"Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give up all he owns in exchange for his life.
I. THE FORCE OF THE PROVERB. Take it how you will - that a man will sacrifice a less vital part to save a more vital part, holding up his arm to shelter his head; or that he will give the lives of his cattle, slaves, children, to save his own body's skin; or that he will sell hide after hide of precious skins from his warehouse, i.e. all his property, for his life - the proverb plainly means that a man will make any sacrifice to save his life.
1. There is an instinct of self-preservation. Here we come to an impulse of nature. When in a state of nature all creatures try to save their own lives at any coat. Even the would-be suicide, when once he finds himself drowning, screams for help, and clutches madly at the rope that is flung to him. Accordingly, juries usually bring in a verdict predicating an unsound mind in the case of any one who has succeeded in taking his own life. Now, this instinct of self-preservation is a gift from the Author of nature; it is innocent because Divine, and powerful because primitive.
2. Life is a first condition of all experience and possession. If a man loses his life he loses his all. He may sacrifice many things for the sake of one coveted end - selling all he has to buy one pearl of great price; he may risk his life on a great venture; but if he loses his life he can obtain nothing in return. "What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own life?" (Matthew 16:26).
3. Life is seen to be supremely valued. Starving men become cannibals. In the siege of Jerusalem women boiled their own children for a last meal, natural affection itself being sacrificed to the instinct of self-preservation. Desperate men sell their lives dearly.
II. THE FALSITY OF THE PROVERB. We must be on our guard how we quote texts from Scripture. This is especially important in the Book of Job, where the form is dramatic. The proverb before us is in Scripture; yet it is not from God, but from the devil. This very fact should make us suspicious about it. It looks like truth, but it comes from the "father of lies."
1. It denies the higher life. Satan refers to a natural instinct. But that instinct does not cover the whole of our being. His lie is the more deadly because it is the exaggeration of a truth, or rather because it is the statement of one truth which needs to be qualified with another truth. Bishop Butler has taught us that human nature in its fulness includes conscience. But conscience may go against the lower part of our nature. The higher life may dominate and suppress the instincts of the lower.
2. It ignores the fact of self-sacrifice. Satan uttered his saw as though it were a generalization from wide experience. We may have our fine theories as to how things ought to be; he will tell us how he finds them really existing in the world. The devil only perceives the lower life, only perceives the selfish side of man. He is the "spirit that denies," because he is blind. But self-sacrifice is as much a fact as self-preservation. The cross is its great witness. The good Shepherd giving his life for the sheep is the triumphant refutation of Satan's old saw. So in a secondary way are Job in his fidelity, and every martyr and hero and Christ-like man. - W.F.A.
All that a man hath will he give for his life.
(Robert A. Watson, D. D.)
I. TO THE HISTORY OF EVEN UNREGENERATE HUMAN NATURE. Even in the unconverted there are principles, some evil and some good, which, becoming dominant, subordinate to themselves the love of life. Such as the passions of hatred and revenge; the love of adventure; duellings; love of know. ledge; science; salvation of the imperilled by water, fire, or disease. So, in the name of humanity, we may repudiate the assertion that, as a universal thing, men will do anything to save their lives.
II. HOW MUCH LESS TRUE IS THE TEXT OF THE RENEWED HEART. That which is the ruling passion in a man rules over the love of life, as well as other things in him. In the truly godly man the ruling passion is love to God, and love to his neighbour for God's sake, and that dominates over all things else. The adversary, though he used every advantage, could not succeed in shaking Job's confidence in God. (Illustrate from cases of three Hebrew youths, Daniel, Paul, etc.) Satan spoke words of calumny, not of truth. Learn —
1. Through our self-love Satan's most insidious temptations come to us. With this estimate of human nature in his mind, he has kept continually appealing to men's love of life, and it is astonishing in how many cases he has at least partially succeeded.
2. The truest greatness of humanity lies in falsifying this assertion of Satan. Since we call ourselves by the name of Christ, let us be distinguished by His unselfishness. That only is a heroic life which forgets itself in service.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMAN LIFE.
1. Appeal to authority, the authority of the varied scriptural references to life, such as, "A living dog is better than a dead lion."
2. Contemplate human life as the work of God. "Marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty!" But in this lower world the chief is Thy creature, man. All is under the influence of his power or his skill. See the animal world. See the material world. Everything justifies the supremacy he possesses. His very form is peculiar. What majesty is there in his countenance! He is fearfully and wonderfully made. There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Most High giveth him understanding. He is capable of knowing, and serving, and enjoying his Creator; he has reason and conscience; he is susceptible of vice and virtue, of morality and religion.
3. Human life has an intimate, unavoidable, inseparable connection with another world, and affords us the only opportunity of acquiring good. If we confine our attention to the present momentary state of man, he will appear a perplexing trifle. He has powers and capacities far above his situation; he has wants and wishes which nothing within his reach can relieve and satisfy. He is great in vain. But as soon as he is seen in connection with another state of being, he is rescued at once from perplexity and insignificance. As soon as we seize this point of vision, all is intelligible. Immortality, what a prerogative! Eternity, what a destiny! A preparation for it, what a calling! The importance of a thing is not to be judged of by the magnitude of its appearance, or the shortness of its continuance, but by the grandeur and variety and permanence of its effects. Nothing can equal the importance of the present life, as a state of probation, according to which our future and unchangeable happiness or misery will be decided. For, upon this principle, none of your actions can be indifferent. Consider that, as is your way, such will be your end.
4. Consider human life in relation to our fellow creatures, and as affording us the only opportunity of doing good. The means of the temporal and spiritual welfare of mankind are not poured down immediately from heaven. God divides the honour with us. He gives, and we convey; He is the source, and we are the medium. It is by human instrumentality that He maintains the cause of the Gospel, speaks comfort to the afflicted, gives bread to the hungry, and knowledge to the ignorant. But remember, all your usefulness attaches only to life. Here alone you can serve your generation according to the will of God, by promoting the wisdom, the virtue, and the happiness of your fellow creatures. Would you exercise patience? This is your only opportunity. Would you exercise self-denial? This is your only opportunity. Would you exercise Christian courage, or Christian candour and forbearance, or beneficence? This is your only opportunity. Would you discover zeal in the cause of your Lord and Master Here alone can you recommend a Saviour, and tell of His love to sinners. Let us —
II. SPECIFY SOME OF THE USEFUL INFERENCES WHICH FLOW FROM BELIEF IN THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMAN LIFE.
1. We should deplore the destruction of it.
2. We should not expose it to injury and hazard.
3. We should be thankful for the continuance of it.
4. We should not be impatient for death.
5. We may congratulate the pious youth.
6. If life be so valuable, let it not be a price in the hands of fools. Learn to improve it. Do not live an animal, a worldly, or an idle life.
(Henry Melvill, B. D.)
I. THE LOVE OF LIFE IS THE SIMPLEST AND STRONGEST PRINCIPLE OF NATURE. It operates universally on every part of the brute creation, as well as on every individual of the human race, perpetually, under all circumstances, the most distressing as well as the most pleasing, and with a power peculiar to itself; while it arms the feeble with energy, the fearful with courage, whenever an occasion occurs for defending life, whenever the last sanctuary of nature is invaded, and its dearest treasure endangered. It operates with a steady, constant influence, as a law of nature, insensible and yet powerful. It corresponds, in the animated world, with a great principle of gravitation in the material system, or with the centripetal force by which the planets are retained in their proper orbits, and resist their opposite tendency to fly off from the centre. We see men still clinging to life when they have lost all for which they appeared to live. The Scriptures frequently recognise and appeal to this fundamental principle. The only promise, annexed to any of the ten commandments exhibits life as the chief earthly good, and its prolongation as the reward of filial piety.
II. SOME REASONS FOR THIS INSTINCTIVE ATTACHMENT TO LIFE.
1. The first reason respects the preservation of life itself. That which, of all our possessions, is the most easily lost or injured, is that on the continuance of which all other things depend. The preservation of life requires incessant attention and exertion. The spark of life is perpetually exposed to the danger of extinction. Nothing but the strongest attachment to life could secure it. Life, we cannot forget, in its highest use, is the season of our trial for an eternal state of being. The results of the whole process of redemption, the accomplishment of the greatest designs of the Deity, are involved in the continuance of this probationary state of existence.
2. The promotion of industry and labour. Life must be loved in order that it may be preserved, and preserved in order that it may be employed. In every state of society, the greater part of the community must necessarily be subjected to labour. Under the best possible form of government, some must produce what is to be enjoyed by others. How great a benefit is that necessary condition of labour which acts as a barrier of defence against the wildness of human passions.
3. The protection of life from the hand of violence. Without some strong restraining sentiment, the life of individuals would be exposed to continual danger from the disordered passions of others. The love of life, so strongly felt in every bosom, inspires it with a proportionate horror of any act that would invade the life of another. The magistrate and the law owe their whole protective efficacy to that sentiment of attachment to existence which is a law written in every heart.
III. IMPROVE THE SUBJECT.
1. Infer the fall of man: the universal apostasy of our nature from the state in which it originally proceeded from the Divine Author. Created with this inextinguishable desire of existence, we are destined to dissolution. Our nature includes two contradictory principles — the certainty of death, and the attachment to life. This fact affords the clearest evidence that we are now placed in an unnatural, disordered, disjointed condition; that a great and awful change has passed upon our race since our first father came from the hand of God. This change must be owing to ourselves.
2. The subject reminds us of the salvation which provided us the antidote to our ruined condition.
3. It may serve to remind of the medium by which this Divine life is imparted and received. The connecting medium is faith.
4. The duty and obligation under which we lie: to impart the knowledge and enjoyment of these vital, eternal blessings to our suffering fellow sinners.
(R. Hall, M. A.)Matthew Henry says of this account of Satan, "It does not at all derogate from the credibility of Job's story in general, to allow that this discourse between God and Satan, in these verses, is parabolical, and an allegory designed to represent the malice of the devil against good men, and the Divine restraint which that malice is under." That is not the view which is now taken of the Book of Job by reverent students, but it is interesting, as showing that the parabolic feature in it has always been recognised.
I. HOW TRUE THIS PROVERB IS CONCERNING MAN'S CARE FOR HIS BODILY LIFE! In that pastoral age, when property mainly consisted in flocks and herds, skins became one of the principal articles of exchange; they were, in fact, what our coined money is, the medium of purchase and sale. "Before the invention of money, trade used to be carried on by barter — that is, by exchanging one commodity for another. The men who had been hunting in the woods for wild beasts, would carry their skins to market, and exchange them with the armourer for bows and arrows." Translated into our modern language, the proverb would read, "Thing after thing, everything that a man possesses, he would give to preserve his life." There is no intenser passion than the desire to retain life. The tiniest insect, the gentlest animal, holds life as most dear, and battles for it to the very last. The foe that man most dreads, all earthly creatures dread. The impress of sacredness lies on the life even of the meanest and most worthless. Man can calmly lose everything but his life. Poor men cling to life as truly as rich men. Wise men hold life as tightly as ignorant men. Young men regard life no more anxiously than do old men. Do what you will, you cannot make the fact of your own death real to you. "All men think all men mortal but themselves." The love of life and fear of death is the same in the Christian as in the ordinary man. Conversion to God neither changes the natural instincts of man as a creature, nor the particular elements of a man's character. Good John Angel James used to say, "I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying." All our life long we may be in bondage through fear of death. We are only sharing the common instinct of the creature. "Skin after skin, all that we have we will give for our life." Why has God made life thus sacred?
1. To accomplish His purpose, the time of each man's life must be in His hands. Life is a probation for us all, and one man requires a longer probation than another. God must hold in His hands both the incomings and outgoings of life. And yet man can easily reach and spill his own life. How then shall he be guarded from taking his own life? God has done it by making the love of life the one master instinct in every man.
2. The order and arrangement of society could not be maintained if men had unlimited control over their own lives, and felt no check from this instinct. Think how the reasons which now induce men to take their own lives would then gain aggravated force. For the smallest things — a trifling anxiety, a passing trouble, a commonplace vexation, slighted love, unsuccessful effort — men would be destroying themselves. What would be the uncertainties, the whirl of change, the wretchedness of this world's story, if men were unchecked by this instinct of life? Widows moan, and orphans weep, and homes are desolated now; but then, what would it be then, if life were lightly esteemed and could be flung away for trifles?
3. But for this instinct of life, man would have no impulse to toil. Through work moral character is cultivated. We must work if we would eat. We must work if we would be happy. We must work if we would be "meetened for the inheritance of the saints in the light." And yet who would work if there were not this instinct of life? What motive would be left to urge us to make earnest endeavours, and to overcome difficulties? The one thing that really inspires our mills, and Shops, and warehouses, and studies, is this instinct of life, this passion for life that dwells in all our breasts.
4. This instinct is the secret of our safety from the lawless and violent, Suppose that our life was of no greater value than our property, then we should be at the mercy of every lawless man, who would not hesitate to kill us for the sake of our purse. As it is, even in the soul of the burglar, there is this impress of the sacredness of life, and only at the utmost extremity will he take our life, and so imperil his own.
II. WHAT A SATIRE THE PROVERB IS WHEN APPLIED TO MAN'S CARE OF HIS SOUL-LIFE! Yet that soul-life is the man's real and abiding life. His body-life is but a passing, transient thing. The soul-life is Divine and immortal. The body-life is akin to the life of the creatures; the soul-life is kin with God. I live. That is not the same as saying, My heart pulsates, my lungs breathe, my blood courses, my nerves thrill, my senses bring me into relation with outward things. It is equal to saying, An "I" dwells within me. That "I" is a spark struck off from the eternal fire of God. I am a spiritual being, an immortal being. Let the word life mean spiritual life, then how much will men lose rather than lose their souls? How do men reckon sacrifices when their souls are imperilled? What strange delusion can possess men that they can be careless of their priceless treasure? Why do men, who are souls, barter their heavenly birthright for a pottage of worldly pleasure? God Himself seems to wonder over so painful and so surprising a fact. He exclaims, "Why will ye die? O house of Israel, why will ye die?" It is said that within the caterpillar there is a distinct butterfly, only it is undeveloped. The caterpillar has its own organs of respiration and digestion, quite distinct from and independent of that future butterfly which it encloses. There are some insects called Ichneumon flies, which, with a long, sharp sting, pierce the body of the caterpillar, and deposit their eggs in its inside. These soon turn into grubs, which feed within the caterpillar. It is remarkable that the caterpillar seems uninjured, and grows on and changes to the cocoon, or chrysalis, and spins its silken grave, as usual. But the fact is, that these grubs do not injure the worm; they only feed on the future butterfly that lies within the caterpillar. And then when the period for the fluttering of the butterfly comes, there is only a shell — the hidden butterfly has been secretly consumed. Need the lesson be pointed out? May not a man have a secret enemy within his own bosom, destroying his soul, though not interfering with his apparent well-being during the present state of existence; and whose mischievous work may never be detected until the time comes when the soul should burst forth from the earthly cerements, and spread its wings, and fly free in the heavenlies? Souls are lost now. Souls are won now. To win souls now may cost us sacrifice. Skin after skin a man should be willing to give in order to save his soul's life.
(Robert Tuck, B. A.)
The Pulpit.Man is, as the Greek poet speaks, "a life-loving creature." He is ever, whilst sound and sane, averse to death. We may have very little to live for, yet we cling to the thorn which pierces us. The last messenger is unwelcome to royalty in purple, to beggars in rags; to the thoughtless multitude, to the thoughtful few.
I. THE AVERSION OF THE SCEPTIC. The unbeliever can approach death only with feelings of intense distress. Death disinherits him of all things, and leaves him poor indeed. Let a shallow scepticism trumpet as it may the supreme attractions of the gulf of nothingness, human nature can only leap into that gulf with a shriek. Alas! that since Christ has lived, death should ever again have become such a king of terrors.
II. THE AVERSION OF THE SECULARIST. The man who believes in another world, but who has not lived for it. How reluctant are such to die! It is not difficult to understand this aversion. The Lord has come to demand an account of the stewardship, and the faithless servant trembles. They have lived in sense and sin, and are unprepared for the judgment. The "sting of death is sin."
III. THE AVERSION OF THE SAINT. It is a fact that good men have an aversion to dying. We see this in the prayer of David, "O spare me that I may recover strength," etc. Hezekiah's prayer also. The Perfect Man reveals this hesitancy. "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death." Paul also, "Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon." We should like to draw the coronation raiment of purple and gold over this frayed, coarse garb of pilgrimage. And it is ever thus with all the disciples of Jesus. We recoil from dying. On what is this aversion based?
1. There is a natural love of the world we must leave. A person realises a fortune, and on a given day exchanges the old cottage for a mansion. Glad of the aggrandisement, he yet bids adieu to his old home with a regretful sigh. It is something thus with a man leaving this world for a grander destiny. This world may be the battered cottage, poor by the side of the high palace which awaits us, yet is this life and world dear to us. Here we sprang into being, and received our ideas of all glorious things. Our joys and sorrows have made the scenes of life sacred to us, and it is strange how the fibres strike from us, and unite us to the earth on which we live. Thus, when the time comes to part with earth and its ties, there is a struggle in the bosom of the saint.
2. There is a natural distaste for death as considered in itself. We cannot be reconciled to death however we may be assured of its harmlessness. Life is such a magnificent dowry that it makes us nervous to see it placed, even for a moment, on the brink of peril. To a Christian there is but the shadow of death, yet the shadow of such a disaster is abhorrent to our deepest nature. Christianity has taken the sting out of death, and yet one dislikes a serpent even when it has lost its sting.
3. There is a natural shrinking from the mysterious glories of the future. Man always shrinks when on the eve of realising some great ambition. The saint is impelled by desire, and repelled by trembling anticipation. He falters on the verge of the great universe of mysterious glory. Let us seek so to live that our aversion to death may have in it no dark or ignoble elements, and Christ will, perchance, make death light to us — lighter than we sometimes think.
(H. W. Beecher.)
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