Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. FOLLY OF THE OPINION THAT THERE IS NO PROFIT IN GODLINESS. (Vers. 1-8.) A good man, says Elihu, would not speak as Job has done, questioning whether godliness is more profitable than sin. But what is the refutation of this dangerous notion? The speaker points to the blessed self-sufficiency of God, the exalted One in the heavens. In this light man must appear alone as one who draws advantage from his righteousness (comp. Job 7:20; Job 22:2, sqq.). Our evil deeds cannot injure God, neither can our good deeds add to his blessedness. To expect a return or recompense from God for obedience, as if we had given him a pleasure or conferred on him an advantage, is, according to Elihu, a sign that we have altogether forgotten the distance between ourselves and him, and the true relation in which we stand to him. A modern philosopher, indeed, says, using a bold expression, "Put God in your debt!" But this means only - Conform to God's laws, and expect that God will be true to those relations expressed by his laws. The misery of Job is that he cannot, for the present, see that God is true to those relations. He has sown righteousness, but not, as it seems, reaped mercy. He is half in the right, and so is his present instructor. It remains for these two halves of truth to be united into a whole. Meanwhile Elihu points to a great canon of conduct, a great motive of right. Piety is always beneficial, ungodliness always hurtful to our fellow-men, in a sense in which this, of course, cannot be said of God. And this should sustain us in suffering: the thought of the example we may be permitted to set, the light that may shine out of our darkness, the image of those who may be deterred from evil or allured to good by what they see in us.
II. REASONS FOR UNANSWERED PRAYERS. (Vers. 9-16.)
1. Want of true reverence for God. (Vers. 9-14.) The cry of the oppressed goes up to heaven, and it is long before an answer comes. Help is delayed or denied. Why? In most cases it is probably the fault of the sufferer himself. There is something defective in the substance or in the spirit of his prayers. He does not cry: "Where is the Almighty, my Creator?" (Ver. 10). This is the complaint which Jehovah makes by the mouth of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:6, 8). There is no injustice in him; but there is inconsistency in men. They do not trust him. They ungratefully forget his past providences. They disobey his laws, they meddle with forbidden things. There are conditions, moral conditions, under which alone it is possible for men to be heard, delivered, blessed. "Have I been a wilderness to Israel?" Behind these figures lies the truth that Divine blessing is conditioned by our own moral state and endeavour. Those grand relations of mercy in which God stands to men - their Deliverer, the Giver of songs in the night of natural distress and emergency, the Instructor of their spirits in that life above that of the brutes who lead a blind life within the brain - can only be realized by the faithful and the true. To know God as our Saviour, we must humbly and constantly trust him; to know him as our Teacher and Guide, we must diligently follow him. Pride, vain or evil desires in the heart, these, then, are the only permanent causes of unanswered prayers. And how much less are advantage and deliverance possible for Job, if he reproaches God with iniquity in being unwilling to regard his cause; if he waits as if that cause were not already laid before God (ver. 14)! For he knows all; and we must commit our way to him, in the assurance that he will in due time bring it to pass.
2. Presumptuous language against God. (Vers. 15, 16.) Though such folly has hitherto passed unpunished, it does not follow that God has not observed it. According to Job's way of thinking, Elihu says, in effect, this would follow. But he will soon see the contrary. The passage is instructive as giving us searching admonition on the subject of unanswered prayer, unrelieved distress. It is a time for heart-searching. The fault cannot be with God; if fault there be, it lies at our door. The Word comes with power in such moments, "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners! Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you." Read Isaiah 1. But to the true and contrite heart, mercy and deliverance may be delayed, never denied. And the lesson, then, is - Be patient, wait, and hope. - J.
I. IT IS UNJUST TO ASCRIBE TO OUR FELLOW-MEN OPINIONS WHICH THEY HAVE NOT EXPRESSED. Job had not used such blasphemous language as Elihu attributed to him, and he would have repudiated the ideas that it conveyed. His young monitor was rudely asserting what he thought Job meant, what he took to be the underlying opinion of Job. But this was unjust. Half the controversies of the Church would have been avoided if people had not put into the mouths of others words that they never uttered. The only fair way is to listen to a man's own statement of his case. The common injustice is to charge an opponent with holding all the opinions which we think can be deduced from his confessed beliefs. Thus we make him responsible for our inferences. "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
II. WE SHOULD SEE THE NATURAL CONSEQUENCES OF OUR UTTERANCES, Although it was unjust to draw conclusions as Elihu was doing, it might be helpful for Job to see what conclusions were drawn from his hasty words. He would revolt from such ideas with horror. Then the question may well arise - Did he not provoke them? Though Elihu did wrong to make his assertion, Job may also have done wrong in speaking words that Elihu could use in such a way. We may learn from the false charges that are brought against us. Possibly these have been provoked by us. They are caricatures of our conduct. Therefore they show up the salient features of that conduct in a strong light. The very exaggeration calls attention to the points that have been unduly magnified. We need to consider the tendencies of what we say, and test the tendencies of our opinions by the inferences that are drawn from them.
III. MAN IS TEMPTED TO THINK HIMSELF MORE JUST THAN GOD. He would not own to such an idea openly, nor even in his own private thought. Nevertheless, in the heat of excitement, he acts as though this were his belief. Otherwise, why does he murmur? Why does he rebel? Why is he cast down into despair? We magnify our own opinions and we justify our own actions when these arc counter to the truth and will of God. Virtually this is making ourselves more just than God.
IV. THE JUSTICE OF GOD IS THE TYPE OF ALL JUSTICE. Evidently Elihu assumes that what is justice to man is in itself justice to God. This is assumed throughout the Bible, which makes no attempt to escape from the difficulties of providence by means of the "regulative ideas" advocated by Dean Mansel. Here we do not see that justice means one thing in God and another thing in man. But the perfection of justice may be applied to circumstances that are beyond our understanding. Then it may look unjust. Yet, if we knew all, we should see that it is the type and pattern of the very justice we are called to strive after. - W.F.A.
I. A NATURAL QUESTION. Job is driven to put this question; or, rather, Elihu concludes that Job's language shows that the patriarch is debating it within himself. Satan had sneered at the notion of disinterested goodness, and had asked, "Doth Job fear God for naught?" (Job 1:9). Now Job is begin-nine to see that the profits of goodness, as they are commonly believed in, do not accrue, for good men suffer as much as other men, if not more. The utilitarian question crops up in practice, whatever ethical theory we may have adopted. People will ask - What is the advantage of religion? Why should they deny their passions? What will they be the better for refraining from evil? The inquiry is natural for two reasons.
1. We naturally desire to see results. Men wish to know that some good end is to be reached. They are not satisfied with a good road; they must know where it leads to.
2. We naturally desire our own advantage. The instincts implanted in us encourage such a desire. In itself it is not bad, but natural. Evil comes from the abuse or the supremacy of it.
II. A SUPERFLUOUS QUESTION. Although the question is natural, we ought to be able to rise above it. After all, our chief concern is not with results, but with duty. Our part is to do the right, whether it leads to failure or to success. Obedience is our sphere; results are with God. We sow and water; he it is who gives the increase. It is difficult to learn this lesson, for we all gravitate to selfish and material ends unless we are lifted out of ourselves. Still, the lesson must be learnt. If a man is only virtuous on account of the rewards of virtue, he is not really virtuous at all. He who does not steal simply because be is persuaded that "honesty is the best policy," is a thief at heart. Conscience is independent of advantage, and true goodness is only that which rests on conscience.
III. AN ANSWERABLE QUESTION. Elihu is ready with his reply. Perhaps it is not quite so simple a matter as he assumes, for he is one of those fearless talkers who handle the most difficult problems with jaunty confidence. Still, he helps us towards a reply. Goodness is not ignored by God. This Elihu show, in three ways.
1. God is too great to unjustly deprive men of the rewards of their deeds. These may not come at once; but God can have no conceivable motive for withholding them (vers. 5-8).
2. The absence of immediate blessings is an proof of Divine negligence. While complaining that their rewards are not given them, men may not be treating God aright, and so nor deserving his blessing (vers. 9-13).
3. God's watchfulness ensures his righteous treatment of his creatures. (Vers. 14-16.) Thus according to Elihu goodness is ultimately for the advantage of its possessor. But may we not go further, and say that even if it brings no ultimate reward it is infinitely better than sin, for goodness is in itself a blessing? Few of us can be great, or rich, or very successful. But it is better to be good than to be great, or rich, or successful; for to be good is to be like Christ, like God. - W.F.A.
I. GOD IS NOT DEPENDENT ON MAN'S CONDUCT. We must agree in the main with what Elihu here states. God is serf-sufficient, and he owns all things. "The cattle upon a thousand hills are his." If he were hungry he would not need to tell us. Our most active service is not necessary to God, our most virulent malignity cannot really touch him. He dwells in the fulness and serenity of his own perfection.
II. GOD CANNOT BE BRIBED BY MAN'S GIFTS. The huge mistake of heathen worship is that it consists for the most part in attempts to buy off the anger and secure the favour of the gods by means of gifts and sacrifices. We meet with the same heathenish idea in all religious exercises that aim at being really profitable to God, not for his own sake, but to purchase his favour.
III. GOD IS UNDER NO INDUCEMENT TO BE UNJUST TO MAN. Between man and man injustice is common, because one man is much affected by the conduct of another. But if man can neither profit nor injure God, God can have no motive for dealing in any unequal way with man.
IV. GOD VOLUNTARILY CONCERNS HIMSELF WITH OUR CONDUCT BECAUSE HE LOVES us. Elihu's description of God is one-sided. True in regard to the nature of things, it is false as it concerns the action and sympathy of God. Elihu's God is too much like an Epicurean divinity. The love which is most characteristic of the Divine character, as it is revealed in the Bible, is here quite ignored. God may not be dependent on us. Yet his love leads him to be deeply concerned in what we do, and to entrust his designs to us as his servants. At the same time, seeing that love is his leading motive, there can be no need for us to try to bribe God, even if it were possible for us to do so; and we may be sure that, so far from dealing with harsh injustice, God will only desire our good.
V. GOD ACCEPTS MAN'S TREATMENT OF HIS BROTHER-MAN AS THOUGH THIS AFFECTED HIMSELF. Christ has taught us that what is done to one of the least of his brethren is done to our Lord himself (Matthew 25:40). God's love for his children makes him regard any injury done to them as though it were an injury to his own person. The Father feels in the sufferings of his children. Thus we may benefit or injure God by benefiting or injuring our fellow-men. At the same time, this only results from the position which God voluntarily assumes towards us.
VI. MAN IS DEPENDENT ON GOD, AND HIS CONDUCT SHOULD BE A RESPONSE TO GOD'S. Religion does not begin with our worship of God. Its commencement is earlier, in God's goodness to man. All true worship springs from gratitude. Thus, while we cannot be useful or hurtful to God, excepting in so far as his love and sympathy permit us, we are urged to consider how completely our lives are in his hands, and how essential it is for us to live so that we may enjoy his continued favour. - W.F.A.
I. THE ERROR OF SUCH A CRY. God only is able truly to respond to the cry of suffering. It is expending the breath in vain to invoke help from other sources. Man is often utterly powerless; and, even when able, is not always willing to help. If the cry is to a false god, it is a still greater error, and can only end in disappointment.
II. BUT THE CRY WHICH IS AN ERROR IS ALSO A FOLLY. Such a cry ends in vexation; the unheard cry aggravates the sorrow and makes the burden greater. Why should man in his feebleness appeal to his feeble fellow? and why forsake the Maker of all, who alone can give songs of joy in the night of mourning?
III. THIS CRY IS ALSO A WRONG. It is a moral wrong for man to turn his face away from God in the time of his trouble. It reflects upon the Divine goodness and upon the ability and willingness of God to help. It casts an unjust reproach upon a loving Creator, "who teacheth us" lessons by "the beasts of the earth," and "maketh us wise" by the very "fowls of heaven."
IV. BUT THIS IS ALTOGETHER A VAIN CRY. "None giveth answer." Evil men in their pride will not humble themselves to call upon Jehovah; they will not acknowledge their dependence upon him, will not submit to him. Their cry is as one made to the wind. Even if addressed to God, it is void of all truth and meaning. It is the cry of vanity. "God will not hear, neither will the Almighty regard it." From all which comes the great lesson, Though God is hidden, and men see him not, "yet judgment is before him": therefore may men trust in him, and, believing "that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him," make their supplication unto God, their cry to the Almighty. - R.G.
I. SONGS IN THE NIGHT ARE PECULIARLY HELPFUL. The thought is of a lonely and desolate night - a night of weary watching or painful suffering, when sleep cannot, or should not, be enjoyed. Travellers who dare not sleep in a perilous region infested by wild beasts, sing songs as they sit round their camp fire. Poor sufferers on beds of sickness welcome strains of well-known hymns in the long, wakeful night. The dreadful night of sorrow needs the cheering of some song of Zion. In the sunny day songs come readily enough; but then we could dispense with them. It is when darkness lies about our path that we need some uplifting and cheering influence.
II. SONGS IN THE NIGHT MAY BE ENJOYED. Elihu speaks in the present tense. Christian history tells of many a soul cheered by heavenly songs in darkest hours. Paul and Silas sang in prison with their feet in the stocks (Acts 16:25).
"Stone walls do not a prison make, III. SONGS IN THE NIGHT DO NOT ARISE SPONTANEOUSLY. There is something paradoxical in the phrase, "songs in the night," for of course the context shows that it does not point to the noise of those who turn night into day with unseemly revelry. Elihu's night-songs are of holy thoughts and heavenly music, or at least of pure and refreshing gladness, as his indication of the Source of them proves. Now, sorrow is not the parent of gladness. If we are to enjoy deep harmonies of thought, or to soar into high heavens of emotion among the depressing influences of treble, we must not look for the trouble to produce the songs. We must turn elsewhere, and if we have no higher than earthly supplies, we shall have no songs such as Elihu spoke of. IV. SONGS IN THE NIGHT ARE GIVEN BY GOD. In the still hours of darkness he draws near to the soul. When the desolation and misery are greatest, God is most compassionate. He is not dependent on external circumstances. Night and day am alike to him. Thus it is possible for him to inspire his sweetest songs when we are drinking the most bitter cup. We must not delude ourselves into the notion that we shall not feel suffering if God is with us, although martyrs have been known to lose consciousness of the devouring flames in the ecstasy of their spiritual joy. The song does not dispel the darkness of night. But it drives out the terror and the despair, and brings peace and a deep joy that is nearer the true heart of man than the waves of sorrow which sweep over the surface of his life. The lark that soars to heaven's high gate rises from a lowly nest on the ground. The sweetest songs of Zion that ascend to the gates of glory begin on the tearful earth. - W.F.A.
III. SONGS IN THE NIGHT DO NOT ARISE SPONTANEOUSLY. There is something paradoxical in the phrase, "songs in the night," for of course the context shows that it does not point to the noise of those who turn night into day with unseemly revelry. Elihu's night-songs are of holy thoughts and heavenly music, or at least of pure and refreshing gladness, as his indication of the Source of them proves. Now, sorrow is not the parent of gladness. If we are to enjoy deep harmonies of thought, or to soar into high heavens of emotion among the depressing influences of treble, we must not look for the trouble to produce the songs. We must turn elsewhere, and if we have no higher than earthly supplies, we shall have no songs such as Elihu spoke of.
IV. SONGS IN THE NIGHT ARE GIVEN BY GOD. In the still hours of darkness he draws near to the soul. When the desolation and misery are greatest, God is most compassionate. He is not dependent on external circumstances. Night and day am alike to him. Thus it is possible for him to inspire his sweetest songs when we are drinking the most bitter cup. We must not delude ourselves into the notion that we shall not feel suffering if God is with us, although martyrs have been known to lose consciousness of the devouring flames in the ecstasy of their spiritual joy. The song does not dispel the darkness of night. But it drives out the terror and the despair, and brings peace and a deep joy that is nearer the true heart of man than the waves of sorrow which sweep over the surface of his life. The lark that soars to heaven's high gate rises from a lowly nest on the ground. The sweetest songs of Zion that ascend to the gates of glory begin on the tearful earth. - W.F.A.
I. IN INTELLIGENCE. We cannot but admire the intelligence of the horse, the dog, the elephant, the ant. There seems to be more than instinct in these creatures; we notice in them the germs of a reasoning power, because they can adapt means to ends, accommodate themselves to fresh circumstances, and overcome unexpected difficulties. Yet man's intelligence far exceeds that of the animal world. Two striking characteristics which are peculiar to it may be noted.
1. The supremacy of man. Man is one of the weakest and most defenceless creatures. He has not the hide of the rhinoceros, nor the horns of the bull, nor the fangs of the lion, nor the strength of any of these creatures. Yet he masters them and rules the world, simply by means of superior intelligence.
2. The progress of man. Only man among the animals advances in civilization. Ants build now as their ancestors built ages ago. Man only moves onward. The savage may seem to be as low as the baboon; but he is susceptible of an education that his humble cousin can never enjoy.
II. IN CONSCIENCE. There seems to be a trace of conscience in the shame of the dog when he has done what he knows has been forbidden him. But though the animal may know shame, he does not know sin. Purity is an idea quite foreign to his nature. He may be generous, and he may sacrifice his life in devotion to his master. Yet he cannot feel the hunger and thirst after righteousness. The deep sense of sin and the great desire for holiness are peculiar to man.
III. IN RELIGION. A dim religious feeling may be dawning in the dog when he raises adoring looks to his master, often to a very unworthy master - like poor Caliban worshipping drunken Stephano. But the animal cannot know God. Man alone of all God's creatures knows his Maker. All nature praises God unconsciously, only man blesses him consciously. To man it is given to feel the love of God, and to love God in return. Man is permitted to hold communion with God; he is God's child. Nature is the work of God; man his son. Nature is dependent on her Creator; man is sus-rained by his Father.
IV. IN DIVINE FAVOUR. This is implied by all that precedes. All the superiority of man is from God. Intelligence, conscience, and religion are Divine endowments. We could not raise ourselves above the animal world, for no creature could transcend its own nature. If our nature is superior to that of animals, this fact is wholly owing to the grace of God. But we may go further, and see that grace not only in our original creation and natural endowments, but also in our history. By his providence God has been adding to his favour. Not for the animals, but for man, and man alone, Christ came. The Incarnation was a fact of the human world, and in it man is supremely honoured by being united to God. Man is redeemed by the death of the Son of God.
V. IN OBLIGATION. Much is expected from him to whom much has been given. What is innocent in the animal may be sinful in man. It is a degradation for man to sink down to animalism. Brutal violence and bestial vice are utterly unworthy of a being exalted far above the animals by nature and the grace of God. When man sinks down to the level of the animals he really falls much lower. It is an insult to innocent brutes to associate them with the habits of corrupt men. - W.F.A.
habeas corpus; and he had despaired of ever being brought face to face with his Accuser, who, as he thought, was also his Judge. Now Elihu tells him that God is already attending to his case, and therefore that he should have faith.
I. THE SUFFERER'S DESPAIR. Job despairs of seeing God. He has indeed expressed a confident assurance that he will behold his Redeemer with his own eyes; he himself, and not another (Job 19:25-27). We need not be startled at the contradiction. In such darkness as that of Job's faith ebbs and flows. For a moment the clouds break and a gleam of sunshine falls on the sufferer's path, and at the sight of it he leaps up triumphant; but soon the blackness closes in again, and then the despair is as deep as ever.
1. God is not seen by the bodily eye. We may sweep the heavens with the most powerful telescope, but we shall never discover their King seated on his throne among the stars.
2. God does not give an immediate solution of our difficulties. We ask him to decide our case, to justify the right, and to destroy the false. Yet he does not seem to be interfering; for the confusion and the injustice remain. Then the weary waiting leads us to think that he will never appear. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," and in its sickness it loses its hope.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO FAITH.
1. God is not neglecting us. Elihu assures Job that his case is already before his Judge. It is neither forgotten nor postponed. It is now being tried. Elihu was quite justified in making this statement, as we know from the prologue (Job 1:8-12). Job was being tried before God throughout; and so also were his friends, as the conclusion of the book shows (Job 42:7-9). Perhaps one lesson to be taught by this great poem is that God is watching man, and dealing justly with him, even when no indication of Divine interest or activity is vouchsafed to him. The verdict is not yet given nor the judgment pronounced; but the case is proceeding, and the Judge is carefully attending to it. That is what this book teaches concerning the great problem of life.
2. We should learn to trust God. We cannot see cur Judge as yet. We must wait for the verdict. All is dark to the eye of sense. But if we know that God is watching over us and considering our condition, we ought to be assured that we cannot suffer from neglect. The special region for faith is this present scene of darkness, and we are to expect the darkness to continue as long as the faith is to be exercised. But this will not be for ever. Job was right when, in a moment of strange elation, he leaped to the assurance that his Redeemer lived, and that he would see him at the latter day. - W.F.A.