Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain my own ways before him.
How often have these words been the vehicle of a sublime faith in the hour of supreme crisis! It is always matter of regret when one has to take away a cherished treasure from believing hearts. Now this verse, properly translated and rightly understood, means something quite different from what it has ordinarily been considered to mean. You will find in the Revised Version a rendering differing from the accepted one — "Though He slay me, yet will I wait for Him," it reads. So that instead of being the utterance of a resigned soul, submissively accepting chastisement, it is rather the utterance of a soul that, conscious of its own integrity, is prepared to face the worst that Providence can inflict, and resolved to vindicate itself against any suggestion of ill desert." Behold, He will slay me. Let Him. Let Him do His worst. I wait for Him in the calm assurance of the purity of my motives and the probity of my life. I await His next stroke. I know that I have done nothing to deserve this punishment, and am prepared to maintain my innocence to His face. I will accept the blow, because I can do no other, but I will assert my blamelessness." It is a lesson, not in the blind submissiveness of a perfect trust, but in the unconquerable boldness of conscious rectitude. There is nothing cringing or abject in this language. And this is in harmony with the whole tenor of the context, which is in a strain of self-vindication throughout. But, in order to understand the real sentiment underlying this exclamation, we must have a correct conception of the theory of the Divine action in the world common to that age. Job is thinking of Jehovah as the men of his time thought of Him, as the God who punished evil in this world, and whose chastisements were universally regarded as the evidence of moral transgression on the part of the sufferer. It is a false theory of Providence and of Divine judgment against which the patriarch so vehemently protests. He has the sense of punishment without the consciousness of transgression, and this creates his difficulty. "If my sufferings are to be regarded as punishment, I demand to know wherein I have transgressed." It is the attitude of a man who writhes under the stigma of false accusation, and who is prepared to vindicate his reputation before any tribunal. The struggle represented for us with so much dramatic power and vividness in this poem is Job's struggle for reconciliation between the God of the theologians of his day and the God of his own heart. And is not this a modern as well as an ancient struggle? Does not our heart often rise within us to resent and repel the representations of Deity that the current theology gives? Job had to answer to himself, Which of these two Gods is the true one? If the God of the theological imagination Were the true God, he was prepared to hold his own before Him. This Divine despot, as the stronger, might visit him with His castigations, but in his conscious integrity, Job would not blench. "Behold, He will slay me; I will wait for Him. I will maintain my cause before Him." Now, is this a right or a wrong attitude in presence of the Eternal Righteousness? Is there blasphemy in a man's maintaining his conscious innocence before God? As there was a conventional God in Job's day, a God who was a figment of the human fancy, dressed up in the judicial terrors of an oriental despot, so is there a conventional God in our own day, the God of Calvinistic theologians, in whose presence men are taught that nothing becomes them but servile submission and abject self-vilification. But is that view compatible, after all, with what the Scripture tells us, that man is created in the very image, breathing the very breath of God? We have been taught to imagine that we are honouring God when we try to make ourselves out as bad as bad can be. What are the strange phenomena produced by this conventional conception? Why, that you will hear holy men in prayer, men of inflexible rectitude and spotless character, describing themselves to God in terms that would libel a libertine. This was Bildad's theology. By a strange logic he fancied he was glorifying God by disparaging God's handiwork. He declares (Job 25:5) that the very stars are not pure in God's sight though God made them, and then falls into what I may call the vermicular strain of self-depreciation. "How much less man, that is a worm and the son of man who is a worm?" We have to judge theologies by our own innate sense of right and justice; and any theology which requires us to defame ourselves, and say of ourselves evil things not endorsed by our own healthy consciousness, is a degrading theology, one dishonouring alike to man and to God his Maker. Job's inward sense of substantial rectitude, both in intention and in conduct, revolted against this God of his contemporaries who was always requiring him to put himself in the wrong whether he felt so or not. And Job obeyed a true instinct in taking up that attitude. God does not want us to tell Him lies about ourselves in our prayers and hymns. But I will venture to say that any attitude that is not truly manly is not truly Christian or religious. "Stand upon thy feet," said the angel to the seer. The fact is, the conscience of good or evil is the God within us, and supreme. What my conscience convicts me of, let me confess to; but let me confess nothing wherein my conscience does not condemn me, out of deference to an artificial deity. Let us dare to follow our own thoughts of God, interpreting His relation and providence towards us through our own best instincts and aspirations. This is what Jesus taught us to do. He revealed and exemplified a manly and man making faith, as far removed as possible from that slavish spirit which is so characteristic of much pietistic teaching. Christ said, Find the best in yourselves and take that for the reflection of God. Reason from that up to God, He says. "How much more shall your heavenly Father!" Bildad and the theologians of his school transferred to their conception of Deity all their own pettinesses and foibles, and consequently conceived of Him as a being greedy of the adulation of His creatures, jealous of a monopoly of their homage. One who could not bear that anybody should be praised but Himself, and who was pleased when they unmanned themselves and wriggled like worms at His feet. To think thus of God is at once to degrade Him and ourselves. Let us not be afraid of our own better thoughts of God, assured that He must be better than even our best thoughts. I say Job was the victim of a false theology. When he was left to his own healthier instincts he took another tone. In the early chapters of this book he is represented to us as one of the sublimest heroes of faith. Under a succession of the most appalling and overwhelming calamities that stripped him of possessions and bereaved him of almost all that he loved in the world, he rises to that supreme resignation to the Divine will which found expression in perhaps the noblest utterance that ever broke from a crushed heart, "The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord." It is difficult to believe that it is the same man who rose to this sublime degree of submission who now adopts the semi-defiant tone of the words of my text — "Behold, He will slay me. I will wait for Him; I will maintain my cause before Him." The fact is that while it is the same mane it is not the same God. The God of the earlier chapters is the God of his own unsophisticated heart. In Him he could trust as doing "all things well." But the God of this later part of the story is the God of perverse human invention; not the Creator of all things, but one created by the imaginations of men who fashioned an enlarged image of themselves and called that "God." Job would not have wronged God if he had not had the wrong God presented to him. It was his would be monitors who had thought that God "was altogether such an one as themselves," who were guilty of this crime. And again, had Job himself been a Christian, had he possessed the ethical sense, and judged himself by the ethical standards that the teaching of Jesus created, he would not have adopted this attitude of proud self-vindication. For then, though his outward life might have been exemplary, and his social obligations scrupulously fulfilled, he would have understood that righteousness is a matter of the thoughts and motives, as well as of the outward behaviour. Judging himself by the moral standards of his time, he felt himself immaculate. It is pleasant to know from the last chapter, that before the drama closes Job comes to truer thoughts of God and a more spiritual knowledge of himself. He perceives that his heart, in its blind revolt, has been fighting a travesty of God and not the real God. Then, so soon as he sees God as He is, and himself as he is, his tone changes again. She accent of revolt is exchanged for that of adoring recognition, and the note of defiance sinks into a strain of penitential confession. "Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
Parallel VersesKJV: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.