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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Job 16

 

 

Verses 1-22

Miserable Comforters

Job 16

"I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.... I also could speak as ye do: if your soul were in my soul"s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you" ( Job 16:2, Job 16:4).

There was no reserve between the men or amongst them who sustained these wondrous colloquies. They spoke to one another with startling simplicity. It was altogether more like a controversy than an exercise of condolence. We are, however, endeavouring to understand the narrative, and not endeavouring to reinvent or reconstruct it. Still, it is noticeable that all the men were marked by extreme frankness of spirit. Nearly each speech begins with words which could hardly be deemed courteous in modern days. Job was equal to the occasion; whenever anything was said to him that was unwelcome, unsuitable, he answered in the tone of the speaker to whom he replied. But it is equally noteworthy that begin as the speeches might they ended in great sublimity. In this respect they are beautiful types of the best kind of human growth; difficulty at the first, and some rudeness and brokenness, but soon settling down into right relation, proportion, ultimate meaning, the whole culminating in brightness and glory. Job now puts himself into a position which we can easily comprehend. He says: I could talk as you do, if I were as unrestrained. There are no limits to the audacity of ignorance. The less a man knows the more eager is he to make it known. Some men cannot be fluent, because they see on the road spectres, angels, difficulties, possibilities, that do not come within the sweep of the unspiritual imagination; so they halt, they balance sentences, they go round the whole wealth of words to see if there be one that will fitly and precisely express the passing thought. Job says: I could be a fluent speaker if I had a fluent mind: you talk easily because you have nothing to say; not one of you has made a solitary original contribution towards the solution of my difficulty; you have a genius for quotation; you are clever in recalling what other men have said; you are reciters, not authors or creators; you act a dramatic part; you speak what other men have written: but Job , continuing, says, in effect, I am the sufferer; it is into my own soul that the iron has entered; I am dying; I cannot fail to see the end, and it is one to which I look as the promise of escape from unendurable torment. Now, here is a great principle—the principle that non-restraint would allow us to do many things we cannot at present do; or, otherwise, the spirit of restraint keeps us back, in thought, in speech, and in social relation. What a wide field of thought and practical application is opened up by that principle! Christian men may say, basing their speech upon this principle—We, too, could be infidels; there is nothing so very daring, original, or mentally brilliant about being an unbeliever. We could walk without faith, release ourselves from all obligations such as impose themselves upon Song of Solomon -called Christian consciences. Or—We, too, could be worldly; we could cut off this one little world, and make an island of it; God looks upon it as part of a universe, but we could insulate it, and live upon it, and be happy upon it, and pile up upon it—a tombstone. Or—We, too, could be really bad; we, too, could swear in tornadoes; we, also, could serve the devil with both hands; we could outspeak the loudest at the evil festival; we could keep up the devil"s dance longer than many who have served the devil faithfully: but—. Then comes into operation the spirit or principle of restraint; whilst we could do these things in one sense, we could never do them in another. Sometimes the possible is impossible. We must distinguish the uses of terms. All things within a given sphere are possible, and yet not one of them could any man do who retained his reason and a sense of moral responsibility. This idea we have elaborated at some length: shall we give an illustration or two? It is perfectly possible for a man to break every piece of furniture he has in his house, and yet it is impossible to every rational being. It is perfectly possible for a man of business to dismiss every servant, and to say to each, You shall never serve me any more; and yet it is absolutely impossible that he can do anything of the kind. We are thus watched, restrained; we have only liberty between two points—a pendulum liberty of a limited oscillation: we go to come again, and whilst we swing in little segments we think we command a universe. It must, therefore, not be supposed that Christian people could not be worldly, selfish, bad, unfaithful;—all that little sphere is open even to Christian men: yet, whilst it is possible for them to do and to be all that is bad and shameful, it is also impossible, because before doing it they would have to slay reason, conscience, sense of justice; they would have to commit self-slaughter.

Job says that he would strengthen his friends with his mouth, and the moving of his lips should assuage their grief ( Job 16:5). He supposes that they would sympathise rather than argue. But even Job is not to be taken at his word, for he did not know what he was talking about throughout the whole of this controversy: he will have to recall many a word, Revelation -shape many a sentence, and by process of modification will have to adjust himself to the higher line of purpose and providence. Meanwhile, who does not think himself ill-treated when he is suffering? Who does not say, in his heart at least, If you were in my stead I would treat you better than you are treating me? Possibly nothing of the kind. Yet this is profoundly human. Who has escaped wholly the domination of the spirit of reproach? Who has not said to his sick attendant, You should be more gentle; I should be so were I in your place? Who has not said to his friend, You should lend me more money, be more liberal to me, be more generous in your consideration of me; I should be so were I in your stead? All this is false argument. Why is the argument false? Because the mental state is vitiated by moral conditions. Job supposed he would be rich in sympathy, but Job has proved that whatever was lacking in his mental constitution there was no lack of acerbity in his speech.

The great question to ask in view of this answer to Eliphaz would be, Knowing the conditions under which the history began, how has the devil carried out his part of the contract? Recall the case: the Lord said, Go, touch him, afflict him; only spare his life. How has the devil accepted the situation? How does Job describe his own position and feeling?

"His archers compass me round about, he cleaveth my reins asunder, and doth not spare; he poureth out my gall upon the ground. He breaketh me with breach upon breach, he runneth upon me like a giant. I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and defiled my horn in the dust. My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death" ( Job 16:13-16).

This is the devil"s work! Whoever has been unfaithful in this melancholy business, the devil cannot be charged with infidelity. He makes men weep; he sends his darts and arrows into every point of body and estate; he breaks man with breach upon breach, he runs upon man like a giant, and he brings down the horn of power to the dust. What good thing did the devil ever do? Can any poor woman say, My home was unhappy until we yielded ourselves to the dominion of the evil one, Song of Solomon -called; and after that the fire burned brightly, the table was spread with plentifulness, the spirit of peace ruled the domestic circle, and children burdened with unspeakable grief expanded like showers in the sunshine, and were glad all the twenty-four hours of the day? Is any man hardy enough to say that so long as he attempted to pray, and to obey divine truth, and to walk by the light of Christian conscience, he was unhappy and miserable: but the moment he began to give way to appetite and desire and passion, the moment he threw the reins upon his baser nature, he became a really happy man; he sang all day and turned life into a festival of music? Not one. On the other hand, what have we? All history testifies with unbroken witness. When Christ came into the house, all was peace; the crust was turned into a loaf, the loaf was turned into a banquet, and the little oil we had in the cruse became like a plentiful fountain. We cannot turn aside the argument of history, or deny with any justice the logic of facts.

But this description of satanic work shows us the devil under restraint. Observe, this is a chained devil. Note well that this is the devil working under restraint, working permissively only; not having all his evil will, but limited. How sudden are his blows! how terrific the blasts of his mouth! how unsparing the cruelty of his spirit! Nothing touches him; nothing brings him to tears: he cannot cry; he is all cruelty, all vindictiveness, all wrong. Is it far from this reflection to a third and most appalling one—namely, if this is the devil"s work, and the devil"s work when he himself is under restraint, what must be his work when there is no chain to bind him, when he is limited only by his own perdition? Do not let us turn away from such questions as if we were men of dainty taste and dare not look such matters in the face; do not let us murder ourselves at the altar of sentimentality. It would be most pleasant to say, There is no devil, there is no hell, there is no everlasting punishment, there is no worm that dieth not; it would be delightful: but would it be true in spirit? Let us not victimise ourselves by dwelling on the literal description, and asking small and narrow questions about what are Song of Solomon -called facts, but let us look at the spirit of the matter; and that spirit to us says distinctly, "The way of transgressors is hard." We see that now: what hinders us from carrying forward the immediate hardness of transgression into some other state of impenitent consciousness? What has the transgressor now? Alas! he eats bitter bread:; he lays his head upon a pillow of thorns; he burns from head to foot with a secret but inextinguishable fire: call it self-reproach, or remorse, or compunction, or what you please, he has a harder time of it than even his best friends know. What must: it be to fall into the hands of the unrestrained enemy? It makes one"s heart sink when we hear fair, gentle, generous souls coming forward to say there is no such issue: we cannot but feel that they are speaking sentimentally rather than argumentatively; we cannot but feel that they are drawing upon their sensibilities rather than justifying themselves by the revealed Word. If you will, get rid of the Bible, have nothing to rely upon but your own sentiment, your own consciousness, your own conception of justice and penalty: then the case will be different: but you cannot keep the Bible and deny the future punishment of the wicked.

But was not Job sustained by a good conscience? He refers to that point in the seventeenth verse:

"Not for any injustice in mine bands: also my prayer is pure." ( Job 16:17)

Do we not sometimes say that a good conscience will help a man to bear anything? There is a sense in which that is true, but there is another sense in which it is perfectly untrue and simply impossible. Suffering unjustly calls up the conscience to question-asking. Unjust suffering excites suspicion. The sufferer says Why is this? If this is the way a righteous man is treated, where is the spirit of justice, the spirit of law, the genius of rectitude? Unjust suffering discourages prayer. Unjust suffering tempts the enemy to triumph, saying, "Where is now thy God?" Stuff thy throat with thine unanswered prayers, thou poltroon, thou Christian fool! Why serve a God who treats thee so? But these were temporary questions. Again and again we have had to say that if the whole discourse lay within four given points, no man could vindicate much that occurs in human life: but nothing is to be judged by a short line, by a limited and empty hour; everything is to be judged by God"s line and by God"s eternity. There are men who can say that all that happened in their lives of an adverse kind has come to be explained, and has been proved to be needful to the larger and better culture of the life. If we could establish one such instance in our own experience, that one instance would carry the whole case. The mountains are very high when we stand at their base, but could we be elevated just above the surface of the earth, and see the little globe wheeling round, we should be unable to discover that there is a single mountain upon it. We must, therefore, take the astronomic view, and not look upon the great disparities of the surface, when those disparities are crowding themselves upon our vision, but look upon them from some distance, and then the Dawalagiri, the Rocky Mountains, the Himalayas, sink into the surface, and the earth seems to be without wart or scar or tumulus. So it will be in the end!

Job gets some notion of the reality of things when he traces all to God, saying,—

"God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked" ( Job 16:11).

We begin to feel that even the devil is but a black servant in God"s house. There is a sense, perhaps hardly open to a definition in words, in which the devil belongs to God as certainly as does the first archangel. There is no separate province of God"s universe: hell burns at the very footstool of his throne. We must not allow ourselves to believe that there are rival powers and competing dynasties in any sense which diminishes the almightiness of God. If you say, as some distinguished philosophers have lately said, God cannot be almighty because there is evil in the world, you are limiting the discussion within too narrow a boundary. We must await the explanation. Give God time. Let him work in his eternity. We are not called upon now to answer questions. Oh! could we hold our peace, and say, We do not know: do not press us for answers: let patience have her perfect work: this is the time for labour, for education, for study, for prayer, for sacrifice: this poor twilight scene is neither fair enough nor large enough to admit the whole of God"s explanation: we must carry forward our study to the place which is as lofty as heaven, to the time which is as endless as eternity. We all have suffering. Every man is struck at some point. Let not him who is capable of using some strength speak contemptuously of his weak brother. It is easy for a man who has no temptation in a certain direction to lecture another upon going in that direction. What we want is a juster comprehension of one another. We should say, This brother cannot stand such and such a fire; therefore we try to come between him and the flame: this other brother can stand that fire perfectly well, but there is another fire which he dare not approach; therefore we should, interpose ourselves between him and the dread furnace, knowing that we all have some weakness, some point of failure, some signature of the dust. Blessed are they who have great, generous, royal, divine hearts! The more a man can forgive, the more does he resemble God.


Verse 2

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"I have heard many such things."Job 16:2

Many unreflecting speeches are made respecting the religious life; also many superficial speeches; especially are many conjectural words uttered regarding human experience.—There has been no lack of answers to the religious reed of man.—Christianity takes its place amongst those answers, and must vindicate itself by the fulness and adequacy of its doctrines.—The heart knows the right speech when it hears it.—The heart is sated with foolish appeals.—Take care of the answering voice which God has put within, and let its tones be well heard when appeals are made for the heart"s confidence.—The answer of Christianity to the sorrow of the world is unique; it never can be classed amongst "many such things," for it stands alone in boldness, compass, tenderness.—All other religions have outworn themselves, in fruitless endeavours to give intelligent peace to the human mind; they have wrought apathy or stoicism, indifference, neglect, and even contempt, but profound and enlightened serenity is a miracle which they have never accomplished.—The sorrow of the world is not a commonplace, and therefore it is not to be subdued or mitigated by commonplaces.—When we speak of the sorrow of the world as a whole, we must remember that it is made up of individual distresses and agonies, and only that which applies to the individual can be applied effectually and happily to the whole world.—Who has not heard of fate, or chance, or misfortune, or the necessity of things? Who has not been told, more or less carelessly, to be quiet, patient and hopeful? Who has not been reminded that others are suffering more than themselves? The sufferer may well reply: I have heard many such things, but they have no application to my particular need.—When Jesus Christ comes to the heart it is impossible for the heart to say that many other speakers have said the same things in the same tone. Herein it is true, as everywhere else, "Never man spake like this Man." We wonder at the gracious words which proceed out of his mouth: he needeth not that any should testify of Prayer of Manasseh , for he knows what is in man.—The distinctiveness of Christ"s appeals constitutes a strong claim for their divinity.—David said of the sword of Goliath, "there is none like it": so we say of the words of Jesus Christ; they are unrivalled in sublimity, pathos, and simplicity.—He who has heard Christ with the attention of his heart can never forget the gracious eloquence and the infinite wisdom of the divine speaker.—Go to Christ for yourselves: this Man still receiveth sinners.—We read that the disciples went and told Jesus what had happened in an hour of calamity; we must go on the same errand, tell him everything, speak to him every day, and take no step which he does not sanction or accompany.


Verse 11

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked,"Job 16:11

This is not the speech of ignorance; nor is this a mere ebullition of fretful-ness or peevishness: the man who speaks is a wise Prayer of Manasseh , whose character God himself has recognised and commended as good, even supremely good.—Nor is this speech an exaggeration. This is precisely what God has done.—The patriarch now seems to realise the simple truth of the situation. As a matter of fact God had delivered Job to the ungodly, and turned him over into the hands of the wicked.—But God had done more, and it is that additional something which is so often forgotten in our surveys and estimates of Divine Providence.—God had pledged his word that Job would be constant in the hour of trial, and that all the fire of hell would not burn him when he passed through the furnace.—Where God has made such a pledge he will supply the needful grace.—The battle was really not between Job and the devil, but between God himself and Satan: Job was, so to say, but the battlefield, on which the great combatants stood face to face.—If Job failed, God failed.—It is so now, that good men are handed over to be tried, tempted, and put to every test to which virtue can be subjected.—Godly men are not taken out of the world: they are still left in its atmosphere, and in immediate touch with all its customs and principles.—To be in the world is to be in temptation; to live is to do battle with evil.—It is unprofitable to disguise from ourselves the reality of our spiritual position.—It is foolish to appear to be in the world, and yet to be independent of it; we are not to hide ourselves from its appeals or temptations, or from any part of its manifold discipline: we are called upon to show that how severe soever may be our trial, he who is with us is more than all that can be against us.—The consolatory thought which every Christian should apply to himself Isaiah , that temptation is but for a moment; it is not the evil that can endure for ever.—The Son of man had to work today and tomorrow, and on the third clay he was perfected. We have to follow his example.—We are trained to strength by daily conflicts.—The spirit of wisdom is wrought in us by being exercised in discerning good and evil, and determining to follow that which is right, not only in preference to that which is wrong, but in absolute abhorrence of everything that is unlike the holiness of God.—Let the suffering Christian be cheered and animated by the reflection, that no temptation hath happened unto him but such as is common to man.


Verse 22

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"When a few years are come."Job 16:22

Here is the idea of measured sorrow. A man complains of the road, but he is cheered by the fact that the end is not far away.—The Christian has not only to think of years, but "a few years"—quite a handful of days, a breath or two, a struggle or two, a disappointment or two, and then the end of all is reached.—We should always look out for the mitigations of our condition.—The sufferer here finds it in the brevity of the time which he has to endure; we may always find it in the same direction. Others can find mitigations in different ways, as in the kindness of friends, the brightness of mind under bodily affliction, domestic comfort, and the evident accomplishment of divine purposes in the purification of the character.—We are not called upon in all cases to find consolation at the same point, but every man is called upon as a child of God to find consolation somewhere.—Let him say, "This is my Father"s hand: not my will, but thine, be done," and all his afflictions will be turned into sources of joy.—We are to kiss the rod and him who hath appointed it; we are to look upon chastening not as pleasant but as grievous, yet afterwards working the peaceable fruit of righteousness.—The text may be regarded as a refrain to a life-song. However the music may run—now smoothly, now roughly; now harshly, like a strong wind, now softly, like a breeze among the flowers—yet the refrain Isaiah , "When a few years are come." "Brief life is here our portion."—The brevity of life which has its mournful aspects has also its aspects of comfort and encouragement.—The misanthropist would say, Life is so short, it is not worth while attempting to do anything great: the tower will not be half-finished, the work will but mock me by an abrupt termination; I will turn away from all activity, and wait for the end: the philanthropist would say, Life is brief, therefore I must be up and doing; I must redeem the time or buy up the opportunity; not a moment is to be lost; I must hoard the hours as a miser hoards gold: the sufferer may say, Presently all will be over; in a day or two I shall see heaven"s gate opened, and join the happy throng on high,—at the best, "when a few years are come," this night of time will be forgotten in the brightness of heaven"s eternal day; I will encourage myself by this reflection: I will pray that I may be man enough to stand out the whole trial for the little time that yet remains: "he that endureth to the end shall be saved:" may God help me to be faithful unto death; then he will not withhold from me the crown of life.—"Until death," and that is just within sight; the dark shadow is already upon me; the grave is already opening at my feet. Oh, poor, throbbing, suffering heart, hope on: even tomorrow may see thee bearing the banner of victory, and hear thee singing the song of the free.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 16:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/job-16.html. 1885-95.

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