The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Elihu spake moreover, and said,The Speech of Elihu.
Elihu says many beautiful things. There is some difficulty in tracing the uniting line of his numerous remarks, but the remarks themselves often glitter with a really beautiful light. Many of the independent sayings are like single jewels. We need not always look for the thread upon which the pearls are strung: sometimes it is enough to see the separate pearls themselves, to admire, to value, and spiritually to appropriate all their helpful suggestion. Elihu's speech is like many a sermon: we may not be able to follow it in its continuity, and indeed in some instances, continuity may not be a feature of the discourse; yet what riches are found in separate sentences, in asides, in allusions whose meaning is not at first patent, but which grows as we peruse the words and consider the argument. We may know nothing of the discourse as a whole, and yet we may remember short sentences, brief references, and take them away as lights that will bless us in many a dark hour, or as birds that may sing to us when all human voices are silent.
Elihu says beautiful things about God, as we have already seen. He loved God. Was he sometimes too eager to defend God? Is it not possible for us to excite ourselves much too hotly in defending the eternal Name and in protecting the everlasting sanctuary? Who has called us to all this controversy, to all this angry hostility even against the foe? What if it had been more profitable to all if we had prayed with him instead of arguing; yea, even prayed for him in his absence; yea, higher miracle still—prayed for him despite his sneering and bis mocking. Elihu may have been too vehement, too anxious to defend God, as if God needed him. And yet that can hardly have been his spirit, for one of the very first things to which we shall now call attention shows Elihu's conception of God to be one of absolute independence of his creature's. Let us see whether Elihu was right or wrong in this conception.
"If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him? If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand?" (Job 35:6-7).
This is true of God's majesty, but it is not true of God's fatherhood. God can do without any one of us, and yet his heart yearns if the very youngest of us be not at home, sitting at the table, and living on the bounty of his love. It is perfectly right to say what Elihu said: "If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him?" O thou puny transgressor, thou dost but bruise thine own hand when thou smitest against the rocks of eternity! "Or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him?" Can thy sin tarnish his crown, or take away one jewel from his diadem, or abate the storm of heaven's music that hails him eternal King? Consider, poor suffering patriarch: if thou be righteous even, on the other hand, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand? And yet that statement is imperfect: it creates a chasm between the Creator and the creature; it sets God away at a great distance upon an inaccessible mountain, and clothes him with glories which dazzle the vision that would look upon them. From one side of the thought, it is good, it is glorious, but from the other side of the thought it is incomplete. Elihu speaks of the dazzling sun, but does he not forget to speak of the tender light that kisses every pane even in a poor man's window, and comes with God's benediction upon every flower planted by a child's hand, and watched by a child's love? We must not make God too imperious. There is a conception of God which represents him as keeping men at the staff-end, allowing them to approach so far but not one step beyond. That conception could be vindicated up to a given point, but there is the larger conception which says: We have boldness of access now; we have not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire; we have come unto mount Sion, where with reverent familiarity we may look face to face upon God, and speak to him, as a man speaketh with his friend, mouth to mouth, and return to our daily employment with the fragrance of heaven in our very breath, and with the almightiness of God as the fountain of our strength. This is the larger view. In all cases the larger view is the right view. He who has but a geographical view of the earth knows but little concerning it; as we have often had occasion to point out, the astronomical view involves the whole, and rules by infinite energy all that is apparently unequal and discrepant into serenest peace, into completest order. It is possible for us to be afraid of God: hence many minds would banish the thought of the divine love, saying, It is too high for us: no man may think of that and live: enough for us to deal with minor things: inferior concerns may well task our finite powers: we dare not lift up our eyes unto heaven: God is great, and may not be looked for. There was a time when that view might be historically correct, but Jesus Christ has come to present another aspect of God, to reveal him as Father, to declare his nearness, to preach his solicitude for the children of men, to describe him as so loving the world as to die for it. Let us repeat: that is the larger view, and until we have received it, we know nothing of what riches may be gathered in the sanctuary, and what triumphs may be won by the spirit of the Cross.
Elihu presents the same thought in another aspect; he says that man may do many things against God, and yet not injure him. That is not true. Here is opened to us a wild field of practical reflection. We cannot injure God without injuring ourselves. If we transgress against him, what does it amount to? Some may say, Who can blacken God's whole universe by any sin he may commit? What can Iscariot himself do when he attempts to stain the infinite snow of the divine purity? There is also a sense in which that is true. God is not dependent upon us: our prayers do not make him what he is; our sacrifices do not constitute his heaven: he could do without every one of us; he could pay no heed to any action committed by any hand. But this is not the God of the Bible. Such a God is possible to the licentious imagination, but not possible to any one who has been trained in the Christian school, or who accepts Christian standards for the regulation of his thought, for the determination of his theology. We cannot omit a duty without grieving God; we cannot think an evil thought without troubling his heavens. He is concerned for us. Whilst we say we live, and move, and have our being in God, there is an obvious sense in which he may reply—I live, and move, and have my being in man. He watches for us, longs for us, sends messages to us, seems to spend his eternity in thinking about us, and planning our whole life, and enriching us in all the regions and departments of our existence and nature. That is the Christian view. Never let the idea get into your mind that God cannot be interested in the individual man. Once let that conviction seize the mind, and despair quickly follows: you have not adopted a sentiment; you have given it the key of your heart; the enemy has seized it, and he says, Let that thought work a long while—namely, that God does not care for the individual, that his universe is too large for him to pay any attention to details,—and when that thought has well saturated the mind, I will go in and work all the mystery of damnation. We shall keep the enemy at bay, we shall affright him, in proportion as we are found standing hand in hand with God, saying loudly and sweetly, He is my God, and will not forsake me: he loves me as if I were an only child; he has been pleased to make me essential to the completeness of his joy. Words must fail when attempting to depict such a thought, but they help us, as a hint may help a man who is in difficulty. Beyond this we must not force words. If they bring us to feel that God numbers the hairs of our head, watches the falling sparrow, takes note of everything, is interested in our pulse that throbs within us, it is helpful, restful; meanwhile it is sufficient: preparation has been made for larger gifts, for fuller disclosures of divine decree and purpose.
Elihu has not been altogether poetical in his speech to Job: but we incidentally come upon an expression which proves that Elihu even could be poet as well as critic and accuser; he says—
"But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night?" (Job 35:10.)
Whatever may be the exact critical definition of the phrase, who can fail to receive it as throwing an explanatory lustre upon many a human experience? Consider the words in their relation to one another. First look at them separately—"songs"; then look at the next word, "night"; now connect them, "songs in the night,"—apparently songs out of place, songs out of season, songs that have gone astray, angels that have lost their foothold in heaven and have fallen down into wildernesses and valleys of darkness. Such is not the case. "Song" and "night" are words which seem to have no reciprocal relation: but human experience is larger than human definitions, and it is true to the experience of mankind that whilst there has been a night the night has been made alive with music. Who will deny this? No man who has had experience of life; only he will deny it who has seen life in one aspect, and who has seen so little of life as really to have seen none of it. Life is not a flash, a transient phase, a cloud that comes and goes without leaving any impression behind it: life is a tragedy; life is a long, complicated, changeful experience,—now joyous to ecstasy, now sad to despair; now a great harvest-field rich with the gold of wheat, and now a great sandy desert in which no flower can be found. Taking life through and through, in all its relations and inter-relations, how many men can testify that in the night they have heard sweeter music than they ever heard in the day! Do not the surroundings sometimes help the music? Some music is out of place at midday; we must wait for the quiet wood, for the heart of the deep plantation, for the top of the silent hill, for the place where there is no city: some music must come to the heart in solitude—a weird, mystic, tender thing, frightful sometimes as a ghost, yet familiar oftentimes as a friend. Who has not seen more of God at the graveside than he ever saw elsewhere? Who has not had Scripture interpreted to him in the house of death which was never interpreted to him by eloquent Apollos or by reasoning Paul? and who has not had occasion to go back upon his life, and say, It was good for me that I was afflicted: now that I have had time to reflect, I see that all the while God was working for me, secretly, beneficently, and the result is morning, beauty, promise, early summer, almost heaven! But here we must interpose a word of wise caution. Do not let us expect songs in the night if we had not duty and sacrifice in the daytime. God does not throw songs away. God does not expend upon us what we ourselves have not been prepared to receive by industry, by patient suffering, by all-hopeful endurance: never does God withhold the song in the night time when the day has been devoted to him. The darkness and the light are both alike to him. If we sow tares in one part of the day, we shall reap them in the other part. Sometimes the relation is reversed: one great, sweet, solemn voice has said, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning": there we seem to have the words set in right sequence—weeping and night; joy and morning. What a balance of expression! How exquisite in criticism and appropriateness! and yet Elihu will have it the other way:—difficulty in the daytime, songs in the night; a day of long labour and sore travail, but at night every star a gospel, and the whole arch of heaven a protection and a security. This may be poetry to some, it is solemn fact to others. Poetry is the fact. Poetry is truth blossoming,—fact budding into broader and more generous life.
Then Elihu presents another feature of the divine character, which is full of delightful suggestion—
"Behold, God is mighty, and despiseth not any: he is mighty in strength and wisdom" (Job 36:5).
Consider here the relation of terms: mighty, yet not contemptuous. This gives us the right interpretation of the very first passage which we quoted. God is mighty, yet condescending; God could crush us, yet he spares our life: because he is supremely mighty he is compassionate. Half-power is dangerous, almost mighty tempts the half-developed giant to tyrannous uses of his strength: but whole power, almightiness, omnipotence, by its very perfectness, can speak, can compassionate, can fall into the words of pity and solicitude and love. Thus justice becomes mercy; thus righteousness and peace have kissed each other; thought to be strangers, they have hailed one another as friends and brethren. Then the very omnipotence of God may be regarded as a gospel feature and as a gospel support. If he were less powerful he would be less pitiful. It is because he knows all that strength can do that he knows how little it can do Strength will never convert the world, omnipotence will never subdue creation, in the sense of exciting that creation to trust and worship, honour and love. What will overcome the universe of sin? Divine condescension, divine compassion,—the cross of Christ. When are men ruled? When they are persuaded. When are men made loyal subjects? When they are fascinated by the king's beauty, and delighted with the king's compassion, clemency, and grace. For what king will man die? For the king who rules by righteousness and who is the subject of his own people. Thus God will not drive us into his kingdom. God spreads the feast and gives us welcome; he declares gospels, he offers hospitality: "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely;" and again, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in." So says he who by a breath could obliterate the universe. He will rule by love; he will take up his abode where he is welcomed by the broken heart and the contrite spirit.
A sweet word Elihu uses again; he speaks of "the bright light which is in the clouds" (Job 37:21). This is a sentence we have to stand side by side with "songs in the night." Astronomical meanings there may be, literal criticism may take out of expressions of this kind all that is nourishing to the soul and all that is comforting to the troubled spirit; yet there the juice of the divine grace remains, the sap of the holy virtue is found, and may be received and appropriated by hearts that are in a fit condition. Astronomy shall not have all the grandeur and all the suggestion; the heart will have some of it. The heart says, The universe was made for man, not man for the universe, and man has a right to take his sickle into every field, and reap the bread which he finds growing there, for wherever there is bread it was meant for the satisfaction of hunger. "Men see not the bright light which is in the clouds,"—the silver lining, the edge of glory. We ought to reckon up our mercies as well as talk of our judgments: "My song shall be of mercy and judgment"—a complete song, a psalm wanting in no feature of sublimity and tenderness Suppose we sometimes reverse the usual process, and instead of writing down the name of the cloud and its size and density, we should take our pen and with a glad swift eagerness write down the lines we have seen, the sudden gleamings, the bright visions, the angel-forms, the messages of love, the compensations, the advantages of life. That would be but grateful; that would be but just. Is there any life that has not some brightness in it? How true it is that though in some cases the light is all gone, yet, even amongst little outcast children, see what laughter there is, what sunniness, what glee! Who has not seen this on the city streets? Looking at the little wayfarers we should say, There can be no happiness in such lives; such little ones can never know what it is to laugh; and lo, whilst we are musing and moralising, how they lilt and sing and show signs of inextinguishable gladness. This is the mystery of life. It always has with it some touch of heaven, some throb of immortality, some sign of all-conquering force. Here it is that the gospel will get its hold upon men. Begin with the joys they have, carry them forward with due amplification, and purify them until they turn into a reasonable and religious gladness. Seize the facts of life, and reason from them up into pious generalisations, rational religious conclusions, and force men by the very strenuousness of your argument to see that they have had seeds enough, but have never planted them; otherwise even their lives would have been blooming, blossoming, fruitful as the garden of God.