not repeatedly allowed. How savest thou the arm that hath no strengtht? It could not invigorate Job's arm, any more than it could cheer his heart, to be told that man was a worm, or that he was wholly unclean in God's sight (Job 25:4, Job 25:6).
How hast thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? What counsel or advice is there in anything that thou hast said, by following which I might be benefited? Admitting my own want of wisdom, how hast thou bettered my case? And how hast thou plenteously declared the thing as it is? rather, How hast thou plenteously declared sound knowledge? What can there be said to have been in the way of sound knowledge, or good practical common sense ( חוּשִׁיָה ), in the discourse which thou hast addressed to me?—a discourse made up of truisms.
To whom hast thou uttered words? Whom didst thou intend to address? Surely not me, since thy words touch none of my arguments. And whose spirit came from thee? Who prompted thy speech? Was it Eliphaz (comp. Job 4:17-19)?
Job now turns from controversy to the realities of the case, and begins with a full acknowledgment of God's greatness, might, and inscrutableness. As Bildad seemed to have supposed that he needed enlightenment on these points (Job 26:2-4), Job may have thought it right to make once more a plain profession of his belief (comp. Job 9:4-18; Job 12:9-25, etc.).
Dead things are formed from under the waters; rather, the dead from under the waters tremble. Hehraists generally are agreed that one of the meanings of Rephaim ( רְפָאִים ) is "the dead" or the departed, considered especially as inhabitants of Hades (comp. Psalms 88:11; Proverbs 2:18; Isaiah 14:9; Isaiah 26:14). And if so, this meaning is certainly appropriate here. Blidad had illustrated God's dominion from his power in heaven. Job shows that it exists alike in heaven and earth (verses 7-13), and in the region under the earth (verses 5, 6). There, in Sheol, under the waters of the ocean, the dead tremble at the thought of the Most High; they tremble together with other inhabitants thereof, as evil spirits, rebel intelligences, east down to Hades, and there held in durance (Jud Job 1:6).
Hell is naked before him; i.e. "can hide nothing from his eyes"—shows all its inmost recesses. And destruction hath no covering; rather, Abaddon hath no covering (see the Revised Version). Abaddon is sometimes "destruction," sometimes "the angel of the bottomless pit" (Revelation 9:11), sometimes "the bottomless pit itself" (Proverbs 15:11). Here the last of these three senses seems to suit best—the deepest depth of the bottomless pit is no secret to God," but "naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13)
He streteheth out the north over the empty place. Over what was "empty space" or "chaos" ( תּהוּ ) God stretches out "the north"—a portion of his orderly creation—perhaps the northern portion of the heavens, where are the grandest constellations visible to the inhabitants of the world's northern half. And hangeth the earth upon nothing. "Takes," i.e; "the huge ball of the earth, and suspends it in vacancy, with nothing to support it but his own fixed will, his own firm laws." This is an idea scarcely reached by astronomers in general, at any rate till the time of Hippar-chus; and it has, not without reason, been regarded as "a very remarkable instance of anticipation of the discoveries of science' (Stanley Loathes).
He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; i.e. he makes the clouds, that we see floating in the atmosphere, contain and hold the waters on which the productiveness of the earth depends, and which he restrains, or allows to fall in fertilizing rain, at his pleasure. And the cloud is not rent under them. The metaphor is, no doubt, drawn from those water-skins, so well known in the East, and especially in Arabia, in which men stored the water for their journeys and other needs, which were liable to be "rent" by the weight of the liquid within them.
He holdeth back the face of his throne; rather, he covereth up. He makes the clouds to gather in the vault of heaven, above which is his throne, and in this way conceals it and covers it up. And spreadeth his cloud upon it; or, over it, so blotting it out from sight. Behind the more obvious meaning lies one which is deeper and more spiritual. God withdraws himself from sight, gathers clouds and darkness around him to be the habitation of his seat, hides from men the principles of his government and administration, makes himself unapproachable and inscrutable, is a mystery and an enigma which man cannot hope to understand or solve.
He hath compassed the waters with bounds. God restrains within limits alike the "waters that are above the firmament" and those that are beneath it (Job 38:11). The boundary.is placed, somewhat vaguely, "at the confines of light and darkness." Until the day and night come to an end is a mistranslation.
The pillars of heaven tremble. The "pillars of heaven" are the mountains, on which the sky seems to rest. These "tremble," or seem to tremble, at the presence of God (Psalms 18:7; Psalms 114:4; Isaiah 5:25) when he visits the earth in storm and tempest, either because the whole atmosphere is full of disturbance, and the outline of the mountains shifts and changes as rain and storm sweep over them, or because the reverberations of the thunder, which shake the air, seem to shake the earth also. And are astonished at his reproof. To the mind of the poet this "trembling" is expressive of astonishment and consternation. He regards the mountains as hearing the voice of God in the storm, recognizing it as raised in anger, and so trembling and cowering before him.
He divideth the sea with his power. "Divideth" is certainly a wrong translation. The verb used ( ־ָגַע ) means either "stirreth up" or "stilleth." In favour of the former rendering are Rosenmuller, Schultens, Delitzsch, Merx, and Canon Cook; in favour of the latter, the LXX; Dillmann, and Dr. Stanley Leathes. In either case the general sentiment is that God has full mastery over the sea, and can regulate its movements at his pleasure. And by his understanding he smiteth through the proud; literally, he smiteth through Rahab. (On Rahab, as the great power of evil, see the comment on Job 9:13.) God is said to have "smitten him through by his understanding'" since in the contest between good and evil it is rather intelligence than mere force that carries the day. Power alone is sufficient to control the sea.
By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; or, by his spirit the heavens are brightness; i.e. at a breath from his mouth the heavens, lately all cloud and storm (Job 26:8-11), recover their serenity, are calm and clear and bright. Our experience says, "After a storm comes a calm." Job notes that both alike are from God. His hand hath formed the crooked serpent; rather, his hand hath pierced the swift serpent (see the Revised Version). The reference is probably to "the war in heaven," already suggested by the mention of" Rahab" (verse 12). In that war, according to the tradition that had reached Job, a great serpent, like the Egyptian Apepi (Apophis), had borne a part.
Lo, these are parts of his ways; literally, ends of his ways; i.e. the mere outskirts and fringe of his doings. But how small a portion is heard of him? rather, how small a whisper? But the thunder of his power who can understand?, or, the thunder of his mighty deeds. Job implies that he has not enumerated one-half of God's great works—he has just hinted at them, just whispered of them. If they were all thundered out in the ears of mortal man. who could receive them or comprehend them
Job to Bildad: another sermon on the foregoing text.
I. THE PREFACE TO THE SERMON; OR, THE DISCOURSE OF BILDAD CRITICIZED. In Job's estimation it was:
1. Wholly unserviceable. With stinging irony Job, according to our view, represents it as having been extremely helpful to him in his feebleness, as having imparted strength to his powerless arm and wisdom to his ignorant mind (verses 2, 3); meaning, of course, the opposite—that in these respects the brief but pompous harangue to which he had listened had been of no use whatever to him in the way of assisting him either to bear his own misfortunes or to understand the mysterious enigma of Divine providence. Not only should a good man by his words, and a Christian minister by his sermons, always aim at the edification of his hearers (1 Corinthians 14:3), but the same duty is incumbent upon all (Ephesians 4:29). The world and the Church are full of sorrowful hearts requiring comfort, and ignorant minds in need of counsel. It is sad when neither the disconsolate can find a word of cheer nor the uninstructed hear a note of direction, to help them on in life's battle. The lips of the wise should disperse knowledge (Proverbs 15:7), and the tongue of the wise should prove health to the feeble and diseased (Proverbs 12:18).
2. Extremely superficial. Bildad had plentifully declared the thing as it was (verse 3); i.e. while imagining he had dived into the heart of a great subject, he had merely skimmed along its surface. Yet superficial and shallow views of men and things are not to be despised. To the mass of mankind, who are themselves commonplace in their capacities, only commonplace ideas are of use. What is called profound or original thinking belongs to another sphere from that which they usually inhabit. Hence to the extent to which it is unfamiliar to their minds it fails to make an adequate impression on their hearts. Still, superficial views of truth cannot satisfy souls of nobler faculty than the uneducated crowd possess; neither can they fully represent the deep things of God on the subject either of religion or of providence. It is, however, doubtful whether all men's thoughts, those of a Job no less than of a Bildad, are not, in comparison with the unfathomable profundity of Divine truth, at the best superficial.
3. Utterly irrelevant. Correct enough in themselves so far as they went, Bildad's views were inappropriate to the theme under discussion, were in truth so little pertinent to the great subject by which the thoughts of Job were engrossed, that Job felt constrained to ask to whom they had been addressed (verse 4). Bildad is not the only person against whom the charge of irrelevant talking can be advanced. Modern controversialists, lecturers, preachers, orators, writers, are as prone to commit this fault as were their brethren of antiquity. Discoursing wide of the mark, whether in the pulpit, at the bar, or on the bench, in Parliament, or in common life, usually results from ignorance, want of capacity, lack of preparation, too great fluency in speech or composition, or from deliberate design. Fitness is a higher excellence in speech or writing than eloquence or elegance (1 Corinthians 14:19). "The heart of the righteous studieth to answer" (Proverbs 15:28);and "a word spoken in due season, how good it is!" (Proverbs 15:23). "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Proverbs 25:11).
4. Entirely second-hand. Whatever Job was, he was always original; whereas Bildad could only cite proverbs and quote traditionary maxims. Here Job rather wickedly asks him from whom he had borrowed his last brief oration (verse 4). Since it could not be from God—Bildad always swore by the fathers—it must have been either from him (Job) or from Eliphaz, both of whom had already twice descanted on the subject of man's insignificance as contrasted with the majesty of God. It is not wrong to borrow good thoughts or to repeat them to others, provided their authorship be carefully acknowledged. Good thoughts at second hand are distinctly better than poor thoughts at first hand. Still, ministers and. preachers should aim to set forth their own views of Divine truth rather than those of other men. A clergyman who has no ideas of his own to set forth has mistaken his calling. Much can be done by earnest study and prayer to improve the feeblest capacity, and to enable it to look at truth for itself.
II. THE BODY OF THE SERMON; OR, THE MAJESTY OF GOD EXTOLLED. Catching up the anthem which Bildad had commenced (Job 25:2), Job continues in a strain of lofty adoration to dilate upon the transcendent greatness of God as absolute and universal Ruler, tracing his governmental power and authority through every department of creation.
1. In the realm of shades. (Verses 5, 6.) Bildad had said that God's dominion pervaded "the heights," or heavenly places (Job 25:2). Job adds that it also extends to the dark underworld of departed spirits; concerning which may be noted:
2. In the realm of creation. (Verses 7-13.) Rising from the dark underworld, Job expatiates on the great power of God as displayed in the world of light.
"The fire, and cracks
'Of sulphurous roaring, the most mighty Neptune
Seem to besiege, and make his bold waves tremble,
Yea, his dread trident shake."
('Tempest,' act 1. as. 2.)
The spirit of evil (Rahab), awakened by the hurly-burly, bellows forth its indignant rage, "lifting up its voice on high, and thundering back to the thundering mountains," but is again wounded to the quick by the stroke of the tempest; for "by his understanding he breaketh Rahab in pieces"—words which are understood by many to point rather to the power of God in calming the troubled waters of the sea. At the close of the storm, he once more brightens up the sky with his breath (verse 13), dispersing the storm-clouds with his wind, and fixing the fugitive Dragon. This may perhaps be understood of the constellation of that name which seems to wind itself in like a sinuous serpent between the Greater and Lesser Bears, as if endeavouring to make its escape from its appointed orbit, where, however, God fixes it, wounding it or slaying it, so that its flight is arrested—a poetical representation of the sublime truth that it is God's hand that hath beautified the evening sky with stars, and that keeps all the stellar world moving on in harmony and order. Or the ides may be, in accordance with ancient mythology, that this gliding serpent, winding itself round the sun, socks to eclipse its light; but that God wounds it, and so liberates the sun to renew his shining on the earth. SO viewed, the poet's language suggests the thought which reappears in other parts of Scripture (Matthew 13:39; Romans 8:19-23; Revelation 12:4)—that, in the great conflict width is continually going on between the powers of light and darkness, victory will eventually, through God's help, incline to the side of the former.
III. THE LESSON FROM THE SERMON; OR, THE TRUTH IT CONTAINS APPLIED. Job concludes his lofty anthem in celebration of the majesty of God by two remarks.
1. That man's knowledge of the power of God is infinitesimally small The magnificent pictures which had been given of the mysterious operation of the Almighty's hand were only as the edges, fringes, or extremest end-points of the glorious garment in which the incomparable Worker was arrayed, as the faintest whisper of a voice which in the fulness of its tones is as the roaring of the thunder or the grand diapason of the sea. What Job asserts shout his own representations of the transcendent greatness of God is equally correct about the richest and most impressive that have ever yet been given. Man's understanding of God's power in nature is at best fragmentary and imperfect (1 Corinthians 13:9).
2. That the wonder-working power of God is infinitely great. So great, in fact, that it passes human comprehension. If these stupendous phenomena he only the whispers of his almighty voice, what must be the thunder-roar of its fully uttered tones? If these be occasioned, as it were, by the mere flutterings of the extreme end of his garment, what must be power residing in his Almighty arm? If the phenomena of nature, as witnessed in this lower sphere, are sufficient to impress the human mind with exalted conceptions of the greatness of God, how much more sublime should our ideas be of the incomparable glory of him who presides over, and work, in, a universe, in which this globe on which man dwells is but as the small dust of the balance to the huge forms of the mountains, as a drop of water to the ocean, as a spark of fire to the blazing sun!
1. It is the duty of all men to seek, entertain, and, as opportunity offers. set forth, lofty conceptions of the supreme God.
2. If God's power extends to the underworld of spirits, it cannot be withdrawn from the upper world of men.
3. If the eye of the Omniscient can explore the caverns of hell and the caves of the sea, it must also be able to search the chambers of the heart.
4. The Almighty's hand that can hold up a world, yea, a universe, will not surely fail in sustaining one who is at best but a worm.
5. He who prepares and distributes the clouds of rain for the earth can also provide and dispense clouds of spiritual blessing for the souls of men.
6. When God draws a cloud before his throne, it is partly for his glory and partly for man's good.
7. He who hath set a bound to the sea is able also to restrain the wrath of man.
8. If God has divided light from darkness in the physical world, much more will he do so in the intellectual and spiritual
9. If things inanimate, as well as bloodless spirits, tremble at God's reproof, men possessed of reason should not be callous or indifferent to the same.
10. Those who are proud God is able to abase.
11. The power of God in nature is only an emblem and shadow of a higher power which God wields in the realm of grace,
12. The fullest knowledge of God which a saint attains to on earth is small and insignificant when compared with that which awaits him in heaven.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Praises of the Eternal
I. REPARTEE AND REPROOF. (Job 26:2-4.) The tone seems to be ironical: "How well hast thou helped feebleness, supported the arm of him that has no strength, counselled unwisdom, and in fulness given utterance to good sense! To whom hast thou offered words, and whose breath went forth from thee? By whose inspiration?" possibly pointing to the borrowed character of Bildad's speech. Words may be good in themselves, yet not pleasant or profitable if not spoken in good season. It would have been more to the purpose had Bildad spoken to the wounded spirit of his friend of the tenderness and the compassion rather than the majesty and greatness of God. The minister of God should know how to speak a word in season to the weary (Isaiah 50:4). "We are often disappointed in our expectations of our friends who should comfort us; but the Comforter, who is the Holy Ghost, never mistakes in his operations, nor misses his ends." Job takes a noble revenge by painting in far more glowing and noble language the sublime greatness of God, thus showing how true in faith was his heart at bottom. His petulance and outcries are the involuntary irritation of pain; they are superficial; at the core of his being piety lives in all its intensity.
II. JOB'S SURPASSING DESCRIPTION OF THE MAJESTY OF GOD. (Verses 5-14.) "Truth, like a torch, the more it's shook, it shines." "It were well if all disputes about religion might end thus, in glorifying God as Lord of all, and our Lord, with one mind and one mouth (Romans 15:6), for in that we are all agreed."
1. Hell and heaven. (Verses 5-7.) Job begins at the opposite end of the great scale of creation from that with which Bildad began; with the lower world, the region of shadows, thence to rise to the heavenly world. "The shadows are made to tremble below the water and its inhabitants" (verse 5). By the shadows are meant the ghostly, bloodless forms as Homer has described them in the eleventh book of the 'Odyssey,' leading a joyless, melancholy existence, deprived of the light of the sun (Psalms 88:11; Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 9:18; Isaiah 26:14, Isaiah 26:19; comp. Job 14:9, Job 14:10). Even in Hades the vast power of the Almighty is felt, and its inhabitants own it and tremble (Psalms 139:8; Proverbs 15:11; James 2:19). This lower world is naked to the eyes of God (Hebrews 4:13), and the chasm of Hades has no covering (Proverbs 15:11; Proverbs 15:6). The Northern heaven—taken here by a figure, as the part for the whole—is stretched over the void, and the earth hangs upon nothing (verse 7). The expression "nothing" here denotes the same as the "void"—the vast emptiness of space in which the earth with its heavenly canopy is placed. Compare the classical parallels in Lucret; 2:600, sqq.; Ovid, 'Fast.,' 6:269, sqq. A Persian poet says—
"He stretches out the heaven
without pillars as the tent of the earth ….
What doth the air bear? it beareth nothing,
and nothing on nothing, and absolutely nothing."
And an Arab poet, "He has made the heaven out of smoke." And in the Koran, "It is Allah who has built high the heaven, without supporting it on visible pillars." The poets say that Atlas bore the heaven on his shoulders; but we confess the true Atlas, the Lord our God, who by his word upholds both heaven and earth (Brenz). As the work witnesses of the master, so does the universe testify of its Creator, Sustainer, and Governor (Psalms 19:1-6); and no faint-hearted one has contemplated the eternal order which here confronts him and its secret but ever-blessed sway, and no sinner longing for salvation has tarried in the hails of this great temple of God, without being richly blessed with heavenly blessings (Wohlfarth).
2. The clouds and the heavenly region. (Verses 8-10.) Waters are firmly bound up in the clouds as in vast water-skins, according to the conception of the poet, without their bursting with the weight, if God wills to retain the rain (verse 8; Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2). God veils the "outer side" of his heavenly throne, the side turned towards earth, by drawing the clouds between (verse 9). He has drawn a circling boundary over the water's surface to the crossing of the light with the darkness (verse 10; Proverbs 8:27). In both passages the idea is that the earth is surrounded by water (in Homer, by the flowing stream of ocean). Above is the circle of the hemisphere, where sun and stars run their course. Within this circle is the region of the heavenly bodies and of light, and outside it begins the realm of darkness.
3. Mountains; the sea; constellations. (Verses 11-13.) The heaven's pillars—that is, the great mountains, conceived as bearing up the firmament—fall into trembling, and the earthquake is represented as caused by their affright at his reproof (verse 11; comp. Psalms 29:1-11.; Psalms 104:7; Isaiah 50:2; Nahum 1:4; Revelation 6:12-14; Revelation 20:11). He terrifies the sea by his power, and by his understanding breaks in pieces Rahab (verse 12). Rahab being here not Egypt, as in other places, but some huge monster of legendary fame. His breath makes the heaven bright and clear; and his hand has pierced through the flying serpent (verse 13). This may, perhaps, allude to the mythical representation of eclipses of sun or moon as the attempt of a monstrous dragon to swallow up the heavenly bodies, The ceremony is practised, among the Turks and others, of beating off this dragon at the time of eclipses by cries and noises. These descriptions of the Creation are founded on astronomical myths belonging to the childhood of the world; but our better knowledge of the mechanism of the heavens need not destroy our sense of the reverence and awe which pervade these descriptions, The wonder of ignorance is replaced by the nobler wonder of intelligence, of reason.
CONCLUSION. (Verse 14.) "Lo, these are ends of his ways"—but the outlines or sketches—the nearest and most familiar evidences of his government of the world; "and what a gently whispering word it is that we hear!—but the thunder of his omnipotence who can understand?" The full unfolding of his power, the thundering course of the heavenly spheres, what mortal ear could bear?
"If nature thundered in our opening ears,
And stunned us with the music of the spheres,
How should we wish that Heaven had left us still
The gentle zephyr and the purling rill?"
The whole contemplation is fitted to teach us our ignorance, and to lead to humility, to wonder, to adoration. We see but a small part of the immeasurable kingdom of God. We play with a few pebbles on the verge of the infinite ocean of existence. The knowledge of the greatest philosopher is but the short-sighted glance of a tiny insect! Our earth is but a grain of sand in the vast whole, a drop in the bucket. Thus the discoveries made of God lead us to the depth and height of the undiscovered and unknown. A modem philosopher says that religion and science find their point of union and reconciliation here—in the recognition of the unknown, unknowable Power in the universe. This recognition stills vain rivalries and idle controversies. "When we have said all we can concerning God, we must, even as St. Paul (Romans 11:33), despair to find the bottom; we must sit down at the brink and adore the depth: 'Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!'". But, again, the sense of what is unknown should lead us to hold the more firmly to that which is known, especially through the gospel of his grace and love. There he speaks to us from out the vastness and splendour of the creation with a voice that we can understand, that touches the heart—"My child!" This everlasting God is ours-our Father and our Love. Without the knowledge of his grace and mercy in Christ, the knowledge of his majesty and purity must drive us to despair.—J.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
Cruel reproof helps not the sufferer.
Job has endured the reproaches of his would-be friends. Their words, instead of calming and comforting his wounded spirit, have only irritated and tried him. He has sought in vain for the refreshment of sympathy. One prolonged attempt to prove his guiltiness, and to establish the justice of his affliction on that ground, he has had to meet by protestations of innocence. But the ill-judged and imperfectly instructed comforters, mistaking the ground of Job's affliction, had poured gall into his troubled spirit. The testimony of the book is to the insufficiency of human consolation, and to the great truth that there are afflictions which come upon men for other reasons than as punishments of offence. The picture of Job suffering bodily pain is sad enough, but it is heightened by the cruel manner in which the professed words of comfort are turned into keen reproofs. Such reproofs are powerless to help the sufferer, for—
1. THERE IS NO ELEMENT OF REAL CONSOLATION IN THEM. The wise consoler may take opportunity to lead the sufferer to a just penitence for his sin; but merely to dwell upon wrong, and to point to it as the sole cause of suffering, is to leave the sufferer devoid of all true consolation. There is no word of hope, no promise of relief, no bracing of the spirit, by the whisper of lofty principles.
II. THEY BUT SERVE TO IRRITATE THE ALREADY TRIED SPIRIT. Bowed down by manifold sufferings, the afflicted one is sensitive to every word, even every look, of those around him. Their tender patience, even their very silence, gives them some assurance of kindly feeling; but to speak words of reproof when the spirit is weak and oppressed with anguish is to add weight to weight, and to subject the sufferer to greater pain. He needs the balmy word of friendship, the touch of the tender hand; not to be rudely taunted with keen thrusts of accusation which are as the bite of an adder, nor to be scourged by the severities of an antagonist.
III. THEY AFFORD NO EVIDENCE OF THAT SYMPATHY WHICH IS THE BASIS OF ALL, TRUE CONSOLATION. With the words of inspiriting brotherly love the truly afflicted one has borne the heaviest calamity and remained calm under the severest trials. Pain has lost its power in presence of sympathy. To lay the aching head upon the shoulder of a strong friend gives might to the weak. The truest succour for the wounded is tender sympathy, whether the wounds pierce the flesh or the spirit. But sympathy knows nothing of severity or harsh accusation. It hides offence and soothes the self-accused spirit until it has gained strength to bear the weight of condemnation. But no sign of this is present in the words of Job's friends; no sympathy is expressed by cruel reproof: "How hast thou helped him that is without power?"
IV. To all they add THE PAINFUL RECALL OF THE FRAILTIES OF THE SOUL AT THE TIME WHEN IT IS OVERBURDENED AND UNABLE TO MAKE ANSWER. This is not the appropriate time to speak accusingly. When the soul is in its strength it is hard to reply to either just or unjust accusation, but in its weakness and sorrow it is utterly incapable of reply. It is adding weight to weight, and taking unfair advantage of feebleness. This is neither neighbourly, nor brotherly, nor even kind. It shows a faulty judgment and an unsympathetic spirit.—R.G.
The Divine ways but partially revealed.
Bildad had given Job no comfort. And Job at first (verses 1-3) retorts upon him a reproof for his unhelpful words. He then bursts into an impressive representation of the wonderful works of God to whom Bildad had referred. The works of God in the heavens, the earth, and the deep sea are great and manifold; so are his works amongst the creatures of his power, of whom the serpent alone is mentioned. But the hidden hand of God Job confesses, and the greatness of the Divine works and ways, of which only a part is revealed. We may take a wider sweep than even Job does, and say—
I. Parts of the Divine ways are revealed IN THE VISIBLE CREATION. His wonderful works.
II. IN HIS WAYS TO THE CHILDREN OF MEN. In the working of that providence that ever guards the interests of the human life.
III. IN THE REVELATIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE. Here light falls especially
Yet with all the teachings it must still be said," How little a portion is heard of him?" We have heard the whisper; "but the thunder of his power who can understand?" A plain duty is to judge of that which is hidden by that which is made known. And the question instantly arises to our lips—Are the revelations which God has made of himself and of his ways in nature, in human life, in the Holy Scriptures, such as encourage us to trust in those ways, and in him, where all is covered with clouds and thick darkness? If the revealed things are good and trust worthy, it is most reasonable to demand faith in the hidden and unseen. Faith in the unseen is warranted by
but faith's highest warrant is in the Divine Name—the absolutely good, pure, just, and beneficent One.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Helping the weak.
Job returns to the old complaint, more than ever justified by the obstinacy of his friends. They came to sympathize and help in the time of trouble; how have they carried out their self-appointed task?
I. IT IS A CHRISTIAN DUTY TO HELP THE WEAK. The worldly maxim is "each for himself." This seems to be natural; but it is not true to our better nature. The higher self is required to rectify the cruel impulses of the lower regions of nature.
1. Because of the solidarity of the race. We are members one of another, and when one member suffers all the members suffer. It is not good for us that any of our fellow-men should fail.
2. Because of the brotherhood of Christians. We are called to more than a care for the whole body; individual needs appeal to our sympathy, and the special cases of those who are known to us come before us with peculiar claims. We have to remember our family relationship as children of our Father.
3. Because of the work of Christ. He came to help the weak, and our standing is only on the ground that he has done so for us. If all had come to us by self-seeking and personal exclusiveness, we should not have had the power to help others, for that power was given to us in our weakness by the grace of God in Christ.
II. HELP TO THE WEAK SHOULD BE BY AIDING THEM TO BECOME STRONG. There is an excessive helplessness that can only be relieved by direct aid. But in the main it is not wise to make people simply dependent on us. While we help them materially we may hurt them morally. It is a more difficult task to lift men than to dole out charity while they grovel in destitution; but it is a much more truly helpful thing. When we deal with men in spiritual work the same principle applies. It is not enough to bring consolation and peace and other spiritual blessings. The more important work is to lead feeble, broken-down creatures to the Source of new life and strength, that they may be renewed and converted. It is well to help the weak in their weakness, but it is better to help them out of it.
III. IT IS POSSIBLE TO FAIL MISERABLY IN ATTEMPTING TO HELP THE WEAK This is one of the most obvious lessons of the Book of Job, and it is constantly recurring to us from different points of view. Few tasks are more difficult, and therefore it is not surprising that failure is frequent, but the surprising thing is that it is not anticipated. We are astounded at the confidence of Job's comforters. Their self-assurance is perfectly amazing. They persevere in their conventional assertions without perceiving how utterly useless, how vexatiously mischievous, their whole method of procedure is. Not understanding Job, they cannot help him. Too often blundering attempts at doing good only aggravate the evil they would alleviate. We must study social problems; we must understand the people; we must come to know the individual persons we desire to help. A large part of the duty of Christian angels of mercy is to visit the afflicted, to enter into their condition, see their homes, hear their troubles, know their circumstances and the cause of their misery. The story of Christian charity is full of most disheartening failures which arise simply from neglecting these first conditions of success.—W.F.A.
God's vision of death.
Bildad has just spoken of the exalted dominion of God that reaches to heavenly heights, overawing the very moon and stars. Job now replies, turning his eyes downward, and noticing how the dim underworld is all open to the inspection of God.
I. THE DEAD ARE NOT BEYOND THE VISION OF GOD. He lives in light, and they lie in darkness; yet he sees them. There is no escaping from his presence. "If I make my bed in Hades, behold, thou art there" (Psalms 139:8).
1. There is no eluding his observation. A man cannot flee from God by dying. Indeed, is not suicide rightly regarded as rushing into the presence of God? No darkness hides from God, for day and night are alike with him, and no change of sphere removes from the reach of him who rules through all the spheres.
2. There is no loss of his notice. No one can be beneath the attention of God—too low, too degraded, in too dark and desolate a region to be seen by him. Perhaps this was Job's thought. He was longing for God to come and vindicate his cause; but he could not but admit that death might come first, for his disease was making fearful inroads on his constitution. Still, he would not lose the chance of meeting God. If not on earth, then it should be after death. God will follow his children wherever they go in the next world, as he follows them in this world.
II. GOD'S VISION OF THE DEAD IS OF GREAT CONSEQUENCE TO THEM. If Hades and destruction have no covering before God, this means very much to Hades and destruction. It cannot be the same thing whether we are looked upon by God or not. Surely it means much to know that the abode of death is not deserted by God. God cannot look down into this dark region as a mere spectator. He is everywhere a Life, a Power, an Authority. Therefore we must conclude that the rule of God extends over the unseen world. Certain important consequences flow from this truth.
1. Justice will be done there. God will not allow injustice to go on for ever. The process of rectification is slow; but God is infinitely patient, and he has eternity before him. The unpunished sinner will meet his dreadful deserts in the next world, and the ill-used and misunderstood good man will be vindicated there.
2. Life will be given there. God cannot look on the dead and leave them in their natural darkness. His gaze quickens. If he visits the realm of the dead he will bring about a resurrection. The dead are not cast out, forgotten, left to fade and melt out of all being. God touches them, and they awake, like the frost-bound earth at the touch of spring.
3. Mercy will extend to them. How and to what extent this may be received by the dead is a mystery concerning which we have little or no light. But we know that "the mercy of the Lord endureth for ever." We know that God is changeless. His love is unfailing. He must ever desire the recovery of his children. Yet dogmatic universalism is as false to human nature as it is to the warnings of Scripture. For men may harden themselves against the mercy of God; if they do so on earth, how can we say that they will not do so after death?—W.F.A.
As we proceed through the poem we cannot but be struck with the wonderful wealth of its nature-imagery, which continues to open out with ever-increasing luxuriance till it reaches its fulness in the burst of splendour that accompanies the final theophany. Each aspect of nature touched by the poet has its special lessons. Now he calls us to look at the gorgeous pageantry of the clouds. Here truths of Divine order and government are displayed before our eyes.
I. CLOUDS ARE OF DIVINE ORIGIN. God bindeth up the waters; the thick clouds are his. Whenever we touch nature we should move with reverence, for we are in the temple of God. Whether we understand the clouds, whether we can see the wisdom by which they are shaped and led out over the heavens or not, at least we must discuss them with the humility that becomes a consideration of the works of the infinitely Wise and the perfectly Good.
II. CLOUDS ARE BENEFICIAL TO THE WORLD. In Southern countries they are greatly valued both for their shade and for the much-needed showers they bring to the parched land. The arrangement by which they float overhead, and then descend on broad areas in finely distributed drops of water, makes man's most advanced system of irrigation look childish and clumsy. Great masses of water are stored aloft and driven through the air, and made to descend so that every minute plant is watered, and not a blade of grass is crushed. Here is the perfection of the art of distribution.
III. CLOUDS ILLUSTRATE THE MUTUAL MINISTRIES OF NATURE. Drawn up from the sea in invisible vapour, driven over the land by strong winds, condensed against the mountains or in cool currents of the upper air, descending in gentle rain over fields and gardens, over woods and hills and plains, trickling through the soil, breaking out in little springs, streaming down the slopes in minute rills, gathering supplies from all directions in the valleys, and flowing back to the sea in full-fed rivers, the water of the clouds moves through a circuit, every stage of which is of use in the economy of nature, while the whole is completed by the help of many forces and circumstances.
IV. CLOUDS COME AS MERCIES IN DISGUISE. Thick clouds are black and ugly, hiding the blue sky, and casting gloom on the earth. They do not always have a silver lining. They may be heavy and lowering, sombre and threatening. Yet they burst in refreshing showers. When shall we believe that it is the same with those apprehensions of trouble which are really the chariots in which God's love rides?
V. CLOUDS ARE BEAUTIFUL IN THE SUNLIGHT. It is only a difference of light, and their gloom is turned into splendour. When the sun touches the clouds it sets them on fire. Morning and evening unroll leagues of rose and gold curtains on the distant horizon. When God's love touches our clouds, by a magic alchemy they pass into heavenly beauty.
VI. CLOUDS ARE FLEETING AND TRANSIENT. Moulded out of invisible vapours, they melt while we gaze at them. Their high bastions and clustered domes, their silvery lakes and purple mountains, are in rapid dissolution. For they must serve their purpose. They must vanish to fulfil their mission. Earthly joys like palaces of cloudland, earthly terrors like its gloomy shadows, both melt away, and must do so to serve their purpose of blessing and discipline. But beyond the clouds is the blue sky. We are thankful for the clouds. But we must neither cling to them, nor shrink from them. Standing on the solid earth, our lasting hope is in the eternal heavens.—W.F.A.
The thunder of his power.
We only see the edges of God's ways; we hear but a slight whisper of him; the thunder of his power is beyond our comprehension.
I. IN NATURE. We can see but a small part of God's works. Astronomy hints at vast regions of unexplored space. Even in limited regions the variety of teeming life goes beyond our comprehension. We cannot see the infinitely small. Further, we only use our five senses. Who can tell but that a sixth sense would reveal much more of the wonderful works of God? We can conceive of an indefinite multiplication of senses. Suppose there were ten senses, or fifty, or any number more; who can say but that they would discover corresponding objects that are quite unknown to us because we have not the faculty of perceiving them? Next consider how small a period of time our observation extends over. Geology stretches back a long way, but with how meagre a record of immense ages! Then note that all these observations deal with the material universe. But what of the spiritual? How far may this extend? What are its contents?
II. IN PROVIDENCE. The mistake of Job's friends was that they were both shortsighted and narrow in their vision. They could see but a very small part of God's work and purpose; yet they drew universal conclusions, and dogmatized. Their mistake is only too common. We have to recollect that we have not the materials with which to form a judgment of God's actions. In our own lives we see a very small part of the Divine plan. All may look dark and dreadful. But we are only at the early seed-sowing. We have to see the harvest before we can judge of the crop. And the harvest is not yet.
III. IN REVELATION. This was true of the Old Testament in comparison with the New. But a fringe of the grace afterwards revealed in Christ was made known to the ancient Jews. Now it is impossible to say how much more of the nature and thought of God still lies beyond the region of revelation. We have enough to guide us, sufficient for salvation and for duty. But we dare not limit God to his revelations of himself. All attempts to define God, to draw a circle about the Divine, refute themselves, for they would make out that the Infinite is finite.
IV. IN JUDGMENT. Whispers of God's judgment make us tremble; and we have only heard whispers as yet. What, then, must the thunder of his power be? At a mere touch from "the Traveller unknown" the sinew of Jacob's thigh shrank (Genesis 32:25). What would have been the result if the mysterious Wrestler had put forth his full power? Earthly troubles are hard to bear; these are but whispers compared to the thunder of doom!
V. IN REDEMPTION. There is a bright side to this picture. "God is love," and the half has not been told us of God's nature. Future ages have yet to explore its marvellous wealth