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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Job 17

 

 

Verses 1-16

CONTINUATION OF JOB'S REPLY TO ELIPHAZ

I. Bemoans his dying condition (Job ).

"My breath is corrupt (or, ‘my spirit or vital energy is destroyed'), my days are extinct (or, extinguished, as a lamp or taper whose flame is expiring), the graves are ready for me" (or, the place of graves, or chambers of the tomb, are destined for me,—Heb., ‘are for me,' or, ‘are mine'). Job takes a calm but gloomy view of his condition. Now views himself always as a dying man. Speaks the language of deep despondency. Vital powers exhausted. Energy of spirit broken. The lamp of life all but extinguished. His only expected home the grave. This mentioned now—

(1) As his reason for desiring to have his case speedily tried and his character vindicated;

(2) In opposition to the flattering prospect held out by his friends as the result of his repentance. Observe—

1. Good for us frequently to take a calm view of our condition as mortal and dying men. Philip of Macedon kept a person for the sole purpose of daily reminding him of his mortality. Sad to be surprised by the summons of death, like the rich fool (Luk ). A good man, able, like Job, to chant his own dirge, both in the midst of life's joys and sorrows.

2. True in reference to each what Job says of himself—

"The graves are ready for me."

(1) Death is appointed to us. The lot of all but those who shall be living at the Lord's appearing. The sentence of death entailed on Adam's offspring as well as himself (Rom ). Death an enemy which all have to meet. No discharge in that war. The grave the home appointed for all living. Death a visitor whom no wealth can bribe, no power resist, no artifice elude.—

(2) Death is near to us. "But a step between me and death." Death or the Lord's appearing not far from each of us. The grave probably much nearer both to reader and writer than to Job, when uttering these words. Job after this lived a hundred and forty years. Our entire life probably not more than half this amount. "Where is to-morrow? In another world. For numbers this is certain." Death probably much nearer to us than we think. Uses to be made of this fact:—(i.) To make careful preparation for death. While the body enters the grave the spirit enters the invisible and eternal world. Prepare to meet thy God.—(ii.). To make right use of time while it lasts. Much to be done, and but a short time to do it in (Ecc ).—

(3). To sit loose to the things of a present world. The world to be used, but not abused or used eagerly as if our all (1Co ). "Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour?"—(iv.). To examine faithfully our views and prospects in regard to the grave. How do I regard it? With comfort or with dread? Is the prospect of it a gloomy or a pleasant one? To the believer to die is gain, because to depart is to be with Christ. To Him, the grave is only "a dark lattice letting in eternal day," the avenue

"To festive bowers,

Where nectars sparkle, angels minister,

And more than angels share."

Am I prepared for my final resting-place? Are my accounts made straight with God? Am I at peace with my Maker? Are my sins cancelled with the blood of Jesus?

II. Job complains of the conduct of his friends (Job ).

"Are there not mockers (or mockings) with me? Doth not mine eye continue (Heb., remain all night) in their provocation?" Cutting words and cruel reproaches not easily banished. What the eye sees and the ear hears by day, the thoughts dwell upon by night. Such, with Job, the unkind looks and bitter words of those who should now have been his comfort. These things now his "sorrowful meat" (ch. Job ). The conduct of his friends one great part of his affliction. "Man is to man the sorest, surest ill." Instead of sympathy to soothe his sufferings, Job had only scorn to aggravate them. Such painful experience, especially from friends, happily the lot of few sufferers. Yet that of the Man of sorrows standing in our room. Complained of by Him as one of his keenest trials (Psa 22:7; Mat 27:39). "The Contradiction of sinners against himself" mentioned as the burden of his sufferings (Heb 12:4). His heart broken by reproach (Psa 69:20). In proportion to the sweetness of true friendship and sympathy in sorrow, is the bitterness of the want, and especially the opposite, of it. Friendship the "wine of life;" unkind reproaches from professed friends, especially in trouble, distilled wormwood.

III. Earnestly beseeches God to grant a speedy trial of his case (Job ).

"Lay down now (or, ‘give a pledge, I pray thee'; put me in a surety with thee (or, ‘give,' or, ‘be surety to me [in this controversy of mine] with thee,'—that thou wilt afford me a trial and act as a party); who is he that will strike hands with me?" (or, ‘who else is there that will,' &c.,—that is able to enter into the controversy? or, who is there, when such a pledge is given me by Thee, that will enter into the controversy with me? I will challenge anyone to prove me a wicked dissembler). Always the great burden of Job's desire to have his case fairly tried. The result and evidence of his conscious integrity. The most painful part of his suffering, that he was treated as a wicked man, and, in consequence of that treatment, was regarded as such by his friends. A good man's name more precious to him than life. The cutting taunt of David's enemies, and those of David's antitype in trouble, where is now thy God? (Psa ; Mat 27:41-43). Christ esteemed by His enemies, "stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted," as a man under God's displeasure, and suffering for his sins (Isa 53:4). For the consolation of anxious souls, God has given what Job desired, His promise and His oath (Heb 6:17-18). These given, not that they shall have their case tried, but that, on accepting Christ as their substitute and righteousness, they shall be accepted as righteous with God, just as they are. God Himself a surety to such that no evil shall befal them (Psa 119:122). David's comfort that God had made with him an everlasting covenant (2Sa 23:5). Christ provided by God as the surety of that covenant (Heb 7:22). The Divine pledge that on receiving Him, no good thing shall be witheld from us (Rom 8:32).—The reason for Job's request (Job 17:4) "For thou hast hid their heart from understanding (withheld from his friends the wisdom and intelligence necessary to qualify them for giving a right judgment in his case, or to make them successful parties in the controversy); therefore shalt thou not exalt them" (as righteous judges, or as those who have had the better in the case). A two-fold ground of Job's request for a fair trial of his case by God Himself—

(1) The incapacity of his friends to judge in the matter;

(2) His consciousness of his innocence, and that in the controversy he will gain the cause. Job called to wage a double controversy—

(1) As against God, in His appearing to afflict him as a wicked man;

(2) As against his friends, in their charging him with being such.

Observe—

1. The highest "understanding" to judge correctly between right and wrong in principle and conduct, and rightly to interpret God's dealings and dispensations with men. No understanding as to moral and spiritual subjects, but as the gift of God. With God either to give or withhold this understanding (Mat ). A measure of it given to all men (Joh 1:9). That measure capable of being increased or diminished. The increase or diminution according to the improvement made of it, and the means employed for increasing it. "To him that hath," &c. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise."—The want of a clear and correct moral judgment the consequence of sin. A dim perception and unsound judgment in moral and spiritual things one of the natural, as well as judicial, effects of transgression. The most upright, not the most learned, the most capable of forming a correct judgment on great moral questions. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. "A good understanding have all they that keep thy testimonies."

2. The true "exaltation" that which comes from God (Psa ; Dan 4:37). The possession and exercise of a sound moral judgment the ground of exaltation with God as of commendation with men (Pro 12:8). Prejudice and partiality in judging of an individual's state and character a serious ground of Divine displeasure. Harsh and uncharitable judgment of and conduct towards a faithful and suffering servant of His the object of His disapprobation. Hence—

(1) The frequent denunciations in the Psalms in reference to David's enemies and persecutors;

(2) The fearful judgments made to follow the Jewish nation for their treatment of God's righteous servant, their own Messiah. Job's friends not only not "exalted" by God, but deeply humbled and abased by Him in the end (ch. Job ). The enemies and persecutors of Christ and His cause ultimately clothed with shame (Psalms 132). A bad cause only for a time apparently triumphant. "Magna est veritas," &c.

IV. A denunciation against treacherous and unfaithful friends (Job ).

"He that speaketh flattery to his friends (or the man who betrays his friends to [become a] spoil or prey; who deserts and betrays his friends from selfish considerations) the eyes of his children shall fail;" his sin is so grievous in the sight of God that it shall be visited not only on himself, but on his children. The treacherous and unfaithful conduct of Job's friends already the subject of his sorrowful complaint (ch. Job ). Observe—

(1) Treachery and unfaithfulness on the part of professed friends one of the most cutting trials with men, and the most condemning sins with God. These concentrated in the conduct of Judas Iscariot. The frequent complaint of David, and the painful experience of David's antitype (Psa ; Psa 55:12; Joh 13:18).

(2) Some sins more heinous in themselves and more disastrous in their consequences than others.

(3) Sin in many cases entails its consequences on a man's children as well as on himself. Gehazi's sin followed by the infliction of Naaman's leprosy on himself and his posterity for ever. On the other hand, the virtuous conduct of parents entails a blessing on their offsprings. So the faith of Abraham, the zeal of Phinehas, the piety of Obed-Edom. In the text, Job retorts upon his friends their cruel allusion to his children's calamity (ch. Job ; Job 8:4; Job 15:30). Not only speaks according to the Old Testament platform, but announces a general law in God's moral government. The consequences of parents sins upon their children often natural and in the ordinary course of Divine Providence; at the same time judicial, whatever may be the instrumentality or natural causes.

V. Returns to his own distressed condition

His sufferings the cause of the suspicion resting upon his character. Mentions—

1. The contempt to which his circumstances exposed him (Job ). "He (i.e. God—frequently spoken of without being named) hath made me also a by-word (or proverb) of the people; and aforetime I was as a tabret" (or, "and I am become an object to spit before," or, "to spit at in the face"). Distressing contrast. Formerly the object of universal reverence and respect; now of public contempt and insult (ch. Job 30:10). To spit at or in the presence of another still a common mode of showing contempt among the Arabs. Mahommedans often thus exhibit their contempt of Christians. Trouble greatly aggravated by contrast with former prosperity. Contempt a bitter ingredient in a noble-minded man's cup of sorrow. A frequent subject of complaint in the Psalms (Psa 22:6-7; Psa 35:15-16; Psa 49:7; Psa 49:11-12; Psa 49:19; Psa 123:3-4). The experience of the Man of Sorrows (Mat 27:28-29; Mat 27:41-44; Isa 53:3). Jesus, like Job, spit upon by the rabble (Isa 50:6; Mat 26:67; Mat 27:30).

2. The effect of grief upon his physical frame (Job ). "Mine eye also is dim by reason of sorrow, and all my members (or features) are as a shadow." The eye dimmed by weeping and nervous exhaustion. The emaciation consequent on protracted sorrow still more common. Grief preys on the whole frame. Digestive organs retarded in their operation; nutrition at a stand. Job's case (ch. Job 19:20). David's complaint (Psa 22:17). So the prophet representing the Jewish Church in its trouble (Psa 102:5; 2Sa 4:8). Job's trouble now of some continuance. The change in his appearance already such as to render him scarcely recognizable by his friends (ch. Job 2:12). The Man of Sorrows, when little above thirty, spoken of as "not yet fifty years old" (Joh 8:57). Job already a "by-word," or proverb, of suffering or sorrow. Probably regarded as an example of the justice of God overtaking a secret transgressor, and of the sudden overthrow of those who have made themselves rich. Similar experience of David as a type of the Messiah (Psa 69:11). Job now for thousands of years a proverb of patience. His tears already gems. "Our sorrow the inverted image of our nobleness; perhaps, also, the measure of our sympathy" [Carlyle]. In Job three superlatives combined—nobleness of mind and character; trouble, with grief as its natural effect; patience, at least for a time, in enduring it.

VI. The contemplated effect of his sufferings on others

This twofold—

1. The encouragement of suffering innocence (Job ). "Upright men shall be astonished at this [so aggravated is suffering in an innocent man, who yet maintains his integrity under it]; and the innocent [encouraged by my example] shall stir up himself against the hypocrite (or ungodly man)." Probably contemplates the effect, not merely of his suffering, but of the future public vindication of his character, at times confidently anticipated (ch. Job 19:25-29; Job 23:10). Hence, another reason for wishing a speedy decision of his case. Job's experience an encouragement to all suffering believers—

(1) Not to be surprised if overtaken by signal affliction. God's dealings with His people often dark and mysterious. Suffering saints Asaph's perplexity (Psa ).

(2) Not to wonder if subjected to misapprehension and suspicion even with good men. Job's antitype also an object of astonishment on account of unparalleled sufferings borne with unparalleled patience (Isa ; Isa 53:7) The support given to believers under suffering often an astonishment to themselves, as well as admiration to others. Astonishing trials bring astonishing consolations and deliverances. The anticipated result of Job's sufferings realized as long as there shall be suffering believers in the world. The encouragement of such one great object of the book. Job read by the early Church every year in Passion-week. The subject of frequent meditation with the Man of Sorrows—Job's great antitype. One means of building up his manhood and preparing him for patient suffering. Job the example of suffering patience especially for the Old Testament Church, as Jesus is for the New (Heb 12:2-3. As the result of Job's sufferings, the pious should "stir up himself" against the profane, however prosperous in this world; not against their persons, but their principles and practice. Saints to love the sinner but to hate and oppose his sin. Observe—

(1) The duty of believers to stir themselves up (Isa ). Godliness requires energy and zeal for its maintenance and practice. This especially in times of persecution, of general backsliding and apostacy, or of prevailing lukewarmness and worldliness. No small matter to hold on against prosperous ungodliness.

(2) The effect of God's providential dealings with His church and people often very different from what is and might be expected. God makes both the wrath of man and the sufferings of the saints—even their sins—to praise Him. The blood of the martyrs the seed of the Church. Hopeful's conversion due to Faithful's martyrdom.

(3) A mark of sincerity to take part with suffering piety. The case of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Believers at Rome waxed confident through Paul's bonds (Php ).

2. Encouragement to perseverance in Godliness (Job ). "The righteous also shall hold (or take firm hold) on his way, and he that is of clean hands shall be stronger and stronger." The example of perseverance in one an important means of promoting it in others. God's wisdom and kindness in providing such an example as Job at so early a period of the world. Men more influenced by example than abstract reasoning or simple precept. The value of biography. Hence the large proportion of the Bible occupied with the life and history of individuals. Patient suffering a powerful sermon.

Perseverance in Holiness

The great duty of believers. Not without strenuous effort. Much to discourage and oppose. The current of the world and the flesh to swim against. Principalities and powers to be resisted. Many adversaries. The epistle to the Hebrews written to strengthen believers to hold on their way. Perseverance the test of sincerity (1Jn ). "The path of the just as the shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day." Promised to believers (Php 1:6). The source of it, the power of God; the means, faith (1Pe 1:5). God's printing done with fast colours. God able to keep His people, and as willing as He is able. Christ both the Author and Finisher of our faith. Believers not of them that draw back unto perdition (Heb 10:39; Heb 12:2).

The godly, from Job's sufferings, not only to hold on their way, but to become "stronger and stronger" (Heb., "add strength"). Not only perseverance the duty and mark of believers, but

Growth

Growth in holiness God's will—"Grow in grace." Provision made for it—"He giveth more grace." The object of Christ's advent that we "might have life, and have it more abundantly." Believers to be adding—"add to your faith virtue or courage, &c." "From strength to strength." Must either advance or retrograde. The character of those who grow—"He that is of clean hands." Clean hands the index and result of a clean heart. Hands only clean when washed by faith in the blood of cleansing. Growth necessary. New strength for new and sorer trials, new and harder duties, new and severer battles. Means of growth—

(1) Waiting on the Lord in prayer and otherwise (Isa ).

(2) Converse with the word of God, the food of the soul (1Pe ).

(3) Faith in Christ as our strength and life (Heb ).

(4) Fellowship with God's faithful servants, and especially Christ himself (Pro ).

(5) Contemplation of Christ's glory. His character, and His cross (2Co ).

(6) Exercise and improvement of the grace already given—"To him that hath, &c."

(7) Discipline of Divine providence. Strength of religious principle heightened by suffering and trial. Tried grace is growing grace. The more Israel were afflicted in Egypt, "the more they grew."

VII. Job's dismission of his friends (Job ).

"But as for you all (contrasting them with the upright innocent persons just mentioned), do ye return and come now (return again, i.e., to the discussion—spoken ironically; or, return and depart, i.e., to your own home)." The reason of this dismission of them twofold:—

1. The want of wisdom they had manifested. "For I do not find one wise man among you." Want of capacity shown for the office they had undertaken. Had all proved themselves "miserable comforters," "physicians of no value." Had either applied bad remedies or misapplied good ones. Observe—

(1) Men to hold an office no longer than they exhibit capacity for it. Preachers listened to only as long as they are able to produce "words of truth and soberness."

(2) Great pretension to wisdom often only covers the want of it. Shallow streams make greatest sound.

(3) Wisdom required in ministering to minds diseased. "He that winneth souls," and he that rightly comforts mourners, "is wise." A "wise man," one who can "show out of a good conversation (or life) his works with meekness of wisdom" (Jas ). Two kinds of wisdom: one, "earthly, sensual, devilish;" the other "from above,—pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and good fruits." True wisdom is to know the truth and do it. To choose right ends, and seek them by right means. The wise man one who—(i.) Has understanding of God's character and ways, and is able to interpret them to others; (ii.) "knows both time and judgment;" "has understanding of the times;" and knows what both himself and others ought to do, and does it; (iii.) Faithfully and intelligently aims at the best interests of himself and his fellow men. True wisdom the gift of God, and to be asked in believing prayer (Jas 1:5-6; Jas 1:17; Jas 3:17). Christ made wisdom to those who are in Him (1Co 1:30).

2. The certainty and nearness of his own death which contradicted their promises of future prosperity (Job ). "My days (perhaps his happy ones) are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts (margin ‘possessions') of my ‘heart' (the purposes and hopes which he had fondly cherished,—probably, according to Job's character, having reference more to the welfare of others than himself; these all dashed to the ground by his calamities and approaching death). Observe—

(1) The part of a good man to form plans of usefulness for his fellow man;

(2) Necessary not to defer the execution of such plans. Sickness, trouble, and death may intervene to prevent their accomplishment. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." (Ecc ). Hence the folly and unreasonableness of the friends' counsel and promises. Their attempt that of those who (Job 17:12) "change (or make) the night into day" (talking of future prosperity in such dark and hopeless circumstances); the light is short because of darkness (or, they make "the light near in the very presence of darkness,"—talk of light when there is only darkness and death; the same idea repeated according to Hebrew parallelism). Like that in the Proverbs, under another figure,—"As vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart" (Pro 25:20). Words in order to be useful must be spoken in season.

Re-asserts the certainty and nearness of his end, to show the vanity of his friends' counsel (Job ). "If I wait (indulge, hope, or expection), the grave is mine house (the only home I can look for, instead of the pleasant and prosperous habitation you hold out to me); "I have made my bed in darkness" (have already taken possession of the tomb as my abode, by spreading my couch in its darkness). (Job 17:14)—"I have said to corruption (or ‘the pit,' i.e., of the grave), Thou art my father (as being now bethrothed to death, and so made a member of his family), and to the worm (that preys upon the lifeless corpse—an idea frequent in Arab poetry), Thou art my mother and sister" (as already allied to these pulchral household). (Job 17:15).—And where is now (or where is then) my hope (the hope you counsel me to entertain); as for my hope, who shall see it?" (such a hope would be soon quenched in death without any seeing its realization). (Job 17:16)—"They (or it, viz., my hope) shall go down to the bars of the pit (to the gates or chambers of the grave), when our rest together is in the dust" (or, "it [or we] shall lie down together in the dust," my hopes should be buried with myself in the grave). Observe.—

1. The grave viewed by a believer with calmness and with comfort. To such, a home or resting place, where "the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest." To a believer, death is "of all pain the period, not of joy."

"Death is the privilege of human nature,

And life without it were not worth the taking."

Relationship with the grave (i.) of an endearing kind. In a sense, our father, mother, and sister. Contains the dust of some of our dearest friends. A husband or a wife, a parent or a child; these give the grave a in regard to it. Contains the bodies of a home-like aspect, and inspire a home-feeling believer's brethren and sisters, while heaven contains their spirits. (ii.) Of a humbling kind. Man himself a worm, sprung from the same ground. Worms the companions and sharers of his final resting place. Worms his future guests who shall feed upon himself.

2. Man's duty to guard against delusion in the matter of his hope. Good to ask with Job

What is my hope?

The hope of many, only such as to be buried with them in the same grave. Such the case if our hope is only of an earthly nature, or resting on a false foundation.

"Who builds on less than an immortal base,

Fond as he seems, condemns his joys to death."

Our hope may be either a cable or a cobweb; may either rest on solid rock or yielding sand. The believer's hope is—(i.) "a good hope," as having (a) a good object—the heavenly inheritance; (b) a good foundation,—Christ himself and his finished work. (ii.) A "lively hope," as one that shall survive the grave. Having Christ "as our hope," we plant our foot on the grave and sing our pæan over it: O grave where is thy victory? O death where is thy sting?

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Job 17:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/job-17.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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