The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling?Job's Answer to Eliphaz
The speech of Eliphaz, which we have already considered, was not the kind of speech to be answered off-handedly. We have been struck by its nobleness and sublimity, its fulness of wisdom; and, indeed, we have not seen any reason, such as Job seems to have seen, for denying to that great speech the merit of sympathy. Why, then, does Job break out into these lamentations? The reason appears to be obvious. We must come upon grief in one of two ways, and Job seems to have come upon grief in a way that is to be deprecated. He came upon it late in life. "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." Observe how Job comes before us—a master, a chief, a very prince, a great flockmaster, and in possession of all comforts, privileges, and enjoyments usually accounted essential to solid prosperity and positive and genuine comfort Grief must tell heavily whenever it comes upon a man in such a condition. This accounts for his lamentation, and whine, and long-drawn threnody. He was not accustomed to it. Some men have been born into trouble, and they have become acclimatised; it has become to them a kind of native condition, and its utterances have been familiar as the tongue of nativity. Blessed are they who come upon grief in that method. Such a method appears to be the method of real mercy. Sad is it, or must it be, to begin life with both hands full, with estate upon estate, with luxury upon luxury, so that the poor little world can give nothing more! When grief strikes a child born under the disadvantage of riches, it must make him quail—it must be hard upon him. Grief must come. The question would seem to be, When? or, How? Come it will. The devil allows no solitary life to pass upward into heaven without fighting its way at some point or other. It would seem to me as if the suggestion that Job came upon grief late in life was a kind of key to many utter ances of suffering, and many questions as to the reality and beneficence of God's government. Yet, what is to be done? No doubt there is a practical difficulty. Who can help being born into riches? Not the child. The responsibility, then, is with the father. What do you want with everything? When are you going to stop the self-disappointing process of acquisition? You think it kind to lay up whole thousands for the boy. In your cruel kindness you start him with velvet. Secretly or openly, you are proud of him as you see him clothed from head to foot, quite daintily, almost in an aesthetic style, without a sign on his little hands of ever having earned one solitary morsel of bread. You call him beautiful; you draw attention to his form and air and whole mien, and inwardly chuckle over the lad's prospects. Better he had been born in the workhouse! And you are to blame! You are the fool! But grief must come. You cannot roof it out with slates and tiles, nor keep it at bay with stone walls. Let us say, again and again, "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth"; and you know it, because you bore the yoke in your youth. Your father, or grandfather, was quite in a small way of business: but oh, how you enjoyed the bread! You had to run an errand before breakfast, and came back with an appetite,—your boy comes down late, without any soul for his food; and you think him not well, and call in aid, and elicit neighbourly sympathy! Oh, how unwise! How untrue to the system of things which God has established in his universe! Make your acquaintance with a man who has seven sons, three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she asses, and a very great household; and you might well say, What a field there is for the devil to try temptation in! Yet how to obviate the difficulty is certainly a question not easily answered. We can but approach the possible solution of the problem little by little, ordering everything in a spirit of discipline, without ever touching the meanness of oppression. It is one thing to be Job, and another to read his book. We do not read it well. We read it as if it had all been done with in an hour or two; whereas the book ought to be spaced out almost like the first chapter of Genesis. We have had occasion to say that the first chapter of Genesis would create less confusion if we inserted a millennium now and then—if we punctuated it with a myriad ages here and there. But we rush through it. Quite in a hot gallop we finish the Book of Job. Who can understand such a dramatic history so reading it? Why not remember that seven days and seven nights elapsed before a word was spoken by Eliphaz, after he had seen that the grief of Job was very great? Observe where the period of silence comes in; and consider the thought that it is possible that days and nights may have elapsed as between the various speeches, setting them back in time, giving them an opportunity for taking upon themselves the right atmosphere and colour, and affording the speakers also an opportunity of uttering their grief with appropriate gesture and accent. The speeches were punctuated with sobs. The sentences were never uttered flippantly, but were drawn out as is the manner of sorrow, or were ejected, thrown out, with a jerk and hurry characteristic of some moods of grief. Let us allow, then, that the speech of Eliphaz had been uttered, and had lain as it were some time in the mind of Job. Grief delights in monologue. Job seems scarcely to lay himself down mentally upon the line adopted by Eliphaz. It is most difficult to find the central line of Job's speech, and yet that very difficulty would seem to show the reality of his grief, the tumult of his ungovernable emotion. Too much logic would have spoiled the grief. Reasoning there is, but it comes and goes; it changes its tone—now hardly like reason in its logical form; now a wave, an outburst of heart-sorrow; and then coming firmly down upon realities it strikes the facts of life as the trained fingers of the player might strike a chord of music.
Note how interrogative is the tone of Job's speech, and found an argument upon its interrogativeness. More than twenty questions occur in Job's reply. He was great, as grief often is, in interrogation. What do these marks of interrogation mean? They almost illustrate the speech; for he who asks questions after this fashion is as a man groping his way in darkness. A blind man's staff is always asking questions. You never saw a blind man put out his hand but that hand was really in the form of an interrogation, saying, in its wavering and quest, Where am I? What is this? What is my position now? Am I far from home? Do I come near a friend? The great speeches of Demosthenes have been noted for their interrogation; the marks of interrogation stand among the sentences like so many spears, swords, or implements of war; for there was battle in every question. It would appear as if grief, too, also took kindly to the interrogative form of eloquence. Job is asking, Are the old foundations still here? things have surely been changed in the night-time, for I am unaccustomed to what is now round about me: is the sky torn down? does the sun still rise? does the sun still set? is old sweet mother nature still busy getting the table ready for her hungry children? or has everything changed since I have passed into this trance of sorrow? All this is natural. It is not mere eloquence. It is eloquence coloured with grief; eloquence ennobled by pain. The great words might be read as a mere school exercise; whereas they ought to be read by shattered men, who can annotate every sentence by a corresponding record in their own experience. Is it not what men do just now in times of change and great stress and fear? They ask one another questions; they elevate commonplaces into highly-accentuated inquiries; things that have been perfectly familiar to them now startle them into questioning and wonder, because surely since they themselves have been so unbalanced, caught in so tremendous an uproar and tumult, things must have been decentrailsed, or somehow thrown out of equipoise and shape.
Notice how many misunderstandings there are in this speech of the suffering man:—
"Oh that my grief were throughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea" (Job 6:2-3).
Who ever thought that his grief was exactly comprehended by his friends? Job makes much of the grief with which a thousand other men had been familiar all their lives. When the rich man loses any money, what an outcry there is in his house! When the poor man loses something, he says—As usual! well, we must hope that tomorrow will be brighter than today! But let a great, prosperous, space-filling rich man lose any money, and he loses a whole night's sleep immediately after it; he says, "Oh that my grief were throughly weighed!" He likes "thorough" work when the work is applied to sympathising with him. So we misunderstand our friends; then we misunderstand our pain:—
"Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand and cut me off! Then should I yet have comfort" (Job 6:8-10).
We do not know that our pain is really working out for us, if we truly accept it, the highest estate and effect of spiritual education. No man can enjoy life who has not had at least one glimpse of death. What can enjoy food so keenly as hunger? Who knows the value of money so well as he who has none, or has to work hardly for every piece of money that he gains? Such is the mystery of pain in human education Have not men sometimes said: It was worth while to be sick, so truly have we enjoyed health after the period of disablement and suffering? Pain cannot be judged during its own process. From some pictures we must stand at a certain distance in order to see them in proper focus, and get upon them interpreting and illuminating lights. It is sympathetically so with pain. The pain that tears us now like a sharp instrument, working agony in the flesh, will show its whole meaning tomorrow, or on the third day—God's resurrection day, and day of culmination and perfecting. "Let patience have her perfect work."
Job not only misunderstood his friends and misunderstood his pain, he misunderstood all men, and the whole system and scheme of things. He said::—
"My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away; which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid: what time they wax warm, they vanish: when it is hot, they are consumed out of their place. The paths of their way are turned aside; they go to nothing, and perish. The troops of Tema looked, the companies of Sheba waited for them" (Job 6:15-19).
How suffering not rightly accepted, or not rightly understood, colours and perverts the whole thought and service of life! Job said:—
"Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling? As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work: so am I made to possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me" (Job 7:1-3).
So we return to our starting-point, that sorrow must come. It is difficult for the young to believe this. The young have had but a transient ache or pain, which could be laughed off, so superficial was it. So when preachers talk of days that are nights, and summers that are made cold by unforgotten or fast-approaching winters, the young suppose the preachers are always moaning, and the church is but a painted grave, and it is better to be in the lighted theatre and in the place of entertainment, where men laugh wildly by the hour and take hold of life with a light and easy touch. The preachers must bear that criticism, committing themselves to time for the confirmation of their words, which indicate the burden, stress, and the weariness of life. Life has been one continual grief. Death soon came into the house, and made havoc at the fireside. Poverty was a frequent visitor at the old homestead—lean, wrinkled, husky-voiced poverty, without a gleam of sunlight on its weird face, without a tone of music in its exhausted voice; want painted upon every feature, necessity embodied in every action and attitude: then every enterprise failed; the letter that was to have brought back the golden answer was either never received or never answered. Now the natural issue of sorrow is gloom, dejection, despair of life. To this end will sorrow bring every man who yields himself to it. Suffering will pluck every flower, destroy every sign of beauty, put back the dawn, and lengthen the black night. This is what sorrow, unblessed, must always do. It will blind the eye with tears; it will suffocate the throat with sobs; it will enfeeble the very hand when it is put out to make another effort at self-restoration. But has it come to this, that sorrow must be so received and yielded to? Is there any way-by which even sorrow can be turned into joy? The Bible discloses such a way. The Bible never shrinks from telling us that there is grief in the world, and that that grief can be accounted for on moral principles. The Bible measures the grief: never lessens it, never makes light of it, never tells men to shake themselves from the touch and tyranny of grief by some merely human effort; the Bible says, The grief must be recognised: it is the black child of black sin; it is God's way of showing his displeasure; but even sorrow, whether it come in the form of penalty or come simply as a test, with a view to the chastening of the man's heart and life, can be sanctified and turned into a blessing. Any book which so speaks deserves the confidence of men who know the weight and bitterness of suffering. Look at the old family Bible, and observe where it is thumbed most. Have we not said before that we can almost tell the character of the household from the finger-marks upon the old family Bible? Did we not once say, Turn to the twenty-third Psalm, and see how that has been treated? Ah! there how well thumbed it is! There has been sorrow in this house. Turn to the fourteenth chapter of John, and see whether that chapter is written upon a page unstained by human touch; and behold how all the margin seems to be impressed as by fingers that were in quest of heaven's best consolations! Do not come to the Bible only for condolence and sympathy; come to it for instruction, inspiration, and then you may come to it for consolation, sympathy, tenderest comfort—for the very dew of the morning, for the very balm of heaven, for the very touch of Christ. We must not make a convenience of the Bible, coming to it only when we are in sore straits; we must make a friend of it—a great teacher. God's statutes should be our songs in the house of our pilgrimage, and if we are faithful at Sinai we shall be welcomed at the Mount of Beatitudes. If we have struggled well as faithful servants there will not be wanting at last the welcome which begins and means all the reward of heaven.
Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"I will speak in the anguish of my spirit."—Job 7:11
This is natural, but unwise.—A spirit that is in anguish cannot take a fair and full view of any question.—Anguish and justice can hardly dwell together.—To speak in an agony of sorrow is to attach undue meanings to words, to burden them with unjust weight, and to shut out elements and considerations which are essential to impartial and philosophical conclusions.—No man ought to speak in the anguish of his spirit concerning divine providence; otherwise he may charge God foolishly, bringing together all the inequalities, severities, and miscarriages of life, and urging them against the goodness of divine providence.—We should be silent in sorrow, for to speak without self-control is to speak without wisdom.—Let him speak who has passed through sorrow and seen something of its true purpose: then will he be likely to speak with the sobriety of experience and with the deep feeling of sympathy.—We could not speak fairly about a friend in the moment in which he has caused us grief or severe anxiety; we should fall into an accusatory strain and charge him with having been inconsiderate if not cruel towards us.—Time is required for many an explanation, social and divine.—Sometimes we boast that in the course of a year or two the friend whom we have now annoyed or grieved will see the wisdom of our course and thank us for our decision or counsel: in the strength of this we support ourselves, sometimes indeed we plume ourselves with pardonable conceit; and when in the lapse of time our judgment is vindicated we hail our friend with the expectation that he will bless us for counsel that appeared to be unsympathetic or for a decision which was so stern as to be momentarily cruel.—There are indeed countless incidents in life calculated to bring anguish upon the spirit, to excite scepticism in the heart, and to depose faith from its calm and absolute sovereignty: virtue is thrown down in the streets, vice has everything its own way, men who never pray are satisfied with abundance, and thus Providence appears to be on the side of wickedness and selfishness of every degree.—Under such circumstances the spirit is filled with anguish, and when it speaks it is in tones of disapprobation or fretful-ness or unbelief.—We should pray for the calm spirit, for the spirit of patience and longsuffering, and only speak after we have been in profound and continuous communion with God.—Even a believing man, when he allows his anguish to dictate his speech, may offend against God, and bring discredit upon the altar at which he serves.—Let us understand that the moment of anguish is to be the moment of silence, so far as criticism is concerned.
I loathe it; I would not live alway: let me alone; for my days are vanity."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Let me alone"—Job 7:16
Here, again, is a natural exclamation, but one which we must train ourselves to stifle.—No man can be let alone and yet live; in other words, life is an expression of communion and not of isolation.—It is pleasant for the moment only to be left to oneself; even then the pleasure is a mere sensation, and is not the expression of a deep and permanent satisfaction.—Can the branch say to the tree, Let me alone?—Can the limb say to the body, Let me exist by myself?—Can the hand live without being attached to the heart?—Trace every human life in its finest expressions and issues, and it will be found that even the most lonely are not without association with the greatest, yea, even with God himself.—Sometimes, for a moment, we may wish that even God himself would withdraw from us, at least in all controversial and judicial aspects: he presses us with too many questions, he impoverishes us by too many demands, he exhausts us by appeals too numerous to be answered.—When we ask to be let alone, it is our weakness that speaks, not our strength: our exhaustion, not our reason.—The one prayer we should constantly offer is, not to be let alone, but to be evermore an object of divine solicitude, and to be evermore called upon to answer divine claims.—When God lets a man alone the man's doom is sealed.—In the Book of Amos we find the words, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone";—preservation from this state should be our continual and ardent desire,—When the sun lets the earth alone, the earth is chilled into ice. When the mother lets the infant alone, the infant dies.—Let us take heart, for all the controversy through which we pass is but so much discipline, and the end of all discipline sent by Heaven and properly accepted by man is culture, strength, satisfaction.