corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Job 17

 

 

Verses 1-16

EXPOSITION

Job 17:1-16

The general character of this chapter has been considered in the introductory section to Job 16:1-22. It is occupied mainly with Job's complaints of his treatment by his friends, and his lamentations over his sufferings (verses 1-12). At the end he appeals to the grave, as the only hope or comfort left to him (verses 13-16).

Job 17:1

My breath is corrupt; or, my spirit is oppressed. But the physical meaning is the more probable one. A fetid breath is one of the surest signs of approaching dissolution. My days are extinct; or, cut off. The verb used does not occur elsewhere. The graves are ready for me; or, the chambers of the grave are mine already. The plural form is best explained by regarding it as referring to the niches commonly cut in a sepulchral chamber to receive the bodies of the departed.

Job 17:2

Are there not mockers with me? literally, mockeries—the abstract for the concrete. (For the sentiment, comp. Job 16:20 and Job 30:1-14.) And doth not mine eye continue in their provocation? i.e. "Have I anything else to look upon? Are not the mockers always about me, always provoking me?"

Job 17:3

Lay down now; or, give now a pledge (see the Revised Version). The terms used in this verse are law terms. Job calls upon God to go into court with him, and, first of all, to deposit the caution-money which the court will require before it undertakes the investigation of the case. Next, he goes on to say, put me in a surety with thee; or rather (as in the Revised Version), be surety for me with thyself' which is either the same thing with giving a pledge, or a further legal requirement. Finally, he asks the question, Who is he that will strike hands with me? meaning, "Who else is there but thyself, to whom I can look to be my surety, and by striking hands (comp. Proverbs 6:1) with me to accept the legal responsibility?" As Dr. Stanley Leathes says, "It is wonderful the way in which the language of Job fits in with what we have since and elsewhere learnt concerning the Persons in the Godhead."

Job 17:4

For thou hast hid their heart from understanding. My so-called friends will certainly not undertake for me, since thou hast blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts against me. Therefore shalt thou not exalt them. God will not exalt those who are without understanding.

Job 17:5

He that speaketh flattery to his friends; rather, he that denounceth his friends for a prey. Job means to accuse his "comforters" of so acting. By their persistent belief in his grievous wickedness they give him up, as it were, for a prey to calamity, which they pronounce him to have deserved on account of his secret sins. Even the eyes of his children shall fail. Whoever so acts shall be punished, not only in his own person, but also in the persons of his descendants (comp. Exodus 20:5).

Job 17:6

He hath made me also a byword of the people. God, by the unprecedented character of his afflictions, has made Job a byword among the surrounding nations—a byword, that is, for an afflicted person. Job, by the manner in which he bore his afflictions, made himself a byword for patience and endurance among God's people throughout all ages (see James 5:11). And aforetime I was as a tabret; rather, I am become an abomination before them; or, as our Revisers translate, I am become an open abhorring (comp. Job 30:10).

Job 17:7

Mine eye also is dim by reason of sorrow (comp. Psalms 6:7; Psalms 31:9). Excessive weeping, such as stains the cheeks (Job 16:16), will also in most cases dim and dull the eyesight. And all my members are as a shadow. Weak, that is, worn out, unstable, fleeting, ready to pass away.

Job 17:8

Upright men shall be astonied at this. When Job's case comes to beknown, "upright men" will be astonished at it. They will marvel how it came to pass that such a man—so true, so faithful, so "perfect" (Job 1:1)—could have been allowed by God to suffer so terribly. In a world where, up to Job's time, prosperity had been taken as the measure of goodness, the marvel was naturally great. Even now many a Christian is surprised and disturbed in mind if he gives the case prolonged and serious attention, though he holds the clue to it in that most enlightening phrase, "perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). And the innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite. On astonishment will follow indignation. When it becomes generally recognized that, in a vast number of eases, the righteous suffer, while the wicked enjoy great prosperity, good men's feelings will be stirred up against these prosperous ones; they will wax indignant, and take part against them.

Job 17:9

The righteous also; rather, yet the righteous. A strong opposing clause. Notwithstanding all the afflictions that befall him, and all the further afflictions which he anticipates, yet the truly righteous man shall hold on his way; i.e. maintain his righteous course, neither deviating from it to the right hand nor to the left, but holding to the strict line of rectitude without. wavering. Job is not thinking particularly of himself, but bent on testifying that righteous men generally act as they do, not from any hope of reward, but from principle and the bent of their characters. And he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger. Not only will the just man maintain his integrity, but, as time goes on, his goodness will be more and more firmly established (comp. Aristotle's 'Theory of Habits').

Job 17:10

But as for you all, do ye return, and come now. A challenge to his detractors. Return, all of you, to your old work of detraction, if you so please. I care not. Your accusations no longer vex me. For I cannot find one wise man among you. If I could the case would be different. But, as you have all shown yourselves wholly devoid of wisdom (comp. Job 42:8), what you say has no real importance.

Job 17:11

My days are past. My days are slipping away from me. Life is well-nigh over. What, then, does it matter what you say? My purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart; literally, the possessions of my heart' all the store that it has accumulated—my desires, purposes, wishes. I no longer care to vindicate my innocence in the sight of men, or to clear my character from aspersions.

Job 17:12

They change the night into day. They, my detractors, who are also my so-called "comforters," pretend to change my night into day; assure me that the cloud which rests on me is only for a time, and will ere long give place to the brightness of day, to a glorious burst of sunshine (see Job 5:18-26; Job 8:21, Job 8:22; Job 11:15-19). The light (they say) is short because of darkness; or, rather, is near because of the darkness. To extreme darkness shows that dawn must be near, that the day must soon break when my sorrow will be turned into joy. Job had not found himself comforted by these assurances, which lacked the ring of sincerity, and could not be accomplished except by miracle, which he did not feel that he had any right to expect.

Job 17:13

If I wait, the grave is mine house; rather, surely I look for the grave (Sheol) as my house; i.e. I expect no return of prosperity, no renewal of life in a sumptuous mansion, no recovery of the state and dignity from which I have fallen—I look only for Sheol as my future abode and resting-place -there, in Sheol, I have made my bed in the darkness; i.e. I regard myself as already there, lying on my narrow bed in the darkness, at rest after my afflictions.

Job 17:14

I have said to corruption, Thou art my father; i.e. I do not murmur; I accept my lot; I am ready to lie down with corruption, and embrace it, and call it "my father," and henceforth remain with it. The idea that the soul is still with the body in the grave, more or less closely attached to it, and sensible of its condition and changes, was widely prevalent in the ancient world. Where bodies were simply buried, the horrible imagination of a close association with corruption naturally and almost necessarily intruded itself, and led to such reflections as those of Job in this verse. It was partly to get rid of this terrible nightmare that the Egyptians were so careful to embalm the bodies of their dead, and that the Babylonians deposited them in baked clay coffins, which they filled with honey (Herod; 1.198); while others still more effectually prevented the process of corruption by cremation. The modern revival of cremation is remarkable as indicating a peculiar form of atavism or recurrence to ancient types. For many ages after the coming of Christ, men so separated between the soul and the body after death that the corruption of the grave had no horror for them. Now materialistic ideas have so far recurred, that many of those who believe the soul to live on after death are doubtful whether it may not still be attached to the body more or less, end, dreading contact with the corruption, of the latter, fall back upon the old remedy. To the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister. An expansion of the idea contained in the previous clause.

Job 17:15

And where is now my hope? (comp. Job 14:13-15). At first sight it might seem that to cue in Sheol there could be no hope. But Job is too conscious of his own ignorance to dogmatize on such a subject. What does he know of Sheol? How can he be sure that it is "God's last word to men"? There may be hope even to "the spirits which are in prison." Job's question is, therefore, not to be taken as one of absolute incredulity, but as one of perplexed doubt. Is there hope for me anywhere? If so, where? As for my hope, who shall see it? i.e. what eye can penetrate the darkness of the future, and solve the riddle for me?

Job 17:16

They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust. There is great difficulty in determining the subject to the verb "go down," which is the third person plural feminine, whereas the only plural substantive at all near—the word translated "bars"—is masculine. Some suppose Job's hopes to be meant, "hope" in the preceding verse having the force of any number of "hopes" (so the R.V.) Others disregard the grammatical difficulty of the plural feminine verb, and, making "bars" the nominative, translate, "The bars of Sheol shall go down," i.e. "be broken down, perish;" or interrogatively, "Shall the bars of Sheol go down?" This rendering is thought to be "in harmony with the whole undercurrent of thought in the chapter;" but it has not approved itself to many commentators. The present commentator must acknowledge that he is unable to attach any satisfactory meaning to the words of the Hebrew text.

HOMILETICS

Job 17:1-16

Job to God: 3. The requiem of a dying man.

I. ANTICIPATING HIS IMMEDIATE DISSOLUTION. With three pathetic sighs the patriarch bemoans his dying condition.

1. The total collapse of his vital powers. Indicated by the shortness and offensiveness of his breath, announcing the approach of suffocation and decay. "My breath is corrupt." And to this at last must all come. The most vigorous physical health, as well as the feeblest, contains within it germs of putridity. Essentially, notwithstanding all its strength and beauty, the corporeal frame is "this corruptible." Therefore, "Thus saith the Lord let not the mighty man glory in his might" (Jeremiah 9:23).

2. The speedy termination of his life. The complete extinction of the already feebly burning taper of his terrestrial existence was at hand. "My days are extinct." Life is fittingly compared to a candle (Job 21:17; Proverbs 24:20; cf. 'Macbeth,' act 5. sc. 5), in respect of its definite extent, the rapidity with which it burns, the facility with which it can be extinguished, and the certainty that it shall at lest burn out.

3. The actual opening of his grave. Contemplated as having already taken place. "The graves are ready for me." Job's wasted skeleton made it all too evident that he was prepared for them, and could with propriety exclaim, as afterwards the aged Gaunt—

"Gaunt am I for the graye, gaunt as a grave,

Whose hollow womb inherits nought but bones."

It is well betimes to contemplate the narrow house appointed for all the living; to "sit upon the ground," and "talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;" to reflect that—

"Nothing can we call our own, but death:

And that small model of the barren earth,

Which serves as paste and cover to our bones."

('King Richard II.,' act 2. so. 1; act 3. sc. 2.)

It is well to realize that the tomb is but a step from the youngest, the fairest, the wisest, the strongest of Adam's children, and prepare ourselves for it, as already it is prepared for us.

II. BIDDING FAREWELL TO HIS FRIENDS.

1. Describing their character. He calls them mockers, who had trifled with his misery, laughed at his innocence, openly accused him of flagrant wickedness, consummate hypocrisy, and daring impiety (cf. Job 12:4). This vehement reassertion of Job's estimate of their behaviour would fall with the greater force and impressiveness upon their ears, because of proceeding from the lips of a dying man (cf. 'King Richard II.,' act 2. sc. 1, and 'King Henry VIII.,' act 2. sc. 1, in which John o' Gaunt and Buckingham call attention to the weightiness of dying men's words). It would sound like the malediction of an expiring prophet.

2. Brooding over their calumnies. Their wicked insinuations had stung him to the quick, and were still rankling in his bosom. Not even death's shadow or the grave's gloom could hide them from his mental vision. As if with an evil fascination, his soul's eye fastened on them, found a lodging with them, and could not shake them off. Easily had they been spoken, but not so easily could their remembrance be effaced. "Cutting words and cruel reproaches are not easily banished," especially when spoken by those from whom sympathy and kindness were expected. Hence the care which should be exercised not to inflict with the tongue wounds that only death can heal.

3. Predicting their discomfiture. "Therefore thou shalt not exalt them" (verse 4). Job means that in the hotly waged controversy between himself and his friends they will not be allowed to triumph, but be utterly routed and put to shame. And of this he points out the premonitory symptom, in that moral and spiritual blindness with which God had suffered them to be overtaken—"for thou hast hid their heart from understanding" (verse 4). Either they had wilfully called good evil, and put darkness for light, or they were wholly incapable of understanding true religion or appreciating spiritual integrity. Hence, in either case, it was impossible that they could be right. Apart altogether from their applicability to the friends, Job here lays hold of important truths; as e.g.

4. Announcing their punishment.

5. Proclaiming their folly. With contemptuous disdain he invites them to renew their efforts to establish his guilt, to attack him with another round of arguments, telling them he has no fear of their success, knowing them, as he does, to be essential fools (verse 5). If the language evinces

III. SEEKING REFUGE IN THE MERCY OF GOD.

1. The bold request. Turning from his friends and confronting death, Job entreats with a sublimely daring faith, which rises clear above the mists of despondency and the hurricanes of passion that alternately fill his breast, that God himself would strike hands with him, and engage to be Surety for his innocence against himself (verse 3). It is a by no means dim anticipation of the fundamental notion of the gospel, that, for the answering of all that God, as a righteous Lawgiver, can lay to the charge of man, God has himself become the Sponsor or Bondsman. What Job's faith, standing as it were on the headlands of human thought, and looking out with prophetic eye into the vast terrain incognitam that spread out before him, craved for himself, that God would undertake the task of replying for him, not alone to the aspersions of his human calumniators, but also to the accusations and charges preferred against him by his Divine assailant, viz. God himself—this astounding entreaty on the part of poor, feeble, sinful humanity, as represented by Job, has been answered by the gospel of Jesus Christ, who came in the fulness of the times as God incarnate to champion the cause of lost man, and vindicate, not his innocence, but his righteousness before God.

2. The fourfold reason. Job bases his supplication on a variety of grounds.

"Vain is all human help for me:

I dare not trust an earthly prop!

My sole reliance is on thee;

Thou art my Hope."

(Elliot.)

IV. EXULTING IN FINAL VICTORY. Job's life is seemingly about to expire in gloom. Job himself, nevertheless, avows his confident expectation that the righteous and pure-handed man, like himself, shall be ultimately vindicated (verse 9). The words suggest:

1. The purity of the righteous. They are a people who have "clean hands." Not that they are righteous or justified because of their clean hands. Even Job (Job 9:2), as well as David (Psalms 143:2) and St. Paul (Galatians 2:16), proclaimed that a man could not be justified by works before God. But clean hands are evidence of a pure heart. And holiness is a sure mark of faith. Nay, if purity of life be absent, the spirit of piety is not present. Faith without works is dead. Hence we are justified (as to the sincerity of our faith) by works; hence also "without holiness no man shall see the Lord."

2. The progress of the righteous. They shall "wax stronger and stronger;" "They shall go from strength to strength." They shall progress:

3. The perseverance of the righteous. They shall hold on their way

V. PLUNGING AGAIN INTO DARKNESS. Descending from the lofty altitude upon which his faith had for a moment stood, the patriarch a second time takes his stand beside the opened tomb, and finishes his requiem where he began it, by contemplating:

1. The approach of death, as:

2. The descent into Sheol, which he regards as:

Learn:

1. That death is never more than a step from any man.

2. That those who are daily travelling towards the grave should begin betimes to prepare for their future homes.

3. That the whips and scorns of time, the mockings and calumniations of friends or foes, can pursue a man no further than to the bounds of life.

4. That God's people have already been delivered from their greatest adversary by the willing suretyship of Christ.

5. That the royal road to heavenly exaltation is the inward illumination of the mind.

6. That good men should never rejoice in, though they may sometimes foresee, and even foretell, the punishment of their enemies.

7. That the best safeguard of a saintly man in trouble is to trace every affliction to the hand of God.

8. That Christ's followers should not now be astonished at the tribulation of themselves or others.

9. That the just man who perseveres in holiness will attain to everlasting life.

10. That if death terminates the life of man on earth, it begins the existence of a saint in heaven.

11. That man possesses nobler relatives than the worms and corruption.

12. That death may finish all terrestrial hopes, but it cannot injure the hope of everlasting life, laid up for us in heaven.

HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON

Job 17:1-16

The just holds on his way.

"The pencil of the Holy Ghost hath laboured more in describing the afflictions of Job than the felicities of Solomon," says Lord Bacon. "Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes, and adversity is not without comfort and hopes. We see in needleworks and embroideries it is more pleasing to have a lively work upon a sad and solemn ground than to have a dark and melancholy work upon a lightsome ground; judge, therefore, of the pleasure of the heart by the pleasure of the eye." On this dark monotonous background of trouble, the bright colours of a spiritual faith and hope stand from time to time most brilliantly forth. Another example of this occurs in the present chapter.

I. The first feeling presented is that of RELUCTANCE TO DIE UNDER MISCONSTRUCTION. (Verses 1, 2.) But for this, he is resigned to his fate. He must in the course of a short time renounce life, for disease is fulfilling its course; and he would do so willingly, if only the mockery of his friends did not continually vex him, and his eye were not provoked by their incessant irritation. There is generally something, even in a state of extreme suffering, which makes it hard to die. But to die misunderstood; under the cloud of a false accusation; like one who, mistakenly condemned, has languished in the cell of a prison, and gone to a felon's grave;—this must surely be the sharpest sting of death.

II. The agony of this thought impels him to RENEWED RECOURSE TO GOD. (Verse 8.) As none among men will give the promise and take upon him to vindicate Job's innocence after death, will God be bound as Surety for him, and undertake this duty? Thus once more we see how the extremity of suffering forces Job upon his deepest faith, can never force him from it. And he is bound to exchange his darker thoughts of God for these truer ones, apparently unconscious that they are inconsistent with one another.

III. But there comes another RELAPSE INTO DESPONDENCY. (Verses 4-7.) He looks without, at the irritating spectacle of those complacent, unfriendly friends, and complains of their want of understanding, defying their authority. He accuses them of betraying him (verse 5 should probably be, "he that maketh a spoil of his friends," etc.), and threatens them with sorrow in consequence. Then again he turns to God as the source of all his sufferings, who has made his name, once so fair in reputation, now a byword and a scoff, and has brought him into his present utter languor and exhaustion (verse 7).

IV. But once again there is a REVIVAL OF HIGH COURAGE AND HOPE. (Verses 8, 9.) He contemplates himself in this light as a reproach to all who behold him or know of his fate. The upright are thrown into amazed confusion, they are shocked at the spectacle; and the. innocent are stirred up against the profligate in indignation at their prosperity. But the just man will hold on his way, until the light again shines upon it; and he who has clean hands will, despite his present weakness, increase in strength. His words are "like a rocket which shoots above the tragic darkness of the book, lighting it up suddenly, though only for a short time ' (comp. Psalms 73:1-28.).

V. He then turns again upon his friends with a SHARP REPROOF OF THEIR FOOLISH UNCONSOLATORY WORDS. (Verses 10-16.) The sharp rebuke of verse 10 is followed by reasons. His strength is consumed, and his end is drawing near; his days are past, his plans cut off, and the fondest desires of his heart; and the light which they think to bring in consolation, is like to darkness (verses 11, 12). He goes on to justify himself for seeing nothing but darkness and night before him, and to reject the hope which they hold out of better days. His hope is fixed on Hades, on the dark, lower world alone (verse 13). He has said to corruption, "Father!" the worm he has designated "mother and sister"! And where, then, is this hope of restored health and prosperity of which you vainly talk? It disappears through the gates of Hades, and yonder in the dust will be alone his rest (verses 14-16). But how unlike are God's thoughts and ways to those of man! Job thinks his fate is scaled; he will neither live nor recover his former joy. Yet God has strangely and gloriously ordained that both life and joy restored shall be his, as the happy issue of his sufferings shows. Thus does he lead to the gates of hell and bring up again (1 Samuel 2:6), leads through suffering to conquest over the fear of death, and to the germination and unfolding of a hope that is centred in the unseen.—J.

HOMILIES BY R. GREEN

Job 17:9

Progress in virtue.

A later book declares "the path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day." So here the stability and progressive character of the righteous is assured.

I. PROGRESS IN VIRTUE IMPLIES A CAREFUL CHOOSING OF A GOOD WAY. It is characteristic of a righteous man that he has committed himself to a carefully chosen way. It is "his way." It describes a path and manner of life. It embraces his entire "conversation." He is not driven as with a wind and tossed from one course to another. One only path is before him, narrow it may be, and often hidden as a rugged mountain-path, demanding toil and watchfulness and effort to find it and to keep it. But this "his way" is chosen, and to it he has committed himself: He follows the path whithersoever it may lead him.

II. Progress in virtue on the part of a righteous man implies that HE PERSEVERES IN HIS CHOSEN AND WELL-SELECTED PATH. Fickleness and vacillation are not qualities of true righteousness; but patience in well-doing always marks the truly righteous one. The high character of virtue, the gravity of the interests involved in the practice of virtue, the strong motives of virtuous principle, together with the apprehension of the rewards of righteous doing, are all motives to perseverance' whilst to them is added the ministry of Divine grace. God helps the good and obedient and striving soul. Thus the inward principle of virtue, and the support which it gathers to itself, alike help to secure a steady progress. But steady progress in the path of virtuous living must issue in growth and perfectness of virtuous character.

III. Steady progress in virtue is MARKED BY INCREASING STRENGTH OF CHARACTER AND CONVICTION. The righteous man waxes "stronger and stronger." Holy principles gain a firmer hold upon his convictions. His life settles into a definiteness and stability of habit. He has greater power to resist evil; he has greater power over his own heart; he exerts a greater power over others around him. He is not moved from his integrity either by the fierce onslaughts of temptation or by the severities of trial. His life is pledged to a course of obedient living—to purity, truth, goodness. More and more he is established in his goings. He rises to greater brightness as the sun to greater strength. He gathers strength even from his afflictions. Deeper and deeper principles of holy living strike their firm roots into his whole spirit. He pursues his chosen and holy way undeterred by the many forms of temptation that assail him. In his righteousness he can "hold on his way," and with his "clean hands" he waxes "stronger and stronger" day by day.—R.G.

Job 17:11

The premature arrest of the purposes of life.

Job looks out from the sadness of his present condition, and turns in thought to his past days, to the purposes of those days—the hopes he had cherished, the plans he had laid, even the thoughts of his heart. Alas l they are dashed—broken off. His purposes not accomplished, his plans useless, his hopes frustrated, his thoughts disappointed, his very days are past! How sad! how painful! We may reflect—

I. ON THE LIABILITY, TO WHICH EVERY ONE IS SUBJECT, OF HAVING THE PURPOSES OF HIS LIFE BROKEN OFF. No one can certainly calculate on the prolongation of his life. The plans wisely laid even for good and holy purposes may be frustrated. The thoughtfully devised scheme for usefulness, even for the highest service to men, as well as the prudent endeavour to promote the felicity of home, or to advance personal culture, may all be torn asunder or broken, snapped off without coming to maturity. None can calculate on the future.

II. ON THE WISDOM OF SO FRAMING OUR ESTIMATE OF LIFE THAT WE ALWAYS TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE UNCERTAINTY OF ITS TENURE. No man has a just view of his life who does not consider how soon life's plans may be overset, torn to shreds. Life is not assured to us. We have no pledge that we shall have time to finish the work we have begun. Hence it is wise to frame our estimate of life in view of the possibility that all our hopes may be disappointed, our purposes broken off, and the thoughts of our hearts never fulfilled.

III. THE POSSIBLE ARREST OF LIFE'S PURPOSES PREMATURELY MAKES IT NEEDFUL THAT EVERY ONE SHOULD SEEK DILIGENTLY TO DO HIS WORK WHILE OPPORTUNITY IS AFFORDED. Some work is given to every man to do, and time is given in which to do it. For no man is expected to do that for which he has not time. But no time may be wasted. The great lesson is again and again read in our hearing, "Work while it is called to-day, for the night cometh when no man can work." The uncertainty of our life's duration makes diligence imperative; it checks too confident an assurance of the future, and it makes it all-important that the life be grasped whose duration is assured. Happy he who can form good purposes and find time to fulfil them!—R.G.

Job 17:13-16

The darkened hope.

Sad indeed is the hope which is attained only in the grave, which has no clear vision beyond. Unillumined, uncheered, it has no brightness, no comfort. All that Job seems at present to hope for is the silence, the darkness, the rest, of the grave. There certainly does not dawn upon him file clear light of the future; at least the assurance of it is not declared in his words. It is the grave, the grave, and the grave only. Contemplate the condition of such as have this hope only.

I. NO LIGHT IS CAST UPON LIFE'S DARKNESS. Job's condition one of extreme sadness. He bears up with much bravery; but when his spirit is sorely pressed he buries his thoughts in the tomb. "I have made my bed in the darkness." No light comes from these dark shades to make brighter life's gloom. "The grave," "darkness," "corruption," "the worm," "the bars of the pit," "the dust"—to these Job is reduced; he cannot rise above them. No ray of light can come thence to make his present path brighter.

II. THIS HOPE GIVES NO EASE IN LIFE'S SORROWS. It awakens no holy emotion. It is a gloomy despair. Life ends in a tomb. The purposes of life are broken off with the ending of the day. Pain may cease then; but no ease comes thence to the afflicted one. To cry "father," "mother," "sister," to the worm and to corruption has no element of cheerfulness in it, no inspiration of brightening hope to relieve the gloomy sorrowfulness of the present. Such a future could not be anticipated but with the uttermost dread and abhorrence save by one pressed out of mind by the severity of his present afflictions.

III. SUCH A HOPE IS INSUFFICIENT, INCOMPLETE, UNSATISFYING. It leaves the soul with an unfilled void. In its incompleteness and unsatisfying character it points to the necessity for a better and Brighter hope. Human life lacks a harvest in the absence of something brighter than this. For the best life to go down into the grave as its final condition seems so anomalous that everywhere the longing for a brighter condition exists.

IV. SUCH A HOPE STANDS IN CONTRAST TO THE CLEAR, COMFORTING, ASSURED HOPE OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. Life and immortality had not been brought fully to light when these gloomy words were written. It remained for the perfect revelation and the all-perfect Revealer to make known the brightness of that future which awaits the godly. Israel held possession of the hope of the resurrection; but it is part of the skilfulness of the teaching in this book that anything short of a fully assured immortality of Blessedness is insufficient to meet the utmost requirements of the human soul.—R.G.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

Job 17:3

A pledge from God.

Job is assured by faith that God will ultimately vindicate his innocence; but meanwhile his horrible disease is eating into his very life, so that he fears he may not live to see the end when all shall be made clear. Therefore he prays for a pledge of the future liberation from calumny and vindication of his character. In other experiences we crave a pledge of the fulfilment of our most choice hopes. Let us consider what pledges God offers to us, and their significance.

I. OBSERVE THE MANY KINDS OF PLEDGE WHICH GOD GIVES TO US.

1. In nature. Nature is full of promise. She is eloquent with prophecy. Her parabolic significance points to the spiritual and the eternal. The messages of God's goodness in spring flowers and autumn fruits are real pledges from the hand of God, earnests of his greater goodness.

2. In instinct. God has implanted in our breasts ineradicable desires—thirst for truth, hunger for love, yearning for holiness. The very existence of these instincts are pledges of the satisfaction of them, for God would not mock his children and torment them with delusive hopes. We may all have some delusive hopes, indeed; but not by nature as original instincts.

3. In revelation. God reveals himself in nature and in instinct, but more explicitly in the utterances of inspired human teachers. The Bible is a Divine pledge. Its self-evidencing inspiration confirms his truthfulness. God will not, cannot lie. Therefore the promises of Scripture, and even its precepts, carry with them pledges of the future when what is then portrayed will be seen in experience.

4. In Christ. He is the great Pledge from God. By giving us his Son God has confirmed his Word. He has not only fulfilled Messianic prophecy; he has given-a token of his changeless purpose of love, and an earnest of his future redemption of the race. Christ is the one greatest Pledge from God.

II. CONSIDER THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DIVINE PLEDGE.

1. To reveal truth

2. To confirm faith. Job longed for a pledge from God. We have received pledges, and one of them of highest worth. The supply of what Job desired should have a great effect upon us. We are unreasonable if we disregard the pledge of God, and turn aside from it to plunge into despairing scepticism. Like Moses, we can see the promised land. We have a better assurance than Gideon's fleece, in Christ and his resurrection Therefore our attitude should be one of calm, unflinching faith. It must be only o! faith, however; for we have not the inheritance as yet, but only a pledge of it. Still God's pledge is an absolutely safe security.—W.F.A.

Job 17:4

The heart that is hidden from understanding.

Job is persuaded that God will not desert him. He even takes the very delusions of his tormentors as the pledge from God for which he has been praying; for these delusions seem to come from God, and to show that he has hidden the heart of the three friends from understanding. If it be so, they will not be exalted by God to trample on the sufferer in his misery.

I. UNDERSTANDING DEPENDS ON THE CONDITION OF THE HEART If the heart is wrong the judgment will be at fault. We do not judge simply as we see with our eyes. The mental and spiritual condition within largely determines the shape and character of our convictions. Observe some of the states of the heart that hide it from understanding.

1. Obtuseness. The heart may be simply dull and blind to truth. if the light shines with meridian splendour, the man who has cataracts in his eyes will stumble into the ditch as surely as if he were walking in midnight darkness. Some men have no eyes of sympathy with which to see their neighbours; they cannot understand them. Some have no spiritual perceptions of God; and they cannot understand him.

2. Prejudice. We see with the mind as well as with the eyes. Our perception is an amalgam of sight and thought. If the thought is warped, the perception will be crooked. A prejudiced heart excludes truth from the understanding.

3. Passion. Strong feeling blinds the judgment by its own fiery fury. The enraged heart, the sin-loving heart, the ill-regulated heart, are all void of understanding. We need a new and clean heart that we may receive God's truth.

II. THE HEART FROM WHICH UNDERSTANDING IS HIDDEN CANNOT ENJOY THE FAVOUR OF GOD. His favour does not depend on intellectual conditions. Purely mental perplexity is no barrier against the soul in its enjoyment of the Divine love, for God does not wait for perfect orthodoxy before he will help and bless his children. But we have now to do with quite another kind of error. The error which cuts off from God's favour is moral; it springs from a perversion of heart. For this we are to blame, and therefore the loss it entails is justly deserved. The loss of God's favour is seen throughout, both in the origin and in the results of the error.

1. In its origin. The startling thought of Job is that it is God who has hidden the heart from understanding. The blindness is judicial, a result of God's action. This nay look like attributing moral evil to God. If Job in his terrible darkness meant anything of the kind, of course we know that he must have been in error.

2. In its results. All error is dangerous, and moral error is fatal. God pities the bewildered doubter; he is angry with the perverse and wilful thinker, who goes wrong in thought because his heart is wrong. Such a man cannot prosper under the favour of God.—W.F.A.

Job 17:7

The eye that is made dim by sorrow.

Job has just been saying that God bad hidden the heart of his tormentors from understanding (verse 4). Now he sadly observes that sorrow has dimmed his own eye. It is not easy to see clearly through a veil of tears. Excessive weeping induces blindness. The sad soul sits in darkness.

I. SORROW PREVENTS US FROM SEEING ALL THE TRUTH. It limits the range of vision even when it does not drive us down to the darkness of despair.

1. It is an emotion, and as such it absorbs our consciousness with internal feeling, and therefore does not permit it to look out in external observation. All subjectivity is unobservant.

2. It is a depressing influence. It tends to lower our vitality. It will scarcely let us lift up our eyes to see even when we have the power of vision. Poor Hagar was too broken-hearted to notice the well which was to restore life to her child. Thus in great grief the soul cannot see the Divine purpose, nor the love that is above all. Black clouds hide the heavens. A rain of tears blots out the earthly landscape. To the sorrowful eye there are no flowers in spring.

II. SORROW SHOULD LEAD US TO EXERCISE FAITH. What if the eye be dim? We are not dependent on sight. Our part is to walk by faith. Too clear a landscape excludes the sense of mystery, and absorbs our attention in connection with things earthly and visible. It is well to feel our littleness, our darkness, our limitation. Then our sorrow really enlarges our lives, by leading us to look at the things which are not seen, but which are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

III. SORROW MAY OPEN OUR EYES TO NEW TRUTHS. The tears which blind us may also purge our vision. Shutting out the familiar sight of common scenes, they may open to us a new sight of heavenly truths. There have been revelations in sorrow. Jacob saw heaven opened when he was a fugitive for his life; Joseph interpreted dreams in prison, and Daniel in exile; Moses saw the burning bush in the wilderness; John beheld his great apocalypse when he was banished to Parinos. Poets learn in sorrow what they teach in song.

IV. IT IS CRUEL TO BE HARSH WITH THOSE WHOSE BLINDNESS COMES FROM SORROW. We must learn to distinguish this blindness from the lack of understanding which springs from a perverse heart, like that of the three friends (verse 4). Sinful and reckless scepticism deserves a severe rebuke. But this is very different from the doubt which is born of sorrow. In the hour of deepest grief it may be that all the heavens seem blurred and confused. The old landmarks are washed away in the deluge. We cannot see God, and his love is lost sight of. Even Christ in his bitter agony exclaimed, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

V. ULTIMATELY GOD WILL GIVE CLEAR VISION TO THE SORROW-BLINDED EYE. When he wipes away the tears he will restore the sight. The burden of the mystery will not be borne for ever. We have only to walk for a season in the darkness. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalms 30:5). Then the very background of old troubles will throw up the new joys with the more intense splendour, and the previous blindness will make the new vision the more vivid and gladsome.—W.F.A.

Job 17:9

Holding on and growing stronger.

This is a cheering thought breaking out of Job's doleful despair Job is rising from pessimism to hope and confidence. He gives us a double picture—the righteous holding on his way, the man with clean hands growing stronger and stronger.

I. HOLDING ON. We see the righteous man quietly going forward, not turned aside by any obstacle, not cast down by any opposition, nor rushing madly forward, but not hanging back in fear, weariness, or indolence—like Goethe's star, "unhasting and unresting."

1. Pursuing a continuous coarse. The righteous man has a way, and it is to this that he holds on. We must have a purpose if our life is not to be broken and become a failure.

2. Keeping to the course. The idea is that of holding on to the one right course. Here is persistency and perseverance. The way being right must not be forsaken on account of any difficulties.

3. Overcoming opposition. There may be no brilliant victory. But the righteous man succeeds in holding on his way. That is enough. That secures his success. The constantly flowing stream cuts through the granite cliff and scoops a huge valley out of the mountain-side. Patient perseverance wins in the end.

4. Walking in a right character. It is the righteous man of whom Job makes the glad assertion. The bad man may hold on for a time, when he does not meet with serious opposition; but he is not upheld by principle, and he is doomed to a final overthrow; for though his mad is broad and popular, it leads to destruction. Only a true moral and spiritual character has strength to hold on continuously when severely tried; only this character will be blessed by being allowed by God to go on to victory. Time is the great test of character. Weak and unworthy people may do brilliant things, and achieve temporary triumphs. It is the character of true worth that is" faithful unto death," and that holds on to the end. Many vessels that leave the port make shipwreck on their course; only those that are sound and well steered reach their desired haven.

II. GROWING STRONGER. The second thought is more emphatic. The progress is of the best kind.

1. With increase. The Christian course is more than a race; it is an ascent; it is a growth. God's servant is not set to a treadmill. His walk is not a weary round. There is no monotony in the true Christian life. As he endures, so he is enlarged and enriched.

2. In strength. This is the special kind of increase to which Job refers. No doubt he was already beginning to feel it. He had lost wealth, but he had gained strength. Already the blows of adversity had begun to weld together tough fibres in his soul. He was stronger now than when all men bowed to him as the most powerful emir of the East. Here is the fruit of the victory won by overcoming opposition. Battle strengthens the hero. Climbing the "Hill Difficulty" develops the Pilgrim's muscles. Now, God looks for energy in his servants. It is not enough that he shelters them in trouble. He gives them strength with which to hear it. "To them that have no might he increaseth strength" (Isaiah 40:29).

3. On condition of purity. The strength is for the man with clean hands. Sin enervates. Innocence is strong. The sinner may recover strength when his sin is forgiven and his heart purged. Therefore our business is to resist sin and cultivate purity of life; then God will give ever-increasing strength.—W.F.A.

Job 17:11

Broken purposes.

Job seems to be sinking back into despair after the hopeful and confident utterance of verse 9. Perhaps the explanation of the situation lies in the difficulty the patriarch experiences in squaring the convictions of his rising faith with the actual condition in which he now lies. He wonders how his innocence can be vindicated, how he can bold on and increase in strength, although he is now persuaded that God will help him ultimately to do so. Meanwhile all his purposes are broken. Let us notice three kinds of broken purposes

I. BAD PURPOSES. Surely these should be broken. It is absurd to suppose that because an evil design has been conceived in the dark recesses of the imagination it must be effected. Bad purposes may be frustrated.

1. Broken by God. He knows the thoughts of men's hearts, and can "frustrate their knavish tricks." What we call accidents are providential events; and how often has the purpose of sin been checked by these events! The destroying angel mows down the Assyrian host (2 Chronicles 32:21), A storm scatters the Armada. "Gunpowder treason" is discovered just before the meeting of Parliament.

2. Broken by their authors. The repentant sinner can stay his hand from further wickedness. He need feel under no obligation to fulfil his vows of evil. Indeed, there is no true repentance without the breaking off of bad purposes. Let us be thankful if all our bad purposes are not executed.

II. GOOD PURPOSES. These also may be broken.

1. By adverse events. God will not frustrate a really good design. But we may find it impossible to accomplish the best of purposes. God purposed the salvation of the world, yet how far is his good purpose even from fulfilment! We know that he must triumph finally. But in the mean time the spirit of evil hinders. Job's purposes were broken by Satan. God's purposes are not only hindered by Satan; they are checked by the free will of men who are reluctant to acknowledge them.

2. By their authors. Good resolutions have paved a large place. How many of the plans of youth have been carried out in manhood? and how many of them have melted away as idle dreams? How far have the purposes of the Christian life been adhered to? Has the old sin been avoided, as we vowed it should be? Have we served God with singleness of heart? Have we denied ourselves and followed Christ, as we dreamed of doing when we first gave him our hearts? Have we lived unselfishly and in charity towards our neighbours? Do not such questions rouse a sickening sense of failure? Verily we have broken our good purposes most miserably.

III. MISTAKES PURPOSES. These are of an intermediate character. Good in intention, they would not have turned out well if we had been permitted to execute them. Therefore God has frustrated them. Some of these are quite excellent, only they are altogether beyond our reach. The brave lifeboat crew tries to save the shipwrecked sailors, but, alas! the sea runs too high to permit them to approach, and their purpose is broken. Some whole lives seem to be failures simply because their owners have mistaken their vocation. The man who is a failure as a barrister might have become an excellent farmer; he has chosen an unsuitable sphere. We wish to do good. Then let us pray for light lest we blunder into mischief-making in the very effort to help our neighbours.—W.F.A.

Job 17:15

The lost hope.

Not only are Job's purposes broken off. His hope is lost. At all events, it seems to be melting away, so that all chance of seeing its accomplishment appears to have gone.

I. A VAIN HOPE MUST BE LOST. The reality will not depend on s man's sanguine temperament, but upon its own causes. It is possible for a person to persuade himself into a condition of blissful confidence concerning his future, but the self-persuasion will not alter facts; and if he is drifting towards the rocks they will shatter him as surely as if he went in terror of their fatal neighbourhood. Note, then, some of he vain hopes that must perish.

1. The hope of success in cheating God. Some men live as hypocrites not merely to secure the favour of their fellows, but in the foolish fancy that by some jugglery they may even wriggle into the favour of Heaven. Such a hope must fail.

2. The hope of succeeding without God. This is not outrageously impudent like the hope last referred to. But it cannot succeed, for no man is sufficient of himself to overcome all the difficulties of life.

3. The hope of worldly sufficiency. It is thought that if Providence is kind, and a man has much laid by for days to come, he may look forward with confidence. This is the hope of the rich fool (Luke 12:20), and the unexpected changes of life, or death at last, must shatter it,

II. A TRUE HOPE MAY BE LOST.

1. The Christian hope. This is a true hope.

2. The possibility of losing it. This must be considered in spite of the absolute security of the hope itself; for the hope may be good, and yet we may cease to hold it. The anchor may be sound, but the chain that unites it to the ship may be cut.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 17:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/job-17.html. 1897.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology