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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Job 18

 

 

Verses 1-21

The Second Speech of Bildad

Job 18

We now begin to see in what a little world the three comforters lived. There are men who can only go on for a time; then they resign their ministry, and go elsewhere to repeat the few tunes they know. It was so with Job"s three friends. They began eloquently; they seemed as if they were about to fly straight away into higher levels than had ever yet been attained in eloquence or in music. But we now see them returning: we now notice, what had escaped us before, the tether which binds them to the earth. They repeat themselves; even their cursing becomes commonplace by repetition; the sharp accent is no longer felt; we begin to expect the fury, the little whirlwind, and the brutum fulmen. "Bildad reproveth Job of presumption and impatience." So says the heading of the chapter. But this is precisely what the comforters have been doing all the time. All their eloquence is but a variety of denunciation. They have never gone into far-reaching philosophy; they have beaten Job with the rods which have chastised all preceding generations, but they have not touched with curing balm, with soothing sympathy, the wound which has rent his heart. All literalists live in a little world. We cannot stretch the alphabet beyond a certain point. The comforters told Job all they knew, and they knew nothing about his case when all was told. They had wise words to speak, but they were speaking them to the wrong man. A word fitly spoken—how good it is when it just fits the occasion, when it says enough but not too much, when it soothes but not excoriates. The heart knows such a word when it is well spoken. There are many things we know which we were not aware of. Some tunes seem to belong to us; soon we come to think that we ourselves invented them; the authorship is forgotten in the fascination of the music, so that were we charged with singing another man"s tune, we might for the moment resent the impeachment, feeling that the melody came so naturally and swingingly into our lives that we might have made it, if we did not. It is even so with Christ"s great gospel: it becomes part of us; chapter and verse we have forgotten; nor need we remember them; the great life-principle is in the blood, in the heart-beat, in the new prayer which surprises every day the tongue that utters it. But Job"s comforters had a lesson, and not a teaching rooted in eternity, and stretching on through all infinities of thought and feeling and want. There is a difference between a recitation and a speech; there is an indescribable difference between that which we recite from our memory and that which God creates for us in the heart, and enables us to hurl from the lip with ringing and gracious power. The three comforters would have talked just the same to any other man in suffering as they talked to Job. They had not special insight into particular cases. Any one can tell the difference between night and day: but what is the difference between twilight and twilight? What is the difference between colours that shade into one another, as if slyly and invisibly, as if to cheat the eyesight and the fancy of the world? Great spiritual teaching depends upon this insight, this discrimination, so that there shall be seven Gospels in a family of seven people, and yet all the Gospels shall be one, but they shall be so distributed, and coloured, and represented, and focused, as to suit our necessity and satisfy our eye, every beholder seeing what he needs, and being fascinated by the celestial beauty. This is the difference between Jesus Christ and all other teachers. Jesus Christ never repeated himself. He had a parable for every case. He knew the right word to speak to every individual— Prayer of Manasseh , woman, or little child. Hebrews , too, could outcurse Bildad; when it came to objurgation and fire-speech all the comforters of Job stood back to give him space enough. Yet how gentle, how sweet, how tender, how gracious! Touching a flower only to make it blush in some deeper beauty, lifting up a child only to touch it into some higher consciousness of life, and touching trembling tears only to make them into quivering jewels. Never man spake like this man! Every man said to Jesus Christ for himself—my Lord and my God. Such was the administration of Jesus Christ, that he seemed to belong exclusively to every man as each man"s sole and entire possession.

How comes it, then, that three men, not without large sense and power of words, should thus have walked round and round Job and left no blessing behind them? It is the misery of the world which has puzzled the philosophy of the world. Oh, this misery! The books of the philosophers have nothing in them to touch the world"s misery. Reading all other books but Christ"s, one would imagine that this was a healthy world, a world all sunshine, steeped in summer, painted or belted with rainbows; every river exhaling heavenly odours, every fountain filled with the gold of the new Jerusalem! But this misery—red-eyed, tear-stained misery; this gaping wound, this infinite sorrow, this Gethsemane of woe! Before that spectacle philosophy looks poor, shrivelled, empty-handed. Philosophy does well in a world that is all summer; philosophy then talks largely, wisely, in long, long words; philosophy then invents words, puts syllable to syllable like joint to joint, and goes on with the long vertebration: but this horrible misery, these agonies that will not bear to be talked to in polysyllables, these pierced hearts, these wounded spirits, what is to be said of them? It is in sight of these that Jesus Christ shines forth in all the mildest radiance of his love; he is able to speak a word in season unto him that is weary; to speak as if he were not speaking; to breathe eloquence rather than to articulate it. It is the misery of the world that perplexes agnostics and secularists, and inventors, and tricksters of every name and colour. They would have an open highway were they not blocked back by misery. It was so with Job"s three comforters. They could not speak to such misery as his. They had seen sorrow before, but a kind of sorrow that might have been laughed out of its melancholia; they had seen instances of men in loss and trouble, but a sort of every-day loss and commonplace trouble, and a word of good cheer might bring back memory enough, and kindle hope enough to meet the occasion: but here is a man whose gall is shed upon the ground, and whose root is cleft with lightning, and they can only walk round him, and abuse him, and shoot hard words at, his poor weary head; and he cries to be saved from his friends, for they are but an addition to his sorrow. Whenever you hear of any man who has any nostrum to offer for the good of the world, inquire what he proposes to do with the world"s misery. Never let any empiric run away with the idea that he is treating a healthy world; ask him what he will do with the churchyards. He wants to sail on blue rivers, on seas ruled by a halcyon spirit; he wants to take you away into groves and waving woods and odorous gardens: ask him what he intends to do with the cemeteries, with the sick at heart, with men of shattered vows, with lives that have lost the centre, with souls that have been caught in the infernal gravitation, and are being drawn downwards to hell. Be impatient with all the men who would heal the world"s wound slightly; be wrathful with the men who would daub the wall with untempered mortar. There is nothing that can meet the whole necessity but the evangelical faith. We have heard that faith jeered at, but the faith still remains, large, noble, holy, unresentful. The evangelical faith must not be touched, except that it may be redefined, delivered from some of its friends who have unduly narrowed it, and who have interfered with the music of its expression: but in its soul it is right; it touches every day"s history; it has an answer to every day"s necessity; it has a blessing for every moment"s labour. The three friends of Job did not understand the case, or had not at hand the remedy; and therefore they talked much, denounced much, and tried to talk themselves into some new power of dealing with an unfamiliar instance.

The poorest of all explanations is personal wickedness. That was the pièce de resistance of which the three friends always availed themselves. They said in effect: We can always abuse Job; we can always make general speeches on human depravity, and allow him to appropriate them to himself; we can at least suggest that he has hidden under his ample cloak some big black sin; we can tell him, in varied expression, that all this is but his desert; he has done something to deserve this; that must be our weapon; we must keep to that; we must hunt him down; we must tell him what a villain he is. The world has grown no better by such violent assault. The poor world takes heart again when we say to it "things are not what they seem." It is true there is none righteous, no, not one; but that applies to us all; there is something beyond all that we see; by-and-by it will be revealed; we are undergoing educational processes, we are being pruned that we may bring forth more fruit; all this misery, sorrow, necessity, pain, death, has a meaning. Let us wait for it; it may come at any moment:; no one can tell when the Son of man will come—at midnight, at cock-crowing, or in the full noonday; but come he will, and with him he will bring the books which will clear up every mystery. Then we should continue our great speech and say, "In one sense, this is a little world; in another sense, it is a great world; it is to us the beginning of worlds, the first step upon a staircase infinite. Get your foot well upon the first step, then the rest will come with comparative ease. Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth; at any moment you may pass into a new world; tomorrow we may wake in heaven. We need, therefore, more cheerfulness; and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is emphatically a cheerful word; it comes to the heart like music in the night time. We know what it is to sit in great desolation, and to hear a footfall on the stair which we recognise as the step of a strong friend. When he comes in he seems to bring with him new breath, new hope; whilst he tarries in the room we shall not be afraid of death; yea, we feel if he were present we could die happily; his very nearness would give us courage. Knowing this socially, we also know it religiously: given a heart that is sure of the presence of Jesus Christ to comfort and sustain, and death is abolished, the grave is no longer deep and cold,—it is as a vase filled with flowers from heaven"s paradise. It is useless, therefore, merely to denounce the sin of the world; it is aggravating to have nothing to say to the world but that which is of the nature of denunciation. The world has been well cursed by its brilliant Carlyles; it needs now to be blessed and comforted by its more brilliant evangelists.

How wonderfully well the three comforters painted the portrait of wickedness! Nothing can be added to their delineation of sin. Every touch is the touch of a master. If you would see what wickedness Isaiah , read the speeches which are delivered in the Book of Job. Nothing, let us say again, can be added to their grim truthfulness. But there is a great danger about this: there is a danger that men may make a trade of denouncing wickedness. There is also a danger that men may fall into a mere habit of making prayers. This is the difficulty of all organised and official spiritual life. It is a danger which we cannot set aside; it is indeed a peril we can hardly modify: but there is a horrible danger in having to read the Bible at an appointed hour, to offer a prayer at a given stroke of the clock, and to assemble for worship upon a public holiday. But all this seems to be unavoidable; the very spirit of order requires it; there must be some law of consent and fellowship; otherwise public worship would be impossible: but consider the tremendous effect upon the man who has to conduct that worship! The men to be most pitied in all this wide world are preachers of the gospel. We are aware that there is another side, and that the men who are most to be envied in this world are also preachers of the gospel; still it is a terrible thing to have to denounce sin every Sunday twice at least; it is enough to ruin the soul to be called upon to utter holy words at mechanical periods. The necessity is great, the necessity is tremendous; but may we not become familiar with such words as "God," "truth," "love," "Christ," "purity "? On the other hand, there are times when all these words shine upon us like new suns, and for all the worlds of God"s universe we would not give up the joy of living under the influence of such words and answering all their music. Could we know what men have to pass through who teach us we should be more lenient with them and get nearer to them with abundance of sympathy and prayer. Who can preach twice on one day? Who can have his heart torn out of him regularly morning and evening, Sabbath by Sabbath? We need the ministry of silence; we need the blessedness of sitting down sometimes in absolute speechlessness. That we might do, and fix the day and the time and the place for silence, but not for speech; then if during the holy silence the fire should burn and the tongue should desire to speak, who knows what blessedness might accrue? But the meaning of this is that it is possible to read the Bible until we read ourselves out of it,—merely to repeat its words, and not to feel them or to feel that we ought to feel but cannot feel, and that is a consciousness that lies close by despair.

Punishment does not kill wickedness, otherwise what Bildad has said about it would be concluded with a declaration that wickedness is dead. How does Bildad put the case of punished wickedness? The light is put out, the spark of fire is destroyed, there is no light in the tabernacle; the steps of strength are straitened; his own counsel has cast the man down by leading him into confusion; the wicked man"s feet are in a net, and a gin has taken hold of him by the heel, and the hand of the robber is throttling him; the snare is laid for him in the ground, and a trap for him in the way; terrors like hobgoblins laugh and chatter at him from every hedge in the night-time, and he is startled to his feet by new alarms when he lies down to sleep; his strength is hunger-bitten, and destruction is standing at his side ready to open its pitiless jaws to devour him; his skin has lost its complexion, and the firstborn of death has devoured his power; his confidence is dead, and he is brought to the king of terrors: and what does he do? He still sins. All this some men have proved, and they still plan wickedness for tomorrow at noon and the day after at midnight. Brimstone is scattered upon their habitation; their roots are dried up beneath, above their branch is cut off; their remembrance is perished from the earth, and their name is a loathing in the street: what then? They still sin. They would sin if God stood over them visibly! How mad is sin! What can tame the tiger-heart? What can get at it in one brief hour of confidence? A man will sell his children if they stand in the way of his wicked desires. Yea, a man will defy the spirit of self-slaughter in order to reach that one damned object, and all God"s white angels could not keep him back. He knows what will come. Tell him that if he pursue this course his wife will be brokenhearted, his children will be blighted, his home will be shattered, his fire will be put out, the old, old days of love will never be revived; everybody will shoot out the lip in scorn, and his very name shall be a byword: what will he do? He will look as if he listened, and then he will take a leap into the arms of the devil! Such is the state of things. We are not half-respectable bad men; we are not gone in little fragments and sections of our nature; we would kill the fairest child that ever kissed our cheek rather than not do the thing our heart is set upon. Can this case be met by little theories, human inventions, novel propositions, untried and unintelligible philosophies? If a man will take his fair-haired child, as it were, by the throat and throw it away, so that he may get at the devil"s table, is there any philosophy in creation which he would not clear from his path in order to reach his destination? What, then, is to be done? There is only one thing to be done, and if that fail God fails. There is only one thing that touches the case at its centre, and that one thing is the redeeming Gospel of Jesus Christ, the mystery of the cross, the grace of the atonement,—easy enough to ask perplexing questions about, and not difficult to contemn and reject; but it is the only thing that can touch the case. The sun is the only light that can glorify the earth, and yet nothing can be shut out so easily; a child has but to close its eyelids, and the sun is gone. So a man has but to say—I do not believe thee, thou bleeding, dying Christ, and the whole blessedness of the cross is lost. On the other hand, a man has but to open his eyes, and the sun seems to have been made for him, and to be all his. A man has but to say, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief," and Satan falls before him as if lightning-struck. The devil knows that word, and hates it.

Note

The act of taking birds by means of nets, snares, decoys, etc, is frequently alluded to in Scripture, mostly in a figurative and moral way. Birds of various kinds abound, and no doubt abounded, in ancient times in Palestine. Dean Stanley speaks of "countless birds of all kinds, aquatic fowls by the lake side, partridges and pigeons hovering, as on the Nile bank, over the rich plains of Genesareth" (Sinai and Palestine, p427). The capture of these for the table or other uses, would, we might expect, form the employment of many persons, and lead to the adoption of various methods to effect it. Hence we read of the "snare," Psalm 91:3, Psalm 124:7; Hosea 9:8 : and of the "net," Proverbs 1:17; Hosea 7:2 : "of the fowler" or snarer. In Hosea 5:1, both net and snare are mentioned together. The mokçsh is used synonymously with pach, Amos 3:5. This was employed for taking either beasts or birds. It was a trap set in the path, Proverbs 7:23, Proverbs 22:5; or hidden on or in the ground Psalm 140:6, Psalm 143:4. The form of this springe or trap net, appears from two passages— Amos 3:5, and Psalm 69:23. It was in two parts, which, when set, were spread out upon the ground, and slightly fastened with a stick (trap-stick), so that as soon as a bird or beast touched the stick, the parts flew up and inclosed the bird in the net, or caught the foot of the animal. Thus Amos 3:5, "Doth a bird fall into a snare upon the ground, when there is no trap-stick for her? doth the snare spring from the ground and take nothing at all? i.e, does anything happen without a cause?"—Kitto"s Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature,

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 18:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/job-18.html. 1885-95.

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