While he was still speaking, another messenger came and reported: "The fire of God fell from heaven. It burned and consumed the sheep and the servants, and I alone have escaped to tell you!"
I. THE CALAMITIES. Their suddenness and unexpectedness. A bright holiday was selected by Providence for the discharge of those torrents of woe. The young people were making merry in their eldest brother's house - perhaps on his birthday - when the bolt out of the blue, without a moment's warning, struck. The imagination is powerfully affected by such contrasts. We do not pity ourselves or others so deeply when we have had time to prepare for the storm. The shock of the blow is broken when it finds us forewarned and forearmed. Men must all suffer at some time, and at some time must die; but the terror of the unlooked-for sorrow is as great as the joy of the unlooked-for blessing. But since there is a truth in the saying that "the unexpected always happens," how important to secure that only preparation for it which is within our power - a mind like Job's, fixed in principle, because fixed on God!
II. THERE WAS GRADATION IN THESE TROUBLES. They began in the inferior elements of life, and quickly rose to their climax in the superior. There was first the loss of property, in three distinct blows. First the oxen and the asses, then the sheep, and then the camels, were destroyed; and the whole of the herdsmen successively swept away. After the first loss, the instinct of Job would doubtless be to say, "Thank God for what is left;" and the same after the second; but the third cuts off these reflections, and strikes home the dreary conviction, "I am a ruined man!" Who can know but those who have suffered it what it is to lose a third or two-thirds of their worldly goods - much more to lose one's all? Shakespeare truly says that "'tis tenfold bitterer to lose than 'tis great at first to acquire." Still, a noble and loving soul, accustomed to find in affection life's choicest boon, will be consoled by the thought," My family is left me; and their redoubled tenderness and sympathy, and cares and hopes for them, will still make life worth living." But even this sentiment, if it rose in the mind of the ruined man, is blighted in the bud by the terrible news that his sons and daughters have all perished by a sudden and violent death. Thus did some hidden wrath seem to exhaust its vials of concentrated fury on his devoted head; and he who had basked so long in the sunshine is plunged into the darkness, without apparently a single beam of comfort or of hope from without. Nay, more; that his children should have been cut off in the blossom of their sins, in the very height of their mirth, hurried away without time for further expiation or prayer, seemed, alter all the father's earnest piety, as if Heaven had abandoned and doomed him.
III. We may notice, too, THE VARIETY OF THE SOURCES OF THESE AFFLICTIONS, The first came from the hand of men, from robbers, from men of violence and deceit. The second fell from heaven, in the form of devouring fire. The third, again, was a human outrage; and the fourth and most dreadful again from the tempestuous violence of heaven. For a just man to be the prey of injustice, to know that bad men gain at the expense of his loss, is a bitter experience; but to see mysterious, superhuman power, as it were, in alliance and compact with the wicked, is an awful aggravation.
IV. But WHAT IS THE EFFECT ON THE SUFFERER'S MIND? A glorious halo indeed surrounds him in this awful moment. Now is the time to see what there is in goodness, what is the real nature of faith; now or never the accuser must be abashed, and faint hearts must take courage, and God must be glorified. We learn from Job's behaviour that a true life in God is destined to triumph over all outward change and loss, over darkness, mystery, and death.
1. Faith. He believes in God. Not for a moment is his faith shaken. And his first instinct is to throw himself upon his God. He falls upon "the world's great altar-stairs which slope through darkness up to God." "Behold, he prays," and Satan already trembles for his wager. Oh, let us ever bend, reed-like, beneath the storm of Heaven-sent trial; not be broken like the rigid oak! He who can say from the heart, like the poor father in the Gospels (Mark 9:24), "Lord, I believe," shall presently find the floods abating, and a great calm around him.
2. Resignation. Our will has nothing to do with the supreme turns and crises of being. We did not come into this world, we ought not to attempt to go out of it, by an act of our own. We must be resigned to live or to die. A supreme will determines our coming and our going, our entrance and our exit, in this short scene of life. We did not determine the external condition in which we should be born. We all came naked into the world, and shall pass away taking nothing with us. Our bodily composition is earthy, and it must crumble back to earth. To her, the all-receiving mother of human-kind, we must each return. The deep sense of these relations is fitted to impress the habit of resignation. And, on the other hand, the transitoriness and weakness of our earthly estate should throw us upon the great spiritual realities. Resignation is not religious, self-renunciation is not complete, until we learn not only to give up earth and earthly will, but to cast ourselves on the bosom of the Eternal. He gives and he takes away the things that are no part of us, but only that he may hold ourselves, our souls, to him for ever.
3. Thanksgiving. What! thanks to God when he takes, as well as when he gives? Is this natural? is this possible? All is natural, is possible, to faith. For faith rests not upon what God does at this or that moment, but upon what he ever is. His action varies; in himself there is no variableness, nor shadow of a turning. Joy and sorrow, light and darkness, every possible phase of human experience, - these are the language of God to the soul. His meaning is one through all tones of his voice. Blessed, then, be the Name, not of the bestowing, health and joy imparting Father of light, Giver of every good and perfect gift; but blessed be the Name of the Eternal, true to himself in all his purposes, true to his children in all his dealings with them for their good.
"Blessed be the hand that gives,
While he was yet speaking there came also another.I. MANY AGENTS ARE WATCHING FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO INJURE US, BUT ARE RESTRAINED BY THE POWER OF GOD. These may be divided into the visible and invisible. There are the invisible, those fallen spirits, of whose apostasy and active malignity so much is said in Scripture. Here you will see how the devil first tried to take away Job's character for sincerity and virtue, then to insinuate that he was no better than a mercenary hypocrite, then to suggest that if he was but deprived of his outward possessions he would soon prove himself to be a downright blasphemer. Have we any reason to suppose it is otherwise with respect to us? Is not Satan still injuriously active? There are visible foes of our interests and of our peace. Man is not only alienated from God, but also from his fellow creatures. You especially ought to consider the debt you owe to God's restraining and preserving mercy. Persecution is perfectly natural to depraved man. It is providence which throws chains upon his black and malignant passions.
II. THE CREATURES CAN BE READILY CONVERTED BY GOD INTO THE AUTHORS OF OUR INJURY OR DESTRUCTION. It is so with the very elements of nature themselves. So with our social connections. "A man's foes may be those of his own household." Thus it is also with our secular possessions: they may prove curses rather than blessings.
III. THE EXTERNAL DISPENSATIONS OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE ARE NOT INFALLIBLE CRITERIA BY WHICH TO FORM OUR ESTIMATE OF HUMAN CHARACTER. Prosperity is not, for it often happens that the horn of the wicked is exalted, and that they flourish like a green bay tree. Adversity is not an unequivocal test. Learn —
1. Our obligations to the protecting care of God.
2. What an illustration has been supplied of the precariousness of that tenure by which all earthly things are held.
Homilist.The question discussed in the Book of Job is this — Is it possible for man to be actuated by disinterested love for his Maker? Observe the tests to which Job was subjected.
I. HE WAS 'TRIED CIRCUMSTANTIALLY. Though bereft of everything, Job does not throw off his allegiance to heaven, nor shriek curses into the ears of the infinite. Desolate he says — "Blessed be the name of the Lord."
II. HE WAS TRIED CONSTITUTIONALLY. Satan asks — Let me act on him? He is smitten with a loathsome disease. Does his faith stand this?
III. HE WAS TRIED THEOLOGICALLY. His friends denounced him as a sinner. His nature rebelled. For many a long day he was tortured in his deepest convictions, the tenderest nerves of his soul. Does his loyalty to heaven then give way; does his trust in the Almighty die out? Here, in Job, is the question settled for all time, that the human soul is not essentially selfish. It can "fear God for nought."
I. THE DESIGN OF GOD IN THE AFFLICTIONS OF THE WICKED.
1. He intends to punish the wicked by affliction. But He designs also to awaken them, to arrest their attention, and to show them the nothingness and vanity of all things here. How blessed is that affliction which brings the prodigal back to his father's house, however severe it may be.
II. THE DESIGN OF GOD IN AFFLICTING HIS OWN PEOPLE.
1. To try the genuineness of their faith. The apostle speaks of the "trial of our faith." In all his trial Job's faith was found genuine, and to the praise and honour of God; Job never does anything which is inconsistent with his being a child of God. Some, when they are put into the furnace of affliction, prove themselves to have been but hypocrites.
2. To discover the latent corruption of their hearts. When a man is first converted he little thinks how much evil there still remains behind! But the trial comes, and then unbelief arises in its former strength. Rebelliousness rages in every region of the soul. Unsubdued passions resume their strength, and he is utterly dismayed at the fearful scene. Job, who was the most patient of all men, then showed impatience. In the days of his prosperity he seemed to be perfect, but affliction showed what was in his heart.
3. To purify and to sanctify them. God puts us into the furnace to purge us from the dross — to make us holy and spiritually minded — to make us seek those things which are above.
4. To call into exercise the graces of the Spirit. There is a great tendency even in the people of God to spiritual sloth and slumber. They have grace, but their grace is not in lively exercise. Their movements are sluggish and lifeless. By affliction God awakens us to a sense of our high responsibilities, and calls forth into exercise our dormant graces.
5. To enhance the value of true religion. What can sustain you when trial and trouble, in various forms, has come upon you, but real, heartfelt piety? What else could have supported Job in his unparalleled and complicated afflictions?
6. God afflicts His people also in order to manifest His own glorious attributes. The great object in all that God does is to manifest His own glory. Learn —(1) That God has a purpose in all that He does.(2) Be encouraged by contemplating the case of Job. You are not standing alone in affliction.(3) Do not only look forward to the time of your deliverance from affliction, but look unto God for His grace, not only to sustain you, but to make that affliction minister to your happiness.
(A. S. Cannon.)
1. That of the three friends. Though representing three different types of character, all concur in one thing — they all hold the same theory of the Divine government, and on the strength of that theory they all condemn Job. God is just, and therefore God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. If a man suffers, he suffers because he deserves it. Job may be upright, but he must be cherishing some secret sin, and it is this which has called down on him the vengeance of the Most High. This is their compendious system of theology. But it breaks down. It is not large enough to cover the facts. Centuries of teaching could not root out of men's minds the obstinate belief that suffering is the measure of sin; but the sufferer himself repudiates it. The righteousness of God is the fundamental article of God's creed; but then comes his cruel perplexity. Job does not maintain absolute freedom from sin. For a moment he is tempted to take refuge in blind submission. But in his inmost heart he cries out, "God must be righteous." And so to the very last word he uttered he refused to be convinced of direct sin as the cause of his suffering. We know that Job is right, bat he still needed to learn the greatest lesson of all, that his very righteousness was not his own. He is right in maintaining his own innocence against his friends, right in holding fast his integrity, right in trusting God through all, right in appealing to Him to declare his righteousness when it seems to be hidden.
2. Another theory of suffering is given by Elihu. He is angry with Job for his obstinacy; and with the friends, because they have failed so completely to vindicate the righteousness of God. Elihu represents a younger theology. God's purpose in chastisement He declares to be the purification of His servant. If He puts those whom He loves into the crucible, it is to purge away their dross, to cleanse them from past sins, and to keep them from failing in the future. Here, certainly, is a step in advance. To see a purpose of love in affliction is to turn it into a blessing. Job accepts in silence this interpretation of suffering.
3. But the mystery of suffering is not fully explained even when this purifying power is assigned to it. There is a suffering which is not even for the salvation or purification of the individual soul, but for the glory of God. In the prelude Satan tells God to His face that His servants serve Him not from disinterested motives or sincere affection, but in the spirit of the hireling, from the lowest and most mercenary, considerations. "Doth Job fear God for nought?" This is the challenge given, and it is one that strikes at the nature of God Himself. It means that he is incapable of inspiring a genuine, disinterested affection. God accepts the challenge. Job has to learn that suffering comes, because God is honoured in the trial of His people; and surely no more noble part can be assigned to man than to be the champion of God.
(Robert A. Watson, D. D.)
I. TROUBLE AFFECTS A MAN THROUGH HIS POSSESSIONS. The case of Job is quite a model of the troubles that can come to a man through his possessions. He had scarcely time to take breath after hearing one mournful tale before another messenger of woe burst upon him, and the climax of his woe seems utterly heartbreaking. How is it that these changes of circumstances came to press on this man as troubles? Nothing really hurts us save as it affects the mind, and different things affect us differently according as they reach the various parts of our mental and spiritual nature. What part of us, then, is touched by these outward calamities which deprive us of the things that we possess? There is in our nature the desire of acquisition, and its satisfaction is the source of very many of our pleasures. The hurt to the mind which follows on losing our possessions takes its highest form in the loss of our children and friends. So far, however, as such troubles are concerned, our manhood ought to be great enough to enable us to deal with them, and we have no overwhelming admiration for the man who can see all his possessions go and yet maintain his integrity and keep his hold on God.
II. TROUBLES MAY COME TO A MAN THROUGH HIS BODY. We could not easily overestimate the relation which health and bodily vigour bear to a bright, hopeful spirit and a cheery, active faith. A vast proportion of the doubts and fears and inward struggles of men have their secret source in conditions of the beds, failure at the springs of vitality, or the presence of insidious disease. The secret relations of the body and the spirit are very mysterious. Consequently you come nearer to a man, you touch him to the quick, you put his spirit to a far higher test, when you bring calamity in upon his body. From the descriptions given it is probable that Job's disease was what Eastern travellers know as elephantiasis, because the extremities of the body swell enormously, and the skin becomes as hard as the elephant's hide. It is hard to bear when disease is painful; harder still when it is prostrating; harder still when it is disfiguring and loathsome; harder still when it involves social disabilities. And Job's was all this. Can a man so suffer and keep hold of God? These calamities which come through our bodies affect other parts of our nature, and in some senses higher parts. The love of life. The desire of pleasure. The faculty of hope. All these are struck back, pressed down, forbidden to speak, and it is their inward wrestling which makes the bitterness of such trouble-times. But if affliction only reached these two things, our possessions and our bodies, we should not be able to call the testing sublime. Something would still be wanting.
III. TROUBLE AFFECTING A MAN THROUGH HIS MIND. For this greater testing the outward troubles of Job were but the approach and preparation. These new trials were of a kind, and came in such a way, as was most likely to cause mental confusion. The visit of the friends, and their bad theology and false accusations, were the very things to awaken the inner conflicts of the soul. They offered forms of truth which roused his resistance. They presented creeds, in their grave and formal way, which Job felt were too small to meet his case. They started doubts in his mind which almost swelled into the agony of despair. Job's mental anguish took one particular form. The facts of his condition were brought into conflict with the formal creed of his day, the creed in which he himself had been brought up. That creed declared that suffering was the exact and necessary accompaniment of every sin; and that great calamity betokened great sin. Job feels sure that this must somehow be wrong. The creed would not fit his case. Scripture provides us with other illustrations of this highest and most imperilling form of human trouble. But the most sublime example is found in the Lord Jesus Himself. Bodily sufferings He had, but no man knows what the Lord has borne for him until he can enter into the spiritual conflict of Christ's temptation, and the infinitely mysterious inward distress of Gethsemane and Calvary. We are not alone in these agonies of soul. Not alone while the struggle is being waged, not alone in the blessed victory it may be given us to win. We, too, with Job, may hold fast our integrity. Two things need a passing notice. Observe how the mental struggle was intensified by the influence of the foregoing outward calamities. The loss of all he possessed had humbled him. Grief at the loss of his children had oppressed him. Long-continued suffering of body had wearied him, and now the very spirit was weak. And observe also, that in such times of strain a man may very nearly fail and yet hold his integrity. Sometimes a man is, for a moment, smitten down. Job sometimes fails, and talks foolishly. He seems as if, in his desperation, he set his righteousness against God's. But from the very borderland of infidelity and despair Job comes back to the trust and the rest of the child heart that finds the Father in God.
(Robert Tuck, B. A.)
1. By the causes of it (ver. 6, 7, etc.).
2. By the instruments of it (ver. 15, 16, etc.).
3. By the manner of it (vers. 14, 15, 16, etc.).
4. By the time of it (ver. 13).
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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