Great Texts of the Bible
I Know that my Redeemer Liveth
But I know that my redeemer liveth,
And that he shall stand up at the last upon the earth:
And after my skin hath been thus destroyed,
Yet from my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself,
And mine eyes shall behold, and not another.
My reins are consumed within me.
1. The author of this book was a poet who felt the iron of suffering pass deeply into his own soul, and had been driven by the cold consolations of well-meaning, though unsympathetic, friends into open revolt against the God of popular imagination. He has fought his way through despair and doubt, if not to clear light on the problem of suffering, yet to a freer and nobler faith in the living God. And in the poem he has opened his heart, and spoken out all the feelings that passed through his soul in his agony of grief, till he found rest again in God.
2. The hero of the poem is depicted as suffering under the load of accumulated sorrows, until he regards death as the only possible release from trouble. Again and again Job returns, fascinated, to this thought. But as he gazes into the misty depths of Sheol, the horror of death seizes him. The place of the dead is
a land of darkness and murk,
A land of thick darkness and chaos,
Where the light itself is like pitch.
It is a land, too, whence there is no return. Therefore in Sheol Job can no longer hope to see the vindication of his rights, but must go down to posterity as a godless man. The thought is intolerable, and he revolts against it. The first gleam of a hope beyond breaks from ch. 14—a passage of almost midnight gloom. Job is mourning over man’s brief and troublous life and swift, untimely end. There is hope of the tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again. Its root may be old and decayed, and its stock cut down to the ground; yet at the scent of water it will bud, and put forth boughs like a fresh, young plant.
But man dieth, and is laid in the dust;
He yieldeth his breath, and is gone.
As the waters fail from the sea,
And the river dries up and is vanished,
Till the heavens be no more, he shall not awake,
Nor be roused out of his sleep.
But the hope of the tree suggests to the despairing soul a possible hope for man as well. If man too may die and live again, God may perchance bring him down to Sheol, to hide him there till His wrath is past, and then “appoint him a set time and remember him.” If he could only entertain this hope, he should wait patiently, and endure the cruellest pains, all the days of his warfare, till his release came; and when at last God called, he would answer joyfully, and forget the misery of the past in the bliss of his new life with God. It is a hope, however, too high for him to grasp; and he is plunged into deeper darkness than before.
The waters wear the stones,
The floods wash off the dust;
So Thou destroyest man’s hope—
He sleepeth, and riseth no more.
Thou prevailest against him for ever;
Thou changest his face, and dost banish him.
And the lot of the dead man in Sheol is utterly miserable. He knows nothing more of what passes in this upper sphere. He cannot follow the fortunes even of his dearest ones.
His sons are honoured, but he knoweth it not;
They are brought low, but he marketh it not.
Nor is the sleep of the dead unbroken rest. He sleeps—“perchance to dream!” Though he knows nothing of his friends on earth.
Yet his own flesh hath pain,
And his own soul mourneth.
The sorely wounded sufferer seeks to move his friends to pity by the spectacle of all his accumulated woes: his glory stripped away, his hope plucked up by the root, his path enshrouded in darkness, his dearest friends estranged from him, and no one to hear his cry and bring him redress, for it is God that hath “subverted his rights.” But the friends are cold and pitiless as God Himself. In his despair Job turns for his vindication to posterity. If only he could write his defence in a book, or engrave it on the rock with iron stylus and beaten lead, future generations would read it, and judge justly, and attest his righteousness. But the record on the rocks is impossible. Thus he turns once more to his Witness in heaven.
But I know that my Goel liveth,
And as Afterman on my dust
He will stand as Witness before me,
And lift up His voice in my cause.
Then God shall I see in spirit,
Mine own eyes will look on His face;
No more estranged shall I see Him.
My reins are consumed at the thought.1 [Note: A. R. Gordon, The Poets of the Old Testament, 204.]
It has been wisely said that “there is a Gethsemane in every noble life.” Sometimes our path seems like a lane full of windings, where steep banks shut out light and air. But if we look up, we can never fail to see the fair blue hills of our Land of Promise rising high against the sky. The thorny wreath is sharp, but we shall exchange it by and by for that crown of glory which fadeth not away.… Christ’s crown of thorns broke into blossom long ago, and its sweet odours of healing float through our daily lives, and are wafted over the earth by every wind that blows. So shall our sorrows burst into bloom, if only we are patient, steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.… The sweetness and sanctity of the Christian life lie in the firm conviction that a gentle, unfaltering, though invisible hand is weaving for us that crown of thorns which we are bidden to wear.2 [Note: Henry White.]
We reach here the Mont Blanc of this poem of poems; the highest range tracked by this inspired and victorious hero. There in his Gethsemane he triumphs. From that moment “the prince of this world comes, and finds nothing in him” out of which he can extract a ray of hope for his attacks. When the cup, charged to the full with bitterness, is in the sufferer’s hand, and he is ready to say, “If possible let it pass on to another,” an access of power arrives, enabling him to hold it with a firm grasp, and say, “Not my will, but Thine, O living Redeemer, shall be done. I am convinced of the blessedness of the final issue. I am content. I am victorious.”1 [Note: J. Clifford, Daily Strength for Daily Living, 308.]
An interesting analogue to Job’s solution of the problem may be found in Sophocles’ ripest tragedies. Æschylus had regarded misfortune as the penalty paid for wrong-doing, with the view of working out the sinner’s moral discipline. On the other hand, Sophocles views suffering sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of the eternal harmony of things. Thus the grievous sorrows Philoctetes had to bear are conceived to have been laid upon him “by the care of one of the gods,” that he might be held in reserve, and braced in character, for his appointed task in the overthrow of Troy; and when Heracles at length reveals the purpose of the gods, he accepts his destiny with courage and joy. The tragedy of Œdipus ends in the same atmosphere of peace. The sorely-afflicted hero finds himself now reconciled to heaven, surrounded by the love of devoted children, and honoured by the friendship of kindly Athens and its chivalrous king, and gently yields his life to the touch of the gods, his destiny thus finding “a perfect end.” In both these dramas, then, Sophocles “views the problem of human suffering with the eye of faith, and in proportion as he sets before him an ideal of an all-powerful Divinity, who is merciful, loving, and gracious, so does it become easy for him to bear patiently with the evil and suffering in the world, in the serene belief that, were man’s vision wide enough, he would see joy and sorrow to be parts of one harmonious whole.”2 [Note: Mrs. Adam, in Early Ideals of Righteousness, 42.]
In considering this great declaration, let us note—
I. The Meaning of Job’s Words.
II. The Faith that they enshrine.
III. The Ground of Job’s Conviction.
In interpreting this passage we must distinguish between what it meant to Job and what it means to us who are able to turn upon it the blaze of the light of New Testament revelation, where life and immortality are brought to light in the Gospel. In thinking of Job, we must bear in mind the gloomy, hopeless doctrine of Sheol in which he had been nurtured, and which he had expressed so often. Even after the previous outburst of Job 14:13, we find him still speaking of Sheol in Job 16:22 as the place whence he shall not return. He could hardly pass suddenly from such views into the full meaning of Job 19:25 as we interpret it. And the subsequent discourses render it evident that he did not. If Job had realized all that we do in this text, the discourse would have ceased here; for this is the last word that even the New Testament can say. But we do not find any change in Job’s gloomy outlook. In fact, the third cycle is, in some respects, most pessimistic of all. Probably Job intended little more in this verse than he did in Job 14:13, that is, to express a firm conviction that God would vindicate him, and even if it should be delayed until his spirit had gone to Sheol and the flesh rotted from his bones, yet the vindication must come. God would call up his spirit from its abode of gloom, and he would answer, and would witness his vindication on the earth. But this is a germinal truth. It was intended by the Spirit of God to be so. The Old Testament prophets and sages often wrote far more profoundly than they knew. And this text was one of those which, pondered over by the saints of later days, opened up with new meaning, until it led to the brighter hopes of later Judaism, many of which received the sign-manual and royal imprimatur of the Great Master, whose life and Resurrection are here faintly foreshadowed.
Could I but see His face,
And hear His voice,
Oh! then I think
My heart would well forth love,
As from a fountain full,
And service would be my delight!
Yet if He showed His face
And spake to me,
Should I in truth
Arise to love and serve
Him as I ween? Alas!
I trust not my deceitful heart.
E’en if I saw and heard
Him as I wish,
Would not dark doubts
Ere long invade my soul?
And I should wondering ask—
Was’t true that He appeared and spake?
E’en so, my Lord, ’tis so;
And therefore I
Will be content,
That Thou Thyself reveal
By making strong, true, glad
My foolish, sad, inconstant heart.
And when my sinful heart
Made fair and fit
For Thine abode: Oh! then
My Lord, show Thou Thy face
And speak: so shall I love and serve.1 [Note: D. W. Simon in Life, by F. J. Powicke.]
1. What are we to understand by the term “redeemer”? We find that the word is frequently used of God as the deliverer of His people out of captivity, and also as the deliverer of individuals from distress. Among men the Goel was the nearest blood-relation, on whom it lay to perform certain offices in connexion with the deceased whose Goel he was, particularly to avenge his blood, if he had been unjustly slain. Job here means God is his Goel. The passage stands in close relation with ch. Job 16:18-19, where he means God is his “witness” and “sponsor” or representative. It is probable, therefore, that there is an allusion to the Goel among men—Job has in God a Goel who liveth. This Goel will vindicate his rights against the wrong both of men and of God. At the same time, this vindication is regarded less as an avenging of him, at least on others, than as a manifestation of his innocence. This manifestation can be made only by God’s appearing and showing the true relation in which Job stands to Him, and by Job’s seeing God. For his distress lay in God’s hiding His face from him, and his redemption must come through his again beholding God in peace. Thus the ideas of Goel and redeemer virtually coincide.
“Whoever alters the work of my hand,” says the conqueror called Sargon, “destroys my constructions, pulls down the walls which I have raised—may Asshur, Nineb, Raman and the great gods who dwell there pluck his name and seed from the land and let him sit bound at the feet of his foe.” Invocation of the gods in this manner was the only resource of him who in that far past feared oblivion and knew that there was need to fear. But to a higher God, in words of broken eloquence, Job is made to commit his cause, seeing beyond the perishable world the imperishable remembrance of the Almighty. So a Hebrew poet breathed into the wandering air of the desert that brave hope which afterwards, far beyond his thought, was in Israel to be fulfilled.1 [Note: R. A. Watson, The Book of Job, 232.]
2. Job says that this redeemer liveth. The term “liveth” is emphatic. Job may die, but his Vindicator cannot die. The order of the world, of which Job has caught a glimpse in his own life, is eternal. Job’s cause, the truth for which he so strenuously fought, is undying; for it is the expression of an infinite life which rules above all mortal destiny. Job sets the life of his Vindicator over against his own death. It is by bearing this opposition in mind, by emphasizing the undying life of the Vindicator over against the mortality of the vindicated that we see the fulness of the hope to which Job rises at this point in his conflict.
Historical events and characters to some extent sway the hearts of men. Trafalgar and Nelson quicken “every man this day to do his duty.” But Nelson is dead, and Trafalgar among the things of the past. Waterloo and Wellington kindle a memory of uusurpassed British bravery, but Wellington is no more, and Waterloo is not a living force in the national life of to-day. Calvary lives because its Hero lives, “I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen. And have the keys of hell and of death.” He further says, “I live, and ye shall live also.” The widow says of her departed husband, “Had he been alive, things would have been very different with me from what they are.” The orphan says of the sainted father, “Had he been alive, I should not have been compelled to ask you this favour.” Faith leans on a living bosom, and draws its comfort from a living heart.2 [Note: T. Davies, Sermons, 35.]
O Thou the Lord and Maker of life and light!
Full heavy are the burdens that do weigh
Our spirits earthward, as through twilight gray
We journey to the end and rest of night;
Tho’ well we know to the deep inward sight,
Darkness is but Thy shadow, and the day
Where Thou art never dies, but sends its rays
Through the wide universe with restless might.
O Lord of Light, steep Thou our souls in Thee!
That when the daylight trembles into shade,
And falls the silence of mortality,
And all is done, we shall not be afraid,
But pass from light to light; from earth’s dull gleam
Into the very heart and heaven of our dream.1 [Note: R. Watson Gilder.]
3. Job looks for a vindication of his character, when this Redeemer standing upon his dust takes up his cause. It can scarcely be that Job has any hope of deliverance in this life. He regards himself as already on the verge of the grave: every temporal prospect has vanished. Besides, if this were his expectation, he would be abandoning his own position, and adopting that of his friends. Job then looks for a vindication beyond the grave. Does he mean that apart from his body, stripped of flesh, he will see God; or that, clothed in a new body, looking out from restored flesh, he will yet see God? The expression “from my flesh,” “out of my flesh,” is ambiguous; and we can judge of Job’s thought only from the context and general scope of the book. But when we look at these, we conclude that what Job has in view is a real spiritual vision and not a resurrection of the flesh.
This corresponds best to the whole tone and movement of his thought. For obviously, he is expecting a Divine vindication of his integrity only after he lies in the dust; and it is not likely that, with this great hope suddenly invading his mind and taking instant but full possession of it, he would at once begin to speculate on whether or not, when he had shuffled off the mortal coil in which he was entangled, he should be clothed upon with “flesh” in some new and higher form. Such a speculation would have been well-nigh impossible at such a time. That Job, rising from his long agony, his long inquest, to a sudden recognition of a great light of hope burning behind the dark curtains of death, and so far streaming through them as to give him courage to sustain a burden otherwise intolerable, should instantly fall into a curious speculation about “in the body,” or “out of the body,” would be contrary to all the laws which, as experience proves, govern the human mind at a crisis such as that at which he had arrived. Most probably he neither knew when, or in what form, the great deliverance for which he hoped would be vouchsafed him, nor did he curiously inquire how, or in what form, it would find him when it came. All he knew was that, somehow, after his mortal body had been destroyed, God would redeem him; but whether he would then be in a body or out of a body, he cannot tell and does not speculate.
“Why does He not,” as Carlyle said in his blind agony, “Why does He not do more?” Why does He not turn back the rolling seas of wickedness, construct a world without earthquakes, states without injustice and oppression, cities without knavery, villages without poverty and disease, homes without envy and disorder, and churches without selfishness and impurity—that is to say, why does not God make a world of puppets, and arrange everything on the principles of mechanics, making men perforce good and pure and true, as a well-made and properly-regulated watch is constructed to keep time with the sun; instead of creating man on the basis of a sovereignly free and dignifying choice, the necessity of personal virtue, the supremacy of law, the discipline of experience, and the evolution of the riches of character by trial? “Take for an example of suffering and patience, the prophets who spake in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call them blessed which endured; ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity and merciful.” Resist the diabolical sophistry which identifies a cloudless sky with an existing sun, affirms the unseen to be the non-existent, and the unhappy to be the unholy. God is love. That is His nature, the essence of His being; not an accident, an occasional emotion, or a passing mood; and therefore, He is, as Job saw and felt, the Kedeemer and Vindicator of all souls that sincerely seek Him and diligently serve Him; the guarantee that defeated and humiliated and oppressed man will be set free, and exalted to behold the triumph of eternal righteousness; and the witness that man is at present, and here in this world, scarred and defaced with evil though it be, the object of God’s pitiful sympathy, redeeming care, and constant protection.1 [Note: J. Clifford, Daily Strength for Daily Living, 317.]
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is signed by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that where-soe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.1 [Note: Walt Whitman.]
4. In spite of death Job holds that in some way he will witness his own vindication. By the phrase, “mine own eyes shall behold, not those of another,” he does not, of course, mean to assert that no one but himself will be cognizant of his vindication; but that, come when it may, he himself must be cognizant of it; that, even though it should come when men account him dead, he shall be alive unto God and to the action of God on his behalf.
5. Job pants for this manifestation, until he almost faints. The words “my reins consume me” are an exclamation, meaning, “I faint.” The reins are the seat of the deepest feelings and experiences, especially of those toward God. Job began with expressing his assurance that he should see God, but as he proceeds, so vivid is his hope that it becomes almost reality, the intensity of this thought creates an ecstatic condition of mind, in which the vision of God seems almost realized, and he faints in the presence of it.
There is a deep pathos in the way in which Job assures himself of his personal participation in the coming triumph of moral truth. He says, with pathetic repetition and fond emphasis, “I shall see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” Then, as though overcome by the glorious vision, he ejaculates, “My reins are consumed within me.” Parallel to this are the words of the hymn—
I thirst, I faint, I die, to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me.2 [Note: J. Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, ii. 57.]
“I know that my redeemer liveth.” It seems clear that in expressing himself thus Job attains to the thought of a future life, a life of blessedness in the presence of God. But this is not an easy thought for him. It is new and unfamiliar and strange. It is a vision that breaks upon him for a moment and then disappears. If he could only have held it fast, if he could have planted his foot upon it, then his trouble had been gone, the mental perplexity would have disappeared, and he would have been able to rest in patience till the great vision came. But he gets only a passing glimpse of the truth; the clouds soon gather, and he is plunged back again into his fear and perplexity.
1. Job represents humanity struggling into the light of a larger faith. Great moral truths are never discovered by nations or races, but by individual men. And yet even the wisest and most forward-looking men but rarely discover a truth much in advance of the thoughts and yearnings of their own race, in their own generation. As a rule, the new truth is in the air of the time; many have some dim consciousness or presentiment of it, and are groping after it, if haply they may find it. And at last one man, one happy man, prepared for the achievement by the peculiar bent of his nature, or gifted with the vision and the faculty Divine, or driven onward by peculiar personal experiences into untrodden regions of thought, grasps the present and widely-diffused but evasive truth, and compels it into a definite and permanent form.
(1) Of this common process of discovery we probably have an illustration in the case of Job. There are many indications that, both in the patriarchal age, i.e. the time of Job himself, and in the Solomonic age, i.e. the time of the Poet to whom we owe this divina commedia, the thought of a better and more enduring life, a strictly moral life, hidden from men by the darkness of death, was in the atmosphere; that the best and highest minds were reaching after it and yearning for it. And in Job this general thought took form, this common yearning rose to articulate expression, this widespread hope became a living and vitalizing faith. His personal experience, the wrongs and calamities he endured, the doubts and conflicts these miseries bred in his heart, prepared and qualified him to become the interpreter of the general heart of his time, to discover the truth which alone could satisfy it. It was simply impossible for him, since he believed the great Ruler of men to be just and unchangeable, to conclude that the God whom he had done nothing to offend was really hostile to him, though He seemed hostile, or that He would always continue to seem hostile to him, never acknowledging his integrity. And as he had lost all hope of being redeemed and vindicated in this life, as therefore he could no longer admit the present to be a strictly retributive life, he was compelled to look for, till he discovered, a retributive life beyond “the bourn.” Fading out of this world, he looks for, and finds, a juster and a better world to come.
Then what this world to thee, my heart?
Its gifts nor feed thee nor can bless.
Thou hast no owner’s part
In all its fleetingness.
The flame, the storm, the quaking ground,
Earth’s joy, earth’s terror, nought is thine,
Thou must but hear the sound
Of the still voice divine.
O priceless art! O princely state!
E’en while by sense of change opprest,
Within to antedate
Heaven’s Age of fearless rest.1 [Note: J. H. Newman, Verses on Various Occasions, 20.]
(2) The life of humanity on earth is exactly typified by all that part of the drama of Job’s life which lies between its prologue and its epilogue, between its supernatural beginning and its supernatural ending. Through all that long story of a man—full, as it is, of tragic interest—what is the very sorest trial to which it has ever been subjected, to which it still is and always must be subject? It is not merely the calamities, the sorrows of life, which come to all; it is the added suffering of the mystery of these sorrows. It is the thought of the apparent carelessness and capriciousness with which the joys and the pains of existence seem to be scattered among the children of the common Father. It is that suffering in this life seems to be neither penal nor yet remedial, but seems to come, as the rains of heaven fall and the winds blow, on just and unjust alike. It is that there is so much apparent waste and gratuitous suffering, so much purely useless and purposeless agony. It is that human lives seem wasted by myriads, poured out on the earth like water, seemingly unregarded, unpitied, unaided, unrequited. Suffering humanity, wherever it still retains its faith in a Divine Lord and Ruler, is still haunted by this question: “Why is it thus with us?” Like Job, too, it has been sorely vexed by false comforters, would-be friends who preach and lecture and rebuke and exhort, but who cannot console, because they cannot solve that enigma with which every sufferer finds himself confronted: “Why, if God is good and just, does He thus afflict me?” Surely the analogy is perfect here. Humanity seems to have still the old choice presented to it: to curse God and die; or to die believing in and blessing Him, and yet with a thousand reasons why it should not believe in, why it should not bless or praise, the Being who thus seems causelessly to afflict it. And the message—the inspired message of this type of our race to all who strive to believe in a Father, though they have no visible and sensible proof of a Father’s love—is this: “Believe as I did, although such proof be lacking. Believe as I did, in spite of all the seeming disproof that you see and feel. Believe that God is your Father; believe that He will—indeed, must, because He is your righteous Father—do for you what He has done for me. Believe that for you, too, there is an avenger; one who will yet give you victory over all that now afflicts you. Believe that you shall yet see for yourselves the loving Father who is hidden from you now. Believe that a day is coming for you when you will discover that there was a need for all you mourn under; when you will receive from your Father double for all that He has done unto you.”
The throb of Thy infinite life I feel
In every beat of my heart!
Upon me hast Thou set eternity’s seal!
For ever alive, as Thou art.
I know not thy mystery, O my God,
Nor yet what my own life means,
That feels after Thee, through the mould and the sod,
And the darkness that intervenes.
But I know that I live, since I hate the wrong,
The glory of truth can see;
Can cling to the right with a purpose strong,
Can love and can will with Thee.1 [Note: Lucy Larcom.]
(3) The cry of the patriarch is the utterance of the desire of humanity. But it is more; it is a prophecy; it points forward to the completed drama of another life, in which once more appears, as in this older drama, the supernatural controlling the natural. Once more we see, behind the veil of the material and the visible, the Divine power that rules and overrules all things for good. We see once more a righteous sufferer, holy, harmless, undefiled, whose whole life was spent in absolutely perfect submission to the will of his Father in Heaven, and who was yet a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and whose sorest sorrow and deepest grief sprang from the intensity of His sympathy with His sorrowing and suffering fellow-men. We see Him rejected, despised, hated of those He loved so well, dying at last a death of shame and agony, which was regarded by those who inflicted it as the just punishment for offences against the laws of His country and His God, and we hear from Him in the moment of His supremest agony just that appeal to the justice and to the love of God which suffering has wrung from the heart of the righteous sufferer in all ages: “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?”2 [Note: W. C. Magee, Christ the Light of all Scripture, 223.]
Just as science tells us that each order in creation—each successive type in the long evolution of living creatures—gives, in some rudimentary organ or function, its mute mysterious prophecy of the higher type that is to follow it, so that each type is at once a prophecy and a fulfilment of a prophecy, an accomplishment of a past foreshadowing, a foreshadowing of a coming future—so in the slow evolution of redeemed humanity, all along its course, there may be seen like tokens and prophecies of its completion; prophecies all the more real, because they are not read in words, but in facts and events; profound analogies, marvellous correspondences between what has been and what is, and again between what is and what we are told is yet to be; successive and ever clearer indications of the one great design that runs through all the ages; prophecies, as the buds are of the spring—as the flowers are of the summer—as the dawn is of the sunrise; prophecies which are, therefore, a far weightier evidence for Christianity than any number of merely verbal predictions, because they are predictions which could not possibly have been interpolations of later date, made to fit the events after they had occurred; prophecies entirely free from questions of dates, or authorship of books, or verbal niceties of translation, because they are interwoven through the whole structure of the sacred books—nay, throughout the whole structure of human history—of human life itself—which they illustrate and explain. As the cross in the ground-plan of some great cathedral shows that its idea from the first must have been Christian, whereas the external cross placed upon it might have been but the afterthought of later builders; so this prophetic structure of all sacred history is in itself a far greater, a far more certain word of prophecy than any single word or words of this or that individual prophet.1 [Note: W. C. Magee, Christ the Light of all Scripture, 215.]
2. Job turned from the harsh theories of men to the mercy of a Divine Vindicator. He had expected sympathy from his friends. They were men of his own age and standing; they were religious men, men of very sincere, though perhaps of somewhat narrow, piety; and, more than that, they were wise, thoughtful, experienced men, accustomed to trace the working of God in providence and to find the principles by which His dealings with men were regulated. They were men with whom it had been the pleasure in happier days of Job to converse upon the great mysteries of human life and destiny. And these men, when they heard of their friend’s trouble, did not desert him. They were mindful of the claims of friendship. They knew that Job needed their help, and so they made an appointment, and rose up each man from his place, and came to see Job and to comfort him in his affliction, and sat with him there seven days and seven nights in silence, respecting the sacredness of his grief. And yet we know that these men, so good, so faithful, so promising, failed Job utterly in the hour of his trouble. He had to say that they were like a deceitful watercourse, which the travelling caravan in the desert hastens to in order that it may be refreshed with water, and finds that the water has disappeared. So they had been to him. He had waited for their coming, he had waited after they came for their speaking, and when they spoke, and when he was able to hear the thoughts that were in their hearts with regard to him, he found that they were miserable comforters, that they could give him no help. And it is just then, when he has touched this lowest depth of despair, that he comes to see how near he is to the fountain of all hope and consolation. Why should he wish this impossible wish? What good would it do him to have his words recorded and read by future generations? Ah! was it not that deep in his heart, though he hardly knew it, there was a conviction of a day of witness somewhere else than upon earth, that those thoughts and words which had passed through his mind were all known to One? And that thought now breaks through his darkness, and he leaps up to meet it with this exclamation: “But I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand up at the last upon the earth.” It is Job’s appeal from the sympathy of man, which was refused, to the sympathy of God, which at last he dared to claim and to trust.
Into the heaven of Thy heart, O God,
I lift up my life, like a flower;
Thy light is deep, and Thy love is broad,
And I am not the child of an hour.
As a little blossom is fed from the whole
Vast depths of unfathomed air,
Through every fibre of thought my soul
Reaches forth, in Thyself to share.
I dare to say unto Thee, my God,
Who hast made me to climb so high,
That I shall not crumble away with the clod;
I am Thine, and I cannot die!
There have been four typical notes of despair in the region of literature. The first and most intense is the voice of Omar Khayyám. It is despair absolute, despair of life all round, despair whose only relief is to drown itself in wine. The second is the Book of Ecclesiastes. I would call it despair of results. It does not deny that it is a pleasant thing to see the light of the sun; it does not dispute that there is a time to dance as well as a time to weep; but it asks, What is the good of it? does it not all end in vanity? The third is the cry of Pascal. It is despair of everything finite—finite reason, finite love, finite pleasure; the only possible joy is joy in God. The fourth is that dramatic portraiture which we call the Book of Job. I would describe it as the despair of old theories. It is the least despondent of the group. It does not say that the world is bad; it does not say that life is vanity; it does not even say that finite things cannot bring joy. What it does say is that all the past theories to explain the evils of the universe have been utterly powerless to account for these evils, but none of them is fit to sustain the weight of human woes, and that all of them put together are inadequate to wipe the tear from a single eye.1 [Note: George Matheson, The Representative Men of the Bible, 350.]
3. Job turned from the God of providence to the God of his conscience. Job had no idea of a distinction in the Godhead, such as we have. This was not yet revealed to him. And what he says of his Redeemer, he says of God generally. A fuller revelation has taught us that God the Redeemer is God manifested in His Son; and what Job says here of his Redeemer standing on the dust is fulfilled in the Son. Yet this distinction, as already said, was not one known to Job. God is his Redeemer. In the next verse he himself explains this to be his meaning: “I shall see God.” He shall vindicate him against the wrongs which he suffers, against the suspicions of men, against the aspersions of Satan; yes, and against another thing—against the hardships that have fallen upon him from the general providence of God, where evil and disease and death are now elements of the current of events.
One of the most singular positions into which Job is driven by the riddles of his history is this: he divides God into two. One God, the God of outer providence, who rules, and whom events obey, persecutes him, holds him guilty, and refuses, with ears obdurately closed, to listen to the appeals of His creature for a hearing and an adjudication: “Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come unto his place! I would fill my mouth with arguments. Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?” But behind all this is a God who knows his innocence, a heart conscious of his rectitude: “My witness is in heaven, and he who can bear testimony to me is on high.” And the suffering saint appeals to the one against the other, from the providence of God to the heart of God, from the Ruler of the universe to the gracious Redeemer: “Mine eye poureth out tears unto God; that he would maintain the right of a man with God, and of a son of man with his neighbour!”
There are strange riddles in life, strange mysteries of providence, irreconcilable with our ideas of God—the miseries of the just, early deaths, earthquakes and shipwrecks swallowing up innumerable lives. Our spirits are bounded by iron walls on every side, cabined and confined; and we are mostly content to have it so. We are so familiar now with mystery that we are scarcely stirred by the most appalling occurrences; we are so used to the inexplicable, and so absorbed in what is around us, that the narrow limits of our knowledge hardly trouble us. But to an eagle spirit like Job’s this caging was unbearable; and he spread his wings and dashed himself against the bars of his cage demanding knowledge—resolved to come even unto God’s place, and pluck out the mystery from the darkness; demanding that the events of God’s providence should be made to correspond with this idea of God, and sure that if he know not now he shall know hereafter, when God will descend from the heavens, and stand upon the earth, to unravel the mysteries of his life here, and to proclaim his innocence and God-fearing way.1 [Note: A. B. Davidson, Waiting upon God, 86.]
Wherever a landscape-painter is placed, if he paints faithfully, he will have continually to paint effects of mist. Intense clearness, whether in the North after or before rain, or in some moments of twilight in the South, is always, as far as I am acquainted with natural phenomena, a notable thing. Mist of some sort, or mirage, or confusion of light, or of cloud, are the general facts; the distance may vary in different climates at which the effects of mist begin, but they are always present; and therefore in all probability it is meant that we should enjoy them. Nor does it seem to me in any wise difficult to understand why they should be thus appointed for enjoyment. In former parts of this work we were able to trace a certain delightfulness in every visible feature of natural things which was typical of any great spiritual truth; surely, therefore, we need not wonder now that mist and all its phenomena have been made delightful to us, since our happiness as thinking beings must depend on our being content to accept only partial knowledge, even in those matters which chiefly concern us. If we insist upon perfect intelligibility and complete declaration in every moral subject, we shall instantly fall into misery of unbelief. Our whole happiness and power of energetic action depend upon our being able to breathe and live in the cloud; content to see it opening here and closing there; rejoicing to catch, through the thinnest films of it, glimpses of stable and substantial things; but yet perceiving a nobleness even in the concealment, and rejoicing that the kindly veil is spread where the untempered light might have scorched us, or the infinite clearness wearied.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters (Works, vi. 89).]
“Only the Dark!… Only the Mystery!…”
He said. “Only beyond, above, before!…
Only—O Captives of the wave-walled shore!—
Only the incommensurable sea!…
Only, for eyes that all too wisely see
The sun at midday, and are blind therefore,
Only the Dark—where, lambent to the core,
Gyre the great stars’ deepening galaxy!…
Only of ignorance the ancient wrong;
Only of life the viewless counterpart;
Only of truth the secret undivined;
Only—new ranges for the feet of song,
New loves of the inextinguishable heart,
New powers of the imperishable mind!…”2 [Note: George Cabot Lodge, “The Noctambulist” (Poems and Dramas, ii. 154).]
4. Job turns from the present to the future, from his present misery and perplexity to a coming vindication. For, after all, as Job would have said to himself, this horrid confusion and contradiction must come to an end. There are not two Gods. The God who deals with me so harshly in providence and the God who speaks to me in my heart are one Being, and He must make His ways plain; He must reveal Himself, and declare Himself to be upon my side. Where that will take place, or how, or in what state of being, or whether in the body or out of the body, Job could not have told; but somehow and somewhere in the future God will be seen, God will vindicate his case, and Job will be there to see Him.
God is better to us than our best desires, and gives a larger blessing than our fullest prayers. The incised rock and molten lead are not to hand, but a place is given to the suffering preacher in that “finer world of books within the world,” yea, in that finest book-world of all—the Bible—so that, instead of speaking in one language, he speaks in hundreds, and where he might have reached the eyes of only a few solitary pilgrims he now addresses the hearts of myriads and shall have an increasing congregation for evermore. “God is not unrighteous to forget our work of faith and labour of love,” and fervency of missionary desire; but treats us with ineffable generosity, and rewards our poor and faltering work with unsearchable riches—
No life is lost, no hope is vain,
No prayer without a sequent deed;
He turns all seeming loss to gain,
And finds a soil for every seed.
Some fleeting glance He doth endow,
He sanctifies some casual word,
Unconscious gifts His children show,
For all is potent with the Lord.1 [Note: J. Clifford, Daily Strength for Daily Living, 323.]
1. “I know.” Job holds fast the living truth in his own life, and in so doing, lays fast hold of God. He will not deny the clear convictions of his spirit within him, and take refuge in the conventional platitudes of his friends. Their utterances are honoured and hoary, and sanctioned by high authority. The canons of the Fathers and the visions of the orthodox are set in array against him; and he has nothing to set against them except his consciousness of passionate sincerity and great living convictions of righteousness that have taken his life by storm, and made it their own. Yet this is enough. It is the living man, not the formulated creed, that stands nearest to God. In the truth that lived and conquered in his own life Job became assured of the living supremacy of the God that would vindicate that truth.
Job’s assurance is based on his own past experience, on his life with God, on his consciousness of being a God-fearing man, and on his ineradicable convictions in regard to the nature of God and His relations to men. Job’s circumstances cause his principle to appear in its barest form: the human spirit is conscious of fellowship with God, and this fellowship, from the nature of God, is a thing imperishable, and, in spite of obscurations, it must yet be fully manifested by God. This principle, grasped with convulsive earnestness in the prospect of death, became the Hebrew doctrine of immortality. This doctrine was but the necessary corollary of religion. In this life on earth the true relations of men and God were felt to be realized; and the Hebrew faith of immortality—never a belief in the mere existence of the soul after death, for the lowest popular superstition assumed this—was a faith that the dark and mysterious event of death should not interrupt the life of the person with God enjoyed in this world.1 [Note: A. B. Davidson, Job, 293.]
You cannot miss the ring of conviction in the man’s speech. It resounds in every line, and fills the air with its thrilling music. He says what he knows. He believes, and therefore speaks. It is the grand outleap of his whole soul in emphatic declaration, defiant faith, and fearless appeal, “rising with the aspiration of a flame, the beneficence of a fountain,” and the certainty of unclouded midday sunshine. “I know.” It is not desire or caprice, wish or will, faith or hope, but unwavering, absolute knowledge, whose voice arrests our listening ear, and directs our expectant thought.2 [Note: J. Clifford, Daily Strength for Daily Living, 312.]
By Reason the limits of the finite may be transcended in knowledge, as for the dying saint they are in practice, and men may be certain that, could they comprehend as God comprehends, they should see the Eternal made manifest through the fleeting shadows of time. For there is but one Single Subject within which all knowledge and all reality fall. With and in that Single Subject philosophy and faith alike assure us that we are one. And so when his simple creed, pictorial, it may be, but symbolical of the deeper meaning of reality, bids the humblest soul in his greatest and last extremity be assured that his Redeemer liveth, it may be that there has come to him an insight in form only different from that of the profoundest thinker.3 [Note: Lord Haldane, The Pathway to Reality.]
Jesus my Redeemer lives,
Christ my trust is dead no more;
In the strength this knowledge gives
Shall not all my fears be o’er,
Though the night of Death be fraught
Still with many an anxious thought?
Jesus my Redeemer lives,
And His life I once shall see;
Bright the hope this promise gives,
Where He is I too shall be.
Shall I fear then? Can the Head
Rise and leave the members dead?
Close to Him my soul is bound
In the bonds of Hope enclasp’d;
Faith’s strong hand this hold hath found,
And the Rock hath firmly grasp’d;
And no ban of death can part
From our Lord the trusting heart.1 [Note: Lyra Germanica, 93.]
Starting with the existence of an all-strong, all-wise, and all-loving God, Browning endeavours to prove the doctrine of a future life by pointing to the incompleteness of the present one. Infinite wisdom united with Omnipotence cannot make anything imperfect; but man in his earthly life is imperfect; therefore that life can only be a part of a scheme which is as yet unrevealed in its entirety:
I search but cannot see
What purpose serves the soul that strives, or world it tries
Conclusions with, unless the fruit of victories
Stay one and all stored-up and guaranteed its own
If it be answered that, for all we know, the life of humanity as a whole, in its gradual development towards an as yet unconceived end, may be perfect in itself, without the need of a future life for individuals, Browning would rejoin that in the temple which God builds, not merely the edifice itself, but every separate stone composing it, must be without spot or blemish; for He is not subject to human limitations, and need not sacrifice the part to the whole. Consequently, Browning believed that if the individual’s earthly life can be shown to be incomplete, the existence of Heaven is proved.2 [Note: A. C. Pigou, Robert Browning as a Religious Teacher, 55.]
2. Job reached his conviction by the painful path of suffering. As we look back upon the history, and as we read the book, we can see in what way Job was a gainer by his discipline. And we find it in these verses if we find it in any part of the book. It was just this, that he had learned a new view of God. He had learned a great new truth. He had not perhaps been able to grasp it as fully as he would afterwards, but it had dawned upon him, this thought of God as a Father and a God who would reveal Himself more fully in a future life; and the words that were wrung from him in that hour of his deepest trouble were put here for the admonition of all the ages; and saints of God who came after him, and followed sympathetically his history and his words, saw there a new light, a light that was strange to them, as it was to him, a light upon the far-distant horizon that cheered their souls through those dark ages that were to elapse until the coming of Christ. The dim and uncertain light led them on till at last the Sun of Righteousness came, bringing life and immortality to light.
On any morning of the year, how many pious supplications, do you suppose, are uttered throughout educated Europe for “light”? How many lips at least pronounce the word, and, perhaps, in the plurality of instances, with some distinct idea attached to it? It is true the speakers employ it only as a metaphor. But why is their language thus metaphorical? If they mean merely to ask for spiritual knowledge or guidance, why not say so plainly, instead of using this jaded figure of speech? No boy goes to his father when he wants, to be taught, or helped, and asks his father to give him “light.” He asks what he wants—advice or protection. Why are not we also content to ask our Father for what we want, in plain English?
The metaphor, you will answer, is put into our mouths, and felt to be a beautiful and necessary one.
But why is the metaphor so necessary, or, rather, how far is it a metaphor at all? Do you think the words “Light of the World” mean only “Teacher or Guide of the World”? When the Sun of Justice is said to rise with health in its wings, do you suppose the image only means the correction of error? Or does it even mean so much? The Light of Heaven is needed to do that perfectly. But what we are to pray for is the Light of the World; nay, the Light “that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
You will find that it is no metaphor—nor has it ever been so.
To the Persian, the Greek, and the Christian, the sense of the power of the God of Light has been one and the Bame. That power is not merely in teaching or protecting, but in the enforcement of purity of body, and of equity or justice in the heart; and this, observe, not heavenly purity, nor final justice; but, now, and here, actual purity in the midst of the world’s foulness,—practical justice in the midst of the world’s iniquity. And the physical strength of the organ of sight—the physical purity of the flesh, the actual love of sweet light and stainless colour—are the necessary signs, real, inevitable, and visible, of the prevailing presence, with any nation, or in any house, of the “Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”1 [Note: Ruskin, The Eagle’s Nest (Works, xxii. 203).]
Without, as I heard the wild winds roar,
And saw the black clouds their floods outpour,
As the lightnings flashed,
And the thunders crashed,
And the hurricane’s force waxed more and more,
I said, as I looked from my window warm,
“Heaven never on me send such a storm!”
Then came a dark day, when fierce and fast,
Down fell on my head the blinding blast!
Yet tho’ sore assailed,
I nor shrank nor quailed,
For tho’ loud the gale raged, as ’twould rage its last,
The struggle I waged, as I journeyed on,
A woke in me powers before unknown!
I felt my hot blood a-tingling flow;
With thrill of the fight my soul did glow;
And when, braced and pure,
I emerged secure
From the strife that had tried my courage so,
I said, “Let Heaven send me or sun or rain,
I’ll never know flinching fear again”2 [Note: Thomas Crawford, Horae Serenae, 17.]
Be content to wade through the waters betwixt you and glory with Him, holding His right hand fast; for He knoweth all the fords. Be not afraid, therefore, when you come to the black and swelling river of death, to put in your feet and wade after Him. The death and resurrection of the Son of God are stepping-stones and a stay to you; set down your feet by faith upon these stones, and go through as on dry land.3 [Note: Samuel Rutherford.]
Clifford (J.), Daily Strength for Daily Living, 305.
Davidson (A. B.), Waiting upon God, 79.
Davies (T.), Sermons and Homiletical Expositions, 30.
Lockyer (T. F.), Seeking a Country, 41.
Magee (W. C.), Christ the Light of all Scripture, 207.
Metcalf (R.), The Abiding Memory, 77.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, xi. 209.
Ramage (W.), Sermons, 245.
Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, 1st Ser., 147.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, ix. (1863), No. 504; l. (1904), No. 2909.
Stone (H. E.), From Behind the Veil, 89.
Thomas (J.), Myrtle Street Pulpit, ii. 49.
Christian World Pulpit, xxx. 188 (Johnson), 345 (Boardman).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Easter Day and Season, vii. 294 (Keble).
Homiletic Review, New Ser., xvi. 358 (Davis).
Sermon Year Book, ii. 48 (Skinner).