The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Wherefore, Job, I pray thee, hear my speeches, and hearken to all my words.The Speech of Elihu.
The introduction has quite excited our expectation. We have admired the young man's fresh voice; he seems to have come down from the highlands, and brought all the fresh wind of heaven with him. He begins modestly and yet ambitiously. The modesty of Elihu was of a peculiar quality, thoroughly genuine and simple, yet round about it there is an atmosphere of conscious power. He boldly says that he will do what the other men have failed to do, though they were rich in days, and complete as to experience. After such an introduction as Elihu has made, we can hardly be content with less than a revelation. A man should not be large in his introduction; he should there be quite small: the kingdom of heaven itself is like unto a grain of mustard seed. What can Elihu say after his exordium? He has promised us thunder and lightning, summer glory and beauty, an opening of secrets, and a comforting of disconsolate hearts; he has come out, as it were, from the very sanctuary of God, with an odour of heaven round about him: what can we do but sit down at this young teacher's feet, and hear what he has to say?
Not only are the three men ordered off with a great deal of well-controlled egotism, but Job himself is called to be upon his good behaviour:—
"Wherefore, Job, I pray thee, hear my speeches, and hearken to all my words. Behold, now I have opened my mouth, my tongue hath spoken in my mouth. My words shall be of the uprightness of my heart: and my lips shall utter knowledge clearly. The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life. If thou canst answer me, set thy words in order before me, stand up. Behold, I am according to thy wish in God's stead: I also am formed out of the clay. Behold, my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee" (Job 33:1-7).
What less than a revelation can come after this introduction? Have not many young teachers ruined themselves by their promises? If they had said less, and done more, had it not been better with them? Had not their fortune been sunnier and their latter end more comfortable? How many have risen up to teach the Church to pull down her bulwarks and fortresses? How many have sprung up, saying to old preachers, Cease your prating: we have the right word; we have brought medicine with us for the healing of the world's sore: stand back, and let young genius have its opportunity! Elihu has introduced himself thus, and yet when he comes to deal with the great question which was before the minds of the four men, what has he to say? He has run so splendidly before coming to the wall he had to leap over, that he stands before it on this side. He has run himself out of breath. Rhetorically he was wrong; philosophically he has proved himself to be absurd. He repeats the old things as if he had discovered them. Some men have a wonderfully self-deceiving imagination: they hear things, and then suppose that they have invented them; they acquaint themselves with the greatest thinking of the Church, and then retail the teachings as if they were originalities. If Elihu has uttered one solitary original observation, we shall not fail to discover it He must be original before we give him credit for novelty.
It is plain from all that has taken place in these eloquent colloquies that preaching abstract doctrines, however true, is useless. We must leave the abstract and come to the concrete, the personal, the living, the real; we must find the value of the sermon in its application. We have a right to say to teachers—What does your lesson amount to? When it is all told, what is it? A stroke delivered upon the life of the enemy, a medicament applied to the wound of the suffering, a light held above the path of the perplexed. What is it? It must be more than words, for you have hindered us by your speeches; if you have nothing for us but mere eloquence, we must resent the introduction as an affront and as a moral disgrace. Men speak of God's righteousness, and of man's depravity, and all that is said sounds most tuneful and harmonious; the lines may be scanned as if they were poetry, all the sentences come and go with sweet rhythm: but what is there in them for our human need, for this bitter and tormenting distress? Even truth may be so preached as to charge God foolishly. The very attributes of God may be so presented as to drive men away from him. The listening man must insist that, not only shall there be a great doctrine in words proclaimed, but it shall come down to his poverty and wound and distress and darkness, and do something for him; otherwise it is wasted omnipotence, almightiness playing at thunderstorms in the startled air,—not a great strong arm brought down to this day's battle and to the help of this day's tremendous struggle. That abstract truth may be proclaimed, and yet leave nothing behind it that is of the nature of strength and solace, must be evident if we consider that these men, now joined by Elihu, have insisted that all men are wrong, and therefore Job ought to accept his lot with equanimity, if not with thankfulness. But observe how pointless is this remark as it relates to Job. It is perfectly true that all men have done wrong, but all men do not suffer as Job suffered. It was open to Job to retort upon these men, If we have all done wrong, why am I suffering and ye prating? You are perfectly right in saying we have all done wrong, but where is the common penalty? Compare our respective lots at this moment. The patriarch might have continued, If your doctrine is right, and the only doctrine, and is to be preached without modification, without speciality of meaning and adaptation, then how do you account for our present relation the one to the other—I the comforted, you the comforters? Were we all in one condemnation, then we should be uttering one lamentation, and we should need some angel from heaven, some white-winged life from the upper spaces of creation, to bring to us gospels, and words of cheer and direction and sympathy: you embarrass me; I cannot answer your doctrine, for that is right, but that it needs some interpretation you have not given it, is perfectly clear from the facts: were we all overwhelmed, were we all lepers, were we all sitting in dust and ashes, then the proclamation of a common depravity would meet the whole of the case, and we should reply to the charge with a common consent; but where there are rich and poor, strong and weak, prosperous and adverse; where there are people who are rioting in their strength, and others to whom life itself is a vexation and a weariness, you must adapt your doctrine; otherwise you will misrepresent it. Job felt that something was needed; he said: I have not realised the whole quantity; that I have held to certain great central truths is evident enough, but what I now possess must be brought into relation with other truths, and upon the whole there must shine a light above the brightness of the sun; otherwise we are lost in intellectual bewilderment and moral tumult. So we cannot meet the world by the proclamation of an abstract doctrine only. What is true needs to be adapted. Even the sunlight needs to be atmosphered in order to accommodate itself to human vision and the general condition of the world that is illuminated. So an abstract doctrine thundered down from some theological height will only mock the world it was intended to bless, unless it, too, be atmosphered, set in right: relations, and brought with happy, yea, with inspired skill to bear upon human ignorance, weakness, misery, and fall into all the undulations of human experience with a grace that is never a burden. Proclaim the great abstract doctrine of human responsibility. That only awakens controversy. Where can there be responsibility where there is not mutual consent? When men were not asked whether they would come into the world or not, why start a great solemn doctrine of responsibility? When men are of unequal capacity, moral fibre, intellectual power; when men are conditioned without their own consent; when their very conditions of life chafe them, and hinder them from prayer, is it not hard to thunder down upon them the abstract doctrine—You are responsible, and you must answer the responsibility or forfeit your immortal blessedness? Now the doctrine of human responsibility is right Society could not exist without it. The doctrine of human responsibility finds its corroboration in the human consciousness, and in all the line of social experience it is reaffirmed. But there must be accommodation of this doctrine also to peculiar circumstances and disadvantages; otherwise it will be resented, because it will be felt to be a weight which human weakness cannot bear. "Of some have compassion, making a difference." Jesus Christ laid down the doctrine of responsibility and judgment, but he said: From him to whom much was given much will be expected; from him to whom little was given little will be expected: certain men shall be beaten with many stripes; certain other men with few stripes. The doctrine of responsibility is not an abstract philosophy to be hurled over the entire population indiscriminately; it is to be opened up, in all its blessed meaning, in all its solemnity, and is to be so applied that every man will answer in his own heart, That is right: according to God's gift is God's expectation; he will not reap where he has not sown; he is not only a just God, but a merciful, not only merciful but just; he will judge, therefore, by a righteous standard. This is what is meant by adapting doctrines, individualising them, so to say, and setting them in right relations, so that they shall not trouble the conscience and bewilder the judgment, but carry with them rather the solemn assent and consent of the hearers themselves.
Here is the great failure in the case of the three friends and of Elihu: they spoke broad generalities; they are sure the doctrine is right. With these as mere utterances we have no fault to find; but where was the wisdom which could apply the doctrine to the individual case? where the holy skill that could touch the wound without aggravating it? where that learned and eloquent tongue that could speak a word in season to him that was weary, and speak as if he were singing?—who could utter himself without making any noise, who could declare a judgment without perpetrating a violence? Such condolence is the very balm of heaven, but such comfort was never associated with bald generalities, rough vague statements of truths however profound; such condolence, such solace, can only be applied out of the heart that has itself become rich in experience, and learned through many a long school-day how to suffer and be strong. Commonplaces, however profound and beautiful, cannot touch the agony of life. By "commonplaces" is here meant statements which may for their truthfulness pass without challenge: they have become amongst the established truths of the world; they are accepted; the Church listens to them as to falling rain; they excite no surprise; they come and operate as by a gracious necessity. But what we want is particular application, study of every individual case: each heart has its own history; each spirit knows its own want. The spirit of a man alone understands what the man wants. So in listening to great broad declarations from the pulpit, we must each receive these declarations according to our individual need; they cease to be merely general when they become definitely and personally applied. In this way many of us may be so taught of God as to know just what to take, because taught to know just what we need. We do not need the same every day, or under every combination of circumstances: there is a portion of meat for each in due season. In speaking thus we do not dispute the doctrines themselves in all their abstract completeness and grandeur; we simply seek to accommodate them, which the men in Job's case did not, to a particular and exceptional set of circumstances.
Elihu speaks many beautiful things:—
"For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away" (Job 32:22).
How many a man has come forward to say that he was not going to flatter us, and by so saying has flattered himself! How many a man has set himself on too high a pedestal for talking to the commonalty of the world! "My maker would soon take me away" were I to give flattering titles unto men. Where is the common ground? Men should take care how they separate themselves from those to whom they would minister. The doctor does not speak from behind a curtain; he lays his inquiring hand upon the poor pulse, and whilst it is there, listening, so to say, to the throb of weary life, he makes all his notes and comments, and prepares himself for the prescription that is to follow. Any dignity that separates the healing man from the man needing healing is a vicious dignity, and should be destroyed when man comes into living contact with man.
Elihu says, in Job 33:12, "I will answer thee, that God is greater than man." Why these commonplaces? Job had never denied that, and yet Job's case was never touched. The man was seized as if he had hurled accusations against all the theology of the ages. He says in effect, I have never doubted these things: what are you talking about? To whom are you speaking? You have mistaken my identity; I am a man of prayer and faith and devotion; you are talking to me as if I were a pagan, an atheist, an infidel. Are we not all often spoken to in this way? There is a secret the men have not yet got at. We have lived in vain if we deny the operation of a similar secret in all our preaching and teaching and ecclesiastical relations. "Things are not what they seem." We should have learned enough by this time to say to an exiled suffering man, You only can at present view the surface: what thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter: God is not dealing roughly with thee; he is conducting an experiment; he is making anew revelation to the observers who are looking abroad for manifestations of his method of government and training: God is making an example of thee, and he is teaching through thee: say to him, O thou blessed One, cruel is this wound if only a wound, but a most blessed dower from thine hand if meant to teach somewhat of thy kingdom and purpose to those who are looking on: thy grace is sufficient for me. Only by some such line as this can we reconcile providences which are obvious with the goodness which is often denied. Look for the latter end. See what God will do at the last.
"Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom" (Job 33:24).
Many have found Christ in this verse. We are not aware that he is literally here. Very possibly, were the words limited to mere grammar, nothing of Christ, as we understand that term, could be found in the verse. It is right that we should first get at the grammar, and settle the literal sense of a text: but what vase could hold the fragrance so well as the rose? Who can tell how much there may be in a sentence of this kind that is not expressed in the letter? Why try to find as little as possible in the letter? Why endeavour to prove that a star is no larger than the telescope through which it is seen? Why not rather take another course of exegesis, and say, These were seed-corns, beginnings, germs, hints of things; if afterwards there should appear in the pages of revelation histories that can further explain these enigmatical expressions, then bring together the history and the prophecy, and let the one illuminate or explain the other. Certainly, the Christian belief is that God has found a ransom; that God means that we should be saved from the pit. Elihu may not have known what he was talking about: he is none the less a good teacher for that. It is not necessary that there should be self-consciousness in order that there should be divine revelation: sometimes we are not to know whether we are in the body or out of the body; many a time we have to be but mere instruments through which God will blow across the ages the music of his gospel; sometimes we are to be but signs or symbols by which a little vanishing personality shall prefigure a great and eternal truth. So would I teach, that men are not to deplete Scripture of all good and gracious meaning, but rather find in it more than appears to be in the letter, if so be that the criticism is guided by conscience and reason, and is consonant with the great truths which Christian history has established. Observe how I protect the Word from mere exaggeration, from foolish romance, or vicious or sophistical spiritualisings, and how I hold that prophetic meanings are only to come as history grows, as history takes them up and shows them in their vivid and actual applications.
What wonderful forecasts of evangelical doctrine there are in the Old Testament: take for example Job 33:27-28—
"He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light."
Elihu was not a conscious evangelical preacher. If any one should arise and say, The grammar of that text does not admit of a gospel interpretation, as you understand it, he shall have the grammar, but when he has received his tribute we still feel that history has so evolved itself as to give blessed and gracious confirmation to the evangelical interpretation of these words. They might have been spoken by John—"If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Thus the two Testaments are one. Men spoke in the dawn, when they hardly saw the exact figure of things, but the sun has not contradicted them as he has risen to the zenith; he has simply cleared away the cloud, made definite that which was vague; and there is no contradiction in the New Testament of any moral doctrine of the Old Testament; the covenants blend in conforming unity.
Elihu was only wrong in his application of the truth; he would have Job fall down and say that he had been liar, thief, murderer, hypocrite; then the men would have been pleased; they would have said to Job, Now expect redemption, and forgiveness, and cleansing, and a new start in life. But Job could not do this; he said: I am not the bad man you suppose I am,—and Job in so asserting himself only claimed the character which God himself had given him. Observe that, for it is a vital fact. With what character does Job begin the book? Pronounced by God, the tribute is this—"That man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil." Such was God's direct testimony to this suffering patriarch. And Job shows a wonderful constancy in not giving up his character; in effect he says, Everything has been taken from me, but you shall not take away my consciousness of at least aiming to be good and right with God. Then they came upon him and said, To thy knees, thou base hyprocrite; pour out thy confession like a river; spare nothing of self-abasement; yea, speak aloud thy sins, and we will hear thee as priests might listen. Job said, No, I have no such speech to make; all this came upon me without any desert on my side: I never spared a prayer, I never abbreviated an act of worship, I never turned away a poor man from my table, no one ever perished within my gates or outside of them to my knowledge; I am not going to say I am bad when I feel perfectly sure I am today just what I have been for the many years of my prosperity and honour. We must not be immoral in our confessions; we must not be immoral in our moanings and lamentations. Character is not so easily procured that we can afford to part with it lightly even in religious confessions. He who would give away his character in order to obtain a sentimental peace will defeat his own purpose. God does not expect us so to deal with the character, which is his own work. A great character is a divine miracle. A holy character is no work of man's, in any mechanical or limited sense; it expresses a grand co-operation between the divine and the human. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Having therefore lived twenty, thirty, fifty years in prayer, in submission to the divine will, in anxious solicitude to know what God has said and to do it, and having fallen into suffering, you have lost your property, your children have wounded you, your house has been completely darkened in every room, every fire has been put out, the voices of music have ceased in the dwelling,—bethink you the reason is not necessarily that you ceased to pray, or that all the world is depraved, or that God has a right to do arbitrarily with you what he may: you must go higher, you must go deeper: human life is an education, a drill, a continuous and ever-varying discipline. We may pray for patience, we may complain that the wound is very sore; God knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust; he does not expect us to laugh the fool's laugh when he himself has darkened the house, and increased the burden, and put our poor strength to severest strain; he does not expect us to sing all the jubilant psalms when the valley is very deep and dark, and filled with a cold wind—cold as the breath of death itself. He knows our weakness. He is working out some great miracle through us. He has almost asked our permission to prove through us that his grace is sufficient for every human extremity, and that his kingdom in the heart of man can bear every thunder of hell, every blast of the pit, and yet stand. If he has chosen some of us through whom to prove this, our suffering will be very great; but what will the end be? What song of gladness, what psalm of triumph, what shout of victory! Only after death can we explain what happened in our lifetime.
The Speech of Elihu. III.
Elihu may show us what conception of God had been formed by a young mind. If we cannot follow the thread of his argument, we can join him here and there, and consider diligently what view of the divine nature and government a mind evidently audacious and energetic, yet reverent and docile, had formed. Elihu does not come before us as necessarily young in years, but as comparatively young; he had kept silence while older men were speaking; he claims distinctly to be heard because of his inferior age: it is legitimate, therefore, to regard the whole of his exposition as one which is uttered by a youthful, modest, yet active mind.
Who was the God of Elihu? Was he a deity that could command homage? Does he sit upon an appointed place like a helpless idol? or is he intelligent, watchful, judicial, righteous? It will be interesting to discover what kind of deity was avowed and honoured so long ago.
"The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life" (Job 33:4).
The Bible has no difficulty in connecting human life instantly with God. There is a wonderful sense of nearness as between the Creator and the created. Elihu does not interpose millions of ages between the creating God and the created man; he rather speaks of the creation as the very last thing that was done. Elihu does not say,—I am the result of intermediate operations and causes, and secondary influences; I represent the civilisation of my line or day. He speaks as Adam might have spoken when he was turned from the hand of God a living man, a divine image. This young poet—if he were only a poet—stands next to God, and says—I am the man whom God made; the very breath I am now breathing I received from him. All this of course may be poetry, but all this may also be fact, reality, and only poetry in the sense in which poetry is the highest truth. What do we gain by considering that we were created by the Almighty countless millions of ages ago, as compared with the thought that every one of us is his handiwork, as it were just made, the very last proof of his omnipotence and wisdom and love? We gain much by the latter view: we are thus placed very close to God; he might be looking at us now; he might be speaking of us as his latest wonder, the last miracle of his creative energy. There are the two views; let men adopt which seems right to their reason when it is illuminated by revelation. Either way we are God's creatures; from neither theory is God excluded, only in the latter he seems to some of us to be nearer;—he cannot be nearer in reality, for the ages are nothing to him, but he is nearer to our imagination, our sympathy, our need, our whole desire; it seems to suit our weakness best at least, to think that God has just made us and that in our nostrils is the breath we have but just caught from him. This was the standpoint of Elihu. It enabled him to speak with great solemnity in the argument. Elihu did not pretend to come into it as a discoverer, an inventor, a moral genius, a man gifted in the reading of riddles; he came into the argument as a distinct creation of God, a man different from any who had spoken, with an individuality that involved responsibility;—he speaks as if he had overheard God, and had been empowered to tell others what God had revealed to him.
Observe how he proceeds;—
"For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not" (Job 33:14).
Let the meaning be this: God does not speak in one way only; there is nothing monotonous in the divine government: God speaks "once," "twice,"—that is, in one way, in two ways, in many ways, in apparently self-contradictory ways,—now in the high heavens, now in the deep earth; sometimes in visions of the night, often by moral intuitions, sudden startlings of the mind into new energies, and sudden investitures of the whole nature with new powers and capabilities. Elihu will not have God bound down to one way of revelation; Elihu rather says: God reveals himself in nature, in providence, in history, in human consciousness, in social combinations,—in the mystery of life's great circumference: whoever has a new thought has it from God; whoever has a right vision is indebted to God for his vision: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,"—that is to say, God can sustain life in a thousand different ways: if there were no wheat, it would make no difference to the sustenance of man upon the earth; if the earth refused to grow one root or fruit, God could still keep man upon the earth as vigorously and as usefully as ever: God is not confined to one method of operation; Let us then, Elihu would say, acknowledge God in whatever form he may come; do not exclude God from any part of the ministry of the universe: if you think you see him in the star, you do see him; it is the star that is lifted up in glory and suggestiveness, not the deity that is brought down into finite bounds: if any flower of the field can help you to see into heaven look through it: if you can hear music in the trill and carol of birds, hear it, and magnify it until you get some hint of the infinite music of heaven. This is not idolatry; it is the proper magnifying of nature, the proper extension of all history and providence: thus you are lifted up, and from higher levels can behold wider spaces. How much we lose in thinking that God is confined to one house, place, hour, day, week! Thus we become idolaters, and thus we exclude many from the altar who are really worshipping at it. All men are not religious in the same way: there is a diversity of operation even in the religious regions and outlooks of life. What if some men shall be found to be religious who never supposed themselves to be such? God speaketh once, yea twice, yea thrice: his voice covers the whole gamut of utterance, and men who speak truth in any department of life, of art, of science, speak God's truth, for all truth is God's.
So far Elihu might have been a modern teacher, so advanced, so progressive is he. From no point will he have God excluded. If a man has a dream he will say, Tell it, for even in visions of the night God shows himself. If a man can only speak through his harp, Elihu says, Play it, and we will tell you whether God or devil stretched the strings, and taught your fingers to discourse upon them. There is a spirit in man, a verifying faculty, a child-heart, that knows what the father said, and knows the very tone in which he said it.
Of one thing Elihu seems to be supremely certain—
"Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity" (Job 34:10).
Elihu now occupies moral ground. His deity is not a majestic outline; it is a heart, a conscience, the very source and centre of life. This gives comfort wherever it is realised. A thought like this enables man to give time to God, that he may out of a multitude of details shape a final meaning. Elihu says in effect, Things look very troubled now: it seems as if we were dealing with shapelessness, rather than with order and definite meaning: now the great space of the firmament is full of thunders and lightnings and tempests, and the very foundations of things seem to be ploughed up; but write this down as the first item in your creed, and the middle, and the last—"far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should do iniquity.... Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment." Then wait: he will bring forth judgment as the morning, and righteousness as the noonday. Such doctrines establish the heart in gracious confidence. They do not blind men to the tumult and confusion which are so manifest on all the surface of life; such doctrines enable men to cultivate and exemplify the grace or virtue of patience: they acknowledge that appearances are against their doctrine, but they claim time for the Almighty: they reason analogically; they say, Look at nature; look at human life; look at any great enterprise entered into by men: what digging, what blasting of rocks, what marvellous confusion, what a want of evident form and shape and design! Yet when months have come and gone, and architects and builders have carried out their whole purpose, they retire, and say, Behold what we have been aiming at all the time,—then in great temple, or wide noble bridge spanning boiling rivers, we see that when we thought all things were in confusion, they were being carried on to order and shape and perfectness and utility. So Elihu says, One thing is certain: to be God he must be good; if he were wicked he would not be God: brethren, he would say in modern language, Let us pray where we cannot reason, let us wait where we cannot move: our waiting may be service, our prayer may be the beginning of new opportunities.
Following this doctrine, and part and parcel of it, Elihu advances to say—
"For the work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways" (Job 34:11).
Being righteous, he will cause the law of cause and effect to proceed whatever happens in relation to human conduct and spiritual results. This is what Paul said—"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." That is a New Testament translation of Old Testament words—"For the work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways." How much have we advanced beyond that doctrine? Where is the difference between the Old Testament and the New in this particular? God is of one mind; who can turn him as to the law of moral cause and moral effect? A man cannot sow one kind of seed and reap another: the sowing determines the harvest. Elihu might make a false application of this principle to Job, but the principle itself is right. It is of value as showing the conception which Elihu had formed of God's nature. He was worshipping a God worthy of his homage. Again let us say, he was not worshipping an idol, a vain imagination of his own; and again let us apply to ourselves the holy proof of God's rule, that whatever he does he does it from a spirit of right and with a purpose of right, and that in all his doing there is no compromise with evil, no concession to wicked principles or powers. God is righteous; true and righteous altogether. Let a man have that conception of God, and how quiet he is! Though the floods lift up their voice and roar, yet still he says, There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God: though the wicked triumph for a time, yea, in great noise and great pomp; yet, he says, his triumphing is but for a moment, his joy is but a flash, to be lost in the enclosing and eternal darkness. Without such convictions we are driven about by every wind of doctrine; the doctrines themselves, which are unformed and unsettled, trouble us. What are we to do in relation to such doctrines? To come back every night to our rocky home, to the great fortresses established in the holy revelation, to the sanctuary of God's righteousness, to the impossibility of his thinking, being, or doing anything that is wrong. Here we find rest, and from this high sanctuary we can look abroad upon all the excitement and tumult of the times, and wait in loving and expectant patience for the growing light, for the descending revelation, for the new promise that shall give us new consolation.
Then Elihu might have lived today. Verily he seems to be worshipping the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He might not be able to say so in words, to realise it in all the fulness and sweetness of its meaning; but he, in the far-away time, had a clear vision of God's personality, God's government, and God's holiness.
What a comprehensive view of God he gives us—
"Shall even he that hateth right govern? and wilt thou condemn him that is most just? Is it fit to say to a king, Thou art wicked? and to princes, Ye are ungodly? How much less to him that accepteth hot the persons of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor? for they all are the work of his hands. In a moment shall they die, and the people shall be troubled at midnight, and pass away: and the mighty shall be taken away without hand. For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves" (Job 34:17-22).
Observe here the action of what may be called the moral imagination. We are at liberty to expand what we do know of God in the letter. This is the meaning of preaching. The preaching however must be the expansion of what is found in revelation. If there be in one discourse a word of man's own making, it must be taken out. Not an evidence of man's invention must be found in any discourse. Whatever is said must be provable by what is written. Expansion is our sphere; tender, gracious, beautiful amplification is the work to which we are called: the kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, but when the mustard-tree is grown it is not an oak, nor a cedar; it is still what it was in the seed. So Elihu resorts to images, illustrations, rhetorical enlargements, and the like; but he is always tethered to the centre, always fixed in the settled and eternal truths; what he does otherwise he may do as the result of inspired genius, but it is all consonant with what is positively and definitely revealed. What then do we know of God? Nothing of ourselves. We have imaginings, conjectures, suggestions, quite a thousand in number, but as they are only imaginings, suggestions, and conjectures they are open to all kinds of disappointment; but when we come to revelation, and fix our eyes there, we feel that we are building our house upon a rock, and being built upon a rock, we can wait; we can say, Let the storm rise and fall; we have nothing to do with it whilst it rages; when it is passed we shall see what is left behind. Always distinguish between the foam and the sea, between that which is superficial and that which is central and everlasting; and be not tossed about by the wind that blows over the surface of the earth, but rest confidently and lovingly in the living God.
Elihu now comes closely to us with a gentle gospel message, and because of the gentleness of his message we are the more assured of the validity of his reasoning—"For he will not lay upon man more than right"—(Job 34:23). This is the way by which we are to judge the Bible. If we were governed wholly by the majestic images of the Bible, we should be overwhelmed, unable to follow the high delineation; we should be blinded by excess of light; but the Bible comes down from its high revelations, and speaks comfortingly to troubled lives, to broken hearts, to weary travellers; and because it is so sympathetic and gracious in our weakness and sorrow, we begin to feel that when it rises, expands, and flames in unutterable splendour, it may be equally right there: the foot of the ladder is upon the earth; the head of the ladder is lifted up into glory, and we cannot see it. It is even so with this divine revelation of God. When he is set forth as Infinite, Eternal, Everlasting, Jehovah, Sovereign, we are lost, we cannot follow up this dizzy way of utterance; but when he is called by such terms as enable us to see that he is loving, gentle, piteous, compassionate, lifting up those that be bowed down, and comforting with tender solaces those whose hearts are sore, then we begin to feel that what was so majestic at the one end, and so tender at the other, may be harmonious, may be one, may be the very God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. A wonderful thing this for Elihu to have discovered by himself. Who ever discovered God in equal terms and equal proportions? Is this man talking out of his own emptiness and vanity of mind? Is it possible that a man younger than those who were listening to him conceived all this regarding God? Then in very deed here is the supreme miracle in the intellectual history of mankind. Here is a man who without communication with the other world has discovered a God infinite in majesty, in wisdom, in power; tender, gracious, loving in spirit; righteous, pure, holy in his nature; revealing all things to the benefit of all. One of two things must have been: either this man Elihu invented all this, and thus became practically as good as the thing which he invented; or it was revealed to him and he as an instrument revealed it to others. This latter view Christian readers of the Bible adopt. They do not believe in an invented God, but in a God revealed; in a God who will not lay upon man more than is right; in a God who knoweth our frame and remembereth that we are dust; in a God that never reaps where he has not sown; a righteous God, revealed to the world through the intuition or the experience of mankind, or by direct and startling revelation in vision and dream of the night. Be the method what it may, here he is in light, in love, in faithfulness,—a God whom we adore, not with reverence only because he is great, but with sympathy and love because he is good.
The very necessity by which God loves the right makes him oppose the wicked. He will not have wicked men living as if in his complacency—"He striketh them as wicked men in the open sight of others:" he overpowers them; he fills them with disdain and contempt; if he allows them to travel half-way up the hill it is that their fall may be the greater. Never did he endorse the wicked man. No spirit of evil can produce a certificate from heaven, saying, Behold how I am written of by your God, and commended by him whom ye worship as holy. This, too, was a wonderful thing for the unaided Elihu to have discovered. Appearances were against him: wicked men have not seldom had more than good men, so far as the possession of the hand is concerned; wicked men have been in high places; and yet here are men—Elihu and others—saying, looking on these facts, What you believe to be facts are only appearances, mere phases of things; within all is a righteous spirit, and the end of all is the confusion of every form and purpose of evil, Elihu never discovered that: this also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. We must await the issue, but here is our supreme difficulty—to wait when we are impatient; to know that the right will come, and yet not to be able to show it instantaneously, when men are waiting for it,—oh, that is trying! It gives the mocker opportunity to jeer. We are sure there is a proof, and we are positive that by-and-by it will be revealed, yet now, face to face with the sneerer, he seems to have it all his own way. Then what a struggle there is between faith and impatience, between confidence and weakness! how then we long that God would open a window in heaven, and would speak from some opening glory in the skies and declare himself! Yet he is far away, so far as silence can remove him; yea, he is dumb when the great controversy seems to beat against the very door of heaven. The Christian says we must wait; we can hasten nothing; we can toil as if we believed; we can confirm our faith by our life, and having done that we can do no more.
Elihu asks a question, which brings us to our right level—"Should it be according to thy mind?"—(Job 34:33), Which is to be the supreme intelligence? That is the great question. Who is to be on the throne? Who is to be uppermost? Who is to speak the guiding word? It must either be the mind of man or the mind of God. Elihu says, Shall it be the mind of man? See what man has done; behold all the way through which he has passed, and see how he has been correcting himself, stultifying himself, coming back from his prodigalities, reversing his judgments, and rewriting his vows. The world cannot be administered according to a finite or limited mind. It comes to this, then; that such a world as ours, and such a universe as we know it, must be ruled by a mind equal to the occasion. We who cannot tell what will happen tomorrow ought to be silent rather than audible; we should wait, rather than advance: if we could prove our infallibility we might assert, but until we can establish it as a fact we must not broach it as a theory. The universe is too large for our management. We cannot manage our own affairs without blunder and mistake: how much less then could we manage the affairs of all men, and the courses of all worlds, and the destinies of all operations! It is ours to believe that God ruleth over all and is blessed for evermore; that all things, visible and invisible, are parts of a great empire, of which God is King and Lord. It is a noble faith. No man may come to the acceptance of this faith on the ground of weak-mindedness. No man can accept this faith without being mentally enlarged and ennobled. It may be assented to without reasoning and without reflection, and then it is not a religion but a superstition; or it may be received upon our knees, lovingly, adoringly, consentingly; our acceptance of it may be the last result of our inspired reasoning: then it becomes a faith, a religion, an inspiration, and we bow down before it, not ashamed because we cannot explain it, but glorying rather because its mystery will not come into human words, and all its meaning is too vast for the tiny vessel of human speech.
What God then shall we have? We must have some deity. We may deify ourselves, and thus become fools; or we may worship the God of the Bible, and thus receive an instruction which operates even more directly upon the moral than upon the intellectual nature. No man can serve God, and do evil: he may do the evil, never willingly or joyfully, but always with assurance that he ought not to have done it and that God rebukes him in a thousand ways. We cannot rightly receive the God of the Bible, and be little, mean, uncharitable, and unworthy. If we can find persons who profess to have received the God of the Bible and are yet all these things, then their profession is a lie. "By their fruits ye shall know them." We are not asking for assent; we are asking for faith. It is one thing not to differ from a proposition, and another to live upon it and to have no other means of mental existence. That is faith. He is no Christian who simply "does not dispute" the facts of Christian history. Only he is a Christian who is crucified with Christ, as it were on the same cross, as it were pierced with the same nails, wounded with the same spear. That is Christianity. We debase the whole conception if we suppose that a man is a Christian because he does not differ from the New Testament in any energetic or aggressive way, that a man is a Christian because he passes through certain forms of Christian worship. That is not Christianity at all. A man may do all that, and a thousand times more, yet know nothing whatever of the Spirit of Christ He does not receive the God of the Bible who is not as good as that God, according to the measure of his capacity: "Be ye holy, as your Father in heaven is holy." No man can receive the Christ of the gospels who is not dead and as much raised again as was that mighty Son of God, according to the man's measure and capacity. To believe in God we must be one with God. To believe in Christ we must be one with Christ. When we are so identified we shall need no argument in words, for our life will be argument, our spirit will be persuasive and convincing eloquence.
In his second speech Elihu returns to the main question of Job's attitude towards God. He begins by imputing to Job language which he had never used, and which, from its extreme irreverence, Job would certainly have disowned (Job 34:5, Job 34:9), and maintains that God never acts unjustly, but rewards every man according to his deeds. There is nothing in his treatment of this theme which requires comment.... The subject of the third speech is handled with more originality. Job had really complained that afflicted persons such as himself appealed to God in vain (Job 24:12, Job 30:20). Elihu replies to this (Job 35:9-13), that such persons merely cried from physical pain, and did not really pray. The fourth and last speech, in which he dismisses controversy and expresses his own sublime ideas of the Creator, has the most poetical interest. At the very outset the solemnity of his language prepares the reader to expect something great, and the expectation is not altogether disappointed. "God," he says, "is mighty, but despiseth not any" (Job 36:5); he has given proof of this by the trials with which he visits his servants when they have fallen into sin. Might and mercy are the principal attributes of God. The verses in which Elihu applies this doctrine to Job's case are ambiguous and perhaps corrupt, but it appears as if Elihu regarded Job as in danger of missing the disciplinary object of his sufferings. It is in the second part of his speech (Job 36:26 to Job 37:24) that Elihu displays his greatest rhetorical power; and though by no means equal to the speeches of Jehovah, which it appears to imitate, the vividness of his description has obtained the admiration of no less competent a judge than Alexander von Humboldt. The moral is intended to be that, instead of criticising God, Job should humble himself in devout awe at the combined splendour and mystery of the creation.—Rev. Canon Cheyne.
If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness:"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... an interpreter, one among a thousand"—Job 33:23
Why should not all men be interpreters? As a matter of fact, they are not, and we are called upon to consider the moral import of that fact.—Men are variously gifted.—To be gifted at all is to receive honour from God.—The judgment is not as between one man and another, but as between each man, as a trustee, and God who has put him in trust.—The interpreter will always make his influence felt; there will be something about his manner, mode of thinking, tone of expression, which will identify him as one on whom the tongue of flame is resting.—Society should honour its interpreters.—To be one among a thousand is to be in a painful position.—We envy the eminence, but forget the responsibility; we say how grand it must be to be so high up in society, forgetting that elevation means penalty, labour of many kinds, and vexations such as the great alone can feel.—The Bible is an interpreter, and one among a thousand.—This is the distinctive peculiarity of the Bible.—It is not only a revelation, it is an interpretation; it interprets God, nature, truth, and it interprets man to himself.—It is one among a thousand because there are many books which profess to have great answers to great questions, but they all break down at a given point, and are least eloquent where the heart yearns most for spiritual communication.—Let us always dwell upon the distinctiveness of the Bible, and of the cross, and of the whole priesthood of Jesus Christ.—In many points it may be like other sacred messages, but there are points at which it breaks away from them all, and stands up in noble singularity.—We must not force interpretation too far.—Sometimes it is enough to have a bint without having a whole revelation.—If we walk according to the light we have, the light will soon increase.—He is deceiving himself who supposes that he would travel fast toward the kingdom of heaven if he could start his journey at midday.—Begin your journey as soon as there is the faintest streak of light in the east, and as you walk the sun will increase in splendour.—The Christian should be one in a thousand: he should be seen from afar: he should be known by the quality of his character, by the music of his voice: he should in no case be so living the vulgar life as to be confounded with the common herd—at the same time, he must distinguish between self-display, and the uniqueness which comes of long and happy communion with his Master.— To be ostentatious is to be impious; to be a city set on a hill is to be a witness for God.