By Samuel Ridout
Subdivision 2. — The controversy with the three friends (Job 4 — 26).
The second of the three subdivisions is, as has been said, the largest and most complicated portion of the division (Job 3-31). Preceded by the wail of the suffering patriarch (in Job 3), it is followed by a monologue in which he maintains (in Job 27-31) that for which he had contended throughout — his uprightness — but with his sufferings unrelieved, and the dark enigma of the reason for those sufferings unexplained. It cannot therefore be considered as a satisfactory conclusion. Job has met men, and vanquished them on their own ground; but he must meet and answer God — with what different and blessedly satisfactory results! But this does not belong to our present theme.
In the controversy of the three friends we have a unity of thought, based on a common principle. That principle is that all suffering is of a punitive rather than of an instructive nature; that it is based on God's justice rather than on His love — though these are ever combined in all His ways. Such a principle necessarily fails to distinguish between the sufferings of the righteous and those of the wicked. Carried, as the friends did carry it, to its legitimate conclusion, this principle meant that Job's sufferings were for sin, hitherto undetected, and that his only hope for relief was in a confession of his sin in order to obtain mercy.
Indeed, toward the close of their controversy, the friends apparently lose sight even of mercy for the penitent, and in the desire to vindicate their principle and themselves, dwell upon the awful doom of the wicked at the hand of God in this world, and with only a greater darkness hanging over the future.
On his part, Job evidently has but little advantage over his friends as to the principle upon which they base their addresses. He too sees that punishment is for evil, eventually for actual sin. Indeed, he takes common ground with them and states with fully as much clearness and force the certainty of the doom of the wicked, both now and hereafter. But Job differs from his friends in this: while they steadily tend to a conviction of his hypocrisy and sin, Job faces the awful thought of God's injustice. He is led to this by the consciousness of personal rectitude, which he cannot relinquish in the darkest hour. Why then is he so afflicted? On the other hand, thank God, he has true faith. Even where he cannot understand, he must believe in God; and this faith remains, with increasing light, through all his sufferings and in spite of all mysteries.
There is a distinct progress in this twofold controversy. The friends, beginning with a measure of courtesy and kindliness, are carried forward into ever-increasing suspicion, harshness and denunciation. Job, on the other hand, though overwhelmed at the first, gradually finds a footing for his faith, and emerges from despair into a measure of hope. He thus answers Satan's accusation, and God is vindicated by the faith of His servant; He can go on then to teach him, painful though it was, the lesson he so deeply needed.
We must add a word as to this principle of the punitive nature of suffering. Nowhere in the Old Testament is it enunciated with greater clearness and force than in this book. Elsewhere there is greater prominence given to faith, and to that upon which faith rests — the mercy and goodness of God — "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." But it still remains that the Old Testament view of God and His people makes possible some of the gloom that rests upon Job. It has been well said that the book of Job could not have been written after the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now that the Man of Sorrows has come and suffered as none ever could under the wrath of God for sin; now that God is revealed as Father, and the way into His house of cloudless glory has been opened; a great line of separation has been drawn between suffering for sin and for righteousness, between the wicked and the righteous. The heaviest trials now are but "light affliction which is but for a moment."
Faith, even where it could not reason, always acted thus; and where it was in full exercise rose superior to all sorrow. Abraham laid his son on the altar without a murmur, and even Jacob was not long overwhelmed by the loss of Joseph. In Job, faith is real, but in the background, while the governmental principle of punishment for sin usurps the first place — until Elihu leads up to the great revelation of Jehovah Himself, in whose holy presence another divine principle shines out — the sinfulness of nature even in His own people, and His absolute goodness as well as righteousness, which will bring in "the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby." We are well-nigh on New Testament ground when we reach this "end of the Lord." But we must return to our immediate theme.
In the controversy, as already stated, there is a distinct progress in opposite directions of the friends of Job. The former are getting further from the light; the latter has his face set toward the light. Each of the three friends speaks, Eliphaz and Bildad three times each, and Zophar but twice. To each address Job gives an answer, and, as already said, silences his opposers. The entire controversy may thus be divided naturally into three sections, consisting of the address of the friends and Job's replies to them. Job therefore speaks three times more frequently than each of the friends, and as a rule at greater length.
We may also remark as to the tone of these addresses and replies. The friends grow more severe; Job, from almost complete absorption in his own sufferings, passes into abuse and satire upon his friends, but eventually emerges from that into a high and dignified discussion of the great principles involved. The friends on the contrary are at their best at the beginning; then become suspicious, and close with positive abuse.
Another fact must be added. There is a certain measure of knowledge of God. Job's friends were not heathen philosophers, but in all likelihood men who feared God, who were His children, though with but little light. The same must be said of Job with greater emphasis.
We are now ready to take up the details of the controversy. It falls as has just been said into three evident portions:
The numerical significance — in the two opposite directions — is quite clear. The third is the full manifestation where each stands, as the first shows the beginning, and the second the development.
Section 1. — The first addresses of the friends — their principle of the punitive nature of suffering; Job's despair.
Remembering the fundamental error of the friends, we cannot withhold admiration for the force with which they lay down their principle; nor must we fail to recognize the truth of what they say, even though it is perverted. And the sublime poetry of their utterances has wrung admiration even from unbelievers.
This section falls again into three parts, each marked by the address of one of the friends and Job's reply.
It will be found that, while all the friends have a common principle from which they reason, they are by no means without individuality. Each one has his personal characteristics and his own method of address.
Eliphaz, perhaps the eldest, is marked by dignity, appeal to God, and a measure of entreaty.
Bildad appeals to reason and lessons of the past.
Zophar, perhaps the youngest, is marked by the sternness and impetuosity of his denunciations of sin, and declaration of the certainty of its judgment. All this will appear as we examine these addresses in detail.
1. — Eliphaz's address and Job's reply — The greatness and justice of God (Job 4-7).
Eliphaz begins his address, partly and necessarily in reply to the sad complaint of Job, but chiefly to minister as he thinks Job's spiritual condition may need it. The address, in chapters 4 and 5, is one of much dignity, great beauty of expression, and embodies much self-evident truth. It may be divided into seven portions:
(1) In the opening words of his address, Eliphaz begins the criticism which characterizes the words of the friends throughout. What he says is perfectly true, and Job who had comforted others in times of distress should have borne up under his trials; and yet would we not expect some words of sympathy from a friend — a "brother born for adversity?" Would not grace ever teach us to "weep with those who weep?" The blessed Man of Sorrows did not take sufferers to task in this way, but was moved with compassion, even to tears, at human sorrow. It is this harshness which indicates a wrong principle in Eliphaz, which comes out more clearly as he proceeds. With him sin and suffering are as root and fruit: he knows no classes of suffering, fails to distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, and therefore eventually is found to be a false accuser of his friend.
(2) He enunciates this principle by appealing to Job's own experience, not as condemning but approving. What had hitherto given him confidence? Was it not his fear, his piety? Who then ever perished, if he were righteous? On the other hand, how often had the wicked been cut off, reaping as they had sowed. No matter how strong and mighty, they are cut off, as fierce lions having their teeth broken out. But while these things are true, generally, Eliphaz has lost all distinction between the righteous and the wicked, and presses Job into a dilemma which he is already beginning to feel — either he or God is unjust!
(3) Next, in words of great solemnity and of lofty poetic beauty, Eliphaz describes his vision of the greatness and holiness of God. In the silent watches of the night, an apparition had come before him, causing him to tremble with a nameless dread. While not seeing, he had felt the whisper of "a still small voice," that made his hair stand up.
"Shall mortal man be more just than God?" — or "just before God," in His presence. Compared with His holiness, even the heavenly beings are unclean. The seraphim veil their faces as they proclaim Him. How much less can mortal man, whose mortality is a witness of his sin, vaunt himself. His breath is in his nostrils; like a tale that is told his life is compassed in a day — like the ephemeral moth.
This is all quite true, and in other connections most appropriate; but, as already said, it falls beside the mark, for it does not meet Job's need. Truly, in the sight of God, all are as an unclean thing, but will that set aside the fact that there is such a thing as righteousness in the children of God? If all are thus unclean in the sight of God, then Eliphaz must take his place beside Job, a thing he is by no means ready to do, and all explanation of suffering fails.
(4) In this portion of his address Eliphaz, as befits a man of age and observation, gives the results of his experience among men. He tells Job it will be in vain to cry for aid to the "saints," the holy ones, his only help is in God, and if he complain against Him he will but lay himself open to divine anger. Wicked men have prospered for a little season, only to fall under the curse. There is hardly an allusion as yet to Job's family, and yet verses 4, 5 might be taken as applying to them — children crushed without deliverance, and harvests taken by the hungry robber. He is rather describing the result of his experience and observations, that eventually, even in this life, suffering is the portion of the sinner. It need hardly be said how incomplete and unsatisfactory this is. Even in the Old Testament the "man of the earth" prospers; the wicked spreads himself "like a green bay tree," and even in death has no bands.
Let us suppose that Abraham, Jacob, or David reasoned thus about their sufferings: they were wicked, then, because they suffered! And in the New Testament, how could tribulation which worketh patience be gloried in, or how could "our light affliction which is but for a moment," be said to work out a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory? Truly Eliphaz by his experience proves himself to be little versed in the ways of God with His suffering people.
(5) Next follows the advice to Job, which is good, at least because it turns him to the only One who could give relief. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward," therefore let him commit his cause to God. It is always good to advise men to trust in God; for He never fails those who trust in Him. "Trust in Him at all times, ye people; pour out your hearts before Him." "Cast thy burden upon the Lord." He is both powerful, good and kind, and can lift up those that are bowed down, refreshing their parched spirits as the rain refreshes the thirsty land. Therefore, taken in itself, this counsel is good; but remembering the underlying principle that Job is suffering for his sins, it can only irritate. It is as though he were to say "Sin is common to all, as trouble is to all, therefore humble yourself as a sinner before God, and He shall exalt you." It is all the more subtle because it comes so near the truth — as Job will learn in due time. But there is no thought in the mind of Eliphaz like that produced in Job's heart by the sight of God, and which made him say at last, "I am vile."
(6) There may, or may not, be insinuations of craftiness in Job in this part; probably not. Eliphaz is formulating his theory, "Be good, and you will be happy in the long run." Job then would be vindicated, and all iniquity would have to stop its mouth. Indeed, Eliphaz and his friends must find this out later, and these words are like a prophecy of what takes place when Job intercedes for them. Yes, God will surely triumph over evil, and will make His people "more than conquerors through Him that loved them:" but it will not be in man's way, and He alone will be exalted.
(7) The seventh and closing portion of the address is admirable in expression and excellent in its doctrine, if its inner meaning be seen. In the mouth of Eliphaz, as the culmination of his masterly address, it must be taken with all the modifications already spoken of.
Happy indeed is he who receives chastening at the loving hands of God; we are neither to despise nor to faint under such dealings. No matter how great or oft-repeated are the afflictions there will come deliverance in due time. How good it is to know this, and to "wait on the Lord, and be of good courage, for He will strengthen thy heart." Let the sufferer but say, "It is thy hand," "I know that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me." The Scriptures are full of this precious truth for the child of God. We are led to look past all apparent causes, all human instruments, or even Satan himself, and see that Hand which "will never cause His child a needless tear." So our blessed Lord took that great affliction, at the hands of God: "The cup which my Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?"
So the relief also comes from the same blessed source: "His hands make whole." How good it is to know that all the trial and the relief — comes from Him. No matter how oft repeated the strokes, protection and deliverance are our portion.
Passing to detail, Eliphaz mentions the sorest outward trials of famine and war, even to destruction, and those inner, bitter pains, from which Job was even then suffering, caused by the biting tongue; no noisome beast can injure, for when one is right with God He makes all things his friends. The habitation of the righteous abides secure, and his posterity shall bear witness to the faithfulness of God. Death but closes with calmness the beautiful picture — the aged saint gathered to his fathers like a shock of corn fully ripe. We can prolong the view in the clearer light of the New Testament, and ask: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Yes, we may look on beyond the death of the aged saint to the glorious resurrection, and catch the light of the bright hope of the Morning Star: "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven . . . and we who are alive shall be caught up . . . to meet the Lord in the air."
But of all this neither Eliphaz nor Job thinks, and, as already said, the noble words of our chapter have not the same meaning to him as to us.
Job's reply to Eliphaz
In his reply to Eliphaz, as well as in those to each of the others, it is to be noted that Job addressed them unitedly, instead of individually. There is, indeed, an answer to the last speaker in each case, but Job evidently recognizes a unity of sentiment in the attitude of all three; each is the mouth-piece of all; and the answer is accordingly addressed to them collectively.
There is a marked resemblance between this first reply of Job, and the lament with which he began (Job 3). Other matters enter in here, and there may be, perhaps, a greater measure of self-control in the utterances to Eliphaz, but the burden is the same; his affliction is unspeakably great, there is no possible cure, therefore death would be a welcome relief. There is no gleam of hope amid the gloom; faith is almost completely eclipsed for the time, and there is the sense of God's wrath which is the forerunner of a doubt of His goodness and justice. As to the friends also, there is the recognition of their failure to act the part of friends, which is paving the way for further alienation, ending in the rough recriminations which follow.
There are two general features in Job's reply, belonging respectively to the two chapters devoted to it (Job 6, 7). In chapter 6, the friends are more directly addressed, while in the latter half of the following chapter, he speaks to God. There is in the whole reply, however, a unity and continuity that encourages us to seek its divisions according to their numerical order and significance; thus:
There is a certain measure of similarity between the contents of these divisions and those in the address of Eliphaz. In answer to the reproach for Job's despair, we have here his reason for it. Eliphaz speaks of God's favor to the righteous; Job rather craves death at His hand. Eliphaz has a solemn vision of the greatness and holiness of God; Job displays the inadequacy of his friends. In answer to the experience of the friends, Job desires that they would truly test him. In place of the exhortation to seek God, Job sets the misery and brevity of his life. Eliphaz reminds him of God's assured victory over all devices of the wicked, but Job can only reply that God is his enemy. The close of the friend's address is a beautiful declaration of the uses of affliction, but Job only answers that it does not seem to apply in his case, else why should not God forgive and show mercy? But we can compare the address and reply as we take up the latter in some detail.
(1) Eliphaz had reproached Job for succumbing to despair, but the patriarch asks him only to weigh his misery; it would be found, in the imagery elsewhere used of numerical greatness, as heavy as the sand of the sea. It is for this reason that his words are "rash" — which is probably the better rendering. Who can refrain from impetuous words when he Is pierced with the arrows of the Almighty, and His terrors overshadow him?
Here we have the element in his sufferings which in intensity probably exceeds their physical aspect. It was the sense that God's wrath was upon him, that the dreadful virus of His indignation was consuming him, that gave a poignancy to his grief. We know this was a mistake, and that it was but another proof of the love of God that His poor servant was being thus chastened. But he did not know it, and we should not be harsh with one who felt that the Lord was dealing bitterly with him. Necessarily he could not have the full light that is now ours, and could not therefore "count it all joy" that he had fallen into such straits. But we can appeal to his own words, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" What has turned him from this resting-place? Dreadful doubts as to God's love and goodness have begun to gnaw at his heart with a pain beyond his bereavements and his sores.
One only, and He for no sin of His own, has felt the arrows of God piercing His holy soul. "Why hast thou forsaken Me?" He asks. But not for one moment does he doubt the holiness or goodness of God. "Thou art holy," suffices for Him, and in meekness He drinks the bitter cup; perfect in His sufferings, as in all else. God could not for a moment lay upon poor Job — though there was not another like him upon earth — the iniquity of mankind. Blessed be His name, of Another he can say, "I have found a ransom."
Job uses several figures to show that he has just cause for the complaints for which his friends reproach him. Even an ass or an ox will be content if he has his proper food. If he makes complaint, we know he has not received it. And can Job be expected to take his sufferings as if they were pleasant food — swallow them down, more nauseous than the slime of the egg? It is as though he said, "See what loathsome things are set before me, and can you expect me to eat them without a murmur? "His "sorrowful meat" was the things that his soul abhorred.
But is this the language of faith — even of Old Testament faith? What of that noble army of martyrs who "were tortured, not accepting deliverance . . . had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings; yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment . . . destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Heb. 11: 35–38)? Would we expect to hear from these the repinings which fall from Job's lips? Paul could "take pleasure" in what fell upon him. But Job needs light, and must learn to trust God when he cannot understand Him.
(2) Job has but one thing to ask of God; that He would take his life. This, he says, would be a comfort, for his conscious rectitude would sustain him: he has not rejected God's words, has not been rebellious against Him. We have here, as throughout his long conflict, a statement of conscious uprightness. While true — as it was indeed the fruit of God's grace in him Job is using this righteousness in a self-righteous way, to justify himself at the expense of God's righteousness; he follows this course until he gets more bold in it. His friends indeed have no answer for it, but God will vindicate Himself.
This part closes with a pitiful plea of his utter weakness and helplessness, which should move the heart of his friends. Is his strength as the strength of stone or brass? Has he any help in himself?
(3) Most forcibly does the poor sufferer strike back at his unfeeling friends. It is a fundamental principle that pity should be shown to a sufferer by his friends, lest, under stress of trial — as some have rendered it — "he should forsake the fear of the Almighty." Agur therefore prayed that he might be preserved from extreme poverty, "Lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain" (Prov. 30: 9). But the hard principle they were applying knew no mercy, felt no sympathy. At the time of his dire need they manifested themselves as utterly unfitted to be friends. The "brother born for adversity" they are not. These "brethren" are like a summer stream, swollen by melting snow and ice in winter, which gives promise of perennial supply for the thirsty, but when the troops of travelers come, they find only the dry stones to mock them. Yet he had asked nothing unreasonable at their hands — no money, nor rescue from the enemy, only a little sympathy.
It was indeed most disappointing. Eliphaz might speak in lofty language of the greatness and faithfulness of God, but what about himself; was he acting the part of a true friend? As thus manifested, Job might say of them, "Lover and friend past Thou put far from me." And when these failed, he could not add, "Thou art with me." How differently speaks Paul: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me . . . Notwithstanding the Lord stood by me" (2 Tim. 4: 16, 17). Let us learn from Job's failure not to put the dearest earthly friend between us and God.
(4) Eliphaz had spoken of his observation and experience, Job now asks that true tests be applied to his own case. Let them prove, according to their rigid rule of "punishment for sin," that he is the sinner. Theories are all very well in their place, but if based on false premises they utterly fail. "How forcible are right words!" Let them teach him according to truth, and he will be silent; but of what value is all their arguing? They are taking his poor, rash, desperate speeches, forced from him in the desperation of his sufferings, and treating them as if they were the well-considered statements of one who was propounding some philosophic principle. Why could they not make allowance for the anguish which wrings from him utterances which are as "windy words?" They were treating him in the same unfeeling way that marks those who would despoil the fatherless: for were they not trying to engulf him, their friend, and make him out to be like the wicked? These are indeed strong words, but there is a good measure of justification for them. There was a studied heartlessness about the cold words of Eliphaz that seems to furnish ground for the bitterness of Job's charge. A little later it will be seen that they speak exactly as Job here accuses; he only anticipates their full meaning.
In contrast with their injustice, let them look deliberately at him: is he lying when he protests his uprightness? Let them return from their wholesale charges of evil against him, to the simple and self-evident fact that he is upright, with no iniquity that can explain the tortures to which he is now subjected. He can discern evil, and would not hide it, though it were in himself.
Thus he bids them "try again," as the word has been rendered, and be fair in their judgment, and see if they can explain the strange anomaly of a good man suffering as he does. It is as great a mystery to him as to them.
We have here the habitual state of Job's mind throughout all his controversy with his friends. There is a sense of moral rectitude, of genuine fear of God, which he cannot deny. It is the testimony of a good conscience, and it stands as a rock against all the outrageous suspicions and accusations. He holds fast his integrity, and thus proves the falseness of Satan's malicious charge, and the error of the friends' principles. Incidentally he disproves his own theory, for he too had thought as they. Indeed, his solution, from which he utterly shrank, was worse than theirs. For surely it is better that Job should fall than God's honor be touched.
(5) Having challenged his friends to test him, Job now returns to dwell upon his sufferings in view of the brevity of life. These sleepless nights of "tossings to and fro" through months of unrelieved pain, make him long for that "appointed time" for all flesh, with the eager desire of a hireling waiting for the close of his day's work. Already there are the harbingers of the grave upon him, the worm and the clod; any slight healing of his sores is but the signal for a fresh outbreak of loathsomeness. Like the swift passing of the shuttle in the weaver's loom, so pass his painful days. Soon they will see him no more, and his life will melt away as the cloud in the blue sky.
This is beautifully poetic, and true so far as man's view is concerned, "As a flower of the field so he flourisheth, for the wind passeth over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more." It is the dirge of human existence since sin has brought in death. "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him" (Ps. 103: J5-18). Ah, Job sees but the dark side, for while turning to God as he does here, it is not of mercy but of wrath that he speaks.
(6) God is his enemy, watching as if he were the tossing sea, ready to overleap its bounds, or some monster of the waters to be taken and destroyed. Day and night His hand was heavy upon him. The fitful sleep as he tossed upon his couch was intolerable by reason of the terrifying dreams which God sent, so that strangling was preferable to the choking dread that filled his soul with terror. Poor sufferer! And he was attributing it to his best Friend!
So he abhors life, and would not live alway. He asks — but in how different a way from the Psalmist: What is poor, puny man that Thou shouldst thus afflict him, that he scarce has time to draw a quiet breath — "to swallow down my spittle?" Sad indeed is the case of one who can find no relief even in God.
(7) At last Job will speak of his sin, though most briefly. "I have sinned" but it is not the true acknowledgment of penitence, rather a hypothetical statement. Granted that I have sinned, what is that to Thee, O watcher of men? Why dost Thou seek me as a mark for Thy weapons instead of pardoning and restoring me to my former prosperity? Instead of that Thou watchest me until I shall sleep in the dust then I shall be free from the intolerable burden of thy sore afflictions. Such seems to be the meaning of this concluding part. In the writhings of his soul-anguish, Job does not hesitate to accuse God. If he has sinned why does God punish instead of showing mercy? Truly such challenges cannot be allowed to pass.
Thus the first reply closes. It is full of bitterness against man and God. Justified partly in what he says of man, Job appears throughout as one whose sufferings had absorbed him in selfishness. He sees no mercy in God, and therefore the only future he dwells upon is one of escape from His presence. This is not even an Old Testament view of the future, as we have already seen, but the one-sided view of a morbidly wretched man. We pity him, though, thank God, he no longer needs it, but we cannot endorse his unbelief. He too will ere long tell a different story, and out of his sorrow will come the morning of joy.
2. Bildad's address and Job's reply
The first of the friends has spoken and been answered by Job. Bildad now takes up what is fast becoming a controversy. There is perhaps less of the courtesy and dignity which marked the speech of Eliphaz, together with some harshness toward Job, caused apparently by the bitter charge of the latter against God. With all his ignorance of divine principles, Bildad is jealous of the honor of God, and cannot allow Him to be accused. In this he is surely right, but he fails to convince Job because of the root error in the thoughts, indeed, of them all: God must punish sin, and Job must be a sinner for he is being punished.
To establish this, Bildad refers not merely to his own experience as had Eliphaz, but calls upon all the gathered wisdom of the past for confirmation. What is God's way with the wicked? And does He not recompense the way of the righteous unto him?
In reply Job is more subdued, and practically acknowledges the truth of Bildad's contention as to God's ways, but gives a twist to the whole by saying that God's justice is nothing but His power in another form. No one can maintain his cause before Him, because He is almighty, and can not be reached. His judgments are arbitrary, but no one can question them, nor is there a daysman, an advocate, to plead the cause of the wretched. This brings Job back to his original complaint and longing for death. We will now briefly examine the details of each of these speeches.
This may be divided into five parts, suggesting the righteousness of God's judgments and the certainty of His recompense, both upon the wicked and the just.
(1) Job's words are like a strong wind, a blast of bitter complaint, and still more bitter charge against God. How long is he going to utter such things? This is a harsh, but, we may well say, just, correction of the irreverent and extreme rashness of Job's words. Perhaps sympathy might have pursued a gentler course, but when a man begins to charge God it is well to rebuke him sharply.
(2) Bildad asks Job a plain question, "Doth God pervert judgment?" Is He unrighteous? For anyone who knows Him there can be but one answer. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? He would not be God, if He were not perfectly righteous. This shows the dreadful precipice to which Job approaching, goaded on by this false principle that God always punishes for sin. Job was not a sinner; therefore God was unjust! Fearful reasoning this, in which both the premise and the statement of fact are wrong and in which the conclusion is blasphemous. Why did not Job, and Bildad also, pause and ask if there was not something wrong in the premise: Does God always punish for sin alone? Why does not Job consider the statement of facts; is he sinless? But this will come out in due time. We will follow Bildad.
He proposes two proofs of God's justice, the first of which is, to say the least, most arbitrary and unkind. We may read verse 4, "When thy children sinned against Him, He gave them over to the hand of their wickedness." In other words Bildad assumes that Job's children had reaped the due reward of their wickedness, and had been cut off; "Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." This is indeed most lacerating to a parent's feelings, who had found no evidence of such wickedness in his children, and who had carefully watched over their spiritual state. Bildad is driven to this by his wrong theory of God's ways.
Next, he proves the justice of those ways by telling Job there is restoring mercy for him, if he will but turn in prayer to God — "If thou art pure and upright" — there is a strong suggestion of suspicion here — God will restore all, and bless Job's latter end. This indeed was fulfilled, but in a vastly different way from what Bildad expected; Job is blessed not for his purity, nor because of confession of suspected evil.
(3) Bildad here seeks confirmation of his contention from the wisdom of past ages. He goes beyond Eliphaz, "For we are but as children of yesterday." While this is true, what does the garnered wisdom of all the past give us when it is a question of God's truth? It is not to the past that we are to turn, but to God and His word. How immeasurably superior is the position of those who have the "sure word of prophecy," "the oracles of God."
(4) In this portion Bildad traces the way of the wicked; and there is much truth in what he says, though it is not all the truth. Can the water-reed, or papyrus, flourish without moisture? It grows luxuriantly when water is about its roots; as soon as that is exhausted, it withers more quickly than all other herbs. So is the prosperity of the wicked, who for a time spreads himself as a green bay tree. The hope of the ungodly — not merely the hypocrite — perisheth. Changing his figure, Bildad likens the confidence of the wicked to one leaning upon a spider's web; how pitiable is the plight of one vainly clinging to so frail a thing! Once more in the exuberance of his metaphors, he likens this passing prosperity to a luxuriant vine covering a heap of stones in the garden, filled with sap and vigor in the bright sunshine. Soon God cuts him off, and "the place that once knew him shall know him no more." Others shall take his place.
(5) Lastly Bildad reminds Job of the sure recompense for the righteous. God will not join hands with evil doers by punishing the righteous; He will fill Job's mouth with laughter and his tongue with singing, and all iniquity shall stop its mouth, if —
Job's reply to Bildad.
Job's reply, beginning in quietness, passing on to bitter charges of God, and ending in a wail, may be divided into seven parts; he sounds all the heights and depths of misery in this complete survey of his case.
(1) Although he speaks quietly, there is an intense bitterness in what Job says here. Apparently agreeing with Bildad that God is just, Job says, "Of course He is just, for there is no appeal from whatever He does. He has both wisdom and power, and can overwhelm any vain attempt to reason. with Him." This is terrible. It is not one presuming in all lowliness to ask God for a reason, as Jeremiah under similar circumstances does (Jer. 12: 1-4), but rather the hardness of despair — might is right; and God has might on His side.
(2) In this part Job enlarges upon the power and greatness of God. The language is noble, the description true, but underneath lies the awful doubt of this great and powerful Being's goodness. God overturns the unconscious mountains in His wrath; He makes the earth to tremble. Passing from earth to heaven, He causes the sun and stars to cease their shining. Returning to earth He walks upon the raging waves of the sea. He is the Creator of those distant glorious constellations — Arcturus in the north; Orion "sloping downward toward the west;" Pleiades in the east, and the unknown "chambers of the south," toward the horizon and beyond view. These are marvelous sweeps of language, taking in the whole heavens; but, alas, it is not, "The heavens declare the glory of God," but rather a declaration of absolute, resistless Power.
(3) Coming to the heart of his trouble, Job declares, in language whose poetic beauty is only exceeded by the misery of his plaint, that he can have no access to this great and mighty Being who hides Himself, and gives no account to any of His ways. He passes by, viewless as the winds; He deals in anger, but none can ask a reason, not even the "proud helpers" — the "helpers of Rahab" (Egypt), they can only bow under Him. How much less can poor Job address Him, even though he knew the righteousness of his cause, save as a cringing suppliant before his Judge! He would scarcely believe it if God did answer him, but would expect rather to be crushed in a tempest and further wounded without cause — beaten down into bitter helplessness, and not suffered to take a breath! Yes, if it is strength you speak of, "He is strong," if justice, "Who will plead with Him?" Job adds, even if he were right, his own mouth would be forced to condemn him; and if he were perfect God would declare him guilty! Even if he knew himself innocent, he is all at sea and despairs of his life. God is a destroyer alike of guilty and innocent, at whose passing away He mocks. The earth is in the hands of the wicked: is it not so? Who else has done this unrighteousness? Oh Job, for these words thou shalt yet abhor thyself, and repent in dust and ashes.
(4) Identifying himself with the innocent sufferers at whose passing away God laughs, Job describes his own utter weakness, and the brevity of his life. He has forgotten all his former prosperity, and draws similes of the evanescence of life from earth and sea and sky. His days are like the swift postman who runs with his message; like the ships, passing along the horizon; or like an eagle swiftly dashing out of sight in pursuit of prey. At the suggestion that he forget his troubles and try to look bravely forward, as Bildad had urged, he can but shudder at his sorrows, his pains, for he knows God will not hold him innocent. So he is held in his misery as in a vise.
(5) Continuing, Job hints that there is no use in his making any effort to clear himself: if he is already pronounced wicked, he labors in vain to convince God that he is not; he may wash his hands in innocency, in snow water, only to be taken by this resistless Power and plunged into the ditch! Vain are all efforts to alter the judgment, and oh — where is there a daysman, a mediator who could enter into judgment, laying his hands upon God and Job alike? Consumed with terror, Job cannot speak. Thank God, we know, as Job later knew in part, that there is such a Daysman.
(6) Words fail to describe the misery of Job which would lead him to speak thus against God. It is not the bodily suffering which has wrung this bitter cry from him, but he has lost, or is in danger of losing, faith in God's goodness. There is scarcely a gleam of light in his whole speech, and in the closing part (Job 10) he lets himself loose in the dark despair which has settled down upon his soul. He is weary of life, and might as well pour out all his thoughts against God. He does not stand, as the poet has described a despairing man,
but rather pours out all those thoughts before the eye of God. May not this very abandonment of misery suggest the root of faith in his heart? He will at least tell God to His face that he doubts Him: "though He slay me." He will ask God why He thus contends with him — is it any pleasure to Him to despise the work of His own hands, and allow the wicked to go unpunished? Does God judge according to the flesh, failing to see the inward parts? Are His days so brief that He must punish evil before it is manifested — nay, when He knows a man is innocent? "Wilt Thou pursue a worm to death?" Will He take the frail being whom His hands have fashioned with such skill, as the delicate clots of milk — as the "curiously wrought "substance of skin and flesh, bones and sinews (see Ps. 139: 15, 16), and bring them back to their parent dust? God has given him breath and life, and yet has hidden enmity in His heart against His own handiwork!
If he sins, God would note it, and woe be to him; of he is innocent he dare not lift his head, for God would quickly hunt him as a fierce lion seeking his prey. God would display His wondrous power, and bring up witnesses against him like a countless host of invaders. In other words Job declares he is at the mercy of an almighty, arbitrary enemy!
(7) And so this awful plaint goes on to its close. The wailing passes from blaming God for His injustice to lamenting his birth. Pitifully, Job asks a brief respite, a surcease of sorrow before he goes hence and is no more. It is the lament again of chapter 3.
3. — Zophar's Address and Job's Reply. (Job 11-14.)
It has been thought, with some degree of probability, that Zophar was the youngest of the three friends. He is the last to speak, and his address, while of the same general character as that of the other two, is more intense, lacking in the dignity of Eliphaz and in the argumentative ability of Bildad. He may be said to make up in vehemence what he lacks in reason, and this leads him into harshness and brutal rudeness ill calculated to soothe the sore spirit of the sufferer. Besides this, he, in common with the other three, utterly fails to explain the dark enigma of Job's trouble, and by his theory of suffering being for sins committed, plunges the already distracted man more deeply into the darkness.
In his reply, Job far exceeds Zophar in breadth of thought as well as in vigor of expression. Indeed, it may be remarked that in all the controversy Job has the advantage. This does not mean that he had greater ability than his friends, but that their views were narrower. This confined them to a narrow scope, where each one was compelled to reiterate in some form the statements of his predecessor. On the other hand Job, while without the key which will solve the mystery of his sufferings, takes far wider flights. He goes beyond his friends in their own theme,and passes from that to higher, though more dreadful, thoughts. It can be seen that his mental suffering is intense, as he is driven by his very theory, which is that of the others, to question the goodness and the justice of God. While they falsely accuse him of evil he knows he is guiltless, and this drives him nearer to the awful rocks of regarding God as using His almighty power in an arbitrary and unjust way. Will he suffer shipwreck, or shall his faith hold even over the chasm of his doubts?
The similarity of Zophar's address to that of Bildad can be gathered from the divisions into which it falls.
(1) It is surely most unfair to characterize the writhings of an evidently upright soul as "a multitude (or torrent) of words," and himself as "a man of lips." What fairness is there in calling Job's cries out of the depths "lies," or his keen thrusts as "mockery"? On the other hand, Job had indeed declared himself and his doctrine pure, and could Zophar have disproved this it would have gone far to help the matter. But without proof he charges Job with being such a grievous sinner that even his present sufferings were less than his desert, and he would associate God with this dreadful charge. While perfectly true that divine wisdom is double our highest thoughts of it, he cannot associate that wisdom with unfair suspicions or unjust charges.
(2) This, the finest part of the address, is an enlargement upon what he had just said. He associates divine wisdom with God the Almighty, as in Prov. 8; but he does not carry the thought as far as in that sublime passage, where we see wisdom personified in the Son of God. It is, however, a noble description of God, and we can hardly avoid the conviction that a man who could speak thus was not ignorant of the true God. Ascend up to heaven, we find Wisdom; descend into Sheol, it is still there; the earth for length, the sea for breadth, cannot compass the measure of this attribute of God. We are reminded of two passages, Ps. 139 in the Old Testament, and Eph. 3 in the New, where the presence and power of God are similarly described. But the Psalmist rejoices in that he cannot
and in the New Testament, we are overwhelmed, not by a dark and inscrutable mystery or an implacable avenger, but by "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge."
(3) We can only bow to the truth that God is the searcher of hearts, and that nothing can escape His all-seeing eye. He knows the empty vanity of the natural man's heart, who by birth is as a wild ass's colt, and needs to be born again if any true knowledge of God is to be had. This interpretation of ver. 12 seems to give a clear and consistent meaning.
(4) But Zophar spoils the dignity of what he had just said, by calling upon Job to repent as an evildoer having a store of ill-gotten wealth in his tents. It is this utter lack of discrimination that stirs Job to anger, and discloses the superficial nature of the friends' theory.
(5) The conclusion is like singing songs to one who is heavy of heart. Zophar paints a beautiful outcome — as imaginary as were the sins imputed to Job. He would then forget his present troubles, which would slip by him as passing waters; his darkness would be turned to light; he would have security and prosperity, and former calumniators would bow before him. Little did Zophar and his friend dream that they would have to come to this. The closing verse is a warning which Zophar no doubt applies to Job.
The fulness of Job's response to Zophar is striking. In it he practically turns from his friends to God; but alas, to find no answer to his awful terror of doubt and darkness. The discourse may be divided into three main parts.
(1) Stung by the charges and platitudes of the friends, Job meets them with bitter sarcasm, followed quickly by the charge of their mocking him. They are at ease, while cherishing their unjust suspicions of him. He almost compares them to robbers, who hold their booty undisturbed (vers. 1-6).
Creation — in earth and air and sea — will confirm him in witnessing that God is everywhere and does everything. His deduction from this, however, leads him dangerously near charging God with being the author of evil. He would appeal to age and experience to confirm this. If he means simply that God is omnipotent, all would at once acquiesce, but the words following show that his gloomy mind and distorted vision are dwelling upon the dark side of nature. It is in this that his danger lies (vers. 7-13).
None, no matter how exalted, can escape Him. He breaks down, and ruin is the result. He shuts, and none can open; He withholds water and a drought results, or releases it only to overwhelm in a flood. All — judges, kings, princes and priests — are held up to contempt by this Almighty One. Truly this is right, if they deserve it, but Job omits that side (vers. 14-21).
Similarly, the nations rise and fall at His word. It is indeed a great but most sombre picture of omnipotence. We can only shudder at the awful sight. Job's misery has cast a baleful light upon all God's greatness. How different is the language of faith: "God is our refuge and strength . . . therefore will we not fear . . . Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 46). This closes the reply to the second part of Zophar's speech upon the greatness of God (vers. 22-25).
Next, Job boldly charges his friends with being false witnesses for God, in that they used well-known truths with which all were familiar, to confirm their charge of Job's wickedness. What kind of physicians were they to treat a case like this? They have decided what his disease is, and misrepresent his symptoms to confirm their diagnosis! And they bring in their theory of God's invariable punishment for sin in this life to prove that Job is a sinner! Job turns from them in disgust (Job 13: 1-5). He warns them of the unrighteousness of their course. They presume to lie for God! For are they not falsely accusing an innocent man? Are they not afraid to trifle with truth, and will not God deal with them? — for they are but men. Poor Job, he is the victim of the same false theory, and is in danger of blasphemously charging God with injustice. He seems to feel his danger, but he must speak; so he turns from man's unjust surmisings to God (vers. 6-13).
(2) So the frail creature takes his life in his hand and stands before his Maker. God can but strike dead one who has no hope, but Job must speak out and maintain his ways as upright before God. This is the thought which seems most in accord with what goes before. On the other hand, many, perhaps most, prefer the rendering of our Authorized Version: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." If it should be rendered thus, it would be a gleam of light in the midst of awful darkness, and seems to agree with what follows. Conscious of personal rectitude, Job seems to think that there may be hope. At any rate, he must speak (vers. 14-19).
But how dare he speak before that One from whose presence he would instinctively flee? Let Him at least remove the awful dread that chills job's heart, and relieve him of his pain, and he will answer or address Him. How these words, beautiful in their very anguish, cry aloud for the blessed Daysman, the Mediator! Blessed be God, we can "come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Job could only grope in darkness:
So he appeals, and is ready to ask for charges against him (vers. 20-23).
And yet immediately he renews his charges against God, for he is not yet ready to be stripped of all his fancied righteousness. God holds him as an enemy; drives him as a withered leaf before the blast; accuses him of those almost forgotten sins of youth (ah, Job, it seems that even you must acknowledge there have been sins); He watches him, and makes his fancied robe of righteousness look like a moth-eaten garment. So Job charges his Maker, and does not pause to hear what He will reply (vers. 24-28).
(3) The close of this address, bringing to an end the first series in the controversy, is a most beautiful dirge, descriptive of the frailty and uncertainty of human life. Man cometh up like a flower, and is cut down and withereth. We are listening to the wail of the 90th psalm, but without its faith in God, and not yet followed by the triumph of the 91st psalm.
But how sadly true are vers. 1, 2! And will the mighty God enter into judgment with such a frail creature — not only frail but impure by nature! Ah, let Job ponder well his own words. But he passes on in self-pity to beg that he be let alone for a little, until as a hireling he completes his day! (vers. 3-6).
Looking onward to death, Job expresses the hopelessness of man by contrast with the rejuvenation of trees which, though cut down, send up fresh shoots from their roots. But it is not so with man; he breathes his last, and where is he? He lies down and rises no more, so long as earth and heaven. remain. This is not exactly the language of unbelief, nor yet of faith. It is one speaking as a man, and of things upon earth. It resembles much the thought in Ecclesiastes: "That which now is, in the days to come shall all be forgotten" (Ecc. 2: 16). Thank God, even in the Old Testament there was more light (vers. 7-12).
Job next seems to give expression to a hope — vague and marred by evil thoughts of God — of a bright hereafter. He desires to be hidden from God in Sheol until this mighty Being had changed His mind and ceased to pursue His creature. Job would patiently wait till that change came. Then, God would regard him; but now He only watched him in enmity! Inexpressibly sad is this, for a man who knew God. But such is unbelief even in a saint. We can catch the gleam of faith in the desire and the question, and know that one day Job will see clearly, and repent of these utterances (vers. 13-17).
Again the darkness shuts down upon his soul, and Job describes man as a mountain once strong, but now prostrate, and worn away by the onrushing waters. Death's shadow falls upon the face once bright and smiling, and we bury our dead out of our sight. A man's sons come to honor and are brought low, but "the dead know not anything." A man lives, suffers, groans and dies — and that is all!
And so Job ends his series of replies to the first assault of his friends. Little has been gained but a sense of the injustice of man and an awful suspicion of God on Job's part, and on the part of his friends a determination to press him further with charges of sin and wickedness until he shall break down. Thus are we by no means at the end of our book.