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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Job 42



Verse 3


(3) Who is he that hideth counsel?—It is quite obvious that the right way of understanding these verses is, as in Isaiah 63:1-6, after the manner of a dialogue, in which Job and the Lord alternately reply. “Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge?” were the words with which God Himself joined the debate in Job 38:2; and therefore, unless we assign them to Him here also, we must regard them as quoted by Job, and applied reflectively to himself; but it is far better to consider them as part of a dialogue.

Verse 4

(4) Hear, I beseech thee.—This cannot in like manner be appropriately assigned to Job, but, as in Job 38:3; Job 40:7, must be referred to God; then the confession of Job 42:5-6 comes in very grandly. How much of our knowledge of God is merely hearsay? and it is not till the experimental teaching of the Holy Ghost has revealed God to our consciences that we really see Him with the inward eye. The confession of Job, therefore, is the confession of every converted man. Compare in a much later and very different, and yet analogous sphere, the confession of St. Paul (Galatians 1:16).

Verse 5-6

Hearsay and Experience

I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear;

But now mine eye seeth thee,

Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent

In dust and ashes.

Job 42:5-6.

1. Whatever may have been the date at which this poem was written, it obviously represents a transition period in Jewish religious thought, and one of much interest and importance. Most modern scholars are agreed that, while Job himself belonged to patriarchal times, the unknown author who has so skilfully made the trials and patience of the patriarch the basis of his great poem cannot have written earlier than the time of Solomon, and probably wrote during the period of the Captivity. But whatever the date may have been, the time was one when men’s minds were passing from an older and simpler faith to the fuller recognition of the facts of the Divine government. In the earlier ages of Israel’s history, the national creed was this—Jehovah is righteous and His power is ever on the side of righteousness; therefore, prosperity always attends the good, and punishment follows hard on the steps of the evil-doer. The outward lot is an index to the inward character. If, for example, the people were willing and obedient, it might be confidently expected that their vineyards and fields would yield abundant harvests; whereas the ungodly should be as the chaff which the wind driveth away, a prey to the pestilence and the sword, swept off in the mid-time of their days. Such was their simple but powerful creed, true in its essence while rudimentary in its form, suited to their condition as children in both understanding and desire, while also fitted to be a stepping-stone to higher truth so soon as their hearts learned to seek a higher than earthly good.

But, according to the ways of human nature, the form became stereotyped, as though the letter rather than the spirit of the law were the abiding and essential element; and men settled down into the undoubting conviction that the measure of the Divine favour might in every case be gauged by the measure of outward prosperity. And with what result? As time went on and the horizon widened, and experience of life grew more varied, the question arose—How is this creed to be reconciled with facts? What about the prosperity of the wicked? What about the troubles and sore afflictions of the righteous? The facts were broad, staring, undeniable; what, then, about the ancient creed? Men of honest purpose could not shut their eyes to the seeming contradiction, and felt themselves like persons shipwrecked, cast out in a wide and troubled sea. Was the faith of their fathers and their own faith proved to be a baseless dream? Must they yield up their trust in Jehovah as the supreme and righteous Ruler? Must they think of God—if there be a God—as either indifferent to moral distinctions, or else powerless to give effect to His preferences? The rise of such questions marked an era of first importance in Israel’s religious history. It was the emerging out of comparative childhood, an advance to a theology at once more spiritual, more true to the facts of life, and charged, moreover, with new sympathies for human sorrow and need. In the breathing, burning words of this poem we have the lasting record of this great transition, this passing of the old faith into the new.

The Book of Job hovers like a meteor over the old Hebrew literature: in it, but not of it, compelling the acknowledgment of itself by its own internal majesty, yet exerting no influence over the minds of the people, never alluded to, and scarcely ever quoted, till at last the light which it heralded rose up full over the world in Christianity.1 [Note: J. A. Froude, Short Studies, i. 296.]

I call the Book of Job, apart from all theories about it, one of the grandest things ever written with pen. One feels, indeed, as if it were not Hebrew; such a noble universality, different from noble patriotism or sectarianism, reigns in it. A noble Book; all men’s Book! It is our first, oldest statement of the never-ending Problem—man’s destiny, and God’s ways with him here in this earth. And all in such free flowing outlines; grand in its sincerity, in its simplicity, in its epic melody and repose of reconcilement.

There is the seeing eye, the mildly understanding heart. So true, everyway; true eyesight and vision for all things; material things no less than spiritual: … Such living likenesses were never since drawn. Sublime sorrow, sublime reconciliation; oldest choral melody as of the heart of mankind;—so soft, and great; as the summer midnight, as the world with its seas and stars! There is nothing written, I think, in the Bible or out of it, of equal literary merit.1 [Note: T. Carlyle, Heroes and Hero-Worship, 45.]

2. In its essential feature the Book of Job is thus, in the first place, the history of a great moral struggle and victory. It is the powerful poetic presentment of the ascent of a man’s soul from darkness into light, from a narrow and failing creed into a bolder, broader, and truer one. Everything about the book, as it has been said, speaks of a man who had broken from the narrow littleness of the peculiar people. It is in some measure the story of a good man’s life, who lived in days when good and pious men believed that sin and suffering were almost identical terms—that goodness and prosperity always went together.

The nearest approach to the desolation and sublime sorrow of Job is the blasting misery and grief that falls upon the old, discrowned Lear of Shakespeare. But Lear, under the weakening of age, is the active instrument in the procurance of his troubles. Upon Job, radiant in his integrity and unfailing humaneness, the catastrophe descends as a bolt out of the blue.2 [Note: J. Vickery, Ideals of Life, 103.]

3. But the author has a wider practical design. He considered his new truth regarding the meaning of affliction as of national interest, and to be the truth needful for the heart of his people in their circumstances. But the teaching of the book is only half its contents. It contains a history, and this history furnishes the profoundest lesson to be learned. It exhibits deep and inexplicable affliction, a great moral conflict, and a victory. The author meant the history which he exhibits and his new truth to inspire new conduct and new faith, and to lead to a new issue in the national fortunes. In Job’s sufferings, undeserved and inexplicable to him, yet capable of an explanation most consistent with the goodness and faithfulness of God, and casting honour upon His steadfast servants; in his despair, bordering on unbelief, at last overcome; and in the happy issue of his afflictions—in all this Israel should see itself, and from the sight take courage and forecast its own history.


The Hearing of the Ear

“I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear.”

1. Job does not mean to say that before his affliction he was entirely destitute of all knowledge of God. The words, “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,” taken by themselves, and without reference to Job’s history, might mean this. It is language which one might use of days spent in entire ignorance of God, when darkness reigned in the heart. How many there are who hear of God by the hearing of the ear and nothing more! What they hear makes no impression upon their hearts. They never realize the presence and attributes of God. There is no contact between God’s mind and theirs. The words which they hear are but a sound, conveying no ideas or thoughts. Was this the case with Job? His whole history seems to us to say most distinctly, “No.” He is described in the very beginning of this book as one who “feared God”; and all the workings of his mind under his affliction show, at any rate, some real knowledge of God. What Job means to describe is his progress in the knowledge of God, which he does by comparing it to the two senses of hearing and sight. The ear, as compared with the eye, is a very imperfect medium of knowledge. When we hear the description of anything, it always requires some previous knowledge, as well as some imagination, to realize the picture set before us. If a person has not the previous knowledge requisite, or the imagination necessary to realize the thing or things described, the description, however beautiful and vivid, is to them mere sound. In sight, on the contrary, there is no such difficulty—no such effort of the imagination is required—and hence it is found that the only effectual way of teaching very little children, so as to give them accurate knowledge, is to present objects to the eye.

Ruskin believed the secret of life as well as of art to lie in a sort of heavenly obedience, a triumphant energy, a fiery contemplation. The reason why he clothed his message at first in terms of art is a mere question of faculty. To Ruskin the purest delight of which his spirit was capable came through the eye, through the mysteries of light and colour, of form and curve—the devices which make such a man say in a rapture of spiritual satisfaction, “Yes, it is like that!” He had both the eye for effect and the eye for detail, sight at once extended and microscopical. He wrote of himself, “I had a sensual faculty of pleasure in sight, as far as I know unparalleled.”1 [Note: A. C. Benson, Ruskin: A Study in Personality, 48.]

“I do beseech thee, God, show me thy face.”

“Come up to me in Sinai on the morn!

Thou shalt behold as much as may be borne.”

And on a rock stood Moses, lone in space.

From Sinai’s top, the vaporous, thunderous place,

God passed in cloud, an earthly garment worn

To hide, and thus reveal. In love, not scorn,

He put him in a clift of the rock’s base,

Covered him with his hand, his eyes to screen—

Passed—lifted it: his back alone appears!

Ah, Moses, had he turned, and hadst thou seen

The pale face crowned with thorns, baptized with tears,

The eyes of the true man, by men belied,

Thou hadst beheld God’s face, and straightway died!2 [Note: George MacDonald.]

A poor Chinaman came to a missionary for baptism, and when asked if he had heard the Gospel, replied that he had not heard it, but he had seen it. His neighbour had been an inveterate smoker of opium and a man of violent temper. But he had become a Christian and his whole life was altered. He gave up opium, and became loving and amiable. “So,” said the man, “I have seen the Gospel.”

2. In the first clause of the text we find the root of Job’s perplexities. He had accepted implicitly the traditional belief of his day regarding God’s providence; but, conscious of rectitude, he sees plainly that, in his own case, that belief does not square with the facts. And he is too honest and too fearless to shut his eyes to the contradiction. He will neither be untrue to his own consciousness of integrity, nor yet will he “speak unrighteously for God.” Let those trouble-bringing “comforters” press him as they may, he will not affirm the thing that is not. No; amid the wreck of all else—stripped of all his possessions, ravaged in body by hideous disease, seized by the neck and dashed to pieces by God as a guilty and hateful thing, met by his former friends, not with the sympathy he had looked for, but with cutting moralizings and angry scorn—his noble manhood refused to cringe; he would not gainsay his integrity. “There is no violence in mine hands, and my prayer is pure.” Neither in his dealings with men nor in his walk with God had he done aught that could explain his overwhelming experiences. Here, then, was a distinct contradiction between his old religious belief—what he had heard of God by the hearing of the ear—and the facts of his personal experience. Accordingly, like many a man after him, Job found himself adrift on the surging waves of doubt.

Mrs. Humphry Ward’s Robert Elsmere is the story of a clergyman who had sadly to renounce his faith because, in the presence of enlightenment, it was no longer tenable. He is described as a man of noble character who followed truth wheresoever it led him. And in following what he believed to be truth, he, of course, did well. But this has perhaps not been sufficiently noted: in the delineation of his character the beliefs from which he parted were really never his. He had been taught them as a child, he had received them by tradition, he had never turned them over in his mind, never sounded their depths. And so, when another aspect of truth was presented to him which he studied with earnestness, and which he found contained much that was helpful to his life, the old beliefs, which he had only fancied that he had believed, could not but fall away. The tradition which we accept may be true in every detail, the authority before which we bow may be worthy of all veneration, but if, having attained to years and powers in which we are capable of making a decision for ourselves, our faith is still held on the frail and solitary tenure that, owing to the accident of our birth in a Christian country, we were taught it in our childhood, it will fail us in the time of trouble.1 [Note: P. M‘Adam Muir.]


The Direct Vision

“But now mine eye seeth thee.”

1. It might be supposed at first that the simplest way of restoring Job to peace would have been to reveal to him that his afflictions were not due to his sin, but were the trial of his righteousness, and in this way solve the problem that perplexed him. But the elements of blameworthiness in Job’s conduct forbade this simple treatment. The disease had spread in his mind, and developed moral symptoms, which required a broader remedy. Besides, it is God who now speaks to Job; and in His teaching of men He never moves in the region of the mere understanding, but always in that of the religious life. He may remove perplexities regarding His providence and ways from men’s minds; but He does not do so by the immediate communication of intellectual light, but by flushing all the channels of thought and life with a deeper sense of Himself. Under the flow of this fuller sense of God, perplexities disappear, just as rocks that raise an angry surf when the tide is low are covered and unknown when it is full. This is the meaning of God’s manifestation to Job out of the storm. He brings Himself and His full glory near to Job, and fills his mind with such a sense of Him as he had never had before—“Now mine eye seeth thee.” His former knowledge of God, though he had prided himself upon it, seems to him now only such a knowledge as one gets by hearsay, confused and defective. His present knowledge is that of eyesight, immediate and full.

I quite agree with you that such things as these—God’s goodness and grace in the hearts He has made—are the true stars we have to look to in our night, and if some of them have set sooner, they did shine for us, and are shining still. Our small horizon is not His universe, I think this is a conviction that grows on us the more we dwell on it, and how thankful we should be when God has given us in our history realities of life to help us to rise to the realities of faith! It is a way in which sight helps faith; for surely something akin to this lies in the words of Christ, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father”—not merely that Christ is the image of God, but that a Divine life witnessed by us on earth is the evidence of a God. So that one may say, we can be as sure of God as if we had seen Him, and if we are sure of Him we are sure of everything.1 [Note: Letters of John Ker, 84.]

How can a man, without clear vision in his heart first of all, have any clear vision in the head? It is impossible!2 [Note: Carlyle, Past and Present.]

Job has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told, the refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of Prayer of Manasseh 1:3 [Note: G. K. Chesterton.]

O Master of my soul,

To whom the lives of men,

That floated once upon Thy breath,

Shall yet return again.

Give me the eyes to see,

Give me the ears to hear,

Give me the spiritual sense

To feel that Thou art near.

So, when this earthly mist

Fades in the azure sky,

My soul shall still be close to Thee,

And in Thee cannot die.4 [Note: Edwin Hatch.]

2. The revelation always comes as men are able to receive it. For ourselves—for us who have left far behind us that simple answer to the problems of life, which satisfied Job’s friends, and nearly broke Job’s heart—we too feel our darkness still. Life is still full of strange reverses, inexplicable wounds. Yet, as we too feel inclined to take our places by Job’s side in his hour of doubt, we feel that we have light vouchsafed to us that was withheld from him. The light given in this book was dim and scanty. We see in it the dawn of one of those new and healing truths, fragments of which are flashed upon the human soul in hours of pain. But we see the dawn only. The whole revelation of the Christian life, of the life of Christ—the upward course of One who was despised, and humiliated, and scourged, and slain, who was “made perfect through sufferings”—has brought a new idea into the world, one whose future fulness is only indicated and foreshadowed in this book. But it was one which the age of Job could hardly have conceived, and which centuries later the Jewish nation steadfastly rejected. It has leavened race after race with the ennobling sense that, as this great tale, as this “flower of Old Testament poetry,” has its root in sorrow, so the highest, the divinest life may be compatible with sorrow, may rest on pain and self-sacrifice. To how many sufferers has the lesson come like spring airs to a frozen soil—has taught them that the truest use of pain, sometimes even of spiritual pain, and racking doubts and disturbing questions, is not to paralyse but to strengthen the soul.

Are there not far worse things in the world than outward misery such as ill-health and suffering, even than bereavement and loss of those we love? Is not a heart full of selfishness a worse misery than a body full of pain? And may not the patience and power of endurance, and of forgetting self, that sorrow and trial are often seen to work out in a character, be worth the sorrow and the trial? Can you imagine a higher character than Christ’s, and was not His “made perfect through sufferings”? Suffering, like all else in life, falls into its right place and finds its reason and meaning to those who believe in a Father who deals with His children in love; to those who refuse that belief it must be a dreary and meaningless business, I grant.1 [Note: Principal Story: Memoir by his Daughters, 152.]

One of the thoughts which pass sometimes through our minds about the sufferings of the Cross is, What could be the necessity of such suffering? What was the use of it? How, with infinite power, could not its ends have been otherwise attained? Why need He have suffered? Why could not the Father save Him from that hour? But I suppose that, after all, the real difficulty is not about Him, but about ourselves. Why pain at all? I can only say that the very attempt to give an answer, that the very thought of an answer by us being conceivable, seems to me one which a reasonable being in our circumstances ought not to entertain. It seems to me one of those questions which can be expressed only by such a figure as a fly trying to get through a glass window, or a human being jumping into space; that is, it is almost impossible to express the futility of it. It is obvious that it is part of a wider subject, that it could not be answered by itself, that we should need to know a great many other things to have the power of answering. The facts which witness to the goodness and the love of God are clear and undeniable; they are not got rid of by the presence and certainty of other facts, which seem of an opposite kind; only the co-existence of the two contraries is perplexing. And then comes the question, which shall have the decisive governing influence on wills and lives? You must, by the necessity of your existence, trust one set of appearances; which will you trust? Our Lord came among us not to clear up the perplexity, but to show us which side to take.1 [Note: Dean Church, Life and Letters, 274.]

’Tis peace in pain to know that pain

Secured us pain’s eternal end;

And that the more exceeding gain,

To which by grace our souls ascend,

My great Redeemer won for me

By more exceeding agony.

’Tis true my pain is still my pain:

Heavy its hand on thought and prayer!

But while that Love to me is plain

It lays its hand upon despair:

And soon I know this faint “How long?”

For me may quicken into song;

Beholding Thee—in what repose,

By what still streams of Paradise!

Beholding memory of Thy woes

Still in those deep pathetic Eyes:

Ah me! what blest exchange for pain,

If I attain, if I attain!

Am I too soon in love with death?

I know not if ’tis ill or well:

If ill, then, Master, stay this breath,

Deny mine ear the passing bell!

One thing I ask, since I am Thine,

Thy Will be done, Thy Will be mine.2 [Note: S. J. Stone, Poems and Hymns, 116.]

3. There are special moments in life when the veil of the other world seems to be uplifted by the hand of the Holy Spirit, and through the “rent curtain” of the seen we perceive God so close and near that we seem to stand face to face with Him. What has been to us little more than a name, or a vast and vague abstraction, becomes all at once a living Person. The occasion may widely vary. It may be an illness, an accident, an open grave, an awakening text, a word dropped from a child’s lips, or a silent communing of the heart with itself at some midnight hour when everything has slept save the conscience within us. But there can be few who have not experienced such a sight of the Deity at some time or other.

To learn to love, one must first learn to see. “I lived for twenty years by my sister’s side,” said a friend to me, one day, “and I saw her for the first time at the moment of our mother’s death.” Here, too, it had been necessary that death should violently fling open an eternal gate, so that two souls might behold each other in a ray of the primeval light.1 [Note: M. Maeterlinck, Treasure of the Humble, 192.]

I have learned much on this journey, and hope to tell things in the autumn at Oxford that will be of great use, having found a master of the religious schools at Florence, Filippo Lippi, new to me, though often seen by me, without seeing, in old times, though I had eyes even then for some sights. But this Filippo Lippi has brought me into a new world, being a complete monk, yet an entirely noble painter.2 [Note: Ruskin, in E. T. Cook’s Life, ii. 205.]

It was the consciousness of something eternal, within and without him, that made Green what he was. His wife once told him that he was like Sir Bors in the “Holy Grail,” and the likeness holds in more senses than one. A “knight of the spirit” he assuredly was; not Galahad, “crowned king far in the spiritual city”; not Percivale, sadly resolved “to pass away into the quiet life”; not Lancelot, with “the fire of madness in his eyes”; but

Sir Bors it was

Who spake so low and sadly at our board;

And mighty reverent at our grace was he:

A square-set man and honest; and his eyes,

An out-door sign of all the warmth within,

Smiled with his lips—a smile beneath a cloud,

But heaven had meant it for a sunny one.

And if we had asked him whether he had seen the Divine vision, we can fancy that, like Sir Bors, he would have answered,

“Ask me not, for I may not speak of it;

I saw it.”3 [Note: R. L. Nettleship, Memoir of Thomas Hill Green.]


The Result of the Vision

“Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

1. The vision of God reduces Job to self-humiliation.—In seeing God he saw himself. The glory of that light streamed upon him, disclosing the recesses of his nature, permitting him with horror to behold imperfections and weaknesses which the darkness had hitherto hidden from his view. It was so different estimating himself in the light which the criticism of his friends threw around him and estimating himself in the light which searched the thoughts and intents of his heart. So long as he had brooded over his sorrow, and had listened to the attempts of his friends to explain the purpose of the Almighty in sending it, so long he could not detect any unrighteousness in himself, he could declare himself to be guiltless of the evil imputed to him as the exceptional cause of his exceptional misery. But when he looked from himself to God, when he saw the Eternal Holiness and Purity, the new sight awoke within him a knowledge of himself which all his self-inspection had been unable to produce. The greatest earthly wisdom became as foolishness, the greatest earthly virtue became as vileness by the contrast. He might exculpate himself before men, he could not exculpate himself before God; He had been uttering words which he ought not. He had been defiant where he ought to have been submissive; he had been misinterpreting the Divine Law; he had been rushing forward where he ought to have held back. He was face to face, not with the prejudiced, partial judgment of men which he might well resent, but with the impartial righteous judgments of God from which there was no appeal; and the knowledge of that judgment removed all pride in his own integrity. All that he could now say—he the upright, he the resolute—in his own justification, was, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Those who ascend the Mount of Purification have learnt so to hate the corruptions of the first kingdom, that linger as scales before their eyes, preventing their vision of God, that they welcome with joy any pain, even, that shall deliver them from these hindrances. When their longing for the beatific vision, or perfect union with their true Lord and country, overmasters their personal sense of defilement and unfitness for His presence, they rise upwards to their goal, for they find no prison walls or barriers to keep them in any school of discipline.1 [Note: Mrs. Russell Gurney, Dante.]

There are, perhaps, twelve cases in the Bible that are very conspicuous, in which men have had a vision of God, more or less intense, more or less truly glorious. But in every case they have been prostrated, and humiliated and overwhelmed, and the more intense the vision of God, the more intense the humiliation and the more utter the prostration.2 [Note: A. T. Pierson, in The Keswick Week, 1907, p. 27.]

2. The vision of God awakens repentance.—One glimpse of God with the eye of the heart does for Job more than all the harangues of his friends. They had charged him falsely, and his pride was only hardened by their unjust accusations. God had not charged him at all, but the very vision revealed at once his mistaken position. He saw his error, and sought to correct himself.

When the electric light was first discovered, I was in a large hall where the gaslights were shining brightly and seemed perfect, but the moment the electric light shone, all the rest seemed as if they were put out. And so it is when God’s light shines into us. It discloses the dimness of our light, the imperfection of our perfection. God would not have witnessed to the uprightness of Job if it had not been real; but this did not hinder it from appearing as nothing in the Light of God. This is the repentance of the righteous. It is not that their righteousness has been no righteousness, but God, perhaps in a moment, has shown to them greater heights, deeper depths, more earnest convictions, and so old attainments seem as if they were not.3 [Note: M. F. Sadler, 75.]

All torn asunder, all annihilated, Francis cast himself on his face before God, the God who had made heaven and earth, the God who is all truth and all holiness, and before whose omnipotence nothing can stand without complete truth, complete holiness. Francis looked into the depths of his being, and he saw that on the whole earth there was not to be found a more useless creature, a greater sinner, a soul more lost and fallen to the bad than himself, and from the depths of his need he groaned before God: “Lord, be merciful to me a poor sinner!” And it came to pass that the empty cave over Poggio Bustone beheld a miracle, one that always happens when a soul in complete distrust of itself calls out to its God in confidence and hope and charity—then there comes to pass the great miracle of justification. “I fear everything from my hadness, but from Thy goodness I also hope for all,” this was the innermost meaning of the prayer Francis sent up to God. And the answer came, as it always comes—“Fear not, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee!”1 [Note: J. Jörgensen, St. Francis of Assisi, 73.]

For dramatic effectiveness Watts’s picture of the “Death of Abel” is most impressive. We see Cain in the first moment of awakening from the passion which led him to do the dreadful deed, overwhelmed with remorse. His dark form stoops over his brother’s prostrate figure, whose ghastly pallor is brought out by the light which casts Cain’s body into shadow, and his hands cover his face in an agony of despair. Above him the clouds open, revealing the heavenly host in various attitudes, all expressive of their mournful concern for this new thing in the universe—the first death—the wonder and fear which this awful unknown fruit of human sin had produced. And following up the story of Cain, the artist has made a powerful epic poem of the world’s first tragedy. He shows the first murderer coming back from his weary wanderings in search of rest, to the rude, earth-built altar on which his brother had offered up his acceptable sacrifice. His sufferings have deepened his repentance and purified his character, and haggard and worn-out he throws himself on the altar, recognizing the justice and righteousness of his doom. With true insight the artist has painted the angel of sympathy hovering over him in pity; the curse is removed, and the forgiveness of God calms his agitated spirit as the light of heaven illumines his worn-out frame.2 [Note: Hugh Macmillan, G. F. Watts, 149.]

O, blest the souls that see and hear

The things of God to-day revealed,

Of old to longing saint and seer

Within the future closely sealed.

Be ours the vision, ours the will

To follow, though the faithless ban;

The love that triumphs over ill,

The trust in God and hope for man.

And Thou whose tides of purpose bear

These mortal lives that come and go,

Give us to feel through toil and prayer

Thy deep eternal underflow.3 [Note: F. L. Hosmer.]

3. Penitence is ever a mark of sainthood.—It is the special charm of Job’s story that it exhibits this high-strung and strenuous integrity dwelling in the same spirit with the acutest penitence and throbbing self-loathing. We can recognize these qualities apart, and appreciate them in their singleness, but that they should blend in the same life, tenant the same spirit, and be sources of power to the same character, conflicts with our habitual thought. We expect John Bunyan, after his flagrant vices, to pass through an agony of remorse. It is the working of a just law, the fitting harvest to follow such sowing. That David should be immersed in floods of repentance after his base and cruel transgression is what we anticipate, and we are unsatisfied until we see it. We listen for the cry, “Father, I have sinned,” of the prodigal son as soon as we see him in his father’s embrace, receiving the fruits of his joy at his return. But when the one perfect servant of God, the exceptional man of all men, God’s boasted choice, who has hated evil, striven to be true and do right, and suffered countless ills in order to succeed; when he abhors himself and repents in dust and ashes, as overcome with his grief, we are tempted to treat his language as affectation, his penitence as paralysis, and his self-loathing as disease.

And yet it is notorious that the minds of culminating power in the vast brotherhood of the world’s workers and redeemers, the shepherds and kings sent of God to lead forth judgment unto victory, have not been more deeply marked by their persistent devotion to purity of thought, uncompromising fidelity to fact, and aspiration after perfection, than by their quivering sensitiveness to the smallness of their achievements, acute sense of personal fault, and prevailing consciousness, often attended by spasms of weakening pain, of absolute failure.

It is Paul, the sovereign thinker of the Christian Church, the fearless antagonist of an unprogressive Judaism, potent beyond all men of his century as a man and as a missionary who is in his own esteem “less than the least of all saints, not meet to be called an apostle, a persecutor, an injurer, a blasphemer, and the chief of sinners.” It is Augustine, saint and bishop, cultured and strong, with a manhood behind him of helpful toil and large success, who, as he lies dying at Hippo, his spirit bathed with serenity, though the Vandals are besieging the city, has written on the walls opposite him, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” It is the sweet, seraphic, and holy Saint Bernard who chants the same verse as his swan song as he passes on to the calm seas of God’s eternal love. It is Lady Jane Grey who repeats the cry for mercy of the penitential Psalms, as she ascends the scaffold. And Sir Thomas More solaces his spirit with the same strains as he lays his head upon the block to receive the fatal blow of the headsman’s axe. It is William Carey, breathing out his life in one steadfast flame of missionary enthusiasm, who sings at life’s close the self-depreciatory and Christ-trusting words:

A guilty, weak, and helpless worm

On Thy kind arms I fall;

Be Thou my Strength and Righteousness,

My Saviour, and my all.

It is the broad-minded Christian scholar and teacher, the creator of the “Broad Church” of our country, and the “Master” to a large and increasing host of disciples, who asks that the Fifty-first Psalm may be read to him as he enters upon the fuller life beyond:—that same song which John Rogers recited as he went to the stake, and Jeremy Taylor fashioned into a prayer. It is clear thinking and pure-minded Thomas Erskine, of Linlathen, said by his friends, and those most competent to judge, to be one of “the best and holiest” of men, “with least of the stains of earth, and most of the spirit of heaven,” who repeats again and again at the close of his immensely fertile life, the words, “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth from all sin; for He made Him sin for us who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” So that the righteous Job in his penitence anticipates the Church of the first-born in heaven, and ascends to the rank of pioneer of the spirits of the just made perfect, as he goes through the seven-times heated furnace of sorrow for sin to his larger wisdom and sunnier prosperity. Even Don Silva feels:

Men may well seek

For purifying rites: even pious deeds

Need washing.1 [Note: J. Clifford, Daily Strength for Daily Living, 332.]

Yes, all that part of Dr. Pusey’s Life is wonderfully moving and sacred. I do not wonder that it has moved you so deeply: it certainly did me. But now let me try to set down the bearings of it all with regard to what you say about yourself; for I want you to think them over.

Sometimes a thing like this, which burns deeply into one’s own conscience, makes all one’s past professions seem almost unreal, and one’s righteousness (as it is) filthy rags. Seen by such a standard, all one’s confessions have been mere lip confessions, all one’s communions seem almost mockeries, and all life hitherto a hideous sham. Thank God that He does send us such revelations. But then there is a danger lest we, in the excitement of the moment, forget how far the Lord hath helped us hitherto—how He is the surety that our life hitherto has not been in vain—a danger, in fact, lest we should deny the grace that we have already received. I have known devout penitent souls pull down their Christian life in the desire to undergo such a self-emptying, as they think it. You have no desire to do that, of course: but all the same it is very necessary to learn one’s lessons of humiliation and penance without doing despite to what God has done in us already.1 [Note: Bishop W. E. Collins, in Life by A. J. Mason, 58.]

4. The way of penitence is the way of redemption.—Christ cannot become Eedeemer for those who feel no need to be redeemed, nor can they feel the need to be redeemed who have no serious estimate of sin. Nor can they have a serious estimate of sin who have no special consciousness of the holiness of God. It is all terribly logical and self-consistent. Redemption cannot appeal in the absence of the necessary presuppositions. Your idea of redemption must correspond with your idea of God. They who can enter into the spirit of the De Profundis and the Miserere are they to whom redemption will appeal. There it is, that ancient cry: “My sin is ever before me”; “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight”; “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Depend upon it, that the conscience which finds reality in these words possesses the data which redemption must always presuppose. They to whom such language is Oriental exaggeration will always tend to a Christianity with redemption left out. And yet it is the most sensitive consciences on earth who have identified themselves with that self-abasing estimate. One can only believe that they are right, and that they have arrived at this conclusion not because they strayed the farthest from God’s presence, but because they saw the clearest into what God is. When the passions of the world are hushed, and the tumult of the flesh is calmed, when a man is more real, more himself, than at other times, then it is that he is disposed to say: “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” The man who says that is the man who will cry aloud for redemption.

Redemption is the raising up of a man from the evil condition in which he feels sacrifice as pain, into a condition in which it is felt as joy, a condition of true and perfect life.1 [Note: J. Hinton.]

As in its purer parts the human nature is a prototype of the Divine, so hence we may form some conception of the mode in which human repentance softens Divine justice, how it is at once accepted as the earnest of better things, as the beginning of a new life, and as being in itself the fruit and pledge of that Christian simplicity which brings us to the condition of little children. We must have conquered many worldly, many complicated, many anti-Christian feelings, before we arrive at the repentance of the prodigal son.… Well may it be conceived how this state of mind is more congenial to the Divine nature, has in it more softness, more faith, more love, more elevation, more purity, than the calm virtue of ninety-and-nine just persons who need no repentance.2 [Note: Bishop Stanley, in Memoirs of Edward and Catherine Stanley, 192.]

When I look back upon my life nigh spent,

Nigh spent, although the stream as yet flows on,

I more of follies than of sins repent,

Less for offence than Love’s shortcomings moan.

With self, O Father, leave me not alone—

Leave not with the beguiler the beguiled;

Besmirched and ragged, Lord, take back thine own:

A fool I bring thee to be made a child.3 [Note: George MacDonald, “Organ Songs.”]


Clifford (J.), Daily Strength for Daily Living, 325.

Cook (G. A.), The Progress of Revelation, 75.

Dewhurst (E. M.), The King and His Servants, 46.

Drummond (J.), Spiritual Religion, 141.

Garbett (E.), Experiences of the Inner Life, 13.

Jellett (H.), Sermons on Special and Festival Occasions, 22.

King (E.), The Love and Wisdom of God, 242.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions; Esther and Job, 63.

Marshall (J. T.), Job and his Comforters, 130.

Moule (H. C. G.), From Sunday to Sunday, 72.

Neale (J. M.), Sermons, iii. 434.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxxiv. (1888), No. 2009.

Vaughan (C. J.), Voices of the Prophets, 22.

Wagner (G.), Sermons on the Book of Job, 281.

Watson (R.), The Book of Job, 392.

Wright (D.), The Power of an Endless Life, 20.

Christian World Pulpit, xxxix. 181 (Ross Taylor); xli. 198 (M‘Adam Muir); lxxv. 187 (Herbert).

Churchman’s Pulpit: Good Friday and Easter Eve, vii. 93 (Williams).

Verse 7

(7) And it was so.—The verdict that is spoken against the friends of Job is based rather on the tone and spirit of what they have said than on any of their actual words, for many of these are conspicuous for their wisdom, truth, and beauty. But throughout they had been on the wrong side, and seemed to think that the cause of God had need to be upheld at all risks, and that it might even be required to tell lies for God (Job 13:7); and it was this that provoked the Divine indignation.

Verse 8

(8) Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams.—It is remarkable that the sacrifices prescribed for Job’s friends were similar to those which Balaam prescribed for Balak (Numbers 23:2-29). This is probably one indication out of many that the age of Job was that of Moses, or before it. “My servant Job shall pray for you.” This, strange to say, was the very promise with which Eliphaz himself had closed his third and last speech. His words therefore received a striking fulfilment in the case of himself and his friends. The intercession of Job seems to show us that his character is a typical one, representing to us the character of Christ as the sufferer and the mediator on behalf of man; and as in Job there is no trace of acquaintance with the Divine covenant, the book shows us a sort of anticipation of the Gospel to the Gentile world, that the mercies of God are not limited, as some have thought, to the chosen race, but that the principles of God’s action are the same universally. He deals with men upon a principle of mediation: whether the mediator be Moses, as the mediator of the first covenant; or Job, who was the accepted mediator for his friends beyond the pale of the covenant; or whether the mediator be Jesus Christ, as the one Mediator between God and man.

Verse 10

(10) When he prayed for his friends.—Job’s personal discipline was not complete till he passed from the sphere of his own sorrows to the work of intercession for his friends, and it was through the very act of this self-oblivion and self-sacrifice that his own deliverance was brought about. When he prayed for his friends, we are told, the Lord turned his own captivity: that is, restored and re-instated him in prosperity even greater than before.

This is the true moral of all human history, which is to be accomplished in the world of the regeneration, if not here. All sorrow is fraught with the promise and the hope of future blessedness, and to know that is to rob sorrow of its pain. It is impossible to reap the full gain of it when the burden presses, but, as far as it can be done, sorrow is mitigated. Had Job been able to look forward with confidence to his actual deliverance, he would have been able to bear his affliction; it was because he could not that all was dark. And after all there are sorrows and afflictions for which there is no deliverance like Job’s; there is a captivity which can never be turned in this life, and for this the only hope is the sure hope of the Gospel, and the promise which in its degree is afforded by the history of Job: for if Job’s is a representative history, as we are bound to believe it must be, then the lesson of it must be that what is not explained or mended here will be explained and mended hereafter. It is God alone who can enlighten the darkness which surrounds His counsels; but at the same time we must remember that with Him is the well of life, and in His light we shall see light.

Verse 11

Verse 12

(12) Fourteen thousand sheep.—The number of Job’s cattle here is exactly the double of those in Job 1:3. That Job’s latter end should be blessed had been the promise of all his friends (Job 5:24, &c., Job 8:7-20, &c., Job 11:16, &c., 22:27, &c.), but then it was hampered with a condition which involved the falsehood of all Job’s previous life, and it was the unjust imputation of this falsehood to Job which was an offence against the truth of God, and Was so regarded by Him. Truth had to be violated in order that God’s justice might stand, which was the greatest possible offence and indignity to the Divine justice.

Verse 14

(14) Jemima.—This name perhaps means as fair as the day.

Kezia—i.e., cassia, an aromatic bark, much prized by the ancients. (See Psalms 45:9.)

Kerenhappuch—i.e., the horn for containing kohl for the eyes. The Eastern women are in the habit of painting the upper part of the eyelids with stibium, so that a black edge is formed about them and they seem larger. (See 2 Kings 9:30; Jeremiah 4:30.) The meaning of this name is the paint-box for this purpose.

Verse 16

(16) An hundred and forty years.—The particularity of this detail forbids us to suppose that the character of Job was other than real; his great age also shows that he must be referred to the very early patriarchal times, probably anterior to Moses.

Verse 17


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Job 42:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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