Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. DEEDS OF VIOLENCE AND FRAUD. (Vers. 1-4.) "Why are not times laid up," i.e. reserved, determined by the Almighty, "and why do those who know him (i.e. his friends) not see his days?" - the days when he arises to judgment, days of revelation, days of the Son of man (Ezekiel 30:3; Luke 17:22). Then comes a series of acts of violence, oppression, persecution, permitted by God the removal of landmarks (Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10); the plunder of herds (Job 20:19); the taking of the property of the helpless in pledge (Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:6); the thrusting of the poor from the way into pathless spots, so that the miserable of the land are compelled to hide themselves from the intolerable oppression.
II. THE MISERY OF THE PERSECUTED. (Vers. 5-8) Ver. 5 is an apt description of the beggarly vagabond way of life of these Troglodytes, the types of the present Hottentots or Bushmen in South Africa: "As wild asses in the desert they go forth in their daily work, looking out for booty; the steppe gives them food for their children. On the field they reap the fodder of the cattle, and glean the vineyard of the wicked," thievishly not labouring in his service. Naked, cold, shelterless, exposed to the rain amidst the mountains, they cower for shelter among the rocks (vers- 7, 8).
III. FURTHER DESCRIPTIONS OF TYRANNY. (Vers. 9-12.) The orphan is torn from the mother's breast by cruel creditors, who intend to repay themselves by bringing up the child as a slave. The property of the poor is seized in pledge (comp. Amos 2:8; Micah 2:9). Then follows another picture of the victims of oppression, not now as wanderers of the steppe, but as the wretched denizens of inhabited cities (vers. 10-12). In nakedness and hunger, they carry sheaves for the supply of the rich man's table, while they themselves are starving. And thus the cry of those whose wages have been kept back by fraud goes up to Heaven (Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 5:4). We have a picture of ancient labour in the olive- and vine-growing East. While they press the olive or tread the wine-press they suffer cruelly from thirst. The groans of dying men fill the air, "and yet God never speaks a word!" "He heeds not the folly" with which these impious tyrants disregard and trample upon the moral order. - J.
shadow of calamity; and, on the other hand, evil-doing, which merits only judgment, affliction, and correction, is often found to prosper. To it outward events seem to be favourable. Men sin without let or hindrance. Apparently, "God layeth not folly to them." This aspect of human affairs is much dwelt upon in the Book of Job; it seems to be one of the central themes of the book. It finds its exemplification in the case of Job himself. The principal idea of the book is the unravelling of this mysterious confusion. Punishment may follow evil-doing, but it does not always immediately accompany it. Therefore some explanation is needed. It is evident -
I. THAT A TRUE ESTIMATE OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT MUST NOT BE BASED ON MERE INCIDENTS. Incidents do not always explain themselves. There are hidden springs of events. We know but little of every incident. We cannot trace its rise or its end. Other considerations must be taken into view besides the mere events on which judgment is to be passed.
II. THE ESTIMATE OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT MUST NOT BE BASED ON A PARTIAL VIEW. All the materials needed to enable one to form a just estimate of God's dealings in any single instance are not always immediately to hand. Much is hidden. Many purposes are to be served as much by the Divine inaction as by the Divine work. Men expect judgment upon an evil work to be presently executed. The Divine hand is withheld for many purposes which are not apparent. All judgment, to be true, must take all things into account. A wide range of vision needed for this. Few have opportunity of making it; therefore judgment must be suspended.
III. THE ESTIMATE OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT CAN ONLY BE TRULY FORMED WHEN THE WHOLE PURPOSES OF GOD ARE MADE KNOWN. The one purpose most vital to S correct estimate may be withheld. It may be beyond the power of the human mind to grasp all. Certainly it is not possible to see all the bearings of the conduct of men. God alone can see the end from the beginning. In patience then must men wait for the end. A final judgment is needed to clear up the apparent anomalies of the present. Judgment upon the wicked is mercifully suspended that men may repent; chastisement falls upon the righteous for the perfecting of character. In due time the chastened, sorrowful, but good man shall receive an ample reward. These latter truths are especially illustrated in the history of Job. - R.G.
I. THERE ARE TIMES OF SPECIAL DIVINE MANIFESTATION. God does give, in some manner, what Job is asking for. There is the" day of the Lord," when he breaks through the settled order of the world, and sets his court as the Judge of all men. Such a day was often spoken of by. the Hebrew prophets. It came in Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem, and again in the later overthrow of the city by Titus and the Roman legions. . It is predicted in the great final judgment of the world. So also there is a "day of the Lord" for individual men, when God breaks up the normal condition of life, and in the upheaval and confusion a Divine coming to judgment may be recognized. But God also has gracious seasons of visitation, "times of refreshing from the Lord." Then the soul perceives his nearness, and enters into the joy and light of his presence.
II. GOD IS PRESENT WHEN HE DOES NOT MANIFEST HIMSELF. Although when thus simply stated this is a truism, it is certainly not commonly recognized in the world. Nobody denies it; yet many ignore it. God's presence being invisible, and not generally evidenced by startling signs, men come to pass it by in their full absorption in secular pursuits. The practical question then arises - How may the constant unseen presence of God come to be more fully recognized? It is absolutely necessary that we should learn to withdraw ourselves more from the things that are seen and temporal. If the pressure of worldly pursuits is allowed to crowd the thought of God out of the soul, the result must be a perfect deadness in regard to his presence - a practical atheism, a living as though there were no God. When the desolation and dreariness of this life is perceived, we may well start back in horror from such a condition of spiritual decay.
III. IT IS FOOLISH TO WAIT FOR A NEW MANIFESTATION OF GOD. Job seemed to need this because his position was peculiar, and he was set to work out new problems of providence. But we have, what he had not, the fuller revelation of God in Christ. What we now need is not a fresh revelation, but eyes to read and hearts to perceive the Christian revelation. External, visible manifestations of God are not to be looked for now. Miracles were useful in the childhood of the race and in the infancy of the Church, but we have no right to expect miracles to make God better known to us. With us the need is of an interior illumination. So long as our spiritual sympathies are blind to God, no external manifestation will satisfy our needs. At the same time, we may well pray for God's hand to be stretched forth in action. There are huge wrongs in the world and sorrowful miseries. The Church cries out for the fuller coming of Christ in his kingdom. - W.F.A.
Deuteronomy 19:14). Here it appears first in a list of unjust actions. It introduces us to questions concerning the ethics of property.
I. PRIVATE PROPERTY IS RECOGNIZED BY SCRIPTURE. We cannot say that this indubitable fact is a complete answer to the proposals of the socialist, because it is not the function of revelation to determine social systems. It comes in to regulate our conduct under existing arrangements. Still, the recognition of private property shows that it is not in itself an evil thing. It may be urged that similar arguments would apply to polygamy and slavery, both of which are recognized and regulated in the Bible. There is this difference, however, that an enlightened Christian conscience perceives that the last-named practices are evil, and could only have been tolerated for a time to prevent greater evils; but the Christian conscience does not repudiate the idea of private property. Socialism may be fairly presented and argued about on grounds of expediency; but it cannot claim Christian teaching as favouring it rather than a wise and brotherly exercise of the rights of property. The short, temporary experiment at Jerusalem, when the disciples held all things in common, whatever this was (and it was far short of socialism), soon broke down. It was never urged on apostolic authority; it cannot be quoted as the model for all Church life.
II. PRIVATE PROPERTY NEEDS CLEAR DEFINITION. There must be landmarks, or there will be trespassing, springing from misunderstanding, leading to quarrelling. Wars between nations arise often out of disputes about boundaries, and private differences most frequently originate in a want of common agreement in the definition of rights. This is true of abstract as well as concrete rights. Nothing is more necessary for the maintenance of social order than that each individual in the state should know the limits that the just claims of others put upon his liberty. Absolute freedom is only possible on the prairie, or for a Robinson Crusoe on his solitary island. Directly we come to live in society we have to study mutual harmony, and to adjust the claims of neighbours. The perfect state becomes a sort of mosaic in which each individual has his place without overlapping that of his neighbour.
III. ONLY CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE WILL PREVENT THE ABUSE OF PRIVATE PROPERTY. Each man is tempted to enlarge upon his rights. Without considering himself a thief, he is urged to remove the landmarks to his own advantage. State justice and the strong arm of the law prevent this wrong as far as possible. But real justice between man and man can never be perfectly established by government. There are innumerable ways in which the strong can oppress the weak, and the cunning impose upon the unwary, without any interference by the law. We must have a spirit of justice in the people to prevent these evils. Now, it is the glory of the Old Testament that it constantly impresses on us the duty of justice and the sin of injustice. This grand lesson is not the less imperative because we live in New Testament times. The grace of Christ is the inspiration of all goodness. No one can be a true Christian who is not upright in business, and straightforward in his dealings with his neighbours. Christian charity does not dispense with the primitive duty of justice. - W.F.A.
I. A COMMON PRACTICE. The Old Testament rings with denunciations of this evil, showing that it was rife in the days of ancient Israel. The New Testament repeats the denunciations of the Old. John the Baptist and Christ himself had to speak against unjust exactions. St. James suggests that the practice was even found in Christian Churches (James 5:4). It has not disappeared in our own day, though it often assumes subtle and deceptive forms. Many things contribute to an unfair treatment of the poor.
1. Their ignorance. They do not always know their rights, nor perceive where cunning men have an advantage over them. Thus they are not able to protect themselves fairly.
2. Their obscurity. It is difficult for a poor person who has been wronged to attract attention. Nobody knows him. He has no influential friends.
3. Their inability to obtain legal redress. Theoretically the law is equal in its treatment of rich and poor. Practically it is nothing of the kind. For the law is proverbially costly, and a poor man cannot afford to put its machinery in motion.
4. Their prejudiced position. People look askance at shabby clothes. If a man is low in the social scale, a certain stigma attaches to him in the eyes of money-worshippers. His poverty is a reproach. Our own day has seen the emancipation of labour. The organized working classes can exact their rights. But the very poor are beneath the help of the new trades union machinery. The tendency of the sweating system and of other forms of selfishness is to grind down and oppress the most helpless and needy.
II. A GREAT SIN. The commonness of the practice does not lessen its guilt. Because many of the well-to-do people who manage affairs combine to get as much as they can for themselves out of the less fortunate people beneath them, they are not individually innocent. The law regards combination to do a wrong as conspiracy, and therefore as an aggravated offence; and conspiracy to oppress the poor is an aggravated offence in the sight of God.
1. Against justice. Poor men have their rights, even if the law cannot help them to exact them. A right is not the less morally inviolable because means cannot be found to put it in force. This may not be recognized now. But the righteous government of God cannot ignore the sin of trampling on the just claims of the helpless.
2. Against Christian brotherhood. Christ has taught us to rise above the plea of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" He has shown that we are not to regard ourselves as self-contained, or as having no interest in our neighbours. The parable of "the good Samaritan" has set before us for all time the pattern of the conduct that he approves of. All who need have claims upon us - claims springing directly out of their need and our neighbourhood in regard to them. Christ's own life and work teach us that the helpless are our brothers. To oppress them is to commit an outrage against members of our own family. It is the mission of Christianity to spread the spirit of brotherhood among men, and so to substitute brotherly kindness for heartless oppression. - W.F.A.
I. POVERTY. This is the first visible cause of the misery. The poor regard London as an Eldorado. It seems as though they must get some employment in the vast, busy city. So they pour into it in shoals. There individually they are lost sight of. The very multitude of them drowns their separate claims and appeals. A huge mass of poverty does not touch personal sympathies. It is a horror of misery, but it does not call for the aid that the distress of one person whose exact circumstances and history are known elicits.
II. OVERCROWDING. This evil means more than wretchedness. It is a distinct cause of moral deterioration, a direct source of dark vices. Herded like beasts, is it wonderful that men live like beasts? The decencies of life are impossible. All the finer feelings are crushed by coarse surroundings. The gracious influences of silence and privacy are unknown. People are forced to live and move and have their being in the midst of a noisy mob. The certain result is a break-down of civilization, and a corrupt civilization is worse than barbarism. The savagery of city slums is of a more degraded type than that of African forests.
III. DRINK. All who have looked carefully into the condition of the miserably poor of great cities are driven to the one conclusion that the most prolific source of evil is intemperance. No doubt the overcrowding, the misery, the absence of all other resources drive people to this one desperate consolation. We must remove the causes of intemperance if we would sweep away the vice. Still, it is a vice. Indulgence in it is morally degrading. So huge a vice demands exceptional treatment. It is the duty of Christian people not merely to enjoy their aesthetic worship, but also to follow Christ in saving the lost. Temperance work must take a prominent place in the activities of the Church.
IV. NARROWNESS OF LIFE. The town life is dingy and compressed. The influences of nature are not felt. The School Board has not yet brought the spirit of culture within the horizon of the crowded people in the lower parts of great cities. Religion is little more than a name to too many of these unhappy people. Such a cramped and crushed life cannot grow and bear fruit in the graces of human experience. Here, then, is a bitter cry that all Christians should hearken to for Christ's sake. It is humiliating to a Christian nation that such a cry should be heard in our land; it will be a sign that our religion is but hypocritical Pharisaism if the cry is unheeded. - W.F.A.
I. THE MURDERER AND THE ADULTERER. (Vers. 13-17.) A class of the wicked different from the foregoing is now placed before us; rebels, revolters against the light, who refuse to know anything of the ways of light, and to abide in its paths. These are the "children of darkness," so emphatically contrasted in the New Testament with the "children of light" (Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:8, etc.; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). Before the morning breaks, the murderer rises, to strike down the poor and needy, and at night he carries on the trade of the thief. The adulterer waits for the dusk, and veils his face (Proverbs 7:9). In the darkness houses are broken into by men who have shut themselves up during the day - men who have no affinity with the light, as the description repeats (ver. 16). To these malefactors the dense darkness is their morning; for then, when others sleep from daily toil, their vile work and trade begin, "because they know the terrors of the gloomy darkness' (ver. 17), being as. familiar with them as others are with the bright daytime. The joyous consciousness, the cheerful spirits of the children of the light, are contrasted with the fear, the anxiety, the incessant terrors of the children of darkness. Conscience, that makes cowards of all, will not suffer the most hardened to escape. "Certain dregs of conscience' will remain even in the most imbruted; the murderer will start at the shadow of a falling leaf. When the light that is within a man has become darkness, the very blessed day itself is turned to night. In their revolt from God, the eternal Light, they carry about night in their bosom, and all their terrors are present to them in the brightness of the day (Matthew 6:23; John 11:10).
II. JUDGMENT ON THESE EVIL-DOERS; ITS CERTAINTY. (Vers. 18-21.) They pass away swiftly as upon some gliding flood (Job 9:26; Hosea 10:7). His portion in the land being cursed - either by men or by God, or by both - the wicked man no more bends his steps to his vineyard and his other beloved possessions. Then - a powerful comparison - as dryness and heat carry away the short snows of winter, so the sinner evaporates as it were into hell (Psalm 49:14; Psalm 21:9). Forgotten by a mother's womb! Deserted even of the most tenacious affections the human heart can know, worms make a dainty repast upon his flesh. He is like a blasted tree upon the heath, or a felled trunk in the forest (Job 19:10; Ecclesiastes 11:3; Daniel 4:10). For he was rotten at the core; the heart of kindly affections was eaten away; he had plundered the childless and dealt cruelly with the widow.
III. JUDGMENT, THOUGH CERTAIN, IS DELAYED. (Vers. 22-24.) "God maintains the tyrant for a long time by his power," does not execute judgment at once (Isaiah 13:22; Psalm 36:11; Psalm 85:6). Although the oppressor is sometimes in despair of life, yet he rises up and flourishes again. God grants him safety, and he is supported, and God's eyes are upon his ways to protect and to bless. But it is for a little while only that this recovery and this security last - then they vanish (Genesis 5:24). Oppressors are bowed down, perish, pass away like ears of corn. Conclusion of Job's address. "If it should not be so, who will punish me for lies, and make my speech as nought?" It is a triumphant expression of his superiority, maintained in these lessons of experience on the incomparable dealings of God in the destinies of men. Because sin seems unpunished, it is not forgotten. Retribution is certain, though it may be delayed. The "treacherous calm" is more to be dreaded than the "tempests overhead." The greater the forbearance and the long-suffering shown by God towards the wicked, the more severe their punishment in the end. - J.
I. THE SPECIFIC PENALTY OF SIN IS DEATH. Sin may fulfil, and more than fulfil, some of its promises first; but the end is death. This dreadful fact, which is made clear to us from the story of Adam and Eve, throughout the whole of the Old and New Testaments, is obscured by popular conceptions of the future. The Church has regarded pain as the main consequence of sin. The gruesome mediaeval hell has been presented to the trembling sinner as the goal of his evil course. Now suffering, bitter and grievous, is in store for the impenitent, for Christ speaks of "wailing and gnashing of teeth." But suffering is not the only end of sin. Much more frequent than any references to the suffering of the wicked are the Scripture warnings of death and destruction. Whatever interpretation we put upon these warnings - whether we take them as denoting absolute extinction of being, pure annihilation, or whether we regard them as pointing to some corrupting, dissolving influence - they mean something else than keen, wakeful pain.
II. THE DEATH-PENALTY IS A NATURAL CONSEQUENCE OF SIN. Job tells us that the effect is like that of drought and heat consuming the snow-waters. No destroying angel need be sent forth with flaming sword to cut down the army of sinners. They are their own destroyers. The sword is in their own conduct. This is often seen in the physical effects of vice, which sows seeds of disease, and hastens premature decay. It is always present in the moral consequences of evil. The spiritual nature is diseased, corrupted, lowered. Powers and faculties fade and wither away. The true self shrinks and shrivels. Existence in the body on earth becomes a living death. When the life of the body is gone it is difficult to see what life is left, for this life seemed to be all that was possessed.
III. THE DEATH-PENALTY CAN ONLY BE AVOIDED BY THE GENERATION OF A NEW LIFE. Sentence has gone out against us; the sentence is in our own constitution. Here is the difficulty. If it were external, an external process might abolish it; but seeing that it is internal, it must be dealt with internally. No mere decree of pardon will be sufficient, for the poison is in the blood, the death is already at work there. A simple order of forgiveness can do nothing. The pressing need is for an antidote within. Nay, the old self has been so injured and corrupted by sin, that a new life is needed. We are beyond cure; we are like lepers who have lost limbs in their disease. Healing is not enough; a new creation is necessary. Now, this is just what Christ effects. He does not only give external pardon, he is not satisfied to manipulate legal points; he regenerates. He says, "Ye must be born again (John 3:3); and St. Paul tells us that he that is in Christ Jesus is a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). - W.F.A.
I. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED IS AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY. Even with the clearer light that now shines on human life it is not possible wholly to divest the mind of the feeling of surprise at the anomalous instances of prospering wickedness and suffering virtue.
II. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED A FURTHER EXERCISE TO THE PATIENCE AND FAITH OF THE GODLY. It demands that the eye of faith be turned upwards to God. Events do not explain themselves. Nor are men able to find the Divine purposes revealed by events. More and more must the tried and tempted believer look off from the uncertain event, and place his faith in God alone. That faith is strained, but it grows thereby.
III. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED IS NO GUARANTEE OF DEFENCE FROM JUDGMENT. Judgment lingers. It is even hidden. The good Lord of all would fain altogether restrain it. He rejoices in mercy. Wickedness often takes advantage of the withholding of judgment; but in this is no assurance that the judgment which is held back shall not be revealed.
IV. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED NEEDS THE SOLUTION OF THE FUTURE. It points to a future judgment when men must give account, and seems to demand it. In that future what is mysterious in history will doubtless be made plain. No work can be fairly estimated until its completion. If it ever please the Lord of all to justify his dealings with men, he will do it in that dread judgment when each shall receive the due reward of his deeds.
V. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED MAY BE A MERCIFUL FORBEARANCE IN THE HOPE OF REPENTANCE. God is kind, and waiteth long for the returning one, in hope that even the goodness of God may lead him to repentance. How often is this abused! but such is the spirit of wrong that it abuses the best of God's gifts, and is indifferent to the kindest of God's dealings. The Book of Job represents the entanglement of human affairs, but it throws light upon it and helps to resolve it. We live in clearer light, but the clearest light of all has yet to shine when we shall see light in his light. For this we must prepare and patiently wait. - R.G.
I. WICKEDNESS MAY BE ACCOMPANIED BY TEMPORARY PROSPERITY,
1. This is an obvious fact. Only the extraordinary blindness of bigotry could have allowed the three friends to deny it. Job has only to point to events which are open to the eyes of all, to show that there are bad prosperous men. This is always admitted when it is approached from another point of view, i.e. when the sins of the rich are denounced.
2. This should not dismay us. All faith has grown up in face of the obvious fact of the prosperity of the wicked. If we have not considered it, others have in bygone ages. Yet faith has flourished and triumphed, although she could not explain the mystery. Therefore faith may still find ground to stand on, even when one more person discovers to his surprise what has always been patent to all who would take the trouble to observe it.
3. This cannot justify wickedness. Earthly prosperity is not the seal of heavenly approval. The assumption that it is so only originated in a mistake. Here ancient orthodoxy has proved to be in error. If the notion is erroneous when used against a man in misfortune, it is equally erroneous when claimed by one who is temporarily prosperous.
II. THE PROSPERITY THAT ACCOMPANIES WICKEDNESS CAN ONLY ENDURE FOR A LITTLE WHILE.
1. It does not outlast death. By the nature of things it cannot do so, because it simply springs from accidental circumstances and earthly influences, which are confined to this life. It has not its source in a deep and enduring spiritual experience. The very triumph of it rests on the score of the spiritual. But though the spiritual may be trampled on now, it cannot be pretended that the material will continue after death. Riches, pleasures, pomp, and prowess are all left behind on this side of the grave.
2. Its earthly existence is brief. The careless man may postpone all consideration of his end. He may be satisfied that he has enough and to spare for the present. Nevertheless, the present is rushing away from him. As he looks back, all past years seem to be but a brief period, and coming years will accelerate their speed. What, then, is this short tenure of prosperity for which he is selling himself? A passing shadow!
3. It is of/ no worth even while possessed. The temporary character of this prosperity of the wicked is a sign that it is a hollow deception. Its charms are proved to be meretricious by the fact that it will not remain with us. So ephemeral a good cannot be substantial. The seeds of decay are in it from the first. And what is its joy but a deceitful mockery? There is a dreadful doom in the very quietness of this hopeless life. All that is worth living for is gone out of it. Rich, gay, outwardly prosperous, the soul is
"Left in God's contempt apart,