Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. REPARTEE AND REPROOF. (Vers. 2-4.) The tone seems to be ironical: "How well hast thou helped feebleness, supported the arm of him that has no strength, counselled unwisdom, and in fulness given utterance to good sense! To whom hast thou offered words, and whose breath went forth from thee? By whose inspiration?" possibly pointing to the borrowed character of Bildad's speech. Words may be good in themselves, yet not pleasant or profitable if not spoken in good season. It would have been more to the purpose had Bildad spoken to the wounded spirit of his friend of the tenderness and the compassion rather than the majesty and greatness of God. The minister of God should know how to speak a word in season to the weary (Isaiah 50:4). "We are often disappointed in our expectations of our friends who should comfort us; but the Comforter, who is the Holy Ghost, never mistakes in his operations, nor misses his ends." Job takes a noble revenge by painting in far more glowing and noble language the sublime greatness of God, thus showing how true in faith was his heart at bottom. His petulance and outcries are the involuntary irritation of pain; they are superficial; at the core of his being piety lives in all its intensity.
II. JOB'S SURPASSING DESCRIPTION OF THE MAJESTY OF GOD. (Vers. 5-14.) "Truth, like a torch, the more it's shook, it shines." "It were well if all disputes about religion might end thus, in glorifying God as Lord of all, and our Lord, with one mind and one mouth (Romans 15:6), for in that we are all agreed."
1. Hell and heaven. (Vers. 5-7.) Job begins at the opposite end of the great scale of creation from that with which Bildad began; with the lower world the region of shadows thence to rise to the heavenly world. "The shadows are made to tremble below the water and its inhabitants" (ver. 5). By the shadows are meant the ghostly, bloodless forms as Homer has described them in the eleventh book of the 'Odyssey,' leading a joyless, melancholy existence, deprived of the light of the sun (Psalm 88:11; Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 9:18; Isaiah 26:14, 19; comp. Job 14:9, 10). Even in Hades the vast power of the Almighty is felt, and its inhabitants own it and tremble (Psalm 139:8; Proverbs 15:11; James 2:19). This lower world is naked to the eyes of God (Hebrews 4:13), and the chasm of Hades has no covering (Proverbs 15:11; ver. 6). The Northern heaven - taken here by a figure, as the part for the whole - is stretched over the void, and the earth hangs upon nothing (ver. 7). The expression "nothing" here denotes the same as the "void" - the vast emptiness of space in which the earth with its heavenly canopy is placed. Compare the classical parallels in Lucret., 2:600, sqq.; Ovid, 'Fast.,' 6:269, sqq. A Persian poet says -
"He stretches out the heaven 2. The clouds and the heavenly region. (Vers, 8-10.) Waters are firmly bound up in the clouds as in vast water-skins, according to the conception of the poet, without their bursting with the weight, if God wills to retain the rain (ver. 8; Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2). God veils the "outer side" of his heavenly throne, the side turned towards earth, by drawing the clouds between (ver. 9). He has drawn a circling boundary over the water's surface to the crossing of the light with the darkness (ver. 10; Proverbs 8:27). In both passages the idea is that the earth is surrounded by water (in Homer, by the flowing stream of ocean). Above is the circle of the hemisphere, where sun and stars run their course. Within this circle is the region of the heavenly bodies and of light, and outside it begins the realm of darkness. 3. Mountains; the sea; constellations. (Vers. 11-13.) The heaven's pillars - that is, the great mountains, conceived as bearing up the firmament - fall into trembling, and the earthquake is represented as caused by their affright at his reproof (ver. 11; comp. Psalm 29; Psalm 104:7; Isaiah 50:2; Nahum 1:4; Revelation 6:12-14; Revelation 20:11). He terrifies the sea by his power, and by his understanding breaks in pieces Rahab (ver. 12). Rahab being here not Egypt, as in other places, but some huge monster of legendary fame. His breath makes the heaven bright and clear; and his hand has pierced through the flying serpent (ver. 13). This may, perhaps, allude to the mythical representation of eclipses of sun or moon as the attempt of a monstrous dragon to swallow up the heavenly bodies, The ceremony is practised, among the Turks and others, of beating off this dragon at the time of eclipses by cries and noises. These descriptions of the Creation are founded on astronomical myths belonging to the childhood of the world; but our better knowledge of the mechanism of the heavens need not destroy our sense of the reverence and awe which pervade these descriptions, The wonder of ignorance is replaced by the nobler wonder of intelligence, of reason. CONCLUSION. (Ver. 14.) "Lo, these are ends of his ways" - but the outlines or sketches - the nearest and most familiar evidences of his government of the world; "and what a gently whispering word it is that we hear! - but the thunder of his omnipotence who can understand?" The full unfolding of his power, the thundering course of the heavenly spheres, what mortal ear could bear? "If nature thundered in our opening ears,
2. The clouds and the heavenly region. (Vers, 8-10.) Waters are firmly bound up in the clouds as in vast water-skins, according to the conception of the poet, without their bursting with the weight, if God wills to retain the rain (ver. 8; Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2). God veils the "outer side" of his heavenly throne, the side turned towards earth, by drawing the clouds between (ver. 9). He has drawn a circling boundary over the water's surface to the crossing of the light with the darkness (ver. 10; Proverbs 8:27). In both passages the idea is that the earth is surrounded by water (in Homer, by the flowing stream of ocean). Above is the circle of the hemisphere, where sun and stars run their course. Within this circle is the region of the heavenly bodies and of light, and outside it begins the realm of darkness.
3. Mountains; the sea; constellations. (Vers. 11-13.) The heaven's pillars - that is, the great mountains, conceived as bearing up the firmament - fall into trembling, and the earthquake is represented as caused by their affright at his reproof (ver. 11; comp. Psalm 29; Psalm 104:7; Isaiah 50:2; Nahum 1:4; Revelation 6:12-14; Revelation 20:11). He terrifies the sea by his power, and by his understanding breaks in pieces Rahab (ver. 12). Rahab being here not Egypt, as in other places, but some huge monster of legendary fame. His breath makes the heaven bright and clear; and his hand has pierced through the flying serpent (ver. 13). This may, perhaps, allude to the mythical representation of eclipses of sun or moon as the attempt of a monstrous dragon to swallow up the heavenly bodies, The ceremony is practised, among the Turks and others, of beating off this dragon at the time of eclipses by cries and noises. These descriptions of the Creation are founded on astronomical myths belonging to the childhood of the world; but our better knowledge of the mechanism of the heavens need not destroy our sense of the reverence and awe which pervade these descriptions, The wonder of ignorance is replaced by the nobler wonder of intelligence, of reason. CONCLUSION. (Ver. 14.) "Lo, these are ends of his ways" - but the outlines or sketches - the nearest and most familiar evidences of his government of the world; "and what a gently whispering word it is that we hear! - but the thunder of his omnipotence who can understand?" The full unfolding of his power, the thundering course of the heavenly spheres, what mortal ear could bear?
"If nature thundered in our opening ears,
1. THERE IS NO ELEMENT OF REAL CONSOLATION IN THEM. The wise consoler may take opportunity to lead the sufferer to a just penitence for his sin; but merely to dwell upon wrong, and to point to it as the sole cause of suffering, is to leave the sufferer devoid of all true consolation. There is no word of hope, no promise of relief, no bracing of the spirit, by the whisper of lofty principles.
II. THEY BUT SERVE TO IRRITATE THE ALREADY TRIED SPIRIT. Bowed down by manifold sufferings, the afflicted one is sensitive to every word, even every look, of those around him. Their tender patience, even their very silence, gives them some assurance of kindly feeling; but to speak words of reproof when the spirit is weak and oppressed with anguish is to add weight to weight, and to subject the sufferer to greater pain. He needs the balmy word of friendship, the touch of the tender hand; not to be rudely taunted with keen thrusts of accusation which are as the bite of an adder, nor to be scourged by the severities of an antagonist.
III. THEY AFFORD NO EVIDENCE OF THAT SYMPATHY WHICH IS THE BASIS OF ALL, TRUE CONSOLATION. With the words of inspiriting brotherly love the truly afflicted one has borne the heaviest calamity and remained calm under the severest trials. Pain has lost its power in presence of sympathy. To lay the aching head upon the shoulder of a strong friend gives might to the weak. The truest succour for the wounded is tender sympathy, whether the wounds pierce the flesh or the spirit. But sympathy knows nothing of severity or harsh accusation. It hides offence and soothes the self-accused spirit until it has gained strength to bear the weight of condemnation. But no sign of this is present in the words of Job's friends; no sympathy is expressed by cruel reproof: "How hast thou helped him that is without power?"
IV. To all they add THE PAINFUL RECALL OF THE FRAILTIES OF THE SOUL AT THE TIME WHEN IT IS OVERBURDENED AND UNABLE TO MAKE ANSWER. This is not the appropriate time to speak accusingly. When the soul is in its strength it is hard to reply to either just or unjust accusation, but in its weakness and sorrow it is utterly incapable of reply. It is adding weight to weight, and taking unfair advantage of feebleness. This is neither neighbourly, nor brotherly, nor even kind. It shows a faulty judgment and an unsympathetic spirit. - R.G.
I. IT IS A CHRISTIAN DUTY TO HELP THE WEAK. The worldly maxim is "each for himself." This seems to be natural; but it is not true to our better nature. The higher self is required to rectify the cruel impulses of the lower regions of nature.
1. Because of the solidarity of the race. We are members one of another, and when one member suffers all the members suffer. It is not good for us that any of our fellow-men should fail.
2. Because of the brotherhood of Christians. We are called to more than a care for the whole body; individual needs appeal to our sympathy, and the special cases of those who are known to us come before us with peculiar claims. We have to remember our family relationship as children of our Father.
3. Because of the work of Christ. He came to help the weak, and our standing is only on the ground that he has done so for us. If all had come to us by self-seeking and personal exclusiveness, we should not have had the power to help others, for that power was given to us in our weakness by the grace of God in Christ.
II. HELP TO THE WEAK SHOULD BE BY AIDING THEM TO BECOME STRONG. There is an excessive helplessness that can only be relieved by direct aid. But in the main it is not wise to make people simply dependent on us. While we help them materially we may hurt them morally. It is a more difficult task to lift men than to dole out charity while they grovel in destitution; but it is a much more truly helpful thing. When we deal with men in spiritual work the same principle applies. It is not enough to bring consolation and peace and other spiritual blessings. The more important work is to lead feeble, broken-down creatures to the Source of new life and strength, that they may be renewed and converted. It is well to help the weak in their weakness, but it is better to help them out of it.
III. IT IS POSSIBLE TO FAIL MISERABLY IN ATTEMPTING TO HELP THE WEAK This is one of the most obvious lessons of the Book of Job, and it is constantly recurring to us from different points of view. Few tasks are more difficult, and therefore it is not surprising that failure is frequent, but the surprising thing is that it is not anticipated. We are astounded at the confidence of Job's comforters. Their self-assurance is perfectly amazing. They persevere in their conventional assertions without perceiving how utterly useless, how vexatiously mischievous, their whole method of procedure is. Not understanding Job, they cannot help him. Too often blundering attempts at doing good only aggravate the evil they would alleviate. We must study social problems; we must understand the people; we must come to know the individual persons we desire to help. A large part of the duty of Christian angels of mercy is to visit the afflicted, to enter into their condition, see their homes, hear their troubles, know their circumstances and the cause of their misery. The story of Christian charity is full of most disheartening failures which arise simply from neglecting these first conditions of success. - W.F.A.
I. Parts of the Divine ways are revealed IN THE VISIBLE CREATION. His wonderful works.
II. IN HIS WAYS TO THE CHILDREN OF MEN. In the working of that providence that ever guards the interests of the human life.
III. IN THE REVELATIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE. Here light falls especially
(1) on the Divine Name;
(2) on the mysteries of the Divine providence;
(3) on the spiritual future - on God, on human life and duty, on immortality.
Yet with all the teachings it must still be said," How little a portion is heard of him?" We have heard the whisper; "but the thunder of his power who can understand?" A plain duty is to judge of that which is hidden by that which is made known. And the question instantly arises to our lips - Are the revelations which God has made of himself and of his ways in nature, in human life, in the Holy Scriptures, such as encourage us to trust in those ways, and in him, where all is covered with clouds and thick darkness? If the revealed things are good and trust worthy, it is most reasonable to demand faith in the hidden and unseen. Faith in the unseen is warranted by
(1) the beauty,
(4) beneficence of the Divine ways, as they are traceable in the works of the Divine hand;
but faith's highest warrant is in the Divine Name - the absolutely good, pure, just, and beneficent One. - R.G.
I. THE DEAD ARE NOT BEYOND THE VISION OF GOD. He lives in light, and they lie in darkness; yet he sees them. There is no escaping from his presence. "If I make my bed in Hades, behold, thou art there" (Psalm 139:8).
1. There is no eluding his observation. A man cannot flee from God by dying. Indeed, is not suicide rightly regarded as rushing into the presence of God? No darkness hides from God, for day and night are alike with him, and no change of sphere removes from the reach of him who rules through all the spheres.
2. There is no loss of his notice. No one can be beneath the attention of God - too low, too degraded, in too dark and desolate a region to be seen by him. Perhaps this was Job's thought. He was longing for God to come and vindicate his cause; but he could not but admit that death might come first, for his disease was making fearful inroads on his constitution. Still, he would not lose the chance of meeting God. If not on earth, then it should be after death. God will follow his children wherever they go in the next world, as he follows them in this world.
II. GOD'S VISION OF THE DEAD IS OF GREAT CONSEQUENCE TO THEM. If Hades and destruction have no covering before God, this means very much to Hades and destruction. It cannot be the same thing whether we are looked upon by God or not. Surely it means much to know that the abode of death is not deserted by God. God cannot look down into this dark region as a mere spectator. He is everywhere a Life, a Power, an Authority. Therefore we must conclude that the rule of God extends over the unseen world. Certain important consequences flow from this truth.
1. Justice will be done there. God will not allow injustice to go on for ever. The process of rectification is slow; but God is infinitely patient, and he has eternity before him. The unpunished sinner will meet his dreadful deserts in the next world, and the ill-used and misunderstood good man will be vindicated there.
2. Life will be given there. God cannot look on the dead and leave them in their natural darkness. His gaze quickens. If he visits the realm of the dead he will bring about a resurrection. The dead are not cast out, forgotten, left to fade and melt out of all being. God touches them, and they awake, like the frost-bound earth at the touch of spring.
3. Mercy will extend to them. How and to what extent this may be received by the dead is a mystery concerning which we have little or no light. But we know that "the mercy of the Lord endureth for ever." We know that God is changeless. His love is unfailing. He must ever desire the recovery of his children. Yet dogmatic universalism is as false to human nature as it is to the warnings of Scripture. For men may harden themselves against the mercy of God; if they do so on earth, how can we say that they will not do so after death? - W.F.A.
I. CLOUDS ARE OF DIVINE ORIGIN. God bindeth up the waters; the thick clouds are his. Whenever we touch nature we should move with reverence, for we are in the temple of God. Whether we understand the clouds, whether we can see the wisdom by which they are shaped and led out over the heavens or not, at least we must discuss them with the humility that becomes a consideration of the works of the infinitely Wise and the perfectly Good.
II. CLOUDS ARE BENEFICIAL TO THE WORLD. In Southern countries they are greatly valued both for their shade and for the much-needed showers they bring to the parched land. The arrangement by which they float overhead, and then descend on broad areas in finely distributed drops of water, makes man's most advanced system of irrigation look childish and clumsy. Great masses of water are stored aloft and driven through the air, and made to descend so that every minute plant is watered, and not a blade of grass is crushed. Here is the perfection of the art of distribution.
III. CLOUDS ILLUSTRATE THE MUTUAL MINISTRIES OF NATURE. Drawn up from the sea in invisible vapour, driven over the land by strong winds, condensed against the mountains or in cool currents of the upper air, descending in gentle rain over fields and gardens, over woods and hills and plains, trickling through the soil, breaking out in little springs, streaming down the slopes in minute rills, gathering supplies from all directions in the valleys, and flowing back to the sea in full-fed rivers, the water of the clouds moves through a circuit, every stage of which is of use in the economy of nature, while the whole is completed by the help of many forces and circumstances.
IV. CLOUDS COME AS MERCIES IN DISGUISE. Thick clouds are black and ugly, hiding the blue sky, and casting gloom on the earth. They do not always have a silver lining. They may be heavy and lowering, sombre and threatening. Yet they burst in refreshing showers. When shall we believe that it is the same with those apprehensions of trouble which are really the chariots in which God's love rides?
V. CLOUDS ARE BEAUTIFUL IN THE SUNLIGHT. It is only a difference of light, and their gloom is turned into splendour. When the sun touches the clouds it sets them on fire. Morning and evening unroll leagues of rose and gold curtains on the distant horizon. When God's love touches our clouds, by a magic alchemy they pass into heavenly beauty.
VI. CLOUDS ARE FLEETING AND TRANSIENT. Moulded out of invisible vapours, they melt while we gaze at them. Their high bastions and clustered domes, their silvery lakes and purple mountains, are in rapid dissolution. For they must serve their purpose. They must vanish to fulfil their mission. Earthly joys like palaces of cloudland, earthly terrors like its gloomy shadows, both melt away, and must do so to serve their purpose of blessing and discipline. But beyond the clouds is the blue sky. We are thankful for the clouds. But we must neither cling to them, nor shrink from them. Standing on the solid earth, our lasting hope is in the eternal heavens. - W.F.A.
I. IN NATURE. We can see but a small part of God's works. Astronomy hints at vast regions of unexplored space. Even in limited regions the variety of teeming life goes beyond our comprehension. We cannot see the infinitely small. Further, we only use our five senses. Who can tell but that a sixth sense would reveal much more of the wonderful works of God? We can conceive of an indefinite multiplication of senses. Suppose there were ten senses, or fifty, or any number more; who can say but that they would discover corresponding objects that are quite unknown to us because we have not the faculty of perceiving them? Next consider how small a period of time our observation extends over. Geology stretches back a long way, but with how meagre a record of immense ages! Then note that all these observations deal with the material universe. But what of the spiritual? How far may this extend? What are its contents?
II. IN PROVIDENCE. The mistake of Job's friends was that they were both shortsighted and narrow in their vision. They could see but a very small part of God's work and purpose; yet they drew universal conclusions, and dogmatized. Their mistake is only too common. We have to recollect that we have not the materials with which to form a judgment of God's actions. In our own lives we see a very small part of the Divine plan. All may look dark and dreadful. But we are only at the early seed-sowing. We have to see the harvest before we can judge of the crop. And the harvest is not yet.
III. IN REVELATION. This was true of the Old Testament in comparison with the New. But a fringe of the grace afterwards revealed in Christ was made known to the ancient Jews. Now it is impossible to say how much more of the nature and thought of God still lies beyond the region of revelation. We have enough to guide us, sufficient for salvation and for duty. But we dare not limit God to his revelations of himself. All attempts to define God, to draw a circle about the Divine, refute themselves, for they would make out that the Infinite is finite.
IV. IN JUDGMENT. Whispers of God's judgment make us tremble; and we have only heard whispers as yet. What, then, must the thunder of his power be? At a mere touch from "the Traveller unknown" the sinew of Jacob's thigh shrank (Genesis 32:25). What would have been the result if the mysterious Wrestler had put forth his full power? Earthly troubles are hard to bear; these are but whispers compared to the thunder of doom!
V. IN REDEMPTION. There is a bright side to this picture. "God is love," and the half has not been told us of God's nature. Future ages have yet to explore its marvellous wealth of grace. Throughout eternity it will still stretch beyond all human experience. With the grace is a corresponding blessing. The future blessedness that God offers to his children is also beyond all present estimates. "Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be" (1 John 3:2). - W.F.A.