Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said,Job 11:1; Job 11:16
In her journal, Marie Bashkirtseff observes, of one of her girlish sorrows: 'There is one thing that troubles me; to think that in a few years I shall laugh at it all and have forgotten'. Two years later there is another entry: 'It's two years now, and I don't laugh at it, and I have not forgotten'.
Every fresh region man breaks into reveals new wonders, and with them new enigmas, calling upon him to solve them or perish. There is a special complication, a pressure in our own day, which is not to be answered by an unmeaning clamour against rational enlightenment. We cannot stay the current that is bearing us onward so swiftly, but we may guide our course upon it, looking to the stars above. In our anxious and inquiring age... men shall find their safety, not in placing faith and science in an unreal opposition, not in closing their eyes to the revelation of God's power, but in opening their hearts to the secrets of His wisdom, double to that which is.
Poor 'Comtism,' ghastliest of algebraic spectralities—origin of evil, etc.—these are things which, much as I have struggled with the mysteries surrounding me, never broke a moment of my rest. Mysterious! so be it, if you will. But is not the fact clear and certain! Is it a 'mystery' you have the least chance of ever getting to the bottom of! Canst thou by searching find out God? I am not surprised thou canst not, vain fool.
Is this confessed inadequateness of our speech, concerning that which we will not call by the negative name of the unknown and unknowable, but rather by the name of the unexplored and inexpressible, and of which the Hebrews themselves said: It is more high than heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?—is this reservedness of affirmation about God less worthy of Him than the astounding particularity and licence of affirmation of our dogmatists, as if He were a man in" the next street? Nay, and nearly all the difficulties which torment theology,—as the reconciling God's justice with His mercy, and so on—come from this licence and particularity; theologians having precisely, as it would often seem, built up a wall first, in order afterwards to run their own heads against it.
These questions were put by an extraordinary contradiction of human manner. They were put by Zophar, a citizen of the fair Naamath—a lovely place, full of flowers: a place that the summer might have haunted, and have lingered until the last beam of light faded behind the hills. Yet this was one of the most rough-spoken men of his day; in this respect the environment and the man were mismatched. Zophar was an accuser, a man of rough tongue; he could not be civil until after he had been rude. He told Job that he, the wasted one, was 'a man of lips,' in the Hebrew tongue, a word-chopper, a gabbler in the face of heaven's patience, and that Job knew nothing about his own case. The ideal and poetic Eliphaz had spoken, and Bildad—the sort of middleman that interprets poetry to prose, and makes the dull dog try to understand a word here and there—and Zophar comes up with the climax of brutality. There is a candour that is not lovely, there is an outspokenness that had better have choked itself before it began to speak. Yet every now and then—for we have called the man a self-contradiction—Zophar comes squarely down on the bedrock of fact and experience, and treats the whole deitic question with wonderful pith, setting it out in glittering generalizations and stunning Job as if by new proverbs.
I. Zophar called Job back to beginnings, to realities, to limitations. Said he in effect, See thee, this is the length of thy tether; thou hast seen a dog straining his neck as if he would get beyond the length of his iron chain, and he could not do it, but he nearly choked himself in the process; be wise; this thing deitic is higher than heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? 'Do,' 'know'—nearly all the verbs in one couplet.
II. We cannot know the Godhead, for it is higher than heaven, deeper than Hades; it belongs to all the unmeasured space, all the infinite intellectual territory, which has not yet been crushed into maps and made part of some elementary geography. But though I cannot measure the sun, I can enjoy the sunlight. That is my province, then; I cannot measure his diameter, but I can hail his summer and welcome his morning and bathe my cold life in his warm radiance. That is what we can do, and that we are called upon to do. We cannot count the sands upon the seashore, but we can walk over the golden path, and let the blue waves break in white laughter on our feet as we traverse that highway of beauty and vision. We cannot put the Atlantic into a thimble, but we can traverse it, sail upon it, turn it into a highway, utilize it, and make it not the separater, but the uniter of the nations.
So our not knowing and our not being able to do need not prevent our enjoyment and our service and our discipline. Do not imagine that you can get rid of religion by any intellectual act: there still remain the moral duties, the ten commandments, the eternal Sinai. Fool is he who thinks that there is no field beyond his own hedge, and that he has really nothing to do with religion because he cannot find out unto perfection the Almighty Father and Creator of all. To know that we do not know, that is wisdom; to know just where we ought to end, that is understanding.
III. 'What canst thou do? What canst thou know?' We can know Jesus; He speaks the language of little children; we have heard Him say, 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,' and it was just like our mother talking.
'What canst thou do?' We can do the commandments; at least, we can begin to do them; it will take us a long time to penetrate into their metaphysic, but we can begin to do their practical commands at once; we can make an effort in that direction. If Christianity had scented pillows to offer on which the head of weariness could rest, and if it could have some comfortable provision made on its return from slumber, Christianity would become quite a popular religion, but it is known by the badge called the Cross; its home is in Gethsemane and on Golgotha; its command is, Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.
Let us not, therefore, think that we are called upon to give great intellectual answers to unfathomable questions, but we are called upon to do good according to our opportunities, and to redeem the time, and to wait patiently for the Lord, who will give us wider horizons and more enduring suns.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II. p. 98.
References.—XI. 13-15.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 129. XI. 16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2676.
Should not the multitude of words be answered? and should a man full of talk be justified?
Should thy lies make men hold their peace? and when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed?
For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes.
But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee;
And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.
Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?
It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?
The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.
If he cut off, and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder him?
For he knoweth vain men: he seeth wickedness also; will he not then consider it?
For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass's colt.
If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him;
If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles.
For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear:
Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away:
And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning.
And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety.
Also thou shalt lie down, and none shall make thee afraid; yea, many shall make suit unto thee.
But the eyes of the wicked shall fail, and they shall not escape, and their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost.