The Spectre
Job 4:13-17
In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men,…

It was midnight. All without was hushed and still. No breeze stirred the foliage of the trees. No bird broke the silence with its song. Deep sleep had fallen on man. Eliphaz, the friend of Job, was musing in solitude, either about former visions that he had received, or about some of those grave questions which have in all ages perplexed the minds of thoughtful men. He had evidently had glimpses of the unseen — strange hints and whispers, the full meaning of which he could not grasp. And these had been followed by disturbed and anxious thoughts. His whole frame was trembling and agitated. His spirit was possessed with that vague premonitory awe which precedes the approach of something unusual and unknown. And Eliphaz was not anticipating such communications. But he was alone; and his mind was evidently in a state of bewilderment, groping its way to find a light. He was in a fit condition to receive ghostly impressions timorous, restless, anxious, shivering, brooding over mysteries — a condition favourable to the creation of weird shapes and forms. At this solemn hour, whilst thus musing, lo! a spirit passed before him, and then stood still. He could not discern its form clearly. Either he was too frightened to observe it closely, or the darkness was too dense, or the shape of the spirit was not sharply defined. He was so frightened that not only his limbs shook, but even his hair stood on end; and amid the stillness that reigned around, a voice was heard, saying, "Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?" Was it a dream, or a reality? Opinion is divided on this subject. Some think that Eliphaz was wrapped in slumber like those around him; others, that while they slept he was awake. But it is quite possible that the spectre, though not a mere creation of a disordered brain, was visible only to the mind of Eliphaz. It partook somewhat of the character of a dream vision, though it seems to have affected his bodily frame. The spectre was the medium through which God conveyed to him solemn and important truths. It was God's answer to man's perplexities; and though it first startled, it finally allayed his anxieties and fears. The description is a master stroke, and was evidently written by one who saw what he described. The spirit first gliding by; then pausing, as if to arrest attention; the terror it awakened; the solemn, breathless silence; the obscurity in which it was veiled; and then the gentle voice, with its calming, soothing influence; all indicate that the writer is narrating his own experience. When the spectre appeared to Eliphaz we do not know. It may have been a considerable time before he spoke of it to Job; but he referred to it in his address to the patriarch, because of its supposed applicability to his theory that Job's sufferings were the result of sin. At the present day men often see, in the declarations of God's Word, only so much as can be made to fit in with their preconceived opinions; and if Eliphaz spoke about matters that were too high for him, if the words of the spectre, which he regarded as supporting his argument, rather operated against it, does not this fact go to prove that the vision was not a mere invention of his own, but a direct message from the Almighty? Let us turn, however, from Eliphaz and his opinions, and consider what the spectre said to him: "Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?" This was his first utterance, and it contains the germ of all that follows. It declares the rectitude of God. At first such a question as this seems superfluous. Who would think of suggesting that man was purer than his Maker? Who would set up a claim to deal out justice with more regularity and fidelity than He? And yet those who criticise God's dealings with men do virtually set themselves up as His superiors. They would have kept out sin, and prevented the inroads of suffering and sorrow. They would have made men happy all round, and ordained gladness and prosperity from one end of the year to the other. Such are the boasts of self-confident men; and it is in reply to such, apparently, that the spectre utters this solemn appeal. There are few of us, probably, who have not at some time or other passed judgment upon God. How much there is that is mysterious! How much that seems to baffle the skill of the wisest interpreter! We have traversed the same ground as Eliphaz, and have been as perplexed and bewildered as he. How inscrutable are God's dealings with men! How terrible are the convulsions of nature! How disastrous are the conflicts of nations! How bitter are the sorrows of individual men! But these words will bear another rendering. "Is mortal (or feeble) man just from the side of God, namely, from God's standpoint, or more briefly, before God? Is man pure before his Maker?" The rectitude of God is thus placed in contrast with the frailty of man. This fact, so humbling in itself, and so suggestive of man's inability to do better than God, is brought out more fully in the verses that follow, which most commentators regard as a continuation of the spectre's declaration. "Behold, He put no trust in His servants; and His angels He Charged with folly. How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth!" First, the spectre draws a comparison between God and the angels, who are His servants. They are God's servants, not His equals; His messengers, not His counsellors. There are some things which they do not understand; some things which they long desired to look into, but in vain. Some of the angels once fell from their first estate. It would not, therefore, seem to be an absolute impossibility for angels to sin. But God's purity is the essence of His character. All His ways are just and true. And if God put no trust in His angels, — if they are imperfect compared with His infinite perfection, — how much more is this true of men, who may be described as dwelling in houses of clay, and who are crushed as easily as a moth. That is the argument; and surely it is calculated to restrain men from passing judgment upon the equity of God's ways. Then are we qualified to sit in judgment on God? Could we govern the world better than He? Are we even capable of comprehending His plans and purposes? There are still many mysteries around us; and there are stiff many like Eliphaz, who have brooded over them in silence in the hour when deep sleep falleth upon men. We have thought, perhaps, of the departed, and wanted to know what they were doing. We have pondered the history of our past life, — so strange and chequered, — and asked why we were led, or, — it may be, — driven by circumstances, into the path that we have now to tread. We have caught ourselves drifting into speculations that might lead to dangerous results. We have even been tempted to let go the faith which we once held so dear. It is not fresh facts that are required, but clearer vision; — a disposition to accept that which has been revealed already, and act upon it; for (according to Christ's own words) obedience is the way to knowledge. "If any man do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine." There was no written Word in the days of Eliphaz; no risen Christ; no Holy Spirit in the world to convince the understanding, and sanctify the heart. But it is otherwise now. God has spoken to us in terms far clearer and more explicit than those which He addressed, through the spectre, to the friend of Job. He has not proposed to us simply the question, "Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be purer than his Maker?" He has declared in the most emphatic terms, that He is just and holy; and that instead of dealing with men according to their sins, and rewarding them according to their iniquities, He is gentle and forbearing, even to the hardened and impenitent. He has done more. He has assured us that chastisement is a proof of love; that He inflicts it not for His pleasure, but for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. We have no right to expect that God will explain or justify all His actions. Where, then, would there be room for the exercise of faith? We could not question a spectre, probably, if he were to appear. Most likely he would only terrify and alarm us. But we can turn again and again to the written Word. But God has given us more than the written Word. He sent His Son into the world — "the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of His person," and through Him we have obtained more light upon the character of God and His relations to men than any spectre could ever have given us. He came from the world of spirits. Eliphaz was afraid of the spectre. And we, probably, should be quite as frightened if a spectre were to appear to us. But there is something more terrible than a spectre. It is the sight of an offended God. When Adam sinned he hid himself among the trees of the garden, for he was afraid to meet God. And so will it be at last with every unpardoned sinner. He may hide himself in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; he may call upon the rocks to fall on him and hide him from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. But it will be of no avail. Eliphaz trembled at the sight of the spectre. But there is something more appalling still; it is the sight of the ghosts of unforgiven sins.

(F. J. Austin.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men,

WEB: In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men,

The Discourse of the Apparition
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