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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Job 11

 

 

Verses 1-20

The First Speech of Zophar.
III.

Job 11

There is a vital expression in the fourth verse, "For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure." We have come upon an age which cares little for doctrine. We are, in fact, somewhat afraid of that antiquated term. We prefer anecdote to doctrine, and concrete instances to elaborate spiritual demonstrations. An anecdote will be remembered and rehearsed when the finest argument ever invented by human genius, and ever supported by human eloquence, is utterly forgotten. ""T is true: and pity "t is "t is true." For what is life without doctrine;—that is to say, without teaching, without sound intellectual conviction, without high moral purpose, without that solid and dignified reason which is at once the crown and glory of human life? Why this contempt as regards doctrine, when every action ought to be an embodied philosophy? Every attitude we take upon every question ought to express an inward and spiritual conviction. Where the doctrine is wrong the life cannot be right We are not now speaking of purely metaphysical doctrine, but of that vital teaching which affects all thought and the outgoing of all life: and if a man is operating upon wrong philosophies, wrong principles, mistaken convictions, all the issue of his life is but an elaborate and mischievous mistake. In this instance, however, Zophar corrected Job because he understood that Job was making the whole case only a matter of words. If by "doctrine" you understand nothing but words, then any contempt you may award to it may be justly bestowed. Zophar thought that Job was refining too much, balancing words, inventing and colouring sentences, and making a kind of verbal rainbow round about himself: therefore he took to a severe chastisement of the patriarch. Zophar was mistaken; Job was really basing his argument on those sound and eternal principles which give security to life and hope to all futurity.

Then in the twelfth verse we come upon a still stranger expression:

"For vain man would be wise, though man be born like ft wild ass"s colt," ( Job 11:12)

Nobody has explained these words to any other person"s satisfaction. Each commentator has a view of his own. The one which seems to be supported by the strongest reasoning is that which represents Zophar as saying: Man is born low down; still, there is something in him that kindles at the very word Wisdom: he is like a wild ass"s colt by nature; he is made up of a strange mystery of passion and selfishness, ignorance and philosophy, but all the time there is something in him that says: Go forward, climb higher; even yet the lower nature may be vanquished, and the higher nature may be assumed and possessed and enjoyed. It is something to have amongst us men who speak words of hope. It would be dreary living if our prophets were to take simply to upbraiding us because of the lowliness of our origin; they would be children of night, they would belong to the school of darkness, who kept harping upon the fact that we were born like a wild ass"s colt, and there is no hope of our ever becoming anything else. Blessed be those brighter-minded men who come amongst us, saying: However low-born you were, you may become a prince; however humble your origin, you may stand among the crowned ones in light; however poor your beginning—a beginning in orphanage and poverty and lowliness—you may become wealthy in thought, in purest feeling, and in philanthropic devotion. Listen to these voices: they come from above; they confirm the divinity of their message by the very tenderness of their humanity.

Now Zophar, the much condemned, follows the example of Eliphaz, and concludes his speech by a very noble appeal. He writes what we may call a spiritual directory. He preaches to one Prayer of Manasseh , and so preaches that every word is marked by gravity, sympathy, and wisdom; therefore he was a great preacher. They are poor preachers who can only address a thousand people at once. Sometimes it is said—by persons who would say better if they knew better—that an audience of ten thousand men is enough to inspire any speaker. Nothing of the kind. He is the great preacher who sees the one man. He who sees one man aright sees all men, and he is a hireling and a left-handed labourer who can never rise to the dignity of the occasion except when inflamed by numerical appearances. See Zophar: how his voice deepens and sharpens, how his eye kindles, how he comes a pace nearer the patriarch when he begins to preach to him! What a discourse it was! Not one waste word in it all. What a gift of terseness! How Zophar could strike without wounding, be precise without being severe, and preach a gospel such as the poor, beclouded, fear-driven heart needed to hear. Therefore, to return to the point from which we started, we cannot join the nearly universal condemnation which has been poured upon Zophar; we rather draw towards him as if with some sense of old kinship. We somewhat like even his sword. Wherever he strikes he cuts the object right in two; there is no mangling, no mere wounding, no half-done work: it was a scimitar that cut off whatever it aimed at. Then how tender he could become, how philosophical, how gracious, how sympathetic! We have seen how he looked up to God, and described him in terms that have never been surpassed for graphic vividness and spiritual grandeur. Few men could turn from that upward look, and fasten their eyes pityingly upon human suffering, and address that suffering as Zophar addressed the patriarch. Let us regard this concluding part of his speech as what we have termed a spiritual directory; then we shall see what we ought to do in similar circumstances.

"If thou prepare thine heart" ( Job 11:13).

That is vital talk. This man is not playing with the occasion. He says in effect: All great questions turn upon the condition of the heart: these are not circumstances in which men may be wordy, opinionative, justifying themselves by long-continued arguments that have nothing in them of really sound sense: the heart must be prepared. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." He may never tell what is in his heart. The heart has wondrous power of self-involution and impenetrable secrecy: it looks out of the eyes, yet no man may see it; it observes, but is not observed; it whispers to itself in a tone so low that no one else can hear it; it dreams, it invents, it creates little heavens for its own enjoyment; it reconstructs the universe in imagination that it may luxuriate in it, and even in silence it may be holding festival, and when nothing seems to be going on the heart may be holding high revel. A marvellous, mysterious, impenetrable thing is that awful human heart! Zophar took his stand upon these convictions, and said, "If thou prepare thine heart," and then he adds—the prepared heart will have an effect upon the hands—"and stretch out thine hands toward him"—make even a mute appeal. In Oriental lands the outstretched hands were a sign of prayer; though not one word was spoken, yet the opened palms meant an appeal, the uplifted hands meant human need of divine help. A very graphic image; a most suggestive attitude. What have we in this double exercise—a heart prepared, hands stretched out? Zophar says, If thou canst assume these two positions, certain consequences will follow, and none can prevent their issue.

"If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away" ( Job 11:14).

Zophar insists upon both hands being open. He will not have one hand outstretched towards heaven, and the other doubled in miserlike grip upon some idolised sin; he will have both hands up, both hands open, all the fingers spread out, so that no jugglery shall be able to conceal even the shadow of a sin. Zophar was in very deed a practical preacher. He did not seek to please his audience, but to profit those who listened. He would speak directly, pithily, clearly, vitally. There was no escaping that man; he burned with earnestness. But Job might assume the attitude of a man whose heart was prepared, and whose hands were ready to receive blessing, and whose hand was not concealing iniquity, and yet he might have left his little idols all at home. Zophar knew that, and therefore he went home with Job and said—"Let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles:" clean out the corners: sweep out the recesses: tear out every secret thing: turn all upside down. What wonder if some of the commentators have disliked this young speaker—yellow-haired, radiant Prayer of Manasseh , flaming prophet of the soul? What age could stand such preaching as Zophar"s? There is nothing pleasant in it. It is wholly destitute of anecdote. It is all direct appeal. Zophar never takes his eyes from Job; he leaves Job under no false impression as to his purpose, and the meaning of that one solemn interview.

Having complied with all these conditions, what is the issue according to Zophar?

"For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear" ( Job 11:15).

And by no other process could that consequence be realised. It is in vain to daub the wall with untempered mortar; it is worse than vain to call, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. The only way to get rid of fear is by the consolidation and continual increase of faith; where such increase takes place, love concurrently grows, and perfect love casteth out fear. Observe the attitude of the good man: his face is lifted up, without spot, without stain, without blush, without one sign of servility; he has become right with God, and, therefore, he lifts up his face, without sign of trepidation or apprehension or misgiving. A wonderful blessedness this to be without fear! Who has attained that wealth? Who does not look down as if he were afraid to look up, as if the heavens might burn him with scorching fire did he but turn an eye to their exceeding height? Who is altogether without fear? Find in fear a sign of inferiority, conscious weakness, or conscious sin; or sign of inadequate or failing physical constitution. Do not regard all fear as meaning that God is Judges , and that his whole look towards the life is a look of condemnation. Nothing of the kind. Some men are, born children of fear. They are not to be blamed; the fear is constitutional; is to be explained by physical causes and influences: wherever such a man is to be found he is to be cheered, encouraged, lovingly stimulated; he is to be told that the body is fighting against the mind, and he is to be called upon to see that the mind goes forth to the battle conscious that it can put down the body even in its most passionate clamour. Without such discrimination great harm will be done. Men who are constitutionally dull, fearful, apprehensive will be discouraged, and will turn away from the sanctuary, and will seek at forbidden altars the recruital and renerving of their depressed system. On the other hand, where the fear is really spiritual, and comes out of conscious sin, let there be no mistake about the matter; then Zophar must talk; his words must be like sharp swords, and his appeals must be accentuated as if with flame. Let every man judge himself.

About the misery that is historical, what has Zophar to say? He makes a beautiful reference. He becomes a poet when he touches the days of vanished grief—

"Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away" ( Job 11:16).

Is it not true that there is something in us which enables us soon to forget misery? One fair disclosure of sunlight makes us forget all the darkness of the past. Who can remember Night when he stands amid the whitening and glorious Morning? The two things cannot be present together in the memory. Wherever there is true light there is no darkness. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." Walk as children of the light, walk in God; and as for the night of misery, we may have it recorded for the sake of our chastening in times of high prosperity, but as an active, energetic, and hindering influence it is forgotten, and has no more any power against us. But do not men delight to recall the days of misery? Is it not a peculiarity of human nature that we like to tell what sorrows we have had, to enumerate them in painful detail, as if there were a kind of joy in their very recollection and Revelation -statement? If we were right with God we should talk much about mercies, deliverances, happy providences, times of sunlight, days of festival, hours of reunion, and should have no memory for miseries that afflicted us long ago. Let us grow towards thankfulness, appreciation; and there is only one way of growing towards these high realisations, and that is by the way described by Zophar—a preparation of the heart, an outstretching of the hands, a putting away of iniquity from the palms, and a cleansing of the tabernacle of all wickedness.

Then he tells Job about the future:

"And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning" ( Job 11:17).

In other words, Thou shalt never be an old man: however many thy years, thy lightness of heart, thy buoyancy of spirit, thy conscious union with God, will make thee forget the burden of the days, and thou shalt be young for ever: at eventide there shall be ample light. "And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety. Also thou shalt lie down, and none shall make thee afraid; yea, many shall make suit unto thee" ( Job 11:18-19). Why, this was the gospel before the time! What has Paul ever said more than this? In kindred eloquence he has told us that all things are ours, that all triumphs over life, death, principalities, powers, things present, things to come; but in no degree does he excel the lofty altitude which was attained by Zophar the Naamathite. But all this preaching on the part of Zophar and of Paul puts a tremendous responsibility upon us. What if we who profess the religion of Jesus Christ are as fear-driven as the men who hold the cross of Christ in contempt? What if we, who profess to be seeking a country out of sight, are in reality anxious about the country that now is and about building upon foundations in the dust? What if we who appear to be sandalled for a journey are willing to tarry at any wayside inn that will give us meat and drink free of cost? What if we perpetrate the irony of attempting to look to heaven whilst in reality we are looking all the time at the earth? If these consequences are to flow from this spiritual condition, and if we have not realised in some degree these effects, do we not cause a tremendous suspicion to rest upon the reality of our Christian profession?

Now all the men have spoken; we are now, therefore, in a position to look at the case as if it were in some measure complete. Job has spoken, and spoken much; Eliphaz, and Bildad, and Zophar have spoken; but they are up to this point every one of them in the dark. As to the reality of the case with which they are dealing, they know nothing. The case has never been explained to Job; the three comforters know nothing about the reality of the conditions which they are attempting to discuss: they are all inflamed with some measure of unfriendliness to Job , because they believe that he has sinned in secret, and is therefore reaping the black harvest of the seed which he has sown. And what do we at any time understand about the reality of our own condition? We speak of our trials: who can account for their origin? Who knows what God may have said to the enemy of souls about us? Who can tell what scheme, proposed in hell and for the moment sanctioned in heaven, is taking effect in relation to our faith and our integrity? The Lord said unto Satan: Job will withstand thee; thou canst not destroy his faith: all will be well in the long run. The devil said: I will break him up; I can shatter that man: take away from him his wealth, his family, and all his happy circumstances,—break up the environment—and he will curse thee to thy face. The Lord said—No: life is not a question of environment in its largest aspects; take away everything he has, but leave his life, and Job will conquer. About this Job knew nothing, the three friends knew nothing; the great controversy was proceeding whilst these men were all in ignorance as to its origin and purpose. The same holds good in regard to ourselves. We understand nothing. We can explain nothing. We ought to throw ourselves back upon history, and ask to be instructed and sobered by the monitions of the past. This view we might take: Job was being tried without Job knowing why; it may be that we are being tried also, that by the constancy of our faith we may disappoint the devil, and inflict upon him the humiliation of a noble and consistent contradiction. Take that view of your circumstances; take that view of your trials. The Lord has laid great responsibilities upon us, and he has said of us, My people will yet conquer; they may be tempted and sorely tried and impoverished; they may be orphaned and desolated and left without friends, but at the last they will stand up a conquering host. Blessed be God, he seems even now, by some mysterious exercise of his grace, to have faith in us: he will not believe the devil; he will say of us, They will yet conquer. This is the true method of education. Stimulate your scholars; place faith in them; say to the boy when he goes forth to the day"s battle: You will conquer, you will win, you will come back at night full of joy; hold up your head, and you will return like a hero, bringing with you the spoils of war. Never send the child out under a cold cloud, under a threat, or under the feeling that you expect to be disappointed; rather cheer him with the thought that you expect him to come back with his shield—or on it; not a wound in his back; if slain, slain in the front, facing the foe. It would seem as if God were now so trying us, and looking upon us, and as if he had pledged his word that at the last the soul of his Son shall be satisfied.


Verse 8

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do?"Job 11:8

As a matter of fact, there is a heaven which our poor hands cannot touch.—Do we deny the existence of that lofty space, simply because we cannot touch it? Do we say, Our eyes may be deceiving us, and after all there is no such loftiness? It is all optical illusion or delusion?—As in nature so it ought to be in higher truth and graces; there are some things to be seen from afar, others to be handled and directly enjoyed, and others again which partake of the nature of dream and symbol and apocalypse.—We must make something like a reasonable distribution of the circumstances and phenomena which make up our life.—There are some things about which we may talk almost exhaustively; everything about them is so explicit and direct: but when we come upon those higher things which can only be seen at an infinite distance, we must make allowance for our inability, and not blame God or cast discredit upon his method of training the world.—If a man cannot reach what God has made, is it likely that he can comprehend all that God is? Is not the worker always greater than his work? Whoever made the stars may be rationally supposed to be greater than the stars which he has made, and, being greater, is by so much more difficult of comprehension, so difficult, indeed, as to rise to the point of absolute impossibility in our present state.—We do not venture to attempt an interpretation of everything that is in ourselves; our own souls are often too profound for our vision; our motives are so complicated and intermixed that it is impossible for us to separate the one action from the other, and to say, This is good, and, That is bad, in exact terms.—All height should teach us to aspire; all width created by God, such as the great sea or the greater firmament, should lead us out in the direction of enlargement and comprehensiveness of mind; all. the symbols of nature should have a corresponding effect upon our spiritual capacity and training.—We must not be afraid to look nature fully and lovingly in the face; she is a great parable which the heart alone can often read; she does not set little and arbitrary boundaries to our position and progress, but rather is full of encouragement to us to advance and conquer.—Still, as in nature we know just where to stop, so it should be in spiritual inquest and study: we come to brinks, and must take care not to fall over: we behold lofty eminences, and must know that they were meant to be looked at and not to be trodden under foot: to make a wise use of nature in this way is to encourage and strengthen all that is best in our spiritual being.—Has any man seen all the creation of God? Has any man any conscious relation to any other world than the earth in which he was born? Is it possible for any man to see through the darkness of midnight, when all the light of heaven has been withdrawn?—If, then, there are such limits And obstructions, difficulties and impossibilities, in things which are termed natural, is it at all an irrational conception there should be things in even greater abundance in the purely spiritual realm, which mock us and sometimes defy us, and which all the while beckon and lure us with hopefulness that we may yet see further kingdoms and enjoy the larger liberties of life?—Blessed is he who knows where to stop.—Because there is a stopping-place in all thought, it does not follow that there is no line of thought to be entered upon.—When we know where to stop, we may also know that the point is but intermediate, not final; that we rest there but for a moment, and that by-and-by we shall take up the series, and continue it into the very day of heaven itself.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 11:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/job-11.html. 1885-95.

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