Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
animus against Job is fiercely unjust.
I. CENSURE OF JOB: INTRODUCTION OF THE THEME. (Vers. 1-5.) "Therefore my thoughts reply to me, and hence comes the storm of my bosom. Must I hear correction that insults me? But my spirit out of my understanding gives me an answer" - namely, of warning and chastisement to Job as a godless man (vers. 1-3). Zophar then gives these suggestions of his spirit in the form of a question directed to Job: "Knowest thou this from eternity, since man was placed on the earth, that the triumph of the wicked endures but a short time, and the joy of the reprobate but a moment?" He is astonished that Job, as appears from his speeches, is unacquainted with this well-worn and familiar truth of experience (vers. 4, 5).
II. DEVELOPMENT OF THE THEME. (Vers. 6-29.)
1. "Though his glory mounts,, to heaven, and his head reaches to the clouds (comp. Isaiah 14:13, 14; Obadiah 1:4), like his dung he perishes for ever; they that saw him say, Where is he?" The coarsest and most contemptuous comparison seems to be purposely selected (ver. 7). The next is that of the fugitive dream (ver. 8; comp. Isaiah 29:7; Psalm 73:20; Psalm 90:5). Dreams and visions of the night! emptiest things! appearing to be something while they last, but leaving no trace behind when the sleeper wakes. The eye that has seen him shall see him no more; and the place where he seemed to move, a solid person of flesh and blood, beholds that figure no longer (nor. 9). The curse descends to his children; they are reduced to court the favour of humble folk, and they have to give up to their father's creditors his ill-gotten wealth (ver. 10). How often, though not without exception, do we see this to be the rule of life - the beggary or the wealth of children is rooted in the wickedness or goodness of the parents (Exodus 20:5; Psalm 37:25)! Let him who would see his children happy beware of sin. "His bones were full of youthful strength, and with him it lies in the bed of dust" (ver. 11).
2. The inconstant prosperity of the wicked under the figure of sweet food but deadly poison. (Vers. 12-16.) "Though evil tastes sweet in his mouth, he hides it under his tongue," rolling it as a delicious morsel, he sparingly fosters it, and lets it not go, and keeps it back on his palate" (in five synonymous phrases the idea of the dwelling and gloating over the sweet morsel of sin is set forth, vers. 12, 13); "yet his food is changed in his bowels - vipers' poison is in his interior (ver. 14). The riches he has swallowed God expels from his paunch. The drastic language betrays the energy and violence of Zophar's feelings (ver. 15). Then, recurring to the figure of ver. 14, "the tongue of adders slays him"(Psalm 140:3), the deadly bite replacing in the description the deadly draught (ver. 16; Proverbs 23:32). So God turns men's "pleasant vices" into whips and scourges for their backs ('King Lear'). The sweet Dead Sea fruits that tempt the taste turn to ashes on the lips. Sinful pleasure turns to pain, It begins with sweetness, like sugar, but afterwards bites like a serpent (Proverbs 20:17; Sirach 21:2, et seq.).
3. (Vers. 17-22.) "He may not see his pleasure in brooks, streams, floods of honey and cream" (ver. 17). These are well-known biblical figures for luxury and fulness of prosperity (Exodus 3:8, 17). And where the classic poets describe the golden age these figures occur: "streams of milk, streams of nectar flowed" (Ovid, 'Metam.,' 1:111, sqq.; Theocr., 'Id.,' 5:124, sqq.; Virg., 'Eel.,' 4:30; Her., 'Epod.,' 16:47). "He gives back what he has gained, and enjoys it not; accord ing to the property of his barter he is not merry;" that is, in proportion as he employed unjust means of exchange, to obtain temporal goods and enjoyment, he does not rejoice in them, he must go without the mirth that he promised himself from them (ver. 18). "For he crushed, and caused the lowly to he down." With what tender regard does biblical morality and law treat the poor and defenceless! what indignation does it testify against the oppressor! "He snatched houses for himself, and built them not." The meaning perhaps is, he built them not anew, did not succeed in rebuilding them according to his taste, because he could not possess them for a permanence (ver. 19). "For he knew no rest in his belly." "The way of peace" (Isaiah 59:8) is not for restless greed and selfish hardness to others' sufferings to tread. "Therefore he will not escape with that which is dearest to him" (ver. 20). "Nothing escaped his greed, therefore his possessions shall not continue" (ver. 21). "In the fulness of his super fluity he comes into straits; every hand of the wretched comes upon him" (ver. 22). The clamours of those whom he has wronged, the cries of the widows, the orphans, the poor, make a din in the ears of the bad man; their hands stretch forth to seize the goods of which he has defrauded them. It is a striking picture of retribution. Perhalps the most salient point in this description is that of the insatiableness of greed. "The dire dropsy increases by self-indulgence, nor expels the thirst, unless the cause of disease flees from the veins, and the watery languor from the pale body," says Horace, in a noble ode on the use and abuse of riches. "You shall more widely rule," he says, "by taming the greedy spirit, than could you join Libya to far-off Gades" ('Od.' 2:2). Riches cannot satisfy the soul, nor any earthly good, but only God (Ecclesiastes 1:8). The covetous temper finds as much want in what it has as in what it has not. No possessions, however great, can satisfy, us, until we have found the treasury of all good things in God. We are still little Alexanders, not content to rule over one world - grieved to hear there are no more (Brenz).
4. End of the wicked man in accordance with the Divine judgment. (Vers. 28-28.) "That it may serve for the filling of his belly, he causes his fiery wrath to fall upon him" (comp. Job 18:15). ion the figure of filling the belly, cf. ver. 20; Luke 15:16.) "And causes to rain upon him with his food;" that is, his food, the wages of his sin, is the just punishment from God (ver. 23). The description goes on to point out the means by which the wrathful judgment of Heaven is executed (ver. 24, sqq.).
(1) Warlike examples: pursuit and wounds. "He flees from the iron harness, the brazen bow pierces him" (Judges 5:26). He draws the arrow from his body (Judges 3:22), and the shining steel comes out of his gall; the terrors of death come upon him (ver. 25). Then
(2) some further descriptions of the Divine judgment, especially with reference to the property of the wicked. "All darkness is reserved for his treasures." His hoards are exposed to every casualty. He finds that he has been "treasuring up for himself - wrath!" (Romans 2:5). A fire that no human hands have kindled devours him, destroying the relies of former judgments (ver. 26). "The heavens disclose his guilt, and earth rises against him" (ver. 27). A striking contrast to Job 16:18, 19, where Job had appealed to heaven and earth as witnesses of his innocence. Thus denied and cast from both, the only place for the wicked is in Sheol, or Hades. The produce of his house must pass away, like wrecks floating down a flood, in the day of God's wrath (ver. 28). CONCLUSION. "Such is the lot of the wicked man from God, and the heritage allotted to him by God" (ver. 29). The witness of nature against the sinner - this is the most powerful concluding thought in this awe-striking address. Nature seems to be unconscious of men's guilt, as of their virtues. The leaves of the forest do not shudder, the bright blue sky is not overcast, the earth does not quake when deeds of crime are done. Yet that majestic order represented by heaven and earth - the order which finds its reflection in the conscience of man - cannot be violated with impunity. It will avenge itself in the end. And we see from time to time striking types and prophecies of this in the way by which crime is detected from the traces left on the face of nature, or by the clues afforded by natural law. The light of day reveals the deed of the night-time, and the earth gives up her dead. If all sins thus leave some record, what rest or peace could there be for the guilty conscience except in the gospel, which assures us that in Christ the sins of the penitent and believing are "covered," and that his blood cleanseth from all sin? - J.
I. HIS HONOR IS TEMPORARY. If he raise himself so that "his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever;" "he shall fly away as a dream," so short is his grasp of any position of honour.
II. HIS FAMILY PROSPERITY IS BUT BRIEF. The goods he has gained by his ungodliness "his hands shall restore," and his children crouch to appease the poor. Ill-gotten gain is held by uncertain hands. For a time the ungodly seems to prosper, but it is that he may be consumed out of his place.
III. HIS LIFE IS WASTED AND PASSETH AWAY. Even his youthful vigour fails him. it shall speedily "lie down with him in the dust." The practice of wickedness brings punishment on hint who offends. The tendency of wrong-doing is ever to prey upon the strength of the life.
IV. THE PLEASURES OF SIN TO HIM ABE BUT FOR A SEASON. Though he 'hide" wickedness "under his tongue," though it be "sweet in his mouth," yet shall it be turned to "the gall of asps within him."
V. THE POSSESSION OF RICHES IS PERMITTED ONLY FOR A BRIEF PERIOD. Though he swallow them down, "he shall vomit them up again." Nothing has permanence with him. Changes come over him from sources he cannot trace and certainly could not foresee. His toil is fruitless. "That which he laboured for shall he restore... he shall not rejoice therein." Wickedness eats into the strength and joy of life. It exposes life to innumerable evils and robs it of its chief good. The wicked man has no pledge of permanent blessing. "He shall not save of that which he desired." Truly "the triumphing of the wicked is short." - R.G.
I. THERE IS A TRIUMPHING OF THE WICKED.
1. This is seen in experience. Even Zophar, who finds it not exactly in accordance with his ideas of providence, still cannot but admit that it exists. A swindler fattens on the spoils of the robbery of widows and orphans. A Napoleon dominates Europe.
2. It is important to recognize the fact. We must make our theories accord with our experience and observation of the world. It is useless to comfort ourselves in the seclusion of our private meditation with an easy optimism, if this will not fit in with the events of everyday life. If we are not prepared to expect the triumph of the wicked, the sight of it will strike us with a shock of dismay.
3. The triumphing of the wicked does present a difficulty. It is contrary to our notion of justice. No doubt the narrow, conventional notion of the three friends was founded on a genuine sense of right and fitness. If there is to be no future judgment, and if this temporal state is typical of the whole course of life, here is an instance of gross injustice. We must therefore face it, and inquire what it means.
II. THIS TRIUMPH IS SHORT. Zophar's explanation is that the triumph will soon pass away, and will give place to overthrow and ruin.
1. This is seen on earth. As a rule, the swindler does not die rich. He usually outlives his gains. Great wickedness generally disappoints its owner. Napoleon finishing his career as an exile at St. Helena is typical of the most frequent end of a very bad course. But this is by no means a universal principle. The whole of a bad man's life may be externally prosperous, right on to death.
2. This will be seen after death. We must extend our contemplation of the course of the wicked man. He dies, leaving wealth, pleasure, power, triumph, behind him. None of these can accompany him through the dark doors of death. He has laid up no treasures in the unseen world. There he is certainly beggared, and he has good ground for expecting the infliction of wellmented punishment. His short earthly life, but a moment when compared to eternity, is over, and with it all his triumphing has ceased.
III. THE SHORT TRIUMPH OF THE WICKED IS FALLACIOUS.
1. It is fallacious because its brevity is hidden. The foolish man who glories in it does not see how swiftly it is slipping away from him. A triumph which must soon give place to shame is not worth much to its owner.
2. It is fallacious because it gives no solid satisfaction. The wicked glee of triumphing in sin is quite superficial. Often its very excitement is only a result of restless discordant passions. It wears a bold front, but it covers a weary spirit. If there is a spark of conscience left there must be a haunting fear - like the mummy at the Egyptian feast - that spoils the pleasure.
IV. THE ONLY ENDURING TRIUMPH IS THAT WHICH FOLLOWS A TRULY CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. This is solid. It begins with victory over sin and self, our greatest enemies.
2. It is assured. It is brought about by the work of Christ; it is just sharing in his victory; and Christ must triumph.
3. It is eternal. On earth there may be shame and humiliation, but in heaven Christians are called to the joy of victory - to be "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37). - W.F.A.
I. THE SWEET TASTE OF SIN. How can we account for the tact that if sin is essentially an evil thing it should ever be attractive to us? Surely its natural hatefulness should make it repulsive. If it is hideous in the sight of God, by what witchery can it be made to appear fascinating to our eyes?
1. It appeals to our lower desires. It makes its first appeal to nature. There was no evil at first in Adam and Eve, and yet sin was made attractive to them. Christ could not have been tempted unless sin had been made to wear a fair mask in his presence. The bodily appetites and the self-seeking desires are natural and innocent in themselves. But they should be kept under by our higher nature. If, however, the tempter appeals to them directly, he appeals to the prospect of natural pleasure.
2. It is aided by our selfish nature. We are all fallen creatures. If the fall has not taken the form of sensuality, it has certainly been accomplished in selfishness. Now sin appeals to our selfish nature, and promises personal gratification at the expense of righteousness.
3. It is intensified by corrupted desires. Sin perverts the natural appetites and corrupts the most innocent desires. The wicked thing which is first sought because of some promised result comes to be loved on its own account. As the miser loves his money, so the sinner loves his sin - first for what it can purchase, then on its own account. He is like a hypnotized person, to whom gall tastes like sugar, because he is deluded into believing evil to be his good.
II. THE BITTER AFTER-TASTE OF SIN. Zophar rightly enlarges upon this subject. We do not need any amplification of the delights of sin. The very presentation of them to the imagination is degrading. The soul is soiled by contemplating them. We are quite ready to admit their strength. But it is not so easy to imagine vividly and to keep well in view the dreadful after-results. They are remote, unattractive, uncongenial. Therefore we need to be forced to see the results of sin in detail. Zophar narrates them with graphic ragout. Let us, then, consider the disagreeable details of the bitter after-taste.
1. It is pain within. The morsel is sweet in the mouth, and it is hidden under the tongue to keep it safe and to prolong the delicious enjoyment of it; yet when it is swallowed it becomes like the gall of asps. The recollection of past sin is a pain of conscience. Its very delights are turned to bitterness in the after-thought. Just in proportion to their tempting fascination before the deed is their repulsiveness after it has been committed. The foolish victim of temptation looks back on his orgies with disgust. He loathes himself, he grovels in humiliation. How could he have been such a fool as to sink to this shame and degradation?
2. It results in the loss of future delights. The sinner is made to give up his fiches. He is denied "the brooks, the rivers, the torrents of honey and butter," which he was greedily looking forward to. The justice of God will not permit him to revel for ever in wickedness. By his indulgence in sinful pleasures he has destroyed the faculty of innocent joy. His debauch has turned the garden of innocent delights into a desert. For such a man there is no hope but in complete regeneration. Yet that is possible. Even he can be converted, and made a new creature in Christ Jesus. - W.F.A.
Matthew 23:14). St. James denounced it as not unknown among Christians (James 5:4).
I. THE SIN.
1. Its various forms. It is not always seen in the bare and open fashion of primitive times. The sheikh exacts more than is due from his tribe, the Eastern landowner grinds down his fellaheen, the baron enslaves and robs his serfs, and we denounce the manifest wrong. But is not the same evil to be seen in the more decorous injustice of modern Western civilization? The great body of working men is now emancipated from the tyranny of past ages, and is able to assert itself and claim its rights. But below this powerful class is a mass of unskilled workers, the helpless men and women who crowd the lower quarters of great cities - the really poor. When advantage is taken of the poverty of these miserable people to grind them down, they are being robbed. With us the sweating system takes the place of the old territorial oppression.
2. Its invariable wickedness. Is the modern commercial oppression one whit less guilty than the old lordly tyranny? The evil is more disguised with us; it is more difficult to bring it home to its authors; our complicated civilization hushes it up - yet the cruelty and wickedness are as real as ever.
II. THE PUNISHMENT. The writers of the Bible who denounced the sin of oppressing the poor continually threatened punishment to the guilty oppressors.
1. Direct loss. Zophar contemplates the actual loss of ill-gotten gains. This may happen in the present life. It will certainly occur at death. The oppressor can take none of the profits of his cruelty out of the world with him.
2. Disappointment. In the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits. Even without the loss of property difficulties will arise. The rich man may be murdered in his palace. Most oppressors live in fear. Trouble of mind mingles like gall in the sweetest cup of pleasures got by cruelty.
III. THE CURE. Punishment is not cure. The fear of it may act as somewhat of a check. But we must go deeper for "the root of the matter" if we would cure it. Now undoubtedly in this case the root is not hard to find, for it is simply unmitigated selfishness. Therefore until men can be taught to substitute brotherliness for selfishness, oppression of the poor must continue. No social revolution, no legal enactment, no forcible change, can eradicate the evil. We must go for the cure of social evils to Christ. He is concerned with society as well as with the individual, and there is no hope for society until he is recognized as its Saviour and its Lord. Christianity instils brotherliness. No man can be a Christian who is destitute of this grace. Oppression of the poor belies the most sanctimonious profession of religion. We want to get back to the religion, of Christ, which made more of brotherliness than even of faith; the religion of St. Paul and St. John, which taught that love is the greatest thing in the world. - W.F.A.
I. HE FINDS NO HELP IN MAN. "Every hand of the wicked shall come upon him." Even they of his own way of thinking disappoint him. They turn upon him. An ungodly man can have no true confidence in his ungodly associates. Evil in them enables them to detect evil in him. The spirit which they know within themselves to be wrong and untrustworthy, unkind and evil-plotting, they know w be the same in him.
II. HE FINDS NO HELP IN GOD. "When he is about to fill his belly, God shall cast the fury of his wrath upon him." The wicked, so long as he continues wicked, has nothing to hope for from God. It was the joyful boast of one assailed on every hand, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" So if God be "against" a man, of what avail is it that any are "for" him? God is the best of friends, the most mighty of enemies. Not that in the Divine heart are any sentiments of enmity against the children of men, but men turn blessings into curses by the way they use them- So men make an enemy of their best Friend.
III. HE FINDS NO HELP IN CIRCUMSTANCES. The iron weapon which he might have grasped he shall flee from; and the bow of steel which he might have drawn shall strike him through. "Terrors" seize him, "darkness" hides in his secret places, "a fire not blown" consumes him. He is encompassed by foes. All things are against him. Though he prosper, yet "in the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits." "This is the portion of the wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed unto him by God" - R.G.
I. SUDDEN DISASTER. This had come upon Job. It looks as if the pragmatic Zophar was rude enough to insinuate that the picture he was painting would be recognized by the patriarch as a portrait of himself. Now, the external part of the picture was true to the circumstances of Job. Therefore the broad hint that the internal part also applied to him was the more cruel. Job's sufferings were extreme, but they were not contrary to precedent. Sudden disaster is not unknown. The rich man is beggared by an unexpected commercial collapse. An epidemic or a storm at sea suddenly bereaves a father of his whole family. Death snatches the prosperous person away at the height of his success.
1. This is not expected. Although it is not uncommon, people are generally unprepared for it; and when it comes they are astounded and dismayed. We are deceived by present appearances. It is difficult to believe in the overthrow of that which gives no sign of being in danger.
2. This is crushing. The pain of a fall is determined by the height from which one descends as much as By the depth that is reach, d. The troubles of those who were once prosperous are far worse to bear than the troubles of people who do not know what earthly happiness means.
3. This should teach us to look beyond the present.
(1) In preparation for possible disaster. We should not, however, be always brooding over the possibility. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Still, we should be fortified against it.
(2) In the possession of better than earthly things. We can endure the shocks that strike our earthly tabernacle, if we have "a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1).
II. INTERNAL POVERTY. The ruin may take another form. There may be no such external and visible calamities as those that came upon Job. The normal coupe of events may be unbroken, the material prosperity may be unaffected. Yet there may be distress and misery. Then the soul is straitened although the fulness of earthly sufficiency is not touched.
1. This comes from our spiritual nature. The body has been fed, but the soul has been starved; therefore the soul is straitened. There are times when we perceive deeper needs than any earthly bread can satisfy; "for man shall not live by bread alone," etc. (Matthew 4:4).
2. This is felt in the awakening of conscience. A voice within calls us to a service for which our earthly sufficiency affords no rapport. On the contrary, the wealth of external things seems a sort of hindrance, distracting our thoughts and absorbing our care when we should be turning to more spiritual affairs. The spiritual nature, once aroused, feels cramped and oppressed by the very fulness of earthly sufficiency.
3. This should drive us to the wells of living water. We are tempted to neglect those sources of spiritual life when the streams of earthly blessings flow in fulness. Yet nothing but the water of life can nourish the soul. Without this we are thirsty still. We are straitened that we may turn to Christ for the water which he gives, and for his bread of life. - W.F.A.
IV. SEVERE. - R.G.
I. IT IS HIDDEN. Otherwise, of course, it would not need to be revealed. How is it hidden?
1. By secrecy. The sin is not committed in the light of day and before the eyes of a crowd. The wicked deed is done in the dark.
2. By circumstances. Events are such that the evil does not come out to the light. Snow falls and conceals the footprints of the thief.
3. By falsehood. Charged with his crime, the sinner denies it. For a while his lie is accepted, if there is no proof against him.
4. By negligence. It is not the business of everybody to be an amateur detective. The world lets much wickedness pass from sheer indifference.
II. IT WILL BE REVEALED.
1. Certainly in the future judgment. Then the secrets of all hearts shall be made known. God knows the wickedness that is hidden from man, for nothing can be concealed from his all-searching gaze. We are not only to expect that God will then punish sin. Further than this, there will be a general unveiling of character. The hypocrite will be unmasked. Everybody will be seen in his true nature.
2. Possibly on earth. Even here Heaven may reveal the iniquity. A providential turn of events may bring it all to light. Without any handwriting on the wall or any trumpet-toned annunciation, the slow and awful unrolling of providence may make the ugly story known.
III. ITS REVELATION WILL BE FOLLOWED BY ITS PUNISHMENT. This follows naturally: no avenging angel needs to be sent from heaven. "The earth shaft rise up against him." It is as though the earth itself were horror-stricken at the sight of such enormity. She cannot bear the presence of the wicked man. Her silence would be like acquiescence, or even complicity, in his guilt. Nature itself works for the punishment of sin. The laws of nature are on the side of righteousness. They are God's laws, and all the laws of God are in harmony. All that is needed is sufficient time and scope, and the course of nature itself will produce the punishment. We see this already in regard to sins of the flesh, which bring disease, misery, death. It will take longer time, and the free opportunities of another world, to bring about the same result with all other sins.
IV. ITS EARLIER CONFESSION WILL PREVENT LATER REVELATION. An this dark and direful doom is not inevitable. We are warned of it in order that we may avoid it. There is no necessity for us to wait for the Divine unveiling of our sin. Though that is certain to come if we do wait long enough for it; we may yet anticipate it by confession. God does not desire to expose the most guilty man to shame and suffering. His great wish is to conquer sin in the heart of the sinner. If the wickedness is owned and repented of, that is what God most wishes, and greatly prefers to the punishment of the impenitent. Not only does love yearn to save the sinner, but righteousness also desires to cast out the sill, as a more effectual conquest of it than merely punishing it while it is still retained in the heart of a man. Still, the thought of the impending revelation of sin shows how necessary an unreserved and complete confession is, if the sinner is to be forgiven. This is the first condition of pardon. While we hold to our sin, God cannot set us free from it and its consequences. - W.F.A.