Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. CENSURE OF JOB'S DOUBTS. (Vers. 1-9.) In silence Job has listened to the reproof of his friend, and has apparently taken to heart the lesson that in justifiable self-defence we may carry our protests beyond the true boundary, and exaggerate our innocence while rejecting false imputations. Elihu therefore rises again, and proceeds with his second reproof. Job has represented God as a cruel, unjust persecutor of his innocence. He doubts then of the justice of the world-ruling dominion of God. To the refutation of this position the present discourse is directed. Elihu appeals to the common sense of men, to the unbiassed wisdom of experience. The ear has a power of trying words, the mind has a faculty of judgment and taste, analogous to that of the body, whereby we discriminate the false from the true, and the good from the evil, This, indeed, must be the last appeal in every controversy whether on Divine or human things. A written word, a positive revelation, is always open to diverse interpretations; and this makes it the more necessary to ascertain the broad dictates of conscience and of the common judgment, with which every true revelation agrees. The question now is - Does this common religious sense condemn the utterances and the attitude of Job or not? He has asserted, "I am innocent, and yet God has denied me justice, has taken away my right. In spite of the fact that right is on my side, I shall be a liar if I maintain it. The wound caused by the shaft of God's wrath is incurable." This, according to the speaker, was the effect of Job's language. He indignantly repels it. Borrowing an expression from Eliphaz (Job 15:16), he denounces Job as one who drinks scoffing like water; and by these blasphemies associates himself with the wicked. Job denies, according to the speaker, that there is any profit or use in piety - in living in friendship with God. He had never said this in so many words; but the sense of much that he had said resembled this (Job 9:22, 23; Job 21:7, 8; Job 24:1, sqq.). Such expressions seemed to deny the very foundation of religion. Job was turning against the light within. And though he had several times censured and half recalled his own words, the offence had nevertheless been repeated.
II. PROOFS OF THE DIVINE JUSTICE. (Vers. 10-30.)
1. From the creative goodness of God. (Vers. 10-15.) The point is to show that God is incapable of doing wrong, of perverting justice and right in his dealings with men; to show that he rewards men according to their works, gives them the proper fruit of their sowing, causes the life-path they choose to conduct to the happy or unhappy issue, according to the rightness of their choice or otherwise. He sets before them blessing and cursing; and the responsibility of the result is theirs alone. But how may we have the conviction that all this is so? The answer is by showing that the works of God exclude the thought of selfishness; and selfishness alone can explain the perversion of right. We cannot conceive of self-seeking in God. None entrusted to him the charge of the earth; none but he has founded the circle of the earth. As first and absolute Cause, all things am his; there is no division of power, profit, or glory. Ambition, greed, jealousy - every passion that tempts men to wrong their fellows - is shut out of the very idea of God. He is ever pouring forth out of the fulness of his life and blessedness upon his creatures - the very opposite action to that of selfishness, which draws as much as possible into itself of good, and parts with as little as possible. Only suppose for a moment that God were to become a self-absorbed Being, "directing his heart only to himself, taking in his spirit and breaths" instead of giving it forth, universal death must at once ensue; men must perish, returning to the dust. The very impossibility of such a supposition shows the impossibility of ascribing self-seeking and self-love to God. He is the Eternal Father; and as the pure parent's love has the least alloy of self in it of any earthly love, we are to take this as the type of the nature of God. These are sublime and inspiring thoughts. God cannot injure man, or do wrong, because he would thus injure himself and sully his own glory. No one can consciously betray or wrong himself. All that we call wrong-doing implies that man has his equals as free beings by his side, and disposes of the property of others. This is impossible with God, because all things belong to him, being the product of his loving activity, his self-giving fulness of life.
2. From the idea of God as the supreme Ruler. (Vers. 16-30.) As the Governor of the world, he cannot be unjust, because government can only be maintained by constant and equal righteousness, and must be destroyed by the lack of it. God is at once the Just and the Mighty, because he could not exercise the one quality without the other. Experience, the great teacher, shows this by the constant course of events.
III. CONCLUSION. THE FOLLY AND CONTRADICTORY NATURE OF JOB'S ACCUSATIONS AGAINST GOD. (Vers. 31-37.) A reluctant confession is introduced, as if uttered by Job: "I am chastised, without doing evil; what I see not, that do thou show me! If I do wrong, I wilt do so no more!" (vers. 31, 32.) He seems to say that he will repent provided only wrong be pointed out (comp. Job 7:20; Job 19:4). But, asks Elihu, shall God pass unpunished thy discontented complaint against his mode of retribution, and adopt a mode that is agreeable to thy mind? Are the laws of the Divine government to be dictated by individual wishes or notions of what is right? Is man to choose, and not God, the way in which he is to be rewarded or punished?. And say, then, what is the true retribution? Speak! But this direct appeal must convince the murmurer of his inability to suggest a better method of administering the world. God's ways may not be clear to us in many particulars; but we should recollect, as Bishop Butler teaches, that we See only "parts of a scheme imperfectly understood." Were all known, doubt and distress would cease. In conclusion, the speaker sums up his meaning in the words of the men of understanding to whose judgment he appeals, condemning the want of true insight in the words of Job, and expressing the hope that he may be further tried, because of his replies "in the manner of the reprobate," because he adds insult to sin, adopts the tone of the scoffer, and multiplies words against God. Whether this view of Job's state of mind be right or wrong, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation." Blessed he who can exclaim, amidst sufferings which he cannot but feel to he dissociated from guilt, "Search me, O God, and try me; prove me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." - J.
I. IT IS LEFT FOR MAN TO TEST TRUTH. There is no unmistakable oracle. In the multitude of voices we have to discover which is the cry of truth, which that of error. We know the voice of God, not because we are assured beforehand that it is he and he only who will speak to us, but because we detect the heavenly utterance in contrast with the many syren-songs that would fain allure us to destruction, detect it by its own tones, and not merely because of any authority that assures it to us. The Church may claim to guide us in this important quest; but the Church consists of human members, who have to use those faculties which God has given them, although no doubt the Church is aided with the presence of the Holy Spirit in her midst. So when individual men seek for truth, God's Spirit is for them a Light and Guide. Still, the search must be made; words must be tried and sifted.
1. This is a warning against credulity. Many voices claim our attention. Let us be careful that we are not deceived.
2. This is a stimulus to thought. We are not to be like the dull earth that gives growth to whatever seeds fall into it - ugly weeds as much as beautiful flowers, poisonous plants as well as fruitful crops. We have an independent capacity to sift and winnow, choose and reject. Therefore let us use our minds.
3. This is for the cultivation of our souls. The very effort of testing truth contributes to mental and spiritual growth. When we hold it after testing it, the truth is more real to us than if we had received it without an effort.
4. This should drive us to prayer. How shall we distinguish between the many specious voices? Our unaided faculties are likely to err. Therefore let us seek light from above, not to supersede our own powers, but to strengthen and illuminate them.
II. THE TEST OF TRUTH IS LIKE THE TASTE OF FOOD.
1. It is natural. God has given us a natural sense of taste by which to discriminate between what is wholesome and what is noxious in our food, and he has implanted in us a similar faculty of mental and spiritual discernment.
2. It should be trained. In some respects the natural appetite is not a safe guide. The child may delight in sweet but unwholesome delicacies. Some poisons are not distasteful. Therefore the mere perception of agreeableness is not sufficient. Some very pleasant because flattering ideas are very false and hurtful. What is "just to our taste" may be neither true nor good for us. To select favourite ideas is not to obtain certain truths. We have to train the truth-testing faculty to recognize sterling worth in what is not attractive, and to reject meretricious charms.
3. It may be corrupted. The appetite may be vitiated. An unhealthy liking for unwholesome food may be engendered by practice; good, wholesome food may seem disgusting to one who is in a bad state of health. Corrupt thoughts and feelings lead to a degeneration of the truth-testing faculty. Even the natural sense for truth is blunted. The needle ceases to point to the north. The chemical reagent is impure, and so it fails to act as a test. The false and impure soul chooses lies and rejects truth.
4. It needs correction. After all, the test of truth is not like a bodily sense. It is not immediate. It involves reflection. But, in order that the reflection may be true and sound, the whole spiritual nature needs to be pure and simple and healthy. It is dangerous to rely too much on our private faculty of testing truth. Our only safety is in keeping close to Christ, who is the Truth, and to Christ's Church. which he bade us "hear" (Matthew 18:17). - W.F.A.
I. IN HIS ABSOLUTE IMPARTIALITY TOWARDS MAN. "He accepteth not the person of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor." Truly there is no respect of persons with God. "The work of a man shall he render to him n (ver. 11), be it good or evil.
II. IN THE PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE DIVINE NAME is to be found the utmost pledge of justness. "Surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment" (ver. 12). "For he will not lay upon man more than right" (ver. 23). This is further illustrated -
III. IN THE SELF-IMPOSED GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. "Who hath given him a charge over the earth?" If he please he can "gather unto himself his spirit and his breath." Then would "all flesh perish together, and man would turn again to dust." He has no temptation to depart from right in his dealings with men, since all are entirely in his hand. But a further and striking evidence of the righteousness of the Divine ways is seen -
IV. IN THE JUDGMENT UPON THE UNGODLY, The evil ones "he striketh as wicked men in the open sight of others' (ver. 26). Elihu finds a further confirmation of this -
V. IN THE EFFECTUAL PURPOSES OF THE DIVINE BENIGNITY. "When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?" etc. (ver. 29). All this is done "that the hypocrite reign not." From all this he would lead Job to confession. "If I have done iniquity, I will do no more." So must the purpose of the righteous ways of God be to lead:
1. To consciousness of evil.
2. To confession of known wrong.
3. To amendment of life.
4. To patience under Divine afflictions.
This Elihu teaches, though he knows not yet the purpose of Job's suffering. - R.G.
I. THE GROUNDS OF FAITH IN THE CERTAIN JUSTICE OF GOD. Why can we thus dogmatically assert that God is perfectly just? Notice three grounds of assurance.
1. The essential character of God. We understand the very idea of God to involve justice. He would not be God if he ceased to be just. Now, his absolute justice is like his infinite power. There is no reason for limiting it. If either attribute exists at all, it is most natural to suppose that it exists in perfection. There is nothing to limit God. God is too great to be tempted to be unjust.
2. The revealed character of God. All through the Bible the justice of God is asserted and reasserted. Those men who knew God best affirmed most clearly that he was just.
3. The tried character of God. We know God in life. We may not be always able to assure ourselves of the justice of what God does while he is doing it. Then it may look dark and dreadful. But how often have we found, on looking back on the most gloomy tracts of life, that the clouds have passed, and the justice of God has been made clear as the noonday!
II. THE TRIAL OF FAITH IN THE CERTAIN JUSTICE OF GOD. To each individual man the fact of God's justice must be a matter to be taken on faith. That is to say, though there is good evidence for it, we cannot see how it obtains in our own personal circumstances. This is to be expected, however, and may be accounted for by various causes.
1. Partial views. We cannot see the whole pattern at which God is working, and therefore the crossing threads often seem to us confusing and wrongly placed.
2. Perverted ideas. We judge of God by our own standard. But that standard may have been warped. Then what is straight in God looks crooked to us, simply because our rule is crooked.
3. Trial of faith. There is a reason in God's providential government why he should permit us to be in the dark as to the meaning and purpose of some of his actions. He wishes to lead us to trust him. If we could see all, faith would have no scope, no exercise, and therefore no development. It would perish for want of use.
III. THE EXERCISE OF FAITH IN THE CERTAIN JUSTICE OF GOD.
1. In our own lives. Here we are called upon to walk by faith. When the way is hard and painful, let us call to mind the truth that God is doing well with us, though we cannot see how.
2. In history. Nations are led by the King of kings. Through strange revolutions he is bringing about his righteous will. If we could believe this, we should view the dark and threatening aspect of the world without dismay.
3. In nature. Here, too, God is acting for the good of the whole, and in justice to each. The fierce strife of nature looks cruel. But peace! God is just.
4. In redemption. Here God shows himself both a just God and a Saviour, upholding righteousness while he has pity on sinners. - W.F.A.
I. PEACE IS A BLESSING OF THE HIGHEST VALUE. There is a quietness of death; the defeated are stilled; lethargy and inertness are quiet. And there is no blessedness in these things. True peace is alive, watchful, full of power and faculty, yet calm. The peace which our souls crave is inward restfulness. This may be found with much external activity, with much life and thought within also, but without confusion or tumult. The activity is harmonious. It is possible for peace to coexist with many sorrows. Peace is deeper than pain. When it dwells within it gives a strength as well as a sense of satisfaction, so that suffering which otherwise would seem intolerable becomes quite bearable, though it can never cease to be distressful. The deepest desire is not for joy; it is (or satisfaction of some hunger of the soul- There is an unrest that torments. Even appetite craves peace - not so much the enjoyment that accompanies its satisfaction, as that satisfaction itself, i.e. the ultimate peace.
II. MAN FAILS TO FIND PEACE. Two opposite methods have been tried.
1. The satisfaction of desire. This is the way of the voluptuary; but it brings weariness and disgust, not peace. Many desires cannot be satisfied, and the vain effort to give them their ends is a cause of inward tumult. Even when one desire is satisfied, another springs up clamorous in its place. The capacity for desire is immeasurable, but the facilities for satisfaction are very limited. Hence an inevitable disappointment.
2. The suppression of desire. This is the ascetic method. It is less disappointing in some respects, but it is only possible for strong natures. Indeed, in its completeness it is not possible for any. Desires will arise unsought. But if all desires could be crushed, the result would be torpor, death. For we live by hope. Therefore the peace of mere suppression is but the peace of death, and no true peace.
III. GOD GIVES PEACE. The quietness of a strong and happy life is from him and from him alone. Yet it is not given as a direct boon irrespective of our condition. God gives peace through confidence. Christ said, "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me." Therefore we must trust in order to be at rest. Nevertheless, the peace is a Divine gift; it is more than the natural consequence of trusting. Something must be done to quell turbulent passions and to harmonize conflicting desires, and this is done by the influence of God's Spirit in the heart of man,
IV. THE PEACE OF GOD IS SECURE. "Who then can make trouble?" This is a solid peace.
1. Resting on a good foundation. Earthly peace is like an unstable equilibrium. It looks fair and inviting, yet it is overturned by the first touch of opposition. But the peace of God is stable; we can learn to put it to the test. It is not a mere mood of the soul; it is of a strong and vital character.
2. Protected from serious assaults When quietness of soul is given by God, it is also guarded by him. He shelters his haven of refuge. By providential watchfulness he keeps off what will destroy peace; by inward grace he fortifies the soul against disturbing influences. All this is experienced so long as the soul is trusting God, and therefore living in communion with him. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee." - W.F.A.
I. PRAYER. The whole passage is concerned with prayer, with what it is meet to say unto God. Affliction does not teach all men to pray; some only learn despair and hardness of heart. But the designs of affliction is to lead us to God. It makes us feel our helplessness; it reveals to us the action of an unseen hand, and so reminds us of the presence of God; it shows us that earthly things will not satisfy; it gives us an opportunity to use and enjoy the Divine blessing of that peace which the world can neither give nor take away.
II. PATIENCE. "I have borne chastisement." Here is a reflection gathered from the contemplation of experience. It is a thought that comes from a soul enriched by what it has passed through. We have to let "patience have her perfect work." A visitor to the Royal Hospital for Incurables is struck with the spirit of peace that pervades it. What is outwardly a palace of pain is found to be in fact a home of peace. The sufferers have been drilled by suffering into patience; into more than patience, indeed, for a cheerfulness is seen among the hopeless sufferers. Long endurance has brought forth wonderful fruits which we scarcely see among the happy and heedless.
III. HUMILITY. The prayer reveals in every clause a spirit of humility. Pride is broken down completely. Prosperity was self-contained and self-satisfied. Its favours were too much accepted as rights and even as rewards. But affliction has dispelled the illusion. It may be that the trouble is not the punishment of sin; but still it proves the weakness and littleness of man, and it makes him see that he has no claim on the good things that he had been enjoying.
IV. CONTRITION. All men who suffer greatly are not great sinners; often the best men suffer most. This is made clear to us by the Book of Job, and Elihu is not so blind to it as the three friends. Still, every man sins, and therefore every man needs to learn contrition. Now, the school of affliction is designed to lead. us into this wholesome condition. Without comparing one person with another, without venturing to charge our neighbours with sin because they suffer, without supposing that there is any proportion between the guilt of sin and the amount of suffering, we may yet, each for himself, search our own hearts and make confession of our own sins in the still hour of sorrow.
V. AMENDMENT. The sufferer is to seek for guidance for the future. Where he is wrong and does not see it, he prays that God may reveal his error to him. Then he will abandon the mistakes and sins of the past. He resolves not to do iniquity any more. It is not every sufferer who so acts. Purgatory does not always purge. But the good man will try to turn his affliction to advantage, not only by heart-searchings into the past, but also by earnest resolves to live better for the future. - W.F.A.
I. THE LIMITS THAT RESULT FROM OUR OWN IMPERFECTION.
1. Ignorance. The best judge cannot decide aright till all the facts are laid before him. We know but a few of the circumstances that determine the action of Providence; and we do not know the laws and principles that have to be applied.
2. Prejudice. We are not impartial judges; our justice is not blindfold; our scales are not even. Pride, self-interest, and passion blind our eyes and warp our judgment.
3. Sin. This is worse than prejudice; it is a directly deceiving influence. It leads us to ignore moral distinctions, and even to call evil good. We are unjust judges concerning truth when we are the enemies of the highest truth and justice.
4. Natural weakness. Apart from all these defective conditions, there are natural conditions that limit our powers of judgment. With all possible enlightenment and moral rectification we should still remain human, i.e. we should still be creatures of very small capacity in regard to the great problems of the universe. These problems are too high for us; we cannot attain unto them. They baffle thought.
II. THE LIMITS THAT RESULT FROM THE GREATNESS OF GOD. Our imperfection limits us in judging all questions; but more especially does it limit us in estimating the action of God. The special idea of Elihu is that we cannot judge of God's providential dealings with us. The three friends were wrong in their defence of it - as Job said, "speaking wickedly for God; ' and Job was wrong in thinking hardly of it. For neither party was in a position to decide about it. We cannot choose our own course in the world wisely, much less can we decide how God shall act. The greatness of God and of his works far exceeds the range of our view.
1. Supreme wisdom. Ideas quite above our comprehension rule in the purposes of God.
2. Large designs. God is not confined to the consideration of a single individual or a little circle; he administers a universe. Therefore his schemes and purposes must far exceed our view in the extent of their range as well as in the character of their aim.
3. Perfect goodness. God must decide aright, for in him is no evil. His holiness and love should make us feel that we dare not sit in judgment on his actions. If they are dark to us, they are so from excess of light. - W.F.A.
I. THERE IS AN END OF TRIAL. As we look down the long vista of troubles we can see no terminus; it seems to run on for ever into the darkness. But whatever may be the appearance, the reality is not everlasting. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Never was night more long. Its slow hours drag on wearily; yet they must pass, and day must come in God's good time. The long life of trouble will end at last in the peace of the grave. But many earthly troubles pass like stormy noons, and there is "light at eventide."
II. A GOOD USE OF TRIAL MAY HASTEN THE END OF IT. So long as we fret against it God may find it necessary to keep it with us. If we are slow in learning our lesson we must be kept long at school. But when the lesson is learnt the school may be broken up.
III. THE COMPLETION OF TRIAL IS SEEN IN ITS FRUITS The fire has not done its work if the dross has not been separated from the metal. Only when the crucible shows the required chemical change is the test complete. Therefore we should be watching for results. Great troubles are wasted on men who will not submit to them, so that they may bear their de. signed fruits in patience, humility, contrition, amendment, etc.
IV. WE CANNOT JUDGE OF TRIAL TILL WE HAVE SEEN THE END OF IT. We have to read to the end of the story of Job before we can discover for what he is being led through the deep waters. The rounded life shows the place and purpose of its several episodes, but those episodes by themselves look fragmentary and meaningless. Therefore we have to "wait for the end." When this arrives many a riddle will be solved, many a hard experience will be explained, many a black cloud will be glorified into golden splendour.
V. GOD MAY DISPENSE WITH THE NATURAL COMPLETION OF TRIAL. Trouble is not like a tunnel, from which there is no exit except at its ends. It is a burden which may be lifted whenever God sees fit. The object of trial may be obtained by other means, and it is possible that gentler methods may bring about the same results. Thus God leads to repentance by his goodness as well as by purgatorial afflictions. Therefore we should not live as though some iron fate held us to a certain amount of trial. God is a living Spirit and a loving Father; and he will nut permit his children to suffer, when peaceable methods of discipline will do the desired work for them. Our part is to take patiently what God sends, and to use it profitably, trusting God to cut short the trouble or lengthen it as he sees best. - W.F.A.